Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mummy issues for Christmas

Picture: Virgin & Child, painted by Adolf Hitler. Credit: Wikimedia
True to form, I'm not avoiding the difficult matters for the festal season. Yes, I'm using the Christmas word: my usual disenchantment with 'the Pagan community' pushes me into using the name for this feast of the predominant surrounding milieu. And of course that's the point of this post. Christians like to make out that Christ is the 'reason for the season'. And of course they're dead wrong. The reason for the season is the darkness. And we witches know you can't have darkness without its polar opposite, light, right kids?
But the image which illustrates this post has become a more common image of this season since the Christians came along, & interestingly brings with it one of the most complicated human relationships possible. The Christians, of course, have a slight difficulty with the apparent lack of femininity in their divinity, which is accounted for usually by Mary, or the image of the church as the spouse of Christ. The witches, as among those who have 'reclaimed' the feminine divine in the twentieth century, have exactly the opposite problem: we risk mummy issues creeping into our either bisexual or completely feminine perception of divinity. That said, mummy issues are almost the definitive feature of the witch:
'"I have found that people who know that they are preferred or favored by their mothers give evidence in their lives of a peculiar self-reliance and an unshakeable optimism which often bring actual success to their possessors."' (http://www.pbs.org/youngdrfreud/pages/family_mother.htm)
You will note that I'm using the phrase 'mummy issues' quite differently from its normal sense of a heterosexual man without a mother figure in his early years, who looks for a woman who will fill that void. it is only my personal opinion but I find it quite creepy the way straight men can both want sex & to be - almost - mothered by their lovers. That is my stereotyped perception of a particular human relationship seen from the outside. The stereotype extends to homosexual men having over-involved mothers. In fact both straight & gay men can have over- or under-interested mothers & thus various mummy issues.
This festival has therefore become one marking the *most* complicated relationship we humans have. Of course I'm sitting here secure in the knowledge that I'll never have children to fuck up, although I did manage to turn a nervous stray cat into a relaxed, happy old man. The whole tone for upbringing is set by the parents, the 'blame' will always somehow land there, they will always get it wrong to various degrees.
I hope, as a witch, I can sit with the fact that this relationship will never be 'right'. However if nothing else, I will not play at happy families - that is the way of falsehood & further screwiness.
Happy festival - go on, upset a relative. It's strangely liberating.
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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Second-hand Tarot Decks? You Bet!

I wasn't going to comment on the hiatus that has occurred on this blog, since I refuse to be a slave to my blog, as well as to everything else. However, the reason for it has been the upheaval of having my old ginger tom cat put down, finding a flat on the other side of the city to rent, selling my house, having the estate agents make the most incredible balls up. It's customary to leave a house secured after a viewing - naturally I went in there like the wrath of G*ddess the next day. I moved out in a hurry so that my stuff wouldn't be there when they were conducting viewings. A sum of money has been mentioned (by me) as compensation: normally I wouldn't do that but naturally if I was ever in need of spare cash it's now. This sum of money has not been forthcoming, so they're just going to have to take the consequences of doing wrong by the friendly neighbourhood witch.
The house sold (at auction). Of course it did. It flew off the catalogue like it was going out of fashion. My motto at the moment is 'come on, universe, look after your witch,' & this certainly seems to be exactly what is happening. Everything I need is falling into my lap at the exact right moment. I've even settled down remarkably well into my little rented flat over a shop: I slept remarkably well right from the start, even at one point sleeping through the road being dug up outside in the night!
One of the gifts the universe has given me is a tarot deck I have never had before - the 1JJ Swiss tarot - which I found in a charity shop for £1.50. Incidentally, I'm aware that the way I phrased that inclines towards the difficult question of why bad things happen to people - my own opinion as a working witch is that life is too damn short to worry why, the witch's role is to turn disasters round into opportunity!
The received occult wisdom is that everything used in magic should be new. 'Virgin', as it were. Just a word of caution - go down that route if you want, but you'd better be a stock investor, banker, or, for preference, have a private income with endless leisure to pursue magic. There are genuinely some wealthy, leisured people who pursue magic that way nowadays - I think they constitute the opposite end of a polar spectrum from my approach.
There is an obvious reason why 'everything new' need not be the rule for a competent magical person. I would expect a basic competence to be to sense an atmosphere or history in a place, person, or object. The way in which people would do this may vary, but the way I do it is just a feel. My 'just know' has never been wrong yet, & I don't use anything I don't like the feel of. This is completely subjective, but that's the point.
Another reason not to reject used magical implements, is that it is to miss a possible opportunity to make a connection with a magical ally. We all value family things for the connection they have, but there is more to family than flesh & blood, more to the Great Coven, or Red Thread, than meetings on this plane & they should not be despised.
The 1JJ Swiss deck is going to take some getting used to - obviously it's the universe's way of inviting me to further reflection & development. I'm delighted to find that it's a deck intended for game play of two games in a particular area (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troggu and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troccas from whence I get the explanation of the JJ name:
'Troccas decks are sometimes called "1JJ" or "Jupiter and Juno" decks because they substitute Jupiter and Juno for the Pope and Papess of the Tarot of Marseilles.'
In fact it has all sorts of things about it to like from my point of view, including non-reversible minors. It isn't quite as non-reversible as the Italian decks I've written about before, but I'm still looking forward to getting to know it better:
'The deck is derived from the Tarot de Besançon which itself comes from the Tarot de Marseille. It is an Italian suited pack which substitutes the figures of Juno and Jupiter in place of the Popess and Pope of the Tarot de Marseille. The cards are not reversible and both the trumps and pip cards use Roman numeral indexing. The lack of modern features like reversibility, corner indices, and Arabic numerals has made this deck unpopular for game playing and is now mostly used for cartomancy. It is still the official deck for Troccas tournaments.'http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_1JJ_Tarot)
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Spirit of Place: Birmingham Pub Bombings Fortieth Anniversary

(Picture credits: BBC/Mirror)
Some time ago I was trying to write a post on a witchy pub crawl of Birmingham, but I found it was impossible to put the words 'pub' & 'Birmingham' together without the word 'bombings', so I've been saving this up for the fortieth anniversary.
The episode is a shameful one on the city's history. It has left a legacy of blame, false accusations, recriminations, hatred, & miscarriages of justice. Real stories of locals affected by the bombings can be read at http://birminghamhistory.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?t=27896 and more particularly at http://justice4the21.blogspot.com (from which the list of names below is taken).
But this is a witchcraft blog & of course I have a purpose to all this. You will read the received wisdom that the bombs were planted by the IRA, who have always denied responsibility, & the police's scepticism of claims of responsibility by another terrorist group. I don't know anything about terrorism, but I'm fairly sure there isn't another example of an apparently completely pointless terorist act. The Birmingham Six lost years of their lives through police incompetence, & the 21 lost their lives permanently. The witch in me hears a cry for vengeance. So for the fortieth anniversary, if you are in the Second City, please pass by the monument in the cathedral churchyard & say the names. Hear them crying for vengeance. Invoke whatever divinity you may believe in. If you don't, call on the spirit of Beorma. Somebody put those three (one didn't detonate) in places where they knew they would kill people, & has gone scot-free for forty years. You'll notice I say vengeance, not justice. Beyond the long arm of the law stretches the longer arm of the witch, & together let us say the names below & send it back. This is actually the first step to healing: you have to get rid of the cancer first, before you can forget.
Michael William Beasley, aged 30
Lynne Jane Bennett, aged 18
Stanley James Bodman, aged 51
James Frederick Caddick, aged 40
Thomas Frderick Chaytor, aged 28
James Goodlet Craig, aged 34
Paul Anthony Davies, aged 20
Jane Elizabeth Davis, aged 17
Charles Harper Grey, aged 44
Maxine Hambleton, aged 18
Anne Hayes, aged 19
John Clifford Jones, aged 51
Neil Robert Marsh, aged 20
Marilyn Paula Nash, aged 22
Pamela Joan Palmer, aged 19
Desmond William Reilly, aged 20
Eugene Thomas Reilly, aged 23
Maureeen Anne Roberts, aged 20
John Rowlands, aged 46
Trevor George Thrupp, aged 33
Stephen John Whalley, aged 21

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Winged penises, bereavement & moving house

