THE DEVIL’S DOOR: A CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO ISSUE 12 – Dark Mountain

by Dougald Hine on www.dark-mountain.net 

Old churches were often built on older sites of worship, places held to be sacred long before Christianity arrived. At first glance, this looks like an erasure, a demonstration of dominance; look closer, though, and the picture becomes ambiguous. Officially, a people might have been baptised, yet in practice the results were not always so clear-cut – local understandings had to be reached. One form this took was a custom by which different doors of the church were used on different occasions: the main door, usually on the south side, was the one through which the priest would enter; the north door was used for those ceremonies to which the priest was not invited. Such arrangements could last for centuries, though for obvious reasons they tended to go undocumented.

I first caught a trace of this phenomenon some years ago, visiting a Saxon church in Sussex. The building was unattended, the door unlocked, an information sheet pasted to a wooden paddle to guide the visitor around the building. One line on that sheet lodged in my imagination: the north door, it stated, without further explanation, used to be known as ‘the devil’s door’. This felt like a glimpse of another story to the ones we’re used to hearing from either the enthusiasts or the critics of religion: a story of uneasy coexistence, the persistence of supposedly extinct beliefs and practices, and how different stories about the world and our place within it may share a sense that there are certain places where the veil between time and the timeless grows thin.

That image of the devil’s door came back to me, this winter, as the editorial discussions about this year’s special issue of Dark Mountain got underway. Any issue of Dark Mountain is a strange beast; award-winning authors and new literary voices sit alongside the words of people who make no claim to be writers. What they have in common is that they bring stories, perspectives and experiences that add to the conversation this project has sought to foster over the past eight years. It’s a conversation about what it means to live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling – a time when the way of living which many of us grew up taking for granted is being brought into question by its own consequences.

We set out to see what happens when you accept that the mess in which we find ourselves is deep enough that to try to acknowledge it can sound like falling into despair. We set out to trace the roots of that mess in the dominant stories of the societies in which we grew up: the story of progress, the story of human separation from and dominance over nature, the story that we have grown beyond being shaped by stories. We set out to see what role those of us who are, in one way or another, storytellers and culture-makers might have to play in finding our bearings within this mess. We did not set out to tangle with questions of the sacred – but it turns out that, if you deal seriously with any of the above, then such questions begin to present themselves.

Although it has rarely been brought into the foreground, the theme of the sacred runs as a subtle thread throughout Dark Mountain’s books, posts and gatherings. Our first issue opened with an essay by an archdruid and went on to include a roaring invocation of the wildness of Francis of Assisi. We’ve run contributions from activist Quakers, Hindu clergy and Zen Buddhists, alongside those of no named religion who nevertheless have come to see that their desire to defend the living world is, at its heart, driven by a reverence that owes nothing to the realm of carbon calculators and environmental statistics.

In our festivals, meetings and gatherings, another aspect of the role religion used to play, and still does for many, came to the surface – the effect that quiet contemplation, collective endeavour and even simple ritual can have in reminding us of deeper meaning and value, easily forgotten in the haste and exigencies of modern life. I remember one of our contributors saying in a discussion at the second or third festival, ‘This is the closest thing I have to going to church.’ Not for a moment would I want to set this project up as any kind of religious congregation, but I recognise what she was getting at.

Dark Mountain offers no dogma or moral instruction, but if it has sometimes brushed up against the experience of the sacred, I guess it’s because that is just what happens when people come together in the face of the unknown, finding a sense of communion that is often lacking elsewhere, and making room for the strange kinds of words that point towards the wordless.

You may have other terms in which you would choose to talk about this – and for some, any talk of the sacred may sound like drawing on a poisoned well, or simply a nonexistent well, dreamed up to pull wool over gullible eyes – yet this language keeps returning, as does the experience of those who, whichever door they enter by, find themselves drawn to the ground which it seeks to name. So it seems like time to stop skirting around the edges of the topic, and to bring together an issue of Dark Mountain that takes the sacred as its focus.

* * *

What are we looking for, then?

We want to do something slightly different with this book. We’re not making our usual open call for submissions with a deadline in three months’ time. Instead, if you have an idea for something you want to write – or someone else we should be talking to – we want to hear from you straight away.

We’re looking for proposals for long pieces (probably non-fiction of one kind or another – essays, memoirs, reflections, interviews, dialogues – but we’re open to other suggestions) of 4000-6000 words that tell stories that touch on the experience of the sacred in a time of unravelling. You could be writing about something you’ve experienced first-hand; or taking us into the back-alleys of myth or history, into ways of living and making sense of the world that call our contemporary assumptions into question. But whatever you want to write about, there should be a sense of why this calls to you, how it has helped you to find your bearings.

