Thursday, May 30, 2013

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 35: Mirth and Reverence

These, the last of the four pairs of Wiccan virtues, have strangely given me the most trouble.
I feel the reason for that may be our English-speaking puritanical Cartesian dualist history: I feel that, say, an Italian with a longer Catholic history would find it easier to equate these two. In Britain we are far too used to a solemn joyless religion, ruthlessly segregated from the rest of life. It is not for nothing that a high proportion of witches are ex-Catholic: the ritual and philosophical mindset imbued by authentic Catholic teaching, as opposed to the Jansenist caricature which made its way to a lot of English-speaking countries via Irish emigration, create a much more 'humane' mindset.
It is remarkable that while our modern movement was created in its early days by people with few pretensions to intellectual rigour misusing sources which have largely been discredited, yet when you look around for a philosophical basis for the things we do, you can usually find one in the strangest places.
So many aspects of Wicca and Witchcraft have been born in the cauldron of a deliberate self-differentiation from the surrounding culture, that this in itself may be the explanation for finding underlying philosophy where you least expect it. The people who stirred up the ingredients of modern withcraft were following their own bliss, & may have been unaware that the philosophically-minded had thought this out before.
The strange place to find a philosophy underlying our mirth & reverence is once again St Thomas Aquinas:
'As St. Thomas makes clear in his discussion of the virtue of eutrapalia or "wittiness," laughter can be outright sinful if it occurs in inappropriate circumstances. To laugh at certain moments would be unfitting and even insulting. Such a moment would be one in which the situation or the company demand a serious and meditative atmosphere. To laugh is in some way to "let yourself go," there are certain persons and situations before whom we ought not "let ourselves go." In this way, we avoid, as St. Thomas says, "losing the balance of one's mind altogether."1 So how can we refer, then, to laughter as an "infinite" affirmation? Moreover, why can laughter be seen as a verification of the Thomistic understanding of reality? In order to adequately answer these questions, we must first notice an essential feature of laughter. When a man is overcome with honest laughter, his laughter is always spontaneous. Laughter which is calculated and prejudged is not true laughter, it is especially not that "abandon" which we call hilarity. The reason why laughter is always spontaneous is that it is a consequence of the unexpected. The reason we know laughter is always a reaction to the unexpected is because man, being rational and, therefore, a fashioner of words, reacts to wit without words; he is "taken from himself" before he can perform his normal function of tying concepts to words. The person who immediately tells you "why" something is humorous, did not get it.
'There is something which is exceedingly interesting in this fact that laughter is a wordless response to a concept presented to our minds by wit. In a certain way, laughter is a product of supra-rational insight. It is based upon a reason beyond reason. Laughter speaks not of the plodding intelligence which the Medieval philosophers spoke of as ratio, but rather, of that immediate intuition which grasps the innermost core of a reality with a mere "glance," and which the same Medievals spoke of as intellectus. To laugh is to see and acknowledge the way things are, whether one wants to or not. Laughter often forces one to see what one, often, does not want to see. It is our guarantee that objectivity cannot be completely abandoned.
'What is it about laughter which makes it a guarantor of objectivity? It is, precisely, laughter's suprarational status which makes it such. It is no secret that in our own times, rather than think ideas which have been garnered from the structure of created reality, men, for the purpose of maintaining their autonomy, fabricate ideas and concepts which have no natural referent; "equality," "self-definition," and "gender neutral" are a few of these. These and other such contemporary concepts create a mental screen which sifts out those aspects of reality which contemporary men and women will not accept. With these concepts acting as a screen, we can truthfully state that these people do not "see" reality for what it is; for most of our contemporaries, the real has become "unthinkable."' (Source: http://lifeissues.net/writers/cho/cho_05humor.html)
That said, once again Thomas Aquinas's idea is slightly twisted: if laughter is the guarantor of spontaneity, of something outside us, then for we witches, it pairs up with reverence as the guarantor of the living Goddess amongst us, in everything yet also possible to differentiate from everything. Our mirth is what ensures we know the Goddess is in us: mirth is reverence for us, so they are not contrary or even polar opposites, one invokes the other.
It is interesting that while these two virtues were the ones added to the Charge by, presumably, Valiente during her attempt to rid the Charge of as much Crowleyanity as she could, they speak so much to the religion of Crowley. It may be that they were suggested to Valiente in her reading of Crowley, since she says that she recognised the Crowley origin of much of the Charge because of having spent 'years' studying these things. The analysis of the text which is to follow will make clear how she almost eliminated the Crowley material for the verse version, only to end up putting much of it back in for the final version, & it seems that she wound up inserting a Crowleyanity that wasn't there to start off with! His new religion of the new age where there is no slavery and we are free joyfully to pursue our Will is an idea which runs through Wicca at all points.
Similarly Crowley is the idea that if we have a message of hope for the world is this: religion can be like this. It can be joyful without guilt, with personal responsibility and without blame. While we shy away from Crowley's idea of the law being for all, I do feel that we have put out there the fact that religion can be *fun*. In fact, if you didn't know better, you could think that the whole modern phenomenon of Wicca & witchcraft was some huge joke, fabricated on an almost totally fictional base. This mirth/reverence continuum implies the childlike mind that is necessary to magic: if I make believe hard enough it'll happen, & it'll be fun!
Can you hear two old men chuckling?
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Witchcraft means to me

