Monthly Archives: May 2014

Teru-Teru Bozu for Hen Party

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Tomorrow is my Hen Party, and to pray for good weather, my fiancé James and I made teru-teru bozu.

Teru-teru bozu (literally “sunshine boy”) are an old tradition in Japan, in which you make a simple doll out of white paper or cloth and draw a face on it (it ends up looking like a little ghost). You hang it by a window in order to pray for sunshine. If the weather does turn out fine, you thank the teru-teru bozu by pouring rice wine on him. Be warned though – do not hang your teru-teru bozu upside-down, as this will have the reverse effect and summon the rain!

We hung up our teru-teru bozu by the window overlooking my Inari altar. So far, the weather has been very good, so I think they might be working!

I also made some fresh offerings to Inari Okamisama, including a special offering of daifuku mochi (a rice cake filled with sweet beans), and prayed for a safe and enjoyable Hen Party. Seeing as Inari is associated with alcohol, it seemed very appropriate to pray to her for this purpose!

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May Moot with Medway Pagans

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Selenite cluster. My own selenite isn’t quite as impressive…

Yesterday I went to the May moot of Medway Pagans. It was on the New Moon, which is apparently a good time for charging crystals. Which is what we did.

We all brought the crystals we like to use in rituals – it was really interesting to see all the different crystals people have, and hear the stories about how they acquired them, and why that particular crystal is special to them. One member of the moot is particularly knowledgeable about crystals, and identified any crystals we owned that we couldn’t identify. I only brought one crystal – my large chunk of selenite, which I used as a Maypole over Beltane – but it turned out by far to be the largest crystal anyone brought! I’m not sure what that says about me…

I’d never charged a crystal before, but the ritual is very similar to consecration – we blessed the crystals with the powers of the four elements by first immersing them in earth, then sprinkling them with water, then passing them through fire, and finally holding them over incense smoke. We then held the crystals out to charge them, by imagine our own energies passing into the crystal and focussing on what purposes we would like the crystal to serve. I often find these parts of ritual, where we stand still for an extended time, rather amusing – because I have POTS, standing in a fixed pose for an extended period makes my heart beat very fast, so it literally does feel like I’m in contact with the spirit world! Finally, we anointed our crystals with an essential oil of our choice. I selected patchouli (a favourite among Goths!) and it was very strong – I only put three drops on my crystal and even now, a day later, I can still smell the patchouli when I walk into my living room where the crystal stands!

This was followed by a bit of handicrafts. Some might say that arts and crafts has little to do with paganism, but I would argue that actually, arts and crafts engenders many of the characteristics also promoted by paganism – creativity, taking pride in making things for yourself, and helping the environment by recycling things in order to make something beautiful. I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired so I didn’t make anything,although I did contribute to the moot’s collection of craft supplies with a few ribbons and trinkets from my own collection. But there definitely are a few things I’d like to make, so next time we have an arts & crafts session at the moot, I’ll try to remember to bring some more specific materials for my own craft projects.

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Shared Symbols in Japan and Paganism

I think most Pagans know that many religious and cultural symbols can be found in many cultures all over the world. Japan has plenty of examples. In particular, you’ll find many of the symbols used in kamon (traditional Japanese family crests, similar to European heraldry or Scottish tartan) have significance in paganism. Below, I’ve listed some of the symbols used in Japan that have identical or very similar equivalents in paganism.

Image Gobousei 五芒星 

As most Wiccans know, the pentagram is a universal symbol of magick and spiritual power. Japan is no exception, where the pentagram (gobousei) is associated with the traditional five elements (Water, Wood, Earth, Fire, Metal) and medieval Japanese occultist Abe no Seimei. As a kamon, the pentagram is also called the kikyou or Chinese bellflower, a five-petalled flower used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Image Tomoe (巴)

