A couple of months ago I participated in the Wisdom Emerging retreat at IONS with Alan Briskin, Lauren Artress and Angeles Arrien. I began making the painting above during the retreat’s expressive arts process and completed it a couple of weeks later. The painting symbolizes significant aspects of the rite of passage that I am currently in. Here are my thoughts about the making of the painting and what it represents. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

Technique and Australian Symbolism

The painting is made within the art tradition of the Eastern Arrernte People of the Central Desert in Australia. I have been very inspired by the art of Kathleen Kemarre Wallace. She uses extremely bright colors and very intricate designs to tell the story of her people and her land. It is worth mentioning here that there are tight protocols about who can produce Aboriginal art. I have had to deal with this issue since I began exploring Aboriginal art making when I first moved to Australia. It is very important to state here that my art is not Aboriginal art. My art has primarily been an inquiry into Aboriginal culture. I have learned some of the techniques and have become familiar with Aboriginal symbolisms.

Imbedded in the painting are two Aboriginal symbols. Concentric circles connote sacred sites, water holes and meeting places. Snakes, as in many cultures, are rich in meaning. The Rainbow Snake is the foremost known snake symbolism in Aboriginal culture. George Chaloupka, an expert on the rock art of Arnhem Land, describes the Rainbow Snake as follows:

“The belief in the Rainbow Snake, a personification of fertility, increase (richness in propagation of plants and animals) and rain, is common throughout Australia. It is a creator of human beings, having life-giving powers that send conception spirits to all the waterholes. It is responsible for regenerating rains, and also for storms and floods when it acts as an agent of punishment against those who transgress the law or upset it in any way. It swallows people in great floods and regurgitates their bones, which turn into stone, thus documenting such events. Rainbow snakes can also enter a man and endow him with magical powers, or leave ‘little rainbows’, their progeny, within his body which will make him ail and die. As the regenerative and reproductive power in nature and human beings, it is the main character in the region’s major rituals.” (from page 47, “Journey in Time”, Reed 1993).

The technique I used is referred to as pointillism and the dots are typically made with the backside of a brush or dry sticks picked off the ground. In this painting, however, the dots were made with toothpicks. The painting is only 12 x 12 inches.

‘Depth’ Insight and Shaping the Social Worlds

I recently spoke with Alan Briskin about the Wisdom Emerging retreat and together we reflected on the learning arch from exploring depth psychology to understanding and shaping the social world within a learning process. This painting represents more of the former. It is an exploration of the movement of the soul within my own current rites of passage process. However, I consider rites of passages within a human systems framework. Traditionally the orchestration of rites of passages included the whole community, the initiate or person going through the change, the ritual leader or leaders, the communitas (a sub-culture of initiates, if there is more than one initiate) and the village. I am very aware that the Wisdom Emerging retreat and the Dreaming Ceremony that I attended a couple of weeks before were important containers for the incubation and deepening and forward movement in the rite of passage I am experiencing. I believe we can assume that the Wisdom Emerging retreat functioned for  many of the  participants that way, hence representing a kind of communitas. The Emerging Wisdom retreat was a constructed social world and ‘temporary’ community that lead to an exploration of the deeper, and in way collective, domains of the psyche.


I wrote the following shortly after I completed the painting: The painting is a classical rite of passage symbol. The diamond-shaped opening at the center of the painting represents the end of the birth canal or the threshold into the new. Flames flare out around the opening, the threshold. Often fire, like the image of the phoenix rising, is associated with the cleansing and combustion that is needed for the alchemical processes of transformation. Within the core of me a hot and bright fire was burning. It is that fire, the heating up, the getting cooked, that initiates the movement of the soul into its next life. It invites the movement of the known and rational world of this and that, either/or and right and wrong into the center place, like the third eye or the spinal column. There the dualities transform into paradoxes and within these paradoxes there is an opening for new insight, the possible self, and the new life.

I drew the Ace of Wands card when Angeles Arrien did the Tarot reading for the group. It represents the spiritual self-realization, awakening, and is associated with truth and authenticity. The flames and green lightening bolts and the wand are all represented in the painting. Two snakes wrap around each other and an invisible upward force, indicating the rise of energy which is in place of the wand of the Ace of Wand Tarot card. This upward force is a central guiding image for this painting. The snakes also represent awakening, fertility and sexuality and in particular for me at this time sacred knowledge intended for women. The caduceus is a related image and represents the balancing of forces that are healing.

I added the snakes to the initial design of the panting in response to one of the participants handing me a photo of a beautiful yellow, orange and red snake resting in a deep green natural environment. This photo had exactly the same colors as the Ace of Wands card.

This is a lower chakra painting. It is about courage, stability, creativity and manifestation. This whole process is held within the green energy of the heart. It is held in love and the vibrant and juicy energy of life–veriditas.

The alchemical symbology of this painting is a reflection of inner transformation that is dynamic and alive. My soul is awakening to its next reincarnation. This painting shows me that there is much in process on the conscious and unconscious levels and that I can not be sure yet where my soul will land on its next resting place.

My life’s prayer is to live life as ceremony (where there is no longer a division between the sacred and the secular) and to bring ceremonial practices back into communities to enable individual and collective healing and development as well as breakthroughs in human consciousness. I realize that this prayer/vision requires immense fortitude and clarity. I am confronted with the questions “Am I willing to develop this fortitude or muscle?” And “What kind of yes and strengths will I bring to this yes?”

This post was originally published in my blog Liminal Songlines. The intention of that blog was to help capture my initial understanding of the spiritual healing traditions of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia while I lived in Australia from 2009 to 2012. Much of what I learned is relevant to my continuing explorations of rites of passages in indigenous and contemporary cultures, the concept of liminality, and working with change in our turbulent times.