Searching for Symbolic Identity


by Martin Bridge

3 views of goddess carving by Martin Bridge
The experience of Spirit, of Magic, of the transcendent far outweighs the importance of understanding it. Those who have attended one of the Art Salon events at either “Rites of Spring” or “A Feast of Lights” will no doubt have heard me speak to the importance of the yearlong study of “Anamanta” and the effect it had on my artwork. My work became much more abstract for numerous reasons, the first and foremost is the emphasis placed on experience.

One of the other essential aspects of this shift is that I feel like the illustrative quality of much Pagan Artwork that depicts spiritual or deific forces often trivializes these entities. It also sets unrealistic expectations in seekers, leaving some people searching for grand visions of towering White Stags emerging from the perimeter of a Stone circle that has materialized around them or a Silver clad Goddess descending from the moon. While we wait for these experiences we may miss the more subtle (and more frequent) expressions of spirit.

As EarthSpirit has been evolving, how the community defines itself changes as well. Even the slight change in the language in describing “Rites of Spring’ from “A Pagan Celebration” to “A Celebration of the Sacred Earth”, is a strong indication of it’s individuality and uniqueness that has been shaped by it’s history. One of the main reasons for initiating the Art Salons was to give the visual artists within our community a chance to share and talk about their work while exploring how we can better integrate what we do into the rituals and evolving traditions of the community. This also created the opportunity to start to talk about how what we put forward visually describes and defines who we are. A related area that I am trying to explore, in my own work as well as in groups like the Spider Clan at “Twilight Covening” is to look at the symbols we use in our art and ritual working.

I feel a bit of an internal tug of war when I think about the use of symbols in relationship to my magical work. I at once feel a strong resonance with the power of ancient symbols from times long past and foreign cultures and also a strong desire to move away from the cultural appropriation, editorial revival and sometimes direct misuse of symbols that I see within the greater neo-pagan movement.

Of Depicting the Goddess

For years I have not chosen goddess forms or imagery for any of my work. It took a comment from a friend to draw my attention to this and I realized that there was a subconscious choice to stay away from them as I feel there is a wide array (bordering on a surplus) in contemporary neo-pagan artwork and I didn’t feel like I had any particular insight or anything remotely original to bring into the mix. I didn’t want to work on the subject(s) simply because of other people’s potential interest in it.

It was not until I spent a weekend in my great Uncle Clark Fitz-Gerald’s studio with his son Stephen that I chose to do a small venus form that was partially inspired by that friend’s comment and almost challenge to work in a more feminine quality (even in my abstract work). And largely inspired by my Great uncle’s own interest in the Iconic “Venus” forms and his collection of replicas of Neolithic and early European goddess forms and his own renditions including the comical “Venus of Bucksport.” His interest in these forms are similar to my own, finding the simple, more iconic and abstract forms some of the most compelling images of the divine feminine.

This particular rendition was carved primarily at Twilight Covening. One of the predominant themes that was held through the visioning ritual last year was abundance, in particular abundance of what we need. This tied in closely with the story of part of the carving’s creation.

“This tree was cut five months ago and this segment left behind. Rather than leaving it to rot I chose to make something of it. When I began my work I had a clear image of what I wanted it to shape but I was working with haste and accidentally fractured a part of the wood. Due to my carelessness I had lost an essential part of the wood and I would be unable to create the form I had originally envisioned.”

“At that point I was left with two options: abandon my work and leave what remains to rot. Or to continue, working with prudence, and though I recognize that no mater what I do I would not be able to shape the form I had originally envisioned that I could still shape a work of beauty with what I did have.”

Our expectations and dreams sometime cloud us from seeing the beauty of a more simple way of being.

Some of the other more significant aspects of this piece are that it was shaped from the base of the tree that provided the Maypole used at Rites of Spring 2008. Also the beadwork adorning her form was done with patterns, most of which arose from this past Spider Clan’s work in exploring symbols relating to abundance. This has an important connection to the second piece I will describe here.

Energies of Abundance

Abundance painting by Martin Bridge
This painting grew directly out of the clan work at Twilight Covening 2008. One of the predominant energies we were exploring was that of Abundance. Long before the event we were sensing the growing sentiment of Lack, as people were wrestling with the idea of travel primarily due to high gas costs. Little did we know as we chose this as one of the energies to explore that the event would be precipitated in less than a month with the banking collapse that lead to the current recession we are experiencing.

While human markets were crashing the climatic conditions yielded a bumper crop of apples in the Northeast. Apple trees were dropping branches under the weight of this years fruiting, one person I spoke with mentioned that it was the greatest crop he had seen on the trees in his memory of approximately 80 years.

Over the years of the Spider Clan’s work we have seen a remarkable co-incidence of multiple persons conjuring similar representations when asked to visually depict something symbolic of a particular energy or principle. This year one of the most predominant images that appeared in conjunction with the idea of abundance was that of a fruiting tree, providing enough to be taken and still to return to the earth continuing to provide for future generations. As we distilled and simplified the form the symbol utilized in this composition was what resulted.

The composition of this piece is one frequently repeated in my work, with a central symbol centered below two circular forms suggestive of eyes – a universal symbols for consciousness. In this case it was considering the extreme version of animistic philosophy that even ideas and concepts can have a spirit or consciousness guiding them.

My hope is that as we continue such exploration that our community can develop it’s own symbolic/visual identity and we can begin to rely less and less on external, adopted (or appropriated) symbols.

I invite you to play with and utilize this symbol in any way you can utilize it in line with its original intention.

(Go to http://martin.ritualarts.org to learn more about Martin and see his artwork.)

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