between a rock and hard place

In August, I bought Derry Brabbs’ exquisite book Pilgrimage. I saw it in the window of Annie’s Books at Peregian Beach and couldn’t resist. The cover shows Mt Saint Michel in France. I’ve visited both this site and her smaller twin off the coast of Devon in the UK, Saint Michael’s Mount.

The book is absolutely divine (see what I did there…?) and it tweaked my wanderlust more than just a little bit but of course it will be a while before I scratch that itch. Right now the TV is on showing old episodes of Escape to the Country. Although I am a Paris-tragic, I feel very drawn to the UK, especially the West Country and the Somerset and Wiltshire areas. When we went to live the UK in 2006 I felt I was going home. The universe had other ideas for us and we ended up back in Australia six months later. Although I love Australia and feel very privileged to live here, my heart skips at the sight of the British countryside, especially if there’s an ancient footpath or some other evidence of the millennia of human activity.

Not surprisingly, the idea of a pilgrimage has always fascinated me even though I am not part of any organised religion. Pilgrimage routes appeal to so many non-religious people, I think they were probably part of much older spiritual rites and like the pagan festivals were adopted and promoted by the cathedrals to encourage travellers to visit and tithe. I love the idea of walking the Camino but I can’t see me ever doing it. Perhaps I will walk part of one of the routes in France but only as long as there is wine, good food, a masseuse and nice hotels to stay in at the end of the day! It’s not that I don’t like the outdoors, I just don’t want to be in it at night.

Lately I’ve been drawn even more to the idea of walking in nature. I listen to Holly Worton’s great podcast Into the Woods and I’m so inspired to walk but I want to walk in Europe or the UK. It’s challenging where I live because it’s so damn hot. Distance walking here in Australia doesn’t feel safe and we’re just not set up for it with walking paths that have been established and protected as a right for centuries. It just feels too hard here.

So if walking along dusty roads, risking my life from projectiles and dehydration, is the hard place, then the Rock is the other issue. As I keep saying ad nauseum, I am not a member of any organised religion, but I feel a deep pull towards the sacred. Like a lot of people, when I travel I always visit sacred sites but the ones I feel connected to are the European sites like the standing stone circles and ancient wells. This is my heritage but I would love to connect with sites here in Australia. As a white woman it’s just not appropriate nor is it welcome.

Recently as part of the astrological event, the ‘Great’ Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, there was a gathering of some kind at Uluru (formerly known as Ayres Rock), a breathtaking monolith in the centre of Australia. The gathering copped a lot of flak for the New Age participants accused of cultural appropriation. I felt bad for the people being criticised but I get it; Indigenous people have been marginalised and dispossessed from their land for so long I am not about to begrudge them anything.

However, the issue may not be as cut and dried as it appears at first glance. Even the meaning of cultural appropriation is far from uncontested and ranges from topics as diverse as theft of material items, such as human remains and stolen art designs, to the application of art and music styles and ideas about ritual and religion in new non-Indigenous contexts where commercial or scientific gain are not primary motives.

Rethinking Appropriation of the Indigenous: A Critique of the Romanticist Approach 2012

I read the above paper on the topic and to be honest, I’ve never felt more like a fish out of water. Financial gain from the theft or appropriation of culture is not cool, I would never use indigenous motifs in my artwork or writing but I really feel for anyone who just wants to connect with the land they find themselves living on. I can see it from both sides. I was born here, my mother was born here, but unfortunately the land of our heritage, the culture we’re welcome to work within, is located on the other side of the planet. In England, I have extensively visited the West Country and other areas. I went to Avebury in 1998 and walked among the stones. I admired Silbury Hill from a distance. I climbed Glastonbury Tor. I visited the Chalice Well and Tintagel Castle, Stonehenge, Bath, and a couple of the white horses.

And then… as much as I’d love to be able to put my hands on the rocks at Stonehenge or Carnac, I wonder if I can see myself joining in with the New Age festivals that have grown up in recent years? I’ll admit it triggers my Orange (read my posts on Spiral Dynamics) but oh wow… I’d secretly like to get my Purple on, weave a flower crown, and dance barefoot between the stones.

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