Interview conducted by Joseph S. Hopkins over the course of October 2015 via social media.
Mimisbrunnr.info's second Six Questions subject is artist Arrowyn Craban Lauer. Lauer produces art in a variety of media and is co-creator of Hex Magazine—an independent bi-annual publication active between 2007 to 2013, totaling 11 issues. Today Lauer lives in Portland, Oregon with her daughter and husband, and produces art under the name Little Gold Fox Designs.
Hex Magazine's stated mission was "mak[ing] old world knowledge and wisdom available for use in our everyday lives, and thus to bring continuity to the present and heart to future generations". In effect, a typical issue of Hex Magazine might various feature a guide to building a home garden inspired by the Old English Nine Herbs Charm (issue #6), an essay about the North Germanic goddess Freyja, or an interview with a neofolk musician working with themes from Heathenry. In effect, Hex Magazine was a clearing house for the intersection of subcultures around post-industrial music and forms of Neopaganism, particularly Germanic Heathenry.
1. Where did you grow up?
My earliest memories are from living in Augsburg, Germany, where my parents were stationed at the US military base. We spent all of their leave time traveling around Europe…mostly Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Switzerland. It helped feed my Europhilia for sure, and gave me a lasting love of European folk art. I did the rest of my growing up in Michigan from age 5 until age 20, when I left and started traveling around the US, finally settling in Portland, Oregon.
2. Can you remember when you first encountered Norse mythology or, more generally, Germanic mythology? And what was the context?
My dad was a huge fantasy fan and teethed me on the classics… Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Piers Anthony. I was primed and ready for my first encounter at age 17 with a set of the Elder Futhark, which a friend gifted me. I started actively studying runes at around age 19 and have been working with them for the last 24 years. I also started studying Norse, Irish, and Babylonian mythology around the same time and was interested in learning as much as I could about world myth. But I didn’t really get deeply into Norse and German mythology, though, until my early 30s when I moved to Portland and joined a kindred. Soon after I had a dream that told me that everything I needed to learn in life I could learn from my ancestors. So I decided to narrow my focus and follow my dream’s proclamation. This is what prompted me to start publishing Hex Magazine with a couple of friends…to jump right in and learn more about my own ancestors!
3. How would you describe your religious beliefs (or lack thereof)?
I have very eclectic, contradictory, and difficult to explain spiritual beliefs! You could say my spirituality is polytheist, but it’s also very elemental and steeped in nature worship. I believe in a divine intelligence that is a force like wyrd, woven through all things, and is also sometimes organized into various forms or faces. I believe that each god or goddess is an individual being and *also* that they are all reflections of one elemental intelligence (similar to the way light can be a wave and particle at the same time :) I like to keep an open mind and experience life and the divine as it comes to me while accepting some things as unknowable or unfathomable.
I have been approached by several deities in my life (some are Norse but some are not) and established relationships with them to some extent, not really devotional, but more intermittent as need arose. But recently I have been exploring devotional practice…again sparked by a dream within which I offered up my devotion to one god who offered to be my patron. This is something new for me but feels right.
I also have a long and varied magical practice, mostly doing ritual, sigil working, and rune chanting…all of which I feel are ways to weave my wyrd intentionally. I practice sometimes with my kindred, doing more traditional seasonal devotions. When I do ritual alone it is very eclectic. I was influenced heavily by chaos magical practice, which I stumbled upon in the early 90s, and I like to call myself a Chaos Heathen when asked…a term coined by Heimlich A. Laguz on the blog Elhaz Ablaze. To me it means that I use whatever works for me, while keeping Heathenry as my consistent diving board. It describes my practice pretty accurately, and has a certain Loki-ish irreverence that I am fond of!
4. How would you describe your political beliefs (or lack thereof)?
I spent most of my youth involved in radical politics, mostly through the Anarcho-punk scene. I was pretty heavily involved in this movement for many years, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less political and more inter-personal, moving away from the rigidity of people and actions that stem from close-minded belief…both left and right. My mind and heart has become more open and curious and my actions less dictated by any strict political belief except reverence for the earth, and the need for governing systems to treat people with fairness and respect.
I personally believe in acting within the system to achieve positive change and all my active efforts go to protecting our planet and the right of all living things to live with dignity. I put my money where my mouth is by dedicating my business to sustainable practices, giving a portion of profits to environmental groups, and also donating products to several organizations like Rewild Portland, Speak for the Trees, and BARK. I like to talk less and do more about leaving the world a better place than when I arrived in it.
