Saturday, May 24, 2014

Holy See Found Guilty of Torture but (Incredibly) Says it Hasn't

This one really is incredible. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has found the Holy See clearly guilty of torture, & the Holy See has published a statement saying they haven't. I can't phrase it better than extracts from the Guardian article, which see for full details.
'[The United Nations Committee Against Torture] called on the Holy See to "take effective measures" to monitor individuals under its "effective control" and to "stop and sanction" conduct that would constitute "credible allegations of violations of the [UN] Convention [against Torture]".
'Before the report had even been released, the Vatican issued a statement declaring that it had not been found to be "in violation" of the convention.
'Felice D Gaer, the CAT's American vice-chair, told the Guardian: "Legal scholars will tell you that when we write about a concern and make a recommendation we are identifying something that is not in conformity with the requirements of the convention. We don't use the word 'violation'; others do. But it's quite clear it's not in conformity with the requirements of the convention."' (
These people are torturers plain & simple, & it's fortunate there is a body such as the UN to point this out. Unfortunately they only said it implicitly & gave the Holy See a plausible deniability clause (last time it was the excuse that the UN's criticism of the Holy See was ideologically driven). So if anyone from the UN should read this, please say it explicitly so these turds can't wiggle out of it for a third time.

Friday, May 23, 2014

?LG?B?T?Q Pride (Shame) & Oppression

It is 'Pride' weekend in Birmingham. Will the Hound be going to Pride? No, I will not. Pride (as it now happens, that is) is an actively oppressive event, & the people it oppresses are L?GBTQ people - the only reason I query the G is that I personally identify as queer, which I equate to an anti-assimilation agenda, rather than gay, which I equate (rightly or wrongly, this is only my personal use of these terms) to a pro-assimilation agenda.
I have previously turned my jaundiced eye on 'gay marriage', so now let's get radical about Pride. Pride events started between forty & fifty years as protests or demonstrations against the active oppression of homosexuals. You might think that after this length of time we would have what we wanted. The sad answer to this is that *some* of us have got what they want, others have not.
My criticism of this situation is of course partly informed by bring a witch - I do not feel the need simply to accept as given the institutions & relationships that come down to us from an authority outside ourselves. This is of course an immediate rejection of the way things 'ought' to be, & of the Judaeo-Christian roots of our society, which sees certain things as 'revealed'.
My sexuality also drives me not to buy into the norms of the society in which I find myself. This society will always be hetero-normative - I don't see any mileage to be gained from trying to get away from the majority of sexual life being heterosexual. However I am not heterosexual. I am different.
The danger here is that *some* people of variant sexual or gender identity have bought into (no mistake, that phrase) the mores of heterosexual society. I have also written before about how I see this as a form of internalised self-hatred. The most common manifestation of this is in the pursuit of marriage equality. Quite apart from whether it is desirable to be allowed to enter a hetero-normative Judaeo-Christian institution, LGBTQ people should be warned to be wary of seeing these 'goals' as an achievement or an end. The reality is, equality to heterosexuals in marriage will not mean we have arrived, it will mean we have been reluctantly allowed admission to that institution. Nothing will have changed. The reality is queer bashing will still happen, we will still be actively discriminated against if not married.
It may seem I have got off the subject of Pride, but what I'm trying to highlight here is the element of control that institutions exert over individuals. A major way control is exerted is money - watching where the money's going is always the sure way to see who is really benefiting. A significant gay minority have bought into a position of power & privilege based on financial clout, leaving the majority still discriminated against. For example:
'With further investigation I discovered that IBM, Comcast, and AT&T all sponsored four mainstream gay organizations with Wells Fargo sponsoring five. Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Target came next, sponsoring three organizations each. In simple terms, this means the big banks & telecoms bankrolled Gay Inc., having more than a shady hand in their support for gay rights. This resulted in proposals like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which doesn�t stop the discrimination of trans. people in workplaces and the repeal of Don�t Ask Don�t Tell instead of ending all LGBTQ discrimination in the military. Let us also not forget that mainstream� organizations refuse to support gay whistleblower, Bradley Manning, possibly because his revelations threaten the bottom line of their sponsors. This is the problem with Gay Inc.�s concocted version of �equality� sponsored by the multinational corporations: it rejects gay liberation.' (
This commercialisation has as its main effect the drawing of the radical tiger's teeth. Pride is so dangerous because an act of radical protest has become an opportunity for the heteros to be entertained, based on the financial clout of biog corporations & an acceptance of 'equality' to heterosexuals rather than a forging of our own identity.
So the question really must be twofold. What is our real pride? - most particularly for those people who support a diversification of marriage law, why do they want to be married? Whose approval are we seeking? And now here's the really tough question: who benefits from Birmingham Pride? I will grant you, a city always benefits from any substantial number of people coming & spending money. But when you actually examine who has the actual power in Birmingham Pride, the answer will not show up to be LGBTQ people. Watch the names that keep cropping up, & where the money goes. That's the way to see where the power really lies, & mark my words it will prove to be the top-heavy pyramid of protection for privilege.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Birmingham Peace Garden Again, Trauma, Wounds, Apologies, & the Function of Memory

