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Merlin Goes to the Toxteth Day of the Dead

The Liverpool Arts Labbers are a bunch of amazing artists and performers. Wacky and full of heart they make extraordinary things happen. They were on the Cerne to CERN pilgrimage and planted a magnolia tree in Jung’s garden. In November they were the last group of the year staying at Cae Mabon. They were a buzzing hive of creativity preparing for the Toxteth Day of the Dead (TDOTD), due on 23rd November. What, you may ask, is that?

The TDOTD has a long and complex backstory, partly inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead. This year it was, in brief, a colourful Beating the Bounds procession through the streets of Toxteth remembering some of the bright spirits who’ve lived there, singing songs (including ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Across the Universe’), doing performances and ceremonies en route. The climax was just after dusk in the sunken gardens below the largest cathedral in Europe. There bricks were ceremonially laid by Daisy Campbell on the foundations of what will become the Peoples’ Pyramid. The key detail is that each brick has been fired with 23 grams of a person’s ashes. This process is called MuMufication. The eight people whose bricks were laid this year were joyously remembered at The Wake in the Florrie the night before. So, instead of being scattered to the wind or cast upon the water, their dust will be part of a great structure honouring the dead and holding the memories of the Toxteth community web of life. 34,592 bricks are needed to build the pyramid. So far nine have been laid. This is a vision for the long haul.

There’s a lot more. If you want to read an account of what happened over the weekend here’s a good one.

And if you’d like to see the visuals here’s a beautiful short film of the TDOTD made by Tim Arnold.

The particular reason I was there is because the procession would be passing through some streets in Toxteth known as Little Camelot. Along with a few other Arthurian street names are to be found Merlin and Modred Streets. Merlin brought about the rise of Arthur. Modred (or Mordred) brought his downfall: the whole Arthurian cycle is encapsulated in two Liverpool streets. The Labbers remembered me doing Merlin’s Prophecy at Jung’s Garden and asked if I could ‘channel’ his spirit again here on Merlin Street.

I was planning to talk about Merlin then speak his prophecy. But the evening before I was chatting to my dear friend Goffee, the pyrotechnic clown who painted the Green Man maze on the side of my house. ‘No no,’ he said. ‘You must BE Merlin’. I realised that was also what Tommy Calderdale, the brilliant MC of the procession, was expecting. So late the night before I wrote a script for Merlin. And here it is, the ‘spirit of Merlin’, as recorded by Tim Arnold the next day.

In the context of what was to happen in Britain less than three weeks later, this seems small fry. How can Merlin’s prophecy be relevant in our troubled times? And yet, and yet… There is something ancient but also timely about it. His key phrase is: ‘Root and branch will change places and the newness of the thing shall seem a miracle.’ That can be true now as much as at any other time. Indeed we need radical change more than ever. And he goes on to say: ‘The Healing Maiden will return, her footsteps bursting into flame.’ This is a symbol of the goddess coming back. I get the impression that more and more women and girls are taking leading roles bringing ‘compassion, healing, balance and nourishment’ into the world. The Finns, the Kiwis and the Icelanders all have young female leaders. Where they lead let us follow.

Maybe Merlin needs to get out on the streets more!

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