Her spirit lives on
MORE than 50 years ago, an ordinary young woman thought she heard a voice instructing her to ‘build a garden’. She thought she was going crazy, but the voice continued. She decided to listen, dropped what she was doing, moved into a caravan and built the garden. This is the story of Eileen Caddy, who died aged 89 last week and was one of the legendary founders of Findhorn, the garden which grew to become an internationally famous community in Morayshire.
Caddy was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in August 1917. Perhaps that early association with the great mystical crossroads between early Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the ancient religions of the Nile attuned her inner spiritual ear. When she was six, her parents sent her to school in Ireland. Orphaned early, she and her brother, Paddy, invested their inheritance in a roadhouse in Oxfordshire, where she met her first husband, RAF Squadron Leader Andrew Combe. They had five children, but the marriage was not a success. After the war, Combe was posted to Iraq, where Eileen met Peter Caddy. She was immediately attracted by his talk of ancient religion – and UFOs. Eileen married Peter and started a second family.
In 1957, they came to Scotland when Peter got a job as manager of the Cluny Hill Hotel in Forres. There, Eileen said, her inner voice began to speak to her. When Peter lost his job at the hotel, they decided to stay, living in an old caravan with the children and a friend called Dorothy MacLean. Following instructions from nature ‘devas’ and angels, Caddy began growing vegetables in the unpromising dunes of Findhorn Bay.
The garden flourished – due, according to the Caddys, from their direct co-operation with nature. The green movement had been born; a movement with a view that life is better lived closer to nature, and in small communities dedicated to ancient, spiritual values. A community developed spontaneously around the Caddys and their garden – the Findhorn Foundation – which has lasted 40 years and now attracts 14,000 visitors a year. Some of the recent obituaries of Caddy have delighted in making fun of her ‘voices’ – but she was really an ordinary person expressing ordinary human needs.
Richard Coates, Findhorn’s former PR man, knew Caddy for 28 years. He joined in 1978 because, he says, he ‘was discontent with regular religion, and what I found here was a different concept of God’.
He insists Findhorners are ‘ordinary people – as was Eileen. She wasn’t on a cloud, she was a delightful down-to-earth normal person’.
He recalls taking Eileen to his mother’s house: ‘My mother panicked, as she knew Caddy only from afar and hero-worshipped her. She said, ‘Eileen Caddy? What? Here? In my house? What does she eat?’ Eileen replied, ‘Sausage, chips and a whisky,’ and, when she arrived, cooked together with my mother.’
Coates describes Caddy as shy, and says the beauty of her teachings lay in their simplicity. ‘You don’t need a degree in esoterics to understand what she is saying,’ he says.
Caddy knew her share of unhappiness. Her husband Peter left her, but she carried on with her work, going on to publish widely, and overcoming her shyness to lecture around the world, to become a figure of international repute. In 2003, she was appointed an MBE. Her life and teachings inspired people worldwide, but does her death signal the end of the Findhorn Foundation?
Mari Hollander, the foundation’s managing director, says not. Hollander, an employee for 30 years who first heard about Findhorn on a radio programme in America, says: ‘I was very motivated to discover more and after reading one of Eileen’s books, visited the foundation, but had no long-term plan to stay.’
She describes Caddy in the early years as ‘dressing for dinner in formal evening wear, but very good at being a regular person and mucking in’. She adds: ‘Eileen was very kind, and very clear, formidable about discipline and practice, but wanted people to feel good about themselves. She was very empowering, probably even before the word was invented. In some ways, her presence might be more powerful now that she has passed away.’
Will someone be stepping in to fill Eileen’s place? ‘On principle, we will not be looking for a figurehead, it isn’t about that. It’s about groups of people working together in harmony, that’s her legacy.’
Far from the stereotypical image of hippies and drop-outs, today Findhorn attracts a diverse array of apparently normal people. Sverre Koxvold spent 18 years in London as the financial director of Hitachi for Europe. On retiring, he spent seven years sailing around Norway, Sweden and Orkney, before stumbling upon Findhorn one stormy night. He joined the community and is now a gardener and the keeper of 120,000 bees. ‘I was looking for something, something greater,’ he says.
