Thursday, June 26, 2014

On sticking with divination tools

I recently put an 'empty' bottle of chocolate flavoured milk in my bag. I could have sworn it was empty and also that the top was on. In practice neither can have been the case because *everything* in my bag got some chocolate milk on, including a deck of tarot cards I had in there. They were Fournier's Tarot Genoves, actually one of my favourite decks, and they had been knocking baout in there with a rubber band round them for ages, in case of urgent reference. You'll notice the Hound doesn't always treat his divination tools with the respect they need. The upshot was, in addition to being a reproduction vintage deck, they now both look extremely vintage - the brown spots look just like foxing - but smell delicious!
I'm not going to replace them, I'm going to carry on using them. That incident I think is one of the life experiences that we go through with divination tools that make them ours and part of us. But this incident has caused me to reflect on the number of tarot decks I have - particularly as I found myself on last night, looking at regional Italian playing cards. I have posted before about how I learned tarot - I learned with a Morgan-Greer deck, my actual deck got thrown out eventually because it was worn out. I then moved on to a Rider-Waite, and I actually have a deck I've made up myself of cards from several different decks. More recently I've been reading with an Etteilla (the deck illustrated here) and have settled down to the non-reversible Italian type of gaming deck, because they give such frank readings.
I also realise that while my introductory post to kipper cards is one of the most popular posts on this blog, I haven't posted on them since. I haven't read with them, or even looked at them: to be frank the reason is I'm not sure where the damn things are. But they're obviously not shouting 'I have something to tell you!' from wherever they are.
I have however been feeling that it's time to start on another way of reading - a deck that I have no knowledge of, that I can come to with no preconceptions and can make a new relationship with. After having looked at the Italian regional decks last night I'm not sure that this is the answer. I think I have more than enough tarot decks in the house. I think the message of the chocolate milk is - stop trying to find another deck. Read me. Keep me. Build a more enduring relationship with me. Because actually that deck continues to come up with answers, so really why would I need to find another? I'll carry on until they look like this Etteilla card, and either be buried with them or leave them to one of my Goddess children.
Imagine what the Etteilla card that illustrates this post could say, if it could really speak! The number of hands it's been through, the number of readings, of good endings and bad endings, happiness and sadness. Somehow I think a divination tool should have seen it all. Wonder what I'll spill on them next...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Urban Grimoire: The Witch Diet

In which the Hound gives details for a spell to improve self-esteem, assist people to eat the best for them, reducing fretting about food & improving health. Disclaimer: if you have *any* medical problems at all or if your weight is objectively high or low, follow your own health professional's advice. My instinct is that it won't differ greatly from the general principles I'm going to give here, but the whole point of being a witch is autonomy as an individual, isn't it?

The Problem
We live in a world which is divorced from itself. A small proportion of people own the majority of the wealth. A dichotomy exists between a frequent valuing of being overweight (as a sign of health & prosperity) in poorer cultures, & an over-valuing of thinness in richer cultures. It is only right that this should appear on a city-based witch's blog, because the reality is city people are disconnected from the sources & nature of the food they eat. Nobody really lives (in the Western world, at least) according to the agricultural rhythms of the past, leading to a nostalgia for that - often romanticised - past & the growth of neo-Paganism. Coupled with this is the growth of a *huge* diet industry, & yet strangely we're also in the middle of an obesity epidemic. There's clearly something very strange here. I myself couldn't begin to tell you when things are in season (apart from when they get cheaper in shops), & I notice in the fridge I've got onions & peppers from 'Britain' (wherever that means), blueberries from Spain, & the milk is Polish.

Some of the odd things going on
People eat without reference to their own body's needs (for example following one-size-fits-all diet recommendations). Sounds pretty freaky, when it's put like that, doesn't it?
People are so out of touch with their own needs that they 'forget to eat'.
People fetishize weight gain - as in feeders or gainers. Now I like a man to have a bit of flesh on him, but obesity as a fetish is just weird.
People repeatedly go on different diets, despite the simple fact that dieting makes you put weight on.
People get fundamentalist about having to have some foods (such as 'superfoods') & avoid others.

Things to be wary of
Any diet plan that is prescriptive without reference to your body's needs.
Any diet plan that aims to send your body into starvation even temporarily (that is pretty well all of them).
Any diet plan that does not recommend simple balanced, varied, regular eating.
Any diet plan that emphasises certain 'superfoods'.
Any diet plan with numbers in the title (creating confusion), periods of fasting, anything like that.
Demonising certain foods (or even food groups) as 'bad' & disallowing them.
'Portion sizes' determined without reference to the needs of the person eating.

Some facts about nutrition & weight
How metabolism really works: assuming you are eating a sensible balanced, varied diet, as you eat more, your metabolism increases. Therefore for many people weight loss will mean eating more, just changing the proportions of what they eat. Some people have a naturally fast metabolism. (Most diets 'work' at first by causing starvation or confusion, & hence cannot work in the long run)
We all have a particular body shape that is biologically determined. Any attempt to escape from this is doomed to failure, or in the long term, serious illness.
It is also theorised that we have a 'set point weight' that is our natural weight & once again attempts to escape from that are doomed.
The most healthy way to eat in the long term is always a healthy, balanced, sufficient, & varied diet. On/off bouts of fads & diets confuse the metabolism & ultimately will lead to weight gain. Remember, you're getting this advice for free. I have *nothing* to gain from this, apart from the satisfaction of helping to free the world from quack diet merchants.

