Continued from Aranyaka Part 3
Aranyani is a member of a family of forest goddesses and legends around the world. Among many ways that Aranyani-like attributes appear, there is the goddess Abnoba, worshiped in and around the Black Forest …
I respect the way that Pollhammer depicts the goddess as she is in nature, herself, not just personified as a gorgeous naked woman as so many goddesses are. Most modern artists miss her essence just to make a pretty picture. Remember though, from the Vedic hymn, that she is elusive. She doesn’t pose for pictures.
There are not many contemporary forest goddess paintings or digital creations that are more than whimsy. The ones true to the ancient myths are rare, and it has been that way throughout the ages. She is not one to be captured in pictures, neither in the Black Forest nor India.
It seems Pollhammer knew this. How did he approach this elusive subject?
He found her darkness and rustic beauty, rooted in her tree-groundedness but not limited to it. He plays upon the question of her mystery, keeping her from full grasp in our minds, our sense of her being always incomplete because she is ever-evolving simultaneously in myriad ways.
After searching through a thousand pieces of forest goddess art, most of which I instantly dismissed as inauthentic, when I found Pollhammer, I said, “Ah!” Like Joseph Campbell and his tree.
I’ve seen many fine art works whose subjects were not Aranyani or one of her sisters, but they caught the attention of the Aranyanyist in me. I see her influence in much art. This is one of my favorites. Do click it (and click again when it opens) to get the full-screen details and mastery of the artist’s forest-immersed soul. Study it and you’ll find many things of the forest world not initially noticed.
(I share this picture as a tiny example of things I discover when I write a blog post! It may be truer to say that their creators discover me.)
But this is supposed to be about Aranyaka, a place in Balsamea.
The three-great-pine sanctuary at the core of Aranyaka is intentionally at the intersection of paths from four directions. The sanctuary was there from the beginning, the first thing I developed there. I made the paths converge on it over time.
All paths fade into the sanctuary, going quietly nowhere there.
I deem Aranyaka sacred ground, especially the sanctuary. The only reason is that it simply felt sacred when I first touched it. I don’t know why. That’s why we have mythology.
How Aranyaka Got Its Name
Aranyaka is a Sanskrit word inferring that Aranyakas — a portion of Hindu scriptures — are “taught in the forest.” Literal translations usually go along the lines of “ara” or “aran” meaning forest or wood, and “yaka” meaning book or writings. But I set aside the literal translation, because of what the Brihad-aranyaka (PDF), one of many Aranyakas, says about itself. This one is only 987 pages. Not easy to digest, either.
In the Brihadaranyaka, Chapter 1, Section 1, it says, “This Upanishad consisting of six chapters is called Aranyaka as it was taught in the forest (Aranya). And because of its large size it is called Brihadaranyaka.”
There. You have it on good authority (i.e., an Aranyaka itself) what the word means, and why it’s the goddess Aranyani whose inspiration I credit for my forest-taught reverence for this little place in the forest, named Aranyaka before I heard of Aranyani. She’s been at work in me for over half a century. You could say she is an archetypal element of my nature. That works for me, in my personal mythology. It’s been fun sharing it with you.
Written around 700 BC, give or take a hundred years, the Aranyakas are parts of the Hindu Upanishad scriptures.
Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on Aranyaka says:
Aranyaka, (Sanskrit: “Forest Book”) a later development of the Brahmanas, or expositions of the Vedas, which were composed in India in about 700 BCE. The Aranyakas are distinguished from the Brahmanas in that they may contain information on secret rites to be carried out only by certain persons, as well as more philosophical speculation. Thus they were intended to be studied only by the initiated, by which might have meant either hermits who had withdrawn into the forest and no longer took part in ritual sacrifices or pupils who were given instruction by their teachers in the seclusion of the forest, away from the village. The Aranyakas are given over to secret explanations of the allegorical meaning of the ritual and to discussion of the internal, meditative meaning of the sacrifice, as contrasted to its actual, outward performance. The philosophic portions, more speculative in content, are sometimes called Upanishads.
So it is, and so I let this spot in the forest be called Aranyaka.
Balsamea’s Aranyaka is the home of the big chaga-bearing dead white birch. Only recently did I learn about chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus, Ojibwe: Skitagaan). My friend Craig found it growing at Aranyaka.
(Click a picture to open the gallery.)
