My open blog for people who want to read my books,articles, and any other things that I might produce, keep track of storytelling engagements, listen to my less demented rantings, and generally play nice (or naughty, I'm easy... as is widely known).
On Saturday 6th October at 7.30pm I am hosting an event based around the seven deadly sins, held at Oddfellows Hall in Ipswich. It will be a combination of mythological stories from around the world and narrative poems inspired by ancient myth bringing the Seven Deadly Sins to life. The stories are intended for an adult audience (parental discretion advised if you wish to bring children). Tickets are £5, with any profits going towards The Dogs Trust and the UK Wolf Trust (advanced booking required). King of Cups will be selling alcoholic and soft refreshments during the intermissions.
Given the size of the hall numbers have to be limited, so this is a ticketed event rather.
To reserve tickets please contact email@example.com
I don't know whether this podcast will be of the remotest interest to the people who attend to this blog (all three of you), but I created it as a supplemental guide for students on the Legal Ethics module for the Ethics degree at the University I teach in. It's a consideration of what the function of law is - part of the module explores functionalist issues in this regards, and I appreciate this podcast might be a bit disjointed for anyone who doesn't have that background context. However, the lightning quick gloss is that - in most legal systems both modern and ancient - the law is punitive. An act is outlawed by the legislature (Parliament in our case) and a punishment dreamed up for it to discourage people from engaging in the criminalised activity. That's not the only function of law, but most theorists would argue it is the central one.
I've been following some of the arguments made by people around banning parents smacking their children (laws are already in…
Some time ago I posted about the early Catholic thinking on the sin of invidia (these days called envy) and its background in earlier Roman philosophy. To briefly recap, the sin of invidia from a Catholic stance is to place our resentment that others have something which we do not above and beyond a somewhat Panglossian faith in God to make the absence of the desired-for thing worth enduring. The earlier view emphasised that this was not simply a matter of brooding self-pityingly on what the lucky swine next door has, but the active wish to deprive them of it ~ the caustic view that if I cannot have a thing then nobody else should have it either.
Nietzsche's take on envy was sightly different, in that he saw it as a more noble form of honesty although one with numerous pitfalls. Nobody has everything they want and we should aspire to be honest when we see someone with a possession, a relationship, a skill or personal quality that we would dearly like but cannot (yet) have. For hi…
This is the promised tale of Vertumnus and Pomona, the Roman deities of autumn and apple trees respectively, and featuring the tale-within-the-tale of the gentle Iphis and the haughty Anaxarete. As the story suggests, it is never wise to annoy Venus - as Hippolytus learned with Aphrodite, there are some goddesses who refuse to take no for an answer.
Following a short holiday in Sicily (beautiful place, though I felt like I was holidaying in an oven and must have sweated several pounds off - especially when we went to see the amazing amphitheatres at Siracusa),
I thought I'd record a reflection on the Medusa and her deadly gaze. Her severed head appears in the centre of the trinacria, a popular symbol of the island formed from three conjoined legs (just like the symbol of the Isle of Man). Oddly there are no surviving myths linking Medusa to Sicily, though presumably such must have existed at some point to result in the iconography.
The waffle I have recorded below explores some ideas philosophical and some psychological in connection with this mysterious power to turn other people into solid stone and different ways to understand the imagery of the mythology.
This is a waffle around why some pagans make offerings, considering both theological and practical aspects, made whilst making fudge (though, to be honest, the consistency is closer to toffee - which is what comes of not being able to find my sugar thermometer).
A storyteller who is based in Bangalore, Simmy, suggested I record this story. This is my version of the battle that takes place between the goddess Kali and the demon Raktabija - I may redo this at some future point to add in the bits I left out (not having a great deal of time this evening).
There are some amazing Hindu myths, but I've always had a place in what's left of my heart for Kali since seeing an impressive wooden carving of her in a number of British films (who must all have used the same props store) when I was a child. perhaps that's a testimony to the power of some images to imprint themselves on consciousness! I wanted to include a picture of it on this page, but cannot find it anywhere online - so went for the lovely blue-skinned image instead.
There are a raft of ways to interpret this story, some of which I might add later. What is also interesting is the similarity between this tale and that of the Chinese deity Yu Huang, the Jade Emperor, who also fac…
This is my short contribution to the celebrations of the NHS in its 70th year. If it were not for the NHS half my family would probably be dead (or bankrupted and left homeless, if we had the kind of private healthcare they have in America and which Jeremy Rhyming-Slang seems so desperate to impose on Britain). Here's to another 70 years - may you outlive all the snapping hyenas that would sell you off for private profit, and may those who misuse you gain greater respect for you and take greater care of their own health.
