Friday, 26 August 2011

And for this week's treat...(part 2)

The lovely Graham Harvey contributed an introduction that managed to encompass just what we were up to and why and left us, the editors, feeling almost redundant....


Graham Harvey

“What is your favourite colour?” might not seem the most urgent or profound question that you will ever be asked. However, those who have seen Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail (Gilliam and Jones 2002 [1975]) will remember it as the decisive question asked of King Arthur and his Grail knights at the Bridge of Death. Failure to name his own favourite colour proved fatal to Sir Galahad (who had instead parroted Lancelot’s reply). Wanton Green is not about favourite colours. But it is about the preferences, affections, relationships, rituals and responses that make the authors who they are, inform their understandings of the world (quite literally), and prompt their further acts towards living places and communities. It is not only a book about senses of place, feelings of belonging, or romantic longings to be somewhere. Far more than that, it is about the absolute centrality of belonging. Radically, it contests the idea that humans are separate from “nature” or “the environment”. It insists that our bodies and all our senses, feelings, emotions and thoughts, are rooted in our relationships to places and the other beings with whom we co-inhabit places, the world and the cosmos.

Ecology, the story of the world, is not about somewhere else. Nor can it only speak about animals, plants and other beings — it cannot leave us out. We humans are members of place-communities. Ecology is about those who dwell in places, and those who shape and affect places. This includes us. It cannot properly ignore us. Sometimes it is almost all and only about us, especially now that we have had such dramatic and widespread effects in our world. The chapters that follow arise from the preferences and experiences of particular authors. Their cumulative effect is the rising of a powerful wave of recognition, celebration and active engagement with the world. We are subtly invited or provocatively propelled to honour the places of our dwelling and our influence. Especially when in a celebratory mood, these might include our homes and their immediate surroundings, or those places where we step aside from the demands of human-focused living to seek presence within and among the wider, larger, more diverse community of earth-dwellers. Particular places matter to us, they manufacture us from their matter, and our bodies are part of their intertwined relationships and busy communities. Our connections to place(s) are not accidental. And all of this is true whether or not we like the places where we are right now.

and, as ever, if you want to read the rest of this piece, contain yourself in patience, and watch for The Wanton Green (the book) as the leaves fall, or with the first frosts or maybe when the snow hits...who knows! Wanton is as Wanton does, but the moment draws closer!

And for this week's treat.....(part 1)

Finding the space, finding the words: The Charge of the Horned God.
Rufus Harrington

In the early 1990’s, while a member of the Bricket Wood Coven, I was stirred up to perform a magical quest, to seek a vision of the Horned God. I was living at the time in Hampstead Garden Suburb, thanks to the kind generosity of Fredrick Lamond, who has supported and helped many people in the Craft in his own private way. His house has a lovely garden backing onto woods. For three days, I fasted and meditated daily, both in the garden and in the woods. In my meditation, I deliberately evoked every memory and experience I had had of working with the God. I evoked thoughts and images, emotions and every experience I could remember of being invoked upon in Craft circles in many previous years. Then I just relaxed, tuning into the natural world around me, sinking into the experience of nature, of the sun shinning through the trees, of warm grass and earth.  I felt warm sunlight on my arms, now brown from the time spent outside. At night I relaxed into the starlight, warm evenings carrying me as I drifted in reverie, sometimes sitting, sometimes walking.

By the third day, my body had passed the hunger stage and this was no longer a distraction. I drank water and was not uncomfortable. I did not spend every minute of every day in meditation, I approached the quest in a most relaxed way. In the circumstance, I didn’t have to worry about anything, there were no significant distractions, I could slip away from the everyday world ......

and, as ever, if you want to read the rest of this piece, contain yourself in patience, and watch for The Wanton Green (the book) as the leaves fall, or with the first frosts or maybe when the snow hits...who knows! Wanton is as Wanton does, but the moment draws closer!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Living protests, changing lives

and here, joining a protest camp offers so much more than just the  chance to chain oneself to railings or lie down in front of bulldozers....

A life in the woods: protest site paganism

Over ten years ago I gave a presentation that was to change my life. I  spoke about a "somatic knowing" that "is the knowledge of faith, of emotion, of the gut feeling"[i]. I concluded that spiritual experiences in nature give us an embodied knowing that can inspire environmental action. My words spoke of an unexplored landscape and I embarked on a remarkable journey of discovery.
That 1996 paper revealed a broad horizon and it took a PhD to even begin to map out the territory. What I discovered was as profound as I’d hoped and more surprising than I ever imagined.

