The Wild Twin

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.


The Wild Twin2019-06-29T18:50:01+00:00

Chthonic Memory in the Deep Wild

Martin is just finishing up a new book on wilderness rites of passage, due out in September 2019. This is not a book for everyone, he says, but he hopes it’s of use to one or two. Here are a few lines from the introduction:


Winter gods lope the forest
Strike you with their wolfskin glove
And the counterfeit life
Takes its carrion demands
Back to the blue deceits
Of the one who first folded you.

I trust words like that more than therapy talk, or becoming-your-best-self, or some strangulated idea about enlightenment. That there is an owl that lands on your face as you gather sticks by the river and you fall into a trance for three days. Such an image thrills and alarms as it can’t be franchised, or easily fetishised because the mandate of suffering is so clearly part of the mix. And that such an encounter could lead god knows where.

What follows is something of what I’ve experienced over almost twenty years as a wilderness rites of passage guide. Fragments of it have appeared in other places, but it’ll lope differently here, shake the snowflakes from its wet, black fur. I hope it provokes and excites and absolutely does not pretend the endeavour is anything less than highly mysterious.

Natural, yes. But mysterious. What follows is a glimpse through the three stages of the process: severance, threshold, return. It is this triad that constitutes the architecture of wilderness rites of passage. There may be ways to crowbar a more above-ground perception of the process, but I suggest that is grabbing hold of the wrong handrail. And I think that’s already been done. That’s village stuff, and you’ve just entered the forest. In fact, there is no handrail at all, save maybe poetics-in-extremis.

We’ll get to the return to the village later. When we get there I’m going to bang on about seemingly antiquated values: compassion, upstandingness, vocation, grace under pressure. That we actually raise our kids. That we live cleanly in our relationship to others. That our enchantments and befuddlements are limited in impact, that we don’t pass them on. The village is essential for the distillation of epiphany into wisdom. Human contact. But I’m not there yet.

Right now I’m defending the strange and usefully dangerous elements of the vigil. The moments that may never sift into daylight illumination but are like a rook pecking on your liver down in the pure animal of your body. Peck peck peck. It’s that pecking that keeps us restless. It’s a good thing to be restless. It’s that kind of thing that gets folks out on the hill in the first place.


To be buffeted by weather, to have hands pink as the flesh of Galway salmon as you splash freezing water in your just-woken face. To be a million nerve endings reaching out to darkness, rain, and white-crack lightning storm. To sleep a-jumble in your clothes because of the freeze, spend weeks without seeing your reflection, with no devices that beep and glow anywhere near. To feel jubilant, grief-struck, maybe even wild.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2019
Chthonic Memory in the Deep Wild2019-07-17T18:01:38+00:00

On Memory And Story

We managed to briefly lure Martin away from his desk to share a few words from a new book he’s been labouring away on. If he doesn’t growl too often we’ll try again.


What I want to do here is make a concerted plea for you to become a story carrier. I say this as seriously as I would the labour of becoming a shield-maiden for Boudicca, or being on one knee in front of Arthur, or sitting in the longhouse as the snow falls and the people brood on how to survive another winter. As seriously as you working for Greenpeace or becoming a professor of gender studies. I say this in the midst of western amnesia and the glorious chloroform of privilege. I say this because knowing how to carry your story, being freighted in your story can not only save your own life but it can bring life to others too.
If there’s too many horns blowing, and the snorting of Castilian steeds in that statement, then so be it. I do not retreat, I do not step back.

And so the bucket creeks and down we go into deep story. Past our depressions and ecstasies, our loosely gabbled opinions, past our birth date even. Down under the cartographers map, under the spidery grid of lights that scarify our lands, down under flint-toothed Inuit seas, under face-tightening ambitions, parental pressures and ancestral lunacies, down below all that. Down into the grist and magical dimensions of the underneath. The sediment of myth-time that unpicks our frame into older conditions. The loosening is upon us.

Down in that place are bright heroes, white gold saplings, scald crows and cattle walking clean from the sea with flowers garlanded around their neck. All flash past as we swing down deep into ourselves, red pagan horses and mountains delirious with flowers, the latch being lifted on all that came before us. We swing down, we swing down, we swing down deep into ourselves.

Bring your hands
Like proud cattle of the field
To the things that culture
Most needs you to till

You have more of the right stuff
Than you could ever need
But no one gets to heaven
Without study and kindness

Memory is everything to a storyteller. The divinatory-speak is over without it. This is a residue of memory that only emerges when I’m teaching through stories: it’s not the skin stuff of my CV, the flesh stuff of big emotional wallops, but an acute memory of the bone. And the bones don’t tend to turn up much with ‘I’ statements. That require a grander view, they require myth. They go down.

