Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Thug, Two Tales in Poésie Noire, by David Jonathan Jones

I was ready when the parcel fell through the door. It came with a bullet-hole in the wrapper. I opened it. The hole was on the front cover, just below and to the right of the head of a shadow. The shadow that mostly fills the rain-glossed pavement of the darkened street. Stalking prey in the urban night, the shadow looks down... The background is the bleak existentialism of New York cop noir, with its jazz, its hard liquor and harder drugs, its seedy clubs where the opportunity for deadly violence is ever-present. So elegantly. With so much fucking style.

The car, radio
Night voices and soft bebop,
A blood requiem

And this world is invaded by an ancient goddess and her cult of sacred murder.

Skin, luminous dark,
Axe like nothing of this world,
Those still, ancient eyes.

Like nothing I'd seen,
Exotic beyond foreign,
Even in this hell.

I've never read anything remotely like Thug. This is meticulously-constructed epic poetry for a very unheroic age, built from Anglicized haiku, seventeen beats over three lines, forming a rhythm of cool, merciless witnessing.

The companion piece in here is The Gullveig Working, a deep, deep dive into desire and addiction, laced with the language of psychogeography as the protagonist scours the streets for glinting pieces to feed his gold-lust. If you were at Festival 23 in 2016 you may remember David's performance, done with George Rogers' haunting music.

As you pan on and on
On the cities' hidden tracks of fuck and fight,
For the cursed Rhinegeld, you Alberich, you Uber-prick,
Mired in the midden
Of others' loss, bad luck and tough fucking shit.
She is in that glint.
Like the shooting star flash
Of gusset in the cross of legs

Gullveig, or Goldie, becomes the very Goddess of hopeless desire, leading the seeker into gleaming gutters of détourned culture, deep mythological learning displayed lightly, Odin mashed up with William Burroughs, Elvis with Edgar Allen Poe. And we are all Her slaves, never to find fulfilment:

That broad in the red velvet dress
Is elusive beyond Elysian
And I'll claw my way through concrete
For a hint of a whisper of a rumour
Of her perfume
In a room she thought about going into
Once a thousand lifetimes back
When I was still hint and dust and starlight.

If you like these excerpts, if you like this poésie noire, buy this and take the ride. You won't regret it.

Monday, 15 July 2019

History of the Rune-Gild. The Reawakening of the Gild 1980-2018, by Edred Thorsson - Review

A version of this book was first published in 2007 but this volume is really quite a new thing. A lot has happened since then. This volume is still principally a history of Edred Thorsson's own re-creation and involvement with the Gild, as should be the case, but it also honours those who have contributed to the Rune-Gild in the last few decades, including myself, by way of declaring an interest.

This is 'volume 3 of a much larger project', which will start with a history of the Rune-Gild in ancient times and continue via the Rune-Masters of the late mediaeval and early modern period. Also, as evidenced by the substantial changes in this over the 2007 edition, it is not a final version but an 'ongoing chronicle'.

Few esoteric organizations have as much interest in chronicling their own history. I am one of nature's archivists, so I like this. I think it's important that groups of people involved in initiatory endeavours reflect on what has happened so far, as a resource for new people who come along.

The cover starts the book off well, showing a rune-stone carved and raised by P. D. Brown, one of the world's foremost rune-carvers and a Master in the Rune-Gild. The beauty of this modern interpretation of an ancient Germanic aesthetic is plain to see, and demonstrates how successfully some artists have internalised those ancient patterns.

Edred writes about his personal history, the beginnings of his runic work, his involvement in the worlds of publishing and academia, his re-creation of the Rune-Gild and his part in organizations that Thorsson also had a big part in creating or nurturing, including The (Ring of) Troth.

What is the Rune-Gild about? Edred disposes of the notion that it's somewhere we go simply to learn runic sorcery (though you won't find anywhere better for doing so!) Rather, the Gild is an organization whose purpose is to revive Germanic esoteric culture in a context of radical traditionalism, a wider transformation of culture along traditional lines.

Edred talks us through his involvement with the 'dark side' which phrase is an actual chapter heading. The chapter is a detailed account of what went on between him and the Temple of Set and Michael Aquino, so part of its function is to set the record straight.

