Tag Archives: appreciation

Rising Phoenix: Magic and Art at Europe’s largest Fire Festival

All photos by David Ashwanden – for more see his Phoenix flickr album here

Last week I had the pleasure of joining the volunteer team at what is probably Europe’s largest gathering of fire performers, the Phoenix Fire Convention in Germany (1). Having worked as a fire performer and been involved in the circus community for the past few years I thought I kind of knew what I was getting into. Yet nothing could have prepared me for what I found at the Phoenix festival – magic, deep connection and lots of amazing skills.

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Setting up The Fire Space

What does fire mean?

It is all around us nowadays – from the man walking by you in the street lighting his cigarette to the somewhat tamed flames of the circuits sparking inside the machine on which you are reading these words – and sometimes it can be easy to forget the raw vitality of this most elementary power. Yet fire is today as dangerous to touch as it was for our Promethean ancestors, and though we may feel we have trained it to do our will, a visit to any dry country in the summertime could swiftly show you that we are by no means always in control.

 

What does Phoenix mean?

The legend of the phoenix originates in Ancient Greece, though as a mythological symbol it has counterparts in many cultures (2), as do many of our most profound societal symbols (3). It is generally described as a large, beautiful bird with lustrous red or purple feathers (etymologically, ‘phoenix’ stems from the Greek word for ‘purple’, a colour associated with fire and the sunrise) (4), which burns on the fire and dies but is re-born from the ashes of the same fire. As a symbol of a fire festival, then, it is pretty apt.  However, the fire-bird is more than a symbol – it is actually an integral part of the festival. Every night at dusk the Phoenix, a large metal sculpture, was ceremonially set alight. Only when it had burned completely did the fire space of the festival, a large carpeted area which at its capacity could safely host around 30 fire performers at a time, open.

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Setting the Phoenix Alight

The ritual nature of this helped to set a tone of respect and mutual appreciation. Many of us play with fire on a weekly or even daily basis and from watching some of the people in the fire space it was clear that more than a few feel totally at home when surrounded by flames.  This familiarity, however, perhaps makes it all the more important to remember what we are playing with and to accord it the respect it deserves.  The phoenix-burning ceremony was a beautiful way to represent this.

Sacred Space

Preparation of sacred space to show the importance of an activity is something which can help a lot in directing focus and attention on one’s actions, on the present moment and on appreciating what the world is giving to us. This by no means needs to be religious; but there are many aspects of modern Western culture which can be seen to be lacking this appreciation and sared-isation. Luckily, this lack means there is space for the creation of new ceremonies and placement of new importance on places and events. As a volunteer helping to set up the fire space at the Phoenix, I was part of a team of people who helped to turn a piece of dusty, stony ground into a smooth, carpeted dance-space. The care and attention going into this was emphasised by the fact that the festival hired a group dedicated to fire-space preparation to organise it, who are named very aptly The Fire Space (5).

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Setting up the Fire Space.

This is something I have actually done before though not on such a grand scale, and though not everyone may use the word ‘sacred’ to describe the activity, it was done with such care, attention and love that there doesn’t appear, to me, to be a difference (for more on my definitions of ‘sacred’ and on the importance of sacred space see my article here) (5).

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Feel like you don’t have your own ‘sacred space’? Maybe you can create one…Photo by David Ashwanden

What does convention mean?

Altogether there ended up being around 800 attendees at the convention: jugglers, spinners, sculptors, whippers, people who could move their bodies in ways I’d not dreamed possible before and of course, people bringing many many examples of fire-toys, from places as diverse as Denmark, Costa Rica, Canada, Australia, Spain and many others, even Wales.

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Fire swords in the pre-dawn light.

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LED toys in the ‘Blacklight Space’.

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Spinning with the gigantically impressive ‘Triplengs’.

Each day of the convention was filled with workshops so that we could learn more about the skills we already have or pick up an entirely new skill if we wanted. More importantly than these learnings, however, seems to be the gathering together of people who share the same passions, which seems to accelerate learning even if there is no formal teaching.

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The magic of gathering together.

The location of the festival was in the beautiful Thuringia hills, and it seems indicative of the friendliness and welcoming attitude of the conventioners that on the Saturday night, hundreds of local villagers came to see the Gala show and join in a little bit themselves.

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One of the Gala Show comperes: Pete the Witch Doctor.

Even the weather was appropriate, with burning hot sun every day of the festival, which finally broke into an awesome lightning storm on the evening of the final day, as the Phoenix was carefully cleared away.

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Even the sky was playing with fire.

Flames of Earth

Our human society is full of fire, you can even say it is built on fire. There are many aspects of the way in which we use fire which can be seen as massively destructive, even if they do seem to provide us with convenient things such as means of travel or communication. One reason why we may be causing so much self-destruction, as explored by Abram (7) and others, is our lack of connection to the beauty and power of fire and its symbolic equivalence within the burning of our own spirits. With this in mind it seems clear that a step towards responsible use of the earth’s resources is recognition of the sacred art which we can create with it, and which it always possible to create with it. That is not to say that fire performers are not using the Earth’s resources, but we are tapping into the raw energy of the fire in a way in which you may not consider when you, for example, take a ride on a bus. Is this recognition and love part of creating a re-considered use of resources? Perhaps.

One final tradition of the festival was that everyone who attended was given a tiny corked bottle on a string. Into this we put a small amount of the ashes from the burned phoenix. Next year, the phoenix can only rise again with the help of the returning festival-goers, who can contribute the ash it needs for the rebirth.

As if we needed another incentive to come back…

Do you enjoy these photos? For many more from the convention, check out David Ashwanden’s flickr album here.

