Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy new year

I'm looking forward to 2013: 2011 was a living nightmare, my year card was the Hermit, and it don't feel good. This year loads of stuff has changed since my year card was the Wheel of Fortune. This coming year my card is Strength: one handed pull ups here we come!
I can't resist ending the year on a weird note: the pic is of the Miraculous Lactation of St Bernard of Clairvaux. The legend goes thusly:
Based on one of the later legends of the great Cistercian Abbot Saint Bernard, he was reportedly praying one day in 1146 before a statue of the Virgin Mary in Speyer Cathedral. In his prayer he asked the Virgin to "Show that you are a mother..." (Monstra te esse matrem). The statue suddenly came alive and squirted milk on Bernard's lips. In this mystical encounter Bernard becomes a spiritual son of Mary sharing a kinship with Christ who was also nourished by Mary's milk.
From the Middle Ages through the Baroque period, much theological and pictorial attention was made on the subjects of Christ's blood and Mary's milk. By the Blood of Christ one gained redemption. Mary's milk became, on the other hand, a symbol of nourishment and hope on that road to salvation. Source
Even before the advent of Freudian theory I don't see how anyone could see it just wasn't right to have the Mother of your God squirting breast milk into your mouth. And people think it's weird when in vodou they get married to the Lwa!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Not forgetting

I am slightly bothered by the 'never forget the burning times' mentality: leaving aside the fact that they didn't happen. I found myself falling into it when I tried to synchronise pictures from a file on my laptop called 'witches' to my mp3 player and it just wouldn't do it. All other pictures it will, but none from that file. I found myself thinking that I was being persecuted for being a witch.
Of course this isn't so. However of course this pap-victim mentality can be essential at times. We humans tend to remember things selectively: we paint our own actions in a rosy glow, and because we don't want to go through life perpetually surrounded by conflict we tend to forgive and forget the actions of others. If it be your will, forgive by all means, but be careful about forgetting. The message of hope we have for the world is taht our actions cannot be undone, they pursue us beyond this life, we *must* live with the repercussions - 'karma' is too loaded, because sometimes shit just happens - of our actions. When people forget this they then tend to think they can get away scot free.
This is where the witch comes in. My own craft teacher told me that she thought we are here to create the scenarios for people to correct their own karma/repercussions. I am only now beginning to understand this: it's one of the reasons we wear black, because we absorb the actions around us and record them in a way. This is why some witches go off their heads, because they're not managing the amount of data they're processing: it is essential to turn off from this and select what data to delete permanently sometimes.
You will remember that a while ago I had an almighty run-in with someone at work: this actually took the form of not letting her forget things that she had done to people. She had artfully erased everything from her memory - and very interestingly was very ready to drop her former best chum in it for making people's lives a living hell. The outcome of my replaying her actions to her has been even better than I expected. It has actually caused the fruition of endless spells cast by myself and another over several years. In fact it has caused the whole debt/burden/karma to come back to her.
Strangely I now find I don't have to forgive her. I don't feel the need. It's done. If I hadn't made a point of remembering, recalling, speaking, it wouldn't be dealt with at all. But hey, that's what witches are for. Everyone needs a witch in their lives, it's just some people don't realise it - and some of them are even witches!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Winterval

Winterval is what Birmingham City Council called the holiday in December some years ago, intending to offend no-one but merely getting laughed off the face of the earth. Not quite as much as when they sent out literature with picture of Birmingham Alabama instead of this one: they claimed it was 'generic skyline' but it was just too much to have been by chance. Whatever you want to call this holiday (I used to call it Modresnacht, but that's now too close to the bone), have a good one.
I've prepared as only I know how, by going for a sauna. I now have skin like a baby's bum, & more than that I'm not saying.
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Beware the hooded ones

Hecate has a way of claiming you for herself. She does wander in and out of people's lives, but notoriously once you are her priest(ess) it is unusual to work much or at all with any other divinity. That said, she does usher in others from time to time, and I have a very soft spot for the genii cucullati, or hooded spirits (although perhaps the first picture in this post would more properly be labelled a godling by archaeologists). This is what the wonderful wikipedia has to say about them:
The Hooded Spirits or Genii Cucullati are figures found in religious sculpture across the Romano-Celtic region from Britain to Pannonia, depicted as "cloaked scurrying figures carved in an almost abstract manner" (Henig, 62). They are found with a particular concentration in the Rhineland (Hutton). In Britain they tend to be found in a triple deity form, which seems to be specific to the British representations (De la Bedoyère).
The hooded cape was especially associated with Gauls or Celts during the Roman period. The hooded health god was known as Telesphorus specifically and may have originated as a Greco-Gallic syncretism with the Galatians in Anatolia in the 3rd century BC.
The religious significance of these figures is still somewhat unclear, since no inscriptions have been found with them in this British context (De la Bedoyère). There are, however, indications that they may be fertility spirits of some kind. Ronald Hutton argues that in some cases they are carrying shapes that can be seen as eggs, symbolizing life and rebirth, while Graham Webster has argued that the curved hoods are similar in many ways to contemporary Roman curved phallus stones. However, several of these figures also seem to carry swords or daggers, and Henig discusses them in the context of warrior cults.
Guy de la Bédoyère also warns against reading too much in to size differences or natures in the figures, which have been used to promote theories of different roles for the three figures, arguing that at the skill level of most of the carvings, small differences in size are more likely to be hit-and-miss consequences, and pointing out that experimental archaeology has shown hooded figures one of the easiest sets of figures to carve. Source
I have been thinking recently about the meaning of hoods. Of course the word often nowadays appears as an abbreviation for (usually violent and otherwise disreputable) neighbourhood. People wear hoods for all sorts of reasons, frequently for protection from the elements, implying that you are going to be spending time in the wilds, or at least out of doors. You may need protection from the elements because of the nature of your work: it implies you are a person who has to work in all weathers and don't just sit by the fire employing somebody else to slaughter the animals for you.
My Witchcraft 101 class's graduation
Recently 'hoodie' has come to mean a generally disreputable person. Apparently these people hang around in gangs and frighten people. Personally I feel that actually the man made fibres of scally clothing, dark colours, and hoods make the perfect clothing for witches who may feel the need to frequent crossroads or graveyards in the middle of the night, and feel the need to vanish into the shadows if they're found doing something which while not being illegal would look extremely odd and be embarrassing to explain to Lily Law. I once had an encounter with some lads trying to be goths in a graveyard. I had gone for some gravedust because there is a particularly sympathetic grave in that particular graveyard, and the people's name is actually my mother's maiden name. It was a cold and misty night, and I had on black trainer, black trackies, a black hoodie with the hood up, a black scarf, and black gloves. They were sitting round in a tree drinking from a bottle and they didn't see me coming until I turned suddenly and the light from a nearby street lamp caught my face. Would you believe they ran away screaming? Call yourselves goths?
A scene from the Birmingham riots
Of course all wearing the same is a major tactic of peaceful protestors and rioters. It makes it difficult to differentiate an individual to single out, and it is even more difficult to pull up a great crowd. Perhaps this explains why the hoodie look is considered slightly scary, with overtones of rebellion and antisocial behaviour, and of course wearing black has many cultural overtones, perhaps the most obvious albeit ignorant one among the illiterati being that it is associated with 'satanism'. How can these people not understand that your real satanists will wear what they damn well please, that is the point?!
Buckfast tonic wine: made by hoodies for hoodies

I feel that the overtones of dodginess, outdoorsiness, outsiderness, and generally being on the edge that hoodies have are just too close to the ambivalent overtones of the classical witch figure to be ignored. These creatures, even the original divine hoodies, are too slippery to be grasped and so must be controlled. Exactly the emotions the word 'witch' still brings up in many people. This is a curious synchronicity which has only recently struck me. Even the more 'kinky' elements of the traditional witch figure such as that of 'enchantress' or ability to transform from a hag into a pretty young thing and seduce unsuspecting men, have survived into the whole gay scene around the scally/chav/ned thing!

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 22: and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music, and love, all in my praise.

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Arte Magical: And ye shall dance, sing, feast make music, and love, all in my praise.

