I’ll be posting on here (at least) every new moon.
If you’re not sure when that is, check the lunar
calendar and countdown below.
See you then!
countdown to the the next new moon on Monday, August 21st at 6.30 p.m. (GMT):
Comment here about any of the posts below if
you'd like to! I look forward to hearing from you :)
I’m delighted to belatedly announce that the Animus ~ Art for the World Soul artists’ collective that I curate will be having its fourth exhibition from August 17th to the 29th, at Shambellie House ~ a fairytale-like mansion designed by renowned Victorian architect David Bryce in a romantic Scottish style, set in a beautifully shambolic wild garden South of Dumfries...and, until recently, the National Museum of Costume:
Here’s a poster for it:
...and a directory of all the events taking place: (see thefacebook page for full details :)
As ever, there’ll be a rich medley of mediums, from Jennie Ashmore’s leafworks to Trevor Leat’s willow sculptures, Ben Fosker’s ceramics to Martin Wilson’s slate carvings, Cathy Van Hoppe’s watercolours to Fergus Hall’s oils and gouaches...and a concert by Morag Smith and Lewis Powell-Reid.
As for me, I’ll have a selection of recent lightworks: illuminated pieces cast in glass, which I’ll get back to once I’ve written this! ;)
I love the multi-faceted process of glass casting, which feels even more deeply alchemical than glass fusing. First, it involves pressing clay into relief shapes such as woodblocks, or sculpting forms; this allows for a working style which is sketchy, fluid and immediate:
After it's completed, the clay piece is cast in a mixture of plaster and silica, which needs to be thoroughly dried before firing. When it’s ready, it’s time to add the glass ~ in the form of of powders and coarser ground glass, called frit.
Here’s the face with this first layer of glass powders sifted onto it:
Inverting the image (something I’ve done for years with my cameraless photography) gives a feel for how the final piece will look:
Then the sheet glass ~ along with any inclusions, such as gold leaf ~ is added.
I love using streaky glass, which adds another dimension of aliveness and fluidity, especially when it drapes itself over 3D forms.
The only time I don’t use hand-rolled ‘Bullseye’ glass is when I want to use Millefiore, or ‘ thousand flowers’, as I have here:
Then I use Murano glass ~ so called because it’s made on the Venetian island of Murano, known as the cutting edge of creative glass in Europe for centuries.
All the process photos above are from a piece I’m working on for the exhibition called ‘Holy Originating Chaos’. It was created with this latest exhibition in mind, the theme of which is Shambhala.
According to legend, this is a sacred and mystical land hidden deep in the Himalayas, accessible only to those sincere of intent and pure of heart ~ but inclusive of all faiths. Researching this fabled kingdom of peace and wisdom has been a fascinating process which I want to continue after the exhibition is over. The book which has been most insightful on the subject for me is Shambhala by Victoria LaPage:
A quote from this which I’ll be using as inspiration for one of my next pieces is:
“(René) Guénon likens Shambhala to Noah’s Ark, a vessel that is immune to natural disasters and and to all the apocalyptic forces of destruction associated with the close of the Kali-yuga, and which, like the Biblical ark, “contains all the elements destined for the restoration of the world, which are thus the seeds of its future state.” (p130)
The paintings of Nicholas’s Roerich, whose search for Shambhala could be said to have formed the governing focus of his life, have created a visual gateway into this world for me; here are some paintings of his directly referencing Shambhala:
Path to Shambhala, 1933
Order of Rigden Jyepo 1933
Song of Shambhala, 1943
There’ll be some prints of Roerich’s paintings on display at the exhibition, all proceeds from which will go to Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community in Arunachel Pradesh, a little mountaintop Shambhala whose name means ‘Garden of Love and Compassion’, which was created by monk Lobsang Phuntok in 2006.
