In 2014, my photograph (below) came 6th place in a worldwide
competition for Wikipedia's 'Wiki Loves UK Monuments'. This article is
something I wrote to help inspire others to enter this year (2017), published
They say every picture tells a story… well, this is mine.
It’s about the relationship between myth and landscape and my connection with a
5,000 year-old cromlech (or dolmen) in Britain that goes by two names; Bwrdd
Arthur (‘Arthur’s Table’) and Gwâl y Filiast (‘Lair of the Greyhound Bitch’).
I first visited the cromlech one fine spring day – April
28th 2010, to be precise – shortly after I’d decided to write a book about the
Muse. It sits on a hillside above the river Tâf, in a liminal place between two
counties in Wales – Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire – called Cilymaenllwyd,
which means ‘retreat of the ancient stone’ (cil: ‘retreat’, maen: ‘stone’,
llwyd: ‘ancient’). I was immediately enchanted by the place. Little did I know
then that, three years later, I would come to live nearby and spend many, many
hours here with my dogs, come rain (and snow) or shine, tuning-in and musing
upon its original function and appearance.
There’s an old Welsh legend, The Tale of Taliesin, that
tells of Ceridwen’s cauldron and her strange brew called Awen (Welsh for
‘Muse’). The story goes that three magical drops touched Gwion’s lips and he
became wise (the name Taliesin means ‘shining intellect’). I was reading The
Mythology and Rites of the British Druids (1809) by Edward Davies and nearly
fell off my chair when he said that;
“…in the tale of Taliesin’s initiation, the table of Arthur
is connected with the mysteries of Ceridwen, and in Llan Beudy [Llanboidy]
parish, in Carmarthenshire, we find a monument which joins the name of Arthur
with another name, which we can only refer to that goddess. It is called Bwrdd
Arthur, Arthur’s table, and Gwal y Vilast, the couch of the Greyhound bitch.”
In the story, which took place during the days of King
Arthur, Gwion turns into a hare and Ceridwen transforms herself into a
greyhound bitch and chases him down to the river. Could this cromlech perhaps
be the physical locale mentioned in the story? I don’t believe this was a
burial chamber or passage tomb – not sepulchral, but chthonic. In the Mysteries
of Ancient Greece, initiation took place underground in dark spaces overseen by
the Muses. In a sense, Ceridwen was a British Muse; a teacher of these ancient
Mysteries in Britain. The cromlech was originally covered by an earthen mound
where one could, literally, ‘go within’ and receive insight and inspiration,
just as monks retreated to their ‘cells’ and hermitages.
I continued reading: “… the period which was employed in
preparing the mystical cauldron, the anniversary of its commencement would
fall, of course, upon the twenty-ninth of April.” I looked at the date… it was
the 29th April, almost three years to the day of my first visit (make of that
what you will).
To me, this is more than just a photograph that I took one
cold, winter morning as the sun rose through the mist – it’s about the genius
loci of a place; a reminder that the Muse lives on… by a cromlech in a wooded
valley somewhere in wild West Wales.
Bydded i’r hen iaith barhau.
~ Karen Sawyer.
To find out more about my forthcoming book about the Muse,
you can follow me on Twitter @impishKaren or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In this day and age, when everyone is suspicious of
everyone else and their motives for doing anything (perhaps rightly so, when the
world appears to be increasingly full of liars, cheats and manipulators), it’s an oxymoron
that the so-called ‘truth movement’ is probably no less prone to falsehood than
any other area of research… but it would be a mistake to pronounce the ‘truth
movement’ is now ‘dead’, just because a few rotten apples have recently been exposed. Truth
is all about movement – and it’s
alive and kicking (quite a few butts, so it would seem).
