Meadow Mediumship

Here’s an electronic version of a short article that Layla and I wrote about our ‘Corpse Way’ project, which we’re slowly working on. It’ll be interesting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic affects the proposed developments on the site – although more immediately, the lockdown makes it difficult for us to visit the location we are interested in, since it’s ever-so-slightly further than is comfortable to walk with a small child in tow! This article was originally published in Alkahest Press’ Folkwitch zine (issue 1).

MEADOW MEDIUMSHIP:
WAKING, WALKING, AND DREAMING THE CORPSEWAY

Phil & Layla Legard (Hawthonn)

I. Walking the Old Corpse Way

Standing on Otley Road, one of the main routes out of North Leeds, you would not assume that you were standing at the threshold of a liminal place. The Lawnswood Arms – a chain pub, complete with Wacky Warehouse, dominates one side of the road. However, cutting through the hedgerow on the opposite side, you will discover an ancient stone stile, and beyond it a well-worn footpath, cutting across a gently sloping field. The path bends as it crosses a small beck, marked by another stile, after which the terrain levels out, passing by old oaks and ashes as it points the way to the ancient church beyond. The contrast is so profound that the noise from the busy road seems to vanish, as you fall under the spell of the Corpse Way.

The church, St. John the Baptist, was built in 1150. Although established as a place of worship, its fabric is a veritable stone grimoire of grotesque corbels and beakheads. Like all ancient churches, it is haunted by pagan spectres: the Romantically-inclined former-rector Reverend Henry Trail Simpson claimed that a carving of the goddess Verbeia was once to be found within the vestry, while a more modern 19th century window celebrates Tubal Cain, patron of both metal-workers and magical artificers. In the 17th century the church benefactor was Thomas Kirke, antiquarian and polymath, now buried beneath the chancel floor, whose ghost was been the topic of a poetic dialogue composed shortly after his death in 1706.

St. John the Baptist connects to the parish of Adel via footpath 17, ‘the Corpse Way’: the ancient processional way along which many inhabitants of the surrounding area made their final journey to the churchyard. To stand at the edge of the field, surveying the path, ones thoughts turn to the many dismal marches which must have been made along this path – how many of those interred in the churchyard beyond made this their final journey? Footprints have long been a component of folk magic, as in, for example, cursing by piercing a footprint with a coffin nail. We may consider how many mourners have left their imprint on this path: the very soil itself here is saturated with the spectral resonance of their processions – a worthy source of materia magica.

With the exception of a small pumping station erected at the western end, the fields surrounding the corpse way have largely remained unchanged within living memory. Within the enclosure, the ancient ditches of a Roman road cutting from north to south were long ago eroded by the plough, while the old tithes of the 19th century maps have now been subsumed into the whole, their walls dismantled and grown over with crops. Of the small building on the west side of the field, which once housed a community stable and – on the floor above – the church Sunday school, strewn rocks remain to maintain its outline. Such had been the slow state of progress – with centuries of history visible as a palimpsest for those who looked closely. However, in 2016 the housing developers of Barratt David Wilson Homes turned their eye to the land. Despite an application to develop 53 houses being rejected in 2017, BDWH returned with a subsequent application in 2018 (No. 18/04343), which is still under consideration, despite the developer having doubled the number of houses they intend to put on the land. The plan also involves tarmacking the Corpse Way. Residents have made it clear that this development will do nothing to alleviate the strain on quality, affordable housing in Leeds, and will also further destroy the historic environment.

The western section of the Corpse Way is now bound on both sides by steel barriers, and the fields on either side of the beck are fallow. You can almost sense the landscape in mourning. Recently, we have been walking the Corpse Way, documenting it, dreaming it, attempting one last desperate act of enchantment: to either raise an army of ghostly mourners to turn back the bulldozers, or else to leave some document as a requiem for what we have lost. Continue reading

Materia Magica Nova: Towards a Critical Magic

The following is a transcript of a talk delivered on behalf of Hawthonn at the Horse Hospital, 30 May 2019. It was part of Strange Attractor’s Towards a Progressive Magick event with Amy Hale, which culminated in a performance by Hawthonn. Thank you to Mark Pilkington for arranging the evening, and to all who attended. The transcript presented below is a heavily edited version of a longer piece, which I hope to see published in time.

MATERIA MAGICA NOVA:
TOWARDS A CRITICAL MAGICK (BREVIS)

HAWTHONN

A talk delivered at Strange Attractor presents:
Towards a Progressive Magick,
30 May 2019 at The Horse Hospital, London.

I. The Genius of the Crossroads

In a recent paper on the ethnography of esotericism, Susannah Crockford and Egil Asprem observed that: “The valorisation of individualism in new age spirituality suggests the influence of neoliberal ideology. Emphasising self-reliance is a way of naturalising a political economic project —removing the social safety nets of the welfare state. ‘Self-help’ and ‘self-care’ are not neutral discourse; they encourage acceptance of particular political and economic projects through the sacralisation of individuality and by attributing responsibility solely to the self. Examining contemporary esotericism requires a serious engagement with the ways that esotericism is not only a marginalised victim of history, but itself plays a role in legitimising dominant ideologies (e.g. neoliberalism) and reifying global power asymmetries.” (2018: 18-19)

It was reading this passage in particular that seemed to sum up many of our feelings about the relationship between the esoteric and the contemporary political landscape. It made us particularly consider how the ‘sacred’ – by which we mean that which is traditionally beheld as transcendent, untainted, ideal or otherwise partitioned from the mundane: the province of illumined magi and ‘aristocrats of the soul’ – has been used to enforce a variety of dominant ideological and political positions, from neoliberalism and ultra-libertarianism, to notions of racial purity and gender essentialism, and the enabling and proliferation of fascist ideals. We became particularly interested in how we could create forms of practice which subvert these implications of the esoteric worldview. Although we would not declare theism and tradition as irrevocably tainted by fascism, the idea of exploring ritual through an anti-spiritualistic, anti-essentialist position, intrigued us.

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Listen to the Voice of Fire – 15-16 March 2019

Layla and I are pleased to have been invited to play the two-night Listen to the Voice of Fire festival, taking place in Aberystwyth between 15th and 16th of March. We’re particularly looking forward to this because it features sets from the elusive Johann Wlight (trading as itdreamedtome) and Alphane Moon (alias Our Glassie Azoth) – I’ll wax lyrical about those two below, but let me also say that we’re also looking forward to reuniting with our friends Bell Lungs (a very fine lathe cut 7″now available at that link) and Sharron Kraus, both of whom attended the 2017 Listen to the Voice of Fire symposium, which I have written about elsewhere. My old friends Ashtray Navigations are also on the bill, too, along with Kitchen Cynics and Laura Netz.

The flyer is below, and you can get tickets via Eventbrite here:

Both days
Friday the 15th only
Saturday the 16th only

We’ll also be joining Sharron again at Bishop’s House in Sheffield on the 11th of May – flyer below, tickets available here.

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Goodbye 2018

Musically, 2018 has been a high-point for Layla and I, with the release of Red Goddess (of this men shall know nothing) in March, to which we must give our profound thanks to Ben Goldberg and Katie von Schleicher at Ba Da Bing! Records, and to also Ben Chasny for originally introducing us. We’re so pleased with all the positive reception that the album has got, and its inclusion in a variety of end-of-year lists – of which we’d particularly like to thank The Quietus for placing us at #18!

As mentioned earlier, returning to playing live has been a revelation – it’s been nice to play a gig every few weeks – although we’ve not got further south than Birmingham… YET. Advance notice that we will be playing Manchester Folk Horror Festival on the 2nd of Feb, and the National Library of Wales as part of Listen to the Voice of Fire on 15-16 March. Continue reading

Of Excellent Bookes, the Demiurge, Dreams and Autumn Musicke

I am very pleased to say that Scarlet Imprint recently announced that they will be publishing An Excellent Book of the Art of Magic: The Magical Works of Humphrey Gilbert and John Davis. Here is their description, to whet your appetite:

The Excellent Booke and Visions – transcribed from British Library Additional manuscript 36674 – are edited and introduced by Phil Legard, with supplementary essays by Dr Alexander Cummins. The works are important documents of 16th century magical practice, preserving a detailed account of the making and the use of a grimoire. Practitioners may also be drawn to the relative simplicity of the rites contained within the Excellent Booke. Gilbert, and his scryer John Davis, reduced the complex rituals of necromancy to their essentials: the crystal stone, the scryer, the conjurations and the forceful imposition of the master’s will over the demons he seeks to constrain.

This is a volume that I have been working on, now and then, for quite some time: the project began circa 2013, originally intended for the late James Banner’s Trident Books, who I had collaborated with on an edition of John Dee’s Libellus Veneri Nigro Sacer in around 2011. I believed that Gilbert & Davis’ two articles – the first a magical grimoire, the second a detailed record of the visions experienced by the pair – were important for both scholars and practitioners. They present a rare record of ritual magic practice, predating Dee’s spiritual diaries by around two decades, and – moreso than the work of Dee – being grounded in the demonic magic of medieval necromancy, albeit a heavily Protestant reworking thereof.

Circa 1577, Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1537 – 1583).

However, the project foundered for a variety of reasons, and James was later overtaken by health issues. Fortunately, after reading my transcription, my friend Dr. Al Cummins shared my enthusiasm for the work, and we have both done a variety of articles and presentations on the subject over the last few years. For this edition, Al has completed three significant supplementary essays, exploring in detail the content and contexts of the Excellent Book and Visions.

An Excellent Book of the Art of Magic will, we hope, be released in the first half of 2019.

I must also take this opportunity to offer my profuse thanks to Peter & Alkistis for sending Layla and I a copy of Peter Mark Adams’ The Game of Saturn, and the accompanying Sola Busca tarot deck. First, let me say that the execution of both book and deck are impeccable: the book in particular is an incredible feat of design, with numerous colour images complementing the exemplary typesetting.

The Game of Saturn (photo by Scarlet Imprint)

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Howling and Harrowing in the North

It’s been a lot of fun playing gigs with Layla since our album, Red Goddess (of this men shall know nothing) was released back in March. Thank you to everyone who invited us to play and all those who said very kind things to us after shows. Thanks also to Ben Goldberg at Ba Da Bing! for the gentle push in this direction. I should also mention that WE FINALLY HAVE A WEBSITE!

Hawthonn at Tor Fest (July 21, Hebden Bridge Trades Club). Photo: Andy Jarvis.

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Capturing the Red Goddess

Although we finished recording Red Goddess (of this men shall know nothing) in December 2016, the process of getting the album released was beset by a variety of delays which, ultimately, made the end result a lot better. One delay was getting the best possible lathe cut and pressing, rejecting a number of test presses along the way. In this respect, Paul Gold at Salt Mastering did brilliantly – the final pressing sounds excellent: no noise, wide dynamic range, great clarity – one couldn’t ask for more… Apparently Ba Da Bing! had an office full of interns listening to the test presses with notepads in their hands, eagerly listening out for any pops or hisses…

The other thing that took an inordinately long time was coming up with the cover art…

 

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Manifestations: Red Goddess and Hexadic III

Hawthonn is the real deal. Equally adept at transcribing crow calls
into musical scales as they are at creating horizon melting
atmospheres, Red Goddess raises the bar for musicians interested in
composing straight from the creative imagination. For fans of Jocelyn
Godwin, John Dee and Folk Horror as much as the darker spectrum of
British music, this is a record of staggering breadth.

– Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance)

I am pleased to say that we can finally announce the new Hawthonn album, Red Goddess (of this men shall know nothing), which will be released on 23rd of March on Ba Da Bing! Records. We premiered ‘Eden’, the first single, on The Quietus last week – you can read more about the track there, or listen below.

Pre-orders, and more info on the album, can be found here! For those in the UK/EU, Layla and I will handle the postage in order to cut out the prohibitive transatlantic shipping fees. If you are interested in ordering a copy, email us at hawthonnband@gmail.com. Prices are £20 LP and £10 CD, plus P&P (LP: £4.50 UK/£7.20 EU; CD: £2.50 UK/£4.50 EU). You can also order direct from us via Bandcamp!

The LP also comes in a burlap-textured sleeve (- like the first pressing of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures! -) and has an insert with a short essay thereon. Norman Records, Piccadilly Records and many others will be also carrying the album!

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Electricity & Imagination: Karl von Eckartshausen and Romantic Synaesthesia

Recently I acquired a copy of Fulgur’s Touch Me Not, a facsimile, transcription and translation of the Wellcome Library’s notorious Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae (MS1766). This manuscript has circulated quite widely over social media during the last year or so, mostly owing to a fascination with the diversity of demonic genitalia on display therein!

However, little was said about the textual content of the manuscript. We might immediately deduce that it is 17th century, German, and likely connected with the overtly dark and demonic ‘Höllenzwang‘ magical literature, most often associated with Faust. Intrigued by the images, I was excited to discover that an edition was in the works, edited and translated by Hereward Tilton and Merlin Cox, the description of which promised ‘psychedelic drug use, animal sacrifice, sigillary body art, masturbation fantasy and the necromantic manipulation of gallows-corpses.’ My copy arrived last week, and it is a very handsomely produced volume indeed.

Such lurid descriptions as those above undoubtedly make good copy, but what I found most interesting was the way the text interpolated material – chiefly on narcotic salves and fumigations – from the Aufschlüsse zur Magie (1788/1792) of Karl von Eckartshausen. I was only dimly aware of the work of Eckartshausen, but Touch Me Not compelled me to find out more…

Images from MS1766 – a necromantic operation gone awry (and a demon described by Tilton & Cox as ‘dolichophallic’!); sigillic body art, as part of an operation to conjure Astaroth.

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Hexadic Eudaimons

A couple of announcements!

First, I’m very proud to have a track on Ben Chasny’s forthcoming Hexadic III collection. It’s an organ improvisation in the Hexadic style, entitled Zoa Pastorale. The release date is February 23rd, but pre-orders are open now!

The album also features Moon Duo, Tashi Dorji, Stephen O’Malley (and company), Richard Youngs, Jenks Miller (Mount Moriah) and Meg Baird & Charlie Saufley (Heron Oblivion). I’ve been bowled over by the diversity of sounds on display in this album – from motorik psych, to doomy sludge, ethereal folk, sunshine rock and Baroque floridity – all wrought from Ben’s system of tonal organisation. You can even dance to a couple of tracks!

Read more and place your pre-orders over at the Drag City website.

 

Second, you may know that I hold the poet Kathleen Raine in high esteem, having previously named an album after a line from one of her poems, and written at some length on the relationship between her vision of nature and the poetic imagination and its relation to sonic arts. I was excited, therefore, to discover that Delphine Dora had recently finished an album of songs that spontaneously interpret Raine’s poetry. She invited me to contribute an English text to accompany her album, Eudaimon (to be released early 2018 by three-four records), and this is what I wrote:

The twentieth century has had its share of poets exploring magic and mysticism. However, it is Kathleen Raine who has articulated the deepest spiritual vision throughout the entire body of her work. Having studied William Blake – and, in the process of doing so, reading all that he had read – Raine believed poetry to be an art-form that could open readers to an awareness of a divine, transcendental world which expresses itself to us through in the language of symbols.

As an example: for Raine, a tree is never ‘just’ a tree: iIt is a symbol of the unity of the universe. This symbol draws meaning from its presentation in the poem: it may blossom, decay, or be felled – each of these express different relationships between humanity and the universe. For Raine, nature and its symbols express an archetypal world, which she described as burning “with an interior light and glory, awe-inspiring.”

When we become acquainted with Raine’s symbols, we begin to see the world very differently: full of meanings and spiritual significance. Her vision of the poetic symbol has deeply influenced many artists – myself among them – and has led to a number of musical settings of her poetry. However, these are predominantly in the ‘art-song’ genre of classical composition – here, Raine’s simple and intimate language is often obscured by the compositional settings and vocal techniques that the classical idiom demands. What Delphine Dora has achieved here are naturalistic settings of Raine’s words, which present her poems in a new light. Delphine’s work interprets Raine’s poems in a style that is by turns ethereal, lively, melancholic and innocent – the last of these terms evoking the idea of the innocence of souls: who, being incarnated in the lower world, become corrupted and seek to return to their source through the gates of death.

Indeed, death is one of Raine’s prominent themes, and is explored on in the opening song on this album. H.G.A. sees Raine reflect on her proximity to her Holy Guardian Angel, who will soon lead her immortal soul away from sphere of creation, and, consequently, she will forget all that she now remembers about the material world. Many of us would be inclined to approach such a theme sombrely, but the melancholic sweetness of Delphine’s interpretation captures something of the yearning for the otherworldly and unknowable world of light that Raine believed to be the soul’s true habitation. This angel is the same as that sung about in Eudaimon, who sees her depart the celestial realms for the ‘prison house’ of the world, but who will one day bear her back to her true home in the stars.

Like Raine’s own poems, the songs on Eudaimon are pure in their simplicity and austere style. Yet they also shine with the crystalline fire of the world beyond: that same light which bleeds through the symbols that Raine believed helped our souls recall their original states. If you do not already know Raine’s work, there can be no better introduction.

 

Raine may also be due a wider revival: I notice that she also features prominently in Gary Lachman’s forthcoming Lost Knowledge of the Imagination.

More news soon, I hope, on the new Hawthonn album… and even a gig or two…!