The sun is setting above the ice crowned rooftops as I sit at my keyboard and reflect on 2014. It’s not been the worst of years and neither has it been the best. My blog mojo seems to have vanished this past year and although I’ve bookmarked many a webpage intending to blog about an article in many cases its never happened.
The main problem has been a decline in my eyesight as I’ve been fighting a wider condition that affects ears and the joints in your body, kind of a combination of things that’s been given a label and not that many suffer from. This has made blogging something of a chore as long periods typing make my eyes tired very quickly. I’ve had surgery recently and more could follow in the new year. Despite having some bad news a couple of months ago I’m somehow still trucking along and still optimistic that things will hopefully be resolved. Anyway less of this kind of stuff and more of what happened (in brief) in 2014 and my aspirations for 2015.
On the positive side there’s been some interesting sojourns here and there. London as always has been interesting but visits always seem expensive and all too brief, it doesn’t help that its so good for clothes shopping and I have a weakness for certain items, shoes and boots spring to mind!
My holiday in May to Skiathos in Greece was truly amazing and a little life changing in some respects. Culturally I love Greece, its people and its language and I think its the only holiday I’ve been on in which I didn’t want to return at the end. There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be returning to Greece, it has a magic I can’t explain.
England has some interesting places and I’ve returned to some favourites this year whilst discovering the odd new ones.
On the personal front I think I’ve become more measured and thoughtful which is no bad thing, of course I still make mistakes but who doesn’t? I find growing older and the maturity and wisdom that comes with it quite rewarding, if only I was so caparisoned with it in my youth!
In the later part of the year I immersed myself in the growing Steampunk culture, I’d always been interested in it and kept a beady eye on its growth but took the plunge to attend an event locally. I was immediately spellbound by its imagery and the creativity involved and will be exploring it more in the coming year.
Many friends probably consider me something of a pessimist (and they’d be partly right) but I generally feel 2015 will bring good things, not just for me but for them too. It looks like there’s a couple of weddings on the horizon and knowing the people involved they’ll be eventful. I’m at that age now in which I genuinely treasure friendships and seeing people close to me happy makes me content too.
As 2015 encroaches I look ahead to better things. Getting my eyes sorted would be a good start and then easing myself back into full time work. Of course a holiday would be ideal and I need to apply myself to a few other things I’ve been planning.
If you’re wondering on the blog title, its a Greek New Year tradition to get a mossy stone from a nearby body of water and step on it before entering the house on New Years day as its supposed to bring good luck.
So to readers, associates and friends alike, best wishes for 2015 !
(and you don’t need religion to be a good person!)
The votes are counted and the result is in. The people of Scotland have voted no to independence. Admittedly it was close and I feel for the Scottish people that voted no, it was their big chance really to make change. However that said this whole exercise will undoubtedly change British politics forever and has illustrated if people feel strongly about something they will vote for change, an 85% turn out is credit to the passion of the Scots about this issue.
The ramifications of independence would have been huge for both Scotland and England, we can only speculate what would have happened.
On the positive side it shows how democracy works and I do hope that even though the whole campaign has been divisive at times I hope the Scots come together in unity and realise they are truly an important part of Great Britain. This vote shows people have power and ultimately ordinary people can make a difference.
Today the people of Scotland go to the polls to vote for possible independence. It’s evidently been a long journey to get this far from the pro-independence movement and the destiny of the historic union of Great Britain hangs in the balance.
Personally I hope Scotland decides to stay in the union, historically it was a great achievement and because of it Britain became a world leader and super power (alas we aren’t so much these days). We’d actually had a monarch of both countries before the Act of Union which was called the Union of the Crowns so both countries had a firm link even if culturally there were some differences. Historical reference shows the union may not have been popular at the time and indeed there always seems to have been a calling for an independent Scotland but in 2007 the union was 300 years old.
