Remember we sought spirits via Ouija?

Yes was positioned at one end of the board, No at the other; the alphabet, all solid black capital letters, curving between this affirmative and negative, and, below them, the numerals, zero to nine.

A & D were with us, if you recall. We sat forefingers gently resting on an upturned glass, that, hesitantly, announced the arrival of a long departed spirit. A female, apparently: Henrietta her name, or so she spelled out for us in our living room. We were all a little disturbed by this, if you recall. Frivolity turning to apprehension.

She told you “SOON” in answer to your question “When will I marry?”

“And will I marry him?” You indicated me. “And will it be for life?”

“YES,” Henrietta spelled out, you would marry me, but “NO” it would not be for life.

“You’re cheating,” you said to D, your anger obvious and incendiary. “Pushing the glass. That’s not fair. Be serious. You too, A. This is important…”

The scene in recollection feels unreal. We were very young then. Certainly I was too young to recognise the terrible labyrinthine tangle that was you. Your petulant outburst  at D & A that night was an indicator of what might follow.

“I’m not pushing it,” D declared, her tone vehement. “Nor am I,” said A.

“Well, it’s not bloody funny, you two. We either do this properly or put it away.”

“Will I marry A?” D asked then, ignoring you, your unexpected outburst.

“YES,” Henrietta replied.

“And will they be happy?” you asked, spitefully.

“NO,” was the simple response.

“Now who’s pushing the glass,” A wanted to know.

The glass trembled beneath our fingertips, moved, spelled out HENRIETTA in final answer.

“Why won’t we be happy?” D asked, glaring at you. And this ghost or spirit of Henrietta, this haunter of children’s dreams, replied from its no-man’s land, its grey void, “TOO MANY OTHER LOVERS, TOO MANY OTHER DESIRES.”

“It’s nonsense,’ D said. She pushed the glass aside. We all lost touch with it. Then, amazingly, the glass exploded. Do you remember that? One minute it was there, the next gone. All that remained was the powdered crystals of glass spread across the table.

Strangely, although we couldn’t know it then, Henrietta’s predictions were correct. A & D married but grew to be very unhappy with each other. They both had countless love affairs and eventually seperated.

And then there was you. You married me, but it didn’t last. We discovered each other’s many imperfections in our time together. I don’t know what ultimately happened to your Ouija board. Put in a cupboard that night and thrown out at some time with the rubbish, perhaps. It went, and with it went our prophetic spirit Henrietta.

Or perhaps you still have it tucked away somewhere? If you want to get it out, dust it off, try asking Henrietta for the Lottery numbers?


According to Ovid, in the beginning was Chaos. And Chaos was this shapeless uncoordinated mass – nothing but a weight of lifeless matter, whose ill-assorted elements were indiscriminately heaped together. There was no sun, no moon. Nothing had lasting shape.

A condition you come to identify with after experiencing the unkind kiss of a birch rod. Each stroke fragments identity. After ten strokes your head is in Chaos. You occupy a space before the beginning. You cease to have lasting shape. You are no longer “YOU”.

She says to me, ‘Sex without pain is like food without taste,’ and crosses the room to the couch. Imagine yourself, if you can, handcuffed and firmly secured to that couch. Feel the coarse material on your bare flesh, and the two cushions under your hips raising your buttocks.

The fearful rod (more a bundle of tied twigs) touches your skin, brushes it gently, almost lovingly. She raises it slightly, taps once with the tips, aiming, then raises it shoulder height and strikes. You bite down on the ballgag in your mouth. Clamp in the muffled cry of pain. And even before you can draw in a fresh breath, she strikes again.

‘It marks well,’ the other one says, quietly. She stands, observer to your ordeal, on the opposite side of the couch. Her face is glowing, eager for her “turn” with the rod – which descends in a vicious arc.

The pain is indescribable. Some of the “twigs” splinter with the force of the blows. You are aware in the vaguest of ways of sweat running from your armpits down your sides. You note how bloodless, how white your knuckles have become. Your backside feels on fire. Perspiration beads your forehead, runs in your eyes, blinding.

‘You’ve still got four strokes to go from me,’ she says. ‘That’ll conclude my dozen. Then C will administer her dozen.’

‘With great pleasure,’ the other replies.

The birch rod when it lands seems to spread across your whole backside, the pain so intense you tug against your restraints, your hips twisting. At first you drift in a sea of fire, of pain unimaginable. The swish of the twigs raises blood blisters on tender skin. Tears fill your eyes, but then you are outside of yourself. You are in Chaos.

