Friday, July 29, 2011

Some Thoughts about Myth, Part I: What is it Anyway?

Following up on my video interview, a few more thoughts on: What is Myth?

According to the eminent mythologist Walter Burkert, “myth is a traditional tale with secondary, partial reference to something of collective importance.”[1] By traditional, Burkert means that the tale has been told and retold many times until it has become accepted as conventional by audiences. The second part of the definition refers to the myth’s applicability to something of importance to a particular society at a particular point in time.[2] Myths that have no such relevance to contemporaries fade into obscurity over time or are transformed in some way until they become relevant again. When myths do have relevance, however, they become very powerful stuff.

According to Mircea Eliade, the purpose of myth is to explain how and why the world works the way that it does. Myth “tells us how, through the deeds of Supernatural Beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the Cosmos, or only a fragment of reality – an island, a species of plant, a particular kind of human behavior, an institution.”[3] Myth need not necessarily be about the past. It can also have very real contemporary significance as an invigorating force in present-day society. Myths tell the stories of supernatural creatures that represent types of human behavior. When the myth is remembered it recreates the “sacred time” of the ancient past in which time does not move forward, but simply stands still as the world is created.

The tale told by a myth has meaning in a contemporary context as a means of recreating or remaking the world, and bringing things back into a state of balance. In its commonly recognized characters, plotlines, and motifs, myths provide an easily recognizable formula for coming to grips with a difficult present.[4] Moreover, its characters, motifs, and themes are fluid, capable of adopting highly varied forms. Different characters may carry out identical actions that can even have completely different meanings.[5] Thus, myths and fairy tales often change over time, and later versions carry slightly different emphases from earlier versions depending on the needs and wants of the audience, but they can still have relevance to our time.

[1] Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979), 23, n. 5 153.
[2] Burkert, Structure and History, 2, 23.
[3] Mircea Eliade, “Review of Jan de Vries’s Betrachtungen zum Märchen, besonders in seinem Verhältnis zu Heldensage und Mythos (1954),” La Nouvelle Revue Française 48 (1956): 5-6; trans. and cited in Jack Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993), 1.
[4] Burkert, Structure and History, 25.
[5] Vladimir Propp, The Morphology of the Folktale, trans. Laurence Scott (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968), 19-20.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Video Blog #5: What is the place of art and spirituality in someone's life?

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week: Amy Christensen discusses how art and spirituality fit into her life.

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video?  Leave them in comments.  We hope you enjoy the video!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beauty and Poetry

The raw stuff of religion.

It may be that, in the course of emphasizing the absolutely critical nature of relationship in the spiritual development of our people, the quest for/authentic appreciation of/submergence in all the glorious diversity of the World’s innate Beauty comes in an achingly close second (so much so that they are, in my mind, practically synonymous). Beauty, which is the Subject of poetry, and thus possesses its own language, is that which whispers in the core of my body and makes my heart sigh and laugh and dance - it is that which makes me involuntarily inhale in joy - that holy gasping in the face of something so purely wonderful that your body knows it as true Beauty before you do. The first time I consciously witnessed a perfect example of this was when I was 11 years old.

We had only just moved to Colorado, and that summer the days were particularly hot and we were particularly bored - school hadn’t started yet, and we hadn’t been there long enough to have friends. In order to relieve us all of our growing discontent and the oppressive heat, my mother piled my sister and I into our craptacular minivan and hauled us up into the Rockies to visit a “park” called Estes Park (much to our delight, we promptly discovered that Estes Park, CO is not a park but rather a scenic touristy mountain town, home of the Stanley Hotel, which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining). We toodled up the mountainside dutifully watching the creek and looking at the pine trees, and then we rounded a particular turn... and the Luminous World literally unfolded itself in front of us, revealing snow-capped peaks, a golden valley and a sparkling lake. My mother clutched her chest and inhaled sharply, and in a teary, breathy voice cried “Oh!” and then launched into a passionate paean to the mountains that didn’t end for nearly the entire day (we’re on the whole a rather emotional people, my family). I’ve never forgotten that moment. Whenever I think of that mysterious force that some call Awen and some inspiration and many other names (as noted in many books on creativity - the word “inspiration” comes from Latin meaning “to breathe”), that Holy Gasp, that breath that brings with it the fiery wonder of poetry, I think of that moment with my mom, and how the Earth unfurled Herself in that moment of utter Revelation. This is what I mean by Beauty.

