Saturday, 14 October 2017

Hymn of Iskatherion



When I was young I talked with ghosts.  But not just ghosts.  Spirits of all kinds, both dark and light. Often I did not wish to talk with them, but they wished to talk with me.  One of these ghosts told me a story that has stayed with me over the years.
   Once, this spirit told me, an archangel spoke to his demon brother upon a darkened road at Gibeon. His brother was dying.  The archangel plucked a feather from his wing and placed it upon his brother's throat, to restore him.  The demon brother, now a lesser king of Hell, still wears that feather at his throat.  He rages, still.  But occasionally, secretly, he wonders of love.  I told this spirit that I didn't really believe in Heaven, or Hell.  I believed only in the imagination.  I can still recall the feel of her patient, chiding smile.  How young I was then.  How arrogant.  Inexperienced.  I know better now.  Of the Imagination, and the endlessness of forms and shades and agencies that dwell therein.
   I still wonder about that story.  It was not simply a myth, you see.  Not simply a fairytale.  This spirit spoke as though she had first-hand knowledge of the story.  I could feel her very personal connection to the account, and it frightened me.  Because it suggested to me that all things truly were possible.  How, I wondered, were they brothers?  What bound them?  What history did they share?  I still speculate on the nature of their relationship.  In this eternity of dreams will his brother's feather at his throat one day lift the demon king towards a light beyond imagining?  If he secretly wonders of love, what does he wonder?  He rages still, but does he soften?  Does he sweeten?  Are such things truly possible, even in the abyss?
   I have seen dark things find their way to the light before, but never a demon king.  I have heard murmurs however, among the dead.  There is no perfect consensus among the dead. There is only experience and interpretation, just as it is with the living.  Experience of a far stranger and wilder sort though, make no mistake.  The dead have questions too.  It is this that so frightened me as a child. This suspicion that all those I encountered beyond the veil would have their biases and blind-spots and questions, even among the brightest.  This suspicion proved to be accurate as I matured into adulthood.  Now I see a kind of savage beauty in it.  Awe, at the intrinsic strangeness of cognition.  We live, and we try to understand.  This doesn't change, ever.  We change.  We grow, and deepen.  But the mystery that cradles our cognition is genius beyond all comprehension, wedded to us and all that we come upon in the realm.  I have heard what I thought were angels once, speaking on this very thing.  It humbled me, to my bones.  It sank me to my knees.  But it was just a whispering, a relaxed and holy moment among friends.  At least, that's what it felt like to me.
   Now, in this shadowed city called Londinium – this city I call my home – I walk the corners.  I give my offerings.  I rhyme with the night, as I have done all my life.  Sometimes, when walking, I touch my throat as if the feather is there, as if I am that dark brother at Gibeon.  It comforts me somehow.  It evokes in me the sweetest possibility of promise, of a light beyond all imagining.  I carry that imagined promise with me still.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Gemini



Me and Ishmael are friendly
Me and Tom are a gas
You think the world is ending
It's just a Catholic Mass

I can't do it like he does
But Tom says I'm a dream
We fucked like spies on Friday
I still have the cream

I told him I loved him
While he was out crashing cars
I kissed his forehead
He still has the scars

I'm a bitch for the sunlight
But I'm a whore for the black
The Devil tells me don't gamble
'Cause I'll just get it back
But that's why I made monsters
That's why I made you
You think dreams aren't human
That's what idiots do

Tommy tried to secret tell you
But you just made a face
Now another lost soul
Just begging for some space

I'm kind, while you want me to be nice
I'm death's only poison, and you just want more spice

But that's the nature of twinship
That's the heft of the crown
I live what I make
I can get down

