from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Martin Shaw: on borders, frontiers, migrations, pioneering...

Local mythologian, wiseman and wild educator Martin Shaw, cultural tribe-fellow of Robert Bly, has given me permission to repost this piece.

How can we meet our times? (Any times?)


'I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences, I can’t look at hobbles
and I can’t stand fences. Don’t fence me in.'

Cole Porter

So, how do we turn an imposition to an invitation?

Myth is insistent on the fact that the conditions of our time are the exact gradient of experience that deepens spiritual education. That the dictates of recent days are in fact the frayed hem of our prayer rug. They are our holy hills, our Gethsemane, our Mount Kailash. There’s simply nowhere else to be.

That we steward a path through the sorrows of the world, seeding wild blue flowers as we go, placing gold in the hands of the young. I think it’s how adults are meant to behave.

Nothing here is making light of what's unfolding.

And the old stories say we don’t go easy. Oh no. That in the presence of an Ogre we develop what the Greeks called 'metis' - something like a cunning-in-service-to-good. That a particular kind of naïvety within us is traded for a lively intelligence in the face of sweeping ignorance.

How could we become a frontier? Claim back some chutzpah?

A frontier is a richer, more dynamic proposition than a border. A border lacks eros; usually just the thin, officious mark between two areas of geography. A frontier usually does away with the sharp edges of one language crashing into another – there is usually some connecting tissue between dialects. The border really gained momentum with the creation of the nation-state – in Europe it really amps up with the late eighteenth-century arrival of the French Revolution.

And frontiers are often biologically mutable, rarely a defining indication of gene pool – a lively hinterland rather than a statement of constant geography – we have only to think of the Celt/Anglo Saxon frontier dance across Britain in the years 400-700 c.e. It’s not a bored official flicking a passport, more a tavern filled with interesting strangers - the fire is lit, conversations spark stories spark music spark conviviality spark an educated heart.

So, could we not ourselves be a tavern filled with interesting strangers?

Let’s gather friends and play music from across the waves, tell stories from far off lands, give generously with our money and our time, speak in languages other than English - especially in front of our children. It’s a radical act.

Let’s become apprentices to the intricate metalwork of Scythian art, or decide our hips are an altar to some barely-named old North African Goddess and take up belly dancing, or run three week courses from our porch on the relationship between Aztec temples and Gypsy gambling games from Medieval wales.

I promise you, the moment is now. This isn’t an indulgence, this is activism.

A frontier also tunes its furry ear to the changing migrations of animals too: snow geese are wintering two hundred miles further north, fish once regarded as exotic like the red mullet or the anchovy are being found on the coast of England’s north sea, for the first time in seventy five years mosquito-born Dengue fever is back in the United States. Not one of them carries a passport, but all are in a state of flux, re-invention and flat-out disaster.

In the end, the construction of fear-based borders damages ourself most of all. Myth claims that rummaging around in what we call ‘ourselves’ we find there dwells a multiplicity. It’s actually what gives us our wider character. What one day may grant us pathos. Before sleep, have a look into yourself and see who’s wandering around. Myth – with its many intelligences – is a way of addressing the whole den, no one gets left out. The storyteller is the one that gathers us in.

When these beings stop talking to each other – secreting little love letters on candlelit boats at midnight across misty moats, or shaking their ochre-red feathers in elegant dispute, then we risk a crack-up on the most acute level. We build a border inside ourselves.

Then, one day, as Antonio Machado says:
'The Wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
"What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”.'

Let us not forget. What we send into exile will grow hostile to us.



  1. Roselle, what a thought provoking post. I didn't know of Martin Shaw before but I shall certainly be looking further into his words. I love the idea of us being 'a tavern filled with interesting strangers', it also makes me think of the Argyll!
    Chris xx

  2. Hello Chris - yes, he's good, and has inspired a generation of sometimes-lost young men down here. He has real fire in his belly, and I like the richness of his call-to-action.

    Oh yes! It is indeed like the Iona groups! Rx


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