Leland Aradia: And thus shall it be done: all shall sit down to the supper all naked, men and women, and, the feast over, they shall dance, sing, make music, and then love in the darkness, with all the lights extinguished; for it is the Spirit of Diana who extinguishes them, and so they will dance and make music in her praise. (No Italian text or verse numbers)

The passage from Aradia does not follow on from the passage quoted previously, Aradia’s speech to the witches, but occurs in the next section, on the Sabbath.

Crowley Editorial to The ‘Blue’ Equinox: Christianity has destroyed the joyful celebrations, characterized by music, dancing, feasting, and making love.

Thealogy

    There is a curious synchronicity between the passage of Aradia and the passage from Crowley; Gardner takes the passage directly from Aradia, mixes it (consciously or subconsciously) with ideas which may be found in Crowley, and the idea once again emerges in a new form in Wicca. These aspects of Wicca may simply appear to be some of its more countercultural aspects, but Gardner transforms them into parts of the magico-religious technology by which witches practise their religion, the point of which is freedom, signified by nudity, and achieved using these methods.
    For Crowley the significance of taking pleasure was found in the passing of the age of the old gods of servitude, and the arrival of the new age of Thelema, in which every man and every woman is a star. The seeking and doing of the True Will means there is no longer any place for gloominess and a consciousness of sin, which are replaced by the mastery of all. He writes thus (on the two pages of The Law of Liberty from which Gardner took so many of the quotations used in the Charge):
‘...Live as the kings and princes, crowned and uncrowned, of this world, have always lived, as masters always live; but let it not be self-indulgence; make your self-indulgence your religion.
‘When you drink and dance and take delight, you are not being “immoral,” you are not “risking your immortal soul”; you are fulfilling the precepts of our holy religion – provided only that you remember to regard your actions in this light. Do not lower yourself and destroy and cheapen your pleasure by leaving out the supreme joy, the consciousness of the Peace that passeth understanding.’  (Aleister Crowley: The Equinox Vol. 3, No. 1, March 1919 (The Blue Equinox). Weiser Books, San Francisco, 2007, p.48)
    Gardner takes the joy both of the witch-cult as pictured in Aradia and that as viewed in Thelema and includes dancing, feasting, and making love as rituals of Wicca. He changes the emphasis slightly by making the feast in Wiccan ritual a sacramental communion, which he is at pains to emphasise is not a satire on Christian communion, stating that they took it from us (Gerald Gardner: The Meaning of Witchcraft. Weiser Books, York Beach, 2004.).  The feast also appears as part of the witch-cult’s rituals in Aradia, where it is seen as more of a magical act than it is in Wicca, since the meal to make the bread is conjured to make it the body of Aradia (Mario Pazzaglini and Dina Pazzaglini (editors): Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Phoenix Publishing, Blaine, 1998.).
Making love as a religious ritual is transformed in Wicca into the major sacrament, the Great Rite, where man and woman as the Goddess and God are united in the major mystery of fertility and creation celebrated in Wicca.
Dancing and singing are also transformed in Wicca into some of the eight ways to raise the power by which witches create what they need: dancing speaks for itself, but singing becomes the repetitive chanting by which witches build power. So dancing, singing, feasting, making music and love, rather than merely being the hallmarks of the liberal rituals of a countercultural religion, are transformed in Wicca into a communion feast, a celebration of the major mystery of creative union in Wicca, and some aspects of the inner magical technology used by witches.
And not merely inner magical technology: once again it is important not to forget that these words are being spoken by the Goddess of the witches drawn down into the body of the High Priestess. These things are done in her praise, as part of our co-creative work of being the Goddess, incarnating the Goddess in us, helping others to recognise their inner Goddess, and manifesting the Goddess in the world around us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not cackling

To the moot last night (I'm the one in the hat). Sir Terence Pratchett writes that witches like to meet to make sure they're not 'cackling'. It would surely take a witch to recognise true cackling for what it is, but anyway a roaringly good moot happened. I do like it when the conversation starts off with double meanings and goes on until we suddenly find we've been locked in & nobody's noticed. The landlord wished us a 'happy Christmas, or whatever you have.'
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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Coventry and modernism revisited, and Rod the God

Last night I was watching Danger Man & conceived the notion of an outing to Coventry today. The titles of that show so make me think of Coventry station: forty years ago they would both have summoned up the same idea of modern city sophistication, forward-looking & unhampered by the bonds of the past.
Recently in my reading about urban exploration on the internet (not doing it myself, I hasten to add, I might break a fingernail) I've come across a reason why modernism has ceded to postmodernism. A search for modern derelict, abandoned, loved/loathed buildings shows that they are precisely those buildings that embody an ideology whose time has passed. In Britain perhaps Park Hill flats in Sheffield would be the best example of that, although they, like the (in)famous Trellick Tower in London are in the throes of gentrification. Both of those were designed by architects and councils who wanted a better life *for other people*. It seems hoi polloi have rarely bought into modernism; albeit Park Hill was seen as heaven when new until the rot set in.
Modernism as the embodiment of someone else's ideology in Cold War western Europe may be seen in some relics is communist architecture in the former Eastern Europe, such as the former Communist Party headquarters in Bulgaria. From the west in the 1980s this must have had the appearance of regimentation, a closed system which allowed corruption & ultimately the Chernobyl disaster, a corruption & creeping decay hidden under the appearance of a bright new future. The communist headquarters had 'forget your past' in huge letters above the door: the exact opposite of what anyone in the west who wanted to avoid the menace from across the curtain would have wanted to do. The mosaics in the headquarters are drop dead gorgeous to my mind: extremely reminiscent of the sort of public art put up in the doomed underpasses of the post-war town planners' Britain. Once again the theme of regimentation & an enforced bright new future which doesn't really happen, appears. Also the brutalist/regimented/socialist/communalist ideology draws on motifs alien to us in the west. The person from whose blog come the last three images (acknowledgement: www.thebohemianblog.com) thinks that the final picture is a depiction of the pre-Christian Slav God Rod. It seems there is some debate about his standing in ancient pantheons, but in neo-pagan systems he has become a central deity. I don't think for an instant his name is pronounced to rhyme with 'god', but I have been unable to find the correct pronunciation online. To the inhabitants of western 'Christendom' modernism may therefore seem a heathen imposition of ungodly values & doomed. Ironic that since then not only has Western europe become increasingly post-Christian, but Christianity has had a real resurgence in the east, along with neo-paganism, and the full revelation of how corrupt western Christendom really is! The bigger picture is this: political systems come & go, they and religions have declines & resurgences. Our present realities can seem different in hindsight. By all means construct your future, but be careful not to forget your past because that is the source of the present. Even if we need to dis-member it to re-member it as an archaic future, it is essential not to deny it because it might just bite you on the bum.
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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hand to the plough

I have had a Christmas card from some family friends. It says 'we hope you are well & that you will go to see your mother over Christmas. She is the only one you will ever have.'
This initially made me angry: she has obviously been telling them that I've made no effort with her (I have), that she doesn't know why I'm not seeing her (that'll be because she doesn't listen), that she's got dementia (she hasn't), that she can't remember anything (she doesn't, but only because she doesn't listen; she has no memory deficits & this is a volitional forgetfulness), that I want her to go in a home so I can have her house (I have a home of my own & need or want nothing of hers). I was minded to ring them up & put them straight on a few things, but it's really difficult to know what one would say in the circumstances. 'My mother has led me a merry dance for the past few years (in fact decades) & I've had enough'? 'My mother is lying to you as she has repeatedly to me over the years'? 'There is actually nothing wrong with her at all'? 'How about you have a go at trying to help her with the difficulties she herself identifies & see what happens'?
Several things have fallen into place for me this year: people who have known her years have told me things that have illuminated things that have happened over the years. I feel, in fact, that my mother may have an undiagnosed personality disorder, which she is now less able to keep hidden. I thought she could be dementing because of a change in personality, but she has tested as negative, so I am forced to see that what I see now has always been there under the surface. The actual effect on me has been what we occultists would call psychic vampirism (I don't know how cowans cope with life).
For me as a witch, how this affects me is that I have to protect myself, because she will quite happily drain the life out of me. I was expecting reactions from family friends because this will be the first Christmas we've been estranged. I'm used after knowing her for four decades, to everything being my fault. I'm also used to people telling me what I *ought* to be feeling & doing. In fact I would consider the people who wrote me the card to be a model of playing at happy families: this is the woman who never bothered telling her family she had had breast cancer till one of her daughters died.
Guess what: I don't feel obliged to justify or explain. I have made a decision which is best for *me* after having tried to obtain the outcome I really wanted & been unable to. Yes, it's selfish, but for the first time in my life it is not being run by my mother. In fact I think this may be the first really grown up decision I've ever made. I've put my hand to the plough & will not now look back.
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Monday, December 10, 2012

