Monday, December 26, 2016

Porn

Physique Pictorial: a classic
(You wouldn't believe the trouble this post has given me in the writing, so here is redaction 34.3.7 of this post and don't be surprised if it lacks a certain finesse).
Rather than introduce you to my aunt, one of the more psychopathic members of my dysfunctional family, I am instead going to come clean and write about my use of porn.
This post was inspired by a comment on Inexplicable Device's blog which referred to buying a wank mag (Here). This chimed with the way I have been reflecting recently that in reality the 'respectable' face of controlled sexuality in our society is undergirded by a burgeoning sex industry which suggests that the respectable face of sex is not all there is to it. The fact that the police found an 'incredible' 999 men visiting the Libra brothel in a week (Source) in their sting operation suggests that actually the less respectable face of the world of sex may be very common.
And so it is with porn. I was brought up in a milieu which disapproved of porn. Of course orthodox Catholic teaching still disapproves of both porn and masturbation - of course they also disapprove of contraception but they are fighting a losing battle on all these fronts even among their own followers.
Because you see the thing is I love masturbating with porn.
There, said it. It's out there in the real world. The fact that that is also true of loads of other men is neither here nor there, because it's not really ever talked of publicly. It is one of those things which tends to be kept for when you get a lot of men together without women or is talked about anonymously.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Toxic Mothers Again

We are leaving the historic festival of darkness and approaching the festival of motherhood with which the Christians replaced it to entertain the plebs, and so the Hound has his usual jaundiced reflections on motherhood to offer.
A neighbour of ours from years ago (I haven't seen her or lived next to her for more than twenty-five years) took it upon herself to write to me (she got my address off a card I sent my mother) to interfere in the incredibly complicated train crash which is my relationship with my mother. I rang her and told her in no uncertain terms that she could butt out. You just don't get involved in other people's family arguments. This has caused me to reflect again about this whole thing, and to offer some more reflections for those who suffer from toxic parents.
You do not have to justify preserving your own sanity. This may seem very basic, but the thing is that people do expect you to justify it. To my mind, even to explain the decisions you make as self-preservation is a waste of time, since society's expectation is that you will play happy families with your parents, and no amount of rationalisation will make people understand that your relationship with your parents is permanently fucked.
You are an adult. Your life cannot be determined, beyond what you agree to, by the demands of your parents. You will come under pressure (or the emotional blackmail of sympathy, illness, sentiment, or old age) to let your parents take up a disproportionate portion of your life. This to me is actually the defining factor of a toxic family, that rational negotiation cannot happen or appears to happen and is then reneged on.
Your parents are adults. This may seem very basic, but some parents create a dynamic where their children are expected to act in a more parental role. You are under no obligation to do this.
Behaviour patterns set over decades are difficult or impossible to change. There is therefore no point hoping that anything is going to get better or even markedly different. Nor is there any hope in the philosophy that you may be helped by changing your own way of thinking, when you are dealing with a parent who does not respect your boundaries.
The ageing self-absorbed and manipulative parent will use their old age as a major tool to manipulate you. This is probably the most counter-cultural thing I have to say here, but the reality is that some old people behave incredibly badly and are perfect devils. The fact that the parent has illness or disability is of course a cause for concern, but the toxic parent will either use this to make you look bad, to draw you in, to emotionally blackmail you.
You will always 'lose' in some way with a toxic parent. Since the key defining feature of a toxic parent is that you cannot negotiate a mutually agreeable modus vivandi with them, it is therefore essential to understand that in your parent's eyes you have to lose. If anyone reading this thinks 'Surely not,' then consider yourself lucky not to have a toxic parent. Ignore them, or have them walk all over you, whatever you do for your parent, you will be the loser.
You will always look bad. Again, the odds are completely stacked against you, so that whatever you do the toxic parent will make damn sure everyone knows that you are a neglectful child, selfish, and so on.
You will be forced to take action to look after yourself, and that action in itself will cause further guilt and make you the 'loser'. At this point your actions will be in some way forced by your impossible parent and the need to preserve yourself, but whatever you do will still be 'wrong' in some way. Remember with a toxic parent there is no way you can ever come to a mutual agreement, and so whatever you do is wrong.
I am writing these things down, because I know that there are other people in the world in the same situation with their parents that I am in, and I also know that the people who will say these things are few and far between. In our world, your 'family' is expected to be your bedrock of security. There is now a greater recognition of unconventional families, but it remains unacceptable to be out of kilter with your birth family. I hope that anyone coming across this on the internet will know that they are not the only people who have these experiences and will feel validated.
My wish for all who read this is a willed and ecstatic new year, with adult relationships built on mutual respect and leaving the need to look backwards.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Spirit of Place: The Bull Ring in the 1960s


What a sense of sadness is brought to my mind by this film! I love the way the brand new 1960s Bull Ring is described so enthusiastically: it is a reminder that we can forget previous generations' aspirations at our peril. It is also a reminder that 1960s Birmingham was once brand new and squeaky clean.
Oh, I went into the pub shown on the film once. More than that I'm not saying.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Spirit of Place: A Brummy Ghost Story

My reduced posting here has been because of the amount of energy taken up by my new job. So in a seasonal spirit is a brief ghost story about the room which illustrates this post.
The room in question is in Birmingham Council House and is the office of the Lord Mayor. It is a naturally a frequent occurrence for Council House workers to enter the room and find the mayor sitting behind the desk. What makes this a ghost story is that there are repeated tales of them finding Joseph Chamberlain (died 1915) sitting in the mayoral desk chair!
In fact that is a busy corner of the city for ghosts. In addition to the workmen killed in an industrial accent and Charles Dickens, who haunt the Town Hall, visible through the mayor's window, there are rumours of a new ghost. It is that of a man in a 1960s-style suit, holding a plan, and looking around in a puzzled way for his library.
If I don't get to post again this week, a happy Winterval to all my readers!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Tarot: 2, 3, 5, and 7 of Swords, Their Relationship and Some Events

Previously on Hound of Hecate...
I have been reading tarot cards for years and years, but since the events of the past year in which I stood up for what was right with my last employers, I have experienced a different experience of tarot. I believe this to happen when the witch reaches one of those decisive points where you either go through with something difficult or you go back to your comfort zone. The payoff is that the tarot has started acting towards me in a way it never has before. My understanding of the cards is developing in ways you will never read in any of the text books, and while I would dearly love to have my name on a text book, my own style and natural approach to writing are better suited to this blog format than to the prolonged, orderly writing a book would require.
My day-to-day deck at the moment is the Aquarian Tarot, which is a deck I have reviewed here and love dearly. While it is broadly in the Rider Waite tradition, it does alter the images slightly, so that if you are used to reading with an actual Rider Waite deck, with reference to all the details, it can feel as if too much is missed off in the Aquarian Tarot. Lately I have had that experience by comparing one of my current 'stalker cards' with Pamela's version. I say one of my stalker cards, I have actually been stalked at length for the past few months by the numbered Swords cards, which I would naturally interpret as meaning that the deck is trying to say something to me related to these cards. It has also made me reflect on the relationship as I see it between these four cards, which perhaps I should say is a relationship you only really see in the RWS-based decks, because of the nature of Pamela Colman Smith's illustrations. So perhaps I had better deal with these cards one at a time in an orderly manner and let the relationships fall into place.

Two of Swords

I shall begin by quoting Waite verbatim, because, frankly, his approach to this card is one you will commonly find underpinning people's understanding of it, but is one which personally I would want to avoid:
'A hoodwinked female figure balances two swords upon her shoulders. Divinatory Meanings: Conformity and the equipoise which it suggests, courage, friendship, concord in a state of arms; another reading gives tenderness, affection, intimacy. The suggestion of harmony and other favourable readings must be considered in a qualified manner, as Swords generally are not symbolical of beneficent forces in human affairs. Reversed: Imposture, falsehood, duplicity, disloyalty.' Source
The Masonically-minded among my readers will recognise a phrase often used by Masons to refer to a particular piece of ritual paraphernalia, and in fact a word which must be rarely if ever used outside of a Masonic context:
Freemasonry is not the originator of the hoodwink.
Religious rites and initiations of civilizations and tribes dating back centuries before the believed or known origins of Freemasonry used blindfolds to represent going from darkness (ignorance) to light (knowledge).
Hood:  The word, “hood,” in old German and Anglo Saxon refers to a head covering, as in a hat, or helmet.  A hood might also be of cloth. To "hood" is to cover.  Hooded garments have been worn throughout history.
Wink:  The word, “wink,” in old German and Anglo Saxon refers to a closing of the eyes.  The word, “wince,” , is similarly derived from the word "wink".  The word "wink" pertains to the eye.
Therefore, a hood (to cover) wink (eyes) was a head covering designed to cover the eyes. Source
The link above includes images of some very steampunk-looking hoodwinks. The point here of course is that the 2 of Swords indicates a major theme of the Swords suit in the RWS deck, that of not looking, whether voluntarily or otherwise. To Waite the Mason, the hoodwinked woman would indicate that she is awaiting enlightenment, since it is in initiatory contexts that the hoodwink is used in Masonic ritual. I prefer the view of this woman as an initiate awaiting an enlighetnment leading to new understanding, and am opposed to Waite's view that the Swords are generally not benevolent towards humans. While obviously shit happens, and we humans do not operate in a completely free way, as a witch I will resist with every last breath in my body the idea that my future is fated, and will continue to strive to have a hand in it. I see the unpleasant experiences which come our way as tools towards the sort of new understanding the woman in the card is waiting for. After all there is nothing to stop her putting the swords down and taking the blindfold off her eyes.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tarot: the Significance of the Question

This is my umpteenth attempt at writing this post, but I feel I have something to say even though I can't quite get at it.
There is a saying that the whole purpose of a tarot reading is completed before so much as one card is drawn. This must mean that the real purpose of tarot is served by the things one does other than actually reading the cards, such as cleansing them, shuffling them, treating them with respect, and thinking about the problem.
I have a feeling that the purpose of tarot, in common with all other magical acts, is in some way to affect the magician. And the way tarot does this is by forcing a certain introspection, a setting aside of place and time, and particularly rumination on the question as one is shuffling the cards.
And I think this is probably where tarot has its greatest effect on the reader: it forces a clarification of the question, and more generally of what is going on in the person's head and life. Perhaps in this sense it is as much a method of meditation as, well, actual meditation, because the reader arrives at drawing cards with the mature of the issue already identified. This would mean that this is a (possible the?) major point of a tarot reading: to clarify the mind, clarify the matter, clarify the right question to ask. I often think that tarot doesn't provide pat answers to questions, and perhaps the implication here is that it provides questions instead.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Success

I have read recently that the witch is born out of the needs of her time and is drawn or summoned to the place ehich most needs her particular powers. The other side of this one is of course that the witch will be faced with the same stuff repeatedly until she deals with it. I would also add that in the situation of working magic, sometimes the results confirm or disprove what you thought was happening in the first place, just like a doctor checking his diagnosis if the treatment he has prescribed doesn't work.
I have heard that one of the directors of my former employers is leaving; of course I refer to the one who finally pissed me off enough that I walked out. Funny that. It also confirms for me that despite being well loved in the department I wound up in (by people she has manipulated), another colleague's verdict of her as a turd was right.
I must however deny any magical responsibility for the recent flood in Selly Oak, since a friend thought it had me written all over it. The level of havoc would be very me but I keep my havoc from the innocent.
What is more characteriatic of my magic is giving people what they think they want. Zippy's fate is very me, for example. She's tried to adopt for a second time - the same baby that is, and the council rightly keep taking the baby off her and giving it to members of its own family. Normally I would feel sorry for a woman in this position, but Zippy is so psychopathic that whatever she does will always fail. Easy magic that, then.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tarot: 6 of Cups as Spring Cleaning

Yesterday my card for the day was 6 of Cups. I am quite sure I have written before about what a nightmare of a tarot card that is for me personally, since I believe that I naturally tend to interpret it in an ordinarily 'reversed' sense of referring to the past and the future in all its senses, including the effect of past trauma on the future.
In addition to the theme of being free which has been manifesting in my life recently, there has also been a theme of having a clear out. One of the reasons I am free is that so many things have been cleared out of my life which either no longer serve me or were wrong to start off with. My previous employers is the obvious one, and while not being a hoarder I have had a clear out at home while I have been off work and of course that is one of the classical magical ways to clear away psychic gunk.
There is a universal human way of having a clear out which we all engage in (except Edina Monsoon, who has colonic irrigation) and it is not for nothing that anciently there was a Roman goddess of the sewers, and having a clear out was one of the classic ways of making her an offering. Did I happen to mention that this blog is about real witchcraft and not fluffiness? The point of this physiological function of course is that ironically while faecal matter is the waste from our bodies, it actually can provide nourishment for things further down the food chain, so by having a clear out we are actually creating our own continuing life and future.
This may not seem to have anything to do with the 6 of Cups, but I'm about to make a connection in my own way. The usual association for that card is the past, in other words the things which are gone, and in fact Etteilla's reversed keyword for this card is the future, making the connection in a more subtle way between the past and the future I make above. There is an element of examining the past in this card, and in fact I can now see it as a collection of cups or things from the past, to be examined one by one and being kept or thrown out. The children looking at the cups represent the past and it is not without siginifcance that the adult male figure is walking away from the scene, because he isn't looking over the past but walking away from it to the future. In that light the message of this card is very clearly to look over the past if necessary, and then leave it in the past and move on.
And that is exactly what I plan to do in my own situation. At this point I need to leave the past as it is, and unless my registration body cause me to take action about the problems I experienced in my previous employment, that is where it will remain.
Another aspect of this 'spring cleaning', just as in the case of clearing out the house, is to make ones own psychic space free from other people's junk. That collection of six cups don't necessarily belong in the house, of course, and having a psychic clearout bears a surprising resemblance to clearing out the attic. Some of the junk we find ourselves accumulating can stay, some can find a new home which will appreciate it, and some is of no use to anyone and should be destroyed.
The only difference for the witch is that sometimes we end up carrying other people's psychic junk which they should be dealing with themselves, and I'm finding as I go on that I am sending much more stuff back to sender so that it is in the hands of the person who actually needs to deal with it, even though of course usually the reason it has ended up in my lap is that the person it belongs to doesn't want to deal with it.
So once all the psychic gunk is cleared out of ones life, examined, tidied, and put in its appropriate place, what is left? Ironically what is left is less of my own 'stuff' to deal with than I had to start off with, because the process of dealing with other people's psychic stuff helps me to move on as well, and that is why the 6 of Cups is about both the future as well as the past. I suspect the process of looking over the Cups and moving on overflows into the action of the 7 of Cups and the 8 of Cups, but the 6 of Cups is the card which lays the groundwork for establishing the plan for the future and an essential one so that you don't end up carrying too much of your past around.

Image credit: murderedwithbirds.tumblr.com and both know exactly how he feels and want him right here now!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hidden City: Birmingham Street Fighting School

The warren of back streets between Bristol Street and Hurst Street in Birmingham city centre hold a hidden past. Nowadays they are in the area known as Southside. Of course you may want to call it the Chinese Quarter, or possibly the Gay Village, or the Gay Chinese Side, or whatever. The present conflicted name indicates a conflicted history, and in fact amongst other things it is home to the famous 'Rentboys' Corner' on Kent Street, where the baths used to stand, which the council did nothing to preserve from demolition despite being locally listed. The fact that there was a washing baths there indicates that the area of Wrentham, (Lower) Essex, Kent, and Gooch Streets were at one time a residential area and sure enough my First World War-era map of the area shows a warren of back-to-back courts and some industrial buildings.
By the time of the Second World War the area was in a parlous state. In true Brum fashion my source for this post (credit below) is unsure whether the inhabitants were emptied out in a 1930s redevelopment scheme which halted, or whether the houses were destroyed by bombing, but the illustrations I have found show windowless houses with no inhabitants, allowing the area to be used for manouevres by the GHQ Town Fighting Wing, which was the Home Guard's Street Fighting School. Far from the bumbling old men suggested by Dads Army, they were middle-aged men, who were trained very seriously to defend the country in case of invasion, and it was here in Birmingham it happened.
The school was based at the disused Unitarian Old Meeting church at 130 Bristol Street, and the students were housed at the Institute for the Blind on Carpenter Road in Edgbaston (the equipment list indicates they had to take their own mirrors). The courses in street fighting in case of invasion continued throughout the Second World War and culminated in a major exercise, the 'Battle of Birmingham' in 1944.
It is of course a matter of Brummie pride that not only was the area used to train the Home Guard, but that nothing is recognisable in the area from the 1940s photos I have found. In fact, Wrentham Street is still waiting for revelopment...
Credit: I am completely indebted to staffshomeguard.co.uk for the information and also the pictures.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Aquarian Tarot

