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and puddle-wonderful "


Tree Mapping

April 28th, 2010

From Wired.com:

Every tree in San Francisco will soon be accounted for online, thanks to a new, Wikified project that aims to plot them all.

The Urban Forest Map will officially launch Wednesday, drawing on tree information collected by the city of San Francisco and Friends of the Urban Forest, a non-profit group. Though the project is getting its start in the Bay Area, the site will head to other major cities in the coming months.

“We’re going to publish the most up-to-date data from our data sources. Then, from that point on, we’re going to allow the community to add and edit and update that information,” said Amber Bieg, the project manager of the Urban Forest Map project. “It’ll become a tree census from the community and function like a Wiki.”

The new website combines two trends: citizen science and local data projects. In the past several years, sites like EveryBlock and Yelp have had tremendous success collecting and presenting information about cities from the people, businesses, and governments there. Meanwhile, all kinds of citizen science projects have had success tracking birds and sorting through pictures from space.

Amber Bieg has been working on the urban forest mapping idea for  five years.
Amber Bieg has been working on the urban forest mapping idea for five years.

While questions about the usefulness of citizen-acquired data dog some of the efforts, photographing and tagging the trees in your neighborhood may be a perfect application for citizen science. Conducting tree surveys is expensive for local governments, costing $3 per tree, Bieg estimates.

“If you are LA and you have 10 million trees, you’re spending 30 million dollars,” Bieg said. “That’s bigger than the entire urban forestry budget.”

Pathways to Enlightenment

April 25th, 2010

I was at the Spring Moot of the Society of Leyhunters yesterday. A great ‘family/tribe’ atmosphere – 30 or so of us in the Friends Meeting House in Brighton, laptops and projectors whirring, tea and biscuits, and discussion abounding over sites and leys. The first speaker was Chris Street, a long-time member of the Order who I remember from 15 or more years ago. Chris’ passion is for ley lines – not just as terrestrial features – but, as he puts it, ‘pathways to enlightenment’. His latest book, ‘London’s Ley Lines‘ is an absolute gem. In its 215 pages Chris offers us a three part feast. In Part One he gives an introduction to ley lines and offers us his personal take on the subject: he believes that leys are pathways that can lead you through personal experience and initiation to a form of gnosis – in other words towards illumination. By the time I had finished this lucid 18 page overview of the subject I was convinced. Chris has a very pleasant way of writing – easy, informal, and with the odd joke thown in. But he has also done his research, and in the next two parts of this book this really shows. Part Two introduces you to the four leys Alfred Watkins located in London, and in Part Three he details over a dozen leys he or others have discovered running through the capital. Chris finishes the book with ideas about how to work at sacred sites and along leys, and suggests blessings and prayers to use. As he says near the end of the book: ‘The X Files was right about one thing. The truth is out there. Scully off and find it’. You can get a copy from Amazon.

The Most Important Relationship

April 25th, 2010


A Talk for The Society of Leyhunters Spring Moot 2010

It is a most intriguing and fascinating hobby. In these days when rambling over hill and dale is such a popular amusement, there should be countless opportunities for young people to discover markstones and other reminders of bye-gone days, and to trace out possible alignments from them on the maps when they return home.

Mark Culling Carr-Gomm, The Straight Track Club (1938)

Leyhunters are really hunter-gatherers in to-some-extent respectable clothing. They are people who are interested in gathering information and in tracking. This impulse is buried deep in our psyches as human beings – after all, we have been hunters and hunter-gatherer for far longer than we have been suited and ‘civilized’. And it seems that the urge to hunt for physical objects and for food exists also on the intellectual, emotional and spiritual levels. Carson McCullers wrote a book with the memorable title ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ which conveys so well the way we go searching for love in the world. Our minds are of course voracious in their search for knowledge too, and at a spiritual level we talk about being a ‘seeker’ – going on a quest. In essence it’s the same thing – whether we’re looking for food, for love, for information or for illumination. We’re hunting, we’re sniffing and listening, and we’re looking for directions and patterns: which way did that animal go? Does the herd come to drink here at dawn every day?

