Yuletide Musings

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As I write this I’m at work. Gone is the bookshop. Work now is in a big office building on the industrial estate close to my home. People look at me gone out when I tell them I’ve changed jobs, I think because they have a romantic idea of what it was like in the shop. They didn’t see the unpaid overtime or the long hours or the heavy lifting up and down stairs. Or the fact that it’s corporate owned. I think people imagined that it would be like working in ‘Black Books’ (a UK based comedy). But it wasn’t.

So the new job is better but still, it’s work, and not for myself. I keep catching myself daydreaming out of the window. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been gone for hours, though the reality is just minutes. I’ve always been a daydreamer. Perhaps it offers a freedom of sorts.

It takes me around five minutes to walk to work, ten if I linger across the field, wishing that I could just stay there for hours instead. It’s a large stretch of land, the only open green space close to the council estate where I live. Soon the council are going to build on that too. My home is due for demolition as the council plan to ‘regenerate’ the area. Local people don’t care, I think the majority of them have fallen for the council’s lies that the community, one of the poorest in the whole town, will benefit from the plans. How we’ll benefit is beyond me, especially when even more land is taken from us, or when the number of new houses built isn’t enough to cover the number of homes that are due to be demolished. But people don’t want to hear what I have to say on the topic. They look shocked when I say I’m happy where I am. I mean, unless it’s a cottage in the woods, I’m really not interested in going anywhere, least of all to a new built home (they don’t make them like they used to. Instead they are boxy little homes with paper thin walls and small neat lawns).

I’ve taken to spending my lunch break walking around the field, partly because it feels so strange to be sat down for seven hours a day and partly because I just like being outside and every time I do I can’t help but feel sadness to know that it will all change. And not for the better, whatever the council may say.

They’re going to build 300 homes on some of this land. With the rest, or so they claim, they are going to create sports pitches and even a wildlife area. A fecking wildlife area!  As if the wildlife isn’t already there. As if it won’t be displaced by the building work. As if a path through a border of wild flowers is enough.

But I didn’t come here today to bemoan to you all what you already know – that things change, that those in power do not care for the wants or needs of us, the planet nor anything upon it, except for their own greed. You already knew that else you wouldn’t be here, right?

Instead I wanted to tell you a little about this land here. About what it means to connect to a place. About how the wild can be found, even in the most unlikeliest of places.

I always say that nature abhors a vacumn, and as an avid gardener, I know just how easily nature reclaims back what was once taken, if given chance and opportunity, and this field shows that, more than any other place I can think of in the town, perhaps besides down by the scrap yard where wild datura grows.

The field sits between the housing estate and the ever increasing industrial estate. I’ve written a little about this area before, and you can read about that here. I’ve grown up on this land. We played here as kids, all of the kids from the estate. I walk here daily, I train here, how many times I’ve lapped this field! I forage here. The trees here are old, and in the summer there are apples, elderberries and plums to to be foraged, in the autumn cobnots, the wild variety of hazelnuts (delicious pan fried in butter and seasoned with a little black pepper!).

This place is overlooked. People don’t see the wild. Instead they hear and smell the industrial estate, see a huge expanse of land and think of it as a waste. But there is much to be found here, if you look with an eye to see. The same is true of anywhere else. It doesn’t matter where you live.  And from that connection to land, comes connection with others.

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The land is where all folkish stuff comes from (and when I say folkish, I mean in the proper sense of the word, to mean encompassing all things folk related, not the other kind, of which we will not speak. I will say we need to start reclaiming back from those who would misuse them, and this is one such instance. ‘Nuff said!).

All folk tales begin with the land, come from the land. Look how many of them connect to specific places, from the people who come into contact with that land, who add to and enhance and take with them those stories. And the land belongs to all, it differentiates between us not.

So if you do anything this Yule, go outside and find the wild where you live. It doesn’t matter what form that takes. Feel that connection between yourself and the land and as the time of balance approaches, take strength and power from it, for the solstices are such times and you can feel it most in the wild!

Whatever you call the festive season, have a good one!


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.

Equinox Musings – Of Spirit & Land

Don’t you think ghost stories are another herald of the darker months? Not the stories of gore designed to frighten and elicit screams, but stories with more than a hint of truth, the stories of loss and tragedy ….. These are the kind of stories to be told with friends in candle light over a glass of good brandy or rum.

From Emma Kathryn

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The equinox has been and gone. Autumn is here. The darker months have arrived.

The nights are drawing in now, so that when I meet in the woods with my sister (biological & magical) tonight, it’ll already be dark beneath the boughs.

All over the town you can smell the sugar beet factory. It is another herald of the autumn. I love the scent of it, pungent and sweet.

This time of year, as much as I love it, always makes me feel somewhat melancholic. Perhaps it’s my natural state. Not in an overly depressive way, but rather my thoughts turn inwards (as within, so without, and all of that), and I think about the year so far, time passed, and those months still yet to come. It is a time of recollection and introspection. Anyway, I got to thinking about my connection to the land, not only the woods and the fields and the river, but the town itself. The places where I walk day in, day out.

Sometimes, especially when I’m walking through the town centre (it’s real old, many of the buildings and whole parts of the town date back to before the English civil war and in some cases are hardly changed at all), it’s easy to imagine the past seeping into the here and now. There are hidden alleys, quaint buildings with crooked roofs and a cobbled market, complete with red and white striped stalls, and then the church, a huge gothic affair, easily the tallest building in the town, overlooking it all.

Because of its age, because of its history, the town is full of ghost stories.

Don’t you think ghost stories are another herald of the darker months? Not the stories of gore designed to frighten and elicit screams, but  stories with more than a hint of truth, the stories of loss and tragedy.  Like the story of the ghostly friar, murdered in the times of Henry VIII, who now stalks his former home, the Friary, though now that building is separated into private homes, and the grounds are a public park. Or the phantom horsemen who, it is said, can still be heard galloping through the narrow streets . Or the Scotsmen who died whilst digging tunnels beneath the town in the civil war days.

These are the kind of stories to be told with friends in candle light over a glass of good brandy or rum.

But these stories also hint at something else as well. They show us that spirits are everywhere.

Why should the spirits of land, of nature be any different?

Sometimes, or quite often in fact, when I write about connecting to the land I do talk about my woods, or the river. But the spirits of nature are everywhere. If we accept that there are spirits in this world, if we accept the spirits of the dead, in ghost stories and otherwise, then why not the spirits of nature, those felled trees or filled in ponds? Don’t  they remain also? Do they not endure as well?

I believe they do. A few years ago, the local council decided to fell one of the oldest trees in the town. I can’t remember the reason given, only that it really wasn’t much of a reason at all, in my own humble opinion of course, and people were quite offended, at least it seemed so, judging by social media posts. But at least they were bothered in some way, right? On some level at least, they knew it was wrong. Anyway, the point is, what do you think happened to the spirit of that tree? Did it just go? Did it die along with the tree? I think not.