The tomoe is a combination of two or more magatama, a mysterious comma-shaped jewel considered considered one of the “three treasures” of Shinto. A tomoe with two magatama resembles the taoist yin-yang symbol of darkness and light and may be related, while the three-magatama tomoe (mitsudomoe) pictured here is often associated with Hachiman, the Shinto god of war. It may also represent the cycle of life.
The tomoe resembles the triskelion or “triple spiral,” Image a symbol of neolithic origin, used by some pagans (particularly those following Celtic paths) to represent the Triple Goddess, the Three Realms, and the Sun.

kutsuwa-bit Kutsuwa (轡)

The kutsuwa is simply a representation of the humble horse’s bit stylised for use as a kamon, yet it is identical to the “sun cross,” a symbol dating from prehistory that represents the sun and the four seasons in Paganism.

happonyaguruma-arrow Happonyaguruma (八本矢車)

Happonyaguruma literally means “Wheel of Eight Arrows” and represents a warrior clan as a kamon.
It bears quite a strong resemblance to the Helm of Awe, Helm_of_Awe_white a powerful protective symbol for Asatru followers.
Although it lacks eight spokes, another kamon that resembles the Helm of Awe is the yugao yugao-moonflower or “moonflower” crest .

mitsukanawa-metal-ring Mitsukanawa (三つ金輪)

The Japanese name for this symbol means “three metal rings.” Where the three rings intersect, a triquetra Triquetra-Double emerges, which is also used as a kamon in Japan. The triquetra is significance in many religions, including Celtic paganism, in which has a similar function to the triskelion as representing the triplicates in nature.

 

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Reflections on “Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture,” Raven Digitalis

ImageSeeing as May 22nd is apparently World Goth Day, I thought it would be good to reflect on one of the first ever pagan-related books I read, back when I wasn’t pagan (but certainly had an interest) but very much into the Goth subculture (as I still am).

I think there is definitely an important link between the Gothic subculture and witchcraft/occultism, but it seems that on large, many Goths and Wiccans alike are a little reluctant to explore this. Perhaps because the media likes to use the “spooky Gothic witch” stock character so often, and it’s become a rather embarrassing cliché. So it’s wonderfully positive to see one author explore, and celebrate, the links between Goth and witchcraft.

If you’re interested in both Goth and Wiccan lifestyles, you’ll probably enjoy Goth Craft. Raven Digitalis  identifies key motifs in Gothic fashion – black clothes, elaborate make-up, occult symbols and a fascination with darkness and the macabre – and interprets their significance in witchcraft. For Raven, Gothic fashion and lifestyle is not merely inspired by magick; it is a form of magick in itself. He even considers going to a Goth Club as something of a spiritual experience, which is a very interesting and compelling perspective. Raven also introduces the concept of “shadow” magick and witchcraft (not the same as the concept of “black magick”), in which one seeks to understand and appreciate the darker aspects of witchcraft including blood magick, vampyrism and necromancy.

Dark as these topics may seem, the book itself is not. Goth Craft is written in a highly personal, playful and exuberant style; I get the feeling Raven was pretty young when he wrote this, which I think is a good thing considering how many Goths and aspiring Wiccans tend to be in their teens or early twenties. Throughout the book, Raven emphasises the importance of a strict ethical code, as well as personal safety, in witchcraft, stressing that “dark” absolutely does not mean “evil,” which is reassuring.

I was pleased to see that an entire chapter has been devoted to explaining the many different paths of witchcraft in bite-sized sections, including those paths quite distinct from Wicca including Enochian, Kabbalah, Thelema and Satanism. I’m glad that the last one was included, which was quite a brave move on Raven’s part considering how keen most Wiccans and other magick practitioners are to distance themselves as far as possible from Satanism. I’m glad not because I have particular interest in practising Satanism, or because I think it does fall comfortably into the same umbrella as Wicca, but because there is an awful lot of misunderstanding regarding this religion and this little section quite successfully explains some of the misconceptions without either condemning or advocating Satanism as a path to follow.

I was also pleased to find a number of examples of spells and rituals that could be considered “shadow magick.” Although I have not tried any of them yet, I am particularly intrigued by the “Lemon House Charm” spell and the “Angel of Death” meditation (I thinking of performing the latter at around O-bon, the Japanese festival of the dead, or Samhain).

