Raven & Rose

The Coquelicot Affair

I have an insatiable hunger for color.

Color is magic; it’s as simple as that. And being the alchemist that I am, color and I have an enduring love. An infatuation, even.Flame+portrait

This affair began to emerge in my consciousness in my high school art class as I learned the theories that comprise good painting: color wheels, primary, secondary, tertiary, harmonic and dissonant combinations. But I didn’t really grasp the glory of it until after art school, when I started faux-finishing and mural painting.  I still get a great rush of energy and joy from transforming white walls into living, breathing canvases of color. Color is, after all, a cosmic language that affects us physically, emotionally and spiritually. (Read more on color psychology here.)

Since then, whenever I’ve had the privilege to paint the houses I’ve lived in, I’ve run with it. My first big faux-finishing experiment was in my own bedroom in a turn of the century Oakland Craftsman with a barrel vaulted ceiling and picture molding at the top of its lathe and plaster walls. I painted those walls to look like aged stone, and on the ceiling I laid an undercoat of rich ultramarine and glazed over it with transparent indigo. It was glorious–like a medieval chapel with a ceiling open to the night sky. I loved it! My heart (and my artist’s ego) broke when when the landlord made me paint it over white when I moved out some months later. But for those few months it was utterly magical to fall asleep under that ceiling of sky.

In my numerous domiciles over the years, I’ve painted a dining room in a luscious watermelon-hued wash, a kitchen in sunflower yellow and another kitchen in spring leaf green. My fiancé and I sleep in our bedroom of rich, thistle purple, with shimmering curtains in multicolored tie-silks. Our studio walls are bathed in a delicious red wash, and our guest bedroom is a dusty aqua–a happy accidental mix of leftover paints that just happens to perfectly frame my old print of an antique French Quarter map. I love stepping from painting to painting as you walk through the rooms of our little house. Each room has its own mood and its own language.

12 Ancient Pleasures

12 Ancient Pleasures © Holly DeFount 2012

I really came to know the depth of this mad affair (because all great loves have a little bit of madness in them) a couple of years ago, when I challenged myself to create one piece of art every day for a whole year. One of the unexpected side-effects of this process was that it permanently and powerfully shifted how I see the world. As I occasionally fell short of inspirations for these daily exercises, I started taking snapshots of anything out in nature that I found remotely interesting or visually stimulating. Flowers, sunsets, architecture, any texture or color or combination thereof that caught my eye. Even after an exhausting 365 days of this, I still find myself seeing the world as a series of fleeting snapshots, panning my viewscapes for those snapshots that could someday turn into small work of art in pen or paint. I see every nuance of color and its relationship to its surroundings in vivid detail. At times, this can be a crippling phenomenon, as I sometimes lose the ability to exist in the moment…to simply see for the transient joy of the experience. I unwittingly cultivated a habit of looking at everything as a future moment of art, a moment of time and space expertly and creatively captured for some yet unknown patron. Much of my trip to France in 2012 was spent behind the lens of my new Canon Rebel, which I employed dutifully in the interest of capturing the entire experience for future reference.

Along my various color-soaked paths over the years, I have been an art needlework designer, piecing together intricate pictures with rainbows of colored thread, a muralist dressing walls with sumptuous color, pattern and vignettes, and a costumer accumulating piles of dupioni silks, velvets, and damasks. These days I’m wearing my illustrator shoes, recently having created a whole set of  hand-drawn Tarot cards with design markers and Prismacolor pencils. I love every speck of color that crosses my path, it infuses my life with power, inspiration and passion. It gives me tangible joy. I get an indescribable pleasure from drinking my morning coffee in a colorful handthrown mug, from wrapping a delicately hand-dyed scarf around my neck no matter what the weather, from collaging designs into being out of the colorful pages of magazines and calendars. From simply sitting in my studio in that magic window of time when the sun drenches the rich, pomegranate-washed walls and lights up the room like the slow opening of a rose. I live for those moments.

Though I do so love them all…the vast rainbow of colors perceivable with the human eye, there is one that rises above the others in my heart of hearts. And it has a name as poetic and gorgeous as its hue.

Coquelicot. I know somewhere deep in the seat of my soul, this is the color of life itself.French Poppy, © Holly DeFount 2012

Coquelicot, the delicate but ubiquitous orange-red poppy that blankets the fields of central France in spring. I took many photos of les coquelicots on our jaunt through France last May. And I even managed to do a painting from them. It belongs to a whole family of warm piquant reds that drift in and out of my artistic sensibilities: vermillion, cinnabar, tangerine, garnet, carnelian, cardinal, mahogany, rosewood, crimson, carmine, scarlet.

The magical properties of red are almost as boundless as its variations. Elemental fire, love, passion, sexuality, courage, will-power, determination, aggression, masculinity, independence, physical strength, competition, conflicts, fertility.

Add a dash of orange and you get magic, manifestation,  fortune, charm, kindness, encouragement, stimulation, optimism, success, abundance, prosperity, and celebration.

What more is there to be infatuated with than that?

I think my first experience of this color came from a little room in my grandparents’ house, a guest bathroom wallpapered with sensuous Alphonse Mucha posters. Sarah Bernhardt with her flowing red hair, surrounded with decorative flourishes and mosaic windows in lush oranges, greens and violets of the secondary palette. In this same room, a print of J.W. Waterhouse’s beautiful tawny-haired “Lady of Shalott” captivated me from childhood, introducing me to a lifelong love of Pre-Raphaelite art. Those red-haired beauties were my first muses, prompting me to dye my own hair that unmistakable vibrant henna red for nearly a decade.

