Monday, 23 January 2012

More Hellfire..Faust.


Faust by Rembrandt, c. 1652. 
The fruitful plot of scholarism grac'd,
That shortly he was grac'd with doctor's name,
Excelling all whose sweet delight disputes
In heavenly matters of theology;
Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And, melting, heavens conspir'd his overthrow;
For, falling to a devilish exercise,
And glutted now with learning's golden gifts,
He surfeits upon cursed necromancy;
Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss:
And this the man that in his study sits.

What are we to make of Christopher Marlowe's Tragic History of Dr Faust?

Was Faust Marlowe's attempt to clear his name of any association with the occult, or did it do the opposite and get him arrested on charges of heresy?

Witch hunts have long been associated with authoritarian regimes spinning lies to justify the annihilation of 'enemies of the state'. Even in Marlowe's time few were so credulous as to truly believe in Satan as a personal foe; the real evil occurred in the accusation of heresy or witchcraft- being charged with associating with the devil could mean the destruction of ones reputation and livelihood and eventually torture and execution.

Aldous Huxley wrote The Devils of Loudun in 1952 a historical narrative of supposed demonic possession, religious fanaticism, sexual repression, and mass hysteria which occurred in 17th century France. In it the mechanism of 'Satanic trials' is made clear. Unfortunately the very clarity of Huxley's account can get in the way of seeing how social paranoia arises and how it plays out within our own culture.

Faust strikes me as an odd story for Christopher Marlowe to write.

Faust's crime was knowledge, he only wanted to know. Of course when he was offered limitless possibilities he did not ask for knowledge, he wanted Helen of Troy. Given limitless possibility one would expect a man desirous of knowledge to chose to speak to some great figure of the past such as Euclid, or to visit the hanging gardens, or see the pyramids built. Marlowe shows Faust as too ordinary for extraordinary knowledge, knowledge that belonged to god alone.

Faust is a warning and Faust is supposed to be all of us.

The 1620's cover to the play shows a bearded man standing inside a circle of symbols representing the twelve constellations of the zodiac; he holds a book (The Justinian bible) in his left hand, and a stick (for drawing the signs?) in his right..

Outside of the circle and a part of the furniture there is a cross, some kind of circular device with a central cross, something like a small suitcase and a ball hanging from the ceiling.

More importantly Faust is looking directly at a strange figure outside the circle, possibly rising up out of the floor. It has wings, spikes and claws. It is black and probably it has a beard and horns.

Marlowe's Faust is clearly a man who has gone too far. A 'man glutted with learning's golden gifts, he surfeits upon cursed necromancy...'. A man not dissimilar in the popular imagination to John Dee.

And Christopher Marlowe- atheist and Rosicrucian- was a man writing a play reinforcing the moral panic of his time.

But why and how does the fictional Faust summon Mephistophales?

Faustus, begin thine incantations,
And try if devils will obey thy hest,
Seeing thou hast pray'd and sacrific'd to them.
Within this circle is Jehovah's name,
Forward and backward anagrammatiz'd,
Th' abbreviated names of holy saints,
Figures of every adjunct to the heavens,
And characters of signs and erring stars,
By which the spirits are enforc'd to rise:
Then fear not, Faustus, but be resolute,
And try the uttermost magic can perform.

Anagrams of Holy names, symbols and signs of 'erring' stars- planets are wondering stars -these are the things that call forth spirits, and spirits enable magic.

The Sigillum Dei Aemeth, as used by Dr John Dee looks just the thing Doctor Faust would use.

Next an incantation:

Sint mihi dei Acherontis propitii! Valeat numen triplex Jehovoe!
Ignei, aerii, aquatani spiritus, salvete! Orientis princeps
Belzebub, inferni ardentis monarcha, et Demogorgon, propitiamus
vos, ut appareat et surgat Mephistophilis, quod tumeraris:
per Jehovam, Gehennam, et consecratam aquam quam nunc spargo,
signumque crucis quod nunc facio, et per vota nostra, ipse nunc
surgat nobis dicatus Mephistophilis!

