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London unplugged

It’s funny the impression that people have of London and Londoners, but probably not entirely surprising, given the reliance upon media surfaces. People see Big Ben (I know, it’s really a bell), politicians in Westminster, bankers, the West End, Harrods and the Queen. They think that’s “us”. And they see our slyly self-crafted buffoon of a Mayor. Truthfully if this was London, there should be an “abandon all hope” sign at the imaginary entrances to the city.

But London isn’t one city. It’s an enormous flux surrounded by very different localities, a lot typically grimy and shitty, which yet succumb to the flux in their own ways. You see all sorts of stuff said or implied about Londoners, most of it righteously unconcerned that it is based in oblivious generalization and projection. It really doesn’t matter, but sometimes you want to say “you know some of us grew up here; we didn’t move here, we didn’t come here for big jobs, it’s just the home we had”.

Not only are there different Londons in space, but there are different Londons in time as well. The London I grew up in during the 60s and 70s is not the same London that someone would have grown up in during the 90s or now. The blue collar and immigrant Hammersmith I knew, going to sleep to the sound of ska playing up the road, is long gone. It started to get pushed out by the yuppies at the end of the 70s. I could not afford to live where I grew up now. Even the Stratford that I moved to with my sister at the end of that decade is changed from the rather sleepy, out of the way, watery suburb it was, with sodium lamps bleaching the streets orange at night.

There are a lot of things I was grateful for about London: the parks, the trees, the book shops, the cheap cafes, the museums, the music. I was glad my parents made their way here either during or after the second world war, an orphan and a refugee. That was pretty savvy of them, though we almost ended up in Reading, except the climate wasn’t good for my childhood asthma apparently (so I was told). So we ended up in west London, crumbling and much, much cheaper than nowadays. From there me and my sister could explore, and we’d get taken to Kensington Gardens by our mother. And we’d go to the museums at South Kensington.

We didn’t grow up with any sense of “class” really. My parents met at the factory they worked at (Lyon’s Cake Factory) in Olympia. My mother became a stay at home mother, augmented with some leather work later, while dad did factory work till they set up a boarding house in 1969. They came to London with virtually nothing financially, and my mother was a single parent at the time she met my father. They were in the right place at the right time in post war Britain to make something out of nothing, but they had virtually no life outside of work and raising a family. I don’t know if I could do what they did. But people did used to do it. But aside from my father having a pride in being a “working man”, there was no sense of class in the British sense. My mother didn’t like people looking down on her, but she never seemed to look back on her past in the north of England, which I think she found not only unhappy but also small minded, coming from a “broken family” in a small village. My father had come from a war torn Yugoslavia and a peasant upbringing there. He never seemed to look back either.

And then the 60s and 70s were happening. Who was going to be bothered with that shit then? Being gay, or an independent woman, had very little place in traditional class consciousness in any case in those days. I can’t say that I have grown any more fond of any kind of ideological thinking in fact. And of course I would love London on some level. There was art, and music, and occult bookshops, and places for outsiders. London is not a place for clans, and that suited me fine. When I first went to the Western USA I felt such a sense of liberation, because the British sense of class was just not there. I loved that, because that sense of class is just not natural to me.

But as I said, the London I grew up in is really no more. Plus, having a disabled husband, I realized how appalling London is for the disabled. Don’t believe all that junk about “accessibility” in the capital, it’s just a joke. There are in London, I am sure, still many enclaves of cheap but crumbling beauty, leafy dilapidation, where all things are mixed and nothing is quite accounted for. I hope so in any case.

But there is a lot which seems dispiritingly divided. A heritage London in the middle for the tourists and the super rich, and shit hole London for ordinary people to be too often displaced to. Only redeemed by mega shopping malls, and the medicine of high street commerce ramped up to chav nirvana. And every so often they threaten “regeneration”, which basically means regenerating the buildings, smartening things up, building more housing for yuppies, and shifting out the poor again. And London has such a transient quality in terms of population movement that it aids and abets whatever the money goes into.

We like where we live in Tower Hamlets, but we look to the “London” of glitz and government as a largely foreign city on the horizon. We have really pretty good services where we are, nice pockets of leafy good energy, places to visit within reach, the river, a museum, an art gallery, a local market. We feel safe with our Bengali and Somali neighbours, and it really is ok. And these are all Londoners that fall between generalizations, like we do. Canary Wharf may have been a totem to London capitalism, but we like seeing the pyramid at the top, lit up at night, or reflecting the sky in its surfaces. It’s become ours in spite of itself. And we have a local tatt parlour that is pretty much like family.

But of course it is true, we do suck Satan’s dick incessantly, and we are evil oppressors one and all. It’s just that we really don’t care.

