Tag Archives: Egypt

Religious wildernesses

I remember childhood Bible stories referred to the Wilderness. These days I find it interesting to consider most if not all religions link with the concept of the wilderness. Laura Feldt covered this topic in “Wilderness in Mythology and Religion”: ‘Wilderness is one of the most abiding creations in the history of religions.’ Her book ‘addresses the need for cross-cultural anthropological and history of religions analyses by offering in-depth case studies of the use and functions of wilderness spaces in a diverse range of contexts including, but not limited to, ancient Greece, early Christian asceticism, Old Norse religion, the shamanism-Buddhism encounter in Mongolia, contemporary paganism, and wilderness spirituality in the US.’

In her 2014 article ‘Religions need wilderness’, Kathleen Braden wrote “The three monotheistic religions based on a common root – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have an expression of nature and wilderness as places that allow perception of God’s sovereignty. … Wilderness is a territory (both on land and sea) where one encounters God, and it is not always an easy geography. For the ancient Israelites, it may be a place of repentance coupled with renewal. When the Israelites leave Egypt and displease God, they must wander in hostile lands before reaching a promised place. Abraham casts the slave woman, Hagar, into the wilderness, but she is saved by God, who renews her spirit and gives her a vision that she will build a great nation. Similarly, in the New Testament, the gospel of Mark begins with John the Baptist proclaiming God in the wilderness, foretelling the Christ who is to come, and calling for, again, repentance. Jesus has his own time in the wilderness being tested and honed for his ministry. For believing Muslims, creation is a gift from God and a sign of God’s grace. Similar to Judaic and Christian traditions, in Islam, nature reflects the dominion of God, not the hubris of human control. For these three monotheistic faiths that began in the Middle East, groups of believers through history have set themselves apart in monastic communities, often seeking out the wild places in self-imposed exile to allow the voice of God to be understood more clearly.

In other religions, nature and the sacred helps bring humanity into a right relationship with creation. Baha’i traditions hold that nature reflects the perfection of God and thus, sacred spaces help create a sense of harmony, transformation, and wholeness. In Hinduism and Jainism, nature reflects the abundance that the earth provides and also reminds us of the wholeness of humanity with all other life forms: there should be no barriers or separation.

Likewise, Buddhism suggests that nothing that exists is in isolation, but the sacred can lead us to understand the interdependence of all living things and help us express compassion for creation. Some sects of Buddhism also have, like the desert Christian communities, an ascetic tradition, adherents who must be removed from the material world. Their spiritual quests may be best realized in wilderness.

Religions or traditions with cultural hearths further east in Asia – Shintoism, Confucianism, Daoism – also have expressions of harmony and continuity with nature, but perhaps more in a cosmological view, although places, such as sacred stands of trees with shrines in Shintoism, may be manifest of the need to have a holy place of contemplation and refreshment.

Finally, Indigenous religious traditions are so varied and numerous that outlining them in a short essay might risk stereotyping these faiths. But in many regions, Indigenous spiritual traditions connect the wild with a worldview that interweaves humanity with nature in an unbroken relationship. Whether the shamanistic traditions of Central Asia, Native American religions of North and South America, pre-Christian European practices, animistic faiths of the African continent, or contemporary paganism, none are devoid of practices and stories related to the human relationship with nature. 

While the sacred does not have to be wilderness, wild places must be sacred. Religion needs wilderness. Whether we call this hunger an expression of God’s sovereignty or evidence of the union of all living things or connection with ancestors and a world of spirits, religion requires the wild – the not-us – to show a crucial interrelationship. The threats to wilderness, therefore, also pose a danger to the heart of humanity’s most treasured faith doctrines.”

As an atheist I don’t believe a God or other deities exist, whatever name is given by any religion. However, I am happy to be playful with one ancient Greek god who came out of retirement to meet me. A recent comment by my sister about the danger of snakes when I walk in the Tasmanian bush (all Tasmanian snakes inject their venom poisonously), reminded me of my meeting with Zeus last year. While walking in the visitor-less grounds of one of his temples located in Dion, northern eastern Greece, he and I surprised each other. Zeus has the ability to transform himself and appear as a snake. There he was basking in the sun near the end of the path I was following. Having welcomed me, he slipped away quickly.  I felt very safe then, as I will do when walking along the Derwent River. Besides, Tasmania’s Mt Olympus overlooks Lake St Clair on its western flank, and we all know Zeus’s home is Mt Olympus, albeit the one in Greece. I suspect Zeus will look out for me in some form, and make sure I reach Lake St Clair.

Despite not believing in a God, I do believe in the personally transformative power of the bush, wilderness, forests, whatever you may call those bunches of trees and natural collections of flora and fauna.

