The Raven and the Wound
I’ve had a few notes recently about an issue i’ve been addressing in talks: the seduction of the wound. So, here it is in brief below. And below that, just because it’s winter, just because it’s friday, is a Dartmoor Raven story. There’s certainly a wound in the tale – an enormous cultural one, with no easy ending – but little clues for a possible re-orientation.
THE SEDUCTION OF THE WOUND
One of the clearest imprints in myth is an emphasis on service. That the bigger the trouble, the greater the expectancy that the trouble is actually wrestled into a gift for a wider circle. Not just a human one. Victory is not the aim, beauty is the aim.
For many of us, wound means truth. In a sugared world, holding your gaze to something broken, bereft or damaged seems like the deepest position we can take. We see this move all the way through the modern arts. It’s what gets the big grants. Myths say no. The deepest position is the taking of that underworld information and allowing it to gestate into a lived wisdom, that, by its expression, contains something generative.
The wound is part of a passage, not the end in itself. It can rattle, scream and shout, but there has to be a tacit blessing at its core. Many stories we are holding close right now have the scream but not the gift. It is an enormous seduction on behalf of the west to suggest that jabbing your pen around in the debris of your pain is enough. It’s not. It’s a trick to keep you from doing something more useful. That’s uninitiated behaviour masquerading as wisdom. Lead is not gold, no matter how many times you shake it at the sun.
CHAW GULLY RAVEN
Raven is the cave priest.
Every strong word in every good book,
conks from the dark wishbone of his mouth.
Sleet pebbles his pre-historic feathers,
as the small black prophet
Preaches thistle speech
to his patient congregation
of stones and bog.
Raven loves hard weather. Raven carried Noah’s ambition for dry land. But Noah should have known that Raven’s fondness was for the vast wet. And if it ever found such turf it would have to be moss-drunk and fat with prey. And it may forget to come back to the ark. Our Raven is the Raven of Chaw Gully. Always been there.
Raven brought light, it remembered to itself. Way back. In a box wrestled from the chief of the Otherworld. Took some smarts to do it. But people forget; there was no light in this world. There was no way that Raven could drop berries and fish down to the first people, couldn’t see a damn thing. So Raven became a leaf in a stream, was drunk by the chief’s daughter, became a baby in her, got born, stole the box of light, got feathery and beaky and jumped through the pin-prick hole back into this world.
Raven became two, and nestled on Odin’s shoulders. All its genius, thoughts and memory, it whispered into his ears. Almost improved his mood. Chaw Gully Raven has been busy. Now it watches. The Gully is a deep gash in the rock up near Challacombe Ridge.
All moor people have a memory of coming not from sweet above, but from the rusty below. Where the god of tree roots is slow-silent below the hysterics of the everyday. But even that memory in our blood-brains gets turned from longing to a clutching desire. Something is down there, we know that much. And down go we, brutalising, cranking the rock, all for mother tin, the glimmering ore. Our will becomes a muscle, un-bending, as we place our lusty hand into the vast black slit, crazy for the glint.
In the pub, old men say the Romans did the work, found the seam. That we, as a culture, have just followed their straightness ever since. Sending us barking. Us of the orchard and the spiral energy. But we are loyal dogs when beaten hard enough. So generation after generation of men clamber on slippery grey rock to find the hoard below – the greasy dragon mountain, a shingle of jewels.
But what comes back with the men is more than good news. Men get drizzled by terror down there. They hear things. Yes, they bring tin to the surface, but they hear things. It’s often in the dimpsy time, when they should have packed and crawled back to the confirming pink light of dusk. They hear the Knockers.
There are other things down in the gully. There is the knock of chisels, picks, hammers; finding seams, but from the other side of the rock to the men. Miners have been known to piss with fear when the scraping begins. Or the sparks of light leading men from their companions further in. Or the backward singing. Sometimes the miners claim they left offerings in the old way: hunks of beef, strong beer, and that they were led by the knocks to a new seam of ore.
But the old men know better. They know that the Knockers could get right inside a digging man. Could walk right through his spleen and lungs and squat in his mind, dropping wet horror into his dreaming. After a time they would start to leave the gully alone. Even with the talk of Roman gold.
Oh, they speak of it.
By the hut fire,
point into darkness
out towards the gully.
All night the timbers shake,
with bellow-talk of foreign wealth,
and cider brags of risk and valour.
But come sour dawn, as they
shuffle to the shape that day requires,
cheese and beef is their only directive.
They shake the stories loose
from the blue cloak of night.
Raven watches. The hard beaked sentry. Never sleeping, never turning the post to a younger, always the same one. It watched the centuries when dozens of men fingered their way down into the blackening, it watches when twenty years of hail is the only offender to its solitary reign.
It knows what the Knockers are. They have an accord, always did.
They were here when the giants boomed above them over gorse. They heard the victory cheer of bright Brutus on the hoe. No matter.
Raven watches. One day a boy comes from over the ridge. Plump with cheese and ale, a straight un-thinking look. That look Raven remembers. It was that look the miners had when they broke up the holy stone avenue up on Challacombe Ridge. When they go home and look through their piggy eyes, the kitchen is still scrubbed, the china daintily arranged. No evil occurred, surely, my bed is still made.
The boy unravels rope and gear as Raven courses through his thinking. It’s the same old stuff. He doesn’t even glance round, catch the atmosphere. No up or down. No cosmos. No holy smoke lit, no empty belly as he waits for permission. The transgressions are endless. Just his lardy arse clinging to the rope as he lowers himself down. Around his head his thinking has become guttural and nervous, Raven watches that brain become a waspish cone of ambition. Down he goes.
No, says Raven. A decision. Hands comes from nowhere, a blade. One steadies the rope, one smoke-dark hand starts to cut. Oblivious, the boy descends until the fibres fray. His body will be taken and lain on the heather beside the entrance to the gully.
Do i look pretty?
says the boy.
Where is my mother?
It is autumn, and the
House of Falling Leaves
crafts his cairn.
Copyright Martin Shaw 2015