Tag Archives: celebration

Down the Rabbit-Hole

Storytelling and its healing potential in modern society

Humans and nature: two things which many modern societies see as separate, in spite of the fact that we clearly remain very much a part of, and connected to, the natural environment around us. Just because you may not immediately sense the vast swampy wilderness beneath the city concrete under your feet, or smell the sweet, fresh tang of the mountains and wildflowers beyond the more immediate exhaust fumes and smog, it doesn’t mean that they are not there. The web of life is all around us and wild nature calls to us from within our own hearts if we just listen.

Our unique cultural advantage

Much of our modern society can be seen as far from perfect, and there are many aspects of our disconnection from nature which may be causing unbalance and therefore lack (or perceived lack) of abundance in our local ecosystems. Our ancestors rejoiced in the gifts of the wild forest and danced in the footprints of the animals whom they revered, adored and devoured; when compared to our own version, our fluorescent pre-packaged experience of food-gathering may sometimes seem a poor substitution.

Yet there are some things we have which are unique to our culture and which, if we use them in a considered way, we can use to help us to re-strengthen our connection to the natural world and all its abundant wonders.

Adventures and shamans

Communing with the ‘more-than-human world’ (1), finding balance and harmony within to strengthen the balance and harmony without, and healing yourself and your community as part of a wider healing, are all traditional roles of those members of ancient societies who have been termed ‘shamans’ by modern anthropologists, although what they call themselves differs from culture to culture. All of these things can be seen as of huge importance in today’s world to help us to gain the balance and harmony which we can achieve within our ecosystems if we are attuned to it. Yet ‘shamans’, even in their own societies, are not generally seen as ‘normal’; the role is not one which everyone partook in, and probably not everyone would want to. Many of the things which ‘shamans’ did may well be seen be much of modern society as signs of ‘madness’ (see for example 2).

Are we all then mad?

However, one thing to bear in mind about shamanic tools is that the vast majority of people in modern society, regardless of how little interest they have in ancient cultures, are very skilled at using some of them, and if these words are creating sounds of sense within your head at this moment then you are one of those people.

What I mean is, with the skills of reading and writing which many of us may take for granted we can engage in powerful creative practices, the likes of which the ‘shamans’ of less literate cultures would have had to ingest strong entheogenic medicines, deprive themselves of food or sleep, or engage in repetitive activities for many hours to achieve.

As Serge King, author of Urban Shaman (3), puts it,

” We are part of a unique society that has already, though
unknowingly, prepared us well…Ever since you started reading about Dick and Jane and Spot you were in training to be a shaman. Radio, television,
and movies have all helped to reinforce your skill. The development
of intentional inner vision took a long time in
traditional societies, because it wasn’t reinforced by the
whole society. Exceptional people like poets, storytellers, and
shamans seemed to be using magic when they evoked waking
visions in the minds of listeners to their tales, legends,
and inner experiences.” (3)

Weaving our own magic

It is this magic which we can use to help us to create what we imagine, and to give special attention to particular things, people, places or events which can help us to respect and honour them. Perhaps you do not believe in magic and that is fine, since, as King would say, “the world is what you think it is” (3). It may be worth considering, however, that our connection of literacy and magic is present even in our modern language – when we speak about how to write a word we talk of the “spell” needed to create it.

King says,

You, now, have the skill of reading, a rare skill in the history of mankind, which trains you to focus your attention and evoke internal experience on your own at will” (3).

What took a gifted few years of practice, dedication, meditation and art to achieve is now accessible much more easily to huge numbers of us because of this skill. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to learn how to use our imaginations wisely. We do, and this in itself, with the self-reflection and realisation that may come with it, may lead to what feels like madness, especially when considered from a societal point of view.

Treading the labyrinth

It is when we start to walk the path consciously that we may be most in need of stories to help to guide us. Luckily, such stories already exist in their thousands and many are freely available through that great storyweaving machine, the internet. The stories which we choose to resonate as part of our lives can help to sustain us and to heal our own psyches, thus enabling us to heal the outer world as well.  From this perspective even our most grotesque and seemingly destructive human creations can be seen to be a part of the web of life.

Big wheels and little wheels

How can we start on this path? How can we, as Joseph Campbell put it, pick up the golden thread left behind us by the storytellers of the past, and use it to help us find the way through the labyrinth? How can we step beyond the seeming comfort of a life half-lived and step onto the sword-edge of the path to our own bliss?