It's a bit fraught in my house still. I'm in the middle of selling & moving, & in true witch style I've almost worked my way through one estate agent in a fortnight. Without naming names, they made a monumental cock up & I was forced to remonstrate with them. I wish people would stop crying when I'm trying to talk to them, it's most distracting. Anyway, also in true witch style, I have a little plan to turn this situation around to my advantage.
I'm not so distracted that I didn't notice the graffiti which form the first picture here. I looooove the halos, & apart from anything else, those are actually a genuinely ancient religious symbol. Forget your made-up Neo-Pagan traditions, kids, flying penises are that real ol' time religion! The second picture is of an ancient Roman amulet to prove that it's the real thing (sorry, I've lost the source):
'In ancient Roman religion and magic, the fascinus or fascinum was the embodiment of the divine phallus. The word can refer to the deity himself (Fascinus), to phallus effigies and amulets, and to the spells used to invoke his divine protection. Pliny calls it a medicus invidiae, a "doctor" or remedy for envy (invidia, a "looking upon") or the evil eye.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascinus)
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Sunday, November 2, 2014

A terrible warning

Me, that is. I'm a terrible warning. Or ought to be, to myself, if to no-one else. I am however, definitely the sort of sorcerer you get warned to avoid, by Llewellyn publications. I've written here before of the three magical entities I created, for no better reason than it seemed a good idea at the time. If nothing else, playing at magic seems to make it successfully spectacular, if the havoc created around me by my magical daughters is anything to go by.
Another of the main axioms of magic that I've come to understand better of recent years is that the magician is ultimately the target or object of all magic. This has been most recently shown to me by a spell I did on a friend, using the entity of the River Rea to bring her here. It didn't happen like that, but instead the kickback from it has worked on me to carry me to a place near the river.
It is a liminal place, also bounded by crossroads - about as witchy as you could wish to be. I'm now free to move because my poor old familiar was put down on Thursday, after suddenly becoming ill. Short of finding him dead in his bed it was the death I would have wished for him, as painless as possible. I don't know how muggles cope with life events, since for me it did genuinely feel like midwiving him to the next thing. I've been told since then he's happy & will be back soon. Definitely a person cat rather than a place cat.
It's stressful, of course, but this marks the end of my Hanged Man year & the move into my Death year. I have a feeling that after a year when all I could do was sit & wait (which I'm spectacularly bad at) I'm going into a year of loads of everything happening!
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Things coming together

It has been a little while since I have posted on here. Of course this does not mean the Hound is inactive meddling in reality, but rather that I have a number of things going through my head, none of which would constitute a post in itself.
I notice I had another pause around this time last year, so it may simply be an Autumn thing.
My depression is much better, thank you. I'm liking fluoxetine better than sertraline, & am about ready to take on the world again.
My poor old ginger tom cat is still with us, but visibly fading now. I will miss him terribly, but so badly want to move house & have been putting it off because he's been 'dying' for the past two years.
My complaint about a colleague had interesting repercussions. Most interestingly the management didn't side behind him, which, having learned the anatomy of workplace bullying from several experts at it, surprises me. I was all ready for a full scale battle, but believe that since I've learned that one I don't need to keep Tim Field's Bully in Sight anymore: this is one that isn't going to keep coming round.
The 'pagan community' is a continuing source of irritation to me. If it was anyone other than me I would query whether that person wasn't a team player. Or maybe it's just a witch thing.
There are two 'Passages' - Congreve & Coleridge - in Brum that carry writers' names but I have been unable so far to find out whether that was actually how they were named.
The present state of the former Grande Hotel in Mozambique is not a result of either blacks' inability to run things or the political instability of the country (both of these pieces of nonsense are bandied around on the internet), but rather the result of the colonials' greed. The hotel *never* made a profit & could not be supported by the resources of holidaymakers at that end of the continent.
I'm watching Ross Kemp on Gangs. Yum.
Anyway, all of these things make me think that things are moving on in me & around me, & that fortunately my year of the Hanged Man is drawing to a close. Of course this means that next year my year card is Death, so I'm bound to be all at sixes & sevens!
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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Why I Am A Witch: Motivations to Witchcraft & Avoiding False Altruism

I have written the title of this post before starting, in an attempt to limit myself to the actual subject, since it could probably actually be a number of different posts with different subjects.
I became a witch (or perhaps came to enter my true witchiness) as a result of disenchantment with the Catholic church: this is a fact that will be apparent to anyone perusing the posts on here. A major element of this sea change in my life was that it turned virtually everything upside down, & a major change for me was that I no longer felt that my life should be about anybody else. I think if someone were to offer me Gardnerian initiation I would accept it, purely to be in a lineage with old Gerald himself, since this would tickle me inordinately, but on the whole my life & witchcraft is about me & my hedge. This is the primary dynamic described on this blog.
Now this necessarily raises questions about the witch's relations with the world around her - the whole point of the hedge is that we are in a world of interconnecting energies & entities. But what we should resist is any concept of enforced or enjoined altruism: what makes us appear 'satanic' to outsiders is the primacy of real emotions & thoughts. It is dangerous for a magical practitioner to start being influenced by how things 'ought' to be, feel the emotions they 'ought' to feel, or be influenced by external values systems or commandments. Yes, you've got it right: if you're reading this & thinking it a load of twaddle, that's fine by the Hound.
Do witches meddle? You bet. One of the things witchcraft is all about is finding oneself in situations where we have an opportunity or even duty to nudge a situation one way or another. Some Christian writer - I think it was C S Lewis - writes somewhere that you can tell a man who lives for others by the haunted looks on others' faces. And that almost perfectly describes the danger I'm trying to avoid here - we don't become witches for other people primarily. A witch who is busy in every community group, running several groups of their own, altruistically doing voluntary work, & giving out this impression of selflessness is deluding themselves. That is nothing more nor less than the false altruism of the Christians, & that witch will be kidding others (if not herself) that the main beneficiary of all this selflessness is herself. Codependence is as much a risk for witches as it is for anyone else.
I have previously written about how many neo-Pagans fantasise about the communities of the past. This involves a huge dose of pseudo-history, since in reality the pagan past they fantasise about was frequently brutal, violent, & dangerous. The modern construction of witchcraft is enabled by our modern individualistic world, not by the Christian civilisations of the past: in many of the older civilisations of the world (yes, this is a huge generalisation) the individual was subordinate to the community. What's dangerous here is the individual who rattles on about the community when they're chiefly in it for themselves.
We witches don't have a mission in the sense that some other religions do. We are not looking for converts. We're not looking to change the world. We're not looking for a revolution. Well, we are. But it begins with my mission to myself. Your mission to yourself may or may not be any of my business, & this dynamic of liberating myself first is surely the most revolutionary act there is.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to Tell a Genuine Magical Practitioner from a Confidence Trickster

I'm going to start this by declaring a marked bias: while I understand that people have an ambivalent relationship with the magical arts, it seems to me extraordinary the way people go to other people to do magic for them. To me magic is something you do, you can't get it (except indirectly through knowledge) online. Nonetheless people have always gone to other people & handed over money for the practitioner to get their hands dirty so that they could either say they hadn't done it themselves or thought they'd get better results. This unfortunately leaves people at risk of confidence tricksters, who are relatively secure in the knowledge that people will be too embarrassed to tell the police they've been tricked by a sorcerer. There is a rise of traditional African healers, sangomas, ngangas, & what have you, in Britain. Certainly I get loads of adverts for them put through the door: some make incredible claims, but the phenomenon is giving rise to concern amongst the chattering classes (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-158843/Witchdoctors-exposed.html and http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/british-witch-doctors-charge-3000-3247614). So here, as a public service, the Hound will give his personal take on how not to be taken in, & a way of avoiding the problem completely.
There are two ways to tell a fake, & the first is the more difficult because it requires that painful thing, self-knowledge. If you want final stage lung cancer cured, if you spend every night on the phone to psychic lines wanting to know when your man (whom you haven't seen since 1992) is coming back to you, in the real world you're a sitting target for confidence tricksters. So you must start by asking yourself how possible your desire really is. And here's the thing: by doing this, by subtly changing your world-view & protecting yourself against worries, dangers & people that prey on you, you are actually starting to do magic.
The second key is to understand how magic works. This comes second, because you have to do the magical act of a full & frank self-examination to get into the magical worldview first. All of the definitions of magic involve change of some sort. I like to think it is magic whenever anyone does an act that will result in life improving or at least changing in some way. Anything. Because once you've done that you are taking charge of your life & making change happen.
My personal solution to this situation would be that it is better to do the magic yourself. You have the ability to do it. Stop looking over your shoulder, I mean you. You! No, *YOU*! Reader of this blog, you can work magic.
'But I don't know how,' you may say, which brings me nicely to another point about how real magic works so that people can recognise it. When you need it, the magic will always be there. The means to do it will come to your hand, if you can trust that that will happen, & keep your eyes open to see the means of your liberation come to hand. I'm not giving you instructions, because we all work magic differently, my way may not be your way. But when your back is to the wall, if you have the *will* to do it, the means will come to hand. For example, you may say a prayer. That magic is called theurgy. This may sound terrible if you have a conventional religious background, but I've touched right to the heart of why religion has a problem with magic: the boundary is blurry & religion's in denial! Nor is there a question of technical skill - we're accustomed to getting in experts for IT nowadays, but we're talking about an ancient technology that we have built in, & you don't need an expert for it. People's first spell is quite often incredibly effective: the universe /G*ddess, what have you, will not be outdone in generosity.
I must say something about cost. I personally have grown up in the school of not equating magic with money. It fixes the magic to only one of the four 'elements', ultimately limiting it if you're not carefully. My other problem with this is that magic is very expensive. But not in monetary terms - usually if you've got your back to the wall you'll already have paid for it.
So if you still insist on getting someone else to do it (there are circumstances in which I would ask someone to do it for me, but in my experience a soul mate will appear at that moment) a genuine magical practitioner will broadly speaking fit in with these characteristics of magic. S/he will speak directly to your situation at the time, opening up new insights & actually helping you in the process of change that is magic. A good sorcerer will have a personal code of ethics that they should be able to explain to you & should turn down certain types of work. Merely meeting them will make you feel like a burden's been lifted - this is what magic should feel like.
Certain things should indicate the practitioner should be avoided completely. The classic is telling you you've been cursed & it will require further work to sort it. Most people actually curse themselves, but anyway don't go near this person again. Also don't fear that they will curse you (they may threaten you, in which case ring the police) - they don't understand curses & clearly have no magical ability. A requirement for rare herbs that can only be gathered from some strange place far abroad at great expense is also bullshit of the highest order & indicates a confidence trickster who doesn't understand magic. The American folk magic system of hoodoo originated in the practices of slaves who were cut off from the West coast of Africa & had to adapt to what they had at hand. *That* is real magic. Any use of cold reading techniques is incredibly suspicious, or 'barnum' statements. Avoid them. Work that doesn't have an end date or full price equals confidence trick - avoid them. (Are you seeing why I say it's better to do it yourself?) A friend (who is an incredibly powerful witch) recently accompanied a friend to a traditional sangoma, who didn't pick up or acknowledge that she's a witch. Believe me, you can't miss it. Suffice to say, even I'm in awe of her. I'm tempted to say take a witch with you, but I really genuinely think it's better to avoid these people. The means will always come to hand when you need it.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Weird Shit: The Catholic Church Thinks its Priests Should be Masculine (but Obviously Doesn't Really)

I found the forum referenced here & the picture in very quick succession & was struck by what a ridiculous contrast they make. Obviously acres of lace, marble, & brocade are going to attract some very manly men into the priesthood!
'Says Fr. Mason: "Many bishops, seminary faculty and  priests...suffer under this vice [of effeminacy] and are therefore unwilling or unable  to recognize it as a vice and address it.... Does the seminary deal  with a seminarian that sways when he walks, who has limp wrists, who  acts like a drama queen or who lisps? It must."
'Says Fr. Mason: "This is not just distracting to other men but I  know my sisters will roll their eyes when a Liberace-like priest  celebrates himself while celebrating the Mass.... This may be one of  the reasons why the church has a difficult time attracting men to  Mass...."
'Fr. Mason says, "I remember in my first year of seminary how I was  shocked when I came across an ordained cleric in the seminary who was  wearing a gold ankle bracelet and matching gold earring."
'Says Fr. Mason: "Catholic seminarians scored as less masculine than any  other male group of their age. Right next to them...were the Protestant  male seminarians...." Fr. Mason says that "Most [Catholic] seminaries  breed an effeminate culture."' (http://www.fisheaters.com/forums/index.php?topic=1481200.0)
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kray Twins Again

The revelations in the newspaper article referenced here have been around for a while, but they're new to me, & provide an opportunity for more twin porn!
'These regular battles with other local gangs dispersed much of the aggression between the twins themselves and focused it on others. Fighting shoulder to shoulder bound them even more tightly together. Word got round that they were telepathic because they never needed to speak to each other when they were hammering someone but just got on with it, as if they were one person.

And they did indeed have a secret connection. In adolescence they discovered they were both homosexual. At the time and given the macho nature of the East End, this struck them as so shameful that they attempted to conceal it. According to Ron, they were so concerned to keep their secret hidden that for a while the only sex they had was with each other. As they grew into manhood there was for a short time a chance that, through professional boxing, they might escape a life of crime.' (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1305259/Did-Kray-twins-uncanny-bond-lead-break-ultimate-taboo.html)
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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Witch as Bus Driver

I came across a new (to me) idiom today - a bus driver is someone who takes someone else to school.
For some time I've had a spot of bother at work with someone addressing me by a variant of my name despite being told not to repeatedly. I have also clearly warned him that I will do him for harassment.
Given the kind of fools I'm surrounded by it is no surprise that he took it on himself to do it again yesterday. Some people are just hard of thinking & think I won't go there. So I've gone there. He probably didn't think I'd complain to Human Remains about him, thereby taking the matter completely out of the hands of any of his friends. He's also in a temporary manager's position, so has picked the wrong time to be seen as a fool at headquarters. The other thing that may be coming home finally is how dirty I fight. I learned the anatomy of workplace bullying from several experts at it, so I have strategies prepared for any way he may try to get out of it. In a sense his best outcome would be to pucker up & kiss my ass, or I'll do a hatchet job on him.
He could also have prevented this by stopping his unwanted behaviours when I told him to originally. He's going to school & he's going to learn a lesson. I'm driving the bus & in case you're wondering whether I've used magic as well - you bet I have!
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Spirit of Place: Tourism in Birmingham

On a train last weekend my cocktail party ears heard that it is finally happening: I overheard some American visitors on the way to Stratford saying that they were on holiday in Birmingham. No wonder, since it has been promoted by the New York Times & others:
http://nymag.com/travel/2013/winter/birmingham-england/
They obviously already had a connection to Britain, since they talked about having relations elsewhere. The Grauniad has had various articles on weekending in Brum (it's a bit old but I like http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/nov/06/birmingham-day-trips-arts-festival). I wonder if Birmingham had the effect on those American tourists that it had on the photographer from the Telegraph:
'Afterwards I took [John the photographer] on a tour of hidden Birmingham – the city that outsiders don't know exists. The city of intricate waterways, leafy expanses of rolling parkland and splendid public buildings. The city that The New York Times included in its list of 45 places to go in 2012 because of its remarkable cuisine. It came just above "Space" in the pecking order (although admittedly below Glasgow, another unlikely tourist haunt).
'John wasn't convinced at first, but this is normal for newcomers. A couple of hours later he'd changed his mind. We'd wandered the elegant canal paths that criss-cross the city centre. One of the most successful regeneration schemes in the world has turned the city of a thousand trades into the city of a thousand loft apartments.
'"This is amazing," he said. "I had no idea it existed. It's really beautiful."' (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/thenorthandmidlandsproperty/9023250/My-love-affair-with-Birmingham.html)
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Thursday, September 4, 2014

