The 2011 UK Census offers a great opportunity to demonstrate the numbers of people interested in earth-based or nature-based religious/spiritual paths. Ideally we’d like to be able to tick a box that states exactly what our affiliation is – but that won’t be possible, so for the moment we must make do with one box headed ‘Pagan’. Even if you don’t describe yourself as a Pagan, and prefer a term like Druid/Wiccan/Nature-based etc., it still makes sense for pragmatic purposes to tick the one box that gets close to what you might believe. Here’s how Caitlin Matthews puts it: Dear Friends, I’m placing the following announcement in my website and newsletter, having just received final confirmation from the Census Office – I pass it on to you for what it’s worth to all Pagan affiliates out there. Of course, there will be some who leave this optional box empty for their own reasons, but if we want to change society by representative means, including all the alternative people of spirit who miss out on the usual big five box specials on forms, this might make a difference.
I’M PAGAN – COUNT ME IN! – PREPARING FOR THE 2011 CENSUS It’s been a source of frustration for some time that Pagans of all stripes have been unable to register their affiliation in the Census. Well, our day is coming. In the 2011 Census, on question 20 of the census form, you can simply register your spiritual affiliation by the following method: in the box under ‘any other religion’ you write ‘PAGAN’, then a dash, and your own brand – for example, Caitlín will write ‘PAGAN – ANIMIST.’ If you’re of a different persuasion, just put it in ‘PAGAN –WICCAN,’ or ‘PAGAN – DRUID’ or whatever you are. But if you just write ‘Druid’ or ‘Wiccan’ you will not be counted as a Pagan. This question is optional but when Pagans begin showing up in our National Statistics as a distinct entity, this will help change things. We know that, over 10 years ago, that the number of officially registered Quakers in UK was about 10,000. At that same time, the number of Pagans just registered with the Pagan Federation alone was more than that. In Australia in 2001 there were 10,000 Pagans in the census. Just 5 years later, with this same initiative, their numbers are being counted as nearer 70,000. So you see, we can change how we are viewed and be seen as a force to be reckoned with. As a religious minority we may not be that minor but if we stay behind the picket fences of our divisions rather than assembling as a united band, we don’t stand out so well!! Caitlín has been in contact with the Census Office and this initiative is confirmed. See the form for yourself http://www.ons.gov.uk/census/2011-census/2011-census-questionnaire-content/2011-census-questionnaire-for-england.pdf
As the founder of PaganDASH initiative, and a Stakeholder in the 2011 Census, I would just like to correct Caitlin’s errors in her mass email.
” But if you just write ‘Druid’ or ‘Wiccan’ you will not be counted as a Pagan.”
This is the fundamental work I’ve been doing with the ONS for over 10 years. If you do write in any of the paths alone (Wiccan, Druid, Thelemite etc…) you WILL be counted under the Headline Category of Pagan. To ensure this, it is easier to write Pagan- but to reiterate you WILL be counted for just writing your path without Pagan- in front. For people to think otherwise, the ONS would be using a false data capture system.
Do not worry – if you use Pagan- or just your path, you WILL be counted.
I shall also be working after the data is captured to mop up any “troublesome” data where someone has written “Druide” or Celtique Shaman” or other such variants.
I know one has to be cautious about falling in love. Falling in love with cities rather than people is generally safer… and I’ve only done it a few times: Dublin forty years ago, Wellington in New Zealand, and last year Edinburgh. I thought I would remain faithful to my new love – Edinburgh on a sunny day during the festival is just unbeatable – but for the last five days we’ve been in Glasgow and, blessed by the sun and a visit to the heights of nearby Campsie Fells, I have to say it’s a tough choice between the two. There’s no harm in polyamory for cities I reckon, so I’m not going to choose – they’re both blessed with majestic architecture, wide skies, and air you just don’t get in the South. Scotland has a reputation for the dour – but not in Glasgow, where there’s a friendly zaniness in evidence, as can be seen from this photo of a converted church that houses GOMA, the Gallery of Modern Art. Outside the statue boasts a traffic cone that is constantly replaced whenever anyone knocks it down – the reverse of the way that would normally work!
