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In many traditional cultures there is no separate definition of 'art' or 'artist' ­ personal creativity as an important function of our human being system that expresses passion of life and connection to the mystical, sacred aspects of living. It is a vital function of soul health.


Within each of us, as human beings, is a creative thread, an innate appreciation and delight at the shapes and forms and colours that surround us. As children this is vivid, spontaneous and uncensored; we are spirit creatures responding from the heart. As adults we have to give attention to more mundane tasks and we often lose the freshness of the vision.


In cultures where specialisation of work has meant that art has become marginalised and monetised, the child may be told that it is 'not an artist’, and 'art' is delegated to those who have specific skills. This is rather like franchising prayer - another natural function - and creating a priest system to intercede with spirit on behalf of the individual.

And so we stop 'making', dancing, singing, enacting - celebrating life with shape and form and colour with our own hands and hearts, and rely on someone who is 'qualified' to do it for us. And so a key way of connecting with soul and the unseen worlds that co-exist with ours, is lost. We become depleted of a vital energy source.



In any society, there are those who have the compulsion to explore further and dig deeper into the well of imagination, and who feel the pull of inspiration. In traditional shamanic societies these people are usually perceived as having particularly visionary abilities which are valuable to the community, and these abilities are developed and trained alongside spiritual disciplines.

This discipline is for a good reason: for those with the ability to step into the dreaming of the Earth, to tread the fine line where daydream and everyday reality can have equal power, life can be confusing and even frightening. Furthermore, there is a danger that the ability to slip naturally into a state of ecstasy or inspiration may become a refuge without direction or use, and the visionary individual can become isolated and marginalized.



Imagination is a wonderful key to possibilities beyond our own experience, resulting in flexibility in our life choices, and a way to reach out to mystical experience in daily life.

It is the window through which we can experience 'Heaven in a grain of sand' or the presence of an angel in an unexpected shaft of light. If we are encouraged to discount such moments as mere fantasy or daydreams, and not allowed to explore a possible true communication with Spirit, we cannot develop the experience by which we can discern whether we are having a moment of fancy, or a true communication from something beyond our self. And by further delegating the job of receiving such 'vision' to a select few, we risk not developing a streetwise instinct to recognise the dark side of this kind of experience, ­delusion.



So when we explore the somewhat haphazard creative waters of inspiration and imagination, we can often feel lost  or confused. The passion may be real and energizing, but the expression of it may need some channels to flow in. One purpose of ritual practice for the artist (or anyone who wishes to enter the creative space) is to have a familiar pattern of action or sequence of behaviour to enter the creative space. Putting on a particular piece of music, cleaning of work surface, putting on that paint splattered apron, all are simple ways that show an intuitive sense of the need to change gear, leave the everyday time-space world, and enter an altered reality space for a while.


Creative work process usually brings us to this ritualisation anyway by trial and error, the actor must have their lucky talisman, or the writer prepare by sharpening her pencils in a certain way.

What is often missed out in this serendipitous process however, is the 'return' ritual, the conscious reversing of the sequence, or using some other signal to the everyday body self (and environment) that we have checked out of the creative space, and are now getting on with other, necessarily more mundane, aspects of life. We need to get grounded again.


I mentor quite a few artists among my clients, helping them create work rituals that they feel comfortable with, which not only help them be more focused in practical everyday matters and relationships, but also make their creativity more reliable and accessible.

This energy management is even more important if we are consciously working more deeply with spirituality or with meditation or altered awareness.



Images themselves, when they are created with the intent of working from a spiritual source or inspiration, have a life-energy of their own.

When I was told this some years ago, I thought it a rather wacky and over-dramatic idea. However, over the years, I have seen the powerful effect images can have on both the maker of the image and the casual spectator. I have seen images bring healing, insight and hope; they can bring great peace to shrine room and sitting room alike; healing to a subway or temple.

In the older traditions of sacred art, where icons are deliberately used to evoke the energy of a deity or sacred power, there are often elaborate rules to help direct and be tidy with the energy that the artist is working with. For instance, the eyes of a saint on an Orthodox Christian icon will not be completed until last moment, when a dot of white is put on to 'open' the saint's eye and activate it's mystical connection; or with a Tibetan thangka image of a Buddhist deity, the painting will not be an active aid to meditation and practice until a mantra has been inscribed on the back. This kind of ritual of intent is for the maker, and the observer, revealing something that is already there, like opening the curtains on a window. It is a reverent request, not an order to the unseen world to show up!

The preparation of materials, grinding pigments, preparing boards and brushes, are also formalised within such traditions, ensuring that the image is created in every aspect in a sacred manner.

In the tribal paintings of the Australian original peoples, a person is only authorised into the process of ceremonial picture making when they have achieved a certain level of awareness and knowledge and gone through experiences that are acknowledged by the community. The deeper the intent behind these picture ‘dreamings’, the more circumspect is the process and surrounding ritual.


The western artist, who is not working in a specific lineage tradition, can find their own way to express this awareness of energy space in picture-making. It may be that they use incense or smudge when bringing new paints into the studio to cleanse the energy in the space; or the work may be dedicated with a prayer written on the canvas before starting; I know artists who sing into their paintings as they are made. Each person can develop their own unique, simple, effective work ‘containers’ whether in a state of the art studio or in the garden shed or kitchen.

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