Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Be forewarned: This muse gets messy.


A detail from “Storming the Castle”; reverse painted acrylic on acrylic sheet, 22″ x 18″ by Buffy Cribbs


I am endlessly amazed at the cleverness of that Daedalus and his dastardly labyrinth.

Over time my eyes have grown so well adjusted that all this depth of darkness seems nothing but storm-dimmed daylight to my eyes – a low voltage looming to be sure, yet enough to get around. Still, no matter how I mark my passage, by claw-scratch or by urine, by measure or mnemonic, these walls wage proud immunity, they absorb my mark and heal themselves. Thus am I left at large, alone and adrift, a bull-headed, harpy-hounded, mentally mangled minotaur.

Before I met this place, I knew a maze for an educational tool, the mastery of which builds mental muscle plus agility. The proof’s in the puzzling, which prompts experiment – trial and error and the weighing of ways and means and appetizing outcomes – rousing the will to a wager. Satisfaction, or disappointment, follows, ensuring renewed experiment. Step-by-step’s a proven method.

Instead, mere as a bug (though half-god!), I wearily rummage a mammoth and increasingly flavorless Babel of choice, one dull to reason, untempted by tactics, a vastness of wadded tunnels and turns as obvious and yet unreckonable as a gut. Indeed, here there’s nothing not middle, a fortune cookie that opens from the inside-out. But who’s eating what? What’s feeding who? Which way to turn when beginning and end are both lost? When – maze-ridden, drained of the liquor of intellection and running on fumes – this bullish brain numbs to illimitable A or B and falls prey to dubious habits, grows listless, its culture collapsed, and languishes in a savorless stool of unmethodical indifference? It seems I serve by staying hungry, but how, in this bland glut of opportunity and failure, remain full and empty at once?

Which is just where she comes in. And why it is, and ever will be, that on that pre-appointed semi-demi annual or quarterly drawn day when, at the command of our King, Minos, a daydreamy maid of virginal vicissitude strays into my lair – pale, piquant, a sparkling tonic in a short toga – I’m moved to ravish, then devour her.

There’s no getting round it, you are what you eat.

Field Notes

The Porno of the Conqueror and Poetic Justice

For a very long time I’ve harbored an outraged revulsion for the myth of the Minotaur, in which it’s made out that a king, Minos, has a wife, Pasiphae, who lusts for a white bull and has a costume constructed to allow herself to mate with it. The child she gives birth to is a half-bull-half-man Minotaur monster called Asterion, soon interred within a giant labyrinth.

In her book, The Language of the Goddess, archaeologist Marija Gimbutas makes a compelling argument that the Minotaur story was a revisionist piece of Hellenistic pornography created to discredit an advanced matriarchal religion that the Greeks conquered and obliterated. It might have worked, and it almost did, except that archaeological evidence shows that the site of the maze (at Knossos, on Crete) was actually a temple, with not a monster but rather a priestess at the center. Here the horned bull was a sacred symbol. The shape of its horns was echoed in the positioning of the priestess’s arms; in the double-headed axe, or labrys, associated with female divinities, and understood by Gimbutas as a symbol of the Goddess as butterfly; and also in the wings of a bird goddess. Paintings and sculpture there depict a ritual sport or performance known as bull-leaping, or taurokathapsia. Practiced by both men and women, it involves an acrobatic vault over the horns and onto the back of the bull. The danger of this sport may have seeded the notion of young men and women being sacrificed to the Minotaur.

Cribbs’s story, “BeMazed,” gives voice to the Minotaur in a way that curiously leaps over the intervening Greek mockery, consuming it with relish. I feel in it something very like poetic justice.

What goes around comes around. You are what you eat!

– Rachel Boughton


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