A seven day spiritual ecology residential focused on coming into deeper relationship with landscapes, wild beings and the web of life. With guest teachers including
Sicelo Mbatha, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Pat McCabe, Jacqueline Freeman and Charlotte du Cann, and experiential exercises in subtle listening and nature connection.
Indigenous peoples have long held the knowledge of Earth as sacred, animate and intelligent. They have always lived in communication with the wider web of life, both its visible and invisible dimensions, in a way that has been lost in the modern Western world.
In recent years science is catching up with their wisdom, bearing out a worldview in which everything is interconnected in myriad ways. Science now knows that communication systems between and within species of plants, trees and animals are infinitely more sophisticated than previously thought. We know that trees live in community, talking to each other through their roots and through networks of fungal mycelium. We know that all the various squeaks and peeps and body language of meerkats and other mammals form full-bodied conversations about possible dangers and which way to go for food. We know that bees communicate through intricate dances, through vibration and chemical scents, and that they create a ‘hive mind’ that allows them to be highly effective collaborators. And we know that bird language is not just mating calls and alarms, but rather includes many specific messages that are understood by their own species, and also by other animals in their ecosystem.
Science is only just at the beginning of uncovering the other-than-human intelligence that indigenous people have always lived in relationship with. Informed by both these knowledge systems and others, there is now an emerging body of wisdom available that can guide us into a direct experience of how the web of life is constantly in conversation with itself. By tapping into this wisdom, we can learn to be present without imposing a human agenda, and simply listen, eventually being able to hear the voices and perspectives of rivers, trees, birds and stars.
As humanity attempts the herculean task of remaking our civilisation in order to survive climate breakdown, this deeper way of listening to and with Earth and all Her creatures, is much needed. It leads us out of the extractive, human-centric hubris that is at the root of so much harm. It calls us into an attitude of humility, and the possibility of co-creating with the more than human world.
Opening a door to this dimension can be life-changing, revealing a world more magical than we dared to believe. It can weave our spirituality back into a lived relationship with Earth, breathing in a new life force that has the power to turn us away from the illusion of consumerism, back to a profound sense of belonging.
If we try to transform our civilisation keeping humans at the top of the hierarchy, our efforts to regenerate will not go deep enough. We need to know the human perspective is just one among many. We need to learn how to listen and communicate with the wild.
Over the course of the week, we will explore five pathways:
Coming into relationship with land, landscape and the elements
Coming into relationship with plants
Coming into relationship with insects
Coming into relationship with animals
Coming into relationship with the whole web of life, both the seen and unseen.
This seven day residential retreat will be held at La Jarrie, an old bocage smallholding near mediaeval Domfront in Normandy – a beautiful location stewarded from a place of deep love and respect for the wild. The land includes 15 acres of mixed woodland, orchard, meadow, wetland and scrub. It is home to abundant wildlife and bird life, and a plethora of insect species (butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbird hawk moths) and many wildflowers. Bordered by a fast flowing river, La Varenne, it sits within the Normandy-Maine National Park. The space includes a permaculture garden and is home to some kunekune pigs, three donkeys rescued from an abattoir, chickens, two very characterful dogs and several feral cats and their kittens. This area of France is free of light pollution so the stars are magnificent. There is the potential for spectacular views of the Milky Way’s galactic core. The retreat may coincide with some of the best nights of the year for observing the heart of our galaxy – as well as also including the summer solstice. The land offers diverse ecosystems and a range of elements of the natural world to come into relationship with, in a place where the intelligence of nature is deeply respected.
The retreat will include:
What you will get from this retreat:
Our aspiration is that you will
The teachers will be joining us online and offering practices we will take into our time on the land.
Sicelo Mbatha, or Black Lion, is a spiritual wilderness guide, founder of Umkhiwane Sacred Pathways. Sicelo has dedicated his life to fostering deep connections between humans and nature, guiding people on healing paths through some of the most spectacular wild areas in South Africa, including the Imfolozi Wilderness, the Simangaliso Wetland and the towering Drakensberg mountains.. He believes that this medicine is needed to heal the world from the wounds of environmental destruction and social injustice. He invites connection with landscape, nature, and soul and shares generously the indigenous wisdom of his people. His work brings people into contact with the spirit of our collective humanness, or ubuntu. Sicelo’s book, Black Lion: Alive in the Wilderness was published in 2021. Sicelo says: “I am the black lion who helps people discover the wild animal within. I am the black lion who roars for peace and harmony on the great mother earth. I am the black lion, alive in the wilderness.” Sicelo will be with his co-author Bridget Pitt.
Pat McCabe, or Woman Stands Shining, is a Native American elder whose work explores the meeting point between ceremony and deep social healing. Pat was born into the Dine (Navajo) nation, and has also received a spiritual training with the Lakota tradition. She is a mother, grandmother, activist, artist, writer, ceremonial leader and international speaker. She travels and teaches widely on the indigenous science of Thriving Life. Her work seeks to revivify human knowledge and meaning-making, by restoring the holistic knowledge practises known to indigenous people. She lives in Taos, New Mexico, and hopes all peoples of the earth “can learn from Indigenous experience and re-member themselves and their own birth-right relationship with this Mother Earth.” She has appeared in two documentary films: SEEDing Change and Journeying to Turtle Island and has presented at numerous conferences, events, and indigenous gatherings around the world.
Tiokasin Ghosthorse is from the Cheyenne River Lakota (Sioux) Nation of South Dakota. He is an international activist on behalf of peace, indigenous lifeways, and Mother Earth. Tiokasin has a long history of indigenous rights activism and advocacy. He spoke, as a teenager, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and ever since has been actively educating people who live on Turtle Island (North America) and overseas about the importance of living with each other and with Mother Earth. Tiokasin has been described as a ‘spiritual agitator, natural rights organiser, indigenous thinking process educator and a community activator’. He is the host of First Voices Indigenous Radio and also a master musician and one of the greatest exponents of the ancient cedar Lakota flute, performing worldwide. He is also an advisor in Cultural Linguistics and Living Language. He has taught many times as part of St Ethelburga’s spiritual ecology strand and has a gift for deconditioning the mind, opening the door to experiencing Earth as a living, animate, spiritual being.
Charlotte Du Cann is a writer, editor and co-director of the Dark Mountain Project. She also teaches collaborative writing and art, and radical kinship with the other-than-human world. In 1991 she left her life as a London features and fashion journalist with a one-way ticket to Mexico. After travelling for a decade, she settled on the East Anglian coast to write a sequence of books about reconnecting with the Earth. The first of these 52 Flowers That Shook My World – A Radical Return to Earth documents an exploration into the language and medicine of plants from the Oxford Botanical Gardens to the high desert of Arizona. Recently, Charlotte has written about activism, myth and cultural change for the New York Times, the Guardian, Noema and openDemocracy, and is co-producing a collective Dark Mountain project about the ancestral solar year called Eight Fires. Her second collection of essays, After Ithaca – Journeys in Deep Time, centred around the four initiatory tasks of Psyche, will be published this May.
Jacqueline Freeman is a biodynamic farmer and natural beekeeper who sees the world from the bees’ perspective. Working in communication with the bee family, she is known for her gentle and understanding ways with Nature. Jacqueline authored the book, Song of Increase: Listening to the Wisdom of Honeybees for Kinder Beekeeping and a Better World and appears in the documentary, Queen of the Sun. Jacqueline is co-author of a new book, What Bees Want: Beekeeping as Nature Intended. Jacqueline’s website has videos of her working in the midst of thousands of bees, free of protective equipment, celebrating the caring and considerate ways humans and bees can exist in harmony. “This book is a jewel. I am having a total can’t-put-the-book-down/don’t-want-it-ever-to-end experience. This is holy bee communion. It speaks to the relationship with the sacred that is so precious…a deep and intimate dive into the divine.” (Debra Roberts, The Centre for Honeybee Research).
Facilitators & hosts
Justine Huxley: Previously the CEO of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, Justine is a Senior Consultant working within and beyond the Centre. St Ethelburga’s mission sits at the intersection of climate and peace, calling people to bridge divides and love the Earth. Justine works on spiritual ecology, resilience and new project innovation. She also leads Lighthouse in a Storm, a unique foundation course which grows spiritual resilience for climate and social collapse. Justine has a Ph.D in psychology. She is a follower of the Sufi tradition and has been leading meditation and dreamwork groups for many years. She is the editor of Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change and is currently working on a new book. Justine is an experienced facilitator and became a passionate amateur student of animal and plant communication six years ago, after a house plant unexpectedly asked her a question. Learning from wisdom keepers how to be with the natural world in this more subtle way, opened a door for her to new experiences which have become a source of great joy.
Sharon Brittain is passionate about life and the living world, with a range of experience from working with nesting sea turtles in Northern Cyprus, to teaching yoga in rehab. With a background in Psychosynthesis and Sensory-Motor psychotherapy, she worked as a psychotherapist and group facilitator, with a focus on body wisdom, unspoken communication and internal systems. She wrote “The Fertile Void” – an exploration of realms of consciousness – which was published in 2013. Having travelled extensively with her partner, Gordon, camping in the wilderness in Africa, Canada and Australia, she feels a deep kinship with ancient forests and the interconnectedness of all life. They recently moved to rural France to live more closely with the land, and protect and restore a space where biodiversity may flourish. Listening with the earth and experiencing the interplay of the many life forms at La Jarrie, she is witnessing how living systems orient towards wholeness, and the innate intelligence that constantly seeks to express itself.