I believe that Beauty is a fact of our existence, that it exists independent of our perceiving it, though in also exists in intimate concert with our perception of it (via the precious marvel of our bodily senses), and when this true relationship with Beauty is engaged, Beauty is enhanced, and movement and growth occur in fantastic ways. I believe that Beauty creates and is created. In the practice of my faith I try to make the seeking of Beauty a priority - I may even go so far to say that the pursuit of Beauty is close to the summation of my spiritual journey as a whole. The gods and goddesses are the personifications of the diverse complexity of Beauty in the world - though, of course, this does not always make them safe, or “good” (just as Love is a deeply complicated thing, so is Beauty), or even pretty or nice to look at.

Being pleasant to look at does not necessarily indicate Beauty. Take, for instance, compost - an ingenious, Beautiful, gorgeous, unattractive, gross, icky and glorious process. Decomposition is Beautiful. Death, in itself, is Beautiful (though the methods by which Death is achieved are not always such - while Death may be Beautiful, oppression, torture, murder, genocide, war, all of these are insurmountably Ugly). When I pray, I pray for Beauty. I pray to Beauty. I pray because of Beauty. When Beauty is broken, my heart is broken.

And oh, and for sure, and forever and ever, Beauty is the fountain from which poetry springs:
by Emily Dickinson
I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.
He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth - the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.
And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms.
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

So I would hope that as we all, poets and singers and dreamers and doers, find our paths to Beauty, we might see those pieces of it, whether in simplicity or in complexity, that are our own, and when even our names have been obscured by moss and time and good Death, we rest happy, scattered in and among the Beauty we died within and beneath and through. And for.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Video Blog #4: What is the role of poetry in our work?

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week: What is the role of poetry in the work of Terra Mysterium?

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video?  Leave them in comments.  We hope you enjoy the video!

Monday, July 11, 2011

1000 Words: The Goddess Project

Sometimes the stories of Terra Mysterium are not told in words. Sometimes it's a moment, an image, a feeling, or a mood. Often our art is visual and fleeting; but sometimes I'm around to capture that moment and preserve it for a little while longer.

In the spring we began a project to develop and produce a Goddess calendar, the Feminine Mysterium, featuring the women of TM embodying 12 different goddesses. As a photographer I'd experienced that transformative connection between shooter and subject before; when it works really well, there's this subtle shift away from the mundane, away from the outside world, and our focus narrows until our interaction becomes a dance between me, her, and our immediate environment.

He'e'e (a Hopi kachina) was the first goddess I photographed. It began as it usually does -- we meet up, we sort out hair and clothing and makeup, we look around the location for the best places to shoot. Yet during this time we were becoming aware of each other, aware of our environment... and aware of something a little bit more. We were relaxed and open and ideas and opportunities seemed to present themselves. Amy, as He'e'e, wished to embody her as an urban warrior-protector; and so here was this rundown industrial building which brought the urban grit together with the warrior grit.

I think this is my favorite image out of the entire shoot. The distressed color and high contrast were a lucky accident, but it lends a bit of extra harshness to the dirty urban feel. Here I am looking at someone who has spent lifetimes in the fighter-protector business. She's no softie and would rather be your guardian than your friend, but she is a loyal guardian. No nonsense, alert even when relaxed, at home in her own body and in the rough neighborhoods she takes it upon herself to watch over.

In a way this communion always happens; and in that way there's always a spiritual element to my art, no matter what I'm doing. Every communion is different, every subtle dance is different, and here I felt privileged to take part in a project where a goddess accepts the invitation to step in and choreograph the dance.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Video Blog #3: What is Myth?

The third in our series of behind-the-scenes videos explores myth and its relationship to our creative process.  What is myth?  How do you define it? How is myth relevant today?

For more information on myth and the people mentioned in this video:

Walter Burkert
John Michael Greer

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video?  Leave them in comments.  We hope you enjoy the video!