Ok. Are you up for some really thought-provoking ideas that will exercise those grey cells?! There is a documentary maker called Adam Curtis who over his career has made some of the most interesting films I have ever seen. He specialises in unearthing obscure or forgotten figures who have exerted a powerful influence on the way we live today. His series Century of the Self, for example, explained (amongst many other things) the impact Freud’s nephew has had on our world – and it makes for a fascinating story. You can watch all four episodes on his blog site here.
Recently I watched F**k you Buddy – the first in his series The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom. You can find all the episodes on Youtube. In this first one, he makes links between the Cold War, the mathematician featured in ‘A Beautiful Mind’, the psychiatrist R.D.Laing’s work, and how the ideal of freedom has become distorted in our times. You don’t have to agree with his assertions, but by the gods your mental faculties get a good work-out!
And for me it affirms that adage that I used to see printed on a card at the local garage every time I took the car in for a service: ‘If you think you know what’s going on, you really don’t understand!’ (It had a better punch line but I can’t remember it. If you know it please tell me! An internet search brings up the same idea expressed more graphically by Robert Anton Wilson: ‘If you think you know what the hell is going on, you’re probably full of shit.’
Kim, who puts on the UK Tarot Conference every year, asked me to write a little about how I first encountered the Tarot. As I wrote, I remembered the wooden chest that sits in the library downstairs.
I think I have tended to minimize the importance of ‘objects’, of ‘things’, in our lives – favouring instead ideas and the intangible. Visiting Grayson Perry’s extraordinary exhibition at the British Museum last year- The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman – helped me to open to a deeper appreciation of ‘things’, and when we participated in the ‘Rite of Liberation’ for camps at Imbolc we acknowledged and honoured the role of the objects that make camp special: the amazing yurts, the incredible stoves.
And so, in this spirit of acknowledging the gift of objects and the ‘Unknown Craftsman’, I would like to honour the unknown artists who carved this chest about 40 years ago in Port au Prince, Haiti. To explain a little about it, here is the text I sent Kim:
My first meeting with the Tarot was in a flat in Notting Hill Gate over forty years ago. It was the hippy era, and a dozen or so of us were gathered in the usual ‘sacred circle’ that was formed in those days, passing the peace pipe, and generally basking in the innocence of those times.
Then one of the company started talking about the Tarot, and as he did so, he scattered a deck across the floor and started picking out cards at random, talking about their meaning and sometimes relating them to a person in the circle. I was amazed and bought a Rider Waite deck, which I used on and off for the next thirty years or so.
As I studied the Western Mystery Tradition, the Tarot, like the Qabalah, was always there as a useful reference point, but I found I consulted it only occasionally, even though when living in Haiti, we had a big chest made, carved with the image of the Fool dancing above an equal-armed circled cross.
The chest is here in Lewes now, and when Stephanie and I were asked to create The DruidCraft Tarot, I looked at it and smiled, because on each end of the chest is carved another figure: a Druid at one end, a Druidess at the other. The idea that Druidry and the Tarot could in any way be connected had at first seemed absurd – until we realized that Druidry and Wicca are of course integral parts of the Western Mystery Tradition, and that the Tarot offers the ideal medium for illuminating both of these ways.
After seeing the film Griefwalker on Saturday and hearing Stephen Jenkinson talk, I found his ideas so provocative, so profound and transformative, I went to his Sunday all-day session. It wasn’t a workshop, it wasn’t therapy, it wasn’t about developing the Self, or the spiritual quest. But what he said was so relevant to Druidry, the work of being in the world (if I can be that vague) that I found it quite mind-blowing. Because he talks about Grief it can seem a gloomy starting point, but in fact he talks about it in a way that makes it seem THE starting point! I guess the first idea in this other clip gives an insight into how this could be:
Today saw an extraordinary film ‘Griefwalker’. Trailer below. Very moving. Here is a quote from Stephen Jenkinson who introduced the film and discussed it afterwards. He has the most extraordinary way with words:
If you go far enough down into your personal ancestry and into the old stories of the world you’ll find three thrones of mystery, three places where awe always did and still gathers, even in our post Enlightenment, post Christian, post Holy, Information Idol time. Women, and all things feminine, where life comes into Life, have always been there. The dead have always been there, whispering a story of our lives that we no longer know. And the makers of things have the other throne of mystery, the ones to whom the Holy has always come as a co-conspirator, a relentlessly demanding ally. Stephen Jenkinson
Last weekend Stephanie and I visited the OBOD Imbolc camp and took part in a special ceremony that marked the completion of a 19 year cycle, and the birthing of a new chapter in the story of druid camps.
In 1993 I met Ronald Hutton for the first time at a planning meeting for a conference to be hosted by the Secular Order of Druids. We were in the evocative setting of Avebury and I can remember the moment when Ronald told me of a phenomenon he’d discovered: camps focused around a theme such as astrology or dance. “Are they any good?” I asked him. “They are so good I would swim through a river of sewage to get to one!” came Ronald’s reply.
The seed was planted, and the following year we held our first camp in the Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire. A dragon made of withies and paper, operated by three or four people, blessed our opening ceremony and spat a bag of stage ‘thunder-flash’ powder into the central fire. The magic had begun! Over the years we’ve held dozens of camps, four a year since 1996, and it’s changed many peoples’ lives, including a whole generation of children, including our own, whose lives have been enriched by the love and creativity they’ve experienced on them. You can see photographs and accounts of them here.
OBOD and Druidry work with the dynamics of radiance, fertility, giving and seeding, and once our camps, after the first few years, had taken root, they began to inspire others to start Druid camps: the British Druid Order, then the Druid Network and Rainbow 2000 held weekend camps in the summer. Then some OBOD groves started their own camps. Then OBOD groups in the Netherlands, Germany, and New Zealand. Variations on the theme (using hostels or gites rather than tents) developed in France, Belgium, and Australia.
All of these other gatherings were autonomous – in other words organized by groups of members who took full responsibility for their camps. They were open to OBOD members and friends, but they were not organized by the Order.
After 19 years (which represents a Metonic cycle, which symbolizes completion and wholeness to Druids) it feels as if the original UK camps group should join the ranks of all the other groups to become completely autonomous.
Now there is not just one camp group that reaches OBOD members but many. Rather than having a situation where there seems to be only one ‘official’ group run by the Order, and others that are somehow different, we have created a situation whereby all camps are ‘unofficial’! Any member or group of members can create a gathering or camp for Order members, just as any member can establish a Seed Group. If it works it will work, and if it doesn’t it won’t. The camps in Britain have built up such a body of experience, such a team of dedicated people who work incredibly hard to create magical events, I am sure they will go from strength to strength. The less ‘officialdom’ we can have the better. As an organization we don’t want to build an empire, or hold on to structures for longer than is necessary to ensure strong foundations.
To mark this moment we held a ceremony on Sunday. About 40 of us were standing in the sacred circle in a great yurt at Wildways in Shropshire (where the Imbolc camps have been held for many years). After the opening ritual, Stephanie and I stepped forward and spoke of the story of camps, of the way in which Imbolc is a time of seeding, and how camps have seeded their joy around the world. We honoured the history of camps and all the people who have nurtured it. We acknowledged and honoured the land on which camps were born and have grown: Adam’s farm in the Vale of the White Horse, the field beside Dragon Hill at the foot of the Horse, the woodland sanctuary of Wildways for Imbolc. We honoured the spirits of the land, the camp and the Order who have nurtured us. We acknowledged and gave thanks for the gift the camps have given to our children. We honoured and thanked the elders, trustees, site crew, focalizers, visiting speakers and volunteers of every kind who have created and held camps over the years.
And then I asked Garth to step forward. Garth, who has reached the age of 80 this year, has been in charge of the Gate of camps for many years. This is a job that requires the ability to spend most of the time isolated from the rest of camp, waiting to receive visitors, welcoming new arrivals, offering them tea and biscuits to help them ‘ground’ and fully ‘arrive’, and collecting their fees. Garth has done this with incredible dedication for so long I’ve forgotten how long! And since the Gate represents the doorway into the magic of camps I figured he was the right person to give the symbol of the gift of freedom, which had arrived synchronistically a few days before, just as I had been asking for inspiration on what symbolic gesture I could make in the forthcoming ceremony. I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how I could enact something ritually, and then a package arrived from Sofia in Bulgaria for my birthday. The gift was an ornate key, and I sensed at once that this would be the perfect gift for another kind of birthday – a gift from the city named after the Goddess of Wisdom to symbolize maturity, adulthood, the Freedom of the City, or in this case the Field! Here is Garth with the key:
We had our first real snow here in Glasgow a couple of nights ago. The rest of Scotland has been white whilst our city has remained an urban island of brown and grey. My partner Steve and I rushed out into the street at midnight to start a snowball fight that ended in fits of breathless giggles.
The snow has now thawed over most of the country; life is back to normal and people are moving about their lives as before, if a little hunched against the cold.
I regret the fading away of that strange shift, that wonderful something that happens to our behaviour when we have unusual weather. On the first day of really heavy snow, things can feel strangely post-apocalyptic in the sense that the normal behaviour and patterns of people’s day to day life suddenly break down. It is as if a magical regime change has taken place, liberating us all from the grind of daily life. A benevolent, rather gentle anarchy sets in: parents are out having snowball fights with their kids; people gingerly walk down the centre of roads; what cars there are, crawl along and the whole known world is whitewashed clean of its old detail. It feels, briefly, like beginning again – a strange and gleaming newness.
Extremes of weather bring a certain kind of blessing. The heavy snow gives us the opportunity to step outside the normal boundaries of our living and perhaps see other possibilities. We get caught up in the momentum of our lives, sometimes to our detriment; the responsibilities we have can bring us structure and stability but can also act like prisons at times. That balance that we each strive to keep between structure and freedom is often a tough one to manage, and for most of us it weighs heavily on the structure and responsibility side. Come the snow, the scales flip and suddenly there is a wonderful sense of being let loose for just a while. We become like dogs let off our leashes.
We all fit in, to varying degrees, with the expectations of our culture; we all have to eat, we need shelter, and our society expects a certain exchange of labour for these. And yet, I can’t be the first to think that we have perhaps created a system whereby those moments of heady freedom are handed out in the stingiest of rations.
I will miss the snow. It’s a joyful thing to watch how receptive it is to the tiniest shifts in the currents of air, one moment suspended, the next plummeting in chaotic spirals, only to vanish into the ground like ghosts through walls. Watching the weightlessness of snow falling, I feel insubstantial, as if I too could be lifted, carried, perfectly choreographed by the movement of invisible forces. There is a peculiar silence that comes with snow, as if time too were suspended.
As the snow fell, I held out my hand and watched the flakes dissolve within a second of contact, and I marvelled at how such a beautiful thing cannot be grasped or kept. It is not the sadness of transience that snow invokes; there is something more enduring in its fragility. Perhaps it is the relative rarity of the event that intensifies the memory of it, each subsequent encounter building upon the original magic. Its impact is never lost; snow makes children of us all.
The Sighthill Stone Circle is a most unusual site in that it resides in the heart of Glasgow. Created by Duncan Lunan 34 years ago, this wonderful astronomically aligned circle is now threatened with demolition by Glasgow City Council due to redevelopment plans that sadly have not included the circle’s survival. It is a short sighted vision because the circle is a marvellous asset to the city, a small haven for wildlife and people alike. Part of the circle’s charm and strength is that it is so unexpected – we are used to seeing circles in the wilds and to discover one amongst the motorways and highrises of a large city such as Glasgow is magical.
A petition has been launched to prevent the circle’s destruction – 1600+ people have already signed. Please take some time to visit the links here and sign the petition; the links give further information about the circle and how you can get involved.
An article by Rachel Cooper about the tragedy of the women of the Magdelene Laundries.
Justice could be imminent for the women who toiled in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries. Rachel Cooper talks to Maeve O’Rourke, the lawyer who has made sure their voices are heard. They have been described as ‘Ireland’s disappeared’.
Thousands of women are thought to have passed through the gates of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, some of them never to emerge again and others to leave with deep emotional scars.
The women – some of whom had fallen pregnant outside marriage, or were the daughters of unmarried women – worked for years in church-run laundries, at times allegedly enduring both mental and physical abuse.
Campaigners have long been calling for justice for the Magdalene women and this week, it could finally come. ‘The women have waited too long’
The Irish government will tomorrow present a report into the laundries, which supporters hope could be the catalyst for an apology and compensation.
‘The women have waited too long for the apology that they’re due, for their pension, compensation and unpaid wages,’ says Maeve O’Rourke, a 26-year-old lawyer with the Justice for Magdalenes campaign. ‘It’s time that everybody acknowledges that they were innocent victims of a system that included society, state and church. They were sacrificed for the sake of an ideal – and it was only an ideal – of a pure society.’
From the early 1920s, it is estimated that tens of thousands of women worked in the laundries, which were run as businesses while the women were said to go unpaid. Women worked in the laundries sometimes for years. On arrival at the laundry, they were said to have been given a different name by which they would be known. Those who have spoken about their experiences talk of constantly washing laundry in cold water, of using heavy irons for hours, of close friendships being forbidden, and of never feeling free to leave.
Named after the Bible’s redeemed prostitute, Mary Magdalene, the laundries were first used to reform so-called ‘fallen women’. But, they then expanded. Justice for Magdalenes says the laundries took in girls who were considered ‘promiscuous’, those who were unmarried mothers or were considered a burden on their families.
Ireland’s last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996. Three years earlier, the laundries were brought to light when a convent sold off part of its land and the remains of 155 inmates who had been buried in unmarked graves on the property were exhumed…read more
Joni Mitchell was inspired to write a song about the plight of these women. Take a listen -it’s a very moving lyric.