The Labyrinths of Troy

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THE SECRETS OF THE SECRETS OF THE SECRETS

I remembered that it was on that hill that nurse taught me to play an old game called 'Troy Town,' in which one had to dance, and wind in and out on a pattern in the grass, and then when one had danced and turned long enough the other person asks you questions, and you can't help answering whether you want to or not, and whatever you are told to do you feel you have to do it. Nurse said there used to be a lot of games like that that some people knew of, and there was one by which people could be turned into anything you liked, and an old man her great-grandmother had seen had known a girl who had been turned into a large snake. And there was another very ancient game of dancing and winding and turning, by which you could take a person out of himself and hide him away as long as you liked, and his body went walking about quite empty, without any sense in it.

This is an extract from “The Green Book” – a diary kept by an unnamed young girl – from Welsh author and mystic Arthur Machen’s 1899 Weird Tale “The White People”. The journal itself forms the bulk of Machen’s story, with a framing narrative in which two men begin by discussing the true nature of good and evil, and end in discussing the contents of “The Green Book” and the fate of its adolescent author. “The White People” is one of Machen’s finest, and weirdest, stories and this is largely thanks to the wonderful, eerie voice which he gives to his diarist. She writes so much, yet leaves almost everything to the imagination of the reader. A passage from the very beginning of “The Green Book” reads:

I am going to write here many of the old secrets and some new ones; but there are some I shall not put down at all. I must not write down the real names of the days and months which I found out a year ago, nor the way to make the Aklo letters, or the Chian language, or the great beautiful Circles, nor the Mao Games, nor the chief songs. I may write something about all these things but not the way to do them, for peculiar reasons. And I must not say who the Nymphs are, or the Dôls, or Jeelo, or what voolas mean. All these are most secret secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper the word, and the Alala comes.

The White People” was a great favourite of American Weird Fiction author H. P. Lovecraft who called it “a triumph of skilful selectiveness and restraint” in his 1927 essay Supernatural Horror in Literature. Many of the supernatural seeds – hints of otherworldly names, languages, ceremonies, and even races – planted by Machen’s diarist have since blossomed in their own right, not least “the Aklo letters” mentioned above. Aklo was referenced in the diary of H. P. Lovecraft’s young occultist Wilbur Whatley in his heavily Machen inspired 1929 story “The Dunwich Horror”: “Today learned the Aklo for the Sabaoth [...] I wonder how I shall look when the earth is cleared and there are no earth beings on it. He that came with the Aklo Sabaoth said I may be transfigured, there being much of outside to work on.” The “dark Aklo language used by certain cults of evil antiquity” is also mentioned in HPL’s final Weird Tale, “The Haunter of the Dark” (written in 1935). Following Lovecraft’s own references, the Aklo the language made its way into the wider Mythos and has since been referenced everywhere from the Pathfinder roleplaying games, to Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy. The “old game called 'Troy Town’” mentioned in the quotation at the top of this essay sounds like yet another of Machen’s invented occult rites, but there is historic and even physical evidence of it, or at the very least of its namesakes.

 

THE LUSUS TROIAE

The Lusus Troiae (Game of Troy) was an ancient custom revived by Dictator of the Roman Republic Gaius Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Images on a 7th century BC Etruscan wine-server depicting a group of youths emerging from a labyrinth carrying clubs and shields with images of horses on them are argued by some to be the earliest surviving evidence of the rite. The Lusus Troiae was said to have been brought to Italy by the mythic Trojan hero Aeneas, through whose son, Ascanius, the (also mythic) Kings of Alba Longa learned of it and passed it down to Rome proper. Julius Caesar claimed to be a descendant of Aeneas’ son Lulus, and so the revival of the custom was a way of making clear his connection to those kings said to have ruled the place that was to become Rome for centuries before Romulus founded the city officially.

What then actually was the Lusus Troiae? It was an elaborate ... Read More »

The New Gods

The New Gods Title Spread

This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 9, which is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK. Darklore 9 features essays from Alan Moore, Mike Jay, Robert Schoch and others, on topics ranging from hidden history to the occult.

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The New Gods

A Short History of the Fictional Origins of Modern Paganism


by Ian 'Cat' Vincent

Many neo-pagans will tell you that their beliefs and practices have been celebrated consistently since before Christianity, although sometimes disguising their intent by adopting – or being co-opted by – the Church. It is a belief system which can offer great beauty and spiritual insight. What it isn’t is ancient, historically accurate or, in most senses of the word, authentic.

The immediate ancestor of modern paganism – Druidry – was pretty much invented wholesale by Romantic poets and historians in the 17th to 19th centuries. Paganism as we know it today is partly a derivation of inaccurate Victorian and early 20th century historical and anthropological theories, mixed with a sizeable amount of plagiarism of the work of Aleister Crowley and then filled out with a variety of secondary sources.
In recent years, this point has been addressed by many, especially Professor Ronald Hutton. Hutton is a historian with great sympathy for the spirituality of pagan belief systems, but no truck with the often speculative, and occasionally downright shoddy, history taken as read by most of its adherents.
Hutton has said...

The real danger is ...the idea that all customs, indeed all superstitions, nursery rhymes, and anything that smacks of ‘folkiness’, are direct survivals of ancient pagan fertility rites, and are concerned with the appeasement of gods and spirits. Although the suggestion of an ancient origin for our folklore was the central tenet of the Victorian and Edwardian pioneers of folklore collection, this notion has only become generally known in the last forty years or so, and has taken hold with astonishing rapidity; the majority of the population now carry the virus in one form or another, while some are very badly infected. The problem here is not simply that these theories are unsupported by any evidence, but that their blanket similarity destroys any individuality. All customs will soon end up with the same story.

Fortunately for neo-paganism, it had a wider range of stories to draw upon in its recently evolved origins. Specifically, it drew greatly on the fictional genres of science fiction and fantasy.

This is a personal overview of their intertwining.

Worlds of Gods and Monsters

A book which is often taken as the starting point for science fiction (SF) is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818). Most people know the origin story of the book: Mary Shelley, her Romantic poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori gathered at the Villa Diodante in 1816, trying to out-do each other in creating horror stories on a dark and stormy night. As veteran British science fiction writer Brian Aldiss was first to note, this is a tale where the protagonist “makes a deliberate decision” and “turns to modern experiments in the laboratory” to achieve his aims…certainly within what we would now consider as SF. Nonetheless, Frankenstein’s origins occupy the interface between nascent speculative fiction and Romanticism.

Other early SF works (then called Scientific Romances), such as those by Jules Verne, often involved that basic scheme of a creator going beyond the realms of then-known science, but only slightly…such as the ballistic spaceship launch system of From The Earth To The Moon (1865) or the weaponised submarine of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1870). Verne was far less concerned with the effects his creators had on their world, however, than he was with writing popular adventure stories – a trait that never really left the genre as a whole.

The same could not be said for H.G. Wells. All of Wells’s science fiction works tend towards the didactic. The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) and The Invisible Man (1897) are stern warnings about both hubris and the consequences of meddling with Nature, while The Time Machine (1895) and The Shape Of Things To Come (1933) are explicit warnings as to the possible future consequences of his society, expressed in fiction. It is interesting to note that, of his work, the two which take on SF’s most-often-assumed base story of space travel – The War of the Worlds (1898) and The First Men in the Moon (1901), are his least didactic. Sometimes, less is more…and, always, science fiction is never as much about the worlds of Tomorrow as it is a method of using the fantastic as a tool to examine the world of Today.

Mention here should be also made of Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the man who coined terms like “the great unwashed”, “pursuit of the almighty dollar”, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, “dweller on the threshold” and “It was a dark and stormy night”. His 1871 novel The Coming Race was of enormous yet rarely-spoken influence on the occult and spiritual currents that followed. In this book, he wrote of an

Portals of Strangeness

This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 8, which is now available for sale from Amazon US and Amazon UK. The Darklore anthology series features the best writing and research on paranormal, Fortean and hidden history topics, by the most respected names in the field: Alan Moore, Robert Schoch, Nick Redfern, Loren Coleman, Robert Bauval and Daniel Pinchbeck, to name just a few. Darklore's aim is to support quality researchers, so it makes sense to support Darklore. For more information on the series (including more free sample articles), visit the Darklore website.

Portals of Strangeness

Portals of Strangeness

Symbolism, Synchronicity, and Fortean Phenomena

Or, What Does It Mean When Weird Things Happen?


by Ray Grasse

I was just thirteen at the time, sitting with a friend on the front porch of his home, talking about the sort of things 13-year-olds normally talk about, when I noticed an odd light in the distance out of the corner of my eye. My friend noticed it, too, and we turned our heads to see a glowing disc-shaped object rising up over the trees, probably a half-mile away. It was shaped like the top half of a hamburger bun, I thought to myself, and was cream-colored, but with an iridescent green outline along its fringe. After rising up a short distance, the disc darted around in a strange way, unlike any airplane or advertising blimp I’d ever seen, before moving off and dropping out of view beneath the tree line. The entire experience lasted maybe 40 seconds in all.

We were stunned by what we’d seen, because it was so different from anything else we’d encountered before—outside of Hollywood movies, anyway. When we tried describing what we saw to our parents, our accounts were brushed off as the products of over-active youthful imaginations. I even tried calling up the nearby airport to report what we saw to find out if anyone else mentioned it. But they dismissed my story as simple misidentification.

“It was probably just a blimp with advertising lights on it, that’s all,” he assured me patronizingly.

I wasn’t sure myself what we’d seen—and to this day I'm still not. But it’s safe to say it wasn’t a blimp with advertising lights strung on it.

We’ve probably all had brushes at one point or another with something that mystifies or startles us, even if that was just an unlikely coincidence or a hunch that turned out to come true. But what about the truly odd event – like a peculiar craft darting around in the sky? Or seeing a creature that isn't even supposed to exist? Or a rainfall of frogs from the sky, as one friend’s grandmother told me she witnessed as a child back in Indiana?

The renegade researcher Charles Fort (1874-1932) spent the better part of his life collecting such stories and compiling them into books like Lo! and Book of the Damned, inspiring countless other researchers in the process, and even a magazine commemorating his legacy—Fortean Times. Presuming we don’t simply dismiss all these strange accounts as mere hallucinations, hoaxes, or misidentifications, what are we to make of such tales?

Having studied accounts like these for decades by now, I’ve come to believe these events are

Alan Moore on Science, Imagination, Language and Spirits of Place

Alan Moore

Follow The Daily Grail on Facebook and on Twitter.

Daily Grail Publishing recently released a new anthology, Spirits of Place, featuring a stellar line-up of writers including Alan Moore, Gazelle Amber Valentine, Warren Ellis, Maria J Pérez Cuervo and Iain Sinclair (among many others). We grabbed the opportunity to ask Alan some questions about the fascinating topics discussed in the book, as well as various other subjects ranging from populism to the eternal nature of time. Hey, it's an Alan Moore interview, what did you expect?!

You can find out more about Spirits of Place - including links to order your own copy in paperback, eBook, or limited edition signed hardcover formats - at spiritsofplace.com.

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The Daily Grail: Hi Alan, thanks very much for taking time to have a quick chat with us. To begin, I thought it might be worthwhile delving into the topic of the new anthology Spirits of Place, which you are a contributor to. The idea that locations have a 'soul', or in-dwelling 'spirit', is an ancient one, but in modern times it's largely been forgotten. Do you think this is something we, in the 21st century, need to reconnect with?

