Archive for November, 2013


‘A Beer Mug is Architecture’: Remembering Doug Bower and Dave Chorley

November 28, 2013

Behind comedy and tragedy we only find the dramas of life which unite them both, not in noble heroes and treacherous villains, only in people.

Asger Jorn, ‘Intimate Banalities’.

The Landing

I first heard about something ‘strange’ going on in the Hampshire/Wiltshire downland when I hitched a lift back from Glastonbury (the town, not the festival) in Summer 1983. A bloke pulled over in an old banger in Frome and drove me all the way to the Maypole Roundabout in Hedge End. Conversation touched upon his involvement in the famous archaeological dig in 1953 at the Walbrook, in the City of London, and his work for the Admiralty in Portsmouth designing nuclear torpedoes. (Typing that, I’ve just realised the strange synchronicity of that encounter with the purpose of my ascent of Glastonbury Tor earlier that day – to transmit my thoughts, telepathically, against the stationing of cruise missiles at Comiso, a military base in Sicily – I’m guessing it was June 1st 1983, or July 24th…). As the A36 snaked around the grassy, sunbaked hills that loomed above us, my host reflected on how it must have been a time of endemic warfare in prehistory, what with all those hillforts… and I thought, how appropriate that someone engaged in military production should have such a militarised perception of prehistory. Being close to Warminster, UFOs were bound to crop up, and I was interested to hear that UFO landing places had been found as circular impressions in cornfields in the very area we were passing through: Knook, Heytesbury, Codford, the Langfords…

Now, I’ve finally figured out that it must have been that same Summer of 1983 that the Southern Daily Echo ran a story about five mysterious circles of flattened corn, which had magically appeared overnight in a natural amphitheatre known as ‘the Devil’s Punchbowl’, at the bottom of Cheesefoot Head, just outside Winchester. I was stunned by the photograph, which showed the circles arranged in a pattern familiar from dice – the quincunx – just like this pattern of dots below.quincunxI found the report and picture breathtaking, and I marvelled at whatever unknown force of nature or act of creativity brought such a pattern into being. Seeking clues as to its significance I even came to see a parallel with the arrangement of castles on the Winchester Coat of Arms…

Speed 1611

Claimed as the first reported occurrence of the ‘five-in-a-dice’ formation, earlier examples have actually been claimed here, including in Heytesbury, of all places, in the 1950s. The appearance of new circles impressed in fields around southern England became an annual summer treat, proliferating and growing in the complexity of their design and the theories elaborated to explain their meaning and purpose, from extra-terrestrial visitations to meteorological phenomena like ‘plasma vortices’.

Portsdown Hill, nr Fort Nelson 2004

Portsdown Hill, nr Fort Nelson 2004:
‘the basic motion of matter has the character of the spiral’ – Asger Jorn

Twenty-five years on, and the chance find in an Oxfam shop of a framed photograph of three crop circles, arranged in an equilateral triangle – bearing the handwritten legend, ‘Hampshire 1988’ and signed ‘Douglas Bower’ – has caused me to revisit the sense of wonder the crop circle phenomenon aroused in me. More than that, though, it’s also prompted me to think about what then appeared as the amusing incongruity of the two men – Doug Bower and Dave Chorley – who stepped forward in September 1991 as architects of some of the most memorable early patterns impressed in the corn – including, arguably, the quincunx that so inspired flights of fancy in me. They too were inspired, in part, by the ‘flying saucer nests’ seen by Bower  in Australia in the 1960s: circles of flattened vegetation, associated with sightings of UFOs.

Why did they seem incongruous to me? I suppose the sheer down-to-earthness of two amateur artists who talked, in their Southampton/Hampshire-accented vernacular – not as prevalent in broadcast media as posh, Cockney, Scouse, or Geordie speech – of enjoying a few pints and a couple of cheese rolls, and the sheer pleasure of being in a cornfield at midnight under the light of the moon. Seemingly, their earth-bound activities were a world away from stories of alien abductions and messages from cosmic intelligences. Or maybe not… A mile or so from the Punchbowl, near the village of Chilcomb, Mrs Bowles and Mr Pratt had their ‘Close Encounter’ with ‘something’ in 1976.

