For those of us residing in the depths of suburbia with its manicured lawns, high fences and vast stretches of asphalt and concrete, it can feel hard to connect to nature. For some, all nearby parks are sporting fields and forests are out of reach. Despite urbanization placing a low priority on creating a harmonious environment to be shared among all species, some have succeeded in adapting to this new industrialized world. Birds are one of these success stories; filling the air with their song alongside the ever-present thrum of busy roadways.
Learning about the native species with which we share a home can be an empowering and rewarding experience. Standing outside on a pleasant sunny day and not being able to distinguish and name many of the subconsciously familiar sounds we hear is a symptom of the problem of the modern, urban disconnection from the natural world.
Australia has over 800 species of bird, almost half of which are found nowhere else in the world.
It can be tempting to view the natural world as distant and outside the boundaries of the mundane; the prevalence of birds are a reminder that we are part of a natural community of living beings. This season, why not join us in getting to know some of our feathered neighbours.
The Grey Butcher Bird
The grey butcher bird is a passerine bird (a perching bird with three forward facing toes, and one back) with a large head, black eyes, long hooked beak and plump body. Its monochromatic plumage features a black head with a white collar, dark wings and pale undercarriage. A close relative of the magpie and currawong, nesting butcher birds are known to swoop when they feel threatened.
A handsome, serious bird with a piercing gaze, butcher birds have adapted well to urbanization. An aggressive, territorial predator, the butcher bird is named for its habit of impaling and butchering its prey on thorns, crevices or tree forks. Prey may be then kept in such a larder for later consumption or used to attract mates.
The butcher bird fills a similar ecological niche to the Northern hemisphere shrike; although shrikes are sometimes referred to as butcher birds, the species are unrelated; one of Australia’s many examples of convergent evolution.
Often mistaken for the cuckoo shrike, butcher birds are smaller, rounder birds with an average length of 27cm. They have a magnificent, varied, fluting song, using their voices to demarcate territorial lines; putting their entire body to work in creating incredible volume.
Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike
Black Faced Cuckoo Shrikes are shy, unassuming passerine birds who subsist mostly
on insects and occasional fruits and seeds, typically feeding on the wing. Continuing
the tradition of European colonists struggling to comprehend Australian native wildlife, Black Faced Cuckoo Shrikes belong to the Coracina family; they are neither cuckoos nor shrikes. Preferring any woodland habitat except rainforests, Black Faced Cuckoo Shrikes are found Australia wide and are common even in the suburbs.
Elegant in grey with a black eye mask that becomes larger with maturity, they are slightly smaller than magpies, averaging at 34cm in length. Often mistaken for the smaller Grey Butcher Bird, the Black Faced Cuckoo shrike has a longer, sleek body and flighty temperament. They can be identified at a distance by their distinctive habit of shuffling their wings after landing.
If you’ve been out walking late at night and heard a soft, two-part call similar to that
of a dove, it’s likely to be originating from Australia’s smallest owl, the Southern
Boobook, also known as the Mopoke.
Named for the sound it makes, this charming, wide-eyed, true owl feeds on insects and small vertebrates, including mice, microbats and other small birds. An abundant and adaptable species even in the depths of suburbia, the Southern Boobook is 25-35cm in length with brown plumage with white flecks, with grey, green or yellow eyes.
While throughout history the owl has often been portrayed as a bearer of ill omens, the Southern Boobook is considered beneficial to human habitation by controlling rodent populations. The Southern Boobook can be found everywhere in Australia except for the most arid desert regions. The Southern Boobook can even be found in open farmland, requiring only a few high trees to provide sufficient roosting spots and perches for hunting. – Dorian
This article first appeared in volume 3, issue 5 of our old newsletter, Spokes of the Wheel.
So many of us use incense in our homes and in ritual. There is something wonderful about watching a piece of resin bubbling away on a piece of charcoal and the room slowly filling with fragrant smoke.
The majority of our resins, gums and woods that we use in our incense blends are sourced from all over world. If you work with the local land or simply want to save some money you with want to try your hand at Wildcrafting.
Wildcrafting is the practice of getting out into your local forest, bush land, parks and gardens or even your own backyard and foraging for plants and herbs that have a practical use. With the goal of incense in mind you will be after plant resins.
Resins are produced by trees to help cover their wounds. Some of these resins release fragrant smoke when heated.
Tips for collecting Resin:
We never want to harm a tree with our collecting so look for mature trees where the resin has become firm if it is still sticky and wet you want to avoid collecting the resin.
Resin come in various colours, from white to amber to dark reds and browns. Look carefully over the tree. Older resin is often very difficult to spot.
A small knife (we use a butter knife) is a really simple tool for loosening the resin off the trunk.
There are so many trees that produce fragrant resins in Australia – you really are spoiled for choice! European trees in Australia are a good starting place: Pine and Cypress are especially fragrant. You could also spend years collecting resins from the large range of abundant Eucalypts.
Wildcrafing incense is fun and free, and it’s a great activity you can do with a few friends. Get out there and start collecting!
This article originally appeared in our old newsletter, Spokes of the Wheel (volume 3 issue 2, Mabon 2016). Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Book Review: The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
Reviewed by Sarah Morgan
“You cannot walk here and feel you are alone. Those who are born here are branded by Pendle. They share a common mark. There is still a tradition, or a superstition, that a girl-child born in Pendle Forest should be twice baptised; once in church and once in a black pool at the foot of the hill. The hill will know her then. She will be its trophy and its sacrifice. She must make her peace with her birthright, whatever that means.”
So begins Jeanette Winterson’s novella about the Lancashire Witch Trials of 1612.
Winterson, whose interest in the occult and Elizabethan magic has been a recurring theme throughout her career, wrote this story for the 400th anniversary of the trials, and blends well-researched history with local legend and her trademark poetical magic realism to weave a tale that includes not only the Pendle Witches and their accusers, but also John Dee, Edward Kelley and William Shakespeare. She explores the religious and sexual politics of the age, as well as the personal disputes that background the trials, and weaves those seamlessly with the high magic and folk magic of Elizabethan England; the pursuit of immortality and the perfected soul through the scientific magic of Alchemy, and the use of wortlore and cunning-magic to solve practical rural problems, through healing or harming. Winterson has done her research well, and captures the essence of these, finding a place where they meet without contradiction; the witch-trials become the Daylight Gate of the title – a liminal space between worlds, linking not only High and Low magic, but also a population caught between two Christianities, between the twin blasphemies of “witchery and popery”, between piety and superstition, love and fear, salvation and redemption, between fear of the Devil and old folk traditions, the restrictions of wealth and of poverty.
At this crossroads, history is written.
And she tells a compelling story in the process; Winterson brings 17thC Lancashire to life in all five senses, delighting in language without holding up the tale, and sacrificing neither magic nor realism in the telling. This is a brutally-real world in which magic exists. Teeth rain from the sky, a severed head talks. A background in the history of the Pendle Witches isn’t required, but those who have one can appreciate the historical accuracy and poetic license – and readers with an interest in Alchemy or pre-Gardnerian English witchcraft will find a lot to recognise as well. At 194 pages it’s a short read and a pleasurable one, and a fine introduction to Winterson’s work for a Pagan audience.
This piece first appeared in Volume 3, Issue 5 (Imbolc 2016) of our old newsletter, Spokes of the Wheel.
What has this book got to do with Paganism? Nothing, really, and everything.
Because our Real Lives inform our relationship with our divinities, and vice versa, and because understanding ourselves is a key part of growth, both spiritual and temporal. Because everyday, practical wisdom is the heart of witchcraft. And because our understanding of gender is at the heart of every aspect of our culture; for those of us who include both goddesses and gods in our personal or traditional pantheons, engaging with ideas of gender which have been inherited from earlier mythologies, is part of our understanding of our gods, our culture, and ourselves.
I’ve been a pagan, mixing with pagan folk for about 30 years, and our culture can be extraordinarily problematic sometimes; binary gender ideas, and a tendency to romanticise old-to-ancient cultural gender tropes, has led to some of the less pleasant and more challenging moments for me in the pagan scene, and so I do unreservedly recommend books on culture and gender in the ‘secular’ world to all pagans, irrespective of how you feel about feminism.
If you’re already on board with this, then read this book (if you haven’t already). It’s engaging, clear, passionate, deeply relatable, well-informed, and sometimes very funny. You may, like I did, see yourself in Ford’s journey, and find yourself understood, encouraged, and validated by her words.
If you don’t think this book is for you because you don’t approve of feminism, or just don’t care, or think it’s going to be a politically-correct buzzkill, then you should probably read this book. It’s not going to be as bad as you think, because Ford, despite her reputation in the dingier corners of the internet (you know, the corners full of fedoras and neckbeards and people who thought Gamergate was actually about ethics in game journalism), doesn’t hate men, has a lot of compassion, and makes a lot of sense. All the men I know who have actually read this book really liked it. I’ll take this opportunity to also unreservedly recommend Cordelia Fine’s excellent “Delusions of Gender”, which is an absolutely kickarse primer in how gender is socially constructed, and also happens to be a marvellously engaging read.
The book is a collection of essays, interviews and articles from non-theistic pagans exploring the different aspects of being a godless pagan. The book is diverse, thought provoking and often quiet inspiring. The writers explore topics as diverse as scientific paganism, emotional pantheism, faith in the earth, non-liiteral deities, non-theistic pagans in history and most importantly, the godless pagan’s place in the broader pagan community.
It’s Winter. What that means in a practical sense is that I make a lot of tea and soup, and sit by the heater at night reading cosy books about English Paganism to kid myself that Winter is actually a necessary part of the wheel of the year, and not personally out to get me and make my life a misery. As far as coping mechanisms go, it’s a relatively harmless one and I make pretty good soup. And I end up with a lot of my bookshelf real estate occupied by Capall Bann publications like this one. Now you know my weakness; if I ever go on a mad rampage, you can throw a random Capall Bann title down in front of me and I shall be pacified.
So yeah, this book. It’s quirky, and charming, and surprisingly salty, despite its “Oprah’s Book Club” style cover (no one would mistake this for, say, a Three Hands Press or Troy publication). Like, really quite salty, in a “oh no she didn’t” sort of fashion. Here are a few examples, from the “Types of Pagans” chapter:
“For every ounce of hereditary witch, you can have several pounds of pretend ones. The pretend ones are much better at it than the real ones who do not tend to be half so impressive.”
“[The Hedge Witch] is one of those ancient phenomena that has cropped up recently…”
“It used to be really hard to be a shaman. You needed to talk with spirits and to have travelled in their realms, rather too closely for most people’s comfort. It is a lot easier now… The shaman’s staff tends to be covered in feathers, beads, rabbit bones and if they are really into it a goat skull that a mate of theirs found in an antique shop in Clapham. Unfortunately most shamans are not shamans. I am reliably informed that real shamans work with spirits and aim to help people in the community.”
“The Faery Tradition: Members of this group are characterised by the inability to spell the word “fairy”.”
“Their gods are the Norse gods, who they claim are not really chauvinistic.”
“Druids are different from Wiccans. I do not know how, because I have never managed to get one to make sense yet. It takes years to become a Druid and I guess I just cannot find one who is old enough to ask. One told me that it involved him growing his hair and wearing a leather thong round his neck while another said he had not finished the course yet.”
And so on, you get the idea. It’s illustrated throughout with drawings by the author; enjoy the one below. I warmed to her wry sense of humour, even when her observant wit was turned on my sort. Further along, Day turns her pen towards matters of practical witchcraft and spirituality, and, with a conversational, down to earth, and humorous wisdom, she covers these very effectively. This is staying on the bookshelf (not heading down for a trade at my local second-hand joint), and while it’s not a comprehensive “how-to”, like, say Buckland’s, it’s got the spirit of how-to nailed down fairly nicely. And it goes jolly well with soup and tea.
Well researched with a healthy reference section and glossary, this is a useful and accessible handbook for ecclectic pagans with a beginner’s interest in astronomy to further their practice.
Although someone Northern-hemisphere centric, it’s packed with useful information, diagrams and interesting little tidbits of history and lore. Lighthearted and easy reading, a great start for anyone looking for an introduction to the utility of learning the night sky. – Dorian
This book while slightly older (published in 1968) is still quite useful. It delves into the historical evidence in Europe to help gain insights into the Druids. His observations on the human psyche and the romanticised notions about Druids that have sprung up with little basis in empirical evidence are interesting and somewhat illuminating. He consults literary sources such as the writings of Julius Caesar to help bring the observations of outsiders to bear and understand how this aligns with archaeological finds. Throughout the book, his main goal is factual information, not idealised notions. Although there have been new digs found in the years since this book was written and new theories have emerged this is still a valuable source of information, well researched and presented. The writing style is clear, concise and accessible. Well worth a look. – Mark
In this sequel to Captive Prince, which I reviewed last month, former prince Damen travels with prince Laurent to the borders of his former homeland. While I found the first book a little slow-moving, I really enjoyed the complexities of the political intrigue and alliances in this second book. Damen is drawn closer and closer to dangerous, calculating Laurent but the secrets of both men muddy the waters and complicate things almost to breaking point. Both characters become far less two-dimensional as we learn more about their pasts. This book is probably not for everyone but it’s a healthy dose of well-written, homegrown queer fantasy. Bonus points if you risk the audiobook version, read by a particularly pervy-sounding American.
July was chilly, but with plenty of cozy catch-ups with good Pagan folk made it much warmer.
CBD Pub Moot
In July, Pagans from all walks of life and various paths braved the cold to gather at The Last Jar Irish Pub. In warm and welcoming surrounds with hot food and cold drinks we chatted away. After an introduction circle we discussed what spiritual or religious background, if any, had people come from before they began practicing Paganism. A variety of heartfelt and sometimes humorous stories ensued, and it was striking both how diverse and yet how similar many of our experiences had been. A sense of “coming home”, of discovering a new yet familiar home in Paganism turned out to be a common theme.
At the July 2017 CBD Pub Moot. Photo by Ryan.
At the July 2017 CBD Pub Moot. Photo by Ryan.
Another pleasant but windy afternoon at the Coffee Club with some new faces and old friends. Serenaded by that irrepressible spirit of Frankston, the seagull.
Central Vic Meetup
In the warm inviting indoors of a cafe in Creswick, the Central Vic Heathens and Pagans gathered for a relaxed discussion, drinks, and food. Two new local faces joined us this meeting, after scoping out the cafe to figure out who the pagans were (we blended too well). It was a nice afternoon of company away from the blustery winter weather outside discussing nature, spirits, books and Morris Dancing.