And what of the spirits of those who once walked where we do now? Is connecting with them not a way of connecting with the land too? One of my favourite novelists is Kate Mosse. In many of her stories, often set in the Languedoc,  time is stretched and played with, manipulated, so that you have two stories of two different peoples from different times, but set in the same landscape. There is magic in such stories, and there is a truth in that magic. I can remember the first time of reading her work, and that feeling of recognition, not of any one thing in particular, but more of a feeling, a knowing. Something I couldn’t put my finger on then. But the more I read of her work, the more I realised that it was the land and the connection to it, and the centrality of the land within her works, that was what stirred those feelings inside of me.

In all great stories, even the most fantastic, there must be authenticity. It has to work. You can’t fool the reader, and besides, the reader is there to be swept away. Bad story telling doesn’t do that, and so there must be something real, and the truth of her stories is that the land does connect us to the past, and will connect us to the future too. It is in this way that the spirits of those who came before can be a link to the land. That the land is a connector of people, of beings, and of time.

Those things, people and otherwise, that die, that are buried beneath tons of concrete and steel, they are still there. Their spirits remain.

So when I talk about connecting to the land, and those spirits of the land, of nature, know that they are there, wherever you are in the world. We are not apart from them, even though it may feel like we are at times. You don’t need to go anywhere special or exotic to connect with the spirit of the land.

So as the nights draw in, and as the winters chill breath grows stronger and colder, then light your fire, open the good brandy, and with friends share stories: folklore and ghost stories and old wives tales local to where you live. Find the spirits, forgotten and new, of where you live, and remember it is the land that connects us all.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.


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Into The Woods, Into The Dark.

“We struggle to understand that which our eyes cannot see, and so our minds revert to the years of conditioning we all have had. It is but another way at disconnecting us from our true selves, from our true nature.”

From Emma Kathryn

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Last night I went to the woods.

It always feels like a dream when I go into the woods at night. The first time I ventured beneath the boughs after nightfall it felt more like a nightmare.

The woods where I go to are close to my home, I’ve written about them before, the ones tucked away, across a field, hidden between the industrial estate and a housing estate. To get there from where I live you must go across the field and through the industrial estate. Even at this hour the factories are still lit up, still churning, still producing. Then you take a gravel track between a used tyre factory that makes playground surfaces and their storage facility. On either side are plastic covered piles, too high to see over. On nights when the clouds cover the moon and the stars it feels like you’re walking through a tunnel.

It feels like you’re the only person. It’s liberating and scary all at the same time, and all the while there’s the noise of production, the ceaseless hum and whine of machinery and the sound of the gravel crunching beneath my feet.

On one side, the fence ends and the trees begin. There’s a tall bank and if you look as you walk, your eyes play tricks on you. Sometimes you think you see something that isn’t there. I don’t look, lest I should lose my nerve. The dog stays close, as though she can sense the battle that wages inside of me. Just go home Emma, that traitorous part of my mind whispers, go home. Why are you even here? What’s the point? But I know that voice, I’ve heard it many times in my life. It’s that voice that tells you to close your eyes when things get tough, to turn the other cheek when you see something terrible, that makes you want to say stop. It’s the voice of fear.

But I ignore it. I must. I know that if I give in, if I turn and leave now, that I will regret it even before I reach my own front door. I know from experience that when we confront our fears, we reduce them and then get over them. For instance, I used to be afraid to walk across the playing field in the dark. And so I push on, feeling the burn in my calf muscles as the path ascends. When I reach the top, it opens out into a huge meadow. The grass is long and after the heat of the summer, it’s yellow, like straw.  Here the path forks. One path takes you around the meadow, the other leads into the darkness. This is the path I take.

The path heads straight through the woods so that it looks like it disappears into darkness. The woods on either side are pitch black, a dark shadow against the backdrop of the night sky. Even now I get that feeling as I approach. I don’t know if it ever really goes away.

Have you ever been in the woods after nightfall? It’s so dark beneath the canopy of the trees that you can’t see anything and even when your eyes have adjusted to the gloom, you still can only make out what is right in front of you. Your other senses take over, especially your hearing. You can hear everything. Twigs snapping and the rustle of undergrowth as the night critters go about their business. If there’s a wind, the trees creak as they sway. It’s easy to imagine all of monsters from all of the horror films you’ve ever watched are lurking within the woods, hiding in the dark. Even when you go with others, you still feel that.

Perhaps what is really so frightening though is that loss of control. We struggle to understand that which our eyes cannot see, and so our minds revert to the years of conditioning we all have had. It is but another way at disconnecting us from our true selves, from our true nature. Why are we afraid to be in the woods? Why are we afraid to be out alone in nature? We are a part of it, not separate from it.

So what’s that got to do with going to the woods at night, you may well ask?

For me, it is about confronting my fears. It is about facing them head on, knowing that really it is the confronting of my own mind. It is the first act of rebellion against a system that destroys the very thing from which we all come all for the sake of profit. It is about taking back our minds. As Hermeticism tells us, everything is mental, the all is mind, and so it is the first step in reclaiming ourselves.

But it is also more than that too. For when you conquer that fear, it gives you the opportunity to relearn, to form a relationship with that which you used to fear.

Last night I went to the woods and found myself in the darkness.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.

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This is America’s Enslaver Culture

It’s no surprise that, even though chattel slavery was formally abolished throughout the Americas over 100 years ago, enslaver culture is still very much alive.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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There are about 30 million pets abandoned in the streets of Brazil. Cats in particular are treated as a plague, killed and tortured indiscriminately.

Helping take care of street cats has been my way of dealing with the occasional helplessness many of us activists feel. I can’t always stop an armed policeman from telling a Candomblé worshiper dressed in white to lay on the floor with hands on the head for no reason. I can’t always stop a pack of drunk men desperate to prove their masculinity to each other from violating a trans woman on the street. But one thing I can do is clean the eyes of motherless kitties so they can see for the first time.

This coping mechanism recently lost its effectiveness when the dynamic at the cat shelter revealed a serious political issue: Enslaver culture.

It’s no surprise, even though chattel slavery was formally abolished throughout the Americas over 100 years ago, that enslaver culture is still very much alive. One example of this is the donor/volunteer relationship.

When I go to the shelter, once a week, I clean, feed and give medicine to cats. I’m a light skinned Latina, with a job and a house, so I’m considered a volunteer. People with means in the group donate a little money to buy whatever is needed, and there is also lunch for whoever is working.

For years, one young homeless black man goes there everyday, twice a day, to clean, feed, medicate, and build little houses for the cats. He even monitors who is coming to abandon and who is coming to adopt. In my eyes, he is the boss of the operation. To the donors, however, he’s a lazy employee.

When I receive lunch, it’s a donation. When he receives lunch, it’s a salary.

One of the donors had an abandoned house, and decided to allow the homeless young man to stay there. This gesture turns out not to be as generous as it sounds. He has the responsibility to renovate and maintain the home (which is in poor condition), and he takes dozens of the most vulnerable cats home with him to care for overnight. Now that donors offer him food and shelter, they feel even more entitled to demand more labor, and the laborer is dependent while earning no wages.

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Land demarcation efforts by Quilombo Quingoma

It’s hard not to see the connection between this situation and our colonial history. Salvador, as the world’s capital of the African diaspora, is the land on which to witness, not the demise but, the development of colonialism and its deeply rooted white supremacy. Here, much of what is now urban residence used to be Quilombos.

