Saturday, 28 July 2012

“If Trees Could Cry – Oxleas Wood” - a 20th Century adventure in eco-magic

“Unevolved man is, notoriously, a destructive creature, and is loud in asserting his "right" to be so. Have not those who can see a little further and think a little more deeply at least an equal right to defend and preserve? It is not only animals that are in question here: is the fashion for redwood fences and garden furniture really an adequate reason for thinking beings to exterminate trees of age-long growth? We do not wish to do more than touch upon this matter, for its significance must already have impressed many. Not only this or that living species is in danger; there is also that fabric of which each is a component, that web of mighty vibrations and of subtle echoes...”

-          Robe and Ring, The Magical Philosophy, Denning and Phillips

It was the late 1980s just as my Charlton House Green Circle group came to the end of working through Denning and Phillips’ “Magical States of Consciousness” over the previous 18 months, when I heard something from a close friend that hugely alarmed me.  The United Kingdom Department of Transport was planning to build a six-lane road through one of London’s last remaining ancient woodlands and designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The road was to be called the East London River Crossing. Local household residents were up in arms. Road developers and bankers in the City of London were delighted at the prospects of shareholder profit and quicker trips to and from work.

As ancient woodland Oxleas Woods had survived in all its beauty and peace for over 8000 years and now, in the space of a year or so, it was to be decimated in the name of progress. 900 year-old trees and a vast array of rare flora and fauna were to be destroyed to provide drivers with a faster route between the City of London, East and South East London.

Many hundreds of years previously the 77 hectare site had been gifted to the citizens of London as a leisure area “to enjoy for perpetuity”. Oxleas was one of the capital city’s last remaining sizeable green spaces and in some respects acted as the lungs of London. It has been described as “the last remaining part of the pre-historic great forest of London”. People from all walks of life benefited from Oxleas - playing children, nature lovers, hikers and dog-walking adults, from the poorest communities in London in enormous social housing estates in Kidbrooke to the middle classes of Eltham and Shooters Hill.

In since forgotten pre-historic times, as the highest part of the whole South and South East London environment, Oxleas would have been a sacred place. With the recent pagan renaissance it had become a special place again for many people.

I had lived on its edge over the past few years in Woolwich and Shooters Hill and had spent many days and nights wandering through its leafy glades, meditating and occasionally celebrating seasonal rites and natural magic with friends. As the days passed, my alarm turned to rage. What could I do to stop this madness and desecration?

There were a number of environmental organizations and residents’ groups trying to stop things through the political processes but things were really not looking good. The government was now starting to displace hundreds of local families through compulsory purchase orders. These orders provided a nominal cash sum for their homes and then evicted them out so as the road could be built were their houses and gardens had previously stood. Whole communities were to be broken up.

Over the next couple of years a number of magical groups started working on the challenge, supporting the environmental and resident groups in both practical and magical ways. I was hugely fortunate to be involved with one of the environmental groups (Greenwich and Lewisham Friends of the Earth) and two of the magical groups – Dragon and the Fellowship of Isis. In time an aging Vivian Godfrey would lend a hand in an unexpected way too.

Dragon was an eco-magic group founded in London during the summer of 1990 by a diverse group of people who had attended a series of evening classes on folklore. On the surface it appeared an odd collective of people including Pagans, Witches, Druids, Hermeticists, Thelemites, Qabalists, followers of Asatru and Chaos Magicians. With a few exceptions, most members were private people who desired to keep their activities out of the public gaze. However, there were some more public members such as occult author and controversial celebrity, the late Gerald Suster, who were quite happy to make some noise about what was going on. Twenty years later Dragon still exists as a broad network of eco-magic practitioners, but, that is another story! However, at its founding, its first magical campaign was to save Oxleas Wood from the proposed road development. 

With my then partner and other members of Dragon and the FoI I started to attend as many local meetings as possible  where people were actively organising to save the woods. People Against the River Crossing (PARC) were the most impressive of these groups, made up of local residents, from Greenpeace activist , Waste Disposal Manager, to doctor – nine of whom eventually put their homes on the line to fight the road development in the UK parliament and courts of justice, finally taking their fight to the European Parliament.

