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A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace of Wildness

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A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is centered around several key elements: 1.It features four texts and commentaries -- Welsh, Russian, Siberian and Norwegian myths that explore the process of leaving what is considered safe and predictable and journeying out into wild, uncertain areas of nature and the psyche in search of new insights. The four stories have at their center A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is centered around several key elements: 1.It features four texts and commentaries -- Welsh, Russian, Siberian and Norwegian myths that explore the process of leaving what is considered safe and predictable and journeying out into wild, uncertain areas of nature and the psyche in search of new insights. The four stories have at their center a man, woman, and adolescent. 2. A narrative of why the author gave up a large musical publishing deal with Warner Brothers to spend four years living in a tent in the wilds and over a decade facilitating wilderness rites-of-passage for others. 3.Shaw's eloquent insistence that without a renewed attention to myth and the initiation process we are only partially equipped to reestablish a complementary relationship with the living world. 4.The core of these stories are paradoxical in nature, far from the clumsily perceived 'hero' myths, and point towards Trickster, or Coyote, as a way of existing in a world ambivalent to the insights of what you could call traditional knowledge. A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is unique in the field of myth and ritual in several ways: 1.It carries an 'in-the-field' narrative of several hundred men and women who have gone out into wild places to fast for four days and nights. Not in the Amazon, or in Mongolia, but in a place that is indigenous to them, that grounds the experience in the wider context of their lives, rather than a one-off event that can be hard to reconnect with. This is part of a growing mood to get to the bones of initiatory experience, rather than the cultural affectations. The stories illustrate both the grandeur and struggle of this often subtle process. 2.Unlike many of the big mythological sellers (i.e Bly's IRON JOHN or Pinkola Estes WOMEN WHO RUN WITH WOLVES), A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is not a gender piece, but focuses on both men and women's movement into wildness as part of the bigger awareness of climate change and ecology. It presents the old stories as keys into any debate on these issues, that the ability to think metaphorically/mythologically loosens the grip of literalness, and can 're-enchant' our perspectives. 3. As a wilderness teacher Shaw has noticed that the real point of crisis that is emerging is the return to community, rather than the time out in the wild. This is turning of rites-of-passage on its head: Shaw reasons that the rites-of-passage process requires three stages following an initial Call to the Soul: (i) Going out of the Village, and the severance from ordinary life and the stepping into the image-laden language of myth, story, ritual; (ii) Into the Forest, baring the soul to extraordinary forces, receiving the sacred wound, bonding with the living world; (iii) And Back Again, return to community, the performance of identity, and the confirmation in and of the Soul. A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE invokes Robert Graves work on the White Goddess, and the Crow poems of Ted Hughes-it is a combination of practical knowledge, imaginative insight and passionate storytelling that gives Shaw's book its persuasiveness and power. At times incantatory, at times novelistic and poetic, he writes as someone who has been to these places, undergone these trials and tested himself at the extremes of lived experience.


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A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is centered around several key elements: 1.It features four texts and commentaries -- Welsh, Russian, Siberian and Norwegian myths that explore the process of leaving what is considered safe and predictable and journeying out into wild, uncertain areas of nature and the psyche in search of new insights. The four stories have at their center A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is centered around several key elements: 1.It features four texts and commentaries -- Welsh, Russian, Siberian and Norwegian myths that explore the process of leaving what is considered safe and predictable and journeying out into wild, uncertain areas of nature and the psyche in search of new insights. The four stories have at their center a man, woman, and adolescent. 2. A narrative of why the author gave up a large musical publishing deal with Warner Brothers to spend four years living in a tent in the wilds and over a decade facilitating wilderness rites-of-passage for others. 3.Shaw's eloquent insistence that without a renewed attention to myth and the initiation process we are only partially equipped to reestablish a complementary relationship with the living world. 4.The core of these stories are paradoxical in nature, far from the clumsily perceived 'hero' myths, and point towards Trickster, or Coyote, as a way of existing in a world ambivalent to the insights of what you could call traditional knowledge. A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is unique in the field of myth and ritual in several ways: 1.It carries an 'in-the-field' narrative of several hundred men and women who have gone out into wild places to fast for four days and nights. Not in the Amazon, or in Mongolia, but in a place that is indigenous to them, that grounds the experience in the wider context of their lives, rather than a one-off event that can be hard to reconnect with. This is part of a growing mood to get to the bones of initiatory experience, rather than the cultural affectations. The stories illustrate both the grandeur and struggle of this often subtle process. 2.Unlike many of the big mythological sellers (i.e Bly's IRON JOHN or Pinkola Estes WOMEN WHO RUN WITH WOLVES), A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is not a gender piece, but focuses on both men and women's movement into wildness as part of the bigger awareness of climate change and ecology. It presents the old stories as keys into any debate on these issues, that the ability to think metaphorically/mythologically loosens the grip of literalness, and can 're-enchant' our perspectives. 3. As a wilderness teacher Shaw has noticed that the real point of crisis that is emerging is the return to community, rather than the time out in the wild. This is turning of rites-of-passage on its head: Shaw reasons that the rites-of-passage process requires three stages following an initial Call to the Soul: (i) Going out of the Village, and the severance from ordinary life and the stepping into the image-laden language of myth, story, ritual; (ii) Into the Forest, baring the soul to extraordinary forces, receiving the sacred wound, bonding with the living world; (iii) And Back Again, return to community, the performance of identity, and the confirmation in and of the Soul. A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE invokes Robert Graves work on the White Goddess, and the Crow poems of Ted Hughes-it is a combination of practical knowledge, imaginative insight and passionate storytelling that gives Shaw's book its persuasiveness and power. At times incantatory, at times novelistic and poetic, he writes as someone who has been to these places, undergone these trials and tested himself at the extremes of lived experience.

