The Muse

The Muse

About The Muse

This blog is dedicated to the art of musing. From now on, this is where I will muse.

Mythology and Landscape

Daily muse...Posted by Karen Sawyer Tue, September 05, 2017 13:36:33

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 online here.

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: muse@arcconvention.org





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The Truth Moves, so there will always be a Truth Movement.

Daily muse...Posted by Karen Sawyer Thu, September 08, 2016 03:13:46

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 Oxford Dictionary Online presumes to define ‘truth’ for us in three ways (my comments in brackets);

1. the quality or state of being true (being ‘pure’, ‘honest’, ‘genuine’, ‘authentic’)

2. that which is in accordance with fact or reality (as in: ‘accurate’, ‘correct’, or ‘right’)

3. a fact or belief that is accepted as true (which is oftentimes not ‘truth’; merely consensus)

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 premise.

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; that it;

"… 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 9th, 1869;

"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;

Western 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: Pretend (etc.)

or we may use another system;

Truth: the World:: Pure: Polluted:: Virtue: Vice (etc.)

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.

~ Karen














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Jeff Buckley: The Artist's Muse

Daily muse...Posted by Karen Sawyer Mon, June 08, 2015 16:59:11

Photo credit: Jeff Buckley ©Merri Cyr

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 myself.

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 Chocolate Mojo 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;

“...any time 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 in 1996;

“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 very rare...

... 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 expression."

He was talking about the Muses... and he was totally right.


~ Karen

*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: muse@arcconvention.org with the subject: MUSE BOOK.






















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The Deepening

Daily muse...Posted by Karen Sawyer Wed, June 12, 2013 18:36:06

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 space!

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.

~ Karen :)

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(Spoiler Alert!) Conflict and the Muse

Daily muse...Posted by Karen Sawyer Sun, May 19, 2013 14:33:55

The conflicted 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;

“If I 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 Personality’

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’;

“At 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)

While 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 out...

Less 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 Consciousness”.

When 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.

~ © Karen Sawyer

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Merry Yewtide!

Daily muse...Posted by Karen Sawyer Tue, December 18, 2012 07:44:39

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:

"Offered: Yew 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 below.

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 :)

~ Karen

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The Alchemy of Consciousness

Daily muse...Posted by Karen Sawyer Mon, October 15, 2012 13:07:52

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.

~ Karen :-)

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... all Systems GO!

Daily muse...Posted by Karen Sawyer Tue, February 21, 2012 20:27:38

It's worth taking that risk. Hence, ARC is still taking place on the weekend of the 3rd and 4th March...


to find out all about it and to book your tickets, visit: www.arcconvention.org/ARC2012.html


I'm looking forward to it even more so...


Be seeing you!


Karen :-)

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