Monday, June 12, 2017

Sources for Witchcraft: Psalm 109

Regular readers of this blog will know that, in true INFJ fashion, I both claim to be a completely untaught witch, and also to have a degree of learning about my witchcraft. I don't really see a conflict here - I'm only unlearned because nobody else has said that my studies are acceptable to them. I have never done any formal courses, and certainly never been initiated by anyone else. On the other hand, the time I have spent in academic learning has made me unafraid of book learning, happy to apply it in reality, and also given me a nose which can smell bullshit a mile off. Of course the fact that a lot of it is bullshit is what gives much of the modern witchcraft movement's literature a bad reputation - it is ahistorical, fanciful, imaginery claptrap. That said, that is the name of the game in magic, so I suppose it is to be expected, and you will certainly read a lot of my own imaginings on here (all except for the one where Andrew Lincoln knocks on my door, but I'm still working on that one).
Despite my repeated assertion that the witch's hedge ill teach her all things, I am also a firm believer that the resource the witch needs at the time will appear from whatever source, and this post is largely inspired by a visit in my hedge which then led on to a more academic study. Last weekend I went round the Birmingham Back to Backs for the first time - and in historically accurate fashion they had set up the older houses as Jewish households, since the area around Hurst Street was the Jewish quarter before anyone else got hold of it. Pondering the connection I picked up the only bible in the house, which happens to be a Jewish bible - the Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press, New York, 2004), and turned to a psalm very familiar to me for its use in magic - Psalm 109, one of the scarier ones. In fact it's used in several different forms of magic -
This one is powerful enough that merely chanting it while focusing on an enemy should cause him or her some distress.  However, before simply writing this particular Psalm off as evil, I should point out that it also gets interpreted in more positive ways.  Ray T. Marlbrough says it is used “To protect from an enemy, persisting in bothering you” (Magic Power of the Saints).  In this light, it is not so much of a curse as a barrier against harm.  Braucher Chris Bilardi recognizes its power to be used “against a tenacious enemy,” but also says it is useful “for acquiring friends” (The Red Church).  So even the “cursing Psalm” has its upside. Source
One of the things I like about the Jewish Study Bible is that it turns the kind of scholarship on its head that I have known from a degree in theology from a Christian perspective. In fact reading this bible for a post-Christian is about as illuminating as it can be, because it shows how the Christian reading of the Hebrew bible is far divorced from the Jewish one. As it happens, the commentary illuminated something about this psalm, which begins with an invocation of God (the translation is the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation):
'O God of my praise,
do not keep aloof.'
I can't believe how I had never noticed the divisions within this psalm (which believe me, when you're reciting it as a monk at 5am in the morning just comes across as a protracted moan), but it then goes on to narrate what the psalmist's enemies have said against him:
'for the wicked and the deceitful
open their mouth against me;
they speak to me with lying tongue.
They encircle me with words of hate;
they attack me without cause.
They answer my love with accusation
and I must stand judgment.
They repay me with evil for good, with hatred for my love.'
Magically the most important part of this psalm is the next section - and what made me realise this is the commentary here 'The psalm, particularly this section, resembles the Mesopotamian "namburbi," lit. "untying," a type of prayer intended to undo a magic spell'. The magic spell is of course the attack outlined in the section above, and this is its untying:
'Appoint a wicked man over him;
may an accuser stand at his right side;
may he be tried and convicted;
may he be judged and found guilty.
May his days be few;
may another take over his position.
May his children be orphans,
his wife a widow.
May his children wander from their hovels,
begging in search of [bread].
May his creditor seize all his possessions;
may strangers plunder his wealth.
May no one show him mercy;
may none pity his orphans;
may his posterity be cut off;
may their names be blotted out in the next generation.
May God be ever mindful of his father's iniquity,
and may the sin of his mother not be blotted out.
May the Lord be aware of them always
and cause their names to be cut off from the earth,
because he was not minded to act kindly,
and hounded to death the poor and needy man,
one crushed in spirit.
He loved to curse - may a curse come upon him!
He would not bless - may blessing be far from him!
May he be clothed in a curse like a garment,
may it enter his body like water,
his bones like oil.
Let it be like the cloak he wraps around him,
like the belt he always wears.
May the Lord thus repay my accusers,
all those who speak evil against me.'
I was of course familiar with the magical practice of undoing as a way of averting other people's ill will. There is a spell excactly like this in my book where you begin by tying nine knots in string to represent the evil done to you, undo them one at a time and burn the string at the end. I knew that this felt old, but didn't realise that it went back to the ancient culture of Sumer (modern day Iraq), the first urban civilisation, which means that this magical method dates back to around 4000 BCE. It looks very much as if the Hebrew bible has picked up a local magical  text, because up until I read the commentary on that psalm I had no idea it followed exactly the form of these spells. They were called namburbi because that means '[ritual for] undoing it', i.e. undoing what had already been done, exactly as in the psalm. What I find particularly interesting is also that the form of the ritual has so many commonalities with pretty much every other magical reitual ever invented, but also has the exact same end of all magic - being free of something. Here is the ritual:
Colophons of namburbi tablets and letters from writers and astrologers of the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal show that it was the role of the ašipu, “exorcist,” to plan and implement the apotropaic rituals. If a sign had been recognized as foreboding, the gods Ea and his son Asalluḫi, Šamaš, the sun god and god of justice (mīšaru), and often the deity, in whose sphere of influence the prognostication had occurred, were invoked, and offered a meal of bread, meat, dates, incense, water and beer to appease the source of the portent and effect a change in outcome. Clay figurines were fashioned and a Šuilla, or “show of hands prayer,” was delivered to implore divine mercy.[4]
During the preliminary purification stage, the subject and conjuror conducting the ritual abstained from eating watercress, onions, leeks or fish. Water was consecrated under the stars and with all manner of cleansing substances. Small altars were erected by the riverside in a “place difficult of access.” The person infected with the evil (lumnu) was led to a spot strewn with garden herbs (šammū kirî) behind one of the altars and a clay figurine representing the harbinger of the omen was laid before them. The conjuror then performed the incantation, often climaxing by shattering a clay pot, and the subject was washed with the consecrated water, which was afterward poured over the figurine, to return the impurity to its source. A variety of symbolic actions could follow, including cutting the subjects hair, fingernails, stripping off his coat, peeling an onion or unwinding a thread to represent the dissolution of the fate. The figurine was then cast into the river, "down to the apsû." Measures were taken to avoid reinfection, with the subject perhaps wearing an amulet and returning home via a different route from that taken prior to the ritual.
The profound psychological effect of the release ritual cannot be underestimated. For the private individual it would have had a deep impression, akin to absolution, but to a monarch it may have altered his behavior. By ridding the impending evil inherent in a bad omen, a namburbi “bolstered the king’s self-confidence, strengthened his resolution, and steeled his will to fight.” An entire staff of conjurors organized like a ministry poured over omen collections and prepared rituals to counter any portent that was diagnosed.[7] A namburbi was a central part of the substitute king ritual. Source
That said, I'm not necessarily going to go to so much trouble myself. I was inspired by a cow's tongue on the Bull Ring this afternoon. When the witch is ready the resources *always* appear.
Oh buggrit - better put in some music to entertain hoi polloi.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


