Alastair McIntosh: “Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

For my husband, Jim, in honor of our anniversary

Nine years ago, I was traveling with my mother and sister in Scotland, and we stopped in the wee village of Cannich before hiking at Glen Affric. We popped into a Scottish version of a convenience store – postcards, stamps, snacks, and the like. Ever one for the books, I spied a small collection in the back of the store, and of course, I just had to peruse them.

I’m so glad I did – because I stumbled upon a book that would become one of the most significant in my life: Alastair McIntosh’s Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power. Why did I pick it up? Quite honestly, the cover drew me in. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I, like my friend Karin, often do so anyway.

In this case, the cover – a photograph of the famous Calanais Stones – was right on the mark. The book is – among many other things – about ancient rituals and how they still mark (or should mark) our lives today.

I brought the book back to the United States with me and read it aloud cover to cover with my then-fiancé, Jim. Everything about the book spoke to us.

McIntosh, in case you can’t guess from his name, hails from Scotland – specifically, the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, just ten miles from the Calanais Stones. His family were “crofters,” essentially the peasants who worked the landed gentry’s holdings, almost a feudal situation, well into the twentieth century.

Partly the book is about how crofters on the Isle of Eigg – helped in part by McIntosh – became “the first Scottish community ever to clear their laird from his own estate.” As described on McIntosh’s website, “In a campaign that earned worldwide renoun, the islanders raised sufficient funds to oust their landlord, very much against his will, and successfully galvanized political demands for  land reform in Scotland. Similarly, plans to turn a majestic Hebridean mountain into a roadstone ‘superquarry’ were overturned after Alastair persuaded Native American War Chief Sulian Stone Eagle Herney to visit the Isle of Harris and testify at the government inquiry.”

Partly the book is about the crofting tradition, which involved not only working the land but also passing down crofting culture, the bardic tradition, through story and song. That’s the soul part.

And partly the book is about environmental reclamation, environmental justice, and right relationship with the land. That’s the soil part.

Oh, it is this and so much more!

But our concern here at StoryWeb is stories, and McIntosh both tells stories and argues passionately for the preservation of and reverence for storytelling traditions not just in the Hebrides but all over the world.

So deeply moved were we by Soil and Soul that we chose a passage to be read at our wedding. With a bagpiper heralding our entrance and with me in a green satin dress and Jim in a kilt, it seemed appropriate to include the words of a Scottish wise man.

Here’s the passage our dear friend Juan Alegria read at our wedding:

We have the capacity to live life to the full, to find like-minded people, to hear the music quicken and to make community. If humankind is to have any hope of changing the world, we must constantly work to strengthen community. We need, first, to make community with the soil, to learn how to revere the Earth. That means walking lightly in the demands we make of life, sufficiency rather than surplus, quality rather than quantity. Second, we need to make community of human society. We need to learn empathy and respect for one another simply so that people get the love they need. That means developing an inclusive sense of belonging, identity and values. And third, we need community of the soul. We need spaces where we can rest, compose and compost our inner stuff and become more deeply present to the aliveness of life. We need to keep one eye to the ground and the other to the stars. We need to remember that when we let loose our wildness in creativity, it is [spirit] that pours forth. It does so from within, as a never-ending river. This tripartite understanding of community is the root, trunk and branch of right relationship. It is how love becomes incarnate.

I highly recommend purchasing and reading this outstanding book. Truly, you won’t be sorry – and it just might change the way you look at the world. Visit McIntosh’s website to learn more, and be sure to check out the page on Soil and Soul.

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Listen:Listen as I read – with Alastair McIntosh’s permission – the first chapter of the book, titled “Digging Where We Stand.” The reading runs 24 minutes.

Image Credit: Alastair McIntosh, photo by Dominique Carton,