Christopher Marlowe,
Faust calls to the god of the river Acheron- which leads on to the river Styx - to be gracious to him and says

'good bye to god in three, Jehovah.

Fire, air, spirit of water greetings!

The prince of the East Belzebub, monarch of burning hell, and Demogorgon, let Mephistophilis rise. Why do you delay! By, Jehovah and hell, I scatter consecrated water and by the sign of the cross and by my vows,
rise Mephistophilis' !

Marlowe was using his imagination and referring to images and ideas his audience would understand and believe to be real enough. The consecrated water and the sign of the cross provide reassurance to the audience that god still has dominion over the infernal beings.

Why does Faust sign the pact with the devil?

Like Marlowe himself and most of us I guess, we think we can get out of it- what ever it is -if it gets too bad.

The pact is a trick, but Faust is confident of his abilities.

Hubris...this is a tragedy after all.

If John Dee was the Faust of Marlowe's play, what ever John Dee may have done, no one ever accused him of performing a Black Mass.

Neither Faust or Dee praised the devil, or asked for his blessing.

Faust/Dee sought knowledge but it was that desire for knowledge which led Faust into the devil's power, echoing the biblical story of Eve eating from the tree of knowledge.

Seeking 'god-like' knowledge and earthly power is the same (Marlowe's play seems to be saying) as praising the devil....

It is very tempting to believe that Faust was Marlowe's attempt to distance himself from anything at all that could get him into prison, nevertheless:
A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason for it was given, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy—a manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain "vile heretical conceipts". On 20 May he was brought to the court to attend upon the Privy Council for questioning. There is no record of their having met that day, however, and he was commanded to attend upon them each day thereafter until "licensed to the contrary." Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether the stabbing was connected to his arrest has never been resolved.

Witchcraft continued to be prosecuted, as a crime against the state...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Caves of Hellfire.

I haven't said anything up until now about being abducted, or rather, my experience of what it's like to attend a BDSM workshop before now, perhaps because it seemed so ordinary, not unlike the meditation evenings I used to attend; a room full of people, tea and coffee, food to share.

On the other hand it was unusual to be in a place where it was taken for granted that one person had the right to tie up another and I was indeed tied up: a limb, then a limb or two and finally a whole lot of us were hog-tied in a room that was almost too small and had a carpet that needed a good clean.

We did leave early though, due to fog and ice and the need to get home, did we miss the sacrifice of the goat and the moment when the devil appeared?

I can't tell what I really think!

But mostly people were cracking jokes and generally everyone was really nice and basically it not only felt safe, sane and consensual, it was all of those things.

Disappointingly though, I didn't feel abducted at any time as it was safe and consensual; despite my terror of entering the building- a crumbling industrial building in a crumbling industrial town -I wasn't doing anything against my will.

But perhaps I'm missing the point.

There was a dungeon upstairs, and the room was black and there was a cage and equipment and it got me thinking of how the devilish cave as a place of parties with well-to-do upper class men with too much time and too much money getting their thrills by dressing in monks and ravishing women pretending to be nuns was probably a lot of fun..but probably not my cup of tea.

Two hundred and sixty years ago The Hell Fire Club, with it's motto of 'Do what thou wilt' was in High Wickham; now only the caves remain.

People seem more fascinated by ghosts for reasons that elude me.

It is quite hard to imagine two hundred and sixty years ago, but post Reformation there was a desire to recreate a better church; to go back- if possible -to the original and pure religion taught by Christ. The Puritan version was one way, the re-creation of Druidry was another.

So we get a rebuilding of 'The Temple' around that time: be it the temple of Solomon or of Babylon.

The Hellfire Club (Babylon) was just one of many private clubs whose members enjoyed wine, women and subverting sacred images.

Freemasons in particular are inclined to believe that their institution goes back to Pythagoras, or more reasonably to the Knights Templar (12th century) but there is little evidence for this. I regard Freemasonry, along with Druidry and the Hellfire club as a product of the eighteenth century.

The first Hellfire Club was most likely born from the fear and tension caused by economic disaster- The south Sea Bubble- and given shape by the press.

An antecedent were the Calves-Head clubs, meetings celebrating the beheading of Charles 1. Religious insurrection was linked, as far as the press (and the monarchy) was concerned, with anti-monarchy.

In response to a royal (the king at that time: George, Elector of Hanover- George 1) proclamation on 28th April 1721 stating:
His Majesty have received Information, which gives great Reason to suspect that there have lately been and still are, in and about the Cities of London and Westminster, certain scandalous Clubs or Societies of young Persons who meet together, and in the most impious and blasphemous Manner, insult the most sacred Principles of Holy Religion, affront Almighty God himself, and corrupt the Minds and Morals of one another 
Papers circulated:
Identifying participants in the groups that the [Royal] proclamation mentions as ‘Hell-Fire Club men’, the authors explained that a number of London clubs were meeting in support of heterodoxy and atheism. The periodicals accused them of challenging fundamental beliefs, especially the Thirty-Nine Articles. Most importantly, these groups were nurseries for Arianism. In effect, the ‘birth’ of Hell-Fire Clubs was an invention of the press as a way to defame organizations that tended towards latitudinarianism. In the wake of the South Sea Bubble debacle, which Lord describes, the Hell-Fire scare of 1721 also became a way to challenge Whig politicians. Linking the Whigs with nonconformity and atheism was a way to show their threat to the state – a counter-narrative of sorts to a rhetoric linking Tories with Jacobitism.-Reference..
A club had been formed by Philip Wharton, first Duke of Wharton in 1719. About which all we know for sure is that it performed parodies of religious rites for fun and giggles, this became the first Hellfire club.

From Babylon to Solomon, Philip Wharton latter became a Master in the Freemasons in 1722.

The man famous for The Hell Fire Club as portrayed in films and books was Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer. He  had been too young to have been a member of the very first Hellfire, but was alleged to have been a member of a Hellfire Club that met at the George and Vulture Inn throughout the 1730s.

Hellfire denotes a type of club....

In 1732 Francis Dashwood formed a dining club called the Society of Dilettanti with around 40 members. This was perhaps a precursor for the most famous Hellfire club. Horace Walpole described the selection process for prospective members:
 "The nominal qualification [for membership of the society] is having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk." 
The club funded archaeological expeditions to the lands of the Classics, and had a lasting effect on English architecture and interpretations of myth. It still exist,  though the worship of Eros may have faded somewhat, Dionysos is still in favour:
'at the society's formal dinners, held four times a year, the centrepiece of the table is still the mid-18th-century carved chest called the Tomb of Bacchus'.
Sir Francis Dashwood's Hell Fire club began sometime around 1749 at Medmenham Abbey. The members were The Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe (Francis Dashwood, not Assisi) or The Order of Knights of West Wycombe, sometimes they were The Order of the Friars of St Francis of Wycombe or The Monks or Friars of Medmenham. It is said that the club members held mock religious ceremonies and wore extravagant costumes and masks to hide their identities.

Many of the Hell Fire members were wealthy enough to be involved in politics and the membership allegedly included William Hogarth, John Montague the Earl of Sandwich, the Earl of Bute and the Prince of Wales.

Benjamin Franklin, a friend of Francis Dashwood may also have taken part in some of the sessions.

Not surprisingly the club soon attracted rumours about Satanic cults- Black Masses and pornographic activity happening there.

Illuminati myths anyone?

Virtual realms of 'freedom'.
Picture from Q3A.
Putting it mildly, the club had a reputation for drunkenness and debauchery. The words  "FAY CE QUE VOUDRAS" (do what you want)  had been placed over the Eastern entrance to Medmenham Abbey, this gives us a clue as to what this new temple or abbey was all about.

Rabelais wrote about the Abbey of Theleme in the first book of five The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel; the Abbey of Theleme was a place where people could follow their own inclinations about what time to eat or sleep, to stay or to leave; it was an argument for autonomy and libertarian values.
"Nor can there be any greater dotage in the world than for one to guide and direct his courses by the sound of a bell, and not by his own judgment and discretion". Rabelais.
Photo by Lonpicman.

The first Abbey of Theleme as created by Francis Dashwood may have torpedoed the argument for liberty with the behaviour of its members. John Wilkes- member of Parliament, member of the Hellfire was described as responsible for hastening the demise of the club. A story tells of how he once brought a baboon dressed in a cape and horns into the rituals performed at the club, producing considerable mayhem among the inebriated initiates.

Pretty scary stuff there...mayhem among the inebriated initiates.

John Wilkes described the Hell Fire Club as:
"A set of worthy, jolly fellows, happy disciples of Venus and Bacchus, got together to celebrate women in wine and to give more zest to the festive meeting, they plucked every luxurious idea from the ancients and enriched their own modern pleasures with the tradition of ancient luxury."
So one would need to know what version of Greek they were reading, but it is fairly reasonable to assume that male homosexuality and prostitutes were on the menu.

The second Abbey of Theleme as created by Crowley (1920) was probably a lot less fun.

Ultimately Hellfire clubs once were the private pleasure of the rich. Crowley and the various Lords who went to play in the caverns had money enough, to grant them the freedom to enjoy dark spaces, lots of people, music, and sex.

It helped to have an education augmented by Homer and Hesiod and The Grand Tour to draw upon for these experiences provided a rich set of images and ideals, and they had the money to make their fantasies reality.

Crowley had more than Greek myth, he had texts that had been unavailable to Dashwood, explaining in English, Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. He also had the works of John Dee, Agrippa and Kirchner; these books were available to Dashwood and his friends but why should they bother reading them! Magic is a religious calling, not really about fun or breaking taboos simply for the sake of it...

Much of what is called demonic- especially to those steeped in Christianity - is created directly from myths and fears of Dionysos: the caves, abduction, darkness, spirits....even the goat.

The curious thing is that fear is no longer located in the libertine, and satanic. Feral youth and ranting puritans are considered far more threatening to civilization than the devil.

Nevertheless Hellfire clubs continue, but stripped of any fantasy Greek myth or ritual.
The Hellfire Club meets every week for 'tongue in cheek' fun. If you are not used to dressing up and masks, you will soon get in the habit! We are conveniently located in Sunbury-On-Thames, just 10 miles west of Central London with excellent travel links and secure free parking. The nearest Station is Upper Haliford; just 250m from the Club. We are 10 min from Terminal 4 and the Heathrow Expess (15mins from Central London).

Monday, 9 January 2012

Wife of God.

The descent of the divine.

Karma Kadgyu Refuge Tree.
The idea of power as descending from heaven and being broken apart and then shared out via priests and kings, is often portrayed as a tree

The Tibetan Buddhist image of the Refuge Tree (image) shows the transmission lines of knowledge- knowledge providing the means for spiritual power in this case -and the structures that help preserve it: the monks and saints, the texts and at the base of the tree a ring of fierce Protectors (Mahakala being one) guard the tree.

At the edge of the lake, on the other side from the tree, people bow down, asking for the teachings.

The Assyrian 'tree of life' seems to represent the flow of power too, finally becoming a 'diagrame' of the sephiroths- the dynamic of God and creation.

Mythology when dealing with the subject of the primordial forces forgets all about how the power lines work or are preserved; Assyrian, Hittite and Greek myth describe the descent of power in terms of conflict: The titanic forces of earth and sky- the Great Old Ones -are dismembered, broken apart and buried, some of them still alive deep down in Tartarus. Their power now taken by their children the gods.

The Titans are unknowable, unrecognisable, alien and inhuman.

Their children, the gods such as Zeus and Hades are a little more like 'us' but are still alien in their thinking, unknowable and at times, untrustworthy.

