• What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war. Pablo Picasso

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Embodiment, Theology, and Ursula K. Le Guin

I wrote about the passing of Ursula K. Le Guin over on the authorblog already, but of course there is always so much more to write, to say, to mull over, at times like these.

I wasn’t going to write here, but then I was reading so many of the explosions of comments, of articles, of references to old speeches, and I read this:

People crave objectivity because to be subjective is to be embodied, to be a body, vulnerable, violable.

Ursula Le Guin’s Bryn Mawr commencement address, 1986

Usually when I hear people talking about embodiment, I’m in a Craft conversation.

Which of course started cascading, all these things about the nature of story and the nature of theology and narrative and things. But I am quite certain I would not be here, not be as I am, if I had not learned basic principles of magic, of theology, of the nature of the world, from Ursula K. Le Guin. (And some others. But I cannot understate how much depends.)

I am quite certain that I would not be as convinced of the theology of names as I am without Earthsea, nor would I understand the creative power of language. And Earthsea shows not only the power of naming for the dramatic magics like the compulsion of dragons, but also the inner work, the shadow work, the confrontation and healing of one’s inner demons.

I’ve been in circumstances where I’ve been asked to talk about my Craft elders, the inspirations and guides on my way, and I’ve always felt weird and awkward about it. I read so many of the witchy books of the early 90s, and other things, but none of them had the right songs to them. I learned what I learned from stories, because stories could teach me what was true.

If I draw up the strains of my magic, of the things that I know to be true, of the core portions of my spiritual understanding, I find these things: I find the power of language, of narrative, of words; I find the magic of names; I find symbolism of light and darkness patterned together; I find dualities in balance and union; I find interlacing science and ethics, mathematics and philosophy; I find service and freedom; I find power and liberty. I find ruminations on gender, on materialism, on actions and consequences.

I find Earthsea.

I find The Left Hand of Darkness.

I find The Dispossessed.

And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing — instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Left-Handed Commencement Address

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