While we were there the OBOD US East Coast Gathering was going strong, and I should have been there, but instead we were seeing our daughter perform in the last night of the National Youth Theatre’s production ‘Stars Over Kabul’. In a tour-de-force, the 15 strong cast turned Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play into a roller-coaster ride of emotion as songs based on Rumi’s poems alternated with a set soaked in moving images of an Afghanistan wrecked by war and a love story that ran through the play which had the confidence to deal with big and heart-rending themes, including the way women were treated by the Taliban and the abuse of boy-dancers. Every so often a chorus would appear offering a narrative commentary from the Otherworld, speaking and gesturing in a sign language invented by the cast, reminiscent of the gesturing Peter Sellars has introduced into his operatic productions. When the spirit of a dead women’s rights activist appeared and spoke from beyond the grave, that was the second time I reached for my handkerchief. The first time was when one of the 15 stars of this production, Sophia Carr-Gomm, began screaming for the boy she loved who left their village with a sinister man who would soon abuse him in Kabul. Powerful powerful stuff and a production that deserves to live on…
Back in the Seventies, when I began my magical studies, it never occurred to me that nearly every tradition of magic that I could find came from a single small island perched off the northwestern shores of Europe. The few books on the subject that were readily available in those days, when they said anything at all about the origins of the teachings they transmitted, traced them back to the mystery temples of Egypt or the lamaseries of Tibet when they didn’t retreat into obscure mutterings about Atlantis and Lemuria. None of them described the material between their covers as “English Magic.” The irony is that every one of them did in fact teach English magic. Whether they passed on tidbits of Wiccan lore or scraps of esoteric Freemasonry, outlined Dion Fortune’s polarity workings or Aleister Crowley’s sexual magic, taught the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram or gave instruction in the Enochian calls, they drew the great majority of the magical teachings they had to offer from occult traditions that derived from England. Now it’s only fair to say that had I known that curious detail, it would have done nothing to diminish my fascination with magical lore. The fantasy fiction that whetted my desire for wizardry in the days before I realized that magic had an existence outside the world of fairy tales was itself mostly from England: J.R.R. Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, and the brilliant but now forgotten children’s author Joan North were the writers I loved most in those days. More generally, England itself had a firm place in my imagination, as something like an archetype of the opposite of everything that surrounded me in suburban Seattle, Washington. England was a place where knights and castles actually existed, where standing stones millennia old broke the sweep of grassy downs, where the thought of ancient magic coursing through the landscape wasn’t as preposterous as it seemed where I lived, in a place where all the history I learned in school started very little more than a century before I was born. That was my version of the very common American love affair with Britain, and as the example shows, that love affair is a complicated thing. When cultural critic William Irwin Thompson, in his visionary work At The Edge ofHistory, described America as a country with tremendous energy but no history, he touched on something that’s all the more central to our national imagination because it’s based on a profoundly one-sided view of our past. I was never taught, for example, that a hill rising up above the Duwamish river no more than an afternoon’s walk from the house where I spent most of my teen years was once the center of the world. Its name was Sbabadil in those days, and it was the place where the animal powers of Coast Salish legend chanted the world into being from a lump of mud Muskrat brought up from the bottom of the sea. A mile or so away, in the rundown suburb of Belltown, another hill standing up stark above the floodplain was the house of the old rain spirit Squlats, Stormwind’s grandmother, and one of the most moving scenes in the great Duwamish epic of Northwind and Stormwind took place there. I would have loved reading about Northwind and Stormwind if I’d had any way of finding out about the story in my childhood. Instead, I read about Gandalf, the Light Maze, King Arthur and the heroes of the Mabinogion.
