Monthly Archives: August 2015

My New Inari Altar

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Followers of my blog may know that I have recently moved house, and as such the old Inari altar that I maintained outside is no more. I’m still in the process of making lots of decisions about my home altars – both my Pagan and Shinto ones – but in the meantime, I have set up this temporary shrine to Inari Okami in our smaller spare room.

The biggest difference for me is that this new altar is indoors. I placed the one at my old house outdoors specifically in honour of the local foxes who often came into our garden. Our new house doesn’t seem to have a community of foxes nearby (I think I’ve seen just one in the neighbourhood so far, and not in our garden), and more to the point, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere “safe” in our new garden for the shrine to go where it would be protected from the elements and the many cats that jump over the walls into the garden.

So I’ve put the temporary altar in the spare room, which I plan on turning into a “Japanese” style room, with a partially tatami floor and other Japanese elements. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to put it above eye-level (kamidana should always be placed above eye-level), so when I make prayers to Inari-sama, I prostrate myself on the floor.

There are of course advantages to having an indoor altar – I don’t have to worry about cold or rain, it’s easier (and cleaner) to give offerings, and indeed most Japanese people keep their kamidana indoors. But I do miss the feeling of praying to Inari-sama outside; the wind against my skin, the sound of birdsong, the scent of plantlife. I felt I could connect more deeply to Inari-sama when I prayed to her outside. However, the practicalities of an indoor altar are overwhelming for now.

I do eventually want to get a proper kamidana set, complete with an o-fuda (the centre of my altar currently has the o-mamori that my colleague brought back from Fushimi Inari Taisha, which is the best substitute I have), and put it up on a shelf above eye-level. But I feel bad about spending money on a kamidana which only I will use (my husband isn’t a Shintoist), when we still need to buy lots of things for the house for both myself and my husband to use. If I happen to come into a bit of extra money, perhaps that’s how I should use it!

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“What the Dress Can Teach Us About Spirituality” by Trellia

I’m in Humanistic Paganism again!

Humanistic Paganism

This essay was originally published at Trellia’s Mirror Book.

Not too long ago, this picture of a dress caused an internet storm. Some people (like me) see the dress as blue and black; others swear it is white and gold.* Some people are even capable of seeing it as both, or as different colours entirely. To my knowledge, it’s the very first time that a photograph has caused such a bizarre phenomenon.

A lot of people have criticised the fascination surrounding The Dress as yet another silly internet fad, eclipsing the “real” important news of the day. I actually think that dismissing this phenomenon is, if you excuse the pun, rather short-sighted. For perhaps the first time in history, this photo demonstrates that the gulf between people’s visual perception is a lot wider than we first thought, and potentially opens up a new line of study in the science behind vision (it…

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Thoughts for the VJ Day 70th Anniversary

ObonOffering

Obon offering to departed spirits. By Flickr.com user “Blue Lotus” (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluelotus/220805096/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Japan in the Second World War. It also happened to be O-bon, the Japanese Buddhist festival of remembering the dead.

As a British person who works with a Japanese organisation, I see VJ Day as very much a positive day. Far from being a day in which I think bitterly on the brutal ways in which soldiers and civilians died on both sides, I see it as a reminder of just how far we’ve all come. Within living memory, Japan and the UK have come from being outright enemies to close allies. Thanks to the efforts towards reconciliation and reconstruction after VJ Day, I now work side-by-side with Japanese colleagues to try and further strengthen Japan-UK relations. 70 years ago, this would surely have been unthinkable.

I also celebrate the fact that the image of Japan held by British people has greatly changed. When you say the word “Japan” to young people in the UK, rather than thinking of images of kamikaze pilots or torture of PoWs, they’ll probably be thinking of anime, manga, geisha, giant robots – the culture that they can experience easily now due to the friendship between Japan and the West.

Gradually, the same thing will happen to Shinto as well. I am very much aware that to many people, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, “Shinto” means “State Shinto,” the oppressive form of Emperor-worship that Japan used to justify its wartime atrocities. But today, I think more and more people (again, young people) see Shinto as a nature-based folk religion, which conjures in their minds images of peaceful shrines or strange and wonderful worlds as seen in Miyazaki movies.

