Cultural Appropriation has nothing to do with “race”

Nearly every time I write a post about cultural appropriation, someone comes up with a reductio ad absurdum argument which makes something that really isn’t cultural appropriation look as if it is.

One of the most frequent push-backs (or even derailments) when cultural appropriation is mentioned is “does this mean no-one can ever do anything that originated from another culture?” No, of course it doesn’t mean that – although that is what racist and völkisch types want you to think it means.

Cultural appropriation is when someone from a colonising or culturally dominant culture takes a ritual or sacred or meaningful practice from a subjugated or devalued or colonised culture, lifting it out of context and draining it of meaning. And probably making money out of it. The key features of cultural appropriation are:

  • There’s a big difference in power between the appropriating and the appropriated culture
  • There’s a history of the appropriating culture oppressing the appropriated culture, and the oppression is still happening now
  • The meaning of the practice is lost or changed in the process of appropriation
  • The appropriator makes money out of repackaging and selling the practice, and the originators of the practice don’t get a penny of it

A difference of power

An example where there is a power differential between the appropriating culture and the appropriated one is the appropriation of Native American ritual by “plastic shamans” and New Agers (and some Pagans). The issue here is not that the appropriators are genetically unrelated to Native Americans: the issue is that there has been a considerable loss of power (land-rights, cultural cohesion, economic power) and white people have consistently tried to erase or exoticise or exterminate Native Americans and their culture. And  in order to fully understand and engage in Native American ritual, you have to be immersed in the culture and know all its stories and symbolism, and share the political and economic struggles of the Native Americans. Non-Natives are sometimes invited to learn from and participate in Native American culture; but you can’t learn their tradition just by picking up a book and sticking some feathers in your hair.

If there is no power differential between the appropriating culture and the appropriated one, then it’s not cultural appropriation. If I start wearing a dirndl and practicing Austrian folk dancing, that’s not cultural appropriation: my culture hasn’t oppressed the Austrians or threatened to erase their existence or frequently belittled their beer-drinking and yodelling. (Actually I think we find these qualities rather admirable.)

I read a great story recently where a guy moved to the Amazon rainforest, married the daughter of the tribal ‘shaman’, learnt their practices and traditions, and is going to be the next tribal ‘shaman’ (or whatever their preferred title for the role is). Now that is respectful engagement with a tradition.

A history of oppression

An example where there is a history of the appropriating culture oppressing the appropriated one is the appropriation of the Passover Seder by modern Christians. There used to be a charming Christian custom of “celebrating” Easter by holding a pogrom (the mass murder of Jews in “revenge” for their alleged “betrayal” of Jesus). And now modern Christians think it’s appropriate to commemorate the fact that Jesus was celebrating Passover at the Last Supper by holding Passover Seder and inserting all sorts of Christian symbolism into it. I think this is a particularly crass example of cultural appropriation.

If there is no history of oppression, it probably isn’t cultural appropriation. Celts and Vikings are not being oppressed by anyone Black, Chinese, Asian, or Middle Eastern, so if any of those people choose to honour Viking or Celtic deities, then it definitely isn’t cultural appropriation.

Racists will try to tell you that anyone who doesn’t have Viking or Celtic blood in their veins can’t do Norse or Celtic spirituality. Well, the Vikings intermarried with people of other cultures all the time, and the “Celts” (apart from being a label imposed by the Greeks) were a vast range of people from Galatia in Turkey, Galicia in Spain, Wales, Brittany, parts of Austria, and were united not by genetics but by shared culture, related languages, and similar art styles. So even based on what we know of history and lore, that claim is utterly spurious, but culture is not transmitted by genes, but by the passing on of stories and rituals and symbols.