'The Alchemist' by Sir William Fettes Douglas (1822 - 1891)
The fascinating thing is that the American projection of history onto England has something of a mirror image on the other side of the Atlantic. When my wife and I were traveling in England a few years ago, we stopped for supplies at a supermarket in St. Albans, and noted that English supermarkets, like American ones, have little motorized rides at the front door to absorb the excess energy of small children on shopping trips. The device at this store was a little car which bounced and jolted around, going nowhere. What made it interesting was the imaginary landscape painted on the wall in front of the windscreen. It was a highly condensed English version of America: huge skyscrapers on one side, tall cacti and desert scenery on the other, and a great sweeping cowboy-infested plain reaching away to distant mountains in between. Now of course England has its own grand architecture, and the views from atop the Sussex downs are as sweeping as anything on America’s Great Plains. Still, America seems to be the place where the English park their dreams of limitless space, just as England is the place where Americans park their dreams of deep time. To put it another way, as a chance-met acquaintance said to me on that same trip as we walked among the stones of Avebury, the difference between the English and the Americans is that the English think a hundred miles is a long distance, and the Americans think a hundred years is a long time. In an age when magic is commonly either traced back to the distant past or consigned to it, this odd habit of thinking goes a long way to explain why it was that the vast majority of the magical lore available to an eager student in 1970s America came from England and nowhere else. Still, there’s at least one more factor involved, which is that England has in fact produced much more than its share of important esoteric and magical traditions. It wasn’t a passion for Englishness that attracted me to the Golden Dawn tradition of magic, the first system I seriously studied, or later on drew me to the modern Druid movement; it was that the first was among the most comprehensive, detailed, and functional systems of magical practice in the world, and the second combined effective and satisfying magical and spiritual teachings with a reverence for living Nature that I had come to feel was essential to any valid response to the troubles of our time. Still, it so happens that both these traditions, and many others, did in fact first come into being on English soil. The remarkable relationship between England’s green and pleasant land and some of the most influential magical traditions of the modern world forms the territory that Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate have set out to explore in detail in The Book of English Magic. The result is well worth reading, and for several reasons. First, of course, there’s the simple pleasure of reading, because The Book of English Magic is a lively and interesting book about a lively and interesting subject. It’s also a very good general introduction to magic: not just the history and teachings of magic, though it covers these in quite some detail, but some of the basic practices as well, for Carr-Gomm and Heygate spice their narrative with descriptions of how to perform many of the elementary types of English magic. An abundant selection of resources for further reading and study makes The Book of English Magic among the best sources anywhere for those whose curiosity inspires them to go beyond what any single book can teach them. Still, to my mind the best thing about this admirable book is that it draws the distinction none of the books I studied in the Seventies managed to make. It is, precisely, a book of English magic; it links the panoply of occult traditions it surveys to that small island off the northwest coast of Europe where so much magic, and for that matter so much of today’s global culture, had its origins; in the process, in the friendliest possible way, Carr-Gomm and Heygate throw down a gauntlet that I hope many other authors around the world take up. For there are many other traditions of magic that didn’t originate in England, of course; every land and every people in the world have magical teachings and practices to share. By turning over the most popular occult traditions of the present time to show the “Made In England” label on the bottom, The Book of English Magic challenges today’s magical practitioners—and the many other people interested in magic and the occult—to recognize that like every other creation of human culture, magical traditions are rooted in particular places and histories, and to look for the magic that might be hidden in plain sight where they live, as Sbabadil was hidden from me in my childhood. Some of the readers who pick up that gauntlet may well write books of their own about the magic of their own homelands, or the lands in which they now live—and they would be well advised to take detailed notes, as they read The Book of English Magic, for they will find no better example of how to take on such a task and accomplish it with aplomb.
—John Michael Greer Author, The New Encyclopedia of the Occult Grand Archdruid, Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA)
You can read more about The Book of English Magichere.
Just back from a trip to Manchester to talk at ‘The Naked Debate’ to accompany the Spencer Tunick exhibition. What fabulous architecture there – and what a thriving arts centre that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary – even though it looks as if it was built only yesterday. The weather was wild and woolly – rain, gusty wind, bright sunshine. In a bold move the Lowry decided to commission Tunick to do a shoot on the quays there to celebrate their first decade. They wanted a project that would involve the local community and it certainly did – with over a thousand applying to be photographed. For some of this installation Tunick chose to move away from his more usual ‘massed bodies’ or ‘flesh sculptures’ and instead decided to echo Lowry’s paintings – with more focus on individuals – separate yet moving within a crowd.
Here’s how the centre looked this morning:
The audience who had gathered for the debate were a great bunch – I could hardly get a word in edgeways! Many of them had participated on the shoot and confirmed what I had already heard from other participants – that it was a liberating and positive experience. The hour passed quickly and we could have gone on for another hour but we were whisked away to watch ‘The Silver Tassie’ by the Druid Theatre Company, which proved to be powerful, funny, and shocking.
Here is an outline of what I covered in the debate. I only wish I could include the participants’ contributions.
‘EVERYDAY HEROES’ a talk by Philip Carr-Gomm for THE NAKED DEBATE at The Lowry, Salford 15 Sept 2010
There is no need to feel alarmed! When I ask you in a minute to start taking your clothes off for the photo-shoot just notice how you feel: blood-pressure, heart-rate, whether or not your eyes dart around to determine the nearest exit, and so on. I said there is no need to feel alarmed because we won’t actually be doing a photo-shoot. It would take too long, we don’t want to even try upstaging Spencer Tunick, and it’s too damned cold! But what I would like you to do is simply imagine that we’re going to do it, and notice the feelings and thoughts that race through your mind. And (inviting audience participation) can we hear some of these now? Excitement, anxiety, what will others think, Oh I wish I’d showered, or even shaved, this morning! A range of feelings: but of one thing we can be certain, we’d all be in an altered, more alert state of awareness. If we had been feeling sleepy, we’d be feeling wide awake by now.
How would we feel if we actually did it, took the photo, then got dressed again? I believe we’d be feeling great – high as kites. We’d have broken through a barrier, broken a taboo, and we’d feel a kind of solidarity between us – as if we’d all taken a crazy adventure together and had survived. Why do I think that? Because that’s what many of the participants in Spencer Tunick’s installations report feeling. (Inviting audience participation) Has anyone in the audience tonight been in an installation? How did it feel?
Participants have told me that their first experience of a shoot is one that provides them with a tremendous high – an exhilarating sense that they have broken free of inhibitions and constraints. Just like candidates for initiation in a Mystery School – whether of ancient Greece or within a modern day witches’ coven – they have to suffer hours, perhaps days or weeks, of nervous anticipation: questioning their motives and worrying about what might happen, until they have to go through the ordeal of the early morning start, the cold, the waiting around, until finally the command comes through the megaphone to get undressed. Apparently a wave of adrenalin – a primal fear of exposure mixed with an equally primal longing for freedom – flows through the group, followed by a flurry of activity as clothes are shed. And then – as the often thousands of bodies stand naked together for the first time – a roar rolls through the crowd, and a great cheer ascends to God – in this case Tunick himself, perched upon a ladder or crane.
Many participants find the experience so exhilarating, life-changing even, that they return to installation after installation, crossing continents to do so. It can even become like a drug, with a phenomenon recognised amongst aficionados as a post-installation downer that comes a few weeks after the event, once the high has worn off.
Now it’s easy to pass by such an account and be amused by it, as if it represents simply a morsel of trivia to trade at a dinner party, but this should alert anyone with a medical, pychological or psychiatric understanding to the power and potential of this phenomenon. Most of us haven’t been in a Tunick shoot, but we might still be aware of this phenomenon.
How many people here would agree with Horace Walpole when he wrote: ‘When I cast off my clothes, I cast off my cares!’ ? (Invite show of hands). A couple of months ago, when I asked how many of the participants at the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Skin: Exposed’ event had felt the same way as Walpole, about 80% of the 140-strong audience raised their hands. Like the experiences of participants in a Tunick installation, many people seem to find that taking their clothes off outside – say when skinny-dipping or sunbathing – generates positive feelings of freedom and joy. This is remarkable: why hasn’t more attention been paid to this? A great deal of scientific effort, both in time and money, goes into finding out how to relieve people of cares. The National Health Service spent £230 million last year on antidepressants. Perhaps they could save some of this by paying attention to the experiences of thousands of contemporary people – and I say thousands because I’m thinking of the membership of the naturist community around the world and of Tunick participants, both of which now number in their many thousands. It’s easy to dismiss this idea as nutty, but is it not considerably less nutty than prescribing for depression SSRI’s that have as one of their potential side-effects suicidal thoughts? Perhaps naturist resorts should receive funding from the NHS: doctors now send patients to the gym, why not send them to a naturist resort? The downer that some Tunick participants report is obviously not good, but I know that some of them have solved this problem by becoming naturists, thereby continuing to enjoy the positive effects of nakedness, without the problematic side-effect.
But let’s not get stuck here on working out how to save the NHS money, but move on to explore the other positive effects that nakedness can have on our lives. The simple act of undressing in certain contexts provokes strong feelings – both positive and negative. In my book, while not denying the reality of negative feelings that nakedness can evoke, I focus on the positive ones, and tonight I shall do the same.
Think of three images: a group of Naga Babas – naked Hindu sages – running into the Ganges to bathe in its holy waters; Lady Godiva seated on her horse riding majestically through Coventry, and a topless and very well endowed Erica Roe being escorted by two policeman from the rugby pitch at Twickenham in 1982, a cigarette in her mouth, as proud as Punch (and as tipsy) having completed her streak and having achieved instant world-wide fame (and unknown to her at the time £80,000 worth of modelling work).
These three images illustrate the way in which nakedness has been used – and is still used – to foster religious, political and cultural aims. Put simply, nakedness can be used to enlighten, empower and entertain.
Enlightenment – that elusive goal of mystics – has been sought in myriad forms, including through meditation, fasting, prayer, and the ingestion of hallucinogenic substances. Our hunger for illumination has been with us, it seems, since the dawn of humanity. Some approaches use nakedness in this way as part of a package of measures to deny the body its satisfactions – St Francis of Assisi, the Jain and Hindu monks deny themselves clothes in the same way that they deny themselves sex and fine wines. Other approaches though, use nakedness in the opposite way – to affirm the sacredness of embodiment, as amongst Christian nudists who feel that nudity helps them return to a Prelapsarian (before the Fall) state of innocence, and modern Pagans who use nakedness to feel closer to the natural world and to enjoy the ‘spiritual sensuality’ of being unclothed.
Being naked we can feel free, sensual, innocent – but also strangely powerful in that innocence. There are feelings of authenticity that are engendered in that state which can feel tremendously empowering, which is why nakedness has come to be used so much in political protest. See now a group of 400 or so naked Russian men, women and children marching through British Columbia in 1931 – the Doukhobors. They are protesting against the compulsory education of their children and the Canadian government’s reneging on their promises regarding land rights. The protests continued right into the 1970s – becoming very nasty indeed, with bombings and arson added to the mass nude protests, with the costs of such activity estimated at over $20 million. However used we have become to naked protest, the fact is that it still works. Each of us is a walking billboard. Here – if you feel strongly enough – is your key to instant publicity. All you need is a black marker pen, a mobile phone and some balls. Take your clothes off, write your message on your chest or bottom and step outside. As you stride down the High Street just call UPI and within hours your message will be seen all over the world.
We’ve seen how nudity can be used to enlighten and empower, but when it comes to entertaining we might think it’s pretty obvious: nakedness is used aesthetically in erotica, and more mundanely in girlie magazines, TV ads, movies, striptease shows, and of course in the contentious field of pornography. We know this, but why? Are we a species so driven by sexual desire, and by a narcissistic fascination with ourselves that we can endlessly gaze and derive pleasure at our own naked human form? Well of course the answer is ‘Yes!’ at one level, but it might be more helpful to pick apart the entertainment value we receive from it. Think back to the Erica Roe streaking image. Most of us find streaking entertaining because there is something inherently funny in much nakedness. A nude person running across a rugby field being tackled by policemen is just a wonderfully silly scene to witness. So there is humour there, but also shock value. We love being shocked! It’s a key ingredient in popular culture and even in that highest art of all – the Turner Prize. In popular culture think of the way Lady Gaga uses shock to get attention, think of the way the Penis Puppeteers use shock combined with humour to create their shows. But there’s something else going on with the use of nudity as entertainment, and that’s the way in which the observation of nakedness can engender feelings of community, of empathy with humanity. And in the end I believe it’s that dimension that runs across the board – between the religious, political and artistic use of nakedness – in each domain our observation or experience of nudity can evoke a sense of a shared identity, a sense of a common fragility, a common dignity, that can be experienced as a spiritual feeling, a politicised sense of empowerment, or as a cultural phenomenon.
Let’s now open up the subject for debate…
CONCLUSION – THE DEMOCRATISATION OF THE POWER OF NAKEDNESS
The deliberate shedding of clothes has been a ‘secret technique’ – used by mystics, activists and artists to further their goals for centuries.
A sea-change in our attitudes occurred at the turn of the millennium, thanks to The Full Monty, Calendar Girls and Spencer Tunick, all of whom have shown that public nudity – in the right context – can be socially responsible, heroic even. As we have seen from the craze for nude charity calendars ever since the Calendar Girls promoted the idea, it’s now a technique that can be used by anyone: we can all be ‘Everyday Heroes’. And when it comes to the work of Spencer Tunick we can see that now it is being used for ‘mass initiations’ – thousands of neophytes at a time. Now the candidates no longer stand in the cold outside the temple awaiting the call of the priestess. They stand in their thousands at Salford Quays, in Gateshead, in Mexico City, awaiting the signal from on high…
Continuing the ‘God theme’ from yesterday: tomorrow Stephanie and I are off to the Lowry Gallery in Salford Quays for ‘The Naked Debate’ at 7pm. Here’s the gist of how I plan to open the discussion:
I have heard from participants in Spencer Tunick’s installations that their first experience of a shoot is one that provides them with a tremendous high – an exhilarating sense that they have broken free of taboos, inhibitions and constraints. Just like candidates for initiation in a Mystery School – whether of ancient Greece or within a modern day witches’ coven – they have to suffer hours, perhaps days or weeks, of nervous anticipation: questioning their motives and worrying about what might happen, until they have to go through the ordeal of the early morning start, the cold, the waiting around, until finally the command comes through the megaphone to get undressed. Apparently a wave of adrenalin – a primal fear of exposure mixed with an equally primal longing for freedom – flows through the group, followed by a flurry of activity as clothes are shed. And then – as the often thousands of bodies stand naked together for the first time – a roar rolls through the crowd, and a great cheer ascends to God – in this case Tunick himself, perched upon a ladder or crane…
NEW YORK—Responding to recent events on Earth, God, the omniscient creator-deity worshipped by billions of followers of various faiths for more than 6,000 years, angrily clarified His longtime stance against humans killing each other Monday. “Look, I don’t know, maybe I haven’t made myself completely clear, so for the record, here it is again,” said the Lord, His divine face betraying visible emotion during a press conference near the site of the fallen Twin Towers. “Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don’t. And to be honest, I’m really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commandedyou not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand.” Worshipped by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, God said His name has been invoked countless times over the centuries as a reason to kill in what He called “an unending cycle of violence.” “I don’t care how holy somebody claims to be,” God said. “If a person tells you it’s My will that they kill someone, they’re wrong. Got it? I don’t care what religion you are, or who you think your enemy is, here it is one more time: No killing, in My name or anyone else’s, ever again.” The press conference came as a surprise to humankind, as God rarely intervenes in earthly affairs. As a matter of longstanding policy, He has traditionally left the task of interpreting His message and divine will to clerics, rabbis, priests, imams, and Biblical scholars. Theologians and laymen alike have been given the task of pondering His ineffable mysteries, deciding for themselves what to do as a matter of faith. His decision to manifest on the material plane was motivated by the deep sense of shock, outrage, and sorrow He felt over the Sept. 11 violence carried out in His name, and over its dire potential ramifications around the globe. “I tried to put it in the simplest possible terms for you people, so you’d get it straight, because I thought it was pretty important,” said God, called Yahweh and Allah respectively in the Judaic and Muslim traditions. Read more at The Onion.
For Swami Vishnudevananda there were no barriers, neither internal nor external. He believed that barriers were only mental constructs that had to be overcome. That’s why he began symbolic flights across national borders in trouble spots around the world.
In 1971, he flew with actor Peter Sellers in a two-engine Piper Apache ‘Peace Plane’ to Belfast in Northern Ireland, the first in a series of peace flightsover the world’s trouble spots, throwing flowers and peace flyers. A month later he flew to the Middle East. On a peace flight over the Suez Canal during the Sinai War, Israeli military jets tried to force Swami Vishnudevananda to land, but he continued his mission unwaveringly. His message: “Man is free as a bird, overcome borders with flowers and love, not with guns and bombs.”
Accordingly, he glided over the Berlin Wall from West to East in 1983 in an ultralight aircraft, “armed” with two bouquets of marigolds. He landed on a farm in Weissensee in East Berlin. After being interrogated by East German authorities for four hours, he was put on the metro with a cheese sandwich and sent back to West Berlin.
One of the most interesting new voices in fiction, L.R.Fredericks, was launched yesterday at a party in Highgate to celebrate the publication of her debut novel Farundell published by John Murrays. Guests boated on the lake, listened to the author read from her book, and enjoyed the September evening sun in the author’s garden…
Publisher and editor extraordinaire Kate Parkin (L) L.R.Fredericks (R)
Guests were invited to swim in the lake, but noone took the plunge
Kate Parkin and the fabulously dressed Sally Child
This year an unusual number of significant figures in the alternative and Druid worlds have been crossing the rainbow bridge to the Otherworld (a euphemistic phrase for dying I know, but rather beautiful nevertheless – and one that reinforces the idea that death is not an end but part of a journey). Already this year Celtic scholar Alexei Kondratiev and Druid leader Isaac Bonewits have passed on in the USA, while over here the legendary John Michell, the well-known dowser Hamish Miller, Douglas Lyne, a moving force in the Order and friend of the old Druid Chief Nuinn, and Gordon Strachan, author of ‘Jesus the Druid’, have all died within a few months of each other.
And now a leading figure in the alternative world, and friend of the Druids, Sid Rawle has crossed the threshold, dying of a heart attack at the age of 64 on the last day of his Rainbow summer camp. Sid was a leading figure on the Stonehenge festival scene and was famously given custody of Dorinish, an Irish island, by John Lennon to start a utopian community. Sid’s Rainbow camp has hosted the Druid Network Camps over the last years as well many other kinds of camp. To get a feel for the kind of character he was, here are notes by a friend of his, Jeremy Sandford introducing the prologue to Sid’s book ‘A Vision of Albion’ which does not seem to be published yet:
Like him or loathe him, it’s been hard to ignore Sid Rawle. He never claimed for himself the title or position of ‘King of the Hippies’. That name was coined by journalists. Nonetheless, he is now that rare thing, a middle aged hippy who is still a hippy. He was in at the start and still trucking. He has never gone ‘straight’. His ‘alternative history’ is hilarious, sometimes angry, sometimes tragic, always remarkably filled with action.
He is the squatter to end them all, having squatted flats, houses, commons, forests, a village, boats, an island, an army camp, Windsor Great Park.
Property owners have urgently attempted to put locks on their houses, land, and daughters, when Sid has been around. It is Sid’s claim that each of our young men and women who could be ordered to die for their country in time of war have a right to, at any rate, a few square yards of meadow or mountain.
Sid believes that access to the land for the underprivileged is becoming harder, and that many obstacles are placed in the way of festival and conviviality. He has fought hard for these things. He has involved hundreds, sometimes thousands, with him. Through his personal bravery, crowd gathering propensities, and frequent appearances on the media, he has become something of a folk hero.
Surrounded by beautiful women and grubby children, he lived for some years in a tipi, and more recently in a converted G.P.O. van for half the year at the summer long series of camps he organises, the other half being spent in a rural prefabricated bungalow crammed with women and children.
And here is the Prologue to The Vision of Albion by Sid Rawle In the end it all gets back to land. Looking back, I see that a link that runs through my life concerns the right to land and property on it. Shared out equally, there would be a couple of acres for every adult living in Britain. That would mean each family or group could have a reasonably sized small holding of ten or twenty acres and learn once again to become self sufficient. The present day reality is the reverse, with some folk owning hundreds of thousands of acres and others owning none. There’s talk of community in war time. We can be ordered to go and fight and die for Queen and country. In peace time is it too much to ask for just a few square yards of our green and pleasant land to rear our children on? That’s all we want, myself and the squatters and travellers and other people in the many projects I’ve been involved with. Just a few square yards of this land that we can in wartime be asked to go out and die for. And if we ever achieve that, what else? What else is what I call the Vision of Albion. Albion, the most ancient name of this fair country. It was in Albion that the industrial revolution occurred. And I and many others now have a sneaking suspicion that in Albion will be forged the first post industrial society, a Green Community in this green land, living in equity and peace. The Vision of Albion is a vision of one world united in love, a vision of unity in diversity. Not the same chant every day. Not everyone finding the same cure for the same ills. But a vision of all people uniting in love and respect for one another. We have to find out how all us individuals in the world can have enough space to live in love and harmony, enough to be self-sufficient and be ourselves, and how to give everyone else this space. That is the vision of Albion, that is the Rainbow vision. It is the Rainbow vision because the rainbow is the symbol of God’s promise. And it is the vision of Albion because there is a sneaking feeling amongst some of us that it is from these islands, the islands that make up Albion, that change will come. So many of the white man’s dreadful fuckups in the world originated here. It is from these islands that peace and harmony must also come. Although we’ve given the world so many of its institutions and, for so much of the world, a common language to communicate to each other in, we’ve lost our own real ancient roots. We don’t know who built our stone circles, how they did it, how they loved, what their economic system was, what their religion was. All over the world there are other peoples who do remember what their roots were, people who are still in touch with their tribal history. What lies deep in their systems must also lie deep within our system. We have to learn to find it again. We have to reclaim or rediscover some of their ancient wisdom, the wisdom of ancient Albion. There’s no magic in this, no mystery. The mystery is that we keep ourselves in hell when we could be in heaven. That’s the mystery. Sid Rawle.See site.
And here’s a video of him being interviewed a few years ago: