Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Jack Parsons and the Witchcraft

I am currently giving considerable attention to completing my Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus and hope to have it available before christmas but felt I should acknowledge the season by posting a short piece from a section in the book on the rebirth of witchcraft. Some of this, particularly the Parsons quotes,was actually written on the night of Halloween last year when a loud party in the house next door kept me awake and I decided to make the most of it. In fact I deliberately began writing down the words from the Book of Babalon at exactly midnight. It is essential to enjoy and find spontaneous magick in the creative process.

Jack Parsons

‘And she shall wander in the witchwood under the Night of Pan, and know the mysteries of the Goat and the Serpent, and of the children that are hidden away.’ ‘Gather together in the covens as of old’. ‘Gather together in public, in song and dance and festival. Gather together in secret, be naked and shameless and rejoice in my name.’ ‘The work of the image, and the potion and the charm, the work of the spider and the snake, and the little ones that go in the dark, this is your work.’ ‘This is the way of it, star, star. Burning bright, moon, witch moon.’ ‘You the secret, the outcast, the accursed and despised, even you that gathered privily of old in my rites under the moon.’ ‘You the free, the wild, the untamed, that walk now alone and forlorn.’
Liber 49. The Book of Babalon.

‘We are the Witchcraft. We are the oldest organisation in the world. When man was born, we were. We sang the first cradle song. We healed the first wound, we comforted the first terror. We were the Guardians against the Darkness, the Helpers on the Left Hand Side.’
Jack Parsons. The Witchcraft.

The Book of Babalon dates from 1946. It is remarkable how much it carries a very strong feeling of what later became known as Wicca. The question is whether there are any direct connections or if it is a case of Jack Parsons being prophetically in tune with something that expressed itself similarly and all-but simultaneously through other people as well? Alongside his Gnostic leanings, Parsons had a passion for the idea of witchcraft. Towards the end of his life he was very keen to try and instigate a revival of the old paganism and set up a group he called “the witchcraft”. His basic policy statement from his writings on the subject has a familiar tone.

‘We are on the side of man, of life, and of the individual. Therefore we are against religion, morality and government. Therefore our name is Lucifer. We are on the side of freedom, of love, of joy and laughter and divine drunkenness. Therefore our name is Babalon.’

Although there is no direct evidence that Jack Parsons was familiar with Aradia a few motifs in his work are strongly suggestive of its influence. Firstly there is Lucifer as god of the witches. A number of contemporary Wiccans prefer to avoid this topic as it brings in the possibility of a Biblical ambiance that might not take too much development to bring in Satan and the whole Burning Times mythological package they are trying to erase. Others have eloquently defended what could be termed the Luciferian gnosis and affirmed it to be a thing of beauty that no fundamentalist Christian could ever understand. It is now more generally accepted as part of the greater Wiccan mythology that Luciferic covens have long been part of the scene.

Liber 49 also seems to echo Aradia with an instruction for the would-be witch to ‘Be naked and shameless’ .One of many excellent phrases that Gerald Gardner assembled and passed into general Wiccan use is sky clad, meaning nude. His groups assembled thus. Later critics have pointed to his predilection for Naturism as an indication that he used Aradia as justification for bringing his personal tastes into what was simply a cult of his own invention. Regardless of whether that point is fundamentally accurate or not the practice has a history that sits very well with what one could term Wiccan mythology.

Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, groups of Christian heretics appeared who decided to emulate Adam and Eve before the fall and live naked. Across the planet numerous sects have done likewise or at least gathered temporarily in such a manner.
Their intentions have much in common if we can accept the theories of Mircea Eliade. All of these nudists were seeking a return to an imagined primordial paradisiacal state before a fall into history began. If we look at Gardner’s witches they were hoping to partake of something as old as the Stone Age, something from the very dawn of humanity, a time of a purity and oneness with nature that has since been lost. That state could be regained. Parsons may well have been similarly motivated.

German mystic nudists celebrate the 1926 summer solstice.

