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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Is Astrology a religion?

Prof. Brian Cox has inadvertently caused debate recently. He was presenting 'Stargazing Live' on BBC2 when he shared his views on astrology stating “astrology is nonsense.” As you can imagine this caused quite an uproar amongst astrologers. It caused The Astrological Association of Great Britain to start a petition to force a public apology out of the BBC, as part of their campaign for fair representation of astrology in the media.

The incident in general has raised an interesting question. Does astrology form part of any religious belief systems? And therefore be afforded that level of respect.

Astrology and ancient religions certainly went hand in hand. The history of astrology is usually traced back to the Babylonians, whose religious leaders would use it as a way to try and determine the will of the Gods. To really form an opinion on if astrology can be considered a religious practice, we need to look at how we classify religion. The Oxford English Dictionary provides the following definition;

[mass noun]

the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power , especially a personal God or gods.

[count noun] a particular system of faith and worship.

[count noun] a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.

I think the two definitions that are the most relevant here are the last two. There is no doubt that some people put a great deal of faith in astrological prediction, having personal charts professionally created in order to plan their year ahead. There are also a great many people following Earth Based religions that hold lunar, solar and planetary movement as an integral part of their beliefs.

Today astrology is often viewed by people as made-up paragraphs from the back pages of gossip magazines. But, whether or not you believe it has any real value in it's predictions, you can not deny it's history, or that it's place in modern culture is many and varied. To some people astrology will play an important part in their life, but does this mean it should be exempt from ridicule?

Some people will instantly react to this question with “Yes, you should be free to believe whatever you like as long as it doesn't hurt anyone.” Generally I agree, but in practice things get a little more difficult. Would someone walking down a street with a placard stating any given religion “is wrong” be acceptable? No, it would probably cause a riot. In the same situation would the words “astrology is wrong” inspire a riot, I doubt it, but no doubt the person with the placard would get a few angry glances and cause a little upset to some. This leads me to the conclusion that although astrology is important for some it is a practice or a tool, not a way to live your life. Some people believe it helps them, and like to incorporate elements of it into their spiritual life, but it is not a spiritual basis in it's own right.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Reducing Energy Costs

With household bills on the increase, everyone is looking to save money on the essentials. One of the biggest outgoings of any household is energy bills. Managing and ultimately reducing your gas and electric bills can be achieved two ways.

The first of these ways is to reduce the energy you use. This can be simple things like not leaving appliances on standby over night, and unplugging mobile phone and laptop chargers when they are not in use. There are various 'standby saver' devices on the market that can help you do this. It's also worth making yourself aware of exactly how much energy some of your appliances use. For example, although a hair-drier is a small hand held appliance, it uses a lot of electricity. Home energy monitors can be a really useful tool in helping you do this. A lot of the changes you make can be very small but have a big impact, there is some fantastic free advice available from places like the energy saving trust to help you.

The other way to save money on your energy bills is to make sure you are getting the best deal. Choosing an energy supplier can be difficult. With every company out there telling you they are the best value for money, how do you really know who to go to for the best deal. This is where online comparison websites come in. There are quite a few of these around including uSwitch.com, moneysupermarket.com and energyhelpline.com. When using these sites it's best to have one of your current utility bills to hand as they will ask you a few questions about your current usage and tariff in order to give you accurate information.

For an even better deal, do not use these sites to actually change your supplier. Yes, you did read that correctly. There are sites out there that will give you cash back just for switching via their sites. Once you have determined who the cheapest supplier is and which one of their plans you need to be on to save the most money, make a note of it and go find yourself a good cash back website. One of the best and most recommended ones in the UK is Greasy Palm, but there are many to choose from and they are easily found via any online search. Once you have set up your account on a cashback site, simply go and find the energy supplier you need in their lists and make the switch.

Completing these steps can save you hundreds of pounds a year, so what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Agnes Waterhouse

Agnes Waterhouse (also known as Mother Waterhouse) was the first person in England to receive the death sentence for witchcraft from a secular court.
She stood trial alongside two other women, her daughter Joan Waterhouse and Elizabeth Francis. This trail marked the first of the Chelmsford witch trials, that took place in Essex in the late 16th century.

Agnes was accused of consorting with Satan in the form of a white spotted cat. The cat was given to her by Elizabeth Francis, who also instructed her on how to care for him in order to gain things she desired. Agnes was said to have first used the cat, who she openly called Satan, to seek revenge on neighbours she had disputes with. This usually took the form of killing their livestock. Example of this mentioned at the trial include killing some pigs belonging to a Farther Kersey, and drowning a cow belonging to a Widow Gooday. She confessed to rewarding Satan for his help by feeding him chicken and drops of her blood.

She also faced the very serious accusation of causing death through the use of witchcraft. She was said to have called on Satan for help ridding her of a neighbour and his wife with whom she had had a disagreement. She was also accused of having Satan dispatch with her own husband.

As well as taking the form of a cat, Satan was said to have later taken the form of a toad at Agnes's request. When Joan gave evidence she said that he had come to her in the form of a black dog.

Agnes also testified that Satan had foretold she would meet a death of burning or hanging.

Although Joan Waterhouse confessed to calling on Satan to help her scare a neighbour she had fallen out with, and being aware of her mothers use of him, she was found not guilty. Elizabeth Francis confessed to being the original owner of Satan and was found guilty of practising witchcraft, she received a sentence of one year imprisonment. However, in 1579 she was brought back to court on further charges, for these she was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Agnes was found guilty and sentenced to death. On they day that she was due to be hung she made a further confession. Shortly before going to gallows she told how she had tried to kill another neighbour, Wardol. She said she had sent Satan to kill him but Satan had returned to her and said he was unable to do so. When she asked Satan why he told her that it was due to Wardol's strength of faith in God. Agnes went to meet her death repenting and calling on God for forgiveness.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Cornish Cunning Folk

Cunning men and cunning woman form part of Cornwall’s rich history of mythology and folklore. They were known as skilled seers and those of high reputation were in high demand. People would seek them out in order to help find lost items and heal illnesses. They were in high demand during the 'Witch Trials' that swept most of Europe, despite being magical practitioners themselves. As much as witches were painted as evil beings seeking to cause harm and chaos, cunning folk were seen as the positive side of magical practices. Often if someone believed they had become a target of a witch, they're first port of call would be to a cunning man or cunning woman. They were also employed by the authorities to help find witches and other criminals.

The type of magic practised by cunning folk often consisted of charms and amulets. One of the best known being Charm Bags which were small sewn bags containing written charms or magical powders. There is also Stroking Stones, that were special charmed stones that were used for healing. Of course there is a long list of artefacts connected with cunning folk, ranging from Snail Beads to Cauldrons and everything in between. There are a few good sources of further information of these online.

There have been some very well known cunning folk throughout history, arguably the best known being Granny Boswell. She was born in 1813 (though some believe this date is incorrect) in Ireland, but spent most of her adult life in Helston, where she lived with her husband Ephraim. She was well know for her foresight and the magical skills she acquired through her Romany heritage. She was also known as a troublemaker. During some elections a car was being used to ferry voters to the local polling station. As it was driving down the street an elderly and somewhat drunk Granny Boswell wandered into the road. The driver beeped the horn and loudly shouted at her to get out of the way. She didn't take kindly to this and stood in the middle of the road cursing the car and throwing verbal abuse at the driver. When she finished her rant she stepped out of the road and the car pulled away. The car made it only a few yards before coming to a halt, the car that had been running perfectly minutes before was found to have a very badly damaged engine and had to be towed away.