Yesterday I was picking berries in the woods- yah, yah, I really was, I'm not trying to be a fairy tale character. Or maybe I am. Anyway, gathering the fragrant and health-giving gifts of the Earth got me thinking about a book I recently (mostly) read, that was one of the most enlightening books of the year, for sure. It's The Gift by Lewis Hyde; what I did not read was the literary commentary on Pound and Whitman. My copy is an old Vintage Books paperback; the copyright begins in 1979. It bears the subtitle Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (link to Amazon here); love that. The new subtitle is Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, rather boring by comparison. Erotic life for most Americans, at least, would refer to their sex life, but Hyde's talking about the realm of the Greek god here, Eros, who oversees the soul's connecting power of love, specifically its give and take in the case of gifts.
Actually give and take is wrong. Give and take is what happens in an exchange society like ours, that has lost much of the true gifting spirit, a spirit indeed, just as the wise women of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale are spirits. For the true nature of gifting is very much dependent on our soul, our ability to engage with the gift not in the material sense, but rather as a symbol- of gratitude, of connection in both a social and a cosmic sense, as affirmation of the flow of Creation, and more.
From this paradigm of true gifting vs. exchange and its hoarding or collecting (surely a very strongly conditioned behavior in my society), Hyde moves into the creativity focus of the new subtitle for his book. He uses the example of the fairy tale The Elves and the Shoemaker, depicted in the little black and white illustration above. What Hyde's saying about creativity is that it's a true gift, in the cosmic sense that requires constant movement. The true nature of life itself from the cosmic standpoint is that it's a transformation show, a scintillating, shapeshifting drama of neverending unfoldment. Creativity is the fairy's wand-sprinkle, that bright dust that settles on our shoulders, but she's off to wave her wand over someone else, leaving us to decide how to deal with this magic. Post it online? The latest in potlatch, not knowing who'll receive it and where it will travel?
The elves fairy tale is a wisdom story concerning how we might embody the true nature of the creative gift. Our creative life cannot be traded in kind, and this is the artist's dilemma that magnifies the human dilemma. The fairy dusting is not part of the realm of measuring worth; it has no proper or fixed price, for the intellectual mind is the measurer. In this dilemma, there are two ways of being in the world. In one we imagine we have some control over our gifts. We think we own them, we think we have earned them somehow; they are like money in the bank, they are our reward for some kind of effort.
The other way is more like being a vessel for the creative force which will have its way with us, though we also do partner with it. The little naked elves represent the shoemaker's inner creative gift, which he lets flow in the unconscious realms of the symbolic night, his unclaimed shadow. They work to produce beauty and abundance unseen for many nights, and the shoemaker only need supply the materials. One night they are seen, and then they are given the gifts of clothing and shoes, a symbol of gratitude as many gifts are, and in that way are incorporated in the shoemaker's conscious, daily life. Gratitude is the ethereal, unmeasurable gift that ensures gifts continue coming. It acknowledges the grace of existence, which is surely a gift. Meantime, the shoe maker who is hopefully us has learned that the nature of his gift is really of the nature of the unseen, of the spirit world the elves inhabit.
I was recently reminded of the old gift society clash with our exchange society in the expression "Indian giving" which arose when some white guy was given a pipe by a Native American chief or something. A while later the guy who had gifted it came to retrieve it, since his cultural gifting rules did not involve gifts that are kept. In a gift society keeping such things for oneself for more than a certain block of time is akin to blocking the flow of cosmic energy for the group. This is one reason for naturecentric societies to leave gratitude gifts, often just a token, when receiving the gifts of the Earth. Some jest was made of this in the recent Lone Ranger film I just viewed; Tonto is always feeding the raven on his head, a sort of spirit gift, and he makes offerings in other places in the film. Such offering is an acknowledgement of the human desire,even the very survival need, to participate in the flow of the cosmic gift. It's Indian giving.
I'm ready to deal with Sleeping Beauty now, and the wise women's 13 gifts (I hope!)