The altar again

For someone who claims to be a low church witch I seem to post a lot about my altar! There is more usually a process of reduction going on & while I wouldn't quite say it is because I like it like that, it definitely feels most pleasing to me or Another if it has only three things on it. At the moment the three things have settled down to a soapstone dog, a knife, & a light of some description. The dog was from a charity shop: I had a wooden one before but it felt wrong, it seems the chthonic dog Goddess wants stone. The light is a Seven African Powers votive at the moment (I am convinced I was a priestess in Haitian vodou in a previous incarnation) although it is more usually a single candlestick shaped like a snake. The knife was very expensive. It came from an antique shop: I saw it liked it, but it was only when I got outside that the Goddess bashed me over the back of the head & I had to have it. It was sold to me as a commando knife, & it was only when I got home & googled it that I discovered the Goddess wanted a knife for her altar that had been specifically designed for sneaking up on people & killing them instantly. I feel it probably has been used as intended: it inspires awe & respect when you hold it in your hands. In fact I don't tend to use it ritually, I've only used it a few times when I've unusually felt the need to command something.
In the picture there is of course a fourth item on the altar: the ginger tom cat is extraneous to the plan. I've told him that cats as well as dogs were sacrificed to her in the ancient world, but he tells me he has a special relationship with the dog Goddess.
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Jewellery Quarter

To town today to rescue a witch friend from a 'do' that would be worse than death, although I maintain I am an unlikely rescue fantasy. We didn't do the German market but had sushi at the wonderful Woktastic, then to the jewellery quarter. I wanted to go to a pub on Newhall Street, the Queen's Arms, because it is most famed for being haunted by a ghost who pinches bottoms. That's what I want to be when I'm dead: an army barracks or university would be my preferred location. Unfortunately the pub was packed. Now you could attribute the bottom pinching to the punters, but the ghost pinches women's bottoms & the men in there looked spectacularly unlikely to do that, and even more strangely, each & every one seemed to have brought his mother with him.
So we went to The Actress & Bishop, where we christened my new Morgan's Tarot (I will post on it properly at some point), then we spent some Goth time in St Paul's churchyard. Beggars of all descriptions, as creatures of the night themselves, recognise Trouble when it stares them in the face so would be unlikely to cause trouble for a witch. That poor wreck of humanity was asleep on a bench: I expect he had collapsed from drink or drugs. The third picture is one of several plaque-thingies on the pavement in Newhall Street: I'm not sure what they're for but the relief of the 1980s-yuppie mobile phone appealed to me. On to another pub before a steak at Cafe Rouge, then home where I had to change the bed as the cat was sick on it just as I went out this morning & I only had time to pull the sheet off before I went out.
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Friday, December 7, 2012

Going underground

Urbexers are so sexy
I commented before here on a tunnel under the Hagley Road near my home. I have often used that tunnel for the disposal of magical remains, including burning sigils in there. That post was more specific to the spirit of a particular place, but this one is more about the spirit of the underground. As witches we have adopted the word 'hedge' to refer to the idea of liminal places where we go for transformation, but we have downplayed the underground aspects of this idea, perhaps because 'underground witch' is a less appealing idea to people's romantic idealism than that of the hedge! Robert Cochrane was very fond of working in tunnels and caves, for example, and there are actually many archetypal buttons to be pressed in us by the idea of tunnels and caves. Sometimes they are seen, if the earth is the body of the Goddess, as her womb.
No longer seen as safe
The first and second pictures show one of London's abandoned underground stations. I think it might be British Museum or Bloomsbury, but don't quote me on that. If urban explorers put pictures of themselves on their websites they can only expect the Hound to fancy them. Underground has a secondary meaning embodied in urbex: of secrecy, something not respectable or legal. This is how the underground refers best to the idea of the hedge, because underground places are on the (h)edge. When I lived in London the guided tours of abandoned underground stations had just been stopped so I've never been in one except virtually.
This is of course because underground places are also seen as places of danger: both objectively in terms of health and safety legislation being extraordinarily demanding around work in enclosed spaces, and subjectively in terms of what we think will happen. Subways (and who on earth had the lack of taste to call that one 'Gothic Subway'?) are one of the things which most embody disastrous 1960s town planning, because of their notoriety for having hiding places allowing muggings and rapes to go on there.
To return briefly to the underground: one of my favourite old films, which has disappeared from youtube is Bulldog Jack, a take-off of the Bulldog Drummond films which manages to be better than the films it is parodying! It has several scenes in a disused underground station which perfectly embody the idea of underground: it is being used by the crooks as an access point to the British Museum so that they can steal treasures in the dead of night without being seen. Our heroes have to undertake a para-mythological journey in which they risk life and limb by going into The Underground, with no backing from the official police, to sort this. This idea of danger also occurs in A Clockwork Orange, including in the revenge scene at the end, when Alex is beaten up by the tramps.
The danger implied in underground extends to death: traditionally the underground was the place for the dead, it was where dead bodies were disposed of, it was seen as a haunt of the dead and undead. Most literally this is found in the idea of catacombs: if anyone fancies a trip to Paris there is a whole movement of 'cataphiles' who explore (at great personal risk and with great opposition from the police) the catacombs where there are often literal piles of bones and skulls, where they have been placed as the city's cemeteries have been cleared of old burials.
There are catacombs closer to home, in Warstone Lane cemetery in Birmingham: this is one seriously sexy Victorian cemetery. The catacombs are all properly sealed and walled up nowadays, but when as a very young weirdo I first walked around there, some of them were broken open, so that I can truthfully claim to have been inside the catacombs there. Only just inside I'm afraid, I was alone early on a Saturday morning with nobody around and didn't have a torch so I literally just popped in and out again, couldn't tell you what they look like because obviously it was was dark in there, and have been unable to find a picture of the interior online.
Underground takes you to different times and places
If I hadn't been as canny as I was - I wouldn't have called it this but what I did was a dynamic risk assessment and decided it wasn't worth the risk even though I really really wanted to see inside and could have gone to get a torch - my outing to the cemetery could have ended differently. I could have been trapped or squashed, or my foot could have found a contaminated needle, for example: a journey into the underground can only end in a transformational experience. However we humans go underground, for whatever reason and for however long, we must eventually emerge back into the light, this is a necessity for us, even artificial environments created for survival in war, such as London's Cabinet War Rooms, could only allow survival for a vertain length of time. We humans must emerge, blinking back into the light, to find whatever has happened - to us and the outside world - while we have been underground. Whether this was volitional or not, a journey underground can only lead to us emerging different.

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 21: naked in your rites

and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites,

Sources and Influences

BAM: And as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites, both men and women,

Leland Aradia: And as the sign that ye are truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites, both men and women also: this shall last until the last of your oppressors shall be dead; and ye shall make the game of Benevento, extinguishing the lights, and after that shall hold your supper thus... (60-66)

