Warriors + Mystics

My father tells me this story about the night I was conceived:

He did LSD in the A-frame cabin he built with his own capable hands just after he returned from Vietnam. Dropping acid was a nightly ritual for him, after which he would walk to the massive oak tree on his property high in the mountains in Northern Idaho. He would drape himself in a bow, dangle there, wonder at the stars, and contemplate the universe before returning back to the cabin and my mother.


I was conceived on such a night.

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I’ve been working with survivors and veterans of World War 2 for several years, and carefully witnessing the stories of those who did not survive. This whole war thing has been an epic odyssey into history and humanity, an anthropological alchemy that I have only expressed at about 5%.

AND

I’m witchy. Esoteric. Sensual. Electric. I sit for hours at a time and I contemplate intimacy, pleasure, and beauty while marinating in thoughts of archetypal being-ness and va-va-voom.

I constantly ebb and flow within the spectrum of broken —> benevolent wholeness of the wounded masculine and feminine energies.

That is my fascination with war.

It is a tunnel into the schism of brokenness, to an extreme.

But anyway.

I ‘see’ life, and DO life, in ways that are unusual. Intense. Not always welcome. Definitely not mainstream.

Being a human is a supernatural experience for me, an honest to goodness holy whackadoodle WTF from time to time.

Let’s just break it down this way: at the same time I collected war relics, studied Nazis, and searched for the remains of missing soldiers KIA … I paint vaginas, study Jungian thought, and relentlessly ponder the broken places in the energetic frequencies of masculinity and femininity.

For me, war + death + love + sex + creativity + humanity are all the same thing, wrapped up in a fascinating wad of beauty, darkness, choice, and possibility.

clockwise:  THE  tree, my grandpa Bill in his cowboy band, my father around the time I was conceived, my (many times) great-grandfather Andrew.

clockwise: THE tree, my grandpa Bill in his cowboy band, my father around the time I was conceived, my (many times) great-grandfather Andrew.

Back to my father ...

He is a mystic and a hermit. A self-taught artist, poet, and musician. He sees things most humans don’t bother to take the time to see. He lives in the woods somewhere in Oregon, where he paints hyper-realistic masterpieces and keeps himself pretty hunkered down and away from humans. He hangs out with his best friends: his wife and his dog Meatball. He volunteers at the VFW and is a pallbearer for any of the local veterans who require that last tender shoulder.

Before that cabin up in Idaho, and before I was born, he did his time in Vietnam. Honestly, I don’t really know much about his experiences over there. Except that he came home traumatized and deeply affected. I have stacks of the songs and poems he wrote before and after his service, and his service didn’t bring him any kind of fulfillment.

It certainly did bring more trauma to the family line.

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His father, my Grandpa Bill, was a mystic who also kept to himself. He read Edgar Cayce in like, the 1950s, while drinking beer and ‘blowing shit up’ in his post-war garage in Southern California. On the weekends he’d go up into the mountains and pan for gold.

Before that, my grandpa was in the Pacific, giving the best of himself (and the worst?) in hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese. His experiences would traumatize him for life.

Before that, he was in a cowboy band called Sons of the Golden West. They toured around and played their music.

I’d give absolutely anything to sit at a show, tapping my foot, and beaming my heart out at my Grandpa Bill.

You see, he hopped a hobo train at around 13 years old. He jumped on somewhere in Kentucky and rode west, til he hit Los Angeles. Then he hopped off and made a life for himself.

I have a photo of the Sons of the Golden West, in their matching cowboy shirts and hats. Handsome. Smiling. I want to reach out and touch my grandpa. Hold his hand, and tell him he is about to go off to war. Ask him to tell me his stories. All of them. I don’t really know more than I’m sharing here.

That actually breaks my heart. I think me and my Grandpa Bill would have understood each other in that silent knowing kind of way.

I sat at his grave a few years ago. Just the two of us. Six feet of dirt between us, but we found each other under that Southern California sun.

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80 exact years before my Grandpa Bill set foot in the Pacific, his great-grandpa Andrew set foot with his troops in a little town called Gettysburg.

He was a medium. An actual one. A mystic. A seer. And he was a sergeant in the Confederate Army.

And that day he undoubtedly saw some of the worst sights one can never unsee. I wonder what it was like for him. As a seer. To see those things.

I’d like to know.

And somehow, I already do.

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It only recently dawned on me that there is some kind of swirling DNA ferocity that propels me into my own eccentric combination of war + mysticism.

As it turns out my obsession with war is my birthright. My legacy. My inheritance from these misunderstood magicians with the gift of sight, who saw things they didn’t want to see.

