A Branch from the Lightning Tree.

Author:Morris, Kristine
Position:Book review

Martin Shaw (author), Cara Roxanne (illustrator); A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE; White Cloud Press (Nonfiction: Body, Mind & Spirit) $16.95 ISBN: 9781935952015

Byline: Kristine Morris

To embark upon a mythic journey one needs a guide. Martin Shaw, who gave up a lucrative music contract to live in a tent in the wild borderlands of Wales for four years and pursue the study of myth, has an excellent resumA[c] for the job. An author, mythologist, storyteller, and wilderness rites-of-passage guide now based in Devonshire, England, Shaw is also an international teacher who tours the United States and Canada and serves as visiting lecturer in Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Leadership Program at Oxford University. A Branch from the Lightning Tree, Shaw's latest book, presents seven branches form the Lightning Tree of Initiation in impassioned prose that has the very breath of wildness in it.

Shaw has told stories beside fires, on mountainsides, in forests, in Yurts thrashed by rain, in Brooklyn brownstones, and in lecture halls around the world to corporate leaders, at-risk youth, medicine people, the dying, and seekers of all ages, and says that "No one has ever failed to enter the story or been anything but delighted when they found an element from their own culture." Even when told poorly, Shaw says that the story has always worked its magic. "In the triadic configuration some surprise waits that the story, teller, or participant could never have anticipated! This surprise -- an observation or insight -- is all part of the life-preserving aspect of myth."

These are mythic times, a fairy tale grown large and bold, with real life-or-death consequences. At such times, the words of someone who knows the transformative power of story are food and drink -- life -- to those who must make the choices that determine their fate. Confront the dragon, or stay safely hidden in the cave? Fight for the princess or settle for the miller's second daughter? Weave the spells that would free the captives, or hide one's craft for fear of the powers that be? These times demand that we learn to discern "the myth-language being spoken through the depleted ice cap and fatigued bee," says Shaw, and in the hungry eyes of our children, and the broken hearts of our elders.

The very meaning of the word "culture" once included the wild -- it referred to tilling up the soil, moving downward toward all that is dark, rich, and fecund; now it excludes it -- the artist's passion for...

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