Gordon Sheret: With a past life in catering and hospitality, Gordon’s first love is wildlife photography. Initially drawn to Africa, walking and Kayaking the Okovango Delta, he had face to face encounters with lions, hyena and bull elephants. He has a passion for the insect realm, and makes the hidden world visible through macro photography, taking us inside the folds of flowers and witnessing minutiae. He is using images to catalogue the living world at La Jarrie, and is particularly drawn to the butterflies and dragonflies which are abundant in the wetland. Since arriving in Normandy Gordon has been spellbound by the wonders of this dark sky region, and is discovering more about the planets, stars and galaxies which manifest there as the seasons turn. Gordon has a penchant for experimental cookery, and works a menu around what is calling in the potager (La Jarrie’s permaculture garden). He is famous for his veggie curries, and once cooked for the queen!
Click this link to see the location in google maps. There are several ways to get to La Jarrie:
We estimate that if travel is booked at least a month in advance, it should be possible to travel (from London) via Eurostar for under £200.
Covid and travel
Currently, you’ll need to be triple vaxxed in order to travel to France – or to be double vaxxed with the most recent vaccine within six months of the date of travel. PCR tests and antigen tests are no longer needed. There are currently no isolation requirements if you’re vaccinated. You just need to fill in a passenger locator form online before you go and before you come back.
Once your place is secured, we will send you more detailed information, including the necessary links to covid travel info. For now, here is the government page on travel to France.
We are confident the retreat will go ahead as planned (and have waited until it seems safe to do so), but in the event of a new variant causing disruption, if it becomes impossible to travel, we will postpone the retreat to the autumn. Please note that we cannot refund any travel costs if the retreat is postponed due to covid. However, Eurostar, French rail and other travel companies allow you to reuse your tickets at a later date. We can refund the cost of the retreat (but not travel) only if the new autumn dates proved impossible for you, and only if the cancellation is made a minimum of three months before the new date. This refund policy overrides the general one stated on our website, which is for evening events and day workshops only.
Rooms are simple but clean and comfortable. There is a range of private double, single and twin shared rooms in a cottage close to the farmhouse, with a large kitchen for eating and chatting in. Plus there is a bell tent that sleeps two people and space to camp with your own tent.
This retreat is a pilot in a new series and also uses a new venue for the first time. We are confident you will have a high quality experience, but we also like to price pilot retreats slightly lower than usual. Therefore this retreat is an opportunity to experience a powerful week at a very reasonable cost. We invite donations on top for those who can afford it to cover more of our costs. The suggested top up donation is £60, which goes directly to St Ethelburga’s.
Tickets are between £560 and £750 (depending on your means and/or what kind of room you want). This includes all accommodation, food, and activities. Travel is on top of this. Travel costs will be around £200 per person if booked in good time. ***We are almost full – applications for camping places are more likely to be successful at this point – but this is a great choice if you like stars and the night calls of owls! If you’re not a camper please do apply anyway – we are still juggling room options so you might be lucky! ***
Large private room with double bed (£670)
Small private room with single bed (£650)
Shared room with two beds (£600)
Shared room with double bed for couple (£590 each)
Bell tent with two single beds (£590)
‘Indoor camping’ rooms (comfortable mattresses in less private rooms)(£540)
Bring own tent and bedding (£520)
These prices only just cover our costs. We also invite a donation on top towards St Ethelburga’s work. Suggested donation is £50. If you can afford it, please add this donation to your room rate.
We have some subsidised places for anyone whose financial situation means they would not otherwise be able to come. If you would like to apply for one please complete the regular booking form and in addition please email email@example.com and tell us about yourself. It’s important to us to have maximum diversity in our programmes, so we particularly welcome applications from young people and people of diverse cultures and faiths.
How to book
To apply click here to complete the enquiry form ***Early application is encouraged***
To see the different room types and prices, click on the enquiry form and scroll down.
If we have more enquiries than we have places, our practice is to assign places in a way that creates as diverse a community as possible.
Dates and timing
The retreat begins with supper at 5.30pm on Sunday 19th June 2022 and concludes at 2pm on Saturday 25th June 2022. Please aim to arrive between 3pm and 5.30pm on the Sunday. And please let us know *before* booking your tickets if you will need a lift from Flers.
What we will do:
What we ask of you:
“Sit and be still
until in the time
of no rain you hear
beneath the dry wind’s
commotion in the trees
the sound of flowing
water among the rocks,
a stream unheard before,
and you are where
breathing is prayer.”
– Wendell Berry
St Ethelburga’s is a ‘maker of peace-makers’. We inspire and equip individuals and communities to contribute, in their own particular contexts, to activating a global culture of peace.