Last night I dreamt of dark lake again. Bodies of the dead float on its oiled surface, pulled around by thick eddies, reaching hands to a smoke filed sky and slowly sink back under the inky black. Perhaps waving their last goodbye, or maybe hello. Sometimes my visit is accompanied with dreams of digging with my hands in dry earth searching for life that is no longer there. The seeds I’m searching for have all but dried up and died. At times, a figure dressed in a charred black straw bear costume sits with scythe in hand on a foetid rubbish dump throne. He overlooks endless Ceilidh dancers as they move around and around and around… their eyeless bodies just going through the motions. Death takes them all with no apology. This has been a recurring dream motif over these months and years. The morning ritual the same. Warm tea, milk and honey generously applied. It helps me kick start past the dread reverie. Night time brings with it herbal teas that soothe and relax. Bolstering to what dreams may come.
“Honestly, if you’re given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don’t say ‘what kind of tea?”
― Neil Gaiman
I’m lucky though. These are just dreams. Away from the internet and my folk writing I work alongside the oppressed and marginalised. With young people with additional support needs, such as disability and autism and the organisations that support them. I write books and guides to the law and rights. I represent them in parliament and government debate. To know what to do is to be empowered. I help young people meet their potential and break down barriers. I volunteer on helplines, for people having a hard time for whatever reason. I hear many tales of abuse and oppression but I also hear of hope and recovery. Of achievements, no one thought possible. Stories of people surviving against the odds. I listen as I sip my tea, drinking more as I talk through things after a hard shift.
To help others in Scotland understand we bring marginalised voices together so people can hear their stories. We are stronger collectively. Stories change the heart and win minds. Like in the folk tales Scotland is famous for. This is Scotland. Where our First minister was awarded the bastion of liberalism accolade. We are luckier than other places so far. We still haven’t introduced fracking (long may that continue). We still let immigrants through our borders. We still want to be part of a larger community of Europe. As we plan, tea is always present. To celebrate we drink tea (and whisky but I can’t drink that in my office).
All through these times my constant companion has been tea. It doesn’t matter if I’m sad, happy, relaxing, about to go out, or sleepy. I’ve had tea cocktails and tea sorbet. Tea is used to take away the pain of bad news. There’s always tea. It’s like nature is always with us in that small cup. A little plant talisman right there in the mug. Where there is tea, there is hope the saying goes.
If you’ve read this far you might be what is this all about? Why all the talk of tea, oppression and optimism? Because of the lack of support some areas of grassroots work is getting I have felt drawn to help reverse the trend. To address the lack of funds the protection camps, the anti-fracking movements and herbalists without borders have in the UK. To help do this I am selling a small bespoke choice of teas. All the profits from which go to charity. We can only deliver so much by dropping in. The sale of these teas will hopefully enable folk to get what they need with some free funds. By buying the tea you get something too. A little plant talisman of your own to help when times get tough. I think it’s a win-win.
But why tea?
Tea is always with me and has a long history of being present in politics and culture. In America, it’s associated with right-wing radicalism. It’s also associated with the Mad Hatter. Go figure. But tea is always there as things kick off. Like the Boston tea party. It’s been accused of being an effeminate drink by Duncan Forbes of Culloden in the 18th century and too expensive for a lot of folk to drink*. It survived though. It was there in the trenches at the world war and before then fell into the Shennog’s cup (a mythical ruler sage also called the God Farmer**). My nan brewing it on her stove top teapot made of stainless steel. My mum giving me chamomile tea when I was a teething wean. The first cup of tea in the morning to the milky lemon balm tea of an eve. It’s been part of my life for ever. It is ubiquitous of Scotland and the North.
The herbal tea recipes you can buy derive from the land around me. They have been formulated to be evocative of life in the country. It’s a tribute to the land I live on and represents all that we will lose if things like fracking and environmental protections are removed. Tea is natures bookmark. It’s remind us of why and where we are at.
“As far as her mom was concerned, tea fixed everything. Have a cold? Have some tea. Broken bones? There’s a tea for that too. Somewhere in her mother’s pantry, Laurel suspected, was a box of tea that said, ‘In case of Armageddon, steep three to five minutes’.”
― Aprilynne Pike,
I’d like to think you can use the tea being sold in your own “tea ceremony”. Nothing fancy, perhaps as you have a cup you might think about how you could do things in your community to support the marginalised or disadvantaged. How you might help support your environment, a little folk magic that may help inspire you. With those little plant spirits in your cup mingling together. Who knows where they might lead you.
Perhaps you may want to just gather the ingredients from your local neighbourhood and make your own tea. Perhaps you’re not interested in tea. If not please consider making a visit to your local anti-fracking camps to find out what they are looking for or donating funds. All charities need your help but these are the ones that have no recourse to public funds. Or perhaps you might want to support things like the Scottish Radical Herbal Network and gatherings.
Whatever you do please do something and remember. All these projects are made up of warm hearts holding cold hands to stop some of the madness we see going on all around us. And my heart is with them.
*Grant, I.F (1961) Highland Folk ways. Birlinn. Edinburgh.
** Legend holds that Shennong had a transparent body, and thus could see the effects of different plants and herbs on himself. Tea, which acts as an antidote against the poisonous effects of some seventy herbs, is also said to have been his discovery. Shennong first tasted it, traditionally in ca. 2437 BC, from tea leaves on burning tea twigs, after they were carried up from the fire by the hot air, landing in his cauldron of boiling water (Reynolds, 1994). Shennong is venerated as the Father of Chinese medicine. From Jane Reynolds; Phil Gates; Gaden Robinson (1994). 365 Days of Nature and Discovery. New York: Harry N. Adams. p. 44.