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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River Voices

I have just got back from one of my favourite places, Penpynfarch, in a beautiful wooded valley in Carmarthenshire, Wales. As I wandered the river, lakeside and woods I listened to the many ‘voices’ I always hear when I visit, voices of the river and trees. It’s as though moments and memories from times past and future speak from the very soils, hidden spaces and waters. I found myself listening, searching and waiting, and the words ‘deep song’ came into my mind, the deep song of the river and woods.

Nant Gwyddyl

Nant Gwyddyl

With my new mp3 recorder I recorded the many voices of the Nant Gwyddyl; returning to rivers, that mean so much to me.

Listen,
Rock, cleft, moss, stone,
of memory and eternity,
the River speaks
voices of rock and root,
echoes of shoot and bark,
algal smooth
chasing
animal pelts of weed,
into
a whirlpool of laughter
an eddy of thought,
rush smooth,
babbling,
gone.

a kingfisher,
riot of dazzling blue.

A child’s voice,
A deep vowel,
sonorous tones,
silt of silk,
a current
secretly shifting the world.
A haunting harmony
carries me along by thought and dream.

I am river.

I have many photos from a few years ago, little has changed.

The ruin is a bit more overgrown,

Ruin

the wrecked caravan a little more hidden in its green swathe of undergrowth,

Wrecked Caravan

Wrecked Caravan

there’s no sign of goshawks in the trees,

Looking for Goshawks

Looking for Goshawks

and the lake is still peaceful.

The Lake Pen Pynfarch

Then rain came as it always does in Wales. So I walked in the rain and watched the herons flying to and from the heronry, the river rise, it’s voices a little stronger.

Now I am back home again I need to be patient and listen more deeply.

I am reading two books at the moment, both have “river” in the title. The first, The Other Side of the River by Eila Carrico, is a memoir and exploration of the meaning of water both physically and metaphorically in our lives, especially in the lives of women. It is written as a river flows, shifting gently here and there. The second book, At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid. Perhaps I am drawn to anything with the word ‘river’ :) Both books flow with rivers of words or beautiful language, both weave in nature and hint at tropical lands.

Books I'm Reading

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A Walk Between Heaven and Earth

A Walk Between Heaven and EarthI have just finished reading “A Walk Between Heaven and Earth” by Burghild Nina Holzer. It is a lovely book about how to write a creative journal, written in the way of a journal. Burghild’s writing shines in its simplicity and beauty. There are many passages I like, such as the quote on the back of the book:

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe.

There are many passages I relate to. One in particular, about when the author spends time beside a river, reminds me of my time beside the River Bure. Here is an extract from page 107:

On the last day of my journey I sat by a river with long green hair. It was like the hair of some wild river woman, swirling at my feet, as if she wanted to caress me. And the river woman whispered to me, she said, “Put your feet in the water, put your hands in.” And as soon as I did I saw the fish….And the green hair caressed my feet, and I forgot about time. And when I finally turned to go, I saw that my backpack had fallen into the water, as if the wild woman wanted to claim it, as if she wanted to claim my journal and make the task of translation impossible…”

River Bure with Long Green Hair

River Bure with long green hair.

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River Women

The river is our mother…the land is our mother

I have just attended a workshop, River Women, down on Dartmoor. It was run by dance and movement artist and musician, Denise Rowe and was about connecting to our ancestors and the land. I have been interested in my ancestors and recently researched my family tree mainly on my father’s side. When I think of ancestors – especially on the female line – I can now name real people; Iris, Eileen, Alice, Frances… but about their lives, I know little.

In a village hall, we lay on the floor and moved gently, stretching our spines, loosening our joints, feeling our backs into the floor. I heard somewhere that we hold our pasts in the small of our backs. Denise brought out a mbira – a spiritual African instrument – and sang gently while she played it. The mbira dzavadzimu is the voice of the ancestors to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is important for cultural identity and is brought out at religious ceremonies. The music calls to the ancestors who are believed to be closest to the gods. Their spirits are invited into a spirit medium who is then able to assist with community problems.

