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Merry's Blog

Stag Wisdom: 'From The Heart' videocast

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

Heart Sense: Insightful perception and considered discernment regarding daily life developed through the wisdom of, and benevolent qualities associated with, the heart.

A few weeks ago, fellow academic and dear friend of mine Louise Livingstone interviewed me on her new videocast ‘From The Heart...’ about my recently completed project on the power of masks, which I undertook at the beginning of this year as part of my MA degree in Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred. Having just finished her PhD, Louise has now set up an inspiring new venture called the Heart Sense Research Institute, which is dedicated to "supporting and empowering people to take seriously the heart as a place of knowledge and guidance".

Stag Mask

In case you haven't already stumbled across the photos on my social media accounts, a quick recap! My mask project involved the creation (and academic exploration) of four ritual animal masks. These were Stag, Raven, Fox and Salmon - four animals sacred to Celtic (specifically modern Druidic) tradition. In particular though, Louise wished to discuss the creation of Stag, and the profound messages for our times which arose as a result of the project. Being a proud advocate of what she calls heart sense, I was only too happy to oblige!

In the following videocast we discuss creative processes, engaging with the unconscious mind, imagination as a tool for seeing the world through the eyes of the heart, and the wisdom that can be gained from engaging with seemingly autonomous ‘other’ intelligences - whatever you believe those might be! Enjoy!

PS. I have included the excerpt about Stag from my write-up of the mask project after the videocast, in case you are interested in reading it!



Stag - an excerpt from my essay, Wild Beasts and Hierophants: The Lost Faces Of Wisdom

Stag is a patchwork, rustic looking creature. Underneath his pelt he is sculpted from newspaper and papier-mâché, like all my masks, but beyond this each face begins to differ. His fur has been assembled from cut up scraps of fabric I chose for him, and his ears are sewn together with remnants of hemp chord I found in my craft box, and which I’m sure I heard him say would be suitable. The skin of his nose and eyes is another jumble of offcuts from some black imitation leather, painted over with some iridescent medium. I darkened the fabric around his eyes with chalk pastel dust, and crafted him a talisman of Raven’s feathers which hangs from his antlers [1].

Stag’s antlers are perhaps his pièce de résistance, for they are nothing less than real roebuck antlers - with the frontal bone of the skull on show - sourced from combing a local antiques centre. Photographer Chris Rainier tells stories of indigenous tribes who, to this day, “[combine] the jungle’s bird feathers, sticks, vines, shells, and mud to create an endless variety of mythical beings that evoked the spirits of the forest” (2019: 19). I would have loved to have crafted every one of my masks from raw natural materials, but on this occasion I did not feel confident sourcing, treating and working with real animal hides, pelts and other such components. Nevertheless, I desperately wanted Stag’s antlers to be the genuine article. This seemed crucially important, although it wasn’t until much later that I would come to realise why.

In truth, throughout the creative process Stag was the ‘quietest’ daimon[2] of my four, if daimons can be said to have characters. Marie Angelo implies that they most certainly do: “some quiet and helpful, others noisy and challenging, some ephemeral, others to fall in love with for a lifetime” (2013: 362). She adds: “invoking these daimons into our language is a ‘person-ifying’ mode of consciousness, switching us from objects to subjects, from ‘things’ to relations”. I wondered if the reason I couldn’t hear Stag was because, of the four, he was the one to conform most closely to my original drawings - my plans. Was he a creation born too much of my left-brain, so much so that my right brain couldn’t hear his voice?

Curious, I sat down with him in my art studio at home. I recalled an active imagination exercise we had done previously on the MA, which involved sitting with images in Canterbury Cathedral and inviting them to speak with us - ‘participating’ with them as Angelo says, through drawing, writing, poetry, or perhaps just quiet meditation. I intended to draw Stag, but instead found myself conducting an entire conversation with him. This took the form of a transference dialogue as described by Romanyshyn (2013: 322-324). Much like Angelo, Romanyshyn proposes setting a ‘ritual space of reverie’ in which “a researcher can engage the creative aspects of the unconscious in order to play with the possibilities in the work that lie beyond his or her ideas about and/or intentions for the work” (ibid., 322). Romanyshyn instructs:

It is important to note here that throughout this process researchers are on the edge between the conscious ego mind and the unconscious processes of the psyche. On this edge, researchers not only have to adopt a symbolic attitude for the figures of psyche that are neither things nor thoughts, but they also have to be open to the possible autonomous reality of these figures… While a researcher chooses the level at which he or she engages the unconscious, he or she has to remain open to and hospitable toward whatever or whomever takes up the invitation. A researcher begins the process but does not control it. The capacity to be surprised is essential if the grip of the ego mind is to be loosened. (Ibid., 323)

Indeed, in hindsight, whilst I cannot rationally declare that Stag’s words did not come from the depths of my own mind, I was undeniably surprised by what was given to me, and I felt deeply moved by the experience.

Stag’s sentiment was that he was no longer respected, and so he had turned his back on the so-called civilised world. It wasn’t just that we no longer paid attention to the voices of the animals, but that because we had not listened for so long, they had stopped trying to be heard. It is suggested in this paper that we have long become unaccustomed to symbolic and imaginal thinking, and I wonder in part if the symbols have given up on us; the animals have turned away from us and walked back into the forest, leaving us with a sense of disconnect, and it is we who have to find our way back to them. It was a painful realisation, and one that perhaps goes hand in hand with the recognition of the environmental and climate crises we currently find ourselves in too. In the course of the dialogue, Stag’s antlers had become his crown - a crown that was robbed from him. He felt betrayed, and - rightly it seems - did not wish to help. When he eventually agreed, his warning to those of us who were willing to listen was this:

Keep me with you if you must. But promise me that you will carry me with honour and with dignity. Do not be embarrassed if others frown at my crown of horns, or grow frustrated when they do not understand. My raggedy face may frighten them - those who aren’t yet ready to be reclaimed by the wild - but ask them to sit with me all the same. You cannot preach to them the error of their ways; they must come to understand it on their own.

Essay Except Footnotes

[1] These feathers are in truth dyed cockerel feathers, but came from the same collection that I used to create the raven mask, and so symbolically they came to mean Raven, not cockerel.

[2] Daimons may alternatively be referred to as gods, spirits, angels or muses in various spiritual traditions; they are normally considered to be an intelligent and autonomous ‘other’, although may also be “understood as an aspect of the human imagination or ‘unconscious’ in a Jungian sense” (Voss and Rowlandson, 2013: 1).

Essay Excerpt References

Angelo, M. (2013) Imaginal Inquiry: Meetings with the Imaginative Intelligence. In Voss, A. and Rowlandson (Eds), Daimonic Imagination: Uncanny Intelligence. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 357-373

Rainier, C. (2019) Mask. San Rafael, California: Earth Aware Editions

Romanyshyn, R. D. (2013) Making a place for unconscious factors in research. International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches, 7 (3), pp. 314-329

Voss, A. and Rowlandson, W. (2013) Introduction. In Voss, A. and Rowlandson (Eds), Daimonic Imagination: Uncanny Intelligence. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 1-5

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