August News

Hath No Fury coverMy birthday is right around the corner (August 31), which makes all the good news I’ve received lately even more enjoyable. On August 23, Hath No Fury was released into the world. This gorgeous anthology hold special meaning for me as it contains my “Jack and the Beanstalk”/”Rappaccini’s Daughter” mash-up “A Seed Planted,” which was one of the first manuscripts I workshopped with Liz Hand during my time at Stonecoast. I received the acceptance letter while I was in Puerto Vallarta celebrating the fact that I’d survived the first year of my bicycle accident in June 2016. It seems a lifetime ago now, but it was worth the wait. It’s a gorgeous books and an incredible line-up.

In other news, my poem “Blood Work” will be included in the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. V, edited by Stephanie Wytovich. I worked on this particular piece with Cate Marvin, an extraordinary poet who took the time to really help shape the way I approach poetry. In the past, I had a fascination with Anne Sexton’s Transformations–a collection I still admire–but, I am not Anne Sexton, and with Cate’s help, I’ve been able to find my own path.  I still have a fascination with fairy tales and myth, but my poems have started to evolve into pieces with more concrete connections. It’s an interesting journey, and one I hope to continue.

During my time at Stonecoast working with Cate, I also wrote an academic paper on the brides of Frankenstein’s monster. Body horror tends to crop up in my creative work, so this felt like a natural transition. I ended up presenting that paper at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in March, and I ended up with some interest in an essay adaptation on my research. I recently had the opportunity to view the final draft of  Birthing Monsters: Frankenstein’s Cabinet of Curiosities and Cruelties, which will include my piece “Mapping the Collective Body of Frankenstein’s Brides.” Firbolg Publishing will be hosting a book signing on October 28 at Dark Delicacies (3512 W. Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, CA). Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend because of a prior commitment at Sirens; however, you can be sure I’ll be watching the festivities remotely. It looks like it will be an incredible event.

gorgon-emergenceMy last bit of news was just announced today–I have a story coming out in the stunning Pantheon Magazine anthology Gorgon: Stories of Emergence“Burning Bright” is the result of an experiment in literary style. I started with a flash piece written about an abused girl hidden in the skin of a circus tiger, which was originally inspired by Angela Carter’s short story “The Tiger’s Bride,” collected in The Bloody Chamber. When I decided to expand it in order to take a look at the cycle of abuse, I settled on the opening reference to Frank R. Stockton’s short story “The Lady or the Tiger?”, which was originally published in magazine The Century in 1882. The story has come to represent an unsolvable problem, which I feel reflects the emotional state of victims trapped in relationships ruled by domestic violence.

I also borrowed the spelling of “tyger” from the William Blake poem “The Tyger” to indicate the shift from beast to woman, and the fierceness of the human soul once it is freed from the conventions that bind it. Other references include instructions on how to sew a lining, a circus calliope driven by a steam-driven carousel, the children’s counting rhyme “Eeny Meeny,” depictions of children’s string games, and hints of resurrection through the connection symbolized by the red thread of fate. This piece is meant as an acknowledgment of the fact that many victims return to their abusers, often several times. That final act of separation is a brave one and it often comes at a high cost. “Burning Bright” is a reminder that there is hope. The uncanny connection between a victim and an abuser can be severed. Freedom can be attained.

 

 

MFA Graduation

A month ago, I graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. It still seems somewhat surreal, and I’m working out the kinks of adjusting to a life without the idea of school deadlines looming. In addition to my personal writing pursuits and running workshops at The Storied Imaginarium, I will also be teaching a couple of English classes at Pikes Peak Community College. And, just to stay on top of my own goals of being a life-long learner, I will be taking Advanced Creative Writing with Richard Thomas. It’s going to be a busy Fall!

Commencement Speech (Stonecoast, Popular Fiction, S’18)

Stonecoast graduationJust as I expect was the case with many of you here today, I discovered the magic of books at young age and by the time I hit grade school, I realized I could not only read other people’s stories, but that I could write my own. Although the map of my life reveals haphazard progress hindered by numerous wrong turns, dead ends, and detours, my desire to write never waned. When I received my acceptance to the creative writing program at Stonecoast, I thought my path had finally straightened out. I could clearly see my destination, and I thought there was nothing that could slow me down. I was wrong.

