By Brendan Phelan
Created a few years ago by John Bowker and many others from “Tribal Spirit Drumming” and inspired by the “Unicorn” camps in the UK, Earthsong, for me, is the perfect example of how a human community can live, work, network, heal and celebrate together in honour and respect for the land on which they congregate.
The first thing that stands out is a no drugs or alcohol rule. For a camp like this to work, I believe it is essential. The obvious logistical and safety issues spring to mind, but there is a deeper, more human reason at play here.
Rather than providing an escape; drugs and booze here would simply desensitise people to the experience and to the land. That’s the very reason people come here in the first place, so why spend more money on substances that would waste the experience?
You get the sense that most people here have done (or are doing) their partying elsewhere, and that they have decided to leave it aside to be present as much as possible at this very unique event. The normality and genius of that idea soon sets in.
The experience of camping is probably familiar to most, but here it is unique as everyone camps in small village circles, sharing a central wood fire for cooking. Your circle really does become your family for the 9 days, with all the positive and negative connotations that implies. Circle members share cooking and resources. Time is set aside for circle members to get to know each other and discuss issues or problems as they arise.
The point here being: this isn’t a ‘happy hippy’ gathering per se. It is an opportunity to live as part of a community, where people are equals and problems can be resolved through compromise.
Another fascinating facet of this unique camping experience is the system under which the camp is actually run. Working together is key. Morning meetings in the Big Top marquee, open to all, are an essential part of the day’s activities. Problems, suggestions, jobs, reminders and so on are handed out and discussed.
It created such a sense of belonging. Everyone contributed. Individuals I would have easily ignored on the street became iconic figures and characters in our little world. Under the stewardship of a small group, the camp became a well-oiled machine. The jobs became part of the social scene of the entire event.
The day/week structures are designed by people who obviously have a huge amount of experience of such camps. Early morning mantras or yoga are followed by a very powerful ‘Heartsong’ session to bring the day up to 10ish. Then the morning meeting is followed by some drum workshops either for beginners or more advanced drummers.
The drumming workshops were a revelation to me. Kicking dance music (drums, bells, shakers) in a tent just after breakfast. All live natural music played by the people you are living and working with and top class facilitators (as in the best) that you can tell are buzzing off working in these conditions with these numbers.
Dinner is followed by 2 rounds of further workshops – drums, dance, skills (woodwork / felting) and other various workshops such as non-violent communication, family constellations (mind blowing), listening from the heart and so on. Dive into one of these groups, go on that journey, or choose to chill out – your choice.
The experience of living on the land was one of the more important and effective aspects of this event for me personally: being out in the open, rising at dawn and going to rest at dusk, being exposed to (and often at the mercy of) the elements, feeling connected to my surroundings and doing everything over a number of days within that context.
There is a certain kind of poetry and romance to it.
I was especially impressed with the teenagers. There is a natural energy that comes with this crew. They are at the point of establishing themselves, of doing things differently. It is a time of great excitement and opportunity, of hope and rebellion.
At Earthsong, this energy is nurtured. Teenagers have their own camping area and workshops. There is an air of respect from the parents and the rest of the community for that space. They are not told to be or say or learn anything. They are shown a way. Their individual creativity is encouraged.
There is a truly natural structure and progression to their time in this place year on year, something very tribal. You really get the sense of people coming-of-age, growing to manhood or womanhood. The usual anger, anti-social behaviour and excesses we see in our culture among young people are not necessary in a system like this in order to be unique and to be heard. There is also a realistic hope that they actually respect the journey their parents are on and are coming-of-age into that culture in anticipation.
It is the teenagers too who are front and centre for a climactic evening of drums – the Lughnasa Ball. For years, I wondered how you would create the feeling you get in a dance tent in a big festival with no electricity – just pure natural music. The genius of Earth Song is that, because of the set up, the audience become the spectacle. They are the colour and the noise.
This was, for me, mind blowing, and I’ve been at my fair share of festivals. What’s amazing is its simplicity – candles, drums, bells, people and wild clothes in a Big Top. The candles create a central, magical focus, a glittering tower of dim light. The drums, 50 or so, are arranged in a half circle with the experienced facilitators up front. Everyone’s on board, 5 to 70 years old, faces painted and bodies moving. We have all been here for a week or so, laughing and crying together, doing the good work, and now we are here to just let rip.
The drums just do not let up. You’d be amazed how long you can dance for when your body isn’t full of bad stuff (and there’s no come down!). The drummers, especially the more experienced ones, are going like the clappers, faces alight like children – these guys live for this. The dance is not a rebellion or a fashion statement. It is just pure communal celebration and everyone is invited. It is tribal in the purest sense of the word, and you don’t get much more real or human than that.
So, what is it about this experience that I feel is so important for the average citizen out there?
Earthsong helps to provide the individual with a natural sense of belonging. Once the individual comes to the understanding that this earth, rather than our contemporary way of life, is our ‘reality’, once he or she understands that they can contribute and that there is a choice, then exciting things will happen to them, to their community, to the human race and consequently to the earth itself.
This year, Earthsong is holding two camps:
Earthsong Dance and Movement Camp – 9th July.
Earthsong harvest Camp – 23rd July.
Brendan Phelan is a blogger, filmmaker and web entrepreneur. He lives in Laragh, Co Wicklow. diaryofanewrealist.wordpress.com