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It’s been quiet here for a bit, what with the burden of work and serious family health issues. So I think it’s time for a poem.

This poem can be considered among other things an answer to the question ‘why are you a Reconstructionist’ that I sometimes get.

 

 

Silver Branch Arrangements

 

Why, you say?

 

Because the breeze off that sea blows blossoms

Of my soul, shaking boughs that hitherto

I did not even know were there, beneath

The flashing of the birds in that sky

Whose sun cannot be seen. There I saw

The jeweled fruits that pendulous hang

Upon their trees, those shrouds of mist that part—

And I cannot tell you the stupendous

Illuminations that befell me there,

Plunged and shot through with the blackest lights

That weave sinuously among the trees,

Where a Goddess walks, face half fair, half charred,

But they do still make my blood seethe,

Make my eyes spin. Hark the birds of the mists

On that shore mewling above the strand,

In strains of plangent joy they song the path.

 

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Under A Black Sun

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.)

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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

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.

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* Both are sancti of the Ekklesia Antinoou.

Imbas Offerings

While I’ve worked with the seeking of and cultivating of imbas for many years, I had never done the traditional imbas forosnai ritual, as I could not do a go-around of the traditional offering as recorded in Cormac’s Glossary, the most important academic study of it being Nora Chadwick’s 1935 article of the same name in Scottish Gaelic Studies (Vol. IV Part II). The rite begins with the chewing of either raw dog, cat or pig meat, as an offering to the “idol gods”. Cat or dog, ethically is out of question (and of course illegal too) and no matter how my mind tried to trip around it the very considerable health risks of raw pork is insurmountable. Nor could I get behind the concept of doing an offering simply in thought; I find doing things physically has much greater impact. Another alternative is chewing sacred fungus or plants (Erynn Laurie sees descriptions as coded of such, probably Amanita muscaria).

 

So I was very intrigued to read the alternative offering that Christopher Scott Thompson came up with based on an old tale called “Does Greth Eat Curds?” This is all in Thompson’s book A God Who Makes Fire: The Bardic Mysticism of Amergin, which I highly recommend for anyone interested at all in filidecht. So what are the ingredients of the alternative concoction? Well some of the ingredients are difficult to get. They are curds, leeks, garlic, onion, blackberries, sour (crab)apples, and sloe (blackthorn) berries. I found it impossible to procure sloe berries, even dried locally, and ended up getting them from Poland via Ebay. Crabapples proved impossible: I looked in my local Russian markets where I have seen them but they are not in season at this time so I ended up substituting a bit of a regular apple. Curds include farmers cheese and quark (a traditional German staple) and cottage cheese could work as well, as a choice that could be found anywhere in the US.

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Since it took a lot of effort to gather up the ingredients this all contributed to the ritual in my estimate. And then I chose to go to a remote wilderness location, feeling intuitively guided to do the rite in a place with very obvious chthonic connections, specifically within a volcanic geography, and near the shore of a caldera lake on the Medicine Lake shield volcano. The ritual site was surrounded by lodgepole pines, the high altitude Pinus contorta. While I hadn’t planned on it I ended up meditating in an ‘ice cave’ earlier in the day, a lava cave whose deeper portal was partially ice-veiled and from which the melting ice very audibly dripped into a pool of water.

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It was fun preparing this chthonic food, and I consider this the first part of the ritual. It certainly is an odd recipe, but it isn’t intended for the human; the food is chewed upon and then spit into the offering bowl. (The offering I made was for Brigid the Poet.) Thompson says not to swallow but honestly I found that impossible. But it helped me to enter a very different mindset. There is also a drink offering to Brigid, I chose a simple honeyed organic milk (I used half and half to give a richer and more traditional heavy bodied milk). One could use mead or some other libation instead.

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Thompson has an interesting discussion of a chthonic Brig, Great Bríd of the Horses, who fits well with my some of my experiences (and explained a few things) of Brigid the Poetess and whom I invoked in my rite. He associates her in Indo-European terminology with the mare goddess. In a late Scottish folktale she appears with a red-eared mare in a tale about Sénchan Torpeist.

 

Offerings made and induction chants chanted, then I retreated into my tent for an incubation. The imbas came, it came fast, challenging and vivid, and as always with such experiences I will be continuing to process and digest it for a long while, I suspect.

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Here are a few things I want to share.

I recently got C. Lee Vermeers book Teagasca: The Instructions of Cormac Mac Airt (Faoladh Books). It’s a new translation of Kuno Meyer’s 1909 translation of Tecosca Cormaic with lots of insightful annotations. I haven’t finished it yet, but see this provides a contemporary understanding of these wisdom instructions that I find an improvement upon the translation published by Thomas Cleary (The Counsels of Cormac, 2004). Vermeers writes that there are at least seven of these “mirrors for princes” in Irish tradition, including The Testament of Morann and the Precept Teachings of Cú Chulainn, all of which he plans on doing. This is an excellent start.

