Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Weird Shit: Tarot and Jacob Zuma's Lavatory

Normally I am unable to make that much of a connection between my periodic Weird Shit-themed posts, and the urban hedge witchcraft which is the main subject of this blog, in fact I have sometimes wondered whether my motivation in writing those posts is just to prove to myself that there are still weirder people than myself out there, but this one is a gift. In fact it's mainly a gift to demonstrate my own rather idiosyncratic way of reading the tarot.
I was astonished at the reaction the picture of Jacob Zuma's lavatory at his official (and hugely controversial) residence at Nkandla, had on me. This is actually the first time that some visual thing has caused immediate tarot references for me, which is an effect I have only read about. Leaving aside the most obvious impression from his 'throne', that the man has absolutely no taste, it is interesting to wonder whether tarot cards could conceivably be in the either his mind or the mind of the person who designed it. Wouldn't it be good if he read this and discovered the tarot energies he has accessed through his lavatory?
It most reminds me of the Emperor, King of Pentacles, and King of Cups. Naturally what they have in common is power and authority. Zuma's reputation would probably place him closest either to the energies of the Emperor or King of Pentacles, in terms of sheer worldly opulence and his 'foursquare' insistence on his own way. Yet his regime – notorious for corruption and cronyism - is so wrong for these cards, that I am reluctantly obliged to think of them as reversed. Opulence becomes grasping, and solidity becomes pig-headedness.
In appearance, his throne actually makes me think of the element of water, unsurprisingly, because of the tiles of which it is made. Yet the animals on his arm rests, which appear to me to be lions, I suppose would normally be associated with the element of fire, which would suggest that not only is the power symbology of the throne destroyed by the fact that he uses it to defecate, but also in referencing the contrary elements of fire and water he effectively cancels out the power of either. I think I can diagnose a very bad case of flatulence in Nkandla and the ANC!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Discerning the Effects of Magic

I had some very good news this morning, which I'm going to post here since I realise I am a bit slow to post the results of magic. I am also aware that the simple fact is that the witch will often never know the results of her magic, and my magic on Laurence Soper is an example of this.
Scoffers will use the apparent lack of evidence for results of magic as the proof that it isn't real. And it is interesting how often the results of magic actually occur before the magic – naturally without the practitioner knowing, and I give this merely as an example of how the universe doesn't work quite the way we would like it to.
And here's the point: the result is never the ultimate point of magic. I was actually thinking of the ultimate point of magic on the bus on the way to work this morning, and whittled it down to two things: the union of all things, and the correct placement of the magical practitioner within all things. The intention of a single spell is neither here nor there in this greater plan.
Nonetheless it does happen and I was very gratified to discover that my Boss Curse has had further effects (the illustration to this post isn't a completely gratuitous picture of a bit of rough, but I am the Hound of Hecate and it bears a relationship to what has happened to the boss!). Similarly the man I have had a thing for has decided to stop messing about and realise I'm the best offer he's going to get. And here's the way I know that this is the result of magic (not direct magic on him, I should say, but two people moving in a direction that would bring them together): something has changed in me. And what has changed in me is that I have realised that my great insecurity in relationships is inherited from my mother and was always manifested in the suffocating impossibility of ever having enough room from her. She phrased it as wondering if I was OK, but actually it was making her OK. Like a flash, I have realised that I have to trust this man, and I have to know that it's going to be OK, without me having to do anything. Of course I'll still have to work on getting him to accept the way I always will idolise him, but the point here is that I know this is magic because I have changed, and moved towards being in my right place in the universe. And as we know, the practitioner is always in some way the object of magic.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Activity and Passivity with Specific Reference to Ageing

I posted recently about my changing reading habits, and of course one of the ways they have changed over my lifetime is that there is now a whole 'library' of stuff on the internet to read. This has both the advantage and the disadvantage that anybody can publish anything – rather than the accolade of getting an actual publisher to publish your stuff – and this blog is actually an example of that phenomenon. I worry sometimes how I come across in this blog – a touchy queen, an absolute bitch or just a nasty piece of work – and this worry has actually been intensified recently by my reading through a blog by a woman who is a male to female transsexual.
I'm not going to reference which blog it is – I've decided it wouldn't be fair because I'm going to take a single recurring thought out of context and chew it over. However this blog has reminded me how much sheer labour it is to transition from one gender to the other. This person has been blogging over the period of her actual transition, even publishing expenses and intimate details of what she actually has to do. She manages the ultimate feat in blogging, actually, because you might think that writing about those sorts of things would be way too much information, but she manages to write about it in a way that doesn't revolt or give the impression of overexposure. She doesn't know who she is, but the blessing of the witch is upon her.
Anyway, the single thought that I want to pick up and run with is related to the fact that she is around twenty years older than me, already retired when she began her transition, and naturally for her age, thinking about what her old age will be like. She is therefore at a different stage of life from me; most people my age are pondering the unlikelihood of them ever being able to retire without starving or freezing to death on any pension they get. And this difference of life stage may be reflected in how she talks about extreme old age.
In one post she described seeing two different very elderly relatives, one living in her own home and the other in a home, and described the difference between them. She felt the one in a home was reduced to passivity as a result of being looked after, whereas she felt the other one continued to be actively involved in the running of her own life and running of a house. Where I may be being unfair is that I want to connect that passage to a passage she wrote at quite a distance of time where she describes the ability of old age to rob you – rob is the actual word she uses – of agency over your own life. She describes how it makes doing things impossible, and clearly feels a fear that she will ever get to the stage she describes, where she would feel she lacked a sense of agency over her own life.
One of the things I have had a realise in my recent dealings was the extent to which I have spent my adult life deliberately aiming to live purposely, and honing my will to make things happen, and the simple fact that not everybody does that. I swear I was an old-fashioned Quaker in a previous incarnation, because the level of plainness in my life has to be seen to be believed: plain living, dressing, eating, and plain speaking to the point of rudeness. Where this fear of geriatric apathy strikes me in this woman's writing, is that to my mind she has performed almost the ultimate magical act – by transitioning from one gender to another she has completely changed her persona in accordance with her will, and I am surprised that she is not necessarily able to harness this sense of magic and transfer it elsewhere in her life. However, as I say I'm referring to two ruminative blog posts some time apart and she may not always think like that.
This matter of accepting help is always a difficult one, particularly in extreme old age, because it gets mixed up with the fight or flight reaction. If you feel as if the power to make decisions for yourself is being stolen by a process over which you have no control, you tend to end up hitting out at the wrong thing. This is partly what happened with my own mother, she pushed me away with all the strength she had left, while determinedly taking herself down a road she consistently told me she didn't want me to let her go down. And this situation will be familiar to anyone who has had any dealings with older people's stubbornness and contrariness.
The connection with witchcraft is perhaps not apparent, but it is there, in honing the will and not allowing uncontrollable processes to take your attention from it. Any witch worth her salt will of course make allowances for variables including those considered unexpected by others – perhaps it's an INFJ thing, but I expect the witch to have fewer surprises in life than other people, as a result of looking around and considering everything involved in a situation. This involves making a conscious decision – and in the face of the old person's fear of 'being taken away', consciously thinking about it may result in the witch accepting the need to be cared for. I have used examples in this blog before of such things as volitionally caring for, say, diabetes, in such a way that you will optimise your chances of being able to see for life, for example. Similarly, nobody in their right mind who had broken a leg would refuse the use of crutches for fear of a loss of independence. The keys to this one seem to be facing the situation square on, and adapting to whatever the situation is.
Ironically, this isn't that far removed from what the World Health Organisation has to say about active ageing – I wonder if they realise they have an uneasy bedfellow in modern witchcraft?

'Active ageing is the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age. It applies to both individuals and population groups.
'Active ageing allows people to realize their potential for physical, social, and mental well-being throughout the life course and to participate in society, while providing them with adequate protection, security and care when they need.
'The word "active" refers to continuing participation in social, economic, cultural, spiritual and civic affairs, not just the ability to be physically active or to participate in the labour force. Older people who retire from work, ill or live with disabilities can remain active contributors to their families, peers, communities and nations. Active ageing aims to extend healthy life expectancy and quality of life for all people as they age.
'"Health" refers to physical, mental and social well being as expressed in the WHO definition of health. Maintaining autonomy and independence for the older people is a key goal in the policy framework for active ageing.' (http://www.who.int/ageing/active_ageing/en/)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Spirit of Place: A Moat in Birmingham?

Many of the bus routes from the south of the city decant on Moat Lane by St Martin's church, the perfect stop if you're going to the various markets. The name may seem strange, since Brum isn't the obvious place to find a moat, but of course it refers to the moat of the original manor house of the de Bermingham family, & true to form this has provided me with one of those little puzzles which then fall together nicely.
I love the modern slang use of manor to indicate your patch or area where you hold authority, a use it is given by both police & criminals, & ironically very close to the original meaning of the word. The site of the manor is variously given as on the current wholesale markets site or the Moat Lane car park site. The first picture shows the manor with its moat on the 1731 map of the city (assuming the pictures come out in order). The strange thing was that I couldn't find a picture of the manor anywhere online, & eventually found one in the book referenced below.
The manor was demolished & the moat filled in in 1815, & the then Smithfield market was built on the site. The succeeding pictures are two views of Moat Lane looking increasingly recognisable as today's view, & of a commemorative plaque on the previous fish market. Next comes a scanned newspaper cutting of the cleared site in 1973, in preparation for the building of the wholesale market. I have read that stones were removed from the site to Weoley Castle, which were thought either to be from the manor itself or the retaining wall of the moat, but no archaeological investigation was done. Finally, a picture of the market presently on the site, itself mooted for redevelopment in the near future.

Simon Buteux: Beneath the Bull Ring. Brewin Books, Studley, 2003.)

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Books in my Bathroom

I have recently finished decorating my bathroom. It is now fit to be seen in public, and the completion of a little plumbing that needed doing has meant I have been able to replace the shelf you see in the picture, and thus have somewhere to put the books that are on it. For some weeks they have been in a heap in my wardrobe. Yes, I know it's such a bloke thing to read on the loo; although I get the impression that women do as well, they just won't admit it and certainly wouldn't go as far as keeping books in the bathroom. This post was actually prompted by a recent Tumblr thing of people posting ten books which had stayed with them, and this is the Hound's version – you will notice the complete absence of classics.
In my own case, the bathroom is more or less the only place I read nowadays. I was a very bookish child, and up to about five years ago I was a voracious reader – until I sold them or gave them away, realising that I will never read to the extent I used to, my house was full of shelves of books. The event that stopped me five years ago was that I was diagnosed with glaucoma – probably misdiagnosed in reality, since my present diagnosis is ocular hypertension. I will be on medication for this for the rest of my life, but when first diagnosed I was on latanoprost drops, which both damaged the surface of my eye, and so irritated my eyes that I was dying most days to tear my eyes out of my head. The movement left to right necessitated by reading was particularly painful, and so I rather got out of reading. Fortunately I was able to move on to another long-term interest, cult TV shows, a witchly example for me of adapting to circumstances and making life liveable. These circumstances combined with my problem with depression and accompanying problems with concentration, mean I have read very few books in those years. Certainly not novels – find I can no longer keep on with them, although in the past few years I have re-read novels by Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin, Jasper Fforde, and Terry Pratchett, when the mood has taken me.
These also tend to be in electronic form by and large, so that my one remaining bookcase is mostly populated by box sets of DVDs these days. The books I keep are usually books which are of some personal significance. I have a number of what I would consider the better books about magic, which would be expensive to buy again or difficult to find in libraries. These are mainly ones which have been personally influential to me: Laurie Cabot's Power of the Witch, which was the first book I read in my first foray into practical witchcraft; Phyllis Curott's Witch Crafting, Kaldera and Schwartzstein's Urban Primitive, Budapest's Holy Book of Women's Mysteries. I also keep some of the magical classics at hand for reference: Crowley's Magick, Regardie's The Golden Dawn, Aradia, and so on.
I have chosen to depict the books in the bathroom because they are books I dip into, or (I will admit it) books I either really want to read or about subjects I want to get my head round. Leaving these books by the bedside simply does not make me pick them up and read them. I will just enlarge upon a view of them.
Beneath the Bull Ring is a fairly academic tome about excavations of three sites during the redevelopment of the Bull Ring. In my impatient way I am tending to fast forward to the conclusions in each section, but this book is a major reminder that I am living a stone's throw from the site of the manor of the de Bermingham family (covered now by the wholesale market). Some of their tombs remain in St Martin's, should you want to see them. I have discovered that the clue to approaching history for me is to get the feel of it – I am approaching this book as a series of snapshots of different times in the city's history, so that I can walk around the city getting the feeling of those times and visualising what the city would have been like then.
The Palmistry Bible is there because I'm going to learn the theory of palmistry if it kills me, but I'm having real difficulties getting it to stick. This has been very much my experience when I have tried to learn Greek, that it just doesn't take. Latin is always like coming home, as is the theory of the tarot. Hmmm… I wonder what this says about me.
The rest are mainly 'light' books, perfect to dip into on the loo, but there is also Heavy Words Lightly Thrown, about the real meaning of many nursery rhymes, and the book you can't quite see is a book of old photographs of Digbeth, Highgate, and Deritend.
The book called Apartheid – The Lighter Side, was a supposedly funny book published about apartheid in the 1980s. Nowadays the only things which make you laugh are how truly ridiculous the example adduced therein (see, I've read books) really are. It gives the example of a woman who was legally three different ethnic groups in a year, the wonderful one of a bus where the seats were divided differently according to which part of the route it was on and the conductor had to change the apartheid signs accordingly, and the twenty page South African Railways instructions for making a sandwich.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Spirit of Place: Another altered sign & 'Rentboys' Corner'

I was ashamed, after my last post on altered street names, to find on Flickr that another street name, which is both near two of the previous ones & near my broom parking, is fairly routinely altered. I'm also ashamed to say I've never seen it altered to Bent St, & in fact made a point of wandering up & down it today, only to find all the signs say Kent St. I particularly like the older-style one, with another little sign added underneath for the addition of a new-fangled postcode.
Kent St is probably best known for being the site of the original municipal baths - I mean of the sort where you would actually go for a bath & would take your washing there too. In more recent days it forms part of the gay 'village', although I would venture to comment that the alteration doesn't compare to (C)anal St in Manchester.
It has also been host to the famous (at least in gay circles) Rentboys' Corner, which the internet has sadly left abandoned. That said, imagine my joy, when looking online for reminiscences of the corner, to find the escort whose picture adorns this post. It was taken in the courtyard of the building I live in!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Keith Haring's Once Upon A Time

Some readers may remember a UK poster shop called Athena. To anyone around in the 80s & early 90s it was enormously formative on our visual taste, including many of its works being considered quite controversial at the time. This was merely the preamble to my comment here, that heterocentric norms predominated then, as now. Keith Haring was one of the artists I remember as emblematic of 1980s art, but it is only now I have discovered his gorgeous mural in the gents' at the New York LGBT Centre. I certainly didn't realize he died of AIDS complications, I didn't even realize he was gay! This is art, kids, but not as the establishment would have it. It both comes from another place & takes us there.
'Haring's diagnosis was never a secret; it was public knowledge and an accepted part of his persona in the media. Those publicly shared thoughts were reflected, often with more depth, in his work. Despite all the fear that led up to diagnosis, in some ways Haring found his impending death liberating. It pushed him to produce more work as quickly as possible. In a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Haring stated, "That's the point that I am at now, not knowing where it stops but knowing how important it is to do it now. The whole thing is getting more articulate. In a way it's really liberating."[16] Critics have recognized this about Haring's works – particularly his later works – as well. "Haring's way of living life – liberated and with death in mind at a young age – allowed him to pull himself away from his diagnosis," Blinderman writes. "A year after his original diagnosis he was producing radiant paintings of birth and life." The introduction to the compilation of Haring's journals sings the same song: "Haring accepts his death. For in his art he found the key to transform desire, the force that killed him, into a flowering elegance that will live beyond his time."' Source

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Avoiding Routine

Throughout the experiences which have left me where I am now, I have always accepted the need for routine and discipline. This is a major theme in 'spiritual' traditions of all sorts, and now strikes me as being unbelievably dreary. It is also one which has somehow made its way into the modern witchcraft and pagan milieu. So many of the books advise one to develop a daily practice, one which will become routine by means of discipline. Do the majority of people stick to their spiritual disciplines? No, they don't. In fact people don't stick to 'spiritual' disciplines to such an extent that some religions actually cultivate a sort of elite of spiritual practitioners, whose expertise is assured by their disciplined sticking to their routines. Sometimes this is even called a 'rule of life'. It is not for nothing that the concept of asceticism was born in a Greek gym, and also not for nothing that Christian monasticism arose after the state sanctioning of the religion, prior to which a career in the church had been a simple question of martyrdom.
But here's the contradiction in this: ascetics of all religions will say that they have to belong to these structures of discipline because they couldn't do it on their own. And this is also where my major problem with this starts, that it brings in a question of authority and motivation. At its lowest level discipline implies some sort of authoritative imposition of rules by another: do this because I say so. This takes us straight back to school. On a more exalted level it implies discipline by means of self-imposed commitment to a course of action, which may be helped by other people or by whatever motivation we have.
There is an undercurrent running through the whole history of the modern witchcraft movement, of turning things on their heads. The example I like is undressing for church, for example. So in line with this tradition, what happens if we turn the concept of 'spiritual discipline' on its head? I think we end up with 'embodied inspiration'. When I look at the experiences which have been most formative to me as a witch, I find that not one of them has been planned. They have all been accidental, often hateful. No amount of ritual, routine, discipline, could have made me a witch. I'm really exploring my way towards a concept here, but I would therefore like to think that (this will sound rather Zen) if I just Be, everything that I need can be found in the Hedge. I wouldn't want this to sound too passive, so perhaps I'd better include ideas of exploration and response to life event.
I suppose the key word is embodiment. I don't want to live in a world from which divinity is absent. In fact I believe that I am my Goddess's priest, and hands in this world. It would therefore be a slap in the face to Goddess to make out that my witchcraft can only be accomplished by my own discipline, routine, ascesis, whatever.
That said, if I had to talk about disciplines for the witch, I would have to talk about values. Dealing with integrity. Being prepared to be surprised at all times. Being open to whatever I find in my Hedge. I'll grant you that these things would require a certain clarity of mind, but I would rather go for a walk and see what happens than get into a ritual. If I'm finding my head a bit crowded I will meditate for a while, but even then that can often take place on a bus or in a crowd.
But the greatest discipline, given the tradition of turning normal society on its head, would be the avoidance of routines and rituals. I merely throw this out there – if getting into routines is a 'spiritual' discipline, then a major 'unspiritual' discipline would be the avoidance of those routines as limiting and closing up the opportunities the universe has for me.