Then in 1990, Olivia Robertson, founder of the Fellowship of Isis, came to London to present at the first ever Fellowship of Isis International Convention. I was fortunate enough to support the formidable organiser, C, with the Convention and was invited to work on the doors for the event. I have never, in all my life to date met such a wide assortment of characters devoted to the Goddess and from all walks of life! To add some specific Ogdoadic interest, Olivia and her brother Lawrence had been co-workers in the Mysteries a couple of decades previously with Vivian Godfrey and Leon Barcynski.

Shortly after the convention, C had told a number of us that on the visit Olivia had insisted on taking a small number of FOI members to visit a particularly renowned medium. The medium had allegedly told the visitors a number of things which were either true at the time or subsequently came to pass shortly thereafter. What particularly struck the visitors was that at one stage the medium had adopted on a peculiar physical stance mentioning that she felt there was a cravat wrapped around her neck. At this point in the consultation the medium started to talk in a strange pitch and pace, specifically focussing her address on Olivia. The medium told her audience that she could see a man speaking intensely with Olivia’s late father. From this vision the medium’s audience were told that they should complete a ceremony by a water well, with a sword that had something important to do with trees. The medium had not known about the audience’s involvement in the Oxleas Woods Campaign.

Later, Olivia Robertson explained to C that she felt from the body language, voice, cravat and description of the man talking to her father that the late poet and magician W.B. Yeats had been trying to get a message to them. Incidentally Yeats had been a close family friend of the Robertsons in the first half of the 20th Century

Make of this story what you will, but out of this meeting, a trip was rapidly organised back to the FOI Enniscorthy Castle temple in Eire, where a ritual, one of many to follow, was composed and performed by the castle’s well, involving a large sword aimed at saving Oxleas Woods and initiating the Noble Order of Tara.

As the campaign to save the woodlands heated up the protest activity took on a life of its own. Many magical and non-magical folk spent their evenings, weekends and holidays working on the campaign.  People resorted to writing letters to politicians, decision makers, newspapers, being interviewed on the radio and leafleting all the local area. I started to get songs dedicated to the Campaign or the campaigners on a number of the local London radio stations as an alternative way of getting free advertising. Thousands of committed local people and campaigners signed a pledge to take peaceful but direct action to chain themselves to the bulldozers if the road builders ever started the destruction of the wood.

On the inner levels a number of groups started meditations, visualisation and rituals to help save the woodlands. Perhaps the most mischievous and creative action taken was initiated by a friend from the local FOI Lyceum. He carefully designed a sign and wrote it out in an old calligraphy style and then made copies which he laminated. These crafty signs were then ceremonially attached to key trees at the four magical quarters of Oxleas Woods. From my recollection, the notices proclaimed that the Noble Order of Tara would not permit the destruction of the wood and that its guardians would fully protect the wood from harm. These were posted at the entrances to the wood as well.

Importantly these signs were noticed by many residents and quickly picked up by a local journalist who gave good coverage in the area’s local newspaper. The rumour circulated like wildfire that an ancient curse had been placed on anyone who was to be involved in the road building.

At the same time a number of other groups such as Dragon and also the secretive “T.R.B.” stepped up their magical endeavours, always keeping in the background to the main line protesting. Dragon also contributed on the physical plan to by producing campaign post cards from recycled card which told of Oxleas’ plight but also doubled up as a postable message to the Secretary of State for Transport in the UK government. 

One particularly gifted artist member with the help of a very well connected C and few others produced a beautiful pagan calendar to raise funds for the campaign. C kindly contacted a wide variety of occult writers to donate text for specific months in the proposed calendar. A number of well known writers gladly responded with articles, including Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki(Servants of the Light), Ronald Hutton(Historian, writer and researcher on witchcraft), Marian Green(Quest and the Invisible College), Nigel Pennick (Writer and Northern Tradition expert), Mike Howard (The Cauldron), Olivia Robertson herself and Melita Denning. The calendar sold like hot cakes.

With the help and assistance from a local conservation expert who was also a member of Dragon, the artist then produced a popular information pack on the history, flora and fauna of Oxleas for schools. The conservationist spent the next few months setting up educational lectures at lots of local schools but always finishing off with a compelling hook about Oxleas Woods. The number of protesters kept growing. Swathes of school children joined in and insisted that their parents also sent protest cards to the government.

A fundraising free festival was organised alongside an amateur dramatic outdoor production of Shakespeare’s play Midsummer Night’s Dream was put on in the woods to raise publicity and campaign funds. This was supplemented with a visit of about 50 protesters to Marsham Street in London, the office of Malcolm Rikind, the then Secretary of State for Transport. We dressed up as trees and did a Shakespearean based theme on a line from Macbeth – “When Oxleas Woods comes to Marsham Street, McRifkind will no longer be”.  We got national media coverage on the main BBC news, the Guardian and Independent newspapers. Things were beginning to look good for the woods. 

However, then the legal challenge to the road started going wrong. By all accounts it seemed that the East London River Crossing was going to be built anyway despite all our efforts. It was announced on the news that the High Court had decided in favour of the road. There was no appeal mechanism with the UK. It seemed that this was an definitive and final ruling. Despite this, a number of magical campaigners felt that there was another options and that the devastation to the ancient woodlands could still be stopped. Various people had this supported by rune casts, geomancy and tarot readings.

PARC, who are the real local heroes here, redoubled their efforts looking at options and Dragon members sent out vast amounts of 'Save Oxleas Wood' postcards through the Green Circle in the UK and Holland, and through the FOI across the whole globe with copies of the Isian News.  A campaign to involve the European Commissioner and the European Courts was stepped up.

Finally, the word of the news went out that the East London River Crossing would not go ahead. We had won. At European level, without even finalising the legal process, it was determined that the UK government had failed on a number of legal requirements relating to the proposed road scheme. The publicity against the development and the government was huge and forced a climb down. The massive efforts of all the organisations and individuals had paid off. PARC and Friends of the Earth had arguably contributed the most to the campaign alongside Alarm UK and the Oxleas Strategy Group. But, an enormous amount of magical will was invested behind the scenes which can’t have done anything but helped the overall success.

The Oxleas campaign set a gold standard in the UK for how to protest against developments that local people felt would be environmentally disastrous. 

Some two decades later in February 2012, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, announced that two new river crossings would be given the go ahead for the East of London. In the months that followed running up to the start of the current Olympics, Oxleas was in the news again. This time because the military felt it necessary to station surface to air missiles in the woods to safeguard the security of those in London during the Olympics. It appears that it may soon be time to reinitiate some resistance! Do they know what they will be up against?

Sunday, 22 July 2012


“Refusal to believe until proof is given is a rational position; denial of all outside of our own limited experience is absurd.” 
- Annie Besant

 "Men who think themselves wise believe nothing till the proof. Men who are wise believe anything till the disproof."

- Hassan to Selim 
James Elroy Flecker's play 
"Hassan: the story of Hassan of Bagdad 
and how he came to make the golden journey to Samarkand"

“Seek on earth what you have found in heaven” - the words of power Æ offered the novelist L.A.G. Strong

Like a deleted scene from Robin Williams' film, “The Dead Poets Society”, I was first introduced to the work of George William Russell at the age of 17 by an inspirational school teacher who also managed to turn me on to WB Yeats, Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard amongst others. Since that first lighting of the candle I’ve enjoyed delving back into the depths of AE’s work time and time again for inspiration, insight and illumination.

George William Russell was a seer and mystic as well as gifted painter and poet. In addition to these things, he was also a vocal Irish Nationalist and prolific writer who has left a lasting legacy for the world.   
Russell was born in the grey town of Lurgan (Irish “an Lorgain”) in County Armagh, Ireland on the 10th of April 1867. At the age of eleven his family moved southbound to Dublin. A few years later as a young man, he developed enduring friendships with W B Yeats and Art O’Murnaghan.

Somewhat similarly to Annie Besant, Russell devoted much of his life to political, co-operative and labour causes. He worked for a number of years for the co-operative, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society. Willie Yeats played a pivotal role in suggested to the co-operative’s founder Horace Plunkett that Russell should become its Assistant Secretary. In this role Russell succeeded in helping to create a host of credit societies and co-operative banks which gave working people a level of unprecedented financial security and comfort.     

During the fraught time of the 1913 Dublin Lock-out, Russell wrote an powerfully worded open letter to the Irish Times newspaper fiercely criticizing the employers’ bullish attitude. Not being content with progress he then spoke up about the lock-out in England and was hugely contributory towards ending the crisis.

Russell continued with his political career by becoming an independent delegate to the 1917-18 Irish Convention where he articulately opposed John Redmond’s poorly thought through compromise on Irish Home Rule.

He often used the pseudonym and nom de plume "AE", or more correctly, "Æ". This derived from an earlier name he had explored, "Æ'on", which symbolised the eternal spiritual quest of humanity, subsequently abbreviated.

His first collection of poetry, “Homeward: Songs by the Way” (1894), established him fairly and squarely in what was to become known as the Irish Literary Revival. His collected poems were published during 1913, with a second edition being distributed later in 1926. A favourite of mine from this collection is included later in this article. His poetry and prose remain in publication to this day and his painting continues to fetch high prices at auction.

Along his way in 1902 Æ met a young James Joyce and played a key networking role for Joyce, introducing him to many other important Irish characters including Yeats. It’s interesting to wonder whether Joyce’s literary career would have taken a different turn without these early introductions.

Russell’s house in Dublin’s Rathgar Avenue became a productive hive for artistic and thinking minds. Anyone was welcome there who wished to shine their light on the social, economic, political and artistic future of Ireland.

A talented clairvoyant, Æ’s interests and passions also included theosophy and the inner world of humanity. His burgeoning spiritual life was beautifully caught in many of his paintings, prose and poetical works. In many respects he really did manage to manifest in earth the words of power he had once offered to L.A.G. Strong and quoted in this article’s header. Few are able to bring back the treasures of the faery realms or other magical kingdoms in such a beautiful and lasting way as Æ did.  

Æ’s was often very successful in capturing and earthing his experiences of the nature side of things, of the Green Ray contacts, particularly in his paintings. This can be seen in the above painting, or in the captivating picture below of a woodchopper and a tree spirit or dryad.      

I was delighted to come across Æ again when I first started exploring the magic of the Golden Dawn tradition a few years after my English teacher’s first introductions. In Regardie’s opus “The Tree of Life”, I found Æ’s beautiful vision of a conversation between what can on one level be seen as the mundane self and the Higher Self or Holy Guardian Angel described in a carefully thought out and helpful manner. The passage comes from poem “Glory and Shadow”. Regardie describes the vision as a conversation between the “earthly child of darkness” and the “Holy Angel of Light.” This is an evocative and illuminating work well worth some contemplation for those wishing to open up a more productive dialogue and relationship between these two aspects.

To give an illustration I’ve chosen to share a longer section of the poem than Regardie chose to. Here the shadow speaks to the Angel:

“I know thee, O Glory;
Thine eyes and thy brow
With white-fire all hoary
Come back to me now.
Together we wandered
In ages agone:
Our thoughts as we pondered
Were stars at the dawn.
My glory has dwindled,
My azure and gold:
Yet you keep unkindled
The sunfire of old.
My footsteps are tied to
The heath and the stone:
My thoughts earth-allied-to,
Ah, leave me alone.
Go back, thou of gladness,
Nor wound me with pain,
Nor smite me with madness,
Nor come nigh again.”

The Angel continues and replies in words of particular significance to the student of the Hermetic Arts and Theurgy, entreating the shadowy self to surrender to the guidance of the heavenly shepherd:

Why tremble and weep now,
Whom stars once obeyed?
Come forth to the deep now
And be not afraid.
The Dark One is calling
I know, for his dreams
Around me are falling
In musical streams.
A diamond is burning
In depths of the lone,
Thy spirit returning
May claim for its throne.
In flame-fringed islands
Its sorrow shall cease,  
Absorbed in the silence
And quenched in the peace.
Come lay thy poor head on
My heart where it glows
With love ruby-red on
Thy heart for its woes.
My power I surrender;
To thee it is due.
Come forth! for the splendour
Is waiting for you.”

Over the years I’ve returned to this and other works by Æ for insight, sustenance and, at times, just sheer enjoyment.

After his wife’s death in 1932 and towards the end of his life Russell relocated to England. He passed over to the other side on the 17th of July 1935 in Bournemouth, that perennial English seaside town for retired folk on their way to the Great Recycling Plant. His body was returned to be interred in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin’s fair city.

I will leave you with an excerpt from what I find one of his most enduring works, “The Candle of Vision”:

“There at the close of a divine day, time being ended, and the Nuts of Knowledge harvested, the gods partake of the Feast of Age and drink from a secret fountain. Their being there is neither life nor death nor sleep nor dream, but all are wondrously wrought together. They lie in the bosom of Lir, cradled in the same peace, those who hereafter shall meet in love or war in hate. The Great Father and the Mother of the Gods mingle together and Heaven and Earth are lost, being one in the Infinite Lir.”

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Thomas Traherne – a 17th Century Mystic from the Marches

The first time I stumbled across Thomas Traherne was a number of years ago when I was recuperating from surgery. My partner and our children had gone off to a weekend music festival and my elderly parents were staying in my home to look after me. I was beginning to feel much better and suggested a short trip into Hereford Cathedral to take a look at the spectacular Mappa Mundi and the ancient library.   

We decided to take a look around the cathedral before eating lunch in the tea room. I wandered off alone and found myself compelled towards a tiny side chapel. As I entered the chapel it was like entering the tranquility and safety of a womb. Everything became deliciously silent. My mind stilled as the sun’s light shone through the most magnificent stained glass windows I had ever seen in my life.

I was quite literally dumbstruck and overwhelmed. In the space that I had entered I started sobbing with overflowing tears. I know not how long this lasted for time seemed irrelevant. Slowly a nourishing sense of "perfect peace profound" rose in me and I felt joyously happy. Eventually I composed myself and sat down in contemplation, thinking I must find out more about this little room and these fantastic windows. At that point my parent’s walked in and we went for tea to be followed by a look at the Mappa Mundi and the library. 

Over the next few weeks I managed to find out that the windows had been crafted by hugely talented artist Tom Denny and were known as the “Thomas Traherne windows.” I felt a strong sense of inner companionship. 

Who was this person? 

Why had I had such a beautiful experience?

Thomas Traherne was the son of a shoemaker from the Cathedral City of Hereford on the borders with Wales. Nobody knows his exact birth date but it is estimated as circa 1636.

Traherne was well educated and studied at the illustrious Brasenose College at Oxford, where he gained a Master of Arts in Arts and Divinity. Ordained into the Church in 1660, his first ten years following ordainment was spent as a parish priest.  Towards the end of this term he was offered the role of being the private chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, a post he held until his death in 1674.

A contemporary of John Donne, by the early 20th Century Traherne was viewed as one of the foremost English Metaphysical poets.  Sadly in his own lifetime he was relatively unknown with only one of his works being publically printed. His obscurity changed during 1896 when a manuscript of Traherne’s beautiful mystic poetry and prose was uncovered at a London bookstall. Fortunately the buyer recognised the supreme worth of Traherne’s work and a publisher was found. Traherne’s “Poems” was printed in 1903, followed shortly afterwards with his “Centuries of Meditations” in 1908.  In the 1960s a collection of his “Select Meditations” was also published with most of his surviving written collection being finally published in the 1990s.

Traherne’s writing covers many common themes of the infinite capacity of the soul, joy, innocence, desire and the power of nature to saturate the human mind with beauty. Many people consider Traherne’s work to be of a similar “current” or inner source as that other favourite English mystic William Blake. 

For the lover of poetry, the mystic, the visionary and the dreamer Traherne’s work offers companionship and inspiration on the journey. His work offers a treasure trove to explore in contemplation, meditation and prayer. I have felt blessed to be touched by Thomas Traherne, a 17th Century Mystic from the borderlands between Wales and England. 


Sure Man was born to meditate on things,
And to contemplate the eternal springs
Of God and Nature, glory, bliss, and pleasure;
That life and love might be his Heavenly treasure;
And therefore speechless made at first, that He
Might in himself profoundly busied be:
And not vent out, before he hath ta’en in
Those antidotes that guard his soul from sin.
Wise Nature made him deaf, too, that He might
Not be disturbed, while he doth take delight
In inward things, nor be depraved with tongues,
Nor injured by the errors and the wrongs
That mortal words convey. For sin and death
Are most infused by accursed breath,
That flowing from corrupted entrails, bear
Those hidden plagues which souls may justly fear.
This, my dear friends, this was my blessed case;
For nothing spoke to me but the fair face
Of Heaven and Earth, before myself could speak,
I then my Bliss did, when my silence, break.
My non-intelligence of human words
Ten thousand pleasures unto me affords;
For while I knew not what they to me said,
Before their souls were into mine conveyed,
Before their living vehicle of wind
Could breathe into me their infected mind,
Before my thoughts were leavened with theirs, before
There any mixture was; the Holy Door,
Or gate of souls was close, and mine being one
Within itself to me alone was known.
Then did I dwell within a world of light,
Distinct and separate from all men’s sight,
Where I did feel strange thoughts, and such things see
That were, or seemed, only revealed to me,
There I saw all the world enjoyed by one;
There I was in the world myself alone;
No business serious seemed but one; no work
But one was found; and that did in me lurk.
D’ye ask me what? It was with clearer eyes
To see all creatures full of Deities;
Especially one’s self: And to admire
The satisfaction of all true desire:
‘Twas to be pleased with all that God hath done;
‘Twas to enjoy even all beneath the sun:
‘Twas with a steady and immediate sense
To feel and measure all the excellence
Of things; ‘twas to inherit endless treasure,
And to be filled with everlasting pleasure:
To reign in silence, and to sing alone,
To see, love, covet, have, enjoy and praise, in one:
To prize and to be ravished; to be true,
Sincere and single in a blessed view
Of all His gifts. Thus was I pent within
A fort, impregnable to any sin:
Until the avenues being open laid
Whole legions entered, and the forts betrayed:
Before which time a pulpit in my mind,
A temple and a teacher I did find,
With a large text to comment on. No ear
But eyes themselves were all the hearers there,
And every stone, and every star a tongue,
And every gale of wind a curious song.
The Heavens were an oracle, and spake
Divinity: the Earth did undertake
The office of a priest; and I being dumb
(Nothing besides was dumb), all things did come
With voices and instructions; but when I
Had gained a tongue, their power began to die.
Mine ears let other noises in, not theirs,
A noise disturbing all my songs and prayers.
My foes pulled down the temple to the ground;
They my adoring soul did deeply wound
And casting that into a swoon, destroyed
The Oracle, and all I there enjoyed:
And having once inspired me with a sense
Of foreign vanities, they march out thence
In troops that cover and despoil my coasts,
Being the invisible, most hurtful hosts.
Yet the first words mine infancy did hear,
The things which in my dumbness did appear
Preventing all the rest, got such a root
Within my heart, and stick so close unto’t,
It may be trampled on, but still will grow
And nutriment to soil itself will owe.
The first Impressions are Immortal all,
And let mine enemies hoop, cry, roar, or call,
Yet these will whisper if I will but hear,
And penetrate the heart, if not the ear.

By Thomas Traherne

The Springtime of Dion Fortune

There she is staring out at you...or maybe that should be "in to you"! Whether writing as Violet Firth, Violet M Steele...