Loss of meaning

Where there is a loss of meaning is when a practice is appropriated into a very different cultural context and takes on an entirely new meaning. An interesting example of this is chakras, which were imported into Western spirituality from Hinduism and Buddhism via Theosophy. As this particular appropriation happened about a hundred years ago, it’s probably so deeply entrenched that there’s not a lot of point moaning about it, but if you compare the Western understanding of chakras with the Eastern view of them, it is possible to see that they are viewed quite differently. Another example is the growth of “forest church” among Christians, where they go into the woods, celebrate the festivals of the Pagan Wheel of the Year, but with Jesus and the Trinity and the Atonement as the core of their religion. To me (and I know not everyone feels the same), this is a complete and utter travesty of what the Wheel of the Year is about, and I find it really offensive, because the meaning of the festivals has been completely changed.

If there is no loss of meaning through the transfer of the practice, then it probably isn’t cultural appropriation. Within living memory, OBOD Druidry acquired the festivals of Wicca, and vice versa. Originally, the Druids mostly celebrated the solstices and equinoxes, while Wiccans celebrated mainly the four “Celtic” quarter days (Candlemas, May Eve, Lammas, and Hallowe’en). Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols used to sunbathe side by side in their nudist colony in Hertfordshire, and a fruitful cultural exchange occurred, whereby the two nascent religions acquired each other’s festivals, and the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year was born. Arguably there was a mutual enrichment of meaning.

What about cultures of the past?

If the culture being revived or recreated or reconstructed is a “dead” culture, and there are people reviving it who are not genetic descendants of the people who created the original culture, that’s not cultural appropriation. Culture has nothing to do with genetics. Culture is transmitted through word of mouth, stories, practices, and being immersed in it; it is not transmitted genetically. If I moved to another country and became immersed in their culture (or if I decided to become a Buddhist), the fact that I am probably not genetically related to anyone from that culture is completely and utterly irrelevant.

The Romans oppressed the indigenous people of Britain and assimilated their deities into a cultural fusion that we now refer to as Romano-British (and thereby preserved those deities’ stories by writing them down). But both the ancient Britons and the ancient Romans are dead and gone, so we are not perpetuating that oppression by reconstructing Romano-British culture and religion.

What about living within another culture?

If you go and live in another country, it behooves you to learn their customs and culture and stories and traditions, so you can appreciate their local culture and be a good guest. That’s not cultural appropriation. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, as the saying goes.

640px-Furcifer_pardalis_-Zürich_Zoo-8a

A chameleon (Furcifer pardalis). Photo by Marc Staub – originally posted to Flickr as IMG_8957, CC BY-SA 2.0

When Megan Manson (who is a British practitioner of Paganism and Shinto) joined the Pagan Channel, there was a brief discussion of whether her practice of Pagan Shinto was cultural appropriation. I don’t think it is at all, because there is no loss of meaning – Paganism and Shinto are sufficiently similar that mutual enrichment may occur. The British are not currently oppressing the Japanese or trying to erase their culture (nor do we have a long history of oppressing them), there is no power differential between the two cultures, and she isn’t making money out of her practice. Furthermore, she lived in Japan for a long while and immersed herself in Shinto there.

What if a deity comes calling?

If a deity from another living culture calls to you, that’s not cultural appropriation. If you lift the rituals of that other culture out of context and offer them to the deity without fully understanding how they work and what they mean, then it might be. You don’t have to be genetically related to the culture that originally named the deity in order to work with or honour that deity. It helps if you can understand and relate to the deity’s cultural context, but that has nothing to do with genetics.

Using cultural appropriation as a smokescreen for racism

Many people have taken the idea of cultural appropriation to mean that you can never do any practice that comes from another culture. That really isn’t what cultural appropriation is about at all – but racists want you to believe that that is what it is about. They believe that each “race” is unique, has essential characteristics that are genetically transmitted, and that these characteristics are immutable – and that, in their view, is why people of Asian or African descent can’t participate in European spirituality. The racists also try to claim that the Native Americans told them to seek their own heritage, which somehow justifies their völkisch views. Yes, they told people of European cultural background to seek our own cultural heritage – I very much doubt that they meant that it was somehow genetically encoded in our DNA.