Yup, we’re so pretty.

Devil Tavern plaque London by Man vyi (Own work (own photo)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

a clear sky week

And a good week it was, including incidentally the anniversary of the reception of The Book of the Law on 8th – 10th April.

I don’t know which night it was exactly, but near the beginning of the week I had trouble sleeping. I was upset about a long standing tooth problem which had made me feel ill on and off for three years. That threw me into a really negative mental state, the kind that scare me a bit, because of having been there very badly before in the past. Lying there, I reached out to a spiritual figure that had been central to my recovery in the past, a guru called Meher Baba. Meher Baba once described his role as “washing the laundry of human beings”, ie taking on their negativity and bindings, and helping them to become freer in consciousness. I focused on him, and simply asked him to take away my negativity. No analysis, no negotiation, just “please take this away”. And the burden lessened, the cycle stopped feeding, I felt relief and, no longer afraid or distressed, I went to sleep.

I’m not a follower of Meher Baba anymore (I was during a good deal of the 90s), but to say I appreciate him would be a massive understatement. He exemplifies, with an eloquence that only his silence could express, a redemptive and lovingly liberating function which I consider to be quite real. Funnily enough, I first heard of his silence in connection with the “Maat Current” of Thelema. So I’m not his follower, I don’t really deal in the term “God”, but he and what he does is spiritually real for me. That leaves me, not with an intellectual question of where I am in all this (which would not be that important), but what it is spiritually, and where it may be in the spiritual landscape that I live within.

I do consider description and experience to be more sophisticated than definition, and the redemptive function that I know exists with a figure such as Meher Baba is I believe not just “him”. When you have experienced the feeling, the function , the taste, then your nose and your tongue can be a guide. I think one sees the same quality in Christ and in Krishna, and the mystical vision of Rumi finds the same in his “Beloved”. As I noted in another recent post, astrologically I associate it with the planet Neptune. Neptune, and the sea, come to me as my nearest association, and the experience which lies at the heart of this deliverance from suffering and negativity is that of surrender. I let go, without question, and give it up to the sea-like, beneficent, divine intelligence.

That has been my guide this week, my hidden, emotional practice. Surrender, and subsequently, a capacity to feel gratitude. And that surrender is a possibility (and so a choice) where it comes to the emotional content of any perception or reaction.

On the way through the week we went and had a nice meal in Greenwich, just the other side of our locally serpentine Father Thames, and then went for a delightful shop at the See Woo Chinese cash and carry. It’s the only place I know you can buy incense, religious statues, lanterns, dumplings, fish, meat and (should you feel the need) bags of pure, powdered food coloring. We love the place.

Thanks to my husband’s intervention, I ended the week having the trouble tooth pulled by a dental surgeon, ending three years of problems in approximately five minutes. The relief was immediate and, so it seemed, pretty symbolic. A suffering that went back three years, gone, wrenched, disposed of, just like that. Freakin awesome.

Just gone, with a sense of peace and relief.

IMG_0641

 

 

There’s been quite a bit in the news about the company Mozilla appointing a CEO who made private donations to the anti-marriage equality campaign in California.

Mozilla produces the Firefox browser, amongst other things, and the person they appointed CEO was Brendan Eich, one of the founders of Mozilla. It turns out that in 2008 Eich made a donation to the anti-gay Proposition 8 Campaign, which sought to deny same sex couples the possibility of marrying in California. You may remember that with the course of legislation, amendments and bans, there were times in California when people were able to marry, and then had their marriages cancelled without their consent, on the basis of it being the place of a majority to legislate over the rights of a minority.

Eich’s donations, and views, were his own business, and did not affect Mozilla’s polices, but when you get to be CEO of a company, the association with a political campaign you have contributed to is likely going to be made in people’s minds, and in this case it was. A good many people didn’t like it. Furthermore, Eich wouldn’t give any assurances that he wouldn’t do similar in future, which is of course his right. It’s also the right of people to choose not to use Mozilla products, on the basis that the company is paying a hefty wage to a head honcho that had not ruled out putting his money into political campaigns designed to deny other people their rights again.

After a period of Mozilla standing behind Eich, Eich eventually chose to stand down as CEO. Various people have suggested that Eich was the victim of a hounding by a “gay mafia” or such like, and the conservative gay columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote that  he had been “scalped by some gay activists” for expressing his “First Amendment rights” and favoring Prop 8 by donating $1,000.

My view was that it was between Mozilla and Brendan Eich if he was their CEO. It was up to Eich what he supports, expresses and donates to (within the limits of legality – things get chewy if you break the law). And it’s up to me if I use Mozilla products, knowing that their CEO has backed a political campaign to deny other people their rights, and doesn’t give assurances that he wouldn’t do similar in future.

