Monday, 22 December 2014

Hugs Under the Hood: Season's Greetings in Street Art

After visiting the wonderful Christmas Past exhibition at the Geffrye Museum last week, a friend I was with suggested we wander around Hoxton to look at street art.

It sounded fun and the people in an artists' supply shop called Paintworks, just over the road from the Geffrye Museum, kindly gave us a map and pointed us in the right direction to find some really great urban paintings.

Now, I realise street art is quite a big thing these days, especially in East London, but I was absolutely stunned by the amount - and quality - of the creative graffiti to be found on walls and hoardings. The picture at the top probably doesn't show the very best mural I saw, but it is the most seasonal. It is by Art Under the Hood, which I understand is a community project based around Hackney - @ArtUnderTheHood on Twitter.

I really love the sentiment expressed in the poem shown in detail to the right called (((HUGS))): "I love hugs and the feelings they bring / Hugs can help with almost anything..." Yes, indeed they can.

So have a virtual Winter Solstice hug from me. I'll be posting a few more of the photos I took of street art in Hoxton in the future.

Links and previous related posts

Sunday, 21 December 2014

News: Holly, Ivy, Gifts, Winter Solstice, Witch Stone

"The holly and the ivy" - story at The Roanoke Times.

"A brief history of the Christmas present" - story at The Week.

"Winter Solstice 2014: 3 Things To Know About Pagan Yule Celebrations" - story at International Business Times.

"Wheathampstead ‘witch stone’ is relocated after almost 600 years" - story at The Herts Advertiser.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Images of Christmas Past at the Geffrye Museum

In the photo above, the table is set for a New Year's Day feast in a hall of a London home of the 1630s. It is part of a display of rooms from an exhibition called Christmas Past at the Geffrye Museum in  East London.

The feast in the early to mid 17th century would have included lots of sugar crafted into the shapes of other items of food, such as eggs and bacon. Sugar was a real luxury at the time and would have been a special treat to be made the most of. The room is decorated with evergreens.

As the description at the Geffrye Museum says: "The use of evergreens was a pagan custom, but early Christians adopted them as a symbol of everlasting life." Although the bringing of greenery into the home at Yule persisted for centuries, it died out in the late 17th century and only really became popular again in Victorian times.

The picture at the bottom shows a scene on the evening of Christmas Day in the home of a family from around 1850. It was during the reign of Queen Victoria that most of our recognisable current Christmas customs evolved - including the decorated fir tree.

Although Christmas trees had been brought into houses in Germany for centuries, and a few people people in England had them in the past, it was Prince Albert's enthusiasm for Yule trees like the one in the picture to the right that made them fashionable over here.

The small picture to the left shows a Christmas Day in the late 1950s or early 1960s after the presents have been opened. That's the scene that reminds me most of my own childhood. I think I even remember playing some of those games.

The Geffrye Museum has eleven living rooms in the style of different periods of history. Each December they are transformed with authentic festive decorations, lighting, music and greenery to give visitors a glimpse into how Christmas has been celebrated in English middle-class homes during the past 400 years. There is also an accompanying programme of events including talks and carol singing, ending with a ‘Farewell to Christmas’ – the Geffrye’s traditional burning of the Christmas greenery with stories about Epiphany and a taste of mulled wine and Twelfth night cake.

I visited the exhibition to help myself get in the mood for Yule - and it did the trick. A visit is bound to get you utterly nostalgic looking at things you will remember from your childhood Christmases, as well as offering a view of seasonal festivities from the times of parents, grandparents and those who lived in bygone centuries too. Entry to the museum and Christmas Past exhibition is free.

The Geffrye Museum is at 136 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, London E2 8EA and the nearest station is Hoxton (directly behind the museum). It is normally open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, but is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Visit

Links and previous related posts

Friday, 19 December 2014

Pagan London: The Temple of Mithras

One of my resolutions for this year was to visit the remains of the London Mithraeum and also see the items that were found there and are now in the Museum of London.

I probably should have checked on the status of the Mithraeum before writing that resolution, because for the past few years the whole site has been behind a security fence. As well as building work for new offices, part of the work going on behind the fence involves archaeological excavations for the Walbrook Discovery Programme, investigating the edges of London’s underground river, the Walbrook.

However, I did get as close to the site as I could – and took the photos you can see above and to the right. The hoardings offer a few tantalising images from history.

The site was discovered in 1954 during construction work. It was excavated by W F Grimes, director of the Museum of London at the time. He had apparently hoped it was an early Christian church, but soon realised it was built in the mid-3rd century and dedicated to Mithras, god of the sun, justice, contracts and war. It also held statues of several other deities that were presumably venerated there.

Mithras was a Roman version of the Persian god Mithra. He is often depicted slaughtering a bull – but the second most common scene found in Mithraic temples shows Mithras banqueting with the sun. One theory is that the Mithraic mysteries were to do with life, death and rebirth and were associated with the return of the sun at Midwinter. According to M J Vermaseren, the Mithraic New Year and the birthday of Mithras might have been celebrated on December 25, a few days after the Winter Solstice, when the days are just starting to get noticeably longer.

Archaeologists found that the London Mithreaum was rededicated to Bacchus, the god of wine, in the early fourth century. Bacchus is yet another deity whose birthday is thought to be at around the time of the Winter Solstice.

The London Mithraeum is currently not only behind a fence, but is also not where the Romans originally built it, on the east bank of the Walbrook. After the 1954 archaeological dig the whole temple was moved down the road to Temple Court, Queen Victoria Street, London EC4, where it was reassembled and put on public display. There are plans to restore the Mithraeum to its original site, and a projected completion date of 2016. In any case, once all the work is done people will again be able to go and visit the remains of the Temple of Mithras.

After being slightly disappointed that I couldn’t wander around the Mithraeum, I went to the Museum of London and saw the artefacts from the temple that are on display there. It is a pretty impressive display too.

In the photo below, the statuary from left to right along the top is: head of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom; head of Mithras; head of Serapis, Egyptian god of the underworld. In the centre there is a statue of the god Mercury, who guided the dead into the afterlife. On the floor to the left is a statue of a river god – perhaps representing the Thames. On the floor to the right is another statue that might represent the spirit of London.

The plaque in the photo to the right shows a bull slaying scene surrounded by the signs of the zodiac, the sun and the moon.

There’s a lot more information about the Mithraeum and the pagan gods and goddesses of Roman London at the Museum of London and it is very much worth a visit. I plan to return to the Mithraeum when it finally reopens to the public. There will be photos.

Links and previous related posts

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Winter Solstice and Yuletide Pagan Events

Thursday 18 December; PFL Yule Open Ritual facilitated by Two4Joy and Friends. Venue: Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn London. Time: 7.30pm for 8pm start. Ritual ends around 9pm followed by feasting until 10pm. Entrance: £6/£5 PF members. Please bring seasonal food and drinks to share at feast after ritual. For more details, visit

Thursday 18 December; Croydon CoA Gathering: Social evening open to all Pagan Paths at 1 Mathews Yard off Surrey Street, Croydon. Event held on the third Thursday of the month at 8pm. For any questions email or visit

Friday 19 December; Yule party at Treadwells, 33 Store Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7BS. Time: 7pm. Free, but advance reservation essential. Tel: 00207 419 8507 or email:

Friday 19 December; Project Crossroads - charity event organised by the Pagan Federation London. Bring a sandwich, a drink and items of warm clothing to give away to the homeless. Meet at Pret A Manger, Marble Arch, London at 8pm.

Saturday 20 December: Free and Open Gorsedd of Caer Aribi Winter Solstice Druidic ceremony to celebrate the Winter Solstice (Alban Arthan) at Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire. Meet at the Red Lion pub from noon for a ceremony at 1.30pm. Free event, all welcome, offerings of song, poetry, bread and mead are welcome. Overnight camping is available in the overflow carpark.

