On Returning to Iraq

in_flanders_fields

Impossible to overstate how distressed I am about US forces returning to Iraq . Once again a US president – this one, unlike the last, vaunted for intelligence – has made the same inane remark that “the dead must not have died in vain.”  Vanity being the operative word here – on everyone’s part.

I wrote the following the last time we ran this loop – still applies:

 These Are the Flowers Sprung from Blood

These are the flowers sprung from blood,

anemone, violet, poppy, aster

blood of Adonis, Attis, Aegeus

blood of mothers, lovers, fathers,

daughters, sons, a thousand

legions of unknown warrior dead

buried in the fields of Mars.

 

          I. Anemone speaks:

 

Windflower they call me

wind to which I open

anemonewind that hastens my demise

wind fickle as the love of Aphrodite

who kept Adonis by her side too long

incurring Ares wrath, who slew him.

It’s said the goddess sprinkled nectar

into his bleeding wounds‑ commingled

drops, falling to earth, engendered me.

 

          2. Violet cries out:

 

Love-lies-bleeding, Kit-run-in-the-fields

Love Idyll – two hundred names

from which to choose. Who could guess

Our Lady’s Modesty hid so many secrets? Dog-Violet-Common-1A

Attis died to make me, emasculated

beneath a pine tree by his own hand

for love of Cybele. For centuries

her rites continued, year by thirsty year

demanding male sacrifice upon the Day of Blood.

 

         

           3. Aster tells her story:

She changed me out of pity.

goldenrod-insects-img_3582Old Root Woman, sheltering us, foresaw

capture, rape, dismemberment and death,

sprinkled magic pollen on my sister’s face.

I watched it change beneath the moon

blossom into yellow golden rod.

When she came to me

I opened mouth and eyes

welcoming the dust.

 

We are the flowers sprung from blood

born from myth and metaphor

alive in Flanders Fields and on the Plain of Jars,

look for us in Normandy, Shiloh, Khe Sanh,

on San Juan Ridge and Pork Chop Hill.

Search between the burned out cars

in vacant rubbled lots. You’ll find us in Fallujah.

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Crazy Wisdom

I was an odd awkward child, an army brat dropped into new schools as regularly as other kids get new shoes or longer jeans. To defend myself, I made a virtue out of abnormality. I shaped my difference into a cool kind of elitism – my way of making lemonade out of sour grapes. And it worked! For a long time I felt safeguarded, sustained and rewarded by my elegant design. There was only one drawback, I always felt a little fraudulent –as if I were perpetuating a lie at the same time as I was being fooled. I knew in my heart of hearts that I’d built my defense on an unstable foundation of fear, resentment and loneliness.

Finding a loving partner helped, becoming a mother helped, but I still felt like I walked the world encased in glass, through which I could see, smell, taste and feel others and myself, but never really, really touch. The Women’s Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s shattered the glass. For the first time I belonged, by virtue of being female. This was a place where difference and eccentricity were valued. The movement gave me a political view that jived with my own.  I learned “the personal is political” and stopped feeling crazy for thinking the emperor wore no clothes. It introduced me into a community of wise, caring accepting individuals who expected me to engage and participate. Best of all it fulfilled my longing for meaningful spirituality in the form of the feminine divine. One by one the thousand cuts my heart and soul had sustained began to heal.

Of course I am speaking retrospectively, with the advantage of hindsight. It took the rest of my life and many other milestones to reclaim myself, face my fears, and own my stuff – all the hard work of living a life of conscious engagement. Along the way I never lost my fascination with what was normal because the hardest thing to relinquish was my internal ranking system which measured me against all comers in regards to look, smarts, aplomb, sophistication, etc.

The desire to prioritize hierarchically is probably hardwired in animals. Happily women are less vertically and more horizontally inclined! We like to nest, create relationships spread our roots across the landscape underground like aspen trees, connecting and connecting.  Learning to build relationships based on mutual vested interests in health, well-being and sustainable friendship gradually dissolved my inclination to judge myself and others.

Over time, the practice of introspection and compassion taught me that I carry within myself every impulse and condition known to humankind. Just because I don’t act on all of them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  This insight destroyed any remaining vestiges of belief that I wasn’t an integral part of humanity and by extension life on Earth and by extension the universe. Further contemplation led me to think of my psyche as a Möbius strip – a constant flowing continuum of impulse, thought, emotion that can, at any time, assume any configuration.

