Monday, December 29, 2008

heraldry wrongitude

Spotted on a sign near Castle Combe, Wiltshire:

Arms of Scrope; Azure, a bend OrThe shield above depicts the arms of Scrope; its blazon is Azure, a bend Or.

Every heraldry geek knows that the arms of Scrope are azure a bend or (not "argent a bend" - a bend what? besides you don't get metal on metal). You would have thought it would not be beyond the wit of sign-writers to obtain a decent proof-reader...

The reason that every heraldry geek knows this is that there was a
dispute between Scrope and other families (Carminow and Grosvenor) over who had the right to use azure a bend or.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

the old woman and the antlered man

Medieval literature contains copious reference to a custom on New Year's Day, in obedience to which men disguised in deerskins or as old women took part in riotous dances and processions. Though the performers were Christians, the rite was clearly borrowed from heathendom.... It was called cervulos facere, and incurred the bitterest hostility from official quarters in the Early Church. From the fourth to the eleventh century bishops and saints in Gaul, Germany, Spain, and Italy denounced it in monotonous unison from cathedral and pulpit ; it was even definitively banned by the Council of Auxerre at the end of the sixth century, though without effect. In England its observation was less general, or else ecclesiastical tutelage was more indulgent, for the fulminations are much scarcer. Yet it existed, and was proscribed anew under the Christian kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons by the Liber Poenitentialis of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury from 669-670 and a celebrated disciplinarian. The book, which may be in part later than Theodore, yet exercised a great influence from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, prescribed three years' penance for the sin:-

" Si quis in Calendis Januariis in cervulo aut vetula vadit, id est, in ferarum habitus se tommutant et vestiuntur pellibus pecudum et assurnit capita bestiarum ; qui vero taliter in ferinas species se transformat, III annos poeniteat, quia hoc demoniacum est." Lib. Poen, Thorpe, xxvii, 25.

The original significance of the custom it is hardly the purpose of the present note to examine. De Gubernatis (Zoology and Mythology, p. 88) explains the old woman, the second form of disguise, as representing a sort of winter-witch. It is worth observing that St. Augustine also mentions a third disguise, viz., as a goat :-
"indui ferino habitu et capreac aut cervo similem fieri," (Op. Migne, vol. v, col. 2003, ad Cal. Jan.).

"The Running of the Deer"
Richard D. Barnett
Folklore, Vol. 40, No. 4. (Dec. 31, 1929), pp. 393-394.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mumming 2008

On the last day of Saturnalia (aka Christmas Eve) we went mumming as usual in Lacock. N was Bold Slasher and I was Dick the Horse. N has been playing Bold Slasher for 2 years now (he used to be Beelzebub). The Ragged Heroes Mummers have been going for over 25 years to mum in Lacock on Christmas Eve, but some people in Lacock are still confusing us with the Marshfield Mummers (be sure to view the video from 1967), who appear on Boxing Day in Marshfield. Their style of performance is different to ours, their play is different, and their costumes are different.

Mumming is a wonderful folk custom, but for me the most magical bit is the torchlit procession across the bridge over the River Avon. There's something deeply primal about fire in the darkness.

I also enjoyed scaring lots of girly girls (who screamed not once but three times) with the horse's skull. Well, it is green (due to having been cleaned in acid that had been used for acid-etching copper).

Whether or not it is really about the death and rebirth of the sun at the solstice, mumming is powerful and dramatic. There is definitely something archetypal about it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

weird dream

This morning I dreamt that I was in a part of South America that was formerly colonised by Greeks (I knew this because there was Greek writing on the buildings) with a bunch of Pagans, and we were adding a small trilithon-like entrance to an ancient burial mound, which had also been augmented by the symbols of other religions on stones around the perimeter wall.
Probably my subconscious's reinterpretation of some difficulties with local interfaith events.
Obviously this all took place in some alternate reality where a part of South America had been colonised by Greeks in the 19th century and its pre-colonial inhabitants built burial mounds that look roughly like European ones.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

artificial languages, artificial religions

A post over at Evn's place got commenters thinking about fictional religions. My favourite fictional SF religion is the earth-based one depicted in Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin. My second and third favourites also appear in her books (The Telling and short stories about the people of Ki'o). I also rather like the religion of Minbar in Babylon 5.

And then there was a post over at Bo's place about artificial languages, specifically Brithenig, which reminded me that there is even a Language Construction Kit.

It's probably fun to construct both fictional languages and fictional religions (and there is a similarity between language and religion) because it helps us to think about how they are structured, what makes a good or bad language or religion, and whether other species would have anything that we could recognise as religion, and how they would communicate (maybe using pheromones, like the aliens in Liz Williams' Empire of Bones).

Friday, December 12, 2008

leave them kids alone...

This child should be given a medal, not a detention:

Well done that child — good to see someone is still awake and thinking! 

I once told my English teacher that he had mis-spelled murmur (as "murmer"), and he accepted the correction (he was a bit embarrassed but he checked in the dictionary).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

kinky SF

Chas Clifton: Kink on other planets reports on a blog-post of ten of the kinkiest SF/F novels ever.  According to the commenters, several are missing.  (Well, I suppose it's not claiming to be a definitive list.)  I noticed that the kinks were somewhat skewed towards BDSM (as opposed to plain old SM).  There's nothing wrong with a bit of that sort of thing as long as it stops at the front door (I usually say the bedroom door but that would preclude use of the stairs).

There was quite an interesting kinky scene (BDSM and drugs) in The Poison Master by Liz Williams, plus an entire planet given to restrictive clothing and poisoning each other, possibly because the planet represented the Sephiroth of Geburah on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

I can't think of any other kinky bits in SF novels.

I had a dream once in which I was having it away with an alien, which was quite strange — it was two-tone purple and green.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

installing software

Why, when software is being downloaded and installed, can't the installation program ask you all the necessary questions at the start of the process, so you can walk away and leave the computer while it's installing?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Just heard yesterday that I got a distinction for my MA in Contemporary Religions and Spiritualities from Bath Spa University.

72% for the dissertation and 70.7% overall. Yay!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I am the enemy you killed, my friend

This year I want to think of the many different types of people who contributed to stemming the tide of imperialism and Nazism. And also, let's not forget those who refused to take part in war, which is a very brave decision also.

Black veterans, Asian veterans, LGBT veterans, the poets and writers and artists, medical personnel, conscientious objectors, Bevan Boys, Land Girls, Lumber Jills, the Little Ships that went to Dunkirk, and other groups who get forgotten in the general remembrance. And what about those who fought on the other side, whose memorials just say they lost their lives, not that they laid down their lives for their country.
When so many have been slaughtered,
Let us mourn with tears of sorrow,
And treat victory like a funeral.
~ Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, 31
What about all the refugees and civilian casualties? What about all those who were shot for desertion, or died of disease, or from "friendly fire" or accidents? Did they lay down their lives for their country, or did their country lay down their lives without thought of the cost? Let us not treat victory as anything other than a funeral, because the fact that war ever came to seem like the only way to solve a conflict is a cause for mourning. Yes, we must resist oppression and persecution, but let us study peace-mongering ways to do it.
Strange Meeting ~ Wilfred Owen

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,-
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said that other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also, I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."

Friday, November 07, 2008

word verification

Recently Google has been generating quasi-meaningful-sounding word verification - so far today I've had besserso (as in, "Ja, es ist besser so.") and vocurdst:

I vocurd
Thou vocurdst
He vocurdeth
We vocurden
You vocurden
They vocurden

(to vocurd: archaic English verb meaning to vocalise through emulsified substances associated with whey.)

And the latest gem is pologami - that's either "the art of folding small round mints with a hole in" or a love-in at a polo match...

Why ID cards suck

  1. I carry a driving licence to prove that I am capable of driving; I carry a bank card to gain access to my bank account (which no-one else should have access to); I carry ID for my workplace because it is a secure building and I can't get in otherwise; I carry a passport to prove who I am at the border so I can get let back into my country of origin. These are all special resources or services to which limited access is required. I shouldn't have to carry an ID card to prove that I am allowed to live and move freely in my own country, where I was born. I don't want to live in a police state.

  2. The underlying database is costly and time-consuming to build, and judging by other government IT projects and data-loss fiascos, will be easy to hack and easy to mislay data from. It's also the largest and most complicated government IT project yet.

  3. ID cards won't help to catch terrorists or prevent terrorism. All the people involved in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade centre were carrying ID cards. There are other measures which would be far more effective.

  4. ID cards will not prevent cases of mistaken identity; they are more likely to exacerbate the problem, because law enforcement officials will assume that the system is more robust, when it isn't.

Bill for ID cards rises by £50m

Hopefully this will now mean ID cards are dead in the water, but we must remain vigilant...
clipped from
The costs of the national identity card project crept up by a further £50m yesterday as the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced that a small number of transport workers will be able to volunteer to get the cards next year before the official launch date.

Despite this effort to reduce the costs of creating a national network of ID enrolment centres, the latest cost report for the scheme shows that the projected overall bill continues to creep up. The bill for issuing ID cards to all foreign nationals who are long-term resident in Britain, which began this month, has risen by £7m since March to £326m. The cost for British nationals has also crept up in the last six months by a further £45m to £4.7bn over the next 10 years. This figure does not include the costs to any other government department of using the ID cards to check identities.

blog it

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

DNA database to be cut back

This is good - the House of Lords introduced an amendment that says the DNA records must be deleted.
clipped from
The government has been defeated in the House of Lords over the issue of keeping peoples' DNA and fingerprints on the police national database.

Ministers said the safeguard was not needed and could hinder anti-terror operations but critics said innocent people should not be stigmatised.

The defeat is the latest inflicted by peers on the counter-terrorism bill.

 blog it

Monday, October 27, 2008

memories that never were

Just spotted this marvellous meme on Quaker Pagan Reflections, which Cat got from Walhydra's Porch (it was lying under the recycling), who got it from Igraine:
If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now (even if we don't speak often or have never met), please post a comment with a completely made up, fictional memory of you and me.

It can be anything you want - good or bad - but it has to be fake.

When you're finished, you could post this little paragraph in your blog and see what your friends come up with...
Remember when we found the door to another world at the bottom of the garden? Or when we invented a perpetual motion machine, but lost the plans in a freak accident with the athanor?

