Generation theory claims that every 80 years history repeats itself, each cycle made of 4 “seasons”. We are now again in the end of a cycle, termed “winter”. We are also facing a larger cycle ending, at times it seems that life as we know it is on its last legs. There have been thousands of approaches that have been put forth in recent years. From mitigation to outright rebellion. The last frontier, is rural areas, which is why we have established our association.
What I find that is missing from almost all development theories into rural areas, from plans to develop those, is the actual image of what real rurality is, and how it can be recreated to establish a sustainable life in nature, as if we misunderstand sustainability to mean anything but living in a place for a long time.
Paganism which is generalised as the belief system of rural areas in Europe, comes from the word ‘Pagus’, denoting a people in a given local, a community if you want. Historians who studied paganism and even witchcraft in Europe, and the rural repression by the inquisition, point us that in truth we do not really understand what witchcraft actually was, as much as we do not understand pagan beliefs when we try to view them outside of a territory, viewing them in our own understanding, as beliefs detached from a context. Modern religion is like that, rural or oral tradition is the opposite, it is based on maintaining a locality, and life in it.
Up to 200-300 years ago even in Europe certain areas were still maintained in an older way, a life under oral society that had roots in pre-agricultural society. The core of which was that religion did not really exist out of a territory, or in other words god (if now existed) was a local entity. God was their territory, and religion was maintaining it. Sustainability for them was a life in an area. Rural mechanisms in central Italy for example included rites like Ver Sacrum – the sacred spring in which people would dedicated their young to a god, in order to appease it in time of pandemics or war, but in a sense understanding their land has reached capacity and so they will send a new group onward to establish a new territory, which denotes that they understood that any given place can only support so many people, and that they took responsibility for the well being of their area, this is just one ancient rite, that might even have pre-sedentary roots, yet rural areas have a network of those, a mechanism to deal with each aspect of life, so we may say that they did not believe like we do. They had a belief system that allowed them to live with nature, we have a belief system that allows us to ignore nature through some superior right.
A lot of the socio/political stresses within their communities was dealt with-in collective night visions, that included tribal wars, feasts, and even at times a selective hunting of certain individuals within the community, as was the case with the ‘Mazzeri’ in Corsica
As example of how to deal with rurality in modern world I like to use heritage wheat varieties and landraces that are being saved from extinction, even in this very small niche world of rural development made out of many small growers, there is much confusion. I have come to the conclusion that in reality what matters is not the landrace itself, even though it is obviously important for us to save those. The idea that a variety of plant or a typical plate is important in itself is mistaken. What is important is the mechanism of growing heritage foods (or at least, non genetically modified ones) and with that as far back to original and non domesticated state you can get the better it is, because those are automatically closer to an original, natural state.
What is less important is the focus on traditional, past, or cultural foods. The flagship of typical foods, is simply a mechanism we need to recreate, not copy from the past. We need to learn to get back to basics again, find a food we love, and learn to work with it to the same degree. At this point we too can keep growing it year after year, bringing it to become a landrace. I point out to many in the heritage wheat community that all wheats were imported and exported, grown for thousands or hundreds of years maybe, yet they too never originally belonged to the places we exalt them in. So all the commotion about them belonging to a certain locale, and their terroir, or even the typical foods made from them is only important because of the mechanism behind it rather than the foods we made out of them, the importance is the mechanism, we need to save those because behind each one there is a thousand year work of selection, special growing, history and culture. The real importance though is to understand the mechanism, to distill it and lear to apply it to other rural development. That is what I say we do not understand, there was no myth or practices per se, rural communities were practical people, because they had to.
The same goes for all other aspects of rural community, tradition or culture, the importance is to synthesise the mechanism and to apply the concept by confronting rural living again.
One example is local myths, and the deep connection some indigenous have to their locality, for example certain aboriginal tribes in Australia view themselves as animators of “country”, born to it, they learn from vey young age the law of the land and its species, a law that is taught to them in certain places, so to act as caches for their memory, or memory devices. The believe that by repeating their knowledge, say for example the story of migration of certain bird, and how or when to hunt them, they also bring those very migrations about. One of my favourite example is how they believe that certain water holes are now drying because no one is left to sing their songlines, one can even say that myth in any rural context, was designed to enhance the territory, whereas nowadays we do the opposite, we try to make each place the same, devoid of meaning. The hallmark of globalisation is an attempt to make each place the same to allow us to live in it without needing to work at it. It is not a sustainable approach.
Rurality is our stand in a locality, it does not need to be a homestead, even though at best, these days, this is what it may look like. Rurality is an integrated system of belief, myth and practices that enhance our life and animate our landscape whilst it enhances ours. Limiting ones imagination is wrong, fantasy is something that happens in the city, or when they are not connected to the land. The simple difference is that modern belief is designed to cut us from the land, and traditional belief is designed to animate the land so it will allow us to live on it.
