Graven Image…

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‘ … And look! A man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold… His body also was like beryl and his face had the appearance of lightning. His eyes were as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to burnished brass. The voice of his words was as the voice of a multitude… and he said, “… To you am I now sent. Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, your prayers were heard and I am come for your prayers… I am come to make you understand what will befall your people in the latter days. I will show you the literal truth of these things. There is no other that can do this.”‘

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It is very difficult to find any illustrations for this piece.

Perhaps that is linked to the Hebraic injunction against graven images.

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In the current climate of image saturation it might be worthwhile

 considering the possible reasons for such an injunction…

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Speaking of his encounter with the ‘man clothed in linen’ Daniel says, “I alone saw the vision and the men that were with me saw it not but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled and hid themselves… I was left alone and threw myself to the ground. When he spoke I stood, trembling, and when he had finished speaking I was strengthened.”

Elsewhere in the text Daniel is less sure of this being’s precise nature:

“… And look! One like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips. I opened my mouth and spoke… Then there came again, and touched me, one like the appearance of a man…”

Michael is described both as a ‘Chief Prince’, and as ‘Daniel’s Prince’ by the narrator.

And later, as a ‘Great Prince’… “How long until the end of these awful things?”

Then I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river, swear by the Ever-Living One as he lifted his right hand and his left hand to heaven, “For a time, times, and half a time and when the breaking of the power of the holy people comes to an end, then shall all these things be fulfilled.”

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Already, after this brief overview we can glimpse some of Michael’s traditional attributions.

He is concerned with ‘end times’.

He strengthens and protects the individual

and can be petitioned on behalf of nations or ‘a people’.

He acts as a bridge and can communicate, high to low, and low to high.

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In times of hardship and struggle he may well be worth invoking…

 

Curiosities…

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St Michael’s victory over the Devil

– Sculptor, Jacob Epstein

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The French occultist, Eliphas Levi, the German philosopher Franz von Baader, and the Theurgist, Louis Claude de St. Martin spoke of 1879 as the year in which Michael overcame the dragon.

In 1917, Rudolf Steiner the founder of anthroposophy, similarly stated, “In 1879, in November, a momentous event took place, a battle of the Powers of Darkness against the Powers of Light, which ended in the image of St Michael overcoming the Dragon.”

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All of which is, to say the least, curious…

The traditional texts which mention Michael, and they are few, do not mention a dragon, and yet, iconographically, St Michael slaying the dragon is almost as ubiquitous as St George…

Religious paintings, sculptures and stain glass windows are all in agreement despite many, if not most,  of them being produced before 1879!

So what is going on?

Pull up a seat…

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‘ … And look! A man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold… His body also was like beryl and his face had the appearance of lightning. His eyes were as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to burnished brass. The voice of his words was as the voice of a multitude… and he said, “… To you am I now sent. Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, your prayers were heard and I am come for your prayers… I am come to make you understand what will befall your people in the latter days. I will show you the literal truth of these things. There is no other that can do this.”‘

– First appearance of Michael :  The Book of Daniel, Chapter 10: 5-21

Six second memory

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“You’re in goldfish mode again, aren’t you?”

My brain-injured son looks smug. I raise my eyes to the heavens. He’s right, I have completely forgotten half the things he just asked me to do. He takes a great and unholy delight in what he calls my six-second memory, especially when he shouldn’t have one at all.

The goldfish is famed for the shortness of its memory… though you wouldn’t think so to see my son’s fish react to the sound of footsteps and the food jar. In fact new studies suggest they can recall things for up to five months. Perhaps what they do is discard the unnecessary to ‘make room’ for the needful. Which isn’t a bad thing to do.

I forget a lot of things. Not because of poor memory, but simply because they don’t capture my attention, having no emotional impact or intellectual appeal…because I have no affinity for them… or simply because I no longer need to remember what technology does better than I and even the memory gets lazy. Or perhaps it is simply freed for more important or more interesting things… things with which we engage and which capture our attention.

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My son and I often talk about the vagaries of memory.
“It wasn’t a lie, they were telling the truth as they remembered it.”
“But that doesn’t make it true.”
“It makes it their truth…”
“But not necessarily the truth.”

