Summoning Ghosts


Photo Credit: Cynthia Waters

This week I went to see Summoning Ghosts, the title of a current exhibit at the Oakland Museum. It is the Art of Hung Liu whom some of you may be familiar with if you frequent the Oakland Airport where she has an exhibit called “Going Away, Coming Home.” The exhibit is nothing short of phenomenal and may be one of the best exhibits I have ever seen.

I am particularly drawn to these paintings after a dream I had last week in which I was playing the didgeridoo toward a wall and I knew that on the other side of the wall were people who had died. As I played the wall slowly became a window and I could see that those on the other side were young people. I felt in the dream as if I had been “summoning ghosts.”

One of Liu’s inspirations is using old photographs depicting people who have been forgotten about and whose individuality in their lifetimes was devalued and maybe despised, such as prostitutes or orphan girls. In one instance, she separated the orphan girls out and featured them in individual or smaller groupings and gave them dignity, emphasizing their uniqueness.

Most of those she paints have most likely passed over into the realm of the ancestors. And these “ghosts” who may have suffered greatly in their time on earth are shown in all of their compelling humanity, embodied souls who lived as best they could in the political milieu into which they were born.

One of her most compelling techniques is to allow certain paint drippings to remain in the painting. These drippings signified sweat, tears, a sense of the ancient, and for me the most important was the feeling of gravity in the paintings as the drips were pulled down towards the earth and one had the sense of creatures connected in such a real way to the ground on which they stood. She uses butterflies and birds as a motif and paints circles, maybe to remind us all of the cycles of life.

In this new spring and the season of Easter and Passover, we all ponder the circle of life and death and what is important to us in this place that we are only passing through.

In Adam David Miller’s words from his poem Forever Afternoon:

 “…Life is a wheel of fortune, my life

a gift to be passed around the wheel.

 Do we ask where does the caterpillar

go when it becomes a butterfly?

The caterpillar does not go, it becomes.

Spirit of caterpillar lives in butterfly,

same heart, beating stronger.”

In Part Two of this blog, I will post another excerpt from my novel Between Here and Hereafter.

Follow the Children

chloe and elise shrunk

My niece and I

Several streams have come together for me into a confluence this week, all having to do with children leading the way.

Speaking on KPFA yesterday morning was a nine-year-old boy whose classmate and good friend Rodrigo and his family were sent back to Mexico because his father’s papers were not in order when the family was stopped in Houston, Texas after a trip to Mexico. Rodrigo’s classmates since kindergarten are launching a fight to bring him home and have been finding creative ways to bring attention to his cause including creating a video game that can be played worldwide for his benefit and the benefit of bring the peoples of the world closer together. They started a website called Bring Rodrigo Home.

I was at a friend’s house last night doing research for my next novel which takes place right after 9-11. I was interviewing them about their precocious 3 year-old on whom I am basing one of my characters who is part Aboriginal Australian. My friends’ child seems to have come into this world knowing so much already about ancient healing ways. My friends pointed me to a song that she loves to sing which was composed by Kenneth K. Guilmartin  for the Montclair Cooperative School in 1986. The song May all Children became popular after 9-11 and has been sung all over the world, mainly by children.

Then following the lead of these children into making connections worldwide through technology, this week I made contact with the Puuya (meaning “life force” or “heart”) Foundation in a remote area in Queensland Australia through an Australian friend of mine. I was able to donate to their foundation proceeds from an event called Didgeridoo Dreaming for Women held by Sound Rivers last fall. One of Puuya’s projects is to encourage youth to participate in ongoing leadership development opportunities, both within and outside the community.

Children, such whizzes at technology, are leading the way to bringing the world closer together. While I often think of technology as cold and distancing, this week, I am increasingly impressed with the creative ways humans, especially youth, find to connect ourselves to each other so that life-affirming songs, causes, and leadership can grow stronger.

May technology be a tool to bring ancient, alive and connected-to-the-earth wisdom from remote places to our modern world, empowering the life force of the planet which is love, not commerce.

On Ritual


Altar at base of tree (photo credit: Nicki Koethner)

I have participated in many rituals that change people’s lives, including my own. To mark a change that has already happened, to allow the next phase of life to begin, to let go of what is no longer useful, to infuse the sacred into our lives, to allow community to bear witness to our transitions, to honor feelings of gratitude, grief, love, etc.–these are all ways to use ritual.

Indigenous cultures use ceremony and ritual in numerous ways throughout their communal lives. Western culture has a few very proscribed rituals such as graduation, wedding, etc. that are supposed to cover the bases but they do not come close. I am speaking of rituals that are designed to fit where we are at this moment and to help us integrate what we are learning on our life journeys.

In my next novel, Between Here and Hereafter, I have a scene in which the characters have designed and are enacting a ritual for the healing of veterans. You can click here to read an excerpt about a ritual for healing veterans.


maria and viviane

Brigid and Viviane dancing at Creative Sharingfor One Billion Rising

Brigid, Nicki, Maria, Lucy and Elise dancing

Brigid, Nicki, Maria, Lucy and Elise dancing

I haven’t blogged in a while—hope I have not let my “followers” down. But I haven’t been thinking much and just recently got jolted into thinking and doing again by Eve Ensler’s vision of a billion rising to dance in the streets for physical safety for the women and children in this world.

