A Coded Coda: Words Made Flesh

rubedo

The last post here was in July 2014, and represented the closing of a loop, a circle unbroken – an entirely appropriate way to bring it all to a close. As I wrote at the time, there was no clear resolution to the alchemical process that had unfolded over the previous two-and-a-half-years:

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.

It is interesting to re-read these words and reflect on them today. Because throughout the Shoreline project, there was, in fact, a sense that it was leading somewhere – that there would be some kind of culmination. On one of the final beachcombing expeditions, I had found an unusual stone ‘cup’, photographed here in situ on the beach at Birling Gap:

imag1764

This find made quite an impression on me at the time, and I nearly used it as the basis for a final post, in which I would claim it to be the Holy Grail, or at least the Grail of the Shoreline. But this felt a little too glib: the idea was resonant, but seemed strangely incomplete.

Just over a year ago, I experienced a series of events which made the current – I might now say the prophecy – of the Shoreline manifest. These events are too personal to detail here – which may seem frustrating to those who followed the project throughout – how can I convince you that there was a magical fruition, one that arrived in a dizzying sunburst of synchronicities, if I do not detail it? Throughout the Shoreline venture, I tried to keep the question of ‘belief’ irrelevant (more on this here), so it is interesting to note that I nevertheless wrote, in the final post, that the Shoreline had “made a believer out of me”. But it does not concern me whether or not anyone else is persuaded – and in any event, whatever I were to write, there would of course be the usual rationalist refutations available: “these are just coincidences”, “you’re seeing patterns because you want to”, and so forth. Would these rebuttals be valid? Does it matter? Isn’t it like arguing that an extraordinary piece of music is merely a string of sounds: factually correct, but missing the point?

For some time I have been considering adding this coda, to mark the fact that everything did, in the end, reach a resolution, a culmination, a Revelation. I have been unsure how best to do it, or whether to do it at all. But in a week’s time – at Winter solstice- I will be moving house, away from the Shoreline (though I suspect I will be forever intertwined with it, and in any case I am only moving a few miles inland). Preparing to leave has brought things into focus and crystallised the need to document something of this. So here is a small mosaic of images, which if read in a certain way, will give a sense of what happened – but I do not invite you to decode them, rather to simply drink them in, and allow them to percolate through your own nervous system, in the hope they may bring you some measure of nourishment.

egg_cup_triptych

lobster_oyster_triptychanastasia_triptych

The Feather Of Maat

feather1

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.

feather2

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.

21g

The Saint and the Serpent

church_view1

Time and tide wait for no man. Three whole months have passed without activity here, leading one correspondent to wonder if the previous post was in fact a veiled suicide note. Not the case: I continue to haunt the Shoreline – in corporeal form, I hasten to add – and have over the last few months accumulated a motley collection of notes and photographs, which may or may not manifest as future posts. Before any of that, however, I want to pick up the threads of this post, and continue exploring St Margaret’s Church, Rottingdean.

As I noted before, the church boasts a number of stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne Jones, formerly a resident of the parish, and made by William Morris – see picture above. Of particular interest here is the panel depicting St Margaret of Antioch, the saint to whom the church is dedicated:

dragonslayer

Being a godless heathen, I knew virtually nothing about St Margaret, but after a little research my nervous system was once again charged with the eerie tingle of synchronicity – in fact, make that synchronicities, plural. Because it turns out that the story of Margaret of Antioch, patron saint of the local parish church – just a few minutes’ walk from the beach – has multiple resonances with the themes of the Haunted Shoreline – the Shoreline current. To begin, there’s the fact that in Greek and Eastern Orthodox tradition, Margaret was known as Marina, a name that clearly links her to the sea. But it goes a lot further than that…

Firstly: Margaret is said to have slain a serpent or dragon. The Burne Jones window shows her vanquishing this demonic creature – in fact, almost every existing pictorial depiction of Margaret  shows her in the act of triumphing over a fearsome mythical beast: sometimes transfixing it with a lance as above, sometimes striking it with a hammer, sometimes standing or riding on it. In some versions of her legend, she is said to have been swallowed whole by the creature, escaping death when the crucifix around her neck proved so unpalatable to the monster that it vomited her out unharmed, splitting itself apart in the process. Here there are echoes of Apollo and Python, and more broadly of the serpent motif that has reared its fanged head here repeatedly, in both benevolent and baleful aspects.

stm19002

Secondly: she is the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth, topics previously manifest on the Shoreline through the ‘wombstone’ and the ‘seed pod’, not to mention the beach find that pointed me towards the church in the first place, the ‘mermaid’s purse’ eggcase.

Thirdly: she is said to have been put to death, martyred, by being beheaded. Grisly and brutal, but entirely in keeping with the decapitated dolphin washed ashore at Saltdean, and the acephalic fixations of our old friend (or maybe fiend?) Georges Bataille.

The Martyrdom of St. Margaret of Antioch, altar frontal from the Convent of Santa Margarida de Vilaseca, Spanish School, 12th century

A bumper bundle of coincidences, then, and a curious set of findings given that this whole quixotic Shoreline project is a kind of experiment in creating – and, indeed, inhabiting – a mythography of place: a particular type of engagement with the subtle influences that permeate this locale. As ever, I make no claims at all regarding truth or consequences, but were I so inclined, these discoveries could readily be seen as vindication of the Shoreline method and process: confirmation that the swirlings of the Shoreline current are indeed reflections of the deeper patterns embedded here in place and psyche.

There is plenty of material online regarding Margaret of Antioch: if you wish to know more about this saint and the legends attached to her, there are good starting points here and here.

One further strange discovery in the Rottingdean church is worth documenting here. On either side of the building’s entrance arch are two stone faces: one male, one female. I can find no documentation of these, but they look remarkably like the king and queen of alchemical symbolism. In the absence of any other information, I simply leave you to gaze upon them.

queen

king

An Easter Egg

beach_egg2

After the previous post I hadn’t planned to write anything more regarding Easter this year, but the Shoreline had other ideas: during a short, bracing walk on Saltdean beach on Easter Sunday (short and bracing because it was the coldest Easter day ever recorded in the UK), my 8 year old daughter found this impressive greyish pink stone ‘egg’. The biting cold defeated my attempts to photograph it in situ on the beach, but we brought it home to add to the ever-growing Haunted Shoreline Cabinet of Curiosities, and here it is. Not for the first time, an image alone cannot quite do it justice, as the ovoid appearance is accentuated by its remarkable smoothness, but until such time as this blog is available in sensurround format (in glorious Psychedelic Omnivisionof course), you’ll have to take my word for that.

For obvious reasons, eggs are symbols of fertility, but their esoteric symbology goes well beyond that. We have previously considered the egg of Ouroboros, the cosmic serpent, while in alchemical texts the term Philosophic Egg, or similar, is used as a kind of shorthand for the physical vessels (flasks, alembics) within which the alchemical process unfolds: the container within which the Philosopher’s Stone is gestated.

rebis3

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, eggs appear frequently in Surrealist artworks. They are a recurring trope in Dali’s work (see also here), appearing in many of his paintings,  and the Dali Museum-Theatre in Figueres, Spain, is festooned with giant eggs. For the purposes of this post, the Dalinian image which seems to me most relevant is his 1943 painting Geopoliticus Child Watching The Birth of the New Man:

Painted during WWII while Dali was living in the USA, it is commonly interpreted as a representation of the growing strength of the US as a new world power- certainly this seems to fit, although the esoterically-minded will also note the appearance of a World Egg. To what extent Dali was deliberately referencing alchemical imagery is unclear, but it is a device that recurs in his work- indeed here you can see Dali himself, together with his wife and Muse Gala, being ‘birthed’ from a large egg in a typically outlandish piece of… well, let’s just call it performance art. I am unsure of the date of this film but it is clearly a lot later than the painting above- I would guess it is from the late 1960s, well into Dali’s self-promotion period (see my previous thoughts on that here) and, to me at least, of considerably lesser interest, but the near-identical symbolism is nevertheless worth noting.

Two Surrealist artists who were more explicitly informed by alchemy were Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst. In her essay Down Below, Leonora Carrington describes the egg as “..the dividing line between Great and Small, which makes it impossible to see everything at once“. The dividing line– that is, the liminal threshold, akin to my interpretation of the Shoreline.

Here are a couple of striking egg-related works by Leonora Carrington; firstly Ab Eo Quod, from 1956:

ab_eo_quod

The magnificent golden egg is the centrepiece here, but as usual with Leonora, the whole canvas bursts with enigmatic imagery. The Latin inscription on the chair back reads Ab eo, quod nigram caudam habet abstine terrestrium enim decorum est. I am indebted to Susan Aberth’s book Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art for the information that this is excerpted from a 14th century alchemical text known as the Ascensus Nigrum,which by my reckoning translates as the “the ascent of blackness”, presumably a reference to the transmutation of base matter which is the heart of the alchemical process. The inscription itself translates as something along the lines of “Keep away from that with a black tail; this is the beauty of the Earth”. Whatever this may mean, it seems to relate to the bizarre creature that lurks beneath the table, its black, frond-like tail curling around the room.

In The Giantess, or Guardian of the Egg (1947), the egg is, by contrast, rather small..

leonora-carrington_giantess

.. but then, so is everything else in comparison with the towering central figure, which can be readily interpreted as a goddess form, guarding the more usually male-dominated Hermetic mysteries.

Leonora’s sometime lover Max Ernst, meanwhile, was infused and informed by esotericism throughout his life, and this early work of his, The Inner Vision: The Egg (1929) appears to make direct reference to the Philosophic Egg:

the-inner-vision-the-egg-1929

…and the birds preparing to hatch from it are readily recognisable as representations of Loplop, Ernst’s oft-depicted avian familiar and totemic guide. So this image would appear to refer to Ernst’s own creative processes: his inner alchemy.

But returning to where we started- while my daughter was certainly rather proud of her discovery of the stone egg, it would probably be fair to say that, for her, the egg that held the most fascination this Easter was this one:

kinder_basket

As parents out there will be aware, Kinder Surprise eggs are chocolate eggs that contain small plastic toys- often of a pleasingly bizarre nature. By now, my mind whirling with alchemico-surrealist egg images, I was almost as anxious as her to see what would hatch from this particular egg. And once the chocolate shell was breached, this is what we found within:

arctic_fox

I wasn’t immediately sure what it was (although she knew straight away)- but it came with a nametag, in Latin, no less: Vulpes lagopus, and a quick Google confirmed her insistence that it was, therefore, an Arctic fox.

Which, in view of the extreme cold, seemed to make perfect sense.

Travels in Hypersurreality: Numerology of the Undercliff

902

A serious outbreak of Actually Existing Work has kept me from blogging recently, but lo, the winter solstice has arrived, and it happens that this year it marks the start of my festive break from the aforementioned Work. So now that I have time to breathe, let me share with you a strange instance of hyperlinked synchronicity, that follows on from the previous post about the great Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington and the recent visit of English Heretic to the Shoreline.

The story begins in a familiar location- the psycho-alchemical arena of Saltdean beach, nexus of the Haunted Shoreline.

As Andy Sharp noted on the English Heretic blog following his visit here, the beach at Saltdean is reached either by flights of steps from the clifftop, or via a tunnel that passes under the cliff:

Every nekyia needs its hypogeal ramp and the beach at Saltdean is reached by a tunnel cut into the cliffs. The shallow descent through the tunnel gives Haunted Shoreline’s perambulations a magical imperative. The beach is cut off from the mundane. As we left the beach through the tunnel, a sign above the entrance showed the numbers 902.

The photo above shows this sign, with the numbers 902; this sign is positioned directly above the entrance to the tunnel, which is officially named the Undercliff Walk:

undercliff_walk

It acts as a portal – something akin to a wormhole in a sci-fi movie, through which the protagonists will pass and find themselves in some hyperdimensional realm, tangible yet somehow orthogonal to the known space-time continuum. To illustrate this, here is a picture of my daughter, carefully guiding her space cruiser through the undercliff wormhole, and about to emerge onto the beach, the Haunted Shoreline itself:

light_at_end2

Andy and I had already pondered the potential significance of the numbers 902, our musings being based around the extensive symbolism of the number 11 (gematria: 9+0+2=11). But after his visit, I found myself returning to the numbers, and also to the figure of Leonora Carrington, whose work had animated our beachcombing explorations that day and haunted my imagination thereafter. And so, on a whim, I typed “leonora carrington 902” into Google.

And this is what I found- the first result:

gallery902

It’s a page from the website of New York’s famous Metropolitan Art Museum. All the rooms and galleries of the Met are numbered, and Gallery 902 is devoted to… Surrealism.

A curious synchronicity, I thought. But it gets better- it turns out that there is, indeed, a work by Leonora Carrington on display in this gallery, and I was amazed to find that it was the very painting that Andy and I had discussed, her early Self Portrait: 

carrington_001_for_upload

Leonora Carrington, ‘Self-Portrait’, 1937-8

This is one of her best known works and the most direct representation of her curious affinity with the hyena, which she regarded as a kind of personal familiar or totem animal.

Amused and perplexed, I fired off an email to Andy to let him know about this peculiar coincidence, through which the Shoreline current had apparently looped back on itself via cyberspace.

And then, seven minutes after sending the email- and I have the screenshots to prove it- what should happen? Why, this very same painting popped up on my screen, in my Facebook feed. (The painting was posted to Facebook by the Leonora Carrington FB account. I do not know who runs this account – Leonora herself died last year, at the age of 94 – but it would appear to be someone with access to a significant archive of her work, as images of paintings, drawings and sculpture are posted throughout the day, every day. I think the account owner may be based in Mexico, where Leonora Carrington lived for most of her life).

And at that point the tingling electric shiver of the Uncanny was well and truly manifest, crackling through and around me.

Now, I do not attach beliefs to such happenstances. I have written before about the absence of belief in the Shoreline method. But even without attaching any certain meaning or value to synchronicities like these, or to the Shoreline current in general,  one can choose to follow a thread and see where it leads.

And so I find myself considering a trip to Mexico.

Mexico is a place I have never visited, but in addition to being Leonora Carrington’s home for most of her life, it featured in a highly significant dream I had early in 2011, many months before I initiated the Shoreline project (or it initiated me, perhaps). This dream was too personal to discuss here, except to mention that it ended with me warding off a snapping dog or fox-like creature..

..dim echoes of Anubis, or Leonora’s hyena.. or maybe this, another of her works, an etching this time:

Leonora Carrington - "Dog, come here into the dark house. Come here, black dog"

Leonora Carrington – “Dog, come here into the dark house. Come here, black dog”

.. and this strange mesh of symbols, resonances and portents leads me on.. ever further along the Shoreline, ever further down the wormhole.

wormhole