On the threshold of the 2001 New Year, I ventured on a camping road trip through the southwest with Dancing Sorcerer. Well, not the Dancing Sorcerer of old, exactly, but a good friend who really is part deer, bear, wolf, horse and human. S. Giedon’s description of the prehistoric,17,000-year-old painted Dancing Sorcerer, whose presence is located in the sanctuary of Les Trois Freres cave, is an aptly fitting description of my friend:
His body is powerful and strongly hybrid in appearance. The head, crowned with mighty reindeer antlers, has two wolf’s ears, a long thin beard, and – something rare in primeval art – two large staring eyes; the body has the tail of a horse, the front paws of a bear, and feet probably human, as are certainly the leg and body. 2
Dancing Sorcerer and I would comment on our striking resemblances to prehistoric art works, as if they were our likenesses and no different from actual, contemporary photos: his to the lanky and wily Dancing Sorcerer; mine to the robust and grounded Venus of Willendorf, the 27,000-year-old sculpted limestone figure who possesses a round body, honeycomb cap and propensity for resting her forearms and hands on top of her large breasts.
To describe our meeting is to say, “Dancing Sorcerer appeared.” 3 When we met, we shared a sense of loss understood as a desire to recover what we could not recover alone (as much as we tried). Alone, Western culture’s turning away from nature-based wisdom and towards consumption was deeply troubling and paralyzing; together, it became creative impetus. Together, we explored our concerns by reconnecting with the animate, sensate world; the power of art as relational, ritual object; and, the nature of trickster who mischievously and creatively assists cyclical processes of dismemberment and renewal. Our friendship instantly became a laboratory for cultivating nature-based wisdom tied to trickster, art and ritual. 4
Throughout time, cultures have ritualized transitions and revered trickster figures. Rituals are created for the renewal of human relationship with the earth, its inhabitants, and the cosmos, as well as to assist threshold passages such as birth, adolescence, midlife and death, and the earth’s seasonal changes. Tom Driver observes in his posed question:
Upon reflection, is it not odd that human beings, in all societies, everywhere and in all ages, have engaged in the making and performing of rituals? Why have they done this, when life is full of dangers and challenges that would seem to require more practical kinds of activity? 5
The answer: ritual is not an impractical activity at all. As Robert Bly describes, “Ritual creates a second flow of events – and we can enter that stream or not, as we wish. The idea of ritual is strange to our ears; it says that if something is healed in the other world, something is healed in this world also. . . .” 6
Tricksters are the go-betweens of this second flow. Associated with communication between invisible and visible forces, they move between worlds for purposes of healing. In most cultures, tricksters are animals, hybrid figures (part god, human and animal), or shape shapeshifters (an animal temporarily becomes human, or a god takes the form of a human or animal). With ravenous appetites for life, tricksters carry the wisdom that spirit and matter, world and body are not separate. One reason trickster is essential to ritualized renewal is that when trickster re-imagines his body he is re-imagining the world. 7 Ritual provides a crucial container, a crucible; and trickster brings the elixir.
Years before the desert road trip, Dancing Sorcerer and I had been creatively working with these matters and created a ritual. The intention was to connect the beaches we were kindred to and living near so that during times we were apart, which were often, the ocean waters could hold our explorations in a connected and vital way. This ritual began near Dancing Sorcerer’s home:
The ocean was gray when we first arrived, that quality where there is little difference between land, sea and sky, when the elements appear as one substance. We had no “plan” other than our intention to connect two distant beaches. However, the beach knew differently as we played the role of bumbling humans with a sudden idea: “Hey, let’s make a sand-sculpture!” Those first gestures of digging an eight foot diameter moat to create a domed pile of sand became: “Hey, let’s make a turtle!” And, as the Great World would have it, we completed this massive, trickster sand-turtle as the sun broke through the fog and set down on the horizon. As the sun set, the tide rose, gathering our turtle and taking it out to sea. We named the turtle Herman, after Hermes, the Greek, wing-shoed trickster-god who presides over communication. 8 A month later, in the area where I live, we made Erma, a female sand-turtle. The place we chose to create her felt random, yet right. We drew the round of her turtle shell and placed a rock to mark the location of her head and another for her tail. Next, we dug the moat to create the central mound for Erma’s grand shell. When Dancing Sorcerer began digging in the place I marked as the tail, he exposed a pile of buried egg-shaped rocks. In no other place of digging did we unveil stones and this became further confirmation of how communicative the world is when engaged in sensual and sacred connection. We were taken aback. To call this experience serendipitous or synchronistic minimizes the potent gestures the earth presents through ritual. With our intention of creating a female turtle, the earth opened all the more letting us know our turtle had already laid her eggs. And it does not stop there. When Dancing Sorcerer returned to his beach, he came upon the birth! He wrote a letter sharing the experience and gifted me with the baby – a bright green turtle mold for making beach sand-turtles. Dancing Sorcerer wrote,
I saw him as I was casually strolling and scanning for interesting stuff washed ashore, when I noticed his striking color; he wanted to be noticed! As I walked up to him I couldn’t believe it as his little turtle features started to become apparent, and his apparent function no less! I suppose he wanted to make our job easier, having been pleased at our initial creations.