The view that you can only do the spirituality associated with your genetic background is clearly racist, and deserves to be called out wherever it appears.

This also means that we need to be really clear about what cultural appropriation means, and to push back against people who claim (either sincerely or in order to derail a conversation about it) that cultural appropriation means no-one can ever do anything from another culture.

We also need to be really clear about what “race” and racism are. Race is a social construct, but one that has been used to oppress people, and therefore it is a social construct with real effects. However, there is only one “race”, the human race.

If you engage respectfully with the other culture, seek to learn from it, make sure that you are learning from the real sources (or people who have learnt the practice from a genuine lineage or tradition) and not from somebody who has made up their own version of something and stuck an “exotic” label on it – then that is respectful engagement with another culture, and definitely to be encouraged.

What about cultural melting-pots?

What about cities where many different cultures come together and create a unique fusion of concepts? That’s great – they are probably all on an equal footing in the city, and they can create vibrant and exciting fusions of ideas. And probably the original culture is flourishing perfectly well in its home environment, so everything will be just fine. This cultural fusion and exchange is how new cultural forms and traditions arise. But just because this kind of creative fusion exists and is good, doesn’t mean that cultural appropriation is not an issue. In situations of cultural fusion and exchange, there is little or no power differential between the two cultures; there is probably no history of oppression (because they’re probably both formerly colonised cultures); and there is no loss of meaning, but mutual enrichment. As to making money out of it, as long as both sides are making the same amount of money out of it, all will be well.

The blues is an interesting example – sometimes the performance of blues by people who aren’t Black is respectful cultural exchange (e.g. when musicians from different backgrounds perform it together), and sometimes it is cultural appropriation (as when all-white radio stations would only play blues music performed by white musicians, and prior to that, the blues, and rock’n’roll, were dismissed and denigrated by white people).

Why does it matter?

It matters because if you accept the watered-down, stolen, distorted, or culturally appropriated version of the ritual or tradition as being somehow real, the meaning and value of the original and genuine practice is in danger of being lost, and it endangers the culture, and therefore the well-being, of the people whose ritual or practice or symbol it is.

Much recent research has shown that loss of cultural traditions and stories and language underlines and destroys traditional cultures. By eroding, erasing, and distorting those cultures’ precious cultural heritage, cultural appropriation threatens the well-being of those cultures.

And it must be remembered that there is a long and continuing history of oppression which leaves painful emotional scars in the memory of the oppressed group.

No single correct answer

Many people would like there to be a single easy-to-work-out formula to identify when something is cultural appropriation and when it isn’t. But I think you have to do the work of examining each and every situation to work out whether it is cultural appropriation or respectful cultural exchange. You can use my suggested criteria to help you decide (is there a continuing history of oppression? is there still a difference in power between the two groups? is there a loss of meaning when the ritual or symbol is transplanted? is there financial exploitation involved?) but even then, there will be differences of opinion.

Are Polytheists an Endangered Species?

Some people have suggested that polytheism is endangered by archetypalist, non-theist, monist, and/or non-theist world views (especially those who would claim that somehow it’s all the same really, or that they are actually polytheists). The word polytheist means believing in many gods. If you want to add any more definition to it, I think you need a qualifying adjective.

This is an endangered species. Photo by J Patrick Fischer, CC-BY-SA 3.0

This is an endangered species. Photo by J Patrick Fischer, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Monotheism and Pantheism

I stopped being a monotheist in 1985, when I was 17. The reason for this was that I couldn’t see how an all powerful God could allow suffering and horror on the scale of the Holocaust and other horrors. I reasoned that if God was all-powerful, then “he” would prevent such horrors (free will notwithstanding) and therefore there must be many deities, none of whom were all-powerful.

Later, I discovered pantheism and monism, the idea of an all-pervading immanent deity. For me, this doesn’t stack up alongside the fact of the infinite universe. If the pantheist’s deity is the mind of the universe, it must be either so huge that it can’t be aware of our tiny consciousness, or it can’t be conscious in the same way that we are. So it would be difficult (as far as I can see) to have a personal relationship with it.

