In the first post on this blog, I talked about Vienna Teng’s album Aims as my latest favorite, due to its being pretty wise and enlightening stuff. I’ve been a fan of Teng’s for years; learned a few of her songs, Shine and Lullaby for a Stormy Night are still in my repertoire. But Landsailor totally kicks my symbolist butt, its metaphor as thick as any alchemical tale I’ve encountered.
What is a landsailor, anyway?
Let’s start with the alchemical principle, that the whole or healed or wise human is one who has understood and merged all 4 elements within themselves. I use 4 elements, anyway. Earth and water are feminine, fire and air are masculine. Usually this alchemical development towards wholeness involves understanding and integrating an element that you grew up thinking was assigned to the opposite gender. So women are usually challenged to understand and open up to fire and air, and men are challenged as far as water and earth. When we do this alchemical work, our wisdom-consciousness-enlightenment factor raises. And, probably very important in the case of an artist of Teng’s intensity, we channel lots of creative force when we are alchemically balanced. We have all 4 elements working for us. This work is natural, more or less. It’s part of what’s happening with menopause and andropause, for example.
Next, a disclaimer:
Though it seems Vienna Teng’s symbolism dovetails with my own, it is actually impossible for me to know exactly what she envisioned when she wrote the song, particularly in its nuances. And I doubt I’ll get to talk to her about it any time soon (though my sister and niece got to hear her in Boulder last night!). So, Ms. Teng, apologies for any mistakes. My object is to make the brilliance known.
In line with the basics of alchemical symbolism, then, a landsailor is a man who has mastery over earth element. Sailing involves mastering the air element, and combining it symbolically with land means the individual we’re referring to has a combined mastery; they have merged land and air. As it happens, the landsailor symbolism is in The Golden Goose, the fairy tale I last interpreted (partly) in this blog. For after the princess busts out laughing, the king does not want her to marry the Simpleton, and he assigns 3 tasks to the guy. Last one is “he must have a ship that should be able to sail on land or on water”. This earth-ship is in at least one other fairy tale I know, can’t recall which right now.
Interpreting all of Teng’s symbolism here would take more time than most would want to delegate, so I’ll attempt to be reasonable here. The next name she calls this aspect of her inner masculine is Cloudraker, “share your finds/ all your wonders at my demand”. Raking the clouds means symbolically, to “comb” air element in the form of clouds, which includes some feminine in the form of water. “All your wonders at my demand” refers to that which the masculine aspect has gathered from “the clouds” for her; wonderful ideas and creative inspirations, dreams, ethereal or expanded visions and such like, which she uses for her arts, education, joy, her service to Terra, and for her personal enlightenment in general.
“Lightbringer” refers to the masculine fire element, though there are also ethereal forms of light that belong to the category of air element, in my alchemy (and seemingly Teng shares my 4 elements construct). Light is yang, right? Yin is darkness. “Lawbender” is a reference to balance, the cosmic law thereof, no longer flipping back and forth between opposites, where one is neither hot nor cold, “saved from the chill or heat”.
“Here’s where I was born” probably refers to the fact that we are born in balance with the elements and masculine-feminine, but our human development trajectory usually causes more or less imbalance in these. I love the way Teng names this masculine inner aspect in the old way of naming divinities, according to their attributes. For example, the names for Odin in the old eddas numbers over 200. A few: Flaming Eye, God of Burdens, Wanderer, Riddler.
The next verse talks about the divine masculine as light and earthly abundance, like the Celtic god Lugh. “Deepwinter strawberry” is a feeling or experience of fruition and love (strawberry being like a red heart) that is warm and sweet, and can appear even in the midst of winter, whether the actual season or an inner chill or freezing. Strawberries are a sun-fruit, famously require sunny days for proper ripening; too many cloudy days and your strawberry tastes like not much of anything. It’s missing the loving kiss of the sun. “Aisle after aisle in reach” is certainly an abundance metaphor those who go shopping in stores will understand. And the experience of king-ness or queen-ness (“every commoner made king”) is very much a part of the abundant state of being we’re working towards in our human development trajectory. For this reason lots of the alchemical fairy tales I interpret are about the state of abundance, which isn’t necessarily reliant on physical abundance. It’s hard to feel abundant when you’re thinking there’s somebody who has MORE than you, when we’re playing hierarchical comparison games. Commoners made kings also speaks of stepping out of hierarchy in the socially conditioned sense. For on the soul-and-spirit level, we are all equal. This is a primary quality of the Wise King archetype.
The next reference Teng makes to the divine masculine is “Earthbreaker”. To my knowledge that refers to plowing, which then refers back to the act of heterosexual union. Hard metal implement, breaking up the feminine earth element, in order to plant seeds… it’s a reference that goes way way back to ancient times. “Noble and prized” , she says (the mules and the farmer above don’t look very noble). She is honoring this aspect. Guess why? THAT is exactly how one gets close to and merges with the element that one desires! You love and honor it! Simple, but not always easy, since we want to carry our grudges and negative judgments and past woundings around all our lives. When we play that blame game and make others carry the burden of proof all our days, some aspect of the masculine (in this case) are “denied”. And it’s easiest to blame the stereotypical thing that seems different from us, and to assume that their way is not a good way, rather than understanding that their way is just a DIFFERENT way. I know that, as humans, this gets complicated; I’m not stupid, I’ve been around the block a few times. But the beauty of working with archetype is that it’s working with the energies that underlie all the appearances. It works way better than struggling with appearances, with actual people, though we may have to change our behaviors when someone shows up to test our new understanding. Working with the archetype is about manifesting your preferences in your reality, rather than being the victim of what shows up seemingly by accident. We wave our magic wands and change the perspective, take a different view. As Teng has, I assume, found out.
One reason we may avoid this inner joining is referenced in the next line; “But there’s a a storm outside your door/and I’m a child no more.” In this image, we imagine Teng outside the door of the divine masculine, wishing to come in. However, that movement towards joining with her inner masculine may very well mean changing her life in some manner, the “storm”. For we often experience some level of emotional and mental disturbance when our old habitual ways of doing and being are challenged. Change may be due to some realization or revelation, some unmasking of lies we’ve believed. Very likely, it will be an experience that humbles us in the truest way (not the fake way), that breaks apart old identities, old resentments, old stories of blame or incompetence, old defenses. We “grow up” when we move forward in this way. And we are children no more, given to simplistic explanations and stereotypes and believing the illusion of separation; that we can basically hate and reject a huge portion of our daily manifest reality, that upon which we cast our eyes, and still be fruitful and free.
Remember, this masculine is both within and without. When we resist men outside of us, we are having the same inner experience and vice versa.
Of course I’m not talking about running out and physically embracing men, or DOING anything at all in regards to men. I’m talking about understanding and loving the ESSENCE of maleness, which shows up in an honorable way in the physical more and more as we learn about it and understand how to join with it. This honoring is not only an issue for women, either. Lots of young men are floundering out there right now because they perceive 2 choices in regards to understanding and embracing the masculine: either the masculine is a greedy pushy violent asshole, or he is…is… hm. Of course there are greedy pushy violent assholes of all genders, but that is unenlightened, immature behavior. It’s not a gender or archetype thing. Also, the fire and air elements are more difficult to master, in the sense that they are very volatile. I don’t envy men the challenge, for it’s all too easy to get carried away with fire-and-air power. If we taught the essence and beauty and mastery of the divine masculine in school, we would likely improve the situation. I’m just saying.
Moving along in our song….here comes the voice of the masculine. First he talks about how frustrating it is for his powers to be ignored, unused, “headless and faceless”. “I split the world open” refers to the masculine ability to create boundaries, to separate, a skill that’s been overdone in my culture, or misused. However, the skill is needed in order to discriminate, to distinguish one thing from another. It’s depicted in alchemical fairy tales in the common task for a woman, of sifting peas from ashes, separating grain, etc. And, as this verse tells us, it is a basic in this alchemical art of symbolic interpretation; “cracking ciphers” as Teng puts it. In order for me to discover how the divine masculine lurks in the physical for example, I have to break the masculine principle down into its parts. I have to know how it’s made; I have to see where one thing begins and another ends, and how the pieces fit together. I have to understand it in both its balanced or positive, and unbalanced or negative forms. And then I have to be capable of seeing the parts in a physical man or woman or animal or plant etc., which requires that I separate the illusion of the physicality from the underlying reality as well. Separation is useful! We really are childish when we don’t develop this discriminating skill, and just act out our conditioning all our lives, never investigating it, never taking it apart. We can’t even tell if we are the ones creating our reality, or if it’s the other guy! For we have not really inquired.
The next and final verse talks about the outcome of this inner joining with a reference to a marriage bed, making me think of Odysseus and Penelope’s bed, which Odysseus made from a single olive tree that was never cut down. This rooted olive tree bed has plenty of symbolic cache, of course, but the most important I would say is that of the universal Tree of Life; i.e. that the masculine-feminine marriage or alchemical marriage is the very life we live. It’s a marriage bed that was established or created upon our birth, when we were seeded and rooted and grew. As we live and develop into maturity, we move closer and closer to a loving partnership with our inner and outer “mate”, the elements we were not embodying when we came to adulthood. And we have responsibility for this marriage; Odysseus’s journey back to his wife Penelope is an account of his personal development challenges in transforming towards a balanced relationship with his inner feminine. Odysseus wants every nail shown, in Teng’s words, and he goes through some trials in order to get there, to that deeper alchemical marriage. Teng’s nails are the ways in which the whole thing is put together. This last verse is a plea, a prayer for clarity, for Truth with a capital T.