5. How does Norse mythology and/or general element Germanic mythology influence your creative output?
My Teutonic ancestors had a healthy relationship with the earth that provided for them, and an obvious love of art and design that celebrated that relationship. They seemed to leave nothing bare, decorating all their worldly possessions in swirling forms and colors. I follow in their footsteps.
My art and design springs directly from my celebration of life and nature. Not only do I get inspiration from European folk art but I also practice the German art form of Scherenschnitte, or scissor-cuts (though I use an X-acto knife!). I love the beautiful graphic images that come naturally from working with cut paper, and the feeling of grounding continuity that comes from practicing a traditional art form. I adore the celebration of love, the majesty of the natural world, and the connectedness of all things that is illustrated through the designs. All of my art portrays the beauty of the natural world…plants and animals, and occasionally, humans in relationship to them. I see this knowledge of connectedness and reverence reflected time and again in the myths, and it is my vocation to decorate the world with this story.
6. Do you have a formal academic background in Germanic studies? If not, where do you do your research on the topic?
I do not. I have always loved to read and have done a lot of my own research. I was also blessed to be educated by the amazing writers that I published in Hex Magazine. Currently, my husband and I are hosting a Heathen reading group at our home, where we are gathering some friends to discuss various Heathen texts, starting with The Well and the Tree by Paul C. Bauschatz. A veritable well of inspiration!
A D D E N D U M
Lauer provided additional information both regarding her creative process and about the pieces featured in this interview.
Process: I always start out with a sketch of an idea. Sometimes I look at traditional designs and then spin off of those themes, and sometimes I have an idea that is fully my own. Most of my designs are mirror images so I only draw one side to save time. I usually work at about a 12 x 18 size, or sometimes larger these days.
Then I take my finished sketch and trace it onto tracing paper that I’ve folded in half and flattened back out. Then I fold the tracing paper over so I can copy the mirrored side on to the other half. At this point I might add details that are not mirrored to make it more interesting. Then I transfer the design onto black paper using white carbon paper. I make a sandwich of tracing paper drawing, carbon paper, and then black paper on the bottom and I draw the whole design again so that it appears on the black paper in white.
Then I tape the black sheet down to a cutting mat and I grab my X-acto knife and get to work. Recently, my designs have become so intricate that I have to use a magnifying glass to cut it out. The cutting can take up to 50 hours.
After I’m done cutting, I lay the piece onto a mat board backing and mark the correct placement in pencil. First I spread rubber cement on the mat board where I think the piece will lay, then I laboriously paint the back of the cutting with rubber cement as well and carefully lay it down on the cemented backing. This is the hardest part! If it sticks in the wrong place it can tear. When I’m finished gluing it down I have to go through and clean up the extra cement with a but of rubber. This can also be tricky because the piece can rip if I rub too hard.
When all is finished I scan the piece into the computer in parts and then assemble it in Photoshop. Here I can resize it for making prints. A lengthy and involved process but the results are worth it!
Additional Information Regarding Pieces Provided by Arrowyn:
Prints on paper or wood, t-shirts, and other things can be purchased at my Etsy shop.
- "Tree of Life", 2008. I made this design as a testament of love to my husband during a long period of forced separation. The tree that stems from a heart and is surrounded by animals and plants is a traditional theme in Scherenschnitte, and I used this theme to communicate my own message of connection in the midst of separation and the longing that accompanies it. A theme which seems to be universal, as this first paper cut print I ever did continues to be the most popular one. Several people have it tattooed on their bodies, and I’ve allowed it’s use on mourning cards, as well as drawn several similar designs for people’s personal use.
- "Stags and Swifts", 2011. This design is done more in the Swiss style of papercutting which often shows various scenes of pastoral life combined into one image. In this piece I depict a man and woman each leaning against a large tree for support, encased within a heart representing nature as protector, and surrounded by scenes of wild and domesticated life.
- "Red Cedar", 2015. This design is a spin-off of the tree of life designs but based on the plants and animals that live on or around red cedars in the Pacific Northwest. I have been felling that specificity really grounds out my designs. In a world where we are so displaced, rendering designs of the place where I live feels important and helps me to sink roots into it.
Joseph S. Hopkins would like to thank Arrowyn Craban Lauer for her participation.