30 review for A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace of Wildness

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gabriella

    Martin Shaw makes me want to burn my possessions in a bonfire and disappear into the night with nothing but my grandmother’s ring, a tattered tome of medieval poetry, and a falcon peregrine for company. Something huge and mythic stirs behind his writing. I don’t agree with all of his ideas, but the way he expresses them is magnificent. I’d give more than 5 stars if I could.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nimue Brown

    A stunning and mind expanding sort of book. Martin Shaw takes us into the power of myth to tell the stories of our own lives. It is a work of re-enchantment and of re-engagement with the world, reflecting on soul journeys and what it really means to be alive and present to your life as a modern human. There is much content here about the power of myth and story, the role of the story teller, oral tradition, living myth, and the power of landscape. For anyone following the Bardic path, this could A stunning and mind expanding sort of book. Martin Shaw takes us into the power of myth to tell the stories of our own lives. It is a work of re-enchantment and of re-engagement with the world, reflecting on soul journeys and what it really means to be alive and present to your life as a modern human. There is much content here about the power of myth and story, the role of the story teller, oral tradition, living myth, and the power of landscape. For anyone following the Bardic path, this could prove to be essential and work-defining reading. For the rest of the Druid community, there is such a wealth of wisdom and insight here that I can highly recommend getting a copy. Lyrically written, inspiring and unsettling in equal measure, it reminds us of the wilderness within, and truths about self that we might prefer not to face up to as we try to sleepwalk through the tricky bits of our existences. In many ways this book reminded me of Clarissa Pinkola Estes “Women who run with the wolves”. It’s that same delving into myth to understand things about life. “A Branch from the Lightning Tree” is a much more masculine take on the whole subject, exploring more of the male journeys of growth and initiation. As a female reader I had no problem with this, but at the same time knew that bits of it weren’t really written for me. Still, the insight has been profoundly useful. I rather think this would be a very good book to place in the hands of any teenaged chaps in your life.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gill

    This is a book that gazes at you through narrowed eyes, rakes your chest with dirty claws, picks you up in its yellow teeth and shakes you, sets you down gently and lays its warm hairy back against your opened innards. Again and again.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Quinn

    A fascinating book, but one that needs time and a lot of close reading. When you dig into it, it is a wellspring of understanding and delight. It's non-fiction, but about fiction: about myth, nature, landscape, and the place humans have in it. It's soul-stirring and soul-shaking. Shaw uses myth as a link between landscape and language. He uses four myths: Welsh, Norwegian, Siberian, and Russian and explores them as the heroes journey. The move into wildness (or the unknown) and the accompanying l A fascinating book, but one that needs time and a lot of close reading. When you dig into it, it is a wellspring of understanding and delight. It's non-fiction, but about fiction: about myth, nature, landscape, and the place humans have in it. It's soul-stirring and soul-shaking. Shaw uses myth as a link between landscape and language. He uses four myths: Welsh, Norwegian, Siberian, and Russian and explores them as the heroes journey. The move into wildness (or the unknown) and the accompanying learning is tied to climate change and the old stories. A serious book with deep-rooted enjoyment.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Howard

