The Power of Community

A circle of friends by Kevin Redpath

We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Some place where we can be free. Starhawk


Thought for the day

The walk to paradise garden

The walk to paradise garden by Elliott Smith

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it’

Professor David OrrOn Education, Environment and the Human Prospect

Green your search!


Search engines use a surprising amount of electricity. One search uses the same amount of energy that it takes to power a lightbulb for one hour.  Some estimates now put Google’s power consumption at 15 billion kWh per year.  To put this into perspective, it means Google consumes more electricity than most countries on earth. If Google were a nation, it would rank somewhere around No. 75 of 215 countries.

Ecosia uses 100% renewable electricity. It also uses its revenue to buy rainforest and save it from destruction. Why not think about changing your search engine?

Thoughts we shared with each other during the weekend

Writings on our Pagan Quaker workshop wall

When the Society began
‘Quaker’ was a term used to mock members
‘Quaker’ has now been reclaimed by Quakers.
Now we are in the process of re-claiming
the word Pagan

Sometimes if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping by slowly beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to know. (Pooh)

But, child of dust, the fragrant flowers,
The bright blue sky and velvent sod,
Were strange conducters to the bowers
Thy daring footsteps must have trod (Emily Bronte)

The Druid Oath

We swear by Peace and Love to Stand
Heart to Heart and Hand in Hand
Mark oh Spirit
And hear us now
Confirming this, our sacred vow

Saturday: Thought for the Day

Advice and Queries 16, Quaker Faith and Practice

Do you welcome the diversity of culture, language and expressions of faith in our yearly meeting and in the world community of Friends? Seek to increase your understanding and to gain from this rich heritage and wide range of spiritual insights. Uphold your own and other yearly meetings in your prayers

The plural of human being can be humans being

A vital novel for me ‘The Fifth Sacred Thing’ by Starhawk

Two good books to read by Richard Mabey: Nature Cure and Beech Combings

Check out the ‘Quaker Earthcare Witness’ website (QEW).  This is the environmental aspect for US non-programmed Quakers and folks there get the point re: Earth Spirituality.  Their workbook ‘Earthcare for Friends’ is a useable study guide

Has anyone read Matthew Fox’s ‘Original Blessing’?

The Druid Prayer

Grant Oh Spirit Thy Protection
And In protection, Strength
And in Strength, Understanding
And in Understanding, Knowledge
And in Knowledge, the Knowledge of Justice
And in the Knowledge of Justice, The Love of it
And In the Love of it, the love of all existences
And in the love of all existences
The Love of Spirit and all Goodness

Good Lives: because everyone’s worth it

good lives at woodbrooke

Here are some further courses at Woodbrooke that may be of interest to you:

Good Lives: because everyone’s worth it

Friday 6 March 2009 – Sunday 8 March 2009

Course Details

What does it mean to live a good life today, in the face of global threats to comfortable western lifestyles? We are accustomed to feeling entitled to our familiar ways of living, but the trajectory of progress since the 1950s is heading for an abrupt end, as the increasing scarcity and cost of oil affects the underpinning of almost every aspect of our lives. Bringing head, heart and spirit together, we will focus on how our values and beliefs can be transformed into positive and effective changes in our personal lives, our meetings and communities, and the world. Participants will come away enthused, empowered and enabled as agents of change

Course Leader Information

Pam Lunn and Lizz Roe, tutors at Woodbrooke, are developing the ‘Good Lives’ programme; helping Quakers and others to grapple with the enormous challenges now facing individuals, communities and nations. Pam also has an excellent blog. Felicity Kaal is elder and learning co-ordinator at Bristol AM and is particularly interested in Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory of evolving human consciousness.

