Archive for the ‘earth religion’ Tag

Cuteness, Archetypes, Konrad Lorenz, and “We Who Watch”

As visual creatures we’re programmed to respond to faces.  We project faces and human figures onto landscapes, the moon’s surface, cloud formations, etc.  We make quick judgments about others on the basis of their faces and habitual facial expressions. And up to a point, we’re often justified in doing so.  After all, we feel most comfortable around those who look like us. The “looking” part is key.  Eyes tell us a great deal, and who hasn’t wanted at some point to remove the sunglasses from a stranger’s face so we can “read” the person’s eyes?

hellokitty

Hello Kitty

In particular, the properties of “cuteness” — large eyes relative to head size, rounded features, a set of proportions frequently common to young animals and humans — induce a “cuddle response” which the Austrian Konrad Lorenz asserted motivates adults to care for the young.  Subsequent study has confirmed that the response is universal, crossing cultures — and incidentally allowing such things as Japanese cartoons like Hello Kitty to catch on in the West.

Of course there’s a large element of “warm and fuzzy” sentimentality in such images, and in how we react to them. Marketers know this and capitalize on it.  And environmentalists, not surprisingly, find they can succeed more easily in garnering support to protect an endangered bird or animal that happens to have some features of cuteness over one that may be grotesque or otherwise off-putting.  The Ugly Animal Preservation Society makes this point through its official mascot, the Blobfish.  As the UAPS president notes, the group is “dedicated to raising the profile of some of Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children. The panda gets too much attention.”

blobfish

Blobfish

Perhaps this is why cultural images that actually possess real power can shock and startle us into waking up a little, because our increasingly sentimental cultures seem to have produced fewer of them in recent times.  We may even fear the archetypal and subconscious energies that emerge in such images, because they can reveal the hollowness of much of our emotional and spiritual lives, as well as pointing out ways towards greater depth and integrity.  We don’t know where we are with such images, and we may turn away in discomfort or disgust, or accuse the visionary or artist who helps manifest them, or misunderstand our own dreams where such archetypal images and figures may also appear, instead of understanding them as prompts to look inward.

Tsagaglalal

Tsagaglalal

The Wishram Indians of Oregon U.S. tell a story about Tsagaglalal  (tsah-GAHG-lah-lahl) “she who watches,” whose image appears on a stone above the site of an ancient village. In part it’s also a story about Coyote, the archetypical Trickster figure of the Americas.  Warning Tsagaglalal of a coming time when women will no longer be chiefs, Coyote tests Tsagaglalal’s resolve to protect her people.  When he finds her worthy, he changes her to stone to guard the village she overlooks.

Visitors can see the combined petroglyph/pictograph of “She Who Watches” at Columbia Hills State Park near Dallesport, Washington.  A guide now accompanies you — the image has been vandalized in the past.

[On a side note, when we lose our connection to the sacred, we may access a subsidiary glimmer of the original energy through the act of profaning it.  Degradation and blasphemy do generate power of a sort.  Human spiritual history testifies to this in figures and movements who have explored their possibilities.  If they were too public in their explorations, they outraged the sensibilities of the wider culture.  In the end, such practices seem consistently not to deliver what it is we seek anyway.  Like the “withering away of the state” in Communism, human limitations sully the abstract ideal.]

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Images: Hello Kitty; BlobfishTsagaglalal;

“What Remains in the Journal, What to Communicate”

handbirdIn her comment on a post from August ’13, Lorna Smithers makes a distinction particularly vital for “Bardic types” that I want to take up here, especially in light of my last post:

The division between what remains in the journal and what to communicate is a question I confront continuously as a Bard, for unlike with a path that focuses solely on personal transformation through magic, Bards are expected to share their inspiration.

I find that some experiences are ok to share immediately, others need time to gestate for the meanings to evolve and take on a clearer form, and a select few may always stay secret.