“What is truth?” has been a favourite topic
of conversation among philosophers since ancient times; one that isn’t easy to
answer in just a few words. The OxfordDictionaryOnline presumes
to define ‘truth’ for us in three ways (my comments in brackets);
quality or state of being true (being ‘pure’, ‘honest’, ‘genuine’, ‘authentic’)
which is in accordance with fact or reality (as in: ‘accurate’, ‘correct’, or
fact or belief that is accepted as true (which is oftentimes not ‘truth’;
It's something of a paradox that we’re not getting
further away from the truth as the years go by, but closer to it. As exciting new discoveries radically revise our
understanding of the past, by now it should be obvious that no matter how much
time and money one invests in the pursuit of education (whether you’re studying
for a PhD, researching, writing books, etc.), you’ll never be ‘done’ with it;
as knowledge is a perpetual unfoldment. Put another way; the goalposts will
always keep moving. Such is the nature of our ever-expanding universe that
there is always something more to learn about anything, no matter how ‘expert’
you are on a subject at any one given time. One should never assume that a
‘fact’ will always hold true and – even if it is absolute – it can always be
more deeply understood. New information may come to light, completely changing
one’s perspective (it’s happened to me many-a-time). It is what it is; until it
becomes ‘something else’… which is usually in hindsight; such is the true gift
of what we call ‘time’. These moments of revelation can transform your life if
you’re alert and open to them. Sadly, for many people, the more time they’ve
invested in the pursuit of knowledge, the less likely they will accept
something that contradicts it. Too much is at stake; a reputation and/or income
generated as an ‘expert’ in a particular field far too great to relinquish. An
astute scholar must carefully draw their own conclusions based upon that
With a mass
of conflicting information now available at the click of a button (every man
and his dog offering his tuppence-worth), more than a little discernment is an
essential prerequisite for any student. Many people, as well as institutions
such as schools, universities, research programs, etc., will only accept and
teach a theory as an established ‘fact’ when it has been subjected to a process
of evaluation called ‘peer review’ (where it is pre-judged by ‘experts’ before
publication) – but that doesn’t guarantee this information is more correct or
true; only that it has been approved by your peers, which is another thing
altogether. You and I both know that the truth is not always approvable (especially when it hurts). That’s why Plato said that, “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.” Of course,
truth need not be spoken in order for it to be true. Not everyone is open to it. Sometimes it’s wiser to
keep quiet – like in the poem... you know the one;
I haven't organised any ARC Conventions since 2012, so I've been very quiet, enjoying a lengthy process of researching and writing.
The book I’m working on (The Muse)
weaves together practically everything I’ve ever been curious about or
interested in - to describe it as something of a ‘mosaic’ would be
especially appropriate (the word comes from Medieval Latin musaicum, meaning ‘work of the Muses’). I feel as Nietzsche wrote;
has reinforced in me the joyful confidence that they may not have originally
developed in me as single, random, or sporadic ideas, but up out of common
roots, from some fundamental will for knowledge ruling from deep within, always
speaking with greater clarity, always demanding greater clarity."
One thing that I really love about a lot of old
books I've been reading are the Authors’ Prefaces. I admire those old scholars who were humble and so eloquently acknowledged their fellow researchers
with sincere affection and grace. The Preface from William Warrington’s Cambria Triumphans (1805) is a fine example;
"[The author] flatters himself that he has
opened many new sources of information; he has also been careful to examine the
Old; and it is with confidence he can say, that he has neither servilely
transcribed, nor implicitly followed the modern historians. What he has done,
neither precludes, nor is intended to, preclude, the future labours of other
writers who are deeply read in the Welsh language and manuscripts. The field is
still open to a more able historian, and to the profound researches of the
learned antiquary. With what success it has been executed, it remains for the
Public to determine. He shall not be charged with deficiency, in
not having executed what it was never his intention to undertake. He thinks it
necessary to declare that he is an Englishman; and whatever preponderancy may
be discovered in this work to the side of the Welsh, it is neither the
partiality of an author to his subject, nor the prejudice of a native; but the
voluntary tribute of justice and humanity which is due to the cause of freedom,
and the violated rights of nature. In the course of this work the author has been
much indebted, for the perusal of the works of many valuable writers, to Thomas
Faulkner, Esq; of Chester; a gentleman who mingles with deep erudition the
liberal desire, of giving his assistance to any design, which may be useful to
the republic of letters. He is under the like obligation to Philip Yorke, Esq; Of
Erthig, near Wrexham, Denbighshire; whose taste and knowledge in literature,
whose gentleness of manners and benevolent spirit, render him an amiable friend,
and a valuable man."
Those lacking such modesty and respect in their own work have monstrous egos that prevent them from extending the same benevolence. Information is far too often passed-off as ‘Fact’ when it is merely conjecture. We currently have a situation much as the American poet and physician
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) described in his five-volume epic poem Patterson;
"It is dangerous to leave
written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the
world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to
myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a
thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity,
be burned to the ground as a consequence."
The Druids and Bards of Ancient Britain knew this only
too well; they lived by the axiom y Gwir
yn erbyn y byd (‘the Truth against the world’). The poet laureate Lord
Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) had a literary society in Philadelphia named after
him, and he received a letter from them asking for a motto. He replied on Sept
"You have done me honour in associating my name with your institution and you have my hearty good wishes for its success. Will the following Welsh motto be of any service to you? I have it in encaustic tiles on the pavement of my entrance hall: “Y Gwir yn erbyn y byd” (The Truth against the world). A very old British apophthegm, and I think a noble one."
… but what does it actually mean? The Bards were supreme masters of wordplay. It means ‘the Truth against (but erbyn also means ‘in opposition to’ or ‘in contrast with’) the world.’ After re-reading one of my favourite books, The Philosopher’s Secret Fire: A Secret
History of the Imagination by Patrick Harpur (2002), it occurred to me that
we may consider how the terms ‘truth’ and ‘the world’ (Gwir: y Byd) relate to each other by way of analogy,
using terms that are not synonymous, but homologous. To quote Patrick;
culture favours… pairs of opposites produced by its fondness for polarizing.
