Posts Tagged ‘coincidence’

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The obscure soul of the world, a darkness shining

January 17, 2016

The title is a direct quotation from the ‘Nestor’ episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses, when Stephen Dedalus employs the ‘ethics of the chiaroscuro perspective’ (Mahaffey 2009: 206) to challenge the  dualism of Deasy, who equates darkness with evil and the foreign ‘Other’ sinning ‘against the light’. The ‘darkness that shines’ that Joyce wishes to claim for a humankind made whole in its diversity, in ‘a triumph of heterodoxy’ (ibid.), is illustrated in a sixteenth-century alchemical text by Salomon Trismosin, Splendor Solis, in the image of the Black Sun (Sol Niger).

black sun

This image came to mind on viewing for the first time, this week, the video of the title song of David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, released on his 69th birthday, on January 8th, just two days before his sad passing on January 10th. I apologise for the apparent opportunism of focusing upon Bowie’s last work in the week that he died, but the coincidence of his passing – a shocking event which I absolutely had not anticipated – with my last post, itself on the theme of dream darkness and mortality, I wish to explore by the obscure light of some alchemical allusions in Blackstar.

Bowie Blackstar

This still from the beginning of the video shows the body of an astronaut lying in the light of a darkened sun. Perhaps the viewer familiar with the earlier work of David Bowie is led to surmise that this is the last resting place of Major Tom after his helpless drift through space. A woman is shown approaching the body; she appears to have a tail protruding from her dress. She opens up the visor on the astronaut’s helmet to reveal a jewel encrusted skull, which she detaches from the rest of the body before being shown bearing it in a glass casket towards a mysterious city.

skull bowie.png

A circle of women is shown preparing to receive the skull – with all the reverence due to a holy relic – while the skeletal remains of the astronaut are shown drifting across space, twisting and receding towards the darkened sun, evoking for me the image I had dreamt last October of a winding sheet or swaddling clothes metamorphosing into ‘the Lamb of God’. The whole video shines with a light similar to that of the dream.

The whole song and the imagery of the video is rich in symbolic associations and possible meanings but I shall discuss only the image of black sun (‘black star’) and skull for the sake of brevity. In Emblem no. 9 from the Philosophia Reformata of Johann Daniel Mylius (Frankfurt 1622), a skeleton is shown standing on a flaming black globe, holding a black crow in its right hand, symbolising the alchemical stage of putrefactio. Perhaps the drifting of the headless skeleton towards the black star in Bowie’s video is intended to evoke that image. Which ‘blackness of Nature’, according to a text attributed to Marsilio Ficino, ‘the ancient philosophers called the crows head or the black sun’ (Marsilius Ficinus, ‘Liber de Arte Chemica’. Theatrum Chemicum, Vol 2, Geneva, 1702, p172-183. Transcribed by Justin von Budjoss, from here).

Philosophia_Reformata_Emblem_9_-_Putrefactio.

One section of the Blackstar video shows three crucified scarecrows appearing to twitch and gyrate in ecstasy. This is an obvious reference to the Crucifixion of Christ and the two thieves crucified on either side of him at the place known as Golgotha, ‘the place of the skull’. Their identification as scarecrows is a deliberate allusion, I believe, to the crow as the black sun, while Golgotha plays a central role likewise in the alchemical phase of putrefactio or nigredo, the blackening of matter as the first step in the pathway to the Philosophers’ Stone, a starting-point understood as the caput mortuum (death’s head), the substance remaining after putrefaction, symbolised by a skull (Magee 2001: 145-146). The reconstitution of the Philosophers’ Stone in the alchemical process partakes of the theme of the Resurrection, symbolised by the image of the Phoenix and the risen Christ. Bowie’s song, Lazarus, from the Blackstar album, also partakes of this theme.

Aware of his looming departure, David Bowie seems to have drawn on and played with a wealth of occult sources and imagery to convey the idea that death is not the end but a beginning…

References

Mahaffey, V. 2009. Love, Race and Exiles: The Bleak Side of Ulysses, in Harold Bloom (ed.), James Joyce. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, Infobase Publishing, pp.205-220.