Quilombos were communities formed by enslaved Africans who ran away. They were highly organized, militant, autonomous, and posed great threat to the Portuguese and Dutch authorities of the time. Today, there are much more than a million Quilombolas still fighting for their right to territory throughout the country.

Records show that there were compliant enslaved people who had stable relationships with their owners and did not want to join Quilombos. Some claim that abolishing slavery left the “freed” in worse conditions: “jobless”, homeless, and helpless (as some may say about my friend at the cat shelter). How reliable are these accounts? Not very, since those who kept records were the ones interested in using them for their advantage.

Arguments on the subject in literature in general have little empirical basis and tend to focus on the interplay of interests that would be associated with the diffusion of that interpretation. Several authors have considered the thesis of benignity a mere expression of the ideology of the ruling classes in the nineteenth century; its dissemination, especially abroad, would be part of the imperial government’s efforts to disseminate an amicable image of slavery and thereby oppose the abolitionist movement.

Flávio Rabelo Versiani (Economist, Brasilia) comparing enslavement in the U.S. and in Brazil.

On the other hand, in economic terms, not using “coercive force” (meaning, here we didn’t have as many lynchings) was a matter of efficiency, as was eventually abolishing slavery altogether. So, using words like “amicable” and “benign” to describe displacement, dehumanization, forced labor, murder and torture of black people is only considered empirical when described in economic terms. This, to me, is one good example of the rotten core of Academia.

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Today, some academics use this shaky empiricism to argue that the resistance against slavery was hypocritical. José de Souza Martins, one of Brazil’s most famous sociologists, claims there was slavery in the Quilombos. Dissociating the term “slavery” from “race” became his professional mission; white supremacy wasn’t the problem, according to him, rigidly stratified societies were.

His broad use of the term “slavery” can be compared to the broad use of the term “Nazi” when describing a feminist. José Martins says that because of the spread of “Islamism” in Africa, Africans enslaved themselves at a much higher rate than the Slave trade to the Americas, and that Islamic polygamy is also a form of slavery. The fact that he uses the term “Islamist” as synonymous with “Islamic” speaks volumes to the racial insensitivity of his rhetoric. But his use of biased (white) “empirical” evidence to delegitimize an organized resistance movement of the African Diaspora speaks even louder.

There is little denying that hierarchy existed in Quilombos, and that they used violence against enslaved people who chose to stay with their white masters. We have to understand that they were at war, and the decision to be compliant turned them into an enemy. So much so, that those compliant Africans were sent to the Quilombos as an army to defeat Quilombists. This practice hasn’t stopped, and is perpetuated by the military police force to this day.

Zumbi‘s opposition to Ganga Zumba, and the consequent shift of leadership at Quilombo dos Palmares, is symbolic of all anti-colonial resistance because it was a refusal to submit to Colonial authorities, and a declaration that no enslaved African would be free until all would be free. This fight is not over yet. There is still enslavement, displacement, incarceration, genocide, and struggle for land demarcation. We must acknowledge that, because not picking a side, being compliant, is in fact siding with white supremacist forces.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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Songs of a Forgotten Generation

“They don’t believe in their true powers, or the power of this world; they cannot see a world in a grain of sand, nor heaven in a wild flower. Such things are becoming more and more alien to us.”

From Emma Kathryn

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In every cry of every Man,

In every Infant’s cry of fear,

In every voice, in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear:

Excerpt from London by William Blake

The streets of the inner cities are awash with blood, or so we are told. Only a few weeks ago, the news that London had a higher murder rate than New York City was everywhere here. Although the numbers have been debated, the truth is that this news made headlines in the UK.

What’s the big deal, you may well be thinking. After all, aren’t the two major cities, huge stars on the world stage. Both have similar populations, both upward of eight million (that number is mind-blowing to this northern country bumpkin), though NYC does have a higher population density. But in a country where guns are illegal, you’d like to think that would reduce the number of killings.

Knife crime is devastating inner city areas, and like all other things here in the UK, the problem is magnified in London.

As is so woefully predictable, the government responses have been and are wholly inadequate and dividing, doing next to nothing to help resolve this issue.

Throughout modern history, whenever there has been some kind of civil unrest or some upsurge in crime, governments have always been quick to point the finger of blame away from themselves, and towards ‘soft’ targets. In the fifties it was rock and roll music; the sixties and seventies had the Mods and Rockers;  in the eighties and nineties it was gangsta rap and metal; The noughties saw Eminem and computer games as the devil. Today we have grime, or more specifically drill music.

This, so our politicians would tell us, is the root cause for the current surge in violent crimes and knife crime in our cities.

Grime And Drill Music

Grime music has really exploded on the UK music scene the past few years, moving from a genre that was seen as very much underground to today where many of its artists feature in the top 40, sometimes with top ten hits. Whilst it still remains the voice of the forgotten and of the streets, you’ll now see middle class youths snapping up tickets for shows or driving around in parent bought cars blaring out the likes of Stormzy or Skepta (grime artists who have made it into the mainstream) from  their speakers.

Drill music is a sub-genre of grime, and still very much underground. The lyrics are hard, dealing with themes including violence, drug taking and the harsh realities of hard lives lived amongst the cracks and other forgotten crooks and crannies of the city.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why the government has zoned in on drill music as being the sole cause of these problems. With increasing pressure, the videos that are of the drill genre are being taken down from YouTube, no doubt the first step in censorship of these records.

This in itself may be seen as an attack. What makes grime music unique is that many of its stars have risen to fame, not through the usual means like record companies and talent shows, but through YouTube. Artists such as JME rap about coming from nothing, living on council estates and not being given a chance to progress through the usual channels.

Music, and the opportunities sites such as YouTube present to those young people give them an escape from poverty and the life choices the government say they are trying to prevent.

It is yet another example of how far removed these politicians are from the lives of everyday folks, never mind those that find themselves on the margins of society.

Poverty and Policies

Pity would be no more

If we did not make somebody Poor,

And Mercy no more could be

If all were as happy as we:

– Excerpt from The Human Abstract by William Blake

The problem with the governments plan to reduce knife and violent gang related crime are many, but can all be shepherded under the banner of poverty, or rather the inability of the Home Office and the government to recognise poverty as a major factor.

Inner city areas, especially council and social housing estates are rife with poverty – let’s face it, people don’t live here out of choice, not in cramped houses that are often neglected by landlords. I’ve written before about the Grenfel Tower, a council owned block of flats and the state of those homes and the faults that led to such devastation.

The people who live in places such as these are often at the bottom of society, especially in a society that places wealth and the ownership of objects above all else. It doesn’t matter that many of the residents of council estates, including those in the cities, are often decent people trying to make the best of bad situations, that they are decent human beings. Because they cannot afford to own or privately rent their homes, they are somehow seen as less.

The children who grow up in such places are often the ridicule of their peers at school. Their parents cannot afford the latest this or that, meaningless shit in the grand scheme of things. They learn early on that, in the words of KRS 1, to stay on course they have to roll with force. As a working class, council estate girl, I can certainly confirm this. It means that to progress, to get on, you need to be willing to be hard if and when the time comes. You have to stick up for yourself.

Of course, most of us don’t end up in gang related violence, so it is not poverty alone.

