The Donga Tribe was a group of 15-20 young people who lived for most of 1992 on Twyford Down (see Campaigns) to try to stop the land being destroyed for the M3 motorway. Twyford Down was apparently ‘the most protected site in Britain’, its chalk downland the habitat for a number of rare species, ensuring that several areas were designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s). Twyford Down had long been an area of human habitation; a barrow containing skeletons was just one of several Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) excavated. The whole Down was an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The Dongas camped on the iron-age trackways of the same name. ‘Dongas’ is the Matabele word for the same type of man-made gullies and became the local word for the trackways. Those who came together to protect and live on the land ‘acquired’ the name ‘The Donga Tribe’, and this self-identification with the land quickly became explicitly tied to their political and spiritual beliefs.
The activists at Twyford were the catalyst that sparked the road protest and related direct action in the nineties that continues to the present day. The intensity of the Twyford protest was a major factor in the Government decision in July 1993 to abandon the proposed road through Oxleas Wood (see Campaigns).
Magic is about working with Natural cycles, simply being aware of them, the symbiosis of nature, the incredible power of a seed, the energy of the full moon and the rising sun on Summer Solstice morning. My magic is of a very “hedgewitch” kind, meaning that the comfrey root ointment I make for bruises from plants I pick in the hedge, in my garden, is magic to me. I like flowing with energy and dancing with it, not commanding it. Magic is a power that traditional science can’t quantity so it just denies that it exists! Magic is about the essences present in nature. We give these essences names, and archetypal forms: the Green Man, the Moon Goddess, and I think they do manifest in these forms, though to be honest this is something I feel rather than see. I think the energy of the universe manifests to us in ways we can appreciate it.
Magic works partly on a psychological level, though it’s tricky to make these distinctions. To say that something has ‘only’ worked on a psychological level, and then feel disappointed, is understandable. But as I feel that magic, like synchronicity for example, is a law of nature (belief can become reality), then I actually expect it to be simple, day to day. Magic isn’t “out there”- it is the everyday. Of course, then there are special occasions too…Often it’s all just a feeling. Magic is in many things: A sense; Reiki-ing food; picking herbs and dedicating them before you use them; walking in moonlight through the mist.
For me magic reaches a deeper level with politics and ethics. These are not add-ons, but infuse my work at every level. I had an early awareness of the witch burnings, the loss of herbal knowledge and the hatred of women that was bound up in the persecutions. The way the 16th Century Church devalued Nature was just another link in the chain of today’s loss of contact with nature, the separation and the exploitation. As a pagan, as a woman, and as an environmentalist, the connections are obvious. A logic of domination connects these and other oppressions.
This awareness is an intrinsic part of my eco-paganism and of a whole group of us at Twyford. We were on this level from the start. We saw the connections between the witch burnings, our paganism and the road about to slice through Twyford Down.
Some academic writing on eco-philosophy – the ideology behind green politics – tends to patronise people with spiritual beliefs and values as somehow apolitical. A kind of ‘fey twee green’ who is into loving the planet but doesn’t have a political or economic understanding.
Well there definitely are people for whom the whole green values /paganism thing is more of a lifestyle, even a fashion option – we all know a few! But for me personally, and speaking on behalf of the people I campaign with have met over the years and have interviewed, spirituality often informs a political stance. So the above critique is most often a reflection of the prejudice of the critics.
Indeed it was through paganism that I became radically politicised, because I see life and the Earth as Sacred. All things, all systems are interconnected. I am aware of how exploitation at an socio-economic level works. I seek out connections between road building in this country and the displacement of indigenous people in Columbia and around the world by oil companies. Political, economic, social, environmental, and spiritual are linked. I care and I campaign.
I could give plenty more examples of this but I want to talk about more practical paganism and eco-magic.
Raising a child and researching for a PhD. has helped me realise that you don’t need to be a full time campaigner. I’m part time now! We have busy lives, but remember that the personal is political. Take care of yourself. It can get too much and you eventually just ‘burn-out’.
In working magic we see immediate psychological (individual and group) benefits. But behind these there are higher powers at work: Fate, Karma, Cosmic patterns and protection.
Twyford Down is a sacred site. It is a mythological and spiritual place. It was no coincidence that we were pulled there. I was looking for something like Twyford. I was very much on a spiritual warrior quest then. A lot of us were, and we found each other. Many of us at Twyford felt a past life connection, and in living on site together, sensing cycles, getting wood and water, exploring physical connections, it felt like the wheel came full circle.
There was a lot of group work protecting the site. We would weave night-time spells, use chants, incantations and rituals. Protection spells for the Down were made up on the spot during drumming and chanting sessions. It was more like performance poetry and very different from formalised ritual. Some workings were women only and others were mixed.
Women on the camp would go out on moonlit nights and make very personal magic, like planting garlic bulbs – as a purifying herb, garlic symbolised protection- and other objects of personal importance on the boundaries of the land. We would sing, invoke (most often) the moon, and ask for the land to be protected.
We used all kind of techniques: Hexing, (actually I only remember that being used once, on Yellow Wednesday, when I and others told the security guards in no uncertain terms what forces they were messing with- more of a warning than a hexing) pentacles, objects of protection, rhymes, chants and drumming. Face paints and music were also very much part of the magic. We had some excellent big rituals and parties on St. Catherine’s hill!
We would sometimes spend all night in ritual, and then take the energy down the Hill to the diggers. One morning, after a night of ritual, with everyone painted up, we ran down the Hill along the currents of earth energy. The workers were freaked and stopped work. One of them saw me all painted up and moving and said he “saw the old witch dancing.”
Some times, the workers were scared. Others times they just watched us fascinated or maybe even enchanted. We just wanted to be protected, for the land to be left alone- so our spells and invocations were positive, not negative. What was interesting was how it was interpreted by the security guards- it was often the most violent ones who were the most ‘vibed’ by us, whilst others enjoyed all the drumming, and we touched them in another way.
If our motives are pure then we can be so powerful with the Earth spirits help. Sometimes we would stop work for the day by running onto the site dressed in a wicker and cloth dragon and sitting on the machines. Or we would meet the bulldozers with chants, our faces smeared with chalk from the Down, carrying sage sticks and hazel pentacles.
So most days we were ‘digger diving’ and getting up on the machines. And singing, chanting, drumming gave us a protective energy through it all.
Throughout the autumn of 1992 we lived on the threatened land, and when the bulldozers came up the hill, we turned them back. The camp was protected by a ditch, which we dug in the shape of a dragon, runes, and a hawthorn hedge. In the early days it was significant how the bulldozers always stopped at the dragon ditch boundary at the edge of the camp.
This all changed on the 9th December 1992, when we had an early morning alarm call. I ran out to the edge of our camp with the others and there, in the mist, was an army of yellow- jacketed security guards advancing towards us.
We knew it was going to be bad, and it was. We’d had a bit of a premonition too because there was to be a total lunar eclipse that night. I remember a strange moment of stalemate before the chaos started – my friend daubing mud from the Down on the security guards’ faces as they stood motionless around the machines. Then it all went crazy – the bulldozers tore through our defences, and as we ran to get in their way the security guards got physical. There were three days of ‘battle’ but this first one was probably the most full-on.
On the night of ‘Yellow Wednesday’ when the lunar eclipse started, we broke back onto the land that was now defended by security guards. The guards huddled around their fires as we danced. Dozens quit their jobs the following day.
The magic of that day is complicated. I had a terrible moment when I first saw the bulldozers break through into the area we had protected with magic and our bodies for so long. I half expected to see a huge earth dragon rise up breathing fire. It didn’t happen and for a while afterwards I lost faith in what I believed. Talking it over with the others, I think there may have been a kind of sacrifice. There is Wounded Healer energy about it; this very sacred landscape may have had to be lost, so that other places could be saved- again, this was the start of a decade of direct action and growth in awareness of what our consumption patterns, what capitalism is doing to people and the planet.
We felt that the people who had given the go- ahead for Twyford to be destroyed had opened Pandora’s Box. The wave of protests that followed Twyford was for me proof of this. At the time, no-one, least of all us, thought that just a couple of months after Yellow Wednesday there would be a new protest camp at Twyford, getting bigger everyday, with frequent actions stopping work on the site with sometimes hundreds of people. But it took me a few months to realise the magic of that time had worked, and worked differently to how I had expected it.
Twyford was about the Gathering of the Tribes and really sparked of the growth of the protest movement. The energy we had at Twyford can be with us everyday, but it really helps to be in big tribe, all living in a permanent state of magical reality. It’s harder to take that space into our everyday lives, but those forces are there and we can tap into them.
With magic it’s important to ask ‘is this for the best?’ If so, then it will happen. Sometimes you just need to put yourself in the hands of fate. When asking for protection, or doing invocations or any magical work I always add, well if this shouldn’t be happening, or my motives are wrong, or there would be consequences I haven’t foreseen, – then this will not work. As with Twyford, sometimes magic works in ways you don’t expect.
If you’re doing ritual work then direct the energy towards specific or general situations, people etc. It’s perhaps best to do your ritual at the place that is threatened, so get out more! But strong visualisation will also work. It really doesn’t take much doing.
Find out what is going on in your local area. Then go along, hang charms and weave magic. And write letters. Take direct action! I have lots of contacts on how to take Non-Violent Direct Action. [See below. Ed.]
I want to end with a few ‘top-tips’! Remember the personal is political.
Try to live out your love for the earth in your daily lives. Pass your knowledge to children. Use healthy alternatives where appropriate instead of conventional medicine. Source locally. Don’t waste resources. That’s something I learnt at Twyford: Practical paganism – healing the earth meant using water from a well, not wasting it, and burying my poo in the earth rather than flushing it out to the sea. I was lucky to have the chance to live like that- after seven years of doing that, now I just flush the loo less…
The microcosm equals the macrocosm
Positive thought, self-healing and prayers all work, but pull it through on a physical plane. Get active – write letters on GM crops, visualise every crop failing and help your magic manifest by going on a crop squat action this summer!
Alexandra Plows, M.A. University of Wales Bangor (postgraduate).
Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA):
There are many resources for people who would like to get involved in NVDA.
Earth First! http://www.earthfirst.org/
Reclaim the Streets http://rts.gn.apc.org/
McKay, George. Senseless Acts of Beauty London: Verso,1996.
Plows, A. “Eco-philosophy and popular protest; Examining the implications of the actions and ideologies of the Donga Tribe.” In C. Barker, and M. Tyldesley, eds. Alternative Futures and Popular Protest, Manchester Metropolitan University, 1995.
Plows, A. “Earth First!- Defending Mother Earth.” In McKay, George ed. DiY Culture; Party and Protest in 90′s. Britain London: Verso. 1998.
Tarrow, S. Power and Movement, 2nd edition. 1998.
Wall, D. Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement, London: Routledge, 1999.