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" Live out of your imagination

not your history "

Stephen R. Covey

Singing in the Chaos

October 31st, 2011
The son of a friend of ours is working as a doctor in a small hospital in South Africa. He’s writing a blog that gives a vivid impression of what it’s like to be living and working there – the tragedy and the beauty of it too.  He starts off:
Just for a little orientation: I am working as a “Level 1 Medical Officer” at the Holy Cross Hospital, which is 20km outside the small and chaotic town of Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape Province. We’re situated about 40km from the coast, referred to locally as “the wild coast” for its sheer beauty and isolation. Holy Cross was set up in 1923 by some philanthropic missionaries. In the past decade it has undergone a massive rebuild and looks very modern and glam. Unfortunately, for what is has in glitz, it lacks in numbers of doctors and well trained clinical staff. The hospital has about 450 beds, but only around 250 to 300 are currently active…
He then zooms in to describe life working there, finishing his first post by saying:
It’s not all chaos and pandemonium though. One of the most enchanting aspects of working here is the singing. Most mornings and occasionally at lunchtime you’ll see and hear the hospital staff standing around and singing gospel anthems. Now, maybe they should be attending to their clinical/clerical/whatever duties, but oh it is lovely and gives some light to the bedlam. For example, while there was a lull in casualty last Saturday evening the nurses all started singing. For the few minutes that it lasted, it gave me time to reflect on the day and take in all that had shot past. Luckily, there was an abscence of gun shot wounds that evening.
I’m not working this weekend, so maybe I’ll be able to explore some of the local surroundings.
Just one more thing, in answer to the statement that so many people posed before I left: “Wow, that’ll be an amazing experience “– I think you were right, it’s already turning out to be that. So, do you want to have an “amazing experience” too? As I mentioned earlier, the Holy Cross is in desperate need of more doctors, dentists, physios, dieticians, OT’s. Get involved and go tell the people at AHP (African Health Placements) that you want a job here… Read more

The Talliston Project – a Fantasy Come True

October 25th, 2011

A 'normal house' starts to change...

Ever since I was a child I have had a fantasy that one day I would like to turn a house into an ‘Other’ world – with every room acting like a doorway into a different realm. I imagine it must be quite a common fantasy. I can’t have been the only kid who used to climb into wardrobes desperately hoping that The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe had been misclassified as fiction. I used to go to Battersea park where there was a funfair built for the 1951 Festival of Britain. There you could visit a grotto which wafted a strange incense-like smell into the air and had coloured bulbs hidden in niches to create eerie effects. It was all marvellously tacky and I longed to turn our house into such a place. If only my dad had been good with plaster and chicken wire (and mad and with time on his hands)!

Interior of the 'Watchtower'

Lo and behold I have just opened a copy of OBOD’s monthly magazine Touchstone and there is a feature on the Talliston Project – the crazy, wonderful and not at all tacky world of author John Trevillian, who has converted an ordinary looking semi-detached house into a magical world of its own – with a Voodoo kitchen , Haunted Bedroom, a Pre-War detective’s office and more. As John says ‘Talliston is a state of geography, it is also a state of mind. It is a place of imagination and delight. Somewhere extraordinary within the ordinary. ..’ To learn more about the project, and the exciting ideas behind it, see its website.

Lewes, Samhain & Bonfire Night – Druids Among the Fireworks

October 24th, 2011

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005

In less than a fortnight our home town of Lewes in Sussex will be filled with thousands of visitors as the spirit of Mardi-Gras combines with the spirit of Samhain to create an extraordinary spectacle of fire, noise, music and celebration on Bonfire Night. There is now an online archive of old copies of the Ley Hunters magazine ‘Quicksilver Messenger’ and here is an article from that archive (sadly undated, but from the 1970s I suspect). In this article by local author Ward Rutherford, connections are made between the Druids’ ancient celebrations of Samhain and Lewes’ modern-day celebrations of Guy Fawke’s. The history may be wrong, his ideas about sacrifice in particular, but it still makes for interesting reading, particularly for locals who have often felt that the celebrations  feel particularly Pagan. (See also the website with information on Sussex folklore and archaeology here).

  Druids Among The Fireworks    (By Ward Rutherford)
History is pro-Roman. Thus when Tacitus and Suetonius assure us that the last remnants of Druidism perished at the hands of the legionaries at Mona (or, as we now call it, Anglesey) in AD 62, the statement has gone virtually unchallenged.

Yet it’s manifest falsity is easily demonstrable. That Druidism continued down to Christian times in regions untouched by the Roman sandal such as Ireland and Scotland we know from the statements of the missionaries themselves. ‘Christ is my Druid’, declares St. Columba, a turn of phrase surely meaningless if there were no Druids around.

Even in those places where the people had reason to fear the Roman writ, there are signs of survival. One Druidic subterfuge was to take up the harp and pass oneself off as a bard. The separations of the two vocations had, in any case, come about only in comparatively late times. Merlin, who makes his first appearance in the Arthurian stories only in the Middle Ages is plainly intended to represent a Druid. He is, on the consensus of most scholars, derived from the Welsh Myrddin, a historical personage who was, in fact, both prophet and bard and sufficiently renowned to have a town (Carmarthen-Myrddin’s town) named after him.

But if the Druids survived, in no matter what guises, are we justified in asking how far their beliefs and practices may have lived on? Roman influences have ensured that, until recent times, the very notion of such survivals was laughed out of court. If the Druids themselves had gone, how could their ideas persist? This requires a more than usual willingness to ignore facts distasteful to an accepted theory. Not only have Druidic practices and beliefs lived on, but they exert a greater influence on our lives than has hitherto been acknowledged.

Though the proofs of this abound, one must serve. Throughout the British Isles one comes across the well and water sources dedicated to ‘St. Anne’ or to ‘St. Bride’ and one need go no further than Hove with it’s St. Anne’s Well Park in search of examples.

By tradition, St. Anne is the mother, St. Bride or St. Bridget the midwife of the Blessed Virgin. They may, however, have an infinitely older ancestry. A goddess knowm as Brigantia or Brigid was to be found occurring right across the Celtic world and we know of an extremely powerful mother-goddess variously rendered as Dana, Danu, Anu or Ana. She may also be the prototype of the Roman Diana since the prefix ‘Di-‘ means no more than ‘the bright one’ and was frequently attached to god-names. (The J of’Jupiter’, is a case in point, for it is merely the’di’ ellided). Furthermore, the connexion between deities and water-sources is well-attested among the Celts.

The names of their Gods – including Dana/Ana in the Welsh form ‘Don’ recur in the early Welsh versions of Arthurian legend, leading to the supposition that these were in origin myths encapsulating what one might call Druidic ideology.

But this matter of Druidic identifications and survivals can be taken still further. As it happens there is a cycle of myths much earlier than the Welsh. These are the Irish epics which not only contain specific references to Druids, but also to the major festivals. When the great hero Cu Chulainn tries to seduce the lovely Emer in The Cattle Raid of Cooley, she tells him: ‘No man will travel this country (a metaphor for her body), who hasn’t gone sleepless from Samain, when the summer goes to it’s rest, until Imbolc to Beltine at summer’s beginning and from Beltine to Bron Trogain, earth’s sorrowing autumn.’

Imbolc, the lactation of the ewes, comes in February and survived until late times as Candlemas. It was certainly a day sacred to Bridgid and is celebrated as ‘St. Bridget’s Day’ in the Isle of Man.

While Bron Trogain has yet to be identified, with the other two we are on firmer ground. Beltine is the festival of the great sun-god, Beli or Belenos and occurred on 1 May. We need have few scruples in associating the enormous number of May Day practices, such as village Maypoles, with it. In case doubts linger, there is supportive evidence from those places where Celtic life remained least disturbed by external influences; Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Orkneys and Shetlands. In the last three, the term Beltain is still in use and there are various local customs, such as well-visiting, associated with it.

But it is perhaps Samain which gives us even more surprising examples of the quite extraordinary longevity of Druidic ideas. It occurs, as Emer’s speech makes clear even if we did not know it from other sources, at. ‘summer’s end’, in fact in late October-early November. It was not a festival devoted to a particular god, but a period in which the people of the Other World – the dead – could exert a baneful influence upon the living. It was the time when, according to Irish myth, the sidhs, (or shees), the prehistoric barrows, lay open and when their inhabitants tempted the living into them. Then it was that the sidh-women, the banshees, in the form of beautiful temptresses went in search of mortal lovers.

It is plain, without further description, that Samain is the original of our own Hallowe’en, the Feast of the Holy Souls, and, indeed, it corresponds exactly with it. And to support the hypothesis there is the fact that in the Isle of Man Hallowe’en is kept up under it’s Manx Celtic name ‘Sauin’ which not only bears strong resemblance to Samain, but actually means ‘summer’s end.’

However, having established that Hallowe’en is the successor of the Celtic Samain, we may yet overlook something else. From China to Mexico, wherever men have found the need to protect themselves from the malign spirits of the dead, they have adopted the same technique. It is that of instilling fear by means of fire, noise and the wearing of Eearsome masks. In the employment of these methods, the Celts were no exception. We know this from many sources.

At once, and perhaps a little incredulous, we find ourselves being reminded of another well-known folk-festival – Guy Fawkes Night, which occurs on 5 November and is thus well within the accepted Samain period.

Logic intervenes. Can this possibly be more than coincidence, it asks? It was on 5 November I605 that James I’s Parliament met and Guy Fawkes was found amid his powder barrels. But logic also prompts one to ask why the British people should choose to celebrate an occasion which had not the slightest effect on their history? If an occasion for lighting celebratory fires was required why not the anniversary of the defeat of the Great Armada less than twenty years earlier which changed British and European history? Except perhaps, that it occurred in August!

There is, in addition, as aspect of November Fifth we should not overlook. It’s centrepiece is and has always been the burning of an effigy of a man: Druidism practised human sacrifice and both Beltine and Samain were occasions on which human offerings were made. An interesting parallel comes to us from the Channel Island of Jersey. There, until the Puritans forbade it, it had been the custom to fell a tree-trunk at New Year which, shorn of its branches was dressed in clothes and then burned. The overtones of human sacrifice are obvious enough.

The log-victim was called in local patios ‘le bout de 1’an’, – the end of the year – and this was corrupted into the word ‘boulelau’. Strangely enough, the Guy Fawkes custom also spread to Jersey, despite the fact that what happened at Westminster had no conceivable relevance to the islanders who have their own Parliament, the Jersey States. That this was simply the older custom revived is proved by the fact that the word ‘boudelau’ was used for the Guy Fawkes dummy as late as my own boyhood in the island.

All the same, these are no more than intimations which tempt us to conjecture and we have better evidence than this. Once again it comes from the most undilutedly Celtic areas. In the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Scottish Highlands we find that Hallowe’en itself was traditionally celebrated with the lighting of huge, communal bonfires. As Ernest Marwick says in his Folklore of the Orkneys and Shetlands, Hallowe’en and November Fifth became inextricably confused. In the Scottish Highlands we are told, by no less an authority than Professor Anne Ross, the chosen site for these conflagrations was the summits of barrows – the Irish sidhs. In other words, fire was fulfilling itss age old function of protecting the living from the spirits of the dead.

One is therefore led to the conclusion that fireworks, the bonfires, the burnings of Guys on November Fifth came about simply because these activities seemed especially appropriate to the season. The Gunpowder Plotters simply provided a convenient excuse.

Inevitably, one is led from this to the consideration of the most spectacular of all November Fifth celebrations: those held in Lewes. Are the various bonfire societies, unknown to themselves, merely participating in a dark, pagan custom?

Before we dismiss the notion as too fanciful we should remember that in this part of the Downs we are deep in Celtic country. Sussex is more or less coextensive with the Tribal territory of the Regni, a name hinting at royal antecedents (Rig-king). Next to it was that of the Cantii which became the focal point of the struggle between the Saxons Hengist and Horsa and that chieftain the history books misname ‘Vortigern’ (it is, in fact a title, Great Lord). Even at this late date after some four hundred years of Roman occupation, the chief of the Cantii was a devout follower of the old religion. The ‘magicians’ attributed him by Nennius were almost certainly Druids and are so named in some versions of his Historia Brittonum. The Saxon incursions marked the commencement of the Celtic Britons’ trek westwards.

Among indicators of the importance of the area there is not only the Wilmington ‘Long Man’ – on the analogy of other hill figures almost certainly a god – but a host of archaeological finds including the Piltdown stone head and the dolphin linchpin found at Hassocks. The various discoveries unearthed at Caburn give plain witness that, as one writer puts it, the area was ‘inhabited from 500 BC to 50 AD by an artistic race who carried on many arts and crafts’. The last date may well be significant, for the period from roughly 50 AD was one in which the wholesale extirpation of Druidism in Britain began under Claudius. If this was an area of religious importance as there is reason to suspect, this may well have been the moment it’s leaders decided it would be prudent to move elsewhere.

The bulk of local population would, of course, have stayed where it was, rooted in the land and it’s agricultural pursuits. Undoubtedly they would have kept up the festivals even without benefit of clergy.

As added evidence in favour of the thesis that this was a stronghold of pagan releigion, there are the numerous Christian establishments in the neighbourhood, while the dedication of a church to ‘St. Anne’ is interesting if no more. It was common practice to erect Christian monasteries and churches on sites dedicated to the pagan deities, in many cases the materials from the temple or sacred enclosure being used for the new buildings. In this way the impotence of the old gods was effectively demonstrated.

What I am suggesting, then, is that Lewes represents the epicentre of what was formerly an important Celtic area with strongly religious over-tones. In such an area one would expect the festivals, of which Samain with it’s similarities not only to Hallowe’en but also to November Fifth, to be kept up. The contemporary celebrations of November Fifth are simply, I suggest, a survival – or revival – of this.

The photo on the left shows the War Memorial in the centre of Lewes with wreaths laid by Bonfire societies. The right hand picture shows a close-up of a wreath laid by the Cliffe Bonfire Society with it’s initials CBS picked out over white carnations. The pictures were taken early in November I979.

The questions which force themselves upon us are: why Lewes? But it is no more curious than the survival of other Celtic festivals elsewhere. Why, for instance, should Abbots’ Bromley in Staffordshire have retained it’s Stag Dance, plainly associated with the powerful horned god, Cernunnos. Why does Helston have it’s ‘Furry Dance’ or Padstow it’s ‘Obby ‘Oss’?

Ward Rutherford was born in 1927 in the Channel Islands where he was imprisoned by the occupying German forces in the last war. He has been involved in radio and T.V. broadcasting and in I962 became head of news for Channel T.V. in St. Helier, moving to B.B.C. West Region in I964: Author of seventeen books on contemporary history as well as short stories and newspaper articles, his book The Druids & Their Heritage was published in 1978, but is now out of print.

Quicksilver Editor’s reflections…..

As an appendage to this article I’d like to add the following notes: Judith Clover in ‘The Place Names of Sussex’ records “There is a tradition that the town was named in honour of the British God Llwy, Lord of Light, in whose memory tar are rolled down to the river on November Fifth each year, perpetuating a custom which once involved the use of flaming chariot wheels.”

In Lewes there is a strong connection between the fifth as a fire festival and festival of the dead which echoes loudly a Celtic tradition. Each year on this day the several bonfire societies lay wreaths at the war memorial in the town centre. They further remember the dead of the two wars in a special Festival of Remembrance in the church of St. Thomas a Becket (a man chiefly remembered for his death) on the nearest Sunday to the fifth. It could be argued that this remarkable interlocking of two traditions originated with the burning of the Protestant martyrs. If this is so why is the martydom not more overtly remembered? What seems to have happened is this. An already extant tradition received a boost taking on a new meaning and interpretation from contemporary events. This continues into our own time with the Fire Societies honouring our fallen war heroes.

Tobias Kaye Sounding Bowls

October 22nd, 2011

I remember the French Druid and harpist Myrddhin talking about the way that Breton druids would place metal objects in a cauldron, fill it with water, and then stretch reeds across the lip of the bowl. Dipping their hands in the water, the druid would then play the reeds and the cauldron would resonate – helped by the metal in the water. Apparently the sound generated would travel great distances.

In working my way through my email and blog comment back-log I have come across a message from Tobias Kaye, who – it turns out – makes the most wonderful instruments which reminded me of this Breton technique. Tobias crafts wooden bowls with strings across them. His website shows pictures and plays samples, and he has a number of videos showing how he makes them on his Youtube channel. Here is a short clip where he explains what he does and shows you some of his bowls – well worth watching despite the background noise. I hope he can come to one of our camps or gatherings next year!

Earth Alchemy

October 21st, 2011

Subtitles can help you decide if a book is for you or not, but they can also sometimes mislead you. If I was Anne Z.Parker (Professor of Environmental Studies at Naropa University) and Dominique Susani (French Master Geomancer and Dowser) I wouldn’t have given their fabulous ‘Earth Alchemy’ its sub-title ‘Aligning your Home with Nature’s Energies’. Why? Because their book is so much more than just another Feng-Shui type of book that suggests you make some changes to where you live so you feel better. Instead it acts like a highly accessible course in working with earth energies: something which can be done in all sorts of setting. Read more on Amazon USA Amazon UK or this related website.

Wangari Maathai – God is on this Mountain

October 19th, 2011

Wangari Maathai


My thanks go to Gwernon for introducing me to the work of the extraordinary activist Wangari Maathai, who sadly died recently. The following article is by Krista Tippet, presenter of On Being, a National Public Radio programme, from American Public Media. The full transcript of her interview with Maathai can be found here: http://being.publicradio.org/.


Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, died this week. A biologist by training, she founded the Greenbelt Movement and made visible the links between trees and soil, war and peace, and the human body and spirit. We replay our beautiful 2006 conversation in her memory.

A Remarkable Woman for All People and Places

I am so glad I experienced Wangari Maathai in person, in her time on this Earth. She had a wonderful voice and an infectious whole-body laugh. You will even hear her sing if you listen to the end of this hour. I experienced her as immensely gracious but rather subdued until she started speaking about her work. Then, sitting across from her, it was not hard to imagine that this woman had stood up to a dictator and won, and that she had fought off encroaching desert by leading thousands of people to plant tens of millions of trees.

Wangari Maathai was born in colonial Africa in 1940. She excelled in science and trained as a biologist. She became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph.D. and the first woman to chair a department at the University of Nairobi. In the mid-1970s, she started planting trees with rural Kenyan women who were feeling the consequences of soil erosion and deforestation in their daily lives. They walked far distances for water, had too little firewood and fodder for animals, and lacked nutritious food and sources of income.

Planting trees was both a simple response to their crisis and a dramatically effective one. It restored a simple link that had been broken between human beings and the land on which they live — the kind of link that we often take for granted until, as Maathai said, we move away from the world we know — spatially, economically, or spiritually. For several years before her environmental work began, Wangari Maathai had been away from Kenya. When she returned, she saw with fresh eyes that “the earth was naked. For me, the mission was to try to cover it with green.”

For a quarter century, Wangari Maathai and the women of her Green Belt Movement faced off against powerful economic forces and Kenya’s tyrannical ruler, Daniel arap Moi. She was beaten and imprisoned. Nevertheless, the movement spread to more than 600 communities across Kenya and into over 30 countries. After Moi’s fall from power in 2002, Wangari Maathai was elected to her country’s parliament with 98 percent of the vote.

My curiosity, of course, always drives towards the spiritual and ethical questions and convictions that drive human action. And though I could find few interviewers who had asked Wangari Maathai about this, she was happy to talk about the faith behind her ecological passion — a lively fusion of Christianity, real world encounters with good and evil, and the ancestral Kikuyu traditions of Kenya’s central highlands. She grew up there, schooled by Catholic missionaries, and she remained a practicing Catholic. But life taught her to value anew the Kikuyu culture of her family’s ancestry.

The Kikuyu traditionally worshipped under trees and honored Mount Kenya — Africa’s second highest mountain — as the place where God resides. That mountain, as Wangari Maathai only later understood scientifically, is the source of most of Kenya’s rivers. And the fig trees considered most sacred by the Kikuyu — those it was impermissible to cut down — had the deepest roots, bringing water from deep below the earth to the surface. The volatility of the environment across the Horn of Africa now is compounded by the fact that those trees have been cut away systematically for decades, along with millions of others, by colonial Christians as well as African industrialists.

We in the West are in the process of relearning something that Wangari Maathai, from the vantage point of Africa, realized long ago: ecology is a matter of life and death, peace and war. In awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel committee noted that “when we analyze local conflicts, we tend to focus on their ethnic and religious aspects. But it is often the underlying ecological circumstances that bring the more readily visible factors to the flashpoint.” In places as far flung as the Sudan, the Philippines, Mexico, Haiti and the Himalayas, deforestation, encroaching desert, and soil erosion are among the present root causes of civil unrest and war. Wangari Maathai cited a history of inequitable distribution of natural resources, especially land, as a key trigger in the Kenyan post-election violence in 2008.

As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Wangari Maathai a religious question I rarely pose directly, because it is so intimate and so difficult to answer directly. I asked her, rather baldly, to tell me about her image of God. She told me that she had often revisited two concepts of God that stood in some tension, side by side, in her upbringing — the Christian God who was painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome and the God of Kikuyu culture who lived on Mount Kenya. “Now where is God?,” Wangari Maathai asked me in response. Here’s how she answered her own question:

“I tell myself that of course now we’re in a completely new era when we are learning to find God not in a place, but rather in ourselves, in each other, in nature. In many ways it’s a contradiction, because the Church teaches you that God is omnipresent. Now if He is omnipresent, He’s in Rome, but He could also be in Kenya. His shape, His size, His color … I have no idea. You are influenced by what you hear, what you see. But when I look at Mount Kenya — it is so magnificent, it is so overpowering, it is so important in sustaining life in my area — that sometimes I say yes, God is on this mountain.”

Thundersoul – On Being a Man

October 18th, 2011

My German publisher came up with the idea of all their male authors creating an album together that articulated what it means to be a man… to open to the particular quality of being that ‘maleness’ brings. The album has been made – I’m grunting and singing on it, others are drumming and rattling – and it comes in a small book in German. It’s called Donnerseele (Thundersoul) and is available from Amazon here.

And it has its own great videoclip too! No animals or stones have been harmed in the making of this film:

Bricks by Leon Jenner Stirs It Up

October 17th, 2011

A beautifully produced but highly provocative book has been delighting some people and infuriating others this summer – and it’s about a Druid. Bricks by Leon Jenner is one of those ‘Marmite’ books that you’ll either spit out with a shriek of disgust or wolf down with relish and ask for more. There’s no way you can be luke-warm about Bricks that Mark Booth of Coronet chose to publish after hearing of its runaway success as an audio-book. Mark is author, under the nom-de-plume of Jonathan Black, of the equally controversial Secret History of the World, and with Jenner’s manuscript he has created a book that is a joy to behold – with artwork commissioned by him and paper stock and design that most authors long for but seldom get from their publisher. In addition two short videos have been made to promote the book which I’ll paste in below.

To show you just how Marmite-like this book is, I’ll give you the reactions of two friends: both published authors steeped in Druid learning, both of whose opinions I respect:

Kris Hughes, author of Natural Druidry, writes: ‘Bricks is perhaps the strangest book I have ever read – I kept finding myself looking up from the book muttering “What the….!!!!”. All in all, I really don’t know what to make of it, except that I find it oddly disturbing…Does anybody know anything about this guy?’

John Matthews, well-known author of many books on the Grail and Celtic and Druid matters, said to me: ‘Have you read Bricks? It’s extraordinary – I loved it.’

My reaction? Like Kris, I couldn’t handle it, but I suppose if we are to stay with the Marmite analogy, the trick is to eat another slice of toast with it on – even if you found you couldn’t bear it the first time!

UN Report Urges Global Dietary Changes

October 17th, 2011

I’ve been aware for some time that meat consumption is a major contributor to the destruction of the environment, but I didn’t know the UN was backing a global move to a meat and dairy-free diet. See this Guardian article by Felicity Carus which explains why the UN is urging us all to do this:

Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.
As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.
It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”
The recommendation follows advice last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the Labour government on the economics of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions.
The panel of experts ranked products, resources, economic activities and transport according to their environmental impacts. Agriculture was on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth, they said.
Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who co-chaired the panel, said: “Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products – livestock now consumes much of the world’s crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides.”
Both energy and agriculture need to be “decoupled” from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found.
Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: “Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation.”
The panel, which drew on numerous studies including the Millennium ecosystem assessment, cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.
Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, says the report, which has been launched to coincide with UN World Environment day on Saturday.
Last year the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that food production would have to increase globally by 70% by 2050 to feed the world’s surging population. The panel says that efficiency gains in agriculture will be overwhelmed by the expected population growth.
Prof Hertwich, who is also the director of the industrial ecology programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said that developing countries – where much of this population growth will take place – must not follow the western world’s pattern of increasing consumption: “Developing countries should not follow our model. But it’s up to us to develop the technologies in, say, renewable energy or irrigation methods.”

The Secret Language of Birds

October 16th, 2011

Here is how I introduced Adele Nozedar, creator of  The Secret Language of Birds Tarot, on Saturday at the UK Tarot Conference:

Imagine Mogh Ruith, the great druid of Irish legend, stands before you now. He wears a headdress made of birds’ feathers and is cloaked in a bull’s hide. Suddenly, with a wave of his wand, he begins to rise into the air and to fly like a bird.

He is gone now – this archetypal shaman, this psychopomp – ranging in trance between this world and the Otherworld in search of illumination, ecstasy, transformation.

But lying before you on the ground you see that he has left you a gift. It is a crane-skin bag. You bend down to pick it up, wondering what that magical bird has concealed within its skin. As you open it, you see that you have been sent messages carved in Ogham on sticks of wood.

On each stick has been written an Arcanum – a secret. As you read through each one, deciphering the code often known as the tree-language of the Druids, you realise that these messages comprise a collection of teachings on the role of birds in the practice of Druidcraft. Here you read of the gifts brought to humanity by eagle and wren, raven and owl, blackbird and swan. You discover why it is that the Druids of old were said to possess crane, raven or bird knowledge. You discover why it is that three cranes guard the entrance to Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld, and why two Druids, skin-turned into the form of eagles, protect the last resting place of King Arthur high in the mountains of Snowdonia.

Having read each of the ogham sticks, you place them back in the bag, and as you do so you ask that you might understand the significance of these messages not only in your mind, but also in your heart, so that this knowledge can be of real value in your work of gaining insight for yourself and others.

Adele Bird BookYou place the bag back on the ground and then the scene fades before you as you become aware of being here in this room. And now I would like to introduce you to the best person to guide you in the very process I have described – of discovering how a knowledge of birds and the messages they convey can help you in your work, and in your understanding of the Tarot. Coming straight from her eyrie where she lives at 2,500 ft in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Adele Nozedar is the author of the stunning The Secret Language of Birds and the creator of The Secret Language of Birds Tarot.