Martin Shaw


Welcome to this, the beginning of the year programme. Glad you found us! I think we may be in for even more rain over the weekend. Over the programme we will study seven main stories and their relationship to initiatory rites-of-passage. A core of you will go on to undergo the wilderness fast itself I am going to lay some introductory ground over the next couple of hours - on both initiation and myth - and touch on our first story. The stories we will explore over the year are thick with paradox - they are not moral allegories in the normal sense of that phrase. Their sympathies are wide, not just with the human community. They are stories of rupture. They are all initiation myths, and have the severance/threshold/return progression at their core. There is certainly heroism within them, but also trickery, compromise, and loss. They seem to originate from the tribal idea that a culture requires certain rituals, certain stories, to accommodate wildness within the wider remit of its laws and traditions, a kind of funnel back and forth between the pastoral and the prophetic. Without this funnel, the wildness goes underground, loses the sophistication of an art form of a story or dance, and re-emerges as savagery. These stories are not neat but tangled, and anything I have to say about them is a kind of informed speculation. What binds them - Norwegian, Welsh, Russian, Siberian, Irish, Romanian - is both the initiatory cycle and that they all contain an intense relationship between humans, animals and wilderness - shape shifting is key in most of them.

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