Monthly Archives: January 2022

Nomadic Tent Design – The mutant forms

Ardabil is an ancient city in northwestern Iran. In 1974 Peter Alford Andrews, who has now been nominated to receive the Burton medal for his work on the Eurasian tent, interviewed the only two Iranian Alachigh makers, They were brothers.

They told him that they were in fact the only two craftsmen who made this specific tent type, legendary because of its elegant curvature and flowing design, a tent that stands alone amongst all the trellis tents of the region, I mean that literally, as it stands alone without a trellis.

The two brothers claimed that the work had remained exclusively the speciality of their family since it was introduced eight generations earlier by Seyyd Bejan, they could name the makers in each of the eight generations.

Alachigh

What a lot of people do not know is about the way it all came about, did you wonder how come the UK has become crazy about yurts? To begin with we all owe the come back of nomadic tent types to a book, that not accidentally bears the same name, the fruit of Peter Alford Andrews’ work. In it he has covered all nomadic tent forms in the Middle East. He and his wife have traveled extensively and lived with the nomads themselves, documenting the tents to the inch, it is a master piece with exact drawing of the frame work, the felts, even the decorations on the door panels. 
Peter, who has become a good friend, never imagined that his work to document nomadic tents before they disappear will catch on like that, but that is exactly the point, for something to catch on it needs to have a story in it, he himself was inspired by a one liner from one of his lecturers who said, “no one has taken tent architecture seriously”.

Stories need to have a core in them, something that catches us, in the same way the American guy who coined the phrase “the Mediterranean diet” he never thought that it will become such a hit few decades later, nor did Thor Heyerdahl ever think that his original “back to nature” idea will become a movement, he even later laughed saying he was probably the first hippie.

Similarly Bill Coperthwaite, who had sadly passed some years ago, never imagined that his experimentations with yurts will ignite the a craze in the US. The point is that good design or good ideas always have some core in them, and all those above share a truth, which is a traditional entity, they are based on the lives of rural communities. Be it Italian peasants, Polynesians sea farers and navigators, and the great nomadic people of the Steppe. Their freedom, their rurality, their traditions are those that ignite this thing in us, the feeling of belonging to a wilder earth.

I have predicted two years ago that canvas tents in the UK will start disappearing and be switched over to cabins or wooden huts, and so does the trend seem to go. Meanwhile in Italy, people can not get enough of yurts, in fact after Covid importers can not even get them, my phone keeps on ringing all day.

Whilst Glamping has gone a little crazy, driven by bigger profits, moving little by little to prefabricated structures, or using some amazing design concepts that some small guy worked out in his shed and copying them into a plastic tent, in an industry where intellectual property has never been regulated all can happen.

The trend however is a move away from making yurts or nomadic tents by hand, away from the craft aspect. We would like to take things back to the original story, having sat with the women who invented the word glamping, or having worked with the first people in the industry, I feel also that the idea has been boycotted and executed in some very strange ways. What it aimed to achieve is to give people the feeling of mystery, the spirit of nomadism, and tribalism yet here in the UK. It was so successful the whole world copied it.

It was never a new concept, the mogul emperors invented Glamping generations before, they had cities of tents, that would put burning man festival to shame, court tents that reached the sky, two story decorated and bejewelled pavilions, cities that travelled.

We decided we would like to first take the concept back to its origins in Peter Andrews work, the idea was to not let those tent forms disappear, to be honest, the main Asian nomadic tent form – the yurt has been covered and done extensively, we would like to focus for a moment on some of the other tent forms in order to save their architectural concepts, more so because those are stories of mutant forms, a tribe or a people that had to redesign away from the rest. The Northern Afghan tribe alliance that translates into the 4 tribes in English, all had a double curvature yurt, some of them claim to be descendent of the Mongol army (the Hazzara) but why are they the only ones to use the double curvature? What was the idea behind its design, why the tall profile and the small wheels?

I have theorised before those are because it was in fact the first western yurt, when mongols moved west and encountered wetter climates, so the higher and smaller wheel could be open (each yurt has open fires in the past) and the form may have helped with smoke.

The same goes to the Alachigh, which like a yurt is a curved tent, but unlike it is only uses ribs without trellis, the genius of the yurt was that it allows for shorter pieces of wood and tied bundles that could be simply opened, in fact there used to be a form of tent that grouped all rafters together with a rope instead of a wheel meaning the roof could be erected like an umbrella almost, again it must have been designed around camels for weight. A lot of those tent design concepts have never seen a return, genius almost, yet now lost.