Perhaps a simple way to start is to consider what stories you wish to resonate with about the cycles of time in your own life. The moon and the sun are things which all humans have experience of, and in Europe the cycle of the sun was in the past by many and is by a few even now, closely followed and celebrated, with each stage having its own story and meaning, so that people could attune and resonate with the seasons and the unique gifts they bring. This ‘big cycle’ of the year, with its eight ‘feasts’ of Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Bealtaine, Litha, Lammas, Mabon and Samhain, during which time the daylight present in the day goes from very little to a lot and then around again, is reflected on a monthly scale by the cycle of the moon, which is also noted and celebrated.

Sun is come

The ‘Wheel Year’ is celebrated now in Britain mainly by people who have picked up the threads of the old stories rather than as part of an unbroken tradition. This means that the stories are always evolving and reflecting our changing ways, and we can interpret them however seems fit to us. You may not care about the upcoming Litha or Summer Solstice, which is happening in the Northern Hemisphere tomorrow. Many people do, and in England hundreds shall gather at Stonehenge, in spite of the newly-introduced parking fees there, which were put into place even though they were fought in court by none other than King Arthur Pendragon (4). Those who wish to mark the Solstice by going to a special place but who do not want to ‘pay to pray’ (or who may find the crowds at Stonehenge not their cup of tea) may well choose to celebrate at any of the many other stone circles and ancient sacred sites around Britain.

All over Spain even nowadays, Midsummer’s Night is celebrated by jumping over fires, into rivers, springs or the sea, or in some places both. You may not be so interested in such revelry, but it may still be helpful to you in your own personal storytelling to acknowledge this shortest night of the year and reflect on its symbolism. What that symbolism could be is up to you; our pagan British ancestors probably (according to some sources (5)) associated the Summer Solstice with Ura or heather (ericaceae spp), a plant which needs fire for the seeds to germinate, so reminding us perhaps of the fire which gives us life, the sun which shines the longest on this day for the whole wheel year. In Spain and other parts of Europe the celebration is associated with St. John and his flower, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) whose yellow petals and red juice can also remind us of the fire of the sun. It is also a traditional symbol of protection and of strengthening energy, perhaps reflective of the long days reminding us to gather strength ready for the darker colder times ahead.

Stories and spells

Whether you choose to acknowledge the Solstice tomorrow or not, you will surely continue to tell stories of your own, as well as being exposed to many others. How you choose to tell your stories is up to you, but as King would say, just by reading story books and watching films you have already started on a path which can aid you in healing, imaginative creation and gaining stronger connections to yourself and your world.

Your own way is yours to follow and your call will be unique. May you go with sunshine.

References

1. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in the More-than-Human World.  Vintage: New York City, USA

2. Logan, K, 2017. ‘A Shaman’s View of Mental Illness’. Forever Conscious, 2017. http://foreverconscious.com/a-shamans-view-of-mental-illness

3. King, S, 1990. Urban Shaman: A Handbook for Personal and Planetary Transformation Based on the Hawaiian Way of the Adventurer. Simon & Schuster: New York City, USA.

4. BBC News, 2017. ‘King Arthur Pendragon loses Stonehenge ‘pay to pray’ court challenge’. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-wiltshire-40033998

5. Sentier, E, 2013. Trees of the Goddess. Moon Books: Hants, UK

 

 

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).

Magic Circle

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

 

 

How to Care for your Garden: Kosmicare UK at the Secret Garden Party

Some people go to festivals as a king of mini-holiday; others because they want to see the bands and music. Some go because they love the atmosphere, and some go simply because it’s the closest thing we can find to the way we live our lives anyway which also resonates with the so-called normal world. Festivals are places to party, but much more than that; traditionally (and this goes back to the first tribal ceremonial gatherings) (1) they are a place to experiment, where boundaries dissolve and where you could find yourself going on journeys which you never expected to before…

Journey Help

Sometimes this boundary dissolution could be a little confusing, especially if the festival is a big one, which is why I was so pleased to be working with Kosmicare UK (1) last weekend at Secret Garden Party (2), which has many areas, from labyrinths and mazes to space-hopper games zones, and from natural (though very muddy) swimming pools in the forest to giant hot tubs with views of animal sculptures. Somehow the overall effect seems to be to encourage party-goers to don as much glitter as they can possibly get their hands on, sometimes with no other garments at all. All of this creates an atmosphere of fun and intrigue, perhaps encouraging experimentation, although with around 20,000 other party-goers around (the festival capacity’s normally 40,000, but apparently numbers were down this year) such experimentation can go along with a slight risk element.

