Who is the Sugar Plum Fairy? Anne Maria Clarke @ the ballet
The Sugar Plum Fairy is related to a group of make - believe characters traditionally placed on the top of Christmas Trees or - fashioned from icing or marzipan – are used to decorate birthday cakes and the like. Frivolous creations yet frequently treasured by their owners, likethe brightly coloured Nutcracker doll in the ballet story - each year brought down from lofts and attics where they reside for most of the year, carefully wrapped in tissue and old newspaper.....but please do not imagine that this is all they are.
The Sugar Plum Fairy has deep roots in myth, in centuries old stories of mortal beings spirited away into other realms, magical realms that do not conform in the slightest to our everyday world. Oisin is famously carried away to Tir Nag Nog in the Irish legend, Taliesin to Annwn, the Welsh Other world and Thomas the Rhymer in the Scottish poem, who accompanies a beautiful lady to Elf land where he remains for seven full years.
There are various ways of arriving in such places or states as they might be more helpfully understood. In the Nutcracker story, young Clara falls asleep beneath the lighted tree on Christmas Eve and like Alice, who drinks her magic potion, shrinks down to the size of her toys and dreams of journeying to an enchanted realm with the Nutcracker doll given to her as a gift by her uncle, the local toymaker. The imaginal world, the 'let's pretend place' if you like, is all at once animated, made real and true and the everyday world for the duration, pales into a kind of bland insignificance. Yet it is precisely because of these 'adventures' these extra-ordinary journeys into the beyond, that our everyday mortal world is enriched and made new.
Joseph Campbell called such adventures The Heros Journey, the pattern of which is reflected in stories from across the globe. First he says, the hero must leave the familiar world, he or in this case she, must break away, however fleetingly from the enthral of the parent, she must cross the threshold between what is known and what is unknown. There will inevitably be difficulties along the way, obstacles and challenges to face that will ultimately lead her to grow up and she will come back changed, no longer a child but a young woman with the knowledge gained – the treasure if you like that she brings home from her adventure.
In our story, it is almost as if in crafting and giving Clara the handsome Nutcracker doll her uncle is enabling this important transition from childhood to adolescence. In Joseph Campbell's scheme, this uncle could well be the wise helper whom the heroine is destined to meet. He is clearly the initiator of the adventure and knows full well the powers invested in his Christmas Nutcracker doll. He knows too of the Sugar Plum Fairy who inhabits the heart of the make – believe kingdom whom Clara is destined to meet.
Parents of course are reluctant to let their children go and often do not recognise the moment when it is right to do so and so it falls to others, like Clara's uncle to create the opening for the adventure.
In Tolkien's tale Smith of Wootton Major, it is the apprentice baker who steps in with a similar sort of magic. Every year a beautiful cake is made for the village children and in it is placed a lucky charm ( in truth a Fay-Star ) whose finder can thereafter travel there and back into the realm of Faery. A pretty pink fairy, not unlike our Sugar Plum is placed on top of the cake to add to the enchantment – but no one ever knows that she is actually a manifestation of the mighty Fairy Queen herself who rules over the enchanted realm with her husband the Fairy King – humbly disguised in this tale as the apprentice cook. Not all is what it seems to be at first glance you see and the fairy on the cake and indeed our own Sugar Plum are merely ways in which these immense archetypal energies choose to clothe themselves at what we might call - their lower octave - or frequency, the outer ripples if you like, of the deep, deep source from which they come to form.
Well, the young boy who finds the Fay-Star ....Tolkien's alter ego it has been said.... travels at will between the worlds and becomes known as Star-brow, for whenever he returns from Faery, the star which is stuck to his brow glows and glows especially after he meets the Fairy Queen.
But before Clara and her Prince can tavel to such a realm, they must first do battle with the seven headed Mouse King who appears after midnight in the sitting room with his army of mice. The battle is hard fought with each side alternately gaining and loosing in ascendency but then the mice get the upper hand and for a scary moment it seems as if the Nutcracker is defeated. The Mouse King swells with pride, momentarily taking his eye off the battle – but that one moment is all that is required by an emboldened Clara who grabs a gigantic slipper ...and hurling it across the room with all her might, hits the fearsome Mouse King in the head, knocking him down dead.
Triumphant, Clara and the Nutcracker then journey across the skies to the enchanted Land of Snow during which time they fall sweetly in love. The Nutcracker becomes Clara's beloved, completing her introduction to the adult world. On arrival in the snow clad kingdom they are greeted by a troupe of delightful Dancing Snowflakes before continuing their journey onward to the delicious Land of Sweets, presided over by the Sugar Plum. They tell her of their battle with the household mice and she rewards their courage with a spectacle of seven lovely dances culminating in her own exquisite Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy with it's tricky turns that is the pinnacle of the entire ballet.
Clara then awakens from her dream, still clutching her beloved Nutcracker doll. She dances with him in her arms savouring the wonders of the night before. The curtain falls, the audience applaud rapturously if all has gone well, willing the curtain to rise up once more. The characters then dance one last time onto the stage to take their well earned bows, each in order of importance concluding of course with the delectable Sugar Plum who completes the grand finale.
Yet surely this isa story for children and it is to the soul of the child or indeed the inner child that it calls. It is nostalgic certainly, a recreation of an ideal Christmas adventure into the world of the imagination – and - if you have spent any time with very young children, those who have not yet lost their innocence, you will know that this is just the kind of adventure they adore and from which they benefit hugely. They know full well the difference between dimensions – that toys don't actually come to life, that children don't actually shrink down to join them and do battle with household mice. They know clearly that the Land of Sweets is imaginary and that the Sugar Plum Fairy is a figment of this realm ....and yet....and yet...within its own ontology... to use a clever, yet perfectly precise word, such things are as real as real can be.
So please don't scoff and turn up your intellectual nose - for the Sugar Plum Fairy, albeit fashioned from festive marzipan and frosted icing ... is not at all discontinuous with the Fairy Queen proper – as Tolkien has clearly shown us - the archetype - the goddess in fact before whom men quake in their boots and bow down.....and to whom, unless we have hearts of stone, we are all ineffably drawn.