River Dart

Banks of moss, grass and fern. Green, green, green.

The notes fell like water in a mesmerising stream of music. We drew pictures and wrote whatever came to us. Then we took ourselves to Newbridge on the River Dart and shared lunch in a grassy meadow. The sun emerged and warmed us. Denise told us about a project she is working on to remember the persecution of witches back in the Middle Ages, Dolls. She wants to gather five million little cloth dolls and suspend them from trees over Dartmoor so they can dance freely. We spent a few minutes making little dolls to add to the collection.

Trees over the River Dart

Looking up through the green layers of leaves.

The afternoon session began with various exercises such as walking barefoot in silence keeping our focus forwards, relating to trees and other natural objects aware of their being and retaining a respectful space. Eventually we arrived at a stretch of the river where the banks were green with trees, ferns and moss. We each chose a site on the bank to settle in, to move in and to move from within ourselves not from our minds. In silence for an hour, taking in the river, I felt held by the land beneath the aspens, the oaks and the sycamores. It was lovely to see women curled up in the mossy embrace of the earth.

River Dart

Sometimes shoes on, sometimes shoes off…the water was cold but not so very cold.

River Dart Root

Some of the tree roots were like hands gently playing the water.

wander in dream her banks
with joy and grief in your heart,
give your soul the earth
a soft singing

she hears, she hears

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The River Wife

Tree from Underwater“Beneath every river there is another river and all of them flow into the Lake of Time”.

the river wife book coverThis is a quote from the book The River Wife by Heather Rose that I have just finished reading. I feel close to this book, it’s taken me back to a more aqueous time, a time when I would find myself beside rivers gazing into their depths, day dreaming up my river goddess projects. (Perhaps my river goddess was not a goddess at all, but more like a “river wife”, as in the book, a tender of the river, collecting, sorting, weaving the stories told and unheard.) It is a beautiful book and reads like the gentle, mesmerising flow of a river. The river wife is a woman by day, but returns to the river, to moonpools and the vastness of lakes, as a fish by night. She falls in love with a man who comes to stay in a house by the river and gradually the timeless patterns of nature start to unravel. It is a story of magical realism, an enchanting, adult fairytale, tender and melancholy. Within it there is a timelessness, like any fairytale, and a depth; it hints at eternity, of a place before and after Time, a numinous, archaic place beyond the known. But most of all, it’s about the mysteries of water and love.

“Water is message. It is truth that asks nothing, a story older than people and older than mountains, a holder and deliverer of memories beyond time.”

“…some would say any story of water is always a story of magic, and others would say any story of love was the same…”

I cannot remember how I bought my copy, I know that it came from Australia as it’s not possible to buy it here in the UK. I’m so glad that I made the effort to get it. I hestitated before reading it as I thought it might influence a story that I’ve begun to write that I’m calling “The Fisherman’s Dream”, a magical story that is inspired by the life cycle of the brown/sea trout. Hopefully I’ll get around to working on it, and to investigating the mysterious spawning grounds of the trout, which include some remote chalk streams here in Sussex. (That will be another project to add to my jumble of other half-finshed projects.)

River Wife

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Exploring the River Adur, Boats and Wrecks

River Adur in MistRecently I added a couple of papier mache bowls to my Folksy shop featuring A Letter At Twilight and Dancing at Sunset designs which I had originally made into cards. I thought about the series of photographs that I used to overlay my illustrations, they’re of the River Adur and were taken one evening in November 2011 when the sea mists were rolling in. We lingered for a while, chasing deeper into the mists as the sun went down. It was very atmospheric.

I thought it would be interesting to explore the River Adur a little, to know a bit more about one of the four main rivers of Sussex. So recently, Kevin and I started our investigation at Shoreham where the River Adur finds the sea.

A wreck that I’d seen featured on a paranormal website, intrigued me and I wanted to find it. According to local legend, the wreck was once a fishing vessel that became caught on the rocks during a massive storm in 1893. It is said to be haunted by a group of shadowy figures who seem to be trying in vain to dislodge the boat. They are said to be the boat owner’s family, destitute after the stranding. The nearby footbridge, built in 1781 as a Tollbridge and now a Grade 2 listed building, is also supposedly haunted by a certain “Blue Lady”.  This stirred my interest a bit as I paint blue “ladies”, but I haven’t been able to find out any more of the story.

