Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell




They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot


They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot


Hey farmer, farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please!
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot


Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot


They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot



Sunday, 16 June 2019

RITUALS AND RITES - ARTCORE DERBY 2018




In the winter of 2018 I heard news of an event in Derby that potentially would be of interest to me. A friend via Facebook sent me the details and the title of the event certainly got my attention. Making a preliminary enquiry to confirm the date I soon found myself with an invitation to attend the latest free exhibition at ARTCORE.


ARTCORE is a visual arts charity that with a group of professional artists, works within the local communities having extensive links nationally and internationally. They perceive themselves as a cultural hub serving diverse needs and equally diverse communities.


The ARTCORE gallery is housed in a concrete municipal building on the edge of the city centre, situated in one of the less attractive streets in Derby. I used to work near this area and it is not a street that I would normally frequent after dark. So it was something of a surprise to find a culturally positive initiative based here, rather than the more pretentious parts of the city.


The Rituals and Rites exhibition aimed to explore how supernatural powers; their folklore and mythologies, influence and define what we can call 'Human Nature' in an increasingly globalised culture. The key categories or aspects of the diverse worlds of anthropology, witchcraft and shamanism were the basis of this initiative and more than two dozen artists addressed this subject.


Spread across two small galleries, the smaller room also served as a standing dining area, the exhibition had a certain intimate atmosphere. A larger area may have been more appropriate but such a need, would have to be balanced against the potential that some exhibits would have become lost.


As I entered the main gallery, I noted in particular the animal masks displayed upon the walls. They were well made, eye catching and so superbly suggestive of animistic rituals that I returned to them several times. Three mounted heads, a woman, a man and a rather gory skull, stood out in a distinctive and memorable manner.


The remaining exhibits were of an equally high standard and of the same remarkable variety. On display were reimagined tarot cards, poppets and depictions of the Hellenic Pantheon. The robes of the shamanka, with an assortment of related items were placed almost unobtrusively in a corner. Yet placed close enough to the wonderfully sculptured head of a woman already mentioned; so reminiscent of the Baba Yaga, that the potential links with Slavic mythology were unmistakable.


Two live performances took place that evening. The first required a masked singer to perform an evocative African song in front of a projected film. The second recital which took place in the smaller room, was an acoustic guitar  performance by a local musician.


Since I was fortunate to attend on the opening night, I was able to appreciate the level of support shown to this event. I was delighted to observe that the numbers attending were high, even though at times the exhibition was rather congested.

Amongst those supporting ARTCORE and the exhibition was the Right Worshipful, the Mayor of the City of Derby Councillor Mike Carr and Mrs Carr the Madame Mayoress. A charming couple whose presence added weight to a cultural gem that lies hidden in this city.

The Rituals and Rites Exhibition ran from Thursday the 13th of December 2018 to Thursday the 17th of January 2019 and the featured the work of the following artists; Abbie Sunter, Antoniett Sacco, Beth Bam, Conor Hurford, Christos Gkenoudis, Elizabeth Blades, Emma Brassington, Farida Makki, Frank Abbott, Ivilina Kouneva, Jenny Bramley, Jon Mayers, Joseph Goddard, Julie Clive, Karen Logan, Olivia Punnett, Tsogt Otgonbayar, Paul Dodgson, Ruth Calland, Sara Jayne Harris, Sarah Thomas, Sarah Victoria Spence, Szilvia Ponyiczki, Tal Regev, Tim Shore and Uriya Jurik.



ARTCORE ON FACEBOOK


ARTCORE WEDSITE


Sunday, 9 June 2019

A response to - 'Spare me this Pagan Revival'




At the end of November 2018 there appeared online and I believe in print, a somewhat controversial article by Julie Burchill. There was to be fair to Burchill, rather a knee jerk reaction to her writing and one can wonder how many read the entire piece. I noted that many allegedly attacking her work were actually attacking her as a person, her life choices and her politics. I have no interest in either. I know her name, I may have read some of her work but I have no interest in her life as such. The article however, is of a different ilk and the content of that needs to be addressed.

Burchill begins by voicing the opinion that 2018 has been quite an eventful year for the Pagan Community, noting that there is a demand by the said community for Prison Chaplains, a slot on 'Thought for the Day' and that a support group has been formed for Pagans in the armed forces. There appears here to be a degree of misinformation or perhaps misunderstanding. Prison Chaplaincy, school liaison services, Hospital chaplaincy and visiting have all been in existence for over a decade. Here Burchill or perhaps her sources, appear to be behind the times; none of this is in any way new.

The issue of the armed forces raises another question, since there is already a support network within the Police Service, why should defence or any other profession be any different? Military service personal put their lives on the line for the good of this country, why should their religious or spiritual needs be neglected? Most Christian denominations are represented by chaplains and so are other faiths such as Judaism. I see no reason why any minority should face discrimination in this matter.

The next few points raised by Burchill are rather less easy to dismiss and it is somewhat unsavoury, as I admit she may have a point. The bigger public festivals do bring out the more publicity seeking wing of the Pagan community and I personally find the velvet cloaks of the Goth Witch brigade, an embarrassment. They do not represent me or my path, so I avoid their YouTube channels deliberately. They lack a knowledge of history, genuinely believe in a lost matriarchal culture despite the lack of archaeological evidence, confuse matrilineal for the previous word and as Burchill points out, attack Christianity and Capitalism.

Both Christianity and Capitalism are justifiable targets for criticism but the manner of criticism I accept is questionable. Not everyone within the Pagan community is a left-wing Labour voting vegan and it is an error to presume so. Politics is obviously a controversial and  contentious area. It may even surprise the reader to learn that due to the more extreme methods of certain elements, not all women now consider themselves to be feminists. As for Pagan attacks upon Christianity, here I can support in principle Burchill's criticism. In our multicultural and post multi-faith society, criticism of a faith for being a faith is not acceptable. Pagans cannot expect equality if the same Pagans withhold equality.

Her claim however, that Pagans are perverts caused justifiable consternation with the Pagan environment. It displayed a misunderstanding of Polymory, skyclad worship and the less shameful approach to the act of generation, than that found in the Abrahamic faiths. It also appears to imply that Polymory and naked rites are the norm for all, they are not. Indeed on this point her argument is quite weak and although I do not wish to fall into the trap of criticising another faith, children are safer at a Pagan festival than a Christian prayer meeting.

The remainder of the article is a rather meandering and chaotic mess, in which Burchill attacks reincarnation, Pagan Festivals and equates Paganism with National Socialism. I am a Pagan, I have been for many years now. Yet I can honestly say that increasingly over recent years, I have found myself asking within the broader context of our community; what does this mean? I have come to realise that although I call myself Pagan, one of the few commonalities I have with others also self identifying as Pagan, is that I also call myself Pagan. My shared spiritual experience with that greater Pagan environment no longer exists and I often wonder if it ever did. Because of this detachment, I am able to regard Burchill with a less biased perspective. It is important to understand that Burchill has a job to do, she is a writer and she is paid to be controversial. Some of her observations are on target but others miss that target wildly.

On target is her dismissal of reincarnation, as she points out that everyone who comes forward was famous in a previous life. Certainly a true observation if you read certain newspapers and magazines. Sensationalist TV shows appear to focus on the publicity seekers claiming to be Julius Caesar or Cleopatra. These attention seekers are an embarrassment but it also shows something of a flaw in Burchill's approach. A confusion between serious Paganism, the study of the occult and that shallow pool we call the New Age. Here I perhaps display as much prejudice as Burchill, having coined terms such as New Age Garbage (NAG) and Mindless Bull-Shit (as in MBS fairs), I am obviously not well disposed towards such philosophies.

Although Burchill makes a valid observation in praising Martin Luther-King and his interpretation of an inclusive Christianity, in leading the way in the civil rights movement. Her dismissal of Paganism as having little impact upon Western Culture is a serious error. She fails to appreciate that although the legacy of many pre-Christian cultures may lie hidden in archaeology, it is the influence upon art and education via the cultures of Greece and Rome that are the basis of our Western Civilisation.

The dismissal of her association of Paganism with National Socialism is more difficult to deal with. The perceptions of that movement and its appropriation of pre-Christian symbolism remains to this day, a highly contentious area of study. The matter is also far more complex than Burchill would suggest. The majority of the German population, including members of the Party were Christian. The competition between party and church was based on power and politics, not on belief.

Philosophies like the symbols tainted by the National Socialist movement, remain difficult to integrate within our society but that is no reason to dismiss them. The swastika and the runes, all symbols misused by Hitler, predate his use by thousands of years.  Even that difficult concept of Blood and Soil (dating from the nineteenth century if not before), has some validity within occult thought; representing as it does traditionalist ideas of heritage, ancestors and the land. Concepts that most on the outside of our community cannot begin to grasp.

I do not expect all reading this to agree with me, least of all Burchill herself but for me the significance of her article lies in its prejudice and its ignorance. It shows that after decades of hard work and I write here as a retired Pagan Federation officer, an organisation that she quotes; that there is still much work to be done, much misinformation to be addressed and a great deal of ignorance to be overcome.

Read the original article by Julie Burchill here:


Saturday, 8 June 2019

Au Coeur de la Famill




We of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel are from time to time, approached with deep and searching enquiries, yet some of these enquiries are inappropriate, for we are much misunderstood. People assume we are who we are not, that the Hearth is what it is not and that we can provide that which we cannot. Naturally this leads to a series of questions of who we are, what we are and what if anything, can we provide the genuine seeker?


As we have oft stated, the Hearth of the Turning Wheel is an independent and progressive Pagan coterie, which is itself based within the English Midlands. Our praxis and ethos are inspired by but not necessarily limited to; the traditional custom and belief found within British and European Folklore. Although we meet to celebrate the Eight High Holy Days of the modern Wheel of the Year, we leave Moon observances to our member’s solitary practice and no obligation is placed on our members to do such.


The Hearth is or should be an extended family but this leads us to ask what lies at the heart of that family? Hence the title of this piece. What is our Priceps Virtus? Can we define our Esprit de Corps and is there an active or a sleeping Egregore? Can we even discuss these matters publicly and how much remains Sub Rosa?


Contrary to that above paragraph however, I can assure the reader that the Hearth as a group, are considerably less pretentious than the writer of this piece or as the above wording may even suggest. Equally important is the need to recognise, that we as a group do have our own particular traits and elements that define what and who we are.


Any working group is greater than the sum of its parts and each individual member brings something unique to the Cauldron. The experience, the knowledge and the ability of each individual are combined there, to create the alchemy that is the Coterie.


We do not operate a degree system for we are not a Wiccan coven, although membership does require a rite of admission. We are a private group and membership is by invitation only. However, guests are occasionally permitted to attend and participate in ritual; again this is by invitation. We say of ourselves that we are not elitist, even if some in error may consider us to be so but we are by necessity, deliberately selective.


Like other groups that may be of a traditionalist influence and even those that are not, the Hearth of the Turning Wheel is divided into sections. In some groups these are called the Inner and Outer Circles, Orders, Chapters or sometimes in Traditional Cuveens, the Compasses. We in the Hearth of the Turning Wheel designate our divisions as Courts. The Inner Court consists of admitted members of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and therefore constitutes the Hearth proper. The Outer Court is a less official division, consisting of those guests who have attended a ritual but have not been admitted to the Inner Court.


Our numbers are small and if each member was asked what the core values of the Hearth are or what the Hearth actually is? Then it is very likely that each individual would give their own definition and opinion, which may differ significantly from another member of the Inner Court.


Existing separately and apart from the two courts is a third informal grouping, consisting of our supporters, contacts within other groups and those with an interest in our philosophy but who have not attended a ritual. This separate group is the Friends of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and there is a Facebook group of that name.


The Hearth takes its name from the declared aim of observing the Eight ‘Sabbats’ of the Wheel of the Year. On our foundation and being aware that members came from differing Traditions, that not every member was a Witch, a Druid or a Heathen, we then chose to avoid the weighted terms of coven or grove. Admittedly as we have developed and grown, we have taken on attributes often associated with the word coven and we may at times, even describe ourselves as such. However, our name should be enough to suggest where our focus lies. It is the celebration and observance of the ‘Wheel’ and the associated esoteric meanings within, that lie at the heart of this our family.


There is a general perception that the Eight High Holy Days of contemporary Paganism, are entirely Solar in their symbolism and their meaning. This is incorrect, the Wheel of Eight Festivals as we perceive them, consists of four ‘Lights’ and four ‘Darks’ that spin in perfect unity.


The Four Lights are:
·       The Spring Equinox that will fall between the 21st and the 23rd of March and marks the beginning of Aries.

·       The Summer Solstice that will fall between the 21st and the 23rd of June and marks the beginning of Cancer.

·       The Autumn Equinox that will fall between the 21st and the 23rd of September and marks the beginning of Libra.

·       The Winter Solstice that will fall between the 21st and the 23rd of December and marks the beginning of Capricorn.


The Four Darks are:
·       Lambtide or Imbolc that will fall on or near the 1st of February or at 15 degrees Aquarius and represents the New or Waxing Moon.

·       Maytide or Beltaine that will fall on or near the 1st of May or at 15 degrees Taurus and represents the Full Moon.

·       Lammastide or Lughnassadh that will fall on or near the 1st of August or at 15 degrees Leo and represents the Old or Waning Moon.

·       Hallowtide or Samhain that will fall on or near the 1st of November or at 15 degrees Scorpio and represents the Dark Moon.


Our calendar follows the progression of the four tides of the year, with Lambtide or Candlemas as our starting point, it is the tide of Lustration or sowing. Maytide or Roodmas is the tide of Activation or growth. Lammastide is the tide of Consolidation or reaping and Hallowtide is the tide of Recession or death, thus leading to new growth and the start of the cycle once more.


For clarification:
1.    Lambtide: the visible New or Waxing Moon.
2.    The Spring Equinox: the Sunrise.
3.    Maytide: the Full Moon.
4.    The Summer Solstice: the Sun at Zenith.
5.    Lammastide: the Old or Waning Moon.
6.    The Autumn Equinox: the Sunset.
7.    Hallowtide: the Dark Moon.
8.    The Winter Solstice: the Sun at Nadir.


There are symbols which we use that many whose practice is influenced by a more generalised Pagan path, may not be familiar with. These include the Sixways, some runic combinations and totemic symbols. Further explanation here is perhaps unnecessary or even inappropriate. It is important to recognise that each working group develops its own language over time.


The concept of Sovereignty runs through British and Irish mythology like a thread of precious virtue. In the Irish cycle it is the MorrĂ­gan who may represent the sovereignty of the land. In the British Isles and the Arthurian Cycle, that archetypal representation is Guinevere. In the English Midlands it is the Maid Marion that other Queen of the May, who holds that same sacred position and by whose marriage Robin Hood reigns as consort.


Marion is a maid but not a maiden. Her relationship with Robin Hood and her activities within the legends, transcend the social mores of the period. She is mistress of her own fate. Her Maytide marriage to Robin Hood bestows upon him the right to rule. Maid Marion is the Sovereignty of the Greenwood and Robin Hood as her consort, reigns by right of the Sacred Union. The Merry Men, the word Merry is derived from the Saxon meaning retinue or retainer, serve as their household. The model presented in the Sherwood Cycle is therefore; comparable to Arthur, Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table in the Arthurian.


Our interpretation of the Sacred Wheel is therefore influenced by a localised folklore and practice, incorporating legends of the English Midlands, Greater Britain and the cultures of the Brythonic, the Saxon and the Norse peoples. How each individual perceives this model or concept at the deeper spiritual level; is so personal and so unique that one can barely express in mere words the true meaning of this our ways. We do not have a name for what we do, for our tradition is without a name but it is our tradition and that is enough.


Tuesday, 28 May 2019

COUNTING OUR BLESSINGS


Those who have been keeping abreast of my recent original blog posts, will be aware that the beginning of 2019 has been decidedly mixed. Readers may also be aware that the Yuletide and New Year period were marred somewhat, by a flare of my own autoimmune disease. I carry Human Leukocyte Antigen B27 (which for the sake of brevity will henceforth be referred to as HLA-B27). 

This antigen is not contagious but it is a genetic mutation that can remain inactive for many years. The genetic code that may trigger the development of HLA-B27 is found in only 8% of white Europeans and 4% of North Africans. It is even less common in those of Far Eastern origin. In northern Scandinavia almost one in five are HLA-B27 positive, yet only 1.8% of the Scandinavian population have ankylosing spondylitis; the most commonly associated autoimmune disease. Indeed, many people who carry HLA-B27 never develop any associated illness and why some do is not yet clearly understood. 

HLA-B27 is associated with a range of autoimmune diseases including ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and reactive arthritis. Other pathologies include psoriatic arthritis, ulcerative colitis associated spondyloarthritis and eye disorders such as acute anterior uveitis. Yet how this antigen is responsible for the development of these diseases remains a partial mystery and it does not appear to be the sole factor at play. Separate triggers in the form of another gene, an illness of some nature such as a viral infection or some environmental influence; may represent the mysterious factor X that in combination with HLA-B27 will activate manifestation of a disease. 


My own particular autoimmune disease is anterior uveitis, which is an acute inflammation (not infection) of the uvea (usually the iris) and it can be agonisingly painful. It causes swelling which can potentially damage nerves, the eye becomes sore and sensitive to light (photophobia). Anterior uveitis is an ocular emergency, treatment must begin within a few hours of onset to prevent permanent damage and loss of vision. Treatment is however, relatively simple and usually requires a short course of anti-inflammatory eye drops in combination with a dilation fluid. The latter in relaxing muscles and relieving spasm, dilates the pupil. This can make the photophobia worse. Such is medicine. 

On those occasions when a more active treatment is required, steroid injections directly into the eye are called for. I have had three of these most unpleasant treatments but they were necessary. I have been in danger of permanent vision loss on two occasions. I shall be eternally grateful to the doctors at my local ophthalmic unit for their interventions. They are my saviours. 

All of this sounds terribly negative and by now the reader is no doubt wondering whether there has been a mistake in naming this piece 'Counting our Blessings?' Patience, there is more. 


The majority of the time I am fit and well. Although I may suffer a flare once or twice a year, I generally recover quickly. I get fatigued as we all do but fatigue can be a precursor to a flare, a warning I should heed. Rarely unless the flare is severe, do I require time off work. I often have to wear sunglasses indoors and at work, I may be unable to read, enjoy the outdoors or use the computer. These are short term irritations. 


I have my family, close friends who understand my condition and my employer is supportive, often putting me on unofficial light duties while I recover. I concentrate on hands on care delivery and paperwork, avoiding drug administration and long periods on the computers. 

I may one day go blind but it is unlikely. I may one day develop glaucoma and although that is more likely, it is far from certain. Various investigations and blood screenings have cleared me of far more unpleasant autoimmune disorders. Nothing I have is terminal, I am not going to die. My autoimmune condition can be painful, it can be a bloody nuisance but it will never be a death sentence.


Monday, 27 May 2019

Carol Keith - Anglo-Saxon Magico-Medicine: Charms to Combat a Supernatural Adversary (Nottingham Empyrean April 2018)



On Wednesday the 4th of April 2018 I took a trip over to Nottingham to attend the lecture hosted by the Nottingham Empyrean Pagan Interest Group. These often informal presentations, are held at the Theosophical Hall on Maid Marion Way, which is itself a main thoroughfare on the edge of the city centre.

Mrs Keith's presentation covered five primary points which she conveniently presented as part of her introduction.


1.     Magic is a universal phenomenon
2.     Less hard evidence the further back in time we go
3.     The Germanic and Anglo-Saxon Systems
4.     Leech Books of the early Medieval Period
5.     The blending or overlap of Pagan themes hidden under a veneer of Christian belief.


Mrs Keith began with a run through of the aforementioned universal phenomenon, briefly mentioning the release of land from curses and the significance of particular numbers, for example three and nine. Continuing the theme our attention was drawn to Christian Prayers incorporating Pagan elements, such as invocations of the Goddess Erce.

Moving on we were taken on a journey through the Leechbooks of the Saxon Period, noting that although incorrect to refer to practitioners as shamans, the methodology could in some circumstances, be described as similar. The conjoining of Pagan and Christian magic of this early period is noted to have continued well into the twelfth century. The Saxons however, placed a considerable emphasis upon dreams. This included various omens, acts of divination and charms to protect individuals from the Night Goblin. One very interesting charm required the offering of seven communion wafers.

As one would expect when looking at the late Anglo-Saxon period and the increased contact with continental Europe. There is an increasingly central and southern European influence upon the sorcery of the period. Scandinavia arts in the form of Galdr, meet the seven sleepers of Ephesus (a Christian story) and once again, charms invoking Erce. All of which merely serves to illustrate how rich were the magical traditions of the Saxon Period.


Throwing bridleropes, spiderwights, goblins and wyrms into an already heady mixture, Mrs Keith introduced charms to protect from poisons and venoms. These included the well known ABRACADABRA charm but also many lesser know arts, such as the Lay of the Nine Werts or Worts, the Nine Twigs of Woden, also known as the Glory Twigs and the Adder's nine venoms. My head was beginning to spin at this point.

Obviously when looking at the sorcery of this period it is important to understand the importance of herbal charms and much of what has already been mentioned, are charms of that nature. Mugwort, perhaps the oldest known wort, is perhaps of pre-eminence amongst them.


In an age when medicine in any modern sense was unknown, it was the street magicians and leechworkers to whom the community would turn. Here seeking comfort and protection from a varity of ailments, including the toothache so often associated the wyrm, we note that 'wyrms' are always harmful, malicious and blamed for all manner of malady. Sometimes an illness was 'charmed' into another object, such as a stone or tree, while at other times a physical talisman such as a holed stone was required as an amulet.

With the coming of Christianity the shift in perception towards what was previously regarded as positive changed. A denigration of the Elves, the Aesir and Mightwomen began and rather than asking for blessings, in fear people began to seek protection. This was even to manifest in a form of European smudging using 'Elfhorn' to banish elves from the home environment.


One cannot mention the Bright Ones in relation to Anglo-Saxon magic without there being some mention of Elf Shot and it is worth mentioning at this point, that amongst the many physical exhibits on display. Mrs Keith was able to produce some fine exhibits to illustrate the lecture.

Elf shot itself had of course a variety of uses and was itself greatly feared. A charm against 'sticking' or severe pain, and mentioned in poetry, we find the word shot used in conjunction at various times. Aesir Shot, Elf Shot and even Hag Shot all apparently referring to a knife charm involving a potion of fever few.


Jumping ahead to the seventeeth century, we find that the beliefs and practices of the pre-Conquest period had survived in folklore amongst the common people; even if forgotten by the elite. Elf Shot is documented in the trial records of Isobel Gowdie for example. Here they are the feared arrow heads flicked on a thumb nail and believed manufactured by the Devil himself! By this time however, the use of the arrowheads has developed, now both a tool of malefic sorcery and conversely, mounted as a amulet to project the bearer from the Elves. Other methods of protection included the Elf furrow, a form of curved ploughing used to confuse the 'little people' and protect the crop.

Returning to our pre-Conquest period we were introduced to the Wurtgalster, a feminine noun meaning plantcharmer. Both interstingly and amusingly, we were informed that the Church had punishments for women if their magic worked. I reiterate with amusement that it was only if the magic worked!


Tying all of this together to bring our journey to an end, we were guided through the use of brambles in healing, before being brought up the fifteenth century to examine childbirth charms. The various influences of the pre-conquest period being aptly shown as near prescient, in that their survival in our modern world can been illustrated by the many grave goods and symbols of the period. Anglo-Saxon magic has not passed away, it survives today in our folklore and our memory.


Nottingham Empyrean Pagan Interest Group