Tag Archives: festival

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/

Exotic Excess at the Harvest Stomp

All photos by Alan Husband.

The Exotic Excess Cafe. Photo by Alan Husband.

The Exotic Excess Cafe. Photo by Alan Husband.

The poet William Blake said “the thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest” (1). If he was right, then the visitors to the Exotic Excess Café at Groundwork (2)’s Harvest Stomp Festival (3) this Autumn Equinox are now very well provisioned. The Café, run by community interest group This is Rubbish (TiR) (4), was perhaps inaptly named as we were not selling anything but giving away huge amounts of surplus fruit and vegetables. As the autumn sun shone down on the tightly trimmed grass of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London, we could hardly move for interested and thankful visitors and happy festival-goers.

Thankful receivers bearing our plentiful harvest. Photo by Alan Husband.

Thankful receivers bearing our plentiful harvest. Photo by Alan Husband.

A Modern Harvest

The festival had many diverse stalls, from bee-keeping demonstrations with honey harvests to vegetable competitions for home-grown harvests. At the Exotic Excess café, however, we were focussing on a slightly different kind of harvest. As an estimated 36% of the food purchased in the UK goes to waste before it even reaches the consumer (5), there is a huge potential to intercept this and re-direct it to people who need food. As I have already explored through my work with the Gleaning Network (6) and the Food Waste Collective (7), there are a number of different strategies already operative in the UK for how to do this.

A key aspect of any food redistribution work is (unsurprisingly) sourcing the food and then finding hungry people to give it to. Perhaps of equal importance is the way in which we perceive and react to our food. If we show appreciation and thankfulness we are probably more likely to give value to the stuff we eat and see it as a worthy substance that should be used carefully and responsibly, rather than as a commodity. One fantastic way of doing this is to have a celebration! So that’s exactly what we did…

Talking about the Food

As we currently produce around enough food in the world to feed 12bn people (7). This coupled with the estimated 30 – 50% of food which is wasted annually on a global scale (9) shows starkly that food scarcity is an illusion and better organisation of food systems is necessary.

However, if we confront people with only facts such as those stated above, there is a chance of creating feelings of anger and/or helplessness. We prefer to inspire – which is why we have Exotic Hostesses serving up intercepted food on silver trays, and encourage communal eating in shared appreciation with a finale of a giant Salad Toss – where we entice members of the public to aid in creating a salad so large it has to be tossed in a tarpaulin.

Preparing Fruity Sticks, and for the Great Salad. Photo by Alan Husband.

Preparing Fruity Sticks, and for the Great Salad. Photo by Alan Husband.

Fruity Sticks and Salad Tosses

When I participated in the Exotic Excess Café last July at the Waterloo Food Festival (10) the predominant food stuffs we had intercepted was bananas, apples, peaches, grapes, oranges…In other words, fruit, fruit and more fruit. This year, we had many more vegetables to redistribute, including numerous packets of rocket and crates of lettuce, as well as carrots, courgettes and peppers. Thus the Salad was a savoury one, but we still had many many fruits to distribute, which we did in the form of make-your-own Fruity Sticks (a hit with the younger visitors) as well as inviting passersby to collect from our “shop” – actually, freely available produce for anyone to take and consume.

Who Could Resist? Photo by Alan Husband.

Who Could Resist? Photo by Alan Husband.

A Glimpse of Abundance. Photo by Alan Husband.

A Glimpse of Abundance. Photo by Alan Husband.

Excess to no Excess

At many food surplus events I have worked at, we have excess food at the end which it is a puzzle what to know to do with. I still have some kilograms of dried corn left from last September’s sweetcorn glean (11), waiting to be polenta-ed; and we were definitely far from taking all of the corn which was going to waste on that day.

However, the vibrant volunteers, along with the warmth of the day and the irresistibility of taking free food (especially when it’s been sprinkled with edible glitter) meant that the event was a great success. Once the festival-goers had got over any confusion or even suspicion about why we were not asking for money, most took to the idea with pleasure. So when we began gathering people for the grand finale, the Great Salad Toss, we ended up with quite a crowd of about twenty to take on the noble role of holding the tarpaulin while the salad ingredients were poured in.

Helping the Sultan to entice people to give a toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

Helping the Sultan to entice people to give a toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

Salad tossing can be a tricky business, and with such a giant salad it has to be seen as a precise art. Luckily we had This is Rubbish’s Sultan overseeing affairs, and the tossing went smoothly with much enjoyment from the crowd.

A perfect toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

A perfect toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

What’s Next?

All feedback I received on the day was positive, and we collected many ‘food waste pledges’ from people inspired to take personal, practical steps towards reducing food waste in their own lives. There will probably be more Exotic Excess Cafés to follow – check out the TiR website (4) for more information – yet ideally, we shouldn’t have to run such events at all, if we all begin using food in a responsible and respectful way.

To this end TiR have many other projects including the brand newly launched ‘Stop the Rot’ (12) campaign, aimed at influencing government and industry to introduce new ways of dealing with food which will reduce the amount of waste in the UK. In order to be effective the campaign needs as much publicity from the British public as possible, so feel free to spread the word. Even if you do not feel you wish to place your energy into national politics, remember that all government action is ultimately decided by what the citizens of a country do – or don’t do.

All change begins at a personal level, and in this time of harvest it is worth noting the abundance around us and perhaps changing our perceptions to envision and act towards a more fruitful future.

References

  1. Blake, W, 1790 -93. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Bodleian Library: Oxford (Re-printed 2011).
  2. Groundwork, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.groundwork.org.uk/Pages/Category/about-us-uk – retrieved 2/10/15
  3. Groundwork London, 2015. ‘The Harvest Stomp’, Project Dirt Events. http://www.projectdirt.com/apps/event/37931/– retrieved 2/10/15
  4. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  5. WRAP, 2015. Estimates of Food and Packaging Waste in the UK Grocery Retail and Hospitality Supply Chains. http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/UK%20Estimates%20February%2015%20%28FINAL%29.pdf – retrieved 2/10/15
  6. Feedback Global UK, 2015. Gleaning Network. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/– retrieved 2/10/15
  7. Hanover Action for Sustainable Living, 2015. ‘The Food Waste Collective’. http://www.hasl.org.uk/food-waste.html – retrieved 2/10/15
  8. De Schutter, O, 2013. ‘Report on Right to Food’. United Nations General Assembly: Geneva
  9. Institute of Mechanical Engineers 2010. ‘Waste Not Want Not’. IMechE: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0 – retrieved 10/9/15
  10. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Exotic Excess, Lower Marsh Market, Waterloo’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/event/july-2014-exotic-excess-lower-marsh-market-waterloo/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  11. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Gleaning First-Hand’. Abundance Garden, 3/11/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/gleaning-first-hand/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  12. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Stop the Rot’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/project/stoptherot/– retrieved 2/10/15

Notes

All photos by Alan Husband. Want to see more of the day? His Flickr album is here: Harvest Stomp on flickr.