    Martin Shaw writes with a rare poetic voice. He melts words and concepts in ways that sound foreign to our modern, overly-rationalistic ears, giving the text a very dynamic, breathing quality. The occasional vagueness of his language allows for the words to conjure up meaning and insight unique to each reader. No story is ever told the same way twice. This book is for a particular type of person, those who prefer expansive concepts like soul, wildness, and mind, rather than sterile alternatives Martin Shaw writes with a rare poetic voice. He melts words and concepts in ways that sound foreign to our modern, overly-rationalistic ears, giving the text a very dynamic, breathing quality. The occasional vagueness of his language allows for the words to conjure up meaning and insight unique to each reader. No story is ever told the same way twice. This book is for a particular type of person, those who prefer expansive concepts like soul, wildness, and mind, rather than sterile alternatives like brain, laws, or laboratory. Shaw says, "If you the reader are satisfied with the whole of your life, if everything seems well appointed and steadily on course, if you remain untroubled by the state of world affairs, the vanishing forests, and the rise of psychic and environmental pollution, then you might want to set this book aside. However, if you, like me, desire a life filled with breathtaking and inexplicable meaning, then I implore you, read on." To 'know' stories in the abstract or literal sense is completely inadequate for the task of living well; stories must be "carried, always ready, always whispering, always inspiring." They must be felt, allowed to breathe, grow, morph, pick up slime, accrue wisdom like barnacles, be shaken, played with, tasted in the mouth. A Branch from the Lightning Tree gives us a look into what Shaw does at the Westcountry School of Myth where wilderness, initiation, and myth coalesce into a wellspring of meaning, a framework for being in the world in a way that allows us to balance village life with forest life. Shaw gave-up a lucrative record deal as a music to live in the wilds of England for 5 years, encountering the power of Myth, solitude, and Nature. As he says, "I wanted to live in a circle, to be closer to animals, to attune my rusty ears to the waterfall...What I looked for was some archaic language that would expand words and frame images so beautifully that I felt connected to human folk as well as kestrels and mud. What I found was myth. Myth is promiscuous, not dogmatic. It moves like a lively river through swarthy packs of reindeer, great aristocratic families, and the wild gestures of an Iranian carpet seller. Myth is not much to do with the past, but a kind of magical present that can flood our lives when the conditions are just so." Focused on departure, initiation, and return, Shaw emphasizes, "Myth proposes the paradoxical view that we are to dwell in the tension of a 'crossroads' of Village and Forest, and tha this very complexity provides the grounding of an authentic human life--a strange accord with ego and soul, rationality and vision...This is a book about teasing out the mischievous, solitude-loving, flamboyant, sorcerous, arms-extended-into-the-inky-blackness singing songs of the lost-highwayman aspect of your nature." Shaw mines several myths from disparate traditions, highlighting their similarities to plant us in frameworks that help us balance ourselves, to learn that True Living is found in the "betwixt" of Village and Forest, community and individual, the knowable and the unknowable. He offers us a lens through which we can engage the world, and ground ourselves using the richly textured imagery of myths, showing a way forward for secular and non-secular people to crack open the rock from which fresh water and vital energies erupt. Meaning is aplenty and we must do the creative work ourselves; however, we are not alone, for our forebearers have gifted us tales of truth, living myths, and the earth we need to grown new worlds, to bring forth the future. As with most things, the people who would benefit the most from this book or the nature quests experiences discussed are least likely to read it or ponder it. It's no hyperbole to refer to Shaw as a modern-day shaman who walks in two worlds: one safe and stagnant, the other terrifying and beautiful.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Ho

    I wanted to like this, but just couldn’t get into it. Took forever to get through. It seemed repetitive, with too many self-aggrandizing intrusions from the writer. It kept setting off my bullshit detector.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    Powerful, beautiful insight to old folk tales seen through the lens of initiation rites and how wilderness plays a crucial role to the development of our psyche. Just the right blend of personal reflection and deep archaic wisdom.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adam Martin

