Friday, April 11, 2008

The Sun is a Luminous Shield.

The sun is a luminous shield that is carried across the sky each day by a god. Sounds improbable? Wait, there is something to think about here that tugs at our perception of reality. This way of thinking of the sun is more humanly accessible than the way physics describes it and variations of this version of truth exist in most cultural traditions around the world. The difference is that the traditional versions place the physical world into harmony with the imaginative world of people -makes it an active agent in their lives, while the scientific version does not. Which view is more functional? Carl Jung was once asked if he believe in God, Heaven, Angels an Afterlife and so on. His answer was cast in a similar manner - To believe or not to believe, which works best for you in your life? If believing in some form of higher power helps to integrate your life and gives it meaning then why would n`t you? The image of a greater power that places even the life giving sun in harmony with the world grasps an all inclusive truth and expresses it in an imagery that can be integrated into peoples lives.

The difficulty in accepting a more than scientific view of reality is made more obvious when we are presented with a myth that is outside our own particular culture story: it is a challenge, a stretch, to step into the culture story of another. Yet we are all from one root and the genesis of this story comes from that early time. I found the Navaho story of the sun`s journey in Joseph Campbell`s book Transformations of Myth Through Time and again in Wisdom of the Elders by David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson and decided to carve it in a special piece of red cedar for my daughter Elaine`s wedding present. It would be a companion to Moon Woman on the walls of their new house. I was pleased she wanted another one of my carvings!

My first little thumbnail drawings were crude and barely formed but useful as attempts to draw an idea out into consciousness. At this point I dared not be critical or the Gate of Beginnings would slam shut, so I kept absently doodling until eventually I combined a couple of ideas and added the hands called dusk and dawn that cradled the sun. I liked the way the final drawing showed the nose of the god slightly overhanging the disk of the sun to give a sense of depth. The image was still very rough but I did n`t want anything more refined. The carving needed lots of elbow room to create itself along the way.
A complication with this carving was that the piece of wood had a wildly convoluted grain: cut from the buttressed base of one of my cedars, the wood could not be carved with normal chisels. I used a router to cut the various heights and shapes and a belt sander to grind out the rounded forms. Only at the end did I use a very sharp knife to slice the final edges and details. This was such an industrial approach to carving that I was gratified to see the image taking charge and swimming to the surface in its usual mysterious way: the original seed still there, but now developed into a powerful presence. Glass beads gave life to the hands of dawn and dusk and the eyes came to life with their burning orange light!

I cringe now to think that at this point I considered using paint on this lovely piece of wood. That is part of the process though: to find a correct solution I must entertain every idea without prejudice and take what seems to my everyday self like wild chances. This is creation after all and I am in co-operation with mystery. After a lot of hand sanding, I soaked the carving in Swedish oil and in a flash of vision waxed the sun`s disc and buffed it to a bright luster. The depths of the convoluted grain now shone like the swirl of gasses deep in the wood and the surface reflected like a mirror.

When I visit my daughter now I catch a glimpse of my carving at the end of a shadowy hallway. The sun god gazes searchingly at me , the beads on his wrists glow from dark to light and light to dark, and, in a single shaft of light, the sun is a luminous shield.

* I took the title from a splendid musical composition of the same name by Imant

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