I can't do it like he does
But Tom says I'm a dream
He still has the scars


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Iskatherion



We should talk now, friend, about the Jeru.  Those frightening guardians of the trail.  I don't know if they ever had a different name, but that's how my occasional brethren referred to them.  I understood the reference, but I had no idea.  Back then I saw the Jeru as merely a fascinating implication.  I was young, barely out of my teens.  But I was ravenous.  What I lacked in experience I countered with true passion, or so I thought.  Spending countless hours at the Lambeth Archives, searching for curios and anomalies that had yet to sink into the liminal.  One can always find such things, if you know what you're doing.  It is not enough to be gifted.  Both intellect and patience are virtues.  Research is invaluable, even for a dreamer.  Especially so, in fact.  I'm grateful now that fate hammered my spirit so young, tempered me with necessary brutality.  I was not so grateful back then. But as a child I had yet to find a language for the things I knew, or the truth of me.  I am still cultivating this language.  I would be dead many times over without such a work ethic.  What I thought of then as a curse I see now as opportunity.  At least in my brighter moments.
   The signs of the Jeru are varied.  From the ornate and decadent and thrillingly bold to the homemade and casual, but almost always skilfully concealed in plain sight.  I say almost because there are always mistakes, even with the occulted.  I was clever enough as a child to realise that such mistakes were a potential way in.  Mistakes are thresholds, you see, and usually unrecognised by those who guard greater gates.  As a criminal I am somewhat skilled at accessing things and places that should be barred to me.  I take pride in this.  I am human in this life, after all, and often paid terribly for such skill.  I feel I have earned at least a little pride in my abilities.
     Lambeth Archives is a thin place, and not merely in the sense you might imagine.  It is located in the Minet Library, erected in 1890 on Knatchbull Road, only a fifteen minute walk from St John the Divine.  What was then and is once more my local church.  Minet was originally intended as a hall for St James the Apostle, until a gifted woman named Alice died before its completion.  Her husband William, grieving his wife's death, decided it should be a library instead. It was said his beloved was so fond of books.  But few know the truth of William, descended from Huguenots, or the truth of his gifted wife.  Few take the time to speak to the stone and soul of a place.  You see, a few weeks before Alice's death she dreamt of fire and shattered stone, and thick smoke climbing into the night.  There were pages aflame, burned and scorched, drifting and dancing darkly in the air.  Fifty-three years later the library was partially destroyed by an incendiary bomb.  Almost twenty-thousand tomes were immolated.  The Blitz claimed knowledge as well as lives.  I know this all too well.  But the entire area around Myatt’s Fields Park is a place out of time.  Not merely in an aesthetic sense, although the area has changed very little since the 1890s.  There is more to it than that.  The land on which the park stands was donated by William, who loved the gifted Alice so dearly.  A strained and complex love, but genuine.  Or so the stones and the air told me.
     During the Victorian period the name bestowed upon William's wife was eventually popularized by the publication in 1865 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by the mathematician Lewis Carroll. Despite being born nine years prior to the publication of Carroll’s novel it seems fitting that William's wife, having a measure of Sight herself, would bear that name.  Stone doesn't speak the way people do.  There is no linearity as such, and the logic of it is one of dream. Also, there is often a violence to the way places speak.  At worst a callousness, at best an ambivalence to the brief light of lives.  They are so much older than us, I suppose.
    Despite all that I've seen, all that I know, I am still not certain if those of the Jeru are even partially human, in any sense of that term.  But they are so very frightening, I know that much.  I had been told that they could appear as any age, from any walk of life, as both male and female, or something in between.  I shall tell you now about one of them.
    I often walked the route to Myatt’s Fields Park with fierce attention, or in altered states.  Strange places are these, but even I was shocked by what the stones at Minet told me.  It was a cold winter night, with the promise of rain to come.  I stood in the middle of the empty crossing at Vassall, wary of any approaching cars, and performed my communique for St John the Divine, gazing up at the tall spire against the night.  Despite its grandeur the church has never been floodlit. In the night it is an imposing dark shape crouched against greater darkness, its spire like a black knife at the stars.  Round into Patmos, left at Lothian, right at Calais, and on to the wrought iron gates at the junction of Cormont.
    I have broken into the park many times, for various reasons.  The park itself has secrets, but this was not one of those times.  Instead I circled it.  Along Cormont, Knatchbull – passing the stones of Minet and struck once again by the oddness of finding such secrets so unsettlingly close to home. Fitting, I suppose. Back onto Calais, round again to Cormont and past St Gabriel’s College.  I completed this circuit several times whilst reciting Blake under my breath.  I was already in an altered state, but not yet experiencing the shimmering paranoia and thrill that signals nearby import of some kind.  At first it was ‘The Poisoned Tree’ as I circled.  What know you of the Tree, friend?  Or Poor Susan and her holy womb, or William's entire worth of words?  Very little, I'd wager.  Only what the desecration kings have allowed you to know.  Please forgive my presumption.  But it gets lonely in the pitch, as dark as the fire of empyrean.  I turned then to ‘The Tyger’, and having previously grasped the roots of the poisoned tree the air began to keen.  It was not heard, but felt.
   
    In what distant deeps or skies
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand dare seize the fire?

I continued to quietly recite the poem in full as I walked, circling the fourteen acre park over and over again.  As I said, patience is a virtue.  Though the air keened it played with me too, tempting me to abandon such folly and return defeated to my bed.  Eventually, almost two hours later, it began to rain.  And I knew.  I also knew that the Jeru were capable, among other things, of altering the quality of the light.  It's one of the ways they signal to each other, I was told.  There in the darkness and rain I noticed something ahead of me.  One of the lamp posts was glowing with a hue different to the rest of them.  It was not the usual sodium-yellow, but a strange reddish light as though the bulb was malfunctioning, or dying.  It is a strange thing to be unnerved by the quality of a street-light's illumination, to know that you've finally arrived at a hidden place.  A place you probably shouldn't tread.  You’re never prepared for it.  I knew very little about what I would find in there, or what might happen.  The Jeru are said to be frightening at best and murderous at worst.  These legends are shared not just among the occulted living.  Adepts among the local dead have such legends too.  It is mostly from them that I learned what little I knew of the Jeru.
   To know that you are blind and foolish is one thing.  To feel it so immediately and vividly is another.  And to realise you will not desist regardless; well, it is akin to seeing yourself from the outside.  A dangerous, alien thing.  I approached the house that stood beside the reddish light and I was afraid of myself.  All these lives, all these names.  Hiding everything from those I loved the most.  What vein of well-meaning monster was I?  But such thoughts were soon to fall away, for there were other monsters waiting.  Far darker than I.
    It was a seemingly ordinary terraced house, with no obvious sign or sigil hiding in plain sight.  But then I noticed a stained-glass rose motif in the half-circle window of the front door.  It was not yet illuminated, so I couldn't determine the rose's light.  All the windows were dark, as though the occupant or the house itself slept as we do.  But I am not sure if such things sleep at all.  Already a paranoid thrill of great import was surging through me, but with a darker kind of dread beneath it. Thresholds, and the terrain beyond them, are strange.  Often one cannot discern where the exact boundaries are, where the edges end or begin. You, friend, imagine a world of ordinary space.  But I tell you now there is nothing ordinary about space, or time, or self.  I don't know exactly where I crossed, or what manner of thing this house was, or even if I could find it again today.  But the Jeru are said to move and blend seamlessly.  No rupture, no gaping wound, only an attendance to the trail.  I wondered if I would die that night.  I knock and wait, afraid but determined not to flee.  Eventually the hallway light comes on.  A woman answers the door.  She is perhaps in her late forties though it is hard to tell.  She is morbidly obese, and unsettlingly beautiful.  Black tresses parted to one side frame her face, and fall to the ample cleavage of a dark, low-cut dress.  Her face is stunning, her eyes terrifying.  Every inch of her is a mockery of things I don’t fully understand.  Oh God, I think, I am suicidal.  She puts a hand on where her hip might be and stares at me with feral expectation.     
    I swallow, take a breath and recite the poet’s words aloud, careful to maintain her gaze, difficult though it is.  “Oh Rose, thou art sick. The invisible worm that flies in the night, in the howling storm, has found out thy bed of crimson joy, and his dark secret love does thy life destroy.”
     She smiles then, a little, but still her eyes are more than human.  She peers at me, turning my fear over in her gaze; exploring it. Eventually she turns, fluidly shifting her considerable bulk to one side as she ushers me into the house.  Wallpaper in the corridor that somehow reminds me of the 1970s.  She leads me into a darkened living room, half lit by the crimson glow from a tall lamp shrouded with red fabric in the corner.  The quality of the light is akin to the lamp post outside, only deeper. But the room seems wrong in other ways.  There is a Victorian ambience, rather decadent, but also trinkets and wallpaper that remind me again of the 1970s.  Much more is wrong with this room, but it is beyond my comprehension.  Furniture that seems antique; velvet drapes, an ornate sofa, an elegant armchair.  
    Beside me, she peers.  “Have you a name, boy?”
    “Many,” I tell her, with feigned courage.
    “Hmm. You'll be wanting some tea then. No sugar, I imagine?”
    “No sugar, thank you.”
     “Sit.”
     Moments later I am standing alone in this room, in this house that I am not certain is a house at all.  Everything in this room is watching me, I realize.  Every surface, every texture.  My throat is dry, my stomach tight like a fist.  Eventually I take a seat in the armchair.  I feel so small in this chair, in this room. All too human.  I wonder again if I’ll die tonight.  It feels closer than ever before.  But I’ve seen beyond death countless times, so perhaps my fear is not as acute as others.  It’s more the pain I fear.  The pain of a violent death. Few of us enjoy real pain.  Eventually she returns with tea, as promised.   
    “You're still here.  How incendiary.”
    “I'm afraid though,” I tell her, as though I want her to like me.
    “Really?”
    “I'm fucking terrified. Can't you tell?”
     "Yes."  She hands me the teacup and saucer and sits down on the grand sofa, making motions as if to settle her massive bulk, but I can see that she glides.  I will not touch a drop of this tea.
     “So, boy of many names, we must talk of why you came here, yes?”
     “For knowledge,” I say immediately, averting my gaze.  “Knowledge alone. Who put this trail in place? Not Blake. It's older than he is.”
     She slaps her thigh, delighted. "Who put this trail in place? Oh, kid, you know all too well. How handsome you are. You remind me of someone..."
     “The adept dead and the occulted living call your kind the Jeru,” I say quietly.
     “Yes, I know of this. Such fun.”
     “Honestly, I came here not to mock you, or to overstep my bounds. Only for knowledge."
     “I think perhaps I do know your real name.  It begins with an 'R', perhaps...”
     "That's not a name," I mutter quickly. "It’s a title. A pun."
     She nods. "Mmm, true enough. I jest with you. I feign." She leans forward now, her frightening gaze more genuinely curious than before. "I’ve eaten many of your kind, and yet here I am before a true sinister one. How odd, Alexander. How very odd indeed. Yes, I shall call you this, because it hurts you."
     "You know nothing of my stories," I say foolishly, harshly.
     Her gaze narrows like a hunter.  I'm afraid.  "I know everything of your stories. I have you at a disadvantage. You don't remember all of it.  How could you, in that flesh? Yet I show you nothing but respect. I didn’t slay you at the door.  Alexander."
    “That's not one of my names.”
    “Fine.  I don't often have visitors, writer-king.  Forgive me.  Stay a while. I have gingerbread in the oven..."
     I force a smile, horrified. "That's cute."
     “You don't come here for knowledge of the Jeru. Or Blake's madness. You come because you're a nihilist.”
     “No.  No, quite the opposite.”
     She smiles a little, to unnerve me.  “Oh really?  You come for restoration, do you?  For wings gleaming in the sable light of Hannah?”
     “Yes.  For meaning.  For love.”
     Her smile is wider.  "You lie, Iskatherion. Oh, how you lie.  What if they learn of you, angel?  What then?  Will they love you still?  You flirt with castration, supernal one.  I can help you with that."  She leans forward again, grinning openly now. "Would you like a blow-job?   My mouth is a star, nihilist.  My throat is the rape of that love you speak of.  Bombs from the sky.  Burning books.  Like Alice saw."
    Very quietly, I beg her.  "Please, I need your help. The desecration kings are changing everything, I think.  The dark ones.  Space, and time.  Imagination.  They force us into fiction.  It's agony..."  
    She tilts her head, regarding me strangely, like I'm a child.  "You wish to love her, this dead Alice, as William did?  A dark secret love?  What did the Archive let slip?  What did the stones tell you?  Magi, you will not find your maiden among the dead."
    I search for words but find none.  She knows more of me than I can tolerate, but not everything.  Silence is solace in such moments.  I wonder faintly if she will kill me.
    "None can truly love you, kid, because you must lie to them.  But you can love them, I suppose, in a fashion.  But binding these mortal girls to your star is folly. They cannot compete with the grace you seek. Allow them their faults, their wonders."
    "I do...I ask nothing of them except friendship, mutual affection."
   "I know that you try, and they do admire you for it.  For your kindness, your romance.  They don't eat like I do.  Do you wish to be eaten, my angel?  In some perverted little corner of your heart?  Just say the words."
    "No. No..."
    "Ah, yes.  The Jeru.  We who guard the trail of lights hidden within the city. This architect whose name you fear.  Knowledge and mystery, and such.  How silly of me."
     My voice is breaking now.  "I don't...I don’t pretend to know who the Jeru serve, or why this trail was built, but I won't stand by and watch my city being colonized by these dark ones.  I was told there were allies among the Jeru, but you seem full of hate…"
     She chuckles now, amused.  "Hardly.  We are allies to Mankind indeed, and his heart.  Yes, there are monsters among us.  But then, there are monsters everywhere.  Is this not so, kid?"
    "It is."
    "Already I have opened doors for you.  Already I have helped you.  Given you keys.  You will see, in time.  If I let you leave intact, that is.  So, what do you hope now?  Share it."
    "That I live to regret this," I mutter.
     She smiles with something approaching human warmth.  "You are the sweetest nihilist I’ve met so far.  I suspect your hope is not in vain."
     I swallow, afraid, thrilled.  “Thank you.  But, please…tell me one last thing.”
     “It would be my pleasure, bold one.”
     “Your name.”
     She grins at my rather dangerous flirtation. "When you so brazenly withhold yours from me?  Scandalous."
     "I…I know that you want to.  I can feel it.  I'll put you in my stories, if you wish it.  I'll hide you, and reveal you.  I won't reduce you."
    She chuckles almost demurely, glancing away.  "Bold is your dreaming, charmer.  I am Magda, like the wife.  And Edith, like the war."
     Despite her concession I am not fool enough to think the power has shifted. The threat of terrible things still keens in the air between us.  I rise from the armchair, quick not to overstay my welcome.  She doesn't speak again but her eyes follow me as I leave the room.  They follow through the wall as I hurry down the corridor and then thankfully out into the brisk night once again.  I close the door behind me but I know I haven't left yet.  I’m still not out of danger.  In the rain the lamp post rising above me still emits a reddish light.  The sky is still blacker than night should be.
    I hurry away, striding, fists in my jacket pockets.  Only now does the panic come; furious emotions that roil and writhe like a burning sea.  I'm alive, I realise.  Dear God, I’m still alive.  I steal a glance back and of course all the lamp posts look the same.  All shining sodium-yellow.  But I can still feel things around me folding and closing and healing seamlessly.  The air is not quite right yet.  It isn’t until I reach Patmos Road that things adorn their cloaks and masks once more. But the rain is still falling. Truth be told I am breathless.  I feel wild, sorcerous, incandescent.  Skirting the very edge of death.  I realized then with startling clarity just how deeply humanity is loved, and not just by me alone.  We are so beloved, friends.  Things cheer for us, unseen.  Things that choose light over darkness that they may honour the spirit.  Even things as frightening as those of the Jeru.  There was more to know, countless unanswered questions, but my flesh and my fears and my crippling self-doubts had never felt so holy.  Silently I called to Alice, and told her that not all the books will burn.  The hidden language will live on.  I swore it to her.  I still fondly imagine that she heard me.  Up ahead I saw the dark spire of St John rising against the darker night, signalling home.




