Welcome to Transformative Healing Dolls BLOG
More or less monthly posts about Transformative Healing Dolls
Man in Kukeri costume meant to scare away evil. from Suitcase magazine article, Kukeri: The Forgotten Rituals of Bulgaria
In a recent conversation with a fellow artist, she mentioned something about using her art to deal with the overwhelm that comes up sometimes, when we are faced with the real evil that is in this world. This set off a whole series of thoughts and conversations that I had with other artists and creatives. How do we hold or contain the evil of the world that is really there? Is this a ridiculous goal? Can we use our art to contain it-even just a little bit?
If you don’t know this already, I often use my art to tend to my inner demons…
I can’t speak for my artist friend about what she meant by using her art to cope with evil, but I know that I turn to my art when I am overwhelmed by the dark forces in the world. If you take even the slightest look at my work, here on the gallery page, (Transformative Healing Dolls), or even more here, on my new website in progress (erikaclevelandart.com), that includes my more recent intuitive paintings, you have probably figured this out. In my art, I am often trying to work out a way to deal with inner demons, but what I am talking about here are those outer demons. In reality it is probably unrealistic to try to separate inner and outer demons-they are closely related, as I will explore here.
Everything is Just Fine: Nothing to See, an image from my Sketches in Uncertain Times Journal on my website erikaclevelandart.com
The shadow and evil
The question of evil is a huge topic, the topic for a whole book, probably, that maybe I will write someday. In the meantime, another creative friend, a writer, directed me to the book, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, by Mary Louise von Franz, a Jungian psychologist. Knowing my interest in the shadow, those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that this book was right up my alley. After all, I have been offering a course called Befriending the Shadow over the past three years. I am diving into von Franz’s book slowly because there is a lot of richness there. And, again, it is a huge topic.
Why “living in the light” isn’t always the best goal if we neglect the shadow
Evil isn’t all that popular a topic at the moment in spiritual or “New Age” circles. There are whole communities that try to base their whole reason for being on, “living in the light.” This is a noble and understandable goal. However, the intention to live in the light can unwittingly lead to the opposite effect that what is intended. It makes me think of Carl Jung’s words, “what we resist, persists.” ie: whenever we push against something, and try to hide it in the shadows, it tends to show up even more strongly somewhere else.
It also reminds me of what one of my mentors, shamanic healer, Sandra Ingerman says about her workshops such as “Healing with Spiritual Light.” (These workshops are amazing.) Sandra always says we have to watch for the shadow in workshops that focus on light. Because from her long years of experience she knows you can’t work with the light without also acknowledging the dark. She talks about how things would go haywire halfway through the workshop when, in the earlier days of her offering this workshop, she didn’t set aside time and space for the shadow. Though it might feel uncomfortable to make room for (and have to think about) the shadow, it is worth the discomfort and extra effort.
I'm still afraid, take it one step at a time, image from my Altered Book: Depression and Modern Times, erikaclevelandart,com
Why evil can’t be pinned down in fairy tales (or anywhere else)
So, back to von Franz’s book. Von Franz explores the meaning of evil and also looks at how we can work with evil and find ways to cope with it. One important discovery she made in looking at evil in fairy tales was that there are no formulas or rules to deal with evil. The author found out that the only constant in dealing with evil is inconsistency. It is actually quite funny, she discovers, how inconsistent the “advice” and conclusions are in fairy tales with regard to evil. For instance, one tale recommends, if an evil character has a secret, you must always face it head on and ask for the answer. Then the next tale says, avoid secrets at all costs, if you know what is best for you. And so on…
Always listen to the animal guide
The only consistent advice was, always listen to the animal guide, or the nature guide, the helper that is encountered along the way, even if it is giving contradictory advice. What does this mean? Her conclusion was, always follow your intuition. The animal or nature guide in fairy tales is a representation of the intuitive voice. And this makes sense to me. While it is easy to follow our intuition when our intuition matches the outer world, it is much more difficulty to follow when that intuitive voice seems to go against common sense.
All will be Decided, There will be Joy and there will be Sorrow, image from Altered Book: Depression and Modern art, erikaclevelandart.com
Formulas and doctrines don’t work
And this is what is needed most in dealing with evil in the world. Because formulas and “doctrines” don’t work in the real world, however good they sound in writing. When we are living our lives and facing challenges, especially the dangers that true evil can present, we have to stay on our toes and react in an awake and alive way to what is happening in the moment.
It seems to me that as soon as a doctrine is created, in terms of light and dark, right and wrong etc, it immediately ossifies into stone and becomes useless as advice. And this is especially true when it has to do with the behavior of others (this is another insight from von Franz). We can sort of/kind of make rules for ourselves and try to follow them, but once we try to apply those to others, especially groups of people, that is a formula for evil.
Why I do what I do
I suppose that is why I do the work I do, as inept and halting as it is. I am trying, on a very small scale to tune into my inner guidance and intuition, allowing my art, my dolls and my paintings to speak to me. The goal is for this to remain a living process, always changing and evolving as I change and evolve, and as the world changes and evolves. This means following a winding and ever-changing path along a seashore where the waves are constantly coming in and washing out my footsteps. Sometimes fog comes in and I can’t see even a step ahead and I have to slow way down. That is when I have to listen even more deeply.
That is why I am drawn also to flip dolls, two-sided dolls, connected at the waist and with heads on both sides. They remind me of one of my favorite symbols, the infinity sign (which also looks like my favorite number, eight, sideways.) These dolls and the infinity sign contain opposites, leaving room to pivot at any moment. This kind of art is my attempt to deal with life as an ever-shifting and changing canvas, day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment.
Nuclear Light, side two, The Living Earth flip doll, from erikaclevelandart.com
Art speaks the language of moment-to-moment
I am going to make a bold statement now and say that art speaks this language of moment to moment, whether it is doll-making, painting, writing or whatever. And I’m going to make an even bolder statement to say that evil doesn’t speak this language. Evil isn’t flexible. It is what shows up when we get set in stone, whether in our views or in our actions. It is not that light is good and dark is bad or vice versa. It is that we need to find a way to create space for opposites to shift and change. And that is a dilemma when we live in this world of humanness, flaws and evil. It is our nature to at each moment to try to grasp onto what is certain and true, rather than to trust in the uncertainty of life. I feel like I am one of the worst offenders at wanting to “figure things out” and find certainties in life, so I think I can speak about this with authority. Do you use your art, whether it is art, writing, creating a garden or whatever it is, as a way to cope with evil, those unavoidable and painful realities of life? I would be curious to hear your thoughts.
NOTE: after I wrote this I came across an article in the New Yorker about an ancient Bulgarian ritual to fight against evil that seemed to fit with this topic. It also includes a video of this ritual in action. The image at the top of this page also shows this Kukeri costume. The ways in which evil is described in this article fits with my observations as well. Evil isn't fantastical or wildly different from daily life. Instead it lives in mundanities like poverty or hunger.
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!