Modern Wicca has often tried to get away from the popular mythology of witches as practitioners of malevolent sorcery. This was what led to the murderous persecutions and it’s understandable that modern adherents want to rehabilitate the archetype. There’s no getting away from the basic theme of spells and magical battles and suchlike throughout witchlore. A big difference between Jack Parsons and the adherents of Murray and Gardner is that the Thelemic wildman was fascinated by phenomenon of manifestation that would scare the crap out of most people, and above all, the image of witch woman as being attractive in proportion to her potential dangerousness.

Parsons concept of Babalon was significantly advanced by his reading of Jack Williamson’s novel of lycanthropy and witchcraft, Darker Than You Think. The lead character is enthralled by a red-headed, green-eyed witch named April Bell who he soon discovers is guilty of sorcerous murder which does nothing to diminish her attraction. There is a memorable scene that was depicted with pulp-art finesse on the cover of early editions where the hero has transformed into a sabre-toothed tiger and the witch-woman rides naked on his back. This is very reminiscent of Crowley’s Babalon (with which the author was unfamiliar).

Gerald Gardner made his largely undocumented trip to America in 1947. He had just been initiated into the OTO and there was only really one functioning group there at the time. There is a possibility that he may have met with members of the Agape Lodge, even Parsons himself. A number of internet sources state this as if it was an established fact. It isn’t. Parsons had been expelled from the OTO and was out of favour with Crowley by then. He was still in contact with some of his old associates but wouldn’t have been an obvious person for Gardner to seek out.

The American occultist Allen Greenfield, who we will meet again in a UFOlogical context, took an interest in the Jack Parsons aspect of the mystery. He corresponded with Doreen Valiente who was well aware of Liber 49 and Parsons specific witchcraft writing. She acknowledged the striking similarities with what was brewing in Britain and wondered if there had been more direct connections. The problem is that we can find no clear quotes from Parsons in Gardner or indeed any mention of him in extant personal material. A direct meeting between Parsons and Gardner has to remain as no more than an excellent occult rumour. The nudity theme may well be another indication of powerful ideas that were in the airwaves then. Parsons deserves to be noted as a prophetic figure is this context and the rebirth of witchcraft to be a phenomenon influenced by tangential ripples from the Babalon Working.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Orson Welles War of the Worlds and the start of the UFO era

In my upcoming Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus I look at subjects I consider to be distinctive manifestations of the new epoch prophesied in The Book of the Law. These are primarily the Nazis, the psychedelic sixties, and the UFO phenomenon.

As part of a preamble to an extensive consideration of UFOlogy I mention Orson Welles legendary War of the Worlds radio broadcast. As it lends itself to a format where pictures and videos can enhance the text, I decided to post some of it as a blog entry.

Although the modern UFO era effectively began in June 1947 when pilot Kenneth Arnold saw nine anomalous aerial phenomenon that a newspaper reporter referred to as Flying Saucers it is clear that there is a prehistory that is in fact a huge study in itself. One event clearly demonstrates that many people were already primed to respond to the idea of visitors from other worlds who might have hostile intent.

Perhaps the most famous radio broadcast in history was made by awesome Orson Welles and his co-writer Howard Koch, with their Mercury Theatre Company on October 30th 1938. They presented HG Wells classic account of invasion from Mars The War of the Worlds in a format that suggested it was really happening in the present moment with music being interrupted by newscasters telling a progressively more apocalyptic tale. Simulated live outside broadcasts depicted sounds of carnage and destruction.

Although the programme was clearly identified at its beginning as fiction and this was briefly repeated in the midst of the story it seems that many listeners, perhaps randomly tuning in from other stations, believed that it was genuine and some kind of mass panic ensued. Real American locations were featured.

Grovers Mill monument.

Grovers Mill in New Jersey was the initial landing site and a commemorative monument there now records the fact, a measure of the magnitude of the event in American folk memory. As New York itself came under attack the outside broadcast was apparently cut off as the reporter succumbed to poison gas.

The whole broadcast is easily available online. This short extract is a good indicator of the mood evoked.

How many people were affected and to what degree has been debated at length for decades. There is no doubt that in some cases the responses were extreme. Poison gas was smelt. Heat rays were felt. Gunfire was heard. Martian machines were seen. Flames of conflict were visible. Families left their homes to escape.

Things got understandably confused in the town of Concrete, Washington. A power failure at a local electricity station that began with flashes of light left the whole place in darkness. To those who had been listening to Welles up to that point it got difficult to figure out what was happening.

The next day the New York Times carried some impressive details. “In a single block at Heddon Terrace and Hawthorne Avenue, more than twenty families rushed out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid. Some began moving household furniture. Throughout New York families left their homes, some to flee to near-by parks. Thousands of persons called the police, newspapers and radio stations here and in other cities of the United States and Canada seeking advice on protective measures against the raids.”

Quite why the broadcast was able to stimulate such an intensity of response has in my opinion never been satisfactorily explained. The gathering storm in Europe certainly played upon the American psyche. Earlier on in the year the crisis over Czechoslovakia that was resolved in Nazi Germany’s favour with the wretched piece of paper brandished by Neville Chamberlain as “peace in our time” had seemingly boosted the sale of radios in America to an unprecedented extent. The tensions with Japan that would ultimately lead to war were already present. Okay, so people were a bit stressy about another war. An invasion from Mars is surely another level of the game.

There are rumours that the whole episode was part of a deliberate mass psychology experiment. It has also been suggested that when UFOs and close encounters started to become widely reported a decade later the authorities adopted a cover-up approach believing it had already been demonstrated what the public response to such news being validated might be. All of this remains difficult to prove. What is clear is the phenomenon of saucer mania did not emerge from a vacuum.

I couldn't resist including this as an afterword.

The 1953 movie of War of the Worlds has a lot going for it. It displays the psychology of that decade very effectively. This section contains the still powerful scene where the priest goes out into the valley of death to meet the Martians. Although I’m a great fan of the Speilberg Cruise version there is nothing comparable in it. The movie demonstrated the shifting values of the time in as much as the priest lags behind nuclear weapons in the scale of escalating response. The scene has a sense of the death of an old dispensation and is therefore redolent of the disturbing third chapter of The Book of the Law, especially considering that the agents of destruction are from the planet attributed to Horus. The climax of the movie backs away from this being set in a church and having the feeling of prayers being answered but the power of this sequence is a thing unto itself.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Tintagel of the Heart

“Something eternal - universal - the very breath of freedom lives in this land. It stretches out, embracing the whole of humanity. It still speaks to us through the hills and the valleys, the rocks and caves mentioned in the Arthurian legends. The winds and the waves sing of it, the atmosphere is full of it. It is necessary to find contact with this invisible Power which, in only one of its forms, appears as the Arthur of the legend. This Power in reality is the Eternal Spirit of this country ---. Could we but realize this, a cultural element would be born again, English in its innermost depths. It speaks to all human beings wherever they live and to whatever nation they belong.”
Walter Johannes Stein. Is King Arthur a Historical Character?

In August 2004 Mysterium Artorius was still a single chapter in my work in progress Avalonian Aeon. I had already found a wonderful quote by the Anthroposophist Walter Johannes Stein from an article entitled Is King Arthur a Historical Character? that is included in a modern anthology called The Death of Merlin and placed it at the start of the chapter. During a visit to Tintagel I attended a kind of arts and crafts outdoor event centred around a re-enactment of Arthur’s last battle at Camlann. On a stall there I found a copy of the original journal published by Stein that his article appeared in. The Present Age dated back to January 1936. I bought it for £1.00.

