Wild stories for our time
On a stormy day on Nattadon Hill

Dark Beauty

Solitude by Andrea Kowch

Here's another post reprinted by request during a tense election week here in the UK, impeachment hearings in the US, strife and hardship around the world, and climate crisis roaring down the track at us all. I'll return to new posts tomorrow; but today, one last journey into the dark....

Having grown up amidst violence and ugliness, I have long dedicated my life to kindness, compassion and beauty: three old-fashioned ideals that I truly believe keep the globe spinning in its right orbit. William Morris, artist and socialist, considered beauty to be as essential as bread in everyone's life, rich and poor alike. It is one of the truths that I live by. Beauty in this context, of course, is not the shallow glamor peddled by the advertising industry; it's a quality of harmony, balance and interrelationship: physical, emotional, and spiritual all at once. The Diné (Navajo) called this quality hózhǫ́, embodied in this simple, powerful prayer: With beauty before me may I walk. With beauty behind me may I walk. With beauty below me may I walk. With beauty above me may I walk. With beauty all around me may I walk.

We are living through a time when dark, violent forces have been released, encouraged, and applified, on both sides of the Atlantic: by Trump in America, by the Johnson-Cummings team here, and too many others eager to extend its reach. I contend that in the face of such ugliness we need the beacon of light that is beauty more than ever -- and I hold this belief as someone who has not lead a sheltered life, nor is unaware of the true cost of violence on body and soul. It is because of the scars that I carry that I know that beauty, and art, and story, are not luxuries. They are bread. They are water. They sustain us.

Andrea Kowch

Soiree by Andrea Kowch

And yet, like many of the writers and artists I know, I too have been struggling with how to move forward: not because I question the value of the work that we're doing here in the Mythic Arts/Fantasy Literature field, but because public discussion, on Left and Right alike, has become so dogmatic, so scolding and contentious, and so mired in black-and-white thinking. In such an atmosphere, nuance and complexity sink like stones; and the idea that there are things that still matter in addition to our political and ecological crisis is damned in some quarters as trivial, escapist, or the realm of the privileged: labels which I do not accept.

47037752238356cced089bb59f5d9ae5Here on Myth & Moor, I advocate for the creation of lives rich in beauty, nature, art, and reflection -- but this is by no means a rejection of engagement, action, and fighting like hell against facism. Myth speaks in a language of paradox, and so all of us who work with myth are capable of holding seemingly opposite truths in balance: We'll fight and retreat. We'll cry loudly for justice (in our various ways) and we'll have times of soul-healing silence. We'll look ugliness directly in the face, unflinching, and we will walk in beauty.

"Beauty is not all brightness," wrote the late Irish poet/philosopher John O'Donohue. "In the shadowlands of pain and despair we find slow, dark beauty. The primeval conversation between darkness and beauty is not audible to the human ear and the threshold where they engage each other is not visible to the eye. Yet at the deepest core they seem to be at work with each other. The guiding intuition of our exploration suggests that beauty is never one-dimensional or one-sided. This is why even in awful circumstances we can still meet beauty. A simple instance of this is fire. Though it may be causing huge destruction, in itself, as dance and color of flame, fire can be beautiful. In human confusion and brokeness there is often a slow beauty present and at work.

Flame by Andrea Kowch

"The beauty that emerges from woundedness," O'Donohue noted, "is a beauty infused with feeling: a beauty different from the beauty of landscape and the cold beauty of perfect form. This is a beauty that has suffered its way through the ache of desolation until the words or music emerged to equal the hunger and desperation at its heart....

Runaway by Andrea Kowch

"The luminous beauty of great art so often issues from the deepest, darkest wounding. We always seem to visualize a wound as a sore, a tear on the skin's surface.  The protective outer layer is broken and the sensitive interior is invaded and torn. Perhaps there is another way to imagine a wound. It is the place where the sealed surface that keeps the interior hidden is broken. A wound is also, therefore, a breakage that lets in light and a sore place where much of the hidden pain of a body surfaces."

Light Keepers by Andrea Kowch

"Where woundedness can be refined into beauty," he adds, "a wonderful transfiguration takes place. For instance, compassion is one of the most beautiful presences a person can bring to the world and most compassion is born from one's own woundedness. When you have felt deep emotional pain and hurt, you are able to imagine what the pain of another is like; their suffering touches you. This is the most decisive and vital threshold in human experience and behavior. The greatest evil and destruction arises when people are unable to feel compassion. The beauty of compassion continues to shelter and save our world. If that beauty were quenched, there would be nothing between us and the end-darkness which would pour in torrents over us."

