For me, Writing is Ritual.
As any artist must, a writer must be willing to be regularly re-fitted by their muse, their pain, their in-born sensitivities. Re-fitted here means forced to see with new eyes, as each circumstance dictates. How does a writer become new with each instance of toil, each entrance into the work of story-telling, rendering the final product one of wonder, of magic, of inspiration? King Solomon warned “There is nothing new under the sun.” There is an ancient part of me who knows this is true; there is another, less-ancient iteration of me who yearns to tell it new anyway.
If a writer cannot but help tell an old story in a new way, what, then, contributes to making her version original, unique? I have wrestled with this conundrum for many years and have concluded that the answer, for me, involves a practice of the heart, not the mind. To ‘tell it new,’ I must be vigilant in piercing the internal, shifting tides of self and soul in a way that pushes the boundaries of who I am and how I show up in the world as my work, not with my work. I want the line between what I write to convey as close as it possibly can what the imagination originally spurned. And there’s the rub, the core of any artist’s endeavor: to show Truth as understood through a particular vision, at a particular time.
Having studied and practiced shamanism for many years, I believe there is little difference between the task of the shaman and the task of the writer. Both are willing and capable of diving deep, alone, into the dark waters of mystery and creativity in order to bring back the rare jewels of understanding, of insight, of story. As Barry Lopez once so clearly put it, “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.” The oracles of old were story-tellers—how else would the masses come to understand their meaning if it wasn’t in narrative form? Like the shaman, a writer has a sacred task: to contribute to how a person, a community, a country sees itself, thus holding the lens through which reality is focused.
If the Pen is the tool through which the treasures of the underworld travel, eventually piercing the manifested world, the Snake is the underworld itself and everything she represents: hidden truth, desire, damnation, scorn, resurrection, transformation, guile.
Without the one, there is no need of the other.