Not so very long ago, I spent four years living on and working the land in one of the wildest, harshest and most remote parts of the UK: on the farthest western shore of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The place where the road ran out, and there was nowhere left to hide. Those of you who’ve read If Women Rose Rooted will know that it was something of a baptism of fire. It broke me open; broke my life open. Four years with my hands in cold, wet, acidic peat which didn’t really want to grow what I wanted to grow there. Four years mucking out pigsties, close-shepherding sheep, cuddling milk cows, crying over dead lambs, burying dead dogs, screaming at ravens stealing away baby geese. Four years battered by the prevailing salt gales from two directions. Four years walking on Llewissian gneiss, some of the oldest and hardest rock on the planet. These are the experiences which tear open the veil for us – which not only show us the opening, but shove us the hell through.
‘A psyche the size of Earth.’ I love that image. It’s the title of an essay by James Hillman, the greatest of influences on my own psychological practice, which introduced the collection of articles Theodore Roszak, Allen Kanner and Mary Gomez collated for their book Ecopsychology back in 1995. Hillman, I think, did more than anyone to try to remind people that this world, these lives we live, aren’t all about us. It’s a message I passionately believe in. We think we make them up, the stories, the dreams. Well, maybe they make us up. For sure, they have an existence that’s independent of us. We think psyche is in us, Hillman said – but actually, we’re in psyche. The great, beautiful soul of this glowing, animate world.
It’s been an interesting time to spend two and a half weeks in the USA – though of course it’s hard to find a time that isn’t interesting in one way or another these days. On this occasion, as I was travelling the country telling the old Celtic story of the Rape of the Well-Maidens, yet another smug, privileged politician was being accused of sexual abuse, whilst his (male-dominated) establishment protected him, and the only recourse women had was to fall back on rage again.
For the past fifteen years I’ve lived in locations haunted by herons. My character Old Crane Woman (who I wrote about in The Enchanted Life, and whose stories you can find under this blog in the posts labelled ‘Grey Heron Nights’) sprang from one of those haunted places: a river in Donegal which was home to a particularly fine heronry, on the banks of which I lived for three years. Read More
Myth is the language of psyche – of soul. And the psychology I’ve actually practiced down all the years (as opposed to the disenchanted, scientistic, experimental methodology I was taught early on) has always been about soul – and has always been founded on a deep immersion in myth. Above all, it’s been about working with the mythic imagination in order to understand, express, create soul. Read More
‘Post-heroic stories aren’t focused on individual glory; they’re focused on community. On diversity. It’s not about slaying the dragon, but about harnessing his special skills – making him part of the team. It’s about understanding, and valuing, the black, feathery, croaking wisdom of a crow. It’s about living with a half-empty stomach so you can feed some of your porridge to the hungry mice – who, if you are lucky, will help you to sort the wheat from the chaff. Post-heroic stories aren’t about winning the hand of the simpering, golden-haired princess: they’re about kissing the boar-toothed, blue-faced hag.’
Sharon Blackie, ‘The Mythic Imagination’