In 1984, the brilliant musical group Coil (Jhonn Balance and Peter Christopherson*) released an lp entitled, Scatology. On the cover was an image of the black sun. They were part of the then new ‘industrial music’ scene emerging out of the post-punk milieu of the era. They had a deep interest in magic, the occult and esoteric spirituality, which permeated their music. The song “Panic” is an homage to Pan (or the many Pans). Like many Coil fans I felt their music resonate on a very deep level, and the black sun became a meaningful image personally. I discovered that it was an old Renaissance alchemical symbol of the darkening nigredo part of alchemical process. Johann Daniel Mylius, the musician and alchemical philosopher, has an image of it in his 1622 work, Philosophia Reformata. A century earlier, Marsilio Ficino wrote the following in Liber de Arte Chemica“, chapter 14 (dated 1518, and translated from the Latin):”The body must be dissolved in the subtlest middle air: The body is also dissolved by its own heat and humidity; where the soul, the middle nature holds the principality in the colour of blackness all in the glass: which blackness of Nature the ancient Philosophers called the crows head, or the black sun.” (Thanks to C. Lee Vermeers for this example.)
Coil worked directly with magic and esoteric currents in their music and in para-musical projects. Balance said he’d worked with magic since the age of ten. On Summer Solstice of 1985, Balance joined forces with lycanthropic performance artist Kristine Ambrosia to invoke the Black Sun for their audience in two locations simultaneously: London and San Francisco. As art historian Tim O’ Neill wrote in Gnosis magazine in 1985:
“June 21st, the day of Summer Solstice, 1985, in London and San Francisco, two “Post-Industrial” artists, John Balance (of COIL) and Kristine Ambrosia (of Ambrosia Transpersonal Communications) embarked upon an ambitious and carefully planned simultaneous transcontinental ritual that combined music and art in an attempt to focus upon and use a specific aetheric energy locked in the dark realms of the Underworld (the symbol of Nigredo, the Blackening and purging of the Soul) toward the brighter lands of the White and Red Suns (the Albedo and Rubedo, or ultimate cleansing of the Soul). Kristine and John planned to collect the appropriate aetheric energies and focus them through the “lens” of performance and ritual. The ultimate goal was to create a “gateway” or tunnel between aetheric planes that could be used on an extended basis, to enter and work with the energy of the Black Sun, both magically and artistically. The hope was that this powerfully purifying experience could be “stepped down” to the audience in such a way that any of them who wished to make use of that energy could do so, safely and easily.”
O’Neill found the invocation and opening of the underworld tunnel for the audience successful. “The passage was opened and the purifying light of the Black Sun under the intense control of John and Kristine, flamed out for the use of anyone who intuitively cared to use it.”
Actually the black sun was already a resonant image for me as I had come across invocations to this symbol earlier; I had read Harry Crosby, the 1920s American poet who had found it a personal symbol (along with his wife Caresse) and named his press after it; I had also admired 19th century symbolists and romantics like Gerard de Nerval (a huge influence on surrealism) with his dream-like tales of the Orient, and who used the symbol. As I wrote in a comment on Wild Hunt:
The black sun is such a prevalent image in literature from Heinrich Heine, Gerard de Nerval to Harry Crosby to name a few. For some it has symbolized exile, depression, melancholy. Julia Kristeva wrote a book about melancholy entitled Black Sun. It’s in the visual arts, it’s in music. Really, the black sun is all over the place, and it is futile to try to pin this protean symbol to some procrustean bed of alleged (neo) Nazism. Funny that Exene Cervenka and Lisa Gerrard would be singing about it then and that so many queers from William Burroughs, to Massimo and Pierce, and Jhonn Balance would be associated with such a symbol of authoritarian violence (if it were such).
Gerard de Nerval
The black sun is also associated with the rich mythos of the star Sirius, and its dark companion Sirius B, extending back to the mythologies of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (to say nothing of the more recent 20th century records made by French anthropologist Marcel Griaule on the lore of the Dogon people of Mali (see the remarkable book, Conversations With Ogotemmeli). Sometimes called ‘the sun behind the sun’, Robert Anton Wilson had much to say about the Sirius mythos and of Crowley’s association of Hadit with it, as did Kenneth Grant.
So recently I read on the Wild Hunt with some dismay a claim that it is simply a symbol of Neo-Nazism and fascism, and of so-called crypto-fascists who are apparently lurking behind many an amp. But a quick bit of research showed that the image presented as the black sun was taken up only as recently as 1991 by fascists, who used a quite different image of ‘it’, a design embedded in the floor of an old German castle, Wewelsburg, that was used by the Nazis, and probably installed by the SS. This symbol is accurately called the Wewelsburg Sun Wheel (Schwartze Sonnenrad) and anyone wanting to write accurately about this as a racist symbol should call it that, not the black sun. It’s maddening that a symbol so meaningful to me and so many others should be coopted by such vile people, but it is also very disappointing that those fighting them would be so irresponsible as to smear an old alchemical, multi-layered mythic symbol (and it can be found in various world mythologies as the sun at midnight, the eclipsed sun, the wounded sun of night, and so on) themselves and brush all kinds of people like the whole neofolk category with being racists without any real evidence (and NO I am not talking about that group in Philly, who clearly are). Apparently the entire genre has been labeled suspect. The lack of nuance is saddening, to say the least. Association fallacy riots.
It’s true some fascists have used this symbol; it first appeared as such in 1971 in the novel Gotzen gegen Thule by Wilhelm Landig. Landig was a former SS officer who lived in Vienna after the war and was a Nazi revisionist and “Thulean” (Godwin). A lot of nonsense has been written on Nazis and the occult, in fact, it’s a whole genre, with much rehashing of the very fanciful Morning of the Magicians; for a serious and reliable take on this and related areas see Arktos: The Polar Myth by Joscelyn Godwin. It certainly was a favored image of Chilean wingnut, diplomat, occultist and esoteric Hitler enthusiast Miguel Serrano. Yet his writing is so over the top, with its tales of secret bases of Nazis hidden away in Antarctica and Hitler himself having escaped there through the interior of the earth and continuing to wage an ethereal war from the South Pole that it’s hard to consider his texts as other than weird fiction of a sinister cast. At any rate, people of all political persuasions from far left to far right and those whose affiliations don’t really even fit the scale have found the black sun an important if very polyvalent symbol.
Some of the vehemence and the heat of some of the ‘antifascist’ groups reminds me of Wilhelm Reich’s (the radical Austrian psychoanalyst who tried to reconcile psychology and Marxism) concept that fascism is found among both the left and the right. It also reminds me of some traditional wisdom from the Teagasca: Instructions of Cormac Mac Airt (Vermeers’ translation) that I’ve recently read:
O grandson of Conn, O Cormaic, said
Carbre, what is the worst pleading,
Not hard to tell, said Comaic
A pleading without instruction, without knowledge,
Vehemence in discussion,
Discussion without reason,
A pleading without choice, without control,
Without restraint, without purpose. (71)
There is purpose but the rest I think is quite relevant. Pleading without knowledge defeats intent. Painting with incredibly broad brushes things you don’t really understand causes the furthering of ignorance. And sometimes I also wonder if so much attention focused on a few lurking extremists distracts from the institutional racism that pervades everything in this (US) society from the dysfunctional criminal ‘justice’ system to the (straight) white boys’ club of the tech industry.
When the black sun rises, hidden shadows are revealed. From death new life springs, as the divine Khepri beetle manifests, rolling its dark sun of dung and raising its burnished wings at dawn, iridescing.
* Both are sancti of the Ekklesia Antinoou.