An excellent novel by Rebecca Goldstein, 36 arguments for the existence of God, disproves every single one of them except Spinoza’s view that the universe itself is God, which is completely different to the conventional monotheist view. Nothing is said about the existence of many gods, however, and in my view, the idea of many gods is in a completely different category to the idea of a single all-powerful deity.

Personal Deities

Interestingly, some Christians I’ve talked to seemed to assume that I’m a pantheist, as they seemed to assume that the advantage of Christianity was having a personal relationship with Jesus. But I don’t actually like Jesus (and don’t believe the gospel accounts are reliable). So for me, the advantage of polytheism is that you can have a personal relationship with a huge number of different deities, with different perspectives on life. There’s Mercury and Athena for intellectuals, Cernunnos and Artemis for those who like forests, Odin and Bragi and Brighid for poets and bards, and so on. I think this is why the Catholics found they needed to have the idea of patron saints – but I find most saints pretty uninspiring and insipid. Pretty much everyone has difficulty relating to the idea of the ultimate divine source, or to an infinite being – so people need to relate to something smaller. To paraphrase some famous French bloke: if the gods didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent them.

What is a deity?

There are many different types of deity: personifications of natural phenomena (winds, storms, trees and rocks and water), deified humans, patrons of arts and crafts, city goddesses, river goddesses. In my opinion, they are immanent in, or emergent from, the physical universe, in the same way that human consciousness emerges from the complexity of the human brain. Why shouldn’t other complex systems give rise to consciousness?

There is currently some discussion about what “real” means when we are talking about deities. No one has offered a definition of “real” in this context (or if they have, I missed it). My definition of a deity is a being with consciousness. A deity’s body (if they have one) is the natural phenomenon from which they emerged, if that’s how they came into existence. Or if they are a deified human, then their body is the etheric body (or whatever is divine in us that survives death). It’s also worth pointing out that love is real even though it doesn’t have either a body or consciousness – but that’s why a discussion of what “real” means is a distraction when it comes to deities: because being “real” applies to a lot of other things that aren’t deities. So it doesn’t matter so much what people think deities are, as that they think you can interact with them – that’s the point of relating to them and/or being devoted to them.

Honest doubt

There also has to be room for honest doubt – we do live in a culture where most people deny the existence of multiple deities, so if someone has a wobble or a dry season where they have difficulty relating to deities, or if they have a different view of what deities are, then that is a natural fluctuation in belief that is difficult to avoid. Even when I had doubts that deities were conscious beings, the “many” part was never in doubt. And if you try to restrict access to polytheist ritual on the grounds of belief, then you will never give anyone the opportunity to encounter deities – though of course you might want to develop some sort of initiatory pathways to assist people to develop deeper relationships with deities. Or perhaps there might be open access rituals for everyone, and other rituals specifically for devotees.

Why duotheism is not polytheism

Some Pagans are duotheists (the idea of one Goddess and one God who may or may not be emanations from a single source). I have difficulty with this idea because I don’t see the universe in binary terms, but rather as a multiplicity. The major attraction of polytheism for a genderqueer and/or LGBTQ person is that there are multiple expressions of gender and sexuality among deities. And the idea of duotheism has the same problem for me that monotheism does: how can there be anything that big that perceives existence on the same scale we do?

As to the idea that all deities are emanations from an underlying substrate of energy or consciousness, I can’t see why this is a problem for polytheism as long as the deities are viewed as distinct beings, and humans are also viewed as emanations from that substrate. I can see it could be a problem if the emphasis was more on the divine source than the individual deity – because then we’re back to monism again.

Polytheism is the “default setting”

Interestingly, if you look at Hinduism, you can find monism, polymorphism (the idea that deities are forms of the ultimate divine), and polytheism all co-existing within the Hindu dharma. And if Buddhism is included as part of the same dharma (some Hindus view itthat way), then non-theism also exists alongside these other beliefs. Henotheism (devotion to one deity, acknowledgment that others exist) is also found within Hinduism.