I have been a couple of times since the work was done to make the church ruins safe, but neither was really conducive to photo-taking. Suffice to say that the actual remains of St Thomas's church are no longer fenced off, & some strapping stuff has been put around the top, presumably to stop bits falling off.
St Thomas's church, Bath Row, had its foundation stone laid by the Bishop of Worcester in 1829, & was what was known as a commissioners' church:
'The Church Building Act of 1818 granted money and established the Church Building Commission to build churches in the cities of the Industrial Revolution. These churches became known variously as Commissioners' churches, Waterloo churches or Million Act churches.' (
It was bombed to ruins (apart from the tower) in 1940, the grounds then being turned into a public space, & ultimately into a peace garden in the 1990s. What is left of the church building is well & truly scarred within an inch of its life. My point here is that real peace cannot be achieved without some kind of acknowledgement of the wrong that has been done. I have written repeatedly about my strong reservations about 'forgiving & forgetting': mark my words, when you look carefully at a conflict you will frequently find the protagonist urging the object of the confict to forgive & forget.
I do not use the v-word, as is used on one of the plaques in the church: I will often not even allow that word to pass my lips. It is also, to my mind, one of the more twisted psychological mechanisms - by perpetually being the vistimised or oppressed one you eternally invite victimisation & push the other into the role of aggressor. This is one of the more manipulative ways to manoeuvre other people into actually being 'bad'.
None of this actually helps - nor does ignoring a wrong or creating some mechanism whereby we can 'move on' - the fad for apologising, from governments to popes, is one of the more dangerous ones in the modern world. This is *exactly* the approach that let's people get away with the same injuries to others over years, decades, centuries. Similarly it carries the danger of manoeuvring the target of a wrong into thinking there is something wrong with them because they don't feel able to just let it go. The kind of things that often get apologised for - wars, negligence, clerical sexual abuse - are the kind of things that we can reasonably expect to leave far-reaching scars that may never 'heal' in any substantial way.
You will of course raise the completely legitimate point that I'm not really proposing a final answer to this. I don't have one. Certainly in my own mind *nothing* is too bad to happen to the person who psychologically abused me. I will also not entertain the idea that something bad happening to the perpetrators of abuse will not actually help, because retribution would feel damn good, & I refuse to get into the mindset where I 'shouldn't' entertain that idea. What *should* happen is that the harm is acknowledged & not negated, the person is effectively prevented from being in positions of power (& believe you me, the powers that be *know* about this person & when his downfall comes you will read about it here), & receive these things as the consequences of his actions. Perhaps this is what I would be proposing on a greater scale - obviously it would require neutral intervention & what have you.
To me, at this length of time, World War II is a bit of an abstraction. Perhaps it takes at least fifty or sixty years for a trauma of that sort to begin to fade & become history. Of course we then come up against the mindset that refuses to learn from history. Perhaps it's a witch thing - because we notice stuff, we notice patterns of behaviour, even while trying to avoid our own tendencies towards repetitive nonproductive behaviour. I suppose this is another reason not to sweep previous trauma under the carpet - if it is still there hopefully people will notice it & not repeat our forefathers' regrettable actions.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spirit of Birmingham in William Hutton

