Hiding our Shame

The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame. (Oscar Wilde)

Wilde might have been a Dancing Clown, but he knew a thing or two. What kind of humans are we? I’ll tell you what kind of a human I, personally, am. I’m a fallible human. I make mistakes. I even have occasional moments when I’m deliberately malicious – but I get over it quickly and often try to make amends. And I always aspire to be the kind of person I would admire, the kind of person I want to be, rather than just the kind I am. Yes I’m fallible, but at least I try.

The person I aspire to be, amongst other things, is honourable. She would do the right thing. She would make an honest effort in all situations, so that even in times of failure she could hold her head up high. She can face herself in the mirror on even the darkest of nights. And most of all, when people go grubbing for her secrets, they find nothing she is ashamed of, nothing she would want to forcibly hide. That is the essence of an honourable person, an ethical person, a moral person.

And I believe the same qualities make an honourable, ethical and moral country. A nation that says: “Yes, we’ve made mistakes, now let’s try to deal with them” has a much higher calibre than a nation which says: “Oh, you’ve revealed that we know we’ve tortured, murdered and lied. So you have committed a crime by revealing our crimes, and by gagging you we will have done the right thing” is hardly a course of action following the highest of morals.

Or perhaps I’m wrong here?

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Becoming a Tarot Master in 10,000 hours.

In a Tarot forum where I am quite active, someone recently posed the question about mastery, and the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to master a body-of-knowledge. That’s about the same number of hours that it takes to achieve a M.A. in the Australian academic system: the second echelon of university education.

They then asked what a person would get at 10,000 hours that they don’t at 5,000 hours. That’s a bit of a cheat’s question, I think – they’re trying to gain that knowledge through an answer, that they probably haven’t put in the work to get. So my first answer was:

Wrinkles and grey hairs.

I then went on to say that honestly, the more you learn about Tarot, the more you see the huge gaps in your knowledge. In 1981, having read for a few years and just received my first payment from a very happy client, I smugly thought I knew everything there was to know about reading.

I also thought later that I’d passed some kind of milestone after a decade. Now, nearly thirty years later, I’m a rank beginner who’s learning all the time. The more you learn, the more you realise how much there is left that you need to learn.

I have a brother who is an engineer: it took him four years to learn his profession. I have a number of friends who are doctors: it took the GPs six years to learn their professions, and the specialists well over a decade to learn. It’s going to take me at least another thirty years over and above the time I’ve already spent to become even vaguely capable.

It’s therefore a lifetime-thing, and the hardest profession in the world. If you start as a teenager, you’re really only just getting good at it when you die of old age.

But what immense fun you have along the way!

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Bluebeard Revisited

Once upon a time, in a land far away, a man with striking blue eyes built a castle. Heavily fortified, it had vertical bars on every window and horizontal bars on every door, and from every door handle hung a huge black padlock with its own huge black key, that hung always on a giant key-ring that he wore on his belt for the world to see. He filled the counting-house with money from floor to ceiling, he filled the treasury with jewellery and treasures beyond price from floor to ceiling, he filled the pantries with food from floor to ceiling, he filled the ice-house with meats of all kinds from floor to ceiling, he filled the granaries with wheat and rice and barley and rye from floor to ceiling. And lastly, he filled the courtyards, surrounded by high, strong stone walls, with fruit trees heavy with every kind of sweetness, and with flowering herbs of all kinds filling the air beneath the trees with the richest of perfumes.

He looked at his castle, so impregnable, and his bunch of keys, and knew that none could come in or go out without his permission. And it gave him pleasure. He looked at everything in his castle and his courtyard and knew he had everything he needed to live, and that gave him pleasure, too. Most of all, he loved sapphires. The whole eastern corner of his treasury was filled with sapphires: pale-blue ones from Ceylon, dark-blue ones from Australia, and every shade of blue between from every country on the world. Mountains upon mountains of them gleamed in the sunlight falling across them
from the high barred window. His yellow and pink sapphires were mixed with his other treasures, but after glancing at them he would always turn to his blue sapphires. And the sapphires were lit by the falling sunlight, and reflected back on his glossy, oiled beard, making it shine with a deep blue iridescence over its natural black, a blue that made his beard echo the blue of his own eyes.

