“I’ve been signing the first orders and leaving them in a rose garden,” says Martin Shaw, who is on lockdown at his Dartmoor cottage in the UK. “My friend Michael Martin then collects them and they get out to the world. It’s good to see his distant but joyful face!
“I want to thank you for supporting Cista Mystica, my small press. We have a major plan of action to be announced soon. In the meantime, please enjoy some free audio here on my website, and consider having a look at our soon-to-be-even fuller shop.
In Siberian myth, when you want to hurt someone, you crawl into their tent and close the smoke hole.
That way God can’t see them.
Close the smoke hole and you break connection to the divine world. Mountains, rivers, trees.
Close the smoke hole and we become mad.
Close the smoke hole and we are possessed by ourselves and only ourselves.
Close the smoke hole and you have only your neurosis for company.
Well, enough of that. Really, c’mon. We’re grown ups. Let’s take a breath.
We may have to seek some solitude, but let’s not isolate from the marvellous.
High alert is the nature of the moment, and rightly so, but I do not intend to lose the reality that as a culture we are entering deeply mythic ground.
I am forgetting business as usual. No great story begins like that.
What needs to change? Deepen? What kindness in me have I so abandoned that I could seek relationship with again?
It is useful to inspect my ruin.
Could I strike up an old relationship with my soul again?
You don’t need me to tell you how to keep the smoke hole open. You have a myriad of ways.
We are awash with the power of words – virus, isolate, pandemic – and they are pointing towards very real things. To some degree we need the organisational harassment of them.
But do they grow corn on your tongue when you speak them?
Where is the beauty-making in all this?
That is part – part – of the correct response. The absolute heft of grief may well be the weave to such a prayer mat.
Before we burn the whole world down in the wider rage of Climate Emergency, of which this current moment is just a hint, could we collectively seek vigil in this moment?
Cry for a vision?
It’s what we’ve always done.
We need to do it now.
March 15th 2020
Martin Shaw was in conversation with the Grand Dame of Painting, Maggi Hambling at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival on November 8. Says Martin: “I Loved every minute of it. A real pirate queen of the deep sea, way out from land.”
It was then on to Cambridge for an afternoon and evening hosted by the Cambridge Storytellers – The Storyteller and the Shaman. Tickets were in great demand and it was another sell out success.
This was the final leg of the UK Into the Marvellous Tour.
The first few hundred copies of Wolf Milk: Chthonic Memory in the Deep Wild, Dr Martin Shaw’s latest book about wilderness rites of passage, have been posted out by the team at Cista Mystica Press.
The pre-ordered copies have all been personally signed by the author and are making their way to destinations all over the world.
This book offers Martin’s reflections on 20 years of leading vigils in the wilderness, a way for modern people to enter an ancient ceremony through ‘myth, poetics and hard-won brooding’.
Billl Plotkin, author of Soulcraft and Wild Mind says: “With sleight-of-mind and wizardly word magic, Shaw conserves and amplifies the mysteries of this ancient pancultural ceremony. A visit to an underworld cave of gods who might, if you please them, shred and reassemble your life. Cleverly disguised as a book, this fireside spell-casting belongs in the satchel of anyone venturing downward – and those who would guide them.”
David Abram, author of Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal, describes Wolf Milk as “a kind of handbook for being made and remade through the work of the wild…how we might replenish genuine culture at this teetering moment on the whirling earth.”
This very latest book, launched on September 2 2019, also contains drawings by Martin, whose own life was profoundly changed by the experience in his early twenties.
He says of the experience: “It is your task to walk back from the vigil with an animal not a pelt, not a corpse, but something alive.
“Curate that energy, feed it, don’t domesticate it, make culture from it. It should be walking alongside you, not slung over your shoulder. You build your structures from its growls.”
A portion of the profits from the book will be donated to Survival International.
The second leg of the Into the Marvellous UK tour was a riotous sell out success, with packed audiences braving the July heatwave in Bridport, Bruton, Hampshire, London, Canterbury and Lewes.
The next trip will be Ireland in October, with two events at Yeats’s Tower in Thoor Ballylee on October 5 – see here for details and tickets. An event in Dublin is also in the pipeline, to be announced soon.
By Dr Martin Shaw
Fairy tales tell us that we were born with a secret twin, a wild twin, and on the hour of its birth it was sent into exile, abandoned in the forest. That a good life is one that seeks them out.
Who is the wild twin?
I first caught the perfume of my wild twin by walking with muddy boots though wet grasses to my scrubby woodland den as a six year old. As the trees swirled I caught a scent and started to cry without understanding. I wove a pheasant feather in my hair. I hear it now in the owl court who hoot across the frost grass and moon touched lawns of my cottage. There’s more than book smarts in that chill delirium. These are not domestic tones, not corralled sounds, but loose as Dartmoor ponies on the hill. They give me ecstasy. Not safety, not contentment, certainly not ease, not peace, but ecstasy. It’s almost painful. Makes me restless.
I also felt the wild twin when I lost the girl I loved the most. I felt it when attending the sickness of another. I felt it when exhausted, heart sore, bewildered and despairing. I felt it when I attended to the sorrows of life in all their radical, unruly agency.
The wild twin is not unique to me, you have one, everyone has one. That’s the message from the old stories. That the day you were born a twin was thrown out the window, sent into exile. That it wanders the woods and the prairies and the cities, lonely in its whole body for you. It rooms in abandoned houses in south Chicago. Someone saw her once on a Dorset beach in winter. They are always asking after you.
It lives in the feeling when the ruddy mud of the Nile squeezes between your toes, when moonlight slips from the mouth of a Heron, when you play cards with a delightful villain. It’s going to push you towards ruin on occasion, and has a lot of generosity towards kids. It will hide your laptop and send a thousand wild geese processing over your cabin in an October dusk. The wild twin is the glorious vintner of the blood-wine of your many private battles, and sells it in highly prized bottles to remote Armenian queens. It is incorrigible, melodramatic, and has only your best interests at heart.
Know your twin and you will become distracted by fiery angels languishing round the water cooler, you will beat your palms to drums no one else can hear, and subtle ideas will fly from you. At least that’s what I hear. The wild twin doesn’t fetishise surety, embezzle guarantees or even really believes they exist. It hides chocolate in the pockets of your scruffy haired nephews and whispers forgiveness as it walks through the gardens we have neglected to tend. It hands us a spade.
I believe that in the labour of becoming a human we have to earnestly search this character out, as it has something crucial for you with it. It has your life’s purpose tucked up in its pocket. If there was something you were here to do in these few, brief years, you can be sure that the wild twin is holding the key.
Wildness attracts everybody, but appears to be in short supply. Not feral, not hooligan, not brawling, but the regal wild. The sophisticated wild. So you should be gathering by now that these words are about locating your long abandoned twin and courting it home. We’re going to use two old fairy tales to do it. And note the word court. This is a protracted affair this locating, with the possibility of many missteps, bruised shins and hissed exchanges. Though they long for you, the twin may not broker relationship easily if you’ve been separated for many years, she wants to know you’re serious. We’ll cover the complexity of such a reunion as we go. They want to give you a bang on the ear and a kiss on the lips all at the same time.
A book on this very thing, coming.
Copyright Martin Shaw 2019.