It seems that some manifestation or other of these reds have possessed me ever since those days of losing myself in the montage of the Sarah Bernhardt bathroom. I have a memory that’s always stuck with me of a girl in my high school drawing class that told me very matter-of-factly that I had a fiery russet aura (which I still agree with). Another friend told me I looked like a tigress, as I tipped my head back and let my wild mane of henna’d hair spill over the back of my chair. (I also seem to have acquired a tiger spirit guide in the last few years, go figure.) Coquelicot has woven its magic into me.

In just the last year, my love of les rouges has entrenched itself even deeper into my life. My office at work is peppered with shades of peach, spice, and rosewood. At our Fall Equinox wedding in a couple of months, I won’t be wearing a white dress. But what color, you ask?  I’ll let you have a guess.

I bathe in a sea of intangible rose petals each day. A simple, primal joy…the color of life itself.

Want to share my rose colored glasses?  RedInstagrams

Follow me on Pinterest and Instagram!  And if you want to play with a very cool virtual paintbrush, check out Design Seeds...my new favorite online art tool!

And if you’d like a painterly literary recommendation, check out The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. A beautiful novel about art, French Impressionists, passion, obsession and the sheer elemental magic of painting. Listening to this story on audiobook was my inspiration for this post! The Swan Thieves

 

The Embrace of Ixcacao

MagnoliasIt’s amazing how you can have a beautiful life, a wonderful partner and a great job while pursuing your creative fire…and yet, it is still so easy to get overwhelmed with the minutia of day to day life. I get swamped by the details, succumb to stress and lack of rest and my ever-growing to do list. I have all of these things: the beautiful bounty and the mounting burdens, and I struggle daily trying to find a comfortable balance somewhere in the middle. Part of the magic of being a creatrix is tapping into the sensitive channels of intuition and emotion–pretty much all the time.  Which, when you’re feeling out of control with the mundane details of life, can quickly spiral into a first-class meltdown.4cf531cf6b514148a74ac12954c42660

Oh, and did I mention I’m also in the thick of planning my wedding this coming September?  Yes, much to do, much to do on top of the already bursting-at-the-seams schedule of life. In this regard, the quest to lose 10 pounds for the ideal wedding dress fit brings with it the gnawing catch-22 of denying myself pleasure one day (a well deserved indulgence of wine and chocolate) in order to sustain pleasure for some imagined moment in the future (the flawless beauty of the anticipated wedding dress).

raw-chocolate

Anxiety has become a constant, nagging companion…much to my dismay. I find myself often joking lately about how all I can think about is cupcakes, or a glass of wine, or a tub of luscious dark chocolate liqueur to bathe in at the end of a long, arduous day. The sheer blissful pleasure of indulgence. I posted to my Facebook friends the other day, half joking, asking if there was a Goddess of Anxiety Relief to supplicate myself to. The Xanax and Valium jokes followed of course, along with the familiar wine and chocolate quips. But it got me to thinking about chocolate as a real, honest to goddess remedy for stress and unhappiness, so I started digging around on the interwebz. We all know there have been countless clinical studies on the healthful and medicinal qualities of chocolate.  But there is more to her than that. Chocolate has the ability to satisfy our hunger on not just a physical level, but an emotional one, a spiritual one, even a sacred one.Ixcacao

Enter Ixcacao, the Mayan goddess of chocolate. A lesser known deity of the ancient Mesoamerican cultures, Ixcacao was nevertheless exactly the treasure I was looking for.

A goddess of abundance, compassion and fertility, Ixcacao seems to speak to our need as a culture to slow down, appreciate the beauty and sensual pleasures of life. She nurtures, feeds the hungry, blesses the crops and gardens, and reminds us that both the body and the spirit need sustenance.

I wonder why in our culture we trivialize or even demonize things like chocolate, coffee and wine…that give us pleasure and release and even healing from our daily burdens? Why are they seen as a crutch, or an unworthy indulgence, or worse, a kind of failure of our ability to cope with reality?  I suppose one could argue that these things are so commonly abused that they lose their worth as medicine, both physical and emotional. In my opinion, it is just another Puritanical sacrifice we have made as a culture by eliminating the sacred from daily life. It is hard to abuse something you consider sacred, that you respect and welcome as a worthy part of your sensual and emotional experience. “Pleasure heals,” as they say.  And it is true, if you let it in.

I had myself the aforementioned first-class meltdown last week. The combined stress of my dayjob, my creative responsibilities, and a supremely inconvenient head cold all came to a climax right around the full moon. I found myself sobbing in the middle of the night, questioning my desires, my purpose in the world and my seeming inability to follow through on all the things I considered important. Once the smoke cleared the next day, I realized that once again I’d let myself be inundated with the mundane and had lost my connection to softness, receptivity, and the magical, healing power of pleasure.

When the weekend came around, I gave myself the gift of sacred creativity. I found I was possessed of a desire to create a shrine to Ixcacao. I wanted to remind myself of the beauty and healing that chocolate could bring my body and my heart. A reminder to give myself permission to indulge sometimes. A reminder that I could ask for nurturing, and accept its presence in my life–and my kitchen. A reminder that the sacred can always be coaxed out of hiding…happy to once more be recognized and appreciated.

Sculpting Ixcacao

I began by making a simple, primitive sculpture of Ixcacao from clay I made right out of the kitchen cupboard. One cup flour, one half cup salt and a tablespoon of cocoa powder mixed with warm water makes a play-doh like dough, easy to work with and bake in the oven. It took a few tries for me to get a handle on how to work with the dough, but eventually the figure of Ixcacao came to life in my hands. When she was formed to my liking, I dusted her all over with more cocoa powder, giving her a wonderfully soft, earthen look. I also sculpted a small basket for her, abundant with cocoa beans. Earlier that day I’d picked up a delicious looking round of traditional organic chocolate from Mexico from the Spanish Table, a wonderful boutique for Spanish foods and cooking accessories in North Berkeley. To the altar I also added an antique brown medicine bottle filled with homemade kahlua, a small handmade pot filled with chili-spiced chocolate for drinking, a giant chocolate applesauce cake muffin topped with raw cacao and pecans, and two roses from the bush I gifted to my fiancé for the one year anniversary of our first date–which just happens to be named “Chocolate Sundae.”

