Monday, July 29, 2013

Naught for your comfort

This post is occasioned by thoughts which occurred to me when eating lunch in the peace garden on Sunday. The pictures are respectively one titled 'Homeless person's bedroom?' And another of the church there as it was before it was bombed, both found online. Because the peace gardens are frequented by an incredible mixture of people, some who clearly live in the luxury flats nearby, and a greater number in far less sumptuous circumstances. Some are clearly homeless or drug users, others have the pallor you only get on submarines or in prison.
I feel the spirit of place draws the disadvantaged. A friend commented that that area of the city feels all over the place, & it truly is. That spirit is a magnet, conscious or not, for those on the (h)edge. And while that spirit is welcoming it is never really comforting. It is the natural place psychically for the desire for peace. Real peace is not achieved without discomfort. A full & frank exchange of views can be very uncomfortable but can create peace between people. Similarly real peace is not achieved by overlooking or forgetting the things that contribute to conflict.
It is good the disadvantaged are drawn to the peace garden because a true peace is not one creating by pretending ubfortunate facts of life don't exist.
The title of this post is stolen from Trevor Huddlestone's book about apartheid-era South Africa. The Afrikaaners were very comfortable with their God-given life & country, happily ignoring the fact the majority of the country's population were is poverty. I've read through the book hoping for quotes but his cause is quite different from a witch one.
The prevention of oppression of a majority by a  minority is a clear case. We as witches create peace often by causing - or not allowing people to forget, rather - the discomfort of the things people are ashamed of.
Huddlestone's book paints a bleak picture of human nature. The theory of health & safety - that a lot of near misses will snowball into an eventual fatality - is quite true. If magically we pull people up on what discomfits them, it will often turn out that what we have uncovered is the tip of the iceberg. This is also the keen psychology underlying zero tolerance law enforcement.
If we take a zero tolerance approach as witches, tackling seemingly little things will cause greater conflict because it will bring bigger stuff out of hiding. Not letting things pass also involves no comfort for the witch, since we must have the same approach to our own behaviour.
Huddlestone's book brought out a feeling of discomfort in me - that I ought to be out doing something - so doing precisely what it said on the cover. However I feel that is not the witch's way. It is difficult or impossible to tie witchcraft to a public cause, since what we are called upon to do is too hidden and shadowy. I do do things to change the world, it's just not always apparent. I also make efforts to make myself right-sized in the world. But to continue this, I have to remember that it is important continually to work on my own attitudes, since this is exactly my point, that outer actions indicate inner attitudes, & long-term revolution is wrought by changing them.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Meaning of Witchcraft

I am shamelessly hijacking the title of Old Gerald's second non-fiction book on the subject for the title of this post, because it best suits what I have to say. The modern witchcraft moevement is an extraordinary phenomenon, & I think there is great significance in its arising when it did. This post at least partly consists of the thoughts I'm continuing to have about my previous post concerning the United Nations & the Catholic church.
The *only* evidence for a religious movement drawing on the witch figure before the twentieth century is Leland's Aradia. This sentence is almost a direct quote from Hutton, I'm writing this out & about but if you want me to, email me & I will find the actual reference in my notes. My opinion is that without the sort of movements which preceded it, as also laid out by Hutton, & particularly the occult explosion at the end of the nineteenth century, it could not have happened.
And what makes it extraordinary is that our way of life should be a load of quackery & romantic nonsense. It is inconceivable that people on opposite sides of the world can have the same experience without meeting, but it happens. It is inconceivable that we can influence events magically, but it happens.
I feel there is a sea change going on, that has been happening for some decades & we are part of it. In many ways the old order is being confronted by modern powers (ie RC church/UN for example). The old order is struggling for survival.
We, on the other hand are a movement which as a movement is a completely new (ie twentieth century) thing, yet is built almost completely of older ingredients. Our tendency to idealise a fictional past is part of this: we are taking stuff from the past & magically changing it into a new thing. It is not for nothing that Dion Fortune's adage of 'all gods are one god, all goddesses are one goddess, & there is one initiator' is so popular among us. We witness to human ability to make all things one.
This is of course open to criticism as cultural imperialism, but this is really what I'm trying to say. I have a sneaking suspicion that the cultures of the past are actually melding together, so that what may seem imperialism may actually be people coming together as one.
The insight that you are me & I am you is both magical & a genuinely ancient insight of 'spiritual' people.
Even the old divisions of mind/body/spirit are coming down. The internet is partly responsible for the spell cast over the world.
Crowley defined black magicians as those who would resist the natural process of change, which is life itself, & I think to resist this process may be the most futile exercise there is. It is merely to invite death, & transformation into another entity who will be able to change.
When people say that witches go with natural cycles this is exactly what they mean. I personally am not willing this, I am describing the tides of time that I can sense going on in me & around me. The challenge for us as humans is to go with this. The challenge for us as witches is to enable this to happen. The point of witches is to witness to, & move this process on.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What I'm here for, the United Nations, the Catholic Church, & it's all too much

That title may actually seem rather ambitious for a single blog post, but I have actually only today identified the theme that runs through my magical workings: it is that of bringing things to an end. That is obviously my 'thing' magically in this incarnation.
Another thing going on which really needs to be brought to an end is the Catholic Church's ridiculous attitude to child abuse & its own responsibility. This week it has been in the news that the United Nations' child protection arm has asked the Vatican to disclose all records of child sexual abuse between 1995, & January 2014, when it is conducting a hearing into whether the Catholic Church is actually doing enoiugh to protect children (Source:
Most news sources have based their headlines on the fact that the Vatican 'may' be able to refuse this request, even though the Convention on the Child is legally binding. But to me that is not what makes this extraordinary. Let's consider for a moment just what the United Nations is:
'The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.
'The UN has 4 main purposes
'To keep peace throughout the world;
To develop friendly relations among nations;
'To help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other�s rights and freedoms;
'To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals.
Due to its unique international character, and the powers vested in its founding Charter, the Organization can take action on a wide range of issues, and provide a forum for its 193 Member States to express their views, through the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies and committees.
'The work of the United Nations reaches every corner of the globe. Although best known for peacekeeping, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, there are many other ways the United Nations and its System (specialized agencies, funds and programmes) affect our lives and make the world a better place. The Organization works on a broad range of fundamental issues, from sustainable development, environment and refugees protection, disaster relief, counter terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, to promoting democracy, human rights, gender equality and the advancement of women, governance, economic and social development and international health, clearing landmines, expanding food production, and more, in order to achieve its goals and coordinate efforts for a safer world for this and future generations.'
This to me is what makes it extraordinary that the United Nations is examining the Catholic Church's total failure to protect children, which to my mind amounts to an act of commission. There are no doubt excellent human beings within the Catholic Church who do what their Lord & Master commanded them to, but the Catholic Church should be ashamed that it is not itself fulfilling the purposes of the United Nations. It should be ashamed that a secular body is examining its multiple failures, rather than it policing itself.
At last a body with clout is going to examine what the Catholic Church is doing now: it's suspicious when a body with a terrible record of failings claims it's all in the past. Now you're going to be surprised at what I'm hoping will happen: I hope the Catholic church does refuse to open up its records to the UN. My reason for this is that my opinion is that the church has to come to an end. The way for this to happen is twofold: the Catholic hierarchy has to continue as it always has. If the hierarchy gets robust about the things that matter to normal, rational, thinking people, the institution will continue with the illusion that it can safeguard anybody or anything. The sort of wide-ranging institutional failings & corruption that have hit the headlines (and, dear readers, there will be more, I know of at least one that hasn't hit the news, but don't worry, it will) can only be definitively ended by the institution changing. This one has not. Child abuse has always been a mortal sin. The church's teachings have not greatly changed: they're still focussed on the wrong things. This is a breeding ground for continuing scandals, so the mere continuance of the institution guarantees it will end.
Because the point is the Catholic church shouldn't need to be looked over the by UN if it was what it claims to be. This is the point at which some devout Catholic will tell me we're all sinners, or that the church is for sinners. When a body is a paedophile magnet which then institutionally covers it up & systematically refuses to co-operate with lawful child protection efforts over decades, that isn't a church, it's a cess pit.
Where this leaves the ordinary Catholic in the pew is up to them. I'm a witch. If your will is to believe & practice the Catholic faith, at least as it's presented in the literature, I'm in no way against that. But there are things you can do, which would not necessarily lead you to such a confrontation you get excommunicated. You can keep mental reservations if need be. You can pray. You can continue to complain to the hierarchy of the church, which will continue to build the evidence which will cause their downfall. Most important of all, you can withhold money. Stop giving to the collection, do not give to any body of the Catholic church. Starving 'em out works on anyone.
Witches & other magical people, I'm sure, although we're quite often ex-Catholics like me, would only wish faithful Catholics well. From our view outside, I feel we would see it as necessary that all things end - even if it is only an approach or a particular set-up - the opposite of the Church's own view that it will remain until the bitter end. I feel those kind of endings are not only beneficial, they are to be brought into life. We have not seen the end of the saga of the Catholic church!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