Further Good Life courses:

Good Lives: because there is such a thing as society (social and sociological), 9-11 April 2010

Good Lives: because we can’t eat money (access to resources), 25-27 June 2010

Good Lives: because everyone’s worth it (a repeat of Module 1, for those who missed it in March 2009), 29-31 October 2010

Ecofeminist Theology: from a Quaker perspective

Wednesday 6 October 2010 – Friday 8 October 2010

Course Details

This course will provide a space to engage theologically with some of the concerns raised by globalisation in the world today. There will be an opportunity to reflect on the links between ecology, feminism, theology and Quakerism with others who share these concerns. We will be able to to explore together ways of re-covering some of the inter-relationships in our lives in the 21st century. Facing the question ‘How can we live simply in the world?’

Course Leader Information

Judith Jenner is tutor in Quaker Studies at Woodbrooke and enjoys engaging with theology in both practical and intellectual modes

Good Lives – because everyone’s worth it

Friday 29 October 2010 – Sunday 31 October 2010

What does it mean to live a good life today? In these turbulent times we are being called to live up to the very best in us – to live out our values in a world of upheaval and uncertainty. Using a mix of stimulating inputs, participatory exercises and personal reflection, we will explore how our leadings can be made real in the world – how to live our Quaker testimonies at this time. You will leave enthused and empowered, with the practical ways and means to make change happen in all aspects of your life.

Course Leader Information

Pam Lunn is Programme Leader for the Good Lives Project and is particularly interested in the human (as distinct from the technical) issues around climate change and peak oil. Cliodhna Mulhern an experienced facilitator of dialogue and transformation processes. Her work is dedicated to the spiritual and social transformations we need at this time to give birth to a new and better world.

Vision Quest

Circle of stones

Even in the bright midday sun the gully was dark, almost forbidding.  Crowned by stunted oak trees, the rock walls were damp and full of moss and lichen. The floor was littered with dry leaves, cowpats, fresh hoof marks and splintered fragments of flinty rock. It was the last place on earth I would have chosen for a vision quest, but when spirit directs you, you don’t have much say in the matter.  I eased the rucksack off my shoulders, set up my tarp, unrolled my sleeping bag and wedged my precious container of water between some rocks.  Just what had I let myself in for?  “Welcome to the vision questing place from hell!” my instructor, David Wendl-Berry, laughed as he peered down into the gloomy gully.  “There are four things that can happen to you now.  You can go mad, you can disappear, you can die or you can return” For four days and four nights I was going to fast alone on that mountain.  There was no going back.

Part of my own journey in reaching this point in my life was a heartfelt desire to enter into a deeper relationship with the natural world.  The tension of working long hours for a very difficult boss was beginning to show – loss of appetite, poor sleeping patterns and an increasingly stressful relationship with my family.  The breakdown was gradual and I badly needed some medicine.  The Doctor listened attentively and suggested a course of anti-depressants. And of course, he added, I could sign you off work for as long as you needed.  It was very tempting, but I felt that the medicine I needed lay elsewhere.  Reluctantly I closed the surgery door and slowly walked back home. I needed time to still my racing heart and take my brokenness out onto the land.

It is not easy stepping out of your life.  There are bills to pay, relationships to maintain, rubbish bags to put out, phone calls to make and the washing up to do. As you begin the process of separation, the minute details of life crowd around you ever more urgently, demanding your attention.  It takes a big burst of energy to escape the gravity of domesticity and guilty words like ‘selfish’ and ‘indulgent’ continually try to short-circuit your conscience.  Finally, after some tearful hugs, the castle door of your home closes behind you and you are left alone to make the long journey north.

The first challenge on arrival was to prepare for the quest with a night walk.  ‘Take the lane to the end and then walk across open moorland for about quarter of a mile until you come to an upright standing stone.  Touch the stone and then return. Do not take any torches or headlamps, this is to be done completely in the dark.’ And dark it was – black as the skin of a coracle.  Not a splinter of moonlight. No stars or street lights, just the wind roaring through high hawthorn hedges.  Barely able to see my feet on the road beneath me, I stepped out into the night.  Fear ebbed and flowed. The road gave way to moorland. I stumbled, cursing the dark, and started to panic. Was I heading in the right direction? Very gradually my eyes began to adjust. The faintest outlines began to appear, like images on an underexposed print sloshing about in a tray of developer. But the distances were impossible to judge.  It could have been a thousand miles, not a quarter. The stone appeared and I hugged it in sheer relief.

The challenge the following day was to find your own questing place.  I had extremely clear ideas about this.  I needed a small plateau where I could look out onto the hills and observe the sunrises and sunsets.  Somewhere to lay my sleeping bag, where I could lie under a night sky crowded with stars whilst enjoying deep and meaningful dreams.  On my way to try and find this mythical plateau I passed through a dark and deep gully. Ha! I thought to myself, pity the person who chooses this place and I clambered out of it as fast as I could.  I never found the plateau.  For me, all tracks led back to the gully.  Try as I might, I was magnetically fixed and geo-tagged to this point in the landscape. The gully had my social security number, date of birth and star sign and it wasn’t going to let me go. I walked back to the centre and shared my deeply disappointing story. When I heard about the beautiful woodland clearing and open countryside questing places that the others had found, I realised that I’d definitely drawn the short straw.

I returned.   As the days wore on, I gradually began to feel at home in the silent gully.  It protected me from the cold north wind that swept down the mountain.   The trees became a canopy and protected me from the rain.  The birds and wild animals began to accept me.  Perhaps my choice of questing place wasn’t so mad after all. To begin my healing journey I began to assemble a circle of small stones. One stone represented each year of my life. It took three days to complete the six foot circle. I held each stone tightly, releasing a flood of memories from my childhood in a confusion of prayers, laughter and tears.

I began to observe the little treasures of life.  Time slowed.  My own breathing slowed. From here I could watch the slow arc of the sun time-lapse across the sky, enjoy a pygmy shrew nosing its busy path through the piles of fallen leaves, hold my breath as a buzzard landed a few yards away in the branches above me or pour out my gratitude to a tiny wren singing its heart out.  Tics and insects crawled over me.  I became grubby, unshaven and bleary eyed.  The margins between me and the land began to blur, merge and leak into one another.

I found myself returning again and again to an ancient oak tree, its mossy bark providing the perfect backrest for my contemplation.  The oak tree quietly enfolded me and, as the twin demons of hunger and tiredness gnawed away at me, offered me sustenance.  The voice was very quiet, barely on the threshold of my hearing.

“ Draw on me for your sustenance”. I sat up startled.  Did an Oak Tree really speak to me?  Wasn’t I just becoming delirious?  I sank back again too tired to move, and as I did so I was aware of a strong energy radiating into my back.  I stood up completely restored and renewed and look around.  Something utterly profound had happened in those few seconds.  I had received a deep healing – not from a pair of hands, or some tablets,  but from a tree.  A beautiful tree had stood in that glade for a hundred years or more.  In that moment I realised that everything I needed to truly heal me, lay in the natural world.

The Oak tree gave me the energy to endure the final challenge.  On the fourth night, we were told to step into our life circle at sunset and to stand through the night until sunrise.  ‘This is the night you will face your deepest fears.  Whatever happens, don’t leave your purpose circle until sunrise’ David had reminded us.  I had two irrational fears.  One was of the darkness, which I was starting to work with. The other was a childhood one of wild horses – a fear that I had never shared with anyone. As if on cue, a stallion trotted up to the ridge above the gully, just after I had stepped into my circle for the night. I knew exactly what he was after.  Just beyond the gully was the lushest softest grass imaginable.  And the only way that he could get to it was through the gully. The gully was narrow – there was certainly no room for me and the stallion and I wasn’t about to move.  I started to sweat.  There was nothing in the Vision Quest instruction manual about handling wild horses.  The stallion began to paw the ground.  His ears twitched back and forward. His mate appeared by his side.  There was some whinnying of the kind you hear on spaghetti western soundtracks.  They were obviously having a conversation. Things were not looking too good in the self-preservation department. I explained to them very tactfully that this was my night out on the land and I would be very grateful if they could find somewhere else to eat.

