Keeping The Smoke Hole Open

June 12, 2021


We may have to seek some solitude,
but let’s not isolate from the marvelous.
Martin Shaw


I first saw Martin a couple of years ago when he spoke at Tor Ballylee, the ancient stone tower where WB Yeats wrote much of his work, which is just down the road from the cottage in Ireland. I was enchanted. An artist, writer, and mythologists he is an amazing storyteller. Yesterday I was on a zoom cast offered by Emergence Magazine and listened to Martin share the story of his pandemic time journey and his new book. The resonance with what I’ve been writing and thinking was profound and inspiring.

The writing below is an op-ed he wrote last March when the world went into lockdown. It was the seed of the book, Smokehole, he would write for his teenage daughter – and clearly the rest of us. Yet he didn’t write the book until it was right time. The book landed last fall and Martin wrote it in five days. Profound insights on these times we are still navigating because now, as it was in the beginning of the lockdown, it’s still important to keep the smoke hole open. 

In Siberian myth, when you want to hurt someone, you crawl into their tent
     and close the smoke hole.
That way God can’t see them.
Close the smoke hole and you break connection to the divine world.
Mountains, rivers, trees.
Close the smoke hole and we become mad.
Close the smoke hole and we are possessed by ourselves and only ourselves.
Close the smoke hole and you have only your neurosis for company.
Well, enough of that. Really, c’mon. We’re grown-ups. Let’s take a breath.
We may have to seek some solitude, but let’s not isolate from the marvelous.
High alert is the nature of the moment, and rightly so, but I do not intend to lose
     the reality that as a culture we are entering deeply mythic ground.
I am forgetting business as usual. No great story begins like that.
What needs to change? Deepen? What kindness in me have I so abandoned
     that I could seek relationship with again?
It is useful to inspect my ruin.
Could I strike up an old relationship with my soul again?
You don’t need me to tell you how to keep the smoke hole open.
You have a myriad of ways.
We are awash with the power of words—virus, isolate, pandemic—and they point
     toward very real things. To some degree we need the organizational harassment
     of them.
But do they grow corn on your tongue when you speak them?
Where is the beauty-making in all of this?
That is part—part—of the correct response. The absolute heft of grief may well be
     the weave to such a prayer mat.
Before we burn the whole world down in the wider rage of Climate Emergency, of
     which this current moment is just a hint, could we collectively seek vigil in this moment?
Cry for a vision?
It’s what we’ve always done.
We need to do it now.
Martin Shaw

So many of us are crying for a vision. So many of us are aware that we are indeed entering deeply mythic ground. And we know instinctively that we must keep the smoke holes open and make beauty in all of this. Let’s continue to embrace the marvelous!

Judith –

Artwork by Martin Shaw