Away with the fairies

Spring has sprung at Findhorn, and memories of nature spirits are re-awakened

Spring has arrived, it seems. The daffodils are pushing up in my garden. Normally I would be pleased — new life, growth, all of that — but the spectre of global warming dampens my enjoyment. It feels too early. I am concerned about global warming though worrying about it will not keep it at bay - and I am also glad that the days are getting longer, the air is warmer and the flowers are coming up.

It is very beautiful here and I feel, as many of us do, that I am lucky to live in such a place. Many people are drawn to Findhorn initially by the Foundation, the community or the eco-village - but often they stay because of the land.

There are parts of Scotland that are more rugged and dramatic than this. The landscape is quite gentle, consisting of farmland, low hills, gorse-covered dunes and of course, the Moray Firth and Findhorn Bay. Most of the drama is occurs in the sky in the sunsets and cloud formations. There is, nevertheless, something very compelling about this place.

In the early days Dorothy Maclean believed that she received messages from the nature spirits, the entities that she called devas. Each plant species had one. The Sweet Pea Deva was her first contact. She also named devas with a larger remit such as the Landscape Angel, the energy that presides over this particular spot. In the founders’ minds all places had an angel that gave it its particular character. I find this particularly easy to understand when it comes to cities. The Angel of London is clearly not the same kind of creature and the Angel of New York. In any case the Findhorn Landscape Angel is a powerful presence.

It may seem that the area is special because the community is here, but one can also see it another way —the community is here because the area is special. The mundane explanation is that the community is here because this is where the Caddys and Dorothy ended up homeless and jobless. They would have said otherwise, that they were guided here because this spot was selected by God as part of a greater plan.

Whatever you may think about nature spirits and devas, belief in a real consciousness in nature was central to the Findhorn ethos in the early days. Back then there was no doubt in the community that successfully creating a flourishing garden on a sand dune was a direct result of communicating and cooperating with nature spirits. The rationalist would say that it had more to do with the fact that we have a nice little microclimate here - that is warmer and drier than is usual for this far north. The rationalist would argue that along with heavy composting, this accounts for their success. It was probably a bit of both — Peter listened to the fairies in the garden and read books on the subject.

Today we don’t talk so much about the nature spirits. Now it is all about energy efficiency and carbon footprints. We have become more down-to-earth and practical, and are adopting scientifically based technologies, like the living machine; a method of using plants to cleanse wastewater. This is as it should be. We need to be practical if we are to help preserve an environment in which we can not only survive but that provides us with the sense of connection and spiritual nourishment that we need to be healthy and whole.

Just recently, some people here celebrated Imbolc, the Celtic festival of Bride in which the goddess emerges from the darkness of the earth in her maiden form and heralds the beginning of spring. Others, like your regular contributor, Jonathan Dawson, are busy organising a conference on going carbon neutral that will be held next month. Both ways of relating to nature are present and thriving here and that’s a good thing because both are needed.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.