The Mind in the Cage

whelk_eggcases

And still they come – the fearsome storms of recent weeks persist, and the consequent roiling and churning of the ocean continues to result in all manner of strange detritus, both natural and man-made, washing up from the depths and onto the beach. On 9th February (9/02 – a significant formula in Shoreline numerology) there was a day of respite, and although it didn’t last it did at least give me the opportunity to take a walk on Saltdean beach at low tide, and see what fresh wonders the sea had brought. The first thing I found was that part of the beach was littered with whelk egg cases, a few of which are shown in the picture above. These are not, in fact, particularly unusual finds, but normally one finds the odd one here and there, not dozens of them as was the case on the 9th. The symbolism of eggs, fertility, and gestation has been considered here many times (new readers can find more on that here, here, and here), so I will not reiterate those ideas – instead I want to focus on the fact that these particular egg cases look very much like brains. And mere moments after being struck by this resemblance, I came across this assemblage of flotsam…

mindincage_b

… and immediately the phrase the mind in the cage bobbed up from the depths onto the shores of my consciousness.

The mind in the cage – echoes of William Blake’s mind-forg’d manacles, the psychospiritual ties and conventions that bind, restrain and imprison us. But here the violence of the stormy sea has blown the cage open… and elsewhere on the beach there were further fragments of meaning. A little further on I found this:

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An orange rubber glove may not seem the most esoterically charged of objects, but the signs are always there and this particular glove is a dead ringer for the one in Giorgio de Chirico’s 1914 painting The Song of Love:

De_Chirico's_Love_Song

This painting predates the Surrealist movement by a decade, but its motif of familiar objects in unfamiliar and dreamlike juxtaposition is clearly proto-surrealist and it was a key influence on the subsequent art and method of the Surrealists.

Put these pieces together, and the meaning becomes apparent. The anger of the storm, the turmoil of the ocean… all this is the violent upheaval- some might call it a revolution – required to blow open the doors of our mental cages and take the dizzying leap into the Marvellous. The psychological and political implications are clear.

One may not draw comfort from this, but one can imbibe something altogether rarer: hope.

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The Feather Of Maat

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The final beach walk of 2013 yielded this curious piece of driftwood, which immediately struck me as haunted, crackling with life. I photographed it in situ on the beach, but only after I had picked it up and turned it around did I see what it was.

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A feather – and given the recent return of Ancient Egyptian themes to the Shoreline, in the person of the crocodile-headed god Sobek, I was able to recognise it as (or, if you prefer, I decided on a whim to call it) the Feather of Maat.

Maat was an Egyptian goddess associated with truth, virtue, and justice.

Maat

The Feather of Maat was involved in the Weighing of the Heart, which, according to the prevailing religious myths of Ancient Egypt, was an essential stage of the journey into the afterlife. The heart of the deceased was placed on the scales and weighed against the Feather as a test of purity.

maat-scales

maat-scales_cropped

Here we see the heart on the left scale, the feather on the right, the weighing being conducted by our old friend Anubis, Guardian of the Shoreline (and we have previously considered the Weighing itself too, when meditating on the scarab stone).

If the heart weighs the same as the feather, the deceased may progress, journeying through the gates of the afterlife towards Aaru, paradise.

But if the heart fails the test, it will be devoured by Ammut, and the deceased will be condemned to remain in Duat, the underworld.

I decided to weigh the wooden ‘feather’. Remarkably, it weighs 21 grams – the precise figure
claimed by the eccentric turn-of-the-century Massachusetts physican Duncan MacDougall to be the mass of a human soul. MacDougall’s experiments (which involved weighing dying patients before and after death) were bizarre and unscientific, but the notion of 21 grams as “the weight of the soul” has persisted as a trope in popular culture, most recently in the 2003 film called simply “21 Grams”. Remember, to pass the Weighing, the soul must weigh exactly the same as the feather. So make what you will of the fact that this driftwood totem weighs 21 grams.

That aside, the Weighing of the Heart is an apposite image for this particular time – because, as I type, we are, here in the UK at least, in the first minutes of 2014, standing uncertainly at the threshold of past and future. Around the world, in private or public, people are hoping for better, replenishing their optimism, wishing each other well, and swearing oaths and promises, resolutions for the perilous journey ahead. Will we make it to Aaru, or find ourselves lost in Duat (again)?

Good luck, as you face your own personal reckoning at the turning of the year. You may need it.

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The Star in the East

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East Sussex, that is.

This is what I found on my Christmas day beach walk. I’ve never found a starfish on this stretch of coast before – it seems reasonable to assume the current stormy weather has churned the sea to a degree that creatures that usually live on the sea bed are being washed ashore. And as ever, the Shoreline is topical:

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (Matthew 2, 9-10).

Pondering the founding myth of Christianity led me to recall this recent piece from Stuart Inman in the surrealism-related Arcturus Journal, which draws threads between surrealism and certain forms of Gnosticism. I was particularly struck by this quote:

The divine light is actually a human light that has been stolen, not from the gods, but from us by religion.  Thus Prometheus returns to us what is ours.

And in this spirit, here is another way of looking at the star:

Leonardo-da-Vinci-Vitruvian-Man_cropped

The Spirit Of Christmas

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From 1958 to 1976, Salvador Dali, commissioned by a large company, designed an annual Christmas card. The example shown above is from 1971, and might have been designed specifically for the Haunted Shoreline: the dangerously erotic siren appears to be arising from the very shoreline itself, an avatar of the liminal. What better image than this to bestow the compliments of the season on all who pass by this place. And do take the time to peruse the rest of Dali’s festive greetings cards, along with some background information, here. Season’s greetings to you all.

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:

Sobek - Large_cropped

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.

Head_of_Sobek