I assembled my sacraments around the figure of Ixcacao, and finished the shrine with a generous sprinkling of Chocolate Sundae rose petals. Now to fill those crystal goblets to overflowing with Cocobon, and sit back to welcome the weekend.

Altar to Ixcacao

This makes me happy.

Pleasure heals.

 P.S. While we’re on the subject of sacred indulgence (and just in time for St. Patrick’s Day)…I’m giving you one of my favorite restorative recipes: Salted Caramel Guinness Brownies.

Magician, heal thyself!

GuinnessBrownies

The HexKitten Returns!

Two years ago I decided to shelve my line of original art Hex Designs in order to focus more on my representational illustration work—including of course, the Incidental Tarot. But the lure of Hexcraft never really went away, and I’ve decided this year to revive my collection of magical Hex talismans in time for Pantheacon next month!

4 Original Hexkitten Designs

4 Original Hexkitten Designs, ©Holly DeFount 2009

American Hexcraft has its origins with the “Pennsylvania Dutch” settlers on the east coast.  Not actually Dutch, but of German descent, these people had a robust tradition of talismanic folk art, which they employed to evoke love, health, harmony, protection and fertility. As seen in the picture below, hexes were used to adorn a barn with the intention of protecting the farmer’s livestock and encouraging abundant crops. Similar to mandalas, triskeles, labyrinths and other circular talismans, Hexes can be designed with intricate combinations of symbols, colors, and numbers…from simple to ornate.

Traditional Barn Hexes

Most of what we know today of hexcraft comes from the family of Jacob Zook, a hex artist who popularized the art of hex designs in the 20th century in Pennsylvania. Today, Zook’s granddaughter, Cindy runs the Zook family Hex business, and has an informative website detailing the history of the art:

http://www.hexsigns.com

The art of Hexcraft seems to be enjoying a renaissance in our modern era; there are many wonderful Hex artists out there right now, making and manifesting incredible works of magic and art. A simple google search for “Hex Signs” will yield pages and pages of gorgeous Hexes, from the simple, old-fashioned barn Hex to elaborate and painstakingly detailed works of art.

For my own line of Hexcraft, I studied what we know of the traditional Hex language, and based on that developed my own symbolic visual vocabulary drawing from my knowledge of esoteric and magical systems. I believe that modern Hexcraft can be interpreted and attuned with every spiritual path, creating new and unique Hex designs for any magical intention.

One of Jacob Zook’s Hex Designs

The circle is the most ancient and powerful of symbols: representing the One, the Universe and Eternity…and within that magical boundary, any dream can be shaped and manifested. I hope you enjoy my collection as I unveil each one in the coming weeks, and maybe you’ll even be inspired to create one of your own!

The table pictured below was a custom commissioned hex design for a dear friend and gifted Tarot reader. It measures 4 feet in diameter, and was painted with Auro organic resin paints. To date, this is my favorite Hex design yet. I think it would also make an incredible stained glass window!

Elemental Hex Tarot Table, © Holly DeFount 2006

Columbia Rising: The new day begins

Mask of Columbia, © Holly DeFount 2012

I am exploring the concept of a mask for Columbia. Contrary to the modern interpretation of a mask as a “false face” or a deception, I see the mask as a magical object that empowers its wearer with the ideals it embodies. The mask may also be worn by many faces…

Columbia Rising: A Collaborative Art Movement Re-visioning the American Goddess

Columbia…she was once the ubiquitous, mytho-poetic female personification of America’s ideals, before being eclipsed by “Uncle Sam” in the 19th century and the Statue of Liberty in the early 20th century. You may have heard me talking loosely recently about this idea of the lost American Goddess and how I want to revive her from the dusty tomes of our country’s history. In just a short couple of months, I’ve gotten a phenomenal response from women who share my vision and want to take part in this historic gathering of creative minds. A small group of these dedicated women have stepped up with me to make this idea a reality, so with their support and participation, I am now making the first preliminary call for creative submissions.

Columbia is more than a figurehead or a quaint icon of old; she is a role model for American women, an essential heroine for our time. We need Columbia to remind us who we are: as women, as Americans, as creative thinkers and compassionate leaders. We need her to stand as witness for us as we fight for our rights and our integrity all over again in the twenty-first century. Through painting, storytelling, film and every other magic we have at our disposal, we will conjure Columbia from the depths of our collective unconscious and bring her to life to stand proudly once again.

It is a good day in America today, November 7, 2012. We’ve endured a vicious and divisive battle for the leadership of this country over the last 9 months, and today we may find relief in the fact that at least one door to that aspect of our history closing, and a new horizon is about to unfold before us.

Although politically and ethically, America remains deeply divided and uncertain of its future, the fact remains that we have a leader with integrity and long-term vision who stands for progress, equality, and cooperation. Women have won a key battle in the war over our sexual sovereignty, but the work is not done by a longshot. Now more than ever, we must take this opportunity to strengthen our vision, our relationships to each other and our resolve to redefine our roles and power in society.

“The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity.  And I think it’s women who are going to have to break the spiral of power and find the trick of cooperation.” ~Germaine Greer

Columbia Rising will reach out to women all over the United States. We will call them to engage with us, to put their vision and imagination to work in reviving this archetype of the American Goddess, however and in whatever form she is evoked from their minds and hearts. The beauty of this project is that there is no limit to the forms Columbia can take; in fact, we hope for a grand and gorgeous diversity to be revealed through this pursuit of a new, empowered vision of American womanhood. This is no small endeavor however, and by the tidal wave of support we’ve received so far, we cannot afford to underestimate the strength of this collaborative effort.

