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Black Elk

Blog Holiday

June 28th, 2009

Even blogs need holidays! This one is going to lie about and do nothing until 11th July…see you in a few weeks’ time!

I’ll leave you with two quotes: the first I’ve found attributed to both Plato and Philo. Does anyone know the correct source?

‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’

And the other, which is correctly attributed – I believe – to George Santayana:

‘Each religion, by the help of more or less myth, which it takes more
or less seriously, proposes some method of fortifying the human soul
and enabling it to make its peace with its destiny.’

The Book of English Magic – An Interview with Philip Carr-Gomm

June 27th, 2009

‘The Book of English Magic’ – An Interview with Philip Carr-Gomm

The Book of English Magic, published in June 2009, by one of England’s oldest publishers, John Murray, offers a sweeping survey of the story of magic from prehistory to the present day, offering Things to Do, Places to Visit, Resource Guides, Interviews with Contemporary Magicians, Biographies, Maps and Appendices. Listen here to a 20 minute interview with Philip by Damh the Bard, made for the Druidcast podcast earlier this month.

Plant Whisperers

June 27th, 2009

From The Times online 20 June 2009

The Prince of Wales was right all along. Plants really do like it if you talk to them.

What he did not know is that they prefer to hear a woman’s voice. . . These are the conclusions of a month-long study by the Royal Horticultural Society into the effect of the human voice on tomato plants.

More than two decades after the Prince exposed himself to ridicule for saying it was “very important” to talk to plants and that “they respond”, horticulturalists at Wisley believe his hunch was correct….

Read full article here.

The Birth of Pan

June 26th, 2009

Professor Ronald Hutton, in his 2007 book ‘The Druids’ writes that The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids’ distance learning course ‘arguably represents one of the major documents of British spirituality from the late twentieth century.’ Since then the course has been developed, revised and expanded for the 21st century, and now a study of the Order has been included in the new UK National Curriculum for GCSE Religious Studies. How has this come about and what significance does this hold? – A talk and discussion by Philip Carr-Gomm on this at the launch of PAN – The Pagan Academic Network Conference at the Festival at the Edge, Shropshire, 1-4pm on 18th July 2009. Details from FATE.

The Book of English Magic

June 26th, 2009

The Book of English Magic, that Richard Heygate and I have been working on for what seems like ages, has just been published by John Murray in London. We held a launch party at Treadwells in Covent Garden last night and it was fantastic to meet so many old friends in the balmy summer air buzzing with theatre-goers, opera lovers and tourists. Stephen Skinner came, expert on Feng Shui and Geomancy, who used to live in a big haunted house in Lewes. He now lives in Malaysia and we hadn’t seen each other for over 30 years. John & Caitlin Matthews were down from Oxford, Chris & Vivianne Crowley from far away Victoria, Penny Billington had slipped free from working with her sleuth Gwion Dubh, Stephanie and I finally met Kit Berry and Mr B of Stonewylde fame….

The book has already had some great reviews. The Times has called it ‘A Magical Mystery Tour’, Duncan Fallowell in the Daily Express started his review by saying the book was about an ‘iffy subject’. Iffiness is a good word! He then went on to say: ‘So they are all here in fabulous array, the quacks and the innocents, the serious nerdy dreamers and the bravura jokers, the drop-out priests and sublimated women, working in that area of our experience where nothing can be scientifically proved – or disproved (very convenient) – and which they call magic and which I prefer to call poetry.’ Yes of course poetry – but as Nuinn once said: ‘Ritual is poetry in the world of acts’ and one could just as easily say ‘Magic is poetry in the world of acts’. And the fabulous array includes not only the eccentrics but also people like Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, Elias Ashmole, and Isaac Newton.

