I haven’t updated for a few weeks, and to fully explain events on the Shoreline during this period requires me to indulge in that most English of pastimes: talking about the weather. Recently the country has basked in a mini-heatwave, as all media outlets have styled it. To me it seemed like a regular heatwave, just one that didn’t last that long. But what do I know?
Prior to that, however, UK readers will recall that it rained. And rained, and rained, and rained. In fact for several weeks the Shoreline- and most of the rest of the country- experienced near-continual rain. During this time, the sea roiled and churned, and I wondered what would come up from the depths.
Some three weekends ago, the rain stopped abruptly and, yea, the Sun shone on the south coast. This lasted only an hour or so before the deluge resumed. But in that hour, your correspondent, seizing the moment, got himself down to Saltdean beach as the tide was receding, to see what the rains had brought. And there I found a multitude of cuttlebones; one is pictured above.
Cuttlebones are the remants of dead cuttlefish. In the living creature this structure forms a hard internal skeleton of sorts. It is not, strictly speaking, bone, being made of aragonite (a calcium-based mineral). Non-beachcombers may have seen cuttlebones for sale as bird treats: apparently our feathered friends like nothing better than to peck at a nourishing, calcium-rich dried cuttlebone, suspended at feeding height.
The cuttlefish is, like our old friend the vampire squid, a cephalopod, and I immediately realised that this was yet another manifestation of the tentacled face, following on from the vampire squid and the belemnites. A triple whammy. What do they want, these slithery visages? Why do they keep looming up from the depths and sticking their tentacles in my face? I felt sure there was more to come, and resolved to investigate further on future visits to the beach.
In the meantime, I consulted one of the Shoreline oracles, Chevalier and Gheerbrant’s Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, a book I’ve often mentioned here. It has only a short entry on the cuttlefish, in which it mentions a myth of the Nootka Indians, of Vancouver. The story is set in prehistory, before Man had understood how to make fire. At this time, the myth relates, the cuttlefish was the master and guardian of fire, and humans only began to have control of fire after the deer stole it from the cuttlefish, and gave it to Man (why the deer chose to do this is not recorded, and I have not been able to find any more on this legend from other sources). But how could the cuttlefish mind the fire while in the depths of the ocean? It turns out it wasn’t a problem- at this time, the myth states, the cuttlefish lived on both land and sea- just like our old friend the mudfish. In other words it was, like the mudfish, a liminal creature… a Shoreline creature.
I have written here about the dangers of stretching Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious too far, and I am not sufficiently fanciful to wish to draw a line between the fire myths of the Nootka Indians and the beaches of East Sussex. But if I were… if I were… if we go with it, and allow that the cuttlefish is a symbol of fire, the cuttlebones washed ashore at this time could be the answer to a conundrum that has often struck me as I walk the Shoreline… the fact that the beach is where Earth, Air, and Water meet.. but there is no Fire. If the cuttlebones represent Fire, then their appearance on the shore means that all the elements are in place for the alchemical process.
But that would, as I said, be fanciful…
.. so what else was there to glean from this tentacled triptych of Shoreline happenstance?
Some obvious associations presented themselves… H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos… Kenneth Grant… yes… but there was, I felt certain, more to come, and when at length the rains desisted, I enlisted my 7 year-old daughter as assistant on another beachcombing walk at Saltdean.
“We’re looking for faces with tentacles on them”, I informed her breezily as we descended the stone steps to the beach. “OK Daddy” she said, taking it in her stride as children do. Then a moment later, “Daddy! Look!”
She pointed in astonishment at the stone wall of the sea defences.
There was a row of these faces, each one heavily tentacled, graffiti’d in chalk on the wall.
We pondered… laughed… I took photos. Then we moved off and wandered the beach, inspecting likely-looking pebbles and prodding the long-suffering anemones in the rockpools. When home called, we retraced our path, back past the sea wall, and I had a last look at the chalk faces. Only this time, I was standing on the other side of the wall, so they were the other way up.
Somewhat Tintin-esque.. and this is, let’s face it, almost certainly how they were in fact drawn, and how they were intended to be viewed.
Begging the question… does the appearance of the ‘tentacled face’ thus become somehow invalidated?
Well… it all depends how you look at it, doesn’t it?