Friday, 5 February 2016

Tithe Green Burial Ground presentation at Empyrean (Nottingham) 3rd February 2016


On Wednesday the 3rd of February 2016, I took the opportunity to enjoy a pleasant social evening with friends in Nottingham, using the usual monthly meeting of the Nottingham Empyrean Pagan Interest Group as an excuse for the same. This particular month saw a visit from Steve Barnes, the manager of the Tithe Green Burial Ground. This green and natural burial ground is part of the Oxton Estate, situated south of Edwinstowe, east of Newstead Abby and close to Oxton village on the Old Rufford Road (A614).

The primary focus in this presentation was the ethical and ecological elements of a natural, green burial. To cover this and explore the subject, it was necessary for Mr Barnes to place the Tithe Green Burial Ground in context. Comparing factors influencing the history and present running of the venture, with other burial grounds.

Some such grounds may have less firm rules and guidelines, bearing upon what is and is not permitted. Some are run along similar lines and some may even be stricter. An important factor being the preparation of the body, avoiding preservatives such as formaldehyde. Nor is glue or varnish permitted in the manufacture of the casket, as both contain chemicals not desired for a green burial. Even the clothing of the deceased and the lining of the casket if appropriate, are required to be of a natural fibre.

These regulations on first examination appear unnecessarily strict but in point of fact, the necessity becomes apparent with closer scrutiny. If indeed we are attempting to create a natural burial and therefore, a green space, whether it is part of the woodland or a meadow site; then what is the point of interring preservatives? The casket and the contents are deliberately set to decay in a natural manner and such would prevent that desired aim.

The marking of each grave or tree planted in memoriam, may be designated by a slate plaque of a standard size. These when laid upon the grave, will eventually have grass grow over them. Those placed upon a wooden post in front of a tree, will once the post has rotted, fall to the ground and be covered in the same manner.

One noted rule is upon the specifications of the trees permitted, the saplings are grown in Nottinghamshire and the permitted species have been chosen with advice from the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. The six specially selected tree species, are intended to represent the indigenous fauna of Sherwood Forrest and therefore, Nottinghamshire itself. The six trees listed as permitted are; the oak, the rowan, the birch, the lime, the wild cherry and the pine. The deliberate mixture of these trees will, in partnership with the meadow sites and the planting of wildflowers, create an environment favoured towards wildlife.

Many if not all of us present, did not at the beginning of the evening; have a full understanding of the requirements, which lie behind the management of such a burial ground. That lack of knowledge and insight, was expertly addressed by Mr Barnes. The evening ran over by a considerable time, as he fielded questions and explored particular points in greater detail, than at first expected or discussed.

The Tithe Green Burial Ground presents for those wishing to take up the opportunity, a viable green, natural and ethical choice for burial, irrespective of religious persuasion or any other social factor. The presentation by Mr Barnes was surprisingly down to earth, peppered with both serious and amusing anecdotes, whilst maintaining a highly informative element.


CALL OF THE GOD: AN ANTHOLOGY EXPLORING THE DIVINE MASCULINE WITHIN MODERN PAGANISM. EDITED BY FRANCES BILLINGHURST (2015).


September 2015 saw the publication of a book entitled ‘Call of the God: an Anthology Exploring the Divine Masculine within Modern Paganism.’ This work edited by Frances Billinghurst and published by Temple of the Dark Moon, has garnered considerable interest.

I have two short written pieces included in the anthology, a poem entitled simply ‘Cernunnos’ and a short chapter; ‘The Stag as a Totemic Manifestation of the Divine Masculine.’

It is with pride that I can identify myself as a contributor to this work, both written and photographic; whilst holding the honour of being the cover art photographer. The graphic design is by the talented Timothy Hartridge.


It is not appropriate to review a work in which one has a personal interest and therefore, I quote in full the publishers own text:

“Lurking amongst the shadows, slipping through our nightmares, teasing our peripheral vision, or simply crashing into our ordered lives, the Pagan God makes His presence felt in many ways. From prehistoric paintings to the mystical wilderness of Arcadia, the power of the Pagan God can still be felt in this modern age as the beat of His hooves upon the earth entice us to reclaim the true power of the Divine Masculine. "Call of the God: An Anthology Exploring the Divine Masculine within Modern Paganism" is a unique smorgasbord of essays, poems, fiction and artwork depicting the numerous manifestations of the God and how the Divine Masculine is depicted within modern Paganism around the world.


This anthology includes works from: * Michael Howard (editor of "The Cauldron" as well as some 38 books), * Pete Jennings (past Pagan Federation president and author of many books), * Anna Franklin (author of 30 books and decks including "The Pagan Ways Tarot" and "The Sacred Circle Tarot"), * Tony and Candia McKormack from British Pagan band Inkubus Sukkubus, * Frances Billinghurst (author of "Dancing the Sacred Wheel", "In Her Sacred Name" and editor of this book), * Shauna Aura Knight (mixed media artist and author), * Polly Lind (New Zealand based tapestry artist), * Peter Coughlin (writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction), * Patrick Larabee (artist and author of "Whisperings from the Void"), * Rev Christian Ortz (author of Reiki Lunar and founder of the Mexican ezine "El Caldero-Espiritualidad de la Tierra" (The Cauldron-Earth Spirituality).


Other contributors include: Adam Hearn, Michael Vickery, Rebecca Buchanan, Fabienne S. Morgana, Kali Cox, Cara Fenton, Chattering Magpie, Ilana Sturm, Steven Posch, Tania Poole, Martin Samson, Michelle Jeffrey, Jeff Brown, Eddie Massey, P. St Clair-Martin, ElSharra, Wayland the Smith, Ian Foot, Harriet Lock, Debbie Dawson, Donna Swindells, and L.J. LaBarthe.


The editor Frances Billinghurst is herself a prolific writer with an interest in folklore, mythology, and ancient cultures. Her articles have appeared in various publications including Llewellyn’s "Witch’s Calendar", "The Cauldron", "Unto Herself: A Devotional Anthology to Independent Goddesses", "A Mantle of Stars: A Devotional to the Queen of Heaven", "Naming the Goddess", "Witchcraft Today: 60 Years On" and "The Faerie Queens" to name a few. She is the author of "Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats", and "In Her Sacred Name: Writings on the Divine Feminine". "Call of the God: An Anthology Exploring the Divine Masculine within Modern Paganism" is her first anthology. When she is not writing, Frances is attempting to replicate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon on her patch of Australian dirt, and journeying between the worlds.”


For more information regarding Frances Billinghurst and her work, please see her own blog: (http://francesbillinghurst.blogspot.com.au/).


Call of the God can be bought direct from the Chattering Magpie using the links below:

The Chattering Magpie’s Ebay Shop:

The Chattering Magpie’s Etsy Shop:


OTHER PRODUCT LINKS:

AMAZON AUSTRALIA KINDLE LINK:

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AMAZON USA (PB) LINK:

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Enchanted Dreams the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (UK)


In January 2016 I travelled to an exhibition at this charming and centrally located museum and art gallery; to attend an exhibition of the works of Edward Robert Hughes. E.R. Hughes belongs to that second generation of Pre-Raphaelite artists and was the nephew of Arthur Hughes, an important member of that first generation.

Like many an artist before him and since, the public are often familiar with the work but not the name of the creator, this I discovered for myself, as I recognised the beautiful works on display. Some such as his ‘Midsummer Eve’ I have seen reproduced on greeting cards and prints, it is said to be his most reproduced work. Like many others however, I am more familiar with the works of his famous uncle Arthur, than with Edward himself.

The importance of this exhibition, even when taking into account the internationally famous collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings that Birmingham can boast, is the gathering of so many of works of Edward Robert Hughes from across the UK and beyond. The museum had gathered not only the fine examples in house but many works from other galleries and private collections; including that of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Visitors to this exhibition were given a rare opportunity of seeing works, not usually seen together and many had not been shown publicly for a century.


In the nineteenth century two philosophical approaches to art developed. One argued that art should have meaning and this the Symbolist philosophy, can perhaps be described as being; ‘Art for Truth’s sake.’ The alternative viewpoint, oft championed by Oscar Wilde, is that art exists to be beautiful. That philosophy ‘Art for Art’s sake,’ is perhaps best described as Aesthetics.

Although these two philosophical approaches to art existed then, exist now and quite possibly, have existed since man first drew on a cave wall, they have not always existed in harmony. Debates on the nature, place and function of art have threaded their way through history, often stimulating talent to even greater heights of exploration.

This exhibition like many, illustrated that perceived subtext of art and the conflict within the viewer. Are we just looking at a pretty picture or is there a symbolist meaning? Did the artist deliberately place a meaning or was it subconscious, perhaps accidental? Are we subscribing a meaning upon a work of art that the creator never intended? These are questions that very often, are impossible to answer but that doesn’t mean we should not try.

The exhibition combined both a chronological and subject focus approach to the presentation. Hughes earlier works displayed in context and in comparison with other selected Pre-Raphaelite artists, including his uncle. Much of his early work showing his more obvious influences from within the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

When displayed within the context of the subject matter it was clear that like many of that school, his choice of subject was often romantic and mythological. The majority of Hughes works are stunning, simply beautiful in the composition. Yet there are other works that appear a little too sickly-sweet in the execution. In this category I personally would include his ‘Midsummer Eve,’ yet many would strongly disagree with me.


Like another later artist Hughes had a blue period but unlike that other artist, it was not so much a total presentation of a work in blue but an alternative exploration of the colour. In the example of Hughes, blue is the colour of the night and from the subtle shades of the twilight to the deep midnight blue; he played, toyed and captured the night in a series of pictures, many of which are perhaps amongst his most famous and should rightfully be regarded as amongst his masterpieces.

Amongst my personal favourites and in my opinion, one of his most significant works, is ‘The Valkyrie's Vigil’ depicting a somewhat melancholic gatherer of the slain, brooding upon the battlements of what could be Valhalla. My other favourite is that example loaned by Her Majesty; ‘Dream Idyll’ which captures a puzzling, fairy-tale and dreamlike atmosphere.

One of his most famous and important pictures however, is that rather intimidating and enigmatic picture; ‘Night with her train of stars.’ Winged night but with more than one pair of wings it seems, comforts a child as she progresses across the skies in full array and accompaniment.

Inspired by and taking its name from a line in the poem Margaritae Sorori by Ernest Henley, the painting is a paradox. Does night bring death, peace or protection? Are the innocent cherubs truly innocent or maleficent? This work is generally hailed as one of his most significant works, it is a masterpiece indeed.


Looking at his work, singly, grouped by subject and in comparison with the other artists included for context, such as Arthur Hughes, Rossetti, Solomon and Bunce. One realises that in truth, Edward Robert Hughes should be far more well-known than he is. His chalks and watercolours are magnificent, composed and executed with refined skill and insight.

Some are somewhat disturbing and amongst these I include, obviously and predictably, ‘Oh, what's that in the hollow?’ A fascinating painting of a rather androgynous figure, dead and decomposing in a pool. The air of death and decay is suggested by the nearby crows and the briar entwining the figure. The picture is hauntingly beautiful and disquieting, yet still carries with it a suggestion of life, as the briar is in bloom.


Hughes assisted many famous artists during his career, both as a model and as an assistant. In this latter role he is often uncredited, even when much of the finished work is in his hand. Hughes is noteworthy for assisting William Holman Hunt in his later life, as Hunt became increasingly frail. This includes completion of ‘The Light of the World,’ that famous painting on display in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London.

This suggests to me that Hughes was quite possibly a modest man, willing to step aside and allow the master, William Holman Hunt full credit. Perhaps the hand that produced ‘Night with her train of stars,’ did not need to prove their own genius.


My day in Birmingham was very enjoyable and certainly educational. I found far more of interest than I could have imagined. The main exhibition was without doubt worth seeing but the other parts of the museum collection, were most impressive. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is far larger than I expected and like the British Museum, one can wander along a labyrinth of galleries, each one hiding wonders in almost every corner.

It is also worth mentioning the wonderful and very patient museum staff. They are exceptionally polite individuals, who are not only willing to share their opinion on their particular favourite items but are also very helping when guiding lost tourists.

Enchanted Dreams: The Pre-Raphaelite Art of E.R. Hughes ran from the 17th of October 2015 to the 21st February 2016.




Saturday, 30 January 2016

WITCHES AND WICKED BODIES (BRITISH MUSEUM JANUARY 2015)



The exhibition was an exploration of how Witches have been perceived in various artistic mediums throughout history, with an obvious emphasis upon the visual. The exhibition was not a presentation of how Witches may have truly been or how they may have even perceived themselves. This was the presentation of an artistic viewpoint, how Witches and their related subjects, magic, sorcery, necromancy, are perceived by artists and presented in art forms.



This was not a scientific, anthropological study of how Witches truly were or even are. As such the exhibition presented an artistic mirror, in which our society sees itself, its fears and how it perceives what may confuse or puzzle. Those who visited the exhibition expecting to see accurate depictions of Witchcraft, based upon folk practice and documentary sources, not only misunderstood the concept of the exhibition but would have left sadly disappointed.





The earliest works on display dated from the fifteenth century and the latest from the nineteenth. This was a collection of almost half a millennia of artistic interpretation of sorcery, placed together for comparison and enjoyment. Yet no artwork of whatever medium, exists in a vacuum. Each works reflected in some manner a social, cultural, political or theological influence.



The works on display included many world famous examples by such renowned artists as Durer, Stuck, Goya, Delacroix, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Sandys. Indeed it was a remarkable surprise to see the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood so well attested as an influence upon the subject, although the examples on display were not what one would expect, being of a less romantic nature than their usual output.



A presentation of this nature, with its distorted bodies and twisted features, contrasting with those slightly more romantic depictions from Shakespeare, raises questions about the nature of art. How do we define art and can art really be defined at all, without placing limits upon it? What is the function of art beyond the aesthetic? Not that the aesthetic quality of art is in anyway unimportant, indeed one could argue that it is the vital element. Yet beyond that, what is the function of art and should art always have a meaning? Is it possible to produce art without a symbolist meaning? Is art descriptive, challenging or purely a reflective model, trapped within the social and cultural context of its time of origin?



Much of the exhibition unsurprisingly, concentrated upon the female form, contrasting the loathsome; secret, black and midnight hags of Shakespeare, with the more seductive Lilith archetype. Thrown into this cauldron of metaphors was the occasional Medea but primarily the femininity explored was of two extremes, the repulsiveness of great age with that of the sexual allure of youth.



The exhibition reflected that social and traditional belief, that women are more inclined towards sorcery than men. Few male practitioners are named in our history and this is reflected in art. Figures such as Dee and names from the Scottish trials such as Fian, stand out because they are so few in number. Therefore the most notable other male named and included in this exhibition was Faust, yet the most striking artistic reference to his famous story was not of him but of Mephistopheles. Thus depicting as with the pictures of the female sorcerers, the maleficent influence of the Devil, tempting man and woman alike from the path of salvation.



To be able to stand, study and contemplate these wonders of European art, some so famous in their familiarity that they feel like old friends, was very special. I travelled to see the works of Durer and Goya. My intent, to see the originals with my own eyes, rather than via some other medium, a book or the Internet. It is therefore difficult to express my enjoyment and pleasure, in not only seeing those works but the many other treasures gathered for this important exhibition.



Almost five hundred years of European culture was explored, comparing the more traditional, evil and loathsome imaginings of evil with the later, more sceptical and sometimes humorous. The Devil himself travels from the most repulsive, to become an almost dashing figure in the guise of a later Mephistopheles.



The figure of the female Witch, shown as equally repulsive in the earlier works, likewise became increasing more attractive and less an object of fear, as the beginning of the twentieth century approached. Yet even if we accommodate this change in depiction, there remained a disturbing paradox. Each and every image presented was almost without exception, a negative one. From the hags of Durer and Goya, through Medea killing her children, to Lady Macbeth and the company Witches, the allure still held an element of danger, an undertone of malice and evil.


The scientific advancement of the nineteenth century and the improved educational foundation of Victorian society, brought about a general scepticism towards sorcery. Was that the victory of the Devil and of Witchcraft? Did society embrace the Witch or simply cease to believe in magic?

The exhibition ‘Witches and Wicked Bodies’ ran at the British Museum in London, from the 24th of September 2014 to the 11th of January 2015.




Friday, 15 January 2016

PRAYER OF LAMENTATION TO ISHTAR


I pray to thee, O Lady of Ladies, Goddess of Goddesses.
O Ishtar, Queen of all peoples, who guides mankind aright,
O Irnini, ever exalted, greatest of the Igigi,
O mighty of princesses, exalted is thy name.
Thou indeed art the light of heaven and earth.
O valiant daughter of Sin.

O supporter of arms, who determines battle,
O possessor of all divine power,
Who wears the crown of domination,
O Lady, glorious is thy greatness;
Over all the gods it is exalted.
O star of lamentation,
Who causes peaceable brothers to fight,
Yet who constantly gives friendship,


O mighty one, Lady of battle,
Who suppresses the mountains,
O Gushea, the one covered with fighting,
And clothed with terror
Thou doest make complete judgment and decision.
The ordinances of heaven and earth.

Chapels, holy places, sacred sites,
And shrines pay heed to thee.
Where is not thy name, where is not thy divine power?
Where are thy likenesses not fashioned?
Where are thy shrines not founded?


Where art thou not great?
Where art thou not exalted?
Anu, Enlil, and Ea have made thee high;
Among the Gods,
They have caused thy domination to be great.

They have made thee high among all the Igigi;
They have made thy position pre-eminent.
At the thought of thy name heaven and earth tremble.
The gods tremble; the Anunnaki stand in awe.
To thine awesome name mankind must pay heed.
For thou art great and thou art exalted.


All the black-headed people,
Persians and the masses of mankind;
Pay homage to thy might.
The judgment of the people in truth and righteousness;
Thou indeed dost decide.

Thou regardest the oppressed and mistreated;
Daily thou causest them to prosper.
Thy mercy! O Lady of heaven and earth;
Shepheress of the weary people.


Thy mercy! O Lady of holy Eanna the pure storehouse.
Thy mercy! O Lady; unwearied are thy feet;
Swift are thy knees.
Thy mercy! O Lady of conflict and of all battles.
O shining one, lioness of the Igigi, subduer of angry Gods,
O most powerful of all princes,
Who holdest the reins over kings,

But who dost release the bridles of all maidservants,
Who art exalted and firmly fixed.
O valiant Ishtar, great is thy might.


O brilliant one, torch of heaven and earth,
Light of all peoples,
O unequalled angry one of the fight,
Strong one of the battle,
O firebrand which is kindled against the enemy;
Which brings about the destruction of the furious,

O gleaming one, Ishtar, assembler of the host,
O deity of men, Goddess of women;
Whose designs no one can conceive,


Here thou dost look, one who is dead lives;
One who is sick rises up;
The erring one who sees thy face goes aright.
I have cried to thee, suffering, wearied, and distressed;
As thy servant.

See me, O my Lady, accept my prayers.
Faithfully look upon me and hear my supplication.
Promise my forgiveness and let thy spirit be appeased.


Pity!
For my wretched body which is full of confusion,
And trouble.
Pity!
For my sickened heart which is full of tears,
And suffering.
Pity!
For my wretched intestines which are full of confusion,
And trouble.
Pity!
For my afflicted house which mourns bitterly.
Pity!
For my feelings which are satiated with tears and suffering.

O exalted Irnini, fierce lion, let thy heart be at rest.
O angry wild ox, let thy spirit be appeased.


Let the favor of thine eyes be upon me.
With thy bright features look faithfully upon me.
Drive away the evil spells of my body,
And let me see thy bright light.

How long, O my Lady,
Shall my adversaries be looking upon me;
In lying and untruth shall they plan evil against me?


Shall my pursuers and those who exult over me,
Rage against me?
How long, O my Lady,
Shall the crippled and weak seek me out?
One has made for me long sackcloth;
Thus I have appeared before thee.

The weak have become strong;
But I am weak.
I toss about like flood-water,
Which an evil wind makes violent.
My heart is flying;
It keeps fluttering like a bird of heaven.
I mourn like a dove night and day.


I am beaten down, and so I weep bitterly.
With "Oh" and "Alas" my spirit is distressed.
I, what have I done, O my God and my Goddess?
Like one who does not fear my God and my Goddess,
I am treated;
While sickness, headache, loss,
And destruction are provided for me;

So are fixed upon me terror, disdain, and fullness of wrath,
Anger, choler, and indignation of gods and men.
I have to expect, O my Lady, dark days,
Gloomy months and years of trouble.


I have to expect, O my Lady,
Judgment of confusion and violence.
Death and trouble are bringing me to an end.
Silent is my chapel; silent is my holy place;

Over my house, my gate, and my fields,
Silence is poured out.
As for my God;
His face is turned to the sanctuary of another.
My family is scattered; my roof is broken up.
(But) I have paid heed to thee, my Lady;
My attention has been turned to thee.


To thee have I prayed; forgive my debt.
Forgive my sin, my iniquity,
My shameful deeds and my offence.
Overlook my shameful deeds; accept my prayer;
Loosen my fetters; secure my deliverance;

Guide my steps aright; radiantly like a hero,
Let me enter the streets with the living.


Speak so that at thy command,
The angry God may be favourable;
(And) the Goddess who has been angry with me,
May turn again.
(Now) dark and smoky, may my brazier glow;
(Now) extinguished, may my torch be lighted.

Let my scattered family be assembled;
May my fold be wide; may my stable be enlarged.
Accept the abasement of my countenance; hear my prayers.
Faithfully look upon me and accept my supplication.


How long, O my Lady;
Wilt thou be angered so that thy face is turned away?
How long, O my Lady;
Wilt thou be infuriated so that thy spirit is enraged?

Turn thy neck which thou hast set against me;
Set thy face toward good favour.
Like the water of the opening up of a canal,
Let thy emotions be released.


My foes like the ground let me trample;
Subdue my haters
And cause them to crouch down under me.
Let my prayers and my supplications come to thee.
Let thy great mercy be upon me.

Let those who see me in the street magnify thy name.
As for me, let me glorify thy divinity and thy might,
Before the black-headed people, saying;
Ishtar indeed is exalted; the Lady indeed is Queen.
Irnini, the valorous daughter of Sin, has no rival.