Tag Archives: community

Balance in Healing part 1

How can we recognise what needs healing in ourselves and our communities?

For my friends and community members

When I studied Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, I learned a lot about going into situations of violence. I learnt that when people are in conflict they can be traumatised, they lose trust in each other, and they require time and space to heal. I learnt that, although all violent situations are unique, there are some unifying principles we can utilise in order to help us come to terms with violence and conflict and to transcend cycles of violence in order to create something new. In today’s world of UN Mandates and far-off wars it can be easy to think that this transcending has to be imposed from outside, but this is an illusion. It always begins on a personal and community level.

‘Community’ means many different things to each of us. For our ancestors, ‘community’ was perhaps simply the beings who lived around them. In tribal or similar societies, your community is your family and neighbours, who are also the people with whom you work, spend time with, make love to, have conflicts with, and generally create a life. It has become more complicated over time, and now for many who live in modern societies, community can almost be a choice; something you could be involved in, if you had time, but really, you are just so busy.

Because it’s not necessarily a matter of life or death whether or not you speak to your neighbours this week; because if someone does something you perceive as wrong, you can trust other people to deal with it; and because you see your internal traumas and healings as separate from those around you, you have maybe not consciously considered cultivating community within and without you.

An invitation

This article invites you to do just this conscious considering, as we explore what community is and how we can heal our communities. It is going to be quite a journey but I invite you to join me, if you can, with an open heart.

We begin in the forests.

We begin on the plains.

We begin in the mountains, with the sound of the swift-flowing mountain streams.

The forests, the plains and the mountains are our ancestral homes. Somewhere in the world are wild places from which you sprang; places where your roots reach down deep. Even if the trees have been taken from your root-forest, even if the plains of your ancestors are made now of concrete, even if the mountain streams from which your grandmothers refreshed themselves now run black and oily, the places remain.

At some point in our history as a species, many of us decided to engage in agriculture. Agriculture (from Latin ager, ‘field’) is the cultivation of plants and animals on a large scale, in fields, which are placed over the top of whatever ecosystem is already there.

The forest could not stay. The plains had to be dug up. The rivers were diverted for irrigation.

By destroying the existing ecosystem, those who create the fields thus become dependent on the crops they produce therein. They couldn’t live in the wilderness anymore as it had been changed from flourishing ecosystem to sterile desert, so they built houses in groups close to the fields. Most large-scale agriculture is based on monoculture – production of one crop in one place – which can rarely provide enough nutrition to feed all of the people who are needed to work the fields, so they have to also exchange some of their harvest with others in order to survive. Thus the simple invention of growing food in fields can be seen to have led to the invention of cities and trade, which in turn led to hierarchies (who decides who eats what?), police systems (how can we stop people from going agaisnt the system we all depend on?) and many more factors of what we would now recognise as modern society.

Down with agriculture?

This is not to say that agriculture is inherently a negative thing; or that it was the only factor in humans disconnecting ourselves somewhat (or at least, imagining that we are disconnected) from our environment. Farming has helped us to multiply as a species and live in more diverse areas than any other living creature on the planet. Right now, most of us do not have enough carefully tended wilderness or permaculture gardens in our immediate vicinity to sustain us without agriculture, so in a very real way, it is also keeping us alive right now.

And it is not to say that modern society is necessarily negative. But when we look at modern society from this perspective, it seems clear that the very foundations of the communities many of us were born into are rooted in the conscious destruction of the natural surroundings. This has helped us to survive. But it also means that any society with these foundations is probably going to be one of inherent violence. We may not be experiencing ‘conflict’ as it is recognised by the mainstream media: many of our houses are intact; a lot of us may never have seen a gun; our interactions in day-to-day life involve words and discussion rather than fighting or hiding.

Nevertheless, we can all to be seen to be living in a very real conflict situation, which Barash (1) would call “negative peace”; one which is so subtly set up and so deeply embedded in many people’s minds that it can sometimes be difficult even to recognise – which may ultimately make it even more dangerous than living in a situation of overt conflict.

I won’t do what you tell me…

Of course, this recognition of modern society as one of inherent violence is not a new revelation. People have been complaining and singing about it, probably for almost as long as it has existed. For example, someone may realise that the situation they are living in is inherently violent but that it does not necessarily provide any kind of safe or supportive space for the free expression of overt, actual, genuine violent emotions. A common reaction to this realisation is to express these emotions anyway. If they have been repressed for many years it could get very messy, unless the person in question manages to get a guitar in their hands, then they can just rage against the machine in a musical way.

For some people, the angry rebellious stage is a necessary one. Marshall Rosenberg, who calls it the ‘obnoxious teenager’ phase, describes our expression of anger and rebellion against those who we previously saw as authority figures as a way of beginning to draw our own boundaries, so that we can begin expressing our genuine wants and needs rather than going with what other people tell us to do (2).

Fire can help us to connect to our primal emotions. Photo by Catherine Brogan.

Intentional community healing

Having gone through this stage (because, in many cases, if you can release your anger you can be free of it), many people decide to become more conscious about how and where we live. One expression of this is the creation of ‘intentional communities’; groups of people who consciously choose to live together and share their lives, to a greater or lesser extent, while engaging in a new way of interaction which can transcend modern societal rules and norms.

I am one of those people. I have lived in many communities, and visited or studied many more. In a way, anyone who decides to start considering their life choices is making their community an intentional one, whether or not you actually physically move onto a piece of land with your intentional neighbours and friends.

Trauma and art

So now we have reached ths point in our journey. It was a long way from the forests of our ancestral birth-lands, through the blank concrete stares of the labyrinthine walls of our physical birth-lands, embracing the anger and rebellion at the realisation of the secret subtle violence which is present all around us, and a coming to terms with this, in whatever way is right for us, in the decision to be more conscious and intentional about our choices of how and where we live.

We are all at different stages of the journey and of course not everyone’s path leads in such a simply explainable way. But if you have read this far I am guessing that you are also somewhat considering how you are a part of an intentional community. And this is where it may start to get complicated.

Opening the portal…

By making intentional communities, whether in physical space or as a non-physical network, we can be seen as opening up spaces for people to come together and create. This may be with a physical space such as a community garden, or a network of like-minded individuals; it could be people coming together to create events, or those who have chosen to build everything they need to live, together, in one place. John Paul Lederach, one of the leading practitioners in the field of peace studies, says that creativity and the creative process is “the wellspring that feeds the building of peace” (3). If we can be creative, we can imagine ways out of situations of conflict. In this way we are building a positive collective of humans engaging with each other.

However, creativity is also an important part of dealing with the effects of violence. Those traumatised by violence (which, in this modern world, is probably everyone), require healing. Sometimes huge amounts of grief, anger or sadness have to be expressed before any other healing can take place. By making spaces for people to come together and create we are also opening up the space for this healing to begin taking place. So any intentional community also has to deal with the grief, the anger; we have to deal with community members lashing out at other community members, not because they have a particular personal problem but because they are expressing the effects of a deep and violent trauma, which in itself may also not even be personal, but part of our collective ‘primal wounding’ (4).

I say, we have to deal with it; because if we open this space, these things will come out sooner or later. Our psyches do not necessarily recognise when it’s a good time to express our wounding or to express a new creative action; and indeed there may be no separation between these things. So whether or not we are prepared, we do have to deal with it.

So then what happens if someone goes ‘crazy’?

What if the expression of collective primal wounding by one community member ends up hurting another community member – either physically or emotionally, or both?

In ‘normal’ society, the answer is simple – remove them from the community and put them in a contained space so they can get ‘better’. This way of thinking is so far removed from all of the intentional communities that I have been and continue to be a part of that it would not really occur to us to take this action. We can recognise that outbursts of so-called ‘crazy’ behaviour are not necessarily signs of illness, but parts of a process which is important to go through. But this does not take away the actual reality of community members being violent to each other. Having decided that we will not section each other, what can we do in these situations?

There is no easy answer. But in part 2, I will explore some possible techniques which could be practiced by community members together to try to achieve some kind of balance in healing.

Healing takes time…

Our collective trauma is still healing. Our ancestors’ grief at the loss of their connection to the trees and creatures with whom they shared life may not yet be fully expressed, and is awaiting expression through our own actions before we can fully heal. Our own personal expriences with violence, both overt and covert, may not be fully integrated. May we be kind to ourselves and to each other, as we try to recognise that we are all healing together.

References

  1. Barash (ed), 1999. Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
  2. Rosenberg, R, 2003. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press: Encinitas, CA, USA.
  3. Firman, J; Gila, A, 2002. Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit. SUNY Press: New York City, USA.
  4. Lederach, J.P, 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
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Land Delvings

All photos by David Ashwanden

For many ages and across many cultures, the question of land ownership has puzzled and confused those who consider it. Should we really have to pay just for being somewhere? And if we should, surely we should be paying whoever put us here; God, Mother Earth, the universal energy – call it what you will, for many it makes more sense than paying another person. After all, they too are only being.

In cities, perhaps, this feeling is less easy to define. Go out from the concrete box and away from the tarmac streets; follow the faint scent of wildflowers and sweet adventure, and stand with your bare feet on the bare earth, and then…breathe. Here is the clarification that you are a part of the land: it belongs to you and you to it.

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Connecting to the land…Photo by David Ashwanden

Yet if you want to live in a place that is not completely wild, it was probably built by someone and so they should receive some kind of acknowledgment, perhaps. Generally, however, the line of contact is not so direct and it is rare to find that the person to whom you have to pay money for the place you live is the same as the person who built it. More ‘normal’ is to pay someone who has nothing to do with the place you live a continuous stream of money simply to be in the space. But is it necessary to pay anyone at all?

There are many different ways of playing with alternatives to paying simply to live somewhere, a few of which I have explored.

Exchange

One quite common method is to exchange something other than money – most commonly, time given to the person who claims some kind of ownership of the place, to help them out in whatever occupies them.

This method is fairly well established and websites such as WWOOF (Worldwide Work on Organic Farms) (1),  Helpx (Help Exchange) (2) and Workaway (3) have thousands of members globally. The kind of places you could end up living in through one of these websites could range from a hand built concrete geodesic dome in the middle of the desert, to an immobile caravan 1600m up a mountain side, and the range of projects you may be asked to participate in is literally humungous. This is especially true with living with Helpx hosts, as this website has no specifications for what kind of place it needs to be (by contrast, to be a WWOOF host you have to prove that you are an organic farm). Workaway seems to have more hosts outside of Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand but many request a monetary contribution for food.  

If you really want somewhere to live where you don’t have to pay money, but fancy something more politically controversial than a farm is generally considered to be, you could also try Wwolfing (4) – “WWOOFing with teeth”. This is a website bringing together projects from all around Europe which are protest sites, squatted communities or other kinds of project which may be more risky than if people simple owned the land. The website is small at the moment and anyway there are crossovers with Helpx as many of the hosts listed on Helpx do not actually own their land either.

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Playing with animals…A real option with Helpx

My own helping experiences include, to name but a few

  • Building artificial coral reefs from recycled toilets
  • Riding and chasing horses around a field for exercise (for both of us!)
  • Helping to empty a 100,000 litre water tank into a deposito in the desert
  • Implementing irrigation systems in a Holistic Management farm
  • Feeding and playing with cats while staying in a wood cabin in an orange grove
  • Creating an adventure playground for a summer camp

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Desert Stars…

Hospitality

Fun and enlightening as all of my help exchange experiences have been, it seems clear that they still rest on this basic presumption that you should be giving something for the place that you stay. There are other alternative ways of living which question this notion entirely.

Three that I have some experience with are squatting, “free” communities, and websites such as Couchsurfing, Tripping and Bewelcome. They are all very different ways of going outside the idea that you need to pay to stay, and all add their own hue to this woven tapestry intermingled with, yet not quite touching, the generally accepted norm.

Occupied Buildings or Land

Beginning is easy…Right? The world is full of abandoned or forgotten buildings or pieces of land; jam-packed, in fact, and all beckoning with the exciting potential of what they could become. All you need is the will to change them into a living environment…Right?

In my experience, it seems that in order to occupy a piece of land the most important thing is to first establish a community. Without the support of your fellow so-called “squatters” (a strange term which we perhaps need to transcend if we wish to propagate the idea that the Earth is everyone’s to walk upon freely) or, crucially, of whoever lives in the area already, then it doesn’t matter how much you put into the occupation; you do not have the necessary network to succeed. This, much more than whatever the local laws may say about occupation of buildings or pieces of land, appears as the most important factor.

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Country Bath Anyone?

I have visited and lived in many squats in Europe and the successful ones are always the ones who are considerate of their neighbours, at least to some extent, and wherein the community of squatters is at least somewhat cohesive. These range from a squatted community in a forest in the UK, who were asked to occupy the land by local farmers to attempt to halt planned development which would have caused deforestation and loss of ecosystems to an impressively well-organised ex-fortress in the centre of Rome, Italy, where people not only live but grow their own food, host festivals and events and run a range of community workshops. 