The only abnormality I ever suffered from was the delusion that I could somehow stand outside my own humanity. Sitting in circle with women allowed me to see myself – all my foibles, flaws, beauty and wisdom – reflected in the faces of others.  My community freed me because it gave me time. It accepted me until I could accept myself. This is why I embedded Dr. Gabor Mate’s interview. Why I think his words wise and important to hear. Why I want to support the documentary Crazywise is making. I believe in crazy wisdom.

 

 

Posted in Community, Consciousness, Film, Heroine/Hero's Journey, Herstory, Politics, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The path goes ever on and on…”

I’ve recently become a SoulCollage® facilitator, which means I can teach Seena Frost’s  Seena Frostprocess for creating a personal deck of cards – each representing a different part of one’s personality. Each card focuses on an aspect of one’s life – it could be a friend, family member or pet. It could also depict a dream, an event or a place. A card might represent quality one wishes to possess or a skill already mastered.   Another could stand for any archetype, principle or idea that influences one’s actions. The cards fit loosely into four suits. One by one the deck grows.

I’ve been creating SoulCollage® cards for many years. Sometimes they come at regular intervals, sometimes in spurts, sometimes I don’t make one for months. There are about eighty-five cards in my deck – they form a kind of art journal of my life or perhaps a self-portrait. I said the cards fir loosely into my life – that’s because they tend to float from category to category or overlap.

The four suits are called Committee, Companions, Council, and Community.   Here’s a card I made several years ago, it fits all the categories:

malta dreamerOn one level it represents an amazing trip to Malta I made with my friend Susan Ford. So it could fit into the Community card because it relates to Susan and our shared interests; or it could be a Council card because it represents The Goddess, Hecate, and the Moon; or it could fit into Companions because of the dog; or in Committee because it stands for me as a dreamer and one who is interested in dream interpretation. There are also the sea, the steps and the poppies to consider!

Working with a card would mean exploring all those aspects and images in-depth – probably in different sittings. The work is always based on what I am seeing and feeling in the present moment. There are multitudes of ways to work with the deck – just as with a tarot deck. The thing I do most often is to follow Seena’s method of picking one card and dialoging aloud with an image. I speak for myself and, for example – using this card, from the point of view of the dog. Since I tend to over-think things at time and get bogged down in an over-abundance of meaning – a dog’s eye view of the practical present serves me very well, allowing the prosaic part of myself a voice that can actually be heard over the clamor of the philosophers!

This particular card is also part of a series I created while taking a nine-month class in Spiritual Midwifery. Each month had a different theme. This is the card I made for the month spent on the moon. I also made a series on the various stages in the alchemical process, the eight holy days in the Wheel of the Year, and the seven sacred directions. Each series acts as a mnemonic device to help me remember not only the various stages of these different teachings, but also the feel and meaning of each stage.

I love collage for the freedom it offers to juxtapose all kinds of symbols and images. I like being able to mix and match myths and metaphor with depictions of ordinary objects because it reflects my belief that we live at the intersection of spirit and matter – in that instant where the particle becomes wave and the wave particle. I’ve been practicing and instructing the art of collage for many years now and it’s a great pleasure to be able to add the teaching of SoulCollage® out of the personal into the public realm and share a system that has served me so well for so long. A special thanks to my teachers Anne Marie Bennett and Jeanne Marie Merkel for an extraordinarily useful and enriching class.

“When the Soul wants to experience something, she throws and image before her and steps into her own experience.”
                                            Meister Eckhard

 

 

Posted in Animals, Archetypes, Community, Herstory, Meaning, Mentors, Symbol | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam… Angeles Arrien 1940 ~ 2014

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to sit in circle with Angeles Arrien and listen to her teach The Four-Fold Way.  Her brilliance lay in being able to condense and explicate the perennial wisdom of the world’s indigenous cultures.  She said it very simply:

Show up

Pay Attention

Speak the Truth without Judgment

Be Detached From Outcome

Over the years my husband and I have added two words: Speak and Hear the Truth without Judgment. With that small personal addition, we have found that these four tenets cover just about everything. They inevitably lead to doing-as-you-would-be-done by, to self-knowledge, deep compassion, and gratitude.

In my own case, I struggle with each of these at different times – sometimes one is more difficult to live by, sometimes another. On really good days they all come easily. This on-going relationship has deepened my understanding of each principle. As the work ripples out through the pool of my life it expands in scope, becoming more subtle in its ramifications.