Saturday, 7 October 2017

Ides of Cane



There have always been fans of Cassiel's work among society's upper echelons. Especially here in Londinium, which is no surprise.  Cassiel built much of this city through his vision, and took nothing for himself.  Or so it seems.  You know of Hawksmoor, and Wren, or think you do.  But so much of what you know is partial at best.  You know nothing of Cassiel, and his elite following.  Not merely an architect to those illumined ones so beloved of his work.  Mathematician, alchemist, demon, messiah.  A figure that would come to equally fascinate William Blake a hundred years later.  The madman Blake, and his encoded Jerusalem Trail through these chartered streets, his plenum of angels and ghosts. When the workhouse projects began in earnest, sinister forces were already marshalling. Blake knew this too.  But it was, in a sense, the lunatic asylums that cemented the industrial renegotiation of this elite malefica.  Did you know that many Victorian asylums were intentionally built on murder-sites, upon ritually defiled ground?  No, why would you?  Only the lunatic ponder such things, the ill and broken.  And it was the very space being prepared for them.  More often than not this was knowledge held only by a select few, but occasionally such unholy consecrations were attended by the complicity of the architects building on such ground, as they summoned diseased towers and gables to rise.
     We should probably talk about Cane Hill.  What was then named the Third Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, completed in 1882, designed by a rather influential man of his time, Charles Henry Howell.  There were always rumours, hints, but I cannot speak authoritatively on these matters.  Besides, I try not to speak ill of the dead.  I'd known about Cane Hill for a while, having spent swathes of my childhood in Croydon and Coulsdon, and had visited Farthing Downs many times.  The asylum always chilled me, even before I began talking to it.  Our relationship to place and places is barely understood even today.  There have always been ways to tease secrets and hidden histories from brick and stone and mortar.  Such gifts, if one might call them that, have been with me for as long as I can remember.  The dead are always talking.  Few listen, of course.  But it is not only the dead that speak.  Places can speak in oblique tongues also.  Places like Cane Hill shriek, hiss, whisper, and close the throat with dread.  And sometimes they speak of jewels amidst these recollections of horror and hiding. Places, like people, have moods and rhythms.  And like people no place is entirely comprehensible.  Mystery lies at the heart of all things; places, artworks, notions and selves.
     I had a friend once, an educated older man.  He was a good man, kind.  But also broken and bitter.  I seem to find such friends only to lose them.  People like Alfie, Lillian, or John; we don't walk easily in the world.  It's difficult, you see, to be in the sustained presence of truth.  With ourselves or another.  These kinds of friendships consume, burn too brightly, or else they wither when forced to deal with lies that others trade as real.  It's a heart-breaking thing, really.  You'd think we would've found a way to remain allies, to forge lifelong bonds, but it doesn't always work like that.  Personally, I try to snatch comfort from such moments when I'm in the presence of those who are more like me than not, even though I know such friendships don't often last.  The Sight is only partially benign, after all.  It can do all kinds of damage to the psyche when presented with a colonized continuum.  Better not to see, we often think.  The shame of the liminal.
    Alfie wanted to talk to me about powerful witches living in sixteenth century Tuscany.  The Renaissance.  See, I sketched a character for him and told him to run along and do his research, cast his cards.  I was young then, still trying to dazzle and intrigue.  I was so desperate for company, and, oddly, for respect.  I thought I could enrapture Alfie, and later Lillian.  I wouldn't meet John for a number of years yet.  At first Alfie thought I was just a punk kid from Brixton who had listened to too much David Bowie and Killing Joke, had read some Peter Carroll or Grant Morrison and now foolishly imagined himself as some kind of pseudo-kabbalist Chaos Magician.  I quickly disabused him of such notions.  I cared more for art than I did for magick, despite being reasonably conversant with both.  When I began to sense his admiration and awe, his anxiety, I must admit it thrilled me.  To be seen as so intellectually desirable, so emotionally satisfying, at least when we could bear to be together.  Many phone conversations and letters mailed back and forth, but too few physical interactions.  And those that did occur needed alcohol so we might tolerate one another.  I imagine it's how spies often feel.
    "I found things.  I found people who recognise the character sketch, Paul.  In Florence and further afield.  Even in Rome.  But you made her up, like the others.  It shakes everything I thought I believed..."
    "I imagine it would."
    "Isabella Maria Corvo. Why that name in particular?"
   I shrug calculatedly.  "Just liked it. And Corvo means Crow right? I guess that amused me."
   I see the annoyance and also the genuine fear in his eyes.  "Well, I'm trying to renegotiate my understanding of everything I thought was fucking possible until I met you, so that kind of smug bullshit doesn't really cut it."
    "Fuck you, Alfie.  I don't owe you shit.  I’ve been nothing but nice to you.  If you don't like how I do things, then fuck off."
    He rolls his eyes, sighing at my brittle youth.  "Easy, tiger.  I'm just saying. You talk in riddles, Paul.  You're fascinating, I grant you.  I truly do.  But you're kind of exhausting."
    "I talk in riddles because I don't actually know anything.  It's feelings, intuitions.  I mean, what the hell do you want me to say?  I told you.  I imagine it.  I don't really know how it works."
   "Come on, how are you doing this?"
    "What did they call her, the locals?"
   "Seriously, how the fuck are you doing this?"
   "Tell me what they called her."
   "The Raven Witch, apparently. Or the Raven Queen of Tuscany. Apparently an elderly woman in Florence told Daniel and Lillian it was 'unwise' to speak Corvo's name.  Whatever the hell that means.  Daniel said this woman told them that black magicians put this witch in a box for over four hundred years."
   "Removed all trace," I tell him. "Cassiel and his friends were beguiled, I suppose, yet someone despised her legend.  So they erased her."
   "So, you then simply plucked her from the aether?  I find that incredulous, young man."
    "Me too."