Lorca is grappling with the paintings of the Chauvet caves when he pulls his lime green moons and clattering cloaks of gypsy knives onto the page. He is strolling through Amazonian jungles in a linen suit whilst New York taxis honk in the far distance and Tristan crashes by on a Castilian steed. Lorca doesn’t know how he can know what he knows.

There is a form of imagination that doesn’t just reach out to rowans, anacondas, antelopes and icebergs, but back into the mystical compression of history. There’s little point trying to represent this rationally. It’s magic like a woman’s hair is magic. It just is. It is possible to be in conversation with the alchemist Zosimos of Panopolis or Lady Gregory, don’t let a chance like that go by. You are not as anchored to the 21st Century as may appear, on occasion slip the net for a few hours. You will meet magnificent things out there. Don’t be afraid. Be mentored. Amongst the hawthorn and blueberry, amongst the libraries of Moorish Spain and the grit-dirt at the bottom of the well they are waiting.

Retention and innovation. A challenge for storytelling is quite what you stay faithful to. Because you’ve always got to betray something, it’s a mark of love. There’s a remarkable tension present in this balancing act, and you have to be nimble. Abandon spontaneous inspiration and it’s a flat ride, a pamphlet, a dull eyed polemic, but abandon the essential progression of the tale and you cut away the mischievous old ones that laboured so hard, jaw to jaw, to get the clattered language to your mouth at all. You hack the tree off at the roots. No matter how pretty the trilling word-birds in the branches, they fly away when the base is felled. No one genius on a laptop can replace it. It’s somewhere between loyal retention and imaginative wondering that the bones start to dance. That’s the sweet spot.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2019
On Memory And Story2019-03-19T16:21:49+00:00

The Night Wages Tour

The first leg of the Into the Marvellous UK tour was a sell out success, with invitations still coming in.

Martin and the Cista Mystica team were overwhelmed with goodwill and a warm welcome in Brighton, London, Devon and Cornwall, and are now busy
planning the next tour in July.

“Thank you to everyone who came, every single venue sold
out and there was so much good will and excitement. We loved it.”

The Night Wages Tour2019-03-19T17:21:24+00:00

The Night Wages First Copies

The Cista Mystica Press sent out its first publication The Night Wages, Dr Martin Shaw’s latest and deepest book yet that he has described as a ‘poetic hit of contemporary romanticism’.

Hundreds of people from across the world had pre-ordered this book and all received copies personally signed by Martin.

Martin Shaw Signing The Night Wages
The Night Wages with Lucy Cooper
The Night Wages First Copies2019-03-15T10:28:40+00:00

Into the Marvellous—The Tour

Dates for the first UK leg of the Into the Marvellous book tour were announced this week following an overwhelming response from folks from afar afield as Australia, Alaska and California.

A deluge of invitations initially came in unbidden after a few promotional evenings were announced, sparking an adventurous plan to travel far and wide with The Night Wages. Martin put out a request on social media for interesting venues and the floodgates opened.

The first tour will take in Brighton, London, Devon and Cornwall in February and March.

Martin explained on his Facebook page: “The name of the whole thing will be Into the Marvellous. Why? Because that’s my hope of how it’ll be experienced. To galvanise, raise up, whisper something about the inheritance you never knew you had. To put us to work.

With grief rapidly becoming the new sexy I also want to challenge the moribund time line that is being so consistently dished out these days.

Not as a denial of the facts, but that it contains such a lack of magical thinking, a lack of wit, a lack of covenant with the miraculous. It’s just not hip.

I am a father, and if you think I’m quietly telling my kid that the whole affair is doomed then you have another thing coming.

Sorrow can be efficacious, and absolutely needed, but handled correctly it also births a greater capacity for not just joy but delight. That’s part of cultural move I think we need. As the poet Jack Gilbert said, can we risk delight? When you risk delight there is a barely glimpsed possibility that you yourself, in the authenticity of your incompleteness may remember the story you are actually here to deliver.

And that is a radical proposition. YOU are a radical proposition.

So I’ve just written this mysterious thing that is possibly a book/love letter/vagabond manifesto, The Night Wages, that has secreted within it enough folk tales, myth and personal reflection to bring directly into the raising of a family, sustaining a small holding, sitting out a stretch in prison, making theatre, challenging the political climate, activism in its many different shades. I’ve gathered up the things that have literally saved my own life, and for what its worth I’m offering them here.

I have zero interest in just being on the road, selling stuff.

I’m coming because I suspect you have a Robin Hood, Boudicca, Riot Grrrl, Patti Smith, Ian MacKaye, Frida Khalo, Chuck D and Geronimo kind of thing just ready to emerge. And more than any of them is the exactly YOU that’s wanting to show up. Let’s stop looking for honey and become the bee.”

Into the Marvellous—The Tour2019-03-15T10:31:20+00:00