I think it is worth clarifying terminology and describing clearly what we are doing, mostly in order to make the path easier for others to find. But I don’t feel that polytheism is endangered. I think it is pretty much the “default setting”, to which all religion will gravitate in the end. Christianity tried monotheism, but it gradually introduced saints and a goddess (the Virgin Mary is a goddess in all but name). Buddhism moved the focus of religion away from gods towards personal enlightenment, and ended up introducing Bodhisattvas. Even Islam has 99 names of God, and Sufis and Shi’ites have saints. In Judaism, God has aspects (especially in Kabbalah). So even in monotheist and non-theist religions, the multiplicity keeps re-asserting itself. You can’t keep a good deity down.

Even if the archetypalists succeed in convincing everyone that gods are only archetypes, people will still have real experiences of the gods.

It’s not so much that polytheism is under siege from monism or non-theism or monotheism – on the contrary: they are constantly on guard against the emergence of polytheism and animism. Everyone knows there’s a spirit that lives in the photocopier which must be propitiated. That’s why atheists are constantly on guard against “woo”. Everyone needs a personal deity to relate to, which is less than the Great All. If they happen to be a monotheist, they invent a smaller god of their own devising, whether that is saints, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or a more manageable version of Yahweh. It’s a very rare person who feels they can relate to a completely impersonal deity.

And the final reason that I don’t think polytheism is under siege is the deities themselves. They survived for centuries with hardly any worshippers, and that didn’t finish them off: so a few people claiming they are just archetypes is pretty small beer. They have the power to communicate with humans and they do use it. I think we and they will be just fine.

Creative Endarkenment: Downward to Darkness

super moon by Katrin Talbot 2015

Image of blood moon, Katrin Talbot, 2015

Effort lay in us
before religions
at pond bottom
All things move toward
the light
except those
that freely work down
to oceans’ black depths
In us an impulse tests
the unknown

Lorine Niedecker, from “Paean to Place”

(Click on the link and read the whole poem, with correct formatting. Seriously, I keep losing the formatting when I type it in here and it is wounding my poet soul.)

***

When we discussed changing the name of our blog to “Dowsing for Divinity,” that word “dowsing” resonated for all of us immediately. As Christine put it,

When the three of us started brainstorming a new name together, once someone tossed out the word “dowsing,” we kept circling back to it.

And Yvonne added,

…we kept coming back to dowsing imagery, with its connotations of looking for hidden currents, connections with the unseen, hidden waters, and hidden patterns.

Mandala Things Come TogetherTonight, I keep coming back to the physical feel of the dowsing stick, held loosely in the hands, and how it tugs the attention…I’m arrested by the simple motion. Downward. We are dowsing, and that means we seek to be pulled, downward.

The opposite of light is dark…but another opposite, in our language, is heavy.

In Wallace Stevens’s poem “Sunday Morning,” he ends with an image of birds at sunset, flocking “Downward to darkness on extended wings.”  Darkness brings a sense of release, of letting go, of drift, the ceasing of struggle…eventually: death. There is a falling and fallen quality to endarkenment. We sigh, and let our guard and our defenses down. We can loosen the ties of the day. We can be a little more vulnerable.

But the wisdom of the dowsing stick isn’t a relaxing and drifting and letting go. Stay out here long enough in the dark, and there comes a time when we feel the tug in our gut, the impulse to nose our way down a little further into the murk.

Something in us wants to descend.

“In us an impulse tests/ the unknown” Niedecker writes. Moving our awareness down into the body takes us to the soft messy areas: to gut, to sex, to the muscled thighs. Our largest muscle groups. Our deepest instincts. To all that stuff we want to pretend we’re above. Camille Maureen, in Meditation Secrets for Women, agrees and builds on the idea:

“There are times…when the call downward is a transformative journey, a summons to the depths of the soul. People tend to think of spirituality as rising upward into the sky. In the traditional (male) teachings, enlightenment is often described as a flight from the lower centers of the body, the instinctive and sexual places, to the upper centers in the head and then out. …Everyone fears this descent, this sinking down. Yet sinking down connects us with the earth, with our personal ground, with our foundation.”

