This weekend is also a special weekend at Embercombe, because it is the quarterly meeting of the Embercombe council. The Council runs over 2 days. It is a non-decision-making space, which emphasises the importance simply of talking, generating ideas and holding space to work through and resolve issues relating to the Embercombe community. Read more about The Council and The Circle of Natural law. As “friends”, we are invited to witness The Council in action. 16 chairs for the Council (which includes seats for The Land, The Healers and The Keepers of the Mission – but interestingly no seat for the volunteers or apprentices….). They sit around a candle, 2 chairs for the Presiding Chiefs, and a scatter of cushions for the witnesses, who may come and go during the 4-hr meeting, but sit quietly in respect to the circle.
The Council is not a decision-making space, but it is the space for big topics and discussions. There is an extensive debate about the appointment of trustees. The issue was surrounding the appointment of trustees. New Trustees can only be appointed by other Trustees. Effectively, “The People” of Embercombe have little or no say in this process, which for many council members is not best practice. The discussion becomes interesting, as it brings up (not surprisingly) issues of relationship and trust. What is sustainable within an organisation? Should it depend on structure, or perhaps more on the relationship of the component parts? This discussion evolves around the idea of love. In this context, “love”, Mac points out, is more about coming from a wise place, acknowledging that human beings need structures to assist process, and how The Council represents a space for guidance; the circle of law as the place for the checks and balances to assist us in our scramble to become wise. The outcome is that the majority feel that it is the relationships that should be prioritised, and that it should be “best practice” for trustees to meet the Council before they are appointed, when possible. This expressed through consensus voting.
Next on the agenda is the role of the chiefs with their respective constituents – how are they gaining insight, and bringing it into council? How does Embercombe become a crucible of wisdom? How does the council navigate the global context of constituents? How does the council “bring” constituents into the space? It appears from the council that few if any have regular communion with their constituents, which begs the question: who are they actually representing?
These are very real and important questions, especially within a structure such as Embercombe, which is a Social Enterprise, and therefore, for all its ideas and efforts is essentially operating within a hierarchical structure. How can the Council be used as a space for equal representation, and is this possible when an organization also has to adhere to bureaucracy (such as the appointment of trustees)? How do we walk the path between two worlds, pushing and the structure from within, must we go into the corridors of power, like Shambala warriors?
 The council
The Council is based on The Circle of Natural law, a medicine wheel from the First Nation people of North America. That evening, Mac invites us to join him in the us all together in the main hall (Centrefire), to explain a bit more about the inspiration behind the Embercombe Council (hear the talk here). Mac sits comfortably on a chair, next to a small A-board, holding an illustration of the embercombe council. The group gather around Mac, and a roaring woodburner, stretched out on sofas and sheepskin rugs. Mac explains that has spent over 20 years with the teachings of first nation people, including the Celts of Great Britain, who were also a tribal people, until just over 2,000 years ago, when the Romans invaded, and so began the story of separation, extracting the people of this land from an earth-based existence, and a belief in the Circle of Natural Law, and the sacredness of the natural world, in favour of Christian civilization…
In this context, the Circle of Natural Law addresses the question “How do we govern ourselves?”, it is based upon congruence with Natural laws, it’s about the innate knowledge and wisdom of the earth. In the circle of Natural Law, everything is a physical representation of a spiritual power, communicating itself to us, and by observing the physical form, we may gain insight into the power of that entity. In the circle of Natural law, everything can teach us something. In nature we witness a dynamic balance, an interplay between masculine and feminine energies. This fundamental principle of dynamic balance illustrates a constant process, a ‘righting’ response that occurs when things fall out of balance. This Circle of Natural Law, is the basis for the Embercombe Council.
The Embercombe Council is modelled on this method of governance used by tribal people to deal with community issues, resolve problems, and to socialise. Meetings would be called by the Chiefs, who would be specially selected, respected representatives of the community. The function of these meetings was to maintain the checks and balances to maintain equilibrium in the community. Up to 2000 people would gather to sing, dance, trade, and to fall in love… The Council would bring together 16 representatives – one male and one female from 8 positions on the medicine wheel (see picture). The Mothers were represented by 2 women, and the hunters/workers were represented by two men. This wheel is interpreted by Embercombe with relevant amendments (see picture), taking into account the energetic qualities of these 8 points, but acknowledging the Embercombe community. Mac explains that there can be many variations, but there must always be the correct positioning, the male/female balance, and in the centre, the presiding chiefs, who have no voting power, although, they do have the power to veto a motion altogether, if it is seen to contradict the precepts of the Natural Law. The most important, and over-riding, precept is that of The Children’s Fire . Simply put, The Children’s Fire represents the welfare of the 7 generations that follow us; and our commitment as guardians of this planet, to keeping them at the forefront of our decision-making process. Mac asks – “What sort of government or organization wouldn’t put the children’s fire at the centre of all decisions?”
One really interesting practice Mac mentions is that traditionally each law was represented by a ceremonial arrow and that every 4 years, the arrows were symbolically broken in ceremony, and the rules are either renewed or discarded, depending on their relevance to the now. He also spoke of the significance of the word “ceremony”, the marriage of creativity (Ceres, the earth Goddess, and Goddess of Grain), with the circle (moon). Ceremony is always a creative process; As opposed to “ritual”, which is simply repetition, soulless. Pete and I really liked this idea, how different this world could be if we allowed space for regular review and re-birth: if we asked the question “Does this still serve us?” Just imagine how creative that space could become, what could be possible…
Mac goes on to describe the significance of the circle gathering, which, in essence connects us to the cosmological, cyclical nature of Natural Law. When speaking into the circle, we move in a “sunwise” direction, unbound by linear time, we are all equal and welcome. Honesty is both our gift and our invitation to the circle.