Presenter: Mat Osmond

Title: Great Mother, or Something: Meinrad Craighead and the animal face of god

Abstract: In her 2005 book Findings (chapter: Fever), the writer Kathleen Jamie ponders the nature of prayer whilst sharing fish and chips with a friend. For Jamie, the question ‘Whom do you pray to?’ elicits an unequivocal rejection of praying to anyone, or anything. Jamie offers, instead, a notion of prayer as close attention to immediate experience: to ‘the web of our noticing’.

It’s Jamie’s chip-eating friend, and his inarticulate retort to the same question, that informs the title of this paper. Taking his remark as starting point, it will look to an artist whose engagement with landscape suggests a rather different understanding of prayer: the American painter Meinrad Craighead.

Craighead recounts being summoned by a dream, from 14 years as an expatriate nun in England, back to the numinous landscape of New Mexico. It was here Craighead discovered, in the indigenous deity Crow Mother, the fullest expression of the spiritual presence that she’d first encountered in the Black Madonna of Montserrat, and in the mountain landscape within which her shrine is located.

In considering how landscape is apprehended as personified presence in Craighead’s work, I‘ll ask what we might learn about our own experiences of ‘sublime place’ from these women’s differing perspectives. To throw a bridge between them, I’ll discuss the psychologist James Hillman’s notion of prayer as ‘himma’: ‘the thought of the heart’: something independent of doctrinal belief, or religious piety: a ‘dialogic encounter’ which Hillman understood as ‘the highest achievement of the creative imagination’.


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