I am frankly still reeling from meeting the newcomers to our group last week, & the shock of meeting someone who actually believed that the Law of Threefold Return is an actual objective physical law. One of them seemed to own a greater influence from Buddhism & the other was so busy trying not to be pigeonholed that I'm frankly unable to tell what his major influences were, although there must have been a Neo-Pagan influence at some point for him to take the LoTR so seriously.
If it is any indicator of the difference in milieu between their Pagan/Buddhist approach & we witches, they went home at 10ish to meditate & we carried on drinking in the pub, divining what the sexy one's penis was like with tarot cards. Whatever else, witches have more fun.
I already posted why I think the Law of Threefold Return is an existential nonentity, the via negativa approach, so now I'll post a few thoughts on what I perceive witchcraft actually to be, the via positiva approach. This is not really a final statement even for me personally, nor does it represent the views of any group, & even before I've started this post proper I just know that I am going to contradict myself multiple times!
Witchcraft is a nebulous, multivalent entity, almost impossible to define because of the multiple uses of the word over the centuries, most of them negative. We who call ourselves witches in modern times are plugging into this entity of egregore which exists in our communal mind. Witchcraft is the very simple, yet radical & to some extremely dangerous, idea that as individuals we should be sovereign over our own lives & destinies. This should be reciprocal so that it does not mean infringing the sovereignty of another. Witchcraft is to live as divine in a divine world. We recognise other entities as gods & goddesses, but our refusal to create an artificial separation between the divine & everything else means we see events around us in an almost epic way, & the smallest actions assume an importance they would not otherwise have. From individual sovereignty follows the idea that we need not feel obliged to accept whatever comes in our direction, whether by the actions of another person, or seemingly by fate. Witchcraft means having an obligation to discern all parts of a situation, including making a full & frank inventory of the part we ourselves play in it. The classic example of this would be the woman who keeps marrying abusive husbands: yes, the husbands are wrong, but if you keep on doing something you have to own the part you play in it sooner or later. Sovereignty means you have no choice but to accept ownership of your actions. From sovereignty & ownership come consequences, responsibility & privilege. Actions are both more & less important for us, I feel no obligation to beat myself up if I cock it up, knowing that a messed-up opportunity will come round again. I will resist with every last breath in my body, any notion of divine, existential or temporal punishment for myself or others. The fact that the majority of the world's population starves in poverty is because of the minority's greed. This does not always provide an explanation for when shit happens of course: my feeling is that the witch's way here is not to over-analyse but to get on with dealing with it. Witchcraft is having an obligation to treat those who come to you for ministration (and believe you me, they do come, even when they have no idea you're a witch) with respect & what they tell you with confidentiality. To be a witch is to be presented with situations where you feel a duty to improve something or to correct something, & often you are the only person who can do anything about it. This is both a privilege & a challenge, because... Witchcraft is to find your daily life wrapped up with your own & others' ontological development, so that your simplest actions attain a seemingly disproportionate importance. There is no comfort here since usually what you are placed in a position of having to do the one thing you don't want to do. Conversely, witchcraft is to know the ecstasy of the Goddess: this is attainable to all without need for 'conversion' or to believe anything. However if you're a witch & you're not also having more fun than the muggles even in the midst of matters of great moment, you're doing something wrong. (Ah ha! Think I've found a way in to my post on 'mirth & reverence' that has been giving me so much trouble). Now, to anyone who says, 'That isn't in Scott Cunningham!' - I say, Great! I'm a witch, not the pope! I actively want people to do what I outline above, & am very happy to have people disagree with me, because that is you accepting your personal sovereignty. Anyone who would see me as beginning some kind of tradition of witchcraft or laying down rules for others to follow, really hasn't been paying attention & should begin reading this post again at the top.
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Friday, May 24, 2013

Morgan's tarot review

I make no apologies for not illustrating this review with the actual thing I'm reviewing! The picture is (or should be, since I've been having some difficulties getting things to appear on the blog recently) of the Beatles' shop in London in the 1960s, & represents for the purpose of this post the cosmic consciousness of the 60s, which is exactly the consciousness that Morgan's Tarot comes out of. The 60s countercultural influence is downplayed somewhat in the history of modern witchcraft, but it must be of moment, since if Gerald Gardner's invented witch cult built on pseudo-history had not met the world of the 60s & exploded, it would still be a small group of a few middle-class occultists & co-Masons in the New Forest. After all, we witches are supposed to be able to discern the signs of the times & either go with or against them!
I don't think the background to this tarot (if it was published for the first time today it would almost certainly not be called a tarot since it in no way follows the conventional tarot structure) can be put better than in this Amazon review by someone who knew the man who conceived, but didn't draw, it:
'The cards, originally, weren't meant as a tarot or even as anything for anyone other than Morgan [Robbins]. When he described their origin to me, he said he was working as a dishwasher at a small place in the Santa Cruz mountains and studying his own personal development. He got some cards (I assume index cards) and started writing down the key ideas he'd been thinking about, just as sort of reminders for himself. There are even around a half-dozen cards in the deck that he attributed to the cook at the same place.
Morgan just carried the cards around to be reminders of his focus in terms of consciousness. (being a spiritual being seemed to make sense, easily, to him, but the "living a human" life was much harder to integrate and make sense of ...)
'He described his confusion as other people started looking at his cards and getting something from them ... and started insisting that he should publish them as a tarot. (I'm sure those others pictured that as a simple path to a "well beyond dish washer" income for him ... when I met him, he was washing dishes, again, for a place that would trade food and lodging and some pay ...) 'He found the artist ... and thus the black-and-white line drawings came into being ... and, from somewhere, scraped up the money to actually print decks ... and set about selling them himself. Eventually they gained enough "grass roots" popularity to be in Metaphysical (and other) bookshops all over the place, to the extent U.S. Games found him and picked up the rights. 'You have to put this all in the perspective of the times, this was during the first waves of popularity of "awareness and consciousness" in the western world ... Timothy Leary and Ram Dass (under his other name) were exploring LSD at Harvard ... and many other folks were doing their own explorations along similar paths ... so, when I met Morgan, over a beer, I told him, first, that I'd been reading with his cards for years and loved them. Then I confessed, (somewhat embarrassed) that based on the mythology around, I'd been describing the author, him, as ... ' a drug-crazed hippy out of Santa Cruz...' ... he paused a long time, looking at me, and finally replied..."Boulder Creek, actually, but nobody knows where that is ... I guess Santa Cruz is close enough..." 'Morgan passed over some years back ... and I have to confess, my first thought when I heard about it was, "Wow ... he made it ... he finally finished what ever lesson was SO hard for him to learn ... and made it out..." Being a spiritual being was pretty close for him to touch, it seemed ... but being a spiritual being living a human lifetime ... seemed to be a mystery to him for the whole time.'
Source: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/cr/0880790288/n=1/ref=aw_cr_i_1 This writer also comments on how the cards open your intuition, to the extent that he or she ended up doing readings without a tool at all, since one was no longer needed. (S)he also comments on feeling that the deck doesn't really need a little white book, & that without one the user can make their own connection with the cards. Certainly for myself I find the LWB interesting as a further insight into how the creator saw this deck, an expansion of the deck's ethos, but certainly do not find it necessary to refer to it in readings, since the meanings of the cards tend to jump into ones mind without help, even without the aid of entheogens! If you want to see the LWB (no purchase necessary) it is on the US Games Systems website here: http://www.usgamesinc.com/Morgan-s_Tarot/
I love the idea of a tarot conceived over the washing up! How witchy is that: it's only slightly removed from divination in the washing up water going down the drain. I've never read with a deck with a Happy Squirrel, although I love that what was a joke on The Simpsons got incorporated into actual decks. Christian Day says that he will sack anyone who reads in his shops with a deck with a Happy Squirrel, so I hate to think what he would see this deck, which is not so much unconventional as Way Out There. It does not follow the conventional tarot structure at all, there are no suits, the cards are in no particular order & the order in the LWB is completely arbitrary. Oh, & there are 88 of them, so don't even think of trying to relate it to RWS or Thoth! I think this is the feature I personally like best about this deck: the arrangement means that there is no hierarchy about this deck, nothing 'trumps' anything else, nothing comes before or after. In terms of divination, this gives an equal standing to everything that can come up, an approach I like enormously. I dislike that in conventional tarot 22 of the cards appear to represent major events, & 56 of the cards quotidian events as if they weren't important. It also creates greater flexibility: like it or not the Swords cards will always come across as being related to each other in a way they will never be related to the other suits & the trumps. Morgan's approach allows connections & less prejudiced relationships between all 88. It is almost as if this deck wipes the whole slate clean & literally allows you to divine in a new way. Do not judge this deck as being an old hippie's relic of the 60s merely: it is far more powerful than that. It has line drawings that are very much of its time, & I love that too since I love 70s tarot decks. The one thing I find difficult about it (I have the current US Games printing rather than any of the earlier versions, so don't know what they're like) is that I find the deck unwieldy to handle & shuffle. The cards feel like a standard US Games RWS, rather laminated. However the number of cards make this deck thick in comparison to my other tarot decks. This makes a riffle shuffle difficult. Similarly I feel the cards are slightly too large for comfortable handling. Bear in mind though, that I've given many of my decks a borderectomy & recently have been tending to read with some decks that come smaller anyway, so I'm out of practice handling large cards.
I feel it is best shown in action - this deck easily sounds like a wrecked old stoner with no memory left if you don't see it working - so I want to do something with it to show its personality & sense of humour. It is a technique of interviewing a tarot deck which I learned about on Alec Satin's website, although he attributes it to someone else. An example of him interviewing another deck using this spread can be found here: http://tarot.alecsatin.com/tarot-master-interview/
1. Tell me about yourself. What is your most important characteristic? Power. Interesting that one - even I would have expected Neil to come leaping out the deck at this point, but it's not having any of it. This deck is one which demands respect in its own way, by virtue of the power which it does wield. 2. What are your strengths as a tarot deck? Hand (the LWB interprets this as referring to help, either being given or needed); Stop ('cease being guided by omens. The universe is not entirely in harmony with your will. A psychic jolt can change the flow of events or even rechannel it'); Ball ('6 is the number of universal creation. This card is a more direct version of the "Transmutation through Union of Opposites" card'). What more could one want? A grown-up divination tool that helps, points out when we need to help others, gives us a slap when we're being ridiculous & opens the world of creation to us!
3. What are your limits as a tarot deck? 'Du Wacky Du' & 'Think about it for awhile'. OK, so it's shortcomings are obviously that it's a stoned 1970s deck, & gives the kind of readings you'd expect! This is a case where my gut instinct is complemented/contradicted by the LWB. It seems du wacky du can be the deck commenting on the madness of life around it, & think about it implies there's more involved in the question than meets the eye. 4. What do you bring to the table? 'There are no misteaks'. I suppose this is exactly the kind of alternative view I was talking about above. You wouldn't use this deck if you weren't wanting the completely alternative view. 5. How can we best learn from & collaborate with you? 'From here on in it's nothing but a downhill run.' The LWB says 'it is a total coast from here to enlightenment & total liberation. Cut the strain & flow into what is.' 6. What is the potential outcome of our working relationship? 'Do it now,' to which the LWB adds 'awareness comes only in the reality of experience.' There is one final question I personally like to ask a tarot deck when I get it, & I'm aware I haven't asked this one yet. Every deck I have asked this question to has given me an answer I haven't wanted to hear, & frequently with the one card in the deck that on looking through them I haven't wanted to see in a reading for myself. You've guessed it: this deck has followed suit.
The question is, 'What do you have to teach me?' The answer from this deck is, 'You are experiencing an illegitimate feeling.' No fluffiness there, then - this deck is so not feel-good. The LWB comments on that card: 'This statement is an absurdity, for there are no illegal feelings. In a reading, this card may indicate that you are experiencing a negative emotion which will disappear when you realize negativity is not necessary. Focus attention on your feelings & experiences - get in touch with yourself.'
I'm off to do that in the most obvious way: running naked through a cornfield. But not till I've put the lentils in to soak.
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Owning it

