People see completely fucked-up people on benches and associate that with an alternative lifestyle. Ember was a gypsy child living closer to the earth than most of us city dwellers would believe possible. As far as she knows, she is the only one of a group who survived or is in recovery from their tough childhood, so she flies the flag for her people. The life of a gypsy is more than just about travelling. It is entirely different from ours to the extent that the modern comforts we all enjoy and don’t give a second thought about create notable blockages for her. Ember is a tireless environmental activist and ecoadvisor, a professional leather craftswoman and medicinal Qi healer, utilising natural energy and her cultivated intuitive worldly wisdom to help clients. So, at what other cost does our modern lifestyle interrupt our intrinsic link with nature and perhaps our natural propensity to wander and be free? What are we without our boxes: our phones, television sets, computers, cars and buildings? Could you survive outside the box? Ember discusses her worldview with Sensa Nostra.
My father is a gypsy. I’m my father’s only child and my mother has a few. I grew up travelling around on foot over mountains, dancing in the street, working in the fields and starving a lot of the time—very cold, wet, and hungry. I learnt how to look after myself at a very young age. What I stood up in was all I had, so it was necessary to learn how to make and mend things. The creed of the gypsy way is that if I need something then I sort it out. You provide for yourself by either making it, or you swap with someone else who can, but mostly you’re on your own in the middle of nowhere when things happen. As a kid, I was deprived and I wouldn’t survive if I hadn’t made a Qi conversion to provide my energy at that point, which is why I am a practicing Breatharian now. It got me through because I was left alone in the mountains a lot, in all kinds of weather. I am little and pale and was very slender and knee-high for most of my youth. I learnt how to use the forest, the creatures, and the energy to keep me company and keep me alive. I never gave it any thought because that was my reality.
From those beginnings, travel has always been important, and I can’t be tied to a box. I have been a healer my whole life as well. My grandmother was the most incredible healer, and I used to work on people using my feet up until I was about nine, as I was so little my hands and arms weren’t strong enough for bigger things. I also used to do performance and other creative things such as adjusting and patching my clothes and learning my way around a needle. You learn skills over time through exposure and application. I had to go and live with my mum when I was twelve, which I fucking hated—“Go to school and be a girl!” It was just so grim I can’t tell you, so obviously I skived most of the time. If I am in a house, I’m bored. It’s like, “Get a house,” “Why? I’m bored now, what do I do with it?” The few times I have done it, I was in this thing, and if I want to use the toilet I go and do it in that thing and do something with some water under this same roof all the time. The disconnection from the elements is alien to me. Also, going into people’s houses is hard for me. Concrete and electricity blocks the natural energy, and I do feel that difference. When I was little it used to distress me enormously. Now I can manage, but I will only spend time in a building with someone I really like. Only then I will put in the effort, and it’s okay until a point. I had a boyfriend for a while who lived in a house and I never slept there—I would spend nights, but the whole time we were together I didn’t sleep. I just couldn’t get past that.
The way I organised my life is with my skills, which encompass living naturally on the land and travelling. I put out to the universe, “Where am I meant to be next or what am I meant to be doing next?” That, genuinely, is what dictates my movement. That’s a pain in the ass as well because if I want to do something and the universe doesn’t want me to then there’s no point in arguing because it won’t happen. But it has also taken me off into the Himalayas and off into Tibet, into a tribe who have never even seen a white person before, let alone a redhead! No white person has ever been there and probably won’t again as it’s a closed area. I’ve travelled all over the world with different tribes, doing things and learning a lot that I apply to my everyday life. On the practical side, regarding healing, I am a practitioner in medical Qi. I trained in China with the Daoist monks, who picked me out because there were certain things I have been doing since I was born, and they intensively fast-tracked me through (which in their terms is about three years) some stuff before spitting me back out into the West to bridge certain East/West gaps involving the understanding of Qi on the Western psyche and physicality. I have had my own private practice on and off for twenty-six years, combining medical Qi with physical psychotherapy as a therapy.
If I want to pee, I go out into the woods. I do most things for myself, on my own feet with my own hands… and that connection—that lack of disconnection—while people can live otherwise, for me it’s not possible and, for the clarity of what I’m doing, it isn’t beneficial either. I can only create clarity for someone if I am able to create it for myself. I only read them as clearly as I can read myself. I begin every day with clearing and the way that I live, its purity, like only drinking spring water and training every day and not being disconnected from the earth—the non-house-dwelling way that I live is intrinsic to that.
I don’t have ambitions in the way most people would understand ambition, but I am never short of opportunities. I was an actress for many years, and people assume I want to be rich and famous. I actually refused fame on many occasions, and I have actually had it from being an environmental activist, getting muddy and beaten up for years, which partially is why I value my privacy so much. I’ve been persecuted my entire life for my right to be on the land. There are things that are important to me and looking after the land as a manifestation of the land is one of them. In the British ancient magic system, there are trails between sacred sites, which were visited at special times (such as equinoxes or solstice or Beltaine) by those of us who used to live in trees and travel with wagons and handcarts or with a pack horse and dogs, which we have evolved with, so we have a symbiotic relationship with them and that is my preferred way to get around. When we live and breathe and travel independently of each other, it connects us with an ancestral part of us that is very healing. What I would like to do again is reopen those pathways between the sacred sites with a pack or saddle horse and dog and do that ancient rite of way that we aren’t allowed to do anymore. I was working towards that at one point with someone who wanted to be part of a better world, but it was really tough and he ended up liking his concrete box and nuclear-powered electricity too much, which is fine providing you don’t spend your time bitching about it. Just accept it and do something there and not live in between the two worlds pissing everyone off.
I never really thought about how different my culture is to those in the city until I lived in trees as an environmental activist. Almost all the people who have ever done that have been city people looking for something else, which is something I respect gigantically. I haven’t really thought about how unusual it was, but I don’t have the common ground as everyone else and I’m not what people expect. First of all, they all have common ground: one or two parents, a similar daily routine, phones, TV. They have a hell of a lot of unconscious common ground that I hadn’t given any thought that I didn’t have. They come out to a more spiritual world from there, whereas I’m already here and I am not coming from that to a straighter world. However, coming from a completely different direction, I have to go into that world to interact. In the area that I’m in now (I am about 13 miles from Glastonbury and down a bridleway and you’d never find me if I didn’t want you to, which is how I like it!), we get a lot of seekers: people who are questing for something different, so I spend a lot of time having these kinds of discussions. As I discovered a lot of stuff when I was really tiny, to survive, it’s put me in good stead ever since, shall we say. When people become more spiritually inclined they start heading in the direction where I have always lived and it’s the responsibility of anyone who can help, to do so—that was the ethos I was raised with (as a healer and all the rest of it). If you know better, the impetus is on you to do so and be so. You can’t have any kind of insight and keep it for yourself.
At the moment I am sitting by the fire and it’s just started pissing down, so I just chucked another log on. I was talking with a friend the other day and she’s pretty skint at the moment—I’m pretty skint at the moment—but she’s going to get her amenities cut off, perhaps get evicted and that sort of thing. Whereas no matter how bad it is for me, I can still carry my water and work hard. This kind of lifestyle is physically hard. All through the winter with just a bow saw, carrying wood on my back and sawing, chucking and stacking, because I don’t want to be cold! This keeps things very close and very real because if I don’t sort it out, I am in serious trouble—and so I sort it out. It’s as simple as that! A lot of people don’t do it because it is hard, and, “Oh, I can’t be arsed!” There are many conveniences on offer, and fair enough, but there’s a payoff. I go through those times as well and we can all do it in the summer, but that’s only going to take one to a certain level and we will just have to bite the bullet if we really want to experience anything… and this is a part of it.
I always make the spaces wherever I am really beautiful, because I do believe beauty is a birthright—so they are nice places to be wherever I go. I work with the energies of places so they flourish. No matter what tiny things I do, it exponentially flourishes because I don’t impose my will on anything. I just open up, see what’s there, what it wants, have dialogue with the energy and go from there, which mostly isn’t the way people interact with their environment. When it comes to healing, anyone can do three weekends of Reiki and call themselves a master. That’s a really dangerous choice of words, because certain egos believe they can get their hands all over people and not be capable.
When a person comes to me, I may have a skeleton of what I think I’m going to do, but one can’t be sure because they tell you their energies and everything else. You do not impose your will upon them. You work with what comes, and that’s a pretty good philosophy for all things, I think. Achieving that openness is not easy, but I always say, “When in doubt, surrender,” to my clients or people who come for treatment. I say, “Find something that makes your soul sing, and if it doesn’t hurt anyone in any way, it really doesn’t matter what that is.” Respect for each other begins with ourselves; people who behave badly are not respecting themselves. It’s an inward journey. “What makes my soul sing? How can I walk down the street and make everyone that walks past me feel better?” Sometimes I just decide that everyone who sees me today will feel better as a result, and that’s not an ego thing, that’s a joy. I really feel that light, feel extremely happy, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Whatever makes your soul sing is a very individual thing, so that’s the big question when people come to me for help. And it changes as well! For me the world is this big, diverse, interesting place full of people I haven’t met, places I haven’t been, things I haven’t done, stuff I haven’t learnt yet, so for me that is the case. It doesn’t mean I don’t have tough times, I really do—partially because I only have myself to blame because I never get pissed or take drugs or anything like that, so anything I do I can’t blame it on anything else…bollocks! While certain things can break down barriers, that can make them great fun or make them dangerous, there’s nowhere for me to hide! But when I have that going on, my soul sings. I am fortunate in the respect that while I did not have much as a kid, I did have the planet. I had the whole Earth. It wants me around, so it looks after me.