But before we go all out and nationally call for submissions for this incredible undertaking, I would like to pass the torch to you first, to join me in launching the core ideals of Columbia Rising.

I would like to gather 13 manifestations of Columbia by the end of 2012: be they art, poetry, film, sculpture or any other media. These thirteen pieces will be our core portfolio to present to the greater community as a launching point for the collective imagination of the project.  Like the thirteen original states of the Union, these works will represent the first movement towards the ultimate community that will evolve out of Columbia Rising. In this regard, I am outlining some guidelines that I feel are necessary to keep the purpose and intention of Columbia Rising from wandering or losing its potency.

  • Respect ancestry. Respect and honor different cultures, but stay true to your own experience. Leave native cultures to be expressed by those who live within them.
  • Strive for a balance between expressing diverse backgrounds and how to unify them in the present.
  • Don’t edit your discomfort; this process evokes deeply entrenched cultural stereotypes and injuries. Embrace them as you re-vision. Give homage to the forces that shape your vision, even if they come from pain.
  • Don’t limit yourself. Explore your vision Columbia in as many forms as you feel drawn to. Release expectation; let Columbia come as she wills.

The wider vision for Columbia Rising will be to curate and manage a large-scale exhibit and tour of this collaborative creative movement, and also to document the process in narrative, print and film. We envision a book to be published along with the exhibit, as well as the possibility of a sustained creative movement in America, with the goal of empowering women to speak their truth through the arts. In 2013 we will open the project nationally with a crowdfunding campaign, so stay tuned for more updates as we progress towards the New Year.

The Torch

I am passing this torch to you now. Submit your best work on Columbia by December 31, 2012.

If you have one piece or a dozen, there is no limit on size or number of submissions. There is no fee for submission in this core portfolio. Email me with photos of your work, writing samples, film clips, etc. I will contact you directly for further information or descriptions. Ideally, I would like to collect a variety of media such as:

  • 3 works of visual art (painting, printmaking, mixed media)
  • 3 photographic works
  • 3 works of 3-D/fiber arts (sculpture, fiber arts, costuming, jewelry, etc.)
  • 3 narrative works (prose, poetry, monologue, essay, screenplay, etc.)
  • 1 multi-media presentation (film, web-series, documentary or transmedia)

Don’t be limited by this list; follow your instincts. Even if your piece(s) is not chosen to be included in the initial core collection; every submission will have profound value and will add to the momentum of the Columbia Rising movement.

  • Join our discussions on Columbia Rising on Facebook here.
  • Pin your Columbia inspirations on our Pinterest board here.

E Pluribus Unum.

Please submit the following information with your photos/documentation to ColumbiaRising@gmail.com:

Name
Email Address
Mailing Address
Telephone
Artist/Author Bio (100 words or less)
Description of Work (media/materials, dimensions/word count/time length, description of process or meaning)
Would you like to volunteer for some aspect of Columbia Rising? (documentation, PR, web design, galleries, publishers, etc.)

 

 

 

The Uneasy Veil

Rustic Raven

Taken on an October afternoon in Bolinas.

Brace yourselves, my friends. I’m going to say something shocking and highly unpopular in this blog.

I do not like Halloween.

I know, I know, I’m not like most—especially not the magically inclined folks I call my people.  Even my best friends look at me askance when I cautiously skirt the topic of Halloween, parties, and haunted houses.

My life is immersed in the theatrical.  Having been one of those crazy kids who dresses up every weekend for 3-6 months of every year for decades now, I’ve always told myself and my friends that I was too burned out to bother coming up with another costume come October every year.  Especially for just one night. But the truth is, I’m just…uncomfortable with Halloween.  While my friends are all reveling in theatrical, Disney-fied Halloween festivities—you know, Nightmare Before Christmas, Haunted Mansion, Harry Potter or even the guilty pleasures of the Twilight saga…I am busy figuring out how I can quietly dissociate myself from the whole scene.

It’s a little embarrassing, to be honest, my aversion to Halloween.  I could say it’s because of the commercialization, the crowds, the mass opportunity for public drunkenness and spectacle.  Maybe it’s because I don’t have children yet, and don’t have the joy of introducing them to silly costumes and sugar rushes.  But here’s the real reason.

Weeping Magdalen

Weeping Magdalen from the St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans.

I am already close to darkness, figuratively speaking. Too close for my own comfort, sometimes. I was always a child sensitive to the dark, mysterious and supernatural; some of my first memories are related to witches and magic…at least the idea of them. And having been prone to depression, both seasonally and generally for most of my life, I find myself withdrawing at this time of year, going deeper inside myself, shying away from the burgeoning show of ghosts, witches, tricksters and death. I am already naturally close to “the veil.” And when the rest of the world—the world that dismisses the supernatural for the other 11 months of the year—comes out to play in their Walmart costume shells and their fake blood and plastic swords and rainbow of wigs, I retreat.

Something in the air is rustling; something underneath the inviting, popular façade of horror-fantasy-theater. Death is a subtle infection…leaves are dying and falling from their hosts, sunlight of late summer is eclipsing into winter, the first rains are bringing the fruits of decay peeking up out of wet soil. Something comes creeping in on the night fog and it weighs on me, filling my lungs with a certain pungent emptiness.  I start to feel hollow, like a vessel that may catch the unwelcome whistle of dark wind as it passes through my space. Something wicked really feels like it’s coming this way…my way. The reality that everything dies permeates me, and all the pits and foibles of my life array themselves before me and pose this question: what if it all just ended right now?

Bronze Angel

Bronze Angel on a crypt door in Mountain View Cemetery in Piedmont.

