Wisdom

owl_shadow2 This painting by Meinrad Craighead is my favorite. I love her mystical artwork that celebrates the divine feminine and animal spirits, particularly those that inhabit the New Mexico land near the Rio Grande, where she lives.

I recently saw the documentary film about her life called Praying With Images last week, a beautiful biographical portrait of a woman’s life, an artist’s life, lived on her own terms. She came from Little Rock, Arkansas, where she had her first mystical experience of the sacred feminine as a child. Her family then moved to Chicago, where she began exploring her art in earnest. After she graduated from college, she traveled through Europe, living for a while in a beautiful tower in Spain on an art scholarship. She decided to become a Benedictine nun and lived for 14 years at Stanbrook Abbey in England, where she was given her own studio. While she enjoyed the monastic life, she left it behind in the 1960s and moved to a place near Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she has lived alone, taught art, and produced most of her deepest work.

She says, “I drew from my own myth of personal origin; each picture is a realization of this story and is connected to the ancient images of the God Mother in art and mythology.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Meinrad after the film and hearing her speak a bit about her life and her art. I asked about this painting, Wisdom, drawn as I am to the owl. She said the owl represented the nocturnal, the ability to see in the darkness, and find what you are looking for there. The mandala below it shows the three phases of the moon with the image of the crossroads, which she identified by a particular term, but I don’t recall the word for it. I tried looking for it in my books of symbols, but couldn’t find it. (If anyone knows what it is called, please let me know.) Nonetheless, she identified it as the point in the woods where the road diverges. We talked about the goddess, Hecate, representing the crossroads, being the personification of the triple goddess (it has many meanings: maiden, mother, crone; land, sea, sky; past, present, future; waxing, waning, and full moon, etc). By the way, Hecate is more often associated with the crone, representing wisdom, repose, death, and endings symbolized by the waning moon. The tri-sected circle and the owl are illuminated by the full moon behind it.

I think that Meinrad’s crone wisdom shines through in this amazing work, done with pen and ink and acrylic on scratch board.

I am also including her painting, Crow Mother Between the Two Moons. It seems we share a common interest in the teachings of owl and crow. crowmother

Mother Musings II

by Meinrad Craighead

On Thursday, I am going to see a documentary about this artist, Meinrad Craighead, who was once a nun and then devoted the rest of her life to creating sacred images of nature and the feminine. I’m drawn to this painting called Mother and Daughter, which clearly was inspired by the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It is said that you can't know Persephone without an understanding of Demeter and you can't know Demeter without knowing Persephone. I think this is true of all mothers and daughters, even when we don't want it to be. As daughters, we can try to disown parts of the mother we don't like, but unless we do it consciously, healing the wounds rather than covering them or pushing them down out of sight, they become our shadow aspects. And you know that little poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that goes,

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of [her] is more than I can see. [She] is very, very like me from the heels up to the head; And I see [her] jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about [her] is the way [she] likes to grow-- Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;                                    img_18491 For [she] sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball, And [she] sometimes goes so little that there's none of [her] at all.

[She] hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play, And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way. [She] stays so close behind me, [she's] a coward you can see; I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up, I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup; But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head, Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

This is the problem with our shadow aspect—it never really goes away; it just dogs us until we do something about it, essentially face it, work with it, and integrate it. Otherwise, it keeps popping up when we least expect it and we end up making fools of ourselves, as in, “Oops, how did that slip out?” Or, “I always swore I’d never say that to my child. I sound just like my mother!” Of course, sometimes it’s this very trickster-like element that allows us to heal—kind of like looking in a funhouse mirror. We recognize our mother in the reflection of our own distorted image and we cringe. What to do?

Once we have dealt with the pain and the wounding through grief work (and I’ve done a lot of that), I think all we can do is just notice, laugh, and embrace it. For we can never really put the shadow to bed. It is our teacher, and so our mother is our teacher, and our grandmother, and all of our ancestors that speak down through the generations to remind us who we are. As well as being part of a particular family with all its foibles and flaws, we are also part of the human race, fallible and imperfect. We are not gods, but we are enough. It is enough to be a human being who stumbles, who doesn’t always get it right, who doesn’t need to prove anything-- even that I am not my mother. But I am my mother’s daughter.

So when I take in this painting of Mother and Daughter I see the reflection and the opposites; one can’t exist without the other. It’s a little cosmological joke. It reminds me, once again, to accept, to embrace, to love life, and the one (and many) who gave it to me.