Concluding, “Just another exciting and continually baffling lesson in what happens when you decide to interact with the universe: response!”
Our decision to take the winter camping road trip emerged as spontaneously as our friendship. We had just learned that Western culture had possessed a legacy, a long-standing, nature-based, ritual tradition, which it then chose to repress. European culture, our Western cultural heritage, once had a vibrant ritual tradition rejoicing the connections of body, earth and cosmos. In most towns and cities throughout Europe the ritual was as long as a three-month winter celebration. 9 This ritual was carnival, not as we have come to know it in modern times, as a tourist spectacle, but one described by Alexander Orloff as primordial. He states, “This is carnival time whose roots lie buried in the primordial mists of our ancestral memories far beyond history, when man lived in nature, and the gods dwelled among the mortals who worshipped them.” 10 This carnival of medieval and Renaissance cultures reached back into what? Whatever it was it had me horribly curious (yet Dancing Sorcerer seemed suspiciously calm, as if somehow already knowing).
One element of carnival that grabbed my attention is it celebrates the “grotesque.” John Jervis states,
The ‘grotesque’ body, simultaneously communal and material, represents the base, physical reality of life, death and renewal. It is not separate from the rest of the world, but part of it. The grotesque body transgresses its own limits, is excessive in its very nature: it is dirty, uncontrolled, extended, protruding, incomplete, ugly; its apertures are open, and become points of disorder and interchange, so that its bodily secretions link it to other bodies and to the physical processes of decline and rebirth; it is regenerative, but also devouring, destructive. 11
The grotesque is the life of the body with orifices yawning wide, stretching to meet the great mystery of the world. As Mikhail Bakhtin observes, it is cosmic and universal:
It stresses elements common to the entire cosmos: earth, water, fire, air; it is directly related to the sun, to the stars. It contains the signs of the zodiac. It reflects the cosmic hierarchy. This body can merge with various natural phenomena, with mountains, rivers, seas, islands, and continents. It can fill the entire universe. 12
My curiosity swirled into two questions: Why is Western culture’s ritualized connection with the world considered transgressive? 13 And, how in the world did our living bodies ever become grotesque in the first place, whether in the more common, demonized use of the term or the celebrated?
As delighted as Dancing Sorcerer and I were by our chance encounter with this material, we were also saddened by the loss, or repression, of this heritage. Jervis states,
By the 1860’s, carnival was largely overthrown; banned or transformed into civic parades or trade fairs, the paraphernalia of spectacle. With the Enlightenment and the ‘civilizing process’, it had come to be seen as unruly, and incompatible with the norms of civilized behavior, decency, respectability, and a coherent sense of self-identity. It had, apparently, become little more than a memory – but a deeply troubling one. . . . And of course present-day carnivals are generally revivals or recreations, generally having more to do with consumerism, the leisure industry and tourism than anything else. 14
A spark was lit. Dancing Sorcerer and I spontaneously decided to set out on a winter camping road trip to honor the winter season of carnival. We planned to travel to New Orleans hoping to find a residue of carnival’s ancient wisdom. But life knows better. When one moves with the world in an attentive way, it does respond. Being human, however, usually means grand plans come first, possibly as the motivational impetus that, when released, opens into the necessary wisdom being sought.
Our trip began as any road trip does, with loading up the car. I was an embarrassment to my traveling, camping companion as he saw my car’s whole back seat as a pile of fluff and pillows. I wanted to take my down comforter and was brutally yet somewhat lovingly told that it would not withstand the moisture of our camping adventure. In its billowing place, Dancing Sorcerer gently settled a cactus no longer willing to live in a coastal climate on a window ledge: a spiky, three inch tall Strawberry Hedgehog. He knew this cactus needed to be returned to its native Arizona soil and, therefore, we had a third traveling companion.