Memory is a fickle thing. We will not recall what we had for lunch on this day ten years ago… but we will remember that holiday, that special occasion, that wonderful day… Yet we can only remember things through the filters of our own emotions and understanding at the time. Even when logic, in later years, refuses to accept that there really was a monster in the wardrobe, the child in us recalls the memory and shudders. Or perhaps we believed in Narnia and still open the wardrobe with illogical hope.

Just a few years ago my work was office based as a transport manager. The telephones required you to input numbers, scores of them every day as you liaised with suppliers, customers, other transport companies and your own fleet of drivers. It was more energy and time efficient to know their numbers than to look them up every time, so remember them you did. It is not so long ago, but I haven’t been in contact with any of those people since that time. I couldn’t remember one of those numbers now… or for that matter any of the scores of personal numbers I once knew in the days before cell phones became part of our lives. But I could still tell you about the people I talked to, all about their spouses and children… which one played badminton, which had a rescue dog, whose son was doing so well at school… all the personal details that were shared over that faceless phone as we talked. Their phone numbers were essential for the job, but it was the people who touched the heart, sense of humour and mind, and it is they who remain long after the details have gone.

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“It’s like having your own walking Wikipedia…”

My son looks disgusted… my turn to look smug, having just imparted another bit of dredged-up information gleaned over the years. It really is incredible how much our memories hold. Most of the time we don’t even realise it is memory in action. We think of memories as encapsulated moments, events or sequences from the past, yet everything we know, from the simplest word, to the cake recipe… from the way to get from here to there, to the basics like how to flick the light switch… it is all memory. All learned behaviour.

And so are we. Memory can be abstract too, so we learn to react in certain ways to certain situations, we learn where there is joy or pleasure and can seek it out, or where there is possible pain so we can avoid it. Physically and emotionally. We learn when we can be ourselves and at ease and when to don the social masks behind which we hide, both from the prying eyes of the world and from ourselves. Our personalities begin building themselves from our memories right from the start and it is memory that carries us through our days and all our relationships with those around us. Which is why the degeneration of memory is such a tragedy.

Yet memory alone is not enough. The ancients knew it, and in the Norse mythology Odin is known as the raven-god, as the two birds, Huginn and Muninn, fly from him every day across the world, and bring him knowledge. “Huginn and Muninn fly each day over the spacious earth. I fear for Huginn, that he come not back, yet more anxious am I for Muninn,” says Odin in the Grímnismál. Huginn means thought; Muninn memory… or mind.

Yet what is it that they fly back to? What is it in us that has mind, thought, memory? We are not these things… all may seemingly be taken from us by age, accident or infirmity. Yet even then there is a something that remains, a something that is us. Something which is the raw material upon which thought and memory build a structure, a vehicle for who we truly are.

Perhaps the myth of Odin holds more than a clue, for he is the raven god because of his association with these birds. They serve him by bringing him what they have found, memory and mind, a knowledge which, when combined, may become understanding. When we take the elements of our experience, our thoughts and memories, our acquired responses and transmute them into something higher and deeper than observation or reaction, what is it in us that can do this? It is, I think, that echo of the divine that flames within us, the flame of Being that holds and is held by the vessel we think of as ourselves.

Goldfish or Raven? Perhaps we need to be both.

flirtycleo2Images Cleo from Disney’s Pinocchio

Deep waters

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The fish are watching me watching them. Every so often, one or another will come to the corner of the aquarium and look out into the world around my desk and we watch each other, eye to eye. It is a strange feeling, wondering who is the observer and who the observed at such moments… and can we truly draw that distinction?

It is only with the advent of modern technology that we have really had the privilege of looking beneath the waters and watching the piscine world. I remember being spellbound by Cousteau’s undersea adventures as a child, exploring waters I will never see. The rich diversity was breathtaking, but there was not the same intimacy as living with fish and watching them day by day.

Keeping fish is an old, old story. The Roman’s did it, so did the Chinese. Around 50 AD, the Romans first used glass on one wall of their marble tanks in order to keep sea barbel. The Chinese kept goldfish in porcelain bowls. Conditions for the fish, with insufficient oxygen and no water flow cannot have been good. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that fishkeeping began to catch on in Britain and the technology was still too poor to maintain healthy communities of fish.

By the middle of the twentieth century, we had aquarium heaters, filters and electric lighting. Keeping tropical fish became a viable proposition and our understanding of the necessary parameters for water quality, temperature and a diverse ecosystem has grown since then. We have learned how to mimic the natural environment to a point where most aquarium fish are now tank bred; wild-caught fish are frowned upon and many species now extinct in the wild through environmental changes are preserved only by dedicated hobbyists.

It is a bit of a touchy subject, because the original ‘specimens’ were all wild-caught. Even today, there are still those desperate to get hold of newly discovered species who will pay through the proverbial nose in order to acquire the latest novelty… often long before there is any real understanding of their needs… and the primary need of a wild fish, after all, is to be wild. Novelty is also responsible for the aberrations of the profit-seekers who will chemically dye fish to make these beautiful creatures ‘more attractive’.

Most fishkeepers, though…even the accidental ones like me… are simply fascinated by their beauty and behaviour. Their individual characters soon show themselves. They have a distinct hierarchy, they dance for their mates, they even play games… and for the first time in history we can see these creatures face to face with perfect clarity in an environment as close to nature as any confinement can ever be.

If all they, and generations of their ancestors, have ever known is life in a tank, then their environment will not feel like confinement…it will feel like home. As they look out of their glass boxes at us, comfortably confined with the glass and concrete of the modern home, I wonder if they think the same of us?

Caged butterlies

Berthe Morisot 1875

Berthe Morisot 1875

I love antique fans… there is something about them that has always fascinated me. I remember vividly standing in tears at Harewood House at an exhibition many years ago. I don’t quite know what it is… their delicacy and craftsmanship, the artistry in miniature, their ephemeral fragility… or perhaps it is the stories that they could tell. They were given as gifts, symbols of love and affection, hid shy smiles and coquettish glances, indeed there was a whole, discrete language that could be spoken in silence by the hand that held the fan.

I used to collect them. It was one of those things I had always promised myself when I could afford to do so. The delicate lace and gauze, painted satin and  feathers of the Belle Époque were my favourite, though the little brisé fan that belonged to my great-grandmother was the most precious. They went long ago, when times were tough, but  it was a privilege to be their custodian for a while.

Amongst my dreams one night I dreamed of a fan. I was being shown how it was to be restored. The whole ‘lesson’ was about perception, and it went on for what seemed like half the night.  In this particular passage though there was a broken fan. The gauze had split and frayed through mishandling, the sticks were  damaged and broken, the guards detached. Yet it had been a lovely thing of mother of pearl and spangled silk, painted with tiny creatures and nasturtiums… School colours and not unlike a fan I once loved.

James Tossot 1885

James Tissot 1885

The restorer showed me how to fix the guards… how to stiffen the leaf, backing it with  fine fabric to strengthen the damaged bits… how to mend the sticks and replace the rivet that held them together. I remembered how to tie the wrist ribbons. And when we had finished it looked beautiful, almost as good as new…

Except, it didn’t feel right, somehow, it was too heavy, unbalanced and the extra fabric meant it could no longer fold… certainly it could no longer be opened and closed with one graceful flick to make a conversational point. Although the body of the fan was repaired, it had lost something. It was no longer fit for the hands of coy damsels or elegant matrons. It had been patched and mended so skilfully to preserve its outward appearance that it was no longer fit for purpose. It had lost its soul.

Next I was shown how to back the fan, sewing each stick in place, supported and unfurled in all its beauty so it could be framed in glass to protect it for the future. No longer would it be handled or used, it would lay against no other cheek to say I love you  in that secret language… indeed… we had to wear white gloves so as not to contaminate it with our nasty, sweaty hands… the same that gave the beautiful patina to sticks of ivory and wood.

Alexandre Roslin 1768

Alexandre Roslin 1768

The sticks, sewn into place, could no longer flex and move, there was only stiffness where there should have been fluid movement. The butterfly was caged, pinned in a frame, a lifeless beauty, preserved for posterity in all its glory… but inanimate, soulless…. Its very nature changed by its preservation. Yet collectors of beauty would pay highly for the framed fan, seeing only the artistry, not the cage.

The waking mind sees further than the dream… or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the waking mind is able to unpick what the dreaming mind already knows and bring it into consciousness. I do not believe that there are regimented meanings to the content of dreams, although some of the images we encounter are so deeply rooted in human consciousness that their symbolism is readily apparent. Dreams are personal and it is up to us to be the key that unlocks the doorways into our subconscious that they offer.

I have mulled over this one, on and off, for a long time and there are so many layers of possible meaning that unveil themselves that, as with most dreams, there is no single, clear-cut answer. It is possible that all those layers of meaning are right… each on their own level. The mind is a fabulously creative thing.

Fans have always seemed like precious, if ephemeral things to me. Perhaps, given that I was already caring for an injured son, it was a lesson in the care and diligence it would need to ‘mend’ him… and a reminder that no matter how carefully we worked, the end result would be different, though perhaps even more valuable, than where we began.

Image result for language of fans

Maybe the dream was telling me that we have to let go of the past? That attempting to preserve what is beyond repair will only render something stiff and soulless, outwardly attractive, perhaps, but no longer useful. Most of us cling to outworn behaviours, habits become futile and even relationships that have long since failed.

The battle for social acceptability through conformity might be epitomised by the broken fan too. How many of us choose by default or are forced into the roles and boxes that society deems acceptable, when we yearn for a different life, only to find our spirits starved of colour and movement, sliding gradually into an old age of stiff regret?

Caged butterflies.

Or was it, like the rest of the dreams that night, simply another lesson in perception? That beyond the outer form, whether beautiful or tatterdemalion, all things have a purpose. To try to force someone into serving a purpose for which they were not destined, is to rob them of their chance to fly… and perhaps this applies especially to oneself. To deny the inner purpose of our being is to deny our Selves and leads to a lifeless life.

Sometimes, to escape the cage and find our true wings, we have to follow our dreams.

The Marsh King’s Daughter: Blossom…

 

barbrook III (14)

Hi-ho the Carrion Crow, bow and bend to me…

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…There usually is.

Perhaps one reason for the tale’s obscurity these days is its perceived, overtly, Christian message.

This takes the form of a priest who is captured and tortured by Helga’s Viking fosterers, provokes in her the first stirrings of love and compassion and affords the young girl opportunity to embrace the process which results in the fusing of her day/night time personalities and her achievement of wholeness in mind and form.

However, the culmination of this process is complicated somewhat by the priest’s death at the hands of robbers and his subsequent appearance in a dream vision and by the denouement of the tale which sees the Changeling Child whisked away to heaven by the priest only to return a short time later and find her original home now long lost to the ravishes of time.

The Rip Van Winkle like nature of the priest’s ‘heaven’ may give inkling  to the original story source for this episode, as might his appearance on horse-back wielding his cross much like a knight would wield his sword.

As an other-world component of the story the Christian priest is perhaps less dramatically successful than he might be as a ‘Fairy King’ or ‘Lord of Light’ but still gives us pause for thought and contemplation as to the precise mode of consciousness his figure represents.

That’s almost all, folks…

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 ‘What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

long live the weeds and the wildness yet.’

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All photographs – Sue Vincent.

All epithets – The Grateful Dead, ‘Mountains of the Moon’.

Epitaph -‘Inversnaid’, Gerard Manly Hopkins.

The Marsh King’s Daughter: Bud…

 

P1180179

‘…The Earth will see you on through this time…’

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…There always is.

The Marsh King sinks back beneath the waters with the unnamed Egyptian Princess in his thrall.

Some time later a green shoot with a water-lily bud appears above the slime.

The bud unfurls to reveal a small girl-child.

The child is spotted by a watching Stork and is taken to a barren Viking couple who, quite naturally, are enthralled with the gift and immediately besotted with the child.

Children normally display both the physical and temperamental characteristics of their ancestors, predominantly their parents, and usually in more or less equal measure.

Here, these tendencies are pronounced.

Helga, for this is the name the Viking couple choose for her, is a beautiful girl-child during the day, albeit displaying a strong blood-thirsty streak, whilst as the sun sets she turns into a compassionate, toad-like monster!

Is the name significant?

How important is it that Helga is the only named character in the story?

Could any device be better chosen to make us consider the diurnal polarity of Day and Night and their profound affects upon our consciousness and its natural tendencies?

Cold mountain…

Warm earth…

If we are in any doubt as to what we are to make of these devices we are introduced to the somnambulistic nature of both Denmark and the nether regions of Marsh-Land later in the tale.

To make matters worse, Helga’s apparent beauty beguiles all those who gaze upon her and blinds them to the reality of her brutish day-time nature.

It is only her adoptive Viking mother who witnesses and begins to see and realise the true nature of the problem presented to both her, and by extension us, in the form and expressions displayed via the mysterious Marsh King’s Daughter.

There is more…

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Mist on the Moors

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… We met up with author and blogger Graeme Cumming and his partner for another wander over the moors. We followed a path that leads from a place of hoary legend and gory history, where a headless body was found, up onto a moor cloaked in low clouds.

We climbed to the plateau, sharing the archaeological features on the way… features mostly hidden by mist and bracken. In the distance, limestone cliffs shelter this place that is hidden in plain sight, unseen from the road that snakes through the valley.

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From here you can see the distinctive shapes of the hills that are shadowed in stone… except that we couldn’t as they were wreathed in cloud. But what you can see, if you know where to look, is a stone circle.

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Like all the circles in this area, the stones are quite small…as if their builders knew that power resides in what lies behind the symbol, not in the form itself. The land seems to centre on the circle and we have passed hours watching the dome of the sky sparkle above us.

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But we haven’t been back for two years… and here, as at Barbrook, reeds and bracken begin to encroach on the space within the stones. For the first time here, there is a sense of unease… not about the land, but an overlay, imposed and alien.

Looking at the stone named for the Fae, where their lights, it is said, can sometimes be seen dancing, we saw a possible reason why. The hollow  in the top of the stone was filled with something that I hoped, just for a second, was a mangled plum… but which I knew was nothing so acceptable.

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The fresh entrails of some small creature… no fur or feathers, no bones of sign of predator, were neatly placed in the hollowed stone. A fire pit in the centre of the circle held newly burned cinders…evidence of a Friday night sojourn beneath a full moon. It is not the first time we have found offerings here, though usually they are just flowers. Nothing so darkly disturbing as this.

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We walked the circle, weaving light about the stones and did what we could. I love these moors and the ancient places they shelter and feel a responsibility to care for them. There was no caring in what we had found. For the first time, we did not linger and I, for one, felt nothing but anger and distaste for what had been done.

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The Marsh King’s Daughter…

 

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‘…Hi-ho the Carrion Crow, Fol-de-rol-de riddle…’

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Although the second longest of Anderson’s Fairy Tales, The Marsh King’s Daughter is relatively little known and perhaps, even, considered to be one of his ‘lesser’ tales.

It is a huge, sprawling epic of a yarn, which like most of his stories draws liberally from the ancient sagas, legends and folk tales which Hans imbibed in his youth.

Unlike some story tellers, although Anderson approaches the traditional devices with free reign, he never loses sight of their psychological and spiritual import and consequently, whilst sometimes apparently piling device upon device in wild profusion, there is always a satisfying, not to say, profound pay off to his seemingly more fantastical meanderings.

In these posts then, rather than retell the story, we intend to focus on aspects of the tale in order to investigate and elucidate the psychological and spiritual components of the story as a whole.

The Marsh King himself, though central to the plot, plays a comparatively minor role in the story, appearing just once, initially disguised as a tree stump.

It is a cunning disguise which gives the foul fellow the opportunity to drag an unsuspecting princess to her apparent doom beneath the marshes.

But wait, how did such a delicate, pretty one find herself on the edge of a marsh in Denmark?

She was sent from Egypt by her dying father to look for the antidote to his wasting disease.

And how did she get there?

She donned a feathered cloak and flew there as a swan.

Then, why didn’t she simply re-don the cloak and fly away when the Swamp Man revealed himself to her?

Because her jealous sisters, who had flown with her, stole her cloak and destroyed it…

Spatially, the construct is no less dazzling.

Here, as in most traditional stories the horizontal polarity of Egypt and Denmark constitutes a world and its other-realm.

The Outer, wasteland, can only be re-invigorated from the Inner depths which appear to be somewhat murky.

The healing herb reputedly grows in a bog, the domain of the Marsh King.

Already, the mix of natural metaphor and deep psychological insight  begins to weave its ancient magic.

But there is more…

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