And juxtaposed with that was the Newtown shooting (as well as the rise in general of guns and violence worldwide.)

And that same week, the Pope resigned. The Pope who epitomized the male-dominated, mind-only viewpoint in his

  • squashing of nuns,
  • denial of women’s power in the church,
  • bigotry against gays and lesbians,
  • archaic views on birth control and abortion
  • participation in the greed and fraud of the Vatican bank.
  • cover ups of it all

In the re-election of President Obama, we saw the end of the heretofore untouchable white male power block. I’m going to go out on a limb to predict the end of the white male as universal point of view. It has fallen into the hell of abstraction where it has always belonged.

And we are seeing one billion rising to take its place. Fully-embodied, dancing humans who require that we get over out fear of “the other” and that we learn how to love each other instead. This culture is already mentally ill with fear of the other. More guns cannot carry us into a future of safety and care for all. The splitting up, the male, mind-only viewpoint, the domination, the grabbing for always more money and power will not get us there.

Excerpt from my novel Strands (Eshu House Publishing, 2010). One of the main characters Lucy is thinking this:

My mother and I are drawn to many of the same subjects, though we come at them from much different places. Religion is a big stickler between us. She is set on Christianity and I have turned away from most of its dogmas. I adopted many of the important values that my parents taught me, incorporated them into my life—minus the myth that seems to me, well, like myth. To give them credit, they have been in a very liberal branch of the Christian church. I just can’t get over what is done in this world in Christ’s name nor can I ignore the patriarchal nature of Christianity. There are feminist theologians who work on it from the inside but it always seems like a bad fit to me, throwing away good energy after bad.

For a number of years I considered myself a humanist. I wasn’t all that happy with that philosophy either—the people often seemed a bloodless lot believing that reason was supreme. For me humanism was too much like Western philosophy, lacking in the acknowledgement of the great mystery. Something very basic to humanity seemed to be missing. While working on my Master’s degree in philosophy a while back, I came across the idea that in Western philosophy reason is linked with men. Men, mind, rationality were all in one half, the top half of a dualism that defined itself against the other half: women, body and emotions. In my Master’s thesis I theorized that love, creativity, resolutions to conflicts, medicine and many other essential qualities all exist in a place I named The Between.

When I explained this philosophy to my mother, she said, ‘you talk of mind and body, but where’s the spirit?” I forget what I told her but now I would answer that spirit is in our connections. It’s the feeling I have when I’m in the forest and looking at the trees and birds and feeling a part of it all, my skin connecting me as well as separating me. That is, for me, a spiritual experience.

Anyway, in some ways that philosophy has become my religion, looking for and accessing the Between. If there is a God in this schema, then connection is it.

…As I discovered in philosophy, women’s voices have been silenced for many centuries now and this silence is still not questioned with any regularity or in the revolutionary way required to actually change things.

All those male philosophers for centuries piled one mistake on top of another to reach the untenable place we are in now. “I think, therefore I am.” Say what? How about I was born of woman, therefore I am—you old male joker! Ever think of that? Andrea Nye, an Australian philosopher I have a lot of respect for, asserted that all of those amazing systems of logic in Western philosophy were designed to keep emotion out of rational thought; but at their core, they are based on one major human emotion, fear!

There would be no Christ without Mary and without women there would be no human life at all. And it’s not as if women just drop the baby into the world and then walk away. No, women tend to hold the values of nurturance and connection for all of us. All the systems of logic in the world can’t replace that.”

I am reminded of a piece I wrote back in 1996. The following is an excerpt from the version published in Running Deer Press in Santa Cruz called And in the Fourth Week…

            Ntosake Shange is right.  What we really need a god who bleeds—not the one men have constructed, but one who is loved not feared.  We need a god among us who knows our passions and our pains, a god who bleeds and then goes through menopause.  We need a god who bleeds so we can be proud of our blood, save it to water the plants with–use its power.  Maybe then blood flowing each month could be seen not as a disappointment, but as an opportunity to be creative without using up the planet’s resources.  Women can take on the sacred without giving birth.

            When I was thirteen my mother told me that the worst thing about the Catholics was how much attention they gave to Mary–a woman, a mother like herself–what kind of religion could that be?  She needed a god who bleeds and so do I. 

            A burden and a shame this monthly bleeding.  Our mothers advise us:

            “Hide it from your brothers–from me and from everyone else. Try to ignore it.”

            “Don’t complain about cramps–suffer in silence.”

            “Here are some tampons–consult the diagram in the package to figure them out.  (To me it felt more like a map than a diagram–a map of a completely foreign land where I knew neither landmarks nor language.)  If you can’t get it, you’ll just have to wait until you’re older.” 

            And now, take this pill so you won’t have to suffer your period at all, period.

            This god must pause, too, so women know menopause is all right, not something to fight against but, rather, part of a cycle of life.  For all we know god is currently in menopause; that could explain global warming…  inordinate monsoons, hurricanes, blizzards and flooding.

            We need a god who bleeds, then pauses.  How do we order one and how much will it cost?  Don’t send it COD; we’ll never pay a cent for it.  Holding our noses, we’ll send her back where she came from, back to heaven or hell, back to earth or sky.  Maybe it’s best to sneak her into the Bible: “And in the fourth week, She bled.”