The years passed and he became lonely. The gleam of treasure was not so pretty without someone else’s eyes to see it. The lush sweetness of figs and dates twisted at perfect ripeness off the tree was not so sweet if he could not feed it to appreciative lips, to sweet lips.

He took to riding his dapple-grey horse through the town on market day, and talking to the stallholders and customers, but although he was open and friendly he was still the newcomer in the big castle, and the townsfolk were nervous. Month after month he came and talked, and befriended a widow and her three grown daughters. One day he asked them if they would like to come to the castle for a feast in their honour.

The widow looked at her eldest daughter.

The eldest looked away. “I do not like him, Mother,” she said.

“Why, child?”

“I do not know,” she replied. I just know that I do not think he is a nice man. And she would not go.

The widow looked at her second daughter.

The second daughter fidgeted. “Well, he’s been nice to us,” she said, “and his offer is generous. But I’m uneasy.”

Before the widow could look at her youngest daughter, she laughed and said: “He’s being more than nice to us! Look at the beautiful castle he has built, and how it reflects the sunlight off its white stone surfaces! Look at how he comes to town every market day just to talk to people, buy produce without even haggling, sometimes paying for food for the poor to take home so that they get two loaves instead of one. Look at how nice he has been to everyone, especially us, for so long! I feel we should be nice to him in return, I feel that it is unkind to repay generosity with suspicion.”

So the next week the widow took her middle daughter and her youngest daughter to the feast, whilst the eldest stayed at home.

There was such merriment. The food was fresh and delicious, the bread was light and fluffy, the water was cold and cleansing. After the meal the man showed the widow and her two younger daughters around the castle, with its grand walks, its arches, its windows, its thick soft carpets, its hand-carved, comfortable furniture, the myriad colourful paintings and tapestries on the walls. And they agreed that it was a very fine home.

“Not as fine as if I had someone to share it with,” he muttered under his breath.

The next week he asked them to come riding with him. The middle daughter made an excuse: seeing his fine house had not persuaded her that something was not wrong. The younger daughter came willingly, and her mother accompanied her. The women rode on two fine chestnut mares, the man on his dapple-grey gelding, its saddlebags bulging.

They rode to a clearing in the woods, with a fallen tree-trunk to sit on, and a small stream trickling through between the light and the shade. There they let the horses drink and graze, as he unpacked his saddlebags. They were filled with wonderful things to eat, including great globular oranges from his orchard, their skins the colour of embers and their juice tasting of the strength of sunlight.

And there, with the permission of the widow, he asked the youngest daughter to marry him, and when she said yes he produced from his pocket a golden ring in the shape of a lemniscate, with a diamond in one loop and the finest pale sapphire in the other, and placed it on her hand.

They prepared a magnificent wedding and invited the whole village. The bride was allowed to choose any of the fabrics in his storehouse, and she chose a fabric as sparkly as the stars on a still night, overlaid on another as calmly silver as moonlight. At the wedding the second sister said maybe he wasn’t as bad as she had thought; the eldest sister just looked away without saying anything. And they were married, and the youngest sister went to live in the castle, where she was very, very happy.

After some time the husband called his wife to him and told her: “I am going away on business for a while. I will be gone two weeks. Here is my key-ring: you may enter every room in the castle which the black keys open, but the tiny bronze key, that is special. Do not open the lock that it fits. I could take the key with me, but I’d rather trust you. Can I trust you?”

And the young bride said he could, so he handed her the keys and said that to prevent her from becoming too lonely she could invite her family to stay for the two weeks, if she liked. So she thanked him and kissed him goodbye, and he rode away on his dapple-grey, his saddlebags bulging.