Afghan yurt concept

The rib tents of the Turkmen were reportedly adopted from older yurts, meaning a poorer couple would inherit the rafters and wheel of an old yurt, possibly when the trellis gave way, or older yurts had the roof only pitched on the ground to serve as an outside kitchen, at a few places those turned into their own design, and possibly this was the way the Alachigh of the Shasevan was born too. The Yomut or Turkmen of Iran, have taken one of those rib tents and made it with especially long rafters, so it turned into a yurt shape without a trellis, but high enough to stand with a wooden door. I would have liked to understand the design concept behind their thinking, and at times the easiest way is to make the structure itself, which we did a few years ago. That led to a break through in tent design but that is something for another time, plus advertising your design concepts for me usually means someone copies them before I get to realise them.

Kutuk tent

I pour over old accounts of travellers and avidly look for the mutant design forms, I think that in the last 10 years the industry have been in a design standstill, no new great concepts were actually introduced, the focus on creating prefabricated forms to keep up with demand has also wiped many of the crafts people who used to make structures for the Glamping industry, and little by little it too started to loose its appeal. The UK has always been the leader in this industry, yet now it lags behind, the passion is gone, and with it the joy of the great outdoors, almost as if people have given up on the country, own sustainability, on adventure.

In short Craft, tradition, great design mixed with natural materials will always work better, creating a story line that grabs the soul, where one can feel the gaze of the qirgiz nomads, a woman brining the hand of a guest to her heart saying you are home in my yurt.

We work with a small group of people who always led this industry, and yeah I feel like we all have gone a little astray because of the need to make a living, yet a new trend in tourism is waking up, like a wave, it wants true freedom. Once we were the only people living on the road, 10 years ago we travelled the UK in trucks seeing no one, yet no van lifers have been born everywhere, people are converting vans all across the country. Working as a non profit association in Europe (mainly Italy) also means I see a constant stream of people leaving the country, looking for rural areas and meaning, and so I know the battle for rurality is not lost, traditional ways of life will always win in the end, you can not bend nature away from itself, at the end it will go back to weather and man, shelter and rain. All this development craze and second homes will pass, it only works because people can not access nature in the UK.

Going back to nomadic tent design, I want to focus more on content, bringing sustainable tourism into being the most important aspect, almost the only way through which we can design rural areas back into community. Yet I want it to happen around the magical stories and some great design concepts.

nomadic tent

I would  like to leave you with an image of one of the greatest craft concepts in nomadic tents, one created by the Nogay.

tent was made like a yurt, except that it was woven, using two big rings around the walls which were fixed, going into a yurt wheel, it was made this way so it could be lifted on and off a small cart, and was only used by the newly wedded couple. This is a great metaphor also for the nomadic tent design and the state of the modern world, because now days the largest of all yurts made are wedding yurts, and the nogay wedding yurt was in fact so small it could be lifted on and off and made intact so it would not need to collapse, a great effort and nomadic tent design now gone. Again I would love to see it remade, in fact the idea behind all of this research is to focus again on making some great nomadic tent design, maybe use some modern materials where applicable but without losing the form and concepts. This amazing little tent can become the best Shepard hut even made.

Soon when time allows I would like to open up the possibility of working and teaching others, so we can together create some of those great tents of the past, we have some great business ideas, enough to allow for at least one or two new independent businesses. This we think would tie very well with the new emerging market of sustainble tourism, imagine moving camps as a safari on rewlibding projects in the highlands, yet done with nomadic tents instead of plastic, imagine arriving at the camp fire, and sitting inside a nomadic tent, the fire is lit, food is served, the magic flows through the wheel, and one can feel the hand of a qirgiz woman almost, going to her heart telling you, you are home inside my tent.

Nogay tent cart

The Mazzeri and the lost religion of dreamers

All over Europe mostly up to the 16th century there have existed remnants of an older “religion”. Historians and anthropologists have now rediscovered the existence of cult practices all over the continent, mostly taken from the witch trials of the 15th and 16th century as they were otherwise almost unknown. 

Like we said in some earlier blog posts elements of those practices are shared by rural communities and are almost identical in character going  from Bulgaria to Scotland, which raises a lot of questions about our understanding of rural Europe of 300 years ago. 

The Mazzeri of Corsica have been brought to my attention by a friend, through the work of Dorothy Carington. In her book called The Dream Hunters of Corsica she goes into length to describe their dreaming hunts.The mazzeri are dream-hunters, who go out at night to kill an animal. They recognize in the face of the animal someone known to them, nearly always an inhabitant of his village. The next day they will tell what they have seen and the person mentioned will die in the space of time running from three days to a year, and always within an uneven number of days. If an animal is only wounded by the mazzere, then the person it represents will meet an accident or illness, but not death.

Why you may ask are old beliefs in “witchcraft” important to us? It is because we lack in understanding of how rural areas function. Our conception of peasantry is taken directly from the witch trials, we view rural areas as superstitious an uneducated, yet the research that has been done on the subject shows something different. It shows that rural Europe was unified. In most cases as an oral based society (because few could read), it shows Europe sharing a similar belief elements which must have been pre christian all revolving around battling for a natural life, taking part in every aspect of nature, from growing crops to weather shamanism, regulating social affairs mental disorders, mini political systems which are the epitome of a natural life. Where those areas are undisturbed even today we find centenarians living, working up to their 90’s. 

