Breaking bread as ritual to heal rifts

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WOLVERHAMPTON, England –The political fight over whether the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union or not was bruising to people on both sides, a situation which has been echoed in other world events such as last year’s presidential election in the United States. One British Quaker has found what she feels is an important reminder of the common ancestry humans share, and she’d like Witches and other Pagans to join her in expressing that bond: the power of bread.


Rachel Arnold “discovered Paganism and the power of Witches,” she recalls, “while recovering from a traumatic experience in the Remain campaign.” It was during that healing process that she hit upon bread as a common thread for all humanity, and began to express that understanding through painting and poetry.

From there she decided that breaking bread should be a movement, one in which people share that common history in spontaneous gatherings. In a document explaining her vision, she wrote that it would be “small groups of people breaking bread in the streets and sharing our history with the public alongside various art forms to encourage the people to stay together and overcome fear.”

It began for Arnold almost a year ago, on June 23, 2016. “I was working hard in the Remain campaign before Brexit. My cross-party group was chased down the High Street by a fascist, or a very angry Leave man. . . . This triggered a nervous break-down, as I have a history of managing depression but I am usually on top of it.”

“This experience, coupled with all the arguments blaming immigrants for everything, and the chaos ensued now we are heading for Brexit, sent me into the weirdest state of mind I have ever known.”

Quakers, or Friends as they refer to themselves, follow testimonies which include both peace and equality.”We are interested in peace and harmony” among all humans, “which is the intention of this project: reconciliation.”

As she explained, “I have always communicated with other nationalities and immigrants, so not happy about Brexit. It’s social and economic injustice that has caused poverty, not immigrants. My Quaker group in Wolverhampton are helping refugees and asylum seekers a lot now.”

Struggling to meditate and find forgiveness for those across that political divide, Arnold at last felt a profound sense of peace, from which emerged this notion of bread as bridge-builder. “My head filled with visions of people travelling across Europe for years developing bread,” she said. “Memories from various documentaries I had seen and history lessons at school added information together and my mind had this great insight.”

Over the next two months, she baked bread and painted, eventually writing the poem which is central to her thesis. During that time, “Lots of videos about Paganism and Witches kept popping up on my smart phone, and I learned all about the festivals. Paganism seemed based on agriculture, so I realised that Pagans must have been central to developing bread which we all love. The original Paganism and Isis seemed much more peaceful than the religions today.

“I have just realised how important Pagans were to all our development over thousands of years, and how badly they were treated and misunderstood, so I wish to reach out to them,” and include them in this project of making and breaking bread across all strata of culture and society.

Arnold’s call is for artists to incorporate the idea of baking and breaking bread into their work, and to do so in public ways.

“The first artist to respond to this is Clare Wasserman, who wants a women’s evening on 19th June in her art studio,” Arnold said. “We are all going to bring home-made bread to eat with us, and share peace messages for the world. We will meet again in October with art work inspired by the evening.”

Other events that she knows to be in the works include a bread-making session to be held at Gatis Community Space this summer, and a possible social project coordinated through Transforming Communities Together.

What Arnold hopes will happen is that many small bread events will erupt, each with just a handful of participants. She fully expects that she will herself learn and grow thanks to each person who joins the movement.

“Already conversations I have had with people have revealed lots of facts I did not know about bread, and how many different breads there are. Whoever responds to this is to bring this into their local community around them, or wherever a part of their community need[s] healing.

“I am hoping the artists can think of how to express this with their art form in ways I have not thought of. As in, even write a song to sing in the pub, or poetry inspired by history for an open mike night. I am going to consider making a little booklet for my poem to hand out in cafes, or a big banner, or even project it in places.”

At the same time, Arnold doesn’t think her message is the only one out there, and she encourages others to share what they see as well. “I think people with different views from mine should express themselves too, in an art and peaceful way, not a hateful violent way, to learn there are ways of getting a point across with out needing to hurt.

She added, “I expect to hear and see things I would not have thought of [and] I will have to make sure I pray and meditate between each action to stay on the path toward peace and not get stressed for too long with violent acts, but it’s difficult.”

Arnold hopes that her poem and project can be used to tap into the unifying history of bread to help find healing for the many rifts which divide humans around the world. Any person inspired to break bread by her images or poem are encouraged to share their experiences with her via her artist’s Facebook page.

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