The Wounded Warrior

I’ve just finished a painting I’ve been with since early January.

In the first session of my Monday drawing class, Andrea read ‘Sometimes a Wild God‘ by Tom Hirons.  I encourage you to have a look here.

I met the wounded warrior, who is a frightening figure, at once powerful and vulnerable.  He frightens me, but I make a space for him and I listen.

I made a charcoal drawing, then made a painting in acrylic over the next several weeks.  This painting has working on me. I have been working on this painting.

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Initial charcoal drawing on sugar paper

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Sketch on heavier weight textured paper

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Beginning with water soluble pastels & neocolor crayons

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Starting to add acrylic paint

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It all begins to take shape

Here they are side by side on the last day of term, nearly finished.

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On my final day of painting, I painted from the center of my medicine wheel.  I put his war club at his feet and gave the final detail to the vessel.

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I really like the design which is taken from a Mississippian period pot with motifs made by a Southeastern tribe, probably Caddo.

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I have invited the wounded warrior in.
To sit, to rest, to be attended by the Clan animals, to partake of the Sacred Fire,
to find nourishment.

When I’m out in the world, the wounded warrior walks with me.
I listen deeply to his stories.
They took away the Black Drink and gave him whiskey.
They broke his war club and ball sticks.
They destroyed our ceremonial grounds and doused the Sacred Fire.
They burned the talwas and plowed our fields.
They made the people leave their land, the land we belonged to,
the land we long for still.
They put the moon in a cage.

They cut to the heart of us and made us bleed.
They cut the Mvskoke tongues out of our mouths.

When we listen deeply to the wound, we can hear the old voices speaking.
We can hear the land.
The land still calls to us.
The blood of warriors still runs in our veins.

Painting and words,  Melinda Schwakhofer, 2016.

Transformational vessel

For the past few months, I’ve been feeling restless, on the cusp of a new horizon, like I am beside myself and don’t know quite who this new person is that I am becoming.  My experience of menopause is of a very deep and powerful transformation.  I’ve been feeling very alone in it too, but recently I have been having conversations with women in my life and on Facebook.  I’ve found some blogs and websites and have bought a few books.  I am coming to realise that each woman’s experience of menopause is as individual as her thumbprint, even though there are many commonalities.  I am also discovering that I, and many other women, view this transition as a deep journey and a time of coming into real power and profound Self-knowing.  I absolutely do not label menopause as an anomalous state to be ashamed of or as an illness to be medicated away.   Still, it isn’t an easy time for me.  My artwork is my medicine.

One of my friends and Steve said to me in the past week, ‘Draw how you’re feeling’.  My friend asked, What will you draw?  And with what?’  I answered, ‘This place I am in and maybe it will be a self-portrait.  I’ll use water-soluble pastels and maybe acrylic paints.  I have some canvasses!’  Steve said, ‘Maybe you should just make some artwork.  It will help you and maybe other people too.  It’ll be brilliant.  You’re brilliant’. 🙂

But I needed to feel into myself a bit more first.  It isn’t so much that I feel beside a duplicate of me.  More like there is a new empty space inside of me, new territory to explore and it’s scary.  I could talk about it with my friend and she knew what I was talking about.  I feel very grounded with Steve and it’s like he holds me and I’m holding this void.  There is this space for a new something.  A new something to emerge and a new place for me to inhabit and in the process, I am becoming someone new as I enter this new place.  It’s all of this.

I was peeling shallots on Sunday night.  You know how the bulb is wrapped in many layers of tissue-y skin, and then the flesh emerges?


Sometimes there are two bulbs curved into each other, or the one bulb is split in two, but is still contained within the whole.  That’s how it is.


I woke up the next morning and brought my wax pastels to bed and drew this picture.  To my surprise, ue-cetto, water snake in Muscogee, came to hold the space around my becoming.  In our view of the cosmos, the water snake or water serpent or water panther inhabits the Lower World.  I have so many books and websites that I have been visiting.  I can’t lay my hands on the source right now, but I’ve read that the Lower World is associated with the feminine, with creativity, with chaos.

I wrote some words about the water snake wrapping herself around me into a transformational vessel.


the place I know where dwells the me I know . . . . .

I decided to paint it with dip pen & India ink and water-soluble crayons, pencils and pastels.  I used a piece of 250 gsm mixed media A3 size paper.


First, I drew the design in pencil.  My eyes are now closed and my hand reaches through the membrane separating me from the void.


ue-cetto encircles me.


I love drawing with a dip pen.  I love the fluidity of the nib over the paper and the dipping into the ink pot.   I erased the pencil lines once I had finished.


And then I put all of the colours in.


I wrote a poem, ue-cetto (water snake).

(water snake)

She comes to me in the watery depths
and wraps herself around me.
A transformational vessel
This place I know
but I am beside myself
Where dwells the Me I know?
She holds my death and rebirth . . . . .
for a dark, deep time.
Deep we dive,
which way is up?
Up and down no longer matter
She holds me in the dark.
Dark, dark, dark and deep.
Deeper still.
My hands become my eyes
as I feel my way into a new place.
No longer beside myself
New horizons beckon.

-Melinda Schwakhofer, 2015

I wrote some of the lines of the poem onto the painting.


A powerful image from the Eastern Woodland ancestors of the Muscogee is the hand with the eye embedded in the palm.



She holds my death and rebirth . . . . . for a dark, deep time . . . . .


.  .  .  .  .  which way is up? Up and down no longer matter . . . . .


In order to place the complete poem well onto the margin, I first wrote it on a slip of paper.  Then I counted up the lines and penciled them onto the margin.



After writing the poem with grey ink, I erased the lines.



Here is the complete painting with the poem, which I may or may not keep intact.


Here are both images together.


I have a square canvas and acrylic paints.  I will paint this again and see how it continues to transform.  My artwork carries my transformation/journey which inhabits my artwork.

Perro, Hvcce and Oi-kåtca

I’ve been feeling a bit lost recently.  I’m in a transition from one phase of life to another and traveling, traveling on my journey into my Muscogee identity and heritage.  Not quite sure where I am going.  Wanting to know my destination before I arrive, to be there and forgetting about the importance of the journey.   I remembered that my artwork carries me and helps me to make sense of where I am.

In last Monday’s art class, made a boat, perro in Muscogee, pronounced /pithlo/.



I made a river, hvcce /hachi/ to carry it.



Interestingly, a Water Panther, Oi-kåtca /we-katcha/ came to be in the river.  This water being was a major component of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex of the Mississippian culture in the prehistoric American Southeast.  It is related to the Tie Snake, which is a figure in the mythos of the Southeastern tribes.

In Native American mythologies of the Great Lakes, underwater panthers are described as water monsters that live in opposition to the Thunderers, masters of the powers of the air who live in the Upper World. Underwater Panthers, who inhabit the Lower World are seen as an opposing yet complementary force to the Thunderers, and they are engaged in eternal conflict.  In the Muscogee world view, people, animals, birds an all other creatures live in This World.  Harmony comes when the tensions and conflict of the Upper and Lower Worlds are held in balance.


Underwater panther was an amalgam of features from many animals: the body of a wild feline, often a mountain lion or lynx; the horns of deer or bison; upright scales on its back; occasionally bird feathers; and parts from other animals as well, depending on the particular myth.


Underwater panthers are represented with exceptionally long tails, occasionally with serpentine properties.  The creatures are thought to roar or hiss in the sounds of storms or rushing rapids.


Some traditions believed the underwater panthers to be helpful, protective creatures, but more often they were viewed as malevolent beasts that brought death and misfortune. They often need to be placated for safe passage across a lake.  Whoever Oi-kåtca turns out to be, helpful and protective or malevolent, she is certainly a powerful companion to have on my river journey.

Crazy Brave

My Monday morning drawing class resumed this week. We have each been asked to bring in a poem or piece of prose for Andrea to read out loud during our warm up exercise. I chose a poem written by Mvskoke poet and musician Joy Harjo from her memoir Crazy Brave for our first session.


