September 2, 1997. Full Moon / Total Lunar Eclipse - obscured by rain and
snow clouds on the mountain last night (initiating background whine).
Was awakened at midnight from fitful Sleep by George's mother bumping
around next door. She's making her bed after having pulled it all apart
during the day, and typically bad communications resulted in: no one else
helped her do it before bedtime. I'm on Day #2 of my heavy Moon but
feeling good enough to make two store runs, and to cook and clean up a big
dinner. But, so edgy from the sky's Moon, and from waking up to the
emotional storm of George begging his mother to be quieter at night, and
her attempts to explain her problems (her awful ambivalence towards asking
me for help sometimes results in her attempting too-difficult things on her
own, or trying to simply hire more help...) put me in some sort of skeletal
gridlock. Horrid tension in face and head and neck - had to get up and move
and cry hard and then still have to Pray myself back to Sleep. This awful
pain of feeling others' pain! I want my old life back! I don't want to deal with
our elder's needs and details! Pharmacy and dry cleaners interface.
Appointments and practitioners...
When I am on my Moon, I just want to be on complete retreat. I resent any
request for service - can't they see how hard it is for me to even think and
speak in English? Don't they have any idea what it takes for me to walk
around Albertson's and Walgreen's bleeding in the midst of crowds of
strangers? I feel more crazy and conflicted every month, and my stated, "no
cooking one night per Moon" has become an inadequate token respite. So,
for this full Moon, on my Moon time (yeah!), I pull "The Moon" card.
Asking, "what about this hypersensitivity to my roommates?" I receive the
card for compassionate healing. 'Moon energy and long hair' - what is it?
Lunacy? Should I lock myself up for the duration like a werewolf? Is it just to
be borne or endured? What does one do with The Moon? ........ Pray!
- Pray for a miracle (like finally falling asleep in the midst of unresolved
- Pray for everyone to learn and grow and heal according to their nature.
- Pray to believe in such possibilities.
- Pray for our fledgling family-as-organism to help us transcend the
diffi-culties of our individual natures.
- Get down with praying to remember to Pray - to keep breathing, to
recognize compassion, and experience healing, and just surf those Lunar
tides. High tide!
- Pray for guidance in responding to every demand from the exterior world.
How can I elicit understanding and compassion for us all without inducing
December 20, Winter Solstice Eve 1997. Miracles of healing. The Moon
(here represented by The Virgin of Guadalupe) is my self-appointed Saint of
photography. That miracle of communication (the imprinted vision of
Herself on Juan Diego's robe.) The everyday miracle in our human lives:
photography's miracle of healing potential. On the dark side, Native
Americans have experienced soul theft from photo-taking. The historical
experiences of these people and their instincts about photography 'stealing a
piece of one's soul' is right on. They recognized the potential power of the
'captured' image - bigger than counting coup! When photography is purely
exploitive it is very bad magic: a stealing, a taking, a using of image,
especially portraiture, for the wrong reason. Part of the miracle given by Our
Lady of Guadalupe was this photographic image in the service of healing.
Shamanic healing. It was the communication of a vision which resulted in
transformative health. This first photography (sans camera, sans painting,)
Roses from heaven mapping an inexplicable visitation. The healing of a poor
old man brings a message of hope from an avatar of compassion. Some say
when you stare into the eyes of the image of Our Lady on Her cloak, you
can see yourself reflected in her pupils, an effect impossible for a painter to
achieve. She shows you Herself beholding you: a healing vision of yourself.
That's what photography can do.
Many people that I care about have trusted me to make their portraits and to
use those reproduced images at my discretion. The woman in the
Guadalupe image of 'The Moon', and her daughter, (the winged beauty on
'The Magician' card) are of Cherokee descent, Native Americans whose
Beauty was much photographed. They are fifth and sixth generation
Cherokee. (The fifth generation was prophesied to return to their homelands
after the forced removal and Trail of Tears.) It was the essence of her
spiritual presence, her physical attitude, that I wanted to use for my own
Guadalupe image. It was a big thing for her to agree to 'pose' as Our Lady,
but once There, she brought complete awareness of the archetype to the
photo session. Our intention and Prayers before and during the session
helped us create images of shamanic power and beauty.
We made pictures of the story of miraculous faith. We made Prayers for the
final works to be used for healing. The great key, the great blade of decisive
effect lies embedded in the intention of the image maker, the photographer.