The spirit of place is one of the recurring themes of this blog, & I am gratified to discover that the first historian of Birmingham, the ever-quotable William Hutton, refers to the spirit of the city in many places, of which I've selected a few here. He accurately picks up on the friendliness of Birmingham, its welcoming nature. He evene comments on the city's mania for demolishing as well as building...this is something that has actually been going on for centuries, not just in the post-Second World War period. He goes so far as - almost - to dedicate the book to the inhabitants:
'Were I to enter upon a dedication, I should certainly address myself, "To the Inhabitants of Birmingham." For to them I not only owe much, but all; and I think, among that congregated mass, there is not one person to whom I wish ill. I have the pleasure of calling many of those inhabitants Friends, and some of them share my warm affections equally with myself. Birmingham, like a compassionate nurse, not only draws our persons, but our esteem, from the place of our nativity, and fixes it upon herself: I might add, I was hungry, and she fed me; thirsty, and she gave me drink; a stranger, and she took me in. I approached her with reluctance, because I did not know her; I shall leave her with reluctance, because I do.' (From his History of Birmingham, 'Preface',
He even comments on how the apparently unprepossessing town takes hold of people & it can be quite difficult to leave afterwards:
'It is singular, that a predilection for Birmingham, is entertained by every denomination of visitants, from Edward Duke of York, who saw us in 1765, down to the presuming quack, who, griped with necessity, boldly discharges his filth from the stage. A paviour, of the name of Obrien, assured me in 1750, that he only meant to sleep one night in Birmingham, in his way from London to Dublin. But instead of pursuing his journey next morning, as intended, he had continued in the place thirty-five years: and though fortune had never elevated him above the pebbles of the street, yet he had never repented his stay.
'It has already been remarked that I first saw Birmingham in 1741, accidentally cast into those regions of civility; equally unknown to every inhabitant, nor having the least idea of becoming one myself. Though the reflections of an untaught youth of seventeen cannot be striking, yet, as they were purely natural, permit me to describe them.
'I had been before acquainted with two or three principal towns. The environs of all I had seen were composed of wretched dwellings, replete with dirt and poverty; but the buildings in the exterior of Birmingham rose in a style of elegance. Thatch, so plentiful in other towns, was not to be met with in this. I was surprised at the place, but more so at the people: They were a species I had never seen: They possessed a vivacity I had never beheld: I had been among dreamers, but now I saw men awake: Their very step along the street showed alacrity: Every man seemed to know and prosecute his own affairs: The town was large, and full of inhabitants, and those inhabitants full of industry. I had seen faces elsewhere tinctured with an idle gloom void of meaning, but here, with a pleasing alertness: Their appearance was strongly marked with the modes of civil life: I mixed a variety of company, chiefly of the lower ranks, and rather as a silent spectator: I was treated with an easy freedom by all, and with marks of favour by some: Hospitality seemed to claim this happy people for her own, though I knew not at that time from what cause.
'I did not meet with this treatment in 1770, twenty nine years after, at Bosworth, where I accompanied a gentleman, with no other intent, than to view the field celebrated for the fall of Richard the third. The inhabitants enjoyed the cruel satisfaction of setting their dogs at us in the street, merely because we were strangers. Human figures, not their own, are seldom seen in those inhospitable regions: Surrounded with impassable roads, no intercourse with man to humanise the mind, no commerce to smooth their rugged manners, they continue the boors of nature.
'Thus it appears, that characters are influenced by profession. That the great advantage of private fortune, and the greater to society, of softening and forming the mind, are the result of trade. But these are not the only benefits that flow from this desirable spring. It opens the hand of charity to the assistance of distress; witness the Hospital and the two Charity Schools, supported by annual donation: It adds to the national security, by supplying the taxes for internal use, and, for the prosecution of war. It adds to that security, by furnishing the inhabitants with riches, which they are ever anxious to preserve, even at the risk of their lives; for the preservation of private wealth, tends to the preservation of the state.
'It augments the value of landed property, by multiplying the number of purchasers: It produces money to improve that land into a higher state of cultivation, which ultimately redounds to the general benefit, by affording plenty.
'It unites bodies of men in social compact, for their mutual interest: It adds to the credit and pleasure of individuals, by enabling them to purchase entertainment and improvement, both of the corporeal and intellectual kind.
'It finds employment for the hand that would otherwise be found in mischief: And it elevates the character of a nation in the scale of government.' (From his History of Birmingham, 'Trade',
He did, however, see the other side of the spirit of Birmingham during the Priestley Riots of 1791, in the townspeople's treatment of his house (pictured) & person:
'The 14th of July 1791 was the day of the King and Country Riots, it�all boiled up�after a few men met at the Hotel to celebrate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the ideals of the French Revolution. Here, a few windows got smashed, but the riot�soon spread across Birmingham and most�houses did not get off so lightly, many were burnt to the ground, though William Hutton's house�on High Street was saved that fate as the neighbours protested in fear that�it may spread to their own homes.'
'Dissenter Meeting Houses had already been burnt to the ground, as well as Joseph Priestley's, John�Ryland's and John Taylor's�houses.�William Hutton had not been at the dinner at the Hotel, but he�was a Unitarian (dissenter), and as well as that,�he was also a Commissioner at the Court of Requests, dealing with those who owed�debts. Hutton stated�himself, that 'armed with [this] power, I have put a period to thousands of quarrels, have softened the rugged tempers of�devouring�antagonists, and, without expense to themselves, sent them away friends. But the fatal rock upon which I�split was, I never could find a way to let both parties win. If ninety-nine were content, and one was not, that one would be more solicitous to injure me than the ninety-nine to serve me'. Hutton was known, when dealing with litigations,�for his statement 'thee pay sixpence, and come again next Friday' (Friday was when the court was held); as the mob threw his possessions out of the windows of his house it was recorded that they shouted 'who bids for this?' to which the reply came 'thee pay sixpence, and come again next Friday'.'
'When�the�mob gathered before William Hutton's shop** on High Street�on the afternoon�of the 15th�he tried to�buy them off with money, even borrowing from neighbours to continue paying; they demanded alcohol and�gave them all he could, but when he could give them no more they took him to a local tavern (against his will)�and drank 329 gallons on his credit. The destruction of the house began by first only smashing windows and knocking loudly on the doors.'
'Once the soldiers were employed to restore some order to Birmingham�on the 17th the family returned from their exile. On High Street, the rioters had 'demolished all the doors, windows, chimney-pieces, wainscotts, skirting boards, and banisters, together with the roof of the house'. They had also attempted to remove the staircase, but had only reached the sixth�step (before, presumably, they realised that they should have begun from the top and worked down). [...] By�the 19th of July, William Hutton had completed�some repairs and was able to 'appear at business'; soon Thomas and the servants could sleep in the house, but William preferred to retire with his family in the country. Slowly the repairs were completed until it was�business as usual and�William remained trading in High Street till 1793 when he handed over the business to Thomas.' (

The Witch As A Mirror

The folklore around mirrors just goes on forever, from breaking them, mirrors as soul-stealers, superstitions around them, mirrors are of such fascination. I feel this is probably so old we would find the reasons embarrassing now: the mirror has the power to 'reflect' us & so has the power, in a pre-scientific mindset, to 'take' part of us. It is a very short step indeed from that, to the idea of people as it were 'living' in mirrors, or mirrors with the power to record life in some way or take or give life. The mirror also appears as a test - very suspicious if somebody doesn't reflect in a mirror! One of the things that makes me think this folklore is old is the way it crosses over frequently into superstition. Now I'm not superstitious, myself, as Granny Weatherwax would have it, I'm a witch, I'm what people are superstitious of! To me the sure sign that superstition is when 'luck' starts being mentioned. Classically it was opposed to religio, & usually incorporates some sense of excess. For moderns I think we usually include some sense of one thing being connected to another, without any rational connection - almost exactly what the doubters accuse the witches of.
Of course we know that witchcraft isn't like that, really: we are interested in the ways that exist in (super)nature to connect things & achieve the 'impossible'. And of course what - to me, this is my blog & I'll damn well bias things in line with my own personal opinion, that's the point - makes us a rather unlikely religion is that we are passionately interested in the right order of things, or at least in *a* right order, no matter how fictionally or mythologically constructed.
Of course the tradition we have of plundering any source that can't run away is responsible for the - sometimes unfortunate importing of these fictional or superstitious references for mirrors into modern witchcraft. For example, I'm not impressed with Cecil Williamson's original annotation to a mirror in the Museum of Witchcraft (he wasn't 'out' as a witch in his lifetime but the rumours have been rife since his death; in fact if you read Doreen Valiente on the subject of these same mirrors she is much more sensible):
'Original text by Cecil Williamson: 'There are witch mirrors, and there are witch mirrors, but of all the mirrors used by witches this one is the top. This type of mirror was turned out in some quantity for one comes across examples up and down the country. To date I know of seven others exactly the same. Of course, a familiar spirit has been conjured and coaxed into making the mirror its home. When you use these mirrors you gaze into them then suddenly you will see in the mirror some one standing behind you. Whatever you do, do not turn around. Remember that, never never turn around. What happens next? Good gracious, you just talk quietly to the figure or face in the mirror, close your eyes if you cannot bear it, but never, ever turn around.' Mentioned in Doreen Valiente's description of the exhibits at Cecil Williamson's 'House of Spells' at Polperro (Transcripts from Doreen Valiente's Diaries 1959-1966, in the museum library (133.43 VAL), pp.29-34). She describes it as 'a very fine piece of wood-carving', and as she was later photographed with just such a mirror it is tempting to think she was inspired by seeing this one to acquire one herself.' (
Valiente writes sensibly about the use of these mirrors - which she seems to have believed to be 'traditional' - for scrying, in one of her books (I'm writing this away from my notes). This is of course the central point of mirrors used in a magical world-view: they allow you to see things that you otherwise can't, a function served with all sorts of other things. It is unfortunate that superstition should be brought into witchcraft, in fact many of the magical uses described for mirrors are at best ill-advised. There is some bizarre idea going round that one should use mirrors to protect one from 'maleficence' by reflecting it back. This is poppycock & demonstrates a plainly deficient understanding of magic. For a start it divides things into two in a dualistic way: the magician worth his salt knows that everything has the seeds of its exact opposite inside it. It assumes that the magician knows the motives of the other person & his own - it is so important to be wary of possible projection by oneself. If this malficence is coming from a magical person they're certain to have their own protection in place so it may just come bouncing back, & we all know that between two mirrors one of something multiplies, so that kind of mirror work would just make the situation worse.
For the record I think the best way to do that is take hold of whatever nastiness is being sent at you, & either use it for something else or else store it for when some nuclear waste is needed. The only time I reflect things is if I have an object link in a jar spell & I completely surround it in foil to ensure the environment of the jar affects the target & nobody else.
The real relationship of the witch, in my experience, with mirrors, is somewhat different. The witch functions herself as a mirror. People come to us, tell us things, or else set up a situation where they are going to be obliged to see themselves, & usually don't like it when they do. It might be as simple as just discussing a decision with us, but the point here is that I feel one of the reasons the witch figure gets the bad press it does is people project their own 'stuff' onto us. The connection with the mirror is that a mirror is actually a completely neutral thing, but because it reflects people connect it with the parts of themselves they don't like, & this is exactly what happens with the witch figure. This is a daily occurrence for a modern witch. Funny, we're also often strongly introverted, yet people almost come flocking to us, whether they know what we are or not, or even if they don't have words for it. And just like looking in the mirror, there is *no* guarantee people will like what they see.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Woodman, Eastside Park

We had lunch at The Woodman today, an old pub with a rather chequered history, that has re-opened in the past year, since Eastside Park was opened. It is a seriously sexy building, one of Birmingham's classic terracotta-and-tile pubs. We sat in the posh bit, the former smoke room, where there is a bell push for service above each table. Push ours as I could, service didn't come to the table. The room has the original tiling & essentially original set-up & furniture. The tiling can feel slightly cold, but to a magical person that building is one hell of a history book. I mean, seriously, you have to see, although I feel she has a preference for gay men!
The other history lesson in that building, that I only realised after I'd been a couple of times, is that the room we sat in used to have a plaque in to commemorate the visits of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. He was a lorry driver in the 1970s & used to go the Woodman with other lorry drivers. Who knows, I could have been sitting where he used to sit!
Another strange thing was that the girls at the table next to us all left around half of their - not-excessively-large - meals. Judging by the talk of portions the Hound (over) heard, I would guess this was for reasons other than dissatisfaction with the food!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sources for Witchcraft: Wordsworth on Plain Living and High Thinking

Plain-dressing Quakers
A surprising source this, but I have always loved this poem. Perhaps it's because I'm plain living, thinking, and speaking, to the point of rudeness.

Written in London. September, 1802

O Friend! I know not which way I must look
For comfort, being, as I am, opprest,
To think that now our life is only drest
For show; mean handy-work of craftsman, cook,
Or groom! — We must run glittering like a brook
In the open sunshine, or we are unblest:
The wealthiest man among us is the best:
No grandeur now in nature or in book
Delights us. Rapine, avarice, expense,
This is idolatry; and these we adore:
Plain living and high thinking are no more:
The homely beauty of the good old cause
Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,
And pure religion breathing household laws.

Hidden City: Moseley Road Baths

Yesterday I went to the Friends of Moseley Road Baths open day. You may be asking what this has to do with hidden city when the baths are this whacking great Edwardian edifice for all to see on the Moseley Road, but the point of the open day was that the great unwashed (at least unwashed since the washing baths closed as late as 2004) got to see parts that are not normally open. I have been wanting to see the things here literally forever and now have - my one sorrow is I never went there for an actual bath before the washing baths closed. The quoted text in this post is from the handout they gave us yesterday and their website has more information and the story of their campaign. I was pleasantly surprised to find the building was less f*cked than I thought it would be inside: I gather some parts are more or less derelict but the bits we could see yesterday were in better nick than I expected by the state of it outside. The baths are also a target to lead thieves, who also knock tiles off, and anyone who thinks it might be fun to get up on the roof.
Evidence of neglect
Moseley Road Baths was designed by William Hale and Son, built by W.J. Webb & opened on October 30th 1907. The large City Coat of Arms & Supporters was by Benjamin Creswick & is believed to be the largest in Birmingham. The frontage is mainly red brick & terracotta. Note the three entrances: Men's First Class, Men's Second Class & Women's. Behind the first floor windows is the former staff flat, whilst also visible are the two decorative terra cotta octagonal ventilation turrets, which expelled steam from the private washing bath departments. The date 1906 above the Men's First Class Entrance refers to the year construction commenced.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Witch Craft: The Uses of Glue

High time we had another Witch Craft post - the last & only one was about vodka & bead, & has proved disproportionately popular. It tickles me no end that people search for how to make parma violet vodka, or things to do with vodka, & end up at this blog. This time it's about glue. The magical uses of glue are endless. I love jar spells, & I love dripping in a whole bottle of glue, taking my time about it & really letting things stick together. Of course it can also be used in a swift (& indissoluble) adhesion of two things or entities. Do I need to comment that if you feel the urge to undo one of these spells afterwards, you're setting about things the wrong way? It is, however, quite possibly only in my world that a tube of all-purpose glue can be purchased for the specific purposes of mending trackie bottoms & sticking a human skull back together.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Call to Action: The Vatican Before the United Nations Again

I have posted before on this subject - any group should be ashamed to find itself in front of this sort of committee, but the Vatican continues to prevaricate. The present Pope has even said that no-one has done more to protect children than the Catholic Church. Of course this isn't true, I'm even finding it difficult to think of anything worse to do to children than what their clergy have submitted children to for decades. They're up in front of the United Nations again & I would beseech all magical people to work magic to ensure the commission finds them guilty of torture. It's certainly not looking good for their cloud-cuckoo dreamworld:
'The Vatican has been given another hostile interrogation by a United Nations committee over its record on clerical sex abuse.
'One member after another of the committee against torture brushed aside the Holy See's argument that its obligation to enforce the UN convention against torture stopped at the boundaries of the world's smallest country, the Vatican City state. They demanded the pope's representative give answers to a long list of questions about the treatment of sex abuse claims against clergy throughout the world.
'The Holy See, which long predates the city state, is a sovereign entity without territory. It is as the Holy See that the Catholic leadership maintains diplomatic relations and signs treaties such as the convention against torture.
'But Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's UN ambassador in Geneva, told the committee: "The Holy See intends to focus exclusively on Vatican City state."
'The American expert on the committee, Felice Gaer, made plain her disagreement. She said the Holy See had to "show us that, as a party to the convention, you have a system in place to prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment when it is acquiesced to by anyone under the effective control of the officials of the Holy See and the institutions that operate in the Vatican City state".
'Gaer described the line that church officials sought to draw between the treaty obligations of the city state and the Holy See as an "alleged distinction".
'She demanded responses to claims that Italian bishops had been told they were not under any obligation to report suspected cases of sex abuse to the civil authorities, as well as to allegations that the Vatican had given refuge to a papal envoy accused of sex abuse. In January, a Polish prosecutor said Warsaw had turned down a request for the extradition of Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who faces accusations of sex abuse in his Poland and in the Dominican Republic.
'But Gaer, the director of an American-Jewish human rights organisation, the Jacob Blaustein Institute, said the church's doctrine on abortion was an area of legitimate concern for the committee. She called for the Vatican to comment on allegations that its blanket stigmatisation of abortion had led to nine-year-old girls being required to give birth.
'In February, the Vatican reacted with outrage when another UN panel argued that children around the world were suffering from Catholic teachings, including those on abortion and birth control. The Vatican said comments by the committee on the rights of the child constituted an attack on religious freedom.
'The issue of sex abuse was raised on Monday by committee members from Mauritius and Morocco and by George Tugushi, from Georgia. He welcomed a new committee to advise the pope, saying it could "begin to change the climate of impunity". But he added: "It cannot be considered in our opinion as a substitute for a functioning investigative system of the Holy See's or Vatican City state's own."' (
The problem is of course that they want the power without the responsibility, & it is this kind of feudal play-acting that perpetuates the kind of danger these people represent. The reason their behaviour must be defined as torture is that it is probably the only remaining way for the church to get the consequences for the decades of child abuse it has aided & abetted:
'Experts said a finding by the committee that the systematic abuse amounted to torture could have drastic legal implications for the church as it continues to battle civil litigation around the world resulting from the decades-long scandal that saw tens of thousands of children raped and molested by priests.
'Katherine Gallagher, a human rights attorney for the New York-based nonprofit legal group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, said such a finding could open the floodgates to abuse lawsuits dating back decades because there are no statutes of limitations on torture cases. Gallagher, whose group represents Vatican sex scandal victims, said rape can legally constitute a form of torture because of the elements of intimidation, coercion, and exploitation of power.
'"The torture committee's questions really were about sexual violence and rape, and they made it clear that these acts fall within the definition of torture and the Vatican's obligations under the torture convention," she said after the hearing.
'"A recognition by the torture committee that this is one of the most significant crimes could really open up a new level of prosecutions and accountability," she added.' (
Peace - real peace - cannot be made by the victimised party just forgiving the abuser. It can only be made by the abuser acknowledging their wrong, which they're not prepared to do. The strange irony is that it is the Holy See's own actions that have made them vulnerable to this - by signing up to the UN Convention on Torture, presumably (almost psychotically) thinking that they would never be found guilty of torture. The plaque illustrated contains words from Paul VI's speech at the United Nations - ironic in retrospect!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Witches Look Up: My Suspicion of Bank Holidays

Today is a 'bank' holiday in Britain, an excuse for all sorts of 'traditional' eccentric goings-on (See In fact so many of the apparently old traditions of Britain take place on Bank Holidays that it's easy to be taken in by the Merrie England lure of this ridiculous fantasy.
The reality is that up until the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 there weren't any. None. Of course I'm probably over-egging the cake, by referring solely to the holidays on Mondays. Good Friday & Christmas day were common law holidays on which any business could legally be deferred to the next day, from before records begin. There is also the way in which the Christians have messed up the Day of the Sun permanently. Even from 1871 there were only four. The act was passed by the Liberal Sir John Lubbock, & a grateful populace called these four days 'St Lubbock's days' for some time after 1871.
The historical rat that you can smell here is of course the date at which the act was passed & the fact the populace was so grateful: what marks these holidays as permanently modern & totally not ancient is twofold: the Act was after the seachange to working life that was the Industrial Revolution, & the simple fact that in a traditional agricultural economy you simply don't get days off.
In terms of modern economics, being a purely city person who can't sleep in the country because it's too quiet & as a child got spooked on a road without traffic lights, I really don't have a dog in this fight. I have *no* aspiration to return to, or even interest in, the way of life before the Industrial Revolution (the contentious historical question of the nature of the change in the Industrial Revolution is waaaay beyond the scope of this post). I am a city person.
I do question the motives of those who are taken in by the pseudo-traditions that go on on Bank Holidays. I suppose it's the whole thing of the 'imagined village' - life at the time of the Industrial Revolution was horrific for the workers, leading to a rosy view of the pastoral idyll that had gone before. We humans really like to have an imagined cosiness to retreat into. And I suppose this is my real problem with the bank holiday revels - the *reason* people were grateful for them was that their lives were horrendous the rest of the year.
Strangely one of the revels in the above link - the sweeps' festival in Rochester - would not have been protected by law as a holiday because its original incarnation died off after the Climbing Boys Act of 1868, so it actually predates the Bank Holidays Act. It took something like forty years for it to die off before being revived in the 1980s.
Surely I can't be the only person this whole thing leaves with a nasty taste? I'm actually quite fortunate - since I work shifts I work many bank holidays but get them off in lieu at other times, so I actually wind up with more days that I can take when I ask for them, than I ever would if I worked in an actual bank. So I suppose I actually have as close to the ideal for me personally as I'm ever going to get.
However Bank Holidays remain for me the memorial of how work has taken over people's lives since the Industrial Revolution. Nothing wrong with work, it is one of the ways to self-respect & the establishment of a willed life. What devalues modern work is its disconnect with our actual lives & values - work for someone else is always tied to money, & as such is devalued, compared to working for the thing you're doing. Nor am I inpressed with self-sufficiency, or a back to the land philosophy. I am impressed by the Moneyless Man (pictured - even if he isn't a witch, he at least dresses like one) for his commitment to doing his will & his frankness about having to make some purchases before he started. I am aware that I'm both trying to have my cake & eat it by my uneasiness at the Industrial Revolution & the modern monetary economy it spawned, & also my dislike of the genuinely traditional life that preceded it. I think my real discomfort is the idea that people were *allowed* to have Bank Holidays off (by the people in power), & pathetically grateful because of their awful working conditions (gifted to them by probably the same people, ultimately) rather than any possibility of choice over work & leisure. Nor do I buy the idea, frequently repeated by second-wave feminists, that life used to be one long holiday or festival, which to me is a pseudohistory. My discomfort at this remains, & I think will not go away.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Don't Know Much About History (For Witches)

Don't know much about astrology,
Don't know much about the Lesser Key,
Don't know much about curse tablets,
Don't know what an athame's for,
But I do know that I'm a witch,
And I know that if you are a bitch,
I will turn your whole world upside down.

Don't know much about Thelema,
Don't know much about Druidry,
Don't know much about old Gerald,
Don't know much about grandmothers,
But I do know that I'm a witch,
And I know that if you are a bitch,
I will turn your whole world upside down.

Now I can't claim to be a great magus,
But I know the hedge,
For maybe by being a hedgewitch, baby,
I'll make you stay away from me.

Don't know much about alphabets,
Don't know much about alchemy,
Don't know much about the Golden Dawn,
Don't know what the tarot is for.
But I do know that I'm a witch,
And I know that if you are a bitch,
I will turn your whole world upside down.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sources for Witchcraft: Walking & Kierkegaard

Needless Alley, Birmingham, 1953
I think I prefer sources 'for' to sources 'of', as better representing the act of using sources to create a witchcraft; 'of' seems to hijack those sources & apply a usually unsuitable witchcraft title to them. At some point I shall go through the blog applying this tag where I think it fits. It's been ages since I've debunked anything, so let's debunk the idea of the Peripatetic School of Greek philosophy first. Needless to say, this entry from Wikipedia is unreferenced, but all the sources I've been able to see clearly describe Aristotle teaching in the Lyceum, not walking about:
'The Peripatetic school was a school of philosophy in Ancient Greece. Its teachings derived from its founder, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, and Peripatetic is a name given to his followers. The school originally derived its name Peripatos from the peripatoi (περίπατοι "colonnades") of the Lyceum in Athens where the members met. A similar Greek word peripatetikos (Greek: περιπατητικός) refers to the act of walking, and as an adjective, "peripatetic" is often used to mean itinerant, wandering, meandering, or walking about. After Aristotle's death, a legend arose that he was a "peripatetic" lecturer – that he walked about as he taught – and the designation Peripatetikos came to replace the original Peripatos.' (
I begin with this because I want to draw parallels between the walking praxis of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who was deeply schooled in the ancient Greek philosphers, & is sometimes referred to as a peripatetic philosopher, & the philosophy of the hedge among modern witches. For us the hedge is a location of learning, encounter, magic, & transformation, & it appears our approach is not that different from that of Kierkegaard to Copenhagen in the nineteenth century:
'Kierkegaard's walking was a many-sided affair and had from the very first a communicational intention. The walks were both Socratic and Romantic-Ironic. They were the walks both of a philosopher prepared to engage any passer-by on some topic of mutual interest and of the free-floating, unengaged spirit as described by Friedrich Schlegel, unattached, passionless, committed to no cause, achieving no aim, and serenely indifferent to whatever might befall.' (Roger Poole: Kierkegaard - The Indirect Communication. University of Virginia Press, 1993, p.15)
I remember Kirkegaard from my theology student days as a rather dour, pietistic Christian philosopher, & so I am delighted to find much that is witch-like in him. I am of course aware that I am essentially hijacking someone who is absolutely not a witch for my purposes. Hey, that's what finding yourself in the hedge is all about: the inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. Perhaps the most witch-like thing about him is his desire not to set himself up as the great philosopher. He needed the daily contact with many different people that he got in what he called his 'people bath', that he got while walking the streets of Copenhagen, the streets that formed his 'hedge' in which he did his thinking before going home to write it all down. For one of his biographers the image of the streets become an (extremely witchy) metaphor for the thinking he did in them:
'The city is a metaphor for Kierkegaard's work as an author - changeable & disquieting - & it could take almost no time to move from the light-filled, elegantly neo-classical plazas to the cacophony of the dark alleys. So when Kierkegaard moved about the streets of Copenhagen, his strutting was connected with his writing, he was everywhere & nowhere, walking this way & that, conversing intimately with everyone, but at the same time distant & alien.' (Joakim Garff (translated by Bruce H Kirmmse): Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2005, pp. 316-7)
So for Kierkegaard his daily walk was both the source of & forum for his philosophy, exactly the role the hedge plays for hedge witchcraft. A further reason he walked was not to set himself up as a 'celebrity' - ironically his concept of aristocracy in this next quote is also incredibly witchy:
'Yes, of course I am an aristocrat (& so is everyone who is truly conscious of willing the Good, because they are always few in number), but I want to stand right on the street, in the midst of the people, where there is danger & opposition. I do not want [...] to live in cowardly & prissy fashion at an aristocratic remove, in select circles protected by an illusion (that the masses seldom see them [other philosophers he has named] & therefore imagine them to be Somebody).' (Cited in Garff, op cit, pp. 317-8)
Kierkegaard comes incredibly close to a magical notion of movement in the famous letter written to his niece in 1847:
'Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Even if one were to walk for ones health & it were always one station ahead - I would still say: Walk! Besides, it is also apparent that in walking one constantly gets as close to well-being as possible, even if one does not quite reach it - but by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Health & salvation can be found only in motion. If anyone denies that motion exists, I do as Diogenes did, I walk. If anyone denies that health resides in motion, then I walk away from all morbid objections. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right. And out in the country you have all the advantages; you do not risk being stopped before you are safe & happy outside your gate, nor do you run the risk of being intercepted on your way home. I remember exactly what happened to me a while ago & what has happened frequently since then. I had been walking for an hour & a half & had done a great deal of thinking,& with the help of motion I had really become a very agreeable person to myself. What bliss, &, as you may imagine, what care did I not take to bring my bliss home as safely as possible. Thus I hurry along, with downcast eyes I steal through the streets, so to speak; confident that I am entitled to the sidewalk, I do not consider it necessary to look about at all (for thereby one is so easily intercepted, just as one is looking about - in order to avoid) & thus hasten along the sidewalk with my bliss (for the ordinance forbidding one to carry anything on the sidewalk does not extend to bliss, which makes a person lighter)  - directly into a man who is always suffering from illness & who therefore with downcast eyes, defiant because of his illness, does not even think that he must look about when he is not entitled to the sidewalk. I was stopped. It was a quite exalted gentleman who now honoured me with conversation. Thus all was lost. After the conversation ended, there was only one thing left for me to do: instead of going home, to go walking again.' (Cited in Poole, op cit, pp 172-3)
In this letter Kierkegaard manages to cover so many matters of concern to witches: the place, high & low, single-mindedness. In fact Kierkegaard's notion of the nature of walking is not that far separated from the French idea of the flaneur, more recently also utilised in psychogeography:
'While Baudelaire characterized the flâneur as a "gentleman stroller of city streets",[8] he saw the flâneur as having a key role in understanding, participating in and portraying the city. A flâneur thus played a double role in city life and in theory, that is, while remaining a detached observer. This stance, simultaneously part of and apart from, combines sociological, anthropological, literary and historical notions of the relationship between the individual and the greater populace.[9]
'In the period after the 1848 Revolution in France, during which the Empire was reestablished with clearly bourgeois pretensions of "order" and "morals", Baudelaire began asserting that traditional art was inadequate for the new dynamic complications of modern life. Social and economic changes brought by industrialization demanded that the artist immerse himself in the metropolis and become, in Baudelaire's phrase, "a botanist of the sidewalk".[8] David Harvey asserts that "Baudelaire would be torn the rest of his life between the stances of flâneur and dandy, a disengaged and cynical voyeur on the one hand, and man of the people who enters into the life of his subjects with passion on the other" (Paris: Capital of Modernity 14).
'The observer-participant dialectic is evidenced in part by the dandy culture. Highly self-aware, and to a certain degree flamboyant and theatrical, dandies of the mid-nineteenth century created scenes through self-consciously outrageous acts like walking turtles on leashes down the streets of Paris. Such acts exemplify a flâneur's active participation in and fascination with street life while displaying a critical attitude towards the uniformity, speed, and anonymity of modern life in the city.
'The concept of the flâneur is important in academic discussions of the phenomenon of modernity. While Baudelaire's aesthetic and critical visions helped open up the modern city as a space for investigation, theorists such as Georg Simmel began to codify the urban experience in more sociological and psychological terms. In his essay "The Metropolis and Mental Life", Simmel theorized that the complexities of the modern city create new social bonds and new attitudes towards others. The modern city was transforming humans, giving them a new relationship to time and space, inculcating in them a "blasé attitude", and altering fundamental notions of freedom and being... (
Once again this draws on so many of the modern witch figure's roles. Just in case there is a source I haven't plundered yet in this post, walking has a more profound meaning in the world of magic, which again can be drawn upon to nourish a philosophy of hedgewitch walking, that of circumambulation. One of the things I love about witchcraft is the way it has a habit of leading you back to where you begin, & so the themes I find myself returning to continually in this blog are found here: the hedge, the circle, going round, embodiment, and so on. The witch's wanderings through the hedge interact with the hedge so that both the witch & the hedge are altered by the act of walking. I'm going to give the last word, on circumambulation, to Uncle Al:
'In Part II of this Book 4 it was assumed that the Magician went barefoot. This would imply his intention to make intimate contact with his Circle. But he may wear sandals, for the Ankh is a sandal-strap; it is born by the Egyptian Gods to signify their power of Going, that is their eternal energy. By shape the Ankh (or Crux Ansata) suggests the formula by which this going is effected in actual practice.
'This has a very definite result, but one which is very difficult to describe. An analogy is the dynamo. 'Circumambulation properly performed in combination with the Sign of Horus (or "The Enterer") on passing the East is one of the best methods of arousing the macrocosmic force in the Circle. It should never be omitted unless there be some special reason against it.
'A particular tread seems appropriate to it. This tread should be light and stealthy, almost furtive, and yet very purposeful. It is the pace of the tiger who stalks the deer. The number of circumambulations should of course correspond to the nature of the ceremony.' (Magick in Theory & Practice, Book 4, Chapter 10.