Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The city by night

Perhaps I'd better start this post by at least talking about what night means, & what it may mean to the various entities we may mean on our travels through a city. It is important not to forget the complete upheaval to human life that was caused by the Industrial Revolution, which is what marks the dividing line between the modern world in a form we would recognise, & the pre-industrial world so beloved of some pagans. I've heard a rumour that there's a joke in the saying about country people getting up with the cows & going to bed with the chickens (it may even be the other way round), but that is how people live if they don't have reliable light out of hours & are not shoehorned into the regular hours demanded by contractual employment.
Of course there is the huge divide in the English language of whether you call your evening meal tea or dinner; personally I come down on the side of calling it tea if it's earlier & dinner if it's later. I'm not overly attached to this distinction & it only appears here because eating later in the evening is a newish post-Industrial Revolution thing. The point of this is that in the past couple of hundred years a major disjoint in the way people live has occurred.
Cities, of course, always existed, but they have not been unaffected by the changes wrought by time, & often a relatively short period of time has marked the change. For example on the west side of Birmingham, as recently as the beginning of the nineteenth century the Hagley Road was open fields & Bearwood was a literal wood. So the spirits of a city may actually be terribly confused by the things that have happened, & night in the city, as with the evening meal, may happen at different times for different beings, & I don't just mean the ones who stay up clubbing all night.
I've actually been beating the streets of Birmingham for a long time; when you do that the spirit of a city looks at you & interacts with you in a different way from if you're just visiting. It remains that the best time to contact the spirit(s) of a place in detail is at night, define it as you will. Common sense precautions are of course necessary against some incarnate spirits, but I do think it's true that creatures of the night see a witch & even if they don't know what you are, recognise trouble staring them in the face.
This evening I started off in the markets, wandered towards the source of the Rea, passed the coach station, did some Digbeth back streets, wandered on Fazeley Street a little & went back into the city via Eastside. This is actually the older city centre than the present one, & is the setting for some major hot spots & energy centres. I like the feel of Digbeth, myself, it's straightforward, & I love the way you can turn a corner & come out into the old Birmingham.
Fazeley Street, on the other hand, freaks even me out at any time of the day or night. Today I had a distinct impression of being watched, & by some entity that definitely didn't want me to be there. From there up to, oh, Moor Street, I don't like the energies at all, except for one spot. I get this terrible sense of sadness there, & I don't think it's for nothing it's remained undeveloped until the city park opened. On the edge of the city park is what remains of the Park Street graveyard, which was opened as an overflow from St Martin's in 1807. It's really quite incongruent to be walking through a park & find a graveyard at the other end. Over Park Street is a wrecked pub I like, & that despite its appearance has been open since 2000.
I have to end with a picture to prove that Birmingham has some quaint street names. Paternoster Row dates from the 1870s, & was named after the Paternoster Row in London, since it had the same association with the printing industry. Of course it is not old enough to have the previous association of London's Paternoster Row, which was making rosaries - Paternoster is Latin for Our Father & refers to the beads to say the prayer on - & other Catholic tat. It is, however, friendly, despite that corner of the city being completely derelict if not actually flattened.

Janet & Stewart Farrar at home

I found this picture somewhere on the internet (sorry I've lost where) & since I love it more the more I see it, I simply had to post it here.
I think I commented before on a video of one of their initiations, that I love the way the Wiccans of the 1970s tend to be pictured doing ritual in their own home. Well, that's where witches do do a lot of ritual, isn't it? In the video I talked about Janet is shown instructing the new initiate & Stewart is pictured in the background listening while sitting in an armchair smoking a fag. That's such a witch thing, don't you think?
I love that this picture shows Stewart's desk setup, presumably in the 1970s. I love the wallpaper. I love the heterogeneous collection of pictures & ornaments. I love the worn labels on the filing cabinet drawers. I love the battered typewriter, which has got 'old faithful' written all over it. This is plainly the scene where Stewart wrote the books & articles that brought in the daily bread.
But here's what I love the best - Stewart (if not Janet, she's too young to have the smoker look) clearly smoked. You can see the evidence in the bottom left hand corner. He smoked Rothmans, which to me is a surprisingly trendy choice for the seventies. I've obviously misjudged him - I'd've expected him to smoke a brand like Senior Service or Park Drive. And here's the best bit, which makes the picture perfect for me. I *really* appreciate this touch. On the ashtray are two nub ends, & one half-smoked cigarette. And yes, your eyes don't deceive you, it's in a holder! I loooove the image of a foremost exponent of the witch religion of the time, smoking cigarettes in a holder!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Hedge in the Desert