The young bride went to her mother’s house, and said that the whole family could visit for two weeks. The widow had missed her, and so had her two older sisters, so they came right away, leaving a note on the table for their seven brothers, who were away at the wars, and would be coming home any day now.

They went to the castle, and the bride opened the portcullis with a great black key and led them in. For days they were happy to be together, and chattered about all the things they needed to talk about; then the eldest sister, who still didn’t like the husband, asked her why she always wore the keys at her belt. So the bride told her about the promise. The two older sisters, delighted, thought it would be a great game to open every locked door in the castle and see what was behind it. They started at the attics, looking at great bundles of herbs hanging from the rafters drying, and worked their way slowly down the castle, floor by floor. It took most of the day to look at everything.

Last of all they reached the cellars, where the fine pink wine was stored, and where the well that never ran dry was, for the castle to draw water. It was cool and quite dark in the cellars, the only light twinkling faintly from the top of the stairs. In the shadows there, the girls found a small door. “This must be the door that tiny bronze key opens,” the middle sister exclaimed. “Shall we open it?”

“No,” said the bride, definitely. She remembered how her husband had asked if he could trust her.

At the same moment the oldest sister said “Yes,” and her voice was louder and she was more excited so the sisters opened the door, the youngest hanging back wishing it hadn’t happened. The eldest looked in, and started crying. The middle one looked in, and fainted. The youngest didn’t look in, so she never knew what her sisters had seen. She pulled them out of the doorway and slammed it shut, turning the key to lock it fast. She put the key-ring back on her belt and wiped the tears of the eldest sister, then revived the middle sister.

By the time all that was done she felt a dampness on her leg. She looked down, and found great gouts of warm, steaming blood pouring from the little bronze key down her clothes. She knew at once it was marking her untrustworthiness for her husband to see.

She and her sisters tried wrapping the key, but it still bled. They tried washing the key, but it still bled. They tried pressing it with sand, but it still bled, saturating the sand. They tried covering it with wax to seal the blood in, but still it bled. The bride was terrified, knowing that the husband only had to see the bleeding key, and he would know he couldn’t trust her.

At that moment they all heard the sounds of horse’s hooves on the cobblestones outside: the husband’s business took several days less than he expected. The two elder sisters took their mother and fled, leaving the bride alone. Frantically she dropped the key on the floor, and kicked it under some heavy curtains. Her husband entered the room. He saw the blood on her dress, starting where the key-ring was dangling.

“Did you use the bronze key?” he asked.

She stuttered and stammered, and as she tried to start to tell him that it wasn’t her fault but her sisters’, he saw the pool of blood start to ooze from beneath the curtain. With a great cry, he fell on the key and picked it up, sobbing. His bride had betrayed him. She hadn’t given her mother and sisters great chests of sapphires and other precious gems to take away. She hadn’t emptied the gold out of the counting-houses into their waiting aprons. She hadn’t even kissed the servants. She had just done the one thing she told him she could be trusted not to do.

His pain was immense. Without even knowing what he was doing he turned to her, let out a wordless roar and tried to tear the pretty lemniscate ring off her fingers.

At that moment, the seven brothers entered the room. They had gone home, seen the note, and come to the castle. Hearing their sister’s screams and her husband’s roars they entered the room, and seeing the blood from the key all over her dress and him pulling at her hand as soon as they came in, they waited no longer, but drew their seven shiny swords and cut him to pieces where he stood, heedless of their sister’s screams for them to stop.

*     *     *

Many characters get vilified in fairy stories, and I think Bluebeard is one of them. The crucial thing about the many very different  versions of the story is the betrayal at the end. The bride never disposed of his wealth – at the most, she showed it to his family. The murky secret in the locked room – which in earlier versions of the tale is never described let alone spelled out as the remains of previous curious wives – is the only thing the bride is forbidden. The point is not discovering that he is an evil wife-murderer – the point of the whole story is that his trust is betrayed by her and he attempts (and in most versions succeeds) in punishing her.

