Practical Magic – The Tea Ritual

In this series of posts, I’m going to share the magic, rituals, ceremonies and brain hacks that have worked for me and make up part of my magical practice. You don’t have to be a witch or even a believer in magic to make use of these tips and tricks. In fact, it’s perfectly fine and healthy to be cynical. I’m not offering any quick fixes or substitutes for proper medical care.

I treat my practice as personal science: I start with a hypothesis (either my own or from a book or similar source), I do a little bit of research, I try it* out and I document the results and lack thereof. An increase in happiness is a positive result. A bit of focus and calm is a positive result. A good night’s sleep, a renewed ability to make important decisions, even gaining the strength to get through a difficult day all, to me, count as positive results.

(*it being the spell, ritual, whatever you want to call it)

I’m sharing the things that have helped me, without any guarantee (but a sincere hope) that they will work for you. I am not here to judge your personal beliefs and I try to keep my instructions open to people of any faith, belief, or none.

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If Misinformation is the Virus, Libraries are the Vaccine

This piece was originally written for a well-known library supplier’s newsletter in February 2021.

In Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Library of Babel,” Borge describes a library that extends into infinity in all directions. Every shelf is filled with books and each book contains assortments of characters. The theory goes that every book ever conceived must exist somewhere within this library, as must every possible combination of letters. Entire cults spring up within the library, dedicated to purging the meaningless books and retaining only the meaningful: a subjective definition which leads to bickering, debate, madness and even despair.

Similarly, despite being located within the Unseen University building, the library in Terry Pratchet’s Discworld series has seemingly infinite or ever-shifting dimensions. The presence of so much occult knowledge in one place has warped the building’s geometry and those who dare traverse it without the help of its keeper, The Librarian (who also happens to be an orangutan but that’s neither here nor there), are doomed to become lost forever.

These fictional libraries represent a very much non-fictional phenomenon: namely, without a knowledgeable guide, unchecked data becomes a dangerous thing. Data can only be interpreted into information by those who have learned how to avoid the pitfalls of mistranslation. Misread or misunderstood data becomes something else. It becomes “fake news.”

With internet access not just becoming easier but essential in a time of lockdowns and home-schooling, the “library” of data that any individual person has access to might as well be infinite.

As the frequent news stories and articles about the rise of anti-vaccination and anti-scientific sentiment have shown us, having access to a larger “library” does not necessarily equate to better access to proper information.

The primary role of a librarian is not only to navigate the stacks, digital or literal, but to pass on the skills and understanding required to correctly find and interpret the information within the library. We are the equalisers, bringing knowledge and learning to anyone, even those who perhaps missed out on a formal education or who learn better in other ways.

Libraries may have come a long way from card catalogues and hand-written ledgers but the skills in which the staff are trained – in the management of information, in the finding of books and other media on any specific topic and on the weeding and filtering of out-of-date and misleading data – are just as, if not more important than ever.

How handy it is, then, that we library staff can be found in the one place on the high street that any person can visit and spend time without the expectation of spending money! How useful it is, that public libraries come from the tax budget, are already paid for and are by their very nature open to everyone?

As I discuss in my memoir, “The Librarian,” libraries (big and small) are the heart of the local community. Covid may have changed the way they look and operate but the core principles remain the same and in a time where false news and misinformation spreads like a virus, public libraries are the vaccine. Librarians are the cure.

If you enjoyed this, feel free to buy me a coffee or check out my book, The Librarian – A Memoir published by Ebury/Penguin books and available from all good book-sellers and libraries now.

We Have Misjudged Margaret Ferrier

It would be wrong of us to demand her resignation.

When news first broke that Margaret Ferrier, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, had taken a train journey from her home constituency in Scotland to London (a journey which generally takes just over 6 hours) whilst waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test, I, like the rest of my peers, was shocked and horrified. When it became clear that after testing positive, she had then taken the train back to Scotland, mingling with God-knows-how-many members of the public in that time, I was convinced: she had to go.

Within half an hour of Margaret’s apology statement appearing on her various social media accounts, her name was trending on Twitter with the vast majority of users expressing their disgust at her actions and their desire for her to step down or be removed from her post as MP.

As of today, the 6th of October 2020, Margaret has not resigned. This is not for lack of pressure from her colleagues, friends and even the First Minister herself.

For this, I am glad.

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Curse Your Idols: Blasphemy, Icons and That Bloody Statue

“We let our blessings get mouldy, and then call them curses.”

Henry Ward Beecher

According to Wikipedia, a curse is, “any expressed wish that some form of adversity or misfortune will befall or attach to one or more persons, a place, or an object…In particular, “curse” may refer to such a wish or pronouncement made effective by a supernatural or spiritual power, such as a god or gods, a spirit, or a natural force, or else as a kind of spell by magic or witchcraft.”

A curse is, at its most basic, an attempted interaction between two entities: the source of the curse and the target of the curse. Beyond that, the method, tools used, identity of the invoker, forces invoked and all else is just dressing.

In 1937, Romanian singer and actress Maria Tănase recorded a traditional folk song titled Cine iubește și lasă, or He who loves and leaves. Though the origins of the song are murky, she is widely regarded as being responsible for solidifying this particular version in the canon of Romanian folk music.

Cine iubește și lasă is a curse song.

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Before you go out (there)

don’t forget!

UHT milk (could be a while, we don’t know)
toilet paper (if you can find any)
soap – hand soap – antibacterial soap (20 seconds)
(take your mask)
flour (baking, we should be baking)
coffee (dirty mugs, teaspoons in the sink)
moisturiser (dry hands)
stay safe
(car keys)
shopping bags (reusable)
strawberry jam (it’s summer)
dish soap (dirty washing, dirty dishes, rinse cycles, hang to dry again)
tonic water
I’m sorry to send you
ice cube tray (it’s summer. it’s the weekend. it’s the holidays)
out there.
cloths (ring on the coffee table)
kitchen roll
prescription: books (unread, over-read, nervously thumbed, a jittery search for wisdom/advice/succour/soothing/allieviation/antidote, pile high with guilt and avoid eye-contact)
pharmacy bag (one customer at a time, perspex panel)
distance (space
orbit – uncrossed
a mandated absence
of bodies)
come home (uninfected)

Shut Up, Carl: A (Non-Exhaustive) Response to Covidiot Claims and Slogans

Oooohhhh boy. Here we go. Aunt Margaret has shared another low-pixel meme on Facebook about how the governor is as bad as Hitler for making her stay indoors and now we should all take up arms. Doesn’t matter that she lives in Woking or that she’s actually too infirm to go outside at the best of times.

It is with great reluctance that I share the responses I have had to keep to hand for people like Aunt Margaret.

I have treated each statement/slogan/meme with the seriousness I believe it deserves and will add to this list as more entries are warranted.

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Feeling Helpless in Lockdown? Here’s How You Can Help From Home

How long have we been in quarantine? It’s hard to tell now, isn’t it? Days blend into weeks blend into months.

If, like me, you’re sick of sitting at home and watching front-line workers risk their lives day in, day out, you might be wondering how you can help. Hell, even if you can’t help with the immediate issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has created, wouldn’t it be nice to feel like we were helping someone, somewhere?

The good news is that even while we are all socially distant, there are quite literally hundreds of opportunities to do good from the safety of your home.

I understand that things are tough financially for many of us. That’s why I haven’t included any donation links in this list. Every cause I’ve listed can be donated to in terms of your time, skills and patience. From crafting for front line workers to monitoring webcams for scientific research and lending your sight for visually-impaired people, there are ways you can help without reaching into your wallet.

(Note that most of these organisations are either UK or internationally based.)

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I Know Trauma: We Are All Going Through It

I have known trauma most of my life. My official diagnosis is of CPTSD, or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have received many therapies over the years, in the forms of medication and talking therapy alike. I have attended group meetings. I have spent time in hospitals, clinics and meeting rooms. I have meditated and medicated and filled out CBT diagrams and gone under hypnosis, regressed and even watched the EMDR pendulum swing.

I know the symptoms, I know the signs and I also know what works.

But for now, let’s talk about Skyrim.

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A Record of Forgetting – Oak

This is an extract from my written diary. With everyone and their grandmother documenting the pandemic itself, I have challenged myself to document everything else, especially my now daily communes with the local woods.

Day 24 of the lockdown. This is a record of forgetting.

I saw the heron again today. We were making laps of the park when it flew overhead: not gliding like a gull or bird of prey, not flapping noisily enough for a pigeon. Blue-grey and silent, a trick-of-the-eye. Not small and close but distant and enormous, head tucked tight.

If I watch long enough, I can fly with the heron.

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