The British Isles, the place where I was born and where I live, is a magical location. Though I’ve been fortunate to travel in many lands (through deserts, great forests, volcanic zones, futuristic cities, titanic mountains and more) this group of islands is the place I call home. In recent weeks I’ve been able share my landscape, specifically the south-western part of Britain, with a large number of excellent magicians from several European nations, the Americas (North and South) and magical colleagues from as far afield as the antipodes. In addition to participating in a series of intense magical workings I was also able to introduce folk to the wonders of Glastonbury in Somerset, and for a few guests, some of the delights of Devon and Cornwall.
Naturally each landscape and culture has its own magic, its own special properties. In the case of Britain it seems to me that this is a land where cultural streams meet, merge and give rise to new forms. This is hardly surprising. As an island nation many peoples have visited and settled here, creating a cauldron of creative possibility. The development of new music styles is one area in which Britain excels, as is the creation of new forms of esoteric or spiritual practice. Modern Druidry, Thelema, Chaos Magick and Wicca are now world movements and all of these traditions crystallised first in Britain before expanding from here to the four-corners of the earth.
At this recent gathering of magicians one of our aims (especially for the British participants) was to reclaim our native traditions and iconography. Symbols that have typically been appropriated by saccharine recensions of new age and Pagan culture: fairies, folk dancing, dragons, unicorns – you get the picture.
The question ‘what is British-ness?’ looms large in our national psyche but perhaps it is this confusion that allows such a creative spirit to flourish here? The British are a mongrel people, a genetic and cultural cut-up. We love our fish and chips (made possible by the new technology of the railway) as much as we love our curries (made possible by both the imperialist project and the immigration of Asian people to these islands). Our flag itself is a hybrid of many nations (though usually drawn without the Welsh dragon, which would make it much more exciting in my opinion). In an effort to make sense of this cultural morass people wanting to become residents get to take a government administered test to ensure they grok a State-validated idea of Britishness.
The folk and esoteric traditions of Britain are likewise composed of many little snippets of memory, custom and myth. We glue these together, creating modern revivals of ancient folk rites (a favourites from my region is The Hunting of the Earl of Rone) and sometimes whole new religions like Wicca. Like the motley shamanic-style tattered coat of the Morris dancer, the ragbag of British culture is sewn together to form one (continuously changing) garment. Given this behaviour it’s hardly surprising that a magpie-style of occult practice – chaos magic – should have first emerged in these isles.
I’m deeply honoured to have been part of this recent Gathering of magicians. Not a little relieved that the capricious British weather was kind to us, and cheered by the many little ways in which the native traditions of Britain were shared with my magical siblings.
As is often the case when we see things from another perspective we understand more fully. Sharing my landscape with my magical Brother and Sisters from abroad certainly helped me appareciate the native traditions of my place that much better. This understanding is a reminder to myself. That all the little details of life, of custom and belief, are like the fairy folk themselves – tiny and mysterious, powerful and ubiquitous, and all but impossible to pin down. And when they combine they give rise to that Great Spirit of this wonderful land in which I live.