Never Judge a Book by its Cover

How often have we heard that, or said it ourselves?  Yet so many do that very thing all the time.  The image makers depend on this in order to sell all sorts of commodities including people as well as, quite literally, books.

When I first started off in the Craft there were very few books around specifically about witchcraft or other occult practices.  The ones that were out there had very lurid, sensationalist jacket covers which at first put me off from going anywhere near them.  Then I learnt that in those days authors didn’t have any say over what form the covers took as it was all in the hands of the in house designer/artist.  This led me to ignore what was on the cover and to at least open up the book and view both the contents page and the general synopsis to get a better idea of the quality of the information within.  I have to admit that this was often done with surreptitious glances around in case anyone caught sight of the dodgy book covers! 

Nowadays there is more autonomy granted to authors in the choice of cover designs, but it’s still a case of buyer beware, because there is now another factor at play.  Clever branding has produced a certain glamour to witchcraft subjects in the publishing world.  This is even more apparent when it comes to independent publishers.  Modern advances in photography and CGI have created very evocative, as opposed to provocative, images that draw the reader in to the subject matter, but specifically in the area of witchcraft.  So you may be presented with darkly romantic  images promising secret and arcane knowledge, only to find the literary equivalent of ‘fool’s gold’ within.  Classic examples of style over substance exist on line and within the book market.

So, I’ve touched on the literal sense of ‘judging a book by it’s cover’ in its positive and negative sense, but we also do this with people.  We often will judge a person purely by what they look like.  That includes their physicality as well as what they choose to wear.  This is such a vast subject which could go in so many directions including, race, disabilities and umpteen other potentially contentious issues.  However, for now I am going to concentrate on what we choose to wear.

Over the last few decades I have had quite a few references to how I look, and my appearance and demeanour have been questioned and sometimes misrepresented.  It happened again quite recently so it set me thinking about the question of how much importance people place on how people look, and the connection between that and their identity.

Let’s get one thing straight – I have never had good dress sense.  Plenty of others around me did, and occasionally I would try and pick their brains as to what would maybe suit me, especially when I was younger.  However,  I never really got the hang of fashion and in the end after a few disastrous and embarrassing forays into trying to be fashionable, in the end I gave up completely.   Fortunately I had to wear a uniform at work, being a nurse for most of my working life, so what I wore at other times was less significant.  It was only when I went to Dartington as a mature student for my Theatre Degree that I realised how important dress/costume was and how it was linked to the persona/personality which made up the identity.  Ironically most of the students wore comfortable, loose clothing in many colourful and ethnic styles which I really liked a lot.  No-one stood out as looking odd or incongruous because diversity of dress was celebrated and there was a lot of freedom to explore different ways of being.

Once I had relaxed into this bohemian lifestyle I found that I truly felt authentic, whereas before I didn’t feel like I fitted in anywhere because I was constantly trying to be like everyone else in my particular peer group at any given time.  I think I learnt how to be an individual and feel OK with being a bit different.  It has to be remembered that I also had started my in-depth training into witchcraft a few years earlier as well.  It also helped that when people realised that I was a Dartington Graduate they almost expected me to look a bit of a hippy as the college had a reputation for alternative lifestyles. 

It was also here that I wore a dinner jacket for the first time as I was playing a cross-dressing character in someone’s production.  That was a pivotal moment for me.  I felt so at ease and I realised that not only did it suit me and I looked good, but that it was functional too.  There were useful pockets everywhere but it didn’t alter the tailored line of the jacket.  There was nothing like it in women’s fashions – sure they had trouser suits, but no handy pockets on the inside – or even if there were pockets, they were always on the outside and either fake, sewn up or so shallow as to be deemed useless.  From that moment on I tended towards men’s jackets and coats.  You see, I have never been a handbag person as all too often I tended to lose them by leaving them behind and completely forgetting I had them.  So this type of garb was ideal for me.

There was also another reason why this discovery suited me so well.  I was born with a spinal curvature that gradually grew worse the older I got.  This led me to have major surgery in my early thirties to correct and fuse my spine involving nine of my spinal vertebrae.  Even following the operation I was always going to have a small hump on my back, and thankfully, men’s jackets disguised this deformity far better than women’s.  However, this also meant that as I began to wear this style more, together with the fact that because of my fixed spine, my stance was wider than is generally acceptable for women, a lot of folk assumed that I was gay.

I can quite understand why some would think this way, but I do wish they would think beyond the box they’ve just plonked you in occasionally.  Anyone who bothers to actually ask and not just assume would find out that I’m not actually gay.  As a child I was absolutely a little tomboy and was forever running around the countryside, climbing trees and getting into scrapes.  I played football with the boys throughout junior school, never played with dolls – they gave me the creeps – and developed crushes on school friends, both boys and girls.  However, never at anytime did I want to be a boy or a male, I just thought that they had better games and opportunities in life, whereas what was on offer to girls and females at that time was very limited.  I rarely wore skirts or dresses unless I had to as I found it much more comfortable to wear shorts or jeans.

Seeing as my teenage years were in the Swinging Sixties and the Twiggy look was all the rage, I was on a losing streak from the word go.  I have always been what I describe as compact and sturdy which was a long way from the tall, willowy look proscribed by the Mary Quant fashions of that time.  Nevertheless I persevered, through my early years of marriage, which I found out very rapidly was not the life for me and wondered if I was indeed gay.  So I explored that lifestyle and eventually came to the realisation that mixing with the gay scene was not beneficial for me and left that behind.  It was only when I reached my early thirties that I decided that maybe I was bisexual.  I experienced a ‘Goldilocks Moment’ by acknowledging this and from that moment on described my lifestyle as ‘dancing up both ends of the ballroom’.  It genuinely suited my nature well.  As far as I was concerned I had found my niche as I always had celebrated diversity and I knew that I was free to feel attraction towards people, whatever their gender.  I never really discovered what it was that attracted me to some folk and not others, there was never a ‘type’ that I went for but at least now the their gender was irrelevant  .  People were just people and I either got drawn towards them or not.

Oddly enough, I then experienced resistance from a considerable amount of people, both straight and gay, who questioned my lifestyle.  Comments usually accused me of being indecisive, greedy or not having met the right man yet.  A saying often cited was, “You can’t have your cake and eat it”!  To me it gave me a welcome freedom, so I shrugged off these unhelpful comments and embraced my new start in life.  Shortly after this I began my spiritual journey into the world of witchcraft which I have remained in since.  Perhaps the two decisions were linked – it certainly connected me to the liminal or maybe I had always been there and had only just recognised it as such – as my destiny.

My predilection towards male jackets and coats stood me in good stead when it came to being a cunning woman or wisewoman.  Even as a child I had schoolboy contents to my pockets which contained bits of string, pebbles, feathers, wax, putty, penknife and so on.  There isn’t a world of difference when I now walk the land wearing my old wool overcoat with very similar contents in the many pockets, except perhaps the addition of a hip flask to offer rum to the spirits.  In addition there has been added a very important and now iconic component to my attire that I haven’t talked of until now – my hat.

That hat came into my life purely by happenstance.  As usual with most things to do with me, there is a story behind it.  The year was 1997 and involved myself and the Museum of Witchcraft.  We were approached by a woman who worked for Essex University.  She was in the process of organising and creating a Witchcraft Exhibition to be held at the university and wanted to see whether the Museum would be prepared to loan some exhibits.  As well as this she asked whether there was a modern proponent of the art who would be willing to create an exhibit especially for the exhibition, and this is where I entered the equation.  Following consultation I agreed to make a Witch’s Ladder to be displayed later on that year.  When the time of the Witchcraft Exhibition arrived we were invited to the private viewing, but as Graham King, the then owner, was too busy to make the trip he asked me to go representing the Museum, as well as in my own right.  So off to the wilds of Essex I went.

I arranged to stay with some friends who I had handfasted in the past who lived in Chelmsford.  I stayed in their spare room and as it was also a workshop, on a shelf near my bed I espied this hat.  As it turned out I found out something I didn’t know previously, which was that she was a milliner and was trying out a new design.  I impulsively asked whether I could borrow the hat to wear to the university the next day, and she agreed.  I can’t tell you how right that hat felt sitting on my head – it was like it was made just for me.

The Witchcraft Exhibition went well and on my return to my friends’ house I asked whether the hat was for sale.  To my delight I was told I could have it as a gift as it was only an experiment with a certain style and as far as I know, no other similar hats were made by her.

Ever since then that hat has stayed with me and has attracted all sorts of comments.  It’s been called ‘infamous’ and ‘disreputable’, and I remember on one occasion a man asking me why it wasn’t a pointy hat – to which I replied, “Because there’s no point..!”   He laughed and said that there was something about it that reminded him of a pointy hat, even though it wasn’t one – it just evoked that sort of response.  I quite liked that as it was nicely ambivalent.  Others say that it reminds them of the Artful Dodger, and although I can be a little mischievous I’m certainly not a thief.  Once again it seems there is an illusionary aspect at work if this energy is invoked by a simple hat.

My hat has never been worn by anyone else, and it never shall be – in fact, it’s going to go with me when I die to make sure – I wouldn’t want be responsible for the consequences should anyone else attempt to wear it anyway.  Over the years it seems to have become my trademark look for what I do being a village wisewoman along with the rest of my distinctive attire.

Afore I go I just want to add that on a few occasions there have been a few folk who have attempted to emulate how I look, which I find somewhat disconcerting.  Many say, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’.  Well all I can say to that is, it obviously has never happened to them, as I find it not only uncomfortable but rather irritating!

So you see how my appearance evolved over the years.  There was no deliberate construction of an image, no studied persona – just me evolving slowly over the years as an individual, much to the frustration of the media I might add who expected me to be dressed in robes, dripping with magical accoutrements.  This is who I have become, and who I am, and I am well comfortable with that.  Vive la difference!








To Whom It May Concern

The following article appeared in the New Statesman 17 – 23 February 2017.  It was handed to me the other day by friends who thought I might draw insight from what it said.  It had previous to that been displayed in their shop as a timely reminder about human nature and all it’s idiosyncrasies.  I was impressed by the clear and pragmatic presentation of what can be a complex situation and was for me very enlightening; and so I thought I’d share it with you.  Words within […] are my comments  🙂

I am special and I am worthless: inside the mind of a narcissist

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term ‘narcissistic’ has been cropping up with great regularity in certain sections of the media, including the pages of this journal.  I wouldn’t want to comment about an individual I’ve never met, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with NPD (which is estimated to affect about 1% of the population) have a characteristic set of personality traits.  First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement.  Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance; female sufferers commonly present as eternal victims on whom the world repeatedly inflicts terrible injustices.  [One would imagine a transgender person to have a blend of both]  In both cases, the affected person believes he or she is deserving of privileged treatment, and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as ‘supply’.  In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a ‘false self’ – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim.  [To use magical parlance – glamour]

The third characteristic is termed ‘splitting’, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey.  As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called ‘love-bombing’.  However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

It is not known for certain what triggers the disorder.  There is likely to be a genetic component, but in many cases early life experiences are the primary cause.  Narcissism is a natural phase of child development (as the parents of many teenagers will testify) and its persistence as adult NPD frequently reflects chronic trauma during childhood.  Paradoxically for a condition that manifests as apparent egotism, all NPD sufferers have virtually non-existent self-esteem.  This may arise from ongoing emotional neglect on the part of parents or caregivers, or from sustained psychological or sexual abuse.  

The common factor is a failure in the development of a healthy sense of self-worth.  It is likely that narcissism becomes entrenched as a defence against the deep-seated shame associated with these experiences of being unworthy and valueless.

When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer can anaesthetise this horrible sense of shame with the waves of positive regard washing over them.  Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

One of the many tragic aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight.  A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.”  If people with NPD do present to health services, it is usually because of the negative impacts Bad people are having on their life, rather than because they are able to recognise that they have a psychological health problem.

Far more commonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer.  Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying.  The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others to neutralise their own sense of unworthiness.  They use others to shore themselves up, and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance.  And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake.”

Dr Phil Whitaker

For the last 5 years (almost to the day) I have been targeted by a narcissist and it has been no surprise to find out that, according to the above article, I would be referred to by them as Bad.  However, this is part of my craft and nature, to point out glamour and falseness when it presents itself.

Articles like this are very handy to get things into their proper perspective and to have clarification of the roles folk play within these melodramas.


A Double-Edged Sword


“Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”

Attributed to Chief Seattle 1854

Within the last couple of decades we have seen the emergence of another web – the World Wide Web, or www. as it’s more commonly known.  A wonderous thing indeed and I’m sure my predecessors would have marvelled at it and utilised it as a useful tool.  However, like many things of power it is two-edged and can also be used as a weapon to abuse others.  Man’s invention is astonishing at times but I wonder how much inventors think about the future implications of their discoveries when they fall into the hands of ruthless and irresponsible people?  Lets look at the phenomena called Social Networking which incorporates the use of chatrooms, forums and particularly the use of Facebook.

Back when I was young I remember every neighbourhood and community had their share of what was called ‘net-twitchers’.  These were individuals who kept a close eye on all the comings and goings of their neighbours – they were also referred to as ‘busybodies’ and nosey-parkers’.  They were usually rather sad individuals who were often socially inadequate in some way, didn’t have enough going on in own their lives of interest and so they compensated by vicariously spying on their neighbours.  Consequently they were also avid gossips and knew their community well enough to know who to pass gossip on to in order to spread rumour.  This was always conducted from behind net curtains so that they couldn’t be seen – hence the term ‘net-twitcher’.  On the whole these folk were seen as nuisances only and were often pitied by the more charitable in the community.  Occasionally however, these irritating but harmless people would turn into something more sinister and you would get malicious rumours starting which would then escalate into a hate campaign against some individual in the neighbourhood.  This could be further fuelled by ‘poison-pen’ letters being distributed which could wreak discord and havoc within a community by appealing to a ‘mob mentality’ where actual bodily harm could be the unfortunate outcome.  The victim of this kind of ‘witch hunt’ was often the focus of envy by the perpetrator, or stood out in some way as different from others.  This is something that periodically occurred within small communities and it took a while to build up.  Not so anymore!

Due to the immediacy of the internet, large numbers of people can be reached within seconds. I have watched with horror how quickly nasty rumours can turn into a vicious hate campaign with others actively inciting further venomous comments and threats.  I have witnessed this first hand, and it was chilling to observe how quickly the poison spreads – no wonder it’s called ‘viral’ when it really runs amok!  It now has earned itself the title of cyber-bullying and it is on the increase especially when like-minded individuals jump on the bandwagon and gang up.  It really can bring out the worst side of human nature.

In the old days so to speak, if someone said or did something to upset you then you would talk to your partner when they got in from work, or rang your friend(s) up – it would take a while to communicate your upset to others.  Consequentally some time went by before you responded which gave you a chance to think things through.  However, most people now respond immediately and often impulsively without consideration, often misunderstanding or assuming insults where none were intended.  Since most of the communication is written,  much is open to misinterpretation despite ’emoticons’ being used.

I personally have a rule of thumb where, generally speaking, if I receive a message that I find emotionally upsetting, I will ‘sleep on it’ and respond the next day.  This gives me a chance to process it and respond in a more measured way.

The anonymity of hiding behind a PC with a false profile/name gives some free rein to unleash all sorts of unjust accusations through insinuation and rumour in order to ruin reputations.  Regrettably there are quite a few ‘saddos’ out there who get their jollies through this type of manipulation and intrigue.  Mind you, some folk do themselves no favours when they forget that Facebook goes worldwide and tend to use it like a diary and treat it like a friend – this leaves them wide open to these pernicious predators.

It’s such a shame because so many wonderful things can be achieved through constructive networking.  The sharing of inspirational music, art, dance and other creative endeavours; the rallying call of worthy campaigns; easy links with loved ones and reuniting long-lost families and friends; the dissemination of learning and knowledge – the list is fascinating and endless!

Then you get the darker side with intrusive pornography and ever-increasing violence and bigotry…  What’s the answer?  A lot of people blame Facebook and the like – but it’s not the system, it’s the operator that makes working with the Internet a good or bad experience.  Like magic, the Net is basically neutral, it’s how people utilise it that colours it.

So what do we do?  We can’t undo it, the technology is here to stay and is escalating whilst so many of our young people live more and more ‘virtual’ lives at the expense of their actual lives.  Some feel that the answer is to disassociate from all social networking but is that too little too late?  The introduction of the Internet is truly a double-edged sword.  Are we going to wield it with integrity as a sword of truth?  Or will it be used to wound and murder?


Answers on a Postcard please!  😉

That Bright Elusive Butterfly…

www.123rf.comDo you ever come out with something in conversation with others that surprises you in its wisdom?  It’s not necessarily thought through, or even thought of before, but sometimes it can stop you in your tracks – I did this the other day and it got me thinking.

We were talking about happiness.  I said that happiness was something that is elusive because it comes and goes – the more we pursue it, the more it eludes us.  I was recounting that it wasn’t until I had reached a point in life where I was contented that I was able to stop pursuing my dreams of happiness.  Only then did I realise that joy and happiness is something that needs to be experienced in the here and now and then set free so that it can come back again – a bit like the tides of the sea I suppose.

The mistake that a lot of folks make (including myself) is to try and capture that moment and hang on to it like grim death so that it doesn’t escape – or constantly relive it over and over again.  I’m not saying that having loving memories is a wrong thing, but if there is fear attached through trying to revive the experience then I feel that we are missing out on the spontaneous expression of the wonder of life.

It’s a bit like chasing a butterfly – you can net it, capture it and put it in a jar or clutch at it and crush it – it generally won’t survive such treatment.  However, if a butterfly does decide to alight on you, which has often happened to me whilst sitting quietly in gardens…admire it in it’s wonderous beauty and leave it free to fly away.  Generally speaking butterflies don’t live very long – just long enough to reproduce another generation.

So, maybe we’d all be a lot better off if we can rather aim for contentment which is a steadier more comfortable feeling and let happiness come and go as it will, rather than imprison it through fear and anxiety.

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