Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Urb and the People are One pt 1

It's easy, when you live up a hill in the middle of nowhere, to imagine that the land is eternal and unchanging; that the spirits and powers that rule it have always made their homes there; that the people who live upon it and work it are the same people that have always done so. That a pact has been made between the Land and the People that will endure forever, winter and summer, century upon century, a communion that grows ever deeper.

Thankfully this is just a horrible fantasy, and often a product of what one sly magician - who prefers anonymity - has described as a "sub-Wordsworthian delight in the natural world". Spiritual serfdom is as gut-wrenchingly awful as any other kind. You need spend only twenty minutes in the depths of the Urb to realize that the land has changed, irrevocably; the spirits are multitudinous and often as foreign as their immigrant children; that the people change, day by day, year by year, in constant migration and flux. That any pacts are a matter of individual choice and likely of short duration, an endless series of communions that punctuate the heaving rush of transitions that are life in the Urb. How many folk live in the same flat or apartment long enough to get to know their neighbours, let alone the nebulous construct of The Land? We do not live in a mythical nineteenth-century Golden Age of Merrie Englandism and bucolic folk faiths. Nobody ever did. Nobody, given the choice between maypoles and indoor plumbing, would want to. It is a zombie of imagined paganism, conjured up by those who have never tried agricultural work. There's a reason all those songs talk about killing John Barleycorn.

But, but...

It's a seductive lie, isn't it? Aren't we all, even the most hard-faced Urbdwellers, secretly longing for a sense of belonging, a part in a scheme, a membership of a clan or community? Isn't that why some of us entered the Urb in the first place? Inherited spirits and a sense of place go together, it seems. Take heart, would-be maypole dancers; the Urb is your Land and it will, with some cajoling, provide for you. Over the next few posts, we'll find out how.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Housing Estate Herbal: Ivy

The Ivy Girl (Hedera helix) is a survivor. She grows anywhere, even in the depths of the city, in tiny dark apartments, up the walls of derelict buildings, over old tree stumps in parks. She's ubiquitous; wherever we pile stone on stone, ivy finds a way to make a home there. You probably don't even notice her as you go about your business, but she's there, quietly smothering the environment, remaking our edifices in her image, binding them to herself. She can endure the harshest winters, when the bathroom is so cold that your breath mists and for once you don't mind people pressing up against you on the bus, and she can wait out the baking summer, taking her ease, while you are involuntarily introduced to all manner of musical stylings from balconies and open windows. She's almost impossible to kill. People say that she pulls down buildings, but they're wrong. Ivy binds them together, makes a glossy sheath for them, lends them a little of her resilience. She feeds the birds and the bees with flowers and berries, a green soup-kitchen for that old bitch Nature's street people. She knows what it takes to survive in the Urb, and shares a little of that skill with those who come to do her homage.
   The Ivy Girl will teach you how to cling on, when all around you is falling into ruin. Tenacity, that's her gift, and the obligation of those who accept it. If you visit her in her places, and show her the correct respect, she might allow you to take a talismanic sprig to hold on to - and you must hold on to it. This is no token gesture, but a fetish of genuine virtue. When the wolves (or mongrels) are at the door, the sprig will keep you from falling apart. It will bind you to the here and now and screw your courage to the sticking-place, it will help you to hold on to your affairs, your wits, and your self. Wrap her around your money to hold on to that, too; she'll work as hard in your wallet as she would on a special shrine that you don't have room for.
   What she holds, she binds; ivy is a great friend to lovers, even if she is under the dominion of Saturn. Weave her in with your hair and your lover's, or with your intertwined socks, or with whatever object links you can gracefully purloin. Ivy will bind you one to the other, hidden under the mattress or secreted at the back of the wardrobe. Take care; as anyone who has tried to pry her away from her chosen wall can tell you, once she binds she is nigh-on impossible to loose again. She can bind other things, too - a criminal can be bound from committing crime, a touch-and-go patient can be bound to life, if you have the skill. It doesn't matter what you bring her; ivy can bind it.
   It does matter where you meet her. Since she grows so abundantly, you might meet her around every corner - but if you spot her snaking over the church wall or growing in a cemetery, avoid her. These domiciles render ivy's usually sanguine temperament sinister, heavy, ill-willed. Her clinging becomes a clutching, her binding becomes strangulation - and these qualities will follow her into any work in which you employ her. Unless the thing that you are binding is in itself an evil thing - a rapist, a bigot, a gang - leave her in sullen repose in these places.
   Ivy enters into a relationship with the thing she climbs; if you live on the ground floor, or have a balcony, plant her and allow her to grow over your walls. She will cover them with a shield against ill-wishing and the malignant spells of maladjusted neighbourhood witches; they will run off her shiny, waterproof leaves like the rain. Watch her carefully - if the ivy clinging to your home withers, or is afflicted with blight, or at worst dies, then the omens are evil indeed and harsh times are ahead for you. Look to your wallet, your friends, your job, your family and your life - one or another of them may be in serious danger, and you must take steps to protect yourself. Plant more ivy.
   Ivy is kind to the drunkard. Wear her in your lapel or behind your ear if you are heading out on the town; she may preserve you from the inevitable consequences of drink. Guerrilla-plant ivy outside the houses of difficult alcoholics, or give her as a gift.
   There are a number of effective medicines to be manufactured from ivy, both her leaves and her berries; the resourceful witch or warlock of the Urb will seek out instruction in the safe internal use of herbs from one skilled in that science. If you grow her on your walls, or in your home, along with other virtuous plants, you will have a green pharmacy at your disposal that doesn't require a prescription or insurance - but, in the spirit of insurance, make sure your consult your physician before you consult the Ivy Girl in medical matters.
   The Ivy Girl is a powerful diviner in the matter of the ties that bind. Ask her for ten leaves -silently ask it, and unseen! - and cast the tenth leaf aside where one street crosses another as an offering to whatever inscrutable Powers rule these matters. Retire to your bedroom and stuff the remaining nine leaves into your sock, which you should then place under your pillow. Having kept your silence all the way home, now utter the charm:

"Nine ivy leaves I place under my head, to dream of the living and not of the dead. If ere I be married or wed unto thee, To dream of her tonight, and her for to see, The colour of her hair, and the clothes that she wears, and the day she’ll be wedded to me."

The operator of the dreaming-spell should change the gender as appropriate. The Ivy Girl isn't prejudiced, and it may be hoped that she will respond to the supplication and reveal your future spouse in a true dream.
   Perhaps you'll meet her, the Ivy Girl, in one of her forms. Sometimes she leaves her vegetable form behind for a while and walks the pavements and parks as a street child, with hard green eyes and lean, leathery limbs. If she befriends you, she will be fiercely loyal, and you will have a powerful ally; but not all are so favoured. The Ivy Girl is old and tough, no matter her apparent youth, and she's no fool either, so don't try anything. What she offers must be paid for in the coin of committed friendship and clannishness. You will be responsible to her, if she helps you, and she to you. That's how we survive in the Urb, we bind ourselves one to the other, by  ivy garlands of mutual obligation and reliance. Give ivy sprigs to your friends; you need them in the Urb. The Ivy Girl will show you how, if you let her.