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New books and limited edition t-shirt

New book: Red Bead Woman

Acclaimed scholar and mythteller Dr Martin Shaw has committed to writing this jewel of a tale from the Taiga of Siberia.

For the last ten years he has followed faithfully wherever this story has wished to take him. And it is only now, after hundreds of oral tellings, that he was put it into the written word.

And alongside this story and commentary are brand new drawings – scattered like seed throughout.

This book depicts an ancient story for troubled times, beginning with the longing of an old woman who, from the deep roots of a mare’s tail plant, births a girl who can rebuild culture, revive relationship between the centre and the edge, the village and the forest. But to do that, she has to have a voice first.

We have been caught, says Martin, in a dichotomy of culture or wildness, and hence a great divorce has fallen upon us. A divorce between us and the earth, and the ensuing settlement threatens to be wretched.

But sometimes it is only when life is so jagged and uncertain that we learn to speak at all. Red Bead Woman petitions for a culture of wildness: an unruly, highly infectious pandemic of beauty. That in the midst of ghoulish conspiracy theory and jaded respectability, we still may take a deep breath, do the work, and start to find out just what a red bead speech could want from us. This heartrending and mysterious work has all the sudden twists of feeling that lets us know we are in the presence of something magnificent.

Copies posted before Christmas will be signed by Martin.

Pre-order Red Bead Woman


The much requested paperback edition of Dr Martin Shaw’s acclaimed book Wolferland is now available for pre-order, to be shipped on December 2nd.

This book is the tracking of a 101 day ceremony in a Dartmoor forest, described by Shaw as “a spiritual Morse code, an invoker, it is a lifting of the lantern to many unseen things.”

Pre-order Wolferland

Limited edition t-shirts

Just in time for Christmas, Cista Mystica has unveiled a brand new limited edition t-shirt featuring an original drawing from Martin Shaw, used for the cover of his book Wolf Milk, Chthonic Memory in the Deep Wild, his reflection on almost two decades leading wilderness vigils.

Cista Mystica’s sister organisation the School of Myth is planning to run two wilderness vigils in 2021.

Pre-order T-shirt

Christmas bundles

For a limited time, discounted bundles of Wolferland, Red Bead Woman and Wolf Milk t-shirts are available at the Cista Mystica shop, with options to include the medium or large t-shirt sizes.

All pre-orders will be shipped out from the Cista headquarters on Dartmoor on December 2nd, in plenty of time for the Christmas post. All copies of Red Bead Woman will be signed by Martin.

Buy a Christmas bundle

Audio and prints

Cista Mystica has a growing collection of audio files for download, including full recordings of gatherings in Ireland and Devon, as well as individual stories and Courting the Wild Twin and The Night Wages audiobooks.

In the artisan section, signed limited edition prints of Martin’s drawings from The Night Wages are available, along with prints based on the drawings from David Stevenson.

Visit the Cista Mystica shop
New books and limited edition t-shirt2020-11-30T16:37:23+00:00

Valemon and the Wild Third Daughter

Valemon and the Wild Third Daughter is a jewel of a Scandinavian fairy tale. Epic, gutsy, funny, mysterious – it takes us through both the exhilaration and consequence of following your desire. One day a white bear arrives at the entrance to a castle and beckons you leap onto its back. There are no guarantees but your heart sings at the sight. What will you do? Safety or the deep forest?

Read an extract from Martin’s commentary on Valemon and the Wild Third Daughter, from A Branch from the Lightning Tree.

Pebbles Disguised as Apples

The daughter arrives at a cottage where children are circling their mother desperate for food, so hungry they are sucking on warm pebbles pretending they are apples…

The firebird inside the daughter is starting to flap its wings now. We sense that it has taken a long time to move through the three temple doors of the three cottages and be thus gifted. Our clearest signal that she is coming to the end of the wandering stage occurs when she arrives at the cottage of the children and the woman. From being in a state of passively receiving, she is now moving into the active stage of giving. Her suffering, seemingly random, has actually given her the capacity to provide warmth and sustenance for herself and others. We may not enter this stage till our forties or fifties in this world.

The scene of the ragged children heating pebbles to pretend they are apples is particularly alarming. The absence of what is juicy and water-filled means they must chew on something teeth-breaking, rough, and lacking any nourishment, with only the fantasy of sustenance to keep them going. Whole cultures chew on pebbles disguised as apples. A relationship can drag out for decades on the dim memory of that “one summer” so many years ago. The cult of the spin doctor testifies to this kind of activity. Much pebble-heating is required on a national level to persuade a people to go to war, dangling the flimsy scent of righteousness around a core of something the body naturally resists swallowing.

That pebble-eating culture is what many of us face today. There are so many pebbles rattling around on television I’m amazed the sets don’t break. The curious, wild, and abundant third daughter is, by her very authenticity, opening the door to real food for that family. A deeper fall altogether occurs when we forgot what a real apple was ever like, forget its texture and vitality and settle for the hard nugget of fragrant nothingness.


