Today at the Castle of the Muses we have been commemorating some extraordinary figures from the past. Each day, as those who have been here on retreat know, we have a communal meditation service that includes prayers and silent meditation, and then some readings from sacred scriptures, poetry and other inspired words. We also read from the Universal Calendar of Saints and Sages, which I wrote some years ago when it came to my attention that there simply is no book that lists saints and sages from all faiths, all paths, all philosophies and all religions. You can get lots of Dictionaries of Christian Saints (although the details vary from denomination to denomination) but you cannot get equivalent lists of saints and sages from say Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism etc. So this is what our Universal Calendar does. From each category of faith paths, each day of the year, we have one example to reflect on. (The book is available here at: http://www.lulu.com/iipsgp)
Today, in the category of famous women from the past who qualify as either a saint or a sage (or a scientist or philosopher) we commentated the life story of Rosika Schwimmer, (September 11, 1877 – August 3, 1948) who was was a Hungarian-born pacifist, feminist and female suffragist. She was also one of the first world federalists, which was a movement I myself got involved with in Canada in the late 1970’s and used to serve on the UK Committee of the Association of World federalists back from 1981-1984. Rosika’s life story reads as an amazing testimony to what one person can do to prevent war and also to solve the root causes of it. The current work of the World Federalists Movement can be found here: http://www.wfm-igp.org/
In 1897 Schwimmer founded the Hungarian Feminist Association, helped to found Hungarian National Council of Women, later organized the first Women’s Trade Union in Hungary and was a board member in the Hungarian Peace Society. In 1909, the Minister of the Interior appointed her to the governing board of child welfare.
In 1913 she became a corresponding secretary of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA). Schwimmer toured Europe with Carrie Chapman Catt to lecture on female suffrage. She also edited the magazine A nő (The Woman). In 1914 Schwimmer moved to London and worked as a correspondent of various European newspapers and press secretary for IWSA. When World War I broke out, she could not return home and began to agitate for the end of hostilities. In 1914 she toured the USA to demand that president Woodrow Wilson form a neutral conference to end the war. In 1915 she took part in the formation of the Woman’s Peace Party.
At the International Congress of Women, 28 April – 10 May 1915, The Hague, Netherlands Schwimmer’s proposal for a Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation between the governments of the belligerents was adopted. Later that year she gained the support of Henry Ford, who chartered a Peace Ship to Stockholm. Disappointed with Ford’s efforts, she later organized the International Committee for Immediate Mediation in June 1916. After the armistice, Schwimmer became vice-president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
When Hungary gained independence from Austria-Hungary in 1918, prime minister Mihály Károlyi appointed Schwimmer to be ambassador to Switzerland, which was the first time a woman had been appointed an ambassador anywhere in history, so far as is known. When the communists gained control of the government in 1919, she opposed them and lost her civil rights. In 1920, when Miklós Horthy‘s government ousted the communists, she fled to Vienna and in 1921 to the USA. She settled in Chicago and did not move back to Hungary, where she had contributed to building the foundation for future women in Hungarian politics.
Due to her pacifist beliefs, Schwimmer was labelled as a “socialist” in the USA (to be in favour of society is apparently not desirable – even though, as Aristotle pointed out, we are all social animals). She spent most of her remaining life fighting slander against her person. When Fred Marvin accused her of being a German spy and a Bolshevist agent, she sued and received $17,000 in damages. However, she could not gain US citizenship because of her pacifism—the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against her in United States v. Schwimmer (1929). In 1946, United States v. Schwimmer was overturned in Girouard v. United States. She spent the rest of her life in the country but living as a stateless person. Interestingly, this is how Karl Marx had ended up because he too was never granted UK citizenship.