Saturday 20 December; Christmas Plays from Oberufer Presented by ‘Friends of Rudolf Steiner House’ at Rudolf Steiner House, 35 Park Road, London NW1 6XT. Time: 3.30pm and 4.30pm;

Saturday 20 December; Urubu Winter Solstice Ecstatic Dance Celebration. Venue: London location revealed only to meetup group members. Doors open at 7pm no entry after 7:30. Dress code: Strictly white. Cost: £20 for our meetup members, price on the door is £30. Join the meetup group on:

Sunday, December 21; Avebury rite and pub lunch organised by the London Wicca Meetup Group. Members will leave London around 10.30am for a rite at Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire at 12.30pm followed by pub lunch. For more details and to book a place, visit:

Sunday 21 December; Wheel of the Year Festival - Winter Solstice Meditation at Chalice Well World Peace Garden, in Glastonbury. Gather at the Well Head at noon for celebration and meditation until 12.30pm, followed by a chance to chat around the fire on the lower lawn. Free admission to the gardens from 10am to noon. In the evening there will be an All Hallow’s Eve / Samhain event suitable for families, starting after 4.30pm and ending at around. The cost of that is £7.50 adults, £4.50 children. For more details and to book, visit the website

Sunday 21 December; PFL Yuletide Family Gathering at Trent Park, Enfield. Meet at the playground behind the cafe, at the Cockfosters entrance at noon.

Sunday 21 December; Alban Arthuan on Primrose Hill under the Aegis of the Loose Association of Druids. Gather in the Hawthorne Grove at Primrose Hill, London, between 12.30pm and 12.45pm to prepare the site ready for a prompt 1pm start. Nearest tube: Chalk Farm. Bring a small contribution of food and drink to share. All are welcome.

Sunday 21 December; Winter Solstice Blot to Holda. A blot hosted jointly by the Kith of Yggdrasil, Hendon Heathens and the Dawn of the Oak. To celebrate the Winter Solstice at Holda's Well, Greenwich Park. Then to a nearly hostelry for a yule tipple.

Sunday 21 December; Winter Solstice Ceremony and Activation Alignment: Rebirth of Light, with Aang and Vaz via the London College of Spirituality, Venue: Windsor Suite, Columbia Hotel, 95- 99 Lancaster Gate, London W2 3NS. Time: 1pm. Price:£55 per person. To book a place and more details visit:

Sunday 21 December; The Circle of Ankerwycke Yule Open Ritual at Wraysbury, Staines. Location: Outdoors under an ancient yew tree, deep in woodland and very private. Advance booking essential. Time: 7.30pm for 8pm start. Phone: (07735) 528320.

Sunday 21 December; London Dreamtime presents The Snow Queen. Venue: Secret Location near Whitestone Pond, London NW3. Time: 2.30pm, Cost: £3 per person. Booking essential to reserve a place. Email or visit the London Dreamtime website on:

Monday 22 December: Stonehenge Winter Solstice Managed Open Access with a celebration at sunrise at the stone circle. Entry is allowed from 7.45am. For full details, visit:

Monday 22 December: Temple of the Heart with Aang organised through the London College of Spirituality. Venue: Latvian House, 72 Queensborough Terrace, London, W2 3SH. Time: 7.15pm to 9pm. £15.

Monday 22 December; Winter Solstice – Myths and Pies. Talk by with David Goddard, author of The Sacred Magic of the Angels,in a series of talks on the The Western Esoteric Tradition. Venue The Atlantis Bookshop, Museum Street, London WC1. Time: 7pm. Tickets £15. To attend this event you must reserve a place in advance. For more details contact the Atlantis Bookshop on 020 7405 2120.

Monday 22 December; Psychic Circle run by Shamanic Spirit at a venue in Croydon, South London. The circle is held on Mondays fortnightly starting at 7.30pm. Cost £5. For more details and to book places call 07952 041477. For more information, visit

Tuesday 23 December; Crossbones Vigil to honour The Goose and the outcast dead of Cross Bones Graveyard. Gather from 6.45pm for a 7pm start in Redcross Way outside the Memorial Gates, SE1 1TA, opposite the Boot and Flogger pub, just north of the junction with Union Street. Nearest tubes Borough or London Bridge. The event is free, but donations are welcome. For more details, visit

Sunday, December 28; Feast of Fools with the London Wicca Meetup Group. Event is open to anyone who has attended a London Wicca Meetup Group ritual previously. Venue is a private dwelling in Tooting. Meet at Tooting Bec Tube station at 7.30pm. Advance reservation required. Contact numbers: 07581 198380 and 07848 448669. Website: