Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Dazzling Darkness” – job done!

“Wisps from the Dazzling Darkness:a sceptic’s take on paranormal experience”

is now published in full, after appearing as a serial for most of 2010. The memoir has been laid out in a form which is easily accessible for people who wish to ‘dip in’ to the various true stories, as well as for those who wish to read the whole book.

It has been important to me that I have told those stories, partly to ‘make peace’ with many very unsettling experiences for which the contemporary reductionist paradigm has no satisfactory explanation. As a stubbornly sceptical (in the open-minded sense of the word!) rationalist, whose spiritual life and occasional but persistent paranormal experiences did not retreat as a result of being ignored, I finally decided that the way forward was openness.

Carl Gustav Jung 

Carl Gustav Jung

“I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud.”

*******

To ‘dip in’ to the memoir, or read it in full, click HERE

Happy Hallowe’en !

Happy Hallowe'en....

Happy Hallowe'en....

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.how-to-draw-cartoons-online.com/

Your votes: Top Six posts on “Writing from the Twelfth House”

Today is a special day. At 12.30 GMT, Aries fire kicks off the first New Moon of the new solar year. This is a great month to focus some fiery energy on lively departures from normal routines. We are off tomorrow to Totnes in Devon, to spend a week in old hippy heaven in the West of England, UK.

(We didn’t get there! Check out The summer of disruption starts here: Jupiter and Uranus team up! )

Not wishing to leave my many “Writing from the Twelfth House” fans bereft of new input during this of all weeks, I had a brainwave. I would check out my stats for the year, and feature your top six favourite posts for the solar year just past.

Here they are! I am happy with the result, since it affirms my original decision to set up a site which covers not just astrological themes, but  is aimed at informing, inspiring, encouraging and entertaining…..”those writers and readers who share my preoccupation with questions of mystery, meaning, pattern and purpose.” Your top six favouritesspan the range. That pleases me!

Enjoy the reads, tell me what you think, and don’t  forget to read the PS  at the end….

 

On Writing

Not the Astrology Column

Cartoons

Favourite Quote: “This being human” by Rumi

The life changers: Neptune, Uranus and Pluto cross the IC

Book Review : “The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos” by Brian Swimme

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Mysterious Mercury

and PS….it’s nearly that Mercury Retrograde time again….

The Mercury Retrograde periods for 2010 are:

Retro 17/04/10, Direct 11/05/ 10.

Retro 20/08/10, Direct 12/09/ 10.

Retro 10/12/10, Direct 30/12/ 10.

There’s a brilliant new article on creative ways of dealing with those tricky times thrice yearly when the planet Mercury APPEARS to be going backwards in the sky, and matters communicative go awry :

check out writer Jodi Cleghorn’s advice at

http://writeanything.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/10-writing-tips-for-using-mercury-retrograde-energy/

300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Winter Solstice Book Review: “The steps of the Sun” by Paul F. Newman

At the Winter Solstice 2009, Paul F. Newman writes:

“The winter solstice, the shortest day, is for us in the northern hemisphere the
Sun’s lowest possible point. Its declination or latitude measurement is as far
south of the celestial equator as it is possible to be. These steps of the Sun
mark out the turning phases of our year and the customs we have attached to them….

*************************

….and Anne Whitaker reviews “Declination in Astrology The steps of the Sunby Paul F. Newman ….

The Steps of the Sun

DECLINATION in Astrology

Declination measures the position of planets North or South of the celestial equator, which is the Earth’s equator projected into space. As Paul F. Newman demonstrates in this broad ranging and informed study, it is a measure which has been used at least since Neolithic times, notably in the most famous solar temple in the world, five thousand year old Stonehenge. Do we astrologers use it today? The answer to that question is probably – not much.

The blurb on the back of the book asserts, however, that declination is “an ancient art of astrology currently undergoing a vital revival” and Paul F. Newman is to be congratulated on presenting the topic in both a practical and inspiring way which should have a number of astrologers checking Norths and Souths in future!

One of the problems with astrological practice is that there are so many techniques and approaches available that the practitioner, intent on earning a living, has to prune this cornucopia to a workable minimum of personal favourites.

As one reads through DECLINATION in Astrology The steps of the Sun”, it becomes clear that declination provides easily accessible tools, which can most definitely enhance the art of analysis.

I have two favourites from the toolbox. The first is Out of Bounds planets – overstepping the declination boundaries set by the Sun, vividly describing ‘awkward squad’ tendencies in those who possess them!! The second is  planets on or near Zero declination, the equatorial point dividing the earth into Northern and Southern hemispheres, and therefore in Newman’s own words “a potent and critical position”.

Readers familiar with Paul F. Newman’s writing will recognise the quirkiness and diversity of the examples from film, poetry, soap opera and science fiction he draws upon from his own wide reading to bring the book’s theory to life. We have “Tarzan of the Apes” rubbing shoulders with that late great astrologer John Addey (out of bounds Mercury); with Liberace (out of bounds Venus, you’d never have guessed!) ; with a famous “Photo of the Beatles”; with Mickey Mouse, the Elephant Man and “The Twilight Zone” to name a very few.

My favourite, as a poetry lover, is Paul’s brilliant and haunting analysis of Coleridge’s “Rime of the ancient mariner”. It is only after the old navigator crosses the equator ( Zero declination) and sails South, that all the strange events following the killing of the albatross unfold…read on, and experience the scary allurement of Neptune’s realm….

Paul F. Newman skilfully weaves astronomical declination theory together with key aspects of mythology connected to the solar journey throughout the four seasons of the year. The artwork is his own: he has produced diagrams which are both clear, and soothing to the brains of spatial dyslexics like myself who have rather a struggle with the astronomical basis of our great art.

This is an accomplished book which deserves to be widely read, contributing as it does to the updating and publicising of a dimension of astrology which until fairly recently has been somewhat neglected.

 

Paul F Newman

Paul F. Newman is an astrologer, astrology teacher, writer and contributor to many journals including ‘The Mountain Astrologer‘ and  ‘The Astrological Journal’, author of “You’re not a person–just a birth chart” and  “DECLINATION  in Astrology The Steps of the Sun”

He can be contacted at pneuma@ukonline.co.uk

****************************************************

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Paul F. Newman 2009

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

A book for Advent: “Things Seen and Unseen” by Nora Gallagher

“ Things seen and unseen
A year
lived
in
faith ”

by  Nora Gallagher

“ Faith is not about belief in something irrational or about a blind connection to something unreal. It’s about a gathering, an accumulation of events and experiences of a different order….” (pp 78-79)

**********

It was just such an “accumulation of events and experiences of a different order….” that led me in mid-life, after an odyssey of spiritual exploration, finally to take the Dalai Lama ’s advice. If you can find a corner in your own tradition, he said in one of his books, why adopt anyone else’s? So it was that I found a corner in the Scottish Episcopal Church, fifteen minutes’ walk from my house.

All the sacred stories, Christianity being one, have at their core the ability to offer humans collective ritual practice through which to affirm that persistent sense, endemic to the human psyche, that we are all tiny sparks in a great blaze of divine light. We need to celebrate that together, with humility and awe. I needed to have that celebration in my life. And to find a mode of entry, despite my innate resistance to any form of doctrine or dogma.

As I struggled with my defiant heart in the first few months of churchgoing, a friend gave me Nora Gallagher’s fine memoir to read; the narrative begins in the season of Advent. It proved a great support and comfort.  Most importantly, it aided my entry into church life. A re-read followed about two years later, and again this month – for our church community’s book group.

This time, I resolved to write an appreciation for my website. This is THE memoir to read for anyone returning, as Nora Gallagher did, to a church forsaken a long time previously; anyone with spiritual needs to be met who doesn’t quite know how to go about it; anyone who is prone to sitting in the back of the church and crying without quite knowing why – as Nora Gallagher did, for the first year of her return.

