Saturday, 30 January 2016

WITCHES AND WICKED BODIES (BRITISH MUSEUM JANUARY 2015)



The exhibition was an exploration of how Witches have been perceived in various artistic mediums throughout history, with an obvious emphasis upon the visual. The exhibition was not a presentation of how Witches may have truly been or how they may have even perceived themselves. This was the presentation of an artistic viewpoint, how Witches and their related subjects, magic, sorcery, necromancy, are perceived by artists and presented in art forms.



This was not a scientific, anthropological study of how Witches truly were or even are. As such the exhibition presented an artistic mirror, in which our society sees itself, its fears and how it perceives what may confuse or puzzle. Those who visited the exhibition expecting to see accurate depictions of Witchcraft, based upon folk practice and documentary sources, not only misunderstood the concept of the exhibition but would have left sadly disappointed.





The earliest works on display dated from the fifteenth century and the latest from the nineteenth. This was a collection of almost half a millennia of artistic interpretation of sorcery, placed together for comparison and enjoyment. Yet no artwork of whatever medium, exists in a vacuum. Each works reflected in some manner a social, cultural, political or theological influence.



The works on display included many world famous examples by such renowned artists as Durer, Stuck, Goya, Delacroix, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Sandys. Indeed it was a remarkable surprise to see the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood so well attested as an influence upon the subject, although the examples on display were not what one would expect, being of a less romantic nature than their usual output.



A presentation of this nature, with its distorted bodies and twisted features, contrasting with those slightly more romantic depictions from Shakespeare, raises questions about the nature of art. How do we define art and can art really be defined at all, without placing limits upon it? What is the function of art beyond the aesthetic? Not that the aesthetic quality of art is in anyway unimportant, indeed one could argue that it is the vital element. Yet beyond that, what is the function of art and should art always have a meaning? Is it possible to produce art without a symbolist meaning? Is art descriptive, challenging or purely a reflective model, trapped within the social and cultural context of its time of origin?



Much of the exhibition unsurprisingly, concentrated upon the female form, contrasting the loathsome; secret, black and midnight hags of Shakespeare, with the more seductive Lilith archetype. Thrown into this cauldron of metaphors was the occasional Medea but primarily the femininity explored was of two extremes, the repulsiveness of great age with that of the sexual allure of youth.



The exhibition reflected that social and traditional belief, that women are more inclined towards sorcery than men. Few male practitioners are named in our history and this is reflected in art. Figures such as Dee and names from the Scottish trials such as Fian, stand out because they are so few in number. Therefore the most notable other male named and included in this exhibition was Faust, yet the most striking artistic reference to his famous story was not of him but of Mephistopheles. Thus depicting as with the pictures of the female sorcerers, the maleficent influence of the Devil, tempting man and woman alike from the path of salvation.



To be able to stand, study and contemplate these wonders of European art, some so famous in their familiarity that they feel like old friends, was very special. I travelled to see the works of Durer and Goya. My intent, to see the originals with my own eyes, rather than via some other medium, a book or the Internet. It is therefore difficult to express my enjoyment and pleasure, in not only seeing those works but the many other treasures gathered for this important exhibition.



Almost five hundred years of European culture was explored, comparing the more traditional, evil and loathsome imaginings of evil with the later, more sceptical and sometimes humorous. The Devil himself travels from the most repulsive, to become an almost dashing figure in the guise of a later Mephistopheles.



The figure of the female Witch, shown as equally repulsive in the earlier works, likewise became increasing more attractive and less an object of fear, as the beginning of the twentieth century approached. Yet even if we accommodate this change in depiction, there remained a disturbing paradox. Each and every image presented was almost without exception, a negative one. From the hags of Durer and Goya, through Medea killing her children, to Lady Macbeth and the company Witches, the allure still held an element of danger, an undertone of malice and evil.


The scientific advancement of the nineteenth century and the improved educational foundation of Victorian society, brought about a general scepticism towards sorcery. Was that the victory of the Devil and of Witchcraft? Did society embrace the Witch or simply cease to believe in magic?

The exhibition ‘Witches and Wicked Bodies’ ran at the British Museum in London, from the 24th of September 2014 to the 11th of January 2015.




Friday, 15 January 2016

PRAYER OF LAMENTATION TO ISHTAR


I pray to thee, O Lady of Ladies, Goddess of Goddesses.
O Ishtar, Queen of all peoples, who guides mankind aright,
O Irnini, ever exalted, greatest of the Igigi,
O mighty of princesses, exalted is thy name.
Thou indeed art the light of heaven and earth.
O valiant daughter of Sin.

O supporter of arms, who determines battle,
O possessor of all divine power,
Who wears the crown of domination,
O Lady, glorious is thy greatness;
Over all the gods it is exalted.
O star of lamentation,
Who causes peaceable brothers to fight,
Yet who constantly gives friendship,


O mighty one, Lady of battle,
Who suppresses the mountains,
O Gushea, the one covered with fighting,
And clothed with terror
Thou doest make complete judgment and decision.
The ordinances of heaven and earth.

Chapels, holy places, sacred sites,
And shrines pay heed to thee.
Where is not thy name, where is not thy divine power?
Where are thy likenesses not fashioned?
Where are thy shrines not founded?


Where art thou not great?
Where art thou not exalted?
Anu, Enlil, and Ea have made thee high;
Among the Gods,
They have caused thy domination to be great.

They have made thee high among all the Igigi;
They have made thy position pre-eminent.
At the thought of thy name heaven and earth tremble.
The gods tremble; the Anunnaki stand in awe.
To thine awesome name mankind must pay heed.
For thou art great and thou art exalted.


All the black-headed people,
Persians and the masses of mankind;
Pay homage to thy might.
The judgment of the people in truth and righteousness;
Thou indeed dost decide.

Thou regardest the oppressed and mistreated;
Daily thou causest them to prosper.
Thy mercy! O Lady of heaven and earth;
Shepheress of the weary people.


Thy mercy! O Lady of holy Eanna the pure storehouse.
Thy mercy! O Lady; unwearied are thy feet;
Swift are thy knees.
Thy mercy! O Lady of conflict and of all battles.
O shining one, lioness of the Igigi, subduer of angry Gods,
O most powerful of all princes,
Who holdest the reins over kings,

But who dost release the bridles of all maidservants,
Who art exalted and firmly fixed.
O valiant Ishtar, great is thy might.


O brilliant one, torch of heaven and earth,
Light of all peoples,
O unequalled angry one of the fight,
Strong one of the battle,
O firebrand which is kindled against the enemy;
Which brings about the destruction of the furious,

O gleaming one, Ishtar, assembler of the host,
O deity of men, Goddess of women;
Whose designs no one can conceive,


Here thou dost look, one who is dead lives;
One who is sick rises up;
The erring one who sees thy face goes aright.
I have cried to thee, suffering, wearied, and distressed;
As thy servant.

See me, O my Lady, accept my prayers.
Faithfully look upon me and hear my supplication.
Promise my forgiveness and let thy spirit be appeased.


Pity!
For my wretched body which is full of confusion,
And trouble.
Pity!
For my sickened heart which is full of tears,
And suffering.
Pity!
For my wretched intestines which are full of confusion,
And trouble.
Pity!
For my afflicted house which mourns bitterly.
Pity!
For my feelings which are satiated with tears and suffering.

O exalted Irnini, fierce lion, let thy heart be at rest.
O angry wild ox, let thy spirit be appeased.


Let the favor of thine eyes be upon me.
With thy bright features look faithfully upon me.
Drive away the evil spells of my body,
And let me see thy bright light.

How long, O my Lady,
Shall my adversaries be looking upon me;
In lying and untruth shall they plan evil against me?


Shall my pursuers and those who exult over me,
Rage against me?
How long, O my Lady,
Shall the crippled and weak seek me out?
One has made for me long sackcloth;
Thus I have appeared before thee.

The weak have become strong;
But I am weak.
I toss about like flood-water,
Which an evil wind makes violent.
My heart is flying;
It keeps fluttering like a bird of heaven.
I mourn like a dove night and day.


I am beaten down, and so I weep bitterly.
With "Oh" and "Alas" my spirit is distressed.
I, what have I done, O my God and my Goddess?
Like one who does not fear my God and my Goddess,
I am treated;
While sickness, headache, loss,
And destruction are provided for me;

So are fixed upon me terror, disdain, and fullness of wrath,
Anger, choler, and indignation of gods and men.
I have to expect, O my Lady, dark days,
Gloomy months and years of trouble.


I have to expect, O my Lady,
Judgment of confusion and violence.
Death and trouble are bringing me to an end.
Silent is my chapel; silent is my holy place;

Over my house, my gate, and my fields,
Silence is poured out.
As for my God;
His face is turned to the sanctuary of another.
My family is scattered; my roof is broken up.
(But) I have paid heed to thee, my Lady;
My attention has been turned to thee.


To thee have I prayed; forgive my debt.
Forgive my sin, my iniquity,
My shameful deeds and my offence.
Overlook my shameful deeds; accept my prayer;
Loosen my fetters; secure my deliverance;

Guide my steps aright; radiantly like a hero,
Let me enter the streets with the living.


Speak so that at thy command,
The angry God may be favourable;
(And) the Goddess who has been angry with me,
May turn again.
(Now) dark and smoky, may my brazier glow;
(Now) extinguished, may my torch be lighted.

Let my scattered family be assembled;
May my fold be wide; may my stable be enlarged.
Accept the abasement of my countenance; hear my prayers.
Faithfully look upon me and accept my supplication.