At Christmas time, in our Western traditions, alongside the more sober Mother of God, this is clearly how she finds her way into our everyday lives. We can make her small if we wish, we can diminish her significance, like TinkerBell in Peter Pan - yet there she still is, every year delighting us with her magic.
Like Oisin, Taliesin,Thomas the Rhymer and Star-Brow, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince all meet a Fairy Queen of sorts – and maybe it is fitting that our Christmas adventurers meet her in the form of the Sugar Plum, for it is said that to meet her within her higher octave, so to speak, is sometimes too awesome an experience. The Nutcracker is a taster therefore, a prepatatory initiation into the more grown up wonders to come.
So have a mind to these deep connections when you place your own manufactured fairy atop your Festive Tree. She is no lightweight - as innocent children see very well - she is a reflection of light itself - glorious and utterly compelling to behold - the feminine aspect of the the Divine within creation.
Happy Solstice & Merry Christmas to all
Anne Maria Clarke
x x x
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There is a pattern in the heavens that those who want to can see & establish it in their own minds Socrates
Heavenly Creations (YouTube version) Written & Presented by Anne Maria Clarke Music and Audio Production: David Johnson
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Adapted & narrated by Anne Maria Clarke Audio production David Johnson Music composed & performed by Tom Nordon Illustrations Edward Burne-Jones
To celebrate over 25 years of telling tales I have decided to re - issue the very first fairy-story I ever adapted and set to music. It came about after being given an enchanting book by P. L. Travers entitled All About the Sleeping Beauty in which the author delves into the rich symbolism and mystery of the this classic tale and it's continuing relevance and applicability to us all.
'What is it in us that at a certain moment sudddenly falls asleep,' she asks. 'Who lies hidden within us. And who will come at last to awaken us, what aspect of ourselves? To give an answer, supposing we had it, would break the law of the fairy tale. And perhaps no answer is necessary. It is enough that we ponder upon and love the story and ask ourselves the question.' P.L.Travers ALL ABOUT THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
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Preghiera di Pace Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Each year on International Peace Day, the United Nations invite us to join together in a celebration of peace by way of a globally linked network of events and artistic contributions from across the world. We decided to make a recording of this beautiful Peace Prayer as a contribution. http://internationaldayofpeace.org/get-involved narration ANNE MARIA CLARKE audio production DAVID JOHNSON music composed & performed by MATTIA CUPELLI www.mattiacupelli.com/ illustrations www.googleimages.com
PREGHIERA DI PACE Signore, fa' di me un strumento alla tua pace; Dove e' odio che io porti l'amore. Dove e' offesa, che io porti il perdono, Dove e' discordia che io porti l'umione. Dove e' dubbio che io porti la fede. Dove e' errore che io porti la verita. Dove e' disperanzione che io porti la speranza. Dove e' tristezza che io porti la gioia. Dove sono tenebre, che io porti la luce. Maestro, fa che io non min' tanto, Ad essere consolato quanto a consolare. Ad essere compreso quanto a compredere. Ad essere amato, quanto ad amare. Poiche' donando si riceve. Perdonando si e perdonati, Morendo si risuscita a vita eterna.
PRAYER OF PEACE - Translation Father, make me a channel of your peace Where there is hatred, let me bring love, Where their is injury, let me bring pardon Where there is discord, let me bring unity. Where there is doubt, let me bring faith, Where there is error, let me bring truth. Where there is despair let me bring hope. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy. Where there is darkness, let me bring light. Master, grant that I may not so much seek, To be consoled as to console, To be understood as to understand, To be loved as to love, For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. Morendo si risuscita a vita eterna.
The International Day of Peace ("Peace Day") is observed around the world each year on 21 September. Established in 1981 by unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace. From education to the arts, social justice to sports, health to the environment, neighborhood issues to service for others, there are many ways to participate in Peace Day! We (United Nations) invite you to create a public or private activity related to peace, spread the word about Peace Day... LEARN MORE
Fairytales, myths and legends do not just concern the light but very much the darker aspects of the self - the shadow and the struggles one has with it and we are not always led to the condition of happily ever after. And so it is with Swan Lake........
Written & Presented by Anne Maria Clarke Music - Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake theme courtesy of www.pondmusic5.com Audio production - voice recording - music edit - David Johnson
In his beautiful book of Celtic spiritual wisdom, Anam Cara, John O'Donohue explains: anam means 'soul' and cara is 'friend'. If we are to befriend the soul of one who is very hurt, we must be mindful of our approach. We must come upon the mystery of another gently, reverently and indirectly, with candlelight, not electric light, to illumine our way.
Once upon a time there was a daughter with three Mothers. One night, something terrible happened in the woods close to where they lived. Well, the first mother, the youngest, collapsed into grief. The second, a little older, flew into a rage. But the third, the eldest, simply carried on as before. Yet in the evenings, when the sun hung low over the forest, she would light a candle in the window & ponder over the meaning of these things.
Now, the first & second mothers, though they did not intend it, drove their daughter away. For, you see, their sorrow & their rage caused them to loose themselves and, in such a state of loss, they could do nothing to help their daughter. Whereas the third remained calm and a little detached, as was fitting.
Well soon the lives of the first and second mothers fell apart, for their emotions were so overwhelming and so wearying that they quickly lost control of their affairs.They no longer knew the rhythm of day & night. For them all was night; all was dark. They could not eat, sleep, or indeed do anything required to create a bit of peace for their daughter, who was herself still attempting to recover from what had happened in the woods.
Now the trouble was that the poor girl never knew which of the mothers would be at home when she returned in the evenings. They kept on changing you see.
When the first mother was at home, the young girl couldn't get any rest, for her nights were disturbed by her mother's constant sobbing.
It was no better when the second mother was at home, for she, it seemed, knew nothing at all about being being a mother and would pace the floor from sunset till dawn, wringing her hands and muttering angrily to herself about everything that had gone on; which, as it happened, was the very thing her daughter couldn't bear.