EDL, Sutton Coldfield & maintaining your own privilege

Strangely I was thinking this morning about how a major tactic of those who want to promote or maintain their own privilege is to claim that it's what God wants. Of course you only do this when you're in a safe position of comfort, usually by converting everyone else to your religion & teaching them that this is the God-given order. I didn't realise that power & privilege would be such a theme today.
Going through the city today I found the Broad Street area thronged, I mean thronged with police. As I came back Broad street was actually closed & half way up New Street was a solid line of riot police (after all if you're going to demo or riot in Birmingham city centre you wouldn't waste your time going down Hill Street, would you?). You can't see what was happening because I took the pictures on the bus coming back. They're probably not used to compliments from witches, but a big heads-up to the police for not inflaming the situation. People were chatting to the police & they didn't feel like they were overly keyed up for battle, although the threat was obviously considered serious enough to draft in personnel from Wales.
This was occasioned by the presence of the English Defence league in the city. Here is what their mission statement says they are:

'The English Defence League (EDL) is a human rights organisation that was founded in the wake of the shocking actions of a small group of Muslim extremists who, at a homecoming parade in Luton, openly mocked the sacrifices of our service personnel without any fear of censure. Although these actions were certainly those of a minority, we believe that they reflect other forms of religiously-inspired intolerance and barbarity that are thriving amongst certain sections of the Muslim population in Britain: including, but not limited to, the denigration and oppression of women, the molestation of young children, the committing of so-called honour killings, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and continued support for those responsible for terrorist atrocities.'

On the outward journey, before Broad Street was closed I got to see the static demonstration by the English Defence League. I actually didn't know what it was, & here's why: it looked like there was a football match on. The EDL people had St George flags, there was a bunch of them looking like football fans in a pub. The independent mind smells a rat. The EDL's reasonable & measured mission statement does not to my mind represent what I saw today. If it was going to do what it says it would be called 'league for the defence of reasonable people from islamic extremism.' EDL makes it a racist thing. I appeal to magical people both to bind the powers of Islamic extremists, & to bind those who would turn others' extremism into an occasion for racism.
As it happens I was on my way to Sutton Coldfield, for an outing on the bus. What Sutton is is a hamlet of the ancient capital of Mercia, Tamworth, which got ideas way above its station. If you don't believe me, it's on wikipedia so it must be true:

'Upon the Roman withdrawal from Britain to protect the Roman Empire on the continent in the 5th century, the area of Sutton Coldfield, still undeveloped, passed into the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Mercia. It is during this period that it is believed Sutton Coldfield may have originated as a hamlet, as a hunting lodge was built at Maney Hill for the purpose of the Mercian leaders.[15] The outline of the deer park that it served is still visible within Sutton Park, with the ditch and bank boundary forming the western boundary of Holly Hurst, then crossing Keepers Valley, through the Lower Nuthurst and continuing on south of Blackroot Pool. Due to the marshy ground at Blackroot Valley, a fence was probably constructed to contain the deer, and the ditch and bank boundary commences again on the eastern side, on towards Holly Knoll.
This became known as Southun or Sutton; "ton" meaning townstead to the south of Tamworth, the capital of Mercia. Middleton is situated between the two. "Coldfield" denotes an area of land on the side of hill, that is exposed to the weather. It may also denote a place where charcoal burning took place.'

I do want to do Sutton Park one of these days, not least because I know someone who lost his virginity there & it's high time I lost mine! I somehow doubt that the English Defence League will be on hand to protect me from any radical moslem queer bashers who may be around, though. In real terms, Sutton is today an affluent suburb of Birmingham. If a branch of Pandora is any indication of affluence, that is.
What strikes me about the people of Sutton is first that their affluence seems to have made them in no way happy. You wouldn't believe the long faces these peole have as they run around barging into each other. There is this thing called nobility, by which you can always tell people who are real top drawer by the fact that they don't cause discomfort in others, & can pass among all sorts of people without making them feel looked down on. The people I saw in Sutton Coldfield may be rich & plumby, but I saw no evidence of quality.
There is an interesting psychological twist here. Most people have some insecurity in them somewhere: frequently it often drives you on to 'succeed'. If this is in a person with low self-esteem their success in an attempt to improve their self-esteem merely worsens it, because they will feel more inadequate, not less, so their fragile, pressured ego will resort to all the tricks in the book to bolster itself. But here's the thing: they'll never get there. So what happens then is the person will continue to pressurise themselves, or they'll frequently do it through their children, who will be fucked up for life by their inability ever to meet mummy & daddy's relentless expectations. The children will go to a private school, they may even come first in everything, but when they get to Oxbridge, where they are in a much larger pond, they'll have 'failed' again because they won't be top at everything.
If this relentless need to bolster self-esteem in an attempt to prevent 'failure' is combined with entitlement issues the person is even less pleasant. By entitlement issues I mean the attitude, conscious or not, that if someone else has got something, it's your right to have it too. These people will happily kid themselves that their lack of achievement is because they're a bad person - actually it's a *perceived* lack of achievement on account of poor self-esteem. They then actually arrogate more & more to themselves, are often extremely privileged people, but perceive the slightest fall as a lack of privilege.
I don't think this is really that different from the EDL mentality. Don't get me wrong: I'm aware of the dangers inherent in all monotheistic missionary religion. But what may start off as a desire to protect your patch (England) from a perceived threat (extremist Islam), combined with the sort of mindset above, too easily turns into a worse situation than what we had to start off with, such as wanting to rid the country of all practitioners of all sorts of Islam.
I don't really have an answer to this one, since on the other hand all groups like this grow if they're outlawed, must not be silenced because that feeds them with martyrdom, in fact I'm even tempted to say the sort of attention they've got in Brum today feeds their inadequacy more than it should be.