How long, O my Lady;
Wilt thou be angered so that thy face is turned away?
How long, O my Lady;
Wilt thou be infuriated so that thy spirit is enraged?

Turn thy neck which thou hast set against me;
Set thy face toward good favour.
Like the water of the opening up of a canal,
Let thy emotions be released.


My foes like the ground let me trample;
Subdue my haters
And cause them to crouch down under me.
Let my prayers and my supplications come to thee.
Let thy great mercy be upon me.

Let those who see me in the street magnify thy name.
As for me, let me glorify thy divinity and thy might,
Before the black-headed people, saying;
Ishtar indeed is exalted; the Lady indeed is Queen.
Irnini, the valorous daughter of Sin, has no rival.




THE SONG OF AMERGIN TRANSLATED BY ROBERT GRAVES


Amergin the Chief Bard of the Milesians lays claim to the Land of Ireland;


I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I,
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?


I am a spear: that roars for blood,
I am a salmon: in a pool,
I am a lure: from paradise,
I am a hill: where poets walk,
I am a boar: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker: threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I,
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen, arch?


I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze: on every hill,
I am the queen: of every hive,
I am the shield: for every head,
I am the tomb: of every hope.


Excerpt from the White Goddess published by Faber and Faber Limited.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

THE LADY OF SHALOTT (1832) BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON



Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
       To many-tower'd Camelot;
The yellow-leaved waterlily
The green-sheathed daffodilly
Tremble in the water chilly
       Round about Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.


Underneath the bearded barley,
The reaper, reaping late and early,
Hears her ever chanting cheerly,
Like an angel, singing clearly,
       O'er the stream of Camelot.
Piling the sheaves in furrows airy,
Beneath the moon, the reaper weary
Listening whispers, ' 'Tis the fairy,
       Lady of Shalott.'

The little isle is all inrail'd
With a rose-fence, and overtrail'd
With roses: by the marge unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken sail'd,
       Skimming down to Camelot.
A pearl garland winds her head:
She leaneth on a velvet bed,
Full royally apparelled,
       The Lady of Shalott.


Part II

No time hath she to sport and play:
A charmed web she weaves alway.
A curse is on her, if she stay
Her weaving, either night or day,
       To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be;
Therefore she weaveth steadily,
Therefore no other care hath she,
       The Lady of Shalott.

She lives with little joy or fear.
Over the water, running near,
The sheepbell tinkles in her ear.
Before her hangs a mirror clear,
       Reflecting tower'd Camelot.
And as the mazy web she whirls,
She sees the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
       Pass onward from Shalott.


Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
       Goes by to tower'd Camelot:
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
       The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
       And music, came from Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead
Came two young lovers lately wed;
'I am half sick of shadows,' said
       The Lady of Shalott.


Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flam'd upon the brazen greaves
       Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
       Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
       As he rode down from Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
       Beside remote Shalott.


All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
       As he rode down from Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
       Moves over green Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
       As he rode down from Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
'Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:'
       Sang Sir Lancelot.


She left the web, she left the loom
She made three paces thro' the room
She saw the water-flower bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
       She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
       The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
       Over tower'd Camelot;
Outside the isle a shallow boat
Beneath a willow lay afloat,
Below the carven stern she wrote,
       The Lady of Shalott.


A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight,
All raimented in snowy white
That loosely flew (her zone in sight
Clasp'd with one blinding diamond bright)
       Her wide eyes fix'd on Camelot,
Though the squally east-wind keenly
Blew, with folded arms serenely
By the water stood the queenly
       Lady of Shalott.

With a steady stony glance—
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Beholding all his own mischance,
Mute, with a glassy countenance—
       She look'd down to Camelot.
It was the closing of the day:
She loos'd the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
       The Lady of Shalott.


As when to sailors while they roam,
By creeks and outfalls far from home,
Rising and dropping with the foam,
From dying swans wild warblings come,
       Blown shoreward; so to Camelot
Still as the boathead wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her chanting her deathsong,
       The Lady of Shalott.

A longdrawn carol, mournful, holy,
She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her eyes were darken'd wholly,
And her smooth face sharpen'd slowly,
       Turn'd to tower'd Camelot:
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
       The Lady of Shalott.


Under tower and balcony,
By garden wall and gallery,
A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
Deadcold, between the houses high,
       Dead into tower'd Camelot.
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
To the planked wharfage came:
Below the stern they read her name,
       The Lady of Shalott.

They cross'd themselves, their stars they blest,
Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest.
There lay a parchment on her breast,
That puzzled more than all the rest,
       The wellfed wits at Camelot.
'The web was woven curiously,
The charm is broken utterly,
Draw near and fear not,—this is I,
      The Lady of Shalott.'


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0rVNQw1DQM&list=RDk0rVNQw1DQM#t=0