This carving in Green New Zealand Soapstone honours the spirit energy and quality that fills all things – the pneuma or breath of Life. Here she takes on singing feminine form, but, it was almost by accident that this came about – as she emerged, working with her brought a diverse array of challenges, responsibilities and gifts. Even in stillness the spirit moves…..and, sometimes, it speaks to us….
When I began shaping this sumptious stone, I simply had it in mind that there was a kind of flowing energy within it, both corporial and ethereal, but, as the work progressed I began to uncover elements of this energy that I could not have fore-seen.
At the outset the image that came up suggested a wind or water being – but I could also see a face, so that is where I began. As the shaping developed I was surprised to find a vein of white and gold quartz crystals emerging from within the matrix, manifesting a lightning streak across her face, one crystal in particular sitting magically within the pupil of her left eye (you can just see it in the pic) – she tested me with this, for, while this particular piece of soapstone is actually quite hard for its type, the quartz was much harder, and brought in a tension that slowed things down – the risk of making a mistake within the process increased significantly – one slip could change everything…..and slip I did!
Being a reductive process, there is no going back in carving and mistakes have to be capitalised upon – this can be a challenge, but, is often very helpful in finding the form that works best – its as though something intervenes, as if to say, “no mate, your going in the wrong direction – try this!”
Nevertheless, the carving of the quartz went well and, perhaps, thinking I had gotten past the challenge, the energy of the process began to build up again – thats when it happened! It was when I came to shape her mouth – the carving tool glanced off a hidden chip of quartz and, unintentionally on my part, her mouth opened – she ended up singing……..but, looking back, I am glad of this…..as it also became very clear that she wanted to be seen in this particular way – through her animated singing expression, her song, the rest of her began to come more into focus.
I’d checked the whole stone closely by this time for colouration that might reveal other hidden surprises. Her flowing energy became more visible and, appearing within the rippled and dappled colouring of the stone, became wind blown hair – within this there were other distinct shapes also visible, feathers on the one side and fingers on the other, and yet she seemed to have no body. This was intriguing. Around that time, I was also given a book on the Inuit carving traditions as part payment for a commission and as I fell under the spell of these wonderfull carvings I came across representations of shamans in spirit flight, bodyless, except for a hand, representing their humanity and sole (or soul) link to the physical worlds as they journey through the spirit realms. This was helpful, but, it was not quite right – I did not want to copy or re-interpret; this carving had an identity of its own. I did however find one carving that spoke louder than the rest – it showed Sedna, her long partly braided hair assuming flowing, rippling forms around her. There was something in this….
I knew of Sedna’s story, filled with a confrontational and difficult energy, tragedy arising from the clash between the young Sedna’s power of choice, paternal will and supernatural power. It is a strong story and there is much sadness in Sedna; having refused to bend to her father’s will in his choice of suitor he takes her out to sea, the supernatural intervenes and she not only becomes the victim of that confrontation, but, is exiled as a result – where have we heard that particular thread before?! However, in some tellings, hers is also a creation story – in the struggle to save herself, she looses her fingers and these become the Whale, Dolphin and Seal families. There is a radical give-away, an exchange at work in this – through it she becomes very powerful, assimilated into the oceanic worlds as a mistress of the sea creatures, protecting their spirits from exploitation. Sedna’s original right to choose her own soul path merges with the world of soul that the ocean represents, but, she looses the ability to use her hands in the process.
There is within many indigenous traditions the understanding that the spirits do not have thumbs! and are reliant upon us humans to work the physical – and while that may be our human power, theirs is in the inspirational and animating force that makes it possible for us to work creatively, through use our hands for example. Within indigenous wisdom it is a symbiotic relationship that requires us to feed the spirits so that they may fund our world with their nourishing and inspirational powers, that the world will remain animated. When we neglect this relationship the world falls into disarray and decay (look around!). The spirits and divinities seem to particularly like it when we make give-aways or offerings to them through our creativity. With Sedna this symbiosis with the spirit worlds also takes shape, but, she must be negotiated with, her hair combed and washed as an offering that is made in the hope that she will release the souls of the animals through the hunt – so that the people may live.