Alan Moore: We live in a world that is mostly predicated on a rational and scientific worldview, which effectively means that any phenomenon beyond the physically measureable is automatically deemed non-existent, including souls, gods, ghosts and human consciousness. While I would agree that we need to recover the psychological connection that once existed between ourselves and our environment – because to do otherwise is to render us all pointless automata in a material world which, by its own admission, has no direction or purpose – I would say that the problem could be more sharply defined if we put aside contentious terms like ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’, and instead opted for the less vague but just as scientifically problematic term ‘meaning’. If by coming to know more about the historical or mythological aspects of the places in which we live we make those places more meaningful, to us at least, then I suggest that this will lead to experiencing ourselves as more meaningful in our new, illuminated context.

The big difference between ‘meaning’ and ‘a spirit’ is that where meaning is concerned, we have to do all the necessary hard work in order to invest that place or that person or that object with meaning, whereas spirits just sort of turn up, don’t they? I believe that our world is gloriously haunted with meaning; that it’s we ourselves that are doing the haunting; and that we should be doing more of it, or doing it more strenuously.

In an era where supposedly hard material reality seems to shift more like vapour with every passing day, I think it becomes more evident that timeless and unchanging mythology is the actual solid bedrock on which our flimsy and temporary human realities are briefly erected. Whether you call it soul or spirit or meaning, it is the Real, as opposed to this spasming neo-conservative monetarist/materialist dream that we’re all required to share, and if we care about having a meaningful world in which to lead meaningful lives then we should all try harder to reinvest our environments with the meaning that belligerent materialism has sucked out of them.

Spirits of Place Cover

TDG: On the other hand, in recent times, there’s been a resurgence in so-called ‘populist’ political movements, which seems a sanitised way of saying ‘nationalist’, or sometimes even ‘xenophobic’. In your hometown Northampton you’ve seen changes in demographics to the Boroughs, along with destructive urban development and political pushes to relocate people. When considering the idea of 'Spirits of Place', how do we balance the embracing of the history and spirit of a location with change, progress and moving forward? How do we retain local identity without falling for racism and bigotry?

AM: Firstly, I think we need to uncouple concepts like progress and moving forward from the concept of change, since if we continually use them together people are liable to think they have something to do with each other. They don’t. I don’t think a great many people objected when the pervasive urban darkness was dispelled by gas-lamps, or when illumination was further improved by a move to electric lighting. That’s because these things genuinely represented progress of a kind that everybody could understand and agree with. The move from companionable terraced streets to ugly and alienating high-rise blocks on the other hand, a move made for entirely commercial reasons to maximise the value of a plot of land by building high, is simply change: I fail to see what it has to do with ... Read More »

Seance Through Science: Edison's Ghost Machine

Thomas Alva Edison is a man who requires little or no introduction. In his 84 years of life Edison came up with many, many innovations including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, the stock ticker, the power station, and of course, the light bulb. In fact, Edison is still the fourth most prolific inventor in history, holding 1,093 patents in the USA alone. He also routinely electrocuted numerous animals including an elephant, but that’s another story. All this, as I say, you probably already know. You may even have heard, or read, that Edison's last breath is preserved at the Henry Ford Museum (AKA the Edison Institute) in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford having convinced Edison’s son Charles to seal a glass vacuum tube of air from the inventor's room shortly after his death in October 1931. Granted, that seems a bit odd, but memento mori were not so uncommon then, and Ford was a great friend of Edison’s after all. Even so, some might wonder whether it’s something Edison senior would have consented to himself. It does seem rather morbid – superstitious even – and surely at odds with the hard scientific logic of a man who was quoted by the New York Times in 1910 as saying he had come to the conclusion that “there is no ‘supernatural,’ or ‘supernormal,’ that all there is can be explained along material lines”. But then again, perhaps not.

The October 1920 issue of American Magazine contained an article with the rather attention grabbing title of “Edison Working on How to Communicate with the Next World” written by one Bertie Charles Forbes (founder of Forbes Magazine). In an interview conducted by Forbes and published in Scientific American soon after, Edison expressed some rather interesting – some might say surprising – opinions concerning no less a subject than life after death:

If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical and scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, and other faculties and knowledge that we acquire on Earth […] I am inclined to believe that our personality hereafter will be able to affect matter. If this reasoning be correct, then, if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected, moved, or manipulated [...] by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.

Indeed, it would seem that these were not just idle musings, because in a private journal entry, again dating from 1920, Edison wrote:

I have been at work for some time building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us […] I am engaged in the construction of one such apparatus now, and I hope to be able to finish it before very many months pass.

A second Scientific American piece ran in 1921 in which Edison was quoted as saying:

I don't claim anything, because I don't know anything [...] for that matter, no human being knows […] but I do claim that it is possible to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence who wish to get in touch with us [...] this apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity.

By this time it seems it must have been pretty widely known that Thomas Alva Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time, was working on a machine which might prove the existence of spirits or ghosts. The editor of Scientific American reportedly received more than 600 letters from readers enquiring about the device. This was big. So, what happened next? The answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing. The machine was never mentioned again during Edison’s lifetime and the whole matter seems to have been all but forgotten. Forgotten that is, until old Edison had been in his grave for two years.

Page 34 of the 1933 October edition of Modern Mechanix (motto: “Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today”) bore the intriguing headline “Edison’s Own Secret Spirit Experiments”. “For thirteen years results of Edison’s astounding attempt to penetrate that wall that lies beyond mortality have been withheld from the world, but now the amazing story can be told.” The prodigiously illustrated three page piece tells a tale of the “black, howling wintry night in 1920 – just such a night when superstitious people would bar their doors and windows against marauding ghosts—”when Edison and a group of scientists and spiritualists “assembled like members of a mystic clan” to test his theories concerning life after death. Edison was, we are told, armed with a powerful lamp whose light was concentrated into a beam and directed at photo-electric cell which in turn transformed that light into an electric current. Any object passing through that beam of light, no matter how miniscule or insubstantial, would disrupt the electrical current and that fluctuation would be displayed on the dial of a meter connected to the photo-electric cell. This rather disappointingly simple set up was, we are informed, the machine with which Edison sought to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts or spirits once and for all. “When the experiment was ready to begin the spiritualists in the group of witnesses were called upon to summon from eternity the ethereal form of one or two of its inhabitants, and command the spirit to walk across the beam”. And the result of this groundbreaking experiment? Well, in the long hours that followed, during which the “wind howled around the corners of the laboratory”, the needle, we are told, never so much as wavered. “It was because of these negative results that the news of the amazing experiments was never given out to the world. Edison would not reveal his belief-shattering discoveries to a believing world”.

The Modern Mechanix piece is written (as you can no doubt tell from the portions quoted above) rather more like a story than a factual article and no author credit is given in the magazine’s table of contents. This, coupled with the fact that no members of Edison’s “mystic clan” are named, and no sources or references are given, has led some researchers to conclude that the article is, in fact, a piece of fiction (albeit one with a rather anticlimactic ending) woven out of the fragments of information given in interviews and articles published during Edison’s lifetime. There is, however, another reason why some who are interested in Edison’s paranormal experiments might instantly take the Modern Mechanix piece for a fiction: the apparatus described is all wrong.

In a 1921 New York Times article Edison was said to be developing a machine that would measure “one hundred trillion life units” in the human body that “may scatter after death.” The Modern Mechanix article reused much of the material from that earlier piece in explaining what it referred to as Edison’s hypothesis of “immortal units”. Edison is said to have taken a print from one of his fingers and then to deliberately burn that fingertip so as to remove or alter its print. Later, when the finger had healed, he took a second print which proved to be identical to the original. “From this experiment, Edison got confirmation of his hypothesis that it is these aforementioned “immortal units” which supervised the re-growth of his finger skin, following out the original design. Man, he believed, is a mosaic of such life units, and it is these entities which determine what we shall be.” These “immortal units” then are supposedly what Edison was expecting to break his beam of light (though exactly why Spiritualists would be required to summon them is anyone’s guess).

I first began researching Edison’s alleged supernatural experiments several years ago. At the time I did quite a bit of Googling round and bookmarked about twenty or so webpages containing relevant information. It was always a subject I meant to come back to but, for one reason or another, I just didn’t find the time. A couple of weeks ago I spotted the folder marked EDISON is my bookmarks and clicked to Open All in Tabs. More than half the links were dead. Of those that remained, most focussed on the idea that Edison could have been working on an apparatus or experiment very much like the one described in the Modern Mechanix article – a way of seeing or measuring the hypothesised “life units” or “immortal units”. Such an experiment would, naturally, have been doomed to fail. Many of those websites since deleted, and a handful of the links remaining however, focussed on Edison’s own journal entry of 1920 “I have been at work for some time building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us”. Communication with – rather than mere detection of – ghosts or spirits is still believed by some to have been Edison’s true goal. Edison’s Spirit Telegraph, or Spirit Telephone are wonderfully evocative terms which still turn up a few interesting search results. “Thomas Edison was trying to build a machine to talk to the dead,” writes one blogger, “I can recall first coming across those very words in an old, dusty book back in the 1970s”. “After his death, the plans for the apparatus could not be located. Many have searched extensively for the components, the prototype or even the plans to the machine but have never found them,” concludes another.

Some, however, have expressed doubts as to the authenticity of the 1920 diary entry, much of which seems like a mere reproduction of portions of the original Scientific American interview with the “I have been at work for some time building an apparatus […]” paragraph tacked on at the end.xiv Furthermore, there is one very important piece of evidence which many seem to have overlooked, whether accidentally or wilfully. In an interview published in the New York Times in 1926 Edison was asked about the comments he’d made six years earlier concerning the prospect of investigating the survival of spirits after death, to which he replied “I really had nothing to tell him [Forbes], but I hated to disappoint him so I thought up this story about communicating with spirits, but it was all a joke.” And so, like the Modern Mechanix piece before it, our own tale of Edison’s Secret Experiments ends with something of anticlimax – the whole thing was merely a hoax. But then again, perhaps not.

In 1941, a séance was supposedly conducted in New York in which a spirit claiming to be that of Thomas Alva Edison made itself known. This spirit, it is alleged, named certain associates (members of the “mystic clan”, if you will) who apparently still had in their possession the missing plans for, and elements of, his machine. These people were located. A prototype was built. It did not work. This prototype somehow passed into the possession of one J. Gilbert Wright - a General Electric researcher whose claim to fame was the discovery/ invention of a special kind of silicone putty. Wright, it is said, spent the rest of his life trying to perfect the machine. In some versions of the tale, Wright frequently consults Edison’s ghost, via regular séances to get his advice on how the machine might be improved. When Wright finally passed on in 1959 all trace of the machine is said to have vanished. A more fittingly farfetched end to a tall tale? Perhaps. Even so, surely I’m not the only one left wondering; what if there was just one component needed to complete the machine that Wright could never lay his hands on? Something another member of Edison’s “mystic clan” wasn’t willing to part with. Something, perhaps, as small and innocuous seeming as one very specific glass vacuum tube.

REFERENCES

http://www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/e...
http://web.archive.org/web/2010032808480...
Dagobert D. Runes (editor): The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas A. Edison (New York Philosophical Library, 1948)
http://longstreet.typepad.com/thescience...
http://www.gereports.com/edisons-forgott...
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2006/08/1...
http://strangeandspookyworld.wordpress.c...
http://www.prairieghosts.com/oh-milan.html
http://web.archive.org/web/2009052313334...
http://www.ghosteyes.com/thomas-edison-p...
http://www.ghostvillage.com/ghostcommuni...
http://ufoexperiences.blogspot.com/2007/...

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This article is taken from John Reppion's collection STEAMPUNK SALMAGUNDI and was originally published in SteamPunk Magazine #9, 2013.

Gazelle Amber Valentine of Jucifer interviewed about Spirits of Place

Gazelle Amber Valentine of Jucifer Live by Hillarie Jason

Gazelle Amber Valentine is one half of sludge / doom / death metal two piece Jucifer, formed in Georgia, USA in 1993. For more than seventeen years Gazelle and her bandmate (and husband), drummer Edgar Livengood, have adopted a nomadic lifestyle. The pair live, tour, rehearse, and sometimes even record in their Winnebago, towing the literal wall of amplification Valentine utilises on stage in a trailer behind them. The duo describe this life as an endless tour, and they can easily find themselves playing live shows in twenty or more countries in a single year.

Jucifer's music can be (and usually is) harsh, aggressive, and loud, but its subject matter and lyrical content are not necessarily what people might expect. 2008's L'Autrichienne was a concept album based around the French Revolution accompanied by extensive historical notes, while 2013's За Волгой для нас земли нет ("There is no land beyond The Volga") dealt with the Soviet Union and WWII. Equally though, there is a strong sense of Americana embedded in much of Jucifer's music and lyrics; dark folk sounds and sensibilities; finger-picked banjo and violin strings, and dissonant, melancholic melodies. Nowhere is this side of their work more apparent than in Gazelle's solo album Devil's Tower I, released in 2013.

All of this - the nomadic life, the artistry, the power and intelligence of her writing - made Gazelle Amber Valentine someone I was very keen to approach as a contributor to Spirits of Place. Her essay, entitled "I Have Trod Such Haunted Land", ended up being the first in the book and remains one of my favourites. Even though her internet connection can be intermittent as she and Edgar continue their never ending tour, Gazelle was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the book and her contribution to it.


 

John Reppion: You and Edgar have lived a nomadic life for seventeen years now, how much of an influence do you think that lifestyle has on you creatively?

Gazelle Amber Valentine: The main thing I believe our nomadic existence has affected is our capacity to see all places with equal passion and simultaneously, equal dispassion. Delineation between 'home' and 'away' and between 'us' and 'them' becomes forever blurred in context of such a life. In every capital, one sees all the lovely decorations of propaganda and state fantasy, so impressive yet unable to conceal rote greed, violence and inequity. In every dwelling one imagines life and family; death and suffering and redemption. For natural empaths like us, the universality and futility of humans is enhanced almost unbearably. So although we always felt deeply about our art, I think it becomes wiser as we go farther on this path.

Other than that, our way of life has made us even less respectful of conformity and pandering than we were to begin with--- which wasn't very, haha. The immediacy of survival requires enshrinement of integrity, and of the bonds with your life partner. No room for falseness.

JR: Home for you is obviously the van, but are there places you feel anchored, or connected to no matter where you are?

GAV: Yeah, we both feel that certain places live inside of us wherever we are. For me some of these still exist and are physical, others are stories or memories, and still others are dreams which feel like memory.

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JR: Have you encountered different cultural attitudes to place when travelling? I assume people are always asking you about the nomadic life and that opens up all kinds of discussions. Is there any particular country or city where you've felt that their sense of place, and relationship with it, was very different to your own?

GAV: I've felt that place affects people's customs and very subtle mannerisms in that people living in large countries (US, Canada, Russia, Australia) share more commonality along those lines than they do with people living in countries having comparatively small land mass. Although one can find xenophobia and competitiveness anywhere, there is a certain subconscious isolationism that's possible when 'foreigners' remain far away. For this reason and many other, perhaps unnameable, nuances which seem attributable to nation size, I've felt for example that Russians are more similar to Americans than are English folks --- despite origins of the US and despite most Russians having likely had more contact with people from the UK.

Beyond that observation, I've found that my personal attitude towards place seems replicated in different ways almost everywhere. Most countries, cities and neighborhoods have some kind of reverence for their history, albeit always threatened by forces of modernization and gentrification. If I were to make a worldwide guess, I'd assume that in every place, indigenous communities are most in touch with the importance of connecting to place and to its past. Colonists in every region only profit by obscuring historical connections (at least ones that predate their own) while indigenous peoples maintain their own families, nations and traditions by constant awareness of such links. Regardless of location and manner or conception of ownership, whenever people care about place it seems based on an idea of belonging. This is universal, and applies even when current inhabitants don't historically belong.

JR: What's your take on the Spirits Of Place core premise about stories being physically embedded in a place or landscape?

GAV: I said something in my piece about the fact that my personality combines skepticism and gullibility in a satisfactory ratio. This plays into my feelings about genus loci. On some (curmudgeonly) level the concept seems unscientific. Conversely, there is science that supports the possibility for kinetic transmittance of thought and its ability to accrue and manifest physically. Namely, that thought is electric and that electricity travels and accumulates.

Anecdotally, I've had very strong experiences of such spiritual residue. Combine that with my successful rationalization based on scientific possibility, and you find me definitely believing that spirits inhabit places. Even if I didn't think it could be posited with logic, I'd have to say I feel that this happens.

 

Spirits of Place is available in digital, paperback, and limited edition, signed hardcover from www.spiritsofplace.com

Jucifer can be found online at www.jucifer.net and on Twitter @_JUCIFER_

Review: BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN

HBO, 2016ce, 117mins.  

Director; Irene Taylor Brodsky. Broadcast 23 January 2017.

(Art by Joe Coleman)

There is a concept in the consideration of supposedly ‘non-fictional’ presentations, a vital one in these times of ‘fake news’, called Gell-Mann Amnesia. The term comes from a comment made by the late science fiction author Michael Crichton, creator of the original  Westworld, in his 2002 essay “Why Speculate?”. He describes it thus:

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behaviour is amnesia.

This is not a concept I wanted to have to consider in the first full-length documentary about the Slenderman phenomenon.

Irene Taylor Brodsky’s HBO documentary has been heavily publicised, some reviews suggesting that it could become ‘the new obsession’ for true-crime fans of recent explorations of the genre in the podcast Serial, among others. The focus of the documentary is, inevitably, upon the 30 May 2014 knife attack in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where two twelve year old girls named Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier lured a classmate, Peyton ‘Bella’ Lautner, into the nearby park, knifed her 19 times and left her to die, in attempt to gain the attention of Slenderman and become his ‘proxies’ - mind-controlled servants.

Brodsky’s previous documentaries have focussed on parent/child relationships, often in relation to trauma, and personal struggles with harsh circumstances and disaster: she clearly has a rapport with parents in trying times. The film has an unprecedented level of access to the parents of Geyser and Weier (understandably, Lautner’s parents were not involved: the only appearance of ‘Bella’ is a video of her giving a school presentation). The majority of the film is made of court footage, home movies, police video of the assailant’s post-arrest interrogations and lengthy interviews of the parents from as early as two months after the incident, showing their struggle to both support their incarcerated children and attempt to get on with their lives: there are many heart-wrenching scenes of the parents (mostly Geyser’s mother and Weier’s father - a late appearance of Geyser’s father is significant).

It isn’t until about 25 minutes in that the film focusses, after several tantalising hints and pieces of spooky footage, on the origin of Slenderman itself, employing a series of Skype interviews with people associated, if sometimes tangentially, with the phenomena (including a surprisingly good section with Richard Dawkins explaining meme transmission theory and how it relates to the fast spread of Slendy’s influence).

It is here that everything, for me, goes very wrong.

The early origin story is told by Brad Kim, an editor at Know Your Meme. He briefly talks about the original 10 June 2009 Something Awful ‘make a supernatural monster’ photoshop thread where Slenderman was created by Eric Knudsen aka ‘Victor Surge’. But then he goes on to say that Slenderman’s spread to the wider internet came first via the games associated with him - the Slender first-person horror game and the Minecraft Enderman character, and from there to YouTube videos and blogs. This is, to be blunt, completely inaccurate

The first Slenderman mythos YouTube video, Episode One of Marble Hornets, aired on 20 June 2009, only ten days after the original Surge post on Something Awful. Minecraft was not published until November of 2011 and the Slender game did not appear until June of 2012. (My own interest in the phenomenon occurred during its first year of life, directly as a result of hearing about Marble Hornets.)

At no point in the filming and editing process was this fundamental error caught and corrected. Its presence implies the film-makers simply did not do their homework. The fact that Dr. Shira Chess, an acknowledged expert on the phenomenon and author of a fine book on the subject, is credited as ‘Research Consultant’ makes this all the more puzzling.

The time devoted to the actual Slenderman phenomenon itself is mostly video clips, with the occasional piece of commentary (the best of which comes from digital folklorist Trevor J. Blank). Vital and relevant parts of the mythos’ development are simply not mentioned - for example, the tendency for many blogs and video series to be told in a factual-seeming form from the point of view of Slenderman proxies themselves (and the resulting, highly connected set of linked blogs grouped together under the heading of Core Theory): something you would think was worthy of note when the core of the case is that the assailants believed Slenderman was real. The film actually devotes less time to the known origins of Slenderman than it does to a retelling of the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

And, shockingly, the word Tulpa does not appear once.

The lack of any discussion of tulpas - the concept that Slenderman is a ‘thought-form’ created by the belief of his enthusiasts, which has been core to the mythos since the very same day Marble Hornets first aired - is especially interesting, considering the focus of the latter half of the film; in fact, it may have been deliberately left out. 

A great deal of time is devoted in the latter half of the film to Morgan Geyser’s court-supervised schizophrenia diagnosis, including a moving Act 4 revelation that her father also had schizophrenia. By focussing on this aspect and avoiding any mention of tulpas (even merely as an influential-if-fictional aspect of the mythos), the emphasis on Geyser’s illness - she reported being pinched by ghosts’ and talking to an entity she called The Man from as early as 3 years old, as well as her belief that she communicated with other fictional entities, such as Severus Snape - makes a clear statement: this was all just a schizophrenic kid getting another child in a folie à deux, leading to tragedy. Those damn kids and their internets.

Nothing weird to see here. Move along.

(It must also be noted that there is far less discussion of Anissa Weier’s mental health: especially as Geyser was transferred to a hospital facility while Weier, who, though she was first to discover Slenderman online did not perform the actual stabbing, is still in juvenile detention.)

The film itself is strikingly beautiful: the combination of Benoit Charets’s score and the cinematography of Nick Midwig providing a haunting, but not too spooky-cliché, atmosphere.

If anything, I would say the film is too beautiful for its own good: there is probably a tighter and more compelling 90 minute version of the film to be had simply from losing 90% of the drone aerial footage of the Waukesha area. And even then, knowing that key elements of the story are simply incorrect, the overall film in any form must be taken with a large pinch of salt.

(It should also be noted that the many clips from YouTube videos and other artworks were used in the film without credit or payment. A Reddit discussion started by one of the creators includes the form reply HBO sent them regarding ‘Fair Use’. The various interviewees are credited; The Pied Piper animated footage is credited. The actual creators of the Slenderman mythos, from Knudsen onwards, are not. Whatever the legal position, choosing not to thank the creators who make the mythos so interesting and powerful is, at least, unkind.)

Style over substance; alternating shallowness in some areas with intimate depth in others; dealing with a story full of supernatural overtones by reducing it to a tale of tragic mental illness and online enthusiasm - Beware The Slenderman is, accidentally, a near-perfect summation of our modern relationship with fact and truth.

The Palace Built Over a Hellmouth

Panel from Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights

The essay below is taken from the new anthology Spirits of Place, which features the likes of Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Gazelle Amber Valentine, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Iain Sinclair and many others taking us on a tour of places where they themselves have encountered, or even consulted with, 'spirits of place' - " the echoes of people, of events, of ideas which have become imprinted upon a location, for better or for worse."

More information, and links for ordering Kindle, paperback and hardcover editions, can be found at the Spirits of Place website.

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The Palace Built Over a Hellmouth

by Maria J. Pérez Cuervo

Only a king or a queen has the power to move the capital of their kingdom to their preferred location. For King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), this place was at the very centre of the Iberian Peninsula, not far from the city of Madrid, in an area called El Escorial on the southern slopes of Mount Abantos. Here he vowed to build his life’s plan: a royal residence that would also be a pantheon, a monastery, a library, a museum and a centre of studies. To bring it to life, he hired a group of architects, experienced masons and theologists, who evaluated the terrain positively but, given the monarch’s interest in esotericism and alchemy, probably warned him of an ancient legend: that the Devil himself had lived in a cave at the foot of the mountain, after he was expelled from Heaven and before he opened up seven doors to enter his new abode in the Underworld. The location of one of these doors was El Escorial.

The locals whispered stories of monsters, visions and curses, of frequent electrical storms with lightning constantly hitting the area. Nevertheless, on the 30th of November 1561, the king’s experts travelled to El Escorial to make a final decision. Their official chronicler, Father Sigüenza, describes how the group was stricken by a gale that “didn’t allow them to reach their destination”, which the friar interpreted as the Devil trying to dissuade them from erecting a religious complex over what was rumoured to be a Hellmouth. But the king dismissed the ominous signs in a letter to his men, noting that there had also been a tempest in Madrid. And so the works started a year later, after the court was moved to Madrid, and lasted for over two decades. The complex remains the best-known symbol of Spanish royalty, with its rows of kings and queens resting in the Pantheon. But, in spite of Philip II’s Catholic fervour, it seems as though the chthonic currents managed to seep through the soil and leak into the rich marble and gold, into the silver crosses, statues of saints and reliquaries, playing with the senses of the palace’s inhabitants, driving them to madness and perdition.

To me, the centre of the Peninsula has always felt suffocating. I grew up on the south coast, in a luminous, heavily-built Mediterranean city where my dad was also born. My mum came from a small village in the north, all high mountains, coalmines and fog. They met in Madrid, almost exactly halfway, when Franco was still alive, and moved to the south after they got married. In the summers, my dad would drive us to the north in his rumbling Renault 14. It was a long journey, and it helped to think of it in two halves: before and after Madrid. In those days there was no seat belt to be worn, so I wriggled in the back seat, kneeling and twisting to catch the best sights on the way. One of the most intriguing was an enormous cross on the horizon, silhouetted and looming over its surroundings: the so-called “Valley of the Fallen”. Once I said I’d like to see it up close, and my dad frowned: “That’s where Franco and his pals are buried. We’re not going there.” I didn’t know much about the Civil War then, but I knew enough to find the sight disturbing, like a monstrous shadow of the past creeping over us, triumphant. Perhaps on the same trip, or on a different one, I was also told about the most powerful king Spain ever had, who built a huge palace-monastery, not far from that cross, many centuries before the bones of the Fallen had been buried in that soil.

I never liked that central part of the journey – the flat, monotonous roads, the merciless heat, the strange absence of the sea on the horizon, still too far from the fresh green meadows of my mum’s homeland. Travelling to the centre of the Peninsula in the summer was like slowly descending into a pit of burning coal, a journey to the centre of the Earth, from which one could only exit either side.

For many centuries, the Spanish court was itinerant and the capital city changed depending on where the monarch was established. Before Philip II’s decision, the honour fell on Toledo, a centre of tolerance and cooperation between Christians, Jews and Muslims until the establishment of the Inquisition brought turmoil. By the 16th century, the city was the focus of civil revolts against Philip’s father, King Charles I, but it also had one of the most important archdioceses in the Catholic world, second only to Rome. In contrast, Madrid was only a relatively important city, with no ports nearby and no navigable rivers. There was nothing there that could overshadow the king: barely any local aristocrats; no significant religious power. Perhaps he saw this relative isolation as an advantage, as a clean start in the exact centre of the Peninsula, an area with good terrain and benevolent climate.

Philip lived in the shadow of his father, Charles I, powerful warlord, cosmopolitan adventurer, silver-tongued speaker. It must have been a heavy burden to bear, especially because their talents were so different. Philip, the sole male heir, wanted to build a suitable place to bury ... Read More »

Operation Mindfix

Robert Anton Wilson

Written by John Higgs

Wednesday just gone (18th of January) was the birthday of the late great American agnostic Robert Anton Wilson.

His books (and in particular, the Illuminatus! trilogy he co-wrote with Robert Shea) depict a bewildering world of conspiracies, half-truths, lies, fake news, incompetence and our inability to find anything resembling objective truth. Or to put it another way, it describes the world as it is now, ten years after his death.

Wilson was a leading figure in the counterculture project known as Operation Mindfuck. This was a form of western Zen. Seeding our culture with confusion, contradiction and mischief, it was thought, would jolt people out of their illusions. Operation Mindfuck kicked off in the 1970s and has never really stopped.

Operation Mindfuck, like the Discordian religion which embraced it, was typically politically neutral, or at least clear that the ideologies of both the left and right were equally valid targets. However, the ideas behind Operation Mindfuck have since become a tool for those with a lust for political power, most blatantly Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov, as explained in this short film by Adam Curtis.

