Recommended Reading:
The magic of stories....

Mist and myth

Mist on Nattadon 1

I have another small dish to add to the "Mother Tongue" Moveable Feast (on land, language, art, and storytelling).  In this short excerpt from A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wilderness, Martin Shaw discusses the four years he spent living outside on a mountain in Wales:

"With zero practical experience of living outside, I made endless mistakes....Gary Snyder I was not. Axes were blunt, jeans constantly caught on barbed wire fences, snares empty.

"Dreams came nightly like rowdy bears crashing into days where I struggled to cope with hand tools, tried to light wet wood, shivered between continual extremes of hot and cold. I was a righteous mess with no apparent skills. Somewhere in this process, the threads between the human community and where I found myself grew thin. I couldn't find the vocabulary to articulate the changes I was experiencing. I felt intensely vulnerable and very lonely. What I looked for was some archaic language that would expand words and frame images so beautifully that I felt connected to human folk as well as kestrals and mud. What I found was myth.

Mist on Nattadon 2

Mist on Nattadon 3

"Myth is promiscuous, not dogmatic. It moves like a lively river through swarthy packs of reindeer, great aristocratic families, and the wild gestures of an Iranian carpet seller. Myth is not much to do with the past, but a kind of magical present that can flood our lives when the conditions are just so. It is not just the neurosis of us humans trying to fathom our place on earth, but sometimes the earth actually speaking back to us. That's why some stories can be hard to approach, they are not necessarily formed from a human point of view."

Mist on Nattadon 4

Mist on Nattadon 5


'Gary Snyder I was not.'

Oh that made me laugh!

Beautiful words, beautiful misty pictures.

Connected to Mud

"I felt connected to human folk as well as kestrals and mud."
--Martin Shaw

We mothers do not need four years in the wilderness
to be connected to mud, to mystery, to myth.
Give us the child home from the playground,
flu running through a family of five,
the dust collected under the beds when our backs
are too tired for bending, our knees too locked
to genuflect to a clean, green God.
We have had our share of muck, the detritus
of a life closely lived, hands in the shit,
the privy and broom closet of the world,
and yet we still see the billowy shape of clouds,
kestrel with its sharp wings shearing the wind,
the brolly outlines of a toadstool by the path,
and the child asleep with the remnants of tears
under the eyelids on a clean and perfect bed.
There's another myth for you. Not days and nights
stropping antlers, building lean-tos, beating drums,
but quiet under a roof, babe pillowed on my breast
the tick-tock of its sweet breath synchronizing with mine.

©2012 Jane Yolen All rights reserved

thank you for that Jane--you really nailed it!

Doesn't mean, of course, we women can't go out and lead armies, pack arenas, live wild. (I have a new book out in the spring called BAD GIRLS) But I am not a Robert Bly Manly Men as Myth type. There are many myths and not just the one.

And by the way, as we all know and sometimes forget, the city canyons are the new dark woods that many of us dare, or have dared. Some folks actually live on the city streets four years or more in THAT wilderness. What's the myth there? (See Megan Lindholm's brilliant WIZARD OF THE PIGEONS before she morphed into Robin Hobb.) Terri edited deLint's and Bull's groundbreaking city fantasy works. She knows both sides of the myth coin.

I just don't want us, in our love of the natural world myth, to forget the other parallel myths. They are as potent in their own way as the one of Being One With Nature. All both instructive and destructive, open-ended and reductive.


I LOVE this.

There is an all too prevalent idea that myth is "made-up, not true" because we have confused "true" with "factual." Just because something is not factual, doesn't mean it isn't true. Myths are as deeply true as our sleeping dreams are true. Like fairy tales, they are the paradigms upon which our inner worlds are built.

Oh yes. When I was pregnant and knew nothing of babies, my husband and I read Dr.
Spock together. The good doctor suggested the new mother think of herself on an
island like Tahiti. Serene and with nothing to do but learn all about this little stranger
you'd grown for 9 months. So that's what we did.

Oh yes. Every night is a masquerade, a flight from demons, or a three hundred year old
love story. Last night it was abut magic garments I was making for some-one I love.

Oh, how very lovely all this is. Living on the side of a mountain in Wales, like Myrddin....

I LOVE the idea/possibility/reality of the earth speaking back to us, with a language of mythology, and gesture, and scent, and every other wild way that cannot be contained or encompassed or defined--only experienced.

I totally agree that there is myth and magic to be found everywhere, Jane, having been a City Mouse before I was a Country Mouse, and loving both sides of my history equally. I'm deep into exploring ideas of the wild, right now, and you are right to point out that the wild is within us, and within the land wherever we happen to be, when we chose to see it. That's definitely what the early works of urban fantasy were all about.

And you are also right that women's ideas about the wild (such as Terry Tempest William's or Jay Griffiths) can be somewhat different than the Robert Bly route. Both routes, of course, are valid ones.

Your poem is beautiful and thought-provoking, as always.

Oh my gosh, everything from Martin Shaw that you post here is so moving and so ON POINT to me.. how amazing. I'm really moved by this idea of myth as a magical present that moves through us, a conversation. On that note, I have a dish to maybe offer to the Mother Tongue table...

I think it speaks to many of these themes, and do excuse the mini presidential-debate rant at the get-go-- it's connected, truly. :) We live in strange and somewhat scary times... it's hard not to address the political angle for a second right after watching the whole debate-theater-performance.

Thank you, Sylvia; it's on the list now. I really love your blog.

Beautiful poem - right on!

Quite how the phrase 'myth is promiscuous, not dogmatic' implies i believe in 'Robert Bly Manly Men as Myth' i'm not quite sure. Starhawk and Germaine Greer ran alongside the writing of that book as much as any man. The book was entirely written to address the issue about 'city streets as dark woods' - beautifully put. It's a constant theme - and comes from twenty years fruitful work with inner-city youth, who have my admiration and love.
With respect -
a happy father,
Martin Shaw.

I think Jane was speaking for herself and her own slant on myth, not dissing you or your book, Martin.

And I, for one, am a big fan of your work (and dearly wish I could come to the Dark Mountain weekend coming up soon. Alas, I'm away from Dartmoor at the moment.) Thanks so much for dropping by.

The comments to this entry are closed.