Review of Edward Gorey's Fantod Pack

This has been on my wish list for ages, so earlier this week when reading about it online had me jibbering in my angst yo own it, & I found one online at a price I was prepared to pay, I had to have it.
Several things drew me to it: I love Gorey's art. I love that it was originally published as a cut out in Esquire magazine for people to paste on to their own cards. People tend to review it as if it's a joke, but of course my camp thing makes me want to turn the jokey serious & vice versa, so that appealed to me, & finally *not one* of the meanings of the cards is positive, or even vaguely pleasant. Of course this is bang up my street, I love foretelling bad things happening to people, to the extent that I realised the other day I've only ever interpreted the 6 of cups with a reversed meaning. Everybody but me sees it as happy family, reminiscence & wishes coming true, I see it as inherited disease, abuse of all kinds, dysfunctional families, & the sweets offered a child by an abductor.
Unsurprisingly, then it was gratifying to read the tale of Madame Groeda Weyrde, author of The Future Speaks Through Entrails, in the Little White Book. I feel as if I know her actually, but think I've probably met her under another name. Unsurprising that, since she ended up as persona non grata with the rich & the famous, on account of her unflinching prediction of death & disaster. As part of her lifetime's work of divination she only reluctantly consented to the publication of the Fantod Pack.
The pack itself comes in a pleasant box with a lid that lifts off. I much prefer that sort of box myself to the sort of flip-top box tarot decks normally come in. There are 20 cards, a pleasant size to hold in the hand, if a little tall for their width. They feel very laminated, to the point of sticking together, which could make the recommended method of reading with them difficult. That said, they don't smell as plasticy as, say, my Aquarian tarot cards do, even after some years of use. The LWB has the history of the deck, a method of reading with them & meanings for all of the cards.
Perhaps these things are best demonstrated with an actual reading. The online vendor I bought them from advertised them as new. When they arrived, I found they are not new: they are not shrink wrapped & the box they arrived in is scuffed & dented. I don't have a problem with this - I would only not use second-hand tools if I felt there was something wrong with them - but they should have advertised them as the condition they are in. I'm not shooting myself in the foot - I'm not going to find this deck that cheap again - but let's see what the vendor's misfortune is using the method in the LWB.
First you shuffle the cards, then hold them in your left hand & throw them in the air. You pick up five cards, still with your eyes closed, & place them in a cross shape in order you have picked them up. Here's what the vendor's got, using the meanings in the LWB:

1. The Yellow Bird. For this one I'll give all of the meanings as a taste of how the book reads: 'Saturday; true love thrown away; pique; foot trouble; mania; barratry; an accident on a ladder; indiscretion; bone disease; thwarted ambitions; poison; an unforeseen catatrophe; complications.' This position represents the basic situation. Since it is Saturday, I feel the state of their business is already bad. They're advertising things wrongly because they're not bothered, their business hasn't worked out the way they wanted it to, there may have been an unforeseen problem, or they may have planned badly.

2. Something from the past that continues to affect your future: The ladder. Slander, reversals & jealousy are amongst the meanings. I really feel the owner of the business has gone about it in the wrong way, they clearly want to succeed without doing the leg work necessary to run a business.

3. His or her inner self: The Ecorche. Aha, this confirms my feeling that this person doesn't have the necessary mind set to run the business: 'a forged check; obscurity; irregularities; puckers; inconstancy; deception' are the relevant meanings in the book. Don't worry, I'm not picking out the negative & ignoring the positive - the other meanings are no more positive, but 'an accident on a pier' is unlikely to be this person's inner self!

4. The outer world: The Tunnel. I'm not sure whether this refers to how the outer world objectively is for the person or how they see it, but it's highly likely they see 'a swindle' & 'angst' in their outer world. Meanwhile of course it's even more likely they have 'an unpleasant discovery' & 'bad luck' awaiting them if they carry on as they are!

5. Something about to come into being in the near future: The Bundle. If I wanted to tell a really old school misfortune, I'd conclude that they were going to have a broken engagement & a train accident on Wednesday. However let's subtle it down a bit. The existing malaise in their business will come to a head very soon, likely this week, they may even be meeting their accountant on Wednesday! Or else conceivably this person has some business deal coming up this week that will fall through, at root it will once again be because they're not putting the work in, but I feel this is someone who will blame everyone else. In fact there's almost no point telling some people's misfortune, because they won't listen, will they?

As an aside, just because I'm nosey, I'm interested to see that Gorey gave out his sexual orientation as asexual. I'm intrigued by this because I would normally assume a person saying that is denying or covering up their sexuality. I would have thought an artistic man living in a house full of books with a collection of cats & other fur coats was gay - at least that's how I would have guessed his orientation until I found this out. He even had a respectable collection of old school tarot decks, many of which I would kill for - Gorey's collection at his house is the second picture.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Embodiment: principles & practice of bare-chestedness

I touched on this subject in an earlier post about wearing black, when I commented on the sexualisation of bare-chestedness in the 1990s, with models such as Marky Mark. I was in two minds about posting about it again, but we're actually having the hottest summer we've had for several years, which has revealed an ironic truth to me: when you wear black literally all the time, what you end up doing in the summer is wearing much less in the way of clothes. Strange irony, as a priest of a dark Goddess, to wear black to mirror her yet end up half-naked as a result. I for one think she is splitting her sides laughing.
The real subject of this post is this: it seems that on one extreme there are men who see no issue at all with baring their chest. On the other extreme are men who simply will or cannot, obviously with a lot of potential for different personal opinions in the middle. In case the relevance of this to witchcraft is not clear it is this: we practise a religion in which we believe we embody divinity, because for us the division between what is divine & what is not, is not so clear as it is in some other religions. This is doubtless partly the reason why ritual nudity is the sign of ritual priestly power in some Wiccan denominations.
I'm not a great one for nudity myself, although I'm not overly bothered by ritual nudity or naturism for those who like that sort of thing. I can't think how women don't laugh when they see a naked man - although I'm informed they do inwardly - & it seems to me that nudity leaves sensitive parts of the body more vulnerable than they need be. I'm told naturists don't eat fried food, I don't know how true this is, surely even naturists would wear aprons for protective reasons. The issue of whether women should be allowed to go topless is another thorny one: I have had some women tell me that it is uncomfortable for them to be without a bra, which to me would be a perfectly sensible sovereign reason not to do it.
I have read anecdotal evidence online that well within living memory, for a man to be topless wasn't nearly such a big(ger) deal as it is now. My observation suggests that it is a working class thing - obviously only observed here in Britain. Maybe there is a greater tradition of being topless for men as a result of having jobs where you would work topless in the summer, you'd get used to being topless & it would become part of your normal life.
What is genuinely very dangerous is the tradition of letting boys be bare-chested while adults are not: that can create a ticking time-bomb of skin cancer in later life. I have a certain sympathy for free radicals myself, but I would expect a witch audience to be sassy enough to know that hat, dark glasses, & sunscreen are good.
Nor does bare-chestedness need to be sexual, at least in the sense that no shirt is not the same as exposing your genitals. It shows a Victorian prurience & lack of imagination to equate a bare chest with indecent exposure, right up there with shrouding the table legs because they were too suggestive. Of course a chest *can* be a very sexual part of the body, I mean, I personally have a bit of a thing for the back of the neck, but I wouldn't expect them all to be covered up!
Actually this brings me nicely to the second crux of this matter from a witch's point of view: let's be plain that only a very small proportion of men will ever look like Abercrombie & Fitch models. Personally I wouldn't want to, the evidence is conflicting but I can't think it healthy to have that little body fat. Never mind the continual hunger.
The crux is this: some men can't bare their chests because they are so uncomfortable with their own bodies. I have read of men who can't bring themselves to take their top off in front of their wives & girlfriends, they have such cripplingly bad self-image.
That to me is a real problem. It doesn't help that it sounds creepy to say that starting to bare your chest will make you feel good & improve your self esteem, but I think it can. The witchy way of going about this would be to do a little at a time, perhaps casting spells on yourself as you go, until you've attained to the level of bare-chestedness that you are comfortable with.
This is certainly my experience. My mother had obviously read a book called something along the lines of How to Fuck Them up for Life, because she has always tried to be over-intimate with me. All mothers make embarrassing comments, but touching, especially when your son specifically tells you not to, is another thing. As a child this, combined with not being sporty & continually placed in milieux that would encourage me not to be sporty, created a shyness that it took me ages to get over.
Mothers, keep off your son's backs, I mean this in all respect. You will merely push a son away by suffocating him, & give him further problems. There should be no...I can't think of a word to describe what I mean, so I'll make up the word para-sexual, since that is exactly what I mean, overtones to a parent-child relationship.
I'm not personally shy now. This has been one of the benefits of cutting the ties of my toxic family over the past decade. I'm in a position where I can have people who matter to me see me bare-chested without curling up in embarrassment. In hot weather you will very rarely find me wearing a shirt around the house. This is for comfort reasons, nothing else. Similarly I will be bare-chested when out & about for comfort, when socially acceptable. If I think it's not OK I'll either ask or just not take it off. After all, as witches cultivating divine embodiment this means respecting other people's bodies, especially where we end & they begin!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My thing about Heathenry

