Spirit Boat Project

I’ve been thinking about boats and the idea of a Shamanic boat. When I googled ‘shamanic boat’ I found a website about Finnish Shamanism, Spiritboatblogspot (which is very fascinating and worth checking out if you’re into shamanic practices.) I also found a link to the Living Shaman Museum and a workshop that took place by a ‘spirit boatist’/artist, Jennifer Ewing. Her work intrigues me. She started making boats when her father died to help her deal with her grief.

My Uncle Ken made boats – it’s one thing I remember about him. Sometimes boats make an impression on me and one such boat was the Vasa ship in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. It has some lovely carvings of sea spirits, tritons and mermen decorating the sides:

Vasa Ship Mermen

Vasa Ship Mermen

Sea Spirit on the Vasa Ship

Sea Spirit on the Vasa Ship

Another boat that comes to mind is Grayson Perry‘s ship in The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.

Grayson Perry's Ship

Grayson Perry’s Ship in The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, British Museum 2011.

I like boat ruins too and featured one in a previous post that’s supposed to be haunted.

There is something lovely about the idea of a container carrying you over the waters.

“At night I sleep and dream reed-lined, silt-laden dreams, drifting channels in my skiff, hugging the shallows, calm and sheltered from a ravaging sea beyond.”

I decided to embark on my own Spirit Boat project, making boats and putting night lights inside them before placing them into a river at dusk as another river project.

So I started by making a simple origami boat and covering it with pieces of a letter written to the river with my hopes and dreams, words and poems. (I tried to write in the language of the river!) I stuck a rabbit vertebrae in the bottom of the boat to hold a gull feather. This became my Boat of Words.

Origami Boat

Origami Boat made out of an old drawing of a fox I no longer wanted.

Boat of Words

Boat of Words

The second boat I covered with used coffee filter papers that were stained a nice, natural coffee brown. I sewed on to the sides rabbit bones with scrim twine and used a rabbit skull as a figurehead. This became my Boat of Bones. At last I have a use for the natural materials I’m always collecting!

All the materials have a story. I collected my rabbit skulls and bones during a visit to Morfa Dyffryn, an extensive stretch of sand dunes on the coast of Wales. We visited on a cold April day when the winds off the sea chilled us to the bone. It must be a harsh place to be a rabbit.

Boat of Bones

Boat of Bones

My third boat I covered in coffee filter papers and scrim and trimmed it with dried grasses that I’d collected from a basket making day last year. I put some sheep’s wool that I’d collected from the Downs on the first really sunny day in April. This is my Harvest Boat.

Agricultural Spirit Boat

Harvest Boat

Nest Boat

Nest Boat

Finally I covered a boat with dried, used teabag papers to give it a rustic, natural look. I then placed moss inside to finish off my Moss Boat.

Moss Boat

Moss Boat

Spirit Boats in Process

Spirit Boats in Process

In my boats I placed a night light.

Five Spirit Boats

Five Spirit Boats

One evening in July as the moon was waning, my partner Kevin and I set off for the River Ouse at Barcombe Mills where the river is gentle and accessible. It is a popular place by day; people have picnics and swim in the river. I have swum there once myself….

Swimming in the River Ouse

Swimming in the River Ouse – I can’t resist a bit of wild swimming when I get the opportunity!

We waited for dusk and then lit the night lights. I can’t help thinking the boats look like shoes! ( I think ‘shoes’ and then ‘footprints’ and have ideas for another project! Watch this space :) )

I slowly put the boats into the water and filmed them while Kevin took photos. When I looked at the footage I found it quite meditative, so I made the video below and set it to some deep, Tibetan chanting. You may be able to hear the odd chaffinch singing from the hedgerows.

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Long Barrows

Belas Knap with Kevin

Belas Knap

Continuing the subterranean theme, on a recent trip to Gloucestershire I visited a couple of long barrows with my partner. Walking part of the Cotswolds Way we came upon Belas Knap Long Barrow, an elongated mound which can be seen from quite a long distance away. From the side it is triangular in shape, rucked up from the earth. We approached it on a path the colour of terracota.

Belas Knap Side Chamber

Belas Knap Side Chamber

Belas Knap with False Entrance

Belas Knap with False Entrance

Belas Knap – possibly meaning “Beautiful Hill” – is Neolithic, 5500 years old and is, indeed, a beautiful hill; marbled white butterflies flit amongst the field scabious and red clover flowers. It is a rounded, elongated mound – the earth’s pregnant belly – and has a “false” entrance and four cave-like side chambers where 38 human skeletons have been found entombed within this womb of earth. The small chambers, with neatly layered dry stone walls, make adequate shelter from the elements if one enters on hands and knees.

Boat to the Afterlife

Boat to the Afterlife

According to Robert John Langdon,  the area was once a land of water and long lost rivers, and the long barrows may have been “Boats to the Afterlife”. It’s a beautiful, but controversial, idea. It was later, during the time of the Vikings in Anglo-Saxon Britain, that the dead were buried within real, wooden boats intended for the Afterlife – Ship Burials.

Uley Long Barrow Entrance

Uley Long Barrow Entrance

Uley Long Barrow Chamber

Uley Long Barrow Chamber

The other Neolithic long barrow we visited was Uley Long Barrow just off the Cotswold Way. It is also called Hetty Pegler’s Tump after the wife of the seventeenth century landowner where the long barrow is situated. This long barrow can be entered and its interior chambers explored.