Three weeks before my first residency, I was speeding down a hill when the front tire of my bike caught gravel. When I fully regained consciousness 18 hours later, I slowly began to process the damage. The trauma doctors had done their best to put me back together, but I was never going to look the same as I had before the accident. Worse, the traumatic brain injury meant I’d never think the same either. The first flower arrangement to show up in my hospital room was from Stonecoast, which added to my determination to be a part of this community despite my injuries. I received the offer to wait, to push my start date back, but I was terrified that if I didn’t press forward, the opportunity would slip through my fingers. I stuck to the plan, and limped onto a plane with a bag full of medications two weeks after being released from the hospital. This was not my best idea.

There’s a saying that first impressions are everything. So I knew I was in trouble when Robin and Justin staged an intervention in the middle of my first residency. I was a walking physical and emotional disaster. I tried to persevere, without the greatest success. Intervention, remember? Those of you graduating tonight are the last class to remember my disastrous first residency. You are also the ones who helped me to continue forward to this moment.

Although it has been a difficult two years, it’s been rewarding also—in ways I never would have expected. I still suffer from chronic pain and impaired cognition, but upon reflection I think the accident served to make me a better writer; it definitely made me a better person. All of my protective shields were shattered, my pride and arrogance stripped away. Without this having happened, I might not have been in the position to learn the lessons Stonecoast has to offer. For instance, I learned that you can be self-reliant, yet still be able to ask for help when you need it. I learned that you can be an outsider yet still belong to this vibrant community of writers and mentors. And above all, I learned that earning my MFA is just one of the signposts along the ever-evolving journey in becoming a writer.

I urge you all to keep moving despite the obstacles that will invariably come your way. Slow down. Take advantage of unexpected side trips. Explore the roads off the beaten path. And remember to stay connected to the Stonecoast community: if you reach out and stay involved, your time here will never come to an end. There’s a quote by E. L. Doctorow that kept me moving forward even in the darkest times, and I’d like to share it with you now: “[Writing is] like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Even though we are all travelling in different directions, I will keep my eyes open in hopes our paths will cross again soon. I know from experience, my life will be better for it. Thank you.

StokerConStonecoasters2017

Publication News

The HungerI’ve had several pieces published recently, so I figured it was time to share the news. Today, my story “The Landscape of Lacrimation” came out at The Hunger. It’s a strange swirly tale written as an experimental piece. I often feel as though I don’t quite fit in, and I wanted to attempt to recreate that feeling in this story. The lyricism is over the top, and it’s written in second person. Both of these things are meant to keep the reading left feeling a little unmoored. It also contains dozens of slur words, which I’ve used outside of context, another technique meant to increase the sense of unease. As you might imagine, it’s not easy to place a story meant to make the reader uncomfortable, so I’m especially pleased that the editors at The Hunger took a chance on it.

The publication of Hath No Fury, which features my weird, futuristic mash-up of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini Daughter,” has been pushed back again. It’s now listed with a July release date. However, I have seen the epub of the anthology and it’s a thing of beauty. Worth the wait, I promise.

Another piece scheduled to come out soon is my poem “C8 : A Tessellation of Faces, Wings, and other Obscure Things,” which will be featured in Alphanumeric, the online portion of the NonBinary Review Issue 17: A Wrinkle in Time.  I also have a poem, “The Savory Taste of Temptation,” in The Necro-Om-Nom-Nom-Icon, which was released in April. My contribution to this Lovecraftian-inspired collection came in the form of an amuse-bouche.

I have several other stories and poems currently out on submission, so I hope I will have more good news to share soon. In the meantime, I’m working on the final stages of my thesis, a short story collection titled The Anatomy of Melancholy.  Graduation is right around the corner, and I should have my MFA in hand July 16th. Stay tuned!

Big Poetry Giveaway

In the Forest of Forgettingpoisoned applesI’m giving away two poetry volumes for Big Poetry Month at The Storied Imaginarium. The first book up for grabs is In the Forest of Forgetting Paperback by Theodora Goss, and the second book is Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty Hardcover by Christine Heppermann. Check out the link at The Storied Imaginarium for details.