Twenty percent of the proceeds of my artwork sales will likewise go to Jhamtse Gatsal; you can see a beautifully made and inspiring film about the community here:
I hope to see you at Shambhala at Shambellie, where I’ll be every day but one of the exhibition; but if you can’t make it in person I’ll be sharing news of it here...and may evenmanage to create a video or two there :)
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
When I first came upon Carlos Castaneda's series of books as a teenager, I was struck by the revelation of using the awareness of death’s inevitability to lend depth and focus to life:
Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, 'I haven't touched you yet.
Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan
This awareness has stayed with me, as an abiding gratitude for the gift of life: one reason I sign my artwork with a turtle image is in honour of the old Buddhist story about how extremely rare it is to be born as a human. The possibility of this happening is likened to a blind turtle living on the bed of a vast ocean, who only surfaces once every hundred years, just chancing to put its head up through a single wooden ring floating, tossed by the wind and waves, on the surface of the water.
As well as the grand awareness that one day we must shuffle off this mortal coil, embracing change and growing into our being on a deeper level relies on continually dying to who we have been.
Esoteric astrologer Elizabeth Jones recently paraphrased an insight on this theme from a profound but anonymous teacher of hers:
What happens when we experience a kind of death within? In a spiritual context, a death is a movement from a certain level of involvement in your personality, to a new level of connection to your soul. In the interim, it requires entering a void ~ which we may be uncomfortable with, because we don’t have any sense of what the next form will look or feel like as we enter it.
And Steiner makes a similar point in An Outline of Occult Science:
It is precisely the knowledge of the supersensible that can shed clear light upon the beautiful words of Goethe: "Nature has invented death that she might have abundant life." Just as there could be no life in the ordinary sense of the word without death, so can there be no true knowledge of the visible world without insight into the supersensible. All knowledge of what is visible must plunge again and again into the invisible in order to evolve.
When I was asked to illustrate Emma Gillespie’s beautiful song inspired by the death of her young friend, The Story Goes On, then, I knew this was a project I truly wanted to put my heart into...and it was a joy to work on. It was all shot and edited in Scotland this spring; some at Rennaldburn’s clear waters, but much of it on the way to the Skye ~ and on the otherworldly island itself.
As Emma does, I hope that it will help give solace to those touched by death in their life.
I never thought I’d do a post on here about my ‘day job’, but a process is unfolding whereby aspects of life which had previously seemed disparate are beginning to coalesce ~ like Rennaldburn, which gets its name from the stream and waterfall which runs through its meadows and wooded ravine.
This, my home in a verdant valley by the White Esk in Southern Scotland, also happens to be a holiday let. I’ve always put a lot of love and creativity into ‘the holiday let side’; evolving sacred space is something which has long fascinated me.
But the six-foot long painting I did last week is the biggest artwork I’ve made specially for its internal world: it’s to give the effect of a stained glass window for the roof pitch of the ‘Mousehole’ room.
This is a bit like a soul-full version of Japanese pod hotel accommodation; a teeny-tiny space just big enough for a futon (you can’t stand up in it), which you go inside by crawling through a marble fireplace arch.
Kids, particularly, fall in love with this diminutive den. So the painting itself is a celebration of youthful energies ~ Buddhas, angels, dragons, cloud castles, flying carpets and winged unicorns all cohabiting (but hopefully not codependent within :) the same space.
Here's a time-lapse of it taking shape:
I'll come out of the closet to say I've been very blocked in regards to blogging; I could blame the tech side, but realise there have been subtler energies at play ~ namely the urge to remain wrapped in a cloak of invisibility.
Though I'm only just beginning to get to grips with this blog, something's called me to start a new one as well. Unlike murmurations, which I somewhat rashly committed to posting every new moon, my only promise for the Book of Answers is to publish it erratically.
This'll be an I Ching-focussed collection; in case you've landed on here with no intro, the I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes or Zhouyi is a venerable oracle which which I'm creating a body of work around, and which has been guiding me for many decades now.
You can find out more about the Zhouyi here...
ask your own question here...
find out more about the process here...
and look at all the images I've created for it here.
My idea is to gradually build up a searchable body of answers from the Zhouyi to questions or dilemmas put to it: though my experience is that asking a meaningful question of the Oracle can be a more direct path to understanding than reading about it, seeing what response others have been given to their questions can begin to give us a real sense of how this mysterious world operates.
We two-legged beings are all born and die and, in between, navigate our own unfolding and relations with the wider world. Though the specific intricacies of our individual experience are unique, we can all find parts of ourselves in the lives of others.
Mainly, these queries and issues will be taken from emotionalbaggagecheck.com This is a great little site where you can either anonymously check in your own 'emotional baggage', or carry someone else's and add a link to a song. (As the I Ching aptly puts it, music has power to ease tension within the heart and to loosen the grip of obscure emotions.) I'm inspired, too, about the idea of illustrating the answers, as I've found visual art to also have this superpower.
As well as providing a resource for people interested in having a conversation with the Book of Changes, my hope is these answers help those who originally asked them; to provide help to those who called for it.
(the Book of Answers blog is here, with this post as an intro. Scroll down & you'll find the first answer, Fear of Loss.)
It’s been an age since I’ve blogged about any of my own artwork.
Though I’ve been quite prolific recently, one way or another, I always seem to be involved in what I’m realising just may be a lifetime process of figuring out just what kind of artist I am.
With work ranging from camera-less (and, just occasionally, camera-assisted) photography, writing, cast and fused glass and illuminated etching to tree mandalas, house-sized earth-pigment murals and a soupçon of mainly secret songwriting, I sometimes end up oscillating between the ‘time-to-focus-on-one-modality’ view, and the ‘embrace-all-the-seemingly-disparate-strands-as-they’re-beginning-to-form-a-coherent-world’ one.
I’m beginning to feel more at home with the second option, which requires a deeper faith, both in myself and in life itself...as well as continual experimentation with ways to hone in on points of focus within this expansive view so it doesn’t all disperse into the void, stay hovering on the surface or disappear down irrelevant tangents.
Whatever my medium, I like to think of myself as an illustrator in the original sense of the word as one who illuminates. In this light, here’s a moving illustration I’ve just uploaded...more commonly known as a music video. When I recorded contemporary troubadour Oisin playing this song ~ one of his epic ballads ~ at Rennaldburn last Summer, at a fireside Mabon celebration, I knew it was something I’d like to try to do justice to.
Let me know if I have!
Welcome to this shiny new blog, where I’m muchly looking forward to sharing my ongoing curious explorations into art, nature and spirit with you.
I’ve named it murmurations, inspired by those vast, sky-borne communions of individual birds who, together, create an ephemeral and transporting synthesis of transcendent beauty.
Below are two previous blog ventures:
the button will take you to fifty-odd posts
I made on Tumblr from 2015-2016 before
I returned to the way back here…
…and beneath is trial no.1; my first posts
from 2014, made en-site as I tried to construct
a blog page from scratch ~ before I realised
life could be easier than that :)
Asking a Big Question
Note added 22nd September:
Though I knew the subject of this post on
what the Zhouyi thinks about the idea of an
independent Scotland would soon be old news,
I spent some time putting it together as I think it gives a
good example of the Zhouyi's response to a Big Question.
It's also a reminder to you to keep a record of your 'old' questions
both big and small, as looking back at readings after it became clear
which way the issue you were seeking clarity on actually panned out is
a great way to become more familiar with how the Oracle works. (Though
in this case, of course, there's no way of telling since it didn't happen!)
Additionally, recording readings is a valuable tool to help you to
honestly track your own shifting focus and intent, as by observing
the questions you chose to ask, you get a mirror into which
issues were at the forefront of your consciousness.
Scotland from the Mathew Paris map, c. 1250
I usually find political topics the last to engage my passions ~
but as a part-English person with a vote in this historic election &
todays news being that the result is now 'too close to call', I felt the
urge to share another perspective: that of the Zhouyi, who I
asked these questions of a couple of weeks ago as
I was trying to make the best decision.
When I did the readings, I was completely undecided, so
wasn't trying to skew the response to what I desperately wanted
to be the right one. (Never a good way to interact with the oracle! :)
The answer I got to the question 'What would be the
result of Scotland becoming independent?'
was earth-over-mountain: humility.
This was a particularly prized asset in ancient China, where people clearly
hadn't got around to glorifying celebrity. And if someone was celebrated, they were
expected to be demure about it and not keep track of their sum total of twitter followers.
As the Zhouyi remarks, high mountains are worn down by the waters, and the valleys
are filled up. It is the law of fate to undermine what is full and to prosper the
modest. And men also hate fullness and love the modest.
This is undeniable ~ but I've also had personal experience of getting this
response from the Zhouyi to wake me up to the reality of my humble identity
as a Very Unimportant Person. (It was in answer to me asking about asking
Eckhart Tolle to write the forward to my book and, in this context,
meant "Get real, girl, that ain't happening anytime soon.")
So, back to Scotland's reading: the second line was changing,
with the guidance that modesty comes to expression.This tells us that
when a man's attitude of mind is so modest that this expresses itself in his outward behaviour,
it is a source of good fortune to him. For the possibility of exerting a lasting influence
arises of itself and no one can interfere. (not even England.)
Apart from containing a caution for Scotland not to become arrogant if given power and autonomy,
this clearly speaks to its undeniably humble position at the moment...and for a few hundred years.
The power of this transforming second line changes humility into rising, wood under the earth.
This indicates work as hard as that undertaken by a shoot pushing up
through the ground ~ but promises great success as a result, promising a
direct rise from lowliness and obscurity to power and influence.
This made the situation abundantly clear to me: beyond any focus on
the many and varied issues involved, what was being highlighted was the
spirit of the issue as a deep desire for change which needs to be honoured.
Curious for the first time about the details of Scotland's 1707 union with
England, I found that 'Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath, the only member
of the Scottish negotiating team against union, noted that "The whole nation
appears against the Union" and even Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an
ardent pro-unionist and Union negotiator, observed that the treaty was
"contrary to the inclinations of at least three-fourths of the Kingdom".
Public opinion against the Treaty as it passed through the
Scottish Parliament was voiced through petitions from shires, burghs,
presbyteries and parishes. The Convention of Royal Burghs also
petitioned against the Union and not one petition in favour of
an incorporating union was received by Parliament.
On the day the treaty was signed, the carilloner in
St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, rang the bells in the
tune 'Why should I be so sad on my wedding day?'
Threats of widespread civil unrest resulted
in Parliament imposing martial law.'
I was now becoming fairly convinced ~ but also did a reading to cover
the 'better together' option, which at that time was looking more likely.
I got heaven under water, waiting, which I call gathering strength.
This is about not rushing into things, of letting them unfold at their own pace,
just as we cannot schedule blessing rains to fall from the sky. But though the
second line was also changing in this reading, it has a very different feel here:
'The danger gradually comes closer. Sand is near the bank of the river, and
the water means danger. Disagreements crop up. General unrest can easily
develop in such times, and we lay the blame on one another. He who stays
calm will succeed in making things go well in the end. Slander will be
silenced if we do not gratify it with injured retorts.'
To me this brings to mind a situation like that of a family in which
the teenage daughter, though legally old enough, is told she's forbidden to
leave home as she's not ready yet: you canimagine the rows, the door-slamming,
the mutual feeling of unfairness and being misunderstood.
If it's a 'no', the issue, having been raised, won't just go away ~ and not just
in the barely-still united kingdom, as other provinces which have been denied
independence, like Catalunya, have been reminded of their claims.
This 'no' reading changes to water over fire, fulfilment: the one gua
in which every line is in the right place (each yin - broken - and yang -
unbroken - line having correct and incorrect placements.)
In a way, though, this is not as good as it sounds, as the Zhouyi, forever mindful
of the developing seeds of coming situations, tells us that the natural way for perfect
balance to evolve, unless one is relentlessly mindful, is into total imbalance.
The water over fire shows us the image of a kettle boiling over
a fire, picture of homely harmony ~ if the fire doesn't burn down
too low or reach up too high, the water doesn't boil dry or boil over.
To conclude this long post, I have to disclose a vested interest:
just before I did my readings, my local postie asked which way I was
leaning, which at that point was more towards the staying together option.
He responded with horror, and said he'd buy me a chocolate bar if I voted yes.
This arrived promptly with the next post with an official delivery note:
It's not about the chocolate, though. More about the fact that, as
Kevin Bridges points out, as a proper foreign country we could get
our very own time zone, six-pin plug sockets, currency based on
the smackyarooni and a royal family chosen by lottery.
It has to be
What do you think of the Zhouyi's view?
moving into movement
I've just created a playlist on youtube
to act as a sketchbook for me to share
the journey of working on ~ and playing with ~
Becoming Visionary: re-creating an enchanted
world with the transformative power of Zhouyi.
So if you have any video requests, let me know!
My intent with this is to follow the
suggestion I give in chapter one of
imperfect action being better than perfect inaction.
(Read the whole of chapter one here :)
In this spirit, I made this first video-sketch
after being inspired to record a song-sketch
about a little yellow bird I saw, absorbed in eating
thistle seeds by the burn behind my house.
I would have loved to have filmed him too (I later
found he was a siskin) but I was too engrossed
in relishing the moment and writing the song!
song for a siskin
I’m sitting alone not lonely on harebell hill
Wondering if I’ll touch the heart but knowing I will
A tiny yellow bird is pecking at thistledown
Sending it flying all around me, there’s no way to frown
While a yellow bird in August sunshine is plucking thistledown
And the burn it flows so sweetly as the grasses sway upon the ground
Shaken by the gentle breezes blowing all around
And the endless blue above me is filled with thistledown
When I was seven I ran after thistledown
Called it catching wishes as I cupped my hands around
The fragile faerie form inside holding the wish I’d found
Then I’d open up my fingers, hear a joyful silent sound
As my wish danced with playful winds who tumbled it around
Sent it soaring high then gently drifting down
Those were the days when I wished on thistledown
But with all the magic in me then, there’s no alchemy I’ve found
That equals being enfolded in the wishes liberated now
By a tiny yellow sunshine bird adoring thistledown
Oh yes: you may be wondering what all this has to do with the Zhouyi.
To which the answer is: Directly? Nothing at all. Indirectly? Everything.
One of the things I love about this mysterious path is the way that it's
expanded my conception of myself, supporting me in questioning my
assumptions of who I thought I was and allowing me to go beyond them.
(In this example, realising I didn't need to limit myself to being a visual artist.)
I hope you can find this freedom and fulfilment within the Zhouyi, too.
Or, of course, you may find something entirely different, just as profound
but which I didn't think of mentioning as it hasn't been a part of my journey.
If anyone reading this has begun their own explorations with
the Zhouyi which they'd like to share, I'd love to hear them.
And if you'd like to share something but just not quite
so publicly, you can send it to:
the door is round and open
In Becoming Visionary, I quote Rumi’s poem The Breeze at Dawn:
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
…but for some time I have been going back to sleep,
irresistibly pulled deeper into the alluring and sheltered Dreaming world.
This morning, though, woken by my cat jumping into bed with me before four in the morning
and purring like an engine, I decided to get up. Looking at a floor strewn with paperwork, I was
vaguely wondering where to start creating a bit of space inside when a rising golden crescent
moon, perfectly framed between the trees, took my breath away and called me out.
Somehow, more than I’d ever been aware of before, all the constellations
harmoniously echoed the shadowed shapes of the horizon, reminding me of the
extraordinary book The Star Mirror by Mark Vidler. (“At the dawn of the new millennium
the brightest stars of the sky are coming into unprecedented alignments with the highest mountains
on earth and forming mirror images with sacred sites around the world.”)
