From the Editor’s Desk 8

From the Editor’s Desk

Spring 2005
Dear Reader,

Welcome to the Spring 2005 edition of the Journal of Mythic Arts, where our theme is Earth, Air, Fire, and Water — four elements found at the core of myth, magic, alchemy, and mythic art.

In his famous Doctrine of the Four Elements, the Greek philosopher Empedocles (5th century BC) divided the world into four elements associated with four divinities: earth (Hera), air (Zeus), fire (Hades), and water (Persephone). These four elemental "roots," wrote Empedocles, comprised not only the physical substance of all matter, but also the spiritual essences that quickened and animated all life forms. The universe, he explained, was comprised of two forces, Love and Strife, which wax and wane in strength. When Love was the dominant force, the four elements were balanced in a Sphere of unity; but as Strife became dominant, the sphere was broken and the elements were scattered. The single immortal soul of Love was then divided into many, many souls (each containing some measure of Love and Strife), born and reborn into mortal bodies formed from the four elements. Though Strife remains dominant in the world, eventually its power, too, will wane, and Love will be on the rise once again. The elemental sphere will be restored, and the divided souls will meld back into One.

Aristotle later expanded on Empedocles’ ideas in his influential Metaphysics. He wrote that all matter and all men are influenced by the qualities of the four elements: earth (dry and cold), air (wet and hot), fire (dry and hot), and water (wet and cold). Warmth and coolness, said Aristotle, are the most powerful of these qualities, making fire (whose primary power is warmth) and water (whose primary power is coolness) the most active and important of the elements. But because these two are opposites, they require the mediating qualities of a third element (earth or air) in order to unite their properties. The mediating element is called the Harmonia (named after the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares), capable of binding opposites together in order to restore unity and health, to engender transformation, and to enable acts of magic.

One ancient way to create such a union was in the Pyria, the Greek equivalent of a Native American sweatlodge — bringing earth, air, fire, and water together in a ceremonial setting. The Pyria, like a sweatlodge, was made of blankets stretched over a wooden frame. Stones (earth) are heated (fire), then placed in a cauldron inside the Pyria, where water is poured over them, forming steam representing the union of all four elements. As John Opsopaus writes (in Bibliotheca Arcana), the steam "is the Hot–Wet Air that unites the opposites. This all takes place in contact with, or even within, the (Cool, Dry) Earth." In Native American sweatlodge ceremonies, the elements of earth, air, fire, and water are also united in the service of prayer, purification, and spiritual transformation. The exact form of the ceremony varies from tribe to tribe, but it is generally common for the activating spirits of the four elements to be respectfully addressed as living beings and honored for their crucial role in sustaining life upon the earth. The hiss of the water on hot stones, sending steam to fill up the dark of the lodge, is said to represent a child’s very first breath — air, earth, water, and fire united as new life begins. The Lakota word for the sweatlodge ceremony, inipi, literally means to breathe.

The ancient Celts divided the world into three sacred elements, with air, water, and earth as the swirling spirals of the tri–part triskele symbol. The Norse had four primary elements: Fire, Ice, Wind, and Wave, to which (some believe) they added four secondary elements: iron, salt, yeast, and venom — with a ninth element, earth, formed from a combination of all the others. The Chinese recognize five basic elements: wood, water, fire, earth, and metal. The Tarot is based on a system of four, with Wands representing fire, Cups representing water, Swords representing air, and Coins representing Earth.

In alchemy, the union of Fire (a masculine element) and Water (a feminine element) is one the primary tasks of the art, made possible through the mediating elements of Air and Earth. Though alchemy is often perceived now only as a crackpot pseudo–science through which men sought to turn lead into gold, in fact (as mythic scholar Mircea Eliade documented) alchemy, as it was practiced long ago, was as much a philosophy as a science. Alchemy, according to Eliade, arose from the early Mystery rites of the ancient Craft Guilds of metallurgists and smiths — which, in many cultures, had initiatory practices similar to those of shamans or wizards. For many alchemists through the centuries, transmuting "lead" into "gold" was not a literal but a spiritual process, akin to seeking enlightenment. Alchemical experiments in the laboratory were, on the one hand, an early form of the secular science of chemistry — but they also had a distinctly sacred aspect, drawing upon Aristotelian, Chinese and other ideas about the sacred qualities in the four elements. The alchemist, like Empedocles and Aristotle, sought means of bringing the four elements together into perfect states of unity as a means of sustaining health, longevity, and spiritual growth.

