Here is my man… again!
Guest Post ~ Order on Chaos
I never planned on becoming a shaven-headed mystic nutcase summoning ancient spirits in public to a backdrop of electronic symphonies. With hindsight, however, I understand it was an accident waiting to happen. I was a ritual junkie from way back.
Kneeling by the alter
Ritual is the trick everyone uses to impose order on chaos. My apprenticeship began as a ten-year-old altar boy, helping the priest serve mass in the dark, Gothic church attached to my primary school. A tribe of Jesuits ran the school but the priests had the real power. The monks were mere corporals in an army of Majors and Generals.
Devout Catholics all, we held prayer rituals four times every school day and were forever marching into the adjoining church for an endless series of ritual practices. Confirmation and First Communion were one-offs, but our calendar year was a carousel of religious control. We would fast, smear ash on our foreheads, chant aloud in clouds of incense, kneel and stand on command, sing hymns and make signs. There was lots to learn. On the plus side, as an altar boy I got to wear a flashy priest-like costume and supply sound-effects.
“Do this in memory of me”, Father Joseph would announce, lifting the Holy Host overhead among a forest of blazing candles, and I would twist the tree of brass bells in my hand, causing a hundred heads to drop in a collective bow. When you’re only ten, this feels a lot like power.
But Jesus lost out to the dark drives of puberty. Soon my dressing-up adventures moved from Sunday morning to Saturday night. I swapped my robes for trendy shirts and 24-inch flares, in accordance with the mating rites traditional to my community. Of course, instruments of control are pretty much essential when dealing with lust-crazed Glaswegian slum kids. The inhibitions of social ritual were all that stood between us and a weekly re-enactment of the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Dancing, as a result, was ritualised to near-autistic extremes. Heavily-scented females huddled in protective circles, bristling with contradictions. Males would prowl on the fringes, inching closer. Glances flickered as boys rendered witless by desire strained to read the secret codes of connection. Restless eyes looped in dark mascara stared back at us in – well, who the fuck knew – invitation or hostility? As speech was rendered impossible by the volume, hand signals, facial expressions and physical contact were both necessary and inevitable.
Everything was choreographed, with no apparent effort. This was inherited behaviour, born of instinct and unconscious clues. Such is the nature of a successful ritual. When done correctly, its importance is understood by anyone present – even if it’s not your ritual. If you open a door and find an unexpected gathering of people joined in a collective chant or posture, gathered around a central object (crucifix / skull / roast chicken) you may be sure some kind of ritual is in progress, even if it’s only Sunday lunch.
I passed the next twenty years attending and participating in various ritual performances, not least because I worked in the entertainment business. You cannot move in music, theatre or TV without engaging complex webs of ritual. And a good thing too, because that’s the only way to control the kind of sex-crazed moronic narcissists that choose show-business over sanity.
But power is a dangerous tool. There is an important distinction between regulating chaos and harnessing power for your own purposes.
Which brings us to 1997, and my foolish decision to summon S– (nb -NOT Satan) that finally convinced me of both the power of ritual and the danger of ego.
Following a decade of abstinence, I had relapsed into the arms of music and returned to the dirty business of live performance. To evade the terrible consequences of popularity, I pioneered a musical/theatrical /poetic spectacle that the general public could not fail to reject. A fortnight in Wales, a few hundred magic mushrooms and a dog-eared copy of The Golden Bough was all it took to marry my creative ambitions to an ancient cult of nature-worship. I cut a branch from a Yew tree, etched its length with esoteric symbols, scorched it with scented flames and glazed the results with blessed wax.
Within a month I brandished that bough onstage – in an obscure South London pub – to introduce an hour-long onslaught of deafening toons, fire-eating and ritual magic. It was three quid on the door and you could buy crisps and beer during the fifteen-minute interval. There were few actual songs. A poem backed by the sound of a floorboard creaking and epic electronic jams with saxophones and howling guitar. Smoke, swirling coloured lights and huge dangling symbols. We paid a performer to prance around half naked spitting sheets of flame onto a disturbingly low ceiling (but only once). I struggled in vain to recruit a dwarf. On a good night I felt the power of the Ancient Ones flowing through me like a river of molten gold. My mate Dave said it looked like ‘Nosferatu meets the Teletubbies on the set of Doctor Who’.
Who am I?
With my grip on reality melting fast, I unearthed a convincing summoning spell which could -allegedly- invoke the physical presence of a certain creature from the Other World. We put this in the show.
At our first rehearsal of this invocation, the most impressionable member of the troupe experienced a vision of a dark, threatening, apparition. Notwithstanding my role as initiator, I declared this to be a product of her imagination. Our first performance of the invocation ended with a fire breaking out onstage. There were mutterings. I scoffed. Loud and long.
A month later in an adventure playground (mystic poets can’t be choosers) our second performance of the S– invocation saw the stage burst into flames. Fireworks were, however, present, and although the danger was genuine and a degree of terrified screaming took place, I once again rejected any suggestion that S– had heeded the call.
The power of ritual
Our next – and final- rehearsal was held in an underground room. We jogged through half of the controversial piece without incident. The chorus involved a wild dervish dance and – BOOM! White sparks burst from a plug socket. We stared in horror as a ball of blue flame raced along the twenty-foot cable towards us. With a huge, crackling bang the cable exploded and we were plunged into darkness, coughing in a foul cloud of reeking smoke. In an aftermath of tears and fears, we dissolved the group and I never again spoke the S– invocation aloud. I didn’t dare.
Had I blundered into a spiritual bear-trap? Maybe I should never have tried to fill the Jesus-sized space in my soul. Maybe it was just a run of bad luck or bad equipment. I honestly don’t know. But nowadays I approach every ritual with great care.
It’s all very well imposing order on chaos, but to assume control is to play God. Tread carefully, my friends. Beware the power of ritual…