References

  1. Phoenix Convention, 2016. ‘Homepage’. http://phoenix-convention.de/
  2. Garry, Jane; El-Shamy, Hasan, 2005. Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature. ME Sharpe: New York City.
  3. Van der Broek, R, 1972. The Myth of the Phoenix. Seeger I trans. EJ Brill: Leidon/Boston/Tokyo.
  4. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero With a Thousand Faces.  Pantheon: New York City
  5. Fire Space, 2016. ‘Fire Space Project’. https://www.facebook.com/FireSpaceProject/?pnref=lhc
  6. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Sacred Spaces’. Abundance Garden, 3/3/2015. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/sacred-spaces/
  7. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage: New York City

 

 

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The EU Referendum: Towards a Global Citizenship?

On Thursday (23 June 2016) the citizens of the United Kingdom voted on whether or not they wish to be part of the European Union in a referendum (1). The results of the referendum, as well as the media portrayal of events leading up to and following it, have thrown up some interesting questions of identity and what it means to be united. Though much analysis of these questions focuses on the political aspects of the EU and the UK as a state, it could also be important to consider the wider implications when it comes to travelling in general, and what it actually means to be a citizen in today’s world.

United!….Are We?

Geographically, the referendum results have thrown into clear contrast the idea of the United Kingdom being one nation-state. Though most of England voted to leave the EU (1), the majority of Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay in (1), suggesting a lack of unity within the ‘United’ Kingdom. However, if Scotland and Northern Ireland become their own nation-states, independent of English law, the major English cities will probably wish to follow, having all voted to stay in the EU, so we could end up with six or seven new EU member states, including the country of London (which may raise some logistical questions of how the politics of England would function without the Houses of Parliament and all of the bureaucratic institutions which are based in London, but surely just a little re-organisation is needed).

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Photo by David Ashwanden

Considering our movements

One issue which seems to have been central to the referendum is the idea of ‘immigrants’ coming into the EU (see for example 2). Those voting to leave the EU may well have been doing so in order to stop more people entering Britain as an immigrant. However, there are an estimated 1.2 million British-born people currently living in other EU states (3) whose right to reside in such countries could potentially be compromised by the referendum results. If those who voted ‘remain’ were hoping to limit the number of people entering the UK, they may wish to consider these 1.2 million.

The right to travel 

It is difficult to tell what effect the referendum will have on a practical level for people who live in Britain or who have been officially designated British. However, in many ways the results seem to be throwing into clear relief the irrelevance of such official designations. How can we identify with England if we live in Italy or Spain, and England wishes to close its borders to these countries? Furthermore, in today’s increasingly connected and multicultural, multi-perspective world, what does it mean to identify with a nation-state? It is perhaps easier to feel an identity, for example, with a person who was born in a country on the other side of the globe, but who likes the same bands as you, than to your next-door neighbour who bangs on the wall every time you play their music too loud. Then there is the more holistic idea that we are all related and that a deep respect for the world around us- the trees, the mountains, the flowers, and all our fellow animals- is resonant wherever we are in the globe and whichever side of a political line we happen to be on.

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Mountains – the same, whichever nation they have been designated a part of. Photo by David Ashwanden.

The flowers, after all, do not need a passport to travel. As someone who has lived for extended periods in the mountains I was refreshingly amazed to find, on my first ever visit to the mountains of Abruzzo in central Italy, many of the same plant species as I experienced in the Sierra Nevada, thousands of kilometres away in a different so-called nation, as well as in my own native land. The plants flourish in an environment which is conducive to biodiversity, creating a resilient network of abundant life. Different from plants as we may be, it does not take too much of a leap of imagination to analogise this to humans.

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Mountain Flowers. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

International imports but no freedom to leave?

The idea that we have the right to roam and flourish on the earth while respecting it is an ancient one, and as an increasingly global society one which it may well be important to recognise. Many people are upset, angry or scared about the outcome of the referendum – which emotions do seem to be being encouraged by media outlets – but what the referendum perhaps is really showing is that it doesn’t matter which nation or group of nations you supposedly belong to. From this perspective it is not so important to join one or other identifying group but to identify yourself as a global citizen, someone who has every right to live in the world and to freely move around it. This is what I believe we are moving towards as an international society, whatever the so-called ruling governments may say.

Official recognition and doing it anyway

Yet how can we apply this holistic citizenship on a practical level? Maybe it is easier than you think. In Britain there already exist laws enshrining the rights of so-called ‘travellers’ (4), although not many of them are followed in practise. For example, the fact that ‘travellers’ are recognised as a distinct section of society is shown in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, under which councils can provide special traveller’s sites for caravans and mobile homes, although “not many public authorities do so” (4).

What appears to be clear is that if a group of people really believe that they have the right to do something, then this right exists, regardless of the law.  This can be shown in many examples; one clear one of the law catching up to what the people had decided was right is with many indigenous tribes in what is now known as the USA, who have a deep cultural relationship to the ingestion of peyote cactus which has been developing over thousands of years, and whose right to use this sacred plant was recognised in 1965 by 28 different Federal governments even though they still currently ban all other people from eating peyote (5).

What does it mean for me?

What does this have to do with being a British or other citizen? Simply that it illustrates that if you really think something should be a certain way then it can be. If taking peyote in sacred rituals is recognised as an act of religious freedom, then why shouldn’t travelling around the world and finding a home wherever you feel comfortable, regardless of the lines on the map? The indigenous American tribes are respectful of the sacred nature of the peyote and this respect can extend out to the entire world. This is how we could approach the new global citizenship: we are not simply travellers but conscious movers; every step we take is careful and everywhere we go we can recognise the beauty and the goodness present, even in cultural gestures or landscapes which may at first appear ugly. We accept that everyone’s ideas are valid, which includes all the border games and everything they entail, just in the way that indigenous tribes may well respect the laws banning other people from using their sacred plant in disrespectful ways, though as citizens of a unified and sacred planet we are exempt from such games.