I've been meaning to write for some time, as a member of one Neo-Pagan tradition, about the fascination I have with another, very different, one. Members of one tradition very rarely actually 'get' what another tradition is about, for example my Kemetic friend has a habit of losing me in mid-stream, l despite having read books about it, I still can't tell how Druidry substantially differs from Wicca, except in the one crucial aspect of its public image.
Don't get me wrong, I don't claim to understand the various forms of heathenry, the modern forms of what Paganism was like in northern Europe before those Christians came along. I can get some of the concepts vaguely, but a stumbling-block is that I feel I can never pronounce the words. I don't really understand their pantheon or world view. Their mythology just doesn't do it for me.
Probably just as well since the day a pre-Greek death Goddess demanded me for her own, the Heathen Gods wouldn't like her, & vice-versa, so in that sense the exploration of heathenry is more or less permanently ruled out for me.
But there are things I love about it. I've only met one in person & she more than fulfilled my expectations: I can always respect feisty, because feisty makes n good magical people who intervene when no-one else will. This is borne out by what I've seen of them interacting with each other & outsiders: there's no room for namby-pamby fluffiness with Heathens. Nor is there any of the agonising that witches sometimes put themselves through, since aspects of our tradition contrive to freeze us when we should be acting.
One of those is the difference in ethical principle. Many Wiccans and witches subscribe to the Wiccan Rede, which is widely badly thought about & understood & properly the subject of another post, but suffice to say it is a negative ethic. Heathens operate on a more positive ethic of doing something: I will fight to defend my kith, kin, folk, what have you.  Another ethical system they have is a virtues system. I much prefer these systems as more grown up ethics necessitating mature thought by the practitioner. 'Don't do X' places no necessity for deep thought or judgement on anyone.
What prevents me permanently adopting the ethical system of heathenry for myself is...I suppose you would call it its milieu. This is an aspect of heathenry that doesn't speak to me personally at all. It ought to. The pre-Christian Paganism of my native Britain would have been more like Northern Tradition than the imagined past of witchcraft. Even the names of the Heathen Gods are perpetuated in place names around here: things move slowly in the Black Country, many idioms in local speech are still Anglo-Saxon, & place names named after Odin also remain. But Heathenism is too attached to the idea of volk for me, since after all I have spent much of my adult life trying to get away from my family in one way or another.
That said, I can relate the Heathens' attachment to volk to the concept of the hedge that I'm always banging on about. If I'm so keen on making the point that ones witchery has to be something created in ones own personal hedge, & must therefore be unique for everyone, I can hardly criticise people for aspiring to draw solely on their own racial or ethnic memory.
But this of course is Heathenism's strength & raison d'etre, but also provides it with its main problem & public relations issue. It attracts the wrong class of punter. It is perfectly possible to worship your ancestral Gods without involving hate for other groups, but Heathenism's use of only one ethnic tradition attracts racists & even neo-Nazis. The attached picture is of a heathen's tattoo, using an ancient symbol - I suspect it mau even be Indo-European as it appears in Hinduism as well - which since its use by the Nazis is very much open to misinterpetation.
I'm guessing here, but if someone were to ask me how to 'become' a witch, I would advise them to a better acquaintance with their own hedge first, & I would think that if a person of non-European ancestry asked for admission to Asatru they may be encouraged to explore their own roots. This is a guess, since it would seem to me not to be a compleyte rebuttal but to further the basic principle of Heathenism. I'm finding even writing this it is making me very uncomfortable, since while I want to pay due attention to & respect differences, it is unfortunate when respectables groups in a religion have to put on their websites that they are not racist. The loony fringe's websites are plainly racist. It's doubly unfortunate because this problem arises from the core beliefs & values of the group, so isn't really one that can be dealt with easily any time soon.
It also doesn't help that I have such a thing for skinheads, which in itself is making me feel rather incoherent as I'm writing this.
Public relations problems notwithstanding, I'm sure the warrior spirit I value so much would rise to the occasion when the true Asatruar sees their religion being misrepresented as an excuse for violence towards other ethnicities. They have a saying that reputation is what other people know about you & honour is what you know about yourself, & honour can include defending your reputation from those who would defile it. 'I will fight to defend my religion from those who would misconstrue it as racist' is an interesting ethical statement, but one that many witches could learn from. 'I will act to stop it when I see harm being done' is very different to 'an it harm none, do what you will.' As it happens my will is for harm not to be done, & I will fight by magical means & otherwise, to stop it.
We are not a missionary religion, but I think as magical people we have a mission & this is it. My Goddess mother says that as witches we exist to allow people to rectify karma by giving them the consequences of their actions, consequences they could usually well avoid. It is time we borrowed from the Asatruar a bit more & visualised the sort of people we want to be rather than concentrating on what we think we shouldn't be doing.