So please, fellow artists and art lovers, keep seeking out, spreading, and making beauty. Don't stop. We all need you. I need you.

Rural Sisters II by Andrea Kowch

Andrea Kowch

The art today is by Andrea Kowch, an award-winning American painter based in Michigan. Kowch finds inspiration in the emotions and experiences of daily life in the rural Midwest -- resulting, she says, in "narrative, allegorical imagery that illustrates the parallels between human experience and the mysteries of the natural world. The lonely, desolate American landscape encompassing the paintings’ subjects serves as an exploration of nature’s sacredness and a reflection of the human soul, symbolizing all things powerful, fragile, and eternal. Real yet dreamlike scenarios transform personal ideas into universal metaphors for the human condition, all retaining a sense of vagueness to encourage dialogue between art and viewer.”

Reunion by Andrea Kowch

Andrea Kowch

The passage above is from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O'Donohue (HarperCollins, 2004), all rights reserved by the author's estate. All rights to the art reserved by Andrea Kowch.

Comments

Thank you for this beacon - a shimmer of light amid these troubled days of turmoil and despair.

Our way forward is to continue to nourish and our precious faculty of imagination and coax from ourselves creative acts of beauty, goodness, and kindness.

Virtue will rise from the ashes.

Thank you. I see myself as part of the tribe of the women in these gorgeous paintings. You are there, so many of us are there, trying to hold the energy and not be afraid as the new world is born. Divine Feminine .
Rudolf Steiner said,..."Absolute equanimity in the face of whatever the future may bring- that is what we must acquire....our part is to do, in each moment as it comes, what is right..."

Her paintings are so evocative! And those you chose so perfect for portraying that balance of hope amid dark or disturbing times... thank you as always!!!

John O'Donahue's words have been my guiding beacon through dark times, and deep depression, a humbling reminder of the fragile existance of beauty and appreciation of everything wonderful in my life. His words here are so poignant and are especially apt at this point in time, when our protestations can seem unimportant and tiny. Thank you so much for sharing, and what wonderful artwork. xx

As always, you have hit the very taproot of beauty itself in this post Terri. John O'Donohue, a beacon of wordsmithery, and of course the imagery of Andrea Kowch. I was able to see her paintings in person once while in Grand Rapids. They are of massive scale!!!! May we all share our beauty on a massive scale, or even in tiny bits along the way. Like beautiful breadcrumbs. Blessings on the season to you and your'n, from here in the Ohio River Valley. <3

What a magnificent read, and these images! So reminiscent of what my life might have appeared as, if just a few more miles out into the countryside of Illinois. Fireflies--such a spark of treasure that light up my heart memories. Beauty, yes Terri is so vital.
Beauty, in our culture, has been a ransomed in recent decades, in some views and places, for images that come from some other visage, perhaps from some imagined and poorly lived state of being. The beauty that speaks most poignantly to me, is that of sensual awakening, delight, surprise from juxtaposition, openings into my awareness that often lead to further openings in awareness, pure awe (and gawkiness) at color, life, blessing, the framing of a moment as an image, often becomes memory, that tells the tale of 1000 words or more. Thank you for all....

❤️❤️❤️ It is our collective #beautifulresistance.

Thank you so much for this beauty! I agree completely, and this soothed my soul, which has been restless today.
Raising three daughters--all in their early adulthood now--to be artists, creative--your message speaks so strongly to what I have believed about them, and what they believe about their purpose with theater, dance, costume, music, and visual art.
The paintings you chose speak to this former Midwestern girl deeply.

Wonderful post, Terri. Yes on so many levels. Andrea Kowch's work always mesmerizes me!

Like Bread, Like Water


"I know that beauty, and art, and story, are not
luxuries. They are bread. They are water. They
sustain us."--Terri Windling


This poem, that verse,
this painting, that song,
they sustain us when sharp words
would puncture the heart.


My foot tapping,
your viola deep and ripe
an octave below mine
throbbing with love.


We are not what we know
but are like bread, like water,
the water that sustains us,
the love that maintains us.

The air that reminds us,
breathe--my darling, my wonder.
Be bread, be water, be the note above,
the ground bass below.


You be bread, I will be water,
we will be air.

©2019 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Sometimes I find the anger chokes me - blocks my words from forming into sentences and rendering me even more incoherent then usual. Struggling to set an urban fantasy back in the salad days of my youth - punk rock early 80s Toronto - which reflects some of this and holding onto wise words of, of all people, Henry Rollins. "This is not time to dismayed, this is punk rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for."

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