Things were much better when the third mother was at home. There was food on the table, laughter in the air and each had restful nights at the end of the day.
Clearly the girl preferred the third mother and she showed her much appreciation. She couldn't talk about what had happened in the woods, so they talked sbout what they could, each knowing where the boundary had been set.
In these ways time passed.
During the day the daughter went about the business of her life. She did very well, but still it did not go easily for her when she returned to the house where the mothers were grieving & raging. And each evening as she made her way home, she longed to find the third mother waiting for her at the door.
Sometimes she was lucky.
More time passed. The girl's luck increased, For, you see, somehow it happened that the third mother was more and more at home and the others less & less.
Now one such evening much, much later, when the daughter sat together with the third mother, she decided to tell her about all the trouble she had had with the other two.
' Throughout the night,' she explained, 'one wept whilst the other raged. I could get no rest and was at my wits end. Whatever was the matter?'
' Ah,' the elder mother sighed softly. ' I was wondering when you would ask.' She sat back in her chair for, you see, she was by now quite an old woman.
' To sense your wound,' she began at last,' drove them practically insane, for it ripped open a place in them that was also wounded, a bleak, desolate place where every scrap of hope was turned to dust.'
The daughter did not reply at first but then said quite knowingly. 'Yes, I thought as much'.
But later the young woman said, ' One thing still puzzles me, though. I never did understand how some nights when I came home, I found you here, and not my weeping or raging mothers?'
' Oh,' replied the third mother, 'that's quite simple. For you see, we three are really one & the same, but I am the part that got through.'
The Mother with Three Daughters
Once upon a time, there was a mother who had three daughters. One night something terrible happened in the woods close by.
Well the first daughter, the youngest, withdrew into a deep silence, the second, a little older, became angry & defensive. But the third, the eldest, simply carried on as before. Yet in the evenings, when the sun hung low over the forest, she would light a candle in the window and ponder over the meaning of these things.
Now the first & second daughters, though they did not intend it, drove the mother away; for you see, their silence & defensiveness caused them to loose themselves and, in such a state of loss, they could do nothing to help their mother. Whereas the third remained calm & a little detached, as was fitting.
Well soon the lives of the first & second daughters fell apart, for their emotions were so overwhelming & so wearying that they quickly lost control of their affairs. They no longer knew the rhythm of the day. For them all was night; all was dark. They could not eat, sleep, or indeed do anything required to create a bit of peace for their mother, who was herself still attempting to recover from what had happened in the woods.
Now the trouble was that the poor mother never knew which of the daughters was coming home in the evenings. They kept on changing you see. When the first daughter was at home, the mother could get no rest, for her nights were disturbed by the terrible silence.
It was no better when the second daughter was home. For she, it seemed did not understand anything about being a daughter; & she would stay out later & later & was even more defensive when she returned; which, as it happened, was the very thing the mother couldn't bear.
Things were much better when the third daughter was at home - as you might expect. There was food on the table, laughter in the air & each had restful nights at the end of the day.
They couldn't talk about what had happened in the woods. So they talked about what they could, each knowing where the boundary had been set.
In these ways time passed.
During the day, the mother went about the business of her life. She did very well, but still things did not go easily for her when the silent & defensive daughters returned. And each night as she waited at the door she longed to see the third daughter coming home.
Sometimes she was lucky.
More time passed. The mother's luck increased, for, you see, somehow it happened that the third daughter was more & more at home & the others less & less.
Now one such evening much, much later, as the elder mother sat together with her third daughter, she decided to tell her about all the trouble she had had with the other two.
' One was so silent & the other so defensive,' she explained, 'I was at my wits' end. Whatever was the matter?'
'Ah,' the third daughter sighed softly, 'I was wndering when you would ask.'
She then sat forward in her chair, for you see she was by now quite grown.
'To sense your wound,' she began at last, 'drove them practically insane, for it ripped open a place within them that was also wounded, a bleak, desolate place where every shred of hope had turned to dust.
The mother did not reply at first but then said quite knowingly,
'Yes, I thought as much. But one thing still puzzles me. I never did understand how some nights when I was waiting at the door I saw & not my silent or defensive daughters coming home? How?
'Oh,' relpied the third daughter, 'that's quite simple. For you see we three are really one & the same, but I am the part that got through.'
The realm of fairy-story is wide & deep & high. In that land one may perhaps count oneself fortunate to have wandered but its very mystery & wealth make dumb the traveller who would report. The fairy gold too often turns to withered leaves when it is brought away. All that I can ask is that you – knowing all these things - will receive my withered leaves as a token at least that my hand once held a little of the gold.
Fairy-stories cannot be defined, says Tolkien. You cannot throw a net around them & capture their essence. They are not primarily about fairies – but rather concern the adventures of those who have travelled within what he calls the Perilous or Faërie Realm . He offers no definition of this mysterious dimension – makes no attempt to enclose it, as many have done with words & notions however vast like ‘the unconscious’ or even the ‘imagination’.
He leaves the whole thing utterly open ended aside from the following provisos: first that though the Perilous Realmcontains familiar aspects derived from what he calls our primary, everyday reality – this secondary realm – in order ‘to work’ or to be ‘believable’ - must be totally consistent within itself – & that the magic therein must never ever be belittled or made fun of.
In 1939, based upon the immense success of The Hobbit which had been published in 1937 Tolkien was asked to give a lecture for the Andrew Lang society at the University of St Andrews, for which the article On Fairy-storieswas written & first presented. There were numerous drafts – as was Tolkien's way -& the opening quote referencing the fairy goldwas omitted from his final version possibly on the grounds of it being thought too presumptuous a revelation to make about himself - & yet it so perfectly elucidates the nature of his travels within the Faërie Realmthat it seems pertinent to re-instate it – for you see – this is where he spent so much of his time – after attending Mass, which he did several times a week, after his job was done, his dinner enjoyed with his family, his children read to and put to bed in his ordinary, everyday Oxfordshire home – this is where he would go, puffing on his evening pipe, deep into the great beyond - often not returning until the early hours of the morning. So when we read his wondrous tales, or contemplate the words he wrote On Fairy-storieswe would do well to remember that what we are really reading or listening to are the words of an incredibly seasoned traveller – someone who has walked wherever his heroes and heroines have walked – all the way out of the Shire, if you like, right through Middle Earth to Mordor & back again, bringing not just faded, withered leaves as he so humbly acknowledges - but real fairy gold, bright & true and radiant as the sun.