Thealogy

This line of the Charge refers to one of the most characteristic aspects of the religion of Wicca, and one of the most misunderstood: the regular or routine working of rituals in the nude, interpreted here as the sign of the freedom referred to in the previous section. Sometimes this is referred to as working ‘sky-clad’, a reference to a sect of Jain holy men called by this name, who renounce clothing permanently as an act of ascesis.
So why do Wiccans work their rituals, celebrate their seasonal festivals, and practise their religion naked? Gardner published an explanation for this, in the context of discussing initiation ceremonies of ‘primitive’ peoples:
‘...So when people, for example, ask me: ‘Why do you say that witches work naked?’ I can only say: ‘Because they do.’ ‘Why?’ is another question, the easy reply being that their ritual tells them that they must. Another is that their practices are the remnant of a Stone Age religion and they keep to their old ways. There is also the Church’s explanation: ‘Because witches are inherently wicked.’ But I think the witches’ own explanation is the best: ‘Because only in that way can we obtain power.’
‘Witches are taught and believe that the power resides within their bodies which they can release in various ways, the simplest being dancing round in a circle, singing or shouting, to induce a frenzy; this power they believe exudes from their bodies, clothes impeding its release. In dealing with such matters it is, of course, difficult to say how much is real and how much imagination.’  (Gerald Gardner: Witchcraft Today. Arrow Books, London, 1975, p. 20)
So Gardner actually presents two reasons for ritual nudity: one that it is a traditional thing which is not optional, and the other that without nudity witches are not able to raise the energy required to work magic.
The quotation from Aradia used in the Charge would certainly appear to be a ritual injunction of nudity for witches, but there are several difficulties with approaching it like this, since the actual standing of Aradia as an item of folklore is disputed, as is the existence or nature of the witch cult it describes, and the fact that it is the only pre-twentieth century text making ritual nudity a normal thing for witches.
Gardner’s second reason is one which is still used by many witches. However Gardner’s comment that it is difficult to discern what is imagination certainly applies here, since if people find themselves unable to work magic with clothes on, they’re obviously not very good at it. Valiente makes the sensible point that ritual nudity is not suitable for all climates (Doreen Valiente: An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. Robert Hale, London, 1973.).  And Hutton trenchantly points out that that a requirement only to work magic naked relegates some of the greatest magicians of history to the second division (Ronald Hutton: Witches, Druids and King Arthur. Hambledon Continuum, London, 2006, Chapter 6. All further references to Hutton in this section refer to this work.).
A third reason for routine ritual nudity is given by witches: that it reinforces a feeling of equality and democracy in the coven.
In his consideration of this aspect of Wicca Hutton replies that this cannot be true since Wicca covens are actually arranged hierarchically. He suggests several other functions of ritual nudity in Wicca: it reinforces and tests the trust and confidence between the members of the coven; together with the other elements of ritual, it reinforces the sense that something out of the ordinary is happening. Among the reasons for its inclusion in Wiccan ritual he does not discount Gardner’s own enthusiasm for naturism, and the fact that routine ritual nudity is one of the many ways in which Wicca is unconventional.
Historical precedents for ritual nudity are not lacking, no single one of which he accepts as an explanation for the presence of ritual nudity in Wicca, albeit that this is one of those areas where texts and artefacts are open to misinterpretation. Hutton found that ritual nudity did have a place in ancient religion, but not as a routine thing, only for initiation rituals and mystery religions. He even gives an example of early Christians, which was very much a mystery religion at the time, being baptised naked.
The second precedent is the association of nudity with countercultural religion and Christian heresies: the problem with this being that the evidence is usual supplied by the other side of the argument. Hutton finds no evidence for routine ritual nudity for all the worshippers, as opposed to groups of ascetics, for example, in any religion. He does cite an example of a nude ritual in New Orleans vodou, but I do not believe it to be the norm in that tradition.
As for the witch trials, there is little or no reference to nudity (except in the case of solitary trials), but as Hutton points out, since there is no evidence for an early modern witch cult, this would not impact on the religious history of ritual nudity. The cultural figure of the witch, however, is associated with nudity, not so much in literature in Europe, but in much northern European, and especially German, art; this may have been used as a pretext to create an opportunity to paint female nudes.
Hutton does, however, find that the worldwide malevolent figure, traditionally called by the word ‘witch’ in English, is very frequently associated with nudity, which seems to be related to the reversal-of-everyday-life motif in the witch figure.
One last source for this is traditional operative magic, but only in a solitary context. This is why nudity is only mentioned in the trials of individual witches.
Hutton concludes that ritual nudity is one of the things which mark out Wicca as a magical religion, that while nudity has a small, marginal history in the world of religion, it has a much greater history in the world of magic, and is part of Wicca’s dissolution of the traditional boundary between magic and religion. He states that this places Wiccan ritual nudity in a great and venerable tradition of magical activity, and that it is certainly not based on the predilections of Gerald Gardner alone.
There are of course two criticisms of group nudity in the context of the ritual activity of Wicca: one is that it is open to misinterpretation. Members of the Craft with responsible jobs to keep, or children to retain custody of, would do well even now to remember that outsiders do not understand what they do as a religion, knowledge of these activities can be used against them, and skyclad working is bound to be the first thing a malicious observer would seize upon. The way outsiders view skyclad working is perhaps best summarised in a fictional account of inter-coven rivalry, in which photographs of a skyclad doctor are used as a weapon:
‘...clear colour photographs of the undressed physician with his lips enthusiastically planted on the puckered breast of Belladonna, who was holding a wand in one hand and a whip in the other. This, to witches, was merely the sight of a High Priest performing the ‘Fivefold Kiss’ which precedes the Charge of the Goddess and is a part of every Opening Ritual. It is accompanied by the words, ‘Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty’, and is central to a sacred ceremony devoted to the worship of the Divine Feminine, She Who Sees All.
‘To those ignorant of the Wiccan Way it was a permissive display (with sado-masochistic overtones) of a respected member of the community whose job required behavioural decorum.’  (Jessica Berens: Queen of the Witches. Arrow Books, London, 1995, p. 163.)
Valiente commented on the other criticism of skyclad working: that it can also be misinterpreted by those coming into the Craft:
‘...many of the older witches feel that all the publicity about nude witch dances has attracted quite the wrong sort of interest in what is, or ought to be, the Craft of the Wise. People come to it who are just looking for a bit of sexual excitement, without any serious commitment or belief. Too much emphasis, they feel, has been put on this feature of the Old Religion. They think that, along with the other old practice of ritual flagellation, ritual nudity is something that could well fade into the past, without any detriment to the witch cult, but rather the reverse.’  (Doreen Valiente: An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. Robert Hale, London, 1973, p. 254.)

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 20: ye shall be free from slavery

Roman slave collar
And ye shall be free from slavery,

Sources and Influences

BAM: And ye shall be free from slavery,

Leland Aradia: And ye shall be freed from slavery, and so ye shall be free in everything; (58-59)

Thealogy

This section gives a reason for what witches do: the point of the witch cult is the freedom of its members. Writers who are often named influential on Wicca would include Murray, Leland, Crowley, and Frazer, but I believe this passage indicates the influence of a stream of writing on witchcraft which is often overlooked. The stream is perhaps best represented by Jules Michelet, whose book La Sorcière was written with little research in a period of two months to finance the writing of a history of France (Ronald Hutton: The Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001.).  His ideas of the history of witchcraft were heavily influenced by his own anti-Catholicism and dislike of the nobility, and his conclusions are not accepted by historians today, but the nature of his writing makes an emotive appeal to those seeking magic today. The introduction to the book would also count as one of the few positive images of the witch – as wisewoman and healer – written by a non-witch who believes that a witch-cult actually existed.  (Jules Michelet (translated by A.R. Allinson): Satanism and Witchcraft. Tandem Books, London, 1970.)
This cult he sees as a movement of the common people, driven to despair by the two pressures of Catholicism the serfdom into which they were driven by the nobles. In search of freedom they sought or retained the old ways, of domestic Gods, of healing with herbs, and the use of enchantment to overturn the existing order. Michelet believed that this cult eventually degenerated into Black Masses after the infiltration of – guess who – the nobility.
This is very much the understanding of witchcraft in which Aradia is placed, and therefore indicates that this tradition did have an influence on Wicca and most obviously the Charge. Aradia posits as the aim of the witch cult freedom from the slavery imposed by nobles and the church, by means which will be taught by Diana, a Pagan Goddess. The witches will be able to find treasure belonging to rich men, the Trinity of the Christians is derided as three devils, and every last one of the oppressors will die.  (Mario Pazzaglini and Dina Pazzaglini (editors): Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Phoenix Publishing, Blaine, 1998.)
I would argue that the ideal of freedom in Wicca is closer to that of Crowley than to that found in Aradia or in Michelet: the reality is that we are not part of some great occult conspiracy to overturn the world order as we know it, nor yet part of some para-terrorist organisation devoted to world change by means of causing death by enchantment.
Rather, for Crowley the idea of liberty is bound up completely with his idea of the true will. His much-misunderstood dictum of ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’ is not an encouragement to do whatever you feel like, or do what the whim of the moment dictates. The Great Work of the finding and doing ones True Will is a radical commitment:
‘The central commandment of [Book of the Law], “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” was not an incitement to anarchy, but an injunction to move with the tide of Nature, in accordance with the real reason why human beings are on this planet. Crowley said this is “to bid Stars to shine, Vines to bear grapes, Water to seek its level; man is the only being in Nature that has striven to set himself at odds with himself,” and with Nature. To cure this, one has to find one’s true Will, and do it.’  (Stephen Skinner: Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley, Tunisia 1923. Samuel Weiser, York Beach, 1997, p. X.)
    Crowley understood that each person’s true Will is individual; this is the meaning of ‘every man and every woman is a star,’ and they are all different. But that Will, once found, will not conflict with that of another. If I think my Will conflicts with yours, one of us has definitely misunderstood his true Will.
    How this relates to modern witchcraft is in our concept of balance. Witches understand that we live in a divine economy, often symbolised by the spiral, and particularly understand that this is cyclical. My will and freedom do not mean that my life is never going to have any downs, but by the same token other people do not have the right to inflict down times on me against my will. This concept of autonomy within a divine economy is actually what underlies the various ideas of return (whether threefold or some other arbitrary number) found in many modern witchcraft traditions. Life goes up and down, and in particular all must die. This is a reason why both the ‘black magic’ and ‘fluffy white witchcraft’ brigades are on to a hiding to nothing: life just isn’t like that and nobody can go through life having only ‘positive’ things happen to them.
There is a tension here: the point and the hallmark of witchcraft is what we know as the peace and the ecstasy of the Goddess. Gardner commented in a 1960 interview (which is available on the internet) that when people ask him why anyone would want to become a witch, he replies that it is because the seeker wants joy and peace. In Witchcraft Today (Gerald Gardner: Witchcraft Today. Arrow Books, London, 1975), though, he also comments on the fact that the freedom of the witch can lead to people ‘letting themselves go.’ This aspect of wildness is precisely what is seen as threatening or sinful to outsiders. Of course this once again cuts right to the heart of the witch archetype, i.e. witch as threat, and also returns the context of the source text of the Charge in Aradia, where those who learned witchcraft in Aradia’s school were the oppressed who learned how to overturn the rule of the powerful. This also introduces how our religion is not one of comfort: when our Goddess speaks to us when can guarantee we will be challenged in some way; even in this central ritual text the issue of who has the power is not absent.
The next section of the Charge will show how witches demonstrate that they are free.

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 19: adore the spirit of Me

and adore the spirit of Me who am Queen of all Witcheries. There ye shall assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet who have not won its deepest secrets To these will I teach things that are yet unknown.

Sources and Influences

BAM: and adore the spirit of me who am Queen of all Witcheries. There ye shall assemble, ye who are fain to learn all Sorcery, yet have not won its deepest secrets, to those will I teach things that are yet unknown.

Leland Aradia: to adore the potent spirit of your queen, my mother, great Diana. She who fain would learn all sorcery yet has not won its deepest secrets, them my mother will teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown. (52-57)

Thealogy

This passage is another example of how the text of Aradia has been adapted for use in this context; its adaptation also explains the rather strange-sound of ‘adore the spirit of me,’ when ‘adore me’ or ‘adore my spirit’ would sound more natural. ‘The Goddess’ as envisaged in Wicca is not the same as the Goddess in Aradia, who is a single, named deity, Diana. Where Aradia is talking about this Goddess, Diana, in the third person, the text is adapted to suit the first-person Wiccan ritual context of the Goddess speaking through her priestess.
The passage in which Aradia describes how her mother will teach the witch all things seems to contradict a major tenet of Wicca. I feel, following as it does from the passage about gathering in a secret place, it strikes to the heart of the way Wicca is practiced.
    As stated in the previous section, Wicca is an initiatory mystery religion, which is organised into small groupings called covens. Initiation is performed by the High Priest or High Priestess of the coven into which one is being initiated, and the autonomous nature of the coven means that while it is hierarchically organised, the coven itself is solely responsible for any training, education, or selection prior to initiation, before the power is passed on to the initiate. Granted all this, why does it say in the Charge that the Goddess will herself teach you?
    The answer is in who is speaking: the person who is speaking here is the Goddess speaking through her priestess. In the coven structure it should be the Goddess who is teaching through her priestess. This is what to be a priest or priestess means: to be an intermediary between the divine and the human.
    When this process goes wrong, things tend to become acrimonious. Witches conflict with High Priestesses in a way which is not constructive, the magical harmony goes, covens break up in distressing circumstances for all. Farrar and Bone have coined a term for this: ‘second degree syndrome’ (  Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone: Progressive Witchcraft. New Page Books, Franklin Lakes NJ, 2004, p. 74.).  They attribute this phenomenon to the dogmatism of the teacher, or the method of teaching, leading to the student entering into competition with the leaders of the coven. They interpret this in psychological terms, of the High Priestess’s ego dominating the student’s training, so that the training is identified with this ego, and conflicts with the student’s own ego, which he has not been trained to recognise in his own training. The student will move on to replicate this process in the future, since the acquisition of power will override any search for spiritual authenticity.
I think this psychological ground may be dangerous territory for many High Priestesses to venture into, and I think rather than venturing into psychoanalysis the antidote to this situation may be found in the High Priestess’s remembrance that while she rules the coven as the representative of the Goddess, the Goddess is not only personified in her. If the Goddess’s body encircles the universe and she is in the heart of every man, she is also embodied in all people and things. In a sense the ritual of Drawing Down the Moon is not so much invoking an entity into the High Priestess, since the Goddess is already present in her, but more like saying ‘Now we will ask the Goddess to say a few words.’ If the High Priestess remembers that the Goddess is also in the newest candidate for initiation, it should preserve her from power trips: as we know, when you invoke the power of the Goddess into your life, strange things happen, and her lessons can come from unexpected places.
Power and control manifest often in another way: thinking that you have all the answers. The cycle of life is often pictured in our religion as a spiral, and of course the symbolism of the circle is always present: it has no ending. People like to have a sense of achievement, and like to think they have arrived. In mundane terms, this can be marked by certificates of achievement, degrees, promotions, houses, but in magic there are no such things, and no real target to aim at. Maxine Sanders comments on the restlessness which plagued Alex Sanders, and which she has observed in many (male) occultists (Maxine Sanders: Firechild. Mandrake, Oxford, 2008.).  And surely we have all seen this, if not knowingly experienced it. People seem subconsciously to seek that point at which they can feel they have arrived – and no such point exists in occultism – and so undergo repeated initiations, move on to the next coven or Order, wonder why all the members of their coven have walked out, and so on, never really settling to anything.
This experience of restlessness is also noted in Christian monasticism – another way of life with few markers and little sense of achievement, where it is called accidie. St John Cassian described exactly that pattern or never settling to anything and never getting anything done. The remedy in monasticism is for the monk to stay in his cell (in other words to get on with his monastic life) and the same goes for us. For the witch I would prescribe the remedy of: a divination to discern whether there is any good reason why she should change her situation, and if there is not, to stay where she is and get on with the witch’s task of transforming herself and her world.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

'Ghosts' and Round the Twist

My holiday seems to have marked a return to one of the interests of my youth. When I was 13 or 14 I nagged my mother into consenting to the library giving me an 'adult' ticket. This allowed me to borrow things well within the reading range of someone of that age, the mysteries of Michael Innes, & Dorothy Sayers; but the book which made most impression on me was The Most Haunted House in England by Harry Price. I Believed in a big way then, & ghosts were my introduction to being a weirdo.
I bought today the DVDs of a children's television series called Round the Twist. I'd forgotten how good it was, although when it was first screened in the UK I think I was probably much older than its target audience. I remembered the slapstick elements, but not the supernatural elements.
Also this week I've been reading round on the internet on Borley. It's interesting that from the beginning of this case it has polarised opinion. Obviously I haven't read everything about it but the literature is either pro or con & tends to lack cold judgement.
My own opinion is that Borley was probably too good to be true. *Every* element of a classical ghost story was present in one form or another, when even a few would have more than enough. It is unfortunately associated with Harry Price, who was not rigorous as a scientist. If you take him and Marianne Foyster completely out of the picture the evidence is thin at best.
I was surprised, though, to find this note pencilled in Dennis Wheatley's own copy of one of the (violently pro) Borley works.

Kenneth Allsop, the book reviewer of the Daily Mail, told me that when Borley was in the news he was sent down to do an article on it, and with him he took a photographer. Borley was then being "de-bunked" so that had to be the tone of the article. *But*, when the photographer developed his films, the figure of a nun could be seen quite clearly on one of them. He took it to Allsop, who took it to his Editor, but the Editor said "No, I just daren't print it."
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Monday, December 3, 2012

The Green Men of Birmingham


Regular readers of this blog will be accustomed to a pattern appearing in my posts: establish my pretensions to intellectual rigour, delineate the subject, demolish fluffy ideas, run out of steam and come to a hasty conclusion. One (posh grammar) used to be able to get a leaflet listing the foliate heads of Brum, but I haven't seen that around for ages so as a public service will list them here, with my own spin, needless to say. I say 'foliate heads' even though they are often called 'green men', a term in use only since the 1930s (stage 1 of my blog post). I will follow the ones identified in the original leaflet (I'm ashamed to say I didn't keep a copy, & only have notes which don't include the author's name) in the order they were put there. Perhaps I should also say that this post was actually written in the midst of an actual journey around these green men, as a sort of 'spiritual exercise', so the tenses are rather mixed, for which apologies. I don't believe that to be the best order to do them in, as it involves some to-ing and fro-ing & I don't doubt that there are more foliate heads in the city centre.
Lady Raglan coined the term "Green Man" in her 1939 article "The Green Man in Church Architecture" in The Folklore Journal. Some commentators conflate or associate the term with "Jack in the Green".
Usually referred to in works on architecture as foliate heads or foliate masks, carvings of the Green Man may take many forms, naturalistic or decorative. The simplest depict a man's face peering out of dense foliage. Some may have leaves for hair, perhaps with a leafy beard. Often leaves or leafy shoots are shown growing from his open mouth and sometimes even from the nose and eyes as well. In the most abstract examples, the carving at first glance appears to be merely stylised foliage, with the facial element only becoming apparent on closer examination. The face is almost always male; green women are rare. Green cats, lions, and demons are also found. On gravestones and other memorials, human skulls are sometimes shown sprouting grape vines or other vegetation, presumably as a symbol of resurrection (as at Shebbear, Devon, England).
The Green Man appears in many forms, with the three most common types categorized as:
the Foliate Head - completely covered in green leaves
the Disgorging Head - spews vegetation from its mouth
the Bloodsucker Head - sprouts vegetation from all facial orifices.(e.g.-tear ducts, nostrils and mouth) Source
1. Comfort Inn (formerly the Market Hotel) on the corner of Station Street and Dudley Street. This is supposed to have two heads of the disgorging type, but I've never for the life of me been able to see them. If you stand on the other side of the road facing that corner, the shutter behind you used to open up to the Midland Red bus station, which was grim beyond all belief. Also on Station Street there used to be a junk shop wherein I once coveted two genuinely old icons, which were unfortunately way too expensive for my student budget at the time.
2. The Victoria, corner of Station St and John Bright Street: one foliate head above the door. Do I need to comment to anyone who knows this pub that it was one of the scenes of my misspent youth?
3. 81 John Bright Street (the building on the corner with Lower Severn Street). I think this may have been Busy Lizzie's many moons ago, but was empty and for sale on the day I made this pilgrimage. One foliate head right at the top of the building on the corner, with a drain pipe coming out of its mouth. I was unable to get a decent photo unfortunately, but that is the only visible drain pipe on that building. I suspect it has been left while all the others have been resited internally because the frontage of that building is listed. A listed drainpipe equals Original Period Feature (albeit it looks like lead) in estate agent speak.
4. Council House, Victoria Square. This monument to Victorian excess has numerous foliate heads, both beastly and human, carved in the frieze. On the day I did this the German Market was in full swing & I couldn't get far enough away to take a decent picture. At this stage of the journey it may be convenient to pop into Paradise Forum for a McPiss as I did before moving on to...

5. Birmingham and Midland Institute, corner of Margaret Street and Cornwall Street. The original leaflet says there are several foliate heads on both street sides of the building. My personal opinion is that most of them (they're above the windows) may not count. However, distinctly human features appear among the carved leaves in the frieze above the ground floor windows, which I think are much better examples of the Green Man hidden in the city. This building has only been the B&MI since 1974, and the foundation stone of the original building, laid by Prince Albert (behave, Hound, don't make a rude remark), was moved to this site.

On the other side of Cornwall Street is the School of Art, a quite phenomenally gorgeous building covered in luxuriant decoration, with sadly not a single foliate head to be seen.

6. 50 Newhall Street. The leaflet gave two foliate heads over the door. Unfortunately these are amongst the ones I have never been able to see amongst the undoubted carved foliage above the door. It mentioned as an afterthought two lions' heads above the door of number 52, which I think are clearly animal heads disgorging foliage. Obviously the spirit of the green is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose it could have been an error, but perhaps some people can see heads at number 50.
7. 56 and 60 Newhall Street. To my mind one of the best, or at least most obvious, examples; the building is anyway a positive orgy of art nouveau design. The design is copied (is it my imagination that the expression is subtly different?) - over the door of number 60.
8. 19 Newhall Street (on the corner with Edmund Street). Many carved heads among the terracotta greenery at the top of the building, which perfectly demonstrates the necessity of looking upwards in cities, since you could pass the lower end of that building for years and never notice the decoration.

9. Louisa Ryland House (remember her? She's appeared here before; I wouldn't want people to think I'm weird & *only* hang out with dead people, though), 44 Newhall Street. There is supposed to be a head above 'the central second floor window' on the Newhall Street side of the building, but once again I can't see it. Much more promising are the panels below the ground floor windows on the Edmund Street side of the building, which are a menagerie of fantastical animals sprouting greenery. There are some slightly less exuberant versions on the Cornwall Street side of the building.
On the way to the next location you pass Maddox House on Edmund Street, named after Conroy Ronald Maddox, a local surrealist, whom I had not heard of before. The building has a plaque with a quote: 'The work of surrealism can never be conclusive, it is more of an exploration, a journey and a struggle.'

10. Chamberlain House, 133 Edmund Street. Two foliate heads on the doorway that even I can see, and they've got magnificent moustaches.

11. 158 Edmund Street, on the corner with Church Street. Nine easily visible foliate heads, of what I'm coming to think of as the 'clone' or 'Freddy Mercury' type, above the ground floor windows.
12. Hotel du Vin (formerly The Birmingham and Midland Eye Hospital), corner of Edmund Street and Church Street. Carved head among foliage above the original name plaque on the corner.

13. 57 Colmore Row. To see these faces you have to stay on Church Street from the other side of the road from the building. If you run your eye up the building at the far end from the Colmore Row frontage, at the junction with Barwick Street, at the top of the building is what looks like a carved urn, which actually has foliate heads on it. Then if you run your eye along the building you see another one. A third 'urn-thingy' is on the same position on the frontage actually on Barwick Street.
On the other side of Church Street, fronting on Colmore Row, is the former Grand Hotel, which has been on the at risk lists for some years. A friend & I once got thrown out of the extremely swanky bar for singing. I have two dinner plates with 'Grand Hotel, Birmingham' on them, which came from a charity shop.

14. 43 Colmore Row, formerly the Grand Hotel. Three foliate faces, which unless the condition of the building radically changes soon will certainly be invisible behind scaffolding.

15. St Philip's Cathedral. The camp as a row of tents windows above the doors at the sanctuary end of the building have a foliate head above & below them. This may be best seen in the week: at the weekend you may not be able to get close enough for the hordes of emos. Not sure what the collective noun for emos is - a grunt? A scowl? 
16. Great Western Arcade, Temple Row frontage. Heads made completely of foliage on either side of the entrance. Look closely now, and don't confuse them with the carved head at the centre of the arch. If you look to either side of that arch, however, there are barley sugar-effect pillars at the sides of the windows, & each one of those is surmounted with a foliate head.
Until recent road alterations you used to be able to get from Colmore Row to St Chad's via underpasses & one of those open bits in the middle of a roundabout that had a mosaic of John F Kennedy junior. I loved that mosaic (I believe it to be in storage somewhere) because of its heady 60s modernist optimism that we were entering a new, more positive age when we would all come together. It was not to be & underpasses went out of fashion, but you still pass this wonderful 60s street art underneath the police headquarters.
17. St Chad's Cathedral, St Chad's Queensway. A foliate head holds up one of the statues on the front. This cathedral contains the relics of St Chad above the high altar: see, Christians do object links as well! While at St Chad's I popped into the bookshop: the gorgeous blond man behind the counter looked nervous at my presence. I still can't work out what it is attracts young homosexuals to church, except the difficulty of saying 'I'm a faggot'. Incidentally the Catholic Truth Society's pamphlet on Wicca & Witchcraft is one of the more sensible introductions to the subject, from a Christian perspective. 
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that my preferred route from St Chad's to Corporation Street passes the law courts. Always the possibility of seeing a bit of rough in a suit on his phone saying 'They let me off, blood.' Another thing I've just noticed today is the motto carved above a window at the back of the building: 'Justice giveth each one his own.' I'm sure my idea was not in the mind of the person who chose that, but it was at this moment my trip began to feel like a pilgrimage, one that reinforces the idea of personal sovereignty & will. What is just for me is *mine* and will not interfere with anyone else, because it is my own.