This short myth is about the death of Asclepios, the divine physician from Greek mythology who eventually gained his place in Olympus. Possibly a tale about te death of a physician isn't the ideal way of celebrating the NHS, but it's hot and my brain can barely function. I once painted a picture of Asclepios in the manner of Klimt. It wasn't very good, but I may have another crack at painting over the summer holiday (I'm very out of practice).
A small piece of American folklore to mark Independence Day which my American friends, including those ex-pats now living in the colonies, are celebrating. I've never crossed the pond so cannot add any geographical colour about the Philadelphia forests, so will leave it to your imagination along with any notions you may have as to what the mysterious Squonk looks like (I was sorely tempted to post a photo of various politicians, but decided to be diplomatic instead).
This is a general reflection (drawing no hard and fast conclusions, because I'm still mulling over it myself) about how various types of paganism might reflect on theodicy - the big question of how justice pans out in a world where seemingly a lot of unjust things happen both in terms of the innocent suffering but also the wicked getting away with it.
Today is both the summer solstice and Suffolk Day (a celebration of my home county instituted a year or two back by the local council). Having got up at silly o'clock to see the sun rise over the eastern seaboard - see photo inset showing the Golden Road to the Dawn - and I'm not quite with it as yet. I was going to record a long Lithuanian myth about the fairies of midsummer and the fern flowers (there are quite a few tales from that region of the world involving solstice fairies), but settled on a short local Suffolk tale instead.
A late 17th century account mentions an odd incident in Bury St Edmunds involving the local MP who believed himself under attack by witches. The happening is given as contemporary fact with eye witness testimony, rather than as ancient folklore. The account is quite brief and does not give a reason why the MP thought as he did, nor does it describe what happened next. So, being a typical storyteller, I have padded the gaps. The witches in question…
The Dream, or Aislinge, is an old tale of how the Irish god of love himself finally falls in love with a woman he initially only knows through a dream. It's a lovely, gentle tale which exists as a contrast to all those lusty and bloodthirsty tales of battle and raunchy shenanigans.
When my brain is working again (it's been killed off by all the end-of-term marking and second marking), I'll expand this introductory written spiel with some thoughts on possible meanings behind the story - such as why the swan maiden's surname means aril (the fruit of the yew tree). In the meantime, pasted below is one of my poems about this story which was first published in my book Bard Song.
The Dream of Óengus Óg
Love is not
pink, but bright red, Aril bed,
where lovers link With chains
of gold feather-light, Mute white
swan’s wings safe enfold. Four are my
bright winged kisses, That Man’s
mate misses, in spite Of the kiss
of her “Old Man” ~ How can he
compare to This? I am the heat
of the hear…
A shortish waffle about the way some modern pagans tend to view a romanticised past and our relationship with history. The past may be another country, but it can also be a blueprint for the future we are trying to create.
Heard the sad news today that a husky owned by friends of mine has passed away from health problems. Dogs are family and their loss is always keenly felt.
So here is a short story, in a format common to a number of first nations in North America though this is my version rather than one completely specific to a particular culture, to remind us of how important dogs are in human evolution and survival. A number of comparative psychologists and zoologists have suggested that, in the long-lasting relationship between canines and humans, it may well have been the dogs who made the first move and gradually tamed us.
If you love a dog or hold fond memories of one in your heart, remember to help out those shelters and charities struggling to look after the ones that humans have let down through their frequent shittiness- donate some food, some time, some money, or adopt a beast in need of a new pack.
Had a lovely trip to the Vajrasana Buddhist Retreat in Suffolk with the students today - stunning statues and a wonderfully tranquil courtyard garden. Wish we'd had time to stay longer. Helped to stop me stressing about a very elderly dog who was under anaesthetic for extensive dental work (he survived and is sleeping soundly as I type).
Anyway, here's an end-of-term semi-conscious meander through ideas building around Nietzsche's concepts of the Master-Slave dialectic and developing beyond it to what I consider a more balanced polytheist/animist approach (with some inspirational help from economic theorist Jane Jacobs and American philosopher Lester Hunt). Oh, and for those of you missed the kitchen videos, we're back to baking!
This is a philosophical meander around issues of value and market worth within paganism, exploring some economic issues and speculating about what (if any) models of economics the various pagan religions could offer to the wider world. I'll probably add to this later, but I'm hoping to generate some constructive interaction with listeners as to how they address the issues raised in this podcast about the ethics of how pagan morality impacts on ways to earn a living - and upon how money should (or should not) play a role within the pagan religions themselves.
This is another in the series of meandering druidic philosophical reflections (for once not in the kitchen), this time contemplating the nature of language and what we understand by the truth of words. A brief bit of Wittgenstein (but not so much as to make your brain bleed). I'll probably follow up on this at some stage in the future, and see where the musings on linguistic determinism go to.