Setting off with our tiny companion (who nevertheless managed to hog the whole back seat), our grand plan was to make it to New Orleans for the New Year in search of carnival’s ritual heritage. However, we did not take into account how lazy we could be or our disinterest in driving. This lazy quality is carnivalesque, though. Carnival is not driven by agenda but by sinking into one’s surroundings with participatory attention given to the sensuous world. Carnival “mocks the very idea of ‘function’, the idea that everything in life should have a purpose.” 15
Our trip quickly became one of enjoying simple things such as sewing patches on hats at a campsite picnic table in the cold morning mist of the desert while the other made endless trips to a water spigot to rinse mugs and make coffee. It became time eternal as we would watch the sun rise and slowly graze its path over the earth. No longer motivated to drive to New Orleans, we still held one goal: to return the potted cactus to his native soil so he could spread his roots and propagate in clusters as he was intended. With our other goal dropped, we dropped into the sensuous world presenting itself.
And present itself it did! The goal to uncover carnival, when released, became the very substance we entered.
It happened through cactus magic:
Early afternoon, on the threshold of the New Year, driving south of Tucson on Highway 80, Dancing Sorcerer suddenly knew we were in the vicinity of the cactus’ return. There was impeccable silence in the car and Dancing Sorcerer was fully alive in every sense his body could muster to listen to, and for, the location of this cactus’ home. Emerging from the silence, Dancing Sorcerer’s voice cried, “Stop!” I quickly pulled onto a side road and then watched as Dancing Sorcerer and the potted Hedgehog made their private journey into the desert. Leaning against the car, I rested into the mesmerizing landscape of billowy clouds filtering the sun and watched the puff-ball shadows dance and glide over the desert land. Dancing Sorcerer had been gone for quite some time, last seen as a speck in the far distance, and I had no idea when he might return. But, as Dancing Sorcerer was known to do, suddenly he appeared as if he had never left except for the remarkable difference revealed in his joyously unbounded smiling face and the swishing of his horse tail. He knew the replanting was just right and now there was a celebration to be had. Being nowhere near New Orleans, we agreed to spend New Year’s Eve in the little town of Bisbee, Arizona.
Bisbee is an old mining town once devoted to excavating the copper veins of the earth. Now, instead of an active mine, there is a deep, open, vast crater in the earth marking this history as a ghost’s presence. What grew out of the abandonment of this town when the mine closed was a town of cultural creatives. However, we did not know this detail until we drove through Mule Pass Tunnel and settled into our visit.
As we approached Mule Pass Tunnel, no longer with our third passenger, the sky began to turn gray, the air cold and crisp. And, while driving through this tunnel, Dancing Sorcerer made a wish. He wished for snow. This is when we knew we had been gifted by cactus magic because upon exiting the tunnel there were delicate snowflakes drifting down upon us. With boisterously animated expressions of, “No way!”, huge delight, and cheer, we knew the surrounding cacti were thanking us for the return of one of their own.
Winding down the grade into Bisbee, we saw the homes dusted with snow scattered upon the steep hillside and it looked more like the Swiss Alps than a desert town five miles north of the Mexican border. My level of awe, when we first arrived, was quite loud. Slowly, I gathered back into being a “normal appearing” human, as did Dancing Sorcerer, and we headed to the Visitors’ Center. Our desire for New Year’s Eve was the civilized comfort of a bed and shower. Foolishly, however, we had not considered there being no vacancies in this small town, and, as we stood at the counter with the expressed hesitation of “What to do?” staring at one another in a long pause, the phone rang. A Bed and Breakfast was calling the Visitors’ Center with a cancellation. Cactus Magic.
Thrilled just with the idea of bathing, we had not thought further for celebrating the New Year. But the elderly couple assisting us was on top of everything. We were given maps and brochures with the parting comment of: “And then there’s our little parade tonight.” Our ears were pricked; we were baited. We would attend the parade, assuming it would be the type of town pageantry celebrating fire fighters and community organizations similar to the small town Christmas parade of Los Osos, where I live.
There was a shift in our energy. We checked into the B&B, showered quickly and returned to town to explore it before dark. We found our way into a café, and afterwards, Dancing Sorcerer’s keen eyes rested on the tattoo parlor. I had no idea what was clicking in his mind as I was taken by anything and everything my eyes landed upon: secret art surprises stenciled on brick, vibrant artist-run galleries, light kissing snowflakes, beautiful warmth and light emanating from the homes seated on the rocky incline: everything! I paid little attention to Dancing Sorcerer. I was just following him around, unaware of his churning creative agenda: he was in the process of gathering the necessary materials to draw the cactus’ flower. The reciprocal connection was something he wanted to mark upon his body.
