image: “Mystical Tree” Used with permission of the artist, Sya at Deviant Art
Because, as an artist, I work in multi-media (prose, poetry, painting, mixed media collage) and because my creative process is the tether to my sanity and sense of purpose in the world, I wanted to know about this author’s process.
Because my own dreams (and power animals) are my guide, the way, if you will, I receive from “between the worlds,” and because much of my work is conceived in the Dreamworld, I wondered if the same is true for this author.
Because I stand in solidarity alongside women and men who have experienced misunderstanding and persecution for using their innate powers of intuitive wisdom; because I stand alongside women and men who have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of those in religious authority, both unconscionable misuses of power, and since these themes recur in Corvus Rising, I wanted to know what personal experiences this author has had with these intense social issues.
D: Does your own experience of the creative process mirror that of your character Jade?
Mary: In many ways, yes. I bury myself in art like she does, though I do not paint. My mother was a painter, and I opted for the 3-d art forms of ceramics and jewelry.
I am haunted, like she is, with a great many creations pushing to get out of me and into the physical world. Note: I did not say “real,” as this inner world is every bit as real as this surficial one that has its own illusions.
I live in this “underneath” world where Jade does, where the mystical and intuitive are the ways of knowing. And I am often haunted by the beings I encounter.
I fret less than she does and I don’t consciously remember most of my dreams.
D: Are the dreams Jade has actually dreams of your own or adaptations of your own dreams? Describe your relationship to the dream world.
Mary: Waking dreams, perhaps. There is such a fine line, you know. I have a vivid and energetic imagination and that underneath world I live in probably would seem like a dream state to someone else. I like to tear away at that boundary between the real and the imagined. There are secrets behind the curtain of illusion in which the real world cloaks itself.
D: Have you ever feared or experienced being locked away for perceived “insanity,” for being different?
Mary: If only they knew….bwahahahahaha!
Remember that Waylon Jennings song: “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane….”
Me to a T.
Seriously, I have never been afraid of being locked away or of being different.
My fear all comes from a profound sense of not belonging. In my book, Charlotte’s graying tells about that. I can see, hear everything, but people are all speaking a whole different language that everyone understands but me. Nobody sees me, no one understands me. I belong nowhere.
That is the lock up: a tremendous illusion that seems to have run my whole life.
image: “Crows Rock” Used with permission of the artist, H. Koppdelaney via Creative Commons. Rights Reserved.
D: What is your own experience with “animal speak?”
Mary: I speak to cats all the time, as I believe I am part cat. We just get each other, cats and I.
I’d love to have a crow start hanging around me. I do speak to them (and ravens too) and sometimes it seems they hear me.
I do believe we have misunderstood the speech of animals. If they make any sound at all, we think it’s a mating call. This is a pretty weird idea, considering that animals that make any noise at all do it all year long, not just in their mating season.
Sometimes I wonder what the crows think about our language. All they hear is what we shout at each other. Perhaps they think we lack vocabulary. Or that “F*** YOU! is a mating call.
D: Have you ever experienced a trance-like state like the one you describe in “The Keeper’s Trance,” like an Ayahuasca ceremony or other hallucinogenic states of consciousness?
Mary: Not sure I would call it a trance, but I do get carried off by Gregorian chants. It helps to NOT to understand the words.
The trance sequence in my book came from an unknown corner of my imagination; it is outside of any experience that I am aware of, and just came as I was writing. I hadn’t been thinking of trances or hallucinations at all. That is so cool when that happens.
I was thinking of brains: ours, that of Crows and how we know so much more than we think we do. We have it all in there, but use so very little of it. I imagined our brains as a vast lattice of space that you could walk around in, like a library of sorts. I think we carry a good amount of collective knowledge of our complete history on Earth, if we knew how to access it.
That’s where the trance came in. In the book, the early Patua’ gave the crows and ravens their entire history to preserve as they went underground.
More on that in Book Two.
D: Have you studied Reiki or any other form of energetic or healing practice?
Mary: No. My path seems to be through art and writing. Reiki and the other healing practices are a life-long effort, and I am engaged elsewhere. But, because I live in the “underneath,” I know there are different ways of knowing, and different ways of healing than what is out there in the “real” world.
Do I believe in ‘laying on of the hands’ as a way of healing? Absolutely!
image: “church at Abiquiu” New Mexico, d. ellis phelps. Rights reserved.
D: You mention the “sex abuse” issues “the church has been sweeping under the rug” more than once in this writing. Do you have personal experience with this unconscionable misuse of power about which you would be willing to speak here?
