Getting Wild: Exploring Christian and Pagan Iconography, and Learning to Hop That Fence

Wilderness by Meghan Oona Clifford web
Wild Life
2009 | 15″ diameter | mixed media on wood
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Gary Synder’s “The Practice of the Wild” opened a doorway for me. “Wild,” along with concepts like “human versus nature,” and “the natural world,” no longer held water. Our interconnectedness, interdependence, and oneness obliterated those dualities. This mystical, wonderous, expansive unknown wilderness I’d always dreampt was “out there” suddenly loomed large within my own mind and body and soul.

So there’s a lot going on in this piece that people want to hear about. “The apple?” Well, of course it’s a throw back to Eve. What can I say? I was raised Roman Catholic and I love iconology from all religions. (More on this soon! The holidays always bring up some great conversations about the current shift from religion to spirituality. Anyone else’s family experiencing this phenomena?) Anyway, back to Eve. As the story goes, she ate the serpent’s Apple of Knowledge in the Garden despite God’s warning not to, and subsequently got not only kicked out of the Garden forever, but had to suffer gnarly PMS and some nasty-ass childbirthin til kingdom come. Real nice, God.

Well, my own take on the sitch goes a little more like this: Back in the day, humans started conceptualizing. They started labeling things, which was of course helpful, but in doing so, we developed a sense of “otherness,” which developed into a duality complex, which became a separation anxiety of sorts. In effect, we lost the sense of the true oneness that encompasses us all. Egos reined large.

I always turned that apple image over and over in my head. I wanted to find something human and forgiveable in the serpent. Lots of old myths slay the dragon as a symbol of slaying our serpent-selves (basic-drive, limbic brain) in order to transcend to the higher realms of enlightened humanhood. However, in getting to these higher realms, we probably need that limbic brain too, so may as well honor our base animalistic selves for what they’re worth. Possibly Sikhs are with me on this one, as the serpent for them symbolizes our slumbering kundalini, ready to awake. So I never felt the serpent got his fair shake in the story. I wanted it to be a guardian of the pre-conceptual mind — that mind-beyond-mind, beyond separation; the Observer — and therefore I prefer the serpent be the bearer of the fruit that when eaten tastes of the revelation: “Who Isn’t You?”

“And those devil horns?!” The horns actually speak to honoring our animalistic parts. But hey, if you’re seeing the Devil in those horns, that works too, and we can have a conversation about Pan being co-opted by Christianity after it crushed medieval Paganism. As for the The Bunny: simply a rep for our innocent, frolicking spirits who want to hop around meadows and procreate all day long.

“Wildlife Area Keep Out.” So this is based on signs we pass everyday on our walk. They crack me up. The birds fly on either side. My dog pays no mind to the thin cord that fences wild and civilized off from each other. I too will delve onto the other side. It’s up to you if you like to obey signs or not.

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