A consultation document was issued today by the Druids, which sets out their proposals to sell most of the members of the British government. Very little opposition to the scheme has been voiced in the run-up to the publication, although the Druids admit that so far no buyers seem likely to come forward…
The government’s consultation document on their proposals to dispose of England’s public forests was published today. What are some initial responses to the document? You can read the Woodland Trust’s response here.
But now, rather than quoting from The Guardian or The Independent, whose responses critics might argue are bound to be negative, let’s see what that traditionally Tory paper, The Telegraph (called by Private Eye The Torygraph) writes:
Forest sell-off could leave heritage sites in hands of ‘supermarkets and sleazy bankers’
Government claims that communities would benefit from the privatisation of the country’s forests were cast into doubt after the largest woodland charity said it would not take part in the sale.
The Woodland Trust, which officials suggested could take over some heritage forests, said that it did not have the funds to participate. Local authorities facing severe cut backs as part of the Government’s austerity drive are also thought unlikely to want to take on the expense. Opposition MPs warned that the sales would almost certainly be restricted to large companies or wealthy individuals such as “sleazy bankers” who may not be inclined to ensure public access to forests.
Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, added: “It is an act of sheer environmental vandalism. Their plans will destroy the funding system which has protected England’s forests for nearly 100 years. “Private companies will cherry pick sites for commercial development and communities will be left struggling to preserve local woods without a budget.” Sue Holden, chief executive of the Trust, added: “While we fully support the concept of community ownership, we don’t believe that the charitable sector can be the solution to future care of all of the publicly owned heritage woodlands, as it will not have the resources to manage these for decades into the future without substantial and sustained government funding.
“We don’t believe the government has properly considered the feasibility of this option.” Read more
Before you gird your loins for several months of campaigning, you might want to relax with this brief film that reminds us (as if we need that!) of why we care about this subject:
Latest news from the Save our Forests campaign. Do help if you can by contributing to their ad fund and demonstrating in the mass lobby at Parliament in London on 9th Feb (see this post on that):
Our Save Our Forests campaign is creating a national sensation! We’ve got the media’s attention, and we can see politicians getting nervous. Now we need to ratchet this campaign up another gear, and show the government the pressure will keep on rising until they drop their plans to sell off our precious woodlands.
So far the government has tried to respond by bringing in the spin doctors and launching a “consultation”. They’re claiming that they love the forests too and there’s nothing to worry about. They’re asking for views on how our forests should be sold off – when they already know most of us don’t want them sold at all. Meanwhile they’re quietly removing legal protections for our public woodland, paving the way for privatisation. What sort of a consultation is that?
If they want to know what we think, here it is: 38 Degrees members have already funded a national survey confirming that 84% of the public think our public forests should be protected for future generations. Our enormous petition of nearly 250,000 signatures – almost three times the capacity of Wembley Stadium – proves that people care enough to speak out. Now we need to get our message where the government can’t ignore it.
Chip in to fund the ad in our national press now:
The government seems to be trying to respond to our campaign with media spin. So let’s give them a media moment they won’t soon forget:”Save Our Forests” adverts, splashed across the newspapers next week.
Imagine the impact as David Cameron opens his newspapers to see our “Save Our Forests” message: full-page adverts backed by nearly a quarter of a million signatures, in newspapers read by millions of voters.
People power can save our forests. We’ve got our campaign in the headlines, on TV and radio. Posters have sprung up in woodlands across the country. Local ‘Save our Woods’ groups are popping up everywhere. Tens of thousands of us have written to our MPs. Now let’s get together to get our message all over the national newspapers – just where the government won’t want to see it!
Click here to see a current mock-up of our ads, and make a secure donation now to put them in the national press:
Thanks for getting involved,
One of the great features of Druidry is that it seeks to reconnect us to the sacred nature of our creativity and also to the sources that nourish, sustain and inspire it. It recognises that an intimate relationship exists between the artist’s inner life, Nature and the life of the world around them, and that this, in its deepest sense, is fuelled by the divine.
It is heartening to come across publishing companies that are in tune with this understanding of creativity and one of these is the recently born Hiraeth Press, run by Jason Kirkey, author of The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality and Leslie M. Browning author of Oak Wise: Poetry Exploring an Ecological Faith. Here they explain their aims as a publishing house:
We are passionate about creativity as a means of transforming consciousness, both individually and socially. We hope to participate in a revolution to return poetry to the public discourse and a place in the world which matters. Of the many important issues of our times we feel that our relationship to the environment is of the most fundamental concern. Our publications reflect the ideal that falling in love with the earth is nothing short of revolutionary and that through our relationship to nature we can birth a more enlightened vision of life for the future. We believe that art and poetry are the universal language of the human experience and are thus most capable of transforming our vision of self and world.
They publish beautiful books and have a beautiful website. You can find them here: www.hiraethpress.com
Here is the text of a talk I gave the other day at Lewes Town Hall
THE NAMELESS WAY
More and more people these days are finding conventional religion too limiting – they find spiritual inspiration in many sources, just as our cooking, clothing, and culture are now being inspired by sources all over the globe. So you might love the peace of Buddhism, the heart in Sufism, the sexiness of Paganism, the mystic power of Christianity, the healing calm of Tai Chi, and so on. While this movement is taking place – people climbing out of the box labelled with the name of a particular religion to seek more air and sunlight – the contrary movement is also occurring, as people cling on to a Fundamentalist approach to their religion. Where would you place yourself on this spectrum that stretches from Fundamentalism at one end to what we might call the Nameless Way at the other?
I believe this movement towards transcending religious identification is an evolutionary step that carries with it tremendous potential for helping humanity through the crisis it currently faces. But the gift that this step offers also comes with a challenge: we need to work at taking this step – it is a gift that is not so easy to unwrap.
These are the difficulties we are faced with if we leave the safety of a religious identification: we can easily feel lost, without an anchor, without a sense of being rooted in a tradition, and lacking the containment of a structure we can turn to in times of need. Like a young person leaving home for the first time we can be excited by being on our own in the world, but it can be disconcerting at times too. Here are some other analogies: it’s like a butterfly emerging out of a chrysalis, it’s like an axolotl who at a certain stage can change its form completely and become a salamander. In this evolutionary step we are taking we are changing our form – literally letting our souls shine without so much limitation. But as we leave the family home, as we emerge out of the chrysalis, as we let go of our identification as the member of any one religion, we can feel naked and disoriented.
So what’s the answer? How do we take this evolutionary leap? Here’s a way of looking at this: spirituality and religions are alive and everything alive goes through the life cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth in a new form. And there’s our clue! The form dies but the spirit lives on. Religion is caught up in the general upheaval of our times when not only it, but economic and political structures also need to change. Rather than fearing this process we should of course embrace it, because what we are seeking at a societal level is also what we are seeking at a personal level – transformation.
To explore this more deeply let’s home in on the part of the phase that is the hardest for us to focus on, but which is the stage we’ve reached in our times: the stage of death.
ARE WE APPROACHING THE END?
If the story of Humanity’s time on Earth were a book, what part of the book do you think we have reached? Are we still, in the 21st century, in the opening or middle chapters, or are we – as some fear – approaching the very last pages? None of us can know for sure, of course. What we do know is that we face the challenge of five runaway trains that are all heading in our direction: climate change, overpopulation, resource depletion, species extinction and environmental pollution. People say ‘Humanity has always worried about the future, and has often thought the end of the world was nigh’, and this is true, but today we face such a barrage of challenges only the uninformed can fail to recognise the gravity of the situation.
So what do we think is going to happen – what will the future look like? There are two prevailing visions of this in our culture, that we could call the techno-fix or the techno-break scenarios. The techno-fix vision suggests that we’ll pull through by solving the problems we face with advances in science and technology. The techno-break vision is the one familiar to us from all those movies – perhaps starting with those images from the Mad Max films of society in collapse as the oil runs out and law and order breaks down.
Rather than holding to either of these visions, of a scientific Utopia or a Mad Max Dystopia, I prefer a vision of the future that sees a return to some of the old ways of being in the world, combined and in balance with innovation and technological advances.
There is an axiom that states ‘crisis precedes evolution or transformation’ which is a variation on the idea that death precedes rebirth. In other words, we’ve got to go through some sort of break-down to get a break-through. This is what those of us who are born optimists are betting on: that the sort of challenges we face today will trigger break-throughs and transformations that will result in the beginning of a new cycle, so that we haven’t reached the end of the book – just the end of a chapter. The trouble with this way of seeing things is that we can get trapped in spectator-mode: “Ok I’ll wait for it all to collapse and then will surf the new wave of rebirth that comes after that! Meanwhile, pass me a beer!”
I’d like to suggest a different perspective that works on the same metaphor but which feels more empowering. For Druids the salmon is a sacred animal that symbolises the goal of all Druids – it is their Holy Grail. We can start to appreciate why the ‘salmon of wisdom’ is so prized by the Druids when we study the life cycle of these beautiful creatures. At the end of their lives, having roamed the ocean for up to eight years, they return to the river where they were born, swimming and jumping upstream to spawn in the gravel beds of their birth. And then, rather like exhausted lovers falling asleep after hours of delight, they collapse and die, their bodies providing the nutrients for the next generation. Death precedes birth, the crisis of collapse precedes the start of the next cycle.
The value in this cycle lies in the fact that every stage is integral, necessary and valuable: beginnings and endings are no longer polarised as good and bad. Ageing, dying, heritage, tradition, the gifts of the past, are all integral to the story of life and are not somehow inferior to the new. Obvious, you might say, but not to our present culture obsessed with youth and neophilia.
Pursuing the salmon as a metaphor for the spiritual quest means we can see the value both in swimming out into the ocean of the new and in swimming back to the place of origins. The techno-fix vision concentrates on the movement out into the future, the techno-break vision imagines a forced return to a savage past. This other vision that I am proposing sees both movements as vital: of course we must continue to seek scientific progress and innovative solutions to our problems, but we can also seek solutions to our problems not in the future, but in the past. Rather than focussing just on moving forward while fearing a chaotic return to the life-style of our ancestors in a post-industrial world, I believe we should allow ourselves to return to the very earliest sources of our spiritual nourishment to seek rebirth at a spiritual level there.
Interestingly this is a dynamic that is operating within Fundamentalism too but what I am suggesting is a quite different approach. Rather than returning to the past to seek refuge there in a more tightly defined version of our spiritual roots, I am suggesting what might be called Naked Spirituality: in which we let go of the worn-out garments of definition that we have outgrown, and that we turn not to books and scriptures but to Nature herself, and combining that with our knowledge of religion, psychology, and of folklore and indigenous tradition, discover the well-springs of inspiration that will inform this new spirituality.
THE WELL-SPRING OF INSPIRATION
I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.
Frank Lloyd Wright
When the salmon fry star to grow up they are close to the earth – the gravel beds where their eggs were laid – and they are swimming in fresh water, and this provides us with the central clue that will help us out of the difficulty of feeling lost and unanchored when we take the clothes of religion off. Stay close to Earth and Water – the sea, the land, the Earth: Nature Herself! Here are some of the ways that we can do this:
- By cultivating our sense of Place; reverencing and treating the Earth as sacred. Walking with this awareness in the land and making pilgrimages.
- By treating certain landscape features as holy, such as wells, trees, stones.
- By cultivating our sensitivity to the energies of Earth and plant.
- By observing the eight seasonal festivals to synchronize our lives with the life of the planet.
- By living and eating on the Earth in a way that fosters our health and that is more natural – with a focus on wellbeing rather than having to wait for the focus to be on treatment. Healthcare sourced in Nature.
- By being attentive to day and night omens, the signs of Nature, but without superstition.
- By studying traditional plant, animal, stone and star lore.
In addition to nourishing ourselves by connecting to Nature in these different ways, the following methods are also valuable and are found in the very earliest manifestations of human spiritual searching:
- Feeding on Art as well as Nature – recognizing Awen, Honouring the Bards.
- Feeding on and bathing in silence and darkness. Prayer, meditation, retreat.
- Honouring the Ancestors – in a non-verbal way in the silence, but also intellectually by accepting their gifts of heritage and culture: the gifts of history.
- Studying philosophy, ethics, mysticism, to help us root our understanding in the Real rather than in passing illusion.
- Fostering friendship and community – deep connection and conversation. In the Celtic tradition this is demonstrated in the idea of the Anam Cara – the spiritual companion.
If we do this, if we turn to these sources of inspiration, what form might our spirituality take? It’s still too early to tell: we are living through times of great change and are still in the crucible of transformation, but I think we can get a glimpse of what it might look like. Over the last year or so some of the inhabitants of the Sussex village of Firle, along with others from further afield, walk up to Firle Beacon above their village to celebrate each of the eight seasonal festivals of the year. When I have been there I have had the powerful sensation that I am participating in an activity that stands at the leading edge of a new global spirituality – at once rooted in locality and tradition, in this case of the Pagan and Christian heritage of Sussex, but at the same time global and universal, with elements familiar to every spiritual tradition around the planet. What are the features which distinguish it from a gathering of one of the established religions?
- We are meeting out in Nature.
- The hierarchy of a priest in charge has been replaced by direction coming from a number of people who have planned key elements, but who encourage everyone to participate, and this different power structure is tangibly demonstrated in the way we celebrate in a circle rather than serried rows.
- The natural world provides much of the context for the gathering. We are meeting at a significant time – a solstice for example – at a significant place – and we greet the cardinal directions, the Earth and Sky.
- But at the same time there is a recognition of a Greater Reality of Spirit, of the Divine, and our heritage is valued and honoured. Peter Owen-Jones, the vicar of Firle, might recite a Christian prayer or poem. Someone might offer a Druid or Pagan prayer, and throughout the proceedings there is a sense of both respect for the past, and of something new being born.
On a first reading it might be easy to confuse what is happening on this hillside with a kind of laissez-faire eclecticism or New-Age schmorgasbording, but when you are there you can feel this is not the case. Nor does it feel like an updated version of Universalism, in which all faiths are treated equally. No – instead it feels like something new trying to be born out of the old, like a salmon fry eager to begin its journey out into the ocean.
If you are in England please take 5 minutes to do this! The Save our Forests campaign of 38 degrees writes:
Our campaign to Save Our Forests hit the headlines this weekend! First our petition and an opinion poll – paid for by hundreds of 38 Degrees members – were reported on Countryfile, the Today programme and BBC 5 Live breakfast. Then a group including the Archbishop of Canterbury backed our campaign – making the front page of the Sunday Telegraph!
Our pressure has got the government worried. They’ve started a charm offensive, telling us that they love forests too. But right now, despite the warm fuzzy words, David Cameron is pushing through changes to the law. He wants to make it legal to sell off 100% of our woodlands.
David Cameron can only change the law – and sell all our forests – if MPs vote the changes through Parliament. That makes MPs a key target for our campaign. We need to make sure that our MPs are hearing from local voters.
Can you send your MP a quick email today? It is quick and easy to email your MP using the 38 Degrees website. You can find your MP just by putting in your postcode, and there is some suggested text to use in your message.
Please click here to email your MP and ask them to vote to Save Our Forests: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/tell-your-mp-to-save-our-forests
Jason de Caires Taylor’s underwater sculptures create a unique, absorbing and expansive visual seascape. Highlighting natural ecological processes Taylor’s interventions explore the intricate relationships that exist between art and environment. His works become artificial reefs, attracting marine life, while offering the viewer privileged temporal encounters, as the shifting sand of the ocean floor, and the works change from moment to moment.For more images and films see www.underwatersculpture.com
More news on the plan to consider selling off Britain’s publicly-owned forest. The government cannot do it under present legislation. But if the bill they are trying to push through now – the Public Bodies Bill – is approved, they will have the legal ability to do so. The bill is currently with the House of Lords and we need to show our disapproval of it. A comment on this blog from someone at the Public & Commercial Services Union reads:
Well, I hope you’re right (referring to my ‘strategic’ post a few days back) and they do back down — as you say they are losing so many friends they really should.
However we should make as much noise as possible now — no need to wait until the consultation document is issued. All the fuss we made before Christmas made them delay their consultation.
We have a good idea what it will contain — although we don’t know the detail yet. But it would be better if we stop them even putting in on the details that will cause so much damage.
We know that the Minister wants to have the ability to sell all of the forests that are currently held publicly for all our benefit. And we know that the government is pushing through the public bodies bill, currently in the House of Lords, which amongst other things allows them to sell off all the forests and change the organisation that runs the and manages woodlands throughout the country.
The bill has a number of other worrying aspects — mainly the way it allows a minister to make drastic cuts and other changes to public bodies. The unions who work in these public bodies are joining together with people who use their services to tell the government to reconsider. Join us in a rally and mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 9 February, 1230 at old Palace Yard opposite Parliament.
Friends, students and fellow Druids are welcome to come and stay for a study retreat at the Castle of the Muses in Scotland for a weekend, a week or longer… suitable accommodation is available, and visitors are expected to join in with the daily rhythm of the spiritual life of the Castle, which is a Druid Philosophical Retreat Sanctuary, away from the cares and bustle of the modern world. Please make sure you bring a bathing costume as there are excellent swimming, hot-tub and Jacuzzi facilities nearby which can be enjoyed as part of your stay! Therapeutic Massage and Transpersonal Counselling sessions can also be booked as part of the experience. The most important feature of the Castle is our very extensive philosophical research library, divided into 9 Sections (named after the classical Muses) and it is hoped that the bulk of your time here will be spent in quiet study and research – guidance is available on academic matters and writing and research projects. Gifts of book, music, art and other learning resources are always welcome as are bequests and donations towards bursaries and scholarships and the work of the Castle in general. We urgently need funding to lay a stair carpet and to complete building the library shelves and to complete The Great Hall, which is the main museum exhibition space and conference room. Volunteers are also needed to come and help with archiving, cataloguing, research and development work.
DR. THOMAS DAFFERN, B.A. PGCE, PHD, DSc. (Hon)
Castle of the Muses, Craigard, Carrick Castle, Loch Goil, Argyll & Bute, PA24 8AG, Scotland, U.K. firstname.lastname@example.org www.educationaid.net www.thewisdompages.co.uk www.facebook/Castle of the Muses