Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Thoughts: Stories from the Bones of the Past

Over the Easter Bank Holiday I visited an exhibition called Eastbourne Ancestors: A story of life from the bones of the past, which is on in Eastbourne until autumn.

Central to the exhibition are skeletons dating back as far as Neolithic times that have been investigated through archaeological digs, scientific analysis and 3D reconstruction.

The most impressive skeleton is that of the "Beachy Head lady" (pictured right). Discovered at Eastbourne's most famous cliff, this woman lived in the local area during Roman times. Scientists discovered that she was of African origins and may have been the wife, daughter or servant of a high-ranking Roman officer. In the exhibition, her almost complete skeleton is displayed next to a reconstruction of her face (pictured below left) and details of what has been learnt about her.

I found it fascinating. However, I had been in two minds about whether to visit the event at all. I was concerned I might find it a bit ghoulish.

Many pagans are very much opposed to archaeological exhumations of human remains, or at least think that the bones should be reburied after examination in a manner and location as close as possible to that in which they were originally interred. The theory is that when that person died, their friends and relatives gave them the funeral they wanted and we should respect those wishes hundreds or even thousands of years later. To do otherwise is disrespectful.

But, I have to say, despite my misgivings I didn't personally find Eastbourne Ancestors to be at all upsetting. It seemed to me that a great deal of respect was being paid to the bones on display. The way the skeletons were laid out and the stories that were explained alongside them about how our ancestors lived seemed more reverential than intended to dishonour them in any way.

If scientists in the future can learn from my remains after I am long dead, I don't think I would mind. But what would Beachy Head lady have thought? Unless we contact her spirit, journey to the realm of the ancestors, or discover time travel, and are able to ask her, I guess we will never know. Perhaps some medium, shaman or future time-traveller should attempt that, but my personal feeling is that she would, perhaps, like her story to be told.

Maybe she would like her descendants, both in England and in Africa, to learn what happened to her and to pay their much-belated respects to a woman who died young and a long way from her own ancestors.

What do you think? Do leave a comment below

Eastbourne Ancestors is on at the Pavilion at Redoubt Fortress and Military Museum, Eastbourne, Sussex, until 16 November 2014. Entry is free. For more details, visit:

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Pagan Eye: Seven Sisters from Cuckmere Haven Clifftop

Another photo from my Easter holiday in Sussex. This shows the Seven Sisters from the cliffs above the Cuckmere Estuary, with the coastguards' cottages in the foreground.

It is a traditional view and often snapped by holidaymakers and photographers, but the cliffs do look somewhat different than they did last spring. The storms of the past few months have caused more erosion than is normally experienced in several years and many of the paths are now too dangerous to use.

My Pagan Eye posts show photos that I find interesting - seasonal images, pagan sites, events, or just pretty pictures.

If you want to send me a photo for a Pagan Eye post, please email it to Let me know what the photo shows and whether you want your name mentioned or not. For copyright reasons, the photo must be one you have taken yourself.

Links and previous related posts

Monday, 21 April 2014

Questions and Answers on Beliefs about Afterlife

An academic has asked me to fill in a survey about my beliefs regarding life after death. I thought I would share my answers to some of the questions here on my blog:

Q: What do you believe happens to someone after they die? Like ... are they just gone and finished, or do they move on to some further kind of life, or are you not sure?

A: I would say I am agnostic but optimistic. I think it is impossible to know for sure whether a person has a soul or spirit or essence that continues after their physical body dies, but I am moderately hopeful that something of the person goes on. I believe it is one of the great mysteries, and one day we will each of us learn the answer, because we will all die.

Q: If you hopeful that there might be something there after you die? What do you hope for?

A: Yes, I am hopeful. I am a pagan (Wiccan). Many Wiccans believe in reincarnation – that our spirits or souls have been embodied as other people or animals before and that after our current physical bodies die we will be reborn as other beings. In some ways this is similar to the way the physical elements that make up our bodies become parts of other things after we die. I hope this is so, but have no definite proof of it. Sometimes I think that the spirits of those who have passed away linger to watch over their relatives and loved ones, at least for a while. Or perhaps they are so connected to a place or an incident that they linger because it is hard to give up that connection.

Whether there is some Otherworld that the spirits go to is also a possibility I entertain. Perhaps this is a place of rest between incarnations, or perhaps it is a place we go to when our spirits are ready. Perhaps that is like the escape from Samsara or enlightenment or some sort of heaven, but those concept are probably poor approximations of the best guesses people have made. As I said, it is life’s great mystery.

Q: If you believe there might be an afterlife, is this quality of the afterlife affected by the way you lived your life? Or do your actions in this life have little consequence?

A: Again, I’m not sure, but I do suspect that if there is an afterlife, the way we live or the way we die may have some effect on it. For example, if one believes in ghosts, then the legends suggest that ghosts tend to haunt the places that people lived or died. This would imply that a person’s spirit might for a while remain attached to something that was important to them during life.
Also, I think it is possible that the afterlife – whether that is reincarnation or travel to some Otherworld – is affected by what we did and what we learnt on the material plane, our mortal lives.

I do not know if we get to choose where we go or what our next incarnation may be, but perhaps we do. It would be nice to think that maybe we could meet up with those we have loved but who have passed on. I do not know how much is chance, how much is choice, how much is a learning experience chosen for us by some guiding force. Perhaps it is a mixture of all three or perhaps it is none of these.

Q: Do you believe that religious faith or forgiveness is required to have this afterlife?

A: If our souls are reincarnated, then that probably happens whether they believed it or not. However, it is possible that what a person believes will affect their afterlife. Perhaps if they strongly desire to remain as a guardian spirit for a loved one until it is that person’s turn to die, then they will get their desire. If they strongly desire to be reincarnated into the same family, maybe that will happen too.

Q: Have you had a particular experience that has affected your belief in the afterlife? This might have happened to you, or someone close to you. (e.g. NDE, experiencing presence of a loved one, past-life therapy) Can you please describe this to me?

A: Yes, I have felt the presence of spirits – or believed that I might possibly have done so. After my mother died, I would continue to chat to her, beside her favourite armchair, and could often feel that I sensed her spirit and communicate with her a little. It might have been imagination or wishful thinking of course. I also took part in a “journey” to the underworld to communicate with the spirits of the dead. It felt as though I communicated with my mother’s spirit, but again could have been just my imagination. I don’t like to get carried away with wishful thinking and prefer to remain a little sceptical.

I also have some vague memories that in a previous life I might have been a soldier who died in a war – although I accept that these so-called memories could just be overactive imagination

Q: Have you read any book or seen a TV show or movie or heard someone talking that has helped you understand what will happen to you after you die?

A: I’ve read and discussed these subjects very widely, which is probably why I am agnostic. Those people who say they know there is life after death or who say they know there is no life after death never seem to have absolute proof, just circumstantial evidence and strong belief.

Q: Has your belief changed across the course of your life?

A: Yes, it has changed. I was raised as a Catholic so as a small child I completely believed in heaven and hell and that those who believed in God and lived good lives went to Heaven. My Grandma was a Theosophist, however, and she believed in reincarnation. When I was about 6 or 7 I asked her why different people believed different things and she replied that we each have our own path. They might be different paths and we must all follow our own path because it is the right one for us. That is what I still believe. Even atheists are following their own path, and that is the right path for them. Sometimes our paths take us through different beliefs and understandings, which is fine as each path is a journey of discovery and learning.

I also think that it is natural that small children have a more simplistic view of everything and believe what they are taught. As we get older we start to question things and come into contact with other points of view.

Q: What is your opinion about people who maintain a belief in heaven? How might you respond to someone who expresses that belief? (esp. people who insist that non-believers go to hell)

A: They are entitled to their belief. Everyone has their own path to follow.

Q: What is your opinion about people who maintain a belief reincarnation? How might you respond to someone who expresses that belief?

