Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Frida Kahlo

A comment by Muzuzus to my previous post reminded me of this self-portrait complete with moustache and eyebrows. I will not comment beyond saying that she seems to me to have been fully woman.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Look east, Benedict!

Shortly after the Pope spouted his nonsense about the end of the world being the result of "gender indeterminism" - I exaggerate slightly but not by much - the traditionally conservative Moslem country of Bangla Desh has taken a step towards acceptance of difference. For the first time in the country's history the 100,000 "hijras" - transexuals, both pre and post-operative- will be allowed to vote. The full story is here.

This is not without its problems, however, since voters at the polling stations are separated by sex. There is no third line. Where do transexuals fit in within this rigid binary division? A division, after all, that the Pope sees as essential to human survival. The solution here has has been purely pragmatic. An official said:
We thought long and hard about it but eventually decided that hijras must go to the line that we think suits them best. The more feminine ones will be in the ladies' line while the ones who seem more manly will be in with the men.

This is far from ideal but i cannot see how it could have been done in any other way - given the cultural imperative to keep men and women separate. It does lead to some interesting questions, however. If, as the official says, the division will be made simply on external appearance, that very well lead to female born women of conventionally "unfeminine" appearance being directed to the line marked "men". I can see that causing a few problems. Just as many of the hijras may also feel upset at being so directed. But praise is due to Bangla Desh for thus extending the franchise.

Benedict, people just do not fit into the boxes you find so admirable and necessary. Are you sorry that your old organisation, The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, no longer has the power it once wielded to enforce uniformity? Life was so simple then, wasn't it?

BBC - In Our Time

I'm posting a link to this site - both here and in the list to the left.

For those who are not UK based, this is a long-running regular feature of Radio 4. In it, the moderator, Melvyn Braqg, invites experts in all forms of scholarship from quantum physics through renaissance Italy to modern economics, to discuss a particular theme. As an intelligent layman, his job is to encourage the experts make the often arcane subjects of their expertise highly accessible.

Whenever you have an hour or so spare, and want to sit back and listen to intelligent and stimulating talk, I would recommend browsing through this archive and choosing whatever you fancy. Try something you do not think you could possibly understand and/or find interesting. You may well get a very pleasant surprise. It is a treasure chest of the history of human thought!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Love and limitation

Came across this quote on Gorgon Resurfaces
In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation. ~Simone de Beauvoir

So much effort is invested in the delineating of categories. This is in many ways the major ideological project of the 20th century. There is a wonderful segment in that work of sheer collective genius, Monty Python's Life of Brian, which sums this up delightfully:

The reason this is so funny is because it is so true. I remember reading of Berlin in the late 20s/early 30s in which there were accounts of the schismatic debates on the left - arguing over arcane definitions of text - while all along the right was preparing to cede power to Hitler.

I remember also many years ago when, having identified myself as an anarchist (A political category that still best defines me) I got into a conversation with a fellow activist in the London squatting scene of the early 70s. I was feeling mischievous and made a comment that was, although not inaccurate, provocative. My comrade took deep offence because it did not accord with his vision of anarchism. This resulted in a long process for him in which he tried to define, to categorise, me. This was not a purely academic exercise, but very serious and a question of life or death. At least that is the way it appeared to me. For a couple of days, he was close to determining that I was a fascist- if not a Nazi. This was worrying because I knew that if this was the final determination, I was going to receive a severe beating, at the least. I have to add that death was not, in those rather chemically enhanced and amplified days, an unrealistic expectation. For those couple of days, there were people actually sleeping against my door in order to protect me.

He was not, thankfully, a man to act without thought and one day he came down, with a smile on his face. "I've got you!", he announced, "you're a nihilist!" That was very possibly accurate - and, I think, still is in many ways. But more to the point it was within the spectrum of acceptable deviance. Had it not been, I often wonder whether I would still be here. There was a real possibility, given the level of anger I had incited, of a knife in the ribs.

To get back to de Beauvoir, the point is that all such categories are limiting. And they are also imprisoning and disempowering. None of us can, I believe, ever totally conform to any given category without making essential compromises and denying major parts of our being. Thus, we can never be ideologically or theologically sound. We are naturally perverse and as such will blur all such delineations.

Only by denial can we fit into the boxes. That is a choice ever open to us and most spiritualities and political ideologies insist that we do so. We must conform to expectations - be they homo, hetero, trans, bi, omni etc. The true beauty of humanity, however, is that it defies all such expectations and ultimately refuses to be put into boxes. Even the worst monsters have moments of tenderness and each saint moments of cruelty and exploitation.

I am heterosexual. Predominantly. I can, however, be attracted to men, There are men I know now with whom I could interact sexually, and have considered so doing. The decision not to has not been based on moral grounds but on purely pragmatic ones - that the circumstances of the time have not been favourable. Desire has certainly been present. I am, after much confusion, at ease with this choice. But it is not, and while I have breath in my body cannot be, a final choice. I refuse to be limited. It is not as if the human species is suffering from an overdose of love and can afford to close and condemn any options.

Love is love - however we may fuck it up. For Goddess' sake, let's not kill it with categorisation.

Friday, 26 December 2008

The sun never set - only the name changed.

This is a map of the British Empire, at its height in the 1920s:

It is, however, too small scale to fully demonstrate the extent, neglecting as it does Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus in the Mediterranean alone - not too mention all the other strategic islands that flew the union flag. For example, Jamaica, Tobago,the Bahamas, Trinidad, Ascension Island, The Falklands, Ascension, etc etc.

When I went to school, we were taught to be proud of this achievement. We were shown the pink parts of the map - the corridor from Cairo to Cape Town - the expanses of Canada and Australia, the splendour of the "jewel in the crown", India. We were taught to be proud of those who had created it, such as Clive of India, Cecil Rhodes and others of their ilk. We were taught of the role of the private corporation, The East India Company, in this Imperial project. We were fed on Rudyard Kipling and Dr Livingstone and "the white man's burden"- the bringing of civilisation to benighted savages. All the paraphernalia of Empire was lauded and celebrated. We were taught to be proud.

We were not, of course, taught of the mass murders, treachery and slavery that made this possible. Not in primary school - any - and there was not much- of that sort of stuff was left to when we got older and attitudes had already become engrained. As children of those who had struggled through the war years, the rhetoric was all about "Their finest hour" and "the struggle for civilisation". It was simplistic and did not stand up to the scrutiny of study. It was a flag-waving celebration of cultural superiority that is still strong enough in the British psyche, however, to allow such racist and atavistic thugs as the British National Party to gain electoral success.

I want, however, to go back 80-odd years and look at the military resources that held this empire together. At its height, the British empire had 36 major bases - the Roman Empire having had only one more - 37. That was all it took to maintain control - for a while, as no empire lasts forever. Today, of course, the Roman and British empires are history. The final flurries from the disastrous Suez war to the sordid Falklands war finally revealed the toothless lion. The Age of Empires was past.

Except it is not. Today, the United States has, according to the Pentagon, 761 military bases across the world - over 20 times the British or Roman deployments. Of the 194 countries in the world, the US admits to having armed forces stationed in 39 of them. Which does not include either Afghanistan or Iraq. There is more about this on this link here. The rhetoric has changed a bit - no longer is it the "white man's burden" but it still talks about bringing "civilisation" or "democracy". At the point of the gun, perhaps, but all in the best interests of the benighted.

What is this if not Empire? I remember from my history lessons that there were two British Empires. The first, we were told, came to an abrupt and somewhat bloody end in 1776 when the 13 colonies declared independence. Then the second Empire was created. But this was not in fact the truth - sure, the 13 former colonies - now states - were no longer ruled from London but the imperial imperative still prevailed as the colonists moved west, accompanied by genocide. All that had changed was the name. The first British Empire morphed into the USA.

Thus it simply continues the imperial dream and as all empires seeks ever to expand. It may call itself a republic and claim to act in the name of democracy but as far as foreign policy goes there is an overwhelming Imperial arrogance - made so clear by the unapologetic and blatant breaches of international law by the outgoing administration. Should Obama, as seems highly likely, fail to bring these criminals to account then he is implicitly sanctioning the crimes they committed in pursuit of their imperialistic dreams. For if he does not, then no-one can since the US does not recognise the jurisdiction of any international court. It is the arrogance of power - and as such will invite nemesis.