After a while I heard a quiet munching as they decided to eat the grass around them.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief and offered up a deep prayer of thanks. The darkness was complete.  These hours were the hardest, loneliest and slowest of all.  I lent very heavily on my staff. The water in my container had become brackish and I hadn’t drunk as much as I should have done. I was feeling dehydrated and light-headed, but I survived until dawn.  When it finally arrived, after numerous false starts, I gradually packed my rucksack and slowly walked back through the woods and fields to the farmhouse. There had been no big moment of enlightenment, no blazing sunrise to welcome me, just a quiet realisation in the soft grey morning light that my soul’s medicine chest lay in the land around me.

Kevin Redpath

I have been a four-legged animal

14,000 BC Cave Painting, Lascaux, France

A darkened room. A group of fifteen people who don’t know each other. Quiet. The leader speaks for about five minutes, telling us about the tiny figurines found on archaeological sites, the postures they show, the idea that these figurines might be aids to trance, the research by someone eminent showing that the method can be used in modern times. She seems sensible, and has conveyed a certain sense of trust.

I’m not sure why I’m here. I signed on because the title of the workshop, ‘Trance Postures’, sounded whacky and I thought I could spare a couple of hours in the middle of the conference. I put my arms in the required position (the postures are simple, not uncomfortable) and close my eyes.

The leader starts to drum. A steady beat. It will change our brain-waves. She will drum for 15 minutes. She will be interested in what we see.

The drum-beat enters my senses. Under my eyelids, I see bright lights in different colours. I’m aware that instead of letting my eyes rest and looking inward, I’m looking into my eyelids as though into a forward landscape. The light steadies to a rusty orange and starts to move across my vision from right to left; then it speeds up and begins to take the form of moving animals. A herd of deer, maybe, or wildebeest? More likely the latter – they’re big.

I think, ‘Yes, these are wildebeest,’ and straightaway the words ‘You’ve been watching too much David Attenborough!’ run across my mind. I notice it and let it pass.

Yes, wildebeest – and there are thousands of them. A massive herd, in migration. I’m absorbed into the hammering, thundering movement of their hooves, the individual bodies moving as one, the dust they raise, the heat and sweat of this press and charge, the urgency of the process, its inevitability, like childbirth. I am part of the process. At the same time, I’m aware of my presence in this darkened room in a tall thin building off the main street of an English market town, of my bodily position, of the other people in the room, of the workshop that I’m a part of.

Now I become aware of my skeleton inside me. My spine, my thigh-bones, my pelvic circle, my skull. My jaw-bones! I feel the bone of my lower jaw being stretched forwards. My bone is changing from human to wildebeest. From my bones outwards, I’m becoming one of these wild animals as they run.

I’m one of the young ones, and not strong. We’re being chased by a predator – I can’t see what kind of predator it is, I’m racing too fast and with too harsh a sense of panic. I’m young, I’m fragile, I’m on the outside of the herd, I’ve lost my mother and I’m desperate with fear. I run, run, run….

And, in a shock instant, the back of my neck is seized in huge incisor teeth, in a massive jaw. I am caught. My entire head is jerked upward, my jaw jerked forward. I think, though I’m not sure (and I’m not asking any questions until afterwards), that the position of my human body doesn’t change. I’m sitting as still as before, as still as the other people in this darkened room.

What happens next?

There’s a gap in the film here. Yet it isn’t a film. It’s experience. The form, with its vivid sections separated by hiatuses, is like a dream. Yet it has the hardness, the definition, the coherence of experience. This is trance, trance experience.

I don’t experience being killed and torn apart and eaten. Is it a defence of my brain, or the young wildebeest’s brain, to be saved from remembering this agony?

The next scene is quiet and still. The herd, instead of charging in dust and sweat and panic, have arranged themselves in a huge silent circle. I am the young wildebeest still, but I’m no longer flesh, just bone and spirit. I am in two places at the same time: in the bones that are heaped in the centre of the circle of beasts, and, as spirit, hovering above the circle, gazing down at my grieving family and friends. I love them, and they love me. I know that they are expressing sorrow at their loss of me, and their gratitude for my sacrifice. If it had not been me who was offered to the predator, it would have been one of them. They will miss me.

The drum beat slows, and grows louder. It’s time to come out of the trance, ease ourselves out of the postures, and rejoin everyday life. First we’ll share our experiences in pairs, then we can speak to the leader, in the group or privately, about what we’ve seen.

I tell my partner what happened to me. It seems amazing to hear it coming out of my mouth as a story. Yet it seems oddly ordinary too. It happened. It’s over. My partner listens, and says she doesn’t know what to say. I sympathise with her. I ask her what she saw during her 15 minutes, and she says, ‘Nothing much, a few colours’. Later, aside from the group, I tell the leader about being a wildebeest caught by a predator and being grieved for by my herd. She’s fascinated, and asks if she can quote me. I never see her again, and it’s a couple of years before I even read the book on which the practice is based.

But I am changed. I know that I was once a different kind of animal, wild, a member of a herd. Somewhere inside me, the spirit and even the bone-memory of that wildebeest still lives. I have a different view of the human place in the scheme of things, and, very slowly, that different view begins to change my life.

Alison Leonard

The research on which this workshop was based is Where The Spirits Ride The Wind, by Felicitas Goodman, published 1990 by Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20566-2.

Consumed by fire

Our fire at Woodbrooke

Our fire at Woodbrooke

Ray has added some beautifully atmospheric pictures of our Saturday night fire at Woodbrooke to our picture gallery

Full Moon Brigid

Brigid by Joanna Powell Colbert

Brigid by Joanna Powell Colbert

Some years ago I wrote a poem about Bridget, the Celtic goddess of smith-craft, healing and poetry whose time of the year this is – Imbolc.

The poem is a sonnet – a very traditional, literary form of 14 lines with a strict rhyme scheme. (For the poetry students among you, the rhyme-scheme here is ABBA, ABBA, CD, CD, EE – though some of them are half-rhymes).

This strict form seems wonderfully inappropriate for the rebellious pagan heart, and I like the contrariness of that.

Full Moon Bridget

Pregnant as she is with silver fire
gently she takes as gift my molten soul
and channels it into her waiting mould.
High above, the stars present a choir
to sing the labour rising like a smoke
from all the sweated achings of my heart
there in the smelt: the rusted rock, the fraught
old ore from my beginnings, each break
of hope, each abandonment and fear.
Pouring, melding in the silver air,
it settles in her mould, and cools, and stills.
Then she prises it, and hurls. It falls
clang! on her anvil… I am taut, and taught
that I was wracked, and now I can be wrought.

Alison Leonard

Thanks to Joanna Powell Colbert for the use of her beautiful drawing of Brigid

Kevin’s recommended books

Waterlog by Roger DeakinWaterlog Roger Deakin £8.99 0099282550

Iinspired by John Cheever’s memorable classic short story The Swimmer, Roger Deakin decided, whilst swimming in his garden moat, that he would undertake his own adventure and swim across Britain.

Waterlog, is Deakin’s lyrical and evocative account of this journey as seeks out tarns high in the hills of north Wales, swims with salmon in Somerset and eels in the Fens. The British Isles are blessed with a whole variety of waterways often encompassed within beautiful valleys, rolling hills, green fields and rugged coast lines.

He describes the nature he sees around him from his unusual perspective inches above water level. This is a sight of Britain that only a frog will have experienced. His love of swimming away from the confines of a swimming pool comes through strongly in his writing. Wild swimming is an unusual hobby in modern society as we are constantly told how our rivers and lakes have become polluted by large industries disposing of waste via waterways and chemical fertilisers washing off farmers fields into out rivers. Well if the diversity of wildlife is any indication, I would say that the days of river pollution are behind us. What more powerful way of connecting to the natural countryside around you could there be, as you slip into the earth’s ecstatic skin and immerse yourself in the gentle current? The softness of the water on your skin will take your breath away. Either that or the temperature will.   A wonderful read. If this doesn’t get you swimming in the lake at Woodbrooke, alongside the Moorhens, nothing will! Buy at Woodbrooke

Soil and Soul Alastair McIntoshSoil and SoulAlastair McIntosh £8.99 1854109421

A must read, that I believe is as important for our generation as Silent Spring was to our parents.  Alastair McIntosh reckons that this book is his masterpiece and it is hard to disagree with him.  On the surface, it tells such stories as growing up in Lewis, land reform on Eigg and the spirited campaign that stopped the Harris superquarry.

But the real message of the book, and the reason why it has sold into five figures, is much deeper and wider. He uses factual campaign stories as a carrier to express the deeper stories of our times – the struggle of the human spirit to shine, the imperative of making community, the recovery of a credible spirituality. It’s an entirely factual book and yet much of its poetic impact derives from real-life magical realism. Alastair touches some of the deepest hopes and possibilities within us all.

I absolutely love this book. It took me out of myself and really challenged me to dig deep into finding my own ministry as a twenty-first century environmentally-challenged Quaker. Buy at Woodbrooke

Pandaemonium by Humphrey JenningsPandemonium – The Coming of the Machine Age as Seen by Contemporary Observers

Humphrey Jennings 0333638379

This may seem a rather unusual choice in a Quaker website bibliography but it is one that I turn to time and time again to help me put the rapid development of current technologies into historical perspective.  It is an extraordinarily moving anthology of how the human imagination experienced the full might of the Industrial Revolution.  The texts, dating from 1660 – 1886, are drawn from letters, diaries, old journals, reports, newspaper cuttings and novels to create a seamless narrative as the age of the machine unfolds.  Jennings (also a brilliant film-maker) had an exceptional combination of intellectual curiosity and a deep humanity that helped him draw inspiration from the most unlikely of sources.  Here is his text for the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851 – ‘But if the other parts of the Great Exhibition are curious and instructive, the machinery, which has been from the first the grand focus of attraction, is on the ‘shilling days’ the most peculiar sight of the whole. As you pass along you meet a member of the National Guard in his conical hat and red worsted epaulattes and then you come along a long, thin, bilious-looking Quaker with his tidy clean-looking Quakeress by his side’. Reminds me of the elders bench in Dublin when I was a very young child. Buy at Woodbrooke

Dirt - The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth
William Bryant Logan £14.95 1573225460

A beautiful and lyrical collection of short essays and meditations on Dirt, which as Logan writes in the book  ‘ Dirt is a good word. It goes straight back to the Anglo-Saxon and the Norse. Like “love,” “house,” “hearth,”, “earth,” “sky,” “wrath,” and “word ”   it is short and strong .  Therefore even before you know what it means you want to get a hold of it and chew it.’

He gets hold of dirt, with both hands, and dives deep into the humus and layers of geological strata to astonish our creative imaginations about this extraordinary substance.  The chapters headings alone sound like lines from a rooty fruity poem: Stardust, Sweet and Sour Soils, The Foundations of Cathedrals, Perception in Earthworms, The Theory and Practice of Manuring, The Dung Beetle, The Compost Man, Fire and Ice, Moonquakes,  The Theory of Silt,  Old Quarries and the Pharmacy of Molds.

This is a book to treasure and will make you realise that your garden soil is as alive and as riveting as a Victorian novel. Buy at Woodbrooke

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