Monday, October 20, 2008

when food attacks

I enjoyed these macabre but lovely images. Spot the Death of Marat and Whistler's Mother ones (but are they hommage or parody? I'd say they were hommage, because they are both like and unlike the originals, and are saying something different.)

In these images, strangely attractive young ladies are menaced, sometimes actually killed, by food, usually the sort of food that one is likely to binge on. Yet the images are not gross; they have the high colour-depth of 1950s advertising, but instead of smiling winsomely, the protagoniste is prone; yet graceful even in death. The most tragic image is probably Death by Slimfast. My favourite is Death by Oreos. There are film references too: Death by Bananas references Hitchcock's The Birds; and I wonder if there's any connection between Death by Lifesavers and The Virgin Suicides?

Hat-tip to Balador.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I have written before about the annoyance of trying to read light text on a dark background (especially white on black).

But now a helpful blogger has produced a simulation for people who don't read their own blogs.

If this doesn't convince people, you can always install the "black on white" toolbar button, which turns any page you are reading into black text on a white background.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

sanitised fairy tales

Boston Globe: Fear of fairy tales: The glossy, sanitized new versions of fairy tales leave out what matters: the scary parts by Joanna Weiss
The book went on to spin the tale of a charmed girl named Rapunzel, who spent her days in the tower sewing dresses with a friend. She loved when the witch came to visit and teach songs, including one that made Rapunzel's hair grow longer. But tension arrived: One day, Rapunzel looked out the window and saw a fair in the village nearby. She wanted to go, but the witch was off tending to her garden and couldn't let her out. Fortunately, a prince riding by in his carriage called up to her, "Rapunzel! Why aren't you at the fair?"
This is all wrong. The witch character has to be a threshold guardian or Rapunzel can't come into her power. And the archetype of the witch is meant to be a bit scary, because s/he is a wielder of power.

Of course this sort of thing has been going on for centuries, though this is a particularly schmalzy and fluffy version. Cinderella (the Perrault version) is a bowdlerized version of Aschenpüttel (Brothers Grimm version), which has much darker and earthier elements - in Perrault's version it's a glass slipper, but in Grimm it's made of fur, and the ugly sisters cut bits off their feet to fit into it, and are only caught out in their deception when blood oozes over the side.

I am sure that Clarissa Pinkola-Estes (author of the excellent Women Who Run with the Wolves) would have a thing or two to say about this evisceration of Rapunzel. And so would Bruno Bettelheim (author of The Uses of Enchantment). Indeed, in the rest of the Boston Globe article, various experts do point out why we need fairy-tales that aren't twee.

Hat-tip to Steve.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stepping Stones Nigeria update

From Stepping Stones Nigeria:
Dear Stepping Stones Nigeria Supporter,

I just thought that I would take this opportunity to update you with some
of the exciting events of the previous few weeks. As you may know SSN has
been campaigning for the rights of so called child “witches” in Akwa Ibom
State since November 2006. This has been carried out through our Prevent
Abandonment of Children Today (PACT) campaign and has involved organising
two international symposiums, TV and radio adverts and regular visits to
government officials to advocate for the rights of the child. Most
recently SSN organised a child rights rally through the streets of Uyo,
which culminated in the children handing over a petition to the Governor
of the state demanding that he acted to protect the lives of these
innocent children. In addition to this SSN also paid UNICEF a visit in
order to make them aware of this terrible situation and request for their
assistance in the fight against child abandonment due to witchcraft

One of the consistent demands that SSN has made is for the Akwa Ibom State
government to enact the Child Rights Act (CRA). Despite the Federal
Republic of Nigeria enacting the CRA at federal level in 2003, Akwa Ibom
was still one of the 22 states still awaiting to enact it. Without the CRA
in place it is very difficult to protect the rights of the children, many
of whom have been tortured in churches, abandoned by their parents, set on
fire, trafficked etc. Indeed through working with our Nigerian partner,
CRARN, we had tried unsuccessfully to prosecute a number of parents and
pastors. Without the legal framework to support us this was a seemingly
impossible task.

Thankfully on 6th September we received the news that the Akwa Ibom State
government has finally enacted the CRA. SSN sees this as a giant stride in
our efforts to protect, save and transform the lives of stigmatised
children in Akwa Ibom State. Whilst we cannot fully attribute the
enactment of this law to the efforts of SSN or CRARN, it is clear that we
have contributed a great deal to bringing about this positive change. As a
small charity, with limited resources, SSN feels very proud at this
accomplishment and now looks forward to working with all stakeholders to
ensure that the CRA is fully implemented and that parents or pastors that
are guilty of violating child rights are held to account. Please do visit
our website - - for the latest press
coverage of these issues.

In a separate development, whilst carrying out research into the needs of
abandoned children in Oron LGA, our sister NGO – Stepping Stones Nigeria
Child Empowerment Foundation (SSNCEF) – recently uncovered some very
disturbing findings. A shadowy religious group, known as the “peace
sisters”, had been found to have rounded up between 200-300 abandoned
children from the streets on the pretence that they were taking them to
their centre in Aba for “deliverance”. SSN and SSNCEF were already aware
that this group had been arrested in 2007 on suspicion of trafficking of
children and, as soon as we unearthed these findings, we quickly leapt
into action. Letters were sent and numerous calls were made to the federal
government anti-trafficking agency, NAPTIP, government, police and UNICEF
demanding that urgent action should be taken to investigate the “peace
sisters”. After two weeks of high level advocacy, SSN is happy to
announce that on 12th September 2008, 5 members of this group were
arrested and were found to be imprisoning 36 children in their “church”.
SSN and SSNCEF strongly believe that these children were destined to be
trafficked, although where exactly to we do not know. The investigation
into the “peace sisters” activities is still continuing and numerous
children are still unaccounted for. SSN sees this case as a huge success
for the work of SSNCEF and hopes that this will be the first of many
positive interventions carried out by our sister NGO.

SSN now feels that there is a great deal of positive momentum behind our
work and we very much look forward to working with key stakeholders, such
as government, churches and traditional rulers, in the near future to help
develop sustainable strategies to dealing with the child “witch”
phenomenon and ensuring that all children in Akwa Ibom state have access
to their rights. This momentum will undoubtedly continue with the
broadcast of the "Dispatches" documentary that SSN has been working on -
The Witch Children of Nigeria - on 12th November at 9pm on Channel 4.
International supporters may watch the film online at

We hope that you share our joy about these positive developments and wish
to thank you for your continuing support for SSN’s work.

With best wishes,

Gary Foxcroft

Programme Director

Stepping Stones Nigeria

Protecting, Saving and Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable and
Disadvantaged Children in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria

Registered UK and Wales charity number 1112476
Company number 05413970

Friday, September 19, 2008

Avast there!

Happy Internashnul Talk Loike a Pirate Day!

Avast there me hearties! Prepare to be boarded. I be out on the cyber-seas lookin' fer people to walk the virtual plank. Ye lubbers!

If you be an aspirin' female pirate, you should read Pirates by Celia Rees, which be explainin' all about how young ladies might become pirates, if so be as they wanted to excape from a loife of drudgitude and subjecshun to patriarchy and such-like stuff.

Teh ship's mascot also be gettin' in on the akshun:

a new planet

This is very exciting: astronomers at the University of Toronto have spotted a planet.
Young StarYoung star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 and its faint, planetary mass candidate companion.

University of Toronto astronomers have unveiled what is likely the first picture of a planet around a star similar to the sun.

Three scientists from astronomy and astrophysics used the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to take images of the young star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 (which lies outside the solar system at about 500 light-years from Earth) and a candidate companion of that star. They also obtained spectra to confirm the nature of the companion, which has a mass about eight times that of Jupiter and lies roughly 330 times the Earth-sun distance away from its star. (For comparison, the most distant planet in our solar system, Neptune, orbits the sun at only about 30 times the Earth-sun distance.) The parent star is similar in mass to the sun but is much younger.

"This is the first time we have directly seen a planetary mass object in a likely orbit around a star like our sun," said David Lafrenicre, a post-doctoral fellow and lead author of a paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters and also posted online. "If we confirm that this object is indeed gravitationally tied to the star, it will be a major step forward."

Actually I think I heard about this when it happened and forgot to look it up. But anyway, a planet like ours near a star like ours. Wow - it could be capable of supporting life.

Hat-tip to Geekologie.

More information and a bigger picture on Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Awesome! Bluetooth, steampunk-style:
Nicrosin’s Victorian-style Bluetooth device should be mass produced and powered solely by winding. He makes his creations from sculpey and watch parts, then lines it with leather for comfort. Though it still looks like it will eat your ear.

blog it
And this steampunk R2D2 is pretty cool, too:
Here’s what you get when a mad scientist from the 19th century creates a droid. The only thing missing is C3PO in a gentleman’s suit and bowler. It was made by Deviant Art user Amoebabloke, who has mad droid modding talent.
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Saturday, September 13, 2008


I've finished my dissertation, "Do Pagans see their beliefs as compatible with science?" (short answer: yes). Thanks to all those who took part in the survey.


I'm really excited about the Large Hadron Collider. I really like physics (though the maths is beyond me) whether it is particle physics or astronomy.

I didn't really think that anything very weird was going to happen as a result of the LHC being switched on, but it was certainly an intriguing thought, adding a bit of excitement and mystery to Wednesday. (And what an appropriate day to turn it on, the day of the shamanic poet-god who sacrificed himself to reveal one of the mysteries of the universe.)

I had a quick look at a news item on the BBC website about the LHC, and in the "Have your say" section, there was a comment by some loony claiming that we're not meant to know the secrets of God. What utter tosh. If the creator exists, then it created us how we are and therefore endowed us with curiosity and would want us to discover stuff. Of course there is no supernatural creator because consciousness is an emergent property of matter (unless our universe was born from an LHC in a previous universe, and therefore was created by sentient beings...)

There were other nutters claiming that the LHC is a waste of money. No, sport is a waste of money. Particle physics is massively worthwhile. Apart from the sheer interest of understanding more about how the universe works, all sorts of technology might arise from the knowledge developed at CERN (I mean they already invented the WWW, for goodness' sake, just by having a lot of brainy people and some computers).

It's exciting that they could actually detect the Higgs Boson (in ATLAS or in the CMS), and also recreate the conditions a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, known as the quark-gluon plasma phase (this experiment is in ALICE).

