Making Stick Medicine
Once upon a time, science, religion, nature, and all life were one. Animals, trees, rocks, and water, all one. Humans, birds, sky, and air, all one. And “the One” was the spirit that moved through all things. The humans told stories to remember all the relationships, to remember what was and what might be, to remember how to survive. Their stories and symbols were the reflection of archetypal understandings of the world.
Stick Medicine is a return to archetypal, symbolic, and ancient relationship through natural art.
I’ve been inspired by the ways of my ancient ancestors. The ways in which the core components of their science and religion were encoded into symbols and archetypes, constant reminders of who they were constant reminders that all is one.
My work encodes numbers, symbols, and images to represent the core aspects of healing, creating, and destroying according to Celtic, Nordic, and Northern Appalachian traditions. Singular beads represent the Spirit that moves through all things. Groups of two represent polarities. Groups of three represent the Troika or the Triskele: mind, body, spirit; unity, duality, and community; the underworld, earth world, and sky world; the id, the ego, and the superego; and so on. Groups of five represent the five elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. Groups of six represent the six tissue states of traditional western herbalism. Groups of seven represent the seven directions: north, south, east, west, up, down, and in. All of these numbers and symbols are at the heart of understanding western traditions including the traditions of western herbalism and folk craft.
I learned the Nordic runes and found that each one is an archetypal understanding, or gestalt, not just the letters of an alphabet. The Ogham alphabet, despite the name, is also much more than an alphabet. The stories and folk uses of plants reflect the depth of archetypal understandings. All plants are associated with stars, planets, and the elements as a reminder of how and when to use them. All of these things are reflected in my work.
And the work began as a healing process before I became conscious of beading as a process of setting things into order, creating patterns, reweaving the connection between the right and left brains. The wounded healer or the artist as healer, the fates etching past, present, future: more archetypes. Creating, healing, destroying.
Each cell is creating, healing, and destroying. Whether that cell is a single-celled organism or a tiny part of a living being, each cell is creating, healing, and destroying. Another sacred set of three.
Art is also the process of healing, creating, and destroying. Because the wounded must know a little about healing to survive.
This is not a dismissal of science. This is not belief in superstition. This is a tribute. A reminder of where I came from. This is creation for the purpose of healing in the face of widespread environmental destruction.
The elements are no longer considered sacred by the people with power. Fire is exploited at the expense of Air. Earth is poisoned and it flows into Water. And Spirit suffers.
I once woke from a dream startled by a command to stop buying beads. I didn’t know what to do about it… I was making jewelry for a living at the time. Then my car was broken into and my entire kit was stolen with most of my beads. Tools, supplies, beads. All gone. But somehow within two months everything was replaced. Friends donated their tools, supplies, even some beads. Yet I didn’t start beading. I hadn’t yet figured out how to do it without the stones and metals from mines. As I move through this process I’m learning to make my own beads and source sustainable beads. This means using seeds, sticks, wood, bones, and other objects that I find in my wanderings. The kinds of things that don’t last forever, but last as long as we need them. And of course incorporating the stone and metal gifts from those who said keep creating.
My work will change. No two things are alike. A reflection of the natural world.
Creation, healing, destruction.
In the beginning there was a garden. In the garden was a tree that would open all ways of knowing, but the Great Spirit said that it was best not to know too much. Knowing too much makes it hard to hold it all together, to see it all as one. But the first people were taken in by curiosity and ate from the tree. Instantly they found that they could no longer see the garden, could no longer see the whole, and started dividing their ways, dividing the people, dividing the land. And here we are still living in the great Earth Garden, blind and blundering.
My work is to give ease.
This blog is for the stories behind my work.
Welcome. Fáilte. Bienvenue. Velkommen.
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Symbols are powerful. The five elements are nearly ubiquitous. Even traditions that focus on the four elements/directions have a concept that relates to the fifth element: ether, spirit, vitality, and so on. As I reach into my own cultural heritage for symbols that represent the five elements, I’m finding that these symbols have been appropriated […]
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