(This is the text of a blog post I tried to post earlier this week, at least twice. If it doesn't work this time I will be forced to conclude that a Black Magician has taken over my blog. That's a joke, by the way)
Last night two new people came to our gathering. You will remember how I've commented before that one of the functions of magical people getting together is to bounce off each other and prevent us going too much off the rails: I value being challenged by other people very highly, especially a 'stranger', just in case I and my circle of significant others have got something wrong. This post is prompted by a discussion last night which I'm still reeling from this morning.
Anyway last night we were introducing ourselves to each other and then one of the visitors said something which drew me up short. I was feeling slightly incoherent anyway because he was *hot* and I was frankly preoccupied with the things that I wanted him to do to me, but the thing he said was, 'What about the Law of Threefold Return?'
What?
I thought he was joking. In the circles I move in *nobody* believes literally in the law of threefold return as a natural inescapable law of physical return which should be respected. I had told him that I tend to attract piss-takers, and he also said that that was because that was obviously the energy I was putting out into the universe. I thought these people only existed in the world of Fluffy Wiccy-Poo, and am astounded at these ideas being expounded seriously by a grown man. I told him why I didn't accept either of these phenomena as a reality and expounded by alternative home-spun system of ethics, but he seemed happier with his off-the-peg system that comes from someone else. Weird.
Anyway, here's why I think the Law of Threefold Return isn't a real physical law. It breaks virtually all of the laws of physics. In traditional mechanistic physics you don't get a return that multiplies the original energy like that: if the law conformed to the laws of physics it would be merely a law of return, without the threefold aspect. In modern quantum physics, there is a greater acceptance that what happens is less predictable, and here the LoTR falls down again, because there the question would by 'why three?' If things are more random, there would be no reason for the return to be limited to threefold, it could be virtually any number, and probably be fairly unpredictable.
Secondly the LoTR is posited by its fans as if it is a system of ethics. The theory is that someone who holds this idea in mind will be inhibited from doing 'harm' to others by the idea that it will return to them threefold. This rings alarm bells in my head for several reasons. As a responsible adult I aspire to go through life making decisions and taking responsibility for them: even difficult decisions concerning my own life and relationships with others. I do not want or need some threat of threefold return at an unspecified time in the future over me to make me act responsibly: my expectation is that I will be able to say 'I decided to do this.' The other major shortcoming of this idea came out clearly in the discussion last night: we can all point to examples of people who go through life abusing others in whatever way, people who tread on the poor, who physically, sexually or emotionally abuse other people. For me personally it is not necessary to know *why* they do this, it is sufficient that they are doing it. The person tried to tell me that they *will* get their threefold return, we don't know when.
If you're going to go down that route you might as well be a Christian. This came up in the context of me telling him that I cast a spell on someone so that every time she bullied someone else it returned immediately (in the same measure) to screw up her own life. He thought that by doing this I was somehow interfering with the laws of nature. My own take on this is that if someone is causing unnecessary suffering I will feel obligated to do something about it. To me saying 'So-and-so will get their comeuppance, we just don't know when,' is exactly the same as saying 'Father So-and-so abused the altar boys and God will be very angry with him on the day of judgement, and it's not for us to say when that will be, and only God has the knowledge to know what is going on.' The LoTR actively takes the ability to do something about their situation away from people, and I see this as either an attempt at public relations to make witches seem respectable or a remnant of the Christian mindset in which most of us are in reality brought up in Europe. I should say this conversation was with someone who also said proudly, 'I've always been a Pagan.' No you *haven't*.
I personally will not accept what I perceive to be unnnecessary suffering in the world as long as I can do something about it. I will not accept the infringement of the individual's sovereignty over themselves (yes, I've thought about it carefully and that word is actually what I mean) by another. I will not accept an external authority as justification for not intervening. I will not accept the fear that is instilled by people saying, 'if you do X it will come back to you threefold.'
In the case of the specific spell we were talking about the person actually merely made her own life a living hell. She knew full well that she should not be doing what she was doing to people: this is of course where divination comes in so that you know you are not barking up the wrong tree. The person we were talking about clearly targeted weak individuals and avoided those who would stand up to her: almost the hallmark of bullying, and clearly indicating that this wdeliberate behaviour not an issue with self awareness. As long as there's a witch around these people should know that they will not get away with treating people like that.
Threefold Law? I'll fold them up three fold in lead and put them down a drain. Similarly, my property is hexed. Probably merely saying that has caused a dozen fluff bunnies to have asthma attacks, but once again where's the problem. If I give someone something that belongs to me that's OK, but if someone takes something of mine without my permission I will not accept that they do not know they shouldn't do this. Once again it's about demarcating where my sovereignty ends. If you break into my house and steal my stuff, you know full well you shouldn't be doing that.
I think possibly the reason I attract piss takers is that the universe knows that I can and will do something about it. My own magical power really came after a situation in which I knew some senior people in my employers were taking the piss and covering it up, so I did something about it, both magically and on this plane. That situation has not arisen again because I rose to the challenge. I do not believe that I will attract this sort of thing because of the energies I am putting out, but rather my experience is that if you duck the challenges that come to you they will keep coming back the same until you go through it. If you try to avoid doing the one thing you don't want to do it will keep coming back to bite you on the bum until you do do it.
Crowley says somewhere that at some point you will be put in a position where you have to make irrevocable decisions rapidly and with no way of really knowing what the consequences are - to me this is almost the definition of magical initiation. Beyond the introductory books the magician is obliged to go into a world in which there are no signposts - of course we hedge witches call this the hedge - to return transformed. The key to this is accepting personal responsibility and sovereignty. This does *not* mean riding rough-shod over other people; I can hear a little voice saying, 'but you cast a spell on someone else without asking their consent!' - Shock, horror. Yes, I did. Why? Because they were doing something they knew they shouldn't be doing, they only had to stop doing it to prevent their own hell coming back on them, I was not about to stand back and watch this. I expect personal responsibility of myself and will not accept excuses from other people.
We are really really not in Kansas any more!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 34: Honour and Humility



