Sunday, December 17, 2017

Spirit of Place: Wrap up Brum

Who but me would illustrate a post about Birmingham Cathedral wrapping people up in warm clothes with a picture of the cathedral featuring nipples and a big smile? As usual it's a picture I saved some time ago without noting the source so I will happily attribute it if a copyright owner comments or emails me.
I'm feeling rather guilty, actually. Birmingham has the highest number of homeless people outside London. In witchy terms the reasons for that are the welcoming spirit of place and generous natives. I have previously quoted William Hutton's quotation from an eighteenth century homeless man:
It is singular, that a predilection for Birmingham, is entertained by every denomination of visitants, from Edward Duke of York, who saw us in 1765, down to the presuming quack, who, griped with necessity, boldly discharges his filth from the stage. A paviour, of the name of Obrien, assured me in 1750, that he only meant to sleep one night in Birmingham, in his way from London to Dublin. But instead of pursuing his journey next morning, as intended, he had continued in the place thirty-five years: and though fortune had never elevated him above the pebbles of the street, yet he had never repented his stay.
But  now the supports for homeless people are bending under the strain. The reason I feel guilty is that in the evenings when charities are dishing out food I tend to find myself thinking that the churches aren't visibly doing anything. I said No when a friend asked me if I wanted to do the St Basil's sleepout this year. The affluent sleeping out at will does not change imbalance. I'm aware that I don't have answers to this problem, am not actively doing anything to change the system. I'm bothered by the idea of being 'alongside' homeless people mentioned below - no you are not alongside them at all, you have a nice cosy house to go back to. Nonetheless I'm rather guilty because the Christians are doing *something* for homeless people.
Posting this also allows me to indulge in being probably the only time a witch blog will quote the Church Times (Source):
ROUGH sleepers and homeless people are being offered a free warm coat in an initiative by Birmingham Cathedral, “Wrap Up Brum”. Throughout Advent, a clothes rail in the Cathedral Square is being filled with coats donated after an appeal on social media.
The chief executive of the cathedral, Anna Pitt, described it as a gesture “to show that we are alongside those people at this time of year when it is really cold”. The cathedral is already involved in several projects to aid the homeless, including working with the charity St Basil’s, which targets youngsters sleeping on the streets, and last month it organised a “sleepout” in Cathedral Square which raised about £150,000.
“The Square is a really central location,” Mrs Pitt said. “We estimate up to 25,000 people walk through it every day, and among them are those who are homeless and rough sleeping; so, for a lot of time, the cathedral grounds are a place of greater engagement than inside the church; so we try to use that space as much as we can.
“The idea of the clothes rail is straightforward: if people want to donate a coat, they can; and, if people want a coat, they can take one. We have had a really huge, positive response. We have had hundreds of coats donated — people have even put gloves and scarves in the pockets.
“When the temperature dropped last week, and it was biting cold, people really engaged with it.” One woman donated 50 coats.
The problem of homelessness in Birmingham was no different to any other city, Mrs Pitt said, “but we have some really excellent charities here doing excellent things. Rough sleeping is a visible issue, and we can’t ignore their needs at this time of year.”
Addendum: I have now done an image search of the picture and find that this was the source of the image and the roofer was called Terence France.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Urban Grimoire: Joss Paper and Villain Beating

In this blog's relentless aim to be educational as well as entertaining, I am about to stray into multiple areas that I can't really claim to understand but am nonetheless fascinated by. Perhaps I should say at the beginning that the majority o my information up to the bit about beating up villains comes from the blog, which can be blamed for errors of fact, and I stand to be corrected on errors of interpretation.
One of the most difficult cultures for white people to understand is Chinese culture. It is difficult enough to understand even when it is explained to us, but it doesn't help that it is frequently mediated through a collection of bizarre racial stereotypes which we tend to absorb uncritically and then have few opportunities to correct.
An aspect which is fairly easy for magical people to understand is the custom of burning joss paper, and thus conveying what is burned to the ancestors in the spirit world. How magical can this get? The whole point of most magical theory is that an action in one part of the multiverse has a corresponding reaction (which is what the magician is after) in another part. I am not by saying this denigrating Chinese Taoist or traditional religious practices as merely magic - I understand that the dividing line between magic and religion can be a very changeable one - and it should be understood that these practices are not merely folk magic but part of a whole cosmology which is built into the society.
We have all seen the paper money and consumer items up to and including cars and mobile phones which are burned so that the ancestors can have these things. Where the practice starts getting really interesting is when the metal patches on the sheets of paper start to carry the Chinese for longevity or other things - this is actually carrying a virtue or strength to the person on the other side, rather than material objects. In fact, life is a recurring motif for the dead person - the astronomical denominations on the Bank of Hell notes are intended to be used in paying off the God of Death, apparently. The difference between magic intended to change things here and this practice is that it is intended to improve things posthumously. The practice is thought to date back more than a thousand years and to have started at funerals. Nowadays it isn't just done willy-nilly but at birthdays and festivals such as the appealingly (to me) named Hungry Ghosts festival when all the dead comes back at once.
Again I had better put in a disclaimer about the next practice that I am writing about - I am not making any connection between the two *as I see things*, because I am coming from a point of view where things magical, spiritual and religious are bound up and volitionally conflated on a daily basis. The next practice is probably thought to be rather disreputable.
Most of the literature I have read about this practice focsues on Hong Kong, but since the practice is not that different from any magical practuce I will bet you find similar things elsewhere. The connection I want to make between joss paper burning for ancestors and da siu yan ( or villain hitting) is best seen when we consider the role that defixiones played in ancient European magic. In Chinese culture the articles which mediate the blessing or curse are paper and beaten or burned - in Roman Europe they were lead and commonly thrown down a drain.
When we get to villian hitting we are on more solidaly magical rather than religious ground. It appeals to the Hound enormously because it's exactly the kind of magical cottage industry which tickles me. You pay an old lady to curse your enemies. Simple as that, although just like the ancient defixiones apparently you can buy DIY kits in shops. This is the kind of magic the Hound like best!
There is a customary location for doing this villain hitting, which is in an underpass - obviously in Hong Kong it will commonly mean you are under a road. I have no idea why this is, but again it is a detail which makes every magical sense in my body prick up, when I think of the magic I have done in underpasses over the years.
As is usual with magic the origins of this sorcery are venerable, and began with the practice of farmers appeasing the white tiger by smearing pig's blood onto paper white tigers so that the tiger would be fed and not attack the village. As time went on the paper tigers became the way in which people's enemies were attacked, appeased, exorcised, or banished.
The paper which illustrates this post is the object link with the target. There may or may not be a sacrifice to a divinity of choice depending on when the ceremony is taking place. Then the villian hitter merely hits the villain, apparently with a shoe, ad lib until it is done. The paper is apparently burned.
Once again I'm not completely sure I'm interpreting this right. The paper above (which I'm afraid I didn't make a note of where I found it) can only really be intended for cursing! I'm not sure if it is even actually from the villian hitting ceremony. Certainly the lady in the video below says it isn't for cursing at all. But then I say that myself...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Blogging Difficult Stuff

A couple of posts ago I commented on how some blogs are very much the public face of the blogger and cut out anything which may detract from the relentless middle class bliss of the life portrayed there. On the other hand I have just now been reading a blog (I won't reference it for the simple reason that the purpose of this post is about blogging difficult stuff rather than that man's own blog). The writer alternates poetry and his efforts to learn cookery in his fifties with some extraordinarily painful stuff about his own alcoholism, and the circumstances of his divorce and accompanying estrangement from his adult children. In true former-alcoholic style he blames himself and his drinking for this - my own impression is that his relationship with his ex-wife was fucked and the poison messed up his relationship with his children. Additionally his ex-wife is actively blocking his attempts to see his adult children who are therefore not even being given the option to make up their own mind whether they want to see their dad at some time in the future.
You can readily see that this blog is the exact opposite of the 'public image' type of blog. THe author of the blog has made the decision to reveal all sorts of things about himself in some rather painful detail. That said, since it is published appparently under his real name, of course it is possible that if his daughters look for him in the future they could find him that way. While I'm sure this blog reveals all sorts of things about me to the dedicated reeader, I have made my own decision to try to avoid posting too much painful stuff in too much detail. It is the blog of my witchcraft, which incorporates aspects of my life, but there are things I don't want to go into in too much detail. I was very pleased when I got a comment a while back from someone saying that my post about the difficulties in my relationship with my mother had been really helpful to him. That was actually what I wanted to happen - it wasn't about me, but I know that when your family is fucked it is impossible to talk about it in the face of the families faking unity and happiness around you.
I have even more screwy stuff which I have tended not to post about here because it doesn't have a name. In fact I'm rather jealous that that guy can talk about being alcoholic (although I don't think he does actually use that word) because it has a name. As a fellow addict (although mine is to smoking) I can recognise when someone is getting to terms with their own substance and the way they talk about it.
I was thinking about that last night because I went to my work's Christmas dinner. I haven't been to one of those for years - this is one of the few workplaces I've had when I haven't cordially loathed everyone, and in fact the one person I can't stand threw a hissy fit and didn't turn up. At the end of the evening one person (who doesn't smoke) asked another person (who also doesn't smoke) if she had a fag he could cadge and I was so jealous. Simply for the reason that I can't smoke like that, I have a proper addiction going and can't have an odd one.
Now on the other hand I can have a drink. I have a little drink in the evening, which I consider part of civilised living. Actually the real reason is that that is part of my rebellion against my mother, who would think that that is alcoholism. I'm not an alcoholic - I recognise an addict's relationship with the substance and I just don't have it with alcohol - I can take it or leave it and am also watchful that the amount I drink doesn't increase. The fact that quite a lot of my life is actually dominated by doing things in a way that would give my mother the screaming abjabs would suggest that she still has a huge hold over me, but these various things are now my own way of life and I'm not ever going back to, say, eating my evening meal at 5pm.
As usual I've drifted off the subject of this post, but my point remains, that if I wanted to expose my own 'stuff' to the world I could, but I don't want to. I suppose the subject of this blog is neither about presenting an ideal life or humiliating myself by revealing my own neuroses in public. It's more about what I have learned from making peace with my own inner demons and how other people can do that if they have the will to. That bloke has just chosen to do it radically differently - although like vegans who feel compelled to tell you at length about it, it seems people who've screwed up their lives while drinking them stopped also feel compelled to tell people about it. My concern with how much I reveal would be more that I want to avoid an impression of falseness while also not publicly revealing things which I don't want every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing. Perhaps it's a balance I will never get completely right - perhaps nobody who blogs ever gets it right...