Kosmicare: Cosmic Care at Festivals helping to create positive societal change – Part 2

When we have clear ideas of what the symbols which appear to us – whether in folk myth, dream or chemically-induced vision – can represent, we are better equipped to understand our own role in the great narrative of our life. However, if we have not had such training as that given to a tribe which values shared metaphors and symbols, we can be

“left alone with our unpredictable emotions and the sometimes terrifying visions of the collective unconscious” (1); in what is termed by some as a ‘bad trip’.

Tripping through the Dark…

If we have not been brought up with a conscious defining mythology such as that of the Wixaritari (see for example 2), that is not to say that we are in any disadvantage. As Campbell (1959) (3) puts it, we have to be aware of what our own stories mean, and can even be a part of creating our own new symbols which are unique to us.

Such symbols may be all the more potent if we have undergone some kind of journey in order to discover them. An important part of Kosmicare UK’s work is the recognition that whatever is happening in someone’s mind, there is probably a good reason for it, even if the person is not having the most comfortable time. As it says on their website,

“We think that if someone is having a “bad trip” it is because he/she is really in need of it.  They may be confronting their own fears, and there is potential to benefit from it. Therefore, we do not work with denial or try to make people come back to “normal” but, embracing the moment, we provide support for the individual to come through the ordeal more wholesome and wise.” (1)

Into the Light

For Kosmicare,

“An important step to take is to acknowledge that in gatherings and festivals people are pushing boundaries, and it is here that we need to give support.” (1)

One inspirational aspect of being part of the Kosmicare UK team at Goa Cream, a festival designed to promote Kosmicare, was to see so many festival-goers who are already prepared to give support to each other, and who recognise the benefits of their work even if they have not been personally cared for at the Kosmicare area. Such support is also inspirational in terms of considering the wider reach which Kosmicare, or similar initiatives, could have.

As well as one-to-one support for those already in drug-related experiences, Kosmicare provides non-judgmental information on, and in some cases testing facilities for, all kinds of mind-altering substances. When pushing boundaries by using these, one can be catapulted through a psychological exploration which, though it may feel like a number of millennia, lasts on our timescale only around 6-12 hours. This is why it is so important for Kosmicare to be present at festivals and parties, as such experiences can give you little or no preparation for what could be in store, and the mental effects are so quick and strong that occasionally they can be a handful.

However, people are having more sustained psychological explorations all the time, which have been variously described as ‘voice hearing’, ‘schizophrenia’, ‘psychosis’, or a host of other labels, for which British and other “Western” societies do not necessarily provide adequate facilities.

It could be argued that someone who is experiencing what modern Western medicine could term as psychosis, delusions, schizoid or paranoid behaviour is going through a similar kind of ‘bad trip’ as that which can be induced by entheogenic substances, though the trip generally takes a lot longer than 12 hours. The general response in “Western” society is to place such individuals in the mental healthcare system where medical staff attempt to make them “better” or fit in with society again. While such a response may have benefits for some individuals, it could be important to note that “mental illness” as defined in “Western” society is seen by most shamanic cultures as “the birth of a healer” and those experiencing it are seen as undergoing a necessary stage in their journey towards becoming, if they wish to accept the role, an important community facilitator and healer (4) (5).

Healing Options

If such perceptions of mental illness can help individuals in ways in which the western system falls short, such as with the case of Franklin Russell, hospitalised at 17 as a “schizophrenic” in the USA but hailed as one of the “mediums bringing messages to the community from the spirit world” in West Africa (6), then perhaps we need options other than mental hospitals in which to support them. One such option could be an extended version of Kosmicare; where the spaces are in one fixed place within the community and where support can be found not only for a few days at a time, but all year round, and with a much longer time limit on how long one can be in the space.

Such a static healing space should not replace Kosmicare, but rather work alongside it, as the focus is on slightly differing, though interlinked, psychological experiences. The space, I feel, would have to be centred in a natural environment; even if set up to serve a city community it should be on the outskirts of said city, in a place where there is less psychic noise than can be found among the busy city streets.

As such, it can be seen as a kind of ‘Healing Forest’, or whatever natural phenomena is seen as important by a particular community. So those who dwell near a river may prefer to go to a ‘Healing Valley’ whilst those who live in high altitudes may prefer a ‘Healing Mountain’. It is important to connect the landscape to the community as then those going there to undergo their difficult experiences will be able to relate more to it. Sacred space appears to be a key part of all human culture, whether we have a religion or not, as I explore in my ‘Sacred Spaces’ article (7).

Another important reason for having the space in nature is that those who live there permanently as supporters for people in need of care will have to be grounded in non-human nature as well as deeply understanding of human psychology; as David Abram eloquently puts it,

“the primary role of the indigenous shaman [is] a role that cannot be fulfilled without long and sustained exposure to wild nature, to its patterns and vicissitudes.” (8)

Modern Shamans?

Those who work in such a place as may be created as the Healing Forest, Valley, Mountain or others may have some professional similarities with shamans of traditional societies, though they perhaps prefer not to be called shamans themselves. For although this idea of a static Kosmicare available in every town and community is not so different from the traditional role of shamans in indigenous tribal cultures, the fact that we have our own, literate, abstracted, diversified, flexible and, to a huge extent, highly individualised cultures means that such an endeavour will be not simply an emulation of older societies but the creation of a new cultural paradigm.

Grand words, perhaps; though in reality the adventure will be quite simple. All that is needed is a few willing people, a corner of land and some imagination.

