After the basic idea for the Glastonbury William Blake Festival had been anchored, and events over a three-day-period organised, a further inspiration came to me. I conceived of a preliminary episode.
I was aware that we were working with an intriguing tension when bringing Blake and Glastonbury together. The famous hymn Jerusalem is often taken to refer to a story that the young Jesus had physically visited Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea. It is actually not at all certain that this is what Blake meant to convey or that he was familiar with any such notion. Despite having drawn the Arimathean at the very start of his artistic career, Blake never mentions Glastonbury. He does make copious references to many place names throughout his great prophetic works Milton and Jerusalem but Glastonbury is not amongst them. The linking of our second national anthem with Glastonbury seems to be in a kind of liminal zone.
We have a similar situation pertaining to the alleged grave of King Arthur. Arguments continue to rage concerning the nature of the events back in 1191 when bones attributed to him and his queen were supposedly recovered. They were later displayed in a lavish tomb the site of which is signposted in the Abbey grounds and serves a daily focus for many visitors, some of whom leave simple floral offerings behind.
Blake had some characteristically odd things to say about Arthur. I thought it would be intriguing to read some of them aloud at the tomb site. I wondered if anyone had ever done such a thing before? I approached the undertaking in terms of atmosphere, of nuance, as an expression of what Dion Fortune referred to as ‘the poetry of the soul’ writing itself at Glastonbury.
I read a passage from the 1809 Descriptive Catalogue where ‘Mr B’ explained a huge painting of his called The Ancient Britons which is now tragically lost. We do at least have these words to ponder on.
‘Arthur was a name for the constellation Arcturus, or Bootes, the Keeper of the North Pole. And all the fables of Arthur and his round table; of the warlike naked Britons; of Merlin; of Arthur’s conquest of the whole world; of his death, or sleep, and promise to return again; of the Druid monuments, or temples; of the pavement of Watling Street; of London stone; of the caverns in Cornwall, Wales, Derbyshire, and Scotland; of the Giants of Ireland and Britain; of the elemental beings, called by us by the general name of Fairies; and of these three who escaped, namely, Beauty, Strength, and Ugliness, Mr. B. has in his hands poems of the highest antiquity. Adam was a Druid, and Noah; also Abraham was called to succeed the Druidical age, which began to turn allegoric and mental signification into corporeal command, whereby human sacrifice would have depopulated the earth. All these things are written in Eden. The artist is an inhabitant of that happy country, and if every thing goes on as it has begun, the world of vegetation and generation may expect to be opened again to Heaven, through Eden, as it was in the beginning.
In the mean time he has painted this Picture, which supposes that in the reign of that British Prince, who lived in the fifth century, there were remains of those naked Heroes, in the Welch Mountains; they are there now, Gray saw them in the person of his Bard on Snowdon; there they dwell in naked simplicity; happy is he who can see and converse with them above the shadows of generation and death. The giant Albion, was Patriarch of the Atlantic, he is the Atlas of the Greeks, one of those the Greeks called Titans. The stories of Arthur are the acts of Albion, applied to a Prince of the fifth century, who conquered Europe, and held the Empire of the world in the dark age, which the Romans never again recovered.
In this Picture, believing with Milton, the ancient British History, Mr. B. has done, as all the ancients did, and as all the moderns, who are worthy of fame, given the historical fact in its poetical vigour; so as it always happens, and not in that dull way that some Historians pretend, who being weakly organized themselves, cannot see either miracle or prodigy; all is to them a dull round of probabilities and possibilities; but the history of all times and places, is nothing else but improbabilities and impossibilities; what we should say, was impossible if we did not see it always before our eyes.
I paid tribute to Geoffrey Ashe, whose 1971 masterpiece Camelot and the Vision of Albion has been inspired by the same passage and was a fundamental source for my own endeavors.
I also made brief reference to Allen Ginsberg, who visited the Abbey in 1965 and proved to be a powerful influence on the Glastonbury event. I have dealt with all of this in my book William Blake and the Glastonbury Gnosis.