Have a think about whether there’s a piece you could write – and email us with a short outline, no more than three paragraphs, to dm12@dark-mountain.net. We’ll be pulling together a shortlist in the next few weeks, so get your ideas to us as soon as you can. If what you’re proposing seems like a good fit, we’ll work with you to develop it into a piece for the book. If you have something you’ve already written that you think would fit, you should still start by sending us a summary. (In general, we’re not looking for pieces that have already been published elsewhere, though where the existing audience has been limited and unlikely to overlap with our readership, we may make an exception).

We’re also looking for fragments: short pieces of prose or verse that give a glimpse of the different ways in which people have drawn on the experience of the sacred to make sense of times of unravelling, disorientation and despair. These could be original work, but we’re also particularly interested in translations of texts from different times and places. Send these to us at dm12@dark-mountain.net.

Finally, we’re looking for suggestions for people we should be contacting: to get as wide a range of voices as we are hoping for in this book, we will need to reach beyond the existing network of readers and writers around Dark Mountain, so if you have ideas for people we should be approaching about writing for this book (or being interviewed for it), then we’d like to hear from you – again, via dm12@dark-mountain.net.

It might also be worth saying a couple of words about what we’re not looking for – we’re not particularly interested in polemics for or against religion, nor overarching theories that try to explain the entire history of civilisation. This won’t be a book that seeks to settle age-old arguments, but it should be a space in which different ways of seeing the world meet.

In terms of the range of voices we’re looking for, we imagine this will include:

  • Those who stand, one way or another, within a variety of established religious traditions.
  • Those unable to abide within an established tradition, who find themselves nonetheless drawn to improvise alternatives to some of the institutions or practices that such a tradition might have offered (for example, we think of people we’ve met who are trying to recreate things that resemble certain aspects of the monastery or the weekly gathering for worship) – or who have something to say about where else the cultural ‘energy’ of the sacred is showing up these days.
  • Those who stand within cultures whose understandings of the sacred have never been enclosed within a church or a temple, or within dogma or the written word – and especially voices from indigenous cultures.

As we say, there isn’t a submissions deadline for this issue – we’ll be starting to work with contributors over the next few weeks, on the basis of the proposals we receive, and when we get to the stage where we have a full set of pieces underway, we’ll update this post to say so.

Finally, if you’d like to follow the progress of this issue, we’re starting a special newsletter that you can sign up for here. We’ll be sharing more of the process by which a Dark Mountain book comes about, the conversations going on among the editorial team, the things we’re reading and thinking about, and the places where we need help to fill the gaps in our knowledge and contacts.

Dougald Hine is co-founder of Dark Mountain and one of the editors of Issue 12 which will be published this October.

Image: Lud’s Church, Andrew Barclay (CC)

Museum of Fossil Fuels

What would you put in a Museum of Fossil Fuels?

The Happy Museum invite you imagine what object you would place in a Museum of Fossil Fuels.

We invite you to ponder what object would best represent the shift from our fossil fuel dominated present to a more sustainable future and donate it to our new virtual museum.  Objects can be large and historically significant or small and personally resonant.  You might want to loan something from the museum where you work, volunteer or visit?  The virtual nature of the museum means size, scale, ownership and care of the object are not an issue so let your imagination go! (See below for details of how….)

To submit an object

Either post an image on instagram and tag it #museumoffossilfuels – ideally explaining what it is and why you have donated it to the museum

Or send us a few sentences describing an item and explaining your reasons for donating it and email these to happymuseumproject@gmail.com. You can either include a photograph or we will source a stock image or create an illustration.

Why a Museum of Fossil Fuels?

The Happy Museum Project considers the role of museums in a societal transition to a higher wellbeing and more sustainable future.  At the core of this is a transition away from the fossil fuels that have powered our human development for the past 150 years.   The ubiquity of these fuels lies in both the energy we use (oil, gas, petroleum, diesel) and the products we consume (plastics, fertilizers, medicines, cleaning products, lubricants, ashphalt and synthetic fabrics) and given that it is estimated that the world can afford to burn between one-fifth and one-third of proven fossil fuel reserves before there is a reasonable chance of tipping the planet over the 2C danger threshold of warming, the need for transition is clear.

The Fossil Fuel Museum comes from an idea of Paul Allen of Centre For Alternative Technology who spoke at the very first Happy Museum symposium in 2012.

In the spirit of Happy Museum we hope the collection will grow to contain objects which reflect the potential for the move away from fossil fuels to be a positive one for human wellbeing as well as a challenging one.

Electricity: The spark of life at Wellcome 23 February 2017 – 25 June 2017

The story of electricity is the story of life itself. From the structure of the atom to the functioning of our brains, this invisible yet vital force is intrinsic to human life. For centuries electricity has captivated inventors, scientists and artists alike, and in the modern era it has transformed our world.

From the first breaths of Frankenstein’s monster to the brutal simplicity of the execution chair, this exhibition contemplates the contradictory life-giving and death-dealing extremes generated by electricity, and traces the story of how humanity has striven to understand, unlock and gain control over this invisible yet all-encompassing force, which continues to mystify and amaze.

Three celebrated artists have been commissioned to create three new artworks for this exhibition: John Gerrard has taken inspiration for his commission from Luigi Galvani’s famous experiments into bioelectricity; Bill Morrison explores historical footage from the Electricity Council archive to consider the movement and networks of electricity and its profound interconnectedness with our daily lives; and Camille Henrot considers our energy-dependent lifestyles, as well as the relationship between humans, technology and the environment.

One of the commissioned works in ‘Electricity’ contains strobe effects. The rest of the exhibition can be visited without entering this installation. Please contact us if you’d like to know more.

‘Electricity: The spark of life’ is a collaboration between Wellcome Collection (London), the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester) and Teylers Museum (Haarlem) and will be presented as a touring exhibition at each of these venues, beginning at Wellcome Collection in Spring 2017.

(Video includes ‘Looking up in Osaka K Minamisemba 1 cho-me’, by João Penalva, 2005-06. Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, London/Hong Kong.)

Getting to grips with Clean Energy -Webinar – 15th March

Did you know that electricity use is one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions globally and in the UK?

Decarbonising electricity is a key measure for the UK to reach its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. You can help hitting this target by investing in renewables, either through on-site technology or driving demand through procurement.

Most electricity suppliers in the UK offer ‘green’ tariff electricity. But care should be taken when choosing a green electricity tariff, as some suppliers make unverified claims about where their electricity comes from and the environmental benefits.

If you are feeling tested by tariffs – don’t worry, Julie’s Bicycle is on hand to help you navigate and make sense of your energy options. We’ll be discussing clean energy sourcing with Good Energy – the first dedicated 100% renewable electricity supplier – and ensuring you are getting a genuinely clean and green tariff.

If you are in a position to go even further and invest in on-site generation, Julie’s Bicycle and Good Energy will be presenting a whole range of clean energy options, helping you understand the considerations, opportunities and challenges. We’ll be covering other related topics such as: joint procurement, funding and investing, community energy and roof leasing; providing intelligence and a range of case studies from the sector and beyond.

Julie’s Bicycle has partnered with Good Energy, the 100% renewable electricity supplier, to help turn individual action into collective change. We are really proud to be working with Good Energy who are sponsoring our events programme and have funded new development on the IG Tools which recognise renewable energy analysis and impact.

Book your free place

Cultural Launch – ‘Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen’ – Centre for Alternative Technology

Cultural Launch – ‘Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen’
10th April 2017, 10.30am to 1.30pm
The National Theatre, Dorfman Theatre

You are invited to join groups and individuals from the arts and cultural sectors in
this free, participatory event – exploring what a future Zero Carbon Culture might
look like, and how we can get there.

The UN Paris Agreement recognises that humanity must reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. This is an ambitious shift, but we have to succeed if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.

We already have the technologies needed to reach zero, yet changing how millions of people live is a very special kind of problem. Rather than an unresolved technical challenge, it is increasingly accepted that we face a mixture of economic, political and cultural barriers.

Our new report, Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen offers a climate tool-kit bringing together insights from psychology, sociology, political science, economics and other social sciences, as well as faith and spiritual practice, arts and culture. Expert views mix with real-life stories of projects that have overcome barriers in innovative ways.

You can download a copy from: http://zerocarbonbritain.com/

The report highlights the vital role of the arts and cultural bodies to help catalyse this transformation.

The arts can communicate and inspire in ways that science, politics, academia, media and other disciplines cannot.

We hope you can join us in exploring the positive, connected approach needed to bring a zero carbon culture to life. The National Theatre has kindly offered to host the event – which will offer key findings from the report, stories from real life projects plus a participatory conversation around how we make it happen.

We recognise your work in this area has already made a valuable contribution, so I do hope that you, or a representative of your group, can join us on the day.

To register visit – https://zcbmakingithappen.eventbrite.co.uk