I used to be a big fan of reading dystopian fiction when I was younger. It seemed like a distant world, a reality far from our own. But perhaps now, those books resonate too close to reality. As someone who practices magic, I have to wonder, would the concepts present 1984 be as present if the book hadn’t been so well-read? Did George Orwell manifest these concepts as a magical act, or were these already present and he simply channeled what was already coming into focus? The same can be true of many such influential works: The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, Bladerunner, and more. We also have things like robots, invented by Issac Asimov as science fiction in the 1940s and 60 years or more later, became a reality. One might argue that despite the fantastical nature of these works, works like these have had an influence on present human culture. Perhaps, it is a sign of the times that most of what has been produced from a mass media standpoint in the 20th-21st century is rather dystopian and chilling, with some notable exceptions. As we have recently seen here in the US, words have power. Words can shape reality and incite people to action. Is this the world we want to create?
As someone who practices magic, I certainly accept that our intentions and the directing of our will can help shape our realities. I also accept that for many things, we have to have a spark or vision before we can see it come to reality. It is hard to bring something to life if we first can’t envision that it could exist. If we accept this to be true, then, in turn, we can consciously harness intentions and that bring visions to life that help create a better future. I think that one of the powerful things that art of all forms can do is help envision the future.
At this point, we are facing both ecological disaster and many human challenges that grow more serious by the year as our society continues the “slow crash”. This era of human civilization will decline and end–but the question is–what comes after? How can we be good ancestors for the future? Thus, I am always looking for ways to do more. I want to take responsibility for my own behaviors physically and metaphysically. Physically, this might include being careful with my purchases, working to heal and regenerate landscapes, and engaging in other kinds of sacred action. Metaphysically, it can be bringing forth visions of a better future–we can create the visions now so that they can enter circulation and become something that helps seed a brighter world.
I also share the rest of this post with a caveat. People create art for a lot of different reasons, both external and internal. You might consider visioning arts as one of many reasons to create, a bonus reason, a reason that offers your art additional purpose. Not all art has to have this kind of vision either, but some art forms and works may be very well suited to it.
Creating a Sacred Vision
If you buy into this idea and you practice the bardic arts of any kind (poetry, music, dance, writing, visual art, fine crafts, etc) you might want to give this idea some thought. What vision are you putting into the world? What is the world you want to create? Towards that end, I have a few suggestions for helping you hone and refine some ideas. The most important thing you can do is spend some time in meditation and reflection about what vision of the world, what ideas and concepts, you want to bring forth. So here are a few things to consider:
- Start by thinking about the specific kind of art (bardic work) you produce and what kinds of messages you can share. Certain art forms are easier to convey messages than others. When you convey messages in your work, can the work stand on its own, or, do you want to share some information about the work in addition to the work itself?
- Consider presenting general philosophy about your work. Messaging can come in a lot of forms: these sometimes come in the form of “artist statements” that talks about what you do and why you do it. This is especially helpful for work that can be interpreted in many ways, or whose interpretation is not immediately clear upon examination (e.g. woodcarving). You can share these messages on social media, on your website, even with the physical art that someone receives.
- Consider your specific messages or themes you want to convey. Perhaps you have a very specific message or a general one. Think about the thing you most would like to see in the world–write it down, and keep it in mind when you create.
- Consider the symbols you use. Symbols, whether they are intentional magical sigils or just broader symbols, also carry tremendous power. If you have specific symbols or symbolism you want to use in your work, this should also be considered!
Now, I’ll present three core visioning goals for my own work as an artist–I am sharing them both to demonstrate an example of the kinds of visions you can create but also to spark your own creativity about how your bardic arts of all kinds (poetry, visual art, music, dance, fine crafts, writing) might support your own unique vision.
Messaging and Visioning: An Example
As a visual artist and a writer, I am always thinking about how I can bring this aspect of magical visioning into my work. It is one of the reasons I create, but certainly, not the only one! These are my three goals.
Presenting an alternative perspective and value of nature.
One of the first ways I see us using art, writing, poetry, music, and other bardic arts is to present alternatives or ways of reseeing our present reality. We can show a different perspective on something, offer a new angle, or provide new insight through our work. I think you can do this with anything, but as a druid who has her heart set on preserving the natural world, my focus s on nature and on providing alternative messaging and visions.
I’ll give you a good example of this. As I’ve shared before on this blog, I live in a region of the USA that is an extraction zone: we have fracking wells, 1000’s of miles of streams full of acid and iron from mine runoff, mountaintop removal, boney dumps, logging, and coal-fired power plants–to name just a few. Around here, most people view nature as something to extract; a resource to be profited from, and a way to keep jobs in the region. Hunting and fishing are also big around our rural area; while I’ve met some hunters who have reverence, unfortunately, many shoot animals, birds, and rodents for sport. Thus, there is very little respect or love for nature and in my art, I work to offer a different message.
A few years ago, I was invited to hang some work through our local art association at the regional hospital. It was a nice opportunity to have my work seen by a lot of people. I thought really carefully about the content of my art and decided to work to present an alternative view of resource extraction. I painted trees with hearts in the ground, I painted the telluric currents of earth energy flowing, I painted regenerated landscapes. It’s hard to say how these pieces of art touched those who saw them, but I hope they did some good. The more these kinds of alternative messages and perspectives can get into circulation, the more “normalized” they become and the more power they hold.
Another way of thinking about this is in the tools and materials I use–there’s a message about valuing nature inherent in this work. For example, my neighbor plowed over a beautiful stand of staghorn sumac last summer without even knowing what it was or how it could be used. This beautiful stand was one I got to know well and I was really distraught at how it happened. This really saddened me, but he did allow me to come in and harvest as much as I wanted of the wood and roots. I did so, and at the holidays, I made him an ornament from the beautiful root wood and put a note on there that it was from the wood he let me harvest. Perhaps this beautiful wood will have him think twice about cutting down the trees and seeing some inherent value in them.
Re-enchanting the world
After someone is willing to see nature, to value it more, to understand it in a new light, then I can shift to the more magical and potent part of the message–the message of the world being an enchanted place helping re-enchant humanity’s perspective of the living earth. If a new vision is step 1, then re-enchantment is step 2. In other posts, I’ve written about what I see as the disenchantment of the world, the philosophical and literal stripping of all magic and wonder from the world, which I believe has paved the way for some of the more egregious abuses of nature in the 18th- 21st centuries.
Ultimately, if we see nature as sacred, enchanted, and having a spirit of its own, it is much more likely that humans of all kinds will behave in ways of reverence and respect. I think a lot of authors and artists have done a great job in showing that the world has an enchanted side.
I think one of my own projects that most closely aligns with this goal is the Plant Spirit Oracle. The goal of this deck was to take common medicinal plants and offer them in an enchanted and personified way. I also paid special attention to plants that were maligned like Poison Ivy and Japanese Knotweed as part of this work. Thus, Japanese Knotweed, which is widely hated and maligned, is shown in an enchanted light as a guardian of the waterways; the catnip in your garden is shown to have spirit, poison ivy teaching awareness, and so on. These plants have forms that can be viewed, interacted with, and offer guidance and wisdom. .
Offering new visions of the future and personal empowerment
A final aspect, and one that has a lot of potency for me right now, is thinking about how works of art of all kinds can shape the future. I’m sick of reading and thinking about things from a dystopian perspective and I’m sick of watching our world go further and further into those dystopian vision. I’ve firmly committed to creating works of hope. This was a clear vision for me for the Tarot of Trees– a response to deforestation. I wanted people who used the deck to value trees more, and I wanted a vision of a healed world to come forth. But there’s also a lot of future vision in these works: witch hazel, one of my favorite paintings in the PSO, is all about a pathway towards the future; about becoming a good ancestor. Comfey is about having the tools to bring positive change, while Rosemary reminds us of the powerful cycles and generations that we have to consider. The messaging is there for those who look!
In another example, this one by one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry, his poem, Work Song, Part II: A Vision is a prime example of a message that holds a vision of the future. When I first read this poem, I cried from the beauty of it, the vision Wendell Berry offered and thought about what we might need to get there.
Visioning a Brighter, Nature-centered Future
Providing alternative perspectives, enchantment, and visioning for the future is certainly a magical act and one that many people who practice the bardic arts might build into their work. When you create something and put it out in the world, you have an opportunity to create so much more than just a piece of art–you have a chance to help build a vision of the world to come. While simple visioning work is only part of the task before us, however, as Wendell Berry’s poem notes, it is an important part and something that each of us can do.
Dear readers, I am very interested in hearing from you on this topic: Have you built visionary principles into your art? If so, please share. If you haven’t yet but would like to, I’d love to hear from you as well!