Feature taken from +quot;Time Out+quot; London's weekly guide - October 24-31 1990 - OUT O

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Feature taken from "Time Out" London's weekly guide - October 24-31 1990 - OUT OF SPIRITS Superstition is lining pockets, and occult shops and publishers are thriving in the current atmosphere of New Age credulity. Is an interest in the supernatural a harmless expression of mankind's curiosity, or a dangerous delusion? For the covens of Tufnell Park, Hackney and Clapham, the feast Hallowe'en or `Samhain" is one of the most important dates in the calendar. October 31 is also ringed in the diaries of WH Smith, John Menzies and all the other stores selling Hallowe'en and occult paraphernalia. The supernatural is big business in Britain. Books, computer programmes, crystals, astrological charts, tarot cards, runes, New Age music tapes, talismans and pendulums are peddled in West End emporia; hotels and even Town Halls rent out rooms for New Age seminars or gatherings of clairvoyants. The profits are hard to measure according to the Inland Revenue, whose so-called ghostbusting units are kept busy checking on the tarot card readers, palmists and clairvoyants who form the black economy alongside the more mundane workers like bricklayers and freelance journalists. Interest in the occult is nothing new. A bookshop like Watkins in Cecil Court which stocks supernatural and occult works is 100 years old. But in the last few years this interest has no longer been the province of a cranky minority. Superstition has become publicly acceptable. In the classified pages of "Prediction" magazine - weekly circulation 30,000 - a small group of magical warriors appeals for an extra male member. `The Witches' Book of Spells, Rituals and Sex Magic' is offered for sale, while Ceridwen, Celtic clairvoyant and healer, assures readers that her traditional potent workings will change your entire life. According to the magazine's editor, Jo Logan, interest in the occult and the supernatural is now widespread: `Our magazine used to be read by older women, but now our surveys show that interest in this field is across the board. There are plenty of full-time astrologers now meeting the demand. It is human nature to be curious, which is why people get interested in this sort of thing, but there is also a more holistic attitude now. People are worried about being isolated from the planet.' Mysteries in Covent Garden's Monmouth Street is eight years old, and in the last two years business has boomed. The store not only stocks books but also contains consulting rooms where you can talk to astrologers (30 pounds for a comprehensive chart) or to psychic healers (40 pounds for one-and-a-half hours). Co-owner Matthew Geffin said: `It's a massive industry. It has some throwback to the '60s, but in the New Age people are much more practical rather than totally hedonistic. And yes, it is profitable. I do make a comfortable living.' Mysteries manageress Jane Ford said: `People want to explore themselves and get in tune with their own bodies. They want a form of counselling. They don't find answers through orthodox religions. Going to a doctor is much more dangerous than going to a tarot reader. Their attitude is nothing to do with loving your body or true healing. They pump you with dangerous potions.' It is this kind of belief, this rejection of science, and almost palpable longing for the pre-Age of Enlightenment world, which disturbs many observers. Jonathan Miller, who trained as a doctor before becoming a theatre director, said: `It really makes me very angry. People mouth these follies because they don't want to open their eyes to the real world. What is really annoying is the fact that they often borrow the terms of science and are in fact against science. They must be very poorly educated.' But according to Tanya Luhrmann, an American anthropologist who studied ritual magic and witchcraft in England during the '80s, those engaged in witchcraft are well-educated, middle-class professionals. She estimates in her book `Persuasions of the Witch's Craft' that 20 per cent of magicians are computer staff, the sort of people who are fascinated by science fiction and playing Dungeons and Dragons. London's witches combine the exotic with the desperately ordinary. They wear robes, chant, stand in magic circles, and cavort on heaths and hillsides. More cosily, tea precedes most rituals, witches Xerox their notes, make fuzzy amateur tape recordings or their activies and use dustbin lids outdoors when the traditional cauldron is too heavy to transport. Joining a coven is a lengthy process, involving months of study - and that "after" you have convinced other witches that you are acceptable. Gay people are often not welcome; homophobia is always explained in terms of the theory of magic, and the inevitable attraction between male and female to provide the `opposite charges'. `I have nothing against homesexuals,' said a member of the Hornsey group, but you can't work magic with a homosexual. Homosexuals just can't create a current.' Once you are recruited, your life becomes governed not by Easter and Christmas and package holidays to the Greek Islands, but by the movements of the moon. Covens meet at full moon and new moon and the eight great sabbats, or festivals, of the year. Samhain - October 31, Imbolc - February 1, Beltane - May 1, Lammas - August 1, the winter and summer solstices - December 22 and June 22 - and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes - March 21 and September 21. Tanya Lurhmann describes the Hallowe'en celebrations of the typical London coven: `Full moon. November 1984. The sitting-room has been transformed. The furniture has been removed, and a 12' chalk circle drawn on the carpet. It will be brushed out in the morning. Four candlesticks stake out the corners of the room, casting shadows from the stag's antlers on the wall. The altar in the centre of the circle is a chest which seems ancient. Flowers and herbs surround a carved wooden Pan; a Minoan Goddess figure sits on the altar itself amid a litter of ritual knives and tools.' Could those who indulge in the pre-Christian rituals, who have nothing to do with Satanism or ritual abuse of small children, be doing anything damaging to themselves or society? Canon Dominic Walker is an Anglican priest and exorcist experienced in dealing with the occult. He helps train parish priests to counsel those troubled by their involvement in supernatural or psychic activities. `For some people these activities are dangerous. I know of a woman who goes to see a clairvoyant every day. She can't afford it. If the clairvoyant says she should not go out, she refuses to leave the house. Her life has been taken over. There are people out there who are dabbling in things in which they have no expertise.' Although Canon Walker deals with more that 100 occult `casulties' a year, he has carried out exorcisms only four times in 15 years. According to him, most of those presenting themselves as possessed are suffering from severe psychiatric problems. `It is difficult to assert whether there is a link between satanism and ritualist abuse. That may again be due to psychiatric disturbance. I have no doubt that satanists do exist, but because they demand total confidentiality it is hard to find out anything from them.' Dr Louis Appleby, a lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, stresses that while there is no connection between clinical madness and dabbling in the occult, the fantasies of a disturbed individual nevertheless tend to reflect the cultural concerns of their society: `If nobody ever talked about the Devil, you wouldn't get people claiming to be possessed by him.' In certain extreme cases of personality disorder, he suggests, the widespread availability of occult material could have an adverse effect. While men and women fearing for their lives sometimes come to Canon Walker begging him to help them escape the clutches of satanism, the clergy he trains busy themselves with those unable to cope with the fringe world with which they have dabbled. `Some of those things, like tarot card readings, might seem perfectly harmless, but I would say from experience it is a bit like hard and soft drugs. Often something which begins quite innocently through a bit of fun or idle curiosity can snowball into a dangerous obession.' ******************** Comment: Not to bad an editorial for a change - but I do wish they would research things a little better, especially the dates.


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