Later in life Schwimmer tried to create a movement that would lead to the eventual formation of a just and fair world government. In 1935 she formed the World Centre for Women’s Archives with Mary Ritter Beard. She received the World Peace Prize in 1937. At the same year she formed the Campaign for World Government with Lola Maverick Lloyd, the first World Federalist organization of the 20th century. Later in the 20th century, the federalist movement have successfully led the campaign and coalition for creating an International Criminal Court, which Schwimmer rarely gets credit for. In 1947 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but had no chance of obtaining it as the prize was not awarded the next year. If anyone deserved it, she did ! Then she died in 1948, just as the cold war was gathering momentum and the crazy nuclear arms race was getting underway between the Soviet and Western blocs of nations.
From the perspective of the Muses, Rosika represents the applied intelligence that is often found in the heart of women, whereas men too often find it good to fight and battle things out, either mentally or physically. (Of course, this is a generalisation; there are some peace loving men, and some very violent women around in history).
If her Peace Ship had been successful, maybe she could have prevented World War One from continuing. Or if her idea for continuous mediation had been taken up, likewise, the war could have been resolved. History has told us that in fact, with hindsight, the war was pretty pointless -millions died without any real rhyme or reason, and the propaganda that issued on all sides from the minds of the apologists for the carnage was in fact just that, propaganda. I do not make this claim lightly – but after years of research and thinking about it. I studied world war one history in very great detail at the University of London back in the 1980’s, including the paper on diplomatic history at the LSE which covered the whole period from 1815-1956 in great depth. I certainly believe that with more intelligent diplomacy, the outbreak of World War one could have been prevented, and above all, with more effective mediation protocols in place – and who knows, perhaps my Council of Monarchs idea already realised.
Nor was Rosika taken in by the Bolshevik promises of “utopia now, at the barrel of a gun” as too many thinkers of her generation were, and nor did she have anything but contempt for the crudities of fascism and Nazism as they appeared on the scene. She was after all, Jewish, so she left for the USA when the right wing gained power in her native Hungary in the 1930’s.
But even in the USA her talents were not appreciated. She was in fact denied USA citizenship, because she had admitted in court that “under no circumstances would she fight and kill other people as part of her American citizenship”. Apparently, being a pacifist disqualified you from taking up American citizenship.
I think it was for a similar reason that my own parents, when they travelled to the USA in 1948, the year of Rosika’s death, eventually chose to settle in Canada rather than the USA, since they found a far greater degree of intellectual freedom, tolerance and liberalism in Canadian culture than in the USA of the McCarthy era. The recent resounding victory of Justin Trudeau as Canadian Prime Minister proves they were right, perhaps. Maybe Rosika should have moved up to Canada instead of constantly trying to become a USA citizen.
But frustrated by her failure to become a USA citizen, she did her best to create the feasibility of becoming a global citizen, and set the steps in motion towards making the idea of a world citizenship movement possible.
The International Institute of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy, likewise formed to uphold and continue the work of generations of visionaries such as Rosika, was brought mainly into being through the creative partnership of myself, and a committee of scholars and scientists and thinkers, among whom was my own mother, Eileen Daffern, who in many ways was very similar to Rosika in her own outlooks. Like her she was very involved with the work of the Women’s International League for Peace and freedom, and also took the view that until women can help humanity choose peace over war and violence, we will not make it through as a species, in an era of weapons of mass destruction.
To celebrate this day, I am including here a poem which I have only recently recorded, as part of my project to record my entire poetic oeuvre (before I die) which stands at 900 poems, so far, and counting. I think it is important to hear how poems sound read, not just how they sound when you read them in your head. As a Bard, my poetry is intended to be spoken aloud, and as my friends know, I also often improvise poetry when the Muse inspires me. his is a gift which, according to the ancient Brehon laws of Ireland, was something that distinguished an authentic bard from an imposter, and could be demanded of a guest due to the hospitality laws of ancient Ireland (three days shelter and food to any wandering Bard who knocks on your door) as evidence of one’s authenticity. So many people, then as now, claim to be Bards, but how can you tell the genuine article ?