Walter Johannes Stein

I immediately knew that when sunset came I would stand on the cliff edge looking out from Camelot Castle Hotel across to the ruins of Tintagel Castle and down at Merlin’s Cave and recite aloud the whole quote as it seemed to fit the scene to perfection. This was a great example of the wonderful inspiration I received at Tintagel during the writing of Mysterium Artorius. In that spirit here is the entire chapter Tintagel of the Heart from that work mixed together with other pieces from elsewhere in the same book and Avalonian Aeon joined by some new material to form a unique mix for this blog entry. It forms a companion piece to the Sept 29th Dion Fortune Glastonbury Qabalah .

Writing about Glastonbury in the 1934 Avalon of the Heart Dion Fortune wondered if we “miss much when we abandon the ancient custom of pilgrimage?” “Every race has its holy centres, places where the veil is thin”, that contain, “power to quicken the spiritual life and vitalise the soul with fresh enthusiasm and inspiration.” “Glastonbury is a spiritual volcano wherein the fire that is at the heart of the British race breaks through and flames to heaven”. I feel that the same sentiments apply to Tintagel.

Just like Glastonbury, regardless of the strong historical arguments against the validity of their Arthurian connections, something seems to connect the legendary locations that frame his life from conception to burial. The fundamental factors are landscapes that profoundly impact on the human psyche, places that will inevitably attract a numinous mythology. Many would agree that the area around the cliff-top castle ruins by the sea carries an archaic feeling of tangible magic. The larger locale contained holy wells, waterfalls, mysterious mounds, and the chapels of enigmatic druidic Cornish saints.

Paul Broadhurst's book is the best intro to the wider area.

Imagine the end of a perfect summer day. The all but cloudless sky has become a symphony of gradations of portentous pink focused on the sun setting into the sea. As its reflection touches the water, a rippling ray spreads out from the horizon back across the foaming Mediterranean turquoise waves to the beach, like a sword of shimmering light. From a vantage point up on the cliffs, amongst a riot of small wild flowers, looking across at the ruined castle and down to the entrance of the famous Merlin’s Cave, one can forget all the intellectual arguments of history, feel the Arthurian mythos alive in the very air, and believe. Wordsworth’s famous lines on the landscape around Tintern Abbey come readily to mind.

“And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things.”

Rudolf Steiner (pictured above)visited Tintagel in 1924, not long before his death. As he gazed upon the castle ruins, his clairvoyant vision dissolved the barrier of time. This was the man who talked about the “Arthurian Mysteries,” an initiatory current of esoteric knowledge that served as a conduit for astrological gnosis from the days of Egypt and Babylon into the Christian era with Arthur as a sun king. He came to believe that Tintagel had once been a Mystery Centre in the manner of Eleusis. It supposedly dated from around 1100BC. He wrote that,

“—Spirit power lies heavy round the mount,
And mighty images of soul storm from the sea.
The play of light and air rings magic changes,
Which strongly penetrate the soul anew
Even today, after three thousand years —”

Merlin's Cave

The fact that Steiner even visited the area in the first place was probably largely down to the one man who can be credited with virtually single-handedly reviving its Arthurian charisma and creating the modern tourist industry.

Tennyson’s Idylls of the King was a massive success whose immediate influence extended through decades. Such was the extraordinary effect on the area’s fortunes that one wonders whether the poet was a reincarnated hierophant of the original mystery school returned to initiate a new cycle. Something seemed to be ripe and ready in the greater scheme of things.

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain contains the first written account we have that names Tintagel as the place of Arthur’s conception. Why would he have done that? Modern archaeology has shown that the now ruinous castle was not constructed until after Geoffrey’s work. It may well be that it was intended to gain prestige through association and also to clearly show Norman control of an earlier power site.

Archaeology has established that during the post-Roman Arthurian era Tintagel was a high prestige site, probably royally connected, that was the centre of extensive trade with the Byzantine Empire. Oral tradition of some kind may have preserved the memory of Tintagel’s prestige during the time of Arthur. In Geoffrey of Monmouth Arthur was conceived at Tintagel. The association has developed from conception to birth. Tennyson had him washed ashore on a wave at Merlin’s Cave down on the beach beneath.

Amidst the atmospheric nuances of the landscape I have detected a poignant melancholy. It seems reminiscent of the Glastonbury Abbey mood, where a sense of tragic loss is sometimes discernable. There is good reason for this.

The Black Death of 1348 is well known. A third of Europe’s population perished. Strangely neglected in the general sense of European history is an epidemic during the time of the most powerful Byzantine Emperor, Justinian. The whole Mediterranean world was trashed by it. The pestilence reached Britain in 549 through the Byzantine trading routes. It seems likely that it may have entered the country at Tintagel.Decades of climatic degeneration had already created a wasteland. The Romano British kingdoms were devastated by the plague. It has been speculated that the population was reduced by 60 percent. A number of locations seem to have been completely abandoned. Tintagel went from golden citadel to centre of death in a virtual instant. This would surely have registered in the locale as a huge inexplicable trauma. The place seems to have ceased to function for centuries.

Camelot Castle Hotel.
"Can you recall a time when you did a masterpiece of creation?" L Ron Hubbard

The cliff top opposite the ruined fortress is dominated by the largest building in Tintagel, the hotel now named Camelot Castle. It seems as if the genius loci has decreed that a castle-like building of some kind needs to be strongly visible in that area. Originally built on the crest of the Tennysonian wave at the end of the nineteenth century, some of its rooms command views possibly as exquisite as any in the country. Over the years a cavalcade of diverse famous people have spent time there. Elgar had been inspired to write some of his second symphony. AA Milne, Noel Coward, and Winston Churchill make for an extraordinary mix. The fifties Arthurian Hollywood epic, Knights of the Round Table, had been partly shot in the area and Guenevere Ava Gardner had stayed, enjoying herself so much that she allegedly still haunts the place.

Arnold Bax

The most famous work of one of the leading figures of the great British musical revival of the early twentieth century, Arnold Bax, was inspired by Tintagel. In the midst of an intense love affair, he had spent an idyllic six week holiday at the hotel. He was moved to compose a “tone poem”. The fifteen minute piece tried to evoke, “the ruined castle, now so ancient and weather-worn as to seem an emanation of the rock upon which it is built,” with its Atlantic vista amidst the lingering presence of the Arthurian mythos. Wind, sea, and legend blend together. As someone who came to musical consciousness through Rock A-Z, it took a bit of effort for me to get into it but it was well worth it.

Steiner and his small party, including the visionary artist Eleanor Merry who had arranged the trip, spent some time at the big hotel as well. To the modern mind, Camelot is a fortress of the imagination, of creativity and spirituality. The new castle that exists in the same physical space as the hotel can serve that function.

A typical Ted Stourton vision of Camelot Castle Hotel.

In an interesting continuity following through from Steiner’s theories on art and the importance of light and colour, the remarkable modern impressionist, expressionist, “Abstract Realist”, Ted Stourton would later help establish Camelot Castle hotel as a matrix of creativity, producing a gigantic corpus of work and encouraging others to come and do likewise. Stourton and fellow hotel owners John and Irina Mappin honour the awesome genius loci of the Tintagel of the Heart in the present day.

I find it astonishing that such a small area could be such a fount of inspirational energy. At times in the summer, golden mists come off the sea and render the castle island invisible. This is suggestive of an Avalonian otherworld. Jung had come to Tintagel and later had an important dream whilst in India that seemed to reflect its influence. It featured a mysterious Grail Castle-type island citadel. It was suggestive of a mandalic representation of the structure of the Self.

I can imagine a timeless realm where a procession of illustrious people who have visited the castle and Merlin’s Cave walk amongst countless shades back up the hill as golden mist and shadows ebb and flow around them. Steiner, Jung, Thomas Hardy, Swinburne, Tennyson, Elgar, Bax, There was no way Dion Fortune hadn’t been there as well. She was amongst them.

During the period that John Cowper Powys, Katherine Maltwood and Fortune were recognising certain qualities of the landscape of Glastonbury and helping to reawaken an accompanying spirituality, so Steiner’s recognition of Tintagel’s former spiritual function also helped to realign and reawaken it.

A powerful modern manifestation of this can be found in the middle of the town. The Hall of Chivalry is a testament to the vision of one man. Frederick Thomas Glasscock (pictured above) was a hugely wealthy partner in the custard firm of Monkhouse and Glasscock. TV presenter Bob was a direct descendent of the other partner. Glasscock had an abiding passion for the Arthurian mythos. After his retirement he had moved into a large house and made massive alterations to it in order to create a Hall of Chivalry.

It was a major labour of love. Fifty types of stone from all over Cornwall were brought in for its reconstruction. Seventy two stained-glass windows were commissioned showing assorted heraldic devices and legendary scenes. The larger ones were of exceptional quality, worthy of a great cathedral. They were positioned in accordance with a precise scheme of colour that allowed rainbow light to fall upon the Hall. There were two round tables, a sword in a stone above an altar, and a throne.

Galahad. You really have to see sunlight shining through this to appreciate it.

Glasscock created a chivalric order, the Fellowship of the Round Table. Local men were initiated. Teenagers had a grade of Pilgrim. Younger children were Searchers, singing songs about the sagas. When the place was officially opened on June 5th 1933, five-hundred people attended. A musical programme included the Pilgrims March from Wagner’s Tannhauser. The combination of sound, costume, and diffused coloured light must have been extremely effective.

Two paintings from an Arthurian series by William Hatherell displayed in the Hall of Chivalry.

Anyone with a taste for Arthuriana would have been aware of this Tintagel development. And that leaves uncomfortable possibilities hanging in the air. There were certainly Grail enthusiasts amongst the Nazis. At the beginning of that decade, before they even came to power, Rudolf Hess had despatched Dr Karl Hans Fuchs to Scotland to check out Rosslyn chapel, a location little known in those days for its esoteric potency. His mission is a matter of historical record for he lectured to the Edinburgh branch of the Theosophical Society during the visit. The Hall of Chivalry opened within six months of Hitler becoming chancellor. The new regime was looking for style models to assimilate.

In 1934 Himmler took control of a Schloss at Wewelsburg in Westphalia. See my Sept 29th blog entry for more details on this.I do wonder if Tintagel’s Hall of Chivalry may have been a direct influence on Wewelsburg.

Glasscock died in 1934, en-route to America in an attempt to spread his Order, as Wewelsburg came into being. It seemed that his work was still-born, at least on the outer plane. Glasscock’s Will bequeathed the Hall to the local Masonic Lodge of which he was a member. It was used by them and hired out for wedding receptions and so on. By the eighties the Masons only used it occasionally. It had become a gift shop and tourist attraction.

In my more mystical moments I have pondered on the possibility that Glasscock’s attempt to found a new Order of Chivalry was a response to Steiner’s impetus. He would probably have known of the visit. There is one work by Steiner and one about Anthroposophy in two bookcases full of old Arthurian volumes in the main hall. Anthroposophy considered itself to be a true Rosicrucian school. Glasscock was known to be keen on Rosicrucianism as well as Arthur.

The whole place seems to tremble on the edge of the etheric. I find it easy to intuit mystical nuances suggestive of vast spiritual forces at work there. It’s like a chapter that got left out of Spear of Destiny: the Hall of Chivalry, alight with rainbow colours shining through visionary windows onto knights, pilgrims, and searchers, the air thick with incense and the rising sound of choirs, the whole scene hanging between Steiner’s Goetheanum and Himmler’s Wewelsburg. That’s quite a mix to contemplate whilst watching a summer sunset near the castle ruins.

The Seal of the Holy Grail (Transformation of Evil) by Baron Arild Rosenkrantz.

Most of the text in this blog entry comes from Mysterium Artorius.