The intervention of Dave and Doug was bound to attract the ire of believers in some overarching purpose behind ‘the mystery’. Personally, while I accept that the two of them have been responsible for many manifestations since 1978, I do think that something funny has been going on… just not sure what. The formation which Doug Bower has signed a framed photograph of, is known to crop circle watchers as a Triangular Triplet (see here), and appeared in the Punchbowl below Cheesefoot Head, probably on the morning of 4th June 1988.


What strikes me about this formation is its resemblance to the Pax Cultura symbol, developed by Nicholas Roerich from Central Asian Buddhist iconography.


Nicholas Roerich Mongolia Stones 1933

That aside, there is a line of commentary about them which I want to challenge.

Art and Class

The parenthesised description of Doug and Dave as ‘artists’ is a common motif informing much of the opprobrium or contempt directed towards the pair, whether from believers in a (super)natural origin for the patterns or disinterested commentators. The avowal that they used to meet in the pub and talk about art and painting has been greeted with a level of incredulity and derision in some quarters, in keeping with the current tone set by ‘celebrity’ commentators in a spectacular theatre of cruelty, mocking the weak. Perhaps the two should have just said they talked about football and backing horses. What such condescending mockery betrays, I suspect, is a patrician attitude that dictates that people from a working class background cannot combine artistic activity – as artists, rather than ‘artists’ – with wit and a sense of the absurd.

Samuel Palmer The Harvest Moon c1833

Samuel Palmer The Harvest Moon c1833

I was a delivery postman in Southampton at the time the media storm broke. One day, when I was on the bus heading back to the sorting office, a man I recognised as Dave Chorley got on, accompanied by a young man I assumed to be his son, taking the seat immediately behind me.  I played it cool and didn’t ask for an autograph, though now I wish I’d at least said something at the time. Sadly, Dave Chorley died in 1997. His eldest son, Richard Chorley, has written a moving appreciation here, a letter in response to the charlatanry of conspiracy theorists who have appropriated ‘the spirit of Dave Chorley’ to their belief system. This heartfelt text also stands as a necessary riposte to the condescension mentioned before. Richard Chorley describes Doug Bower and his father as much more than elderly ‘practical jokers’ or cynical, agenda-driven ‘Hoaxers’. Drawn to the countryside for ‘the ultimate artistic expression of their emotional relationship with its spirit and form’, they were ‘semi-mystics’ in their approach and relationship with the ‘undefinable energies’ of the land, a territory which ‘becomes an extension of our human emotions and journey’.

Reading the letter, while being mindful of some of the high-minded and snobbish dismissals of the two as ‘amateurs’, has led me to re-read Asger Jorn’s celebration of the fundamental importance of the banal in art, ‘Intimate Banalities‘, published in 1941 in the journal Helhesten. Its validation of bad taste and the ‘abolition of the aesthetic principle’ is most relevant to the playful activity of these two working-class auto-didacts:

There are countless examples of anonymous banalities whose validity and power span centuries and far surpass any brilliant performance by our so-called great figures. If you look carefully, you will also find that even their merits reside in their ability to get to grips with banalities… There can be no picking, no choosing; there can only be a penetration into the entire cosmic law of rhythms, forces, and matter which is the real world, from the ugliest to the most beautiful, everything that has character and expression, from the coarsest and most brutal to the gentlest and most delicate, everything that, having life, speaks to us. The children who love printed scraps and paste them into scrapbooks… bring greater hope to artists than any plethora of art critics and museum directors.