Those original children of the Titanic gods have children, and the story lines become harder to untangle: Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, gave birth to more gods fathered by her father, Zeus: Zagreus the child with the horns of a bull, and  half light, half dark Melinoe. The children of the children of gods, rarely have a cult center and rarely play much of a role in Greek myth.

They are too much like us..

The next step is The Hero, literally a human/god hybrid. Gilgamesh was the first literary hero-  the son of Lugalbanda, king of Uruk, and the goddess Ninsun -many more were to follow:

Theseus and Achilles to name just two.

The king too must access divine power and to represent this there is the idea of 'The mandate of Heaven' or of the need to posses 'The tablet of destiny' for without either of these things, a king cannot rule. A king can only rule with the agreement of the gods. The Tablet of Destiny actually gave the rule of the whole universe to who ever possessed it, therefore it, like 'the mandate' it was not a physical object, rather it is a symbol of kingship that is maintained to this day.

Here, on the border between the unknowable gods and the all too human quest for knowledge and power we find the idea of the Heiros Gamos- the Holy wedding between church and state, believed to have been enacted by the king, and a priestess of The Queen of Heaven, Holy Inanna's representative for that night...In Ancient Sumer the temple fulfilled the role of the state whilst the king's primary function was as a war leader. The temple required sacrifices for the gods and distributed 'the sacrifices' as food for the many. The temple gave work to craftsmen, provided exorcists and scribes. The temple was the place rich fathers could send their daughters to live a celibate life, and the place from where Shamhat was fetched (if Herodotus is to be believed about temple prostitutes).

No one seems very clear on the status of prostitution in old Sumer- which isn't surprising, it was a very long time ago! It is true that there is a concept of sacred sexuality preserved in ancient texts (most of it dismissed as 'symbolic') , it is also true that prostitution is an old institution.

Finally and without doubt the temple needed to make money and the kings of Carthage 'married the Goddess' .

I tend to see an obvious way of monetizing the two by the temple offering a heiros gamos to any man wealthy enough to partake of what had once been a king's right.

Meanwhile, to quote from The New International Version of the bible:

Deuteronomy 23:17-1817.No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. 18 You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute[a] into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both.
But without being able to read the original language- who knows if this is actually what the bible says? The term, shrine prostitute indicates that there were 'sacred prostitutes' and that the new religion (that eventually becomes Christianity) isn't keen...

It is extremely difficult to tell if the whole idea of sacred prostitution is a creation of nineteenth century white men's frustrations which eventually finds its true home in the Wiccan Great Rite?

Meanwhile faith in the possibility of sexual union with a god present resulting in the fathering of a child created the Egyptian institution of the queen as wife of god, specifically her title became God's Wife of Amun. The role of God's Wife is older than God's Wife of Amun, but it is easier to look at one form of the role, rather than to look at how it changed.

By the time of Ahmose-Nefertari the role of Wife of God had changed; all I can be fairly certain of is that playing the sistrum before the statue of the god was a major role for god's wife- The sistrum induced some way- by the time Ahmose-Nefertani married god, it gave her great power in this world.


It is quite easy to see 'the sacred' as a kind of sugar pill, an advertisers' spin, an attempt to sell or hide 'the truth'. The longing for the sacred has an effect, it gets buildings constructed and makes people look for, and experience the spectral light shining in from hidden realms.

But the temples of Sumer were at the heart of civilisation and a balance of power was maintained, or rather   the king could be held in check by an institution that depended upon the good will of the people to function correctly.

The Egyptian title, Wife of God, consort to a god shifts love and adoration away from the romantic and centers it on the spiritual; god is something else, not of this world, not even flesh and blood; but can be within flesh and blood...

It is tempting believe that this concept spread into Greece as part of the cult of Dionysos. Dionysos was - the God within - a god of possession and transformation. The sacred wedding of Dionysos took place as a part of the Anthesteria...

Dionysos, Ariadne, Persephone, the cave, the wedding, the one mentions Hades....because his name means invisible...