Sunday, July 27, 2014

Unspirituality: The School of Witchcraft

'Diana said one day to her daughter Aradia:
"It is true that you are a spirit. But you were born to be yet again a mortal; and you must go on earth & you must become a teacher to women & men who will have willingness to learn your schooling, which will be composed of witchcraft.' (Aradia 1: 1-7, Pazzaglini translation)
I have recently got back into exercising (after hurting my arm, then my knee, then getting verrucas, derp). I'm not starting from a complete standing start as I was before - I have the remains of the muscle I built until I stopped - & after only a few weeks am feeling taller, firmer, better balanced, & more focused. Of course the last one & its relationship to the others is the real purpose of this post.
I wonder how many gym-goers realise the word's ancient, intellectual, & respectably Pagan origins:
'The gymnasium in Ancient Greece functioned as a training facility for competitors in public games. It was also a place for socializing and engaging in intellectual pursuits. The name comes from the Ancient Greek term gymnós meaning "naked". Athletes competed nude, a practice said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body and a tribute to the gods. Gymnasia and palestrae (wrestling schools) were under the protection and patronage of Heracles, Hermes and, in Athens, Theseus.' (
Tell a lie, some do, & of course it's at this point we begin to recognise ourselves in real witchcraft territory:
'If you dig a little deeper into the word, you find the root word 'gymnos,' meaning 'naked.' Ancient Greek and Olympic athletes exercised, trained, and competed in the nude in order to honor the gods by imitating them (it is, as you know, the sincerest form of flattery). In fact, getting buff in the buff was so beloved that a 6th century attempt to introduce loincloths to athletes was vehemently resisted!' (
In fact, simply the combination of nude honour of the gods, intellectual pursuits, & developing the concentration necessary to work on the health of the body...hmmm, let's see if it's in a book with a crescent moon on the spine! In fact it's interesting how the word has remained somewhat closer to its ancient origin in English, than its use for a school in some European language.
Because that is actually what a gym is - a school. For example, on Friday I woke up having barely slept because it was so hot. I was in work at 7 & was booked in for an appraisal with my manager (major advantage to being a witch - you can tell what your manager's going to bring up in your appraisal & can spike her guns). I got home knackered, thinking that I couldn't face working out. But I slept for about an hour, & realised I had to do it to keep on track. I actually felt better after exercising than after sleeping. It's something to do with the hormones I think. Some exercises actually feel meditative, & the funny thing is after an hour of exercising I feel the way I do after an incense stick-worth of meditating. I suppose it ought to be better because of the physical health aspects.
The point of the Aradia quote is for me to make a point by deliberately misreading it. Aradia's human embodiment was fated for her & was what enabled her to school the poor in witchcraft. Similarly, if we are looking for true schooling in witchcraft we won't avoid the physical side of it. I'm not implying the Pagan community are big or anything, but...
To my great satisfaction I've found some still-existing parallels of the gym thing, or rather settings where the whole person is not neglected. I'm delighted to find that the same word is used in India for both wrestling schools & some monasteries (one forms the illustration to this post. Picture credit: and get the Gods along the wall!):
'Akhara (sometimes romanized as "akhada") is a Sanskrit word denoting a place of practice with facilities for board, lodging and education for a particular sect or order.[1] It can either refer to a training hall used by martial artists or a monastery for religious renunciates.' (
In fact I'm beginning to think I would personally prioritise 'physical' training over 'mental' or 'spiritual' training - I'm coming to think it is the one of the three that has the most effect on the others. When I was student I met a man who had just left an Anglican religious order, who joked with one of his housemates who was sporty, that he was only interested in spiritual fitness. What was wrong with this picture was that he was grossly obese & could hardly move, so how he could expect himself to be 'fit' in any way, or even able to concentrate, I don't know. Similarly a nun once told me that monasteries of men that don't have manual labour tend to get very petty & queeny - this was certainly the experience I had, & I do feel that physical exertion can give a new level of proportion.
Of course the other example of physical training & meditation combined is the dojo:
'A dojo (道場 dōjō) is a Japanese term which literally means "place of the way". Initially, dōjōs were adjunct to temples. The term can refer to a formal training place for any of the Japanese do arts but typically it is considered the formal gathering place for students of any Japanese martial arts style such as karate, judo, or samurai, to conduct training, examinations and other related encounters.
'The concept of a dōjō as a training place specifically for martial arts is a Western concept; in Japan, any physical training facility, including professional wrestling schools, may be called dōjō because of its close martial arts roots.
'The term dōjō is also used to describe the meditation halls where Zen Buddhists practice zazen meditation. It is sometimes used instead of the term "zendo" which is more specific, and more widely used.' (
Now, while I'm obviously going to have to face the fact that Aradia doesn't seem to have been running a gym, I can take refuge in the fact that she gave her followers things to do. At no point is sitting in the back room of the local metaphysical shop, listening to a lecture, mentioned. She taught her followers how to do things. And then the specific ways she tells them to hold their meetings are all things to do - how to hold the supper, etc.
On the other hand, it may just be that I'm writing this post to assuage my own [Catholic] guilt at the fact that I am the world's least disciplined witch, have always gone for 'spiritual' exercises on the hop, & have completely failed to establish a daily 'spiritual routine', which all the books tell me is a must. On the other hand I'm one mean psychic & witch, who pays very close attention when I've a mind to! I suppose that's what I'm hoping to do by my commitment to exercise - a honing to razor-sharpness of my concentration & the fruits of meditation. Just, as usual, in a completely unspiritual way!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Urban Grimoire: Spell for Transformation

Picture credit:
This is a spell I've made up from several sources. Tunnels & caves are 'traditional' in the modern witchcraft movement - certainly Robert Cochrane often worked underground - as representing the womb of the Mother. I personally like a nice long tunnel for this spell, that must be open at both ends. The illustration is of Ashted tunnel, that is long enough to make you feel a bit lost as you go along, & it is better dark for this spell. Fortunately the lights aren't working at the moment.
The spell is very simple, you just walk through the tunnel visualising the thing you want to transform, & when you come out at the end, visualise it 'reborn' as what you want it transformed into. You say as you go along (this is a Reclaiming chant, I have no idea how the music goes):
'One thing becomes another,
In the Mother, in the Mother.'

Possibly the Most Dangerous Religious Idea

Image credit:
Religion really should come with a health warning attached to it - even when used in its more mainstream forms it can still be intensely dangerous to you & those around you. It can severely affect you self-esteem, cause you to lose all sense of responsibility, & that's even if you avoid the beatings & abuse. In fact, I'm not sure it shouldn't (considered an addiction - just as there is a difference between one little drink in the evening & waking up paralytic in Broad Street on a Saturday morning, so religion takes you over & causes you to do strange things, if you don't keep that addictive relationship in hand. In fact it's almost exactly like an addiction in all sorts of ways.
Amongst the more dangerous ideas found in religions is definitely the primacy of obedience - it's the Nuremberg defence, 'I was only doing what I was told' - which makes people do all sorts of things. Burying the evidence of child abuse to prevent 'scandal', for example. Sounds bizarre put like that but the sheer level of denial this obedience engenders has actually made religious people have whip-rounds for their clergy after the said clergy have been convicted of child abuse. The insidious effect of obedience makes people only see the priest who was wonderful at Granny's funeral, rather than the monster who spent years strategically grooming & abusing children. The levels of denial & absence of control are genuinely comparable with those found in addiction.
However I think possibly the *most* dangerous religious idea is the one that something is what the deity wants. This works in all sorts of ways. God doesn't do divorce so you have to stay with your abusive spouse. God doesn't do homosexuality, you evil people. As an external bogeyman God is actually extremely effective because he has the power to condemn you to hell for eternity. Used as an external bogeyman this is a 'spirituality' with the maturity level of telling a child the Scissorman will cut off his fingers if he bites his nails.
Internally this can be even more dangerous. Last Friday marked twenty years since I entered a religious community. At the time I thought I had a 'vocation' - that God was 'calling' me to it - I now believe that I had been manipulated into this: the Catholic church's masterstroke of making you think something is God's will then making you have all sorts of shit in the meantime. The novice master was particularly a c*nt about this when I left - imagine my satisfaction years later when, after a simple google search, I was able to give information about his present whereabouts to a website about clergy abuse!
But the reason I think this religious idea trumps all others in dangerousness is that, carried to its extreme, it leads to the idea that God has 'predestined' things to be a certain way. This is the way things have to work out & anything else is against God. In Christian terms this idea takes the form of a theology called Calvinism (in which there are actually multiple different understandings of predestination, which I'm over-simplifying to make a point & this isn't really a blog about Calvinism, but if you want to read Calvin, see if you're Protestant, & Jansenism if you're Catholic. My opinion is that probably Jansenism ( is the more insidious & widely-seen of the two, even though its overt expression is condemned as a heresy. However, Jansenism was a very popular notion in the Irish church, & so has tended to have some echoes wherever the Irish have gone.
In Britain there remain expressions of Calvinism - the Church of Scotland is perhaps the obvious example, & also some of the churches that broke off from the Church of England. In fact what got me to thinking about this was a friend's recent visit to Edinburgh. I could almost smell the dour Scottish Calvinism on her - a phenomenon made all the more strange by the fact that she is from South Africa, & I don't normally smell Dutch Reformed Calvinism on her. In fact that is one of the most freaky & scary examples of where a belief in predestination can get you: it's an extreme example of the danger presented by this idea, but perhaps the extremity of it best illustrates the sheer dangerous of saying something is what God wants. An able exposition of the Afrikaners' experience of the trek & sense of being chosen, in addition to some of the complexities of the situation & their excommunication by their mother church can be found at
As a young theology student, in the absolute dying days of apartheid (see for some comprehensive downloads on what it was) I wrote an essay on the theology of apartheid. That essay would have to look radically different nowadays, since at the time South Africa claimed to be the only Christian theocracy in the world. No seriously, stop to think about this. Democracy means ruled by the demos, that is the people. Theocracy means ruled by theos, that is God. There was a belief seriously held by some of the population that the apartheid system was ordained by God, that that was how God wanted it to be. 'But that's all over now,' I hear you say. No it isn't. Just google words to the effect of 'better under apartheid'. Hopefully anyone trying to persuade themselves that that isn't so will experience this as a bucket of cold water. In fact there are nuances of this found in any conceptualisation of races as destined to be separate.
There are warning signs here that I think can be used to recognise this view in all sorts of situations. I have been reading about South Africa for some time now. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the history & present situation is incredibly complicated. Actually the historical picture is perhaps slightly easier: the apartheid system was plainly wrong from beginning to end. The present situation appears to me a heavily nuanced set of complicated circumstances, including all of those faced by any post-colonial African country, with a particularly heavy burden because of a history which has been traumatic in a particular way. Along with that goes all the usual opinions, jostling, hero-making, denial, hope, despair, mis- & disinformation, rewriting history, demonisation, ...the list could go on for ever. And here's the warning sign: saying 'God wants X' is to avoid this complex set of events. It's to avoid the heavily-nuanced understanding that has to take in too much information. It is to decide the conclusion before looking at the evidence. It is a larger version of the trap so many journalists & bloggers writing about South Africa fall into: that of only seeing one part of the complex picture.
And that is another warning sign: I have read people saying quite seriously that a complete collapse & descent into chaos is inevitable in South Africa (I quote, but don't have the reference to hand) 'because of black people's mentality'.
The irony is that God isn't really a party to this discussion any more (at least apparently), but I have a funny feeling about this. It's only exactly like any other complicated situation where someone wants to avoid dealing with the issues & so trots out God as an excuse. That's the danger: he can be seen as lending his support to any screwy idea going.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What I did (or didn't do) in my holidays

