The Art of
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I write here about the relevance of myth and fairy tales to our lives, and the world, today. Join my list at the bottom of the page to have articles sent directly to your inbox, as they appear.
The glass mountain. Beautiful, but utterly unattainable. Too large to walk around; impossible to scale. You simply can’t get any traction. There are no footholds, and as soon as you set your foot on the glistening slope of it, back down again it goes. All the way back, all the way down. And yet everything you need is on the other side of it.
In my teenage years especially, I was deeply in love with the night sky. I would pore over whichever star atlases I could get my hands on, reciting the names to myself like an incantation. Every name held a magic which I could sense, but couldn’t name. Arcturus, Capella, Deneb, Procyon, Betelgeuse, Vega. Every star had a story, a song of its own. On the few clear nights that came along in winter, I’d sit outside, trying to identify the constellations. I was deeply steeped in mythology; I knew their stories too.
I’d like to offer you some suggestions not just for gently reflecting on your intentions, but for focusing in on cultivating your mythic imagination, in the months ahead.
These new hills and valleys I’ve landed in are rich with memories of water, because the geology here is founded on sandstone and mudstone – rocks created in a long gone, ancient inland sea. And at last, I can make my way out into them. Walking (though just a little more slowly and carefully than before) against the Severn’s flow.
So it’s time for each one of us to evaluate how we can step forward now, and step up to the challenges of the times. Those of us who have been more comfortable, or who have felt safer, hiding in the shadows. Those of us who have hogged the light for all the wrong reasons. Those of us who have been lost and haven’t known which way to go. All the exiles, the edge-dwellers, the non-belongers. The world needs us now; it’s why we chose to be here.
And isn’t that the beauty of it: the land never fails. Never fails to show up, if you show up in turn. Never fails to engage, if you approach it in a spirit of genuine relationship. With your pockets full of offerings (nothing less than everything you are will suffice) and a determination to humbly apprentice yourself to whatever it has to offer you in return. Because we’re always the students here. The land always knows best. But it’s not something you can dip in and out of. The land demands your devotion, every day of your life. And devoting myself to the land is my personal practice. Has been, for more years than I can remember. Every single day.
So many of us are looking for answers to the ever-more urgent question of how we should live now. And we’re finding those answers in the wisdom which all the old stories tell us can be found on the fringes, in the forest, in the wild thickets of the ancient hedge. In our own native wisdom traditions – that rich and deep ancestral lineage which so few are aware that we possess. It’s time to reclaim those traditions, and weave them into an authentic, grounded practice for very different times.
Let’s not panic, or despair, or run away. Let’s remember that sometimes, there really is no place like home. And entertain the possibility that, although we might think we don’t need it, home might actually need us.
Essentially, your personal myth is the story you are living, the story you are inside of. That story affects your sense of identity, your relationships, your sense of purpose, your sense of your own place in the world.
It’s deep, this apprenticeship – it’s deep. You walk out into the wild each day, and you start talking. Or singing, or dancing. Waltz with the wild western wind, and what a partner you’ll find. Screech your heart out to a scald crow, and she’ll out-Trickster you anyway. So laugh – above all, always laugh, and wherever possible, at yourself – and sit, then, and just listen. Never mind your stories: listen to the land’s.
I am thinking about all that. About the skins we still have to shed, the journeys we still have to undertake, the transformations we still have to undergo, in the last third of our lives. Our culture tells us that we’re all washed up, washed out after menopause. Excuse me if I don’t think so. Excuse me if I actually think that we’re potentially at our very best, our ripest, our feistiest, our wisest and our most wonderful.
We think we make them up, the myths, stories and dreams which so richly define the human imagination. But what if they have an existence that’s independent of us? What if they come to us as psychopomps – a beautiful old word of Greek origins which means ‘soul guide’?
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