Wednesday 19 August 2020


     Instead of writing my usual narrative, in this post I would like to stick to some poems I wrote a number of years ago and which contain reminiscences of childhood and family.  There are just three poems.   The first one, "Autobiography", is based on memories of my childhood home on the outskirts of Birmingham, England, and particularly features memories of an ancient church near my home.  Then follows "Family Album", with memories of my father's parents, who were the only grandparents I actually knew.  Finally comes "Family Saga" with my mother's tales of her own grandparents who lived in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

          When I was small I lived in a green land --
           Revisited, sparse enough, with bright red brick
           Springing between the calculated flowers.
           But in that seeking time it seemed to me
           Nothing but fields stretched out on either hand
           Until they reached the blue horizon's edge.

           For me the trees grew green, adventurous in Spring,
           Rich in the  Summer and in  Autumn, finally
           Intricate pattern of iron work, austere in Winter.
           For me the fields grew flowers.  Each new plant
           Was like the finding of a continent
           To me, conquistadora.  All my senses
           Greeted whatever lay before them, glad
          To recognize the texture of a mat
          (Thrusting my hands among the long-haired fleece)
           The rough and granular work of a pebbled wall,
           Digging out shards with broken nails and watching
           The glint of sun om granite, feeling
           Sunlight absorbed by stones sink down again
           Into my body, leaning full against them.
\          I felt things with my feet: the rich black squelch
           Of mud or macadam between my toes,
          The springy, sheep-bit turf, the leather arms
           Of  our much harassed armchairs, or the bed,
          Sharp with its pointed pebbles, of a stream
          So shallow it barely reached above my toes.
           Water I loved indeed to touch and handle:
          Black and perhaps unfathomable pools
          Lurking in gullies at the foot of hills,
         Sea, on the rare occasions when I saw it
          (Making me almost drunk with exaltation
         When the wave bucked beneath the boat) but most
          Of all the shallow little stream that ran
          Through fields and woodlands, breaking and curvetting,
          Surrounding tiny obstacles, then smoothing
          Itself to a small, sleek imitation of
          The long Atlantic swell, in little frets
          Caused by the pattern of its two inch bed.

         A wood and fields comprised my known world:
         A golf course lay beyond.  A small estate,
         Yet endlessly productive of delight.
         Of terror too.  Imagination helped.
        One day I found an egg beneath a hedge,
         In texture quite unlike the eggs that broke
         To form a clamorous nest of early birds,
         Their beaks still gaping for the endless worm
         That nest was safely tucked inside the hedge
         And some way further up, concealed from travelers
         Who did not so minutely scan as I
         The objects they encountered on their path.
         This egg was horny skinned and strangely hued
         With oily hues like dribbled gasoline.
         I thought of all that I had ever read
         Of snakes, their habits and of dragonets.
          The end of school meant anxious visiting
         With wary step  and timorous roving eye
          To look for alteration in the egg.
         A boy who found me hovering round the hedge
        Which marked their garden's limit took me in
         And showed his rabbits and his bicycle;
         I soon escaped to mark the spot again.
         I hardly know if I was frightened when
         My daily visit showed a broken shell,
         A vanished  occupant.  For weeks I went
         Another way, to shun the cockatrice.
         Another vision, scarcely less suspect,
         Came monthly rolling on down Manor Lane.
          There, at a turning near the school,
         The gypsies' never ending caravans
         With their full complement of men and boys
         And walking mothers wearing their old shoes
        Taken from garbage cans along the road,
         Superlatively down at heel but fine,
         Magnificent in dirt.  They always  wore
         Most curious wrappers, black with orange sprigs,
         Tying across the side with thin black tapes.
         I used to wonder where they got them from,
         For I never saw them anywhere for sale.
         They were disturbing but they never stopped.
         They seemed to breathe a different air from we;
         Dragons and snakes were closer than they were.
         And yet they never once disturbed my dreams.
         Strange as they were, they were no cause for fear.