Note: The giveaway ends on April 30th at midnight, so make sure to sign up soon.

Victorian Mores in a Modern World

Victorian1 In the years prior to the reign of Queen Victoria, fairy tales were dismissed and marginalized in English culture. Sense and sensibility ruled the school. According to Micheal Patrick Hearn, “Utilitarians had no use for fairy tales” (xxi). But with Victoria’s coronation in 1837, fantasy crept back into British nurseries in what is now coined as the “golden age for the literary fairy tale” (xix). Personally, I tend to gravitate towards the more savage wonder tales in the search for source material to seed my own work. Although I realize English fairy tales “were cleansed of the savagery and ethical ambiguity that had characterized many traditional stories,” I decided to tackle The Victorian Fairy Tale Book  by Micheal Patrick Hearn in order to expand my knowledge of the fairy tale (xix).

victorian2The collection starts out with “The King of the Golden Rivers” by John Ruskin. This fairy tale, which was published in 1851, is an ecological fairy tale that relies on the moral structure of the influence good and evil have on the environment. The second tale, “The Rose and the Ring” was written by William Makepeace Thackeray and drones on for 70 pages. Morality is a game of beauty and wit in this satire filled with the high-jinks of the upper class in “The Rose and the Ring.” By the time I finished the first two collected tales, I began to question my decision to annotate what was beginning to look like a truly tedious chore.

When I saw the next story was by Charles Dickens, I had hopes that were instantly dashed with the opening line: “There was once a King, and he had a Queen, and he was the manliest of his sex, and she was the loveliest of hers” (107). Although I’m aware Victorian fairy tales tended to be overtly moralizing, I was surprised at the overbearing comedic attempts in these opening stories. These pieces appeared unrelated to the more familiar German and Russian fairy tales, which tend to be populated with peasants instead of princesses. Oddly enough, these Victorian tales also feature actual fairies, a trend which also appears to contradict the traditional nature of fairy tales. In addition to the presence of fairies, Hearn attempts to forge a connection through the fantastical in his introduction: “Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted” (xvii). If this was his reasoning behind the type of stories encompassed in the fairy tale canon, I couldn’t help but wonder what wouldn’t be considered a part of Faerie.

victorian3In the end, I only recognized a few of the stories in the collection, but even these tales I’d loved as a child seemed saccharine and condescending when revisited as an adult. For instance, in “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning all of the children were abducted and the adults who had transgressed were left to pay the price: “And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,/ If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise” (34). And, in “The Little Lame Prince and His Travelling Cloak” by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, readers learn how it’s better to stay home instead of braving the terrors of travelling. Children are also instructed on the virtues of piety, bravery, patience, humbleness, and justice. In this tale, the prince becomes a king whose entire life is dedicated to his people: “He never gave them a queen. When they implored him to choose one, he replied that his country was his bride, and he desired no other. But perhaps the real reason was that he shrank from any change…” (188). Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t see how afraid of change is a positive personality trait.

victorian4Not all was lost though; I did find a couple of stories populated with characters who begged for new lives in a modern age. “Goblin Market,” an epic poem penned by Christina Rossetti, paints a colorful portrait of Faerie and its enchanted fruit. The warning against temptation is hammered home in the lyric stylings, but there is something else hidden there, something resembling defiance. And I love it.

After deciding to save her curious sister from the curse that comes with eating fairy fruit, Lizzie arms herself with a silver penny and “At twilight, halted by the brook: /And for the first time in her life/began to listen and look” (202).  The crafty girl tricks the goblin into an orgiastic frenzy as they try to force her to eat their forbidden fruit. “Lizzie uttered not a word;/Would not open lip from lip/Lest they cram a mouthful in; But laughed in heart to feel the drip/Of juice that syrupped all her face,/And lodged in dimples in her chin…” (204). In the end, the juice and pulp revive her sister Laura from her enchanted fugue.