There are many journeys we’re called on, through our lives. The concept of “enlightenment” (and the hero’s story) encourage us to venture “up and out”…might it also be true that there are times to adventure down and in? The concept of endarkenment takes us not only into the dark but also down, towards (and into) the body, and the earth.

The rhubarb pushes its nubbly red thumbs up through the leaf litter. Lawns turn squishy with melt, worms once again emerge. There’s water everywhere suddenly, and with it, the muck of life, stirring, down at the roots.

 

Winter Creek Sky by David Graham

Winter Creek Sky by David Graham

 

 

 

The Alchemical Mysteries of Daisy

There is a flower within my heart,
Daisy, Daisy,
Planted one day by a glancing dart,
Planted by Daisy Bell.
Whether she loves me or loves me not
Sometimes it’s hard to tell;
And yet I am longing to share the lot
Of beautiful Daisy Bell.

Henry Dacre – Daisy Bell  (MetroLyrics)

Few people know that Harry Dacre, the author of the song Daisy Bell, was an accomplished alchemist. He was a shy and retiring man – indeed Harry Dacre was a pseudonym for Frank Dean, his real name. Another artist recorded the song which was to be his chief monument in the world – but what a song: one that clearly shows that he attained that rarest of gifts, the crowning glory of the Great Work of the alchemist.

"Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick" by The Lafayette Studio - [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daisy_Greville,_Countess_of_Warwick.jpg#/media/File:Daisy_Greville,_Countess_of_Warwick.jpg

Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick” by The Lafayette Studio – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The first line of the song, “There is a flower within my heart” emphasises the interior nature of the mystery being expressed. The alchemist seeks to tend the inner garden of the soul, where, as Hermann Hesse wrote, we should let a thousand flowers bloom. The flower could also represent the elusive blue flower of Novalis, or perhaps the mystical rose of the alchemist.

The flower was planted in the singer’s heart by a glancing dart from Daisy Bell. A dart is a kind of arrow, and the arrow usually represents sexual attraction, being the weapon of the god Eros or Cupid; but the arrow can also represent knowledge, and perhaps has a dual meaning here of both erotic attraction and mystical knowledge.

The singer does not know whether or not the Soror Mystica loves him, but he is longing to share her lot. These lines emphasise the chancy and difficult nature of the Great Work, and the difficulty of attaining the hidden knowledge, which is greatly longed for by the alchemist, of course.

The song is addressed to a Miss Daisy Bell, clearly a reference to both the Soror Mystica of alchemy, and both the goal of the Great Work, and the means by which it is attained.

Who is the Soror Mystica?

Sorora Mystica literally translates to Mystical Sister, and she is the sole assistant to the Alchemist. She brings the balancing force of feminine and masculine principles in the physical and psychic work of the Alchemical process. She is the assistant to the chemical work and the mirror for which the Alchemist reflects. She is a vehicle for transference and the key to the Alchemist’s individuation.

Let me explain. The name Daisy is a pet name for Marguerite, which is a kind of daisy. The name Marguerite is also derived from Margaret, which means ‘pearl’. The pearl is obviously a reference to the pearl of great price, which is the enlightenment sought by mystics, occultists, and alchemists – the goal of the Great Work. In The Parable of the Pearl, a man hears that a beautiful pearl is hidden in a field, and sells everything he has to buy the field. Perhaps the pseudonym that the author used was a punning reference to this field: Harry Dacre = “arid acre”.

The name “Bell” clearly represents a bell-jar or some other alchemical vessel, the hermetic vessel inside which the alchemical process must be sealed in order for the Great Work to succeed. The fact that a bell is cast by metal-workers (often regarded in earlier times as magicians), and that the outer symbol of the Great Work was making gold from base metals, also adds to the alchemical associations.