Aim of the spell
To be free of obsessive dieting.
To improve self-esteem.
To eat healthily.
To improve long-term health.
To improve the connection with ones own body needs.
THE SPELL (got there in the end)
Look at yourself in the mirror every morning & tell yourself that you love yourself. Make it as simple or ritualistic as you like, but *believe it*. As you grow in the love of yourself you will improve your care of yourself. If some people treated an animal the way they treat themselves, they'd be banned from keeping animals.
Eat when you start to get hungry, eat until you feel full & then stop. If you find you 'forget to eat', eat every few hours: this should improve your connection to your body's signals in itself. Both of these approaches should equate to eating every few hours, ideally with three meals & three 'snacks' in between.
Eat foodstuffs in the proportions shown in the plate that illustrates this post, aiming to balance the proportions daily. There's a slightly different illustration used in the US, but the guidelines won't differ greatly.
Vary what you eat within each foodgroup. Avoid eating the same things over & over, or avoiding some foodstuffs completely.
You *must* have 'treats'. Notice how fats & sugars appear on the plate: just in their proportion. If you don't have nice things to eat you'll feel you're depriving yourself & it will become a chore.
If you start craving particular foodstuffs, make sure to include those in moderation. Bodies have this wonderful way of telling us what we need.
If you don't follow this at some point, don't fret over it, just carry on from there.

Three special cases
Weight & metabolism are influenced in particular ways by alcohol & smoking. There is no safe limit for smoking, but it increases your metabolism so smokers tend to weigh less. If you stop you'll likely put weight on, but smoking is so dangerous I think you're probably better focussing on stopping, then dealing with the aftermath. Because of the cell mutations it takes many years for them to mutate back, but the weight gain is said to last a years maximum, then when you feel ready to make even more positive changes in your life in your diet you can.
Alcohol also can cause weight gain. I think probably the witch way to approach any addictive substance is a full & frank account of how we actually use that substance. This wouldn't be a not at all substance.
Another substance that we can/must have is sugar. The problem with sugar is the quantity: especially as it's hidden in so many foods. Its long-term effects are not that dissimilar to alcohol, but it's one to keep an eye out for, because it's another major cause of obesity & illness.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Curse of the Witch

Sounds like a horror film, that, doesn't it? I can almost write the screenplay off the top of my head - family move to a country cottage, terrible things happen to them, it becomes apparent from the locals it belonged to an old woman with a cat. The woman was wronged somehow, did something, the cottage has been no good for anyone to live in ever since.
That scenario, while variations of it are common in horror films & folklore, only appears at the top of this post to illustrate what the post is *not* about! In my usual pedantic way there's a grammatical point to be made about the title: 'of the witch' is the genitive case, & means belonging or pertaining to the witch. I will not repeat my numerous previous comments on the meanings & nuances of the word 'witch'. Since the curse of which I speak is 'of the witch' it could actually be a curse on the witch herself, or a curse the witch has put on someone else.
The reality is that the witch - a competent witch - would rarely, if ever feel the need to put an actual curse on someone or something. It is essential that the witch is able to do so, & if the witch is not able to step up to the bar she will frequently find she is confronted with the sort of situation where she feels it is necessary to do so, but in reality a curse initiated by the magical practitioner is way too much like hard work. Just as usually, when as individual feels they are cursed, it is them somehow cursing themselves, usually when someone/thing *needs* to be cursed they will usually merrily do it themselves if you let them, or sometimes slightly push them in the direction in which they are already going.
And the reason why it might be necessary to curse someone cuts right to the heart of what magic is about. I'm also not planning on repeating my opinions on why the 'Law of Three' can't possibly be true, but we humans do somehow bring the things that happen to us, on ourselves. There will always be some level on which the person who can't find another half, only attracts heels, does it over & over again, is doing this themselves. This is the real nature of everyone's curse: we keep on doing the same nonsense. If the witch can recognise this pattern & move it on somehow, that is a very effective curse. For example, a perfect situation would be a case I was reading of recently where a man who works as a stablehand likes sex with animals, & actually has sex with the animals in his care, damaging them & causing them distress on the way. He has been caught doing this *fourteen* times. The last time - the leniency of this sentence staggers me - he was banned from keeping animals for *one year* & fined - get this - 200 dollars. That's two-oh-oh. Ideal subject for a curse this. In fact even as I write those words I can feel the anger of the Goddess building up & the laughter of the universe starting up as he nears a sticky end. It is plain that in this case human justice will not deal with him effectively, & that he will continue. So the thing to do is use that. So what's going to happen is he will choose to penetrate a horse or donkey that is not as placid as it seems, one that will kick out. If he's lucky he might live. It is done: the witch has spoken.
And that brings me nicely to the witch's own curse, which is surely that of simply being a witch at all. In addition to the curse I talk about above, that we all carry round with us, the witch has the curse of being the witch. The responsibility. The duty. The privilege. Often witches go through some *terrible* stuff, more than can conceivably be caused by one person's learning needs in one incarnation. I feel this is because we somehow attract those who need a cosmic slap. The guy above would be the perfect example. And there is no such thing as a day off from being a witch - we're witches all the time, & thus continually are confronted with other people's need for a slap.
Of course it can be difficult to tell which is which. It is not an invariable rule, but I feel witchily dealing with your own stuff will feel relatively more painful, since it usually cuts to the heart of who the witch is. My experience of dealing with other people's stuff is that it usually feels more joyous, with a sense of putting things right. Some of these experiences will also have an initiatory air about them, & thus even more be cases of having to make decisions quickly with *no* way of weighing all the consequences.
So this is why, when people say, 'I wannabeawitch,' I say, 'No, you don't.' The hours are unsocial in the extreme, the pay is uncertain, the prospects of promotion are negligible at best. It also leaves you marked for life: it's almost like you curse yourself at some point. However you have to be prepared to do this, otherwise you are always left at the junction of a crossroads. And this junction is one that you can't return from.
Coming next: 'Grumpy Old Witches'.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hidden City: Curzon Street Station & Cat

To Curzon Street Station today, on one of the incredibly rare occasions when it is open to the public. It is actually well-known as a landmark, seen from the train as you approach from the Coventry side of the city, a rare glimpse of loveliness for years & years among the abomination of desolation that Eastside used to be. It was Birmingham's original railway station, opened in 1838, & remained so until New Street opened, so that the posh people coming for the attractions of New Street didn't have to see the slums of Park Street. It was designed by John Hardwicke, who also designed the now-demolished Euston arch in London, & is a seriously sexy building. I have been gagging to get a glimpse of the inside for literally decades.
This is a blog primarily about witchcraft, so it can only be expected that my slant on things is often going to be somewhat...unusual. I won't hold back, therefore, from going straight into the weird shit about Birmingham's railway stations. There is an irony about the Victorians moving the main station to New Street. I will grant you that the Park Street area of the city can be a real challenge, in energy terms, as it were. Even the slightest hint of psychic ability allows one to pick up on the resonances of the teeming slum that that side of the city once was. Personally I don't feel this to be related to the grave yard, I feel it is related to the long history of chaotic living & conflict that that area would have known. What you *see* therefore as you come into the city, is almost a battle ground. For a psychic, the irony is that the atmosphere of what is now called Eastside is not half as bad as that of New Street Station. I feel one of the reasons people love to hate Birmingham is what they land up in at New Street is a literal cesspit. Even cowans pick this up: New Street is notorious both for suicides & its hauntings (I have resisted writing an actual spirit of place post about New Street, but see for example and
Anyway the result of opening Curzon Street station for an exhibition of pictures of normally-unseen places in the city (ten till three daily, this week only) was a huge crowd of people with cameras. Obviously I'm not the only one who's been gagging to get in there for years. The actual building is all I was hoping it would be, in fact better. It is a seriously sexy building, whose predominating atmosphere is of dignity & solidity. It also isn't half as wrecked inside as I thought it would be: it is certainly in better nick than Moseley Road Baths, also 'looked after' by the council.
One of the reasons people were so snap-happy was that, while the pictures actually featured in some supplements in the Birmingham Post - & may therefore have been missed - the places were in reality a mixture of places you have *some* hope of seeing (such as Perrott's Folly) & places that you actually have no realistic hope of seeing in the near future or ever. These would include the inside of the Grand Hotel (been there, actually I've been asked politely to leave the bar, but it doesn't look like that's reopening any time soon), New Street Station signal box, the famous underground telephone exchange, the ballroom (didn't know about that) at Aston fire station, Steelhouse Lane custody suite (no, I have *never* been there), & the actual Big Brum bells (in the tower of the council house). And all this in a gorgeous building that is *almost* never open to the public. There are a few more sights that I have passively viewed on urban exploration sites, such as the bank on Broad Street - it's been done, it's been done to death. It's open sometimes for things, anyway, & looks...well, the way you'd expect a bank to look behind the scenes. The majority of these places I personally have at least seen pictures of, so I think the main point of the exhibition is to get into the station in person. In fact if you missed them the pictures are on the website related to this exhibition: .
Now you wouldn't know it was me if I didn't somehow turn the sanest of subjects weird, so I have to bring in the Curzon Street cat, surely a hero of this story. I was hoping to meet the subject of such a genuinely old magical practice, but he or she didn't make an appearance & anyway I feel probably would be a terminally pissed off dead cat. Don't try this at home, kids: this is a genuinely old magical practice that you won't find in Silver Ravenwolf or Scott Cunningham. It appears here as an antidote to the naffness of much modern paganism (I was going to write a whole post about the said naffness, timed carefully to coincide with the solstice junket to Stonehenge, but felt I would come across as snarky even by my standards. & rather post about something that interests *me*) & as a reminder that magic, indeed life itself, comes down to blood & bone. Our encounter with that life is what enables us to turn one thing into another.
'Birmingham's most bizarre Victorian relic is on track for a purr-fect journey to immortality.
'A mummified cat – buried alive under the floorboards of Birmingham's Curzon Street train station in 1838 – could have pride of place in the new station to be built in the city as part of the controversial HS2 high-speed rail network.
'The Birmingham terminus – initially linking to London but later to other major cities – will be on the site of the old station.
'And the cat and other curios from Curzon Street could be included in a sale by Birmingham City Council, which owns the site, to the company behind HS2.
'It is believed that the cat was originally placed in the station as part of a gruesome Victorian tradition to bring the building, and its future staff, good luck.
'The custom required a live cat to be placed under the last floorboard, or the final brick in a wall.
'The cat would naturally die, either from lack of oxygen, starvation or thirst – or all three – so the 'lucky omen' was far from lucky for the victim.
'The standard of workmanship in the Victorian era was so high that the floorboard void, or the bricked-in cavity, was airtight.
'So instead of decaying, the corpse mummified.
'The feline remains – and other artefacts – were unearthed by builders carrying out major construction work on Curzon Street Station in the 1980s.
'It was decided to retain the curios and place them in glass-fronted display cabinets set into the walls of the building.
'The mummified cat was a quirky – but little-known – attraction at the former station when it served as offices for several training organisations.
'Birmingham City Council has owned the freehold of Curzon Street station since 1980 and it has been unoccupied since 2001, although a few art exhibitions have been staged there in between.
'The cat, which never appears to have been given a name, was removed for safekeeping from Curzon Street by the city council and it is now in safe storage.' (

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How people get drawn to the witch

I've been thinking this week, not for the first time, of the way the witch functions in the world - not really in terms of polarity as such, but certainly in terms of attraction. The received wisdom is that what you give out returns to you, indicating that what comes to you is somehow of your own causation. This is patently nonsense. If it was true, I would only be surrounded by well-wishing people who just want to get on with life & make the world a better place. I'm writing this with a completely straight face. Instead yesterday I remonstrated with a bus driver who thought it would be hilarious to pretend not to hear me after I asked her to let me off when the bus was just sitting in a stop, instead driving off. I could have told her that she really ought to get her stomach problem looked at by a doctor, & instead I happen to know that the irritations she causes to other people have all come back at once. Similarly, the doctor's rceptionist was very disappointed when I actually asked for an appointment on a date when she couldn't find a 'reason' not to give me one.
What's going on here? - my feeling is that people end up in the orbit of the witch to get something they need, whether it be a healing, a lesson, a cosmic slap, whatever. In no way do we judge or create these scenarios, we don't need to, they just happen. The so-called Law of Attraction (or return) is right, insofar as we live in a universe of interacting substances. Just as homeostasis is maintained by the continual interaction & competition of numerous substances & entities, so situations will be drawn into the orbit of the witch who can & will do what is necessary. We all have a magical 'signature' & that is what draws the scenarios best dealt with by our kind of magic, into our orbit. I am *not* saying that you attract what you do to happen to you, I am saying that you attract (by positive or negative feedback) the situations that are corrected by the things you do. I would even go so far as to say that you could consciously slightly change your magical signature, & hence what you attract to yourself, but in reality this interaction is also influenced by where the witch is herself, so while not being quite fated, the point is much more how you personally respond. Since feedback comes in positive & negative forms, your response can still influence this either way & may increase or decrease the occurrence of the same situation. Hence the importance of divination, to see the things you 'can't' see.
Once a person takes on the mantle of the witch figure, her interactions with the whole world change. I fully expected, when I started this blog, that it would be visited mostly by witches. I'm sure this is partly the case - certainly the high number of page views from America & the relatively high number of searches for witchy things that come here, would suggest this is the case. But I've also been surprised at some of the searches that unwittingly bring people into the orbit of the witch. Google 'gay men and their mothers', for instance, & this blog is on the first page of results. Some people find themselves reading my pages on the spirit of place, having searched for information on specific places. Just to finish: this is the list of searches that have brought people here this week. I'm just sad that Philipp Tanzer, who appeared last week, is missing. I've literally just mentioned him *once*, talking about tattoos! The point of this is that people don't find themselves in the orbit of the witch because they are consciously looking for a witch, but for all sorts of reasons. Even the witch won't always see the bigger picture or know why, but my conviction remains that it is our duty & privilege to help & heal all that comes to us. Our ability to do so depends on it, this is what Robert Cochrane was referring to when he spoke about accepting all that comes, partnered with using all means necessary, which does not mean a passive acceptance of things as they are, it means an active acceptance of everything as part of homeostasis.

Entry Pageviews
"prick up your ears" movie watch
blog grimoire cunning
glass fishing floats spiritual
modern worship of baal and astarte wicca
silver ravenwolf criticism
ye bok of ye art magical.pdf

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Planned Memorial to Joe Orton

I've posted on here about Joe Orton before - I love his wit, his intelligence, his sharpness. I was delighted to read this story about a proposed memorial to him & simply had to reblog it here!
'Whilst Islington today lacks any historic public conveniences there was a time in the 1980s when it looked as if a new facility would be built and named after one of the borough's most famous residents, the playwright Joe Orton. Islington Council in the 1980s was notoriously left wing and keen to appeal to minority groups so when the twentieth anniversary of the playwright's death arrived in 1987 a group within the council suggested a new set of public conveniences be built to honour Orton, who by that time, due to a recent biopic, had become almost as famous for committing gay sex acts in toilets as he was for his groundbreaking plays. Along with naming the toilet after him, the council also planned to build a bronze statue of Orton, which was to be placed at the far end of the urinals and depict him performing a lewd act whilst cheekily winking at anyone using the facility. However, the idea faced opposition from Thatcher's government and the right wing press partly because Orton had been imprisoned in the early 1960s for defacing books from two of the borough's libraries, and in the face of strong objection the idea was dropped.' (

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Judy Grahn on Action

I have been very struck by a passage about the lesbian poet Judy Grahn, in a book I am reading about resisting assimilation (reference below). I simply cannot agree with her more - involved in the Women's Spirituality movement as she was or is, perhaps she has an instinct for creating reality in accordance with will. All acts of love & pleasure are my rituals, in deed!
'Judy Grahn, the great lesbian poet, was once asked what she might regret about her pioneering work as artist & activist. She said she regretted all the women she had not been able to sleep with & to love. You can't help - in these days when we duck stones thrown by those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb, those without sin - being struck by the enormous generosity of Grahn's statement & by her confidence that her queer loving was a contribution she could make to the lives of oppressed women. Some might nervously titter at this, as if Grahn were mistakenly making something grand out of the trivial, narrow queer sexual connection in the context of wider political issues of violence gainst women, etc. But by making our queerest erotic responses visible, in sexuality & in resistance to war, racism, economic deprivation - in all aspects of the struggle for a better world - we can contribute to the liberation of everyone.' (Ferd Eggan: Dykes & Fags Want Everything: Dreaming with the Gay Liberation Front. In Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (editor): That's Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (New Revised & Expanded Edition). Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn, 2008, pp. 15-16.)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Urban Grimoire: The True History of Glass Fishing Floats

We had one of those green (ours was green, although they apparently come in different colours) glass fishing floats on the fireplace when I was a child. At the time I just knew that it was something to do with floating fishing nets. Ours didn't have string round it, so it just sat where it was, rather than hanging from somewhere.
I don't have references for this off the top of my head, but I think there may be a certain folklore going round that they can be/have been used as 'crystal balls' for divination. Of course they can. You can use anything for divination if you've a mind to. I'm however wary that these floats are in danger of being mythologised by the witch community. The only source I have for certainty is one of Terry Pratchett's books where he talks about 'traditional' witches, at times when being a witch was dangerous, using things as tools which didn't appear to be tools, & these floats are actually given as an example. Mark my words, if you try hard enough, you'll find it confidently asserted that in the Burning Times [which didn't happen] the adherents of the Old Religion [which didn't exist] used these floats as divination tools [which they couldn't have done, even if they existed, for reasons I'll spell out below]. With any luck you will soon find this asserted confidently on the internet & perhaps even referenced with this blog! To spell it out once again, the remaining evidence for ancient religion in Europe does *not* look like modern Wicca/witchcraft at all, the witch persecutions came in spurts, nobody thought an ancient religion was being persecuted until 1829 at the earliest, the word 'witch' has always had a negative connotation until the twentieth century, & the evidence strongly suggests that modern Wicca/witchcraft is a twentieth-century construction drawing on earlier occult movements & folklore.
Having hopefully estranged the *entire* Pagan community at this point, let's get back to our fishing floats. The historical evidence (the wikipedia page has no references but, to which I'm also indebted for the picture of a float, gives the source as the production records of the factory mentioned in the wikipedia page) strongly suggests that these floats are even more recent in origin than the idea of Witchcraft as Ye Olde Religione:
'Norway was the first country to start production and use of glass fishing floats around 1840, many of which can still be found in local boathouses. Christopher Faye, a Norwegian merchant from Bergen, is credited for their invention. The glass float was developed through cooperation with one of the owners of the Hadeland Glassverk in Norway, Chr. Berg.
'The first time these "modern" glass fishing floats are mentioned is in the production registry for Hadelands Glassverk in 1842. The registry shows that this is a new type of production.
'The earliest evidence of glass floats being used by fishermen comes from Norway in 1844 where glass floats were on gill nets in the great cod fisheries in Lofoten. By the 1940s, glass had replaced wood or cork throughout much of Europe, Russia, North American, and Japan. Japan started using the glass floats as early as 1910. Today, most of the remaining glass floats originated in Japan because it had a large deep sea fishing industry which made extensive use of the floats; some made by Taiwan, Korea and China.' (
So they're actually exactly the sort of magical tool I like best - a remnant of modern life that then gets reused in a magical way. Of course the obvious way would be as a divination, or scrying, mirror, just like a crystal ball. The fact that they can be hung up in their cradle of string means there is an obvious crossover with another element of folklore, the 'witch ball'. This is a genuinely traditional bit of British folklore, that again has got taken hold of & distorted. They were traditionally hung in the window of the home to protect against witchcraft. Please read the last sentence again if it seems at all strange, & absorb what I'm actually saying: there were not two sorts of witchcraft, they were not prepared by a witch, they were to protect against the witch's wiles by their complex inner strands. What is *not* true is the comment about them on their wikipedia page, which significantly remains unreferenced - folklore has a habit of leaving evidence when it happens:
'The witch ball originated among cultures where witches were considered a blessing and these witches would usually "enchant" the balls to enhance their potency against evils. Later, they were often posted on top of a vase or suspended by a cord (as from the mantelpiece or rafters) for a decorative effect. Witch balls appeared in America in the 19th century and are often found in gardens under the name gazing ball. However, gazing balls contain no strands within their interior.' (
This is arrant nonsense: it posits [unnamed] cultures at an [unspecified] date in the past in which the [undefined] witch figure got a positive press. I would be very interested indeed to see a respectable contemporary reference to those cultures. Very interested indeed. Actually almost keen. One website ( gives a history of 600 years for their use, which I would see no reason to question, & gives some interesting legends, which at least manage to be sensible historically as to the use of the w-word:
'~One legend of the mystical Witch Ball is that the beauty of the balls attracts negative spirits thought to be threatening a home's tranquility.  The swirling colors and uniqueness of the orb mesmerizes the evil.  After the spirit is drawn to the ball and touches it, the Witch Ball absorbs and traps the spirit's energy within the webbed strands of glass inside the orb, preventing the spirit from affecting its surroundings.
'~Another legend states that witches are curious creatures and are allured to the Witch Balls by the attractive colors, glistening bubbles, and sparkling strands of colored glass. The difference of this legend, though, is that the witches enter the glass ball on their own accord to investigate the miraculous sphere! Once inside they are trapped for eternity, unable to harm anyone any longer.
'~Yet another legend suggests the Witch's Ball acts like a magnet. The positive element of the Witch Ball attracts the negative energy in the air just like positive and negative poles of a magnet are drawn together.  This legend suggests one display the ball in an area such as the bedroom to help rid the home of evil spirits.  When one is ill or feeling depressed, the person should stay near the Witch Ball so the evil that is causing the ailment is attracted to and pulled in by the witchball.  The negative energy, illness, and spirits trapped in the ball may then be exorcised by wiping the dust from the orb.' (
To me this would be the more obvious use of a glass fishing float. The whole purpose of them is to keep things afloat when things get choppy, so surely folklorically they can reasonably be used for that? And of course they have a 'labyrinth' of string to trap any nasties. So that's what the one I bought today is going to be used for - I'll give it a clean & hang it from a curtain pole or suchlike. I'm not imputing a 'traditional' use of folklore to them - I'm being my normal urban self & using what comes to hand for the purposes in hand. There is another popular culture reference as well: doesn't the float in the picture look like Rover in the 1960s TV series The Prisoner?

Friday, June 6, 2014

What witchcraft is & the avoidance of witch wars

One of the many subjects I keep returning to on this blog is the nature of the modern witchcraft movement. It is broadly agreed that there are a number of people doing fairly similar things & drawing on the witch name, figure & literature (*very* selectively, the group(s) I'm talking about here would tend to exclude Luciferian or diabolic elements - the difficulty is that you can also find them in the witch craft or trials literature) as an inspiration.
The literature of the modern movement keeps returning to the subject of witchcraft as a religion: in my opinion heavily influenced by the idea, dating back no further than 1829, that an ancient Pagan religion was being persecuted in the witch trials. Two things are absolutely clear; the first is that the modern movement calling itself witchcraft is a religion, the second is that it is not a religion. The wonderful Thorn the Witch has written a post on this recently ( in which she delineates far better than I could, some of what is involved in this matter.
For me personally the most fruitful aspect of the religion thing is the idea of putting things back together, putting things right. To me, being a witch actually involves far more obligations than is perhaps apparent. These obligations are *all* about my personal behaviour & lifestyle. If the essential part of the derivation of witch is to change, then I have to nurture my ability to make that change with my word or my will. If I don't act *right* or in accord with my will, if I just say whatever comes into my head to get myself out of situations, etc, I am not fulfilling my religious obligations.
The second way of seeing the movement is perhaps the one I am least happy with: that of a spirituality. I have written before on this blog about the dis-ease this idea gives me, with its implications of escapism, avoidance, & lack of embodiment.
The third way is that of a craft. In witchcraft terms this can never simply mean something that a person does, although it does mean that. Witches sometimes talk about *the* Craft, & refer to themselves as Crafters. The source for this is one of the 'ingredients' of modern witchcraft, namely Masonry. This legacy most frequently shows itself in our vocabulary, but nonetheless we have inherited a concept of a brotherhood, a union, a circle in which we keep things safe, a society which makes obligations on its members. It is said that witches, on meeting, know each other, & this is very true. We have this 'Freemasonry' of shared experiences, values, language, & so on. This element also brings obligations, what would be called 'horizontal' (opposed to the vertical) in a tradition which less consciously blurs the conventional distinctions. My horizontal obligations take all sorts of forms - the obligation to help all who come (meeting which brings the ability to do so), the reponsibility to right wrongs, generally be a witch, including to other witches. My obligation to other witches means one of help, correction, & keeping an eye on the ones I know to make sure they don't go off their head.
Of course being me, I am quite prepared to see these three ways of seeing witchcraft as each consisting of two poles. Religion, for instance, can on the one hand mean right-acting, but on the other degenerates into legalism & force. The craft thing can be a visible secret society promoting trust & mutual working, but can become shifty, shady, & lean on people in unnecessary ways.
I was going to fall into the trap of saying that witchcraft is much more than all of these things - it is a way of life. Exactly like a religion! However I would like to add another definition: witchcraft is this formless, ever-changing, thing with a life of its own, that has a tendency of becoming anything it likes without warning. This is partly the point of drawing on the witch thing. One religious tolerance website gives fifteen definitions of the word, for example ( Given this nebulousness it is no wonder there is such conflict in the witch 'community': I agree with Nanny Ogg that three witches works somehow, & any number over that results in a bloody great row.
Given that we are a 'religion' & 'spirituality' with ties of fellowship to each other in our 'craft', it therefore behoves us not to get into witch wars, & much less start them. For a start they're a waste of time: these turf wars take up energy & don't really achieve anything. This advice is particularly difficult for someone like me to follow - I'm very aware I'm getting to be an even more touchy queen as I get older, take offence easily & almost never forgive. I do however stand by my policy that I only ever give one warning, if that. To me, one of the functions of the witch is to be a warning.
So when someone behaves in an un-witchlike way, I don't really have an answer as to what to do. Recently I've given someone a warning. This person set me up for a horrendous day, by not telling me that the people I would be spending the day with were morbidly frightened of witches. Here's the test: if you knew people were rabidly anti-Semitic, you would not invite a Jew to spend the day with them. A confrontation has occurred about this, & excuses have been made, which I do not accept, because this person could reasonably have foreseen that I would have a hell of a day. In this situation, in addition to the obligations one feels to family, the witch has an obligation to the Craft, & a failure to respect this obligation is a failure in our religious duties, & a giving away of personal power. I also have the distinct feeling of being used by this person: he only contacts me with regard to a gathering we both go to, which he sees as his property.
I don't have an answer to this situation, really. However in the interests of asserting my own self-dominion I have made a point of absenting myself from the position of being used to prop up this person's power. Will you come to this concert that my other half's playing in? No, I won't. Now you may say, But Hound! You're starting a witch war by your inflammatory comments on your blog! This person won't read this. I know he won't. However my avoidance of a witch war will have the effect of leaving him to his own compromised personal power. Give it away & you open a hole through which it will drain. Getting away from these people may perhaps be the only option, because the only place for them to go is psychic vampirism.


Hidden City: Erdington Abbey

Up to now, most of the Hidden City posts have been based on the city centre, but since I went to Erdington today to do the charity shops, I've been inspired to venture further afield. Just to start with a definition, this is how wikipedia defines the subject of this post:
'Monasticism (from Greek μοναχός, monachos, derived from μόνος, monos, "alone") or monkhood is a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work. Monastic life plays an important role in many Christian churches, especially in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Similar forms of religious life also exist in other faiths, most notably in Buddhism, but also in Hinduism and Jainism, although the expressions differ considerably.' (
Perhaps because of the history the Reformation took in Britain, & the history of RC & Anglican monasteries being founded in country places since then - perhaps Buckfast Abbey is the best-known example - we don't tend to think of a monastic presence in our cities, except as a relic of the past: Westminster Abbey for example. Despite this there has been a monastic presence in Birmingham, although not quite within living memory: in addition to the pre-Reformation Augustinian priory of Birmingham that I posted about before, there is a Catholic church in Erdington known popularly as 'the Abbey', & the reason for that is that up until 1922 there was a living monastery of Benedictine monks in Birmingham. No, seriously.
The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1909's article on the abbey reads thusly:
'Erdington Abbey, situated in a suburb of Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, belongs to the Benedictine congregation of St. Martin of Beuron, Germany, and is dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. Driven from Germany by the Falk laws four of these exiled monks went to Erdington at the request of Bishop Ullathorne, O.S.B., and of the Rev. Daniel Haigh, M.A., a convert Anglican clergyman who gave them the splendid Gothic church which he had built and embellished out of his own private fortune, as a thank-offering to Almighty God for the gift of the true Faith. Father Haigh's modest presbytery was the first monastery, and here Dom Placid Walter, Arch-Abbot of the Beuron Congregation, Dom Hildebrand de Hempstine, later Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order, Dom Leo Linse, afterwards Abbot of Fort Augustus in Scotland, Dom Leodgar Stocker, and a lay brother took up their abode in October, 1876. Dom Placid was the first prior. Two years later, Dom Hildebrand succeeded Dom Placid, and at once set about building a monastery that would accommodate a community large enough to chant the Divine Office in choir. It was finished in 1880, when the number of monks was increased to eleven with three lay brothers.
'Meanwhile Father Haigh had found his last resting-place in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, so the untenanted presbytery was converted into a Catholic grammar school, the first of its kind in the neighbourhood of Birmingham, with Dom Wilfrid Wallace, an English priest who had lately joined the community, as head master. Dom Leo Linse became prior in 1882, and was succeeded in 1886 by Dom Boniface Wolff, who was followed, in turn, by Dom Silvester Schlecht in 1895. On the feast of the Assumption, 1896, the priory was transformed into an abbey by a Brief of Leo XIII, though three years elapsed before it received an abbot. These were years of spiritual and material development. A novitiate was opened and a school for oblates, several members were added to the community, and a large addition made to the monastic buildings. These comprised the abbot's apartments and chapel, rooms for guests, entrance hall, parlours, novitiate, and clericate. They were completed and blessed in 1898. In July, 1899, Dom Ansgar Höckelmann was appointed its first abbot, and he was blessed in the abbey church on 3 Sept., by Bishop Ilsley of Birmingham. Since then a spacious refectory and library have been built, and the community continues to grow.' (
The Tablet had this to say in 1898, quoting an article in the Birmingham Weekly Post:
'The Benedictines who accepted the refuge offered them at Erdington were first lodged in the two humble cottages at the roadside, which formed the presbytery. The first Prior was the Right Rev. Dom Placid Walter, now Arch-Abbot of Beuron. From 1879 to 1881 the Prior was Dom Hildebrand de Hemp tinne, now Abbot Primate of the whole Order cf St. Bened,ct, and the first to bear that designation. It was from his designs that the first part of the present monastery begun in 1879 was erected. The present Prior is the Very Rev. Silvester Schlecht. The recent extension—carried out a cost of about £7,000, under the direction of Mr. Haigh, of Leicester, nephew of the founder —has made the monastery a very imposing building. The block nearest the village is the most striking feature. It forms a tower, and is carried to a height of 70 feet. In this are the apartments and a private chapel of the abbot, a novitiate (for the novices) and other rooms. Internally the building justifies its outward aspect. It has a fine entrance hall, with parlours for the reception of visitors. The cloister has been extended along the whole length of the new building at the rear. Recent purchases have bought the area of the abbey property to 14 acres, so that when the leases fall in the whole plot between the road and the railway, from the little wooded hill on the Sutton side to Station-road—with the exception of the Cross Keys Inn, near the corner, and one or two small plots—will be in the possession of the community. Plantations are being made which in time will hide the railway. Though their situation at Erdington cannot compare for picturesqueness and retirement with the homes of their brethren at Beuron, in the valley of the Danube, or at Maredsous, in Belgium, the monks, considering the humble beginning of their community, have already a goodly heritage. But they are looking forward to greater things. They hope to largely increase their numbers, and talk not only of extending the monastery, but of enlarging the church, or, rather of building in addition to it a great abbey church. Much might be written, if that were our purpose,about the beautiful church. Built of red sandstone which has weathered to a tender gray, symmetrical though not formal in its proportions, it has always formed one of the most Charming points in the landscape. Designed in the style called geometrical decorated, which flourished in the early part of the fourteenth century, it is one of the best examples of the Gothic revival. Its tower and steeple picturesquely broken by traceried openings, rise to a height of 117 feet, which is also the exterior length of the church. The south-west porch formerly served as the principal entrance, though it is now cut off from the road by the monastery buildings. It remains, however, an architectural gem, with its fine proportions, its small turret for the sacring bell, and its statue of St. Thomas a Becket and other carvings. The church, outside and inside, speaks eloquently of the devotion of its founder, and of the zeal which his example called forth.' (
This is how The Tablet described the demise of the monastery, in 1922:
'Many a diocese and vicariate apostolic the world over, many an abbey and other religious institution, has suffered alteration or destruction during or after the Great War, which has now led to the closing of Erdington Abbey in England, and to the emigration of its Benedictine community. Realizing that there Was no prospect for a steady development of the community, the Abbot cast about for a more prosperous opening, and hearing there was a call from the people of Wuerttemberg for Beuronese monks to revive monastic life in the great abbey of Weingarten, some sixteen miles from Lake Constance, the Abbot recognized this as the call of God. Accordingly on March 13, 1922, the Fathers sang their last Mass at Erdington Abbey in honour of St. Gregory, Apostle of England, and then transferred the abbey and the parish, where they had laboured for two generations, to the Redemptorist Fathers of the English province. On the same day negotiations were concluded with the Government officials of Stuttgart, capital of Wuerttemberg, and the historic Abbey of Weingarten was placed at the monks' disposal.' (
A fuller exposition of the history can be found on the Ampleforth Abbey library website:
Of course monasticism is not limited to Christians & there is presently a Buddhist monastic presence in the city:
Oh, the pictures are of Dom Leo Linse, one of the original monks, when he was subsequently Abbot of Fort Augustus Abbey, & an unfortunately small picture of the community, which I found on the parish website of St Nicholas Boldmere.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Important things in the life of the witch

The picture is of someone camping in Birmingham city centre, May 2014. I've decided it doesn't violate my policy of not posting pictures of people's bedrooms because I see no reason not to post the *outsides* of hundreds of bedrooms you see behind it.
I've had problems thinking of a title for the multitude of ideas going through my head at the moment, most of which should find themselves into this post, in a more-or-less connected way.
Being a witch involves a certain - I don't quite want to use the words loyalty or faithfulness - perhaps adherence is the word, to the witch thing. Ones witchcraft is one of the more precious things one can have, & not to value it above all else is actually to risk it. In the midst of witch wars we forget this - abuse the gift & the powers can take it from you. I have recently been disturbed by the un-witchlike behaviour of one who calls himself a witch. I have remonstrated with him but he has ignored this.
The difficulty is this: there has to be a sense in which the witch is first & foremost a witch, & if you try to do it any other way you are not being a witch. Or at the least you will hold back your own development: I have had a witch tell me if she had her life over again she wouldn't have married, so as to give herself to magic the more.
Once the witch is on the path of the witching, she will find everything that prevents her on that path being removed from her, frequently quite painfully. In my own case I knew a relationship was holding me back in all sorts of ways, didn't tell anyone, then found it was confirmed in a divination. Of course as to the ontological reason why people are camping in Park Street, I can't begin to tell you at this moment - but they're not reduced to a cardboard box in Paradise Place. Not everything fits into this abandonment-supplying model I'm writing about.
The opposite side of this pole is that when this happens the universe rises up to provide for you. No seriously. Don't look the universe's gift in the eye: the powers are very grateful to their priests & priestesses, & will happily give us what we need when we need it. It's just sometimes we don't recognise it as such. There is a tradition in the modern craft that the witch will be provided with what she needs then a little more. This is certainly my experience, it's just sometimes it can be very unexpected when it happens!