First, I sketched a woman in the center of the square board. I had thought she would become an angel, floating softly in the clouds, but as I worked and the entire image evolved, the words ‘pilgrim’ and ‘warrior’ leapt into mind, and stuck there with an unshakable tenacity. Her wings seemed birdlike, her stance solid and powerful. The arcs, curves, and geometric shapes extend around and through her, spherical and diagonal lines giving the image a sense of movement.
The pilgrim’s torso is textured with a combination of beeswax and grass. Wax, as a component of a candle, represents pure flesh or humanity; a candle symbolizes light in the darkness of life, purification, cleansing, and holy illumination of the truth. It is also used to ward of evil spirits; life is safe as long as the candle burns. Bees, among other things, represent perfect community. Grass is a symbol for usefulness; it can also represent one’s native land. When it is pulled, it signifies the surrender or conquest of a land or territory.
Her breasts, under and overlying the wax and grass, are facing forward, and thus represent hope and courage. Breasts also symbolize protection, love, tenderness, and the universal mother nursing all of humanity. Rising up from behind her torso appears to be a sword or scythe. A sword is a symbol for liberty, strength, courage, purification, and the conjunction of the physical and spiritual. It can also signify chivalry and knighthood, and the discriminating and penetrating power of the intellect. A scythe can be used to cut away obstacles in one’s path, and represents the hope of a fruitful harvest. Her wings can be seen as symbols of freedom, and spirituality.
It was not until the completion of the series, that I chose to research the traditional symbolism of the objects, creatures, and natural phenomena depicted in the paintings. It was an opportunity for further analysis of my own work, and a positively uncanny experience to discover how well the symbolism agreed with the feeling, meaning, and text of each piece. As this happened in painting after painting, one could assume that particular things denote meanings that are easily associated to the use or feelings that they inspire, or that there is a great deal of knowledge floating about in the subconscious mind. Or even that the process of creativity allows the mind to be in a trance like state, connecting with the divine.
I believe we bear intellects closely related to the culture we are from, or that we descend from. Much of the information in the subconscious mind stems from one’s culture. For some, the process of painting is like meditation or prayer, a dialogue with the internal and external divine upon which the intellect chooses the appropriate images for the desired result, the symbolism at times specific to a particular culture, at times cross-cultural.
Dictionary definitions were used as the text, one root word leading to another. Pilgrim is related to the Latin peregrine, the English peregrine means ‘falcon’, the root of which is the Latin peregrinus, which means “foreign”. The root word of foreign is the Latin foris, which means “outside”. It was a fascinating experience to create a meaning, or story, by choosing which definitions to attach to each word. The definition of hawk is also written on the painting, as a peregrine is ‘a kind of falcon much used for hawking’, and because the pilgrim has ‘rounded short wings’, like the hawk. A falcon or hawk represents “one who does not rest until the objective is achieved”.
She is the pilgrim warrior because she has the strength to both begin and complete her journey. The idea of a pilgrimage or lengthy travel of any kind has long fallen out of favor in Western culture. The pilgrims of the past had to deal with much hardship during the journey itself; modern day pilgrims from the West have as their greatest obstacle the negative attitudes toward any type journey, unless it is for business or a brief vacation. The wandering life is considered an aberrant form of behavior, a neurosis, ‘dropping out’ or ‘running away’. For Western civilization to maintain itself there can be no wandering off of its constituents.
In the East, the concept that wandering re-establishes the relation between man/woman and the universe is still much respected. In the West, we have developed the notion that life does not change by changing location. While the essential needs of a group or individual may remain the same, some places may fill those needs better than others, depending much on the person or community in question. I believe it is quite possible that there is a human need for the journey itself.
As we are a society focused on the concrete, what is material, we no longer understand the need for movement, and we have forgotten that in all probability, many peoples of ancient times would have been nomadic. It is possible that the need for motion is simply part of the human psyche, a survival tool to help tribes embrace the need for a journey when the season has changed. In The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton wrote: “There is nothing better than a change of air in this malady (melancholia), than to wander up and down, as those Tartari Zalmohenses that live in hordes, and take the opportunity of times, places, seasons.”
There are many valid motivations and great benefits for the modern day wanderer. Aside from the opportunity to discover what is important to us (as individuals) outside of the confines of our own culture, it provides the opportunity to truly learn about other cultures in a far more visceral and indelible fashion, than through books or media. The pilgrimage and the role of the pilgrim are as vital today as in ancient times.
A common misconception of the ancient nomads is that the urge to move came from men, rather than women, who are the guardians of hearth and home. However, in a nomadic tribe, it is the hearth and home that are attached to the women, not the reverse. In The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin writes:
|It is the gypsy women who keep their men on the road. Similarly, in the gale-lashed waters of the Cape Horn archipelago, it was the women of the Yaghan Indians who kept their embers alight in the bottom of their bark canoes. The missionary Father Martin Gusinde compared them to the ‘Ancient Vestals’ or to ‘fidgety birds of passage who were happy and inwardly calm only when they were on the move’.|
The pilgrim warrior is a woman of courage who confronts and conquers obstacles, who is unstoppable, who has the freedom to undertake whatever journeys are necessary; her wisdom is vast, her knowledge from wandering transformed into compassion, she is both ancient and modern, fierce and heavenly.