From the Editor’s Desk
In the mythological calendar, the movement from winter into spring is a time when death gives birth to new life, and both are honored for their roles in the natural world — and in the human psyche. The Corn King / Year King / Winter King has died, and a new consort for the goddess is chosen to rule over the land, the crops, and seasons . . ..until he, too, whithers with the death of year, to be re–born next spring.
This ancient theme of an agricultural king who dies and is re–born each year is reflected in the traditional British folksong of John Barleycorn:
There was three men come out of the West
Their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in
Throwing clods all on his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John barleycorn was Dead.
They’ve left him in the ground for a very long time
Till the rains from heaven did fall
Then little Sir John’s sprung up his head
And so amazed them all
They’ve left him in the ground till the Midsummer
Till he’s grown both pale and wan
Then little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard
And so become a man . . .
(for the rest of the ballad, click here)
Perhaps the best known myth of death and re–birth is the Greek story of Persephone, who spends half the year in the Underworld with her husband Hades, god of the dead, and half the year in the Upperworld with her mother, Demeter, the goddess of the grain and fertility, and the patroness of marriage. (Demeter’s name derives from "spelt mother," spelt being an early form of wheat.) The veneration of Demeter, Persephone, and the cosmic cycle of death and re–birth was at the core of the Eleusinion Mysteries. The Eleusinion initiatory rites took place each year just as the crops were sown. Beginning in an old cemetary in Athens, the participants would walk in procession (carrying sacred objects) all the way to Eleusis,stopping at certain places along the route to shout obcenities. This was in honor of Iambe, an old woman who had managed to make Demeter laugh when she was deep in sorrow over the loss of her daugher — a time when all grain ceased to grow and all love–making stopped on earth. In Eleusis, the initiates fasted for a day (as Demeter did during her period of grief), then broke their fast with a special medicinal brew of barley water and mint. Little is known about the final rituals as the participants (sometimes several thousands of them) gathered together in the sect’s great hall, for it was strictly forbidden for such sacred things to be spoken of in public.
Demeter, often pictured wearing a wreath of corn, has much in common with Selu, the wise Corn Mother of the Cherokee Indian tribe. Selu, too, represents agriculture, fertility, and the sanctity of marriage. After her grandsons broke a strict taboo and spied on Selu’s mysteries, she told them she was going to have to leave them and die — but that even in death she would look after them if they restored the harmony they had broken by performing certain rituals. "Clear a circle of land in front of the house," she told them. "Take my body and drag it seven time around the circle. Then you must keep watch all night and see what happens." The boys followed her instructions, and from the places where Selu’s blood speckled the ground came the first crops of the sacred corn that feeds the People to this day. (In some versions of the story, the lazy boys clear only a small piece of land and drag her body only twice around the circle,which is why corn doesn’t grow everywhere and we must work hard to cultivate it.)
Our modern Carnival celebrations are rooted in pagan festivals intented to aid the movement of winter to spring. Though religious in nature, these were riotous affairs in which laughter and satire were given a social outlet and a sacred context. "The craving to overthrow the months of dark, cold stagnation is the birthright of any human who evolved away from the tropics," writes Alan Weisman in an article on Spanish Carnaval. " . . .[T]he rites of spring in Galicia had been recast with each new culture whose rule spread to the world’s known edge. The fertility exhortations of animal–skinned Celtic priests were stretched to encompass a pantheon of Roman winter festivals: Saturnalia, which accompanied the December sowing season; January’s Bacchanalia, toasting the god of wine; and the February Lupercalia, invoking the god of flocks and fecundity.By the Middle Ages these rituals had contracted again, confined by a nearly omnipotent church to four days preceding Ash Wednesday, but impossible to abolish. Even the Duke of Monterrey understood that his subjects required this moment of release, now not just from winter, but from the domination of religion over their ancient animal stirrings. Joining the masquerade, he traded places with his vassals, until Lent began and submission was restored." (You can read the full article here.)