Jorn argues that we ‘cannot inherit a rigid, immobile outlook on life and art from the older generation’, that ‘the expression of art is different for each time frame, as are our experiences’. Though ‘willing to learn everything we need from older generations… we will decide for ourselves what we need; no-one else can do that for us’.  How appropriate in this context, then, is this statement of Doug Bower:

When I went to my village school as a boy in Upham, ten miles from Southampton, there was a local man who’d go to the pub every night and on his way home he’d take off every garden gate and leave it further up the lane. He was a practical joker and it rubbed off on me. He was my hero. The circles were my chance to emulate him (Daily Mail, Friday January 8th, 1999 from here.)

Samuel Palmer A Cornfield by Moonlight, with the Evening Star 1830

Samuel Palmer A Cornfield by Moonlight, with the Evening Star 1830


These days, you won’t find Dave and Doug enjoying a pint at the Percy Hobbs, the pub outside Winchester where they discussed art and planned their nocturnal expeditions. In the shift towards a desocialised, private existence, the pub – like so many others – has closed. It is now a designer furniture outlet. The Punchbowl, nowadays, is an open-air music festival venue, known as the Matterley Bowl – registering a shift towards the commodification and supervision of social activity.

Oh, and… Happy Birthday, William Blake. 256 today!


Moving Mountains: Shamanic Rock Art and the International of Experimental Artists

November 24, 2013

Doing an internet search, using the term ‘Bayan Khara Rock Art’, I found an article that I wrote, published back in 1998, is now available online here.

14-a59acaf490It was published in Transgressions: A Journal of Urban Exploration No.4 (Spring 1998). The cover shows Asger Jorn’s text/painting There are more things in the earth of a picture than in the heaven of aesthetic theory (1947-48). A statement of Jorn’s ‘materialist mysticism’, it strikes a chord with the ‘shamanic ethos’ described in my article.

The original article – prospecting the confluence between the heterodox Marxism of a post-war European art movement and a shamanic ‘attitude to life’ – was adapted from a collage/essay I did as part of a Masters project, using material gathered from a field trip to Buryatia in 1995. Much of that material – photographs, tracings – still awaits processing and eventual publication. In the meantime, I’ll post up some of the colour versions of the black-and-white illustrations to the article…

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I have my hunting camp in the ruling pine-tree

I have my quarters in the huge pine-tree

I have transformation in the lightning-filled sky

I have my hunting camp in the thundering sky.

Daur shaman’s song for the dolbor (‘night road’) ritual.

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Okladnikov and Zaporozhkaya’s recording of rock art at Goltologoy from the 1960s

On the whole, shamanism seems to refuse its own codification, because this would hinder the play of partnership with supernature. 

Roberte Hamayon.

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The same panel of rock art at Goltologoy, photographed in 1995 (Simon Crook).

The domain where shamans made use of universal intuitive knowledge was that of human psychology (belief, desire, motivations). Very, very generally, we can observe that the male elders used simple images of external nature in the process of elaborating their own contrived and patriarchal views of social relationships, while shamans employed intuitive understandings of the psychology of human relations at the same time as constructing strange, destabilized visions of a natural world.

Caroline Humphrey.

Ørnens ret. 1951

Asger Jorn, The Eagle’s Share (1951).
O you stone crag, you could not save the life of my only egg.
May you be struck by the blue sky
And become sand and dust
The Song of Baglain Udagan

Fifteen years on, and I suppose I’d approach the article differently; it’s so obviously inflected through an academic lens. For one thing, are the shaman’s ‘strange, destabilized visions’ of the natural world merely a ‘construction’, or part of what Joyce called ‘the chaosmos of Alle anyway connected’? Those reservations aside, it’s great to see it out there…

Even Tungus shaman


The Lost World: From Cosmic Freedom to Social Discipline

November 23, 2013

The Lost Summer

Doing an online search for The Tibetan Ukrainian Mountain Troupe last night, I came across this delightful picture here. I’m guessing it’s from about 1982-83. To me it says everything about the utopian dreams of an ‘alternative culture’, which saw its last hurrah with the Stonehenge Festivals of the early 1980s and the Cosmic Freedom Festival at Greenham Common in 1982. It was part of a festival circuit which saw urban squatters take to the road in battered buses and lorries in the summer. This movement was dealt a dolorous blow in 1985 with the Battle of the Beanfield, an act of state brutality surely sanctioned at the highest level, partly in revenge for the incursion at the projected cruise missile base at Greenham Common, which saw frantic phone calls between Downing Street and Washington – at least, according to the gossip tree at the festival. To paraphrase René Riesel, social submission has advanced at a frightening pace since then, such is the further intensified dictatorship of the market, facilitated in no small part by the devastating defeat inflicted upon the Miners in 1985.