Academic research can be dust dry, so to create a fleshier appreciation of my work, I'd like to invite you to join me on a pivotal part of my journey. My fieldwork touched the individual threads of many lives, and this story weaves them into a tapestry. This is an autoethnography, a more intimate expression of fieldwork than most, which embraces the researcher's personal experience and reveals a "personal voyage of discovery" (Bruner, 1986)[ii].
Autoethnography is an aesthetic activity as much as an academic one in that it tells stories that invite the reader "to put themselves in our place" (Ellis and Bochner, 2000)[iii]. This is an imaginative retelling in as much as I distil many months at various protest sites into a single narrative. But every word speaks true: all substantive quotes are as spoken and always in a context that preserves their intent[1].

A new arrival
Field notes:
A few long days ago I was in London phoning the camp from my flat. Now the flat is empty, my unaffordable lease is done and, with my material life in store, I’m on a train going west. It started snowing just as the train left London and the fields all around are now dusted. Not ideal conditions to arrive in! Still, it may delay work on the road. I hope so. When I spoke to Jill on the phone she emphasised how “bloody beautiful” the woods are.

[1] Aliases are used throughout and two characters - Oak and Ben - combine more than one individual.

[i] Harris, 1996. Sacred Ecology.
- 2010. 'The Power of Place: Protest Site Pagans'. The European Journal of Ecopsychology, Vol. 1, issue 1, London.

[ii] Bruner, 1986, ‘Experience and its Expressions’, in Turner and Bruner, (eds), The Anthropology of Experience,  University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago

[iii] Ellis and Bochner, 2000

The dragon in the water....

This week's appetisers for your Wanton pleasure start with a tantalising step into the sacred waters that still run through south London. Susan's chapter (and Stephen's that you'll meet later) are good reminders that the sacred unfolds where it will. Hidden away among houses, streets factories, warehouses and shops those special places still hold their magic. To find them, you simply need to go exploring. Then the celebrations can start

The Dragon Waters of Place: A Journey to the Source
Susan Greenwood
Walking home from school between the ponds at Carshalton each day my friend and I, aged thirteen, would point to some enormous old dragon-like ivy that was twisting itself around the massive boughs of a pine tree and say in unison ‘That’s ivy, you know’, bursting into giggles at our own silly joke. Every day we would say the same thing, and every day we would share that moment in a peal of laughter. The ivy, serpentine in its embrace of the tree, guarded the ponds at Carshalton, one of the sources of the River Wandle, a tributary that flows into London’s River Thames.

The seemingly insignificant schoolgirl joke about the dragon-ivy connects me in my memory to the waters at Carshalton. I was born close by and I grew up and lived for the first part of my life in the surrounding areas. I have fleeting reminiscences of school days where the rector of All Saints, the church opposite the ponds, fought to teach us irreverent girls religious knowledge while we made fun of him, and later, when I was eighteen, of dancing, draped in gold and silver tinsel, on the tables in the large backroom of The Greyhound, an old public house adjacent to and overlooking the water.
Now, many years later as I reflect on Carshalton, the place where I was born, knowings whisper from where all waters meet. The old dragon-ivy is now gone, but young ivy tendrils entwine themselves anew around the trees by the ponds. I want to know more about the old feelings of the place. 

and this unlikely little cage for rocks and obviously ferocious flowers is "Anne Boleyn's Well" but to find its relevance to Susan's chapter, you'll have to wait for the book!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Lindow Man

a follow-up to Mogg's piece from a couple of week's ago. He mentioned offerings in museums....Here is  a picture of the offerings bowl from a ceremony held at Manchester Musuem to mark the (temporary) return of Lindow Man to the north-west. The ceremony is another story in itself which will have to wait...

Because we have no imagination…

Because we have no imagination…
Susan Cross

The archaeologist is talking, pointing at the four panels that interrupt my view of Knowth and this landscape of  ‘passageway tombs’.  “Passageway tombs,” he says, “were created by ‘passageway tomb-builders’ – we call them that because we have no imagination”.  We laugh, hollow and echoing.

I look beyond the introductory speech, behind the barricade of panels. An Irish hare leaps onto one of the cairns. No one else sees. It is easy to be invisible, it only requires people’s attention to be directed elsewhere.  My attention, however, rests with the sitting hare. At this moment, misled by the shorter ears, I am thinking ‘rabbit'. I watch, wondering how many generations of rabbits have grazed this turf and whether, when they burrow, they kick aside human bones and molars. Then it unlooses long limbs, and lopes easily down the cairn slope, becomes a hare. It gains speed, runs over another cairn and threads a line away through the field towards the River Boyne.  I watch the hare run, follow the thread in land and time, until it is out of sight. I sense other long ago watchers, seeing the hunt and the magic of the animal and am nearer to a deep that may be past.

He is still talking.  He is trying to connect us, to tie us in to this ancestral place.  Sand martins sweep around the curved mound, their tunnels surround the western entrance and small faces look out. They are more comfortable than we with their ancestors in this mound. They have a continuing blood-line to the ones who first built into the hill, who created this place of pilgrimage, of rebirth. They return year and year, on small graceful wings and know just what they are doing here. Their rhythms of flight and return are unbroken in time and in space, like an easy heartbeat.

Pagan Ecology

two pieces this week from the "Step back and consider" section of "The Wanton Green",  firstly a from Emma Restall Orr and then a reflection from environment and heritage interpretation consultant Susan Cross. These are just extracts - to read full pieces you will have to buy the book when it comes out!

Pagan Ecology: on our perception of nature, ancestry and home
Emma Restall Orr

When asked for a concise definition, the majority of British Pagans would probably describe their religion as a nature-based spirituality.  It’s a simple phrase.  Yet as three words, a catch-all, a sound-bite, it is one of those wonderful phrases that may actually be saying nothing at all. 

After all, what on earth is meant by nature?  The notion is vigorously and often emotively debated, and rightly so, for it has been used as a political tool in countless ways by governments, corporations, protest groups and religions.  How broadly one might extend it, and what might be included within its embrace, has changed over the centuries, as cultures have considered the natural and unnatural, seeking to describe the ungodly, the uncivilized and dangerous, or that which should be prioritized, protected and treasured: nature has been defined equally as the acceptable and the unacceptable.

Perhaps because the breadth of possible definition is so broad, even where other brief descriptives are used to sum up Paganism, the essential focus on nature is often still there.  Expressed in countless ways, a gentle process of distillation brings us back to those three words.  Pagans might, and freely do, wrangle over the precise meaning of key associated terms, such as spirituality, deity and sanctity, and the implications for each definition with regard to religious practice, but these too boil down to the basic question of how our understanding of nature is foundational to our ethics and daily behaviour.

Indeed, in many ways, it is this individual fervour of self expression, often so protective of the validity of personal experience, with its inherently rich diversity and dismissal of any universal truth or certainty, that so often expresses – or even defines – modern Western Paganism, as much as its focus or basis on nature.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Museum or Mausoleum – A Pagan at play in King Solomon’s House

Museum or Mausoleum – A Pagan at play in King Solomon’s House

an extract from Mogg Morgan's contribution....unlike other extracts, this one comes form the middle of the chapter, you can decide for yourself (or better still, buy the book when it comes out!) what went before

...Which all made me think about museums and what are they for? I work and study in Oxford, and now and again I lead a tour of its ‘Hermetic’ campus. “Hermetic” in this context means the ancient Pagan doctrine, a synthesis of Babylonian, Greek & Egyptian wisdom. This is often encoded into its neo-classical buildings. Thus the central area around Oxford’s Bodleian Library is said by some to be laid out on Hermetic principles. Here for instance is a bijou science museum designed by Christopher Wren as a house for the magus Elias Ashmole. In the recent renovation the curators unearthed in the basement his original alchemical laboratory and a name for the collection as King Solomon’s House.

Museum or Mausoleum ?

The surrealist Marcel Duchamp felt that museums are where art goes to die. Museums were for him too insular and exclusive as venues for art viewing. For him art was a shamanic activity that should be everywhere, on the street, on the sides of buildings, etc. There is a great affinity between Surrealism, Paganism and magick. But perhaps the beat in the museum is just lacking in that tribal vibe?

But there again for those with a more melancholic disposition, the sepulchral nature of the museum can be very evocative. Kurt Schwitters is hardly a household name but he was an artist/shaman who thought of the museum as “cathedrals of erotic misery”.  He no doubt related to them as the old style “Cabinet of Curiosities”, what he called Wunderkammer, “archives of the time and space”.  In his vision the museum is a “space for mysticism, sexuality and autobiography in the production of art and architecture”.