Other cultures recognize that the terms of a pair can relate to each other in
many ways […] A word can mean many things depending on the context or which
analogical system is used.
In his book, he gives an example of how many cultures regard the sun (in both
mythology and by the use of gender-pronouns in language) as masculine, while
the moon is feminine – but this relationship is reversed in the mythology and
language of other cultures (including Welsh, Norse, Sanskrit, old Goidelic, and
Arabic). Rather than saying that ‘Sun equals Female’ or ‘Sun symbolises Female’
or ‘Moon is synonymous with Male’, we may use the analogy that ‘Sun is to Moon
as Female is to Male, as Day is to Night, etc., which can be written properly
in abbreviated form like so;
Sun: Moon:: Female: Male:: Day: Night(etc.)
In the case of the Welsh maxim, it would be written;
Truth: the World (Gwir: y Byd)
As well as ‘truth’, the word gwir can also mean ‘certain, undoubted,
genuine, real, very, right, sure; perfect, just, faithful, guileless’. The word
byd, while meaning; ‘world, earth,
globe; universe, planet or other heavenly body’ also means; ‘human existence,
life of the human race on earth’, ‘condition, state and circumstances of life
of human race or member thereof’. Byd can
also refer to ‘worldly, irreligious persons, those who do not profess religion’
(atheists), as well as to ‘possessions, property, and wealth’. But what of analogies? We may say, for example, that;
Truth: the World:: Metaphysical: Physical:: Real:
or we may use another system;
Truth: the World:: Pure: Polluted:: Virtue: Vice
Patrick explains that; “Analogy preserves ambiguity by simultaneously embodying similarity and
difference… The lesson of analogical thinking is that the symbolic value we
attach to things is not fixed and absolute.”
Interestingly, in philosophy, ‘The Absolute’ is a term
meaning ‘that which exists without being dependent on anything else’. We will
never perceive Truth as The Absolute while we need falsehood in order to define
it – in other words, even if the truth is
Absolute, we each have a unique experience of what that looks like while we’re
‘in the world’ living a human existence. As
an individual human being, one’s perception of truth changes shape
depending on when and where you’re at in life and from which direction you are
observing it (if you’re doing it right and don’t get ‘stuck’, that is, which
happens to the best of us, sometimes). As Patrick Harpur puts it, “The world we see is the myth we are in. We
have a choice of what myth we will look through but we do not have a choice of
no myth at all.”
So it’s very interesting that in Owen Pughe’s Dictionary
of the Welsh Language (1832), the Welsh word myth means: ‘something
that pervades’ (that spreads and is perceived throughout), ‘something that
infects’ (or contaminates), or ‘a miasma’ (something unhealthy that pollutes). It’s
much like the highly infectious disease ‘influenza’; which (according to the Online
Etymological Dictionary www.etymonline.com)
is related to the word ‘influence’ – an astrological term, meaning: ‘streaming
ethereal power from the stars when in certain positions, acting upon character
or destiny of men,’ from Old French influence; ‘emanation from the stars
that acts upon one’s character and destiny’ (13th c.) – also ‘a flow
of water, a flowing in’, from Medieval Latin influential; ‘a flowing in’
(also used in the astrological sense) from Latin influentem (nominative influens),
present participle of influere ‘to flow into, stream in, pour in’ (see also
the origin of word ‘fluent’). The Welsh word myth is a compound of the prefix my;
meaning ‘that is’ or ‘that is present’ and yth; ‘that which tends to
stretch out or to be continuous’. ‘Influenza’, just like the Welsh myth,
are both invisible influences that are contagious and pervasive. In the same
way, a ‘myth’ (or story) can spread far-and-wide very quickly, pervading, and
influencing our understanding of the world… for better or worse. I don't think that's a coincidence. A false myth
is a most unhealthy thing; a miasma contaminating the thoughts, words and deeds of others (and nobody probably understood that better than a Druid).
Tiokasin Ghosthorse, an Indigenous Lakota, once told
me that, “Real eyes realise real lies”.
If we can recognise falsity, we can at least know what truth is not. Whilst we may not always be unable
to define exactly what ‘truth’ is as
precisely as we would like at all times, we can all agree what truth does; it always comes out in the end... whether you like it or not.
Although I’m the author of two books, Soul
Companions(2008) and The Dangerous Man (2010), I’ve
always been passionate about music. When I was an art student of about
18, the realisation suddenly dawned on me that even if I listened to different music
every day for the rest of my life, I would never get to hear all of
the music in the world. That bothered me immensely... what if I missed
something important? (Curiously, the same has never occurred to me
about missing books).As the years passed by and I became a
self-proclaimed ‘connoisseur of music’, I had somehow forgotten this and arrogantly assumed that if there was anything worth listening to then I'd definitely know about it. Nothing slipped by me – well...
nothing worth listening to, anyway. How it could have happened that Jeff
Buckley and Grace slipped through the net in 1994, I honestly don’t
understand. My only excuse is that, at the time, I was probably far too busy making music of my own to notice anyone else's!
Jeff went 'missing' (presumed drowned) on May 29th, 1997, on the eve of recording his second album and preparing to greet his band members who were flying into Memphis that very night. The story goes that, on the way to the studio he'd popped down to Wolf River with roadie/hairdresser/musician Keith Foti and had decided to go (fully clothed) into the water, singing Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love. Two boats had passed-by, creating waves, and in the time it took for Foti to move his guitar and ghetto blaster out of harm's way, Jeff had disappeared from sight. Six days later, they pulled his body out of the water. It was June 4th and I was celebrating my 28th birthday, oblivious. Jeff was just two years older than me.
Fast-forward 18 years later (2009), around 3 A.M. I was unable to get to sleep, so I got up and put the
kettle on. I’d been regularly jamming with my friend Ben who’d suggested that
we cover a song by someone called Jeff Buckley in our live set and he’d lent me
the Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) CD to check out. The disc was lying around and I still hadn't listened to it.
Bleary-eyed and not expecting much, I pushed the ‘bonus video footage’
into the DVD-player and pressed ‘play’...
Ironically, it wasn't his music but his poem New Year’s Eve Prayer that did it for me (if you haven’t heard it before, then here it is); At that
time, I was recovering from a failed marriage where I'd felt I hadn’t been
‘allowed’ to do much of anything, so it had moved me deeply to hear a man say those
words. I wrote down Jeff’s poem and stuck it on my wall as a reminder to
I listened to some tracks from Grace and chose Mojo Pin and So Real to cover
(being the best suited to my voice)… we jammed them a few times and played them
live at a couple of small pubs in the area. Then, later-on that month, I had an interesting dream...
I walked into a small theatre-like venue with a raised
stage at one end. Jeff had just finished doing something musical (I
got the impression he’d been teaching a class). There were rows of empty seats and I sat
down next to him. We talked about many things I don’t remember. He gave me a
piece of dark chocolate and I gave him some white chocolate in exchange. I
asked him to write something in my notebook and he watched me as I flicked
through the pages trying to find some space. He leaned in over my shoulder and started to read and I was embarrassed as it was a mess, but he liked it anyway.
The morning after I had this dream, which was so real (excuse the pun), I went straight to my laptop to find out as much as I could
about Jeff; his background and music. I was astonished to find a version of Mojo
Pin – one of the songs we'd been practising – referred to as ChocolateMojo Pin because of the lyrics he sings:"Your love is like sweet black chocolate melting in my back pocket... melting on the tongue of god." It blew me away;
I didn’t know anything about Jeff prior to the
dream – that he actually did have a love of notebooks, which happens to be a passion
of mine, too (I have several of them on-the-go at once and, yes, every one
of them really is a disorganised mess).
The following year, the idea slowly came to me for my third book – to write about the Muse and creative inspiration by interviewing other artists I admire
about their own processes. One of the first people I asked to participate
was Merri Cyr (merricyr.com), who had taken some superbly iconic photographs of Jeff (including the famous Grace album cover).
Through her art, Merri developed a special connection with Jeff and I would
like to thank her for sharing some personal insights about that time with me. I
won’t say any more until the book is finished and I have no idea when that will
be, so we’ll all just have to be patient. All I can say is that it's shaping-up very well and will be worth the wait! One of the most important things I’ve
learned about the creative process is to ‘get out of my own way’ and,
ultimately, a book about the Muse was always bound to take its own shape. As Jeff put
it so eloquently during an interview for Spotlight in 1994;
you make plans for the future –an emotional future with somebody or any future
whatsoever – there’s nothing quite as spectacular as what the future will
provide you... without your ‘help’. What I mean is, when I have an arrangement
in mind or when I have a song, an issue inside – like a song coming out – I
don’t put a result on it. It comes...the emotion has lyrics and a melody and a
background to it and I let it shape itself. Interviewer:
“Are you surprised then, where the music takes you?” “No –
because it’s somewhere recessed. It’s sort of like a storm that you see off in
the distance and you know you will get messed-up by the storm... you just sit
and wait for it.”
As part of my research into the Muse (my ‘fieldwork’,
as it were), I decided to get some musicians together for a project
called Ah When (a pun on the Welsh word for ‘Muse’; which is Awen).
Usually, songs are composed and structured, endlessly rehearsed, recorded
and produced – then played over (and over) again on the radio and live at gigs,
note-for-note. People only hear the finished result of that process... they
don’t get the opportunity to witness that magical moment when a song is
revealing itself. Instead, our focus would be on ‘catching the idea’; that
magical moment of inspiration.
