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" The Holy Land is everywhere "

Black Elk

Storytelling in Forest Row

April 18th, 2009

Ashdown Forest Storytelling Club Taliesin and the Cauldron of Ceridwen “..and she would make on Bealtaine Eve a cauldron of inspiration that he may become all wise…” “Annette’s storytelling appeals to all the senses: the images, sounds and somehow tactile quality of her relating made the tale very real to me.” Gabor, care-worker, Milton Keynes 7.30pm Wednesday 6 May First half of the evening, hear 10 minute tales from the floor including stories of transition and change. In the second half, welcome our guest teller Annette Armstrong. Forest Row Community Centre, Hartfield Road (opp. fish & chip shop) Forest Row, East Sussex, RH18 5DZ

Druids in New Zealand

April 17th, 2009

Some beautiful shots here of members of the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids and friends celebrating the solstice at Stonehenge Aotearoa:

There’s Only the Soul – Poetry and Mysticism from Kashmir

April 16th, 2009

In the course of researching the current book, I’ve discovered the work of two female mystics from India whose poetry is beautiful and inspiring. One is Akka Mahadevi, the other, Lalla. Here is an excerpt from the chapter I’ve just written about Lalla:

Two centuries later, further north in India, Lalla, another naked female mystic achieved fame with her lucid aphoristic verses that have made her one of Kashmir’s favourite poets. Little is known of Lalla’s life, and what is known is apocryphal. It is said that she was born in a village near Srinagar around 1320 and died in 1391. Her husband and his family mistreated her, but she never complained and meditated instead at holy shrines whenever she could. One day her husband believed she was wasting time, and as she returned home from fetching water he struck the pot with a stick. The pot shattered, but the water remained intact above her head and became a sacred lake.

By the age of 24 Lalla had had enough of the marriage and left home to follow the Hindu teacher Sed Bayu. Soon she was so filled with ecstasy that she began wandering and dancing naked in a state of ecstatic clarity. One of her songs clearly conveys her feelings about being skyclad:

Don’t be so quick to condemn my nakedness.

A man is one who trembles in the Presence.

There are very few of those.

Why not go naked?

The ram of experience must be fed

And ripened for the sacrifice.

Then all these customs will disappear like clothing.

There’s only the soul.

A number of different religious impulses converged in fourteenth century Kashmir, and Lalla was influenced not only by Shaivite Hinduism, but also by Sufism, as was the religion of Sikkhism born two centuries later, in the Punjab just south of Kashmir. It is said that she studied with the Sufi master Ali Hamadani, but as with all true mystics her insights transcended the confines of religious affiliation, as she insisted ‘There is no reality but God’.

One of her translators, Coleman Barks, writes ‘Ecstasy is only one of her moods, and not the primary one. Political disgust is another, and a Hopi-like prophetic mode: “A time is coming so deformed…”’ He stresses the point that Lalla has essentially feminine qualities in: ‘her firm location in the breath; her sense of being dissolved into the lovemaking [of Shiva and Shakti] in the jasmine garden; and her attention to a truth which is very much in motion, and which can include her doubt and her lostness.’

Another translator, Jaishree Kak, writes of the way Lalla’s songs are embedded in Kashmiri culture: ‘Gowing up in Kashmir, I have memories of spectacular Himalayan Mountains, magnificent lakes, and countless rivers snaking through the valley, and accompanying all is the echoing on festive occasions of the melodious singing of Lalla’s verse-sayings, popularly known as Lalla-Vakh. Her outpourings are timeless and people of all faiths have treasured them. The oral transmission for centuries illustrates the extent to which she has been a part of folk memory. My old aunts who grew up in Kashmir have memories of women reciting Lalla’s verses while they spun fine shawls at the spinning wheel. Over the centuries, Lalla became the wise woman of Kashmiri culture. She was invoked not only at moments of personal dilemma but also to celebrate moments of social togetherness. I myself remember my mother singing Lalla’s verses and occasionally quoting them in her conversations.’

Whatever the actual facts of her life, Lal Ded or Mai Lal Diddi, Grandmother Lalla, as she is also known, has become a legendary figure, with her poetry esteemed as much as that of Rumi and Hafiz. In Sanskrit she is called Lalleshwari, the great yogini – a prophetess and practitioner of yoga. It was said that this great yogini proved she had found a freedom that was impervious to praise or blame when one morning some children were making fun of her nakedness. A cloth merchant scolded them for their disrespect, and Lalla asked him for two strands of cloth equal in weight. She then flung these over either shoulder, and through the day, whenever someone mocked her she tied a knot in one cloth, and whenever someone praised her she tied a knot in the other. At the end of the day she asked the merchant to weigh both – surrounded no doubt by all the villagers and their children. Both naturally weighed the same, and her point was made: praise and blame have no substance.

Reading Lalla we are invited to let go of our attachments, to live from the soul, and to be free:

The soul.

Like the moon, is now, and always new again.

My teacher told me one thing, live in the soul.

When that was so, I began to go naked,

And dance.

Make Art Not War

April 13th, 2009

peacegirl01

by Shepard Fairey. See his pictures at http://obeygiant.com

and clothing at:http://www.obeyclothing.com

His slogan “Manufacturing Quality Dissent since 1989′

Prints, graffiti kits, trousers – everything for the discerning dissenter!

If you need a break from dissenting and need some distraction (if, for example, you are a writer who should be working, but just wants to engage in displacement activity) you can even turn yourself into a Shepard Fairey poster by going to obamiconme.com

TreeSpirit Project

April 11th, 2009

I’ve recently finished an exploration of the use of nakedness to deepen spiritual experience for a forthcoming book. In it I look at its use in Classical Paganism, Wicca, Druidry, Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity.

Now I’m working on the next chapter which explores its use as a political tool – as a vehicle for protest and awareness-raising. As I researched this topic I came across a project which articulates wonderfully the way in which nakedness can be used to make a statement about our need to care for Mother Earth. Nudity is used so much nowadays in a titillating or seedy way, it is heartening to see that it can be used with integrity to convey aesthetic and spiritual values. Have a look at some photographs from the project first (courtesy of photographer Jack Gescheidt), which is followed by the text I wrote on it for the chapter, which includes a link to the TreeSpirit Project site.
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Stripping the body in public as a way of gaining attention and making a statement is clearly suited to the defence of rights in general – not simply those of animals. One of the most creative uses of nudity to raise awareness comes from the work of the American photographer Jack Gescheidt who started the ‘TreeSpirit Project’ in 2003. Rather than protesting against logging or destruction of the environment, Gescheidt’s project seeks to enhance our appreciation of trees in the belief that the more people are able to do this, the less destructive they will be: ‘I believe as more people understand the importance of trees for all they provide the ecosystem in addition to beauty and shade, all species on Earth benefit. The fates of species are intertwined; we have the power to destroy other life forms, and without other life forms humanity will perish. We humans may only be here for a brief stay in the cosmic picture, but we have the tremendous power of free will to shape our world. Many of us in technologically advanced cultures have forgotten the ancient wisdom trees and other life forms patiently hold.’
The TreeSpirit project includes two elements: the photographs Gescheidt takes of naked people in, beside and around trees, which are then displayed on his website (www.treespiritproject.com) and the experiences of the participants when being photographed in this way. In response to the frequently asked question: ‘Why are the people you photograph always naked? Isn’t this really just to get attention?’ Gescheidt  responds: ‘When naked, people are: more ‘present’ in the meditative sense of this word, meaning in the present moment instead of thinking about the past (worry) or future (planning); therefore more vulnerable and have greater, more conscious awareness, more feeling, and therefore move and behave more freely and genuinely; more harmless to trees and other species. We humans often harm as a collective, but not when stripped of our habitual and protective layers of clothing, tools and technology; more timeless, without the many cultural and historical cues clothing provide; unified as a mass of humanity rather than seen as the individual personalities to which we are so attached; and, yes, more attention-getting. One of goals of the TreeSpirit Project is to deliver its message of our interdependence with nature. The more people ready to take this to heart, the better.’

Goddess Magic in the Blue Mountains

April 11th, 2009

As those of us in the northern hemisphere yearn for more light, our friends in the southern hemisphere are moving into the dark cycle of the year. Here’s a beautiful clip from a pagan group in the majestic Blue Mountains of Australia:

Some Kind of Druid Dude

April 10th, 2009

The lyrics of John Lennon’s ‘Mindgames’ are just wonderful. Lennon knew that Peace and Love, the cornerstones of counter-cultural idealism, were deeply connected with Druidism, and so he sang about this in his ‘Mind-Games’:

We’re playing those mind games together,
Pushing the barrier, planting seeds.
Playing the mind guerrilla,
Chanting the Mantra, ‘Peace on Earth’.
We all been playing those mind games forever
Some kinda druid dude lifting the veil.
Doing the mind guerrilla,
Some call it magic – the search for the grail.
Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.
Love is a flower- you got to let it, you got to let it grow.

Time for some Marxism!

April 10th, 2009

Groucho or Karl? I think Karl today, sent by a friend in reference to upcoming elections in India:

The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.
Karl Marx

The Sussex House Party

April 9th, 2009

I’ve just been invited to participate in a new idea: creative house parties for writers. I think I have to talk while everyone’s munching – the idea is the guests are then inspired to write creatively. Having washed down a three course meal with a few glasses of wine I know I’d prefer to snooze but it still sounds a wonderful idea! Here’s how Gilly Smith, who organises these events, explains it:

A Bloomsbury Set for the noughties, The Sussex House Party is a rural idyll just outside Lewes where writers and would-be-writers meet and retreat over a feast of words and local produce. Philip Carr-Gomm joins us for the first in our season of literary dinners on Friday May 8th, with an evening of magic and spirituality inspiring our thoughts and writings.

See http://thesussexhouseparty.googlepages.com/home for a diary of themed creative dinner parties and full blown weekend house parties.