16 October 2013

Stirring the Cauldron

Have you heard the rising wind?

Have you seen the rays of golden light?

Can you smell the musky smell of wet leaves and earth?

Whenever Autumn rolls around to the Chesapeake Bay, I get pictures in my head of magical things, mysterious and not always dark. Sometimes the pictures are of the light.

There was an image of a cauldron in my head but a month ago that would not leave my head. Cauldrons are old-fashioned cooking vessels, but popular culture has vilified a humble, peasant's kitchen instrument into something that it is not.

Or, is it?

Cauldrons also appear in myths, in tales of magic and the supernatural from around the world.  Legends told and re-told across the ages of humankind.

Those Cauldrons are there in our ancestral memories for a reason.

The studio table beckoned that morning and my original intent was to practice drawing patterns on colored background. I never make *anything* simple. That blank page was just too blank, if you know what I mean.

I thought to myself, "Okay, I need a shape. Then the designs will come naturally and I'll color them in. Hmmmm. What shape to draw."

My cauldron -- the one that emerged from that moment at the precipice, was not what I had intended to draw at all.
I was ready to dive into this drawing, but that Cauldron would not stop bugging me until it was starring back at my from a page. I knew one thing about it, and one thing only. "It is not Black."  I knew that because, as my fingers drew the gentle swell of its belly,  the Dream Cauldron piped up, "Oh no, you don't! Put that black marker down! I am a magical Cauldron. I am not plain, nor am I black at all."

And so it was. And colorful bands decorated with patterns came to be.

I am very happy with it.

Even more surprising to me was how echoes of my Dream Cauldron rippled into my reality only a week after I made this drawing.

For several years in late September, I have gone on spiritual retreat with a gathering of friends from around the Eastern half of the US. It's at a picturesque, private camp nestled in the Pocono Mountains not far from the Delaware Water Gap. This year, one of our guests was an English artist, Cerri Lee, who is a ceramic sculptor and, generally, a wise woman. Cerri has made long study of Celtic legend and people, and her sensual clay figures reference symbols and beings drawn from mythic lore.

Cerri's entire workshop centered around the image of the cauldron in culture and history of the British Isles. In the space of an hour, she conveyed more about the symbolism of cauldrons than I had ever heard in the last four decades. I found my jaw dropping when she described the Welsh poet, Taliesin's tale of the Spoils of Annwn, which features strange encounters of King Arthur in the Otherworld. This story can be found in The Book of Taliesin, a poem written down during the first half of the fourteenth century (although its content is an oral traditions much older, from around  AD/CE 900). In the Spoils of Annwn, the Bard recounts a scene where he envisions Nine Maidens standing around their cauldron - the women's fingernails pearl-white, holding the rim.

Here from The Camelot Project are the Middle Welsh and Modern English translations from Preiddeu Annwn: The Spoils of Annwn:
13. yg kenneir
    or peir
     pan leferit.
13. My poetry,
    from the cauldron
    it was uttered.
14. Oanadyl naw morwyn
 14. From the breath of nine maidens
    it was kindled.
15. Neu peir pen annwfyn
    pwy y vynut.
15. The cauldron of the chief of Annwfyn:
    what is its fashion?
16. gwrym am yoror
16. A dark ridge around its border
    and pearls.
Detail, rim, Cauldron of Inspiration by ~runningwave~

Look closely at the cauldron which I drew from pure fancy only a week before this workshop, and you may recognize what it is that amazed me so.  When I drew it, my Cauldron of Inspiration decided that swirls of white lines and roses could be seen all the way around its dark rim.

Although I did know of Taliesin and his bardic tales before, and had even heard of the Spoils of Annwn, I could not in September have described to you anything so specific. Yet there is something in my painting of the Cauldron that well-illustrates the lines of poetry. Coincidence to be sure, but fascinating nonetheless.  

After years of studying Celtic lore, and of loving its poetry and mystery, after imbibing across disciplines of books, music, poetry, and movies, I have begun to create my own visual language. 

I am finding my way slowly towards making art that is truly my own. 

This is all just a bit scary, I mean, to go it on your own as an artist. I've relied very heavily on the talent and encouragement of others for years. And yet, and yet, there's a voice now in my head that wants to express itself and that voice is something new, bold. It's daring me to stare down at blank pages and to fill them with color and line. It's prodding me to finally tell my own tales. 

My Cauldron of Inspiration is boiling. 

                         High time to dive in and taste the hardy brew it's offering me.