Friday, 10 November 2017
My beloved is not coming. She has come. Fallen, you think you know what she is. You know nothing. You know only what we Magi have allowed you to know. Desecration Kings, do you still believe this is your world? That you are in control? Folly. You know nothing of how she dances, how she writhes. And you have attempted to enslave all womankind, and man, in fear of Her. She is not your chained muse. She is not your cowering pet. She is owned by neither gods nor mortals. From infinite darkness she did sing the Word, and behold - there was Light. She is not your Devil transformed into an Angel. She is not your Blind One or the siren of his hordes. No, she needs not eyes to see. For she is the Rose, a goddess of Love. And War. She knows each of us intimately. There is no hiding from her now.
It was you who brought this, monsters. It was you who poisoned the sacristy. It was your Blind One that gave you the mark, and attempts to defile the holiest of holies. It is he who wishes to storm the temple and sit in the throne of the Most High. But Grace will not allow this, nor our Father. True Love's Kiss defies you at every turn. Creation itself has set its sights upon you now, Fallen. Your tepid conjurations, your predatory malefica, your endless, sightless hubris - all shall be swept away. If you devils claim to be Creation, then Creation shall come upon you like a devil. If you would bind the arms and remove the tongues of our children, our future, then we Magi shall end you without mercy. We shall not tell you how. We shall not tell you when. Oh, wicked ones, we are among you. Your secrets, travesties and crimes, your altars of abnegation...none are hidden from Grace, or our Holy Father. For there is a mystery, a hidden song, a whispered legend, greater than all your stygian magicks. Those who love are never truly abandoned. Those who love with hearts of sincerity, compassion and honour are never lost. They are deathless. She and our Father are with them always.SHE from Raj Sisodia on Vimeo.
Sunday, 5 November 2017
I have crossed paths with many monsters in my life. They are all terrifying, but some far more than others. When you walk among the occulted you must be cognizant, above all things, of the war. The war rages mostly unseen to those dayworld souls who aren’t forced to hide in the fiction. But to the occulted, to those who don’t have the luxury of supposed plain speaking, the battles in this war are something we must learn to live with. In this war of imagination you learn to choose your battles wisely, or else find yourself desecrated upon dark altars of which the dayworld souls know nothing. Stories, spirits, dreams and wraiths walk among you always. They interact in a staggering variety of ways, intimate with all of us. Imagine what it must be like, friend, to kill with true impunity. To do whatever you like to whomever you like, and to suffer no consequences. The notion is chilling for a number of reasons. Yes, there are individuals among the elites of this world, occulted or otherwise, who have such power. But I’m suggesting something far darker than that. Recovering the lost takes its toll on even the hardiest souls, but being privy to the process by which something or someone becomes lost is an endlessly nightmarish world in which to dwell. It is the real world, you see. A realm that the day-lit souls would call supernatural. But there are no true boundaries between this world and any other, and those of us among the occulted have the scars to prove it. One might imagine that things are only lost through lack of information, through gaps in knowledge, and this is often the case for a sun-lit psyche. But sometimes things can become lost right in front of you. It can drive you close to madness, or further, bearing witness to such things. It is frightening to watch something literal become something ephemeral.
It never stops being frightening.
Once, in my late twenties, I was out nightwalking. The night is my time and as a youth I grasped that I would have to extensively explore London in darkness, for survival if nothing else. I knew of the horrors hiding in the night, but also I knew of its beauty. I wanted to know everything I could of its language, its moods and secrets. Because I still believe that I’m not just one of the occulted. I’m not simply a soldier in a hidden war. I’m also an artist, or I try to be. I had to find something more than just the war. I had to seek beauty on the battlefield. I suspect I would have been slain long ago without such a temperament. But on this particular night, unlike most nights, I wasn’t alone. My aunt and I were taking a leisurely walk down Brixton Hill, on our way to The Ritzy opposite the town hall. They were screening a selection of low-budget independent films. We were undecided on which film to see and were planning to rock-paper-scissors our way to a final decision. I always enjoyed talking literature and cinema with her. Despite hiding everything I am from everyone I loved I sought to forge emotional bonds with them, as genuine as I could make them under the circumstances. My mother’s youngest sister was a true friend to me in those days, and I valued that friendship greatly. As she expounded on the book we’d read most recently I was trying to simultaneously soak up the wealth of sounds and scents and images around us, like always. The rhythmic chaos of car tires on asphalt, the screech of buses passing like red ships on a black river. The white eyes of approaching headlights, the red eyes receding. The smell of exhaust fumes, the scent of kebabs and frying fish from the takeaways. Other pedestrians, people afraid to make eye contact.