However, I can’t help but wonder how this erotically-charged tale might be twisted if instead of sisters, Lizzie and Laura were lovers: “Did you miss me?/Come and kiss me. Never mind my bruises,/ Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices/Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,/ Goblin pulp and goblin dew./ Eat me, drink me, love me;/For your sake I have braved the glen/ And had to do with goblin merchant men” (205). The possibilities are delicious, indeed.

victorian5Another of the stories in this collection that called to me was “The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde” by Mary de Morgan. Although the Princess Fiorimonde is painted as an evil sorceress, I couldn’t help but root for her when she acquires a magic necklace that will save her from the unwanted fate of being married off to the highest bidder. As soon as a would-be husband closes his fingers over the chain, he is transformed into a bead and fated to remain as such until a time the chain is cut and the bead drops off. Using the weapons of beauty and charm, she ends up with quite a selection of brightly colored beads. Unfortunately, it is a Victorian fairy tale, so she is eventually defeated when she succumbs to vanity and impatience: “[T]he Princess, who in her rage and eagerness, forgot all else and…seized the string of beads to lift it from her neck, but no sooner had she taken it in her hands than they fell with a rattle to the earth and Fiorimonde herself was nowhere to be seen.” Once her wickedness was exposed, the kings and princes who had been gathered on the chain were released, but Fiorimonde was left strung as a bead on the magic chain: “Give her no other punishment than what she has chosen for herself. [L]et this string be hung up where all people can see it and see the one bead, and know the wicked Princess is punished for her sorcery, so it will be a warning to others who would do like her” (227). Personally, I wanted her to win seeing as the ensorcelled kings and princes were decidedly more interesting as beads.

All in all, the stories collected in The Victorian Fairy Tale Book offer a framework with which to view the society and culture at the time. Although, these particular fairy tales were difficult to wade through, they did pose some interesting questions about the place of moral lessons in literature. I suppose all stories contain elements of the cultural mores existing during the time they were conceived. What I find curious is how the moral questioning shifts over time. However, when looked at with a modern mindset and the very real dilemmas faced in contemporary times, the Victorian optimism that such a tepid trait as complacency will solve problems is laughable. In Victorian times, the monsters and witches were cut out from the fairy tale fabric. However, the world we live in today is anything but that. Give me the monsters. Give me the witches. We need them now, more than ever.

Work Cited

Hearn, Michael Patrick, editor. The Victorian Fairy Tale Book. Pantheon Books, 1988.

The Art of Cameos in a Fictional World

a feast of shadowsMy introduction to the work of the Australian writer Angela Slatter occurred when I stumbled across the Tor.com reprint of “St. Dymphna’s School of Poison Girls” in May 2015. The story unfolded in slow waves, and it lulled me with its seductive beauty. My initial interest in this story aligned with the title as I had been reading about St. Dymphna through an extension of my research on the origins of “Allerleirauh.” The fairy tale elements appeared in Slatter’s story, but they appeared in unfamiliar ways. Interest stoked, I obsessively sought out Slatter’s stories, and soon discovered a whole new world of fairy tales to explore. I was hooked.

Allerleirauh_by_Henry_Justice_Ford_(1892)_02
Allerleirauh by Henry Justice Ford (1892).

In 2016, the U.S. publication of Slatter’s short story collection A Feast of Sorrows made her work more accessible; her other publications were released as limited editions in the UK. (A Feast of Sorrows includes the first three stories in The Tallow-Wife, which was recently released by FableCroft as a limited edition hardcover.) After a couple of readings, I discovered patterns that tied the characters together in a world of the author’s own making. In addition to cameo character appearances, Slatter also utilized subverted fairy tale references as a means of creating familiarity with the unfamiliar—a technique I would like to duplicate in my own work.

About halfway through my first reading of A Feast of Shadows, I noticed the repetition of a character from an earlier story. I stopped for a moment, thought about it, and then decided it must have been a mistake. Another of these moments came about two-thirds of the way through the collection. I recognized another character and sorted back through the stories to find her. That was when I realized that Slatter had deliberately seeded her stories with bits from other narratives. And, not only did her characters show up again and again, but settings made repeat appearances as well. The effect was a growing sense of familiarity even though the stories are all set in a secondary world.

tallow wifeBellsholm, which “sprawls along the banks of the wide Bell River, loose-limbed as a sleeping giant,” is featured prominently in “By My Voice I Shall Be Known” and is linked to Ballantyne’s Coffin Emporium in “The Coffin-maker’s Daughter” (143). Downstream from Bellsholm is Breakwater, the location of “the Weeping Gate” and the refuge of the criminal mastermind Bethany Lawrence from “The Tallow-Wife” series. And, far off in distant Lodellan, sits the Cathedral with its ghostly guard of six wolfhounds. Slatter takes her readers on a tour of Lodellan’s quarters in “Sourdough” and then into the Cathedral’s secret passageways to the palace in “Sister, Sister” and “What Shines Brightest.”

