Wednesday, December 14, 2016

“The charge of the Goddess: Resilience”

It is clear that this small art quilt, begun over 15 years ago, wanted to have a showing. And so, after more work on it in the last few moths, it’s getting one in Braemar’s “Summer exposure” exhibition in Springwood over the 2016-17 holiday season. It originally started life as a ‘still life’ vase, with a small patch of night sky left over from a previous quilt, and flowers gleaned from the fabrics of all types in my stash, mostly furnishing fabrics, which were then fused to the wallpapered background of a room with a recessed window. It was always intended that a moon be present, thereby influencing the choice of fabric flowers and their shadings. With the vase full to over-loaded, I had decided to do some hand stitching into the flower centres using embroidery thread. Perhaps I would have done more stitching, but energy levels have been intermittent this year since beginning my treatments with Immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma. I just wanted it finished! And that was facilitated with the help of fellow textile artist, Kerry Beaumont, who spent the best part of a day bringing my floral arrangement into low relief with her skilled free machining – the extra layer of wadding behind the flowers helping to create this effect. (Thanks Kerry!)

I remember having thought about a title many years ago: “Full moon rising” (…remember Credence Clearwater? Well, not that ‘bad’ moon…!), with the moon just creeping over the windowsill into the night sky. But Moon didn’t show up till near the end and came sliding in sideways, in full glory. Suddenly the goddess prints I’d had in my stash for about the same length of time called, and the Bird-headed Goddess of the Nile from around second millennia BCE (or even earlier) jumped onto the foreground, holding her arms aloft as though celebrating the abundance and fullness of life that Earth brings every summer season. She took her place in a frame on the checkered tablecloth as an expected, and very powerful arrival, In spite of being in the shadows, upstaged by the floral arrangement, as it were, she represents renewing energy of light from darkness - very appropriate for this time of year as we move towards the height of light at Summer Solstice...then prepare ourselves for the onset of the dark half of the year.


It was then I started to rethink a more appropriate title to express this mood of celebrating the generous, renewing energy of the planet. I have always loved the poem by Doreen Valiente, “The Charge of the Goddess”, which aligns humans fairly and squarely as one with Nature, ourselves Nature and Goddess. Initially I had thought “flourishing” to be a good subtitle, until I considered the three elements that this quilt in coming to fruition recognised: the resilience of Earth’s natural processes, regardless of what we as the human race do to the creatures of the planet; the resilience of the quilt to hold out in one piece to be finished; and my own personal resilience in dealing with what has come to be a life-threatening health situation. Hence the subtitle became “Resilience”. This word has moved from one I had previously identified as meaning “putting up with, tolerating an unpleasant situation” to one of finding personal power and integrity in the face of difficult situations.

The poem, attached to the back of the quilt, is shown here.

I who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon
among the stars and the mystery of the waters,
I call upon your soul to arise and come unto me
For I am the soul of Nature that gives life to the Universe.
From me all things proceed and unto me they must return.
Let my worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold,
all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.
Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion,
honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
And you who seek to know me, know that your seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery.
For if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.
For behold I have been with you from the beginning, and I am
that which is attained at the end of desire.
(Doreen Valiente)
This quilt is for sale: POA

Next blog: more preparation for Rob’s personal story quilt. Blessed be!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gestating the personal story quilt for Robyn: firstly the dove

Drew up the first draft for Rob’s quilt last week, with ideas starting to gestate about how to represent her special symbols of colours of the rainbow and chakras, the vesica piscis, the white dove of Iona and the Celtic interlaced triangle, within the context of communion with others in her life, love of community and a personal spiritual journey. The symbols are manifesting quite easily, the most basic and essential is the full moon. Placement, as usual will come later.