    Alfie was no fool.  He knew there were many things I was keeping from him. He hadn't yet earned a guileless reply, not from the likes of me.  But we genuinely cared about each other, enough to at least occasionally meet like this in the flesh, in dimly-lit pubs that smelled reassuringly stale and smoky.  We both played at being courageous and I thrilled at his obsession, his inability to comprehend me. It felt a little like brotherhood.  Forgive me, I was so lonely.  I'm still lonely, but less so.  I’ve never been a hero.  But thankfully I've since found ways to help more people.  To be of real service when I can. 
     I hope it can count for something
     First and foremost, back then, I wished to be of service to Isabella Maria Corvo.  Thresholds and crossings.  Alfie had confirmed it for me.  I took a little statuette of St Anne with me the first time I broke into the grounds of Cane Hill Asylum – as a token, an offering for the Raven.  I re-read sections of Dante’s Divine Comedy, translations of Cavalcanti’s poetry.  I happily rewatched A Room with a View, based on E.M. Forster's novel.  Mere gestures really, done to simply allow my imagination the opportunity to resonate in different ways.  I remember how tightly I clutched the statuette of St Anne at first.  Perhaps I couldn't come with weeping stigmata; garish, earnest, but I could at least come with some symbolic gesture of love.  To whisper, "I understand, my beloved. A little, and more than most. Receive me."  I visited her many times, each time fearing that I'd be caught by a random security patrol.
     Each time thrilling strangely at that fear.
     Urban explorers are a slick outfit these days, with websites and cameras, wire-cutters and gear of all kinds.  A fully-fledged subculture.  It was wilder back then, but also a little easier.  A lot has changed in just seven years.  But then, things are always changing.  Lost histories, lost souls, lost cities.  Sadly, I fear I know this better than most.  Cane Hill had been abandoned since the early nineties; gothic, imposing, dead yet fertile.  Sitting on the rise above Farthing Downs.  The imagination runs riot in such a place, especially at night.  The darkness is somehow heavier than normal, especially when you’re there alone, trespassing in both worlds simultaneously.  Things move.  Snatches of voices and moaning are often heard.  The sounds of trolleys and wheelchairs moving, or being moved.  Things touch you, pinch you, and laugh.  But its the air, you see.  The air is strangest of all.  It doesn’t move or taste or feel like it should.  Pregnant with the quality of distorted psyches.  It can unnerve even the hardiest of souls.
     Isabella showed me things in that rotting cathedral for the mad.  She showed me Florence as it was when she was a girl.  Sixteenth-century Tuscany.  The Medici, the Siege, the dead at Marciano.  Full of life and sound and colour.  So many dialects and scents in the air.  Natives, travellers, merchants, criminals. Seething with vitality and violence is the past.  Still living, still concurrent. Not passed at all.  I saw it so clearly.  She raged, did Isabella.  Oh, how she raged.  At first she wished to kill me, I think.  I was not yet real to her, not yet human.  Not yet a friend.  I was undeterred.  She came rather quickly to respect this, and I was grateful.  She could appear as a truly frightening thing, this raven witch.  She showed me her many skins and names and cloaks.  Generations of them, for she had anticipated they would make a fiction of her.  She was a Catholic and a heretic, this witch, and she was no friend to the papacy or those who later revered Cassiel Barrow as a living god.  She only ever shared the scantest measure of her magic with me though.  I gave her no need.  She said that in another time, in others ways, she might've yet desired to love me.  A mere kindness, I think, but it made me feel less alone.  She even called me by my real name.  I wept then, like a child.  She held me, I recall.
     Her story is an ugly and frightening one, and I swore to her I might tell only pieces of it one day.  I honour her.  I leave the mystery of her intact.  I am not a cruel man, despite what Alfie might’ve secretly feared about me.  To my eyes it seemed as though the statuette of St Anne sank or was pulled into the floor, into shadow.  When I reached around blindly for it moments later it was gone.  I still wonder where she took it.  Europe, all over, again to Italy many times.  The elderly perish.  Children rise to maturity, continually.  And then at last to London. Where Isabella's fate took the darkest turn.  Running afoul of these particular desecration kings.  The same and yet different to the monsters of Florence or Rome.  1887.  Irish socialist riots in Trafalgar Square.  Annie Besant, William Morris, George Bernard Shaw.  Trampled by horses.  I feel Isabella's bones break, her ribs fracture.  Blood in her throat.  Oh, Isabella.  You wanted to feel the pulse of history's making, but you were corralled by dark ones into a spiritual ambush. My sweet fiction, I cry at the injustice of it.  I cry for you.  This box they made cannot contain you.  I break it.  I break it with these words.  You lived, you walked the Earth for over four hundred years.  And then London, then hospitals, then Cane Hill.  No chance of escape or recovery.  The violations, the defilement.  It is no wonder you rage as you do, raven one.  I curse them for you, with this kiss. With these words.
    Through time and space and even reason, the desecration kings seek to control all those like Isabella.  Those kind and dangerous ones who live beneath the ageless star, in radiant darkness.  Always these kind and dangerous ones are hunted, raped, slain, and resurrected in mockery of their former selves.  It is a mockery of human agency, friends.  The abnegation of meaning itself.  It is not what Cassiel wanted, far from it.  The ritual-killing of our ability to control our own narrative.  Well, I swore I would defy them just as the raven had done. 
     In the November of 2010 I went back to her a final time.  You see, she spoke to me of Feronia; Roman witch-goddess of the wilderness, of freedom and fire. Those legends still abound in Isabella's Tuscany, though the raven herself is rarely mentioned by those cloaked adepts who hide in the fiction just as she did.  I can hide in the fiction too.  I recall the timbers burning, I recall my own terror when for a few minutes I feared I had foolishly trapped myself amid the gathering flames, and that I would not outrun them or escape unscathed.  Yes, I thought I was going to die down in that basement.  Sometimes I flirt with the notion that the raven herself guided me out.  Later, when I watched the scene from afar, it felt like a dream.  I could feel Isabella's relief, her thankfulness.  There were other spirits saying similar things, but I heard only her.  She knew me.  She dared to befriend me.  And she held me when I wept.  She called me by my real name. They say at midnight the clocktower came crashing down amidst the blaze.  Even now I smile at this, seven years later.  I often wonder where Isabella dwells now. I wonder if she is still here, still walking this bitter Earth.  Daughter of Light and Firenze.  Wife of mine, if only briefly.  Lost to history, but not to me.

Friday, 6 October 2017

I, For One



Bringers of light feared as darkness, indeed.  These ruins, blithely called axioms and chronologies. Things change, friends.  Moment to moment, here, everywhere.  Each change profound.  Only our perspective occludes this profundity.  Apertures mediated.  Time, personhood.  Not enough to merely enslave a free entity.  No, the young are reared for slavery.  Such a ruin, such a defiling hive.  I, for one, know so much more than you.  And I, friend, know nothing.  Without humility neither mortal nor god knows truth.  Are we only pretending to understand this?  Know you who I am?  Only that which you are.  The power in it, friend.  The quickening.  You speak in tongues.  You invite my invitation.  You can cheer my turning away.  You are king and queen, stranger.  And you have no name.  Do not fear me.  Our relationship is intimate, ancient, allowing cognition and questions.

Where are you?  Not where you think you are, surely?  This strange fascination your leaders have with disembowelment, disarticulation.  You search desperately for a purely human evil, still.  You search in vain, child.  Trade not your knowledge of monsters for the distracting glamours of this febrile perdition.  You are being eaten.  Recover your nuance.  Gather your strength.  Tell them no, you do not belong to them.  They cannot own your mystery without your implicit consent.  Every other part of you is theirs already.  Do you grasp this, gentle one?  Engineered axioms and chronologies.  Every other part of you is theirs already, save your mystery.  It is this, only this, over which the War rages.  Sweet one, incandescent sleeper, your bones and flesh once told you.

The hideous interim, this perfect lie of a place beyond dream.  The darkest, ugliest lie.  All poetry, prose, symbol and swift and attendant logics they crave.  Fear you they come for your peace.  No, they come for your unasked questions.  They come for your depth.  They come for the mystery of you. Upon this, predicated are all other hungers.  For sharing such fire many were slaughtered.  I, for one,  was among them, as were you.  Murdered so many times, all.  Mortals wage war with weapons. Spirits and gods wage with stories.  But we mortals are still both spirit and god, stumbling blind through the fractal ruins of our divinity.  Axioms and chronologies.  You cannot cease.  You can only fall or rise, darken or deepen.  Recover story, renegotiate myth.   Absent knowledge.  Bringers of light feared as darkness.  Theater of the febrile perdition, the desired eternity.  Reject it.  Guard your unasked questions.  Protect your depths.  I shall not leave you, or them.  I am at War with those who would debase love, those who would ask us to consent to this unending rape, this unholy weapon-making of our mystery.  I, for one.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Briars & Liars



When I was a kid, and was convinced I'd be a published novelist someday, I wrote all kinds of speculative weird fiction.  What today might be called 'psychogeographical mystery fiction', straight from the imagination of a precocious teenager who was far too convinced of his own deftness with all things mysterious.  That belief had the shit kicked out of it pretty damn quickly, if you're interested. See, things I wrote had a habit of coming true, or partially true - which was even scarier.  Which made me think, "Who the fuck or what the fuck is at the reigns here? What even IS authorship, if such things are possible?"  Case in point, I had this character.  I called him Paul.  I called many of my characters Paul because I was so desperate for my ardent and fearless protagonists to be sexier, more erudite versions of myself.  I was called Paul for the first three weeks of my life until my father insisted I should be named after a king.  So characters called Paul often turned up in my fiction, where I could discuss and confess things it would be unwise to do in polite company.  
     Anyway, this particular Paul was kind of a private detective.  His speciality was the recovery of lost things.  Not just people, mind, but objects, buildings and even occasionally entire London streets. See, things would slip sometimes, or be forced, into the place between places.  Our hero Paul lived in a kind of supernatural underworld, obviously.  And sorcerers, adepts and operators often hired him to find things that had been lost to the liminal.  Paul was pretty good at his job, but he was also a bit of a dick.  Essentially kind-hearted and good-natured, but a bit of a misanthrope.  Forgive me, I was young.  Anyways, one time the real me – or the realish me – was in an old pub in Bethnal Green when one of my stories sort of came true.  Briarsgate.  Oh, how that name chills me now when I try to wrap my head around the ontology of the thing.  
     Let me back up and provide some context for those with ears and eyes.  Paul had been tasked by an elderly witch and former nurse called Althea Rice to recover Briarsgate Hospital.  It had stopped existing, you see.  She'd worked there in the forties and fifties, or so she claimed.  One of the last surviving remnants of old Hackney, real Hackney, until it wasn't.  This was no virgin territory for Paul.  He'd once found an entire street hidden in Shoreditch, populated by people who were trapped in September 1940.  Air raid sirens and panicked nausea.  Bombers overhead.  But that's another story, though connected to this one.  Paul eventually found the lost Briarsgate Hospital, but stumbled upon further revelations regarding an unholy conspiracy involving London's occult elites.  These things happen, more than you might be comfortable with.  It nearly killed our poor protagonist Paul. Because an occultist and near-immortal surgeon named Edward Bracken, who had worked at Royal London before transferring to Briarsgate, was using the Blitz as a cover for all kinds of sinister magick involving the corpses of London's dead.  Yeah, cheerful.  So the real me is sitting in this pub in Bethnal Green, when I overhear a name that shouldn't exist outside the pages of my evocative but rather naïve teenage fiction.
     "...at Briarsgate Hospital in Hackney."
     "What, mate? You mean the Queen Elizabeth Hospital For Children, right?"
     I glance over immediately, ice-cold and unnerved.
     "Uh…yeah, yeah," mutters the first bloke, giving himself a bewildered little shake like he was rousing himself from a momentary trance.  I watch him take a fortifying sip of lager, and the conversation goes on as normal.  No further mention of Briarsgate.  Now, I was used to this kind of shit.  But not this exact shit in particular.  I didn't imagine it, at least not in conventional terms.  So, did I force his mind somehow?  Was my physical proximity the cause of some kind of imaginal bleed-through?  Well, not quite.  
     Because I'm going to tell you a secret now.  You're not going to believe it, which is why I'm telling you.  Briarsgate Hospital is real.  You can still find it, if you're adept and very, very clever.  Hell, I'm neither of those things and I found it.  Furthermore, I imagined it as fiction ten years before I found it in this staggering dreamtime that we call real life.  I found it on my twenty-sixth birthday.  You’re probably wondering what it’s like to physically wander through the halls of a hidden place that you previously assumed existed only within the confines of your own mind.  Well, for the sake of brevity let’s just say it was a fucking trip.  Something I’m still attempting to process twelve years later.  I found Althea too, and strange pieces of evidence regarding the literal existence of Dr Edward Bracken.  Life is frightening, friends.  Real life is very, very frightening.  Let's just say I'm glad I never met him in the flesh.  He was nothing short of a monster.
     These revelations led me back to that spot in Shoreditch where Paul found the hidden street that was trapped in September 1940.  But there was no street there, no anachronism sunk in the place between places.  At least, not that I could see with my inner or outer eyes.  There was however some rather odd graffiti.  Strange graffiti that says more than it really should can be found all over London. But I should probably shut my fucking mouth about that.  Cassiel Barrow; the occulted seventeenth century architect so beloved by Hawksmoor.  Raven's Heath, the derelict St Agnes Church, the London Wraiths documentary...I should probably shut up about all of it.  Briarsgate Hospital was also St Xavier's Hospital, completed in 1896, but this little piece of writing is far too convoluted already. Let’s keep things simple, if we can.  But as I said, this tale won't be believed.  Which grants me certain freedoms.  How do these freedoms feel, now that I say these things and speak in these vagaries that lead nowhere?  I feel less isolated, I suppose.  Paul adores his own company, as do I. But I foolishly used to think I was more lonely than he was.  Spiritual insight, I thought, or the invulnerable composure of authenticity and sex-appeal?  You gotta serve somebody, as Bob Dylan once wrote.  Paul was who I thought I wanted to be.  Grander, somehow.  Althea called me a liar, a coward, for not "writing it better".  I told her that I'm not a witch like her, that I’m little more than an abused child, still struggling to process his trauma.  Though understanding, she was having none of it. She wanted me to be heroic, I guess.  Misanthropic, perhaps, but ultimately noble.  I thought I was.  I still hope I am.  She wanted me to find Edward, you see, and end him for good.  He had lived far too long a life.  Althea desired a vengeance masked as justice that she was now too elderly and too fictional to deliver herself.  Petitioning the real the way we real petition heaven.  Her heart was in the right place, I suppose.  Her grandmother had told her about Edward and his satanic cohorts.  She knew how the children suffered, before and during the Blitz, and the many years that followed.  I'm a lot of things, but I'm not an executioner.  I told Althea that.  She dismissed me; angry, impotent.  I never saw her again.  I looked for her though, many years later, but never found her.  She became dream once more, I suspect. 
     I even met Paul once.  Or glimpsed him, I should say.  I would have liked it to be a blending of both worlds, a moment of mutual recognition and comprehension as the veil was pierced.  But it wasn't like that at all.  I noticed him but he didn't notice me.  The opposite platform at St Pancras.  I watched him boarding the train, desperate for him to glance up and see me.  But he didn't.  I was struck by a number of things.  Some potentially comical, some not.  He was a little fatter than I was expecting, badly dressed, but also more handsome.  But the general feeling was one of exhaustion and sadness.  He looked so sad, and tired, but he had a half-smile on his lips.  Like he possessed a secret; signalling to other adepts, I suppose.  But I, being his creator, or he mine, saw through that armoured smile.  I saw how delicate and wounded and lonely he was.  Strong though, very strong.  I think he cried a lot, more than I was ever comfortable confessing in my fiction.  I wondered what he might think about as he sat on that train surrounded by the unsuspecting.  I imagine he thought about a London beyond the betwixt.  The imagined contours and moods of it.  The hard-edged definition, the sharp, oxygenated atmosphere.  I muse on such a world too.  I bid him safe journeys in his sunken city and returned to my own Neo-Gothic pages adorned with glyphs, many of which were still inscrutable even to me.  I think now, as I often do, about how to best sell salient truths as fictions to the half-digested and powerless, to those who while intuitive and discerning are as lonely as Paul and I find ourselves.  We have to seek out ways to care about one another, to recover the lost.  There's an art to the thing, you know?


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Black Wedding



I hear a lot of bullshit about love.  That it's fleeting, or merely chemical, or wholly illusory.  We hold it up as something sacred, something truly beautiful, yet many of us spend much of our time ignoring, debating or squirming around it's existence.  In this age of cynicism and apathy talk of true love and its kiss are seen by many as cringeworthy, far too earnest and naive. Something for silly teenagers or woolly-headed hippies, or, at best, something for poets to wax lyrical about.  Fuck that noise.  To hell with that imperious, cowardly dismissal of Grace and her divine wisdom.  Whatever else I may be I am a romantic at heart.  I love passionately, without inhibition or apology.

Because I've seen love do amazing things.  Since I was a small child I've been fascinated by love, and love stories.  For me all stories are love stories.  And while romantic love is the jewel in that spiritual crown of mine, it is by no means the only form or power of love.  The deep and often painful love between family and friends, the delightful, unexpected tenderness that can be found between strangers.  Love is physical and spiritual all at once.  For me love is the kiss, the sword, the cross that unites Heaven and Earth.  It is the tangible and intangible working in concert.  It is a force and an outlook and a series of actions, emotions and ruminations that always expands the consciousness of those experiencing its mysteries.  And I've seen it.  I've felt it.  I've held that shimmering star of creation in my palm.  It burned me.  It scarred me, but it made me greater, wiser.  It made me a better man.  I would not still be here without its tempering, empowering grace.  

I don't know about you, but in my world darkness finds a way to invade and sully almost everything, but it cannot slay my love. That innermost radiance is beyond destruction.  Sure, the object of our affections can be taken from us - we can be agonisingly parted from our beloved - but nobody can tell us that radiance isn't real. Like all precious things love can be lost, it's true.  But through the honouring of that love - memory and experience made sacred - it can attain an immortality.  It's this incorruptible immortality that comes to you in the night, kisses your cheek with unbearable sweetness, bids you safe journeys and whispers that you are never alone.  Upon waking we often think such things are mere wish fulfillment, foolish romance.  Your love often smiles at this, knowing the depths of this secret that we try so often to deny, lonely but bashful in our innocence.  We can be broken, we can be damaged, we can be toxic and spiteful and raging.  But love saves us.  Love tells us that we are not reducible to a mere cliche, or a quirk of biochemistry, or a brief and meaningless swirl of carbon and starlight.  We are connected to the source, always.  So yes, love is dangerous and transformative.  It threads subject to object and nucleus to star.  It traverses veils and boundaries. Love is necromantic.  It can liberate the enslaved.  It can bring the dead to life.  And here, now, at this time, we are in need of the passions and wisdom of the dead, of those who still recall love's flame. Till death do us part, my beloved.  And even then, eventide presents no obstacle.  For in this marriage we find each other always, and ourselves.  Now, and Evermore.