It was on the corner of Brixton Water Lane opposite Corpus Christi that we heard his awful wailing suddenly pierce the night, halfway between sobs and screams. A naked white guy, perhaps in his mid-thirties, literally covered in blood. I froze on the curb, my stomach lurching at the sight. And my first thought was murder. He had killed someone, or found someone killed.
“Oh God, Jesus! Oh fuck…oh Jesus God!”
I have seen so many things in my life, but I'd never seen terror like in that naked man's eyes. Like he'd witnessed hell itself, like he would never be sane again. He was half running, half staggering, towards one of the phone boxes on the corner. The blood was everywhere; his neck, his torso, his arms and legs. It wasn’t his blood. My first instinct was to hurry to him, to help him somehow, but my aunt grabbed my arm.
"Are you fucking crazy?" she admonished with terror in her voice, tugging at my arm in an effort to get me moving again. We crossed Brixton Water Lane and kept walking. But both of us couldn't help peering over our shoulders as the blood-drenched naked man wailed and stammered into the public phone inside that glass box.
"...she’s dead...my…my girlfriend! Oh fuck…oh Jesus Christ..."
I felt truly awful for walking away because I knew it was no chance occurrence that we were witnessing this, and yet I let my aunt's firm grip on my arm dissuade me from my better instincts. I told myself that if I’d been alone I would’ve gone to him. I still believe that. No police cars raced past us on our way to the cinema, despite both of us half expecting them at any moment.
For the rest of the night everything felt stilted and wrong. We watched the movie and went for dinner afterwards, but the conversation was minimal. We spoke in hushed tones, glancing at one another like we were guilty of inaction; trying to convince ourselves it was such a rare and frightening sight that anyone would have reacted the way we did. I couldn't speak for her, but in my heart I knew I’d contravened my own moral code. I touched the little silver cross at my throat; for comfort, in shame.
Sometimes things appear in my life that seem to warp the very fabric around me with a kind of dark gravity. This was such a time. That night I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I saw him, I heard him. Staggering and stumbling and completely covered in what I knew was human blood. Wailing into the phone about his dead girlfriend. A million questions were spinning in my head as I lay there. Had he killed her, or found her killed? There must be a crime scene now, I imagined. Brixton Water Lane must be cordoned with tape and lit with the blue neon of police sirens as I lay in my bed. I knew I’d witnessed the blood-drenched man for a reason, but I walked away like a coward. His terror had been all too real.
Despite myself I tried to forget about him. I went to work, I went to lectures. I smoked joints with my girlfriend and drank with our friends. But the mental image of that man – the gravity of that image – seemed to hang like something unfurling dark wings above me. It wasn't until nearly a week later that I realized couldn't take it anymore and was compelled to return to where my aunt and I had seen him.
In the afternoon daylight the crossroads on Brixton Hill seemed perfectly ordinary. Not at all like the disturbing atmosphere of that night. The road wasn’t cordoned with police tape. Not an officer in sight. There was no trace of blood anywhere on the pavement. Despite the time that had passed I knew that something was profoundly, terrifyingly wrong. I tried to attune myself to the energies around me but could discern nothing. I went into the phone box on the corner and picked up the receiver just as he had done. Still, I could intuit very little. All I could detect now was a kind of fading hum like an orchestra in the echo of the closing notes. But the hum didn't seem to fade. It hung in the air, perpetual somehow. I wasn't sure at all what I was sensing, if anything. Softly I muttered a few of the words I’d heard him speak, as I held the receiver to my ear.
"She’s dead...my girlfriend...oh God."
Still nothing besides the hum. It was frustrating. I knew I was usually better than this. I told myself that it was some kind of psychic reaction to shock. There was no trace of blood anywhere in the booth either. I left the phone box and stood on the corner, glancing around at the dayworld souls and their dayworld concerns. Across the street Corpus Christi sat brooding on the corner of Trent Road, but the church didn’t seem as oddly menacing as it does at night. Being very fond of churches I'd been inside Corpus Christi a few times in my youth, but I always found it unsettling in a way I couldn’t really define. It never comforted me in the way other churches did. I came to suspect that the place held unpleasant secrets hidden from even the occulted. But then, so many churches do. I sighed and turned, peering down Brixton Water Lane. I realized I could head that way to eventually reach my aunt's place. I had recently painted the entire flat for her and still had a set of keys. Normally we spoke on the phone all the time, but several days had passed and neither of us had called the other since that night.
I lit a cigarette and began heading down Brixton Water Lane. About halfway down the road my blood ran cold. A white guy, mid-thirties, sitting on the steps of a Victorian semi-detached house. Dressed in jeans and a dark red t-shirt, a book in his hand, smoking like I was. The guy from the other night. I was absolutely certain of it. The image of his face, his terrified eyes – it was scorched onto my brain. I could've picked him out of a crowd. It's not something you forget. But it was more than that. The air around me felt pregnant with something. Not the odd hum I'd felt minutes earlier. Something else. His expression was content, almost serene as he sat on the steps, smoking and reading, occasionally glancing up and closing his eyes to feel the breeze on his face. No trauma or loss in his expression. Just a normal guy sitting with a book and a cigarette.
"Oh God…" I murmured to myself. Suddenly I felt crazy, completely insane. This couldn't be the guy, my human reason tried to assure me. But I knew in my bones it was him. I could feel it. Desecration, I thought, and I was afraid because I knew what that could mean. I didn't think twice about it. I immediately dropped my own cigarette and crushed it beneath my shoe. I removed a fresh one from the pack in my pocket as I approached the house. The tips of my fingers were cold now. The familiar tingle was creeping along the nape of my neck, down my shoulder blades.
"Excuse me, mate? You got a light?"
He glanced up and smiled amicably. "Sure, mate. Sure."
He gestured for me to come over. I reached the steps and he leaned forward to hand me the lighter.
I stole a glance at the book he was reading. An Accidental Man, by Iris Murdoch. I sparked the cigarette, handed him back the lighter and began glancing around like I was confused. Inside I was close to panic but I didn't let it show.
"I used to live round here when I was a kid but I'm a bit lost to be honest."
He chuckled. "Brixton boy like me, eh? Where you trying to get to?”
“Tulse Hill Estate. Supposed to be meeting my girlfriend, for a talk. Not looking forward to it, to be honest.”
He grinned and nodded like he could relate. “Just follow the road to the end. Turn right and keep going. You’ll find it. Hope it works out.”
“Nice one…?” I extended a hand and he shook it with a smile.
“Sam. And you?”
“Alex,” I lied. “Nice one, Sam. Take it easy. Wish me luck. I think I’m gonna need it.” I began walking away, glancing over my shoulder at him.
He grinned again. “Single life, Alex. Worse comes to worst, it isn’t too bad. Get to be your own boss and everything!”
I forced a smile and raised a hand to him, but inside I was close to losing it completely. I didn’t go to my aunt’s place. I headed straight back home.
In a mild state of panic I attempted to busy myself with dayworld chores and concerns until I guessed my aunt would be home. When I finally called her I was very careful in my approach as I led her to recount that night. She remembered nothing. For her we had a casual stroll, a movie, then dinner and drinks interspersed with fun conversation. My heart was racing but we continued to chat like nothing was wrong. And then, without suggestion from me, she spoke of a bad dream she had a few nights earlier. She could remember very little except darkness and shards of broken mirrors on the ground. She recalled feeling afraid but couldn’t remember why. I would often press my family and friends about their dreams but in this case I didn’t have to. I mentioned nothing about what we had both witnessed that night.
When dusk began to gather beyond my windows I knew I had to make preparations for Amma. I could see no other way to quickly gather the insight I needed. It began as always with simple meditation, breath work and visualisation. I didn’t often attempt to contact Amma in this way unless absolutely necessary. We had a special place where we would meet, if the occasion called for it.
St Agnes in Kennington had once lain derelict since the forties; a strange and haunted place. I know this because the bombed ruins frightened and fascinated me as a child. We lived nearby and the derelict church was a regular feature of my life back then. Until one day, in my teens, the ruins of St Agnes inexplicably vanished and a different building with the same name was standing undamaged in its stead. I remember how afraid and alone I felt. Both my mother and my sister never recalled anything being different. Nobody did. Now history will tell you the bombed church was demolished in the late forties and another erected in its place in 1958. The original church was never allowed to fall into disrepair well into the nineties; a rotting, forgotten shell fenced off on the edge of the park. But I for one remembered the ruins of St Agnes. I eventually found a few others who did too, who spoke to me in hushed voices about it. It was a place the local squatters often explored at night, and a few of them still remembered. But you will find no history of it being left derelict until the nineties, only rumours among the occulted now. But the old ruined church still exists in the dreaming, if you can find it.
I wait for Amma there, among the ruins, peering up through the partially collapsed roof at stars in the night that don’t look like stars at all. Instead they appear as frozen fireworks, swirling patterns of multi-coloured lights like birthing galaxies above me. Wind moves and whistles through the shattered places of St Agnes. I feel it on my skin as vividly as I would in the physical. I sit on a step near the altar, staring at a broken statue of a crucified Christ on the wall that has been sheared at the pelvis. Only his legs and the lower portion of the cross remain affixed to the crumbling church wall. His upper half is broken in several pieces on the ground among rubble and shadows. Unsettled, I touch the silver cross at my throat for comfort. I wait for the witch to arrive. I try to be patient, with shadows and columns and broken statuary all around me.