The purpose of this post is not a delineation of what I did on my holidays: it is rather a consideration of the underlying significance, 'energies' if you like, of what happened & didn't happen.
What I did was - absolutely nothing of great significance. For a start I was disappointed to have circumstances scupper a planned meeting with a friend who was only in the country for a fortnight. Obviously I'm disappointed, but we've come through it with our friendship reinforced.
Then there was something I *didn't* do: I have withdrawn from something because I am no longer willing to be used to buttress a social gathering that someone else looks on as his property & possession, when I'm not getting out of it what I was seeking when I started going. I was looking to meet like-minded people & that hasn't happened: if I'm told I'll have to pull someone's cold dead fingers off a thing, I leave the fingers there & withdraw, since they're already dead.
Nor have I particularly felt the need to rush around in 'outings'. Instead I have spent a lot of time on the canal bank - no *not* for that purpose, the canals were cleaned up a decade ago & respectable people can walk them now without fear of heaving bodies. Actually I've walked several stretches of the canal that I've never walked before. The universe's message to me was found in the fact that I completely failed to find my ideal canal guide reasonably priced anywhere, until I found that *exactly* what I wanted was available free online. Stop straining, Hound, is the message.
There's a funny thing about canal banks - they attract all sorts of odd people, who then end up talking to each other, when I doubt they would in normal circumstances. I'm sure some of it - such as the drunks who were obviously from the Salvation Army hostel - is that people on the edge recognise the witch & get respect since they know trouble could be staring them in the face.
That may also have gone for the black man who literally *grabbed* me on the canal bank & wanted to look over my ink. He said 'God bless' & I gave him the blessing of the witch.
So all in all a free-form week, in which things have just happened. Sometimes you just have to return to yourself & stop trying to make things happen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

25,000 Page Views Guest Post: Dickens's Night Walks

Picture: St Paul's Square, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
It has become my custom to have a guest post for milestone numbers of page views on this blog, usually by somebody dead, or once by a fictional character. The next one will probably be a way off, if I hold out till 50,000, but knowing me I probably wouldn't. I didn't realise that a blog gets more hits as it goes on, as older posts come higher in google analytics. For example if you google such diverse subjects as 'green men birmingham' or 'gay men & their mothers', this blog is on the first page of results. My post on someone else's tour of the green men seems to be the only source on the internet so has been referred to on Birmingham history forums, which gives me a nice sense of having arrived. Helping people get in touch with the spirit of the city is *exactly* what this blog is about! In the case of this guest post Gerald Gardner was busy, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the spirit of city that I have been trying to write about, so effortlessly embodied in his essay on a walk he took while suffering from insomnia, from which this is an excerpt:
'Between the bridge and the two great theatres, there was but the distance of a few hundred paces, so the theatres came next. Grim and black within, at night, those great dry Wells, and lonesome to imagine, with the rows of faces faded out, the lights extinguished, and the seats all empty. One would think that nothing in them knew itself at such a time but Yorick's skull. In one of my night walks, as the church steeples were shaking the March winds and rain with strokes of Four, I passed the outer boundary of one of these great deserts, and entered it. With a dim lantern in my hand, I groped my well-known way to the stage and looked over the orchestra--which was like a great grave dug for a time of pestilence--into the void beyond. A dismal cavern of an immense aspect, with the chandelier gone dead like everything else, and nothing visible through mist and fog and space, but tiers of winding-sheets. The ground at my feet where, when last there, I had seen the peasantry of Naples dancing among the vines, reckless of the burning mountain which threatened to overwhelm them, was now in possession of a strong serpent of engine-hose, watchfully lying in wait for the serpent Fire, and ready to fly at it if it showed its forked tongue. A ghost of a watchman, carrying a faint corpse candle, haunted the distant upper gallery and flitted away. Retiring within the proscenium, and holding my light above my head towards the rolled-up curtain--green no more, but black as ebony--my sight lost itself in a gloomy vault, showing faint indications in it of a shipwreck of canvas and cordage. Methought I felt much as a diver might, at the bottom of the sea.
'In those small hours when there was no movement in the streets, it afforded matter for reflection to take Newgate in the way, and, touching its rough stone, to think of the prisoners in their sleep, and then to glance in at the lodge over the spiked wicket, and see the fire and light of the watching turnkeys, on the white wall. Not an inappropriate time either, to linger by that wicked little Debtors' Door--shutting tighter than any other door one ever saw--which has been Death's Door to so many. In the days of the uttering of forged one-pound notes by people tempted up from the country, how many hundreds of wretched creatures of both sexes--many quite innocent--swung out of a pitiless and inconsistent world, with the tower of yonder Christian church of Saint Sepulchre monstrously before their eyes! Is there any haunting of the Bank Parlour, by the remorseful souls of old directors, in the nights of these later days, I wonder, or is it as quiet as this degenerate Aceldama of an Old Bailey?
'To walk on to the Bank, lamenting the good old times and bemoaning the present evil period, would be an easy next step, so I would take it, and would make my houseless circuit of the Bank, and give a thought to the treasure within; likewise to the guard of soldiers passing the night there, and nodding over the fire. Next, I went to Billingsgate, in some hope of market-people, but it proving as yet too early, crossed London-bridge and got down by the waterside on the Surrey shore among the buildings of the great brewery. There was plenty going on at the brewery; and the reek, and the smell of grains, and the rattling of the plump dray horses at their mangers, were capital company. Quite refreshed by having mingled with this good society, I made a new start with a new heart, setting the old King's Bench prison before me for my next object, and resolving, when I should come to the wall, to think of poor Horace Kinch, and the Dry Rot in men.
'A very curious disease the Dry Rot in men, and difficult to detect the beginning of. It had carried Horace Kinch inside the wall of the old King's Bench prison, and it had carried him out with his feet foremost. He was a likely man to look at, in the prime of life, well to do, as clever as he needed to be, and popular among many friends. He was suitably married, and had healthy and pretty children. But, like some fair-looking houses or fair-looking ships, he took the Dry Rot. The first strong external revelation of the Dry Rot in men, is a tendency to lurk and lounge; to be at street-corners without intelligible reason; to be going anywhere when met; to be about many places rather than at any; to do nothing tangible, but to have an intention of performing a variety of intangible duties to-morrow or the day after. When this manifestation of the disease is observed, the observer will usually connect it with a vague impression once formed or received, that the patient was living a little too hard. He will scarcely have had leisure to turn it over in his mind and form the terrible suspicion "Dry Rot," when he will notice a change for the worse in the patient's appearance: a certain slovenliness and deterioration, which is not poverty, nor dirt, nor intoxication, nor ill-health, but simply Dry Rot. To this, succeeds a smell as of strong waters, in the morning; to that, a looseness respecting money; to that, a stronger smell as of strong waters, at all times; to that, a looseness respecting everything; to that, a trembling of the limbs, somnolency, misery, and crumbling to pieces. As it is in wood, so it is in men. Dry Rot advances at a compound usury quite incalculable. A plank is found infected with it, and the whole structure is devoted. Thus it had been with the unhappy Horace Kinch, lately buried by a small subscription. Those who knew him had not nigh done saying, "So well off, so comfortably established, with such hope before him--and yet, it is feared, with a slight touch of Dry Rot!" when lo! the man was all Dry Rot and dust.
'From the dead wall associated on those houseless nights with this too common story, I chose next to wander by Bethlehem Hospital; partly, because it lay on my road round to Westminster; partly, because I had a night fancy in my head which could be best pursued within sight of its walls and dome. And the fancy was this: Are not the sane and the insane equal at night as the sane lie a dreaming? Are not all of us outside this hospital, who dream, more or less in the condition of those inside it, every night of our lives? Are we not nightly persuaded, as they daily are, that we associate preposterously with kings and queens, emperors and empresses, and notabilities of all sorts? Do we not nightly jumble events and personages and times and places, as these do daily? Are we not sometimes troubled by our own sleeping inconsistencies, and do we not vexedly try to account for them or excuse them, just as these do sometimes in respect of their waking delusions? Said an afflicted man to me, when I was last in a hospital like this, "Sir, I can frequently fly." I was half ashamed to reflect that so could I--by night. Said a woman to me on the same occasion, "Queen Victoria frequently comes to dine with me, and her Majesty and I dine off peaches and maccaroni in our nightgowns, and his Royal Highness the Prince Consort does us the honour to make a third on horseback in a Field-Marshal's uniform." Could I refrain from reddening with consciousness when I remembered the amazing royal parties I myself had given (at night), the unaccountable viands I had put on table, and my extraordinary manner of conducting myself on those distinguished occasions? I wonder that the great master who knew everything, when he called Sleep the death of each day's life, did not call Dreams the insanity of each day's sanity.
'By this time I had left the Hospital behind me, and was again setting towards the river; and in a short breathing space I was on Westminster-bridge, regaling my houseless eyes with the external walls of the British Parliament--the perfection of a stupendous institution, I know, and the admiration of all surrounding nations and succeeding ages, I do not doubt, but perhaps a little the better now and then for being pricked up to its work. Turning off into Old Palace-yard, the Courts of Law kept me company for a quarter of an hour; hinting in low whispers what numbers of people they were keeping awake, and how intensely wretched and horrible they were rendering the small hours to unfortunate suitors. Westminster Abbey was fine gloomy society for another quarter of an hour; suggesting a wonderful procession of its dead among the dark arches and pillars, each century more amazed by the century following it than by all the centuries going before. And indeed in those houseless night walks--which even included cemeteries where watchmen went round among the graves at stated times, and moved the tell-tale handle of an index which recorded that they had touched it at such an hour--it was a solemn consideration what enormous hosts of dead belong to one old great city, and how, if they were raised while the living slept, there would not be the space of a pin's point in all the streets and ways for the living to come out into. Not only that, but the vast armies of dead would overflow the hills and valleys beyond the city, and would stretch away all round it, God knows how far.
'When a church clock strikes, on houseless ears in the dead of the night, it may be at first mistaken for company and hailed as such. But, as the spreading circles of vibration, which you may perceive at such a time with great clearness, go opening out, for ever and ever afterwards widening perhaps (as the philosopher has suggested) in eternal space, the mistake is rectified and the sense of loneliness is profounder. Once--it was after leaving the Abbey and turning my face north--I came to the great steps of St. Martin's church as the clock was striking Three. Suddenly, a thing that in a moment more I should have trodden upon without seeing, rose up at my feet with a cry of loneliness and houselessness, struck out of it by the bell, the like of which I never heard. We then stood face to face looking at one another, frightened by one another. The creature was like a beetle-browed hair-lipped youth of twenty, and it had a loose bundle of rags on, which it held together with one of its hands. It shivered from head to foot, and its teeth chattered, and as it stared at me--persecutor, devil, ghost, whatever it thought me--it made with its whining mouth as if it were snapping at me, like a worried dog. Intending to give this ugly object money, I put out my hand to stay it--for it recoiled as it whined and snapped--and laid my hand upon its shoulder. Instantly, it twisted out of its garment, like the young man in the New Testament, and left me standing alone with its rags in my hands.
'Covent-garden Market, when it was market morning, was wonderful company. The great waggons of cabbages, with growers' men and boys lying asleep under them, and with sharp dogs from market-garden neighbourhoods looking after the whole, were as good as a party. But one of the worst night sights I know in London, is to be found in the children who prowl about this place; who sleep in the baskets, fight for the offal, dart at any object they think they can lay their thieving hands on, dive under the carts and barrows, dodge the constables, and are perpetually making a blunt pattering on the pavement of the Piazza with the rain of their naked feet. A painful and unnatural result comes of the comparison one is forced to institute between the growth of corruption as displayed in the so much improved and cared for fruits of the earth, and the growth of corruption as displayed in these all uncared for (except inasmuch as ever-hunted) savages.
'There was early coffee to be got about Covent-garden Market, and that was more company--warm company, too, which was better. Toast of a very substantial quality, was likewise procurable: though the towzled-headed man who made it, in an inner chamber within the coffee-room, hadn't got his coat on yet, and was so heavy with sleep that in every interval of toast and coffee he went off anew behind the partition into complicated cross-roads of choke and snore, and lost his way directly. Into one of these establishments (among the earliest) near Bow-street, there came one morning as I sat over my houseless cup, pondering where to go next, a man in a high and long snuff-coloured coat, and shoes, and, to the best of my belief, nothing else but a hat, who took out of his hat a large cold meat pudding; a meat pudding so large that it was a very tight fit, and brought the lining of the hat out with it. This mysterious man was known by his pudding, for on his entering, the man of sleep brought him a pint of hot tea, a small loaf, and a large knife and fork and plate. Left to himself in his box, he stood the pudding on the bare table, and, instead of cutting it, stabbed it, over-hand, with the knife, like a mortal enemy; then took the knife out, wiped it on his sleeve, tore the pudding asunder with his fingers, and ate it all up. The remembrance of this man with the pudding remains with me as the remembrance of the most spectral person my houselessness encountered. Twice only was I in that establishment, and twice I saw him stalk in (as I should say, just out of bed, and presently going back to bed), take out his pudding, stab his pudding, wipe the dagger, and eat his pudding all up. He was a man whose figure promised cadaverousness, but who had an excessively red face, though shaped like a horse's. On the second occasion of my seeing him, he said huskily to the man of sleep, "Am I red to-night?" "You are," he uncompromisingly answered. "My mother," said the spectre, "was a red-faced woman that liked drink, and I looked at her hard when she laid in her coffin, and I took the complexion." Somehow, the pudding seemed an unwholesome pudding after that, and I put myself in its way no more.' (

