Beauty blessings during this transition to Autumn in the Northern hemisphere. A belated Shana Tova to my Jewish friends. I’ve been contemplating this painting “Wheel of the Four Winds” again since Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Especially, the direction of the West, where the Archangel Raphael, symbolized by the bull, is our guide and teacher in navigating the darkness. Feels appropriate given the collective traumas of this year and the coming darkness of the autumnal season. In our earth-honoring traditions, this is a time for going within—though most of us have been living this all year! But perhaps we can do this more intentionally, asking ourselves what is asking to be released, like the leaves from the trees, to create the compost for the coming year? Breathing into this. Join me?
This painting is inspired by Rabbi Gershon Winkler’s book “Magic in the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism.” In the Jewish shamanic tradition, “the West is death…the dream place where all the doing ceases and has a chance to process, to become seed for tomorrow’s newness.” And the bull “symbolizes majesty and determination, unrelentingly pushing forward into tomorrow, into the next moment into destiny, against all odds and with a sense of surety and knowing…this is the place of wisdom and understanding.”
The Hebrew transliteration is “tifaret,” or beauty, which sits at the heart of the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life at the center of the medicine wheel. In the four corners Hebrew letters—aleph, mem, and shin—representing the elements of air, fire, water, and earth which Kabbalists ceremonially chant.
Art: “Wheel of the Four Winds.” 2014, 30×48” ©Amy Livingstone. You can read more about this painting here: https://www.sacredartstudio.net/new-year-new-painting/
The Holy Longing
Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.
From April 10 newsletter. Happy Easter and Passover to all those who celebrate this holy time. Given this archetypal celebration of death/rebirth, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Sumerian goddess of fertility and wisdom seen emerging from her chrysalis and womb (Vesica Piscis) felt appropriate to share. Her mythic journey to the underworld is symbolic of a death and rebirth like that of Jesus and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. For me, I resonate with the transformational journey of Inanna and the caterpillar into the butterfly. I’ve been drawing from this theme of being in the “chrysalis” over the past month as we quarantine during this global pandemic.
In the ancient myth, Inanna passes through the seven gates of the underworld, forced to give up one symbol of her power at each gate until she arrives in the underworld stripped bare of all worldly possessions. Ultimately, she is killed, but then she is revived with the food and water of life and returns bearing gifts of wisdom. The story speaks to me of what we are each collectively undergoing psychically during this time of darkness. We are like the imaginal cells inside the chrysalis, shape shifting in preparation for our emergence.
Could this be a global initiation? Will we emerge from our cocoons bearing a new vision of living in sacred reciprocity with each other and the living earth. After traveling myself into some dark places around the unknown and tracking the news endlessly, I’ve settled into my interiority and asking myself, what am I being asked or forced to surrender? Sitting with the question. What about you?
Nature Mandala Offering: Day 10
I began this nature mandala offering for the healing of all beings and mother earth on April 1 and will continue to add prayers until the end of the month or until our return. Many of you are familiar with this ceremony that was inspired by my pilgrimage to Peru in 2006 which I have brought to events and installations over the past decade. If you’re not, you can see photos and learn more at this link. Feel free to email me a prayer and I will add it to our mandala in your stead.
With love and gratitude,
Yggdrasil Tree of Life
Unveiling “Yggdrasil Tree of Life.” For the beauty and mythic narratives of our ancestors who also lived through times of profound uncertainty. May we rise to the challenges of our time with courage, faith, and an open heart. This is long but wanted to share the meaning behind this complex cosmology. What do you see?
My intention was to research the cosmology and mythology of my Swedish ancestors. I wonder if my grandmother Gerda heard about this as a fairytale when she was a child? This work continues with my vision to draw out the pre-Christian, indigenous roots (earth-based spirituality) within our own lineage or faith traditions in order to remember and reconnect to our interconnectedness in the web of life. Our separation from Nature has contributed to the multiple crises we are currently experiencing including the climate crisis and the global pandemic.
I began with the colors of the Swedish and Sami, the indigenous peoples of Scandinavia, flags. The border colors represent the former—blue and yellow. Around the border, the ancient Rune language. The inner ring symbolizes the Sami flag with red (fire), blue (water), yellow (air), and green (earth). And the flowers are similar to those used in their clothing and textiles.
In the Norse cosmology, Yggdrasil is an Ash Tree that forever remains green. It is the holy place of the gods. Because Odin is associated with the tree, his ravens hold the space surrounding the mandala or medicine wheel. The goddess Freya’s cats hold court on either side of Yggdrasil. Three roots of the tree hold it up and stretch out widely. There are nine realms that include humans, gods, giants and fairies.
Ratatosk, is the squirrel, who delivers messages along the rainbow bridge from the eagle above to Nidhogg, the dragon, below. Four stags—Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór—gnaw on the buds of the tree. The swans represent the well of Urd where the Norns reside and who were a group (in some sources), a trio of very wise female entities whose magical abilities were unmatched by those of any other being. The shamans and wise women of Yggdrasil!