This crucial ability of the brain to identify patterns has evolved in response to our need to seek nourishment. But in addition, this pattern-seeking ability also helps us to find meaning in life, to be artistic, and to theorise and hence make discoveries. In fact it is so strong that we will even find patterns and attribute meaning to them, even when the patterns have occurred randomly and there is no inherent meaning in them. This understanding has been evoked to explain why conspiracy theories have such an appeal for many people, and it also suggests why there is such an overlap amongst those interested in spiritual seeking and conspiracy theories: people are looking for the more-than-obvious, for deeper patterns behind the surface.

Now some conspiracy theories may be nutty and completely off track. Some spiritual seeking may be driven by neurotic needs and superstition, but not all of it. We all know that often things are not what they appear to be – that hidden forces are at work in business and in politics, and that life is indeed far more beautiful and mysterious than we can imagine. How do we deepen our spiritual inspiration, and our appreciation of this world, and satisfy the hunter at all levels of our being?

I would suggest that one way would be through cultivating our pattern-recognition ability. So lets explore this theme for a while, working our way towards the subject of ley hunting before finally engaging in a bit of research together on this theme.

One way to cultivate our pattern-recognition ability is to start with the personal: trying to trace the patterns in your own life. Here age will work to your advantage – you’ll have more material to go on! Think of your family tree, then add in to that tree people who have exerted major influences on your life. This may not work for everyone, but try it out. When I tried it, I discovered an interesting pattern. Thinking of ley lines I realised that three people – three elder figures to me when I was younger – stimulated my interest in leys and in sacred landscape: one was my Druid teacher Ross Nichols, the other the late John Michell, author of the seminal ‘View Over Atlantis’, and key figure in the revival of interest in ley lines in the 1970s, and my grandfather, Mark Culling Carr-Gomm, who was a friend of Alfred Watkins and helped to found the ‘Old Straight Track Club’. What was the pattern I found? All were linked to my father, who worked for Ross Nichols and knew John Michell, who shared his fascination for the Shakespeare authorship controversy.

So when I realised this pattern it was very satisfying. It gives me a sense of comfort, of meaning, of connection to the past, to the land, to the world of culture and spirituality. What does the pattern mean? Why is it there? Does it give a glimpse of hidden forces at work, of Intelligent Design? I don’t know. Maybe there’s no reason.  It simply being there is sufficient to me to work its magic. It’s like art. When we look at a picture that satisfies us, that pleases and moves us, we don’t ask ‘Why?’or ‘What does this mean?’ do we?

So the first suggestion is to look for patterns amongst people, amongst influences in your life and relationships. Of course psychotherapists get huge mileage out of this, and justifiably so.

Let’s now look at a set of patterns familiar to us all, and that occur in Place. What happens when you connect the dots, for example, that mark all the places you have lived in? I didn’t think this would yield anything when I did it, but to my amazement I discovered it did: joining the points in London, Ireland, France, Bulgaria, and Lanzarote made a big triangle. If I added in New Zealand it confused the picture I have to admit. Again it may or may not have meaning, but it may be worth exploring for you. The only benefit I can derive is a sort of mild curiosity and amusement that discovering this triangle has brought – quite different from the experience I felt when I connected the people together that I mentioned. But the impulse to research starts with curiosity and so I think this sort of line of enquiry would be worth pursuing.

Now what happens when you put People and Place together? Place is interesting in itself – the nature, the electromagnetic fields that exist there, the geology etc. but when you add people you get the possibility of story. People and Place are the two great ingredients of Story. “So what?” You might say. Well, that’s the relationship that is most under threat at the moment, AND it’s the relationship we have so spectacularly screwed up – by relating to Place in an exploitative and abusive way. For this reason it is the most important relationship to explore. Otherwise the story we’re all living through, and our grandchildren will live through, will turn into a tragedy. In fact, looking at the rate of species extinction it is a tragedy already isn’t it? And that’s why I have called this talk ‘The Most Important Relationship.’

Let’s explore this relationship in a deeper way now. (In the rest of the session we did this through meditation, inner journeying and sharing).

Related posts in this blog: http://philipcarrgomm.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/three-old-fellas/


Why are we obsessed with getting our kit off?

April 25th, 2010

A four page illustrated feature on A Brief History of Nakedness appeared in the Independent Magazine on Saturday. Written by John Walsh, it was witty and intelligent and captured the sweep of the book really well, so here is a bit! Click on the link for the whole article:

Strip club: Why are we obsessed with getting our kit off?
Whether it’s used purely for fun, or to make a statement, getting our kit off always causes a stir. John Walsh lays bare the history of nakedness

From rugby-pitch streakers to the volunteers for Spencer Tunick’s photo-calls, public nakedness is always news. The sight of humankind disporting itself outside the regions of bathroom or boudoir can still shock us. Naked ramblers like Vincent Bethell and Stephen Gough, who habitually wander the English countryside clad only in Karrimor rucksacks and stout boots, have been thrown into prison numerous times for “breaches of the peace”, as though revealing the bodies we all possess beneath our polite carapace of clothing is likely to provoke a riot.
Every group of activists sooner or later discovers the usefulness of the birthday suit as a uniform of rebellion, and a visual rallying cry. Demonstrators for UK animal rights, the Polish Women’s Party and the right to breastfeed in public, anti-nuclear protests in San Francisco, protests against G8 summits in Canada and Edinburgh, and against education cuts in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, all chose nakedness as their most potent symbol of passive aggression. And of course the human body is a handy, pink canvas for any protest. “Each of us is a walking billboard,” says Philip Carr-Gomm, author of A Brief History of Nakedness, “whose skin offers prime advertising space. If you want your message distributed free and worldwide, just paint it on your naked body, walk into the street and call Associated Press.”
In his book, Carr-Gomm, a specialist in English magic, Druidism and Wiccan arcana, investigates the ways in which nakedness has, over the centuries, been employed to further religious, political and cultural goals. His intention is to establish why nudity/nakedness excites and upsets some people to such a degree.


Must We Suffer to be Creative? Are People Geniuses or Do They Have a Genius?

April 22nd, 2010

The whole focus of the first stage of training in Druidry is on developing creativity through encouraging a connection with the More-Than-Self. Here’s the same topic dealt with in a clear, funny, brilliant way by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. In this 18 minute talk she clarifies beautifully the way in which it’s time we let go of the idea of the artist as ‘tortured’.

A Brief History of Nakedness

April 21st, 2010

Next on ‘Thinking Allowed’: Today, 16:00 on BBC Radio 4


Nakedness can thrill, it can disgust, it can humiliate, amuse and entertain. The sight of humans without clothes provokes powerful and contradictory impressions: it is both the shame of Adam and Eve as they are expelled from Eden and the purity of Jesus as he is baptised; both the humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the exuberance of young people at a rock festival. The power of the taboo against nakedness in Western culture has meant that it is a potent form of protest, but as films like the Full Monty and plays like Calendar Girls bring it into the mainstream, have our attitudes to nakedness changed? Laurie discusses A Brief History of Nakedness with its author Philip Carr-Gomm and the sociologist Angela McRobbie.
Also, the geographer Danny Dorling argues that inequality in the rich world is perpetuated by five ingrained beliefs: elitism is efficient; exclusion is necessary; prejudice is natural; greed is good; despair is inevitable. He uses his social research to argue that those beliefs are nothing more than myths.

Hear the programme here.

    Glyndebourne at Somerset House

    April 15th, 2010

    Stephanie works at the Glyndebourne opera house in the Sussex countryside. Opera-goers get a 90 minute interval in which to stroll the grounds, eat a picnic and fortify themselves with booze so they can cope with a second dose of shrill arias and hopelessly silly plot lines. If you live in London, though, there’s no need to come to Sussex. Stay where you are this Summer!

    Glyndebourne at Somerset House
    This summer’s unmissable opera experience
    Friday 20 – Sunday 22 August 2010

    Booking opens Wednesday 14 April

    This August Glyndebourne Festival Opera comes to London live on the big screen, transforming the beautiful setting of the 18th century Courtyard at Somerset House into an open-air opera house for just three days.

    Experience the thrill of opera direct from Glyndebourne with an evening screening of a full-length opera: the 2010 Festival production of Billy Budd, directed by Michael Grandage; the celebrated Glyndebourne production of The Rake’s Progress featuring stunning designs by David Hockney, screened live from the Festival itself; and a special matinee screening for all the family of Hansel and Gretel.

    Make the most of the experience and bring your own picnics (and rugs), Glyndebourne style, or order them in advance from Somerset House at www.somersethouse.org.uk. The screenings will be accompanied by a talks and events programme, which will include workshops and family events.

    Tickets for Glyndebourne at Somerset House are £15 (£10 concs/U18s) per day and a special Family ticket* is available for Hansel and Gretel.

    To book, please visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk/glyndebourneatsomersethouse or call 0844 847 2317. Please book early to avoid disappointment.

    The Poetry of William Stafford

    April 12th, 2010
    Atavism by William Stafford
    Discovering a new poet who inspires you is like coming across a beautiful and strange treasure hidden in the forest…
    Sometimes in the open you look up
    where birds go by, or just nothing,
    and wait. A dim feeling comes
    you were like this once, there was air,
    and quiet; it was by a lake, or
    maybe a river you were alert
    as an otter and were suddenly born
    like the evening star into wide
    still worlds like this one you have found
    again, for a moment, in the open.

    Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
    shadow lead away; a branch waves;
    a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
    path. A withheld presence almost
    speaks, but then retreats, rustles
    a patch of brush. You can feel
    the centuries ripple generations
    of wandering, discovering, being lost
    and found, eating, dying, being born.
    A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
    the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
    down a forest aisle is a strange, long
    plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
    For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
    wider than your mind, away out over everything.

    Errata for Book of English Magic

    April 11th, 2010

    Blog reader Paul writes: Hi Philip, glad to hear The Book of English Magic has come out in paperback and that you are happy with it.

    For those of us with the hardback version, could we get a list of errata to keep with it? Maybe publish it as a post here?

    Good idea Paul. Here it is!

    1. On the map of England key, we had the Shell grotto and Chislehurst caves the wrong way round. The Shell grotto, marked at 21, should be 45 and 45 should be matched with Chislehurst Caves.
    2. In Tolkien’s bio, on p.90, we had the mum and dad’s death the wrong way round in para 2: Change to: His father died when he was four, his mother when he was twelve.
    3. On page 474, delete – ‘the current head of the Society of Inner Light’ and rephrase sentence – ‘The books and website of Gareth Knight  are well worth researching. With over 50 years experience of magical studies, including with the Society of Inner Light, Gareth Knight, in his own words ‘learned a great deal through a long if bruising association with the redoubtable old occultist W.G.Gray and a creative interchange with a fellow one-time student of his, R.J.Stewart.’
    4. p.439 para 2: ‘Between 1935 and 1939 she lived’ change to worked
    5. p.447 ‘Madeline Montalban was the magical name of Dolores North’ change to Madeline Royals
    6. On pp 483 and 484: Change text to:
    Over a thousand years ago, the wind-swept seaside town of Whitby in Yorkshire played host to one of the most significant church synods in British history. The Synod of Whitby in 664 is seen by many as the turning point in the subjugation of the early British or Celtic Church to the power of Rome[i] <#_edn1> , and it was here one  summer in the 1970s, in the house probably occupied by Bram Stoker, the author of ‘Dracula’, that a number of ritual magicians informally gathered to experiment with new ways of working magic.

    By the end of the summer the experiment was over, but it acted as a formative experience for the people involved, and was symptomatic of the change occurring in the magical world, that was also expressed by a mercurial mathematician and ex-Eton schoolmaster Lionel Snell who, under the pen-name of Ramsey Dukes, wrote SSOTBME and Thundersqueak – books that suggested new approaches to magic, and which stimulated the minds of magicians in other parts of the country, in particular in Bristol with aromatherapy oil importer Peter Carroll and in Deptford with the writer Ray Sherwin.