An inspiring, fascinating talk about Trophic Cascades. Don’t know what they are? Find out about this extraordinary phenomenon whereby wolves change the course of rivers, whales the composition of the atmosphere. Tremendous vision and hope here!
“The bard is the one willing to learn, the one especially willing to learn unwelcome things about what the rest of us know. It is a burdensome, weighty proposition, one guaranteed to oblige the bard to run headlong into the blast of his or her time…
And that is as it has always been for the deep storytellers. They pay a debt to life unsuspected by the rest of us. Part holy fool and court jester, part spiritual lawyer for the human encounter with the divine, the bard is the great rememberer, the librarian of all refused stories.
Bards are first and always story hearers, and story seers. The capacity for story lives in their eyes and ears, as well as on their tongue.”
Russell Brand is a comedian with a conscience and spiritual awareness. Easy to dismiss if judged after a few minutes as vulgar or trivial, it is no surprise that the Dalai Lama chose Brand to introduce him on his last visit to Britain. Here he talks about his stint as editor of The New Statesman with Britain’s most famous political TV journalist, Jeremy Paxman, known for his confrontational no-nonsense interviews.
You can find his New Statesman editorial here. readers of this blog should like this excerpt: “The model of pre-Christian man has fulfilled its simian objectives. We have survived, we have created agriculture and cities. Now this version of man must be sacrificed that we can evolve beyond the reaches of the ape. These stories contain great clues to our survival when we release ourselves from literalism and superstition. What are ideologies other than a guide for life? Throughout paganism one finds stories that integrate our species with our environment to the benefit of both. The function and benefits of these belief matrixes have been lost, with good reason. They were socialist, egalitarian and integrated. If like the Celtic people we revered the rivers we would prioritise this sacred knowledge and curtail the attempts of any that sought to pollute the rivers. If like the Nordic people we believed the souls of our ancestors lived in the trees, this connection would make mass deforestation anathema. If like the native people of America we believed God was in the soil what would our intuitive response be to the implementation of fracking?” Russell Brand
It’s a mystery to me
we have a greed
with which we have agreed
You think you have to want
more than you need
until you have it all you won’t be free
Society, you’re a crazy breed
I hope you’re not lonely without me…
Eddie Vedder – Society from the film ‘Into the Wild’
A guest post by Maria Ede-Weaving…
The year is releasing itself, letting go with the kind of intense beauty that never fails to inspire awe in me. There was a time I used to dread this season, sensing the darkness closing in; the claustrophobia of the encroaching winter. Now I see how beautiful this time of year is. The sun is low in the sky producing a golden light whose filter adds an even greater warmth to the colour of autumn trees; the sunsets are vivid and mists gather in the folds and recesses of the land, hovering over water meadows and sliding down cliffs, reaching out across the sea until the boundary between land and ocean is no more and we can no longer tell where one world ends and another begins.
This blurring of the boundaries between worlds is very much a theme of the Pagan festival of Samhain which now approaches. As the year releases its grip on life, the harvest gathered and stored, the nights lengthening, we turn away from the light and growth and move towards the darkness and repose. It can be a challenging time because the darkness is not only about stillness, rest and germination – it is also the place where our fears lurk; our eyes do not adjust easily to its shadows and our anxieties twist and distort their shapes.
There comes a point when the darkness and stillness of winter have a peace about them; we get a real sense of life waiting beneath the soil for re-emergence; there is a restfulness – a natural, easy pause after the out breath of the year – that centres and calms us. Samhain’s energy proceeds this time and is much more vivid and intense, much the way that spring’s energy is, only then, of course, the energy surges outward, carrying into the world an expanding tide of life. I find autumn as intense but the energy is one that has built throughout the summer months to this moment of powerful release.
Birth and death can be chaotic and dangerous transitions; they connect us to our most primal instincts and emotions, powering through us, gripping us. Despite our efforts to remain poised and in control, we can find ourselves broken apart by the experience. Samhain functions like the breaking of an emotional dam, it is the release of orgasm, it is the death rattle of our last breath and the shocking gasp of our first – and all of these moments teach us that losing control is a necessary function. We all have to make peace with the fact that ultimately we are not in control. Life moves through us, at times with an intensity that shakes us; losing control demands that we place our trust in that intensity, learning to accept that it has the power to change us; that its presence in our lives is sometimes necessary for life to move on. We understand this most clearly when we find ourselves in experiences that speak of those vivid energies of spring and autumn: when we fall in love; when we are forced to begin again; when we are ill; when we are dying to our old selves and venturing into new ways to be.
Samhain may well stir our deepest fears of death but its lessons are invaluable and its powerful energy cathartic and potentially creative. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her wonderful ‘Women who run with the Wolves’, the Cailleach, or Death Mother -whom we meet when we explore this festival’s Mysteries – teaches us the wisdom of the bones. Estes writes that ‘in archetypal symbology, bones represent the indestructible force…the indestructible soul-spirit.’
You can dent the soul and bend it. You can hurt it and scar it. You can leave the marks of illness upon it, and the scotch marks of fear. But it does not die, for it is protected by ‘La Loba’ in the underworld. She is both the finder and incubator of bones…
…within us is the old one who collects bones. Within us there are the soul-bones of this wild self. Within us is the potential to be fleshed out again as the creature we once were. Within us are the bones to change ourselves and our world. Within us is the breath and our truths and longings – together they are the song, the creation hymn we have been yearning to sing…
Samhain teaches us how to recognise what must die and what must live in our lives. It can bring some tough realisations but its transformative energy gives us the opportunity to live a more authentic life.
Estes writes that ‘La Loba’ sings over the bones; her singing fleshes out those bones and, in time, reanimates them. So, what song will you sing this Samhain?
Good books are like icebergs – the text you read represents only a fraction of the work an author has done, and a fraction of the material that has gone into the making of it. A mistake an author can make is to try to say everything about a subject. You can’t, and you have to let go of that ambition or your book will be indigestible. Just as music needs its silences, so a book needs to breathe and to give you the space to interact with it. You have to sense when less really is more.
One of the ways you can explore the material beneath the surface of a book is to follow up any hints or footnotes, and one of the ‘secret pleasures’ of an author lies in placing such hints in the almost perverse knowledge that only a few people will follow the trail. (Richard Heygate and I did that in The Book of English Magic, deliberately leaving hints for the curious!) Perhaps… or maybe more people check out sources given in the text and footnotes than I imagine. Let’s find out! Please tick the box in the poll below.
Meanwhile let me give a concrete example. I have recently enjoyed reading Jonathan Black’s latest book, The Sacred History, and I’m looking forward to interviewing him for our podcast next month. His book is littered with extraordinary references that are well worth researching. A few examples from many:
The Oracle of the Dead at Baia: “Let this website take you to a place tucked away in the North West corner of the bay of Naples, Italy. Here lies the Terme di Baia where a curious set of buildings is set against a volcanic cliff. Hidden behind them, deep underground, there is a labyrinth of ancient tunnels and chambers dating back 2,500 years, carved out of solid volcanic rock. Is this the way to hell discovered by Dr. Robert Ferrand Paget in 1962?”
“In Gulbekian is that most satisfying of writers: someone who has pondered deep issues of our time enough to distill out some profound and disturbing insights. By any standard deriving from the last 50,000 years of human history, this is an apocalyptic time. The potential and dangers of our time are truly global; many of the threats – environmental, WMDs, poverty etc – are profound; yet much of the politicking about solutions operates at the level of facile soundbite and/or dismissive rhetoric, while an ad for a better cosmetic faces a magazine article on genocide or polluted water supply. The point is that contemporary culture is either dissociated (the optimistic view) or Janus faced. Gulbekian gives a succinct but powerful reading of these and other issues and suggests a way of individual action that rehabilitates the conscience and awareness of the individual. I commend it.” Professor Angus Jenkinson
The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe, review from ‘The Telegraph’
Tim Martin has his eyes opened by an enthralling new history that argues that Druids created a sophisticated ancient society to rival the Romans
A 1570 map of Europe, from Abraham Ortelius’ atlas (detail) Photo: Alamy
By Tim Martin7:00AM BST 12 Oct 20137
‘Important if true” was the phrase that the 19th-century writer and historian Alexander Kinglake wanted to see engraved above church doors. It rings loud in the ears as one reads the latest book by Graham Robb, a biographer and historian of distinction whose new work, if everything in it proves to be correct, will blow apart two millennia of thinking about Iron Age Britain and Europe and put several scientific discoveries back by centuries.
Rigorously field-tested by its sceptical author, who observes drily that “anyone who writes about Druids and mysteriously coordinated landscapes, or who claims to have located the intersections of the solar paths of Middle Earth in a particular field, street, railway station or cement quarry, must expect to be treated with superstition”, it presents extraordinary conclusions in a deeply persuasive and uncompromising manner. What surfaces from these elegant pages – if true – is nothing less than a wonder of the ancient world: the first solid evidence of Druidic science and its accomplishments and the earliest accurate map of a continent.
Robb begins his journey from a cottage in Oxfordshire, following up a handful of mysteries that had teasingly accrued as he assembled his Ondaatje Prize-winning travelogue The Discovery of France.
