Monday, December 28, 2015

How Google Sees Me

I have been very amused by the results of searching for a photo of myself on Google. The picture which I searched for online was bare-chested, and perhaps I should say I am white with a shaved head and tattoos, to give you some idea of the image I looked for.
I was very chuffed that this chap came up among the searches multiple times as he is probably the closest to looking like me. I'm also very impressed that a man whose personal interest should so dominate his life should be visually like me. What matter if his interest happens to be Miley Cyrus, no harm in a man riding his own hobby horse.
This man is more like my body shape and his tattoos are in a similar placement to mine, so I can see why this would be selected of online images as looking like me. It was after this it started to go horribly wrong.
I can see what happened here,  Google picked up on some key elements of my appearance and focused the search on them. Nonetheless neither of these men actually looks particularly like the picture I searched online for.

Where did the chest hair come from? I've always wanted to be really hairy, but this isn't what I look like.

No. With the best will in the world,  these two could never have been mistaken for me at any point in my life.

Trying to tell me something, Google?
Oh, please. Given that these images are supposed to be visually similar to me, even without the question of ethnicity, Google seems to have a slight problem recognising skin tone. well as gender and clothing. I'm not orange! Any suggestions for a sensible search engine will be gratefully received!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Spirit of Place: Underpass Birmingham

I am fascinated by the nature of human memory and our propensity to forget and thus keep making the same mistakes. It is much more difficult to remember and learn from the past because there is a very real sense in which it is counter cultural because people like to think either that they've just invented something or that they have reached the pinnacle of achievement.
This segues nicely into the Birmingham spirit of continual rebuilding and improvements. And the particular aspect I'm thinking of here fits with the chthonic aspects of my life and magic. I have posted here before about my love for tunnels and using them in magic or to communicate with that which is below what we see. The Cold War bunkers and various tunnels under the city centre are inaccessible and posted at length on the Internet anyway so here I want to focus on the deeply unfashionable post-war underpasses beloved of planners of the time.
And this is where people conveniently forget the actual facts. The myth has it that Birmingham was redesigned to prioritise the car over the people, who were consigned to dangerous, urine -smelling tunnels in an act of criminal negligence which is only now being undone.
The historical facts are slightly different in that the post-war planning of the city was underpinned by a philosophy of the complete separation of traffic and pedestrians so that both streams could go about their business undisturbed by the other. Those who know about health and safety will also recognise an important control principle there: a pedestrian who never comes into contact with traffic will not get run over. Nor was it always the case that the pedestrians were treated badly: there were and are places where traffic goes underground while the pedestrians get the priority. At least when they were new, efforts were made to make the underpasses pleasant for pedestrians: there was art, they were decorated with the tiles of the time, gardens were planted, and some of the underpasses were mini shopping centres in themselves.
They soon became deeply unpopular as maintenance was neglected and at least in the line of the old inner ring road they have mostly been filled in. Just as it is fortunate that Manzoni was so keen on demolition because the irreplaceable architecture demolished under his aegis would almost certainly have been listed and more effectively prevent the redevelopment of the city centre than his beloved ring road scheme could do. Look at pictures of Birmingham in the 1930s, imagine trying to drive to catch a train and the wisdom of Manzoni 's vision becomes apparent. Just as it does if you visualise driving round the city centre and not having to stop for pedestrians and the actual structure of the road physically discouraging jay-walking.
Another fortunate accident of history is that the sort of huge amounts of cash available up to the 1970s are no longer around and the plan has not been completely eradicated. If you walk slightly outside the line of the old inner ring road there remains a line of relatively well -maintained subways if you want the full Brummie experience. Even further out there are more which I would guess are considered to be beyond the interest of tourists and remain their old graffitied selves. A walk along Bristol Street is enough for this.
I never found them intimidating myself. A major skill in city living (and in witchcraft) is knowing how not to be a target and in twenty five years of walking these streets I have only got into trouble once. And not only were they not intimidating,  but in my misspent youth, when fewer people lived in the city centre and Cctv was less common,  if you were young and gay in Birmingham you could have sex virtually anywhere. Although I suspect this wasn't a use that Manzoni anticipated for his hidden corners and what have you.
Which brings me to a synthesis: of course the planning of the mid twentieth century was a disaster,  and worsened by subsequent neglect. It feels almost naive in retrospect,  to expect people not to misbehave and turn to crime, when given opportunities. It is the same historical short sightedness as that with which I opened this post.
And the point for the magician?  Tunnels can be seen as representing the vagina of the goddess and thus being places of birth. The underground is one of the ancient places of liminality between worlds, and so we are in truly ancient magical territory here,  where pacts are made and change wrought. No matter that it be in a 1960s tiled underpass, the spirit of place is not snooty and in magic the best results usually come from the least promising ingredients.
Illustrations: mainly my own pictures,  with some others I've saved and lost their provenance. As usual let me know if I've violated copyright and I'll delete /credit.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Witches' Hymn Book: Gimme That Ol' Time Religion

Gimme that ol' time religion,
Gimme that Ol' time religion,
Gimme that Ol' time religion,
It's good enough for me.

It was good enough for Aradia. She said "Keep the suits afraid of ya,
And I'll see you in Arcadia. And that's good enough for me!

We will worship with the witches
'Cause we're rowdy sons-of-bitches
And they scratch us where it itches
And that's good enough for me!

Well, she raised an awful flurry  
When she made the scholars worry
Thank the Gods for Margaret Murray! 
She is good enough for me!
It was good enough for Granny
She could throw a double-whammy
That would knock you on your fanny 
And she's good enough for me!

When ol' Gerald got it goin'
When ol' Gerald got it goin'
All that hidin' turned to showin'
And that's good enough for me!
With the aid of my athame 
I can throw a "double-whammy"
(And can slice and dice salami!)
So it's good enough for me!

Meeting at the Witching Hour
By the bud, and branch and flower
Folks are raising up the Power
And that's where I want to be!
There will be a lot of lovin'             
When we're meetin in our Coven
Quit yer pushin and yer shovin' 
So there's room enough for me!
Well the Christians all are humming 
Cause they say their God is coming,
Our God came three times this evening
And that's good enough for me!      
Some folks worship all of Nature
Tho they love to taunt and bait-cher 
They're just funnin', they don't hate-cher 
And they're good enough for me!              

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Back to School with the Tarot Again, Incorporating a Review of Katz and Goodwin’s Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot

I have written here several times about my own experience of reading and learning tarot, which is that I repeatedly come to it with new eyes, repeatedly learn to read all over again, repeatedly find a new teacher. For me this often means making a deeper acquaintance of a different deck. I rarely buy tarot decks nowadays – I find that I just don't fancy any of the ones around, or else that the ones I do want are prohibitively expensive, such as the Carney tarot deck, which never comes up on ebay and will probably remain an elusive treasure. My reason for changing deck is usually simply that I feel drawn to another one after reading for some time with the same one. I have been using my 'duvet deck' – the Morgan-Greer tarot, on which I originally learned to read – for some time, but recently I have found myself dreaming about the Etteilla deck and the Swiss 1JJ tarot. The latter is a deck I bought for £1.50 in a charity shop earlier this year. Stop the press – the  hound has bought a used magical tool and broken all the rules. Well, if it hadn't felt ok to me, I wouldn't have bought it. It has obviously been used, but not in any great way. I feel that it was probably bought by someone who was put off by the non-pictorial pips cards, and gave it away. When I change deck, I usually draw a card from the new one to ask it what it has to teach me, and in this instance I immediately got the Sun. What more could a witch want?
I am also reading a very new book on the tarot – this one . When I say reading, it actually sits in my bathroom so that I can chew it over a bit at a time while making my offering to Cloacina. I may be a gay man, but I am still a man, obviously. This review is only provisional, because of the piecemeal way I am reading it, but one of the things I like best about this book is that it is not slow to deal with the problem perceived among some tarot readers, that the Rider-Waite-Smith's deck's imagery is overly Christian. This goes in tandem with where I am in reading the tarot, since the 1JJ deck is of course the one which replaces the Pope and Popess with Juno and Junon. Finally, a book which deals in a truly historical way with the origins of the tarot. The historical difficulty in our world is that many of the readers belong to the modern Pagan movement, which is in no way a continuation of pre-Christian Paganism, but is a modern movement inspired by popular ideas of what ancient Paganism would have been like. Anyone claiming any origin for the tarot other than the mediaeval world, which was thoroughly Christian, is at best engaging in wishful thinking, and any historical claims they make should be seen very suspiciously. Rather the obvious origin for the tarot's images is the mediaeval world. Have I mentioned here before that tarot started off as a game? This simple fact of history is not to detract from the wonderful way in which a card game came to interact with an underworld of fortune tellers, occultists, and mountebanks to be transformed into a magical tool. Our hypothetical pseudohistorian would probably also try to avoid the fact that the magical imagery incorporated into the tarot came from thoroughly Judaeo-Christian sources such as the kabbala and freemasonry, so that correctly to understand the tarot as we have it now means engaging with these Judaeo-Christian images. 
My personal opinion is that actually there is no harm in these Christian images. The Sun card, for example, that I mention above, can validly incorporate Christian, Masonic, and Pagan imagery without detracting from any particular meaning. I suppose here I am drawing on an undercurrent in humanity's search for 'spirit' over the past couple of hundred years, that there are (so to speak) 'vibrations' underlying the manifestations in external religions, and which can be found in all sorts of odd places. Of course, this view is about as Pagan as you could wish to get, since I'm not claiming to have *the* truth, but to be able to find the same truths hidden in different places. Ironically, this was going to be a Christian message to Christians pointing out that they should stop decrying the Islamisation of Europe, when their Christianisation of Europe was formed in blood shed, continues to be reinforced in misuse of power and abuse, and reinforced by the relatively restful public recitation of the Quran compared to the hysterical ranting of the fundamentalist preachers at the bottom of New Street. The point from which I have strayed is that this book engages with the Christian/Masonic/Golden Dawn origins of the RWS deck, and as such can be a corrective to much denial and neo-Pagan subjectivism.
In fact, apart from one point which I shall make below, I am finding it very difficult to criticise this book. I have been reading tarot for years, but bought this book because I opened it in Waterstones and knew immediately that it could teach me so much. I would recommend this book both to people who know this deck backwards and to anyone who wants to learn to read the tarot using the RWS deck and knows nothing. The authors incorporate a method they have adapted from the Kabbalah for a beginner to learn to read from any deck. It's not a way which terribly appeals to me, but this is not to criticise it. To me the whole point of tarot is that as a magical tool it is capable of being understood in all sorts of ways, and as the below representative of above, it is not for me to say that a particular system is 'wrong'. From this book I learned the origins of a way of reading tarot I particularly life – that of firstly looking at the figures' postures – and am surprised to discover it is the way favoured by Pamela Colman Smith herself. When a friend recently couldn't understand how a man she fancied could see her as the King of Pentacles, assuming his position immediately helped her to see.
One of the hallmarks of magical knowledge is that you never get to the end of it (just as one of the hallmarks of magical charlatans is to assert that you have to pay them large amounts of money to get magic), and sure enough this book gives just enough while providing a springboard to further exploration. The divinatory meanings and hints are just that – they would allow a person to move beyond the hint. Of course that is actually the point of a magical tool. It is a tool and a divinatory tool should open your eyes in such a way that you begin to see what is not contained in the cards. Nonetheless it gives interesting snippets of information, such as for instance who the people falling from the Tower are supposed to be. Since the book only deals with the RWS deck, there is no mention of the Marseille tradition that there is actually a door in the back of the Tower, which is an interesting point for me in this card and illustrates how the world of tarot keeps opening up the more you explore.
My one criticism is that in one place I think Katz and Goodwin have stretched the evidence far further than it is possible to go. I can only applaud their brave engagement with the Christian iconography of the High Priestess as Mary as Stella Maris. I am also prepared to accept their theory that a tomb in the church at Winchelsea could have been the model for the tomb in the 4 of swords (the book actually says 6 of swords, but I assume this is a proofreading error), since Colman Smith was known to have been to have known the area in the years preceding the publication of the deck. Where the evidence will not hold up in my opinion is in what they call 'the final mystery of the Waite-Smith tarot' (Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin: Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot. Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, Minnesota, 2015, pp.126-7 in the second printing of the first edition). Their final mystery is that 'a chalice, an angel pouring fire and water, the scales of Justice, the lion called Fortitude,' which they call 'a collage of symbols specific to the tarot' appear in a window in the church which was installed after the Great War. This just will not do, and there is no mystery here. The simple explanation of this is that the symbols used in the window are actually specifically Christian symbols, which are also used in the tarot. There is not enough 'synchronicity' between the images in the window and those in the RWS tarot for the latter to have inspired the former. The number of absent symbols – hermit's lamp, sun, moon, stars, evangelists, and so on, is far greater than the number of symbols present. There is no mystery here, and this is the one place where an otherwise excellent book is marred by wishful thinking.
Nonetheless, I am looking forward to using this book to a springboard to further reflection on the map which we call the tarot, and would otherwise unhesitatingly recommend this book to both new and experienced tarot readers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tactical Witchcraft

The look, the glamour, not the ideology
My humble opinion is that the modern witchcraft movement, like all magical systems, balks at the idea of being slotted into any of society's convenient categories. Convenience & safety may dictate that it is best to take advantage of societal protection given to religion in many parts of the world. I have posted before on my discomfort at describing what we do as a spirituality, & describing ourselves as a secret society is to invite both ridicule & suspicion. Our deepest secrets are anyway open to everyone & unstateable in human language, & to assign our way to spirit alone is disingenuous.
I think our witchcraft may actually best be compared to a martial art. What I mean by this is that I feel the kind of equilibrium & mental state sought by the martial artist is almost the same as that sought by the sorcerer. The ultimate target of every magical act is almost always the magician himself: oh there I go, letting another 'secret' out of the bag. I could just tear out my own tongue.
With this confusion of identity & aim comes a confusion of principles. Naturally those who say witchcraft is a religion seek a public system of ethics, which frequently is the inadequate & tedious 'law of three,' & it's variants & amendments. The Wiccan Rede is another ethical principle guaranteed to fail as a public relations exercise while ensuring crippling fear of action in the practitioner. Witches are further hampered by an internalised inferiority towards the scriptural traditions prevalent in our society & a fear of failing to integrate all things, another major magical goal. Oh dear, I really am letting lots of cats out of bags today. If I could pronounce any of the words & didn't fancy them all, I would probably be a Heathen, since they're not shy of pronouncing someone their enemy, an action which my life experience has taught me to be sympathetic towards. To put it in a more witchly way, to integrate all things in a living system, some must die. This is inescapable & natural.
To find a system of principles to underpin this system of conscious homeostasis it is unfortunately necessary to look to the East. The writings of many martial artists can be nourishing to the witch. Such works as the Book of Five Rings & the writings of Morihei Ueshiba deal with such things as correspondence, integration & timing, which subjects fill many an appendix of a paperback with a crescent moon on the spine.
A system also from the East & one which I personally find useful for it's apparent simplicity, is Mao Tdw Tung's principles of guerilla warfare, which I find I am using extensively in my current run-in with my 'manager':

During the War of Resistance Against Japan, on the basis of his comprehensive analysis of the enemy and ourselves, Comrade Mao Tse-tung laid down the following strategic principle for the Communist-led Eighth Route and New Fourth Armies: "Guerrilla warfare is basic, but lose no chance for mobile warfare under favourable conditions. " (2) He raised guerrilla warfare to the level of strategy, because, if they are to defeat a formidable enemy, revolutionary armed forces should not fight with a reckless disregard for the consequences when there is a great disparity between their own strength and their enemy's. If they do, they will suffer serious losses and bring heavy setbacks to the revolution. Guerrilla warfare is the only way to mobilize and apply the whole strength of the people against the enemy, the only way to expand our forces in the course of the war, deplete and weaken the enemy, gradually change the balance of forces between the enemy and ourselves, switch from guerrilla to mobile warfare, and finally defeat the enemy.
In the initial period of the Second Revolutionary Civil War, Comrade Mao Tse-tung enumerated the basic tactics of guerrilla warfare as follows:
The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue. (3)
Guerrilla war tactics were further developed during the War of Resistance Against Japan. In the base areas behind the enemy lines, everybody joined the fighting — the troops and the civilian population, men and women, old and young; every single village fought. Various ingenious methods of fighting were devised, including "sparrow warfare", (4) land-mine warfare, tunnel warfare, sabotage warfare, and guerrilla warfare on lakes and rivers.
In the later period of the War of Resistance Against Japan and during the Third Revolutionary Civil War, we switched our strategy from that of guerrilla warfare was the primary form of fighting to that of mobile warfare in the light of the changes in the balance of forces between the enemy and ourselves. By the middle, and especially the later, period of the Third Revolutionary Civil War, our operations had developed into large-scale mobile warfare, including the storming of big cities.
War of annihilation is the fundamental guiding principle of our military operations. This guiding principle should be put into effect regardless of whether mobile or guerrilla warfare is the primary form of fighting. It is true that in guerrilla warfare much should be done to disrupt and harass the enemy, but it is still necessary actively to advocate and fight battles of annihilation whenever conditions are favourable. In mobile warfare superior forces must be concentrated in every battle so that the enemy forces can be wiped out one by one. Comrade Mao Tse-tung has pointed out:
A battle in which the enemy is routed is not basically decisive in a contest with a foe of great strength. A battle of annihilation, on the other hand, produces a great and immediate impact on any enemy. Injuring all of a man's ten fingers is not as effective as chopping off one, and routing ten enemy divisions is not as effective as annihilating one of them. (5)
Battles of annihilation are the most effective way of hitting the enemy; each time one of his brigades or regiments is wiped out, he will have one brigade or regiment less, and the enemy forces will be demoralized and will disintegrate. By fighting battles of annihilation, our army is able to take prisoners of war or capture weapons from the enemy in every battle, and the morale of our army rises, our army units get bigger, our weapons become better, and our combat effectiveness continually increases.

Since appearing at the disciplinary hearing I have also brought a grievance, since my 'manager's' sidekick decided to have a go at me for no reason. I have now gone strangely quiet. They're plainly wondering what I'm going to do next. This is exactly the kind of strategy advocated by Comrade Mao Tse Tung!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Spirit of Place: Murder in Inge Street

I have touched on Inge Street in this blog before, and despite the general sea change of the environment, it is one of the few places in the city centre where the setting of this murder story remains intact. I have also touched on modern-day sex work  in this area: some things don't seem to change, yet it seems to be a Birmingham thing that back to back houses have vanished completely from the environment. They give an impression of being part of ancient history, yet I have lived in one myself, when I lived in Leeds, where there are still rows of them. I have a feeling, though, that that the ones in Leeds probably started off better quality than the ones in Birmingham and don't usually face into inner courts the way the remaining ones in Brum do. The National Trust  Back to Backs are on the corner of Inge Street and Hurst Street, and the illustrations to this post are intended to give an idea of where this murder took place, and while the 'court' of back to backs illustrated was actually on Hurst Street round the corner, it gives an idea of what back to back life really was like. 
The victim of this murder was Martha Elizabeth Simpson, a 21-year-old prostitute, known as Pattie, who lived at Number 2, Back 21 Inge Street with her lover Charles Samuel Dyer. On the evening of Wednesday, February 3rd 1904, Martha her friend Margaret Moran went out for a drink while Charles went out separately. Martha picked up a customer and took him back to Margaret's home in Birmingham Place, where business was transacted as it were, then Charles arrived to take her home to Inge Street. Around midnight Charles returned to Margaret Moran's house with blood streaming down his fingers and said, 'Oh, Maggie! I've done it. Save her if you can.' Margaret went to Inge Street with her two lodgers, where they found Martha Simpson dying in a chair, a gaping wound in her throat, and blood pouring down her clothes, and beyond the possibility of being saved.
Dyer confessed to a policeman who had seen him running away from the scene, and who took him into custody at the police station in Moor Street, that he hit Martha on the head with a poker then drew a razor across her throat. At the inquest on February 5th, 1904, a verdict of murder was given against Dyer, and on March 17th, 1904 he was tried on the capital charge. It was heard that Dyer and Martha were both very drunk, an argument broke out between them in which they were already physically fighting before returning to Inge Street, and despite his defence claiming that he had been provoked and that Martha had hit him first with the poker, he was found guilty of murder.
Dyer was hanged at Birmingham Prison, Winson Green, at 8am on Tuesday April 5th, 1904, by hangmen John and William Billington. A crowd of 7-800 people gathered outside the prison, and Dyer's body was buried in a plain black coffin within the prison precincts.
Credits: I have rewritten this account from 'Immoral Earnings' in John J Eddleston's Murderous Birmingham: The Executed of the Twentieth Century (Derby Books, Derby, 2011).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Out in the Wash and Glamour Magic

Yesterday I was a witness in the disciplinary hearing my 'manager's' manager has arranged as a result of me formalising my concerns about a 'colleague' sabotaging the team's work for years. Of course this hearing was unnecessary because I have told my 'manager' every item on my statement but only now is this seen as serious enough for a disciplinary.
Naturally I'm sworn to secrecy, & naturally the panel found that all attempts to shake what I was saying or try to interpret the evidence differently, failed dramatically. INFJs make convincing witnesses on account of having thought it all out in advance. 
I also did a glamour magic. I let my hair grow longer than usual (I hadn't met the human resources woman so didn't want a shaved head in case she would interpret it as skinhead). I also let my beard grow. The entire aim was to give an impression of maturity & measured wisdom. This will be in contrast to the sabotaging 'colleague' who is as psychopathic as they come, & looks like a drag queen. I also made a point of telling them what she did at the Christmas party several years ago, to make sure they mentally picture her with her knickers down, so to speak.
Watch this space - my 'manager' is going down the drive.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hidden City: Birmingham History in Street Names

So often the history of a place is just below the surface, even in a place notorious for recreating itself, like Birmingham. This is shown particularly by street names, and I have selected some Birmingham street names which often betray an unexpected history. Unless otherwise stated my source is always Birmingham Street Names, compiled by Joseph McKenna. Birmingham Public Libraries, Birmingham, 1986.
Carr’s Lane. This name is said to be a corruption of ‘Goddes Carte Lane’. The lane is supposed to have contained a barn which housed the mobile stage whereon medieval mystery plays were performed. However there are no known references to any mystery plays or pageants having been performed in the town, as at Coventry or Chester. All we can be sure of is that Carr’s Lane was once someone’s cart lane.
Cherry Street. Named after the cherry orchard which it crossed, one of three in 18th century Birmingham, which extended from High Street to Temple Row. Originally a pathway across the orchard, it was widened, and appears as Cherry Street on Samuel Bradford’s Plan of Birmingham for 1750.
Congreve Street. This street takes its name from Prior’s Conygree, the rabbit warren belonging to the Priory. The lane which bordered the western side of the former Prior lands was developed in the mid 18th century. Originally called Friday Street, it was renamed about 1795.

Fire Office Passage. Originated as a party road, and it was here that the engines belonging to the old Birmingham Fire Office were housed.
Holloway Head showing my current favourite derelict building,
currently in the process of being demolished.

Holloway Head. The original road to Worcester, worn down by the heavy traffic until it became a hollow way. Head is another word for summit or hill. The most prominent feature of Holloway Head throughout the 18th and 19th centuries was a brick-built tower windmill, commemorated today by Windmill Street.
Ladywell Walk. This street links Pershore Street and Hurst Street; its name is an abbreviation of Our Lady’s Well Walk. The name originated prior to the Reformation. Water from the well or spring helped to fill the moat around the Parsonage.
 Livery Street. Cut across the Colmore estate, it takes its name from Swann’s Riding Academy. This riding school, built prior to 1787, stood near the corner with Cornwall Street.

Needless Alley. A corruption of Needlers’ Alley, being a place where needlemakers worked. It dates from the early 18th century.
Newhall Street. This follows the former tree-lined driveway up to New Hall, the home of the Colmore family. The house, built during the reign of James I, stood at the junction of the present Newhall and Great Charles streets. It was demolished in 1787.

Sherlock Street. Named after Dr Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of Bangor, and later Bishop of London, who owned considerable land in Birmingham. It was cut in the early 1830s.
Steelhouse Lane. Originally called Prior’s Conygree Lane (the lane leading to the Prior’s rabbit warren) and later Whitehall (undoubtedly a London import), the present name comes from Kettle’s Steelhouses. Erected at the end of the 17th century for converting iron into steel, they were situated near Newton Street, and were worked until about 1797.

Temple Row/Street/Alley. All take their name from an old brick summer arbour known as ‘the Temple’. These streets came into being in 1715. Temple Row was at one time mischievously known as Tory Row, reflecting the opinions of its residents. Temple Passage has two entrances, one at the top, and one at the bottom of Temple Street. The passage which runs parallel to Temple Street was cut about 1875.

Image credits: Unless otherwise credited below, the pictures are either my own or ones which I have saved from the internet over the years and failed to record the source. As usual, just let me know if I’ve run off with your copyright.

Birmingham's Own Beer

The wonderful Two Towers Brewery is a completely local concern, & also names its beers with reference to local events, landmarks, etc.
It was such a good idea to name one Bhacker Ackams. It's named after, well, I'll let someone else explain:
'Back of Rackhams n. A mythical red-light district. Rackhams is a large department store in Birmingham city centre, now owned by House of Fraser. To 'go round the back of Rackhams' meant to work as a prostitute.' (Source)
The second picture shows the January sales in Rackhams in 1977; I love the expression on the face of the woman with the clenched fist!
(Image credits: here and here)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

John Baskerville's Peripatetic Corpse

John Baskerville (1706-1775) is probably best remembered nowadays for the typeface which bears his name, but his genius also extended to stone engraving, japanning, book production, and the first commercial use of wove paper. To my mind, he is very much the archetypal Brummie, despite being born in Wolverley in Worcestershire, but then the growth of Birmingham has usually meant that its inhabitants couldn't ever possibly all be born here. He also added the tradition of religious scepticism to his world-view, which seems to have been one of the things which attracted him to the town. By his own will, after his death his body was buried in unconsecrated ground in the grounds of his own house, Easy Hill – it was on the site of the present Baskerville House, next to the library of Birmingham. I am heavily indebted to F E Pardoe's John Baskerville of Birmingham (Frederick Muller Limited, London, 1975) for the facts here, since that book includes many contemporary sources, which are rare in the accounts of what happened to Baskerville's body.
His house was sold in 1788 to John Ryland, who lived there until the house was wrecked in the Birmingham riots of 1791. The grounds were gradually used for other purposes after this, and the conical building surmounting Baskerville's vault demolished, although his body remained in situ. It was imagined that it had been removed, until it was discovered in 1820:
'…some workmen, who were employed in getting gravel, discovered the leaden coffin. It was however immediately covered up, and remained untouched until a few days since, when, the spot having been recently let for a wharf, it became necessary to remove the coffin, and it was accordingly disinterred, and deposited in Messrs. Gibson and Son's warehouse, where a few individuals were allowed to inspect it. The body was in a singular state of preservation, considering that it had been under ground about 46 years. It was wrapt in a linen shroud, which was very perfect and white, and on the breast lay a branch of laurel, faded, but entire, and firm in texture. There were also leaves, and sprigs of bay and laurel in other parts of the coffin and on the body. The skin on the face was dry but perfect. The eyes were gone, but the eyebrows, eyelashes, lips and teeth remained. The skin on the abdomen and body generally was in the same state with that of the face. An exceedingly offensive and oppressive effluvia, strongly resembling decaying cheese, arose from the body, and rendered it necessary to close the coffin in a short time, and it has since been consigned to his surviving connexions for the purpose of re-interment.' (John Langford: A Century of Birmingham Life, or A Chronicle of Local Events from 1741 to 1841, Birmingham, 1868, volume 2, pp. 358-9, cited in Pardoe, op.cit., p. 149)
Baskerville's body actually remained in the Gibsons' warehouse in Cambridge Street for the next eight years, and they used to charge people 6d to see the body. In August 1829 Baskerville's remains were moved to John Marston's shop in Monmouth Street (near Snow Hill Station), where it was opened again. It was at this time that the sketch which illustrates this post was drawn by local artist Thomas Underwood, and the piece of the shroud taken. These are both preserved in the Library of Birmingham, may be seen on the website, which is where I owe the pictures. Underwood wrote an account of making the sketch:
'This sketch was taken when the remains lay at Marston's the plumber in Monmouth Street (within a few doors of which I was then an apprentice with Mr Josiah Allen, the engraver), where they were on view for some days, and were seen by a number of persons, amongst others by Dr Male and his daughter, who lived at the top of Newhall Street. The effluvium made them ill, and I believe they were laid up for some time with fever. A surgeon in Newhall Street also went, who tore a piece from the shroud, which he incautiously put into his coat pocket and died in a few days. The only ill effect upon myself, who was there upwards of an hour, was a distaste for food for several days. The body was much decomposed, but the teeth were perfect; and the sketch shows correctly what I saw of the remains of the man who was an artist in every sense of the word, and will ever deservedly be famous as one of the worthies of our town, who spread its fame the wide world over.' (cited in Pardoe, op. cit., p. 150)
Mr Marston's request to inter the body in his vault in St Philip's (now Birmingham Cathedral) was refused because of Baskerville's atheism. At length a Mr Knott (or Nott), a bookseller, offered to inter the remains in his vault in Christ Church (in true Birmingham style, this church was where the floozie in the Jacuzzi now is). But there remained the problem of getting permission from Mr Barker, the churchwarden:
'On hearing the request, Mr Barker, with an unmistakeable twinkle of the eye, told Mr Marston it was impossible – "indeed, I keep the keys and at such time of the day they are on the hall table". Mr Marston was not slow to take the hint, and called. The door was opened by the butler, and there were the keys. Mr Marston asked if Mr Barker was at home; the servant said "No", faced about and walked off. Mr Marston took the keys, and the body in its reclosed lead coffin was carried "on a hand barrow covered with a green baize cloth", to its last resting place in Mr Nott's vault in Christ Church.' (W. J. Scofield, letter to the Birmingham Weekly Post, November 22nd, 1879, cited in Pardoe, op. cit., pp. 151-2)
A notice may have been placed in the local press at the time of the reinterment to say that Baskerville had been buried at Netherton, beyond Dudley; whether or not it was, this was the rumour that remained for a long period. The wanderings of the unfortunate Baskerville's corpse were still not over, however. In 1892 a churchwarden of Christ Church, found that there were 136 vaults under the church, but only 135 burials were recorded; under public pressure, the vault was opened. Baskerville's body was once again seen, and was cemented back up in the vault. The legality of this disturbance outraged Victorian propriety to such an extent that questions were asked about the matter in Parliament. Notwithstanding, a plaque to Baskerville, commemorating the identification of his remains, was erected on the wall of the church.
Baskerville's journey had one last step. Christ Church was demolished in 1897. The bodies from the catacombs were removed and since nobody claimed Baskerville's, it was reinterred in the catacombs in Warstone Lane cemetery, where it remains to this day. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A question for the witch to ask herself

A number of years ago I printed out a quote from Z Budapest which impressed me very much at the time (& still does). It is in Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, & Z is talking in the context of her suicide attempt. She describes the witch's approach to life as one where you turn things around to work for you, celebrate what you have done before, & are always asking what you can do next.
I love this spirit of looking for what you can do. I would just presume to add one question to this, which is the question I find I most often ask myself: How am I going to get enjoyment out of this situation? This is more in an attempt to give my life a flavour of child-like experiment & fun, which is the essence of magic, & avoid drudgery & duty, rather than to deliberately make fun of things.
In this spirit, having just got into work, I just went in to say hello to my 'manager' (pictured). Yes, I know she's difficult to see, but I thought she may need some encouragement actually to read my occupational health report, which says there isn't a health problem & she's a f*ckwit. To this end, I took her out of the drinks cabinet, slapped her face till she sobered up & laid her face-up on the altar where she's forced to be confronted with her own idiocy.
When I cheerily said hello, she actually looked at her window as if she wanted to jump out of it. Shame.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Putting the Fun into Fundamentalism

I am in many ways a very fundamentalist witch. Not in the sense of literally believing the ahistorical Old Religion narrative, but in the very literal way I take the major principles of witchcraft as understood by me.
And I think the 'by me' bit is very important; I realise that until events pushed me in the direction of magic, I was looking for a way to come into my own power & authority. Having done so I make no apology for articulating my principles on the basis of my own authority - although a lot are 'traditional' in the sense that modern witchcraft is a movement if chronic non-joiners united in some common experiences. You cannot be a witch alone, that's one of these principles, naturally taking the witch finders' principle & deliberately misunderstanding it to mean that as a witch you are never alone really.
I have recently been reminded of the major witch principle of joy. Yes, sometimes you have to do what you have to do if it gives you no pleasure, & I would tend to phrase the principle in terms of, 'Mother doesn't want me to be unhappy'. Once again this turns much of the dominant religious world on it's head. There are even religious tendencies which accentuate dourness & dreariness. Some Christians don't dance, for example. Ever. On principle. And we are supposed to be the weirdos.
When you are free from the command to be miserable, it frees you up to seek enjoyment in all areas of life. In my occupational health appointment this morning, for example. I simply told the woman what was happening, & as a result the report to my 'manager', with a copy to HR, will say words to the effect of, This isn't a health problem, you should've listened to him in the first place, you f*ckwit.
The illustration, by the way, is my 'manager'. She actually ran away from me the other day (I shouted hello after her, if she wants to play happy families, I'll play happy f*cking families & really worry her), & has obviously taken refuge in the bottle. Shame.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


The universe will come up with the resources when the witch needs them. That's one of my little maxims, & today I've had another example of the inertia of the universe helping me.
An occupational health appointment just came through the letterbox. I have already asked my 'manager' to cancel it, but I'm going to follow through. It would be a waste not to say to occy health that she's expecting me to carry more than my weight, failing to provide me with competent colleagues, then making out I can't cope. Like this she'll look a fool in addition to being pissed off her new carpet got ruined the day after it was laid.
Poetic, that's the signature of my magic.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Witchcraft & the Art of Dyeing Things Black

I have commented here numerous times on the wearing of black clothes. It means all sorts of things to all sorts of people, but perhaps it most represents to me my valued plainness. I swear I must have been an old-fashioned Quaker in a previous incarnation, & to that I would attribute my values of plain living, clear thinking, plain speech (to the point of rudeness at times) & which find their embodiment in plain dress. Regardless of what my black may mean to the rest of the world, it represents clarity & nothing high-falutin' going on, at least at the time of writing.
Ironically it can be as difficult to keep black clothes black as it is to look after white clothes. Dyeing things is a very efficient way of restoring clothes' blackness. Given what I've already said, magically it can be a way of putting on, or restoring, simplicity & clarity. In fact I feel the act of dyeing clothes can be both a magical act & an allegory of witchly living.
I will confess to one disastrous attempt at hand-dyeing a shirt purple in my youth, which put me off. And perhaps the reputation dyeing has for being difficult & esoteric is the way in which it best reflects the 'craft of the wise'. So in a spirit of plainness this is where the Hound demystifies the process.
Unless you particularly want to experiment with effects or have lots of experience & a good knowledge of the chemistry, don't waste your time. Get a reputable machine dye & follow the instructions to the letter.
If your intention is to change the colour of a garment you must make sure it's the correct fabric to take the dye: to attempt otherwise is the kind of thing you read on forums: 'how do I undo this spell?'
Don't try to dye too much, it won't work.
Don't try to speed the process up, of necessity it takes several hours. You are actually starting a complex chemical reaction in your washing machine, opening up the 'pores' of the fabric & subtly changing it's composition. 
In addition to these intentional actions there are just a couple of things the witch must accept in life.
The reality is that fabric dyeing has a huge environmental impact, through the amount of chemicals & water used, particularly if bleaching is necessary before dyeing. Of course the lowest-impact clothing is made of unbleached, undyed natural fibre. My personal view is that the witch does well to face the reality that the garments we buy have already undergone these processes before they reach us. Balanced against this is the devastation wrought on clothes industries in poorer parts of the world by the impact of we affluent people giving away numerous clothes which are often exported. By freshening up our black clothes with dye, we can reduce the number of clothes we buy, rather than reusing or recycling them, which are lower down in the environmental hierarchy.
You may need to do an extra wash with bleach afterwards to clean the machine. There is a rumour that a lot of people find they can't wash whites in their machines after using them for dyeing. That's what comes of wearing white, & is a hint from the universe that moving over to black is the way ahead.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

'Twelve Step' Witchcraft

Since I posted recently about sobriety, incorporating the most witchy value of seeing things without the influence of a substance, as they are, I have found myself reflecting on the famous twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (the originals are here). I have been thinking about how they would interpret into witchcraft terms. What I think is possibly most magical about them is the way they are cast in the past tense – these things have already happened, reflecting a most important frame of mind in magical thinking, living, and working (I like to say that wishes never buried managers, and she was actually supposed to be working with me yesterday and rang in sick. Result!). They are also about doing things, and one of the problems we have in the modern witchcraft movement is that many of its adherents look for some kind of statement of belief of creed such as the Christians have, and since our Craft is based more on doing than believing, that is almost impossible to create. Conversely my witch mind feels most uncomfortable with the idea in the steps of relying on a power outside oneself. While this is not really to criticise the twelve steps, and this is certainly not intended to be a witchy replacement for them for an alcoholic, these steps are just calling out to be turned into a witchcraft statement of action. This is my poor attempt at one; there are actually only nine and as usual I make no claim to its perfection or infallibility. Probably in true witch style the steps would be better seen as spokes of a wheel to indicate return and repeat, or even choice.
We realised our duty to take ownership of our lives and responsibility to implement change to prevent the same things recurring until we could face them. We admitted to ourselves where we had given this sovereignty to others.
By a searching and fearless moral inventory we sought to identify the reality of our lives and situations, accepting our power to name needs, actions and situations to identify them, so that we could no longer delude ourselves with untruth.
We acknowledged the existence of many realities beyond our own, including divinities. We see them as actively present to us, in us, and ourselves as able to co-create with our divinities while being their agents in the world.
We came to see the universe as a place where all things interact. As part of this, we understood that the resources we need will always be available when we need them, if we are capable of seeing them .
We saw our need to understand our world by means beyond the visible. By divination and recognition of signs, we came to know that we could see past, present, and future. In so doing, we recognised the ebb and flow of life, and so became ever more part of them, and able to influence them.
We accepted that often we would not be able to see the consequences of our actions due to the nature of the situations we were acting in; we returned to a moral inventory to make judgements as to what to do. In denying the concept of sin, we aimed to make our vision of right and wrong clearer and more flexible.
We accepted that in taking the mantle of witch upon ourselves, we became a source of misunderstanding, yet also a source of change, liberation, and magic, to other people.
We did not claim to have the final answers to the meaning of life; instead we acknowledge that our knowledge is usually at best partial and we cannot claim knowledge beyond our small sphere.
We admitted that there were times when we had lived in fear. While confessing that our way will never be for all, we proclaimed this as our message of hope, that people can live with joy, not in fear of judgement or other people. We call this joy the ecstasy of the Goddess.
(Image credit: here)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Lady will Provide

...and that is one of the ways the witch knows things are moving, when things inexplicably start falling into place. For example in the Acocks Green area of the city (the accent is on the long A, not the O, by the way) today, I not only found the box set of a TV series I've been looking for for ages, but also found my manager (pictured) staring at me in a charity shop window! Of course I had to buy it (the woman closed the zip saying he wouldn't be able to speak, but I closed it again, saying that silence is required) & then some pins from Wilko for the next part. This really is a gift from the universe, a case of more opportunities coming along if you make use if them.
Incidentally, apart from the inane grin & idiotic expression, I hadn't realised how like Zippy my manager is in personality, making it all about her & wanting to be friends, while ignoring other people's views & actual misconduct completely:
'...Zippy claims to be the best at whatever is being discussed, and always claims to be right. He loves to eat sweets, sing songs and tell his favourite jokes, and always has to be the centre of attention. For example, the other characters might be having a discussion, when Zippy would shout: "But I don't want to talk, I want to sing! I'm very good at singing! [starts singing] I'm a little teapot short and stout, here's my handle and here's my spout..."
'Due to his frequently loud behaviour and silly voice getting him into all sorts of trouble, other characters in Rainbow occasionally zip his mouth shut, rendering him unable to talk. On at least one occasion he unzips himself, although he appears unable to do so on most occasions.' (Source

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Urban Grimoire: My Favourite Banishing Spell

I wouldn't like my readers to get the impression I think they need pictorial instructions, but surely the two pictures here are graphic enough to explain the spell. The good bit of using loo paper is that the writing on it can be customized (pictures, words, sigils, etc) and any required substances applied before making the offering to Cloacina. Incidentally she was largely invoked for fertility in it's widest sense & that's why this spell is so good.
The Madam and Eve cartoon is largely opportunistic, since it's only since I posted on Jacob Zuma's very plushh toilet at Nkandla that I discovered in contrast the ANC is expecting it's voters to use completely unenclosed toilets.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Importance of Memory

In my last post I wrote about cursing my immediate manager. Of course as so often happens I've cast a spell & have wound up being the agent of the spell.
In this case my manager decided she had no option but to take my letter to her boss who is instituting an enquiry into the fairly major concerns I raise.
And here's the Importance of memory. There is a great Christian tradition that if we forget other people's sins & concentrate on our own, God will forget ours. This is one of the things which allows clergy to abuse children with impunity. There is another broader spiritual tradition which also advocates forgetting. Much of the modern therapy culture accents forgiving & moving on. This is bollocks & I am the witness that this is so.
One of the reasons my manager is now furious that this has started (and remember she only had to adjust my duties slightly) is she knows I keep notes. Not mental notes. Actual notes in a notebook. I also save emails of importance in a particular folder. I have a flight bag of things as well, stretching back seven years to the spot of bother at work that made me realize the importance of this.
I know it seems anal, & is such an INFJ thing, but it means I have chapter and verse at my fingertips. I can provide dates I told her things repeatedly & her response. She has none of this, because she's so uninterested in her job she doesn't do any managing at all, let alone keep records.
In fact - my friend overheard her comment that I once left a tea bag on the side in the kitchen. That is the level on which she can answer me.
Witches remember!

(Picture credit: here)

Urban Grimoire: Boss Curse Again

One of the things which divides magic from religion is the question of judgement. It is to a great extent the temerity & arrogance of the sorcerer in presuming to make judgements & intervene in reality, which will always make us a scandal to the pious.
There is a further presumption in our arrogating divine help to ourselves. Just as any Biblical prophet, we presume to be the intermediary of divine judgement, & much of the discipline of magic is putting oneself in communion with that divine judgement.
I have already cursed the chief executive of the organisation I work for this year, with gratifying results. I like the effects of my magic to fit & be proportionate to the crime & his results were so good.
Now it is the turn of my immediate 'manager'. She has known me for a decade & is an idiot. She's an idiot because she should know that to cancel four appointments for my appraisal so that it is months late, give me only one session of my monthly management supervision in eighteen months, then express 'concern' that I'm not coping, acknowledge that I'm carrying more than my weight in the workplace, yet refuse to take any work off my shoulders, then repeat that I'm not coping when I tell her for the umpteenth time that it is unreasonable to expect me to cope with colleagues who are incompetent or actively sabotage our work, and then to try to tell me my lack of coping is somehow related to my problems with my mother... Well, that's like holding up a big sign to the universe to give her a good slap.
She was horrified to come in the next day to find my letter formally requesting to have my work load reduced in line with my colleagues' & formally raising my concerns about some colleagues by name, with specific examples of the things I was telling her about. I know she was horrified because she actively avoided me, & it's not even like she can run to her boss about it, because she's spent years giving the impression everything's ok. For that reason she also can't afford to have me bring a grievance, & this is without the...shall we say, information I've got on her.
Of course I haven't neglected the magical action & this ones been much more old school. Warning: this is real witchcraft & fluffies will have a fit. One of the things my matron Goddess likes best is blood, which translates to life, & this is why she is such a transitional Goddess of death & life. I went to a crossroads near my place of work which is a liminal place because of having a complex history including being a Roman camp, & I offered my manager to the Goddess. She is under the judgement of the Goddess to consume as she will.
In tandem a magical friend fed her to her familiars. The next day the article she turned into an object link had vanished completely, & my anger had left me completely, both very good signs.
The best magic is always home made on the hoof, don't you think?
(Image credit: here)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Spirit of Place: Brum in the #foxnewsfacts trend

Now you may say that this is old news & doubtfully about the spirit of place, but I was reminded of this trend today as I passed through one of the areas of the city where non-Moslems are supposed not to be able to go. I love this trend, it always makes me laugh, & surely ones own blog should entertain it's author. I have left the authors' identities on these tweets by way of credit.

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