On Fairy-storiesposes a series of questions which Tolkien considers in turn, teasing out the elements of what for him constitutes an authentic tale within the genre. He begins by setting forth the Oxford Dictionary definition (a publication he worked for briefly as a Philologist after recovering from trench fever following his return from France in 1916) yet he disagrees vehemently with every word set down. ….. Fairies he asserts are not diminutive in size as is commonly assumed – it is us who are small compared to them! Nor, surprisingly for some, did he consider the tales as being primarily for children – the association he regarded as being an unfortunate consequence of the so called 'Enlightenment.' His own taste for such tales was not a characteristic of his childhood he says but was awakened through his study of Philology and quickened to life by war. What then constitutes an authentic tale in this genre? Certainly not those stories he claims, that whilst fantastical in themselves are presented as dreams, or time – travel adventures or journeys to far flung destinations in the primary world. Neither does he consider allegory or tales of moral guidance set within a once upon a time frame authentically of the genre. They are not delusions, illusions or manifestations of mental pathology in any way. No! Faërie is an altogether different realm with an ontology all of its own.
In that world a tree is a Tree, and its roots may run throughout the earth, and its fall affect the stars. It is enchanted ..... as we are when we cross its borders. J.R.R Tolkien – On Fairy -stories
The origin he tells us, is simply the dimension of Faërie itself and the stories, as indicated – of those writers, artists, bards, shamans, healers and plain ordinary folk who have ventured forth. Such realms are not simply made up as is commonly assumed but rather possess their being-ness independently – of this he is quite clear.
They arose in my mind as 'given' things, he wrote to his son Christopher,and as they came, separately, so too the links grew. An absorbing, though continually interrupted labour. Yet always I had the sense of recording what was already 'there', somewhere: not of inventing.
He goes on to describe the unexpected arrival of the character Boromir – during the writing of Lord of the Rings which was published in 1954, a full 17 years after The Hobbit.
A new character has come on the scene, he explains, I am sure I did not invent him, nor even want him? though I like him – but there he came, walking out the woods - he is so talkative - if he keeps on in this way I will have to put him in the appendices. J.R.R.Tolkien: Letters
Anne Maria Clarke @ the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge
Last week I had the delightful experience of attending the opening day of the new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It ticked quite a few boxes for me - Italy - the Madonna - the Renaissance - all of which have special places in my heart, yet the aspect that particularly fascinated me and why I decided to attend back in January when I first heard about it was its unique focus upon devotional practices within the home. It's a subject we hear little about whilst at the same time knowing such devotions to have been a central part of daily life for centuries - pre-dating Christianity in fact and reaching back through time to the days of Goddess worship in ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt and beyond.
What we see in the Renaissance are the last days so to speak of this incredibly ancient tradition. The rise of Secularism within the Renaissance period, the Protestant Reformation then Counter Reformation in Italy would all curb its practice significantly and dampen what was deemed its most florid excesses and yet still - though much tempered – the remnants these practices have persisted through to this day in Catholic homes across the world - one has only to look at the paraphernalia on sale in church book shops to see it has not gone away. It thrives too, uninterrupted in other traditions, in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and so on. Every home where such faiths are practised has its own alter decorated with flowers, prayer beads, incense and candles in much the same way, although with different iconography as home alters would have been decorated in Renaissance Italy. And yet to northern, more sober Protestant or secular born souls - such expressions of devotion can seem rather remote, archaic even. The exhibition therefore is an opportunity to revisit a time when such practices flourished and to see some of the objects and works of art from that period.
From birth to death, from waking to retiring and everything in-between, daily life in the Renaissance home would have been interspersed with prayer and devotion. Holy water, flickering candle-light, whispered verses read by those who were able from treasured hand-made books passed down the generations of La famiglia - sacred songs and graces intoned before every meal would have all created ambiances conducive to devotion.
Beginning with childbirth the exhibition features several precious heirloom paintings of the Birth of the Virgin, a popular theme of the times depicting Saint Ann, the Virgin's mother – a mature woman thought to have been too old to have become pregnant – resting in her bed after successfully giving birth attended by several young women whilst the anxious menfolk wait outside the room.
There is a beautiful blue and white ceramic Nativity on show used to both celebrate and to tell the story of Christ's own birth. Young children we are told, would have been taught in such ways through storytelling and imaginative play before progressing to more serious and probably less delightful forms of instruction.
And yet those taught to read together with those who were not would have no doubt all been enchanted by the precious illuminated manuscripts and popular Books of Hours that some families possessed. These exquisite volumes,of which the exhibition features several were primarily created for women and often given to brides as wedding presents by their husbands. Not everyone could afford them of course and they varied considerably with more wealthy families being able to commission the most lavish illuminations sometimes featuring their loved ones in acts of prayer and devotion - yet even the most modest volumes owned by the evolving merchant classes were beautifully inscribed and most elaborately decorated and painted with rare pigments like the highly prized ultramarine created from lapis lazuli and expensive gold leaf designed to gleam on the page creating a palpable luminosity greatly accentuated when viewed in candle light. These were the kinds of books whose lavish pages were designed to draw the observer in and in – like mandalas in a way – each page a meditation and a mystery to be poured over for hours at a time and returned to repeatedly over the course of a life-time.
The exhibition features a beautifully bound miniature volume from Rome dated 1585 called Giordinetto – Little Garden of Spiritual things which includes prayers for different times of the day, psalms and sonnets to be learned and recited. There is a lovely book dated 1478 entitled Vitae Christi le Devote Meditazioni Sopra la Passione del Nostro Signore – Devotional Meditations upon thePassion of our Saviour - once owned by two nunsandcomplete with their neat margin notes – testament, the exhibition notes point out as to how carefully and thoroughly it had been read. The Sacred Music that was part of daily life is represented too and to give a flavour of what might have been heard five short pieces were recorded at St Katharine's College Cambridge by an early music vocal ensemble The Clerksincluding a beautiful lauda venerating the Virgin and a meditation on the Passion which can be heard on head phones provided.
Various bodily adornments are on display too - amulets and rings inscribed with the sacred symbol of the Angus Die ( Lamb of God). There are pendants and crucifixes, blessed and worn close to the heart and rosary beads (introduced in the 15th century) created with precious and semi-precious stones. Nothing it seems was left outside the sphere of the sacred.
Particularly lovely are some of the minature triptychs on display. These are alter pieces composed of three panels depicting a series of related religious images. During the day when not in use the outer wings would have been closed and indeed it was quite normal for all religious paintings to have been turned from away from view when not in use. Whilst travelling, we are told it would have been quite common to take these objects along and to open them for prayer as required.
As well as the collections of domestic iconography the exhibition also featuresa rare Fra Angelico painting entitled The Dead Christ andthe famous Botticelli, Madonna and Child - a prize possession of the Fitzwilliam and the image chosen as the exhibitions poster.
The exhibitions title Madonnas & Miracles benefits hugely from the clarification of the sub-heading which more specifically describes its content - this being said - the Madonna was the undoubted the focus of much domestic devotion and it was to her it seems that the penitent most often appealed during childbirth, illness and death, times when women have historically been in close attendance.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women & blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now & at the hour of our death.
It is easy to romanticise about the nature of life in such times without being cognisant of the actual realities and yet it does seem that the woman within the Italian Renaissance home, particularly if the household was wealthy, was in possession of a certain autonomy vis a vis religious devotions, allowing her – we might speculate - to approach the numinous somewhat directly – as once in ancient times she might have done. Private prayer, the creation of personal, household alters, the recitations of the rosary, the sprinkling of holy water and singing of sacred refrains - independently – and without direct instruction surely facilitated some measure of spiritual freedom.
As for the exhibitions theme of miracles, there are numerous panel paintings called ex-votos which would have been left at local shrines giving thanks for wondrous healings from all manner of diseases and miraculous survivals during fires and natural disasters like earthquakes, still to this day an ever-present danger in regions like La Marche. There is an antique baby Christ Child doll, pulled intact from the rubble of the 5.5 earthquake which entirely destroyed the ancient Franciscan nunnery of thePoor Clares ofSanta Chiara in Camerino just last year- leaving only this iconic figure untouched by the devastation. Interestingly this doll – and not just because of the earthquake – is venerated on the Feast of the Epiphany by local folk who annually queue to kiss its feet – in just the same way no doubt as previous generations have done since its creation at the height of the Renaissance.
Many attending this exhibition will have been brought up in a world where even if they went to church, their walls would have long since been white-washed and their colourful iconography obliterated, destroyed or confiscated. Images of the Madonna in particular have long since disappeared along with beloved saints to whom the people prayed in church and in their homes. Such practices had no place in the new more rationally inclined world of the post – Reformation period.
And yet as we have seen such practices persist and not just within Catholicism. There is something primal about alter making - about making sacred space - even if it is merely lighting a tea light and placing it next to a pot of wild flowers or leaving a bouquet on the roadside where someone has tragically died. Those performing such acts may no longer regard themselves as religious – but are still drawn towards this kind of expression – profound gestures indeed - and pointers maybe toward what spiritual practice in a post – patriarchal, post- religious future might look like. For there seems no doubt that even in such a scenario where the church as we know it today is no more - the spiritual nature of human kind will endure.
The Fitzwilliam Museum has created a stunning exhibition – a veritable time-capsule if you like capable of transporting the willing participant to the very heart of the Italian Renaissance home - and in so doing it has inspired contemplation upon the notion of what it might be within the human soul that is drawn to express itself in such ways - is it simply to garner favour in the next world so to speak - or is there something more profound being responded to within the psyche - and that in creating sacred space, our ancestors sought as maybe we still seek - in our own unique ways - to remember, to honour and to connect with the divine root of our being in the midst of earthly life.
La Maschera Anonymous Venecian poetry for CARNEVALE music: composed & performed by Chris Chambers Audio Production: David Johnson Video Production: Anne Maria Clarke
The Mask Maker: English Translation How beautiful are these masks! How ugly are these masks! Yes they are me. I create them. They call me the mask maker. I place tiny pieces of paper. I begin at the border. After the eyebrows, then the nose and the mouth.
One day I make a mask that laughs. One day I make a mask that cries. One day I make a beautiful mask. One day I make an ugly mask.
How easy it is to make a face with different expressions. But what a pity they have no heart. They have no circulation of blood. They feel neither cold nor heat.? They cannot say why they laugh or cry.
But with me they are different. When I put tiny pieces of paper on their eyes, They see me and give me their feelings. When I put tiny pieces of paper on their mouths, They speak to me and tell me many things. When I put tiny pieces of paper on the nose – I see that they breathe! That they live! But then, maybe they are real and we are masks!
My husband Pat and I discovered this poem a few years ago in a little Mask- Makers shop tucked away in the Castello area of Venice. Our daughter who was studying in the city at the time had gifted us with money to buy masks for the upcoming Carnevale and we had spent a delightfully playful hour trying on and choosing. When we finally made up our minds, the old mask-maker popped this printed poem into the package with our purchases. We never knew who wrote it - for it bore no name - yet we are grateful to the author – whoever it is!
We are separated from the divine – the transcendental - the bridge, so the ancients said, which we may build over this abyss of separation is constructed by our passionate longing for the greater and by the passionate longing of the greater for in us – this is the fundamental reason, the fundamental background for all the great love stories – all the great lyrical Romeo and Juliet type myths of the world. That there are two, ourselves and the ineffable greatness from which we have come – who are longing for each other with a desperate, painful, suffering passion. And we have within us that vestige of memory – of what it was – what it felt like – what it can be. Stephen Hollier: The Creative Imagination
It is practically impossible to imagine the story of Swan Lake without seeing the ballet in one's minds eye and without also recollecting Tchaikovsky's heart rendingly passionate music, specially commissioned by the Bolshoi Ballet for their groundbreaking 1877 Moscow production.
Thereafter it seemed that Swan Lake defined the Bolshoi – becoming its great signature piece and in time it has almost come to define the genre of classical ballet itself. It is certainly the most well known and perhaps the most well loved. Who then can now unpick the parts and is it even useful to do so? Far better it seems to accept their inseparability - the alchemy of their union.
When a particular retelling of a story grips the collective imagination – when it can stand to be endlessly told and retold – we can be sure it touches upon something profound. Swan Lake might have had its stars over the years, prima ballerina's like Anna Pavlova – and legendary pairings like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev who have inhabited the story, and perhaps even claimed it for a while – yet Swan Lake the myth is bigger than any flesh and blood star that pirouettes across its worldly stage – bigger than any inspired choreographer – any ballet company - even the Bolshoi.
So let us then make haste to the theatre and take our seats before the house lights dim down low and the great enchantment begins. The conductor clears his throat and waves his baton imperiously. Tchaikovsky's iconic music strikes up! Hold on to your seats and hearts for that matter - for you are about to be transported to the very heart of myth. The music swells to a peak then fades - only to rise again, sweeping our emotions along with it - Tchaikovsky is setting the scene, the tone, a foreshadowing of what is to come and in so doing he powerfully brings about the suspension of our collective dis-belief before ever the heavy red velvet drapes draw back and the first dancers appear on the stage.
Long before our tale begins, Odette a beautiful princess, has fallen under the spell of von Rothbart, a wicked sorcerer and must live as a swan by day and girl by night, during which time she is imprisoned in a dark tower. The spell that binds hercan only be broken by a man who has never loved before and who will vow to love her forever. Odette represents everything that is pure and simple and lovely - yet is possessed of such niavety that it seems unlikely she will ever find her way free from the wicked curse that entraps her - yet still she hopes.
Act One - the Grand Hall
At last the curtains partto reveal Prince Siegfried's 21st birhday celebrationin the Grand Hall of the palace where his mother the Queen tells him he must choose a bride at a ball to be held in his honour the following evening - yet the Prince is over-awed and loath to marry for duty alone. He makes his excuses and withdraws to the forest on a moonlit hunting expedition with his friends.
Act two - the lovers meet
This is where the drama really begins - for it is here, deep in the wood beside a shimmering lake that we are introduced to the lovely Odette with whom Seigfried falls instantly and hopelessly in love - but wait: I run ahead, let me tell it from the start - for Seigfried first encounters her as a magnificent swan in full flight coming into land over the lake.
He takes aim with his bow but as he does so she alights at the waters edge and magically transforms into the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Amazed, he steps forward to greet her and at first she is startled but he gently reassures her and begs her tell him of the marvel he has just witnessed. Odette then tells him of her royal origins and of the terrible spell that entraps her unless she can find a suiter whereupon Siegfried pledges his undying alliegence and implores her to attend the great ball where he is to choose a wife next day. Odette promises to find a way to escape her tower and together they dance falling more and more in love with every passing moment.
But as you might imagine in stories of this sort - all does not go well for the new lovers - for the sorcerer's wicked daughter Odile secretly comes to know of their plans. She sets her own sights on the eligible Prince and begs her father to give her the outward appearence of Odetteso that she might take her place at the ball.
And so the theft, the wicked illusion is concocted - and very soon - for the dark magic is strong - it is as if the socerer's daughter is hersef the beautiful princess - and the only reason we the audience will know who is who - for the two parts are very often played by the same dancer - is that Odile - when next we encounter her will be completely robed in black.
And so the curtain falls - the house lights return and exhausted yet full of anticipation as to what may now occur we withdraw to the theatre foyer to briefly collect our wits.
Act three - the arrival of the Black Swan
Trumpets herald the commencement of the Grand Ball. Siegfried struts about on tenterhooks – unsure if his beloved will appear. The Great Hall is full of lovely girls all willing and eager to catch his eye – and his mother is keen for him to choose - but Siegfried has only one girl in his heart. Trumpets sound again - his heart leaps. The ballroom doors swing open and Von Rothbart appears, swathed in black, with the girl of the Prince's dreams on his arm – or so he is led to believe.
Everyone stops in their tracks to admire Odile for she is truely magnificent. Seifired bows down low to greet her and together they take to the floor.
Oblivious of the deception he is utterly enthralled andbefore he can check himself and come to his senses - he promises his undying love to the dark imposter and announces his intention to marry her to the enitire court.
What we see here – writ large so to speak – is the gullibility of men who fall prey to the seductive charms of the negative anima – to use Jung's term – an aspect of the feminine psyche – deviod of all warmth and sensitivity - embodied in classical myth as the Siren. So dangerously attractive are these creatures that sailors who pass by the island where they dwell must be chained to the ships masts and have their ears stuffed with wax to prevent them surcoming to their deadly charms.
Such is the nature of the imposter here. Her dance is sassy and powerfully accomplished – incorporating as it does the impressive 30 turn finale – a feat for any ballerina - and what man could resist - but then the Prince looks into her eyes and then suddenly he knows – what we already know - a coldness strikes his heart – but it is much, much too late.
The music swells and swells again - and we too are held captive.
Odile dances on without care or kind thought, overshadowing all.
She is utterly triumphant.
The lights dim – the scene is at an end – save for the silouette at the window of a weeping Odette who has somehow escaped her tower in order to warn of the deception.