          The passing pattern of my days assumed
           A patchwork glory.  Nothing was too small
           To be excluded from experience
           And nothing was so great it over-topped
           The rest of life and minimized its worth.
           We never had to go to church, yet still
            I felt a thrill on entering that place--
            Unforced and therefore stronger holy fear.
         The massive vaulting of the church, so huge
         I could not force my head back far enough
         To view the timber arches of the roof,
         Formed far too vast a box for my small heart
         Thudding between the hassocks and the pews.
         Eternity made strange the monuments
         And dusty marble wigs of antique men
         With all their sculptured virtues at their sides.
         Large things seem larger to a ten year old.

         That sentiment was strong indeed, and while
         I drifted down an aisle like some church mouse
         Or even, bold with dread, approached the Bird
         That held the Book in fierceness and in bronze;
         While this suffused my soul I dared not own
          Another feeling than magnetic dread.
         But when I found myself outside again,
         Alone with sounds and leaves and mossy stones
         And sorrowing angels drooping in their wings
         With testimonials to local names,
         I plucked up courage far enough to rout
         Amid the graveyard garbage for old flowers
        And fly with shrieks and scattered trophies from
        Indignant hobbling guardians of the tombs.

        I could not wish myself at any time
        Returned again to that remembered past
        For every joy brought compensating grief
        And anguishes to great to bear again.
        But while I lived in childhood I could yet
        Forget each grief the moment it was gone
        And meet the constant bully with surprise
        On each occasion. Joy I too forgot,
        Living the moment as it came.  One thing
        I could grudge at this hour and that is time:
       Continual leisure of the infant life
       To spend as long examining a leaf
       As it demanded and no moment less.
      And what prevents me now from watching leaves?
      I own no fewer seconds in the week.

                       FAMILY ALBUM

         All the life of his life,
         My grandfather, who is long dead,
         Worked in the Jewelers' Quarter.

         He had a big red nose and mild blue eyes
         And a silvery white moustache.

         To look at him in his overalls
         You would never think him aesthetic
         But he would buy pictures instead of meat

        When he was young with two little boys
        And a careful, brisk young wife.

        They stood in a group for their photograph:
        Grandfather wistful, Grandmother blurred
        From holding her restless sons.

        Only her hands stood out --
        Iron hands, imprisoning little boys.

       Her hands held tight and never let go,
       But Grandfather's hands hung open
       For experience to run through.

     Grandfather bought and sold and gave.
     Grandmother made, kept and mended.

     These were their patterns through life..

                                           FAMILY SAGA

          If I choose to go back further,
          I come to my  Great Grandmother.
          She was named Barbara Morrison --
         I am named Barbara  after her --
         And she was born on a croft.

        When she grew up she was pretty
        And she fell in love with a sailor --
       Most of the boys were sailors --
       But her family said No.
       They found her a rich, middle-aged husband.

        My Great Grandfather whom she married
        Was a very remarkable man.
         At the age of fifty he was the richest man
         With the widest whiskers on the whole of Bernera.
         He was also an Elder of the Kirk.
         But he didn't start out that way.

        Hear the tale of my Great Grandfather!

                       For thirty years he sat and thought --
                       Not all the time-- He worked a turn --
                       But when his work was over, he
                      Would think and let the cabbage burn.

                       The thought that occupied his mind
                       Was how to find the proper way --
                        And to finance the plan, when found --
                       To make his lobster fishing pay.

                       He sat and thought for thirty years --
                       For thirty years and then some more --
                       And finally the plan was born
                       When he was nearing thirty-four.

                      He shipped upon a cargo boat
                      Destined for Canada.
                      He flexed his muscles every night
                      And said a little prayer.

                      He prayed like Samson he might be
                      Great, tall and stout and strong
                      And likewise wise as Solomon
                      Without doing anyone wrong.

                       Upon arriving at the coast
                       He leaped upon the shore
                       And started chopping trees like mad --
                       No other could chop more.

                      They were well paid, Great Grandfather
                      And all the other men.
                      But while they squandered he would save
                      And earn some more again.

                      Before he had been many years
                      Upon that fortunate shore,
                      He'd saved five hundred pounds in gold
                      And sailed for home once more.

                      Once home he hired two men to dig
                      And with their help he made
                      A  most enormous lobster pond --
                      Like Aberdeen harbour, it is said.

                      He filled that pond with lobsters blue
                      From all the seas around
                      And when the other men sailed out
                      No lobsters could be found.

