Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Pagans of London

Photos by Elizabeth Johnson & Huw Nesbitt

Black magic, human sacrifices, ritualised orgies and naked chicks jumping through fire - you may think of such things when considering paganism, or you may simply think of washed up acid casualties from the sixties and irritating eco-hippies. Neither is an entirely accurate description of the diverse range of spiritual practices and historically observant disciplines that make up the modern Pagan community of Britain. Today, Paganism is becoming increasingly popular, to the extent that the Pagan police association have negotiated leave for pagan officers on holidays such as Summer Solstice. Even Pagan offenders now have a right to a pagan chaplain in prison. But why are so many turning to the dark side?
Kids these days are raised on a diet of recycled, bullshit folklore. What with The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and World of Warcraft it’s no wonder impressionable young kids become beardy, weirdy wand wavers. But these new arrivals on the pagan scene are securing its future, ensuring that ancient rituals and knowledge are not eclipsed by 21st century monotheism and consumer capitalism.

Druid Morgan blesses an offering to Pan of cider and Doritos

The misinformation spread by the media adds further fuel to the fires of conflict burning in the pagan underworld. Paganism isn’t a religion per se, rather an umbrella term used to describe the numerous forms of polytheism, pantheism and nature worship practiced internationally. The most commonly encountered forms in Britain include Celtic Druidism, Nordic Heathenism and Wicca. Followers of these spiritual paths frequently mix and match their beliefs with those of other religions to suit their tastes. A modern neo-pagan may worship Dionysus, the Greek god of beer and wine when at the pub, Odin the Nordic god of war when having a scrap outside and finally Anahita, the Persian Goddess of semen when getting a sly blow job off some tart in the gents.

There are, however, some things that unite the disparate groups within the community. These include a respect for nature and all living things, an interest in pre-Christian beliefs and a love of cider, fondly referred to by many as “druid fluid”. On the 8th August 2009, in an ancient forest in North London, the Pagan federation performed a ceremony in honour of the Greek god Pan. These are some of the people working to keep paganism alive.


What is it that attracts people to Paganism?

Paganism doesn’t close you in with rules. You can worship in your own way as long as you have respect for all living things. It’s not restrictive like other things are. I think people quite like to rebel against restrictive ideologies now. It’s a good thing because people are becoming more open and embracing of paganism, whereas in the past it’s been frowned upon. People haven’t understood it and haven’t wanted to. There’s that fear because people don’t know what it is and aren’t willing to find out because it isn’t mainstream like Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It’s an underground movement and people have been frightened, but people are becoming more aware of alternative beliefs.

Is there a conflict of interest between different factions within the Pagan community?

There can be. The ego often gets in the way of things. People tend to think my way is the way that will work. Just because it works for one person, doesn’t mean it works for everyone. But mostly people are respectful of each other’s paths and are embracing of them all.

What advice would you give to someone who was interested in Paganism?

Read as much as you can, do research on the net, come along to public events. There are a lot of public events that are organised now, conferences, picnics, outdoor and indoor rituals that people are welcome to attend. But don’t take everything that you read in books as the gospel because they are just people’s opinions. Don’t lose sight of your own beliefs.

Who is your favourite deity?

I really like the Hindu deities. I work with them sometimes.

Seldiy Bate

Is Paganism becoming more popular? If so, why?

I think it is. I’ve been Pagan all my life and although young at heart, I’m no spring chicken. It’s always been there, it’s never gone away. I believe that everything is becoming more open, so people are able to enjoy something without feeling as isolated or misunderstood. People are getting more in tune with the earth. They’ve started to recognise ecological issues and what we’re about, where we belong in the grand scheme of things, in the universe and on our own planet. Paganism has always been about that, some people are realising that all of that works hand in hand and that it is a gentle philosophy that works and is fulfilling.

Did you get into Paganism through your parents?

Yes it’s in my family. I am Wiccan. Wicca is an initiated religion. It is a mystery religion that accepts a goddess and a god. It is one of many Pagan religions. It is a particular path that has always been a part of my ancestry.

Is there a conflict of interest between different factions within the pagan community?

Yeah of course there is. That’s people for you. For the most part we’re a pretty friendly bunch and don’t believe in attacking others and we certainly don’t believe in trying to convince other people that our path is any better than theirs.

Do you support those who choose to worship alone? Is that allowed in Wicca?

Strictly speaking, Wicca is in need of priesthood. It is not a solo path. Having said that, there are plenty of Pagans who self dedicate, and do things on their own. They might meet up with like-minded people but they don’t necessarily have to. Wicca needs both priest and priestess and a congregation. It varies, Paganism is very flexible nowadays, I think people can choose the path that works for them.

Who is your favourite deity?

My temple is the temple of Ostara (Ä’ostre). She is the Saxon goddess of Spring. It is from her name we take the word Easter. Ostara also happens to be my daughters name as well so she is quite special.

Drewyd Galdron

Why are you wary of media coverage of ceremonies?

I am the publicity officer for the Pagan Federation. It’s not that we want to remain a closed community; it’s simply that we don’t want our message to be misconstrued. If we offer an opening, we offer power in a real and magical sense that certain organisations can then abuse. This occurred earlier this year when the Telegraph sought pagans within the London community to be interviewed. They were going to depict us as normal people but that idea was completely scrapped. There was too much focus on pomp and circumstance which creates more mistrust in the media. Then there’s the complete misconception by right wing columnists like Richard Littlejohn who have made completely absurd claims about pagans. Apparently we must always combine our ceremonial work with our professional lives. This is not the case. It would not be the case if there were a Pagan Police Association.

Are you aware of the unmanned police sky drone that was monitoring the summer solstice proceedings at Stone Henge?

I have a mixed view on that subject. As a licensed CCTV worker, I believe that sort of thing is necessary to prevent the need for an unnecessary manned presence at these gatherings. However it can seem intimidating if individuals haven’t consented to it.

Is Paganism becoming more popular in Britain?

Paganism is starting to be considered one of the fastest growing religions in the world. In Britain the numbers rival those of Hinduism and Judaism. I think this makes an impact for the expansion of events and the provision of them for everybody. One can only hope that you get more people coming in who are willing to be active. One might look at other religions and see them all as patriarchal, “thou shalt not” and everything like that. There is an attraction based on understanding our roots, understanding where more general religious ideas came from. Simple things like the origin of terms like honeymoon. The lunar cycle within May is known as the “honey moon”. People notice these things and realise we have a Pagan history. We have more Pagan history than Christian.

I come from a circle of people who have emerged from fascinations with fantasy and related genres. There are crossovers with Shakespeare and with William Blake, who was a druid himself. I’ve considered doing a talk on how Paganism has been impacted by video games. Some Japanese developers have created entirely new depictions of Norse mythology in their games. That path is understood now as an opening to many great things.

Who is your favourite deity?

I’ve begun working with a pantheon known as the goddesses of Avalon or the wheel of Brigid-ana. The wheel of the year and its eight festivals are symbolised in eight archetypal Goddesses and at the centre of them is the lady of Avalon.

Sarah Grimstone.

During the ceremony, I heard you complain about a lack of vitality in the readings.

Yes. The opening ceremony involved a hymn to Pan that was written by Aleister Crowley when he was at his most vital. It was delivered today by a geriatric. There is no way you can stand there and say "I personify the embodiment of the male generative force in nature," when you’re 95. They should have got a guy that could actually get it up! The only way these old guys are gonna get it up in the night is with their bladders. He is an elder, but there is a time in an elder’s life when he must be told that if he doesn’t relinquish his power he will become a tyrant. The fool becomes the king. The king becomes the tyrant if he is king for too long.

Are there enough young people involved in modern paganism?

It’s difficult to say. Things like Charmed and Harry Potter entice young people towards the craft. There are really embarrassing chat rooms full of teenagers talking about spells and charms, but it’s all bollocks. The only way these youngsters can learn proper witchcraft is by becoming an apprentice. Youngsters come in, they read a bit on the internet and in a couple of books and they think they know what they’re doing. You cannot be a witch unless you are initiated.

Who is your favourite deity?

I am a priestess of Set, the Egyptian God of Chaos. It was his Birthday yesterday. In Egyptian mythology the Apophis serpent was the serpent of not-being. Set killed the serpent of not-being. He allowed you to exist, but in doing so he was a bit malevolent and mental - A god of chaos and a god of not making an omelette without breaking eggs. This is why we have blood on our foreheads. I am blessing this woman with blood because her ex is being a bastard and she needs armour.

J.T Morgan

I am a bit like a bishop or an archbishop, perhaps I should say. I am a guest here today and shouldn’t be doing interviews. I’m supposedly a figure of authority but in fact I am not a member of any particular druid order. My opinions don’t carry any weight. I don’t expect to be treated with anything more than the respect I would give to any other human being. For some reason, possibly because of my training in theology or that I do these rituals in public… I mean you witnessed the other ceremony, which was really rather a mess. It’s reaching towards something, but I do feel they should work at it.

I also get the feeling that an awful lot of pagans are taking religious faith unto themselves, rather like after the reformation. A lot of the things that are regarded as folklore in this country are actually ordinary people taking over the festivals that they previously did in church, in Latin. Because of the reformation they thought we want to make certain our fields are going to grow properly so we will do plough Monday. They took over the festival you see. There is no Plough Monday. It’s not in the Book of Common Prayer.

I have no favourite deity; I am not pantheist, monotheist or polytheist.

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Thursday, 15 October 2009

We Fell To Earth

FREE MP3: We Fell To Earth - Lights Out

So what the deal with the name? are you aliens or angels?

Richard: Do we have a choice?

You could be meteorites I suppose.

Richard: That’d be alright, you wanna make a mark don’t ya?

Nice big crater yeah. So is there any meaning behind the name then?

Richard: The man who fell to earth was around in both our lives at the time we were thinking of names and it was suggested.

I wouldn’t have thought Bowie was a major influence?

Richard: He’s certainly an inspiration, but not a major influence at this stage.
Wendy: There are some sounds of some Bowie records that we are inspired by.

You both love of krautrock, How do you respond to people who see you as more trip-hop than kraut rock?

Richard: Half time beats with double time percussion is something massive attack have done in the past but they are not the originators of that sound. Because we have female vocals people say we’re like Portishead or because there’s a half speed beat they say it’s like Massive attack. Sometimes it’s quite ambiguous. We’re not uncomfortable with those comparisons.
Wendy: Doesn’t trip hop rely on samples? That’s the difference, I think. We don’t use samples.

Do you think you think your experience working with bands like UNKLE and QOTSA has contributed to the fact that WFTE have gained so much attention so quickly? Or is it more to do with being played on TV programs like Gossip girl and CSI NY?

Richard: We haven’t been to America yet, but because of the fact we were used on Gossip girl, numb3rs, prisoner and CSI, we get an amazing amount of hits we get on a daily basis. The fact people respond that way is a blessing. It’s great to have that and be able to anticipate going there to play; it’s going to be interesting.
The sync thing is different here. There’s all these shows that sync a lot of interesting British music but most of them seem to be in America at the moment.

Are there any TV programs you wouldn’t like to be associated with?

Richard: I don’t watch TV. Neither does Wendy. We don’t need it. There’s a certain point where a line has to be drawn with TV programs and adverts. We’ll make that decision when it arises. But up to now we’ve been happy with what our music been used for, it’s great kids are finding out about us.

Why did you choose to base yourselves in grey old England, rather than California where you seem to have many ties?

Wendy: I’ve visited England twice before and I really liked it and I know several English people in the states and I get on really well with them. So when Rich called me about doing some work I said “shall I come over there?” And when it started going really well in the studio it got to the point where I had to be there all the time. We had already started working here and Rich has a great studio.
Richard: My studio was also an important factor. These facilities make it possible for us to actually do something. Over the years I’ve accumulated a bunch of stuff so it’s cheap for us to be in the studio everyday and just experiment with stuff.
Wendy: It’d be nice to go to the desert someday and do some writing. I found the idea of coming here really inspiring because it’s new and different to what I’m used to. There is so much going on in the music scene its exciting so I decided to come here.

I read that you guys have been influenced by the desert landscape, is the grey sky and ancient architecture of London also an influence?

Wendy: Yes. Those things you mentioned illicit a certain feeling which must come out in the music somehow because those feelings can manipulate your creativity. It must be a hybrid of what was going on there and what happens here.
What experiences from your day to day lives are incorporated into what you create and how you perform?
Rich: Everything really. It’s interesting how and when things come out as well. Really chance meetings with other human beings which are completely random but have a kind of important impact on your life. Just one meeting can change the course of how you do things in the future.

What is it about the current musical climate that you think has resulted in the kraut rock revival?

Wendy: I think it’s definitely begun.
Rich: It seems like it’s been going awhile. Bands like the horrors have been influenced by it and it’s exciting to feel like there are other bands we could play with and their fans will be really into our music and vice versa. All these bands coming together, it creates, I don’t wanna say scene, but its cool when different bands can share fans. If there had only been one rock and roll band then rock and roll wouldn’t be as big as it is today. It takes a few things coming together to take things beyond a certain level.
The new flaming lips record, which we’ve been lucky enough to hear, it’s kind of proto-punk but the rhythm section is kind of more constant…
W: repetitive, hypnotic.
R: It has kraut elements.

Like Neu?

Richard: Neu! Has the super straight beat. It’s like that but they are more offbeat. That record, I have no idea how they made it, but it sounds like they were jamming for fucking hours.
W: It’s unbelievable
R: It’s mind blowing, its so improvised but just sounds like the best fucking jam since can.
The kraut rock revival could be seen as part of a more vague resurgence of psychedelic music in general. It’s interesting that people are looking for music that makes you zone out.
W: without trying to sound too hippy dippy, I think a few people with really good taste in music have got hung up on the kraut thing recently and it just sends out a wave through the artistic community. Eveyone’s picking up on it and thank God, because it’s really good and intelligent and inspiring and has this hypnotic quality that gives you a break. Like a nice break from the chaos of everything that’s been going on in the world for the last year or two.(sigh) It’s kind if meditative, all these hypnotic grooves and stuff. I’m so happy about it.
R: Bands like Faust, Neu! Can and any others we can mention, they need as many props and as many mentions as they can get for the rest of time basically.

Yeah, even the sex pistols said that kraut rock was an influence.

Wendy: And P.I.L right?
Rich: And even pieces of Joy Division, you know the early stuff.
Wendy: It’s just like really simple, soulful, repetitive grooves with really small deviations from time to time.
Rich: That’s the hypnotic element, you can just get lost in its great that were back to that point in time.

There are ancient disciplines in many cultures such as Australian aborigines or Native Americans where they chant and induce a meditative mental state without the use of drugs.

Rich: We could get really deep here.
Wendy: You can get onto a level of stillness from the repetitive sounds. It’s a good place to be. It helps to quiet the mind.

It’s good that there is music that can have that almost spiritual effect.

Wendy: It’s like spirituality sneaking around the back way.

There seems to have been a significant change in the world of electronic music. In the past few years it’s moved from the energetic dance element to more introspective and perhaps less easily accessible psychedelic music. Do you think this element has always been there lying dormant?

Rich: I think there have always been pockets of everything. There are cycles in music when things become popular again and sometimes artists add something new to the cycle.

What do you want to add to the cycle?

Rich: First and foremost – ourselves. We want to communicate with people at a level which will inspire them to create something else and take it even further.

Tonight at the garage – what routines do you have in preparation for you performance?

Wendy: I like to put on Jefferson Airplane and sing along with Grace Slick.
Rich: I’ve learnt most of the words now haven’t I?
Wendy: yeah! Poor Rich, he’s forced to deal with it.
Don’t you like Jefferson Airplane?
Rich: Yeah I do but I can’t sing along with the force she does. It’s fun though; we’ll probably end up doing it live.
Wendy: Yeah, I want to.

How do you expect the listener to react to your music?

Wendy: maybe to get them in the moment, to make them aware that they are in the room with us. Usually, people come and they stand there and they don’t leave and they watch. They just watch and they don’t talk. I appreciate that. It’s cool. I know what’s it like, when I go to a show and I might be a bit bored, how I react. We get cheers in between songs and the other night there was one guy who was really having a good time, with his hands in the air and he may have been on another planet but that was cool. After all the work we put into it, it feels really good. We didn’t know what to expect, live. We were concerned with just pulling it off and making all the sounds happen. We’d never played together but when we played there it was like the icing on the cake to see people react to what we’re doing.
Rich: You never know what to expect. We’ve been building this over time.
Wendy: We just take things one step at a time and one song at a time. Just trying to create something that the both of us were satisfied with first, we’re kinda selfish that way. We had a feeling that we wanted to create, it’s very rewarding when you put it out there and see people like it.

Going back to your cultural influences, how do you think your very different backgrounds affect the different ways you approach music?

R: we come from polar opposites in a way. Wendy comes from the rock end of the spectrum whereas I’ve gone from djing and looping beats to learning to play guitar and singing. We meet in a place where it’s like Wendy has to play some cool guitar parts to impress me and I come in with the synth stuff, she calls this Simon says. We challenge each other and we have to keep each other excited about the opposite end of the spectrum. Sometimes we have to go beyond what feels natural.
W: we have to compromise but also push each other’s boundaries. We have to ask can we go beyond that? It’s painful at times.

Does it get quite heated in rehearsals?

W: uuuuuuuurm…yeah.
R; yeah definitely
W: we’ve had our moments in the studio but I’m so glad we persevere. When I met Rich I felt like it opened a doorway. Before, I had been doing the same thing for quite awhile. He pushes me and I’m doing things I didn’t know I had in me. I really appreciate that I always want to have that.
R: That works both ways.
W: I don’t know how solo artists can go and make all these records. My hats off to them but I would get bored I would be like I’m gonna go and do underwater basket-weaving now because I’ve done the same thing 8 times. With we fell to earth I’m constantly being pushed in new directions.

So that’s where Bowie comes into it then? The constant reinventions?

R: It’s funny you mention him because we were both listening to the low record and it has a spirit which is unbelievable. He’s given kraut his salute at an amazing time in his career. So yeah, he has helped us out along the way.
W: He’s been like a spiritual guide for us with the creation of this record.

He’s your guardian angel

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Sunday, 4 October 2009


In 2007 I directed a short film called Fags. There were problems during production that resulted in some footage being unusable. This footage may have been salvaged and I will attempt to resurrect this thing that might have been. This is a teaser trailer of the film set to music by Teeth of the sea