First values 4: the magic of animals


As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic;


the fertility of the soil,

the magic of animals,

the power-vision in solitude,

the terrifying initiation and rebirth;

the love and ecstasy of the dance,

the common work of the tribe.


Gary Snyder, American born 1930, in Earth House Hold, 1969





The head is that of the Egyptian cat goddess Bast; the body of the Graeco-Roman Artemis.



Both are hunters.  Both are associated with fertility and protection.




This being a sculpture created in the United States, there is an interpretation of the meaning of this sculpture that relates to the fraught question of race relations.





Notably that the artist is reminding viewers that north American Euro-centrism forgets that there are civilizations in Africa whose divinities are as old and as potent as the Olympians.




This sculpture is very striking. It is shocking.




I found a woman on her knees – almost in genuflection – scribbling and scribbling in a small notebook when I entered the room. 


When she saw me, she began to speak to me urgently in a near whisper. 


She had been overwhelmed by the juxtaposition  of head and body;  by the contrast of white and black;

by the sacrilege and daring and violence of an artist who understands that we create our gods.





This, I thought, is a representation of the magic of animals.


We don’t, many of us, recall the name ‘Bast’.  We may or may not know who Artemis is (was).


The gods, however, began taking their leave in the ‘West’ at the Enlightenment and have all but evaporated (in the ‘West’).


This sculpture reminds us that animals pre-existed the gods. And that our attachment to them has survived – in the ‘West’ – our belief in gods.


Many of us have our own totemic animals. Millions carry tattoos as the signs of their devotion.





We all know those who think more highly of cats than they do of their own species. 

They share sense-language with their cats and believe them to have supra-human emotional intelligence.


We do not understand these qualities of cats – dogs, also. 


We would call them magical but the Enlightenment, having poured scorn over our religions, also trained us to be  suspicious of the idea of magic. 


But we know better.




Artemis / Bast, 1992, plaster, pedestal,

Fred Wilson, American born 1954. Private collection on loan in 2022 to the Baltimore Museum of Art