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So much glitter it was even falling from the sky! Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

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Inside the ‘Sanctuary’ space at Kosmicare UK. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

Coming into The Loop

In our non-judgmental acceptance of anyone, regardless of which substances they may have taken, and our understanding of how psychedelics can affect behaviour and mood and how to respond to this, Kosmicare UK is part of the recognition of so-called ‘drug’ culture (though perhaps we need a new word for this – see my article here for more thoughts on the matter). Through this it was very exciting to be present at Secret Garden Party alongside The Loop (4), an organisation who use state-of-the-art spectroscopy scanning to anonymously test whichever chemicals you bring them and tell you what they are. In non-science speak, festival-goers could go to The Loop tent, throughout the festival, and have their pills and powders tested using a laser which can tell them, within a matter of minutes, which chemicals they are made up of, so you could find out how pure your drugs were, or if they were even what they had been sold to you as. The organisation managed to get an agreement with on-site police that there would be no police presence anywhere near the drugs-testing tent.

This was the first time The Loop have been present at any UK festival, though given their success and positive feedback (see 5, 6) it will probably not be the last. Neither The Loop or Kosmicare UK encourage taking of illegal substances, but the fact that both areas were busy throughout the festival shows that people are doing it anyway, and if they can test their substances so they know what they are taking, and have a safe and welcoming space to go to once they have taken them, the risks of such activity are significantly lower and everyone can do what they probably came to the festival for in the first place – to have a good time.

How environment can affect our mood?

Sometimes when people are deeply lost in their psyches they may be unaware of their surroundings, or if people are around they may project onto those people whatever nightmares are in their heads and potentially lash out at them. At Kosmicare UK we are prepared for this and always ensure that our visitors are kept from harming themselves and others around them, though we do not restrain them in an uncomfortable or confrontational way. In this the Kosmicare UK methods seem to differ radically from those I witnessed being used by some of the on-site security and police, and by the Welfare tent. Though we were trying as much as possible to co-ordinate with the other welfare teams and with the security guards and police, at such a large event there were occasionally communication gaps. This could sometimes be frustrating, however, it is probably mainly due to the lack of understanding of what Kosmicare UK is actually providing, and the more we can publicise this the better prepared the other festival staff can be.

As with all the festivals we go to Kosmicare UK was there providing a safe and caring space for anyone who happens to have taken their experimentation in a direction which they are no longer sure how to handle. As such we are usually available for those experiencing drug-related difficulties, though all are welcome at the Kosmic-area, whether they are experiencing psychological problems of any kind or are simply feeling a little lost or lonely. We were busy all weekend with all kinds of visitors; some of the main ones which I experienced being from people who had ingested some kind of psychedelic substance such as LSD who were going through some complicated mental acrobatics. Such cases are relatively easy to deal with in Kosmicare UK because of the way in which we work; using set and setting, which has been proven to affect one’s experience (see for example 6), and by accepting that whatever the person is going through, it is first of all valid and second of all will become less intense as the drug wears off, so there is no point in fighting it. We do this in a number of ways, one of which is by purposefully wearing our own clothes rather than any kind of uniform, to show those coming to Kosmicare UK that we are on the same level as them and therefore create more of a trusting, co-operative atmosphere.

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Working with set and setting: the ‘party’ tent at the Kosmicare area, for those feeling sociable or loud. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

 

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Working with set and setting: the ‘Shrine’ inside the bell tent, which includes amy things to look at and play with including things to connect us to the elements such as the fire of candles, air of incense, a shell filled with water and rose petals, and a live plant connecting us to the natural world and the earth element, and as a reminder of the living, breathing ecosystem around us. Such things can be sufficient to engender calm in an uptight or anxious individual. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

We do not have the facilities to provide first aid assistance to those needing physical medical attention. Nor are we particularly interested in sorting out fights between festival goers. All of this can be taken care of by the security, welfare and first aiders and if necessary the police. What we have expertise in and a specially prepared area for is those who are having any kind of difficulties on drugs. Thanks to Secret Garden Party’s open-minded and forward-thinking attitude, we could do this easily and in co-operation with The Loop at the festival.

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Some of the Kosmic Garden Party Team. Photo by Ilaria Foo.

The Secret Garden Party was a refreshing and thought-provoking experience. Hopefully more festivals in the UK will take the lead and become more open to providing not just welfare, but also different kinds of psychological care and attention for people who are exploring, without judgement of the methods they have chosen for their explorations.

Kosmicare UK will next be around at Illusive Festival (7) in September so come and look out for us!