It is here that the policies of successive governments come into play. These policies, along with the hardship and challenges that poverty brings combine, mingle and interweave until we are left with the hot mess that we have now.

Services are ever being cut every where you look. The town where we live has been identified as a growth spot by the government, and construction is already underway to increase the number of homes by the hundreds, though the plans are that the population of the town will increase by thousands over ten years. Despite this, the local hospital is forever being downgraded – against the wishes of the residents – so much so that it no longer has an accident and emergency department, and seemingly every week there are reports of this or that service are no longer available.

It’s not only hospitals, it’s all services that might otherwise provide a lifeline for those vulnerable youths,  services like children centres and youth clubs; affordable sports facilities and equipment. I could go on but you get the picture. Despite the government telling us that services don’t suffer when the money gets taken away, we all know that’s not true.

Even the subject of cuts is not an easy one to tackle. For example, the cuts also affect issues surrounding money, whether that be benefits or free childcare. When the Tory party came into power in the UK, a main tacit of their campaign was ‘to make work pay’. Sounds alright, don’t you think? Many people did, even those working class folks who slaved away all week and still struggled to survive, all the while yet the next man, who chooses not to work can live a life of relative comfort. Of course ‘make work pay’ really meant to make not working, life on benefits, become unbearable.

And the real problem here of course, is that the government weren’t fair. For example, bedroom tax was applied to those deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council house, despite the lack of smaller council properties. Even where I live, the largest council estate in my town, there are only a handful of two bedroom properties within a sea of three bedroom houses.

Those with genuine disabilities, those whom you would like to see looked after and given help were deemed suitable to work, people with cancer, ex-servicemen with severe battle related injuries, and many others were let down by the system. People died or committed suicide, and Atos, the company responsible for enforcing these government checks to determine a person’s ability to work, called the Work Capability Assessment have come under fire in recent years.

Unaffordable childcare and lack of resources, combined with poverty often means that today, both parents (if both are still at home), or the single parent must work full-time to make ends meet. Those at the bottom cannot afford to be picky, especially those with little or no experience, education or training, must take jobs that take them away from the home for eight or more hours a day. Shift work is a particular struggle. Ultimately, what we are left with is a generation of latchkey kids. Children and teenagers who are left to their own devices. There’s no youth clubs, or sports facilities, and if there are, they can’t afford to use them.

As the mother of two teenage sons, I can tell you how difficult it is to parent them. It’s at this time they are beginning to find their independence, and it is at this time that they can fall into friendship groups or experiences that you know are not in their best interests.

So imagine how easy it is for those youths who come from troubled homes and backgrounds to fall into gang life. They find a family with those others, somewhere where they feel they belong. It doesn’t matter, or they can’t see that they are being used, often by older, more organised career type criminals, because for the first time they are no longer powerless, they are no longer poor and can afford to buy the things that society sees as markers of success.

To say that all of these problems are caused by music is ignorant. By doing so, the government can deny any responsibility for the violence that stalks the city streets. Instead they talk about police powers of Stop and Search which then fans the flames of racism and call outs between differing ethnic groups.

Divide. Separate. Conquer.

The Erosion of Us

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.’

Excerpt from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake

We have forgotten ourselves.

Centuries of conditioning under this Capitalist system has led to the erosion of ourselves. We’ve forgotten that we are the stuff of stars. We’ve been led to believe that we are separate from everything else, that we are apart from nature itself.

We’ve been lied to.

The problems faced in this world, not only my countries knife crime problem, stem from the separation of us from the land and from ourselves.

I know I bang on and on (and on, some might say, wink, wink), about the land and it’s importance to us  not only  as a species but also spiritually, but it’s because it’s true. I feel it in the very fibre of my being, and if you feel it too, you’ll know what I mean. It would take an essay in itself to describe it.

People kill one another, thinking that the next person is their enemy when in fact they are killing  themselves. These youths and young men that wage war on the streets see themselves as soldiers, but the war they are waging is against themselves. Their enemy is them, another young, angry man who only wants to make his way in the world but the world has conspired against him,  and so  they fight, but not their real enemies, not, poverty,  nor abuse, or even the very systems that oppress them, but one another.

They don’t believe in their true powers, or the power of this world; they cannot see a world in a grain of sand, nor heaven in a wild flower. Such things are becoming more and more alien to us.

Until we start to recognise the reality of our forced separation from the land, then these issues will not be resolved, but instead will intensify.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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Wild Witchcraft

“Do not allow others to tame your craft. Do not tame it yourself out of fear that others will look down on you or reject you. Embrace your wildness. Sometimes it may alienate you from those others who dare not lose themselves in the wild.”

From Emma Kathryn

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”A witch ought never to be frightened in the darkest forest, Granny Weatherwax had once told her, because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her.”

– Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith.

Do not let your witchcraft be tamed. Do not allow yourself to be tamed.

Witchcraft is my escape from the world when everything seems too much. Witchcraft is my weapon against the world, or more specifically against those who would control me or scare me or threaten me. Witchcraft is my everything. It is always there, sometimes in the background, sometimes to the fore, but it is always there.

It is my strength.

Do you ever just look at things and think ‘shit’? Look at all the doom and gloom in the world. Poverty, exploitation of people and nature. Capitalism and all of the other ism and schisms that divide people from one another and the land. What’s the point in trying to fight back? What’s the point in trying to help others against the rising tide of shit thrown at us, all of which we have no control over?

I think those things, sometimes quite often.

But I don’t give up. I just can’t. I can’t roll over and give in. Perhaps it is the fighter in me, always ready and game for a tear up, the working class woman, the council estate girl who has had to battle for everything in life. Everything I have and everything I have achieved has come about through sheer hard work, determination and will.

Sometimes in this world, it is hard to resist, to keep your witchcraft as something wild. Sometimes even other practitioners and pagans will warn you against something or other, which is fine if it is just a general feeling of wanting you to be safe, or to take care. However it is when these become overbearing and judgemental when it becomes an issue.

I cannot tell you the times I have been warned about appropriation, or told not to use flying ointments because they are dangerous, or warned to be careful I don’t violate the threefold law. And whilst such sentiments are offered with well-meaning intentions,  mostly anyway, what this really is, is someone projecting their fears, their limitations onto me. And whether they mean it to or not, such sentiments can end up taming you and your craft.

Do not allow others to tame your craft. Do not tame it yourself out of fear that others will look down on you or reject you. Embrace your wildness. Sometimes it may alienate you from those others who dare not lose themselves in the wild.

You know, I joined quite a well-known pagan group on FB, and they have thought of the day type posts. A while ago, the topic of stealing came up and how it was wrong to take things like magical items. Fair enough, you might think, and perhaps rightly so but what about the theft that occurs daily around the world. Is it not theft to pay people wages they cannot survive on?  Is it not theft to destroy forests and poison waterways for greed and profit? Is it not theft when people are displaced from the land. Are these thefts not more important? You don’t see these issues covered very often on mainstream pagan sites and when they are, people don’t really listen with an ear to truly listen to the other party and engage in meaningful debate and the sharing of ideas and opinion. Instead everybody wants to be right. We do listen, but not to understand, but instead to come back with a witty remark or some other fact or report that proves why the other is wrong.

