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August 2008

The Spirit of the Ainu

I've long been fascinated by the Ainu culture of northern Japan, with its rich mythology and earth-centered spirituality. In the video above, a group of dancers sponsored by the Ainu Association of Hokkaido perform their traditional Crane Dance for a UNESCO celebration of indigenous cultures.

Ainu girl in traditional dress"The Ainu," they explain, "are an indigenous people who today live mostly in Hokkaidō in northern Japan. Traditional Ainu dance is performed at ceremonies and banquets, as part of newly organized cultural festivals and privately in daily life; in its various forms, it is closely connected to the lifestyle and religion of the Ainu. The traditional style involves a large circle of dancers, sometimes with onlookers who sing an accompaniment without musical instrumentation. Some dances imitate the calls and movements of animals or insects; others, like the sword and bow dances, are rituals; and still others are improvisational or purely entertainment. Believing that deities can be found in their surroundings, the Ainu frequently use dance to worship and give thanks for nature. Dance also plays a central role in formal ceremonies such as Iyomante, in which participants send the deity embodied in a bear they have eaten back to heaven by mimicking the movements of a living bear. For the Ainu, dance reinforces their connection to the natural and religious world and provides a link to other Arctic cultures in Russia and North America."

Ainu family in traditional dress, 1962

The Ainu Iomante ceremonyAn Ainu family in traditional dress, 1962; and a scroll painting of the Iyomante ceremony, circa 1870.

The video below features the Ainu Rebels, a group of politically-minded young Ainu who celebrate their ethnicity by mixing traditional dress, dance and language with hip-hop and rap. It's not very slick in production values, but the video is captivating nonetheless as these young people reclaim pride in their ancient traditions and fuse them with the modern world. 

If you're interested in reading more about the Ainu, I particularly recommend the following books: Our Land Was a Forest: An Ainu Memoir by Kayano Shigero, Harukor: An Ainu Woman's Tale by Hatsuichi Honda, Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, edited by William W. Fitzhugh and Chisato O. Dubreuil, and Specimens of Ainu Folk-lore by John Batchelor.

L_74b176e504f95e505766501b3bba217_2 This intriguing drawing -- titled "Am I Like You?" -- comes from Heather Peagrum, a young artist based in London whose work I've recently discovered. Much of her art is inspired by psychoanalytical interpretations of myths and fairy tales. Great stuff. Visit her website to see more.

Real Men Don't Use Semi-colons

Thenewwoman As a writer and reader, I adore the elegance and subtlety of the semi-colon; as an editor, the  proper use of semi-colons in story submissions definitely scores bonus points with me. But according to James Kilpatrick (quoted recently in The Boston Globe), the semi-colon is "girly," "odious," and "the most pusillanimous, sissified, utterly useless mark of punctuation ever invented."

Not only is he utterly wrong about this, and not only is it weird to assign a gender to a punctuation mark, I'm also struck by the fact the "odious" nature of the semi-colon, according to Fitzpatrick, seems to derive from this supposed association with women. It makes me bristle when the word "girly" is casually tossed around as a form of abuse, as though being a girl is such a dreadful thing. The Broadsheet column over at has a great tongue-in-cheek response to this nonsense.

Endicott Studio news

Swanmaiden_2 The"Farewell Issue" of The Journal of Mythic Arts is now live. It's packed full of all kinds of interesting things, including a particularly rich outpouring of mythic poetry (with one poem offered in video form). As Midori says in her introductory post on the Endicott blog, it's a pleasure tinged with melancholy to offer our readers this final issue. We hope you enjoy it.

And now we turn our attention to the new Endicott projects we have afoot, so please stayed tuned. . . .

Go gently

This song goes out for my cat Oliver, who died yesterday after sharing two decades of life with me.

Oliver as a kitten in BostonI first found him, a starving and flea-ridden kitten, on the back streets of Boston when I lived in that city, naming him after Oliver Twist because he was always hungry. He grew up into a big, strong, blustery fellow, affectionate and fearless -- even after our move to the Arizona desert, where he learned to give wary berth to coyotes and watch out for bobcats and snakes.

At the age of seven, he developed a cancerous growth in his ear. I was poor; friends said, "Look he's had a good life." But his was a life that I held in my hands, a sacred responsibility, so I emptied my bank account for an operation to give him a little more time. Reader, he lived to the age of twenty. Best money I ever spent.

He was tough, my dear boy. He loved his life, and his home, and me, and I loved him. I will miss him forever. Go gently, Oliver. Go gently, old friend.


A video for a rainy Saturday in Devon. . .

Here's an absolutely gorgeous version of the Moving on Song -- Ewan MacColl's now-classic ballad about the plight of the Gypsies in Great Britain, created for the BBC Radio Ballads series -- performed by the MacColl brothers, Chris Wood, and the fabulous singer/songwriter Karine Polwart. MacColl's work always reminds me of how art and activism can go hand in hand . . . and how important art can be in this role.

The BBC Radio Ballads were ground-breaking documentaries created by producer Charles Parker and musicians Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger in the late 1950s, weaving voices from various British communties (railroad men, fishermen, miners, boxers, Ewan_macollGypsies, people with polio, etc.) with songs written for and about them. Parker defined radio ballads as "a form of narrative documentary in which the story is told entirely in the words of the actual participants themselves as recorded in real life; in sound effects which are also recorded on the spot, and in songs which are based upon these recordings, and which utilize traditional or 'folk-song' modes of expression."


Thursday Morning News

A3_2 The list of finalists for the 2008 World Fantasy Awards (for works published in 2007) has just been announced.

The Coyote Road, a mythic fiction anthology for young adult readers which I edited with Ellen Datlow, is a finalist in the Best Anthology catagory; and Kij Johnson's brilliant story for the book, "The Evolution of  Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change," is up for Best Short Story. (You can read it on the web here.)

Also, in the "Special Award" catagory, Midori Snyder and I have been nominated for our work on the Endicott Studio/Journal of Mythic Arts website. We're delighted, of course.

I also wanted to mention that the Endicott Studio has a little news blog now. Much smaller (and thus less time-consuming) than the old Journal of Mythic Arts blog. You'll find it here.

Devon musician Seth Lakeman has a new CD out, "Poor Man's Heaven," and it's fabulous. The video above (shot at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall) is for "The Hurlers," a song based on a Cornish legend attached to three Bronze Age stone circles on Bodmin Moor. William Camden, a 17th century historian, wrote that "The neighbouring inhabitants terme them Hurlers, as being by devout and godly error perswaded that they had been men sometime transformed into stones, for profaning the Lord's Day with hurling the ball."  (You can see a picture of the Hurlers here.)