Fairytales, myths and legends do not just concern ' the light' but very much the darker aspects of the self - the shadow and the struggles one has with it and we are not always led to the condition of happily ever after - although in a full rendition of a tale in this genre - the promise or hope of redemption is never completely dashed.
And so it is with Swan Lake.
But first - there are dark forces to contend with - for our storybook characters - yet sometimes also for the dancers themselves, the choreographers and those involved in such productions. There is something so powerful about Swan Lake you see - that even in it's re-enactment - one may become caught up so to speak - or even overshadowed by the archetypes at play in a way which can mirror the themes within the story.
For the prima ballerina - who must often play both white and black swan - the idea that they are really one and the same struggling for ascendency within the self is at the root of the tale and brilliantly portrayed in the 2010 film Black Swan - where the story, the myth, the fairtytale darkly bleeds through into the everyday taking hold of those who seek to tell it.
Pondering these themes one finds resonances with the dark fairytale of The Red Shoes - where there is great beauty it seems there is great shadow too – and each of these ballets express this most powerfully. There is a flavour of the myth of Icarus here too – of he who flies too close to the sun and scorches his beautiful wings.
At the dark end of the spectrum of passion there is a kind of madness - where desire overtakes or is indeed overtaken by the drive for that which is sought or what itself seeks to be expressed. Here the road to psychosis lies - where one becomes over-identified with the archetype and can no longer step back - like the girl in the Red Shoes - who at first just longs for the pretty new things – but soon her longing mutates into an addition, as Estes makes clear – then the girl is no longer just dancing but is rather being dancedin an incredibly heartless and inhuman way that if not checked bysome miraculous intervention - will lead without doubt to her death.
The problem illuminated here - the trap if you like – of which we may all fall victim - is greatly exacerbated by this over -identification - the temptation to claim the genius as one's own - as part of one's worldly self. Then we may become inflated. The ancient Greeks called it hubris and it is a dangerous affliction indeed - for then instead of ecstasy - there is agony - instead of transcendence - there is psychic collapse and instead of becoming one of God's Athletes - as the ballet dancer first innocently dreams - she is danced to death by the devil.
Humility is the safe guard in such matters of course as is the ritualistic necessity of stepping down and out of role - of grounding oneself and returning to the everyday. The house lights need to come on so to speak - for dancers and audiences alike - for the magic spell must be intermittently broken lest we forget ourselves in the worldly realm.
Act Four - The Lakeside
A great storm rages. Siegfried, bursting into the glade, finds Odette and begs for her forgiveness. She tells him she must kill herself, or she will forever be a swan. Siegfried, understanding that his destiny is forever changed, declares he will die with her, thus breaking von Rothbart’s power over her.
As dawn approaches, von Rothbart appears. The lovers respond to his threat by throwing themselves into the lake. At last Von Rothbart is vanquished and his power ended.
The Apotheosis - the lovers are reunited in death
Of the Apotheosis Joseph Campbell has said ......after ones foe has finally been defeated the hero and heroine experience a great expansion of consciousness.
Those who know, that what they and all things really are - is the Everlasting - dwell in the groves of the wish fulfilling trees, drink the brew of immortality, and listen everywhere to the unheard music of eternal concord.
I havea beautiful friend (pictured here) who many moons ago was a ballerina with the English National Ballet. Through her own choice she left the ballet world completely even though she could have easily stayed on. She has never looked back – nor attended a single performance since and has had a whole new career or incarnation if you like as an aqupuncturist far away from the bright lights.
Through her I have come to understand much about this very particular art that I could never otherwise have known. She has taken me behind the scenes as it were and allowed me to see some of the pain and sometimes some of the heartlessness that can reside there – but one day – thankfully – in her mid twenties something inside her decided to shatter the enchantment, the spell of that which held her and in so doing she experienced her own kind of apotheosis - the death of what was – the indentured self if you like – and the rebirth of someone entirely new and entirely free.
Yet though she said her goodbyes, hung up her blood stained dancing shoes and placed her feet fully and comfortably on the earth – she will never forget the peaks – the highs – the soaring practically out of this world - that maybe – in ballet at least – cannot be attained in any other way. The artist takes a risk – like the shaman - she must come close to the edge one might say – of what may be reasonably endured – physically – emotionally – mentally and spiritually. YET - if one is to touch what is sublime – one must allow oneself to be touched by the associated archetypes and all the dangers and perils inherent in doing so. In order to live more fully – in order to glimpse what maybe once the mystics glimpsed – the cost is high - but not to understand why these things might happen or why they might seem justified - like the only thing to do – is to profoundly misunderstand our collective yearning for that which transcends the seeming blandness and even futility of life lived too safely.
Through the power of its core myth, the genius of Tchaikovsky's music and the sheer beauty of the ballet and it's dancers we are vicariously transported, swept away in the moment – in utter suspension of disbelief - to a place within ourselves where we too experience the apotheosis that redeems the tragic tale and we too are lifted up and out of the illusion of our third dimensional everyday existence to glimpse – to touch – to feel - the promise of the beyond.
I must admit to being personally taken aback by my own responses to the production I attended recently by the Russian State Ballet – tears - uncontrollable tears streamed unbidden down my face during the finale and continued even after the curtain came down and the house lights came on.
Thank God for the theatre! And thank God for all those brave souls who tread its boards! Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
read by Anne Maria Clarke audio production David Johnson
The darkest and shortest days of winter are upon us once again - the farthest we ever get from mid-summer and the Solstice at the other end of the year, when the sun appears so early and departs late at night. I have always associated the Piper at the Gates of Dawn with this time of year - when nature is in it's fullest, lushest, scented bloom as the author so evocatively describes - so it somehow seems fitting, as the Winter Solstice heralds the return of the light, that we curl up around the fire, much as our ancient ancestors might have done - and re -call the high summer.
With this in mind and to celebrate this Winter Solstice we decided to record a chapter from Kenneth Grahame's classic Wind in the Willows remembered so fondly from our childhoods - which although not from the collective lore of Wonder Tales as such, draws so deeply and sweetly upon it that, as with all good tales it succeeds in returning us simultaneously to both the innocence of childhood and to the threshold of the mythological and numinous.