This is a magical biography. Some of the events that glimmer in the Rhine of this book are parts of a process of illumination. As with anyone whose life has been rich in magical work, personal history can be broken down into a number of stages which may, in the hands of a subtle enough writer, amount to articulations of the initiation process. The book can be read as a memoir of initiation experiences that, in Midgard, were developments in the Rune-Gild.

One of the most interesting features of this layer of the book is Edred's discussion of the 'higher man', a meeting with whom is necessary for initiation in all proper traditions. The aspirant sees living, breathing evidence in another person of the effects of initiation, and this forms a vital stage of realisation.

The book is beautifully produced and includes a number of photos which bring the narrative to life. If you're a Gild member, if you've ever wondered about the Rune-Gild, if you're interested in modern magical history, or if you want to read a well-written account of a magical life, buy this book.

Monday, 1 July 2019

'The Private Unmentionable Gargoyle and Other Stories' by Hubert Tsarko

The Private Unmentionable Gargoyle and Other Stories by Hubert Tsarko (Publish & Print. Pontypridd, Dave Lewis 2018)

This is Hubert Tsarko's first collection of short stories, consisting of tales from the early 1980s and later set in rural France, Greece and Spain.

The first story sets the scene. It's told in first person, with the author leaving his bedsit in Leeds for France in 1980, somewhat down with his life and wanting something new. He is already commenting about how travelling changed him when - 'with so much exposure to the real world my personality was changing and I was now less inclined to do what people told me.'

Hubert, aka John and I go back to the Leeds magical scene in the late 1970s, and I travelled with him for just one summer, in 1982. He is better known as a poet, but he has also been writing short stories for as long as I've known him. He writes engagingly of that first homesickness, that lonely, uncomfortable feeling. The loss of his sleeping bag right at the start of a journey, the criminal drivers who pick you up only to steal from you, or share their spoils with you, unwitting psychopomps extracting an entrance fee to Europe's underworld. This is the familiar emotional territory of leaving one life behind and beginning another.

The stories then mostly move into third person, giving a bit more distance and introducing all those themes of la vie routière with its drinking, its loves and its bizarre friendships born out of the economic necessities of following the next job.

The distress that often accompanies this lifestyle is suppressed by booze and rears up in hangovers in which the abyss yawns: 'When he woke up on the dusty mattress he felt like shit, his faculties clouded by a sense of abstract doom.' ("To The South")

What is this vagabond lifestyle all about? 'Interesting experiences', adventures that range from sleeping under a tree after a lunchtime on free wine to helping with a failed bank robbery in "The Madman of Mancau": 'Don't worry,' he repeated. 'There's no big deal about a bank robbery in these parts.'

Part of the drive is a search for an authentic identity:
'I was a language teacher,' I said, 'but I gave it up.'
'So now you rough it like this.'
'Now I don't have to put on an act.'

And what we all do, one way or another, try to pretend we are eternally young. But it catches up with us: 'one season older and nothing to show.' So the traveller periodically seeks more order, but falls back into chaos.

The instability of the travelling life sabotages any attempt to find love that's more than a two-night stand. In some ways, these stories of migrant workers from the 1980s, an era that seems so distant now, foreshadow the world of gig economies and mass migration that the present generation is growing up with.

These tales are very well-written, with a vulnerability and occasional dark humour, a solid descriptive groundedness on which the author builds poignant reflections about life. Hubert has got a great ear for language, with well-judged inclusions of foreign words - Greek, French, Spanish and Romanian - that add nuance without obscuring anything.

Some of these tales I've read before, but this is the sort of writing that gets better the more you read it. Is it the case that nothing much happens in these stories? No - it's life happening, often with no discernable plot. The stories belong in a collection - they have more power taken all together. This collection contains the questions distilled from half of a man's life, the unanswered ones building up like silt as the incidents come and go and the years wear on.

If you want to read about a lifestyle that is gone and yet, like I said above, still very relevant today, if you want to read what it is like to seek freedom and authenticity with all the risks and regrets that entails, if you want to read writing that is clear and memorable, buy this book.