Magic using multiple methods at once

The books tend to assume that you can just do a spell & you have the self-discipline not to scratch it. Of course the reason we don't think or talk about spells we've done is because it brings the energy back to us, but I find if I cast a spell it's usually about something that's bugging me anyway so it's never that simple.
In the spirit of play described in my last post, I have developed a magical technique to deal with this, which is essentially that I'll just keep on at you throwing anything at you that comes to hand, usually practicing a few new things along the way.
This evening I started a candle spell, supplementing it by a sacrifice - of sesame seeds at a crossroads. Did I say this blog was about real old school witchcraft? My ritual is simplifying as I go on - although the altar's a bit loaded at the moment. I set aside the space by three circumambulations with incense. The four candles are to invoke the elements. I had a period of meditation to calm down my thoughts, before invoking, then simply dressing the candle & lighting it. I turned my intent over in my head while walking to the crossroads to sprinkle the sesame seeds.
Some of the other things on the altar - I find I don't use tarot decks put away in boxes, whereas heaped up on the altar I'll use them more. On the left the red-backed one is the Tarocco Indovino 1.96 given to me by my Goddess daughter. Underneath it is the Tarot de Paris, which I'm finding a little eccentric to read with. The box contains newspaper cuttings about rapists & other abusers. Also inside are two little rubber rings which are used to castrate sheep - I think the person who gave them to me never thought I'd find a use for them. On top is a stone from my Goddess daughter; she wasn't impressed I use it as my toxic waste dump, but I think has accepted this as one of her old dad's little ways. The African figure was from my Goddess mother & invokes her presence on my altar. As for the dog - you didn't really think I wouldn't have. A hound on my altar, did you? On the right we have my tarot deck made up of several different ones, a Morgan Greer tarot being seasoned as a gift, & a RWS from my Goddess mother - the tartan back is not standard in UK by the way. The cloth is a scarf: Hecate has this kind of dark yet party aesthetic & it's actually quite glitzy.
Some of the things on my altar will make some people very uncomfortable, but I find no contradiction in saying it is a place of peace - of real peace that comes from people not having to live with fear. Similarly my multiple magical methods are not what the books say, but it works. That's the point.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Spirit of place: Digbeth again

To town today. First to the Zen shop in Digbeth, which prompted me to a further splore of Digbeth, although admittedly this post will stretch the boundaries as far as they can go & further, wandering into Bordesley at one end & almost into Highgate the the other. The reason I went to the Zen shop was I'm having a spot of bother at work, so Stay Away From Me oil to anoint a candle duly purchased, I had a wander. I've been through the bit I explored on the 50 bus loads of times & never got off to have a look.
I essentially went up & down Bradford Street & the roads off it. At one end of it is the former Holy Trinity church, one of the landmarks of Birmingham since you see it from the train as you come in from that side of the city. The first picture is a picture of the doors I took today, & the second picture is of the interior when it was still up & running. It has had a downturn in its fortunes of recent years: after many years as a homeless hostel a bid to convert it to business use was scuppered by the recession, but I was delighted to see that it is secured, the timber painted, CCTV in operation & looking basically sound. This is what wikipedia has to say about it:

The church was built between 1820 and 1822 by the architect Francis Goodwin in the decorated perpendicular gothic style. The church was consecrated on 23 January 1823 by James Cornwallis, 4th Earl Cornwallis the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and a separate parish was formed in 1864.

The church became the centre of a battle over high church practices introduced by the vicar Richard William Enraght. The vicar was prosecuted in 1880 in a trial which was known nationally as the Bordesley Wafer Case.

The church was closed in 1970 and spent some time as a homeless shelter.

It is also a Commissioners' or Waterloo church ('_church).
This slice of the city is known as the Irish quarter, as opposed to the other side of Digbeth I posted about before which would have been purely industrial. Fittingly the next church you come to is St Anne's, a Catholic church. My real motivation for this explore was to continue looking for a possible place to buy a flat in the city centre. I have ruled out that area for two reasons, first I can't think where the natives buy food & second it is a little too Irish for me. What I mean is this: both St Anne's & the sheltered housing over the road had big signs up saying 'Irish in Birmingham'. The housing is even named after a priest. Admittedly Mass was ending as I went past & the people coming out were certainly not the mainly or only Irish population they would have been in the 19th century, admittedly I have some Irish in me on my father's side, but here's the thing. Being Catholic & being Irish are not the same thing. This really annoys me, this identification of a religion with a particular ethnicity, & it makes no sense if you are a missionary religion. Now you may reply that if I was Catholic & went to St Michael's I would find the same identification with being Polish, but here's the difference: I wouldn't understand what was being said because the people would be speaking Polish. Any way, this put me off the idea of living there, it's too much redolent of the Catholic culture of my youth.
The next picture is one I took over a wall of the river Rea just to prove it does flow through Digbeth, then the next two are of my favourite wrecked building at the moment. I love that the building has so much missing & is still standing! The graffiti merely adds to the effect. An Asian lad came up to me while I was photographing it & told me it won't be there much longer as it is, as his uncle's bought it & is going to do it up as a sheesha lounge. This I have to see.
Two pubs next: The White Swan seems to be the posher of the two, at least judging by the sumptuousness of its Victorian interior. I love that one of its walls is covered in roofing felt to keep the damp out after the building next door was demolished, & I know for a fact there was a building there because the plot is now a mass of buddleia, which thrives on the acid lime mortar of old buildings. Not the sort of knowledge I normally aspire to... I went into The Anchor for a drink, which gets high praise from me because when I said I'd take my drink outside because I didn't have a top on the woman said it was OK & I could stay inside. Full marks for not being getrified. A man I've seen around in Bearwood was there. He's known as the lawnmower man & he parked his lawnmower outside.
While in Digbeth I got a closer look at the restored John F Kennedy mosaic, but I think that deserves a separate post on its own.
So what is the spirit of Digbeth I contacted today? If I had to think of one word it would be 'transitory'. So many business & cultural endeavours have begun & ended there. Of course the reason people outside their native land cling to their culture so much is precisely that they don't want to lose their identity, which only happens in a situation where you think you might. I kept thinking that it felt like some of Margery Allingham's later crime novels such as The Tiger in the Smoke, where she successfully creates the threatening feeling of a city. Digbeth is like that, I know the unknown is there I just don't know what it is! And psychically it is strangely quiet: for all the people that have lived there, it feels like they've just moved on without a trace. I walked back into town, & as soon as I left Digbeth, in that car park on rough ground behind Moor Street Station, I could feel the hum of multiple entities again. I am completely at a loss as to why this should be, since where I went today is far from being an abandoned area. All suggestions gratefully received.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why we must play at being witches

