Friday, 23 March 2012

Rumi : The disappearance of Shams

Episode 5 of Sophia Through Time is set in thirteenth century Syria, the time of the great mystic Rumi. For many years Rumi (Mevlana) grieved the unexplained disappearance of Shams, his beloved master. Some said that he had been killed by Rumi's disciples. Others, that he chose to retire from public view. Rumi transformed his grief into some of his most splendid poetry.

In this fictional narrative, Fatima Khatoun is a real person, as is her female companion. Historical archives don't reveal the latter's name.

Click here for Sophia Through Time: Mevlana

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A Story Wrought in Glass

A few days ago, Amber and I chanced on the old parish church in Croick. If you think Cottarton is remote, try out Croick which is fifteen miles from the nearest shops, in an empty glen and not a farm in sight. Only a few scattered houses. You can walk for miles and not see a human soul. The adjoining glens contain the Alladale Estate, the site of an ecological restoration project. It's an idyllic spot with a dark history.

While taking us on a safari tour of Alladale Estate, our guide John, told us about the days of the Highland Clearances, when hundreds of families were forced from their homes to make way for large sheep farms. In 1845, after a prolonged struggle, 18 families, some 90 people, from the glen of Glenvalvie were evicted from their homes. They sought refuge in the nearby church of Croick only to find that the local factor had locked the doors against them. The people spent the night in the churchyard, using tarpaulins to shelter from the wind and rain. Before they left, some of the women used their jewellery to scratch their names, and their story in the windows. We were able to make out a few of those scratches.

"Glencalvie people was in the churchyard here May 24 1845"

"Glencalvie tenants residing here"

“Ros James Borthwick”

“The Glencalvie tenants reside in the kirkyard in May 24, 1845”

"Glencalvie people, the wicked generation”

The latter scrawl suggests that the church leaders persuaded the people that they were being punished for their sins.

Interestingly a nearby plaque makes no mention of the doors being locked. Rather, it states that the people voluntarily decided not to enter the church as to do so would be sacrilegious. That’s not the story the locals have passed down to their children. Nor does it accord with the following letter to the Times newspaper in 1845:

Behind the church, a long kind of booth was erected, the roof formed of tarpaulin stretched over poles, the sides in with horsecloths, rugs, blankets and plaids ... Their furniture, excepting their bedding, they got distributed amongst the cottages of their neighbours; and with their bedding and their children they all removed on Saturday afternoon to this place. In my last letter I informed you that they had been round to every heritor and factor in the neighbourhood, and 12 of the 18 families had been unable to find places of shelter........

History is re-written by the winners.

We don’t know where the people went. Some ended up in cities, others crossed the Atlantic to Nova Scotia. It's sadly ironic that these days Glencalvie doesn’t host any sheep, in whose names the atrocities were committed. The sheep farming of old is no longer economical.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Happy Birthday to Gaia’s Children

Linella's Spread

It was the long expected party, with dozens of guests. Just about everyone we could think of was there, on a Thursday night too. The Texas/ Louisiana spread surpassed its legendary reputation. Chili, salsa, gumbo, queso, beer, spicy beans. You don’t find those in a Scottish restaurant, unless the chef happens to be Amber. Southern cuisine is in her blood, and she knows how to treat it well. For me, sharing the book’s birthday with friendly and supportive people was what it was about. And an opportunity to thank everyone who helped me prepare the manuscript: editors, reviewers, critics and supporters.

I can’t judge the book any more than I could judge a child who is born. It has everything right about it. I’m happy with the way it turned out, and that’s as far as I’ll go. I'm pleased that people whom I’ve never met reportedly like it. While I’m not expecting a bestseller, I hope that the book will please, inspire, provoke a thoughtful response, open a window to a new and awe-inspiring world.

Fiona Alden, Alastair Grant, Charles Ashton, Adam Archibald Charlie Roy, Rachel Ashton, Annie Ashton (All pretending to read)

It’s been a long journey since the sunny October in the French Pyrenees where I penned the opening chapters. The first seeds were kicking about much earlier. Questions about language, and how it shapes our thinking. How would we think if our thinking wasn’t wedded to language? In forming a sentence we already separate subject and object, you and I, I and the world, Catholics from Jews, Americans from the French and so on. Language fragments our world, chews it into small bites that don’t appear to relate to each other. We accept that fragmented reality as the real world when it is more likely an illusion resulting from our rational thinking --- a thinking chained by language. Is that modality of thinking inevitable? Is there another that doesn’t fragment our experience? If so, then it’s not common. Perhaps it’s experienced through meditation or an altered state of consciousness.

Those who know me have had to put up with my tirades about global warming. I’m not one for political action. I’m convinced that humanity’s devastating effect on Gaia goes back to our basic psychology, to our tendency to see ourselves as separate from our environment, and from each other. We only exploit nature without regard to her needs when we feel separate from nature. Which is where the lupans come in, showing us the way to heal the troubled Earth. Less rational than us more empathic, lacking “the ego”, they may at first appear remote to us, however they are humanity’s unrecognized alter-ego. I won’t say more here. Song of the Earth, the sequel to Gaia’s Children will answer some of those questions.

Back to the book launch and to Linella Sienkiewicz’s table. The outside temperatures aren't warm enough yet to dine al-fresco in March but within fifty years time that will change. Unfortunately no lupans showed up after the guests were gone to take away the leftovers. They haven’t been born --- not yet. This party was only their baby shower.

We all wish the lupans anticipated Happy Birthday!