I see good craftmanship to be the key [to] sharing experiences. In contrast to the vomit of ‘compulsive confession’, well-wrought craft lifts the raw material into the realms of art, creating works that affirm the awe and wonder of the magical world.

That Bardic instinct to share inspiration that may or may not have been shaped by art can get us in trouble.  The desire to bring into physical expression something that’s going on in your inner worlds can lead to what Lorna accurately calls vomit.  Sometimes, of course, awen really does drop a piece of loveliness in your lap.  It arrives fully-formed, and you run with it, dazed and delighted and puppy-like in your enthusiasm to share the wonder of it with all and sundry, but that (the gift of inspired loveliness, not the puppy-like response) usually only happens when you’ve done plenty of the hard slog of shaping already, alone or with only yourself and your gods for support of a vision no one else may even know anything about.

Sometimes the time and energy your pour into nurturing your creativity can make you defensive if you haven’t “produced” anything visible.  If you’re a writer, for instance, you’re not a “real” writer till you’ve “published.”  Few will care about the months, years or decades of work that may lie shelved in boxes or occupy megs of space on a computer.  The same holds true in comparable ways for anyone who’s devoted time and energy to a craft or art.

Lazy-at-workArtists who should know better sometimes like to hint, or let it be inferred, that this business of “awen on command” is how they work all the time, both mystifying us “ordinary mortals” and also doing a disservice to their craft and the nature of inspiration.  Talent, oddly enough, responds well to practice, and no one works most of the time without effort.

The Anglo-Saxon bard was called a sceop, pronounced approximately “shop,” “one who shapes” inspiration into language and song.  And the word bard comes from an Indo-European root *gwer- that means “to praise”  or “to sing,” indicating two of the roles of the Celtic bard. The same root appears in Latin gratia, and English grace — a whole cluster of relationships — the gift and our response, our gratitude, and the quality in things blessed with awen, the loveliness and fluidity and rightness they often evince.

But if I opt to share something that’s not ready or right to share, I’ll usually regret it.  Let me enthuse or gab about a story or an inner experience before its proper time, and it may lose its luster.  It no longer thrills me enough to work with it, and I take what was a gift and cast it aside, its charm lost.  The spell is broken, and I am no longer spell-bound, or able to do anything with it.  Like the old fairy story of the goblin jewels, in the daylight of the blog, or the careless conversation with another, the one-time treasures that sparkled and shone under moonlight have turned to dead leaves.  One or two such painful experiences is usually enough to teach anyone the virtues of silence, restraint and self-discipline.

walkingAnother half (there are almost never just two halves, but three, four, five or more) of the whole, however, is that keeping the flow going, trusting the awen enough to go with what you get, and allowing the work to manifest, brings in more.  Jesus did know what he was talking about when he said (paraphrased to modernize the language), “To people that already have, more will be given, and from people that don’t, even what they have will be taken away.”  While this may sound at first like contemporary government policy and destructive legislation and current economics, it holds true on the inner planes, in the worlds of inspiration and imagination.

Lorna herself is an exemplar of this Bardic trust and inspiration.  As an Awenydd, one who receives and shapes the gift of awen, she demonstrates in poetry and photography on her blog and in performance the mutual bonds with the Otherworld and spirits of place that make up her path.

And so it was with considerable interest that I read her account “Personal Religion?”  well into writing this post, while I was checking that the URLs were right for the links to her blog.  She experiences a strong reaction on hearing about the OBOD Golden Anniversary celebrations, and launches into a series of probing personal questions without immediate answers which I urge you to read directly.  The challenges she faces are those of one attempting to be faithful to a call, and she follows a path with honor.  Her struggles illustrate the living nature of the Pagan path, with its many branches and trails.  Her practice flourishes precisely because she strives to be faithful to her own vision, which may not always grow and bloom under the “big tent” of orders like OBOD.

Making that struggle visible is valuable — posting it for others to read, ponder and benefit from.

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Images: handbirdhard at work; walking.

 

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