I was raised Catholic, which included attending Catholic school from kindergarten through freshman year of high school, and mass every week (plus the high holy days). Which meant I spent a lot of time studying the art and architecture of the churches we attended – my grandparents' church in South Philadelphia, the incredibly ornate from floor to ceiling St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (the first Italian parish in the US) to our home base St. Charles Borromeo in South Jersey which was very mid-century modern, clean yet with very colorful, large stained glass windows.
Growing up in an environment where Catholicism was the majority, I wasn't exactly prepared at age when we moved to South Carolina (3% Catholic at the time), and discovered that Protestants considered Catholics idol-worshipers and not “true Christians.”
Twelve Healing Stars is a yearlong project in cooperation with the Temple of Witchcraft that explores social justice through the lessons of the 12 Zodiac Signs. This is part 11.
It seemed like an ordinary day on the campus of the University of California, Irvine. Groups of students wandered about, some going to classes and others heading for a coffee and a sandwich after spending hours in a lecture hall. Yet something was different on the grounds outside the library. In the large, open space just on the edge of the campus’ beautiful green park, hundreds of brightly colored T-shirts had been strung up onto clotheslines. They hung there quietly, yet spoke loudly of pain, struggle, and triumph.
I really, really wanted to write about the art of Mesopotamia for my next blog post, especially in light of the destruction of Mesopotamian art and artifacts by the Islamic State, but I have really found myself a wee bit sidetracked by the horrific events of June 17, 2015 when a young man named Dylann Roof sat in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina before turning his gun on the group. Nine people were murdered that day. Accompanying this news has been the debate about what has come to be known as the Confederate flag, and calls for it to be removed from the state capitol grounds of South Carolina. For those who may not be American, or have not followed the story, South Carolina not only continued to fly the Confederate flag on its state building lawn after the massacre, it was not even flown at half mast.
The Confederate flag has been a subject of much debate in the United States I would argue, since the end of the Civil War. For black people, it represents slavery and a horrible time in United States history. For those who fly it with pride, it is said to represent liberty. The argument has been heated and vehement on both sides. Why is this symbol so polarizing?
Huh? The music that is in you — where is it? How do you tap into it?
If you're asking me, belly queen as I am, I'll say we tap into our music — into every expression of our life force — by deepening into our body's center, the sourcepoint of our creative energy. We cultivate our relationship with this soul-power as we honor, rather than shame, our bellies. We activate it with movement and breath.
Sitting comfortably, enter into the Centering Breath. Notice any images and sensations that come into your awareness as you focus your attention within your body’s center.
Consider your arm to be an extension of your belly, a pipeline ready to carry information from your body’s center through to your hand and out onto paper. Maintaining your awareness in your belly, take the colored markers that appeal to you. Let your arm and hand move across the paper, spilling out colors, shapes, and lines.
Give yourself all the permission you need to make your marks freely, without judgment or restriction.
These same guidelines apply when I'm at the piano, improvising — letting music arrive without planning, without thinking. Just as with drawing, my arms serve as pipelines, allowing the flow of energy and information from body's center to keyboard.
The music that emerges in this way is so heart- and soul-satisfying. As one of my mentors, Mark Kelso of Muddy Angel Music, likes to say: The fun isn't so much in playing music; it's in being played by the music.
There's a delicate balance between improvisation and composition. Certainly, each can inspire the other.
By my lights, as improvisation offers sensory experience of the life force concentrated in the body center, it expresses the energy of the Sacred Feminine.
Composition can likewise convey the sense of the Sacred Feminine. In this clip from Ethan Hawke's magnificent film, "Seymour: An Introduction," hear what virtuoso pianist Seymour Bernstein says about Beethoven's expression of — and ambivalent relationship with — the feminine:
Images of large bodied goddess figures really helped me deal with sudden changes to my body that happened in 1997. I dealt with more pressing issues first, but eventually I dealt with suddenly being a fat person, a person society perceives as less hard working, less beautiful, having less willpower, less healthy, less strong-- just generally less. I made several artworks based on different goddesses of the ancient world, and it helped me process those issues.
This art is a sunprint, which is a contact photograph that yields a photonegative image of the printed object, in this case a paper cutout of a line drawing I made of the goddess of Laussel. This is an adaptation rather than a replica, so it isn't precisely like the statue. The curved line represents the icy cave entrance, with the warmth of the earth within.
Some don't call these images goddesses, but fertility fetishes. These types of Stone Age statuary are officially named Venuses, such as the Venus of Willendorf, and Venus of Laussel, but Venus is a goddess name and is culturally specific. If I said I was making fetish art, people would get the totally wrong idea. When I was looking for images like these to adapt to sunprint art, I found them in art books in the public library as Mother Goddess figures, so that's the idea I'm going with. I've been considering them goddesses since I first saw them and by now they have become part of my personal path, so to me they are goddesses.
Given the age of the Willendorf and Laussel sculptures, between 20,000 to 25,000 years old, the people of that time and place would have been hunter-gatherers. Having a large body would have indicated abundance and prosperity, and fertility derived from same, all of which are positive things. None of those are things I had at the time I was making this art, but re-imagining the social meaning of a large body from a negative to a positive still helped me pull out of negative thinking and depression. Identifying with these ancient body-positive images made a positive difference in my life.
It can be hard for us modern folks who have always lived in a patriarchal society to envision any other kind of culture. As Riane Eisler perceptively noted in her book The Chalice and the Blade, we come from a dominance hierarchy type society so we tend to assume that any other kind of society from history or prehistory must be similar. In other words, if the men aren’t in charge and disproportionately powerful compared to the women in a culture, then the reverse must be true: the women must hold all the power while the men are largely powerless and oppressed.
This unfortunate bias has spilled over into our interpretation of Minoan society. I can’t count how many times people have told me, “Oh, those Minoans, their art is all women. You don’t see men anywhere, so the women must have held all the power.” I’d like to dispel this myth, for myth it is, and it’s totally inaccurate. It’s based on the idea that all societies must be dominance hierarchy types and it fails to consider another type of society: the egalitarian culture, which is what the Minoans really had. That’s a society in which women and men are equals and all adults have the same standing regardless of gender. This myth is also based on a careful selection of Minoan art that in no way represents the enormous and beautiful collection we have from this ancient civilization. So let’s explore the accuracy (or lack thereof) of the women-in-charge myth by actually looking at the art of the ancient Minoans.
In Which Our IntrepidBlogger Speaks with Artist, Herbalist, and Witch-at-Large
Sarah Anne Lawless Concerning Her Ground-Breaking Print, Lord of the Beasts,
and Sundry Other Matters
Sarah, who is the Horned to you?
The Horned Ones to me are the great spirits of the wild lands and forests. They are not male or female, but both and neither. In the lore of animistic cultures around the world and through time there always seems to be a male or female spirit, or one of each, that is the guardian or protector of a particular forest or land mass and who is Lord or Lady of all the flora and fauna that dwell within it. Their horns are a weapon as much as they are a crown, and symbol of power and otherworldly knowledge.