Wrecked Boat Shoreham

Wreck at Shoreham

The Blue Lady of The Old Shoreham Footbridge

River Adur Mudbank

Carving in St Nicolas' Church

Green Man?

 

We wandered over the bridge looking upriver where a tongue of mud shaped like a cuttlefish harbours gulls, ringed plover and cormorants open winged like phoenixes towards the sun. Apparently there are over 30 words for “mud” in the old Sussex dialect, from thick mud, “slub”, to “smeery”, wet and sticky mud. The muddy silt of estuaries with mudbanks is supposed to be rich and fertile – full of lugworms and the other life like soup – it shifts and rearranges the land, laying it down and sculpting it in a kind of peripheral dance. A swan signet of beige smudges passed beneath us and I thought about the beautiful work of India Flint and her times spent beside rivers, collecting, dyeing, writing and musing. Over the bridge, we watched a murmuration of starlings over Shoreham airport swirl and pulsate like ink dropped into water. We passed a World War II pillbox beside the path crammed with vegetation and junk; this was becoming an interesting, “Edgelands” experience. (Check out a review of the book, Edgelands, and an interesting radio programme by the poet authors.)

Our wanderings took us to nearby St Nicolas’ Church first built around 900 AD. At first I thought, just another church, but inside a few things caught my eye. First, one of the turret windows smudged green by the foliage outside pressing in against the glass as though seeking a light within, and then, amongst decorative stonework of limpet shapes, a few, charming carvings of heads – could one be a green man? – a cat mask and elf carvings too. There were hints of a maritime nature in the church and graveyard that I liked.

River Adur Gull Mud

Over another bridge, the Shoreham Houseboats came into view; well into Edgelands territory now. It is a smorgeborg of wonderful junk put to elaborate and creative use. I had little idea the place was so interesting and artistically inspiring; we saw a group of sketchers with eyes cast out over the mudflats and boats. The flotsam and jetsum of defunct war shells, sheds-on-stilts, a boat made using half a bus, ropes and tyres, log-piles galore, walkways of flower pots, children’s toys, bicycles,…I half expected to see a figurehead or two.Peace One Day Shell

A Shoreham Houseboat

A Shoreham Houseboat

Today I visited an exhibition at Fabrica here in Brighton called Reef by the artist Simon Faithfull and collaborators. It is a poetic exploration of the idea of collapse and renewal. Back in August, an old fishing vessel, the Brioney Victoria, that had reached the end of its human use, was ritually set fire to and sunk off the south coast at Weymouth in Dorset. It was rigged with five cameras that transmited underwater footage of the wreck for 6 days showing the first signs of colonisation by other, non human life. The artist wanted to witness something that was once part of our human world of appointments and schedules, enter a new ecosystem, a world of which it will be a part for hundreds of years, part of geological time. With Reef, he wanted to create a portal into this “other paralell universe” in the murky green depths of the sea. Reef by Simon FaithfullReef Exhibition

A film of the boat being set alight was displayed on a large screen in the darkened church that is Fabrica. The clock – that no longer works – is set at the time the boat sank. Below there are smaller screens where films play of underwater scenes described as of a “deep mournful green colour”. Alien or pea green soup came to my mind or a haunting pea green soup. Bubbling, glugging, muffled underwater sounds emanate from the screens. I like the whole idea of the project and that the boat will become an artificial reef, but I was slightly disappointed in the display; I don’t much like tv screens as display units.

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River Goddess Booklets

I’m returning to my River Goddess long term project. I would like to explore it in all sorts of media -more paining, photography, video, words, movement. Yesterday I was playing with some of my images in photoshop and had the idea of making booklets to either print or make as rough artworks in themselves. Instead of buying A5 sketchbooks or making them from scratch, I’ve decided to use some A5 brochures I found and remake them into artbooks.

