Archive for the ‘politics’ Tag

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‘Mine – Story of a Sacred Mountain’ by Survival International.

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Launch of the HCA website

The Heritage Crafts Association website, which I have been working on for the past few weeks, has now gone live. You can visit it now at www.heritagecrafts.org.uk.

The Heritage Crafts Association website

For more background to the HCA, see my previous post. It has been formed to support and promote heritage crafts as a fundamental part of our living heritage and is unique as an organisation in believing that craft skills should be protected, promoted and recorded as part of our living heritage in their own right, not merely in terms of the objects they produce or their conservation value to old buildings.

If you would like to show your support for the HCA, register your support and follow our Facebook page. You can also feature a banner or button on your website or blog. I’ll be featuring further developments from the HCA in future posts.

New advocacy organisation for traditional crafts

For a long time I’ve felt strongly that traditional crafts have not been properly supported or championed in the UK. In the political sphere they have fallen into the gap between the arts and heritage, poorly placed to take advantage of either public funding stream.

The same is not true on the continent, where UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) makes Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) one of its major themes. UNESCO’s web pages list many of the Government-initiated projects to preserve and champion traditional crafts and other practices, with representation from most of the EU member states. The UK is a notable absentee, as for one reason or another, there hasn’t been the political will to do anything about it.

It was serendipidous then, that as my feelings that something should be done were reaching a peak, I came into contact with a group of people who were committed to doing just that. After corresponding for some weeks, I was invited onto the committee, and we met in London yesterday to form a new advocacy body for traditional crafts.

I’ll leave the rest of the details under wraps until we are ready to officially launch, but the task appears clear – to use the positive example of other EU countries, the terminology of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the stories of real-life craftspeople, to make clear to policymakers and funders one stark fact – that unless we do something soon, we will lose many of our traditional crafts for ever.

There are several endangered crafts where few, or even only one, practitioner remains … many of these already in retirement age. It seems a crime to just stand by and let these valuable elements of our culture to die while a disproportionate amount of money is being spent on preserving stately homes and such like. Even a redistribution of funding of two per cent to ICH would make the world of difference.

More to follow…

Shortlist of Severn Estuary energy proposals

Following on from my post on the Severn barrage debate, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced a shortlist of five schemes, about which it will be running a three month public consultation. The proposed shortlist is as follows:

  • Cardiff Weston Barrage – crossing the Severn estuary from Brean Down, near Weston super Mare to Lavernock Point, near Cardiff (estimated capacity over 8.6GW, or nearly five per cent of UK electricity).
  • Shoots Barrage – further upstream of the Cardiff Weston scheme (1.05GW, similar to a large fossil fuel plant).
  • Beachley Barrage – smallest barrage on the proposed shortlist, just above the Wye River (625MW).
  • Bridgwater Bay Lagoon – sited on the English shore between east of Hinkley Point and Weston super Mare (1.36GW).
  • Fleming Lagoon – on the Welsh shore between Newport and the Severn road crossings (1.36GW).

It must be stressed that the consultation is not designed to decide which of these options to pursue, but instead to ascertain whether this is a relevant shortlist. DECC has at the same time announced £500,000 of new funding to develop technologies like tidal reefs and fences. The progress of these technologies will be considered before decisions are taken on the final shortlist, which will be subject to a second public consultation (probably in 2010).

Having said that, it still looks like the Cardiff Weston Barrage is the favourite, with industry lobbying heavily in spite of the potential ecological disaster. Friends of the Earth have released a statement reacting angrily to the exclusion of larger offshore tidal lagoons.

I will be taking some time to consider my response to this consultation. I will post further thoughts on here.

BBC News video

Paganism and gender

I have recently been reminded of some of the less progressive attitudes to gender displayed by certain Pagans. Here’s an extract from one of my posts on the TDN forum from a while ago, dealing with this issue:

I don’t feel that feminism has gone far enough in modern Paganism, as gender stereotypes are just as prevalent as they always have been, if not more so. Liberal feminism, while a necessary first step in re-addressing gender inequality, has only altered the balance of power superficially while preserving the unhelpful distinctions been masulinity and femininity that upheld women’s oppression in the first place.

For all the celebration of the feminine the distinction hasn’t altered, women are still expected to be feminine (intuitive, mysterious, maternal) and men are still expected to be masculine (practical, strong), to the detriment of both men and women, and especially anyone who deviates from the norm.

Think of some of the stereotypes of modern Paganism that are still strong today. Think of the artwork in an average Pentacle or Pagan Dawn magazine – the slender nymph, the muscular hunter. Who can live up to these reductive stereotypes, and who would want to?

One of the reasons that I’m turned off by Wicca is the dualistic focus on masculine and feminine energies, with little questioning of how this axis of difference and maps onto biological sex and sexuality. What draws me to Druidry is the plurality, the celebration of all life, of the particular, of the individual.

Someone then asked how Paganism can be compatible with a feminism that on the one hand wants to remove gender differences, and on the other acknowledges them through Goddess and women’s mysteries? I responded:

Not all feminism is concerned with doing away with gender… more with recognising it for the cultural construction that it is. In realising it is arbitrary, yet nevertheless important in shaping our lives, we can be better equipped to navigate through life as men and women. Just because something is a cultural construction doesn’t mean it is any the less ‘real’ to us. Without cultural interpretation we wouldn’t be able to operate as humans … we wouldn’t be able to think or talk about the ‘real’ (whatever that may be).

I’ve heard the word ‘deconstruction’ a couple of times in this conversation and I usually shy away from it as so often it’s used outside of its specific Derridean context. Here, however, I think it is applicable. Sometimes, by focusing on the less dominant part of a binary pairing (in this case ‘feminine’) it is possible to undermine the structure of that pairing, showing how it is reliant on other terms to operate … meaning is deferred … and its artificiality is brought to the fore. Hence the introduction to feminism of French philosophy in the 1980s and 90s and concepts such as ‘ecriture feminine’ (google Julia Kristeva or Helene Cixous). So a focus on the Goddess as the ideal of femininity, on her contradictions and difficulties, is not necessary at odds with feminism.

Someone then suggested that feminism was now redundant now that equality was enshrined in law. My response:

Law is only a part of it. There’s no law to say that young girls can’t starve themselves to death to live up to an artificial ideal of femininity presented in the media as natural. There’s no law to stop women who decide not to have children being made to feel like they’re unnatural. There’s no law to stop the slur of being called ‘unfeminine’ or ‘unladylike’. Society upholds and polices the notion that gender is natural in a thousand different ways.

Paganism seems to be quite positive in this respect, in that a lot of Pagan women seem to have opted out of this cycle of conforming to gender stereotypes compared to non-Pagans. This is a bit of a generalisation, but I would guess that this drops off considerably at the ‘New Age’ end of the Pagan spectrum however. And I’m sure we can all think of a daughter, sister or friend whose life is still ruled by how well they conform to gender ideals.

Re-reading my MA dissertation

I’ve just been reading over the dissertation I submitted for my Masters degree in Religion and Magic back in September 2006. I can’t believe it was over two years ago! Here’s synopsis of The Foundations of Modern Druid Spirituality from the opening preamble:

This study explores the phenomenon of modern Druidry, one of the most rapidly-expanding forms of alternative spirituality in Britain today. It investigates why, despite the fact that there is so little verifiable evidence relating to the spiritual practices of the ancient Druids inhabiting Britain prior to the Roman invasions of the first centuries CE, modern Druids continue to look to their forebears as a source of inspiration and guidance.

I argue that modern Druids tend to have a much more sophisticated grasp of the foundations of their spiritual practice than many academics claim. This attitude to the past has much in common with recent developments in post-modern historiography, including a realisation that it is impossible to isolate a single, objective past without relying on written accounts, which are in turn subject to the politics of representation.

Using Horkheimer and Adorno’s concept of disenchantment, I argue that this attitude has been marginalised since the onset of the Enlightenment project, when the separation between history and myth was consolidated, and the latter came to be regarded as little more than a poetic lie about what really happened. Since that time, the texts surrounding Druidry have proliferated, to the extent that the connection between the Druid mythos and the true past has been lost.

As a result, the mythos exists today in something akin to what Baudrillard terms hyperreality, in that it represents not the historical Druids but the tradition of representation itself. This recognition renders a conventional mode of assessing the past obsolete. A more sophisticated attitude is required, and is demonstrated by members of the modern Druid community. 

I was quite surprised at how pertinant some of the issues seemed following the recent controversies surrounding the authenticity of identifying with the ancient druids when we have so little verifiable evidence of them.

It’s interesting to see how my outlook has changed in the past two years. It appears as if I have begun to yearn after the very logocentric fallacy I so criticised back then, as if I can regain some authenticity through reducing things to the tangible.

Though it’s not as if I have lost sight of the technologies by which history presents itself as fact. Nor have I lost the sense of wonder at the chase, of the signifying process through which the world is enchanted. In fact, I think that an emphasis on the simple and the tangible only heightens the wonder, stripping back the layers of misdirection that maintain the notion that human culture is in some way natural or universal.

My feeling is that tangible sanctity and the ‘mythic approach’ to the foundations of Druidry are not necessarily incompatible, and may even be mutually supportive. I will give it some more thought.

I did plan to carry on with this work, looking specifically at the disenchantment that occurred around the sixteenth century, exploring a possible re-enchantment through a post-structuralist dismantling of Enlightenment ideologies, leading to a more sophisticated and robust philosophy of Paganism and the magic upon which it rests. Either that or working to rescue Romanticism as a philosophically-sound approach to nature-based spirituality. I was never able to formulate these into a coherent PhD proposal though, and was somewhat exhausted at the thought of the work involved.

I also began to plan out a book looking at the relationship between Pagan spirituality and the re-enchantment of language, which incorporated many of these ideas. Perhaps I will have another look at that instead.

Severn barrage debate

I’m not sure where I stand on this debate. A two-year feasibility study on a possible Severn Barrage was launched last year following a report from the Sustainable Development Commission. The proposed Severn Barrage project would stretch nearly 10 miles from Lavernock Point west of Cardiff to near Brean Down in Somerset. It would cost around £14 billion.

Backers include the Welsh Assembly and the Southwest Regional Assembly, a number of cross-party MPs and Gaia theorist James Lovelock. Opponents include the Green Party, Friends of the Earth, the WWF and the RSPB.

The Friends of the Earth website explains some of the risks:

Why would the Barrage be environmentally damaging?

  • The Barrage wall would create a 5 metre deep lake to its eastward side, losing an inter-tidal habitat, feeding grounds for tens of thousands of birds
  • The Barrage would halve the tidal range and sensitive flora and fauna would be lost, and the famous Severn Bore diminished
  • The Barrage could also have a significant impact on fish species of conservation interest, through use of fish sluices within the barrage wall
  • The Barrage could significantly damage the viability of ports. It would also generate new traffic on existing road networks around Lavernock and Cardiff airport and cause development pressures in rural Somerset
  • The government’s own statutory advisers state that ‘a Severn Barrage project would not be possible within the current legal framework provided by the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. The estuary is also being proposed for designation as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the highest protection in European Union law

It recommends a number of other means on generating energy from the Estuary, such as tidal lagoons located a mile off the Severn coast, a shorter flood defence barrage near the Second Severn Crossing, marine current turbines, wind energy or Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) fitted to coal or gas power stations.

My gut reaction is that Sabrina should be protected, that her tidal activity is the essence of her nature, and that as a result she would be desecrated by such a violation.

I have a particular interest in this issue, as the proposed Barrage would link my family home in Somerset with my chosen home in Cardiff, and Sabrina has been a constant presence throughout my life. I am also a member of the Flatholm Society, although I don’t know if they have an official view on this. I will try to find out.

The possibility of so much renewable energy is massively attractive, but not at the expense of our land and its heritage. I think the money would be better spent on education programmes teaching us how to live within our energy means, simplifying and reducing our need for energy. This, combined with a wind generation and CCS programme would be my favoured approach. While there is still so much invested in a growth economy, however, this seems doubtful.