Inside it was dark, musty, silent. The interior chambers were coal black so I set my camera to flash and took a photo; it was like entering a cave. Were the ancients trying to replicate caves in an otherwise cave-free landscape? I shouted into the void but my voice died on my lips, muffled and lost in the blackness. It felt close, slightly oppressive – I could almost feel the weight of rock and earth above. There was I within the womb of peace, the resting, liminal place of ancestors. Perhaps a place to commune with their spirits and acknowledge death. I pondered a moment and felt, ever-so-slightly, my materiality, my sense of self, dissolving into the velvet darkness about me.

Some long barrows have acoustic properties and I’m reminded of a programme on Radio 4 last year called Noise, A Human History by Professor David Hendy. In two episodes, he explored the acoustics of stone circles and caves. Sounds, or their absence, may have played an important role in making these sites sacred.

In some studies of Neolithic burial chambers, it has been found that during acoustic experiments, researchers experienced deep trance-like states and drumming vibrations were enhanced within the chambers.

“[West Kennet Long Barrow] was never just a tomb, it was a liminal crossing place, where shamans journeyed to ancestral realms for knowledge and healing”. Peter Knight

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Fadistas

Fado, which means “fate”, has obscure origins – in back street cafes, bars and the alleys of the poorer parts of Lisbon perhaps. Some say it began with lonely voyages when sailors would sing of their homesickness and loves left behind. Whatever it’s origins, there is a strong association with the sea, and with that loss, longing and nostagia.

Below are two illustrations inspired by Fado. Initially I was going to draw in blue pen but decided that I wanted a darker, richer illustration with more depth, so I chose mixed media using black and blues, ink and watercolour pencil with collage. Woman of the Song was created a while ago and in greens; she was a woman draped in greenery similar to my Sleeping in the Forest illustration. I wasn’t happy with it then, but felt better adding words and a blue overlay of ink to create a woman in mourning. Not all fadistas are women of course, but mine will join my other women portraits and pictures. Sometime I’ll work harder at depicting men, which I don’t do very often :)

The FadistaWoman of the Song

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The Boat Project comes to Brighton

The Boat Project - Brighton MarinaThe Boat Project - showing my contributionThe Boat Project book

The boat of The Boat Project, arrived in Brighton yesterday. I went down to Brighton Marina to take a look and managed to get to the boat before all the hoards of people. Luckily too, amongst the guitars and walking sticks, I easily recognised my contribution – a piece of driftwood from Crete that I’d notched to count down the days! (See my earlier blog post: The Boat Project) I later saw my photo in the book that accompanies the project, listed number 346. They put down everything I’d mumbled on the day of donating it, which makes my smile :)

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The Boat Project

My knotched piece of drift wood

I’ve just found out about a great “art” project in the South east – Emsworth, Chichester harbour to be precise – that started today, The Boat Project. The project involves creating a 30 ft sailing boat out of bits of wood donated by the public. Each bit of wood has to have a story, so the finished product will be a “boat of stories”. Truly a boat of the people.

The project is a collaboration between artists Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters of Lone Twin, acclaimed sailor and boat builder Mark Covell, and international boat designer Simon Rogers. I was very excited to learn about it as I like any wood, boat, sea, art connection.

There’s a wood donation day in Brighton on 8th May and I thought I’d make a humble donation in the form of a piece of drift wood that I found when doing turtle monitoring for Archelon in 2004. Each day I made a knotch in the wood to count off the days til I would leave – a bit like Robinson Crusoe! I enjoyed the monitoring but was still keen to get home! Perhaps they’ll accept it, perhaps they won’t, I’ll see in May!

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In praise of trees

boat with tree memoryThe other day Kevin and I went for a walk to get out of Brighton. We headed for the River Rother. I grumbled – too many people, it wasn’t wild enough, too tame, can’t get away enough! I missed seeing the pleasant surroundings and wildlife so caught up was I in my thoughts and grumblings.

We came to a wood, “Smutts Wood”. The owner had put a notice up explaining how he was planting trees where the previous owner had felled them. He had included the quote that has been attributed to Chief Seattle and that I’ve seen so many times. I am always moved by it whoever wrote it. It begins:

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us.
If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.

and ends:

Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

When we got back the sink was blocked which didn’t help my mood. It was a balmy, black evening and I sat down disillusioned and gazed into space. Soon my attention was drawn to the photos on my ‘Trees for Life’ calendar, photos of trees in Bhutan for the month of August. I took down the calendar and read the accompanying text finding myself so engrossed that I read all the passages for the proceeding months as well. A change happened, I found myself contemplative, still, …..inspired! Trees had rescued me from my negetive mood. Check out the Trees for Life website.

I sometimes don’t see what is immediately around me, trees closeby, even here, right in the middle of town, forever present. Forever, I hope.


So today I am praising trees.

trees creak with the rhythm of the wind.
boats carry this memory in their wood and creak to the rhythm of the slow-swinging sea…a breathing, creaking bough that could send a baby to sleep.

the boat remembers the tree,
has memories of the tree
has memories of the forest
it knew the forest like it now knows the shore
it remembers the baby it carried, lulled to sleep by creaking bough

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