Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Persecution of witches

I have just read and signed the petition: "Stop the Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill 2007"

The above 2007 Bill and 1957 Act undermines, denies and violates S.A. Constitutional Rights to religious freedom, expression, equality, liberty, dignity and security of a religious minority in South Africa.

Please take a moment to read about this important issue, and join me in signing the petition. It takes just 30 seconds, but can truly make a difference. They are trying to reach 6,000 signatures.

Why is this important? Because people have been murdered and maimed on suspicion of being witches, and giving a legal basis to the persecution of witches will make the problem of attacks on innocent people even worse. And it will also adversely affect Wiccans and Pagans in South Africa.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

word power

This is fun! Check out your word power and give free rice to the world's hungry via the United Nations. I got four words wrong (one of their definitions was incorrect) out of 104 words, so I donated 1000 grains of rice to the project. Mind you, some of the words are really hard and I had to guess using etymology. My "vocabulary level" went up to 50 (the top level) at one point, but occasionally dropped down to 47. Apparently it is rare to go above 48. Woohoo!

The only problem with it is, that there is no stopping point, it just goes on for ever - potentially addictive.

Friday, November 16, 2007

the darkness at the end of the paradigm

The other day we went to a very thought-provoking talk by Jocelyn Bell Burnell (the discoverer of pulsars) at the Bath Science Café at The Raven.

There was talk of dark matter and dark energy, which are basically 'dark' in the sense that no-one knows what they are. We do know that dark matter is probably non-baryonic, unlike most matter in the universe. (Baryonic matter is matter with protons and neutrons in the nucleus.)

So, she said, there will be a paradigm shift when the nature of dark matter and dark energy is discovered.

There was a similar paradigm shift when it was finally realised that phlogiston didn't exist. Natural philosophers studying burning materials assumed that, since they gained weight after burning, they must be emitting a substance that had negative mass; they called this substance phlogiston. Joseph Priestley almost had it right when he produced "phlogisticated air" (air that, he believed, was rich in phlogiston), but it was Antoine Lavoisier who realised that phlogiston didn't exist, and that rather than losing a substance with negative mass, the burning material was actually fixing oxygen out of the air. The theory of phlogiston may seem daft now, but it made sense at a time when it was assumed that air was all one substance, not several different gases mixed together. (I remember watching a video about this in O-level Chemistry.)

Another paradigm shift that Professor Bell Burnell told us about occurred in astronomy when looking at planetary orbits; it was assumed they were circular, but then people observed anomalies in them and called them epicycles, and it all got very untidy until Johannes Kepler pointed out that the orbits were elliptical.

And of course the most famous paradigm shift of all was the one when Copernicus pointed out that we live in a heliocentric solar system, not a geocentric one.

At least nowadays you are not likely to get burnt at the stake or kept under house arrest for suggesting a radical new scientific idea. The worst thing that could happen to you is loss of tenure.

The point of all this is to say that, although there is speculation as to what dark matter and dark energy might be, it may be that something else is wrong, such as the basic assumptions which led to the need to theorise their existence, in which case whatever is causing the need to insert them into the theoretical models turns out to be something completely different. In a hundred years' time, people could be laughing at those early 21st century scientists who believed in 'dark matter' and 'dark energy', in the same way that we find phlogiston, flat earth theory and geocentric cosmology amusing nowadays. Such is the weirdness when we're sitting on the brink of a paradigm shift. Maybe a bit like sitting at the event horizon of a black hole - nothing will ever be the same again once you have passed the threshold.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Colours of Paganism

I have a guest post up at The Colours of Paganism. It's part of a series on the colours of religion - the symbolism, mythology, and festivals and the colours that go with them.

The photos came from the CreativeCommons licensed photos on flickr.

I think this is my favourite, the one I chose for Beltane:
Maypole Beltane
by yksin

Narnia haiku

Open wardrobe door
snow drifts in from Narnia -
melts in English sun.

If the Macready
had not chased them, would they have entered?
Permanent winter.

Thawing icicles
Sweet chime of water ringing -
Jadis' most feared sound.

Four thrones stand empty
In the castle by the sea.
Earth, Air, Fire, Water.

The Lion's return:
a slow alchemical change
creeps over the land.

A Cair Paravel sunrise:
Four heads are crowned; flags flutter,
Mermaids are singing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I am right-brained

... apparently. If you see the dancer in this graphic going clockwise, it means you are right-brained, and if it's anti-clockwise, it means you are left-brained. I could only see it as clockwise, I couldn't make it go the other way. Assuming this is based on genuine psychology and isn't just balderdash, that's really interesting and useful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lest we forget


Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds -
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, - still warm, - too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

Wilfred Owen
I first heard the following in a remembrance assembly when I was teaching at Oxted School; it has haunted me ever since.
Henry Gregory of 119th Machine Gun company was interviewed after the war about life in the trenches:

When we arrived in the trenches we got a shock when the other soldiers in the hut took their shirts off after tea. They were catching lice. We had never seen a louse before, but they were here in droves. The men were killing them between their nails. When they saw us looking at this performance with astonishment, one of the men remarked, 'You will soon be as lousy as we are chum!' They spent the better part of an hour in killing lice and scratching themselves. We soon found out that this took the better part of an hour daily. Each day brought a new batch; as fast as you killed them, others took their place.

One night, as we lay in bed after doing our two hours' sentry - we did two hours on and two hours off - my friend Jock said 'damn this, I cannot stand it any longer!' He took off his tunic - we slept in these - then he took off his jersey, then his shirt. He put his shirt in the middle of the dug-out floor and put his jersey and tunic on again. As we sat up in bed watching the shirt he had taken off and put it on the floor it actually lifted; it was swarming with lice.

from spartacus.schoolnet
British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear gas during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

- Wilfred Owen, from Dulce et decorum est

Fallen leaves

Each year with the falling of the leaves we shall remember them,
As the years drift into the silence of longing -
The longing for the ones who never came back.

A photograph, dimmed by time, is all that remains;
A lock of hair, a memory, a name, each evoking
A man that lived and breathed and laughed.

Poets and dreamers, craftsmen and lovers
Farmers and ploughmen, boys from the shires
Fallen leaves in the autumn, returning to the soil.

Yvonne Aburrow

Friday, November 09, 2007

religions as software

Christianity is like Microsoft:
  • It's a large corporate venture, bent on world domination
  • Once you've installed it on your hard drive, it's really difficult to get rid of it
  • Nearly everyone's got it (and they use it in schools), so it has become the default option
  • It is incompatible with other software
  • It takes up a lot of space on your hard drive
  • It fails to conform to international standards
  • But the user interface is attractive and the support is 24/7
Paganism is like Linux:
  • It's dead set against Microsoft
  • It's small and developed by a dedicated community of geeks
  • It comes from Northern Europe
  • The support arrangements are a bit patchy
  • It's eclectic and has lots of shareware
Reconstructionism is like programming via the command line:
Satanism is like a computer virus:
  • It's parasitic upon Microsoft and exploits its vulnerabilities
  • People blame it on the Linux geeks but it's actually done by spotty teenagers with no social life
  • Naive Microsoft users are always claiming there's more of it about than there actually is (there are only about 100 actual Satanists in the UK)
Google is like an insidious cult:
  • It appeared from nowhere and everyone thought it was peace-loving and non-corporate and cool
  • Now it is trying to take over the world by stealth
  • It started with the motto "Don't be evil" but then got into bed with a totalitarian regime
The New Age is like Facebook:
  • Light, bright and has lots of shiny gizmos
  • Uses social networking to connect people
Quakers (Friends) and Unitarians are like Apple Mac:
  • Generally owned by intellectuals and arty types; not corporate
  • Adheres to international standards
  • Great user interface; universally agreed to be cool
  • But hardly anyone actually owns one
Wicca is like Firefox:
  • Wicca discovered the Divine Feminine way before Christianity, and now they're stealing our clothes (so everyone will think they discovered Her) - Firefox invented tabbed browsing way before Microsoft, and now Microsoft have finally adopted it, and everyone will think they invented it
  • Both Wicca and Firefox have a great logo
  • Both adopted by a small community of dedicated users
By Yvonne Aburrow (if you pass this on to anyone else, please link back here).

See also: Religions as ex-girlfriends by Al Billings

Monday, November 05, 2007

My new Facebook apps

I have created two Facebook apps using feeds, Yahoo Pipes and the blidget tool offered by Widgetbox.

White Poppy promotes ideas for peaceful ways of living and images of peace. It also remembers with respect all those who have died in war, and seeks to bring an end to conflict so that such deaths might not happen in future. It is a mashup of two feeds: items tagged 'peace' on and items tagged 'peace' on flickr. Check out the official white poppy site. You can also buy a white poppy from various outlets.

MetaPagan is a Pagan and Heathen blog aggregator, to go with the Pagan community blog of the same name. It brings together blog posts by, about and for the Pagan community. You can contribute via

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mughal Muggles

"Muggle" a long gone muslim empire in India. [citation needed]

~ from Wikipedia entry: Muggle
Harry Potter in UrduDurr, I think they mean Mughal. But this conjures up images of the Indian version of Hogwarts, hidden away somewhere in the Hindu Kush, and a small boy somewhere in Pakistan receiving a letter penned in green ink from Safed Shehed Ki Makhi inviting him to attend the Suardhabba School of Jaadoo.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Justice is done

I am extremely glad to hear that the evil Westboro Baptist Church, who spew hate at funerals of both gay people and soldiers killed in Iraq (claiming that God is punishing America for its "tolerance" of gays - not that it is entirely tolerant towards us) have been fined $10,900,000 for their actions at the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a soldier who was killed in Iraq. As they have been behaving like this for over a decade, it is a shame that it has taken their appearance at soldiers' funerals for something to be done about it. Fortunately the good people of Angel Action have been there from the start, shielding the mourners from the hate-mongers.

If the mere mention of the evil of Westboro has left a bad taste in your mouth, then I recommend a visit to the SoulForce website, which is all about LGBT and straight people of faith working together to end prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people.
Romaine Patterson as an angel of peaceRomaine Patterson, founder of Angel Action