Divine Echoes: Art As Sacrament
“I don’t need the artist to show me the universe as it is; I get that through my telescopes. What I need the artist to do is show me how they feel the universe.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
Na Déithe libh mo chairde,
Awen is a Welsh word that roughly translates as, “flow of divine inspiration”. In Irish, similar terms are imbas or gléfiosa (“bright knowledge”). Creativity is perceived not as the product of the individual artist’s personal genius, but more so as being channeled directly from divine sources through the artist for the benefit of their community. Art and religion, spirituality and creativity, have walked hand-in-hand since the emergence of the human species, perhaps even earlier.
In the ancient Mediterranean and Mesopotamian worlds, women were the custodians of sacred music in the temples and the frame drum was their main instrument (Redmond). The first stroke of the drum is an echo of the first sound that birth the cosmos. In the Gaelic Christian tradition, the Oran Mor, or “Great Song” of Creation, is the melody of the Divine that hums through all life. The origin of the hymns in Vedic tradition were first “heard” from the Divine, and then sung by its priesthood. The power of the spoken word of Irish Bards is said to have been so potent, their satire could disfigure and kill with shame, and their songs and stories could convey blessings upon those who listened to them.
Creativity contains within it the concurrent forces of destruction, or rather, transformation. To obtain purple, a painter transforms pure red and blue into something new; what was once seemingly separate is unified into more than itself. Transformation burns at the center of the creative impulse. Creativity matters; it is an integral element of our consciousness. Creativity is the foundation of human endeavor. It is just as essential to science and logos as it is to spirituality and mythos (Greenwood).
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” ~ Albert Einstein
It is imagination and creativity that drives both science and spirituality. Einstein is said to have dreamed the images for which he then created mathematical formulas to test. Working with the inspiration of dream images is foundational in the work of shamans and mystics. Precisely why or from where our creative impulses arise is a scientific enigma. From an empirically-minded, anthropological perspective, creativity can be viewed as a survival tool that drives cultural adaptation. But this does not encapsulate how we experience creativity and the creation of art.
I define art as creativity meant to share experience. The range of human creative expression is limitless. As a Celtic priestess, I consider ceremony and ritual to be sacred performance art, and the construction of shrines and altars to be sacred sculpture. Rituals that I officiate are participatory and experiential; there is always space included for participants to play musical instruments, make offerings or poetry or song, or similarly honor their creativity.
“Creating art has helped me to understand that I am a creative being here to allow what is me to unfold. The lines of creativity, instead of boxing things in, begin to connect and open them all up, so that we begin to see that things are related. Through the exercise of creating, our awareness can be awakened and deepened. Our conscious awareness can affect the quality of sacredness and our deepening of the awareness of spirit present in our lives. Art is one of the sacred paths to awaken to the indefinable spirit that allows us life. It is only when we open to the full awareness of the mystery of creation that one can begin to have a sense of the infinite nature of art. This is a very spiritual and sacred awareness that happens.” Richard Francis, painter and sculptor
The sacred directions and elements, often perceived in categories of three, four, seven, or nine, is an eloquent metaphor for how our consciousness is mirrored in the world around us. The same molecules, particles, bits and bobs that churn in the guts of stars also comprise our own bodies. We are born from, kin to, ancestors of, and unified with the stars and all other forms of life. Spread infinitely outwards into the universe, we are ultimately one body, constantly communicating. When we create life, when we imagine and create art, we are participating in the continual evolution and birth of the cosmos and our experience of being alive in an enspirited world.
In Celtic tradition, Nature is revered as our direct source of life and death, rebirth, inspiration, and creativity. For practitioners of earth-based spiritualities, what could be more natural? Creative expression and spiritual life are the same. Creativity, inspiration, and art are essential to modern Paganisms because they have not been received by us from unbroken generational inheritance; we are creating it anew for ourselves. We are the artists manifesting what resonates most deeply in our spiritual core, combining science and mysticism. New symbols are created and ancient motifs acquire new meaning and fresh relevance.
“Artists are the true high priests and priestesses of humanity. Life is all about experience. All sentient life has one thing in common: we experience. Life was created by God, the Creator, the Universe, or whatever It is, to experience itself. Art is the quantification of our human experience. Being an artist is a calling; it is putting that human experience into form in a way that more people can relate to it. Shared experience is what art is all about.” ~ Carol McLeod, artist
In this perspective of shared experience, art also shares roots with our primal religious impulse. The earliest origins of recorded art evolved in concurrence with spirituality. In the caves of Europe and the earliest known paintings and sacred-artistic objects, the most common images are human handprints, beasts and birds, spirals, fecund females or goddesses, shamans, and spirit beings. Art, our creative impulse, is the twin of mysticism. One does not exist without the other.
“Creativity can be conjured by dreams. Every piece of art is a new perspective. That is one of our most basic inner drives, to keep art alive. We are born with it. How much of that you bring out is how much of an “artist” you are. Artists are like scientists; you look at something differently than another person would. If you’re a musician, you see it in music; if you’re a painter, you see it in color. Art is important for the advancement of a society. Art has a role in the evolution of human consciousness. Art reveals truth; in this way it is religious. It is a continuous process, like life is. It’s about wonderment.” ~ Evan Lebo, painter and diorama sculptor
Art and spirituality continuously evolve alongside human culture. What was relevant to one era is not to another, or takes on different meaning. We cannot step twice into the same river, and yet somehow we sense we are part of a continuous flow of life. Art presents a mirror of our inner life as well as the world we perceive around us. Spirituality likewise serves the same function. Images in art and spiritual traditions are “metaphors for the mysteries of existence”. (Campbell) They are transrational, understood intuitively and experientially. Our creativity is a process by which we can participate with intent in the energy that unifies all life, even though this is expressed and experienced subjectively.
The impulse for creativity and mysticism radiates from the same source within us. In the Celtic tradition, the “fruitful darkness” is the incubatory and generative state of being in which we connect with our inner divine and from which flow our streams of creativity. Images that appear in dreams, our subconscious and higher consciousness, not only have subjective meaning but a universal appeal because they both partake of the innate human desire for a sense of unity, belonging, and understanding of the ultimate source of life and death. This is the root of artistic and spiritual experience, and there is no human culture that does not have its own unique expression of it.
“Visionary art matters, because the visionary, mystical experience is the most direct contact that we have with the Divine. All sacred art and religious traditions are founded on this mystical state. Creativity is our spiritual path. Art is an echo of the creative force that birthed the galaxies. And creativity is the way that the cosmos evolves and communicates with itself. The great uplifting of humanity beyond its self-destruction is the redemptive mission of art”. ~ Alex Grey
Art contains symbolism that is deeply embedded in our collective consciousness. These sounds, images, and motifs influence and change us. We are transformed through the cyclical creative process of life, death, and rebirth. Our creativity and spirituality flow from this same wellspring of inspiration. This is part of who we are. This is the many in one. This is Holy.
May your life be your greatest masterpiece!
~ Reverend Erika Rivertree
Joseph Campbell, Hero With A Thousand Faces
Susan Greenwood, The Anthropology of Magic
Layne Redmon, When The Drummers Were Women