I recorded a podcast for my students to help them with an assignment based around mythology, and thought some of it might be of interest to others - so have recorded a similar one here (minus the assignment-specific details). There are lots of ways to understand mythology, whether you approach it as a sacred tale of pagan deities and other figures or are simply interested in stories and better understanding them. This recording doesn't attempt to cover every possible angle, but is a more general introduction to the subject.
The PF virtual moot, organised by their disabilities team, has a theme of music - not a subject I know much about, being tone deaf and unable to carry a tune in a bucket. So instead I recorded a story for them which, admittedly, doesn't add much of anything to the sum total of knowledge about music and paganism. But it might kill half hour for a housebound pagan having a dull day.
The tale of King Midas and his second big mistake (he only ever seemed to learn the hard way) which, I suggest, is perhaps a tale reflecting that the music of the ethereal realms was (still is?) more highly valued than the music of the natural world. From a philosophical viewpoint, you can argue about that till the cows come home. Maybe a pagan precursor to the sorts of divisiveness that festered in Manichean dualism.
Jo suggested I record another in the "Druid Ramblings" series on the theme of satire, partly as she had seen the reaction of comedian Jonathan Pie to a court case involving an attempt at humour involving a pug (I don't think many people laughed, so a bit hit-and-miss as comedy goes).
Anyway, cutting to the chase this is a ramble upon that subject to the usual standards of incoherence, flitting between Early Medieval Ireland and the 21st century pagansphere, whilst attempting to bake a Black Forest Gateau. At the end people arrived home early and I attempted to pause the recorder but ended up switching it off entirely (I am a tad shite when it comes to technology) and could not be bothered recording the whole thing all over again - so it just ends a bit suddenly. Pretend this is the last episode of The Sopranos. The way my body is going, I will end up looking like a Godfather soon anyway. Oh cake, why must you tempt me so?
As promised in an earlier post, here are readings of some of my favourite poems (by people with a gift for bringing them to life)
First off the glorious Maggie Smith lending her cut glass tones along with the nasal rolls of the engaging Kenneth Williams reading a poem from the lovely John Betjemen. In interviews he always comes across as such a gentle, self-effacing, warmhearted man.
Also by the same poet, a toast to Oscar Wilde (read by Tom O'Bedlam).
Speaking of whom, the glorious Vincent Price reads the sumptuous The Harlot's House by Oscar Wilde. Fantastic arabesques indeed.
Stevie Smith reads one of her poems and talks about the inspiration for it.
I am including Robert Browning's murderous My Last Duchess more, I must admit, for the wonderful voice of the late James Mason than for the poem itself (though it is a great example of narrative, first person poetry).
That peculiar woman who sits in an office dreaming up National and International days has, apparently, appointed the 21st as the day for enjoying poetry. Below is one of my poems, inspired by the comedic myth of burly Thor and elfin Loki cross-dressing as a blushing bride and lady-in-waiting to attend a giant's wedding and retrieve the stolen Mjolnir. Brain cells permitting later tonight I'll upload a poem from a famous poet or two that I admire, and spread the love.
Dragging Thor Out
leagues low, --- In lightless hole Was
short-shaft’s tool shrouded. Thrymyr
foolish, --- Freya fancied, On
luckless Loki burden landed. Bitches
bound --- Bestow fire’s flash, Deal
brokered and broken (Oafs
earn no oaths --- Open wounds only). Homeward
then, webs to weave! Thor’s
fury --- Freya’s thunder Asgard’s
rafters rattle. To
Horn-blower hie --- Hints dropped, Hiemdallr’s
plan histrionics harvested. Falcon
feathers fall --- Fabrics festooned us, The
Thunderer frocked, fabulous! Falsies
but no falsett…
Someone sitting in a room somewhere decided today is National Storytelling Day (I guess it keeps them out of trouble), so here is a story - written, not told, because I'm just a rebel, me - which seems vaguely in keeping with the weather conditions. If anyone is interested, I am available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and nervous breakdowns.
Harbinger I am a creature of the winter. Sleet ran through my veins
from the day I was born, ripping my mother from me even as she nurtured the
ember of my life with her dwindling heat. The Others watched her die, cautious
of approaching until they knew I was utterly alone in the world. That was when
they marked me as their own, and I changed. I can never be fully one of them,
but nor am I entirely what my mother bled to make. Hairs grow from the place where they touched me, thick and
dark. Yet when the change comes on me the hairs not only grow denser but paler
until they are the one white patch in a gun grey pelt. In their language they
Finally trying to get my brain back into gear. Having done a few basic "what is paganism" videos, I'm having a go at at least one (maybe more in the future) recordings musing over ideas within druidry. I'm not aiming at an introductory overview, because there are loads of those already. Rather, these will be philosophical, ethical, possibly mystical meanders. If viewers would like more, please suggest topics. If you have had more than enough, well... endeavour to at least be polite about it.
A token gesture to mark St Patrick's Day, with a reading of 'The Love Talker' by Ethna Carbery, and Irish poet of the 19th century. The poem is about the ganconer or geann-cannah, a seductive male fairy who breaks the hearts of maidens he encounters in lonely spots by big impossibly handsome and charming. There's a short waffle before the poem, if you want to skip straight to the words of Carbery.
Next Saturday is the Leaping Hare convention in Colchester, Essex. I'll be talking about dog mythology and also giving some Irish storytelling along with the rest of Clan Ogma. There is a great array of speakers and workshops - thoroughly recommended if you can get there. The profits are split between various local good causes.
The planned programme for 2018 is (subject to changes) as follows ~ 09.30am Welcome by Barry Bartholomew, PF District Manager 09.45am Richard Levy, "Narrative Magic"; 10.45am Sam Marks, "Walking the Antlered Road"; 11.45am Connecting with the Egyptian deities, workshop with Adrienne de Roy, Side Room; 12.00pm Women of the Mabinogion workshop with Jo van der Hoeven, main hall; 12.30pm Lunch break; 12.45pmSuzie Edwards's drumming workshop, adjacent woods 13.45pm Robin Herne, "The Year of the Dog"; 14.00pmGuided Cognitive Pathworking with Emma Bromley, Side Room;
This short tale comes from the Inuit nations of Greenland. There are several versions of this story, but this is the one which I liked and which at least one anthropologist, Franz Boas, regards as an earlier version (some other accounts have merged with elements of the Sedna story which emanate from different nations in that part of the world). Thanks to Su Voke for advice on pronouncing the names.
I'm including a canine story because it is the Year of the Dog in Chinese astrology - I was initially going to tell the tale of the dog-warrior Pan Hu, but the versions I have read are so short as to be little more than anecdotes and I didn't think I could pad it out to full story without it ceasing to be identifiably Chinese in the process. Like this Inuit story, the account of Pan Hu involves the marriage of a woman with a magical dog and suggests that the descendants of their union go on to become modern day nations of people (in the case of Pan Hu there are at least two ethnic …
In Ancient Rome, the festival of
Lupercalia was held on February 15th. In legend the twin-founders of the city,
Romulus and Remus, were thrown into the River Tiber on the orders of their
usurping great-uncle Amulius. The babies washed ashore by a wild fig tree, and were
found by a she-wolf, who suckled them and raised them with her mate. Years
later they were found, living feral, by the shepherd Faustulus and his wife
Acca Larentia who took them in. Upon reaching adulthood they discovered their
true identities, and set out to avenge themselves on their wicked great-uncle.
Having killed him, they founded the Eternal City. Once restored to their regal
position, the brothers rediscovered the den and called it the Lupercal (the
wolves cave.) It became a sacred site along with the remains of the shepherd's
hut. The Lupercalia ritual in Rome was
held in the cave itself. Similar rituals held in other parts of the Empire had
to use venues symbolic of the cave on Mount Aventine. Two high-bor…
This Friday, February 16th, West Suffolk College is hosting a Religious Studies conference on the theme of Freedom of Speech and Conscience. The event is free to attend, but please notify me via my work email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you wish to attend.
The speakers include a Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, and Odinist weighing up the issues from their own perspectives. The running order is as follows:
10.00 – Welcome
10.10 – Gurmeet Sually; Words Have Power;
Creative & Destructive 10.55 – Comfort
break & coffee
11.05 – Reverend Canon Tim Jones; Pauses
Fall Pregnant: Language and coercion 11.50 – Janus van Helvert; Dialogue is the Essence of Life 12.30 – Lunch
1.15 – Robin Herne; Hope, Healing, and
Harmful Speech 2.00 – Workshops ·Discussionled byGurmeet Sually – does free
speech have its limits when it comes to cherished beliefs? ·Discussionled byRobin Herne – if freedom of
conscience is not accompanied by freedom of speech and action, does it become
I haven't added to the basic paganism podcasts for a while (much to the relief of all concerned), but Carol asked if I could do something on the festival of Imbolc. This is a bit basic, and there are various other practice and traditions that could be added, but this is the direction my brain meandered in whilst I baked cake. Authors such as Alexei Kondratiev have gone into a great deal of detail on the ritual practices from ancient to modern times, should you wish to delve into more background information.