Re–enactment of the mythic cycle of death and re–birth can still be found in many sacred traditions, from the ritual practices of Siberian shamans to the Easter pageants of Christianity. In the Border region of southern Arizona, where Mexican American, Native American and Euro–American cultures all come together, the Easter ceremonies of the Yaqui (Yoeme) Indian tribe contain a fascinating mix of spiritual traditions. Private rituals practiced in the months between Christmas and Easter, most intensively during the weeks of Lent, culminate in a public drama enacting an unusual version of Christ’s Passion, blending ancient Yaqui mystical beliefs with 17th–century Spanish Catholicism. The "three Marys"(figures of the Blessed Virgin) are guarded in an open–sided church by hymn–singing women, matachins (a dance society of men and boys), pahkola dancers (a kind of holy clown), and the deer dancer — an enchanted figure from the old Yaqui "religion of the woods." Opposing them are the forces of Judas: faceless fariseos, dressed in black, and chapayekas wearing elaborate masks, strings of rattles, and painted wooden swords. These dark figures march and dance around the church for many days and nights . .and eventually, on the last day before Easter, they attack. The church bells ring, the deer dancer leaps, the faithful pelt the dark forces with flowers. The watching crowds throw flowers and confetti, shouting "Gloria! Gloria! Gloria!"The dark ones fall back, regroup, march . . .and then attack once more. Again they’re driven back. On the third attack they are overcome by the forces of good: by songs, prayers, armloads of flowers. They strip off weapons, black scarves and masks (subsequently burned on a huge bonfire), and relatives drag the exhausted men back into the safety of the church —′ a ritual resurrection, dedicating new lives to the forces of good. The deer and pahkola dancers have been incorporated into this ritual, yet come from the tribe’s pre–Christian past. They are, in one sense, shamanic figures, able to cross over the borders between the human world of the Baptised Ones, the modern Yaqui, to the flower world of the ancestors, a magical people called the Surem. (We have two poems for you this month inspired by this moving ceremony.)
In this issue of the Journal of Mythic Arts, we’re taking a closer look at myths, folk tales, and fairy tales that deal with themes of death, re–birth, and resurrection. We’ve approached the subject in a variety of ways, looking not only at the myths themselves but also how they’ve been used in modern mythic arts: in fiction, poetry, visual art, and fairy tale theater.
A number of contemporary fiction writers have used the tropes of myth, magic realism, and fantasy to explore this particular theme. In addition to the books you’ll find recommended in the various articles in this issue of the Journal, we’d like to also recommend the following: The Corn King and Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison was originally published in 1931. This is a classic, and goregous, work of mythic historical fiction on the Corn King / Year King / Winter King theme — decidedly feminist for its time, and still a great read today. (We also recommend her novel Travel Light, first published in 1952.) A more recent publication is Lisa Goldstein’s Summer King, Winter Fool. It’s an "imaginary world" novel steeped in myth, folklore, philosophy, poetry, and is one of Goldstein’s very best. Like Mitchison’s book, it makes interesting reading in the light of Winter King myths.Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead is brilliant book weaving Yaqui and Mexican myth into contemporary American life. It’s one of those novels that grows richer (and more prescient) each time you read it. No look at death in contemporary fiction would be complete without the recommendation of a few good ghost stories — of which there are far too many to list properly. But favorites here at the Endicott Studio include The Grass Dancer by Susan Power, The Journal of Antonio Montoya by Rick Collignon, House of Houses by Pat Mora,The Ghosts of Yesteryear by Jack Cady, The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint, A Stir of Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Dead on the Town Line (for younger readers) by Leslie Connor.
Folklore scholar Veronica Schanoes adds, "It may be going a bit far afield, but I’ve always been very moved by Joyce’s treatment of death in Ulysses, specifically Stephen’s conflicted mourning for his mother and the chapter wherein Bloom attends his friend’s funeral. Kelly Link’s story "Louise’s Ghost" (in Stranger Things Happen) is very moving, eerie, and perceptive. Toni Morrison’s Beloved draws on the Persephone–Demeter story and, I think, has a lot to say about death and what happens to those who don’t die."