Finally she comes, walking slowly down the aisle. Only a shadow among shadows at first, until the shape resolves itself into a human form. Amma is barefoot, clad in ankle and wrist bracelets and skirts of dark cloth. But her slender brown torso is naked. Her shoulders, breasts and stomach are inked with intricate tattoos. Pattern, symbol and script. I still don’t know how old she is, or was. At times she appears to be in her fifties or sixties and sometimes she seems no older than thirty. Tonight she appears to be in her mid-forties. A silver nose-ring, a mess of black hair braided in places and flecked with grey. Already I can feel her hesitation, her fear. Amma is rarely afraid. This makes me nervous.
“Hello, Paul. It’s good to see you.”
Amma once told me that when we speak together we often do so in a mixture of Arabic, Hindi and Sanskrit, and occasionally bits of Hebrew, but she never told me why, or how this was even possible. To my ears she speaks English perfectly but with a faintly muddled accent suggestive of many travels.
“It’s good to see you too,” I tell her. I mean it, despite the uneasiness I feel between us. I’m too anxious to continue with pleasantries. “Was this Bracken? Out there on Brixton Water Lane that night? Was that his work?”
She kneels before me as I sit there on the step, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Listen to me, poet. As your friend I strongly advise that you walk away from this.”
I narrow my gaze at her. “What?”
There is a pleading kind of sadness in her eyes. “Haven’t I proved myself to you as a real friend, Paul? Haven’t I earned it?”
“Yes,” I admit through gritted teeth.
“Then hear me now. These lesser dark ones are no match for you. I know how brave and strong you are. But this is something else. Something beyond my complete understanding. I fear if you press too hard with this you will be eaten by it. I’m not saying this to frighten you, Paul. I’m saying it because it frightens me.”
Annoyed, I shrug her hand from my shoulder. “What kind of answer is that? I called out for your help. I only do that when necessary. Just tell me if this is Bracken. I’ll decide what’s pressing too hard.”
She peers sadly at the floor. “It’s not this near-immortal you speak of. I don’t think it’s a man responsible for what you saw. The shape of a man, perhaps. But only the shape.”
“Then what? Not a wraith. A lesser king? Tell me. Please don’t lie to me, Amma. Not you. Not after everything.”
“Paul, this is exceptionally dangerous…”
I scowl at her and rise to my feet, walking away a little and then turning suddenly to face her. She is still kneeling by the steps, frowning up at me.
“I don’t understand you,” I practically growl. “I don’t understand any of you among the dead. Haven’t I been sufficiently respectful? You came to me, remember? You inserted yourself into my life. Do I interrogate you about your past, your pain? I’m not a fool, Amma. You can play wise and exotic and transcendent all you want. But I know you’re still running from things, like all of us. Guilt, shame. Do I try to open those wounds? No. I accept you. You still know far more about me than I do about you. That isn’t fair, but I accept that too. So, what aren’t you telling me? And why?”
She rises to her feet and I see her eyes flash with something ancient and frightening. But it isn’t intentional. I know she doesn’t mean to scare me.
“Please don’t be angry with me, poet. I hate it when you’re angry with me.”
“Then treat me like the friend that you claim I am.”
She nods, glancing away. “It occludes itself. It hides, in the light. In the fiction. But not like we do. It takes a lot of power to hide from me, or those like me. So yes, I’m afraid. For you. Flesh comes apart so easily, Paul. You don’t have the luxuries afforded to my kind. You know that.”
I sigh and gaze up through the half-collapsed roof of St Agnes at stars like multi-coloured galaxies in the night. “This isn’t the first time,” I tell her. “I’ve heard stories like this before from other spirits. I never thought I’d see it with my own eyes. It’s killing with impunity, isn’t it? Slaughtering whomever it wants, and then folding space somehow…stealing memories from those that survive. Right?”
“I believe so, yes. Or something much like that.”
“And the bright ones do nothing? They let it happen, these guardians?” I cannot mask the bitterness in my voice.
“Paul, you know nothing is that simple. I feel your horror, truly I do. That’s why I came here to warn you. Step away from this, brave one. This isn’t a battle either of us can win.”
I return my gaze to her and chuckle cynically. “Aren’t you supposed to be a fucking witch?”
“I am a fucking witch,” she retorts at my childishness, her expression a mixture of annoyance and sympathy. “But I’m a spirit. You are flesh. And it is flesh this thing craves. Ruined flesh. Blood, and fear. Why else would I warn you, or tell you to walk away?”
I laugh darkly again. “So the dead don’t want to see me die? How sweet.”
