Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Healing our Imagination

I read Patrick Jasper Lee's observation that, as humans, we are comprised of both the factual and the imaginative, in June shortly after the episode with Richard Dawkins; so even though Lee is discussing this issue broadly with his narrow focus on shamanic journeying and the 'truth' of the experiences, I couldn't help but think about his words in relation to fairy tales and the truths we find within them...

"As already mentioned, before the dawning of the scientific age, in the last few centuries, and when it was not so important to think quite so geographically, the imagination was not considered to be such a confusing issue, but it has now been suppressed for so very long, we have completely forgotten its capabilities; our relationship with our imagination has changed because our relationship with ourselves has changed. We really have no option but to study the imagination - with a view to understanding the Otherworld - with our present understanding of science. And the Romani shamanic way can provide us with a few clever guidelines for tackling this seemingly strange idea."

"We are all affected by the creative imagination, no matter how logical we might consider ourselves to be, no matter how imaginative we might consider ourselves to be. The imagination exists, just as a fact exists. We use it unconsciously throughout much of the day. The only difference between fact and the imagination is that we do not need to prove that the imagination exists. It is actually something we can't prove and yet we can all agree that we can all choose to use it, for good or ill."

"We need now to be thinking of the health of our imagination. It is such a strong part of us that where it lies dormant we are in danger of losing much of our self-confidence and our self-belief. And that is most uncomfortable to live with."

"Generally, we need to begin questioning ourselves rather more frankly where the imagination is concerned and we certainly need to start opening our minds to the possibility of seeing the imagination as a field in its own right, worthy of considerable exploration. The imagination must no longer be thought of as ineffectual, artificial or unreal. All of the greatest scientific inventions we have in our world today began with the imagination, as did all the greatest works of art and everything we use. Even the chair you are sitting in began in someone's mind before it was brought to the drawing board!"

"We need radical changes for any revolution to take place and for some there is no doubt that the imagination will prove to be a very scary, unpredictable world at first. But we must always that it hasn't been used properly for such an extraordinarily long time that it will have to be oiled again, its creative process trusted and its existence seen as something sacred, rather than something that is just a nuisance. Without doubt, consideration of the imagination as a healing tool must feature somehow on the next rung of the ladder of human development."

Patrick Jasper Lee, We Borrow the Earth: An Intimate Portrait of the Gypsy Shamanic Tradition and Culture (London: Thorsons, 2000), 302-305.
Images from ArtMagick. Hover over images for title, artist and date.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Gypsy shaman's interpretation of Sleeping Beauty

We Borrow the Earth fell off a shelf in a charity shop as I reached up to replace a book next to it. The title was captivating - so I decided the book had chosen me. I knew to ignore what I'd previously heard about Gypsy culture and tradition - the stories were likely overly romanticised and mysticised accounts - and aimed to read without preconceptions as far as possible. Patrick Jasper Lee's personal experiences and thoughts about his culture and history were fascinating and written in a very engaging manner. As a practising Gypsy shaman he has a deep relationship with the Earth, and a lot of his thoughts about our ruptured relationship with our natural world resonated with me.

But I was truly delighted to find he had expressed opinions on fairy tales and their importance in our (imaginative) lives - I'm not sure how often I've read interpretations that haven't been from a Western academic perspective. Below, I've shared Lee's thoughts on Sleeping Beauty.

'La belle au bois dormant' by manu4-20-5 @ dA
"It saddens me to think just how much we have pushed the fairy-tale world underground, this beautiful magical world which once fashioned everyday life and the initiations of our deeper past in Europe. But a student of mine once said to me, 'These Romani teachings of yours reawaken the Sleeping Beauty within me.' This comment could simply sound like romantic fantasy, but it touches the very heart of the Romani shamanic journey. The lady who spoke these words was French, but this phrase also says a good deal about the spirit of the imagination which once thrived in western Europe and which is now very much like a great and beautiful princess, sleeping within us, and also beneath us within the Earth."

'The Sleeping Beauty' by KmyeChan @ dA
"Long ago, Sleeping Beauty, a spirit recognisable to all of us who have European roots, came under the spell of a wickedly clever fairy, whose spirit worked through many gullible sorcerers. These sorcerers threatened to kill the beautiful princess - or to take the beauty of the imagination away. The princess would prick her finger when she was 18 - civilised life would be a test for this natural spirit, nine being a crucial number for testing the soul of a great princess - and she and all her people would fall into a deep sleep in which they would know nothing of their older life, until a handsome prince found his way to the castle, kissed the princess and woke her. Then they would all live happily ever after - or reunite with their imaginative lives again. I believe we are still in that deep hypnotic slumber in our physical world, together with the beautiful Earth spirit, or princess of our land, and I believe that this seemingly eternal sleep affects us when we journey."

'Wild Nocturne' by lauraborealisis @ dA
"The Sleeping Beauty was thus a sad tale expressing the story of the Bari Weshen Dai, 'the Great Forest Mother', who was a beautiful feminine spirit residing in the forests of Europe. Her fate was sealed when the spell was cast. And she still now sleeps, entombed beneath the Earth, and also within us. Interestingly, in the French language The Sleeping Beauty is called La belle au bois dormant, 'The Beauty of the Sleeping Wood'!"

'Forest Thinking' by jslattum @ dA
"I often tell students who come to learn the craft of Romani journeying how we can take on the role of the handsome prince who kisses this beautiful lady. For a greater part of us is sleeping along with her, as we are all entranced by the spell. But when she wakes, in the future, we will wake too, and she will wake, because that is her fate also. No bad spell can last forever. The 'good' image must inevitably follow the 'bad' one! And we will eventually outwit the one who created this powerful soul-numbing slumber. Who knows what will happen when the Sleeping Beauty finally wakes!"

'Spiritual Journey' by Tamura @ dA
"The journey I conduct with students around the theme of waking the Sleeping Beauty is always one of the most important journeys, for it serves to rekindle the student's relationship with Puv, the Earth Spirit, via the Bari Washen Dai. It can help to develop essential assertiveness and also direction."

Patrick Jasper Lee, We Borrow the Earth: An Intimate Portrait of the Gypsy Shamanic Tradition and Culture (London: Thorsons, 2000), 222-224.