Friday, 8 May 2015

Souptemple ~ Stirring Up Belly, Heart, and Spirit in the Midst of the UK Election 2015

This has been a terrible day. It became clear by 6am that the Conservatives had won another term as the Government of the United Kingdom and, worse still, that they have gained a majority in the House of Commons. That this has happened is almost beyond belief, the pre-election polls having suggested that, at worst, another coalition would be required. Many had hoped that, despite their shortcomings, this coalition would be led by the Labour party and although certainly not perfect that would have led to an end of the hated Bedroom Tax, an end to the badger cull, and the continuation of the Hunting Act which bans fox hunting. That we now have to endure a further five years of a Right Wing government who, without the softening presence of their coalition partners, will go full steam ahead with their austerity agenda is a devastating blow. I know very few people who have not been in tears all day. For myself, I am heartbroken and a little bit of my belief in people has died. I am ashamed of my country and ashamed to be English; two things that I never thought I would say. That this neoliberal ideology is running rampant across much of the Western world is of little comfort to me. This is my land, a land that I had thought was inhabited by people who were ultimately caring, compassionate, and tolerant. Today, I believe otherwise. Maybe tomorrow it will be different.

This increase in Conservative power will lead to the further persecution of all that is vulnerable and wild in this land. I fear for the poor, the disabled, the young, the old, the homeless, the low-waged, and the mentally ill. I fear for the forests, the badgers, the foxes, and the song birds. I fear for our hearts and I fear for our sanity. I fear that not all of us will survive. Many feel utterly broken, and yet perhaps in that brokenness we will find our power. We human beings are very good at cutting off from our emotions, from the reality of what is happening around us if that reality is too hard to deal with. No doubt this ability holds powerful evolutionary benefits and yet it seems that it is also susceptible to manipulation by those who want to have power over us; they distract us by turning us against one another, offer us shiny bribes that appeal to our baser instincts, and encourage us not to see what is really going on beneath the surface of the spell they have created. And who would want to see the truth when that truth is so obscene? We would have to see people driven to suicide, starving, weeping as they are forced to leave their homes, animals maimed and screaming, forests cut down for new housing estates that few can afford to live in...

And yet, some of us do see and we keep on looking; some of us weep for those who can no longer cry, some love for those who can no longer love, and some see for those who keep their eyes firmly shut. It may break our hearts, we keep on looking. It may feel that it breaks us; we keep on looking. We can't help it. It is who we are. And so, for many of us who can see what has gone before and what lies ahead, this is a day of mourning. Many are still on shock. Many have lost hope. Soon will come the anger. These feelings matter. It is disconnection from what is sacred; from the land, the self, and community, that has allowed people to vote the Conservatives back into Government. Without that disconnection how could anyone bear to put their cross in the box marked 'austerity'. It is monstrous to even imagine that someone could have seen the reality and still done so. The tiny part of me that still believes in the good of my fellow human beings refuses to believe that that could happen. Those of us who have not succumbed to that disconnection are feeling the pain and the empathy that so many seem not to feel and in that we keep hope alive. We have to keep breathing deeply, allowing ourselves to be broken open and, in the days and months and years to come, we have to live from the heart and live fierce. What I have come to think of as the 'Tory death cult', which could just as easily be the capitalist or patriarchal death cult, suffers from a profound disconnection. It is led by people who persevere with policies towards the natural world that will ultimately kill us all, even though that includes them. What greater disconnection could there be than to continue with something that holds within it your own annihilation? And yet continue they do. Those of us with our hearts open are an answer to that. We are the pulse of Life, with a capital L, and for me that pulse of Life is Goddess.

And yet feeling isn't enough for times like these, sitting in prayer isn't enough. If today has been anything it has been a call to action, a call to sacred and connected activism in the face of unbelievable greed and indifference. A few years ago I was shocked to read in the newspaper that many food banks were reporting that food was being returned to them uneaten. Appallingly, this was food that needed to be cooked being returned by people who could not afford the gas or electricity to do so. I was moved to angry tears contemplating the feelings of those who, not only had to suffer the shame and indignity of going to a food bank in the first place, but then had to admit to not being able to cook their own food. I am sure that many took the food knowing that it would never be eaten, too ashamed to give it back. That this could happen in the sixth richest country in the world is almost impossible to understand. It is shameful and shames us all. I began to think of ways in which we could help one another; perhaps those who could cook could offer to do so for those who couldn't, perhaps we could create community kitchens? And yet all options left me feeling uneasy and despondent and, after some thought, I realised why; in trying to help, in offering a hand to the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us, as of course we must, we would be creating the 'Big Society' that David Cameron has eulogised on so often. This ideology, based on volunteers filling the gaps left by austerity, was a flagship policy of the 2010 Conservative manifesto and suggested that it would take power away from politicians and place it with communities. In reality, this was far from the case, with essential services being brutally cut and volunteers expected to fulfil the roles of those who had previously been paid. And so, in helping those in need, it felt that we would be not only absolving the Government of any responsibility for the care of the most vulnerable in society but also proving them right. This insidious turning of those with good intent against who they were trying to stand beside and offer a hand to is one of the reasons why I despise the Tories; they are treacherous and would like us to be just the same, or perhaps they assume that we are already.

And so I gave up my idea of somehow helping people to cook their food and tried to take action in other ways but the idea has kept coming back to me again and again. Today, devastated by the election results, I went for a walk, pressed my body against a tree and cried, gathered up some hawthorn blossom and buried my face in its creamy petals, breathed in the scent of what is real and of the earth, and the thought came back to me again. This is not a time for sitting and mourning what could have been. This is a time to take action like never before. I have no doubt that, just as I am writing this, there are people, worn down by the previous ConDem coalition, who are contemplating five years of an, even more heinous, Conservative majority and wishing that they were dead. No, this is not the time for those of us with open hearts and tears in our eyes to sit and mourn. We no longer have the luxury of that. People are dying. And perhaps those of us who can still feel and know that the world is broken are the ones who have to do something about that. Maybe we have to be the whisper of the wild in a world gone dead and cold. This is hospice Britain and someone has to care.

And so, something that I have spoken of with friends before came back to me, but this time with a name; Souptemple. It has often been suggested to me that I found a Goddess temple; something which I feel no enthusiasm for at all and yet the thought of something pulsating with the love of Goddess for us all, but with a practical purpose in reaching out to the most outcast, does seem bright with hope and promise. It seems to me that in times like these, when the vulnerable amongst us can't afford to make themselves a hot meal, that this is an idea whose time has come. I sat in the café and wrote everything that popped into my head and I am sharing it now just as it is and with, hopefully, some of the energy that I felt when I wrote it...

Souptemple ~ food for the belly, heart, and spirit

Provide free food, nutritious and made and served with love, containing as many wild and foraged foods as possible. Made to look beautiful and bright. Providing nutrition, dignity, love, and solidarity, together with connection to community and the natural world.

Could be in beautifully decorated vans but would be good to have a building to provide a place to be, together with workshops building self-esteem through creativity and connection to the natural world and one another.

Sacred activism ~ campaigning against food poverty and against loss of dignity and self-determination of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Provide wild medicine/herbalism.

Create the beauty of the hedgetemple wherever we go.

And so there it is; the seed and the sowing of an idea. I don't know where it will go. It is an idea that never leaves me and, today of all days, it wanted to be made more real. I feel unequal to the task of making it happen; too scared, to shy, too wobbly, too inexperienced, but I am lifting a prayer for its growth and for the continuation of Life amongst all of this. If anyone has any thoughts please do let me know. There is much more to do and we will do it. I refuse to stop believing in the good of people. And, in the meantime, I spit on David Cameron's 'Big Society'. This isn't 'volunteering'. This is love.

Comfrey Fritters, made by Will Greenwood, April 2011.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

On Election Day ~ This is Still Our Land

This is still our land
and your arrogance won’t break her.
Her trees grow green and wild
and your power games will not make her
into a barren land where life is not for living,
into a well of souls with eyes staring, unforgiving.

Our ancestors have sung this land
and she has her own spirit.
Other songs have joined with hers,
her boundaries have no limit.
Tolerance is in her blood and sings in her blue rivers
Suspicion has no home in her so don’t try to begin it.

Her serpent currents run,
despite your machinations
Her dragon lines flow on,
have no room for your intentions
And those of us who love her can feel her deep heart beating
We’ll sing her on with open hearts, our voices raised in greeting.

Her warrior soul protects us all,
does not seek to turn on others
Our mother land embraces all,
Joy and freedom are our lovers

And when you think you’ve had your way
and our hearts are torn and burning
We’ll shout with voices of true power
Our land is not for turning!

(Written on Election Day, 5th May 2005)