The Old Ways are lost...
It's an odd name. I know it. Even when I finally decided on it, with all of its importance and meaning to me, I still wasn't sure. Old Ways Leather. I'd tell people and get blank responses and "huh..." in return.
But I went for it anyway. Put money into the name. Bought business cards, web domains, even (finally) a maker's mark. So I guess it's time to explain it.
Let's get the elephant (owl?) in the room out of the way. The acronym for Old Ways Leather played a big role in finally deciding on this name. Those of you who know me know that my better half loves birds—particularly sea birds and birds of prey. Having a name that meant something to the woman who has been my partner and support through so much of this life was important to me.
Moreover, owls have had meaning and merit in many cultures the world over. They are bringers of death but also bearers of wisdom. Some cultures saw them as omens of danger, others as signs of protection. To me, adopting the owl as a symbol brings an air of mysticism and antiquity to the work I create.
But there's more to it than that. The phrase 'old ways' has always struck a cord with me since my earliest memories. I've narrowed down this connection to three specific references. So, in no particular order, let's take a wander down the my old ways...
Music. If you asked most of my current friends they'd tell you I listen to metal music. Some might even be able to tell you I like specifically European symphonic metal. Others might tell you I like bluegrass... or Scottish and Irish music... almost no one would mention James Taylor, John Denver, Dan Fogelberg, and the like. All of these things are true. But one artist that goes back to my earliest days is Loreena McKennitt, and I still listen to her music every night as I fall asleep.
To those of you who know her music and have seen my artwork, it won't be hard to draw this connection. Both her music and my work have been heavily influenced by the remnants of the ancient people we now refer to as the Celts. Celtic knot work and symbolism hold a prominent place in much of my work.
My favorite of McKennitt's work is the song 'The Old Ways'.
This brings us to the first specific reference. To me, the title line from the song stands out from the rest:
"The Old Ways are lost, you sang as you flew, and I wondered why..."
This line has always struck me with a feeling of profound loss for things, times, memories, and peoples we can never get back.
Film. Reference two is from a more modern source, one even I sometimes find a little silly. However, it conveys the same feeling of loss... of the inexorable press of time. In what can politely be referred to as the 'cult classic' film 13th Warrior, you hear the phrase again. "You will not see this again, it is the Old Way..." explains Melchisidek (Omar Sharif) to main character Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas) as a tribe of northern warriors set alight a Viking longship during the burial of their king.
13th Warrior may be a b-grade movie at best, but I've created tons of good memories with friends and siblings... I've also lost more memories than I care to admit playing the legendary 13th Warrior drinking game (you can contact me for the rules).
Not to cheapen this post with drunken stories, this movie teaches the importance of loyalty across—and in spite of—cultures and religions. 13th Warrior is about seeing through your task to the end, whatever that end may be, with whoever will stand by your side. It is about finishing that which you set out to accomplish. It is common ground and humanity.
Literature. By far the oldest source of inspiration for Old Ways Leather comes from a book series from the 60s and 70s. 'The Dark is Rising' by Susan Cooper chronicles the epic fight of Light against Darkness. It is a story of tenacity, as all that is good in human nature battles against all that is evil.
My parents read these books aloud to me and my siblings as children, and I still read them quite regularly as an adult. They are so ingrained in our memories that my older brother once remarked that the words of Will Stanton—one of the primary heroes of the series—sound like our mother's voice in his head when he reads.
In the series, Will Stanton is born the last of the Old Ones. The Old Ones are protectors of the Light and humanity who find their greatest strength and security when traversing the Old Ways, ancient paths that have been walked through fen and field since the dawn of time.
Will's task as the youngest of the Old Ones is to seek out ancient artifacts crafted in forgotten times to aid in the eventual conflict of Light against Dark. These include the Six Signs—circles quartered by a cross—shaped from wood, bronze, iron, fire, water, and stone. (If this symbol looks familiar to those of you who know me, next time we sit down for a drink ask me about my wrist tattoo.)
Other artifacts collected by the agents of the Light in the series include the Grail, the Harp of Gold, and Pendragon's Sword from Arthurian legend.
To me, the lesson from these collected stories of music, film, and literature is two-fold. On the one hand, there is nothing we can do to stop the constant press and change that comes with time. On the other, in all times the ability of humanity to create items of function and beauty is what sets us apart. To lose creativity is to lose that which makes us human.
So it comes to this... Old Ways Leather. To me, this name speaks of a connection to the present and the past. I believe that as we become more disconnected and separated from the need (and thereby the ability) to craft and create—for pleasure and for survival—we lose the spark and the light that makes us what we are... human.
The Old Ways. Functional art, designed with purpose. The Old Ways mean creating by hand items and objects that are intended to stand the test of time... all the more important in this cheapening plastic-filled world. The Old Ways are not lost.... not if there are those who remember them... not if there are those who strive to create things that last.
Now go get your hands dirty. Make something. It matters.
-Nate Higgs, Old Ways Leather