It may appear that this post contradicts my recent one about taking our witchcraft very seriously. That post has actually got a lot of hits, so it will be interesting to see which gets more in the long run. I don't personally feel it is actually contradictory: if the pursuit of magic is the reconciliation of all things (ultimately), then surely it is always a good sign that magic is afoot if the magician can hold apparently contradictory ideas at once. The magical law for this is Bonewits's Law of Infinite Possibilities, for those who like that sort of thing.
The reverse side of this coin, the side I talked about in the previous post, is that if magic is making things to be as I will, then I'd better be damn well sure that I'm acting as if what I will is actually happening. Put another way, & this for a lot of people is the really scary bit about magic, I must be completely pure, that is there must be nothing in my life that detracts from my will. There is a passage in Starhawk that describes the sort of activities that stop this happening, & they are things like pilfering from my boss, lying to my lovers, and so on. The witch must be the most reliable of people for the magic to work, & this begins with my total certainty that my word reflects reality as I know it.
To return to the side of the coin I'm examining in this post, I don't want people to think I'm overly snooty about any activity that may appear to be 'playing at witchcraft'. One of the things that prompted me to start this blog in the first place was a wish to write a manual of advanced witchcraft: in fact what I've found writing this is it isn't possible to, you just have to develop into your own witchcraft based on your own hedge.
One of the ways one does this is quite literally by playing at witchcraft. I described in a previous post the creation of my magical daughters, which must stand for me as my own example of not doing magic according to how the books say it should be done. It also stands as one of the most powerful & successful acts of thaumaturgy I have ever done, purely because I just did it & didn't let what the books say bother me. This entry into ones own magic means just doing it - I know that sounds obvious but it is precisely what many people brought up on books (or human teachers) of the 'stand here, say that, do that' variety feel inhibited from doing.
Many books' rules are often useful in the early days of doing magic, when the magician can so easily end up going down the path of madness or oblivion, but my feeling is that people's growth as a witch frequently depends on having to act in a situation where they have to break their own most deeply cherished magical principles. For example if you adopt a firm inflexible rule that you will never do a spell on another without their consent (the originator of this idea is supposed to by Raymond Buckland, it certainly doesn't go back to the really early days of the movement), you will almost certainly find yourself in a position where you have to. For example you may find yourself in the hands of people who misuse you until you have enough & have to do something about it.
The reason I'm calling this by the apparently childish name of 'play' rather than the dignified words 'ritual' or 'psychodrama', is that I want to put the accent on magical thinking & tapping into that young brain we have that is the seat of magical ability.
The one reason magical people cannot work miracles is that we have that doubt in our mind that we actually can. The child's mind has no such inhibitions, although the difference is that our magical thinking has to be volitional because in the process of growing up we've learned we can't do it.
To unlearn this preventative conditioning we have to access our young brain in one way or another. Simple correspondences used in magic are often enough to do this. The chaos magicians have a saying 'fake it 'till you make it': do your magic & keep on at it, & act in accordance until the desired change happens. Re-reading Regardie's mammoth Golden Dawn tome recently, I am struck both by how turgid it all is & how the rituals creak like an old bed at this distance of time. It is only towards the end of the 20th century that magic has escaped from its Golden Dawn straitjacket (not to decry them at all, but it really doesn't have to be like that). It escaped into wicca & witchcraft, the former of which also has a tendency to become hidebound, then into chaos magic, which has also become fossilised.
I feel the way ahead may be in the model of magic embodied in a little girl in a fairy dress waving a wand, wishing very hard, & finding that what she has wished for has actually happened.
My generation is lucky, we were the last that actually played, before the advent of video games. As Granny Weatherwax would put it, we made our own enchantment in those days. What our playing did for us was develop our imaginations, which in itself assists the magical ability to visualise. As with playing so with magic: if you don't have the sense to see the danger for yourself in, say, swimming in a quarry, you should abandon the pursuit of magic here & now. I want magical people to be people who have the sense to see danger coming & not raise up that which they have no way of putting down. Yes, I've talked about breaking rules, but one of the advantages adults have over children is an ability to weigh up the likely consequences of our actions. Once that's done is the moment to rush ahead with childlike abandon. So let's put down the Golden Dawn regalia, & get out there & actually play at magic. Who knows, without anyone telling us we can't do it, we may prove to be very good at it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tarot: Elemental Dignities a la Golden Dawn

In one of Sir Terence Pratchett's excellent textbooks of witchcraft, Granny Weatherwax says to a girl who wants to be taught witchcraft, 'I can't teach you witchcraft, but I might let you learn.' This very much chimes with my approach as a hedgewitch: the only place that you can learn witchcraft is by entering the hedge and so it's ultimately no use asking me or anyone else to tell you about my hedge. Of course it does help when you are feeling lost in the hedge to see that others are having the same experience: perhaps this is the most remarkable thing about our movement, that people thousands of miles away from each other can have the same experience without having read about it or having met each other. In line with this I find that some of the most popular posts on this blog are ones that started out life as being me trying to sort something out in my own mind: the post about the tarot aces would be one of them, for example.

Today I have to stay in and wait for UPS to deliver a parcel so I'm going to spend the time constructively by getting my head around elemental dignities in the tarot. Don't get me wrong: I'm not holing myself up all day and I have no doubt that when I get bored of this I'll be out in the sun on the front wall! This refers to the way in which cards in tarot spreads relate to each other based on the interactions between the elements they are related to. There are other methods of doing tarot dignities: I recently tried to read a book called Tarot Decoded and ended up grinding to a halt because I don't understand astrology, and a lot of the book was heavily based on astrology. So if you want astrological correspondences and dignities this is not the place to look for them.

On the other hand, for someone who reads intuitively like me, and who still sometimes has to look up the meanings of cards after over a decade of reading, a simpler method of dignities which doesn't involve learning from books has served me quite well. If you're using a pictorial deck it is easy to see literally how the cards relate to each other by the non-verbals of the figures. For example, if all the cards but one are facing in the same direction that one card may be being ostracised or standing out against the crowd. If the movement in a spread is all in one direction except for one card that can mean going against the flow in a situation. If the characters are facing each other that can mean variously a love interest or a confrontation depending on how it feels in the spread.  On the whole I don't do reversals, so if a card manages to get reversed in a spread I would normally interpret it as literally standing on its head to get my attention.

For this reason I don't find court cards in a reading to be that much of a problem because they can often help the cards relate to each other. A friend often interprets them as the energy or attitude they represent, and so I will tend to ask her when I need a second opinion, because for some time I've been seeing them as people. I do this less for the 'pip' cards, tending to see them as actions or events, and major arcana as major events, forces or 'karma' which usually cannot be ignored. However I'm not a fortune teller, I'm a witch, and reserve the right to throw these principles out of the window if it feels right in a reading. This is the point of a reading by a witch, we don't tell your fortune, we hold a mirror up to you and force you both to face your shit and decide on how to move on from there.

There is a further method of working out dignities I like very much, and that works better with pip decks than with pictorial decks. Have I said loudly enough that the tarot started out life as playing cards and not as some esoteric map of the universe? When you play a game with playing cards there are some cards that go together and others that don't. This depends purely on the rules of the game you are playing, so whether you adopt a system based on the rules of tarocco, which is a trick-taking game, or on some other method such as wands/swords vs cups/coins, you can see what the 'fortune' looks like by the cards that are in your 'hand'. You could also do this with a poker scoring system, and there is a whole tradition of divination by playing a game of patience, and the outcome of the game is the answer to your question. I was inspired in this approach by discovering that in one or all of the French tarot games (I don't really know a great deal about them) the Fool can appear anywhere, can be placed anywhere, and alters stuff by his appearance: exactly the function of the Fool in the esoteric tarot. I find this approach to elemental dignities exciting because it places us in the intersection of time where a card game transmogrified into a map of everything. This approach *feels* as if it's actually probably the oldest, and to my mind is close to the heart of the matter, since both being able to play games and divine with something such as a pack of cards appeals greatly to me.

Because of course you don't need to have some special tool to divine with - for example it's amazing how witches can foresee the future in the froth on the side of a pint glass when the pint in question has been paid for by someone else - you merely need a method of assigning meanings to how things happen, for example how sticks or shells fall, or what the score on dominos means. Once you remove the pseudo-history - intended to give the system the authority imbued by age of Egyptianness - from it, this is exactly what happened to the card game of the tarot to turn it into a tool for divination. This also explains why there are a number of different systems for what means what in the tarot, although the one used in this essay will be the elemental attributions of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Another aspect of working out the whole of a reading rather than just individual cards is by the proportion of suits, compared to the whole deck, that appear in a reading. The four suits have been linked to the four elements of western esotericism, which are a way of dividing *everything* into four, so that everything can be placed into one of these four categories (these are what the tables of correspondences in magic textbooks are intended to illustrate, although I can't think why these people bother because actually the important thing in magic is what the magician's own correspondences between things are). For example a preponderance of pentacles (earth) may mean money troubles, issues around work, the home, etc. Cups in a reading (water) will refer to emotions of any sort, anger, love, etc. Swords (air) mean thought. For users of the Rider Waite deck, which is *not* the one used by the Golden Dawn because Waite took his vows seriously and didn't let secrets out, you will notice that he partly draws on the alternative tradition of swords and cups being the other way around, so the images both contain elements of the other, so there's a hell of a lot of water in the RWS Swords cards. Air here can mean conflict, notoriously so in RWS, clear speech, decisions, concord, agreement, arguments, and so on. Wands (Fire) refer to action, will, willfulness, stubbornness (no, before you ask, I don't always get a lot of wands in my readings!).