We don’t find solutions but instead argue over the semantics. we do not take action but argue about taking action.

If we really are Pagans, as in the modern usage of the term, is not our spirituality based on nature, on the wild and acknowledging our place in that web? Of course we pagans can and do also fall into the trap of materialism, of becoming over reliant on tools and imagery and aesthetics. And it’s easy to do as our connection to what is real and truly meaningful is lessened over time.

Wild witchcraft to me speaks of the relationship between the witch and the land. The land comes before all else and everything else comes from that. You see, the land, well, everything comes from it doesn’t it? It does in my experience. It is through the land that connection with spirit begins. Hermeticism tells us that the land – earth comes before all else. The element of Earth relates to all matter, but what is it we have on our altars to represent it? Soil perhaps, or a plant, a memento from the land itself. It is through our connection to land that we build relationships with th spirits that reside there.

Find the wild where you live and honour it. Spend time in it. Just accept it for what it is. All too often in mainstream paganism the wild is tamed, made more ‘perfect’, pruned and primed. We buy crystals that, we are told, have energies that connect us to the all loving and all caring earth mother and yet where do those crystals come from? Where are they sourced? Who was it that mined them? We give honour to this god or that all the while forgetting that they are the forces of nature incarnate, that they are wild things too.

Accept nature, in all of her incarnations. When predators kill, we do not ask them not too, when the storms roll in we batten down and prepare, we don’t beg it to change course. We respect its power. And yet, we are asked to tame ourselves. Why? Why must we not use our craft in our protection, in our defence, in our attacks? Why must we polish it and groom it, make it presentable and palatable. Why must we not use it to protect nature?

We can and we will.

A witch ought never be afraid, not even in the darkest forest for she should be sure in her soul she is as wild as the forest.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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Thoughts On Land Ownership

In my mind, the land, the earth cannot really be owned by anyone.

From Emma Kathryn

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Can you imagine being one of the very first people? Really imagine? It’s almost romantic isn’t it? Almost, until you consider the difficulties of such life, the harsh realities, like having to hunt and forage for food, or the lack of doctors, hospitals, drugs. Dying of injuries and diseases that now we consider minor. Of course there are many people today who live that kind of life, tribal, indigenous people,though their way of life is constantly under threat.

But early man, to wander the earth and to be free to do so!

No doubt the first division of land was tribal, the first ‘ownership’ of the land territories of tribes. But that type of land ownership is not what I’m going to talk about here. That kind of land ownership is not what we have today. That kind of land ownership wasn’t really about owning the land, not like it is today.

In my mind, the land, the earth cannot really be owned by anyone.

When my kids were younger, they used to watch a show called Adventure Time, back before it was popular, before you’d see adults wearing merchandise from the show. To be fair, it was a pretty cool show, I mean it had witches and demons and vampires and ice kings, so yeah, pretty cool. It was also sometimes, weirdly, quite deep, for a kids cartoon. They were watching it one day, and a snippet really caught my attention. One character was explaining to another how the earth came to be owned, about how those few who were stronger took what they wanted and then called it ‘lawful’ and then created institutions to protect what was theirs. You can watch the clip here.

Accurate, isn’t it? Anyway….

I love going out foraging, and there’s usually something to be found in all seasons, though winter is often less about food and more to do with the gathering of dead things. Foraging is the perfect way to get out and about, to build a connection with the land where you live, and you all know how I feel about that!

Last year, towards the tail end of summer, the beginning of autumn, I took a couple of my friends, one of whom is a long time pagan, out on a foraging expedition. It wasn’t really an expedition in that we never left the confines of the town, but I suppose it was a bit of an eye opener for all of us.

It was certainly the first time they’d ever been trespassing, and to me, well, I don’t even consider it as such!

The river that flows through our town is quite accessible, though it used to be easier to get to from my end of town. You used to be able to cross the railway line and use a bridlepath to get across to the river. Now though the rail crossing has been closed, the gates welded shut and the bridlepath shut off from the public. You can still get to the river, and the detour isn’t really long, and is quicker still if you don’t mind clambering over an embankment and crossing a scrap yard (the owner unofficially lets people, fishermen and locals, he turns a blind eye).

Datura grows near there, and a little further, wormwood, if you know where to look (it’s the only patch I have found in my foraging travels so far).

So, we scrambled up and over the embankment and across the scrap yard and over what we locals call the elbow bridge. We followed the river for a short while, hunted cob nuts in a small copse of trees under the bypass, and then I told them about the ponds.

To get to the ponds you have to go under a small train bridge and then there’s a bridge that is blocked off in the middle, with a massive sign declaring that the land you are about to enter belongs to British Sugar and that trespassers will be prosecuted. You can  climb over the bridges railing and scoot across on the bars, climbing back over when you’ve passed the barricade. Or, if you are wearing the right footwear (or you don’t mind getting wet and muddy), you can jump across or walk through a small stream.

Once I’d assured them that we wouldn’t get caught, or that the bull in with the cows was way over the other side of the field, and quite chilled out, they were okay with things. But if I hadn’t of taken them, they would not have crossed that bridge, would have turned around and gone elsewhere.

My argument was that I don’t recognise the land as belonging to British Sugar, not really. How can the land be bought and sold? Oh I know the mechanics of it, understand there are laws and deeds and whatnot that ‘prove’ that the land belongs to this particular corporation or that one, but once you get past that, when you consider the world, the universe, and everything we consider and believe as occultists, witches and sorcerers, who has authority over the land?

Anyway, a lovely couple of hours was spent beside the ponds, a secret known to only fishermen and other intrepid trespassers!

And we too, the humble proletariat, are sold the dream of ownership. To own your own home is a dream so many aspire to. And what’s not to want, eh? Somewhere that’s yours, where what you say is law, where you are free to do as you please (so long, of course, that it fits within the laws that govern the society in which you live), a place where, once you’ve paid for it, is yours, totally yours.

Only it isn’t. Not really.

I’ve written recently about the redevelopment my neighbourhood will soon be undergoing. Nothing much has changed since the time of writing, with the council still telling us that they haven’t made any firm decisions yet (and you can bet your life that we, the residents will be the last to find out). Anyway, most of us who live there are council tenants, but there are those who do own their own homes, and a good majority of those home owners live right on the edge of the field where two hundred new homes are to be built. I think most of those people have lived there, in those houses for a long time, certainly for as long as I can remember. Many of them were council tenants themselves who took advantage of the massive discounts offered to them under the Right to Buy scheme. Of course, the houses were cheap to begin with on account of their location. Why else would anyone want to buy a house in the middle of what is often considered to be the worst place to live in the town?

Those folks are the ones who have the most to lose really. Many of them have paid off their mortgages and having probably looked forward to the day when their homes would be their own, bought and paid for. What do you think will happen to these people, the ones who don’t want to sell their homes? Compulsory purchase orders is what will happen to them. They’ll receive the market value for their homes, which some might consider fair (I do not, forced removal and all of that jazz). And therein lies the problem, because market value will not be enough for them to go and buy another home. No, these poor people who have spent their lives working to pay off their house will probably have to take out other mortgages.

Big deal, you might well say, but to someone close to retirement age, or already there, well, it’s not the best news is it? If it was me, I know I would be raging and would already be cooking up some working or another.

The point is, even when we do as we are told,  when we complete what is expected of us, even then nothing is guaranteed. If some development or other requires that the people there need to be gone, then it doesn’t matter if you own your home and the land it sits on or not. And it’s not just where I live either, it’s country-wide, worldwide.

Anyone who follows my FB page will know that I detest fracking, and since the fracking companies have been welcomed with open arms here (by parliament – nobody else here wants them), the owning of land is no guarantee that you will be able to tell INEOS and the others to eff-off.

Where councils and local authorities have told the fracking companies no, either government pressure or High Court rulings have turned those council decisions around, forcing councils to allow these companies access to their land.

Even countries aren’t safe. Scotland has banned fracking outright. The Scottish government has listened to the people and said a great big ‘no’ to the fracking industry. But not one to listen to the people or countries that try to oppose them, INEOS has won the right to sue the Scottish government. Not only that, and this may be hard to believe, they may also be able to sue the Scottish government for breaching its human rights. It’s almost laughable, isn’t it, if it wasn’t true.

Sad, sad times indeed.

So there, some thoughts on land ownership. Just for the record, I would never trespass an individuals home or land. Probably. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not against people owning shit. I understand the wanting to own your own home, and to some extent, it offers you some freedom, security.

Except for when the price is high enough.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


Support our work here.

Industrial Agriculture and The Myth of Progress

 

One of my personal heroes is a bard named Barry Patterson. A blue-eyed Geordie with a magnificent grey beard and a mean turn of phrase, Barry is an animist, a poet, a drummer and a piper, a Green Man in every sense, and he is very wise. He often says to me “Jonathan, you know people always talk about the Mabinogion, the Tales of Ancient Eire, and fairy tales, and call them myths. They are not myths. They are stories. If you read Joseph Campbell, Claude Levi-Strauss, they explain that myths are uniquely powerful, in a way that not all stories are – they define our ideas, our hopes, our choices: and so, they define the way our world works. Does the Mabinogion do that? Does the Tain? No. Our myths are different now. Nationalism, Freedom, Romance, The Market – most of all the Market – these are the myths according to which the modern world is run.”

Barry is, of course, quite right. These things do not have a life apart from those who believe in them – they exist only and because we say they do. They are, to use the parlance of my discipline “social constructs”: to quote Clifford Geertz, they are “webs of significance that [man] himself has spun”. This doesn’t stop them from being immensely powerful or important, of course, but we must remember that their continued existence is not natural, or necessary either.

The first and hardest step, though, is spotting these myths. Their power and pervasiveness is their cover; the fact that we rely on them so completely makes them invisible, as through their supposed obviousness they become the intellectual furniture of the societies in which we live. And the fact that these myths are so hard to spot, makes them very useful for those in power – as the Marxist Antonio Gramsci explained, the rich use their influence to promote their ideas amongst the wider population. The rich create stories to suit only their purposes, before making them into myths shared by everyone. By controlling what is “common sense” in society as a whole, the rich keep society under tight control. It is this process, Gramsci points out, that prevented the otherwise inevitable collapse of capitalist societies, and stalled revolutions throughout the 20th century – the rich ensure the intellectual furniture upon which we all sit blocks all available exits. We see this same process active in society today. When a radical challenge to fossil capitalism is considered – involving rapid cuts in carbon emissions, the redistribution of wealth, a debt jubilee, or any alternative to growth-based economics – the myths forged by the capitalist elite are used by the rest of society to defend the status quo.

One such myth is the Myth of Progress. It states that human history unfolds in something approaching a long, upward curve – with quality of life, technological sophistication, tolerance, and global harmony gradually increasing over time. Superficially, it seems quite convincing – if we compare the clean streets of present-day uptown Amsterdam, to the squalor of the Medieval city, it certainly looks as though progress has been made. Some public intellectuals, such as Steven Pinker, and Niall Ferguson, propound this view with tremendous verve, extolling the virtues of modern Western civilization while neglecting its many failings. Although there are problems all over the planet, they say, these are being dealt with and, if we just stay the course, the system we have now will solve them. Tweaks may be needed, but the fundamentals are settled. We just need to keep calm, and carry on.

This view of the past – known as the Whig Theory of History – is not given any credence by academic historians. Technological, social, moral, and emotional progress is not inevitable, nor is “progress” in each of these areas easy to define. As Ronald Wright persuasively argues, this myth tirelessly simplifies the messy complexity that underpins our present state; the pain and suffering that got us here, and the patchiness of our achievements. Furthermore, implicit in Myth of Progress is a kind of complacency – it is “we” who are the most advanced, out of all humanity – who that “we” is, always depends upon who is doing the talking. This risks inviting in a kind of hubris – it is short step to go from claiming to be the best so far, to claiming to be the best possible. It’s not so very hard to move from a Whiggish confidence in continual, unimpeded progress, to claiming – as political scientist Francis Fukuyama once did – that neoliberal democracy represents the end of history. But despite all the problems with this myth, people still believe it. Indeed, it suits the rich to tell us this – how can we oppose their beneficent rule, if we’ve never had it so good?

Of course, few people today – after the financial crisis, the many catastrophic threats of climate change, the swing towards the populist right – would claim that progress is inevitable, or that Western civilisation is the best of all possible worlds, or that Neoliberalism represents the peak of what we can achieve. The Myth of Progress has been unmasked as mere sophistry. Although this process is frightening and there are very real dangers tied to recent events: what has happened also represents an opportunity to shift the common sense of our society, and look again at the very nuts and bolts of how our world works.

Let’s consider the example of food production. True, growing food using modern, industrial-scale agriculture of the kind made possible by the “Green Revolution” has increased the mass of food grown around the world, so that production has outstripped demand for many years. And globalising the food market has increased choice, and makes seasonal produce available all year round. However, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that prioritising raw productivity in this way doesn’t actually take into account other, vital considerations – not just the continued health of the soil and our waters, but also the nutrient content and health benefits of the food being produced. In some cases, a combination of declining soil fertility and the selection of high-volume, fast-growing varieties over slower-growing, more nutritious alternatives has meant that the concentration of micronutrients in fresh produce has declined dramatically. According to an article published in the British Food Journal, in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19%, iron by 22%, potassium by 14% (8) since the 1930s, while other research suggests similar declines – from 5% to 40% of vitamins and proteins in fresh produce (9). There are reports of even more dramatic declines – of up to 90% – in certain cases; such Iron in Watercress (10) and Vitamin A in oranges.

Now, considering this, it seems that the shift in the past 100 years isn’t so positive. We might be growing more, but the food we’re growing is less nourishing, and the way we’re growing it is destroying the planet. If we are to protect our soils, and truly maintain a healthy population of billions of people, the key isn’t producing more food, but better food. And by this standard, global agriculture has actually gone backward since the 1930s.

Now, many of the big reasons why older, healthier varieties – tastier, more nutritious, more resilient to pests – fell out of favour was that they required careful tending, took longer to grow, were tricky to harvest mechanically, or they had a very short self-life. The number of varieties in use has gone down significantly as well. This represents a very significant risk on its own, as it means the gene pool of vital crop species is now becoming dangerously narrow – simply because everyone is using KWS Siskin wheat or Resistafly carrots. The reason why so many regional varieties or landraces have been abandoned and are now endangered is not because of their inherent value; but simply because it is more profitable for industrial producers – and seed suppliers – to limit cultivation to a small number of fast-growing, good-looking varieties; sacrificing taste, nourishment, and genetic diversity in the process.