Spying a man inside the closed tattoo shop, Dancing Sorcerer made the first gesture announcing his agenda. He knocked on the door and talked with the man who greeted him. Dan, the tattoo artist, responded to Dancing Sorcerer’s questions and agreed to come in New Year’s Day to create the cactus tattoo. Further discussion ensued around inks, gradation and detailing: the specifics regarding the tattoo and how to prepare the drawing. They talked about the use of greens at the base where the cactus shoots forth its flower, and magenta and orange for the cup-shaped bloom. Afterwards, Dancing Sorcerer beamed a luminous grin; the New Year was fast becoming an initiatory entrance into the Unknown.
Come evening, our ears led us to our next destination: St. Elmo’s Bar. Its live music resonated through the streets as a contagious uproar. As we walked, following the beckoning sound, our heads pivoted in double-take gestures, our mouths gaped open. We kept seeing hints of costumes and painted faces and these first glimpses revealed that the town’s little parade would be something quite different. And, as we entered St. Elmo’s, we knew this bar was different too. Most everyone was dancing as a joyous collective to the band’s rhythmic mischief making. Dancing Sorcerer and I quickly joined the throng, our camp clothes finery blending more with the tones of the earth than with the tones of the crowd. For the most part, St Elmo’s Bar did not reveal the secret of the winter circus school a few storefronts down, the epicenter for what was about to begin. The only hint was every now and again we would spy a clown dancing with delight, kicking his big, black shoes high into the air. This bar held a moment of collective resonance where everyone was home, differences toasted, commonality recognized and all was sent into the ethers with a guffaw. I was deeply moved by this simple glimpse into a “carnival sense of the world” and completely forgot about the parade. 16 Inside the bar was “magical time outside of time” where
one and all are changed, everything is reversed, inverted backward, inside out, a period of paradox where opposites unite, where order is disorder, harmony dissonance, where profanity is sacred, where no laws and no taboos are valid. This is a time of excess, overflowing emotions, unrestrained folly, joy and anger, kindness and cruelty – a mad fleeting moment where life frenetically embraces death in a sacred dance of creation. 17
Low, thunderous drumming began to pulse in the street and suddenly the clown darted; he was being summoned by primal sounds. Quickly, Dancing Sorcerer and I ran after him and found a cacophony assembling outside. We were hit by the flood of color and form swathed by the dark of night. Everything blended into one complete social body: primal drummers the body’s voice; a bright orange dragon fashioned out of a shopping cart, paper mache, and cloth the body’s tongue; large, paper mache heads bobbing on sticks the body’s multiplicitous aspects of psyche, mood and personality; stilt-walkers the body’s yearning to soar above all else; and sacred clown, the body’s master of ceremony. All was welcomed within this carnival grotesque body, which became “‘territory shared,’ the product of a dialogic world, nature possessing a huge grin.” 18 Even the unadorned quality we brought to the revelry of this grand/base, sacred/profane, wise/foolish body was welcome.
The street in front of the bar where the carnival was growing and gathering momentum was tight, alley-like. Dancing Sorcerer and I were now part of the throng but with no idea where this parade would go, aside from assuming through town. We were more than willing to just be part of its river flow for we knew without doubt, before the parade even began, that carnival as potent ritual was alive and well in this place. It was right here in cactus magic. Our third traveling companion had been listening to our countless conversations while driving and responded, “Oh, yeah, no worries. Carnival is a primeval flow, sometimes below the surface but never dead. Hey, drop me off here and then make your way to Bisbee and you’ll find it.” What we found most certainly was not a tourist simulacra, for the audience was smaller than the costumed collective, and, as the parade made its way through town, most of those watching swept into the flow.
Before the carnival began its procession, its large grotesque body had become a dancing frenzy building energy on the tight street as if it was a well-formed baby in the birth canal seconds away from its explosive birth. The thunder of the drums continued to intensify, and then, release. The flow of carnival began making its way along a back street, greeted mostly by dishwashers and bus boys from the backside of restaurants. The parade did not go directly to the place of highest visibility, Main Street, but moved to care for its grotesque body first. It proceeded to a gathering space, a round, dark, open place behind the buildings where anything and everything turned into musical instruments and the drumbeats became all the louder and rhythmically faster.