18. 153 - 161 Corporation Street, known once upon a time as the Pitman Building; it's opposite the Gazette Buildings on the other side of the road. This building looks to have had multiple changes of occupier over the years, & is still used for multiple occupancy. It has a plaque on it noting it as the location of the first health food shop in the UK. It has two foliate masks between the windows & three green men above the second floor windows. All of these are quite difficult to see & open to interpretation in the riot of decoration above the ground floor.

19. Ruskin Buildings, 179 - 203 Corporation Street. Various foliate heads hidden high up on the building, best seen from the other side of the road. The original leaflet also gives 'demonic' faces on each end bay. I can certainly see what look like faces, but it's difficult to see how demonic they are, given that I'm writing this on my blackberry, sheltering from the wind in the entrance to the former Methodist Central Hall. How the mighty are fallen! The MCH is another of those colossal monuments to Victorian (or possibly Edwardian) aspiration in decorated terracotta. In fact there are panels just above me depicting, presumably, scenes from the life of John Wesley. It is another of those buildings at risk locally whose original purpose has vanished (I believe Methodists to be the fastest declining Christian denomination, numerically), and for which no permanent new purpose has been found. It's had some years as a nightclub, but that wouldn't begin to use the vast building's full potential. There has been talk on & off of converting it into flats, which haven't become reality yet, & presumably it would be a very expensive conversion job. Perhaps the extension to the tram line which will end nearby, will lead to a change in its fortunes.
20. The Fire Station, Lancaster Circus. Faces in foliage above two windows.

21. 15 - 17 Corporation Street, formerly Ciro Citterio. Two foliage heads in vertical panels. I'll have to come clean here & admit that not only have I not seen these, I'm not even sure what building they're on. I have at least been past, but I'm reaching the stage at which I'm running out of steam, I've bought a milkshake to reinvigorate myself but am presently sheltering down the side of the Burlington Hotel, as it's started raining again!

22. Trocadero Public House, Temple Street. Two foliate masks over doorway. At first I thought I would have to add these to the list of ones I couldn't see, but I think they're actually among my favourites of the ones I've seen today: they're actually made of tile & surround what was obviously the entrance before the present one.
23. Burlington Hotel, Stephenson Street (formerly the Midland Hotel. Three foliate heads over doorway. I have only seen one of these: it is impossible to get far enough away to see more at the moment, because of the works to improve New Street Station.
I knew there'd be more if I looked, & to these may be added:

128 New Street, Waterstones. There is a crashingly obvious foliate head above the main entrance on New Street. 

There is a modern, huge green man figure at the Custard Factory (Gibb Street, Digbeth).

So I'm on the bus going home, having popped into the central library & found they don't have Brian Glover's autobiography, & I'm surprised to find I feel subtly different. I suppose the point of a pilgrimage is that an outward journey mirrors & provokes an inward journey, & I'm delighted that my outer journey getting better acquainted with this particular spirit of place has done just that, more by what happened along the way than by the actual journey itself.
There was the totally unexpected meeting with Conroy Maddox, and his quote about the journey never coming to an end, and then the words at the law courts. The ancients called overheard words like that a cledon, & those carved words were a sort of visual cledon. So how have I changed? I know, better than I did, that the journey does not end, it merely continues. And I have had reinforced that even though I can be doubtful of this & have times almost of despair, it is right to undertake the journey, and that I'm not going wildly in the wrong direction. The spirit of the green man is significant in this, if he taken as an image of continually renewing life being hidden in the foliage: to go on the journey necessitates risk and change, but not to go on the journey at all is certain death.

A Green Man Invocation
I call to you now, spirit of nature, strong and free
Come and teach me, I am ready to honor you
I celebrate your gifts; I am ready to learn your truths,
As my ancestors did before me,
I see your power and your pain, beneath the green mantle
Of the scars on your body and the great sadness in your eyes.
You are no longer abandoned, we hear you again;
We are ready, to honor your ways.
Reveal yourself, Green Man,
Weave your spells of green magic.
Teach me and I will listen for your voice;
I will celebrate your sacred wisdom ways. Source



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Egyptian Deities

My Kemetic friend has laid down a challenge to me by telling me that I am unable to write a blog post about Egyptian Deities since I know nothing about them, so here goes. From the 1880s to the end of the First World War, Egypt had a flourishing tobacco industry, using imported Turkish tobacco, since tobacco growing had been banned in Egypt. These cigarettes' popularity brought a host of imitators (perhaps Camels are best known & still going), among them the American brand Egyptian Deities.
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Friday, November 30, 2012

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 18: Then shall ye assemble in some secret place

Sources and Influences

BAM: They ye shall assemble in some secret place

Leland Aradia: Ye shall assemble in some desert place, or in a forest all together join (50-51)