If we care about the nourishment we get from what we eat, rather than the mere amount of stuff we consume, the current food producing regimen is not feeding the world very well. It creates vast surpluses of a small number of plant varieties that are low in nutrients, dependent on artificial fertilisers and pesticides, deplete soil and ruin agricultural productivity. So much for progress.

If we revived older crop varieties – that grow more slowly, can’t be transported long distances, but are more nutritious, tastier food – and integrated them into a highly localised, high-tech food-production system, with every city carpeted and covered with food forests and gardens, we’d be well on our way. Certain crops would still need to be grown in the countryside, but rather than ship grain from Russia all the way to San Francisco merely because it’s cheaper, we’d keep supply chains short as possible to reduce emissions, and use a varieties of crops best suited to their local climate and the nutritional needs to the local population

Crucially, this would bring people back to the soil. The “Green Revolution” has been so profitable, because it has increased agricultural outputs while reducing the number of people working the land, thus reducing the labour costs for agricultural businesses. Those who once worked the land have been corralled into cities, where they have joined the ranks of the urban poor – in the developed world, these people end up engaged in mindless, bullshit jobs; in the developing world, they slave away in factories, as in China, or struggle to scrape a living until the tension boils over, as it has in Syria. If we turned our cities into places where food was grown, new jobs would be created that produced healthy food and supported local economies, and everyone would feel, and actually be closer to the cycles of life and growth that sustain our lives – rather than believing falsely that vegetables materialise on supermarket shelves. People need to take up the fork and trowel, and return to doing what we’ve done since the Natufians: growing things.

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Developing a more localised, nutrient-rich agricultural system would also help in another way – it would combat climate change. While I was at COP21, I listened to a fascinating talk on soil health. Mechanised agriculture and the use of pesticides has stripped the soil of organic matter – causing massive degradation of fertile land globally. Soils without organic matter hold less water, contain less nutrients, and are more easily eroded – something I witnessed first hand during my fieldwork, where I visited conventional farms in Norfolk whose fields were little more than dust. Raping the land in this way not only creates dependency upon artificial fertilisers, but releases vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. If we were to restore the organic matter in the world’s soils by a tiny amount year on year – 0.4% – this would halt the annual increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, while reducing fertiliser use and safeguarding agricultural productivity. Despite the fact that soil health was left out of the COP21 agreement, the French government has committed to improving its soils in line with these proposals.

The fact is, in Britain, we’ve been here before. During WWII, the pressure of German raids on Allied merchant shipping meant that food security became a major issue. So the government encouraged people to grow their own food under the “Dig for Victory” campaign. Although this took place under rationing, the direct intervention by the government in managing the diet of its citizens, and encouraging home-grown produce actually improved public health during the period. The problem was that it created an association in the hearts and minds of the British public between self-sufficiency, and all the hardship of war, and the interference of the state. So as soon as the war was over, people abandoned all the good habits they had acquired, and embraced the orgiastic mass-consumption that was imported to the UK by the Ad-men of the 1950s. “Dig for Victory”, as a top-down initiative unmoored from broader political and economic reform was doomed to fail. So to successfully restore our soils, we must also restore society. Nonetheless, the “Dig for Victory” campaign indicates that it is possible to place agriculture at the heart of everyday life, even for urban people, and to put the welfare of people at the heart of agriculture.

The collapse of the Myth of Progress allows us to reconsider many old certainties. For some of us, this collapse happened long before 2016 – we lost our faith in the myths of capital either through education, or through bitter personal experience, or both. But in the wake of Brexit, Trump’s election, and many other crises, it has become necessary to reconsider some of our most accepted views about the world – and look for better ones.

As Pagans, myths and stories are our bread and butter. Many people in the West are crying out for new, better stories to make sense of their lives, and to shed light on how we might move forward, into an uncertain future. In such an environment, our traditions are, therefore, necessarily political. But the stories we cast into society cannot be mere fabrications; the failure of the Myth of Progress should ward us off such abstractions. Our stories must be rooted in the Land itself, in its moods and matter. Tending the soils; making them full of life again; is but one practical step pregnant with narrative potential.

As for how that potential should manifest; I leave that to you.


Jonathan Woolley

1b&w copyJonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.


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Shady pine trees and rivers of light

About a fortnight ago, I attended a Witches Sabbat on unceded Algonquin land and territory in the Ottawa Valley. The purpose of the Sabbat was working with land spirits as well as with working with curses, a contentious topic in many circles of witchcraft in the west. This writing here consists of my personal experience at the Sabbat participating with the pine forests and the Bonnechere river, as well as the community of powerful witches assembled there that weekend.

The way that people stitch themselves together happens
Slow, slow, slow
—Meklit Hadero

The fire, the conifers, the constant chorus of cicadas, frogs, and toads. The pine needles that coat the forest floor, a soft tapestry soaked in cedrus deodara that protects and nourishes. I learned long ago that many conifers do indeed drop their needles (and sap), like many deciduous trees, and that this act is both aggressive, and protective. The needles soak the ground in pine essential oils, changing the acidity levels of the soil and killing harmful microbes and bacteria. Plants that cannot stand the pH of the pine needles will not grow here, and will be killed, but many other plants and creatures flourish here, protected by the pines that reach upwards and onwards for the sun.

The ecosystem of the pine forest at Raven’s Knoll becomes a metaphor for the workings of the Witches’ Sabbat. Our curses, our sorrows, our poisons, and our fury, are like those pine needles—but instead of poisoning us, or this place, we create soft earth under the soles of our weary feet, and for the forest to thrive on.

“To the Sabbath! To the Sabbath!’ they cried. ‘On to the Witches’ Sabbath!” Up and down that narrow hall they danced, the women on each side of him, to the wildest measure he had ever imagined, yet which he dimly, dreadfully remembered, till the lamp on the wall flickered and went out, and they were left in total darkness. And the devil woke in his heart with a thousand vile suggestions and made him afraid.

—Algernon Blackwood, The Complete John Silence Stories

Our workings seem demonic, haunted, haunting, and possessed when viewed from the outside. How can we work in the pitch black of night? From the outside, it may seem like our ceremonies are odious, strange and unsettling. Restraint is left at the fork in the path where the country highway becomes a country road. Here we scream. Here we shake. Here we weep, or cry, or laugh—is there anything more magical, more satisfying, more infuriating than a good, witchy, cackle? We keep ourselves on tight leashes outside this forest. The full might of who we are—queers, transgender people, indigenous people, elders, parents, millennials, witches—scares a lot of people. One just has to glance at the pages of the Malleus Maleficarum, or even simply at current events, at the ongoing destruction of the earth and the colonization of all the beings within, to witness how ancient and far-reaching that fear is. We keep ourselves on guard, outside this forest, anxious and watchful, but here, amongst pine trees, as our screaming voices rise to the ceiling of the forest and erupt into the sky, we remember that to make these sounds, these promises, we must remember how to breathe fully and without reservations—to properly exhale, to properly sing, to properly speak, we must remember to breathe.

