To See A World…


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.


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:


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.


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


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:


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:


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…


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. 





A Sorcerous Angle


On April 27th I’ll be speaking at this free event hosted by Goldsmiths College, University of London. The day will bring together a range of artists, writers, and performers, including old friends of the Shoreline English Heretic and Mark O Pilkington, writer Ken Hollings, artists Dean Kenning, John Cussans, and Lisa Cradduck, and writer and activist Mark Fisher. The loose theme of the day will be that of a documentary format for the performances and presentations, alluding to a (now largely defunct) style of high quality investigative reporting exemplified by 1970s TV current affairs shows  such as Weekend World or World in Action (Channel 4’s Dispatches might be the closest thing we have to this today). It remains to be seen how the various participants will interpret this remit, although don’t necessarily expect them to take it too literally.

Your correspondent will be speaking early on in the day, which starts at 1pm (so get there early, ya  slackers). My talk will present a potted summary of my Shoreline perambulations and investigations, showcasing the mysterious forces swirling around the stretch of the East Sussex coastline that I choose to call the Haunted Shoreline. And there’s a nice thematic link with another scheduled talk: writer, historian and all-round good egg Antony Clayton will also be talking about events on the Sussex coast – his most recent book Netherwood details the last days of that dastardly fellow Aleister Crowley, which were spent at a Hastings guesthouse called, you guessed it, Netherwood- Tony’s meticulous research into the story of the house itself is interwoven with, and is every bit as interesting as, his recounting of the Beast’s twilight years there (I’m not an admirer of Crowley, though he is undoubtedly an intriguing and thought-provoking figure, and some engagement with his life and work is pretty much unavoidable for anyone interested in esotericism).

There are more details of the event here and here. In my ‘day job’, which I don’t write about here, it is not unusual for me to give talks in an academic setting, but this will be the first time that the liminal tides of the Shoreline have rolled into academia’s hallowed halls. Hope to see some of you there.


Heavy Metal

Here is the latest object of wonder to wash up from the depths at the psycho-alchemical arena of Saltdean beach – a large lump of oxidised iron ore embedded in stone, which I found at the edge of the tide, right on the very cusp of the Shoreline. I say ‘lump’- as far as I can ascertain the correct geological term is ‘nodule‘- any geologists reading are welcome to confirm or correct this. The whole thing is about the size of a tennis ball cut in half, but what the picture can’t communicate is the weight, the impressive heft of it. That will have to wait for such time as technology permits an immersive virtual reality version of the blog. In the meantime, just know that it’s heavy.

Here’s the other side of it…

.. and from this angle you can see that it is partially pyritised – that is, iron pyrite, a sulfide of iron commonly known as ‘fool’s gold’, has formed. There are little speckles of this ‘gold’ over the lower part of the nodule, and in the lower right-hand part it has formed distinctive ‘rays’, like a nascent version of the ‘pyrite suns’ sold by fossil and gemstone stores – see below for an example.


Now, iron is one of the ‘base metals’ of alchemy, and here we have iron in the process of turning to ‘gold’. So, an example of the transmutation of metals? Come off it, you say- it’s fool’s gold. Isn’t it meant to be, you know, actual gold? In fact, couldn’t we interpret this find as a damning indictment of all this alchemical shenanigans, this quixotic quest for transformation and truth? Doesn’t our iron nodule seem to say- yeah, there’s gold at the end of that cosmic rainbow, alright.. but it’s the gold of fools… so if you’re a seeker, you’re a sucker.

However, as we noted before, in esoteric (as opposed to exoteric) alchemy, the goal is nothing so vulgar as material wealth- rather, the ‘gold’ that the alchemist seeks is a metaphor for some inner transformation. The words used to express what this is will vary between times and cultures and need not detain us- what interests me here is the symbolism of fool’s gold itself. Specifically, the figure of the fool.

The Fool is the first Major Arcanum of the Tarot, and is numbered 0 (not 1 – we’ll come back to that). If the Major Arcana represent a journey, then the Fool is its protagonist and starting point, and here we see him embarking on his quest. In fact it appears he is about to step off a precipice, oblivious to the danger of being dashed on the rocks below. The usual interpretation is that this represents the leaving of the terra firma of Reason, and with it the step into the unknown that begins the Fool’s adventure. Foolhardy indeed it may be, but without this step, there can be no journey through the spiritual realm (or the labyrinth of Being, or the levels of consciousness, or whatever form of words you want to use).

But while the journey may have a starting point, it has no end- because the Fool’s path will eventually lead him back to the beginning. He may be wiser, but he he is still a Fool, and must undertake his quest again, and again, and again…

Here there are obvious parallels with the Ouroboros, symbol of renewal and recurrence. As we noted above, the Fool is said to correspond to the number 0 – and what better symbol for this circular path? Indeed, what better symbol for the beginning of things- the Void from which Manifestation arises.

Standing on the precipice of the clifftop at Saltdean, looking out to the seas that call my name, I have often felt like the Fool I undoubtedly am…

.. . and this being the Haunted Shoreline, there was a strange synchronicitous twist to this remarkable find. Walking back from the beach, my eye was caught by another gleaming piece of metal, lying on the pavement as I neared home:

A squarish piece of metal, about the size of a postage stamp, with some frayed black rubber hanging off it. It looks like it might have come from a tyre – franky, I have no idea what it is. But note the letters ‘Fe’ embossed on the corners. Fe, of course, is the chemical symbol for iron. As I turned the strange silver square around in my fingers, the iron nodule seemed to burn in my jacket pocket, and the wind whispered a song of the Uncanny.

Indeed this little metal square looks rather like the images typically used to illustrate the elements of the periodic table- see here, for example. However, the other characters embossed upon it do not accord with this: 10 is not the atomic number of iron (that would be 26), and then there is the large ‘X’ in the centre- although this could just be another rendering of 10, X being the Roman numeral for 10. But ten what? The ten magical grades… the ten spheres of the Tree of Life.. the ten green bottles hanging on the wall?

Who knows? A man can drive himself mad trying too hard to extract meaning from (or impose meaning upon) the matrix of strangeness that causes things like this to wash up, and after a while I stopped racking my brains over it, and simply acknowledged that this particular Mystery was too baffling for this particular Fool.

But I can, I think, suggest a meaning for the iron nodule with which we began.

If the Fool is the perennial seeker, then we might feel able to say that fool’s gold is, paradoxically, the true alchemical ‘gold’ of inner attainment, thus turning the earlier interpretation on its head. Certainly anyone approaching our nodule of pyrite in a spirit of worldly avarice will be disappointed: its ‘gold’ is worth little in material terms, and will indeed make a fool of anyone who tries to become rich from it. But when the Shoreline Wanderer turns the hallucinated gaze of psychedelic omnivision upon this latest find, he seems to see, through veils of Mystery, glimmerings of Truth – sparkling and radiant like the stars.

A Tentacled Triptych

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.

Like this:

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?