I suspect that Islam is the only major religion that has never had a monastic movement, by which I mean a withdrawal from 'the market place' into 'the desert'. (Islam has more than enough provision for a para-monastic life to make a monastic movement unnecessary.) I gather that modern scholarship is undercovering a history of urban monasticism for the early Christians, but the movement tends to be associated ultimately with the desert, understood either literally or figuratively.
We witches of course don't have a monastic movement, but I am realising that the ever-fruitful image of the hedge exactly parallels the idea of the desert in Christian monasticism - a place where you are essentially alone, what comes next is unknown, you are faced with your worst demons & fears, & even life itself can be in doubt.
The fruits of entry into the desert/hedge are emerging transformed. As non-monotheists we wouldn't interpret this as transformation in conformity with Jesus, but rather interpret the transformation in epic terms of conflict & struggle. There be dragons in the hedge, me dears. The other change is that the world outside the hedge looks different seen from the perspective of the hedge, & it's an experience that cannot be undone.
The experience can of course be triggered by any of life's major events or emotions - bereavement, loneliness, abandonment, depression & other illnesses. As witches we believe that everything holds the seeds of its polar opposite, so it is in these events that life is transformed, & help is always at hand. When the witch is ready the thing needed appears.
Hold on to your hats, we're in for a bumpy ride.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Urban Grimoire: A spell for use on banks & other bureaucracies

Regular readers of the Hound's exploits & opinions will remember that I stopped a cheque to a plumber in December. At least I didn't but I thought the bank had, only to find today that they didn't & they've both been paid out.

Preparation for the ritual: it is essential that you go in to a branch of the bank for this one. It may be necessary to take sandwiches & a flask. Being catheterised may be extreme but excretory functions should be seen to before. They will almost certainly offer you coffee at some point, though, which is the sign the ritual is working.

Ritual apparel: the authorities are divided on this one. Some feel it's best to dress as the entities you're dealing with. My personal opinion is that it's best to wear whatever you wear to work, so that you can stress how this visit has inconvenienced you.

Mindset: The mindset for this one can be difficult to achieve, since you will almost certainly be feeling wound up, & completely certainly dealing with a bureaucracy that will be trying to get you to go away. The mindset is Nice. Not quite slipping over into apologetic or snarling, & if you find yourself slipping into one of those, it is essential to keep muttering the mantra 'I'm sure we can sort this out'. This may seem uncharacteristically conciliatory for the Hound, but it's how you say it that matters. You have to say one thing, but you have to mean *i'm sure you can sort this out*.

Timing for the ritual
A busy time of day. Lunchtime or just before closing is always good.

Opening to the ritual.
Approach the counter. Wait in line calmly, doing nothing to draw attention to yourself.

The demons of the outer circle
When called approach the counter smiling & state the problem clearly & calmly, without emotion, but making sure that the problem, whose responsibility it is, & how it is going to be resolved, are clear in your mind. attempts may be made to persuade you to sort it yourself, usually involving miriad phone calls. Bring yourself back to the required state of mind & state the problem & required solution again. Since the demons who guard the outer portals of the institution are always quite junior ones, they should at this point pass you on to someone senior.

Invocation in the triangle
At this point, you must under no circumstances deal with the entity that approaches you, at the counter. You must make sure a private room (the Lesser Key of Solomon calls this the triangle, but we know what they mean really) is the venue for this. Smile & say you'd rather not trumpet your business for everyone to hear.
Further attempts to get rid of the problem may be made. Bat them off smiling, & at this point a litany will take place. I repeat that at any point an offer of a cup of tea or coffee, or the entity leaving the triangle, are signs the ritual is working.

The Litany
The entity: 'I'll tell you what you can do...'
The Magician: 'No you won't, you'll tell me what you're going to do.'
The entity: 'Will you speak to..'
The Magician: 'No, you will.'
The entity: 'If you ring this number...'
The Magician: 'I'm not going to ring up that number, you're going to do it since it's the bank that's buggered it up.'
The entity: 'It would be much quicker for us if you...'
The Magician: 'I have no intention of lifting a finger to sort this since it's not of my doing.'

Up till now you have been dealing with a relatively low-level entity. The one I got was of the subset called Flash Harry. It was plain that while he was dead impressed with himself for working in a bank he had no real power nor ability, & frankly not the first idea what to do, which is why it's important to battle your way through the lower levels of the hierarchy without negotiating. At this point the entity will disappear to be replaced by a more senior demon. At this point you must on no account leave the triangle, much of your power resides in you occupying their essential retail space & refusing to leave.

You may have to repeat the litany as above. Don't forget senior demons get there by eating junior demons, you've already had a couple of them for dinner, so the senior demon will now begin to see you for what you are: a serious competitor to the title of Queen. He or she will also be keen that you perceive them as competent & reasonable, so will sometimes even make a crack about their junior. You must retain what you want in your mind & be prepared to repeat it several times again, but essentially once you've got the senior demon you're already marked down as Trouble. This is why it is essential at the beginning to be clear on what you want: if it's clear & reasonable they may even start doing it for you to get rid of you.

There are other demons in the hierarchy that can be invoked if your attempts fail, right up to the demon called Financial Services Ombudsman.

