Visual Art 12-4-2020

One’s a Crowd

Poet and visual artist Merle Geode maps a spiritual history and creative practice, from the public library to a South Korean temple to a cathedral in France.

Image description: Four sheets of parchment paper with burned edges, cursive and block writing, including drawings of a horse and an anatomical heart.
1Merle Geode, Untitled (channeled custom healing story for a client) (2015). Materials: India ink, permanent marker, fire, parchment.

There are times this body feels so heavy. It is one of the ways I am reminded that I am of Spirit, a greater creative power by so many names on which I do not dwell. There is a part of me that knows how to access the realm in which all things are possible. In Spirit, all things are possible, as my mentor, Myron Eshowsky, reminds me when the heaviness of life on Earth gets me down. The key is to find a way to bring Spirit into this physical world in which we live, to mediate that connection and exchange of information and healing. That is what I do.

I did not grow up with spiritual mentors, but I was a child who believed. In so many things. Many of my favorite childhood memories were at the public library. The children’s section along one wall was perpendicular to a few aisles where books about UFOs, magic tricks, and the occult could be found. So after loading up with dog encyclopedias, illustrated books on cryptozoology and the deep sea, and Amelia Bedelia, I found myself pulled to the books about magic and mysteries. 

I grew up in a mixed household in so many ways. My first generation Korean mother is Presbyterian. My white father was born in France and his French mother was Catholic. He said he was atheist, though in his older years, perhaps he might be better described as agnostic. I went to Korean Sunday school until I was old enough to decide I wanted to stay home. I never found the feeling I was looking for in church, but I did find that feeling in nature. I have never felt as close to God—Spirit—a great divine creator—than I have when standing inside a giant sequoia hollowed out by fire.

Fast forward.

I went through a period in my teens and 20s without any particularly strong spiritual leanings, until I started to have experiences that shook me up enough that I started to seek answers. I had extremely vivid dreams—or, shortly after my grandmother died, I felt a firm patpatpat on my leg. 

Long story short, some friends of mine gave me the information of a shamanic healer, Myron Eshowsky. I put off seeing him for several months but the strange experiences continued, such as finding a series of dead birds in my path. I finally made it into his office. He asked me if I felt haunted. I said, “If by haunted, you mean this feeling of something hovering over me, then yes.”

He told me those were my ancestors and I wasn’t listening. 

I laughed. That sounded like them.

Modeled on bumblebee found inside screened porch. Fire, black permanent ink on sketch paper. Image description: Line drawing of a flower and a bumblebee. The paper in the center of the flower is burned out to reveal a light green layer underneath.
Merle Geode, In memoriam: flight of the bumblebee (2018). 

I have been a student of Myron’s since April 2013. Since then, I have traveled the globe to my places of origins, to try to understand myself and my ancestors, and see what the land itself had to show me about the oldest spiritual practices—in the places where the spirits know me. In France, where my grandmother is from, it is true there, as it is in much of Europe, that places of worship were built over sites important to the Druids and other pagan groups. (Chartres Cathedral sits on a hotbed of ley lines.) I visited Chartres and felt what I needed to know through my feet, into the ground. I did the same in Ireland, much of the continental U.S., and my birthplace, Oahu. 

In 2018, I returned to South Korea with my mother. I visited the Buddhist temple where my grandmother prayed. While in Jeju, my oldest aunt, who is now Catholic, showed me how Korean Buddhists bow and pray. She was the one who, as a young woman, had vivid dreams that frightened her, my mother tells me. She slept with a knife under her pillow to stop the dreams but the dreams kept coming. My mom tells me she became Catholic after that. The dreams stopped, but the spirits didn’t. 

I have seen three mudangs, Korean shamans, to date. I am told the way the spirits come is like water—if you shut it off like a pipe, they will find a different way to flow. I am told my grandmother was supposed to be a mudang and she refused the call, and that is why they are hitting me so hard. I don’t have space to tell you everything, but I will tell you this: that I was literally broken in two and I’m somehow still alive and walking.

So, here I am again in a liminal space, having been told three times by three different mudangs that I need to be initiated. It’s very expensive to have naerim-gut, the initiation ceremony, so I have not had one.

I continue to practice my art as a writer, poet, and multidisciplinary artist who uses ritual as process. I tell you about my ancestors because I bring them with me; what you cannot see is that I am never alone. I am always in a crowd. 

The last mudang I talked to said that it made sense I am so involved in the arts. In the Old Days, if there were people who were called to be mudangs who didn’t work out for whatever reason, they often became kisaeng, skilled artists who sang and wrote poetry and entertained men.

My art and my spiritual practice are forever entwined, and when I am at my best, they are one and the same. My poems and visual art are vessels and portals, and sometimes rituals in themselves, to shift, heal, or transform. At my best, I integrate my spiritual practice into everything I do. Can I remember that I am divine when I am in the depths of depression? Can I set aside my inner critic and get out of my own way so that Spirit can move through? And here is where I also do not know where “art” stops or starts. Mother Nature is my favorite poet and I am forever humbled by divine creation.

 A black and white line drawing of an oval-shaped, abstract form. Handwritten text reads: “And then / there is the lightning / that crackles / through her body, / striking / closer & closer / together / like a nearing / storm—"
Merle Geode, Untitled, “Dreaming Dog” (2019). Book mock-up/outtakes. Black india ink and gold permanent ink on mixed media paper.

This piece is part of the series by guest editor Sun Yung Shin.   

Merle Geode

is—as their name implies—a little rugged on the outside and full of sparkly surprises on the inside. They are a genderfluid, queer, and biracial multidisciplinary artist, writer, editor, poet, and shamanic practitioner of Korean and mixed European descent. They use trance methods and ritual in their creative process, which is rooted in using art and stories to heal. Their work is heavily influenced by the connectivity and relationality of the natural world and their includes animistic …   read more