The Sobbing of the Beloved

We know that ability to move into grief carries great significance mythologically. In certain Lakota creation myths, the rivers and great lakes of America are the tears from the Creator’s eyes. Our weeping can be a meeting of inner and outer worlds, an external expression so clear in its message that it can arouse the same in others. Tears can be a vital tool in any significant ritual; they peel back the surface of expression to its tender center.

Many great forces can anaesthetize us to the tears of the soul’s opening. Years sucking on heated pebbles can do that, or a sense that to attend to the soul’s weeping would bring too much grief. Best to swallow the draught of the great Swallower of Continents and stay en-tranced. For both men and women, lack of a real soulful life, or too much attention to the bone wearing minutia of the things of this world can leave us feeling as if something vast is draining us, but we don’t know what.

There are many changes of the mythological stage-set occurring in this story, as one awesome force takes the lead and the others a supporting role. Now it is Valemon who finds himself in a state of enforced passivity, frozen, his only hope the abundant powers revealed through an encounter with the deep feminine.

The Listener by the Door

In his slumber, Valemon appears to reach an impasse. The sleep is too strong to wake from, despite everything endured by the daughter—he cannot wake. This is where we encounter the curious figure of the Listener by the Door—the alerter to the hypnotized masculine. Jean Houston calls this the “observer self,” some part of us immune to the magnetic pulls of these contesting forces, standing outside the field of negotiation.

Looking at this moment from a larger perspective, we can say this is a fragment in time that has been recurring with increasing urgency over the last eighty or so years. The fierce up-swelling of feminism could be seen as attempting just that; the men’s work born out of the eighties and onwards is internal work in the masculine towards a similar, but not identical end. Both break out of a poisoned sleep into awakening, free from the great devourer. It is interesting that we need some third component for this to occur, to avoid polarization. It could be that on the everyday plane, myth and psychology embody that observer, that they illuminate enough complexity to diffuse the stand-off, the viciousness of all-out gender war.

Another larger interpretation is that the planet itself may be trying to awaken us from the thing that Eats And Consumes All. In this case the listener by the door is a tsunami, a flooded New Orleans—something that in the cold light of day says, “For Christ’s sake; don’t you hear the sobbing of your Beloved?”

A Branch from the Lightning Tree
Valemon and the Wild Third Daughter
Valemon and the Wild Third Daughter2020-08-14T03:11:05+00:00

Ivan the Bear’s Son

Read an extract from Martin’s commentary on the Russian story of Ivan the Bear’s Son, from A Branch from the Lightning Tree.

‘This is a point in our lives where we decide (or are forced) to throw the anchor down, to live in one place, have a teacher, dig in…’

Throwing Down the Anchor

This descent is characterized by the “black” stage of the initiation process. When one enters the black, a kind of sobering occurs, an awareness of things lost in the scramble for power and affirmation. The stillness of a hospital bed can allow the space for a particular opening to occur, often into the deep arms of grief. There is a humanity in the black, knowledge of rupture, casualties of greed, lives burnt out by the heat of ascension. Ironically this is often judged in modern life as “going off the rails” and one is regarded as unstable and peripheral, “a shadow of one’s former self.” Rather than a stage of growth, it is a dead end; one is no longer of use to the corporation. Being trapped in the red and refusing to move will result in a kind of Rolling Stones’ posture, looking always backwards to when you had time on your side. In Baba’s terrain, the underworld, initiation, and the black, you feel the scythe pass through your bubble of immortality.

The Black Knight wields his sword reluctantly and only when he has reached the sober realization that it is necessary.9

We find in this often-terrifying place odd shoots of growth coming up through the bogs and the scorched earth. In his practice, Jung emphasized something called “amplification,” a focused exploration of specific images that arose from your life or dreams. By describing the use, look, or atmosphere of the object, one revealed its resonance. This is quite different from “free association” in which you allow your imagination to move outwards, such as cat-pet-home-warmth; instead, amplification narrows and deepens the pursuit.

We could say that the Black is a kind of amplification after the expansive associations of the Red. As Ivan descends, he limits his possibilities, he leaves light behind, he follows one specific road. The endless adventures and the myriad possibilities are over. As Baba enters the Giants’ lodge, she shatters the gilded fortress of their consensual beliefs and pulls them into direct experience of the unpalatable.

This is a point in our lives where we decide (or are forced) to throw the anchor down, to live in one place, have a teacher, dig in. We look around the studio and see many unfinished paintings, different languages attempted and abandoned. Meeting the black involves working by lamplight, understanding the alchemy of oil paint, filling the doorway of your hut with corpses so no happy relatives get in. I’m not saying we live here forever, but we abandon the paths of sun to pay attention to the moonlit trail. This is a gift the descent brings. As the Turkish Sufi Ummi Sinan sings:

I was heedless.

It came to me as disgrace and loneliness.

My own Beloved taught me what I know. . .

The life of Ummi Sinan

Is a living burning testament of Love10


The initiatory experience, while severing us from the familiar, bestows a boon. In the space created by strangeness, in the otherness of Ivan’s situation, is the capacity for him to recognize an encounter with soul, the silent guest in all descents. The crisis has a beauty core in it and this is what Ivan has met.

A Branch from the Lightning Tree
Ivan the Bear's Son
Ivan the Bear’s Son2020-08-14T02:31:09+00:00
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