Does Ceremony Have a Place in Permaculture?

Maddy Harland
Friday, 21st October 2016

Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture magazine, attends a ceremony with Starhawk and Alberto Ruz in Bolsena, Tuscany at the European Permaculture Convergence. Does this have a place in permaculture?

Last September, I was fortunatle to attend the European Permaculture Convergence in the beautiful medieval town of Bolsena in Tuscany. The event was a heady mixture of being with like minds and old friends, some excellent workshops and presentations, Italian hospitality, a beautiful landscape, and a sense of proximity with pre-Roman, Etruscan history.

The week-long event culminated with the opportunity to participate in a ceremony led by the celebrated author, permaculture teacher and activist, Starhawk, and a respected Mexican activist and shaman, Alberto Ruz. They were joined by hundreds of people from many countries in Bolsena's Etruscan Acropolis.

Bolsena was once known as Volsinii Novi and its acropolis was probably built between 3rd to 4th century BCE. The ceremony itself was dedicated to people all over the world who work for the regeneration of the Earth, and especially to those who endanger their lives by doing so. The format was based on ceremonies that have been held in the Americas for thousands of years. Alberto began by calling in the Four Directions. Present were representatives from the Red, Yellow, Black and White nations and representing the heart were the children present. Starhawk took the symbollic role of Mother Earth and Alberto, Grandfather Sun.

Star hawk with the children in Bolsena, Tuscany during the ceremony

The skies were lit by a delicate sunset and flashes of lightening. Thunder rumbled around the acropolis but the rain held off. The ceremony was gracefully held. Some might call it 'pagan' but, for me, rather than it being 'religious', it was an articulate, inclusive and moving expression of our collective love of this planet and a pledge of our support and respect for all workers for the Earth.

I was fascinated by how many people attended. They were in the hundreds and of all ages, although it was the younger generations that were in more evidence and their enthusiasm and energy was infectious, especially when we ended with the Spiral Dance. Even Starhawk could not contain the whooping, whirling energies of the group.

I had not experienced a ceremony on this scale at a permaculture gathering before. I do not think it was inappropriate, especially as it was held in an ancient Etruscan temple. The ceremony itself was an expression of an expanded ability of the collective to offer our support and solidarity, especially with those currently objecting to the Dakota pipeline in the USA.

More than that, it was a shrugging off of the perception that permaculture gatherings are only about 'Earth care' and focussed on techniques and terrestial design. It was clear that this ceremony was building community in a powerful way.

Whilst I have experienced this phenomena at eco-village gatherings, I hadn't to this degree at permaculture convergences and I sensed a subtle shift in myself and the group. As we made our pledges in words and from the heart, held by two world class spiritual teachers, I saw the permaculture movement moving ever more deeply and courageously towards a greater awareness of people care and fair shares.

I want to stress that this experience was not about adopting an alternative dogma. Our spiritual practices and traditions (or our choice to have none) are a personal matter. This ceremony was, however, an aspect of what I call whole spectrum permaculture, and fully embraced those three keystone permaculture ethics, Earth care, people care and fair shares.

It was 'magic'!

About Starhawk

Starhawk is the author of 13 books, including, Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature; The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups, and her latest novel, City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing. She is a leading voice in the earth-based spirituality movement for many years. Starhawk is a permaculture designer and teacher and directs Earth Activist Training, teaching ecological design grounded in spirit and with a focus on organizing, activism and social permaculture. In this way, she has brought a valuable contribution to permaculture - which values observation of nature before design above all things - by demonstrating how ritual, around the cycles and rhythms of the Earth, can help hone our observation skills.

About Alberto Ruz

Alberto Ruz Buenfil was born in Mexico City in 1945. For forty years he has dedicated himself to the study, creation, promotion and service to the international networker. This has made Alberto Ruz a first line pioneer, veteran and historian from the intentional communities, ecovillage and bioregionalist movements. He is a co-founder of the Huehuecóyotl ecovillage in Mexico (1982). Originated of the 'Caravana Arcoris por la Paz'. in 1996. Itinerant focalizer for ENA in South America since 2000. Ashoka fellow (2002), and adviser to GEN (2003). Partner to the Brasilian Ministery of Culture´s program “Cultura Viva” (2006-2007). He has the national award of “Escuela Viva” given to the 'Caravana Cutura Viva' by the Government of Brazil in 2007. Originator of program 'Ecobarrios' in Delegación Coyoacan, with support of Government of Mexico City (2009-2012). Nominee of the National 'Premio al Mérito Ecológico' in México, given by SEMARNAT (Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales) (2011). Director of Environmental Culture in the State of Morelos, for Secretaría de Desarrollo Sustentable, (2013). Nominee for The Kozeny Communitarian Award 2015, given by Federation of Intentional Communities. Adviser to the Asamblea Legislativa Constituyente (Deputies Chamber) from Mexico City for the promotion of the Law of Nature´s Rights (2014). Writer and speaker of 5 languages, organizer of events and ceremonial Master. 

About Maddy Harland

Maddy is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture magazine. With her partner, Tim Harland, she has also been instrumental in publishing key northern hemisphere permaculture texts under the imprint of Permanent Publications such as The Earth Care Manual, Permaculture Design Step By Step and People and Permaculture.