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An Unreal Estate: Sustainability and Freedom in an Evolving Community.

An Unreal Estate: Sustainability and Freedom in an Evolving Community


Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012. 256 pp.

ISBN 978-0-253-22349-4 ($70.00 cloth; $24.95 paper; $20.99 ebook).

The fabled 1960s ended, nominally, nearly half a century ago, but those years that changed the world live on in many enclaves, including more than a few intentional communities such as the Farm in Tennessee and Twin Oaks in Virginia, to name only two prominent examples. Another temporary community that meets every' summer, the Rainbow Family, also continues to embody the spirit of that time in its anti-authoritarian and open ways.

One survival from the festivals and communes of the 1960s era is what might be called the liberated enclave--a place that has been preserved for ongoing countercultural activities. One good example of such a space is the Oregon Country Fair, which attracts thousands of free spirits every summer to its land--owned by a nonprofit corporation--outside Eugene. Another is Black Oak Ranch, the country home of the Hog Farm commune and home of Wavy Gravy's annual clown camp as well as several music and cultural festivals.

Lothlorien was founded in the mid-1980s in Indiana, but it carries forward a countercultural spirit, one heavily influenced by neopaganism, one of the many outgrowths of the 1960s-era exploration of new spiritualities. Lothlorien is a festival site, a residential community, and a nature sanctuary' owned by a nonprofit organization. Its 109 mostly wooded acres encompass the festival grounds and residential area, known as Avalon, and an extensive forest called Faerie.

Lucinda Carspecken's book on Lothlorien is largely ethnographic and, therefore, especially useful in providing the reader new to the topic with baseline information. We are introduced to the wide spectrum of beliefs found at Lothlorien, the many activities and practices that go on there, and the physical structure of the place. Carspecken is a longtime participant-observer, and she thus conveys the spirit of Lothlorien as well as its basic contours. This rich context gives the book its strength. She recounts some of the fictional utopias and fantasies that have inspired Lothlorien's people. The Lord of the Rings plays an important role, not surprisingly, since it provided Lothlorien's name. J. R. R. Tolkien's Lothlorien was a magical place of peace and beauty, populated with a variety of beings (elves, hobbits, humans, and others) who existed together in harmony. But other works of fantasy and legend are important as well--Greek and Celtic myths, legends of medieval times, and even science fiction. And then there is neopaganism, the diverse movement that sees nature as the home of the divine, exalts female as well as male divinity and deities, practices ritual magic, and relishes joyous festivals that are based in the changing seasons.

Carspecken contextualizes her work on Lothlorien by recognizing American intentional communities and alternative cultures. She notes that important communities of the past and present were active in the neighborhood of Lothlorien--New Harmony, Padanaram, and more recently a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, among others. She then takes us on a brief tour of communities in American history, including the major ones familiar to the readers of Communal Societies, such as the Shakers, Harmonists, Icarians (here consistently misspelled as "Icarens") and Oneida Community, as well as some less familiar but still important ones, including the Woman's Commonwealth, Father Divine's Peace Mission, and Koinonia Farm.

One central commitment of the people of Lothlorien is environmental. A large organic permaculture garden has been cultivated for several years and helps feed the resident community. Waste, including garden weeds, is composted, and so is human waste, in the composting privies. Much of the electricity is solar. Ecologically friendly buildings are the rule, not the exception.

Inevitably, the book has some mistakes and dubious assertions. For example, she states that the Israeli Kibbutzim were inspired by the Hebrew Bible (54), but the original kibbutzniks were a secular lot, and it's hard to see where the Bible encourages such social forms. She also claims that the Farm (Tennessee) is thirty-one years old (157), which is eleven years too few. On page 176 she slips up, calling her own book a dissertation, which it presumably was earlier but is no longer. But these and a few others are minor glitches in an otherwise well-researched effort.

There is a great deal more in the book, but in the end what we have is a well-rounded picture of a back-to-nature enclave that seems to work well, with little money and little hierarchical administration. Most of those who participate in activities at Lothlorien are not resident, but they all seem to subscribe to an ethic of common purpose and vision. Some have given tremendous effort for the good of the larger community. Lothlorien seems to have done a remarkable job of respecting individual autonomy while developing a culture of mutual support. As Carspecken concludes, "Safety and freedom at Lothlorien ... are mutually supportive rather than antagonistic" (231). And thus this remarkable social experiment continues.


University of Kansas
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Author:Miller, Timothy
Publication:Communal Societies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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