This grotesque, collective body danced and sounded an ecstatic frenzy, and, having gathered its power, proceeded down Main Street. Many bystanders revealed facial expressions of unanticipated awe as they joined this fluid contagion of rhythm, color, movement, and joy. No blockades separated parade from viewers, and, if police were present, they were unobtrusive and respectful of the necessity for such ritual hoopla. True to carnival this was “a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators.” 19 This carnival was not peripheral or relegated to the margins but center stage in the marketplace ritualizing death and regeneration, the forces of winter.
Proceeding down Main Street passed those up from their seats in restaurants and others waving from balconies, this dancing, ribald mass continued to make its way up a steep hill to a park behind the Copper Queen Hotel. Drummers created the necessary trance state for climbing the otherwise arduous hill. Normally the climb was a challenge on foot, let alone on stilts or in a wheelchair or pushing a shopping cart dragon, as many of the revelers were doing. Instead, the parade appeared to float uphill in a joyfully fluid expression unencumbered by physical strain or limitation.
Dancing Sorcerer and I assumed this park was the final destination. Within the deep dark, we could sense the spacious surround had multiple uses. There was a cement stage area, the ground was blacktop, and basketball hoops stood tall on the periphery. Most of the drummers and stilt walkers hopped onto the stage to revitalize the grotesque body, and blacktop dancing became frenetic ecstasy. The mass was a surge of energy, an orgiastic force that in moments felt terrifying and in other moments transformative. As Bakhtin observes, “Images of carnival are dualistic; they unite within themselves both poles of change and crisis: birth and death, . . . blessing and curse, . . . praise and abuse, youth and old age, top and bottom, face and backside, stupidity and wisdom.” 20 Whatever I was submersed in, it was loosening the structures that usually suggest a stable definition of self and world.
Then descent: the enormous social body’s procession started again. Led by the voice of the drums, it headed down the steep decline back through the streets. I entered the state where emergence became emergency, as Rollo May most eloquently observes: “In such a period of change and growth, emergence is often experienced by the individual as emergency with all its attendant stress.”21 If I let go completely, what would come in? I knew this was the purpose of ritual, to create a fissure for new life to enter, within the ritual of carnival. 22 Ritual’s purpose is to provide a heated, pressurized container for emergence, for reawakening our unbroken connection with the Great World, with the bio-cosmic cycles of life. It holds and assists emergence so the sense of crisis is suspended and healing matter can enter.
And enter it did. As the throng entered a simple dirt park, I opened into carnival’s ritual healing. The parade, once again cradled in the basin of the town, gathered its grotesque body in the park directly across from the clown school and Saint Elmo’s Bar. The collective formed a circle that rhythmically swayed with an open, still space in its center. The center was not still for long. Suddenly, there was a burst of fire dancers. They would jump into the center solo, taking turns, or enter together, creating a fire dance that appeared as if it were the cosmos in the center of the earth: firelight swirling and becoming shooting stars and orbiting planets. This was not fire dancing purified and refined but fire dancing crude and threatening. It was elemental fire being wooed and gathered into a healing force, the work of shamans stirring and enchanting fire to heal the collective. 23 At the stroke of midnight, the collective body climaxed. As fire wands flew high into the night sky, champagne began to rain down. A multitude of sacred clowns, scattered strategically about the dirt park, had been shaking bottles of champagne as if they were rattles for this exact delirious moment. Here, trickster had ceremoniously entered the ritually formed crucible, with his elixir linking animality and transformation through fire and champagne rain. 24
Shortly after midnight, everything fell back to appearing normal. Costumed figures slowly became human – revealed by the shift of one’s gait and posture or the removal of wigs and wings. Parade paraphernalia collapsed in its own exhaustion and laid along the periphery of the park as if this stuff of delight – paper mache heads, dragon parts, wigs, tails, and wings – was in need of a good, long nap. Carnival’s grotesque body collapsed into smaller groups of people mingling. Some scooted back over to St. Elmo’s Bar, others went into the clown school for continued dancing, and others, including Dancing Sorcerer and myself, remained in the dirt park. Dancing Sorcerer had befriended the drummers and around a picnic table they formed a drumming circle. I remember the gathering being most impressed, or refreshed, by the drumming element that Dancing Sorcerer contributed: the entrancing rhythms produced by his bear paws mesmerized the drummers. I looked on with a fire dancer by my side and we watched Dancing Sorcerer glow, something he was apt to do. Transformation had been catalyzed on this night meeting, firsthand, a carnival sense of the world.