After the Revolution

I posted recently on the dangerous religious idea that something is willed by God, using the example of apartheid in South Africa to illustrate the kind of dangers that this idea can cause. Since then I have continued my reading around (mainly Southern) African history: I have actually been to Africa, to Kenya, but haven't really read the history. I'm horrified at the effect this reading has had on me: I'm in danger of getting to the point where I no longer believe anything anyone says on this subject because of the sheer contradiction & the sheer nonsense spouted by some people. From pseudo-scientific justifications for apartheid to the writings of those who explicitly want to remove Whites from Africa permanently, I'm finding a complex world of contradiction. Colonialism, even without apartheid, leaves a legacy of resentment, jealousy, paranoia, guilt, distrust, & a permanently dodgy power dynamic.
This kind of history is also well nigh impossible to come back from.
In the middle of all this, I was watching a Youtube video by a South African man talking about murders of whites, when I was captivated - he obviously assumed that everyone would know who this was & what it meant - by footage of a Black woman saying 'With our boxes of matches & our necklaces we shall liberate this country.' This refers to a particularly brutal form of murder with a peculiarly South African significance, since used on informers or collaborators in the townships. It's a horrendous death, but if you've been necklaced you're probably better off dead than rescued. The quote is one that is forever associated with the controversial Winnie Mandela. I was horrified to realise what she was talking about, but my friend in South Africa assures me that the beatings & imprisonment she's been through would be enough to turn anyone violent. This lengthy preamble brings me to the point of this post: what happens after the revolution is over - you'll notice that even I'm ducking facing the odious Mugabe, so my reflections on post-revolution revolutionaries will largely be based on an interview with Winnie Mandela (http://www.standard.co.uk/news/how-nelson-mandela-betrayed-us-says-exwife-winnie-6734116.html Quotations in this post are from that interview). The point of this in a blog about witchcraft is that we are accustomed to think that it is important not to limit the power of our magic - 'Impossible is nothing' should be our motto - but when you are in the middle of effecting change, it is easy to lose sight of what you want the final outcome to be, or even what you want the effect of the change to be on yourself. I realise that I am again using an extreme situation to illustrate a process of change that will usually be more subtle, but extreme situations make good illustrations, if bad law.
For a start it is impossible to avoid the legacy of the past, in fact Winnie Mandela talks about how the bizarre situation in South Africa had become normal:
'No, she was not happy. And she had her reasons. "I kept the movement alive," she began. "You have been in the township. You have seen how bleak it still is. Well, it was here where we flung the first stone. It was here where we shed so much blood. Nothing could have been achieved without the sacrifice of the people. Black people." [...] "The ANC was in exile. The entire leadership was on the run or in jail. And there was no one to remind these people, black people, of the horror of their daily reality; when something so abnormal as apartheid becomes a daily reality. It was our reality. And four generations had lived with it - as non-people."'
Similarly the sheer process of revolution leaves a legacy of trauma:
'"Yes, I was afraid in the beginning. But then there is only so much they can do to you. After that it is only death. They can only kill you, and as you see, I am still here."
'I knew that the apartheid enforcers had done everything in their power to break this woman. She had suffered every indignity a person could bear. They had picked her up in the night and placed her under house arrest in Brandfort, a border town in Orange Free State, 300 miles from Soweto. "It was exile," she said, "when everything else had failed."'
It was the above passage that really made my witch ears prick up & pay attention, since to me she is clearly describing an initiatory experience, with the key elements of death, danger & having to make decisions with no way back from them or even a way of knowing their possible outcome. And this is the point of using an extreme illustration here: outside of what might be called 'ritual' witchcraft, the world of magic is a powerful, scary life-changing, yet -threatening thing.
And of course you cannot predict where these decisions, necessarily made with no possible way of knowing the outcome, have results that are unexpected:
'"Look what they make him do. The great Mandela. He has no control or say any more. They put that huge statue of him right in the middle of the most affluent "white" area of Johannesburg. Not here where we spilled our blood and where it all started. Mandela is now a corporate foundation. He is wheeled out globally to collect the money and he is content doing that. The ANC have effectively sidelined him but they keep him as a figurehead for the sake of appearance."
'The eyes behind the grey tinted glasses were fiery with anger. It was an economic betrayal, she was saying, nothing had changed for the blacks, except that apartheid had officially gone. As she spoke of betrayal she inadvertently looked at a portrait of Mandela.
'I looked at Winnie. Maybe she did not know when to stop. Maybe that is the bane of a revolutionary: they gather such momentum that he or she can't stop. I saw that although her trials and tribulations had been recorded, the scars on the inner, most secret part of her spirit tormented her.'
And of course hindsight is a wonderful, if painful, thing:
'"You know, sometimes I think we had not thought it all out. There was no planning from our side. How could we? We were badly educated and the leadership does not acknowledge that. Maybe we have to go back to the drawing board and see where it all went wrong."
'This was Winnie the politician. This was the phoenix. Publicly, the ANC leadership, who made her a minister in the first post-apartheid government in 1994 and welcomed her back subsequently, distanced themselves from her amid allegations of corruption (in 2003, she was convicted of fraud and given a suspended prison sentence). But for the masses, she spoke their language and remains popular with those who feel their government hasn't done enough.
'We could see why the ANC had needed this obdurate woman. She was bold and had an idea of her worth. She was the perfect mistress for the ANC in the bad times but then she became dangerous.'
Despite my horror at some of the things she has been implicated in, I'm finding her a sympathetic character. I can't begin to understand what these people must have been through, it is too complex, foreign, extreme. Also she makes a very important point that the struggle should not be forgotten. It is a curious thing about humans that we tend to want an easy life, so soothe ourselves by looking at the past with rose-tinted spectacles. But that is not the way of the witch, since learning the lessons of history is the only way to ensure history doesn't keep repeating itself. Since, as a witch, I place so much importance in my life on living purposefully, instead of lurching from crisis to crisis, I can learn lessons from other people's pasts as well as my own.
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Saturday, August 30, 2014

David Parlett on the Tarot: the Fool and Regional Variations

I realise that when I posted earlier this month on the Fool in the Tarot I missed a trick (ha ha!). I have since discovered from David Parlett's A History of Card Games (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991; all the information in this post comes from chapter 18) that there are actually two distinct uses for the Fool in European tarot games. This is what has to say about the Fool:
'The Fool (Italian I'll Matto, French le Mat or le Fou). In the older tradition of France & Italy [which I referred to before] the Fool is not normally a trump: it is an odd card that may be played as a 'excuse' for not following suit to the card led, to protect a high card from being lost, or to avoid spending a trump. It is therefore known in modern French as 'l'Excuse'. In the younger, central European tradition it has been transformed into the highest trump, but retains a Germanicized form of the word 'Excuse', various spelt Skus, Skys, Skiss, Stiess, etc.' (Ibid, p. 240)
The passage quoted comes in the context of the three most important cards in the tarot game: the other two are I & XXI. It is clear how the rules of the game have come up against the kabbalistic theory of the mother letters as related to the tarot, & the result is the uncomfortable fit I described before.
However I still don't have a problem with using tarot cards as divinatory tools (I mean, you could use a standard Anglo-American 52-card deck, or even dominoes, or I think drawing chess pieces out of a bag could have interesting results). If we throw the 'mother letters' theory out of the window, since it results in strange placements for the Fool & no agreement of which letters apply to which trumps, we are left with the rules of the game as an allegory for the divination.
Taking the earlier tradition for the Fool, he is the 'wild card,' representing the unexpected, the out-of-order, etc. We could even invoke him when we don't want to proceed in the way we have been. If you really want to go with the younger tradition of the Fool as highest trump, I suppose he could represent self-actualisation, or the abandonment of external standards & expectations. I think a divinatory meaning could be developed from the scores used in the game, but since I can't yet get my head round that, I'll not comment here! What I'm feeling my towards is the use of the tarot game rules as an allegory with a divinatory meaning. Have I commented before here that tarot started off life as a game? To quote Parlett as a disinterested, 'muggle', respected historian of card games:
'[...] Tarots were originally invented for playing games with (their occultic & fortune-telling functions date from the late eighteenth century) [...]' (Ibid, p. 238)
I'm also fascinated by the regional variants of tarot games. Parlett's run-down includes:
The modern French-suited tarot decks, known as Tarot Nouveau. I had one of these & gave it away, because I couldn't gel with the altered pictures on the trumps. Of course they can still be used to 'read', using the traditional meanings, or a new set, based on the renewed trump illustrations.
The Tarocco Piemontese (used in Piedmont & Lombardy). This is the double-ended deck for playing that I've talked about before: for me it best represents the junction between card-playing & divination. It gives some incredibly frank readings!
Tarocchino (of Bologna) is a 62-card deck. The twos to fives of the pip cards are omitted, while numbers 1 - 4 of the trumps are four Moors of equal rank.
I've always wanted a Sicilian deck (keep willing it, Hound, & one will appear for next to nothing). The highest trumps are 20 Jupiter, & 19 Atlas. The Devil is replaced by a Ship, & below the first trump is an even lower one called Poverty (Miseria). The Fool is called the Fugitive. It has the otherwise-extinct-in-Europe Italo-Portuguese suit symbols, & Ace to Four are omitted in three suits, & the Two & Three of Cups. The main purpose in having one of these for me would be to reawaken the sense of tarot mystery, that is lacking nowadays since we are so familiar with them. We need to get back to the sense of a strange (to British eyes) deck of cards, veiling unknown reality under symbols & images.
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Walking in Birmingham

It's quite difficult, I've found to get to know a city, so after considering a few more psychogeographical techniques, I'll publish all the walks around the city I know, purely as a public service. I'll try to post this as a separate 'page' for reference as well, *when I've worked out how*.
Psychogeographical approaches
The city centre streets of Birmingham are not, in my experience, suited that well to some of the classic psychogeographic techniques to get lost. Following a pattern such as first-right-second-left tends to end up either in a dead end or going round in a circle too much. A technique I like a lot is the one that in its classical form means drawing round a glass on a map, & walking round the line you've drawn, as close as possible. I find paper maps too much hassle, so I like to translate it as downloading a map & drawing a shape on it on a computer (I like the map at http://visitbirmingham.com/explore-birmingham/guides-and-maps/ It's a pdf but can be turned into an image file with a screen capture & then kept on phone or mp3 player). In this technological age there is even an app (that works online, you don't have to be iphone or android) to help you get lost at http://deriveapp.com/s/v2/
There is another great psychogeographic tradition, of navigating a place using a map of somewhere else. I personally also like using maps of the past. There is, for example, the Westley street plan of 1731, although it needs a rotation for modern eyes (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Birmingham_-_Westley_Map_1731.png). More recent history is encompassed in the proposal for the inner ring road (which isn't quite what was built (http://i39.tinypic.com/wasqoy.png), which gives an impression of what might have been.
Books
Noszlopy & Waterhouse's Birmingham Public Sculpture Trails (Liverpool University Press, 2008, ISBN 1846311349) does exactly what it says on the tin, & following public art rather than roads or buildings makes an interesting alternative way of exploring.
Foster's Pevsner Architectural Guide to Birmingham (Yale University Press, 2005, ISBN 0300107315) is starting to show its age a little but is the one book I would tell people to get about Birmingham. It contains as much history as architecture. He also has routes around the Jewellery Quarter & Digbeth.
A third book I like a lot is Smith & Bannister's Haunted Birmingham (History Press, 2006, ISBN 0752440179), with which a good ghost walk could well be constructed.
Websites, leaflets & trails
The Visit Birmingham website has a digest of guided walks, tour guides, useful links to things like the Big Brum Buz & so on, with a less...eccentric slant than my own: http://visitbirmingham.com/what-to-do/tours-sightseeing/on-foot/
A major way to explore a place is to follow themes in its history & fortunately planned walks aren't lacking for these in Birmingham's case.
For the historically-minded, I like the walk through time on the BBC website a lot 'On this Walk Through Time in the heart of the city, you'll find out about Birmingham's past as a forest, a swamp and underneath an ice sheet hundreds of metres thick. Then you'll walk right up to the present day, through Birmingham's history as a settlement and a thriving hub for industry. Keep your eyes peeled and you might just see some rare birds!': http://www.bbc.co.uk/birmingham/your_birmingham/walk_through_time/index.shtml
The Birmingham Grid for Learning website (bgfl.org) has a number of trails created from an educational point of view by local schools.
There is a Lunar Society walk that can be downloaded at http://www.bmag.org.uk/news?id=318
Two 'pavement trails' round the Jewellery Quarter (http://www.jewelleryquarter.net/visit/things-to-do/pavement-trails/) will explain those funny things in the pavement in the quarter. It is said that you're either a Jewellery Quarter person or a Digbeth person, & trails are also available on the other side of the city centre (http://digbeth.org/trails-and-tours/). Similarly, although it's not an actual walk all laid out, you could follow the author's footsteps in a Peaky Blinders-themed walk round Bordesley (http://www.birminghamconservationtrust.org/2013/09/22/peakyblindersbordesley/)
The Connecting Histories website has four trails themed on suffrage, Joseph Sturge, & Judaism, at http://www.connectinghistories.org.uk/exhibitions/trails.asp
In terms of leaflets, Birmingham Civic Society do a guide to heritage buildings - I've seen it in the library, so no worry that the information place on New Street is now closed. And the council do or did a cycling & walking map of the entire city.
It is hardly possible to visit the Venice of the Midlands without exploring the canals, & canalrivertrust.org.uk have downloadable maps & an app. In paper terms I've always liked Pearson's Canal Companions, & the First Mate Guides are now downloadable for a donation.
If you'd like a walk in the company of the neighbourhood witch, my only original contribution is my essay on urinals & other conveniences (http://houndofhecate.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/spirit-of-place-cast-iron-urinals.html?m=0); I had a little hand in my version of it, but the Green Man trail was originally the work of Anthony Hayward (http://houndofhecate.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-green-men-of-birmingham.html?m=0).
Outside the City Centre
For greener walks, the council website has a number of 2km & 5km walks in parks: http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/walks
The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery site has a downloadable leaflet about the Tolkien trail, if you're keen on little men with hairy feet: http://www.bmag.org.uk/sarehole-mill/tolkien
There is a signposted route along the valley of the River Rea from its start up to Cannon Hill Park (where is becomes much more difficult to follow unless you follow the glimpses in the city centre): http://www.riverreatrail.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=69&Itemid=139

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Depression & the Witch

Picture credit: http://allthehappycreatures.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html?m=1 It doesn't say it, but I suspect that is from the New Tarot.
From time to time I get depression. This isn't feeling sad, it's an illness that paints the entire world grey & cripples you. I seem to have inherited this tendency, along with some other health problems, from my mother's side of the family, suggesting to me that the biological purpose of homosexuality is to bring a crappy gene pool to an end! I have no idea what my father's side of the family's health would be like, since they all smoke or drink themselves into an early grave, so it seems a bit insidious to say there are cancer & heart disease on that side of the family!
I now think I did get depression when I was younger - I mean a teenager - which would nowadays probably have been picked up on & treated instead of having to run its course naturally. At this point perhaps I should say that I am wary of any 'alternative' treatments for depression. Yes, there is an evidence base for St John's Wort, in mild to moderate depression, but in my experience it needs aggressive treating with chemicals.
You'll notice my complete acceptance both of the fact of my depression, & of the need to reach for the medical model to treat it. You'll notice I'm not making any reference to depression as a para-shamanic journey or to hypnosis or even cognitive behavioural therapy. Life is too short & depression too vicious to mess about with fluffiness. That said, depression can be turned round, in true witch fashion, into an opportunity. By the exercise of my will, that will is actually strengthened & confirmed. My will is first to call the problem by what it is & then not to be beaten. My will is also to use all means necessary.
A colleague of mine was diagnosed with diabetes, which she accepted in no way at all, & was quite jealous that I'd gone straight to acceptance of another medical diagnosis. It's the witch way: in fact I wonder whether it's a test of some sort, since I don't know a single witch who doesn't get depression. That said, for me the Hanged Man is the tarot card of depression: you're in suspension & can't do anything about it. That's what depression feels like - but fortunately nowadays you can do something about it, by taking a pill every day.
You will be free from slavery...
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Tarot: Where Does the Fool Come in the Trumps?

