Come We Grow
Last Friday, the 31st of October, saw the marking of a number of occasions. The date has special significance for a number of cultures anyway, and not just for connotations of plastic masks, glow-in-the-dark teeth and threatening (or is it cajoling?) your neighbours for sweets. On top of this, it was also the day of Come We Grow, which I had the pleasure of being involved in.
What is Come We Grow?
Last week’s event, held at the Wheatsheaf Hall in Vauxhall, South London, was celebrating the release of ‘Fear of a Green Planet’, the new EP from KMT. He is the co-founder of the May Project Gardens in Morden, which combine an interesting mix of permaculture garden and community and music studio where people from all walks of life can go and record.
KMT (his artist name: he introduced himself to me as KMT Ian) seems to have equally strong roots in both hip-hop rap and permaculture. An example of how these perhaps sometimes seemingly incongruous themes come together is KMT’s ‘bling’: from a distance, a large, chunky silver necklace such as may be fashionable among trendy rappers (though I won’t pretend to know about these things). As you get closer, however, it becomes clear that the necklace has been made up of recycled ring-pull tabs.
Celebrations of Growing
The workshop I was running at Come We Grow focusses on our identification with culture, and indeed what it means to be a part of an existing or emerging culture. In line with this, the subject of Halloween came up; and we explored the significance of this celebration as seen by the people present. To help facilitate discussions we had a pumpkin with us, which got participants talking of carving and of fancy dress. We ended up exploring the idea that many Halloween traditions which are common now in UK culture are based on commercial gain rather than actual cultural ties. When asked if anyone knew of any deeper Halloween traditions no one could say. I was quite surprised at this, though it could have been that simply people were getting tired. I decided to share my reasons for celebrating this date, which I shall summarise here too.
Halloween is a later name for one of the eight important pagan celebrations held throughout the year. Each are chosen according to how much light there is rather than a particular numbered day. At the longest and shortest days we have, respectively, the Summer and Winter Solstices, and in between these, when the day and night become equal in length, are the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. Then in between each of these days are four more celebrations, “cross-quarter” days in the middle of the others, when change is in the air and, as many traditions believe, the world of magic and of spirits is closer to our own.
These four ‘in between’ festivals can be seen as the most potent times of year, and though pagan and Celtic traditions have been somewhat forgotten in this country, are still celebrated by people nowadays, though possibly as more of a revival than a continuation, since so much of our traditions were totally lost. The eight festivals are listed at the bottom of this article with the “cross-quarterly”, or (as some feel) more magical, ones, in bold, and the one which corresponds to Halloween is known as Samhain (pronounced “sa-ween”).
For me, Halloween is about the celebration of this time of change, of the light and dark in their eternal dance, and the seasons turning towards the chill of winter. Though I have found the Pagan calendar to be of use in my own personal celebration-marking, I am by no means exclusively bound by it and have researched many other traditions of this day too, taking from them the meanings which suit me. In some cultures this is a time for honouring the dead, such as with the Mexican celebration of El Dia de Los Muertos (see for example 2), and I feel this is important not just for remembering whichever friends or relatives you know who have passed on, but also with a consideration of your ancestors and all those who have gone before you, and what they have given to you.
It certainly made an interesting accompaniment to the seedbomb making, which was the actual practical aim of my workshop. Even our younger friends, who let’s face it were only really there to play with mud and clay, seemed vaguely interested in our Halloween explorations.
Later on, as the night truly began drawing in and the faint flutter of otherworldy beings to flick in and out of our peripheral hearing (well ok, it may have been the kettle boiling in the cafe), we witnessed the Welcoming Ceremony of the evening. In order to give the attendants a proper welcome, Come We Grow actually had a Shamanic Celebrant to help us all get into the right mood. Aama Sade Shepneki (2), the Celebrant, has a grace and presence which is quite notable, even when she is not speaking. When she began the ceremony, playing a djembe to raise everyone’s energy levels, there was more than one person present with goosepimples.
She also mentioned the importance of Samhain and how, as she puts it, “the veil is thinner” at this time of year. She says it is a time for drawing in our energy and storing up our reserves in preparation for the cold season; a synchronicity with my explorations of the symbolism of the pumpkin and all of the good food which it represents. She says it is also a time for reflection on what we have achieved and meditation on what we are planning.
For anyone who may, too, have been trying to start something new over the past couple of weeks and been repeatedly flummoxed by it, these seem helpful words to remember.
Hip hop permaculture
Following the Welcome, KMT gave an introduction by singing one of his rap songs; a history of the May Project Gardens. The chorus is “planting little seeds every day/ watching the world just change” (3) and as he wandered around the hall he gave out actual seeds to accompany the song.
Having a keen interest in both music and permaculture, it was inspiring to see such heartfelt and passionate art being performed right in front of me. I suppose I lost interest a little in combining my two hobbies after hearing some of the tepidly whimsical songs which have come out related to permaculture. KMT has helped to reignite that interest. It is so clear now: just because we care about the planet and about each other, doesn’t mean we also can’t make music with raw energy and soul.
Another key benefit of the musical aspect of May Project Gardens is that it can help foster connections with so many more people than a simple permaculture project. Many people have never heard of permaculture but a lot of people, especially in South London, have heard of hip hop. Perhaps they come to the May Project just to make music, which is fine. But maybe while they are there they get a tour of the gardens, and end up deciding to help out there, or to recreate some or other aspect of the gardens in their own lives.
All in all, a highly inspirational event, and I look forward to participating in future Growing celebrations.
- UNESCO, 2014. ‘Indigenous Festivity Dedicated to the Dead’. http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/RL/00054 – retrieved 09/11/14
- Tree Circle Ceremonies, 2014. ‘About’. http://www.treecircleceremonies.co.uk/ – retrieved 09/11/14
- KMT Freedom Teacher, 2014. ‘Little Seeds’. http://kmtfreedomteacher.bandcamp.com/track/little-seeds – retrieved 09/11/14
The Eight Festivals in the Wheel of the Year
The festivals have different names according to different traditions but I am familiar with their Gaelic names (so good luck saying them correctly because I don’t think I do):
– Midwinter or Winter Solstice – around December 21st. shortest day of the year
– Imbolc – pronounced “i-molk” – around February 2nd. In between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox
– Ostara or Spring Equinox – around 21 March. New Year – days become longer than nights
– Beltane – pronounced “bel-tain” – around May 1st. In between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice
– Midsummer or Sumer Solstice – around June 21st. longest day of the year
– Lammas or Lughnasadh – pronounced “lu-na-sa” – around August 2nd. Traditionally beginning of harvest; in between Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox
– Mabon or Autumn Equinox – around September 21st. Nights become longer than days
– Samhain – pronounced “sa-ween” – around October 31st. in between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice