Friday, 1 June 2012

Chapter 2: And So It Begins…

In the late summer of 1995 a catalytic and seminal world healing event took place in the English countryside near the Welsh borders.  Seeking to send 'Inner Aid' to the troubled group mind of humanity, we would meditate on the cancers and running sores of our world and speak our truths in Allting, Talking Stick Circle.
Our aim, to build a morphic field of understanding that would help to heal our troubled world, to be the straw that tips the balance, to be The Hundredth Monkey in the journey of planetary awakening.

I had arrived the night before,  Chapter 1: Arrival
now at the first full day at the camp I begin to settle in to the ambience and the opening of the circle lies before us.

See also

Chapter 0: The Fool



Chapter Two
And So It Begins...

Saturday 26th August 1995
The morning came all misty and covered in dew.  The Barmy Swami was already up and gone when I awoke and stepped out into the daylight.
It was bright, the sunshine beginning to burn through the early haze.  The sun rode above the line of the Malverns.  They floated in a sea of mist, reminding me of Glastonbury Tor earlier that summer.  In the flat of the vale where we were, only trees broke through the dense white fleece, becoming ever more wan until the distance swallowed them.
The total absence of mechanical noise allows perceptions that would otherwise be screened out.  Birdsong filled the air and the mist sparkled in the brilliance.  I was already feeling energized by my surroundings. 
Smoke was rising from the fire at the gate.  Ben and Julie’s camper van sat somewhat incongruously in the middle of the field.  I walked past it, in search of a fire to warm my fingers by and…
“Tea?”  It was the Swami, stirring a cup as I approached.
In the daylight I could see that the night before we had been sitting on an old three piece suite, arrayed around the firepit as if this were perfectly normal.  There was the slight air of a Harold Pinter production about it.  A plank on the ground acted as table for the cups, milk and teapot.
He may have had the most outlandish appearance, only amplified in the daylight, but he clearly had a very English sense of priorities when it mattered.  I gratefully received the proffered mug of hot brew and knelt down to warm at the fire.
People were beginning to emerge from the yellow dome behind me.
Amidst the non-committal grunts of early morning heads still thick with sleep it became apparent that porridge might be had later in the long restaurant marquee.  It seems there were more folk about on site than I had realized.  The catering crew had been settled into their own fireside hidden from site behind the restaurant marquee when we arrived the previous night.
I exchanged pleasantries with the Barmy Swami over our morning tea and began to think that my earlier reaction had been exaggerated, although his appearance was more akin to a shaman than anything else which came to mind.  It was my own inner response which swung like a pendulum, although on the surface there was no reason.  Our attire was similar and I too had a joke magical name, Cosmic Claire, besides being Deadheads.

I was getting my personae mixed up.  Having not quite adjusted to the magical world yet I was still operating from my well practised middle class city personality.  Realizing this I was able to adapt my reality parameters, but a deeper challenge lay behind my feelings than this.  One of which the Swami was to be not only the signaller, but also a guide.  A deeper sense knew that he had insight into a world which I was to enter, and which was to be both delight and nightmare by turns.  My conscious mind knew nothing of this, save that this cosmic hobo raised intuitions in me which I could not yet begin to understand.
The site manager was delayed and unable to join us until later, so the Swami was to have his work cut out, and it wasn’t long before he was off to deal with all the concerns which this involved.  I returned to my baggage pile for my cutlery and glazed Chinese cup.  I had had this cup for some ten years or so; it had long lost its handle, but the depth and detail of the subtly coloured bamboo imagery was such as to have almost had a magical quality, arising from the thick textures of the painted slipware beneath the translucent glaze.  Though its carefully out turned lip was chipped in a couple of places it still had the feel of an ancient work of art to me and I felt that to bring and risk a treasured item such as this to the camp was in some way to honour the gathering in a way that a plastic or tin camping mug would not.  To preserve and care for it would require mindfulness. 
I ambled off to the restaurant space and begged some porridge of the crew, who were sitting around behind the marquee drinking tea and smoking.
They made the sorts of noises usually heard from between the lips and teeth of plumbers when sizing up a job, but eventually softened to my pleadings and slopped me a dollop of lukewarm porridge into a bowl.
Having eaten I wandered off to find the others with whom I had come.
My friends were making ready for an early start on the remainder of their journey to see relatives.  I thanked them both for the lift, we took our leave of each other and soon they were off. The sun was making headway against the vanishing vapours as it rose toward its zenith and the heat of the day began to build.
All around was unhurried and apparently uncoordinated activity.  People were beginning to arrive in ones and twos, vehicles being unloaded of gear which lay in unattended piles.  I lugged my own baggage from the circular marquee a short distance to what was the beginning of a circle around a shallow firepit that was as yet unused.  The turf which had been lifted from the pit was piled in a stack some yards away.  A small geodesic dome covered with orange tarpaulin was the only resident of this encampment so far.  Emulating the distance that this held from the pit, I spread my home flat on the earth and laid claim to the ground which would be my plot for the next seven nights. It was a yellow clay, baked hard by the summer’s long heatwave and dearth of rain.  The grass was short and sparse, mingled with clover, thistle and several plants I could not identify. 
Resting here I was aware that I would have to be careful with my activity levels.  My M.E. tended to cut my energy off unexpectedly if I overdid things.  At Glastonbury Festival I had found that it was necessary to spend several hours a day lying down resting in between bouts of activity.  I knew that one of the big challenges of the week would be balancing my activity with rest so that I would not get depleted emotionally and thus be able to make the most of what held the promise to be something of an adventure.
Relaxing after my unwonted early activity I was aware of how stiff my body was from yesterday’s journey.  Basking in the sunshine I dozed off.
Refreshed by my snooze I rejoined the world of the conscious to see a great deal more going on than earlier.  All about a many-coloured forest of tents and domes was beginning to spring up.  Blue, orange, red, green and different shades of lilac and purple; from the smallest one-person bivouac to full sized rectangular family tents with partitions and awnings.
I wandered off to the café where a basic lunch of bread and cheese had been put on by the crew and left unattended.  Repairing to a bench on the western side of the café I was able to watch the proceedings as I munched on my vittles. 
A short bearded man walked past towards the entrance beside me.  He was wearing an unusual set of attire reminiscent to me of a Samurai warrior, but made of blue denim.  It seemed designed for all weather, the sharply cut coat falling below his knees.  He had a curious rustic air and held a carved staff in his right hand, like someone from a fairy tale.
 “Nice getup” I remarked cheerily, thinking of how we had been encouraged to wear ‘shamanic’ dress.
 “It’s not a ‘getup’ ” he replied grumpily.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean any offence.  I like what you’re wearing, it’s interesting.”
Mollified but still piqued he grunted a form of assent and marched off into the café.  Oops, I thought, that was not meant as a sneer  but a compliment.
Feeling embarrassed that I had managed so soon to offend someone who looked like part of the local establishment I sat on my little bench and reflected that not everyone there took such a light-hearted view as myself.  I felt self-doubt also.  I had not intended to poke fun, now it felt like I had…  Why does this always happen?  Why do I always end up feeling bad when I try to say something jovial?
Two women approached and asked if there was room for them on the bench.  Assenting, I saw that they were pulling out cigarettes.  I had been attempting to give up smoking cigarettes for most of that year.  Having weakened in the face of temptation too often in the past, I did not wish to break the fast which I had successfully maintained for several weeks, so as the first waft of smoke billowed out from the smokers, I finished my lunch, made my excuses and left.

The campsite was now beginning to take on some form.  In front of where I had been sitting there was a wide open space which was to remain so.  At the far end of this, perhaps a little less than a hundred yards, was the circular marquee that was to be used for the main group meditations and Allting.  Arrayed in a rough semi-circle to the right of this space most of the campfire circles were arising, and at its centre an old tree stump had been set to act as an altar.  To its left a long boundary ditch marked the perimeter of our field, beyond which, in the South, was the dense woodland that had been so dark in the night.
On the far right, the northern edge of the camp, beyond the motley village which was under construction, a perpetual stream of arrivals were being processed at the Gate.  The site now becoming more populated, cars were being turned back to the parking space in the part of the field beyond.  A mature hedgerow emerged curving from behind the café to my right and headed to the Gate before taking a sharp turn back out of sight and away from the camp, doubling back to the outer gate where we had come off the road.  The long thin car parking field was separated from the main site first by this hedge and then a shallow ditch which came from the far West end.  The Gate encampment was just inside of this, the ditch running under a covered culvert over which the microbus had driven.  At the far end of our field the ground rose gently to some trees adjacent to a barn and farm buildings.  We were enclosed by ditches on three sides, to the North, East and South.  To the South West was a small wooded hillock and beyond further hedges, to the North more rising ground gave us a feeling of enclosure and protection in a shallow saucer shaped dell.
Ever curious I set off to investigate my surroundings in more detail, having in mind the well established encampment behind the cafe.  Several of the kitchen crew were lying about in the sun.  Large tureens filled with cut and prepared vegetables standing in water attested to their earlier labours.
A tall dark-haired man was slapping idly at a large drum made of black rubber sheeting stretched tight over a large plastic cylinder.  Nylon cords were threaded through knocks in the base and held the rubber skin tight.  Two other drums of similar construction lay about.
 “Hi, we sort of met earlier, I’m Claire, can I join your space?”
The man interrupted his lazy rhythm and removed a rollup from his lips.  I was clearly not going to be able to avoid contact with people smoking.
 “Sure, I’m Ross.  Welcome to the camp.”  He held out his hand in greeting, which I shook.  He was slim but well muscled, black jeans and singlet matched his medium length hair and two days growth of beard.   The young women who had served me porridge earlier introduced themselves as Trudi and Roxanne.  Trudi was blonde, in jeans and patterned sun top, Roxanne smaller and skinny, ginger haired, snub nosed and freckled with large wide smiling eyes; dressed like her companion but in black, she had a waif like look and an impish grin.
“I’m glad I got here last night,” I ventured.  “It’s giving me time to take in the surroundings and acclimatize.”
It transpired that they had all been working as crew on other camps that summer, and so had fully adjusted to the outdoor life.  They referred to those who were arriving as ‘punters’.  The very fact that I had arrived early and was engaging with them appeared to gain me kudos.  “Some of these city fowk seem to think we’re invisible” said Ross.  He said ‘city folk’ in a mock West Country accent.  Referring as he presumably was to the earlier camps they had experienced, I said that I hoped that it would not be the case here.
 “We’ll see” they all muttered, chuckling.  I could see that I had stumbled onto a little clan hidden within the structure of the camp, a distinct group apart from the gate, administration or site management.
Ross resumed his rhythmic pulse on the mock-djembe.
I was delighted to have found some easy-going companionship after my encounter with the denim-clad Samurai.  We chatted intermittently about where we had come from and the lives we were leading, but our main pleasure was simply enjoying the sun and our unspoilt rural surroundings.  I began to hope that this relaxed acceptance would be the norm in response to my openness and not the rejection into which I seemed to habitually stumble
The resonance of the drum created its own ambience, and before long a dark-haired young woman separated herself from the bustle of camp arrivals and introduced herself as Carmel, from Denmark.  Joining in with the drumming she seemed somewhat manic and excited.  I was again glad for the head start I had been afforded, thinking that it might easily have been myself trying to find a means of earthing myself after hours of motorway madness or even air-flight.
The drumbeat penetrated our bodies and its waves loosened the clinging static charges and jangling vibrations of the city.  Slipping from our auras they melted into the ground.  By now I had my shoes off and felt the grass between my toes.  I was happy to align myself with the vibrations of these nomads who had spent so much of that wonderful summer in touch with the Earth, the sky and the elements.

A warm light breeze was beginning to spring up from the West.  Glancing to my left I could see Palden and several others struggling to pull a huge greyish canvas over the completed skeleton of a geodesic dome on the far side of the central plaza.  It reminded me of the famous image of American soldiers as they planted their flag on the hilltop of  Iwo Jima.  The slanting spars of the frame echoed the angle of the flagpole while the crew struggled with the billowing material, seeking to gain the apex of this mound like the GI’s raising their triumph.  A gust of wind assisted and all of a sudden the battle was over. 
Entertained by this spectacle I looked further to the left and saw that around the fire pit beside which I had lain my tent several new tents of had been erected.  I realized that the afternoon was wearing away;  my own shelter was still flat on the ground and I needed to see to it.
I left my new-found companions and went to my own preparations.
The circle was indeed filling up.  Palden was emerging from the orange dome next door.  I was grateful that he had a small mallet which he let me use for the skewers tensioning my guy ropes.  The clay was so dry that it was beginning to crack.  I attempted to embed the metal spikes in firm ground, but many of these hit stones not far beneath the surface, and I was obliged to make use of some of the cracks.  I soon became aware of the fact that the entrance of my sanctum was facing directly into the prevailing wind allowing the air to funnel into the interior so that the rear of the tent ballooned like a spinnaker.  Too late to find another patch I ensured that the front guy was well established in front of its pole.
Temporarily satisfied with my work I began arranging my belongings inside.  The ground I was to lie on was not as flat to the back as it had seemed to the eye.  I was left shuffling my sleeping bag, clothes and guitar until I had what seemed a satisfactory solution.  I lay down with my feet toward the lowering sun which spilt through the gaps between the loose flaps at my feet.

Resting from my efforts I could hear the sounds of activity, voices, children running about and screaming with their new-found freedom. The heavier tread of an adult brushed past within inches of me on the other side of my nylon walls, and I could hear its owner enter the large tent  to my right.
 “Yes I’ve found it, Tina” I heard the voice say.
“Sean…. Sean K…, well I’ll be darned, it is you” I exclaimed as propelling myself forward I rose out of the front of my den and confirmed what my ears had told me.
Sean was an old friend from way back in Leeds.  I had recently graduated from the University when we first met, and had shared a social group whose interests had grown through inquiry into mysticism, meditation and metaphysics.  ‘Exploring the limits of reality’ as he had once put it.  The early eighties had seen us investigate the paths of the Cabalistic Tree of Life and corresponding images from the Major Arcana of the Tarot.  After a while our meditation circle had scattered when the psychic archetypes we had activated led us each to our own individual paths.  The flower had withered, but was replaced with seeds that were blown by the wind to find places where they could grow and flower again in their turn.
I recalled Sean had once said in about 1981 “I wonder what we’ll all be doing ten years from now?”  That decade had come and gone.  I had lost touch with him, heard that he was living in a community in the West Country, tried to re-establish contact, and eventually given up my search.  Now after all this time the trajectory of our lives had intersected, synchronistically. 
A slightly built woman of medium height with shoulder length ginger hair, wearing khaki trousers and a loose fitting multi coloured top was approaching.  “Hey Tina, look who’s camped next to us, my old friend Claire from Leeds!”  Sean exclaimed. 
He introduced us, and pointed out their two children, aged about six and four who were dashing around, stimulated by these new surroundings.  Tina was involved with site maintenance.  They had met through the Oak Dragon Camps in the 1980’s shortly after I had lost touch with Sean. 
We marvelled at the fortune which had led us to set up next to each other.  It was a classic synchronicity which hinted at a deeper link.
The sun was sinking low toward the silhouetted tree tops of the Western horizon, and word was spreading round that the evening meal was ready to be eaten.  The opening of the Circle would follow. 

Incandescent Tilley lamps had been lit inside against the onset of dusk.  Dozens of people were heading towards it, and there were already dozens more inside.  A queue was snaking out of the opening in the side of the canvas.  I could see members of the catering crew behind the stainless steel counter, dolloping rice and vegetables onto plates held out eagerly by the punters.          
Glancing round I realised that I had been joined by the Barmy Swami in the queue, he winked at me, grinning and holding his plate, cutlery and a purple Cadbury’s Dairy Milk mug for his tea.  I still hadn’t quite got over my unaccounted gut reaction and apprehension toward the chap, but a day relaxing in the field had made me realise it was something I should be getting over.  I was already a different person from who I had been when I arrived twenty-four hours ago, relaxing, opening up to the new reality which I had defended against initially.  Several years of poor health which had led me to live the life of a recluse had not done anything for my social confidence;  I needed to step out of that persona into something new.
I greeted him, and as we reached the counter, Trudi also, who was serving.  It occurred to me that I had a head start on most of the day’s arrivals in that I had met several of the catering and site crew.  The week was not simply about the meditation circles, but an opportunity to meet new and unusual people.  I should not rely on my connection with Sean alone.
The Swami and I found space at one of the trellis tables and sat on the benches.  The planks were narrow and the metal legs were thin, inclining them to bed into the ground.  We exchanged a few pleasantries about our shared musical interest, and then I asked him how he came to be at Hundredth Monkeying.
“Somewhat by chance, actually”  he replied.  “Palden asked if I would step into the breach as his site manager can’t be here for the start of the camp.  Saving the world isn’t really my thing, but living in a field for a week is, so I was glad to be able to help out.”  Swami was very well spoken, and was not at all like the unwashed crusty I had initially taken him for.  Indeed I now realised he actually had a very soft and gentle voice, a fact which I had completely failed to recognise the previous night when I had let my preconceptions about his appearance rule my judgement.
I was intrigued by his remark that he wasn’t into saving the world, as that did seem to be the prime focus of our being there, but then he was telling me how he had known Palden for a fair number of years in Glastonbury.  The various sections of crew had also been assembled from links which had been built up over the years deriving from camps and other New Age cultural links.  Glastonbury has been, and still is, a focus for this sort of thing, and so Palden had been ideally placed to work on constructing new levels of networking.  World meditations had emerged from the personal growth movement of the seventies and eighties as people had moved from the personal to the trans-personal in their concerns.
My curiosity to find out how Swami fitted into all this even though he wasn’t committed to saving the world was to be stymied for the present as the café was now becoming quite full and crowded.  New arrivals were colonising our table and causing us to move along our benches to make more space.  Introductions were being made all about us and it was plain that I should have to wait for a later occasion to enquire further.
Those present spanned all ages from young children to folk in their sixties. There was perhaps a preponderance of those known as the woolly jumper and home-made muesli brigade.  Certainly several rainbow coloured jumpers were in evidence, but there were also others who were attired more plainly.
The crowd grew and the light outside waned.  I had a growing sense of excitement and anticipation as we ate our dinner.  The gathering was nearly complete.  Soon we would all be there and the journey could begin.  Clearly there were many old friendships being renewed.  I was glad I had had the opportunity to settle in and meet people that day as I might otherwise have felt quite isolated.  There were people there with different images from many walks of life, but very few were entirely new to this kind of thing it seemed.
The place was packed.  The hubbub of conversation had risen to a gentle roar.  The sound of a little bell ringing penetrated the dense texture of this ambient background.  Some ceased speaking, others shushed the remainder into silence.
Palden was standing in the centre of the marquee.
“I think we have everyone who is going to be here now, so if you would clear a space in the centre we can convene the circle.  Don’t worry if you haven’t finished your dinner, this shouldn’t take too long.”
For a minute or two the crowd bustled to make the clearing.
“If you link hands now, we can begin.”
On my right was the Barmy Swami, on my left a dapper bearded man who reminded me of king George the fifth.  He was dressed in tweeds, immaculately polished brown shoes and a white shirt, collar open, with a paisley cravat and waistcoat.  He made a striking contrast to me and the Swami, indeed with most of us in the circle.  Introducing himself as Tom, he held out his hand in a formal and traditional manner, eyes smiling.  His appearance was more redolent of the 1950’s than the 1990’s, and there was a strange gentleness about him which belied his very masculine appearance.  His hand was quite soft, and I felt a sensitive soul behind his old-fashioned façade.
Swami’s hand was the complete opposite as I slipped mine into his to link the circle.  Rough and calloused, he clearly led a life of physical hardship, but seemingly one that he had chosen. 
Palden again: “In a minute I shall be going through some of the practical arrangements for the week, but first let us open the circle with an Om.”
Suddenly there was perfect silence and stillness in that crowded café tent.  A feeling of immense gravitas overcame me.  I felt privileged, awed to be present at such a unique gathering.  We had chosen to give what we could of ourselves to aid a world in pain and crisis, or perhaps we had been chosen.  I was filled with both pride and humility.  The hushed crowd had the presence of a congregation at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.  Palden, tall and lanky, bespectacled with a stubbly smile wide full of teeth would be our choirmaster.
He began the chant with a resonant “Ooo…….”  Slowly at first, but with growing strength we joined in.  The multitude of voices created a rich chord, blending from deep male basses through the majority of mid-range to the sopranos who floated above the chorus.
We seemed to have entered a dimension in which time had a different velocity, density and viscosity.  We went into ourselves through that sound, touching our deeper beings in the inner stillness, awakening parts of our souls which had been lying dormant, waiting for the call of that moment, knew our ambitions and apprehensions, a glimpse of what it was we had come to seek.
The energy focussed like a standing wave in the centre of the circle, resonating subtle ripples out through the ethers.  It truly felt that we were creating a new beginning, seeded from the aspirations and intentions we brought with us and encoded in the harmonies of that great hum.  Briefly a thought crossed my mind ~ what hidden discord might lie unnoticed within those sonorous layers?  In the Ainulindale, the creation myth in Tolkien’s Silmarillion, one of the Angels sings a note which is disharmonious, causing conflict.  My ear detected no dissonance.  The angelic primal chord had had its antiphony, but it had been subtly hidden.  Only as the variations found their way into manifestation did its outcome become apparent.  But this had been part of the Great Design in the making of a world which could rise above these contradictions.
This thought was but a small voice as the cadence within our circle rose and fell, singing our new creation into existence.  Our souls, like stars, the source of worlds yet to be born.  The sound of our congregation rolled around the circle like the backwash of the Big Bang, the Cosmic Background; its centre of gravity now here, now there, now in the middle as we united ourselves for the journey we were beginning.
I counted 128 faces in that circle, adults and children.  Two to the power of seven.  An interesting number.
The chorus abated.  It had lasted perhaps a minute, but in that time we had travelled to the centre of Creation and back again.  I felt that I would have travelled for this alone, for the privilege of chanting with all these others, most of whom were yet strangers.  Diverse our paths may have been which led us here, but we had now all been united in this shared vibration.
We stood there holding hands in silence until we felt the press of our neighbours fingers pass round the circle, signalling the moment to release from this union.  Slowly, gently we let our hands relax and slide free.
The silence was almost as profound as the chant; reluctant to part from the moment we stood meekly as children respectful of the sanctified atmosphere in a great cathedral.  Hesitantly, we began breathing again, the rustle of movement returned, someone cleared their throat and we were back in the normal space-time of the late twentieth century.
“An excellent Om” said Palden “I haven’t heard one as good as that in a long time.” 
One or two hands clapped, and there was a gentle “Yeah” from somewhere in the crowd like a ‘Halleluya’ from an evangelical revivalist meeting.
“I would like to thank you all for coming to the Hundredth Monkey camp.  You know why we’re here, so I’ll fill you in on the timetable and practical details.  The programme will begin tomorrow morning at seven o’clock when Ivan McBeth here” he pointed to him “ will start the proceedings with a tune from his flute so as to wake you for the Dance of Life at seven thirty.  Regulars at the Oak Dragon camp will know this, it is a native American medicine chant.  Ivan will give you more details when he teaches it to you.  Gather in the central space around the camp altar, the old tree stump which has devotional objects on and around it.  Please feel free to add any you may have brought yourselves.
“Breakfast will be served here in the café from eight.  I hope you all have your meal tickets.  If you haven’t you will need to see Sheila here.”  She stood forward and smiling raised her hands.
“The morning meditations will begin at ten in the circular marquee.  Ana Cavill here, AnaNanA, camp mother, will be co-moderating them with me.”  He motioned to a mature but sprightly looking woman close by him in tie dyes with long dark hair, who somehow had a touch of Red Indian in her character.  “Please be on time, we shall begin promptly and latecomers may find that we have already started and that they can’t come in. 
“The meditation will last for twenty minutes, after which we shall have a short break, and then we shall resume for the Allting, which may last until lunchtime at about one o’clock.
“The afternoon groups will be at two o’clock.  To sort these out we shall convene in the Allting marquee tomorrow after lunch.  These groups will last until about half past three or so.  We’ll keep the late afternoon space clear for relaxation or other activities which may arise.  Anyone interested in running something in this slot should come and see me afterwards.
“The catering crew” (hands up to a round of applause)  “will have the evening meal ready by about half past five, and evening groups will be held at seven thirty.  These are yet to be sorted, but I have one or two pencilled in.  See Ana if you have something to offer.”   
Names and the responsibilities these people would be taking care of were sprayed at us.  There were a multitude of practical considerations on which the smooth running of our temporary village depended.  A shop, the shower and hot tub, children's program supervised by Bill, the denim Samurai, their young people's space in the woodland to the South, firewood supplies, the list seemed endless.

“Something I would suggest everyone does at least once during the week, and more often if they can, is to Beat the Bounds.  This is an ancient custom of both practical and symbolic purpose.  All it entails is walking round the perimeter of the camp, but it is a powerful ritual.  In olden times it would be done daily in hill forts and defended encampments in order to be aware of any perimeter breaches in hedges and fences, indicating the presence of intruders, or simply damage by animals which needed to be seen to and mended.  But it also has a purpose in declaring the boundaries of our space to the wider world, whether that be wildlife who would sense our presence through scent and tracks, or to more subtle beings such as those who recognise the psychic boundaries that magical working groups such as covens or meditation circles set up about themselves for protection.  Similarly we will at most times have the Gate camp manned; this being one of the few occasions when it is not, since we all need to be here; but to regulate the flow of energy between the camp and the outside, the Gate performs an important function.
“Since we are operating in a kind of quarantine from the mundane vibrations of the world it will be valuable for us to have that cell wall membrane reinforced in a kind of habitual routine; also for our own individual awareness of ourselves and how we relate to the camp space, encapsulating it symbolically within our consciousness in order to perceive the gestalt.  Besides all that, it can be a pleasant stroll and an opportunity to become aware of aspects of the camp and our local environment that you might not otherwise have noticed.  We have here probably the largest collection of geodesic domes in Britain, check them out, they are very efficient structures in both materials and space.”  The way he talked about them reminded me of Tipi Valley in Wales.  I knew of it through a friend who had lived there; had seen the Tipi field at Glastonbury Festival the previous year and felt a similar purpose of eco-utility, founded in the alternative thought of the sixties.
Before the meeting wound down entirely we were shown a whiteboard that was to be posted with running updates to the schedule, details of newly scheduled groups and so forth.
“As you all know” Palden continued “we have a defined spiritual purpose this week, and a formal timetable, but it is also an opportunity to unwind away from the stress of life in the conventional world and explore more subtle aspects to life.  I hope you will all enjoy yourselves and derive personal benefit from engaging with this work.”  He nodded and opened his hands in a gesture of giving and welcome.  He was rewarded with applause and cheering ~ we had begun and were in the magical space we had all anticipated.  What would it bring….

In the bustle which followed I managed to approach Ana and ask if I could have an evening of guitar songs by a campfire.  She was clearly too busy to get involved in a lengthy get-to-know you chat, but put it down on her list and said she would try to find a space for it.
I could ask for little more, and so mingled for a short while, chatting with those whom I had already met and some I had not, then feeling rather overwhelmed by the faces of more than a hundred strangers, left the café for some cool night air.  Remembering Palden’s remark about the central altar I went to my tent, found the pair of finely carved and polished ebony Fulani heads of a boy and girl which my parents had bought me on my last visit to Nigeria; my images of God and Goddess which I had brought and placed them at the devotional centre.  A beautiful brass lantern lit the scene of a white porcelain Buddha nestling in a recess, several large crystals, an African violet which had been freshly planted there, shells, bamboo windchimes, a cluster of red and yellow feathers, a carved staff that looked like a therianthropic beast with horns and a black banner with some unusual white calligraphy resembling something between a face and a snake.   
Time to retire and prepare for the morrow.

 ©Claire Rae Randall 2012

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