Inspiration is, without a doubt, the most mysterious
and powerful force in the universe and yet nobody usually gives it a second
thought! It’s incredibly important because the art we produce defines the
culture we live in. Artists need to innovate for humanity to progress. Those in
the entertainment industry continue to decide what that future will be based on
what sells and so total spontaneity is absent from the music we listen to
today, which is extremely highly-produced and perfected for commercial
purposes. As Jeff said in an interview with Josh Farrar for DoubleTake magazine
“This whole music, socio-fame-oriented
culture-continuum... I’ve seen all kinds of sounds come and go. I’ve seen them
resurface, and I’m only twenty-nine. That’s got to say something for how blind
the whole thing is. I know about the real great bands that nobody knows about,
and we all know that that’s where it’s happening. I love Helium.
But your average kid has Oasis, and they don’t hear Mary Timony.”
Music is of the moment… it comes from nothing and
disappears into nothing. It never ‘belonged’ to anyone in particular.
Traditionally, music was composed of shared folk memes, culturally
reinterpreted. Songs were learned aurally and orally – or else they
were just improvised on-the-spot. This all changed after medieval
music-theorist Guido of Arezzo devised a notation system, along with ‘solfège’
(Do-Re-Mi or, rather, Ut-Re-Mi as
it was then called) in AD 1025. His method of teaching pitch and sight-singing,
made popular by Julie Andrews, is still taught in schools to this day. For the
first time in written history, musicians could put their name to (and
eventually charge for) their ‘own’ written musical compositions.
So where did this leave improvised music? Having not
being written down beforehand, those Jazz ‘improvs’ couldn’t be copyrighted
until the first commercial sound-recorders became available in the early 1900s!
Notation may well have enabled us to ‘see’ music, but it still had to be played
live by musicians in order to be heard. The tremendous impact that
sound-recording (both positive and negative) has had on music cannot
be underestimated. How wonderful to be able to hear your favourite song with
the absence of musicians (let’s face it, they’re never there when you need
‘em!) all by yourself, with nobody watching and whenever you like! On the
down-side, the first sound-recorders reduced the length of a song; for early
cylinders and discs this was about two minutes, three for later cylinders and
then (from 1908) four minutes; for a 10" disc about three minutes; for a
12", just under four minutes at first and, later, slightly more. Songs
that were too long had to either be played quicker or had to be cut short.
Radio airplay and, later, jukeboxes, ensured its exact repetition,
with none of the subtle nuances in mood, tone, length or speed that you’d get
with each live performance of it. In time, those who'd previously enjoyed a good ol’ sing-song sat around a piano (most large families usually had a
musician or two in them) would gather instead around a little box.
Before the invention of sound-recording, improvisation
(or ‘extempore’ in musical terminology) had previously been described in A
Dictionary of Music and Musicians in 1879, as;
… the art of playing without premeditation, the
conception of the music and its rendering being simultaneous. The power of
playing extempore evinces a very high degree of musical cultivation, as well as
the possession of great natural gifts. Not only must the faculty of musical
invention be present, but there must also be a perfect mastery over all the
mechanical difficulties, that the fingers may be able to render instantaneously
what the mind conceives, as well as a thorough knowledge of the rules of
harmony, counterpoint, and musical form, that the result may be symmetrical and
complete… But the practice of publicly extemporising, if not extinct, is now
... which brings me back to Jeff’s Chocolate introduction
to Mojo Pin. It occurred to me that ‘Dream Jeff’ gave me chocolate to draw my attention
to that particular piece of music (Chocolate Mjo Pin) because, essentially, it’s a beautiful piece of public improvisation.
* Addendum: After I finished writing this article, I posted a link to it in the Official Jeff Buckley Facebook group... and noticed that someone had posted a quote from Jeff on my birthday, June 4th: Remember... ‘public extemporising’ was already rare in 1879, let alone in 1995! Jeff
loved doing it, but the record company didn’t approve. A Sony executive in the audience
at one of his gigs was allegedly most displeased with his half-hour-long improvised encores (jamming on Big Star's Kanga Roo) and had afterwards sent Jeff a stern memo not to play it, claiming he was 'failing to do justice to himself as an entertainer'.
During Jeff’s final days in Memphis (from December 1996), he had begun to improvise in small cafes and bars like he did before he became signed to his record label (he called this his 'Phantom Solo Tour') - it was just Jeff and his guitar, with the freedom
to play whatever he wanted - often anonymously under a variety of pseudonyms, such as: 'The Crackrobats', 'Possessed by Elves', 'Father Demo', 'Smackrobiotic', 'The Halfspeeds', 'Crit-Club', 'Topless America', 'Martha
& the Nicotines', and 'A Puppet Show Named Julio'. He posted a message to his fans online that Christmas to explain;
"The question is, "Why did he tour and not tell us where
he was playing? Why why why?" And the answer is this: There
was a time in my life not too long ago when I could show up in a cafe and
simply do what I do - make music, learn from performing my music, explore what
it means to me, i.e. have fun while I irritate and/or entertain an audience
who doesn't know me or what I am about. In this situation I have that precious
and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender. I worked very hard
to get this kind of thing together, this work forum. I loved it then and missed
it when it disappeared. All I am doing is reclaiming it. Don't worry about the
phantom solo tours, they are simply my way of survival and my own method of
self-assessment and recreation. If they don't happen... nothing else can. I can
at least be all alone with nothing to help me, save myself. Real men maintain
their freedom to suck eggs, my dear."