Many other systems of magical belief were also rooted in the four elements. Wizard, witches, and enchanters of all stripes called upon the power of fire, water, earth, and air, or sought to communicate with magical spirits linked to each element. Fire was associated with the passions, and with unpredictable creatures called salamanders, who were quick–tempered elemental spirits, often seen only as sparks at night. Water was associated with the emotions, and with mermaids, nixies, and undines: the lovely elementals who lived in oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds. Air was associated with the mind and the imagination, and with elusive elementals called sylphs: luminous creatures who rode the winds, influencing the weather and our psychic states. Earth was associated with the body, and with a wide variety of nature spirits living in every tree, stone, and hill — as well as earth–dwelling dwarves and other magical metal–workers. (To learn more about elemental spirits, I recommend Good Faeries, Bad Faeries by the British artist Brian Froud.)

In fiction, I recommend two on–going series specifically based on elemental myths and magic. Earth Logicand Fire Logic are the first two books in a projected quartet by Laurie J. Marks. (Though linked, each book can be easily read alone and comes to a satisfying conclusion.) Marks is writing "imaginary world" fantasy better than just about anyone else these days, inviting comparisons with Ursula Le Guin and Elizabeth Lynn for the depth and complexity of her work. These books absolutely swept me away. Water by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson is the first book in a series devoted to each of the four elements, containing deliciously magical stories by two celebrated writers (who happen to be husband and wife). You’ll find this one on the Young Adult fiction shelves, but I highly recommend the collection to adult readers as well. In nonfiction, Mircea Eliade’s classic volume The Forge and the Crucible is a fascinating look at the mythic origins of alchemy. On the children’s book shelves, Earth, Fire, Water, and Air by Mary Hoffman is a book chock full of world myths, tales, poems, and all kinds of interesting information about the four elements, with illustrations by Jane Ray. You’ll find more book recommendations at the end of each of the new articles in our Reading Room.

In this Issue

In our Reading Room this month, our Fire offering comes from Heinz Insu Fenkl, who looks at tales of "fire–bringers" and other fiery myths from around the world. Our Earth offering, from Ellen Steiber, focuses on the sparkling lore of gemstones — ranging from myths of their origins to the use of gemstones in fairy tales. My Water offering was inspired by the many sacred springs and wells buried in countryside near my home in the west of England — often named for Christian saints now, but bearing much older histories and traditions.In honor of the Air element, we have a terrific new tale by Kate Bernheimer about a young girl haunted by a creature of air and shadow. It’s a contemporary piece, yet rooted in the darker themes of Victorian fairy lore and fairy tales.

In the Gallery, we feature the work of five artists on the theme of the four elements: James Graham (Fire), Rowan Gabrielle (Water), Stu Jenks (Air), and the team of Jackie Abey and Jill Smallcombe (Earth). In the Coffeehouse, you’ll find poems inspired by the elemental and nature myths of Europe and North America by Carolyn Dunn, Faye George, Taiko Haessler, Wendy McVickers, and Mario Milosvic. In our archives, we recommend the following articles related to this month’s theme: On Men and Mud by Heinz Insu Fenkl; Stones and Signs by Ari Berk; and Mythic Vessels, ceramic art by Tim and Pamela Ballingham.