Again we may ask so what? Why is it important that our great great grand parents had some bizarre night practices, that they could “double up at night” and wonder in a visionary states, that they could “kill” an animal in those visions which would turn into someone they knew. The importance is not just in that given practice, or any other, of which there are many. The importance is that ALL rural areas were like that, and that our current “educated” stance is in fact what drives us away from being able to live in natural areas. It is also the reason Western Europe has collapsed socially. That new phenomena of social takeover by a ruling class over the beliefs of the population is still the current social order. 

Having worked and lived for 20 years in some of Europe’s most rural areas, I have come to the belief that we do not understand how they functioned. I have worked and taken part in many projects, people striving to build new communities in nature, only to see them fail. Yet the thing they fail on, is not being able to construct community. Spending years in Italy we thought that maybe the problem is the abandon process and lack of economy in the internal parts as they are called, referring to what is mostly the Apennines (because of Italian geography). Our advantage is that we also work with dozens of projects in the UK, and live in Wales. In fact being back in Wales, it seems almost as if any low key social innovation project which is not a business has disappeared. The case in England is much worse. What is going on?

Until not very long ago every village had characters, a butcher and bakery, a stone by the church was the key stone and people would go there to strike deals with each other, and the stone being in the middle of the village would bear witness. Now everything is homogenised. If you live in the city you can not see it, but people who grew up in the countryside all know, it is as if someone have declared a war on rurality, farming itself is disappearing now and no one has an answer to why?

You may have heard of rewilding, and the idea that we are all going to use farmlands for Carbon sequestration. Those are novel ideas, that highlight the fact that actually no one has an idea what to do with the countryside, the same process that has been started in the 16th century by the church and few feudal lords governing over a rural population has almost cleared rural life styles away. In truth the housing market and the rush to buy houses in the countryside which have been blamed for the collapse of rural communities in Britain is just the last step in this process. What is missing is the social core, the belief system that unified each village, a system that was almost universal. 

Do I suggest we learn how to dream and hunt our fellow villagers like the Mazzeri of Corsica used to until the middle of this century, no I do not. I suggest we readjust our compass, and realise that the first point it must aim at is rurality. I also suggest we bring back the myths of the countryside back, and let them create small communities in nature. It all sounds all so very esoteric you may say, but in truth working with a series of small projects for the last 6 or so years, partly through the work of our non profit association Heartland and in many cases because they are our clients, I am vey close to the subject.

Together with a few others, we have come up with a set of tools almost, how to create community, how not to let your expectations of a life in rural areas get ahead of you. We have worked with small scale business plans, peasant bakeries, no irrigation farming, natural forest agriculture and even circular economy. These days I often get contacted by people looking to start a new project, sometimes looking for land in Italy. I would say that between all of our small projects we have a very clear idea of the situation, both in the UK and in Central Europe. There is a gap between the dream and reality, a gap that should not exist. 

One of my friends in Italy has taken it as far as offering his land to new comers, a project he spent 10 years of hard work, I would say that giving someone your house is taking it a little too far, but the point is that from inside those projects one sees land ownership and development very differently, once you have been there and realised that currently the only thing that matters for everyone is that we must build a rural lifestyle again, and that the only way to support life in nature is the rebuilding of rural areas, turning those into balanced zones, protection belts if you want, against the total destruction of nature. You become a soldier to the cause. I would feel the same, owning 12 hectares in Italy, I see that only our small piece of land is a life time of dedication, and from there I can see it all turning around, if only everyone could do the same. 

Once you understand the concept, rural farming practices, is like becoming a natural area scientist, where your job is to find the oldest varieties, to learn to grow food without intervention. When you understand the concept, where livestock become natural again, and you start looking for keystone species, to emulate a natural area that farms itself into biodiversity as nature intended. At this point you understand that the work is endless, and that in truth every moment we are not doing it, and any piece of land that is not taking part in it is like a suicide pact.

I thought we were unique. Living in Italy has woken me up to the fact that peasant farmers did exactly that all through history, each farm was a mastery of natural cultivation, I understood they were exactly like us, each of them understood his connection to the natural system, what to grow and what not to, it is easy if you edit the economic toll out of it, and stop trying to make money out of that piece of land, which is the distinction between peasant farming and agriculture. 

Anyway, this is when I realised that in order to get back into those life styles we must rediscover the central myths that they revolved around, everything I thought I knew seemed very different, witches for example who I always viewed as a fairy tale, but seeing I have come to live like peasant farmers did 300 years ago, I had to ask myself who they were  as if they were my neighbours. “Hang on” I said, what were witches? What actually happened in their lives. From then on I have discovered a whole world of village life which was almost mythical, with dreaming practices in which people would wage wars on their next-door village, weather control, shape shifting. Once you apply it to your own life you suddenly get the scope, they lived and worked a natural lifestyle at each of its elements. 