We must arrive as well-behaved guests, fresh and ready for whatever might happen. Much as we try to leave our baggage, emotional and otherwise, at the threshold of the forest, some baggage creeps and clings too strongly. In the mere weeks before arriving at Raven’s Knoll, I dealt with some of the darkest evils that spring up when least expected: cancers and tumours growing within family and loved ones who are simply far too young; the funeral of my beloved grandfather; the uncontainable sorrow and fears of mothers and sisters; and the ever-constant stresses of dealing with unending bureaucracies and hospitals, anxieties over failing to finish university by now, anxieties over writing rejections, anxieties over projects that never begin or end. That feeling, I’m sure you know the one, of years compressed into weeks and the lingering exhaustion that sits on your chest as you try to remember each deadline, each promise, and each failure without breaking into frightened sobs.

On my first morning in the forest, I woke up at four in the morning in order to finish working on an enormous research paper that I needed to have finished by the end of May, or else I would not graduate from my undergraduate degree. I’d been trying to finish it in the weeks before the Witches’ Sabbat, but finally, with mosquitos and flies buzzing in my ears, the noon sun dusting the trees above with light, I typed the last word of the essay and finished formatting every, last, bloody, citation. With a freedom I had not felt in weeks, I threw myself more or less fully-clothed into the sweet-watered Bonnechere river to celebrate. Gliding through the sunlit water was my first victory during a weekend full of treasures. As I swam into the slow, happy current, I felt unbearably glad, even after everything that had happened. I’d felt whittled-down for weeks, to my bare bones, and the Bonnechere—which was named from the French bonne chère, or good cheer— let me float in her light. I followed a few small, adventurous freshwater fish, and dug my feet in the soft river bed for a while.

I returned to the fire pit and to the workshops just in time to help discuss and create the curses we would be casting that night at dusk, the curses that we would design to protect the forest, its guests, and all the year-round residents within, from the dangers that visitors to the Knoll might bring with them. We banished abuse, neglect and cruelty. We banished assault and rape. We banished those that would harm the land, those that would litter and threaten the forest with fire or the river waters with pollution. We banished by cursing—a curse like those pine needles, a curse that would ultimately help heal the land from the trauma dealt to it by humans. Much of the forest at Raven’s Knoll had been clear-cut and the land used for monocultures before it had been acquired by its current caretakers.

Have you ever witnessed the disturbing reality of a clear-cut forest? Even now, as the trees grow again, you can tell that something is, well, off. I witnessed it last year during the Witches Sabbat at the heart of where the clear-cutting occurred not many years ago. Even just at the level of the ecosystem, it’s clear that something brutal and sad happened here, that large parts of this forest lacks the kind of biodiversity that usually accompanies new growth after a forest fire or when farmland is allowed to go a little wild, on its own, for a decade or more.

Sometimes, at Raven’s Knoll, if you shut up, listen, and watch carefully, you see the signs and scars of trauma. You hear in the evening wind through the trees that this isn’t your land. It’s a reminder, if not also a subtle threat, that we’re all temporary guests here, that the land will outlast us and our hubris, and we all have to make amends—especially us settlers—in order to heal.

A witch who cannot hex, cannot heal. A witch who cannot cut, cannot seal.

It felt right, in more ways than one, to work on that curse. Cursing is a contentious topic in witchcraft, but it has a long, long history. Before the twentieth century there were exceedingly rare, or perhaps no portrayals of witches as beings of sweetness and light. Witches tended to walk that liminal line between shadow and sun. Most medicines are also poisons: they wouldn’t be medicines if not for their poison. Yet cursing today is both frowned upon and cast aside. It’s seen as an invitation or encouragement of uncontrollable evil, harm, cruelty into the caster’s life and the lives of their loved ones. Cursing involves, sometimes quite literally, jumping into darkness, of naming what is not often explicitly named, of recognizing that one being’s poison (such as pine needles) is another being’s home. Cursing involves grappling with ethical dilemmas that have no morally preferable solution, as well as those situations that do. Cursing involves realizing that some relationships are too complex for straightforward, generalizable answers. Cursing involves realizing that cursing is a complicated endeavour to be treated with respect during the entire process. And there is no wiggle room for errors. Clarity, even while here in the bog and the mud, covered in sand and dirt, has to be maintained or else shit will hit the fan. Cursing is the dark side of the moon.

After the curse, my hands, feet, and thighs were red-raw from dancing, screaming, singing, clapping, and stomping. Lightheadedness and dehydration settles within, as the songs of toads, frogs, bugs and crows come to us from the forest and the shore of The Cauldron. In a few glorious hours as night fell, we poured all of our malice, might, hurt, and anger into a large poppet of sticks, clay, and cloth, and when we threw it into the fire, we screamed, sang, and cheered as we watched the fucker burn.

Get the fuck out of here, asshole. This is not your land.

Then, at midnight, we donned white shirts and scarves and masks, and we began a procession under the stars through the forest to The Cauldron, a freshwater spring from an aquifer deep underground. With songs and hushed whispers we arrived at her warm, sandy shores.

After one last shout and call to the spirits of land and place, the last magic working of the night started as honey and drink was passed around, witches spat wine all over our white clothes and in our faces, and water scented with flower petals was splashed and thrown over us. With one last hurrah we dived under the black waters of The Cauldron, whispering our prayers under our breath or giggling as we dared ourselves onwards and into inky waters in the middle of the night. I was reminded starkly of The Mabinogion, of the cauldrons of ancient goddesses such as Ceridwen, where from their sacred brew a few drops fell to impart great knowledge and wisdom, or where dead warriors were brought back from death and reborn.

Jumping into that fresh-water cauldron which snapping turtles and frogs call their home, after an evening and night of blasting and banishing, creates relief from grief. Cursing, I discover as I hold my breath in the dark water, is a little bit like grief. The act of cursing for such a powerful purpose reaches deep inside you and cuts out something, maybe something bad, maybe something good, but something that had become a part of you and that you now know you must learn to live without. It’s like a forest fire that blazes and destroys what you love, what you hate, what you need, what you want, what you have become: without that fire renewal would be impossible, change would be impossible, and, especially, healing would be impossible.

One last word: a special thank you to all the organizers and all witches and guests who helped make this year’s Witches’ Sabbat at Raven’s Knoll an extraordinary success. And thank you, thank you, thank you to the pine forest and the Bonnechere river.

Further Reading

Cover image is mine, a photo taken of the pine forest near the wetlands in Raven’s Knoll. This essay was originally posted at http://gersande.com/blog/shady-pine-trees-and-rivers-of-light-the-witches-sabbat-at-ravens-knoll-2016/


Gersande La Flèche

unnamed (1)Gersande La Flèche is a nonbinary transgender artist, writer, and programmer who lives in Tiohtià:ke (Montréal), Québec, of Colombian, Breton, Italian, and Québecois-Irish ancestry. They are an animist particularly interested by the philosophical questions created by posthuman and nonhuman theory, and like to write about ecocritism and environmental ethics, as well as diving into subjects such as colonization, feminism, literature and video games at Gersande.com.