Mary: I grew up in New Mexico, where they sent the pedophile priest for rehabilitation. New Mexico is the place where the lid blew off Hell, because a great many of these rapists were sent there. The first prosecutions of priest sex abuse were in New Mexico.
I had no idea that the place in the mountains my family and I passed on our way to a picnic—it is still there, called the Servants of the Paraclete—was where they were sent for rehabilitation before being turned out into the parishes of NM.
New Mexico is very poor and very catholic and the American bishops of the Roman Catholic Church cynically sent these rapists into New Mexico churches as Spiritual Leaders. I say ‘cynical’ because I think these self-serving bishops sent the troublesome priests to New Mexico, to sweep them under the rug.
Though it infuriates me, I have no personal experience with sexual assault from priests.
The subject comes up in my book because of one of my main characters, a Jesuit priest who is deeply flawed, but is not a predator. I wanted to confront it head on, as this is not what the book is about at all.
I admire the Jesuits more than the other orders, as they’ve always been about science and education and they haven’t engaged in the exploitative and hateful, bigoted practices of say, the Franciscans, who were quite brutal to native populations (including those in New Mexico).
D: Are the Patua’ a non-fiction tribe in history or a fictional tribe?
Mary: I invented the Patua’–a fictitious and ancient race of humans who spoke to the crows. They do represent what I think we all look back wistfully to: a Garden of Eden where we were one with all of Creation.
Patua’ is a real word, however—it means ‘dialect’ more or less. They were humans who were more attuned to the natural world of growing things and they figured out the secrets of the plant world. Because they were so connected, they had not forgotten everything humans were given when we got here. They didn’t forget the language of the crows.
Book Two will have more about the history of the Patua’, the Church, greed, hubris, and how their agricultural prowess got them to the same place we are now with corporate farming (a euphemism for ‘starving the people’).
D: Are the fictional Patua’ in your book symbolic representatives for shamanic and witchery practitioners that were forced underground and persecuted by the rise of Christianity?
Mary: Yes. There will be more of that part of the story forthcoming in Book 2.
In Corvus Rising, Book One, however, the Church as an institution does not pay the Patua’ any attention at all. Two characters who are priests are actually Patua’ allies, but not on behalf of the church, at least not officially. Another character who is the elder priest, however, is aghast at the very idea that the other animals are intelligent, sentient and can communicate with humans. This concept is heretical to Church teachings of all stripes, both in the story and in reality. The church teaches that humans are God’s chosen, therefore the animals are here for us to use and eat.
The Patua’ were looked at as heretics. Humans are not supposed to speak the tongue of the crows, or any other animal. But they also knew how to grow things far, far better than anyone else. Some thought this was unnatural and perhaps portended an unholy alliance with the powers of darkness.
Though they guarded their secrets, the Patua’ weren’t doing anything magical; their botanical lore was based on many centuries of observation and experimentation.
But what is magic? The thing we point to when we don’t understand how something works. I heard a Baptist professor once comment that scientific knowledge over the centuries has shrunk the ‘God of the Gaps’—meaning that we attribute to God (or magic) what we cannot explain.
D: Have you experienced building a wilderness abode such as the tree house you describe?
Mary: I have not, though I was happy to spend six weeks sleeping in a tent when I was in graduate school. I’ve fantasized about caves as well. When my father took me and my brothers to Carlsbad Caverns when we were kids, I fantasized about getting lost from the group and disappearing.
I would LIKE to build an ‘off the grid’ place far enough away from cities to have animals and quiet, but close enough for companionship.
D: How far along are you on Book Two? When do you anticipate it will be ready for readers?
Mary: I am hoping to publish Book 2 within the next four to six weeks. Its working title is Teosinte —after the ancestral plant that got bred into the corn plant we know today, more than 7,000 years ago in southern Mexico. By the time Columbus showed up, corn as we know it, properly called maize, was all over the Americas.
D: Tell us how you really feel about cookies.
Mary: Mmm cookies! In fact, I am more a chocolate freak than cookies. Really, I like to bake, so I gave that to the priest. I bake the most awesome sourdough bread. So does he, thanks to me!
D: In a few words, tell us who you are.
Mary: Enthusiastic. Obsessively creative. Curious. Outspoken. Raucous. Irreverent. I am an extroverted reclusive. Or perhaps an introverted socialite. I love freedom.
D: Ahhh! Methinks you are part crow!
Do you have a special relationship or kinship to certain creature-beings? Does your daytime or nighttime Dream World guide you? Do you experience a profound sense of not belonging? How does this show up in your life and work? Please, tell us about it here.
d. ellis phelps is the author of Making Room for George, Balboa Press, 2013.