Friday, 15 July 2016

Seven Tines Conference (Celebrating the Divine Masculine and Men in Paganism) London 2015

The Seven Tines Conference was an event celebrating the Divine Masculine and Men in Paganism; it was held at Treadwell’s Books in London on the 7th November 2015 and was organised by the London branch of the Pagan Federation (England and Wales).

I travelled down by train quite deliberately; as I have an interest in this subject, having contributed to the anthology ‘Call of the God: an Anthology Exploring the Divine Masculine within Modern Paganism.’ The work is edited by Frances Billinghurst and was published by Temple of the Dark Moon in the autumn of 2015 (link below).

The journey down was smooth, uneventful and pleasant, as I chatted to my fellow travellers on the train. I easily found the bookshop on foot and then moved a few doors down, to take a late breakfast at ‘The Life Goddess.’ Here I made friends with a gentleman called Richard and for a short time after the event, we were able to maintain contact through Facebook.

Since the event was organised by the London branch of the Pagan Federation, on arrival at Treadwell’s, I had the pleasure of meeting Luthaneal Adams. This young man was to be our host for the day, as we gathered in the basement room of the bookshop.

The day was dived into quarters, four presentations designed to cover as broadly as possible, differing approaches to masculine spirituality. The itinerary was Pete Jennings presenting ‘Blacksmith Gods,’ Peter Neary-Chaplin discussing ‘Male Initiation,’ David Knight presenting ‘Male Spirituality: the Masculine Principle in Paganism’ and finally John McConnel of the organisation Brahma Kumaris, with a talk entitled ‘Spirituality and Men.’

Pete Jennings, a former President of the Pagan Federation, well known within Heathen circles, is a writer, lecturer and performer on the folk circuit. Mr Jennings began his own dynamic presentation ‘Blacksmith Gods,’ with a brief overview of the historical importance of classical Gods associated with metalwork, Hephaestus and his Roman alternative, Vulcan.

After an all too brief and amusing exploration of the marital complexities of Hephaestus and Aphrodite, Mr Jennings delighted our small and rather select gathering, with an outstanding and unaccompanied rendition of that well-known English folksong, ‘The Two Magicians.’ The entire lyric of the song I post below.

‘The lady sits in her own front door
As straight as the willow wand,
And by there come a lusty smith
With a hammer in his hand.

And he said, “Bide, lady bide,
There's nowhere you can hide.
For the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride.”

“Well may you stand, you lady fair,
All in your robes of red,
But come tomorrow at this same time
I'll have you in me bed.”

And he said, “Bide, lady bide,
There's nowhere you can hide.
For the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride.”

“Away, away, you coal-black smith,
Would you do me this wrong?
To think to have my maidenhead
That I have kept so long.

“I'd rather I was dead and cold
And me body laid in the grave
Than a lusty, dusty, coal-black smith
My maidenhead should have.”

So the lady she held up her hand,
She swore upon her soul
That she'd not need the blacksmith's love
For all of a box of gold.

But the blacksmith he held up his hand
And he swore upon the mass
Saying, “I'll have you in me bed young girl
For the half of that or less.”

“Bide lady bide,
There's nowhere you can hide.
For the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride.”

So the lady she turned into a dove
And she flew up in the air;
But he became an old cock pigeon
And they flew pair and pair.

Crying, “Bide, lady bide,
There's nowhere you can hide.
For the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride.”

So the lady she turned into a hare
And she ran across the plain;
But he became a greyhound dog
And he ran her down again.

Crying, “Bide, lady bide,
There's nowhere you can hide.
For the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride.”

So she became a little mare
As dark as the night was black;
But he became a golden saddle
And he clung onto her back.

Crying, “Bide, lady bide,
There's nowhere you can hide.
For the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride.”

So she became a hot griddle
And he became a cake;
And every move that poor girl made
The blacksmith was her mate.

Crying, “Bide, lady bide,
There's nowhere you can hide.
For the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride.”

So she became a full-dressed ship
And she sailed on the sea;
But he became a bold captain
And aboard of her went he.

Crying, “Bide, lady bide,
There's nowhere you can hide.
For the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride.”

So the lady she ran into the bedroom
And she changed into a bed;
But he became a green coverlet
And he gained her maidenhead.

And was she woke he held her so
And still he bade her bide;
And the lusty smith became her love
For all her mighty pride.’

A version of the Two Magicians by Steeleye Span can be found here:

Moving on from this delightful rendering of the classic, Mr Jennings very briefly explored West African beliefs and similar symbolic associations found in Hawaii. Returning to Europe and the area of his more specific expertise, he presented us with folktales in greater depth covering the tales or Volundr or Wayland, the tale of the Swan Maiden and the Dwarfs, while also explaining the difference between Wights and Dark Elves.

Leaving the Pagan or pre-Christian elements of blacksmithing behind us, we moved on to explore the Christian elements and early saints. Including the stories of Clement, Dunstan, Finbarr, holy wells, horseshoes and the shoeing of the Devil.

This section naturally led us to explore the Judaic mythology relating to fallen angels such as Azazel, the lore of Tubal Cain and briefly, the Masonic Symbolism of the Pillars of Tubal Cain themselves.

Mr Jennings presentation was fascinating, an ideal choice to open the day’s proceedings, leaving us engrossed and excitedly wanting more. His book Blacksmith Gods’ is available via Amazon. See link below.

The second presentation was given by Peter Neary-Chaplain of the Men’s Rite of Passage Organisation and his subject was ‘Male Initiation.’ This organisation originated in the USA, holds annual events in Scotland and has a growing British membership.

The Men’s Rite of Passage Organisation is a synthesis of Catholic and Native American influences, which seeks to explore the meaning of masculine spirituality outside of our modern, technologically dominated culture. Mr Neary-Chaplain explained that this was attempted by looking at the developmental stages of the male, whilst exploring the shadow and asking the question, what do we mean by humility? Noting for example; that ‘male pride’ has both positive and negative consequences, for the individual and society.

The annual event in Scotland is a communal one and seeks to both explore and reinforce these elements, by the giving up of technology. The individual is therefore, confronted by their own powerlessness whilst ‘alone’ in nature.

After lunch we reconvened for our third presentation, ‘Male Spirituality, the Masculine Principle in Paganism’ and the speaker was David Knight. Mr Knight is a well-known local figure in the Midlands and a member of OBOD. Like Mr Jennings our first speaker, he focused on British and European mythology. Like Mr Jennings he is a performer, a trained actor in fact. Therefore, like that of our first speaker, his presentation had that dynamic, theatrical element that held the attention of the audience.

Mr Jennings being a Heathen had as his primary focus, the mythology of the Norse peoples. Mr Knight being a Druid, naturally chose as his primary focus, Celtic Mythology. The two speakers, although approaching the subject of male spirituality from two slightly different points of view, very cleverly complemented each other in their choice of subjects. Congratulations to the organisers for putting such thought into the choice of line up.

Mr Knight approached the subject by questioning role models both historical and contemporary, whilst asking if it was even possible to divine the meaning of male spirituality. This led onto the subject of both imagery and gender identity within the modern Pagan Community. Indeed one important question raised, was whether the apparent focus of the Pagan Community upon the ‘Goddess,’ was responsible for Male Spirituality becoming side-lined and had the ‘God’ become a mere appendage?

Returning smoothly to Celtic Mythology, Mr Knight took us into the world of Arthurian legend, including the sword as a representation of Sovereignty. Here we were treated to a brief review of that famous mythological concept, the Loathly Lady. This model is found within the story of Gawain and that well-known folksong, King Henry. One of my favourite renditions of that song being the Steeleye Span recording.

Cleverly and naturally, the sword was used as a bridge and provided a link to the oft forgotten stone, which is itself an important symbol of fertility. This in turn led to a discussion regarding the conceptual patterns of the Skyfather and the Earthmother.

These particular elements of the presentation were of particular importance to me; as such symbolic concepts as the Loathly Lady, Sovereignty, the Sword and the Stone, influence my own thoughts.

In closing his presentation and binding various threads into a cohesive whole, Mr Knight introduced us to his own perception of masculine development. These he proposed as three stages, the Seeker, the Master and the Sage, illustrating his point with examples from Irish Mythology.

Finally Mr Knight asked what the future held for the Divine Masculine and Male Spirituality; are we male, female or simply, human?

The fourth and final talk of the day was ‘Spirituality and Men’ and was given by John McConnel of Brahma Kumaris. In the same way that the presentations of Mr Jennings and Mr Knight complemented each other, this presentation was an ideal match for the earlier presentation by Mr Neary-Chaplain.

Mr McConnel is a former prison governor who having left that profession, went on to become a social worker. His approach was to examine what is and what is meant by self-awareness, noting for example; “that when I (or we) change, the world will change.”

A recognition that men are human, indeed half of what makes up our human society was iterated here. This led us onto the question of gender roles and changing roles. What is the role of men in a modern society? Do modern men suffer from emotional isolation? Yet we could have asked, does modern society force emotional isolation onto both sexes?

I am not one for group exercises but this last speaker of the day introduced one as an end to his presentation. We were told to list sixteen ideally one word statements that described ourselves. We were given two minutes to do this and we were timed. This is actually quite difficult, I just made it but not everyone in the room did. We were then told that if we had not passed ten, then we did not know ourselves. Now that is interesting and surprisingly, I had passed that acceptable benchmark.

Then we were told to cross off certain categories, such as gender, job, hobbies, faith and roles. This left many with very few and some such as myself with none. I did have ‘Sad’ on my list actually but I was told that as an emotion, that should have been crossed off as part of another category. I was being brutally honest here, the ending of a long-term and meaningful relationship, had left me very low in mood.

I had nothing left but the organiser suggested that anyone in the room who knew me should offer a descriptor. Pete Jennings said ‘Activist’ which was technically a role anyway but I liked it. David Knight suggested that I am ‘Perceptive’ and that I am also a ‘Gentleman.’ The gentleman called Richard, who I had earlier had lunch with, suggested ‘Creative.’ Another whose name I did not know and who I had only met briefly, described me as extraordinarily ‘Polite.’

The point of the exercise was to leave us with a positive descriptor. The result is quite interesting as it shows or rather illustrates, how we as individuals are perceived by others, perhaps in direct contradiction to our own self view. I am not sure that I or everyone who knows me however, would necessarily agree with these very positive five descriptors.

Our own self-perception and our self-awareness, are influenced by a combination of factors within the social environment, political, cultural and familial. What this exercise illustrated is obvious, our own self-opinion does not necessarily agree with the perception that others will have of us. For good or ill, our sense of self is influenced by many outside factors and how we see ourselves, does not always match the view that others may have of us.

The event was well organised and very well hosted, so as the day drew to a close, I was able to reflect on how the four presentations had merged. We had witnessed a cohesive whole, divided into paired complementary approaches to the male perspective of spirituality and Paganism. Almost seamless.

I was I admit, concerned at one point during the day, when I suspected the discussions may drift into an unnecessary apology for being male. I was thankful this did not happen and that the presentations avoided that trap.

I returned home with a positive opinion of the day, the speakers and indeed, the attendees. Noting the comments made by one of those attending, who recognising the knowledge of those present, stated that the day had been a gathering of peers.


Saturday, 9 July 2016


I hear your silence.
And My memory is long
The pain flows deep.
Foundations like the roots that run the length
Of the ancient oak trees,
From which my ancestors hung;
From which the future will hang again.
What is absence, but a clumsy word to forgive what is not
So many words to explain disappearance
Yet too little perspective to truly understand
What is vanishing, a word to describe Empty
It is what it is not
When you no longer hold it in your hand
When it isn't in your pocket
When your memory fails
When the song is over
When forgiveness prevails
When that part of you was part of we;
But I took mine back so there's only me.
Is it longing or death or sorcery?
The fire now only ashes and smoke,
Carried high on the winds of misery and hope.

Autumn Winchester © 8th July 2016

Wednesday, 6 July 2016


If Zeus chose us a King of the flowers in his mirth,
He would call to the rose, and would royally crown it;
For the rose, ho, the rose! Is the grace of the earth,
Is the light of the plants that are growing upon it!

For the rose, ho, the rose! Is the eye of the flowers,
Is the blush of the meadows that feel themselves fair,
Is the lightning of beauty, that strikes through the bowers,
On pale lovers that sit in the glow unaware.

Ho, the rose breathes of love! Ho, the rose lifts the cup,
To the red lips of Cypris invoked for a guest!
Ho, the rose having curled its sweet leaves for the world,
Takes delight in the motion its petals keep up,
As they laugh to the wind as it laughs from the west.

Song of the Rose by Sappho (attributed) translation by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.