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The thing is, I didn’t meet my father until I was 18, and didn’t know my Grandpa Bill who died that same year, and I obviously didn’t know our great-grandfather Andrew. We are talking a total download of DNA here, complete with inherited traumatic memory and supernatural overlays. My mystic forefathers have passed it on to me.

I don’t even know what it all means.

I just think it’s beautiful … hanging out here with my heart wide open to these men, somewhere down a cosmic-ish rabbit hole of mysticism + war with my magical, weird, wonderful warrior grandfathers.

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It’s funny. As soon as I realized all of this I felt a swoosh.

As soon as I recognized that my dad and grandpas didn’t have a *choice* ...

But I do ... ?

... I think it might be just the right time to come home from the war.

Fevers and Prayer Books

I was up all night with a fever, and feel pretty crappy in all the ways. I decided to use my ‘sick day’ to come down to my studio and make art. Ya know. Just like, turn off my phone and dive in. 
Then I found this. It’s a Czech bible or prayer book. I purchased it on Resslova Street in Prague a couple years ago, then tucked it away for a rainy day. I forgot about it til today. 


Oh my heart. 


It’s been a super successful arty day already in spite of body aches (ugh). I’ve made some amazing new stuff, so I’m gonna shut off the world for a few days and make some more art. 
Maybe like, a week. I need this. I’ve been spinning my wheels and lemme tell ya, there’s nothing better than a mixed media cocktail to make it alllllll better.

Too ...

erin faith allen

Too female to be a military historian.

 
Too pretty to actually be smart.

Too artsy to be a historian in general.

Too emotional to be objective.

Too ‘dark’ to be ‘marketable’.

Too American.

Too girly.

Too skinny.

Too wrinkly. 
Too curvy.

Too sexy.


Too blonde.

Too vocal.

Too liberal.

Too conservative.

Too sensitive.

Too indulgent.

Too evocative.

Too provocative.

Too willing to go ‘there’. Too diversified.

Too much.

Too little.

Too everything. ***Actually though, I’m just me.*** I am who I am.

With or without your permission.

Liberators

texas liberators erin faith allen

On the left: Bill Kongable, who liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp. 
On the right: Chick Havey, who liberated Dachau. 
They were honored today at the Holocaust Museum of Houston. Those medals you see were placed around their necks by Holocaust survivors who wore their gratitude with beaming hearts and smiles.
Nine survivors. Four liberators. A room full of people in awe of time marching on, and palpably honored to be in the presence of some of history’s most important players.

I get so close to my art ...

Ravensbrück art

I get really super close to my art. Like, we kinda become one. Like synonyms, or symbiotic organisms.

I suppose that’s true for all artists, right? Full throttle saturation is kinda inherent in what we do. 
How much of yourself do you give to your creative expression? 
Or your *anything*? Do you give a little? 
Do you give a lot?

Or do you just kinda float and flit? 
Take what you can and give enough to just get by?

I’ve done that, too. But it eventually sucks. Things dry the eff up. People leave. (Why would they stay?!) Shit just wears out and everything falls flat.

We’ve all been on all sides of that coin. 
Here’s the amazing thing about life: we can dive back into full absorption, full presence, full beingness, full givingness at any time. 
If we sucked yesterday, we can be awesome today.

True story.

I’m gonna choose awesome today. What about you?
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This is a painting based on the women of Ravensbrück concentration camp. I have a lot to say about that place, and these women.

Ravensbrück and the Schwedtsee

ravensbrück and the schwedtsee

One year ago today I was in the middle of my week spent researching at Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. 

I think a part of me is still there. 

I’m standing on the edge of the camp, with the crematorium just behind me; it is so close I feel it’s phantom fires hissing on my neck. 

In the distance you can see the steeple of the church in the neighboring village. 

From the church you can see the chimney of Ravensbrück’s crematorium.

Below is an excerpt from my book about the camp, and the lake on it’s shore:

We drive north from Sachsenhausen, through the pleasant little town of Fürstenberg and along the road that winds beside the Schwedtsee, the lake Fürstenberg shares with Ravensbrück. We turn right at the KZ Ravensbrück sign and go up the road until a fork splits off; we take another right. There the road turns to cobbles that bump and jiggle your body as you drive over them. 

The bump and jiggle are dark souvenirs of a road laid in winter by bare-fingered women. They were among the first prisoners who arrived at Ravensbrück in 1939, months before Germany began its invasions of other countries. Thick walls of trees rise as we pass the Soviet tank on the left, positioned as a memorial for the liberators of the camp and a stoic reminder of the scope of world war. Fragile remains of pitch-roofed SS barracks are nearly swallowed by overgrowth. And still, the bump and jiggle.