To reiterate: the four suits of the classic divinatory tarot are attributed to the four elements of western esotericism as a map of everything. By correspondence everything will fit into one of these elements somehow. In fact even the suit symbols have correspondences. Remember how in a previous post I talked about understanding the meaning of the suits by what the suit symbol means? Wands hit, swords cut, coins support and provide, cups contain except when they overflow: it is clear to see how the Golden Dawn attributed the correspondences they did to the suits. Incidentally the Golden Dawn's actual tarot deck is no longer secret: the authentic way to get one for yourself is to paint it yourself using the descriptions in Book T. For the full experience I would advise getting Israel Regardie's Golden Dawn so that you can read all the colour correspondences. This experience, carried out meditatively over a period of at least a year, should leave you in a position of having entered the tarot that no amount of book learning can do!

In the system of dignities I'm studying here these correspondences govern how the cards relate to each other, including in readings - remember these are no longer simply how cards relate to each other but how aspects of everything relate to each other. This approach can seem slightly dualist when put on paper flat, so please bear in mind that there is room for shades of interpretation in the traditional tarot correspondences which are:

Swords (Air): hot, moist, light, active.

Wands (Fire): hot, dry, light, active.

Cups (Water): moist, cold, heavy, passive.

Pentacles (Earth): dry, cold, heavy, passive.

Just to pause and give my own jaded view on these basic correspondences before coming to what the Golden Dawn has to say about them: they actually make a great deal of sense. For example if you put fire and water together, if there's less water you'll get steam, but if there's enough water, because it's heavy, it'll put the fire out. Similarly water and earth mixed, being both cold heavy and passive, you'll get mud, mud, glorious mud. I'm not going to beat about the bush here: the active quality of swords and wands very clearly refers to an erect penis, and the passive quality of cups and pentacles very clearly refers to a vagina. This is where I personally begin to have a problem with this map of reality because it doesn't resemble what I know nor yet what I want, which is why it is important to make your own correspondences. Yes, opposites attract, but it doesn't have to be that everything is either active or passive: one could be both or neither. The lesbians tell me that it isn't necessary in sex to stick with those active/passive divisions, and I would agree that it isn't necessary in gay male sex either (I have a certain number going through my head as we speak). Since we're on correspondences, as above so below, as in sex so in life, I expect my sex and my life to mirror each other and what I want my sex and life to be like.

The Golden Dawn had a number of principles of how these related to each other in readings, which I've never quite got my head round, but I was reading somewhere on Mary Greer's blog that the way to understand them is to study the actual examples given in Book T so that is exactly what I intend to do in the rest of this post. This is what Book T says about this:

'A card is strong or weak, well-dignified or ill-dignified, according to the cards which are next to it on either side. Cards of the same suit on either side strengthen it greatly either for good or evil, according to their nature. Cards of the suits answering to its contrary element, on either side, *weaken* it greatly for good or evil. Air and Earth are contraries as also are Fire and Water. Air is friendly with Water and Fire, and Fire with Air and Earth.' (Israel Regardie: The Golden Dawn, 6th Edition. Llewellyn Worldwide, Woodbury, Minnesota, 2009, p. 585).

So to translate this into real terms:

Principle 1: Three cards of the same suit in a row strengthen the existing nature of the middle one. Presumably this is what they mean by well-dignified.

Principle 2: A card surrounded by two cards of the same suit to each other but opposite to the central card (i.e. sword/pentacle/sword, pentacle/sword/pentacle, wand/cup/wand, cup/wand/cup) has its own instrinsic nature weakened by the two surrounding it. Presumably this is what they mean by ill-dignified. Reference to the correspondences above will show that the reason they give these as complete opposites is that these two suits differ from each other *in every way*: if they were on either side of a door looking through a keyhole they'd still not see eye to eye. I think I'm going to try finally committing this to memory pictorially by picturing the 6 of Cups and the 4 of Wands together.

Hold for a moment the thought of which suits are friendly, because I think only those first two principles are adequately explained in that paragraph; it confuses them and is in fact explained in the next paragraph:

'If a card of the suit of Wands falls between a Cup and a Sword, the Sword modifies and connects the Wand with the Cup, so that it is not weakened by its vicinity, but is modified by the influence of both cards; therefore fairly strong.' (Ibid, p.585)

Principle 3: If the cards on either side are not opposites to each other, but one of them is of the opposing suit to the central card, the central card remains fairly strong, and is connected with its opposite card. This is the bit that has always given me trouble and the bit where I've thrown Regardie across the room and gone back to not understanding Golden Dawn elemental dignities. I think what is happening is that the friendly card to the central card modifies the central card so that it is less unfriendly with its opposing card, and the opposing card therefore doesn't weaken it so much. The central card remains strong.

'But if a card pass between two which are naturally contrary [to each other], it is not affected by either much, as a Wand between a Sword and a Pentacle which latter, being Air and Earth, are contrary and therefore weaken each other.' (Ibid, p. 585)

Principle 4: A card between two cards of opposing  suits to each other is unaffected by them.

And so we come to the examples in Book T (Ibid, pp. 585 - 586) that Greer refers to. She says that if you study them it makes the whole thing clear. I'm hoping it will because that's what I'm going to do, trying to relate them to the principles I've identified.

Example 1: '9 Sw. 10 Sw. 5 Sw. Very strong and potent in action. Very evil.' Principle 1 applies here - the two cards of the same suit greatly strengthen the nature of the 10 of Swords.

Example 2: '10 W. 10 Sw. 2 W. Not quite so strong. Ruin checked and perhaps overcome.' The cards on either side are the same suit as each other so will hold their influence over the central card. They're also friendly with the central card, so in fact none of the four principles I've identified applies. Presumably because the two outside cards are strong with each other and also friendly with the central card they modify the drama queen aspect of the 10 of Swords so that it is only ruin checked and *perhaps* overcome. This example illustrates how elemental dignities can be used to give delicate shades of meaning to a reading, and also explains why the Golden Dawn system seems so complicated because of the permutations of suit that can occur in a reading. So I'm going to make a fifth principle:

Principle 5: When a card is surrounded by two cards friendly to it and of the same suit as each other, they modify its power slightly so that its power is present but modified by the outer cards.

Example 3: '6 C. 10 Sw. 10 C. Rather good than otherwise. It is bounty overcoming loss, like a piquant sauce which adds to pleasure.' Principle 5 again: the outer cards are of the same suit as each other and friendly with the central card, so that the loss is still present but it is overcome by the outer cards, rather than it being a case of 'no loss'.

