During the Second World War Ronald Heaver was confronted by a group of refugees in a London club who challenged him as to why Great Britain had faith that it would win the war when other countries who had also professed that fate had fallen prey to Hitler. They culminated the challenge with, ‘Do not give us your faith but give us your reasons for faith in ultimate victory!’ Heaver described how ‘dead silence followed this outburst’ but that his certainty in spiritual experience which was without premeditation, was spontaneous and effective and he convinced the refugees of the certainty of success in this world conflict.
The significance of Britain as a spiritual force in the world was also known by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner who spoke of the mission of Britain as fostering a relatively new ‘soul faculty’ in the spiritual history of the earth. This is the ‘consciousness soul’ which actually enables each human being on earth to become a free ‘individual’, to be able to relate to the rest of humanity without the prejudice of creed, colour, family or nationality.
Heaver drew on this when he spoke:
‘My living faith embraces the conviction that the English-speaking peoples acting together in unity have a unique role to play in the service of mankind which no other people can play; a destiny to fulfil which no other people can fulfil. This is a vision which enables us to stand firm as a rock in a tumultuous world as we see continually and with greater clarity the past alive in the present, pressing on toward a divinely determined destiny in the future.’
Heaver was a realist. In another piece in 1970 he wrote:
‘In a world plagued by perplexities and torn by tumult, travailing as it is in the birth-throes of spiritual regeneration and renewal, we need in our role as psychic shock-absorbers to be infused increasingly with those qualities of firmness and steadfast valour in which the innumerable hosts of Avalon (Albion) are imbued.’
This sense of place in Britain, this sense of belonging is currently a challenging state to be in. All is in flux. All is change. For instance, British Rail, British Telecom, British Gas, British Road Services, British Steel, the royal yacht Britannia and even Britannia and her trident on our coinage have all disappeared. Ian Bradley in ‘Believing in Britain – The Spiritual Identity of Britishness’ (Lion Books 2007) writes that it is as though Britain is disappearing. Yet, it is a complex picture. While St. Patrick’s Day flourishes in Ireland and elsewhere, St. David’s Day is proudly celebrated in Wales, St. Andrew’s Day is religiously marked in Scotland,
St. George’s Day is apologetically quiescent. Perhaps the mixed up muddled history of England’s patron saint goes some way to explaining this.
An early Christian martyr persecuted by Rome he was adopted not only by England but by Ethiopia, Egypt, Greece and France as a figure-head. Born during the reign of Aurelia (270-275 AD) in the Nile Valley between Khartoum and Aswan he ends up denouncing the worship of Apollo, is tortured and then rescued by the Archangel Michael. The story is diverse and complex. As the patron saint of Ethiopia, the spiritual heart of Rastafarianism, an image of St. George ends up on the cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Confrontation’ album in 1983. By this time, provoking consternation in most quarters, George and his Cross were unpleasantly adopted by far-right nationalist groups in Britain.
It took no less a figure than the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, to wrestle the flag back with his several attempts (books, gigs and recordings) to re-establish what being British could mean in the current era. (The one that writer Harold Bloom had named ‘The Chaotic Age’). Bragg’s song ‘England, Half English’ (2002) makes the point that everything about English culture has been shaped and influenced by waves of immigration:
‘My mother was half English and I’m half English too
I’m a great big bundle of culture, tied up in red, white and blue
…My neighbours are half English, and I’m half English too.’
It was Bragg who vigorously pointed out that St. George was an immigrant, and he could be an extremely appropriate and apt patron saint for an increasingly multi-ethnic England writing, ‘This olive-skinned stranger from the Middle East might help us slay the dragon of English xenophobia.’ Bragg also argues for Blake and Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’ to replace ‘God Save the Queen’ as our national anthem.
If we are to be optimistic there must be a new Britishness emergent which embraces pluralism and diversity. Many Muslim, Sikh and Caribbean immigrants identify themselves as British (sometimes ahead of Irish, Welsh and Scottish people conflicted about Britishness) and are proud to be living in this new Island with its old history. In sport and in entertainment the urban youth culture is pioneering black-led and black inspired British identity.
Benjamin Zephaniah was born in Handsworth, Birmingham and his ‘British Poem’ exemplifies our point:
‘Take some Picts, Celts and Silures
And let them settle,
Then overrun them with Roman conquerors
Remove the Romans after approximately 400 years
Add lots of Roman French to some
Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings, then stir vigorously.
Mix some hot Chileans, cool Jamaicans, Dominicans,
Trinidadians and Bajas with some Ethiopians, Chinese
Vietnamese and Sudanese.
Then take a blend of Somalians, Sri Lankans, Nigerians
Combine with some Guyanese
And turn up the heat.
Sprinkle some fresh Indians, Malaysians, Bosnians,
Iraqis and Bangladeshis together with some
Afghans, Spanish, Turkish, Kurdish, Japanese
Then add to the melting pot.
Leave the ingredients to simmer,
As they mix and blend allow their languages to flourish
Binding them together with English
Allow time to be cool.
Add some unity, understanding and respect for the future,
Serve with justice
Note: All the ingredients are equally important. Treating one ingredient better than another will leave a bitter unpleasant taste.
Warning: An unequal spread of justice will damage the people and cause pain. Give justice and equality to all.’
In the same year that this poem was published, 2002, writer Matthew D’Ancona noted about the Jubilee celebrations:
‘The parade on the Mall was a sparkling celebration of British pluralism, a pageant which paid tribute to the profound role that immigration from the Commonwealth has played in the evolution of patriotism in this country over the past half-century. The gospel choir, Bollywood performers and Notting Hill Carnival dancers were all vibrant proof that those who pit traditional Britishness against its modern variant miss the point completely. The Jubilee revealed a sense of nationhood which is not embattled and defensive, but porous, adaptable and confident.’
Two years later in the Times, broadcaster Trevor Phillips O.B.E. wrote:
‘We need to assert there is a core of Britishness. For instance, I hate the way this country has lost Shakespeare. That sort of thing is bad for immigrants too. They want to come here not just because of jobs but because they like this country – its tolerance, its eccentricity, its Parliamentary democracy, its energy in the big cities. They don’t want that to change. We have to remember that migrants have become British in an incredibly short space of time. Lombardy bankers, Jewish tailors, Afro-Caribbean bus drivers and German kings are as British as you and me.’
George Orwell (1903-1950) perhaps said it best, ‘Britain will still be Britain, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.’
Hopefully, some of what you find on this website will resonate. These pioneers of spiritual thought, these musicians and composers, these writers, have all been inspired by this sense of place, both timeless and ever-changing, whether at Stonehenge, Castlerigg or Whiteleafed Oak. This affinity with the living breathing landscape has provided such inspired creativity. Peter Ackroyd finishes his ‘Albion’ book with these words, ‘So we owe much to the ground on which we dwell. It is the landscape and the dreamscape. It encourages a sense of longing and belonging. It is Albion.’
If we journey west, beyond Avalon, beyond Tara we eventually reach the Cliffs of Moher and can look out on the Great Atlantic Ocean. This is where we can end for now. In the wind, the sea spray and the Air of Albion.