    Martin Shaw is one of the most refreshing authors I have read in a very long time. He has a solid grasp of his personal narrative, and convincingly weaves his personal mythology with that of the world's folk mythologies. His work is a wonderful example of the lyricism possible with "living myth". His exegesis after each tale was always inciteful, novel, and made you want to dive into as many old tales as you could with a new head on your shoulders. Shaw also has a wonderful and playful relations Martin Shaw is one of the most refreshing authors I have read in a very long time. He has a solid grasp of his personal narrative, and convincingly weaves his personal mythology with that of the world's folk mythologies. His work is a wonderful example of the lyricism possible with "living myth". His exegesis after each tale was always inciteful, novel, and made you want to dive into as many old tales as you could with a new head on your shoulders. Shaw also has a wonderful and playful relationship with metaphor and the playfulness with adjectives and verbs brought sentences to life in a way I have not ever read. The only criticism I have is whoever the copy editor did a poor job in places finding typos, which made the playful flow of Shaw's writing clunky in the wrong places. Overall, Martin Shaw does a wonderful job bringing romanticism back into the mythological fold, and a playfulness to myth that had been slowly becoming dry as too many over psycho-analyzed the wild and breathing stories which are our folk heritage.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    This was a tough book for me to rate. The good bits are very, very good. There are many five-star passages, partly because Shaw's prose is so wonderful when he is on song, and partly because he occasionally has a very fresh take on things. However, in the end, the book became a slog for me. I enjoy Shaw's live storytelling (there are hours of it on YouTube - highly recommended!), but I don't feel that his analysis of the material is of the same calibre. If you are more into the Jung/Campbell sch This was a tough book for me to rate. The good bits are very, very good. There are many five-star passages, partly because Shaw's prose is so wonderful when he is on song, and partly because he occasionally has a very fresh take on things. However, in the end, the book became a slog for me. I enjoy Shaw's live storytelling (there are hours of it on YouTube - highly recommended!), but I don't feel that his analysis of the material is of the same calibre. If you are more into the Jung/Campbell school of using myth as a tool for self-help than I am, you might like it more than I do, but as soon as the author turned his attention to that side of things, I always felt let down.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carol Sill

    Always inspiring to read Martin Shaw's work. It speaks from the inside. I have a few issues with the editing and layout of his books, but to tell the truth those little glitches don't make any difference to my great appreciation of his work. Anything that tells of the old ways in these modern times is valuable information to us, and his tellings combined with his more current experience brings to the surface some valuable connections for the soul. Always inspiring to read Martin Shaw's work. It speaks from the inside. I have a few issues with the editing and layout of his books, but to tell the truth those little glitches don't make any difference to my great appreciation of his work. Anything that tells of the old ways in these modern times is valuable information to us, and his tellings combined with his more current experience brings to the surface some valuable connections for the soul.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Josh Workman

    I’m intrigued and curious to come back and revisit the themes and ideas explored in this book through story telling and myth. I found the ideas and exploration a bit difficult to access at times, but chose to press through reading as opposed to taking my time in digesting the ideas and stories. Which is to say, my rating here is more so a product of my own somewhat lazy reading of this work, versus the actual content that is explored.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Robertson

    Sheer poetry. It gave me an expanded view and appreciation of oral traditions and the deep psychology held within myth. Shaw has a unique way of juxtaposing words, particularly new and old, to create something otherworldly and new.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Ferrigno

    If you are interested in why the world is so confused here is the answer.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura S

    Outstanding work from one of my now-favorite authors.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Keith Long

    Here's a link to my review and reflection from "Becoming Anew": https://becoming-anew.blogspot.com/20... Here's a link to my review and reflection from "Becoming Anew": https://becoming-anew.blogspot.com/20...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Pixie

    Martin Shaw takes myth and fairytales and excavates them. He takes ancient storytelling and shows how relevant they are to us now. I imagine fairytales as subconscious fragments of humanity that have hovered around us for decades full of messages we didn’t realize were there. Martin Shaw is an epic storyteller. His books are pretty magical and when you open them up they infuse your immediate living space with a dreamlike quality. They put a spell on you. I had some really strange dreams while re Martin Shaw takes myth and fairytales and excavates them. He takes ancient storytelling and shows how relevant they are to us now. I imagine fairytales as subconscious fragments of humanity that have hovered around us for decades full of messages we didn’t realize were there. Martin Shaw is an epic storyteller. His books are pretty magical and when you open them up they infuse your immediate living space with a dreamlike quality. They put a spell on you. I had some really strange dreams while reading. Its worth it to check them out. Unique and important.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ann Pease

    Difficult to understand, jumpy and vague

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laurie McNeill

    Absolutely delicious; it's Martin Shaw, so what else would I expect? Made me want to go live in a tent. Read it at your peril. Absolutely delicious; it's Martin Shaw, so what else would I expect? Made me want to go live in a tent. Read it at your peril.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Loved it, straight back in for a second read

  20. 5 out of 5

    Baxter Trautman

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth Jackson

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Burkot

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ann Craig

  25. 4 out of 5

    Neil Snowdon

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jitaliano

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

  28. 5 out of 5

    Boris Scherbakov

  29. 5 out of 5

    Priti Agrawal

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Pratt

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