The performance of the Grey Monk at the Garden of Love musical evening in the Glastonbury William Blake Festival involved layers of complexity that demonstrate the extent of the mysterious and exhilarating dynamism that drove the whole event.
I knew from the moment that I started writing my book William Blake and the Glastonbury Gnosis that Allen Ginsberg would be featured due to his importance in championing Blake in the sixties and I was fairly clear about how I was going to do that. The full extent of his inspiration was something I could not have remotely anticipated.
I began writing and reading about Ginsberg on June 3rd. The next day I realised that it had been his birthday. This is the kind of sign I take as indicating that I have connected to the inner core of a writing project. Strong proof of this soon followed.
The three days of our event were determined firstly by the availability of a venue for our intended finale, a musical evening. August 10th was our Friday option. The previous week had been considered but was already booked. With this in place, the previous night was secured for my book launch lecture in the Town Hall, which in turn changed my pace of work to ensure it had been finished in time to be delivered for that date. The Wednesday was set aside for an afternoon public poetry recital around Glastonbury Market Cross.
I started to investigate videos of musical performances of Blake poetry in the hope of inspiring our musicians. Allen Ginsberg had recorded a whole album of them. I was aware that he had memorably sung a version of the Grey Monk during the legendary Democratic Party Convention protests of 1968 that had been met with what official reports later described as a ‘police riot’. When I looked into it further for the purpose of what I believed to be simply getting some details for a brief account in my book, something very striking made itself known.
Allen Ginsberg Chicago 1968.
The Grey Monk is a very interesting poem with the usual Blakean multiple levels of meaning. It is a consideration of tyranny. One of the most powerful of the poet’s responses to the revolutionary agitations of his time, in the USA, and particularly France, was his warnings concerning how idealism can be corrupted into tyranny. This cycle might take a long time. His feelings concerning the USA have considerable contemporary resonance in this respect. The monk himself is a personification of the victims of this idealism gone wrong.
A definite stirring of these negative aspects had been in the late sixties and Ginsberg, as a great Blake enthusiast, recognised this. His performance of the poem was perfectly timed. It has often been suggested that the behaviour of the police in Chicago that day was a prefiguration of the flavour of the imminent Nixon administration and a period of considerable darkness in American politics.
The poem also deals with the major issue of how to resist tyranny. This had been important to the counter-culture as it organised protests against the Vietnam War and attempted to find new political forms of discourse. Armed revolt against tyranny readily becomes what it has resisted. For Blake, the French Revolution was the great example.
There are slightly different versions of the poem, one included in a kind of interlude in the long multi-form Jerusalem. It was born out of one of the few real dramas in Blake’s life, the time he appeared in court after an altercation with a soldier and stood a real chance of receiving the kind of punishment that would have comprehensively ruined his life. The poem depicts a tortured pacifist who will not recant. The broader backdrop sees the recent horrors of the French Revolution as failing to accomplish their stated aims and ending up repeating the strategies of tyrants down through the ages.
The version of the poem in Jerusalem features in a kind of interlude between sections after a short essay to The Deists.‘Those who Martyr others or who cause War are Deists, but never can be Forgivers of Sin. The Glory of Christianity is, To Conquer by Forgiveness. All the Destruction, therefore, in Christian Europe has arisen from Deism, which is Natural Religion.’ The eighteenth century rationalists, Voltaire, Rousseau, Gibbon, and Hume, are deemed responsible for the intellectual climate that could distort the revolutionary impulse into terror and repression.
“I die, I die!” the Mother said,
“My children die for lack of bread.
What more has the merciless Tyrant said?”
The Monk sat down on the stony bed.
The blood red ran from the Grey Monk’s side, His hands and feet were wounded wide, His body bent, his arms and knees Like to the roots of ancient trees.