Here are some sample pages:

River Goddess Colour Booklet 1

River Goddess Colour Booklet 2

River Goddess Colour Booklet 3

River Goddess Colour Booklet 4

I’ve come up with some interesting images I thought I could make into cards as well:

River Goddess Coventina

River Goddess Hatmehit

River Goddess Book Anahita

River Goddess Book Flora

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Back to Pen and Ink with Water Goddesses

So much water this year, the news seems to be inundated with stories of floods and storm surges. Water is taking over, spilling over banks, uniting oceans, seas, rivers… and it is seeping into my art themes once again.

I am into pen and ink once again which takes me back to my days of doing many illustrations for the Brighton based organisation, RiverOcean. In those days my drawings were all about sea creatures and the sea. Well once again my pen and ink drawings are water related but drawn for a small book I’m writing on River, Sea and Moon Goddesses, a theme that I’m especially interested in… back to that underground river that flows beneath my life.
Ved'ava
My illustrations here are of perhaps some lesser known goddesses. Take Ved’ava for example, a goddess of the sea or water spirit placated by fishermen of Finno-Ugric peoples. She is sometimes portrayed as a kind of mermaid with a fish tail, playing, singing and seducing humans. If a fishermen saw her it was not a good omen as she was believed to be a drowned person’s spirit.

Yemaja
Then here’s Vejama, or Yemoja, she has several names. A goddess of pregnant women and the River Ogun, a river in West Africa, but she is also a goddess with namesakes in other parts of the world. In Brazil, she is Queen of the Ocean and a goddess of fishermen and shipwreck survivors. She is a mother goddess, a fertlity goddess, a spirit of Moonlight too. I wanted to base my pen and ink illustration on the photo collage of my River Goddess, Moanna. I’m not sure it works, what do you think?

Sedna
A better-known goddess is Sedna, or Nerrivik, goddess of sea creatures and the Underworld in Inuit mythology. There are various stories about Sedna but most tell of the chopping off of her fingers from which are created the seals, walruses, whales and other marine creatures the Inuit hunt. If angered she withholds the sealife from hunters in her undersea domain and it requires a shaman to metaphorically dive to find her at the bottom of the sea and brush the tangles from her hair to calm her. I am particularly inspired by Inuit culture and myth right now. My goddess still has her hands and she looks a bit wooden so I’ll need to work on her.

This is a ‘taster’ for my book. I’ll be keen to get back to working with colour again soon.

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River goddess project

As rivers have meant so much to me recently, I decided to create a River Goddess. I liked the idea of making an offering to the river in the way that the Celts used to sacrifice valued objects, or how in some Hindu festivals a goddess is given to the waters. My idea was to paint a goddess and set her adrift on a local river. For me, it would symbolize returning something to water, the source, and a letting go to launch a new phase in my life.

Lying referenceMoana in processRiver Goddess Moana

I bought an old length of scaffolding board from the Wood Recycling Store and lugged it home. After sanding it down ready for painting, I decided I needed some reference material for the arms so I lay down and Kevin took my photograph. I was still in my “blue” phase then – which has now passed – so I painted her blue and named her “Moana” which means ocean blue or the sea in Polynesian. I thought she looked a bit polynesian. She wasn’t intended for the ocean though, just the river.

After painting my Goddess, I realized that I’d probably been inspired – subconsciously – by a number of paintings and works of art. Here are a few that I think may have been in the back of my mind: Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon – I may just have just been inspired by Oceanic art as Picasso quite possibly was; Klimt’s The Kiss – I like the awkwardness of the figures and how they lie close to the top edge; Edvard Munch’s Madonna; Ophelia by John Everett Millais – I like the details of flowers and tried to indicate some water plants on my painting; Ana Mendieta’s Silueta earth art has always interested me; a beautiful, haunting photograph from the film Women without Men by Shirin Neshat captures my imagination and an underwater sculpture, Alluvia by Jason De Caires Taylor in the River Stour, Canterbury is something I must go and see. Finally, I love the work of Ahmad Nadalian who has made many ritual offerings to rivers. Below is his Anahita, Goddess of the waters – fertility, healing and wisdom. But there must be others….Gauguin perhaps?