A: They are entitled to their belief. Everyone has their own path to follow. I would also respond that I am very sympathetic to the theory of reincarnation and am hopeful that it happens. It is a theory that many pagans believe in.

Q: As an adult, has your belief about the afterlife been of any comfort to you when you have been at a funeral, or when confronted with the death of a person or thing that you have loved?

A: Yes, I believe there is always hope, and that is a comfort.

Q: Do you ever think about the fact that one day you will die? What do you think about?

A: Yes. Of course I consider my own death – more so as I get older and certainly after the death of my mother. I have a mixture of sadness and curiosity. I love my life and don’t want it to end, but I am curious as to what comes next and I know that when I die I will find out.

Q: Are you afraid of dying? (If yes) What are you afraid of? (If not afraid) Why are you not afraid?

A: I am certainly afraid of pain and suffering. I am afraid of dying in some unpleasant way – and let’s face it, there are few pleasant ways to die although some are quick and some are slow. I believe that if death comes at the end of a long and happy life, but when a person’s body is starting to fail them then death can be a release from suffering. I am afraid of dying too young and too unpleasantly. I am not afraid of death if it comes when I am very old, but comes quickly and painlessly.

Q: When you die, how will the memory of you live on? (Things you have achieved, memories of your family and friends, monuments) Do you care if you are remembered?

A: I hope my blog ( and my other writing keeps my memory alive. I would like to be remembered for my writing.

Q: Overall, would you say that you had a religious upbringing? (Follow-up: parent’s religion, level of religious activity, family talk about religion)

A: Yes, though rather unconventional. My father was a Catholic and I was raised as a Catholic, but my grandma was a Theosophist, my mother was an agnostic, my cousins followed the Baha’i faith while other family members ranged from Protestants to atheists. I learnt that one should be tolerant of each other’s beliefs.

The image at the top shows a trompe l'oeil showing a portal to an imaginary world on a mausoleum in West Norwood Cemetery. It is by Jane Ward.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Pagan Eye: Sunrise, Sea and a Symbol of Hope

It being Easter you might think this photo shows a cross - a symbol of the Passion of Christ; his death and resurrection in Christian mythology. But it isn't.

Pictured is a view from the Sussex coast near Beachy Head, looking out to sea towards the sunrise and the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse. Not far from the Sussex coast's famous red-and-white lighthouse, the platform with a tower on top was built during the 1970s to replace an earlier lightship. It is a symbol of man's perpetual struggle to be safe at sea rather than anything religious. Nevertheless, it does make a nice Easter picture.

My Pagan Eye posts show photos that I find interesting - seasonal images, pagan sites, events, or just pretty pictures.

If you want to send me a photo for a Pagan Eye post, please email it to Let me know what the photo shows and whether you want your name mentioned or not. For copyright reasons, the photo must be one you have taken yourself.

Links and previous related posts

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Pagan Events in and Near London Easter and Next Week

Now – 22 June; Vikings life and legend. BP exhibition at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG. Open daily 10am–5.30pm, Fridays until 8.30pm. Tickets: Adults £16.50, free or reduced prices for members and Art Pass holders.

Friday 18 April (Good Friday); Day of Silence at Chalice Well World Peace Garden, in Glastonbury. From 11am to 4pm, Stay for as little time or as long as you wish. Free event but you must advance book tickets. For more details about Chalice Well, visit the website

Sunday 20 April; Belostra 2014 Celebration. One-day festival with entertainment, workshops, talks, stalls and open ritual. Venue: The Bedford Pub/Theatre, 77 Bedford Hill, Balham London SW12 9HD. Doors open 12 noon and close at 10pm. Tickets: £13 all day, £7 evening only.

Monday 21 April (Bank Holiday); Earth Day Family Picnic and Open Ritual. Venue: Trent Park, Cockfosters Road, London EN4 0PS. Directions: From Cockfosters Tube station, walk to the nearest gate of Trent park. The picnic will be in the field immediately to the right. Time: 1pm-5pm. Free event, open to all.

Tuesday 22 April; The Salon of the Third Eye - The Magickal Theatre of Antonin Artaud with Steve Ash. Venue: The Lost Theatre, 208 Wandsworth Road, London Sw8 2JU. Time: 7.315pm. Details:

Wednesday 23 April; Crossbones Vigil to honour The Goose and the outcast dead of Cross Bones Graveyard. Bring a flower, a ribbon, a totem or memento to tie to the shrine. 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

Wednesday 23 April; Divine I Am Transmissions: Alignment and Expansion with Vaz arranged through the London College of Spirituality. Venue: Conference Room, Canterbury Hall, 11 – 18 Cartwright Gardens, London WC1H. Start: 7pm. Cost: £15. For more details and to book places visit

Thursday 24 April; The Big Bang Experience. Musical event with gongs, Himalayan and crystal singing bowls, bells, overtone singing and 900 people chanting sacred sounds. Venue: Compton Terrace, London N1 2UN (Nearest Tube: Highbury and Islington underground station). Time: 7pm-10.30pm. Online tickets: £12, door tickets: £17. For full details:

Friday, 25 April; Rilko AGM plus lecture by Malcolm Stewart: Geometry and Illumination. Venue: Research into Lost Knowledge Organisation (Rilko), Theosophical Society, 50 Gloucester Place, W1U 8EA. Doors open 6.45pm. Admission £8 non-members, £6 members.

Thursday 24 April; Book Launch of Lorna Byrne's Love from Heaven.Venue: Institute Of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London, London WC1H 0AL. Time: 7pm - 9.30pm. Tickets £20/15. For more details and to book tickets, visit:

Thursday 24 April; The Poltergeist Prince of London. Hosted by The London Fortean Society. Venue: Dirty Dicks, 202 Bishopsgate, City of London EC2M 4NR. Cost: £3/£2 concessions. Time: 8pm - 10pm. Just turn up, no need to book in advance. The society meets on the last Thursday of each month. For more details, visit

Thursday 24 April; Vikings Live from the British Museum - Cinema event offering a view of the BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend, presented live in local cinemas. Time: 7pm. For details visit:

Thursday 24 April; London Psyche - London at the Library Salon 15. Caroline Wise Mark Pilkington talk about the women of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Venue: Westminster Arts Library, 35 St Martins Street, London. Time: 6.30pm. Tickets £7, advance booking essential from For details, visit

Thursday 24 April; An Introduction to Wicca and the Order of the Horse and Moon Initiatory Cycle with the London Wicca Meetup Group. Meeting at a Central London pub near Holborn Tube. Time: 8pm. This is a private meeting for registered members only. To register as a member visit: For more details, visit:

Saturday 26 April; Beltane: Lore And Magic. Day Workshop with Wiccan priestess Suzanne Corbie, creator of the Goddess Workshop meditations.Venue: Treadwells, 33 Store Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7BS. Price: £45 (£25 deposit, balance on the day - advance booking required). Time: 10.45am arrival for 11am start, ends 5.30pm. Call 0207 419 8507 or book online. For further details:

Saturday 26 April; An Introduction to Soul Midwifery with Storm Bower and Lyn Baylis. One-day life rites workshop at The Atlantis Bookshop, 49a Museum Street, London WC1A 1LY. Time: 11am - 5pm. Cost: £45. For further information and to book a place call 020 7405 2120 or email

Sunday 27 April; Intro to Witchcraft and Wicca run by Shamanic Spirit at a venue in Croydon, South London. Time: 2pm-7pm. Cost £40. For details and to book places call Megan on 07952 041444. For more information, visit

Sunday 27 April; Dawn of the Oak (MOVED TO AVOID CLASHING WITH BELOSTRA FESTIVAL). Pagan moot on the third Sunday of each month. Venue: Upstairs at The Castle, 34-35 Cowcross Road, Farringdon, London EC1M 6DB (near Farringdon tube). Time: 3pm-6pm.

Sunday 27 April; Beltane Sabbat Rite with the London Wicca Meetup Group. Meeting at a pub in the Wimbledon area for training and to celebrate Beltane. Time: from noon. For full details, visit: