FANTAST IN FOCUS: DARRAGH MASON FIELD
“O’er space immense of seas and lands to go
Will be your fate, and realms unknown explore
Far as the confines of Earth’s utmost shore.”
-from Jersusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso, trans. by J.H. Hunt (1822).
Darragh Mason Field is a photographer, writer, and occultist. His wanderlust has driven him to some of the most mysterious places on Earth. He’s ventured to age-old temples and grottoes, trekked across the world’s most breathtaking mountains, and communed with magicians and mystics. Darragh has passionately documented his travails and triumphs with an artistic finesse that has garnered him recognition from the likes of the BBC, Geographical Magazine, and CNN. We caught up with Darragh to learn more about his interests and future projects.
The Custodian: You’ve mentioned elsewhere that Graham Hancock is one of your “personal heroes”. How specifically has his work influenced your photography and your life in general?
Darragh Mason Field: I grew up reading travelogues of explorers and adventurers – my parents had introduced me to the genre with books by Col Percy Fawcett and Derlva Murphy – so I’ve always loved stories about exploration. I first discovered Graham Hancock when I was teenager in the nineties. He had a TV show, I think it was called “Quest for the Lost Civilisation”. The show really captured my imagination with the components of travel, exploration, ancient sites all held together with a narrative about missing chapters of human history.
At the time that pretty much made Graham Hancock a living Indiana Jones to me. His influence led me to Turkey to photograph Göbekli Tepe and explore the ruins of Harran. In some weird kind of feedback loop, Graham ended up using my shots of Göbekli Tepe in a presentation he did years later and was kind enough to do an interview for with me for a New Zealand title I was working for.
C: Let’s talk about some of your adventures. You spent some time with Kosovan Sufis back in 2015. What inspired you to profile these Sufis in particular?
D: I first became aware of Sufism with the film “Baraka” by Ron Fricke. The film has a sequence of whirling Dervishes captured in slow motion and the expression of contemplative meditation is clearly evident. This sequence stayed with me and as my research and photography developed I knew it would be a subject I had to explore. I researched Sufism in some depth and I was particularly interested in the Balkans so I found a Tekke in Kosovo that practiced “Ijra”, an annual piercing rite.
C: What for you was the most transcendental aspect of their rituals?
D: The sound of the music at the Zikr was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was utterly immersive, it was a sound you could inherently feel the meaning of. The chants of “Allah Hu” were simple and traditional, but transcendent. I could feel them physically in my chest. I came back from Kosovo wanting to know more and I know my journey with Sufism is far from over.
C: I’m also curious about your experiences with the Aghori. What is it about their way of life that made you want to observe it firsthand?
D: As an occultist I’m interested in the transgressive nature of their way of life and to understand its purpose and as a photographer I’m interested in the spectacle.
C: The Aghori in your photos hardly seem camera-shy. And yet, a number of these men have reportedly done some seriously transgressive things in order to obtain siddhis, demonstrable magical powers. As far as first impressions go, did you notice anything surprising or eerie about their force of personality?
D: There definitely was an air of something about some of them, something powerful. One had a sense of peace that came off him in waves – he gave me a blessing by smearing my entire face with cremation ash which was strangely pleasant and gave me a real positive feeling. He was for me, evidence that the Aghori route to the universal truth, the path of “non-discrimination” could work or at least appeared to work. The Aghori believe that to become indifferent to eating habits, taboos, physical appearances, is to progress on the path of non-discrimination wherein one sees everything as different manifestations of the same supreme power. The realisation of this is the zenith of Aghori state of consciousness.
Others who were also initiates in cults gave off a distinctly less cosmic vibe and were almost certainly using Aghori techniques like Shava Sadhana for more nefarious reasons. And this being India, there were a few charlatans in there too.
C: In a similar vein, can you tell us about what you felt while visiting the City of the Djinn?
D: I went back to Delhi to follow in the footsteps of one of my favourite travel authors, William Dalrymple, and specifically to visit the sites relating to the Djinn. It was a strange trip. It definitely had a shadow over it. I had to change hotels three days in a row. My father who had joined me for the trip broke his tooth in the airport and there were family problems that needed my attention, then my camera failed on the first day’s shoot… it was just problem after problem. The thought that I was angering the Djinn with my presence did cross my mind. I didn’t go completely unprotected, I took some protective charms with me: a St Christopher amulet (very important for travellers and adventurers) and I had done some protection devotional before leaving for Delhi.
The locals certainly weren’t too happy to see me, when I was looking for the ruins of Feroz Shah Kotla people refused to direct me for fear of angering the Djinn and this included the people employed to collect tourist tickets at Feroz Shah Kotla! In the end it was absurdly obvious where the ruins and makeshift shrines to the Djinn were, a crumbling ruin on top of which stood an imposing pillar. This, it turned out was the “Ashokan Pillar”, which was home to the chief of the Djinn, “Laat wale baba”. In the grottoes beneath the ruins I found letter after letter to Djinn pleading for wishes to be granted, from the standard “winning the Thursday lottery” to tragic “free my sons and husband from drug addiction”.
C: Finally, where are you planning to go next? You told us previously that there will be more “occulta” on the horizon…
D: I have two other projects I’m working on. The first is following Brigit’s journey from Goddess and Saint in Ireland to Loa Maman Brigitte in the Caribbean – this will take some years to complete. The second is one perhaps your readers can help me with. I’m looking to photograph UK-based magicians, witches, wiccans and occultists of all types in front of their altars or places of worship. This does not necessary mean their face would be on view, in fact I’m perfectly happy for people to hide their identity.