Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shamans and Sacred Symbols

CC Jean Stimmell September 25, 2015
An explanation for combining bones and trees in my 
photographic series: Shamans and Sacred Symbols

The importance of bones:

Mircea Eliade reminds us modern Western folks– addicted as we are to rational thought and mathematical algorithms –why bones are so existentially important, something traditional cultures have always known because, rather than being cognitively divorced, indigenous people are intimately held within the embrace of mother nature within the web of life.

"Indeed, for the hunting peoples, the bone symbolizes the ultimate root of animal Life, the matrix from which the flesh is continually renewed. It is starting with the bones that animals and men are re-born; they maintain themselves awhile in carnal existence, and when they die their "life" is reduced to the essence concentrated in the skeleton, whence they will be born anew according to an uninterrupted cycle that constitutes an eternal return. It is duration alone, time, which breaks and separates, by the intervals of carnal existence, the timeless unity represented by the quintessence of Life concentrated in the bones. By contemplating himself as a skeleton, the shaman does away with time and stands in the presence of the eternal source of Life.".[1]

The importance of trees:

Another sacred symbol to indigenous cultures around the world is the cosmic tree which connects Earth with Heaven. The shaman, separated from his community by the intensity of her religious experience, lives on the sacred side of life which enables him to climb the Cosmic Tree to the top where she can “commune with the Lord of the World."[2]

To see the rest of my bony images, check out Shaman and Sacred Symbols on my photography website. 

[1] Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries: The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities.pp 83-84
[2] Ibid. pp 64-5.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I'm haunted by this painting by Mr. Tjapaltjarri

Today’s New York Times has – what I consider – an important piece about the mesmerizing art of Mr. Tjapaltjarri who grew up in the Western Australia desert “hunting lizards and wearing no clothes except for human-hair belts, as its ancestors had for tens of thousands of years,” until his tribe was accidentally discovered in 1984. The newspapers heralded his community as the last “lost tribe.”

Mr. Tjapaltjarri now has a worldwide reputation as an artist but his primary advocation is healer and keeper of ancestral stories for his people; his is still a commanding presence in the community where he lives in the Gibson Desert.

His paintings which have made him a sought after artist … “seem abstract, made from thousands of dots — a signature of much Desert Painting. The dots form tight parallel lines that, when viewed close up, oscillate like those of a Bridget Riley Op Art painting, except more so, a visual equivalent of standing near a speaker that drowns out all the sound around it…”

“The lines and switchbacks, painted on linen canvas while it is flat on the ground, correspond to mythical stories about the Pintupi and the formation of the desert world in which they live. Some of the stories, which are told in song, can be painted for public consumption, but others are too sacred or powerful to be revealed to outsiders. “My land, my country,” said Mr. Tjapaltjarri, the only English words he uttered during an interview, pointing at a painting with a circle made out of dots.”
His painting haunts me, viscerally draws me in. I wrote down my initial impressions below:

Gazing into Mr. Tjapaltjarri’s painting
I clearly see my thumb print DNA
spiraling still deeper entering my psyche
illuminating infinite ways of being
radiating out from my primordial past
into the ever-evolving cosmos
with me safely cocooned
in the center
at home.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Shaman: The anatomy of a montage

My Shaman
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/16/15
At my friend Carl’s house I photographed a talisman he had sitting on a stump by his driveway: the skull of a bull  – quite appropriate as he used to raise cattle. The skull drew me in, attracting me in a deep way. When I got home, I processed my digital skull images; then I copied the skull essence into Photoshop and polished it until it felt so luminous, I felt it might hold some otherworldly power.

Maybe I was tapping into my primal psyche, my collective unconscious.  After all, bulls were worshipped as sacred throughout the ancient world. Before that, the auroch was depicted in many Paleolithic cave paintings, pulsing with such sacred, luminous energy, they still give one goose bumps, even in today’s over-the-top world.

Still something was missing. I needed something vitally alive and earthy, yet unfathomable – all at the same time. On cue, an image of a bonsai tree popped into my mind. Trudging through countless Google images  I came across a particular tree that was the perfect compliment to my skull, an amazing bonsai tree photographed by Dr. Jonathan Singer[1] Yes, my primal psyche had been seduced again, this time by a tree.

And it appears there is a reason for that. According to Mircea Eliade[2], a leading interpreter of religious experience, a sacred, origin myth is an essential prerequisite for every society in order to join together the various planes of its existence. For traditional societies, this mythical nexus is often the imagery of a Cosmic Tree joining Heaven, Earth, and the underworld.

So, in my case, this bonsai  represents the Cosmic Tree.

Still, a lot of work lay ahead. I had to first stretch and distort the tree to fit the contours of the bull’s skull; then, painstakingly, I had to work to blend one to the other. Time flew by. I was getting there but the image needed a starker, more primal cast. After following several false leads, changing the image to black and white, while carefully adjusting all the gray tones, did the trick.

I am tentatively satisfied with my work. It speaks to my soul. I call it my shaman.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Triumph of Life Force

Red Cedar at Adam's Point
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/5/15
Eastern Red Cedar growing horizontally
out of a tiny crack in ocean rock armor:
Heroic triumph for the Life Force
coursing through us all.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Language of the animate earth

Garden Spook
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/5/15
“To our indigenous ancestors, and to the many aboriginal peoples who still hold fast to their oral traditions, language is less a human possession than it is a property of the animate earth itself, an expressive, telluric power in which we, along with the coyotes and the crickets, all participate. Each creature enacts this expressive magic in its own manner, the honeybee with its waggle dance no less than a bellicose, harrumphing sea lion.”

Nor is this power restricted solely to animals. The whispered hush of the uncut grasses at dawn, the plaintive moan of trunks rubbing against one another in the deep woods,” or the menacing glare of brussel spouts.

*quote from Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, David Abrams

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Cormorant Synchronicity

Back on September first, I wrote a blog entry, In Praise of Cormorants, based on a dream I had containing the vivid image of cormorants "still as statues, striking poses like seasoned models." While that image accurately describes their behaviour when drying out their feathers, I have never been able to capture it, up close and personal, with my camera.

Today, less than a week later as we walked along the edge of Great Bay, a cormorant roasting on a buoy granted my wish: In quick succession, as we stood transfixed, she put on an amazing show. The following photographs are just a small sample of her whole routine. Click on the individual images to make them bigger to better enjoy her artistry and advanced yogic skill.

To my way of thinking, these majestic, primitive birds personify the spiritual notion of "Grace": the experience of awe, gratitude and unconditional love when you are in harmony with yourself, with others and with the creative power that creates the cosmos. It is the harmonious integration of your body, mind and spirit with the way of nature.* It is the way of the Tao.

What is Grace?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

In Praise of Cormorants

Montage from a vivid dream 8/31/15 
CC Jean Stimmell

Montage from a vivid dream I had

Strange, feverish, images flash across my brain
like a neon lit Time Square on speed.

Desperately attempting to sort, one after another,
painting masterpieces for an art school final
into an arcane, dewey-decimal system, the kind
that gives academics and curators wet dreams–
I flunk badly.

Jutapositioned with a second slide show,
accompanied by Rolling Stones blues,
of brilliant black cormorants, still as statues,
striking poses like seasoned models.

Unlike Olympic divers– or curators and academics–
the cormorants do not give a sweet shit
how many points they get.