Look how simple these teachings are – easy to understand, but profound enough to change a life and move it in new directions.  This is the hallmark of a great teacher.  I am so grateful to Angeles Arrien for these teachings – she was truly the angel her name implies – a messenger of spiritual truths which willingly undertaken can set one free. All her life she spoke of honoring the ancestors- those who have come before. Now, she becomes an ancestor, a part of my lineage.  I honor her, I honor her, blessed be her name.

 

 

 

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The Gospel of Mary

Arrival

Arrival

I’ve just returned from a deeply restorative retreat with a group of women I hold in high esteem.  My regard for them stems from their willingness to meet each other with the same enormous respect and good will they extend to themselves.  “Self-esteem” is a word that doesn’t begin to address the feeling of self-worth I’m attempting to describe.  It’s a quality based on intelligence about the nature of humanity and one’s self and the acceptance of that condition tempered with wry humor and deep compassion.  That kind of wisdom is, in my experience, found most often among women.

During the retreat, someone was reading The Gospel* of Mary, an ancient text purported to be written by Mary Magdalene.  Since I’ve spoken and written about Magdalene we naturally fell into conversation about her.  Our talk sent me back to my bookshelves for a refresher.

Gnostic-Nag-Hammadi-Gospel-of-Mary-WebThe Gospel of Mary is considered to have been authored by Mary Magdalene and transcribed into Coptic sometime during the 5th century CE.  In 1896 Karl Reinhardt, a German classical scholar and philologist bought the papyrus codex (sheets of writing material such as vellum, parchment or papyrus, bound on one side) in an Egyptian bazaar and took it home with him to Berlin.  Various exigencies and two world wars delayed its study, translation and publication until 1955.  Meanwhile two other fragments of the same text had turned up, also in Egypt, around the turn of the twentieth century, which indicated that the Gospel of Mary had been circulated and studied in several different places during the early centuries of Christianity.

Until the Council of Nicaea, ordered by the Emperor Constantine in 325 CE, Christianity was an extremely diverse amalgam of various beliefs and theories about the nature and meaning of Christ.  The council created the Nicene Creed, still recited today in most Christian churches, as a form of agreement among the various factions.  It marked the beginning of an era of anti-heretical polemic and bitter in-fighting to establish control over the doctrine and dogma of Christianity.  During that struggle, the books of the New and Old Testaments became canonized.  What was in became sacred; what was out became, not only profane, but also dangerously heretical.  Books were burned, people were killed and those whose faith differed from the party line began to hide their precious suspect manuscripts, in the hope more liberal times might come again.  Sadly, those times took centuries to arrive.

During that early troubled era, a group of cruel and misogynistic bishops gained control of the nascent Catholic Church.  As a result, women were stripped of leadership roles and tainted with the curse of “original sin.”  Tertullian has been called “the father of Latin Christianity” and “the founder of Western theology.”  “Woman,” he proclaimed, “you are the gate to hell.”

The founding fathers of the Christian church did their best to expunge any tantric elements.  In the process, Mary Magdalene went from the role of disciple to penitent whore.  Except for certain whispers and legends, she remained firmly ensconced in that role until the mid-twentieth century when women began looking around for new ways to relate to spirituality; ways that allowed them the dignity and respect due their gender.

I first became aware of the Gospel of Mary while studying with Christine Payne-Towler in 2005 and 2006.  I went on to become an ordained priest in the Gnostic Church of Saint Mary Magdalene and created my own liturgy, The Mass of the Hieros Gamos.  The year of training leading up to my ordination included studying The Gospel of Mary in various translations by such scholars as Karen L. King, Jane Shaberg and Esther A. De Boer.  To me, Mary Magdalene became a symbol of reclamation and reconciliation with my Christian roots.  Eventually, she appeared to me as the main character of my novel Magdalene A.D. Magdalane Cover USE

The book describes Magdalene’s journey, twenty-five years after the crucifixion, from Jerusalem to the South of France.  Along the way she spends a year in the Temple of Isis on the island of Pharos in Alexandria, Egypt, writing The Gospel of Mary.

karen KingKaren L. King’s claims for this gospel include “an intriguing glimpse into a kind of Christianity lost for almost fifteen hundred years … it presents the most straightforward and convincing argument in any early Christian writing, for the legitimacy of women’s leadership; it offers a sharp critique of illegitimate power and a utopian vision of spiritual perfection … and it asks us to rethink the basis for church authority.”  ~ Karen L. King., The Gospel of Mary of Magdala

Though the gospel is fragmented and missing large chunks of text, what remains is fascinating.  It underscores the jealous and aggressive personality of the disciple Peter and validates Mary Magdalene’s status as a favorite pupil of Jesus; one empowered by him to interpret his words.  Our small group spent many hours studying the text and made a images4G6K6TBCbreakthrough interpretation of our own when we began to see a correlation between Magdalene’s seven steps for the ascent of the soul to the Indian chakra system of energy centers in the body.  It was one of those Aha! moments that can arise out of collaborative intent.  The insight we gained was valuable in and of itself, but the real benefit for me was the gratification that comes from successful collaboration.  That feeling echoed the kind of intimacy and mutual understanding implied in the text as having taken place between Jesus and Magdalene.

