Reclaim The Sacred

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION HAS NO MEANING UNLESS IT IS EXERCISED. EXPRESSIONS OF THE DIVINE, SACRED OR ETERNAL ARE PART OF WHAT IT IS TO BE HUMAN. RECLAIM THE SACRED SEEKS TO AWAKEN THE PUBLIC TO THE SPIRIT OF PLACE. THIS HOLDS THAT THE LAND ITSELF IS SACRED. IT HOLDS THAT LONG BEFORE RELIGIONS BUILT UPON THIS LAND, OUR ANCESTORS LIVED, DIED AND MADE RITUAL UPON IT. WE HONOUR THAT HISTORY AND WE EXERCISE OUR RIGHT TO FREE SPIRITUAL EXPRESSION BY PERFORMING ACTS OF PEACEFUL RITUAL IN SACRED SPACES.

On the first Monday of each November, a mixed group of around 50 Pagans, Magicians and other unconventionally spiritual people gather in the City of London to perform a series of public Rituals. Money Burners are well represented within their number.

RTS Web Poster 2018
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RTS 4 of us
From left to right: Chris Stone, Jon Harris, Arthur Pendragon, John Crow, on the concourse outside St Paul’s

Chris Stone (aka C.J. Stone) is a writer and journalist best known for his Guardian column Housing Benefit Hill and his books Fierce Dancing, The Trials of Arthur and Dear Granny Smith (as Roy Mayall). Chris was the instigator of Reclaim the Sacred. Here he tells the story of how the idea of a day of public ritual emerged and recounts the events of the first two years.

The first series of public Rituals conducted within the bounds of the City of London, on Monday November 7th 2016, didn’t have a name at the time, but became known as “Money, Magic and the Imagination” after the event.

The day had a clear political purpose. Its aim was to highlight the subject of money. Money, we were suggesting, is a magical tool. It only works because we believe in it. Otherwise, it has no actual material existence whatsoever. You can read the ‘mission statement’ I delivered at the dragon boundary to the City of London, here.

By creating a sigil – a magical symbol – which we then placed on a bunch of old five pound notes – collected on the last day before they were due to be withdrawn from circulation – and then handing the notes into the Bank of England for destruction, we were planting our magic in the heart of the primary institution of World Capitalism – the place of Capitalism’s Original Sin, as it were – as a sort of psychic seed waiting to grow. If the first Original Sin had been eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our response was to take the seed of that fruit and to replant it in the Bank of England’s privatised Garden of Eden in order to grow.

It is knowledge we need in this day and age, not ignorance. The more we understand that money is magic – is the original magic, in fact, conjured out of nothing as a store for wealth – the more we will be able to release that money from its current bondage, held in offshore accounts and secret hoardings in British Crown Dependencies throughout the world.

The sigil, created by the great contemporary Occultist Julian Vayne, was called “The Equaliser”. It consisted of the mathematical symbol for ‘more than’ – > – crossed by the symbol for ‘less than’ – < – and crossed again by the symbol for ‘equals’ – = – making a sort of criss-cross pattern not unlike the Chinese Ideogram for Hexagram 48 of the I-Ching, the Well.

The Well is the Chinese symbol for good social order. It represents a well surrounded by eight fields, and suggests eight families sharing a central well. The well is not owned by any of them. It is shared by all. All have equal access to it. All are nourished by its gift of healing. In this sense, it a perfect symbol for what we want money to become: a central source of wealth, shared by all.

Another significant ritual took place on the concourse outside St Paul’s Cathedral. This was led by John Crow – legendary alter ego of playwright John Constable – companion spirit to the Goose, a late medieval sex worker John had channelled on an unforgettable night of psychic exploration on the 23rd November 1996.

John invoked the spirit of Phatty in his poem of that name, asking us to recognise him in ourselves. We then released him, ‘redeeming his debt’ by walking clockwise in a circle. Next, we drew in the positive energies of transformation, travelling back around the circle counter-clockwise – or widdershins, as John preferred to say – chanting lines from William Blake (with a minor variant): “Mutual forgiveness of each Vice, Open the Gates of Paradise”.

Finally we came to the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, and there, in the spirit of the Ancient Bronze Age Kings, we had our own King Arthur Pendragon read out a proclamation forgiving all debt and declaring a “Clean Slate” – a new beginning – on what was the exact half-way point between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, and therefore, by some calculations at least, the correct date for the Celtic New Year.

So that was 2016. Originally it was meant to be a one-off, a piece of Situationist theatre in the heart of the City of London, to bring attention to the question of money. But Jonathan Harris, who had been my co-organiser in setting up the event, and who had delivered the inaugural ritual at the Monument to the Great Fire of London, was keen on repeating the process. We had several meetings in London to discuss it, which involved a lot of walking, punctuated by the occasional beer or cups of tea, and a lot of blethering to-and-fro.

Jon and I don’t quite see eye to eye on a number of issues. For instance he would probably disagree with the explanation for the origins of money, above. In his theology, money is “an aspect of being”: itself a mysterious statement which we spent many hours discussing. In the end I came to agree with him. We also had a number of exchanges about the nature and importance of political action. In Jon’s view ritual with a political end was tainted in some way and he tended to shy away from the notion.

The name “Reclaim the Sacred” came from a discussion we had in Trafalgar Square. I was telling Jon about Reclaim the Streets, and the great demonstration in support of the Liverpool Dockers in April 1997, when they had attempted to bring a sound system into Trafalgar Square, in order to hold a party there. Reclaim the Streets used a lot of magical symbolism in their actions and were a driving force for a great deal of political activity in their day. It was at this very same Docker’s march that Arthur had had his sword confiscated, a point that will become significant later on.

That discussion must have filtered into Jon’s brain, because it was not long after that he came up with the name “Reclaim the Sacred”. He also came to agree with me that, by claiming our right to hold our rituals, we were effectively making a political demand.

So that’s one-all in the game of ideological football. One to him and one to me. Such is the nature of conversation: by listening respectfully to what another has to say you can often reach some kind of consensus.

So “Reclaim the Sacred” it was: a series of public rituals in order to assert our right to spiritual expression in sacred space.

2017’s event was originally envisaged as a walk from the Monument to Trafalgar Square, but was thankfully cut short at the Temple Church near Fleet Street. “Thankfully” because, as Arthur Pendragon pointed out, trying to keep pagans in any kind of order is like herding cats. We were constantly losing people on the way, constantly having to go back to recover the stragglers, there being four quite distinct rates of progress:

Slow, lead by Jon Eldude, who tends to amble, Dude-like, along life’s laid-back processional highway;

Even Slower, as lead by Michelle and Tommy, who were too busy snogging to have any idea where they were half the time;

Fast, lead by me, with my postal worker’s pins, still trying to deliver the Christmas mail even when it’s not Christmas, and there’s no mail to deliver; & finally:

Like A Rocket, lead by Bapu on his mobility scooter, who must have thought he was taking part in the mobility scooter TT races, and was seen at one point waving buses aside as they loomed towards him along Fleet Street, brandishing his stick, with his flat cap perched akimbo on his bonce, scattering everyone out of his way by emanating sheer unadulterated grumpiness as a form of psychic forcefield. The word “irascible” was invented to describe Bapu. I’ll say no more.

We met at the Monument to the Great Fire, which was apt as we were attempting to light a conflagration of awareness in the public consciousness and, once we had finally assembled, made our way to the first ritual space, on the concourse outside the Royal Exchange Building, opposite the Bank of England, where Jon Harris, using ashes from money burned on 23/10/17 in MASS BURN Four at the Cockpit Theatre, mixed with the last drop of special whiskey he and the other pilgrims had brought back from the Isle of Jura – where the KLF had burned a million pounds 23 years previously – lead a ritual forgiving the Bank its debt.

The whiskey was special because it was 23 years old and so the water used to make it had fallen as rain on that night in 1994 when the million quid was burned. And there was only one drop left because Jon had shared it with all the participants at MASS BURN FOUR where 23 people had burned £230. There are a lot of 23s in Jon’s life.

Jon’s ritual consisted of a reading from David Graeber’s book, Debt, about the origin of the Bank of England, after which he anointed those that wished on the forehead with the ashes; after which we each took a thumb-print’s worth of the ashes and, surrounding the Bank – which lies on an Island above an underground river – we pressed our thumbs to the external wall and, from the bottom of our hearts, forgave it its debt.

As Jon anointed us he intoned the original words from the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us”; the more familiar version, “forgive us our trespasses”, being a mistranslation of the original Greek, and a misrepresentation of its true meaning.

RTS John Crow
John Crow kneels on the concourse of St Paul’s Cathedral in the midst of his Ritual of forgiveness.

The second ritual of forgiveness took place on the concourse outside St Paul’s, as it had the previous year, lead the the inimitable John Constable in his guise as John Crow, visionary priest of the literary underground, and channeller of the Goose.

Bapu was very accurate in his assessment of John. “You’re giving off a priestly vibe,” he said.

“That’s because he is one,” I said.

John added that he may well have been a priest in a past life, but that he was “defrocked for going native with the witches”.

We repeated last year’s ritual pretty closely, invoking the spirit of Phatty, the Fat Cat banker, with a recitation of John’s great poem Phatty, from his book, Spark in the Dark.

I won’t repeat it here. I’ll recommend you buy the book instead.

We then shuffled around in a circle clock-wise, in the manner of the San Pedro Long Dance, rhythmically repeating the following chant:

“Here Phatty’s Debt I now redeem / Awaking from his Deathly Dream.”

We did this for some minutes.

After that we reversed the direction, and, calling in the positive powers in the form of a line from William Blake’s Gates of Paradise (as noted earlier) we forgave Phatty and, by that process, forgave ourselves as well.

As John had pointed out earlier: had a banker been walking by while we were finger-pointing our anger in his direction, he would almost certainly have turned and walked the other way; had he heard us forgiving him, however, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he might even have joined us.

We left an alchemical sign which John had drawn on the floor in chalk in the form of a six pointed star with various arcane-looking magical symbols at the apexes, and a generous scattering of coins, which we hoped a homeless person might find; or, if not, at least a kind-hearted City worker who might donate it to a homeless person. John also offered the playful thought that our magic sign might be regarded with awe and wonder and still be there in a thousand years.

One last moment to relish. John had approached a policeman before the ritual, telling him what we were going to do. The policeman was fine with it, and looked on amiably as the ritual took place, but, after it was finished (in other words, when it was too late to do anything about it) an officious-looking security guard approached him. “We don’t allow demonstrations here,” he said.

“Well that’s ok, cos it wasn’t a demonstration,” said John, “it was an act of faith. You do allow acts of faith, don’t you?”

There wasn’t much our security guard could say to that.

After this we went to St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street where, under the guidance of Caroline Wise, we evoked the Spirit of Brigid.

St Bride’s, she told us, was possibly one of the oldest churches in London, there having been a church here since the 7th century. St Bride, after whom the church was named, was an Irish saint and a Christianised survival of the Gaelic goddess Brigid, goddess of springs, healing, poetry and the forge; but also of more humble things, such as milkmaids and dairy, farmyard animals, and especially the Goose (a nod here to John Crow).

She was also a solar goddess, born into a halo of sunlight. There was an ancient well on this site – currently blocked off – so our plan was to invoke the goddess as like a river of gold which we would draw up from the well through our feet and our bodies to emerge as a chant. We were chanting her name, visualising the chant as golden light, seeing the light as the body of the goddess spread out across the City.

While chanting we were encouraged to remember the millions of young men who had given their lives in the two great wars of the 20th century.

Finally, our last ritual space was the square behind Temple Church, between Fleet Street and the Thames.

It was here that we began to notice a severe diminution in our numbers as certain members of the group got lost in the London throng, and there were frantic phone calls in order to locate everyone. Eventually, however, everyone managed to turn up.

RTS Arthur Pendragon
Arthur leading us in the Druid’s Vow at the Temple Church

It was here, also, that Arthur manifested his own particular brand of magic, in the form of a barrister who had been a witness to his court case almost 20 years ago to the day, on November 5th 1997, when he had had his sword returned by court order at Southwark Crown Court, after it had been confiscated by the Metropolitan Police at the Reclaim the Streets Docker’s March in April of that year. Thus it was that the wheel turned full circle this day: Reclaim the Streets became Reclaim the Sacred and the events of 20 years before were brought vividly back to life; or as Arthur put it, more succinctly: “Here’s one I prepared earlier.”

The square behind the Temple Church is remarkable. Surrounded on all sides by buildings, with a hushed echo and a column in the midst, on which stands a statue of two knights riding a single mount, it is already laid out in circles as if preordained as ritual space.

It was around one of these circles that we gathered and Arthur made the best joke of the day.

“Religion, as they say, is a bit like a penis,” he said. “It’s all right to be proud of it and have one, but you don’t flash it in public.”

He also made the one statement in the whole day that I would personally disagree with.

He said, “there are only two types of people in the world: those that believe, and those that don’t. It’s really that simple.”

Sorry Arthur, but no: there’s a third type too, my type, the professional agnostic, the one who neither believes nor disbelieves, but who reserves his judgement before giving commitment to anything.

But anyway….

After this we did the Druid’s vow – “We swear by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand, mark, oh Spirit, and here us now, conforming this our sacred vow” – repeating the refrain three times, after which Arthur invited people to come before him to be knighted in the ancient virtues of Truth, Honour and Justice. Many people stepped forward to be knighted by his wand – the sword having been left at home for fear of a repeat performance of its confiscation 20 years previously.

It was at some point during these knighting ceremonies that the significance of the day was brought home to us, in the form of a belligerent Scottish security guard, who broke into the circle, tapping Arthur on the arm in order to tell him he shouldn’t be there. Arthur carried on regardless, in the proper English style, while the security guard was passed on first to John Crow, and then to me, to handle.

He was very concerned that what we were doing might have some commercial value, in which case, he suggested, we needed to pay. This was private space, he told us. It was privately owned, even though a public right of way. At the very least we needed to get permission.

This was the perfect culmination of the day’s events. Earlier, in St Paul’s, we had reminded ourselves that today was the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Charter of the Forest, the companion document to the Magna Carta. The Charter of the Forest  guaranteed the Commons for public use, and now, here we were, in what appeared to be public space, being told that is was, in fact, private, and that we needed permission to be there.

Where better to assert our right to “public ritual in sacred space” than in one of London’s many pseudo-public spaces, being warned off by a private security guard?

*******

The third annual Day of Ritual will take place on Monday 5th November 2018. Meet at the Dragon on the South East side of London Bridge at 1pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/338581106908753/

This article originally appeared in Burning Issue Super Deluxe edition and is reproduced with kind permission of the editors.

To see the article as it appeared in the magazine, you can download the pdf here.

To buy Burning Issue follow the link below:

https://www.burningissue.net/

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