Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Hanging with the South East London Folklore Society
In a post on here recently, I believe I mentioned that august periodical, the Fortean Times (actually I know I did – my query was rhetorical). I also mentioned my respect for the quality of the articles concerning the scholarship evident in them. For me very definitely the research is the reason I prefer it over those magazines touting mediumship, crystals and ghost tours. Not that there is anything particularly wrong or bad with any of the aforementioned, he backpedals rapidly, just that these things are generally approached with something less than scientific or academic rigour and seem (to me, anyway – am I reading the wrong New Age stuff?) very anecdotal indeed.
Now, I have to admit that I cannot remember the precise order of events, but one fine day, when I was perusing my Facebook account, I either saw or was notified that the esteemed David V Barrett was to give a talk hosted by the South East London Folklore Society upon the subject of Scientology and its similarities to ritual magic. I was a mite taken aback as, although folklore is a fortean subject, I was surprised (pleasantly, I might add) with the range that SELFS tackled. David V Barrett is an author, having several books to his name. He also speaks on various subjects (I daresay you worked that out from what I wrote above – well done you) and writes book reviews and articles for my favourite strange-phenomena-based magazine. I rather liked the look of this, having previously read that L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, had been associated with ritual magic via the rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons. As a result of this, it would not seem like the world’s biggest leap to conclude that Hubbard had extrapolated the procedures and workings of his religion from ritual magic.
So, a speaker whose name I had heard of and whose credentials I was already impressed with and a subject that seemed both titillating and genuinely intriguing. The thought running through my head was not “shall I attend?” but how soon could I arrange it? Luckily, it’s quite simple to partake of a SELFS (what a great acronym!) meeting – just get yourself to The Old King’s Head in Borough, literally round the corner from London Bridge station, buy a pint or two and wait for the function room upstairs to be opened. You then pop along, pay your money and sit whilst one is addressed by the speaker. Great! The real wonder starts when you find the pub. It’s quite a blast from the near past. Firstly, when you find it, it’s down an alley. Seriously. You approach from the main road and there is an archway, with the name in wrought (well, probably cast) metal inside the arch. You go down there and the pub is on the right. The pub is, to my eye, quite old-fashioned, and all the better for that. Also, it has evolved rather than being "antiqued" for the tourists. It is very high-ceilinged and a tad on the dingy side, due to the windows facing the brick wall opposite which is the other side of the alley down which it is set. In my view, all part of the cham, though. You then settle down (it’s better to arrive before five o’clock in the evening as it is not easy to get a seat after that), order a pint of Harvey’s or St. Austell’s Tribute, buy some food (my fiancée recommends the toasted Club or the BLT sandwiches and a bowl of their excellent potato wedges) and wait until eight. The only real criticism of this Dickensian (I mean that as a compliment) venue is the Dickensian staircase up to the first-floor function room. Walk on the wrong side of it and the treads are non-existent. It’s tough not to love the place, though. Get to the doorway, pay your money (which, I believe, is £1.50 concessions or £2.50 otherwise – I am more than happy to be corrected by any SELFS member), choose a seat, clutch your beer and listen.
The Scientology talk was entertaining and informative. David V Barrett kept the room’s interest and the group was friendly and open. It was a very good evening indeed which was repeated a couple of months later when we went to see Phil Baker speak about the artist, visionary and mystic Austin Osman Spare.
So, there we have it. The South East London Folklore Society is an entertaining and social bunch of folk, who recruit a high calibre of speaker to their monthly meetings. They gather at the charming venue above on the (squints at their website) second Thursday of every month.
I’m not sure what I had been doing, but it had never really occurred to me before just how many organisations there were like this – especially in London – that covered the stuff that was a large part of my lifelong obsession with the unknown. Cuh, eh? It just goes to show and that. My next post will probably be about more of these groups that I have stumbled across.