Fairy tales: Faces Glimpsed in the Forest

Once upon a time, Jan took a look at some of the older tales which have been adapted into the children’s favourites we know today, and delves into their darker origins…

Many of us have grown up with the older versions of fairy tales, visceral stories that were handed down from generation to generation. I certainly recall the earlier folk tales, devouring each tale with zeal, especially those of the Brothers Grimm. The Brothers collected and revised an enormous number of oral and written narratives covering […]

via Fairy tales: Faces Glimpsed in the Forest — strangegoingsonintheshed


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Faces of Afghanistan

Afghanistan has long been a crossroads, through which so many peoples of the world have passed. If you can’t see the face of your family, or your friends, or your neighbours in this wonderful portrait of the Afghani people, you haven’t looked closely enough…

“In Afghanistan, you don’t understand yourself solely as an individual. You understand yourself as a son, a brother, a cousin to somebody, an uncle to somebody. You are part of something bigger than yourself. – Khaled Hosseini.”

Steve Mc Curry’s images should remind us, we are all cousins…

Steve McCurry's Blog

They are everywhere, these individuals of undaunted humankind,
irrepressibly optimistic and proud.
The Carpet Wars, Christopher Kremmer

Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan

Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Baghlan, Afghanistan

Yet even at their most turbulent, the Afghans have tended to impress
travellers with 
their dignity and hospitality
as much as their fierce independence.
– William Dalrymple,  author of
Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839–42


Kunduz, Afghanistan

Kayan, Afghanistan

Baghlan, Afghanistan


This is Abdul Hadi. He is a teacher in the woodworking school of the
Institute of Turquoise Mountain, in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he teaches jali woodwork (latticework). He was a woodworker at the court of the last king of Afghanistan, and then for some 35 years did not have a chance to practice his skills, due to the successive conflicts.

Parwan, Afghanistan

Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan


In Afghanistan, you don’t understand yourself solely as an individual.

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Shape-shifting (Part 1)

This series of posts are based on the outline of an exploration session presented at The Silent Eye  (a modern mystery school) “The Feathered Seer” weekend in 2017. Whilst I have attempted to retain some of the flavour of the actual talk, the interactive elements of the exploration are absent, and since most of it was done “on  the hoof” it is not really a true reflection of the session. Many of the sections are expanded considerably from that presented on the day…


“Boy Mood 2” (found at eskipaper.com)

Not sure what I was thinking, really. It’s a massive topic, and whilst I did mention this during a previous exploration session, in 2016 on Spirit Animals, I somehow found myself agreeing to attempt the subject the following year.

April 2017 came far too quickly, and finding myself, the night before the session, scratching down a few notes on the back of a Corn Flake packet, was rather concerned that I simply didn’t have enough to fill the hour assigned.

I shouldn’t have worried. The elements of this post were barely covered, as the interactive elements went much deeper than I could ever have anticipated, and I found myself shoe-horning in elements of later parts in a vain attempt to give full coverage of the planned discussion points.


What is it about shape-shifting that is so hard? We are ALL masters of shape-shifting. We simply don’t recognise the shape-shifting that we do, every day of our lives. Indeed, it is such a powerful urge within us, that we simply cannot help ourselves.

Child’s Play
Copyright: Ni Qin / Getty Images

Of course, we are not nearly as good at it now, as adults, as we once were. As children, shape-shifting comes so naturally, that we never question the reality of it. That little guy on the right is NOT wearing goggles and a cape in order to “play” Superheroes. He is, for all intents and purposes, a fully fledged superhero; capable of feats of incredible strength, leaping buildings in a single bound, saving the planet at every turn.

As adults, we dismiss “whatever it is he is doing” as “imagination”. How is it that we forget that, for him, the experience of donning the cloak and goggles goes way beyond what we adults mean by “imagination”. Have we forgotten what it was like to lose all sense of self in the deepest moments of “play”?

Without the “self”, only the Superhero remains…

Whilst we may grow out of goggles and capes, we remain bound by the possibilities offered us through the art of shape-shifting. We go to work, and present as the perfect employee or the perfect boss; coming home we shift to become the perfect partner, the perfect mother, the perfect son; on a night out we are the life and soul of the party, the best friend, the jovial host.

Yet, deep down, if we were truly honest with Self, we are none of these things; and all of these things. It’s just incredibly difficult to be all of them at the same time.

Artist unknown
(Found on pinterest)

Our teenage years taught us this; if nothing else. Who can forgot the horror of turning the corner with our friends, each in full-on hyper-cool mode, and bumping into our parents? All “cool” segues immediately into unbearable, incredibly annoying, complete and utter embarrassment; as they remind us to be home by a certain time, or that we have to do our chores before it gets dark, or (god forbid) our Mother cleans some dirt from our face with her own spit on a kerchief… By our later teens, we usually develop coping mechanisms for such incidents.

Yet they remain, quite possibly, one of our greatest sources of stress, well into late adulthood for some. Our perfect husband doesn’t “quite” make the grade as the man we have described to our colleagues; our perfect child is a complete brat in sophisticated company; and we constantly fear getting caught out, at any moment, in a whole range of situations that we never feel fully prepared for, yet, ever cool, have claimed to be “down with”…

Ironically, it is the coping mechanisms we develop as teenagers that allow us to deny any form of shape-shifting in our day-to-day lives; choosing instead to believe, a self-imposed fantasy, that we present the same persona in all and every situation.

Far from being ever constant, our persona shifts constantly, as we change masks, effortlessly, in order to meet the circumstance of each situation in which we find ourselves throughout the day. As we shape-shift to accommodate everybody else’s needs, expectations and desires, we run the risk of losing our truest self.

The shape-shift that most of us executed to be here this weekend?

We never even considered it.

(Part 2 – coming soon)


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Unexpected exorcism

Odd. The little things we take for granted.

The sanctuary, provided within the walls of our own homes; safe, warm, clean. Yet do we ever pay enough attention to spiritual cleanliness thereof? If we fail to cleanse a space, at other than the physical level, it can quickly become filled with all sorts of psychic detritus that is not necessarily beneficial to health.

On a recent overnight visit to Mother I was caught unawares. She happened to mention, casually as if it were nothing really, that she hardly slept, invariably roused by nightmares several times each night.

This surprised me, she being neither prone to sleeplessness nor, I, perhaps, assumed, nightmares, and I wondered if this were another symptom to be expected in the pantheon associated with her cognitive decline.

How wrong can one be? Well…

In that place, between wakefulness and the first kiss of sleep, a female voice. The words, half heard, came from the hallway, or, more accurately, the hallway ceiling. A jeering cat-call of dubious intent.

The darkness opened to shimmering, shifting shapes of discordant light, as that projected on the underside of a bridge by the waters lapping beneath. The woman is in the room.

Derision. Regret. Loneliness.

More shocking was the recognition that this was a neighbour who had passed some ten years prior. She had died in Mother’s arms, gasping in agony, waiting for an ambulance which never came.

I had no idea she was still here. What could she possibly want after all this time?

We chatted for a while, and, slowly, she calmed. “Where was Rusty?” her beloved Jack Russell. He was waiting.

She hardly noticed the veil as she crossed to greet him. The energies smoothed. The waters calmed.

Mother, unknown to sleep beyond 6am, finally emerged, embarrassed, around nine, yet boasting of a great night’s sleep.

Odd. The little things we take for granted.

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Spirituality Without Politics Is Lame

In an odd way, the last couple of years has been such a rollercoaster; both in terms of simply observing the turning of a stone, always suspected but conveniently filed as “under-control”, and, more-so, in coming to the realisation that (self-proclaimed) spiritual activity does not equate, in any way, to a progressive, caring, empathetic political compass.

Perhaps it was naivety, or an over-weening belief in the “goodness-of-heart” emanating from those on a path of self-analysis, discovery and development. Yet here were, self-exposed, many considered the “great and good” of their particular (RH) path, exposed as vocal advocates of reactionary policies. Misogynistic, homophobic, racist, nationalistic, xenophobic, alt-religion types, unexpectedly spewing their preferred vitriol, without a hint of irony, alongside their usual output of “Love-is-all”-memes.

I’ve kind of come to terms with the revelation of the inner heart of such false messiahs, but have to admit to a deep level of political-fatigue engendered by it. Losing so many “assumed” allies, in such a condensed timespan, has so shocked an erstwhile conviction of the spiritual-political dynamic that I’ve been forced to much introspection of that dynamic, and how it can (apparently) throw up such wide disparity in outlook amongst those who claim to be active “seekers” on a spiritual path.

Perhaps I just need to “grow a pair”, come to terms with the discovery that there are as many reactionaries within spiritual circles as there are progressives, and simply allow that friction of personal “expectation” to run its course; “let it be”.

Notwithstanding, the spiritual path can never be trod in isolation. Social, economic, and political reality must necessarily affect, and be affected by, the spiritual expression of the individual. When that spiritual expression avoids the social, economic, and political, it becomes a mere denial of responsibility in the broader sense.

As John expresses in this piece, “…individual spiritual practice in isolation from engagement with the world will never lead to real personal development and thus never lead to positive social change.”

Get out in the world. Stand against. Stand for. Stand with. Stand apart. To do otherwise, seems unimaginable…

Humanistic Paganism

“No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
or music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence …
– And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hardest movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.”
— Adrienne Rich, “Transcendental Etude”

In light of the hate and violence seen this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, I feel it’s important to raise again an issue which is frequently debated both in Pagan and Religious Naturalist circles: the relationship between religion and politics or between spirituality and activism.


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Turning the Stone

The stone, once turned, can never be put back in exactly the same place…

Of course, we have to teach them young…

…left to their own devices, they fail to comprehend the need to hate.

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Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence

This is an incredibly difficult read. 50% of the population should not have to put up with this.
I’m not sure I can fully comprehend what happens to boys, that they can grow up to be the kind of men that perpetrate, deny, or turn a blind eye to the types of behaviours listed.
And in just writing that, I burn with shame for every time I chose to ignore the boorish behaviours of my own sex. For what? To “fit in”? Fear of becoming the target of their venom?
This shit’s gotta change…

The Belle Jar


I am six. My babysitter’s son, who is five but a whole head taller than me, likes to show me his penis. He does it when his mother isn’t looking. One time when I tell him not to, he holds me down and puts penis on my arm. I bite his shoulder, hard. He starts crying, pulls up his pants and runs upstairs to tell his mother that I bit him. I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone about the penis part, so they all just think I bit him for no reason.

I get in trouble first at the babysitter’s house, then later at home.

The next time the babysitter’s son tries to show me his penis, I don’t fight back because I don’t want to get in trouble.

One day I tell the babysitter what her son does, she tells me that he’s just a little boy, he doesn’t know…

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