His eye was dry; no tear could flow: A hollow groan first spoke his woe. He trembled and shudder’d upon the bed; At length with a feeble cry he said:
“When God commanded this hand to write In the studious hours of deep midnight, He told me the writing I wrote should prove The bane of all that on Earth I lov’d.
My Brother starv’d between two walls, His Children’s cry my soul appalls; I mock’d at the rack and griding chain, My bent body mocks their torturing pain.
Thy father drew his sword in the North,
With his thousands strong he marched forth;
Thy Brother has arm’d himself in steel
To avenge the wrongs thy Children feel.
But vain the Sword and vain the Bow, They never can work War’s overthrow. The Hermit’s prayer and the Widow’s tear Alone can free the World from fear.
For a Tear is an intellectual thing, And a Sigh is the sword of an Angel King, And the bitter groan of the Martyr’s woe Is an arrow from the Almighty’s bow.
The hand of Vengeance found the bed To which the Purple Tyrant fled; The iron hand crush’d the Tyrant’s head And became a Tyrant in his stead.”
Ginsberg had clearly chosen to express his feeling of closeness to Blake in this intense situation where he himself could easily have been arrested. America was now the Empire. He left an account that told of the circumstances and the date when he got the tune in his head. He was returning from the funeral of his friend, the Beat Generation legend, Neal Cassady, who had inspired Jack Kerouac to write On the Road. It was August 10th 1968. Exactly fifty years ago to the day from our musical evening. It was immediately obvious to me that the Grey Monk simply had to be performed that night to Ginsberg’s tune. Now I had to inspire someone with the same enthusiasm I felt to actually do that.
There is a recorded version of Ginsberg’s rendition on a later album of Blake songs. I have to admit that his vocals are not always to my liking and I can only listen to so many of his Blake performances in succession before having to stop.
At the end of June I was present at an event celebrating the 70th birthday of local musician and prog-rock legend Judge Smith (a founder member of Van der Graaf Generator). I found myself chatting with another local legend, Michael Tyack, also a man with prog credentials as presiding genius of the band Circulus. I told him the Ginsburg 50th anniversary Grey Monk story and he enthusiastically affirmed that he wanted to perform it. I knew that he could make something from Ginsberg’s tune that would be worthy of the occasion.
I felt that something quite powerful and mysterious was going on and assembled some photos of Ginsberg from that period, and particularly Chicago ’68, with the intention of projecting them during the performance.
Allen Ginsburg and Jean Genet watch William Burroughs meeting Abbie Hoffman.
A ‘police riot’.
A free-floating musical combo assembled that occasionally appear in different forms as the Mystics of Avalon. Most of the musical evening featured the performers, with Grey Monk seeing them all come together with Michael Tyack to perform what he had arranged. Accompanying him were Brakeman on balalaika, guitar and vocals, Judge Smith and Tim Gallagher on percussion, and Violet on tampura and vocals.
The Grey Monk performance was the final piece of the evening. I’m very happy that our recording of it makes clear how fantastic it was. Michael Tyack’s wall of sound, created through his cosmic dulcimer, a Turkish instrument called a Saz, and ably assisted by the other musicians was, to my ear, incredible. Hearing Ginsberg’s tune set to a backdrop far better than his own version on that special anniversary night was really something.
There were profound frustrations however. The light show projections had worked fabulously all through the evening. I had supplied some imagery I had used in my book launch presentation and created a few fresh visuals as well. This had all been woven in with our projectionists stock of effects and imagery very well. Now, for reasons unknown, he was simply unable to access the black and white photos he had stored separately in his device. There was virtually no imagery projected at all. It was also later found that the camera that had filmed the whole evening had gone repeatedly out of focus throughout the performance. It did have a tendency to do this, and there are examples in other numbers and in the recording of my lecture but, in this case, it was doing it throughout the performance.
I was left with a feeling of sadness that it could have been so much better. At least we had a record of how good the musical performance had been. A memorable fancy took hold to explain the mystery of why things hadn’t quite gone a hundred percent. I recalled the story of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s frazzled mind-state during the attempt to record the follow-up to Pet Sounds. Smile became the great lost album of the sixties.