Other features …
Aranyaka has one of Balsamea’s two hemlocks. Hemlock leaves/needles crushed in the fingers have an aroma rivaling the “Christmassy” scent of balsam fir. But spruce? No. Relatively almost entirely unscented. Still, the presence of spruce in Aranyaka, including one of Balsamea’s biggest, radiates a sense of strength and stability. Aranyaka also has red maple, red and white pine, gray and white birch, American beech, and a thousand other Balsameans of non-human kinds who all help make me more human, and Aranyani more divine.
Aranyaka has a higher than usual concentration of deer beds plainly evident in the snow. Deer take special refuge in Aranyaka. Some deer scribblements made with their bodies in the snow, and my photographic scribblements of them …
Aranyaka has especially beautiful and bountiful spreads of deep green barefoot-loving moss covering the shady ground under the dense evergreen canopy. Scribblement by moss … mossy forest-books, aran-yakas, and whispered Vedic hymns …
It takes decades for moss to develop to a state like this. When my walking wears a path down to a brown pine-needle dirt line through some of it, I feel and see myself woven into Balsamea, written into it like a scribblement, reminded that Balsamea is the union of the souls of a forest and a man, realizing that Aranyani is writing paths into me, too. She and I evolve through and into each other, by immersion.
There are dense beds of brown, dry pine needles for your meditation or yoga mat. Under the sanctuary pines of Aranyaka, it’s wall-to-wall yoga mat. In 2018 (leftover from the 2017 crop) it had an extra abundance of big cones from the white pines. In our thirteen Balsamea years (now almost 14), I had never seen the pines produce so many cones. This picture shows only half the cone concentration (dark spots in the picture) dropped. The rest were largely buried in pine needles … of those cones that the squirrels have left alone. (FYI: white pines shed needles year-round.)
So, Scribblements of/from Balsamea are not merely expressions with words and pictures in a blog. They are these natural works of Aranyani made in the earth of Balsamea, and made by Balsamea in me, then in you by my words and pictures (they would not be here if not for you), then cycling my way back to immersion in the soul of the forest, the relationship called Balsamea continually renewed and evolving, as is Nature’s habit, with Aranyani exulting.
Something else I found while discovering myself in exploration for this scribblement … I think you’ll like it. It’s about nature immersion:
The rain surrounded the cabin … with a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, of rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped the hillside … Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen. – THOMAS MERTON
I hear ya, Tom.
I’ll leave you with a splash of fun nature-immersed music. Sit back for ten minutes, close your eyes and let it soak in, rather, immerse yourself in it.
First, a cute little story:
When I was in Mr. Ryan’s “Special Sixth” grade at Wheeler Road Elementary, the music teacher came for her regular visit. She put classical music on the record player, gave us all paper and told us to draw whatever we felt like drawing under the influence of the music. She did not tell us anything about the music. Just listen.
It was an immersive exercise. Let the music go into the ears and come out of the pencil.
I wish I could remember the music teacher’s name.
She had us listen with closed eyes for a while before beginning to draw.
I was not good at drawing (still not). I recall being frustrated about being pushed to do this thing I didn’t do well. I was not accustomed to not doing something well in school. It was my turf, where I always did well. (I got over that syndrome by my junior year in high school, aided by frequent doses of “recreational substances.”)
This music, wow it grabbed me. I felt in my neck its wanting me, clutching at me, rattling me loose of vain inhibition getting in the way of my pencil. Music, a drug.
When it was time, I drew lines dividing the paper into four equal squares. I couldn’t draw fast enough. The continuing music pushed faster than I could make it graphic.
I did what little I could to put a different weather condition in each quadrant. Sunny, cloudy, raining, snowing. I did not know why. That’s what the music did in me.
The teacher sauntered among us, looking at our interpretations.
She stopped and lingered beside me, then asked, “Do you know this music?”
“Never heard it before.”
She bent down and whispered in my ear to avoid influencing the other artists at their desks, “You really hear it now. It’s called The Four Seasons, by a composer named Vivaldi.”
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t get excited. I was just glad I did well despite myself, relieved that my drawing was received better than I saw it, knowing it was crummy.
I did not realize at the time that I had done nothing. The music did it.
Here’s the three movements of Winter, from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, performed by Wichita State University Chamber Players. If you have any trouble playing them here, try refreshing your browser page. Or go to the source.
It is incomprehensible to me, like a true miracle, that humans can do this:
My old Vivaldi CD is queued up to accompany laundry and cooking tomorrow.
— End of Aranyaka Part 4, and there are no more! —