Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Journey into Spring — A film by Ralph Keene




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With commentary by the poet Laurie Lee, and camerawork by renowned wildlife cinematographer Patrick Carey, director Ralph Keene set a precedent at BTF for a long line of films in the field of natural history.

A favourite of Edgar Anstey's, Journey into Spring is the winner of six international film awards, and was nominated for an Oscar.

Director: Ralph Keene. Production Company: British Transport Films. Producer: Ian Ferguson. Photography: Patrick Carey. Commentary: Laurie Lee. Music: Edward Williams. 35mm, Technicolor, 29 mins, UK, 1957.


The cycle of the seasons in the land around Selborne in Hampshire, home town of Gilbert White (1720-1793), country parson and naturalist. Two centuries on, the parish is still very much as he knew it, complete with the same flora and fauna.

In March, the living year begins. Coots, moorhens and dabchicks begin their breeding cycle, looking for mates and building nests. Frogs spawn in the rivers, and pussy-willows and catkins bloom. Grey wagtails, harvest mice, ants and hedgehogs take up residence for the year.

April is characterised by an abundance of nests: the skylark's, the coot's, the hedge-sparrow's, the long-tailed tit's, the rook's and the dabchick's. The latter's nest looks like driftwood, designed to fool predators. In the ponds, tadpoles hatch, and grey wagtails make their nest in the walled bank of the shallow stream.

May is when everything comes alive. Green grass and leaves change the dominant colour, and birds look after their now-hatched young. Bank voles search for green shoots and leaves. Oak trees blossom, as do blackthorns, hawthorns, crabapples, plums and white wild cherry. Slow-worms seek the sun. In a hedge-sparrow's nest, a cuckoo chick hatches and dominates its adopted 'siblings'. Sticklebacks flit through the stream, and moles burrow underground. Swallows arrive from Africa, and sand martens from Spain. Bees keep the cycle of nature turning. House martins fearlessly build nests under the eaves of cottages.

These sights have been common currency in Selborne for two centuries, but are also characteristic of the entire English countryside, for those who care to look for it.

This film is included in the BFI British Transport Films DVD compilation 'Off the Beaten Track'.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Arthur Llewellyn Machen (1863-1947)

“There are sacraments of evil as well as of good about us, and we live and move to my belief in an unknown world, a place where there are caves and shadows and dwellers in twilight. It is possible that man may sometimes return on the track of evolution, and it is my belief that an awful lore is not yet dead”


Arthur Machen was a British novelist born March 3, 1863, at Caerleon-on-Usk, Wales, who became one of the leading authors of English occult fiction, but was undeservedly neglected during his lifetime. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction. He also is well known for his leading role in creating the legend of the Angels of Mons.

In 1887, Machen married Amy Hogg, an unconventional music teacher with a passion for the theatre, who had literary friends in London's Bohemian circles. Hogg had introduced Machen to the writer and occultist A. E. Waite, who was to become one of Machen's closest friends.

In 1899, Machen's wife Amy died of cancer after a long period of illness. This had a devastating effect on Machen. He only gradually recovered from his loss over the next year, partially through his close friendship with A. E. Waite. It was through Waite's influence that Machen joined at this time the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, though Machen's interest in the organization was not lasting or very deep.

Machen, brought up as the son of a Church of England clergyman, always held Christian beliefs, though accompanied by a fascination with sensual mysticism; his interests in paganism and the occult were especially prominent in his earliest works. Machen was well read on such matters as Alchemy, the Kabbalah, and Hermeticism, and these occult interests formed part of his close friendship with A. E. Waite.

Machen also was at this time investigating Celtic Christianity, the Holy Grail and King Arthur. Publishing his views in Lord Alfred Douglas’s The Academy, for which he wrote regularly, Machen concluded that the legends of the Grail actually were based on dim recollections of the rites of the Celtic Church.

His books include: The Great God Pan (1894), The House of Souls (1906), The Hill of Dreams (1907), The Great Return (1915), and The Terror (1917). In addition to his powerful stories on occult themes, he also published a number of volumes of essays and translations.

One of Machen's short stories brought a legend to real life. On September 29, 1914, his story "The Bowmen" appeared in the London Evening News. The story describes how British troops, hopelessly outnumbered in the French trenches of World War I, are miraculously rescued by phantom English archers from Agincourt, led by St. George. Many people read it as a factual account of what had happened, and a few months after publication, a number of eyewitness accounts of the Angels of Mons began to appear. Throughout the twentieth century people have believed the events actually occurred.