Much as I'm loath to admit it, I suspect that there is a bit of a hippie inside me. Many of the elements of the counterculture of the 1960s chime with me in a way which, if it doesn't suggest I was there, suggest that I am plugged into the spirit of the age in an extraordinary way. This is very apparent in the tarot decks with which I feel most comfortable. I originally learned to read with the Morgan-Greer tarot, which while it is sometimes called 'Monty Python does the tarot', was actually published in 1980. Many of the Morgan-Greer images show the influence of the Aquarian Tarot, published in 1970.
in fact the Aquarian tarot wasn't the first tarot David Palladini, its designer, worked on. In the 1960s he contributed art to the Marseille-based Linweave Tarot, which was in part a publicity exercise for the Linweave company's papers. If the Linweave was a full deck of 78 cards, wasn't absolutely huge, and was printed on card rather than paper, it would be my perfect deck, since I like its groovy 1960s art the best of all.
Palladini went on to design the RWS-based Aquarian tarot. Like many of the things I am passionate about this deck tends to be a bit Marmite to tarot readers. While the images are based on the RWS each picture appears closer on the card, so that if you are used to getting lots of meanings from the detail in each RWS card this deck probably isn't for you. The only card where I feel the meaning is changed from the RWS deck is the High Priestess, where we get to see what is happening behind the curtain. Similarly, while I love the art, some people really dislike the palette heavily dominated by oranges, pinks, and browns. There is also a lot of relatively blank space in this tarot; I don't mind that personally, but I have read a lot of reviews which don't take to this deck at all for that reason.
If it may seem as if everything in the garden is uncharacteristically lovely, I just have one word of caution about this deck, which is that I would not advise buying the standard current US Games printing of this deck. I used to have one myself and the problem I have with it is that it is very shinily laminated, to the extent that it smells of plastic and feels like plastic. The plastic smell had not left my deck even after several years of use and was the most noticeable thing about the deck. US Games are obviously capable of producing a deck which doesn't have that synthetic feel and smell, and it is unfortunate that this deck is rather spoiled by its production.
There are two ways to get this deck without the smell. The more expensive one is to get a used or vintage one. Copies of this deck claimed as vintage are available on eBay at a premium. I would just say that sometimes they are claimed as first editions, and if they have the current psychedelic back, they are certainly not first editions, since the first couple of editions either had a plain back or an ourobouros. The cheaper way is to do what I did and buy the current Italian-language edition (ISBN 0880796936) which proves that US Games are capable of producing a tarot deck which while smelling new doesn't feel and smell like a bin bag. Apart from the Italian titles it is otherwise exactly the same as the current standard English-language deck.

My Apartment

In his comment to my post on our concierge's passive-aggressive notes, Inexplicable Device commented that I am the only person he knows who lives in a place with a concierge. All I can say is he's obviously mixing with the wrong sort of people, but his comment has pushed me into writing a post about my flat.
When my poor old ginger tom cat eventually kicked the bucket I sold the two-bed terrace house I had lived in in Bearwood for fifteen years and bought this instead. I had bought the house originally to be near my mother, so what I spelled for me was the way I used to arrange my life around what she wanted rather than what I wanted, and it was actually quite a large house, so energy bills were escalating ridiculously, and I was getting to the point where heating and looking after it were becoming crippling to me.
I hadn't planned on living in the Chinese Quarter (in true witch style I walked past the building I was originaly aiming for the other day and noticed that it has developed an alarming stepped crack in the back wall - gulp), and this flat had actually been on the market for a year when I looked at it. I genuinely can't think why because there really isn't anything wrong with it, except that the previous owner decided to be difficult so I had to exceed his difficultness. When I looked round it just felt like home and I went for it.
The flat is on the second floor - convenient if the lift breaks or I have to jump out in a fire - and looks inwards on a courtyard. It therefore doesn't really have a view, but it means that despite the flat being in a noisy social area of the city centre, it feels secluded and in fact I had to sleep with the radio on to start off with because it was too quiet.
It is a keyworker flat, so it is built into the lease that it must always be sold at a certain proportion of the market value and only to certain classes of workers, which has left me in a very good financial position. In fact my largest outgoing is the ground rent and service charge which isn't that much. I hadn't sussed that because the flat is the size of a shoe box with low ceilings and good insulation it is ridiculously cheap to heat and light: people think it is very expensive to live in the city centre but my bills are lower than they ever were in the suburbs.
In energetic terms the area I live in is surprisingly much calmer than it ought to be. I do vaguely remember what stood here before this building was built - it was a random collection of the sort of industrial buildings which replaced the slum houses when people originally moved out of the city centre. Originally of course, this area was merely fields near the manor house, so it doesn't have the long energy imprint which some areas have. The warren of back-to-back 'courts' which were here until relatively recently must have been a nightmare of conflcting emotions and desperation, and in fact I found from Kelly's directories that very near here the only really long-term business was a pawn brokers. Change is rather the motif, and in fact I recently found an aerial photo from the 1960s and the only pre-war buildings still standing on it are two pubs and the shops which are now a National Trust museum. When you step out into the street the ethos is very much a frendly. busy, one, with the only difference from the usual Birmingham mix being that there is a preponderance of Chinese businesses.
As soon as I moved in I redecorated the whole place in a style which it pleases me to call 'fortune teller's tent'. Not for me the porridge shades in vogue at the moment; I like solid colours, ethnic stuff, and I like my atmosphere dark and mysterious. The electrician asked if I had been a great traveller, and while I hadn't the heart to tell him I'm the world's worst traveller because I get bored and restless on long journeys, I had to explain that the world came to me.
Despite it being so cheap people still think I'm living in the lap of luxury when they visit (as indeed I am, because it's the poshest place I've lived in my life). People are really taken with the slate tiles in the bathroom - and the black grout in between is much lower maintenance than white grout. The flat does have one of my personal indicators of luxury, a separate lighting circuit in the living room, so that when you flick the switch at the door the lamps come on and you don't have to go round and turn them on individually. The fact that these use the old style round-pin plugs would have given my dad much amusement, that I may have a dishwasher but I've still got round-pin plugs.
I don't really like the laminate floors, but elected to cover them with kilims from Ikea rather than have them ripped out. One of my little decorating things is that I hate gloss paint - again this is a thing which would give my mother the screaming abjabs - and I prefer to paint the woodward in the same matt pain I use for the walls and coat it in matt varnish - it makes the ceilings look higher.
Despite its cheapness people do comment that it's very posh to be living in the city centre. And of course there are times on some days, when one is looking out into the compound, drinking a sundowner, that one could wish the cries of the natives being restless were a little further removed.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Direction in the Tarot, and Passive and Active Meanings of the Cards

I reflected in a recent post, on how a friend interpreted the 9 of swords in a reading for myself completely differently from how I would myself. I saw it as meaning that I myself would be faced with all these swords that I would be reluctant to look at, whereas she saw it as referring to my ability to face other people with a load of their own rubbish which they don't want to look at. This came in the wake of me reflecting on how the common interpretations of the 6 of Pentacles incorporate almost exactly opposite meanings, i.e. both of giving and receiving money.
I realise that this is an aspect of tarot which has tended to be completely absent from my own reading, such that it has almost hit me like a half-brick. I do incorporate a lot of a sense of direction into my reading, by which I mean that I relate the cards to each other often by referencing the way the figures are looking, and additionally there is often a sense of direction in a card's action, such as the approach to the veil in the High Priestess or the forever forward yet undecided motion of the Chariot. I will use this post to think more about the sense of direction in a selection of cards and also how each card incorporates an active (something you do) and passive (something you have done to you) understanding. An approach to reading tarot, which is often attributed to Pamela Colman Smith, is to assume the postures of the characters first of all. This is actually a very useful approach, because it means that we are tapping into the non-verbal communication of each card, and the likely emotions and events.

0 The Fool
Direction: Very clearly towards the edge of the precipice, although for me it is always interesting that the Fool can see where he is going and we can not. There is a sense of ambivalence introduced by the way the dog is trying to pull him back in the opposite direction.
Active: Knowing, or not needing to know, what is coming so that you can just go forward.
Passive: Having no option but to go forward without knowing the possible consequences.

2 High Priestess
Direction: For me the direction in this card is only forwards towards the High Priestess herself and the veil, and being stopped there before you can go through to what is behind.
Active: Having the answers to the questions or challenges that life throws up on the way.
Passive: Being taught in a purely didactic way.

3 The Empress
Direction: While the empress is looking towards the viewer, her body is oriented towards the right of the card, suggesting toward the future. The fact that she is traditionally pregnant indicates movement in that direction and downwards as she gives birth. Upwards movement is not lacking, though in the growth of the corn.
Active: Giving birth literally or metaphorically to your future.
Passive: Being left holding the baby.

4 The Emperor
Direction: The Emperor is going nowhere. This may actually be the tarot card with the least movement.
Active: Asserting a rigid rule system.
Passive: Coming up against a rigid rule system.

6 The Lovers
Direction: One of the most complicated cards in terms of direction, in my opinion. The direction in this card is literally all over the place, but perhaps the most important one here is that the man is looking at the woman but she is looking at the angel rather than looking back at him.
Active: Making your choice and sticking with it, focusing on what you want.
Passive: Being chosen by someone else, fancied, or conversely deselected, defriended, overlooked in some way.

7 of Cups
Direction: A single direction facing towards the cups one is presented with.
Active: Facing your own dreams and nightmares. I always feel rather out on a limb that I personally interpret this card quite positively in being able to dream in a constructive way.
Passive: Being faced with your own dreams. I would see this as confronting a 'Walter Mitty' character with the simple fact that he is living in a dream world.

Page of Cups
Direction: I love the direction in this card, because while the Page is clearly focused only on the fish peeking out of the chalice, if you get in the page's position, I always find myself going a bit like the Baldrick character in Blackadder. Alternatively, it feels like a kind of 'slap my thigh' Fool position. I also like that there is a completely alternative interpretation if you want to identify with the fish. It could be that the chalice isn't big enough for you and you are forced to look out of the top, or else that you are swimming around in there and just peek out to have  a look at the page.
Active: Looking at something you love and value, admiring it, caring for it, just checking on it.
Passive: Being looked on by someone who has an interest in you. It wouldn't be a wandy enough energy to be your employer checking your email, say. I think it would probably be more like the man I know who keeps wanting to see my cock on the internet. It's not going to happen and I'm happy just swimming around in my own world without doing what he wants me to.

5 of Pentacles
Direction: The movement is obviously towards the right of the card, but a lot of this card's meaning is suggested by what is going on on the other side of the wall containing the window.
Active: Being out in the cold, isolated, frozen.
Passive: Doing these things to others (sitting smugly in the church, as it were, after all this card immediately precedes the 6 of Pentacles).

6 of Pentacles
This was the card which made me realise how this active and passive thing can work.
Direction: Again multiple possible directions here. The man is looking at one beggar but not the other, while both beggars are looking at him. The scales introduce a sense of direction/balance all of their own. The fall of the money also indicates a downwards movement, which for me is the obvious movement in this card, but I am reminded not to ignore other possible movements in this card.
Active: Having enough or a surplus and giving.
Passive: Receiving.

9 of Swords
Direction: The direction is all towards the right in this card. The swords are all pointing right although there is an oppressive sense in which they are stacked up over the woman and possibly bearing down on her. The woman is also facing right, however she is not actually looking at anything at all, least of all the swords on the wall above her.
Active: Being confronted with difficulties which you don't want to face up to
Passive: Confronting someone with the things they don't want to see.
I appreciate that these meanings may have their active or passive status switched, and it is the reflexivity of this card which is one the things which got me interested in this aspect of tarot. The woman is being presented with a load of swords (passive) which she is actively not looking at.
If you were to do the action of this card to someone else, I'm guessing you can only be giving them a load of swords which they don't want to face up to.I feel I may be over-analysing to suggest though that if you do do the action of this card to someone else, the reaction may only ever be to have them try to avoid the swords.

7 of Wands
Direction: The man on the high ground is oriented downwards to protect himself against the wands of those below him. There is also much down-upwards movement in this card because of the (unseen) aggressors below)
Active: Protecting yourself against aggressors and winning.
Passive: Giving someone loads to do to deflect them from paying attention to you.

9 of Wands
Direction: In the RWS card there is no movement. A man with a bandaged head is holding a wand almost defensively and looking ?angrily ?petulantly at another eight wands.
Active: Defending your ground against your aggressors who have already injured you.
Passive: Giving somebody something to forgive you for!


Passive-Aggressive Notes

There is something in the psyche of the passive-aggressive person which inclines them towards leaving little notes. I have been reminded of this while reading in the wonderful Lucy Melford's blog (here which is also my source for the quotations as well as the illustration) about a bridge in Dorset which surely contains the world's most monumental of these notes.
Lucy, in common with me, thinks that this is a slightly excessive response to whatever the perceived problem was:
Really? Transportation for life - presumably to Australia - just for doing something to this bridge? Gosh, times were hard in the eighteenth century! And doing what? Painting seditious slogans on it? ('King George is a very bad man and much too Hanoverian') Sticking scandalous leaflets to it? ('Squire Benville is a seducer, cheats at cards, and must not be elected') Or chipping away at the brickwork? (In hard times the poor burned bricks, if they couldn't get coal)
And this wasn't an important bridge. It was on a country road. A road that might have been the best in the local area, but not a major through route. The bridge itself was a modest affair, spanning a little stream, and the stream was merely a parish boundary.
This post has reminded me of the various note-writers I have known in my life. The only one getting on the Hound's tits at the moment is the concierge of my apartment building. Well, only one of the concierges really, and if I was less of a bastard I would probably remind myself that she is only concerned about keeping a tidy environment and maintaining a certain tone among the residents. The trouble is she leaves her notices absolutely everywhere and they are all in the vein of 'if whoever doesn't stop doing such and such this instant we'll find out who you are and come after you'. I may be slightly exaggerating but that is very much the cumulative effect of these notices.
It obviously isn't limited to our concierge. If you step into any apartment building or place where a bunch of people share the space to whatever extent, you can tell what the 'issues' are by the notes. I looked at a flat in another building where there was a notice in the lift telling people to stop leaving rubbish about in the corridors. Fair enough. When the estate agent showed me my flat, there was a very stern notice in the entrance hall reminding residents that pets are not allowed under the terms of the lease. The estate agent was very keen to tell me that everyone ignored that requirement, and in fact the last people in my flat were keeping two house rabbits in there.
There are two problems with this note-leaving behaviour. The first is the mindset they come from. Even leaving aside the fact that if you feel obliged to communicate with someone else with a notice, there is obviously something very wrong there. I can't really talk myself: in my INFJ way I expect people to know without being told, what I consider socially acceptable and if they don't they're just beyond the pale for all eternity. In the case of our concierge the impression comes across loud and clear that she believes herself to be in some sort of pitched battle with the residents of the apartments.
The first day I went to collect post from the concierge's office she gave me a welcome pack to the development, which began with a list of things residents were expected not to do, in order to maintain the tone of the development. Put washing out on balconies, for a start. That's not allowed. Residents are expected to clean the inside of the windows once a month. They can f*ck off. I will start doing that when the maintenance company clean the outside of the windows more than once a year and they are actually clean when they've been done.
The second problem with the notice-writing mentality is the actual effect these sort of notices have on their target audience, in fact you can see from my comments above that the concierge has already got my back up and I'm disinclined to be co-operative. Lucy discovered that her Dorsetshire monumental passive-aggressive note had this same effect:
 'Ah,' [a man she met] said, 'That's a proper plaque, but not the original, which is now in a museum. It's a replica. There were attempts to steal the original plaque, so they made a copy and put it away safely. In fact two copies have so far been hacked out and spirited away.' Well, if you could do it, it would make a fabulous souvenir of rural Dorset - although obviously you'd be risking transportation for life. To Australia.
And this is also the case with our concierge's notes. Not that people try to steal them for a souvenir but they have the exactly opposite effect she intends. The lift is a favourite place for her to put them up, and you will often get in there to find that they are all upside down or people have scribbled comments and complaints on them. I have a friend who likes to visit me just so she can have some fun with the concierge's notices. And of course people pay less attention to the notices which actually have to be there by law (a no smoking in public areas one, a fire evacuation one, and anything as a result of a risk assessment).
Needless to say she also has her favourite target behaviours, one of which is the bins. She put up a notice in the lift telling residents to be careful there were no holes in bin bags in case they leaked in the lift. But she was asking for trouble when she put up a sign saying that people must stop just dumping their bin bags in the bin store, they should be but in the bin. I think if that had been it, or it had been phrased as a request people would have paid attention, but she made the mistake of putting in large letters that this is being monitored by CCTV and anyone found dumping rubbish would be fined. Sure enough shortly afterwards, CCTV cameras appeared in the bin stores. Well, you know what I'm like, I always give her a cheery wave when I take my rubbish down, I'm sure it drives her mad. And I'm completely sure she's watching the screen like a hawk because they made the mistake of putting the cameras inside the store so that you can just walk past and throw your bag in without being seen, which is exactly what people do. She was also asking for trouble when she put up a notice telling people not to put large items of rubbish out. The first time after that I had some rubbish I actually couldn't get in the bin store because of the amount of furniture people had left in there!
But she superlatively shot herself in the foot over parcels. If a parcel comes for you, the courier never even brings it up to your flat, they always leave it at the concierge's office, which as you can imagine is about as hospitable and friendly a place as a piranha fish in a prawn cocktail. When I moved in, if a parcel arrived for you, during her 'patrols' (that is the actual word she uses) of the building she would put a note (see a pattern developing here?) through your door saying there was a parcel for you. Of course this note would include a warning that if you hadn't collected it in three days it would automatically be sent back.
To get the parcel you would go to her office and you would have to knock on the locked door - there isn't a doorbell, the door is never open, and there is another notice on it saying that your fob will not let you into her office - and wait until she felt like letting you in, in a very suspicious manner, and eventually give you a parcel. Then she made the mistake (perhaps I should say that there is actually a concierge team, but I can tell the one responsible for the notes by the turn of phrase and the attitude) of sending out a notice saying that these notes about parcels would no longer be given out, residents would be expected just to turn up for their parcels when they arrived without being told.
Perhaps I should say that the development is in the Chinese Quarter, so there are a lot of residents expecting parcels from the other side of the world with no guarantee of when they will turn up at all, which in addition to the concierge's attitude may explain what happened yet. It back-fired on her spectacularly, because what happened was that all the residents of the flats (all 450 of them) went to ask every day whether anything had come for them. The queue used to come out of the office and snake down the path. After that she took people's email addresses to let them know.
I actually tend not to have run-ins with her. The only one I don't like is the night concierge, who I can tell in common with The Night Staff everywhere doesn't want to do anything. But our lift broke recently, and the notice she put up being apologetic about it was defaced by someone moaning about the inconvenience of going up the stairs. She was obviously pissed off about this, and I actually expected her to put up a notice saying not to deface her notices. Instead she put up a progress report about the repair of the lift which began with the words 'This is a polite notice...' Now I don't care who you are, that's fighting talk the world over.
Shortly afterwards a parcel came for me and I got the usual email. I went over twice in one day to get it, only to find there was nobody in the concierge's office. I went once the next day with no success, and shortly afterwards she sent me an email headed FINAL REMINDER in capital letters about it. I sent her back an icy email saying that since I had been for it three times without success I expected them  not to return it to the sender until I had been for it, and began the email with the words, 'This is a polite email'.
Her reply was an absolute classic of being torn between feeling she had to apologise to me and just plain fury. She said how sorry she was that I had been over so many times without getting my parcel but asked me to remember how much the concierge had to do, and so on. Of course after that I was in no rush to go and get it. I waited until the night shift and sauntered over so that that I could annoy the night concierge by giving him something to do as well.
Passive-aggressive notes don't work, they just create the opposite of what you want.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tarot: Seven of Wands

To log my reflections (or perhaps reflexions) on today's card I have to rewind a few days and pass comment on some things I haven't posted about here yet because they hadn't started to fall into place yet. A few days ago I pulled the Magician as my card of the day. Always one to elucidate tarot cards by drawing other tarot cards, I asked what were my magical tools and drew four other tarot cards to represent them. To disclose all four of them would be to over-disclose even by my standards, so I will only mention what two of them were.
The one which initially gave me trouble was the 9 of swords. Up until then I had been seing these cards as atttitudes or, uncharacteristically, seeing them rather passively as things happening to me. Since I got stuck on the interpretation of 9 of swords as staying in bed and refusing to look at anything, I asked a friend how she would interpret this card, and interestingly she gave this card a much more active, in fact almost opposite, interpretation to my own.
My friend saw the nine of swords as referring to one of my magical tools, as meaning my ability to confront other people with their own reality that they are trying to ignore. I felt rather embarrassed that I had almost completely misinterpreted these cards as meaning things happening to me, when given that they were representing magical tools, it was staring me in the face that they meant me doing things to other people.
Coming hard on the heels of my drawing the 6 of Pentacles, which I have seen both as referring to receiving and giving money, and therefore being active and passive - a tension I have attempted to reconcile by seeing it as a card of 'accounting' - I have been reflecting on how tarot cards can be understood passively and actively. Regular readers will know that I don't routinely read tarot with reversals, but perhaps these passive and active meanings are another way of understanding the sort of polarities of meaning that reversals often refer to. I am contemplating a whole post just on this dynamic, but as usual don't hold your breath, it will happen when inspiration hits the Hound.
Today I drew the 7 of Wands, which is ironically another of the four cards I drew for my own magical tools. This time I have been a little less dense in trying to understand what this card may mean for me. I worked from the obvious surface meaning of this card that I had been engaged in a struggle and won by exerting my will, or at least come to some sort of resolution of the struggle that I, rather than anyone else, could live with.
For me there is another reference in this card, in fact in the whole Wands suit in addition to the obvious one of magic wand - that Wands can become clubs, and can be used for, well, clubbing, competing, and what have you. You could do someone some proper damage with a club, and in fact hey are used as a traditional means of physical training in India, where they were originally imported from the middle East, and those sort of clubs form the illustration to this post.
It is interesting that this certainly seems to be one of the more fruitful tarot cards in terms of different interpretations, even down to the odd shoes in the RWS tarot, which attract various interpretations. I am intrigued by Katz and Goodwin's interpretation that the odd shoes refer to the character of Petruchio in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. I wouldn't like to say that this is the definitive, or even the only possible interpretation of the man's odd shoes (I find others such as the man defending his own personal eccentricities, etc, just as compelling and would avoid definitive interpretations as far as possible) but find it interesting that this interpretation places an element of discomfort in the interpretation of this card. Petruchio is a nasty piece of work, a wife abuser, and not someone we would probably want to identify with - in the light of that interpretation this card takes on a 'reversed' meaning that we are defending our own will against all odds, but that we may not be having a very nice effect on other people doing so!
Additionally the man is defending himself against six wands being brandished from below. Always interesting to see one tarot referring to another tarot card and the reference here is the six of wands, another ambivalent card in my humble opinion. The surface meaning is very simplistically triumph and acclaim, but it is always so obvious to me in the RWS deck that the horse is rolling his eye and indicating that there is something ridiculous about the man, or the triumph is a fake, or that the cheering crowd are just going along with it. A definite case of the Emperor's new clothes. The implication is that what you are defending yourself against is in some way either a fake, or a front, or an aspect of yourself that is undesirable and false: once again the tarot becomes completely reflexive and points the 'action' of the card inwards rather than outwards.
The suggestion therefore for me is that my magical tool at this point is defending my own will and eccentricities, but it is defending my true will against the false assumptions and victories inside. It is intensely uncomfortable, and references a sense I have had recently that I must let lots of stuff go and move on. The reading became even more reflexive when I drew another card to indicate what the one wand I was holding in the card could represent and got... The Magician!

Image credit: wikipedia page on Indian clubs

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tarot: Six of Cups and The Lovers manifesting in the Minors

That's the trouble with being in one of those phases where you go into accelerated occult learning mode, the universe throws so much at you in one go that it's difficult to keep up. And not only that, but the lessons are related to each other, at least in the rather strange interconnected world of the magical person.
Hard on the heels of the 6 of Pentacles as my daily draw comes the 6 of Cups. What the 6 of Pentacles had for me on this time round was that it is a card of balancing, accounting, and obviously for us English speakers accounting has a specific connotation of making the books and money balance, hence the scales which occur in the RWS depiction of the 6 of Pentacles. The connection between that card of and the 6 of Cups is that this card is also indicating a sense of balancing and accounting for me.
As usual, book definitions first. I find Etteilla's keywords for this card particularly interesting: right way up it means the past, and reversed it means the future. The past, of course, suggests reviewing what has happened in the past, and this card therefore has an implication of learning from the past in order to reframe the future. You will of course note that I don't do predictive readings as such; I'm a witch, not a fortune teller, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let a little thing like Fate dictate what happens to me.
Of course the necessity of examining the past is never a comfortable one. I have been told in the past that I have a bias towards interpreting this card in a 'reversed' sort of way anyway. I personally tend to think of it as the 'get in the car, I have candy' card, which is about as reversed as you can get, and sure enough I find that whenever anyone is screwed up by their past this card will occur in a spread. Take Zippy, my erstwhile 'manager', for example: it is amazing how often the subject of incest comes up in her conversation, and this card will always appear in any spread about her. I'm using her as an example, because she continues not to learn from previous experience and is hell-bent on trying to play happy families with her obviously gay husband and her repeated failed attempts to have the happy family life she craves.
I use her as an example to bring up the point of this card for me. The reality is that family life (and the watery, emotional accounting which this card implies will take place in the context of some sort of family for everyone) is often not happy, and unfortunately our society makes it difficult for us to come to terms with this fact. 'Honour your father and mother' says the Bible, and unfortunately this tenet is often understood in the light of the Christian imperative to forgive, so that it can be unconsciously twisted so that abuse is ignored or swept under the carpet.
For me this card has a very clear message of 'honour your father and mother', but I have picked up the Biblical precept and run with it to a place which a lot of people wouldn't like. To honour your father and mother means not to forget the legacy they have left you. Not just in a cerebral way of thinking about it (more a swordy sort of thing) but in a way which acknowledges the emotions as well. Sometimes this legacy will be a difficult one, even if it doesn't include stuff which the world would necessarily consider abuse. They f!ck you up, your mum and dad, and this is the card which indicates a need to acknowledge that, or the fact of it happening, or the fact of having worked through it and sitting with it.
The sixes for me all involve this element of stopping and thinking about it: not surprisingly since they relate to the Major Arcana VI: The Lovers, which traditionally shows three figures rather than the two idyllic figures depicted in the RWS tarot. The third figure is the mother in law, and this card traditionally indicated a decision, specifically the sort of decisions young adults make in deciding to go off on their own to make their own family. Traditionally the card places it in the context of a young man deciding between his mother and his lover (and I will leave the complex relationships and emotions which could be indicated by this dynamic to the reader's imagination). The six of Cups comes into play here, because while we humans all make our own mistakes in addition to repeating some of the ones ingrained into us by our parents, there is an element in this card of learning from the past, coming to terms with it in whatever way the querent is comfortable with, and not letting the past influence the future. This is the way to move on from my sense of discomfort with this card: I have been reading it in a context of being f!cked up by your parents and winding up living in a way which was dictated by the past. To move on, you have to sit with the past, learn from it, but not let it dictate the future.


Image credit: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lovers

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Haunting of New Street Station

I wasn't going to write a blog post about the notoriously haunted Birmingham New Street Station, for the simple reason that other people have already written about the subject to exhaustion, but since the station has rightly made it on to a list of the most haunted in the British Isles ahead of Hallowe'en/Samhain, I thought I would weigh in and try to draw the reader's attention to the best resources on the haunting.
Ghosts were very much my own introduction to the call of the weird, as a very young baby witch. I have only recently discovered that other people read my childhood books as obsessively as I did myself (http://the-haunted-closet.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/haunted-houses-ghosts-spectres-usborne.html?m=1) and that those same books seem to have engendered an enduring fondness among the people brought up on them. My father collected clocks, and I remember being terribly excited the night one of them struck thirteen at midnight, which was of course through some mechanical fault. As a teenager I discovered Harry Price's books about Borley Rectory in the library, and have never looked back. I can truthfully say that the only book about Borley I have not read is James Turner's My Life With Borley Rectory, and that is just because opportunity has not presented itself.
I do really believe that lives, emotions and events can imprint themselves on a place. I would lean towards the theory that most 'ghosts' are embedded residual energy rather than the 'spirits' of dead people. That said, I do believe that I have encountered the spirits of dead people, some of whom seem to be bound to a particular place for some reason. I have no evidence for this assertion whatsoever. I am not clairvoyant; I just know that that energy is there, for absolutely no reason, and while sometimes it is bizarrely confirmed by someone else encountering the same thing, as a rule these experiences will never be susceptible to empirical scientific proof, which is exactly as it should be. I mean, if I was dead and pissed off enough not to want or be able to move on, I'd hide if any investigators appeared, wouldn't you?
But first let me step aside and let Andy Foster give you the vanilla history:
'New Street station was built in 1849-54 as a 'Grand Central' station for through services, to replace the termini of the London & Birmingham, Grand Junction, and Midland railways on the edge of the town - Curzon Street, Vauxhall, and Lawley Street. The site was densely built up with shops, chapels (including the Old Meeting of 1689 and 1795) and some of the town's worst slums. The station was owned by the London & North Western Railway - the amalgamation of the London & Birmingham and the Grand Junction - but Midland trains used it from the start. The station buildings facing Stephenson Street, designed by John Livock, were a handsome restrained block in the Italianate style of Charles Barry, incorporating the Queens Hotel. A public footbridge across the platforms replaced the lost streets of Peck Lane and Lower Pinfold Street.
'In 1881-5 the station was extended southwards and Station Street, aligned on the W entrance of the Market Hall, built along its S side. In its final form, the N, North Western side was separated from the S, Midland, side by a road, the Queen's Drive. The North Western side had a single-span iron trussed-arch roof with a maximum width of 212 ft (65 metres), the largest in the UK when built. It was designed by E.A. Cowper of Fox, Henderson & Co., the firm which built Paxton's Crystal Palace. After the Charing Cross station roof collapse of 1905, Cowper's roof was strengthened with additional tie bars in 1907. It was destroyed by bombing in 1940. The remainder of the station was demolished in 1964-6.' (Andy Foster: Pevsner Architectural Guides: Birmingham. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, p.110)
New Street Station actually presents an interesting energetic pattern, and in fact one in which it would be a bit difficult for its history not to lead to a great haunting, since all the elements of the myths are there. The original station was built on the site of a teeming slum (check), which was actually cleaned up on purpose to build the station because it was so lawless and dangerous (check). The area of the town was called the Froggery because it was a naturally lower part of the plateau on which Birmingham stands, it was notorious for its damp unhelathy coniditions (check) on land which would in any other circumstances not have been considered very desirable (check) and its lower positioning made it a natural connection to the rails coming from the surrounding areas. A Jewish cemetery was displaced (check) to build the station, and there have been a number of suicides at the station (check). Of course a railway station is always naturally a place of transitions and strong emotions (check). That upstart tale of Borley Rectory (which was anyway too good to be true) fades into significance as a ghost story in comparison to the sheer amount of classic ghost story material in New Street Station.
I am heavily indebted to Mike Lockley's article on the ghosts of platform four (address below) for this information. Lockely paints a wonderful picture of the deceased engine driver Walter Hartles sitting on the platform, who shot himself in the chest with a revolver at the age of sixty-eight. He was found in a waiting room with the gun at his feet, and this amount of detail is available because his great granddaughter went on a ghost tour of the station and realised that she was related to the person being talked about.
The famous ghost is of course Claude who poisoned himself and is often seen on trains bound for Crewe. He poisoned himself. These two gentleman are only two of the four suicides on platform four.
I should say that I myself have never seen either of these entities. A more common experience, which I have had there myself, is a feeling of a presence behind you, and when you turn round there is no-one there. The difficulty is, of course, is that while a busy railway terminal provides the perfect energetic conditions for all sorts of odd entities to cling onto, it also provides the absolutely worst conditions to experience them, let alone in any sort of controlled way. I think the best time to do so is on a weekday evening after 11pm. The shops are shut and the few remaining passengers are concentrated on getting the last train to their destination. The station takes on a different atmosphere at that point, and you are more likely to pick up on the remnants of previous events with the corner of your mind's eye. The only concern I would have is that given the sheer volume of history there, you may find yourself picking up on a real nasty...
Credits:
www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/birmingham-new-street-station-haunting-179968 for the information about people's experiences on platform four.
www.ssplprints.com/image/95863/footbridge-in-birmingham-new-street-station-1927 for the image.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tarot: Six of Pentacles

Well, the difficult cards for me are coming thick and fast. Hard on the heels of me pulling Justice as my daily draw a few days ago and being forced to face up to my own ambivalent approach to authority, today I get the 6 of Pentacles and am forced to see its connection to Justice and also to face my own attitude to it.
The books are perhaps the least useful means of understanding this card. Most of them pick up on the obvious scene in the RWS deck, and give the meaning as something along the lines of prosperity, abundance, and giving or receiving money. They usually also comment on the fact that this card comes fast on the heels of the 'lack of means' (which you will feel free to interpret as you will) depicted in the 5 of Pentacles, and being followed by the learning, productivity, and hard work depicted in the 7 of Pentacles.
Easy, then. But of course not for me. This card actually makes me intensely uncomfortable and it's only now that I've really got to grips with why. For a start I instinctively dislike the man giving money to the two beggars, because of the very obvious power imbalance depicted here. He has surplus to give away and can make that judgement call, and they don't have anything so are forced to beg. If you place that power imbalance at the heart of this card's meaning rather than an unexamined and unquestioned prosperity, this card leaves a much more distasteful aftertaste.
There is a further uncomfortable message buried in this card. If you treat the RWS cards as a progression through the pip cards, the suggestion is that two people in the same position as the disenfranchised people in the 5 of Pentacles have been lucky enough to find a benefactor. The implication is patriarchal and suggestive of a power imbalance which is not likely to be changing any time soon. The 5 and the 6 both present a picture of comfort and lack, of being inside and outside, and I suppose this is the one which suggests the querent is in and has means. That these means are being given away suggests this card presents the querent with a challenge actually to question his own comfort and whether this leaves others outside.
That there is a decision to be made is implied by the scales shown by the man with the money. For some bizarre reason I don't remember ever noticing those scales until I pulled this card for today, last night. I have read a number of different interpretations of those scales on the internet, one of which is that the fact that the sides of the scales are even imply that society is, or ought to be, equal, and thus reinforces my impression that this card is one implying that the querent should review his position in the area of money and see whether it is satisfactory.
If I'm honest I prefer the depiction of this card in the Aquarian tarot (Morgan-Greer, which otherwise follows Aquarian quite closely, here departs and in closer to RWS), which gets rid of the two beggars completely and just has the man with the six coins and the scales. The fact that the beggars are absent could therefore indicate that this is a card of audit in the area of material things, in a broaders sense than merely social justice. In fact the first thought which struck me about the Aquarian depiction of this card was that it could be called the Accountant card!
As I often do, I drew some more cards to clarify the meaning of the card for me personally. In this case I drew two cards to represent the sides of the scales, and thus the specific things I have to balance, audit, consider, etc. I got the King of Pentacles and the Star, both of which initially struck me as making no sense at all. However when I considered them, unusually I could see myself in the King of Pentacles. In my present situation he represents the way in which I have unjobbed myself from my previous unsatisfactory employers (by my taking control of the situation rather than just continuing to go along with it), and the Star represents my cutting myself loose and just seeing what comes next. What I therefore need to audit are my authority and control, with going out into the metaphorical wilderness and putting a foot into the metaphorical water I find there.
Once again, examining my reaction to a personally difficult tarot card has both clarified my own instinctive reaction to the card and revealed a hidden level of meaning for me.
Image credit: https://iambirmingham.co.uk/2015/03/05/birmingham-man-feeds-homeless-as-spider-man/

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tarot: Justice and the INFJ

One of the most fruitful things about reading the tarot cards is that since the cards are a world, the reader gets some idea of their place in that world and reactions to the other parts of the world. The fact that a particular card just doesn't chime with you at all or you have an averse reaction to it can indicate things about yourself, your past experiences and your behaviours, including sometimes the more difficult 'shadow' side of the personality which we are not always aware of. An example for me which I have written about here before is my reaction to the Emperor card, which both reflects my own daddy issues and ambivalent INFJ attitude to authority.
Another example is the Justice card, and sure enough my heart sank when I drew it as my daily draw today. The fact that after years of tarot reading, simply pulling a card out of the deck can have such a profound effect on me, reinforces the way in which tarot just goes on and on for ever, the work of the witch is never over, and divination is a much bigger thing than fortune telling. Heigh ho, the universe has presented me with that card today (I genuinely can't remember it ever coming up as my daily draw before) so I'll take the hint that it's time to face up to it.
Justice (XI) is the flip side of the High Priestess (II) because in numerology 1 + 1 = 2. This is what Waite has to say about the connection between the two cards, a quote which incidentally encapsulates my entire difficulty with Justice:
'It will be seen, however, that the figure is seated between pillars, like the High Priestess, and on this account it seems desirable to indicate that the moral principle which deals unto every man according to his works--while, of course, it is in strict analogy with higher things;--differs in its essence from the spiritual justice which is involved in the idea of election. The latter belongs to a mysterious order of Providence, in virtue of which it is possible for certain men to conceive the idea of dedication to the highest things. The operation of this is like the breathing of the Spirit where it wills, and we have no canon of criticism or ground of explanation concerning it. It is analogous to the possession of the fairy gifts and the high gifts and the gracious gifts of the poet: we have them or have not, and their presence is as much a mystery as their absence. The law of Justice is not however involved by either alternative. In conclusion, the pillars of Justice open into one world and the pillars of the High Priestess into another.'
'Every man according to his works' - actually even that phrase gives me less of a problem than I tend to experience with that card, which suggests to me that I have been reading it with a very personal bias. And the bias is this - our human ideas of justice are bound up with some idea of a higher authority arbitrating on what is right, and therefore justice comes from above. Like the idea of 'rights' in this understanding justice is something which in my humble opinion takes the power away from the individual. If you have to go to some court to have a decision on your rights, the rights themselves and the decision are not made by yourself. Beloved reader, you will feel free to comment at this point that I am an anarchist and my views chip away at the very foundations of civilised society, and you would be right. What is right differs from external notions of legal or social justice, in my humble opinion.
I remember my mother, who had as much difficulty understanding me as anyone else does, commenting to me when I was a child that I was a strange mix of conformity and non-conformity. She had accurately picked up on my burgeoning INFJ thing of having a set of rules in my head which were non-negotiable and not always apparent to anyone else. My approach could easily be mistaken for total conformity to authority, because sometimes my rules happened to match the dictates of external authority; of course when they match it is never for the reason that someone else says so.
Perhaps it is just an INFJ thing that I will never be able to sit easily with this card, because it brings up so many of the concepts which are difficult for INFJs to sit with. I find the other side of this energy - the HIgh Priestess - much more comfortable because it is based on the way I tend to think about things naturally.
So the next difficult question is how the INFJ ought to interact with this energy when he comes across it. I'm already feeling under pressure at this point from the Justice energy to say that the INFJ should hold back his natural instinct to thumb his nose and learn to respect authority which is founded on very good and balanced thinking over centuries. Nah, f*ck that. I didn't incarnate to conform to authority, I incarnated to question authority. Let's pull another card for how the INFJ ought to respond to Justice... Ha! Judgement! The law is an ass and the INFJ responds to a higher power!
There is a tradition associated with the Marseille tarot that the rope around the Justice figure's neck is the rope which hangs the Hanged Man. I can't remember where I read this, but I think it was either in Jodorowsky or another of the Marseille tarot writers. For me this indicates that while Justice may represent the highest authority we have, it is still answerable to a yet higher authority, which isn't bound by ideas of mechanical justice. The fact that the rope is round the neck also indicates a heavy penalty for those who would take on this authority and abuse it, which of course does happen. I don't just mean the legal profession and courts. For me the energy of the Justice card is accessed as often by all sorts of authority figures, for example even social workers, say. The essential role of the INFJ is to remind the figure embodying the Justice energy that they are not the highest arbiter, they are still answerable to others.
The correct response to this energy is perhaps best indicated by an anecdote from the Hound's misspent youth. When I was a Benedictine novice we had a visitor to the monastery who had previously been a monk elsewhere, and entertained us novices by talking to us charismatically about what I now realise was this energy. He also entertained me personally by commenting on Thomas Merton, 'Imagine having that prick in the monastery': this verdict has the Hound's official seal of approval. Anyway, he recounted how he was a monk of a monastery in the US which burnt down on an Easter Sunday one year. After that the abbot wrote to anyone who had made any enquiry at all in the past few years and told them they should go and join. Of course this resulted in the largest noviciate in world history and endless free labour for the rebuilding project. After the rebuilding was done the monastery dismissed all of the people they had taken on because they had got what they wanted out of them: years later the then abbot had something terrible happen to him in return. The visitor pointed to the then Prior and said in front of his face, 'If they screw you over, they'll get screwed over'.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Time Travel: Telly Savalas on Birmingham


It's so seventies, it's so tacky, but I love this film. I love that the road surface of the inner ring road is its original red colour. I love where you get a glimpse of the pub on stilts next to Moor Street Station. I love Telly Savalas...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

On Being Given a Tarot Deck

There are a number of traditions which are associated with the tarot. I wouldn't personally call them superstitions although I don't follow any of them myself, since they usually have a firm grounding in occult science. Wrapping the cards in a silk scarf is one of them. Nothing wrong with treating your divination tool as something that should be treated with respect, given luxury surroundings, and protected from the surrounding vibrations. I don't want to imply that tarot cards should ever attain the sort of status of scripture, but if you compare the way Sikhs treat the Guru Granth Sahib - you can't even have it in the house unless you have a room for it on its own and you have to maintain various rituals of dressing it and putting it away at night - or the way Muslims treat the Quran, the point is clear that the tarotist should treat the tarot with respect. Personally mine tend to live on a shelf in the wardrobe in the boxes they came in. I'm not averse to carrying them around in my pocket nor to reading them on say a pub table. But then you wouldn't expect the Hound to do it the way anyone else does, would you?
Another tradition I don't follow but have the greatest respect for is the tradition of never reading the tarot for yourself. Again the sensible reason for this is that you are biased in your own reading, and will tend to see what you want to see. I personally know one tarotist who never reads for herself - she gets me to - but I think that this is a tradition which has tended to pass away under pressure from the modern practices of pulling a daily card, more actively reflecting on the cards, and so on.
The third tradition is that you must never buy a tarot deck for yourself, and this is the one I want to focus on in this post. Again I am sure there are some lucky readers who read with the deck they inherited from their mother and have never read with another one, but given the number of people showing off their collection of tarot decks on the internet this is another tradition which has clearly gone by the wall.
My own practice is that I will periodically buy a tarot deck which takes my interest. For example at the moment I am getting to know the tarot del fuego which I reviewed recently (and finding that it gives some absolutely blinding readings). I was once given a deck by my Goddess mother: it was a tiny RWS which she brought once when visiting the UK from South Africa and of course I will always keep it and do read with it. It has the slight problem for me that the cards are slightly too small for me to shuffle comfortably, so I tend to use it for magic rather than for divination.
For divination I have several decks, although not an ever-growing collection since I do give decks away that I don't think are going to be long-term friends. They are all ones I have bought myself. My duvet deck, from which I am guaranteed to get insights when I can't from any other deck, is a Morgan-Greer deck. While not the actual one I learned one, which became so disreputable even by my standards that I threw it away, I bought the Morgan-Greer for the reason I would advise anyone to choose a tarot deck, which was that I saw some pictures of it in a tarot book and liked it, and so I bought it.
For me the point of being given a tarot deck is that the tarot is a gift of the universe; sometimes gifts of the universe come in a different way from actually being given them by someone else. My advice would be to look around on the internet and get a deck to which you feel a connection. This may of course require a number of false starts, and fortunately these days it is easy and cheaper than it once was to try a few decks. The actual first deck I ever bought (and at that point nobody would have given me one any way because I didn't know anyone who was into that sort of weird shit) was the Ancient Tarot of Lombardy, which I bought in the Waterstone's on New Street, just because I liked it. It was a pity that I simply couldn't get my head round reading with it!
Of course there is a drawback to the obsessional collection of tarot decks which goes on nowadays. If you have dozens of decks, you will be less likely to make a connection with one reading deck which you stick with for years on end, and in many ways I could hanker after the days when you got a tarot deck with great difficulty, kept it, and there wasn't really going to be an alternative to read with. If that deck was the gift of someone dear to you then it obviously became even more precious.
Sticking to one tarot deck needn't imply a poverty of understanding. Why would you need a lot of decks, anyway? I think it suggests a desire to find that deck that will give perfect readings, after all these are different divination tools we are talking about collecting. For me there is something powerful about the idea of only reading with one deck, and carrying on reading with it for life. The reason this wouldn't impoverish the reader's understanding is that the whole point of tarot reading is that the deck is understood to encompass Everything. Seriously. When you hold a tarot deck in your hands you have to know for real that there is no possibility not contained in that world of 78 cards.
I think this is why it has been interesting for me recently to start doing something which I did in my recent post on the Moon card, and which I am starting to do for other cards - I draw cards to represent the various elements of the card I am wanting to understand. This seems to me a very powerful way for the tarot to explain itself, and show how the parts of a card can interact with the rest of the deck. For example, in the 4 of Pentacles, one could draw four other cards to show exactly what it is one is holding on to so grimly! Like this, it isn't necessary to look outside of the tarot to find explanations of what one is seeing.
This also reflects a tradition of monastic and other 'spiritual' ways: it is important to stop running round to look for an answer. Sometimes you have to sit still and just let the answer come. For me this is probably the most powerful aspect of the tradition of being given a tarot deck, that it is the gift of the universe and there is no need for further seeking.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Time Travel: Swallow Street

There was me thinking that this would be a relatively simple time travel post, and you wouldn't believe the difficulty I have had getting to the bottom of this historical mystery. I have even had to resort to a hand job in the library to get to the bottom of Swallow Street - but enough with the innuendo, on with the mystery. My interest was first aroused by Brunel Street, which runs at an angle between Navigation Street and Suffolk Street Queensway; you won't discover a time travel post about that one because I've discovered that it is actually a relatively new street which appeared while Manzoni's boys were joyously going round the city centre with a bulldozer. And what started my interest in Brunel Street was that I remember it from trips to the city centre with my parents. I remember going to Allegro Music and also I remember Gino's, which I thought terribly sophisticated at the time. Anyway, I hadn't noticed then that Brunel Street intersects with a street called Swallow Street which runs between Suffolk Street Queensway and Hill Street. It is not an unsubstantial street by any means; in fact I think I had always assumed that it was one of those empty patches of land left over in the post-war rebuilding of the city, but it is only recently that I noticed it has a proper street name.
Swallow Street on the surface seemed to have gone back a long time without leaving any trace of itself, for some reason. It appears on the 1913 Ordnance Survey map of the city centre, where the characteristic pictures of buildings show that there were some at each end, but it didn't look like one of those tiny passages of higgledy-piggledy slums which formerly marked the city centre, so it must have left some trace of itself. First I looked on the internet. There was no history whatsoever. Nothing. Not even someone whose family emigrated to Nova Scotia (or wherever) in 1904 and whose great great grandmother was born above above a nailmaker's in Swallow Street. Literally the only historical reference was the picture from the 1960s which illustrates this post, and which made me think that really there should have been some history for the street, since it looked as if businesses were operated from the houses.
I turned to my 1967-68 Kelly's Directory and found only two entries for Swallow Street:
Here is entrance to Queen's College ch[a]mbers
Stanford & Mann Ltd. st[a]t[io]n[e]rs
I didn't see this almost complete lack of information as discouraging. I joined up the pieces by assuming that everything in the road except the stationers and Queen's College Chambers had been demolished in between the photo being taken and my Kelly's being published. Of course Queen's College Chambers is still there although its address is given as Paradise Street and it is prestigious apartments; it started off as a medical school in 1828 and was one of the colleges which made up the University of Birmingham. The present theological college called the Queen's Foundation was near there too.
I naively thought that it would be simple to find out the historical residents of Swallow Street. I naively thought that some trace of them would have been left in previous Kelly's Directories. I was naturally surprised on arbitrarily choosing the 1930 one in the library to find there was no record of Swallow Street at all. Nothing. It was bizarre that the street was there on the map of 1913, had houses standing in the early 1960s, apparently inhabited by at least one business in 1968 and yet had left no trace in Kelly's at all. I really began to think that I had imagined the street's existence as I went through successive Kelly's and still found absolutely nothing.
The earliest reference in a Kelly's Directory I could find was in 1962, where there were at least a couple of businesses:
12 O'Higgins and Secondini, tailors.
12 Docker F. dance studio
28 Cutler Bob Ltd. turf comm[i]ss[io]n[ing] ag[en]ts
All three of these businesses had vanished in the succeeding six years. There was no indication what was happening at numbers 13 - 27. Swallow Street looked as if it was determined to retain its mystery.
Then I started going through books of the city centre's history by hand (the Hound is not easily deflected when he wants to get to the bottom of a mystery), and finally found the reason for Swallow Street's elusiveness. The simple fact was that nobody noticed it or was bothered about it:
'Some of Birmingham's byways were built as access roads and had nothing more important in them than the back doors of buildings whose frontages were on more prestigious avenues. SWALLOW STREET first appears on Hanson's map of Birmingham in 1778, having been cut around 1750. It linked Hill Street with Suffolk Street and runs parallel to and to the north of Navigation Street, which it slightly pre-dates. The building of the cuttings into New Street Station divided Swallow Street in half, and steam and smoke can be seen rising [referencing the black and white picture of the street] above the bridge parapet on this bitterly cold Friday, 1 February 1963, as a train passes through the last, short, 20-yard cutting before the railway line disappears into the tunnel built by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) and out beyond Monument Lane locomotive shed into the Black Country. Opposite the bridge, beyond the covered timber yard on the left and the elderly gentleman struggling along the snow-covered footpath, is Summer Street, which was on the same line as the present-day Brunel Street. On the right, behind the Morris LD 1-ton van, are buildings that had originally been the offices of the Inland Revenue, while Scruton's the tailor's, founded in 1931, occupies part of the rear of Queen's College Chambers. A 10hp Ford Prefect E493A of about 1952, one of Ford's last 'sit-up-and-beg' motors, which was phased out during the following year, is parked on the left. The winter of 1962-63 was particularly bad, and the snow lay from the end of December until early March. Behind the car is the West End Ballroom on the corner of Suffolk Street and Holliday Street, while coming out of Holliday Street is a Corporation Daimler CVD6 double-decker fitted with a locally-manufactured Metro-Cammell body, leaving its city terminus on the 95 service to Ladywood.' (David Harvey: Birmingham Past and Present, the City Centre Volume 1, 2002, p.16, which is also the source for the black and white picture of Swallow Street, taken facing the other way from the colour picture.)
So, mystery solved. The simple reason Swallow Street didn't appear in the directories was that nothing happened there which would have made an appearance. If it had it would have been a collection of rear entrances. Of course the situation may well have been different before the advent of the railway, but Swallow Street by the twentieth century was already a relic of a vanished past.
There remained one mystery. The colour picture shows the back of the Golden Eagle public house (in fact the 1913 map shows a P.H. on that site). The address of the Golden Eagle was actually in Hill Street, and it turns out that in the twentieth century it was an art deco 1930s rebuilding of whatever was there before. It was one of the buildings over which the conservationists tussled with the demolitionists and the demolitionists won (I believe in the 1980s) because there were apparently unrepairable structural faults with it. It turns out that the Golden Eagle was a pub known for its music and many famous bands of the time played there, but that isn't really a part of Swallow Street. Certainly, looking at the remaining pictures it looks as if it would have been a sexy art deco building, which it is a great pity is lost.

Image sources include http://www.jlb2011.co.uk/iob/slides03/index.htm and one I didn't make a note of. Sorry.