September 25, 2012
I’ve updated my website with the official “work in progress” description for the Book of the Hidden Land, my working title for the book that will eventually hold the “Tree Book” drawings, Lichen Oracle, and other things. This post offers a more detailed description.
“Shaman…Scientist. I’ve been known by many names over the centuries, but they all mean one thing: echo of a lost knowledge. Never guardian of the power….Perhaps I’m wrong on that. Perhaps science will find its own way into the first forest.”
Robert Holdstock, LAVONDYSS
Some of us walk within the shadow of the First Forest all our lives, living among echoes of an older landscape. In this age, the shaman’s “secret language” is the descriptive vocabulary of science and natural history, and to most people the naturalist is as mysterious and incomprehensible as any shaman.
“Yes, I belong to that most ancient brotherhood not often named because we were once stoned, or burned, or hanged, or now suffer the ostracism of the seeming learned….I think, far off, our arts may well be practiced once again.”
Loren Eiseley, THE INNOCENT ASSASSINS
The “arts” referred to above are those of the old-time naturalist – the collector of beloved yet mysterious natural objects for study – and the ancient shaman or medicine man, collecting the same objects for use in ritual, magic, and divination. The lines are from a poem, “In the Red Sunset on Another Hill”, in which Eisely describes these “arts” and three practitioners: himself, one of his anthropology teachers, and an unknown medicine man whose century-old artifacts Eiseley discovers – and leaves untouched – in a remote archaeological site.
THE BOOK OF THE HIDDEN LAND is a record of personal observations of some common but obscure aspects of nature, chosen because they are artistically intricate and beautiful, scientifically interesting, and have an enduring appeal to the imagination that makes them ideal for use as primitive oracles (and some have indeed been used that way in ancient times). Oracles have acquired New Age or metaphysical trappings that I am attempting to reach beyond in this case. I am using these examples (trees, lichens, pebbles, etc.) to show that the artistic, poetic, scientific, and oracular appeal of these objects all comes from the same place.
The “Hidden Land” is a poetic reference to the Otherworld, the land across the River. In a practical sense, it also refers to the everyday observable aspects of nature that most people don’t see. For those who would like to see in this way but aren’t sure how to do it, this book offers several methods, though my intent is not to write a workbook, but to teach through example and inspiration.
1. THE LICHEN CLOAK: An artistic introduction to lichen shapes and colors.
(Just beginning the two diagrams that will dominate this section. Several additional drawings are done, including the two shown above.)
2. THE GRAPHIS LICHEN ORACLE: A runelike oracle based on glyphs drawn from several species of Script Lichens (Graphidaceae) from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Includes a general introduction to Script Lichens, 20 glyph cards, and illustrated card interpretations based on the natural history of the island beaches, coastal forest, and freshwater swamps.
(Done except for a few small pencil drawings for the card descriptions. I recently rewrote and expanded the introduction and re-drew all the cards, inspired by new lichenology information that has appeared online in recent months.)
3. THE DIVINATION BOX: Restoring the ancient symbols of Orb and Scepter to their roots in natural objects. ANTLER AND TURTLE SHELL is an illuminated poetic description of two common wildland bone treasures. MOONPEBBLE HOARD investigates the geology of two small collections of stones that can be “thrown” as an oracle: quartz crystals and round white agate pebbles. (Writing is mostly done. Next stage is to design the illuminated antler pages, and begin drawings of the stones.)
4. CREEKWALKER’S FOREST: The Creek as a path into the land and a tributary to the River between worlds. Portraits of southern Arizona trees and selected Borderland plants.
(Well underway, with several tree drawings and descriptions completed, and a backlog of reference photos ready to draw.)
5. PAINTED BONES: Contemplation of the skeleton: Bones repaired or replaced with natural objects, a record of creative work as self-initiation. (Still in the sketching/planning stage, this short section will include only three or four drawings.)
I plan to query several publishers, though a project like this will be a hard sell and I’m expecting to self publish. At this point I have no idea when the project will be finished but am hoping to go to press in less than two years. This isn’t a long book but most of what I have to say is told in the drawings, which take longer than writing.
February 11, 2010
As the moon wanes, I’m selling the last copies of the Ironwing Tarot Major Arcana (two copies left as of this morning), and putting several egg tempera paintings up for sale on my website HERE. None of them are new (I haven’t done any painting in nearly two years, due to other drawing projects, more metal and lapidary work, and having more cats to care for). Several, such as Jaguarundi Shaman that appears on my website homepage, have never been offered for sale before now. I had retired most of my paintings from the website because most people do not find them interesting, and the painting medium (handground mineral pigments in eggyolk/water medium) can be a turnoff, especially for younger people who typically prefer the ultra-saturated colors that they are used to seeing in digital art. So if I don’t get any inquiries in the next six months or so, I’ll take them down permanently so they’re not cluttering the site.
The Tucson gem and mineral shows are in town, and I’ve been enjoying the madness for the past week, although I only visited two shows this year. Now that I have a lapidary machine and am starting to make beads and carvings, I didn’t look at beads or finished stones. Instead, I bought rough rock (big pile of Madagascar carnelian river pebbles), slabs (picture jasper, blue tigereye, agate, etc.), and various small tools. The fossil displays were some of the best I’ve ever seen at the show. I couldn’t resist buying a lower jaw fragment of Megaloceros, the Pleistocene giant deer, that was collected from a gravel bar in the Rhine River, Germany.