When with friends I have talked about walking, particularly in the bush, as a meditative practice. Sometimes the impact of the bush and its flora and fauna is so great that a well of great happiness is tapped – as evidenced, for example, by my bursting into song as described in an earlier post . At the end of any walk, words such as reinvigorated, revitalised, relaxed, uplifted, satisfied and at peace always come to mind. In addition, the power of the bush allows me to put the rest of life and living into perspective. Nature and its forces are so much stronger and more beautiful than any one of us, and it is a delight to be reminded of this in such profound ways. The rich rare world out there, rather than any religious connection, draws me to our wilderness.

From the Nile River in Africa to the Derwent River in Australia

The Nile River in Africa and the Derwent River in Tasmania Australia.  On two different sides of the world.

Q.     What connects these two rivers?       A.     Agatha Christie

You gasp.

In 1922, the now-world renowned detective fiction novelist Agatha Christie took herself on a ten-month Grand Tour of the British empire, including South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Previously she had spent time in Egypt with her mother in 1910. Her travels helped flesh out details for many of her ‘who-done-it’ mysteries.

For those of my blog followers who have not been devotees of Hercule Poirot, I recommend you read Agatha Christie’s story of Death on the Nile written in 1937, visit the theatre to see Murder on the Nile the 1944 play based on the novel, or watch anyone of the many films that have been produced based on this story. I would be surprised if you cannot access something on the internet.

The correspondence of her travels has been collated into the publication The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery.

 Grand Tour Agatha Christie bookcover

In this book we can read “From Australia we went to Tasmania, driving from Launceston to Hobart. Incredibly beautiful Hobart, with its deep blue sea and harbour, and its flowers, trees and shrubs. I planned to come back and live there one day. From Hobart we went to New Zealand.” Agatha Christie is, of course, referring to the expansive harbour on the sea end of Tasmania’s Derwent River.  She was also making a typical mistake that some mainlanders and most international tourists make. Tasmania is still part of Australia, even though it is a large island to the south.  So, when she left Sydney New South Wales Australia, I suspect Agatha sailed into Launceston Tasmania Australia.

A book reviewer at http://www.amazon.com/The-Grand-Tour-Around-Mystery/dp/006219125X: remarked “The Grand Tour is a fascinating collection of never before published letters and photographs detailing Christie’s travels around the British Empire in 1922. Most of the letters were sent to her mother and included photos taken with Christie’s own camera as well as newspaper clippings and various memorabilia. This collection is an insight into the thoughts and mind of a young Agatha Christie who had just published two novels and would later become the most widely published author of all time. She and her husband, Archie, embarked on a year-long voyage as part of a promotional trade mission, so there was work involved as well as various obligations as they visited South Africa, New Zealand, Hawaii and Canada. Her letters to her mother were, of course, candid which for this reader greatly added to their charm. I especially enjoyed Christie’s slightly wicked sense of humour, such as when she describes a fellow passenger as “the only young thing on the ship, but although very pretty, is a terrible mutt.” Her observations of both people and places are acute and fascinating to read.  Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson, has done an excellent job of collecting, editing and introducing these letters. We are in his debt for The Grand Tour reminds us that Christie was not only an outstanding author but a remarkable woman as well.”

The back cover of the book records:

“In 1922 Agatha Christie set sail on a ten-month voyage around the world. Her husband, Archibald Christie, had been invited to join a trade mission to promote the British Empire Exhibition, and Christie was determined to go with him. It was a life-changing decision for the young novelist, a true voyage of discovery that would inspire her future writing for years to come.

Placing her two-year-old daughter in the care of her sister, Christie set sail at the end of January and did not return home until December. Throughout her journey, she kept up a detailed weekly correspondence with her mother, describing the exotic places and the remarkable people she encountered as the mission travelled through South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Canada. Reproduced here for the first time, the letters are full of tales of seasickness and sunburn, motor trips and surfboarding, glamor and misery. The Grand Tour also brings to life the places and people Christie encountered through the photos she took on her portable camera, as well as some of the original postcards, newspaper cuttings, and memorabilia she collected on her trip.

Edited and introduced by Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, and accompanied by reminiscences from her own autobiography, this unique travelogue reveals a new adventurous side to Agatha Christie, one that would ultimately influence the stories that made her a household name.”

Walking the Nile River in Africa

Overseas followers of my blog may have already seen the four part series documenting a recent walk from the source to the mouth of the Nile River – I can see on the internet it was screened in some countries earlier this year.

This Thursday on WIN TV around Australia, the first hour will be screened from 8.30pm (Eastern Standard Time).  How thrilling!  What a wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in such a journey albeit from the comfort of my couch.