“There must be some kind of way out of here.”



The Ecology of Soul Flight: From Siberia to the Solent… and Back

November 18, 2013


The knowledge that the migratory Dark-bellied Brent Goose – currently overwintering in the Solent – has travelled all the way from its summer breeding grounds on the Taimyr peninsula of northern Siberia, has led me to look at the place of geese in the ‘shamanic’ outlook on the world of  communities in Siberia and Central Asia.


Map taken from this site.

What has become evident to me is that it is this very migratory behaviour of certain waterfowl, such as geese, cranes and swans, which has lent these birds such a centrality in the diverse shamanic cosmologies of Eurasia.

A female Nganasan shaman from the Taimyr Autonomous Area performing a ritual (from here)

A highlight of a visit to the Ethnographic Museum of the Peoples of Siberia in Ulan Ude, Buryatia in 1995 was the open air re-creation of an Evenki (Tungus) village, featuring a shaman’s house very similar to the one pictured on a Russian postcard from about 1911-1914, in front of which this female shaman is drumming  (from here).


A.F.Anisimov, in his ‘The Shaman’s Tent of the Evenks and the Origin of the Shamanistic Rite’ has written the most detailed and influential study of the complex architecture of the Evenk shaman’s house and its surrounding structures and imagery. The museum reconstruction allows visitors to move around this materialisation of the three-tier shamanic cosmos, albeit divorced from the transformative practices which would bring this world to life.

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I was impressed by the rows of tall, slender poles with carved wooden birds mounted on the top. Looking at the notes I made following the visit to the museum, I see that I have written that these birds are ‘seekers after the soul of the person to be healed’ by the shaman.

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I’ve had a photocopy of Roberte Hamayon’s voluminous study of Siberian shamanism – La Chasse à L’Âme (The Hunt of the Soul) – gathering dust for many years. Digging it out for the first time in years to look for something else, I found this drawing on page 314. It shows the Evenk shaman’s house with rows of poles mounted with birds and other animals leading from it. Hamayon’s accompanying text explains the significance of migratory birds to shamanic cosmology in a way I had not realised before, illuminating a number of diverse phenomena which I hope to explore in further posts.

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Very roughly translated, Hamayon states that in the majority of Siberian societies, the great rituals took place in the summer season , during the stay of the migratory birds, marking their arrival and their departure (looking forward to their return the following year). It can be said that during the winter the shaman lacks the power to shamanise effectively because the birds have not returned to reinvigorate him/her. These migratory birds (swans, geese, cranes…) seem to play the rôle of carriers (porteurs), not of countable, individual souls, but of a ‘life force’, a soul-substance underlying all animate being. The birds’ return coincides with the thaw at the end of the scarcity of winter, materialising the idea of renewal.

This accords with the theme of good fortune returning with migratory waterfowl, woven into this Anatolian shepherd’s bag

A shepherd's bag woven by nomadic tribespeople of central Anatolia in modern Turkey; a design from Kayseri/Tomarza village. The horizontal 'V' pattern represents the return flight of migratory cranes, symbolic of good news, while the cross-hatched symbols are the nests of 'holy birds'. (Picture: Simon Crook. I'm grateful to Mr Bilal Olgun for explaining the symbolism woven into this bag).

A shepherd’s bag woven by nomadic tribespeople of central Anatolia in modern Turkey; a design from Kayseri/Tomarza village. The horizontal ‘V’ pattern represents the return flight of migratory cranes, symbolic of good news, while the cross-hatched symbols are the nests of ‘holy birds’. (Picture: Simon Crook. I’m grateful to Mr Bilal Olgun for explaining the symbolism woven into this bag).