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

Art Auction: On February 15, 2005, Angi Sullins of Duirwaigh Gallery sponsored an online Benefit Art Auction in support of Endicott, with art and books for sale donated by Thomas Canty, Alan Lee, Brian & Wendy Froud, Charles Vess, Kinuko Y. Craft, Neil Gaiman, Ellen Kushner, Holly Black, and many, many others. We’re very pleased to say that we raised enough money to keep the Journal of Mythic Arts online well into 2006 . . .  and to help us expand its offerings too. Many, many thanks to everyone who participated by donating work or placing bids — with particular thanks to Angi, Silas, and the rest of the Duirwaigh staff. The existence of the Journal of Mythic Arts depends entirely on the support of the mythic arts community; we couldn’t do it without you; and here at Endicott, we’ve been very moved by this overwhelming show of support.

For those of you who missed the auction but would still like to help to keep the Journal going, pleased visit our Friends of Endicott page — where we’ve added three new art prints for sale this year. And please don’t forget that when you purchase books from through the links on this site (or enter through the link on our homepage to make any other kind of purchase), a portion of the money you spend is kicked back to the Endicott children’s charities.

Endicott Events: The next event coming up for us is the World Fantasy Convention (held in Madison, Wisconsin this year) at the end of October. Graham Joyce, Kinuko Y. Craft, and I are the Guests of Honor, and many writers and artists connected to the Studio will be participating in discussion panels or in the art show. Perhaps we’ll see some of you there?

Coming Up: Midori Snyder and I are at work now on the Summer issue of the Journal of Mythic Arts — focusing on mythic patterns, symbols and signs in traditional and contemporary arts, ranging from labyrinth designs to hare symbolism to the ritual significance of tattoos. Until then, please visit the Recommended Books pages in the Scuttlebutt section of this site (where we’ll be posting some new titles very soon), the Endicott Bulletin Board (for regular updates on myth-related publications, events, etc.), and the myth and fairy tale discussions over on the Surlalune Discussion Board moderated by Heidi Anne Heiner.

Thanks for dropping by the Endicott Studio.


Contributor’s Notes, Spring 2005

Kate Berheimer’s first novel, The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, was published by FC2 in 2001. Her second novel, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold, is forthcoming from FC2 next year. Her first children’s book, The Girl In The Castle Inside The Museum will be published next year by Random House. She is the editor of the acclaimed essay collection Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales (Anchor/Vintage, 1998 & exp. 2nd ed. 2002), and is currently editing a second collection, Brothers & Beasts: An Anthology of Men on Fairy Tales (forthcoming Wayne State University Press, 2007). She is also the founder and editor of a new literary journal, Fairy Tale Review, highly recommended to fans of mythic arts. Kate lives in western Massachusetts, where she recently taught in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Carolyn Dunn is a Native American author, editor, and academic. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Her poems have been collected in Outfoxing Coyote and Hidden Creek Journal, both recommended to mythic fiction readers. She is also the co–editor of two excellent collections of Native American writing: Through the Eye of the Deer and Hohzo. She lives in southern California, where she teaches at the university level, creates productions for theater and radio, and performs with the all–women Native American drum group The Mankillers. For more information, please visit the author’s Endicott bio page. Carolyn’s poem "Coyote Tears" was inspired by the trickster tales of the American southwest, and the ways that such tales still flourish in a modern, urban world just as wild tobacco (a plant sacred to indigenous peoples) still flourishes by the roadsides of Los Angeles.

Jackie and Jill Smallcombe began working together on cob art and architecture in 2000, and have since built and exhibited their work across the UK. They also lecture and teach classes and workshops on earth building techniques. Jackie trained at Taunton Art School and is a successful painter with work in several private collections. She has also worked as a stone carver and illustrates children’s books. Jill has a degree in sculpture from Bath Academy of Art and is an interior designer, photographic stylist, teacher and sculptor. Both artists now live with their families in a small country town on the edge of Dartmoor. For more information, please visit their web site.

Heinz Insu Fenkl is the author of Memories of My Ghost Brother, a book that falls into the interstitial realm between a novel and a memoir. The book was nominated for the PEN Hemingway Award and is highly recommended to fans of mythic literature. He is also the co–author of Shadows Bend (a dark fantasy about pulp writers Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith), co–editor of Kori (a Korean–American fiction anthology), the translator of various works of Korean literature, and a contributor of folklore columns to Realms of Fantasy magazine. Heinz was raised in Korea, Germany and the U.S., and currently lives in upstate New York with his wife and daughter. He teaches creative writing at the State University of New York, New Paltz, and is the director of ISIS: The Interstitial Studies Institute. For more information, please visit his Endicott biopage.

Faye George is the author of two chapbooks: Only the Words and Naming the Place: The Weymouth Poems, and of two collections: A Wound on Stone and Back Roads. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, Yankee, and Audubon’s Sanctuary, among other journals and anthologies, and she is represented in Poetry magazine’s 90th year retrospective, The Poetry Anthology, 1912-2002. A native of Weymouth, Massachusetts, Faye has lived in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Virginia, and now makes her home in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. She has received the Arizona Poetry Society’s Memorial Award, the New England Poetry Club’s Gretchen Warren Award and Erika Mumford Prize, among other honors. For more information about her work, please visit the Poetry Daily web site.

Rowan Gabrielle divides her time between northern California and the British Isles. She grew up in a highly creative family, which gave her the opportunity to try a variety of creative expressions and led her to discover a particular interest in photography and film production. Her credits include work on two BBC films, as well as photography for projects concerned with ecology and sustainable living, including involvement with the annual State of the World Forum since 1994. Rowan is currently at work on a book and DVD inspired by her extensive travels and her research into faery and deva folklore from around the world. For more information, please visit her web site.

James Graham was born and raised in Brooklyn, and studied theater at the High School of the Performing Arts. After ten years of professional success but artistic frustration in the restaurant business, he enrolled at the City Technical College of the City University of New York, and then went on to study photography at the University of Arizona, where he was awarded the Kodak scholarship. He was one of the founders the Toole Shed Studios Co–operative in Tucson, Arizona, as well as a founder of the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art. James and his wife have lived and worked in Los Angeles since 2001. To see more of his work, please visit his web site.

Taiko Haessler is poet, fiction writer, and musician who divides her time between Wisconsin and Costa Rico. She is the granddaughter of the French poet Emile Snyder, and daughter of the novelist Midori Snyder. Her poem "Why Coyotes Laugh" was inspired by the Sonoran desert landscape of southern Arizona, where she spent the winter months of 2004–05.

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 has lived in Tucson, Arizona for the last twenty years. 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 web site.

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."

Mario Milosevic is a fiction writer and poet whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Asimov’s, The Amherst Review, Light Quarterly, Rosebud, and Black Warrior Review, and previous issues of The Journal of Mythic Arts, as well an in the anthology Poets Against the War. His poetry has recently been collected in two volumes, Animal Life and Fantasy Life (Ruby Rose Fairy Tale Emporium), both highly recommended. Mario lives with his wife, writer Kim Antieau, in Washington state, where he works as a small town librarian. For more information, please visit his Endicott bio page.

Joe Novak (whose art can be found in The Lore of Gemstones) makes his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His work has been widely exhibited across the U.S. (as well as in England and Germany), and can be found in the permanent collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Cincinnati Art Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, The University of California Berkeley Art Museum, The Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, The New Mexico State Capital Art Foundation and other art institutions. For more information on the artist and his work, please visit his web site.

Ellen Steiber is the author of numerous children’s books, including The Shadow of the Fox and The Raven Queen. Her adult short stories and poetry (often based on myths, folklore, and fairy tales) have been published in the "Snow White, Blood Red" anthology series, The Armless Maiden, Sirens, F&SF Magazine, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, and other venues. Recent publications include "Screaming for Fairies" in the Young Adult fiction anthology The Faery Reel (Viking), and her first mythic novel for adults, A Rumor of Gems (Tor Books), which is high recommended. For more information, please visit her Endicott bio page.