Caddy herself had no time for gurus or hero worship. She had no wish to be put on pedestal, and wanted to be treated as an ordinary person.
Barbara Coates had never heard of Findhorn until her marriage to Richard three years ago, and she helped nurse Eileen through her failing health. ‘I didn’t get to know Eileen through her books or her workshops, but from caring for her, which was a different experience to most,’ she explains. ‘It was a privilege to know her until her last days. I learned how to ‘just be’ and had some of the most interesting and spiritual conversations of my life with her, yet she was an ordinary woman.’
Roger Doudna arrived in 1974 from California after attending a conference in the US, and never left. He has many roles at Findhorn and says: ‘Eileen was attractive, interesting and complicated, like a lot of women – and always thought that she wasn’t quite good enough. It’s impossible to know if Findhorn will change with her death.’
Caddy may be dead, but her presence at the foundation seems stronger than ever, and appears to have strengthened Findhorn’s purpose. Contrary to a community crumbling or facing crisis, there seems no question of the community failing to thrive in her absence.
None envisage that the dynamics or principles of Findhorn will change. ‘The foundations here within the community are too strong,’ says Steward Friendship, a former teacher in Glasgow’s East End. After 18 years, he had grown weary of the ever-increasing violence in schools, and, after discovering Findhorn by accident, has been here for ten years. ‘Eileen had a great sense of adventure; she was reading Kidnapped before she died, not big esoteric tomes like some might imagine, and said she even loved the adventure of dying.’
Rather than mourning her passing, there is simply an acceptance of her death within the community, combined with an optimistic outlook. ‘We are choosing to celebrate both her life, and her death,’ says Rosie Turnbull, who knew Caddy for 25 years, and shared an Irish ancestry with her. Turnbull came to Findhorn in 1981 with her family from Canada. ‘We were tired of materialism,’ she says. ‘Eileen’s hallmark was simplicity. She wanted her teachings to be simple and accessible to all. Caddy’s answer to the difficulties and problems that face us was always that the answer lies within.
‘Her funeral was a simple affair, exactly the way Caddy had requested, and in reflection of how she had lived her life. She asked for an oak tree to be planted in the foundation, and for her ashes to be scattered there – with lots of space around the tree. Eileen Caddy had asked for this ‘so that it can grow’. A fitting tribute for an ordinary woman who planted a garden and grew a community.
A PLACE AND ITS PEOPLE
• THE Findhorn Foundation describes itself as ‘an international centre for spiritual education’. With 300 members, it is the largest New Age community in the UK – and has thousands of followers worldwide. The youngest member is six months old and the oldest 84.
• CELEBRITIES including Burt Lancaster, Hayley Mills and Shirley Maclaine have visited Findhorn, which is near the village of Findhorn in north-east Scotland, on the coast of the Moray Firth.
• FINDHORN was established by Eileen Caddy in 1962, together with her second husband, Peter, a retired RAF officer, and her friend, Dorothy Maclean. In 1970, a young American named David Spangler arrived and helped to turn the community into a ‘university of light’.
• FINDHORN attracts 14,000 visitors every year, from 70 countries, for spiritual retreats. It generates £4 million for the local economy.
• VISITORS attended such courses as ‘Dancing Spirit Free’ and ‘Developing the Skill of Intuitive Self-Diagnosis’.
• CADDY claimed she received advice direct from God. One of these divine instructions was to build a dining area for 180 people when there were only 15 members of the community.
• CADDY was a prolific author. In Divinely Ordinary, Divinely Human, she claimed she had been ‘the instrument of guidance from God within, the God within us all’. Her autobiography, Flight Into Freedom, was published in 1988.
• FINDHORN pioneered the ecovillage movement – and now teaches schools, univer-sities and others about the scheme. From nine ‘seed’ villages in 1995, there are now more than 15,000 villages associated with the Global Ecovillage Network.
• IN DECEMBER 2002, Eileen Caddy met a number of Findorn residents preparing some of the planks for her coffin – as she had asked. She lay down in her Sunday best on the rough wood to ensure the planks had been cut to the right length. Satisfied they were, she got up, brushed herself down and went on her way.
This article: http://living.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1892282006