Former British soldier, journalist and now explorer, Levison Wood started out in the African country of Rwanda and walked northwards through 5 other countries until he reached the Mediterranean at the northern edge of Egypt. This epic journey covering upwards of 4000 miles, took about 9 months after starting in December 2013 and finishing later last year.  Lev Wood has written a book of these travels.

Levison Wood Walking the Nile book cover

Websites including http://www.levisonwood.com/, https://twitter.com/walkingthenile; and https://www.facebook.com/WalkingTheNile provide additional information about this extraordinary achievement. Isn’t it marvellous that in this day and age, people can still undertake ‘pioneering firsts’ on this planet? “Everything” hasn’t been done already.

Australians, I urge you to join me on the couch this Thursday night to begin to see the challenges faced by this inspirational walker.

Rosetta on the Derwent River

My next walk along the Derwent River will start half way through Berriedale and pass by the suburb of Rosetta before moving onto others. I have tried to discover how Rosetta came to be named and, while I learned a little of its history, I am not certain why it was given this name.  However, I believe that our local suburb of Rosetta is indirectly named after an Egyptian town.

I suspect it all started around the time when the internationally known Rosetta Stone was found in 1799 (note: the first European settlement along our Derwent River started in 1803).  The Rosetta Stone was found by French soldiers, (under Napoleon Bonaparte’s command) who were rebuilding a fort in Egypt, in a small village called Rashid (but known as Rosetta by the Europeans).

Wikipedia offers the following information: “Rosetta (Arabic: رشيد‎ Rašīd IPA: [ɾɑˈʃiːd]; French: Rosette) is a port city on the Nile Delta in Egypt, located 65 km east of Alexandria. Both the Arabic name Rašīd (Interesting unrelated sideline is that Ar-Rašīd meaning “The Guide”, is one of the 99 names of Allah) and the western name Rosetta or Rosette (“little rose” in Italian and French respectively) are corruptions of a Coptic (language from the native Christians of Egypt) word, Rashit or Trashit.”  I can pronounce Trashit, Rashid and Rosette/Rosetta so that they sound similar. Can you?

Read http://www.touregypt.net/rashid.htm#ixzz3NvMb6Iyk for more information about the town of Rashid. Apparently the highly green Egyptian town on the Nile River was typically tranquil with vast gardens, orchards and date-palm plantations, in addition to a multitude of beautiful historical houses, inns and mosques adorned with exquisite decorative inscriptions and woodworks. The town was known as the ‘Rose of the Nile’ by Europeans. I guess the name Rosetta was given to our suburb for the underlying European meaning of rose; a thing of beauty.  Hobart’s Rosetta is located on the southern side of Tasmania’s major river in a beautiful setting within the City of Glenorchy as part of the Greater Hobart Area.  However it is neither a city nor a port.

In 1807 as part of the Alexandria/Fraser expedition to Rosetta in Egypt, British forces led one group of local inhabitants in a civil war against another group led by a local leader.  Britain’s intention was to break the Ottoman-French alliance. As a result, in the first decade of the 1800s, I suggest that Egypt would have been highly visible in English news and the battles would have been known in the colonies.

Irene Schaffer, a Rosetta resident and local researcher offers historical information about the original settlement at http://www.tasfamily.net.au/~schafferi/index.php?file=kop79.php. John Berrisford and wife arrived in Australia from England on the First Fleet in 1788. Then, in 1808 John and his family sailed to Hobart Town. In subsequent years, they settled along the Derwent River in the area now known as Berriedale Bay and which extended to the south-east past Rosetta High School, and they built Rosetta Cottage (later renamed Undine Inn). 140 acres of land, now part of our suburb of Rosetta, was granted by NSW’s Governor King to John Berrisford in 1813.

My last walk along the Derwent River finished at MONA a little to the north of Rosetta. My next walk will start by passing Berriedale Bay. I look forward to seeing the old house – albeit with extensions and renovations since John Berrisford was alive. A photograph of this property, now known as the Rosetta Colonial Accommodation, can be seen at http://firstfleetfellowship.org.au/stories/john-hannah-beresford/. This website also provides more detail about the Berrisford family and their history.

Perhaps, through news from England, John Berrisford heard that Rosetta was the ‘Rose of the Nile’ and, in believing the British intrusion into Egypt was glorious, named his house as a show of support.

As a contrast from the historical background, I have located a contemporary profile for Rosetta. The population is 2567, the median household weekly income is $1050, the median age of residents is 45 years, the average household size is 2.4, almost 60% are married or in a de facto relationship, almost 40% are either under 5 years of age or over 64 years of age, weekly rent is $340, and the median house price is $319,455.