True rurality is hard to come by. When we try to develop economical projects we also encounter another problem, maybe the biggest of them all, because in a sense any given place can be self supporting, but when you need to use it to supply another area, you are creating a lack. Money too, never exists in a place, it forces us to exit our life and go into somewhere that is almost virtual, even if we work from home, we must spend a large portion of our day “travelling” outside of the relationships that are natural to bring money back, simply to allow us to live in a given place. Money too, like religion is constructed against rurality. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would say that modern life is actually a war against rurality. What part of rural life styles was so threatening that we began to abolish it?
As I work a lot with sustainable tourism, I try to simplify the concept for my clients by saying that tourism could be termed as an exploration of the unknown, creating, or experiencing life situations we do not know, or better still creating those for our visitors. Sustainability on the other hand is the element of life in a given place for a long enough time. Tourism nowdays is also a sale of a place, so as such it needs to be balanced with living in it at the same time, even if tourism at its origins never started like that.
How can all of this be balanced into a rural project? Very easily. First you find a land that talks to your heart, it does not need to be the best or most fertile, some people find more inspiration by finding the least of all abandoned parcels, working with a desert patch and turning it into something else. In fact currently there is probably more satisfaction in choosing such a place and becoming a pioneer at turning it into a paradise, many indigenous people have done the same before us, from the Amazon forest to desert Beduins. Quiet, or in my case a sense of untamed wilderness are also factors. The important thing is that the land talks to you from the start and that you learn to listen to it.
Next you must view yourself as a student, learning the ways this land was cultivated, what grew in it, its history and more than all its natural cycles. After a long enough period of observation, the real part starts, where one builds, grows, and starts creating new local myths. Animating country is not hard, creating rural community or project is also quite easy. You will be surprised how many people come to work freely at such projects, as in a sense we are so starved from rural context that freedom to experience them is quickly becoming the last commodity. Whilst we spent a few hundred years trying to tame everything in the same way, we forgot that we lived for hundred of thousand of years in the exact opposite way, so the biggest issue of all is that our mental and emotional systems, that our genetics even are not geared towards modern life, the way we think and feel is built on a life in a rural context. We are not simply drawn to it, it is our genetics. Genetics like sustainability are simply markers of something we have done for a long time, in that case almost forever. Sure it could be changed, but the question is do we really want to change the way we are made?
The hardest part for some is to balance all of that with the modern world, that is because the westernised system of globalisation sprouted from the feudal system, even if that was still a land based system, with industrialisation and the shift to the cities for larger profits made from non land based industry, the value of rural areas dipped, to a point that every area is now enslaved, almost every human on earth not allowed to express his feelings or creativity, a system that we developed for almost a million years was repressed in two hundred.
Now that we are in the “winter” at the end of the Holocene, where all areas are depleted, the new frontier is the battle for resources, rurality is a freedom that most can not afford, and as such it has a new value. In short, rurality is something we need to start re-developing, we need to stop focusing on the individual elements that made it or try to exalt them, rurality is a whole that enhances a locality to try and make life in it sustainable for long period. Where it is done well both the environment and the people living in it flourish. Sustainability is what we must talk about only at the end, so is rewilding, soil building, climate change etc. It is as if all we can do is to try and offset a little the way of life that has destroyed everything for another 5 minutes. In truth everything is just there, sustainability is nothing in comparison to the true wealth of a connected rurality in which one is fully immersed. Now some small projects within short years have turned their little plots into a paradise on earth, and in truth all indigenous people lived like that.
The failure of regeneration or any new system, is that those have not included a life under destiny, or socio rural mechanisms into them, they are islands that are being fought with in a sea of drowning people. I sometimes take this further and point out to people that in truth globalisation can not survive without the social contexts from which it sprouted. In a sense modern farming can only exist as long as someone somewhere is farming traditionally, and society too can only pretend to be sailing into a new paradigm because it is suspended on traditional areas, now that the last strongholds of those are also falling apart, it is becoming clear that the whole process is short lived. You can not live in the same way in every given place. Rurality for me is the key, even if at times we only feel it as a pang in our hearts, because we are not allowed to practice it, and so the real revolution must be rural.
There is more, much more but for now all I can say is that rurality is currently the last frontier, the few that have made a stand on a little piece of land defending it are the only people who are really engaged, it does not matter what your particular war is, be it a new or an old way to farm, working on saving traditional culture from disappearing, working with local area, what matters is that you find your way to the last battle.
In all marginal rural areas in Europe there was a secret “cult” practice, a war that was waged between neighbouring people, or communities from further afield, which are now countries, in a collective dream they would enter into in the second sleep, especially in certain days of the year, they would travel into the plain of last judgment, the meadow of Jehosapath, there they will wage a ritual war over their respective areas. Fighting with branches, and splinters of wood, carrying buckets of milk they used to steal the produce form their neighbours with. Like I said there is more, much more, but what matters right now is that a few of us are called to stand in a similar battle, the battle of last judgment that is waged, the last frontier which is rurality. And so for in the same manner we must understand the mechanisms that made our traditional foods, we must relearn the socio/political states that made rural people live under destiny, a life that seems far to most until they start living in a true non domesticated area, where everything just seems to happen.