The dove as symbol providing meaning goes back a long way, as indicating the spirit of divine presence among us – and is of course, peace symbol. The power for creation of women, represented by Canaanite, Sumerian and Israelite and Mediterranean mother goddesses known by various names in multiple places as Ishtar, Inanna, Asherah, Tanit, Astarte, Anat and Aphrodite was symbolically envisioned as the dove, with many adorning temples and shrines. A goddess statue from ancient Crete is shown wearing a dove crown.[1] And so many goddess images from antiquity have wings. I’m thinking particularly of Isis, who shelters all and sheltered her beloved son, Horus, beneath her wings (a myth later morphed into the Mary and Jesus story). In Hebrew the word for ‘spirit’ is in the feminine form (‘ruarch’), and goddess embodiment known as Shekinah, queen of wisdom. Aspects of these stories incorporated the symbol of the dove into Christian symbolism for the immaculate conception of the godhead by mother Mary, and the dove hovering over the head of Jesus at his baptism.[2]

The dove, or pigeon was the first domesticated bird, and was believed to be a messenger, a go-between for communicating with divinity, destiny with a strong association with wishful prayer – communication occurring on many levels. Doves were associated with oracular divination, often in the context of romantic relationships and fertility. I have read that there are images of a dove being re-born from the mouth of a dolphin, later transposed into the story of Jonah being ‘born’ from a whale, his name meaning dove in Hebrew, ‘ionah’ being a cognate of the Sanskrit word ‘yoni’, which later became known in Latin as the ‘vesica piscis’. It of course represents female pubic area
 (often referred to as a woman’s ‘sexuality’), but much more importantly the sacredness of a woman’s body through which life is endlessly renewed, symbolizing faith, hope, joy and love that is at the heart of the lived human experience.[3] The root form ‘io’ has connotations with and means ‘moon’ in the Egyptian lexicon, yet another connection to the monthly blood ritual that is the basis of continuing human life.[4]

Needless to say there are too many historical and cultural associations to enumerate, let alone explain in this short description of my creative process. What is important is Rob’s association through the time she spent in retreat on the Island of Iona, the abbey of St Columba – whose name means dove in Latin. I am in the dark as to why this person received his name, and how the symbol of the white dove relates to him (apart from his name). Maybe because he brokered some sort of peace among the feuding barbarian tribes of the place the Romans called Hibernia and had long wanted to conquer, with the story of Jesus, by building on existing pagan rites and symbols – a common approach to colonization, even today. Since his name Colum-cille (kille) means ‘Dove of the Church’, it may be another appropriation of women’s reproductive power for renewing life to fertilizing a spiritual renewal in pagan lands, though the symbolism is normally attributed (perhaps in hindsight) as being a messenger of the Christian god of peace, with the need to be peaceful in a fairly barbarous environment.

Although not domesticated as such, I am constantly reminded of doves in my own garden. I feel blessed by regular visits from the regal grey and white wonga pigeon and brown pigeon doves living down in the bush, often several times a day. Of course, I do feed them because I love to see their colours up close; maybe that’s a form of domestication in the wild. I have come to think that they actually ‘call’ to me when they are ready for a snack – and not just the doves, the king parrots and crimson rosellas too! I’m little concerned that the little ‘dove’ I have drawn in the draft reminds me of the Twitter symbol (eeek), but maybe that’s not a bad thing, since it’s role is to facilitate communication in the wider world of the ‘social media’. I also know that this is just a sketch, and the dove will go on morphing as more ideas and connections are made.

[1] She can be seen in my PhD thesis on page 154, and is taken from the Awesome power series, 1989, published by Swinging Bridges Visuals, Australia, and produced by Rosanne DeBats & thea Rainbow (later thea Gaia).
[2] Iona Miller, 2016, Ancestors and archetypes,
[3] Barbara Walker, 1983, The woman’s encyclopedia of myths and secrets, HarperSanFrancisco
[4] Barbara Walker, 1988, The woman’s dictionary of symbols and sacred objects, Harper & Row: San Francisco. For me personally at the moment ‘IO’ stands for ‘immuno-oncology’, which has been my treatment for advanced melanoma over the last 9 months.