References

  1. Kosmicare UK, 2016. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
  2. Secret Garden Party, 2016. ‘Secret Garden Party’. http://www.secretgardenparty.com/
  3. The Loop, 2016. ‘Mission Statement’. http://wearetheloop.co.uk/missionstatement
  4. Brooks, L, 2016. Secret Garden Party pioneers drugs testing service for festival-goers’. The Guardian, 24/7/16. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jul/24/secret-garden-party-pioneers-drugs-testing-for-festival-goers?CMP=fb_gu
  5. Fisher, H, 2016. ‘I spent my weekend testing drugs at a festival’. The Independent, 25/7/16. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/secret-garden-party-drugs-service-i-tested-drugs-at-festival-service-for-everyone-a7155376.html
  6. Hartogsohn, I, 2013. ‘The American Trip: Set, Setting and Psychedelics in 20th Century Psychology’. MAPS, Spring 2013. Available as a PDF here: http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v23n1/v23n1_p6-9.pdf
  7. Illusive Festival, 2016. ‘Illusive Festival’. http://illusive-festival.co.uk/

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

Celebrations of Spring and the Sacred

This weekend marks an important festival in many traditions, called by various names and celebrated in different ways. The exact method of celebration varies depending on where you are; however, it seems clear to me that many celebrations have a similar resonance and perhaps even stem from the same archetypal ideas (see for example 1) – that now, in the Northern Hemisphere, is the beginning of Spring, the revolution of the seasons when the world begins to come to life anew.

Here in Italy the celebration is known to the majority Catholic population as ‘Pascua’ – a word which stems from the same root as the word for ‘Passover’ (see for example 2), showing the  links between the different Abrahamic faiths. The traditions of Passover differ from those of Pascua and the celebrations are different depending where you are. Here in Salento one tradition is of the ‘sepolcro’ or ‘tomb’. Following the story of Jesus Christ and his death, on Good Friday, the day every year when Jesus ‘dies’, every church dedicates one section as the ‘tomb’ and is open all night for people to visit to meditate on the death. The tombs vary in imagery but all have flowers and many which I visited had not a human being in the centre but a golden sunshine.

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To me this suggests the recognition of the metaphor which Jesus Christ represents as the sunshine returning to the earth after the ‘death’ of winter. In English, ‘Pascua’ is known as ‘Easter’, a word which stems from the ancient Germano-British Goddess of the spring, Ostara or Eostre (3). Every year, she brings the sunshine back after the death of winter, and life can continue another round. In many myths it is said that Ostara’s gifts of the golden lights of dawn are carried by bounding rabbits or hares (see for example 4), which could otherwise be known as Ostara bunnies (Easter bunnies?)

Ostara is a very old Goddess who has been compared to as the equivalent of Persephone, who in the Ancient Greek tradition descends into the underworld every winter to be reborn in Spring (see for example 5, 6). Many modern practising pagans celebrate her return to the Earth as part of the Wiccan calendar (7), placing the time of celebration around the time of the Spring Equinox.

Another notable celebration which happens at the time of the Equinox is the Feast of San Giuseppe. In Salento and possibly elsewhere in South Italy there is a legend that San Giuseppe once averted a famine (as far as I can tell the legend stems from Sicily) (8). This could be the roots of the Feast. Whatever the reason for it, it is clear that the people of Salento know how to celebrate this important time. In churches and community centres all over the region, offerings are made for San Giuseppe and other saints (I suppose he’s a generous guy and wants to share) in sumptuous arrangements which are quite breathtaking to regard.

 

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The Feast is not only for the Saints, however. Huge amounts of food are cooked and served to all who come to visit the offerings, regardless of faith or of anything else. The important thing is sharing the meal. Such recognition of the importance and sacredness of this often overlooked substance – the food that we eat – is quite moving.

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The Equinox is the day when, for the first time since before the winter, the hours of darkness and light are of equal length and the world begins tipping towards one or the other. Whatever your faith or beliefs, this changing of the light is directly observable with the senses. In the Northern Hemisphere it means the return of light and life to the Earth. You may not believe in Jesus, Ostara, Perspehone or anyone else, but if you believe in yourself you could use the evidence of your senses to celebrate the coming warmth and life.

As Joseph Campbell has said, “People ask me sometimes ‘what rituals can we have?’ You’ve got the rituals only you’re not meditating on them. When you eat a meal that’s a ritual, just realise what you’re doing. When you consort with your friends that’s a ritual, just think what you’re doing. When you beget a child or give birth to a child – what more do you want?!” (6)

We have opportunities to celebrate the abundance of life all the time. The coming of spring can be seen as a fantastic reason to gather together, eat, drink and be merry. So happy sacred spring time, wherever you are and whatever you prefer to do!