Regular contributor to this blog, Mark Townsend – mentalist magician and author of ‘The Gospel of Falling Down’ has written a review of the book which I think captures its spirit more effectively:

‘As someone who is both a ‘magician’ and a ‘magicKian’ this book is a profound gift – a magical masterpiece no less! There is often no middle ground between the ‘two magics.’ The former is usually an attempt to imitate real magic, practiced (often) by sceptical folk who are well versed in psychology, linguistics subtleties and other means of ‘pulling the wool over peoples eyes.’ The latter often takes no notice of some of the necessary balances and healthy scepticisms of the former. This book does! It is both mystical and psychological, supernatural and rational, heavenly and humble.

The two authors, who clearly (and wonderfully) represent different approaches, manage to serve up a delightfully well written, intellectually stimulating, un-put-down-able adventure into all things magical (from merry old England’s perspective). No stone of Albion remains unturned. They lead us into magical encounters wonderful and weird, and not only academically but practically too – offering wonderful ‘what to do now’ pointers and exercises into gaining our own magical experience.

This book clearly involved a tremendous amount of research which, I must say, is evident on every page, and not only in terms of scanning wizard’s grimoires, diaries and biographies but face to face interviews with the modern day witches, shamans and alchemists.

Also for those who love a book to look like a book – well, you’re in for a treat. When this arrived in the post I tore off the wrapping paper and, for a while, just sat there in awe. It is a marvelously fine volume which begs to be lovingly lifted off the book shelf – almost in slow motion. One needs to take time with this book, not just skim read. It demands a little preparation before indulging. Find an appropriate period where you won’t be disturbed, make a large pot of coffee and draw near a side table, sit back in a comfy chair and prepare to be taken through Narnia’s wardrobe into an enchanted world where anything is possible.

We need books like this – oh we so need them in our disenchanted modern world of instant everything – not least to remind us older ones that Narnia does in fact exist!’

Here’s a photo of the lovely Kate Parkin, our publisher at John Murray’s, introducing the book and the two authors beside her, to the assembled company…

The Book of English Magic Launch Party at Treadwells in London

The Book of English Magic Launch Party at Treadwells in London

Druids in Glastonbury – OBOD Summer Gathering 2009 Vlog

June 22nd, 2009

If you’ve ever wondered what a Druid weekend in Glastonbury might be like, the cheeky and talented musician Paul Newman has made a vlog of the OBOD Summer Gathering which gives a great ‘fly on the wall’ insight into the event – but not the ceremonies on the Tor or at Stonehenge or the meditations and grove meetings….

Paul, we’ll have to frisk you the next time you come to one!

To see Paul’s vlog click here.

Life, Death and the Sexton Beetle

June 21st, 2009

Here is a guest post from that very talented writer Maria Ede-Weaving whose blog ‘A Druid Thurible’ can be found here.

Life, Death and the Sexton Beetle by Maria Ede-Weaving

There is a moment of being that exists between the letting go and the emergence of something new. It is a magical and mysterious space. We are each touched by it many times in our lives, from the psychological deaths that bring significant change to self and circumstance, to the painful challenge of bereavement or separation. It is a place of intense uncertainty where the path ahead might appear impassable and our efforts to move on ineffectual but it is also the seed bed of all our beginnings. Change fraught with struggle impacts upon us deeply. The fragility of our outmoded identities, roles and relationships are brought into sharp focus. It is as if our newly emerging shape can no longer endure the pain of containment, our worlds seem to fracture under the pressure; the familiar structures that support who we believe ourselves to be unravel. As painful as this process might feel, it is at this point of melt down that the potential for our greatest transformation dwells. We pupate.

All creatures of metamorphosis fascinate me, both those that transform themselves – butterfly and dragonfly being particular favourites – and those that enable transformation in other substances, such as the wonderful worms in my compost bins. Each teaches us something about the nature and purpose of change in our own lives and they have given me great comfort and inspiration at those times when my trust in this process has wavered.

One remarkable creature that articulates so powerfully something of the mystery and meaning of irresistible change is the sexton beetle. My first and only encounter with one came in the weeks leading up to my sister’s death. I was walking in the woods near my father’s home and had decided to take an unfamiliar route back. I came upon a shrew, positioned unavoidably in the centre of the path. It was laid out upon its side but was still moving. Concerned that it might be injured, I knelt down. It soon became apparent that the shrew was in fact dead. From under its body crawled a tiny black beetle with two bright orange bands across its back, furry orange tipped antennae, alert and quivering, upon its head. It burrowed back under the small corpse and, with a startling strength, started to move it once again, as impressive as a human lifting an elephant. Fascinated, but not entirely sure what I was witnessing, I watched the beetle re-emerge, only to disappear once again beneath the shrew, the lifeless body gently rocking and shaking from the beetle’s insistent labouring.

I later discovered that I had witnessed a male sexton beetle in the process of preparing his love nest. Their name is apt for they are nature’s grave-diggers. Upon discovering the corpse of a small mammal or bird, the male beetle examines the surrounding soil to see if it is right for burial. If not it will lie down on its back beneath the body, its feet pushing the load along, until it finds a suitable resting place. It then waits for a mate. The female’s antennae will detect rotting flesh and be irresistibly drawn. Once she has chosen, the pair will start the long process of burial, digging a channel under the body, eventually pulling it down into its burial chamber below the surface. They shovel with their spade shaped antennae, their powerful jaws cutting through any obstructive roots. In this process the carcass is skinned and formed into a neat ball with a hard, dry surface. During this arduous and macabre dance of love – in the very act of burying the dead – the sexton beetles mate.

The female is left to lay her eggs in the soil around the burial chamber, initially feeding the larvae herself until they tunnel into the decomposing carcass to eat the carrion. The larvae, whilst transforming rotting flesh into new life, experience their own series of transformations, moving through three completely different stages until they are ready to burrow into the surrounding soil, leaving their grizzly nursery to pupate in small chambers. They emerge from the soil as adult beetles, creatures literally risen from the grave.

The Divine speaks to us in so many curious ways, articulating its wisdom through all the myriad forms of life around us, bringing moments of synchronicity that take us to a point of realisation; to a deeper understanding. My path crossed that of the sexton beetle just as my sister was slowly moving into the last stages of her own life, edging painfully but surely into that uncertain place. The sexton beetle, in its heroic effort to continue its own species, spoke to me of nature’s extraordinary power to produce life from death, the link between womb and tomb as literal as any I could imagine. The thought of those young beetles erupting through the soil like spring shoots, emerging into the sunlight after numerous transformations in the darkness, moved me greatly. Such a tiny creature – one seemingly insignificant and obscure – revealed to me something of the hope at the heart of the struggle, strengthening my ability to surrender and trust, opening me to the possibility of renewal that would ultimately come for my sister and for those of us she was leaving behind.

Death and rebirth share the same ground, their territories merging and cross fertilising, and yet we have been taught to view them as separate continents, perpetually at war. The lesson of the sexton beetle is poignant and powerful for all of us. It reminds us that pain ends and sorrow passes; that death serves life and the place where the one touches and mingles with the other births new worlds and new beings; new relationships and new ways to be. We can find ourselves distorted by the pressure of a life that no longer fits; if we can learn to trust the process of dying – whether psychological or actual – we might come to realise not only the compassion in death but also its gift to reshape us authentically. We become like those newly transformed beetles, nurtured and prepared for new life by the forces of decay and release, the soil erupting before us, the darkness birthing us.

Sussex House Parties

June 19th, 2009

While I was away in Germany, a number of friends kindly sent in guest posts. Unfortunately two got lost in the system here. My apologies! Here is the first, from Gilly Smith, who lives in an idyllic woodland setting just down the road…

A week on from Philip’s visit as our first guest speaker at The Sussex House Party and I’m still pondering on the magic of that group of disparate people. Was it the subject of spirituality, or is it the sharing of the unfamiliar over a feast that binds us in some earthy, human way? Do we naturally open up when the chips are down, or was it a one-off? I dare say we’ll find out on the 29th May when another group of 12 sits around our table, this time tearing at the sinews of climate change and media distortion.

My 13 year old daughter was the waitress at the feast, and as I lay in bed that night, I thought about what she must have soaked up. What will she tell Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs of the think tank in which she grew up and the odd, inspiring folk who held court around her dining table? I held that thought as I headed off to church yesterday (for the first time in how many years?) to listen to the Vicar in a Cowboy Hat, Peter Owen-Jones deliver his sermon. Ellie and I had watched his TV series, Around the World in 80 Faiths and as she is about to start a GCSE course in RS/Philosophy next year, I promised to take her along to show her what home-grown religion looks like these days.

Pete is also to be a guest at The Sussex House Party, and I admit that I sat in that church yesterday not just for Ellie’s sake but to check out how he will fit into Philip’s seat. But while I listened to his maverick sermon and smiled at his cowboy boots peeking out from his robes, I realised not just that he will be a dream of a guest, but that I’d forgotten to baptise my child! Ok, so I have a Jewish husband and we don’t believe in imposing religion on babies, but she’s now at the age of Confirmation, and she hasn’t even got the key to the door.

A quick email when I got home, and Pete kindly offered to open that door a little. And, if she still wants to go through with the baptism after discussions around his dining table about the relationship between God, the Bible, ritual, tradition and the modern church, he will do the deed.

But even if she bows out, how lucky is she to have the likes of Pete Owen-Jones, Philip Carr-Gomm and the trail of teachers asking her to fill their glasses and infusing her world with such a stylish kind of wisdom? It’s a million miles away from the dark path I stumbled along for almost 25 years before finding an ashram of my own teachers, and the signposts to a much more interesting world. I wonder what she’ll do with it.

Gilly Smith
Three Acres, Broomham Lane, Whitesmith, Nr Lewes East Sussex  BN8 6JQ
Tel: 01825 872136  Mob: 07930400805

http://www.gillysmith.com <http://www.gillysmith.com/>

http://onbeingawriter.blogspot.com <http://onbeingawriter.blogspot.com/>

http://eatingsussex.blogspot.com/ <http://eatingsussex.blogspot.com/>

http://thesussexhouseparty.googlepages.com/home  sponsors of http://www.hovefestival.co.uk/


Time To Check Your Cupboards!

June 18th, 2009

Man finds woman living in his wardrobe: “A Japanese man puzzled by food mysteriously disappearing from his refrigerator got a shock when he discovered a woman had been living in his home for months without permission, police said today. The 57-year-old man who lives alone – or so he thought – in the western city of Fukuoka installed a security camera and called the police when he saw images of someone walking around his home while he was out. “We searched the house in the man’s presence. We found the woman in the closet,” said a local police spokesman. The woman, named as 58-year-old Tatsuko Horikawa, was found in a flat storage space only just big enough for a person to squeeze into lying down. She had sneaked a mattress and several plastic bottles into the cubby hole, police said, adding that the women had been arrested. “She told police that she had nowhere to live,” the spokesman said. “She seems to have lived there for about a year, but not all the time.”

Glastonbury Solstice Gathering

June 14th, 2009

Just back from the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids Summer Gathering at Glastonbury. About 240 of us gathered in the town on Friday evening: 40 Druids from Italy, 10 from Germany, 2 from Holland, 2 from Belgium, 2 from the USA, one from Canada and the rest of us from Britain. The weather forecast was for rain all weekend, but instead we were bathed in glorious sunshine.

On Saturday night the Eistedfodd was one of the best ever. The photo below of Blues singer ZZ Birmingham in shamanic Blues Trance captures some of the magic of the night. Glastonbury Tor in the afternoon and Stonehenge the next morning just after dawn were perfect settings for our ceremonies.

ZZ Birmingham