Dickens, often publishing a novel in monthly parts, found it necessary to devote some hundreds of words, and if necessary repeat those words a month later, to a single character.

In 1920 Sherwood Anderson remarked simply that ‘she was a tall silent woman with a long nose and troubled grey eyes’; in 1930 Mr. Ernest Hemingway in a moment, for him, of unusual expansion, said, ‘He wore a derby hat and a black overcoat buttoned Across his chest. His face was small and white and he had tight lips. He wore a silk muffler and gloves.’ In I940 Mr.V. S. Pritchett writes, ‘He had a cape on, soaked with, rain, and the rain was in beads in his hair. It was fair hair. It stood up on end.’

Anderson took up fourteen words, Mr. Hemingway thirty-one, Mr. Pritchett twenty-six. Between Dickens and Mr. Pritchett, then, something has happened. Is it only the evolution of the short story ? May it not also be, perhaps, the parallel evolution of the reader ? Education, travel, wider social contact, the increased uniformity of life, dress, and manners have made us all familiar with things that were once remote enough to need to be described. To-day all of us have seen Sherwood Anderson’s woman, the tragic, anonymous representative of a whole inarticulate class ; we have seen Mr. Hemingway’s tough with the black overcoat and bowler hat ; we know Mr. Pritchett’s type with its fair hair that stands up on end. The widening of social contact, among other things, has relived these three writers, and their generation, of an oppressive obligation. It is no longer necessary to describe ; it is enough to suggest. The full-length portrait, in full dress, with scenic back-ground, has become superfluous ; now it is enough that we should know a woman by the shape of her hands.

H E Bates
The Modern Short Story

a crow

Crows and ravens are the creatures of the otherworld, and are portents of omens, magic, witchcraft, death, regeneration, and prophecy. In truth, anything black was considered a creature of the devil. Black dogs, for example: the howling of a dog was the announcement of death, and dogs have had a long, deep association with death and the otherworld. Even as recently as 1922 in Somerset, the black cat was considered to be a creature of the devil, but to own one was regarded as having a lucky talisman – showing the duality of the folklore. Black horses can symbolize death, as do black birds of most types, such as magpies. A pair of crows was called a “corbie (Scottish) coupling,” from the Latin word for crow (Corvus). The powerful omen of the crow has marked inaugurations; one cawing on the roof of a church in St. Andrews, Scotland, during the 16th century inauguration of Patrick Adamson as archbishop was said to have been saying “Corrupt! Corrupt!”. The crow is still linked to agriculture, as we have scarecrows, and the folk art of the crow always with the harvest; even in modern France there is an agricultural festival dedicated to this bird. Anyone who has lived with crows knows them as more than mere birds; some call them “feathered humans” because of their ability to speak and bond with humans.

Annie Forsyth
Ravens and Crows
The Beltane Papers winter 2009/2010

a northern god

In 1936, the psychologist C G Jung published an essay entitled “Wotan”, in which he argued that the remarkable rise of National Socialism in Germany was due not to economic, political or social causes, but to the fact that the German psyche had been overwhelmed by the sudden awakening of the archetype of the ancient Norse god, Wotan…had slumbered for 1,000 years, put to rest by the rise of Christianity. Now, however, the northern god of frenzy and magic had returned, and would, Jung predicted, more than likely lead the German people into some cataclysmic event.

Gary Lachman
Pagan Resurrection

goddesses were by me

March 11, 2018

wicca Priestess

As a child, I grew up surrounded, in my mind, by goddesses. I must have been about nine years old, when I first encountered them in the pages of The Jewish Encyclopaedia. This set of numerous volumes was one of the few reading resources open to me in a strict Orthodox household; the others I remember included biographies of mothers of ‘great Jewish thinkers’ (such thinkers of course were all men). But it was the notion of the existence of goddesses that inspired me, a lonely and ‘difficult ‘ motherless girl who found the God encountered in the pages of the bible and in the synagogue services both frightening and remote. Here in these books, under headings such as Egyptology, Idolatry, etc, I found Isis, Maat, Asherah, Ashtoreth; and, a few years later at school, there were their Greek and Roman sisters, Astarte, Aphrodite, Artemis.

For all my childhood years until I left school and home at the age of sixteen, these goddesses were by me; I was frightened of them, but they were close not distant, and their nearness was a female nearness, and my terrors were of their power, but mediated by their gender. They were like me, of me, but greater by far.

Asphodel P Long
A Brief Autobiography

Older feminine values

March 11, 2018

Tamara De Lempicka - Le Rythme, 1924

Myth is concerned with truth, but not in any historical sense but rather the inner truths about life; as Sallustius, the last great pagan theologian in the 4th century says: ‘These things never happened, but always are.’ * In the secular age in which we live, we lack that deeply held reverence for life or sense of the sacred, and so we see earth – plants, soils, waters, animals and even other people – as if without soul or spirit: as things to be exploited for our own benefit with results which, because all things are related, are beginning to catch up with us and horrify us. Three thousand years of the patriarchy with its Abrahamic concept of man’s separation from nature is mainly responsible for this, and this is why the revival of paganism lays such stress on the Goddess presence in deity. Older feminine values are pressing to come into their own again. The restoration of the dignity of woman in religion is long overdue and absolutely crucial…

* Sallustius, On the Gods and the World

Jo O’Cleirigh
Nemeton and the sacred play of the year
Wood & Water, Spring 1980

The 20th-century novel

March 6, 2018

a lens in your eye

As more than one critic has noted, today’s novelists tend not to write exposition as fully as novelists of the 19th century. Where the first chapter of Stendahl’s “Red and the Black” (1830) is given over to the leisurely description of a provincial French town, its topographic features, the basis of its economy, the person of its mayor, the mayor’s mansion, the mansion’s terraced gardens and so on, Faulkner’s “Sanctuary” (1931) begins this way: “From beyond the screen of bushes which surrounded the spring, Popeye watched the man drinking.”

The 20th-century novel minimizes discourse that dwells on settings, characters’ CVs and the like. The writer finds it preferable to incorporate all necessary information in the action, to carry it along in the current of the narrative, as is done in movies.

Of course there are 19th-century works, Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer,” for example (” ‘Tom?’ No answer.”), that jump right into things, and perhaps American writers always have been disposed to move along at a snappier pace than their European counterparts. But the minimal use of exposition does suppose a kind of filmic compact between writer and reader, that everything will become clear eventually.

Beyond that, the rise of film art is coincident with the tendency of novelists to conceive of compositions less symphonic and more solo voiced, intimate personalist work expressive of the operating consciousness. A case could be made that the novel’s steady retreat from realism is as much a result of film’s expansive record of the way the world looks as it is of the increasing sophistications of literature itself.

E L Doctorow
Quick cuts: the novel follows film into a world of fewer words

All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable…. Wherefore for the sake of fulfilling their lusts they consort even with devils . . . it is no matter for wonder that there are more women than men found infected with the heresy of witchcraft.

Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger
Malleus Maleficarum

As a young teenager I developed an interest in the supernatural and the occult, if only in a fictional form. I was an avid reader of the ‘black magic’ thrillers of Dennis Wheatley, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Algernon Blackwood (whom I later discovered had been a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), the adventure stories of C.S. Lewis, H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. the ‘Fu Manchu’ novels of Sax Rohmer (another occultist with links to the GD). Arthur Machen (ditto), Robert E. Howard’s, sword & sorcery’ stories, and the horror tales of H.P. Lovecraft.

After a near death experience during an emergency operation when I was fourteen I became more seriously interested in spiritual and esoteric matters and began studying books on Tibetan Buddhism. Some of my first reading in this respect was, in hindsight, quite laughable (and fictional) books by ‘Lobsang Rampa’, or ‘Rampant Lobster’ as I nicknamed him. It later turned out he was a plumber and decorator called Cyril Hoskins who had either fallen off a ladder one day or out of a tree while photographing an owl! When he regained consciousness he discovered that he was now possessed by the spirit of a Tibetan lama.

In my state of juvenile ignorance at the time I thought it all sounded fairly reasonable and it was exciting stuff. I really wanted to believe there were secret caves in Tibet inhabited by 200-year-old lamas and full of Atlantean flying machines and the Akashic Records. I had seen and loved the classic film Lost Horizon and thought Shangri-la or Shambala actually existed and Mr Hoskins had found it. Despite their often ludicrous content and appalling standard of writing, and the fact he claimed one of them had been dictated to him by his talking cat, Mr Rampa’s books became global bestsellers, This was probably because they were easily available in cheap paperback editions and gullible teenagers like me could afford to buy them out of their pocket money. Also, as I was to discover later when I gained some degree of discrimination and judgement, people will believe absolutely anything…

…My first serious non-fiction reading on witchcraft and magic was as diverse as John Symond’s never bettered biography of Aleister Crowley The Great Beast, Madame Helena Blavatsky’s esoteric and obtuse two volumes of The Secret Doctrine and her Isis Unveiled, the whole thirteen volumes of the first edition of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, (which several years later I sold for a pittance to pay an electricity bill), Dr Margaret Murray’s speculative The Witch Cult in Western Europe, Montague Summer’s sensationalist Witchcraft and Black Magic, Aleister Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice, Robert Grave’s seminal and inspiring poetic classic The White Goddess, and first editions of Dion fortune’s fabulous occult novels, The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic. The last two books had a profound effect on me and it was some years before their full significance became clear. All in all it was a heady brew for a working-class lad whose only education had been at a secondary modern school. However it provided an excellent grounding for anyone taking their first tentative steps on the occult path.

Michael Howard
A Seeker’s Journey

A deeply erotic god (Dionysus), he appears both in a masculine and an effeminate form. He is often depicted as a mature, bearded man and is associated with the phallus. Yet, he also frequently appears as a beardless youth with rather feminine features. Roman-era authors, such as Seneca, Nonnus and Pseudo-Apollodorus, narrate that Bacchus grew up disguised as a girl to escape the wrath of Hera. The Suda Lexicon ascribes to him the titles Androgynous, Unmanly (Anandros in Greek), and Hermaphrodite.

Yet, Dionysus was not the only deity that had features of both sexes. The motif of androgyny, or gynandry as I prefer to call it to emphasize the feminine, appears again and again in Hellenic mythology, as well as in different traditions around the world. Its origins are lost in the mists of time. The Neolithic inhabitants of Greece, for example, created a host of female figurines whose necks and heads take a phallic form.

Sometimes the combination of genders becomes blatantly obvious. The Vinča culture, developed in Southeastern Europe along the Danube River from the 6th to the 3rd millennium BCE, created figurines that have male genitals and female breasts, also possessing beaks and protruding buttocks. Furthermore, two female statuettes with male members have been found in the Neolithic settlement of Makri in Thrace, in Northern Greece. We often come across similar figures on the island of Cyprus too.

Harita Meenee
Dionysus, the Bearded Goddess, and the Pride Festival
Blog article 26th July 2014

almost impossible to do

March 1, 2018

The historical novel is, for me, condemned. ‘You may multiply the little facts that can be got from pictures and documents, relics and prints, as much as you like – the real thing is almost impossible to do, and in its essence the whole effect is as nought: I mean the invention, the representation of the old consciousness, the soul, the sense, the horizon, the vision of individuals in whose minds half the things that make ours, that make the modern world, were nonexistent.

Henry James
Letter to Sarah Orne Jewett on 5th October 1901