Looking for images for Nganasan shamans and their drums, I found the cover of this CD which has a picture of a Nganasan shaman bearing a drum which appears to have two geese in flight painted on it.


Watching the Dark-bellied Brent Geese this winter, whether they are flying overhead, grazing on the mudflats when the tide is out, or bobbing on the water when the tide is in, I do feel a sense of the interconnectedness of all things, near and far, from the Solent to Siberia… It’s nice to have a bit of Taimyr in Tipner! As a friend suggested, it seems to capture the imagination more than the civic ‘Portsmouth twinned with Duisberg’ type thing: ‘I would imagine that the experience of seeing a bird return would be felt identically by you and your counterpart in Siberia. A non verbal soul exchange, each teaching a little you have learnt over the year to the other’.


Roberte Hamayon 1990 La chasse à l’âme: esquisse d’une théorie du chamanisme sibérien Société d’ethnologie, Université de Paris

A.F.Anisimov, ‘The Shaman’s Tent of the Evenks and the Origin of the Shamanistic Rite’, Henry N. Michael, ed., Studies in Siberian shamanism, Toronto, 1963.

Embroidered birds (geese?) on an Evenk shaman's headdress (from here).

Embroidered ‘goose-like’ birds on an Evenk shaman’s headdress.


An Eagle Soars Over the Steppe

November 17, 2013

An Eagle Soars Over the Steppe

I’ve recently been thinking of a field trip I was a participant in some years ago, and have been sifting through old pictures. I found this (slightly blurred) photograph I took on that field trip in Buryatia, southern Siberia in August/September 1995. We were looking for rock art, paintings on cliffs and outcrops, seemingly associated with shamanic practices. Based on the order in which this picture was found, and from my increasingly vague memories of that expedition, I’m fairly sure this picture was taken at a place called Sarbadui, close to the border with Mongolia. I’m sure I thought I was just taking a picture of an eagle soaring overhead, not the white ‘streamer’ to its left. It doesn’t look like a cloud, more like a strand of ectoplasm or a prayer flag fluttering in a stiff breeze. A foreign object on the lens? I’ll have to track down the negative… Here’s the relevant bit blown up:

Eagle Banner

Actually, judging from its organic, fibrous appearance, I’m wondering whether it’s a seed head blowing into view. It was a warm end to the summer on the steppe. A closer look at the picture below reveals a lot of organic material floating about, presumably from the plants in the foreground, disturbed by the passage of walkers. We are being led to a rock outcrop where there is a shaman’s grave, near a place called Goltologoy. Strangely, the rock appears to have attracted a ‘halo’, a luminous, horizontal white line, hovering immediately above the outcrop, just below the horizon. I was quite excited when I found this photo tonight. Again, probably a drifting seed head, illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, but how fortuitous that it coincides with such a numinous place… (NB This picture actually enlarges when you click on it).

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Rational explanations don’t quite dispel the auspicious patterns formed by the random movement of matter, whether birds, tea-leaves or seed heads…


“How weary is the cackling goose!”

November 15, 2013

The Dark-bellied Brent Goose – overwintering around the Solent from its breeding grounds in the Taimyr peninsula of northern Siberia – is taking on for me something of the same talismanic quality as the Swift and the Magpie.

Solitary Goose

So, I’m grateful to my friend, Neil Coulling, who has alerted me to this online presentation of a rock shelter in Egypt, which reveals striking parallels between the shipwreck/goose/regeneration theme of my last post and the same theme in an ancient Egyptian mystical context. As Neil has observed,

“I have been quite taken with the Egyptian mythological creator goose, Ngg wr, the “Great Honker”

Honking and producing the solar egg from its mouth.