Wilson had conceived of an Element Suite featuring sections inspired by Fire and Water etc. The Fire music was recorded in a typically eccentric manner by musicians dressed in fireman hats. A bucket was brought in containing burning wood so that everyone would be aware of the evocative smell. A few minutes of the original recording remain and it’s pretty damn strange. Recurring fire alarm noises feature throughout, set against hypnotic drumming. It can be placed alongside the Beatles Revolution 9.
A huge mythology has grown up around this episode with variant details. A nearby building caught fire the same night. Or a few fires broke out in the local area within 24 hours. Wilson freaked out and felt that his music had pyro-kinetic qualities. The tapes were placed in a vault. Extreme versions have attempts to literally destroy them by setting fire to them failing. A muted rendition did appear but it took decades for Wilson to process what had happened and the piece was finally performed live as part of his presentation of a finished version of the original Smile project in 2004.
As a full-blown Glastonbury mystic, I was willing to believe that, if our presentation of the Grey Monk had fully manifested as intended, we would have somehow helped to stir up tumultuous events that would have been dangerous, too much to handle, and might have messed up our minds for years to come.
Glastonbury has its darker side and I am well aware of it, having catalogued murders and deaths redolent with occult strangeness in a number of my books, primarily Glastonbury Psychogeography. The tropical summer of 2018 helped to up the edginess here. A group of boozers and druggies who larged it in the High St were erupting into violence on an almost daily basis. There had been a stabbing in St John’s churchyard whilst an event was occurring inside. This had happened on June 22nd, right in the middle of the solstice period and a few days before the feast day of the saint the church is dedicated to.
I wrote of the Gordon Riots in my Blake book. In the UK a Street Fighting Man vibe was in the air. I was aware that, in the USA, intense tumult was ‘just a shot away’ and in our Garden of Love event I preferred to affirm that love was ‘just a kiss away’.
We had in fact been saved to return with a larger scale Blake Glastonbury event that would morph in with the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock on August 15th to 17th 2019. There would be no getting away from the accompanying big Manson 50 that will just precede it. We would have plenty of opportunity to become part of bigger agitations in the Body of Albion that will no doubt accompany the deepening of the Brexit process. Who knows what the state of play might be in the USA by then? We had a year to prepare ourselves. I recognise that this is not a normal way of considering how reality might function but neither was the whole conception behind the event. Whatever the case, the Grey Monk performance on that 50th anniversary night was a richly satisfying experience.
From the Glastonbury William Blake Festival, here is my book-launch presentation.
It covers my usual wide range of diverse subject matter, including including 18th century occult underground, the antiquarian vision, Gordon Riots and punk, Allen Ginsberg, Nicholas Roerich and Jose Arguelles, the Glastonbury Zodiac, and ‘Jerusalem’ as Shekhinah.
My latest book is available from today on Amazon UK, the same date that the 3 day Glastonbury William Blake Festival begins.
211 pages. £13.99
From the back cover.
WILLIAM BLAKE AND THE GLASTONBURY GNOSIS
Is a unique expansive odyssey, inspired by the great visionary poet artist.
It combines history, mythology, and mysticism, in a living journey of Imagination.
Written and published in Glastonbury, it is an expression of the alchemical blend the place somehow inspires and is presented in the hope of bringing forth in its readers something of the same feelings that were involved in writing it.
The Artists and Poets.
Allen Ginsberg, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne.
The Antiquarian Vision
Geoffrey of Monmouth, Iolo Morganwg, William Stukeley.
Eighteenth Century Occult Mystical London Underground.
Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Swedenborg, Cagliostro , Samuel Falk,
Lord George Gordon, Richard and Maria Cosway, James Graham.
The New Antiquarians.
Alfred Watkins, Katharine Maltwood, Mary Caine, Anthony Roberts,
John Michell, Geoffrey Ashe, Iain Sinclair.