In her book Dorothy Carington who has written extensively about Corsica theorised that because of the island’s Isolation, it preserved some of the earliest elements of a common practice. The Mazzeri “cult” were night hunters, except that they did so in their dreams. They would enter the hunting dream by “doubling up” (a term many other similar European “cults”, or “witches” use). In their dreaming body they would go on the night hunt. The amazing thing with the Mazzeri was that in the dying glances of the animal they hunted they would see the reflection of a person in their community, a person which would later die, usually within the year.

Like some of their other counter parts from the the mainland, like the Benandati of Friuli, they also would go to battle with neighbouring night dreamers, I think that maybe because they lived on an island they would only do so once a year, where the Benandati would do so four times, at times a Mazzere would die because they lost in the battle, and you can see that going too often presented issues. Unlike the Benandati and others, they did not occupy themselves with fighting over crops, which made Dorothy Carhington argue that possibly their practice precedes the others, possibly coming down through the generation from a time we were hunter gatherers. In what I think is a stroke of brilliance she put through the idea that this practice of theirs, was not really about killing members of their community as much as it was about being part in predicting death, or meeting fate if you want. Somehow they could affect the moment of death for some of their fellow villagers, at times even managing to save their lives, as if some long lost cult of the dead was passed down from generation to generation and the last practicing members could still witness the moment death came knocking on someones door, they enacted that moment as a dream hunt. 

It is hard to understand those practices, especially as most of the accounts we have are written down as witch trials, which are arguably the changing point between an oral tradition to a literary society, it is probably the turning point of when we started losing touch with the core elements of true rurality.

Oral Europe functioned around a central myth, where it seems, any given area had its own dreamers. People in the Middle Ages slept differently to us too, they had two sleeps, after waking up in the middle of the night they would go back into dreams, it is usually then that the double dreams happened. Even so only a small number of people, maybe one or two in any given village would be the ones to have those night battle dreams, and the ability to create the dream body.

Some of the names they have given those people I think relate directly to the act of achieving that double dream body. They were called the night walkers, the women of the outside, the good walkers etc. A lot of the other names they have given themselves otherwise revolve around their function in the community, the good neighbours, the good patrons etc.

Why we can ask, did the community not turn on them, because having people in the midst of a village believed to have the capacity to kill others must have been terrifying. The answer I think was that each village functioned within a continuum in which those people were the makers of rural identity the spinners of a central myth. We can catch a glimpse of the old belief world of another Europe, and a social system that evolved around the natural from the seen to the unknown. We don’t know anything about that other Europe because it is masked behind our own ideas, inherited from the educated elite, in fact we view witchcraft like they did, because that elite has already left their natural and rural lives and existed as a rulers, lords and clergy men, they passed down to us the written records, sometimes by actually wiping out the existence of an oral tradition, a tradition so old it must have been present in the lives of our ancestors before they ever farmed, if they carried it for over 10,000 years they must have had a reason, a system so diffused, every part of Europe practiced it.

The question of why does it matter to us now still remains, the answer is that we have lost the core mechanisms of a life in nature, lost our relation with fate and climate. People in Middle Ages Europe did not simply live in villages like we believe, they had micro cosmos in each village with myriad of tales and legends, with the power to interact with the elements around them – rain and sun, the wind and the success of their crops. At times living a natural rural life and protecting and developing an area meant they could predict the deaths in their community, or in other words they took part in any natural process as if they themselves could also direct it, be it storms or success of their crops up to death death, they had a myth where they would meet fate, in their dreams they would enact any given natural process that was unseen, they could make it hail on their neighbours or fight for the success of their own fields, they took part in nature as a living myth. 

Because of the loss of rurality everywhere in the world and the prevalence of written record, we find it hard to grasp that in truth any true rural community has always revolved around meeting natural forces and working with them, it is not enough for us to think we can create community in nature simply by farming, or even farming organically as a way to return to a more natural life, this magical system is also a myth of sorts that hold a village in unison, it becomes its gossip, the tales of wonder of human achievements, the characters are made from nature, passion, love and magic and turn into the social centre.

I dont know about you, but I have fallen in love, first with taking a piece of land and letting it express itself into its wildest expression, where it grows food through diversity, I am lucky because our land has wolves and bears, foxes and deer and wild boar to boot, many of the oldest varieties of fruit are naturally present still. I have also become totally in love with this idea, that we can return to true rurality, to small kitchen and bread ovens, lit by fire and smoking into the morning light, that we can revive the myths and practices of rural areas. That we can give wells and forests names, and that we can know their properties. Maybe you too will feel it, and find your own area and join us in the battle, and who knows maybe one day we can all dream again like our ancestors used to 300 years ago, and meet fate in our dreams again. 

 

January, 2022 | Spirits Intent

Monthly Archives: January 2022

Nomadic Tent Design – The mutant forms

Ardabil is an ancient city in northwestern Iran. In 1974 Peter Alford Andrews, who has now been nominated to receive the Burton medal for his work on the Eurasian tent, interviewed the only two Iranian Alachigh makers, They were brothers.

They told him that they were in fact the only two craftsmen who made this specific tent type, legendary because of its elegant curvature and flowing design, a tent that stands alone amongst all the trellis tents of the region, I mean that literally, as it stands alone without a trellis.

The two brothers claimed that the work had remained exclusively the speciality of their family since it was introduced eight generations earlier by Seyyd Bejan, they could name the makers in each of the eight generations.

Alachigh

What a lot of people do not know is about the way it all came about, did you wonder how come the UK has become crazy about yurts? To begin with we all owe the come back of nomadic tent types to a book, that not accidentally bears the same name, the fruit of Peter Alford Andrews’ work. In it he has covered all nomadic tent forms in the Middle East. He and his wife have traveled extensively and lived with the nomads themselves, documenting the tents to the inch, it is a master piece with exact drawing of the frame work, the felts, even the decorations on the door panels. 
Peter, who has become a good friend, never imagined that his work to document nomadic tents before they disappear will catch on like that, but that is exactly the point, for something to catch on it needs to have a story in it, he himself was inspired by a one liner from one of his lecturers who said, “no one has taken tent architecture seriously”.

Stories need to have a core in them, something that catches us, in the same way the American guy who coined the phrase “the Mediterranean diet” he never thought that it will become such a hit few decades later, nor did Thor Heyerdahl ever think that his original “back to nature” idea will become a movement, he even later laughed saying he was probably the first hippie.

Similarly Bill Coperthwaite, who had sadly passed some years ago, never imagined that his experimentations with yurts will ignite the a craze in the US. The point is that good design or good ideas always have some core in them, and all those above share a truth, which is a traditional entity, they are based on the lives of rural communities. Be it Italian peasants, Polynesians sea farers and navigators, and the great nomadic people of the Steppe. Their freedom, their rurality, their traditions are those that ignite this thing in us, the feeling of belonging to a wilder earth.

I have predicted two years ago that canvas tents in the UK will start disappearing and be switched over to cabins or wooden huts, and so does the trend seem to go. Meanwhile in Italy, people can not get enough of yurts, in fact after Covid importers can not even get them, my phone keeps on ringing all day.

Whilst Glamping has gone a little crazy, driven by bigger profits, moving little by little to prefabricated structures, or using some amazing design concepts that some small guy worked out in his shed and copying them into a plastic tent, in an industry where intellectual property has never been regulated all can happen.

The trend however is a move away from making yurts or nomadic tents by hand, away from the craft aspect. We would like to take things back to the original story, having sat with the women who invented the word glamping, or having worked with the first people in the industry, I feel also that the idea has been boycotted and executed in some very strange ways. What it aimed to achieve is to give people the feeling of mystery, the spirit of nomadism, and tribalism yet here in the UK. It was so successful the whole world copied it.

It was never a new concept, the mogul emperors invented Glamping generations before, they had cities of tents, that would put burning man festival to shame, court tents that reached the sky, two story decorated and bejewelled pavilions, cities that travelled.

We decided we would like to first take the concept back to its origins in Peter Andrews work, the idea was to not let those tent forms disappear, to be honest, the main Asian nomadic tent form – the yurt has been covered and done extensively, we would like to focus for a moment on some of the other tent forms in order to save their architectural concepts, more so because those are stories of mutant forms, a tribe or a people that had to redesign away from the rest. The Northern Afghan tribe alliance that translates into the 4 tribes in English, all had a double curvature yurt, some of them claim to be descendent of the Mongol army (the Hazzara) but why are they the only ones to use the double curvature? What was the idea behind its design, why the tall profile and the small wheels?

I have theorised before those are because it was in fact the first western yurt, when mongols moved west and encountered wetter climates, so the higher and smaller wheel could be open (each yurt has open fires in the past) and the form may have helped with smoke.

The same goes to the Alachigh, which like a yurt is a curved tent, but unlike it is only uses ribs without trellis, the genius of the yurt was that it allows for shorter pieces of wood and tied bundles that could be simply opened, in fact there used to be a form of tent that grouped all rafters together with a rope instead of a wheel meaning the roof could be erected like an umbrella almost, again it must have been designed around camels for weight. A lot of those tent design concepts have never seen a return, genius almost, yet now lost.

Afghan yurt concept

The rib tents of the Turkmen were reportedly adopted from older yurts, meaning a poorer couple would inherit the rafters and wheel of an old yurt, possibly when the trellis gave way, or older yurts had the roof only pitched on the ground to serve as an outside kitchen, at a few places those turned into their own design, and possibly this was the way the Alachigh of the Shasevan was born too. The Yomut or Turkmen of Iran, have taken one of those rib tents and made it with especially long rafters, so it turned into a yurt shape without a trellis, but high enough to stand with a wooden door. I would have liked to understand the design concept behind their thinking, and at times the easiest way is to make the structure itself, which we did a few years ago. That led to a break through in tent design but that is something for another time, plus advertising your design concepts for me usually means someone copies them before I get to realise them.

Kutuk tent

I pour over old accounts of travellers and avidly look for the mutant design forms, I think that in the last 10 years the industry have been in a design standstill, no new great concepts were actually introduced, the focus on creating prefabricated forms to keep up with demand has also wiped many of the crafts people who used to make structures for the Glamping industry, and little by little it too started to loose its appeal. The UK has always been the leader in this industry, yet now it lags behind, the passion is gone, and with it the joy of the great outdoors, almost as if people have given up on the country, own sustainability, on adventure.

In short Craft, tradition, great design mixed with natural materials will always work better, creating a story line that grabs the soul, where one can feel the gaze of the qirgiz nomads, a woman brining the hand of a guest to her heart saying you are home in my yurt.

We work with a small group of people who always led this industry, and yeah I feel like we all have gone a little astray because of the need to make a living, yet a new trend in tourism is waking up, like a wave, it wants true freedom. Once we were the only people living on the road, 10 years ago we travelled the UK in trucks seeing no one, yet no van lifers have been born everywhere, people are converting vans all across the country. Working as a non profit association in Europe (mainly Italy) also means I see a constant stream of people leaving the country, looking for rural areas and meaning, and so I know the battle for rurality is not lost, traditional ways of life will always win in the end, you can not bend nature away from itself, at the end it will go back to weather and man, shelter and rain. All this development craze and second homes will pass, it only works because people can not access nature in the UK.

Going back to nomadic tent design, I want to focus more on content, bringing sustainable tourism into being the most important aspect, almost the only way through which we can design rural areas back into community. Yet I want it to happen around the magical stories and some great design concepts.

nomadic tent

I would  like to leave you with an image of one of the greatest craft concepts in nomadic tents, one created by the Nogay.

tent was made like a yurt, except that it was woven, using two big rings around the walls which were fixed, going into a yurt wheel, it was made this way so it could be lifted on and off a small cart, and was only used by the newly wedded couple. This is a great metaphor also for the nomadic tent design and the state of the modern world, because now days the largest of all yurts made are wedding yurts, and the nogay wedding yurt was in fact so small it could be lifted on and off and made intact so it would not need to collapse, a great effort and nomadic tent design now gone. Again I would love to see it remade, in fact the idea behind all of this research is to focus again on making some great nomadic tent design, maybe use some modern materials where applicable but without losing the form and concepts. This amazing little tent can become the best Shepard hut even made.

Soon when time allows I would like to open up the possibility of working and teaching others, so we can together create some of those great tents of the past, we have some great business ideas, enough to allow for at least one or two new independent businesses. This we think would tie very well with the new emerging market of sustainble tourism, imagine moving camps as a safari on rewlibding projects in the highlands, yet done with nomadic tents instead of plastic, imagine arriving at the camp fire, and sitting inside a nomadic tent, the fire is lit, food is served, the magic flows through the wheel, and one can feel the hand of a qirgiz woman almost, going to her heart telling you, you are home inside my tent.

Nogay tent cart

The Mazzeri and the lost religion of dreamers

All over Europe mostly up to the 16th century there have existed remnants of an older “religion”. Historians and anthropologists have now rediscovered the existence of cult practices all over the continent, mostly taken from the witch trials of the 15th and 16th century as they were otherwise almost unknown. 

Like we said in some earlier blog posts elements of those practices are shared by rural communities and are almost identical in character going  from Bulgaria to Scotland, which raises a lot of questions about our understanding of rural Europe of 300 years ago. 

The Mazzeri of Corsica have been brought to my attention by a friend, through the work of Dorothy Carington. In her book called The Dream Hunters of Corsica she goes into length to describe their dreaming hunts.The mazzeri are dream-hunters, who go out at night to kill an animal. They recognize in the face of the animal someone known to them, nearly always an inhabitant of his village. The next day they will tell what they have seen and the person mentioned will die in the space of time running from three days to a year, and always within an uneven number of days. If an animal is only wounded by the mazzere, then the person it represents will meet an accident or illness, but not death.

Why you may ask are old beliefs in “witchcraft” important to us? It is because we lack in understanding of how rural areas function. Our conception of peasantry is taken directly from the witch trials, we view rural areas as superstitious an uneducated, yet the research that has been done on the subject shows something different. It shows that rural Europe was unified. In most cases as an oral based society (because few could read), it shows Europe sharing a similar belief elements which must have been pre christian all revolving around battling for a natural life, taking part in every aspect of nature, from growing crops to weather shamanism, regulating social affairs mental disorders, mini political systems which are the epitome of a natural life. Where those areas are undisturbed even today we find centenarians living, working up to their 90’s. 

Again we may ask so what? Why is it important that our great great grand parents had some bizarre night practices, that they could “double up at night” and wonder in a visionary states, that they could “kill” an animal in those visions which would turn into someone they knew. The importance is not just in that given practice, or any other, of which there are many. The importance is that ALL rural areas were like that, and that our current “educated” stance is in fact what drives us away from being able to live in natural areas. It is also the reason Western Europe has collapsed socially. That new phenomena of social takeover by a ruling class over the beliefs of the population is still the current social order. 

Having worked and lived for 20 years in some of Europe’s most rural areas, I have come to the belief that we do not understand how they functioned. I have worked and taken part in many projects, people striving to build new communities in nature, only to see them fail. Yet the thing they fail on, is not being able to construct community. Spending years in Italy we thought that maybe the problem is the abandon process and lack of economy in the internal parts as they are called, referring to what is mostly the Apennines (because of Italian geography). Our advantage is that we also work with dozens of projects in the UK, and live in Wales. In fact being back in Wales, it seems almost as if any low key social innovation project which is not a business has disappeared. The case in England is much worse. What is going on?

Until not very long ago every village had characters, a butcher and bakery, a stone by the church was the key stone and people would go there to strike deals with each other, and the stone being in the middle of the village would bear witness. Now everything is homogenised. If you live in the city you can not see it, but people who grew up in the countryside all know, it is as if someone have declared a war on rurality, farming itself is disappearing now and no one has an answer to why?

You may have heard of rewilding, and the idea that we are all going to use farmlands for Carbon sequestration. Those are novel ideas, that highlight the fact that actually no one has an idea what to do with the countryside, the same process that has been started in the 16th century by the church and few feudal lords governing over a rural population has almost cleared rural life styles away. In truth the housing market and the rush to buy houses in the countryside which have been blamed for the collapse of rural communities in Britain is just the last step in this process. What is missing is the social core, the belief system that unified each village, a system that was almost universal. 

Do I suggest we learn how to dream and hunt our fellow villagers like the Mazzeri of Corsica used to until the middle of this century, no I do not. I suggest we readjust our compass, and realise that the first point it must aim at is rurality. I also suggest we bring back the myths of the countryside back, and let them create small communities in nature. It all sounds all so very esoteric you may say, but in truth working with a series of small projects for the last 6 or so years, partly through the work of our non profit association Heartland and in many cases because they are our clients, I am vey close to the subject.

Together with a few others, we have come up with a set of tools almost, how to create community, how not to let your expectations of a life in rural areas get ahead of you. We have worked with small scale business plans, peasant bakeries, no irrigation farming, natural forest agriculture and even circular economy. These days I often get contacted by people looking to start a new project, sometimes looking for land in Italy. I would say that between all of our small projects we have a very clear idea of the situation, both in the UK and in Central Europe. There is a gap between the dream and reality, a gap that should not exist. 

One of my friends in Italy has taken it as far as offering his land to new comers, a project he spent 10 years of hard work, I would say that giving someone your house is taking it a little too far, but the point is that from inside those projects one sees land ownership and development very differently, once you have been there and realised that currently the only thing that matters for everyone is that we must build a rural lifestyle again, and that the only way to support life in nature is the rebuilding of rural areas, turning those into balanced zones, protection belts if you want, against the total destruction of nature. You become a soldier to the cause. I would feel the same, owning 12 hectares in Italy, I see that only our small piece of land is a life time of dedication, and from there I can see it all turning around, if only everyone could do the same. 

Once you understand the concept, rural farming practices, is like becoming a natural area scientist, where your job is to find the oldest varieties, to learn to grow food without intervention. When you understand the concept, where livestock become natural again, and you start looking for keystone species, to emulate a natural area that farms itself into biodiversity as nature intended. At this point you understand that the work is endless, and that in truth every moment we are not doing it, and any piece of land that is not taking part in it is like a suicide pact.

I thought we were unique. Living in Italy has woken me up to the fact that peasant farmers did exactly that all through history, each farm was a mastery of natural cultivation, I understood they were exactly like us, each of them understood his connection to the natural system, what to grow and what not to, it is easy if you edit the economic toll out of it, and stop trying to make money out of that piece of land, which is the distinction between peasant farming and agriculture. 

Anyway, this is when I realised that in order to get back into those life styles we must rediscover the central myths that they revolved around, everything I thought I knew seemed very different, witches for example who I always viewed as a fairy tale, but seeing I have come to live like peasant farmers did 300 years ago, I had to ask myself who they were  as if they were my neighbours. “Hang on” I said, what were witches? What actually happened in their lives. From then on I have discovered a whole world of village life which was almost mythical, with dreaming practices in which people would wage wars on their next-door village, weather control, shape shifting. Once you apply it to your own life you suddenly get the scope, they lived and worked a natural lifestyle at each of its elements. 

In her book Dorothy Carington who has written extensively about Corsica theorised that because of the island’s Isolation, it preserved some of the earliest elements of a common practice. The Mazzeri “cult” were night hunters, except that they did so in their dreams. They would enter the hunting dream by “doubling up” (a term many other similar European “cults”, or “witches” use). In their dreaming body they would go on the night hunt. The amazing thing with the Mazzeri was that in the dying glances of the animal they hunted they would see the reflection of a person in their community, a person which would later die, usually within the year.

Like some of their other counter parts from the the mainland, like the Benandati of Friuli, they also would go to battle with neighbouring night dreamers, I think that maybe because they lived on an island they would only do so once a year, where the Benandati would do so four times, at times a Mazzere would die because they lost in the battle, and you can see that going too often presented issues. Unlike the Benandati and others, they did not occupy themselves with fighting over crops, which made Dorothy Carhington argue that possibly their practice precedes the others, possibly coming down through the generation from a time we were hunter gatherers. In what I think is a stroke of brilliance she put through the idea that this practice of theirs, was not really about killing members of their community as much as it was about being part in predicting death, or meeting fate if you want. Somehow they could affect the moment of death for some of their fellow villagers, at times even managing to save their lives, as if some long lost cult of the dead was passed down from generation to generation and the last practicing members could still witness the moment death came knocking on someones door, they enacted that moment as a dream hunt. 

It is hard to understand those practices, especially as most of the accounts we have are written down as witch trials, which are arguably the changing point between an oral tradition to a literary society, it is probably the turning point of when we started losing touch with the core elements of true rurality.

Oral Europe functioned around a central myth, where it seems, any given area had its own dreamers. People in the Middle Ages slept differently to us too, they had two sleeps, after waking up in the middle of the night they would go back into dreams, it is usually then that the double dreams happened. Even so only a small number of people, maybe one or two in any given village would be the ones to have those night battle dreams, and the ability to create the dream body.

Some of the names they have given those people I think relate directly to the act of achieving that double dream body. They were called the night walkers, the women of the outside, the good walkers etc. A lot of the other names they have given themselves otherwise revolve around their function in the community, the good neighbours, the good patrons etc.

Why we can ask, did the community not turn on them, because having people in the midst of a village believed to have the capacity to kill others must have been terrifying. The answer I think was that each village functioned within a continuum in which those people were the makers of rural identity the spinners of a central myth. We can catch a glimpse of the old belief world of another Europe, and a social system that evolved around the natural from the seen to the unknown. We don’t know anything about that other Europe because it is masked behind our own ideas, inherited from the educated elite, in fact we view witchcraft like they did, because that elite has already left their natural and rural lives and existed as a rulers, lords and clergy men, they passed down to us the written records, sometimes by actually wiping out the existence of an oral tradition, a tradition so old it must have been present in the lives of our ancestors before they ever farmed, if they carried it for over 10,000 years they must have had a reason, a system so diffused, every part of Europe practiced it.

The question of why does it matter to us now still remains, the answer is that we have lost the core mechanisms of a life in nature, lost our relation with fate and climate. People in Middle Ages Europe did not simply live in villages like we believe, they had micro cosmos in each village with myriad of tales and legends, with the power to interact with the elements around them – rain and sun, the wind and the success of their crops. At times living a natural rural life and protecting and developing an area meant they could predict the deaths in their community, or in other words they took part in any natural process as if they themselves could also direct it, be it storms or success of their crops up to death death, they had a myth where they would meet fate, in their dreams they would enact any given natural process that was unseen, they could make it hail on their neighbours or fight for the success of their own fields, they took part in nature as a living myth. 

Because of the loss of rurality everywhere in the world and the prevalence of written record, we find it hard to grasp that in truth any true rural community has always revolved around meeting natural forces and working with them, it is not enough for us to think we can create community in nature simply by farming, or even farming organically as a way to return to a more natural life, this magical system is also a myth of sorts that hold a village in unison, it becomes its gossip, the tales of wonder of human achievements, the characters are made from nature, passion, love and magic and turn into the social centre.

I dont know about you, but I have fallen in love, first with taking a piece of land and letting it express itself into its wildest expression, where it grows food through diversity, I am lucky because our land has wolves and bears, foxes and deer and wild boar to boot, many of the oldest varieties of fruit are naturally present still. I have also become totally in love with this idea, that we can return to true rurality, to small kitchen and bread ovens, lit by fire and smoking into the morning light, that we can revive the myths and practices of rural areas. That we can give wells and forests names, and that we can know their properties. Maybe you too will feel it, and find your own area and join us in the battle, and who knows maybe one day we can all dream again like our ancestors used to 300 years ago, and meet fate in our dreams again.