In this Issue
This month, we’ve debuted a whole new section of the Journal of Mythic Arts. Called the Writing Room, it will feature articles on books, on indivisual writers, and on the creative process. To start it off, we have an article on Mythic Fiction for Young Adults by literary critic and librarian Julie Bartel; an examination of the role of authorial creation in the works of Pamela Dean by linguist and critic Eve Sweetser; and a little essay on myth and the writing process from me.
In the Reading Room this month: Hal Duncan looks at themes of death and rebirth in stories ranging from the myth cycles of Sumeria to contemporary fiction, television, film, and comic books. Kathie Carlson discusses death and return in the story of Persephone’s abduction by Hades, and what the myth has to teach us today. Munro Sickafoose explores symbolic elements of death and rebirth in Vision Fast ceremonies. My own contribution is a look at the role of death in folk and fairy tales.
We have two brand new fiction offerings this time, and one classic tale. Meet the Elms is a new story from Alan DeNiro — a poignant narrative of death and love. Familiar Birds, from Karen Joy Fowler, is a birth tale, and a story about the stories we tell ourselves. Our classic piece is a gorgeous reworking the Godmother Death fairy tale, from a modern masters of the fairy tale form, Jane Yolen.
Last autumn, theatre director Howard Gayton journeyed to Portugal to create and direct a children’s play based on "The Big Fish," a Portugese fairy tale with death–and–resurrection themes. We asked him to keep a journal documenting his creative process, and the result is a fascinating article in the Crossroads on the art of transformation in fairy tale theatre.
In the Gallery we spot–light the extraordinary paintings and poetry of Jeanie Tomanek, an artist from Atlanta, Georgia whose work is steeped in myth and women’s stories. From the Gallery archives, we re–present the work of Tuscon artist Erica Swadley, whose visionary, shamanic art often illuminates death and rebirth themes.
In the Coffeehouse, you’ll find works from poets exploring issues of death, birth, and rebirth in a variety of ways: Ryan G. Van Cleave, Wendy McVicker and Veronica Schanoes make deft use of themesand characters from Greek myth; Bob Hicok tells us a scary bedtime story; Pat Mora meditates on the Hispanic folktale of La Llorna; Marisa de los Santos turns to Beowulf to contemplate the subject of death; Jane Yolen gives us a birth poem drawing both on Native American Raven myths and Jewish tales of the Angel of Death; Taiko Haesslerlooks at death and resurrection in the healing cycles of nature; Howard Gayton contributes two poems reflecting on the rituals of the Yaqui Easter ceremonies; and Laurie Kutchins contributes two poems: one on Persephone and turtles, and one on a very magical dream about a birth.
In our Archives, you’ll also find some material related to this issue’s theme: stories by Veronica Schanoes and Barth Anderson; poems inspired by the Persephone myth from Nan Fry and Wendy Froud, a poem from Ellen Steiber on the subject of her father’s death, and an article by me onDay of the Dead folklore.
Contributor’s Notes for all the writers and artists whose work appears in this issue can be found at the bottom of this page.
Endicott Studio News
Many thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate National Poetry Month in April by making use of our new Endicott e-postcards. We’re continuing to add new postcards all the time (though not at the rate of one–a–day, as we did all through April!) — so please check back periodically through the permanent link on the Endicott homepage. (Or bookmark Endicott E–Postcards) In addition to the "mythic art and poetry" cards, we’ve addeda whole new series of postcards featuring my mythic art for children: bunny girls, bird girls, tree children, etc. I hope you like it.
Also many, many thanks to all the poets and artists who have allowed us to feature their work on the postcard site. It’s been a big success.
And thank you, once again, for dropping by the Endicott Studio. May all your own creative projects be fruitful.
Contributor’s Notes, Spring 2006
Julie Bartel is a writer, critic, and librarian living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After earning a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Utah, she completed the Master of Library Science program at Syracuse University in New York. She worked for the Salt Lake City Public Library system, and currently coordinates a popular teen book club, as well as serving on numerous committees for the American Library Associations’ Young Adult Library Services division (YALSA).A newly–elected member of the prestigious Printz Award committee, Bartel also serves on the YALSA Editorial Advisory Board and chairs their Publications committee. She has written a book for librarians on zines and public libraries (From A to Zine, ALA Editions, 2004) as well as articles for School Library Journal and other magazines. Her next book on pop culture, teens, and libraries is forthcoming from Neal–Schulman.
Kathie Carlson studied extensively at the C.G. Jung Institute in New York City and is a psychotherapist and writer living in Pennsylvania. She is also a teacher of feminine psychology and has led a variety of workshops on women’s issues and spiritual quest. Her books include In Her Image: the Unhealed Daughter’s Search for Her Mother (Shambhala, 1989) and Life’s Daughter/Death’s Bride: Inner Tranformations Through the Goddess Demeter/Persephone (Shambhala, 1997).
Marisa de los Santos grew up in northern Virginia, received a B.A. from the University of Virginia, an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, and a Ph.D. in English literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. She teaches at the University of Delaware and lives with her family in Wilmington. Her poems have appeared in such publications as Poetry, Chelsea, Western Humanities Review, and Prairie Schooner; and have been collected in From the Bones Out (University of South Carolina Press). She has recently published a well–received first novel, Love Walked In. (We highly recommend it.) To read more of the author’s poetry, visit the Laughing Hermit website.
Alan DeNiro’s fiction and poetry has appeared in Crowd, One Story, Minnesta Monthly, Fence, 3rd Bed, Willow Springs, Cimarron Review, Can We Have Our Ball Back, Polyphony, and Strange Horizons. His fiction has been shortlisted for the O. Henry award, and his debut short story collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, has been long–listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He also co–founded the Rabid Transit series of fiction anthologies, and he has recently completed a novel, Total Oblivion, More or Less. DeNiro has taught writing at the University of Richmond and the Loft in Minneapolis and has reviewed regularly for Rain Taxi. Raised in Pennsylvania, he now lives outside St. Paul, Minnesota with his wife, the writer Kristin Livdahl.For more information, please visit his Endicott bio page and his blog, Goblin Mercantile Exchange.
Hal Duncan was raised in small–town Ayrshire and now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. A member of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle, he published his first short story in 1995. In the years since then he has been working on a diptych called "The Book of All Hours." The first part of this, his debut novel, Vellum, has just been published by Del Rey Books in the U.S., Macmillan in the U.K.. The second novel, Ink, is forthcoming in 2007. Duncan has also had stories and essays published in various anthologies and magazines. For more information, visit his blog, Notes from the Jack and Puck Show.
Karen Joy Fowler studied political science at U.C. Berkeley and received her Master’s Degree from U.C. Davis. She has published four highly acclaimed novels to date: Sarah Canary, The Sweetheard Season, Sister Noon, and The Jane Austen Book Club (a New York Times best–seller). She has also published numerous works of short fiction, some of which have been collected in Black Glass. In 1991, Fowler and fellow–writer Pat Murphy created the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award "presented annually to a short story or novel in the speculative fiction field that explores or expands our understanding of gender . . .both to honor Alice Sheldon [who published under the pen name James Tiptree] and to remind the field of its own importance in the continual struggle to re–imagine more livable sexual roles for ourselves."She is an editor of the Tiptree Award anthologies, and of Attack of the Jazz Giant and Other Stories, co–edited with Gregory Frost. For more information, please visit the Karen Joy Fowler website.
Howard Gayton is the Co–founder and Artistic Direction of the Ophaboom Theatre Company. Based in London, Ophaboom specializes in creating and performing contemporary works in the Italian "Commedia dell’Arte" tradition. Working in a variety of languages, the company has traveled and performed all across Europe, as well as in Korea, Canada, and the United States; and was featured in the book Commedia dell’Arte: A Handbook for Troupes by John Rudlin & Olly Crick. In addition to his work for Ophaboom, Gayton teaches physical theatre, mask performance, and directs shows for other companies in England and abroad. He also writes articles on theatre, radio plays, fiction, and poetry. For more information, please visit his Endicott bio page and the Ophaboom website.
Taiko Haessler is poet, fiction writer, musician, and language scholar who divides her time between Wisconsin and Costa Rica.
Bob Hicok’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror annual, and the Best American Poetry anthology. His books include Animal Soul, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Plus Shipping; Bearing Witness; and The Legend of Light, which won the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was an ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. Hicok has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes and an NEA Fellowship. He currently lives in Virginia, where he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Laurie Kutchins‘ poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, Southern Review, and other venues. She has published two collections of her poetry: The Night Path (winner of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award) and Between Towns. A third collection is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2007. Her essays have appeared in The Georgia Review and various anthologies. Kutchins teaches creative writing at James Madison University, and offers private workshops that explore and nurture interconnections between creative and therapeutic processes. She lives in Virginia.
Wendy McVicker lives and writes in the beautiful green hills of Athens, Ohio. Her poems have appeared in Appalachian Women’s Journal, Confluence, Riverwind, and Whiskey Island, among other publications. She is a teaching poet with the Ohio Arts Council’s Arts in Education program, and has been inciting poetry in schools, libraries, galleries, and community centers since 1987. In her poetry, she seeks "to honor memory and the slow, deep process of knowing." More of her poems can be read online here.
Pat Mora’s poems, characterized as "proudly bilingual" by The New York Times, have been collected in Aunt Carmen’s Book of Practical Saints, Agua Santa/Holy Water, Borders, Chants, and other volumes. She is also the author of a deeply folkloric memoir, House of Houses, and numerous children’s books, including The Night the Moon Fell, Pablo’s Tree, and This Big Sky. Mora has been a judge and recipient of the Poetry Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, advisor and recipient of the Kellogg National Leadership Fellowships, and Carruthers Chair in Honors, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of New Mexico. A former consultant, museum director, university administrator and teacher, Mora is a popular national speaker shaped by the U.S.–Mexico border where she was born and spent much of her life. A native of El Paso, Texas, she now lives in Santa Fe. For more information, please visit her website.
Veronica Schanoes is a writer and scholar with a particular interest in myths and fairy tales. Her work has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and has won the William Carlos Williams Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Raised in New York City, she is working on her English Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She recently returned from a year of studying feminist fairy tale literature and English pantomime in London. For more information please visit Veronica’s Endicott bio page.
Munro Sickafoose hails from Texas (and various Army bases around the world), and currently lives in Oregon. He has been a punk musician, jewelry designer, ranch hand, salesman, ski lodge cook, Shiatsu practioner, white–water rafting guide, fiction writer, poet, and many other things besides. He currently runs Diamondheart Studios (a web design company); edits a webzine, Coyote Madonna; and sits on the board of the School of Lost Borders, an international Vision Fast organization. For more information, visit his Endicott bio page.
Eve Sweetser was brought up in Minneapolis, reading Tolkien and LeGuin; she now lives in Berkeley, California and teaches Linguistics, Cognitive Science and Celtic Studies at the University of California. Among her interests is analysis of metaphor systems; an upcoming paper in Cognitive Science, co–authored with her UCSD colleague Rafael Nъсez, examines time metaphor systems such as that of the Andean language Aymara, where the Future is Behind the self, and the Past is In Front of the self. Other publications include "English Metaphors for Language" (Poetics Today) and "Metaphor, Mythology, and Everyday Language" (Journal of Pragmatics). For more information on the author, please visit the Berkeley Linguistics website.
Ryan G. Van Cleave’s most recent books include a poetry collection, The Magical Breasts of Britney Spears (Red Hen Press, 2006), and a creative writing textbook, Behind the Short Story: From First to Final Draft (Allyn & Bacon/Longman, 2006). He teaches creative writing and literature at Clemson University.
Jane Yolen is the multi–award–winning author of over two hundred books for children, teenagers, and adults, including novels, story collections, poetry collections, and picture books. She has also edited acclaimed collections of folk tales from around the world. Among her many recent publications are Take Joy: The Writers Guide to Loving the Craft; The Pefect Wizard: Hans Christian Andersen; Once Upon a Time, She Said; Pay the Piper(co–written with Jason Stemple); and The Radiation Sonnets. Raised in New York City, Jane now divides her time between homes in western Massachusetts and St. Andrews, Scotland. For more information, please visit her Endicott page and the Jane Yolen website.
Tina Gulotta was raised among artists in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. After living in Spain and traveling extensively throughout Europe, she studied at the Monserrat College of Art near Boston, and received her BFA from the Parsons School of Design (Otis Campus in California). She now resides in Los Angeles, where her work is represented by the Design Atelier, by the Belcher Studio in San Francisco, and is widely exhibited and collected. To seem more of Gulotta’s evocative, surrealist paintings, please visit the Tina Gulotta website.
Stu Jenks was born and raised in Virginia, graduated with a BFA in Studio Art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and now lives in Tucson, Arizona. His photographs and installations have been exhibited in galleries and museums around the U.S. since 1979, including solo shows at Metroform Gallery, the Tohono Chul Gallery, and the Museum of Modern Art in Tucson. In 2004, his work was featured in Ancient Spirit, Modern Voice, the mythic art show curated by Charles Vess and Karen Shaffer for the Mythic Journeys conference in Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently at work on The Circle Stories, a book collecting his photographs and journal writings — some of which can viewed and read on his website.
Alan Lee is one of the most acclaimed illustrators in England and America today, a winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal and other honors. His many fine books include Faeries (with Brian Froud), The Mabinogion, Black Ships Before Troy, The Wanderings of Odysseus, and the special anniversary edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He was the principal designer/art–director for the three Lord of the Rings films directed by Peter Jackson, winning an Academy Award for this work. He’s also a landscape painter, a writer, and an avid reader of myth and mythic literature. His watercolor paintings, drawings, and etchings have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. For more information, please visit his Endicott bio page.
Oliver Hunter studied a Narrabundah College in Canerra, Australian, and is currently preparing for further study at Melbourne University, Victoria. His art has been exhibited at The National Portrait Gallery and at the Canberra Youth Centre’s ZAPT! events; it has also been featured in a calendar for the Department of Education and e–published on the "Word Candy" site through the ACT Writer’s Centre. His theatre designs have appeared in Narrabundah College’s production of Alice Unplugged and Centerpiece Theatre’s The Miser. For more information, please visit his Endicott Gallery page.
Erica Swadley lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she creates mythic paintings, monotypes, etchings, artists’ books, jewelry, and poetry. Her work has been exhibited in numerous venues in Arizona including the 1990–1991 Arizona Commission of the Arts Traveling Show, Pima College, Cochise College, Arizona State University, the Arizona State Capitol Building, Central Arts Collective, Rancho Linda Vista, Davis Dominguez Gallery and Arizona Aqueous, as well as at the Nexus Gallery in Philadelphia and the Missoula Museum of Art. She has taught print–making at the Ah Haa School of the Arts in Telluride, Colorado, and at Pima College in Tucson. For more information, please visit her Endicott Gallery page.
Jeanie Tomanek grew up in the Genesee Valley of New York and now lives in Marietta, Georgia, and is represented by Trinity Gallery in Atlanta. Her paintings have appeared in many juried exhibitions throughout the Southeast, and can be found in numerous public and private collections in the United States and Europe. "Literature, folktales and myths often inspire my exploration of the feminine archetype," she writers. "My figures often bear the scars and imperfections, that, to me, characterize the struggle to become. In my work I use oils, acrylic, pencil and thin glazes to create a multi–layered surface that may be scratched through, written on, or painted over to reveal and excavate the images that feel right for the work."Also a poet, Tomanek’s poems have appeared in Poets, Artists and Madmen, The Birmingham Poetry Review and Poetry Motel. For more information on the artist and her work, please visit her website.