Arthur Machen's short story Ritual concerns a journalist who, on the Whistun Bank Holiday, is perambulating through London. Arriving at Green Park he witnesses a group of boys playing a strange game,
"... there seemed to some sort of dramatic action, perhaps with dialogue, but this I could not hear. Then one boy stood alone, with the five or six others about him. They pretended to hit the solitary boy, and he fell to the ground and lay motionless, as if dead. Then the others covered him up with their coats, and ran away. And then, if I remember, the boy who had been ritually smitten, slaughtered, and buried, rose to his feet, and the very odd game began all over again."
Returning to his offices, the narrator recounts the incident, to which a colleague enigmatically replies,
The story then jumps forward many years. The narrator is taking an American friend of his on another walk around London. The friend has requested that he been shown aspects of the city that are "so ordinary that nobody ever sees them."
The American friend is taken to the vicinity of Kings Cross station and is shown some houses guarded by twin plaster Sphinxes, as well as a street that purportedly featured in Dickens' Little Dorrit. They wander in a haphazard fashion through wastelands to a region that is unfamiliar to the narrator. By all impressions it feels like they have stepped back in time or to another geographic region, the outskirts of a provincial town; a ghostly market square (or the suburbs of a paranoiac-critical town, to borrow Dali's fantastic painting title). A small gang of boys rush into the square. About a dozen of them, marching like soldiers, overseen by a young ruffian, they bang on meat tins with bits of wood, howling barbarously. After performing this ceremonial music for a while, the leader beckons a little boy towards them, arms wide in a gesture of embrace, before drawing his arms back in. He does this three times. After the third repetition of the gesture the little boy in the tattered jacket issues a piercing scream and falls forward as if dead.
The American friend informs the narrator that what they are witnessing is essentially the Njoru Ritual of the Asiki tribe in East Africa.
The story culminates with the narrator recounting the tale to a friend, who somehow miraculously reveals a newspaper article telling of a young boy found dead in a North London market square following a heart attack during a game of soldiers.
Machen's story, I speculate, hopefully without too much controversy, is based on Whitsun Folklore. A child born on Whit Sunday is doomed to kill or be killed. This fate can only be averted by going through a ceremony of a mock funeral of the child.
The engimatic Hiram Abiff alluded to - by the narrator's colleague at the office - is a character who plays an allegorical role in the Masonic psychodrama of the 3rd degree rite. He is presented as the architect of the Temple Of Solomon who is murdered by three ruffians for refusing to divulge the Master Mason's password.
Interestingly, the market square in Machen's yarn is described as composing of "high severe houses, built of whitish bricks, complete in 1840 Gothic, all neat and well-kept, and for all sign of life or movement, uninhabited." Perhaps the narrator and his American friend have wandered by Machen's strange form of magical perichoresis into the Temple Of Solomon?
In many ways the mock ritual killing by children of a child echoes researches into Blood On Satan's Claw and the case of Mary Bell. What's even more curious is that I first visited Bix (scene of the ritual killings in BOSC) on May Eve 2005. During the Whit holiday that year, in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire there was a very disturbing case of a young boy of 5 who was led into a wood by a group of older children, tied up and nearly strangled. The incident received a good deal of coverage in the press. The boy survived and when questioned said he thought he had been taken into a jungle. Perhaps they were enacting the ritual of the Njoru, or the weird Masonic thanatologies of the 3rd degree.
For more on that case read The Daily Telegraph coverage here.
Reports compared the attempted murder, inevitably in lazy media histrionics, to the Bulger tragedy and the case of Mary Bell. The place of their attempted murder was in an area of woodland known as "Devil's Ditch". The resonance with Blood On Satan's Claw and Machen's Ritual would be ludicrously obvious, if it were not so chillingly real. Again this raises the question, are we not programmed at some deep neurological substratum (akin to John's Lilly's 'Lethal Programs') to act out antique ceremonies?
|Devil's Ditch, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire|
|Path leading to the ruined church of St. James, Bix - scene of the ritual sacrifices in Blood On Satan's Claw|
In a more pleasant coincidence, I've been asked to take part in the New Lexicons Of Dark event in Hoxton, on Whit Monday (30th May). I'll be doing a short performance based on the set I did at The Toilet Gallery on May Day. On a personal note, I consider these less performances than public nekyias to concentrate the imagination and demonstrate the process by which English Heretic operates: essentially a form a depth magick, ceremonies are valuable in materialising more images to guide progress into the creative hypogeum. Images as psychopomps. They're also a great excuse to have serious fun, as is the whole project...
Iam hoping to tailor the performance to take in the significance and threads in the mock procession from May Day to Whitsun. I'll also be involved in the symposium later in the day, as part of the same event.