Magee, G.A. 2001. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

 

 

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The Seven Thorns Inn: a Sorry State

March 8, 2014

When the rose is gone and the rose-garden fallen to ruin,

Where will you seek the scent of the rose?

From rose-water?

Jalallud-din Rumi (1207-73).

Then as we drove along… we passed by, a little to our left, the lonely Seven Thorns Inn of legendary renown, a hostelry of importance at one time, which is said to stand exactly half-way between London and Portsmouth. Near here one stormy winter’s night a century or so ago three coaches, one from London and two bound thither, were blocked in by deep snow-drifts. Fortunately for the passengers the Seven Thorns was within a walk, and let us hope that they all spent a sociable and merry evening therein…

James John Hissey, Through Ten English Counties, 1894

‘Talismanic significance’ is becoming something of an over-used phrase in my vocabulary lately, but a pub which has languished – scandalously – in rack and ruin for many years has long had that status for me, for its very name alone, never mind anything else. It’s been known by other names too, but for me it will always be The Seven Thorns Inn. Yet, however you get distracted by personal obsessions and intellectual escapism, ‘life’ finds a way of reminding you of where you are, of our connections with the world, our connections with each other – often by means of ‘coincidence’.

Seven Thorns map

A detail from C and J Greenwood’s one inch map of Hampshire (from here).

Just inside Hampshire, south of the Surrey town of Hindhead, the Seven Thorns conjures images of a wind-blasted heath with gnarled, Rackhamesque thorn bushes, twisting their branches by the wayside, such are the otherworldly connotations of its name. Such impressions would be dispelled today, positioned as it is, teetering by the A3(M) and the southern entrance to the Hindhead Tunnel.

rackham_fairy

To restore this pub to its former glory must rank alongside one of those quixotic dreams like rebuilding Brighton’s West Pier, or creating a global human community, free of the state, nations and money…

In better days... An old postcard found on this urban exploration site.

In better days… An old postcard found on this urban exploration site.

But that’s by the by, as is the psychogeographical context of the Seven Thorns – whether or not it is exactly half-way between London and Portsmouth, or whether it marks the course of a Watkinsian ley – things to explore another time.

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The Seven Thorns c.1906 before being rebuilt (from this site).

Seven Sorrows

So, the fate of the Seven Thorns Inn was (and remains) a matter of great interest to me. However, an unexpected pattern of coincidence emerged in February 2010, involving a family bereavement in Russia and a resulting visit to Kent, concurrent with a phase of obsessing about this pub. Travelling to Kent, I chose a different route to usual, planning it to go past the Seven Thorns (which I’d only gone past, knowing of its existence, a couple of times before) to snatch a couple of pictures as we hurtled by.

Sev T

We returned home the same day, but not before having had a personal possession urgently thrust into our hands, as a gift: a Russian icon of ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’, almost identical to the image shown here.

Seven Sorrows

An internet search that evening uncovered some lines from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, linking pub and icon:

The seven-thorn’d briar and the palm seven-leaved

Are her great sorrow and her great reward.

Of this particular icon this is written:

On February 2… Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics commemorate a wonder-working icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God) known as “the Softening of Evil Hearts” or “Simeon’s Prophecy.”

It depicts the Virgin Mary at the moment that Simeon the Righteous says, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also….” (Luke 2:35). She stands with her hands upraised in prayer, and seven swords pierce her heart, indicative of the seven sorrows. This is one of the few Orthodox icons of the Theotokos which do not depict the infant Jesus. The refrain “Rejoice, much-sorrowing Mother of God, turn our sorrows into joy and soften the hearts of evil men!” is also used.

