A Walk on the Wild Side
This particular working was prompted by the fact that over the past year I have been undergoing some major changes in life. These changes coincided with the arising of a fascination with six London churches built by Nicholas Hawksmoor and in particular with the mythos surrounding them as outlined by the novelist Peter Ackroyd in his book 'Hawksmoor'. After some contemplation I realized that the fascination was connected with the fact of the 'big changes' going on and specifically that the archetype of 'Re-birth' had been activated. Those familiar with a bit of Jungian psychology will be aware that certain events can activate archetypes within the psyche e.g. being born activates the parenting archetype which facilitates bonding of parent and child etc. In this case the changes had activated the death - rebirth motif and the fascination with the Hawksmoor mythos was a manifestation of that. Knowing that activated archetypes can manifest interesting synchronicities I decided to take the opportunity to explore these manifestations to learn something about the archetype and its manifestations. In addition to see if the working would assist the process of adaptation to the changes occurring.
The Hawksmoor Mythos
Ackroyd based some of the ideas in his novel 'Hawksmoor' on the poem 'Lud Heat' by Iain Sinclair. In 'Lud Heat', Sinclair outlines a belief that the six churches built by Nicholas Hawksmoor during the early part of the 18th Century, and two obelisks that he designed, formed a power matrix over the London landscape. He believed that this matrix attracts to itself many dark and dreadful happenings including the Ripper murders, which happened within the shadows of these church sites.
Peter Ackroyd took this idea of the churches themselves influencing what happens around them and made this part of the intention of the architect.
The historical facts are that Nicholas Hawksmoor was a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren who designed and built St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. Early in the 18th Century a plan was put forward to build 50 new churches this was not achieved however a number were completed and Hawksmoor, an eccentric but brilliant architect, designed sited and built six of them. They are:
St Georges - Bloomsbury; Christchurch - Spitalfields; St George in the East - Wapping; St Annes - Limehouse; St Alfeges - Greenwich; St Mary Woolnoth - Bank.
In addition he designed the obelisks of St Luke's on Old Street and St John - Horsleydown (near the south side of Tower Bridge).
The designs reflected the then increasing interest in all things Egyptian and Hawksmoor uses pyramid, obelisk and temple shapes both on the church exterior and within the church grounds. These churches could not be described as elegant rather they are built to impress and appear imposing.
In his novel, Ackroyd tells two stories simultaneously, one of the building of the churches and another a murder mystery that happens in modern times and the police investigation around it. Just to make it confusing the architect is called Nicholas Dyer and the police detective is called Hawksmoor. As the story unfolds the two characters begin to time shift and by the end of the novel coincide. However the mind of the architect is revealed. He has a tragic childhood where he witnessed the death of his family and many others during the time of the Black Death. While still a boy Nicholas Dyer falls in with one of the many strange religious cults that did flourish in England at this time. This particular cult worships the dark god, the God of Death. They believe that evil is only avoided by committing acts of evil and that the human body is an abomination etc. This belief is similar in some respects to the Gnostic beliefs of the Cathars and Albigensians. Dyer intends to have his six churches as secret temples to this god and built into the designs hints as to their true purpose. In order to consecrate them each must have a human sacrifice. As time goes on Dyer becomes increasing paranoid and slips into madness convinced that his enemies are everywhere and about to expose him.
The book itself is a creepy read and well worth reading, as is Lud Heat for those interested in the London landscape and its dark history. However a number of points in the book seemed linked with the Re-birth Motif. As the snake sloughs off his skin to reveal a rejuvenated membrane underneath, so death is the pre-curser to new life. However Dyer is stuck with the symbol of death as his god. The architect is desperately in need of re-birth himself, his obsession with death and the horror of life is preventing him from recognizing that life is made up of both dark and light, horror and joy etc. He is trapped by the enormity of the horror he witnessed and even his name 'Dyer' may indicate that he is the one that must die in order to be re-born. . Dyer seems to be caught up in a recreation of that horror and he tries to sate this urge by raising new temples to resurrect the 'old gods'. He uses human sacrifice to consecrate the churches. The nature of sacrifice is 'to make sacred' only he uses others instead of himself. The thwarting of the true aim of the Rebirth symbol in order to prevent his own 'ego death' produces guilt that creates a feeling of persecution and he sinks into madness as a result.
If you take a map of London and mark out the six churches and two obelisks you can comfortably draw an 'Eye of Horus' by joining up the dots. The name 'Hawks - moor' the hawk being the bird of Horus and the term 'moor' being the old fashioned name for one of north African (Berber), or Middle Eastern background. Horus is the child of Osiris (fertility), and Isis (magic) and his eyes represent both sun and moon. Both orbs are connected with the death-rebirth motif.
I would refer interested readers to the two books mentioned for details of this belief system. Whatever the intention of the author, the fact that I was undergoing radical changes in my own life seemed to create a link with the story. I also happened to work close to some of these churches and this enabled a link to the landscape too.
Method of working
As this mythos makes much of the London landscape I wanted to choose a method of working appropriate to it. This seemed to rule out pure astral workings as physical geography would need to be taken into account. As often happens when a working is active and 'wanting' to be carried out things began to fall into place. I came across two ways that suggested how a landscape might be used magically. The first in an article for the Journal for the Academic Study of Magic #1 (published by Mandrake of Oxford). This article was on the use of pilgrimage in order to experience the sense of 'otherness' or divinity. Secondly, the use, by the school of art known as 'Situationism,', of psychogeography and the dérive.
In her article entitled: Controlling Chance, Creating Chance: Magical thinking in Religious Pilgrimage, Deana Weibel cited examples of pilgrims deliberately creating chaotic circumstances so as to experience the 'Hand of God'. For example some pilgrims set out with too little money, or without booking any accommodation and depend on serendipity to deliver solutions. This 'good fortune' is put down to examples of the power of God and thus used to increase faith.
The principle of the 'derive' also deliberately sets out to create 'randomness' that allows situations to arise that can give insight and creativity. A dérive is an aimless 'stroll' around an urban environment with no particular direction or wish to 'get anywhere'. This device was originally used by the Surrealists to experience aspects of the Unconscious projected on the environment. The result was to experience psychic qualities or atmospheres from the buildings/geography that taps into hidden aspects of the psyche. For example one might view the whole of London as representing the whole of the psyche. Someone who lives and works in London will only ever experience certain very specific areas used habitually for work, play and home etc. These areas attract states of consciousness that make up the facets of personality. By deliberately setting out to visit a part of the city that one has never been to before and explore it in a random way is to open up to new aspects of consciousness that the geography evokes - by mood, atmosphere, or synchronicity. The randomness helps stifle the conscious mind from attaching familiar associations to the unknown area thus allowing 'otherness' to arise. The Situationist movement went along with the idea that environment can be a source of new experiences and creativity but said that the Surrealists were wrong to claim the source as being the Unconscious. They claimed that it was the situation itself that produced the new creativity or consciousness. This is an old argument that is familiar in magick - Do the gods exist inside or outside? For practical purposes it doesn't really matter.
Thus this seemed like an appropriate method to investigate aspects of a symbol laid out in a geographical environment. As the impulse for the investigation had appeared as a psychological model, I decided to use the surrealist method for the dérive, which is literally to go there the whim takes you. The Situationist method is a more 'structured randomness'. They will either use a formula such as '2nd on the right, 1st on the left' and keep repeating this for the whole dérive. Alternatively, they will use a map of one city to explore another. From this they build up mood maps of the atmospheres of the urban environment and explore the effect of this on people.
Thus the final method for this working consisted of the following steps:
- Select a particular Hawksmoor church as the start of the dérive.
- Transmit a pre-prepared sigil at the site setting the purpose and time limit of the dérive to 1 hour.
- Begin the dérive and use a hand-held Dictaphone to record impressions, road names, pub names, wall plaques and anything else that strikes one as the aimless stroll unfurls.
- At the end of 1 hour announce to the Dictaphone the end of the dérive.
- Transfer all information onto paper and begin to look for anything that may reflect the sought for symbolism.
I found it useful to have experience of dream interpretation when sorting through the mass of information collected. Traveling to a new area and concentrating on the environment produced a distinct sense of 'otherness' and a dreamlike quality. As in a dream where one may be observing events unfolding. One is there in the situation and may be observing events with minimal participation. This allows a mild trance state to arise and imagination to play freely on what is experienced. Signs and graffiti takes on significance, hidden meanings may be suggested by street names etc.
The effect of the dérive is not just the accumulation of 'material' but also the experience of the event itself. This really does produce strange states of atmospheric consciousness and increases a sense and vision of the inter-connectedness of the psychic and physical worlds as being aspects of each other. That sense of two worlds 'overlapping' and every object in the physical world not only being itself but also representing something beyond itself becomes pronounced even outside the dérive situation. This belief is, of course, an important cornerstone of magickal practice. It greatly increases imagination and one can begin to sense 'otherness' even in familiar surrounding. Thus showing that a pathway between two worlds are opening up.
Below are some examples of raw data collected and interpretations read from it in the investigation of the archetype of the Re-birth motif.
Data & Interpretation
Dérive # 1 - St. George's Bloomsbury
Church closed for renovation
- Renewal motif
White Hart pub
- The white hart appears in the story of Sir Percival & Holy Grail as a psycho pomp image leading to adventure. Holy Grail is connected with Christ, crucifixion and resurrection. Quest for HG prompted by sickness of King Arthur and the 'land'. Drinking from the vessel cures him. White Hart has re-birth connection because old antlers are shed and new ones grown. In story Percival must cut off its head in order to retrieve the grail i.e. it must die in order to realize the grail. Alchemically, the white hart is used to represent semen.
- Evolution the process of continual transformation in order to adapt to changing circumstances.
Green Dragon House
- Dragon/snake rebirth symbol due to shedding of skin. Also represents power - green for fertility.
- Mixture of old buildings and new a gradual renewal of buildings in the area.
Peacock Theatre on Kingsway
- Peacock's tail in alchemy is stage before the appearance of the Philosopher's stone. The stone of transformation, changing lead to gold, curing disease etc.
Motto above London School of Economics - To know the origin of things
- To increase consciousness and be less subject to blind impulse necessary for transformation of consciousness.
Dyer Buildings on Chancery Lane - Nicolas Dyer character in Ackroyd's - Hawksmoor.
Bibliography & Further Resources
Hawksmoor Peter Ackroyd (published by ABACUS)
Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge Iain Sinclair (published by Granta)
Journal for the Academic Study of Magic - Issue 1 (published by Mandrake of Oxford)
London Psychogeograpical Association