I posted earlier this month about how I've gone back to tarot school with Waite. He has re-raised a question previously raised for me by a wonderfully old-fashioned allegory of the tarot trumps by MacGregor Mathers:
'The Human Will (1) enlightened by Science (2) & manifested by Action (3), should find its realisation (4) in deeds of Mercy & Beneficence (5). The Wise Disposition (6) of this will give him Victory (7) through Equilibrium (8) & Prudence (9), over the fluctuations of Fortune (10). Fortitude (11), sanctified by Sacrifice of Self (12) will triumph over Death (13) itself, & thus a wise Combination (14) will enable him to defy Fate (15). In each Misfortune (16) he will see the Star of Hope (17) shine through the twilight of Deception (18); & ultimate Happiness (19) will be the Result (20). Folly (0) on the other hand, will bring about an evil Reward (21).'
This allegory immediately ushers us into a different age. I was shocked to discover Enid Nesbit, an author I loved as a child, was a member of the Golden Dawn, & this piece brings up the same atmosphere of the Victorian drawing room for me that her books do. We are literally in a different age here, & certainly in the wildly unlikely event of me ever having children I shall make them recite this to me every evening standing on the hearth rug before their Nanny ushers them up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.
Not only does Mathers have Justice & Strength in their pre-Waite order, but he places the Fool - numbered with a zero - in between trumps 20 & 21. I thought when I first saw this that that was one of the most bizarre things I had ever seen, & have had my interest re-awakened by the fact that this is exactly the order in which Waite places the trumps, without explanation, in his Pictorial Key. I didn't realise that I was stepping into a real tarot controversy.
I have a feeling that most modern books & websites when listing the tarot cards 'in order', as it were, place The Fool at the beginning. He has accrued to himself a zero, & in fact his journey through the trumps is a very helpful way to understand the trumps (this approach is associated with Eden Gray & Barbara Moore, see http://www.llewellyn.com/blog/2013/07/a-study-of-the-fools-journey-1/). This has had the unfortunate effect of fixing the fool at the beginning of the trumps.
If that is the case, the Hebrew letter for the Fool would be Aleph. Crowley gives Aleph for the Fool in Liber 777. I have argued before on this blog for Aleph being attributed to the Magician: I have also argued that when you look at Waite/Smith's Magician in comparison to an actual Aleph, it becomes very obvious that that should be the Golden Dawn attribution, although the Golden Dawn gives Aleph to the Fool (I am indebted to http://tarotelements.com/4703/hebrew-for-tarot-readers-mother-letters/ for much of this information). I can only speculate that he would make the Magician in the deck he himself designed into a mammoth Aleph, rather than sticking to the Golden Dawn letters, as a difference of opinion of his own, or as one of his beloved 'blinds'. In practice he has followed Eliphas Levi & Papus rather than the Golden Dawn.
I have even managed to confuse myself further by seeing what Etteila does about it: be gives the Fool Number 78 in the deck, which I can only call interesting!
I would certainly prefer Levi's approach in that it gives mem to Death, & mem even looks like the figure in the Marseille Death card. And of course it is in the attribution of the three Mother Letters that the explanation comes: Waite, Mathers, & Levi have all placed the Fool just before the World so that it can have the third Mother Letter of Shin. Shin corresponds with Fire, which to my mind would fit Judgement much better than the Fool. In fact I would rather have the Fool as Aleph/Air than here. I have been forced to the conclusion that I do not agree with the placement of the Fool before the World at all. In fact I'm going to contradict myself by saying that if I leave the rest of the trumps aside, I prefer the Fool to be aleph, a la Golden Dawn.
But the problem with that is that it is to pay attention to the Fool & ignore that that messes up the rest of the trumps' Hebrew letters. At this point I'm left with two different systems & I frankly don't like either of them, so I'm forced to another conclusion. I would conclude that the tarot trumps were not intended to be aligned with the Hebrew letters as outlined in sepher yetzirah.
Is it possible there is anyone left in the pagan & magical communities that I haven't offended yet? I've just thrown the entire western kabbalistic tradition out of the window for no better reason than that it doesn't suit me! However in all seriousness the dilemma here seems to me insoluble: there are two competing correspondence systems here, I like parts of both but they're incompatible. To attribute Hebrew letters to the trumps you have to fit them together somehow, but it's insoluble.
There is, however, another way. Have I commented here before that tarot began life as a *game*? In fact the decks before the divinatory crowd got hold of the tarot don't give the Fool a number at all. No really. While I'm on the subject of allegory, it must be possible to understand the game allegorically, & I think it's here I've found a solution to my problem. The Fool isn't one of the trumps at all, it's out on its own:
'In addition to the four standard suits there is a extra suit of twenty-one atouts (trumps) numbered from 21 (high) to 1 (low).
'Finally, there is a special card called the excuse, or the fool, marked with a star in the corner.' (http://www.pagat.com/tarot/frtarot.html)
A further clue is given by the way the Fool behaves in the French tarot game described:
'The excuse is an exception to the above rules. If you hold the excuse you may play it to any trick you choose - irrespective of what was led and whether you have that suit or not. With one rare exception [...], the excuse can never win the trick - the trick is won as usual by the highest trump, or in the absence of trumps by the highest card of the suit led.' (Ibid.)
So to allegorise the game, the Fool isn't in a particular place but can actually go everywhere. I think this is what makes me so uncomfortable about placing the Fool somewhere & leaving him there - it just seems so wrong. I like the Air attribution for him because it means he is free to turn up where nobody expects him. He is everywhere, all the time. That's where I like him placed.
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Monday, August 11, 2014

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Spirit of Place: Beorma

I made the mistake of getting on the Outer Circle back to Bearwood from Erdington today. Mistake because I don't follow football, & how was I to know the Villa were playing? I was very good & held myself back from singing 'You're just a busstop in Aston,' something I failed in last time I went to Wolverhampton, where the song in question was 'Your mum is your dad's sister'. Anyway, the thought of football turned my thoughts to tribes, specifically the tribe of Beorma:
'Beorma (/ˈbeɪ.ɔrmə/; Old English:  [ˈbeːo̯rma]) is the name most commonly given to the 7th century Anglo-Saxon founder of the settlement now known as the English city of Birmingham. This assumption is based on the belief that the original settlement was known as Beorma's ham ("the homestead of Beorma") or Beorma -inga -ham ("the homestead of the tribe or people of Beorma").
[...]
'Beorma could have been the founder or ancestor of a tribe, the beormingas, long before its arrival in what was to become Anglo-Saxon Mercia; the ealdorman or head of a tribe or clan of kinsmen who travelled together for the purpose of migration (and who settled in Mercia); or the leader of a (possibly mercenary) group with whom he shared a contractual obligation (the frankpledge) to one of the Mercian kings.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beorma which see for further discussion of the whole Beor- Brom- thing)
The completely hypothetical figure of Beorma has become surprisingly inspirational, with a morris dancing side (http://www.beormamorris.co.uk/), a piece of organ music (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/B002G995HM/ref=redir_mdp_mobile), a bar at the university, and beer (http://www.beowulfbrewery.com/2012/06/beorma.html?m=1) named after him. He has even had a festival held for him at the Library of Birmingham, an interesting reconstruction of something that may or may not have happened:
'Perfectly in keeping with the spirit of discovery, the Outcrowd Collective's work on the lost 'Festival of the Rea' will celebrate Birmingham's origins.
'According to glimpses and impressions gleaned from a unique collection of archives, the Festival was once held at the crossing of the River Rea (now known as Digbeth), the site of the first recorded Anglo-Saxon settlement – the Beormingas clan, from which Birmingham gets its name. Traditions of the festival included presenting offerings to a 'House of Beorma' shrine and costumed deities dancing to ward off evil.' (http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/event/Events/theoutcrowd)
There is even a development next to Digbeth Cold Store just going up, which is named after him.
For someone who may or may not have existed he seems to have a presence. And surely he (or the tribe named after him) would already have felt the spirit of the city which I have previously expressed in a quote from William Hutton:
'Birmingham, like a compassionate nurse, not only draws our persons, but our esteem, from the place of our nativity, and fixes it upon herself: I might add, I was hungry, and she fed me; thirsty, and she gave me drink; a stranger, and she took me in. I approached her with reluctance, because I did not know her; I shall leave her with reluctance, because I do.' (See http://houndofhecate.blogspot.com/2014/05/spirit-of-birmingham-in-william-hutton.html?m=1 for the source of this & similar sentiments in Hutton)
More particularly, Beorma's tribe landing up on the banks of the Rea are the (apparent) start of the welcoming, sheltering, busy Birmingham spirit. For witches he could be invoked as the personification of this spirit - surely many divinities had a more shady start than Beorma did! He could be invoked for protection, essential supplies, work, one hell of a party, & also for the other side of the spirit of the city. I was sitting on another bus this week listening to a German student comparing Brum *very* unfavourably with somewhere else. What a mistake, to sit in the city & be rude about it, because the settlement of Beorma has endless kindness to the poor, the dispossessed, those prepared to see a gift horse for what it is. If you slap Beorma's spirit in the face - well, these people were noble & proud warriors - the spirit of the city will chew you up & spit you out. Perhaps this is why you either love Birmingham or loathe it.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

House Hunting the Weird Way

I wouldn't like to think that only we witches have a monopoly on weird shit. In fact I like to think that weird shit (as opposed to the Law) is for all! It can even extend into all areas of life & lead one to some remarkably sensible decisions.
For a few hours earlier this week I thought I'd found my perfect apartment. Layout, size, even price, all perfect. But then my dad knocked some sense into me, since there was just the slight problem that there is a structural fault with building & the builders have gone out of business. He told me in no uncertain terms that I would be mad to get into that - that even if the problem was remediable there would always be spiralling costs. But Hound, you may say, how did he manage to tell you that, since he died thirty years ago? And that is kind of the purpose of this post, that when you're a witch, or even just weird, you have access to some strange sources of advice.
It also happens that this week was my mother's birthday & it's also approaching the anniversary of his death. It is not susceptible to solid empirical proof, but I just *know* he's still around. It makes me burst into tears when he communicates one of these very characteristic things to me. I don't see or hear anything, but the message comes across with the force of a slap.
These are also occasions for reminiscence. One of the reasons I want to live in the city centre is I felll in love with it as a small child. We would come to the theatre & stay in a hotel (the one that is now Crowne Plaza, although I think it was something else then), & I was fascinated by the way the city just carries on at night. Even as an adult I loved standing on the now-demolished bridge over Suffolk Street Queensway & watching the traffic go underneath me.
Some of the more normal things to be considered in house hunting are of less consequence to a witch. Trouble with the neighbours? - they'll move on quickly, for example. However dad's also talked sense into me in terms of a solid, sensible plan as to where & when to buy. When I panic that I may not be able to afford it he just slaps me with the fact that I'm relatively better off than he ever was.
It's a question of priorities: I damn well will live my dream. I can afford it, & will make sure I can if there's a shortfall. But I'm doing it the right way - by putting the needs of my poor old ginger tom cat (who if ever there was a witch's familiar, he's it) before rushing into my dream, I'm creating what I can only call credit in the universe. I don't know how muggles cope without dead relatives to talk to & the assurance that the universe will look after them!
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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reblog: Royal Life Lessons From A Drag Queen’s Dressing Room by Nicole Denise

Source: http://www.nicoledenise.org/royal-life-lessons-from-a-drag-queens-dressing-room/
I wonder if she realises there's a great magical catchphrase in the middle of this?
Momentarily halt the controversial debates surrounding marriage equality, religious dogma and socially acceptable lifestyles and enter into the drag queen's quarters. Her (makeup) vanity is far deeper than one would think. Among the glitz and glamour, one could glean fundamental proverbs that lead to fulfilling and unapologetic living.
Live Big or Stay Home
The stage presence of a drag queen is intoxicating. She beckons undivided attention. Even the most prude are captivated—watching through parted fingers—when in the presence of royalty. What is that? Why is watching a queen werk so amazing? It's simple. The philosophy of every queen is live big or stay home. There is no other option.
Queens don't cower under spotlight, and they surely don't resist the fanfare of their own presence. Take note, and live as big, loud and spirited as you choose to. Who's gonna stop you? In reality, no one has the power to rain on your life's parade except the self-sabotaging voice that drowns out your passions and true life calling. Ignore that lying twit and locate the most colorful and beautiful expression of yourself and share it with the world. You deserve it and humanity requires your light to rid it of darkness.
Acceptance Is Necessary But Not Required
The life of a drag queen is glamorous and yet shrouded by the darkness of controversy. Why is an existence so stunningly bold, shunned, ridiculed and even hated? It's the sad reality of living in an unconscious society. When one is insecure or uncertain of the treasure encapsulated within, it becomes easier to project negativity onto an individual who has located the gold of his soul. But even in gloomy ugliness, the show must go on!
Remember that acceptance is necessary but not required. This almost oxymoronic phrase is a nugget of wisdom. In order to live a life of liberty, you must live from a place of truth. Fully accept your whole self—flaws and all—and promise that even with all your sh*t, you will show up only as you. No masking or pretense allowed. Once you accept yourself, outsider permission or tolerance is unnecessary. The beautiful thing about showing up fully is that it eventually sets the truth in others free. Proceed in full, yet unrequired acceptance.
Fake It 'Til You Make It
The art of presenting a queen to the world from the perspective (and physicality) of masculinity is quite a feat. It requires the rehearsing, tucking, enhancing and exaggeration of features that are, sometimes, non-existent. But what emerges from this calculated metamorphosis is the real deal.
It's sometimes necessary to enhance and exaggerate areas of life that are certain. It's also okay to tuck those areas from view that require discovery, healing and/or further incubation. This, unlike denial and deception, creates healthy life boundaries. Identify those blemishes and tender spots of your identity and beautify them with truth.
The human is a work in progress being transformed into perfection by the Creator.  As the internal work is completed, live big, accept truth, fake it 'til you make it and WERK!
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Spirit of Place: Bearwood

One of the things I wanted to comment on when I had my difficulty writing about witching in the city recently, was the effect that cities have on the surrounding areas. They both leach off their surroundings but also spread the goodness around in terms of employing people from outside the city, & so on. The voracious appetite of cities, gobbling up the towns & villages nearby into conurbations, makes for an attitude of denial or even resentment in the surrounding areas. For example locally it is joked that Sutton Coldfield doesn't realise it's in Birmingham. Solihull (still a separate borough) put the scuppers on another recent proposal to create a Greater Birmingham. My own mother, three years before it was brought into Birmingham, was born in the suburb of Quinton & so grew up in Birmingham. She is adamant that she's not a Brummie. She's a Brummie, just in denial.
Another place locally that's in the hinterland between Birmingham & somewhere else is Bearwood. I've lived there for 17 years & like it very much, although the plan remains to move into the city, more because of Bearwood's associations for me than because of not liking it. If I should forget myself in this post & comment on how native Bearwoodians are off their heads (whoops, there I go), it is merely out of affection. Some people call Bearwood part of Birmingham - it has a Birmingham post code & Birmingham phone numbers, but the authority you pay your council tax to is - whisper out of embarrassment - Sandwell Council. In the interests of fair comparison, I must mention that Birmingham council has looked fairly ridiculous recently, its childrens' services are a disaster, did they really think they'd get away with unequal pay for women, & why didn't they spot the trojan horse thing happening? On the other hand I'd still rather be in Birmingham than anywhere in Sandwell, or indeed the Black Country. None of my dealings with Sandwell council have inspired confidence, although the bin men have been much better since it went out to private tender. I just don't chime with the spirit of place of the Black Country. Which brings me nicely to the spirit of place of Bearwood, a liminal, magical place if ever there was one.
The reason for that is what is now Bearwood was originally in three counties: the tree marked by a blue plaque on the junction of Three Shires Oak Road was said to have its roots in Staffordshire, Worcestershire & Shropshire. (The history of Bearwood is taken from Mary Bodfish's articles in the Bearwood Gem of August 2011, October 2011, January 2012, & March 2012, in places with my own spin put on it as usual). The division between Wigorn & Salop dates back to William the Conquerer dividing the manor of Halesowen between two of his barons. The first mention of the place as a route is in a grant of land by the Abbot of Halesowen in 1278, which mentions 'the King's high road from Harborne to Smethwick'. The area was an important artery between the parish of Harborne & the developing area of Smethwick. The name 'Bearwood' is first recorded in 1783; it was previously referred to as 'near the sign of The Bear'. Bodfish is confident the public house of the same name gave its name to the area: there has been a pub there for over 300 years, although the present gorgeous building with its terracotta bears only dates from 1907. The oldest building standing in Bearwood is actually the shop on the Bearwood Road next to St Mary's. Earlier depictions of The Bear show a very different Bearwood - hayricks in the field nearby, & Sandon Road was called Bear Lane. The inn has been a real inn for most of its life, & at one point even housed a court house. At the time of writing the scaffolding is up again - it does badly need a thorough going-over above street level, although a 1970s refurb removed the original state of the ground floor. Look up, that's the motto, in architecture as in witchcraft.
But this is a witchcraft blog, so let's make a point of seeing rather than merely looking. The mere fact of it being on a truly ancient crossroads is as redolent of magic as anything could ever be - crossroads symbolise & function metaphysically as places of change & decision. The fact of Bearwood being also in several other places yet not quite of them - including in Sandwell yet appearing to be in Birmingham - is redolent of the circle as a place that is not a place. If the witch is formed by the hedge, Bearwood forms some changeable witches, some changing witches, some changed witches. It can be quite an unstable place, in its underlying spirit. To be born & brought up in this hedge is to be exposed early to many conflicting energies, thus the natives tend to be a bit...eccentric.
Yet the bear thing gives quite a different energy, a strong, protective, defensive energy, that only appears when it is needed. In fact the image - & therefore evocation of the spirit of - the bear is literally everywhere in Bearwood. And I don't just mean a big hairy man, well perhaps I do, oh bugger, I've gone native.
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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Back to School with the Tarot

One of the greatest misunderstandings in the occult publishing world (I'm not going so far as to say it's a deliberate fraud) is the publication of books with titles such as 'Everything you always wanted to know about the tarot but were afraid to ask, 36th enlarged edition'. The reason this is a misunderstanding is that it shows the authors or publishers are missing something crucial, & by releasing such books may also lead their readers into missing something crucial.
The simple fact is that like all good occult tools, you never learn everything there is to know about it. Never. In fact I think this realisation is one of the reasons a belief in reincarnation is so widespread in occultism - we realise that the extent of what is out there goes way beyond the limits of one lifetime. In fact the tarot alone could still produce surprises after a lifetime of learning it, even without all the other sources of knowledge out there.
I think we come to learn our tools - or perhaps come to learn our teachers - from where we are at the time. For example the first tarot card that had a major personal import for me was the Hanged Man, for the reason that it kept coming up at a traumatic time of my life, when my life was fairly turned 'upside down'.
There are also so many different ways to learn the tarot, even they can't be exhausted in a lifetime. Telling stories, reading books, comparative magical models, daily draw, meditation, & so on, are all ways that are quick to say, but that when carried out carefull, take many years.
Another stumbling block in learning to read the tarot is that people learn to read the tarot. Even a knowledge of all the inner hidden meanings given to the cards in various magical systems can be a distraction from the point. That is that the magical art of divination is a way to see the stuff that's not visible: it aims to train the inner eye to see other levels of existence. For example, you know this is happening when you see something in a reading that is *not* indicated by the card. I get this most with the Morgan-Greer deck: I think because that is the deck I learned with & so have the most 'contact' with.
My only other personal advice in learning tarot is: get in among the cards & don't treat them like holy relics. You are guaranteed to have no use for a deck wrapped up in silk at home on your dressing table, but a deck in your bag will get much more use & become a friend. You *must* handle the cards: this is a witchcraft blog & so here is a witch's secret for learning the tarot. Merely by touching the cards you establish a connection with them & they will become friends.
Another thing I do that some people would be horrified at is to write on the cards. When I see a worn-out Marseille deck in a charity shop with some very old-school fortune-telling meanings written on them I know that it belonged to someone who really got intimate with their deck. Remember a major exercise in the tarot world is the BOTA tradition of colouring in your deck. The Golden Dawn had their initiates draw their own deck from the instructions in Book T: imagine the power of that, learning the depth of meaning of the symbols you yourself drew years before! Perhaps one of the reasons there is a great tradition of treated tarot decks as something so sacred they can hardly be touched, is that relatively recently they were terribly difficult to get hold of in English-speaking countries. I suspect that in France & Italy, where the tradition of playing the game survives, they would be treated differently, even by magical people. However the simple fact is that this is 2014, not 1910, & if I want a new deck I can buy one inexpensively.
I personally am on my second Morgan-Greer deck. What that first one went through! It looked like a proper antique deck after being laid out on buses, in the woods, in pubs. I wrote on them, told stories with them. I don't feel a sense of disconnection with my second deck, though; it seems to be Morgan-Greer I've connected with. I've written on these as well. One of the things I like to do is go back to school now & then & learn tarot with a different 'teacher'. So on the fronts these have Etteilla's keywords (obviously adapted to a slightly different deck). On the back I wrote the Golden Dawn titles, which I've always wanted to learn, plus their keywords & meanings of combinations. Now you may say that this is the equivalent of a bike with stabilisers. I don't care. And here's for why. I know that when I read I'm not really reading the cards at all & that the querent will be struck by how much I know about them. And this will not be visible in my scrawlings at all. So I needn't be ashamed of having a deck with stabilisers.
This week I've gone back to school again (more scrawls, there isn't room for more now), this time in the class of Waite himself. I think I'm probably now more prepared to sit with the attitude so many occultists take - I'll tell you this much, & there's some great secret & you'll have to find that out for yourself. Rather than being irritated by this, I think I'm more prepared to see the huge world of nuance behind the tarot that he can only drop hints about. Where he's wrong, in my humble opinion, is to say that other interpretations are definitely wrong. They seem more often to have part of the picture, or be getting at what Waite is saying from a different side.
The major benefit I find from going through these different approaches is that I can wallow in the approach of one time for a bit, & then compare it with others. For example a dominant approach nowadays is to consider what the querent sees in the card. This approach feels quite different from that of Eteilla, whose approach is redolent of fortune-telling in a French petit-bourgeois drawing room. The Golden Dawn's approach always surprises me by how close it is to conventional fortune-telling, while not neglecting the great void of the esoteric meanings of the tarot.
Where does this leave me? Like the physical training I wrote about in my last post, it makes one more flexible & therefore able to see as well as look at things. And that's the point.
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Unspirituality: The School of Witchcraft

'Diana said one day to her daughter Aradia:
"It is true that you are a spirit. But you were born to be yet again a mortal; and you must go on earth & you must become a teacher to women & men who will have willingness to learn your schooling, which will be composed of witchcraft.' (Aradia 1: 1-7, Pazzaglini translation)
I have recently got back into exercising (after hurting my arm, then my knee, then getting verrucas, derp). I'm not starting from a complete standing start as I was before - I have the remains of the muscle I built until I stopped - & after only a few weeks am feeling taller, firmer, better balanced, & more focused. Of course the last one & its relationship to the others is the real purpose of this post.
I wonder how many gym-goers realise the word's ancient, intellectual, & respectably Pagan origins:
'The gymnasium in Ancient Greece functioned as a training facility for competitors in public games. It was also a place for socializing and engaging in intellectual pursuits. The name comes from the Ancient Greek term gymnós meaning "naked". Athletes competed nude, a practice said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body and a tribute to the gods. Gymnasia and palestrae (wrestling schools) were under the protection and patronage of Heracles, Hermes and, in Athens, Theseus.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnasium_(ancient_Greece))
Tell a lie, some do, & of course it's at this point we begin to recognise ourselves in real witchcraft territory:
'If you dig a little deeper into the word, you find the root word 'gymnos,' meaning 'naked.' Ancient Greek and Olympic athletes exercised, trained, and competed in the nude in order to honor the gods by imitating them (it is, as you know, the sincerest form of flattery). In fact, getting buff in the buff was so beloved that a 6th century attempt to introduce loincloths to athletes was vehemently resisted!' (http://blog.zocdoc.com/the-weird-ancient-history-of-the-word-gymnasium/)
In fact, simply the combination of nude honour of the gods, intellectual pursuits, & developing the concentration necessary to work on the health of the body...hmmm, let's see if it's in a book with a crescent moon on the spine! In fact it's interesting how the word has remained somewhat closer to its ancient origin in English, than its use for a school in some European language.
Because that is actually what a gym is - a school. For example, on Friday I woke up having barely slept because it was so hot. I was in work at 7 & was booked in for an appraisal with my manager (major advantage to being a witch - you can tell what your manager's going to bring up in your appraisal & can spike her guns). I got home knackered, thinking that I couldn't face working out. But I slept for about an hour, & realised I had to do it to keep on track. I actually felt better after exercising than after sleeping. It's something to do with the hormones I think. Some exercises actually feel meditative, & the funny thing is after an hour of exercising I feel the way I do after an incense stick-worth of meditating. I suppose it ought to be better because of the physical health aspects.
The point of the Aradia quote is for me to make a point by deliberately misreading it. Aradia's human embodiment was fated for her & was what enabled her to school the poor in witchcraft. Similarly, if we are looking for true schooling in witchcraft we won't avoid the physical side of it. I'm not implying the Pagan community are big or anything, but...
To my great satisfaction I've found some still-existing parallels of the gym thing, or rather settings where the whole person is not neglected. I'm delighted to find that the same word is used in India for both wrestling schools & some monasteries (one forms the illustration to this post. Picture credit: http://kushtiwrestling.blogspot.com and get the Gods along the wall!):
'Akhara (sometimes romanized as "akhada") is a Sanskrit word denoting a place of practice with facilities for board, lodging and education for a particular sect or order.[1] It can either refer to a training hall used by martial artists or a monastery for religious renunciates.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhara)
In fact I'm beginning to think I would personally prioritise 'physical' training over 'mental' or 'spiritual' training - I'm coming to think it is the one of the three that has the most effect on the others. When I was student I met a man who had just left an Anglican religious order, who joked with one of his housemates who was sporty, that he was only interested in spiritual fitness. What was wrong with this picture was that he was grossly obese & could hardly move, so how he could expect himself to be 'fit' in any way, or even able to concentrate, I don't know. Similarly a nun once told me that monasteries of men that don't have manual labour tend to get very petty & queeny - this was certainly the experience I had, & I do feel that physical exertion can give a new level of proportion.
Of course the other example of physical training & meditation combined is the dojo:
'A dojo (道場 dōjō) is a Japanese term which literally means "place of the way". Initially, dōjōs were adjunct to temples. The term can refer to a formal training place for any of the Japanese do arts but typically it is considered the formal gathering place for students of any Japanese martial arts style such as karate, judo, or samurai, to conduct training, examinations and other related encounters.
'The concept of a dōjō as a training place specifically for martial arts is a Western concept; in Japan, any physical training facility, including professional wrestling schools, may be called dōjō because of its close martial arts roots.
[...]
'The term dōjō is also used to describe the meditation halls where Zen Buddhists practice zazen meditation. It is sometimes used instead of the term "zendo" which is more specific, and more widely used.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dojo)
Now, while I'm obviously going to have to face the fact that Aradia doesn't seem to have been running a gym, I can take refuge in the fact that she gave her followers things to do. At no point is sitting in the back room of the local metaphysical shop, listening to a lecture, mentioned. She taught her followers how to do things. And then the specific ways she tells them to hold their meetings are all things to do - how to hold the supper, etc.
On the other hand, it may just be that I'm writing this post to assuage my own [Catholic] guilt at the fact that I am the world's least disciplined witch, have always gone for 'spiritual' exercises on the hop, & have completely failed to establish a daily 'spiritual routine', which all the books tell me is a must. On the other hand I'm one mean psychic & witch, who pays very close attention when I've a mind to! I suppose that's what I'm hoping to do by my commitment to exercise - a honing to razor-sharpness of my concentration & the fruits of meditation. Just, as usual, in a completely unspiritual way!
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