The role of the mother and the elder sisters, who have been edited out in some babified versions, is not trivial, either. What kind of mother would let one of her daughters court a stranger, or even someone well-known – without any kind of comment or judgement passed on the suitor, negative or positive? Perhaps her passivity towards her daughter’s decisions represents a feeling of being inadequately mothered. And the two older sisters represent more knowledgeable aspects of the bride herself: the middle sister, slightly uneasy about the man, can’t place her finger on what’s wrong. She represents a dawning sense of intuition, specifically of a
looming unpleasantness in the future.

The eldest sister, older and therefore supposedly more developed, is less likely than the middle sister to be bribed or side-tracked into accepting a thing she thinks is wrong. However, at the same time, she takes the initiative in breaking the husband’s prohibition on using the key, and is the first into the locked room, to see whatever lies within it. It is her choice of action, encouraged by the middle sister, that precipitates the disaster in the first place.

The story is not a fable of a gruesome murderer or the need to not trust a husband. The story is about loyalty, living up to your promises, living by your word and making those around you conform to it too, if at all possible. It is about honour and integrity. The bride did not take action to open the room, but she could have taken more action to prevent her sisters opening it on her behalf. In many versions of the story we are not told what lies within the room, just that it is a terrible shock: the act of opening the door itself is more important than the contents of the room, precisely because it is a morality-tale about living by your promises.

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The Murder Paradox

Christmas Eve yet again – I can’t believe it’s here. It seems that lately Christmas seems to happen about every third week. Still, one thing I am grateful for – we can still think. And what I’m currently thinking about is the murder paradox.

I am a parent, and I would still love my child above all other people  if she killed someone. But loving someone is not the same thing as condoning their actions. Much as I adore her, she is a thinking, reasoning being, and will wear the consequences of her actions, no matter how desperately I love her.

But if she killed someone, particularly if it were deliberate? I would like to think I were civilised enough to consider her reasons for killing, and to judge her as I would judge a stranger.

There is a conundrum that is set to psychologists at one stage of their training. There is a pair of identical twin males, forty-one years of age. One has spent the last fifteen years beating the crap out of his wife every friday night after a hard week at the office. The other lives an uneventful life until, at the age of forty-one, he murders his wife for reasons completely unknown. Given only those statements and no other statements or information about the two brothers, which twin do you know better?

I tend to agree with the psychologists that you know the one who regularly beats his wife.

Murders can happen in extremis for all kinds of reasons, including self-defence, defending a child from rape, totally accidentally,  in self-defence if the only way out of being killed ourselves is to kill, and so forth. None of us are above killing, should we find ourselves in unusual and extreme circumstances.

I am normally a rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth pacifist, of the stripe that believes that the complete and immediate removal of all standing armies and all weapons stockpiles will result in world peace – or at least, only the ability to hit a few nearby people with sticks rather than thousands of distant people with missiles.

Yet even I am capable of killing. I remember many years ago, one long and very dark night where I spent many hours holding a claw-hammer and watching a total waste of human DNA sleeping, wondering if – or when – I was going to strike.

Yes, with the right provocation, even the most peaceful and idealistic of us can kill. If I could contemplate it under extreme circumstances, then anyone could.

Here is another hypothetical that I offer:

You have a child whom you love above all people. S/He is beautiful, gifted, intelligent and very, very special. They are old enough to think rationally, but not old enough to have fulfilled much of their potential yet. You desperately want them to go on living and realise their potential. But you and they are in a situation where to prevent them dying immediately and painlessly there is only one course of action open to you, and you know that taking that course of action will indirectly but immediately result in the deaths of a hundred strangers’ children in an overseas country, many or all of which are as loved by their families as your child is loved by you.

What do you do?

(I suppose, all that this last one asks us to confront is this notion: whether our own pain and loss is more important than the pain and loss of many, many more people who are just as real as us.)

