A spiritual journey

May 13, 2011 at 8:34 am (Uncategorized)

I would not say that I am a spiritual person. I have grown up to be pretty cynical of religion, of God.. along with several million others of my generation in the UK I should think. But I’m beginning to wonder.. how can you truly appreciate nature without understanding and appreciating the ‘spiritual’? Without spirituality there is no mystery and no wonderment (again McIntosh). By always wanting to know every detail and have everything explained scientifically we have effectively disconnected ourselves from the spiritual dimension, because how can God exist logically? And disconnecting yourself from the spiritual is also disconnecting yourself from knowing and truly living within Earth.


A few months ago I would have been embarrassed to admit it, and probably would have laughed it off .. but I am learning, my well educated and finely tuned mind is being woken up to the realisation that perhaps it is this that has been missing, this that has the key to a deeper sense of living; the spiritual dimension. This is NOT to say that I have suddenly been duped by some religion, I am merely allowing myself to truly accept the notion that there is something connecting everything on Earth, that has always been there and that has had a hand in its creation, its sustenance.

Last week I went to a shaman who threw the bones for me. It was a personal experience, so I’m not going into details but what came out of it was something quite poignant for me. The bone reading was done in the shaman’s wooden shack, he had all his medicines on one side and his certificate of traditional healing stuck to the wall along with some photographs of elders in full traditional clothing and a portrait of King George. I had to blow on the bones and he threw them on the floor. They were all sorts of objects; carved bones, actual bones from a small animal, shells, a coin.. a fossil. After the reading he banged a sculpted wooden stick on the ground and put snuff down, and gave me a mixture of medicines to go away with, with instructions of what I needed to do to fix the thing that the bones revealed.

For the first time in a long time he made me to think of my grandfather, my only grandparent to have died, and therefore my closest ancestor. There were many things the shaman said during the reading which resonated with me, but one thing I was brought to realise was that my grandfather, and so many generations before him, made me, and that because I didn’t know them when they were alive, I mostly don’t give them a second thought! How can I really know who I am if I don’t know my ancestors, my roots? Like Mphathe says; “if you are a leaf of a tree, how do you propose you can you live without the roots?”. Which then again reveals the madness of mainstream religion in this area where people are told their ancestors are demons and you should burn all trace of them, never talk to them and instead pray to the dead son of Mary and Joseph (/God obviously), a white couple who lived 2011 years ago. Who is he if not ancestor to a great many people? (But unlikely to be ancestors of the Venda people). Madness. Also, where they are taught to pray directly to God and are given dominion over all things, traditional Venda spirituality teaches that you speak to your ancestors, who are closer to God (Nwali) than you on Earth, because they do not feel God should be bothered with small troubles; Nwali is the creator, the provider. And whatever you take from the Earth should only be enough to meet your needs, allowing all others to live also.


The afternoon after my bone reading a group of us packed our pots and pans and drove way high up into a hidden mountain valley waterfall and camped under the stars. We cooked wild greens (to have with our bottle of red wine and tinned pilchards) on a fire with the pot balancing on big stones, on a rocky plateau looking out over a big valley basin with big steep rock faces on the other side. It was such a peaceful place, I spent most of the time in the small (but very fast moving) river, picking leeches off me and persuading Thama to “get in the water!” (the deep bit), he did eventually! The task the shaman gave to me meant I had to wait until the sun was nearly setting and find a part of the river that was fast flowing; pretty much feared for my life on the steep slippy rocks when I was testing to see if it was safe. Turned out it was safe once you had slipped down into the rushing water, and was easier getting out than in. After I had completed the ritual I sat on my own on the rocks looking out over the valley, Mphathe said I should wait until the first stars appear before coming back down. I have often been outside at this time of night, especially in Patagonia; where we were outside every night.. And I have even sat alone in a similar way a few times before, thinking about the beauty of the place. But I never really knew what I was doing it for before and I have never sat for such a long time either; I was contemplating the changing light in the sky and how the grasses move in the breeze.. and how the ants move along their road. I watched the clouds changing shape and the rocky mountain face changing its mood. I also discovered that it takes quite a long time for the stars to come out.. then only 2 appeared, and a satellite darted across, then another one appeared, then 5 more.. back with the others Thama was telling his extra long, extra action packed story. I lay close to the warm fire and the warm people and continued to look at the stars, but there were WAY too many to count now.

That night we went to sleep in our sleeping bags, under the gazebo, I bent round a bit so I could still see the sky.. when at 3am we were woken up by a heavy rain shower! Water was everywhere and it was cold, so Mphathe magicked up a fire from wet wood and we sat it out before deciding we would have to go home.


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May 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm (Uncategorized)


I want to talk about Thohoyandou, the town where our office is. It looks a little bit like the crap end of Bolton, or Blackburn… It seems like the whole town is made up of big malls that have no windows and which advertise the same shop that is down the road at the other mall. The post office has incredibly long queues only for them to tell you the news that there are no stamps left. Banks at the month end (when the government grants are handed out) have queues even longer than the ones at the post office, and there are many banks so there are snakes of people everywhere, just standing and waiting.. all day. Then the shops are rammed on this day as people go to spend all the money they just got out the ATM. Market stalls sell socks and belts in a place where if you wear socks they will get dirty in 5 seconds if you venture off the few tarred roads, and once you have one belt, you don’t need another. At this time of year, if you look for food on the market stalls, other than dried tree worms, termites and some fruit & veg, you might be able to find some ‘simba’ (crisps like nik naks or cheesy puffs) or candied popcorn of some sort, probably made in China and all sorts of unnatural colours. ‘Cold drinks’ are unusually popular, which means any fizzy drink made by the coca cola company, but they don’t stay cold for very long. Christian music can usually be heard at all times, usually from some insanely loud speakers outside ‘Shoprite’ and the majority of books on sale are books that explain why there is a heaven and how Jesus Christ can save your marriage.

This town makes no sense to me, and I have not yet found any place in the town where I feel like there is a soul there.. I have found no magic, no creativity, no imagination.. no trees. Possibly proving what I read in a book recently ­by Alastair McIntosh that “Postmodern thought seeks to deconstruct, or dismantle all sense of story and meaning [and hence any mystery and ‘wonderment’].. the body is considered real, but the soul is not”. I want to find the soul of this place, and I don’t think I will find it in Thohoyandou. It is like someone said today, the majority of people in Thohoyandou seem to be lost, they are disconnected from their roots.

However, what redeems the town is its location amidst some spectacular mountains… which are being stripped bare to make way for pine trees and eucalyptus trees that absorb all the groundwater.. and the government want to mine it, to just leave a gaping hole where there used to be forest and habitats and life; biodiversity. When I asked an elder if she can explain why she no longer eats the healthy and diverse traditional food that they used to when she was a young girl, she said; “I feel less healthy now than in the past because where are we going to find those [wild] fruits now? Those people have chopped down the trees and have planted pine trees and tea”. There are no wild fruit trees left for her to harvest. This is forcing people to buy from the shops, which is then forcing them to eat whatever the food producers, or food corporations, deem to be healthy. Like ‘simba’, a snack made from maize (which grows in abundance here in the soil), which contains no necessary nutrients, but instead a whole load of sugar and addictive e numbers… on top of that, you have to BUY it! Making you dependent on having money! Crazy.

tractor and mountains

What brings the town hope, is the people like Mphatheleni and the elders, and those at the Mupo Foundation and similar local organisations like ‘Mudzi’, who are working against this stampeding tidal wave of destruction (accompanied and steered by the spiritual oppression and brainwashing by some people’s interpretation of the Christian religion) to preserve the rich culture that isn’t so far from the surface, in a town that is (from what I can see), currently particularly devoid of the desire to create a live-able future for the next generation.

“When all the trees have been cut down .. when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” Chief Seattle, Cree prophecy.

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