Fear Poem, or I Give You Back

I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my home, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.

I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart

But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid of dying.

– Joy Harjo


We drew with our eyes closed and my heart felt strong.


I don’t normally make a New Year’s resolution, but on the 31st Steve asked me and I said, “I want to make more art work that matters to me”. Sometimes my art making has been about sheer beauty or experimentation, sometimes it has been made with the aim of being selected for a particular competition or an art show. Last year, I have been working more with my hands (rather than with my sewing machine) and choosing my Muscogee history, heritage and culture for my subject matter. This year, I intend for my art work to be more personal, honest and cutting edge.

I do usually choose a word for the year. This year my word is brave.


Full circle

The Muscogee concept of space contains the key idea of seven directions.  There are the four cardinal directions – North, East, South and West.   The fifth is downward into the earth, and the sixth is upward towards the sky. The seventh is the centre of the observerboea fikcha/puyvfekcv/fekcv, fire within spirit, or energy.  I love this because it places the individual within the entire world/universe.  In this instance, our view takes on a three-dimensional perspective so that the universe becomes a sphere instead of a circle.

The Muscogee annual buskida, or green corn dance is the most important festival, occurring in late summer.  The ceremonial ground has a central fire which contains the seven directions.  The four logs point to the first four directions.  The base and the rocks in the earth point downward, the smoke moves upward and the fire remains at the centre.


Symbolically, this parallels the Muscogee concept of self, which includes four external sacred paths, each with its own values, sometimes represented with colours.  Internally, the Muscogee spirit is rooted downward to Mother Earth, the fire of energy burns in the centre of the person, the spirit spirals upward in the Muscogee mind, and it exits through the top of the head at death to join the spirit and energy linkages with the rest of the cosmos.  Symbolically, the spirit within is in harmony with the Spirit without.

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The year begins by igniting a New Fire at Green Corn Ceremony

I first learned about this concept a few years ago when I began reading about the Muscogee culture and worldview.  Initially, it was a purely intellectual concept, but as I have been journeying inwards and embracing my culture on a personal level it has become an internal orientation.  I think that because my Dad had lost touch with and rejected his indigenous heritage, that I grew up feeling disconnected from my ancestry and all of the richness of our culture.  Likewise, for many years I was disconnected from the pain and dislocation associated with our post-Contact history.  As I have been able to acknowledge the grief and deep loss that our people have suffered and passed down through the generations, I am coming to a deep appreciation of our culture and worldview and becoming grounded and centered in a way I never thought possible.  I feel like I am inhabiting my life from the inside out.

I made this piece recently from two whippy branches, gold thread, a metal & shell heart and some honesty.  This embodies the way that  I see my place in the world – contained, in the moment, with a three dimensional orientation and universal view.

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The center of the circle of life is within all of us as we seek to find it.




The Busk Fire, Source of Balance and Harmony

A Sacred Path: The Way of the Muscogee Creeks


For the past couple of years, I’ve been making a Yuletide tree from branches and lights.  This year, on my way to gathering some hawthorn branches, I found some fantastic shoots in a hedgerow.  I used these to make a little forest of winter trees.


The Muscogee word for winter is rvfo, pronounced ‘thleufo’.  It translates to ‘the season when things get skinny’.  Winter is the time of year when the earth’s energy withdraws.  Accordingly, I place my lights at the base of the branches to reflect this.


I made the base from two thick pieces of Styrofoam I’d saved from a delivery.  I arranged some fairy lights around the base of the trees.


To diffuse the lights I topped them with a double layer of sheer white cotton organza and a sheet of micro foam.


I hot glued each tree into the Styrofoam base.


Then, I pinned down the edges of the fabric to cover the lights and added a few garnet beads.


This is what it looks like at night; when darkness falls, the light shines out the brightest.


I also made a Yule tree from hawthorn branches.


May we all count the fullness of our blessings
and celebrate the richness in our lives during this deep winter festive season.
Love to you all!