Monday, April 29, 2013

Seven of Coins

'When the student is ready the teacher comes along' is a saying that we tend to throw around without properly examining its implications. In my case I'm finding that Jean-Baptist Alliette is reaching across the past two-and-a-half centuries & giving me a good shake. Perhaps I have become too accustomed to our English-speaking RWS tarot tradition, & it was high time to be refreshed by trying a new system. The French tradition of cartomancy is proving fertile ground, although typically of me I don't take to the currently fashionable Lenormand cards at all. A friend showed me how to do a reading with them, & it made perfect sense when he did it, but left alone with those cards they mean nothing to me.
Lenormand is rumoured to have used cards of the Petit Etteilla tradition, & I'm finding that my Grand Etteilla cards want to be read very differently from RWS cards. They much prefer indicating what is surrounding the querent by locating the Etteilla card, to the card for the day tradition.
Today I see the 7 of Coins Reversed ahead of me. I always think of the RWS card as the 'what now?' Card, but Etteilla's keyword for this is Inquietude. Pronounce it the French way (an-key-ay-tood) & it gives the full depths of the French existential crisis underlying this card. Once again the RWS image confuses & limits the meaning: who the hell puts coins in a bush anyway? Rather this card is about not arriving - 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for' type thing. It is everyone who has attained what they were aiming for on the material plane - whether the house, the job or whatever - & found that that was not It.
On other planes that meaning is deepened to the things that keep happening 'to' us - I wouldn't like to say that we always attract these things, since some people just seem to be shit magnets, no matter how hard they try. I have been thinking a lot recently about how an individual's magic is very characteristic of them, & they keep on finding themselves in the position where their magical 'signature' comes into play.
Mine for example is that I attract piss takers. Before I accepted the mantle of witch I used to wonder why it was, but now I know that it is because my own magical signature is that I face people with the consequences of their actions. This will be the other person's 'stuff', not mine, but it means that I (completely without trying to) attract people whose task at that time is to learn respect. Even people who don't know I'm a witch will sometimes say that they realise they shouldn't mess (& invariably go on to do so); & these people will know that I will stand in their way on the material plane. Magically this means that my magic is slow & painful; magically I'm a plodder & will happily spend years working on facing someone with their actions so they can't escape. Maybe this is why I work so well with my magical partner: I'll slowly & surely make their life a living hell - a hell they will have created themselves, mark you, before anyone accuses me of so-called 'black' magic, but a hell that they have created by doing things that they thought they would get away with but then find they can't. Whereas my magical partner's signature is different: shorter, sharper, & sudden.
The upshot of all this is that as a witch, a priest of nature, a priest of inescapable life & death, there is much inquietude ahead for me. There is no way I would have chosen where I am, but I'm there & have to see this as what I'm for.
As for why & how this is, that's a whole different blog post...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

All change

I got up early today, went back to bed with the cat for a cuddle, then started making notes on Etteilla's tarot. This is of course the granddaddy of all divinatory tarots: before that they were always made for gaming. Etteilla stands at the junction between tarot as a game & the nineteenth century occultists' adoption of it.
Then to town for a wander round looking for a flat. I had set my heart on the area around the peace gardens, but have to admit that perhaps it is too small an area, since there are only about four buildings that would fit my criteria, & all of them expensive, with huge apartments. Whereas what I want is to sell my tatty terrace when the cat dies (can't move the poor old thing now), buy a shoebox in the city, & hopefully have some change left over!
I didn't realise how this wander would feel to me: it marks a further move away from my mother, since I bought my house to be near to her, which I now realise was a big mistake.
Also today the new concourse at New Street Station opened, so I had a wander in. I'm impressed with the way they've hacked essentially a new station out of the old one, in the process opening up that part of the city centre, so that the station no longer acts as a mammoth bollard in the middle of the city. The picture is of course of when the existing station was new.
The midland metro is also being extended: who knows it may finally lead to the conversion of the old central methodist church into flats! Corporation Street would be quite an address to have. I may have to look to Digbeth in the search for a flat. Oh well, more anon on that & doubtless on Etteilla, I even scared myself yesterday when I drew some cards out of a virtually unknown deck & found my exact mindset looking back at me!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Strength & my shopping list

I've not been feeling myself lately. I even talked with my manager at work about going somewhere else for a bit - don't worry, I made it plain that my reasons were to do with feeling that my employers were not providing me with safe colleagues & systems of work, etc, rather than anything internal to me, such as burn-out. This is rather uncharacteristic of me - it would be much more characteristic to stay & fight.
I feel this is partly a hangover of the events of the past couple of years - their year cards were Hermit & Wheel of Fortune respectively - which I now seem to be getting over. My card for this year is obviously Strength; I couldn't decide on the rather deranged-looking old-time strongman on the gorgeous Linweave tarot or Houdini to illustrate this post so I've gone for both. The Linweave tarot also circumvents the argument of whether the woman is opening or closing the beast's mouth by depicting a situation where the man is able to manage the ferocious lion merely by holding its tail, confident enough to turn his back on it. This is a cunning, rather than brute strength.
Similarly with Houdini: I read years ago that when he was being chained he had this way of expanding his muscles so that when he contracted them again the chains or straitjacket were looser than they started off. Perhaps this is the message of Strength for me this year: to be the sort of person who cannot be bound, so that I will never have to free myself from them again.
Nonetheless it is always a good exercise for the witch to go over what she has done, to reinforce the idea that she can do it again, & more. I have a little list on my altar, written on a sheet out of a Dr Who notebook illustrated with the word 'exterminate', of people I am healing of the notion that they can use me. There were seven names on it originally: some have been crossed off, leaving three & one of them is on the way out of my orbit. By exercising ones strength, one reinforces ones own power to do so, & the rehearsing of what one has already done is the prehearsal of the next time one will do it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Spirit of place: Cast iron urinals

You know I can never resist the call of the weird, and after I posted my trail around the Green Men of Birmingham a friend expressed disbelief that there were enough cast iron urinals left in the city to constitute a trail in and of themselves, and of course I had to rise to the challenge. The first is one that you can't see any more, because as the article above says it was dismantled to make way for the ICC in the 90s, but nonetheless forms a better start to this post than many of the derelict ones would.
So let's begin outside of the city centre. The first one is the only one of these that one can actually micturate in at present. It's in Harborne High Street and since that picture was taken it's been painted a sort of burgundy colour rather than the authentic green in the picture. I don't think the interior is completely original by any stretch of the imagination, however I always think pointing percy in the open air with buses going past is a fond memory of how life used to be, before you had to pay, often as much as 30p, to go into one of those strange Tardis contraptions. The next one is in Balsall Heath: I have been unable to find where it is in more detail than that, and have never seen it in the flesh, so have no idea what sort of state it is in now.
The majority of them are in the city centre, and the majority of those are in Digbeth. This, the most photogenic one, is in Allison Street.
This one, in Oxford Street, shows how they were imaginatively slotted into railway arches and odd corners. I don't dislike the colour this one is painted: better they be painted and preserved, than left in blistering green paint for authenticity's sake and allowed to disintegrate.
Great Barr Street. This one is actually opposite a pub and must have seen many scenes of drunk men rushing in at closing times. If only that light could speak of the many scenes it must have seen! This one was in use until relatively recently, and was closed in the council's splurge of closing most of the conveniences in the city.
Moving over to the Jewellery Quarter, these three pictures are of the same one, in Ludgate Hill, that I posted about before. I found pictures of the interior of this one, since this is about the only opportunity you'll get to see what these loos look like inside. Running water only to the urinals and no basins. This is the one that was a notorious sting site for the police. A friend of a friend put flowers outside this one when it was finally boarded up.
Right by Jewellery Quarter station is this one, formerly known as the Temple of Relief.
That's it for the cast iron urinals that I know of. No doubt there are more - there are rumours of one in Cape Hill or Smethwick, but I don't know where it is and wouldn't call that Birmingham. To prevent anyone thinking I've got a thing for cottages, I'm going to add a few more loos on here that I've been wanting to talk about under the heading of spirit of place, and get them out of the way and move on to other stuff. This one is one sexy art deco convenience. You can't see it as it looks in the picture, and I've never seen it except for some tiling poking out from behind the hoarding that's hidden it for years. Digbeth again, needless to say.
And this is what it looks like now: this mural was moved from St Chad's Circus in the road alterations, and has been put there. A good use of the mural. I love that dead 60s mural anyway.
Finally a cottage - an actual cottage - which isn't there any more. This one was known as the 'silver slipper' on account of the ballet shop near it, and was round the back of New Street Station, before the station's last going over. This loo is a genuine part of local gay history.
The pub in those days was the Arms, which I think is gone now, quite close to the Smallbrook Queensway, and nearby was the which was this cottage down below the street, quite close to New Street Station.  Everybody went down there.  Oh gosh, the things that went on there would make your hair curl.  Generally some of the liaisons there would be absolutely outrageous with very little care about who might not be coming in because it wasn’t all gay guys that went down there, there were some straight guys as well.  The Silver Slipper had two entrances and absolutely palatial marble stands and marble tiles but occasionally it would get raided by the cops and emptied into vans and then, of course, everybody would come rushing into the bar. ‘The Slipper’s been raided’ so nobody would go there for a couple of days.  Most of the little cottages around Birmingham would be very busy, very busy indeed because it was where we met, we had the odd bar but we didn’t have many bars and the landlords were making money, that was all they were interested in but, the moment there was any threat to them or their licence, they would pull out and they wouldn’t be gay anymore.  So you could go one week it would be gay and the next week it wouldn’t.  It was as flexible as that.”

“In the cottages, we’d do everything, oh everything, yeah, everything, every single thing. hadn’t raised its head by then but there was VD, of course.  That’s why we’re mostly what we are now.  It’s getting less now, of course, but – yes, sex in toilets was from masturbation to full blown sex, lurve if you like, and everything in between.”

“We’d use lube or saliva but I think the more gentlemen amongst us would probably carry a lube of some kind, probably Vaseline because although I think KY’s always been around, it was rather expensive and still is.  But, yeah, it would probably be Vaseline because of the little tins.  The police search your handbag and they find a tin of Vaseline in there.  You can’t always have cracked lips, can you?”

“The places would get raided, I think probably mostly through hetero complaints or if somebody had been arrested somewhere else and they’d say where else do you go and they’d say we go down the Silver Slipper down behind the Station and, therefore, it would be watched.  Because they took great delight these people, as I’ve already said, Gestapo tactics were the norm and they were pretty awful people the majority of them.  They were coppers by default, I would have thought.”

“I was never arrested, touch wood, but my partner was, and several of my friends have been over the years.  I’ve had friends who have committed suicide because of being found cottaging and then the families don’t know anything about it.  That’s pretty ghastly.  But, no, I was tarred with the same brush, I think they (the Police) were all bastards anyway and I think they probably still are but they’ve got less power as regards gay, I mean, now.  They still arrest us for cottaging, of course, but it’s not a really practised thing these days because cottages have all been closed and they've gone into restaurants now, haven’t they? Shops and restaurants didn’t have to supply public toilets anyway so it was a public convenience thing to have these places and it was very convenient to a lot of us.” Source
 And just in case anyone should be querying the use of the word 'cottage', surely the picture of the one in Bearwood (where there also used to be a cast iron urinal down the side of the Bear pub) should explain the name!
The gentleman is Barry Hall, a seriously good chef and I can't recommend his restaurant Azzari Too highly enough. He wants to turn half of the cottage into a deli. Seriously.
Addendum 27.3.14: I have recently taken the opportunity to pop into the urinal in Harborne and take a picture before making my offering to Cloacina, since it seems there was no picture of what I believe to be the only cast iron urinal still open and available for use in the area. The stainless steel urinal is no doubt not original: certainly the one in Livery Street had individual porcelain urinals.
I have also passed the one in Oxford Street and found the boarding at one side was broken. Obviously it was completely dark inside and I had no way of knowing what was in there, but I put my blackberry in and took a picture. Unfortunately, what I got was a picture of a complete glazed-brick interior like the Harborne one, and a sleeping bag as evidence that someone is obviously sleeping rough in there. Following my policy of not publishing pictures of other people's bedrooms I will not publish the picture here, and I also took no further pictures so have no idea what condition it is in apart from the wall of glazed bricks.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The reputedly haunted Queen's Arms

Yesterday I had a gathering with another witch. We ate at the new Lost & Found bar - overpriced & trying way too hard but the food was nice, even though it wasn't very obvious that there was gin in my cocktail. Having spent time playing houses in House of Fraser we ended up in the Queen's Arms on Newhall Street.
I like the jewellery quarter, although I think I liked it better before the return of people to live there. Prior to that it had a strange Avengers-esque feel of almost abandonment.
The Queen's Arms is reputed to be haunted by a bottom-pinching ghost ( which was what made me want to go there in the first place. I pictured a sort of ethereal Leslie Phillips or Terry Thomas ('Ding dong!'), but I really don't think it is haunted. It certainly doesn't need any publicity either, being packed out, which could also explain the bottom-pinching.
Rather the evening was an interesting lesson in how much simpler non-sexual relationships were. My friend, a woman, & I are obviously not having sex & get on perfectly well but it seemed literally everyone else in the pub was in the throes & pains of some passion.
There was a woman who clearly only wanted the man she was with to take her home & ravish her, which he was clearly going to do but was doing it in his own good time.
There was the gay man with a straight male friend, who also only clearly wanted to be ravished, but the straight friend apparently couldn't even see this, let alone do it.
There was the young lad visibly bursting to get off with the girl he was with, who clearly wanted to but was giving him mixed messages & he didn't seem able to move it forward. It transpired he was just trying his luck with her while they were waiting for a group of friends. Clearly a bounder, & exactly the sort of spirit I expected to find there.
There was a mean & moody-looking man on his own, although we couldn't decide whether that explained his look. In case you read this: yes, we were talking about you & there was no need to be alone, either of us would happily have solved that for you!
I'm not sure what the moral is, but doesn't it become so much more complicated when sex is involved? Perhaps that's the actual source of the ghost: an underlying atmosphere of conflicting passions!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Urbs in rure

To Hereford today. I am sure I have been there before, but have no recollaction of what it was like: although I feel I liked it slightly better today than previously. On the way down in the train you can tell when you suddenly hit proper countryside (at some point after Worcester), because you get a sudden whiff of manure. 'Lovely country smell,' my mother would say: it's not lovely, dear, it's faeces, & that (or one like it) is the very smell that fortunes have been spent to deal with in the city.
Hereford doesn't live up to its slanderous reputation of being a city of inbred sheep-shaggers: there are even Polish supermarkets. Although I did hear a man say who was trying to return something in a charity shop (I'm not making this up), 'I haven't driven all the way from Merthyr Tydfil for you to tell me I can't return it, look you.' For lunch I had a beef roll, which at £3.30 I thought would be a tourist rip-off until I saw the butcher cutting off chunks of the most delicious beef, almost tender enough to eat with a spoon.
The cathedral, while showing a strong Victorian going-over (I suspect Gilbert Scott) has a relative paucity of camp memorials. It seems quite high church now: ironic they're busy putting images in when the pre-reformation stuff is still there with heads hacked off. Witness the angel.


Spirit of Place: New Street Station again

My relative paucity of posts recently has been because since lover boy ran off with my Blackberry (& a whole load of trouble with it) I've been using one whose touchscreen was clearly nearing the end of its life. That. Is. Why. There. Are. So. Many. Full. some posts. Very troublous to go through afterwards & sort it, & I didn't want to give the impression of talking through permanently gritted teeth. The Hound will *never* run out of things to say! Fortunately I now have one which I like even better than the original.
I have posted before on my (extremely Freudian) thing about railways. I'm writing this sitting on platform 10B at New Street. I'm running away to Hereford for the day & had time to look at the children's artwork I mentioned before. They're on platform 5, I can only find two of them, & while they were new to me - not having noticed them before - they are clearly not new new. Nonetheless they deserve to be posted here because I like them!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 30: For I am the soul of nature

For I am the Soul of nature who giveth life to the Universe; From me all things proceed; and unto me all things must return; Beloved of the Gods and men; thine innermost divine self shall be enfolded in the raptures of the infinite. 

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Arte Magical: For I am the flame that burns in the heart of every man, and the core of every Star. Let it be your inmost divine self who art lost in the constant rapture of infinite joy.

Gardner: High Magic’s Aid: ‘We worship the divine spirit of Creation, which is the Life-spring of the world, and without which the world would perish.' (Gerald Gardner: High Magic’s Aid. I-H-O Books, Louth, 1999, p.79)

Verse Charge: From me they come, to me they go.

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: Neophyte Ritual: ...from him all things proceed, and unto him all things return.(Israel Regardie: The Golden Dawn (Sixth Edition). Llewellyn Worldwide, Woodbury Minnesota, 1989, p. 130.)

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: Ritual for Transformation: From thee all things do proceed. Unto thee all must return. (Regardie, op. cit., p. 433.)

Milton: Paradise Lost: One almighty is, from whom all things proceed, and up to him return. (5.469-470) (John Milton (edited by Alastair Fowler): Paradise Lost. Longman, London, 1998, pp. 310 - 311.)

D. H. Lawrence: Women in Love: But it seemed to him, woman was always so horrible and clutching, she had such a lust for possession, a greed of self-importance in love. She wanted to have, to own, to control, to be dominant. Everything must be referred back to her, to Woman, the Great Mother of everything, out of whom proceeded everything and to whom everything must finally be rendered up. (D. H. Lawrence: Women in Love. Heinemann, London, 1975, p. 192.)

Marcus Aurelius: Meditations: Everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early nor too late, which is in due time for thee. Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring, O Nature: from thee are all things, in thee are all things, to thee all things return... (4.23) (Cited in William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1985, p. 44. No translator is given; presumably it is James’s own translation.)

Cro. L.L.: Hadit tells us of Himself: “I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the care of every star.” He is then your innermost divine self; it is you, and not another, who are lost in the constant rapture of the embraces of Infinite Beauty. (2)

Cro. XV: I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star.

Cro. AL: I am the flame that burns in the heart of every man, and in the core of every star. (2.6)

The reference from High Magic’s Aid illustrates the reuse of an idea that occurred to Gardner since the original composition of the Charge, and which has been included in the final version in a slightly different form. D’Este and Rankine_ comment that the ‘to me all things return’ line could have come ultimately from Milton as quoted in the Golden Dawn ritual. Both Kelly and d’Este and Rankine give the Golden Dawn ritual as the source for this phrase. Since the Golden Dawn version is closer to that in the Charge, I would prefer that as the source; Milton may have influenced the passage directly or influenced the original writers of the Golden Dawn ritual. The idea, however, is already present in the verse Charge (but not in the BAM version), so I have placed that high as a source. D. H. Lawrence provides a tantalising possible influence, especially because of the reference to the Great Mother, as does the passage from Marcus Aurelius, which also includes the characteristic Wiccan idea of the cycles of nature and the harmony of the universe. Once again I would favour Law of Liberty over Gnostic Mass as the source for Crowley here, and will treat it as such in the analysis to follow, since the context of Law of Liberty also provides the next part of the BAM text, rather than an isolated sentence.


The idea of the Goddess as present and embodied in nature, is here expanded to make her the life and soul of nature. The rest of the Charge forms a commentary on this reality in the life and magic of the witch. While this passage is an essential part of the inward journey of the Charge, I feel it also has much interest in that it takes up and runs with an idea occurring in all sorts of places. It shows both how Wicca is in the direct lineage of the modern Western tradition, from the Golden Dawn via Crowley, it also shows how the idea has been present in all sorts of literature, even D H Lawrence!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mood and the witch

I knew I'd find a use for this picture of Freud's couch eventually! The proportion of witches who have mental health problems of one sort or another is astounding. Notice I don't say 'mental illness' - I realise this is because I'm trying to exclude such illnesses as schizophrenia, where you have a definite break with reality. I have known witches with mood disorders, who have self harmed, with gender identity problems, post traumatic stress disorder... You name it. I myself am just coming to the end of my second depressive episode, with relief because the side effects of sertraline - photosensitivity and night sweats - are giving me more trouble this time around, but fortunately I'm on a reducing dose & should finish the course in a couple of months.
Sertraline? - you say - shouldn't you be taking Valerian or St John's Wort? Well, no. If all acts are magical acts, it means not excluding anything & making the best choice one can in the circumstances. SJW has a good evidence base in mild to moderate depression, however I know sertraline works with me & washes the grey world with colour quickly. The real reason we enjoy long life & health in the 'one third' world is because modern medicine has stamped out or can control the diseases that compromise life in the two-thirds world. The reality is, for example, that what will make me keep my sight is not the quantities of spinach & blueberries I eat, but the drops I take every night to reduce the pressures in my eyes. Without them I would be looking at something like ten more years of sight before being registered blind.
This is not to deny the more 'epic' aspects of mental and other illnesses: not many people can otherwise get the sense of resurrection that you get coming out of a depressive episode. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is a test of how a person confronts what comes their way. I'm not sure which comes first, but magical powers are frequently conceived in illness. Maybe it is that in illness you are placed in an 'initiatory' context, where you have to make irrevocable decisions & emerge changed by the experience. Maybe those who are on the (h)edge attract illness because being a witch means coming into contact with so many of the highs & lows of life. This would be enough to wear anyone down - Terry Pratchett says somewhere that witches age inside - but for the magical person a depressive episode or other illness can be turned into a challenge to be surmounted, managed, avoided, but in some way dealt with to turn the shit that happens into fertilizer.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


To the moot again this week (I'm the one sitting on the bar). The conversation turned to card games, & as frequently happens, our remembered rules differed. We didn't have a pack of normal playing cards so played Strip Jack Naked with Ana Cortez's Playing Cards Oracles deck. I remember playing this with my dad. I don't remember playing the game we played on Tuesday with my dad. Anyway, this game went on & on. It became apparent that that deck has a sense of humour all its own, & the game just would not work out for about an hour. This of course is the stuff of which legends are made: 'a witch once played card games with a Grand Etteilla & is stll there now'. That, kids, is what acomes of misusing your divination tools.
A man with a northern accent came over to us & said that he expected that pub to be full of 'West Indians' (no, I don't think for an instant that that was what he was looking for). I told him that they wouldn't go there & he asked why. How can he not have realised that it's a gay pub? So I told him that it was reserved for witches only.