Last Rites: An Unbroken Circle

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Having realised (see previous post) that the Shoreline project had come to an end, there was one final act I wished to perform to formally close the circle and mark the end of my two-and-half-year stint as Accursed Prophet of the Haunted Shoreline, or whatever it was exactly. It has taken longer than I anticipated for all the necessary conditions to be in place for these last rites, but they have at last been enacted, and I leave you now with the photographic evidence and some final thoughts.

This thing began in 2011, with the discovery of the flint ‘head of Anubis’, and as I have noted before this was a most appropriate symbolic initiation into the liminal world of the Shoreline. The theme of cyclic renewal has been a consistent one throughout, and I knew there was only one way to satisfactorily pay tribute to the Shoreline while respecting this principle. It was time for Anubis to go back to the Underworld. I took the flint head down to the water’s edge as the tide was coming in, and watched as the sea washed over it, knocking it onto its side before it disappeared, bobbing occasionally as I lingered, before finally I turned away and slowly walked home. I felt a sense of gratitude, but also of release.

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Thank you to all readers for your attention, with particular gratitude to those fellow bloggers who have checked in here regularly, offering comments and encouragement – they know who they are. In the previous post, I mentioned a new project that has started to take shape, and I was flattered when a number of readers contacted me to ask for more details of this. It is not, however, a project that will be publicly documented, at least not in the form that the Shoreline has been, and it is unlikely to have an internet presence. In the meantime, this site’s ‘about’ page has been updated to reflect the fact that the project has now ended.

There are a couple of other things to mention before signing off. ‘Underworld Service’, the new album from old friend of the Shoreline, Andy Sharp aka English Heretic, is out soon, and among other delights it will contain a few minutes of a lengthy conversation that Andy and I recorded some time back. Other parts of that recording may see the light of the day in due course. And on September 13th,  if you’re anywhere near the East Sussex coast, come to Fort Process – a day of talks and music in the splendidly atmospheric surroundings of Newhaven Fort. Some big names of improv and avant-garde music (Peter Brötzmann, Steve Noble, John Butcher, Max Eastley and Thomas Köner, just for starters) will be playing, and there will also be talks – including one by your correspondent, in which I will cast an eye over the Haunted Shoreline, now that it has been brought to a kind of completion.

What was it all about? Were all those signs and portents, gleaned from flotsam and pebbles, of any actual consequence in the end? Or was it all just an exercise in playing with symbols and meanings – an amusing enough diversion but, in the end, a frivolous one?

As I mentioned once before, the project initially took shape in the aftermath of drastic emotional upheavals and the ending of a previous cycle of my muddled progress through this predicament we call the human condition. For me, it has had a significance that may not be immediately obvious from the sometimes tongue-in-cheek style in which I have documented it here. Events on the Shoreline, and the themes and concepts to which they have persistently alluded, have mirrored events in my day-to-day life to an uncanny degree, in ways in which I would not dream of writing about here.

Was there a final culmination to the alchemical quest – did I find the Philosopher’s Stone? Well, no, and I don’t think it works quite like that. But I have completed quite a voyage, and stand now on the threshold of a new venture, a new alchemical process. Having pursued these threads through some intuitive stratagem positioned at the shoreline of art and occult practice, I will say only that the Shoreline, the Haunted Shoreline, made a believer out of me.

Thanks, and goodbye. And if you want to dive back in, and let the current take you round once more, go here.

To See A World…


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For some time now, the Shoreline has been trying to tell me something.

It is difficult to pinpoint when it began – perhaps it was the change in the current towards the end of last year, or perhaps it was when the Shoreline manifested the Wheel Of Fortune, with its implicit suggestion of turning full circle, a cycle completed. And indeed I have been mulling that over ever since – only for the Shoreline to admonish this over-analysing, and push me to stop thinking and act. And now, two separate finds have made the message unavoidable.

The first is the beach ball shown above. As you can see, it is a representation of the world – and I found it not on the beach but in my back garden. It isn’t mine – my guess is that it was blown into its leafy hiding place during the winter storms, and then lay hidden for months amid the weeds and tall grass, until finally being revealed while I was cutting back the overgrown jungle of the garden a few days ago.

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In the Tarot, the World is the final card of the 22 Major Arcana – the culmination of the journey that begins with the Fool. It represents completion, ending, the closure of one cycle and the start of another. Some of its pictorial language is familiar from previous communications from the Shoreline: the symbols of the four Evangelists arranged around the corners, and the presence of the great self-resurrecting World Serpent, Ouroboros.

Then on yesterday’s beach walk, the Shoreline presented me with this small, but highly charged, double-sided stone totem:

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The head of Janus: two sides of the same coin

Many of the objects of wonder that have washed ashore and fuelled this strange quest have been in the form of stone faces, but here we have a stone with two faces, one on each side. This, then, is Janus, the Roman god said to rule all the other deities of the pantheon, the god who looks both forward and back, the god of portals and gateways, endings and new beginnings.

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The message is now inescapable, and to ignore it, or pretend I have not seen it, would be a betrayal of my whole engagement with the Shoreline over the last two and a half years.

So this is the end of the Haunted Shoreline project. There will be one further post here, to reflect and sum up, and then your correspondent’s alchemical quest will take a new form. This new venture is currently taking shape, slowly hatching from the egg of Ouroboros, but that is all I can say for now.

Thanks to all those who have followed this peculiar saga, and I hope you will join me here again soon for the last rites.

The Wheel Of Fortune: Springtime For Anubis

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As with the previous post, the latest message from the Shoreline comes in the form of synthetic detritus, washed up from the depths onto the beach, on this occasion at Birling Gap, near Beachy Head, a place I hadn’t visited for a while. A recent stroll along the shore there yielded a number of interesting and, in some cases, amusing finds.

Towards the end of last year I theorised that there had been a change in the alchemical polarity of the Shoreline current, from feminine to masculine. The Shoreline now appeared to confirm this in the most direct way possible – yes, it only went and got its cock out:

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Punning aside, the most striking find was the large plastic ‘wheel’ pictured above, which had come to rest in such a way that it called to mind the Wheel Of Fortune from the Tarot:

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This card drips with allusions – the angel, eagle, lion and bull arranged around the corners are the symbols of the four Evangelists… the letters on the Wheel itself can be read as ‘TORA’, ‘ROTA’ or ‘TAROT’… the interspersed Hebrew letters form the Tetragrammaton, the name of God in Judaic tradition. Then there’s the serpent wriggling down one side of the wheel, an image we have considered many times (for example here).

But here I want to focus on the horned figure that seems to be carrying the Wheel, or perhaps rising into manifestation as the Wheel turns. Most sources seem to agree that this is a representation of our old friend Anubis. The combination of Anubis and the turning Wheel is particularly apposite for the Haunted Shoreline, as Anubis was the start of this quixotic venture, back in December 2011. It was the discovery of the flint ‘head of Anubis’, also at Birling Gap, that signalled to me that it was time to embark on this psychonautical cave-diving expedition: not only was the find simply too striking to ignore, but it was also entirely appropriate, because Anubis, as we have seen elsewhere, is the guardian of the underworld, and accompanies the deceased as they make the transition from the waking world to the afterlife, from the mundane to the imaginal… or, in Shoreline terms, from land to sea. Anubis seemed the perfect starting point, not only for me, but for visitors to the blog – an initiatory presence that would guide them into the world of the Haunted Shoreline (at this point, I naively imagined that interested readers would begin at the beginning and work their way through the thing, and its various interconnected strands, as if it were a kind of novel or map. But I soon realised that most internet surfing is done in gadfly fashion; very few people engage with a website the way they might with a book).

I have often considered revisiting Anubis and saying more about his initiatory aspect here – that original post, simply a pair of images and a link to a painting I considered very relevant – was perhaps too idiosyncratic and allusive to convey the meanings at which I was aiming. But somehow it has never seemed the right time. Until now. The winter storms have passed at last, Spring is here, the Wheel Of Fortune turns, and we are back where we started. Maybe the period of time between then and now is a Shoreline Year, or something. Maybe this is even the end of the project – as ever, I have no clear idea of where it will go next, instead I simply await further signs from the beach, and from the ebb and flow of daily life.

There is, however, one other important message encoded in this latest beach find. The plastic ‘wheel’ is actually part of a lobster pot, smashed by the sea and washed up on the shore. In the last post we considered mental liberation: the breaking of William Blake’s mind-forg’d manacles. Now we have an actual revolution – in the sense of a full turn of the Wheel. Not only that, but this is a Surrealist revolution: a smashed lobster pot. Yes, the lobster is out of its pot, and who knows what mischief will follow as it roams free across the shores of consciousness…

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The first issue of La Révolution Surréaliste, Paris, 1924

 

Meditate on this. Tell everyone you know, and keep watching the shores. The lobster is out of its pot. 

 

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The Head Of Sobek

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As the year comes to a close amid violent midwinter storms here on the south coast, it’s a fitting time to tie up the threads of recent posts and bring the blog up to date with developments on the Shoreline. In the previous post I wrote about the appearance of the Great God Pan while I was away on Dartmoor. Pan is an avatar of male lust and potency, the masculine (pro)creative. So it was intriguing that, on a twilight beach walk some weeks after returning home, I found this large piece of flint washed up in a rockpool. Now, this is of course ‘just a rock’, not any kind of fossil. But the signs are always there and this rock’s striking resemblance to a crocodile head…

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.. immediately put me in mind of the crocodile-headed Egyptian god, Sobek:

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And here’s a more, erm, contemporary take on Sobek:

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As with other deities of Ancient Egypt, the nature and degree of veneration accorded to Sobek, and the properties and significance attributed to him, varied between different centres and periods. However, the common thread is that Sobek is a fiery, violent, masculine force, associated with war and turmoil. In times of conflict, you want him on your side. In times of calm, it may be necessary to placate him to keep the peace.

A manifestation of Sobek, following hard on the cloven hooves of Pan, is therefore something of a double whammy. It seems to me to suggest a switch in the alchemical polarity of the Haunted Shoreline. Hitherto the female principle has generally been to the fore: consider the Wombstone, the mermaid’s purse, the numerous appearances of the female surrealist and embodiment of female Hermeticism, Leonora Carrington. But these recent developments seem to indicate a change in the flow of the mythic tide.

What this means, or what should be expected, I do not know, but as I sit here typing on one of the wildest, stormiest nights I can recall, in the Shoreline’s etheric current there is something swirling, coalescing, taking shape.

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The Great God Pan: Machen on the Moor

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Last month I went to Devon for a couple of weeks, spending most of that time wandering the fastnesses of Dartmoor. The photo above was taken at Lydford Gorge, a beautiful wooded valley traversed by the river Lyd. The river’s course through the gorge includes a dramatic whirlpool known as the Devil’s Cauldron – see here for more on the gorge and its flora and fauna. And ‘fauna’ is an apposite word for the satyr-like simulacrum above, which immediately brought to mind Arthur Machen, the mystical Welsh author of The Great God Pan.

Arthur Machen, 1863-1947

Arthur Machen, 1863-1947

Although Machen’s name was very familiar to me, being regularly bandied about by writers I read and people I know, at the time of discovering the face of Pan in the bole of a Devonian tree I had not actually read any of his work. I have rectified that now, reading The Great God Pan and another, slightly later, novella, A Fragment Of Life. It is not my intention to summarise these stories here, but they share some common elements: the idea of a mysterious realm existing beneath the surface of, or at some odd angle to, everyday reality, and a thinly-veiled eroticism based around the eerie, magical qualities of natural places, particularly woodlands. At the risk of upsetting his admirers (a category that probably includes most of my regular readers) I did not think The Great God Pan was well written – I especially disliked the dialogue: the (barely developed and virtually interchangeable) characters do not so much engage in conversation as inflict ponderous, plot-explicating soliloquies on each other. A Fragment of Life impressed me far more and I highly recommend it. But however uneven some of the writing may be, both stories successfully conjure a heady, charged, paganistic atmosphere that stays with the reader long after.

But before all that, before settling down to read, I took (inevitably) to the internet to learn more about Machen, and came across the Friends of Arthur Machen website, which includes a number of illustrative quotes from Machen’s writings. I was struck by this one, taken from The Hill Of Dreams..

On this summit oaks had grown, queer stunted-looking trees with twisted and contorted trunks, and writhing branches; and these now stood out black against the lighted sky.

.. because it sounded exactly like another place I had visited on Dartmoor: Wistman’s Wood.

Wistman’s Wood is a curious, otherworldly place: a collection of dwarf oaks, situated at high altitude (by the standards of southern England) in the heart of the moor, and accessible only by footpath. The dwarf oaks do indeed have twisted and contorted trunks, and writhing branches

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A great deal of sinister folklore clings to Wistman’s Wood: even its name alludes to these associations, being derived from a local dialect word, wisht, meaning ‘eerie’ or ‘haunted’. Among other things, the wood is said to be infested with poisonous adders, to be haunted by a range of spooks and spirits, and to have been a Druids’ grove, depending on which particular legend you favour.  Perhaps the most striking tale is that of the Wild Hunt, a procession of ghostly horses and demonic riders accompanied by a terrifying pack of hellhounds. The Hunt is said to set out from Wistman’s Wood and ride across the moor by night, seizing unwary travellers and carrying them off to the infernal realms. Legends of the Wild Hunt persist, with local variants, in many European countries – see here for more.

Another Wistman’s Wood story is that when darkness falls, the dwarf oaks come alive as malevolent anthropoid figures. If you are there at twilight, as I was, it is easy to see how such legends have developed – as the light fades, some of the trees do indeed take on an oddly humanoid appearance:

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All in all, Wistman’s Wood is a decidedly Machen-esque place – you can read more about its myths and legends here – and it seemed a perfect match for the queer stunted oaks quote above. And after some Googling, I discovered that in his story A Fragment Of Life, Machen even mentions a place called Wistman’s Wood. The story’s protagonist, Edward Darnell, works as a city clerk, but finds himself drawn inexorably towards a kind of hallucinatory nature mysticism. He delves into old family documents, trying to understand what is happening to him:

Here, then, he read of the Holy Well, hidden in the Wistman’s Wood — Sylva Sapientum — a fountain of abundant water, which no heats of summer can ever dry, which no flood can ever defile, which is as a water of life, to them that thirst for life

This wood, mentioned only once in the story, is located in Wales, from where the fictional Darnell (like the real-life Machen) originates. But I wonder- did Machen take the name Wistman’s Wood from the actual wood on Dartmoor? I would be intrigued to know whether anyone has made this connection before, and I hope that readers more familiar with Machen’s work may be able to enlighten me on this point.

So my sojourn in Devon had repeatedly brought me into contact with Machen, and the kinds of entities and atmospheres that pervade his writing. The great god Pan is earthy, animal, an avatar of mischief, lust, and rising sap. And I was soon to discover, on returning home to East Sussex, that the Shoreline had something to say about all that. But that’s another story, for another day.

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