Another ‘bead’ in this strange string of coincidence appeared within a fortnight, while driving north of Winchester, when I was transfixed on hearing a radio presenter’s introduction for a piece of music about the Virgin Mary by Vivaldi: she translated the lyric as, ‘painted in purple and armed with thorns’ – a description immediately evoking the purple-clad Mary of the icon. Compelled then to linger and listen to Carolyn Sampson singing Ostro picta, armata spina, only now has it clicked, four years on, that as I waited for the music to finish and the presenter to repeat its title, I happened to have come to a halt by an old cottage called The Rosary

Vivaldi’s lyric contrasts the transient beauty of the wild rose against the eternal glory of the Virgin Mary:

Crimson-dyed and armed with thorns,

Greater than all in pride and beauty,

Bloomed the wild rose. But now at day’s decline

She pales and languishes, like any weed,

Bereft of scent and beauty.

Leaving aside all the religious connotations, that just about sums up the bereft, ruinous state of the Seven Thorns, and so much else besides. Whatever’s going on, I don’t think ‘it’ is about a derelict pub, although the pub is part of a bigger picture…

Edit 16/3/14 – Should I be surprised at the apparent irony of the icon,  The Softener of Evil Hearts (Умягчение злых сердец), being appropriated to a discourse of nation, cultural identity and tradition which entails a hardening of the heart among its adherents, against a demonised other? I think of the hard-hearted thuggery of the cassocked and bejewelled clergy, pictured laying into participants in a Gay Pride march in Moscow a few years ago…

Turn our sorrows into joy and soften the hearts of evil men!

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Figure 11: ‘Situlogy is the transformative morphology of the unique’

February 8, 2014
Image (33)

Click on this image for a closer look…

A page – ultimately, not included – from an early draft of The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory. It registers the structured conjunction of themes encompassing ‘Celtic’ Art, the artistic theories of Asger Jorn, archaeology and James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake. The triply-interlaced motif on a bucket escutcheon found on White Horse Hill (Berkshire) parallels this passage in the novel: ‘his threefaced stonehead was found on a whitehorse hill’ (FW 132.12), a manifestation of prudentia, regarding past, present and future simultaneously. [Edit: in one of those serendipitous twists of meaningful coincidence, within half-an-hour of posting this, I find that the BBC – in advance of a documentary – has just started publicising a 4,000-year-old burial ‘of international importance’ on another Whitehorse Hill on Dartmoor (Devon), excavated in 2011. Details here]. The appearance of yin-yang-like motifs incised on an Iron Age bone flake found in a Neolithic tomb invites a playful anachronism that ruptures the linear seriality of archaeological narratives, at the same time as ‘confirming’ Jorn’s avowal of an oriental, anti-classicist principle motivating Viking and Celtic art.

In the elemental contrast of stone and water, embodied in henges, can be found a metaphor for the conflict between monumentality and the rhythm of life that Asger Jorn found in the dualism of the Apollonian aristocratic and the Dionysian folk-culture (Birtwistle 1986:33), brought into play in the article ‘Yang-Yin’, published almost concurrently with ‘Apollo or Dionysos’ in 1947, in which he opposes the ‘Chinese philosophy’ of Tao to all that is classically European (ibid.). Known as ‘the Watercourse Way’ (Watts 1975), Jorn gave Tao a universal significance:

Tao is not a Chinese ideology. It is only the name and the particular expression which is Chinese. Tao is to be found, and has existed, in all natural cultures in the history of mankind throughout the world from the dawn of time. It antedates present-day reality and in the future it will be … a concrete social and personal reality, a real way of life not only for China but for the whole world

( in Birtwistle 1986:36).

In Tao, Jorn found a ‘dialectical-materialist principle of life’ (‘Yang-Yin’, 1947, in Birtwistle, 1986:36), a ‘natural dialectic’ which could be thrown against the socially-constructed dualisms of European Culture, given form in the ‘monumentalness’ (FW 543.7-8) of HCE and of hierarchical authority in the Wake, embodied in the Wellington Monument, and continually eroded by the babbling flow of ALP’s ‘riverrun’:

Nothing in the world is weaker than water,
But it has no better in overcoming the hard.

(Lao-Tzu, Tao te Ching: 78, cited in Watts 1975:47).

As in the theory of the dérive, the ‘poetic value of passivity’ (Debord 1958, in Knabb 1981:50) of letting go, allows us to drift in the Wake of ‘his fiery goosemother, laotsey taotsey’ (FW 242.22-26), the ‘reine of the shee’ (FW 68.21) who ensures ‘What regnans raised the rains have levelled’ (FW 56.36-57.1):

If hot Hammurabi, or cowld Clesiastes, could espy her pranklings, they’d burst bounds agin, and renounce their ruings, and denounce their doings, for river and iver, and a night. Amin!

(FW 139.25-28).

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Extract from The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory (2004) Simon Crook

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The Flutter of a Falling Card

February 7, 2014

a bar called AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Au bout du monde), on the edge of one of Paris’s strongest unities of ambiance (the rue Mouffetard, rue Tournefort, rue Lhomond area) is not there by chance. Events are only fortuitous insofar as the general laws governing their category are unknown.

‘Architecture and Play’, Potlatch 20, May 1955

January was a strange month.

For reasons too personal to go into in great detail for now, but closely entwined with a recent family bereavement, the so-called ‘Tichborne Curse’ has featured quite prominently in my thinking lately. This is largely because of a ‘brush’ with that history, connecting the 14th Baronet of Tichborne to my recently deceased brother-in-law, which has played out in a slightly unsettling way. This post is not primarily about that particular matter, however. Instead it is about a convoluted coincidence that knits together disparate people, places, ideas and parallel circumstances over an extended period of time, while at the same time assuming a meaning and making sense to me in the light of the Tichborne connection.

‘All your graundplotting and the little it brought’

Sir Anthony Doughty-Tichborne, the 14th – and last – Baronet of Tichborne, died on 18th July 1968. His passing was reported as the fulfilment of an 800-year-old curse, as this newspaper-cutting shows.

800_year_old_tichborne_curse

Newspaper-cutting taken from this page.

The historical and legendary background against which to set the passing of the last Baronet and which lends meaning to a pattern of still-developing coincidences relates to the reputed origin of the ceremony known as the Tichborne Dole, which takes place on Lady Day, March 25th. In fact, this legend of origin recapitulates a recurrent theme in folklore, which links the social conscience of particular women – sometimes embodying uncanny or otherworldly qualities as banshees or Melusine figures – and certain plots of land, dedicated to the welfare of the poor or common people, in the face of the hardheartedness of the temporal lord. The legend of Lady Godiva, for instance, is part of this genre of stories. This is a brief summary of the ceremony and the legend behind it:

An annual dole of flour is distributed to the parishioners of Tichborne, Cheriton, and Lane End, Hampshire, on Lady Day (25 March). The accompanying legend relates that in the 12th century one Lady Mabella, wife of Sir Henry de Tichborne, was much loved by the local people for her charity and kindness. When she was dying, she asked her husband to dedicate some land to support a charity for the poor in her name. His reply was to pull a burning brand from the fire and say that she could have as much land as she could walk round, carrying the torch, before it went out. As ill as she was, she still managed to crawl around 23 acres of land, before the fire petered out… Her actions not only secured the charity, but also prompted the name ‘the Crawls’ by which those acres are still known. Lady Mabella was also sufficiently cautious to lay a curse on Sir Henry, and his heirs, if they ever interfered with the charity. The real origin of the charity is not known. Nowadays, flour made from wheat grown on the Crawls is distributed on the steps of the church, after a short open-air service. A gallon of flour is given to adults, and half a gallon to children.

The Tichborne Dole 1670

Gillis van Tilborch, The Tichborne Dole 1670 From here

Letters from Afar

On January 25th we’d got back to Southampton from Kent after attending the funeral of my brother-in-law, John. That evening, as if to cut off from the sad preoccupations of the previous weeks, I started reading through the correspondence between the Marxist theorists, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, concerning the German student movement of 1969, which had only just been published in online form here. In this exchange of letters, Adorno reproaches Marcuse for his uncritical support for a movement which he considered had technocratic tendencies and a current of ‘thoughtless violence’ which converged with fascism:

You object to Jürgen’s expression ‘left fascism’, calling it a contradictio in adjecto. But you are a dialectician, aren’t you? As if such contradictions did not exist—might not a movement, by the force of its immanent antinomies, transform itself into its opposite? I do not doubt for a moment that the student movement in its current form is heading towards that technocratization of the university that it claims it wants to prevent, indeed quite directly. And it also seems to me just as unquestionable that modes of behaviour such as those that I had to witness, and whose description I will spare both you and me, really display something of that thoughtless violence that once belonged to fascism.

