Another Little Art Blast: Some Mythological Beings and Motifs

This is a series of ceramic pieces that I recently posted on Facebook.

#1. Raven (Raku Candle-holder)

Since I recently posted the Salmon, it seems appropriate to follow with another icon of Pacific Northwest Native Mythology—Raven. I am lucky to have my favorite meditation spot directly under the flight path of our local ravens. I caw at them when they go by. Sometimes they talk back. Raven was a trickster. In Native mythology he is the one who stole fire from heaven and gave it to the people. A wise and worthy bird—evermore! (I think our local art legend Rick Bartow might have liked this).

#2. Mistress of Animals (raku bust)

I first thought of this large raku bust as a Minoan Priestess. Later, though it seemed she might be the “Mistress of the Wild Animals” (or “Queen of the Wild Bees”), a goddess who appears under many names. She is often surrounded by animals. Her Minoan name was Britomartis or Sweet Virgin, later in Greek mythology she was associated with Artemis. She is pictured here in our increasingly autumnal garden.

#3. Anubis (ceramic candle-holder)

My inspiration here was the Jackal headed Egyptian guide to the underworld—Anubis. I thought it was a perfect piece for a candle holder. I really like the way it came out. He is not portentous at all. In fact, that look of wonder in his eyes led me to (fondly) call him just “dumb dog.”

#4. Nighthawk (raku candleholder)

This picked up some nice coppery metallic hues that are one of the really striking things about the raku process. A spirit of the night and a light in the darkness. 

#5. Reynard the Fox (standard ceramic mask)

Another trickster, this time a staple of French folklore about whom stories abound. He should probably be red, but I believe foxes have magical powers of transformation… I believe my brilliant cat Tabitha outwitted one or two foxes (as well as large owls, coyotes, racoons, eagles, and a bobcat). When I brought her home from Saudi Arabia, I was really worried about whether she would make it in a totally new environment. Every single plant and animal she met—not to mention the towering fir trees—were alien to her. She did remarkably well. She was an admirable cat in every way!

#6. Blodeuwedd (Sculptural Raku Vase)

Also known as “Flower-Face.” She is a Welsh fertility figure associated with the “May-Queen” (and so probably with other fertility goddesses like Olwen. Persephone and Demeter.)  She was said to have been created by the Druidic wizards Math and Gwydion from sweet summer plants.  

#7. Ouroboros (standard ceramic plate)

The “worm ouroboros” symbol was first attested in Egyptian tomb art. It became a symbol for alchemists and Gnostics in Europe. In Norse mythology, the ouroboros appears as the serpent Jörmungandr, which grew so large that it could encircle the world and grasp its tail in its teeth. I have pictured him here framing the world tree or “tree of life” (“Yggdrasil”) of Norse mythology. If you look on Wikipedia, “The Worm Ouroboros” comes up as the title of a memorable fantasy by E.R Eddison. A great fantasy book written in 1922 (32 years before Tolkien!) If you like it, there were three other books as well… This was a very early piece for me. I was never happy with the glazes I chose (the dark green makes it a little too close to Bavarian folk art kitsch for me—but that may be OK for a medieval symbol…

#8. Eve and the Apple (standard ceramic tile)

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Around 1945, a collection of ancient manuscripts known as the “Nag Hammadi Library” was discovered in a cave near a village of that name in Egypt. The texts date back to around 200 CE, but most were clearly based on earlier writing and traditions. Among notable finds were several “gospels” (by Mary, Thomas, Steven, Philip, Thomas the Contender, etc.) Two versions of the Genesis story are also included, as well as a document called “The Second Treatise of the Great Seth.” The collection appears to reflect the “Gnostic” interpretation of Christianity. In their account, the story of Eve and the apple has quite a different interpretation than the one most of us grew up with. Here, the snake represents wisdom (as it does in many other mythological traditions). Knowledge of good and evil (the apple) is essential to our growth beyond childhood innocence. The snake and the woman (Sophia) therefore bring on a necessary initiation and step forward…So maybe women aren’t really to blame for all the trouble in the world after all! Who knew? Who would have thought they were on the side of right all along? For anyone serious about religion and “spiritual work” this is well worth taking a look at.

#10. Two Ancient Sages (Raku Vase)

Two sides of the same piece. I went for a timeworn, weathered look here. I think it worked just a little too well. As a result, the features on the faces may be a little too tenuous–and the crackle got to be a bit too much—very hard to predict that. Live and learn they say…

#11. Wild Dancer (Cubist/Modernist/Raku vase)

I have often heard that FB can be contentious, but I hadn’t really believed it until yesterday when someone compared my last post (the Two Ancient Sages Vase) to Picasso. Well, I’m not going to take any Picasso jokes lying down!  It made me decide to post this wild little piece. The rituals of myth were often attended by all sorts of wild dancers. I can almost hear the snide comments from intellectual art critics coming: “Ah, absence is presence,” or “It seems like she just lost her head,” or “She seems to be a bit bent out of shape.” Well go ahead. I can take it. I’m no square! I can be as cubist as the next guy!

