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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