Another appealing aspect of this book for me was the design itself; the cover and page designs are beautiful, and I don’t think I’ve ever read another book on paganism that has so many large and attractive illustrations and photos. It’s very easy to just pick up and casually dip in and out.

I do, however, have a few warnings to anyone thinking of purchasing this book:

  • This book is, as the title suggests, heavy on the Gothic culture, so if you are not really into this scene, the many, many sections that are devoted to this lifestyle (including the fashion and music) may not be relevant to you.
  • For new Wiccans, the sections on the different paths of witchcraft and the illustrated explanations of the symbols and tools of Wicca are quite helpful, but there is a considerable number of important details that are left out. An example is the idea of casting a widdershins circle for shadow magick – Raven goes into a lot of depth into the significance of the widdershins circle, but does not explain how one actually casts a circle at all. Clearly, this book is meant to supplement existing beginner’s guides for Wicca.
  • This is a light read. It is not academic in any way and it does not spend much time analysing the small details of Wicca. It is an overview from a very unique and personal perspective. If you are looking for something with more depth and scholarly research, look elsewhere.

Overall, it’s an entertaining and intriguing read that’s a lovely treat for Wiccan Goths, and offers quite a refreshing break from the many other samey books on witchcraft out there.

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Gemini

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The third in my “Goth Zodiac” series, Gemini. Highly intelligent yet with a childish streak, I see Gemini as the embodiment of the “wise fool” archetype I mentioned in my last post on wisdom.

You can view this series and my other art here.

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Paganism and Wisdom

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Fukurokuju, Japanese god of wisdom and longevity

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Paganism does not have a prescribed moral code. However, I believe there are plenty of moral teachings in Paganism; they just aren’t necessarily spelled out as they are in Christianity. There are certain qualities that are held in high regard within Paganism, and one of these is wisdom.

I don’t think there is a single pagan path that has nothing to say about wisdom. Traditionally, practitioners of magick in the UK were often called “cunning men” or “wise women,” not to mention the archetype of the wizard, whose very name derives from “wise.” Every pantheon seems to have some kind of deity connected with wisdom – Hellenic Pagans have Athena, Heathens have Odin (who may have inspired the wizard archetype), Kemetic Pagans have Thoth, Celtic Pagans have Brigid, and the Japanese have Fukurokuju (pictured here). The prevalence of powerful and benevolent figures of wisdom in Pagan beliefs to me suggests that wisdom is not merely considered a virtue in Paganism – it is an essential quality for good living.

But what exactly is wisdom, and how does one aspire to be wise as a Pagan? I think wisdom is a complex and multi-layered quality that is difficult to achieve, but one that should be held as an ideal. Here are some of the things that I think make up wisdom, and how I try to achieve these in my own personal and spiritual growth:

1. Knowledge. I believe that knowledge is the primary basis for wisdom, which is why education is so very, very important. Fortunately I like learning things and keeping up to date with all the latest developments in science, art and society, so I don’t find this too difficult (although admittedly, I only tend to read about the subjects I am interested in!). Reading is a big part of my spiritual development as a Pagan too; sometimes, after a ritual and I’m waiting for the incense to burn out, I like to use the time to read my latest book on paganism to further my knowledge.

2. Reason. To some, the idea of reason and rationality co-existing with religion seems contradictory, but as I alluded in my Science and Paganism entry, I think it is possible. The ability to analyse and rationalise enables us to interpret the knowledge we acquire, as well as make sound judgements and decision. I’m not the best at logical thought (which is why I’m so bad at maths, I imagine!), but I try to hone my reasoning skills by thinking deeply about things and considering them from different angles.

3. Experience. Personal, real-life experience is probably the best thing in the world for increasing one’s understanding of reality, and I think it is absolutely essential for wisdom. Why are so many figures of wisdom in Paganism depicted as elderly? Because they have so much life experience, which is why they are wise! I feel the best experience of all is the experience that comes when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone, and try things that we find a little scary. As a rather insular person, I can find this rather difficult myself, but I try to see all experiences where I feel like a fish out of water to be positive ones that will ultimately lead me to being a wiser person.

4. Empathy. One of the qualities that differentiates wisdom from intelligence, cunning and intellectualism is the ability to see into the hearts of others and, what’s more, empathise with them and understand their needs and motivations. In other words, a sage should have good social skills! Again, I find this one difficult, because people are complex and require a lot of patience. They may well have thoughts and feelings that are entirely the opposite of my own in certain situations. But I do try hard to see things from other people’s point of view, even if I’m having difficulty getting on with them.

5. Serenity. Admittedly, some of the pagan god of wisdom (notably Athena and Odin) are not exactly serene characters, but others certainly are – take a look at the picture of Fukurokuju, with his kind eyes and gentle smile! Emotions such as anger, hate and fear are extremely potent, and so they should be – in the times of pre-civilisation, it was these feelings that governed our behaviour and kept us alive. But when it comes to pursuing wisdom, I think these emotions can be a big barrier, as they inhibit both our empathy and ability to reason and so result in distinctly unwise behaviour. Learning how to still one’s heart and control one’s emotions is an extremely difficult skill, but ultimately leads to greater wisdom. As a passionate person myself, I find inner serenity one of the hardest qualities to acquire. I try to control my inner feelings by keeping silent when the potential to say something harmful is present; by examining the situation objectively; and by trying to see the humour of the situation wherever possible.

6. Receptiveness. I think a wise person should always be open to new ideas – most of all, the idea that their own pre-conceived notions may not be entirely correct. Some people are afraid to question their own ideas when they hear differing opinions, as it could mean that they are somehow weak-willed and changeable; but I think it is good to be fluid and flexible in one’s opinions. You could even call changing one’s opinions a form of mental experience. Receptiveness to new ideas and the opinions of others not only lead to greater knowledge and creativity; it also allows us to learn to understand and accept the cultures of others. I am certainly guilty of stubbornly holding on to my beliefs purely because they are mine; but when I do try to be receptive and listen to the ideas of others, I find myself all the better for it.

7. Humour. This is perhaps wisdom of a different sort; the wisdom of the “wise fool.” There are plenty of examples of “wise fools” in paganism, as there are the more conventional gods of wisdom – there’s the mischievous Hermes and Dionysus in the Greek pantheon, both of whom inspire creativity; there are the fae folk of the Celts, who are the embodiment of wisdom within nonsense; and there is Uzume, the goddess of laughter in Shinto, whose foolish behaviour caused so much mirth that it tempted the sun goddess out of hiding and brought light to the world. I see humour as something of a “lubricant” for wisdom; it helps to control emotions, empathise with others, and stop one for becoming over serious and stuffy in one’s dedications to knowledge and wisdom. I actually think a sense of humour is one of the most important things a person can have, and that without humour, the world would be a very dark, hopeless place indeed. Which is why the sage needs an appreciation of the ridiculous, the nonsensical, and the absurd.

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Sunday at Higham Marsh

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Lake at Higham Marsh © Copyright Glyn Baker

Today being such a beautiful day, my fiancé and I went for a walk in Higham Marsh, just one train stop and a brief walk away from Gravesend.

When I was a child, my family and I would come here every weekend to walk the dogs – they loved running in the undergrowth and swimming in the lakes. But since the dogs got old and could no longer hack walking that far, we stopped going. This Sunday was the first time in over 10 years. And I was delighted to see that it hadn’t change a bit.

Although it’s hardly wilderness (there’s lots of industry in the area which is always present in sight and sound), it is beautiful and has a very interesting ecosystem, where the more unusual animals are the norm. Instead of the more familiar Common Frogs, you’ll see the bright green, speckled Edible Frogs; and instead of the usual black ants, there are yellow meadow ants and big wood ants. As usual, I made a small offering of herbs underneath a particularly beautiful cherry tree.

