Duende: Baptism with Fire & Water

“All that has dark sounds has Duende. There is no greater truth. With idea, sound, gesture, the Duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. ” – Federico Garcia Lorca

16th c. Minotaurus

Can’t you see him? I write often of the spirit of the land in this place and how her energy begs to be noticed, to be heard, to be respected. And of my very visceral call to this place. Culturally, the Lowcountry is not without her talk of dark spirits: I have my own blue bottle tree to catch them and keep them captive. The idea that land has voice is shared by local African American Gullah traditions, as spoken in Gullah by Queen Quet, “The soul’s eye can see, across the oceans, uneat de oak een disya land….” And it is cousin to Celtic lore, as poet and priest, John O’Donohue, teaches me, of Ireland. Most confirming are science’s recent studies, as written in The Field, by Lynn McTaggart. Subatomic particles, have no meaning in isolation, but only in relationship to everything else. The universe, she writes, is a dynamic web of interconnection. We live in a sea of light and “things once in contact remain always in contact through all space and time.

The other side of the full moon I love here, is dark. That is just reality. Walking through the forest looking for the light has been my journey of the last year out here on this barrier island. I hold onto my tattered tale of Parzival with white knuckles at times. Paradise is not without her dragons. Her serpents. The Apple. It is the classic story of finding paradise by battling the minotaur and looking for that shining golden thread, in the dark, like in the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus.

This week I faced the monster head on. The story even involves an ‘Apple’, which is of course, entirely and wildly appropriate, since my faith lies within the Christian tradition. The gods ate my own very own Apple (laptop) which I felt was the center of my imaginative world. All my pictures, my writing, the letters, the poetry, the music. Gone. Swallowed up.

Thereupon enters, once more, this energy that the Spanish call duende. The great Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, studied and defined this energy as the illusive deep, dark element that lives and dances in the life of an artist. It is a tidal wave of deep primal power, and it grabs me by the tail every once in a while, and whips me around mercilessly like I am one of the snakes that live in Edisto’s jungles. All I can do, when he visits, is hold on for dear life. This time, my God whispered to me, to believe if I could, that duende was just passing through, and that he would be on his way soon. He would leave me with gifts – is what God said to me. If I could believe that.

Why or what IS this? – is all I can ask when I am gripped with this monster. Oxford defines duende as “dangerous yet appealing, magic, fire, a ghost”. But yes, I do think that there is something else to dark energy, something vital to being human, and to creative spirit particularly. Studying the concept eased his grip, and held out the glimpse, somehow, of the hope, of his leaving. Federico describes these dark sounds (my groans and sobs as I walked round and round the block outside. St Augustine said everything is cured by walking so I was trying that) as “the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art…it is a power not a behavior”, he continues, “a struggle and not a concept; it is not in the throat; it surges up from the soles of the feet.” That explains my need to walk perhaps!

“The magic power of a poem (of art) consists in it always being filled with duende, in its baptising all who gaze at it with dark water, since with duende it is easier to love, to understand, and to be certain of being loved and being understood.” We know this power, all of us who will admit it, but it is frightening. When it visits me I feel it may eat me alive. But it is what we share with one another. It is profoundly human to experience the darkness. It is the challenge in this life, to battle this minotaur, and come out of the labyrinth alive. To find the golden thread, and the path to the light.

“The duende”, he continues, “where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.”

I was called to be an artist. And as an old old midwife said to me "If the Lord wants you to do something, you won't have no good luck' til you do." So, here I am, sharing what I love, longing to illuminate the work of art, which is everywhere.

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Posted in architecture, art, creativity, Gullah, music, Poetry, religion, spirituality, Writing
7 comments on “Duende: Baptism with Fire & Water
  1. Kirsten says:

    Dear L.,

    isn’t it enough for Joseph Campbell to blow my mind? Now you too?!?!? :-) Thank you for connecting Shadow & Light, Fire & Water so beautifully. And the photo goes so well with it – for me it so eloquently represents the feeling of sometimes being cornered (by life; duende and all). It is astonishing to me that you were able to write about the hassle so masterfully right as you were actually dealing with it. Thank you for giving perspectives.


    P.S.: I learned a new word today: “duende”

    • Oh dear KK, my angel in the dark.
      Writing about it, and I suppose that is a testament to the healing power of art, simply made it feel better. Because, you know, the reality is that it is not ALL gone. This picture, that I needed, survived on the old laptop, and this blog survives. It is simply a cleaner world now hinting of better things to come. I am deeply grateful for your support, Kirsten. Thank you.
      With fondness, ‘Lotty’

      • Kirsten says:

        Phoenix comes to mind … A quote from Wikipedia “It is said that the bird’s cry is that of a beautiful song”…

  2. “A phoenix is a mythical bird that is a fire spirit with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends). It has a 500 to 1,000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis (Greek for sun-city). It is said that the bird’s cry is that of a beautiful song.”- from Wikipedia. HOW VERY COOL, Kirsten!

  3. Pinkney says:

    It’s not paradise without the evil one.

  4. Very cool post. There is so much in it, the gullah, the celtic, the subatomic, the spanish poet. What I’m hearing is close to a truth I’ve learned recently: The closest we’ll get to controlling the dark and dangerous times in our lives (love how it’s described as a wind), when we’re faced with a catalytic event like losing our job/marriage/harddrive, is to relax and let go. Trying to go on with life when you’re in crisis is like trying to build a house during a hurricane. (Although, I’m just the kind of control freak who would insist that the garden party go on, despite the tropical storm warnings.) The good news is that after entropy comes energy. Cool post!

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What’s this?

Welcome to my blog about the Lowcountry of South Carolina, a place proud with beauty, history and art. Sometimes we feel a call, to be, to go, to do. I was called to be an artist, and as an old midwife from Alabama said, “If the good Lord wants you to do something, you won’t have no good luck until you do it.”

So here I am writing about what I know, about the 'under glimmer' as the poet Basho, says, the way I have learned to see, to notice. I am inspired by, and talking about the history and art and culture of this place that has called me to herself. By the ancestors.

My background includes a degree in fine arts from a small private college in Florida, and before that, four years of all girls' boarding school in Asheville. I worked as a professional photographer, helped my children grow up, and now and I love seasoned things, good food, better conversation, beauty, my beloved and beautiful Italian Greyhound, Beau. Moved by the sacred places and stories of this beautiful historic land called the Lowcountry, I am here in spirit and I hope to infect you with my love of this place.

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