This night, they seemed unprecedentedly aligned with my humble high dale.
Above the sleeping valley, which overflowed with luminous
moonlit mist like a chalice held in offering, a line of light ~ one of
the last of the Perseids meteor shower ~ pierced the darkness.
Where the two worlds touch felt tangibly,
sublimely present ~ right here, right now.
The dawn chorus is at its peak and
all of life is in full abundant manifestation,
with the Beltane full moon tonight
(lunar countdown here).
Life is sweet.
Sticking to the abundant manifestation theme,
I’m excited to announce that each of the Zhouyi’s
sixty-four hexagrams, or gua, now has its own page!
Much doing things sixty-four times still needs to follow
so that the name, a quote, links and more are all on there
too, but at least each gua now has space to grow into.
Rather than identify all of them by name on the sub-menu
(of the ‘oracle cards’ page) I reckoned it was more user-friendly
~ particularly if you want to look up a reading from elsewhere,
in which case the name and number could well be different ~
to identify them according to the trigrams, or ‘primary gua’
which make them up, as these never change.
(Apart from when they change into each other, of course,
which is a main feature of the Book of Changes ~
but that's another story for another time :)
Therefore joy, for example...
￼ ...is tagged as lake under lake.
I'll be working on expanding these
gua pages in the following weeks.
(later note: er, make that months)
For today, have a blissful Beltane!
That the Sabian symbol for this Scorpio full Moon is
Crowds Coming Down The Mountain To Listen To One
Inspired Man is very apt, as this is also the most
sacred Buddhist festival: Wesak, anniversary
of Buddha's birth, death and enlightenment.
A potent way to honour this day is to focus with
renewed dedication on one's spiritual aspirations
and practise, including simple kindness to others.
The rewards for such efforts are said to be
immeasurably magnified not only on the day
of the full moon, but throughout the whole
of the sacred, merry month of May.
Buddha the Conquerer by Nicholas Roerich, 1925
If you can't fit in hours of practise this Wesak,
the esoteric tradition teaches that Buddha returns
to Earth for eight precious minutes at the moment of
this full moon, and that this is the most potent time in
the whole yearly cycle to be receptive to spiritual
attunement ~ and to chant the powerful
From the point of Light within the Mind of God
Let light stream forth into the minds of men.
Let Light descend on Earth.
From the point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into the hearts of men.
May Christ return to Earth.
From the centre where the Will of God is known
Let purpose guide the little wills of men—
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.
From the centre which we call the race of men
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
And may it seal the door where evil dwells.
Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.
I have to admit that, though having been taught this
many years ago, and resonating with the energy and
spirit of the words as a whole, I haven't used it as a
practise, as I got stuck on my resistance to the line
"and may it seal the door where evil dwells."
This, for me, evoked imagery of a cellar door to
a dark room full of malevolent, disowned shadow
forces who, when someone unsealed the door (as
inevitably happens in fairy tales) would burst out,
madder and more malevolent than ever.
Writing this blog reminded me that the gift of
the Invocation remained unused by me: there had
seemed no way around it, as I couldn't put all of my
heart into something which didn't feel wholly right ~
and making any change would have felt sacrilegious.
Then I came upon an entreaty ~ by the spiritual teacher
known in esoteric circles simply as the Tibetan ~ for "a united
use of The Great Invocation on the day of The Wesak full moon."
This mentioned that "All whom you can reach in the countries of the world
must be instructed and helped to spread the use of the Invocation in their
own language, and with the wording that will make it acceptable..."
With this encouragement, I decided to pen a version that evoked no
resistance in me ~ that I could happily use ~ and came up with this one:
This is my Beltane/Wesak offering, and what I'll
be invoking as the moon becomes full tonight.
What would be your most heartfelt, uplifting
offering and invocation? I'd love to know.
© shenpen chökyi 2013-2016