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Creative Community

It is not always easy to find occupied buildings to stay in, for their grey legal status means that they are often only found by word of mouth. Of course many have an online presence but if you want to find out what is really going on there it’s best to visit. I lived in one squatted community in Spain where, when I left to visit local villages or cities, I was frequently given the news that the community had been evicted by the local authorities- only to return to find everything as ‘normal’ or at least how it had been when I left.

I have intentionally left out the names and locations of the occupied projects mentioned as the people living in them and running them may not wish to be public. If it’s right for you, you’ll find some occupied communities to stay in; just keep your eyes open.

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Beauty in the city

Intentional Communities

The global network of intentional communities is growing all the time; all of them with different aims and principles and all with different rules about whether or not you can stay in them. Some, such as Tamera in Portugal (4), are very strict: if you wish to visit Tamera you have to pay to stay for a minimum of 1 month as part of your ‘education’, after which time you can choose to pay to stay for more time, and on the ‘visitors’ section of their website they say rather inhospitably “we wish you an intensive time”. Others, such as many Rainbow communities around the world, are much more loose and indeed less hierarchical about who can stay and for how long. You can find more information about intentional communities in general here: (5).

Couchsurfing and related themes

The second most helpful website in revolutionising the way I travel, after Helpx, has been Couchsurfing (6), an international network of hosts and travellers where, if you have a spare room, bed or couch, you can offer it for people to come and stay with you. The central idea of this is that hospitality should be a gift: there is no reciprocity expected, simply the inherent idea that anyone who is coming to visit your home is worthy of being hosted. Such an idea seems in my experience to be quite an integral part of culture in many Islamic societies but is a new idea for modern industrialised civilisation. Couchsurfing has existed for a number of years now and in that time it seems to have morphed somewhat into a kind of dating website. However, the idea remains and many other websites have sprung up which are similar, such as  BeWelcome (7) and more specific ones like Warmshowers (8) where people host travellers on bike tours, usually providing them not with a bed but with space for a tent and, as the name implies, usually a warm shower.

Workplace Accommodation

There are many jobs which offer accommodation as part of the position, from artist’s residencies to boarding schools, and from architectural assignments to landscape gardening. If you already have a particular skill it may be worth considering if you can travel with it.  Similarly there are many online jobs which you can do from anywhere, though there still remains the question of how you choose to relate to being where you are.

The power of the book of face

It seems strange to include social media in an article about physical community-connections. Yet it didn’t feel right to include all of these ways of staying places for free without including the power of Facebook (9) in facilitating this. There are so many groups now on Facebook that it seems you can find hosts in most places. The advantages of this are that you don’t have to pay the website fees which Helpx, Workaway, Wwoof, Couchsurfing and others all require, and that, since many many people use Facebook extremely regularly, you are much more likely to get a swift response. The appeal of using websites such as Couchsurfing is that there is a reference system so you can check up on your potential guests or hosts; however, Facebook also provides a kind of informal reference, with really a lot more information than a couple of lines someone who has known you for 2 days may have written. Of course, there is a also a lot of irrelevant information on this website but using it is perhaps healthy exercise of one’s critical faculties.

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They say travel opens the mind….

Go Explore!

All of the aforementioned represent changes in our ideas and our culture which are a part of a real evolution into a more consciously connected global community, linked not by our ability to pay to be somewhere but by our shared humanity and wanderlust. Want to find out more? Maybe that holiday you’ve always dreamed of isn’t actually out of your reach; maybe you can learn the skills you’ve always wanted to study by practically doing them while being fed and hosted; or maybe you are simply a little curious to see how people do things in different ways.

Why not try it out?

References

  1. Wwoof International, 2016. ‘How it Works’. http://wwoofinternational.org/how-it-works/
  2. Helpx, 2016. ‘About Helpx’. http://www.helpx.net/about.asp
  3. Workaway, 2016. ‘Who We Are’. http://www.workaway.info/whoweare.html
  4. Wwolfing, 2016. ‘Wwoofing with teeth’. https://wwolfing.wordpress.com/
  5. Tamera, 2016. ‘About Us’. https://www.tamera.org/what-is-tamera/about-us/
  6. Fellowship for Intentional Community, 2016. ‘Welcome’. http://www.ic.org/
  7. Couchsurfing, 2016. ‘Couchsurfing’. http://www.couchsurfing.com
  8. BeWelcome, 2016. ‘FAQs’. http://www.bewelcome.org/faq
  9. Warmshowers, 2016. ‘Home’. https://www.warmshowers.org/
  10. Facebook, 2016. ‘Facebook’. http://www.facebook.com

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

 

 

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

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.