Thursday, 26 March 2020

West Midlands Witchcraft Issue 3 March 2020



I am pleased to announce that I have an article in the current issue of West Midlands Witchcraft magazine and that the March edition can be read on line for free.

Just follow the link.



West Midlands Witchcraft Issues 1, 2 & 3



To help us all manage our time during this difficult time and I am obviously referring to the Lockdown of 2020, those wonderful people at West Midlands Witchcraft Magazine have made issues 1, 2 & 3 available for free.

Just follow the link.



Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Toxic Internet & Intolerance



Those readers who have been following my work of late, will be aware that I have now produced more than one diatribe; upon the subject of the Internet and Social Networking. This is my third and final piece in the Toxic Internet series. I am sure many of you will be bored with my rants by now, so having dealt with misinformation and jealously, I now turn my mind towards the internet and intolerance.

The very concept of intolerance is a strange phenomena as it puts us in a quandary. We often wish to promote tolerance at the same time as taking a stand against intolerance but by doing so we risk becoming intolerant ourselves. From an ethical point of view, we are faced with a dilemma. How does one preserve free speech, while condemning opinions that are not necessarily worthy of a civilised society? At what point can we as a society, declare that particular opinions should be considered as hate speech or provocative in nature? It is not at all clear cut. Today anyone looking at the media and the Internet, should be able to appreciate the difficulties faced by those forced to review complaints of this nature.

Exploring the Internet and in particular You-Tube, I have stumbled across Crazy Christians, Mad Muslims, Angry Atheists and quite a few Potty Pagans. I can neither support nor identify with any of these, what I hope to be fringe elements. Their opinions and behaviour are condescending and frankly embarrassing. They are collectively a disgrace and I hope in no way representative of the movements from which they have emerged; whether it is Christianity, Islam, Humanism or Paganism. Indeed I look on Fundamentalist Christianity, Militant Islam and Militant Atheism with the same lens, they are all equally unsavoury and unnecessarily aggressive.

Watching You-Tube I am in particular struck by what I understand to be called 'response videos.' Here an online argument or attack, is passed back and forth between two or more protagonists. These protagonists generally form sides, the Flat Earth Movement will go head to head with those whose grasp of reality is greater. Crazy Christians and Angry Atheists face each other across the web in the same manner. Very often these engagements are characterised by a distinct lack of respect for those opposite, an uncivil manner and a generally patronising attitude. The behaviour witnessed online is as immature as that found in any school playground.

Nor am I in any way impressed by the language that I witness, particularly on You-Tube and Facebook. The use of the 'F' and 'C' words distresses me greatly. By now I am no doubt coming over in an overly genteel manner and perhaps I am socially prudish. This rant or as I prefer, diatribe is something of a howl into the darkness and I admit; I can swear as much as any other. However, in watching a debate and witnessing one 'combatant' call another a 'f**king moron,' I can make this observation.  Such behaviour is no way to win an argument, even if the person losing their composure is factually correct.

What is it about the Internet, Social Networking and media channels, that causes people to switch off their self control and blow their safety valves  outright? Is it the distancing, the lack of recognition that the person opposite is a person, because they are hidden behind a screen? Does use of the Internet induce us all to become socially inept, keyboard warriors that lack any concept of barriers?

As is often the case when addressing the modern phenomenon of the Internet, I struggle to answer these questions in any satisfactory manner. I suspect it is primarily due to the social distancing of the Internet and the impersonal nature of the World Wide Web. Whatever the reasons for these behaviours, they remain inexcusable and I want no part of such an awful 'virtual' society.


The Toxic Internet & Misinformation #1

The Toxic Internet & Misinformation #2

The Toxic Internet & Tall Poppy Syndrome#1

The Toxic Internet & Tall Poppy Syndrome#2


FUTURE BLOGGING (2020)



I published my first set of blogs on Google Blog-spot, on the 24th of March 2011. The very first post to be published was called 'The Crooked Man' and it was published in dedication to a friend whose writing style influenced me in my early development. In the nine years since those first posts saw publication, I have successfully found my own style of expression but importantly; the continued support of those who have encouraged and inspired me remains worthy of acknowledgement. You know who you are and I thank you.


I have only few followers but I am averaging between 1,000 and 2,000 'hit's per month. A figure that I hope is fairly respectable, although I have nothing to compare it to. Most of my 'traffic' comes via social media or as I sometimes refer to it, unsocial media. Over the last year or so I have attempted to reduce my activities on this unsocial media and this has without doubt, affected my reach. It is a disappointment to have confirmed once again, how ridiculously dependent we as a society, have become on those overly convenient platforms.


As of today nine years after the launch of my Google blog-spot site, I have reached a grand total of 212,738 hits. An increase of 50,009 since 2018 or 25,000 per year. An average of 23,000 hits per year over those nine years does not suggest however, that such a number of hits has been constant from the beginning. It should be obvious or indeed common sense, that the number of hits in those first few years was much smaller and has risen over time. My peak appears to have been reached in 2017 or 2018. Today I have plateaued at a steady 20,000 to 25,000 hits per annum.


The majority of my posts it has to be admitted, do not have a huge reach and in consequence they do not garner a high number of hits. The majority appear to be read by barely a hundred or so people however, a steady number of exceptionally successful posts boost the statistics considerably. My most popular post has passed the 4,000 hit mark while others have passed the 1,000 and 2,000 hit mark. A consolation with regards those that do not fare so well.


In reviewing my approach to the World Wide Web and those unsocial networks, due partly to an ever growing distaste of the content and due to censorship difficulties, I have begun to re-evaluate blogging. Although Google Blog-spot will remain my primary mode of expression, I am now using Wordpress as a supplementary outlet for my material. At present there remains some overlap but the intention to separate the two sites remains. Google Blog-spot will remain primarily focused upon material of an esoteric and spiritual nature, while the Wordpress site will be used for  more general and perhaps less niche material.


I hope and indeed I have set myself something of a target, to produce an original post regularly over the next year; in the run up to the tenth anniversary of blogging. Although I do not expect to see an increase in followers, I sincerely hope to maintain a standard of quality and to preserve that average of 20,000 hits per annum. So, here's to the next year!


MY WEBSITES

FACEBOOK LIKE PAGE

THE CHATTERING MAGPIE ON GOOGLEBLOGSPOT

THE CHATTERING MAGPIE ON WORDPRESS

THE CHATTERING MAGPIE ON TUMBLR

THE CHATTERING MAGPIE ON DEVIANT ART

THE CROOKED MAN (MY FIRST BLOGPOST)



Sunday, 16 February 2020

Evensong and Epiphanytide 2020


Choral Evensong on the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany at the Cathedral Church of All Saints in Derby (UK) 26th January 2020.


On Sunday the 26th of January 2020, I visited the Cathedral Church of All Saints in Derby for the Evensong service. Obviously not being a Christian; my attendance at church is a sporadic, rather ad hoc affair. The fact that I as a polytheist would choose attend a monotheist institution, does cause some confusion amongst acquaintances but that is easily explainable. I enjoy the sense of history, the heritage manifest, the ceremony performed, symbolism of an esoteric nature and importantly, I adore church music.


This church was founded in Saxon times but nothing from that period survives, as it was rebuilt in the fourteenth century. The decorative tower dates from the sixteenth century and has several interesting features. These include animal and foliate heads. The two largest foliates are placed on either side of the main entrance at a little above eye level. One is as expected a typical and a very fine example of a Green-man but the second is significantly, female. Whatever the origins of the foliates; whether they are purely Christian or incorporate an esoteric meaning from another source, their placement at Derby is remarkable. The female face is on the left side of the west door, the male is placed to the right. Think about that.


The main body of the church was rebuilt in the eighteenth century, replacing the now unstable medieval structure. Although much would have been lost, the more significant features were retained. These include the famous tomb of Elizabeth Cavendish, later Elizabeth Talbot Countess of Shrewsbury. A woman forever known to history as the great Bess of Hardwick. Her ornate tomb and monuments to her descendants can be found on the south aisle. Amongst her famous descendants was Lord Henry Cavendish, who was the first to measure the force of gravity between masses in the laboratory. This procedure now named the Cavendish Experiment in his honour, was the first to produce accurate values of the gravitational constant. This remarkable man rests in the family vault under the south aisle and there are other Cavendish family monuments along the north aisle.


The town of Derby was granted city status in 1977, as part of the jubilee celebrations of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II but Derby still does not feel like a city. Derby is really a country market town. All Saints is not a grand cathedral like Lincoln or Southwell, it was only granted cathedral status in 1927. All Saints still retains that provincial church atmosphere, rather plain inside bar the various monuments but painted throughout in an attractive cream. It is a very 'light' church, it is not at all gloomy and the colour scheme makes the interior appear much larger than it really is. It is a building that welcomes the visitor and then embraces them with light. All Saints has like Derby itself, retained a simple, uncomplicated air.


All Saints has the oldest ring of ten bells in the world. Most of the bells have been in situ since 1678, when the number was increased from six to ten. The largest bell weighs 19 cwt (965 kg) and at more than 500 years old, is older than the tower in which it resides. This bell is believed to have come from Dale Abbey, when that monastery was demolished during the Reformation.


Evensong is the common name for a church service of evening prayer, with a primarily musical content. It is similar if not directly equivalent to the Vespers of the Roman Catholic Church and the origins of both lie within the Catholic monastic traditions. There is no Rite of Communion. The prayers, the Psalms  and the hymns are led by the choir and the priesthood, singing in both Latin and English. There is without doubt a spiritual uplift to be found in the music alone. Obviously since I am not a Christian and therefore not a Communicant, my participation in any service is limited. I cannot participate in either the Nicene or the Apostle's Creed for example. To do so would not be appropriate, it would be an offence to the Church and to my Christian friends.


Epiphanytide was introduced or perhaps reintroduced into the Anglican Church in the year 2000, as an alternative to services found in the existing Book of Common Prayer. The season is defined as lasting from the Feast of  Epiphany to that of  Candlemas. Whether we call it Candlemas, Imbolc or lambtide as I do, it is of course that wonderful precursor to spring; that time of purification (spring cleaning) and a time to focus our hopes upon the future.


The optional Epiphany season of the Anglican Church begins with Evening Prayer on the Eve of Epiphany itself, which is the 6th of January or the Sunday falling between the 2nd or 8th of January.  Epiphanytide ends with an Evening or a Night Prayer on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple; which is obviously the 2nd of February or with services on the Sunday between the 28th of January and the 3rd of February. The period forming an extension of the twelve days of Christmastide, results in a forty day Liturgical season. Forty is a number of significance within the Traditions of the Book but it is also a number of the Goddess in Mesopotamian tradition, this being based upon the observed path of the planet Venus. Because Epiphanytide is deemed an extension of the Christmastide, certain decorations remain on display during this time. The majority of us would of course, have taken down our decorations on the 6th of January. This is the reasoning why the Nativity Scene on display remains in situ and I can assume, it will be taken away in February.


Spirituality is a rather difficult concept to explain and I am not even going to try. It irks me however, that some play a rather pathetic and childish game of point scoring; by claiming they are spiritual but not religious. There appears to be a belief that one is superior to the other. If you support that definition of spirituality, then you lack it. It may be possible to have one without the other but whether that is desirable is another matter. A religion without spirituality is an empty vessel, devoid of essence and of virtue. A vessel containing plain water but not the wine.


Many different locations, places of worship and devotion have a spiritual essence, a genus loci or an atmosphere. This air of peace and power varies from place to place. I can sense this presence on a hilltop near where I live and at Castlerigg in Cumbria. I can feel this presence at the Rollrights in Oxfordshire and Arbor Low in Derbyshire; yet there are other stone circles and henges where it is sadly lacking. Christian sites are no different. In Glastonbury my necessary sense of place and presence, is found amongst the abbey ruins and not on the Tor itself. All Saints has that atmosphere but it is a sense of presence that not all churches contain.


One can only speculate what was lost when the older medieval structure was finally demolished. Did All Saints have like other churches greater decoration? Did the ravages of the tyrant Henry VIII or those of the near tyrannical dictator Cromwell, sweep the more obscure and esoteric away? There is little stained glass here and what is here, is relatively modern. Yet the plainness of the structure adds rather than detracts from the aesthetic. In many older church buildings there are still survivals from before those iconoclastic times. In Derby there is a distinct lack of the potentially Gnostic, Masonic or Esoteric in plain sight. The tower is the obvious exception but the interior is deceivingly plain. Yet there is of course a little; the Chi-Rho is the most obvious and significant symbol that has manifold layers of meaning but heraldry also hides multiple symbolic associations.


Sitting in a pew with my shoulder to a pillar and the magnificent golden organ behind me (sorry), I can experience the wonder of our world in the here and now. I listen to the music as I soak up the heritage, the history and the culture of civilisation, in one truly beautifully proportioned building. That is not to suggest that this building is a museum, anymore than any stone circle or any henge. All represent a link to the past but by being part of our present, they are also our future. All faiths, religions and spiritualities are or should be, inspired by the past but all must equally look to the future. To be living and breathing traditions, all must embrace both without any loss of virtue.

Friday, 14 February 2020

The Toxic Internet & Tall Poppy Syndrome



As I have stated in another of my posts, I did not have the internet at home and I did not join Facebook until 2007. I am a late comer to the modern wonder that is the world wide web and to quote Homesteading Off The Grid (YouTube 2019); "Everyone is an expert on Social Media" and that is important.

Those of you who have been following some of my recent posts and those not so recent, will be aware of my views regarding the Internet and modern life. My journey to become a grumpy old man is not yet complete. Behind the humour and rants however, if they really should be called that; are I hope some observations that will make the reader pause.

Language evolves, it can change and develop over time. We all know that and it is an observable phenomenon throughout history. The English language in particular has been enriched by the blatant appropriation of foreign derived words over many centuries. On the Internet and within our modern society, people appear intent upon redefining words to fit their own perceived agenda. This is a different form of appropriation and is far from appropriate.

For example, when I awoke this morning I got out of bed. It is something I do most days when I wake up. I am awake now but I am not woke. Woke is a verb it is not a noun. Science is a body of collected knowledge and it is a noun. You do not 'science' as it is not a verb. I have nothing in common with those who feel they are 'woke' or those who 'science' rather than research. The examples offered are a vacuous fashion trend that fully deserve ridicule but they are systematic of the politically correct nature of modern society, although political BS would be a rather more appropriate description.

Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners. -George Carlin.

The moment you step out into public view, you will attract supporters and detractors. The greater your public profile the greater both will be. Sound and unbiased critique should obviously be welcomed. However, simply by taking that step into the 'limelight,' you will attract those who take pleasure in criticism for the sake of criticism. Stand with your head above the parapet long enough and someone will take a shot at you. This is the politics of envy, this is tall poppy syndrome.


The term tall poppy syndrome is alleged to have originated after the Great War of 1914 to 1918. It is said to be based upon the spare time practice of British Tommies, taking pot shots at the taller flower heads of those poppies growing in No-Man's Land. This is a colourful anecdote but it is unlikely to be true. Armies don't like ammunition being wasted on such activities. The more likely origin lies with Herodotus writing around 400 BCE but he wrote about tall wheat. It was Livy writing 300 years later who introduced poppies into the equation but the meaning is the same. The allegory is that people who rise to the top, should be cut down to curb their influence.   

In this world; including that of the Pagan, the Occult and the Artistic, we have our share of tall poppies. Myself, friends and many professional contacts; frequently face the criticism of  persons who have to put it bluntly, achieved little themselves. Some of my network, including writers and those involved in charitable pursuits, have on occasion been deeply hurt by the toxic behaviour of their detractors. This has in some cases provoked a degree of self questioning and made them ask; is it worth it?

In modern usage tall poppy syndrome is nothing more than the politics of envy, manifested as acts of transparent resentfulness. People snipe at those doing well or in positions of influence, because they believe that they instead should have that position of authority. The observations and the criticism made are not always justified. I emphasise that those who offer this unwarranted criticism, have very often not achieved anything of noteworthy themselves. Their opinion would carry more weight if they had. Sometimes it is those who claim to be 'woke' who are the most vociferous in the debate. Perhaps they are not as enlightened as they believe but they are certainly special.

As a former Pagan Federation Officer I hosted moots, liaised with the media and Interfaith, I assisted in the organisation of events. I faced criticism on occasion. I stepped on toes to get things done. I have been a tall poppy and I have faced the same envious sniper. Was it worth it? In the short term, yes. In the long term I am not so certain but I did not do the job to make friends; I did the job to further a cause.

My message to those on my network still active in the service of our community and our society, those who write or are active in the artistic sphere, it to carry on regardless. I frequently look at what I have written and I dismiss it all as rubbish. I may even delete hours of work because of this. I have yet to meet a writer, an artist or an actor who is not painfully tormented by debilitating self-doubt. Those in the service of others, those actively engaged in trying to make a better world, are often equally self-conscious and my message is the same. Don't give up, don't ever give up.


Did Facebook Kill Witchvox?

The Toxic Internet and Misinformation


Sunday, 9 February 2020

Did Facebook kill Witchvox?


I did not have the internet at home and I did not join Facebook until 2007. I published my first blog post in March of 2011 and I did not have a photographic portfolio on Deviant Art until 2012. I am something of a late comer to the modern wonder that is the world wide web and to quote Homesteading Off The Grid (YouTube 2019); "Everyone is an expert on Social Media." We must all have noticed that.

In late 2019 it was announced that the pioneering Pagan website Witchvox would close at the end of the year and the announcement caused much comment on various websites since. Witchvox was founded in 1997 and by lasting twenty two years, it clearly cannot be dismissed easily. It made a significant impact upon the Pagan and Witchcraft community and many are saddened by its closure.

I am however, rather detached from this expression of sadness. Although I did have a Witchvox account, it was little used. I can't remember when I joined Witchvox but it was after I joined Facebook. I used the site to advertise the moots I hosted and the occasional charity picnic. I had a profile and a separate profile for the Hearth of the Turning Wheel. The use I had for Witchvox was identical to that of Facebook and it was soon apparent that any responses I received; came primarily via Facebook and not Witchvox.

In the decade (more or less) that I had an account, I received a small number of emails. Some were from genuine seekers and some from the media. They were few in number. I never once published an article on Witchvox and rarely if ever, accessed those available. Witchvox was for me an adjunct, an appendage and was never my primary organ of communication.

For others of my acquaintance however, Witchvox represented their first foray onto the Pagan based Internet. In the first decade of this century, Witchvox was the way that many found like minded souls. Members could share news of festivals, moots, lectures and of course, all had access to that free resource of study material.

What changed? Am I in my behaviour and my limited use of the site, indicative of how Witchvox ceased to be at the centre of the Pagan online community? Can my use of Witchvox or lack of use, be used as a marker to show how Facebook took over the role it once had? Perhaps and perhaps not.

It is too easy today to blame everything on social media in general or on Facebook specifically. Although in my own personal opinion, I do believe that Facebook is an important contributory factor but it is not solely responsible for the demise of Witchvox. The Internet has changed even in the short time that I have had access to it but it has most definitely changed. Facebook is not the only website, platform or whatever (I apologise but I am ignorant of the correct Internet jargon) to exist. Today we have Instagram, Whatsapp, Wordpress, Tumblr, Google-blogspot and a plethora of other sites that can be and are used, to share the same information that Witchvox once did.

Although Witchvox was a specialist site, these newer applications, platforms and media that have come into being, some specialist but most generalist; illustrate a change in social use of the web. What we are witnessing is the ongoing evolution of the World Wide Web. The websites and platforms that survive will; like species in the real world, be those that can adapt to their environment. Witchvox has become extinct like many before, because the Internet environment has changed and other, newer sites have evolved. Nothing is static. Witchvox was a pioneer and perhaps a victim of its own success, in that others learnt and then 'evolved' from it.


Saturday, 8 February 2020

WITCHCRAFT IN A WEEK?



This will be I hope one of my shorter pieces. Short because I do not wish to devote my time or my energy, on something so hopelessly pathetic and unworthy of deeper exploration.  Saying that, it seems that some of my readers do expect me to pass comment on recent happenings. In the middle of January 2020 a British newspaper who is far from as impartial as its name may suggest, published an article relating to the modern practice of Witchcraft. The article was titled 'I spent a week becoming a witch and the results were worrying' and this was penned in relation to one of the many light weight pop-craft books now on the market.

In the piece the writer describes seven days of her exploration, of the phenomenon that she calls Witchcraft. Some of her comments are amusing, some accurate and some rather pithy. The work has caused offense and resulted in complaints against the newspaper. Whether the offence or the complaints are justified is a matter of opinion. Personally, I feel that the piece isn't really worthy of comment. It is clearly a light-hearted piece and the book being reviewed doesn't sound at all appealing to a serious practitioner anyway. However, there are two or three points that do need addressing.

One disturbing point is the suggestion that practitioners of Witchcraft are deniers of science, equivalent perhaps to those who support the model of a Flat Earth. Now it is true that I am no fan of New Age Garbage (NAG) and the suggestion that all who practice Witchcraft fall under the aegis of the New Age, is mildly irritating. Her criticism of the NAG that abounds today is not an issue. Of far greater concern is the suggestion that practitioners deny science. Although it may be true that some may hold rather peculiar opinions regards science, in my experience the majority of the practitioners of Witchcraft and Occultism, are far more educated with regards the sciences than the average member of society.

What is clear is that the article and the book that it reviews, bear no relation to the Witchcraft Traditions with which I am familiar. I have been a practitioner for thirty years and if I have learnt anything at all in those three decades, it is how little I know and how much I still have to learn. You cannot learn to be a Witch in a week or on a weekend retreat costing hundreds of pounds. Sorry to disappoint those who thought otherwise.

Witchcraft is a calling, it is a path of devotion and a lifetime of study. It is not a hobby that you can pick up and put down on a whim. Witchcraft can be dark, it can be dangerous, it is not all blue skies and rainbows. Witchcraft should be worrying, Witchcraft should be challenging but it can provide comfort. Witchcraft can be empowering but none of this can be achieved in seven days.