Category Archives: Parlour

THE MERMAID ISLES PROJECT

“A thousand fathoms down our home; Daughters we of the pathless deep, sprung from the ever dancing foam.”

 from The Mermaids by Edith M. David (1873).

Mermaids, it would seem, have been shoaling around the sunless depths of the human psyche since the time of the ancient Mesopotamians. From the very beginning, marine humanoids were associated with eroticism, esoteric knowledge, and peril. The most prominent of these beings were Oannes and Derceto, male and female deities respectively of Sumerian and Levantine origin. Oannes was a culture hero who fulfilled a civilising function not unlike other primordial teachers (such as the Grigori) in the pantheons of the Fertile Crescent. In the writings of the Babylonian mythographer Berosus, we are told that this piscine pedagogue educated mankind alongside the shore during the day and returned to the watery abyss at night:

Excerpt from, The sacred books and early literature of the East; with an historical survey and descriptions (1917).

Derceto on the other hand, whose name (as has been noted by Deborah Gera in her book Warrior Women: The Anonymous Tractatus De Mulieribus) signifies the “ruler of the Sea”, appears to have been a fertility goddess and the mother of the infamous Assyrian queen Semiramis. Arguably, both Derceto and Oannes passed on their primeval traits which, through the epochs of time, helped to influence the characteristics of the merpeople of posterity.

Derceto as depicted in Athanasius Kircher’s seventeenth-century work, Oedipus Aegyptiacus. Image via Internet Archive.

Somewhere amidst the ever-heaving tides and whirlpools of history, legends of mermen and mermaids in the West surged into confluent currents. In the Middle Ages, tales of the mystical Siren songstresses who seduced Odysseus and his shipmates helped to solidify the image of the mermaid as a treacherous yet enchanting femme fatale. As a temptress and lover, she took on a demonstrably Venusian role, and like the Biblical Eve, she became a trumped up caricature of the caprices of femininity.

Mermaid and Merman from, Sea and land : an illustrated history of the wonderful and curious things of nature existing before and since the deluge (1887). Image via Internet Archive.

In a similar fashion, mermen became priapic, hypermasculine rakes, satyrs of the ocean. Medieval and Renaissance writers often described them as sexual deviants who kidnapped unsuspecting women venturing too close to the coast. These copulations usually resulted in the birth of supernaturally-gifted persons who became the progenitors of royal houses.

Excerpt from, Speculum Mundi, or, a Glasse representing the Face of the World (1665).

In addition to displaying sexually transgressive behaviours, merpeople, also exhibited an intimate knowledge of mystic secrets. Cornish mermaids, for example were said to have the ability to not only practise but also teach magic. This forbidden art, perhaps as old and pristine as the ocean itself, they bestowed discerningly to the kind-hearted. The following excerpt, from a tale called The Old Man of Cury (in which a mermaid initiates a daydreaming Cornishman) gives evidence of this folkloric trope:

Excerpt from The Popular Romances of the West of England, volume one (1865).

In Central Africa and in the Caribbean mermaids are also thought to be mystagogues who can connect devotees to spiritual intelligences. These water goddesses, whose artistic renditions specifically incorporate European and South Asian visual motifs have many names such as Mami Wata, Mamadjo, and La Sirène.

Illustration from poem “The Mermaid” in Cassell’s Illustrated Readings (1800). Image via Internet Archive.

As previously mentioned elsewhere, mermaids therefore have had and continue to have a global territoriality. Although they once peopled the Seven Seas of the ancients and the New World of the moderns (who, en route to the Americas, recorded their infrequent sightings), mermaids now mostly abide in the more pelagic regions of the human imagination’s mare incognitum.

A new project however, seeks to fish out these scaly creatures and, figuratively, trigger their resurgence in the British Isles. Put more precisely, its chief researcher Professor Sarah Peverley seeks to chart and illustrate the unique role that mermaids have played in Britain’s iconographic and literary history from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century. The purpose and scope of this new project are among the few topics addressed in the following interview.

The Custodian: How long have you been interested in mermaids?

Sarah Peverley: I’ve been enchanted by mermaids for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is watching the Japanese anime version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid dubbed in English. It was released over a decade before Walt Disney’s movie, and it broke my heart by remaining true to the original ending of Andersen’s tale (published 1837) in which the mermaid dies after sacrificing everything to gain the love of a prince she saved from drowning. I recall fleeing to the bathroom in floods of tears as she perished and turned to sea foam. I wanted a happy ending for her and nothing could console me. From that moment I was in love with mermaids and The Little Mermaid became my favourite fairy tale. It taught me that life isn’t always fair, that happy endings aren’t always possible, but that love is the purest and noblest thing that we are capable of. My older self still has that childlike fascination and feeling of injustice at the Little Mermaid’s story, but mermaids also appeal to me more broadly because they absorb and transform whatever ideas we imprint upon them. As hybrid creatures they thrive on contradiction and difference, and over the centuries mermaids in oral, written and visual cultures have helped us navigate what it means to be human.

Latin bestiary image of Sirens enchanting sailors from, Myths of the Odyssey in art and literature (1882). Image via Internet Archive.

C: How did you initially determine the scope of the Isles project? Was Britain always going to be the main region of focus?

S: As a medievalist, I always wanted to do a detailed study of mermaids in the medieval imagination. The watery geography of our island nations has impacted on how mermaids and the ocean feature in our cultural outputs, so telling the story of merfolk in our archipelago allows me to highlight our interconnectedness with European traditions, while interrogating what makes our mermaids unique. That said, I’ve discovered too many wonderful things to abandon the mermaids that lie beyond the project’s immediate focus, so alongside the main project I’m also preparing a more general book,provisionally entitled The Mermaid’s Tale: A Cultural History of the Mermaid. This will cover mermaids more broadly, looking at their development across the globe and across time, from ancient Mesopotamia to the present day.

C: Modern mermaids tend to be depicted with certain accessories, such as mirrors and combs. Can the origin of these motifs be traced to a particular point in iconographic history?

S: Yes, many of the items and qualities attributed to merfolk today draw on earlier artistic representations from the classical and medieval periods. The comb and mirror combination first arises in medieval iconography, but it’s a fairly late development in the British Isles. I’ve only found a few examples prior to the fifteenth century, which is when the combination becomes a prominent feature on church misericords and bench ends, like that depicting the famous Mermaid of Zennor. Before that mermaids appear with either a mirror or a comb, but generally not both. The association of mirrors with mermaids seems to derive from Classical depictions of Venus, who is often shown with a mirror and accompanied by water deities like Nereides and Tritons.

Photogravure of Three Mermaids by Hans Thoma. Image via Internet Archive.

C: What were some of the common perceptions about mermaids and their powers in the early Middle Ages and how did they change over time?

S: Medieval mermaids were, for the most part, aligned with the Homeric sirens. Drawing inspiration from Classical writings, they were dangerous, sexual predators with enchanting voices that lured men to their doom. The early church fathers used the story of Odysseus and the Sirens as an allegory of man’s struggle to avoid worldly temptations. While sinful men succumbed to the sirens’sweet songs and suffered spiritual shipwreck, good Christians rejected their charms and escaped unscathed. The notion that sirens and mermaids are seductive women seeking to ruin men remains a popular cultural motif to this day, but now they also represent love, female empowerment, gender fluidity, personal freedom, escapism, and ecological crisis.

Illustration to poem “The Mermaid” by John Leyden in the Book of British Ballads, vol. I (1842). Image via Internet Archive.

Of course, many of these concepts have precedents across the ages too. My favourite historical precedent divesting medieval mermaids of their sexual allure and casting them in a positive light occurs in the fourteenth-century Cornish plays known as The Ordinalia. Here the mermaid’s hybrid body is used to explain the complex theological idea of Christ’s dual nature. Just as the mermaid is part woman, part fish, Christ is part man, part god. I love the simplicity of this idea. The anonymous playwright has made a difficult part of Christian doctrine very accessible. Another common medieval perception about mermaids was that they had power over the weather.

In the classical period, the sirens and other water deities were frequently associated with calm seas and fair winds, but in the Middle Ages this reversed and mermaids were blamed for bad weather. Many accounts of mermaid sightings from the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries embrace this shift, projecting the cause of shipwreck and storm onto mermaids. Imagining powerful supernatural forces at work was a way of coping with the inevitable loss of life that came with increased shipping and global sea trade. Many other medieval ideas that have come down to us more or less unchanged throughout the ages – the magical properties of mermaids’ hair and their ability to transform fortunes are good examples that crop up time and again– but ultimately mermaids are flexible ciphers, able to take on and help us navigate whatever troubles, frustrates, inspires, or moves us.

The Peasant and the Mermaid from, Legends and Superstitions of the Sea and of Sailors in All Lands and at All Times (1885). Image via Internet Archive.

C: Was the term “mermaid” always used to refer to mythical sea-creatures or did it take on other meanings in English parlance?

S: From the Middle Ages onwards, “mermaid” is used in English alongside “siren”. While “mermaid” always denotes a fish-tailed woman, “siren” can be a fish-tailed woman or a part woman, part bird creature like the sirens in Classical art. In the past “mermaid” has been used figuratively to denote a prostitute, somebody who is good at swimming, and somebody with an enchanting voice. There was also an eighteenth-century dance called “The Mermaid”.

C: On that note, how regularly did mermaids appear in non-fantastical literature (i.e. sermons, political tracts, etc.)?

Mermaids occur in a variety of literature, from histories and romance to religious texts, natural histories, and political poetry. They are also popular subjects in art, appearing in church fabric, illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, wall paintings, heraldry, and personal items, such as seals and jewellery. It never ceases to surprise me that they occur in the most obvious and unexpected places.

A mermaid machine from, A rich cabinet, with variety of inventions: unlock’d and open’d, for the recreation of ingenious spirits sic at their vacant hours (1689). Image via Google Books.

 C: What’s the best way for readers to keep up with the Isles project? Also, do you have plans to attend or chair any conferences on mermaid lore and art?

S: We have active Twitter (@MermaidIsles) and Instagram (@mermaidisles) feeds that share images of medieval mermaids and project updates. A project website is also in development (www.mermaidisles.com) and a few things up already, such as my new podcast “Why Do We Love Mermaids”. As we add more content readers will be able to access information about British and Irish mermaids, view resources such as our forthcoming “Mermaid Map” access media interviews and events, and submit details of new creations inspired by the project.

Readers might also like the new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid that I produced with The Liverpool Players for last year’s Being Human Festival. It has an original music score by Alex Cottrell and is available as an audiobook at: https://theliverpoolplayers.wordpress.com/past-productions/audio-books-and-music/

Going forward, I’ll be speaking about the imagery of mermaids in bathtubs at a conference in Copenhagen this October. There are lots of other exciting events in the pipeline, but details of those will be released on the website once plans have been finalised.

Want more stories? Check out our spin-off project, Godfrey’s Almanack.

 

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 BBCGeographical 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.

An aghori presents Darragh with a skull. Photo by Darragh Mason Field.

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.

An aghori drinking from a skull. Photo by Darragh Mason Field.

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.

The Ashokan Pillar at Feroz Shah Kotla. Photo by Darragh Mason Field.

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”.

Letters to the Djinn at Feroz Shah Kotla. Photo by Darragh Mason Field.

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.

Contact Darragh on Twitter @DMasonField. You can also visit his blog and Instagram page.

Aghori skulls. Photo by Darragh Mason Field.

 Want more stories? Check out our spin-off project, Godfrey’s Almanack.

FANTAST IN FOCUS: GYRUS

Gyrus is the editor and psychonaut behind Dreamflesh, a dynamic webzine that explores the overlapping and often hard to articulate layers of the human psyche. First conceived in the 2000s, Dreamflesh has been a boon to readers interested in consciousness, ecology, and politics for over a decade. The project has many offshoots, one of which is North: The Rise and Fall of the Polar Cosmosa book described as unveiling “the story of cosmology as a crucible for and mirror of the contours of the spirit, and the power structures of society”.

But North and Dreamflesh are not the only publications Gyrus has under his belt. More articles are slated for 2017 and beyond, and Gyrus has recently revamped the Dreamflesh website to address what he believes are the significant existential challenges of the present age. We spoke to Gyrus to learn more about his approach to world mythology, art, and spirituality.

 The Custodian: Can you tell us more about your “gnostic experiences” on Ilkley Moor that inspired you to write North?

 Gyrus: North became a very different beast, in its eventual incarnation, from the inklings I had of it on Ilkley Moor two decades ago. The full scope of the follow-up research and thinking ended up radically reframing those early experiences. But at the time, these experiences gave me the idea that the spinning of the sky around the north pole star formed a kind of primary cosmic image for humans. Something connected to the dome of the skull and the swirl of the hair, a resonance which formed the symbolic scaffolding for our sense of bodily unity with the cosmos. The first wave of research following this intuition overwhelmed me with the sense that I’d hit a very potent vein.

 Actually the “gnostic” label, in the strict sense of transcendent grokking, is slightly misleading in retrospect. My obsession was to weave visionary experience into the fabric of scholarly research, and because I’d just emerged from academia, the heretically non-academic component seemed primary. But looking back, more important than the visionary experiences per se was the entire field that manifested in the relationship between dreams, synchronicities, rituals, the landscape, and book-based learning. I imagine this would be true for many historical Gnostics too, but for me this was ultimately scholarly, in that speculation was bounded by the known facts.

I’ve just re-read David Abram’s superb The Spell of the Sensuous, which suggests that our original animistic relationship to nature was lost through it being transformed into a relationship with the written word. The language of the birds fell silent as we invested our own externalised thoughts with a voice, a voice which spoke from dead pages that formerly supported the whispering of the leaves in the wind. Now obviously, being able to immerse back into that wordless world of natural voices is a wonderful thing. But stepping back with just one foot, keeping the other firmly in the Gutenberg galaxy, is also extremely interesting. Something sentient seems to rise up and busy itself forging connections in the space between the library and the moor.

The Parish Church at Ilkley. Image via Ilkley: Ancient and Modern (1885).

 In terms of specific experiences, one was a very simple illusion while sleeping alone out there, where I woke up to see a satellite—but instead of seeing it moving against the field of stars, I saw all the stars moving and it motionless. That was brief but staggering, and it triggered a visionary dream about the pole star, which I previously had no interest in. The pole star turned out to be a genuine key to the Swastika Stone carving, and weirdly related to the goddess Verbeia, whose Roman altar is in Ilkley. The other experience I’d mention is the ritual I did to Verbeia, asking for inspiration in researching her. I’d imagine it’s an underrated research strategy—she turned out to be very forthcoming.

The Verbeia altar stone at Ilkley. Image via Ilkley: Ancient and Modern.

C:  As you note in an essay, the word “contemplation” derives from the pensive bird-watching rituals of Roman diviners. Have your altered consciousness experiments been more vivid in the open air?

 G: There’s definitely something to getting out there in the open, altered states or not. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes and gear. You’re not really getting to know a landscape unless you’re out there in all the elements. You don’t want to be nature’s fair weather friend do you? And while we shouldn’t be naive about the social construction of nature, allowing that insight to smother the experiential basics seems self-defeating.

Storm Approaching the Badger Stone at Ilkley Moor. Photo by Gyrus.

 Abram’s book is interesting in this context, in how he focuses on the air as an invisible presence, something sensual which acts as a basis for our sense of conscious presence. Of course, as in many if not most languages, our words “spirit” and “psyche” are ultimately synonymous with “air”, “wind”, “breath”. This connects to myriad things, but I’d highlight here the most tangible manifestation of air—wind—and how that hooks our psychology and spirituality into the weather.

 I’ve experienced the weather interacting in really interesting ways with outdoor rituals. Weather magic is an almost archetypal instance of magic among indigenous peoples. It deals with an emblematically chaotic system (in the chaos theory sense). So if you want, you can go to town with quasi-scientific explanations of magic in terms of subtle perturbations affecting large systems—a kind of esoteric butterfly effect. I’d prefer just to chuckle at the fact that “psyche” in Greek also means “butterfly”.

In the Blue Expanse by Arkady Alexandrovich Rylov. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

C: There’s an old, evocative proverb which goes something like this: “He who would learn to pray should go to the sea.” It seems to express something about the sensory-overloading, numinous power of the ocean. Have you had the opportunity to meditate in the presence of the Arctic Ocean?

I did visit Svalbard while I was writing North, though my timing to coincide with my birthday landed me in the most boring Arctic season—just as the light’s disappearing, but before the ice has really had a chance to take hold. I also missed the most spectacular aurora display for decades. Needless to say, the ocean was a bit of a disappointment too. Actually it was hard to encounter properly, since you’re not allowed outside town (Longyearbyen) without a guide who’s armed to deal with polar bears.

Seals preserved in the open air at Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Photo by Gyrus.

I don’t have any real magical relationship to the ocean yet, though it kept cropping up in the wake of North as the logical field to focus on after so long looking up at the sky. I’ll see if anything comes of that. Offhand, I can appreciate its relationship to prayer clearly—that sense of swelling surrender, fluid power, and facing unknown unknowns seems spot on for the act of prayer.

   C: What are your favourite myths or folktales about the north? Have any of these played a psychogogic role in your dreams?

     G: My favourite was a guiding template for my early thinking on polar cosmology: the creation of the world from the body of Ymir the giant in Norse myth. It has its cousins in other Indo-European traditions, and details vary. But the basics are an almost tantric cosmogony of carnal correspondences: flesh becomes earth, blood becomes sea, bones become rocks, hairs become trees, skull becomes sky, and brains become clouds. The implicit image there of lightning as flashes of inspired thought is a high point in myth for me.

        It all connects to the polar view of things if you drop in the Latin term “vertex”—which refers to the crown of the head where the hair spirals, and to the celestial pole, around which the stars circle. The skull and sky reflect each other—there’s some really good mileage for outdoors meditation in there. The myth’s context crops up in the earliest Viking adventures to record voyages into the Arctic ocean. They related their experiences of mercurial ice and confounding weather to the Ginnungagap, the primeval void where Ymir dwelt.

   Despite the fact that dreams sparked my initial obsession with the pole, I can’t recall any major role for myths of the north in my dream life. There is the fact that Ilkley Moor is properly speaking part of Rombald’s Moor, and Rombald is reputed to have been a giant. I used to dream about Rombald moving rocks around on the moor at night, so there was definitely a trace of Nordic myth in the atmosphere of the place for me. I guess Yorkshire is “The North” from the south of England perspective in that it’s where you first start to psychogeographically brush against that world, which shades into Scotland, then Scandinavia, the Arctic, and beyond.

Guests from Overseas by Nicholas Roerich. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

C: What about art? Nicholas Roerich is possibly the best known painter of idealised boreal landscapes. Who are your favourite polar utopia artists? 

G: I’m not heavily immersed in art. Roerich’s images are great, but—and this may be due to what I’ve had access to—I drew more inspiration from Geoffrey Ashe’s telling of his story (in The Ancient Wisdom) than from his images per se. But my major art experience in this field was undoubtedly of Reinhard Behrens. I saw his stuff first on the cover of a book I found by chance in a second-hand shop, The Idea of North by Peter Davidson. A few months later I was visiting a friend in Dundee. We were driving around Fife looking for souterrains when we saw signs for an arts festival in Pittenweem, a fishing village that—we discovered that day— is a veritable hive of artists.

The festival is basically the town’s artists opening their homes up. You wander into someone’s front room, check their stuff out, say hi as you go out the kitchen at the back, into someone else’s back garden, and so on. It was pleasant enough, no amazing pieces but a unique experience. Then we wandered into a place that was utterly astonishing. It was like the abandoned hut of a legendary and eccentric Arctic explorer, meticulously constructed, everything weathered and intriguing. There was also a Buddhist-styled cabinet holding a large brown fur, gold-lined cloak, purportedly made from the last Yeti. We’d wandered into Behrens’ house.

Sami on Skis in Northern Lights by Frants Bøe. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

   A lot of his art is concerned with a little explorer in a yellow submarine, suspended somewhere between Arctic myth and Himalayan fancy, searching for a lost region called Naboland. Behrens creates archaeologically-authentic imagined artefacts to evoke this realm (it turned out my friend knew Behrens from her work in the university’s art and imaging department). I can’t say the art itself is profound for me—it evokes wonderfully, and is essential for anyone interested in boreal legend. But it’s perhaps too reliant on whimsy for my taste, which would always favour something with uncanny edges as well, such as Leonora Carrington. (Why mention her? I think I’m thinking of interesting polar elements in her novel, The Hearing Trumpet.) But the experience of encountering Behrens was incomparable—a density of serendipity which can be seen as an inherent part of the art experience. Which may actually be the ultimate art experience: when reality spontaneously collaborates.

Harsprånget waterfall in the polar night with the aurora borealis. Lithograph by Carl Svantje Hallbeck. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

C: What has been your experience with DIY publishing? Has your mission for Dreamflesh changed over time?

G: I’ve been incredibly fortunate. At the same time, I think there’s a lot to be said for passion and belief, going forward as if something can’t not happen, and it happening in the wake. Firstly I cut my teeth when it was still relatively possible to live on the dole by choice. A friend got me into zines, and I started doing a zine based on dreams, which my friend photocopied “for free” at work. It was a great experience: typewriter, scissors, Pritt stick, research, collaboration.

    By the time I came to do Towards 2012, I had access to DTP, and I wondered how much the zine aesthetic I was immersed in was based on choice rather than the necessities that guided the early days of DIY publishing – both for the counter-culture in the 70s and 80s, and myself in my early days. So I decided the goal with Towards 2012 would be to produce something as well as I could on zero resources. Everything fell into place. People just gave me money to do it –Julian Cope and Douglas Rushkoff were both benefactors. Pete Pavement in Hove offered to co-publish and distribute. I was heavily inspired by Simon Dwyer’s Rapid Eye, and I tried to fuse that underground coffee table thing with the lively mix of zine culture. It was the early days of the web, too, and I started folding that in, including quotes and website addresses in the margins to create networks of resonance across the contributions.

  Dreamflesh emerged after 9/11 evaporated the remnants of my 90s utopian energy. I got really into James Hillman, and to some extent John Gray. Both in different ways acted as necessary counter-balances to the utopian narratives I’d absorbed from Terence McKenna, Norman O. Brown and others. But Dreamflesh was still very much concerned with politics, especially environmentalism, and with connecting such wide issues with personal experience through ecopsychology and dreamwork. Looking back at when the only issue of the print journal came out in 2006, it felt like a time when ecological issues were finally gaining traction in the mainstream narrative space, and there was still time to make real changes. Now, it looks like a lot of that opportunity has been squandered. But we’ll press on. I don’t believe in optimism which can only handle it if everything works out.

Excerpt from Gyrus’s announcement for the re-launch of dreamflesh.com.

I’ve just revamped dreamflesh.com to start blogging again, and I’m hoping that some writer friends will be joining me to contribute there. Right now I think one of the most important things Dreamflesh can tackle is the tricky overlaps between its core concerns—ecology and esotericism—and the current wave of traditionalist myth-making and climate change denial. Finding the lines where we discriminate between taking time to understand broad human concerns, and putting up a fight against dangerous insincerity or ignorance is surely the hardest and most vital task afoot.

When I started out, these core concerns almost inevitably turned me away from left-wing politics in most recognisable forms. To a large extent, the occult and environmentalism were anathema to the radical left, and much of the mainstream left. They’ve mostly caught up in terms of the environment- there are some interesting re-readings of Marx’s views of ecology around. It might be a bit much to expect them to catch up with the occult! (Though Peter Lamborn Wilson has sketched outlines of what he terms a history of “left Hermeticism“).

In any case, I’ve retained a suspicion about the Left’s shortcomings, its in-fighting and jargon-heavy academics. But the reactionary anti-intellectualism around at the moment, and the neo-traditionalism manipulating it is clearly a danger of a different order. In some senses the environmentalism/esotericism overlap is an incredibly small niche in our culture. But it touches on some really important and difficult issues at the root of current problems—reaction against modernity, the valuation of immediate experience versus abstractions, the ability to process complex information and act in the face of uncertainty, the manipulation of the imagination (see: Giordano Bruno). So in that sense the project’s remit deals with the very heart of what’s going on now.

I think this was a big impetus behind the narrative of the book North. Both occultism and environmentalism have strong anti-authoritarian streaks, but—as we saw in the left’s inability to properly grapple with them—there’s also an air of pre-modern “tradition” around them, which can be refreshing, but often is stifling. When I realised that—contra [Mircea] Eliade—hunter-gatherer culture wasn’t just some long fade-in for traditional sacred myth and ritual, but in many ways its own mode of living, with some very anti-traditional elements, I felt this was an important twist for our large-scale image of our past, and one which suggests some potentials for a progressive pagan spirituality. (Of course it’s a development of McKenna’s “archaic revival”, though I think McKenna was sometimes out of date with his anthropology.)

  Traditionalism often marks the advent of the modern era as a singular historical rift, where secularisation began to disenchant the world, and we began to lose our roots. Of course there’s an important truth in this, but when we realise that the advent of civilisation was also a rift, where the scope for centralised power and oppressive hierarchies increased dramatically, it destabilises this traditionalist two-stage model of history with a problematic third initial stage. This vast foraging era wasn’t the golden age of the romantic imagination, but it contains plenty of legitimate fuel for the imagination which wants to tease apart animist spirituality and engagement with nature from the magnetism of civilised myth, and which wants to imagine an egalitarian paganism.

    The fact that it’s hard to be sure about what was going on, say, 100,000 years ago, is part of the attraction of this for me. It’s a constant reminder that ultimately we’re constantly grounding ourselves in fantasy, and justifying ourselves through fantasy. It’s a necessary task, which is best done with awareness, with Hillman’s psychological “seeing through”.

C:  Which movies and books would you recommend for amateur Hyperborean psychonauts?

 G: I’ve heard North by Gyrus is worth a go! If you allow the idea of both poles occupying the  same mythical space, it’s hard to resist or beat John Carpenter’s The Thing (based in Antarctica). Together with Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter (which is properly boreal) and Reza Negaristani’s Cyclonopedia (a book ultimately too abstruse for me, and more Middle Eastern, but a useful reference point here), there’s a complex modern cosmology being drafted. There’s certainly enough in there to last you well past the amateur stage—but they would serve well starting out, too. They root the polar mythic dimension in the crisis of the present, which I think is important.

  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is well worth studying, too. It’s only briefly located in the far north, but again I think it resonates deeply with the present world’s connection to polar myth. Its legacy has ensured its status as modern myth, but that power is right there in the original text, more than anywhere. Also, if you enjoy cinematic exegesis and you’re very imaginative, try Hitchcock’s Vertigo (that advice kind of works in any context).

   Joscelyn Godwin’s book Arktos deserves credit—it arrived just when I started out, and was an invaluable source at the time. Touching more on the mystical aspects of the boreal, Peter Levenda’s Stairway to Heaven is a good round-up of material and speculation on Ursa Major, and convincingly argues that polar myth is as important in occultism as it is neglected. And Henry Corbin’s The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism is essential for grasping the esoteric appeal of the north. But I would advise something more down to earth after all that. David Abram’s aforementioned The Spell of the Sensuous isn’t concerned with anything specifically northern, but its treatment of cosmology and animism should feed fruitfully into the imagination of anyone who’s ventured far in this direction.

C: What are you working on now?

  G: The dreamflesh.com revamp is my main focus at the moment. After finishing North I had an idea for a novel, which is shelved for now. Then I thought I’d like to resurrect Dreamflesh the print journal (issue two, ten years later!). But for various reasons that foundered. Right now I just want to get back into the habit of writing, so blogging it is. I hope I’ll find time to write longer pieces for the essays section I definitely want to do something about the cultural psychology of Universal Basic Income. There’ll be more interviews with inspiring figures, and I’m going to try to get back into the discipline of reviewing most of the books I read—old or new—the review as a platform for thinking things through.

Follow Gyrus on Twitter and Facebook for more anthropological, political, and philosophical musings. You can also visit his website, Dreamflesh.

FANTAST IN FOCUS: DANIEL HARMS

“They are either not mortal, or their date of life is indeterminately long; they are of a nature superior to man, and speak with contempt of human follies. By night they revel beneath the light of the moon and stars…”

-from The Fairy MythologyIllustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries by Thomas Keightley (1850).

    Like a capricious princeling, the literary fairy is typically puckish and vindictive; reigning over or guarding ill-defined territories and kingdoms. Magical power is his birthright, an inborn, phantom technology that enables him to (like a Harlequin) transmogrify scenery or (like the deus ex machina) pluck characters out of difficult situations. His inconstancy makes him an unreliable ally but, if he’s down for the job, he can be a wellspring of unadulterated puissance.

Image from Huon of Bordeaux, illustrated by Fred Mason (1895).

Image from Huon of Bordeaux, illustrated by Fred Mason (1895).

In the Early Modern era, a peculiar tradition arose which sought to tap into this “fay-power”. A few magicians armed with special grimoires began to focus their ceremonies exclusively on fairies, eschewing the angels and demons of the Goetia and Kabbalah. Daniel Harms, a New York-based librarian and Cthuliana mythographer, has been studying and cataloguing this abstruse form of magic for several years. Along with Joseph Peterson, he’s playing a central role in the recovery of fairy rituals, scouring the Bodleian, British, and Folger Shakespeare libraries for lost manuscripts. We spoke to Dan to learn more about his research.

The Custodian: When and why did you start researching fairy magic?

Daniel Harms: I’d been studying works of ritual magic for years, especially printed works thereof. When I turned to the manuscripts, I soon realised that the texts edited by [Samuel Lidell MacGregor] Mathers, [Aleister] Crowley, and [Arthur Edward] Waite were only part of a broad and incredible corpus. In particular, I was intrigued by a manuscript at the Folger Shakespeare Library, most notable for its frequent conjurings of fairies and its curious illustrations.  It’s probably one of the most stunning works on magic ever written, and I was privileged to work on it with James Clark and Joe Peterson to create The Book of Oberon.

This has led to a broader survey of fairies in the manuscripts and printed works of ritual magic.  I should add that this study is in its early stages, so I have a great deal still to learn.

oberon-cover

C: What was the Elizabethan view on fairies and their power/habitation?

D: I don’t think we can say there was a particular view on fairies.  This was a period where the belief in fairies seemed to experience a fluorescence, while at the same time undergoing considerable scrutiny.  Reginald Scot argued that fairies were creations of Catholic nurses to scare children, while [King] James I saw them as delusions of the devil.  Even among believers, there was considerable fluctuation in how they conceived of these beings.  You had a culture which shared both saccharine views of tiny, harmless fairies, and rituals in which fairy kings and queens appear in majesty.

Excerpt from William Lilly's History of His Lives and Times (1715).

Excerpt from William Lilly’s History of His Life and Times (1715).

The trouble is, no one really sat down to systematically consider fairies until a century later, when the Reverend [Robert] Kirk composed The Secret Commonwealth, and it’s uncertain how much of the earlier fairy lore made it into his work.  People found fairies to be humorous, phantasmal, demonic, or dangerous, with each one of these perspectives creating an aversion to further investigation.  Even Kirk really seems to be more intent on writing about second sight than the fairies.

But I don’t want to be accused of leaving your question unanswered!  Fairies had the power to bring wealth and poverty, fortune and misfortune.  They could smite people or bring them good luck.  Their habitation was varied – you could find them in wildernesses or at old burial mounds, but some were creatures of hearth and home.  What they seemed to shun were places with large numbers of people – but even that was not an absolute.

screen-shot-2016-11-12-at-6-44-51-am

Excerpt from Thomas Keightley’s The Fairy Mythology.

C: Generally, who were the practitioners of fairy magic and what were their sources?

D: I’d say you have two different categories of practitioners about whom we can discuss.  The first were the local wise folk, many of whom claimed to have gained their power and knowledge through encounters with fairies.  For such people, the initial encounter with these beings occurred without being sought, with the fairy offering magical ability in return for a price.  The practitioner would often work within a usual repertoire of healing, locating stolen goods, and breaking witchcraft.  The most famous example of such a “fairy doctor”, to appropriate an Irish term, is Mary Parrish, who seems to have conducted a loving relationship with the MP Goodwin Wharton.  We find other examples in the pamphlets and trial records of the era – John Walsh, Susan Swapper or Swaffer, Anne Jeffries, and others.

The second category were the learned magicians, who utilised written texts in mixtures of English and Latin in order to call up these spirits.  They were educated, and thus likely male for the most part, but we know relatively little about them as a group.  Their texts survive, usually consisting of rituals to call fairies mixed with lists of demons and charms.  These individuals sought out fairies in order to obtain love, knowledge, treasure, or invisibility.  Most of these books are filled with procedures culled from other manuscript and printed sources.  We have very few accounts of the results of any magical experiments, save for those of John Dee and Gilbert Humphrey, who didn’t have much to do with fairies..

 Most of the evidence for our first group comes from trial records, and the manuals serve as our proof for the second group.  This does raise the possibility that we might have overlap between the two in some cases.  For example, Mary Parrish once employed a grimoire in her work before she lost it.

Image from The Book of Superstitions by Heinrich Ludwig Fischer (1790).

Image from The Book of Superstitions by Heinrich Ludwig Fischer (1790).

C: How did the rituals differ from other forms of grimoire magic?

D: I’m writing a book chapter about this right now, so I don’t want to give too much away.  What I can talk about is what I call the “table ritual”, a procedure that appears in pseudo-Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy.  (To give credit where it’s due, Claude Lecouteux describes a similar rite as “the meal of the fairies”, but he never gets into the ritual magic material for his analysis.)

In brief, the magician goes into an isolated place, where he sets up a table, with tablecloth, knives, goblets, bread, and water.  The exact items differ, but the ritual follows the same pattern.   He is then joined by three women, who sit at the table and eat.  Sometimes the magician sits with them, drawing a magical circle in the ground around his end of the table.  Then they provide the magician with what he desires – answers, a ring of invisibility, or even sex.

We have a number of variants, with one prominent one being the inclusion of three white-handled knives.  Given that most people would have carried their dagger for eating with them, this indicates that the people for whom the table is set are high status. The same motif of three white-handled knives left on a table is also present in poetry from centuries before, so we may be looking at a custom that extends far beyond ritual magic texts.

This is very different from the attitude in other types of ritual magic, with their protective diagrams on the ground, the strict separation between the magician and the spirit, and the ritualized threats of punishment.  And a similar rite carries over into later published grimoires.  If people are interested in more details, I talk at length about this in The Faerie Queens anthology from Avalonia.

Image from The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century by Raphael (1825).

Image from The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century by Raphael (1825).

C: What are your thoughts on the spirit Oberon? He seems to share some characteristics with the Greco-Roman god, Pluto. In fact, in Merchant’s Tale, Geoffrey Chaucer calls Pluto the King of Faerie.

D: You also have Sir Orfeo, the Middle English poem that retells the story of Orpheus, but with the unnamed king of the fairies taking the place of Pluto.  (And Pluto is one of the knight’s ancestors, just to complicate matters)…

I do believe there are similarities in the mythology, as both are beings connected with the underworld, riches, food taboos, and the like.  The ritual texts, however, feature “Oberion” as a spirit who seems closer to the demonic than the fairy.  Most of the procedures to summon him are much closer to the traditional infernal model, including a circle, long conjurations involving Christian themes, and so forth.

I’m not sure whether that is helpful or not regarding the Pluto connection!  I do think that the world of popular belief in spirits from the period was much more nuanced and complex than the teachings of the theologians.

C: What are you working on now?

D: As it turns out, Llewellyn and I are just finishing up a contract for our next book, a manual of sorcery from the Bodleian Library, that includes rituals for demons, fairies, ghosts, and other creatures.  It’s not as long as The Book of Oberon, but I think that should translate into a lower price as well.  There are some exciting pieces in there that I believe your readers will appreciate.

To learn more about fairy magic, contact Dan on Twitter @DanielHarms1. You can also visit his blog.

FANTAST IN FOCUS: GORDON WHITE

“One of the roles of the Trickster is to introduce uncertainty and novelty into your existence.”

-Gordon White

Also known as “the dark prince of modern Chaos magic”, Gordon White is a writer and podcaster. His website Rune Soup is a juggernaut in the occult blogosphere, a collection of prodigious musings that combines witty speculation with cunning erudition. Gordon is also the author of three books: The Chaos Protocols, Pieces of Eightand Star.Ships. Star.Ships, a cross-disciplinary study of humankind’s mythogenesis, has the makings of a magnum opus—though it’s probably too early to say. Gordon’s next works remain—like an alchemical formula sealed up in some sepulchral and inaccessible laboratory—a mystery. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity to speak with Gordon about his scholarly passions and magical goings-on.

The Custodian: Can you tell us a little more about how you got into anthropology? Which books and thinkers first gave you frissons?

Gordon White: Hmm. I’m not entirely sure I am into anthropology even now. My favourite exemplars of it are so far from the original definition as to render it meaningless. These include travel writers (Jan Morris), magicians, rogue scholars, and archivists (Charles Fort, Bob Wilson) and permaculturalists.

My second-favourite (living) exemplars who are closer to the term are still hamstrung by a materialist/academic worldview and so I inevitably parse their admirable research through a more magical lens. These would include Wade Davis, David Lewis-Williams and, most recently, Genevieve von Petzinger. The combination of personal experience -eg Wade Davis- and rigorous data analysis -von Petzinger- is the epistemological sweet spot. It is all too rare.

I came to a serious analysis of the topics studied in anthropology by way of a Film/Documentary degree so my first exposure to it was in its rejection: Barthes, Derrida, etc. And it was the better twentieth-century documentary filmmakers -especially Dennis O’Rourke– who were working in a cross-cultural context that gave me my first inklings there is probably a way to do it “right”. That’s where my frissons happened.

C: Do you remember your first encounter with the Atlantis myth? How has your passion for lost or fabled lands (let’s call it the “Atlantean impulse”) affected your travels and research?

G: I don’t have a memory of a time where I wasn’t aware of the idea of lost cities, which suggests I may have picked it up by way of some of the mythology books my father used to read to me as a very small child. But I could snorkel before I could read and was scuba diving by fourteen so the experience of actual wrecks and sunken detritus probably blended in there somewhere.

I’ve been diving all over the South Pacific and it took until my second year of a film degree before I could no longer contain myself and used a documentary module as an excuse to visit Micronesia to dive on Nan Madol and the WWII wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon. We ended up meeting Nam babies, the First Lady of the Federated States of Micronesia (she was restocking bookshelves in the library), Canadian smugglers, and American entomologists straight out of a [Rudyard] Kipling or [Graham] Greene novel. The film itself is terrible -I was nineteen, after all- but the taste for adventure never went away.

I’m not sure how much my interest in Atlantology and the adventures it wrought affected my research except insofar as it served as a reminder that you really don’t need anyone’s permission to do this kind of work. If your skills are sound, have at it. I know a thing or two about magical powers and I can tell you a large student debt does not confer any.

Gordon diving.

Aquaman Gordon. Photo via runesoup.com.


C: Keeping with the Atlantis theme—you also tend to take a pelagic, or open-sea approach to historical enquiry. Alternative history, esotericism, “deep-state” politics, and fringe science are among your most popular topics; collectively an oceanic “Kraken” (loved your essay on the “Consolation of Cryptozoology” by the way) of head-turning mysteries. Given your long-term interests in these subjects, how do you personally preserve a no holds barred sense of enchantment while maintaining a firm grip on reality?

G: With tremendous difficulty and sporadic failure, it must be said. And to quote the Borg Queen, “you imply a disparity where none exist.” The goal is the same: least inaccurate ontology. It is only the feeble-minded, Victorian categorisation of Creation into entirely artificial little boxes; biology, astronomy, politics, anthropology -plus the pathetic impulse in humans to literally make a subject up whole cloth and then declare themselves an expert in it- that can trip you up.