Having been to Scotland a few times I would say it can feel as though you are in a different nation to some degree but if you strip away the different pound notes, thick Glaswegian accents and odd cultural oddities like Mars Bars in batter (a chocolate bar dipped in potato chip fat and fried) then there’s really not that much between Scotland and England. Scottish people are proud of their heritage and culture, perhaps more outwardly so than we English but I think this only endears them to the rest of the nation even more, I personally admire them for it. Patriotism aside though I feel we’d be stronger together, more than 300 years of intertwined history, commerce and standing together during conflicts have only served to galvanise the strength of the union. I like Scottish people, well ok so I’ve met a couple of not so endearing ones in the past but that can apply to any nationality but I genuinely hope that in these uncertain times they realise that we are on the same piece of land in our part of the world and we’d be stronger together.
As much as I love the Marx Brothers I’d hate to see England and Scotland become some bitter Duck Soup parody in future years. I wish Scotland well whatever its people decide and hope they don’t surrender reason to cultural passions.
I seriously doubt there’s many atheists in the part of the world I’ve just been which was Greece and the Sporades Islands. Its a part of the world steeped in myths and legends and has some very lovely churches indeed. On the island of Skiathos I climbed to the abandoned city of Kastro, once a haven from pirates and now home to an isolated church on some headland where the Greek flag flies. The Aegean sea was azure blue underneath cyan skies, Skiathos is a beautiful island. I was told in the neighbouring island of Skopelos there’s so many churches that they have to take it in turns to open!
I doubt there’s a single day passes now without some religious based incident happening in some corner of Africa. It’s taken a couple of weeks for the world to wake up to the recent school girl abductions and forced conversion to Islam in Nigeria by Boko Haram. Other countries such as Uganda are purging homosexuals in their society even going as far as naming and shaming them in the press.
Today we have the shocking headline of a Christian woman being sentenced to hang in Sudan because she won’t recant on being a Christian and become a Muslim.
Everyday I could link stories regarding Africa as I’m pretty diligent with news websites, the one thing becoming clear to me though is that Africa will be the new faith battleground in years to come, with ever increasing tragedy. African outlooks often illustrate religion in some of its baser forms, intolerant, uncompromising and hatred fuelled. If people want to witness the darker side of religion and how it was in some western countries 200 years ago then Africa would be the perfect place.
Africa is said to be the birthplace of mankind. Could it be the death of mankind in years to come?
I don’t see many Muslims where I live in the UK. My nearest and dearest religious wise would be the ever active Evangelicals and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, everyone else is nominally Church of England (C of E), Anglican, Catholic or indifferent. Here in England by default many will put down C of E on paperwork and application forms etc when asked what religion they are even if they generally aren’t a believer, although these days I’m sure it varies a lot what people actually put.
So, back to the thread, Muslims. Unless I travel to one of the larger cities its not often I see a Muslim person, I guess the nearest concentration of Muslims near to me would have to be Leicester though I dare say Nottingham has a rising population too. As for blogging about Muslims and Islam I may have done the odd one in the past and mentioned them on occasion but as I don’t often come into contact with them I don’t blog about them too much. Sure, I read about Islam and I’m not overly enthusiastic about it as a faith but I’ve not really seen a Muslim in the street preaching the end of the world or telling me how good Islam is.
That was until a few weeks ago. Over the Christmas period I was quite ill and lay in bed, to while away the time I watched videos on my ipad. As you may know YouTube often suggests videos to watch, so on seeing a Muslim one announcing a quick conversion to Islam in London curiosity kicked in and I had a peruse. One video leads to another of course and before long I’d watched several video conversions of people to Islam.
The scene for all of the videos is north London, on a popular and large street called Kilburn High Road. I’ve been to London many times but must admit this area is off my radar personally, I’m aware of it because a band I followed as a kid gigged in that area a lot but that’s as far as my knowledge goes, apart from a cursory look around it on Google maps. From watching the videos which are called Dawah is Easy, Dawah basically means preaching Islam and according to the videos the Koran says they have to spread the word of Islam. Fronting all of the videos is Dr Fazal Rahman, who says he is of Indian origin, a dentist by profession and I’m guessing at some point in his life due to his ethnic origin was himself a convert, though I may be wrong. To be fair at this point I have to say his delivery is quite good, he definitely articulate and comes across as intelligent, sharp and is always well dressed.
On watching his conversion videos you soon notice a pattern emerge and the Islamic rhetoric becomes all too familiar. Dr Rahman in my view employs a strategy of targeting people (and no disrespect here) that aren’t that intelligent or maybe a little bit in some cases what I’d term vulnerable. To reinforce this I’d like to add what intelligent person would convert to any religion in just a few minutes and with little knowledge of it? Surely commitment to any faith bears much gravity and should require investigation, research and lots of searching of inner feelings. In fact in some religions, for instance serious Buddhism, Jainism and others I can mention have serious personal life changing ramifications. In my case being a committed humanist/atheist required life experience and a massive amount of reasoning and contemplation.
Dr Rahman it seems gleefully likes to put the Islam smack down on people with a series of well rehearsed lines, rhetorical rationalising and enthusiastic exposition. In watching the videos I oddly find myself taking the side of Christianity in outrage as Dr Rahman’s view of history is badly skewed and very slanted towards preordination of Islam before it even actually came to be!
He asks unsuspecting potential converts what the virgin Mary would look like if she walked down the road in the present day? To which he nearly always gets the answer of ‘Like a Muslim woman’. This is irrespective of the fact we already know women from that era wore loose fitting long clothing because of the heat and practicality, not faith (and elastic hadn’t been invented!). As he palpitates further and in many cases relentlessly without letting others get a word in he says Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane just like a Muslim, Hallelujah is Islamic in connotation deriving from Allah and Muhammad (Peace be upon him every time of course) is the last of a long line of prophets. Abraham, Moses, Jesus etc, etc. So therefore Muhammad is the main man of our era so to speak and Islam is where its at. Further into the conversations he reveals the six basics tenets of Islam, reasons against Catholics that Jesus was a messenger and not God/Jesus as a single entity, well fair enough I can’t disagree there.
Points conveyed to his converts (victims?) Dr Rahman sensing his prey suitable weakened to his charm, power of suggestion and easy going views of Islam readies for his finishing moves with zeal. After reciting a few lines in Arabic they are converted, shown being embraced by the local Muslim posse and whisked off to the nearby mosque to be filmed praying and embracing their new faith, one which will take up far much more time and commitment than they initially thought. Whilst it all seems persuasive stuff in the videos just watch a handful to observe the pattern emerging and you’ll realise many of them aren’t that intelligent (sorry but its true, lonely, shy or vulnerable or maybe a little misguided). I dare say some who consented to being in the videos did the typical British thing, realised they didn’t want to be involved but decided to keep face about it (a terrible British trait) and then walk away and forget it ever happened.
Even more interesting I watched Dr Rahmans videos for training would be Dawah preachers (though the women seemed to have been curtained off as he asked are you ok through there sisters?!). His training videos have information on how to deal with other faiths and non-believers or banding us all together ‘infidels’ as they really like to call us!
It seems on reading the Koran (no I’ve not read it all but its version of heaven makes the Christian version look like derelict trailer park) you only have to turn every other page or so to realise its all about aggressive conversion, doing as your told and be very wary or warlike towards … you guessed it – infidels.
I’ll be blunt and say I don’t really care for Islam, I feel its controlling and culturally I can’t identify with it. Lets just imagine Muhammed existed and I met him via time travel, what would we have in common? Very little I suspect. It’s clear Islam is born of the desert, a way to weld warlike tribes together and a belief after such a hard life in arid lands and burdening heat that something better awaits after a short life, I can understand that, even though its really just wishful thinking. Islam seems to draw much from Christianity which obviously influenced it, pre-dated it and would have been known about by traders peddling their wares in caravans in that part of the world. When you put the what we know about Islam its not hard to see how it came about and how it is of that era of time. I’ve nothing personally against Muslims in fact I often read about the Islamic empire at its pinnacle when Muslim scholars had the edge over their Christian counterparts in many aspects of science and knowledge, like any component of history it very much plays its part and obviously like Christianity keeps on wanting to do so, overly in fact.
Anyway, I’ll link a video underneath, please watch it, or maybe a few and draw your own conclusions. In closing I’d just like to point out to Dr Rahman that in one of his videos he quotes about people converting to Islam, one of them being the famous English snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan and correct him to the fact being Ronnie expressed an interest in Buddhism and not Islam. ‘Here’ is a link to one of the many video conversions.
I’ve been meaning to do this blog for some time, so before I get ready to embrace the New Years festivities I’ll share some thoughts and photos with you from earlier this year when I went in search of the legendary King Arthur on a very memorable road trip.
King Arthur, Robin Hood, Cú Chulainn, Merlin and many others I could mention are folk heroes of legend, they all interest me intensely and I suppose in my head I want them to be real. Books have been written about them all, some claiming they were real and although there is a possibility Arthur could have been a romanised Brit who did fight the Saxon invaders there’s also every chance his story is a combination of tales intertwined to make the legend we know today.
This summer I headed to Glastonbury in my own personal search for the man and myth. It was a lovely summers day on departure, a fairly lengthy early morning journey followed heading south and then west which passed without event. I arrived in Glastonbury feeling upbeat and eager to have a look around. Its a small bohemian town with an obvious tourist element, it’s very avant-garde in its atmosphere and people too. The pagan themed hotel I stayed in was warm, welcoming and opposite Glastonbury Abbey. The afternoon was spent exploring the town, alleyways, delving into quirky shops and acquainting myself with this fascinating little place. Glastonbury has a vibe to it that I can’t explain, you just feel like you are somewhere special.
In and around Glastonbury
As the sun began to set slowly in the west I ascended Glastonbury Tor on the advice that early evening was usually quieter and the more interesting people would be up there. It didn’t take that long to get to the top really and the view was truly amazing. I found myself thinking ‘Was this once the mysterious isle of Avalon?’ as legend suggests. As I sat and gazed into the distance I became lost in the beauty and tranquillity of it all. People gathered to watch the sun go down and, some people that had only just met from different corners of the country sat and played instruments as a microlite plane passed over head. I spoke to a local man who said he came up here to see sunset most evenings and I imagined Arthur and his knights riding below, the red sun glinting of their armour. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Glastobury Tor and view of it from Chalice Well gardens
The next day I visited the abbey or what’s left of it. Arthur’s alleged grave is within but this is thought to be a publicity stunt my middle age monks eager to capitalise pilgrimages that were popular at the time. The sun was scorching and I sought respite in part of the old abbey, an under croft that is now exposed had the most beautiful noise coming from within. On investigation several people were singing religious medieval taizé songs, they were hypnotically beautiful and as I sat in a cool stone arch way seat I drifted off into a lovely place, my tiredness vanished, my mind hung onto every note of the music. As taizé is of a meditative nature after every piece their was utter silence. I’m not sure how long I was there but eventually a child innocently ran in shouting and I came out of my peaceful trance. I wandered back outside into the heat and noticed animal rescue people with a selection of birds, falcons and owls. You could make a donation and hold one, so I asked to hold a small white owl. Fitting the rough leather glove to my hand the handler then passed the owl over to me. It held my gaze and made the most enchanting sound, I was transfixed by its eyes and beauty and when I handed it back something broke within me. There I was in this historic place, Glastonbury Tor in the distance, the ruins of the abbey around me on a summers day in my own country of England. My throat contracted and my travelling companion read me so well as to give me some moments by myself, I tried to regain composure but a solitary tear cascaded its way down my cheek. I don’t know why I was suddenly swamped with emotion, I very rarely show emotion but it happened and it felt good, it was a sudden release that seem to unburden me. Maybe I was over come with the beauty of the day and my surroundings, being up close to nature with the owl definitely stirred something within.
Glastonbury Abbey grounds
That afternoon I visited the Chalice Well and drank spring water and looked around the lovely gardens, its here that Joseph of Arimathea is said to have rested and cast his staff into the ground. The next morning it has taken root and turned into a thorn bush and its said a spring came forth that gave eternal youth to all that drank from it. A robin flew so close to me in the gardens that I could almost touch it, friendly and seemingly tame it was at ease with my company. Later we drove over to Wells to see the cathedral which can only be described as majestic, Wells is so nice it reminded me of the fabled town of Tanelorn which the science-fantasy author Michael Moorcock often writes about. That evening as I stayed in the second hotel of the trip in the centre of Glastonbury called ‘The George and Pilgrim’. It’s a lovely historic building with suits of armour and lots of nooks to explore, its also a pub!
Chalice Well, Wells Cathedral and a lovely street behind it.
The next day I headed westward, the roads were diverse, the scenery breathtaking in places, Tintagel was the next stop but on the way we stopped to take in the village of Dunster and explored the castle and also popped into the small port of Watchet. When on the road we passed through a small village called St Audries that had a church in an amazing setting, we just had to park up and take some photos of it.
Church at St Audries, The Ancient Mariner statue at Watchet, Dunster & Dunster castle
By the time we arrived at Tintagel I was fading, road trips can take it out of you and evening had almost drawn in. There wasn’t time to explore but instead we settled on some food and drink in the aptly named King Arthur’s Arms pub before retiring for the night to arise early for the next day of adventures.
Morning soon came and we headed down to the coast and the legendary castle ruins of Tintagel. A Landrover vehicle takes you down the steep path and climbing out there it was, a true sight to behold, the ruins of Tintagel. I stopped dead in my tracks and was struck with awe and the rugged beauty, I was lost within my imagination and the sound of the sea, I wanted to cry out ‘Arthur!’ and wish he’d appear mounted atop the ruins on his war steed.
Tintagel is truly magical though isn’t for the faint hearted, it contains steep climbs but is worth the effort for the vista’s and views. Here I was in the once ancient realm of Kernow, known now as Cornwall, I sat near the ruins and looked out to sea – I didn’t want to leave.
The second half of the day was spent at nearby Boscastle which is more than worthy of a few hours exploration and also visited the Witchcraft museum there before again heading west deeper into this delightful county.
The next couple of days aren’t really Arthur connected, we went to Fowey (pronounced as Foy) and relaxed, drank mead and took in the sights before heading along the southern coast of Cornwall and into Devon and our final destination of Totnes for a night before heading homeward.
Hotel at Bodinnick over looking Fowey
Totnes must be one of the most interesting small towns I’ve been to and has lots of history, I definitely want to return in the near future.
A street in Totnes, The historic Totnes Guildhall and the old Motte & Bailey castle.
So that’s the end of my trip. Did I find Arthur? In my mind and imagination I’d have to say yes but more importantly I think I found some of myself that was perhaps lost. To visit such breathtaking places of wonder and beauty steeped in culture and history was reward enough. The west country of England is magical, its people are warm and friendly, its scenery is forever etched on my mind. In the film Excalibur the secret of the holy grail is that Arthur and the land are one and for me on this trip the same was true, I was at one with my country.
Religion usually finds its way everywhere, no more so in past centuries when settlers, explorers and conquistadors discovered the New World. If you go back further than that you had missionaries sent from christian Rome to far flung corners of Europe to convert pagans. Even now though in these modern times there are some in the remote Amazon basin that remain blissfully unaware of religion, clinging to their tribal and spiritual beliefs.
I didn’t realise until recently that a last bastion of one such kind of people were a little closer to home and their history is fairly recent, though goes back a long way. The place in question is St. Kilda, situated on a remote island archipelago about 40 miles west, north-west of Scotland. The name of the island remains a point of conjecture and much about the island remains a mystery but people may have lived there for two millennia. No saint is actually called St. Kilda and the name of the islands is thought to be of Norse origin ‘Sunt Kelda’ meaning ‘sweet well water’, though there’s other theories about its name. St Kilda first appears on a Dutch map dated 1666.
The only way St. Kilda could be reached was via boat and then it was no easy journey because of the unpredictable sea surrounding it, the only settlement on the island was called Hirta.
For the natives of St. Kilda life was by no means easy, food came mainly from sheep, sea birds and sundry crops eked out on the barren landscape, fishing was frowned upon because of the inclement weather. Each morning the male residents would meet on Hirta’s only street and decide on the days activities/work.
In 1746 after the battle of Culloden it was thought Prince Charles Edward Stuart and some of his Jacobite followers had fled to St. Kilda so the English despatched a mission to the island to capture him. Using row boats to land ashore at Hirta the soldiers found a deserted village, as the St. Kildan’s fearing pirates has fled to caves to the west of the island. Eventually they were coaxed forth by the soldiers and to their amazement the St Kildan’s knew nothing of the prince and had never heard of the English king George II either. The only way the islanders communicated with the outside world was by lighting a bonfire on the islands highest peak or using messages in a bottle or attached to washed up life buoys. This of course was based on luck, many bottles did wash up on the coast of west Scotland but some washed up as far away as Norway. The island has quite an interesting history and yes sooner or later Christianity would take an interest in it.
The first chaplain on the island didn’t have much luck. The remote location and islanders continued isolation and reliance on the natural world meant they had more of a leaning towards Druidism. In 1822 the Rev. John Mac Donald noticed the island had five alters and a large circle of stone fixed perpendicularly in the ground. As the world became aware of St. Kilda ships began to visit and the locals would trade simple crafted wares with them. Contact with the outside world sadly introduced smallpox and cholera among other ailments to the small islands population which fluctuated but was never more than 180. It wasn’t just disease and contact with the outside world that diminished the islands population, the other main reason was religion.
Before John Mac Donald arrived in 1822 a missionary called Alexander Buchan had arrived in 1705, despite his long stay the idea of organised religion didn’t take hold with the islanders. When Mac Donald arrived who was also known as the ‘Apostle of the North’ he set about his work with religious zeal. He preached 11 sermons in 13 days. In fairness Mac Donald raised funds externally for the islanders but he was appalled by their lack of religious knowledge or interest in it. History records the islanders were sad to see him go. His successor Rev. Neil Mackenzie did much to improve living conditions on the island and introduced education and improved agriculture. Later after disruption in Scotland’s church the islanders opted for a free church instead of the church of Scotland.
The Rev. John Mackay who represented the new free churched arrived in 1865 and immediately placed a harsh religious regime on the islanders. MacKay would preach 3 sermons on Sunday lasting 2-3 hours each. One visitor writing later in 1875 noted that the Sabbath was a day of ‘intolerable gloom, At the clink of the bell the whole flock hurry to Church with sorrowful looks and eyes bent upon the ground. It is considered sinful to look to the right or to the left.’. Time spent in religious gatherings interfered seriously with the practical routines of the island. Old ladies and children who made noise in church were lectured at length and warned of dire punishments in the afterworld. During a period of food shortages on the island, a relief vessel arrived on a Saturday, but the minister said that the islanders had to spend the day preparing for church on the Sabbath, and it was Monday before supplies were landed. Children were forbidden to play games and required to carry a Bible wherever they went. Mackay remained minister on St Kilda for 24 years, and I’m guessing the islanders weren’t sad to see him go.
Over the years the population of St. Kilda dropped dramatically, contact with the outside world hadn’t helped, 36 islanders emigrated to Australia in 1851, many men folk left after world war 1. The island was shelled by a German U-boat in the war but only a small military wireless station was destroyed and one sheep, the Germans issued a warning before shelling and the residents fled to safety. Later when money was introduced to the island this also led to decline as the islanders became less reliant on crafts and skills that had kept them alive. Influenza and crop failures led to further decline and on August 29th, 1930 at the islanders request the last 36 inhabitants were evacuated to Morvern on the Scottish mainland. The island played no active part in world war 2 but there are several plain wrecks around the island.
Nowadays St. Kilda has a small military base occupied by personnel on a monthly rotation basis, its also a nature reserve and breeding ground for rare species of birds. In 1986 it became one of Scotland’s five world heritage sites.
It makes me wonder what would have happened culturally if St. Kilda had been ignored by the world at large for a while longer? Though they benefited slightly from religion they proved it wasn’t needed and in fact disrupted their unique lifestyle, like the tribes of the Amazon the St. Kildan’s were at one with their surroundings and were true survivors not dependant on gods but faith in themselves.
I haven’t been around for a few weeks due to well…. life stuff really. Hopefully I can catch up with other blogs and bring you up to speed with recent events. One of the reasons for my absence was a road trip I went on mainly in the South West of England to historic and spiritual places, so upcoming blogs will have photos and contain what I got up to at some remarkable places.
So, sincere apologies for not being around but hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly, and don’t worry I didn’t suddenly find religion on my travels either!