Mystery at Eleusis

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Prologue : The Myth

Persephone, daughter of Demeter, was playing and picking flowers one day in the fields with the daughters of Oceanus. Unknown to her, but sanctioned by Zeus, Hades, god of the Underworld, was setting a trap for her. She came upon a narcissus, the flower of the Underworld, which was blooming so beautifully that she could not resist reaching out to pluck it. Immediately, the ground split open to allow Hades in his chariot to emerge into the field and abduct the girl. No one heard her cries, except for Hecate and Helios.

Demeter, aware that something had gone wrong, began to search for her daughter, but no one was willing to to tell her what had befallen Persephone. After wandering ten days without nourishment, she met Hecate, who told her that she had heard Persephone’s cry, but had not seen what had transpired. So, the two of them decided to seek out Helios, the watchman of the gods. Helios, pitying Demeter, told her the truth : that Zeus had allowed Hades to kidnap her daughter.

At this news, Demeter fell into deep sadness and removed herself from Olympus, bitter at Zeus. While she was resting at the Well of the Maidens in the town of Eleusis, she encountered the grand-daughters of Eleusis himself, who did not recognize the goddess because she was disguised. Demeter told them that she was from Crete and had been carried here by pirates and was now looking for employment. In due course, Demeter was hired as the household nurse for the girls’ family and was given the care of their youngest sibling, a boy. Secretly, Demeter fed the boy ambrosia, nectar of the gods, and placed him into a fire each night, slowly turning him into an immortal. Her plan, however, was uncovered by the mother, who thought Demeter was trying to kill the child. In anger, Demeter informed the queen that her son could have become immortal, but now would only live to an old age. Then, the goddess demanded that a temple and altar be built to her on a hill, that she might teach the people of Eleusis her Mysteries.

demeter-1

Part I

Those that took part in the Eleusinian Mysteries were said to be in possession of a secret that was not to be divulged on pain of death, literally: the story goes that two young men were executed for breaking into the sanctuary while the secret ceremony was in process.

Before the multi-layered Mysteries, a pilgrim seeking initiation was a mystes, a person with eyes closed and therefore blind to the truth, afterwards he or she had become an epoptes, one who sees the truth.

The Goddess Demeter was the presiding deity at the sanctuary of Eleusis (together with her daughter, Persephone – and in the background Hekate, in her form as Crone.) First and foremost, She was the Mater Dolorosa, connected with Death and the Afterlife.

Along the narrow, almost ruined bridge across the brackish water of a swamp, a great number of pilgrims – at its height they came in their thousands ! – made their way in the Autumn to the sacred Temple grounds of Eleusis. The bridge was too narrow for vehicular traffic, and for the pilgrims it was also a ‘crossing’ between worlds, for the region beyond was deemed to have a particular affinity with the realm of the departed spirits.

hell-mouth

Part II

Part of the multi-layered myth forming the basis of the Eleusis Mysteries includes the Great Mother, Demeter, disguised as an old woman playing nursemaid to a royal child, whom she intends to immortalise by, quite literally, nightly ‘baptising’ him in fire. [Almost exactly the same incident occurs in the story of Isis, when she too is in hiding, after the murder of Osiris . . .]

The sanctifying and protective power of fire was tended for its magical properties long before its more practical applications – perhaps even in imitation of other forces that early man had seen and, without fully understanding, could only interpret as a kind of fire.

Such traditions are commemorated even into such a relatively late saying as “He who is close to me is close to the Fire”, but similar manifestations go way, way, back – almost to the very beginning in fact.

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Part III

ELEUSIS : ENTHEOGENS – OR NOT . . .

For many, it has been a challenge of the ages to ‘solve’ the Eleusinian Mysteries, and over the last half-century-or-so many self-appointed experts have gamely stepped forward with their idea of an answer.

Taking Nietzsche as their starting point, most have alighted upon the kykeon – the potion of barley steeped in water, perhaps with a little mint, consumed after the fast which preceded the Rites – as the key. The assumption, of course, has been that it must have contained some sort of mind-altering substance – the suggested culprit changing over time (to avoid apparent objections and obstacles), from psilocybin to claviceps purpurea, LSD to DMT – even the ‘vine of the soul’ ayahuasca ! – thereby also keeping nimbly in step with ever-changing fashions as psychedelics give way to entheogens . . . 

It would seem to be the case that contemporary commentators simply cannot conceive of a meaningful psycho-spiritual experience without the need for an underlying physical cause – as if that would ever ‘explain’ away the Mysteries, anyway.

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Part IV

It was never simply one thing only. As time went on – and the Initiations continued for some 2,000 years ! – the legends, the myths at their heart, became more layered. Stories are retold and embroidered along the way; variants are combined, and new characters and events are added in ways that do not always make the greatest sense.

As well as the more obvious story about the crops, the seed, fertility, the life-cycle of the plants and the seasons – the fact that Winter seemed a kind of death : the seeds going into the ground, like the dead, only to return and bring new life or at least the source of new life with the next Spring – there is more. 

There is also a kind of ‘family romance’ about shifting roles between Mother and Daughter, as the latter comes of marriageable age. There’s the upheaval for the Mother of apparently losing the Daughter, the way the men of the tribe or family were often complicit in what must have seemed like a theft, if not rape. Then, the reconciliation of the Mother to her Daughter’s new role as a bride and potential mother in her own right. Only after the Mother seeks the advice of the Crone figure and ‘role-plays’ being the older grandmother-like figure herself [Demeter disguised as the old woman], can the reconciliation between Mother and Daughter actually begin.

Wrapped up in the middle of all this there’s a lesson about the continuance of Life beyond this incarnation: that mothers and daughters, fathers, sons, siblings, and lovers, will all be re-united and go on to new forms of Life.

Death is not the end and the eventual reconciliation of Demeter as the Mother, the Source of Life, with Hades, King of the Dead, via her Daughter’s union and the way they end up sharing her, as it were, is a representation of the balancing of these two engines, Death and Life, and the varying roles they each require.

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MAYA DEREN (29th April, 1917 – 13th October, 1961)

“I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.”

Maya Deren (29th April, 1917 – 13th October, 1961)

Maya, smoking

“I am not greedy. I do not seek to possess the major portion of your days. I am content if, on those rare occasions whose truth can be stated only by poetry, you will, perhaps, recall an image, even only the aura of my films.”

MAYADEREn-portarit

Maya Deren was in born 29th of April, 1917, as Eleanora Derenkowskaia, in Kiev, Ukraine. Her family were Jewish, and in 1922, they fled the country because of anti-Semitic pogroms, settling in Syracuse, New York, where the family surname was typically shortened to “Deren” but at least her father was able to pursue his work as a psychiatrist.

Maya montage

After earning a Master’s Degree in English, and having married the Czech photographer and film-maker Alexander Hammid  himself better known as ‘Sasha’ under his influence and inspiration, Deren began to make the transition from would-be poet to film-maker. She also felt that another change was in order, as Hammid would later explain:

“Maya wasn’t always Maya. She used to be called Eleanora. Her mother used to call her Elinka, in Russian.  She confided in me that she was unhappy about her name, and she asked me once to find a name for her. So I just went to the library and looked through a lot of books, mainly books on mythology. I came across the name ‘Maya’ in different connections, for instance with water – but Maya also was the name of the Mother of Buddha. In Hinduism, Maya was the name of the goddess who wove the veil over our eyes – a veil of illusion that prevents us from seeing spiritual reality behind it . . .”

Sasha, cat, Maya

Maya with Sasha and cat

Maya became personal assistant to Katherine Dunham, an African-American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist, whose fieldwork was largely concerned with Afro-Caribbean culture. Deren traveled with Dunham’s dance troupe as they toured around segregated America, and the racism she witnessed during those trips left a deep impression on her. It was during this time that she was also introduced to the interwoven relationships between dance, ritual, iconography, and metaphysical transcendence in Haitian culture, which would become such a major influence in her later life and work.

Katherine Dunham

Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe

Speaking of the transition from poet to film-maker, Deren wrote in 1953:

“It was like finally finding a glove that fits. When I was writing poetry, I had, constantly, to transcribe my essentially visual image . . . into verbal form. In motion pictures, I no longer had to translate . . . and I could move directly from my imagination into film.”

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Dance also had always been an integral part of Deren’s sensibility, long before she came to film.

“My reason for creating [films] is almost as if I would dance, except this is a much more marvellous dance. It’s because in film, I can make the world dance!”

Speaking of dancers, a close friend and collaborator was the African-American actress Rita Christiani, who as well as appearing in such Hollywood fodder as Road to Morocco alongside Bob Hope & Bing Crosby, and the 1943 shlock-horror I Walked With A Zombie, featured in Deren’s Ritual In Transfigured Time (1946), along with dancer Frank Westbrook and a somewhat desultory Anaïs Nin.

Rita in Ritual, Frank in background

Rita Christiani in Ritual in Transfigured Time, with Frank Westbrook in the background

Years later, interviewed about her friendship with Deren, Christiani remarked:

“I came from Trinidad at five years of age, and later on I found out that Maya had come from her country at five years of age, and on a boat also – so that was a commonality that might not have been expressed, but was felt by some psychic mean between the two of us . . . Because coming here, at that young age, unless you’ve experienced it you don’t know what it is: everything is new to you, and everything is so frightening to you – the people, the places, the way people talk, the way they act – and then you had to speak English, to become an American, and that was the goal: that you become American, you know?”

Maya Deren, Kiev, c.1921

Another expat who had made America into her adopted home was the born-to-Cuban parents French bohemian Anaïs Nin, an erotic adventuress who had poured out her encounters, fantasies, and observations in short stories, novels, and essays  but it was the many volumes of journals [kept over 60 years, and at least 15 volumes published within her lifetime] in which she gave detailed accounts of her friendships and often intimate relations with writers such as Antonin Artaud, Lawrence Durrell, Henry (and June) Miller, and Gore Vidal, as well as her therapist, Otto Rank, and very probably her own estranged father that had really made her into the notorious celebrity she had always wanted to be.

Maya Beach Nude by Sasha

In the summer of 1944, when she and her friends were taking a walk on the beach of Amagansett, New York, Anaïs Nin encountered a strange scene. A woman was lying on the shore, letting herself be pummeled by the waves while two people filmed it. Later, Nin found out the woman was Maya Deren, already making a name for herself as an avant-garde filmmaker, who was filming the opening scene of At Land (1945). Nin was naturally attracted to Deren, and eventually got so involved with her films that Deren wrote a part specifically for her in Rituals in Transfigured Time (1946).

Typically, Nin  who can be seen positively pouting in her one-or-two brief appearances in the finished film (not perhaps realising, as with her comparable misadventures with Kenneth Anger and Marjorie Cameron, that her time had simply been and gone) – would characteristically attempt to have the last word, as usual, grumbling in one of her indeterminable diaries for May 1946:

“We gave (Deren) our time, our energy, and even our money . . . We believed in her as a filmmaker, we had faith in her, but we began to feel that she was not human . . . We were influenced, dominated by her, and did not know how to free ourselves.”

Anais Nin

Anaïs Nin, as she appears in Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)

One wonders if Nin had ever been aware of this unpublished poem that Maya wrote before the filming even began:

For Anaïs Before the Glass

The mirror, like a cannibal, consumed, carnivorous, blood-silvered, all the life fed it.

You too have known this merciless transfusion along the arm by which we each have held it.

In the illusion was pursued the vision through the reflection to the revelation.

The miracle has come to pass.

Your pale face, Anaïs, before the glass at last is not returned to you reversed.

This is no longer mirrors, but an open wound through which we face each other framed in blood.

(By Maya Deren, August 19, 1945)

Maya_Deren_Still by Sasha from Unreleased_Film, c.1942-3

“Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter.”

The Point of Departure:

“Myth is the twilight speech of an old man to a boy. All the old men begin at the beginning. Their recitals always speak first of the origin of life . . .”

Her anthropological field-work broke all the rules, but with her film and book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, she left behind an important document of direct encounter with the Voodoo mysteries:

“All ceremonials begin with the salute to the guardian of the Crossroads, the Loa principle of Crossing, of Communications with the Divine World . . . but that World of Les Invisibles is also the cosmic cemetery of the souls of all the Dead.”

She was actually welcomed, invited in, so to speak, when she went to Haiti to make her film – and was permitted to become an authentic initiate, because the Voodoo Community recognised her sincerity – and, more to the point, they felt she had been called by the loa.

Maya Camera

Although it may not have been Babalon in so many words, in her experience of possession by the loa Erzulie, Deren surely had a direct and empowering experience of the Female Divine:

“What I do in my films is very – oh, I think very distinctively – I think they are the films of a woman, and I think that their characteristic time quality is the time quality of a woman. I think that the strength of men is their great strength of immediacy, they are a ‘Now’ creature, and a woman has strength to wait – because she’s had to wait: she has to wait nine months for the concept of a child. Time is built into her body in the sense of Becomingness – and she sees everything in terms of it Being in the stage of Becoming. She raises a child knowing not what it is at any moment but seeing always the person that it will Become . . .”

Maya, by Sasha, 1941

The lovely though fierce Maya Deren was not only capable of being a personification of Erzulie, but was also told by her mambo that she had a warrior spirit in her as well. Once, she was invited to administer Voodoo Rites and lay on a Reception for the Wedding of a Haitian dancer, but as the day progressed Deren became increasingly angry that the loa were not being properly honoured. Jane Brakhage Wodening – at the time the wife of Deren’s fellow experimental film-maker, Stan Brakhage – describes what happened:

“And so, when all the people were gathered at the Recepetion, Maya Deren became possessed by the voodoo god Papa Loco. She went into the kitchen and she started to roar and she picked up the refrigerator that weighed several hundred pounds and she threw it across the kitchen.”

Luckily, some members of the Wedding party who understood voodoo carried Maya upstairs to her room and stayed with her, where she sat rolling her head from side to side and roaring:

“She asked for rum to be brought and set aflame . . .

“Stan went up to Maya’s room and she was sitting up in her bed and rolling her head and roaring. The other people there, Haitians, were caring for her and not afraid because they knew it was Papa Loco. And the rum was burning with blue flames in a bowl beside the bed and Maya put her hands into the bowl of blue flames and flung them all over Stan . . . and blessed him in the name of Papa Loco.”

Arguably, this tremendous drive helped her to get her work done – often against the odds – but undoubtedly contributed to her early burn-out.

Maya Deren died in 1961, at the age of 44, from a brain haemorrhage.

Maya with cat 2

According to Mark Alice Durant, writing in a special feature for the film & photography magazine, Aperture, No. 195, in Summer 2009, Deren might not have adjusted very well to the changing times of newly-emerging underground film that she herself had unwittingly helped to create:

“As the 1950s wore on, the taste for Deren’s careful, literary, Old World aesthetic was overshadowed by less formal approaches to experimental film, such as the irreverent Pull My Daisy (1959) by Robert Frank, Alfred Leslie, and Jack Kerouac. Such films were anathema to Deren’s work. In both words and pictures, she did not indulge in casual spontaneity; it is as if, to borrow her phrase, she choreographed her life for camera.”

Luckily, we at least have the legacy she left behind of films, field recordings, and her marvellous book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.

Maya Deren - The Voodoo Gods (1975 UK Paladin paperback edition!)

The Voodoo Gods – Paladin paperback edition (1975, U.K.) of Deren’s The Divine Horsemen

THE LEGACY OF MAYA DEREN :

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) – with Alexander Hammid.

At Land (1944) – with Hella Heyman, Parker Tyler, Philip Lamantia, Gregory Bateson, John Cage, Alvin Lustig, and Alexander Hammid.

A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) – with Talley Beatty.

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) – with Rita Christiani, Frank Westbrook, Hell, and Gore Vidal.

Meditation on Violence (1948) – with Chao-Li Chi, music by Teijo Itō.

The Very Eye of Night (1958) – in collaboration with Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, music by Teijo Itō.

Maya Deren stills grid

Stills from various films by Maya Deren

Among the archives of the New York Film-Maker’s Co-Op, lovingly preserved by Jonas Mekas, there are also a number of short, unfinished works, such as Witch’s Cradle made with Marcel Duchamp in 1943, the touching 1947 home-movie with Sasha Hammid, The Private Life of a Cat, as well as lost and unfinished fragments such as Medusa (1949), Ensemble for Somnambulists (1951), as well as something called “Lascivious Folk Ballet” – apparently the only surviving sequence from a project entitled Ritual & Ordeal, which is notable if only for the fact we get to hear Maya sing, in her smokey, late-night, husky voice, a kind of proto-Blues Rock, whose lyrics run:

“I got stones in my head,

I got pebbles in my bed,

In my head they rattle,

In my head they pound,

Cant ya hear ’em ?

Stones . . .

Stones.”

'Woman of the Month'

In addition, she also released an LP of the wire-recordings she had made during various ceremonials while travelling in Haiti, and of course there were the many, many hours of footage she had recorded during her numerous visits over 18 months – mostly funded by the Guggenheim Foundation. These were eventually edited together from Deren’s extensive notes by her former husband, the composer Teijo Itō and his new wife, Cherel Winett Itō, with considerable financial assistance from Deren’s close friend, the wealthy philanthropist and poet, James Merrill.

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NB: A free and legal version of both sides of this album, converted to mp3 form, and with the excerpted liner-notes from the cover, is currently available as part of the excellent U B U W E B : S O U N D online archive here :
http://www.ubu.com/sound/deren.html

Maya's Haitian bed

Maya Deren’s sleeping quarters in Haiti, c.1947-1952

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The Final Academy Revisited

“The purpose of Art, the function of Art – of all creative thought as I see it – is to make people aware of what they know but don’t know that they know…” – William S Burroughs

At last finished transcribing my original ‘The Paintings of William S Burroughs’ article-cum-interview from back in 1988 – completed ‘Apprentice to an Apprentice’ on Terry Wilson, his time with Brion Gysin and after – and steadily drawing together material for our memoir/scrapbook ‘The Final Academy Revisited’

We have been in touch with a number of individuals concerning possible contributions of either archive or new, original material, and have to say so far we have been touched by the enthusiasm and generosity of spirit we have met with in most cases…

Some people we are still waiting to hear back from, some leads we need to follow up, and some ideas need to be developed a little further yet – but if the response so far is anything to go by this should turn out to be a unique memento of a powerful creative nexus that still echoes and resonates to this day!

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge everybody who  has offered their advice and encouragement so far, as well as possible contributions: a big ‘Hello!’ to Joe Ambrose, John Coulthart, Eric K Lerner, John May, Mogg Morgan… and Thank You as ever to Paul A Green, Spencer Kansa, Charlotte Rogers and Raoul V!

There will be further updates in due course…

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Arthur Machen, Near and Far…

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THE DREAMING HILL

“…These  burning pools, the level meadows fringed with shuddering reeds, the long dark sweep of the forest on the hill, were all clear and distinct, yet the light seemed to have clothed them with a new garment, even as voices from the streets of Caermaen sounded strange, mounting up thin with the smoke. There beneath him lay the huddled cluster of Caermaen, the ragged and uneven roofs that marked the winding and sordid streets, here and there a pointed gable rising above its meaner fellows; beyond he recognised the piled mounds that marked the circle of the amphitheatre, an the dark edge of trees that grew where the Roman wall whitened and waxed old beneath the frost and rains of eighteen hundred years.” (From ‘The Hill of Dreams’)

Arthur Machen’s rumination on living in Caerleon (‘Caermaen’), the small town where he grew up, and with which he had a rather intense relationship. He tore himself away, realizing that if he didn’t leave he would dream his life away; something in him would sicken and become incapable of action. The heartache and melancholy underlying his taking on adult responsibility would always subtly influence his writing. He went the way many have gone before and after him: to London where he worked at becoming a ‘man of letters’.

He would often return to his first and native home, even if it was just in his imagination:

“Well, from the heart of this London atmosphere I was suddenly transported in my vision to a darkling, solitary country lane as the dusk of a November evening closed upon it thirty long years before. And, as I think that the pure provincial can never understand the quiddity or essence of London, so I believe that for the born Londoner the country ever remains an incredible mystery. He knows that it is there—somewhere—but he has no true vision of it. In spite of himself he Londonises it, suburbanises it; he sticks a gas lamp or two in the lanes, dots some largish villas of red brick beside them, and extends the District or the Metropolitan to within easy distance of the dark wood. But here was I carried from luminous Oxford Street to the old deep lane in Gwent, which is on the borders of Wales. Nothing that a Londoner would call a town within eight miles, deep silence, deep stillness everywhere; hills and dark wintry woods growing dim in the twilight, the mountain to the west a vague, huge mass against a faint afterlight of the dead day, grey and heavy clouds massed over all the sky. I saw myself, a lad of twenty-one or thereabouts, strolling along this solitary lane on a daily errand, bound for a point about a mile from the rectory – (From ‘Things Near and Far Away’.)

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Arthur Machen wrote that he imagined ‘The Hill Of Dreams ‘from the single stimulus of a shard of blue Roman enamel’. It was at least a point of contact with the material world during a quest of ‘high theurgic magic’ more in keeping with the Spirit of the world of the Greek Magical Papyri than his own and one which he pursued with a ‘fine desperation’. Lucian Taylor the hermit boy,  is transported to the ‘Hill of Dreams’ and experiences another dimension of time and place, which Machen conjures up with extraordinary poetry and vividness. It is not surprising his protagonist finds it hard to return to a cold, mundane reality.

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The Ghost-Trap

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The Ghost-Trap is the definition and the limit of meaning

The Ghost-Trap is the place wherein we haunt ourselves

The Ghost-Trap is remembering to forget

The Ghost-Trap is a container for our fears

The Ghost-Trap is the echoing of unfulfilled Desire

The Ghost-Trap is made up of the very substance of absence

The Ghost-Trap is the incubator of the Babe of the Abyss

The Ghost-Trap is a cancelled index of possibilities

The Ghost-Trap is a Stone Tape being erased, slowly

The Ghost-Trap is the irritation that forms an imperfect black pearl that no-one wants, not at any price…

The Ghost-Trap is the very essence of The Stumbling Block

The Ghost-Trap is the shadow that remains after the heat, the flash, and the blast

The Ghost-Trap is drawing a line, and then erasing it

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The Ghost-Trap is the calm at the eye of the Storm

The Ghost-Trap is Beyond Good and Evil

The Ghost-Trap is The Space Between

The Ghost-Trap is never the same twice

The Ghost-Trap is a hole in the soul

The Ghost-Trap is decadent and symmetrical

The Ghost-Trap is how you disappear out between Midnight

The Ghost-Trap is Not True, and must never be Permitted

The Ghost-Trap is the emerald Beginning and End of Word

The Ghost-Trap is infinitely hot and infinitely dense

The Ghost-Trap is what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object

The Ghost-Trap is a Black Mirror within the Triangle of the Art

The Ghost-Trap is a circle of fire, lit against the Night

. .  .    .        .

Image: Emma Doeve + Words: Matthew Levi Stevens

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‘She Travels The Curvature of Time…’

Emma Doeve with her three most recently completed works: ‘The Curvature of Time’, ‘The Passing of The Secret’, & ‘The Ghost-Trap’. Drawn from sketches & studies that were originally part of the ‘Dreams In The Witch House‘ project, they were completed at the end of June and had their first outing at the event ‘Arte: An Elemental Happening’ in Bristol.

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‘The Curvature of Time’

 

‘The Passing of The Secret’

 

‘The Ghost-Trap’

 

‘The Curvature of Time’ & ‘The Ghost-Trap’ will form part of our ongoing collaboration, ‘The Book of Dark Things’, of which more details will follow soon…

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Matthew Opens a New Perspective on William S Burroughs

A rainy afternoon in Bristol and at Odd Fellows Hall, once host to one of the ‘friendly societies’ operating in the UK (set up to protect and care for their members at a time when the Welfare State and the NHS still belonged to the future), Matthew delivers an outstanding talk on the writer William S Burroughs as part of the Event ‘Arte: An Elemental Happening’

 [ photo: Mogg Morgan of Mandrake, with Thanks ]

What would he have thought of it all, WSB? Definitely an ‘odd one out’ in his own time – even though he found his own company of other  ‘odd fellows’, and has since trailed a substantial following of both outsiders and insiders of society.  He needed a powerful magic of his own (with some shamanic help) to navigate through the Magical Universe. The thing he feared most – and justifiably so, considering his history – was the threat of Possession. Being called ‘genius’ – or at least possessed by genius – by Norman Mailer did not banish the spectre or the fear. Being possessed by a virus of language was one thing, possession by the ‘Ugly Spirit’ another. During a sweat-lodge purification ceremony in an attempt to ‘evict the Ugly Spirit’, Native American Medicine Man Melvin Betsellie described it as “a spirit with a white skull face, with no eyes and sort of… wings”, Burroughs knew all he could do was attempt to write himself out of trouble.

In so doing – and how successful he was in the end cannot be known, old age overtook him – he took his own possession of the literary world. The Medicine Man who told him about the look of the thing, impressed him with his strength and heart”. He felt persuaded that when you see such an enemy, it’s “just a matter of, well, if you see it on the outside, it’s no longer inside.”

Whether that’s true or not, William Burroughs rendered apprehensible the Ugly Spirit through his writing, a thing without eyes which is powerfully at work in the world – perhaps more now than ever…

An A5, 44 page chapbook giving the text of ‘The Magical Universe of William S Burroughs’ – as well as ‘The Forgotten Agent’, a reminiscence of Matthew’s first and last meetings with Burroughs – was made available for the ‘Arte’ Event in Bristol.

Some copies are still available directly from WhollyBooks, price £5. If you would like a copy, please email us with your details and we can provide a PayPal Invoice. All copies are of course Signed, and a dedication can be added on request.

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The Curvature of Time

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‘The Book of Dark Things should not then be read primarily as an account of actual rituals performed & travels undertaken, but as an exploration of the role of the imagination and the power of dreams to transmute the familiar nature of our surroundings into something strange and wonderful.’

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‘The Curvature of Time’ – Preparatory Sketches:

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The Curvature of Time

wraps threads and tatters of memory

around you like a winding-sheet…

Each night that you sleep, and set sail upon Other currents,

Other tides – go down into the Darkness

as if your body had been lowered into the grave,

dark Mother Earth from whence you came

The Curvature of Time

will steer the course of your life

on mingled black currents of memory & forgetting…

“Life is a shadow with violence before and after

It is spirits, fighting”

You who were once ridden, are you now ready to ride?

Take leave of your shell – sit up, I tell you! Sit up and make ready I say!

(He folds the paper, with her name on it – he folds the paper and he draws the signs, traces the lines and makes the anointing)

The World Turned Upside Down!

The boat is coming

to carry your soul to the Other Lands,

beyond the Far Horizon,

over the Edge of the World

and along

The Curvature of Time

Like a bride called to your wedding, like a guest to the feast, raise yourself up and be ready I say!

(He draws the lines – he makes the sign – he calls and chants, starts his dance)

The portal is open and the way is clear –

And the drumming, and the rattle,

and the scourging and the song

spirit-vessel here to carry us on

The Curvature of Time

Θ

‘She Travels’ – Study:

Θ

‘In such moments of exhaustion & surrender, the sensible spirits are drawn in great commotion as if to quit the body corporeal for some other vessel that will carry them Up & Out & On across the Curvature of Time, White Darkness shadowed by the light of a Black Sun, strange absences made solid in unknown Spaces Between, as to make all our questing metaphysic seem but tracing childish patterns in the familiar sands of our nearest shore.’

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Images: Emma Doeve + Words: Matthew Levi Stevens

Θ

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A Taste of Uncle Bill’s Magic…

Here is a little taste of ‘The Magical Universe of William S Burroughs’, from my article for ‘Chaosphere’ #4 and in advance of my presentation at ‘Arte: An Elemental Happening’ in Bristol at the end of the month…

Enjoy!

‘When I first met William S Burroughs in London at the time of ‘The Final Academy’ in 1982, I asked him about Magic, and whether he would care to recommend any books on the subject. Without hesitation he mentioned Dion Fortune’s ‘Psychic Self-Defense’, even though he qualified it as “a bit old-fashioned”.  At that time I was beginning to move in the ‘Temple ov Psychick Youth’ [sic] circles around Psychic TV, who were key players in organising ‘The Final Academy’ series of Events – a scene that was steeped in the same fascination with Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare that would also fuel the emerging ‘Chaos Magic’ current – and so Burroughs’ recommendation did indeed seem ‘old-fashioned’, but as he began to talk of Black Magic and Curses in North Africa, travelling with Medicine Men up the Amazon, and describing his experiments with tape-recordings and playback  on the streets of London’s West End and in the midst of the 1968 Chicago Democrat’s Convention and ensuing riots, I realised that for Burroughs this was UTTERLY REAL. He told me about a dream that he had as a young man, working as an exterminator in Chicago: of watching from a helpless out-of-body point of view floating above the bed as his body got up and went out with some unknown and sinister purpose that he was powerless to influence… with a shudder, he told me that possession was “still the basic fear.”

A little while after, Burroughs asked me if I would like to ‘get some air’ with him, I think while preparations were being made for a photographer or interview set-up (my impression being that he liked to avoid the ‘fuss’ inevitably involved in such situations). As he took me round the block, we talked about books: he was delighted to discover that I had read his beloved Denton Welch, also J W Dunne’s ‘An Experiment With Time’ – I had been lucky enough to find them in my old school library, and both had been a tremendous influence on him in different ways. He talked about different kinds of perception, and I heard for the first time his famous remark that the purpose of all Art & Writing is “to make people aware of what they know but don’t know that they know!” He described the famous ‘Walk Exercise’, in which you try to see everybody on the street before they see you – “I was taught this by an old Mafia don in Chicago… sharpens your ‘Survival IQ’…  It pays to keep your eyes and ears open” – as well as an on-the-spot illustration of the theory of Cut-Ups as Consciousness Expansion:

“As soon as you walk down the street like this – or look out the window, turn a page, turn on the TV – your awareness is being Cut: that sign in the shop window, that car passing by, the sound of the radio… Life IS a Cut-Up…”

I mentioned ‘Real Magic’ by Phil Bonewits (which I had just read in the ‘Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult’ cheap paperback edition!), and he acknowledged that it had “some good information” – but he was much more enthusiastic about ‘Magic: An Occult Primer’ by David Conway, which he discussed with the same enthusiasm as Reich’s Orgone Theories, the possible uses of Scientology Auditing techniques and the E-Meter, and his own experiments with Cut-Ups and their extension into film and tape-recorder (including the notorious ‘Playback’, where street-recordings are made, Cut-Up, and then played back – on location – to cause disruption, often accompanied by the taking of photos: Burroughs actually described it to me as “Sorcery”!) – and I realised that he thought of all of them as tools for deprogramming and self-liberation: in some cases, to subvert the methods of the Control Machine and its various agencies, and turn the weapons they would try and use on us back on ‘Control’ itself…’

By way of a PS: During the late 1980s living in London for a while I was in regular contact with Terry Wilson, author of ‘Dreams of Green Base’, ”D’ Train’, and ‘Here To Go: Planet R101’ with Brion Gysin. At the time he was working on what would eventually become the first part of his novel ‘Perilous Passage’, dealing with his time as Brion Gysin’s informal secretary, friend, collaborator, and “apprentice to an apprentice” (Gysin’s words!)

With additional material, the book eventually appeared as ‘Perilous Passage,  The Nervous System and the Universe in Other Words’ back in 2004 by Synergetic Press, but was just reprinted earlier this year (see: http://www.synergeticpress.com/books/perilous-passage/ )

Here is a brief excerpt from ‘Soul-to-Soul: Matthew Levi Stevens talking to Terry Wilson’, which will be published shortly by WhollyBooks:

Tell me about your new novel, which you’ve almost finished?

Well… I’ve got about a hundred pages of it. Where it will go from here I don’t know, I mean… if it’s the same size as GREEN BASE and ‘D’ TRAIN then there won’t be too much more!

It’s called PERILOUS PASSAGE – I think! – and it’s… well, really ‘D’ TRAIN focused entirely on the relationship between the two people, two heads, and this is a lot wider in scope… I mean it mentions other people, other characters come in who are not mentioned in ‘D’ TRAIN, it generally describes the whole area in which that situation was happening.

There’s a particular emphasis about the time of… the character called ‘Bedaya’, his death… subsequent events. It’s not so internalised, in other words.

‘D’ TRAIN is more to do with the dialogue between two characters whereas PERILOUS PASSAGE is more concerned with the overall picture?

Yes, ‘D’ TRAIN is pretty much a totally elliptical transcription of consciousness, non-linear… as I say, PERILOUS PASSAGE is a little more down-to-earth – maybe! It’s difficult to know, it’s not focussing on those two characters in the same way… much more concerned with Bedaya and all his works.

Do you think of writing as an act of magic?

Well, I think it is.

You are quoted as talking about the Cut-Ups – and writing generally – as a form of exorcism

That simply came from one of my observations in HERE TO GO where I was saying that William’s texts – once they brought the Cut-Ups into the tape-recorder are, cutting up tapes and whatnot – William’s texts increasingly became like spells and very much exhibited a preoccupation with exorcism…

[excerpt from an Interview conducted 28th June 1988]

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Mid-Summer Round-Up:

“He entered the shadow, treading softly, and let the track lead him away from the world. The night became full of whisperings…”

Arthur Machen, ‘Midsummer’ (from the collection ‘Ornaments In Jade’)

And so to bring things up to date a little…

Once again WhollyBooks made the trip to Hay-on-Wye for ‘How The Light Gets In’ @ The Globe and the Literary Festival, do the rounds of the bookshops and indulge in the usual wheeler-dealing (Hello to our friends @ Addyman, Hay Castle,  The Poetry Bookshop, and Richard Booth – as ever “a pleasure doing business with you!”)

As well as meeting up with Old Friends like Jeannie Crane and Paul A Green, we also drove down through the Black Mountains to Caerleon as part of our long awaited Arthur Machen Pilgrimage; and then the Ewyas Valley to where Father Ignatius founded Llanthony Abbey @ Capel-y-ffin, and Walter Savage Landor built his Tower to mark as he believed the spot “where the Ark touched the Mountain”

Photo: Matthew Levi Stevens & Emma Doeve, reflection in the sitting room window of Arthur Machen’s old house in the Welsh village of Caerleon, taken on a suitably cold, gloomy, wet day!

Available Now & Coming Up:

At long last the eagerly awaited anthology ‘Occult Traditions’ (edited by outstanding academic magus Damon Zacharias Lycourinos for Numen Books) is available! Featuring contributions from Christopher A Plaisance, David Rankine, Gwendolyn Toynton, Ioannis Marathakis, Melissa Harrington, Sorita d’Este and Others, as well as several penetrating pieces by Damon and ‘Akephalos: Being an Attempted Restoration of the Rite of the Headless One, according to the Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist’ by our very own Matthew Levi Stevens.

‘Occult Traditions’ is already being described by reviewers as the one essential ‘must have’ book of the year, and is available to order now: http://www.amazon.com/Occult-Traditions-Damon-Lycourinos/dp/0987158139

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Our appearance on Cork University Radio’s ‘Words On Top’ (our first ever podcast!), talking to the very lovely Frank K Hanover, can now be heard online here: http://www.mixcloud.com/ellie22/wot/

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A Review of ‘Rub Out The Words: The Letters of William S Burroughs 1959-1974’ by Matthew Levi Stevens can be seen in ‘Beatdom’ #11, which is available from: http://books.beatdom.com/?page_id=175

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‘Chaosphere’ #4 will be out any day now, featuring ‘The Magical Universe of William S Burroughs’ by Matthew Levi Stevens – exclusive Artwork ‘Mercury Risen’ by Emma Doeve – and contributions from Michael W. Ford, Jason Sorrell, Nerine Dorman, Venger Satanis, David Lee Grind, Babalonshi Biab Od Micma, Dana Fairchild, J. Poirot / Dualkarnain Siyah-Chal, and others…

Further details will be available from Frater Nicht here soon: http://chaosphere.org/

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‘Musick That Heals You Of Time (In Memory of COIL)’ by our very own The Plague Doctors is included in the compilation ‘Sacredly Silver and Equally Gold – A Sidereal Tribute to Coil’ (includes contributions from Adam Stalker, Basajun, Danny Hyde’s Electric Sewer Age, Gerechtigkeits Liga, Testing Vault, and many more!), which  is now available as a 3xCD set…

For more information see: http://www.club-nihil.com/coil/

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‘Arte: An Elemental Happening’ – a Day of Magickal Ritual, Art and Performance by Misha Newitt, Jake Stratton Kent and Charlotte Rogers – will be taking place Saturday, 30 June 2012 @ Oddfellows Hall 20 West Park, Cotham, Bristol, BS8 2LT

Transport:

Buses from Bristol Templemeads are the 1 and 54 (both leaving from the TJ stop) getting off at Bellgrave Road about 3 minutes walk from the venue.

Time Line (ish) of Events:

Jake Stratton Kent 1-1:30
Ruth and Mark Ramsden 1:30-2:30
Lunch 2:30-3:30
Paul A Green 3:30-4:30
Matthew Levi Stevens 5-6

Magickal Open Mike 6-8

Details of Exhibiting Artists:

John Power  (artist author of ‘The Nu Tantras of Uttarakaulas’ )

Emma Doeve (showing new artwork from ‘The Book of Dark Things’, as featured in the recent ‘Dreams In The Witch House’ show and short film)

Spencer Kansa (who although unable to attend in person will be showing a video compilation of collages accompanied by his ‘Whore of Babalon’ OST)

Tickets now available at the Underworld Apothecary: http://underworld-apothecary.com/new_events.php

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In addition to preparations for Bristol, we are further immersing ourselves in the Weird & Wonderful World of Leonora Carrington & Leonor Fini (especially after particular finds in Hay!), and will shortly be Posting further material on these Two Serious Ladies

Work has begun on an Anthology based on ‘Dreams In The Witch House’, with Artwork & Writings, inspired by the works of Arthur Machen, H P Lovecraft, the fiction of Kenneth Grant, and the darker side of the Women Surrealists – further details regarding the format, names of contributors, size of edition, etc., will be Posted as they are confirmed…

And in closing for Now: discussions have begun regarding a more long-term project that might be realised with the help & support of Raoul V – whose not inconsiderable Archive we are in the process of cataloguing – relating to Act of Faith, their friendship with Coil, and other aspects of the various intersecting & overlapping counter-cultures whose history they shared…

Photo: Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson & Geff Rushton (‘John Balance’) of COIL, Beverley Road London W4, taken by Raoul V in 1984.

It is very early days yet, but news will appear here on WhollyBooks as soon as any further details or developments are confirmed.

Best Wishes to All for Now:

Emma Doeve & Matthew Levi Stevens

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