They had to do with the Heraklean Way, an ancient route that runs 1,000 miles in a straight line from the tip of the Iberian Peninsula to the Alps, and with several Celtic settlements called Mediolanum arranged at intervals along the route.
After examining satellite imaging (difficult for the private scholar even a decade ago) and making several more research trips, Robb bumped up against two extraordinary discoveries. First, the entire Via Heraklea runs as straight as an arrow along the angle of the rising and setting sun at the solstices. Second, plotting lines through the Celtic Mediolanum settlements results in lines that map on to sections of Roman road, which themselves point not to Roman towns but at Celtic oppida farther along.
Viewed in this light, the ancient texts of the Italian conquerors begin to reveal sidelong secrets about the people they supplanted. Piece by piece, there emerges a map of the ancient world constructed along precise celestial lines: a huge network of meridians and solar axes that served as the blueprint for the Celtic colonisation of Europe, dictated the placement of its settlements and places of worship, and was then almost wholly wiped from history. We are, to put it mildly, unused to thinking like this about the Celts, whose language is defunct and whose reputation was comprehensively rewritten by those who succeeded them.
Greek travellers from the sixth century BC onwards described a nation of sanguinary brutes and madmen who threw their babies in rivers, walked with their swords into the sea and roughly sodomised their guests. “It does not take an anthropologist to suspect,” Robb observes drily, “that what the travellers saw or heard about were baptismal rites, the ceremonial dedication of weapons to gods of the lower world, and the friendly custom of sharing one’s bed with a stranger.”
Later on, clean-shaven, toga-sporting Roman visitors to what they called Gallia Bracata and Gallia Comata – Trousered Gaul and Hairy Gaul respectively – were horrified by the inhabitants’ practical legwear and love of elaborate moustaches, and marvelled to hear them discoursing not in gnarly Gaulish but in perfect Greek.
As the Roman military machine rolled over Europe, depicting the Celt as a woods-dwelling wild man became not just a matter of Italian snobbery but one of propagandist utility. According to Robb, when the Romans arrived this side of the Alps, they found a country whose technical achievements were different from, but competitive with, their own.
Mapped and governed by a network of scholar-priests according to a template laid down in heaven, covered by a road network that afforded swift passage to fleets of uniquely advanced chariots (“nearly all the Latin words for wheeled vehicles”, Robb notes, “come from Gaulish”) and possessing astronomical and scientific knowledge that would take another millennium to surface again, Gaul remained a deeply enigmatic place to its military-minded conquerors. When Julius Caesar swept through, on a tide of warfare and genocide that would lead his countryman Pliny to accuse him of humani generis iniuria, “crimes against humanity”, much of its knowledge retreated to the greenwood, never to emerge.
Most significantly, suggests Robb, Caesar failed to work out the Druids. To most of us even now, the word conjures up the image of a white-robed seer with a sickle, an implausible hybrid of Getafix and Glastonbury hippie. (Robb suggests, following the design on a Gaulish cauldron, that they tended more towards a figure-hugging costume patterned like oak bark: much better for melting like smoke into the trees, a trait of Druid-led armies that Caesar vigorously deplored.) The Druidic curriculum took two decades to train up its initiates, but these men of science put nothing in writing. Like their wood-built houses, their secrets rotted with time. How could we hope to reconstruct them?
Remarkably, Robb has an answer to this, and it forms the centre of a book almost indecently stuffed with discoveries. One of the most consistently baffling things about Celtic temple sites to modern surveyors is their shape: warped rectangles that seem none the less to demonstrate a kind of systematic irregularity. Using painstakingly reconstructed elements of the Druidic education, which placed religious emphasis on mapping the patterns of the heavens on to the lower “Middle Earth” of our world, Robb comes up with an astonishing discovery: these irregular rectangles exactly match a method for constructing a geometrical ellipse, the image of the sun’s course in the heavens. Such a method was previously thought to be unknown in the West until the 1500s.
Other suggestions follow thick and fast, backed by a mixture of close reading, mathematical construction and scholarly detective work. Building on meridians and equinoctial lines, the Druids used their maps of the heavens to create a map that criss-crossed a continent, providing a plan of sufficient latitudinal and longitudinal accuracy to guide the Celtic diaspora as it pushed eastward across Europe.
The swirls and patterns in Celtic art turn out, Robb surmises, to be arranged along rigorous mathematical principles, and may even encode the navigational and cartographic secrets that the Druids so laboriously developed.
Robb manages his revelations with a showman’s skill, modestly conscious that his book is unfurling a map of Iron Age Europe and Britain that has been inaccessible for millennia. Every page produces new solutions to old mysteries, some of them so audacious that the reader may laugh aloud. Proposing a new location for Uxellodunum, the site of the Gauls’ final losing battle in France, is one thing; suggesting where to look for King Arthur’s court, or which lake to drag for Excalibur, is quite another. But both are here.
Amid such riches, readers of The Discovery of France – a glorious book that mixed notes from a modern cycling tour with a historical gazetteer of pre-unification France – may still be itching for the moment when the author gets back on his bike. Beautifully written though it is, The Ancient Paths can tend to dryness at times, but some of its best moments come when the author gets out into the field.
One example will suffice. Certain references in Caesar’s writing indicate that the Gauls operated a vocal telegraph, composed of strategically placed teams yodelling news overland to one another, which passed messages at a speed nearly equivalent to the first Chappe telegraph in the 18th century. To judge how this might have worked, Robb takes himself off to the oppidum above Aumance, near Clermont-Ferrand, where he reports on the car alarms and the whirr of traffic still audible across countryside four kilometres away.
He goes further. Aumance was one of around 75 places once known by the name Equoranda, a word with an unknown root that resembles the Greek and Gaulish for “sound-line” or “call-line”. All the Equoranda settlements Robb visits turn out to be on low ridges or shallow valleys, and would, he writes, “have made excellent listening posts”. Examined in this light, one word in Caesar’s account becomes fruitful: he observes that the Gauls “transmit the news by shouting across fields and regios”, a word that can be translated as “boundaries”. An ancient Persian technique for acoustic surveying, still current in the 19th-century south of France, involves three men calling to one another and plotting their position along the direction of the sound. Put the pieces together and you end up – or Robb does – with “the scattered remains of a magnificent network” that could have acted not just as a telegraph system but as a means to map the Druids’ boundaries on to the earth.
It’s a magnificent piece of historical conjecture, backed by a quizzical scholarly intellect and given a personal twist by experiment. So, for that matter, is
the whole thing. Robb describes in his introduction the secretive meetings with publishers in London and New York that kept a lid on the book’s research until publication, and watching its conclusions percolate through popular and academic history promises to be thrilling.
Reading it is already an electrifying and uncanny experience: there is something gloriously unmodern about seeing a whole new perspective on history so comprehensively birthed in a single book. If true, very important indeed.
For Britain the book is titled The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe
In the USA it is titled The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts
We’ve heard about guerrilla gardening and subversive knitting groups – but here comes the big one: guerrilla upholstering!
Isn’t it wonderful that people can be so generous and also have such fun at the same time? Watch this little 2 min video on the BBC site about:
Mick Sheridan, a furniture upholsterer by day, working from his studio in rural Wales. In his free time, he has an alter-ego – he’s the Guerrilla Upholsterer. If he ever sees a public seating area that he thinks could be made more comfortable, he secretly upholsters it – from bus stop benches to bird watchers’ hides.
I’ve just been reading a fabulous new ezine created for members of OBOD’s USA East Coast Gathering community. In it there is an account of Susan Jones’ workshop entitled ‘Journeyman & Hermit’. In that is a link to a film that is profoundly moving. Here’s the trailer and a comment on the film:
“Who would ever believe this Alabama hellhole would one day foster one of the most progressive rehabilitation programs in the world? Strange, but true… It’s a powerful journey… A truly inspirational piece of documentary filmmaking.” – Ken Fox, TV Guide’s Movie Guide
It is unlawful for fracking companies to drill under your home without your permission. Search your postcode and join the legal block today to protect your home and community from fracking.
Right now, the government has earmarked nearly two-thirds of England for possible fracking, without fully understanding what effects it is likely to have on our health or the countryside.
What we do know is that if we want to tackle climate change, we can’t be digging new fossil fuels out of the ground.
Find out if your home is at risk of being fracked. Look up your postcode at wrongmove.org now.
Fracking involves horizontal drilling that can extend two miles from the actual drill site, passing directly under the homes of those nearby.
Despite the government’s enthusiastic dash for gas, we have the power to make fracking very difficult, and may even be able to halt exploration in its tracks, if enough of us come together.
This is how it works: if you don’t want fracking companies pumping toxic chemicals under your home, you can say so. Then, any drilling there becomes trespassing; the frackers would be breaking the law.
All you have to do is declare that your home is ‘Not for Shale’ and you will be added to the growing legal block to stop fracking where you live.
But we need to act quickly, as there are hints that the government will try to change the law to support their dash for gas.
Look up your postcode to find out if you could be fracked and join the legal block now.