Honour and Humility
In coming to honour, we come to an idea with a rich legacy of historical and modern meanings: if you swear on your honour, you’re staking your whole reputation, you could conceivably fight a duel to maintain your honour. Dictionary definitions tend to include allusions to reputation, as if ‘honour’ is what others think about you (I think humility is more to do with what others think). Rather I think honour is about your own estimate of your qualities, abilities, integrity, worth... Honour is not so much what other people think of you (although if you think you’re wonderful and everyone else thinks you are a monster of the first order, something has really gone wrong), as what you think of yourself. ‘My word is my bond’ means that you have made a promise and will keep it. Not because you might get found out, or because you are frightened of the consequences of not keeping your word, but because you have done it and know that you can be relied on.
Of course this does have an effect of relationships with other people. If people know you to be scrupulously fair, reliable, honest, and sea green incorruptible, in addition to making sure nobody else will tell you any of the things they’re trying to get away with for fear of what you might do, it will mean that your honour will mean that other people can rely on you. To say different things to different people, say whatever you think other people want to hear as the exigencies of the situation require, lie to avoid the trouble of facing up to the truth, is not an honourable course of action. It erodes the trust other people feel they can have in you, and it erodes the trust you feel you can have in yourself.
Magically, honour is much prized for its effect in nurturing magical ability. Perhaps this is best phrased by Starhawk, if you replace the work ‘character’ with the word ‘honour’ in the following passage:
‘The practice of magic also demands the development of what is called the magical will. Will is very much akin to what Victorian schoolmasters called “character”: honesty, self-discipline, commitment, and conviction.
‘Those who would practise magic must be scrupulously honest in their personal lives. In one sense, magic works on the principle that “it is so because I say it is so.” A bag of herbs acquires the power to heal because I say it does. For my word to take on such force, I must be deeply and completely convinced that it is identified with truth as I know it. If I habitually lie to my lovers, steal from my boss, pilfer from supermarkets, or simply renege on my promises, I cannot have that conviction.
‘Unless I have enough personal power to keep commitments in my daily life, I will be unable to wield magical power. To work magic, I need a basic belief in my ability to do things and cause things to happen. That belief is generated and sustained by my daily actions. ...to a person who practices honesty and keeps commitments, “As I do will, so mote it be” is not just a pretty phrase; it is a statement of fact.’[1]

Humility is one of those virtues which have a bad reputation. The word derives ultimately from the Latin word humus, meaning ground, incorporating ideas of lowliness, not thinking much of yourself, taking anything that’s thrown at you. And indeed this is how it is usually understood: a person with such a low opinion of themselves that the total lack of confidence this engenders ensures that the person will never do anything that may show them to have worth or ability.
Perhaps this virtue is best understood in this context be considering it together with its opposite one, honour. If honour means your sense of self-worth and reliability, and humility comes from the Latin word for earth, then humility must be what prevents your honour becoming too big for its own boots. Honour carried too far becomes a grandiose obsession with yourself, the feeling that you are the only competent person around (surprisingly common, that one), the feeling that you could begin to reach your true worth if only you weren’t surrounded by idiots dragging you down. Humility is the thing that reminds you that your neighbour who has not read Wittgenstein can nonetheless repair cars, which you cannot. Humility is the thing that reminds you that one of your work colleagues included that detail in a proposal, which you had overlooked, and which nonetheless got it accepted.
The connection to earth is what keeps us ‘grounded’ in reality, so a true understanding of humility is that it is a correct understanding of your honour. It is not a hand-wringing ‘I am the most miserable worm...’ approach, but an approach that recognises that we all have our gifts, and should try to use them as best we can.