Just after the Big Bang and the quark-gluon plasma phase, there were a billion and one matter particles for every billion anti-matter particles. The billion anti-matter particles cancelled out the billion matter particles, leaving one left over, and that's why (it is hypothesised) we live in a universe of mostly matter. According to the LHCb website, "LHCb is an experiment set up to explore what happened after the Big Bang that allowed matter to survive and build the Universe we inhabit today."

I don't really understand what TOTEM is for - "Total Cross Section, Elastic Scattering and Diffraction Dissociation" - but it's something to do with the interaction of particles and photons in collision, and their trajectories when they are scattered after collision. They haven't got a website for interested amateurs. Cool name, though.

The LHCf will investigate the origin of ultra high energy cosmic rays.

The LHC will also allow us to investigate hypotheses about parallel universes, the number of dimensions, the nature of space-time, and maybe even produce a Grand Unified Theory. It's really exciting.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Justice for Bob

I've just been sent information about this campaign to reinstate a lecturer who was sacked for not sacking a subordinate who was in difficulty; instead he argued for a breathing space to help the person turn things around.

More information - please sign the petition.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

illicit pleasures

What have Lolita, The Origin of Species, and The Satanic Verses got in common?

The answer is, they have all been banned somewhere. Wikipedia has a list of banned books.

Borders is being subversive and offering 40% off banned books at the moment. The list is fascinating.
The main reason things seem to be banned is either because they are politically subversive or sexually explicit, except The Origin of Species, which is presumably banned in creationist states of the US, or something.

They missed out the Harry Potter books, but I suppose those aren't actually banned by any legislatures, only by certain schools and libraries. Things used to get banned for being religiously subversive, such as Steganographia by Johannes Trithemius and Picatrix or Ghayat al Hakim, but they seem to have ignored that category - maybe because now you can get them as free e-texts online. Picatrix was allegedly one of the books that Casanova was imprisoned for possessing. The Index of books prohibited by the Catholic Church was abolished in 1966.

What these people don't realise is the psychology of the thing. The minute I hear that a book or film has been banned, or that someone somewhere doesn't want me to read or see it, it makes me want to go out and read it or see it. For instance, I had no plans to go and see The Last Temptation of Christ. Yawn, I thought, yet another film about Jesus. But as soon as I heard that it was controversial and people wanted it banned, it made me want to go and see it. I didn't see it in the end (apathy set in), but it illustrates how stupid it is to try and ban things. Notice how I thought several of the books listed above were actually quite boring - they would probably have sunk without trace if they hadn't been banned, but I expect the fact they were banned made them instant best-sellers (a bit like Spycatcher, which I bought in Germany because there was a court order against it being published in the UK, but that turned out to be rather boring).

Monday, September 08, 2008

a matter for divorce

I'd have divorced him too. Sizeist.

Fortunately, in our house, we are as one: Pluto is a planet. And Chiron, and Sedna....

Quantum rap

Just been sent the Large Hadron Collider Rap, which as well as being funny, explains the physics rather well (at least I assume it does, since I'm not an expert on particle physics). There's a Wikipedia page about the LHC, which incidentally records that the rap has been listened to by a million YouTube viewers. It also has a guest appearance from Stephen Hawking (or possibly a simulation of his voice).

I'm currently reading Keeping it real (part 1 of Quantum Gravity) by Justina Robson, which has as its starting point the rearrangement of the multiverse by a device similar to the Large Hadron Collider. As a result, gateways were opened to Alfheim, Zoomenon, Thanatopia and the realm of demons. It's good because there's a lot of detail about the world and the characters, and some interesting ideas, like Games (like head-games but there's more at stake). Also the main character is a cyborg called Lila, who is having an identity crisis about being a cyborg. The elves are pretty cool, too, though definitely not nice. There's also an elvish rock star.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Richard Zimler

I have now read three books by Richard Zimler: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Hunting Midnight and The Seventh Gate. They follow the fortunes of the Zarco family, who are Sephardic Jews from Portugal. If you want to know what the style is like, try to imagine a Jewish version of Robertson Davies.

In The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Berekiah Zarco tries to discover who murdered his uncle, whilst there is a particularly vicious pogrom going on. In some ways it reminded me of The Anointed One by Z'ev Ben Shimon Halevi, but Zimler is the more accomplished writer of the two (though Halevi is excellent from an esoteric point of view). Zimler's characters are sympathetic and well-drawn; even those who are in the business of preserving their own skin even at the cost of betraying others are finely depicted so that their motivation can be understood. Zimler's main theme in this book and The Seventh Gate is the idea that a person can sacrifice themselves to change history; this is also the theme of Halevi's The Anointed One.

Hunting Midnight is about a friendship between John Zarco Stewart and Midnight, an African healer and freed slave. It's a beautiful book, though quite heartbreaking. It deals with slavery, the hidden Jews of Portugal, love, loss and betrayal.

The Seventh Gate is about Isaac Zarco, who lives in Berlin in 1933, and the struggle by him and his circle of friends to resist the Nazis. The characters are beautifully drawn. The book shows how the slide into Nazi totalitarianism came about, and how it affected people's lives, like the Jewish population, children who were considered subnormal, people with gigantism, and dwarves - all of whom were considered undesirable by the Nazis. It also explains why people waited until the last possible minute to leave Germany. In the midst of all this, Isaac Zarco is reading the book written by Berekiah Zarco and trying to attain the Seventh Gate of the Divine realm.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

I love your blog

Bo at The Expvlsion of the Blatant Beast has kindly nominated Nemeton for the "I love your blog" award.