From my January Newsletter:
New Year. New Decade. New beginnings. Holding this as I navigate darker feelings than usual around the state of our world, and Mother Earth. The fires in Australia. The loss of species. I know we’re all feeling the intensity of these troubled times. Art and beauty save me daily but it’s been a struggle. How about you?
I’ve painted over our communal painting (read here or previous post if you missed that invitation) several times. I read this from Stephen Pressfield in his book The War of Art today: “Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is that it means there’s tremendous love there too.” Not unlike our grief, which is also an expression of our love. Grief and/or resistance, I’ve returned to my original intention for this painting which is as an offering in the spirit of the Despacho ceremony inspired by my pilgrimage to Peru.
Here, I am painting the Kintu leaves (groups of 3 cocoa leaves), naming the places and creatures you have shared with me. Blowing my breath into the leaf image as a prayer on the wind. The bee at the center, declared the most important bee-ing on the planet.This will likely be a slow process but I am grateful to be a hollow little bone for spirit, to give expression for all your beloved beings.
“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” -Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge.
This painting came through me very quickly on one hand just prior to my move but I have long been drawn to the tragic story of the Passenger Pigeon. With a population between 3-5 billion, it was the most abundant bird in North America. Flocks would darken the sky for days as they flew overhead. Yet human exploitation drove this species to extinction over the course of a few decades. “Martha” the last Passenger Pigeon died in 1914. Originating in Scotland, the cairn or stacked stones, implies a funereal monument and in the lower left corner, the extinction symbol. Created by a London artist Xylo: “The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species” during what is now being defined in our time as the Sixth Mass Extinction of Species.
The demise of the Passenger Pigeon is also an urgent message around our own vulnerability in the face of ecological degradation including climate change. “How might we act with restraint” to quote Williams? And how do we navigate these changing times? And with grace?
While speaking at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in November, indigenous elder Jim Dumont, of the Anishinabeck Nation, encouraged us to “Speak for the plants. Speak for the creation. Speak to the conscience of those who are destroying them.” This was affirming of my work and deeply moving. I wept. Art plays an important role not only in communicating a message/vision but, as most of you know, the process itself offers healing and a spiritual practice for resilience during troubled times. Even something as simple as coloring, drumming, planting flowers, or the latest ZenTangle can have enormous benefits for your well being and stress level.
I am settling into the new home and studio here in the Panther Branch Township (in Raleigh NC) and will share more next month. You can always check out Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for updates between newsletters. As always, I welcome your thoughts.
For love of the EARTH!
Nice group of people showed up for my art opening last Friday at Karuna Contemplative Living. Thank you friends. Here with the owner, Anandi, and art enthusiast Mark. The show will be up through the end of May.
I chose these particular paintings for this exhibit because they embody the overarching message that weaves throughout my work. That we as a species must reclaim ancestral ways of being in sacred, reciprocal relationship with the earth if we are to ensure a livable planet for future generations and the survival of all species.
This was the inspiration for Resurrection: Holy mother earth with the seed of life nestled in the heart of the web of life. Our current paradigm is cracking open. Transformation, symbolized by the endangered monarch butterflies, is assured. To maintain life on earth, we need the resurrection of indigenous and ancient ways of knowing. Can we remember that we breathe with trees? That everything comes from the Earth?
Indigenous leaders and teachers like Chief Arvol Lookhorse and Robin Wall Kimmerer are telling us that we are at a crossroads. All Nations Tree of Life was inspired during a Lummi Nation ceremony and later reiterated by Chief Arvol Lookinghorse during the indigenous plenary at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015. I wept through the entire three-hour session. Their message—red, yellow, black, white—we are all one people. “We must join together as a spiritual community in order to heal Mother Earth.” And again, reading Kimmerer’s inspirational book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Her sacred text was the inspiration for the Reciprocity mandala. She writes: “The path is lined with all the world’s people, in all colors of the medicine wheel—red, white, black, yellow—who understand the choice ahead, who share a vision of respect and reciprocity, of fellowship with the more-than-human world. Men with fire, women with water, to reestablish balance, to renew the world.”
The question is: Are we listening?
My work is a contribution and a prayer toward this transformative vision.
I hope the start of this New Year brings you good health and joy. There seems to be a renewed energy of hope at this moment after what seemed like a year of holding our collective breaths. We’re still here though too many beloveds have departed this realm, but I remain grateful for all who are holding the light these days. As indigenous teacher and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:
“The path is lined with all the world’s people, in all colors of the medicine wheel-red, white, black, yellow-who understand the choice ahead, who share a vision of respect and reciprocity, of fellowship with the more-than-human world. Men with fire, women with water, to reestablish balance, to renew the world. “
May it be so. This quote comes towards the end of Kimmerer’s brilliant hymnal to the Earth, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” There is abundant wisdom and rich imagery in her book and with only so much space to work with, I simply allowed the species of each plant and animal to guide me. Salmon, heron, ambystoma maculata (salamander), three sisters, aster and goldenrod, medicine plants, etc…Through this co-creative journey, I feel an even deeper kinship with all these beings.
