Vampire Squid From Hell

These things are called Silly Bandz. They are dayglo elastic bands that stay put in a particular shape –  when not being stretched, obviously- but that stretchability means they can also be worn as bracelets. And in this fact lies their extraordinary popularity with children, or at least with my observational sample (my 7 year old daughter and her -mostly female- friends).

In researching this post I visited the official Silly Bandz website and was part-appalled, part-dazzled by the company’s ability to think of so many ways of persuading young children that their lives will be enriched by novelty rubber bands. (Whatever your philosophical or cosmological standpoint, you’ll find it hard to argue against the existence of Absolute Evil once you’ve seen this.)

The Bandz pictured above are sea creatures, obviously, but I wasn’t quite sure what the yellow fellow in the centre of the picture was meant to be. I asked my daughter.

“Either a jellyfish, or a vampire squid,” she asserted.

A vampire squid?

“Yes, really Daddy, we did it at school”.

“A vampire squid? Does it drink blood?”

“No, it just looks like a vampire”.

Pause.

I was baffled.

“Are you sure you didn’t see it on Scooby Doo?” I asked. (She is a big fan of Scoob).

She tutted. “No, Daddy, it’s real“.

Another pause.

“Scooby Doo’s a cartoon“, she added helpfully.

I made a mental note to check up on this ‘vampire squid’ thing next time I was online.

Later, at the PC, I logged in to Gmail and WordPress, as I always do at the start of an online session. As many readers will know, the front page of WordPress is dominated by a feature called “Freshly Pressed”, which showcases a selection of current blog posts, and is presented as a kind of day-to-day ‘best of’ the nearly half a million blogs that WordPress currently hosts. Things that seem to get featured a lot on Freshly Pressed include: travel blogs, visual arts blogs, food blogs, blogs about blogging, pet blogs, and “10 Sayings My Irish Grandmother Taught Me”-type blogs. I usually scan this selection briefly before going into my own account, but I rarely click any of the links.

On this occasion, however, my eye was drawn to a striking thumbnail image of an octopus. Clicking it, I found myself on an art blog showcasing the work of one Mark Penxa, and from there I went to the artist’s own site – which, as you’ll see if you follow that link, has a number of menu options. For no reason I can identify- not even a hunch- I chose ‘Sketches’, then ‘Sketchbook 2009-2010‘. There, among other creatures, was the octopus I’d seen earlier- and next to it was…

…some sort of squid…

…that looked oddly like…

… a vampire.

In fact it looked like this:

As you can see  the artist has rendered its body as a heart. A terrific image. I googled the equally juicy Latin name: Vampyroteuthis infernalis (‘vampire squid from Hell’). And yes, it’s a real creature.

Some facts about the vampire squid:

1. It owes its barbarous name to an unusual webbing that connects its ‘arms’, which gives it the appearance of wearing a Dracula-style cape. That, and its reddish-black colour. (Slightly disappointingly, it doesn’t actually drink blood.)

2. It is thought to be the only surviving member of an ancient Order. A taxonomical Order, that is. The other creatures that have been classified as belonging to this group are all extinct, and known to us only from fossils.

3. It lives in the murky depths. In fact the depths it inhabits aren’t just murky, they’re pitch-black: it spends its time 2000-3000 metres below the surface, where no light penetrates at all. No other cephalopod is found at such depths.

So while this particular synchronicity was of the offbeat, almost comedic variety, there were nevertheless obvious resonances with the Shoreline current. But there was something else too. I’d recently been taking an interest in the work of the British occultist Kenneth Grant, someone I’d previously dismissed as a wild fantasist, perhaps even psychotic. Discussions with Dr Champagne of English Heretic, exposure to the English Heretic album Tales of the New Isis Lodge (based on Grant’s life and writings), and this typically passionate and brilliant piece by Alan Moore all combined to make me take a second look.

Dissecting the vampire squid

I had originally planned to write a potted biography of Grant here, but I am no expert on him and would simply be recycling information readily available elsewhere (you could start with this sympathetic obituary, or this drily sceptical one). Regarding his writing, there is an informative primer available as a free pdf from Starfire Publishing, custodians of his work and legacy. But the appeal of his written work is summed up beautifully by Alan Moore:

As fascinating and as ultimately mystifying as a giant squid in a cocktail dress, what shall we make of Kenneth Grant? I know few occultists without at least a passing interest in his work, and I know fewer still who would profess to have the first idea what he is on about. What he is on. To open any Grant text following his relatively lucid Magical Revival is to plunge into an information soup, an overwhelming and hallucinatory bouillon of arcane fact, mystic speculation and apparent outright fantasy, as appetising (and as structured) as a dish of Gumbo. The delicious esoteric fragments tumble past in an incessant boil of prose, each morsel having the authentic taste of magic, each entirely disconnected from the morsel which preceded it… The onslaught of compulsive weirdness in Grant’s work is unrelenting… a hot shrapnel of ideas, intense and indiscriminate. A shotgun full of snails and amethysts discharged point blank into the reader’s face.

So much of this article cries out to be quoted- read the whole thing. And note that “..giant squid in a cocktail dress..” line. That is what made me think Kenneth Grant! when the vampire squid coincidence/synchronicity occurred.

In fact, it may not have been that specific line that caused that inner bell to ring (despite its similarity to the actuality of the squid in the billowing cape), because I’ve been reading a fair bit about Grant recently, and almost invariably there is mention of slithering tentacled creatures and the like, Grantworld being very much that kind of place. “The tentacled face is a typically Grantian motif” notes this excellent piece by Phil Legard, which also mentions one of Grant’s most celebrated/notorious passages, from his book Hecate’s Fountain, an apparently straight-faced account of bizarre goings-on in a derelict Welsh chapel:

…  one of Grant’s most memorable rituals, culminating as it did with a priestess dressed as a butterfly giving oral sex to the priapic manifestation of a Mayan bat god… and whatever you may think about Grant’s work, that’s a pretty striking image.

Quite.

It’s hard to know how to follow that, but in all the excitement I mustn’t forget to show you the octopus picture that led me to the squid. This is also by Mark Penxa, and as well as the image itself, I very much like the phrase that floats around it…

… which, in both its intensity and its paradox, could almost be a slogan for the Shoreline itself.

13 responses to “Vampire Squid From Hell

  1. Pingback: Vampire Squid From Hell | The Haunted Shoreline | Grandma Network

  2. The “Burning in water, drowning in flame” line is from Bukowski, in case you haven’t made that connection yet.

    • Thanks for that info- no, I didn’t know that…I never did get around to reading Bukowski. I always vaguely intended to, but by the time I’d spent a few years reading Burroughs, my appetite for the literature of self-destruction seemed to be sated. I may be missing out…

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  6. Is that the Alan Moore of Ronin and Watchmen fame? I can relate about the synchronicity part; I’m interested in your thoughts on that (I have yet to immerse myself in your blog), for I have had a lot of experiences where my inner thoughts sometimes synchronize with what’s happening in my external reality. The boundaries separating these two worlds can sometimes be blurred.

    On another note, what are your thoughts on Lovecraft? With all these weird creatures, it just dawned on me that your blog has that same kind of feel as an HPL world (Again, still have to peruse your blog as of this writing – sorry! Oh, and that was meant to be a compliment; I’m an HPL fan)

    • It’s that Alan Moore, yes. His work in more recent times has been highly ‘occultural’ – if you look him up on Youtube there’s plenty of interesting vids of him expounding his worldview.

      A lot of what I write here is the product of a particular method of identifying the liminal thresholds of my own psyche with the shoreline- and not just in a metaphorical sense, but with the actual shoreline, where I live. It is up to the reader to decide how to take this. I have no problem if people see it as simply a storytellng method, a way of weaving yarns around the things I find on the beach. Of course, it is true that this mingling of inner and outer realities is also a hallmark of psychosis, so one has to be able to step back from it and laugh at its inherent absurdity, even as one treasures what one has found. I may write more about this in a future post.

      Regarding HPL- I knew someone would ask this, sooner or later… well, at the risk of bringng down the wrath of his many admirers, I find his writing hit-and-miss. His ideas/themes interest me, but his prose is often overwrought, and can get rather repetitive- all that stuff about the Terrible Nameless Horror Of It All is laid on with a trowel at times and it gets a bit schlocky, for my taste, and actually detracts from the atmosphere… although I think these may be exactly the things that a lot of people like in his writing. That said, there are some superb HPL short stories: I especially like “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and “The Rats in the Walls”- the latter is a particularly striking example of psychoanalytic ideas given story form. I know Alan Moore has written something about Lovecraft, and would be curious to read that.

      The sea creatures you see here aren’t derived from Lovecraft particularly- there’s also Dali for example, or indeed Captain Beefheart, and also my interest in fossils… plus, of course, the fact that I do live by the sea.

      • Thanks for the kind reply=) I like your writing, and the photography is great as well. Your blog seems to me a delightful read that’s meant to be slowly relished.

        I’ll try to look up those HPL short stories. You’re right; he seems to go on and on about those horrifying old gods from beyond, and many stories seem to have the same general theme of terrible entities which come from some other dimension. Although I did like that theme at the start.

        Alan Moore seems too eccentric, but I guess I can’t judge him on that. Maybe that’s exactly the kind of thinking that produces such magnificent creations as those he has written so far. Yeah, it would be interesting to know his take on Lovecraft.

        S. Dali, Beefheart – would be googling that in a while.

    • great posts=) i especially liked dali’s rose. can’t wrap my head around his more surreal aspects yet, and psychoanalysis, freud or jung even less. Maybe one day i’ll dig up more on all these, when life is not in the way =)

      it’s a good introduction for me, though. i wonder what views dali ended up espousing before he passed away. googling!

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