It was almost noon on New Year’s Day when people slinked back into town for coffee and eggs. Aside from the open café, most everything else in Bisbee was closed. The town might have been dreaming itself a ghost town backdrop for a Western style movie shootout. Fortunately, the shootout did not come to pass, as Dancing Sorcerer had concentrated work to do at the café table. He was busily working on the cactus flower drawing while waiting for our bagels and eggs. I, on the other hand, had skillfully discovered how to make the wall into a pillow and rested my head while nursing a latte, passively watching people and listening to the mix of voices and dish clamor.
After breakfast we happened upon the fire dancer whom I had stood with the night before and he offered to show us the clown school. It is a winter school for teaching children, teens and adults costume making, juggling, stilt walking and clowning. The week before New Year’s is devoted to costume making and preparing for the parade. Inside, the space held the residue of the night’s creative tornado of art supplies. The paper mache heads, however, still appearing to be asleep, were now against the back wall of the school. Outside, people were playfully attempting stilt walking and juggling, and suddenly, Dancing Sorcerer remembered the tattoo appointment.
Our goodbye to the fire dancer was a short moment that still holds incredible power; it was the most gracious gesture I have ever experienced from a stranger. The fire dancer folded his whole body into a fluid, flexible, graceful prayer and beamed a smile of numinous gratitude. Five years later, this moment of beauty still lingers as a riddle. Why was he so grateful? My guess is he recognized that Dancing Sorcerer and I unabashedly knew that carnival in its ritual potency was not dead at all.
Heading to the tattoo parlor, I continued to be transfixed by everything I saw, and now, in Dan’s company, I was taken by the art of making tattoos – the inks, the tools, the skill – as well as by the nonchalant quality of this big man whose appearance resembled a bear’s, and one who could really put Dancing Sorcerer to the test were a tussle to occur. When the cactus magic became illumined on flesh, we expressed our gratitude and bid goodbye, thinking we would not see him again. Dancing Sorcerer beamed cactus magic and to toast the occasion we headed to St. Elmo’s Bar.
St. Elmo’s animated Bisbee’s ghost town appearance. Aside from the bartender polishing glasses and one person seated at the bar, Dancing Sorcerer and I were the only ones there. We sat at a tall, round table drinking our beers and Dancing Sorcerer told me about (and displayed) the natural high one gets directly after getting tattooed. As I lifted a glass of beer to my mouth, I quietly said, “I would never get a tattoo unless it really meant something to me.” Oh, and how well those wolf ears hear! Dancing Sorcerer had listened closely to this small comment and said, “Yeah? Give me four words.” I forgot about the potential reality of a tattoo and fell right in line with what I perceived as a game. I wriggled my fanny on the bar stool and announced my four words: embodiment, orifices, hybrid, and ground. Paper and pencil manifested from where? Without forewarning, Dancing Sorcerer was in possession of these materials and back to drawing away.
The drawing is the Truth that my friend saw me to my essence – or the Truth that he could channel the very spirit energies that were reaching out to meet me. I was in the presence of yet another “one that appears.” The tattoo drawing appeared as if she had always existed and we named her Willa. Willa is eight inches tall and is reawakening the prehistoric energies known by the Venus of Willendorf. In this image, the Venus of Willendorf has grown deep roots into the earth during the past 27,000 years. Where once her figure stopped just below her knees, now her legs extend to form a great tree trunk with roots spreading deep to receive the nourishment of the earth. At the base of the tree trunk, right where earth and body intersect, there is an opening to the fiery red within. This red hot glow is the source of healing and life. Its heat travels up the line of the interior of Willa’s tree-legs shifting to orange and then to yellow as it climbs. The powerful source culminates at the vagina where branches spread and sprout new green growth. Willa’s breasts lactate new green growth. Her forearms and hands perched upon those large breasts are sprouting new green growth. The only input I added was the request that her honeycomb cap become a live, active hive. Therefore, Willa also has a honeycomb hive head, the source of medicinal honey and wax, with bees swirling around and one bee at her belly.
Dan expressed his surprise at seeing us again. Without words, only huge grins, we placed the drawing on the counter facing him. “Whoa!” he said, “a female Green Man!” Dancing Sorcerer and I looked at each other baffled by how quickly Dan noticed this reference. The Green Man, as William Anderson describes, is a composite of leaves and a man’s head symbolizing “the union of humanity and the vegetable world. He knows and utters the secret laws of Nature.” 25 We made an appointment for a tattoo session the next day.