Rusalka_Bilibin
Rusalka by Ivan Bilibin, 1934

At first glance, the mention of these places in various stories might appear to be an after-thought. However, the subtle hints strengthen the underlying network of commerce and immigration that add complexity to the stories’ common world. For instance, even though “By My Voice I Shall Be Known” takes place in Bellsholm, the protagonist is gifted with a promise in the shape of a silver thimble “all the way from Lodellan” (149). She is, however, betrayed by her lover, who returns from Breakwater with a pretty bride-to-be on a clipper named Revenant: “…it plied the seas then crept up rivers like ours, to dispatch passengers and some cargo—mostly high end, expensive and small, cargo and passengers both…” (150).

Several characters, including Mother Magnus and Emmaline make cameo appearances, but the one who first made me conscious of these repetitions was Hepsibah Ballantyne, the independent, murderous protagonist in “The Coffin-maker’s Daughter.” An older Hepsibah makes an appearance as a guest teacher in “St. Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls;” Ballantyne’s Coffin Emporium is mentioned in “By My Voice I Shall Be Known;” and a weathered headstone reveals the trace of the name ‘Hepsi…tyne’ in “The Tallow-Wife.”

bitterwood-bibleOnce I saw the threads, I began to wonder what other stories existed with these characters in them. In my hunt for hidden treasure, I reached out to the author through social media. According to Slatter, A Feast of Sorrows was a U.S. collection primarily cobbled together from reprints, including pieces from The Bitterwood Bible and Other Encounters and Sourdough and Other Stories. Over the last year, Slatter’s work has become more and more available to U.S. audiences. With every story I read, I search for more connections tied to the cohesive worlds Slatter builds, worlds that exist long after the reader has finished the last page. If nothing else, I’m eager to learn more about the fates of the people inhabiting the ocean harbor of Breakwater, the ruslka singing from the riverbank near Bellsholm, and the ghostly wolfhounds guarding the Cathedral in Lodellan. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Dr-Angela-Slatter
Dr Angela Slatter (Photo by David Pollitt, June 2010)

Author website: Angela Slatter

Select short fiction online:

Short fiction collections:

Novels:

 

Legends & Myths: Immortality in a Butterfly’s Wing

Butterflies have always fascinated me, which is just one of the reasons I wrote this article for a regional magazine years ago. With “puddle parties” right around the corner, I decided to share this piece on the legends and myths found in the Southwest. Enjoy!

buttery_To Serve BrookeShadenOne bright summer day, the Creator sat under a tree watching a group of laughing children at play. A brown pup romped through a riot of wildflowers. The sun lit a bright blue sky dotted with wispy, white clouds. A songbird landed in the branches overhead, loosing a shower of pine needles.

The Creator watched the play of shadow and sunlight and fallen yellow leaves fluttering here and there in the late summer breeze and as he watched these things he grew sad.

“Soon these children will grow old,” he thought. “And that puppy will become a tired, mangy dog. And the flowers will die and snow will cover the land.”

The Creator became so sad at these thoughts that he vowed to preserve the afternoon for the months ahead. “All these colors should be caught forever,” he said to the songbird that watched him overhead. “I will make something to gladden my heart, something for these children to enjoy.”

He took out his magic bag and in it he put the black from a laughing girl’s hair, the brown of the pup’s floppy ears, the yellow of the fluttering leaves, a bit of blue sky and a touch of white from a cloud passing by. He added green from the pine tree and the orange, purple and red from the flowers all around. Overhead, the songbird sang her merry tune and with a smile, the Creator tossed a bit of her melody into the mix.

butterfly_Passage MarcoMazzoniBrimming with happiness, he walked to the children and offered them the bulging sack. The beautiful girl with black hair opened the magic bag and out flew thousands and thousands of butterflies in every color ever created. Enchanted, the girl said she had never seen anything so beautiful. The children agreed and the Creator was glad.

And the children danced with joy under the fluttering wings of these new, fanciful creatures. Then one, with wings the color of a summer sky, landed on the Creator’s head and began to sing a beautiful song. The other butterflies joined in and the children stopped to listen to the chirping melody.

The songbird flew down to perch on the Creator’s shoulder. “When you created the birds you gave us each our own song. Now you have passed mine around to these new playthings of yours,” she scolded. “Isn’t it enough that they have all of the colors of the rainbow?”

The Creator thought a moment and said, “You are right. I should not have taken what was yours.”

And he took away the song from the butterflies, which continued to dance over the children’s heads.

“The are beautiful even so,” the Creator said.

And that is why butterflies are silent today.

This delightful Papago version of the creation of butterflies is only one of a fluttering myriad of butterfly tales told throughout the Southwest and far beyond. The butterfly has symbolized the human soul since antiquity. The Russian name for these colorful creatures is babochka and the Ancient Greeks called them psyche – both words for the soul. The common name of the butterfly comes from the Anglo Saxon word buterfleoge for “butter” and “flying creature,” which linguists believe was the way of identifying Europe’s common yellow brimstone butterfly.

butterfly_the sound of flying souls, part 1BrookeShaden

Of course, butterflies actually flitted onto the scene long before people started making up myths to account for them. Butterflies emerged at least 38 million years ago with the earliest known fossil discovered in Colorado’s Green River Shale. Today, there are nearly 18,500 known species of butterflies ranging in size from Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing with a wingspan of 11 inches to the diminutive Western Pygmy, which spreads out to less than half an inch. Butterflies can be found on nearly every part of the globe with the exception of Antarctica and the world’s oceans. They grace flowery fields, meadows, hillsides, stream banks, forest glades, deserts and alpine tundra. They play a crucial role in the ecosystem as pollinators and in the human imagination as symbols of creativity, joy and rebirth.

Nearly 400 species of butterflies – more than half of the total number found in the entire North American continent live in Arizona. The Tohono O’odham, once known as the Papago, focused on the sheer beauty of these insects, as some 240 species flutter through their southern Arizona homeland. The southeastern portion of the state has biological links to the Sierra Madre range and the tropics in Mexico and its varied plantlife and climate account for the region’s diverse butterfly population.

The Yaqui, another southwestern desert tribe, believe that butterflies portend the coming of rain. When they spot approaching butterflies, the Yaqui sing a rain song and throw white corn kernels or dried leaves in the air.

butterfly_Funny how secrets travel Federico BebberWhite butterflies, they say,in a row are flying.

White butterflies, they say, in a row are flying.

White butterflies, they say, in a row are flying.

White butterflies, they say, in a row are flying.

Over there, I, where the flower-covered sun comes out,

they are emerging, all through the wilderness world,

in a row they are flying.

White butterflies, they say, in a row are flying.

As this song would suggest, the best time to search out butterflies in the Southwest is in the rainy season between the months of July in September, which is when the adults are breeding and laying their eggs. The highest concentration of species in Arizona reside in the southeastern portion of the state – specifically in Santa Cruz, Cochise and Pima counties. Chances of finding butterflies increases when two habitats overlap. Some of the best, easily accessible butterfly watching areas include Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Madera and Florida Canyons in the Santa Rita Mountains, and Ramsey and Garden Canyons in the diverse Huachuca Mountain range. Along with discovering them near their favorite flowers, butterflies might also be found congregating in “puddle parties,” depressed wet spots where the insects gather to replace vital trace elements.