I have already nominated eight blogs at MetaPagan, so I won't repeat those nominations here, much as I love those blogs.

So, here are some more blogs that I love:

{feuilleton} - a blog mostly about art, films, and writing, with occasional forays into the occult & the world of gay. Now returned after a brief hiatus due to a technical hitch (that's good, I was getting withdrawal symptoms).

Curious Expeditions - a blog about the weirder corners of life (and death), including Victorian mourning customs, tragic songs, stuffed things, hair sculpture, and weird things in jars in museums.

The Silver Eel - thoughts on literature and life

The Woolamaloo Gazette - more thoughts on literature and life

Notes from underground - blog by Methodius about Orthodoxy, Inklings, and South African politics. Fascinating.

Liz Williams: journal - an SF writer and Druid in Glastonbury

Kathz's Blog - a Quaker writing about pacifism, green issues and literature

Necropolis Now - this blog started as an exploration of funerary monuments, but has now broadened to art and goddesses

There are other blogs I enjoy reading from time to time, but these are ones that I visit regularly.

The rules are:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Link to the person from whom you received the award.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Put links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message on the blogs nominated.

NB - it is not compulsory for nominees to also nominate blogs.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Justice for Jean

The Justice for Jean campaign has started a new blog, as the inquest is starting on 22nd September.
After more than three years, the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes will finally open on 22nd September 2008. It is expected to last three months.

The inquest will be the first chance the family of Jean Charles will be able to put their questions to the police officers responsible for his death. It will also be the first time we will hear evidence from the fire-arms officers who killed Jean and the civilian witnesses to the killing. The inquest will be taking place at the Oval Cricket Ground in South London and Jean’s mother and brother will be coming over from Brazil for part of it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

deep and Crisp and even

More exciting news from the world of Crisp - they're making a sequel, An Englishman in New York, which was the title of the second part of Quentin Crisp's memoirs; though I can't hear that phrase without humming the Sting song inspired by it.

Alas and alack

John Coulthart's excellent blog and website have disappeared - temporarily I hope. Oddly though, the RSS feed still seems to be working. I hope this is not a case of ISPs getting prissy and prudish. All URLs under the domain currently redirect to

Bring it back, bring it back
Don't take it away from me
Because you don't know
What it means to me...

The Naked Civil Servant

We watched The Naked Civil Servant last night (recorded off the TV a while back), a dramatisation of Quentin Crisp's life made in 1975. Considering that it was made 33 years ago, it really is a classic bit of TV drama. The thing that was the most disturbing about it, however, was the way in which nearly everybody in 1930s England was violently homophobic. Quentin Crisp used to get slapped by passing women in broad daylight. You forget sometimes what really vicious homophobia is like, until it happens - again - to someone you love.

Also shocking were those gays of the 1930s who were so in the closet that Quentin's flamboyant queerness was too much for them; they did not see that he was the future, that he was fighting for the cause of gay liberation by being out, loud and proud. I am glad that he lived to see significant progress in the field of gay rights, and to be honoured for his achievements.

The weirdest bit is at the end, when we arrive at the "present" (1975), and I was so engrossed that I forgot that that was when it was made and therefore it must be the end of the film.

I am more full of admiration for Quentin Crisp than ever.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.

Ah, Sylvia Plath, who fed my adolescent dreams. Fed them with bleeding flowers and old moonlight, mad women and the fear of hospitals. What 1950s melancholy, like an endless Sunday afternoon.

And yet she produced some of the most perfectly Pagan poems...

Haunched like a faun, he hooed
From grove of moon-glint and fen-frost
Until all owls in the twigged forest
Flapped black to look and brood
On the call this man made.

No sound but a drunken coot
Lurching home along river bank.
Stars hung water-sunk, so a rank
Of double star-eyes lit
Boughs where those owls sat.

An arena of yellow eyes
Watched the changing shape he cut,
Saw hoof harden from foot, saw sprout
Goat-horns. Marked how god rose
And galloped woodward in that guise.

~ Sylvia Plath

The Moon and the Yew Tree

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky --
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness -
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence.
I love these two poems; they are part of who I am. I love the colours in them - the dark blue and black of the night, the pale unearthly blue of the saints, the whiteness of the Moon. The arena of yellow eyes; the pale moon-glint and fen-frost in the darkness.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I decided that I needed to plan meals, so that we wouldn't be eating junk food, and wasting food that we can't work out what to do with.

So I wrote a list of all the meals I would make over a week, using cookery books for inspiration. Then I made a list of all the ingredients we would need, and went to the supermarket (the Co-op) to buy them. I also decided to alternate between vegetarian and omnivore meals.
On the first day of the new regime, I made Moroccan chicken with lemon and olives from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

It's very easy - just fry garlic, turmeric and cumin in a pan, add strips of chicken, 100g of chopped green pitted olives, and the juice and zest of 2 lemons. I served it with pitta bread fried in butter, but you can also use pilau rice. The green salad on the side was lettuce, watercress, rocket, spinach, and fennel, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. Delicious, and it tasted like the dish I had at a Moroccan restaurant recently.
day 1
On the second day, I made stir-fried vegetables. Stir-fry vegetables (ready chopped) from the Co-op, plus sliced chestnut mushrooms, sprouted mixed pulses, chopped root ginger, half a packet of mung-bean sprouts, sliced sugar-snap peas, fried in sesame oil, and glazed with some hoi-sin sauce I had left over from a Chinese takeaway.

I forgot to get any noodles, but it was quite filling without them. You definitely need some sort of sauce on it, though, otherwise it's a bit boring.
day 2
On the third day, I made Thai green curry. 2 pieces of haddock, plus 2 sliced courgettes, a packet of Sharwood's Thai Green Curry paste (I don't normally use mixes but this was a good one and you waste less that way), sliced sugar-snap peas (the other half of the packet from yesterday), some fennel, chopped root ginger, lemongrass paste, chopped Savoy cabbage (which might have been a mistake), and some spinach. Served with boiled wholegrain rice.
day 3

Definitely enjoying the new system so far. I get less bored of cooking and less frustrated by not having the right ingredients in the cupboard, or wondering what to do with a weird collection of leftovers, and we get a balanced diet.

I also discovered that it's quite difficult to compose photographs of food. However, considering that I took these photos on my mobile, I reckon they're not too bad.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

a little light reading

Four interesting projects....
Badger says:

So the Lord said, “I will destroy Man whom I have created from the face of the Earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry I have made them.” - Genesis 6:7

So, God gets pissed at Man and decides not only to kill every single person on the planet (even the newborn babies who are, one would think, blameless), but he also decides to off all the animals. Well, except fish, I would guess. They were probably quite pleased!

Anyhow, flood happens. God has a grand ole time going along undoing everything he did. Is it just me, or does he strike you as a frustrated gamer, always reloading Sims from a save point, after having done horrible things to his Sims?
Actually the Flood was caused by Ishtar when she was suffering from PMT. See Tablet 11 of The Epic of Gilgamesh. I am also mystified as to why anyone would worship a being who is described as sending plagues and floods on innocent people. Anyway, it’s all a metaphor…

Peter says:
The Bible was written by writers, and I’ve long felt that much of what those writers wanted to say has been lost, crushed, twisted, and sometimes outright perverted by later so-called “Bible based” traditions. All religious sentiments aside, as a fellow writer I feel it is my calling and my sacred duty to read through the text, not for comfort or for inspiration or for edification, but simply to hear what it is they were trying to say.
David says:
This is not a story they taught me at Temple Sinai's Hebrew School in 1980: The founding fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel lie, breach a contract, encourage pagans to convert to Judaism only in order to incapacitate them for slaughter, murder some innocents and enslave others, pillage and profiteer, and then justify it all with an appeal to their sister's defiled honor.
Bill says:
I am not against the Bible. I am just against the idea that this book – or any other book, including the Koran or the Book of Mormon or whatever – is a special revelation from God. It is probably the most irrational, dangerous and divisive idea that currently infects the human psyche. And, as Art Lester said to me last month, ‘The book-believers are the ones who will destroy the world.’ Sadly, Art might just be right. And it is our duty to challenge the book-believers, by fostering a new kind of religious consciousness with the contrary message that knowledge and wisdom are the result of human thought, human experience, reflection, reason, scientific endeavour. They do not drop down from heaven fully formed, nor are they are not the preserve of one nation or one religion or one period in history. And they are certainly not to be found in one book. To suggest that they are is to turn works of literature into loaded guns.
Bill is the author of The Gospel and the Zodiac, which puts forward the idea that the Jesus mythos was originally an initiatory mystery based on the symbolism of the Zodiac. Neat idea.

If I was going to do a Bible-blogging project, I'd start with something as near to the original as I could get: the Hebrew Tanakh in English. Alternatively, I would blog about a book that I might enjoy reading, like the Tao Te Ching or the T’ai Hsüan Ching.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Badgers saved!

Great news:
On 7 July the Secretary of State announced Defra’s policy will be not to issue any licences to farmers to cull badgers to prevent bovine TB. The Secretary of State has decided that we need to put our effort into strengthening our programme of research to develop cattle and badger vaccines and plan for their deployment. £20 million will be invested over the next three years in developing usable cattle and badger vaccines.
(response from the government to a Save the Badgers petition)

The full text of Mr Benn’s statement can be found on the Defra website at:

Yay!!! I am really pleased about this.

Friday, August 15, 2008

torch songs

A discussion about music over at The Expulsion of the Blatant Beast led me to think about my repertoire of songs that I like to sing, and what they might have in common. Usually they're in a minor key (as far as I can tell, since I don't really understand about keys and modes and stuff) and about something sad and yearning....
There are other songs that I want to learn, but since I so seldom attend eisteddfodau these days, it's difficult to find opportunities to perform in front of a sympathetic audience (since I can't sing if there are people sniffing and tutting about non-musicians, yada yada yada).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


According to the quiz at Am I, I am moderately annoying (hurrah! I wouldn't want to be completely bland)

You can also vote there for the annoyingness of celebrities. Alas, Trinny and Susannah (two of the most annoying celebrities on the planet) are not on there. They do have historical figures on there, though; for instance I just voted the Emperor Constantine as annoying for embracing Christianity and making it the state religion of the Roman Empire when it was much better as a rather subversive non-statist little cult. You can also find new people to get annoyed about that you'd never even heard of, like Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Just for balance, I also voted Richard Dawkins annoying. It's a pity it's just a straight choice between annoying, not and don't care, as for some people (like Constantine, and Henry VIII) I'd like to rate them as extra annoying. Humph, Henry VIII isn't on there, but both his daughters and his dad are. I'm annoyed with his brother as well, for dying young and letting Henry VIII get the throne. He caught a chill in Ludlow Castle, or something. I once had the satisfaction of going up to his tomb and telling him that I was annoyed with him for dying early.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Chicken Run

There's a lovely story on the BBC website about the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, which re-homes retired battery chickens:

Despite spending most of their life four to a cage, it does not take long to adapt - almost immediately they start stretching their wings and scratching at the soil.

Some take dust baths - something they have never been able to do. Nature kicks in and they fluff up feathers so the soil can cleanse and cool them.

It's cheaper for the farmers to give the hens to the trust than to send them off for slaughter, apparently.

But most farmers are not being deliberately cruel:
Setting up free range systems requires investment of tens of thousands of pounds. Farmers need to know we will support them and that we will not abandon them in favour of cheap foreign imports where regulations and constraints are often lighter, making the egg cheaper.
If you want to re-home some hens, visit the Battery Hen Welfare Trust website now.

If you can't adopt a hen, make sure you buy free-range eggs and products made from free-range eggs.


John Coulthart asks, where have all the mermen gone?

Apparently all mermen are Asian. Either that or they look like Clark Kent underwater.

This one is quite sweet in a faintly Pauline Baynes kind of way but he seems to have a bit of a problem finding his assets.

There’s a faintly Victorian one here, but it’s by David Delamare, 2001.

I guess there’s no Victorian ones because neither Simeon Solomon nor the women Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists turned their hands to the subject.

There are some depictions of mermen in Wikimedia Commons. There's also a weird cryptozoological specimen (warning: disturbing photo of dead merman) but it looks as if it's made of papier-mâché to me, or perhaps photoshopped.

Monday, July 28, 2008

sculpture on show

If you're down in Devon in September, don't miss Devon Open Studios, 10.30 am - 4.30 pm, 6th, 7th and 8th September 2008.

Peter Randall-Page is participating. I wish I could be in Devon in September, as I would love to see some of his sculptures 'in the flesh' so to speak. He is part of the West Devon trail (trail 2), guides to which can be downloaded from the Devon Artist Network (pdf).

I've been aware of his work since the late eighties, when I had a postcard of one of his sculptures on my wall.

His more recent work is even more exciting - it's so organic. It reminds me of some of Andy Goldsworthy's stuff, or Chris Hill's. I really like work that seems to reveal the hidden secrets of nature, like fractals, spirals, and the shape of rocks. Anyway, go and check out his website and admire it for yourself.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

the art of suicide

It has always amazed me that some art apparently has the power to suggest suicide to people. Goethe's novella Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers apparently caused many suicides among German youth, who dressed themselves in the style of the hero and even had the same book beside them when they committed suicide.

Similarly, the Hungarian song Szomorú vasárnap (Gloomy Sunday) apparently has the power to suggest suicide to those who listen to it, according to Curious Expeditions:
Hauntingly beautiful, the story goes that the song was so sad, so depressing, so completely soul crushing, that upon hearing it even once, Hungarians were driven to suicide. And not just a few, during its era, hundreds of suicides were attributed to the melody.
Billie Holliday also recorded a version, which is certainly very sad and gloomy (but then so are most of her songs).

Then of course there are all the novels about suicide: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides; A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby; Suicide Wall by Alexander Paul.

Chris Power in The Guardian blog further explores the theme of literary suicide. Both Schopenhauer and Donne defended it, and Plutarch considered Cato the Younger's suicide a noble death. The Romantics lauded the death of Chatterton as 'the apotheosis of artistic sensibility'.

There is also a tradition in Japan of writing haiku before committing suicide (and also before a natural death):
In a full ceremonial seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide) one of the elements of the ritual is the writing of a death poem. The poem is written in the tanka style (five units long which are usually composed of five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables). Asano Naganori, the daimyo whose suicide the forty-seven ronin avenged, wrote a death poem in which commentators see the immaturity and lack of character that led to him being ordered to commit seppuku in the first place.
Oddly, different countries have different suicide rates, which remain fairly constant, perhaps because of varying cultural attitudes to suicide. Hungary is number 5 on the list.

Goths are also fascinated with death and gloom, as this song by Emilie Autumn, The Art of Suicide, illustrates. They also love death in general; Chas Clifton recently spotted a Gothic Book of the Dead, which offers advice on:
Meditating on gravestone sculptures, creating a necromantic medicine bag, keeping a personal book of the dead, and other exercises will help you explore the vital, transformative forces of death.
Chas declares himself no longer entranced by death, having experienced too much of it lately. I agree - life is too full of joy and complexity and love - but it's a curious pleasure to wallow in melancholy sometimes.
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
... as Keats so eloquently expressed it in his Ode on Melancholy.

Suicide is always a tragedy, and leaves heartbreak in its wake. But its cultural aspects are very interesting.