Reflections on 13th November at Embercombe

Reflections on 13th November at Embercombe

The dining yurt at Embercombe, warm with food smells and community spirit. Owl fashioned out of cob at the Story Fire round house. 

Trauma goes on through the generations. What happened on Friday 13th November in Paris is the result of past traumas – psychopaths notwithstanding. The children and grandchildren of people suffering trauma right now – in Syria, in transit, in Paris – will be landed with an unearned debt of sorrow. Rwanda, Tibet, Cambodia are one generation on, and too many other peoples, are slowly coming to terms with atrocity too. I’ve just spent time at Embercombe, a conscious community in Devon. The rural centre has children and needs of the coming seven generations as its focal point.

Pretty off-grid, news of the atrocity filtered through to us on Saturday morning. That evening we were privileged to have an informal talk from two Native American women, Linda from the Mohawk and Loretta, an Elder or grandmother, of the Lakota. They hold ceremony and live the traditional ways, and were in the UK to teach on a course ‘Becoming Indigenous’. But their work is more than holding and sharing the culture. They are on a massive mission of remediation for their peoples.

Linda and Loretta told us that beyond the genocide of the 19th century, there was continuing active suppression of the culture though to the 1920s and ‘30s when, for instance, ‘farm managers’ ran the reservations almost as if people were stock and tokens were needed to leave. Traditional hunter gathering was not possible and the people were given ‘commodities’ of white flour (which was indigestible), lard, and sugar (quite different to seasonal maple sugar and wild honey). Just the beginning of a situation where Native Americans now have 800 times the national incidence of type II diabetes.

However it’s not just a question of returning physical health and dealing with food poverty. More horrifically, until the 1970s it was policy to fragment families and send children to Catholic boarding schools. The people there persecuted those whose families were suspected to be continuing the ‘old ways’. It wasn’t til 1994 when certain legislation was finally changed, that the ancient and beautiful rites and ceremonies could be freely practised in the open. Abuse of all sorts in these schools was normal, even to the extent of now recorded institutionalised mass murder of children. Two or three generations grew up with many many individuals so damaged they were/are unable to parent. Loretta told us that due to this legacy of grief, compounded by pain-numbing drug and alcohol addiction, on her Pine Ridge Reservation lands in South Dakota there is an epidemic of suicide: an average of 50 a month, including children and young adults. The genocide continues.

Historical policy decisions continue to have very cruel effects down the generations. All us Embercombe volunteers present at the talk were deeply affected by the sheer horror of the means of crushing culture and spirit and also felt great compassion. Loretta and Linda asked us to share these facts, so they be heard and acknowledged. On top of this, what happened in Paris made the weekend heavy with bewilderment.

However, we were also entranced by the beauty of the tiny amount of their culture the two women were able to share in their couple of hours with us, particularly concerning the centrality of children and the rites of passage that are practiced. I, for one, felt so sorry that similar ways of spirit have been long lost in the British Isles through plantation in Ireland, witch hunts, the activities of the barber surgeons and the ‘Enlightenment’, for instance. In other words, deliberate acts of cultural repression, separating ordinary people from their indigenous knowledge, connection with the land and spirit. On a personal level I feel very strongly this loss, for myself, my parents and my children.

Epigenetics is new-ish understanding of how what happened to your grandparents affects gene expression. I believe it actually started with study on diabetes and periods of feast and famine. I don’t understand it fully (some reading to do) but it seems dramatic changes in the environment, including psychological trauma, change how our DNA works. The egg that you come from was made when your mother was in her mother’s womb, so what happened to your grandmother affects your predispositions now.

However, this is also a hopeful message. It means it is possible to change and evolve our own DNA to repair and go beyond this damage inflicted two or three generations back. Being in the uniquely positive and real community of Embercombe inspires this hope and work. For me, and the many many people engaged with spirituality, continuing the daily practices we have and reconnecting with spirit is what we have in front of us. It is important work and what we can change will make the difference. ‘Be the Change you want to be’ – much quoted and true.

Much inspiration at Embercombe for Viveka Gardens. Thanks to Mac for advice and the team for holding our weekend and to fellow particpants for company and insight, Embercombe.org