Today as I was laying in supplies to get through the non-shopping days that are upon us. I overheard a woman in her thirties talking to her father on the phone. She was discussing “doing” a pork roast for Christmas. Her father must have asked her to buy a pig’s head because she reacted: “A head? That’s cruel!” Now I happen to know that much of the stuff on mammal’s heads tastes particularly good, is high in iron and is very much more tender than the rest of the meat, but because of the culture that I live in, the fact that I don’t eat much meat at all and do even less of my own hunting, means that I rarely get to eat it. I was also taken back to my fond memories of the Anglo-Italian film “Queen of Hearts”, in which a roasted pig’s head gave the waiter some sage advice on how to make his fortune.

As I was thinking about all of this, the woman continued to argue with her father, telling him that her children shouldn’t have to see the faces of dead things because it would traumatise them. And I started thinking about how badly we as a society handle death: how much more we suffer after death visits with unresolved feelings than people in different societies do, because we snatch the ill and dying out of their rightful places in the heart of the family and put them into sterile hospitals where friends and relatives don’t have a chance to resolve their feelings, use cosmetics on corpses to make them look like a travesty of a living being, and often don’t even let our children come to funerals or even tell them the truth about death. And of course, they grow up all twisted and fearful, unlike kids who nurse their dying elders and siblings, who kill their own food or help kill it, and who help wash and bury their dead.

Musing about all of this, I thought about the relationship that women’s children might or might not have had with their ancestors, how they would be able to handle or not handle a sudden fatality or a long, drawn-out illness, and why the hell actually knowing where their food comes from would be bad for them. Would it not give them a sense of realism and passion in the world?

Meat is not cold  red stuff that occurs in pretty rectangles in fridges: Meat is warm, often hot stuff that was living, breathing, moving and feeling not so very long ago. And when you butcher a dead animal to prepare it for the plate, it stinks.

And each of us who chooses to eat meat, should be able to kill our own food at least once in our life if not more often: if you think it’s wrong to pick an apple from a tree, do you have the right to eat apples? And if you cannot drive a knife into a fish’s brain, do you have the right to eat fish?

So if you cannot even look at pieces of quite edible and tasty meat that look as if they came from an animal, much less actually kill for yourself exactly as much meat as you consume rather than paying someone else to do it for you, do you have any right to eat meat? How can you take the moral high ground about buying or not buying a pig’s head, if you don’t even know what is involved in eating meat?

I personally prefer not to eat pork. This is not for religious reasons – I do not belong to any of the religions that have a prohibition on that meat – or for health reasons. It’s because I’ve known pigs personally in my past, two of them at different times, and they are at least as smart as dogs, and respond to training better than dogs do, making great company. And I have personal problems eating any potentially sentient being: I prefer to eat creatures that have little or no self-awareness, or at least as little as possible, so pork is off my personal menu, along with other pig-products like bacon most of the time (I sometimes break my own rules).

Killing something that thinks (a pig) is just like killing something that thinks (a person). Which brings me neatly back from killing creatures of other species, to killing creatures of my own species. Most of us – all of the well-adjusted of us – do not regard humans as a potential food-source, fortunately. Every so often a cannibalistic killer comes along, but they are remarkable and receive so much attention precisely because they are such rare creatures.

A French author and philosopher, Emile Zola, once wrote a book called “The Beast In Man”. I haven’t read it for a few years, but I remember it as enthralling. The paperback copy I had, had a blurb on the back cover written by a publisher’s hack that said something like “exploring the mind of a homicidal maniac”.

I read the book somewhat differently. I read it as the story of an impulsive and passionate person, someone living a normal life with the normal ups-and-downs, arguments with employers and spouses, and doing what I suspect we all secretly do occasionally: spending a few moments fantasising about what it would be like if so-and-so, the focus of our immediate problems, were to die, or if we were to kill them. Most people do have such thoughts at times of crisis, but a non-killer is the person who looks at the thoughts, then dismisses them, and finds other ways of managing the difficult situation. And throughout the book, not a single murder happened, as far as I can remember. He merely visualised them, thought about how to get away with it, thought about disposing of the bodies, then got on with taking other options.

Yes, telling me that someone is habitually violent to those  who are weaker than they are, tells me a lot about their character. But telling me that someone killed a person, reveals absolutely nothing about their character, but opens far more questions than it answers.

Have a happy celebration, people. Try to celebrate the spirits of those who died for no purpose other than to feed you, and please try not to kill those you love.

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Hephaestos

Those of us who walk a spiritual path through life, whatever our backgrounds, tend to notice ourselves going through stages. I’m a Shamanically-flavoured neo-Pagan, happy to go into Circle with Wiccans and also with Ceremonial Magicians (depending on the workings), and very happy to work (worship) alone.

I’m not very knowledgeable or even very interested in astrology, but a friend of a previous boyfriend in about 1982 did erect a chart for me (and later became sensationally famous, becoming a TV-astrologer, so I’m naming no names!), and didn’t surprise me at all by saying that my chart was heavily focussed on Fire and Earth. Given that background, it is hardly surprising that I take any opportunity I can in meditation to go subterranean, and have dived into or swum through lava-flows more than once.

An Icelandic classical composer, Jon Leifs, wrote a very impressive orchestral tone-poem called “Geysir”, which I have on CD: I’ve been known to turn off all phones, lock myself in, turn it on, and sink into the earth with the music, feeling the building of pressure and temperature, and exploding as superheated steam through fissures in surface-rock.

All gods are aspects or facets of the one (which may well just be my own mind), but all of them are real and living and individual, too, and do not take kindly to being treated in a one-size-fits-all style. In order to get the most out of any divine relationship, you have to know what you’re dealing with, and you have to be mentally strong enough to deal with it. You have to be respectful and worthy of being respected, you have to behave appropriately and behave decisively.

I find that I grow and develop through time. Gods that keep me company in some stages of my life – often for many years – do not necessarily keep me company forever: others will fade-in in importance as they fade-out. All of them are there, and all of them that I have had personal relationships with are living and vibrant, they just may or may not be what I am connected to at one or another stage of my life.

In about 1984 or 1985, as my second-last heterosexual relationship was ending (I don’t count the “fling” that was necessary to conceive my daughter as a relationship), I faded out of a close and personal relationship with a nameless Mud-Goddess and the Green Man, and faded into a close and personal relationship with the Greek Hephaestos.

As a Euro-Pagan, I really felt I should translate Him into the Western European equivalent Weyland or Wayland, but that didn’t work. And the Roman Vulcan didn’t work, either, nor the Hawaiian feminine Pele. I knew I was dealing with a masculine energy, and I knew that energy was about Fire and metal and Smithing and lava, molten rocks and creation of new land by volcanoes; and all of these gents looked after this kind of stuff. So it wouldn’t matter what name I used, would it? Wrong – it did. He let me know in no uncertain terms that He was Hephaestos and nobody else, even though I don’t generally do Olympic Gods.

I spent years with him, and learnt a lot. He also pushed me into doing weekend workshops in welding and blacksmithing twenty years ago when I had both the income and time to waste, but I never got very far or kept it up – that was his requirement of me, not my passion. Perhaps now I’d be more enthusiastic, as I’ve matured a bit.

When he had taught me what he wanted to, and I had served him as I could, he faded out, and I went onto other godforms. In about 1992, roughly the year of my daughter’s birth, I moved onto a Celtic Goddess appropriated as an Irish saint, Brighid (or Bridget, or Bride) of Kilcare. She, too was about fire: the hearth, the home, light, warmth, healing, and pure healing springs and wells. Fire and water – the combination is very Brighid.

I found Brighid very much more modern than Hephaestos: he used to come complete with anvil, forge and half-completed knives, horse-shoes or swords which he worked on in my presence, or take me into mountain caves or lava flows to watch the very minerals forming into mineable seams of metals. Brigid, instead, had me do a batch of quite alien housework and had me almost living by candlelight – then she grabbed me by the scruff of the neck when I was involved with PODSnet (a pre-internet computer spiritual network) and tied me into the Daughters of the Flame, a modern group of woman lighting candles sequentially all over the world in her name. I stayed with them for a couple of years and loved it, then had circumstances get in the way for a few years, then found them again last year and re-joined.

Brighid has backgrounded again to a certain extent and I am working with other things, but she smiles on me warmly when it is my one-day-in-twenty to keep the Flame in her name, and I am very, very happy to do that for Her.

Also in my PODSnet days, a guy made me a beautiful double-bladed Athame (ritual knife) with an ebony handle, forging the blade himself, in exchange for my working a fertility ritual for him and his lady (the child is a few months younger than mine). Because I had earnt it by getting them pregnant, it was very, very special to me, and I loved it for years. After twelve or thirteen years, I had a drunken step-son, and one night in a violent fit he picked it up off the Altar, rushed off out of the house, and embedded it in someone’s back in a street brawl.

I grieved. Of course, I never saw it again, and wouldn’t have enjoyed it any more after something like that. So I was Athame-less for years. A little while ago I paid my rent, and rewarded myself for it by getting a coffee in my favourite cafe. One of the waitresses introduced me to another regular, who asked for a Tarot reading, and as I had a deck with me, I did it on the spot. She gave me a fistful of money which was outside my budget, so I wandered into a knife dealer’s shop window-shopping.

I didn’t see anything in his display that I liked. I told him I wanted a wooden or bone handle, a fairly straight blade, and that nothing he had on display appealed to me. So he did me the honour of showing me some “special knives” he had in a locked shelf, and I fell in love with one that was really warm and comfortable and well-balanced in my hand. And coincidentally, the deposit he wanted for it was exactly what I’d just been paid, outside my budget! You just can’t fight fate.

It took me a few weeks to pay it off, and I’ve been getting to know it since. I’ve oiled it down thoroughly, which it needed badly. I’ve got to know every dimple in its patina. I’ve got to know every microscopic notch in its well-used and well-sharpened blade, and the one on the back of the blade, too. I’ve got to know its speed, its strength. I dreamt an Icelandic word that I’d never heard of, and on Wikipedia it turned out to be the name of a ritual sword, so I had it engraved on the blade. And best of all, Hephaestos came back!

I’ve been spending a bit of time with the knife (which is quite certain it’s a ritual knife and not an Athame), and I’ve caught glimpses of things. Sliding along under the skin of some kind of large herbivore, an ox or a deer or something. Being driven into the brain of a large fish. Gutting a hell of a lot of smaller fish. And once, sinking into the throat of a badly-injured dog, I think a black one. Slowly, the knife is giving me its secrets, the secrets of its working past.

And this morning I was there, running my fingers along its blade and I suddenly “saw” the blade as red and malleable, saw it being turned in a pair of tongs over an anvil and repositioned. And before the image faded, the lame Smith looked up, and met my eyes. Hephaestos is back!

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Are We Serious?

How serious are our politicians?

They tell us they are concerned about the environment – they’ve been telling us that for years. And now we have recycling bins – into which we are not allowed to place many recyclable items and substances, and if someone does they throw out the entire truckful of stuff in which the “impurities” are found.

We also have a “green power option”: we pay a premium on top of the normal cost of our power, in order that after our metres are read, the power company is then obligated to buy the amount of kilowatts we’ve used from a green supplier such as a wind or solar outfit.

Why don’t they recycle everything that is recyclable, or at least not throw away whole truckfuls of stuff because of one object made of the wrong stuff? Surely we’re better off if as much stuff as possible gets reused, to reduce the load on Mother Nature?

