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Creating a piece of sacred art - the dance of the sensory and the symbolic.

The table is covered in pieces of fabric, threads, gnarly pieces of wood, bones and beads. Each piece that is here has arrived because of fascination or curiosity. The pieces of wood i have picked up, like many of us do, from the woods or the beach. They have been in bowls of interesting objects or used as ornaments in my house for many years. They have been handled and appreciated often. They smell of my home. They have heard secrets and laughter, seen arguments and intimacies, they know me and my family as well as the walls do. The beads have been sitting in drawers in my studio for less time, but still months or years, they arrived here after calling out to me from a second hand shop or market stall saying “A rest in a peaceful place, and then a new life? Oh yes please!”.

The bones are all found, never bought. This fox died under a friends house, she buried him in the garden and invited me to exhume his body when the time came. I remember doing this with my son and his dad. The bones are stained with the soil of that place where she lives - by the sea, on a hill, near a small stream, out in the wind. The pieces of leather here are from the seat, back and arm rests of an antique leather chair, you can see the places where the large brass tacks used to hold it down. I bought them from a car boots sale in Yeovil where my sons dad and i lived at the very beginning of our relationship over a decade ago now. They are covered in aged cracks. The other fabrics are less aged by still have their own stories. The raw silk has come from a wedding dress that someone offered up at a clothes swap. It was worn on the joyous day of her wedding but stained with red wine on that day also. The smooth silk also came from a clothes swap, it was given by my land lady who is very kind and dear to me. Each of these scraps of fabric has been hand dyed with plants from my local area perhaps two years ago now.

So many stories are here, so many lives before this life.

And then, as the basis and beginning of this creation, the new peg loom weaving that i have just completed, fresh from the loom, still smelling of the live sheep that roams her field already collecting seeds and mud in her newly grown coat.

This is where i am most comfortable with making, with materials that i know so well they feel like friends. These pieces of leather have travelled with me from home to home for 13 years, i have known them longer than i have known my own son. As the fox rested in his longest sleep divesting himself of his flesh body in the dark soil, i thought of him often, and his transformation. Since drawing him up back from the earth these bones have rested with my for 3 years. I watched, and had some hand in, the transformation of that wine stained wedding dress into pieces of wildly coloured fabric. They have now been in my studio for two years or more, every now and again i have brought them out to be looked at and wondered over.

Some new creative birthings really can take a long time, the way things work in the temple studio is that things come, they rest, they ask for little adjustments perhaps, i invite them to join in, sometimes they decline others they come. They sit and rest for as long as they choose.

So here i sit, at first, after gathering the potentials, in a place of familiarity, a cosy place, like a fireside chat, each article telling its story.

Then i begin, and i begin with play, a dance between the sensory and the symbolic.

Each time i create either one or the other steps forward to begin the conversation. On this occasion i was interested in two outcomes. One, to explore what the possibilities might be for creating wall hangings with these materials; and two, to create a devotional piece dedicated to a threshold i recently passed that i have been working through for many years. The piece is totemic and contains symbolism of lessons learnt on this journey, it will also be what i call a ‘living’ piece, in that it will have elements that can be added to and changed. My relationship with this piece is much like an altar.

The first piece of play was exploratory, a form of play without focus, just seeing what the possibilities might be; for the second i needed to play in trusting my intuition when following the path to my chosen outcome. Play here means letting intuition be the guide.

The initial exploration began with the sensory, looking at the colours and textures together, as well as the flow of lines and the 3 dimensional textures created by the layering. When something seems visually interesting i might move then to considering how it works symbolically. Has my subconscious brought something to me to look at and consider? Is there a story longing to be told? Is there a configuration that will make symbolic sense and speak to someone in a visual poetics? If i place sheep bones around a moon, what does that mean? What does sheep mean? What does moon mean? What do they mean together?

This is a deeply fun and open way to explore, not only the materials, but also our own minds and what associations we make.

The second part of this exploration, as i’ve said, was more focussed and so began with the fox bones specifically and their meaning. They represent, for me, over coming sexual trauma and reclaiming my body - why this is the case may take too long to explain in this particular post.

So, i began with the fox bones central, the most important feature of the piece. As you can see they are placed one in the centre of the forehead of the fox and two others on either side of the pelvis bone below it. The pelvis is obviously symbolic of the sexual and sensual aspect of the symbology. They create a triangle which, for me, this way up is a symbol of strength and stability, but also is an alchemical symbol for fire = passion, drive, a wild free dancing fluidity - all things i have regained since my own healing, which is by no means complete by the way, hence why this is a ‘living’ piece.

My mind is open though represented by the Gold Circle on the head and the energy in my pelvis now flows freely enough for me to interact with it - represented by the two circles on the pelvis bone.

This part of the piece came with ease, i had already had these ideas before i began. Moving forward…

I go then to the materials of my studio and invite - would you like to help me with this piece? I’ve moved away from the symbolic for a moment and to the sensory, i’m looking for colours and shapes that will work with what i already have, i’m questioning - would you like to join in? Would you compliment in colour, texture and form what is already here. I gather some elements, then i sink back into what this piece means for me, i’m moving back in to the symbolic - this piece has on it circular copper beads made by myself, the fact that they are made by me and that they are of the material i associate with love means they represent the present and continuous growth of my own sense of self worth, my love for myself.

There are Heron bones that came to represent the feminine - the Sacred House of Women as Carolyn Hillier calls it. On my weekend with her we were each invited in ceremony to wear the Heron cloak - to step into the house of women. Perhaps most of our souls, and especially those damaged by a traumatic event involving a man, long to feel that sacred house of women around us.

There is a snake bone representing my sacred sexuality and a copper snake in the ‘cave’ of the pelvis firmly placing that sacred sexuality in my body, so that i may own it. Corvid feathers bringing the element of air and intelligence - in this case especially representing breath which has been a source of great teaching and support for me through this process - remembering to breath, breath through emotions, keep my relationship with the outer flowing through my body instead of shutting it out.

There are wren feathers too, representing air and earth, the grounding of breath. Also for me personally Wren represents my voice, wren is a tiny bird, with a big voice! On this piece it reminds me to speak, to voice concerns, fears, insecurities, but also to share with others, to hear and be heard. There are other elements on the piece but i’m sure this explanation gives you the general idea of how it works.

This piece now hangs in front of me as i write, i can feel it beaming back to me the learning that i have represented as reminders of what i have learnt along the way, and as i contemplate the elements i know new understandings will dawn.

"Art is important for it commemorates the seasons of the soul, or a special or tragic event in the souls journey....It is also a map for those who follow after us."

Clarissa Pinkola-Estes

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