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Black Elk

The Earth is in Need of a Good Lawyer

January 17th, 2013

When it comes to worrying about the state of the planet and the Mass Species Extinction we are going through, I get frustrated that the only things I can do are ‘low-level’: I can try to be as environmentally responsible as I can, but I know that any effort of mine is like a tiny drop in a vast ocean.

I’ve always wished that I could find some ‘high-level’ action that I could help with. By high level I mean talking to the organ grinder rather than the monkey: for example persuading a government to switch off all their coal-fired power stations. But how unrealistic is that?!

The other evening I met the lawyer Polly Higgins who has come up with just such a high leverage plan. It goes straight to the top of the system – above individual politicians and governments – and brings with it the power of international law.

Watch this video of Polly speaking. It’s a masterpiece of engaging explanation. Within a few minutes she’s conveyed the essence of her message with great clarity and you just want to hear more. After you’ve watched it, please click here to sign the petition to help eradicate Ecocide. And watch out for our interview with Polly on Druidcast soon!

Coming from Nowhere & Opening to Mystery

January 15th, 2013

I’ve just come across the work of Stephen Jenkinson. Try this from his website

Years ago I showed a film to a group of men who were newly bereaved about how Tibetans once – maybe still – cared for their dying and their dead. When the film ended, the long silence was finally broken when one of the men said, “I feel like I come from nowhere.” And that seems to be what happens inside most of us when we see or hear of a people wholly at home where and how and who they are: we feel the shadowed hollow of our immigrant, refugee history, and our lack of ceremonial instinct and experience, or we try to fill it up by stealing something from those people who are miraculously still deeply, ancestrally, ceremonially alive.

Communities with endurance, purpose and commitment to future generations aren’t built on a footing of longing for such a community, or missing one. They are built on a willingness to learn and try and fail and learn some more about how real villages are a kind of cooking pot, the clay for which was taken from ancestral soil, and how that cooking pot hangs from a tripod of relation: how the villagers are with each other, how they are with the created world around them, how they are with the Unseen World.

The balm for feeling like you come from nowhere is to learn in a massive way about where you are from, and to do that with others.

from ‘Making a Village’ by Stephen Jenkinson

Now try this extraordinarily moving meditation on darkness, parenting, and Mystery:

There comes a time in the epic saga of parenting when you have to decide whether you’ll introduce kids to darkness, so that something of the mysteries of having a human life could be their companion, or whether you’ll let the world do that for you, so that they could be challenged for years as they confuse mystery for mayhem. Ah, parenting, whose landscape is littered with abandoned imperatives and loopy convictions which couldn’t endure the trial, professional provisos and talk show wisdoms that are designed to guarantee repeat business and not much more. It is a skittish business. Grand parenting, too. And aunting, uncling, eldering, mentoring, neighbouring and the rest. Our culture isn’t big on kids growing up, nor is it big on mystery. It’s big on mystery revealed, and our corner of the world is a torment, partly because of that. Insisting on having a One True God who’s in charge of the whole works doesn’t help much, unless you’re big on sin and disobedience. So, there’s work to be done.
In a culture like ours it is not an easy thing to contemplate, this idea of bringing children to darkness deliberately and with purpose. It is a culture drawn to light in the singular and driven way of the moth. Everything possible is illuminated and revealed. Pornography is a good example. Another is schooling. Most are programmes in ending uncertainty, building competence and extending mastery, by assaulting mystery and containing darkness. You cannot go to a restaurant without a soundtrack that guides your conversation by banishing any quiet you might seek. None of those guys trust you to your silence. Visually you are allowed very little darkness, city or suburb, in the name of security I guess. You can’t drive down a road without being signed, cosigned, designed, resigned and signed again, every possible subtlety articulate and glaring and declared. It’s relentless.
Darkness and shadow do not have good PR, as you know. Nobody wants to be left in the dark. Being lucid means being light bound, and both seem advisable. There’s a well known book that divides the humanity in simple and ruthless terms into Sons of Light (among whom you’d want to be included) or Sons of Darkness (reserved for people who don’t know what you know). A poet I admire, William Stafford, wrote with certainty that the darkness around us is deep, and you can tell he didn’t think that was a good thing. When psychologically attuned people consider The Shadow they are generally trying to do something about making it less shadowy, and frankly it is darkness that gives many of them job security. I supervised an employee once who announced with pride that she’d begun to teach dying people how to be comfortable with their discomfort – another secondment of human cleverness to the project of banishing shadows inner and outer.
And there’s Christmas: the most light-flooded, the most illuminated, the most shadow-banishing project of them all, whose timing – the winter solstice – is no accident.
I know that the world seems plenty scary enough, and dangerous, without subjecting children to darkness unmediated. But we could ease up on the anxiety long enough to consider that darkness, with all its mysteries, has always been the place where healthy cultures brought their children to learn life. It isn’t where they were brought to be warned about life or defended against it, but where they were given the chance to love it instead. That is what most initiation ceremonies are for, to give children the ability to love being alive.
One year, right around this time and full of the emptiness of Christmas, I tried to do something else with my kids. We ended up in the north country, a good distance from the ambient light pollution that many kids now think is natural, and it was cold. There were two feet of good snow on the ground, and we had a small cabin to ourselves. With great ceremony about mid-morning on the twenty-first we turned off all the lights, all the heating and electricity, and as the day went on we talked about how it must have been hundreds of years before us, right at that time of year, for people who lived right in that spot. When night came on the shadows grew mauve and, in the way real darkness has of being itself, luminous. The cold wrapped itself around us, the poplars cracked with frost, and standing outside with the last amber of sunset gone from the sky we could, gorgeously, see. The lake ice close by moaned and shattered in the gathering, frozen dark. It was a powerful thing, that night. It was full and alive. The kids complained a little and found this a strange thing to do, but mostly they were awash in awe, and somewhere in that night they met darkness’s true heart: mystery. They remember it still, and I am hoping that mystery has a presence in the lives they are choosing and forging for themselves. I hope that the solstice, if they take note of it at all, has a full darkness to go along with the livid street life they’re more and more used to.

Mystery is my mistress, has been for a long while. Whatever teaching I’ve offered over the years has enthroned mystery as a patron saint of all our meetings. At my school we wrestle hard the mysteries of being a human, alive. So far, the mysteries have always won.

On the night of the twenty-first we’ll stand outside again and listen to the dark, and watch the silence, and imagine some of you doing the same, maybe with some kids close by. Here on our end of things we wish for you rich shadows, wondrous darkness to go with your certainties, proper twins, faithful companions. Would that this time of year give us again a taste for such things.

Stephen Jenkinson

A Smorgasbord Approach to Religion

January 12th, 2013

Philosopher Alain de Botton advocates a smorgasbord approach to religion, saying: “I’m aware this offends some people; there’s a criticism that religions are not spiritual buffets from which we can select the choicest cuts, but I heartily disagree. Just as with a singer you like, you wouldn’t buy everything they ever did and never listen to any other singers. Surely we can create our own playlist when it comes to culture, and also religion.”

Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton (Photo credit: juan tan kwon)

Do you agree?!


January 11th, 2013

I find that like hearing Bjork or Kate Bush for the first time, my first reaction was to wince, but then in a while I started to warm to the Tallest Man on Earth’s unusual voice

A simple brilliant idea

January 5th, 2013

It’s a simple, brilliant idea that could raise $400 billion without you or I ever being asked to give a penny for charity. Bill Nighy explains how in this very brief film:

Gok Wan in Search of God

January 4th, 2013

Lady Godiva by John Collier c.1898Every author wants to get reviewed, and anyone who’s ever been published knows how hard it is to get a review of any kind – let alone in a major national newspaper or magazine.

Just look at the maths – good old Wikipedia has a page devoted to the stats of books published per annum by country here

Last year over 328,000 were published in the USA, 206,000 in the UK

Two years ago I was lucky enough to get masses of reviews in colour supplements, national newspapers, blogs, academic sites and so on. And they were often long – double page spreads with lots of pictures. One newspaper even reviewed me twice! How come? Well the title explains: A Brief History of Nakedness and the response really proved the point of my book – which is that it’s a hugely entertaining and rich subject for exploration.

I learnt two things from such a welter of publicity – one was that quite often the reviewer had clearly not read the book, but had scanned it. I could pick these ones out by the way I found they were paraphrasing what I had written or the publisher’s blurb. The other one was that sometimes the worst thing can be the best thing in the long run.

One Oxford don had written a great review for The Telegraph one Friday, but another don, from a rival college, wrote a bizarre rant about it for The Observer that Sunday that was so hysterical a friend rang to say that on Monday Blackwells had already sold out. Despite the obvious fact that the reviewer hadn’t read the book, he did come up with one nice catch-phrase that I’ve resisted using so far:  ‘Gok Wan in quest of God – that’s Carr-Gomm’.

Later that week I was rung by the Wellcome Institute and asked to give a talk on the book for them, quickly followed by another invitation to speak on it at the Lowrie Gallery in Salford.

Now that the paperback edition has just come out, I’m resisting the temptation to ask that reviewer to have another swipe at it! Instead the book has just received a really well-considered review in a blog that many readers will like for its wide-ranging and intelligent articles: The Generalist. In it the reviewer John May has also performed a great service for us, providing an illustrated round-up of significant news about nakedness from the last year. Have a look at his review here and ‘News Round Up’ here. Then rush to buy a copy here in the UK and here in the USA!