Did I call for his sacking? No. Did I say it wasn’t his right to do what he did? No. Did I want to know if he’d do it again because I wanted to be able to order him not to, like he was on remote control? No. Did I like OkCupid intercepting Firefox users with their anti-Mozilla message? No, I’d rather they treated their users like adults who can make up their own minds. I just didn’t want to help anyone politically campaign against my folks’ rights again, if I had the choice.

There are times when I find activists on blogs or social media really annoying. When it gets shrill, righteous, moralizing, and has that “hectoring in the saddle” tone. It reminds me of a spoilt, entitled child, pointing fingers because daddy is on the way to kick your butt. I think it’s ridiculous when people engage in trial by social media because some celebrity made some drunk outburst and words like “cocksucker” or “faggot” came flying out. Yeah, would be nicer if it didn’t happen, but look at the whole picture; a life versus an outburst, in context. I know people have been taught that altering the language that people are coerced into feeling guilty about will change our social reality, but we know that’s actually bullshit. It’s deeper than that, so threatening people into feeling guilty doesn’t do it. Similarly, I find it a bit pathetic when people make grand demands that someone be sacked for doing what their employer already pays them to do, ie write garbage. Come on now, let’s get real here. Why would anybody listen to your whining? Since when does that spell social justice?

But helping to fund a political campaign designed to prevent a group realizing their rights? That’s not a drunken outburst. That’s not “an opinion piece” that people didn’t like.

Sure it’s their right. And it’s my right to walk away from them, and the company they head, and let my friends know why (aside from that I don’t actually use Firefox anyway). I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I don’t think the Godfather movies would really have run on The Family walking away. That isn’t quite the Mafia.

I know that people can be done damage by a cowardly, disingenuous consensus putting the chill on someone’s career for holding heretical views. I know that can happen, but I don’t think this is that scenario. I don’t wish Eich any ill. I don’t even consider it my business what his views on same sex marriage are. I do want equality for my folks though, and that does take precedence.

By Toho Company Ltd. (東宝株式会社, Tōhō Kabushiki-kaisha) © 1954 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

the pure Spirit

Another of those words that sometimes gets people, that catches, like “God” or “Truth”. Understandable, because I don’t really deal in the term “God” anymore myself, I don’t believe in it in a personalized sense of a being - and lord knows I believe in all kinds of things, personages and entities. The big One though, I don’t engage with in that way, and the neopagan fudge of an imagined female gender making it any different gives me the feeling you used to get sitting on those tiny chairs that were actually a little (ok, a lot) too small for you at the one size fits all Sunday school. I’m glad if you enjoy it, I enjoy lots of things, but you may as well say that Superman made the world.

I do believe in spirituality though. I value reason but I’m not a rationalist. I value the body, desire, sexuality and pleasure, but I’m not a denier of there being anything else of value. In part I do get what people mean when they talk about “God”, at least I believe I do (at the risk of presumption), in terms of an experience. I associate it with the Oneness of Being, and a liberated, blissful state of consciousness which I have experienced at times (sometimes extended times), and with love and with a very profound, released peace. It is awesomely freeing, and calling it “God” proved quite counter-productive after a while, as well as landing me with some really whacked out but sincerely conventional company. But it’s amazing stuff, when you can get it out of the tin.

I don’t know what to call that. Free consciousness? Consciousness-Existence-Bliss (from Hindu traditions)? Spirit? that last I am probably plucking from my long gone Christian upbringing, with its “Holy Spirit” milky bar pigeons of light, or maybe little tongues of magic luminosity. The esoteric idea of “spirit” can actually be quite different to that, more like ether, akasha, or some astral, amorphous source matter. Culturally when we say “spirit” we don’t mean that stuff, and I don’t think I do either here. And we’ve often been lectured by our good counter-cultural pioneers about the sins of dividing spirit and matter. You know, body, sex, the world, stuff = bad; transcendence, denial, ghosty stuff = good. And how that doesn’t work, and indeed it doesn’t. But that’s not to say there isn’t a valid question there, arising out of an experience, which maybe got hijacked.

If it comes to a question of “what is matter?” and “what is spirit?”, I would probably say they are qualities of experience. The former is characterized by separation and a binding at the physical senses and brain consciousness. The latter has a unitary, continuous, re-united quality, and does not feel bound by the senses, nor by separative location in space and time, within bodies, and thus intuitively feels closer to a source of consciousness which is not sourced in the brain as such. I hear people talking about spirit and matter, and matter and energy, as if spirit and energy were the keys to each other, but that is not what I intuit here. That would be materialism by an extended back door.

Within popular Paganism, what I mainly see is materialism garnished with psychology. There is a level at which those things are valid, especially where there are things to untangle personally or culturally. But it’s only as relevant as say health food is. If your diet is screwed, it is a good idea to sort it out, but as someone once said (I think it was in a Reshad Feild book): “I’m sorry but no, you can’t eat your way to enlightenment”. Well, you can’t therapize or politicize your way there either.

Spirit (if we want to keep using that word) isn’t just a tool, or a method, or an optimization. It isn’t even just a healing process, it is a whole other world. And compared to here, it’s the real world. I don’t mean that we should blacken or demonize this world (come on now, it’s bad enough as it is), nor that we shouldn’t appreciate the overlap and interaction (the other world is the real source and cause as far as I am concerned in any case), and certainly not that we shouldn’t work to improve and heal life here. But if you’re going to try and find everything here, you’re going to have to fudge things to make the picture look anywhere near complete.

When that other world impinges on this world positively, that’s when we often feel “spirit”, because of the contrast, the release. And if “Spirit” is an experience, and a world, it is also an influence. It’s an influence which human beings generally need at some time or other, and collectively we need. We may seem to screw up the whole thing over and over again in the guise of “religion”, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real thing there. I think mystics understand that and get on with it, trying to alleviate the suffering that springs from being apparently, separatively incarnated in these bodies, on this wildly, apparently travelling wheel, and who knows what else, in all the permutations of apparent being, material and otherwise. That is why spirit is associated with compassion and healing. It’s not a sentimental impetus arising from within a predicament. It is a radical act of seeing and responding I reckon.

What to do with it, or be able to do with it, in a “world” such as ours, that is the fool’s choice, but it is at least not a lonely choice, not any more.

Living statue as Neptune (god of water and the sea) at the promenade between San Agustin and Playa del Ingés (Gran Canaria) – by Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

words, words, words

I’m still grappling with that term “warlock”. Warlock or witch? Warlock or witch?

If I was witch, I’d be a witch after the type of Marion Weinstein, a scrupulously clear, equal opportunities magic worker, going my own way.

But we all know the term “witch” has been co-opted by something else. So should that bother me? Should I just carry on and say “but it means this to me”?

And then magic, truthfully, is more than what Marion Weinstein goes into, much as I love her.

Then there is the reviled term “warlock”, and behind the reviling there is an unknown. Witch was reviled once (and still is quite a few places). Is that meant to stop us? No, clearly not.

Warlock, should we do the work, could be a good balance and a new start. But I am clear, the work has to be positive, because that is what builds lives, and we cannot only be getting free of bindings – we have to build the new lives too.

Warlock, breaking oaths, breaking bad spells, making anew.

Witch or warlock, warlock or witch? Whatever works for you. Words are powerful, and then again they are just words. Sometimes you have to work with them, transform them; sometimes you have to get free of them.

Do it all with love.

By Skye.marie (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

When I did my blog post on Pamela Coleman Smith, I came across a wonderful website dedicated to her. PCS is a bit of a hero of mine, someone who led a unique life, followed her own vision, and contributed a lasting, immensely appreciated and influential legacy in the form of her tarot designs. These brought tarot to the masses and at the same time shaped the form (and meaning) of popular tarot. They are also multiple, card sized works of art that thousands of people have been able to own, handle, meditate on and use. It would take years for her deck to really reach the public, with a shifting culture and a boom in the interest in magic and mysticism, but the work was basically done by 1909. Simply by virtue of the nature of tarot reading, it also forms a constantly shifting and recombining, composite work of art, and one which spills over the borders of art, mysticism, and everyday life. You could not invent this stuff; it is the kind of lateral artistic thinking which artists would kill to pioneer, but here she was doing it in the very early 1900s, and it wasn’t even recognized (still isn’t), because it was tarot cards and occultism. And tarot cards didn’t work like this, not before Pamela Coleman Smith.

Amongst all the other details on the Pamela Coleman Smith website, what stopped me in my tracks was the statement that PCS is often classed as a Symbolist artist. This immediately took me back to the art which I instinctively gravitated towards as a teenager, and which, when I think about it, influenced the art I aimed for in my twenties. I loved the Symbolists, and I always remember the book my sister got on them. They really meant something.

The writer of the PCS blog (I only know her as “Holly”)  went on to enumerate common features of Symbolism which suddenly made so much sense to me. The reaction to determinism, naturalism and materialism, ok I get that, sure. Focus on the internal rather than the external and empirical, yes, that’s beautifully clear. Primacy of “spirit, soul or imagination”; what can you say but bravo! But when she notes the place of

“Personal and enigmatic visions and mystical themes expressed through private symbol rather than public, consensual allegory or metaphor”

well something really clicked.

That is the key. That is what you don’t expect from the name “Symbolism”, with its associations of wooden, set archetypes and pre-set meanings (a kind of visual ritualism), but what you do see in the intimations of the art, with its personalizations, its idiosyncrasy, its suggestiveness, innovations, deviations and ambiguities.

The reason that Smith’s tarot designs work is not because they follow a Golden Dawn lexicon of symbolism, but because they deviate and personalize enough to make the designs live. And the opposite tendency is what kills some modern Pagan inspired art. Even where it is accomplished, it can fall into a pseudo-literalism and replication, as if symbols existed as literal, definable objects, without any stretchiness, without that ungraspable trans-dimensionality, without the sovereign subjectivity of both artist and viewer, without the life blood and breath of ambiguity.

The unseen and the ineffable can be brought through by means of art, music, literature, and speaking of visual art, by means of the individual inner experience of the artist communicating with the viewer. It is intensely personal and relational. This is not a colonizing of the unseen with a series of structures and rules that mimic the known world, the plastering of a map over invisible waters, as an inexperienced occultist, or a devout theologian might try to do.

The water in this cup is actually wet. That is why I love it so much.

Island of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[28th March 2014: 4th paragraph - "interpretiveness" changed to "suggestiveness"]

I used to read a book on astrology that gave key words for the planets and signs (which is quite common for astrological text books). When it came to the planet Neptune it gave the word illumination. In this context it is quite difficult to define (which itself is quite neptunian), but there are a number of associated experiences which point to it, and they all have a quality of deliverance, relief and redemption or escape to a more blissful, radiant reality. People find it in dreams, mystical visions, or sometimes in drug experiences (though the latter have also come to exemplify the pitfalls of Neptune, sometimes with good reason). The test of it being illumination rather than gross illusion would I say be whether or not the experience leads to greater wholeness and integration. The sense of the glimpse of the divine, the ineffable, with an accompanying sense of peace and healing (even if it is passing) is common, and it throws a doubt over the experience of the more gross, which seems so much less blissful, and so much more fearful by comparison. It is a light which casts a shadow, but also starts to take apart the block (or structure) which throws the shadow itself. In a sense it is all about bliss and form, release and binding, union and separation.

Which is what leads me on to the experience of gender. We understand now that gender is not about the body you have, and whether it is classed as male, female or intersex. But gender has a great deal of connection to our identification, and it does have an unavoidable relationship with our bodies and what is quite beyond the body. All this leads to my own experience of gender, which I do find elucidated by experience near the borderland of sleep, and its luminous quality of release.

My body is male and my gender is male, which is to say it was never definitively anything else (even when I despised the qualities and choices I was told I was meant to have as a boy), and my identifying as a man within my own body has become more and more important and wholesome to me as I have grown older (the turning point was around 40). As a child I didn’t feel that male at all, but that is not the same as being transgender. I identified with girls more on most things, but I didn’t feel like I actually was one. I am perfectly happy to be a man, if not with the way that the world treats men or women, or any other gender category.

But as you go deeper into the psyche, the sense of gender actually becomes diffused, released, un-self-conscious. This is never more so than in love. When I see someone who is deeply attractive to me I feel great desire and longing, but I’m not that aware of my gender. When I am in a relationship of romantic love with a man, I am intensely aware of their sex and gender, but I have completely forgotten my own. What I am flows around what they are, in a deep, instinctive wish to complement, fulfill, surrender. I am what they uncover in me, what they make of me. What they are defines what I am. My spiritual gender is the empty mirror; not unfeeling, not false, because this is where and how I most deeply am, and it is full of the presence of Being. It is a seeming negative, a darkness, a dilation, a yielding darkness, but it is all of the luminous that I inherently feel. It is the same empty fullness that allows me to have congress with my beloved deities. Our ideas of gender are quite intellectual, but there is a soulful quality to gender also, and just as we can talk about soul-making in some kinds of psychological language, there is a sense of the substance of gender being made and unmade, not as some kind of ultimately moldable relativism without inherent qualities, but as a wondrous quality of consciousness, unique to each person but related, layered, shifting in and out of focus, but consistent with its own truth.

So what is my gender? Well I’m a man. But go deeper, and I cannot be expected to remember anything but what I love (but I know I am still a man). It is a quality of my being which is paradoxically empty and full, dark and lustrous. It is a whole-shaped hole where I might be.

"Im Spiel der Wellen" by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

detail from “Im Spiel der Wellen” by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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