The fact that the West’s view of Japan can change so much in such a short period of time fills me with such hope. Not only for the relationship between Japan and the West, but also for Japan’s relationship with China and Korea. Things are very tense between China and other East Asian countries right now, with China and Korea demonising Japan in order to deflect criticism of their own governments, while Japan continues to refuse to acknowledge certain war crimes or make a full apology, as a show of strength against its critics. There are clearly faults at both sides, and if things go too far, it could make for a very dangerous situation for the rest of the world. But what encourages me is that in the UK, a large percentage of young people studying Japanese, or taking part in Japan-related events such as cultural expos, are of Chinese, Korean or other East Asian heritage. Despite what their governments are saying, there are clearly young people in China and Korea who are fascinated by Japan and see it in a positive light.

And then there are the current issues that the West is dealing with regarding our relationship with the Middle East. At current time, we could hardly be regarded as allied with many Middle Eastern countries. But if Japan tells us anything, it is that peace between any nation is possible. I really hope that the people who come after me will be able to travel just as freely to some of the Middle East’s most war-torn states as I did as a young university student in Japan. It may seem unthinkable now – but surely a young British student travelling to Japan to study Japanese would have been unthinkable 100 years ago.

It is certainly important to remember those who have died in the war, both on the Japanese and Allied sides. But I think that we should focus equally on the future – on the young people who bring the hope of peace.

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Reflections on “Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook”

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The year is now on the wane, and as Lewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2016 is now available to buy, I thought I’d look back on how useful the 2015 edition, the first I’ve ever bought, was to me.

In a nutshell…

This is a year-long planner/organiser – with a witchy twist! Not only does it highlight dates of significance to Pagans and witches, it also has (quite extensive) passages on things of a magical/Pagan nature, including spells, festivals (including those of other religions), rituals and symbols. It also includes moon phases and significant astrological events each day.

What did I particularly like about it?

As a newbie Pagan, I’ve found it really useful to have such an accessible and friendly planner to help me keep track of notable Pagan dates – especially the Sabbats and the Full Moons. Trying to memorise the Wheel of the Year and other significant dates can be tough for new Pagans and witches, so this book really did help.

I also like it simply as a way of reinforcing my identity as a Pagan. While I did take the step of covering my Datebook (I don’t actually want everyone I meet to know that I’m into Paganism/witchcraft), I feel a little bit of personal pride every time I open it up – it reminds me of the Path I’m on and how much I enjoy living the Pagan way every day. It’s actually a source of comfort – I feel good just knowing that this book, my little token of Paganism, is always in my bag. Perhaps it does have a magic of its own.

As I mentioned above, the Datebook includes a lot of additional text about spells, etc. which can be interesting to flick through if, say, you’re stuck on a train journey with nothing to read (although all this text does have its downside, which I’ll get to in a moment).

Finally, I actually really like the production of the book itself. It’s a paperback of non-gloss paper (easy to write on), cheaply spiral-bound. Although you could call it “cheap,” this is actually a lot more practical than the better-quality hard-back datebooks, diaries and planners out there – it’s much lighter, the spiral-bind means that the spine doesn’t break as it tends to do with square-bound books that are used heavily. I’m sure that this method of production helps to keep the cost down; everything Llewellyn tends to be expensive, but I’m sure that having cheaper materials has made this diary cheaper for the consumer than it would be if they had focussed more on quality. My datebook is still in very good condition even after daily use over nearly a year – not a single page has fallen out and it looks like it could last a good deal longer. In fact, its durability, combined with its lightness, is a really big selling point.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

The biggest downside, as with a lot of Llewellyn publications, is that it’s made for a US audience. This is a big problem for UK users – not only are none of the UK bank holidays and festivals are included, but some of the moon phases are slightly off due to the time zone difference between the US and the UK. All the dates therefore have to be double-checked.

Additionally, while the additional text is fairly interesting, I thought most of it was unnecessary and used up useful space – especially the text that occurs within the diary pages. It uses up a lot of space, which means the space for each day is rather cramped – I prefer having lots of space so I can write lots of things when planning my days. The illustrations throughout the text are pretty but, again, they use up space – I’d have preferred fewer. Additionally, there’s only a single page for notes at the back – I write a lot, so it would’ve been really useful if they’d cut down on the text, and given much more room for notes. Lots of witches write a lot because they’re constantly thinking about rituals and spells and other musings, so I think other people would feel this way too. I would’ve loved to have been able to use this datebook a bit like a Book of Shadows, with plenty of space to write my own material.

Finally, some of the little bits of text included in the date entries seemed very irrelevant to me. Every day is given a “colour,” but without any explanation as to why that colour has been assigned to that day – were they simply arbitrarily assigned by the editor to each day without any real meaning? Then there are occasional little factoids like, “The Hindu god Kurma relates to the virtue of perseverance,” but the date it’s on will have absolutely no relevance to Kurma or Hinduism or anything else. These factoids again take up space. I would have preferred facts that were more relevant to the date (more inclusions of important dates from other religions, for example), for no facts at all.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

As I mentioned, it’s really helped me as a newbie Pagan to keep tabs of significant dates, and I really liked just having something of a Pagan nature on me that I could use everyday. However, as I’ve now become more familiar with Paganism and as so many of the important dates for me are Shinto rather than Pagan, this book has become less useful to me. I suspect that for 2015, I will buy a more neutral datebook (that’s more UK-centric) and simply write in all the important Pagan and Shinto dates. But that’s certainly not to say that I didn’t like the Witches’ Datebook or didn’t find it very useful initially – it’s simply the case that I no longer feel it’s necessary as I am more familiar with the Pagan year now.

Would I recommend this book to others?

For beginners of Paganism / Witchcraft, perhaps – as I said, the fact that it’s US-centric is a big downside for UK users, who have to exercise some caution when relying on it to get their dates right. If Llewellyn (or any other company) were to produce a UK edition of a Pagan/Witch datebook, I’m pretty sure I’d snap it right up.

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Pagan(ish) Highlights of my Normandy-Brittany Trip

Green Man at Bayeux Cathedral

Green Man at Bayeux Cathedral

My family and I stayed in Normandy for a week for a holiday. Here’s some of the highlights that I thought may interest readers…

La Pichardiere Farmhouse

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My family (parents, husband, sister, sister-in-law and two nephews) spent the week renting La Pichardiere, a beautiful old farmhouse deep in the Normandy countryside. The farmhouse and the grounds were stunningly beautiful – the grounds were quite extensive with wooded areas, a pond and old tumbledown barns.

Butterfly at La Pichardiere

Butterfly at La Pichardiere

We spent several days of our holiday just relaxing in the beautiful surroundings. There was so much wildlife to see, too – there were butterflies, birds, grasshoppers, lizards, deer and all sorts of creatures (diving beetles, newts, frogs and raft spiders) in the pond. At night, lots of bats came flying low over the house, and you could also hear owls. In the neighbouring field was a herd of friendly cows.

We also took my oldest nephew (who’s three years old) on a couple of wildlife walks around the local area, to gather blackberries or find leaves. He really enjoyed exploring and seeing all the different animals in plants. When we got back, I made him a Green Man face with all the leaves, fruit and nuts we’d found:

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Bayeux

When in Normandy, you have to go to Bayeux and see the famous Bayeux Tapestry, commemorating the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England. Which of course we did (I don’t have any photos because photography of the Tapestry is not permitted). It was actually my second time to see the Tapestry – the first time I saw it was on a school trip as a teenager. I liked it then, and I still liked it now. It’s incredible to see such a vivid relic from such a long time ago.

We also went to Bayeux Cathedral, a lovely Cathedral built shortly after the Battle of Hastings and the original home of the Tapestry. What I love about medieval churches and cathedrals is that the Pagan element is still very strong – just take a look at some of the designs in the architecture…

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This strange grotesque reminded me so much of the “Helping Hands” in the movie Labyrinth!

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Strange grotesques possibly based on the Greek Comedy/Tragedy masks?

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I really liked this couple! They are apparently a symbol of fidelity. They reminded me so much of Japanese “Jou and Uba” dosojin!

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The crypt had some beautiful examples of medieval works of art.

As a former Catholic himself, my Dad mentioned how strange it was to be in a Catholic cathedral (Cathedrals in the UK are typically Church of England, not Catholic). We agreed that actually, we prefer the Catholic style – it’s much more ornate and interesting (and for me, more Pagan).

La Ferté-Macé Church

La Ferté-Macé is a town near to where we were staying, and we popped in one day to visit the market. They also have an impressive medieval church with some very interesting features..

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The church facade is covered with intricate carvings and fascinating symbols. I wish I knew what they all meant!

One of those symbols was a mouse or rat (can you see it below?). I would have loved to have known the story behind putting a picture of a rat on the church.

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Inside the church was interesting too. There was an image of a devil, something that you don’t usually see in churches from a later period.

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Beauvain Village

One evening my husband and I decided to walk from the farmhouse to Beauvain, the nearest village. On the way, we dropped into the little local graveyard, which was so pretty and still, surrounded by fields…

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Beauvain itself is really mysterious. It feels really deserted – absolutely no shops were open, and we only caught sight of three human beings there the whole time we were there. What it does have, however, is a huge, abandoned mansion:

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The mansion is all tumbledown and has quite a lot of grounds. We were so tempted to jump the rather small wall and go and explore! (But we were worried about getting caught). Again, we have no idea about what this mansion is.

The only inhabitant we did regularly see was a large, white dog, which didn’t seem abandoned but also didn’t seem to have an owner with him. I speculated that perhaps the mansion is in fact owned by a vampire aristocrat, who takes the form of a white dog by day, which is why the village is abandoned!

True or not, there is something quite eerie about Beauvain. Even its church seemed to be haunted by a ghostly figure…

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(Or perhaps it was a statue of Mary seen from behind…)

Mont Saint-Michel

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Another blast from the past – Mont Saint-Michel, the incredible island Abbey with a history dating back to pre-medieval times. I remember how impressed I had been seeing it on that school trip years ago, and I still found it breathtaking today. If you’re ever in Normandy you MUST go – don’t let the hoards of tourists put you off, go first thing in the morning and you’ll avoid a lot of them (plus the buildings look best in the early morning light). It has a really magical, fairytale quality to it, even with the touristy line of shops at its entrance (which reminded me very much of the approach to major shrines and temples in Japan) – those shops and restaurants help to absorb the tourists and keep the Abbey from overcrowding, anyway.

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The Abbey was constructed primarily for the veneration of the angel St Michel, which I find to be rather Pagan in itself – non-Catholic Christians would probably balk at the idea of worshipping an angel in this fashion!

Barenton Forest

Last of all, we entered neighbouring Britanny to go to Barenton Forest. This place is significant because it is identified with Brocéliande, the legendary forest said to be the tomb of Merlin and to have a magical fountain.

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We did indeed find the fountain (it’s a lovely little trek through the forest to find it), but the serene and magical atmosphere was rather spoilt by a huge coachload of noisy tourists who got there before us. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be in what is certainly a place of pilgrimage for Arthurian enthusiasts and Pagans (it was very special for my Dad, who has always loved the legends of King Arthur)

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Perhaps due to its magical nature, many visitors had made cairns of stones around the forest, some of which they had arranged into rings

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Bareton was uncannily like another place associated very much with King Arthur in England – Cornwall. Not only was the landscape similar to Cornwall, but the atmosphere was almost the same – sleepy yet happy, and full of little tourist shops catering to the pilgrims with an interest in magic/Pagan/New Age things

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I absolutely recommend Bareton to any Pagans who find themselves in Brittany – but visit the forest early in the day to find the fountain before it gets too crowded!

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