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And the second (corrected) edition of By Blood, Bone, and Blade: A Tribute to the Morrigan, published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina (they have a line of good books for polytheists), is out now. It’s a devotional anthology, and as once can expect there’s a wide range in terms of quality and insight, but the following essays alone make it a worthwhile buy: P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ “The Morrigan and Cú Chulainn: A More Nuanced View of Their Relationship” and eir “The Morrigan, Alecto, and Lamia: Irish Deities and Interpretatio Hibernica of Classical Myth”; and “Musings on the Irish War Goddesses” by Saigh Kym Lambert, which among many important elucidations of the matter of An Morrigan and related deities, also provides a corrective to much of the nonsense about Cú Chulainn and the Great Queen (usually along the lines of she wanted to punish him for not having sex with her).

And this came out back at summer solstice: Interview with Rebecca Buchanan at Eternal Haunted Summer about (mostly) From The Prow of Myth.

http://eternalhauntedsummer.com/issues/summer-solstice-2014/michael-routery/

 

Liber Pater, the Roman god who presided over human seed, (as related by Augustine) was often seen as being Dionysos, as he was by Ovid that poet of becoming, for whom he was a patron god. After his banishment by Augustus to the what is now Romanian coast, a very remote place from a Roman perspective, Ovid wrote the Tristia, his Book of Sorrows. In Book 5, Ovid laments his inability to attend the convocation of poets on the Liberalia*, March 17th. The poets met to celebrate Liber/Bacchus. Ovid beseeches the god to bring him back through his own powers so he can join his retinue.

 

It didn’t literally work out, but in the form of his book it did. A key image and episode in the Dionysian mythos is Dionysos’ leap from his chariot to console Ariadne, bereft and disconsolate by her abandonment by Theseus on Naxos (who wouldn’t be?). Ovid writes of this in his Ars Amatoria and in the Fasti as well. Professor Ned Lubacher, in Time-Fetishes: The Secret History of Eternal Recurrence, describes this vital scene as the god’s leap into presence and becoming as his heart stirs for Ariadne. Ovid says he leaps to her (and out of his chariot) so as to not let the tigers who draw his chariot frighten her. We see the god’s tenderness, this god who dies, and knows loss, as he approaches the Cretan princess.

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This leap will capture the imagination of Renaissance painters as well, as in Titian’s painting of this scene from 1533, Bacchus and Ariadne. According to Lubacher, Titian was well acquainted with the Metamorphoses and “…understood that something essential about the relationship of Bacchus and Ariadne could be depicted only through the figure of the god leaping in midair to save the human from despair, from losing herself in the infinite distance which seems to stretch out from beyond Theseus’ ship…The leap and gaze pull her back from an imminent nothingness and into the cymbal-filled din of the bacchanal. In the sky above them the ring of stars appears enigmatically to suggest that all of this is about something esoteric: the ring of recurrence and the eternal cycles of becoming” (49). The ancient theology of eternal recurrence is embodied in these images.

 

Dionysos/Bacchus’ restoration of Ariadne is a central image of sarcophagi for the Roman imperial period. As historians including Bruhl, Turcan, and Metz have shown, this story became a common, if somewhat esoteric one in that period for understanding death and the afterlife, and while for some it was simply decorative, these were expensive funeral works that were expensive to commission and for many of the families these must have provided a meaningful allegory (Lukacher 43). But love is the tone of these common images, renewal of life, specifically in the becoming of the senses, in the wine party with musicians about, and readiness to dance. Is the god’s leap the first step in his dance with Ariadne? In Titian’s imagination the retinue are dancing. As Ariadne is turning toward the god with a sense of significant movement, a very youthful Dionysos is the very picture of motion and vigor, his cape flows behind him in the great rush of becoming. Behind him are the famous Dionysian retinue: satyrs, erotes, maenads, and others.

 

The leap into the flux and flows of life…

 

Historians Robert Turcan and Friedrich Metz have shown how key the episode of Dionysos rescuing Ariadne was to the understanding of death and life after death in the early centuries CE. In contrast to the promise of Jesus Christ to bring the faithful resurrection in a type of eternal stasis, Bacchus is pictured in these artworks as resurrecting the soul within the world of endless becoming, in the realm of the senses.

Roman sarcophagi with Dionysian motifs, Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco.

Roman sarcophagi with Dionysian motifs, Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco.

 

That great Dionysian, Friedrich Nietzsche who had probably viewed Titian’s painting, had planned to make his own contribution to the understanding of these mysteries in dramatic form. In his notebooks, he wrote a draft of a satyr play (which never was completed) and penned an evocative line from Ariadne’s perspective: “abandoned by the hero, I dream of the superhero” (KSA 10:433, quoted in Lubacher 47). Some years later still writing notes for the play, the philosopher writes from the point of view of Dionysos: “Oh, Ariadne,” says the god, “you yourself are the Labyrinth: one never gets out of you” (KSA12:510, Lubacher). Ariadne, the endless cycling dance of death and life twining through unimaginable gulfs of time in the cycles of becoming, always joined by the ecstatic lord; Ariadne whose brother is a monster; Ariadne, whose mother gave in to an unthinkable lust; Ariadne rent by an abyss of abandonment; Ariadne with Dionysus, who has died, suffered and is ever-reborn, leaping toward her!

 

In his poem “Ariadne’s Lament”, Nietzsche wrote:

A lightening bolt. Dionysus becomes visible in emerald beauty.
Dionysus:
Be clever, Ariadne!…
You have little ears; you have my ears:
Put a clever word in them! —
Must one not first hate oneself, in order to love oneself?…
I am your labyrinth…

 

Now the god has become the labyrinth, which brings us back to the dancing ground. Carl Kerenyi saw Aridane as the Minoan Mistress of the Labyrinth, the Knossos Labyrinth being a sacred dance design. In what Kerenyi thought was an older story, Dionysos first took her as wife in the Labyrinth, about which Himerios (5th century CE) drawing on an earlier unnamed writer, says “In Cretan caves Dionysos took Ariadne to wife” (110). Ariadne is the labyrinth, where Dionysos continuously leaps into zoe too! As Kerenyi says, zoe, indestructible life, the endlessly becoming, “suffers no interruption and permeates all things” (95).

 

Another view of the sarcophagi.

Another view of the sarcophagi.

 

In the Tristia written in the exile on the (now) Romanian coast, that alienation that Augustus had put upon him, Ovid calls to Liber, “come and lighten my misfortunes, fairest of gods, remembering I am one of thine own” (38). Ovid was the poet of becoming and its endless metamorphoses, the ever-shifting cycle of the great (cosmic) year; it should come as not surprise that he should write so beautifully of the leap of the ecstatic god to Ariadne. While Augustus never relented, at least within the power of his poem Ovid was able to rejoin the retinue of the God.

 

 

*Scholars have various theories about the older Republican-era meaning of the Liberalia, and the centrality or not of Liber Pater in it, but among other things it marked the taking of the toga virilis by citizen boys (of 14) passing into manhood, which Ovid interpreted as a sign of liberty.

 

Ned Lubacher. Time Fetishes: The Secret History of Eternal Recurrence. Duke University Press, 1998.

Carl Kerenyi. Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life. Princeton University Press, 1976.

 

Often it’s something subtle, a glow of light through leaves, a deeper shade, a resonance of bark, and the sense of something much greater and older imbues consciousness. And someone appears. Maybe a banana slug. A surprising creature moving ever so slowly, gliding in slow motion over the moss on a dead tree trunk in moist ferny forest. There are species that when they appear seem like a spirit of the forest. I should rephrase that, this humble creature surely is a spirit of the forest. Scientifically it is Ariolimax, an air breathing gastropod mollusk that lives in the moist cool redwood zone of coastal northern California and in the wet coastal forests all the way up to southeast Alaska (with a few limited relict populations further south and to the east in the Sierra Nevada). But through the lens of the animist it is something more, my experience of it is more than rationalist knowledge can contain. I’m not putting down that kind of knowledge (I find people always jump to such conclusions when any limitations to our dominant mode of rationality are stated) as it obviously informs my understanding of this creature that is the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Note that the slug is reading Plato!

Note that the slug is reading Plato!

 

 

But there is something improbable about the banana slugs and their appearances; at least for me. I feel a kind of surprise; I who usually find garden slugs disgusting, yet these primal creatures of the forest elicit something like what the Japanese call yugen, reflecting something deep and hinting of unnoticed things. The Japanese poet Kamo no Chōmei (13th century) offers the following as a characterization of yūgen: “It is like an autumn evening under a colorless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason that we should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably.” Or Nancy Hume writing in Japanese Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader writes, “When looking at autumn mountains through mist, the view may be indistinct yet have great depth. Although few autumn leaves may be visible through the mist, the view is alluring. The limitless vista created in imagination far surpasses anything one can see more clearly” (Hume, 253–54). The Beat poet Hettie Jones (and first wife of Amiri Baraka) had a literary magazine in the ‘50s called Yugen, with the emphasize on surprise, paradox, like the classic yugen image of a tree growing out of rock, the unexpected, the richness of emotional perception, awe.

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I would say chains of relationships, of time, of the exceptions, braidings and weavings of life are evoked. The ecologist Aldo Leopold, who was an advisor on conservation to the United Nations and died in 1948 in a grass fire, used the term noumenon, an imponderable essence of material things. He writes of how in the north woods autumn landscape consists of “the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead. An enormous amount of some kind of motive power has been lost (A Sand County Almanac, 137). He goes on to mention various birds who are the noumenon of different landscapes like the Thick-billed Parrot of the Sierra Madre. I’d say the Stellar’s jay is one in the redwood forest, but so is the banana slug, that humble invertebrate, flashing yellow in the dim woods, gliding slowly, but determinedly down through the ages.

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Volume 1, Issue 2 of Air n-Aithesc (Our Message) is now available both in print and digital editions!

You can purchase it here: ciannai2.wix.com/air-n-aithesc

 

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