The Catholic Church and the United Nations Revisited

I've been meaning to post since Vatican representatives were summoned to Geneva to be questioned. I did a google news search today using search terms 'Vatican' & 'UN', & this remains the main news item. Of course except for the Catholic Register, which headlines 'Vatican Observer Calls for Concrete Steps Towards Peace in Syria' - far be it from me to suggest that this is a psychological mechanism to go, Look! There's trouble elsewhere in the world!
The 'secular' media reports it differently:
'The Vatican faced blistering criticism from a United Nations committee Thursday over allegations it protected pedophile priests at the expense of victims in what constituted a worldwide sex abuse scandal. [...] The Vatican insists it is not responsible for the actions of priests, who it says are not its employees but citizens of their own countries.' (http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/16/22324032-un-slams-vatican-for-efforts-to-cover-up-pedophile-priests-in-sex-abuse-scandal)
Despite continuing protestations of having no responsibility for the behaviour of its clergy, the Vatican claims to 'get it'. The protestations clearly indicate they don't, since the basis on which they claim not to be responsible for their clergy is a legal loophole as the clergy are not paid a salary so are not technically employees. Obviously when the Vatican produced guidelines in the 1960s instructing bishops to prevent 'scandal' at all costs, they didn't have any responsibility. The following quote is about what the Vatican is doing to prevent further abuse (in the interests of balance I'll state now that this is actually from a news item criticising the UN for not handling its own sex scandals);
'In December 2013, after refusing a U.N. request for information on alleged sexual abuse cases involving the clergy, Pope Francis announced through Cardinal Sean O�Malley, the archbishop of Boston, the decision by the Vatican to set up a child sex-abuse committee involving a panel of experts charged with producing guidelines of conduct for Catholic clergy and church officials.' (http://mobile.wnd.com/2014/01/pot-kettle-black-u-n-grills-vatican-over-sex/)
How many decades too late? When I posted about the UN & the Vatican before I commented that any respectable religious organisation should be ashamed to think of itself being investigated by the UN, given the organisation's usual remit. Yet they've even signed up to UN conventions, despite not then following up their duties under these conventions.
Here's the real problem: the Catholic Church sees itself as a monarchy, one in which everything is geared towards the defence of the monarch, who can be interpreted as (visibly) the Pope, or (invisibly) Jesus. Where they get this from is taking on the pomp & ceremony of the Roman Empire, & hence the fuss in some quarters about the Pope's humble act.
This is also why the Catholic Church ignores appeals by reasonable people to act sensibly & protect children - these people & their reasonable requests don't matter in the monarchy & never will. The relatively few priests kicked out - some of them with a pension - for abuse are to try to keep the ravening wolf of the secular world from the door. Hence why they are so difficult to deal with - the best advocates for clergy abuse victims are former clergy, who will know how the system works. They church will also feel free to ignore the United Nations, since that is a mere intergovernmental organisation.
This clash is therefore as much of a culture clash as anything. You will have correctly divined that I like anything that will bring abusers & those who protect them down with a bang. The first step, as always in witchcraft, is to name to problem, to know that this is the problem, & to continue to hold on to that as the problem unless disinterested evidence to the contrary comes to light.
From a witch point of view, what interests me about the Catholic Church thing, is that since they clearly do not get it, they plainly will continue to do the same strategies of denial-cover-evasion & these are precisely the strategies that will continue to get them into trouble, which is why awareness of how these people work is so important. In the modern world, having abusing clergy would not get them into trouble if they immediately involved the police, but these people do not live in the modern world & think they can retreat into their monarchy.
And in case anyone feels shocked at my evident satisfaction at these people's continuing downfall, well, carry on, I think this is wonderful. I was talking to a friend who is a Benedictine monk recently, who expressed some pity for the 'hard time' that the Ealing Abbey community have had. Hard time? Hard time? No, don't seem to have heard about it. Looking fools for presiding over a hotbed of paedophilia, including having a former abbot on the run from the police, is not having a hard time. The fear & destruction caused by abuse is having a hard time, claiming not to know about things is denial. And thus the pattern repeats itself.
But here's what happens, & I'll use Ealing Abbey as a microcosm of the Catholic Church to describe it. There are two sorts of men who will now join a community in their position: the first, namely those will say to themselves 'it's sorted now, it's not like it was,' are already in the denial mentality & thus will perpetuate the pattern, *if* abuse continues in the future so it will just continue.
The other sort are the people the church should be really wary of. My opinion is that the relatively high scrutiny under which Catholic clergy are no doubt assessed these days will actually attract people with issues. Leaving aside the tendency to let the guard down after a time, & the tendency to take anyone if an institute is desperate enough, given both the cunning with which paedophiles can convince others everything's OK, & the hoops they leap to to persuade themselves they're OK, nothing would surprise me.
You will also note that the report of the Vatican visitation of Ealing Abbey has not been published, the nearest I can find is a letter on the Westminster diocese's website that doesn't say a great deal (http://rcdow.org.uk/news/apostolic-visitation-to-ealing-abbey/). The message is clearly that everything continues in the kingdom. This is how kingdoms work: everyone's happiness is dependent on the continuing existence of the king. This is exactly the same as what's happening in the rest of the Catholic church. Any person appointed a bishop now who is in the their right mind would go through the diocese's secret archive & review all their clergy's history.
I'll leave it to their imagination whether this is actually happening, I don't think these people are *very* likely to take hints from the world outside!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Spirit of Place: Shrewsbury & Grope Lane

'Witches are people who look up,' says (I think) Granny Weatherwax somewhere, which is interpreted in its context to mean witches look up from the daily round to think about its deeper meaning. After the success of looking up in Worcester yesterday, I was hoping that doing the same in Shrewsbury would pay off, but unfortunately the street names in Shrewsbury are much less quaint.
They don't even have another little plaque underneath to say what they used to be called, as they do in Worcester, which is a pity, because the case of Grope Lane would certainly be interesting:
'A street called Grope Countelane existed in Shrewsbury as recently as 1561, connecting the town's two principal marketplaces. At some date unrecorded the street was renamed Grope Lane, a name it has retained. In Thomas Phillips' History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury (1799) the author is explicit in his understanding of the origin of the name as a place of "scandalous lewdness and venery", but Archdeacon Hugh Owen's Some account of the ancient and present state of Shrewsbury (1808) describes it as "called Grope, or the Dark Lane". As a result of these differing accounts, some local tour guides attribute the name to "feeling one's way along a dark and narrow thoroughfare".' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gropecunt_Lane)
The latter attempt at derivation is of course delicate nonsense: Grope Lane is in the regular place (in the town centre, near the market) for a place of prostitution advertised in mediaeval fashion by the name of the street. In fact there were loads of them:
'Gropecunt Lane /ˈɡroʊpkʌnt ˈleɪn/ was a street name found in English towns and cities during the Middle Ages, believed to be a reference to the prostitution centred on those areas; it was normal practice for a medieval street name to reflect the street's function or the economic activity taking place within it. Gropecunt, the earliest known use of which is in about 1230, appears to have been derived as a compound of the words grope and cunt. Streets with that name were often in the busiest parts of medieval towns and cities, and at least one appears to have been an important thoroughfare.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gropecunt_Lane)
The 'groping in the dark' tale is trotted out on the Shrewbury Tourist Information website (http://www.shrewsburyguide.info/shrewsbury_tour/tour_02.shtml) with a denial that there is any ruder meaning, but there was another man photgraphing the sign when I was, who found it hilarious. I didn't think this would turn into a 'spirit of place' post of any depth, but perhaps it has, if these two competing explanations for 'grope' represent different facets of the town's spirit. On the other hand, the Love Shrewsbury website is very proud that this is the last surviving remnant of 'Grope' in the country (http://www.loveshrewsbury.com/article/history-lesson-shrewsburys-town-crier). As it happens it seems the prostitution derivation is supported by the facts, as reported by at least one academic historian (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/5864981/Street-names-date-back-to-brothels-and-red-light-districts.html) so this may well also be one of those posts about the phenomenon of people who simply will not see what's in front of their own faces!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Spirit of Place: Worcester Street Names

If both the spirit of a place & names are important to witches, then surely the street names of a place are important. I don't think I commented when I posted on Worcester before that I love the city's olde worlde street names. I also love the fact that many of them have another name by which the street was formerly known. I have searched without success for why & when this happened, so this will have to be a picture-heavy post & let the signs speak for themselves.

Eye for an Eye

I was talking to someone on Sunday who quoted a slightly different version of the Gandhi saying, 'an eye for an eye would make the whole world blind,' which nonetheless meant the same thing. He told me that he hoped by being nice to people it would positively influence their behaviour, & that you could always stop someone being horrible by being nice to them.
My first reaction was that he must have been incredibly lucky in his dealings with other people - or else possibly was so determined to view things positively that he would wind up ignoring the simple fact that people abuse, hate, take advantage of other people, etc, all the time. In my dramatic way I used the example of Pol Pot to counter his argument - I mean we can all have a bad day, but we don't all spend it killing several thousand people merely for wearing glasses! The irony is, of course, that Pol Pot himself should really have been killed in his own programme of exterminating intellectuals, since he had a degree from the University of Paris.
This phrase 'an eye for an eye' is often misunderstood. People who haven't read their Bible attentively enough think that Jesus gave it as an ethic to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. Actually it's the place where he tells them not to resist evil but turn the other cheek.
It's that kind of thing that leads to a martyr-complex, & opens the door for the great potential for abuse in Christianity. On the other hand I'm with Gandhi that if we keep evening the score everyone will be blind. In Gardner's High Magic's Aid, it is said that the joke among witches is that you must return threefold - this is specifically in the context of initiatory scourging but is clearly applicable to other situations, indicating that early Wicca had a quite different ethic from the don't-do-anything-ever ethic you can find among the eclectics but not among the Hard Gards. There is a spell for protection of property in one of Scott Cunningham's books that invokes the law of threefold return, which I actually find quite shocking, because I would never multiply someone's harm on them. On the other hand you have the left-hand-path crowd who (apart from clearly not understanding magical polarity) are overdoing their own place in the universe. They're in danger of ending up being one of these people who take up too much space, leaving them at risk of a karmic bitch slap, or possibly falling over into being a white light-type. I don't have an answer to this one, I'm just thinking aloud.
I think of these various approaches I'm actually most with Gandhi, whose nonviolent action is often misunderstood. Not initiating something but refusing to be moved is not to be confused with trying to charm people around or just accepting anything that's thrown at you. The way nonviolent action actually works is by in effect creating havoc & outnumbering the resources that are stacked against you. The downside of this approach is that it will mean having bad things happening to you, it's aimed at stopping rather than preventing, & you have to be prepared for some fallout.
However, here's my problem with this whole thing - & like I say I don't have an answer. As we go through life we meet people who don't give a damn about other people, they live their everyday lives without thought for anyone else. When cornered they will lie their way out & be convinced even as they say it that it's the truth. These people are c*nts. The best argument against the idea of trying to bring people round is that we live in a world where a staggeringly high proportion of the riches are owned by a *tiny* minority who intend to keep hold of them, & the poor can starve. There is *no* headway in a poor person appealing to the better instincts of these people, not that they could, since the rich are safely insulated from the poor. 'Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of those who were oppressing them,' is a saying of Assatur Shakur. It's completely true. However, I didn't know who she was when I read it, & now I realise she's the only woman on the FBI's Most Wanted list for multiple murders. I can also see that going down the terror route causes defensiveness in the oppressor. I don't have an answer to this conundrum of why inequity, abuse, hatred, all flourish.
At least not an ethical one, I think there may be a partial answer in the witch world. We know that our world encompasses all possibilities, which are held in a dynamic tension, rather than being static. Inequity, hatred, fighting & competition may be partly inevitable. I feel the witch must incorporate this possibility into magic, being realistic about what we can expect. This is not to say we should accept things as they are, but should work this into our world view, or even use it. The universe always strives for homeostasis, & being a c*nt invites a bitch slap!
But as an individual witch we have to be easy on ourselves sometimes. It isn't possible to go through life fighting *everyone*, like the mother in Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. I'm quite fond of servitors myself: it means you actually have someone to get on with magic & you can do something else. This can work even when it is an individual witch against an evil. But have you noticed witches don't come singly? You literally *cannot* be a witch alone, others will come along, forming a bond stronger than any family or mafia cabal, when you need them. If you're under pressure you may not be in a good place to work magic anyway, & it may be necessary to ask someone else to do it or assist with it. This is merely being realistic, if you're ill or cornered.
I suppose what I'm feeling my way towards is a situational ethic, while also expressing my dissatisfaction with most of the existing ones! Incidentally - I realise spinning has Indian or Hindu-specifc meanings, but isn't it interesting that iit also has witch meanings as well? As I remember Gandhi also said 'You must be the change you want to see in the world'.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Shakespeare knew more than he realised

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218�224

These words from Shakespeare seem to me to contain virtually the whole of witchcraft. The point for us as witches is to recognise when the flood is happening, which means knowing what the time is, to pick the right moment to act. It can also mean recognising when we must ask.
Sometimes this takes an initiatory form for us: as we go through life endings & beginnings necessarily happen, but often how we react to them determines how & to what extent we emerge transformed. In fact the signal that we are about to be transformed is usually that another challenge appears.
We've all heard the stories of people who take one Witchcraft 101 class & go around in a cloak zapping people. A real understanding of the witch's role involves understanding the ups & downs of the life, the responsibilities of often being the last person people turn to, & the obligations of being at the gate, the hedge, the door. As somewhat shady figures, witches often find themselves in odd corners & shadows.
I think the telling thing that we are at a turning point is that we must have our back to the wall. It is a saying in the craft that the teacher appears when needed, & that also goes for situations as teachers. I would personally extend this to say that the resources we need become available as we need them, & only then.
This means in some ways acting against the natural human inclination to try to preserve things as they are (at least in relationships this is probably less the case than it has been), which is to ignore the plain unpalatable fact that all things come to an end. Everything must come to an end. My personal opinion is that life as we know it on this planet will come to an end & nothing we can do will evade this for ever.
Where does this leave the witch? Exactly where we started off really, with the need to be aware of signs & times, so we can recognise how to act & when. The personal application for this is that when my poor old ginger tom dies (I really can't face moving him at this late stage, & anyway I may need to rent for a time), I'm going to sell my house & move, having lived there for 13 years. It's more than a little emotional, since I never wanted a house in the first place, I wanted a flat, but bought it to be near my mother. It's always been too much for me: what I really want is a shoebox in the city. In true maladaptive psychological fashion I've attached my stress on the frankly awful tenants next door - don't worry, they're as good as gone.
Did I say the other important thing for the witch is to be honest with herself? If I'm honest I have a sense of bereavement for my mother, bereavement for my cat, bereavement already for a house that I like lots but can't cope with & have never got in order. Actually, when I put it like that it's no wonder I'm feeling stressed! I also have to own up to the fact that at least some of these things are of my own making - not neglecting my tendency to over-analyse, of course!
But it's time. It's well past time. This is something that's been hovering for years. I will not avoid the challenge, because that would mean remaining in old patterns of behaviour that I thought served me at the time but don't any more, & maybe never did.
It's time!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Witchcraft can (avoiding the word 'should') be fun

This post will probably be somewhat in disarray. I mean, dammit, it's my blog & so I don't see why it wouldn't represent the state of my mind at the time. My year card for this year is the Hanged Man: I think I probably groaned out loud when I realised this, since the last time this card came up with any frequency it was both one of the most traumatic & yet transformative experiences of my life.
The illustration is of Christian Day (who seems to have stopped doing his radio show now he has a TV show) & Laurie Cabot fighting over a dollar. Day has often himself humorously referred to this cartoon, but I'd never seen it. The somewhat specious connection here is to Salem, where as we know there was a huge roll call of women killed for alleged 'witchcraft', contributing to the mythology (for such it is) of the Burning Times. It is also a centre of modern witchcraft, & this post was partly inspired by this comment:
'[The witch trials memorial is] The only place you can pay respect to all the innocent people killed in 1692. Remember, we all have so much fun in Salem because a bunch of people were tortured and killed unjustly - how's that for a guilt trip? Take a little bit of time to reflect at the memorial and pay your respects.' (http://salemwitchwiles.blogspot.com/2012/10/after-living-and-working-in-salem-for.html?m=1)
This comes immediately above a mention of the statue of Samantha Stevens. This may seem a flippant point, but for me this is the point. The whole point. Without this the modern witchcraft movement is nothing. We have the dramas & politics that witches do because we are dramatic people. We are dramatic people because we experience life in epic terms. It is the fact that we experience the lows that allows us to experience the highs. We draw on the ambivalent, dubious, witch figure because it is so multi-faceted, that it means we can unite the opposites of being a figure of tragedy with some serious partying.
This year, while I'm hanging upside down, I know I'm going to have long periods of suspension (of time, ability, etc), meaning I have to wait. But that also means I'm going to emerge transformed (again) from this & have the highs with the lows. This is what being a witch is all about.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Witches & Christians, with reference to Bishop Pat Buckley

The picture is actually of Pope St Pius X celebrating Low Mass. I have commented before that he was plainly a man who knew how to dress for church, but he was plainly also a man who knew the value of subtle.
I have a confession to make. It's something that is perhaps unusual among witches, it may even be surprising to anyone who knows me & my history, but I don't actually have a problem with Christianity, myself. I have a problem with certain Christians, their beliefs & actions, obviously, but my opinion is the Christianity is not *that* incompatible with a magical worldview or even a witchcraft milieu.
They don't like to talk about it, but the real reason Christians tend to in-fighting is that there have been two distinct strands to Christianity from the beginning. One I will call the charismatic one, which is (to over-simplify for the purpose of the argument) more spontaneous, inspired, seeks its authority within, & so on. The other is the authoritative strand, which is broadly more conservative, ordered, & seeks its authority outside itself, whether in scripture or church tradition.
What does this have to do with witchcraft? On the surface, nothing. However, when you translate the charismatics as hedgewitches, & the authoritarians as lineaged (or BTW, as they're called in the States), the similarity becomes apparent. The similarity to a magical world-view also becomes apparent when you consider that the two world views can rarely be clearly separated out, as I have above, one form often calls itself the other, & extremes at either end tend to flip over into the opposite, this situation will become familiar to any magical person reading this. In the interests of balance & upsetting everyone equally, the thing that Gardnerian witches don't talk about is that Gardner was also a Christian priest, or even bishop in a rather unusual independent Christian church!
Just in case there are Christians reading this who have not been exposed to a magical world view (welcome, whoever you are), we call this polarity. The entire aim of all magical systems everywhere & at all times has been the reconciliation of all opposites to the pursuit of balance. The nub here (where Christians will part company) is that actually the whole Judaeo-Christian tradition can be understood in magical terms. The best book on this is Morton Smith's Jesus the Magician; Islam has its own magical world that I don't know enough about to write on.
One of the tags on this blog that I find myself using the most often is 'the witch figure'; the fact that I find myself repeatedly chewing this over indicates the ambivalence & multi-faceted nature of the witch figure that we model ourselves on. Some of the characteristics of this figure carry heavy Christian theological ramifications, such as prophet, scapegoat, gathering, time (kairos). The only element which is almost completely missing from witchcraft is sin & redemption. The God of the Christians is plainly Y*hw*h, G*d of Israel, & Jesus is their messiah. We, if we don't have duotheistic views, have often several divinities or a henotheistic God and/or Goddess. I would recognise multiple Jesus figures (downplaying his divinity for Christians) as semi human/divine figures, including each witch herself. I've ignored the Holy Spirit so far, but I would equate the Spirit to any of the entities involved in witchcraft cosmology or even the reality that some witches recognise behind God & Goddess.
This is a roundabout way of saying that since we magical people understand thing happening on several planes of existence (the way things manifest for us represents patterns & systems of reality that we can't physically see on this plane) the way witches would understand this also to Christians, & the way things play out here are part of a cosmic drama representing the realities behind what we see.
Which brings me nicely to the subject of Bishop Pat Buckley (http://www.bishoppatbuckley.co.uk/), who is the bishop of what's called an Independent Catholic Church. He was ordained a Catholic priest in his twenties: up to there his career superficially embodies the authoritative side of Christianity. However when in the 1980s his bishop tried to suppress his views about the ordination of women & homosexuality, he felt he had no option to embark on an independent ministry, & ultimately sought consecration as a Bishop in the line of Archbishop Thuc, a bishop who performed many consecrations without the blessing of Rome. His status therefore, as far as Rome is concerned, is 'valid but irregular': no doubt they wouldn't want to regularise him given his history, but he is a bishop. Why I'm going into all this is that his career here tries to reconcile the two sides - charismatic & authoritative - of Christianity, a reconciliation of opposites that is exactly the aim of most magical practitioners.
I find it interesting also how his prophetic role may manifest energies that are unseen. His blog (http://wisecatholic.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1), to which I subscribe, makes for interesting reading, not least for the prophetic criticism he makes of the church life which surrounds him, even attracting anonymous  comments from local priests. This may seem like a disaffected former priest attracting other malcontents but I don't think that's quite what's happening, in fact on a higher level it more manifests a) an ongoing argument in the religious world more generally, & b) when a culture of disaffection is fostered by heavy-handed authoritarianism, it actually creates its opposite (in a polarity philosophy), in this case clusters of people actively resisting the authority. In this case I have no doubt that the local 'proper' Catholic bishop considers him a thorn in his side, but if one were merely to call him a malcontent, in an attempt to make his existence insignificant, it is to ignore a whole layer of meaning, that we humans ignore at our peril.
And he certainly does seem to be filling the roles that are often reflected in the witch figure. Prophet, by his ongoing criticism of the Catholic church as it is. Sanctuary for those nobody else will care for, by his gay marriages & ordination of women. Confidant, in listening to those who also have an unwelcome story to tell. Scapegoat, by his existence as an object of blame for the local Catholic community & others. I feel he was also scapegoated when a local judge decided to divulge his HIV+ status in court (do privacy laws not count in Northern Ireland?). Incidentally he was in court for allegedly conducting sham marriages to enable foreigners to stay in the country. In fact he almost exactly embodies all the aspects of the witch figure despite being a Christian...
Or perhaps because of it. My point here is that if Christians follow where genuine discipleship leads them they will step on toes & upset apple carts. That's the point.
The other point is that from a witch point of view the things they do will have a broader, more cosmic vibrational aspect. In fact, they may have more in common with us than either of us likes to think, just another of those surprises that the universe likes to give us!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Spirit of Place: The Birmingham Kennedy Memorial Mosaic

I was astonished to realise that I've been sitting on the pictures here, with a view to working them up into a blog post, since I last wandered round Digbeth on a July Sunday morning. The story of this mosaic is such a Birmingham thing, it has to get a Hedge-spirit post all on its own. I have commented before that the spirit of Birmingham is one of busyness: Birmingham is a city that has real trouble leaving anything alone for long, & this is particularly true of the redevelopment of the city centre in the 1960s. A major mistake in the planning of the time was in the construction of the Inner Ring Road, for which loads of historic buildings were bulldozed. The road became known as the 'concrete collar', a collar which was far too tight as it effectually completely stifled further development of the city centre, & the years since its construction have been spent in its undoing. There is a salutary history lesson here: the council is free to reredevelop the Inner Ring Road because it is a currently unloved 1960s eyesore, so it is actually fortuitous that it was developed when it was. Had the historic buildings which were demolished to make way for it been left, they may well have attracted listing & would have stifled redevelopment in the exact line of the concrete collar round the city. This is merely my opinion, an awful lot of people on historic Birmingham forums would disagree, & the flip side of this coin is that without the Inner Ring Road development the city centre would look radically different; a lot of pre-1960s photos of the city centre are unrecognisable from today.
One of the signature elements of the Ring Road development was that the roads were interspersed with little garden areas. I think the only one surviving now is the one at the bottom of Smallbrook Queensway with a pagoda in it. If you literally go under the road there you get a feeling of what Birmingham felt like from the 1960s, up until rereconstruction started in the 1990s, complete with underpasses, public mural art, some very dodgy dark corners & a smell of stale urine. I recently went through it instead of using the pedestrian crossings as I normally would, & realised I had forgotten what these areas felt like. I think the most ridiculous one was Manzoni Gardens, which was an attempt to create a garden area on the site of the old indoor market, which had stood derelict for years, near New Street Station. It's the words 'near New Street Station' that make it ridiculous, & in fact it shared the major failing of the 1960s Bull Ring, of being surrounded by ring roads & completely unrestful. Ironically it is named after Herbert Manzoni, who as city engineer & surveyor presided over the radical changes in the city, & whose attitude was:
'I  have never been very certain as to the value of tangible links with the past. They are often more sentimental than valuable... As to Birmingham�s buildings, there is little of real worth in our architecture. Its replacement should be an improvement... As for future generations, I think they will be better occupied in applying their thoughts and energies to forging ahead, rather than looking backward.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Manzoni)
Of course the irony is that his preferred policy is now regretted & his concrete (literally) legacy to a great extent despised if not demolished. I have unfortunately been unable to find the source of the famous comment that he caused more damage to the city than the luftwaffe. Even the Hound feels free to refer to the gardens named after him as ridiculous: by the time I knew them they were a wilderness of broken benches; it felt like sitting on a traffic island. A further sense of ridiculousness is added by the fact that it was here the famous King Kong statue stood in the 1970s. From a Witch point of view the important point here is that this historical toing & froing is that this reflects the spirit of the place: the only moral would be that each generation is setting itself up for a fall if it thinks it has reached a definitive solution to human life's recurrent problems.
Another of these 'gardens' in the space inside a traffic island was Kennedy Gardens, the original site of the mosaic that is the subject (or pretext) of this post. It is no longer there, & in some circles is better remembered for different reasons than the Kennedy memorial (you didn't think this would be a *sensible* or *vanilla* post on an area of Brum, did you?):
'Large traffic island situated at the northern end of central Birmingham adjacent to Snow Hill Station and St Chads Cathedral. The site was home to the Kennedy Gardens cottage, which was so infamous it was listed in the world wide Spartacus Guide. [...] The public toilet was closed in the late 1980s and the traffic island and gardens were demolished to make way for a new office, hotel and residential development in 2007.' (http://www.gaybirminghamremembered.co.uk/topics/Kennedy%20Gardens)
The cottage was not only world famous, it was the scene for the beginning of the downfall of 1970s sex symbol, actor Peter Wyngarde:
'In 1975, he was arrested, convicted and fined �75 for an act of "gross indecency" in the toilets of Gloucester Bus Station,[6] which followed an arrest and caution for similar activities in the toilets at Kennedy Gardens in Birmingham the previous year. After the first incident, Wyngarde was interviewed for the News of the World and the Birmingham-based Sunday Mercury, and asserted that the arrest was due to a misunderstanding; in his defence after the second incident he claimed he had suffered a "mental aberration".' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Wyngarde)
Kennedy Gardens are depicted facing away from the Kennedy Mosaic in the first picture, which truly shows how bleak & dispiriting these places were. The second picture shows the mural in its original situation. It was unveiled after a fundraising effort by Birmingham's Irish community, & the artist was Kenneth Budd. Budd's other works for Birmingham in the 1960s include work at Old Square, Holloway Head, & Colmore Circus: the only one I know to be still standing in its original form is the Holloway Head one, in the traffic island I mention above. Of course with the repeated recreation of the city centre, some of Budd's work met the same fate as these engineered 'gardens', & the Kennedy mosaic was demolished in 2007, parts of it, notably heads, being retained in storage.
'In 2012 it was re-created using new materials. The new mosaic was erected in January 2013, in the city's Irish Quarter, on Floodgate Street in Digbeth, in reworked form, including the controversial addition of a new face, that of former Lord Mayor of Birmingham Mike Nangle, the city's first Irish Lord Mayor. The work was overseen by Budd's son, Oliver, who worked from his father's original drawings. The retained sections were not used as the colours had faded and would not match the new Smalti mosiac tiles. A formal unveiling took place on 23 February 2013.' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._F._Kennedy_Memorial,_Birmingham)
Personally I much prefer the recreated mosaic. It was in a depressing place before, the colours are brighter now, faces leap out at you as personalities & with a camera you can zoom in enough to see the detail of the tiles. I love it now, it never really made an impact on me before. The remaining photos of the mosaic are ones I took in July of details from it. I note that it has been surrounded by a storm of controversy since being unveiled, but that's the point. To end where I started, the Birmingham 'thing' is an inability to leave anything alone!