[1]
Starhawk: The Spiral Dance. Harper San Francisco, New York, 1999, p. 138.

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 33: Power and Compassion



Power and Compassion
In his published writings Gardner has much to say about the power utilised by the witches, which he sees as resident in the witches’ bodies, and which can be ‘raised’ by various methods and focussed to effect the witch’s intent.[1] He does not actually identify this power with the Goddess directly, however is clear that he sees the power as a power of creation, and also that he sees the Goddess as the primary power of creation.
The other sense in which the word power is understood is one which can create problems for those trying to understand witchcraft, because of the stereotype of the witch or occultist as a power-hungry deviant who has access to some secret knowledge allowing him adversely to influence events in the world around him. This view reaches its extreme in recurring rumours of occult conspiracies and plots to overturn the world order as we know it. Depending on the viewpoint of the occultist, a dualistic world-view leads to the polarisation of people into solely good or bad magicians, and the purpose of the occultist can be seen as fighting this conspiracy.[2]
The view of power in the Charge is different from this: the new slant on the material taken from Aradia and Crowley combats this polarisation by making it plain that, while the law is not seen as being for all, the power is nonetheless available to anyone who wants it and is willing to learn our Goddess’s way of personal power and dignity. Neither the relentless search for personal power regardless of the cost to others, nor a passive acceptance of whatever happens to you, rationalised as what God wills, is seen as the ideal for the witch. It is significant that the only occurrence of the word power in the Charge is in a context where it is balanced by reference to an opposite virtue, and in the Craft this balance is what is seen as essential.
The balance is essential because of the monistic world view of magic, in which all things are connected and what I do to you I do to myself. The significance of ‘correspondences’ is found in this interrelation of all things. Those who would only live their life in one domain, whether in that of ‘fluffbunny’ white light, or in so-called ‘black’ magic both misunderstand the occult understanding of the world, and, magically, are on a hiding to nothing.
The call to balance, to an individual power not based on dominance over others, has led in the years since the Charge was composed, to criticism by witches of the perceived imbalance in the way power is exercised in the world around us. This has taken the form of ecological and political work for reform and campaigning. This reflects the nature of the counterbalance to power given in the Charge: compassion.
Compassion implies an understanding and empathy for the other, which if the ‘other’ is seen monistically as part of myself and what happens to the other as the counterpart of what happens to myself, cannot have no influence on me. This is a truly subject-subject relationship, in which what happens to you is as important as what happens to me, rather than a subject-object relationship, in which what happens to you is relatively unimportant.
Relationships with others are therefore important for the witch, and witchcraft is not something practised as a hobby in the evenings, but something which can only effect all aspects of life. The compassion practised in practical terms by witches tends not to appear as such – no collecting envelopes come through the door for ‘Wiccan Aid’ – and I do not feel it would be justified to criticise Wiccans for their lack of visible aid to others, since I feel it does happen, but not overtly under a Wiccan banner.
This balance between personal power and compassion for the other, or rather a concern to put right what is seen to be wrong, is perhaps best known in the power dynamic of Starhawk,[3] who identifies three forms of power. The first is the undesirable use of power-over other people: this would equate to the unconcerned acquisition of unlimited personal power, regardless of the consequences to others. The ideal is power-with, where the individual power and autonomy of both sides in the relationship are respected and fostered, and the third sort of power is power-from-within, which equates to the power as described by Gardner. Starhawk sees the use of the magical power-from-within as essential to the wearing-away of power-over, leading to the ideal situation where individuals and institutions have power with others, rather than over them.


[1] Gardner, 2004.
[2] For examples of this see Michael Howard: The Occult Conspiracy. Rider, London, 1989. Stewart Farrar gives an account of Alex Sanders’s psychic searches for ‘black’ magicians in What Witches Do (Third Edition. Robert Hale, London, 1991) and Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self Defense (New Edition. Weiser Books, Boston MA, 2001) is replete with tales both of magicians who have gone off the rails, and of ‘black lodges’ which set out to remain off the rails.
[3] Starhawk: Truth or Dare. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1990.

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 32: Beauty and Strength



Beauty and strength
These ‘virtues’ are the only ones left from the original Crowley text deriving from his Book of the Law. The new twist given to all the Crowley passages in the Charge makes me disinclined to believe that this pair of abstract qualities are to be understood in the way in which Crowley understood this passage, who – in characteristic style - refers them back to the idea of the Will, and notes that this beauty of doing ones Will will be visible:

‘...It is all a question of doing one’s will. A flaming harlot, with red cap and sparkling eyes, her foot on the neck of a dead king, is just as much a star as her predecessor, simpering in his arms. But one must be a flaming harlot – one must let oneself go, whether one’s star be twin with that of Shelley, or of Blake, or of Titian, or of Beethoven. Beauty and strength come from doing one’s will; you have only to look at any one who is doing it to recognize the glory of it.’[1]


If this truly is a collection of ‘virtues of the Craft’, why then is beauty included among them? For a long time this question gave me problems, and I had difficulty moving beyond the idea of physical beauty, or beauty as exemplified by, say, models in our society, but eventually found a way out of this difficulty in, of all people, St Thomas Aquinas, who relates beauty to goodness:

‘A good thing is also in fact a beautiful thing, for both epithets have the same basis in reality, namely, the possession of form; and this is why the good is esteemed beautiful. Good and beautiful are not however synonymous. For good (being what all things desire) has to do properly with desire and so involves the idea of end (since desire is a kind of movement towards something). Beauty, on the other hand, has to do with knowledge, and we call a thing beautiful when it pleases the eye of the beholder. This is why beauty is a matter of right proportion, for the senses delight in rightly proportioned things as similar to themselves, the sense-faculty being a sort of proportion itself like all other knowing things...’[2]


It may seem facile to say that a thing is beautiful when it pleases the eye of the beholder, but in the context of the Charge we must remember just who the beholder is, since it is the Goddess speaking to us. True, this virtue can refer to a particular approach to physical beauty, but on another level refers to the Goddess seeing us as beautiful, knowing that we are good.
Both the physical and goodness approaches to beauty have a ‘virtuous’ application here. One is purely countercultural, and can find inspiration in the ‘Venuses’ found from the ancient world, satirically called so because they do not look like Venus statues, but are rather images of real women, pregnant women, women who have no hope of ever being size zero, and which are sometimes interpreted (by Gimbutas for example) as statues of ‘the Goddess’. Witches can therefore be beautiful without thinking they have to be some impossible-to-achieve shape to be so. There is physical beauty in the real woman’s body, and indeed in the real man’s body. If beauty is truly a matter of knowledge, we can approach our own beauty with a different knowledge from that prevailing in our society.
This is not unrelated to the beautiful thing as the good thing, since in Wicca what the eye of the beholder sees is a person in whom ‘there is nothing that is not of the gods.’ Beauty of action is related to beauty of appearance, and comes ultimately from our nature as being of the gods. Our decisions and actions in witchcraft are the actions of the Goddess in the world, since this dynamic of beholding is inescapably reflexive. We and the Goddess look at each other, and our actions please each other. In some Craft traditions is told a creation myth where the Goddess is pleased by her reflection in the blackness of the universe and the whole creation is a result of her joy at the sight of herself:

‘The Star Goddess, named Quakoralina, was gazing out into the vast blackness of space. She caught a glimmering, a glimpse, and began to move toward it. Where the edges of space curved, a black mirror formed. In it, she saw herself and was struck by her great beauty. She began to llok upon herself with desire and, full of this desire, began to make love to herself. She was so beautiful and full of desire that the image grew substance and stepped forth. God Herself came in ecstasy, and stars spun across the sky.’[3]


This understanding of inner and outer beauty is not quite that of Gardner himself, who wrote:

‘... [Woman as representative of the Goddess] should be steadfast, trusty and easy; otherwise she is not fit to have the Goddess descend upon her. If she is cross and selfish and ungenerous, it is certain that she will never receive that divine blessing. Our Lady of Witchcraft has a high ideal set before her; she must be fresh and kindly and always the same to you...
‘Among the virtues she must have is the realisation that youth is among the requisites necessary for the representative of the Goddess, and that she must be ready to retire gracefully in favour of a younger woman in time...
‘So a true priestess realises that gracefully surrendering pride of place now is one of the greatest virtues, and she will return to that pride of place the next time, in another incarnation, with greater power and beauty. In a sense, the witch religion recognises all women as an incarnation of the Goddess, and all men as an incarnation of the God; and for this reason every woman is potentially a priestess, and every man potentially a priest; ...every manifestation of male and female is a manifestation of Them.’
‘There are many types of beauty, and beauty of the spirit is greater than that of the body. The purifications you undergo in the cult increase that secret beauty. The Mysteries in ancient times must have been a garden of fair faces. ...’[4]


Needless to say Gardner’s approach to the youth and beauty of the priestess was not without its detractors even in the early days of Wicca, and was among the causes of disagreement with Valiente when he included it in the Craft Laws. Nonetheless Gardner’s understanding contains the seeds of later understandings of both men and women as being beautiful as being the incarnations of divinity.
The fact that beauty is seen in polarity with strength is not unrelated to Gardner’s conception of the priestess as beautiful as the presence of the Goddess. In her analysis of the tarot Strength card, Sandra Thomson sees the maiden pictured in the Rider-Waite card as the feminine counterpart of the man seen in the Magician card.[5] She writes that the lion whose mouth is closed by an apparently impassive maiden represents the fiery life-force, and therefore the powerful feminine principle is bringing the seemingly uncontrollable force of nature into subjection. For the nature of this subjection, see the nature of the witch’s power, below.
That this feminine strength is magical is indicated by the lemniscate above the maiden’s head, creating a correspondence with the lemniscate above the head of the Rider-Waite Magician. Thomson sees the maiden’s strength as the feminine counterpart of the male strength of the Magician: in the context of the Charge, its feminine nature is sufficiently indicated by the fact that this speech comes from the mouth of the Goddess.
Thomson makes further links between the woman pictured in the Strength card and those pictured in the High Priestess and Empress cards: a reflection of the modern understanding of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. The Strength maiden is a younger version of the Empress who has yet to come to her full strength, as seen in the latter card. Thomson sees her as a cousin to the High Priestess, but in the Wiccan tripartite Goddess, Strength, High Priestess, and Empress may accord better to Maiden, Mother and Crone. The contrast between the women pictured in the High Priestess and in Strength, lies in their location: the High Priestess is secure in her temple, while the Strength maiden is using her power out in nature. Thomson sees this as the High Priestess’s power passing into action in the Strength card.
So the nature of the strength here is based on divine wisdom, and the beautiful feminine power to bring this divine wisdom into the domain of earth. Thomson sees the true nature of this strength as implied by the vulnerability of the maiden’s hand placed in reach of the lion’s mouth. She also sees in this card an image of the wildness of our instinctual nature, brought into gentle, wise order by the higher self: ‘The strength depicted here is one of trust and love. In return, the maiden’s instinctual self opens up to her with a lick rather than an attack.’[6]
This is different to the obvious understanding of these two virtues (particularly in the light of Gardner’s comments on beauty) of beauty as feminine and strength as masculine. Assigning one of these virtues to each of the genders is probably more common in the gender polarity practised in Wicca, but both of these virtues can also be understood as both masculine and feminine, and both men and women can be understood as containing both beauty and strength in their natures. As Thomson puts it, again referring to the Strength tarot card, although these words actually apply as well to the virtues of beauty and strength:

‘The card also is another representation of balancing opposites, in this case the masculine-feminine resolution (logic vs. Eros or love). Inner strength lies in the acknowledgement of both our mental, spiritual, and physical aspects, not in competition between them, or repression of one. They are not rivals; they are partners. Our objective (conscious) and subjective (unconscious) aspects are in balance, or we are working to achieve that balance.’[7]



[1] Crowley, 1975, p. 176.
[2] St Thomas Aquinas (translated by Timothy McDermott, OP): Summa Theologiae (Volume 2: 1a.2-11). Blackfriars, Oxford, no date, p. 73.
[3] Feri Tradition creation myth. T. Thorn Coyle: Evolutionary Witchcraft. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, New York, 2004, pp. 208-209.
[4] Gardner, 2004, pp. 111-112.
[5] Sandra Thomson: Pictures from the Heart. St Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2003.
[6] Ibid, p. 322.
[7] Ibid, p. 322.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Plainness