Was Joyce aware of the correspondences between the Greater Arcana and the paths on the Tree of Life in Qabalah?
I would make a wild guess and put geese in the 32nd path, Tau, from Malkuth to Yesod.
This path is represented by GA XXI, the World or Universe.
A Hyperborean migration?
Snow geese are Chen Hyperborea. This could also be the legendary Middle Pillar, from Malkuth to Kether. (Flying over Daarth… Like Le Voltigeurs in the Qlipoth, but more graceful….)”

The online presentation is a summary derived from J.C. Darnell, Theban Desert Road Survey II: The Rock Shrine of Paḥu, Gebel Akhenaton, and Other Rock Inscriptions from the Western Hinterland of Qamûla, Yale Egyptological Publications 1, in press. I now quote at length from this presentation (in green ink), interspersing it with images from Tipner today.:

The rock shrine of Pahu is a remarkable collection of inscriptions — at least 34 identifiable groups — located along an approximately 14 meter wide portion of limestone beneath a natural rock overhang. Although a few are earlier and some later — including a sexually explicit Greek text — the majority of the inscriptions are of Eighteenth Dynasty date;of these, almost all are the work of a man named Paḥu, the relative simplicity of whose title — w‘b-priest of Amun of Ḥeriḥeramun — stands in contrast to the quality, variety, and inventiveness of his rock inscriptions. Paḥu’s inscriptions include such unexpected images as the figure of King Aḥmose and a speaking image of the goddess Taweret. Of all Paḥu’s inscriptions, however, the most remarkable is certainly Paḥu’s prayer from the midst of the stormy river.

boat goose

This inscription is an unusual expression of Paḥu’s piety and compositional originality. Paḥu carved his text over the more lightly incised depiction of a boat; as Paḥu’s text concerns an apparent storm and resulting shipwreck on the Nile, the combination of text and image appears to represent an interesting attempt by Paḥu to embed the visual and written information, rather than simply employing the text as an annotation or caption to a depiction. The vessel rides through the text as Paḥu’s rode into the storm that so frightened the priest from Ḥeriḥeramun. Paḥu appears legitimately to describe trouble in a storm, and does not employ the image of the “deep” as a means of describing trouble of a more psychological nature.


Paḥu refers to his place of trouble with the term mḏw(.t), a word appearing elsewhere in reference to troubled sailing on the Nile, and having Netherworldly connotations as well, occurring in the Sixth and Tenth Hours of the Amduat. In the Lament of Menna (O. OIM 12074 + O. IFAO 2188) and the Teaching of Ani, the mḏw.t-deep is a metaphor for the potentially deadly results of involvement with the “woman from outside.” These New Kingdom texts represent continuations of earlier metaphors for rescuing the troubled one from the flood, and the Lament of Menna certainly threatens the physically wandering and morally anchorless son with trouble that apparently results from a small boat encountering waves, with a resulting “sinking into the depths of the Netherworld.” The imbedding of prayer and boat image in Paḥu’s inscription, and the prayer’s specification of high waves, suggest that Paḥu’s trouble was indeed nautical, and the deep waters in which he found himself sinking were very real and deep waters, not the arms of an “outside” temptress, or some other metaphorically addressed problem.


By employing the verb ḫni, Paḥu foreshadows his reference to the smn-goose in the final portion of the text. The alighting is the return of Paḥu to earth and the return of his departing soul out of the depths back to his saved body.


The Cry and the Goose

According to the prayer, Paḥu’s cry to Amun became a cry of regeneration, presumably at the time when Amun brought him to land. The content of the simple and direct quotation, as the Ayinš-cry of Paḥu, may purposefully evoke the graphically similar term bg3w for “cry.” The goose is particularly appropriate as a form of the savior for one in trouble in or near the Nile, and the very voice of the one calling out for help may be compared to the cry of the Amun goose as creator. Note particularly the text P. BM 10042 (P. Harris Magical) recto 7, 6-7, in which the one reciting calls out:
Come to me, and cause that my voice be heard,
as is heard the voice of the great cackler in the night.


The British Museum magical treatise reveals a desire by the reciter of the text to identify his or her outcry — even musical expression, as this could as accurately be rendered “cause that my song be heard, as is heard the song of the great cackler” — with the sound of creation, just as Paḥu appears to have viewed his own petition to Amun. In Book of the Dead chapter 56, the availability of breathable air in the netherworld is linked to guarding the egg of the ngg wr, and the goose form of Amun could well be charged with providing breath for the apparently drowning Paḥu. The goose of solar Amun, emerged from the cosmic egg, may have been envisaged as sailing out upon the bi3-firmament. Paḥu may also have had in mind Chapter 98 of the Book of the Dead, in which the voice of the deceased cackling “like a smn-goose” is associated with the bringing of a boat in the netherworld.

The call of the goose is probably an allusion to the cry of creation uttered by the “great cackler” in the eastern horizon, the cry of creation and recreation, after which the goose form of the creator, the smn of Amun, himself becomes bg3-weary. On the interior east wall of the Colonade Hall of Luxor Temple, in a depiction of the divine barks leaving Luxor Temple at the conclusion of the Opet Festival — the beginning of the “reentrance” of Amun to Karnak Temple — a priest turns toward the procession following behind, facing the front of Luxor Temple and the bark of Amun as it emerges on the shoulders of its priestly porters, and makes a pithy yet interesting pronouncement:

How weary is the cackling goose!


The brief statement is pregnant with religious implications for the sexual activity of Amun during the Opet Festival, and for the rejuvenating power of the hieros gamos that formed part of the significance of Opet. The creative cry of the deity evokes the lassitude that results from the creative process, and the cry itself, ngg and bgg, can pun on the Coffin Text term b3gg(.t), “flaccid (here post-ejaculatory) phallus.” As the Decree of Amunresonther for Neskhons relates, Amun is one “who exhausts himself as the Nile Inundation, in order to enliven what he has created.” Considering the phonetic puns possible between bg3/b3gi and bg/bgg/ngg, the cry of “I am shipwrecked” might literally become the cry of the goose.

Paḥu’s prayer and the aid of Amun contains neither refers to a do ut des relationship between the deity and a worshipper, nor alludes to the tribulation of Paḥu as a chastisement of the deity. Paḥu‘s prayer may belong to — or even slightly predate — a tradition of recording more extemporaneous hymnic productions that developed during the time of Amenhotep III. The images of rearing animals before plants (Paḥu Nos. 18, 20, and 33), the Taweret goddess (Paḥu No. 6), and the Hathors (Paḥu Nos. 20, 22, and 26) of Paḥu’s site, along with the image of a man before a large taper at Gebel Akhenaton (Gebel Akhenaton Lower Site No. 13) suggest that Paḥu may have carved his texts and images at the time of the New Year — the time of the epagomenal days, the flooding time of the topsy-turvy world, the weal and woe of year and cosmos hanging in the balance. Like the inscription of Pawah in TT139, Paḥu’s site preserves a petition to the distant deity, who can nevertheless approach as savior. By carving his prayer at his “New Years” shrine, Paḥu preserved the record of an appropriate and answered petition to the deity, thereby providing a suitable template for the prayers that he might offer as wAyinb-priest during the vigil before a festival.


Paḥu composed a brief literary text of religious import, in which the prayer itself is but a short cry, as brief as the creative cackle of Amun as the goose, to whom Paḥu in his prayer appealed, and to whom Paḥu likens his own cry and his subsequent alighting on land. His prayer as Paḥu bequeathed it to us is short but interesting, a New Kingdom harbinger of the de profundis (Psalm 130 [Septuagint 129]) and Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the “great fish” (Jonah 2:2-9). In terms of the layout of the text, the concepts finding expression therein, and the order thereof, a peculiarly close parallel is Psalm 40: 1-3 (here quoted in the King James version):

1 I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God …

In the Psalter, God hears the cry of the afflicted and brings the wretched one out of a mucky depth — compare Paḥu’s “I called to Amun, when I was in trouble, <in> the depth of the river, when the waves were high” — and sets the feet of the afflicted on solid ground and orders the goings thereof — so Paḥu’s “and he caused that I travel the earth by my own volition” — with the result that God puts a song in the mouth of the thankful Psalmist — being Paḥu’s concluding “and he caused that I give voice like the goose”.


Relevant to the creative cackle of the goose, evoked above, is Neil’s observation that the qabalistic gematria of 111 in the Sepher Sephiroth includes AUM ‘the divine, all-encompassing consciousness taking the form of the first and original vibration manifesting as sound.’

Dort hinaus, deine Wege zu!
Doch rät dir Gurnemanz:
lass du hier künftig die Schwäne
in Ruh’
und suche dir, Gänser, die Gans!


111 Brent Geese Aloft

November 13, 2013

How many aleveens had she in tool? I can’t rightly rede you that. Close only knows. Some say she had three figures to fill and confined herself to a hundred eleven, wan bywan bywan, making meanacuminamoyas

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (201.27-30).

There are more of them every day I see them. A couple of weeks ago I saw about a dozen on the water. Another day, I counted forty-six… then fifty-five. Today the tide was right out and there were many, many more gathered on the mudflats of Tipner Lake. A few started walking towards the stranded, clinker-built boat which has become something of a landmark here. A few more followed them, until virtually the whole flock started filing towards the boat.

Low Tide at Tipner. Picture from here.

Low Tide at Tipner. Picture from here.

There were at least 108 there – I’ll round it up to 111… As I walked over to have a closer look, I must have startled them, for the whole flock took flight, disappearing over the rooftops of Twyford Avenue. Only the dozen or so who decided not to join ‘the long march’ could be seen pacing about on the mud in the far distance.

Brent Geese on Farlington Marshes, picture from here

Brent Geese on Farlington Marshes. Picture from here

According to this site, the geese regularly seen in the Solent area

are the sub-species called Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Branta bernicla bernicla. They breed on the Taimyr Peninsula in Northern Siberia, and spend the winter on the east and south coasts of England, and other sites in north-western Europe. The total (world) population is about 300,000 geese, and about 100,000 come to the UK, with 30,000 ish coming to the Solent harbours and coast. Up to 6,500 geese use Langstone Harbour, and about 2,700 use Portsmouth Harbour (Source : BTO in Brent Goose Strategy). The first arrivals for the winter are mainly in mid September, although this date is becoming earlier as the population increases. Geese have proved to be adaptable and are able to feed on a wide range of plants. In Autumn they eat algae and eelgrasses in the shallow waters of the harbours. As these sources become depleted, they move on to grass pastures, winter wheat and other crops. In Spring, most geese migrate north by the end of March.

On the way to who knows where?


Why 111? In the context of James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake, the number has a talismanic significance (best explored in depth elsewhere). Suffice to say, there are connections with the Irish festival of the dead, Samhain, coinciding with Hallowe’en and All Saints’ Day (1/11 – 1st November), in which the boundaries between this world and the otherworld are more permeable. Then there’s the gematric connection with the ‘fiery goosemother’ ALP, the numerical value of her letters in the Hebrew alphabet (aleph, lamed, etc.) amounting to 111, the number of her offspring: ‘Olaph lamm et, all that pack? We won’t have room in the kirkeyaard’ (201.30-31). In this way, Joyce also identifies ALP with the Major Arcana of the Tarot, each card of which – 22 in all – is identified with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet: ‘But it’s quite on the cards she’ll shed more and merrier, twills and trills, sparefours and spoilfives, nordsihkes and sudsevers and ayes and neins to a litter’ (201.36-202.2).

Sifting through the litter of old papers the other week, I found a scribbled note of something I’d culled off the internet years ago:


Well, I’d obviously read around Paul Devereux’s research on sonic archaeology and his theories about chanting in chambered tombs, but the site I scribbled those notes from must have been associated with the late Brian Barritt, whose obituary can be found here. I was obviously very taken with the coincidence between the generative matrix of ALP in Finnegans Wake and ‘the frequency of cell regeneration’, 111Hz…