We walked for about an hour or so and really enjoyed being out in the sun and in nature. I would definitely like to come back again soon, and I have a list of things I aim to do next time:

– Try to go early in the morning so I get a better chance of spotting wildlife, such as lapwings (I didn’t see any this time)
– Do a bit of litter-picking (there’s an awful lot of litter there on the watersides).
– Take a camera!
– Try to identify more of the trees and plants – either bring a guidebook, or take photos of them and look them up at home afterwards
– Visit the nearby St Mary’s Church, which dates all the way back to Norman times.

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Godzilla as Kami

ImageI’m certainly not the first person to draw comparisons between the iconic movie monster Godzilla (and other daikaiju, Japanese giant movie monsters) and the Japanese concept of kami, and I certainly won’t be the last. However, in the wake of the new Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla movie (which I’ve just watched), and as someone who venerates the kami, I thought it’d be good to give my thoughts on it.

One of the striking differences between the Christian concept of God (or the Devil) and the Shinto kami is that the kami are neither 100% good or bad. They are powerful, magnificent and morally neutral – exactly like Nature itself, in fact. Even my patron deity, Inari, who is usually considered quite a benevolent kami, has her dark sides in Shinto belief (she is associated with the foxes who are also considered mischievous and at times malicious in Japanese folklore, after all). It is generally how we approach the kami that affects their temperament. If we are respectful to the kami, they bless us; yet if we behave in a way that offends the kami, we risk incurring their wrath. Again, exactly like nature.

Godzilla, who has to date been the star of no less than 30 movies, embodies many of the characteristics of the kami. In most depictions, he is a creature of distinctly terrestrial origins (not extra-terrestrial, as is the case with many other movie monsters), and resembles a mixture of several familiar animals – as many fans know, his original Japanese name, Gojira, is a combination of the Japanese words for “Gorilla” and “Whale.” His appearance has been compared to dinosaurs, crocodiles and, significantly, the East Asian Dragon (Long or Ryuu) – another personification of the power of nature.

Yet Godzilla is nature violated. He usually arises as a result of human interference with the environment – most notably, our exploitation of nuclear material. It is our disrespect of nature that is responsible for unleashing Godzilla’s wrath, and once awakened, he strikes with nature’s full force, toppling cities and killing thousands – just as destructive as any earthquake, tsunami or indeed nuclear disaster. The idea of a nature spirit’s temperament, and even physical appearance, changing in accordance to how it is treated by humans, is common in Japanese film – remember the disgusting “stink god” in Spirited Away that turns out to be a venerable river god that has been polluted?

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the new Godzilla movie (too many bland characters and hammy acting and not enough Godzilla in my opinion!). But putting this aside, I did find Godzilla’s depiction interesting. Once again, Godzilla and the other kaiju (or MUTO, as they are called in this movie) are awakened thanks to humans meddling with nature (nuclear power stations again). Plenty of scenes then ensue that mirror the terrifying footage from the 3.11 Fukushima disaster (arguably to the point of insensitivity) and, interestingly, 9.11 as well.

But (without giving away too much) the Godzilla and other kaiju in the 2014 movie are ambiguous in nature. Their motivations seem to be purely animal in nature: that of survival. The havoc they cause is simply an inevitable and inadvertent result of their attempts to feed and breed. What’s more, certain characters in the movie allude to the fact that Godzilla is somehow nature’s way of balancing the destruction wreaked by humans. One character (the Japanese scientist) even states, “The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around” – a clear acknowledgement that Godzilla, like the kami, represents nature’s awesome power that ultimately dwarfs that of mankind.

Finally, I would just like to make a comment on the name “Godzilla” itself. It does resemble the Japanese name “Gojira” in pronunciation, but it’s very interesting that the creator of this name chose to include the word “God” in the English rendition – almost as if they too noticed Godzilla’s parallels with the kami.

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Reflections on “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft,” Ronald Hutton

ImageThis is a book I’ve often seen on “essential reading” lists  for aspiring Wiccans. It is a long and extraordinarily detailed examination on the development of systems of ritual magick from early anthropological writings to the modern-day occultists and other practitioners. It’s evidently well-researched (probably the most well-researched work I’ve read on the subject of Paganism or Wicca) and all the essential details about the history of Wicca and related systems are in there.

However, I would say that those new to Wicca and Paganism should beware of starting their investigations into magick with this book, for a number of reasons:

1. It’s written in an academic manner focussing on detail rather than clarity, which makes it heavy-going and difficult to extract specific details. I found it hard to retain much of the densely-packed information written here. Those completely new to Wicca and Paganism will probably find it somewhat confusing and overwhelming.

2. Some may find the title slightly confusing as well. The inclusion of the word “pagan” in there might make you think that the book will focus on the broader aspects of paganism, but in actuality, this book really concerns Wicca and other magickal practises.

3. However, the title is certainly right about the “history” aspect; the book follows a largely chronological structure. What’s more, as is typical in historical studies, it looks at the key individuals and their works that have shaped Wicca and witchcraft, including Gardner, Valiente, Graves, Starhawk, and Crowley, as well as the earlier academics who wrote on the related subjects of anthropology and folklore. Which is fascinating, but less useful if you are looking for practical information on Wicca, as this is a book is about the who’s who in Wicca, rather than the what’s what. And the actual Gods and Goddesses of the Earth-based religions upon which witchcraft is founded very much take the back seat.

Having said this, if you are looking for neutral, factual information on the people and writings that have made witchcraft what it is today, you can’t really go wrong with this book. The main message I took away from The Triumph of the Moon is that, although Paganism and witchcraft may be based on the collective rituals and folklore held by the common man throughout the ages, without those individuals who carefully documented and interpreted these practises and beliefs, Wicca and neopaganism would certainly not be what it is today.

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Bright Moon Ritual

Last night was May’s full moon, variously known as Bright Moon, Hare Moon, Flower Moon etc, and I performed my second Full Moon ritual.

Recently I’ve felt very drawn to the Goddess Hecate, and seeing as she is considered a moon goddess, it seemed appropriate to dedicate tonight’s ritual to her.

As with my previous Full Moon ritual, I performed the rite outside.  I started by giving some fresh offerings to Inari Okamisama, and making a prayer to her (I always try to include Inari in all my rituals, as my patron deity). I then called upon the elements and made my prayers to Hecate, asking her to bless particular people in my life who I know are going through difficult times. I made offerings of wine and garlic, which are both considered appropriate for Hecate.

I followed this with an attempt at Fire Scrying. As May is the Beltane month, associated with fire, and as Hecate is also considered a fire Goddess, it seemed a fitting occasion! I surrounded the altar candles with reflective crystals and gazed at the flickering light to see what messages might appear there, all while intoning the “Goddess Chant” (Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Innana) in order to get into a more meditative state. All I could see were leering, grinning faces reflected in the crystal; no other imagery seemed clear.

However, throughout the ritual, I heard the foxes nearby calling to each other, which I always take to be a positive sign!

Finally, as Hecate is the Goddess of Crossroads, I decided to place my offerings of wine and garlic at the crossroad near my house.

While I did find the ritual fulfilling and calming, it wasn’t perfect. As mentioned in a previous post, although I think rituals should take place outdoors where possible, I always feel paranoid about the neighbours seeing what I’m up to. If they see me whispering strange incantations before an altar of candles, an athame and pentacles, they might get the wrong idea about what I’m doing! This meant I cut the Fire Scrying short because I kept getting disturbed by the neighbours turning on and off lights in their rooms, and thought they might spot me through the window. What’s more, I couldn’t actually see the Full Moon from ground level, which was a shame.

But after I finished the ritual and came back indoors, I could actually see the moon from my living room window. And as I gazed upon it, a fox suddenly appeared in the street, looked in my direction, looked up as if looking at the moon, and walked off! For a follower of Inari, this was quite a wonderful end to the Full Moon rite.

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