Great and holy muse
Let me drink from your chalice of inspiration
May you always be by my side
Whispering your inspiration in my ear
If you should leave me
Please don’t stay away too long
For I am here ready to receive your holy gifts
Great and holy muse let me be a conduit of creativity
I felt I like I needed to start this post with that short invocation, in gratitude for the wealth of inspiration I am currently feeling at the moment. No doubt it has a lot to do with the experiences I was lucky to have over the weekend. But I wanted to honour the Muse for choosing me to bestow with her gifts.
So one of the workshops that we attended on the weekend was on the skull. The lovely Cerri ran it. Each of us was given a piece of clay to mold into the shape of a skull. We were encouraged to feel our own faces and to experience the bones that make up our own skulls and to translate that into our piece of clay. As we did this Cerri spoke of the ancestors of the honourable dead…
I hear you say what?
Why on earth would there be a workshop focused on the honourable dead, and death, and at a life affirming weekend such as the Beltane Camp? Well because death is a natural part of life. It isn’t separate from it, but is life.
Across time and cultures, people have revered the head as point of inspiration and connection with the divine.
Take the story of Bran for example. The Legendary Giant king of the land of the mighty who fought against the king Matholwch of Ireland for the mal treatment of his sister Branwen. Bran’s body was eventually poisoned during the battle, but he told his men to cut his head off, and that way he would stay with them. Together they travelled back to the land of the mighty where Bran entertained his men with stories and songs, as well as providing prophecies for eight (some say eighty) years, before his men buried his head (as an aside, his head is said to be buried where the Tower of London is now. To this day they keep Ravens and Crows at the Tower. It is said that as long as Bran’s head is buried there Britain is protected).
Or the story of Orpheus, the most talented bard in Greek Mythology. So beautiful was his music that it was said that all of nature would stop to listen to him. However in a mad rage Thracian maenads tore him to pieces, leaving only his head. It was said that his head though continued to sing and speak prophecies.
In cultures closer to my own blood ancestors, people were obsessed with head. The Incas for example did amazing things to the skulls of babies, like extending to by adding pressure to the forming bones of their newborns. The Mexicans till this day celebrate “El dia de los muertos.” The Internet is full of images of colourfully decorated skulls from these celebrations. There is also myriad evidence of the unique and interesting things that various tribes of Africa as well as peoples of Europe do to skulls of the deceased. T
What drives this obsession and centrality of the head in world myth and belief? It was this that we were asked to ponder as we created our skulls. For many the skull is the depository of the knowledge that the long dead ancestors held (as per Bran and Orpheus). It is the seat of an individual’s power. Recall the Ancient European practice of decapitating fallen enemies. In honouring the skull people honour and retain their connection with their dead. In the case of decapitating fallen enemies, the victorious warriors would take into themselves the power that the fallen warrior had in life. That is pretty powerful stuff.
But what has become so scary about the Skull that it has such negative connotations? For one, as Cerri explained in the workshop, within our western lives, we have become so far removed from death. It has become so completely santised for the majority of the population that we are no longer faced with the realities of death. Death is dealt with in a sterile, emotionless way. The trauma that is felt at the moment of death is simply denied, because in our 21st century life who has time to properly mourn, and process of the passing of a loved one. “Ain’t no body got time for that.”
Everything that the over culture tries to sell us is to attempt to cheat death – there are creams, injections, exercise regimes. You name it – there is something that allegedly will help you remain younger for longer and live more years.
It’s actually all bullshit.
By having a healthy understanding of the death process, do we live better lives – or so I feel. Nothing in nature lives forever. Everything is interconnected, so those things that die and perish assist in the birth of the new. As is our process. What is the old saying – ‘from the earth we came, and to the earth we shall return.” By connecting with our ancestors, we are able to tap into their wisdom of generations of old, and remind us that we too are human.
So why the clay skulls then, if they aren’t really the bones of our ancestors. Well for one they are meant to be representative of our ancestors. It was also a chance to connect with the earth energies, given that we all return to the Earth eventually. On that note, arguably by working with the clay we were in fact working with the bones of our ancestors, given that as our bodies and bones breakdown we feed the soil and the clay beneath our feet. We were recommended to place our skulls on our shrines to the ancestors, to be a focal point for our connection. At Samhain we should leave them out, to disintegrate, joining the earth again, as a reminder that we too, one day will return to the earth.
My Skull and my revelation
This is a picture of my skull. As you can see it isn’t very ‘skull like’ that is because I realised during this workshop is that I am very very hypercritical of my own creative ability. I had always known this but it was quite confronting to be faced with it as I worked the clay, I would not let myself continue working with it for fear that the result would not be ‘perfect.’ Hence the state of the skull as it is now. Interestingly when I saw what others had created around, their work wasn’t perfect either, but they had allowed their creativity flow. To this end I want to work through this block, because the fact of the matter is, is that I am human, and not perfect. An imperfect human that one die will die and return to clay.