Witness this prayer of a Native American as she appropriates the powers of a cedar tree….
When a woman cuts the roots of a young cedar tree she prays: ” Look at me, friend! I come to ask for your dress, for you have come to take pity on us; for there is nothing for which you can not be used, because it is your way that there is nothing for which we cannot use you, for you are really willing to give us your dress. I come to beg you for this, long life-maker, for I am going to make a basket for lily roots out of you. I pray, friend , not to feel angry with me on acoount of what I am going to do to you, and I beg you, friend, to tell your friends about what I ask of you. Take care, friend! Keep sickness away from me, so that I may not be killed by sickness or in war, O friend!”
I wonder if we Westerners, given our conception of the world and our place in it, can imagine the awe with which the indigenous people went about their daily tasks and walked through this once – unblemished land.
Possessed now of the material and the powers residing within, the artist moves forward to the next task: to become acquainted with this new element in his or her life, to notice its special features, feel its pulse so that when the material is eventually touched – cut , painted, or otherwise altered – it is done in a manner that preserves the original life force.
But even this account proceeds too quickly; before the artist takes tool to material, we ought to consider the special relationship between artists and their tools. The tools for making sacred objects are not instruments of everyday use; they are employed only for special tasks and are to be used only by approved handlers. Tools often have long and celebrated histories as they are passed down along the generations. The tools themselves are semi-sacred things. In prepared hands they yield the latent images that lie embedded in the substance to be worked. The tools know the way into the heart of the wood, revealing the spirit residing within the tree, but only for the adept, only for the initiate who repects the power of the tool. For those unprepared for their task, the tool uncovers nothing. Worse, it may turn on its handler, painfully reminding that person of his or her transgressions.
No More Secondhand Art – Awakening the Artist Within by Peter London