Les Demoiselles D'AvignonMadonna by Edvard MunchThe Kiss by KlimtOphelia by John Everett MillaisFrom the Silueta series by Ana MendietaAlluvia by Jason De Caires TaylorFrom Passage by Shirin NeshatAnahita by Ahmed Nadalian

After several trips looking for the appropriate river site, we chose a small section of the River Cuckmere where it was shallow and flowing gently. There I gave her to the water and we watched her slip into the flow like a piece of sky. Kevin took a video while I ran along the bank to bring her out further downstream.

Moana in the treesRiver Goddess in the River

Odd, clumsy, crazy project but fun to do. Moana’s now propped up in the kitchen like a totem pole, all 5ft of her. Perhaps I’ll find a home for her somewhere, or one day release her forever and see where she ends up!

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R is for River

R Illuminated letteris for River, with its soothing lap licking its flanks, waving its pelts of animal weed to its own rhythm and pulse, swinging to the music of rock, soil and tree beneath a tourmaline sky. Willows crack their bent, untidy branches into the flow. Through shadows, eddies and pools, the river journeys through transformation; a meandering, belly-through-the-earth passage on a sunken, sinuous path.

An underground river courses silently and slips beneath the everyday fabric of my life. Half in water, half on land it seems. The link with water is ancestral, as old as when our wild, creature ancestors crawled on to land.

All things ‘river’ draw me to them; the sea with it’s distant horizon and churnings is just a little overwhelming right now. From a plane to Abu Dhabi I saw gleaming ribbons of rivers emptying themselves into the Persian Gulf, wishing I had my camera ready.

In Norfolk, I sought out and relaxed beside the River Bure, entranced by its verdant depths with willowing pelts of weed. In the cool light, I saw a humble but beautiful river whispering archaic messages, carrying memories from source to sea, a quiet voice snaking its way through the landscape.River Bure at Itteringham A witness to the drinking of trees, a carrier of dreams, a passage of mirrors and when she — as I’ll give it a gender, why not — finally arrives, an Empress, proud, loud and with skirts rippling against the tide, mixing voices of the land and sea.

I have had a thirst….

… a longing to reconnect to water, to the emotions, to the well or river of creativity. I’ve been feeling like the proverbial ‘fish out of water’, adrift from my moorings. I’ve had lots of dreams about the sea, floods and being out in boats on a big blue swell. The sea is in the distance at the moment. Here, with the river, I can take it easy, relax, watch, listen, follow its soothing passage back into the throng of things or back to the source, to begin again. I feel at my best when I can connect to the inner river.

River Bure with weedsThe Celts, long ago, made offerings to the waters. Often items of warfare, shields, swords, helmets have all been found in waters or where rivers, lakes or bogs once existed. Many rivers have their own Gods and Goddesses. Favourites of mine include Saraswati the Goddess of the Sarasvati river who went on to become a Goddess of the arts, culture and speech, Ancasta a Celtic goddess of the River Itchen where I’ve swum and Verbeia a Romano-British goddess of the River Wharfe.

I have a smattering of river memories, big rivers like the Congo in what was then Zaire. Taking a passage from Kinshasa to Kisangani with a giant ferry heaving with people, music, crocodiles and chickens tied up beneath the seats. River Bure underwaterPeach coloured skies were reflected in it’s serene expanse; I remember the tiny lights of fires along its rainforest banks and fruit bats winging their way homewards overhead as I lay on the ferry roof. While swimming alone in a rainforest river in Costa Rica, I noticed a green snake doing the same; it’s small rivers that I like best, at quiet times when I can swim or sit and watch clear flowing waters.

Back to the Source

Enough musing, I’m back in Brighton and have busied myself with some illustration. I’ve been fascinated by old manuscripts with illuminated letters so I’ve done my own. Below is a new drawing, “Back to the Source” that’s the largest I’ve done with watercolour pencils, a whole sheet of A1! I had to photograph it as it wouldn’t fit in the scanner.

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