Some devoted fans travelled from overseas just to come to these solo gigs… and what did they do?! They heckled him all night to play his
‘hits’!!! (He told them to “Ssh!” and asked them to be patient, promising he’d play their requests later, in return - which he did.) People just didn’t appreciate how
unique a gift he was giving them… the chance to experience a song revealing
itself. Instead, they wanted to hear what they were able to listen to any day of the week at home, on their CD-players.
In an interview with writer and film-maker Jessica
Hundley, just six months before Jeff died, he said;
“It’s strange how all this is happening because I
never, ever gave a demo to anyone. I never shopped a deal and I never brought
my work to anyone ‘official’. It would have been wrong somehow… wrong for the
music. It needs to have a real sacred setting for people to understand it.
You’ve got to start things off with friends who are like-minded or even
strangers that are like-minded. Sending your music to established artists or
labels or magazines, I mean there is something to be said for tenacity, for
trying to pursue recognition that way, but it just doesn’t make sense for the
best work. And if you do make an amazing work, it’s sometimes not the best way
to be heard. You have to get on a sacred space, like a stage, and do your
testifying that way.”
Jeff is an inspiration to me… a kind of mentor in my
writing this book about the Muse (and I hadn’t even thought of it that way
until I typed those words, but that’s how it is, even if that does sound a bit
weird. Apparently, his influence still ‘reverberates’ through time and space).
There are just certain ‘things’ in the world, as well as places and eras in
history, that we’re drawn to, as well as people to which or whom we feel
‘kindred’, with no rhyme nor reason for it. Like me, Jeff had a philosophia, which
means ‘love of wisdom’ (it’s where the word ‘philosophy’ comes from). The
artist has to wonder, at some point, what it’s all about and it’s obvious that
he was someone who had definitely thought about it. Really thought
about it. In his own words (from Much Music interview, 1994);
"People who talk poetically, or act and express are
totally devalued. Just like women are devalued and their femininity...
everything that brings the flow, the understanding, the intuition – not like
knowing facts, but understanding things ‘just somehow’. That’s…
extremely devalued. It’s the seat of all art – it’s the seat of all artistic
He was talking about the Muses... and he was totally right.
*Ah When’s forthcoming debut album, entitled The
Underlying Nature of Themes will feature the very best of our musings to-date
and will be free to download for all those who buy my book, The Muse. To be kept updated about the
progress and release date of both, e-mail: email@example.com with the subject:
Just been for a walk with the dogs while there was a break
in the rain, not expecting much as it’s a ‘rather ordinary’ wet day today. I
wish that I could truly 'Share' this post... not just this image you see on-screen,
but to truly imbibe it as I did that moment; the fragrant smells after rain,
the breeze on my skin, and the blackbird leading such a pure clear melody...
his song ringing joyfully through the valley with other birds in chorus. Though
every day I appreciate how lucky I am to live here, in that moment I felt moved
at the grandeur of my wild and beautiful surroundings so profoundly that it was
like a little explosion happened inside me.
This is what I call a Deepening –
in myself, my relationship with nature, and Muse – one that I haven’t
experienced this intensely for quite some time. These moments always come out
of the blue when I least expect them to... there’s no telling where or when
they will strike. Sometimes people visit ‘very special places’ that have moved
others in similarly profound ways with the hope of this Happening to themselves,
but it cannot be manipulated or coerced out of time; it just happens when it’s
meant. Every time this has ever happened to me, I hadn’t been doing anything in
particular beforehand – no special ritual or invocation necessary. Best just
get on with what you’re doing right now and just know that one day that it will happen to you if you are open, without expectation... probably when you least expect it.
On this particular occasion I had walked up to the cromlech
just 500 yards from my house with a flask of tea, sat on a rock and wondered (for
the billionth time) what on earth had happened here... what did it look like when
it was built and who used it? It’s a mystery that I may never truly comprehend
even if I knew the truth; modern man is further away from the natural world in
its pure state than he has ever been in recorded history because of his mind.
The dogs were chasing around in circles, like they always do
there (see above video), while I pondered on the possible vortex-like energy of the place. I
myself had been ‘spinning’ there the previous day and it suddenly struck me that I am ALWAYS spinning... I later found out at just over
1000 mph - whilst orbiting the sun at about 67,000 mph and moving with our galaxy as it drifts through intergalactic
Still musing, I descended the hill and crossed Pont Dolwilym - the bridge over the river Taf - and called the dogs to me. That was when ‘it’ happened, the Deepening. With tears in my eyes, I
told the dogs that they’ve hit the jackpot to be living here... "We all have", I said aloud.
individual tends to have a creative mind. It’s often when our experiences involve
some challenge or difficulty that we learn the most about ourselves... we have transformative
insights, develop inner-strength, and are also inspired to create great works
of art. Just as the friction of the bow pulled over taut strings creates music,
conflict and tension provide the perfect conditions for the inner-alchemy that
is essential for the creative process.
Author and creativity researcher Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi noticed that the artists mind is wired a little differently
from everyone else’s, consequently devoting 30 years into researching how
creative people live and work. He came to the following conclusion;
had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from
others, it’s ‘complexity’. They show tendencies of thought and action that in
most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of
being an ‘individual’, each of them is a ‘multitude’.” ~ Psychology Today (1996), ‘The Creative
The poet John Keats had realised the same thing way
back in 1817 in a letter to his brothers George and Thomas dated December 21st,
when he coined probably the single most intriguing concept of his entire surviving
correspondence; one that has been mused-upon at great length by poets and philosophers
ever since, even though he only makes mention of it once – ‘Negative Capability’;
once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially
in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man
is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable
reaching after fact and reason.”
Interestingly, the word ‘doubt’ originally meant ‘to
choose between two things’. These antithetical traits and the ability to
simultaneously embrace opposing ideas create the perfect circumstance for
‘bemusement’ (meaning “devoted utterly to the Muses”, as the Pope punned
on the word in 1705).
‘The origin of the term is unknown, but some
scholars have hypothesized that Keats was influenced in his studies of medicine
and chemistry, and that it refers to the negative pole of an electric current
which is passive and receptive. In the same way that the negative pole receives
the current from the positive pole, the poet receives impulses from a world
that is full of mystery and doubt, which cannot be explained but which the poet
can translate into art.’ (Wikipedia)
driving through the countryside yesterday afternoon, the world around me
transformed before my very eyes... the trees and grass varying shades of
luminescence contrasted by charcoal grey skies. The colours were realer-than-real, creating a dream-like scenario that had an almost psychedelic beauty about it. The moment was charged
with a strange, almost fizzy intensity and I intuitively ‘knew’ that something BIG
was about to happen – but what?! Was the earth about to undergo a sonic boom of
consciousness? Had there been a dimensional shift or galactic wobble?? Was I about to die???! I glanced down at
the clock on the dashboard to make a mental note of the time – 3.27pm (probably
not accurate) – just in case I needed to record the moment for posterity or
something like that. Perhaps something earth-shattering was happening elsewhere
on the planet at that very moment that I was unaware of? I was about to find
than five minutes later, I heard the characteristic low rumbles of thunder. I was
quite astraphobic as a child until one stormy night transformed my fear... myself and my little sister had fled into our parents’ bedroom during a particularly severe thunderstorm and were treated to a spectacular hilltop
lightshow in the skies above Bath, with running commentary on the different
types of lightning by our dad. After that, I became something of an ‘astraphile’; a lover of thunderstorms.
Nature (including us human beings) can be so beautiful and yet so terrifying both at once. Before I’d set out on
my journey that day, I had mused upon this very fact and had cried. The paradox is that both polarities are within us and
therefore in the world and therefore in us, and so on and so on and so on (ad
infinitum)... it’s a perpetual creative cycle of movement – a giant jigsaw puzzle that’s
constantly changing at different speeds as each piece falls into place in
perfect time; what I refer to in the forthcoming documentary by Cari-Lee Miller,
‘Unveiled and Lifted’ as “...an Infinite Fractal Kaleidoscope of
untampered with, all life in the natural world – from the microcosmic to the
macrocosmic – has an instinctive pull towards (and away from) opposing
energetic principles; a cosmic dance, if you will... a flow of 'positively-charged' and 'negatively-charged' energies constantly endeavouring to maintain holistic balance in the universe. Both
sunshine and rain, day and night, are needed for all life to flourish... including, and perhaps most especially, the life of an artist.
As a young child, I loved the
tradition of bringing a tree into the house at Christmas time; the smell of the
pine, the shiny glass baubles, chocolate and candy canes, tinsel and twinkly
lights. I have very fond memories of helping my grandparents decorate their tree.
I still have one of their glass baubles... a strange-looking lunar decoration
(which, quite frankly, is a bit scary – here’s a pic).
Let's all agree for now that Christmas was invented to hijack the far more ancient pagan
celebration of the Winter Solstice. After reading ‘The Sacred Yew’ by Anand Chetan and Diane Brueton, I learned that the
yew tree is the tree of the Winter Solstice. This is where Yule Tide comes from - literally ‘Yewl-Tide’. You
may think I’m joking, but that chocolate Yule-Log we feast on every Christmas is a
reminder that we once traditionally brought a ‘Yew Log’ into the house, which
was burned bit by bit to last throughout the festive season – a tradition that
goes far back beyond the mists of time (my money’s on the Druids). The wife of
King George III used to bring yew trees in at Christmas in the 1700’s and,
later, Queen Victoria, according to this article. I wonder if Queen Elizabeth still does? If anyone finds
out, do please let me know!
But why did they do it? What was so important about the yew tree that it is thought to have been the ‘axis
mundi’ of Scandinavian myth and most sacred of all trees to the Druids? Quite simply, the yew is a powerful symbol of self-regeneration
– it’s (currently, in my opinion) the closest thing to immortality that we have
on the planet... more than just a symbol it’s living proof; when a yew tree dies and becomes hollow, it will send
an aerial branch or two inside itself and re-grow a new trunk. Because of this,
it has been difficult to accurately date yew trees, but it is now recognised that
many are now thought to be thousands of years older than first assumed. See
here for Allen’s paper on dating yews and "Are they really that old?".
Understandably, my children have not
had a Christmas tree for many years. Instead, they’ve had a fairly convincing ‘fake
imposter’ which has been in the family since my parents bought it in the 80s. I
transformed this into a ‘Solstice Yew’, red berry lights and all, but it’s not
the same thing as a real yew tree in a
pot. This year, I wanted it to be real. I’d planted a yew tree some years ago
at my old house and thought about going back to dig it up. Walking the dogs one morning, I
contemplated the best way to go about it. I got home, went online and checked
out my local Freecycle – (if you don’t
know what that is then you haven’t lived – I urge you to educate yourself here
right away!) – and read these words:
tree in a pot."
Fast work, I thought. It was sitting in our house by tea-time. The woman was glad to see the back of it... “I’ve never liked that tree ever since it was given to me!,” she
whined. “Cemetery Tree, that’s what I call it”. I tentatively started to explain that yews are special trees, very misunderstood. I wanted to tell her that it was the churches that were built next to
the yews - not the other way
round - but trying to manoeuver a six-foot evergreen in a waterlogged ceramic
planter into the back of my small car didn't feel like the appropriate moment to get into a deep discussion or confrontation about it.
I feel as if I've been
followed my whole life by ‘things Yew’. I have developed an affinity with the
tree that feels as deeply significant to me as any kindred friendship with
another human being. Which is kind of weird.
I first became aware of the importance of yew trees through an article in Kindred Spirit magazine by a guy called Allen Meredith. He was campaigning
to get protection orders for all ancient yews in the UK – a cause that was championed
by David Bellamy who launched the Yew Tree Campaign in 1986. This was the
first nationwide effort to protect ancient yew trees by raising awareness of
their venerability and vulnerability, and it’s still going strong today – visit www.ancient-yew.org.
After further reading by Anand Chetan and Diana Brueton, The Sacred Yew, which was based on Allen’s
work, I was inspired enough to write to the man himself. He was kind enough to
reply. Fifteen years later, we are still in touch every once in a while. He
recently called to tell me that he has just published a new book with Janis
Fry, called The God Tree, which I’m looking forward to reading very much...
especially as the foreword is written by my dear friend Michael Dunning – www.yewshamanism.com – whose personal
encounters with the yew tree can be read in my first book, Soul Companions. You can
watch part of his yew tree presenation from the ARC Convention in 2010
It feels particularly auspicious
that I now have a yew tree in my home this Winter Solstice 2012, for the first time - as the end of an era and a new epoch of unfoldment approaches.
Warmest wishes for the
Merriest ‘Yewl-tide’ of them all :)
You know in my "red dress" introduction to the 3rd ARC, when I talked about masculine and feminine energy, and how women have been given the privilege to wear the trousers but the men still can't wear the skirts... so nothing's really changed?
Women can be very masculine in their way of going about things, just as men can be very feminine... so it's really not about gender at all, but an alchemical balance of these polarities within an individual.
Coming into my feminine energy as a woman in the "alternative research community" has thus far been an interesting journey, definitely. I feel that I have certainly been, at times, misunderstood. I've been judged, patronised, been intimidated to the point of tears and completely ignored... NOT the sort of behaviour I would expect from those with integrity.
I've learned that even though an individual may know a lot of things and have much to say and contribute to the world, they are still fallible human beings because, like everyone else, they view the world through their own unique filter. We all have a different idea of the world and what it's all about. Whether you resonate with someone else or not should be a PERSONAL CHOICE. And it is not my job, your job, or anyone else's to be the "Guage of Truth" on what another person has to teach.
Develop belief in your SELF, because YOU KNOW if you listen to your intuition what and who is right FOR YOU. The more we look to ourselves, the more conscious we become.
Developing consciousness is my only aim right now.