“Art is another language which, if you undertake to learn it, will open up a new world that permeates, surrounds and elevates this dull metropolis.” ~ Seshat
When first you enter the pagan or occult world, you will be faced with all sorts of good (and bad) advice. So let me just throw my glove into the ring with a suggestion of my own.
For those of you who are regularly readers (for which I thank you), you will know that I am a great proponent of using one’s imagination (see HERE for my latest article on the subject). Aside from sitting by the fire day dreaming, some might wonder where on earth to start with honing their creative and imaginistic muscles. First and foremost I would recommend art … although that might feel to turgid and bound by rules of aesthetics and skill … so let’s expand that word to “the arts and crafts” which could include everything expressive from music to painting to woodwork and textiles, such as sewing or even knitting. I know that last might baffle you – what benefit could something like knitting have to a magickal life?! But I would ask you to put aside such “art snobbery” and be open to the idea of creation.
Creating A Thing is a practice that involves making and holding a vision, imagination, commitment to follow through and skill to execute. No part of that sequence involves any judgement over “good” or “bad”, “beautiful” or ugly”, “useful” or “useless”. This is not the realm for debating “What is art?” – this is the domain of learning to envision, create and manifest. Sounds a little like the basics of magick and spellwork, right?
And even though creating artistically can indeed give expression to the subconscious mind (I am a supporter of therapeutic art), this does not mean that I equate magick with the mere machinations of one’s own unconscious, or even the collective unconscious. Magick is not mere psychology and the entities one encounters are not necessarily (although they can be) projections of your own mind. So let’s just make that clear. I am proposing some form of artistic involvement as a means to develop the full spectrum of imagination: a process of shifting a thing from energy into matter. This does indeed include music, as I consider sound vibrations to be a material manifestation. So my remit for “arts and crafts” really does include all forms of creativity.
So, now I shall expand a little on my own artistic practices:
Some people, especially in occult practices, like to work fast and furiously on their art, allowing no room for internal censorship. One of my art practices begins like this, in that I put pen to paper, close my eyes, draw madly in swirls and lines for a few seconds and then stop. But that is the fastest I get in my art. In fact, my art – whether it is sketching, felt painting, or textile work – is characterised by an exceptionally slow pace. It can literally take me months to complete a piece. Surely, when working so slowly, I have to battle often with the censor and conscious mind forcing it into a particular conceptual mould? Yes and no. Certainly I occasionally have to battle with the censor, but the processes for my art are often described by others as tedious and boring; I frequently hear, “I would never have the patience to do that!” But for me, it requires no patience. Due to the minute focus that is required, I slip into a hypnagogic state where the boundaries between conscious censor and fluid unconscious are permeable and mobile. This allows my imagination free reign and expression, often with surprising results. I never know when I start a piece, how it is going to turn out. But where’s that “vision” I spoke about as the starting point? For me, the vision is merely the unmistakeable physical pull and urge to create; it is a very corporeal as well as mental drive – for me personally, this is my vision and the manifestation is a process of welcoming the Other that nudged my psychic senses and bringing into a material form. The process will most likely be different for other people, but maybe some of you can identify with my own experience and methods.
And I must make an aside, regarding textile art (e.g. knitting, although in my case not knitting per se as I have injured hands and can no longer knit without pain). I embroider and create knot ropes; again, both techniques are laborious and easily induce a light trance state due to the focus and repetition. My knot ropes (for which I use spools, or French knitting dolls, but also the Anglo-Saxon lucet) may seem banal to onlookers, but to me they are invested with thought and emotion. By doing such repetitive work, importantly while focusing on a particular thing (a solution to a problem, a state you wish to come into being, magick you wish to actuate, or a person) you anchor that thing in muscle memory for a start, making the thing you create a part of your body (mundane example: the first time I watched The Shining I was knitting socks. The next day after watching the film, I picked up my socks and experienced such powerful flashbacks from the film that I could no longer continue knitting. It took a week for the muscle memory to abate enough for me to pick up again). But also, by taking the slow route, one comes to know the Thing one creates intimately well: that point where the shade of wool changes a fraction, that slip in the stitch that creates a loose mark, that struggle to tie in a bead or feather… So what’s the point, you may ask? The point is to enhance concentration, memory, focus, experiencing creation with the body not just the mind, and of course exercising of the imagination. Never underestimate the simple rural crafts such as knotting, spinning, carding, weaving, crocheting, and yes, knitting. They hold an equal place in my heart alongside the more “mainstream” arts of painting and sketching.
The proof is in the pudding. Try it. Try everything. I have sung, played classical guitar, painted, sketched, used textiles and wool, knotted and finger painted! And in each I have been able to reach that hypnagogic state – not always, because it’s not always appropriate – but at will, which is a sign that it has developed into a discipline. The neural pathways are laid, the psychic arteries are flowing, my imagination is working.
The wonderful thing about art is that it is a life-long companion. There is always room to improve your creative and imaginistic skills. Remember that cerebral judgement about “art” does not apply here. If you can think it, you can do it – and that is not a literal adjuration to do whatever you like. Not everything should be enacted literally, but that is the beauty of imagination and art, – there are no rules. I have seen art created by finger painting with menstrual blood, alongside the “Fine Art” painted canvases; I have seen thread embroidered into the very skin on the hand of an artist, alongside ecclesiastical gold embroidery. The end product is almost irrelevant; it is the inner journey that is important – the vision, the actuation, the material manifestation. But like all good magick, don’t hang on the results. Once you’ve finished a piece, do not rest on your laurels, but immediately begin the next! Only so (I suggest) will you develop invaluable skills to your occult, pagan and magickal practices.
The end of March, all of April and part of May were a write-off. My M.E. and reactive hypoglycemia flared up so I was bed-bound for around 15 -20 hours of every day. Hell. Things stabilised in May, although “stable” to me still means “affected every day by my illnesses”. Sadly I had to come off the raw vegan diet in order to reach some kind of balance again. I still hope to go back to it, or perhaps just to the transition diet, popularly known as Raw till 4, but at the moment I’m just trying to crack down on being vegan as it’s tough giving up dairy completely.
My writing has picked up. I am working through a poetry course at the moment, learning about form and structure as well as content. I am half-way through the course and already see an improvement in my poetry (none of it is published yet on my poetry blog). Today I wrote a sonnet pastiche on Tennyson’s “If I were loved as I desire to be”. I’m pleased with the result. I get such a buzz from writing the main draft of a poem or from getting a lot of editing work done. I’m currently working on one of the main submissions for the course, a poem about the deep sea. So far I have 14 pages of draft work for a 35 line poem.
Feedback from friends on my recent writing has been good, although they are always supportive and vocal in encouraging my work. Feedback from the other course participants is … interesting; peer criticism forms about 50% of the course and I’m finding it difficult to offer constructive criticism. In private I gasp, “Oh my god, that’s awful!” or “Wow! I love it!” and that’s about as constructive as it gets. I’m not yet in the right frame of mind to take their poetry apart and offer helpful, critical suggestions. This latter ability will soon get some practice as I’ve joined a local writers’ group and we will be holding co-writing sessions but also critiquing sessions. The challenge is to learn to offer criticism but also to take it. At least all this literary criticism is toughening me up. What does surprise me is when I encounter someone who is “published” but whose writing is pretty dire … then I think, “Hey, I’m not quite as crap as they are, maybe I could do that too!” The main difference between us is less the quality of work and more the extent of self-belief. THEY believe they are writers and self-identify as such. I keep viewing myself as a dabbler, and even though (in my opinion) some of my writing is better than theirs, I pull back from calling myself “a writer” because it smacks of delusions of grandeur. But maybe I need to be a little more grand and a little more deluded if I’m ever going to make anything of my writing!
I’m tamping furious that the bastard council didn’t even let the Guerrilla art stand for a week before they removed it (see this link -> HERE). The area looked sanitised and wiped clean, the presence of the two stags still hanging somewhere in the air.
I have been slowly digesting yesterday which was a pretty dire day. Woman wasn’t at art group. She has injured herself. I was surprised/not-surprised at the lack of emotion in me at that news. I found it interesting that Alpha Psych who so patently has a thing for her, gravitated to her seat and spoke about her art with the postscript, “Although we shouldn’t talk about her when she’s not here.” Preferably not at all, I thought. I find her simpering, weak-woman ways irritating. She is one of those women who plays the helpless female, batting her eyelashes like she’s in a sand storm. I look to the men and see with horror that they fall for this manipulation. It may look endearing in a woman under thirty, but post-50 you really need to chuck the hormone replacement and grow a pair.
As I walked past the copse cleared of stag-art, I thought about how nearly every female friend has confessed to me that they have hairs on their toes … as if it is an admission of something grotesque, anti-social and, even, inhuman. We are primates. We have hair, we have odours, we need food and sex. We are not hairless, odourless, silicone sculpted, poison-injected doll substitutes but creatures with lumps and bumps, blemishes and squidgy bits. We are not sanitised areas cultivated with weed killer, we are living Guerrilla art… and we too are subject to removal.
Sometimes we remove ourselves, sometimes others remove us. In my own case, one indicator of my Presence is an acknowledgement of my needs and the subsequent follow-through. Plastic dolls have no needs. Guerilla art demands your attention and emotional response.
Recently, people keep asking me, “What can I do for you? Is there something I can do for you?” and the question surprises me each time, baffles me, leaving my mind to scrabble for something, the multiple censors hacking at thoughts like a series of slicing blades, trying to find something to say, something doable, something that isn’t “too much”. Asking for anything is a HUGE force of will for me. The double edge of this being that if I do ask for something (and usually I will start with something very, very little like “message me”) and for some reason it is not possible, or life gets in the way for no other reason than life throws a curve ball, then I take that as proof that I am plastic to that person; I withdraw and shut down.
In my five-year relationship with my abusive ex I asked for something once. We lived in a small flat. I was in the living room, he was in the kitchen, and I asked him to please bring me a glass. He was so enraged that he grabbed the dirtiest glass and tossed it at me on the sofa. Serves me right for relaxing enough to think I could ask for something… except of course, now I think, what a tosser (literally and metaphorically)!
But things are very different these days. I am a different person, changing rapidly, although I still really struggle with asking for things. Fantasy is one thing, reality is another.
After my massage which has left me feeling marvelous and fully anchored in my squidgy femaleness, I went for a coffee at my favourite cafe. I saw an interestingly lopsided coffee and walnut cake and asked for a slice (that was always my favourite as a child … the thrill of surreptitiously sneaking in a hit of caffeine as I wasn’t allowed coffee or tea until older, the same justification saw me develop a love of rum and raisin ice cream … !). As the manager cut me a slice, she nodded to the new cook, a young girl, and said, “Cake looks lovely, K.” And it was, so I took the time to scare the bejeezes out of K. by sneaking up on her and growling “Gorgeous cake” in her ear … She blushed and looked chuffed to bits, nervous because cake-making is her new endeavour in the kitchen.
I hate it when women diss other women, when they sit in a public place, point and list the faults. “Look at her extensions! Look at her belly! Look at the way she’s dressed.” It used to be easier to mumble agreement, but actually, no: the girl with the bad extensions has a pretty face, the woman with the big belly looks like she would be a real laugh and great to cuddle, and the woman with the odd clothes looks like she doesn’t give a shit, so yay for her!
I always make the effort to acknowledge the good things about women (I don’t say anything to men because the usual assumption then is that you are cracking onto them … booooring!). When I worked in the bookshop, a woman came in with her 80+ year old mother in a wheelchair. The old woman had fancy nails, and I said how lovely her nails looked. Her face lit up like a beacon, “Really?! I’ve never had a manicure before, my daughter just took me this morning!” and she beamed with pride. I was so pleased I said something, kicking aside that cruddy English reserve that means you “shouldn’t” engage on a personal level with strangers (I only engage personally, incapable of doing otherwise).
The thing is, women need that positive feedback. And I hate women who enforce the negative cycle of synthetic moulding, the belief that anyone else should conform to anyone else’s ideas. Yes, men play a huge role in this; whatever the pundits say, this is still a patriarchal society. And as a friend and I joked recently when discussing weight, the last thing you want from a man is a bloody solution (have you tried such-and-such, why don’t you go on a diet)! No, what you need then is for him to say you are gorgeous and perfect, because to be honest, you probably are: note how I slip easily into pointing the finger away from myself to you – I can dish the compliments, although I struggle to take them. But I do love those friends who have actually said they are willing to invest “years” into complimenting me until it finally sinks in … drip, drip, drip – it feeds my parched soul and yes, I do feel the desert in me starting to bloom, for which I thank you.
So, embrace the gorilla [sic] in yourself! Be hairy and smelly. Eat and have sex. Be beautiful, because you just are.
I’m as tall as a cow. I found this out as I walked through the cow fields and one came up and eye-balled me. Cows today must be GM-cows because I’m sure they never used to be that tall, and at 1.75m I’m not short either.
Short. I wish that was the excuse for why I struggle so much with the stiles. Predominantly a British phenomenon:
Doesn’t look too tricky to clamber over, does it? But is it left foot first or right? Which leg do I swing over and when? Usually I get stuck half-way across and sit with a blasé expression, pretending to admire the view while I consider whether to just throw myself off the thing or tackle it limb by limb.
I encountered similar difficulties when getting into the jeeps and pick-up trucks of my family in New Mexico. They live in the mountain desert so it’s high off-roaders only for them. I tried reversing in, but my legs are two short. I tried launching myself in front first and army-crawling my way on elbows over the back seat. Nothing but nothing was elegant. My family found it hilarious. I pursued different options like an alchemist seeking a way to transmute base metal into gold; but my elegance remained tin.
This evening I sat down by the river, watching fish jumping for the evening flies. Four swans floated past, each raising up out of the water to stretch and flap their wings, not together or randomly but one after the other. I saw flowers floating past and thought about garlands of flowers offered on the Ganges. A flock of ravens hiding in a tree was disturbed and raised a great racket as they flew off – I have never seen so many in one group. The pinky-orange sun slipped behind a cloud and I headed home.
On my walk I thought about art group today. There was only me, Woman and Beta Psych, so we just sat and talked. Woman narrowly avoided having her eyes jabbed out with paintbrushes when she TOLD me that I wouldn’t self-harm if I had a boyfriend. I coughed up a fur ball and said, “Cutting is not about being single.” She said other stupid, facile things and contradicted herself, or damned me to hell as irredeemable, by saying that men would be scared off by the intensity of my scars. I’m fucked either way, or not as the case may be. I said, that such people could “jog on” as far as I was concerned, that I didn’t need namby-pamby people who cringed at the sight of my scars around me. Life is too short and there are plenty of people who accept all aspects of me, or who have indeed been there themselves. As an LHP-er I don’t think that I have to surround myself with the twee people to feel good. No I don’t have to be nice about people’s beliefs in angels because that will make me a good person. Angelly-Wangelly stuff does my head in as much as therapy-werapy stuff dressed up under the abhorrent term “life coaching” – both run the triple knife edge of doing nothing, being childish make-believe or doing harm to fragile psyches. In any case you might as well imagine a smurf on your shoulder and listen to what the smurfing hell it has to say to you … you will make just as much progress by channeling your own subconscious that way. You do not invoke an archangel for a cuddle, FFS.
I said, I missed TMIWTM. Woman asked, “What does he give you that you can’t get from us?” I replied, “Everything! I have told him things I haven’t said here, and he knows things about me that no one else here knows or will ever know.” She looked shocked. Beta Psych appeased her with, “One-to-one is very different to a group working environment.” You bet your bejeezes it is. I said that I had never been so emotionally close to a man before. I heard her jaw hit the floor. She doesn’t like TMIWTM. She saw him for a couple of sessions 15 years ago and he told her she needed marriage counselling. 15 years later, she still needs marriage counselling… today she admitted to violence in the marriage on both parts.
Nobody’s perfect. But I do get tired of people trying to heal others when their own lives are fucked; or people in bad relationships telling you that a relationship will sort all your problems; or when people pretend to be open-minded but have surprisingly narrow and sudden limitations. I’m fucked in the head. I know that and admit it freely. You literally read my heart on my sleeve and the state of mind in the scars on my arms; but at least I am honest about it. I don’t bullshit and I don’t play around with other people, pretending to be something I’m not.
If I’m tin, then I’m tin but I keep trying to be gold. And somethings will never change: I will always be as tall as a cow.
” Since I fortuituously [sic] met you, whom I consider the most clear-sighted of all, I began gathering … the threads which might have led me across the initial border of Knowledge. I must live through that experience all over again, because, by doing so, I believe that I may be of use to you, just as I believe that you will be of help in my journey beyond that frontier by keeping me lucid and by enabling me to put on and to take off at will the mask which will be my shield against the hostility of Conformism.”
Leonora Carrington, Down Below
Inspiration comes in unlikely places and I’m finding it hard riding the natural peaks and troughs of creativity.
Today someone called me “an artist”; a name I don’t feel I deserve, but it challenged something inside me, because ultimately that is my vocation and has been since a young age – another neglected aspect of myself.
Then this evening I watched a BBC programme about the designer Valentino. I found him and the people who worked around him inspiring. I found his female clientele insipid, superficial and gushy. As I saw them fawn over him, so obviously out of a yearning to have greatness brush off on them and heighten even further the botoxed foreheads, implanted cheek bones and ballooned bosoms – as I watched them I yelled, “Get a fucking grip, they’re only clothes!” And it’s true; as clothes and symbols of material superiority, they are nothing – they add nothing to a person’s worth but actually highlights the gaping hole inside them. Materialism as the Moloch that devours and expands the dark, empty spaces inside the soul. But as Art, as pieces of fabric couture, Valentino is indeed a genius.
Anyway, following the programme I felt so inspired by the skills of the couture seamstresses and the way-out couture of the 1920s (which taught and inspired Valentino’s work of the 1960s through a career lasting 45 years) that a stream of ideas flooded through me for my own work.
In writing, the advice is “Write what you know about” … some artists have taken the same approach: I have always found Lowrie too literal and emotionless; Cezanne and Van Gogh also show us the world through their eyes but with a layer of emotion; and others have maybe allowed the emotion to flow more strongly, such as Chagall and Dali; or delved even further into the mind as did the Expressionists and Abstract Expressionists. These are just subjective examples (and personal preferences), I am neither an art historian nor an art critic. But it got me thinking.
I am now looking at ways of combining my photography, my embroidery and my writing in single pieces.
My photography is solely about composition. I don’t have a fancy camera. It is a more than five year old, point-and-click digital camera. I don’t understand photo manipulation or photographic software, nor do I want to as I find most photo manipulation to look trite, but never quite achieving the coolness of kitsch.
My embroidery includes original sketches, machine embroidery, hand embroidery (mostly), beading, sequining… I am strongly traditional in my techniques yet experimental in what I produce.
And my writing … well, you read enough of that here, although I have also written fiction and poetry. No embroidery will be big enough to include an entire novel or even short story … or most poems … but sometimes a line is all that is needed. So I will be working on embroidery techniques using different fonts and lettering.
Let’s just say, I’ve gone from staring soulfully at my textile icon of Jesus (his hair is now finished and I have worked further on his halo [or ‘space helmet’ as a friend calls it]) to having a pool of ideas to pick and work from.
We still have no proper electricity here (over 2 years now), so no overhead lights anywhere. I think I need to invest in a daylight standing lamp so that I can actually work in the evenings. Often I feel inspired but the dim and gloomy light from my two lamps isn’t sufficient to see the stitches.
So, thank you Valentino for inspiring me, for reminding me the beauty and thrill of creation. Grazie mille!