So much so that you hardly notice when she steps back and the other one takes over.

Your eyes take in this woman, the nick of her sex in a black unruly bush, the swaying breasts. It has no meaning for you. You are apart. You are mere fragments of experience, of pain, lost and unformed. You are unaware of her hard smooth bum and thighs. Or of her yelps of glee each time she strikes your ruined flesh with the birch.

And yet, quite involuntarily, you still try to scream around the gag. A part of you not in Chaos, perhaps, still feels those maliciously cutting strokes. Saliva dribbles over your chin. Time has dissolved into this indistinguishable nothingness. Hot wars with cold, moist with dry, soft with hard. The chaotic mass of your thoughts expand beyond any know reality.

‘He’s almost fainting,’ she says. ‘ Can’t have that. I’ll get smelling salts. He must experience every second of his birching…’

When its over, they caress you. They stroke with gentle finger tips, and lightly kiss your face. Gradually you feel yourself returning to the here and now. You backside is a furnace. She gently applies an anesthetic gel. ‘This will help,’ she says. The other one cuddles close, breasts pressing against you. Her eyes are still excited by what she’s done to you, the power she held over you. ‘Does it hurt?’ she asks. ‘It looks really painful.’

‘Okay,’ you finally manage. ‘I’m okay.’

solitary stars…

September 30, 2015


Witches, like saints, are solitary stars that shine with a light of their own; they depend on nothing and no one, which is why they have no fear and plunge blindly into the abyss with the assurance that instead of crashing to earth, they will fly back out. They can change into birds and see the world from above, or worms to see it from within, they can inhabit other dimensions and travel to other galaxies, they are navigators on an infinite ocean of consciousness and cognition.

Isabel Allende

In the orchard

September 30, 2015


I am fruit eating fruit in the orchard forever returning
Laden with tribute sprung heavy in ripeness
Hung for the moment of ultimate weight
In tense equilibrium
Glowing, inviting willingness clean to meet skins with pure form
Nourish flesh with the flesh of fulfilment
Biting burst into succulence wounded in glee
Ragged mingling juice into juice
In the pleasure of loss
Content with intention of death to be
Cropped to the black earth core

I am fruit eating fruit in the orchard forever returning
where no-one can go with a knife.

Mary Hastilow

(Mary Hastilow’s poem Anselm Kiefer was shortlisted in this year’s Wenlock Poetry Festival International Poetry Competition. Besides writing poetry, she is also a musician)

An experience of witchcraft…

September 30, 2015


The cunning folk and witches who were interrogated in early modern courts of law were not only providing us with a catalogue of contemporary beliefs about familiars, they were also describing their experiences of meeting them. Because historians of British witchcraft and magic have traditionally dismissed encounter-narratives as largely, if not exclusively, elite fictions, they have seldom given serious consideration to the fact that these narratives may have been describing genuine experiences, which occurred in historical time and space By

Emma Wilby
Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits – Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in early modern British Witchcraft and Magic


September 30, 2015

Jen Hadfield’s ‘Nigh-No-Place’, followed by ‘In the same way’, ‘Daed-traa’, and then ‘Paternoster’, the Lords Prayer uttered by a draught-horse. The film shows excerpts from her Wordsworth Trust reading St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere, Cumbria.

The Face Of The Body

September 30, 2015


The artist’s model sees everything but she never speaks.
The actor calls the chest and belly the face of their body.
She puts on her clothes to be unrecognisable. None of
them remember her face. The actor opens the face of his
/her body and engages with the audience. Maybe winks.
She must learn to not be naked. And to speak. Speak.

Jennifer Compton


September 30, 2015


For the Dead

September 30, 2015

rain-soaked gutter

Time is no healer. I think of you,
your enjoyment at early evening light.
Views to the mountain, or into the garden
cultivated like a picture, you directing.
A palate of sound silently accompanying.
Padded envelopes after visits by rail.
Difficult walks to country pubs, curry runs
in northern towns. No resting place. I’d like
somewhere to visit, place flowers. Perhaps
blossom landing is memorial enough. In mind
at the oddest of times: a timetable scattered
in a rain-soaked gutter, a view of fully laden
fields or feeling like an afterthought.

Andrew Taylor

into the darkness…

September 30, 2015


When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly

Patrick Overton
The Leaning Tree