Albion’s Angel, smitten with his own plagues – on Brexit and Racism
You may have noticed that politics in Britain just went into meltdown. If you are having trouble keeping up with it all, Buzzfeed has an excellent summary: Britain’s completely batshit week since Brexit. What is really disturbing is that the Left is going into meltdown over this, just as much as the Right. As NewsThump put it, the House of Commons cafeteria has run out of knives. It’s so bad that The Daily Mash and NewsThump have ceased to be satirical and is just describing real events, because reality has become a parody of itself.
Shadows of men in fleeting bands upon the winds
Divide the heavens of Europe;
Till Albion’s Angel, smitten with his own plagues, fled with his bands.
The cloud bears hard on Albion’s shore,
Fill’d with immortal Demons of futurity:
In council gather the smitten Angels of Albion;
The cloud bears hard upon the council-house, down rushing
On the heads of Albion’s Angels.
One hour they lay burièd beneath the ruins of that hall;
But as the stars rise from the Salt Lake, they arise in pain,
In troubled mists, o’erclouded by the terrors of struggling times.
In the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, there has been a horrifying upsurge of racist incidents. Tell MAMA (an organisation campaigning against Islamophobia) says there has been a 540% increase in incidents. (Reported in The Independent, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Mashable, Vice News, Washington Post, and many more. Incidents are also being collated by This is what you have done, the Worrying Signs Facebook group and Twitter account, and the #PostRefRacism hashtag and account on Twitter.)
It is not that every Leave vote was motivated by racism, but extreme toxic racism was expressed by the Leave campaign (which went unchallenged by the Remain campaign, which also promised to “control immigration” and boasted about how being in the EU helped us to deport hundreds of criminals – which is unjust because then they are being punished twice for the same crime).
Surveys of Leave voters have indicated that their main reason for voting Leave was to “take back control” (just so they could give it to the out-of-touch old Etonians who have bled the UK dry with their imposition of austerity). This seems xenophobic as well, because they believed they were taking back the control from “those faceless bureaucrats in Brussels”. The second most common reason given was that people were against immigration. What has happened here is that there have been thirty years of imposed austerity and cuts; the North of England, which was an industrial powerhouse, has lost all its industry (ship-building, coal-mining, steel, etc), and has had to reinvent itself as the land of the call centre. Rather than blaming austerity and neo-liberalism, people have fallen back either on wanting to give the out-of-touch political elites in Westminster a bloody nose, or on blaming immigrants.
The people who are committing these vile racist atrocities seem to think that the other 17 million leave voters agree with them, as there have been a lot of racist comments along the lines of “we voted leave, so you should be packing to go home” – despite the fact that many of the people who have been targeted were born here, or have lived here for generations, and have every right to be here whether they have been here for five minutes or five generations.
Others have written more eloquently than I about the political, social, and economic implications of all this. Laurie Penny, George Monbiot, Gary Younge, and others have all written about the social and economic tensions that led up to this, and the ways in which white privilege and colonialist nostalgia fed into the rhetoric around the vote (if you didn’t notice that the Leave campaign was racist, check your white privilege; if you did notice, but voted Leave anyway, check your white privilege). I am so angry and distraught about the way that rampant racism is spreading its vile poison. How did Great Britain become Little England?
It ought to be obvious to anyone that Tory-imposed austerity is responsible for the economic misery that has cut services and reduced jobs and rendered many areas full of despair. Certainly, the brutal realities of capitalists accumulating wealth at everybody else’s expense also plays into this, causing division between the people they prey upon. Instead, people blame immigration and the EU.
So we have been led to the brink of economic meltdown by a group of irresponsible and out-of-touch upper class twits, who didn’t have an exit plan or a strategy in place for leaving the EU – it is not even clear whether they want to continue free trade in exchange for the free movement of people, or whether they want to close the borders. They also completely failed to take into account the very serious implications for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Gibraltar, the majority of whose citizens want to remain in the EU. And although the 17 million who voted to leave the EU didn’t all vote that way on the basis of anti-immigration, the racists who are currently committing vile acts of hate up and down the land have felt empowered to do so because they are assuming that the rest of the Leave voters agreed with them. The kind of racist abuse they are perpetrating hasn’t been experienced here since the 1970s.