References

  1. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books: New York City
  2.  Living Language, 2014. ‘Easter and Passover: Different holidays with a shared etymology’. Living Language, 15/4/14. http://www.livinglanguage.com/blog/2014/04/15/easter-and-passover-different-holidays-with-a-shared-etymology/
  3. Watkins 2006 [2000]: 2021.
  4. Elton (1882:408)
  5. Theoi Project, 2016. ‘Persephone’. http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Persephone.html
  6. Joseph Campbell, 1996, quoted in ‘The Mystical Life’. Mythos Series, Episode 5. Athena Studios: San Francisco, USA.
  7. Cusack, Carole M. (2008). “The Return of the Goddess: Mythology, Witchcraft and Feminist Spirituality” as published in Pizza, Murphy. Lewis, James R. (Editors). Handbook of Contemporary Paganism. Brill Publishers: Netherlands
  8.  Caffety, K, 2003. St Joseph Altars. Pelican: Louisiana, USA.

 

 

 

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

 

David Bowie: Helping us to Dance to Heal?

It’s been just over 3 weeks now since David Bowie moved from this dimension into one even more infinite. In those 3 weeks many others have died; ‘celebrities’ and others; and many, many people have been born as well – the human cycle continues to turn. Yet it seems fitting to me to mark the memory of this particular human as someone, at least to me, rather special.

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A tribute to Bowie on a tree in Brixton. The quote reads ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’ – a line from one of his latest singles, released a few days before his death. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

In many ways it will be an echo of other tributes; I am happy to have had Bowie as part of my life as he helped me to see that being ‘not normal’ can also be perfectly fine; like many others who “felt like freaks and oddballs” (Madonna, 2016) (1). His changes of characters and personae are an everlasting inspiration; showing to me that the exploration of deep mythological archetypes can be fun like the eye-patch ( see for example 2) or mind-blowingly eerie like the Blackstar dances (3); sad like in Ashes to Ashes (4) or triumphant like the Heroes (5).

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The impromptu shrine at Brixton tube station. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

So moved was I to pay tribute that I decided to visit the mural of Bowie’s face outside the tube station for Brixton, where he grew up. The mural has been turned into something of a shrine, with many people gathering to leave flowers, candles, pictures, poems and other gifts.

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Some of the many flowers and gifts, including my poem, which you can read here if you like. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

It seems that we can all learn from David Bowie, whether we have listened to his music before or never got into him at all. Bowie followed his inspiration, and did whatever seemed right to him. If you watch him dance it doesn’t look necessarily as though he is moving his body- rather, that something is moving through him. Of course, having not known Bowie personally I cannot say for sure if this is the case, yet the fact that he continues to have this inspirational effect remains. Even up to his death he was still exploring the various facets of the human psyche for us through his art. His latest album was released 2 days before he died (6): he didn’t work as a singer, dancer or musician- he lived his art, which we are all capable of doing, and if you are not right now maybe you should be wondering why?

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A true artist. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

There are many who see dance and music as part of the storytelling of our lives (see for example 7, 8); as a means not only of recreation but of connecting profoundly and sensuously to ourselves and those around us – one of our most primal means of communication, and still one of our most effective. As Hayes (7) puts it,

“We may never have been conscious of our life energy, but our bodies can feel it. We may never have been conscious of our suffering in childhood, but our bodies can remember. We may never have been conscious of the suffering of our parents, but our bodies received it in the womb and carry it. We may never have been conscious of the pollution of the planet but our bodies feel it and manifest the effects…

So if we inhabit our bodies and let them speak to us, we can become aware of transpersonal energy, and in welcoming it, we heal not only ourselves, but our families, our communities and our planet” (Hayes, 2007) (7).

How we decide to go about this healing is up to us. Along the way, it may be helpful to remember the immortal words,

“Let’s dance!” (9).

And of course, “let the children boogie….” (10)

References

1. Geoghegan, Saunders, et al, 2016. ‘Reaction to David Bowie’s death’. BBC News, 10/1/16. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/entertainment-arts-35278886

2. David Bowie, 1974. ‘Rebel Rebel’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa6bI_95G9I

3. David Bowie, 2016. ‘Blackstar’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kszLwBaC4Sw

4. David Bowie, 1980. ‘Ashes to Ashes’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMThz7eQ6K0

5. David Bowie, 1977. “Heroes”. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tgcc5V9Hu3g

6. Wikipedia, 2016. David Bowie: Blackstar album.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackstar_(David_Bowie_album)

7. Hayes, J, 2007. Performing the Dreams of Your Body: Plays of Animation and Compassion. Archive Publishing: Chichester

8. The Dynamic Turnaround, 2016. ‘The Healing Power and Joy of Dance’. http://www.thedynamicturnaround.com/dancetherapy.htm

9. David Bowie, 1983. ‘Let’s Dance’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2HWuR2mq5M

10. David Bowie, 1972. ‘Starman’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B5zmDz4vR4