page title icon Cultural elements… On slender threads.

After the release from fear that comes with acclimatisation; being in a new place can invoke the power of curiosity. Yesterday, on the porch of a Tamil friend; I saw three objects hanging from the roof of his porch at his family home. He noticed.

The first was, threaded on a piece of string, in descending order; three lemons, four chilles and one piece of charcoal. The second, a cloth bag containing a coconut, and a cloth bag containing seed. The third, a large Alum crystal, wound with a rope of natural cordage and a small, bound cloth bag containing rice.

We made a brew and we took counsel. He told me:

‘Part of Tamil culture, many people don’t even remember what it is for, they just do it’.

‘Tamils are the first people’s here, It is believed we are from a land which disappeared under the sea called Kumari. These things partly hang from the roof, so that they are there for us to grab if the water is coming.’

Lemon- The King of Fruits.

‘The lemon is the King of fruits as it is good for so many things. In times gone by, a man would give a lemon as a greeting custom, even before shaking hands’.

As well as culinary and medicinal use, It was clear that the fruit had some vibrational signature well beyond my Ken. Anyway, being threaded, the juice runs down the string, hits the red chilles and creates a lovely slow, slow infusion which is then absorbed by the charcoal. Now Charcoal, me being a fan of woodland crafts, I do know, distilled from wood, it has a huge porous surface area; and is known as an absorber of impurities.

‘Used as protection from the evil eye, It is good for the environment’.

I wondered about this, I know traditionally in Gaelic culture that malintention of other people and even of disembodied or more than human elements was something which the householder would guard against. Take the old solar symbol known as Saint Bridget’s cross for example.   I wondered about the physicality of these objects, as well as the more esoteric events; what practical emission is taking place here on my mates porch?


We moved on to the alum sulfate, something I’d seen before for after-shaving and again, I think, as posh deodorant for hippie types who don’t like the Lynx effect. It is a rock crystal composed of two salts.

‘You crush it … and it will purify stagnant water. All impurities attract toward it; it will clear a pond no worries. The rope, because it is always handy to have a piece of rope; the rice is seed for planting.’

Never have I seen a more handy piece of kit for settling down after a tsunami. His ancestors have passed down the smarts to his generation.


The fresh coconut, bound with cloth, was for emergency rehydration. Perhaps there was something symbolic about this small amount of potable electrolyte beverage; perhaps not. There was nothing symbolic about the seed however. Saravanan’s grandmother, amongst other things; was a great seed saver. What’s hung in the small cloth bag is for renewing and feeding the family if they ever had to start their forest gardening again.

Alum(ni)- Cultural elements

Mark Morey, at the inception of Nature Culture Network, in a cowshed in West Sussex, was the first to teach me the concept of the 64 cultural elements; and their use in the repairing of our own cultures. They are elemental in the sense that they can be found in many traditional cultures worldwide; specific in the sense that they will be embedded in their own landscape, context, climate and protocol.

Anyway, there’s the concept, and there’s the application; and the latter takes much more time! Particularly as we are often feeling our way back in the dark to something that is authentic and traditional to our own land, hazards, climate and folk.

Jon Young is currently elucidating on this right now in his 512Project. You can check out an introductory video here:

Keeping them arboreal.

The general idea of cultural elements, however, is that their presence is indicative of a regenerative culture I.e. A community that is able to renew itself, be resilient to change and promote healthy human community in good relationship to the ecosystem. Culture, to paraphrase Jon Young, being the water that humans swim in.

At the time of writing, I have not even begun to scratch the surface of Tamil culture. We havn’t even looked at the culinary and medicinal pharmacopeia found in the yard garden among the traditionally tended trees, shrubs and plants.

Yet it is clear from a small walk through the streets of the local town that all is not well. The rivers are stagnant and polluted with plastic. This throw away phenomenon, is something I can relate to, a horrific by product of the aspirational march toward progress; profligated by memes and fueled by industries not of our creation. Therefore, there is a disconnect here between the cultural inheritance and current behaviour. The former is giving way to the latter; and something of real value could be lost.

Serious Times.

I only mention this example as a means to point to our own situation here in Scotland. We have been under inordinate pressure to eschew the old ways for so very long that often, the underlying resilience that comes with embedded relationship had either given way to tokenistic, fetishistic lip-service or has been lost entirely. Take the Celtic art of hospitality for example, would apprenticing to and deepening our relationship with this ancient meme serve us a species as we prepare for massive ecological migrancy?

The fact that any of these cultural elements are present, even if tokenistic in form, should be seen as a life line. A thin thread of cultural resilience that should be weaved to make stronger ropes; ones which might pull us out of the murky water we are in.

You see,

once you get your eye in,

on the periphery of awareness,

there’s variations on the theme,

creatively adapted to each ones need;


My contention is that it is our job to reclaim and renew traditions, as we are the ones alive now and responsible for our children and the elderly. Indebted to the research of the 8 Shields Institute for the 64 cultural elements, we owe it both to ourselves and our common humanity and the common inheritance with our plant and animal communities to improve well being.


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