                     They all were with Great Grandfather
                      Who sold them -- at a price.
                      He was the richest man for miles
                      And got Barbara, which was nice.

                     Now this great man is dead and gone
                     But still the things he did remain.
                    He built that pond like Pyramids
                    To win an everlasting name.

                   Some time ago an engineer
                   Officially sent up from London
                   Came many miles to see this pond
                  And could not think how it was done.

                 Great Grandpa used his natural brains
                 To do what others could not do
                  And even now the Government
                  Is baffled by the things he knew.

     Barbara survived him. She bore two sons
     And adopted two children as well.
     She was made with a leaning to hope
     And a heart like the widow's cruse.
     Furthermore she had natural curls.

     For a matron these were improper
     But she tried to repress them in vain.
     Since her marriage had failed to depress her,
     Nothing could ever achieve it.
     She died in her sleep, smiling.













Tuesday 4 August 2020

Scottish Presbyterians

 Aunt Mary was quite shocked  when she entered an Anglican church and saw a religious picture on the wall, as she considered that idolatrous.  She really upset my mother by writing to her when my mother was in India to say that she was grooming her daughters for damnation by sending them to a convent school. But when she took me to one particular Protestant church when I was a child she was really sorry for it. That church was having a communion service by passing round little cups of grape juice and little plates of bread.   It didn't occur to Aunt Mary that no one had explained to me about communion  and she was completely taken aback when I started shouting out "I want refreshments! Everybody else is having refreshments!  Why can't I have refreshments?"  She had to take me out of the church and never brought me back.
     Something she really insisted on was avoiding all theatrical performances, whether in the cinema or on stage, as that was participating in telling a lie.
     Two other things she really insisted on were strict chastity and Sabbath Day observance. Men were to be avoided at all costs, an insistence which got her the reputation of being a Lesbian in some parts of the family, although my mother refused to believe it.   Men, according to her, were just so many rapists.  And on Sunday you should spend the whole day reading the Bible and going to church  and not even think of taking a walk for pleasure.
     In stark contrast to Aunt Mary were two other important figures in my childhood, Aunt Maidie and  Our Evelyn.  Aunt Maidie was no relation but my mother's best friend.  She was involved quite openly in an unmarried sexual relationship and took the occult much more seriously than religion, although she was glad to have her mother praying for her during the Blitz when she was an air raid warden.   Our Evelyn, who was a nursemaid my mother took on when I was about eight, was Catholic and made attempts to convert me that made much more of an impression on me than my Aunt Mary's similar attempts . It is probably because of her that I take great pleasure in saying Catholic prayers today, even though that doesn't stop me being a Quaker.  So all that ends up as quite a mixed bag of religion.

Following Presbyterians

     Yesterday I spent several hours composing a Blog to which I gave the title "Scottish Presbyterians"  and which I ended up accidentally deleting.  It was all about a couple of members of my Scottish mother's family who were full of doom and gloom and premonitions of disaster and considered this a right attitude to religion.  I went on about this in considerable detail, not realising that by so doing I was becoming thoroughly negative myself.  But she was not negative herself at all. Calling the Blog "Scottish Presbyterians" I was giving the impression that all Scottish Presbyterians were like this.  And yet my mother was just as convinced as they were about the rightness of the religion in which the whole family had been brought up although she was quite different.   She was both fun-loving and kind.  She was also very far from believing that she had all the right answers.  As a result she tended to admire the one  Presbyterian relative to whom I was particularly hostile and tell me to be like her, simply because this relation was so steeped in religious observance that my mother had to believe that she was really good.
     I feel I have to go back to the beginning again, so instead of calling this Blog "Scottish Presbyterians" I am calling it "Following Presbyterians", meaning to imply that I am following up on  what I said before even though I hadn't actually published any of it.  I just thought I had.

     I could go on in some detail and at some length about the ways in which  my mother and Aunt Mary (as I was taught to call this particular relative) professed the same beliefs and yet were quite different in their attitudes and behaviour.  In fact I think I will.

     But first I would like to comment on certain aspects of human behaviour.  It seems to be typically human to form groups which protect their own members in opposition to other groups, starting with the nuclear family and then going on to link together people living in a particular place or belonging to a particular profession, class, race or religion.  Tolerance seems very hard to acquire and requires quite a lot of effort,  "I am better than you are because my group is better than yours" seems like a nearly universal reaction.

     Aunt Mary felt like that about being Scottish rather than English and Presbyterian rather than Catholic.  She went back to Scotland every summer, returning with a large bouquet of white heather, and felt she had to do this to maintain her moral fibre  while being obliged to earn a living in the sinful city of London.  As for the difference between her and Catholics, she was quite sure she was saved and bound for heaven while they were all going straight to hell.  It didn't bother her in the least that Catholics might feel the same way about her.  They were simply wrong.

     In contrast, after the departure of Nurse Boone and as her family continued to grow, my mother hired a much less prestigious nursemaid  by the name of Evelyn Shephard who was staunchly Catholic, apparently quite unconcerned that Evelyn might try to convert us.  In fact Evelyn did make this attempt, filling me with such admiration for the saints that I still feel it today.  In fact as a child I even wanted to be a saint myself until I discovered that becoming one wasn't that easy.

     It wasn't exactly that my mother didn't care what we believed.  She did become quite upset when my sister Ann, having been sent to a convent school in India, started attending mass on her return to England.   She only calmed down when Ann pretended that she was thinking of attending the University of Geneva.  My mother thought Geneva was still the city of Calvin, which it, not.  Rather my mother was so convinced of the rightness of her own faith that she tended to regard other faiths as comic rather than dangerous.  When Evelyn responded to the news that my parents had married in a registry office by saying that they were living in sin and we children were bastards, my mother thought this was hilarious.

     When I think about that, I realise that my mother didn't feel threatened by religious differences any more than she felt threatened by the company of the gypsies or by the presence of an unmarried mother next door.  This girl, who called herself Mrs. Lamb without anybody  believing that she was actually married to Mr. Lamb, lived together with him and their two children.  Her own mother had disowned her, saying that having one child could be a mistake but if you had two, you were doing it on purpose.  To say they were ostracised is putting it mildly.  Mrs. Lamb couldn't do her own grocery shopping without being insulted by the shopkeepers, so my mother sent me to do it for her without anyone suspecting and she always gave me a large tip for it because Mr. Lamb had money.  I  almost forgot to mention that Mr. Lamb had a legal wife who refused to divorce him and was paying child support to a third woman.  Hearing all this, I took a good look at Mr. Lamb one day to see if I could see anything special about him but I couldn't.  Where my mother's acceptance of Mrs. Lamb was concerned, she was motivated not by easy  approval but by pity, while my Aunt Mary insisted so stoutly on perfect chastity that she regarded all men as potentially evil and to be strictly avoided.

     The total difference in attitude which I perceived in so many respects between my mother and Aunt Mary is liable to occur in every group and religion.   Just how far does this go?  What seems to be involved is the contrast between those who have a real feeling for humanity and those who are wrapped up in their own self importance, whatever they claim to believe.




Wednesday 8 July 2020


     The last Blog I posted was all about my Guardian Angel.  One thing I didn't say about him is that he's a very tricky character.  In fact he's such a trickster that I think he's related to the Norse god Loki or else to the indigenous characters Raven and Coyote.  It was through his trickiness that I was able as a child to escape unharmed from that child moleste.,  Through my angel's close acquaintance with tricks I was able to see through that scoundrel's attempts to trick me and deceive him in my turn. When he said he would take me to the woods, I said "Oh, that would be lovely! Do you know where the woods are?" and took his hand as I did so so that I could let go of him easily when there was a suitable time.  He said, "No, I'm a stranger here," so I said "Then I'll show you the way" and led him towards my parents' home, chatting as naively as I could all the way.  When we reached it I ran in.

     One thing I wasn't able to do was get him arrested because my parents' didn't believe my story but thought I had made it up.  After all I had been in the habit of telling some pretty remarkable stories about having been a Scots terrier in a previous existence.  But I really didn't mind not being believed so long as I was safe.  At any rate I knew that that man would have lost faith in his powers of deception.  Maybe, although that is perhaps too much to hope for, he never approached another child again, fearing the visibility of his guilty secret.

      One thing my angel is not able to do is hit all the right keys on my computer, so you will have to excuse my typos.  He belongs to a much earlier time.  In fact I'm sure he goes back to the Stone Age, long predating Christianity.  In fact he may actually be the Norse god Loki in a new guise or else Raven or Coyote.  After all, Loki was considered an enemy by the Norse gods, who were quite accomplished villains, for he brought about their downfall, plotting it from the start, and thereby cleared the way  in Scandinavia for Christianity.  But people have always known about tutelary spirits.

      So-called "primitive" people are regularly accompanied on important journeys by animal spirits and this is particularly the case with shamans.  Most people are familiar with the sets of animal cards for telling fortunes which are based on indigenous beliefs.  When we use them, we are of course calling for guidance on the over soul of each particular animal as it has become known to us through its distinctive character and ways.  I have even come across an account by a well known psychic,  Colette Baron-Reid, in her very informative book, "Messages From Spirit", of how she got some cockroaches to move out of her apartment into a neighbour's by appealing  to the Over Soul of the cockroaches. This author says she is sometimes taken for a witch but the the world of Spirit is far too vast and generous to be limited to that.  However witches were well known to have pets, sometimes toads but more often black cats.

     The witch of Endor, in the Bible. had a familiar spirit, although we are not told if it was an animal spirit, which she used to call up the spirit of the prophet Samuel to answer the questions of King Saul, and psychics and mediums nowadays regularly have spirit guides.  But of course they have to be careful what kind of spirit they pick.  Certain sources of spiritual guidance such as the ouija board are quite notorious for calling up the wrong kinds of spirits. There is a well known story of how one couple of young men were led to complete psychological and spiritual disaster by it.  But however angels, no matter how tricky' are a completely different kettle of flying fish.

     Angels are unreservedly good and bearers of messages from God to Man in whatever religion they may appear.  Gabriel bore the message of the Koran to Mohammed and of the Annunciation to Mary and he may have been the one who warned Joseph in a dream to flee with the Mother and Child to Egypt.  Michael fights on God's behalf and Raphael heals.  But there are myriads of angels.  Everyone, without exception has his own guardian angel, although some of my friends are more conscious of his presence than others.  Some people are more conscious of their besetting devil, who is also in constant attendance.  My naughty Quaker friend, Basil Ivan Rakoczi,  about  whom I have written in a previous blog, once told me the following story.  When he was a little boy he was told by his religious teachers -- I think they were Jesuits -- that he had an angel on his right shoulder and a devil on his left. He should always listen to the angel and ignore the devil. But he felt sorry for the poor little devil who was being ignored and decided to listen to both, with the consequences we already know about.

     Apart from angels and in a different category, in other religions we find gods and daemons. Socrates put great faith in his daemon, to whom he listened all the time and on whose advice he unfailingly relied, even when it advised him to accept the death sentence passed on him by the leaders of Athens.   And the priestesses of the Pythian oracle served Apollo as the psychics of their day.  Each god or goddess was the tutelary spirit looking after whoever was dedicated to that particular deity's avocation, much as guardian angels or patron saints can be nowadays. All this is typical godlike behaviour.

     But there is a different category of gods I have heard about recently who are worshiped in modern times and who co-exist with Roman Catholicism in Haiti.  I heard about Voodoo a long time ago and regarded it with horror as unreservedly evil.  When I heard a friend of mine was practicing it I fled from her house in terror.  Since then I have read a book which puts a much kinder face on this practice.  It is called "Mama Loa" and it is a sympathetic account by a social scientist, Karen McCarthy Brown, of the comfort and help this African religion has in the impoverished and beleaguered lives of Haitian women.  Not all bad reputations, as we know from other cases, are actually deserved,.

     That is all I have to say on the subject of angels and other tutelary spirits for the moment.  Maybe some other day I will get back to the topic of "Stories in the Bible", which was the one my guardian angel had me discard.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

My Guardian Angel

     In my next few Blogs I would like to discuss the topics of my mother,  sex and religion. Art is an important topic for me too but I have already discussed that quite a lot. Basically what I am setting out to do is describe how I encountered in childhood the values I finally espoused as an adult.

     I have had a strong belief since I was a child in my Guardian Angel. I was taught to say a prayer in bed at night that I still say:
          "Now I lay me down to sleep,
           I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
           And if I die before I wake
           I pray the Lord my soul to take."
     Another one went:
          "Four angels round my bed:
            Two angels at my head:
            One to watch and one to pray
            And two to carry my soul away."
I no longer pray the second one. Instead, every morning, I say the following prayer:
          "Angel of God, my Guardian dear.
           To whom God's love commits me here,
           Ever this day be at my side
          To light, to guard,
          To rule and to guide."

     Having a continuing interest in the occult which I inherited from my mother along with a belief in more orthodox religion, I read the autobiography of the famous medium, Sylvia Browne, several years ago, and was surprised to learn that when she said this first prayer as a child she was frightened by it.  She certainly got over that fear later on as she came to communicate with the dead in public and on a very grand scale. But although I have never tried being a medium, I was certainly not frightened by it. I have always accepted death as a perfectly natural part of life and nothing to be afraid of. This is something I heard from my mother  again and again. There was a little piece of family history she told to inculcate it.

     My mother's mother died giving birth to her and as it was considered improper for her father to have sole charge  of a little girl she was brought up by his mother. My mother much admired her grandmother for her warm heart, her neighbourly ways and her endless generosity. She gave me her grandmother's name of Barbara in the hope that I would turn out to be like her. Certainly my mother wanted all her children to meet death in the same way her grandmother had done because she told us all the same story. When her grandmother was quite old and living alone, her favourite brother came to visit her. He told her a funny story which made her laugh. Then she leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, smiling, and stopped talking. Half an hour later he realised she was dead.

     We all listened to this story suitably impressed with the exception of my youngest sister, Annabel. When my mother started out, "Now, Annabel, you mustn't be afraid  of death," Annabel retorted "Oh, no, Mummy, I'm not afraid of death. I've always longed to be a dear little worm!" My mother and Annabel were living in Texas at the time and I was living in Illinois. My mother thought Annabel's retort was so funny that she wrote to me about it. But I had never put up the same resistance.

     When I was around ten years old I fell ill with cerebro-spinal meningitis. I could not keep any food down. Every time I ate I threw up. I hated it so much I actually wanted to die. I was quite prepared for an angel to carry my soul away. Or two angels, as the case might be. And I have always been aware since then that life was a gift that would some day be taken away, there was no knowing when. The idea doesn't bother me. Although when the meningitis didn't kill me, my mother and I considered that a cause for celebration.  The doctors had just invented a pill for it.

     Where angels were concerned I had read about Abraham entertaining angels in his tent. Later I was to read about an angel coming to Mary and other angels announcing the birth of Jesus to some shepherds. My mother had handed me the King James Bible when I was six and told me to read it, but without offering a word of explanation.Apparently she thought the meaning was perfectly clear and self explanatory.

     I loved stories so much that my mother had taught me to read at the age of four so that I could read stories for myself and wouldn't be pestering her to read to me all day long. Here was a brand new big book of stories for me to read, so I got on with it. I already knew the Alice books so I followed the advice of the King of Hearts: "Begin at the beginning and go on to the end, then stop." Alice was already my role model, but I was quite prepared to accept other role models. And so I began at the beginning with the Book of Genesis, which rather puzzled me, as at first I was simply not prepared to accept the story of the  Fall.

     My highly trained nursemaid, Nurse Edith Boone, known as my Nanny, had taught me to think and  reflect and apparently she had given me the idea that that was the idea that that was what God wanted us to do. I was sure that God wanted us to know as much as possible and shocked that anyone should maintain that there was anything he didn't want us to know. But I didn't want to be hasty so I went off to a quiet place and reflected on it. Then it came to me that knowing Good and Evil wasn't the same thing as knowing facts as you can't know Evil without being affected by it. So the story did make sense after all.

      Nurse Boone left us when I was six so I hadn't actually discussed the Bible with her, so far as I remember. With the outbreak of the Second World War she considered it her patriotic duty to work in a munitions factory. I have been told that she was a member of a religious sect called the Plymouth Brethren who are apparently not unlike Conservative Quakers, although without being pacifists. They are so staid that they drove Aleister Crowley to rebel against them by becoming a black magician. Perhaps that is what they are generally best known for.

     Age six was an important time for me. The war started, Nurse Boone left, I started reading the Bible and my mother started supplying me with quite horrendous sexual information. Just as she wanted all her children to be prepared for death, so she wanted us all to know about "the facts of life."
As a trained nurse she knew this was important. But she never mentioned that they had any connection with love, which I think was an important omission. The total effect was quite frightening and fitted in with what I was reading in the Bible about Sodom and Gomorrah.  However it turned out to be quite useful in a practical kind of way because when I met a child molester  when I was coming home in the dark along a deserted road four years later I knew exactly what to think of him and his offer to teach me games I'd never played before. I thank my Guardian Angel for showing me exactly how to get away from him and get safely home unharmed. My Guardian Angel is very resourceful. With that I end my tribute to him.




Tuesday 31 March 2020

Previous Existences

     Some  people think I'm crazy but I'm pretty sure I've remembered six or seven previous existences. This started when I was about ten years old.  I was quite sure I'd led a previous existence as a Scots terrier.  I don't remember all  the details now but I did then.  I used to tell long detailed stories about it to my four-year old sister Ann in bed at night.  Apparently I had all kinds of adventures.  Furthermore I also knew that in the life before that I had been a bad human being and had to retrace my evolution by sinking to the level of a dog.  However I had been such a good little dog that I had been allowed to become a human being again.

     If I had been living in the Far East when I had this experience and talked about it my story would have been accepted without question, as reincarnation there is a matter of accepted belief.  There  are all kinds of stories in India of a child born in one village remembering a life in another village, being taken there and being able to prove it.  Remembering previous existences is particularly important for establishing the credentials of certain holy men, as we see from the example of the present Dalai Lama.  And the Buddha went through all kinds of animal existences, as the tale is told, being a particularly noble, self-sacrificing animal in each one.  But I was living in twentieth century England in a home devoid of Hindu or Buddhist beliefs.  My father was a freethinker and my mother a Scottish Presbyterian.   What could have induced me to come up with these stories?

     However I was in fact subject to certain occult influences which could well have excited my imagination along these lines.  My mother might have been expected to be dour, hardheaded and canny.  But it is the Lowland Scots who have earned this reputation and my mother came  from the Outer Hebrides where people believe firmly in psychic powers, known as the Second Sight, and put out milk at night for the fairies to keep them from draining the cows, while my English scientist father tried and failed to convince my mother that all this kind of thing was superstitious rubbish.  My mother managed quite easily to reconcile her religious beliefs with her more magical ones.  So did her best friend, whom I was taught to call Aunty Maidie, who was a Highlander, at the same time as she was sufficiently canny to hold quite an important job in the Civil Service.

     Living as we did on the outskirts of Birmingham, we found ourselves on a Romany travelling route.  On my way to school I would frequently see their painted, wooden, horse- drawn caravans pass by, with the men driving and the women, who were the fortune tellers, walking in the road.  My mother was always inviting these women in, and they chalked their patterans, which you would call hobo marks, on our gate posts.  My mother said "Oo, I wonder what they mean!" and my father said "they mean {A fool lives here.}".  But she was able to defend herself.  One day  my father came home from work and said, "Well Mary we're moving".   He expected her to be surprised because he never told her anything of his plans beforehand, but she just said, "I know." "How do you know?" he asked.  "A gypsy told me."

     My mother also subscribed to an occult magazine called "Prediction" which featured horoscopes by her favourite astrologer.  According to her we were all supposed to do exactly what this astrologer said.  I too read this magazine and believed in it.  I probably learned from it about reincarnation.  So right now I might dismiss my ideas on this subject as childish fantasy if I had not had several memories of previous existences, quite unexpectedly, in middle age.

     I was taking a course in ancient Greek at Brock when I found certain words which sounded Greek but weren't in the Greek dictionary, popping into my mind.  I asked the professor, Fred Casler, about them and he said they were Doric.  Doric was the ancient Greek spoken in the countryside and I had never been exposed to it.  It must have come from somewhere.  Shortly after this I stayed in bed for a week, feeling ill, and spent the whole week watching pictures of former lives flash across my mind as if on a movie screen.  To this day I cannot be entirely sure that they were real memories, but how did I come up with the Doric?

     I would like to write them all up and see if I can get them published.  I have finished one account, in narrative verse, about a descendant of the Witch of Endor who falls in love with Jesus and follows him around Galilee.  I have shown it to an Anglican priest who liked it and even admired it.  I have also done some work on the others.  There is a great deal of variety but this time round I did not see myself being a dog!

Saturday 3 August 2019

Goddess or Witch?

   W hen I held a reception for my May 2019 art show at NAC, some young women artists came up to me and asked if I had any pictures of Goddesses because they were planning a group show of Goddesses and would like me to be in it. I said I had half a dozen, but then when I looked through my collection of my own work I found I had a whole  lot more. Getting quite carried away, I did several more and ended up with an entire show of my own. Not hearing any more about the projected group show, I decided to put mine on.

     I learned about the Greek and Roman divinities in high school and was quite moved by them, responding to them pretty much as if  I were an ancient Greek or Roman myself,  But we did not hear anything about any other religion or mythology  apart  from reading the Bible, which, according to British educational practice at the time, we read without any reference to denominational teaching ,  I do not have any Norse or Hindu divinities in my show. However, although it is very bad theology to call the Blessed Virgin Mary divine, I have included her because I think she is so important and I have such a strong attachment to her.  Taken altogether, my show is a tribute to many feminine aspects of the Divine. As the Kabbalah claims, all the different religions are attempts to reach the Divine, which, in itself, is beyond human comprehension.

     My Goddess show will be viewed in the Community Room of the Mahtay Cafe, September 1 to 15, with an opening reception in the same place in the afternoon  of Sunday, September 1, 2019, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

      The Book Launch, which is part of the same event, is devoted to a second edition of "The Witch Poems", a book of humorous verse which I first wrote and published in 1995 to a fair degree of local success. In fact it sold out and people have been asking for more copies ever since, so I have set out to meet the demand. The Book Launch will take place in the Community Room of the Mahtay Cafe in the afternoon of Sunday, September 8, 2019,  from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., together with a reception.

     For those who do not already know "The Witch Poems", I should explain that it is a book of poems that are both humorous and at the same time quite genuinely religious, written under the persona of a witch. In my original edition I made some attempt to explain this persona in a foreword in which I referred to certain feminists in Quebec who were calling themselves witches. In fact, a little later, W.I.T.C.H. became quite a popular acronym among feminists all over North America. But simply calling myself a feminist was not a complete explanation.

     Now that I am setting out to give the whole truth, I will say that I had actually been quite strongly influenced  by my friendship with a Gay male witch by the name of Basil Ivan Rakoczi. He is chiefly know for his work as an artist which after his death brought him quite a lot of fame. After running into him at an academic gathering through one of those coincidences which Carl Gustav Jung considers quite uncanny, I spent a great deal of time with him while on sabbatical in Paris many years ago. He took a friendly interest in my writing and painting and it is largely because of him that I have become so productive in retirement. In fact I might almost say that it is only now that, owing to his encouragement, I have embarked on my real career. Unfortunately we parted on bad terms shortly before his death because I was so shocked and frightened by some of his magical practices. I write about this relationship in the completely new foreword to my book.

     Another new feature consists of illustrations of charms and spells which I drew myself and which are much more personal than the otherwise good illustrations done by Lesley Bell for the first edition.

     I owe Basil, to whom I have become reconciled, a debt of gratitude for opening up to me a whole new area of creative independence. On this occasion I ask myself, am I good or bad, loving or hostile, creative or destructive, wise or psychotic, goddess or witch?  But I am really not too concerned about how I may be viewed  because basically I am happy and at peace with myself. I am constantly reminded of my Grandmother's state of depression in old age when she used to repeat "I'm an idle old woman, I might as well be dead." I am so much better off because I am not at all idle and I am glad to be alive, whatever anyone thinks. And so I ask my readers and viewers to accept both aspects of my show: the Goddess and the Witch, and not choose between them.