OUR MISSIONMyth, wild mind, and enchantment – and building a new folk culture
The Hedge School is a brand-new venture, conceived in 2017. As well as offerings paid-for teachings and courses, our dream is to make the Hedge School website a free and authoritative source for people looking for accurate information on Celtic myths and folklore, and the other native traditions of these islands. (To this end, we have a Patreon page where, if you’re able, you can support us from as little as $1 per month.)
We believe that what we offer at The Hedge School is deeply needed in these challenging times. In Western societies we are seeing more calls for a return to native wisdom, but we can’t live by the worldviews of other cultures which are rooted in lands and histories that have little relationship to our own. Fine as all of those other traditions are, we don’t need to look to the myths and traditions of others for role models, or for guidance on how to live more authentically, in balance and harmony with the planet on which we depend. We have our own guiding stories, and they are deeply rooted in the heart of our own native landscapes. We draw them out of the wells and the waters; beachcombing, we lift them out of the sand. We dive for them to the bottom of deep lakes, we disinter them from the bogs, we follow their tracks through the shadowy glades of the enchanted forest.
It’s time to reclaim those stories. They ground us, and teach us; they teach us how to find the trail of breadcrumbs which will lead us to our own unique calling. And that’s what The Hedge School is about. We call it ‘applied mythology’: the reclaiming of our native wisdom, so helping us to live more lightly and more meaningfully. It’s about practical guidance for living well, living authentically, connecting with our places, finding a deep, embodied sense of belongingness to this wide, beautiful Earth.
Over the coming months we’ll be creating a number of new offerings on this website, including an article database, other resources for those interested in the authentic study of our native myth and folklore, and a series of podcasts. Do sign up to Sharon’s newsletter (at the bottom of this page) to stay informed, and head over too to subscribe to The Hedge School blog.
The Hedge School is not just a virtual space, but a real building: a lovely, mezzanined little house on the wild-hedged fringes of a large garden in Connemara, in the far west of Ireland. As well as the ongoing programme of online courses which Sharon has been offering for several years, and her weeklong residential retreats (which are held in larger premises elsewhere), from 2018 we’ll also be offering individual sessions and retreats on site.
The focus of our work: reclaiming ancient wisdom, and our native mythical tradition
The primary focus of our programme at The Hedge School is the native mythology and traditions of Ireland and the British Isles, and their relevance to the personal, social and environmental problems we face today. We believe that those stories and traditions offer insights into authentic and meaningful ways of being which are founded on a sense of belonging to place, a rootedness in the land we inhabit. Our old myths, folktales, and fairy tales offer up a deep and grounded wisdom which we can draw on today to lead us back to the wild that we have lost, and to show us how to belong to the wider world again.
It is in good part because of the resonance of the archetypal images they carry that myth and story have such authority in informing our relationship with what we perceive to be ‘other’ – in particular, our relationship with the natural world. Stories, for example, can show us what it is to have a balanced relationship with the land. They can show us a world in which everything is animate in its own way. A world in which we can learn from everything: animal, plant, rock. Myths and stories help us to belong to the world, to understand it as filled with its own purpose and meaning, rather than as a mere backdrop for human activity.
The native mythology of Britain and Ireland is part of a tradition which concerns itself, at the core, with our relationship with, and duty to, the land. The early Grail legends, for example, are properly conceived of not as a journey to individual wholeness as many Jungian writers have suggested, but as a journey to healing the Wasteland – healing our relationship with the land, which is in turn associated with healing our relationship with an Otherworld which is just as real as this one. This is why we don’t teach stories and practices from other traditions – because these are the stories that are sung to us by this land in which we have our roots, this soil in which our feet are planted. These are the stories which sing us back home, the stories where we find our belonging. Let’s learn first from our own old ways, rather than default to the literary traditions and the spiritual or meditative practices of other continents and cultures.
At The Hedge School, then, our work with myth and stories is focused on the storying and re-storying – the re-enchanting – of our relationship to land, place and nature. It is about rediscovering the sacred in everyday life, and in the world around us. We’re concerned about the ways in which contemporary therapy culture locks us inside our own heads and focuses us on our own ‘wellbeing’ to the exclusion of all else. Although for sure we have to do the difficult work on ourselves before we can hope to function well in the world, it means nothing if we do not then step back out into the world and see where we fit into it, what gifts we can bring to it, what we can learn from it. This re-immersion into and reconnection with the earth – understanding it for its own sake, not just as a backdrop for our own activities, or for its ability to assist in our own healing – is what matters to us above all else.
Building a new folk culture
‘Folk culture’ is a term with a lot of baggage behind it, and back in the day it certainly had connotations of tribalism and insularity. British cultural geographer George Revill has this to say about how folk culture was traditionally defined:
‘Conventionally, folk culture refers to the products and practices of relatively homogeneous and isolated small-scale social groups living in rural locations. Thus, folk culture is often associated with tradition, historical continuity, sense of place, and belonging. It is manifest in song and dance, storytelling and mythology, vernacular design in buildings, everyday artifacts and clothing, diet, habits, social rules and structures, work practices such as farming and craft production, religion, and worldviews. Researchers and collectors from the later 19th and first half of the 20th centuries formulated a notion of “the folk” as relatively untouched by the modern world and of folk culture as precious survivals and relics from bygone cultures transmitted orally down through the generations.’
But, more importantly, he also notes that ideas about what folk culture is and can be are changing:
‘However, more recent work recognizes the place of folk culture in the modern world as heterogeneous and emergent practice. … From this perspective, folk culture is evident in a multiplicity of local cultural reworkings, as individuals and social groups creatively make sense of the circumstances in which they live. Thought in this way as emergent and freely adaptable vernacular culture, folk culture can be urban or rural and can combine cultural elements from different places, from traditional and commercial and from past and present cultural practices. Conceptions of folk culture not only inform long-standing themes of landscape, region, and place within cultural geography but also speak to more recent concerns with identity, habit, indigenous knowledge, diaspora, heritage, authenticity, and hybridity.’
That’s the kind of folk culture we’re interested in building. One which has its roots in the land we actually live in, but which has the open-mindedness, spaciousness and curiosity which will allow us also to bring to it the traditions and heritage of our birth lands or ancestral lands, wherever they might be. How do we fully embody the wisdom of our ancestral land, and yet make it accessible and relevant to all who live there, including those who may just be passing through? These are the questions we’re interested in exploring at The Hedge School.
The need for rigour, and scholarship
We can transform ourselves and the world around us by learning from these native mythologies and wisdom traditions — beginning always by exploring them in a way that is rooted in authentic knowledge and study of the original sources, unfiltered by romanticism, fantasy or modern cultural projections. A surprising amount of contemporary writing about Celtic myth and tradition is rooted in out-of-date ideas, or is simply fabricated. And so the foundation of our work at The Hedge School is very firmly rooted in genuine and up-to-date scholarship, and in Sharon’s professional and academic qualifications as well as her lived experience on the wild Celtic edgelands of Europe.
(Artwork on this page by Maxime Simoncelli)
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