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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Hybristophilia // Bonnie & Clyde Syndrome

In Cinema, History, Psychology on February 10, 2010 at 8:10 am

they told me that

when they got ready,

they were going to

tie us up to a tree

and

blow.our.brains.out

::SOPHIA STONE (1933 Kidnap victim of Bonnie & Clyde)::


Jennifer Tilly, in the horror-comedy flick Bride of Chucky, hires a man to bring her the remains of her dead lover. She uses black magic to resurrect the psychoslayer, because she’s been unable to find another guy who can satisfy her freaky needs like he once did. Once reawakened, Chucky’s still an asshole, slapping her and chiding her for wanting to be his bride, but the fire between them still burns like hell.  The murder and mayhem begin anew, the gore starts oozing, the bodies fall. She purrs to him, “You always did know how to show a girl a good time.”

The demented dyad from Bride of Chucky are reminiscent of Depression Era media darlings Bonnie and Clyde.  There is something altogether attractive about the fated lovers.  Are Bonnie and Clyde just Romeo and Juliet in a getaway car?  What makes them such provocative icons?  So unabashedly erotic, wild, and popular?  Instantly intimate.  Infinitely imitable.  They are prime slices of American celebrity.  Their story is lacquered with mythos.  Time has not dulled its impact, its force, and its sense of winking nihilism.  And as Valentine’s Day draws nigh, we can still feel the psychological sweat stains they left on our culture… lingering impressions like the after-images that appear after vigorously rubbing your eyes with your fist. As one witness to the couple’s death says, “I guess I will never forget the sight of that car. It looked like where hogs had been slaughtered.”

Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome,” or, more accurately, Hybristophilia (from the Greek root Hybridzein: to commit an outrageous offense) is defined by sexologist Dr. John Money as “being sexuoerotically turned on only by a partner who has a predatory history of outrages perpetrated on others.”   It may result in an irresistible compulsion to seek out and partner with heinous sexual sadists in crimes against others.  There is no profile of hybristophiliacs that covers them all except this: They have an overwhelming lust for outrageous violence.

Young lovers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate epitomized the teen couple on a killing spree—their true story provided the foundation for movies like Badlands, Natural Born Killers and Wild at Heart. In 1958, 14 year old Fugate’s family forbade her to marry 19 year old Starkweather, a bowlegged, ne’er-do-well punk with a history of violent assault. So her mother, stepfather and infant sister were all summarily murdered as the couple kicked off an infamous eight-day killing spree.

Though Caril Ann aided and abetted Starkweather, collecting newspaper clippings of their adventures as they ran from police and racked up bodies, she later claimed to have been forced against her will to stay with him. She witnessed her family’s death, then stayed in the house with Starkweather for five days afterwards, screwing and playing house while keeping relatives at bay. She guarded some of their captives while he napped, and she held a loaded gun on others, but she swore that she was a hostage and not an accomplice. The courts didn’t buy it, sentencing her to a hefty term behind bars, and even Starkweather, on his way to the electric chair, testified to her powers. Caril was “something worth killing for,” he said before his death. “She put the spark and thrill into the killing.”

There in lies the magic.  The eroticism inherent in exploring the horrors of our anarchic impulses.  We are all innately perverse, capable of enormous cruelty and paradoxically, our talent for the perverse, the violent, the alien, the obscene, may be a good thing.  This is the nekyia or the archetypal descent into the enigmatic land of the dead, the realm of the unconscious.  We have to go through this phase in order to reach something on the other side; it’s a mistake to hold back and refuse to accept one’s nature.  “One has to,” as Joseph Conrad said, “immerse oneself in the most destructive element, and swim.”

University of Georgia literature professor Joel Black stated that “(if) any human act evokes the aesthetic experience of the sublime, certainly it is the act of murder.” Black goes on to note that “…if murder can be experienced aesthetically, the murderer can in turn be regarded as a kind of artist — a performance artist or anti-artist whose specialty is not creation but destruction.”  André Breton’s 1929 Second Manifesto on surrealist art stated that “L’acte surréaliste le plus simple consiste, revolvers aux poings, à descendre dans la rue et à tirer au hasard, tant qu’on peut, dans la foule” [The simplest Surrealist act consists of running down into the street, pistols in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd].”  It is no wonder that these vigilante lovers have been thoroughly embraced in cinema.

Wild at Heart, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, True RomanceNatural Born Killers.  Each of these films follows the crime spree of a pair of lovers for whom sex and violence become entangled in an imaginary world of white trash aesthetics and 50s pop culture references.  There are many parallel themes and imagery. Tony Scott intentionally pays homage to many road movies and couple-on-the-run classics that formed the implicit basis of the screenplay. Setting the tone is the film’s opening that re-uses the signature music from Badlands, while Patricia Arquette’s lazy voice-over nearly draws the scene into the realm of parody.

Style is synonymous with identity for these characters.  Note that both Sailor and Clarence are obsessed with Elvis Presley to the point that they imitate the King’s mannerisms almost reflexively.  Sailor is practically glued to the inside of his jacket, “a symbol of my individuality, and my belief… in personal freedom.”  And it is impossible to forget that critical getaway scene in Badlands where Kit fixes his hair in the mirror.  The sleazy white-trash style and bleach-blonde hair of Mallory, Lula, Alabama are almost identical.  The protagonists in these films are outsiders, usually poor, and with very distinct almost neurotic behaviors, and they all hold an insurmountable love for rock-n-roll and American iconography – a theme that Tarantino and Lynch constantly revisit in their movies.  The protagonists of these films were never properly introduced to the world we live in.   They are from strange and idyllic parallel dimensions; the characters live in an animated state of constant kitsch.  In an interview, Terence Malick explains how the psychic milieu of Badlands transcends its chronology:

I tried to keep the 1950s to a bare minimum. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything. I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time, like Treasure Island. I hoped this would, among other things, take a little of the sharpness out of the violence but still keep its dreamy quality. Children’s books are full of violence. Long John Silver slits the throats of the faithful crew. Kit and Holly even think of themselves as living in a fairy tale. Holly says, “Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, but this never happened.” But she enough believes there is such a place that she must confess to you she never got there.

This gets at the crux of what we desire in outlaw couples: to be in a constant state of abandonment.  To be out on the lam, letting your primal urges take control, being constantly reborn.  A baptism of blood that wipes the slate clean.  Adam and Eve in the Garden but with the dramatic satisfaction of a whirlwind romance.  The Garden is a getaway car (or an RV).  A state of flux that implies release from the prisons of domestic responsibility.  The Bonnie and Clyde archetype delves deep into the psyche fusing Pagan eroticism of antiquity with an Abrahamic creation mythos.  “I see angels, Mickey. They’re comin’ down for us from heaven. And I see you ridin’ a big red horse, and you’re driving them horses, whippin’ ’em, and the’re spitting and frothing all ‘long the mouth, and the’re coming right at us. And I see the future, and there’s no death, ’cause you and I, we’re angels…”  Indeed.  Mickey and Mallory confer a perpetual of divine opposites  akin to that of Shiva and Kali.  Their dance is the dance of creation, the dance of destruction, the dance of solace and liberation. Beneath their foot ignorance is crushed; from their heads springs the life-giving waters.  The rhythm they dance to is that of a world perpetually forming, dissolving and re-forming.

Hence the snake imagery in Natural Born Killers and Sailor’s Snakeskin jacket.  Shiva too, was laced with snake imagery.  Snakes are symbols of cosmic rebirth and fertility. This trait is connected with the practice of snakes of shedding their old skin and growing a new one. The snake’s venom has the power to either heal, poison or provide expanded consciousness and even immortality through divine intoxication.  It is an animal with chthonic properties connected to the afterlife.  Bonnie and Clyde represent the archetypal twin cosmic serpents in permanent embrace, providing a ladder to the unconscious.

I had a hard time with the scene where Clarence tells me he’s killed Drexl and I say, “What you did was so romantic.” I couldn’t jump to that reaction. My acting coach and I came up with the idea that here’s a man I barely know, who killed someone and is eating a burger. He could kill me next. As a female, the way to stay safe is to be in a love bubble. But part of her does think it’s romantic, like, kill all the mistakes I ever made.

::Patricia Arquette::

I just fell in love with these two characters and didn’t want to see them die.  I wanted them together.

::Tony Scott::

It is much better that they were both killed, rather then to have been taken alive.

::Blanche Barrow::

I’m glad Bonnie and Clyde went out like they did because it’s better then getting caught.

::Roy Thornton (Bonnie’s husband)::

Bonnie Parker: You know what, when we started out, I thought we was really goin’ somewhere. This is it. We’re just goin’, huh?
Clyde Barrow: I love you.

::Dialogue from Bonnie and Clyde::

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Ephemera // Recycled Images

In Art, Cinema, Ephemera, History, Image on January 12, 2010 at 10:22 pm

You can’t take it with you.  At least that’s what they used to say.  That statement may seem antiquated in an age of continuous cataloging and archiving.  The internet is vast and able to hold more information than all the libraries and museums of the world.  Furthermore, the information we carry is limitless; infinite knowledge at our fingertips that waits patient and dormant, ready to be called forth into being at any given moment.  The more memory we store on data banks, the more the past is sucked into the orbit of the present, ready to be called up on the screen, making the past simultaneous with the present in a new way.  But as three dimensional objects are collapsed and transformed into clean and discreet units of electronic information, we grow more and more nostalgic for the mangled ephemera of generations past…  the wear and tear that gives a physical object that unique texture.

Ephemera is transitory written and printed matter not intended to be retained or preserved.  The word derives from the Greek, meaning things lasting no more than a day. Some collectible ephemera are advertising trade cards, airsickness bags, bookmarks, catalogs, greeting cards, letters, pamphlets, postcards, posters, prospectuses, stock certificates, tickets and zines.   One of my personal favorites are safety matchboxes from Japan and India.

The safety match was invented in 1844.  Their safety is due to the separation of the reactive ingredients between a match head on the end of a paraffin-impregnated splint and a special striking surface, and the replacement of white phosphorus with red phosphorus.  The exterior of the matchcover is usually imprinted with a producer’s logo, often with artistic decorations, or serves as an advertising/promotional media for the undertaking it is sold or handed off in.  The ease of making matchcovers of different shapes also made them quite a popular cheap promotional item or anniversary souvenir.  In an era of instant information access and viral publicity, logo-bearing matches may have the edge as ambassadors that convey distinction in their very physicality.  Mark Nackman,  owner and president of AdMatch, claims that “matches have universal appeal, and that’s the mystery — that one little package could resonate with familiarity, maybe beauty, and a feeling of value.”  Frankly, I agree.  My Grandma has a very diverse collection (in a fancy glass bowl to boot!) and that is where I first encountered their magic.  It is the very banality of the ephemera that makes it so appealing.  The idea of finding remarkable beauty in a mundane place; a physical artifact forsaken by the past and only truly understood with perfected wisdom of hindsight.  It makes one feel special.  And why not, ephemera is just commodified nostalgia.

Daguerreotype portrait depicting Joseph Plateau

The aesthetics of nostalgia might be less a matter of simple memory than of complex projection; the invocation of a partial, idealized history merges with a dissatisfaction with the present.  As early as 1798, Immanuel Kant had noted that people who did return home were usually disappointed because, in fact, they did not want to return to a place, but to a time, a time of youth. Time, unlike space, cannot be returned to–ever; time is irreversible. And nostalgia becomes the reaction to that sad fact.  This physical and emotional upheaval related to the workings of memory was seen as a “disorder of the imagination” from the start.  Nostalgia, in fact, may depend precisely on the irrecoverable nature of the past for its emotional impact and appeal. It is the very pastness of the past, its inaccessibility, that likely accounts for a large part of nostalgia’s power. This is rarely the past as actually experienced, of course; it is the past as imagined, as idealized through memory and desire. In this sense, however, nostalgia is less about the past than about the present.

It operates through what Mikhail Bakhtin called an “historical inversion”: the ideal that is not being lived in the present is projected into the past. It is “memorialized” as past, crystallized into precious moments selected by memory, but also by forgetting, and by desire’s distortions and reorganizations. Simultaneously distancing and approximating, nostalgia exiles us from the present as it brings the imagined past near.  Nostalgia sanitizes as it selects, making the past feel complete, stable, coherent, safe from the unexpected and the untoward, from accident or betrayal, in other words, making it so very unlike the present.

If the present is considered irredeemable, you can look either back or forward. The nostalgic and utopian impulses share a common rejection of the here and now.  If the future is cyberspace, then what better way to soothe techno-peasant anxieties than to yearn for a Underwood Typewriter? But there is a rather obvious contradiction here: nostalgia requires the availability of evidence of the past, and it is precisely the electronic and mechanical reproduction of images of the past that plays such an important role in the structuring of the nostalgic imagination today, furnishing it with the possibility of “compelling vitality.” Thanks to the internet, nostalgia no longer has to rely on individual memory or desire: it can be fed forever by quick access to an infinitely recyclable past.  That is why there is an incredible surge in nostalgia today.

Three Frames

Video Ephemera and Audio Ephemera refers to transitory audiovisual matter not intended to be retained or preserved.  The large capacity and reach provided by resources such as the Internet Archive and YouTube have made finding and sharing video ephemera (past and present) dramatically easier.  My own video work as well as that of many of my peers relies heavily on found footage and recycled images.  An interesting correlation can be observed between pre-cinematic moving images of the late 19th Century and the contemporary rise of GIF art.  Like their erstwhile forebears, GIFs transport the viewer into a dimension unlike anything we experience in waking life.

Sites like Rhizome, 8-Bit Today, and Nasty Nets dig through the deepest recesses of the Internet to find these oddball creations. Many of these artists go by aliases that recall the early days of message board handles and instant messaging screen names (e.g., Videogramo and Out 4 Pizza), and host their works at sprawling Web pages that are part portfolio, part art installations. Others opt to use their real names, and even occasionally find their works in respected galleries. Michael Bell-Smith, for instance, has been featured at the New Museum in New York.   Many pieces of animated GIF art are abstract designs, while others relish in their dated appearance — incorporating ’80s and ’90s goth and cyberpunk influences as well as classic video game elements. Results often careen wildly from creepy and unsettling to oddly beautiful…

::Terence OBrien::

GIF art recalls the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge.  There is something intrinsically haunting about Muybridge’s animations.  The subjects of his photography experiments feel as if they are living fragments… two-dimensional ghosts, tethered to the frame, suspended in Hell, sentenced forever to repeat the same actions like the mythic Sisyphus.  In 1867, under the trade pseudonym ‘Helios’, Muybridge set out to record the scenery of the far West with his mobile darkroom, christened ‘The Flying Studio’.  He produced notable stereoscopic views, and later, panoramas including an important series showing San Francisco.  His reputation as a photographer of the first rank spread, and he was approached by the President of the Central Pacific Railroad, Leland Stanford, to attempt to photograph a horse trotting at speed, to settle a long-standing controversy among racing men as to whether a trotting horse had all four hooves off the ground at any point.  In the Spring of 1872 Muybridge photographed the horse Occident, but without any great success, as the current wet collodion process normally required many seconds for a good result. In April 1873 he managed to produce some better negatives in which a recognisable silhouette of the horse showed all four feet above the ground at the same time.

Soon after, Muybridge left his young wife, Flora, to go on a photographic trip. While he was away, she had an affair with a Major Harry Larkyns and became pregnant. Muybridge – an imposing figure in broad-brimmed hat and long white beard – discovering that the child was not his, confronted Larkyns, and shot him dead. Tried for murder in February 1875, Muybridge was acquitted by the jury on the grounds of justifiable homicide; he left soon after on a long trip to Central America. On his return, he took up the action photography project once more. Using a new shutter design he had develped which operated in as little as 1/1000th of a second, he obtained more detailed pictures in July 1877. He then devised a new scheme, which Stanford sponsored at his farm at Palo Alto. A fifty-foot-long shed was constructed, containing twelve cameras side by side, facing a white background marked off with vertical, numbered lines. Each camera was fitted with Muybridge’s high-speed shutter, released by an electromagnetic catch. Thin threads stretched across the track were broken by the horse as it moved along, closing spring electrical contacts which released each shutter in turn. Thus in about half a second, twelve photographs were obtained showing all the phases of the movement. Later, twenty four cameras were used; and lateral cameras giving oblique views.  The sequences published in scientific and photographic journals throughout the world excited considerable attention. By replacing the threads with an electrical commutator device, releasing the shutters at precise intervals, Muybridge was able to take series of actions by other animals and humans, projecting his results in motion on the screen with his Zoopraxiscope projector. This machine, described by the Illustrated London News as ‘a magic lantern run mad‘ was basically a projecting phenakistiscope, with a contra-rotating shutter.  This technology is the backbone of cinema.

::Muybridge text ripped and stolen from the work of Stephen Herbert and Brian Coe::

Jake Forney, "Horses Were Horses Before Men Would Ride"

Krampus // Pelznickle

In Animals, History, Language, Myth, Religion, Society on December 26, 2009 at 2:06 am

A DARK FIGURE hides behind the grinning countenance of Ole’ Saint Nick.  Sometimes he rides on a white horse, and sometimes he is accompanied by fairies or men in blackface dressed as old women.  Sometimes he is in rags and a long black beard, and sometimes he is covered in fur with the horns of a goat and a long red tongue.  He is just one of the many murderers and child molesters that make up Santa Claus’ posse.  Truth is, Jolly Santa’s “companions” are a hodgepodge assortment of rough-and-tumble characters; assorted fiends with sordid pasts and nightmarish agendas.  The companions travel with St. Nicholas or his various equivalents (Father Christmas, Santa Claus), carrying with them a rod (sometimes a stick, a mace, switchblade, sythe, revolver, a magic top hat, rusty chains, a birch branch, bundle of switches or a whip, and in modern times often a broom) and a sack. They are sometimes dressed in black rags, bearing a black face and unruly black hair. In many contemporary portrayals the companions look like dark, sinister, or rustic versions of Nicholas himself, with a similar costume but with a darker color scheme.

Santa and the Gang “Spring Break ’34”

The companion of the French St. Nicholas, Père Fouettard, is said to be the butcher of three children.  St. Nicholas discovered the murder and resurrected the three children. He also shamed Père Fouettard, who, in repentance, became a servant of St. Nicholas. Fouettard travels with the saint and punishes naughty children by whipping them.

In Germanic folklore, Knecht Ruprecht, meaning Knight Rupert, accompanies St Nicholas when delivering gifts and represents the more frightening side of this custom. He is also known as Black Peter, so called from the soot in the chimneys he goes down.  According to tradition, Knecht Ruprecht asks children whether they can pray. If they can, they receive apples, nuts, and gingerbread. If they cannot, he beats the children with his bag of ashes.  In some of the Ruprecht traditions the children would be summoned to the door to perform special tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children. Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats. Those who performed really badly were put into Ruprecht’s sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river, or to be dumped into the fiery pits of Hell.  Over time, the image of St Nicholas has merged with Knecht Ruprecht to form “Ru Klaus” meaning Rough Nicholas, so named because of his rugged appearance; “Aschen Klaus”, meaning Ash Nicholas because of the bag of ashes he carries with him; and “Pelznickle”, meaning Furry Nicholas, referring to his fur-clad appearance.

One of the most notorious incarnations is Santa’s old pal, Krampus.  To say that Krampus is a bad seed is would be an understatement. The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). In the Alpine regions, Krampus is represented by an incubus-like creature. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of December 5, and roam the streets in drunken revelry: dressing in pagan costumes and frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells.

It would seem that Krampus is an amalgamation of several pagan traditions and trickster archetypes leftover from the Pre-Christian Era of Germanic history like the Yule Goat. Yule was a winter solstice festival that was connected to the Wild Hunt and/or influenced by Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival. A description of Yule can be found Old Norse King’s Saga Heimskringla:

It was ancient custom that when sacrifice was to be made, all farmers were to come to the heathen temple and bring along with them the food they needed while the feast lasted. At this feast all were to take part of the drinking of ale. Also all kinds of livestock were killed in connection with it, horses also; and all the blood from them was called hlaut [ sacrificial blood ], and hlautbolli, the vessel holding the blood; and hlautteinar, the sacrificial twigs. These were fashioned like sprinklers, and with them were to be smeared all over with blood the pedestals of the idols and also the walls of the temple within and without; and likewise the men present were to be sprinkled with blood. But the meat of the animals was to be boiled and served as food at the banquet. Fires were to be lighted in the middle of the temple floor, and kettles hung over them. The sacrificial beaker was to be borne around the fire, and he who made the feast and was chieftain, was to bless the beaker as well as all the sacrificial meat.  Later, toasts were to be drunk. The first toast was to be drunk to Odin “for victory and power to the king”, the second to the gods Njörðr and Freyr “for good harvests and for peace”, and thirdly a beaker was to be drunk to the king himself.  In addition, toasts were drunk to the memory of departed kinsfolk… [This continues until everyone is plastered – sounds like Christmas, right?]

In his Dictionary of Northern Mythology, Rudolf Simek says that focus was not on the gods of the Vanir, but instead the god Odin, and he notes that one of Odin’s many names is Jólnir (Old Norse for “yule figure”).  Simek says that Odin was associated with Yule, and that the tradition of the Wild Hunt undoubtedly contributed to the association of the two.  According to Simek “it is uncertain whether the Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages.”

This is fascinating since the Norse Odin is directly related to the Roman Mercury / Hermes.  For instance, the name of the day “Wednesday” comes from the Middle English Wednes dei, which is from Old English Wōdnesdæg, meaning the day of the English god Woden or Odin.  When the Romans described the gods of Celtic and Germanic tribes, rather than considering them separate deities, the Romans interpreted them as local manifestations or aspects of their own gods, a cultural trait called the interpretatio Romana. Mercury in particular was reported as becoming extremely popular among the nations the Roman Empire conquered; Julius Caesar wrote of Mercury being the most popular god in Britain and Gaul, regarded as the inventor of all the arts.  Romans associated Mercury with the Germanic god Wotan, by interpretatio Romana; 1st-century Roman writer Tacitus identifies the two as being the same, and describes him as the chief god of the Germanic peoples.  Julius Caesar, in a section of his “Gallic Wars” describing the customs of the German tribes, wrote “The Germans most worship Mercury,” apparently identifying Wotan with Mercury.  That is why the Romantic languages use the Latin dies Mercurii (“Mercury’s day”) for Wednesday while the Germanic languages kept their Norse equivalent!

Father Christmas riding a Yule Goat

To tie it all together:  Krampus is related to the “Horned God” an archetype represents the personification of the life force energy in animals and the wilderness, fertility, sexual virility and the Hunt. Gods like Baphomet, Cernunnos, Pan, Faunus, and Innus are personified as being sex crazed or shown as having a large erect phallus.  Fertility, fecundity and the symbolism of the phallus all denote a connection to the rites, rituals, and celebrations of Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice.  Pan is the alleged offspring of Hermes/Mercury and follows in his progenitor’s footsteps as both trickster and psychopomp (a guide for the souls of the dead into the Underworld).  Pan is also equated with the Astrological sign Capricornus.

This is where it gets interesting.

capricornusCapricornus has one of the oldest mythological associations, having been consistently represented as a hybrid of a goat and a fish since the Middle Bronze Age, first attested in depictions on boundary stones, and explicitly recorded in the Babylonian star catalogs as “The Goat-Fish” before 1000 BC. The constellation was a symbol of Ea and in the Early Bronze Age marked the winter solstice.

Among the Greeks and Italians St. Nicholas is a favourite of sailors, fishermen, ships and sailing. As such he has become over time the patron saint of several cities maintaining harbors. In centuries of Greek folklore, Nicholas was seen as “The Lord of the Sea”, often described by modern Greek scholars as a kind of Christianized version of Poseidon.  Capricornus is a union between St. Nick and Krampus.  Half goat, half fish.

So what we have here is Santa Claus/St. Nick/Father Christmas as personification of Winter Solstice accompanied by his servant and messenger Krampus/Horned God/Hermes as the personification of Summer Solstice.  Basically a resurrection myth.  In a Christian sense we have the birth of the Christ Child as the celebrated rebirth of the Divine.  A promise that man will be redeemed through a Savior but also a forewarning of the suffering/death that he will have to endure before redemption.  Enlightenment that comes after a period of Darkness (Ignorance), i.e., “Out of Darkness, Cometh Light.”  In a Pagan sense we have the Horned Fertility God acting as psychopomp and leading us into the Underworld with the expectation of a later resurgence in reproductive energy come Springtime.  In an Astronomical sense we have Winter Solstice being the longest night of the year and the onslaught of deathly cold, but also the return of the Sun and the guarantee that the Summer will eventually save us from starvation.

And so the Holiday is really a celebration of the dualistic nature of reality.  An agreement that with the good comes the bad and vice-verse.  An alchemical union of opposites.  Christmas solved!


Nazi // Occult // High Fashion

In Government, History, Mystery, Religion on December 22, 2009 at 9:51 am

Nazi Propaganda depicting America as a monstrous war machine destroying European culture.

On December 18th, I read an article on BBC News about the Arbeit Macht Frei sign that was stolen from the entrance to the Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp .  Hundreds of thousands of prisoners passed under the sign into the camp during the Holocaust, but the majority were murdered or worked to death.  My sister Hannah alerted me to the fact that the date the article was published held a special meaning.  Our grandfather, Max Heinz Cahn, was born in Königswinter, Germany on December 18th, 1915.  He was a prisoner at Buchenwald but managed to escape and changed the spelling of his name after coming to America.  This synchronous event encouraged further sibling investigation.  My sister took the time to delve further into our family lineage and uncovered several gems.  On such beauty is this poem by English poet and wit, C. S. Calverley (born on this very day in 1831) that notes our family brow and peculiar disposition:

I love to gaze upon a child ;

A young bud bursting into blossom ;

Artless, as Eve yet unbeguiled,
And agile as a young opossum :

And such was he. A cahn-brow’d lad,
Yet mad, at moments, as a hatter :

Why hatters as a race are mad
I never knew, nor does it matter.

She also discovered that we have distant cousin who was a corsetière and left Germany for Australia in the late 19th Century.  As whalebone is a key component in the construction of corsets, placing herself so close to the Ocean must have proved quite lucrative.  Fashion holds an extreme power in human society.  Men and women will go to great lengths to “possess” the right aesthetic.  Indeed, the desire is not merely to possess the style, but also to be possessed by it.  Like a haunted mask, anyone who adorns their body in the distinct aesthetic will be magically transformed into something new and different.  Sometimes ideas and experiences organically form around a growing fashion trend, giving the style a historical context and an particular psychological feel.  In the opposing scenario, a unique aesthetic is consciously fabricated to be the material manifestation of a specific ideology.  This type of propaganda may be exemplified by the attractive qualities sown into the psychic fabric of the Third Reich Fashion.

The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses.

::Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf::

The most dramatic uniforms were worn by the Nazi soldiers of the German army. With their mania for black leather, brass buttons, medals, and armbands, the Nazis proved as bold in their fashions as they were brutal on the battlefield. The German uniform style during the Nazi period was so eccentric that the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut called it “madly theatrical.”  Where other totalitarian societies, such as Russia, opted for functional dress codes and muted color schemes that de-emphasized individuality, the Nazis preferred expressive styles designed to make the ordinary citizen feel like part of a grand national enterprise. The development of smart looking uniforms for everybody provided visible evidence of German unity.

Nowhere was this sense of identity more evident than in the German military. The Nazis believed that their army represented a modern recreation of the Teutonic (or ancient German) Knights, the mysterious military order of medieval Europe. Instead of the chain mail and plate armor the knights would have worn, the Nazis substituted black leather.  No one in the Nazi high command, not even Adolf Hitler himself, felt fully “equipped” without an extensive leather wardrobe.

In the case of the Nazis, black leather acted as the mercurial solutio allowing individuals to be possessed by a collective fervor.  In the book Black Sun, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke reports how Carl Gustav Jung described “Hitler as possessed by the archetype of the collective Aryan unconscious and could not help obeying the commands of an inner voice”. In a series of interviews between 1936 and 1939, Jung characterized Hitler as an archetype, often manifesting itself to the complete exclusion of his own personality. “‘Hitler is a spiritual vessel, a demi-divinity; even better, a myth …the messiah of Germany who teaches the virtue of the sword. ‘The voice he hears is that of the collective unconscious of his race.'”  The early Jung was influenced by Theosophy, solar mysticism and völkisch nationalism in developing the ideas on the collective unconscious and the archetypes.  Jung’s suggestion that Hitler personified the collective Aryan unconscious deeply interested and influenced Miguel Serrano, who later concluded that Jung was merely psychologizing the ancient, sacred mystery of archetypal possession by the gods, independent metaphysical powers that rule over their respective races and “occasionally” possess their members.

The actual design and construction of Nazi fashion is even more fascinating.  The all-black uniform of the Nazi S.S. was designed by Prof. Dr. Karl Diebitsch and graphic designer Walter Heck who worked intimately with HUGO BOSS.  From 1933, the Hugo Boss company was the main firm that produced these black uniforms along with the brown SA shirts and the black-and-brown uniforms of the Hitler Youth.  Some workers are acknowledged to have been prisoners of war forced into labor.  This information is striking when looking at the 2009 Hugo Boss Men’s Line.  Note the familiar black, white, and red color scheme and the carefully selected Aryan specimens that would make Himmler’s rotting skeleton smile with appreciation…

And why not?  Even if the Third Reich was a failure, the imagery was a success.  This is because the minimalist design evokes an emotional response independent of Hitler’s ideology.  Visually, black and white with red highlights is a very seductive color scheme.  The black and white create a visual contrast that is clean and orderly, while the provocative touches of red stimulate and awaken the senses.  Success stories of this combo abound from typewriter ink to Sin City to the design of this very blog.  The infamous adage “the medium is the message” fits snugly inside the realm of aesthetics.  Adagium (Latin) or Adage or  can be further separated into two to create Ad Age, a clever nod toward the symbolic reality.  The Nazi’s weren’t the first to understand the power of symbols.  The Catholic Church, Tibetan Buddhism, Medieval Alchemy, Surrealism, all owe their success to symbols.  Man needs a world of symbols as well as a world of signs.  Both sign and symbol are necessary but they should not be confused with one another.  A sign is a token of meaning that stands for a known entity.  By this definition, language is a system of signs, not symbols.  A symbol, on the other hand hand, is an image or representation which points to something essentially unknown, a mystery.  A sign communicates abstract, objective meaning while a symbol conveys living, subjective meaning.  A symbol has a subjective dynamism which exerts a powerful attraction and fascination on the individual.  It is a living, organic entity which acts as a carrier, releaser, and transformer of psychic energy.  Symbols are spontaneous products of the archetypal psyche.  The archetypal psyche is constantly creating a steady stream of of living symbolic imagery.  Ordinarily this stream of images is not consciously perceived except through dreams or through waking fantasy when the conscious level of attention has been lowered.  However, even fully awake this stream continues to flow underneath  the ego without notice.  Symbols seep into the ego, causing it to identify with them and act them out unconsciously; or they spill out into the external environment via projection, causing the individual to become fascinated and involved with external objects and activities.  This is what Jung was viewing in Hitler.

No wonder there is such obsession with Nazism and the Occult.  According to Goodricke-Clarke the speculation of Nazi occultism originated from “post-war fascination with Nazism.”  The “horrid fascination” of Nazism upon the Western mind emerges from the “uncanny interlude in modern history” that it presents to an observer a few decades later. The idolization of Hitler in Nazi Germany, its short lived and brutal dominion on the European continent and Nazism’s irrational and gruesome Antisemitism set it apart from other periods of modern history. “Outside a purely secular frame of reference, Nazism was felt to be the embodiment of evil in a modern twentieth-century regime, a monstrous pagan relapse in the Christian community of Europe.”  By the early 1960s, “one could now clearly detect a mystique of Nazism.” A sensationalistic and fanciful presentation of its figures and symbols, shorn of all political and historical contexts gained ground with thrillers, non-fiction books and films and permeated “the milieu of popular culture.”  Both Nazism and the Occult fulfill a deep human need to become part of of something that transcends the individual in the realm of the archetypes.  Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism provide a similar structure. When this desire is suppressed by a culture, there is danger of sudden eruptions or perverse fetishism.

Nazi chic refers to the approving use of Nazi-era style, imagery, and paraphernalia in clothing and popular culture.  In the 1970s Punk Subculture, several items of clothing designed to shock and offend became popular. Among these punk fashion items was a T-shirt displaying a Swastika, an upside-down crucifix and the word DESTROY — which was worn by J. Rotten.  Uniforms and other imagery related to Nazi Germany have been on sale in East-Asia, where some considered it cool. Hong Kong and Japan have each witnessed a growth in the casual wearing of SS-uniforms, as well as increased interest in the music-genre known as Rock Against Communism. Sometimes in east Asia, Nazi uniforms are used as part of cosplay. In South-Korea, an area generally isolated from Nazi cultural influences during the Nazi era, TIME Magazine observed in 2000 “an unthinking fascination with the icons and imagery of the Third Reich.” Nazi-inspired imagery are also featured in various early releases from Japanese band The 5, 6, 7, 8’s.  This trend will continue to thrive until another significant channel can be created to redirect psychic energy.

Still there is something disturbing about the overwhelming interest in Nazi Fashion.  Hetalia: Axis Powers is a webcomic, later adapted as a manga and an anime series, by Hidekaz Himaruya. The series presents an allegorical interpretation of political and historic events, particularly of the World War II era, in which the various countries are represented by anthropomorphic characters. Hetalia is a portmanteau combining hetare (Japanese for “useless”) and Italia.  This is to make light of Italy’s apparent cowardice during World War II.  This fan video seems to glorify the style.  I could tell you what I think about it, but it’s better to simply let the comments speak for themselves. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MONTAGE IS EPIC.

Black Melancholia // Saturn

In Alchemy, Art, History, Image, Myth, Pharmacopeia, Psychology on December 9, 2009 at 9:55 am

Certain poisons worked by an occult and specifick property and have their essence from the stars and celestial influence which is apt to destroy the strength of man’s body, because being taken but even in a small quantity, yet are so precious a quality that they kill almost in a moment.

::Ambroise Paré::

Ambroise Paré was a French surgeon renowned for his ingenious experiments.  He once used a solution of egg yolk, oil of roses, and turpentine for war wounds instead of boiling oil and cauterization.  In 1565, Ambroise Paré described an experiment to test the properties of the Bezoar Stone.  At the time, the Bezoar stone was commonly believed to be able to cure the effects of any poison, but Paré believed this to be impossible. It happened that a cook at Paré’s court was caught stealing fine silver cutlery, and was condemned to be hanged. The cook agreed to be poisoned, on the conditions that he would be given some bezoar straight after the poison and go free in case he survived. The stone did not cure him, and he died in agony seven hours after being poisoned. Thus Paré had proved that the Bezoar Stone could not cure all poisons.

Albrecht Dürer, Melancholia I

The Mütter Museum has an interesting exhibit up about Lead.  The quote above was a reference to the physical dangers of that element. In alchemy, the planet / diety associated with lead was Saturn/Cronus.  A Saturnine disposition has been a common ailment of artists and philosophers since the beginning of time and is better known by its  synonym:  Melancholia.  The name “melancholia” comes from the old medical theory of the four humours: disease or ailment being caused by an imbalance in one or other of the four basic bodily fluids, or humours.  Personality types were similarly determined by the dominant humour in a particular person. Melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile; hence the name, which means ‘black bile’ (Ancient Greek μέλας, melas, “black”, + χολή, kholé, “bile”); a person whose constitution tended to have a preponderance of black bile had a melancholic disposition. The other humors are yellow bile, blood, and phlegm.

In 1921 Swedish physician Fahråeus suggested that the four humours were based upon the observation of blood clotting in a transparent container. When blood is drawn in a glass container and left undisturbed for about an hour, four different layers can be seen. A dark clot forms at the bottom (the “black bile”). Above the clot is a layer of red blood cells (the “blood”).  Above this is a whitish layer of white blood cells (the “phlegm”, now called the buffy coat). The top layer is clear yellow serum (the “yellow bile”).

The print-maker and theorist Albrecht Dürer ties all this together with his masterpiece “Melancolia 1.”

The alchemist’s lot was such that he was often depicted as a melancholy and frustrated being, as, for example, by Chaucer, Weiditz, Brueghel, and Teniers. In a wider sense, melancholy was held to be an attribute of students or seekers after knowledge. The doctrine of melancholy, moreover, is inseparable from the Saturnine mysticism that permeates alchemy. One of the elements of Saturnine mysticism is measurement, typified by the compasses, balance, and hour-glass.

The polyhedron lying beside the foot of the ladder (representing the base metal, lead) may be an image of the Philosopher’s Stone, or more immediately, of the so-called ” Stone of Saturn,” which Saturn (or Kronos), “swallowed and spewed up instead of Jupiter.” Saturn, who is often represented in alchemy as an old man with an hour-glass upon his head, was addicted to swallowing his own children; for this reason, infants, usually shown at play, enter into the Saturnine elements of alchemy.

::John Read::

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Children

Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus.   Gaia created a great adamant sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to castrate Uranus. Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle by cutting off his genitals, castrating him and casting the severed member into the sea. From the blood and semen that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. From the member that was cast into the sea, Venus later emerged. For this, Uranus threatened vengeance.  After dispatching Uranus, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires, the Gigantes, and the Cyclopes and set the dragon Campe to guard them. He and his sister Rhea took the throne of the world as king and queen. This period of Cronus’ rule was called the Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws or rules; everyone did the right thing, and immorality was absent.

Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to preempt the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and handed Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, also known as the Omphalos Stone, which he promptly devoured, thinking that it was his son.  Once he had grown up, Zeus used a poison given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to disgorge the contents of his stomach in reverse order.

Cronus spent the last of his life as a prisoner of Tartarus, a dark, gloomy place that can be described as a pit of blackness.  Feelings of shame, fear, guilt and humiliation shackle us and keep us confined to the pit of darkness. Its mutations have become so ramified with time, so contradictory that soon one could no longer say just what melancholy was in the first place. Yet we all have a feeling for what it is being referred to, a sort of enormous black abyss which contaminates and sucks up everything in its vicinity.  Having recognised, for example, a sickle, a scythe, a broom, an oar, ankle shackles a crutch, or even an old man preparing to devour a child, the viewer would immediately recognize Saturn, who, in turn, he would automatically associate with melancholy.  If a picture contained devices alluding to geometry or mathematics, these too led back to the same theme, since in the Middle Ages, mathematicians and geometricians were regarded as melancholic. “The mathematician is a mirthless fellow,” wrote Martin Luther, and equipment related to that science is also visible in Dürer’s engraving.  Conspicuously present in the background of Dürer’s engraving is an enigmatic, eight-sided, and up to the present inscrutable polyhedron, one whose very inscrutability makes it mysterious, even uncanny. This polyhedron not only alludes to melancholy, it also radiates it, so to speak. It is no riddle, but rather a mystery. Nonetheless, by virtue of this polyhedron, Dürer’s image could be referred to as melancholic.  In place of transmissibility, the inexpressible aspect of melancholy moves to the foreground. In place of the concrete, the abstract.  Melancholy is the dark unknowable.

The Goya painting is also of note.  It is one of the series of Black Paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house sometime between 1819 and 1823.  Goya produced a series of 14 works, which he painted with oils directly onto the walls of the house. At the age of 73, and having survived two life-threatening illnesses, Goya was likely to have been concerned with his own mortality, and was increasingly embittered by the civil strife occurring in Spain.

Blackness, in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition. The alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. In depth psychology, Carl Jung interpreted alchemical blackness as a moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development.  James Hillman writes, “The rotting and blackening process of alchemy, dreadful wounds and suppurating sores, the ritual butchery of animals or their contagion and poisoning, and other such shocking imagery point to where something material is losing its substance and thrust, where a physical impulse or animal drive is descending toward the underworld.”

Every night and every morn

Some to misery are born.

Every morn and every night

Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,

Some are born to endless night.

::William Blake, Auguries of Innocence ::

Dionysian Mystery and Laughing Gas Teeth

In Dreams, History, Image, Inner Space, Mystery, Pharmacopeia, Science on December 8, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Candy and Cronus take their toll.  I had my wisdom teeth extracted on the 4th.  I was given local anesthesia for my face as well as nitrous oxide and a general anesthesia to dip me into a semi-conscious state for the procedure.  The day before the operation I traveled to Philadelphia to visit the tter Museum.  This vast and eclectic collection of medical curiosities is managed by the prestigious College of Physicians and is truly a spectacular exhibition.   Glass cabinets line velvet walls providing temporary shelters for partial skeletal fragments, waxen fetal reproductions, medical journals and anatomy textbooks bound with human skin, and photographic documentation depicting an endless amount of bizarre cases that would keep Victorian scholars  baffled and intrigued for years.  That night I had a terrible nightmare wherein I was shrunk down to the size of a rodent and dissected in a dark amphitheater to a hostile (and possibly, sinister) public.  And reclining on that dentist’s chair at 7:45 in the morning, I could not help but think of all the butchering that had happened in the name of science and all those rusty, archaic instruments now resting in glass cabinets… waiting to be picked up, and used again.  As the gas kicked in, I briefly hallucinated the surgeon pulling out what could only have been some sort of bone-crushing device meant for extracting brain matter.  Those Bastards, I thought, they are going to butcher me here on this slab and sell the profitable parts to the Black Market… possibly even back to the Museum. I braced myself for a frontal lobotomy, but nothing came and eventually I lost interest as the drugs set in.  I was “awake” for the entire operation.  I heard the crunching, slicing, and whizzing of the drill used break up the teeth, sending tiny splinters across the room.  I distinctly recall the dentist informing me that they would “have to remove an infected molar, as well.”  I used my free arm to give him a big “O.K.” symbol with my hand and managed to mumble something to the degree of, “That’s totally fine with me, dude.”

Re-enactment of the first operation under anesthesia (ether). The actual operation took place on October 16, 1846; this re-enactment took place shortly afterwards.

After the operation I asked for my teeth back.  They told me that I could not have them because they were now a BIO-HAZARD.  “At least let me say goodbye to them… to my babies.”  They consented and brought me to the recovery lounge.  The nurse came in with an extended arm and opened her hand, palm up.  There they were, exposed to the open air:  five half-rotted teeth laying in a pool of blood on her cold, rubber glove.   And observing the teeth for the first time without possession and function, I appreciated them for what they truly were:  five overturned tombstones from a graveyard.  “Now that the gums are unplugged, the souls are bound to escape,” I told the nurse, but she seemed nonplussed.  It was probably too late, anyway.  The ghosts and demons once held at bay by those ivory monuments were now free to roam the far reaches of Earth and pursue their dark, inhuman desires.  “You fools,” I shouted as I was discretely escorted from the premises.  They were all doomed, but I didn’t care.  They had unleashed their own destruction, and there was no escape.  So be it.  Good luck and Godspeed, my babies… Godspeed.

I went home and turned on the television.  Twin Peaks was on the Chiller Network. It was the episode where David Duchovny plays FBI Agent Denise/Dennis Bryson.  It is unclear from the series whether Bryson would self-identify as a cross-dresser, a transvestite or transgender.  Bryson began wearing women’s clothing during a DEA undercover operation and found that it relaxed him. Bryson identifies as “Denise,” wears women’s clothing and presents female behavior during working hours and otherwise. When required for a sting operation, Bryson dons a man’s suit and goes by “Dennis.”  This was interesting for two reasons:

First, there is an obvious connection to Dionysus.  In Greek mythology, Dionysus is described as being womanly or “man-womanish”.  He is the god of duality and was raised by Hermes.  He has two separate origin stories that accent his “twice-born” character.  In one he is the offspring of Zeus and the mortal woman Semele.   The mortal demands Zeus to reveal himself in all his glory as proof of his godhood. He comes to her wreathed in bolts of lightning; mortals, however, can not look upon an undisguised god without dying, and she perished in the ensuing blaze. Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysus by sewing him into his testicles.  In the other origin story, Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the queen of the Greek underworld.  A  jealous Hera attempted to kill the child by sending Titans to rip Dionysus to pieces after luring the baby with toys. (See Dionysus and his Mirror)  Zeus drove the Titans away with his thunderbolts, but only after the Titans ate everything but the heart, which was saved, variously, by Athena, Rhea, or Demeter.  Zeus used the heart to recreate him in the womb of Semele, hence he was again “the twice-born.”  As a champion of androgyny, the allusion is obvious.

Two Denises

Secondly, “Denise” Duchovny in drag looks surprisingly like my mother, whose name is also “Denise.”  To further the coincidence, my mother was named after her older brother Dennis who died soon after childbirth.  Their visual similarity is superficial, of course, being two people with Czech/Slavic descent and similar hairstyles.  I was pondering the implications of these events and enjoying the “Percs” of the operation when it occurred to me that losing teeth was a powerful symbol of death and rebirth.  Also, the dream in which I was “transformed” and “dissected” was about a dramatic psychological change.   Manifestations of Dionysus are manifold in this reality and it is necessary to acknowledge and understand the intentions of this divine entity if one is to maintain psychological health.  Therefore, it is imperative that one give respect by honoring the god in the traditional way:  Bacchanalia.

Dionysus is a god who transcends boundaries,  subverting preexisting borders between life and death, man and woman, wilderness and society. The earliest rites took place in the wilderness – in the forests and woods, the marshes, and particularly high in the mountains, where the lower oxygen content was suitable for trance induction. Later the ‘priest’ would simply cast their staff into the ground, at any suitable location, and hang a mask and an animal skin from it, the circle drawn around this center becoming the sacred precinct for however long the staff remained.  Underground chambers were also often used for initiations, which may have originally taken place in natural caves, particularly those by the shoreline. Liminal boundary zones being especially sacred to Dionysos.  The Orphic texts of the late period record a boukolos, or ‘cowherd’, as an offerer of sacrifice, sayer of prayers, and hymn singer, who seems to have been the nearest thing they ever had to a priest. Other inscriptions record an archiboukolos, or ‘chief cowherd’ presiding over these boukoloi, and in some records there is also mention of boukoloi hieroi, ‘holy cowherders’ as well as hymnodidaskaloi,’hymn teachers’.  The cowherds were necessary because the “sacred wine” used in the ceremonies contained hallucinogenic mushrooms that grew on the feces of local cattle.

In intoxication, physical or spiritual, the initiate recovers an intensity of feeling which prudence had destroyed; he finds the world full of delight and beauty, and his imagination is suddenly liberated from the prison of everyday preoccupations. The Bacchic ritual produced what was called ‘enthusiasm’, which means etymologically having the god enter the worshipper, who believed that he became one with the god.

::Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy::

Traditional offerings to Dionysus include but are not limited to the following: musk, civet, frankincense, storax, ivy, grapes, pine, fig, wine, honey, apples, Indian Hemp, orchis root, thistle, all wild and domestic trees, black diamonds.

I call upon loud-roaring and revelling Dionysus,

primeval, double-natured, thrice-born, Bacchic lord,

wild, ineffable, secretive, two-horned and two-shaped.

Ivy-covered, bull-faced, warlike, howling, pure,

You take raw flesh, you have feasts, wrapt in foliage, decked with grape clusters.

Resourceful Eubouleus, immortal god sired by Zeus

When he mated with Persephone in unspeakable union.

Hearken to my voice, O blessed one,

and with your fair-girdled nymphs breathe on me in a spirit of perfect agape.

St. Germain

In Alchemy, History, Magic, Pharmacopeia, Plants on November 30, 2009 at 9:17 pm

◸◬◹ :: MAN / ELIXIR :: ◸◬◹

A man who knows everything and who never dies.  ::Voltaire::

The Count of St. Germain (fl. 1710–1784) has been variously described as a courtier, adventurer, charlatan, inventor, alchemist, pianist, violinist and amateur composer, but is best known as a recurring figure in the stories of several strands of occultism – particularly those connected to Theosophy and the White Eagle Lodge, where he is also referred to as the Master Rakoczi or the Master R and as one of the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, is credited with near god-like powers and longevity. Some sources write that his name is not familial, but was invented by him as a French version of the Latin Sanctus Germanus, meaning “Holy Brother.” 

Giacomo Casanova describes in his memoirs:

St. Germain gave himself out for a marvel and always aimed at exciting amazement, which he often succeeded in doing. He was scholar, linguist, musician, and chemist, good-looking, and a perfect ladies’ man. For awhile he gave them paints and cosmetics; he flattered them, not that he would make them young again (which he modestly confessed was beyond him) but that their beauty would be preserved by means of a wash which, he said, cost him a lot of money, but which he gave away freely.

Myths, legends and speculations about St. Germain began to be widespread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and continue today.  The list of his accomplishments is virtually endless:

He mastered all of the European languages. He was one of the best swordsmen of his day. He was a master violinist.  He founded Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry in England.  He also has been reincarnated several times.  Noteworthy physical embodiments include Samuel the Prophet, Merlin, Plato, Hesiod,Francis Bacon, Roger Bacon, Christopher Columbus, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Montaigne, Robert Burton, Cervantes, Valentine Andraes, Nicolas II, and Comte de Gabalis.

In 1930 Guy W. Ballard, hiking in northern California, met the Ascended Master Saint Germain on the side of Mount Shasta. His remarkable experiences are recorded in the books, Unveiled Mysteries and The Magic Presence, written under the pen name of Godfre Ray King. First published in 1934, the books have never been out of print. This introduction was followed by more than 3000 Discourses by the Ascended Masters. Out of this dynamic and practical instruction the “I AM” Activity was founded by Mr. and Mrs. Ballard, under the daily direction of Saint Germain.

TRADEMARKS AND SERVICE MARKS OF SAINT GERMAIN FOUNDATION INCLUDE: The Ascended Masters Instruction on the “Beloved Mighty I AM Presence,”® The Ascended Masters’ Instruction , “Beloved Mighty I AM Presence,”® Daughters of Light®, Heart of Heaven , Honor Cross®, Honor Cross Design®, “I AM,”® “I AM” Activity®, “I AM” Ascended Master Youth , “I AM” COME!® “I AM” Emblem®, “I AM” Music of the Spheres®, “I AM” Pageant of the Angels®, “I AM” Reading Room®, “I AM” Religious Activity®, “I AM” Religious Broadcast®, “I AM” Sanctuary®, “I AM” School®, “I AM” Student Body®, “I AM” Study Groups®, “I AM” Temple®, “I AM” Violet Flame, The Magic Presence, “Mighty I AM Presence”, Minute Men of Saint Germain®, Music of the Spheres®, Saint Germain®, Saint Germain Foundation®, Saint Germain Press®, Saint Germain Press, Inc®, Shasta Springs®, Unfed Flame Design®, Violet Consuming Flame®, Violet Flame®, “The Voice of the “I AM” ®

And then there is St. Germain, the delectably potent potable whose 
taste is only exceeded by its pretentiousness.   I have had the luck to try this delicious drink in a cocktail and I would say that it IS delightful.  From the website:

IN THE foothills of the Alps, for but a few fleeting spring days, this man will gather wild blossoms for your cocktail.
 The blossoms in question are elderflowers, the man un bohemien,
 and the cocktail a stylishly simple creation made with St-Germain, the
first liqueur in the world created in the artisanal French manner from
freshly handpicked elderflower blossoms. Our story, however, does not
end there.

AFTER
 gently ushering the wild blossoms into sacks and descending the
hillside, the man who gathers blossoms for your cocktail will then
mount a bicycle and carefully ride the umbels of starry white flowers
to market. Vraiment.

There are no more than 40 or 50 men such as he, and in a matter of days
they will have gathered an…d bicycled to us the entirety of what will
become St-Germain for that year. You could not write a better story if
 you were François Truffaut.

/bɔ.na.pe.ti/

Thanksgiving.

In Animals, Government, History, Literature, Myth on November 25, 2009 at 4:43 pm

*Above:  A Thanksgiving Prayer by William S. Burroughs.  Dir. by Gus Van Sant.

Some light fare and portentous quotes for the Holiday.  Remember to tip your waiters and enjoy your parade.

Also, if you are feeling really “thankful” today, try donating some time/money/help to Black Mesa Indigenous Support.  Maybe your Grandma would like a Navajo Rug.  Maybe she would rather shit in the blood of our ancestors.  I don’t know the woman.  But when we build our houses with the bones of our progenitors, it is good to pay tribute, lest the ghosts of those we have wronged hunger for flesh of the living.  Just sayin’.

Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for – annually, not oftener – if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians.  Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.

::Mark Twain::

Turkey: A large bird whose flesh, when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude.

::Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary::

Got no check books, got no banks.  Still I’d like to express my thanks – I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

::Irving Berlin::

To Demeter Eleusinia. O universal mother, Deo famed, august, the source of wealth, and various named: great nurse, all-bounteous, blessed and divine, who joyest in peace; to nourish corn is thine. Goddess of seed, of fruits abundant, fair, harvest and threshing are thy constant care. Lovely delightful queen, by all desired, who dwellest in Eleusis’ holy vales retired. Nurse of all mortals, who benignant mind first ploughing oxen to the yoke confined; and gave to men what nature’s wants require, with plenteous means of bliss, which all desire. In verdure flourishing, in glory bright, assessor of great Bromios [Dionysos] bearing light : rejoicing in the reapers’ sickles, kind, whose nature lucid, earthly, pure, we find. Prolific, venerable, nurse divine, thy daughter loving, holy Koure [Persephone]. A car with Drakones yoked ‘tis thine to guide, and, orgies singing, round thy throne to ride. Only-begotten, much-producing queen, all flowers are thine, and fruits of lovely green. Bright Goddess, come, with summer’s rich increase swelling and pregnant, leading smiling peace; come with fair concord and imperial health, and join with these a needful store of wealth.

::Orphic Hymn 40 to Demeter (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) ::



Dream #2

In Animals, Dreams, History, Inner Space, Magic, Mystery on November 22, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Do you ever have dreams where you find secret doors? Hidden rooms? I often have such dreams.  On many occasions, I am at my house, or my elementary school, or another familiar place when I come across a previously concealed opening.   I crawl inside and navigate among a network of fleshy tunnels, sliding between walls, climbing up cold metal vents, and going down dark shafts to places strange and unknown.  Several times, these paths lead me to obscure worlds…  alien locations super-imposed on familiar locales.  I’d like to think that these dreams are metaphors for exploring your own “personal” psychic space.  There is a scene in the movie Dreamcatcher (based off the Stephen King novel) where the protagonist explores a metaphoric warehouse of his own memories while an alien creature inhabits his body.  While I do not advocate watching such a terrible, terrible film, the image is clearly useful and pertinent to the conversation.

One such dream lingers on my mind.  In this dream my parents purchased my favorite Haunted House in Ocean City, Maryland and wanted to run it as a family business.  To those unfamiliar with the Haunted House at the end of the Boardwalk, let my explain that, basically, it is a seated two-person ride where frightening automated tricks are triggered as the cart travels down a winding track through a serious of horrifying scenes.  The labyrinthine layout of the ride confuses the passengers’ understanding of space and time while the psychedelic optical effects of the black-lights loosen their subconscious minds, successfully allowing the ghosts of the ride unmitigated access to the personal fears of the travelers, or at least, that’s how I’ve always felt.

In the dream, I returned home to Maryland to help them renovate their new business.  I was walking through the ride and I noticed a door that I have never seen.

It was down the crooked psychedelic hallway with its chipping black-light paint…

Past the terrifying old mill with its rusty saw blades…

Past the torture chamber with its racist primitive and its tied up maiden with giant animatronic heaving bosoms…

And directly after the horrific decomposing Victorian skeleton knitting a neon tea-cozy by moonlight.

There against a blank wall was a small, mysterious door shrouded by darkness.  I got on all fours and crawled through what seemed an endless maze of cobwebs-and-sand-encrusted tunnels.  Finally, after a long while, I reached a drafty, open chamber made of stone and marble.  The silvery moon must have been bright that magical night, because before me I saw illuminated some sort of ancient subterranean burial tomb.  It was then that I realized, “Holy shit.  This Haunted House is really just the top of a buried Egyptian pyramid!  Sweet.”  It was like the tip of an iceberg peering out of the water, only it was buried deep and forgotten in that cigarette-butt and broken beer bottle infested coastline that hugs the waters of the Atlantic.  I knew right then and there that I had found a great psychic doorway to the Underworld.  The ghosts that ran the haunted house were the lingering spirits of powerful beings.  At last, there would be proof that a proto-human species inherited these colossal geometric structures from their divine celestial fore-bearers (at least, these were my thought at the time).  And the best part… it was all mine to explore.  I don’t think I have ever been happier in a dream.  Then I woke up.  The dream was over.

Last night, I went looking for the actual blueprints of the fun-house (which I found) and luckily, I was charmed enough to come across The Bill Tracy Project, “a comprehensive look into the personal and professional life of the greatest designer and builder of dark attractions the amusement park industry has ever seen: Bill Tracy.”  He designed and built the Haunted House in Ocean City along with many others across the good ol’ U.S. of A.  He also designed many of the early Thanksgiving Day Parade Floats (how timely) and some display cases for Macy’s.  The list of his achievements is daunting (46 Dark Rides, 15 Walk-Thrus, 8 Water Rides, 6 Ride Displays, 1 Park Front, 1 Concept Ride, 1 Park Design/Layout, plus 2 Unknown Projects), and his carefully researched biography… fascinating.  This excerpt in particular seemed portentous:

Tracy’s creativity flourished and he became nationally known for his ceramics after being featured in the November 11, 1940 issue of Life, where a photo of Tracy’s ceramic creation, “Jonah in the Whale,” was published in an article covering the Syracuse Ceramic Show at The Museum of Fine Arts in Syracuse, New York, where his piece was on display. His unique sculpture featured a whale with a portion of its side removed to reveal a person trapped inside. 

For a full-page synchronicity, see Dream #1.

How did the young Bill Tracy gain access to the dreams of a of an individual 69 years in the future?  Why were the dead and hidden secrets of Ocean City’s occult origins revealed to humanity?  Will Nathan actually destroy the foundation of his favorite childhood thrill-ride to satisfy the ephemeral desires of a dream?  And just how much will the tickets cost to this new and wonderful attraction?  The answers to all these questions (and cooking tips for the holiday season!) in the next penumbra report.

Phineas Gage and Phileas Fogg

In History, Literature, Psychology on November 11, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Jules-Verne-TextLately, I’ve been on a bit of a Jules Verne kick.  In particular, I have become fixated on the protagonist from Around the World in Eighty Days:  Phileas Fogg.

Phileas Fogg can be described as being an arcane, stolid, reserved, wanderlustuous, expeditious, untoady, indomitable, burnished, hyperopic, magnanimous, well-mannered, benignant, abstinent, daedal gentleman.  The story itself is quite fun, but what I found to be truly fascinating was the closely linked Philip Farmer meta-fiction: The Other Log of Phileas Fogg:

In an introduction, Farmer posits that Verne’s story was not simply an article of fiction, but the chronology of actual events, which Verne later decided to adapt into a fictional setting. In the book’s epilogue, Farmer playfully alludes to the notion that Phileas Fogg is still alive, and may in fact be the actual author of the story (Farmer notes that they both share the same initials, suggesting that Phillip Farmer is actually an alias for Phileas Fogg).

From Farmer’s perspective, Jules Verne revealed only a small and significantly subdued portion of the actual background and exploits of Phileas Fogg. He establishes that the events surrounding Around the World in Eighty Days is actually a singular aspect of a greater conflict taking place between two immortal alien races, the Eridani and the Capellas. Farmer’s story does not challenge any of the elements of the original text, but rather it adds an ambitious secondary tale taking place behind (and often in between) the scenes of Verne’s material.

Instead of a wealthy dilettante with a taste for odd wagers, Phileas Fogg is an agent of an alien race who have been conducting a secret war on earth for years. His race around the world is part of this arcane war generally designed to help ferret out Fogg’s nemesis: Captain Nemo.  The whole thing is reminiscent of a David Icke speech and has clearly been the inspiration behind League of Extraordinary Gentleman and similar fan fiction.

For those unaware of Farmer’s fiction, it may be interesting to note that he was behind the infamous “Kilgore Trout” pulp:  Venus on the Half-Shell. Evidently the Venutian language is a great source of anagrams for naughty bits (Tunc and Angavi come to mind). The story is of the life and travels of our hero, Simon Wagstaff, the Space Wanderer. He goes around in a giant flying dildo picking up androids and becoming immortal.  Good stuff.

Invariably, typos in my quest led me to the likes of Phineas P. Gage.

On September 13, 1848, 25-year-old Gage was foreman of a work gang blasting rock while preparing the roadbed for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad outside the town of Cavendish, Vermont. After a hole was “drilled” into a body of rock (via a laborious process which today might best be thought of as “chiseling”) one of Gage’s duties was to add blasting powder, a fuse, and sand, then compact (“tamp down”) the charge using a large iron rod. Possibly because the sand was omitted, around 4:30 PM:  the powder exploded, carrying an instrument through his head an inch and a fourth in [diameter], and three feet and [seven] inches in length, which he was using at the time. The iron entered on the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw, and passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head.

Amazingly, Gage spoke within a few minutes, walked with little or no assistance, and sat upright in a cart for the 3/4-mile ride to his lodgings in town. The first physician to arrive was Dr. Edward H. Williams:

I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. Mr. Gage, during the time I was examining this wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders. I did not believe Mr. Gage’s statement at that time, but thought he was deceived. Mr. Gage persisted in saying that the bar went through his head….Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.

This has become a case study for Psychology students as the damage to only the frontal lobe allowed Gage to function normally for the rest of his life.  Apparently, his behavior and personality was strikingly different after the accident.  Causing him to swear in public and become irritable in private.  Most close friends reported he was “no longer the Gage I knew.”  Eventually, he moved down to South America and became a carriage-driver in Chile.