Example 4: '9 P. 10 Sw. 10 C. Very weak, slight loss in material things, but more anxiety than loss.' Principle 3 applies here, so the central card ought to remain fairly strong if I've got it right, because the two outer cards are friendly to each other and only one of them is opposite to the central card. However, the example makes it plain that the loss of the 10S is only a slight loss so it is slightly weakened. The loss is specific to material things, so the 10S is modified by the 10C and by it connected with its opposite, the 9P.

Example 5: '5 Sw. 2 W. 9 Sw. Moderately strong. Rashness which brings evil in its train. Evil.' Principle 5 again: the surrounding cards are of the same suit as each other and friendly to the central card. The keywords given for 2W in Book T are 'influence over another, dominion' (Ibid, p. 583), so this card can be seen as influence gone wrong under the influence of the swords surrounding it.

Example 6: '9 P. 2 W. 6 P. Fairly strong. Good. Considerable gain and victory.' Principle 5 again, with the wandiness of the 2W modified by the pentacleness of the outer cards to make it gain rather than influence.

Example 7: '10 C. 2 W. 6 C. Weak, evil. Victory which is perverted by debauchery and evil living. But other cards may mitigate the judgement.' Aha, principle 2 at work! The nature of the card is weakened by the cups surrounding it. But it's interesting note the magician's insistence that all is not yet set in stone and this could be mitigated by other cards in the reading.

On a personal note I'm finding this exercise interesting on two levels: one is that for someone who has learned to read tarot in a post-Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack era, how old-fashioned I find the Golden Dawn's method of reading tarot. It seems clunky and overly prescriptive. The other one is that I've been wanting to get my head round Golden Dawn elemental dignities for years, but now that I'm getting a glimmer of understanding (don't get me wrong, I'm going to have to come back to these principles and examples over and over again actually to understand them), I'm finding I don't really like this approach to relating cards to each other! For example when I put the three cards in example 7 together my gut instinct (I'm actually using Morgan-Greer, because that's my duvet deck), was to interpret it as being someone taking the power to turn the back on whatever's happened in the past and move towards a more positive future. Yes, there's definitely debauchery and evil living present but I would put the accent on this combination being mitigated by whatever else is present in the reading. The illustration to this post is this combination: the keywords I've written on the cards are Etteilla's, which is why they will seem strange to modern tarotists!

There is definitely a point to this exercise, even if I don't start slavishly sticking to this system of elemental dignities: it's interesting to read the cards the way the Golden Dawn would have done. We can too easily forget that that order is the source of the majority of modern occultism, so there can be no waste in going back to the source for a little drink now and then. This is essentially exactly what I am doing by learning Etteilla's meanings for the cards, which brings me to the other reason this kind of exercise can be useful. We get stuck in our own little world. Learning another magical system than ones own reinvigorates you, challenges preconceptions and can give you ideas to contribute to your own system. Besides, seeing how the other half live is always beneficial to a person. But this is all by the by. Back to the examples.

Example 8: '9 Sw. 10 C. 5 Sw. Medium strong. Evil. Sorrow arising from pleasure and through one's own pleasures.' Principle 5 again. Again clearly sours the Golden Dawn meaning for 10C: 'Matters definitely arranged and settled in accordance with one's wishes. Complete good-fortune.' (Ibid, p.583). A case of making your bed and having to lie in it: you've arranged matters according to your wishes only to discover that what you've willed isn't what you thought it was!

Example 9: '9 P. 10 C. 6 P. Perfect success and happiness.' Once again principle 5 - it would have helped if Book T had actually spelled out this one principle that so many of the examples depend on! The 10C is modified slightly by the pentacleness of the outer cards to add success to happiness.

Example 10: '10 W. 10 C. 5 Sw. Rather evil. Pleasure that when obtained is not worth the trouble one has had in obtaining it.' Principle 3 applies here: the Cups card is attached to its opposite, the Wands card, by the Sword, souring the meaning of the 10C.

Example 11: '10 Sw. 6 C. 9 P. Fairly strong and good. The Sw and P being opposite elements counteract each other. Therefore it is as if they were not there.' That'll be my principle 4, then. The Golden Dawn, incidentally, saw 6 of Cups far more positively (Wish, happiness, success, enjoyment) than I do; I prefer Storm Cestavani's phrase for this card of 'Get in the car, I have candy.'

Example 12: '10 Sw. 6 C. 10 W. Fairly good. Some trouble, but trouble which is overcome. If 6 C were a bad card the evil would carry the day.' Principle 3 again: the Cups card is once again attached to its opposite, the Wands card, by the Swords card. Ironic how there should be that comment straight after I typed my negative comment about the 6 of Cups - I swear I hadn't looked ahead! Interestingly, I feel Etteilla would also have interpreted this combination more negatively than the Golden Dawn, judging by his keywords on my cards: tears, the past, and betrayal respectively.

That point brings me nicely to another aside on divination, namely that there is no absolutely right way to interpret tarot cards. When people start learning we tend to learn the meanings of the book or deck we're learning with, which act as a foundation. As we associate cards with particular readings, people or events, we give them our own attributes. That said, the point of divination, like much of magic is not to divine. The point is to open up the inner eye so that you will see, hear, or just damn know things that you have absolutely no evidence for, but will nonetheless prove to be true. So don't ever feel disheartened by the fact that occult studies lead you round in circles or just open up successive layers of stuff you don't know - that's the point. Once you know what you know it will always fall away for you to learn the next thing. Is it any wonder magicians go crazy?

Example 13: '9 Sw. Death 3 Sw. Death accompanied by much pain and misery.' Interesting, an example with a major. I think it's principle 5. However in this particular example if you didn't interpret it as death (or an involuntary ending) accompanied by much pain and misery, you really wouldn't be on the right page of the textbook!

Example 14: '9 W. 9 Sw. High Priestess. Recovery from sickness.' In the Golden Dawn system the High Priestess refers to change or alteration. So this example would be slightly different, because surely everyone would agree that a Major Arcana would 'trump' the pip cards in exerting its influence? And Book T gives sickness for 9 Sw anyway. However I do believe that this combination may be open to different interpretations, especially if you are not using a Godlen Dawn-influenced deck. Reading the three cards linearly for example would give a different outcome, for example the conflict between the high wands and high swords energy, finding resolution in the High Priestess.

Example 15: '6 Sw. Q. W. King P. An active woman, courageous and reliable with dark chestnut hair, and open fearless expression.' Principle 4: the two outside cards are opposites to each other so the central card is unaffected by them. Personally I don't like this interpretation of this combination at all. I would either read it as a woman with a choice between staying with her ?husband/present situation or moving on to something else, or else I would still see them as a couple but going on a journey together. However i realise that this is to ignore the elemental dignities approach altogether!

Example 16: '7 C. King C. 5 Sw. A rather fair man but rather deceitful and malicious.' This one seems different again, with different cards on each side, not opposites, and one of them the same suit as the central card. The meaning given seems to draw on the meaning of both of the outer cards somewhat. I feel obliged to invent another principle right at the end.

Principle 6: When a card is surrounded by cards of different suits, one of which is the same as the central card, and the other of which is friendly, the central card's meaning is modified by both of them.

I hope this has served as an introduction to another way of interpreting tarot cards, admittedly a rather complex one and one not well explained in its major primary source! No doubt anyone wanting to use this system will experiment and refine my principles. For me it has given me a glimpse into a long-gone world of tarot interpretation, reinforced the respect I always feel for the work the Golden Dawn did in its short life span, and spurred me on to study the Golden Dawn system of tarot more. No doubt there will be further posts forthcoming on this theme!