Unlike the portrait painter, whose intention is extant in every slow stroke of
brush and hand over extended lengths of time, the photographer uses a
technology of a single moment. Her machine snatches a frame from a point
of real experience, whether candid, or posed (given). Photographs are so fast,
now, so easy. So easy to forget the power of the almost magical technology
one holds in one's hands. Like a bomb designer, or a genetic engineer, the
portrait photographer must ask, 'should we make this thing, just because we
Viewing some of my nude self-portraits emboldened one friend to ask for a
portrait session of his own. After we took the pictures, he processed
emerging psychological material for days, had big revelatory dreams, and was
inspired to assist in the graphic design of some of his assembled pieces. The
power of the experience surprised both of us. It was a true journey for him to
allow my regard as he expressed himself. From him I learned to be very
careful in preparing subjects for my collage portraits, as careful as when
giving informed consent for actual psychedelic sessions. While warning that
'anything can happen' I would subsequently promise to stay in touch with
my subjects during any psychic upheaval, to maintain confidentiality, and
would acquire signed release for the display of any of the images.
Once I learned to treat this picture-making process as Medicine, I began to
observe even more embodiment of archetype expressing in postures and in
the emotional experiences of the subject. (Call and response ...) The process
remained of primary import to me, so any photographs of good quality that
resulted were like wonderful side-effects, artifacts of Grace.
I did not, of course, want consciously to steal people's souls. But I must
admit to a deeply felt desire to mark definitive moments of soul's presence
in order to illustrate that moment in the highest light and show it back to the
person, and to our community. I intended to present people with an
enhanced vision of themselves, to give them a visual referent, a mirror of
beauty, the possibilities of their nature. This is the true miracle of
photography: that it can be used in the service of evolutionary
transformation, that it can indeed contribute to a healing of mind and Spirit.
A new woman friend came with the intention of using the portrait session to
explore issues of personal power and protection. An Artist herself, she
brought outrageous props and we took some truly wild pictures. She duly
signed a release for the use and exhibition of certain negatives. On their
completion, however, she expressed a great distress over the impact of the
images, and while acknowledging their artistic worth, begged me not to
exhibit any of the pieces in our small town. I could have. They were
gorgeous, those pictures; and I did have her 'legal' permission. But there
were all those Prayers, and our healing intentions.... I sadly closeted the
work. Then, in a seeming reward a couple of years later, I was given license
to 'go ahead and show' by my friend, who had 'moved on' with her issues
enough to be able to be generous with those revealing portraits of herself. A
great photography Teacher once advised me to always de-emphasize oneself
in the process of making a portrait. Treating portraiture as Medicine taught
me to maintain a respectful compassion for my subjects that would endure in
an ongoing relationship, going far beyond the moment of the shutter's
The Mazatec Indians of Mexico say that Our Lady of Guadalupe is The
Moon. They eat various psychedelic mushrooms and see Her. To them She
is the Mother of Compassion, capable of swift miraculous healing. Carl Jung
gave the name "archetype" to the myth forming Elements present in the
human psyche that generate the same story motifs in different cultures. The
Moon card is a condensation of a whole lineage of Goddess avatars. Sacred
sites may give rise to successive emanations of a personified principle. Our
Lady, an appearance of the Madonna, the mother of Jesus, appeared at
Tepeyac, outside of current day Mexico City. She requested a new chapel to
be built on this site that had long been consecrated to the worship of
Tonantzin ("Our Mother"), an Aztec earth goddess. (The signs of Tonantzin
were the crescent Moon and the agave century plant. Many images of the
Guadalupe show Her standing on the crescent Moon.) Some say the Lady
who appeared at Tepeyac spoke in Nahuatl, and many renderings depict
Her with dark skin. We can imagine this Mary as the most current realization
of a line descending from Ishtar and Isis, Cybele and Artemis. The Asian
Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion, and Tara, a female
incarnation of the Buddha, wears a crescent Moon on her forehead .
The Mazatec, to whom Our Lady appears as The Moon, invoke Her
compassionate healing for a variety of symptoms arising from the core trauma
of susto ("the fright"). They say that a bad shock, like a sudden traumatic
incident, "leaves an impression" on the body, giving rise to all manner of
developmental ailments. Their healers use a special plant ("The Leaves of
the Shepherdess") to connect to the Spirit that heals the original fright, ("you
must sing and Pray very hard to ask for what is needed") to loosen up the
psyche for the healing journey. The mushroom experience subsequently
undertaken is a contact with Our Lady The Moon, who effects the healing
transformation once the fixation of the fright is dissolved.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a real local favorite here in Santa Fe, New
Mexico. When first I came here, we had these painted tiles of Her traditional
image plastered right up next to our front door. At that time, I was vaguely
offended to have a Catholic Saint imposed on me and my guests. (I was
ignorant of the legend, and so very modern from living in San Francisco.)
Years passed. I became a celebrant of the Day of the Dead, gathered the
healing Earth at our local sacred site at Chimayo, watched my neighbors
make various pilgrimages, and learned some things about ritual uses of
Medicine in traditional cultures. I began making self-portraits with the
camera and gradually came into my own relationship with Mary and with
Tara ("Wisdom Moon"). This version - this dark Lady of Tepeyac who
appeared to these sort-of-Christianized Indians, who is usually shown
standing on a new Moon is the first Saint that I had ever looked to as such:
an avatar of healing love, even a Saint for artistic process, embodying the
healing power of photography.
