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Deep Ecology and the Last Wolf
|By Alastair McIntosh|
|1743 the last wild wolf in Scotland was
shot by a hunter named McQueen on the territory of my own tribal clan, Mackintosh,
in the upper reaches of the Findhorn river. Three years later, and in the same region
just South of Inverness, the last battle to be fought on mainland British soil, Culloden,
put an end to the old culture of the Scottish Highlands in an act of internal colonial
conquest by the consolidating British state. This marked the onset of the "Highland
Clearances", whereby some half a million people were forced off their land to
make way for sheep ranching and blood sports.
Today, Scotland retains a feudal system in which two-thirds of its private land is owned by only about 1,000 people - one fiftieth of one percent of the population.
Liberation theologians of Christian and other traditions, and humanistic psychologists alike, recognise self-realisation as being the foundation of authentic human development. In predominantly Christian cultures like Scotland and Ireland, this is founded on texts like John l0:10, where Jesus promises "life, and life abundant", and Luke 4:16-24, where he launches his ministry with a manifesto echoing the call to social justice of Isaiah 61, including the ecological justice of the "Jubilee" land restoration ethic of Leviticus 25 - otherwise termed the acceptable year of the Lord". Contemporary Celts have been reawoken to such liberation theology through their solidarity with struggles in countries like Nicaragua and South Africa.
Humanistic views often overlap with religious ones in seeing "development" primarily as a process of establishing full "authenticity" (self-authorship) and "humanisation", as the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire would put it; "becoming a person" as the humanist psychotherapist Carl Rogers calls it; "self-actualisation" to the American psychologist Abraham Maslow, and "individuation" to the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. These different names all refer to much the same process of becoming deeply oneself in a grounded reality.
|These different names all refer to much the same process of becoming deeply oneself in a grounded reality.||The etymology of "development" derives from de - (to undo) and the Old
French,"voloper" - to envelop, as in our word, "envelope". To
develop is therefore "to unfold, unroll to unfurl." The biological application,
as in "foetal development", accurately captures correct usage. Accordingly,
"development" is "a gradual unfolding; a fuller working out of the
details of anything; growth from within" (OED). The Norwegian philosopher, Arne
Naess, has pointed out that, consistent with many indigenous and Eastern philosophies,
becoming fully ourselves entails recognition that the human psyche extends into nature
- what he calls the "ecological self'. Such "deep ecology" finds fullest
expression in an ethics inspired less by duty than by the joy of engaging in "beautiful
actions". Central to such approaches is the rediscovery and expression of our
creativity, amongst other insights of the emerging discipline of ''ecopsychology''.
It is from the standpoint of this framework of interconnection with all that the loss of the wolf, or any other depletion of biodiversity, can be seen to be a loss of an aspect of our extended selves.
James Hunter has demonstrated the centrality of nature poetic historiography to Highland culture and a foremost commentator, Kenneth Jackson, remarks that "the best in early Celtic nature poetry, are concerned most vitally with the singer's own reactions to his surroundings; not with making a descriptive catalogue about the various things he sees, but with telling us how he feels about them and how they harmonise or clash with his own particular mood." The principles of deep ecology are, then, nothing new to the Celts but are intrinsic to indigenous spirituality.
Celtic "bards" or poets were in touch with the equivalent of our songlines and dreamtime. A growing body of evidence, much as yet unpublished, points to their shamanic role and technique, including things like the use of tigh n' alluis or Irish sweat lodges for dercad meditation, leading to a state ofsitchain or mystical peace. However, from the repressive 1609 Statutes of Iona onwards in Highland Scotland, the bards' role in maintaining cultural and ecological awareness was repressed or marginalised. As in so many colonised traditional societies around the world, poetic power, by which the deep Spirit was expressed through socio-political structures, was replaced by the power of money and money as power. The mid eighteenth century in Scotland therefore marked the local extinction of both the wolf and of the totemic wolf-like qualities that gave strength to traditional culture. The wild boar and beaver had disappeared a few decades earlier, and the bear, reindeer, lynx, woolly mammoth and rhinoceros long before that. Amongst others, the capercaillie and sea eagle were soon to go. Native forest cover was reduced from about two-thirds cover five thousand years ago to 5% by the year 1600 and 1% today.
|becoming fully ourselves entails recognition that the human psyche extends into nature||If we might move now to the post-Culloden era in Scotland, one change that caused
major social and ecological disruption was the innovation of improved breeds of sheep
"the blackface and the cheviot. These started to be introduced around 1760 and,
even in the inhospitable Highland climate, could produce a profitable wool yield
for the new breed of voracious landlords that had subsumed most of the old tribal
chiefs. The following passage reveals the grief shown in response to biodiversity
depletion. It is from the 1803-1886 manuscript memoirs of the Scots herbal physician,
Dr. John Mackenzie.
It was in as lovely a spot in a wild Highland glen as any lover of country scenery could desire to see. I mean then, for then no sheep vermin had got hoof in it, as ere long they did. Then only cattle ever bit a blade of grass there, and the consequence was that the braes and wooded hillocks were a perfect jungle of every kind of lovable shrubs and wild flowers, especially orchids -some, of the Epipactis tribe, being everywhere a lovely drug that I often got many thanks for sending to botanic gardens in the South. The milk cows never troubled their heads to force through this flowery jungle, laced up with heaps of honeysuckle and crowds of seedling hazel and other native trees and shrubs. Till my Father's death in 1826, no sheep's hoof defiled the glen unless passing through it to the larder. But very soon after, an offer of a trifling rent for sheep pasturing let these horrid brutes into the glen, and every wild flower, and every young seedling bush or tree was eaten into the ground, so that an offer of a thousand pounds would not find one of my loved wild flowers or a young shrub from seed nothing but a bare lot of poles, whose very leaves were all eaten up the instant one of them appeared. Those who remembered the wooded glen of 1826, and now looked at it, would never believe it was the same place - unless seen from a distance, for the sheep could not eat up the beautiful wild hills.
The same had happened a century earlier in Ireland. Daniel Corkery in his classic study of the role of the bards in Irish poetry and politics, The Hidden Ireland, wrote in 1924 of how colonial English landlords had destroyed the forests:
Everywhere the giant woods were being cut down -the woods that like a magic cloak had sheltered the Gael in every century. The undertakers, the land pirates, not ever quite sure of their standing in so strange a country, were selling the timber on the estates a sixpence a tree - they were rifling the ship they had boarded... Aodhagan O'Rathaille, who was born not far from Killarney, sorrowed ... "Is dith creach bhur gcoillte ar feochadh"("Woe, your woods withering away"). But indeed all the poets lamented the vanishing woods: the downfall of the Gaelic or even the Gall-Gaelic nobility, the downfall of the woods - these two went together in their verses... These half-felled woods were to be seen everywhere, even in the farthest places; there was, for instance, a great clearance made at Coolmountain in West Cork, a place where even today a stranger's face is hardly every seen. Some evil genius, it might seem, was labouring to harmonise all things into an equal slatternliness. The country, moreover, was speckled with ruins - broken abbeys, roofless churches, battered castles, burnt houses, deserted villages, from which the inhabitants were being cleared to make room for beasts; and these ruins were, for the most part, still raw, gaping, sun-bleached, not yet shrouded in ivy nor weathered to quiet tones."
|Such "deep ecology" finds fullest expression in an ethics inspired less by duty that by the joy of engaging in "beautiful actions".||Cauterisation of the Heart?
The evidence I have touched upon from the bardic record that suggests that the human heart became cauterised by historical vicissitudes - broken and sealed off from its cause of suffering. Could it be that, at an unconscious level, most of us still carry such echoes of that painful past? Could it be that we accumulate the effects of bygone extinctions, degradations and colonisations, and these inhibit our ability to act; they bind us in our apparent powerlessness to resolve the major issues of our times. Is there a parallel here with other forms of "intergenerational trauma" such as sexual abuse, addiction and violence that can be handed down from generation to generation within families?
There is certainly evidence that folk memory can carry ancient traces, both consciously and unconsciously. For instance, Professor Seamas O'Cathain considers that the folklore evidence associating the bear with the Goddess Brigit in Ireland is so strong that it may demonstrate a continuous link with religious practice of four thousand years previously when the bear still roamed Ireland and psychoactive fly agaric mushrooms were probably used in religious ritual. Just because a totem is extinct does not mean that the psychological structures it set in place or represents are dead, and cannot be restored from the remnant.
|As in so many colonised traditional societies around the world,
poetic power, by which the deep Spirit was expressed through sociopolitical structures,
was replaced by the power of money and money as power.
||Towards a Cultural Psychotherapy
If, as US Vice-president Al Gore concurs, the whole of western culture has become a "ysfunctional civilisation" which is in the psychopathological grip of "a new kind of addiction ... the consumption of the Earth itself (which) distracts us from the pain of what we have lost", then the question arises as to whether whole cultures and subcultures can be healed.
In my own work this is what I think of as being, in effect, a "cultural psychotherapy". Just as in personal psychotherapy the recovery of lost aspects of a person's individual history can help the psyche to reconstellate into a more functional (i.e., developed - sufficient, rhythmic and beautiful) orientation, so at the cultural level, the recovery of communal history is central to understanding past conditioning and re-connecting with the taproot (as distinct from the mere grassroots) of personal and community empowerment. Drawing on insights of psychotherapy, liberation theology and feminist methodologies which address the regeneration of feeling, my work with communities involves a three-part process of re-membering what has been lost, re-visioning how we could live, and re-claiming what is needed to achieve that vision. To avoid destructive or exclusive aspects of ethnocentricity it is paramount that this be undertaken in a profound spirit of inclusivity and forgiveness - something, fortunately, which the Christian theology of the region in which I work lends itself to admirably.
I consider that renewal of community and the cultural spirit comes about in considerable degree through re-connection with the deep poetics of place - that is, with the totems, and their expression of underlying psychospiritual dynamics. This is broadly what the Scots poet, Kenneth White, calls, "Poetry, geography - and a higher unity: geopoetics..." Such a mythopoetic underpinning represents uninhibited rehabilitation, after four centuries, of the repressed bardic tradition. So can it be effective as a change agent?
Conscientisation, as Freire would call it, partly through a consciously geopoetic approach, was used over a seven year period in helping to bring about land reform on the Isle of Eigg in the Scottish Hebridean islands. A community of some sixty-five people were assisted, by me and many others and not least themselves, to waken up to their history, grasp a vision of what it could be like if seven generations of oppressive landlordism were put behind them, and develop the unity and media know how that enabled them to repel the landlord's 1994 attempt to evict 12% of the population for no good reason except, perhaps, that they were starting to speak out and take responsibility for their own emancipation. This process finally resulted in the island coming into community ownership on 12 June I997. Partners with the community in the process were both the local authority, Highland Council, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust - a unique unity of social and conservation interests.
Part of the community's empowerment process involved erecting two standing stones - one of which had last stood some 5,000 years previously when the ancient forests were at their maximum post glacial extent. Another part entailed an only half joking identification with legends about Amazonian "big women" on Eigg by some of the women activists who played lead roles. A further element was the organising of the first traditional feis (music festival) to be held in modern times. This restored a respect for indigenous arts and knowledge, as communicated by some of the elderly residents who had thought it would die with them.
For some, the two pairs of eagles resident on the island, and the oystercatcher associated with St. Bride (Bridgit, the Goddess Brigh), and little flowers through which "God can be seen", played privately empowering roles. The result is that £1.5 million was raised by public subscription. Coupled with market spoiling tactics to knock down the price, this enabled the island to be bought, meaning that both human culture and biodiversity now have permanent security of tenure. The principle of land reform has consequently moved very high up the Scottish political agenda. One of the four members of parliament present at the Eigg celebrations, Minister for State for the new Labour government, Brian Wilson, announced the establishment of a new government unit to advance the cause of community land buy-outs. Many of us look towards cautious yet radical land reform so we do not have to buy back what we consider to have been stolen property.
I have used a similar process, which to me is "geopoetic" (and which heeds the deep Spirit consistent with the Greek origin of the word, "poetic", poesis - the "making" or upwelling of reality), in my work with opposing the proposed Isle of Harris "superquarry". This would turn the biggest mountain in the South of this National Scenic Area in the Outer Hebrides into road aggregate. Initially, the community were some 90% in favour of the quarry because of promised jobs. It was clear that in the government public inquiry, conventional arguments alone were not sufficiently going to shift local opinion. Most people had little conception of the magnitude of probable impact. Accordingly, working in close liaison with other objectors, I arranged for the Rev. Prof. Donald MacLeod of the Free Church College in Edinburgh and Mi'Kmaq Warrior Chief and sacred peace pipe carrier, Sulian Stone Eagle Herney, to give evidence at the inquiry with me on theological grounds.
This approach reached to the taproot of vernacular values in what is a deeply Calvinist culture. The relevance of Stone Eagle was that, although not a Christian, his people were also alienated from their tribal lands - ironically, in large measure, by cleared Highland settlers. They are now subject to a superquarry threat at their sacred mountain, Kluscap (Kelly's Mountain). The late Mi'Kmaq Grand Chief, who went by the grand Scottish name of Donald Marshall, had made Stone Eagle responsible for opposing this on Cape Breton Island. Professor MacLeod is Scotland's leading reforming Calvinist theologian. John Calvin, as it happened, referred to the Creation as the "beautiful theatre", in which we might do well "to take pious delight".
|Could it be that we accumulate the effects of bygone exinctions, degradations and colonisations, and these inhibit our ability to act?||The outcome of the 1994-95 Harris public inquiry has been long delayed and is not
yet known. However, after the hearings closed, a postal vote organised by the Electoral
Reform Society revealed that 68% of the population now opposed the project. The Western
Isles Council revoked its intention to grant planning permission. The Labour Party
member of parliament, Calum MacDonald, is firmly opposed and is considered to be
one of the most environmentally astute members of his party.
In effect, the theological testimony drew out a Judeo-Christian deep ecology. It received extensive local, national and international media coverage. It was only one of many powerful testimonies in the inquiry, but at a deep structural level in the community's psyche, it probably made its share of contribution towards the general change in attitude.
I would like to conclude by quoting the words of the John MacAulay of the Isle of Harris, who was the island's principal spokesperson at the inquiry. Irrespective of what the inquiry reporter's decision proves to be, this statement stands as graphic illustration of how human culture and nature cannot and must not be separated. It is exemplary of the simplicity and practical spirituality of indigenous Celtic nature understanding. I believe that it also exemplifies the ultimate bio-physical, cultural and spiritual basis of a world that comprises a "United Nations". John MacAulay summed up saying:
(Mt. Roineabhal) provides peat for fuel from the lower slopes; clean fresh water from the upper streams for public water supplies; grazing for sheep; salmon and trout from the surrounding lochs; the very best of shellfish from around its coastline. It is of excellent educational and recreational value, both from the geological and historical significance of the area. It quietly dominates the crofting townships of Strond, Borosdale, Rodel, Lingerabay and Finsbay, as well as the main southerly village of Leverburgh. It is not a "holy mountain" but is certainly worthy of reverence for its place in Creation.
Alastair McIntosh is a fellow of the Edinburgh based independent academic network, the Centre for Human Ecology, and a founding trustee of the Isle of Eigg Trust. Alastair McIntosh, Centre for Human Ecology, P.O. Box 1972, Edinburgh, EH1 lYG, Scotland; +44 1592 891829; firstname.lastname@example.org
This paper is based on research sponsored by the Christendom Trust for a book forthcoming in 1998, provisionally entitled "Soil and Soul". The paper was commissioned for the United Nations Biodiversity Proceedings: Cultural and spiritual values of biodiversity, Cambridge University Press,1998.
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