Earlier today, October 22 2015, MP’s debated in the UK parliament the issue of war in Syria and Iraq and the terms and conditions, under which British troops might engage in Syria, initially from the air. Scottish MP’s rightly asked to see more details, and to see more emphasis placed on resolving and preventing the fighting, than merely resorting to yet more bombing and yet more violence. The Minister of Defence, Michael Fallon MP, agreed that more should be done for the political track, to resolve the conflict. But then he said “With Isil it is impossible to deal, they behead you, they abuse women, they blow up cultural monuments etc.” so all that remains is to rain down bombs on them (to paraphrase).
My own contention is that poetry is a universal language that transcends, cultural and linguistic specificities. All true Muslims know and love poetry, and their Holy Quran, is itself transmitted in a transcendental form of poetry, just as the Vedas, the Gospels, the works of the ancient Jewish prophets etc have been. Poetry and divinity are kindred spirits, and in the works of Taliesin, the ancient Bard of Britain, or in Amergin, the original Bard and Chief Druid of Ireland, we have both poetry and theology at once, so to speak. So why not try poetry for peace instead of bombs for war ? Britain has been fighting in one way or another in the Middle East since 2003, that’s 12 long years, and truth to say, the place looks a damn sight more messed up than before then. Are we not also the nation of Shakespeare and Burns, Keats and Shelley, Thomas Hardy and T.S. Eliot, as well as the land of Nelson, Wellington and Montgomery. I would say “Send in the poets”. Let the British Council organise a Poetry for Peace festivals in Damascus, Baghdad, Istanbul, Cairo, Jerusalem and Beirut (ok, even one would do !)…. And invite famous poets from across the Middle East to contest and read or perform their works. Baghdad used to echo as a city to the thoughts of a thousand poets. Let it do so again !
Having just finished my commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew, and having already completed my Commentary on the Quran, and being well into my commentary on the Book of Psalms, I am now embarking on an ambitious but important Commentary on the Books of Enoch (Enoch 1, 2 and 3) which have the attraction of being important and influential scriptures that have influenced and inspired not only early Jewish thinkers, including the Essenes (fragments of Enoch have been found at Qumran) but also early Christians (it is obvious from the Gospels that Jesus and the first generation of |Christians were intimately acquainted with the Book of Enoch) and also Islamic thinkers, where it is pretty obvious that Muhammad would have been mixing and mingling with people who knew the Book of Enoch, hence many of its striking images and phrases end up in the Quran. In Islam, Enoch is called Idris and is mentioned as a prophet in the Quran. So by concentrating in my next commentary on the Books of Enoch, I can hopefully shed some small beams of light on how we might find our way out of the dark tunnel we have got into as humanity, especially in the Middle East, where Muslims and Jews and Christians perhaps all ought to go back and read their own as well as each other’s holy scriptures, rather than continuing to kill and wound each other. Then all the poor frightened refugees who have fled into Europe and neighbouring countries from Syria can also go home, when the Syrian people suddenly remember that their love for each other is greater than their fear and hatred, after all. Somehow, we have to give this tragedy a happy ending. We’ve had far too many tragedies in recent history as it is. Don’t forget that Ibn Arabi’s tomb is in Damascus, and St Paul had his great conversion near there. It is time to make peace in Syria again.. for all our sakes.
So to end, here is the poem I have chosen to share in this blog, which is called INVOCATION FOR THE MUSES. Hopefully it should play in Windows Media Player (or equivalent). I wrote this poem a few years ago (2006) when I was living in Powys, Wales, and teaching near Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire. It was my attempt to invoke the energy and power of the Muses to help not only us poets, but everyone that wants a better world, and that is prepared to use skill, intelligence, reason, logic, learning, beauty, spirituality, love and education to get it, rather than force, violence and bullying. I am sure that Rosika would have liked this poem. Who knows, maybe they can get the internet in heaven these days – I wouldn’t be at all surprised.. !