26 January 2013

thoughts of lead and cowrie shells yet to be found....

there is a cloud so big and dark that looms over my family like a leaden sky- heavy and solid yet alone it will not fall.....
there it is above me everyday. sometimes when i awake it is pressing against my head, crushing my head into the pillow- i cannot lift it, i cannot fight it, for it is too big.
other days it hangs above me but i know it's always there.
on rare occasions, it blows higher and on those days i can't feel its weight and i can dance on the beach..... but i never forget it's there.
i know locked inside is everything unspoken, everything true.
thoughts and feelings belonging to generations are hidden from this world in this coffin of fear.

lead. i've been working with lead a lot recently. lead is in my thoughts. lead is on my mind..... and probably through bad work practice there are traces of lead in my body. though regarding this latter point, i plan to take more care from now on!

it's heavy, really heavy and although this may sound obvious i'm always surprised when i go to the scrap yard and want to see a piece at the bottom of the pile. but to me it's strange that a metal so heavy can also be so malleable. a large flat sheet of lead behaves like a piece of fabric- it drapes and curves and sculpts itself into a form of its own choosing yet, it can be beaten and hammered without much effort into virtually any shape.

when i was on my 'alchemy of paint' course we looked at all the metals, their properties and their alignment to different planets and phases of life. we were taught that part of alchemy is recognising the reality of the inner world and the union of the outer and inner world. another part is to reveal the hidden content of the world and the transformation of the invisible world into the world of time and space. we were shown a chart with seven stages of transformation- seven planets, their seven metals and their corresponding colours. it shows the pigments chemical composition and reveals the depth and origin of theses ancient substances to be more than just their physical colour. much of this important information has been lost today or isn't relevant with modern synthetic colours. historically, this knowledge was as important in the decision to choose a particular colour rather than just its outward appearance.

in this chart of transformation and path to finding our true selves lead is at the bottom and gold is at the top. lead represents our darkness, our ignorance. it is the most dense and least reflective metal. gold, on the other hand, symbolises perfection in mind and spirit, the sun, the source of light and life and represents enlightenment of the self in this particular elemental journey.

jung believed that an individual's psychological state can be assessed alchemically. he took the four basic substances found in alchemy (lead, salt, sulphur and mercury) as metaphors for the ways the personality operates in life. lead represents the dense depressive aspect.

so i find it interesting that i have chosen to work with lead- this ruler of the dark, lustreless prime matter and wonder if it is the beginning of a more personal journey.

today we were on the beach collecting cowrie shells and i was telling a friend how in the window of a little cottage on the isles of scilly i'd seen a jam jar full to the brim of cowries. i remember walking past it every day and being amazed at seeing so many. i thought how much i wanted to collect a whole jar of cowries too and so on the isles of scilly i began. it's probably not so difficult there as without really looking i found quite a few. but here they are much more scarce and you have to search. 

last week when i found 44 it was because they were washed up on the last high tide line. they were in a neat row along the whole length of the beach just waiting to be discovered. i was actually looking for driftwood but half way down the beach i realised there was a slightly darker wet line, no seaweed (which is rare) and glistening wet shells of all varieties laid out in a gentle wave pattern. my only disappointment was that it was dusk and the light was quickly fading. but i found myself on an intense cowrie hunt and became so immersed in the search that i was taken to another world. and it was one of the deepest contentment and peace. my hands were frozen and when the light was gone i carried on in the dark with a head torch but, i never wanted it to end. so if lead is a land of darkness and depression, finding cowrie shells is one of serenity and joy, up there with gold, in my opinion.

cowrie shells have an interesting history- though i don't think the ones abroad are anything like as beautiful as our local variety. according to an extract i found on the british museum website:

"the cowrie shell has been used as money in many parts of the world, including china, africa and arabia. in china, inscriptions which talk of 'gifts of cowries', 'cowries in the treasury', 'seizure of cowries', 'use of cowries' and 'rewards of cowries' are found on bones and on bronze vessels of the shang (sixteenth-eleventh centuries BC) and zhou (eleventh century - 221 BC) dynasties".

and, as i've just discovered, the term "porcelain" derives from the old italian term for the cowrie shell (porcellana) due to their similar translucent appearance.

i like these contrasts- a dark lustreless lead and the light translucence of the cowrie. i love the white powdery matt surface of old lead and that same white chalky bloom in the fingerprint markings on a cowrie shell. and that most delicate subtle cowrie pink is one i've also found on lead. it's quite simple, i love lead and i love cowries!

today i only found four (and a friend gave me one one of hers) and at this rate it's going to take a life time to fill a whole jar. but i don't mind and it's a natural progression rather than an active obsession.  today i couldn't help but wonder what we'd be like when we're 90 and holding a full jar- an entire life time represented in that jar. i've never thought of my life in terms of cowries before. but if i live to 90 i hope that seeing all those beautiful shades of pink will take me back to those moments of serenity and peace.

click here for a link to a lovely article about cowrie collecting by a writer called sophie pierce.

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