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Abbot Soper Convicted

I've been waiting for a moment to post this wonderful news. Regular readers will know that the former abbot of Ealing who went on the run from the police has been one of my pet projects. I will celebrate with the news as published this week in the Guardian:

A former abbot who fled to Kosovo to escape justice has been convicted of abusing 10 boys at a Catholic-run school in London during the 1970s and 80s.

Andrew Soper, 74, formerly known as Father Laurence Soper, was found guilty of 19 charges of rape and other sexual offences after a lengthy trial at the Old Bailey.

Soper sexually abused pupils while he was master in charge of discipline at St Benedict’s school in Ealing, west London. He would assault them after subjecting them to corporal punishment using a cane.

The first victim contacted police in 2004 after Soper left his role as abbot of Ealing Abbey and moved to the Benedictine order’s headquarters in Rome.
The former pupil was initially told by officers there was insufficient evidence.

Soper was later interviewed at Heathrow police station in 2010 and subsequently fled to Kosovo while on police bail the following year.

He was arrested at Luton airport in August 2016 after being deported by the Kosovan authorities and returned to the UK.

Tetteh Turkson, a senior Crown Prosecution Service lawyer involved in the case, said: “Soper used his position as a teacher and as a priest to abuse children for his own sexual gratification.

“He compounded this by trying to evade justice and fleeing to Kosovo in order to go into hiding. The victims’ bravery in coming forward and giving evidence has seen him convicted of these serious offences.”

A statement on behalf of the fee-paying independent school was issued by Alex Carlile QC after the conviction. He said: “St Benedict’s school is deeply concerned for, and distressed by, the ordeals faced by the victims of Laurence Soper, who have lived with the pain of his activities for so long.

“The school apologises unreservedly for the serious wrongs of the past. The school regrets that Soper did not have the courage to plead guilty.

“The result has been that innocent victims, whom he abused when they were boys in the school, were compelled to give evidence. They were subjected to cross-examination about matters in relation to which they were both helpless and innocent.

“The fact that these matters took place many years ago does not mitigate the pain and injustice endured by them.” The statement said the school was now “a completely different institution”.

Lord Carlile added: “The tough lessons of the past have been learned, and the errors and crimes of the past are in the daily consciousness and conscience of the school management … St Benedict’s cannot and will never forget Soper’s crimes. Nevertheless they are proud of the school as it now is, and as confident as ever they can be that everything is being done to ensure that such events cannot recur.”

The school, which charges fees of about £5,000 a term, counts the former Conservative chair Lord Patten and entertainer Julian Clary among its alumni.

Gillian Etherton QC, who led the prosecution, told the court victims were subjected to sadistic beatings by Soper for “fake reasons”.

