Seven oracular sound recordings illumined by a mythologically polymorphous blog
Please return to Cambridge, to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, with your smartphone (follow the directions as described at the start of my fourth post), but instead of entering the museum, walk all the way along Tennis Court Road until you reach Lensfield Road. Turn left and walk along until you see the Scott Polar Research Institute and Polar Museum on your right. On the left side of the ground floor of the Polar Museum make your way to a case containing a small model of an Evenki shaman from Siberia.
Oracle the Seventh will issue from this, object Y: 2012/14/1.
Please concentrate your gaze on the mouth of the model shaman. Then ask it a question, any question, as long as you hope the answer to it will help you to face life itself. On your phone-device, press the Play arrow on the audio file below. The mouth of the shaman, if you look closely enough, and if you go along with my playful fancy, will utter its oraculations, which will make their way through your headphones into your head.
You have now heard the words of Oracle the Seventh, and in the rest of this post I will attempt to interpret the oracular utterance as best I can.
As the The Seventh Oracle intimates, over the top of its motorik trance-beat and phasing space guitar, the Evenki language gave the world the word ‘shaman’. It says in the label to the right of the shaman’s head that the deer antlers represent his ability to fly to the realms of the spirits. This shaman is adorned with metal figures of animals that also act as reflective mirrors, and other shaman’s costumes are covered with round mirrors (there is one in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology). The mirrors are meant to protect the shaman from harm and reveal what is normally invisible to the human eye.
For Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus, mirrors = a portal to the world of the dead, the invisible realm of poetry.
For Syd Barrett, who covered his silver Fender Esquire guitar all over with round mirrors that reflected the turbulent light shows of Mark Boyle at the UFO Club, mirrors = a deflection of the audience’s gaze, a sign of his growing need to withdraw into another world.
Going by the images and descriptions of the UFO Club performances that Mouse has uploaded to his website, the light projections that bounced off Syd’s mirrors DISSOLVED HIS IMAGE AND EGO in myriad acidic shades of lime, violet and turquoise. The projections made his howling guitar improvisations seem to merge with the layers-polymorphous of colour pulsating, as he sang of the stars: ‘Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon, Miranda / And Titania, Neptune, Titan. / Stars can frighten.’
‘The Muses gathered the scattered limbs and gave them burial, and as the greatest favour they could confer, they put as a memorial his lyre, pictured with stars, among the constellations.’ (Hyginus.)
The Evenki shaman as modelled in the Polar Museum creates a deluge of sound and movement in the light of the roaring fire, often mimicking natural or animal sounds as he spins into a trance to the beat of his drum, the tassels on his robe splaying outwards, his metal adornments clanging and sparkling in the ever-protean firelight as he story-journeys into the sky. Czech anthropologist O. Nahodil writes that the Evenki worship a chief spirit called ‘mistress of the fire’, a half-blind old woman who was the protector of the clan, not only the living but also the dead and the yet to be born.
Marc Augé claims that the modern world’s information overload, of which Walter Benjamin spoke, has created a ‘fictional world’ that has consumed the distinction between reality and fiction in its raging inferno. This has also left us with fictional individual selves that cannot make sense of their identity in relation to others, and whose most wondrous imaginations, their ability to create their OWN life-giving fictions, are threatened. Orshokuv relates that the traditional Evenki way of transferring shamanic practice, via face-to-face communication and personal example, has been superseded by the use of anthropological books, which many tundra shaman-bards now defer to. Augé writes that ‘there is a risk that a portion of humanity might be caught in the proffered game of mirrors so that it would seek itself therein unendingly and unendingly become lost.’ From whence the oracle’s ‘game of mirrors’ phrase comes, no doubt.
Chiffchaff, in an essay she wrote for her OU anthropology degree, summarised part of Augé’s argument thus:
In the way that the Catholic Church from the sixteenth century attempted to colonise the dreams and imaginations of South American indigenous cultures (by swamping them with images of Christ’s death to replace the Indian dead), our dreams and imaginations have been similarly colonised, on the one hand by celebrity mythologies and homogenous illusions, and on the other by a torrent of news images of death and catastrophe, terrorism, mass flight, body parts…
And over this Land Fictional, where there is no history but the last twenty-four hours of news, over this landscape of scattered, unending destruction, like the gruesome debris fields of the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, over it all is strewn myriad contradictory fictions of blame or counter-blame.
Seer-Syd Barrett walked all the way from London to Cambridge in 1982, leaving London for the last time. This is both truth and mythology. By this time Pink Floyd had become one of the most successful bands in the world largely based on Syd’s myth. The following song lines provide a number of phrases that also appear in our seventh and final oracle:
Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun. (Gilmour, Wright, Waters.)
You were always the golden boy then. (Gilmour, Samson, Laird-Clowes.)
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine! (Gilmour, Wright, Waters.)
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon. (Waters.)
The stories of the ‘madness’ at the end of piper-Syd’s time in Pink Floyd are largely exaggerated for mythical effect, wrote Mouse on his site:
The ‘Have you got it yet?’ story, when Syd taught a new song to his band-mates, which he would change every time they thought they had learnt it, is, I would say, mischievously brilliant rather than lunatic, and true to what Syd’s spirit represented (as opposed to the other Floyds).
Suffice to say that Mouse is not a fan of post-Syd Floyd.
Unlike the many pop star fatalities of the late sixties, raver-Syd’s ‘death’ was the woeful personality disintegration brought on by undiagnosed mental illness, probably schizophrenia. The cause of this psyche-damage is unknowable. After the demise of Syd he came back as Roger, which made it a little easier for him to continue in our land of the numb-minded living. And he never looked back. Like raver-Orpheus and the Evenki shaman, the privilege of his ability to visit the realms of eternity was also privileged by a sort of return, but, as the oracle puts it, Syd ‘played (sic) a heavy toll on the way’. By all accounts he was eventually content in his forgetfulness,
Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties… (Grahame.)
The Polar Museum is part of the Scott Polar Research Institute, a centre for research into both Polar Regions. In February 1913 the world was informed of the death of Captain Scott and his expedition party, but it was arguably not until after World War I that he became the national hero that he remained for decades afterwards, the symbol of English Courage, Honour and Nobility in the face of DEATH. The Great War was such a trauma and produced so few heroes that for the bolstering of national pride it was necessary to remember venerable Scott’s encounter with death untainted by the stain of the War. We have a need to look back to the past historical as uncontaminated by the lamentations of the present, and even our own lives often contain ‘seasons in the sun’ – usually during childhood – for which we preserve a particular longing, as we shelter from the thunderings and lightenings of tempest-thrown adulthood.
This is called nostalgia: Greek nostos, a return home; and algos, pain, and where we refer to the oracle again: ‘a return home in pain,’ a phrase which is almost a summary of the end of Syd himself.
Arcadia is never real, it is always imaginary. But can this longing for it also mean a return home to A REAL IMAGINARY PLACE THAT IS OURS, and to Ideals Which We Believe In? ‘The Nature of my Work is Visionary or Imaginative; it is an Endeavour to Restore what the Ancients call’d the Golden Age.’ (Blake.) Can we connect these different particular longings to make sense of what they have in common, and to make sense of our particular now?
It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, an image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. (Benjamin. My italics.)
Arcadia, all the different Arcadias I have spoken of, were all the home of Pan, a god of the real and not the false, and it was the place where if we strayed from the meadows sunlit into the woods tenebrous we were beset by panic, by fear of the horned god, the force of many heads, of life in all its radiant cruelty.
The seven museum objects I have written about here are objects of revealing, arising from a special convergence of forces from ‘the underworld’ which can awaken our sleeping possibilities. It is appropriate, I feel, for you to have listened to the oracles of these objects through your phone as you stood there in the museum. To have listened, in effect, to voices from ‘Them Below’. If you remember Aleck Bell invented the telephone in order to speak to his dead brother Melville. The oracle phrase ‘phone his dead brother’ must be alluding to this.
As spoken by Oracle the Seventh, it was Aleister Crowley (The Great Beast himself) who encountered an object in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in 1904 which, in conjunction with voices that spoke to his wife and himself, revealed the new age of the child, the age ‘of moral independence and innocence’. The object’s museum number was 666.
As spoken by The Seventh Oracle, it was MR James, while Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum itself, who also in 1904 published ‘Ghost Stories of an Antiquary’, stories of old manuscripts and mezzotints which conjured the panic terrible which we feel in the face of the life-death vitalities that are behind ‘the malice of inanimate objects’.
And as spoken by all of the oracles, it is the city of Cambridge that has become a ‘site of convergences’, a confluence of the flowing invocations of Harrison, Barrett and Lethbridge.
I have thought of Beetle most days since she passed. O Beetle, irrigator of my desert soul. Six months ago I received a small envelope (it was ‘posted’ into my tomb as I slept), inside of which was a CD of sound recordings: ‘museum object divinations’ was all that was written in permanent marker on the CD’s surface.
The recordings were the seven oracles I have been discussing in this blog. The main female voice on the recordings is uncannily like Beetle’s. Had she made these recordings before she died in 1973? Had she channelled the divinations from the objects through her own body, in improvised performances – with the help of her friends Magpie, Slug and Ladybird going by the sound of the drums, backing vocals and other instrumentation – in the same way that she once channelled her bush prophecies in The Band of Shepherds?
But how was this possible before 1973, as the oracles seem to refer to some texts written since then, and to objects displayed in the museums currently? I know for certain that the Fitzwilliam did not acquire the Greek stemless cup, referred to in my first post, until a 1991 loan, and the model of the Evenki shaman looks fairly new; it could not have even existed in the 1970s. So the voice of the recordings cannot be Beetle. Unless Beetle is still alive?
I have no answer to the mystery of who made the recordings, or even to the question of their true meaning. All I can do is humbly attempt to do justice to their reality.
This blog, which now nears its end, has emerged from this attempt, in which speculations I have been helped by my beast-mates. I have also, at the suggestion of Sparrow, inserted the oracles into my blog posts in order that anybody can recreate the m oment of their original utterance. And so that anybody can hear the divine voice of divine Beetle, if it is she, her celestial song-dreams from days golden. Thank you Beetle, wherever you are. I hope, after reading my blog, in whichever realm you reside, you will be pleased with my efforts.
I walked to the Gog Magog Downs yesterday evening, and fell asleep on the bank of a hill as the sun set over some beech trees. I then had a dream. Did the final words of the Seventh Oracle predict this sleeping vision? In the dream I saw Fox busking with a cello outside the St. Andrews Street entrance to the Cambridge Grand Arcade. He was standing at the edge of the Links of London jewellery and accessory shop. Fox saw me and started singing directly to me; he sung that the number of my own name, 888, happens to be the number of perfection, and of redemption. He sang, over the stirring chopping of his bow, that I am a storyteller and therefore a conjurer of gods. ‘And so it is’, he sang, ‘that in Cambridge: THE SEVEN HEADS HAVE SPOKEN TO US.’
I then saw that Cockroach was perched on Fox’s snout, Moth on a tuning peg of Fox’s cello, and Beetle, my old dear friend Beetle, with her long golden hair flowing in the breeze, was stood aside them all. As I caught sight of Beetle, warm and salty tears brimmed up. They all sang in unison:
As there are seven notes on the musical scale,
Seven strings on Orpheus’ lyre,
Seven reeds on the pipe of Pan,
Seven pieces into which Dionysos was rent,
As there are seven heads of the Beast,
So there are seven heads of GOG MAGOG,
And THE SEVEN HEADS HAVE SPOKEN.
Cockroach then scuttled onto my shoulder to tell me of Gog Magog:
And the Heads sing: BOOOOOOOOOM! With the torpidly roaring voice of the sleeping giant mighty, hermaphroditic, Gog Magog, the last of the earth-beast brutes of Albion. From the dormant streets of Inverness to Ballymena, Falkirk to Morley, Burnley to West Bromwich, Totnes to Cambridge, her voice, howling from under the trembling pavements, surging up through the mouths of the seven museum heads, is quaking the afflicted land. The thundering Deadly-Life-Mystery music that Gog Magog emanates is music for us all.
Moth then zigzagged in the air in front of me, screaming to be audible:
I hear the polyphonous, phytosonic singing of shape-shifting Gog Magog ring out along Trumpington Street, Pembroke Street, Hills Road, Regent Street. She urges us, in entranced fire-lit chanting, to seek our justice now in this world, in these places where our dead live, to wrest control of our Myths, Stories and Dreams that connect us, to save them from the Fictional World, to rescue them from the [Moth screamed extra loud here] TYRANNY OF THE DELUGE of images and information that buries them in heaped chains. I hear her urging us to [Moth is apoplectically shrill here] tell the raw material of OUR OWN REAL MYTHS and those of others, and to tell them in NEW WAYS.
By this time Beetle was standing by my side and was saying:
Dry your tears Emma. Listen to terrible Gog Magog urge us to claim our stories again, so that we can journey through imagination to the realms of the dead, journey home to the Sunlit Meadows and Wild Woods of Albion’s DEATH-HAUNTED ARCADIAN DREAM, walk with our dead on the banks of the Cam, the Ribble, the Dee, the Mersey and the Thames, walk with them now to search for the suppressed things which are ours, the things which are, the non-human, the non-moral, the things which can make us weep with pleasure or rip us to shreds without a flutter of their own repose. ‘These things are, we are, THE REAL GODS,’ so spake the seven heads of Gog Magog. Awake, she cries. Awake!
So spoke Beetle, who was channelling the buried god, who was channelling … the unspeakable. I then awoke, I was back on my _hill of dreams. _From the top of the hill I watched the dim glow over the tops of the beech trees turn into a glorious golden dawn.
To end. With the words of Jane Ellen Harrison:
It is these real gods, this life itself that the Greeks, like most men, were inwardly afraid to recognize and face, afraid even to worship. Orpheus too was afraid — the garb of the ascetic that he always wears is the token at once of his realization and his fear — but at least he dares to worship. Now and again a philosopher or a poet, in the very spirit of Orpheus, proclaims these true gods, and asks in wonder why to their shrines is brought no sacrifice.
Published: 04 November 2014 Updated: 20 March 2018