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All of our ways can be beautiful. Photo by David Ashwanden.

The previous statements are simply ideas; seeds which can be taken and planted if you have the right conditions to nurture them. Whatever effects the EU referendum ends up having, we can use it as a starting point for moving beyond mere simple ideas of nationalism or groups of nations. Wherever you travel, either virtually using your computer screen or physically sensing this wonderful planet around you, remember that the “lovers of ultimate beauty” (6) can be found everywhere. The more we realise this the more we can move forwards towards a recognition of travelling as a sacred right….

…Well it is, right?

References

  1. The Guardian, 2016. ‘EU Referendum: Results and Analysis’. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2016/jun/23/eu-referendum-live-results-and-analysis
  2. Asthana, A, 2016. ‘Immigration and the EU referendum: the angry, frustrated voice of the British public’. The Guardian, 20/6/16. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/20/seven-towns-one-story-referendum-voters-say-too-many-foreigners
  3. Migration Watch UK, 2016. ‘The British in Europe – and vice versa’. http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefing-paper/354
  4. Law on the Web, 2016. ‘Rights of Travellers’. https://www.lawontheweb.co.uk/legal-help/rights-of-travellers
  5. Legal Information Institute, 2016. ’42 U.S. Code § 1996a – Traditional Indian religious use of peyote’. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/1996a
  6. Gogol Bordello, 2007. ‘Wonderlust King’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3SUPPeuRdU

Intoxicating Words: Ideas for changes in language to promote positive evolution of humanity

With thanks to David Ashwanden

As explored elsewhere in this blog (1, 2), words are very powerful things. There are some which ignite such emotions and polarise opinions so greatly that it can be dangerous to use them in certain company. One example of this is the word ‘drug’. Such a small word, yet one which has been massively controversial for many decades. There are many so-called ‘drugs’ which have been deemed as inappropriate for general societal use by the lawmakers and which have subsequently gained huge amounts of support for legalisation. In particular, entheogenic or psychoactive substances such as, but not limited to, LSD, psilocybin and cannabis have been the subject of much debate.

Turn on, tune in…?

Right now, it could be argued, there has never been more reason to be interested in how things affect our minds, and how we can utilise them in a beneficial way. Although so-called ‘psychedelic’ or ‘mind-manifesting’ plant and fungi-based materials have been used by humans for thousands if not tens of thousands of years in order to enhance our human experience and connection to the world around us (see for example 3, 4), and it has been almost a century since LSD-25 was first isolated by Albert Hoffman (5), research into how LSD and similarly acting substances can affect the human mind was stifled for many decades (6) and has only recently gained a resurgence (7).

Much evidence suggests that as long as humans have had culture we have also had a deep and often sacred relationship with plants and fungi which can affect our minds in powerful ways (see for example 3, 4); yet today we are also actually gathering more and more scientific evidence on why this is so, and why such substances play a key part in our lives. This includes the latest studies at Imperial College London which show, using state-of-the-art scanning technology, what our brains look like when we ingest LSD (8), and also this past weekend saw the third edition of the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research in the Netherlands (9).

Many groups involved with the psychedelic resurgence are strongly advocating partial or total legalisation of such psychoactive substances as LSD and psilocybin (see for example 10). However, while such things are considered ‘drugs’ it does not seem particularly helpful for them to be legal or illegal. To keep calling them such, regardless of what the so-called decision-makers say, is to do a disservice to valuable allies to our health, and to the thousands of years of human culture when, by many accounts, our relationship to such substances was not as either a commodity to consume or as contraband to fear, but as a tool which could help to guide us through our own psyches and thus create better cultures for ourselves and those around us.

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But what is a ‘Substance’ anyway?

On Friday (26 May 2016), a new law came into force in the UK, which seems to be worded very strangely indeed. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

makes it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, possess on custodial premises, import or export psychoactive substances” which are defined as “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect” (UK government, 2016) (11)

“Psychoactive” simply means affecting the mind, so any “substance…capable of producing a psychoactive effect” includes all food and drink which we as humans consume. But don’t worry – you will not be arrested for eating a salad for dinner because the lettuce you’re eating has mildly narcotic, hypnotic and sedative effects (12); the Act covers the government’s back with this one by excluding from it “legitimate substances”, such as “food, alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, caffeine and medical products” (11).

Language and Medicine

Advocates of freedom of choice have argued that there are many things which one can ingest which have a medical effect, and which therefore we have the right to consume freely and without molestation from law enforcers, which could be one reason how marijuana has been classified as a medical substance in many states (13). This has probably helped thousands if not millions of people to peacefully ingest cannabis to aid them a a huge variety of ways. However, it also does not seem to address the root of the linguistic category in which our culture puts such substances.

Either they are ‘controlled’ and therefore, to speak in practical terms for a moment, if you buy them you have no idea of what you are getting, the only person’s word for what is inside the substance you will ingest is the person you buy it from, and availability is unreliable; or they are ‘products’, which seems to imply that they are a commodity to buy, sell and consume, to advertise and which has a stock market value tied to the world economy.

