Coming Inside

Posted: October 23, 2017 in Spiritual Journey

It’s that time of year where the air outside turns just the far side of comfortable. Light jackets or jumpers emerge as penance to the season while fighting the suggestion that summer is really over.

We’re approaching Samhain, the last of the harvest festivals. This time of year is traditionally associated with the frantic efforts to gather the last of the harvest before the cold lays what’s left to waste. In my case this last week has seen me gathering what I can from local apple trees. Saturday afternoon I was perched atop a step ladder, amidst the gusts of storm Brian, feverishly trying to persuade fruit to fall while my partner in crime dashed around with an tarpaulin Ikea bag trying to catch apples as they fell.

At the end of the weekend, between our own gathering and windfalls from friends I think we’ll have just enough to fill our last demojihn with proto-cider. Thanks to a bumper harvest this year we’ve expanded our brewing operation to no less than seven gallons of assorted elderberry, grape, blackberry and crabapple brews. And when the last of these apples is squeezed I’ll certainly feel I’ve done my bit to gather as much of the harvest as possible and bring it in.

Bringing in is a weird phrase, but one I’m rather fond of. It’s easy to look at winter as a depressing time, when we retreat from an inhospitable world, a sort of siege by the natural world.

There’s something humbling about nature taking back control of “outside”. Winter reminds us of our place, that we’re existing at the whim of our environment as much as any other creature. Winter is the time for ghost stories, whispers of spirits abroad and things lurking in the shadows.

But this time of year always makes me happy. Yes it’s when we pull in, but I’ve always loved the feeling of coming back home, coming inside to warmth, safety and love.

I Know that these feelings are the result of my being fortunate enough to have always had a welcoming and safe environment at home. There are so many who don’t have the support I do, or even a home to go to; and the turning off the year brings these disparities into sharp relief. But that’s something for me and my scrupulosity to wrestle with elsewhere…


Naked in Paris

Posted: October 19, 2017 in Spiritual Journey

I spent last weekend in Paris with someone rather special.

It wasn’t my first time there and I’m now beyond the age where famous landmarks aren’t enough to justify aching feet and empty wallet. Instead we went looking for more unusual experiences. Saturday night we visited Place des Cords, which needs no introduction.

Sunday we made our way to Bois de Vincennes, which is kind of the Parisian equivalent of Hampstead Heath, but if the heath had been manicured to within an inch of its life (but critiquing French garden philosophy is a post for another time). We weren’t just going for the park, we wanted to visit something a little special.

You see, the local authorities had authorised naturisn in a (slightly) secluded section of the park. We were there on the last day of its trial period and, what with this being mid October, I was worried we’d be the only ones there. That was particularly worrying given that my French struggles with ordering anything beyond a coffee, much less explaining why I’m wandering through a park with my trousers in my bag. As it turned out the naturist section was actually pretty easy to spot from the sea of tanned naked flesh rising out of the long grass. The sun was out, and I was reminded how much difference a few hundred miles can make in terms of climate.

But the biggest revelation was how wonderfully relaxed and normal it felt. Clothed people wandered through the park apparently giving as few fucks about the nudity as those who were naked. I know that France has a stronger tradition of naturism than the UK, but that doesn’t mean it could never be done here… But perhaps not in October.

Self reliance

Posted: August 11, 2017 in Spiritual Journey

There’s a line in the pledge I recite as part of my martial arts practice that basically emphasizes self-reliance and self-discipline. It’s always made me a little uncomfortable for a couple of reasons.

First up, if I accept the importance of self reliance at face value… I’m kinda shit at it. I mean, I don’t think I’m the most self absorbed needy person out there, but I know that I often look to others to validate me. More specifically, I recognize that I look to others more during times when I’m feeling less self confident, secure and settled. That is, times where I feel like I’m not being the best version of me.

But on the other side of things, there’s my very firm belief that nobody can exist in isolation. I can count the number of good night’s out I’ve had without other people on the fingers of one hand… following a horrific glazing accident. And the creeping impersonalisation (no that’s not a word) I see around me in the city, the systems that minimise our chances to interact with people, these bother me, as I know they’ve bothered many others before me.

Or maybe I’m just turning into a grumpy old man?

Tarot Meditation: The World

Posted: November 11, 2016 in Spiritual Journey


So we come to the end of our tour of the Major Arcana. The central figure of the world is a naked female who is bearing two wands. The wand only really features in the Magicin card right at the beginning so here we have, perhaps, a more senior, more accomplished symbol. Looking at the way the figure stands, she could be dancing, or perhaps lying supine on a blue floor. Then again she could be floating in mid air. The way her legs are crossed is similar to the Hanged Man and, were it not for the amazing gravity defying boobs, she could be hanging upside down. She’s surrounded by a ring of leaves that evokes the imagery of a magic circle and in the four corners of the card are four different creatures. An eagle, a lion, a bull and a person (possibly male?). The first two fit very nicely with representations of air and fire. Leaving, I suppose, the bull and the person to cover water and earth? Except I’m not quite sure which way around they would go, nor what particular traits join them to these elements (alternatively there could be no elemental symbolism and perhaps I’m just trying too hard.

Tarot Meditation: Judgment

Posted: November 7, 2016 in Spiritual Journey


There’s something very ‘off’ about this card. And it’s not just the sickly grey-green colour of the people in it, although that certainly is part of it. So, what we have is a scene of the last judgment, judgment day, the rapture, whatever you wish to call it. But all the people in the scene are rising from their graves. Including the children, and the adults don’t appear very old. This is rather odd and gives an unpleasant hint that something has happened to kill people before their time. The colour of their skin is the same as the tombs they are emerging from and the clouds of the angel (and in my printed card, very very similar to the mountains in the background). This links the image of the resurrected people to the cold hard stone. You very much get the impression that you wouldn’t want to touch them, that they will be cold, clammy, other.

The other really ‘other’ thing about this card is the look of joy on the faces of the resurrected. Everyone’s arms outstretched and gleeful, which feels very odd when you consider the title of the card. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who says they’re looking forward to judgment day (or the zombie apocalypse etc…) kind of automatically assumes which side of things they’ll be on. Personally I’ve no delusions and know I’m the chap who’ll be clubbed to death with a tin of baked beans outside a burning supermarket on day two of the apocalypse…

So welcoming judgment feels strange to me, perhaps adding to the sensation of separation. The dead have nothing else to aspire to or await, so judgment becomes welcome? It’s also worth noting that this card echoes the form of the Lovers (big bloody winged angel looming over people) with perhaps implications of what love inevitably leads to. It also sits in a very different place to Justice. If I were to draw a line between the tow I’d put Justice as being a practical, physical, real world card; whereas Judgment has echoes of being called to account on more spiritual matters.

So, one of the things I’m doing at the moment is trying to read up on plants, herbs, trees and mushrooms. The more I think about it, the more aware I am that there is a huge untapped bounty of nourishing, helpful and occasionally dangerous life all around us. And I want to know it better, to be able to, where appropriate, make better use of these things that would otherwise go to waste.

It started last September with my spending two days elderberry picking. In part it was two days of learning how to identify and spot elderberries and I ended up with what was hopefully a non-toxic collection of berries. But that was one plant, and even then it took me two whole days to go from looking for the berries to identifying the leaves and finally spotting them from their bark and general shape. One plant. But there are hundreds of common plants, trees, shrubs. And I can’t spend that long on each surely.

So I bought a book, except that didn’t help because the pictures were too vague and same-ey, and it’s all very well reading about two dozen different plants but  there’s nothing to contextualize the reading then it’s all just quietly shoveled into that part of the brain that deals with train timetables and siblings’ birthdays.

This is a non-trivial problem and it leaves me in an embarrassing position. When walking through the park a life-long Londoner friend can name many of the trees that I, one raised in the countryside, am at a loss to identify. It’s not like there’s a simple quick fix either, identifying objects in images is a task that even the world’s leading computers and AI systems struggle with. It seems like this is a task that cannot be done quickly or easily. It’s a difficult path, which will entail countless hours of learning piecemeal and through painful, tedious study. But it’s one I’m so looking forward to.

Tarot Meditation: The Sun

Posted: May 10, 2016 in Tarot

RWS_Tarot_19_SunI’ve been reluctant to write about this card for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m ashamed to admit that, during my week of carrying this card with me, I managed to lose it. I was bustling through Victoria station when it managed to slip from my pocket. I realised only as I was approaching the ticket barrier and had to make a split-second choice between retracing my steps through the rush hour crowd looking for it, or dashing for the next train. I chose the train; and feel it was the wrong decision. My deck now has no The Sun card, but two Judgments… a fitting penalty?

My reluctance goes beyond this though. I think in part it’s also because the one thing this card screams to me is “parenthood”. I oscillate between indifference and strong aversion to the idea of having children, which echoes in my personal life, but that’s material for another post. So, in this card, beyond the obvious young child (boy or girl? It’s impossible to say) we have the watchful face of the sun and the horse. This strikes me as being a sort of dualism fo parenthood, the radiant life giver and protector combined with the downtrodden dutiful labourer who must carry the child through life, unseen, uncelebrated. Is it any coincidence that the horse is grey and blurs into the background wall behind it?

Obvious symbolism is the sun (duh) and the sunflowers. Numbers fetishists (again, I have a whole separate post on that subject) can note that there are eleven straight beams and ten wiggly beams coming out of the sun. The only other thing I’d add is something that I missed for a while. The huge rippling orange/red banner is actually being held up by the child. It’s surprising to see so small a figure carrying such a big standard, and I can;t help but feel there’s parenthood symbolism here too, about the burden of identity every child is born with.