It’s stating the obvious, but the vast majority of us are not enjoying this ‘post-truth’ world. It is not so much that the fake news is disturbing. The real gut-kick is when people confidently proclaim that we should return to the pre-post-truth world, and then think about how to do that, and slowly realise that not only is it impossible but that there was no pre-post-truth world in the first place. Think of Hillsborough, or Iraq’s imaginary WMDs. What has actually changed is that it is no longer possible to comfortably fall for our earlier illusions. As the saying goes, if you want to be certain, buy an encyclopaedia. If you want to be uncertain, buy two encyclopaedias. Our culture has bought a second encyclopaedia.

Boris Johnson's lies

The rise of the Alt-Right, with their use of meme magic, conspiracies and disinformation, led to left-leaning Discordians thinking that Operation Mindfuck had been weaponised against them.


You don’t need me to tell you that this is currently grim as all hell. But if you take the long term, pragmatic view, it could be that the use of Operation Mindfuck techniques in this way are, essentially, a trap.

In his books, and most importantly in his autobiography Cosmic Trigger, Robert Anton Wilson talks about the psychological state where you have no way of making sense of what is happening, where all your maps have run out, and where you have no fixed point with which to orient yourself by. He called this place Chapel Perilous. This is where we are now as a culture.

Cosmic Trigger I

There are only two outcomes from a visit to Chapel Perilous, Wilson tells us: paranoia or agnosticism.

Agnosticism – and here Wilson means not just doubt about God, but doubt about everything - requires an acceptance that you are not the only right-thinking person on the planet, and that it is not true everyone else should agree with you. It requires a ... Read More »

The Great Dying

The Departed of 2016 - Image by Chris Barker

(Image by Chris Barker)

One year ago today, I was in Amboise, France, as part of the trip of a lifetime around Europe with my wife and children. Upon waking that rainy, gloomy winter's day, I absent-mindedly checked my Twitter timeline, and was snapped out of my daze when I read the shocking news that David Bowie had sadly passed away, after turning 69 just a couple of days previous.

It turned out to be a day filled with death. Our itinerary for the day began with a visit to Château du Clos Lucé, a small château that is famous for being the residence of Leonardo da Vinci in his final years - with one of the main 'attractions' being a viewing of the actual bed that the great Master was lying in when he took his final breath.

From Amboise we then drove to our next stay, an absolutely wonderful historical chateau not far from Rennes that we booked through AirBnB. On arrival, however, we were met not by the owner, but instead by their neighbour. As it turns out, the owner's husband had died that very day after suffering a heart attack, and yet she had amazingly taken the time and consideration to organise for her neighbour to come and greet us and make sure we settled into the place comfortably.

This 'day of death' finished with a bang as well - as we were eating dinner in the dining room of the old chateau that night, my wife suddenly swung her head around to look behind us. Nothing was there, despite, she recounted, the fact that she had seen someone walk behind us in the reflection from the window.

A year on, and it turns out not to have been so much a 'death day', but an entire year. From Bowie, to the massive loss of Prince in April, through to George Michael and Carrie Fisher at year's end - and a cavalcade of departed stars and personalities in between - 2016 as serial killer became a meme that many could relate to, along with the fervent hope that 2017 would be better.

The thing is though, I'm not sure that's going to be the case. In actual fact, I think 2016 might just be the herald for a new period that I (perhaps hyperbolically) refer to as the 'Great Dying'.

The 'Great Dying' arises from the confluence of three factors:

  • In the 1950s and 60s the amount of 'famous people' increased dramatically with the advent of television, 'pop' music and mass-marketed professional sport. People who became stars at a yound age in those and following decades are now 60 to 90 years of age.
  • Furthermore, the pressures of reaching and maintaining that celebrity status - especially in the last few decades, have pushed some performers and sportsmen to the limits physically and psychologically. Witness for instance the painkillers required by Michael Jackson and Prince, which ultimately resulted in their premature deaths. And both living with that celebrity status, and the emotional valley of slipping from that status, also have their deleterious effects on the human psyche and body. So there will always be a portion of stars who die at an earlier age than expected.
  • Lastly, in the modern era of 24-hour news cycles and social media, we are hyper-aware of every celebrity's passing and 'grieve' as a community when that happens, sharing thoughts, quotes and tributes, and meditating on that person's passing more thoroughly than in the past.

Without wishing to start a dead pool, to illustrate point one consider the following list of movie stars who are house-hold names: Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery are 86; James Earl Jones and William Shatner are 85; Judi Dench and Brigitte Bardot are 82; Donald Sutherland is 81 and Robert Redford is 80; Morgan Freeman, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson are 79. In music, the (surviving members of) The Beatles, Stones and Led Zep are in their 70s, while Tina Turner is 77 and Aretha Franklin is 74. For the SF&F geeks out there, Ursula Le Guin is 87; Tom Baker is 82; Ian McKellen is 77 and Patrick Stewart is 76; Ridley Scott is 79. Anthony Hopkins is 79; Al Pacino is 76; Harrison Ford is 74; De Niro is 73. David Attenborough is 90.

That's just a quick listing off the top of my head, so you can only imagine how many well-known people are in what would be expected to be the final decade or two of their lives. And that doesn't include all those who might pop off earlier than expected, from cancer, heart attack, accident, suicide or other assorted causes (I've personally almost checked out after being stung by a wasp, of all things). This is perhaps what made 2016 seem so shocking - losing the likes of David Bowie at 69, Carrie Fisher at 60, Prince at 57, George Michael at 53 and Phife Dawg at 45. But given the number of celebrities out there, is this the new normal?

The Great Dying has begun. So it might be about time we addressed our in-built aversion to dealing with death and loss head-on.