According to the Virtual Victorian,

The Daisy he described was said to be based on the Countess of Warwick, Frances Evelyn ‘Daisy’ Greville.

Daisy was a champion of women’s rights, and also a mistress of the Prince of Wales.

The Prince of Wales clearly represents the King in the alchemical process. The fact that Daisy Bell was a mistress, and therefore someone to be concealed, again emphasises the interior and hidden nature of this mystery.

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do,
I’m half crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage,
But you’d look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.

The first line of chorus (the best-known part of the song) implores Daisy to give him the answer. Clearly he is not just seeking her hand in the mystical marriage, but also the completion of the Great Work of Alchemy – not just an answer, but The Answer.

"Rosarium 11 fermentatio" by Anonymous - Rosarium philosophorum. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rosarium_11_fermentatio.jpg#/media/File:Rosarium_11_fermentatio.jpg

Rosarium fermentatio” Depiction of the fermentatio stage as hieros gamos, woodcut from the 16th century Rosary of the Philosophers. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The chorus continues, “I’m half crazy all for the love of you”. This clearly represents the idea that alchemists were regarded as mad by the rest of the world, because they were apparently seeking the impossible – the transformation of lead into gold – but what the world did not realise was that the transformation of lead into gold was an elaborate metaphor for the transmutation of base matter (the lumpen soul of the untranscended self) into divine spirit or gold (the symbol of the imperishable, immortal soul infused with divinity). So although alchemists appeared mad, they were in fact eminently sane – hence the phrase “half crazy”.

The next line is “It won’t be a stylish marriage” – there is little outward show to demonstrate that the Great Work is proceeding, hence it won’t be stylish – but alchemists used the symbol of a marriage (of a king and queen) to represent the union of the masculine and feminine principles within the psyche.

At this point, the author injects a little humour – “I can’t afford a carriage” – perhaps because he has spent so much money setting up his alchemical laboratory; or perhaps, on a more serious note, because he shuns worldly success and seeks only spiritual riches.

The last two lines of the chorus are a very clever modern adaptation of the ancient alchemical symbol of the Beast With Two Backs (a euphemism for a couple making love) which was a symbol of the Chymical Wedding, Hieros Gamos, or Sacred Marriage. The Soror Mystica is enthroned upon the seat of a bicycle of made for two.

We will go tandem as man and wife,
Daisy, Daisy,
Ped’ling away down the road of life,
I and my Daisy Bell.
When the road’s dark, we can both despise
P’licemen and lamps as well.
There are bright lights in the dazzling eyes
Of beautiful Daisy Bell.

In the second verse, Mr Dacre emphasises the equality of the partnership between the alchemist and the Soror Mystica, going tandem as man and wife; he will despise policemen (symbols of exoteric ethics and external laws, which the mystic does not need because he or she is guided by the divine will from within) and lamps (symbols of exoteric wisdom, which he does not need because he is illuminated by the divine light shining forth from the eyes of the beloved Soror Mystica).

I will stand by you in weal or woe
Daisy, Daisy,
You’ll be the bell which I’ll ring, you know,
Sweet little Daisy Bell.
You’ll take the lead on each trip we take.
Then if I don’t do well
I will permit you to use the brake,
beautiful Daisy Bell

In this verse, like the medieval knights who followed the mysteries of Courtly Love, the singer pledges his loyalty “in weal or woe”, and invites her to take the lead and use the brake – he submits to her inner guidance – and perhaps here she represents the Anima, his inner feminine self (of whom the Soror Mystica is usually the outward representation).

Harry Dacre carefully encoded an alchemical mystery in the lyrics of the song, and then set it to a catchy tune in the hope of imbuing the popular consciousness with the occult mysteries of alchemy. Of course, if you look at the subsequent explosion of feminist ideas, magical ideas, then he clearly succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Because everyone knows this song – right? And every time you sing it, you are praising the mystical qualities of making the Beast with Two Backs, and furthering the Alchemical Great Work.