This is one of those blog posts which has given me an untold amount of trouble in the writing, and in fact this is something like its third or fourth incarnation.
It started off as my regular anti-Pride post, and I was going to say that if you have your hair done for Pride or otherwise dress up in a way that wouldn't be possible in your everyday life, you are still asking for permission to express yorself and thus the power is always in the hands of someone else. And this, of course, is my criticism of the whole Pride thing - that it gives queers permission to be outrageous so that the heteros can be entertained and a large amount of money can be made by big business. And so the queers remain disempowered and in fact continue to seek permission from those who do so.
The post then became one in honour of May as Masturbation Month - in fact I believe today is the actual Wankers' Day and I was going to exhort my readers to do something to mark this day. I was also going to comment on some of the weirder shit you can read on the internet if you google the word masturbation. Much of the weird shit is about how various divinities arbitrarily ban masturbation for their followers for various reasons. Now I'm a witch, and not only do I not see myself conceding to deities' arbitrary pleasure-denying ordinances anytime soon, but I will tell them so. I don't feel the need to get these deities' permission (the theme now appears between these apparently random subjects) to do something which is plainly not harmful.
Of course masturbation is a classic example of an activity where people feel they don't have persmission to do it and end up thoroughly screwed up over it. One of the most hilarious and yet saddest bizarre statements about masturbation I read on the internet while preparing for this post's predecessor was this question by a - presumably - young gentleman but I'm afraid I haven't saved the source of it:
'Is it possible to be raped by yourself? I know that if you masturbate you will go to hell, but I woke up and it was happening - but it was my hand and not me. So I think it was a kind of rape. I do not want to go to hell because I was raped! What should I do?'
He is of course a) thinking he needs permission to have a wank b) allowing the religious nonsense he has imbibed to mess with his head and c) not taking any ownership of this at all. Ths simple fact is he masturbated and can't deal with it. There really is a lot wrong with our world.
And of course that is the trouble with needing permission: it stops you having to take responsibility for your actions. I get that this can be a normal human reaction - there are a lot of followers in this world - but I think the first step towards living a sovereign life is to stop needing other people's permission to do things. Yes it has a cost, but it is the essential first step. 'Who am I asking for permission is a useful question for a witch to ask to determine where the power lies in any situation.
In addition to asking that question there is a spiritual exercise I can suggest at this point. It is an exercise in giving yourself pleasure without having to ask permission. I even have a song about it:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Time Travel: Bradford Street

Back to B12 for a time travel post today. I may make it sound like it's a million miles away from the known world, but the reason for the psychological separation is visible in the above picture. That's a toll gate you see, marking the boundary between Deritend parish and St Martin's parish. There is a similar psychological gap on the other side of the city, at AB Row, where Aston parish starts.
This is another picture-heavy post, since the reason is that I have found several fiftyish year old pictures of Bradford Street in my collection and the difference from today is striking!
Before we stroll down in the city, let's turn round and see what Phyllis Nicklin saw at the Camp Hill end in the 1960s (the pictures in this post are either Phyllis Nicklin's, my own, or I have lost the source except one which is watermarked. As usual if they're yours just leave a comment and I'll credit or remove).
Oh dear. It actually looks as if Holy Trinity church and its strangely unchanging greenery has been transplanted to a different setting! The rather handsome Georgian house has vanished.
The same house is on the right of this earlier picture (I'm loving the advertisements) and virtually everything in that picture is long-demolished.
Another Nicklin, illustrating one of the twentieth-century buildings which replaced the Georgian or Victorian buildings on the site. This building is one of the ones which made me think of the marked change in Bradford Street since Nicklin's day. The angle is similar to that of the eighteenth century view at the top of the post.
Not so different on the surface, but when you get close up you notice that that building is proper f*cked.

I was rather confused by the mixture of signs of care (painting out graffiti) combined with the current complete dereliction of this building. The answer is that planning permission for redevelopment of the site has been granted and the building is slated for demolition. I didn't enter, despite the door conveniently having been kicked in: I psychically detected needles and unfriendly people. The pity is that it was obviously originally a good-quality building, and you can see what it looked like before it got trashed, here.

My intent is to draw your attention to the 1960s-style building with blue panels under the upper windows.
I see that Edwin Steiner started his cycle and motor accessories manufacturing company in 1908. Since I got this information from an industrial history site, it looks like it's long gone. Steiner himself died in 1968. One of the things I find interesting about the view of Steiner's works into the city is the relative speed with which Bradford Street has changed - for example the building beyond the pub has gone, despite looking fairly modern. This is the other building whose present state struck me as a contrast:

I suppose there may be a window unbroken somewhere, but it would be difficult to spot through the layers of competing graffiti! Once again, through the wonders of brave urbexers and the internet, you can see inside this building here.

Things are looking more positive for this building which is currently a garage, with a change of colour from its Nicklin days. The buses have also changed colour!
Next door, though, the paint slingers have been at work.
As so often happens a new mystery has opened up, which is the original use of this building. Unfortunately my 1968 Kelly's indicates that it was already a garage so I can see that a trip to the library is indicated...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Urban Grimoire: The Freezer Spell

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that 'a book in your own hand of write' is unnecessary for a witch of my stripe. It's not like I have mammoth rituals, for a start. And a book can only ever be the record of a particular time, and I continue to find that I am not repeatedly faced by the same situations. I will need different resources and inspirations as I go on. As the witch is ready, the challenges appear and the means to meet them. In my own case the freezer spell has recently come to my attention, and it's lush (as my new young colleagues would say). It's also dead easy.

Get a container which can go in the freezer. On paper write the name of the person you wish to freeze so that they can't do the thing you want to stop. You can use whatever convention and ritual you like for this. Put it in the container. Pour on water and put it in the freezer. Job done. (The only slight problem is a tendency for the paper to float to the top of the water and not be contained. This is easily remedied by adding more water halfway through freezing so that it's contained.)

I notice a major effect of this spell is on the magical practitioner rather than the target. As it freezes, the person or behaviour just ceases to be a problem - just exactly as if the heat has been taken out of the situation!

Oh hold on - Inexplicable likes me to post music, so here's a song which can be played while the water's freezing:

Image credit:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

In Which the Hound Finds Himself in an Ethical Quandary

I happened to walk into two opposing peotests in the city centre today, and true to form I found myself in agreement with both sides of the argument and yet neither. It didn't really help that I walked into the two sides in the 'wrong' order so that I met the marchers protesting the original march first. The actual organised event was the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children's March for Life, and the opposing side were pro-choicers of various stripes. My thoughts about these two opposing sides have made me think about how as a witch I approach this ethical dilemma and about the things on which I can base decisions as a witch.
I'd better put my cards on the table and admit that except in difficult cases, I am generally against abortion, but my reason would be that I know it can have long-term psychological consequences. As a witch, I also know that the 'ghosts' of our actions can haunt us, and that generally speaking we are best dealing with the consequences of our actions. Naturally I understand that this is a very complicated and emotive issue, and there are many circumstances where a legal and safe termination may be preferable to continuing the pregnancy.
That said I disagree with both the pro-life and pro-choice dialectic. The choice argument places the decision solely in the woman's own domain, and for that reason I think it is too simplistic an argument (let's see the comments that come in this post lol).
I have less sympathy for the 'pro-life' faction for a number of reasons. For a start it is again too narrow, focussing solely on the notional human life of the foetus and ignoring anyone else's life. To my mind it is therefore a misnomer, because the whole Catholic pro-life philosophy is not pro-life at all. Regular readers will know that I am an ex-Catholic and that my opinion is that the empirical facts indicate you cannot trust anything to the Catholic church's care - not an adult, not a building, and certainly not a child.
Nor do I believe that their religion should dictate the law. Lawmaking is another issue really beyond the scope of this post.
I found myself feeling more in sympathy with the feminist protesters as I thought about it, for the specious reason that they were at least less drab than the Catholic marchers. Yet, and yet, what do I actually want to happen? I suppose what I want is for women and their significant others to make informed decisions with access to all the information and to safe medical procedures without fear of intimidation. Yet I remain basically against termination myself.
It took me a while to realise that what I really want is for people to stand on their own two feet and make autonomous decisions based on what matters to them - pretty much exactly what I would wish for all people in all circumstances anyway. The issue has forced me to realise the underlying values I would apply, and I'm delighted to see that taking possession of ones own power is an eminently witchy one! The irony with termination as a witchy ethical dilemma is that of course in an ideal world, the person doing his or her will, will nor need to undo previous actions because they will be intentional. I say in an ideal world, because nobody can always control all variables in life.
You may say of course that I've come out far closer to the feminist choice argument, although I still think it may be over-simplistic. Given my prioritisation of the individual's will, I feel greater horror for the forcing of the 'pro-life' agenda, which is of course divinely revealed and so the mother and the foetus really count for nothing in comparison to the foor-stamping god.
This denigration of the individual can only lead to the denigration of human life.  To the contrary, you can always tell someone who is doing their will by their authority, responsibiliry, and joy: the ecstasy of the spirit which is of the Goddess.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Spirit of Place: Icknield Street School

Source: the iron room blog
In addition to the William Mitchell installation under the flyover, the school was my other reason for visiting Hockley yesterday. I said the school deserved a post of its own and here it is. It may seem that an apparently standard Victorian school would not merit a post on its own, and that would be the case anywhere else in the country, but the board schools of Birmingham are a different kettle of fish from those elsewhere in the country. Bearing in mind that the city was known for its nonconformity and rationalism, after the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which allowed alternatives to the otherwise religion-dominated church schools, the city set to with a will and by 1894 the Pall Mall Gazette could say:
In Birmingham you may generally recognize a board school by its being the best building in the neighbourhood. In London it is almost vice versa. With lofty towers which serve the utilitarian purpose of giving excellent ventilation, gabled windows, warm red bricks and stained glass, the best Birmingham board schools have quite an artistic finish. In regard to light and air the worst schools are equal to the best in London. Source
The lofty ideal of disinterested education for the improvement of all the population led to the Birmingham Board Schools having a rather characteristic design (a design you've already seen if you've been to the Icon Gallery, the former Oozells Street School):
[Joseph] Chamberlain believed that the architecture of schools should provide a pleasant contrast from the drab homes and environment of their pupils. The Chamberlain schools were designed for hygiene, light, fresh air and beauty. Typically in red brick and terracotta, gabled, with steep roofs supported by large arches of internally exposed ironwork, and freely planned, they were towered to provide ventilation using the Plenum system, with fresh air being drawn in from above the polluted ground level, heated if necessary, and vented also from the tower. The tower was typically placed over the staircase to draw air through the school. There were terracotta plaques, glazed tiles, ornamental ironwork, tall windows, and stained glass. Martin & Chamberlain worked for low remuneration to enable a healthy education. Source
Apart from its local significance, the building is a Grade 2* listed building, as is the Head Master's House which is of a piece with it. This is the listing for the school building itself:
Hockley B18
Icknield Street School
(St Chad's Roman Catholic
(formerly listed as
Icknield Street School)
SP 08 NE 7/61 16.9.81
1883, by Martin and Chamberlain. Red brick; tile roof with decorative ridge
tiles and finials. Partly 2- and partly 3-storeyed. Gabled bays, the principal
ones with triple windows, the others with couplets. All windows of lancet shape.
Good moulded chimney stack to the east wing. A major feature is the slated spire
rising in 3 stages separated by wooden louvres and terminating in elaborate
Listing NGR: SP0582888465 Source
Both of the buildings are separately on the Heritage at Risk Register in the highest category of buildings at immediate risk with no plan of any sort in place to safeguard them.
I'm going to have to be frank here, and say that while the building is clearly focked and has suffered outrageous neglect I can also see that the maintenance of this building would be a crippling nightmare. On a critical note, the cost of the scaffolding would be a small price to pay for the benefit to this building of sorting the drainage. If every single downpipe is running water down the brickwork, that means the owners don't give a shit. Ironically one of the features of this building, the tower, is a major weakness since it is bound to be prone to rot but also requires work at heights to maintain it. In no way is the hound excusing the scandalous mess this building is in: even closer to the ground woodwork is rotting away and you will see heaps of rubbish in the pictures. One thing that does seem to have been done is to put grilles over the windows to stop them being broken. I have read that the council are in negotiations with the owners to secure this building's future. It has already had a fire - I would hate to think that deliberate neglect would make this another listed building destroyed in a 'mysterious' fire. Anyway, on with the photos.