Machen reiterated that his story was fiction in the introduction to the later publication of his story in the book The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War (London, 1915), but the actual semi-miraculous retreat of the British from Mons had such an overpowering effect on the British public that they seemed to want to believe in divine intervention.


Arthur Machen died December 15, 1947, at Beaconsfield, England. Text adapted from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn & Wikipedia.

Further information here, here & here.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Aleister Crowley "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law"

"Upholding all, an arm whose falchion flings, with every flash a new-fledged Soul of Things; Beholding all, with eyes whose flashes flood, the veins of their own universe, with blood; Absorbing all, each myriad mouth aflame, to utter the unutterable Name" MoonChild, Chapter XX: Walpurgis-Night.


Aleister Crowley, born Edward Alexander Crowley, also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast, was an influential English occultist, mystic, ceremonial magician, poet and mountaineer, who was responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema.

In his role as the founder of the Thelemite philosophy, he came to see himself as the prophet who was entrusted with informing humanity that it was entering the new Aeon of Horus in the early 20th century.


Born into a wealthy upper class family, as a young man he became an influential member of the esoteric Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn after befriending the order's leader, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Subsequently believing that he was being contacted by his Holy Guardian Angel, an entity known as Aiwass, while staying in Egypt in 1904, he "received" a text known as The Book of the Law from what he believed was a divine source, and around which he would come to develop his new philosophy of Thelema. He would go on to found his own occult society, the A∴A∴ and eventually rose to become a leader of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), before founding a religious commune in Cefal├╣ known as the Abbey of Thelema, which he led from 1920 through till 1923. After abandoning the Abbey amid widespread opposition, Crowley returned to Britain, where he continued to promote Thelema until his death.

Crowley was also bisexual, a recreational drug experimenter and a social critic. In many of these roles he "was in revolt against the moral and religious values of his time", espousing a form of libertinism based upon the rule of "Do What Thou Wilt". Because of this, he gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, and was denounced in the popular press of the day as "the wickedest man in the world".

Crowley has remained an influential figure and is widely thought of as the most influential occultist of all time. In 2002, a BBC poll described him as being the seventy-third greatest Briton of all time. References to him can be found in the works of numerous writers, musicians and filmmakers, and he has also been cited as a key influence on many later esoteric groups and individuals, including Kenneth Grant, Jack Parsons, Gerald Gardner, Robert Anton Wilson and, to some degree, Austin Osman Spare.


Edward Alexander Crowley was born at 30 Clarendon Square in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, between 11:00pm and midnight on October 12, 1875. His father, Edward Crowley, was trained as an engineer but according to Aleister, never worked as one. He did, however, own shares in a lucrative family brewery business, which allowed him to retire before Aleister was born. Through his father's business he was an acquaintance of Aubrey Beardsley. His mother, Emily Bertha Bishop, drew roots from a Devon and Somerset family. Both of his parents were Exclusive Brethren, a more conservative faction of the Plymouth Brethren. Crowley grew up in a staunch Brethren household and was only allowed to play with children whose families followed the same faith. His father was a fanatical preacher, travelling around Britain and producing pamphlets. Daily Bible studies and private tutoring were mainstays in "Alick's" childhood.

On February 29, 1880, a sister, Grace Mary Elizabeth, was born but lived only five hours. Crowley was taken to see the body and in his own words (in the third person):
The incident made a curious impression on him. He did not see why he should be disturbed so uselessly. He couldn't do any good; the child was dead; it was none of his business. This attitude continued through his life. He has never attended any funeral but that of his father, which he did not mind doing, as he felt himself to be the real centre of interest.

On March 5, 1887, his father died of tongue cancer. This was a turning point in Crowley's life, after which he then began to describe his childhood in the first person in his Confessions.

After the death of his father to whom he was very close, he drifted from his religious upbringing, and his mother's efforts at keeping her son in the Christian faith only served to provoke his scepticism. When he was a child, his constant rebellious behaviour displeased his mother to such an extent that she would chastise him by calling him "The Beast" (from the Book of Revelation), an epithet that Crowley would later adopt for himself. He objected to the labelling of what he saw as life's most worthwhile and enjoyable activities as "sinful".

Aleister Crowley died in a Hastings boarding house on 1 December 1947 at the age of 72. According to one biographer the cause of death was a respiratory infection. He had become addicted to heroin after being prescribed morphine for his asthma and bronchitis many years earlier. He and his last doctor died within 24 hours of each other; newspapers would claim, in differing accounts, that Dr. Thomson had refused to continue his opiate prescription and that Crowley had put a curse on him... Read more here.

Further information here, here & here. Video content here, here & here.