Does this really make any sense? Even if somehow the Psychoactive Substances Act was changed and pscychoactive substances were to receive legal blessings, for them to be treated as a ‘product’ seems to be missing the point almost as much as for them to be prohibited. Drugs, it seems, can either be condoned, sold in supermarkets, pharmacies and bars, enjoyed by the people and taxed by the state, or can be a complicated and wearisome world of underground dealings; yet the substances hinted at by the Act do not seem to me to fit into either of these categories. We have begun a resurgence of psychedelic research but it is important to remember that our heritage in such substances does not stem from the laboratory.

Which is more Psychoactive? The word or the substance?

That is not to say that such substances should not be treated with care. On the contrary, we probably need to be thinking more about what we are ingesting than ever before. But perhaps one reason why our modern society, so intent on categorising everything, has such trouble with psychoactive substances is that they can, when taken in a conducive context and with care, respect and love, encourage going beyond all categories and achieving perspectives which are higher, deeper, or altogether more novel than those usually prescribed.

As such, perhaps we need a totally new set of words to describe our relationship to these substances. This may seem like a small point, yet when we consider that much of our current society is built on words, we can begin to see how changing the definition can change our entire relationship. Indeed, as things which with nothing more than an expiration of breath and a small sounding of the vocal chords, or a couple of taps on a computer keyboard, have the power to alter the human mind radically, it seems that words are some of the most psychoactive things which we use, and it may be wise to consider how we use them.

Perhaps a more beneficial term to describe psychoactives would be ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’; for these terms imply a deep respect for what the substances can do and do not necessarily imply religion.  It could also be helpful to extend this definition to ourselves. If we consider our own beings with a deep respect and think about the effect of everything we are ingesting, as well as the word which we give out to the world, we can create a beautiful healthy ecosystem within our own bodies which goes far beyond simple consuming. The same idea can be extended outwards to the whole universe if you like.  

I am in no way condoning ingestion of any psychoactive substances – not even lettuce leaves – if you do not want to. But the power of the way in which we speak about the things which we ingest is deep and strong, and it seems that we can harness this power to help to create a better world; not simply an extension of an old paradigm but a reflection of all of the potential which we have inside us and a recognition of all of the tools which can help us to fulfill it.

References

  1. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Using Our Language-Shadows.’ Abundance Garden, 1/11/15. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/using-our-language-shadows/  
  2. Haworth, c, 2015. ‘Sacred Spaces’. Abundance Garden, 03/03/2015. – retrieved 7/6/16 https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/sacred-spaces/  
  3. Campbell, J, 1988. The Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Volume II, Part 3. HarperCollins: New York City.
  4. McKenna, T, 1993. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge (A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution). Bantam: New York City
  5. Hoffman, Dr A, 1996. ‘LSD: Completely Personal’ – translated from the original German (LSD Ganz Persönlich) by J. Ott. from the Newsletter of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) – Volume 6, Number 3, Summer 1996. Available online here: http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v06n3/06346hof.html  – retrieved 7/6/16
  6. University of Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science, 2007. ‘The Medical History of Psychedelic Drugs’. Available online as part of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS): http://www.maps.org/images/pdf/history_of_psychedelics.pdf – retrieved 7/6/16
  7. Schiavenza, M, 2015. ‘Seeing Opportunity in Psychedelic Drugs’. The Atlantic, 8/3/15. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/a-psychedelic-revival/387193/ – retrieved 7/6/16
  8. Imperial College London, 2016. ‘Brain on LSD revealed: First scans show how the drug affects the brain’. Science Daily, 11/4/16. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160411153006.htm
  9. ICPR 2016, 2016. ‘About’. http://www.icpr2016.nl/about-icpr-2016/ – retrieved 7/6/16
  10. Psychedelic Society, 2016. ‘Arguments for Legislation’. http://www.psychedelicsociety.org.uk/arguments-for-legalisation – retrieved 7/6/16
  11. UK Government, 2016. ‘Psychoactive Substances Act 2016’. http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/psychoactivesubstances.html
  12. Plants for a Future, 2016. ‘Lactuca Sativa Garden Lettuce – Medicinal Properties’. http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Lactuca+sativa
  13. Lethco, CW, 2006. ‘Worldwide laws on cannabis possession for medical purposes or cannabis-based medicene’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_and_medical_status_of_cannabis#/media/File:Legality_of_cannabis_for_medical_purposes_new.png

 

Tuning Into Nature

It seems increasingly clear that much our action as humans is detrimental to the world around as, not to mention to our own species. News reports abound in tales of lack of earth care with companies ripping out the soil to extract minerals and oil (see for example 1), lack of people care with those fleeing from disaster or conflict are met with guard towers, barbed wire fences and a demand for the right papers (see for example 2), and lack of equal distribution of resources when we see how much food we produce in the world, and how much of that is thrown away (see for example 3).

 

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Our human-made creations are beautiful, but only as part of a whole which includes non-humans as well. Photo by David Ashwanden

 

Oh No!?

All of these lacks seem indicative of a number of trends within our human culture. The first one to note and which it is useful to be keenly aware of is what could be called the ‘oh no!’ phenomenon. This is the tendency of people, from the level of global media down to individuals you may meet on the street, to focus on the negative side of whatever is going on. The reasons for the ‘oh no!’ phenomenon are many, varied and have been developing for a number of years.

What seems important now is to realise that, though there may be things going on in the world which are creating unbalance, upset and disharmony, there are also many things which are helping to create positive, balanced and harmonious situations. If we always focus on the negative side we are giving energy to it and therefore helping to manifest more of whatever it is we supposedly do not want.

…OK…

It is perhaps not as simple as if we see a problem we should just ignore it and it goes away. What exists, exists, so there is not really any point in denying it. If we want to truly live, we must also accept dying and the idea of death around us. This idea is explored in many works of art, and indeed it has been noted that the job of the artist is to show how close we are to death in order to appreciate life (see for example 4).

Firmly rooted in this acceptance we can look at the lack of harmony and balance in the world, accept it, and move towards a more positive-seeming future. What appears to be key to assisting this movement is our own attitudes, as human beings, towards the other beings which inhabit this planet along with us. David Abram (5) suggests that we can trace back our lack of care for the world around us exactly to the time when we first developed phonetic language and with it the ability to construct abstract ideas and concepts. Abram and others have pointed out that with this ability we can create the illusion of being ‘abstracted’ from the rest of the world, as we can separate ourselves in our minds from other animals, plants, rocks, indeed all the living, breathing, more-than-human world (5). The problem with this is that it is a false idea, since we are still connected in a very fundamental way to this world, regardless of how many abstract ideas and virtual realities we bring into it.

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Animals – connected to us through the physical realm, however disconnected we may seem. Photo by David Ashwanden

How can we then bring back our understanding of ourselves in line with our physical connection to the rest of the world? One way is to be aware that there is more than one type of language. You may be able to speak English, Italian, Spanish, French, German – you may even think in a number of different human languages, and your mind be open to new perspectives from the subtle differences of thought which exist between them. Yet you can be as polylingual as any UN translator and still miss the languages which are perhaps more important to learn, especially now. These are the older, half-forgotten languages of the earth and sky, of the plants as they grow and as they die, and even the rocks and minerals underground. Opening ourselves up to sense these languages is maybe one of the most fundamental steps we can take towards creating positive change in our world.

I use the term ‘language’ to describe this way in which we can communicate with the more-than-human world around us, though you can interpret it how you like. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, one of the first phenomenologists, calls the process of being alive ‘reciprocal participation’ (5) as we are constantly not only perceiving the things around us but also being perceived by them, in an interaction which we in our modern cultures are perhaps forgetting.

…Oh Yes!

Re-connecting with these languages is surprisingly simple, and you have probably already experienced it in life. The process is a constant communication, what could be called a ‘tuning in’ to nature and to all of the life which is surrounding you.

You may not necessarily agree with the way in which I am framing this connection; it may not fit with your world view to think of rocks as alive, or to see the way in which the trees whisper in the first rising wind of a summer storm as anything to do with a communication to you. What is important is not the words which I am using but what lies beyond them; deeper than the words is the blood which links all of us, the steady beat of your heart which drums in rhythm with all the world, if only you can tune into it.

 

Many cultures place music and dancing as highly important aspects not only as enjoyment but as physical connection to the music of the environment. Tuning into nature is about becoming aware of your own body and how you dance as much as it is about becoming aware of the rest of the world. Dance is a powerful and very immediate way of communicating, where words are both unnecessary and superfluous.

So if you’ve read this far, forget the words. Words are useful to convey ideas, but unless we also connect to the deep and fundamental family of all the living beings of the world the words are empty, useless, and potentially dangerous in their false promises of separation. So forget these words. Forget all the words which may be rolling around in your head, demanding your attention and your time, and for just a moment, give time to your breath instead. Try following your feelings. Go outside under the full moon; stand in a field and watch a lightning storm; jump into the sea without resisting her cold, welcoming touch; run around in the rain and listen to the changes in sound, in scent, in texture of the world becoming wet; sit still in the forest and come to that place where words no longer matter.

However your rhythm goes you can connect it to the greater rhythm of life around you. Give it a try; you never know…It may even be a joyous experience.

References

  1. Good, K, 2015. ‘How Drilling the Earth for Natural Gas is Fracking up Human Lives Across America’. One Green Planet, 27/2/2015. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/impact-of-fracking-on-human-health/
  2. Tomlinson, C, 2016. 5000 Migrants Turned Away As Macedonia No Longer Recognises Afghans As ‘Refugees’. Breitbart, 23/2/2016. http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/02/23/5000-migrants-turned-away-as-macedonia-no-longer-recognises-afghans-as-refugees/
  3. Institution of Mechanical Engineers. ‘Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not’. Imeche: London. Available as a PDF here: https://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/global-food—waste-not-want-not.pdf?sfvrsn=0
  4. Campbell, J, quoted in ‘Mythos: Vol III, Episode 3.5 Into the Well of Myth.’ PBS: Arlington, Virginia.
  5. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage: New York City

Taste in the Community

There are many ways to go about getting to know a place. You can spend prolonged amounts of time there, you can walk around and look at different views, speak with locals and hear what they say, breathe the air and sense the scents therein. Perhaps one of the most profound ways of getting becoming familiar with an area, however, is to use your sense of taste by trying the food from there. This sense of familiarity may well be what makes wild foraging still a popular activity, even in regions where it has become more popular to harvest your food from the local supermarket than from the forest or rocks of your home.

Salento Sea2. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Salento Sea. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Yet perhaps this is precisely why the allure of wild food collection remains. Even if you have lived somewhere for many years, if not your entire life, you can suddenly and very strongly gain a whole new perspective on the place once you put the food you have gathered from its habitat onto your tongue. Many folk tales and fairy stories speak of the binding power of food; “if you eat food in fairyland…you will never be able to return to the human world”(1). What we ingest is constantly changing us fundamentally, connecting us to the place where it comes from. Such a connection can be even more charged with potency if it is a direct link it is between you and the land from which the food came.

What better way, then, to get to know the land which I have just relocated to than to attend a foraging session and wild food lunch? Less than 1 week after arriving in my new home in Salento, Italy, this is exactly what I stumbled upon. Organised by local groups Sapori Autentici di Comunita (SAC) (Authentic Flavours of the Community) (2), part of Cooperativa Terrarossa (3), along with Salento Bike Tour (4), the event consisted of a guided bike ride around the area to check out the local plants and find which ones are edible. Many of the edible plant specimens were then laid out in a room of the Palazzo Baronale of Tiggiano, with their names in the local dialect, a language which apparently differs to that spoken in the nearby town. More helpful for me was the fact that the plants’ Italian and, most crucially, Latin names were also recorded. However, I appreciate the fact that the dialect-names were the largest on the labels, as knowing what the locals call a plant is by far the most useful information for you if you actually wish to share food with them.

Food sharing was the next activity of the day. It was fitting that the  event was held in what was historically a Baron’s palace, for it was certainly a palatial feast. If the maxim about eating food of the fairies also applies to Salento, I may never leave this place – though I’m not sure I’ll mind. We experienced many local ways to cook the plants, much of them totally new to me and all very tasty. One surprise was the use of Crithmum Maritimum (local name “ripilli”), which in Britain is known as rock samphire and with which, having lived next to the sea in England for many years, I am pretty familiar. I have used it often as a herb to flavour sauces or as a garnish.

~Rock Samphire or Ripili

Rock Samphire, Crithmum Maritimum, or Ripili. All the green parts of the plant are edible raw or cooked – though tastier cooked. The seed pods are also edible. Rock samphire is rich in Vitamin C. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

In Salento they treat this little succulent maritime plant not as a herb but as a vegetable in its own right, cooking it with garlic and olive oil in a way which fully brings out the flavour of the samphire without overpowering one’s taste-buds.  Needless to say, I am eager for the recipe, though I suppose I’ll have to wait for one of SAC’s cookery demonstrations for this.

It seems I won’t have to wait long. As well as organising such foraging tours, the group run demonstrations of local skills and recipes, and events focussed on local fruit and nut varieties, much like the work I was engaged in with Orchards Without Borders (see for example 5).

Below is a documentation of the wild edibles which can be found in this area at this time of year (late winter/early spring). The climate here is maritime – Salento is a long spit of land which extends out from the main part of Italy into the Ionian and Adriatic sea like the stiletto heel of the Italian boot, and wherever you are in the region you will probably not be more than around 40km from the sea. As well as this the main plant life is Mediterranean, though as mentioned I have already found some species which are familiar from colder climes, and so even if you live in quite a different setting you still may find this selection of edibles of use to you as you go about foraging in your own home.

Rock Samphire in its natural habitat. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Rock Samphire in its natural habitat. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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The beach at Tricase Porto. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

It is always advisable to be cautious when trying new food for the first time, especially when you have never heard of it before. If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably best to avoid trying it until you’ve found out, though this should probably also apply to any new ingredient you find on a packets of food from your local supermarket (for more on this subject, see 6). But it’s ok! – exploring new tastes is very easy. Even if you do not have an equivalent group to SAC in your local area, there are many fantastic online resources which can help. One of my favourites is Ken Fern’s plant database Plants for a Future (7) on which you can search plant uses, including edible and medicinal.

Whether you find any of the same species as listed here or not, may your foraging be fruitful and your wild food explorations exciting. Even if you live in the middle of a city, you may well be surprised to find what food is growing just under your feet, once you activate the senses to discover it…

Sonchus oleraceus, known in English as Sowthistle

Sonchus Oleraceus, whose English names include Sowthistle. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), stem (cooked), young root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Foeniculum vulgare, known in English as Fennel. Edible Leaves, roots, flowers, seeds. Digestive

Foeniculum vulgare, known in English as Fennel. Edible Leaves, roots, flowers, seeds. Digestive. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Papaver Rhoeas, known in English as Common Poppy. Edible leaves when cooked, flowers, tasty seeds

Papaver Rhoeas, known in English as Common Poppy. Edible leaves (cooked), flowers, tasty seeds. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Smyrnium olusatrum, known in English as Alexanders. Edible leaves.

Smyrnium olusatrum, known in English as Alexanders. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), flowers (raw or cooked), stem (cooked), root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Asparagus Acutifolia, known in English as Wild Asparagus. Edible shoots

Asparagus Acutifolia, known in English as Wild Asparagus. Edible shoots (raw or cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Shoots of wild asparagus, freshly picked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Shoots of wild asparagus, freshly picked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Sinapis Alba, known in English as White Mustard. Edible leaves, flowers

Sinapis Alba, known in English as White Mustard. Edible leaves, flowers. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Brunias Erucago, known in English as Corn Rocket. Edible leaves (cooked)

Brunias Erucago, known in English as Corn Rocket. Edible leaves (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Cichorium intybus, known in English as Chicory. Edible leaves, root (cooked)

Cichorium intybus, known in English as Chicory. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Rumex Crispus, known in English as Curly or Yellow Dock. Edible leaves

Rumex Crispus, known in English as Curly Dock. Edible leaves (raw or cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Borago Officinalis, known in English as Borage. Leaves edible raw or cooked, flowers edible fresh or dried in tea

Borago Officinalis, known in English as Borage. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), flowers (fresh or dried in tea). Medicinal effects include euphoria-inducing (from the flower tea). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Urospermum picroides, known in English as Prickly Goldenfleece

Urospermum picroides, known in English as Prickly Goldenfleece. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Picris Echioides, known in English as Bristly Ox-Tongue. Leaves edible raw (bitter) and cooked

Picris Echioides, known in English as Bristly Ox-Tongue. Edible leaves raw (bitter) and cooked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

 

References 

  1. Lamborn-Wilson, P, 1999. Ploughing the Clouds: The Search for Irish Soma. City Lights: Monroe, Oregon.
  2. Sapori Autentici di Comunita, 2016. Sapori del SAC. Facebook, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/SaporidelSAC – retrieved 12/3/15
  3. Cooperativa Terrarossa, 2016. ‘Chi Siamo [Who we Are]’. http://www.cooperativaterrarossa.org/chi-siamo/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  4. Salento Bike Tour, 2016. ‘Home’. http://www.salentobiketour.it/en/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  5. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Orchards Without Borders: Exploring Diversity and Culture’. Abundance Garden, 11/12/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/orchards-without-borders-exploring-diversity-and-culture/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  6. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Importance of Eating Food’. Permaculture News, 25/9/14. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/09/26/importance-eating-food/  – retrieved 12/3/15
  7. Plants for a Future, 2016. ‘About Us’. http://pfaf.org/user/AboutUs.aspx  – retrieved 12/3/15

 

Report from Inside the People’s March – the Juicy Details

On the evening of last week’s Conference of the Parties  international climate change conference (COP21) (1), people joined together all over the world to show what we can do and to start doing it…

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Gathering of the Food Warriors – A Formidable Scene. The apples shown here are less than half of what was intercepted. Photo by Feedback.

I’m not afraid of anything that’s blocking me/ I’m not afraid of human force”(2)
Even in Paris, where public demonstrations were banned in the days preceding the conference under the ambiguous reason of “security concerns”, more than 10,000 activists managed to make a human chain in a peaceful manifestation (3). However, London’s March was even more demonstrative of our potentiality to create positive change; as we were not demanding anything from anybody, simply showing what we have got.

 

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Many groups were represented at the march, from pandas and clownfish…

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To coral reefs…

This was the overwhelming sentiment I got from last month’s People’s March – by the people, for the people. Government “leaders” may have been getting high on the sound of their own voices in Paris, but one thing the March clearly demonstrated was the huge variety of initiatives which are aiding the process of positive societal change, all of which are already functioning in the UK and beyond.

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This “hippy” could be recognised by hir placard. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Free (no price) and Free (liberated)

My role at the March was very particular: as an “exotic waste warrior”, I was showing what I got!

What did I got? Apples! Around 2500 of them,  rejected by supermarkets due to “cosmetic standards”, but thanks to the Gleaning Network (4) and This Is Rubbish(5), were intercepted and gifted as sustenance to anyone who came within a hundred feet of us.

peoples march2

Apples for All! Photo by Feedback.

2500 at first seemed quite overwhelming, but in fact they all went amazingly quickly. We began handing out the apples around 11.30am and by the time the March actually began moving around 1.30pm we had only a couple of handfuls left. Such speed of redistribution shows that redirecting abundance can be very simple and easy; especially if we bring the surplus food to a place where there are many hungry people already gathering.

If you eat, you’re in

One key reason to be handing out apples on a march focused on climate change (other than their clear high value in both taste and symbology) is to highlight the impact which food waste has on the environment. Since we currently throw away around 30 – 50% of our food on a global scale even before it gets to a consumer (6), this equates to food waste, if it was a country, being the third largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, after only the USA and China (7).

If you are not a citizen of the USA or China you may think there is not much you can do about the first two, though it may be worthwhile considering where you buy your products from. There is a lot you can directly do about number 3, if you ever indulge in the pastime of eating.

You do? Then read on, as the solutions are delicious!

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Enjoying some of the delicious solutions as we handed out the fruit. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Some tasty ideas

For starters we have harvesting rescuers The Gleaning Network (4) who intercept fruit and vegetables from the fields which would otherwise have gone to waste, and Abundance (8), who map wild fruit trees for DIY harvesting. Then there is national network Fareshare (9) who redistribute supermarket surplus to charities and community groups, and more local versions of this such as Community Food Enterprises (10) in London and the Food Waste Collective (11) in Brighton.

This is Rubbish uses intercepted supermarket fruit and vegetables in tantalising and creative ways to entice and inspire you to do more about saving food.

These groups are doing fantastic work to bring the surplus abundance which already exists to people who are hungry. Yet all are working on the idea that, once the root of the waste is addresd, ideally they would no longer need to exist.

We can all help with this simply by changing our shopping habits. One very easy step is to only buy food produced in your country of residence; as it has had to travel a lot less far and so is less likely to produce carbon emissions or for unnecessary amounts to be thrown away.

Another is to check out This is Rubbish’s new campaign Stop the Rot (12), which is aiming to reduce food waste throughout the UK supply chain.

Enough to whet your appetite? You don’t have to stop here… Food is an issue which affects us all, and eating can always feel good. How do you relate to your food? How can you use this to create a healthier, more energy efficient food system?

The only limit here is your imagination…

References

1. Cop21, 2015. ‘COP21’. http://www.cop21paris.org/
2. Dubioza Kolektiv, 2006. ‘Justce’. Lyrics by Dubioza kolektiv. https://www.gugalyrics.com/lyrics-403779/dubioza-kolektiv-justice.html
3. Ecowatch, 2015. ‘10,000 form human chain in Paris demanding that world leaders keep fossil fuels in the ground’. Ecowatch, 29/11/15. http://ecowatch.com/2015/11/29/human-chain-paris/
4. Feedback Global, 2015. The Gleaning Network’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/
5. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About TiR’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/
6. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2013. ‘Waste Not Want Not’. Imeche: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0
7. European Commission JOint Research Centre, 2015. CO2 time series 1990-2013 per capita for world countries. http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=CO2ts_pc1990-2013
8. Abundance, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.abundancenetwork.org.uk/about-us
9. Fareshare, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.fareshare.org.uk/about-us/
10. CFE, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.c-f-e.org.uk/About%20CFE.htm
11. HASL, 2015. ‘Food Waste’. http://www.hasl.org.uk/food-waste.html
12. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Stop the Rot’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/project/stoptherot/

Using our Language-Shadows

We are capable of great creative and regenerative actions, as well as destructive and futile ones. Many recognise the increased power of our creativity and destructiveness as stemming from the so-called ‘industrial revolution’, when we began, at an unprecedented rate, burning much of what had previously been the ground we walked upon and the forests whose air we breathe. Yet how we came to be the complex web of human society, technology and machinery we are today has roots in a much more subtle event.

Buckminster Fuller, in his exploration of the history of human culture, mentions the invention of technology as a key component in shaping our societies. Yet he also points out that ‘technology’ refers to any tool which we create for our use, and that the first piece of technology we ever invented was the first word (1).

Power of words

Just because one has a tool, does not necessarily mean one knows how to use it in the most beneficial way. Our words can shape, twist and bend reality; we have created abstract concepts and ideas and with this, extended the reach of our human influence far beyond our own sensing bodies.

From some angles, we can see that all of the destruction, disregard for other species and mismanagement of our own home, the Earth, which we engage in is the result of a single factor: our extraction of ourselves from the natural world around us. Such an idea of separation can only even be conceptualised by the kind of language which many modern cultures use – language which has lost its roots in the surrounding world.

As Abram (1986) comments on, much of animistic, metaphorical culture relies on a deep linguistic connection with the non-human world, whose ties can be seen as having been broken by the advent of phonetic and written language (3). For example, the English language is made up of phonetic sounds which have little or no direct connection to what Abram and others term the more-than-human world, and so we have a much higher tendency of taking literally those symbols which are always only ever meant to point to a deeper truth, rather than being the truth itself.

We can also use words to artificially separate ourselves into ‘nature’ and ‘humans’: a separation which is only possible in abstract thought and which when applied to our sensing bodies and the world around us does not make any sense at all.

Walls of Words

Having identified that our use of phonetic language is a key factor in our disregard for the more-than-human world, should we then stop using this most dangerous and powerful of tools?

Perhaps it would be better for the planet if our method of communication had stayed in total connection with the more-than-human world around us, and therefore we can feel more readily the tearing pain of the mountain being sliced into quarried rocks; the stifling horror of the toxins pouring into the rivers and oceans, or the senseless mutilation of the millions of chickens who are born and die in the same tomb, all too often for their bodies to simply become discarded.

Yet the fact remains that we have invented phonetic language, and with it, abstract thought and the idea that we can harm and kill the other living beings which make up our world without causing detriment to ourselves. As Ursula K LeGuin puts it,

“You cannot take things that exist in the world, and try to drive them back into the Dream—to hold them inside the Dream with walls and pretences.

That is insanity.

What is, is.

There is no use pretending now that we do not know how to kill each other”. (3)

When considering that the more-than-human world, or web of biodiversity, extends to include all, “each other” has a very broad definition. Yet to condemn our actions is to waste energy in trying to will into non-existence what is already here. This is the same whether we are talking about the global ecosystem, the human species, or each individual soul. When applied on a personal level we can see that if we attempt to deny or escape parts of ourselves which we do not like, we usually end up sooner or later being controlled by those same aspects.

Psychologist Jung conceptualised this as the idea of the “shadow self”: that part of us which we may not necessarily be aware of, have fear of, or actively attempt to get rid of (see for example 4). Yet if we are to have healthy relationships with ourselves and others it is beneficial to at least be aware of our shadows, even if we do not exactly make friends with them. For it is from the darkness that we can gain more light; by accepting what we are and what we do we can learn from it and evolve.

Darkness and Light

The conceptualisation of the world as a balanced equilibrium between the two forces which can be roughly divided into dark and light is present in many cultures, from the Yin-Yang of ancient Chinese philosophy to the Incan God Viracocha, whose tears of sadness at the suffering of the world are the very rivers and lakes which provide the nourishment for all life (5). We cannot have one without the other;

“Only in silence the word,

Only in dark the light,

Only in dying life:

Bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.” (7)

Acceptance and Action

In accepting and even embracing those aspects of ourselves and the world which seem repugnant we can reach a new way of perceiving where we regain lost connections. However, this does not mean that there is no point in trying to change what we see for the better. Whatever we feel we can do to improve the quality of life of those around us, both human and more-than-human, if we feel it is right then it should be done. Yet the only really effective way of creating these improvements is from a starting point that allows for all perspectives; or at least as many as you, with your one human body and mind, can cope with.

In this we need to become fully aware of our situation and the brilliant potential power we have to shape our own destiny, and therefore the destiny of the world around us.

Magic words

Much of this power resides in the words we use. Perhaps we have not always used them in a way which is beneficial for us or those around us. The first way to change this is to become aware of how we use language. Are the words you use creating boxes and divisions in your mind, storing up emotions, or derogating yourself or other beings of the universe? If so, maybe we can think about changing the way we use them.

Words are indeed powerful tools; keys, if you like, to open the boxes and release all the power inside you. Words are not the only power. But if we wish to act together with other humans, using words in a conscious and considerate way will certainly be of some use.

Photo by David Ashwanden

References

  1. Fuller, Buckminster R, 1981. Critical Path. St Martin’s Press: New York City
  2. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Random House: New York City
  3. LeGuin, Ursula K, 1976. Hainish Cycle No. 6: The Word for World is Forest. Tor Books: New York City
  4. Jung, C.G, 1938. “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
  5. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New World Library: New York City
  6. LeGuin, Ursula K, 1968. The Earthsea Cycles: A Wizard of Earthsea.