The possibility of a state of mutual appreciation and respect that transcends personality, creed, gender and race seems to me to be at the very core of Jesus’s original message – it is the golden rule in action.  To achieve that state while studying Magdalene’s text seemed to me a great validation of both her reality and the course I was on.

One of my intentions in writing Magdalene A.D. was to show the female characters acting in this manner with one another.  I think this has always been a part of the way women interact.  Anthropology teaches that females build relationships horizontally rather than vertically.  Our evolutionary predilection is to cooperate.  False models of bitchy competitiveness have been culturally superimposed on femininity in the same way that Magdalene’s portrait as a prostitute was falsely imposed on her.

In my experience, women seem now to be throwing those falsehoods off, washing them away and reverting to the sisterhood that is our true birthright.  It makes the companionship of women precious and infinitely rewarding.  I’m thrice blessed to be numbered in their company.

*gospel: an account describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to include canonical, apocryphal and Gnostic texts

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V Day 2014

One Billion Rising in Rome

Rome

V Day is fast approaching.  It is a day dedicated to empowering women to rise up against the violence perpetuated on them simply because of their gender.  V Day was inspired by Eve eve enslerEnslers’ performance piece the Vagina Monologues.  Empowered by the incredibly powerful and positive reaction to her play, in 2001 Eve launched V Day, a non-profit organization, which demands rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation and sexual slavery end immediately and believes “women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities”.  Last year millions of women around the globe rose up and danced together on V-Day, which not coincidentally falls on Valentine’s day because beatings, strangulation, rape and mutilation do not look like love to us.

circle_of_women_v302_carousel_big

Want to feel empowered? Come out and dance with us.  Go see the Vagina Monologues. Next year get a part in the play. The Monologues are not a static script, they change and morph as new women add their voices.

Guyana

Guyana

Abuse against women and children makes me sad.  It’s a constant grief in my heart, a never-ending burden of anguish.  And I am one of the lucky ones – loving father, enlightened husband, a son considerate and respectful of women.  For their sakes I battled through my rage and owned my own complicity in my culture’s ongoing disdain for women.  But I still can’t understand the inherent cruelty humanity exhibits toward the powerless.  It often brings me to the brink of despair.

Taiwan

Taiwan

For me, the antidote to despair is the friendship of women.  That friendship nourishes and sustains me.  Amazingly, wherever I go I find I find women full of compassion, intelligence, wisdom and humor to befriend.  I don’t mean all women are wonderful  – of course not – but wonderful women abound in every place and clime.  V-Day brings them dancing out into the streets.  It’s a glorious celebration of femininity that demonstrates why for so many tens of thousands of years, humankind revered the  feminine. willendorf venus 2I love women.  I love myself.  The following valentines are for us…

 Philippines

Philippines

One Sitting/One Billion Rising  

The path, flowed

rippled through time

moving between worlds

traversing past, present, future

guiding the footsteps of millions

though each one walked alone.

One day, tired of moving endlessly forward

a woman sat down upon the ground.

Others joined her. There they sat

smack dab in the middle.

Humanity pushed on around them.

They tossed their pasts into the circle -

photographs, tattered sketches, a battered box, a cradle.

A gypsy snapped her fingers

flames danced beneath the cauldron

(women always have a cauldron).

Pawing through purses, they pulled out

onion, tomato, turnip, fish

potatoes, collards, salt.

Smacking, drooling, cackling

women drank the soup

wiped the vessel clean

and pooled their dreams.

                        ©2013 Christine Irving

  V Day:  Intermission at the Monologues

Last night I bled hot tears of rage and grief

poked a wound I know will never heal

a girl beside me, sitting all alone

spilled family secrets in my ear

rape-shame, passed down through generations three

still cast its cruel spell; twisted her mind

into a rational for laying low

keeping quiet, disguised, discreetly dull…

She thinks liberation is a theory -

silly dream, too far-fetched to fly aloft.

She’s swapping beauty for security

blonde hair brushed straight and flat against the skull

beige blouse, loose khaki pants

plain ears un-pierced; no hint of sparkle

not even a hole left behind to mark

the spot where once she’d yearned for bling to shine.

She took those earrings out because

her dad refused to look at her ‑

his mother’s shameful rape was all he saw

when baubles swung so pretty from her lobes.

It must have been her Nana’s fault- they all thought so.

©2013 Christine Irving

As Long As Women 

As long as women sing to the ash and praise the sun

pack their wounds with poetry and prose

sculpt prayers in river clay and smear

a drop of menstrual blood  into each painting,

we have time to go slowly.

Time to wash the same dish fifteen times

while brooding on words

like, “iridescence” and “detergent;”

time to still impulsive fingers itching

for ochre, rose madder, cobalt, burnt sienna

and wait for the belly

to incubate vision.

Time for a lifetime

of incremental change‑

allowing the gap

between provocation

and response

to widen in seconds‑ one,

three, five, twenty-four…

hours to sit around

talking our walk,

breathing, crying; breathing, laughing;

indulging in contemplation; consenting

to silence until silence, welling

from the center, turns to love

and we could sit together, forever.

©2000 Christine Irving

Posted in Circle, Community, Consciousness, Dance, Girls, Herstory, Love, Misogyny, Poetry, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Telling of Tales

brain-design-by-cogs-and-gears

This morning, I’m contemplating story – how it enchants and enchains; how it sets us free.  Writing is my craft and stories are my passion.  How they work in the world, what purpose they serve, the way they move us – are all questions I ponder on a regular basis.  I want to understand just how idiosyncrasies of character, convolutions of plot, and use of space and time factor into the creation of a viable story.

Those dynamics fascinate me, but understanding them isn’t a requisite for being a teller.  You see, we all tell stories – actually we all think in story.  You could say stories are pattern recognition combined with meaning.  Human brains make sense of input (all the information delivered continuously by our senses) by linking various details together into meaningful configurations – stories. And what is “meaning”?  Frankly I don’t know.

brainHowever, it seems to be about pattern recognition.  We see an object and it reminds us of another object from a previous experience that involved some kind of emotional investment on our part.  In other words, even before we can voice it, our minds comprehend that basic component of storytelling called metaphor.  Stories not only use metaphors, they often are metaphors.

Metaphor comes from two Greek words meta, meaning between, and phero, meaning “to carry” or “to transfer.”  A metaphor explains something by connecting it directly to something else.  It transfers meaning from say, a fox to a woman.  “What a fox!” says one guy to another.  They both mean that this is a sexy, good-looking, woman with a touch of Foxsophistication,  poised and provocatively dressed.

Furthermore, they probably both have stories in their heads about foxes that involve red luxurious fur, cleverness and daring, not to mention pre-fabricated fantasies about what sex with such a woman might entail.  With just three words the men have created a metaphor that condenses multiple stories and creates mutual understanding.

Some kinds of emotional investments are common to just about everyone.  For example, most people on the planet are emotionally invested in their mothers.  It gives us common ground.  It’s a story we all share.  So already, on day one, before anything else happens, we already have a story to share that will hold some meaning for almost everyone we’ll ever meet.  The trick to getting someone interested in your story is to make it about them, that is to say, about human nature.

story-quote

John Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

I think stories are our most effective teaching tool because they can be purposefully imbued with wisdom, knowledge and information.  That’s where craft and talent come in. A good writer can integrate the story and the message so that the two meld into one organic whole and become indistinguishable from one another.

colorful cogsOf course our biological propensity to think in stories can trap us in a continuous loop of virtual reality.  There is something about the emotional component of meaning that makes us invest in the stories we perceive.  As soon as the pattern becomes clear we begin to believe in it.  It feels true to us.  That surety can cause us to spend years believing all sorts of things that aren’t true i.e. “no one can ever love me,” “men can’t be trusted,” “there’s nothing I can do about it,” etc.  Stories like this can keep us shackled and miserable forever.

The antidote is to stay open, flexible and conscious; to remember that each story offers numerous interpretations and all of them are true, just as all of them are false.  Stories are like veils blowing in the wind, opening to reveal, closing to maintain mystery.  They hold out hints of some greater reality and inspire us to keep searching for it.

(For more on storytelling take a look at Two Twitch a Tale)

Posted in Consciousness, Fairy Tales, Meaning, Storytelling, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment