Monday, 30 March 2009

Brick up my chariot of fire

Glastonbury is beacon of toleration and freedom. In its small gaudy way it represents the highest flowering of Christendom and the capitalist free society that grew out of it.

It’s also a worm in freedom’s apple.

The heart of Glastonbury is a series of complexes that serve and cater to Britain’s alternative spirituality.
The first is the Abbey itself where Joseph of Arimathea‘s staff was supposed to have sprouted into a thorn tree on his (and maybe Jesus’) apocryphal visit to Britain: ‘And did those feet in ancient time,’ and all that. Secret knowledge and the secret of life has been on sale here on and off for centuries.

Then there’s the Tor on a nearby hill, and so full of mystic allusions and associations with Christianity and Arthurian and grail legends, and so often visited and climbed and its pathways eroded that there’s talk of limiting hourly visitors by quota: ten Wiccans to two English Orthodox Christians to three cider-burdened Goths to one hopelessly lost Rolf Harris fan wanting to hear his hero sing the famous Stairway to Heaven cover live at Glastonbury, but he’s got the year, century and indeed the millennium wrong.

Next there is the Chalice Well: gardens and garden rooms through which water flows (I think) off the Tor, and in which as legend has it Joseph hid the Holy Grail. Now it has been extended and modelled and forms a series of spaces where neo-pagans and all kinds of alternatives hang out, relax, meditate, and get a load of the ambience. The Chalice Well is a Disneyland of the New Age, and as peaceful a place as can be found anywhere, I think, so near to a main road in England.

Lastly there is the High Street where a half dozen or more mind, body, spirit bookshops nestle amongst numerous Earth Mysteries amulet shops, purveyors of spiral-grown magic sticks with crystals in their handles, Green Man plaque retailers, incense and elfin robe vendors, and emporiums selling more glistening resin dragons, repro medieval Excaliburs and pentagram pendants than you could shake a spiral-grown magic stick at. Most of the eateries do several choices of proper, nourishing vegetarian food and the convenience store has a Julian Graves health foods franchise in the corner and stocks as much fresh antipasto and mead as your average Spar knocks out Walkers’ Crisps and Stella Artois.

The shopkeepers and spiritual advisers and incense blenders are elegantly dressed in tunics or green velvet frocks, shimmering robes or old-fashioned waistcoats of many buttons and stand shiny-brooched amongst leaf-stencilled walls and are all just lovely. The temptation is almost irresistible to shout ‘Let’s go hunt some dork’.

This is where the Age of Aquarius set down its water jar and got to business.

I think it must have more yoga teachers, crystallomancers, Reiki Masters, Wiccan High Priestesses and rune-readers per square yard than anywhere else on Earth, and it’s the place to get your chakras felt. All the bookshops and some of the groceries and the hemp-cloth boutique have numerous flyers and postcards for workshops and events and dance classes and meditation sessions and initiations and the whole goddess-earth-mysteries-grail-celticky stuff you could want, though the stabby-slashy Viking stuff that floats my boat is disappointingly thin on the ground. I once found a handbook of contemporary Mithraism here, so the spirit of the Legions walks elsewhere than along the nearby Roman roads.

When do we get to the social conservatism and other brutal Right-wingery, North Northwester?

Be patient, my dead-eyed Hobbesian hordes. All will soon be made plain and you can fall upon the helpless throats of the liberals. And feed.

If you think I’m being sarcastic here about this welcoming little town then I should point out that I love the place. My faithful readers may both have sussed by now that I’m a tree-hugger myself, and I have visited the town as a tourist and customer on many occasions. I treasure the place and always enjoy the welcome and kindness of the people who run the businesses that support the modern Pilgrim on his/her/its Path To Wherever.

Here’s where it all looks to be working.

Here’s the place where the impersonal forces of the free market with its Smithian Invisible Hand gather Earth-mysteries pamphlets and coffee-table ley-line books and compose-yourself grimoires from all over the world and wherein freedom of religion and conscience shine amid the thoroughly respectable middle-class town centre. There seems to be little or no class conflict with the cider-drinking and wellied natives who work in the town’s many non-tourist small businesses but who live right beside all the shiny new hippydom. This is where free enterprise ever-present in mediaeval England’s ubiquitous fairs and markets and the privacy that derives from Magna Carta and the toleration implicit in Blessed are the meek and a man’s a man for a’ that from the Scottish Enlightenment all come together into as accommodating, as truly diverse and as peaceful a way of life that the most natural-rights natural right libertarian or neo-conservative or Burkean supporter of the ‘little platoons’ and compromise and barter and give and take might dreams of. Merry England and the Isle of Avalon dwell and profit alongside each other in the melting-pot or cauldron. I recommend you visit it before it’s destroyed.And yet. And yet

There’s that worm in the apple.

It’s pacifism.

It’s Greenery.

It’s liberalism writ large and broad and garlic-lentil-stencilled on the faces and the lovely, generous souls of these everyday mystics and on the covers of many of their books.

The CND chicken-foot – (which for the interested amongst you also happens also to be the Elk rune which represents a strong and magical defensive shield but it was inverted by CND -I wonder if they know?) – adorns many a card or psychedelic T-shirt and Arthurian-age pewter firestone ring. Save The Planet calendars and diaries glare out from behind commercially-cleaned gleaming windows. Most of the anti-Bush stuff is gone by now, but A For Anarchy and all the rest sit there amid the gleaming and mass-produced yoni-statues and purple-dyed geodes. You can’t move for pictures and statues of dolphins and polar bears and wise wolves and all the other beautiful, delicious and useful animals we’re supposed to never, ever annoy.

I’m not saying it’s true of all of them but there’s a distinct hint here of the effete aristocracy of pre-revolutionary France or the corrupt and bohemian nightclub culture of the Weimar Republic.

Perhaps, to be charitable, I should say they are more like the Railway Children before Dear Papa went bust and exiled them to the sticks.

These gaudy, green, good-to-their-fellow-creatures people must represent an extraordinary rural concentration of anti-war (that is anti-our conduct of wars; not the hidden okay sort with the wrong-coloured butchers in charge) campaigners and activists.

Anti-capitalism and anti-globalization and anti-cultural imperialism screeds jostle for space amongst statues of Hindu gods, the ubiquitous smiling Buddha and Native American shaman drums and clothing. Think of that; anti-globalization propaganda right next to imported Red Indian headdresses and spirit drums. I’ll bet they aren’t imported from the United States or Canada or Mexico, either. To be fair, some books are printed on recycled paper but I’m betting that most of them weren’t and that none was brought across the Mendips by packhorse or porter.

It’s not the possible hypocrisy of this that gets me here (nobody can live a purely pure life, if you see what I mean). And they are truly tolerant of the unfamiliar – my cammo pants and combat boots (I have terrible arches, you know) draw no glares of pacific hostility from the gauzy-robed Goddess-priestesses walking in the spring sunshine between their cash registers and the bank. All of that’s fine.

No. It’s the ignorance that gets to me. Of everything.

Their sheer, unbreakable ignorance misses the untraceably-long lines of supply that feed the town’s demand for rain sticks and ‘eagle’ feathers and sacred gemstones, and of all the thousands of unknown and probably lowly-paid workers and farmers and businessmen and polluters who send those plants and animal waste and minerals into their shops. These supply lines are called markets. The people who do their lovely dreaming are against markets and international free trade and their shops are full of foreign goods.

They don’t understand trade despite being in it, and they dream of banning it or controlling it or otherwise shrinking it.

They’re against global warming which, to look on the bookshelves, is caused solely and unquestionably by the profit motive and carbon pollution and partly at least from the international transportation of goods and materials.

I’m sure they recycle if they can – I honestly believe that most folk try to live up to their ideals most of the time – but they stock what’s in the catalogue that they know or think might sell irrespective of its carbon footprint. They don’t know how much carbon this generates, and I don’t care. Go figure.

These good townsfolk cherish the differences in arts and crafts and manners and beliefs of – almost - all kinds of foreign peoples and nations and disapprove of the West corrupting them, and yet they import third-party knock-off sweatshop trinkets for Westerners to follow and copy or adapt and corrupt those overseas native folkways. Do they know what’s happening to the Indian looms weaving cloth for Chinese jackets or the Brazilian mills turning out Plains Indians tomahawk handles?

They peddle westernised versions of the holy objects of dozens of cultures, along with some of the genuine philosophy and theology behind them, but I wonder what Hindu swamis or Navajo Hatałii might think looking at the European names of the teachers who offer training courses in their own faiths.

I could see no books that had any accounts of the creation of wealth.

(Please note, ‘Build your own yurt’ doesn’t have much to do with the production of wealth – at least not wealth for a future containing maternity wards served by ambulances and antibiotics and the machine that goes ‘ping.’)

There was tons of stuff on pollution and intensive farming/mining/fishing and how to do without them, but no recognition that a tree is a lousy shelter and may only feed you once a year (if you can get the nutshells open easily), unless you are prepared to process it; that is, to harvest it and industrialize it.

I repeat; this is a very nice place to be; restful and clean and peaceful, but its dream of unlimited choices of lifestyle and values is overlain by the wrong sort of unworldliness, and contains [if we’re not careful] the curse of its own destruction.

You’d think (if you weren’t already inclined to read my rants) that they’d appreciate the country and the civilization that built the toleration and freedom that lets people practise and proclaim their invented or imported religions, make a living, and dress up like it’s Halloween and know that if anyone tries to hurt them or stop them violently then it’s illegal and will be stopped by passing policemen, possibly investigated, and maybe even prosecuted.

You might think that such people; fulfilled, prosperous and hopeful, might make some effort to discover the source of the peace, the privacy, and the prosperity that they enjoy. You’d think that, unless you were a conservative, or similar.

Of course there’s nothing much about the way the Hellenistic civilization built up science and mathematics and spread the techniques of geometry and engineering for Rome to flourish and lay the roads and the bureaucratic seeds of Mediaeval Europe, nor of the lords and knights and soldiers that saved it from the extinction that Islam brought to the Eastern Roman Empire. There is some Christian stuff for sure, almost all of it mystical and no doubt very fine it is too, but I must have missed the shelves about William of Ockham and his early musings on separation of church and state, constitutional and limited government, and the importance of property rights comparable to all those other books saying how much of our wealth and security derive from the many gifts of Confucianism and Hinduism and the Wisdom of the Rainforest.

Now of course none of this would matter if all they were doing there was exploring different philosophies and ways of life as examples for the rest of us to pick and choose from, which is often how society grows and progresses. Nine to Five, anyone? How about monogamy? Fire? Sticking the spare seeds in the mud and seeing whether we get more plants next year? But of course they’re doing no such thing.

Peace - as in the West not fighting - is the serpent in this mass-market wisdom Garden of Eden. Peace runs through their writings and the names of their incenses and their children and their ceremonies, but they don’t seem to know how you achieve it in the first place. Not only do these gorgeous folk not know or value much of the millennia of history that led to a place where you pick and choose gods and clothes and music and friends like women at a market choosing fruit, but they are actively involved in subverting it and opposing its defence.

The worst thing, the thing that’s worse to me than having to wear men’s’ clothes at work is that they don’t seem to know why any more than I do. I hang out with their equivalents in the north from time to time and they can never give logical or even coherently emotional reasons why defending the West is worse than allowing barbarians to destroy it, and them along with it.

Property rights and the freedom to follow your own selection of amusements and obsessions within a rule of law which protects the similar rights of others are useful to all of us but they aren’t obviously precious to some. Miniature car modellers and kite flyers and table footballers and Civil War re-enactors don’t seem to have much difficulty appreciating their freedom – only liberals (and these people are open-minded about generous and hospitable to a fault, if that’s what liberalism means) seem wilfully blind to the enemies of what we have and what we need most. They are as often as not actively involved in subverting their own security. And it’s not like they look in any way capable of defending themselves.

These aren’t great haters – I’ve seen narrow-eyed Marxists and mad-as-rabid-dogs crusty anarchist types for decades and Glastonbury’s folk are nothing like that. They don’t despise themselves and therefore long for their own destruction; they are serene and content and even their kids seem to like them. And yet they’re sitting on the branch that this country’s culture and history and industry and jurisprudence and servicemen and women have allowed to grow above the circling wolves, and they’re determined to saw through that branch because it’s knotty and mossy and imperfect.

As to why they take the risk and avoid ever thinking about the risk…well that’s the biggest mystery of all.



JuliaM said...

" was inverted by CND -I wonder if they know?"

It's unlikely, given that some of their dumber followers are unable to distinguish between it, and a car manufacturer's badge...

North Northwester said...

Hi Julia: I was never overwhelmed by their smarts{and the blonde in the photo makes me want to dye my hair black in embarrassment), but Bruce Kent seems like a genius now compared to the BBC Media Studies copy-and-paster you linked to...

"Today, the CND has 32,000 members, with new battles to fight."

JD said...

I really enjoyed that, thank you. JD.


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