 

Trinity Episcopal Church, Santa Barbara, USA

She writes beautifully, with stark honesty and directness at times: What is a priest? she asks a friend, a canon.  “A person who is too fucked-up to do anything else” he replies drily.

She can also convey her experiences with spare and moving simplicity, for example in describing a totally unexpected encounter with the presence of a beloved friend who had recently died, Lois, at a time when Nora herself felt especially vulnerable and in need of consolation: “…. I felt, particularly, the skin of her hands. They felt dry and sunny, as if she were holding a piece of the sun….The overall feeling of this whatever-it-was was of detached kindness, without emotion, clarity without sentiment, the purity and refreshment of a sun-dried sheet.”

She is able to communicate the ordinary day to day failings and inadequacies of herself and her fellow community members as they travel together for a whole year from one Advent season to the next. The texture and turbulence of church life is rendered with forensic accuracy and unfailing humour. The despair and exhaustion of supporting terminally ill friends and, most painfully, her beloved brother Kit, through the gruelling business of dying, is not shirked.

Central to the whole book is her developing understanding that the beauty and nurturing of liturgy as spiritual practice has an inseparable partner: service to others. To this end “A couple of us started a soup kitchen in the parish hall”, which grows and develops throughout the church year, feeding all levels and groups inhabiting the underside of  American prosperity – people who for many and varied reasons have fallen through the cracks. For them, the Trinity community kitchen is a lifeline.

 

 

Gallagher does not glamourise the usually thankless and occasionally dangerous business of feeding those folk upon whom ordinary society has turned their backs. She writes about the vicissitudes of such service with unfailing honesty, humanity, and just the right seasoning of humour.

The church to which Nora Gallagher returns is not the same church that she left – had it been, she clearly states, she would not be there. She is supported by wonderful women priests: realistic, humorous, humane and compassionate. In the partnership between ordained and lay ministry which is strong at Trinity, she takes on such tasks as serving at the Eucharist: “The mysterious and irrational Eucharist….that fed my mysterious and irrational life.” In attending to this task, she sees “the fallen-down helplessness in people’s eyes….” but also “….bits of hidden life, something about to emerge…. ”

A thorny contemporary issue finds central place in this vividly evoked year in the life of Trinity Episcopal church. Mark Asman, the temporary priest in charge, is an openly gay man. Should the community call him as their Rector? They love him and appreciate his strengths, especially his ability to pull the community closer by bringing out the best in people. But is this enough to cope with the controversy such an appointment would surely bring? The way the Trinity community deals with this process, and their eventual arrival at a decision – Mark was called, and said “Yes” – is beautifully woven by Nora Gallagher into the tapestry of a vital, painful, joyful, tempestuous and inspiring year.

I love the way she ends the book. She and spiritual director Ann Jaqua are lunching in a favourite cafe, discussing their latest creative project which is meeting with some resistance. Nora observes that there are times when she can’t stand church life. Ann responds that she can either put up with it, or start a new one. Just then, “a crazy man with dreadlocks” who used to come to the community kitchen strolls by. Nora can’t finish her sandwich and is wondering aloud what to do with it. The crazy man pauses, asks if she wants the half sandwich, she says no, and without a pause he takes it. Ann Jaqua grins. “Nothing is lost.”

Do choose “Things Seen and Unseen” as your Advent companion!

**********

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Bite-sized book reviews

I haven’t published a book review for a while, and the Personal Book Reviews page is very well visited. So this month sees me posting some ‘bite-sized’ reviews from my ongoing, sometimes scrappy pencil-written “Books I have read” notebook. Sometimes I only write a couple of sentences. Hopefully that should be enough to stimulate you to check out the books below which I have really enjoyed and appreciated: and maybe, even, to buy them yourself.

By the way, the writers involved don’t know about these recommendations, and do not provide me with any incentive to promote them – apart from the high quality of their work! I really appreciate positive feedback on my own writing, and it’s just nice to be in a position to be able to put out a good word for others.

Mediaeval Bookworm....

Mediaeval Bookworm....

“The Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram

A wonderfully written, erudite exploration of our human embodiment in the natural world and our journey of alienation from it. Very stimulating and thought-provoking: full of good quotes, eg:

“ Direct sensuous reality, in all its more-than-human mystery, remains the sole solid touchstone for an experiential world now inundated with electronically-generated vistas and engineered pleasures; only in regular contact with the tangible ground and sky can we learn how to orient and to navigate in the multiple dimensions that now claim us.”

( Preface, p x )

Novels : “Judgement Day” and “Passing On” by Penelope Lively.

“Judgement Day”, set in an English village, is centered on fund-raising for the church and the dramas arising therein. “Passing On” deals with the unfolding lives of two emotionally squashed middle-aged children on their domineering mother’s demise.

Penelope Lively regards the human condition with compassion, detachment, lack of any sentimentality, dry mordant wit, and forensic observation. Brilliant writing and highly enjoyable reading.

“Science and the Akashic Field” by Ervin Laszlo

It seems that the ancient idea of Akasha, and the Akashic Record which records everything everywhere for all time, is being borne out by current understandings in physics and cosmology. This is an ‘integral theory of everything’ book, bringing insights of contemporary science and ancient wisdom together. Very clearly written and (mostly!) comprehensible by someone like me, whose lifelong fascination with matters scientific is forever hampered by a lack of formal scientific education.

“Let your life speak” by Parker J. Palmer

A jewel of a book by an American Quaker, on the subject of the vocational quest which arises from within, and from the promptings of Spirit, rather than being adopted from the thrustings of Ego allied with social ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’. I found his writing very honest, and movingly personal without being at all self-indulgent. Just the right book for those of us whose vocational path has been varied and tortuous but feels, in mid-life, as though it could not have been otherwise!

“Belief” by Joan Bakewell

A very enjoyable selection of interviews from her Radio 3 (BBC, UK ) series: religious writer Karen Armstrong; monk, writer and poet John O’Donohue; writer of sacred music John Tavener; scientist Richard Dawkins (whose shallow and limited perspective on matters spiritual was very obvious here); composer James Macmillan; and many other thoughtful and able people. I especially appreciated the depth, range and balance of scientist Paul Davies’ views. This is, mostly, a stimulating and inspiring collection.

Book Review:” Where Did I Leave My Glasses? ” by Martha Weinman Lear

” Where Did I Leave My Glasses? “

The What, When and Why of Normal Memory Loss

by Martha Weinman Lear

A few weeks ago my husband dashed off to an evening meeting. Shortly afterwards, he rang me, sounding stressed. “Can you please find my glasses for me? A friend is passing by shortly – she can pick them up and bring them along to the meeting.” My irritation with him dissolved into fits of laughter when I eventually found the glasses. Where were they? Yes, sitting right on top of  the book he was then reading, called “Where Did I Leave My Glasses?” by Martha Weinman Lear.

Exhibit A - the glasses!

Exhibit A - the glasses!

One of the realisations which don’t dawn until the fifties – I speak for myself here, maybe you are ninety-six and still in denial! – is that it’s all downhill physically from now on. I think writer Richard Holloway is right when he talks in one of his books (surprise, surprise, can’t remember which one….) about the importance of starting to cultivate fortitude once you reach your fifties. Time is going to win, and you, small speck of ephemeral matter, are going to lose – no matter what you do to try and stave off the aging process.

An indestructible sense of humour is a huge asset in facing this truth. So is information which cheers you up rather than depressing you. Everyone over the age of fifty should therefore read this book. It succeeds in being simultaneously very informative and very entertaining on the topic of normal memory loss, a subject which generates intermittent worry for, I would estimate, at least 99 per cent of us who are baby-boomers and older.

Martha Weinman Lear, former articles editor and staff writer with the New York Times Magazine, is well qualified to research and present information and opinion on the topic of memory loss, having written extensively before on social and medicine-related topics.

I infer from the book that she is a person past the first flush of youth. Here she is, inviting us to

“Consider our own memory situations, yours and mine.

Here is mine:

Adjectives elude me. Verbs escape me. Nouns, especially proper nouns, totally defeat me. I may meet you at a party, have a long, lovely conversation with you, be charmed by you, want to know you forever, and a day later not remember your name….”

The book is laugh-aloud entertainment, rooted in real conversations with real people all of whom including herself have funny disclosures to make centering round the five top responses to the question she put to all the lay and expert interviewees in the book, ie ‘What can you most reliably depend upon yourself to forget?’

These five were:

Where did I leave my glasses?

What was I just saying?

What did I come in here for?

What did I ask you to remind me to do?

What’s her(his, its) name?

Lear’s book may be wittily written, but it is also thorough and well-informed in exploring aspects of normal memory and memory loss, including why we are actually wired to forget. She covers a range of topics including sex differences in memory function and deterioration, different types of memory, how to train the aging brain into being more efficient at remembering – and most fascinating of all, the future of memory enhancement in a culture where increasingly we are living longer than biology built our bodies to last.

I found “Where Did I Leave My Glasses?” enormously comforting and reassuring in the face of the spectre that haunts our increasingly long-lived Western populations – Altzheimer’s. Lear’s book’s central message is that most memory lapses beginning in middle age are universal: a normal part of the inevitable process of aging.

In short, don’t worry if you don’t know where you left your glasses. But do worry – and seek help – if you can’t remember what your glasses are for….

 

650 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Review: Mslexia writer’s diary 2009

“ I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”

Edna St Vincent Millay …. ‘On writing…. This spirited quote, balm to the soul of  most rebels – therefore most writers! – appears on the 2–8 February page of  Mslexia writer’s diary 2009. 


Mslexia writer's diary 2009

Mslexia writer's diary 2009

I have never before purchased a new diary so full of useful information and advice. The Mslexia team’s stated aim is to help us writers to fulfill “all….writing (and reading) ambitions, pleasures, inspirations and desires.” In this they succeed admirably.

Chawton House Library in Hampshire, UK, houses a unique collection of books focusing on “women’s writing in English from 1600–1830”, including “early editions by authors such as Aphra Behn, Frances Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.” Mslexia writer’s diary 2009 features a monthly inspiration from this collection: eg a letter from Wollstonecraft to her publisher, and poetry by early feminist Behn.

An ‘I urge you to read’ section featuring recommendations from top women writers eg Kate Grenville and Isabel Allende, alternates fortnightly with ‘On writing….’: pithy, witty, provocative and poetic observations from respected writers on the writer’s craft.

Also – clearly set out – are guidelines on how to set up and run writing groups, writing exercises to get the muse going, an extensive A-Z Resources for writers, and the brilliant ‘ten to try’ lists. These provide groups of ten of the following: literary venues, literary magazines, independent publishers, writers’ websites and literary blogs.

My favourite blog is  www.writeanything.wordpress.com which features a range of monthly blog carnivals on a wide range of topics, allowing you to showcase your work on a regular basis. This, as I have recently discovered, is a great way to boost traffic for any writers with a web/blogsite.

Ah, the pages! There are Contacts pages, and Submissions pages. It even caters for the anal amongst us, with a couple of ‘books lent and borrowed’ pages! This great diary also provides ‘the blank page’: twenty-seven of them, to be precise – carry Mslexia writer’s diary 2009 around with you, and never again will you be caught short on the upper deck of  the fifty-nine bus when a great idea strikes and you are out of paper….

It is light, about the size of a small paperback, and easy to tuck into a handbag or even a capacious pocket. Protected front and back with wipe-clean plastic, the attractive, very literary-looking cover has handy clear pockets inside: for keeping business cards, prescriptions you’ve forgotten to collect, shopping lists, that important piece of paper with your car registration written on it, the email of someone in publishing it might be worth contacting, your grandmother’s shoe size, etc etc.

The Mslexia team really have thought of everything. There are more goodies within the diary’s pages, which I have not covered here but leave you to discover when you rush out and buy it! (directly from  www.mslexia.co.uk or phone 0191 261 6656)

My only small complaint?
The notes pages – facing the week-to-view diary pages – are blank. How about a lined version for next year?

If you’ve treated yourself to this excellent diary as a result of this review, I’d like you to let me know – and what you think of it (either the review, the diary – 0r both!)Just leave a comment.

500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

The lazy reviewer confesses….

….that I haven’t quite got around to writing that book review I promised for December!

Today could have been the day, but after the hectic excitement and rush towards Christmas and the inertia following, my husband Ian and I took some time out on this beautifully sunny, frosty, slightly hazy day, to go walking around the Isle of Cumbrae.

Cumbrae is a small island some fifteen miles in circumference, a quarter hour’s ferry ride across from the coastal town of Largs which lies an hour’s scenic drive from where we live in Glasgow in Scotland.

It was a beautiful afternoon – walking in crisp, cold air, enjoying hazy sea and coastal views, the curlews’ cries and the honking throaty calls of migrating wild geese. Carpe diem! We all need moments of peace and retreat from the challenges of our personal and collective lives – I do hope you readers have also been able to have some contemplative space as this year ends.

In the meantime, let me direct you to the Personal Book Reviews page, where there is   a recently published review to enjoy until I post a new book review come January 2009.  I returned to this spiritual journey classic over and over again in my long sojourn in the Underworld of loss of energy and extreme fragility. It never failed to offer me comfort, strength of spirit, hope and inspiration.

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

How the heart grows wise on the spiritual path

by Jack Kornfield

How’s this for an image of unity and diversity ? “While helicopter gunships flew by and (the Vietnam) war raged around them, Buddha and Jesus stood there like brothers….their arms around each other’s shoulders, smiling….”

In his first best-selling book on meditation “A Path with Heart”, American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes the powerful impact of his first sight of two massive sixty-foot tall statues of the Buddha and Jesus on a small island of the Mekong Delta. “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” is its worthy and equally inspiring successor.

Now read on!……

Personal Book Reviews

Brief Book Review: “The Spiral Staircase” by Karen Armstrong

What a wonderfully well-written and stimulating read! “The Spiral Staircase” charts Karen Armstrong’s slow process of emerging from an alienating experience of nun-hood, with her human ability to relate damaged, and without a sense of connection with God as depicted by conventional Christianity.

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

This is a brave book: it is very honest, humorous, and inspiring. Armstrong also  provides a tough and unsparing critique of the structures of formal religion and conventional psychiatry. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of an outsider, gradually finding her unique place in the secular world – in a career talking and writing about God….

We all struggle to a greater or lesser extent with the twin challenges of self-acceptance and finding our place. In concluding “The Spiral Staircase” , Karen Armstrong has this to say on those crucial topics:

“My life has kept changing, but at the same time I have found myself revolving round and round the same themes, the same issues, and even repeating the same mistakes. I tried to break away from the convent but I still live alone, spend my days in silence, and am almost wholly occupied in writing, thinking, and speaking about God and spirituality. I have come full circle. This reminds me of the staircase in (T.S.) Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, which I picture as a narrow spiral staircase. I tried to get off it and join others on what seemed to me to be a broad, noble flight of steps, thronged with people. But I kept falling off, and when I went back to my own twisting stairwell I found a fulfilment that I had not expected. Now I have to mount my staircase alone. And as I go up, step by step, I am turning, again, round and round, apparently covering little ground, but climbing upwards, I hope, towards the light.” (pp 341-2)

I derived great comfort, support and encouragement from this book – do read it!