………………………………………………

Some survivors have said the Schwedtsee was used as a dumping ground for the ashes from the crematorium. There are historians who dispute that claim, saying that couldn’t have been a regular occurrence because the wind constantly blows everything back to the western edge, where Ravensbrück sprawls, and the ashes would have blown right back onto the thrower and returned to the shore. It has also been said the Germans would not have contaminated their own water in such a way. 

Either way, an estimated fifty thousand women died at Ravensbrück, often at the hands of the female guards, and many of their bodies were burned in the crematorium. After the war, a pit of ash was discovered just a short walk from the shore of the Schwedtsee, in front of the camp wall. It has been turned into a bed of roses in memoriam.

You can read more about my book HERE.

You can see the visual journal I created at and after Ravensbruck HERE.

Berlin

 

This video was taken a year ago today, exactly. In Berlin. 

I’m standing on the site of my ancestors’ home, listening to the bells of the Berliner Dom, seen in the background. My ancestral home was destroyed by Allied bombs in the war.

Four months later I would return, in the dead of winter (and in the dead of myself, truth be told) to research and write my book ‘The In Between’

Below is an excerpt from my book. It’s a stream-of-consciousness love letter to Berlin, written in a hotel room somewhere along the way: 

......................

Berlin and I are two peas in a pod. 

She has her scars, I have mine. 

Together we rise up from the past with a fierce gentleness easily taken for granted. 

Underneath the glistening architecture, the pulse of trauma beats. Self-inflicted wounds mingle with monsters. 

Fire-bombs and bullet holes pierce the skin of Berlin, but like Persephone she’s risen again. 

Berlin. 

Layered with darkness, crimes, and penance. Holy with the whores of resilience.

Coming home to herself after decades of lingering lostness ... tossed in between lines of time marching on, and beyond. 

Berlin is reinvention, eternally, in a city with skin.

Berlin.

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Dablice, Prague, Heydrich, and the Parachutists

The ground at Dablice is holy. 


And at the same time it is rather unholy. 


Here, headless, lay buried the seven heroes who fought the SS in the crypt and in the loft of a church on Resslova Street in Prague.

They were in hiding among the ancient bones and bibles after their plot to assassinate SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich worked out in the end, and the tyrant died of sepsis from his wounds.


Between the time of death of the Obergruppenführer and that of the heroes in the crypt, the town of Lidice was razed in one of several acts of retaliation. Its inhabits were shot, gassed, or sent off to a camp. 


But back to the church, and the bones, and the bibles, and the Nazis, and the brave parachutists who died there.

 Those men lay here, in this mass grave under or near where I stand in silent worship of their heroism. Among them are other Czechs executed for their roles in the assassination.

Mingling in eternal sleep, or eternal decomposition, or eternal juxtaposition with them all however, are the bodies of the men who ordered their death, and the traitor who betrayed their location to the Gestapo and the SS.

Unholy and holy. All at once. 


I write much more about this layered story in my book ‘The In Between’.

dablice

Why ...

erin faith allen

I am committed to telling the stories of history: my own as it unfolds, and the stories of the humans who lived before me. 


Why?

All stories connect, heal, and teach. We have to reach into ourselves to be worthy of telling them OR receiving the lessons they offer. 


The stories reach into us while whispering - sometimes quite loudly - a longing to be told. They can’t just be told, though. The teller has to fall all the way in. Feel it. Breathe it. Become it.

The stories, when received fully, strip us bare and invite us to gaze at our own naked reflection. Who are you *really*, they ask. What will you *do*, truly. Where are you *going*, actually.

Doing the telling or the receiving requires a symbiotic relationship of depth, honesty, and growth.

Connection. Healing. Teaching. Reaching. Depth. Honesty. Growth. That’s powerful stuff. And I know I can bring these ingredients to the table of humanity.

Soul-searching is my thing. Because of it, I am certain of what I am able to contribute in a time of uncertainty.

What about you? What qualities or characteristics are you certain of within yourself? What are the ingredients you can / do / will contribute to humanity?

prague castle and heydrich

heydrich and prague castle

Silhouette of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich at Prague Castle. 

Little did he know that he would eventually die in a chain reaction of sepsis, horsehair, a handmade bomb, and a small yet fierce handful of parachutists.

Architect of the Holocaust. Brutalizer of humans. Dead.

And the price the Czechs paid? It’s quite a story.