As Sedna’s story came alive in the Inuit carving many things seemed to be speaking together, to be in conversation with the emerging carving – but it was not her story itself, it was an essence within her story, that was coming through – her element is water; the carving continually spoke of the air – so, I decided to dig deeper. I felt that behind Sedna’s story as a creation myth there might be another layer and thats where I found Sila.
Amongst northern peoples of the arctic in particular, Sila has the power to shape the weather, the wind and the sky – along with other traditions, Inuit peoples have portrayed Sila as male, calling this spirit Silap Inua amongst other honorific names – however, Sila is also very ancient, considered formless. While Sedna is sometimes thought of as the daughter of the great spirit who created all Life, Sila is translated as ‘universal’, associated with the great spirit itself, animating all Life. But, the strongest scent came from the fact that Sila is found across the northern latitudes, in the Siberian as well as the northern Canadian and Greenland indigenous traditions. Sedna is considered more contemporary, allied with the animals that provide the Inuit with their primary food sources – Sila too is connected with the hunt, as well as the observance of the customs and rites between the people and the spirits, but, she embraces the animating spirit that fills all, on land, sea and in air – she appears to be an ancestor of Sedna. And like Sedna, Sila’s story has a shadow side too…..
Magical power is not to be toyed with, it demands respect and aquiring it has its risks and responsibilities – we can be very easily overcome by its ‘glamour’. It is one of the traditional dangers of ‘glamour’ that it can entice us into the vast interior of the wilds, perhaps never to be seen again – perhaps this shows a common expression of parental and communal fear, much the same as that associated with the magical enticement of the faerie realms, a place in which a different order of time exists from whose enchantment we may never return. The faerie realms spin their glamour around us continuously, and, for the most part remain hidden behind the appearance of things – once the veil is parted and we are touched by the ‘glamour’ our lives are never the same – Sedna herself has some of this quality – through hard won lessons in survival she is both mediator and protector of this power.
So too, for the shaman – amongst the Copper Inuit of the Northwest territories of Canada, Sila as ‘wind in-dweller’ has the tradition of empowering the shaman with the ability to shamanise on behalf of the community. For the initiate too the challenge is in the return – it is through transformation, burning off the old personality and complete inner re-structuring through initiation, that s/he can deliver the promise of the calling. If the ego or independant personal will are out of balance within, the use of that magical power becomes an issue and potential for ‘shadow’ to manifest remains….perhaps there is a lesson for us all in this.
The more I learned of Sila the more her qualities, the better her story seemed to fit….there was no attempt on my part to portray Sila, but, the story of Sedna and Sila had opened up a deeper resonance within the carving and, working with this, the whole form fell into place and the carving quickly came to completion.
I cannot help wondering how much the usurping of the divine feminine, of her rightful powers, is also present within Sila’s story. There was never any doubt in my mind that the spirit in the stone had a woman’s face and it felt wholly fitting to honour both Sedna and Sila through this….but, it was a difficult journey in many ways, intense, uncertain and mystifying.
Sila’s challenge is not only to pay attention to the calling of spirit – she also requires us to do our inner work and to maintain the balance we find through this, within our personal empowerment – Sila’s challenge also symbolises a return to the original unity of matter and spirit and she reminds us that we have to be willing to enter the wilderness, the wild raw nature of our unknowing, before we can reclaim something of our original state – it is perhaps no wonder that Sila is also regarded as the substance out of which soul is made!
Very soon after she was completed this carving found a new home, also through a chance encounter, but, thats a story for another time. As it happens I am about to embark on a new carving to celebrate this spirit – this time in wood. The piece is Ash wood from a tree that was first struck by lightning and subsequently blown down in a hurricane! I have a seat carved from the same tree – its actually very comfortable….but, I have it in mind to do something with this carving that I have not done before – to record the whole process of its making, and I hope to make this the subject of a future article at ‘owlmirror’……..we will see!
…..a certain magic brings us into the world, often forgotten and overlooked once we begin our adult years – but, it never dies – we only need to keep our hearts open to the messages and signs that it sends us, and Sila exemplifies this magic. Sometimes you may even hear her singing on the wind……