Beltane, 1 May 2012
The world of 2012 is full of the awareness that we are a species of emergent consciousness, that we are processing our way through darkness into light.
Many are those who came here for this purpose. Here is the story of a few of us who gathered in 1995 at the event called the Hundredth Monkey Camp, to reach inside ourselves, to reach out and touch the world.
Our goal... Waking The Monkey.
Friday 25th August 1995
The sun was westering behind us as we turned down a narrow country lane that held no obvious promise of anything much. Just when we thought we were completely lost we came across an open farm gate in the twilight with a sign on it which read “Monkeys” and an arrow pointing inside.
Exultant and relieved that we had found our destination before full nightfall, we drove through onto the lumpy grass of the field. To our left the hedge stretched forward and then veered to the right. Just beyond its end we discerned a yellow geodesic dome with a campfire set before it. We bumped across, testing the suspension of the VW microbus to its limits and pulled up in the gap between the hedge and the fire, where a curving branch bedecked with coloured streamers and a woven spiral web was set up; at its base a sign read ‘Welcome’ in a fine script reminiscent of Elfish, on a background of a tree amidst stars and surmounted by a crimson and gold sunburst. Next to this, more prosaically, was written on a square of brown cardboard ‘GATE Stop and check in’.
People were getting up from the fire, coming out of the dome behind, striding towards us across the field as we disgorged from the vehicle, cramped and claustrophobic from our lengthy confinement. The first to approach us was Sheila, Palden’s partner and co-organizer of the event, her long, almost pointed ears adding to the Elven resonance. I introduced myself and my friends who had given me a lift and would be moving on, my name was ticked off a list and I bought the week’s meal tickets in no time flat as we tried to reorient ourselves to surroundings that were rapidly becoming invisible in the fading dusk.
The Camp proper would not be opened formally as a ritual magical space until the following evening, and the majority of participants would be arriving during the daytime, so although most of the site facilities had been erected, there were actually very few people on the site. It was already too dark to put up tents and I was advised to dump my gear in the large circular marquee about a hundred yards behind and to the right of the Gate encampment, where there was space to sleep an army. Not that protection from rain would be needed, as it was an exceptionally fine and clear evening; more likely from the chills that such clear nights can bring in late August.
The welcoming committee had bidden us to take our time in becoming acclimatized, and find our way back to the Gate encampment in our own time for a cup of tea. It seemed that the Gate was the sort of place where the kettle was always on the hearth.
The fire by the dome was the only one in the field and looked like a Caravaggio with the brightly lit faces standing out from the surrounding blackness. It seemed to be a miniature universe entire of itself. If one looked away it was possible to discern the looming shapes of the trees behind us, even the distant raised profile of hills we had so recently traversed against the background of the stars, but look to the fire and everything else vanished, except, ghostlike, the vaguest intimations around the periphery of vision.
It was easy to understand how the so-called primitive world view populates the universe with chaotic demons who try each night to break into the circle of light and extinguish it before the dawn comes to rescue us. I was already finding animistic feelings reawakening, primitive perceptions which might be frowned upon or feared by modern city-dwelling rationalists; but if we truly were to go beyond our everyday lives in some way then this was a fine starting point. We might not be able to leave the twentieth century physically, but abandoning as many of its trappings as we reasonably could was a good first step towards getting in touch with a more real level of being, experiencing, understanding ourselves.
This was entirely different to the Glastonbury experience that I had had at solstice time that year, whether at the Tor or the Festival. The former had been a primal experience fuelled by rhythmic djembe drums and the tide of the season, while the latter had been in some ways more akin to primitive living in a nomadic village, close to the earth and its daily cycles, stripped of the expectations of our city personae. Not that the festival was exactly everyday and homely, but I was able to take it at a more leisurely pace, visiting the many tented cafes, playing my guitar and meeting people.
As I became more attuned to the hum of the great mass of humanity in which I was swimming I began to see the entire event as a giant superconscious entity in which we were the neurons connecting with each other. It seemed that only some transdimensional reality model like this could account for the incessant waves of synchronous events, as people that you might be thinking of would appear out of the crowd, blurring the boundaries of reality. I determined that this perception was something I would take with me to the camp. If the world is to go forward from its present crisis then a degree of intuitive and spontaneous co-operation of this sort is not only a vital quality but one that needs to be recognized in order to be encouraged.
After many wonderful vignettes and fascinating whirlpools of energy that I became involved with it was time to set off for home and I was astonished at the experience of going back out into the world. I could feel the friction and viscosity of the fear in the atmosphere as I myself began to lose my attunement and return to mundane reality and everyday life. But I had awakened something in me that would not be so easily dulled.
Here for the moment, it was intimate. No pulsing djembe set the mood, no crowds jostled amidst the hustle of trader’s stalls.
A voice called out as we approached the fire: “Know any Grateful Dead songs?” The guitar I was carrying had clearly been discerned from a distance by the speaker, a wild looking fellow with long blonde hair straggling down the sides of his near bald pate. His wide grin disclosed several of the longest teeth I have ever set eyes upon, and there was a twinkle in his eyes. He wore a ragged sleeveless sheepskin jacket not unlike my own, which had a grinning skeleton holding two hearts above an exploding sunburst and the legend Grateful Dead ’72 painted on its back.
“About thirty-five.” I replied, somewhat taken aback by this question. I was so accustomed to my musical interest being no more than a curiosity to most people that to have this enquired of me at such an early stage was both a surprise and a delight. In the darkness he could not have seen the design on the Afghan jacket I had only just unpacked and donned. There was an added poignancy to the question, as Jerry Garcia, their legendary lead guitarist had died barely two weeks earlier, and I was still feeling the grief. We had been asked to come as representatives of communities that we felt a kinship with, and though some might take it as mere jest, it was my intention to come as a one of the Deadhead tribe. The musicians used to jokingly claim that they were built on ‘Misfit Power’, and Garcia would say that when the band was really cooking it felt that some greater being was playing the music through them. A metaphysical connection that I had begun to experience with my own life and which I felt was appropriate with the camp.
“Amazing” he replied. “I’ve been asking people who turn up with guitars that question now for more years than I care to recall, and you’re the first person ever to reply in the affirmative!”
We were all amused at this and it helped break the ice as we were introduced to the others round the fire. The speaker was one of the site crew and introduced himself.
“Swami Barmy, the Barmy Swami, at your service.” Grinning, he made a slight bow and we all laughed.
Despite his interest in my music somehow I still felt uneasy. Perhaps it was his outlandish appearance, or maybe his impish grin. It might just have been my own unreadiness to cope with the unexpected after a tiring journey. Other than Palden and Sheila there were Ivan, a giant of a man with his head shaved in Mohican style, and Brigantia, a slender woman of slightly above average height. She gave me a strange look that I was to remember later.
The Swami’s greeting had seemingly been a good augury, despite my inner feelings of reserve, so I set into a couple of songs as I sat down to wait for the kettle.
It was not long before we were all ready to retire, my lift giving friends Ben and Julie to their microbus and I to the marquee.
Swami was also planning to bed down there, and so we went off together in the darkness with just a torch to find our way. My new found companion had a rough and ready manner which had put me in two minds. He was not abrasive, but sleeping in the same space as this wild man had activated some of my unconscious fears and taboos. It seems I had brought more of the city and its neuroses with me than I had been able to acknowledge.
Here was someone accustomed to taking his rest in whatever protection was at hand. As I drifted off into oblivion inside my mummy-like sleeping bag I seemed to sense a deeper presence behind his fearsome and feral exterior. Somehow I felt accepted in a way I was not accustomed to, having encountered so much rejection over the years as a result of the long path of unfolding my gender identity
Here was someone accustomed to taking his rest in whatever protection was at hand. As I drifted off into oblivion inside my mummy-like sleeping bag I seemed to sense a deeper presence behind his fearsome and feral exterior. Somehow I felt accepted in a way I was not accustomed to, having encountered so much rejection over the years as a result of the long path of unfolding my gender identity.
Steeling myself I hurriedly slipped out of my little cocoon and headed through the open sides to find a space sufficiently far from the marquee. Squatting on the open ground I looked up and became aware of one of the most breathtaking and awesome sights I have ever witnessed.
The fire at the gate had died down, and we were sufficiently far from any towns or major roads for there to be no artificial glare thrown up into the sky. The total absence of cloud cover, though it made for a chill night, allowed me an untarnished view of the wondrous vault that stretched above. The memory of the African sky which I had known as a child had long dimmed. Living in a city I was accustomed only to the most prominent of stars as points of light struggling through the haze of pollution and sodium yellow street lights.
What I saw now was of a totally different order of. The sky shone with silver dust, hinting at colours just beyond sight as, twinkling, it seemed to breath. The bright stars with which I was familiar were lost amid the multitude and I was forced to orient myself with the points of the compass even to find the North Star.
A river of sparkling gems stretched across the infinite vastness above me. From behind me to my left the Milky Way arched across the sky, high above the silhouette of the Malvern hills on the Eastern edge of the world reaching its climax before me; and here tonight, the new moon offered no competition. The galactic hub was illuminated with the lights of worlds uncounted, then slid down to the South Western horizon and disappeared behind the stygian blackness of the wood beyond our field.
As I gazed upon this panoply of splendour I felt an echo of the awe which early civilizations from the desert parts of the world had had for the sky and its gods. A shooting star marked its passage through this vision of eternity and I forgot the cold which was seeping into my bones.
A second meteor burnt up in the atmosphere before my eyes, puncturing the protective skin of ionised particles which enfolds our little world, momentarily bridging the gap from infinity to limitation. Viewing the crystalline splendour from which this burst of energy had emerged I reflected on the doctrine that the human race had been as gods before we fell from the heavens to our present lowly station. But was it not also told that we should build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung until we had regained our stature amongst the gods?
Feasting on the banquet of brilliance I hugged myself for warmth as I, amazed, tried to absorb the wonders which seemed so casually spilt across the heavens like the contents of a divine jewelbox, accidentally upended and spread out upon this velvet field.
A third shooting star gave itself up to oblivion, vaporizing into a momentary stream of wonder for perhaps my eyes only. It was as if this entire display had been made solely for the purpose of taking my breath away. Though the sky is as public a thing as could be, I felt the intimacy of my contact. Squatting, hunched up and hugging my knees, my body began to shiver and protest against the cold which was the price I paid for this.
There, utterly alone with myself in the middle of a field in the night, I was touched with the infinite, and yet could not have been less alone. It was one of those moments of total clarity with which we may be blessed when through accident or design, and perhaps some cunning mix of the two, we find ourselves in alignment with the Cosmos and there can be no doubt as to meaning or purpose. We are part of all this, and this is part of us. The billions of years which separate us from the fusion of our chemical elements in long-dead supernovae felt like the blink of an eye.
Looking, waiting for a fourth shooting star I was conscious of my shivering flesh and my bare feet wet with the dew. A heavenly gateway had been opened and I had glimpsed infinity in my soul as much as in the sky. But the wheel of change would not still for my inner world. I had been granted this divine spectacle for a few moments, to ask or hope for more was spiritual gluttony. Suddenly aware of how cold I felt, I was back in my material shell and the warmth of my little nest beckoned.
With a heavy heart I left the silvery gleam and made for the darkness of our night’s shelter. The gentle sound of slumberous breathing welcomed me and I slid into my sleeping bag, filled with wonder at my nocturnal cosmic journey, and for once grateful that what I might havethought was an unwisely late cup of tea had led to such a revelation of splendour.
©Claire Rae Randall 2012