I write about this multifaceted and dramatic sequence of events in ‘The In Between’.

Crimes Unspoken, by Miriam Gebhardt

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In my book ‘The In Between’ I write briefly about the crimes against the German (and Eastern European) women, which is a bit of a taboo topic. It’s a tough one, and one that I have been deeply curious about - and disturbed by - for years.

If you follow my work you know that I study, research, and make art about the Germans of WW2. I am massively fascinated with the full range of German experiences leading up to, during, and after the war.

Why? Because they were just like us, then suddenly (or not so) there was a fascist government and all hell broke loose.

I read memoirs written by German soldiers and German Jews. I read about the various elements of the Nazi party. I read about the concentration camp system and its sickening myriad of prisoners. I read whatever I can find about the Germans of that time - and I read about the women.

I’ve spoken with historians about the mass rapes, and I’ve heard varying answers, none of which quenched my curiosity. Perhaps I’ll find some answers in this book.

Why on earth would I read this? One of the reasons is because women always pay a high price for war, but nobody ever talks about it. I applaud the author of this book (before even cracking it open), Miriam Gebhardt, and my thoughts will spend a little time now with the women whose stories fill its pages.

Remembrance is an important factor in ensuring no facet of this horrible war ever happens again.

 

Dresden, Germany

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(Photograph of Dresden. Taken in April 2017.)

This morning I swiped through thousands of my own photographs taken on various research trips through Europe. Not sure why, really.

Dresden, in Germany, is a city I visited for a few hours last year, on a day trip from Prague. 
There is a hush in Dresden that sounds like 25,000 last-gasps for breath. That’s the estimated number of civilians killed by Allied bombing raids in 1945.

Here’s the truth: I’ve been considering stepping away from my years of work with WW2. Walking in another direction to something less heavy, more palatable.

 Looking through my largely-untouched photos made me feel a massive rush of emotion I can’t put into words. I bawled like a baby. Memories of personal encounters with geography, history and humanity / inhumanity took me from the outside in. So many stories I have yet to tell ... and even more than that waiting for my discovery.

History has chosen me. There is an intensity where geography and human memory intersect with history, and they sing through me. 

Decision made. 

Heels dug in. Tenacity on full tilt. In it to win it.

I’m not going anywhere ... anywhere but here: Dresden. Every other bomb and artillery scarred city in this worldwide war. The camps. The beaches. The forests. The Gestapo headquarters. The historian’s offices. The living rooms of veterans and survivors. 

With my camera, my notebook, my paintbrush. My heart. My soul. 

This is where I belong.

Details of Mein Herz / Kein Herz

Time to get up-close and personal.

Here are a few zoomy-zooms of my painting ‘Mein Herz / Kein Herz’ (that’s My Heart / No Heart in English).

It sold yesterday, and is in its new home.

This large painting is heavily layered with mixed media processes and collage.

The main source of inspiration was a stack of letters written by a German Wehrmacht soldat, or soldier, to his girlfriend during WW2.

You can read more about this painting OVER HERE.

I forever learn from the Germans of that era about the complexities and toxicities that, left unattended, can collectively contribute to worldwide despair.

mein herz kein herz
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mein herz kein herz
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mein herz kein herz

Life, Uncensored ::: Two

Matt and Inka and I are diggers. We go to Latvia and volunteer to search for and recover soldiers MIA from WW1 and WW2. 

Matt sent a photo over to me and I worked my inspiration from it into a mixed media painting for him. In the photo are Inka, Matt, and Matt's brother in law Ken - who I haven't had the pleasure of meeting but as part of the Legenda family he's guaranteed gold. 

I also gleaned inspiration from an original image of Wehrmacht soldiers from WW2. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m obsessed with humans and our stories, passionate about finding the common threads we all share. 

These men - all six of the above - have taught me in their various ways what it means to be a human being. There’s nothing more insta-inspo than that for me.

Working on this piece for Matt was a sweet experience because Matt and Inka are my buddies forever and ever ... plus the soldiers we recover live in my heart.

Cool side fact: the Wehrmacht buttons I stitch into this piece were given to me by Inka, who sent them to me a year or so ago. He dug them out of the earth with his own hands after seven long decades spent hidden in Norwegian dirt. They are part of my massive collection of wartime relics, photos, and documents.  

There's all kindsa full circle here. Watch my secon installment of Life, Uncensored to find out more. 

To find out more about my work with Legenda and the missing soldiers, read my book: The In Between.

You can watch a short film about my first experience in the forests of Latvia with Legenda HERE.

I made a second short film on my research trip for The In Between. You can watch it HERE