The European Project
Of course, the EU is not perfect. The way that the rest of the EU behaved towards Greece was absolutely shocking; the response to refugees from Syria, woefully inadequate and inhumane. I have also found rhetoric from some more conservative quarters about “Christian Europe” deeply worrying. However, the European project came together out of a desire to bring an end to the endless war and struggle for resources of previous centuries, and that has been a very successful project. It has also meant significant improvements in human rights: same-sex marriage, the abolition of the death penalty across the EU. EU countries also collaborate on healthcare; as an EU citizen, you are given a European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to use the national health service in member countries free of charge. (Yes, an entire continent where Breaking Bad just wouldn’t have happened.) I personally feel myself to be European. I have visited Albania, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Switzerland. I love the food, the music, the literature, and the culture of our neighbouring countries.
A Tale of Two Britains
There are at least two Britains, maybe more. Laurie Penny has described her vision of the two Britains. What follows is mine.
My Britain is diverse and inclusive; my heritage is William Blake, William Cobbett, E M Forster, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, Edward Carpenter, the mass trespass of Kinder Scout, the Cable Street fight against the fascists, the Suffragettes, the Dissenters, the co-operative movement, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the poets, the trades unions, the solidarity of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, and the miners who showed up to support LGBT people in the struggle for our rights; the Britain that welcomed Rammohun Roy and Mohandas Gandhi, the Britain that boycotted the products of slavery, a diverse Britain that has always been there, as Deasy Bamford says, from Libyans and Ethiopians on Hadrian’s Wall under the Romans, to Black people in 16th century London, the Jews returning to England in 1650, and always being welcome in Scotland, to the working men’s clubs that welcomed Black jazz and blues musicians during the 1930s: a history of radicalism, solidarity, inclusion, and working together. This is a Britain which recognises the distinctness of the Scots, the Welsh, the English, and the Irish. And it has wonderful food, enriched by many different cuisines from around the world. This Britain is part of Europe and part of the wider world.
Then there’s another Britain: it’s a grim place, where diversity of all kinds is shunned, where the music is all nationalist, where the kinds of people who are held up as heroes are Horatio Nelson (a slaughterer of revolutionaries) and the Duke of Wellington (a rampant xenophobe). This is the Britain of stiff upper lip, compulsory heterosexuality, football hooliganism, dreams of wall-to-wall whiteness, and eating stodgy and dull food. This is the Britain that put its wellington boot on the face of half the world, and then complained when the people who had been subjugated by the Empire wanted to come to Britain. The Britain that came to the fore in the film V for Vendetta.
Both Britains exist, and have existed side-by-side for centuries – now and again, one or the other has the upper hand. For a few decades, inclusive, vibrant, multicultural Britain has had the upper hand. We emerged from the ghastly uniformity of the 1950s, into the explosion of colour that was the 1960s. The 1970s were pretty grim (especially the overt homophobia, the vile racism, the dreadful food, and the tasteless wallpaper), and the 1980s were not much better. Then the effects of the prosperity brought by the EU started to have an effect, and for a short while, it looked as if inclusive Britain would triumph, despite setbacks.
Rhyd Wildermuth writes, in A Storm at the Crossroads:
The muscle always tensed becomes useless, the heart defended by castle walls will never dare to love, the soul constantly defending borders will never take flight in travel, and the mind that entrenches will never learn to dance.
You know that story about the two wolves that live in the psyche – the friendly one and the vicious one – and it’s the one that you feed that gets the upper hand? Well, the combination of austerity and cutbacks and racist demagoguery has fed the wolf of nationalism in the British psyche – especially the English and Welsh bits of it (though Scotland is by no means immune). There has been a massive vote in favour of insularity, nationalism, and isolationism (and even if you didn’t mean your vote for Leave in that way, that is how it is being interpreted both by the racist thugs, and by the rest of the world).