Two years ago I was sitting in a quaint café in Bayou St. John, New Orleans. For 4 glorious days, I had soaked up the aura of that amazing city. Its beauty, its endurance, its unconditional welcome. But interlaced with all the richness of its history and legend, reminders of death were visible on every street corner. Pockets of destruction and decay from Katrina’s wrath were (and still are) everywhere, even in the midst of its renewal and smiles and fresh paint. Driving through the old neighborhoods you could still see the spray-painted shorthand of disaster management on boarded up windows and doors, notes telling rescue crews who and what to look for when they finally arrived at the scene.

The best selling book, “1 Dead in Attic” was on every table in every trinket shop. It was ubiquitous, an ever-present morbid reminder for the sensitive tourist. I wondered if any of those tragic victims had time to ask themselves that question, what if it all just ended right now?

In the Paris Catacombs

A Plaque in the Paris Catacombs

“Something comes creeping in on the night fog and it weighs on me, filling my lungs with a certain pungent emptiness.  I start to feel hollow, like a vessel that may catch the unwelcome whistle of dark wind as it passes through my space.”

I decided to take that vacation to New Orleans to give myself a heavy dose of much needed inspiration. The history, the art, the ambience, the voodoo. I knew my writing needed a jumpstart and a change of scenery, and what better place to intrigue me than the French Quarter and the majestic Garden District? I was right. I managed to finish the prologue of my novel there (almost a novella in itself), and spent a sultry All Hallows Eve ruminating on the nature of my own psyche at this intensely transitional time of year, or Halloween, as “the normals” call it.

Little Death

Sad little finch, just passed.

The dark side of that inspiration was a profound sadness. Seeing the orphaned pets wandering, starving on the streets over 5 years later…it still wrenches my heart remembering those moments, knowing I could do nothing to heal them. I had nightmares during the trip about my own cat losing her legs, and still curling up in my arms because that was all she could do.

Bone Wall in the Catacombs

Bone Wall in the Paris Catacombs, 2012.

All the gorgeous vintage architecture with its centuries of peeling paint and patina magically flaking off like stardust, it all resonated with a dark gravitas, like a giant sinkhole that could cave in at any unsuspecting moment beneath the rusty beauty of its surface.

The homes behind that peeling paint had been abandoned and forgotten. Dead. In the Bay Area, there would never be that degree of unattended real estate, no matter how badly the economy waned. The ‘89 quake didn’t even come close to the devastation New Orleans endured. That’s how I’m reminded of how little we suffer, how little my own problems and worries matter in the bigger picture of life here on earth.  When I got off that plane a couple of days after Halloween in 2010, I knew my home was there waiting for me; my boyfriend and kitties happy to see me, and we’d all curl up in bed together and sleep off the strange residue of separation we’d experienced for the past week.

But in the town where I had rejoiced in freedom from my self-imposed duties and worries and restrictions, people all around me had lost their homes and their livelihoods indefinitely, maybe forever. To add catastrophic insult to catastrophic injury, the Gulf that encloses this precious community was also poisoned and crippled—indefinitely, maybe forever. And yet as I sat in that café, in a quaint neighborhood near City Park and Canal Boulevard, the residents outside threw a trick or treating party for their kids in the grassy courtyard across the way.  You would never know that tragedy had struck here, or that death stubbornly lingers around every street corner.

Headstone in Mountain View Cemetery, Piedmont, CA.

Headstone in Mountain View Cemetery, Piedmont, CA.

Even now, safe, sound and secure in my happy little box of the San Francisco Bay Area, I can’t really wrap my head around the “fun” and the “party” and the “tricks” and “treats” of Halloween.  I feel too much of the uncertainty underneath it all.  I see ghosts, real and imagined…the possibility that everywhere we go, the stubborn specter of death could be lurking.  I hate that the Halloween “holiday” masks that for me…because I need to acknowledge it, to pay my respects. And this year in particular, there are a great too many respects to be paid. Too many precious friends and loved ones have passed beyond the uneasy veil, and it is already hard enough to take time out from the breakneck pace of life to quiet the heart, the mind and the soul in order to look into the veil to see them and say goodbye once more. The veil that is already so thin for me throughout the rest of the year now becomes an almost stormy mirror. A mirror that can be frightening to face. But today I will commune with my sisters, clasp hands with them and face together whatever darkness we all bring to be acknowledged.

In a few days, the feeling will dissipate…that strange autumnal hollowness will be filled with the comforts of home and the love of family and the promise of holiday cheer just around the corner. But in the meanwhile, I will think about the lives that have gone before me, and the lives that will continue to cycle through their time here on earth after I’ve gone, and I will remember all the blessings that are continuously bestowed on me and the people I love.

So, Halloween, with your fantastic pageant of ghosts and goblins and broomsticks and buckets of candy, please accept my apology for avoiding you. I’ll just be over here, singing, remembering, calling, and loving life.

Walking the Catacombs

Me in the Paris Catacombs, 2012.

All photos on this site are ©Holly DeFount 2012, unless otherwise noted. Please contact me for permission to use these photos elsewhere.

Irreligious of your faith

Hand and Heart
The only thing that will heal and save souls is Love.

Not God’s love, not Jesus’s or Allah’s or Buddha’s or the Goddess’s love. But human love.

If you cannot, from your human heart—independently of God—accept, forgive, and love your fellow humans despite their differences or perceived sins…if you imitate the teachings of “love” given by a disembodied personification outside yourself, then you are not engaging in the spiritually transformative work of Love. Real Love comes from a place of total emptiness of expectation; it means taking personal responsibility for yourself and your relationship to the sacred lives around you.

There is no reward in heaven for Love. The reward is here and now, and is shared equally by the giver and the receiver. There is no guarantee of salvation for following the imagined conditions of an unseen higher power.

The only salvation possible is that of intentionally rescuing your fellow humans from suffering, division, and oppression. If your faith does not strive to unconditionally relieve suffering, bridge division, and free those who are oppressed without regard to the imagined prescriptions and proscriptions of God, then it is ultimately nothing but an exercise in control and self-empowerment.

Faith in a higher power is a truly wonderful, expansive, and inspirational thing; it is an instrument of Love. But Faith should never be the reason or reward for doing good in the world, or for acting from your heart. Faith should be the natural, self-fulfilling consequence of living in Love.

Reviving the American Goddess

I’ve been possessed.

(If that statement wigs you out, please read this educational essay. In fact, read it no matter what, because it’s quite relevant to the spirit of this topic.)

As an artist and a spiritually inclined person, I’ve spent much of my adult life avoiding the largely abhorrent realm of politics. Of course, I’ve always voted, and paid attention to what legislation I felt needed my attention, but otherwise I avoided it like the plague. I took for granted many of the freedoms and privileges I enjoyed as a young woman growing up in the post-sexual revolution era. Women had the right to vote, we had the right (in California) to make reproductive choices for ourselves, and we had a renaissance of goddess-centered spirituality burgeoning in our culture. Life was beautiful.

But as the years have gone by, the political climate in America has regressed to a state of unparalleled reactionary, fascist, corporate-financed dogma, and it’s coming to a head as this year’s presidential election draws nigh.

Women's Sufferage Photo

More relevant than ever, 100 years later.

The War on Women is real. I was skeptical at first, thinking it was just hype for the Democratic agenda, and maybe it was at some point, way back when. But since 9-11, a fierce resurgence of intolerance and repression of liberty has reared its ugly head in this country. The Fox News channels, the Rush Limbaughs, and the David Bartons of the religious and social right have somehow managed to gain a fierce toehold in the heartland of America. How the hell did this happen?those of us on the other side ask ourselves, stupefied.

That ultra-right wing has finally crossed the line of no return, and is greedily reaching its tentacles in one too many cookie jars of personal freedom. You get where I’m going with this, right?

However this virus of regressive thought found its way into mainstream politics is irrelevant now. The fact is, women are waking up to the ruthless, steady stream of assaults on our sovereign physical and social rights and fighting back. And we VOTE. But their counter-attack is also growing, because like a virus, this wave of fundamentalist politics is feeding into itself with every backlash we launch at it, becoming even more vitriolic and oppressive. It’s beyond unbelievable at this point; I think a large faction of this country has actually crossed over into a state of mass-delusion. The Pied Pipers of the right are hoodwinking us, trying to sweep away our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives in their maelstrom of misogynistic legislation and social policy setting. And what’s worse, many of those women are following them into the abyss.

I had migraines for the weeks leading up to and through the GOP convention. I kept hearing this bullshit about Founding Fathers, and Patriotism, and Uncle Sam. The hypocrisy, the rhetoric, the vitriol, the LIES…I literally couldn’t take it into my body and mind anymore. Ironically, the founding fathers would be ashamed of this party of corporate-nursed, greed-driven, entitled, nepotistic 1%-ers.

Lady Columbia

Ducit Amor Patriae – Love Of Country Leads Me

I began to wonder what would happen if America had a chance to rediscover the power of her righteous female half. We used to revere the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of our country and our ideals. And before her, did you know we used to poetically refer to our nation as “Columbia?” A goddess modeled after the honorable figures of Greek and Roman democratic virtues, Columbiawas the feminine incarnation of America for her first hundred years, until she fell under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in the 20th century. And though the Statue herself still stands proudly on Liberty Island, do we as a country truly embrace the ideals she represents? In the bigger picture, I’m not sure we do. I think she’s been taken for granted for too long.

What would happen if we re-imagined Columbia for ourselves…for America’s future? What would she look like? What would her symbols be, and how would she be embodied in our modern culture? How could she stand for us as a guide, a protectress, and a democratic ideal that we could collectively strive for?

Throughout the last few weeks of political mire we’ve endured, I’ve found myself utterly possessed by this idea. Possessed by the desire to sculpt a new Columbia out of the mud… reanimate her in our time of need, beautiful, righteous, and powerful. I want to give form to this power I know we all possess, a power that represents Equality, Justice, Compassion, and UNITY.


But my vision of Columbia is just the threshold; I call all of you to raise this American goddess out of your own hearts. Here’s the torch: paint, write, photograph, compose, sculpt, film… let’s invoke her together, with everything we’ve got.

I have a vision that invoking Columbia with our art will grow into a movement. For my part, I embrace the responsibility of curating this project, to give it a temple, a voice, and a direction. The rest is up to us.

columbiarising.com

Friend and co-conspirator, Angela N. Hunt and I are brewing up the details of Columbia Rising. We intend to manifest great things, but we need your collaboration. Your ART, in whatever discipline that comes. If you want to be part of this transformative project, contact me directly at columbiarising@gmail.com; your voice will be added to the planning process. The website above is just a placeholder; check back over the weeks to come as we add details and content.

~E PLURIBUS UNUM~

Lessons from a Wandering Soul

“Familiar.” December 1, 2011
© Holly DeFount

Warning: This is a long post, emotional, and quite personal.

Many of you that know me know that a couple of months ago, my fiancé, Joshua and I rescued a scruffy little stray cat from the street about a mile from our house. We were on an evening walk in the neighborhood when this little white cat came out from the bushes on the sidewalk and greeted us, meowing, purring and winding around our legs. She was impossibly skinny and dirty, with one red-rimmed weeping eye and matted fur. She was captivating; my heart instantly went out to her. Joshua picked her up, and we pet her gently and scratched her little chin. I admit, I was compelled to take her in my arms and simultaneously, to feverishly wash my hands. I tend to be germophobic.

We stood there for several minutes, wondering what to do. She was clearly lost or abandoned, starving and in need of medical attention. But here we were, on foot, a mile away from home with no phones and no keys. It seemed there was nothing to do but leave her and walk home, which is what we did that Thursday evening in June.

She haunted me for three days. I went back in my car looking for her, I circled the neighborhood twice a day hoping she would make an appearance again and I could sweep her up and get her to a vet. Nothing. Sunday night came around, and I suggested we go on another walk in the neighborhood, to give it one last shot. And sure enough, she emerged from the underbrush to greet us, in front of the same house we found her the first time. This time I was prepared, emotionally and practically. We went door to door, asking if anyone knew her or who she belonged to. Nothing. I spoke with one neighbor that thought it was very sweet of us to consider taking her to a vet. “Just hold onto her until the morning, then take her to a shelter,” she suggested. But I knew this little creature would not survive in a shelter. They don’t have the funds to give veterinary attention in shelters, and she certainly did not have the look of a cat that someone would want to adopt. I resolved to take her to the vet that night, knowing that we could figure out some other option besides a shelter once we got an idea of her overall health. I left Joshua there with her, and I ran, yes RAN home through the windy, hilly streets of the Berkeley Hills to get my car, some food, water and a cat carrier.

The first vet visit

She purred like crazy…everywhere. With us on the street where we found her, in the cat carrier, in the car, even in the vet’s office. It was astounding, the purr motor on this kitty. The initial check-up on her revealed that she was at least 10 years old, weighed about 4 pounds, had a respiratory cold and eye infection, bad arthritis in her hindquarters, and was not micro-chipped. She was not going to a shelter, of this I was certain. They tested her that night for Feline AIDS and leukemia, which turned out negative. We resolved to treat her for a week with anti-biotics, and see how she was faring before considering the next step. At the very least, we could get her healthy enough to be around the other cats of the household (of which there are 3). Joshua’s mom lives upstairs from us, and she was kind enough to put kitty in the spare room for quarantine while we cleaned her up and medicated her. If she didn’t have a hold on our hearts right then, she certainly settled into them soundly over the next week. My biggest dread was that we wouldn’t be able to integrate her with our two female cats downstairs, who are very territorial and already hate each other. Ann’s cat was still young and impressionable, so she had the best chance of tolerance as we nursed Miss “Stray” DeFount back to health.

We gave her a bath 5 days into the anti-biotic treatment, confident that she was well enough now to handle the change in body temperature from the bathing. We painstakingly rinsed out her dingy white fur, combed out most of the mats, and managed to get a wide swathe of her tail clean of caked motor oil. And she feasted…boy did she feast! We gave her everything: dry food, canned food, table scraps, you name it. Anything to put some weight back on her. She was starting look almost presentable, the sweet little thing. By the time we brought her back to the vet a week later to get the full senior blood panel done, we had named her Annapurrna, after the Hindu goddess of nourishment, and to honor her incredible purring motor. When we checked her in and told them her name, the vet tech smiled. “Now you’ve done it, you’ve named her. You should never name them (strays),” she said with a laugh.

It turned out that Miss Annapurrna was suffering advanced hyperthyroidism. I’ve had two cats in my life that succumbed to hyperthyroidism, so I knew the drill; it would be lifelong medication for this little one. She also had elevated kidney and liver function tests, which the vet warned could be underlying conditions that would “unmask” themselves when her thyroid was treated. Of course, this nearly extinguished any hopes we had of adopting her out, and for the time being we decided to treat the thyroid condition and have her re-tested in a month to see how she was doing.

Unfortunately, this never happened. We tried two different forms of thyroid treatment, both of which Annapurrna had severely adverse reactions to. It seemed that anything we did (beyond treating her respiratory condition) was too much stress for her little body. There were several moments on the meds that we thought she wouldn’t make it through the night. It was beginning to sink in to me that she hadn’t come to us to be “fixed” or “cured,” but to be loved and healed. For the next two months, we gave her the best life we could. Miss Purrna ate like royalty three times a day…steak, chicken livers, dishes of cream. She had the run of the upstairs, holding her own when Zeisah (Ann’s cat) tried to rouse her or coax her into rough play. We took to calling her the Duchess, in tandem with Princess Zeisah.

The coming weeks were a rollercoaster of emotion. Coming to terms with not actively treating her conditions but trying to provide loving palliative care was very hard for me. For all of us. In the last two weeks of her life, she stopped eating her favorite foods and perhaps the saddest, even stopped purring. She drank water by the gallon, parking herself within a few feet of the water fountain where both cats drank. She began to get dehydrated, and slowed to such a point that out of desperation, we brought her back to the vet. This was my last real hope of helping her. The vet suggested doing another senior blood panel, administering IV fluids and seeing where to go from there. Part of me was ready to do just that…against all my intuition. But I kept reminding myself what had happened every other time we tried to medicate her, and I knew deep in my heart, that this was part of the process. She was getting ready to leave us. We declined the tests that night and took her home, feeling uncomforted and unhappy. The next day, Ann (who is a nurse) was convinced if we just gave her some subcutaneous fluids, she would get some relief and possibly get some appetite back. Something about this idea didn’t feel right in my heart, but the other part of me that couldn’t bear the idea that she was in pain or discomfort gave in. We brewed up some standard saline and set it up in a brand new sterile IV bag. Ann put the needle under the skin of her shoulderblades and we slowly, gently began to massage the fluid into her body.

She cried for the first time. She cried so loudly and desperately, my heart broke right in two. She swatted at our hands and pretended to bite at us. She only got about 25cc of saline before we had to stop; it was so traumatic for her…and for us. I knew then that this was the beginning of the end, and I cried myself to sleep that night. The words, “do no harm, do no harm” echoed in my head.

For the next five days, Annapurrna slowed to a nearly paralyzed state of weakness. She stopped eating, even stopped drinking by the last couple of days. On Thursday night, she climbed up onto Ann’s bed and slept there through the night–for the first time. She didn’t get up again on her own.

Sleeping soundly on the heating pad.

Friday was a long, melancholy vigil. I had the day off and it was the first weekend both Josh and I had no plans and would be home uninterrupted. I curled up next to her on the bed most of the day while Josh and Ann worked. The three of us ate dinner together that night on the bed, with Purrna resting quietly between us in the blankets. That night we took turns sleeping with her upstairs, Josh taking her for 3 hours on the couch while I tried to nap with our other cats downstairs. I came back up around 2am, and we curled around her on the carpet and tried our best to sleep the rest of the night, as I checked the rise and fall of her breath every 15 minutes or so. We were all stunned when morning broke and she was still with us. Ann took her sleeping body back onto her bed while Josh and I stumbled down the stairs and crawled into our own bed for a scant window of real sleep. In less than two hours, Ann called to let us know she had taken her last breath.

Tears. Many, many tears fell.

So much about this little spirit was a gift to us…the pleasure in seeing her embrace the love we gave, the gratifying purr of her happiness being with us. The lessons she taught in the short time she touched our lives.

  • She taught me humility. To be bold in coming forth and asking for help. To be unashamed of her need.
  • She taught me acceptance. I learned to let go of my need to fix her, to make her beautiful and healthy and “suitable” to sustain love.
  • She taught me that nourishment comes in many forms. That food and medicine and warmth are just facets of that which truly sustains us in this world.
  • She taught me that love needs no guarantee. That each day of her presence was its own reward, that to try to project further into some possible future life was irrelevant. Distracting.

Parting Gifts

Saturday morning we laid Annapurrna to rest. Joshua dug a grave for her as I went about and collected flowers, fruit and herbs from the garden to give her for her journey. I gathered a small wooden butterfly earring, a tiny amethyst bead, and one of the ACEO prints I had done last year, the sterling white cat with wings that I called “Familiar.” I colored her blue eyes gold and put them all in a basket with the other gifts.

We buried her under our bird bath, amongst a tangle of blackberry brambles and tendrils of ivy. I’m looking out the window at that cement bowl right now, as a fat little robin flutters in it right next to the red rosebud I tossed in as a last token of love.

Later that evening, I noticed in our hallway a large ivory colored moth perched across from our bedroom door. An odd sight, I thought. For one thing, to see a moth that large while daylight still seeped through the windows… and in 3 years of living here, I’d never seen more than the little brown moths you expect to gather round your porchlight at night. I left it there absently and we spent the rest of the weekend in something of a daze, feeling the emptiness of her loss and little shadows of her former presence. I poured myself into making a piece of art for her, a watercolor illustration honoring her as Annapurna, Goddess of Nourishment and Abundance. Sunday night as we crawled into bed, I saw that the ivory moth was now on the ceiling of our bedroom, next to the light above my head. I mentioned it to Josh. “You know, I did give her wings when we buried her. That little pale wooden butterfly…it was nearly the same size as this moth.” He paused for a moment, reflecting. “Would that give you comfort?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to answer that at the time. But now, three days after Purrna left us and the little ivory moth has disappeared, I think I can say yes.

“Annapurna Maarjaara” © Holly DeFount 2012

In gratitude to the community of friends and loved ones who supported our journey with Annapurrna both emotionally and financially by participating in our art/jewelry sale fundraiser, I would like to offer anyone a free print of Annapurna Maarjaara as a thank you and a gesture of sharing the love. Please visit and “like” my Facebook page: Raven & Rose and send me a private message there with your mailing address. Blessings and gratitude to all.
~Holly

The Tao of Me

Ravenheart, a portrait of Ciara

“Ravenheart” © 2012 Holly DeFount

I’ve been trying to think of what kind of amazing and inspirational “maiden” blog post I could put up here on my shiny new wordpress site…something that really embodies the essence of “Raven & Rose” as my ongoing creative work. I keep coming back to this idea that everything in my life is a creative endeavor…from the art that I create, to the words I craft with my pen, and sometimes to the little day to day things, like the herbs flowering in the garden now, or the Instagram snapshots I take on my lunch hour walks. But there’s even more to it than this.

My art is the sum expression of everything I see, feel and believe in. I am passionate about many things…beauty, nature, music, and love. But there is great beauty also in the “mundane.” I am a passionate environmentalist; I am a devout humanist (often confused with “devout feminist”); I am a flaming, godless, bleeding heart liberal and I’m proud of it. And yet, I believe profoundly in a higher power, something bigger than me and the human race and the world. It is a sacred mystery that there is order in the Universe, and ultimately I have faith in that order. These are the unexpected things that find their place in my expressions, my intentional work in the world. Creating a space, a safe and beautiful and moving space that nurtures these qualities in myself and others is extremely important to me. I am more than tarot cards and graceful words and the ability to cast my will into a blank piece of paper and manifest something. I’m going to start writing more about what motivates and inspires me behind all of those tangible things.

It has been much more challenging to string together my creative impulses since I began my full time job last November. They come in fits and starts…quite a different flow than last year when I was methodically creating something small each day. But even with all the free time I don’t have at present, I’ve managed to step up my work this year, creating larger pieces, taking on more complex commissions, pursuing photography. And I’ve recommitted myself to writing, having taken a rather long hiatus in favor of the Incidental Tarot project. It is long past time to finish my novel, now nine years in the making. Completing the Tarot project now seems almost distant and surreal, as I look forward now to bigger and hopefully more expansive endeavors.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

New Raven & Rose website

Now that I’ve become marginally comfortable working with WordPress, I am rebuilding my art gallery and blog.  Please check back over the new few weeks as I add more content!

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