Art, Family and Trickster Magic

I am an LA artist, rescue dog mom, tea enthusiast and storyteller. I will be casual-posting here about art, nature, people and tea. No stress. This first story is about my search for family roots which led to creative inspiration.

I grew up in a house full of books. My favorites were collections of legends, myths and fairytales from around the world. As a kid in a small town, magical stories took me out of my insular New Jersey suburb and into lands of wonder and possibility. They also gave me some props with which to construct an ancestral heritage. You see, I never knew my birth dad, or his family, and yearned to know that half of my story.

My mother’s people were Scandinavian/Scots-Irish, but our family lore centered more around events that occurred on this continent, not the lives or traditions of our old-country ancestors. Still, with Viking and Celtic heritage to work with, I found plenty of mythic gold to mine. I read all of the Norse myths, and loved reading Celtic lore about Selkies, Kelpies and Fairies. Not content to stick with my own tribes I branched out to Greek mythology, and later into traditional stories from many other countries.

My mother didn’t know much about my birth father’s family except that he was “Russian.” Naturally I imagined I was descended from the Romanovs. Without anything more to go on, I used myths and fairy tales from Russia to help me fill in a culture I fashioned as my own. Slavic mythology is very rich and colorful filled with magical bears, hags in chicken footed houses and good-hearted peasant girls who become princesses. I knew I belonged in there somewhere.

Studying mythology opens up new cultures and traditions, and, as I discovered, many of these traditions intersect. One character that consistently finds its way into world folklore is “Trickster.” Trickster is a mischievous character who causes trouble, sometimes for evil purposes, but also to expose human foibles like vanity and deceit. Tricksters often act as messengers between Heaven and Earth, or, more philosophically, Matter and Spirit, and thus are the beings to call upon when one is in need of special help. Tricksters can occupy many forms including Spider (Iktomi, Anansi) | Mantis (ǀKágge̥n) | Hyaena (Bouki) | Hare (Br’er Rabbit, Bugs Bunny) and Fox (Kuma Lisa, Reynard) or they may choose to appear in human form (Legba, Hermes and Loki.)

Me writing, you reading, all of us here began our storytelling journey as part of one small tribe of hominids in southern Africa. Our Paleolithic ancestors set off to find new territory, coming eventually to all of the continents we now inhabit. They brought along their Gods, Devils, Heroes and Tricksters, which evolved, as we did, along the way. No matter where your part of that original clan settled, there is a trickster that settled there too.

As an artist I am drawn to Trickster characters because they represent the chaotic side of the balance between chaos and order. While chaos can be unnerving, it can also lead to much-needed change. In my case, a chaotic domestic situation prompted my move to California, which enabled me to become the artist I always wanted to be.

I also like Tricksters because they stir things up right when you think everything is settled. Four years ago I signed up for one of those DNA search sites to make a final effort to find my birth father. Through that I got several close matches and reached out to a couple of them, followed by: ((crickets.)) Months went by and I gave up, resolving to let the whole matter drop. Then, I got a reply from a cousin in Canada.

This opened up all of the information I had been searching for. My dad wasn’t Russian, he was Ukrainian, from a town called Khotyn. Sadly, he passed before I could meet him, but I also found two siblings, nieces, nephews, and other extended family who have been very helpful to me in filling out all of the missing parts of my own story.

My quest to find my birth father led me to world mythology and folktales, which then provided the basis for much of my artwork. Here are some of the paintings inspired by that lore, and those wily tricksters, who sometimes do give you what you want.

Strange Attractors

In Strange Attractors, Fox is jumping out of a place-between-worlds towards two hares who watch his approach impassively. Random challenges, like the fox, spring into our lives out of nowhere. The rabbits say: “Bring it.”

Spirit Tree

The oldest known tree is almost 10,000 years old. Trees have senses, and communicate with each other. Some, like the Bodhi tree, are thought to be pillars connecting Heaven and Earth. A Spirit Tree can be home to deities, nymphs, fairies and ancestor spirits.

Cosmic Serpents

In Biblical stories snakes are evil tricksters. But in other traditions, Serpents are forces of creation, taking the forms of Rainbows, Rivers, Sky, and Earth. In Cosmic Serpents, Sky and Earth demiurges join together to create the World.

Jackalope and Peyote Mandrake

Jackalope & Peyote Mandrake The Jackalope is a trickster that originated in Mexico but migrated to the US West. They are known to mimic human voices and can be captured using whiskey for bait. This stripey Jackalope hopped into my dreams one night carrying a peyote mandrake. Why? I don’t know, I didn’t have any whiskey to catch him and ask.

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Painter, Habitat Gardener, Shelter Dog Addict & L.A. Anecdotalist, writing about Life, Intention, Nature & Creativity. IG@sarahstoneart

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