Looks like I’ll be working with a lot of carnelian! In addition to the lovely Madagascar stones that I just bought, I also have an old stockpile of Oregon material, and a pile of bead-sized pink, orange, and red carnelian pebbles that we collected a few weeks ago in the Empire Mountains. So I’m looking forward to making more carvings like this one that I finished in December:
April 1, 2009
Here is a rather stylized egg tempera painting of fire glowing in the earth, surrounded by charred thorns:
February 18, 2009
The circular turtle shell is a motif that I have used in several drawings, the most detailed of which is the scratchboard Tsunami Turtle. The first time I used it, I painted the Dark Moon Tortoise Mandala in forest fire charcoal, charred bone, and silver metallic powders. It’s been holding a collection of white chalcedony “moon pebbles”, though now I’m drilling some of the pebbles for other projects. Here it is with an old pencil drawing, Coyote Imitates Uroboros.
This Moon Turtle design is a very stylized and fully reversible circular version that I adapted for use with many different media – paper, fabric, metal, etc. :
January 8, 2008
Today’s New Moon is the Ice Lamp Moon in my personal moon calendar. I named it when I was 13, in reference to the Winter Orchid or Puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale) that grew in the woods near my house. The plant has a single leaf that sprouts in September and persists through the winter, dying back in May as the flowerstalk appears. I made this painting several years ago to celebrate the plant, and it also appears on the Apprentice of Blades in my tarot deck.
This morning’s Dark Moon meditation produced two images that work together, which seems appropriate for the month of Janus, the double-faced Roman guardian of beginnings and doorways. These are 3″ drawings in Yarka Sauce, which are naturally pigmented, kaolin-based drawing chalks from Russia. Though messy, they are very inexpensive and nice if you want to work with earth pigments (or just earthy colors) and don’t want to grind your own. The “Sauce” is an assortment of ten colors (white, black, several shades of gray, and an earthy green, yellow, and blue). The “Sanguine and Sepia” is 20 sticks in four shades of natural red ochre (not true sepia, which is brown and derived from squid ink). It’s a beautiful and easy way to use red ochre. The sticks can be used like pastels or powdered and applied with a brush. They can be smoothed and blended with water to create many layers, though they don’t work well in egg tempera because of the high clay content and the presence of a binder.
On recent hikes in the Madrean evergreen oak/pine forest in nearby mountains, we have encountered one of the few absolutes among the natural nourishing and limiting factors that determine our local flora. When most people think of “desert”, they think of intense summer heat and low rainfall. But in U.S. deserts, another natural element plays an equally important role: ice. Many of our drought-tolerant southern Arizona desert plants – cacti, agaves and yuccas, evergreen oaks and pines, thorny shrubs, and others – have relatives in warmer climates in Mexico, or in California where there is more winter rain, or in Texas where there is more summer rain. Our species are adapted to frost (several nights a year that are below freezing), high temperatures (several days a year that are over 105), and bi-seasonal rainfall (summer monsoons and winter rain and snow). I’m reminded of this each year when we experience the various extremes. Below is ice on weathered granite, with tiny leaves of the evergreen oak Quercus toumeyana.
December 6, 2007
This is a new mineral pigment for my collection – a tiny piece of greenish-blue copper ore from a local abandoned mine. It contains malachite, chrysocolla, and probably a bit of turquoise. I already have several examples of all these pigments in my collection, but this piece was particularly bright and clean, so the paint is clear and (for copper ore) relatively intensely colored. Sky and water, cool and warm, strong and delicate at the same time, like turquoise. Typical ore like the pieces in the photo is usually a mixture of several greenish or bluish copper minerals, often with dark impurities (cuprite, iron sulfides, and iron and manganese oxides) which make it unsuitable for pigment. The small pieces are the best – they are the most pure, and usually contain the rarest and most intensely colored minerals. Now I have the perfect pigment for my Copper Oracle, which is still in the pencil-sketch stage.
I printed the Lichen Oracle as a set of cards so I could learn how to work with it. I’m finding it much more powerful this way, and the moon and three minor glyphs on each card allow for interesting patterns in a spread – it is an intriguing puzzle, yet the glyphs are good for meditation, and become even better as I grow more familiar with them. The whole series flows, pauses, and moves very naturally. Of course the published deck will look quite different – this practice set will help me decide what it should look like.
August 27, 2007
Above is an egg tempera sketch of a 3″ offset (or “pup”) from the agave plant in my front yard. I nicknamed her “Mother of Thousands” but she actually has about a hundred offsets – which is still amazing since this small variety of Agave palmeri usually has no more than a dozen. The primary leaf rosette was killed by weevils in 2002, but most of the offsets surved and the largest one is about two feet tall and blooming. The flower spike is over 15 feet tall, and hummingbirds are enjoying the pink and green flowers. There is a photo on my AGAVE NOTES page (on the cactus homepage). This particular plant is special because it’s the only wild native agave in my yard. The other eight species that I planted are native to southern AZ or northern Mexico, but they are nursery plants or gifts from friends. Weevils attack the Mother every summer but she seems to produce new plants faster than the weevils can breed their creepy, crunching, armored-tank larvae. As with all agave species, the main rosette dies shortly after the plant blooms, but the offsets survive and the dry stalk (hopefully with a few seedpods) persists for a couple of years to provide high-rise apartments for friendly carpenter bees.
August 17, 2007
Here’s a view from my daily morning walk, a 4.5-mile loop along a dirt road and a rocky, sandy wash. This area is especially rich in dense forests of very tall ocotillos, which are the intensely green sticks in the photo.
For the last two nights, the moon has been spectacular – a glowing copper crescent falling into blue-gray storm clouds, surrounded by streaking branches of blue-white lighting! Energizing and life-giving, it is a call to work on what is really important, and to seek out and appreciate all that is living and growing now. Put aside trivia and idle amusements, touch the living fire and work with it, draw its energy deep and store it.
Pomegranate of the Day: Fire (yellow and orange ochre, and black manganese oxide).