I saw a film about Mother Teresa's Order once. She and her sister nuns had
taken over an orphanage of crippled children. There was a stunning video
sequence made of their first entry to the grounds. One of the sisters
approached a four year old boy who was in bed with eyes clenched shut, his
little frame contorted in constant spastic tremors. We were given to
understand that he had been in this position for years. The woman, very
matter-of-factly, cradled the child's head and began stroking his face and
chest. After mere moments, his body relaxed, his jaw softened, and his eyes
opened, as he gazed in frank wonder at the serene face of this anonymous
She of the miraculous touch.
The Image: In my collage the face of The Moon is serious/sad, looking down
at all of us, Her suffering children. She stands atop an old adobe ruin in the
Pecos River Valley, where the window looks through to the roofless sky. The
over-arching sky view was shot in El Dorado, looking west to the Sandia
Mountains. I placed a wreath of cut-out roses just beneath Her feet in a
crescent Moon shape. The cactus border is another reference to the desert,
the place of revelation. She stands above an old adobe window that frames
the lion beneath Her. The 'window for germination'. George photographed
that lion at the zoo; my daughter asked why I put it in, and I never had a
good answer until I chose this collage to represent The Moon card, and was
writing the poem's text ... and humming ...
("... hush, my darling, don't fear, my darling -
The Lion sleeps tonight ...")
Her lion is yawning hugely in the sun, " ... tamed by the courage that pulled
This is the thing about embodying compassion - it takes a lot of courage.
Hurting, paranoid, blind, confused and sickly people may become
dangerous. All disease is communicable, because fear communicates. To feel
compassion is to approach the abyss. That lion could end his yawn with a
bite! One cannot learn what is truly helpful from mental logic alone. Any
healing, any true contact with another is miraculous. The Moon's light is a
special light. It is not of the intellect. The Moon pushes the emotional
nature. It pulls on our bodies. The necessary response to such magnetism
might be to move, to dance, to wail, to howl at The Moon.
In a Buddhist sense, compassion is more than a mere sympathy for an
individual's situation. It is the deep wish for 'all sentient beings to be freed
from their physical and mental suffering.' This 'deep wish' becomes an
intention, a desire to alleviate the suffering of all. The cultivation of patience
with other's rage, fear, or hostilities relieves us from our automatic negative
reactions. Brings us back in touch with our own Buddha nature. The
cultivation and extension of compassion heals, miraculously.
I made a second image of Our Lady from that day's photo session with my
friend. It too, has a little window and a door, and a portrait of her sweet face.
And above all that is the Lady with a Water jar on shoulder, double-exposed
into a big old tree trunk: Our Lady Lives Next Door. This Lady is also a
manifestation of The Moon. Neighbor that She is, you've seen Her, too.
Compassion is amazingly accessible. Just for the asking. The Moon rises
I am a fourth generation professional nurse in a matrilineal line. Me, my
Mama, her Mama, and her Mama were all nurses. We have some skills with
touch, love, Medicine, and natural development. I quit nursing for a salary
years ago. Was last employed in the clinic of our maximum security state
penitentiary. Twelve-hour shifts on concrete floors. It took three solid hours
just to pour all the pills. Enough pain, rage, fear, and lies to make the place
whine like a chain saw. I wore my shoulders up around my ears and a
defensive grin like a rictus. Buzzed my hair and dyed the remnant purple -
anything to keep those boys laughing ...
My first task was to train myself not to automatically reach out and pat a
shoulder or arm. ('Courage to pull the thorn' - not comforting obsessively, or
moving by auto-pilot; besides, which thorn to pull first?) Finally had to quit
the prison when my body got too reactive to the steady flood of input, the
vibe (the sympathy ...). I would get these evil muscle spasms in my neck, or
under my shoulder - looked awfully like Igor, crabbing my way about to each
cell door, hunching painfully under my load ... Hurt too bad just to be There
- and I was spending half of what I made on treatment ... It was past time to
have some compassion for myself, and resign.
Now, I'm pulling The Moon on purpose. Now I have home health nurses
come to see my convalescent mother-in-law. Now I am living with someone
who hurts. Someone for whom I have compassion, but must maintain
boundaries. I must allow her depression to merely BE. Have to let her nature
have its way. I have only to keep making real contact with her, and let the
miracles of healing unfold as they will.
George's cousin Mary came to visit, suffering from a cancer. As the full Moon
of August is rising, she pulls her first card from this deck. Of course she pulls
The Moon. She pulls the card of Mary miracles unto herself. May it be ever
so. The face of compassion blooms in the desert and Our Lady Lives Next
Door, to us all.
© Requa Tolbert, 2011
The Moon - The First Persona