Thealogy

This passage is another example of a new twist being given to the imagery of a passage from Aradia: this is not the great Sabbats of the past which Gardner romantically describes, and which are obviously meant by all the witches joining together in the forest, but a more intimate gathering is implied. The only stipulation is that it is in a secret place.
A further twist is given by the connection which Gardner was very keen to stress between the witch cult and the mystery cults of the ancient world, which he states repeatedly were known by different names, but were all about the same mysteries (Gerald Gardner: The Meaning of Witchcraft. Weiser Books, York Beach, 2004.).  Perhaps the best known were the Eleusinian and Dionysian mysteries of Greece, Mithraism of Rome (remains of a Mithras temple have been found in London), and the cult of Isis in Egypt. Elements of the mystery cults even found their way into early Christianity, and nowadays, when anyone can walk into a Christian church and stay there until the end of the service, it is hard to realise that in the early days the unbaptised would have been thrown out halfway through.
Burkert lists several characteristics of the mystery cults, which are similar to aspects of Wicca, in addition to the obvious one of secrecy (Walter Burkert: Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical (Translated by John Raffan). Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1985.).  They were initiatory: entry was by secret rites in which a kind of death and rebirth occurred. They were agrarian, for example relating to corn or Demeter (although not all rites of this type were mystery cults), another familiar element of Wicca. There was a sexual aspect to them, including genitalia among their imagery, some ritual exposure, and culminating in the cult orgies, which were orgies in the sense we would nowadays understand the term. Frequently, but not universally, the philosophy of the cults included an idea of a promised future bliss after death. Finally, their myth was characterised by tales of a suffering God. All of these find parallels in the mythology and thealogy of Wicca.
This tradition of secrecy comes down to us today through societies such as Freemasonry, and in the traditional of magical orders such as the Golden Dawn. These societies, of course, are also entered by initiation. Societies such as these could have been the inspiration for the secrecy element of Wicca, but given Gardner’s anxiety to connect witchcraft with ancient mystery cults, I think it more likely that the model of the mystery cult was at some point adopted.
This tradition of mystery, secrecy and initiation refers back once again to Apuleius: in the ‘Charge’ found in the Metamorphoses, it is Isis, whose cult was a mystery cult, who is speaking, and Lucius, the protagonist of the story, is initiated into the cult of Isis at the end of the book. This will seem strange to those who are not accustomed to the ways of mystery religions, but if you ask a Gardnerian Wiccan what happened at their initiation, you will get a similar answer to what he says:
‘Thou wouldst peradventure demand, thou studious reader, what was said and done there: verily I would tell thee if it were lawful for me to tell, thou wouldst know if it were convenient for thee to hear; but both thy ears and my tongue should incur the like pain of rash curiosity. Howbeit I will not long torment thy mind, which peradventure is somewhat religious and given to some devotion; listen therefore, and believe it to be true. Thou shalt understand that I approached near unto hell, even to the gates of Proserpine, and after that I was ravished throughout all the elements, I returned to my proper place: about midnight I saw the sun brightly shine, I saw likewise the gods celestial and the gods infernal, before whom I presented myself and worshipped them. Behold now have I told thee, which although thou hast heard, yet it is necessary that thou conceal it;...’ (Apuleius (translated by W. Adlington): The Golden Ass (The Loeb Classical Library). William Heinemann, London, 1958, book 11, 23, p. 581.)
In Witchcraft Today, Gardner quotes at length from a description of the frescoes of the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii, including a depiction of an initiation into the mysteries of Dionysos. From the point of view of understanding the Charge of the Goddess, the most relevant part is the depiction of the initiate after his initiation, to which a speech is being read. The Italian author, as quoted by Gardner, calls this speech a ‘charge’, and Gardner afterwards also refers to it as a charge. This was exactly the pre-Valiente use of the Charge in Wicca, and could have been the inspiration for that part of the Wiccan initiation ritual.
A connection between the understanding of the ‘mystery religions’ current in the first half of the twentieth century, and the sources which impacted on early Wiccan thealogy, is made by Price and Kearns (Simon Price and Emily Kearns (editors): The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003.),  who write that that understanding was of a personal religion, linking the fate of a dying and rising god, with the fate of the believer. Scholars at the time viewed mystery cults such as those of Eleusis as earlier forms of more developed mystery cults coming from the east, and this development culminated in Christianity. This view was eroded from the 1930s onwards, by the discovery that the mystery cults which appeared to come from the East, became mystery cults through contact with the Greeks. Frazer’s archetype of the dying and rising god was undermined from the 1950s, and the aspirations of the member of the cult have been redefined from a future beatitude beyond death, to the whole of the benefits the member received from the cult. This has caused Christianity to be seen as a unique phenomenon, rather than a culmination of centuries of development. It has been shown that the Mysteries were not ‘Mystery Religions,’ but a particularly way of practising the same religion as others. The discovery which most undermines Gardner’s view that all the mysteries were the same, and elements of the understanding of mysteries built into the thealogy of Wicca, is in their complexity. Several different types of mystery have been identified, and not all of them emphasised (or emphasised in equal measure) the characteristics of mysteries identified by Burkert.
It is therefore impossible to make any direct historical connection between Wicca and the ancient mysteries. It is possible to identify aspects commonly found in the mysteries which are also found in Wicca, whose presence may have been inspired by the understandings of the mysteries current at the time. For one of these reasons, secrecy, there may be more immediate reasons for their retention in Wicca.
There are of course several reasons for secrecy, both in the ancient mysteries and in Wicca. The first is that in mysteries, the primary means by which the mysteries are communicated is experience rather than belief, and if you haven’t had the experience you just will not understand it. Perhaps this is how witches know each other (and they do), because of having experiences in common. This creates a situation where these mysteries literally cannot be communicated to those who have not experienced them, without them being ‘initiated’, and so any attempt to do so would actually be futile. ‘I spent last night dancing round naked and leapt over the cauldron’, would not be a statement calculated to create understanding in the office next day. Secrecy from the prying eyes of the uninitiated is clearly what is meant by the text in Aradia.
There is a magical reason for secrecy: the great tradition of not speaking at all about a work in progress until it has come to pass. Some traditions even extend this not thinking about it, the reason for both of these is that magic is done by the formation of an idea in the mind. Often this is phrased in terms of visualising it, but I don’t think that is always necessary; what is necessary is the idea that what you want has already happened. This idea is then powered in some way – in Wicca usually by one of the means of raising energy, comparable to the various ways of reaching what is called ‘gnosis’ in chaos magic – and released from the mind into the universe. And this last bit is the reason for not talking about it. If you talk about a spell, mull it over in your head, worry about whether it will work, you are calling your thought-form back to yourself, and thus ensuring it will not work. Magic works best when you do the necessary and forget about it completely.
A last reason for secrecy in witchcraft and magical traditions is discretion: the plain fact is that people do not understand what we do, and misinterpret it, sometimes through ignorance and sometimes through malice. This silence is actually to preserve the privacy of other members of the cult. Witches with children may have problems if their witch-hood comes to the knowledge of teachers, social workers, etc. Witches with responsible jobs or in public service may be ‘managed through the door’ because people do not want a witch.
Here I have some hard words for my coreligionists: no amount of public relations work will ever achieve the public acceptance of our religion. The name alone is enough to ensure this! At all times and places the word ‘witch’ has had solely negative connotations. It is only since the 1950s that people have called themselves witches, and those people are us, in neo-Pagan Witchcraft.
The irony is that one of the things contributing to the public misconception of our religion is precisely this secrecy which has a role in protecting our co-religionists from persecution. To put it plainly: people always wonder what is being hidden when something is secret. The quotation from Apuleius makes one want to know what happened at his initiation; or to use another example, the endless speculation by anti-Catholic crusaders about what happens in the confessional is fuelled by the fact that it is secret. The example of the confessional also points to the fact that secrecy always looks ‘dodgy’: to the outsider there can be no smoke without fire and those with secrets must have something to hide.
This is a difficult situation for all concerned, and individual witches are the only people who can decide how much to reveal and to whom. To the outsider to witchcraft, who wonders why it is secret and what there is to hide there is an obvious answer (which still won’t satisfy them that we’re not eating babies): covens are often likened to families. There is a difference between what we reveal to outsiders about our family life and what actually happens. Some things in the family are not communicable to outsiders. To reveal some things to outsiders can be seen as a betrayal of the family’s unity and trust. Conversely, it is not breaking trust to reveal abuse or crime within the family to external authorities, since that trust has already been broken by the perpetrators. I feel that this is the best way in which to see secrecy in Wicca.
An additional change in emphasis is made from the Aradia quotation’s placement of the witches’ rituals, in that it specified a desert (deserted?) place, and names a forest, whereas in the Charge this place for the ritual becomes merely ‘some secret place’. In practice in Wicca there are two distinct sorts of place used as liminal places between the worlds: ones which are liminal places in and of themselves, and places which we make to be so.
Both of these kinds of places chosen for ritual are in a great tradition of human yearning towards the numinous. In the case of the first sort of place, the place which is a liminal place in its own right, Mircea Eliade writes:
‘In actual fact, the place is never “chosen” by man; it is merely discovered by him; in other words, the sacred place in some way or other reveals itself to him. The “revelation” is not necessarily effected by means of anything directly hierophantic in nature (this place, this spring, this tree); it is sometimes effected through the medium of a traditional technique originating out of and based upon a system of cosmology. One such process used to “discover” these sites was the orientatio.’ (Wendell Beane and William Doty (editors): Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, Volume 1. Harper Colophon, New York, 1976, p. 155.) 
While some places are holy, liminal places in and of themselves (and may not by experienced as such by everyone) the other approaching, of setting aside a space as especially holy, is often used for more formal ritual. This demonstrates the change in the place for the witches to meet in the Charge: Aradia specifies a natural place such as a forest, of the first, already existing type. The Charge does not specify that the place has to be discerned a numinous by divination, or make any specification except that it be secret, enabling Wiccan ritual to be carried out pretty well anywhere. The method used in Wicca, the banishings, creating the circle guarded by the four quarters, seems to originate directly from the grimoire tradition, however is still in a great magical tradition, as seen in Varro, writing in the first century BCE about setting aside a place for augury:
‘On earth the word templum is applied to a place delimited by a particular formula for purposes of augury or auspices. The formula is not identical in every instance. On the citadel it runs:
‘”Holy ground and wilderness be mine up to where I have named them religiously.
‘”Of whatever kind that true tree is, which I believe I have stated, let my holy ground and wilderness extend to the left.
‘”Of whatever kind that true tree is, which I believe I have stated, let my holy ground and wilderness extend to the right.
‘”Between these points let there be holy ground for direction, for observance, for interpretation, as I believe I have religiously stated.”’ ( Varro: De Lingua Latina, 7,8. In John Ferguson: Greek and Roman Religion: A Sourcebook. Noyes Press, Park Ridge, New Jersey, 1980, pp. 50-51.)