Wednesday, 29 January 2014


I am having the strange experience of peering out of my office window on campus to see if John Densmore is striding purposefully through the mist clutching drums and coffee. Yep - Doors founder and drummer supremo is stopping by class tonight to talk about myth and rock'n'roll and the soul of an american. Well i hope so. His plane touches down in about forty five minutes and then the wait begins. Being a typical brit abroad i have no cell phone - so have just arranged to meet on a particular bench and wait for his car to roll in to our vast campus. We have a gig in the bay area this weekend but i won't go any further with that because the tickets are sold out i'm afraid.

However - it is a time of collaborations:

Thursday, February 13, 2014, 7:30pm
Cubberley Auditorium, Stanford University
FREE, open to the public

I am also really delighted to say that ALICE OSWALD will be coming to teach on "The Green Teeth of the Sea The Blue Tent of Sky" long course at Schumacher college. Please consider joining us - anyone that has not got onto the School of Myth year programme i would recommend without hesitation thinking about this.

Ok - here comes the blurb:

April to July 2014

With Martin Shaw, Tony Hoagland, John Gouldthorpe, Alice Oswald and Stephan Harding

£1295 All course fees include accommodation, some meals, field trips and all teaching sessions
This course is open for bookings.

A different kind of activism. A different kind of thinking.

If the heart of ecology is mythology, then we can say that in a story we witness a large part of its imagination.

The word ecology derives from a study of relatedness: of oaks, volcanos, large stretches of dark water, and the organisms that teem within them. The majestic roots of many ancient stories illustrate similar connections – also referring to tangled, inner-kingdoms we carry within ourselves.

For thousands of years that sense of the interior effortlessly flooded outwards into the hemlock, gorse and wild flower meadow, till no clear distinction was necessary. This created a kind of cosmos, a generous form of thought to the wider, living world.

So where do we find stories imbued with such imaginative inclusiveness? Why do they matter? How could they deepen the conversations of now?

Nothing like being abroad to make you think of home: Here's some thoughts on that ecstatic Gerrard Winstanley.

The Revolution That Never Happened

“In the beginning of time God made the earth. Not one word was spoken at the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another, but selfish imaginations did set up one man to teach and rule over another.”
Gerrard Winstanley

It is tempting to view the 17th Century in England from a view point only of rapid expansion – the American colonies were being founded, the flag was being vigorously plunged into native soils all over the globe. For such a tiny continent, its delusions of grandeur were swiftly becoming realities of grandeur. But when we turn our gaze to the old turf itself, we find all kind of trouble brewing.

Groups like the Grindletonians, Fifth Monarchists, Diggers, Levellers, Seekers, Ranters, Muggletonians, were a strident cry from the people to disassemble the existing social, economic, political even religious order of the day. Their arguments had teeth: these were confident, strident men and women willing to put their very lives on the line. This is not so unusual. As Christopher Hill reminds us (Hill 1972 :13): “popular revolt was for many years an essential feature of the English tradition.”

The historian Hill writes about two revolutions in the era. One is the successful establishing of the ‘sacred rights of property’ – power to parliament and the wealthy, reducing all hindrances to their continued abundance; and secondly, to what he calls “the revolution that never happened”. This is the dissenting dreams of the diggers and all, a dream of communal property, a clear democracy within politics, a sharp examination of religious creed. Some claimed that the church was living far from the ideal of Christ, whilst other radicals claimed indifference to the holy book at all. Although some of the ideas of these groups seem jumbled or obscure, Hill rightly claims that their rebel spirit is unfolding over time: that Digger energy is in the mix of today’s socialism, that the Levellers position gains in clarity as democracy rises in the late Nineteenth Century.

From the north came Gerrard Winstanley, from the good parish of Wigan, sloshed clean with holy water in the year 1609. In his late twenties he moved to London and married the daughter of a surgeon – something we can only imagine as a move upwards. He then watched the English Civil War disrupt, and finally wipe out, his business as an apprentice clothier. Being made destitute, he took refuge with his father-in-law and moved to Cobham in Surrey, where he initially took up work as a cowherd. Bent by labour and pockets emptied by war, Winstanley wrestled his soul daily, staring out over the black fields. The poverty he witnessed, and to an extent endured, shocked him profoundly, and the constant threat of eviction of the poor by landlords appalled him.

He produced a pamphlet entitled The New Laws of Righteousness that was clear in its advocacy of a kind of Christian communism. He drew from Acts, chapter two, vr 44 and 45: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Winstanley fuelled his thinking (as many had before him) by a vigorous reading of biblical texts – especially the book of Samuel’s ambivalence to kingship. The brew was made especially heady when he threw in a large dose of old English radicalism going as far back as Wat Tyler’s Peasants' Revolt of 1381. His pen grew hot: “Seeing the common people of England by joynt consent of person and purse have caste out Charles our Norman oppressour, wee have by this victory recovered ourselves from under his Norman yoake.” This issue of the ‘Norman yoake' we have noted as an crucial for the rise of noblemen involved in greenwood banditry in an earlier chapter. So there is the double rub of society going against the essence of biblical doctrine, and the rich sucking on the sour tit of the oppressors. We can practically see the water start to bubble around this man.

Come 1649, a brief time after his arrival in Cobham, Winstanley had started to put his beliefs into practice. He and his followers started to cultivate common land in four counties – Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Kent. There was an immediate response to his message due to roughly a century of unauthorised squatting in the forests and wastelands due to land shortage. What Winstanley did was give it shape, a certain ecstatic dignity. The ecstatic element came from the trances he claimed brought on his ideas, the dignity from the biblical undertow to his community message. This is another form of English liminal culture – insights drawn from the edge of consciousness and, as usual, causing trouble within the status quo.

As soon as crops grew they were distributed without charge, as his message dictated. This kind of generosity always rattles cages and local landowners got edgy. Only one year later, the colonies were destroyed and all involved endured a beating by hired hard men. Crops were destroyed, houses and tools too.

Lesser men would have taken the kicking and retreated into the mists of time. But Winstanley got busy. Another pamphlet appeared: The Laws of Freedom in a Platform, where he argues that the right and proper Christian basis of right living is to abolish property and wages all together.

“If any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go to the common fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money.”
(Winstanley 1652)

Winstanley pushes the Anabaptist view that all institutions by their very nature corrupt: “nature tells us that if water stands still long enough it corrupts; whereas running water keeps sweet and is fit for common use.” This is just a warm up for then regaling Oliver Cromwell to fulfil the scriptures and hand the land over to the oppressed. It must have been a heartbreak to witness the toppling of royalty and the next devious agenda be hurriedly put in place. In its days, the Law of Freedom was quite the seller, although the Restoration loomed on the horizon to dictate the way society organised itself.

What really stuck in Winstanley’s craw was the notion of private property (specifically land); it is this that he regarded as the true fall of man. He believed that the creator made the world as a “common treasury” and that to divide that by hierarchy was actually a satanic enterprise. Wage labour, buying and selling, all reeked of sulphur. Surely this is the greenwood spirit born anew?

Certainly, much of the clergy got it in the neck too. And for good reason; many had been bought off by William the Conqueror instituting tithes for them to be paid. He rages: “Yet the clergy tell the poor people
to be content with poverty now and heaven hereafter. Why may people not have a comfortable maintenance here and heaven hereafter too. We gave no consent to acknowledge crown and royalist land, our purchased inheritance being sold.”

The later part of his life is obscured. Someone of his name died in 1676 as a Quaker in London. A quiet fame has grown for Winstanley and an admiration, not just for his ideas that continue to unfold, but also for eloquence, his particular style of prose. Many of his beliefs of equality, love for love’s sake, a free medical service, have a very contemporary resonance. His is another kind of Englishness, a kind of pragmatic visionary, a lion at table with sheep. Like Robin Hood, this marginal seer is not oppositional to order, not a representative of chaos, but a reminder of an ancient value system, a glimpse of way back, a myth-line, a walking cosmology. He is a kind of remembering.

And finally some Lorca to sweeten us on our way:

Summer Madrigal
August 1920 (Vega de Zujaira)

Estrella, you gypsy.
Crush your
red mouth
onto mine.

Below noons
corn-bright gold,
i will bite that apple.

In the greeness of
the olive grove,
high on the hill,
there is an ancient
Moorish tower.

It’s walls are
the hue of your
peasant flesh,
which tastes of honey
and the dawn.

This tempest feast
of your sunburnt body,
flowers the river bed,
gives stars to the wind.

Brown light -
why do you give yourself
to me?

Your sway-heavy love,
your womanhood,
the darkling murmur
of your breasts?

Is it because i look glum?
Did my life’s
drought of singing
blaze you with pity?

How can it be that
you have settled for my laments
over the strong thighs
of a peasant Saint Christopher,
handsome and steady in love?

You are Goddess of the Forest.
Your bones smell of wheat
parched in summer sun.

Confound my eyes
with your song,
your hair is a thick
cloak of shadow
on the meadows
sweet grasses.

Your mouth
is filled with blood.
Spit me a new sky,
a star of pain
in its
fleshy depths.

My wild, Andalucian horse -
my Pegasus,
is blissed by your eyes,
his flight will be of desolation
when their light dims.

I know you never loved me.
But i loved you - for your
serious gaze,
like the lark loves a new day
if only for the dew.

Estrella you gypsy.
Bite your mouth to mine.
Under clear noon
let me ravage
that apple.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2014

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