Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2018
Reviewed by Hilary Norton
Mend what is broken. Rekindle the children’s fire.
All around us, species walk quietly towards extinction, temperatures of polar regions climb higher and power continues its stealthy slide into the open, moist palms of the world’s smallest private club of the rich. This only recently acknowledged crisis presents us with grave challenges and many of us question what we can do about it and how can we do it.
This book suggests that we need to face our hidden history with its traumas if we want to facilitate and design a healing culture for the future. These traumas are environmental and sociological as well as personal. Macartney takes us with him on a journey through landscapes, historical events and the human psyche; from our current reality to a place where we can find healing, mend what is broken and plant seeds for the future.
He starts with a quote from George Monbiot in 2015 A community not built around children is no community at all. He then shares some of the lessons he learnt as a young man with Native American teachers, focusing on the story of the elders gathering in circle to decide how they should govern and make decisions for their people. This is the first time he hears about the pledge to keep a Children’s Fire, a fire that should burn for the sake of the children at every council meeting. But this pledge is deeper, wiser and compassionate than it first appears and has greater implications. What insane, self-destructive society would not place its children’s future, at the very centre of its institutions of power?
This inspires the author to take a healing journey across the British Isles in order to learn and understand about the tribes of our own islands, and the freedoms torn away from them; events that took them (and therefore us) away from humility and deep appreciation for this priceless Earth.
He reflects that deep in the culture, myths and practices of most indigenous people is the knowledge that we prosper through collaboration, empathy and careful attention to the web of life, encompassing all living things and especially the children.
His story describes how the land can ease our incipient madness and bring us back into relationship.
Starting from his place of birth in the Malvern Hills, navigating without a map and following the Sun, Polaris, the contours of valleys, and along footpaths through the lands of the tribes of Albion: the Dobunni, the Silures, Ordovicci and Deceanhgli he walks to Mona, the Isle of Anglesey where he performs a ceremony of contrition, humility, thanks and rededication. Promising that this is only a beginning, he determines to speak on behalf of all those who know the pain of disconnection and disenfranchisement, of the oppressed and for the children.
He walks through the depths of a cold winter, each day’s walk constrained by the hours of light and the amount of effort and time it takes to provide hot food, drinks and firewood. With every mile, shedding the unhelpful niceties of obedience to laws, he bivouacs each night, out of sight if possible. Every day, with every campfire, every cup of water, he describes feeling closer to the ever-present history of the people who had defended these lands and then lost everything to the Romans. The fires became the soul of his journey, the whispered presence of ancient relatives, forever beckoning the memory of sacredness.
This journey is a pilgrimage of awakening, of self-reflection and of life lessons learned daily. Walking the land of our tribal ancestors, passing the abandoned remains of ceremonial sites where people once gathered to express awe and affirm kinship with the natural world, Macartney realises that we now live inside a story of shame. We do not declare it because we would then have to do something about it. We have betrayed the covenant that is the children’s fire.
He tells us that the rewilding of our land would be an active and courageous admission of our youthful culpability as a society, a pledge to future generations and would enable a spiritual renewal. What is embedded inside the rewilding concept, he says, …is a dynamic call to action and opportunity to redeem the vision of a peaceful just and truly beautiful world.
He finishes with words from the ancestors: Until the day comes that the people of these islands remember their sacred duty to love and care for the Earth, the children’s fire will remain extinguished.
We must rekindle that fire.