And why do we pay an additional charge for green power? If they were serious, surely the cheaper-to-produce green power would be the basic rate to encourage everyone including the very poor to go green, while those who wish to run with coal-fired power should have to pay a premium for their polluting habits?

And warfare. It’s politically correct to talk to the electorate about the desire for peace. But it’s observably true that over the last twenty-five years or more, the budgets for education and civic works has been proportionally reduced, whilst the budgets for policing and the military have been proportionally increased. There are occasional blips on those trends, but not many.

The inference I draw from this tendency, is that the government wants us undereducated so that we are less equipped to think about our rebel against human-unfriendly policies, and over-policed so that those who still do get stomped on.

And what’s the go with armies? If no country in the world maintained a standing army, we’d fight with sticks and stones, if at all other than bickering with people in the parking lot over parking spaces. As it is, we fight not just with bullets, but with intercontinental “bullets” that can kill many people with one shot, and even nuclear “bullets” that can kill tens of thousands and poison the rest of us for many years into the future.

How does that maintain peace?

A little sanity, guys, please!

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The Family Christmas

I am not a Christian. Christmas means less than nothing to me.

If the story of the Nativity is anything to go by, given that the sheep were in the fields instead of being shut in a barn overnight to prevent them freezing to death it couldn’t have happened at midwinter, anyway, and astronomers feel that the nearest comet sighting to account for the star would have been six years earlier in May, a time when shepherds were more likely to watch sheep in fields.

Nonetheless, my mother, also an unbeliever (but one who “doesn’t know if God knows he doesn’t exist”), thinks that there is something somehow superhuman about the 25th December, which here, of course, is a few days after Summer Solstice. And no matter what demands there are on their lives, and how far away she might be from the median location of family members, we all have to go traipsing off to her horrible mansion for her horrible food.

My mother has a horrible Christmas menu. We all get a plate of the cheapest compound chocolate on the market in the morning. She waits for it all to be eaten, then lunch is the main meal. Cold ham still on the bone, and if you let her slice it, each slice is many centimetres thick. Cold commercially cooked chicken – which I happen to consider a leftover. “Noodlesalat”: boiled spiral pasta cooled down and dressed with vinegar. “Potatosalat” (yes, she mixes her languages) which consists of quartered potatoes boiled in their own weight of salt and a few drops of water, dressed with cheap mayonnaise that tastes of chemicals and sliced pickled gherkins (which I loathe).

That’s it.

Delightful.

And she needles all of her relatives until one of them can’t stand it any more and explodes at her, whereupon she crows triumphantly about how [Name] Ruined Christmas For Everybody. Over the last several years, I have taken it on myself to be the one to explode on minimum provocation just to reduce the needling on everyone else, and it really makes the whole event slightly less stressful for my siblings and siblings-in-law. Of course, daughters and nephews are a different matter: the upcoming generation of kids all caught on to the fact that Christmas at Grandma’s was horrible by the time they were five or six.

Those are our sacred, unbreakable Christmas traditions.

Three years ago, I foolishly conspired with my kid brother’s wife: we both brought eskiis filled with festival-food: avocado, smoked salmon, brie, home-grown salad veggies, prawns, nuts, stone-fruits, all the gorgeous stuff you’d expect to eat on a special day. And I had hens at the time, so I brought about eighteen hard-boiled eggs plus the ingredients including home-grown herbs, and made green-stuffed eggs as well. The food was sensational, and there was plenty of it. Not a single person except Grandma touched her foetid stuff. My nephew Angus, cute and small and tousle-headed at the time, said innocently to his grandma: “Now that Mummy and Auntie Nisaba have shown you what nice food tastes like, you can make it yourself next Christmas.” My mother fell into a thunderous silence.

We are still living it down, and I doubt whether we will ever break the Christmas tradition again. But every so often when we have one of our rare sibling-get-togethers, someone will mention the day that Jane and Nisaba did Christmas Lunch, and we’ll all reminisce …

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