In the meantime, Kosmicare UK will continue creating spaces at festivals throughout the country, beginning in the spring of 2016. Even if you are not experiencing psychological or drug-related difficulties, look out for us! You may well find some positive surprises.

References

  1. Kosmicare UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
  2. Alfredo López Austin : Tamoanchan, Tlalocan. U Pr of Co, 1997.
  3. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon: New York City
  4. Halifax, J, 1988. Shaman: The Wounded Healer. Thames & Hudson: London
  5. Marohn, S and Somé, M.P, 2014. ‘What a Shaman sees in a Mental Hospital’. Waking Times, 22/8/2014. http://www.wakingtimes.com/2014/08/22/shaman-sees-mental-hospital/
  6. Russell, D, 2014. ‘How a West African Shaman Helped my Schizophrenic Son in a way Western Medicine Couldn’t’. Washington Post, 24/3/14. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/03/24/how-a-west-african-shaman-helped-my-schizophrenic-son-in-a-way-western-medicine-couldnt/
  7. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Sacred Spaces’. Abundance Garden, 3/3/15. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/sacred-spaces/
  8. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage Books: New York City

Kosmicare: Cosmic Care at Festivals helping to create positive societal change – Part 1

Last weekend we witnessed a highly significant event as the shadow of our planet passed over the Moon. This as a visible phenomenon is impressive enough without having any idea what it could mean; but theories also abound about the significance of the Lunar Eclipse with regards to human psychology. One such theory (1) is that it is evocative of psychologist Carl Jung’s idea of the “shadow self” (2). Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that last weekend also saw the manifestation of Goa Cream Festival, the first event held to raise funds entirely for Kosmicare UK (3), a voluntary organisation devoted to helping people at festivals who are experiencing psychological difficulties. As may be imagined, this involves a huge diversity of activity, much of which can arguably be applied not only in the context of a festival but in society at large as well.

What is Kosmicare?

Kosmicare UK is a group providing welfare for those at festivals who may be experiencing psychological difficulties, or who are feeling lost, uncomfortable or unhappy. The group is specifically set up to “focus on support for people having difficult drug related experiences and work alongside traditional first aid providers to relieve strain by providing specialised care” (3); as there are a huge range of situations involving drugs where the user may require care and attention, yet to only give them medical attention may miss out on treating their true need, as well as placing unnecessary work on medically trained professionals who are better equipped to deal with physical or straightforward mental symptoms. Modelled on Kosmicare, the pioneer project set up at Boom Festival in 2002 (4), the organisation works closely with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Substances (MAPS) (5) as well as many other individuals from medical, artistic and academic backgrounds (3).

Psychedelic First Aid

The type of help provided by Kosmicare is difficult to put into words, as the welfare comes not only from the volunteers but from the spaces which Kosmicare create at festivals, and from the atmosphere encouraged. There is usually a large bell tent, decorated in a peaceful manner, full of cushions, duvets and blankets and kept as a quiet and contemplative space for those in need of it. As well as this there is a less quiet but just as comfortable space for more conversational relaxation. Then there is the fire encircled with seats, which is kept burning throughout the hours of darkness, every night of the festival. This last space was especially important at Goa Cream, held as it was in the last week of September in the Worcestershire hills.

Space
The spaces created by Kosmicare are important not only as physical places but as components of the atmosphere engendered by them. Kosmicare is at its heart a “tribe”; the volunteers generally sleep close to or in the Kosmicare area, cook and eat together, and provide support for each other as well as the personal support given to each visitor to Kosmicare. Festivals are designed for people to have fun and all Kosmicare volunteers I have met understand that we are here to have a good time; though we have allocated shifts, caring never feels like work, and carers who are not on shift regularly hang around the area as the atmosphere is so friendly.

This tribal, familiar attitude is reflected in the open-minded and welcoming nature of the volunteers and in the acceptance that whatever substance someone has ingested, and whatever kind of time they may be having, there can still be an opportunity for personal growth and positivity. This can be seen as especially important with any kind of entheogens, which as the Kosmicare website puts it,
“have played a pivotal role in the spiritual practices of ancient cultures for millennia, and historically were taken in a tribal context with the support of the tribe and a shaman.” (3)

Though such experiences may be terrifying at times, the support element means that whatever happens during the ritual or trip, there are experienced people around who can help to some extent.

Symbols and Symptons

Ritual tribal practises have what could be seen as an added safety element in that they generally involve metaphors and significant stories which are familiar to all in the tribe and whose meanings have both been thoroughly explored and are not taken literally. For example, the peyote rituals of the Wixaritari people involve a carefully ritualised pilgrimage to the place where the peyote cactus grows, during which the participants take on roles of specific significant deities and pass a number of sacred spaces (6).

Such attention to and sacralising of the natural non-human environment, as well as metaphors to explain or narrate human events, are common throughout human history and have been remarked upon by many scholars as involving the same symbols regardless of where or when the culture may be creating them – for more on this see for example Campbell (1949) (7) and Abram (1986) (8). The interesting thing about this similarity in themes and metaphors is that even if individuals in a culture do not have defining metaphors of their own, their psychology will spontaneously produce them (7); prompting Jung to term our shared ideas of symbols as the “collective unconscious” (9).

How can we deal with such symbols in as useful and mutually beneficial a way as possible? For some ideas, keep checking this blog for Part 2!

References
1.    Astrostyle, 2015. ‘Solar and Lunar Eclipses’. http://astrostyle.com/learn-astrology/solar-and-lunar-eclipses/
2.   Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
3.  Kosmicare UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
4.  Boom Festival, 2014. ‘Kosmicare’. http://www.boomfestival.org/boom2014/boomguide/kosmicare/
5.  MAPS, 2015. ‘Mission’. https://www.maps.org/about/mission
6.  Alfredo López Austin : Tamoanchan, Tlalocan. U Pr of Co, 1997.
7.    Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon: New York City
8.    Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage Books: New York City
9.   Jung, C, 1953. Collected Works vol. 7, “The Structure of the Unconscious” (1916), 437–507. (pp. 263–292).

Sacred Spaces

All photos by David Ashwanden

A lot of the time, one hears tales of natural landscapes being destroyed: flourishing, paradisal ecosystems interrupted to make way for what generally seems to be a poor exchange: a bit of petroleum, perhaps; a shopping centre, or even a parking lot.

Raising awareness of such operations is important, and the question of whether or not a particular piece of land should be developed often seems even more pertinent when the land in question has a deep cultural or spiritual significance. Yet it seems equally important to explore how we relate to such events, and the extent to which we understand our own impact on sacred spaces.

Mt. Bromo

Saving Space

It seems for every environmentally-destructive operation there is a reaction against such destruction. One example is Greenpeace’s Stop the Tar Sands campaign (1), whose focus is on the destruction of Athabasca, the ancestral homeland of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (2). Though Athabasca is in modern day Canada, the campaign is based in the UK; a recognition that in our increasingly interconnected world we can have an affect on things seemingly far away from us. Another example of this is the case of Quemado. Quemado is a mountain in Mexico which is currently the home of a community of Wixarikas (known in Spanish as Huichol), who have one of the oldest unbroken pagan traditions in the world (3) – i.e. they are still practicing more or less the same rituals which they have practised for thousands of years, rather than is the case with many earth-worshipping traditions, which have been revived after being lost (see for example 4). Quemado has recently come to the attention of some people in the UK, as the Wixarikas’ homeland is being threatened by plans from the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp and Real Bonanza (6), who both wish to dig up the mountain in order to extract silver from it. This article (5) reports on how the Wixarika used to inhabit the Wirikuta Desert, a place which still remains holy to them and to which they still continue to make a month-long pilgrimage each year in order to harvest the sacred plants which grow there.

The definition of holy

It seems clear that there are many better things which could happen to Quemado Mountain than to be turned into one more habitat-destroying and inefficient mine; and it is admirable that people are taking up the cry of those whose homes are threatened by such entities as the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp. One thing that seems as though it could be seen from a slightly different perspective, however, is the article’s pointing out the fact that Quemado is a holy mountain – so even more reason for it to be respected. Yet the article itself points out that the Wixarika only live in El Quemado now because they moved there to escape various waves of colonialism in Mexico; “conquistadors, missionaries, slavers, settlers, ranchers, and the murderous Catholic fundamentalists, Los Cristeros”; and even consumer-capitalism (5). Their ancestral holy place is the desert to which they travel every year for the sacred mescalito or peyote (Lophophora Williamsii) harvest. This is not to say that El Quemado is not holy or should not be respected; but rather to throw into question the whole idea of how to define what is holy anyway. the article seems to imply respect for the Wixarika’s homeland as a sacred space; yet the website it is published on is a UK-based one, far away from the mountain in question and the culture which is being held up as admirable; one whose people have “pure open hearts, extreme honesty, zero bullshit, a genuine spiritual focus, utter reverence for Nature, and who exist in a permanent and instantly tangible magical reality” (5).

Perhaps one way in which we can truly learn from such a culture is to bring this kind of thinking into our own lives. The mountain was not holy before the Wixarikas moved onto it; what does this say about mountains? What does it say about the places where you live?

Making Sense of Where we Are

It is of great importance to respect the world in which we live, and if anyone feels they see an imbalance which they wish to set right, they should try to change it. But any change we attempt to make “out there” is going to be severely reduced if we do not look at how we can create more harmony and balance in our own lives. Where you live, is there a place which is generally worshipped? Does your culture make a pilgrimage to somewhere special?

Chances are, if you live somewhere like the UK then your immediate answer to such questions would be “no”. Yet it is worth thinking into this a little. Perhaps you do not feel a particular pull from the place you live; but why do you live there? Maybe there are no places deemed “special” by your country, race, belief system, town, village or even friends which you relate to – but isn’t there somewhere which you find special? This could be anywhere; from the particular way your room feels when you sit in that chair at a certain time of day, to the notable majesty of the tree you pass on your way to work every day. If there are special places in your life which you like to visit, take a moment to consider what makes them attractive to you. Perhaps it is that you can relax there; that you feel a sense of beauty or peace, or you can come together with friends or family and so feel more connected and integrated.

It's amazing what you can find that is special. Photo by David Ashwanden

It’s amazing what you can find that is special. Photo by David Ashwanden

The examples of what such places could be are as many as there are people. It is worth recognising, however, that if you have somewhere which evokes any of those feelings in you, this could also be defined as “holy”. That doesn’t mean that you need to start a religion about it; merely that it commands your respect, and therefore, perhaps, it can help you feel more respect towards yourself and by extension, to everyone else.

Feeling the connection

That you can make your own life more magical by respecting your immediate environment still extends to the rest of the world. Yet rather than following campaigns whose stated aim is the prohibition of something – such as stopping the tar sands – it may be more helpful to look at what we can create. In choosing to sacred-ise the world around us we can help to engender a culture of mutual appreciation. For example, rather than trying to decry the silver companies, which after all are made up of humans who almost all probably believe they are doing the right thing, it may be more beneficial to look at how your own activities fit into the proposed mine. Silver is used a lot for jewellery and decorations; but much more of it is used to create electronic equipment such as phones and laptops (6). Perhaps by choosing to reduce the demand for silver, by using recycled electronic goods and opting for products such as Fairphone (7) over brand-new goods, we can show that the silver mine is not only destructive to the ecosystems around it and to the Wixarika culture, but it is itself irrelevant.

Mt. Arjuna

Making Sacred Spaces

Your holy place could be anywhere; from the local nightclub where you never fail to let loose and have fun with your friends, to that quiet bend in the river under the cliffs where you sit alone, undisturbed by all except the occasional passing sheep. The key thing about the Wixarikas is that they made the Quemado Mountain holy when they began living there. They show their respect to and appreciation for the mountain in countless ways. One admirable thing which humans have is the ability to change our environment. When done carelessly and without thought this leads to such clear ecological disasters as the Athabasca Oil Sands and the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp’s plans for El Quemado. Yet when done with conscientious respect it is marvellous what we can create.

Feel like you don't have your own 'sacred space'? Maybe you can create one...Photo by David Ashwanden

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

References

  1. Greenpeace, 2015. ‘Stop theTar Sands’. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/stop-the-tar-sands/

  2. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.acfn.com/#!about/c1enr

  3. Stacy B. Schaefer, Peter T. Furst, People of the peyote: Huichol Indian history, religion & survival. UNM Press, 1998. p. 236

  4. Bonewits, I, 1979/2007. “Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso- and Neo”. http://www.neopagan.net/PaganDefs.html

  5. Psychic Deli, 2013. “Occupy Quemado: Holy Mountain or Holey Mountain?” Psychedelic Press, 1/3/13. http://psypressuk.com/2013/03/01/occupy-quemado-holy-mountain-or-holey-mountain/

  6. Lewis, Dr J, 2012. “Huichol Indians Protest Silver Mining Plan at Sacred Mountains”. Silverseek, 23/2/12

  7. Ferre, E.C, 2015. “The Many Uses of Silver”. http://geology.com/articles/uses-of-silver/

  8. Fairphone, 2015. “About Us”.www.fairphone.com/story

Springtime Sowing at Seedy Sunday

This past week we have gone through a key moment in the solar calendar as the balance of light begins to tip inexorably towards more light and less dark. Many traditions celebrate this time as one of the “quarter days” in between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The exact date changes depending on where the sun is but is usually celebrated (by those who still pay attention to these things) between the 1st and 3rd of February. The festival, known most commonly as Imbolc – pronounced “ee-molk” – is a recognition of the changing of the seasons; a time when life begins returning after the winter months, and when the ground begins to warm up sufficiently for seeds to be planted.

It is fitting, then, that the first Sunday of February every year sees the return of the UK’s largest seed swap, Seedy Sunday (1), held this year on Sunday 1st February in its usual location of the Brighton Corn Exchange. Seed swapping is an important way to help you to grow more and stronger varieties, and to help to preserve genetics of existing varieties as more than one person will plant them.

The Seed Swap table. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Seed Swap table. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Er…why don’t I just go to the garden centre?

When you save seeds from your crops using open-pollinated methods you are preserving the variety of plant – be it flower, vegetable or other crop – and thus ensuring that the plant’s genes can continue to the next generation. By doing this you make the variety more stable and also you create a seed which is adapted to whichever environment you have grown it in, so you know it will do well there. However, being open pollinated, the seed will also easily adapt to other environments.

If you are a grower but you do not save seeds you will have to keep buying new seeds from a commercial company. There are very few commercial seeds available which have been produced using open pollinated methods; indeed, under EU regulations, it is currently illegal to sell such seeds without registering them for ‘Distinctiveness, Uniformity and Stability’ (2) and proving that the variety is ‘commercially viable’ (3). As open pollinated seeds are usually non-uniform and adaptable this is usually not possible; so the vast majority of commercial seeds which are available to buy will have been produced using other methods, usually hybridisation.

Such techniques are fantastic for producing a clear strain of crops which will all crop at more or less the same time and which need a specific environment to grow in, hence their popularity with farmers growing on a large, intensive scale. However, when you grow crops from hybridised seeds it is very difficult to save seeds successively from them, as the offspring of the plants will revert to either one or other of the parent genes and your seeds will not be true to type. If you want it to be worth planting your seeds – and even on a small, home scale it is still important that you utilise your energy and resources efficiently and effectively – there is little point in planting seeds which have been produced from a hybrid parent, as you have no idea how they will turn out. This, conveniently for the commercial seed companies, means that you have to keep going back to them for your seeds year on year. So seed swapping is beneficial even for no other reason than financially. For more on why it may be a good idea to save seeds, as well as practical ways to get the best from your saved seeds, please see my articles here and here .

This way for seeds! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

This way for seeds! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Brilliant! So how does it work?

One of the main ideas of Seedy Sunday is to create not only a space for people to come and exchange seeds, but to encourage education on issues around seed saving and exchanging, as well as creating links and networks with different groups from around Brighton and even further afield. The Corn Exchange (part of Brighton Dome) is a vast hall, almost ample for the number of different organisations who came along – although this year the event is growing so much that we had to have a few stalls in the foyer and cafe. On entering the Corn Exchange one is greeted immediately by a large barrow, alluringly spilling vegetables, from Barcombe Nurseries (3); then, after purchasing your ticket, which sets you back three pounds, you walk between light-bedecked twinkling trees – very appropriate for Imbolc as a time of celebration of light – and into the hall itself.

Lights in trees greet the attendees. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Lights in trees greet the attendees. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Greeted by Abundance. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Greeted by Abundance. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

What to do?

This year we hosted around 54 different groups, from commercial sellers such as Infinity Foods (our main sponsor) (4) and Foodshed (5) to charities such as RSPB Brighton (6) and Sussex Wildlife Trust (7); gardening groups such as Craven Vale and Whitehawk Allotment Society and Moulsecoomb Forest Garden (8); as well as exciting organisations involved in work to help people become more aware of food, seeds, and their role in gaining the most from them such as Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (9) and Brighton Permaculture Trust (10). All these, as well as campaigns like Beyond GM (11), and then organisations who may be more expected at a seed swap event: people selling plants and seeds such as Pennard Plants (12) and Special Branch Tree Nursery (13).

Along with the stall-holders came a whole host of activities; things to make, such as Seed Freedom’s (14) seedbombs, things to see, such as the numerous plant varieties on sale, and even taste, such as the recipes being demonstrated by the Community Chef (15), and the large selection of honeys on the Blackman Bee farm (16) stall. Children’s activities were also on offer from the Slow Food UK (17) stall and Infinity Foods Cafe (18) were set up in the corner for anyone fancying a breather. And a breather may well be necessary; having weaved your way with fascination amongst the numerous stall holders, you still have not yet come to the helpfully signposted Seed Swap table itself.

On arriving at the Seed Swap table, first thing to do is hand over your own home-saved seeds – if you have any. In previous years the Seed Swap has accepted pretty much anything which people bring, though we have decided to become stricter on which seeds are allowed at the Swap as we realised that some are not worth swapping. For example, commercial and other seeds from hybridised plants have much less value as they will only produce one crop whereas open-pollinated seeds can theoretically be re-grown every year. If you have not saved any seeds, you can still participate in the seed swap; all seed packets are given away for a donation so even first-time growers can get started.

Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Learn, save…celebrate!

As well as the seed swapping aspect, a key part of what makes Seedy Sunday special are the talks, helping to raise awareness of issues around seeds and seed saving, and enabling people to broaden their education on such matters. This year the ‘star speaker’ was a lady from the television – oh yes, we even have celebrities! Her name is Christine Walkden and she participated in a ‘Q&A’ session on gardening tips with Steve Bustin, this year’s chair of the Seedy Sunday Committee.

For those less star-struck but still thirsting for knowledge, we had talks on how to save seeds successfully from Pat Childerhouse and growing seed potatoes from Chris Smith of Pennard Plants (12). There was also a screening of some film clips from an upcoming film on seed saving – ‘From Seed to Seed’ (13) – by Nicholas Bell and Martina Widmer.

As mentioned on the Seedy Sunday programme, the whole event has recently been under threat by the proposed, though currently politically dead, EU regulation on Plant Reproductive Material (14). Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of seed campaigns across Europe as a reaction to the legislation, with the result that, dire as the consequences of the regulation would have been in terms of biodiversity of our ecosystems and freedom of our people, it at least encouraged many more people who were otherwise unaware of such issues to take an interest in them. For more on the proposed regulation, you can see my article from last year here and a more up-to-date one here.

Though the PRM regulation is politically dead for now, the laws of the United Kingdom and indeed of Europe and much of the rest of the world are still far from accommodating when it comes to seed saving on anything less than an intensive industrial scale, and to discuss these issues we had Ben Raskin from the Soil Association with a talk entitled ‘Why does the European Union keep trying to interfere with our seeds and what can we do about it?’

Such issues are important to maintain an awareness of if we wish to keep saving and exchanging seeds. Of equal importance, however, is the celebration of these activities as a celebration of life itself. That Seedy Sunday is held at the same time as Imbolc is no accident: this is the time when life begins returning, symbolically and also physically. I heard many Seedy Sunday-ers commenting throughout the day that they feel as though they are just beginning to wake up after spending the wintertime ‘almost asleep’: such feelings are characteristic not only because of the grim damp greyness which is the British winter but simply as a manifestation of the cycle of life. For many who attend Seedy Sunday the day is just as much a social occasion as it is for business; and to add to the air of festivity we had the Acabella choir singing periodically throughout the day, with a capella songs about plants, trees and growing.

Even the Corn Exchange decor can be seen as fitting to the event. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Even the Corn Exchange decor can be seen as fitting to the event. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Spring’s coming

So begins a new season: seeds, singing and socialising. Now is the time to start planting the seeds we have gained; both physically in the garden, and metaphorically as well. I trust all who attended Seedy Sunday this year had a thoroughly enjoyable day; any who missed it, why not consider attending next year, or, if you do not live in Brighton, finding your own local seed swap event. If there are none in your area, you may wish to consider starting one. Why not? Seedy Sunday may be the largest seed swap in the country but the whole thing is organised by a committee of just nine people, (including the newest member, me) who are all volunteers. If we can do it, you can as well!

References

  1. Seedy Sunday, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://seedysunday.org/category/about
  2. Raskin, Ben, 2014. “Using a Chainsaw to Crack a Nut”. Soil Association: Bristol. Available online here:
    https://www.soilassociation.org/blogs/latestblog/article/792/using-a-chainsaw-to-crack-a-nut
  3. Barcombe Nurseries, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.barcombenurseries.co.uk/about.html
  4. Infinity Foods Wholesale, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.infinityfoodswholesale.co.uk/about/
  5. Foodshed, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.foodshedbrighton.com/about.html
  6. RSPB Brighton, 2015. ‘District Local Group: Brighton’. http://www.rspb.org.uk/groups/brighton
  7. Sussex Wildlife Trust, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/about/index.htm
  8. Moulsecoomb Forest Garden, 2015. ‘About the Project’. http://www.seedybusiness.org/about.shtml
  9. Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, 2015. ‘About’. http://bhfood.org.uk/about/
  10. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2015. ‘About’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/about
  11. Beyond GM, 2015. ‘Beyond GM’. http://beyond-gm.org/
  12. Pennard Plants, 2015. ‘Growing the Dream’. https://pennardplants.com/
  13. Special Branch Tree Nursery, 2015. ‘Local Origin and Why it Matters’.http://www.specialbranchtrees.org.uk/why-local-origin.html
  14. Seed Freedom, 2015. ‘Home’. http://www.seedfreedom.net/
  15. Community Chef, 2015. ‘About’. http://communitychef.org.uk/about/
  16. Blackman Bee Farm, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.blackmanbeefarm.co.uk/about-us.html
  17. Slow Food UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.slowfood.org.uk/about/about/
  18. Infinity Foods Kitchen, 2015. ‘About’. http://infinityfoodskitchen.co.uk/about/
  19. Bell, N, 2013. ‘From Seed to Seed: an educational film on the production of seeds’. Civique Forum, 19/4/2013. http://www.forumcivique.org/de/artikel/seed-seed-educational-film-production-seeds
  20. Community Plant Variety Office, 2015. ‘Draft New Plant Reproductive Material Law’. http://www.cpvo.europa.eu/main/es/home/news/press-releases-and-communications/228-draft-new-eu-plant-reproductive-material-law

Happy Giving Thanks Time

 

Last week saw the celebration, observed in the USA and by many others around the world as well, of Thanksgiving: a festival to observe the importance of giving thanks for one’s food, marked usually with a feast, presumably as with extra food we can be extra grateful.

The festival has its roots in the end of harvest celebrations of many Native American tribes and indeed most cultures around the world, who would usually hold feasts at this time of year to thank the earth and the plants and animals for providing for them, and continuing to provide for them (see for example 1). This seems an important thing to remember and to celebrate, although it should not necessarily be only once a year. While it is appropriate to be aware of the changing of the seasons and give thanks for autumn’s abundance in preparation for the cold scarcity of winter, food is something which most of us eat every day, so why should we not celebrate this at every mouthful?

Changing attitudes

Perhaps one reason why there is currently so much food waste in the world is that many in our modern culture are forgetting this key fact: that food is something we can be joyous about, and not only at thanksgiving. If this is forgotten, then the celebration may as well not have happened. In a way it is nice that the Thanksgiving festival is still acknowledged in a culture which could be seen from some angles to be rather shallow and unfeeling. However, when we look at statistics like the fact that every year, American families throw away around one third of perfectly good food (2), or that every Thanksgiving the food waste figures raise drastically (2), then it seems that we have a little way to go before we can really be said to be giving thanks.

In 2012 a report estimated that every Thanksgiving, “$282 million worth of perfectly edible meat will be wasted, enough to feed each American household in the country 11 additional servings” (3).

This phenomenon does not relate only to food; and it is not characteristic of only the USA either. In the UK in 2012 again (for some reason I cannot find more recent figures; hopefully a sign we are getting less wasteful?) a report estimated that over Christmas we throw away 2m turkeys, 5m Christmas puddings and 74m mince pies (4).

Such figures seem to suggest that we need a little more encouragement of being thankful, because after all, as Dana Gunders of environmental research group the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out, “part of being thankful is not wasting food” (2).

Abundance!

Many people are doing something to facilitate this change in attitude. Last week saw the Brighton-based Food Waste Collective’s winter food re-distribution event, ‘Good Food for Good Causes’, during which time we repacked and redistributed just under 2 tonnes of donated food to around 30 charities and community groups from all over the city. The event was our first in the Brighton Open Market, which turned out to be a fantastically public venue and a good site for showcasing the Food Waste Collective to members of the public, as well as helping raise awareness of our partners, such as Plan Zheroes (5), The Gleaning Network (6), Food Warriors (7) and The Real Junk Food Project (8).

This latter group are just launching in Brighton and their aim is to create a full-time café which uses only surplus food to cook tasty and cheap meals for anyone who cares to come by. I went along to help out at their first ever event, where they were catering for Theatre Uncut’s (9) series of plays on themes of social change. The first night of the Theatre Uncut shows was last Thursday which as it happens was also Thanksgiving. As we served out around 100 delicious servings of surplus dinner, the theatre-goers really had something to be grateful for. Less food waste in the city and more food available; something we can all say thanks to!

For more on the Food Waste Collective events, check out my article here. Photos are available to view on David Ashwanden’s page here.

                An important way in which we can help to bring this message to the public is through participative education. Talking to people and finding out their perspective as well as sharing ours is much more effective than telling them what to do, and it was with this in mind that I helped out with a Love Food Hate Waste stall outside a supermarket in Brighton and Hove, during which time we shared tips on cutting down on festive waste as well as listening to others’ feelings on these issues.

A question of logistics

The Real Junk Food Project’s launch was so successful that on the first night we managed to serve out all the food that was cooked that day. A great response, but one which elicited mild panic, as we were doing the catering for the same event on Friday evening as well. This is where the idea of abundance suddenly got really interesting. Around four or five core food-finders put out various feelers, using mainly social media and connections as well as contacting donors who we already knew about. No one was expecting to get enough food for Friday’s event.

So it was somewhat of a surprise when it came to the end of Friday night and the theatre-goers began rolling out of the venue (an old market, as it happened), protesting that they could not possibly take any more soup. We had managed to collect not only enough food to feed everyone; we had plenty to spare and more besides!

While this was in itself a thing to be celebrated, swift action needed to be taken before we became the very thing which the Real Junk Food Project was set up to alleviate: wasters. But who would take around thirty servings of hot soup on a Friday night? Homeless shelters and refuge centres were quickly contacted; with the replies that cooked food could not be accepted as it is difficult to tell what is in it. For some moments, then, we were stumped; until one volunteer had the bright idea of calling some friends who lived nearby and asking them to bring Tupperware. In this way we managed to shift most of the surplus; the remainder making its way to street people we met on the way home, as well as to our own freezers.

Thanksgiving: all year round

The experience with The Real Junk Food Project showed how, when one trusts in abundance, it can proliferate, sometimes a little too wildly. With a little ingenuity (and a lot of plastic containers!), however, it seems possible to always utilise what we have, and to share in the celebration of the abundance of our world.

Right now we are living in times of great excess; this should not necessarily be a cause for concern. When the excess is used correctly and respectfully, we can turn waste into something wonderful. Of course, it would be better if we if not create so much waste in the first place, and perhaps as we become more aware of the significance of what we eat this will surely lessen.

References

  1. Harvest Festival, 2014. ‘Harvest Festivals from around the world’. http://www.harvestfestivals.net/harvestfestivals.htm – retrieved 1/12/14
  2. Smith, M, 2012. ‘Here’s how much food you’re going to waste on Thanksgiving’. Vice News, 26/11/14. https://news.vice.com/article/heres-how-much-food-youre-going-to-waste-on-thanksgiving – retrieved 1/12/14
  3. Zerbe, L, 2012. ‘The worst turkey statistic ever’. Rodale News, 16/11/12. http://www.rodalenews.com/food-waste-facts – retrieved 1/12/14
  4. Smithers, R, 2012. ‘It’s time to cut the obscene amount of Christmas waste’. Guardian, 20/12/12. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/dec/20/obscene-amount-christmas-food-waste – retrieved 1/12/14
  5. Plan Zheroes, 2014. ‘The Idea’. http://www.planzheroes.org/ – retrieved 1/12/14
  6. Feedbback UK, 2014. ‘Gleaning Network’. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/ – retrieved 1/12/14
  7. Facebook, 2014. ‘Food Warriors!!’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/foodwarriors/?fref=ts – retrieved 1/12/14
  8. Facebook, 2014. ‘The Real Junk Food Project Brighton’. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Real-Junk-Food-Project-Brighton/246123485595051?fref=ts – retrieved 1/12/14
  9. Brighton Theatre Uncut, 2014. ‘About’. https://brightontheatreuncut.wordpress.com/ – retrieved 1/12/14

Growing Halloween

Come We Grow

Last Friday, the 31st of October, saw the marking of a number of occasions. The date has special significance for a number of cultures anyway, and not just for connotations of plastic masks, glow-in-the-dark teeth and threatening (or is it cajoling?) your neighbours for sweets. On top of this, it was also the day of Come We Grow, which I had the pleasure of being involved in.

What is Come We Grow?

                Last week’s event, held at the Wheatsheaf Hall in Vauxhall, South London, was celebrating the release of ‘Fear of a Green Planet’, the new EP from KMT. He is the co-founder of the May Project Gardens in Morden, which combine an interesting mix of permaculture garden and community and music studio where people from all walks of life can go and record.