Planetary Art for Peace.
Nicholas Roerich, Jose Arguelles, Tony Shearer, Chogyam Trungpa.
Glastonbury Golgonooza. Shekhinah.
Joseph of Arimathea, Cosmic Consciousness, the Gordon Riots, levitation of the Pentagon, Flying Saucer Vision, the Celestial Bed, the Sex Pistols, Albion and Arthur, Our Lady of Glastonbury, Atlantis, the Druid revival, psychogeography, Suffragettes, Glastonbury Zodiac, Michael ley line, a waking Jungian dream.
All coming together through the alchemy of the prophet Bard.
It’s July 23rd, a date which, thanks to Robert Anton Wilson, I think of as Cosmic Trigger day. I like to make it a bit special and try and set the flavour for the rest of the summer period which tends to be the most intense and powerful part of the year for me.
On this day last year, I premiered the Yuri Leitch artwork for my book Atargatis, which was still six months away from completion. I’m very pleased to be able to do the same again, with the last work that Yuri did before his 50th birthday last weekend. This time though, the book is already at the printers and should manifest for the Glastonbury William Blake Festival.
There is some interesting further continuity. The face of Aria Astra Amorosa features again on the figure of Our Lady of Glastonbury in the form of the Roerich Madonna Oriflamma.
Atargatis features a consideration on the Shekhinah, a form of the divine feminine in Judaism that seems to be rooted in the ancient Canaanite goddess Asherah who was installed in Solomon’s Temple for some time and was, effectively, the wife of Yahweh.
The Shekhinah is back again as I delve into the Kabbalistic influences on Blake and examine his idea of Jerusalem. More details to follow but, for now, here is the imagery.
Between Wednesday August 8th to Friday August 10th 2018.
We are having a free-floating sixties-style Happening in Glastonbury in a few weeks time.
On the afternoon of Wed August 8th, starting at 13:00, there will be recitations of Blake poetry around the Market Cross area by some very diverse performers. Some may be singing. There will be musical accompaniment. There is still an option of getting involved and performing. Contact me here or on the Facebook event page. The only rule is that all words spoken must be those of Blake.
On the evening of August 9th, I will give a lecture presentation in the Town Hall on William Blake and the Glastonbury Gnosis that will also serve as a book launch. More details to follow, with special posting of Yuri Leitch cover art in a few days time.
Friday August 10th will see a musical evening in the King Arthur pub in Benedict St. Some quality musician performers will present remarkable renditions of Blake poetry. There will be a special acknowledgement of Allen Ginsberg.
June 17th was the anniversary of the death of fabled rocket scientist occultist Jack Parsons. He is very much a current concern with the CBS TV series Strange Angel having first aired the previous week.
I was very pleased to be able to record another Rune Soup interview with Gordon White on June 17th and to now post it on the summer solstice.
Parsons is a subject I have covered at length in my Crowley book and also my video lecture on the Babalon Working so I was mindful of wanting to provide some fresh material. To that end, there is a typically odd personal story of how I came to feel so connected to the topic and also some thoughts on Jack and the Beat Generation. I also expound on my feeling s concerning the centrality of Gnosticism in understanding Jack’s magical life.
This is a presentation I gave to Glastonbury Positive Living Group on March 7th 2018. It features material from my Atargatis book and served as part of the extended launch process that had begun at the Glastonbury Occult conference a few weeks before.
The lecture concerns a subject that has fascinated me since 1990: the mysterious synchro zone where magic meets fiction and powerful processes are activated. There are a number of personal stories here of high strangeness that feature Robin of Sherwood, Twin Peaks, and Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess.
I was fortunate to have another chat with Gordon White about my Atargatis book. I spoke to him last November about the extensive process involved in the creation of the cover. This time I talked about how much psycho-active voltage accompanied the completion of the book up to the very last moment as it went to the publishers.
Once it had arrived, I was then able to launch it at the Glastonbury Occult Conference. This proved to be a wildly expansive scenario.