European history shows that empires fall - and that they seem to fall very soon after they reach their apparent zenith. The city in which I now live, Budapest, is full of the faded splendour of its brief period as an Imperial capital. This lasted only decades until that Empire died in the trenches of World War One and was dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. The second British Empire lasted a little longer but it only took a couple of decades after 1945 before it collapsed. As the USA, the current name of the first British Empire, seeks ever to expand its dominion, it is rapidly reaching the point of implosion. Perhaps that has already been reached in the deserts of Iraq and - that graveyard of Imperial dreams, Afghanistan. Not to mention the current economic disaster.

Two deaths..

... of very important people in my life. The first, Eartha Kitt, whose voice and appearance gave me, as a prepubescent boy, the first hint of the power and beauty of desire.

And finally, with thanks to Aspasia of La Libertine's Salon for bringing this to my attention:

The second, playwright Harold Pinter, who brilliantly portrayed the shadow of hidden desires within the silences of everyday discourse and who remained to his death a fierce opponent of tyranny

It was not until they died that I realised how important they had been to my development. I cannot remember the first time I heard Eartha Kitt on the radio but I do remember how she awoke a yearning that I could neither articulate nor understand but knew to be wonderful. Harold Pinter's work, "The Caretaker" was a set text in school in the early sixties and I still remember the thrill that I felt reading it - and even more, the thrill of seeing "The Homecoming" performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre.

Many years ago, I stopped reading modern plays. Now, I feel that I would like to start again.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

More on gender..

There is an article by Glenys Livingstone in the always excellent "Goddess Pages" journal that speaks to the issue of gender and sex. I have little, if any, argument with it so, instead of reinventing the wheel, I have linked to it. I also recommend everyone to explore the other articles here.

Further on financial prudence

After publishing my last post, I realised that I had omitted to say something. And that was that, when attempting to negotiate with the banks, I felt that I was occupying the moral low ground. It is true that my general behaviour can be summed up as feckless and this I felt strongly. However, what has happened lately has revealed that my fecklessness was infinitesimal when compared with the actions of those who claimed the moral high ground. Their pursuit of vast bonuses depended on how successful they were in persuading people to borrow - even if they were unable to pay back.

And just who has been bailed out? Not those who had to buy their homes at hugely inflated prices and are now being made homeless. Not those made redundant as the bubble bursts. Not the communities whose main industry closes down, leaving behind ghost towns in which the only source of comfort is crack cocaine and heroin. No. None of these.

It is the bankers who have won and continue to sun themselves in their own rectitude.

There is something deeply and fundamentally wrong here.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Financial depression

I have a confession to make. I am crap with money. No matter how hard I try, I am unable to manage my finances.

This has been a huge source of frustration for me - if not shame. Somehow I feel that I am a failure as an adult and as a man because I always seem to be in some sort of financial crisis and never at any form of ease.

There was a brief time when this was different. Then, money seemed to be no problem. Whatever I wanted was available. All I had to do was to go and shop. What had happened was that I had accepted some offers from banks and got myself some credit cards. It seemed miraculous. No sooner had i reached the credit limit when it was increased. So I continued to spend - not really thinking of consequences. Which of course there were- my debt increased and eventually I could not meet the minimum monthly payments. The answer was simple - I got another credit card. And so it goes.

Eventually, this got out of control and I was faced with a debt I could not pay. Letters were left unopened and I began to ignore the ringing telephone. Every night my heart would beat faster and I would begin to sweat as the phone rang and I feared to answer. Stress rose. I wanted to scream. There seemed to be no way out. It was all falling apart.

I sometimes answered the phone and would make some sort of promise. This kept things easier for a while until the arrangement became untenable. Then the process of ignoring the telephone would recommence. And then, my mother died and eventually, after the estate was settled, I was able to pay off the bulk of the debt. Things then got easier but my mental health was definitely far from perfect.

This was all my fault - I knew that. I had made the applications and I had accepted the terms and conditions. There is no such thing as free money and eventually I had to accept the consequences. I am still accepting them.

I was thinking about all this recently and realised that my weakness or sickness was not unique. There were many iwho shared it. And foremost among them were the very people who had been so keen to lend me money. The banks. Somewhere in the insanity of Feldmanite economics there had arisen the belief that money had some sort of intrinsic value - that all that had to be done is to keep the money moving and at each point in that movement there was an increase in value. The economy was no longer goods-based but money based. Goods were things that were made elsewhere, in China for example, and wealth depended on the manipulation of money and the production of nothing.

It was a house of cards. For me it collapsed about three years ago. For the banks the awakening has been more recent. And now, the depression that assailed me seems to be merely a small forerunner of a global depression whose effects are as yet unknown. And I have realised that my behaviour is the exact mirror image of the bankers. I was the customer they sought. The first hint of this came a while ago when it was announced that credit facilities were being withdrawn from those who paid their debts before interest became due. The banks did not want customers who were disciplined and thrifty. They wanted people like me. We paid their hefty bonuses.

When the inevitable crash came, however, did those who had blown this bubble have to lose their huge assets, as I had had to lose my inheritance? No. Governments stepped in and gave untold billions to them. And meanwhile, repossessions and redundancies escalate. A few billionaires are prosecuted but many more simply bask in the sun while communities die. And the politicians who were in bed with them - who swallowed the Chicago school doctrine of licensed criminality - among them the Reagans and the Clintons and the Thatchers, the Blairs and, latterly and most nakedly blatant, the Bushes and the Cheneys - escape any sort of penalty for their irresponsible and often criminal complicity with the corrupt and venal financial institutions whom they are now bailing out by mortgaging my grandchildren's future.

I fully and openly confess my own financial ineptitude and irresponsibility. But my behaviour was, in reality, the behaviour that the system depended upon. It depended on people borrowing more than they could really afford. But it, just like I, got a little bit too greedy. And now the global house of cards has collapsed. And the major victims will be the thrifty and the trusting. I have no assets to lose.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The New Puritanism

I found out after our solstice ceremony last night that somebody is saying that what we are doing is Satanic. This is news to me. Especially since I now have no belief in the Christian construct we call the devil. If Satanism is anything, I cannot see it as anything other than Christian heresy. I accept that practitioners may not see it as such and as long as there is full consent for involved I have little problem with it. For me, I must confess, the very word itself evokes memories of the lurid novels of Dennis Wheatley which were so popular in my adolescence. "To the Devil a Daughter". "The Devil Rides Out" etc - not the stuff of serious scholarship, however dressed up. I had the same problem recently when watching the very brilliant "Rosemary's Baby". As a film it was wonderful but as a reflection of any sort of spirituality that I either practice or know of it was complete nonsense. I can, however, see it as a powerful allegory about how the rich and powerful metropolitan elites feed on the energies of the naive. It is just horrifically ironic that when the "forces of darkness" hit Polanski in real adult life - for he had seen the Nazis as a child - it was in the form of the Manson family.

Which was, lest it be forgot, built around the visions and personality of a distinctly non-elite, racist and psychotic man from the margins of society who believed in the Messianic vision that he and his followers had inherited from Christianity. Manson = Son of Man. Simple, isn't it. They certainly saw it as such.

The Devil in Dennis Wheatley and all his other manifestations and the Messiah in the Manson cult were, however male. Just as Jehovah/Yahweh/Allah is male. And I do not follow any male god. They do not, literally, speak to me. That is not my path and nor, I believe, is it the path of anyone else involved in the temple and other activities. We are Goddess focussed. Pure and simple. We cannot therefore be Satanists.

I cannot really speak for others so will use hereafter the first person singular. I believe, however, that much of what I say would not raise any objections in most. There will be arguments about detail and, indeed, many of my friends will not- as they are unable to understand English - be able to read this. So, from now on, the word is "I".

I believe in a goddess who is manifest in all creation and animates. I see Her as what existed prior to manifestation and what will exist when according to the current theories of cosmology, this current universe will come to an end. She is both immanent and transcendant and She is what makes these categories redundant. I have said it before but will say it again, echoing the genius William Blake, She is the marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Both these categories are the inheritance that have been transmitted to us through Christianity. They have no other existence- they are dependent on perception. To quote Blake:
... I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity

The force of this image was brought home to me in a particularly strong 5 Rhythms dance session when all around had lost their inhibitions and were expressing their true emotions. The music was pounding, arms and legs were flailing, some were screaming, some were sobbing. All were - or seeemed - ecstatic. That line just pooped into my head. Energy was moving freely. And I realised the truth of what Blake wrote a little after.

Energy is Eternal Delight

This energy is the energy of living beings. And it is the energy of the Universe. It is the energy from which we all emerge. It is the energy of sex. The union of perceived opposites - the merging of categories. And it scares the shit out of many - including me very often - because it cannot be controlled. It can only be policed.

Margaret Thatcher's government declared one of its aims was to counter the "permissiveness" of the 1960s. It progressed far along this road but it was left to New Labour, led by a former amateur rock guitarist and Christian "Socialist", Tony Blair to really begin the tightening up and the rolling back. The brilliance of this was that it utilised the rhetoric of the 60s in order to subvert the liberationist and egalitarian ideals that inspired that rhetoric. Thus, feminist rhetoric is used by a woman Home Secretary, in order to attempt to police the sex industry. I personally find it difficult to argue with some of this. For example, there is a proposed zero tolerance of kerb drawling men. I cannot say that I have any sympathy with men who drive slowly around areas in the city and make unwelcome advances to women who just happen to be walking there. Such behaviour is wrong and can be, I would imagine, both insulting and frightening for women who are not sex workers

If a man slows down, however, for a woman who is clearly waiting for such an approach, then I cannot see how that, in and of itself, is abusive. Both, however, would be prosecuted under the new proposals. And, furthermore, the man must ensure that the woman is neither trafficked nor "controlled" by a pimp. How the hell does he do that? Particularly when, and I am obliged to Aspasia for this link there are adverts condemning sexual slavery which depict women who do not appear to have been abused in any way. This is a nonsense, There is a difference in kind between an obvious photographic model and a slave. I have never bought sexual services on the street or anywhere else - and on my income, if for no other reason, this is likely to remain the case. And, to be honest, I have never really wanted to - although there have been times when I have been so desperate for even an approximation of loving touch that that the thought has, fleetingly, passed through my mind. And it is a thought that women friends have told me they have had. Is it so wrong? I cannot see it is. And yet we are told that the desire to be touched is a wrong desire - unless it is sanctioned by the state. If we seek to pay someone to touch us, we run the real danger of arrest.

There is a slave trade and it is huge. It is, according to some estimates, larger now than before abolition. The proposed legislation will not in any way make a small dent in this. All it will do is make life more difficult and dangerous for the women (mainly but not exclusively) who work the streets.

For what this is all about, despite the rhetoric, is policing sexuality. Which gets back to the beginning of this post. There is a new puritanism and it is lurking everywhere. It sees the Devil in any form of unlicensed sexual expression. Its advocates come from all parts of the political spectrum. From left and right, the message is the same although the rhetoric may differ. And it is the message we have inherited from centuries of body-haters. It is born of fear - the fear of being fully human. And I will not be deterred by it, scary as it is. It is not Satanic. It is human.

Hallelujah -

After my last post, it feels a bit strange to be posting this - but I have been meaning to do it for a couple of days. Apparently, this song is now No 1 and 2 in the UK charts - the first from a reality show contestant, whose name eludes me, and the second from Jeff Buckley. Leonard Cohen's original version is also somewhere in the top 40. This is, to say the least, unusual and a real tribute to an artist whose vision and work has inspired me for decades. I cannot accept the myth that has so inspired him, but can only wonder at what it has inspired. So, here it is - the original singer but somewhat older - from the Glastonbury festival 2008 - ( the first for many years I am sorry i missed - for this very reason) Hallelujah!:

Hypocrisy and bigotry - a marriage of true minds

I was at a bit of a loss as to what to write about and the Pope gallops to my rescue. A strange event, indeed. He is, I assume, a highly intelligent man. And I also assume he is sincere. Both of which make his most recent pronouncement particularly alarming. Homosexuality is, apparently, as dangerous to the survival of humanity as climate change.

How has he arrived at this conclusion? What warped sense of logic underlies it? He speaks of "human ecology" - what the hell does that mean? Homosexuality is nothing new and is not even unique to human beings. A few years ago, for example, in the swannery in Abbotsbury in Dorset, two male swans were behaving exactly the same as male/female couple would. Was that a threat to swan ecology? Benedict's execrable nonsense would be risible were it not for the fact that this man's office, and hence his thought, is considered worthy of respect by so many who have political power.

By his argument, if I decided to set up home with another man I would be doing the equivalent of destroying part of the rain forest. So I better not do that, had I? The point is, however, that I do not want to. My desire is predominantly heterosexual and has remained that way for a long time now. And, yes, I give much, albeit not total, credence to "gender theory". I am also aware that there appear to be physical, neurological and genetic aspects of transgender that seem to point to a very real difference between such individuals and the majority of others who share their birth physiology. Their external bodies may have conformed to one set of gender expectations but their minds and, to use the Pope's terminology (and mine), souls may conform to another.

What are such individuals expected to do? Lie? Pretend to be what they know deep within themselves they are not? The putative founder of the religion that Benedict espouses would have two words for such behaviour - "whited sepulchres". I cannot imagine what it must be like to know that you are in the wrong body, but I believe that the last thing a spiritual leader should demand is that such a person denies who she or he is. My assumption is that spirituality is concerned with exploration of who we are and our relation to divinity - not on pretence and deceit.

One of his justifications for his opinion is that the institution he serves and leads is concerned with the "family" and associated values. The family, he asserts, is the cornerstone of a stable society and the church has always supported it, he would claim. This is a lie. Little honour or respect was given to the wives and children of priests as the discipline of clerical celibacy was strengthened and enforced. The women were referred to as prostitutes and often enslaved and the children bastards - devoid of civil rights.

As far as the church was concerned, family life was of secondary importance. It was - and still, I feel, remains - a lesser calling. The true and ideal life for christians was to be untainted by sexual desire and the propagation of the species. This still appears to be the case, although the church, with its denial of abortion and contraception would deny it. I find it particularly grotesque that a celibate sould demand to be called "Father". It is a mockery. For, unlike biological fathers, it is a title which demands honour, with the priest referring to all and sundry as "my child". And the reality is that, were he to have - as many do - biological children he could not own them as his. He would have to deny them, hide them. He would have to lie. All in order to serve a church that claims to value families.

And in their defence of family values this same church has conspired to protect child molesters and to rubbish the claims of those on whom they preyed. This same pope, in an earlier office was highly instrumental in the cover-ups - his latter-day apology notwithstanding. One thing I cannot accuse this sick institution of, however, is inconsistency. From what I have gleaned from the media coverage of this whole farrago is that the church has announced will double its efforts to eliminate active homosexuality from its almost totally homosocial ranks. This will, apparently, help to avert further molestation. To which I have only one word -"Bollocks!". In the first place it is impossible to enforce and in the second all it will do is further drive people into denial and deceit.

But then, who wants honesty, integrity and openness. Certainly not the Pope.

Which comes back to my original point. I do not doubt his intelligence. However, if he is sincere, what or who is his sincerity serving? I cannot see it is anything other than the institution itself, which has long lost any pretence to serve the divine. It has become a self-perpetuating and self-validating organism whose only real purpose is to keep itself in power. Whatever virtues the man from Galilee, if he existed, had, they have been long buried in the power politics and scapegoat hunting that has typified institutional christianity - of all persuasions - for the last two millennia.

As we are surrounded by so many nativity scenes, I am reminded of Yeats:

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

Sometimes I feel the nightmare may be reaching an end. Then someone speaks- this time the Pope -and I think again. The christian nightmare is still with us.

I hope not for long.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


It is now coming up to a month since I initiated as a Priest of Inanna. People have told me that I have changed. I believe them - since I have a very real and deep inner feeling that some qualitative change has occurred. For a while now, I have been struggling to put this into words and find that they elude me. What I am trying to express is something that is both absurdly simple and deeply profound.

I am aware or the presence of Inanna. She is with me all the time. In every breath, she is there. Simple as that. And yet, I remain as I am - with all the doubts and fears, the hopes and despairs that all who know me are only too aware of. I haven't changed. I have become, and am still in the process of becoming, more fully myself. I am aware of those areas in which I am weak - and they are many. There are parts of my character of which, in the past, I have been deeply ashamed. They are still there, but the power of that shame diminishes day by day. There are things I still do that I would prefer not to do. But they are fewer than they were. I also have many strengths and I am beginning to accept and nurture them. I am beginning to feed my strengths rather than my weaknesses. This is very new.

I have accepted my call to be a healer. That is what this is all about. That is what the initiation was about. For some unexplained and inexplicable reason, a bronze age goddess I had never heard of until recently has called me to her service. She has called to heal. More particularly, she has called me to heal sexual wounds. To the work of sexual healing.

This I find rather scary. In fact, that is a typical British understatement. To be more precise, there are times I find it fucking terrifying. I am only too painfully aware of my own shortcomings in this regard - my own past lack of clarity and honesty - my own present hangups and neediness. And yet, somehow, these almost seem a qualification. it seems a paradox but it seems that in my weakness there is strength and in my vulnerability, power.

I needed a name for a planned series of workshops. (I say "planned" but this is a very loose term!) What I came up with was "InannaTantra". It seemed catchy (and, on a practical level, the website will soon be online). But from the naming, something concrete is emerging. I am beginning a practice. Without any real idea of where I am going, I am moving forward into something very new. For at long last, I am beginning to draw together the many threads of my life into a coherent whole. I am combining what I have learnt from the excellent teachers I have had into something that is uniquely my own. I did nor anticipate thi and it was far from my intention., I thought i didn't know enough - did not have the credentials for such work. But I do.

In one way it is very simple. All that I did last month was to formally vow service to a deity who has been in the centre of my life for a while now. But the formal declaration of intent was the vital step. It was, if you like, my part of the bargain. And the rest has followed from that. For now, I am not alone and I know I am not alone. She is with me and She will guide me. I know that. In workshops or in one-to-one sessions, it is She who works through me.

And it is beautiful

Friday, 12 December 2008

What I heard about Iraq

I have been very busy this week but will return to posting very soon. In the meantime, I have just been listening to a play on the BBC with the above title. Taken exclusively from the actual comments of many of the principal - and some of the less powerful- actors in the tragic and bloody farce known as the war on terror, this is a very powerful and moving piece of radio drama. It will shortly be available, free, here, for another week and after that it may well be worth googling in case it is available elsewhere.

Monday, 8 December 2008

in the beginning...

Rather than debating the points raised by Infra here and here one by one, I want to expand on my principal point and see if I can make clearer, both to others and to myself, what it means.

I say clearer to myself because it was not an idea that came to me as the result of deduction but one that came, as it were, "fully armed". It was neither a road to Damascus nor a Eureka moment but more of a slipping into place, an "of course". It explained many things that had long puzzled me. It is an idea that I have held, now, for a long time but never fully articulated so I am glad of the opportunity to begin doing so. It is based on my own individual journey and as such may only be relevant to those for whom it has resonance. Any comments are welcomed, and will only be deleted if they are gratuitously abusive or libellous - unless, of course, they accord with my own personal prejudices :-)

I have always been interested in how things work. Well, to be more precise, how societies and individuals work - since mechanical things hold little interest for me. Central to the functioning of both collectives and individuals is belief and the sets of values that is articulated with that belief. I was also engaged in a search for some sort of inner meaning. Both these led me naturally to an interest in religion. I tried hard to become a Christian - both because I found much to admire in many christians I met and also, frankly, because somehow, somewhere, I had acquired a fear of hell. This fear eventually came to rule my life to the extent that often the gates of hell threatened, literally, to open before my feet. Despite this ever-present fear of damnation, however, I found it impossible to embrace Christianity. I turned to other faiths and, although finding much to admire in them, could not accept them either. Nowhere in the spiritual paths that I explored, could I find a home. It was a very scary few years.

And the reason that I could not accept them can be summarised in one word - "misogyny". For this is what I found as a fundamental component deep within the core of each . Although as an overt characteristic it was less obvious in some paths than in others, it was still present everywhere I looked. In all these paths authority was male. Even where temporal authority was exercised by women it was still in the service of a male divinity or teacher. And I could not accept that this was right. For, in my admittedly limited experience, I had learnt far more from women than from men. I read the scriptures. I read the church fathers. And the more I read the more misogyny I found. Until I came to believe that the entire christian edifice was built solely upon a desire to subjugate and denigrate women.

An extreme position, admittedly. And I have modified it somewhat in recent years - recognising that many individual christians far exceed me in selflessness and acceptance of others. They have found what eluded me and that it was there to be found is evidence that my earlier blanket condemnation was wrong.

The question of misogyny, however, remains. It is there right from Genesis and continues until Revelations. It is the Alpha and the Omega. It was therefore the question that demanded an answer. Why? Why was it felt necessary? Why did men so order their vision of divinity that, by the time of the protestant reformation, it had lost all vestiges of the female and become totally male? The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Truly immaculate conceptions! Unsullied by female anatomy. (I am,by the way, aware of the true nature of the Immaculate Conception dogma). And if we were unsure of the vile nature of female anatomy we will be reminded often over the next few weeks, as we listen to the carol "Adeste Fideles" (O, Come all ye faithful) in which it is a sign of Jesus' salvific qualities, and God's miraculous grace, that he "abhors not the virgin's womb". This implies that such abhorrence is, of course, normal, understandable and, in the absence of grace, almost mandatory.

So, what do we have here? We have the elevation of male gods (or, lest I be accused of heresy "persons"). A garden where a male creates a male from earth and then from that male extracts a rib and then fashions a female. An immaculate process. No messiness of blood. No piss nor shit. A clean, manly, story. A grotesque co-option of the power of creating new life. From the action of one male upon another the female is born and it is from her that all the troubles then commence.

So the power to create life has been taken by the male. Whichever of the two stories in Genesis is read, the prime mover in creation is male. A male who acts upon a strange, and unexplained, "deep" and divides earth from sky, night from day etc. The very title of the book, "genesis" being from the Greek for birth. The male has given birth. He has taken something that only the female can do but sanitised it and then denigrated and condemned the sex he has usurped.

One only steals from another what one envies. And a good way of dealing with the knowledge that one has stolen is to treat the previous owner with contempt. The reason I have focussed on the physical capability to give birth - to apparently create something from what amounts to nothing- is because that is where the Abrahamic myth leads. To the male's envy of the ability to create life and symbolic usurpation of that power while condemning to secondary status the real holders.

Where we go from here is something I cannot really say here except that, whatever it is, it must be built on a recognition of the full humanity of all human beings and not the dominance of one over another. The path is not easy - for one thing the dualism of night/day, male/female, heaven/hell, virgin/whore etc, set up very poetically in the bible and powerfully reinforced countless times thereafter - most lately in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings - informs all our thinking. It will continue to trip us up.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

a poem i haved loved long - simple and true

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

e e cummings

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Instability now.

In his comment to my last post, Infra writes:

Any idea that has a chance of substantially modifying a system must come from a reevaluation or reworking of the fundamental principles of that system (otherwise it would simply be a reshuffling of already existing ideas, as pointed out by Foucault) and, as a result, would contain some element of destabilization. This being something likely to provoke some form of resistance.

Precisely. But this resistance is already with us in the form of religious fundamentalisms. At the moment, the focus is on the Islamic varieties but Christian, Jewish, Hindu and maybe other forms of fundamentalism are also to a very large extent a reaction to the liberation of women. It is not without significance that the Bali bombers targeted a night club - it was a place of immorality where women consorted openly with men. I seem to recall that British suicide bombers had also considered attacking similar immoral places. The fall of Saddam Hussein - who, although a murderous monster was more of an equal opportunities murderous monster - has meant, contrary to what we were told at the beginning, a serious decline in the status and safety of women. The election of Obama may herald a turn of the tide in the rise of christian fundamentalism in the US. I certainly, but we do not know what the effect of a prolonged recession will be. Particularly if the new president finds it impossible to extricate himself from the criminal acts of his predecessor and Iraq continues to generate deaths for American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. We already know that he intends to escalate the war in Afghanistan -which may well simply strengthen the Taleban.

The destabilisation that Infra warns about is already here and has been for several years.

More on difference and diversity

Infra has, both in the comment section to my last post and on his own site, raised some very interesting points. I may not succeed in answering all of them directly but would certainly like to expand on what I have earlier written.

The first place that I would like to start is with Infra's always necessary re-statement of the precautionary principle, "First do no harm" and his warning of the danger of unforeseen consequences. No-one with any knowledge of 20 century history can be in ignorance of the mortal dangers that are inherent in any ideology. No matter how benign its early proponents may be, there are those who cannot see the spirit for the letter and, in pursuit of the perceived "greatest good for the greatest number", sanction atrocity. (Not only sanction, moreover, but steel themselves to perform it. One of the major preoccupations of Himmler, for example, was how to prevent psychological damage to SS personnel whose ideologically motivated actions were in direct conflict with their consciences. I am not, by the way, here implying that Nazism had any benign intentions but merely recognising that many of its adherents did).

Caution, however, should not extend to inactivity. None of us, in anything we do, can be aware of all the consequences of our actions. This is why free and open debate is necessary. What I write, here and elsewhere, is my contribution to the debates about gender, difference, patriarchy, Goddess etc. It is only from such debate that we can minimise the chances of malign consequences from benignly intentioned acts. We can never, however, totally avoid such consequences We might, for example, save a man from drowning - are we then responsible for the subsequent deaths if he turns out to be a serial killer?

Infra sees potential danger in some of my ideas. Good. I do not want, and have never wanted, uncritical acceptance. And I have never really wanted to think safe thoughts but to try to push boundaries - to ask questions and suggest possible answers.

To get more to some of the substance of Infra's criticism. He says that the evidence is that in other, older, cultures gender roles have been less contingent on physical sex. I am not familiar with the particular research on which this evidence is based but it certainly ties in with my own perceptions. And this is my major cause for hope - that there are ways of ordering society in order to accommodate and celebrate human diversity. If I believed there were no such ways, I would have succumbed to despair long ago - or perhaps have remained a Christian so that I could hope for a later paradise.

I am a little familiar with the literature of the later medieval and early modern periods and agree with Infra that the particular construction of gender that now prevails had its origin in the last couple of centuries and that in earlier times it was different in many ways. Also, it is clear that within the gender norms there were at all times variants - some accepted, some tolerated, others proscribed. Gender and sexuality have always had a degree of fluidity. In the medieval period women would be working alongside their husbands in the the various crafts and trades and were even admitted to membership of some guilds. This was particularly true when the ranks of the trades were much reduced by the effects of plague and the widows of members were vital in the transmission of expertise to apprentices. It is also true that women were not unquestioning about their roles and obligations. Chaucer's satirical depiction of the Wife of Bath, for example, with her celebration of experience as opposed to authority, has a very contemporary resonance. Christine de Pisan can also be mentioned in this regard. However, my contention is that such fluidity was only allowed within fairly strictly defined channels. And that this definition was based upon biological difference - with childbearing and rearing being the main social role of women, who, to all intents and purposes, were, unless widowed, legally seen as the property of men.

With regard to classical thinking, there was certainly a great deal of subtlety and recognition of fluidity within it. The problem with such written record, however, is that it is only really fully accessible, even now, to an elite who have had the time and the inclination to devote themselves to study. The rest of us have had to rely on filters - secondary or even tertiary (or beyond) sources. Thus in the later medieval period, these ideas, although studied and discussed in the emerging universities, would only reach the general population through the offices of the often barely literate, and nominally celibate, parish priest- long after any possibly dangerous thoughts were removed. Thus the ideas of the ancients were first filtered through such as Augustine and his precursors and successors, and then through commentary upon commentary before being regurgitated in homily and confessional. Scholars can look at, discuss and admire, for example, the thoughts of Peter Abelard, but, for most, all that is known of him is his love affair with Heloise and his subsequent castration. No doubt this was recounted as a cautionary tale in numerous homilies - rather like certain tabloid newspapers today will, with relish, tell of the dangers of celebrity and too much cleverness.

The officially prescribed line was that the purpose of women was childbearing and rearing. They could choose to renounce this and offer themselves to the Divine Lover, but this was the only really accepted alternative, It also stated that women were inferior - whether by reason of their wandering womb or otherwise. I also believe that this was not universally accepted - but that deviation from it was only tolerated within the limits of "propriety" - which fluctuated in severity from time to time. Gender, as publicly perceived, was built upon the physical differences between men and women. It is still being reinforced. As despite the recession, people are buying for Christmas, many boys will be given toy guns or cars or Action Man while girls given dolls - either of Baby or Barbie. And what would be the reaction to a boy who asked for a doll? Or, having been given one by accepting parents, took that doll to school? My feeling is that this binary division and the values attached to it have their roots in male envy at women's ability to give birth. The fact that not all women are able to or choose to do this is irrelevant to the general perception - besides which there were, and in some cultures remain, very strong restrictions on women's right to choose. And the word envy is deliberately chosen. In my reading of the meaning of these words, envy is the desire to have the possessions or attributes of another whereas jealousy is the desire to keep one's own possessions or attributes to oneself - as in "the lord thy god is a jealous lord". Other cultures may have developed other ways of dealing with this envy - we have perversely and negatively enshrined it.

That there was opposition to this is also clear - for example the appearance and acceptance of women prophets in times of turmoil such as prevailed in England after in the 1640s and 1650s. But after each such aberration, there was a reassertion of the old order. Just as in the late 1940s and early 50s there was the move to get women back into the home. This time, however, there was something new - a large, educated, enfranchised and, for the war years, economically independent group of women. Things could not return. The genie was now out of the bottle - and despite the best efforts of fundamentalists of all persuasions, she will not be tricked back in.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

On difference and diversity

I was tracing back on hits to this site and came across a discussion of one of my previous posts. This was a very strange experience and one that I have never had before - seeing two people intelligently dissecting something that I had written some time ago.. It was very gratifying, even though there was much disagreement with my position. I would recommend any who are interested to visit the site, but here is an extract:
The kernel of the argument, of course, is summed up in these two sentences: “There is nothing important that I can do that a woman can’t. This cannot be said in reverse and here is the taproot of male insecurity.” Aside from the obvious problem inherent in this position — what it may or does imply regarding women who cannot have children, or choose not to, as well as that regarding lesbians and, especially, transwomen — there is the debatable proposition of the first sentence. At the very least, one such thing exists: the ability to help another man (perhaps a son, perhaps someone else) come to terms with his body, his sexuality, and his self-concept as embodied, and in terms of such. Women do not experience what it is like to have a body of our type; even for transmen, the experience is limited. Guiding a boy, or a man, through these processes is something that only another man can do.

There are things unique to us, as there are things unique to ciswomen, and to transpeople, and to gays, and to lesbians, and to bisexuals as well; to the dominants, and to the submissives, and to the polyamorous, and to all the others among us. There are important things of which all of us are capable, things specific to us and to ours. Does it do justice to any of us to draw such a distinction, based on a biological capacity, especially when it is one that is less than universal — one that one may, by choice and with intent, refuse to embrace or enact?

I posted this in response, but will expand a bit afterwards:

My beliefs are based on my experience. When I was a considerably younger man, I was a single parent, bringing up my son from early infancy until he left home. In the early years, when my life seemed to consist of little less than sleepless nights, shitty nappies, teething and vomit as well as the more pleasant things such as giggling, snuggling, watching the joys of discovery and growth etc, the nearest thing I had to a peer group was young mothers. Sociologically and economically, my role at that time was as near as dammit feminine.

But it was not female. Often, the women I was with woulld seem to forget that I was a man and would talk about physical processes and experiences that were impossible for me. Prior to this, I had thought that gender was purely a social construct - but this no longer seemed convincing.

This experience laid the foundations for the rest of my life and has guided all my explorations. It forms the base on which my beliefs now rest. I do not consider that I was in any way a worse parent because of my biological sex - but also could not pretend that, although my current experiences were largely identical with my peers, there were not fundamental and unbridgeable differences.

There are two problems that can arise when looking at these differences. One is to deny their importance and the other is to privilege one group over the other. It is the latter that our culture has done. This is what I was addressing in my post - and suggesting a reason for it. For most of the historical period, women have been seen as those who give birth - this has been seen as their role, and often the only justification for their existence.

Sometimes, as a mark of devotion to a deity, they will be encouraged to forswear this role and become sanctified virgins. Other causes of childlessness have, have generally been seen as either the results of curses or marks of transgression. Whatever the case in an individual women, however, the general rule remains - women’s role is to reproduce. Yet women are inferior and subject to the authority of the male. Thus the male asserts his power over the power of reproduction. It is a wise man who knows his own father, it is said. It is therefore an even wiser thing to do to ensure that only one man has access to the mother. That way, the mystery of reproduction can be domesticated by the man.

This is not the way it has to be. You mention other culture where the gender roles are less rigid and biologically based. I agree. But my feeling is that any suggested remedy for the disease which so afflicts us must take account of where we are - not where we would prefer to be. I may be wrong in my diagnosis of causation, but that does not mean the patient is not profoundly sick.

What I want to address is the issue of non-heterosexuality that was brought up in the extract. It is true that not all women choose to have, or are able to have, children. Many women are lesbian and, if they have children, bring them up as a couple. It is also true that transwomen were born in male bodies but have now changed to one degree or another.

The gender norms are now much more fluid than they were. But this is recent. The prevailing gender norms have been in existence for millennia - the exact number being a matter for debate - and are encoded in the language. In order to describe new phenomena new words have to be coined. Thus, it was not - despite my possession of a first class degree in English gained as recently as 1996 - until I started this blog and surfed around others, that I came across the prefix "cis" to describe women who were born female. To expect this sort of thing to have filtered into the subconscious of the mainstream culture in which most people swim is unrealistic in the extreme. Things are moving and many are starting to question but the cultural base from which this questioning starts was laid down by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and their precursors way, way back.

The response to the negative biological determinism of our ancestors has been a tendency to deny that biology has any part to play in the construction of gender. This is dangerous in that it denies basic and, in the current state of our knowledge, unavoidable facts and limitations. Human beings have the right to define themselves as they wish - but, if, in doing so, they set up goals that are physically impossible, all they will achieve is personal pain and disappointment. A transwoman cannot, as yet, be a physical mother (just as a transman cannot be a physical father). This does not mean that she should not adopt but it well might preclude entry into groups which are created to address issues experienced by those who feel they have been seen and treated from birth as breeding machines.

The vast proportion of human existence, however, is not sex or gender dependent. We are all born and we will all die. Along the way we will experience many things - among them may be love, fear, disappointment, rage, hunger, thirst, terror, despair, joy, happiness, ecstasy, pleasure, pain etc. I believe, however, that it will only truly be possible to focus on what unites us when we have fully examined and accepted what divides us. This is true even if what we see in ourselves may not be completely palatable. For our true beauty lies in our diversity - we are all different. Women may conceive, but men fertilise. That is also valuable - otherwise sexual reproduction would not have evolved. Trans, gay, lesbian, polyamorous, monogamous, celibate, woman, man, black white, young, old -we are all human. Let us celebrate that and move away from envy, jealousy, separation and fear.

What's in a name?

Spotted this on Aspasia's site. Just to make it more interesting I combined both my given names and this was the result:

Beguiling Romantic Individual Adeptly Needing Intense Delights and Rapturous, Impassioned Stimulation

Get Your Sexy Name

and this as well:

Biomechanical Robotic Individual Assembled for Nocturnal Infiltration, Dangerous Repair and Immediate Sabotage

Get Your Cyborg Name

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


...and other griefs can be very strong at times. Much as I love it here and feel empowered and all that stuff, I can still deeply miss what I left behind. Not a day goes by that I do not weep. So, a picture of a magical, sacred place wherein live wonderful people and a love that cannot die.

Picture from the BBC

Children - angels or devils?

It seems very much to depend on if they survive the early years. There has been a particularly disturbing case of murder by child abuse recently in the UK and everyone has rightly been upset about it. The child protection services in the relevant London Borough have been castigated and heads have rolled. Clearly, this was a terrible crime.

But what has sickened me about all this today is this report in the Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper. Baby P was, apparently, an angel ripped away from us by the malign forces of abusive adults and incompetent professionals. The paper has elicited sympathetic tributes to this effect from the British public.

Had Baby P survived, however, there is a strong chance that the gross abuse he had undergone would have resulted in severe behavioural problems which may well have been criminal And then the Sun's line has been in the past to castigate over-liberal social workers and psychologists and demand stiff penalties. Which call has been echoed by their readership. Recently Barnado's, the UK-based children's charity, published a report which revealed that

About 54% of the adults questioned thought that British children were "beginning to behave like animals".

More than a third of those surveyed also agreed that "it feels like the streets are infested" with children, while 43% said something had to be done to protect adults.

Around 49% said they disagreed with the statement that children who "get into trouble" were "misunderstood" and needed professional help.

Comments on tabloid newspaper comment columns about child crime then feature words such as "feral" and "vermin" and talk of "infestation" of the streets by children. In a few short years "little angels" become wild and vicious animals. Lest it be seen as special pleading by Barnados, in the last few weeks no less a body than the UN issued a report saying that
there was a "general climate of intolerance" towards British children and this could result in them being treated unfairly.

There is a real danger here of self-fulfilling prophecy - that regarding children as vermin will result in more of them behaving in such a way.

Ah well, it will no doubt all sell more newspapers. Which will please Rupert Murdoch.


News just in on the BBC web site:

Menezes verdict choice limited

The jury at the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes will not be able to consider a verdict of unlawful killing, the coroner has said. Sir Michael Wright said that having heard all the evidence, a verdict of unlawful killing was "not justified".

Mr de Menezes, 27, was shot dead at Stockwell Tube Station by police officers who mistook him for one of the failed 21 July 2005 bombers. The jury may now return an open, narrative or lawful killing verdict.

Sir Michael made the ruling as he began his summing up of the case on Tuesday. He also warned jurors that they must not attach any criminal or civil fault to any individuals.

see full story here

I do not understand this. An innocent civilian was followed from his home, allowed to enter the tube station and board a train - he was then shot from close range seven times in the head. Many witnesses attest that no warning was given. the accounts they give make it appear more like a summary execution than a legitimate police action. And yet the jury, having heard all the evidence, is directed that they cannot say a crime has been committed. Nor can they say that anyone was negligent.

How is this possible? It seems a blatant denial of the principles of justice. It may in fact be true that it was a tragic accident but I always assumed that in English law the jury is the sole arbiter of the facts. It is time the British stopped kidding themselves that they live in a democracy and acknowledge what is clear - that the war on Terror is merely a cover for the real war on citizens' rights. In both the UK and the US.

Monday, 1 December 2008

What about the men?

I have written before on this but I came across this posting and left a comment.

My only real qualification for talking about this is that I am a man. That means that I have been subject to various social pressures throughout my life that were aimed to encourage/coerce me into a certain model of masculinity. For various reasons, some of which still elude me, these pressures failed and I have found myself here, on the path of the Goddess and as a priest both of Inanna and of Avalon. So, I am not a stereotypical man and my experience of the conventional male world has been at best marginal. I have been, in many ways, an outsider looking on and observing behaviour some of which I comprehend and some of which baffles me. For several years recently, I worked in various situations in which the desire of men to conform to the models they had been given had led them into some very dark places - homelessness, drunkenness, addictions, violence and mental health problems.

Many of the men who came my way can, in effect, be seen as the casualties in the sex wars. They were men who, for various reasons, had failed to make the grade as "real" men. Some had been "real men" in their time. In the night shelter in which I worked there were a fairly large number of veterans of the Falklands war. Deeply traumatised by what seems to have been a particularly squalid affair, they were an embarrassment to the country they had served and their PTSD was untreated. What i remember most about them is how gentle many of them were. For example, there were two close friends, one of whom had been an NCO in the Royal Marines and the other had been in the Parachute Regiment. I remember seeing the extensive burns down one side of the marines's body from when his ship was hit by an exocet missile and one night he told me of how it had been. With no hint of braggadocio or self-pity but as a simple description of a few minutes of hell. Both the men were heavy drinkers. Both were targeted for bullying by other residents but would, rather than inflict the severe damage of which they were both capable on their tormentors, would elect to sleep out in the winter nights. They wanted no trouble. They were both "gentle men" - with a certain serenity that I have rarely seen. They had, as a result of what they had seen and done, turned their backs on violence. The para died of heart failure at the age of 32. Another man, whom because of his serious suicide attempts the management had eventually to ban for the sake of the other residents, told me of how he and his mates were sitting in a trench drinking tea when an artillery shell exploded nearby. His mate's finger landed in his teacup. Another gentle man.

Another man, not homeless but just out of prison after serving time for a serious assault. A history of abuse. A very high intelligence that was not picked up in the overcrowded schools. A deep anger that he was aware of and which frightened him. He wanted to deal with it. He spoke to me, weeping, about how, because of his reputation, he was being goaded by other men as he walked the streets of his home area. He was trying. But, there were no funds for him to access the psychological help he needed unless and until he lost his temper again. A gentle man - or one who wanted to be so.

A man of about 40 - alcohol and football violence his specialty - until, one night, he came into consciousness finding himself kicking the prone body of a security man- with no idea why he was doing it. He stopped and waited for the police. He did his time. Now he drinks at home with his wife and children and they watch football together. His old mates say he's gone soft. He is happy. He is a gentle man.

Another man. About 45, with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. At various intervals people will come into his house, sit in his chairs in his living room and tell him that he is all varieties of shit and that he should just do away with himself. They will keep this up for days. He is a single parent of three boys under 4. He organises his life to take account of what he knows will happen and has enlisted his boys in this. They know what will happen to Daddy and they know that they will have to go away until he is able to care for them again. They are some of the happiest children I have met. A gentle man.

None of these men would win any prizes as Mr Macho. They have all failed in those games. None of them are rich or successful in business, the arts or anything else apart from being decent, struggling, heroic human beings.

They all made my life richer from knowing them.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

It's only a game...

I have been having a bit of trouble writing this post. Something in a blog I was reading this morning seemed to me to sum up many of the problems I have with the use of the word "patriarchy". I get very frustrated by what I see as a very restrictive and partial - in both senses of that word - use of it by some writers. For some it is a good word to use to dismiss the opinions of those with whom they disagree- particularly if that person is a man. If she is woman then she can equally be dismissed as a tool or dupe of patriarchy. Many men also react defensively when the word is used, feeling - often accurately - that it is used personally against them. In both cases the word then serves to divide and close off communication.

Many people, therefore, have decided not to use it and I fully respect their reasoning. One word which has been suggested is "Kyriarchy" and i can see its advantages. For one thing, it is new and is therefore fairly devoid of the baggage of history. And it does not seem to be gendered. I have been tempted to use it.

After consideration, however, I have decided not to. And this is for reasons that are sort of encoded in the word. For, far from being ungendered it comes, as I understand it, from two greek words - kyrios, meaning "lord", and archein, meaning "to rule". Thus, what is happening is a movement up a level from "rule of the father" to "rule of the lord". (It is therefore, now I think about it, more accurate than patriarchy and this makes a powerful argument for its adoption. But, nevertheless, I will continue for a while to try to reclaim the word "patriarchy"). For I feel that at least there is a sort of understanding of what "patriarchy" means. And also because i feel it is important not to obscure the fact that the values that are dominant and celebrated are indeed those very ones that are associated with masculinity.

The particular thing that prompted this musing was coming across two posts in a blog. The first detailed the prolonged abuse of the writer from many men. The other celebrated her devotion to a particular football team. To me, there was a feeling of dissonance which was clearly absent from her experience. To her, a football match is a positive and life-affirming experience, whereas to me it is one of the principal tools in the construction of that model of masculinity and gender-based domination from which she had suffered so long.

I have no argument with children or consenting adults getting together of an afternoon to kick a ball about. That is their own business and I can see that they could get a lot of pleasure from it. What worries me is the central position competitive male team sports take in our culture. For it is essentially a violent activity in which a group of young men fight to gain dominance over another group of young men - watched and encouraged by thousands of others, mainly but not exclusively male, who vicariously partake of the battle. And this participation is not always entirely vicarious as many city centres have seen to their cost. And the off field violence is not, as many would allege, an aberration but is rather a result and extension of the violence intrinsic to the match itself.

Organised sport as we know it had its origins in the 18 and 19 centuries. In the early 19th century Wellington's remark that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton was an early recognition of the link between warfare and sport. By the time of the first world war the two were culturally deeply intertwined. As the carnage began, this poem by Henry Newbolt was both widely admired and reviled - expressing as it does the idea that sport prepares men for war.

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke
The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

It was in this spirit that, in the first months of the war, young officers would advance on the enemy kicking a football. War was, to them, simply an extension of the team sports that had played a principal role in their education.

This particular naive and simplistic idea did not survive long in the trenches (or, more accurately, those who held it did not) but it was a major factor in recruitment. The totalitarian regimes of right and left that followed the war also saw the value of sport as a preparation for world dominance. This is because what team sports in particular do is to foster the notion of "them and us". The whole point of each ninety minute exercise is to establish physical dominance of one side over another. Once the normality and desirability of that ideal of dominance is established in people's minds it is then easy to manipulate to whatever "thems" or "us-es" are convenient.

I want here briefly to look at the behaviour of fans. It has been pointed out by those across the Atlantic that crowd violence is notably absent from US sport. It was also absent from football in the UK until the 1960s. The reason for this is, I believe, connected with Empire. Fans do not need to demonstrate their dominance3 in such a way when the world dominance of their group is a basic assumption. As Britain's imperial pretensions evaporated in the 50s and 60s, so rose the spectre of sport related violence. It will be interesting to see if, as the American Empire follows the inevitable road to collapse, the same phenomenon appears at their weekly celebrations of male dominance.

Now, football is not going to vanish overnight and neither, really, would I want it to. But to pretend that it is an unadulterated social good and that all children, however unwilling (as I was), should be coerced into it is both dishonest and dangerous. The ideal of masculinity that is upheld is not one generally noted for sensitivity and respect for women and other, perceived, "weaker" men. On the contrary, it is an ideal of contempt for the weak which is expressed in taunts and bullying. In fact, it fosters the attitude that sees the bodies of those perceived as weaker as fit for exploitation by virtue of that very weakness and the right of conquest.

Whatever you call it, patriarchy invades all aspects of our lives and of our consciousness. Despite what I have written, I still feel a surge of pride and pleasure when Wales beats England at Rugby. I doubt that this particular piece of hypocrisy will ever go away - it had its roots too deep in my history. And I know that other areas of my life are invaded by the dominant world religion of patriarchy (Here, again, I can see the value of "kyriarchy" but will keep patriarchy because of its direct links with the literal patriarchs such as Abraham). The mass promoted team sports act to validate male (mainly) aggression and are as much a product of patriarchal thought as prostitution and pornography. In fact, they are even more instrumental in its maintenance and continued survival. It is more than coincidence that the triumph of the sports culture and the rise of differing forms of social darwinism have occupied the same period of time.

Friday, 28 November 2008

All you need ...

Have been thinking a lot over the last few days and will post again tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, an old song that remains relevant.

Performed on the first ever live global television performance - many years ago.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Rethinking sex workers rights- link to debs

It is another strange piece of synchronicity that, just after writing about the Great Whore, I should read this article on Debs' site. Whatever you may feel about pornstitution, sex work or whatever you like to call it, the fact is that many women are being brutalised and even murdered because they are regarded as "whores" and therefore somehow deserving of it. Will further criminalisation help remedy this? Somehow I doubt it. I strongly recommend reading the article

yet another meme - prompting some thoughts

Spotted this time on debsi's site

Pass it on to five other bloggers, and tell them to open the nearest book to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The CLOSEST BOOK, NOT YOUR FAVORITE, OR MOST INTELLECTUAL!

Well, as it happened, hidden under a bunch of papers on my desk was "Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth" by Wolkstein and Kramer.

P.56 (Inanna is demanding entry into the underworld)

Across her forehead her dark locks of hair are perfectly arranged.
Around her neck, she wears the small lapis beads.
At her breast she wears the double strand of beads.
Her body is wrapped in the royal robe.
Her eyes are daubed with the ointment called, "Let him come, let him come."
Around her chest she wears the breastplate called "Come, man, come!"

It seems beyond coincidence that this meme should crop up now and that it should lead me to the point in the story where Inanna, just prior to her own descent, is being described to her sister, Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld.

This is a story i have told many times in many different places. I remember the thrill of recognition that I felt when I first read it - it felt somehow very familiar and, well, right. It is the earliest literary occurrence - so far translated anyway - of the descent into the underworld motif that appears in so many different accounts throughout our history. It even has the three days of death that is to appear later in the Jesus myth.

Unlike Jesus's myth, however, this was not undertaken in order to "take away the sins of the world" but as a response to some strange, undefined, call - she "turned her ear to the Great Below". It is not a redemptive journey but one of transformation - the Inanna who emerges from the underworld is not the same woman who entered but is one who has confronted and embraced her own inner demons. She is not a "good girl" in any way but has accepted herself in her totality - fully aware of her power and prepared to use it.

In order to get to this point, however, she had to lose all her previous certainties and preconceptions. She had to lose all pretence and become naked and vulnerable as she saw the face of her shadow twin, Ereshkigal, and merged with her - dying to herself in order to be reborn whole by allowing her pain to be heard.

At least this is the way I currently understand this myth. But there is so much contained in this story - as well as the others in her mythos - that I do not see that one lifetime will be enough to do more than scratch the surface. For the tales of Inanna, I believe, hold the keys to both the beginnings of the ills of our civilisation and the beginnings of their healing.

Aspasia, of La Libertine's salon, has written this in response to attacks on sex workers:

Gene Roddenberry lied, ladies; space is NOT the final frontier. Sexuality is and it is also the first frontier. ... When sexuality is dictated by an outside party, by someone else, then no other civil rights will be had. Understand this. Control sex, control the person.

Renegade Evolution has asked in a recent posting why, when and how did sexuality become bound up with so many taboos, restrictions etc. She has also resurrected an old post in which she points out that it is precisely on the pathologising of sex that the porn industry, of which she is a part, thrives.

I have a few vague but developing ideas as to the "why" of Ren's questions but am a little clearer about the when and the how. In the stories of Inanna, we see a woman who is uninhibited in the enjoyment of her own body and that of her lover. In the later Babylonian myths, however, we see the same goddess, now called Ishtar, being labelled "whore" by Gilgamesh. And this label remains to this day, having taken a starring role in the paranoid ravings from Patmos that we now know as the Book of Revelations.

We are still living in that nightmare. But I believe it is possible to wake up before the script that was written reaches its hideous end. Goddess has many names and many faces. For me She is Inanna and I will tell her story as best I can. For, to use Aspasia's metaphor, She is, to me, the first and the final frontier. The goddess of total being.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Another meme

Ren has posted this on her blog.
Rules:- Choose a singer/band/group- Leonard Cohen (who else?)

Answer the following using ONLY titles of songs by that singer/band/group

1. Are you male or female? I'm your man
2. Describe yourself. You know who I am
3. What do people feel when they’re around you? Tonight will be fine
4. How would you describe your previous relationship? Seems so long ago, Nancy
5. Describe your current relationship. Heart with no companion
6. Where would you want to be now? A thousand kisses deep
7. How do you feel about love? Dance me to the end of love
8. What’s your life like? The stranger song
9. What would you ask for if you had only one wish? Love itself
10. Say something wise. Be for real

Monday, 24 November 2008

Priest of Inanna

I am not too sure how to write this. I have been going over all sorts of different structures all day but none of them seemed satisfactory. So I will just write and see if I can avoid any serious use of the delete button. Because something happened in the temple on saturday night and now things are somehow changed. I cannot go back to the time before, even if I should want to. As I wrote last week, I was planning to initiate as Priest of Inanna and this has now happened. Nervous as hell, I arrived at the Temple and was then taken through a very profound ceremony which culminated in me making a vow of dedication to Inanna.

I will not go into the details of the ceremony here but it was always challenging and at times highly physically demanding. I cannot express fully the gratitude I feel to all the priest/esses who devised this journey for me and held me in their love as I went through it. It was wonderful. Now I have to see just what this fancy title I have claimed means because I have really very little idea. All I know is that I felt called to claim it and called to Her service.

I have written much about Inanna, both on this blog and elsewhere, and will not repeat it here now- although it is certain that I will many times in the future. I am very tired and also in a bit of pain, one part of the ceremony was such that I seem to have injured a rib - which for someone who can be overcome with sneezing fits is distinctly uncomfortable! Oh, well. So it goes.

So apart from the pain and tiredness, how do I feel? Really good! It makes perfect sense in some strange way that I have done this. There is a rightness about it that I cannot put into words. Over the last few months, I have had a growing awareness of her presence in all aspects of my life. Even as I, at times, felt close to despair or barely containing a rising panic at the perceived precarious realities of my life here, there has been an underlying knowledge that whatever happens is ok. Not in some sort of wishy-washy new agey panglossian optimism but with the very real conviction that I have work to do and that I will be given whatever I need to perform it.

I have not taken this step lightly - and I do not regret it

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Back in the labyrinth

Well, I never really left. I had just for a while hidden my awareness of it behind a lot of head stuff. For a couple of weeks, I have been delving around in the theory of origins and asking how we got into the mess we are in now. Very interesting - to me - and possibly useful as a contribution towards diagnosis and a possible remedy, but it has also been an attempt to deny some very difficult feelings. Which are - to list a few - grief, fear, excitement, elation, depression, loneliness, despair, hope, faith and its lack. All these can co-exist within a single day and it is quite exhausting.

It has been going on for a long time now and shows no sign of letting up. In fact, it seems to be reaching a peak with me alternately howling in grief and then feeling a quiet confidence. Then fear, doubt, joy etc come each in their turn bringing their own particular flavours to the brew.

All that is certain is that I know nothing. At the weekend, unless I otherwise decide, I will initiate as priest of Inanna. Lest anyone ask, I have no idea what this could mean. I have asked others to devise the ceremony and have no idea what they have planned. Still less do I know what it will mean after the ceremony. Least of all do I know why I am doing it. My sceptic tells me that it is absurd in the early 21 Century to dedicate to a divinity honoured by a people whose civilisation flourished several millennia ago, my critic that I am indulging my innate histrionicism and my inner shrink that I am simply mad. All of which may well be true but there is also a voice that tells me that this is the path I have to tread. It is a voice that I have heard before and it has led me through many changes in my life. I now see it as the voice of Inanna. Whatever that may mean.

There are many times I wish that I had never heard it - and there are many ways I have tried to drown it out, including, at various times, drugs and alcohol. None of these ways have ever succeeded in cancelling my inner conviction that there is something that I have to do in this life. Nothing that has enabled me to relax into a more4 ordinary life. So, now I am forced to listen - and to follow the inner promptings of my intuition and the less common but very powerful times of hearing Her voice.

So, if she has called me, what does she want from me? I have no idea but as she has been called the Great Whore, Babylon etc, I assume that it is something concerned with sexuality and the moralities and judgements surrounding it. Which has been behind my recent postings about the porn debate. This is not a subject that I have entered lightly. I am only too aware of my own difficulties and vulnerabilities and do not relish putting myself in any sort of firing line. But I am convinced that there is nothing more vital than to explore ways of expressing desire, intimacy and love between human beings that are not exploitative and ruled by fear and shame. I have no answers in this - only questions and a belief that things have not always been as totally fucked up as they are now and that human beings were once able to live and love together in ways that were freer than they are now. And what was possible once is possible again.

I have long been, and remain, a radical although I often try to run into a safer place of traditional structure. To be a radical is to challenge the very roots of our cultural attitudes and this is not a comfortable journey. So, I have tried to compromise. These attempts have never been successful for long and the radical eventually breaks out- often in ways that are exceedingly painful for me and others. I am now struggling to find the courage to remain a radical and avoid the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to find certainties and become "respectable".

I am not sure why I am writing this, but it seemed necessary. I went for a walk in the forest yesterday and it was beautiful. Most of the trees have lost most of their leaves now and the naked branches shone seemed to shine in the clear autumn light against a deep blue sky. Although the sun was warm, there as a clear chill in the shade and i was glad of my new warm coat - a bit too large but very cheap as it was the end of the range in the local Tesco. I had started off feeling very disturbed and realising that there was a strong possibility that my time here was soon to be over and that I would be forced to sell all I have in order to return to the UK. But in the course of the walk, this possibility ceased to be frightening. I also realised that a large part of me yearns and has never ceased yearning to return. But what was done cannot be undone and although i may still return to Britain, I cannot go back to what was before. And that was ok - and remains so. The grief is still there and will perhaps never go away. But there is also joy and a feeling that I am doing what I have been called to do. But I wish the instructions could be clearer at times!

I may post again before the weekend. Or I may not. we shall see.