They included kicking a football “in the wrong direction”, “failing to use double margins”, and “using the wrong staircase”, leading to a caning and a sexual assault, she said.

“It is the prosecution case that ‘punishments’ as described by the complainants in this case were carried out by Soper in entirely inappropriate ways and circumstances and, on many occasions, with what can only have been sexual motive,” Etherton added.

Many of his victims have experienced flashbacks and nightmares. During the trial Soper denied using the cane as a ruse to abuse boys.

The judge, Anthony Bate, remanded Soper in custody to be sentenced on 19 December. He was convicted of two counts of buggery, two counts of indecency with a child and 15 counts of indecent assault.

Soper was found guilty of buggery, contrary to section 12(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, since the offence took place when that act was in force. The offence was changed from buggery to rape by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Other People's Blogs

It's a strange, self-referential world, the blogosphere. On the one hand it's given people like me an opportunity to put our opinions out in public, when previously we'd have had to get somebody to publish us. On the other hand, visit anyone's blog and you will notice they are still in their own world, visited by people of a similar demographic, and similar interests.
The real function of the blogosphere for somebody nosy like me, is the insight into other people's lives and minds. And you get this opportunity to be nosy without the need to meet the author - the internet was truly made for someone like me who is fascinated by people but tires very quickly of direct human contact.
There are therefore a number of blogs I visit regularly.
Of the witchy ones, that of Inexplicable Device is of course a good one. He's more of a people person than me obviously, and has been raised to our altar so must be a great sorcerer. Just like mine, his magic is all his own and thus more authentic than magic from an instruction book. As a rule the witchy blogs I follow tend to be on Tumblr - I keep meaning to do a post about pictures over and against words. She's stopped posting now, but I've learned a lot from Rowan Tarot.
Lucy Melford has recently made a decision to make her blog about her - resisting the blogger's temptation to make it about a position or to give an impression. Surely people spend too much time doing things for effect as it is,  and many a blog gives this impression.
The temptation to give an impression is withstood by From Moon to Moon, despite it being a 'lifestyle' blog.
Two blogs which are definitely not for the faint-hearted: the first is Bishop Pat Buckley's blog, which is rumoured to be read avidly by many a Catholic cleric for fear they will appear on it. The other is even more difficult if you're not expecting it. It's a 'sedevacantist' blog, which means they don't think the pope is a true pope and basically what calls itself the Catholic church isn't - it's the daily commentaries from the Traditio fathers. A less challenging blog by a Christian minister and interesting person is Kindred of the Quiet Way, where obviously yours truly may fit less well!
Sadly he seems to have migrated to Twitter but the lovely James Goss can't half write. And finally I believe Scarfolk Council is only one of its gifted author's wonderful creations.
While I have been writing this post I've been watching Saturday Night Fever, and am struck by how Tony was an early crush of mine. I see the film is an 18 so I'm not sure how I saw it, but the scenes of him in black briefs made a lasting impression...

Friday, December 1, 2017

Witches and Hospitals

For reasons which are utterly routine and no cause for grapes and Lucozade, I am sitting in a hospital waiting room, in the midst of innumerable tests which I have done on a yearly basis.
To the witch, hospitals are fascinating places revealing numerous aspects of human behaviour and the dispositions they reveal.
There's the whole thing of not turning up for appointments for a start. I see that last month this hospital (a busy city general hospital) had over 1,700 appointments not attended. Of course some will be for various good reasons but they sent me two letters and a text to remind me about my appointment. Why ever would you just not turn up?
Well it indicates you're not bothered about anyone else, obviously. It also indicates you're not bothered about yourself, because those people will have seen GPs to start with and then don't turn up for the appointment that's been made.
In my last post I expatiated on people who will not learn lessons, and here I am thinking about people who won't accept help when it's offered, even though they've asked for it themselves!
I suppose what I'm really talking about is a lack of sovereignty over what is happening to them. Those whose will is to maintain good health will perform the magical act of turning up to a hospital appointment. As we know, all acts are magical acts and thus primarily act on the magician.
Image credit:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Some People Never Learn

No, but, seriously. In one of her books Starhawk says that in witchcraft's philosophy you keep getting presented with the same lesson until you learn it. And so we see people going back to abusive spouses, not accepting the help offered for problems they themselves identify...and so on. Unfortunately these people present to the witch looking to be taught. They may not know we're witches, and they may not realise they're in school, but 'the witch is the change of definitions and relationships' (Margot Adler).
<Rubs hands with evil grin>