Presented by the South East London Folklore Society,
Charlton House, London 4 December 1999
Caroline Wise, Jack Gale, Gerald Suster, Steve Wilson, Clive Prince, Lynn Picknett, and Storm Constantine
Subtitled in the programme as 'Thee Last Magickal Conference ov thee So-Called Millennium', I wasn't quite sure what to make of this. I barely know the first thing about Chaos Magick, except that all-important 'k' on the end, but I hoped I would be enlightened here. Charlton House is allegedly "the most haunted house in London", and the main hall where the event took place was not the warmest of places to be on a cold December day. Unfortunately for us, my friends and I were sat near the back for much of the day, which meant having to suffer the icy draught every time the doors opened.
With this cold climate in mind, it was good to hear that Caroline Wise of the Fellowship of Isis would be trying to warm the place up with an opening ritual to the Egyptian goddess, Sekhmet. She gave a small talk on the history of Sekhmet's presence in London, which proved to be one of the most interesting things I heard all day. Apparently, 200 years ago or so, statues of Sekhmet (and others, I would imagine) were used as ballast in ships from North Africa, around the coast of France and up the Thames to the British Museum. Therefore, all along the route, there are massive stone statues under the sea and on the Thames riverbed. Wise alleges that there are 300 images of lions on the walk down to the Thames from the British Museum, in architecture and statues. She explained that the image of the lion is intricately connected with Sekhmet, and reminded us that it is also the symbol of English Imperialism, and so considers her an appropriate goddess for London. Wise then told an amusing story of people claiming to be psychics from around the country being taken to the British Museum with no previous knowledge of Sekhmet, and all "going into one" in front of statues of her. She allegedly "has a more profound effect than any other god or goddess" and we were going to "try and wake her up".
This involved basic visualisation, which conjured up fantastic imagery but it was hard to concentrate with people fidgeting like a school assembly and making late, noisy entrances. I don't think we woke Sekhmet up, but the place certainly seemed to get colder again when Jack Gale started to give his talk about the winter goddess Holda, the goddess of sexual love, winter, wild creatures and the underworld. Paradoxically, she is also the fostermother of stillborn and unbaptised children - one of the few pagan goddesses to have comfortably existed alongside Christian tradition. Althrald Suster, ough originally from Germany, Holda was brought to London by a centurion in the Roman army in 353CE, and is considered a local goddess in Greenwich. A place in Greenwich Park called 'Snow Well' is associated with her, and is alleged to be a gateway to the Underworld. Snow Well was covered over in the 19th Century, but is slowly being revealed due to subsidence. Gale mentioned several anecdotes of working with psychics to establish more knowledge about Holda and the man who brought her to Greenwich. Obviously, to get an unbiased view, a psychic should have no fore-knowledge of the subject, leaving me to wonder if Gale ever runs out of people to work with. Even if you're sceptical about psychic activity, the stories were wonderfully entertaining.
Before Gerald Suster gave his talk on Crowley, Rasputin and Gurdjieff, the programme provided a break for refreshments and "what thou Wilt" - a play on Crowley's creed "Do what thou Wilt". Unfortunately, for a potentially fascinating subject, Suster had a dull speaking voice, and my mind was distracted by Boney M's "Ra Ra Ra Rasputin" whirling, unbidden, around my head. He gave us potted biographies that threw up interesting titbits (for example, did you know Crowley was an accomplished mountaineer?), but I can't help wondering if, with this particular audience, he was mostly preaching to the converted. And things weren't helped when he confused his story of his great uncle meeting Rasputin by replacing his great uncle with his grandfather later on. This little mistake spoilt the magic(k) of the story, and from there on, he reminded me of a drunken uncle messing up his speech at a wedding. I could hardly see Suster because of the way he was hunched over his microphone, and it was at this point that I realised that pictures to accompany the lectures would have been a great help. Me and my friend were obviously bored because we ended up discussing her new boots, so I never did find out what the connection between Crowley, Rasputin and Gurdjieff is, except that they're all men with a reputation for womanising.
Thankfully, co-organiser Steve Wilson came along to rescue us with his entertaining speech on 'Chaos, Conjuring and Combat'. He estimates that he's heard over 400 talks on esoterica, and only one has included anything on martial arts. To put it into context, he gave us a brief history of esoterica and the renewed interest in paganism in the UK in this century. He reminded us that there was a huge interest in martial arts in the 70s, but it wasn't until the 80s that the combat was properly connected with the esoteric. According to Wilson, "the Chaos element is looking for different traditions and finding what works -- it's the same with martial arts". To illustrate this, he told us an amusing anecdote about two different magickal approaches to ending the Gulf War through magick rituals, saying, "I can't tell you the name of the organisation", which reminded me of Brad Pitt saying "the first rule about Fight Club is: you can not talk about Fight Club". However, Wilson told us the initials of the organisation which, in these circles, amounts to the same thing as telling us their full name, and elicited a roar of laughter from the audience. Wilson asked: should we connect magick/paganism with warfare? He tried to provide us with some answers, and started by referring to Greek mythology. He even mentioned Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and Jason and the Argonauts, citing his preference for the former's portrayal of the gods and monsters.
The search for the Holy Grail was "all about combat and magick". Robin Hood had to have known about geometry and maths and known a trick or two to shoot an arrow for exactly one mile. Ireland's Finn Macool trained his followers to learn armed combat, unarmed combat, and poetry, not unlike the Samurai in Japan. Presented like this, the examples seem over- simplified and not much like they have a whole lot to do with magick, but Wilson was an entertaining and convincing speech-giver. He talked about the influence of Bruce Lee films, and the way Lee's early films were dismissed by critics for having a spiritual element. He told us about a man who went by the name of Count Juan Rafael Dante and sold combat secrets the same way Charles Atlas sold body-building secrets, advertising himself as "the deadliest man alive!" He also mentioned a book by an unknown writer named John F Gilbey, which first came out in 1963, and describes many martial arts "secrets" in detail. When it was reprinted in the 70s - the height of the Bruce Lee/martial arts craze - it was classified as "occult". This was a highly amusing speech which generated the most laughter all afternoon, and I was only disappointed that Wilson didn't demonstrate some of his own knowledge of martial arts for visual emphasis!
After another break, in which I took the chance to get a coffee in the hopes of warming up my hands (an impossible task with a styrofoam cup), it was time for the next talk by Clive Prince and Lynn Picknett. It was actually two talks, as each of them tackled one of their two books. Clive Prince started by talking about their new (allegedly poorly-researched) book, The Stargate Conspiracy, which I have attempted to read, but found the first chapter plodding. I wonder if Prince wrote the first chapter, because his talk is equally plodding and impenetrable. Is it too much to ask that writers giving talks like this get sent on Public Speaking courses by their publishers? Prince was mumbling into the microphone, but I couldn't make out what he was saying, and by that point, my feet were almost numb and I couldn't think of anything else except how to get them warmer again.... Thankfully, Lynn Picknett was far more animated when discussing their first book, The Templar Revelation. According to Picknett, Christianity is a "sinister cult". She claims that Jesus "did exist because he's so contradictory" -- her argument being that anyone making him up would have made him far more consistent. Picknett is a witty speaker, describing the Wedding at Cana as "the equivalent of Hello! magazine". She quotes Christian church guidelines on 'how to spot a cult leader': "they tear people away from the bosom of their family", and finds an equivalent quote from the Bible to prove how Jesus did just that. The problem with the Bible though, of course, is that it's absolutely the best book in the world for finding quotes to back up your argument - whatever your argument may be. As for the idea of Jesus being a cult leader, it's not nearly as new or as shocking as Picknett suggests - I said the same thing myself as a nihilist adolescent, and so did many of my peers.
Picknett is an eminently quotable speaker, and if she put her theory in a book of her own, she'd be an eminently quotable writer. On Jesus' support of children: "this is David Koresh, not Cliff Richard....don't all politicians kiss babies?" On the famous biblical quote "no one comes through God except by me", she says: "he's out-Hitlered Hitler with that one". She then goes on to explain there's an Egyptian connection; the Talmud "bluntly describes Jesus as an Egyptian sorcerer" and The Lord's Prayer "comes word for word from the Egyptian Book of The Dead". She even claims that there is evidence that Judaism is an offshoot from Ancient Egyptian religion, but the evidence is not provided here. Picknett provides an interesting and entertainingly presented theory, but my friend and I agree that, like the Bible, it all boils down to interpretation of semantics.
Storm Constantine is a familiar name to me, but I've never read any of her work. She has a new book out, with Eloise Coquio, on the Egyptian goddesses Bast and Sekhmet. Ironically perhaps, on a day filled with talk of goddesses, like the other women, they are confident public speakers, not mumbling into the microphone incoherently like some of the male speakers. They offer another visualisation exercise, everyone shuffling to get comfortable and sit up straight before we are talked through a desert into a forest full of lions. The visualisation is relaxing, although it reminds me of drama lessons at school. Unfortunately, just as I'm relaxing into it, a mobile phone goes off in front of me, bizarrely playing a novelty-bleep version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'. I now have rainbows and bluebirds vying for attention with the lions. Oh well. Bizarrely enough, I am also seeing disembodied cat's faces, which reminds me more of Bast, the cat goddess, than anything else. Maybe she was annoyed at all the attention Sekhmet was getting! After this, my friends and I departed for the warmth of the bar. We were enticed back into the cold hall by Fantasmagoria, a band of "merry troupers that combine the elements of a Paris café with Chaos" (to quote the programme again). They sounded somewhat Elizabethan to me, like something out of Blackadder, and this impression was propounded with their entourage dressed in rags, carrying rubber chickens and putting on a puppet-show. The accordion was a (clichéd) hint of Paris, but there didn't seem to be much Chaos, unless you count the jester-types that were slowly shuffle-dancing on the edge of the stage area. As I left to catch my train (which never arrived, but that's another story), they were projecting flickering film images and people in the audience were dancing and having fun.
Unfortunately for me, I missed the performance poet Inter Ference and the closing ritual, which involved shooting imaginary arrows at the Millennium Dome, and instead had a long wait for a bus that looked like it would never come, but like I said, that's another story. So, did I learn any more about Chaos Magick? Well, y'know, not really. I did spend a day hearing some fabulous stories in what is supposed to be the most haunted house in London though, and I managed to pick up some nice cards and some handmade soap from the stalls, so it was mostly a success as far as I was concerned.
Contributors to Thee Event:
Caroline Wise is a member of the Fellowship of Isis, and co-owns the Atlantis Bookshop
Jack Gale wrote Goddesses, Guardians and Groves [ISBN: 1898307504] and The Circle and the Square [ISBBN: 1861630131]
Gerald Suster has written several books, including The God Game [ISBN: 034066648X] and The Labyrinth of Satan [ISBN: 0340666498]. He studied magick with Aleister Crowley's apprentice, Israel Regardie.
Steve Wilson is the writer of Chaos Ritual [ISBN: 0950500194] and Robin Hood [ISBN: 0950500151]
Clive Prince and Lynn Picknett wrote The Templar Revelation [ISBN: 0552143308] and The Stargate Conspiracy [ISBN: 0316648612]
Storm Constantine has written numerous books, including Thin Air [ISBN: 0751524352], Stalking Tender Prey [ISBN: 0451184017] and Bast and Sekhmet: Eyes of Ra (with Eloise Coquio) [ISBN: 0709064187]
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