KMT (his artist name: he introduced himself to me as KMT Ian) seems to have equally strong roots in both hip-hop rap and permaculture. An example of how these perhaps sometimes seemingly incongruous themes come together is KMT’s ‘bling’: from a distance, a large, chunky silver necklace such as may be fashionable among trendy rappers (though I won’t pretend to know about these things). As you get closer, however, it becomes clear that the necklace has been made up of recycled ring-pull tabs.

Celebrations of Growing

                The workshop I was running at Come We Grow focusses on our identification with culture, and indeed what it means to be a part of an existing or emerging culture. In line with this, the subject of Halloween came up; and we explored the significance of this celebration as seen by the people present. To help facilitate discussions we had a pumpkin with us, which got participants talking of carving and of fancy dress. We ended up exploring the idea that many Halloween traditions which are common now in UK culture are based on commercial gain rather than actual cultural ties. When asked if anyone knew of any deeper Halloween traditions no one could say. I was quite surprised at this, though it could have been that simply people were getting tired. I decided to share my reasons for celebrating this date, which I shall summarise here too.

Halloween

                Halloween is a later name for one of the eight important pagan celebrations held throughout the year. Each are chosen according to how much light there is rather than a particular numbered day. At the longest and shortest days we have, respectively, the Summer and Winter Solstices, and in between these, when the day and night become equal in length, are the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. Then in between each of these days are four more celebrations, “cross-quarter” days in the middle of the others, when change is in the air and, as many traditions believe, the world of magic and of spirits is closer to our own.

These four ‘in between’ festivals can be seen as the most potent times of year, and though pagan and Celtic traditions have been somewhat forgotten in this country, are still celebrated by people nowadays, though possibly as more of a revival than a continuation, since so much of our traditions were totally lost. The eight festivals are listed at the bottom of this article with the “cross-quarterly”, or (as some feel) more magical, ones, in bold, and the one which corresponds to Halloween is known as Samhain (pronounced “sa-ween”).

For me, Halloween is about the celebration of this time of change, of the light and dark in their eternal dance, and the seasons turning towards the chill of winter. Though I have found the Pagan calendar to be of use in my own personal celebration-marking, I am by no means exclusively bound by it and have researched many other traditions of this day too, taking from them the meanings which suit me. In some cultures this is a time for honouring the dead, such as with the Mexican celebration of El Dia de Los Muertos (see for example 2), and I feel this is important not just for remembering whichever friends or relatives you know who have passed on, but also with a consideration of your ancestors and all those who have gone before you, and what they have given to you.

It certainly made an interesting accompaniment to the seedbomb making, which was the actual practical aim of my workshop. Even our younger friends, who let’s face it were only really there to play with mud and clay, seemed vaguely interested in our Halloween explorations.

Welcome

                Later on, as the night truly began drawing in and the faint flutter of otherworldy beings to flick in and out of our peripheral hearing (well ok, it may have been the kettle boiling in the cafe), we witnessed the Welcoming Ceremony of the evening. In order to give the attendants a proper welcome, Come We Grow actually had a Shamanic Celebrant to help us all get into the right mood. Aama Sade Shepneki (2), the Celebrant, has a grace and presence which is quite notable, even when she is not speaking. When she began the ceremony, playing a djembe to raise everyone’s energy levels, there was more than one person present with goosepimples.

She also mentioned the importance of Samhain and how, as she puts it, “the veil is thinner” at this time of year. She says it is a time for drawing in our energy and storing up our reserves in preparation for the cold season; a synchronicity with my explorations of the symbolism of the pumpkin and all of the good food which it represents. She says it is also a time for reflection on what we have achieved and meditation on what we are planning.

For anyone who may, too, have been trying to start something new over the past couple of weeks and been repeatedly flummoxed by it, these seem helpful words to remember.

Hip hop permaculture

Following the Welcome, KMT gave an introduction by singing one of his rap songs; a history of the May Project Gardens. The chorus is “planting little seeds every day/ watching the world just change” (3) and as he wandered around the hall he gave out actual seeds to accompany the song.

Having a keen interest in both music and permaculture, it was inspiring to see such heartfelt and passionate art being performed right in front of me. I suppose I lost interest a little in combining my two hobbies after hearing some of the tepidly whimsical songs which have come out related to permaculture. KMT has helped to reignite that interest. It is so clear now: just because we care about the planet and about each other, doesn’t mean we also can’t make music with raw energy and soul.

Another key benefit of the musical aspect of May Project Gardens is that it can help foster connections with so many more people than a simple permaculture project. Many people have never heard of permaculture but a lot of people, especially in South London, have heard of hip hop. Perhaps they come to the May Project just to make music, which is fine. But maybe while they are there they get a tour of the gardens, and end up deciding to help out there, or to recreate some or other aspect of the gardens in their own lives.

All in all, a highly inspirational event, and I look forward to participating in future Growing celebrations.

References

  1. UNESCO, 2014. ‘Indigenous Festivity Dedicated to the Dead’. http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/RL/00054 – retrieved 09/11/14
  2. Tree Circle Ceremonies, 2014. ‘About’. http://www.treecircleceremonies.co.uk/ – retrieved 09/11/14
  3. KMT Freedom Teacher, 2014. ‘Little Seeds’. http://kmtfreedomteacher.bandcamp.com/track/little-seeds – retrieved 09/11/14

The Eight Festivals in the Wheel of the Year

The festivals have different names according to different traditions but I am familiar with their Gaelic names (so good luck saying them correctly because I don’t think I do):

– Midwinter or Winter Solstice – around December 21st. shortest day of the year

Imbolc – pronounced “i-molk” – around February 2nd. In between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox

– Ostara or Spring Equinox – around 21 March. New Year – days become longer than nights

Beltane – pronounced “bel-tain” – around May 1st. In between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice

– Midsummer or Sumer Solstice – around June 21st. longest day of the year

Lammas or Lughnasadh – pronounced “lu-na-sa” – around August 2nd. Traditionally beginning of harvest; in between Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox

– Mabon or Autumn Equinox – around September 21st. Nights become longer than days

Samhain – pronounced “sa-ween” – around October 31st. in between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice