Tuesday, 28 May 2019


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

Friday, 17 May 2019

An Introduction to the Hearth of the Turning Wheel

I am at the time of writing a member of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and we are an independent and progressive Pagan coterie. We are based within the English Midlands, our praxis and ethos being inspired by the traditional custom and belief found within our British and European Folklore. So far so good. Our Hearth’s declared aim is to meet and 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.

We do not have a hierarchy and we do not operate a degree system, although membership does require a rite of admission. We are a closed group and membership is by invitation only. However, guests are occasionally permitted to attend and participate in our rituals; again this is strictly by invitation.

Our name should be enough to suggest where our focus lies. That it is the celebration and observance of the ‘Wheel’ and the associated esoteric meanings within, that lie at the heart of our family. The contemporary Eight Spoked Wheel of the Year that we and many others follow, is not an ancient concept or model. The festivals that create the wheel most certainly are, as each has a long and distinguished pedigree. The idea of placing them together as an evenly spaced calendar of eight festivals, is a twentieth century innovation. The Wheel of the Year in its modern form is the creation of Ross Nichols, Gerald Gardner and others, its conception and perfection is genius. As a model it is both simple and deeply complex.

Our calendar follows the progression of the four tides of the year, with Lambtide or Candlemas as our starting point, 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.

There is a general perception that the Eight High Holy Days are entirely Solar in their symbolism and their meaning. This is incorrect, the Wheel of Eight Festivals consists of four ‘Lights’ and four ‘Darks’ that spin in perfect unity. The four solar festivals are obviously the Lights, leaving the four remaining cross quarter days as lunar Darks.

Our Lambtide or Candlemas is symbolised by the visible New or Waxing Moon. The Spring Equinox is symbolised by the Sunrise and Maytide by the Full Moon. The Summer Solstice is the Sun at Zenith, while Lammastide is symbolised by the Old or Waning Moon. The Autumn Equinox is symbolised by the Sunset, Hallowtide: by the Dark Moon and the Winter Solstice is the Sun at Nadir.

The important element to be found within our own approach to the Wheel of the Year, is noting that the time of balance and shifted balance; that specific point of symbolic change between the winter and summer tides, differs from that of many other working groups. In many groups the solstices are regarded as being the points of change but our approach is quite distinct. To us it seems anomalous that the winter Holly King should reign at Summer Solstice when the light is still dominant although diminishing. Equally anomalous is the concept that the summer Oak King should reign at the Yuletide, when darkness is strong and the tree itself is asleep.

The solstices are symbolically times of ‘birth,’ as either the Holly King or the Oak King begin their respective journeys. The solstices are also the times when one or other King reigns at his peak. As one reaches his peak in power, the other is reborn. It is the equinoxal points that see the shift from light to dark or dark to light, so for us the equinoxes are when the symbolic crown is passed from one ‘King’ to another.

We should further observe that although I have focused here on the modern Wheel of the Year, there are other festival calendars. These alternative calendars consist of a different number of festivals, dependent upon tradition and historical inspiration. Some individuals and working groups, may observe only four or five of the common eight presented here. Others may observe nine, ten or eleven significant dates.

The Hearth 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 Hearth of the Turning Wheel. Like streams that conjoin to form the main current, each member is a conflux and their tradition the confluence; their merger and flow creates the greater stream that is the Hearth of the Turning Wheel.

By actively participating in rites from another tradition, we add to rather than distract from our own crooked path. The walking side by side with others while on a different journey, will afford us the opportunity to explore new worlds and gain a fresh understanding.

It is these points and others that define the Hearth as what it is, as we define for ourselves a tradition that is itself without a name. Although influenced by Wicca, Druidry, Traditional Witchcraft and Heathenry, we are none in our entirety. We are the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, is the Hearth of the Turning Wheel. We are what we are and we are not what we are not.

Our actual philosophy is difficult to explain and our methodology is best experienced in practice. The same I think can be said of most working groups. One can read a ritual in print, one can research the teachings but until there is participation, a piece is missing from the jigsaw. One can read all the books you want on Freemasonry but until you stand on the square, the angle will not be true.

My Journey – My Crooked Path

In the summer of 2018 I was asked to present a talk at the Nottingham Pagan Network Moot. I was given only two parameters. The talk was to be no more than thirty minutes long and on the subject of Paganism. Now thirty minutes isn’t very long and Paganism is a very broad subject. I understand how these matters work, I have organised events myself and I have been guilty of setting similar rather vague parameters. The issue is how to narrow the focus to something a little more meaningful.

So what did I to talk about? Was I going to define Paganism? Did I define Witchcraft, Traditional or other? Can they even be defined? I did none of these. I spoke instead about a deeply personal subject. I spoke about my own crooked path, my own spiritual journey. It may surprise many of you reading this to learn that as a child, I was brought up in an officially atheistic household. Yet today I stand within Paganism as a traditional polytheist. This move from atheism to polytheism is significant and I have never been a Christian. Which I believe in Paganism to be quite unusual. To understand this dramatic shift in perspective, it is necessary to provide some context regarding my life experience.

My father went to war in 1943 a good Chapel boy from Wales but he was not a boy when he returned home. He was a man who had witnessed true human horror. He had become an atheist. A man unable to accommodate the Christian message of a loving God, with the very real atrocities he had seen in Burma and Malaya. After the war he moved to Nottingham where his mother was living with her second husband, my father was looking for work. He came to work in Derby and met my mother, who was from a non-practicing Catholic family. So throughout my childhood, religion was a sensitive issue and often subject to censure

As a child I developed an interest in mythology, we as a family had an interest in history. I remember watching entranced, such films as ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ for example. At about nine or ten, I remember having lessons about Greek Mythology at junior school and I was fascinated. The teacher however, rather spoilt the lessons by attempting to play them down. I remember her telling us that they were just stories and had no real meaning. Even at ten years old I remember quite distinctly, internally questioning this foolish statement.

I could not believe that an entire culture and nation could and would, base its whole concept of civilisation on something that was now being dismissed as mere stories for children. Even at ten years old, I could recognise that within mythology, there is something deeply significant and meaningful. It was later that as a teenager, I read a little Gareth Knight and began to develop a passing if secretive interest in occultism. The seeds had been sown but germination was long delayed.

My father died in 1988 and his death brought about major changes within our lives. Of the four children, three became Christians but perhaps because of my interest in mythology, I fell back on my teenage interests. I shifted rapidly towards modern Paganism and Wicca. I read extensively and began to attend some of the local moots. As my mother’s health deteriorated and I became her carer. I was unable to attend meetings and so took to distance learning with a group based in Humberside.

When my mother died I spread my wings a second time and became less isolated. I returned to the ‘Pagan’ scene, attending moots and lecture nights on a regular basis. Today I have very much moved away from my early wiccanesque influences but unlike some, I certainly do not deny them. It is where I started. Officially I never progressed beyond first degree, having now declined further initiation twice.

It is worth giving some thought to how we as individuals and as Pagans are influenced. We are all influenced by society and the environment of our existence. We are influenced by our parents, our family, our friends, our class, our education and a myriad of social economic circumstance. Even if we reject the principles they represent, we are still reacting to an influence of some nature.

Today I am a Traditional Pagan and I am a polytheist. To be brought up in an atheistic household, to pass through the duotheism of Wicca and to now hold the theological perspective of polytheism; without ever being a Christian, is a radical perhaps revolutionary development. Books that can at least be held as partly responsible for this development, as triggers to a new way of thinking, are ‘Witchcraft a tradition renewed’ by Evan John Jones the former Magistrar of the Clan of Tubal Cain and ‘Call of the Horned Piper’ by Nigel Jackson.

Up until my discovery of Evan John Jones and the Clan of Tubal Cain, much of my reading had been that of Valiente and the Farrars. ‘Natural Magic’ by Doreen Valiente remains one of my all-time favourite works, read so often that like my first copy of ‘Witch amongst us’ by Louis Bourne, it fell apart. Bourne and in particular Valiente spoke to me via their works, striking a deep and resonating chord within me. Something both natural and otherworldly, was able to take me to a place inside, where few writers have ever reached.

The move towards the works of Jones, Jackson and others, may not be a natural progression for all of us but for me it flowed seamlessly from the works of Valiente. The discovery of both authors was however, a challenge to my now comfortable spirituality and fired a fresh desire to search, to delve and explore further. An uncomfortable and at times unpleasant quest.

Although my path and my practice are earthier today. Rather more traditionalist in content and approach than it was in the beginning. I do however, still consider myself to be a Pagan by religion, the use of the word religion doesn’t disturb me but I do object to the patronising prefix of ‘neo.’ The avoidance of this usage is something I share with Graham Harvey and others, it isn’t unique. Paganism is not a new faith or even a new religion, because its roots have a long history. It is in my opinion, a spirituality that is inspired by the past but not restricted by it.

Whether I can describe my Paganism and my Craft as a lifestyle, a spirituality or a religion alone, is problematic. There are crossovers and influences, the boundaries are not in my view, clear or easily perceived. My lifestyle I suspect, influences my religious views but my spirituality must influence my lifestyle in such a manner, that I am open to such influences and choices. There is I suspect a symbiotic relationship, which is near impossible to separate the longer I am a practitioner.

It should of course be obvious that Paths will differ within Paganism, that there are many kinds of Pagan and differing kinds of Witchcraft. Some Witches are Pagan and some are not. It is challenging if not impossible; to identify a primary model or template, by which we can measure one path with another and decide absolute authenticity.

I am of the opinion that no one chooses their spiritual path. We may think we do but influences unknown; Fate and our own psychology, will place us at points in our lives where choice is a matter of circumstance. Our choice is not a choice. Spirituality and religion are not fashions. We do not wake up and decide that today we will be a Jew or a Muslim, a Pagan or a Christian. It isn’t comparable with buying new shoes or having our hair done. Spirituality is not about accessories but it is about living.

Nor do we choose our own Gods, although many still think they do. If a God or Goddess doesn’t want you, then eventually you will find out and those that want you will take you. We may fight, we may miss the omens or even attempt to ignore them. Eventually a path will lead into an unknown forest and if necessary, a God or Goddess will drag you kicking and screaming into the forest and set that Crooked Path straight.

Once we have set foot upon the Crooked Path that can never truly be straightened, by whatever name we call that path; whether it be the Left Hand Path or the Hidden Way. Once we have begun to explore the Secret and Nameless Artes, we are never the same again. We are changed.

These are all names used to distinguish what we do from the straight and the well-trodden paths of our mundane society. We will face challenges both mental and physical, friends and family may even turn against us, these are tests that many of us face and some of us will turn back.

The Crooked Path is a call; a deep echoing and primeval one, which touches us at an atavistic level. It is the call of the Witchblood, it is the call of our ancestors and once heard it can never be unheard. That is why some of those who do turn back, still return to the Crooked Path by a spiral one. Our choice is not a choice.

Folklore is an important influence and in particular that which is of a local flavour. My craft is firmly rooted within the land, it is a traditional cultural and regional based Paganism. An awareness of local custom, history and folklore is intrinsic to my path. From the legends of Sherwood to the well-dressings of Derbyshire, custom, belief and tradition play a vital part within my spirituality. The attendance of, the occasional participation in and even the incorporation of such activities in my own rites, provides me with a link to the lore of this our land.

This naturally leads us to ask, what is folklore and what is tradition? I am willing to present, perhaps bravely or perhaps foolishly, a working definition of one but not the other. Namely that Folklore is that body of custom and tradition, belief and practice of a society as a whole. Noting that this body of belief and practice; exists with a particular regard to or emphasis upon, those beliefs and practices of the common people, as opposed to but not always excluding those of the elites.

This is perhaps a longwinded definition and one that not everyone will agree with. Folklore encompasses and can include history, legend and mythology, so serving as a cultural and spiritual denominator, which can ultimately provide both continuity and identity. I am not going to attempt to define tradition. I shall leave that to others.

As I draw this work to a close; I note that like my own crooked path, I have meandered. I hope that the reader has been able to follow my thread; as like Theseus, I have attempted to lead you through a labyrinth.

Today I stand upon a Crooked Path and that description is apt. My wanderings over the past thirty years to reach where I stand today, has been an unforeseen journey. A journey of confusion and torment. A journey of searching, questioning, self-doubt and bewilderment; to finally reach a point where I have become what I have become. I did not decide to walk this path I did not choose, I became and may those who are wise understand what is written.