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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Wedding

Robert Frank, the American photographer and filmmaker once said, “The eye should learn to listen before it looks”.

In our soundbite world of social media and disposable imagery, I think many of us have lost sight of this simple fact these days. We will happily snap away at things with our mobiles, without really appreciating the subject matter. Modern life, it seems, doesn’t exist for many unless it comes via Facebook, Youtube or the latest iPhone apps.

In the last couple of months I have had to trawl my way through over a century of family archives, ranging from birth certificates and wedding memorabilia to boxes of old photographs. Amongst these historical gems I found a few intriguing snapshots of a simpler age; a time before selfies and Twitter feeds, when the creation of a photo required some time and effort from all involved.Mum

Someone once described the photograph as a door into the past. Amongst old biscuit tins and dusty cupboards I found doors aplenty; doors that opened up onto corridors stretching back to the turn of the last century. Many of the faces that stared back at me were complete strangers, inhabitants of a sepia-toned world of starched collars and cloche hats, without a selfie-stick between them.

Normally I can’t be bothered with more than a passing glance at the usual plethora of Instagram pics that assail us on a daily basis, but give me a dog-eared photo of someone’s Auntie Mabel on her wedding day in 1927 and I am hooked. Old photos, by their very nature, seem to acquire an allure and a fascination that is sadly missing in their digital offspring today.

I want to know more about these people, but sadly there is no one left to ask…

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Reservoir Grannies!

Family - Unknown?

Dad - army

Family Seaside Charabang!

Grandad Gibbs - RAF

Grandads - Butlins

On May 6, 1959, six Hopi Indians travelled to the United Nations building in New York, They had come to warn the world of the approach of a cataclysmic struggle between the forces of good and evil.

…They were told to put it in writing.

I came across this sobering message whilst clearing out some old books recently. It was in an appropriately titled gem, called “God’s Chosen People of America”, by a woman with the magnificent name of Zula Marion Clegg Brinkerhoff…Yes, really. I remember being given it by an old Mormon about 20 years ago, whilst I was working as a wrangler on a horse ranch in Utah.

Now, I will be the first to admit that this is not my usual choice of light reading and, much as I am open to other belief systems and cultures, I do tend to take, with a large pinch of salt, prophecies about the end of the world and the demise of the human race. Let’s face it, you don’t need to be Nostradamus to see that we are hurtling towards our own destruction with a sense of purpose that would make even the Almighty prick up his ears like a startled meerkat! I was however intrigued enough by the picture of the aforementioned Mrs Brinkerhoff to start picking over her musings: any woman who is prepared to pose in an Indian headdress and beaded top, whilst wearing a pair of natty 1950s glasses, deserves some respect.

It would appear that the Hopi’s visit to New York in the late 1950s was then followed up by the Six Nations of the Iroquois, who, twenty years later, produced a document called, “A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Hau De No Say See Address to the Western World”. In it they stated that mankind was facing a question of its very survival. Western Civilisation, it seemed, was heading towards its own doom.

For centuries, the American Indian has been dismissed as a savage. Popular culture for years viewed them with a mixture of condescension, incomprehension and contempt. Since Christopher Columbus initiated the extermination of the Taino people on the island of Hispaniola 500 years ago, civilised society has vainly held itself up as advanced and developed, whilst branding the tribal peoples as backwards and primitive.

The history of the Americas has seen the inexorable spread of progress overwhelm the Indians. Many tribes and cultures were decimated, even obliterated, by the avaricious onslaught of the Europeans. But in recent years there has, apparently, been a revival of the old traditions and a renewed effort to recover sacred tribal land. The tribes are gathering once more, in readiness for the day of purification, when the Great Spirit will return to lead them to salvation and they will once more take their rightful place in the great scheme of things. The ancient prophesies have foretold it and those same ancient prophesies are beginning to bear fruit, as we head ever further down the slippery slope of corporate greed, political corruption and climatic change.

The beliefs of the American Indians are ancient, even primordial, reflecting a unified understanding of the cosmos that is both physical and spiritual. Nature, the landscape, the cultural traditions, all are an inseparable part of an integrated spiritual way of life. To them, there is no clear division between the spiritual and the material worlds, they exist in a natural harmony that is manifest in nature itself. They believe that it is our role to mediate between these worlds, to maintain the balance and order of the cosmos.

Many of their ceremonies and rituals reflect this view. Their songs and chants form part of a liturgical cycle that mirrors the belief in this universal parity. The purification rites of the sweat lodge reiterate the elemental and ceremonial aspects of the cosmos – stone, fire, wood, air, water and earth. Their Sun Dance is based on the concept of sacrifice, just as many of the rituals of the Vedic, Christian and Judaic religions. To them it is a means of manifesting the blessings of the creator on the earth.

This of course conflicts with the predominantly scientific and materialistic view of the modern world, which has no room for the ‘heathen idolatry’ and ‘show dancing’ of pagan rituals. It would appear that what we have failed to realise though, is that what the American Indians have to tell us speaks directly to the fractious world in which we live today. Our modern crises – social, economic, ecological and religious – are a direct result of our flawed vision of progress and a self deluding myth of our own superiority. To quote from the Hau De No Say See:

“…The air is foul, the waters poisoned, the trees dying, the animals disappearing…Our ancient teachings warned us that if man interfered with the natural laws, these things would come to be. When the last of the natural way of life is gone, all hope for human survival will be gone with it…”

The modern world has, for too long, lacked the depth to understand the concepts of the sacredness of nature and the hierarchy of being. Only now are we beginning to realise the consequences of that denial; a fractured, secularised society, hell bent on destruction. It is not too difficult to see it all around us. We are stripping the land, fouling the seas and poisoning the very air we breathe. Global warming, ozone depletion, de-forestation, pollution, famine and the senseless destruction of our natural world are all symptoms of that self same flawed vision of progress that is such a dominant factor in our modern lives.

The prophecies speak of the end times as a pivotal moment when the sacred ways have been overcome and mankind is living in a fragmented and secular world. The Hopi have waited and watched for centuries for the portents to be fulfilled. Their ancient prophecies told of the coming of the white man, of his technology and his wars. They told of a gourd of ashes that would be dropped from the sky, destroying everything in sight. They foretold of terrible storms and earthquakes, tornadoes and floods. Of climatic changes, famine and pestilence.

Essentially, the American Indians believed in four distinct ages or cycles: Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron. The Golden Age was seen as one of serenity and harmony, when mankind still lived at one with the cosmos. The Iron Age meanwhile was seen as one of fragmentation and ecological destruction. We are currently living in the last days of that age now…our time cycle all but complete. The Sioux equate it with the sacred buffalo, which in ancient times stood proud and sturdy on four legs but which today balances precariously on just one leg!

Native American traditions represent a rich and important part of our human inheritance. In an increasingly cynical world, maybe their beliefs and myths do offer some solutions to many of the problems we face today. I don’t for one moment advocate that we all hold hands and sings songs to the trees, but you don’t have to be some tree-hugging hippy to see that the healing of the earth and the healing of the human spirit have become one and the same thing these days.

Maybe we should listen to them, before it is too late…It’s what Zula would have wanted…

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