Become aware of what is in you.
Announce it, pronounce it,
produce it and give birth to it.
~  Meister Eckhart
I have been thinking recently of an unexpected parallel between an aspect of modern witchcraft and an aspect of the Quaker testimony of simplicity, which has sometimes been called plainness:
'The testimony of simplicity is a shorthand description of the actions generally taken by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to testify or bear witness to their beliefs that a person ought to live a simple life in order to focus on what is most important and ignore or play down what is least important.' (Source: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testimony_of_Simplicity from whence further quotations will come in this post if they have no further attribution)
We witches are unaccustomed to the idea of witness of testimony, at least as it is practised in the missionary religions. We do not seek converts, in fact my personal practice is actively to discourage anyone who wants to 'become a witch', & so if we have a message for the world it tends to be given in more subtle or individual ways.
Nonetheless is seems to me that we share some values with the Society of Friends, particularly in terms of plainness. The difference lies in what we are witnessing to - in comparison to ceremonial magicians we tend to play down the idea of the Great Work, but I feel we each actually have our Great Work, & our witness to the centrality of this in our lives may perhaps show others that magical people are not merely self-pandering hoodlums.
Another similarity between us & the Quakers is that their plainness has not usually been a uniform, but a reflection of values: they would not be distracted from the voice of 'that which is God' within them. The question for us as witches is what values our appearance reflects. I have posted before on wearing black & the reasons for it, & also on how 'hoodies' may be a modern parallel of the witch figure. Since we draw on the fairy-tale figure of the witch so much for inspiration, & on so much pseudo-history, we may prefer reflecting values of marginality, liminality & creation of realities through magical thinking.
Nor is the Quakers' testimony less uncomfortable for others than ours. Ours could be phrased as something like 'the witch is here to heal you, even if it means open heart surgery,' theirs is more of an overt criticism of the way other people live:
'Traditionally, wearing plain dress was an answer to a number of Friends' concerns. Expensive styles were used to show social inequality and make statements about wealth. Only a select few could afford expensive adornments, which could then be used to exacerbate differences between people based on class, where people in fancy clothing would not want to be seen socializing with others dressed tattily. This was part of the inspiration for the Quaker testimony to equality. In addition, the frequent buying of expensive new styles and discarding what had recently been bought, was considered wasteful and self-seeking, where Friends instead aimed to focus on simplicity, and the important things in life. Notably, Friends did not consider it right to judge people on their material possessions, but this could not be achieved in a society which placed an emphasis on keeping up to date with inconsequential but expensive new trends. At the time, this practice of plainness meant Friends were obviously identifiable.'
I was astonished to discover that there are Quakers today who are setting out to look like, well, Quakers. The Quaker Jane website by one such explains why & introduces the history & modern phenomenon of this practice of plainness.
The obvious rejoinder to this is 'To what extent do we look like witches?' I suppose the question ought really be, 'Do we look like that which we seek to represent?' Don't get me wrong, if it's your will to wear a pointy hat & red shoes I will in no way try to stop you. However for witches dressing the part may be seen as part of the all-important acting in accordance. If our magic is to happen we have to believe that it has already happened, & act as if it has. So we are actually part of the fairytale world that we are creating, & we must look as if the world we seek to create is as good as done.
The dressing bit was news to me, but I have myself heard Quakers call people 'thee', an aspect of plainness which was better known to me personally:
'Early Friends practiced plainness in speech by not referring to people in the "fancy" ways that were customary. Often Friends would address high-ranking persons using the familiar forms of "thee" and "thou", instead of the respectful "you". Later, as "thee" and "thou" disappeared from everyday English usage, many Quakers continued to use these words as a form of "plain speech", though the original reason for this usage disappeared, along with "hath". In the twentieth century, "thou hath" disappeared, along with the associated second-person verb forms, so that "thee is" is normal.[13] Today there are still Friends that will use "thee" with other Quakers.'
Of course 'plain speaking' has a more down to earth meaning of being up front with what you have to say. I have always been glad that my father was a bluff northener, & from him I inherit all my tact " subtleness.
For Quakers it also has this second meaning, & is reflected in them not taking oaths because they expected that they would speak the truth all the time. There is another blogspot blog, Plain in the City, unfortunately not updated recently, in which a plain Quaker addresses the undesirable behaviours of other members of his meeting.
Which brings us back nicely to the witch figure. Surely any regular reader of this blog cannot be surprised that I would value plainness in speech very highly for a witch?
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Friday, May 10, 2013

Spirit of place: Moseley and the Wall of Hate

I completely forgot this story (a story which doesn't show people up in their best light & thus tickles yours truly) until someone reminded me of it today. It also rather relates well to a thread in the previous post about how we treat other people, what we do with what we have, & how some people are quite content to profit from others' loss. This story relates to two of Birmingham's best-known families & to two of the swankiest houses in the city, one of which now belongs to the city council & the other to the local health authority. I'll start by over-stressing the background information then go on to tell the actual story, which also explains the pictures in this post.
The first of the two houses is Highbury Hall, associated with the name of Cahmberlain.
Located three miles from Birmingham city centre, Highbury Hall is situated in a beautiful countryside setting. Steeped in history, Birmingham famous parliamentarian, Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain MP, built the picturesque Grade II manor as a family home in 1878. (Source: Birmingham City Council website)
The listing details show the Arts & Crafts splendour of the house:
YEW TREE ROAD 1. 5104 Moseley B13 Highbury Hall (formerly listed as Highbury Moor Green) SF 08 SE 12/75 21.1.70 II 2. Dated 1879 by J H Chamberlain for the fit Bon Joseph Chamberlain llP whose house it was from 1880 to 1914. Extensive modern additions have been made since the house became in 1915 a hospital and later an old peoples' home. Red brick with stone dressings and some applied timberwork in the gables; tiled roof with richly carved brick eaves cornice. Mostly of 2 storeys plus attic, but partly of 3 storeys. Asymmetrical composition essentially L shaped in plan. Original panelled double doors with stained glass tympanum within a richly moulded stone arch on 2 orders of pink marble shafts with gable above. Left and right gabled pilasters. Above, a 2 light window with richly carved tympanum and gable. The windows pointed and mostly of plate tracery trype. Much use everywhere of decorative materials and carved, especially cut brick, decoration. The right hand return is the garden facade, again asymmetrical but esentially a long 2 storeyed wing with two 2 storeyed bay windows and a 3 storyed wing with a 3 storeyed stone canted bay window in it. Interior of great richness. The Great Hall, with floor of variegated woods, rises through 2 storeys to a timber and glazed roof. At one end of the room, the staircase rises behind the first floor balcony to appear through an arcade of 5 arches with pink marble shafts set in a tile diapered wall at the other end, a richly marbled fireplace with carved panels and tiles and a reredos like mirror with crocketted gables. Walls with pink marble pilasters, panelled dado, tiles and carved foliage panels. Gilt gesso to the underside of the balcony, which has geometrical railings. Huge central brass gasolier. Off this hall, the principal rooms all with Gothic panelled doors with good brass furniture, elaborate fireplaces with coloured marbles, carved foliage panels, tiles and rich ceiling cornices. The former Billiard Room is L shaped with an arcade of 3 bays with marble piers and 2 centred arches. Panelled dado; richly coffered wooden ceiling with painted foliage, inlay work and geometrical panelling; fireplace with brass surround, pink and white marbles and foilage carving. (Source: http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/Details/Default.aspx?id=217837)
Living next door, in the former Uffculme House, now Uffculme Centre, were the Cadburys.
Uffculme House was built for Richard Cadbury, of the chocolate making family, in 1891; it is located next door to Joseph Chamberlain's Highbury Hall. It was named after the village in Devon where the Cadbury family had a house. Richard Cadbury and the family moved to the house from Moseley Hall, after giving the Hall to the City of Birmingham for use as a children's hospital. His wife Emma continued to live there after the death of  Richard in 1899
Uffculme was first used as a hostel for Belgian refugees, when the family made it available for the war effort with the first arrivals in September 1914.  In November 1916 it was taken over by the Friends' Ambulance Unit and opened on 7th December 1916 as a 200-bed unit.  It later became a regional limb-fitting centre for soldiers living in the counties of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Oxfordshire. Uffculme became an annexe to All Saints Hospital, and was used for Outpatient facilities. It became a centre for the treatment of neurosis and is still in use as a medical facility to this day
In 1932 Part of the grounds were given to Birmingham Corporation, and, along with land from adjacent Highbury Hall, became Highbury Park. (Source: http://www.bhamb14.co.uk/index_files/UFFCULME.htm)
This extract from the listing details gives a better idea of the sheer luxuriousness of Cadbury's gift to the city:
House, now hospital. 1891, by William Jenkins for Richard Cadbury. Red brick with Portland stone dressings. Slate roofs with shaped gables with finials. Brick axial and gable-end stacks with stone dressings. PLAN: Large house divided by a large full-height central hall with an oriel at the north front and a semi-circular conservatory at the other end on the south garden front; small entrance hall to the side of the hall with a porte-cochere on the north front; service wing on the west side. Jacobethan style. EXTERIOR: 2 storeys and attic. Moulded stone stringcourses and coping, quoins and stone mullion-transom windows. Asymmetrical north front with projecting entrance at centre with shaped gable with large stone tetrastyle porte-cochere, the columns with big pedestals and with bay window above; large canted oriel to left with balustrade and shaped gable above; short wing projecting on left with shaped gable end. The south garden front has large semi-circular cast-iron conservatory at the centre, re-clad in plate-glass and with lead domed roof with clerestory; to left and right taller 2-bay ranges, each with two small shaped gables and 2-storey stone bay windows, the left canted, the right semi-circular with balustrade on top; lower 2-storey wing set back on left with small gables to first floor windows and glazed single-storey addition in front. The east elevation has shaped gables, bays and C20 2-storey wing. INTERIOR dominated by enormous central hall, extending from the front to the back of the house; it has closely spaced piers with paired brackets supporting a gallery running around three sides of the room with a large oriel at the front; the hall has arch-braced roof trusses with tracery above the collars and with roof lights; a wide imperial staircase rises from the east side of the hall with stained glass window on the landing. Also a stained glass window from gallery to the conservatory; the conservatory now has an inserted floor and has been re-glazed, but the cast-iron structure is intact, with its slender fluted wall columns and central column supporting arches radiating from the centre to the walls. Much of the original joinery also remains including finely inlaid doors and chimneypieces. NOTE: Richard Cadbury and his younger brother George were joint heads of Cadburys, the chocolate manufacturers. George Cadbury founded the Bournville Village Trust. This Quaker family were known for their philanthropy and the hall at Uffculme is thought to have been used for entertaining and for charity events. (Source: thread on Birmingham history forum about the Uffculme centre http://birminghamhistory.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?t=36079)
So far it's only a story of bourgeois competitiveness & expansion worthy of Hyacinth Bucket. The point where it turns into something else is where you add in that the Cadburys were Quakers & pacifists, while, at least according to the story, the Chamberlains dealt in armaments. I'm actually unable to find verification for this, but whether or not it's true, they got hold of a load of empty gun shells & built a wall with them between themselves & their pacifist neighbours. Of course the story clearly states that they did this with the definite intention of cocking a snook at the Cadburys. Certainly their contributions to public life have a very different flavour: I don't care what your stated intention is, the pursuit of politics is about the acquisition of power, while the Cadburys did so much to improve the lives of people in the city.
Whatever, this story tickles me because it is simply such a good one. And very environmentally friendly to reuse those shell cases in the cause of sowing enmity with your neighbours!
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10 of swords: having your cake & eating it

It is interesting, learning la methode Etteilla for reading tarot, not least to see which of his interpretations Waite & Smith (sounds like a firm of solicitors but I don't feel I know them well enough to call them Pam & Art) picked up & ran with & which they didn't.
A card which always fascinates me is the 10 of swords, in reality much more nuanced than Smith's picture makes it look at first glance - people seem not to notice that the clouds are actually clearing. 'You are such a goth,' a friend said to me when I asked tarot what is my true will & got this card. Being a 10 it comes really low on the tree of life: it is both the height of the swords energy, & also the point at which it becomes sufficiently unstable that it really has to spill over into something new. I would hate people to think that my mind automatically thinks of a sexual image, but it's kinda the point at which you have to orgasm, the tension is at its height & you can't go back, try as you might.
Etteilla picks up on this end-of-the-cycle, all-aspects-of-this-energy-are-at-their-height feeling by giving two apparently contradictory meanings for this card. Upright it means such things as affliction, tears, lamentation, grief, sadness & desolation. Reversed it means advantage, gain, profit, success, favour, gift, ability, authority & power. The RWS image therefore, in my opinion, includes both of these aspects, these two sides of the same 'coin'.
And these aspects really are two sides of the same coin: this is exactly the energy involved when anyone uses anyone else to their own advantage, it is making sure someone else gets the short straw while you laugh all the way to the bank.
But it doesn't have to be like that. On Monday I went to the Clun Green Man Festival with a friend & his other half: probably the most Merrie England you'll ever catch me being, although I did have the hots for a border morris man: a recurring fantasy of mine is being abducted by a bit of rough at the Appleby Horse Fayre. Anyway, the Clun festival isn't ancient, & this is most shown by an opposition which is set up as part of the festivities, between the Ice Queen (who was overtly referred to as a Witch: you can't go anywhere without seeing a wommon raped & where's Z Budapest when you need her?) & the Green Man. We were expected to cheer for the one we wanted to win in the battle between them. I cheered for the Ice Queen because she was a victim of dualistic patriarchy, but in reality it doesn't have to be that way. We need both the winter & the summer, & it isn't necessary to have one win: they can both live in harmony & take it in turns.
The same goes for the two meanings of the 10 of swords: it isn't necessary for one person to win & another to lose. This of course is where the difficulties arise, since there are always people who want everything for themselves. It will come as a surprise to some people that I rate Silver Ravenwolf very highly as a writer: she talks somewhere about how witches should maintain the balance & she's absolutely right. But sometimes if someone is deliberately imbalancing things you have to pull or push things the other way to balance it again.
In saying this I am not claiming to be left hand path: you have to have both. This is why both the fluffbunnies & the left hand brethren are magically on a hiding to nothing: by only functioning on one side of the coin you are actually invoking the energy of the other side to restore homeostasis, & so you will create the exact opposite of what you want.
'Thinking positive thoughts' on its own is not enough: you have to keep an eye on the other side of the coin. A world in which you only have high summer & have ridded yourself of the ability to have winter would be a very harsh one. Imagine not being able to lose something you don't want!
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