It was read to me recently on a course I was attending and I found it utterly enchanting. I read it to my husband on his birthday this year which he adored almost as much as I had adored it being read to me.
This chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn has sadly been abridged from many children's versions in spite of the fact that the author himself regarded it as quite central. It has certainly been the inspiration for countless other artists over the years who have paid it rightful homage in their derivative outpourings. We are privileged in its retelling to bow down low to it too.
When Tinker Bell Lay Dying Cautionary Tales - The Highs & Lows of the Festive Season Anne Maria Clarke
Last year on Christmas Eve I uploaded a little piece entitled I Believe in Fairies - the charming phrase from Peter Pan that children cry out all over the country at Christmas performances of the J M Barrie classic. This year I want to reference the phrase again - in a slightly different way - as a means of gaining some insight into the emotional complexities of the festive season and to explore some of what can go wrong for us at our eagerly awaited family gatherings.
I attended such a party over the weekend and it has caused me to ponder. This morning I woke with the image of Tinker Bell on my mind - you know the part where she gets into an awful fix over Wendy - fearing Peter loves her more than her - and in a fit of jealousy she betrays him to Captain Hook who tricks and tries to poison him - but then Tink realises what she has done and in order to save him - she drinks the poison herself and practically dies - and she surely would have died were it not for the kindly and timely intervention of the audience ..... phew!!! That's a lot to say all in one breath.
Christmas can be the most magical time of the year - a time for decorating our homes with masses of festive twinkling lights - buying and wrapping gifts, preparing sumptuous feasts for family and friends and dressing up in our very best party clothes.
Honoured guests arrive on the big day. There are hugs and kisses and greetings - sparkling wine is served - gifts are exchanged - the fire glows - the music plays, hearts are open and full of seasonal expectation of all the loveliness to come.
Oh no - does there have to be a but I hear you sigh ...even though I know you know it is often how it goes. The hours pass - the magic slips away - hearts close up a little - to protect themselves - as the familiar and yet utterly unconscious family patterns somehow creep in, uninvited from the shadows.
We each have our own historical woundings don't we, sore spots, long scabbed over but which can very easily get poked and prodded at such times. Then they can begin to bleed again - as if it were all just yesterday and before we know it our own lovely light just like Tinker Bell's, begins to fade - then - instead of holding onto our own adult selves, we are plunged into the morphic field of the past and completely over - shadowed by the same energy sapping poison that sucked the life force out of us long, long ago. Then the scene around us turns to black and white as every drop of colour is drained away.
We all have our own internal Hook's to reckon with so to speak that trip us up and bring us down and yet in many ways we are the same - all able for example to understand Tinker Bell and the trouble she gets into over Peter and her near fatal attempts to put things right.
One universal theme - is about not having felt fully seen and heard as a child. Somehow our parents, bless them - failed to attune to our own unique vibrational frequency which left us feeling somehow 'out in the cold.'
When there isgood enough parenting to use Winnicott's term, the baby is held sufficiently securely so that the process of en -soulment can occur - meaning simply that the parental environment is experienced as good enough for the soul to risk entering in. But this does not mean it is perfect - parents are only human afterall - which is why even when things have been good enough - we can still be terribly hurt.
This of course is a bit like what happens to Tinker Bell - even though it is clear to see - from our point of view in the audience - that she is actually full of light - as all children are in a way - before they are wounded and that part of the self is put away - either for good - where there has been severe trauma or temporarily - where the inner child is still accessible and amenable to being drawn out again where there is kindness and empathy.
A few months ago I heard a lecture given by Sharon Martin at the Jung Society of Atlanta entitled the Archetype of the Inner Child. By way of setting the scene she told a story about a young family whose 3 year old daughter had asked them - shortly after their return home from hospital with her new baby brother if she might be allowed to spend some time alone with him. Slightly reluctantly yet not wishing to upset their daughter at such a delicate time they agreed - knowing of course that they had an intercom system installed which would allow them to observe and intervene swiftly if necessary. The young child entered the room - the parents held their collective breath as she walked over to the crib and peered in.
"Tell me about Heaven?' she whispered simply.
'I've almost forgotten!'
When I wrote the piece about Peter Pan last Christmas - it was inspired by a dear departed friend who always remembered and honoured this part of the self - this magical, innocent, light filled inner child that resides within us all. As a girl she had been taken up to London every year to Peter Pan and every year - when Tinker Bell lay dying she would stamp her feet and clap her hands as requested and cry out as loud as she could:
I Believe in Fairies! I Believe in Fairies!
It was her favourite part - for she knew well from the story that this was the only possible way to bring Tinker Bell back to life - and somehow she managed to carry this gem with her through to adulthood and into her ordinary life where she demonstrated the most uncanny knack of being able to see right through all our muddles and imperfections to the magical child within us all and in so doing she raised us up and out of the grip of the various family poisons we might have ingested and gave us courage to carry on.
We all need people in our lives like my friend - our own personal audience if you like - even if it is composed of only one other person - someone who resides beyond the sway of the afflicted pattern or at least is not swamped by it - someone who remembers, affirms and attunes to our own unique light.
But in the end and in order to grow up fully we need more than a helpful audience - we need to move beyond the realm of the infant child altogether.
There is a very real sense in which we all come from heaven - and in falling to earth we must inevitably make the difficult transition from innocence to experience. We must put away childish things as the bible says - and come fully into the third dimension - but this does not imply that the divine child within has to die. Far from it!
We must stand alone as it were - knowing our seprateness and yet always remembering our eternal home.
Then all our Tinker Bells can come back to life again - we can dust ourselves down and start afresh, strengthened and transformed not weakened or diminished by our tricky ordeals - then all can proceed toward a happy ending and a good enough Merry Christmas after all.
Anne Maria Clarke
x x x
In memory of Jane Riddles
Reference: The Archetype of the Inner Child - Sharon Martin https://youtu.be/jRZ9s-RNbFc