— letter from Adorno to Marcuse, written in May 1969.

As I was scrolling through this correspondence, I heard something flutter and flop to the floor in the dining room behind me, a sound evocative – looking back – of the descent of a petal of magnolia blossom. In the light of family preoccupations and the peculiar circumstances of the previous 3-4 weeks, I just knew it was a ‘message’.

On investigation, I found a hand-made greeting card from 2009, wishing a ‘Merry Spring’, had fallen from one of the two large mounts on the wall, where it was displayed with about 30 other seasonal cards we had received over the years from an artist friend. On the front he had depicted an image of St Mildred of Thanet, ‘in garments based on the Kentish style of Anglo-Saxon female clothing’, standing alongside a small, antlered hind, teasing one of his tines between her fingers. The Kentish connection I found an interesting coincidence, in view of where we’d been the previous few days. I started to read the text (by Kenneth Lymer) on the back:

St Mildred was a famous Anglo-Saxon abbess of Minster in the Isle of Thanet, Kent during the 7th century CE. Mildred’s mother was St Ermenburga who in turn was the aunt of King Egbert. Ermenburga’s younger brothers, Ethelred and Ethelbright, were murdered by Thunor, one of Egbert’s men. In compensation, wergild, for their deaths Ermenburga received land in Minster for the building of a monastery. The extent of the land ceded by Egbert was determined by the amount of area in which Ermenburga’s pet hind could run around – about a thousand acres.

I paused, bowled over by the startling similarity between the Tichborne and Minster legends, both revolving around the granting of an area of land determined by a ritualised, divinatory circuit. I read on:

Ermenburga was the first abbess of the new monastery c. 670 CE and then quickly handed over the charge of the abbey to Mildred. The abbey buildings at Minster were later destroyed after the dissolution of monasteries during the time of Henry VIII. In 1937 a small group of Benedictine nuns from St Walburga’s Abbey at Eichstadt, Germany purchased the remains of the old abbey and re-established a new nunnery. They also installed a relic of St Mildred into the altar of a newly-built private chapel.

Even in the case of the nuns of St Walburga’s, ‘timely correspondence’ appears to have played a role in their acquisition of Minster Abbey, as this account on the website of Minster Abbey suggests:

In 1937, Mr and Mrs Senior, who had resided at the Abbey for several years, were planning to sell and retire to a smaller property. It proved difficult, however, to find a buyer. At this time the parish priest of the small Roman Catholic Church at Minster was Dom Bede Winslow OSB, a monk of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate. Inspired by the idea that Minster might once again become home to a monastic community, he ‘advertised’ it to a number of English monastic houses. Since no-one took up his suggestion, he went further afield with his dream, using his ecumenical and Benedictine contacts on the continent.

According to the Minster Chronicle, Abbess Benedicta von Spiegel zu Peckelsheim of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga in Eichstatt, our founding house in Bavaria, received Dom Bede’s letter on the same day on which an officer of the Nazi SS requisitioned part of the abbey property for the use of Hitler’s ‘storm troops’. Abbess Benedicta saw the hand of providence in this ‘coincidence’ and determined, if at all possible, to view the property. On the return journey from a visitation to St. Walburga’s foundations in the United States she made an undeclared stop-over at Southampton and a friend travelled with her down to Kent.

In short, the nuns of Eichstatt acquired the abbey when the deeds were handed over on 25th March 1937, the Feast of the Annunciation, also known as Lady Day, the day that the Tichborne Dole is dispensed each year…

‘flick as flowflakes’

Christel Mattheeuws suggests that ‘experiences of synchronicity appear more often during emotional distress and as part of transformations’ (2014: 51). The interpretation of meaningful coincidence must reveal as many possibilities as the open-ended nature of Talmudic dream interpretation – an unacknowledged influence upon Freud’s method of free association – in which ‘an uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter’ (Frieden 1993: 108). I see the unfolding and enfoldment of coincidence as a continuous process, an aspect of the ‘mystery of consciousness’ in which all beings participate, as suggested by a phrase I found on this blog post, credited to Nietzsche: ‘We are buds on a single tree’.

