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Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fibre Optic Fairytale for Our Times., 6 May 2014
Highly recommend this philosophically provocative semi sci-fi tale by the remarkable Japanese author Haruki Murakami,
'Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World'.

His talent is for weaving the mystical and mundane into a quantum whole, like a fibre optic fairytale describing the resonance of aeolian winds through an imaginary accordian in a parallel world as substantial as aerogel, that exists within but beyond this one.
Who are the chthonic INKlings, why do the herds of Unicorns die each winter and how are their illuminated dreams set free by the dreamreader?

If you are even a little bit attached to your own shadow, have ever wondered just how far science may push us, or like the Flaming Lips, I think you will like this book.


Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation
Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation
by Silvia Federici
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Capitalism – Born in Flames / Women - Burned in Chains ~, 16 Mar 2014
Caliban and the Witch challenges the widely-held belief that capitalism was at one time a progressive or necessary development. Reinstalling the excluded history of the Witch Hunt that consumed Europe with terror for more than 200 years, Federici demonstrates that capitalism has always relied on spectacular violence, particularly against women, people of color, workers, and those cultivating a more egalitarian future, to create its landless working class and to destroy communities and loyalties that existed outside of itself.

''A return of the most violent aspects of primitive accumulation has accompanied every phase of capitalist globalisation including the present one, demonstrating that the continuous expulsion of farmers from land, war and plunder on a world scale, and the degradation of women are necessary condition for the existence of capitalism in all times.''.

''Capitalism was the response of the feudal lords, the patrician merchants, the bishops and popes, to a centuries long social conflict...Capitalism was the counter-revolution that destroyed the possibilities that had emerged from the anti-feudal struggle -''

''The “shock therapy” of the Witch Hunt was used to terrorize rebels and visionaries, impose new discipline on the body, on female sexuality in particular, and usher in a new social system based on a landless working class and the devaluation of women’s labor.''

* * * * * * * *

The main focus of Caliban is the Witch Hunt of the 15th–17th centuries in Europe, through which “hundreds of thousands of women were tried, tortured, burned alive or hanged, accused of having sold body and soul to the devil.”

Federici argues that this repression was primarily “a war against women,” which constructed a new sexual hierarchy based on the division between male wage labor and female unpaid reproductive labor such as raising children, caring for the elderly and sick, nurturing their husbands or partners, and maintaining the home. Those accused of witchcraft were often women who lived outside this binary – as rebels, healers, midwives, sexual/gender non-conformists, or those providing forbidden knowledge of contraception or abortion.

Federici posits this systematic violence against women as one mode in the formation of capitalism when she instructs that “the witch-hunt occurred simultaneously with the colonization and extermination of the populations of the New World, the English enclosures, and the beginning of the slave trade.” Contrary to “laissez-faire” orthodoxy which holds that capitalism functions best without state intervention, Federici expands upon Marx’s proposition that it was precisely the state violence of this “primitive accumulation” that laid the foundation for capitalist economics.

Principally, capitalism could not have been formed without the creation of a landless working class. People do not readily submit themselves to wage labor unless they no longer have an autonomous ability to provide for themselves or their communities. In Marx’s oft-quoted section from Capital, “these new freedmen became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production… And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire...The witch burning was medieval “Shock and Awe.” ''

But unlike Marx, who saw the separation of humans from their traditional land-bases as a necessary evil for the expansion of “the productive forces,” Federici emphasizes the loss of the freedom we once enjoyed through connection to the land. She points out that before the Enclosures, even the lowliest of serfs had their own plot of Earth with which they could use for just about any purpose. Federici writes, “With the use of land also came the use of the ‘commons’ – meadows, forests, lakes, wild pastures – that provided crucial resources for the peasant economy (wood for fuel, timber for building, fishponds, grazing grounds for animals) and fostered community cohesion and cooperation.” [alex knight]

* * * * * * * *

''This is also what is happening today, as a new global expansion of the labour market is attempting to set back the clock with respect to the anti-colonial struggle, and the struggles of other rebl subjects - students, feminists, blue collar workers (I add farmers, unemployed, disabled, elderly, single parents, children ) ...

It is not surpising then, if large scale violence and enslavement have been on the agenda, as they were in the period of 'transition' , with the difference that today the conquistadors are the officers of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who are still preaching the worth of a penny to the same populations which the dominant world powers have for centuries robbed and pauperized.''

Serious reading for a fuller perspective of our life and times.
Recommended.


The Fifth Sacred Thing
The Fifth Sacred Thing
by Starhawk
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Ecotopian Community Against All Odds., 21 Feb 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Fifth Sacred Thing (Paperback)
The Fifth Sacred Thing, Starhawk's first novel - perhaps more pertinent now than ever before.
A powerful tale of a community without poverty, hunger, or hatred, rich in diversity of culture, race, religion and sexual orientation, honouring the Four Sacred Things that sustain life – Earth, Air, Fire and Water – above all. In this context nurturing the Fifth sacred thing which is Spirit, the Earths, theirs, yours and ours.

Against this community, the sociopathic Stewards from the militaristic state to the north: a nightmare place where a totalitarian regime polices a corrupt apartheid state. With their psuedo religious oppression and control of water for profit, of medicines to make people obey the party line, intent on ravaging the communities resources (forests they have planted and nurtured, rivers they have cleansed, farmlands they have tended) and enslaving their people.

How can the community, which doesn’t believe in violence, defend themselves? Two cultures clash and the outcome rests on the wisdom and courage of the community and particularly in the strength and vision of the extraordinary Priestess Maya. An inspirational novel about love and war, freedom and slavery, and the future of the living planet. Set in a not too distant future but feeling ever more like modern times, a recommended read for all who have a heart and care to live by its guidance.


The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year, 1400-1700
The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year, 1400-1700
by Ronald Hutton
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Merry England before the Modern Age, where it went and why., 26 Jan 2014
Charting the progress from the communal year and it's festivals both sacred and secular towards a more centralised control and ensuing decline of festival times, holy days, rituals and revels.
The Protestant Reformation and its austere Puritanism is clearly the largest single cause which drew to a close earlier 'Papist' traditions of the Catholic imbued culture that had supported spiritual ritual and secular pagentry for hundreds of years.

To set the context, the English Reformation under Henry VIII had broken the Church of England from the authority of the Pope and Roman Catholic Church. From 1553, under the reign of Henry's Roman Catholic daughter, Mary I, Henry's Reformation legislation was repealed and Mary sought to achieve the reunion with Rome. Following Mary's childless death, her half-sister Elizabeth inherited the throne. As Elizabeth could not be Catholic, that church considered her illegitimate, communion with the Catholic Church was again severed by Elizabeth.Elizabeth's reign saw the emergence of Puritanism, which encompassed those Protestants who felt that the church had been but insuficciently reformed. Puritanism ranged from hostility to the content of the Prayer Book and "popish" ceremony, to a desire for church governance and inded for society at large to be radically reformed.
The Civil War broke out less than fifty years after the death of Elizabeth I of England in 1603.
The English civil war was far from just a conflict between two religious faiths, it had much more to do with divisions within the one Protestant religion. The austere, fundamentalist Puritanism on the one side was opposed to what it saw as the crypto-Catholic decadence of the Anglican church on the other. Divisions also formed along the lines of the common people and the gentry, and between the country and city dwellers.
In this politically charged and religiously swaying environment, alternately pushing an oppresive new religious austerity or inclusively reinstalling the traditional milieu of sacred and secular traditions of British life, the festive, communal culture and its traditions waned and dwindled. Each fresh onslaught of punitive policy and legal measures gradually depleted the social enthusiasm which had bound the culture together in earlier times.

Among the church rituals and communal activities considered innapropriate by the changing authorities, was the ornamentation of churches with garlands at festival times such as holy and ivy at christmas, the lighting of candles below icons, boy bishops and their processions, church ales which collected money for the church rituals, rogation or blessing of fields at spring, appointment of lords of misrule to preside over festivities, morris dancers, musicians and dancing at may poles.
The time afforded such holy days and communal activities had also afforded an ocassion to gather in dissorder and this sometimes developed into protests against government restrictions and taxations.

The earlier potent mixture of rituals and revels, pagentry, music and costumes, wholesome earthy fun and good humour which had been accepted as such by the long interwoven traditions of populace with Catholic church, was uprooted and destroyed by the ardent and extreemly keen Protestants to such an extent that various of the ensuing Crowns sought to ammeliorate on behalf of the people and their traditions but with little success.

The decline continued under the fervant Protestant condemnation of such frivolities and lewdness as dancing, singing and even laughing - quelle horror! Protestant authors and clergy persued their 'souless' and mirtless New World Order replacing a sacral Catholic yearly cycle with secular and anti Catholic new Protestant celebrations such as of Nov 5th (Guy Fawkes night), and Royal birthdays/Accessions etc. The dissolution continued under the rising agrarian capitalism and nascent industrialism.

Highly recommended reading for any who are interested in the cultural connections between the 'old religion' (which actually meant the all embracing 'magical Catholicism' of early medieval England - and amongst these traditions were many pre Christian survivors ) and the Protestant modified puritanical exegesis and transformation of a formerly Merry England into a more dour, serious, self effacing, God fearing nation, under the varying vagaries of the Parlaiment and it's often relentless officers.

It may be hard for us now to imagine the full extent of a medieval and earlier pagentry imbued Britain, alternately revelling and worshiping its way through the sacred year, with churches drawing on hundreds of years of iconography decoration to embellish and add impact to the many sacred days and rituals which were widely observed, town and merchant guilds hosting processions of costumed and robed actors, with giants, dragons and unicorns represented in huge models animated by their wearers, individuals taking part in group as well as singular traditions from the milk maids dances and green men in spring (the chimney sweeps as it happens) to finding (or capturing) a maypole for dancing, to say nothing of seasonal feasts provided by local landowners and gentry for their tenants and neighbours. I offer for comparison the more widely known religious traditions of Tibet as they until recently held communal religious and social activities which comprised thousands at a gathering, with elaborate ritualised dramas and with embroderies as large as hills, with weeks long events of one sort or another. Similar in commitment if not form were many among the earlier traditions of Merry England.


Anker® T310 2.4G Wireless Ultra Slim USB Mini Keyboard for Windows 8 7 XP Vista - Black
Anker® T310 2.4G Wireless Ultra Slim USB Mini Keyboard for Windows 8 7 XP Vista - Black
Offered by AnkerDirect
Price: £29.99

5.0 out of 5 stars small and snappy, 30 Sep 2013
great compact wireless keyboard, had to reset language opts from EN Uk to EN Usa to resolve certain shift key errors such as transposed @ for ' and etc - now working perfectly. Like the solid feeling of buttons in use but miss a light for caps lock and shift.


The New North
The New North
Price: £5.14

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What kind of world in 2050?, 5 Jan 2013
This review is from: The New North (Kindle Edition)
This book takes the form of a thought experiment propelled by the four global forces, of demography, natural resource demand, globalization, and climate change, plus a fifth -- of enduring legal frameworks -- and follows ground rules as stated in the opening chapter: That this study shall not be subject too Sudden Silver Bullets (incremental and unforeseeable advances in technology), World War III - no radical reshuffling of our geopolitics and laws (although in my own view this World War III has long been underway and is less traditional than economic -please see Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine) +/Or Hidden Genies, like a global depression, a killer pandemic, or sudden climate change.

How will the world change within our own life times, a scientifically deduced view of the growing population trends and accompanying demands on limited world resources, of species extinctions and other ecological changes forcing unprecedented social and cultural upheavals, of the possibilities of new powers protecting or even prospecting for resources in other territories by force of arms (such as water Wars or etc).

''Imagine a 2050 world in which global population has grown by nearly half, forming crowded urban clots around the hot lower latitudes of our planet. Mighty new poles of economic power and resource consumption have arisen in China, India and Brazil. People are urban, grayer and richer. Many places are water stressed, uninsurable or battling the sea. Some have abandoned irrigated farming altogether; their cities rely totally on global trade flows of energy and virtual water (ie traded goods containing water such as food etc) to even exist''....

True, we have a diverse basket of new energy resources, but we still rely heavily upon fossil fuels and the development trends and lack of substantial enough alternatives suggest the dependency will continue. Natural gas is especially lucrative and under aggressive development in all corners of the world. In addition billions of southern organisms will press northward, including us. These broad pressures and trends portend great changes to the northern quarter of our planet, making it a place of higher human activity and strategic activity than today.

Nunavut. President Keskitalo's Argument;
''In Tromsų sitting with Aili Keskitalo, president of the Norwegian Sámi Parliament. She was describing the plight of her Sámi people (Lapps), the aboriginal occupants of northern Europe.
'Our language. Our symbols. Our traditional knowledge. They are threatened. In some areas, to a very large extent. We need to have a say in how the natural resources are exploited!'
Unfortunately, a naturally twitchy climate makes the steady, predictable push from anthropogenic greenhouse gases more dangerous, not less. From the geological past we know the Earth's climate has not always been so quiet as it is now. Therefore, through greenhouse loading we are applying a persistent pressure to a system prone to sudden jumps in ways we don't fully understand. Imagine a wildcat quietly sleeping on your porch--it looks peaceful but is by nature an ill-tempered, unpredictable beast that might spring into a flurry of teeth and claws in an instant. Greenhouse gases are your knuckles pressing inexorably into its soft slumbering belly; the global ecosystem is your exposed hand and arm.''...
"The climate change, it makes the oil, the gas, the mineral resources in the North more accessible. So the need to get control over the resource management is even more important, because of the climate change." She sat back in exasperation. "If you have no representation, how can you have an influence on resource management?

If there was ever a moment when my perspective suddenly broadened on the future of the northern countries I was traveling, that was probably it. We talked some more, so I could assemble in my own head what was already so obvious in hers. Everything is linked. Shrinking ice, natural resource demand, and political power were all tugging on each other. My scientist's training had wrongly led me down the path of dissect, isolate, and rank. This works well for a focused problem, but is not always best for gaining a synoptic understanding of the world.''
Thus we join the dots to see the bigger picture and how everything really is linked to everything else, change is inevitable, if we understand a little of what may follow we might better cherish the present and nurture the best of possible future outcomes....

Of further concern is the fact that scientific research has recently revealed that our climatic emergence from the last ice age was neither gradual nor smooth. Instead it underwent rapid flip-flops, seesawing back and forth between glacial and interglacial (warm) temperatures several times before finally settling down into a warmer state. These large temperature swings happened in less than a decade and as quickly as three years. Precipitation doubled in as little as a single year....
The Pentagon's report, which outlines possible social scenarios if what occurred 8,200 years ago were to happen again today (quite scary) describes wars, starvation, disease, refugee flows, a human population crash, civil war in China, and the defensive fortification of the United States and Australia.

''To me, the old debates of Malthus and Marx, of Ehrlich and Simon, miss the point. The question is not how many people there are versus barrels of oil remaining, or acres of arable land, or drops of water churning through the hydrologic cycle. The question is not how much resource consumption the global ecosystem can or cannot absorb. It's moot to wonder whether the world should optimally hold nine billion people or nine million, colonize the sea, or all move to Yakutsk. No doubt we humans will survive anything, even if polar bears and Arctic cod do not. Perhaps we could support nine hundred billion if we choose a world with no large animals, pod apartments, genetically engineered algae to eat, and desalinized toilet water to drink. Or perhaps nine hundred million if we choose a wilder planet, generously restocked with the creatures of our design. To me, the more important question is not of capacity, but of desire: What kind of world do we want?''

Absolutely stunning book which lays the whole world and all its developmental trends before the reader in a totally comprehensive manner lacking the obscurantist occlusion or mere one-upmanship of many scientific authors who dazzle with detail the less specialist reader.
If you care to understand the present and future trends of big Businesses and Governments and the hardlines underpinning their perspectives, here you will find a vast array of evidence based assessment and demographic details delivered in an entirely acessible manner.

Highly Recommended for any present & all near future residents of Earth..

''...The world is alive. The plants, animals, rocks, and water all have spirits. These spirits must be respected and cared for or the land would become hostile or barren. Therefore, protection and balance of one's environment is of utmost importance...'' -
Siberian Elder Wisdom, The Sakhas or Sakha-Yakuts ( Horse People) northeast Siberia.

Informed with knowledge, may All our choices be blest **~


A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol
Price: £0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Back to The Past, Present and Future? A Call for Compassion Restored., 13 Dec 2012
This review is from: A Christmas Carol (Kindle Edition)
Dickens' Christmas Carol, commonly underrated as an antiquated Victorian Christmas tale suitable only for children, is actually a serious wake up call about social inequality, economic deprivation, the political causes and personal cures of these cultural ailments. Whilst the ills Dickens tackled in his time were more obviously evident than they are today, in the modern worlds current economic malaise the same problem are returning with unprecedented vigor. Now by contrast however the growing dispossessed are being more effectively disenfranchised, masked or written off by media redirection of public perception and spin doctoring. In these times of information overload it may be relatively easy to give no second thought to all those worse of than ourselves, but with sweeping economic reforms consuming previously community owned resources (such as hospitals, schools, police forces etc) it may behoove us all to gather what awareness we may and so understand that what befalls some today may befall more tomorrow. To this end I recommend Naomi Klein's remarkable book 'The Shock Doctrine' without delay, perhaps a holiday read for some...

This remarkable and influential tale 'A Christmas Carol' began its life with Dickens's idea of issuing a pamphlet in response to horrific accounts of child labour in mines and factories. From the orphan begging for more in Oliver Twist to the heartless Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens highlighted poverty and squalor. In his journalism and novels he attacked specific targets - Poor Law legislation in Oliver Twist, the brutal Yorkshire schools in Nicholas Nickleby, the law [Pickwick Papers and Bleak House], government bureaucracy, lethargy and nepotism in Little Dorrit, extremist utilitarianism in Hard Times. The Christmas Carol is perhaps the most dramatic and poignant of these tales "A tale to make the reader laugh and cry - to open his hands, and open his heart to charity...'' it influenced a huge cultural shift towards a more compassionate society, for a time, and resurrected a form of seasonal merriment that had been suppressed by the Puritan quelling of Yuletide pageantry in 17th-century England.

In the modern context I recognize similarities of concern in the focus of the Occupy movement which is an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic structure and power relations in society fairer. Local groups often have different foci, but among the movement's prime concerns is the claim that large corporations and the global financial system control the world in a way that disproportionately benefits a minority, undermines democracy and is unstable.

In terms of poor relief and welfare, "At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, " I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.
"Both very busy, sir."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

Dickens' was taking aim at the father of the zero-growth philosophy, Thomas Malthus. Malthus' ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written and his ideas have arguably proved more durable than the compassionate view of Dickens..Malthus taught the world to fear new people, he created a theoretical model which allegedly proved that mass starvation was an inevitable result of population growth. His ideas provided fodder for Darwin, and Darwin's lesser mutations used the model to argue for the value of mass human extinction. Hitler's hard eugenics owed a great debt of gratitude to Thomas Malthus.

The example of impoverished children is very powerful in Dickens Christmas Carol.
'Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost.
They are a boy and girl, "meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish ... where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked". Scrooge asks, "Are they yours?"
"'They are Man's,' the Spirit answered. 'This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both ... but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is doom.'" Scrooge is so troubled by this that he asks, "Have they no refuge or resource?" And the Spirit answers him chillingly with his own words, "Are there no prisons? ... Are there no workhouses?"

By warning Scrooge to beware of Ignorance and Want, forces which can spell doom not only for the marginalized and dispossessed poor but for the whole of society, Dickens was calling for social justice. His call was/is based on the common humanity of all people, and demands that 'those who have' act accordingly towards those who have not.

In today's world, economics is separated from, and opposed to, both ecological processes and basic needs. While the destruction of nature has been repeatedly and questionably justified on grounds of improving human welfare, for the majority of people poverty and dispossession have increased. While being non-sustainable it is also economically unjust. While being promoted as `economic development', it is leading to under-development; while projecting growth, it is causing life-threatening destruction....
Dickens moral if you like is that People can have immeasurable financial wealth and be socially impoverished - without love and companionship, without solidarity and community, with an empty soul in spite of overflowing bank accounts.
Amazing how a story written in 1843 still has such relevance today.

According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Dickens' Christmas Carol. Hutton argues that Dickens reconstructed Christmas as a family-centered festival... in contrast to the earlier community (and church)-based observations which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Most of our actual British Christmas customs the tree, the turkey, the stocking, the cards and Santa Claus have only appeared since 1840.

People don't always remember that Dickens was a great influence in ameliorating cruel Victorian attitudes towards poverty and inspired much social welfare reform. His appeal to the moral, ethical and spiritual in his Christmas Carol and other tales have definitely contributed to the Christmas time holidays and humanitarian values they also carried. In our modern times we again face similar issues of concern, but now however the Christian establishment no-longer seems able to bring much compassion to bear in the face of pressing economic issues. In this view and inspired to revive the tale and its call for compassionate alternatives I look to other values to reinvigorate our social heart and care for our common society, to a resurgence of our communal traditions.

God Bless Us All Every One ~


A Christmas Carol The original manuscript
A Christmas Carol The original manuscript
Price: £0.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to The Past, Present and Future? A Call for Compassion Restored, 13 Dec 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Dickens' Christmas Carol, commonly underrated as an antiquated Victorian Christmas tale suitable only for children, is actually a serious wake up call about social inequality, economic deprivation, the political causes and personal cures of these cultural ailments. Whilst the ills Dickens tackled in his time were more obviously evident than they are today, in the modern worlds current economic malaise the same problem are returning with unprecedented vigor. Now by contrast however the growing dispossessed are being more effectively disenfranchised, masked or written off by media redirection of public perception and spin doctoring. In these times of information overload it may be relatively easy to give no second thought to all those worse of than ourselves, but with sweeping economic reforms consuming previously community owned resources (such as hospitals, schools, police forces etc) it may behoove us all to gather what awareness we may and so understand that what befalls some today may befall more tomorrow. To this end I recommend Naomi Klein's remarkable book 'The Shock Doctrine' without delay, perhaps a holiday read for some...

This remarkable and influential tale 'A Christmas Carol' began its life with Dickens's idea of issuing a pamphlet in response to horrific accounts of child labour in mines and factories. From the orphan begging for more in Oliver Twist to the heartless Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens highlighted poverty and squalor. In his journalism and novels he attacked specific targets - Poor Law legislation in Oliver Twist, the brutal Yorkshire schools in Nicholas Nickleby, the law [Pickwick Papers and Bleak House], government bureaucracy, lethargy and nepotism in Little Dorrit, extremist utilitarianism in Hard Times. The Christmas Carol is perhaps the most dramatic and poignant of these tales "A tale to make the reader laugh and cry - to open his hands, and open his heart to charity...'' it influenced a huge cultural shift towards a more compassionate society, for a time, and resurrected a form of seasonal merriment that had been suppressed by the Puritan quelling of Yuletide pageantry in 17th-century England.

In the modern context I recognize similarities of concern in the focus of the Occupy movement which is an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic structure and power relations in society fairer. Local groups often have different foci, but among the movement's prime concerns is the claim that large corporations and the global financial system control the world in a way that disproportionately benefits a minority, undermines democracy and is unstable.

In terms of poor relief and welfare, "At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, " I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.
"Both very busy, sir."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

Dickens' was taking aim at the father of the zero-growth philosophy, Thomas Malthus. Malthus' ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written and his ideas have arguably proved more durable than the compassionate view of Dickens..Malthus taught the world to fear new people, he created a theoretical model which allegedly proved that mass starvation was an inevitable result of population growth. His ideas provided fodder for Darwin, and Darwin's lesser mutations used the model to argue for the value of mass human extinction. Hitler's hard eugenics owed a great debt of gratitude to Thomas Malthus.

The example of impoverished children is very powerful in Dickens Christmas Carol.
'Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost.
They are a boy and girl, "meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish ... where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked". Scrooge asks, "Are they yours?"
"'They are Man's,' the Spirit answered. 'This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both ... but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is doom.'" Scrooge is so troubled by this that he asks, "Have they no refuge or resource?" And the Spirit answers him chillingly with his own words, "Are there no prisons? ... Are there no workhouses?"

By warning Scrooge to beware of Ignorance and Want, forces which can spell doom not only for the marginalized and dispossessed poor but for the whole of society, Dickens was calling for social justice. His call was/is based on the common humanity of all people, and demands that 'those who have' act accordingly towards those who have not.

In today's world, economics is separated from, and opposed to, both ecological processes and basic needs. While the destruction of nature has been repeatedly and questionably justified on grounds of improving human welfare, for the majority of people poverty and dispossession have increased. While being non-sustainable it is also economically unjust. While being promoted as `economic development', it is leading to under-development; while projecting growth, it is causing life-threatening destruction....
Dickens moral if you like is that People can have immeasurable financial wealth and be socially impoverished - without love and companionship, without solidarity and community, with an empty soul in spite of overflowing bank accounts.
Amazing how a story written in 1843 still has such relevance today.

According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Dickens' Christmas Carol. Hutton argues that Dickens reconstructed Christmas as a family-centered festival... in contrast to the earlier community (and church)-based observations which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Most of our actual British Christmas customs the tree, the turkey, the stocking, the cards and Santa Claus have only appeared since 1840.

People don't always remember that Dickens was a great influence in ameliorating cruel Victorian attitudes towards poverty and inspired much social welfare reform. His appeal to the moral, ethical and spiritual in his Christmas Carol and other tales have definitely contributed to the Christmas time holidays and humanitarian values they also carried. In our modern times we again face similar issues of concern, but now however the Christian establishment no-longer seems able to bring much compassion to bear in the face of pressing economic issues. In this view and inspired to revive the tale and its call for compassionate alternatives I look to other values to reinvigorate our social heart and care for our common society, to a resurgence of our communal traditions.

God Bless Us All Every One ~


Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic
Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic
by E. Wilby
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.50

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faery Folk Envisioned, Britain's Numinous Mystics Restored., 20 Nov 2012
Faery Folk Envisioned, Britain's Numinous Mystics Restored.

This book is a remarkable and in-depth academic study of early modern English cunning-folk and witches involvement with Familiar Spirits such as Tewhit, Greedigut, Vinegar Tom, Jack Robin and Wag At The Wa, with boggles and puckles, hob gobblins, hell waines and firedrakes. Wilby proposes that early-modern witches and cunning-folk had relationships with spiritual beings similar to those of shaman in other traditional societies, such as finding stolen items, curing illnesses or causing it and providing all sorts of advice as needed.
Whilst ''Most people today would consider themselves to have little or no knowledge about early modern familiars. In reality, however, the basic dynamics of the relationship between a cunning woman or witch, and her spirit ally, is easily recognizable to all of us, being encapsulated in narrative themes running through traditional folk tales and myths from throughout the world. Classics such as Rumpelstiltskin, Puss in Boots, the Frog Prince and so on, are representative...These fairy stories and myths originate from the same reservoir of folk belief as the descriptions of familiar-encounters given by the cunning folk and witches in early modern Britain.''

Written in three main sections, the first summarizes the animistic popular world view of early modern Britain. Presenting the illiterate or semi-literate common people as uneducated in the Christian orthodoxy and regarding the earlier 'unintelligible' Latin Catholic rituals and later Christian religious practices as ancillary to their folk beliefs, living cheek to jowl beside and within a world populated with very real spirits of various origin, influence and intent. Drawing on Christian heresy trial accounts as well as popular folk accounts Wilby then describes these spirit-allies and their differences between those identified with 'witches - the demon familiars, and those who assisted 'cunning folk'- the fairy familiars.
The quality of faery nature is well expressed in this popular rhyme which recorded in 19thC is likely to be much older;
''Gin ye ca' me imp or elf, I rede ye look weel to yourself;
Gin ye ca' me fairy, I'll work ye muckle tarrie;
Gin guid neibour ye ca' me; Then guid neibor I will be;
But gin ye ca' me seelie wicht, I'll be you freend baith day and nicht.''
The rhyme implies that the definition of the faery was dependent upon the actions of their human allies. In other words, the human could choose to employ the same fairy to good or evil ends, and it was the moral position of the spirit's user rather than that of the spirit itself which determined the latter's moral status at any given time.'' Many comments recorded in Emma's study of the confessions of cunning folk convicted of witchcraft suggest that this ambiguous amorality of the familiar spirit may have been standard. The familiars remained cooperative provided their 'contract' was honored - that their human partner would provide respect, or food and shelter, or in some cases promise of the soul...

In the second part of the book the argument is presented that most previous studies of cunning folk and witchcraft in Britain have tended to prioritize the social role, of healing, divination etc, over any thorough examination of the relationship between the practitioner and their fairy familiar or spirit guide. Here the author draws compelling parallels between traditional shamanism as practiced in North America, Central Asia and Siberia, with the British practitioners experience as revealed through the evidence of both witch-trials and folk accounts. ''The relationship between shamans and their spirits is like the relationship between cunning folk or witches and their familiars...'' although they could indeed represent themselves as a man or woman, or an animal such as a dog, stereotypical cat, raven or toad, they also could be entirely immaterial and perceived only in the 'flight' to the other and inner realms of trance states. The ambiguity remains consistent however wherever the spirits may be based as the author quotes Ronald Hutton historian's notes that ''among traditional Siberian cultures some spirits were regarded with 'respect, affection, solicitude' while others were seen as 'groups of efficient but untrustworthy thugs....and would punish with death any human master or mistress who shirked the duties of the shamanic vocation''. That witches generally first encountered a familiar or demon spirit during a pivotal moment of extreme stress, they may have for example family members may have fallen seriously sick - which happened often in earlier times, or they may have lost a farm animal to illness - which could lead to ruin or even death in a poor agricultural farming society. Wilby compares these pressures and threats to the sort of preparation to encounter a guiding spirit that shaman in traditional societies undertake - fasting, depriving themselves of sleep, and creating other physical extremes. Wilby also argues that the concept of traveling to a sabbat is often seen to be the Christian interrogating authorities interpretation of the witch accompanying a fairy into fairyland, where they may learn magical such as how to use medicinal plants to heal, however this interpretation of the evidence as biased by elite intervention may not necessarily be correct due to the peoples own obfuscation of any clear boundaries between the folk faith and Christian church orthodoxy as it was(n't) understood.

In the final section of the book Wilby considers whether the evidence suggests that peoples encounter experiences were primarily visionary and trance derived via a number of diverse methods, or alternately more paraphsyical than psycho-spiritual in nature and presents Paracelsus claim for the latter that ''Everyone may educate and regulate his imagination so as to come thereby into contact with spirits, and be taught by them''....This view in no way negates the reality of Familiar and Faery spirits, but rather places their existence in the shamanic realm of trance and ecstasy, the trance is not necessarily of the ''all fall down...''variety. That similar beliefs may have also existed on a popular level are suggested by Robert Kirk's claim ( author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies) that perception of a spirit will continue so long as the seer can keep their eye steady without twinkling. Thus relatively ordinary activities could mask powerful contemplative techniques which developed a sustained 'monotonous focus' in which state the hidden realms all around us may be perceived. Employing 'monotonous focus' and 'psychic destabilization' like the shaman, the common and unlettered folk - women, children and poor men, were capable then of skills as intimated by the sixteenth century German magician Cornellius Agrippa. In support of such views and highlighting the similarities between early modern cunning folk and witches and the encounter experiences of Siberian and Native American shamans, she references Mircea Eliade's claim (author Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy and much more) that shamanism is at root a psychological tendency rather than a religious belief...''we see no reason for regarding is as the result of a specific historical movement...as produced by a certain form of civilization. Rather, we would consider it fundamental in the human condition''. Despite the Victorian, early twentieth century and even relatively recent historiographical tendency to 'pathologize' and thereby dismiss as unimportant the visionary dimension of the familiar encounter, as boastings and ravings of the half crazy, and strange, mad outpourings, nightmares and collective fantasies, of mental illness and schizophrenia, Wilby points out that since the 1950's advances in psychology, ethnography and comparative religion have rendered such simplistic diagnosis untenable. That ''magical cures of cunning folk were effective on many levels...that charms prayers and ritual were effective in curing psychosomatic aspects...divinitary techniques may have led the client to subconsciously reveal their wishes or suspicions...'' Earlier and reductionist views such as those of Sir James Frazer who held that tribal magico-religious belief systems were (merely) an amalgamation of cause and effect magical technologies designed to meet basic survival needs, have been eloquently dismissed by subsequent academics such as the prominent scholar of religion Ninia Smart ''Frazer's theory neglects the perception of the numinous...'' It has become clear that the range of potentially healthy states of consciousness is considerably broader than previously imagined, that there is more to the experience of spirits and faeries than self delusion and misrepresentation, here we discover genuine spiritual experiences of envisioned guides and sacred beings.

To conclude her study ''because there has been little attempt to analyze the 'fantasies' of cunning folk and witches in relation to visionary experience as it is found in magical belief systems and religions throughout the world including Christianity...'' Wilby examines a variety of comparative religious perspectives and their similarities with the narrative encounters of early modern cunning folk and witches. Despite their acknowledged moral ambiguity - they are not characterized by any Christian anti worldly 'moral purity' of action or intent but display the full range of human motivations, their widespread theatricality such as dressing in dark gowns or carrying ominous stave's ''carved with heads like those of satyrs'' and their use of deception, the cunning folk and witch visionaries are portrayed as Britain's 'unrecognized mystics' who experienced spiritual revelations of a higher dimension. In this context Wilby's assessment of Christianity and other religions suppression of unorthodox spiritual perception and practice (outside of their own orthodox canon of wise men, miracles, healing powers and prophecies ) is seen to be about the Church and State avoiding loss of authority and of maintaining a monopoly over all things psychic and spiritual - at any cost. This position was contrary to the common folk belief that magical practitioners skills sprung from a divine origin ''It is a gift which God hath given her...(by virtue of this gift, she) doth more good in one yeere then all these Scripture men will doe so long as they live.'' Indeed, after the Reformation, cunning folk even took on the role previously played by the Catholic Saints and had been compared to Christ himself. The author also portrays the similarities between Christian (and Old Testament) mystics and their visionary relationships with Angels and Christ, and the cunning folk and shaman envisioned encounters, that essentially derive from the same numinous origins and are clothed in the imaginal furnishings of the 'seer' and their psycho-spiritual and cultural environment. In our modern world with the decline of Christianity and contrasting rise of interest in many ancient traditions and folk beliefs, it is indeed fascinating to see how ''a mysticism unsupported by societal organizations and which was upheld by no sacred buildings, no visible iconography, no sacred books, no formalized doctrine or cosmology and no institutionalized ritual...how such formless and invisible constructs could have challenged the Christian Church for the hearts and minds of ordinary people'', yet they have done so and the invisible faery spirits of folk legends, faery tales and the cunning folk-witch encounter narratives, are revealed to be within reach once again.

Wilby's hypothesis then is that the fairy encounter narratives of cunning folk and witches recorded in the early modern witch trials evidence a surviving trend of folk beliefs extending unbroken from a pre christian shamanic world view. Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award, 2006, the author makes an overwhelming case for the long term existence of an ancient British-Shamanic tradition. She also re-configures our understanding of witches and cunning folk as animist shamans embedded in local communities. This is an iconoclastic reversal of modern academic opinion that witches experience of spirits and their attested narratives were either the product of mental illness or more likely perhaps an enforced or contrived collusion between the often illiterate prisoner and their elite and educated religious inquisitor. That magical practitioners across the length and breadth of Britain had stood up in courtrooms and '' 'persisted in telling long and involved stories about faries' despite the fact that in doing so they often knowingly condemned themselves to death'' demonstrates in a definite way as could be possible the conviction, integrity and respect with which the cunning folk regarded their familiar spirits.

Emma Wilby's book is a remarkable, timely and novel way of looking at them (Cunning Folk And Familiar Spirits ), and one of the most courageous yet attempted. (Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol)
Fascinating and well researched ... a genuine contribution to what is known about cunning folk and lays very solid foundations for future work on the subject. (Brian Hoggard, White Dragon)
Emma Wilby s conclusions and her explanation of how she drew them, laid down here in the commendable modern academic tendency towards plain English that has moved away from the previous generations overly complex sentence structure, is worth its weight in gold. (Ian Read, Runa)
Anyone with a genuine interest in Faeries and Spirits, Cunning Folk and Witches, Shamanism and Native British Spirituality both early-modern and contemporary, should turn off their electricity for a while, take a long tiring walk in the forests, hills and glades - or a series of them, and then by candle bright some magic night should read this book with deep delight, the end. (Celestial Elf).

If Faerie spirit thou wouldst see, look inside the air and be, beyond the realm of earthly need, the magic of divinity ~


Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World
Genghis Khan: And the Making of the Modern World
by Jack Weatherford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Genghis Khan and the Unsustainable Opulence of his Modern World., 23 Oct 2012
Although many object that this is a ''revisionist history... (and that) Weatherford is not a historian but an anthropologist'', for me this worked well as the essence of anthropology is cross-cultural comparison, and cultural relativism has become the canon of anthropological inquiry. I therefore enjoyed this perhaps Asiatic-ally favored introduction to a wider world view of hidden histories that have indeed shaped our modern world to this day.

Despite popular misconceptions and his unquestionably cruel methodologies in war, few scholars would today claim that Genghis Khan was a blood-thirsty barbarian.
Among his accomplishments once he had subdued his target tribes, cities, Empires and Nations, was The Pax Mongolica from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe of which has been said "a maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.". Rule of Law which included accountability for all people (Kings as well as peasants). Freedom of Religion, Free Trade, Diplomatic Immunity. Science prospered - unlike Europe where people were persecuted, tortured and murdered by Church and State for ideas outside their current orthodoxy (but ironically accepted by them today).

Whilst the author does state that ''The Mongols made no technological breakthroughs of their own, founded no new religions, wrote few books or dramas, and gave the world no new crops or methods of agriculture...Yet, as their army conquered culture after culture, they collected and passed on those skills from one civilization to the next.'' In this context they actually did create new applications for their assimilated technologies, for example the Chinese explosives that they employed in siege warfare, and by contrast their encouragement of new crops in diverse environments - to provide their workforce subjectry with further tools to create the material wealth that they coveted. In many other areas the ensuing Mongol Emperors are shown to have fostered creativity from religious debate between faiths, to better production and management of resources, even creating and trialling a paper money system.
That their system proved unsustainable however was perhaps due to the lack of a principled leader such as Genghis had proved to be, cruel indeed -but he also outlawed torture, ruthless - but if you accepted his rule then you would share in his new world order.

Nevertheless I share other readers reservations over the authors claims that ''this transfusion of culture and trade led to the European Renaissance'' - although the Mongol Empire certainly contributed by various means including creation of channels of communication and sharing of information along them. Yet, despite earlier adulation (as in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales) and perhaps because of a lack of understanding of the wider world that the Mongol Empire had encompassed, as the Empire was increasingly torn by conflict between inheritances of the title and power of the 'Great Khan' (and although despite all these pitfalls some descendants ruled on until the 19thC in various kingdoms) the overall conflict led to breakdown - the power diminished, the communication routes dwindled away. In an absence of ongoing relations with a Mongol Empire - our brief European visits by the Golden Hordes had shown them a Europe still relatively poor compared to the wealth of the East which they plundered. This loss (of an enduring Mongolian-European association) in my view denied the West an earlier introduction to many of the later Mongolian Empires constructive and tolerant social reforms, Europe chose in absence of any other impetus to explore and revive the ancient classical cultures of Rome and Greece instead, giving rise to the Renaissance period .

I would also mention perhaps against the favorable view that I have here held of the Mongolian Empire at its apogee, that the only culture which I know of that calls unlimited perpetual growth to be positive would be that of a cancerous culture (or perhaps some of the modern trans-global world's short sighted social, ecological and environmental businesses ethics). Once Genghis and other Khan's exhausted the possibility to furnish their nomadic lives with the opulent trappings of more sedentary cultures (stability is essential to cultivate, mine and refine resources into merchandise), their very success at taking over other cities and societies left them no alternative, other than to change their modus operandi and thus themselves, to extend ever further on new conquests in search of greater resources. This endless extension can be seen to have divided the center and left the Mongol Empire(s) open to internal faction and external forces.

Recommended as a lively and entertaining introduction to the Mongolian formation of the modern world.


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