I hear the call from our indigenous brothers and sisters about the need for all of us to unite as a spiritual community to heal the earth. This was also the inspiration, for those new to my work, for the “All Nations Tree of Life” shown below. I/we are seeing this happen within many communities even though it may not be visible in mainstream media.
In closing, from Braiding Sweetgrass: “The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibility for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blanks out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. . . . Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. . . . In return for the privilege of breath.”
What is your gift? Would love to hear from you!
For love of the Earth!
I haven’t disappeared my friends but after five months of events, I am back in the studio working. This summer, my intention is to get as far as I can on completing the “Where We Stand is Holy” series that began with “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds.” Shown here are details from “Sext: Prayer for the Desert.” Desert Tortoise, Sage Grouse, and Black-chinned Hummingbird. There are efforts to list the Sage Grouse as endangered species but much resistance from the oil/gas lobbyists as it would impact exploration and extraction in the SW.
“Sext: Prayer for the Desert” is nearly complete. I am also in various stages with Vespers (water) and Compline (mammals). These paintings inspired by illuminated manuscripts shine a light on endangered species as well as the beauty of those wild places under siege by oil/gas extraction, plastics in the ocean, and climate change. I’m envisioning these panels to be part of larger installation and will share more as that develops. In the meantime, I am offering limited-edition art prints with a percentage of your purchase benefiting organizations working to protect our creatures and wild places. Shop here: http://sacredartstudio.net/product-category/prints/
You stand at the edge of the pulsating river.
Carved by wind, water, and time.
Smooth like the curve of Tahoma’s back.
Gently, I slide on to your sweet spot of bliss.
Wrapping my arms around you,
we caress each other with our firm bodies.
Hot from the sun, you melt my defenses;
and embrace my sensuous self.
You hear my pain and love for the earth.
We are one.
I leave your warm embrace and wander
through the deep, milky pools towards the edge
of the throbbing white river of life.
Spreading my legs; I welcome in the seeds
of passion and purpose.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Answering the call of the wild.
There is something magical about the turning of the wheel towards the heat of summer, the fecundity of the earth and her abundance that is bursting forth. And the season associated with the element of fire that ignites eros and invites us to give expression to our passions and our creativity. What Bill Plotkin, in his brilliant book Wild Mind, has coined our “wild indigenous self.” I’m feeling a restlessness to get back into the wild(er)ness and have been re-reading my journal from my Wilderness Journey with Animas Institute last July. (You can read more about that here). During one particular day while wandering amidst the stone ladened banks of the White River, I had a sensuous encounter with this very smooth and curvaceous being (the large stone seen in the lower right corner of the painting shown above) that inspired this rather erotic poem. I felt a deep kinship with this ancient one and long to return to that sacred place. I sense many of us, especially in the developed world where the dis-ease of busyness is now considered the norm, are hungry to remember and return to this deep interbeingness with the the earth, and to our creaturely selves. I know that I want more of this in my life. How about you?
In Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, David Abrams puts forward an insightful and inspiring thesis “about becoming a two-legged animal entirely a part of the animate world whose life swells within and unfolds all around us. . . and seeks a new way of speaking, one that enacts our interbeing with the earth.” I highly recommend reading Abrams book or you can also read a paper I posted under Notes at my Facebook page: “Reconnecting to the Natural World: The Neolithic to the Ecozoic Era.”
While I may not be off in the wilderness at the moment, I am enjoying a slice of Eden here with nearly daily visits from a hummingbird and red-breasted sapsucker in the garden. Work continues on various paintings in progress including a soul-symbol mandala commission for a lovely woman in the Boston area. More to come when that is complete.
May whatever spark of eros that is alive in you come to fruition in your life and through your creativity. Art heals ourselves and our world. “The artist, like the shaman, demonstrates how one can live with heightened sensitivity and how art heals by restoring soul and by transforming our actions and our perception of life.” – Shaun McNiff.
For love of the EARTH!
Very touched by the recent award for my painting “Primordial Womb” (shown here) from Concordia University and the Oregon Society of Artists. I painted this small 8×8″ cradle board as part of a fundraiser and gala at the University last month. Drawing from my Scottish ancestry, I was once again drawn to the Celtic Tree of Life. And another nest called to me but this time with a robin’s egg. I did some research on the symbolism of the Robin and here’s one shamanic interpretation:
“Robin will incite new growth in all areas of your life, areas that have become stagnant and out-dated. You must believe in yourself as you move forward for if you do, barriers will disappear, and confrontations will be for show only. Robin will show you how to do this with joy in your hearts. Their song is a happy one, reminding you to let go of your personal drama and learn to laugh with life.” Source: http://www.shamanicjourney.com/robin-power-animal-symbol-of-growth-and-renewal
Though I have been feeling some despair of late around the ecological crisis and early Spring here in the PNW, this is another affirmation of my art and soul journey. Signs from Spirit/God appear to us all the all the time if we are still and present. Are you listening?
For love of birds…