410601310-12

The card I heard fall fluttered like descending magnolia blossom, a metaphor which, elaborated in my mind today (of all days), has stirred memories of my late brother-in-law’s wife, Tanya, born and brought up in Sochi, southern Russia. Not believing magnolias could flower in England, she loved the blossoming magnolia tree in our garden because it reminded her of Sochi. Today (February 7th) the Winter Olympics open in Sochi. Today is the fourth anniversary of Tanya’s passing away. I honestly hadn’t realised that when I decided, yesterday, on a second concerted attempt to write this post about the Tichborne/Minster coincidence. Coincidence multiplies upon coincidence…

Does it take our ‘thoughtfulness’ (deeply felt) to activate/motivate such patterns of coincidence? Does the agency of those we have known and loved continue after their physical departure? Are our individual memories and thoughts in some way congruent with the memory and thought of ‘the universe’? As James Joyce writes in Finnegans Wake, ‘the world, mind, is, was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever’ (19.35-36). By the way, none of this should be conflated with the Jungian idea of the ‘collective unconscious’ or be seen as in any way an endorsement of it – I’m sure there are better ways of appreciating and approaching the strangeness of it all.

The correspondence between Adorno and Marcuse concluded in this way:

Within a few days, Adorno replied to Marcuse and passed the letter to his secretary. As she typed it up on 6 August, Adorno lay dying. Despite warnings from his doctor, he had travelled by cable car up a 3000 metre Swiss mountain peak. His heart was aching. He came back down the mountain, went into a shoe shop to make a purchase and, while there, suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of sixty-five.

References

Frieden, K. 1993. ‘Talmudic Dream Interpretation, Freudian Ambivalence, Deconstruction’. In C.S. Rupprecht (ed.) The Dream and the Text. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 103 – 111.

Mattheeuws, C. 2014. ‘Experiences of Synchronicity and Anthropological Endeavours (Part 2): Beyond a Psychology of Projection into a Cosmology of Synchronicities’. Paranthropology Vol.5 No.1 (January 2014), pp.51 – 63.

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An Apport in Merry Oak: Shades of the Cottingley Fairies?

October 27, 2013

About fifteen-or-so years ago I was working on a dissertation, called Away With the Fairies: Rock Art and Psychic Geography in West Yorkshire. It focused on Neolithic/Bronze Age rock carvings found on the Yorkshire Moors, and I placed them in the context of the process of enclosure in early modern Britain – when common land was turned over to private ownership – and the transgressive dimensions of local fairylore and witchcraft. I remarked on parallels with archaeological interpretations which proposed a similar process of enclosure between the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and I further argued that the enclosure of the commons in the early modern period accompanied ‘the enclosure of consciousness’, a characteristic of the scientific rationality which informs the discipline of archaeology, requiring the exclusion of a whole ‘secret commonwealth’ of experience not amenable to the ‘single vision’ of objective analysis.

As part of the fieldwork, I spent a week in Ilkley, joined by my esteemed colleague, Robert J Wallis, looking at the rock art on Ilkley Moor, as well as visiting places like Snowden Carr, Pendle Hill and Cottingley, the latter place famous for the photographs of fairies, taken by the cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright in 1917. A famous image, published in the issue of The Strand Magazine of December 1920, with a commentary by Arthur Conan Doyle, is reproduced here.

Cottingley_Fairies_1_article

One day, we visited Cottingley Beck, the location of Frances and Elsie’s encounters with fairies and their photographing of them. As we approached, we met two young girls also heading for the Beck, as if following the footsteps of Frances and Elsie in 1917. They were armed with a toy plastic bucket and a child’s fishing net. When we asked if they were looking for fairies, the girls replied, matter-of-factly, “No, frogs.” I made sure I took a picture of the waterfall, but no fairies made themselves known.

Image (18)

The same day, me and Robert searched up in Cottingley Woods for a stone carved with prehistoric ‘cup-and-ring’ motifs, named by local researcher, Paul Bennett, ‘The Faerie Stone’, although it had no direct connection with Frances and Elsie, as it was just over a mile away, amidst deciduous woodland on an escarpment overlooking the Aire valley. It had been our understanding that, hitherto, it had not been formally recorded, other than being photographed.

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We found the kidney-shaped boulder,  carved with the kind of motifs familiar from our encounters with carved stones in the more exposed contexts of places like Ilkley Moor and Snowden Carr, and unfurled the plastic sheet upon which we would trace the patterns formed by engraved lines and ground cupules – ‘the science bit’.

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Carved motifs on The Faerie Stone. Tracing by Simon Crook and Robert J Wallis, adapted for reproduction by Thomas A Dowson (1998).

There are some nice pictures of the Faerie/Fairy Stone here and a more detailed discussion of it, with additional illustrations, here.

‘The overcoming of private property means… the complete emancipation of all human senses and aptitudes’

Back in Southampton, it wouldn’t have been more than a few weeks later – if that – when I was writing up the material, at the time that my wife, collecting our two youngest boys from school, decided to take them for a little play at the swings and slides between the Merry Oak and Itchen estates, in the corner of a large playing field known as the Veracity Ground. In Away With the Fairies I write that ‘the case of the Cottingley Fairies’ encapsulates the conflict between two modes of ‘knowing’. Frances Wright maintained, to the end of her days, that “There were fairies at Cottingley”, but both she and Elsie acknowledged that the first picture was staged, with stiff paper cut-outs and hatpins. It was as if the cousins felt compelled to manufacture the proof of their ‘irrational’ visions of fairies, to conform to the standards of scientific objectivity, in order to convince people of the veracity of what they saw. As my wife approached the playground, she saw a magazine on a bench. Fearing it was a discarded pornographic magazine, she raced ahead to retrieve it before the boys saw it. She was astonished to find that it was a copy of The Strand Magazine from March 1921, ‘with new fairy photographs’ and an article by A. Conan Doyle, ‘The Evidence for Fairies’… We remain astonished, to this day.

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ADDENDUM

I’ve found a wonderful ebook version of Conan Doyle’s The Coming of the Fairies (1922), with many pictures. Here http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/doyle/arthur_conan/fairies/complete.html

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Femme et Oiseau: Evelyne Axell 1935 – 1972

September 10, 2013

Evelyne Axell

While searching for a picture called Femme et Oiseau (1937) by Leonora Carrington, I happened across some erotically-charged paintings by the Belgian artist, Evelyne Axell, someone I had never heard of and whose work I had never seen. Discovering her today I see as the kind of operation of chance – ‘as hophazards can effective it’ (FW 615.7-8) – that ranks with me opening an unread book at random yesterday to be confronted with the chapter title, ‘Thou Art a Goose’. While yesterday I found a ‘cosmic echo’ with my ongoing goose obsession (see recent posts here and here on this blog), drawn from an episode in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, I do marvel at – and mourn – the fact that today is actually the 41st anniversary of the tragic and untimely death of Evelyne Axell on 10th September 1972.

After abandoning a career in acting in 1964 and enlisting the Surrealist painter, René Magritte, to be her artistic mentor, Evelyne Axell developed to be described as L’ Amazone du Pop Art. Below is a self-portrait called Autoportrait à l’oiseau vert ou Femme à l’oiseau vert (1962) retrieved from here.

autoportrait-l-oiseau-vert-ou-femme-l-oiseau-vert-1962

Here are some more links about her

http://www.imageandnarrative.be/inarchive/surrealism/decan.htm

http://hyperallergic.com/54570/the-rediscovery-of-a-forgotten-pop-artist-evelyne-axell-1935-1972/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0vbXavj4Xc

http://www.evelyne-axell.com/download/Art.pdf

Un Frisson de la Vie:

http://02b4752.netsolhost.com/blog1/presentation/