But you don’t have to venture south — butterflies and their stories can be found throughout the Southwest. In eastern Arizona, the Chemehuevi, also known as the Southern Paiute, often represent insects in the designs of their highly prized baskets. The popular pattern of the butterfly shows up in these coiled baskets, which are woven out of such raw materials as willow, devil’s claw and juncus.

butterfly_A View from a Hole MarcoMazzoniLike many ancient Southwestern cultures, the Hopi often utilize the symbolism of butterflies. Prehistoric Hopi pottery shows this affinity as does the three Hopi kachina with butterfly origins — Poli Sio Hemis Kachina (Zuni Hemis Butterfly Kachina), Poli Taka (Butterfly Man) and Poli Mana (Butterfly Girl). However, the butterfly assumed a more menacing aspect to the Aztecs in Mexico. The goddess Itzpapálotl, or Obsidian Butterfly, was represented as a strong ferocious goddess with butterfly wings and big claws on her hands and feet. In Mexico, many people still believe that a black butterfly at the door portends an impending death.

Several Arizona-based cultures drew similar, disquieting morals from the butterflies fluttering, zigzag, seemingly demented flight. The Zuni sacred butterfly, lahacoma, is believed to make people crazy, especially young girls who will follow the yellow butterfly wherever it may lead. This belief is similar to the story of the Apache Bear Dance, in which butterflies entice girls from the underworld. The Tewa of Arizona also warn against the temptation represented by this colorful insect in “Transforming Bath: Butterfly Seducer” — a tale where a girl ignores her work to follow a beautiful butterfly up a mountain. Once at the top, the butterfly turns into a wicked boy who then tosses the girl down to her death.

The Navajo use the symbolism of butterflies to warn against vanity, temptation and foolishness. The Navajo story of “The Two Maidens and the White Butterfly” furthers the folly of butterflies. When the hero of the tale catches the wicked White Butterfly, he splits open the enemy’s head with an ax and thousands of butterflies escape from the mortal wound. The wise hero pulls one of the butterflies out of the air and insists that it tell the others they can no longer enter the brain of man. “You will be of little use to the people,” he says. “Only when they catch you and put pollen on their legs and arms and say – ‘May I run swiftly, may my days be long, may I be strong in arm.’” Even so, the Navajo consider the perishable dust of the butterflies’ wings a subtle warning on the fragility of beauty.

In the spring, the Apache sing the sorrowful song of the Flower Maiden, which also details the creation of the butterfly:

butterfly_Restlessness Federico BebberIn the first days of the people, many warriors sought the favor of the beautiful Flower Maiden. But of them all, she loved only two – Hidden Love and Iron Courage. They each contended for her love, but not even the Sky Father could help her make the choice. Then fate stepped in and both warriors were called to a great battle against invaders coming from the north. Flower Maiden bid them each good-bye with a heavy heart. Many months passed as she waited for her warriors to return, but when the war party rode back into camp, neither of her loved ones returned with the victorious.

Flower Maiden, who had lost any chance of happiness, took her tears and set out to find the bodies of the warriors she still loved even in death. She searched the hills and plains for years, sundered from herself in her grief.  When she could find neither of her beloved warriors, she pleaded with the Sky Father. “Please help me find their resting place,” she cried. “Please help me find their lost souls.”

“It was not my wish that your promised ones should die,” said the Sky Father. “But with them I also touched many others and in sorrow, I covered all of their bloodied bodies with soil and grass.”

The Flower Maiden lamented. “Then I shall never find them.”

Her sorrow grieved the Sky Father so, he ordered the ground to yield flowers in the colors and patterns of each fallen warrior’s shield to aid Flower Maiden in her lonely search. And when he realized she could not find the battlefield on which her beloved warriors had died in a single lifetime, he turned her into a beautiful butterfly so that each spring her spirit could wander among the flowers in search of her loved ones. And perhaps one day she will find them.

In the meantime, the Creator has given us the butterflies — ephemeral as the powdered memory of love lost, the black from a laughing girl’s hair, the yellow of falling leaves or the halcyon blue of a summer sky.

butterfly_the sound of flying souls, part 2 BrookeShaden

Images: To Serve by Brooke ShadenPassage by Marco Mazzoni, The Sound of Flying Souls, pt. 1 by Brooke Shaden, Funny How Secrets Travel by Federico Bebber, A View from a Hole by Marco Mazzoni, Restlessness by Federico Bebber, and The Sound of Flying Souls, pt. 2 by Brooke Shaden. All Rights Reserved by the artists.