[Terence] McKenna said something similar when he received pushback on his Timewave Zero stuff: He was told there is no relation between the complexification of the universe following the Big Bang and the subsequent further complexification of the emergence and growth of life on earth because one topic is astronomy and the other is biology. Timewave Zero is mostly wrong -albeit nobly so- but he was right to call ‘fool’ on these so-called scientists who have probably completely missed the uneven distribution of novelty in the universe because once, long ago, London’s Natural History Museum had different wings for rocks than for insects.

The skillset or worldview that keeps one’s grip on reality is a proficiency in research and analytics. The majority of human intellectual endeavours are an example of solving the wrong problem in engineering. You don’t need to be an expert in every field that interests you, but you do need best in class research and analytics so that you can extract the high-quality information when you need it.

This is a rare skill at this point in the timeline but it is growing rapidly. A new metaphysics will emerge from data analysis that can interpret things like the uneven distribution of novelty or the appearance of waves/cycles and power laws at every level of observed reality.

And we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves. This kind of metaphysics can only have emerged in the last fifteen years with improved computing power. Talk to a retired economist about the difference in analysis when he/she was just starting out and what is going on now and it is truly a brand new day.

Very occasionally I get pushback on this from more staid magicians who have built too much of their identity around medieval and Early Modern categorisations to give them up now. (Twas ever thus for chaos magicians!) But this is how you separate out the real metaphysicians from the Renn Fayre folks. McKenna again: If it’s real, it can take the pressure.

star-ships-rouge-edition-cover-1

C: If you’re like some of our other fantasts, you’ve had a fair share of chilling experiences with night terrors and other anomalous presences. Which ones were the most frightening or illuminating?

G: The classic early childhood hag attacks remain the most frightening so far, and I’m still not entirely unconvinced that they weren’t screen memories for abduction experiences. The correlation between hag attacks and sleep paralysis positively defines ‘necessary but insufficient’. Anyone else who has had them will assert they were so much more than ‘mere’ nightmares.

But, after a couple of decades of regular magical practice it’s surprisingly difficult to ‘get scared’ by the paranormal. One of my secret loves is professional snake catching videos on YouTube. For most people they are terrifying encounters. For the snake catcher they are not.

As for “illuminating”, in many ways ‘illumination’ is binary: there is the time before you viscerally experienced that magic/the spirit world/etc is fully, inarguably real. Then there is the experience that affirms this for you, frightening or not. And then there is the rest of your life, which may or may not include further filling out of the detail around that first illumination -which we might otherwise describe as the practice of western magic.

chaos-protocols-1-640x964


C: When and why did you take up podcasting? What’s the most difficult thing about it?

G: I’ve been podcasting weekly for almost a year, but appearing semi-regularly on other podcasts for a few years before that.

“Why” is more difficult to answer. I was very interested in the form back in 2004 when Steve Jobs coined the word because earbud headphones -however shit they are- had achieved an elevated cultural status and I found this creatively fascinating. (Remember those early iPod ads with the black silhouettes and white earbud cords?) And so I was fascinated by the idea -hearkening back to my documentary days- that you could independently put voices inside people’s heads- while they were going about their lives. I was living in Auckland in 2004 and spent a month or so walking around and penning a sort of radio drama set in the streets of Kingsland, Mt Eden and Ponsonby that people could listen to on the same streets. It was never made but you could consider it ‘analogue augmented reality’. I still want someone to do it. I want lots of people to do it, actually.

The most difficult things about podcasting are all production things. Time zones are a bitch, for one. The other is it takes a lot longer than most people realise to edit them. Otherwise podcasting is an absolute joy for me.

A previous guest and an amazing woman –Geraldine Beskin of London’s Atlantis Books– asked me why I was doing “all this” when I went into the shop to record the show. I grew up in regional Australia and found magic just prior to the internet. The very idea that the people who wrote these books all lived on the same wet, grim, little island and that they were real humans just seemed too surreal to contemplate. Now many of the people whose books I read I have not only met but consider friends. So I told Geraldine that I am podcasting for my teenage self or whoever that is today -some irritable queer misfit in the Ohio Valley or something. It’s all well and good to “find the others” -and I did- but she also needs to know they are real humans like her.

(It’s possible that made me sound more noble than I am. In the end it’s just me talking to people whose ideas I like. That hypothetical queer misfit may just need something to listen to on the school bus. As Homer Simpson would say, I’m not running for Jesus.)

pieces-of-eight

C: You’ve also written quite a bit about the therapeutic nature of cooking and drinking. We’ve already seen the Egyptian pain-killer potion, but can you share your favourite liqueur/magical tonic recipe with us?

G: That’s a whole book -and one I may write some day- but I tend prefer provenance to individualised ingredients. (I love herbalism but in almost all cases the doses are far too low to do anything. Pot purri is closer to witchcraft than most extant “herb magic” you will read about, because at least that actually does what it promises. This is an inevitable side effect of the modern legal landscape, of course.)

So, provenance then. Actually even provenance isn’t quite right. If terroir is the local land/climate then histoire must be that plus the story of the barrels the whisky is aged in or the previous owners of the vineyard (Templars, Medicis, etc) or the indigenous names and histories associated with the agricultural land the products come from (Kapiti Coast in NZ, for instance).

At the very least the universe behaves linguistically and may well be composed of language so there is a way of folding histoire into magical feasts and experimentation. This is how one can build one’s own technical hermetica.

We’re heading into summer here so I imagine I’m about to switch to Barbancourt for a while -assuming I can find a supplier. Not only does it have great histoire, it is also the best rum on earth and I will drunk fight anyone who says otherwise.

C: Any future projects/publications in the works that you’d like to tease?

G: Definitely not.

gordon-talking

Gordon White. Photo via runesoup.com.

Gordon’s latest interview shows are broadcast every Thursday on Rune Soup. He tweets @gordon_white.