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My difficulty writin' about city witchin'

You wouldn't believe the difficulty I'm having with this post: this is about the fifth attempt I've made. I want to write a post about how I see being a witch in the city is not a problem: I want to contrast that with the naff green/country/garden/'Merrie England' approach you often find in the literature. I'm trying to write a sensible piece, but it keeps becoming a bitch fest about how these people live in a dream world, denying their own urban milieu, & how the whole pretence of village witch/wise woman/midwife is a load of twaddle. Oh look, there I go again. I could just rip my own tongue out.
I want to write a piece about the specific nature of witchcraft & magic in the city. I want to write about the freedom that civilisation gives us to pursue magic, by freedom from wondering where the next meal's coming from. I want to write about how cities draw all sorts of things to themselves, thus providing the witch with a richness of resource unparalleled in the country. I want to ride about the need for authenticit for the witch, when in reality the majority of modern witches live in urban areas. I want to write about how the sociological division between gemeinde and gesellschaft as modes of community is a narrative that predisposes toward country as community that negates the positive aspects of city living. I want to write about how the particular nature of city community can help towards magic, since it gives a certain anonymity, while also providing a 'tribe' for the witch. I want to write about the nature of city energy: there's a wealth of 'stuff', history, entities & experiences, to draw on. I want to write about the greater potential to recharge in the city: I personally often do it from the mass of humanity in the Bull Ring market, with no danger of vampirising one individual. I want to write about the opportunities for meeting all sorts of magical & 'spiritual' practitioners that the city affords. I want to talk about the ongoing development of magical modes & methods. I want to talk about the need to be honest about how we make things up, rather than try to make out a fiction is true & stick rigidly to it. I wanted to write about how the institution of the city is ancient enough that humans can hardly be said not to thrive there, indeed we have adapted to such an extent that it is the natural environment for many of us.
I wanted to write about all these things & couldn't find the way of expressing them. But it seems that writing about this problem has solved it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Know Thyself: Being INFJ

There is actually a point to the picture that illustrates this post: it depicts the need for INFJs to be alone & go inwards, & the odd setting indicates the way other types can perceive us a weird. But INFJs reading this will see that immediately. They'll also see that this is my blog & if I feel like a picture of a workman on the Empire State Building that's what I'll have!
One of the greatest magical precepts is that it is essential to know oneself. The reasons for that & purpose, aren't really the purpose of this post, which is about the tool I have found most useful for knowing myself. I first did the Myers-Briggs type indicator when I was probably too young really. There's an actual test that you can pay for, which is obviously better, & there are various free versions on the internet.
'But Hound,' you may say, 'you're always on about the primacy of will & individuation, not about being forced into a box!' All that is true, but the fact is I have found this test useful. I originally tested INFP. I think I probably was at the time, but I also don't think my personality was developed enough. I recently re-did the test & came out INFJ ( - be cautious about this wikipedia page, it completely omits the INFJ dark side & focuses on the fluffy caring bit). I am so definitely an INFJ: I even had the sense INFJs often have of being relieved to find out why I'm so weird & apparently dysfunctional! Purely as a public service I've put together a quite personal guide to what INFJs are about, since I know you've all met one & been impressed, mystified, confused, or horrified by our unusual personality structure.
INFJs only have one personality. We don't (necessarily) have personality disorders either, it's just that that one personality is very complicated. And you know the best bit? It makes perfect sense to us. In fact it seems obvious. That's why we often (frequently? Usually?) Feel misunderstood.
The primary thing that drives we INFJs is a set of rules. Seriously. This will seem strange to anyone who knows an INFJ, because we can seem the most temperamental, inconsistent people on record. If we seem like that, it's because we haven't told you the rules. Don't bother asking us what the rules are. We expect you to know. We also expect you to abide by them. Yes, this is unreasonable, but that's the way we're wired. You have to be able to sit with this bit to stand being around an INFJ.
We have magical powers. No, seriously. You needn't bother trying to tell us the truth: we already know it. This is perhaps the thing people can find most scary about INFJs (the rage - see below - can just be seen as being temperamental), but the idea that we both read people & remember tiny details for years is terrifying. Some of us make a good living out of this - either in circus side shows, or more often in the caring professions, where our ability to say the exact thing people need to hear at the right moment gives us phenomenal success.
On one level this comes from our high level of emotional competence - we read miniscule changes in people & situations that are often ignored. On the other hand I have myself often had a conversation with a stranger's unspoken thoughts, & that can't simply be nonverbal communication. I suppose a psychological explanation could be a 'dynamic' (, but in the world of more concrete science, I don't think there is an explanation.
We will value the insight we have from within way above anything you may tell us. Sorry if this offends you, but our 'just know' is never wrong. Never. If you try to persuade us otherwise we will be very quick to think you are lying, even if you are really persuading yourself something is other than it is.
If you have an INFJ on your side, thank whatever gods you believe in. We are incredibly loyal, faithful, we will stand by you through thick & thin. When the rest of the world is saying you made it all up we will at the very least respect your inner world & beliefs. If we think you've been wronged, the culprit had better watch out. (Totally unsubtle) hint: if you know an INFJ, it's a good idea to be on their side.
We do not violate our word. We are actually the final word in reliability. Once we've given our word it takes some quite extraordinary circumstances to make us retract it.
In any relationship we will still need our space. Nobody ever believes we're Introverts because of our emotional competence, but we live predominantly in our inner world. We *must* spend time there or we get ill. Don't ask to be taken there - if you ask it shows you don't get it, & believe me you wouldn't like it. Similarly we're not impressed by people trying to be weird. We're the original weirdos & have levels of weirdness that will make your hair stand on end.
If we take to you, we will happily throw all the rules out of the window for you. Even if we just bend them, you may not see us doing this, because we keep the rules to ourselves. So if you've been in a friendship or relationship with an INFJ for any length of time, please know that you won't have seen it but the person will have made significant sacrifices for you. When we do this for you it is actually the highest compliment we can pay.
We are quite incredibly sensitive, both to perceived slights from others, & we will fret about little things we've said to other people.
Please don't pressurise us - we find that very difficult. We also forget how freaky, apparently inflexible & yet inconsistent we can be - our world is normal for us & it's none of those things for us. We need to hear that things are OK between us, though - if you give us too much space without that assurance we'll assume you've dropped us like a ton of bricks.
The two things that we are really vulnerable to are rejection & being disbelieved. If you don't want something we are trying to do for you, please just tell us you don't want it. That seems obvious, but if, say, you prevaricate with us or make socially acceptable excuses, we perceive that as a lie or rejection. Similarly if you think we've got something wrong, telling us why or even referring to a fact we've already said is more acceptable than 'Oh, you do make it up'. Remember we have rules, so we actually expect other people to have rules of altruism, personal respect, & honesty as well, & will respect you for it.
That said, we have a real problem with dealing with conflict - we don't like it & will always never be the initiator. If it seems like we're picking a fight, it's because that's what we think you're doing.
If you really upset us, we'll just withdraw. At that point there is no use trying to 'sort it out' - you've betrayed us in some profound way at that point & there's no mending it. The reason we won't tell you is - we expect you to know in advance that what you've done is not acceptable. If you don't 'get' that, you're already beyond the pale.
(Unfluffy bit coming). You don't want to get on the wrong side of an INFJ. If you know one of us, please pause at this moment to recall the times we've produced seemingly random scraps of information that we've had stored away for years, but that at the moment we've produced them from nowhere have been completely germane to the big picture. Remember, we see things other people don't. Even if we don't have actual notes, one of the things we do in our inner world is try out these bits of information to see how they fit into bigger pictures - one of the ways we get eureka moments of insight. We know about you. Seriously. Little things you've told us, little feelings, observations. We know what makes you tick & here's the important bit...
We will use the information we have. By the time you hear it you will seriously not be able to argue with us because it will all be settled already into a coherent, water-tight argument. We will then take you apart. You can only take my word for it that this gives us no pleasure. When cornered, we are vicious. Not violent, although we can have issues with anger & mood problems for one reason or another. What we will do is coldly, relentlessly, & logically, take you apart. We will see you as inviting this. All of your little secrets (even the ones you haven't told us) will come out. Your employers may well find out about *that* night you received a caution you haven 't told them about. Hilda Handcuffs may find out about those plants in your wardrobe. Remember information is our life-blood. We know your stuff & you will be mercilessly presented with all of it in one go. Nobody wants that. And don't forget, you *cannot* do that to us because we always hold stuff back. At this point, by the way, don't apologise, we won't believe you're sorry. So if by this stage you're not so freaked out that you'll insist on everyone you meet doing an MBTI inventory, just be nice to your friendly INFJ. OK?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Urban Grimoire: Water Magic

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that, despite being unconvinced by astrology, I am a fire sign, namely Aries. 'You are so an Aries,' tends to be the response when I tell people I am one, & I do have all the characteristics of an Aries, for good or bad. I have therefore fallen into the practise of water magic over the past few years, as a counterbalance to my own natural impetuousness.
Yet it would be to misunderstand the relationships between the elements, to think that fire & water are mere opposites that balance & cancel each other out. There is in fact a profound relationship between them: it's more water, as the 'heavier' element, that cancels fire out - fire has the power radically to transform water, if the proportions are right.
Don't get me wrong, if I get to feeling a bit too fiery, I'm the first to use water to put out my flames. I also use it to wash away things. But I sometimes use my fire to make water boil! Frequently I'll do these magics with literal water rather than visualisation alone. However it is important not to forget the power of water - I think water tends to be underestimated. Connect it with the emotions, for example, & its potential for destruction becomes immediately apparent! It can carry ships. It can destroy rocks...water has such a destructive side, which is also (literally) undammable when it is unleashed.
Living in the Venice of Great Britain the obvious body of water to use would be one of the canals locally, & so I often have. What the canal 'means' is moving things around & the support of essential systems of commerce & livelihood. At least in theory: in reality canals are imbued with some often fairly desperate emotions generated by people living in some crushing circumstances. They have been used by people wanting to 'get rid' of all sorts of things, & their towpaths have been used for all sorts of shady things, from drug dealing to sexual liaisons of all sorts. Canals are therefore to my mind, exactly the sort of liminal place that forms a 'hedge', a dividing line & crossing point in reality, where one thing becomes another. In fact I have found canals to be an incredibly useful tool in some transformative magic: drop a bit of paper with your problem written on it into the canal, & if the circumstances are favourable it will vanish completely. Do a divination & observe for omens first, though, because canals also have a habit of washing up things that people have only *tried* to get rid of!
Given the Hedge theme of this blog, I shall of course make this post specific to my own hedge: it's a blog not a textbook, & I expect the intelligent reader of my pearls of wisdom to take them & adapt them to their own hedge, rather than start a Hound of Hecate tradition of witchcraft. Can you imagine what an initiation in that tradition would involve? - probably having your ankles bitten by a jack russell terrier & an oath to cut boath your own hands off with an axe if you break your oaths!
Anyway, Birmingham is better known for its canals that for the river that runs through it, the River Rea: in fact many explorers of the city cross over it repeatedly without knowing it's there or else think it's a drain:
'It is now culverted for much of its course through Birmingham, during which it passes through the Pebble Mill area and Cannon Hill Park. The medieval hamlet of Birmingham was built on a crossing on the Rea in what is now Digbeth. Many of the street names in the area refer to the river or its mills. These include Rea Street, Floodgate Street, River Street and Duddeston Mill Road. There are proposals to include a riverside walk and new bridge over the Rea at Digbeth's Custard Factory media and arts complex (now complete). There are also proposals for the river to be uncovered at the Warwick Bar area of Digbeth.' (
The picture illustrating this post is one I took from the bridge mentioned in the wikipedia entry: that is actually one of the best places to see the river in the city, you get closer to is & feel closer to it. The bridge is actually under a railway bridge behind the Custard Factory. There are also places where it is visible in Bradford Street & Cheapside, although the walls are there higher.
The magical significance of the river Rea of course is deeper than any mere water magic spell: the river is the reason for the city, & is its original lifeblood. The centre of Birmingham has moved up the hill but its fons et origo remains the river. Our ancestors placed great importance on waterways: I deliberately chose that Latin phrase, because the river is quite literally the origin of the city, its creator, its God.
Neither must the power of the river be underestimated: every body of water in the world is in some way connected to every other body of water, & so the river can not only create our life it can bring anything to us, or take anything away. At the moment, for example, it is assisting the journey of a friend somewhat nervous about travelling in a foreign country, who is coming to see the Hound in the second city. Her journey will be eased by the water that picked her up on the other side of the world, & I just know she's going to be one of those people who arrive at New Street, think 'Birmingham's a dive', & come to love it, because that's what the city spirit of Birmingham does to people.
So next time you cross or pass a body of water, stop & have a chat with it to make an enduring witching relationship with it. Not only is it a great magical skill, but it's simply good manners to be polite to our elders.

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to Lose the Power

It's a funny thing. We witches come to the power of magic in ways that are frequently incredibly traumatic. Even if initiations have been ritual ones they are frequently 'confirmed' afterwards by real life events, or the other way round. The only thing that can be said with certainty about these experiences is that they will be painful. It's a magic thing - you have to go the extremes of human experience to come back able to work with all the threads of life in a new way.
Given that, it is astounding that some witches (can you hear the tone of voice in which I say *some* *witches*?) seem determined to give their hard-won power away. Or at least their actions would indicate so. So here is a down & dirty guide to stopping yourself from being a witch.
Lying. That's the big one. Virtually the whole of magic depends on things being so because I say they are so. My work as a witch is therefore dependent on me developing my will over the years to the point where it is like a knife, carving its way through reality. There's a funny thing about lying - people do sometimes consciously set out to tell a lie when it is convenient - that isn't such a problem magically - but people have the strange knack of persuading themselves the lie is true as they say it. This is another non-witch thing of seeing oneself as completely good & incapable of sin - a relic of the dualistic Christian worldview that we are all influenced by. If I am caught out in something & cover it up with a lie, I am actively destroying my own will to make things as I say they are. I am trying to do two completely non-relatable things at once.
Telling lies also compromises the freedom I must give to others to do their own will. It means I am not allowing them the space to enact their own will, withholding the information necessary to determine that one is not in conflict with others' true paths: actually lying cripples the will of both lier & liee. It is abusive. As a magical person my aim is clearly to get things right the first time. A certain discernment & clarity of thought is therefore desirable in anyone seeking magic. This skill of discernment will also allow me to pick up on others' lies as they happen.
A lie is the ultimate disrespect to another person, for it also calls into question that person's magical integrity. For example, I'm a c*nt. I make no bones about this. None. If you have known me for some time & seen me in action magically, you'd better believe it. If you then take the piss, you are not believing in the magic at all. Not yours. Not mine. Not anyone's. It's holding up a big sign asking to lose magical power completely, since you plainly don't believe it exists.
There is the slightest of differences between the act of lying & the actual misuse of power; in fact lying is the main weapon to it. The misuse of power is often the attitude to ourselves & others that underlies an untruthful approach to life. This attitude can be anything from explicit manipulation to just not being bothered.
The antidote to all this is a grounded witchcraft. This begins, as all magical paths do, with the right love of self leading to the pursuit of right relationship between self & everything else. In fact this right relationship is virtually the whole of the magical pursuit, & underlies all forms of magic.
So what do we do when we find a witch who is almost determined to give away his magic power? It is difficult to set down principles, but I think a witch who is set on the path of deceit, self-deception & wrong relationship should be avoided as a general principle. You can see it coming with these people - first they feel out of control or trapped, then they try to exert control. Crowley defined 'black' magic as the resistance to & refusal to change. The magician on the path of self-destruction will do almost anything to maintain their status quo. The sign of a magician who is avoiding this trap is that he will go with the challenges life sends him, & take them as opportunities to progress his magical life. If the person is dear to you, you may wish to speak to them. Incidentally, the way to avoid this trap oneself is a full & frank account to yourself of what is actually happening in your life. 'Know thyself' is one of the watchwords of the magical path & this danger is the reason why. Ultimately, sadly, the magical person in pursuit of self-destruction will have to be avoided, to avoid the danger of being dragged down the same road.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Gay Marriage is Self-Hatred

I keep saying this. I don't intend to stop saying it anytime soon. The 'gay community' is making a colossal mistake in pursuing 'marriage equality' with heterosexuals. I also keep on saying the real reason for this: homosexuals have internalised society's hatred of homosexuality to such an extent that they hate their own homosexuality & want to be heterosexuals. No, seriously. Otherwise why would they be seeking to buy into *the* major heterosexual institution?
Not that people say that. They will give various superficially-reasonable reasons for this, but now & then the real reason sneaks out. This, for example, is from an account of how All Saints Episcopal (that's Anglican to us) church in Los Angeles eventually came to bless same-gender relationships in the 1990s:
'Mark Benson and Phil Straw were among those who pushed Regas further. In November 1986 they first asked for a blessing on their union. When Regas offered to do something quiet and small in his office they politely declined. They had something else in mind � a service just like straight folk.' (
The desire to be (including ape, imitate, seek equality with) something you are not indicates a profound dissatisfaction with who you are. Apart from anything else the heterosexual world presents major dangers to all homosexuals: the *most* innocuous of these is the 'opportunity' to buy into a heterosexual institution. This post was actually prompted by the picture of Alan Turing. I didn't know until today he has been granted a Queen's pardon. No, seriously. He's been pardoned for being given a choice of jail or chemical castration that drove him to his suicide. *This*, kids, is the society the marriage equality gays are buying into. I can't put it better than Ally Fogg in the Guardian:
'In announcing the pardon today, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, said: "A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man." Turing was certainly an exceptional man but the tribute could not be less fitting. It says that the British state is prepared to forgive historical homosexual acts providing they were performed by a national hero, academic giant or world-changing innovator. This is the polar opposite of the correct message. Turing should be forgiven not because he was a modern legend, but because he did absolutely nothing wrong. The only wrong was the venality of the law. It was wrong when it was used against Oscar Wilde, it was wrong when it was used against Turing and it was wrong when it was used against an estimated 75,000 other men, whether they were famous playwrights and scientists or squaddies, plumbers or office clerks. Each of those men was just as unfairly persecuted, and many suffered similarly awful fates. To single out Turing is to say these men are less deserving of justice because they were somehow less exceptional. That cannot be right.' (