Dancing Sorcerer and I shared many private impressions regarding the image about to mark my body. As was so common for us, we were laughing sacred clown giggles thinking no one else would ever figure these out. But we met our match in Dan. As I straddled an angled platform the following morning so Dan could press the drawing transfer onto my flesh where Willa’s roots would enwrap my spine’s tailbone, he asked me what I do with my time. I responded in a muffled tone as my jaw rested against my forearm, “I’m an artist working on a PhD in imaginal psychology – just starting to formulate my dissertation.” 26 Without a flinch, Dan spoke the very words of one of our secret jokes: “What are you planning to do? Drop your drawers in front of your committee and say, ‘This is my dissertation!’?” I was so stumped, shocked even, that I just added a stunned and lingering, “Pretty much.” Dancing Sorcerer, on the other hand, leaped in loud, ecstatic glee over our having been found out. And Dan, he gleamed a wicked smile knowing he had just won the prize.
By now, the shrewd reader has assessed I am not usually one who tests the waters before diving in (nor is Dancing Sorcerer). The creation of an eight-inch tall tattoo is quite the thing to endure when one is not familiar with the sensations and necessary patience involved to rest vulnerably particularly in the position inverse to giving birth. As painful as it was, it was also a comedy: Dancing Sorcerer was not only the overseer of the art, he became my Lamaze birthing-breathing coach. At one point, Dan hit a spot on my spine sending me into a spontaneous wail and flood of tears. Dancing Sorcerer quickly pressed his bear claws hard into my left hand to shift the location of the pain and my attention. Dan casually commented, “Seems like I just unblocked a chakra for you. You’ll have to be careful with this one. Whatever one marks their body with awakens and what you are awakening is really old.” 27 The overwhelming release was initiation into root, primordial fire. Rosalyn Bruyere describes the fire element of the base chakra which had opened, noting,
The first chakra, like all the chakras, contains dual qualities that represent opposite potentials. The dual qualities of the first chakra are spirit and matter, both of which relate directly to the fire element of this first center. In alchemical terms, matter becomes spirit and spirit becomes matter within the fiery crucible. 28
My “high” from this tattooing experience was something I had to sleep off. No choice. Stirred by countless frenetic dreams, I slept soundly yet restlessly for at least twelve hours, and, when I finally awoke, I said to Dancing Sorcerer, “I am feeling tremendously responsible. This image on my body carries responsibility.”
The knowledge and experience Dancing Sorcerer and I had been searching for had been realized and the time came to return home. We made one final expedition east: to camp in the winter silence of Chiricahua National Monument. Once again, we had no idea what to expect. We entered the most exquisite and erotic temple we had ever seen. Megalithic stone phalli wearing green moss robes stretched erect to meet the sky. In the mornings we would carry our camping burner and coffee making supplies to the top of this sacred expanse and watch the sun rise red and erotically kiss this grand temple. On our last day in the temple, my tattoo was healed enough to withstand a lengthy hike. We moved within the tight walls created by the phalli, some with open cave orifices, and, along the trail, a small white, porous stone greeted me. It is a simple, bulbous stone that, in her own nature, expresses the spirit of the Venus of Willendorf. Carrying this stone in the tradition known to Palaeolithic ancestors carrying small goddess sculptures as a source of connection, I was yet to know that Willa, as with Erma and her eggs, had already hatched new life. The well-formed birth I would soon meet was carnival’s original grotesque. The question I asked when first discovering material on carnival, “How in the world did our living bodies ever become grotesque?”, was about to be answered.
We drove home in silence. As we headed west, the sky danced electric: thunder and lightning announced we were lit anew. And as we passed by Tucson, we sent reverent-mischievous grins south to Bisbee and to the cacti that had gifted us with so much magic.
When something is healed in the other world, something is healed in this world also. 29 Turns out, Dancing Sorcerer was the Dancing Sorcerer and shortly after our winter desert road trip he returned to his place of origin. A ritual reversal happened while he was here: a healing occurred in this world so a healing could happen in the other world as well. Dancing Sorcerer returned to his origins with cactus magic to create a healing; and I am carrying it forward in this world also.
1 Carl Kerenyi, “Prolegomena”, in Jung and Kerenyi, Essays on a Science of Mythology, 21. .....
2 S. Giedion, The Eternal Present: The Beginnings of Art, 500-502.
3 Appearing suddenly is a trait characteristic of nature gods. For further elaboration see Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult.
4 Sources on these studies are included in the Bibliography. See, for instance, Lewis Hyde, David Abrams, Tom Driver and Suzi Gablik.
5 Tom Driver, Liberating Rites, 5.
6 Robert Bly, The Sibling Society, 201-202.
7 Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, 237.
8 For further elaboration see Norman O. Brown, Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth.
9 For instance, Mikhail Bakhtin notes, “Large medieval cities devoted an average of three months a year to these festivities. The influence of the carnival spirit was irresistible: it made a man renounce his official state as monk, cleric, scholar, and perceive the world in its laughing aspect. Not only schoolmen and minor clerics but hierarchs and learned theologians indulged in gay recreation as relaxation from pious seriousness.” (Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, 13.). Additionally, Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist write, “Although carnival has become impoverished in modern times, as both an event and a concept, it played a central role in the life of all classes in the Renaissance, when cities devoted as much as three months a year to such festivities. The importance of carnival, however, lay not in the great chunks of time given over to it but rather in the unique sense of the world it embodied. . . . In reality, it is life itself . . . shaped according to a certain pattern of play.” (Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin, 300.
10 Alexander Orloff, Carnival: Myth and Cult, 15.
11 John Jervis, Transgressing the Modern,19.
12 Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, 318.
13 Carnivalesque transgression is defined by John Jervis as reflexive. He states, “The transgressive is reflexive, questioning both its own role and that of the culture that has defined it in its otherness. It is not simply a reversal, a mechanism of inversion of an existing order it opposes. Transgression, unlike opposition or reversal, involves hybridization, the mixing of categories and the questioning of the boundaries that separate categories.” (Jervis, Transgressing the Modern, 4.)
16 Timothy Hyman and Roger Malbert, Carnivalesque, 2000.
18 Michael Mayerfeld Bell, “Deep Fecology: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Call of Nature”, CNS 5, no. 4 (1994): 73, 65-84. In regards to the carnivalesque, Jervis adds, “This link between birth and death is very significant; in the carnivalesque, these are not separated in space and time, essentially unconnected. Rather, they are aspects of the body itself, inseparable dimensions of existence. . . . Sexuality, fertility and birth are not opposed to decay and death, but rely on them; again we see the cyclical model of cosmic process, in which death is simultaneously rebirth.” (Jervis, Transgressing the Modern,19-20.)
19 Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 122.
21 Rollo May, The Courage to Create, 97.
22 For instance, Tom Driver states, “[Ritual] inventiveness is related dialectically to the powers and structures of society as they exist at the time of the ritual performance. This means that ritual stands in contradiction to society, while at the same time being a part of it. We might say that ritual embodies the principle of growth or dynamic process through which a society transcends itself, praising, evaluating, rebuking, and remolding life as it is presently lived.” (Driver, Liberating Rites, 189.)
23 See Joan Halifax, Shaman: The Wounded Healer, 88-89.
24 Robert Pelton writes, “[Trickster] links animality and ritual transformation, shapes culture by means of sex and laughter, ties cosmic process to personal history, empowers divination to change boundaries into horizons, and reveals the passages to the sacred embedded in daily life.” (Pelton, The Trickster in West Africa, 3.)
25 William Anderson, Green Man, 14.
26 Imaginal Psychology is interdisciplinary with the care of the soul being its primary concern. It draws upon its ancient roots in ritual, art, indigenous wisdom and deep ecology.
27 Chakras relate to the study of bodily energy systems located along the spine with two of the seven chakras located in the head. For further information see, for example, Wheels of Light by Rosalyn Bruyere. In relation to tattooing, Wilfrid Dyson Hambly additionally states, “The reasons why puncturing the skin should be regarded with some degree of awe are not far to seek, for in the first place, there is the drawing of blood, which to the savage world over is full of significance as a rejuvenating and immortalizing factor. . . . [P]erhaps most important of all, the marking is connected with some crisis, some stepping over the threshold of a phase of social intercourse. . . .” (Hambly, The History of Tattooing and its Significance, 1925.).
281 Rosalyn Bruyere, Wheels of Light, 163. Additionally, she writes, “Throughout the ancient world, and even in more modern times, various animals, both historical and mythological, have been associated with the first chakra. Prominent among them are the bumblebee. . . .” (Ibid, 111.)
29 Bly, The Sibling Society, 201-202.
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