I am also reminded of the tale of Lludd and Llefelys in the Mabinogion, where Vortigern is trying to build a castle on a hill, but it keeps falling down. Merlin sees with his inner eye that this is because two dragons are fighting each other in a lake underneath the hill, and advises Vortigern to drain the lake.
“And then you will see the dragons fighting in the shape of monstrous animals. But eventually they will rise into the air in the shape of dragons; and eventually when they are exhausted after the fierce and frightful fighting, they will fall onto the sheet in the shape of two little pigs, and make the sheet sink down with them, and drag it to the bottom of the vat, and they will drink all the mead and after that they will sleep. Then immediately wrap the sheet around them, and in the strongest place you find in your kingdom, bury them in a stone chest and hide it in the ground, and as long as they are in that secure place, no plague shall come to the Island of Britain from anywhere else.”
Racism certainly seems to be an infectious plague, and ought to be buried underground in a locked box, or better, uprooted. I found a rather effective magical process for dispersing racism. If you visualise racism as a smoky oily fire, like chemicals burning, and then visualise cleansing waters coming to put out the flames and wash away the racism, it is very effective. And the sea seems very willing to help with this.
We are trying to build a beautiful city of inclusion and welcoming diversity, but the dragon of hate and intolerance is having a fight with the dragon of inclusion and diversity. But King Arthur won’t be coming back to fix things. It is up to us now to build the circle of Camelot, in the realm of Logres, the dream vision of Albion, the land of diversity and inclusion and hospitality.
The goddesses of the land
I had a vision of Epona, and she is very angry at the outbreak of racism and xenophobia that is defiling the land. I have often wondered if Lady Godiva was a manifestation of Epona. Godiva rode out to defend the people from oppression and exploitation.
A friend of mine also suggested Brigantia as a goddess who may be concerned with what is happening. As a goddess of the land of sovereignty, she might be petitioned to reclaim the land for inclusion and diversity and hospitality towards the stranger.
Logres and Albion
Logres is the name of the kingdom of Arthur in the Matter of Britain. It was used as a name for the true and ideal version of England by both CS Lewis and Susan Cooper, and is derived from the Welsh word for England, Lloegr.
Albion is an archaic name for Britain, possibly derived from the sight of the white cliffs of Dover looming out of the sea. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, the land of Albion was said to be inhabited by giants. The diplomats of other countries have sometimes referred to Perfidious Albion, a reference to a tendency to weasel out of treaties.
So what can we do?
- Build and strengthen your links with your local community – other faith groups, people from other cultural backgrounds. Talk to your neighbours. Hold a local event to bring your community together.
- If you can facilitate workshops, create a workshop on civil courage and standing up to racism.
- If you are a Pagan organisation or group or an individual with any sort of platform, make a statement rejecting hate and racism.
- Sign and share the inclusive Wicca statement rejecting racism, and the Pagan Federation statement against racism.
- Wear a safety pin to show solidarity with diverse communities – but don’t stop there. Be prepared to intervene if you witness a racist incident or attack.
- Report it – if you are the witness or the victim of a hate crime, please report it to the police.
- Join Pagans Against Racism (UK) and work to make Paganisms more inclusive.
- Do rituals and magic to support a positive outcome. We need all the allies we can get. If my vision of an inclusive and welcoming Albion, with the round table of Camelot at its heart, speaks to you, then you might want to focus on that in your rituals. Imagine the round table being filled with people of different colours, ages, genders., and sexual orientations.
- Here’s some suggestions from The Guardian on six positive things to do. I especially like number 3: solidarity with immigrants.
- Work with Hope Not Hate’s “More in common” campaign to combat racism and create community.
This is an updated and expanded version of a piece that appeared on Dowsing for Divinity: A Tale of Two Britains.
Yvonne Aburrow has been a Pagan since 1985 and a Wiccan since 1991. She has an MA in Contemporary Religions and Spiritualities from Bath Spa University, and lives and works in Oxford, UK. Her most recent book is “All Acts of Love and Pleasure: inclusive Wicca”. She has also written four books on the mythology and folklore of trees, birds, and animals, and two anthologies of poetry. She is genderqueer, bisexual, and has been an anarchist socialist green leftie feminist for the last thirty years.