#12. A Confucian Gentleman Under a Spring Moon (Raku Tile)

Not much to add here… I do think that Confucianism is much under-rated. It is a spiritual and philosophical system worthy of more study and respect. Not much involved with spirit worlds and life after death—just a steady focus on social harmony and good manners. Nice things that we need much more of…

#13. “The Taming Power of the Small” (Raku Vase)

My little cat Tabitha has been gone over a week now. It is hard to believe how only nine and half pounds of physical presence could create such an enormous amount of absence. This vase was made in memory of another small cat named “Flash.” The hexagram from the I-Ching that is incised on the side of the vase is called “The Taming Power of the Small.” I thought it was a good reminder of the immense impact our small animal friends can have on our lives. Also perhaps on the importance of small acts of kindness and other “small things”…

#14. A Box for I-Ching Oracle Sticks (raku)

I have been addressing questions to the I-Ching since I was about 16. I have always gotten insightful useful guidance from this venerable book. It is not for fortune telling. It doesn’t tell you what to do, but time after time, when I was confronted with big life decisions, it helped to clarify the path forward. An essential text in both the Taoist and Confucian traditions.

#15. Aquarius: The Water Bearer (detail of a Raku tile)

Blessed are those who carry water for the village. I thought I would try to do tiles of the Zodiac, but (like an initial shot at the Tarot Cards) I didn’t get far…oh well.

#16. Peace Dove (Raku Box)

Another really rough week all around. It’s Sunday, so this bird seemed appropriate. A bird of peace, love, and hope. Have a good day.

#17.  Greek Hero (standard ceramic car key holder)

Ah. Monday again. Sigh. There are a lot of everyday heroes who never slay a dragon or fight in a desperate last stand. They just take their car keys (if they can find them….) and go to work every day. This is a little tribute to all of them. I was trying to make my art more “functional.” I think this piece shows that we can learn a lot by incorporating a knowledge of mythology into our everyday lives.

# 18. Odysseus (Standard ceramic mask

He apparently saw a lot of strange stuff in his travels. I guess that explains the look of dumb astonishment on his face—or maybe I was just projecting. (Of course, it is possible that the blind drunk poet Homer made all that stuff up. Who really knows…?)

#19. Aphrodite (Raku tile)

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Mighty Aphrodite! The goddess of love was a popular theme from the Greeks to this day. It was partly because of her that Odysseus had all those strange adventures. This interpretation is loosely informed by the painting “Venus Rising,” by the Venetian painter Titian (1520). A reminder tat there was a time when love (not money) made the world go round.  

#20. Horus (Raku Sculpture)

The Falcon headed Egyptian god Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, was strongly associated with the Pharaohs (Hence the Pharaonic symbol of the cobra on his headdress).  The Pharaoh was said to be an incarnation of Horus (while alive) and Osiris (after death).

# 21. Beowulf (standard ceramic mask)

It is Friday, a day named after the Norse Goddess Freya. It seemed like a good day for something Nordic. Beowulf maybe our oldest English Hero (but actually maybe Danish…who really knows?). His saga, a lurid tale of slaughtering monsters in his youth and still having to fight dragons in old age, is the starting place for English literature. It sounds a lot like the life of the late great John Lewis. The work of the hero is never done.  Evil takes no holidays, ignorance works overtime! That might explain why our hero looks so bewildered when he looks out on our current situation. I guess he thought that things might have changed for the better by now…

# 22. The Devil You Say? (standard ceramic car key holder)

Saturday is named after Saturn, who was in later times associated with the devil. This Devilish key holder was designed as the perfect gift for those people who always leave their keys lying round in random places and then, when it’s time to go, suddenly cry out “Where the Devil are my car keys?” Here then, is the answer.

# 23. Raven Steals Fire (Raku Plate)

We started with Raven, so it’s proper to end this series with him. Raven was sacred to our local Native peoples and also in Norse mythology, where he was associated with Odin (Woden). A wise bird. Say hello to them when they pass by.

5 thoughts on “Another Little Art Blast: Some Mythological Beings and Motifs

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  1. .Westwood? My memory is going south, but she’s the one I took several courses from, and she was my advisor for my graduate courses. We shared a love for Romanticism at a time when it was scorned. She advised me to use the ideas and not the term

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