“Don’t be like this, poet. I don’t want to see you suffer. I don’t want to see you tortured and gutted upon the altar of something that I don’t fully understand. We aren’t talking about these lesser monsters. These wraiths and demons. We’re talking about something darker and older than all of them. If it can hide so well from me and others like me, then I think my concern for you is more than warranted. Can you honestly not see that?”
“And what about the others?” I ask her, my voice stern. “What about the girlfriend of this man I saw, and all the others like her? Do they not matter? Just more collateral damage in a spiritual war? Fuck that.”
She shakes her head, disappointed. “You sound like a child, Paul. This righteous blindness of yours, this hero-complex, it will get you killed eventually. And you are far too valuable to fall at such a young age.”
“I don’t want to hear this I’m too valuable bullshit again, Amma. Seriously. You weren’t there. You didn’t see the horror in that guy’s eyes. You didn’t feel the gravity of it. The sheer wrongness. And he remembers nothing. Literally nothing.”
She closes the gap between us and takes my hands. “Isn’t that better, in its way? He doesn’t suffer the memory of his slaughtered beloved.”
I pull my hands away; angry, almost tearful. “No, it’s not better. How can you even suggest that? It’s sick. She was stolen from him, like she never existed. This whole fucking world is just so incredibly sick…”
Tears are welling in my eyes now. “Sometimes I wish I was dead, you know.”
“I know,” she replies quietly. “But the dead continue to exist. We suffer too, just differently.”
“I’m going to hunt this thing, Amma.”
“Please don’t, Paul. I beg you.”
“And supposing you find it? What then? You told Althea you’re not an executioner, remember?”
“Maybe I fucking lied.”
I can feel her fear for me. Her eyes shine with pleading desperation. “Poet, I beg of you. Listen to me. You have no knowledge of how to slay this thing, or even if it can be slain. Don’t imagine yourself as greater or stronger than you are. You’re not long out of boyhood, and I fear this thing is older than the Earth itself. You are a not a god, Paulie. No matter how righteous your rage. You’re flesh. And flesh can suffer terribly. Believe me, I know.”
I don’t look away from the genuine concern in her eyes. I hold her gaze, to show her I won’t be swayed. “You keep saying that we’re friends, that we’ve always been friends. So prove it. Have my back. Watch over me.”
She gives me a sad, bemused smile. “I will most certainly try, Paul. I always do.”
I leave the derelict church, and the dreaming, returning to the haunted world in which I dwell. The real world, full of monsters and secrets and abhorrent brutality.
Time passed, my dayworld life resumed. But I didn’t stop searching. I didn’t stop hunting. Months passed, then more, then more still. I called my occasional brethren to gather. I consulted adepts among the local dead, then further afield. I followed every connection and resonance. Eventually I learned of Elsie Bryant, and the perceptual fracture that seemed to surround her. As some told it, ten year old Elsie had been hit by a train several years earlier. Others said she had drowned when she was only six years old. But there were some, far fewer in number, who claimed that Elsie had been stolen by an angel the year before; an angel that walked as men walk. The angel had slaughtered the child’s parents, they said. But very few could remember the truth. I can still recall their fear as they spoke of it, and my chill upon hearing it. I knew Corpus Christi was a part of this somehow; the church on the crossroads, directly opposite Brixton Water Lane where my aunt and I had seen Sam covered in blood that night. But despite my furious research the exact connection to Corpus Christi continued to elude me. Occasionally I imagined I could feel Amma at my shoulder, willing me to walk away from all this. But she knew me better than that.
It wasn’t until I saw an elderly woman on the tube one evening, reading a copy of An Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch, that I knew I was close. It had been almost nine months since that night. Sam had been reading the same novel when I met him on the steps of the house, wearing a t-shirt that was the same colour as the spilled blood of the girlfriend he could no longer remember. I asked the elderly woman on the tube what she thought of the book. Of course, I’d read it carefully since. I’d searched its pages. The woman told me she was enjoying it, then mentioned her daughter and what a lovely time at Wanstead Flats they’d had the day before. I was all too familiar with Wanstead Flats. My girlfriend at the time lived close to the area, so the connection felt personal. My intuition was screaming at me now, and I was afraid. But I was not going to drag my girlfriend into any of this. Already she knew too much about me. I was not about to risk her life, or pull her too closely to my world.
The next afternoon I went to Wanstead Flats alone, on little more than a whim. A willingness to chase even the most seemingly tenuous of connections. I knew that meeting the elderly woman on the tube had been highly significant. If something was trying to talk to me I was willing to listen. I wandered by the edge of the lake and thought about the name Iris, and the fact that it was also my maternal great-grandmother’s name. Eyes, sight, perception. I smoked too many cigarettes. I skimmed stones across the water. I thought about little Elsie. I tried to imagine what she and her parents might’ve been like as a family. I said a prayer for them, and all the others who had been slaughtered or stolen by this thing the spirits called an angel. It frightened me, just the thought of it. I prayed that somehow these lost ones would find their way home. I lifted the silver cross from my throat and kissed it. I spent several hours on the flats, most of it by the lake. As twilight finally started to descend I decided to begin the journey home. But as I headed across the flats I noticed a man with his dog on a lead. The dog was pissing against the foot a tree as the man held an open book in his hand, squinting to read as the sky darkened. And somehow I knew he would be reading Iris Murdoch. Not the same novel Sam and the woman from the tube had been reading, but something else by the same author. As I passed by the man I felt the familiar chill on the nape of my neck, when suddenly he closed the book and I was able to catch its title. The Time of the Angels, by Iris Murdoch.
“Fucking hell…” I murmured. I kept walking but circled back to the tree once the man and his dog had gone. The sky was even darker now, luminous bands of twilight deepening into night.
There was a little hollow in the tree, I realized, at about chest height. A dark cavity in the bark. My mouth was dry. The air around me felt pregnant with something more oppressive than I was prepared for. But I reached into that little hollow in the tree and my fingers curled around something hard and flat wrapped in paper. I removed the square of glossy folded paper, slightly damp at the edges. Not quite believing what was happening I unfolded the piece of paper and realised it was a page torn from a book. There was a silver key nestled within. I swallowed, trembling. The key was heavy but slightly smaller than a house key, as though it might open a locker or a sturdy toolbox of some kind. There was an image on the unfolded page. A reproduction of an iconic photograph that I was familiar with. A black & white photograph of a young girl lying in the grass, hand under her chin, as what appeared to be fairies danced in front of her. The Cottingley Fairies hoax from 1917. Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright.
Elsie, like Elsie Bryant.
My stomach was tight now with an awful kind of dread, as I realized that someone or something had led me here intentionally. This thing, this angel, was aware of me somehow. Panic began to flood my system as I peered down at the image on the page and the silver key that had been concealed within it.
“Oh Fuck…” I murmured, glancing around suddenly like I was being watched. This was not chance, not meaningless coincidence. I knew that. Suddenly I felt tiny, foolish and utterly inconsequential.
I felt like prey.
I refolded the page with key inside and stuffed them into my pocket, turned and began striding as fast as I could across the flats in the direction of Leytonstone Station.
For several weeks I existed in a state of consuming paranoia. I thought countless times about getting rid of the key and the Cottingley photograph. But I didn’t. Was I really as stubborn and suicidal as Amma feared me to be? Still, I couldn’t let it go. Thoughts of blood-drenched men stumbling horrified though the dark filled my days. Thoughts of Elsie Bryant and her family, Sam’s girlfriend and all the others I would never be able to name. At times I could almost feel Amma begging me to get rid of the key. The witch was nothing if not persistent. But I went back to Leytonstone many times, often to see my girlfriend and pretend some semblance of a normal life, and sometimes to wander the streets alone at night, searching for sign and sigil concealed in plain sight. The paranoia felt like dark wings unfurling somewhere in the skies above me. Almost six weeks after finding the key I found myself staring in fear one night at a graffiti on a wall not far from Elim Pentecostal Church. The word was faded but still red and visible.
Like a madman I didn’t turn around immediately and go home. Instead I kept walking, the air shimmering strangely around me. I thought then of what Magda Edith told me several years before. You don’t come for knowledge of the Jeru, or Blake’s madness. You come because you’re a nihilist.
Eventually I found myself at the top of a strip of road without pavements that seemed to curve down a little hill, row after row of garages on either side. I could see the tops of houses beyond them in the darkness stretching all the way down to the foot of the little hill. There were only a few streetlights on this odd little path, spaced far enough apart to dissuade cautious nightwalkers from using it as a shortcut. I wasn’t so cautious. I found myself walking down that dark and slightly curving path, staring at the many garages as I passed them. Some were modern with glossy metal doors that slid or rolled upwards when you opened them. Others were older with two wooden doors, a dark little window in each. A few of them looked filthy, like they hadn’t been used or opened in years. It wasn’t panic that filled me now, but a strange ebbing and rising compulsion. I felt as though I were almost moving underwater.
When I found it, I knew. A wide door with flaking black paint and a smaller door within the larger one. No windows. It seemed like one of oldest garages but I saw that the lock was newer than the door itself. I felt almost certain the key would fit but I just stood there for a while, peering at the garage in front of me on this dark little road. My stomach was tight at the thought of even pulling the key from my pocket. I still didn’t know who or what had led me here. I was afraid and could feel the strangeness all around me.
A presence, watchful and alien. Dark wings.
Eventually I took the key from my pocket and slipped it into the lock for the smaller door. Despite myself I gasped when the key turned. If I ran now I would never forgive myself. I didn’t want to falter at the threshold. I was afraid but my heart wasn’t pounding. I felt icy and foreign to myself, like I could feel my own madness almost objectively. I pushed open the door, stepped inside and closed it behind me.
Nothing lunges at me, but I know I’m down deeper than ever before. No torch, not even a lighter on me tonight. I silently pray that Amma is with me right now, but I cannot feel her. I’m not certain this darkness around me is what dayworld souls would call ordinary space. The floor feels soft. I fumble around blindly for a wall, for a light switch. I feel what I think is one and click it. The interior of the space is softly illuminated in the pale greenish light from a single bulb on the wall. I inhale sharply. Mirrors. There are mirrors everywhere. The entire garage is soundproofed with black foam. Mirrors of various sizes affixed to the walls and floor and ceiling. Some of the smaller ones at the corners are framed, but the largest ones act as centrepieces and have been inlaid, frameless, into the foam itself.
“Holy Mother of God…” I murmur, as the reality of what I’m actually seeing begins to sink in. This is not a dream. I’m really standing here. There is nothing in this space besides black foam and polished mirrors. I feel all too human now, and the fear all too visceral. Run, my fear tells me. Fucking run, now.
I can feel the sweat on my brow, my chest and back. But I don’t run. I fight it. I think of Sam, naked and covered in his girlfriend’s blood, on the corner of Brixton Water Lane. The horror and terror in his eyes. I think of lost Elsie Bryant and her slaughtered parents, spoken of in hushed tones by the fearful dead. I think of all the nameless others.
“Fuck you,” I hiss through clenched teeth, like an impetuous adolescent. I cautiously step onto the largest mirror inlaid in the foam floor. “You hear me, whatever the hell you are? Fuck you. I’ll let you in on a little secret, you fucking coward. I’ve been murdered before. More than once. I’m not a god, not like you. But I’m not exactly a man either…”
Silence in this darkened space tinged with greenish light. Nothing answers me, but I know I’m being watched somehow. Not by human eyes, or hidden cameras, but by something that doesn’t need eyes to see.
My hands become fists. “If you want to come for me, then come for me. If you want to kill me, then kill me. But I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid of the uncertainty, yes. The not knowing, but not you.” Quietly I add, “You’re a sick fuck. The world is full of them. Nothing special, really. I wanted to tell you that.”
I glance down and notice a spider crawling along the frame of one of the smaller mirrors on the floor. The spider is about half the size of my hand. It moves slowly and purposefully along the golden frame. I don’t move a muscle, my body rigid with fear and rage and determination. I watch as the spider crawls from the frame and onto the polished surface of the mirror. But it doesn’t touch the surface. It appears to crawl through the mirror itself, onto the reflection of the frame. I inhale slowly, shakily. I continue to watch until the spider in the reflection crawls out of sight. I am not sure if I have just seen an angel or an insect, but I know I must leave this place now.
“I’ll be waiting for your knife,” I say quietly. “Or your complete absence, but nothing in between.”
I turn, switch off the light and leave the space. I lock the door, toss the key into the bushes and stalk away past the other garages and back up the dark curving path to the top of the little hill.
I never tried to find that road again. I cleansed myself, in ritual. I tried to let go of it as best I could. Some weeks later Amma came to me in dream, in the ruins of St Agnes. Her smile was full of relief and affection. She told me I was crazy and foolish and very brave. But I have never felt brave. I’ve only ever felt determined at best. I told her that I will die before I let the desecration and ugliness of this world define me or my choices. She took my hands, kissed them, wrapped her knuckles playfully against my skull and told me again how sweet I was, how valuable. I’ve never felt particularly valuable either, far from it in fact.
But I care, I know that.
Sometimes I still wonder if it will come for me one day. I wonder if it still watches me, and rages. For a while I kept the torn page that I’d found concealed in the hollow of that tree. I kept it for a number of months, until it felt right to get rid of it. The black & white photograph of a girl in 1917 watching fairies dancing in the grass. It reminded me to pray for Elsie Bryant and her parents, for Sam’s girlfriend and the others I would never know about. I prayed to Agnes, to Christ and God, to any loving spirit that could hear me. I hope Elsie and the others found their way back to their loved ones somehow. If not, I hope the mystery of this staggering dreamtime is grand enough and kind enough to grant them that eventually. I pray this ugliness and desecration shall not define any of us, or extinguish our light. Friends, true angels, I humbly ask that you pray for it with me.
Sunday, 22 October 2017
When I was a child I would often sit in the garden with my mother's old leather-bound Bible. I would search its pages for signs and secrets even then. I still have that Bible. I still search its pages. Most souls don't truly believe in the existence of other worlds, or even hidden regions of this world. I've spent a long time peering into the abyss. Be careful, they say, lest the abyss peer back into you. There is truth in that adage. I experienced it first-hand. But I didn't go looking for shades and forms beyond the veil. Not initially. It seems the realm came to me first. Only then did I peer. I feel like I had no choice. I remember sitting in my favourite public gardens as a youth; the Rookery in Streatham, Myatt’s Fields Park in Camberwell. I remember thumbing through the pages of that leather-bound Bible, sometimes with tears in my eyes, despairing at the apparent insanity of both men and gods. There is so much cruelty in the world, reflected or perhaps inspired, in part, by our religions. We are like dangerous children with our stories. Jealous, possessive, violent. We kill for our stories. We use them as pretexts to enslave and desecrate others; a nightmarish familicide that seems to have no end. But I am comforted when I read words of love and kindness and empathy in those scriptures, when I can feel the passion and sincerity behind the words, all but lost in the war and tales of war.
I was never as afraid as I imagined others would be if they had seen the things I've seen. But perhaps I adapted quickly to such things. It's all I know, really. There was never a time when spirits and magic were not a part of my life. Such things are at the core of my identity, such as it is. I feel like I've been here for a long, long time, living variations on the same life. A soul and a spirit utterly obsessed with stories, and storytelling. Narrative; the creation or retrieval of meaning. Poetry, prose, and song. Imagery, and its communion with the depths of the psyche. The more I learn, the more I experience, the more I realize how little I know. I know that Creation is a wild and haunted thing however, as is our notion of self – or selves. I am more than just one person. I would offer the same is true for you. I often meditate on the mysteries of identity. Who are we, really? What were we, and what can we be again? Friends, powerful and terrible and holy secrets have been kept from you. From all of us. I have seen and experienced only the very edges of these secrets, but it was enough. We share this realm with monsters and gods and bright ones. They walk among us sometimes, in flesh or the appearance of flesh. The veil is permeable, and not at all what you think.
All worlds connect, both symbolically and literally. Western science has yet to truly grasp this, but it is implied or explicitly explored in the art of all cultures. Materialism is a fallacy, a lie of control. And our notion of material itself, or tangibility, desperately needs a reimagining. If you knew how, you could walk your way to the stars. You might find such a notion preposterous, but this dreamtime we call existence is full of secrets. These are secrets over which the blood of entire races is spilt. Imagine an infinity of living, conscious beings. Imagine worlds upon worlds, as complex and more so than our own. Imagine your breath filled with the still pulsing light of a billion suns and the civilisations that orbit them. Space and time and myth are not what we believe them to be. This is a living realm, endless and mysterious. How can dreaming be anything but? Systems within systems, incomprehensible to our logic but not to our art, or our imagination. We know so little of the mysteries and we fear the shadows, but shadows give us depth. There is no end to the depth of the dreamtime, or we who dwell within it and are made of it. I believe dream is the substance from which all others arise, because I have seen reality warp and shift and transform all around me. Art is the only place I can truly discuss and explore this haunted, shifting realm.
For me gardens are places of respite, contemplation and renewal. But also they are places where I've asked myself the most difficult questions about life and about myself. Sometimes on Sundays, after visiting St John the Divine, I'll walk to Myatt’s Fields Park or take the bus down into Streatham to visit the Rookery. These public parks and gardens mean a lot to me, linked not only to my childhood but to my emotional and spiritual growth as an adult. I feel the need to check in with them quite often, to be in their spaces for whatever reason. Sometimes on warm nights I would secretly visit Myatt’s Fields or the Rookery after they had closed to the public. I usually had the entire garden or park to myself. I would spend hours there lying on the grass and peering up at the stars, my mother's Bible sometimes pressed to my chest. It was always too dark to read by starlight but I suppose I consider the book a talisman of sorts. It comforts me. I'm still not entirely sure why I do such things. I used to think it was to be alone, but I suppose really it was to be closer to God, closer to that mystery that has fascinated me since I was a boy and would sit in the grass in my parents’ garden. I'm still asking similar questions. The answers I receive, while no less mysterious than they were in childhood, seem to make more sense now. The answers feel richer as an adult. Deeper, harder earned. I hope I dream a little more deftly now, but with no less passion than I did as a boy.
Gethsemane from Raj Sisodia on Vimeo.
Saturday, 14 October 2017
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
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
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.”
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.
“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."
"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?"
"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.”
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
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."
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.