Afternoon research stint with coffee and vintage Earth Mysteries...
Illustration for the forthcoming gatefold vinyl version of "The Irrepassable Gate" by Ash Borer. The title of the piece is taken from the Gnostic text "The Book Of Enoch", in a description of the purgatory created for the fallen angels who had bred with mankind and spawned the Nephilim. Stylistically I drew chief inspiration from from specific works by František Kupka - "The Black Idol" in particular - though the work and techniques of William Mortensen also helped inform both this and the front panel illustration also.
The stark architecture was inspired by ancient sites from across he globe, but most notably by the ruins at Baalbek which some historians and theologians have theorised is actually one of the sites referred to in The Book Of Enoch. The piece was hand drawn digitally at a high resolution to emulate old engraving and etching techniques. After laying down base tones and modelling with stippling, further tone and highlights were added by repeatedly drawing in and scratching out hatched patterns over the piece.
The 12" gatefold vinyl version of "The Irreparable Gate" by Ash Borer will be released early 2017 by Profound Lore.
Thanks to Chris Bruni at Profound Lore Records for my copies of the new SubRosa album. Always nice to see (and hear!) the end product - cheers!
On this (and also on my recent work for Fyrnask) I experimented with mixed media, hand drawn & digital techniques in a concerted effort to move out of my comfort zone and explore new ground. Whilst I am by no means a skilled traditional painter, I greatly admire the work of many painters and felt that a Jugendstil / Secession era approach (some shameless Klimt, Fernand Khnopff and Koloman Moser worship here) was a suitable design choice. And I approached this project from the strict viewpoint of a designer...seeing the typography and layout in my head first...and the designer wanted a painting for the layout!
One of the aspects I love about this era (roughly late 1800 to early 1900's) is the sense of elegance and space a lot of the designers possess. For me, it's truly timeless. In respect of this I was keen to try & distill the illustration & design down to their bare essentials. On one hand I'm always striving to avoid mere emulation of long gone design heroes, but on the other I feel that by studying (or "borrowing"!) their approaches I may come out the other side of a project that little bit wiser.
The title of the latest Subrosa suggested the "calm after the storm" so to speak, and forced me to consider a spacious and serene approach to the composition. This is probably a hallmark of my work for SubRosa, and reflects my tendency to try and not "overcook" the visuals and leave room for the actual music to suggest it's own imagery. (The forest composition seen here is actually me revisiting the site of a previously abandoned illustration for the previous SubRosa album, in which I strove for a similar result...yet added so much clutter the piece lost all focus).
An external layout focusing on an "Ex Libris' interpretation of the main inner illustration, together with period typography and symbolic botanical illustrations on the inside (gleamed from the text of dystopian sci-fi novel "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin, a key influence for the album conceptually) hopefully ties it all together.
"For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages" by SubRosa is released by Profound Lore Records on August 26th, 2016
For the generations of Irish past, belief in the existence of a supernatural realm inhabited by ancient races and spirits was commonplace. This acknowledgement of "the Otherworld" manifested in a myriad of customs and traditions, many of which have undoubtedly been lost with the passage of time. Nevertheless, we can still be thankful for the wealth of material that has survived largely thanks to the efforts of folkorists, storytellers and musicians.
Music plays a particularly important part in Irish culture and it in we find echoed the concerns of the rural Irish with the fairies or Aos Sí - the "people of the mounds", inhabitants of an enchanted (yet also treacherous) realm normally invisible to mortals.
Néillidh "Neily" Boyle (1889-1961) was a fiddler of wide renown, with a playing style described in terms ranging from "extraordinary" right through to "psychotic". Born in the USA to Donegal immigrants, he began playing the fiddle upon their return to Ireland when he was eight years old. An articulate and outspoken character, he only ever agreed to the recording of his music upon the condition that he was allowed to espouse his views on the state of contemporary Irish music which he described disparagingly as "jungle music". Neily played what he termed "the enchanted music of Ireland". He attributed much of his style to childhood recollections of his mothers lilting, but became somewhat notorious for the claim that his talent was also of an Otherworldly provenance:
"It's a gift that was given to the Irish people. The fairies used to play for them. Well, I was one night along with the fairies, and I heard two of the greatest fiddlers ever I heard. They were holding a wedding this night. They thought here I was lost, in this house. I was out for the whole night and I never had such a night in my life, at a fairies' wedding. And they put me drunk. And...I came home here in the morning, and all hands were surprised when I came in. And it was such embellishments of the Irish music I never heard. I was introduced tot he fairies by a friend, who met me. He named the fiddlers and all and I remember the names well. One of them was Séamus Mhaitiú and the other was Cnapán an Chnoic (The Stout Lad from the Hill), that was the names. They were two of the greatest fiddlers that were alive in this country in their day. And of course, I was introduced to the fiddlers and I learned a lot from them - never before did I hear such fiddle playing on this world, as I heard them fiddlers play. They played such wonderful embellishments - they said it was the enchanted music of Ireland that was long ago buried, buried since the days of the bards, and the days of the bards, and the days of the old pipers. But thanks be to God, they gave me the...they bestowed a lot of their knowledege, and...I've practiced since a lot of their styles and I have got that secret"
[transcript from The Otherworld : Music & Song From Irish Tradition / Comhairle Bhealoideas Eireann 2012}
In Irish folklore the fairies are often the source of much fear and trepidation, representing a powerful - and sometimes deadly - force that the Irish peasantry took pains to appease. Fairy abduction (particularly of children) was a common fear, as was being afflicted by the Evil Eye or fairy-stroke.
In the case of musicians however (Boyle was only one of many to claim their skills were the result of relationships with non-human entities) the interactions are often more beneficial in nature, resulting in the production of much loved songs and a realisation of prodigous talent.
"Early practitioners of dark witchcraft favoured the wood cut from Blackthorn and tipped with the thorns as a wand – or even as a ‘blasting rod’ or ‘black rod’, used apparently for cursing. The rod would frequently have the ancient Futhark rune for thorn ‘Thurisaz’ scratched or burned into it.The thorns have been found stuck into witches ‘poppets’, used as pins. Superstition tells us that the devil pricked the fingers of his victims with a sloe thorn and sealed the deals he made in the resulting blood. Because a scratch from the sloe bush was apt to go septic if unattended, it was thought to be poisonous.Witches burned as heretics were sometimes accompanied into the fire with their blackthorn wands or staffs, and branches of it were thrown in to feed the flames. This may be where the tree gained its reputation for purification, and even exorcism.The starry blossoms were considered unlucky and not worn as a decoration or brought into the house. They were associated with death, probably because they bloom on the bare, thorny black branches at winter’s end"
"The Blackthorn is depicted in many fairytales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen. Called Straif in the Ogham, this tree has the most sinister reputation in Celtic tree lore. The English word “strife” is said to derive from this Celtic word. To Witches, it often represents the dark side of the Craft. It is a sacred tree to the Dark, or Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess, and represents the Waning and Dark Moons. Blackthorn is known as “the increaser and keeper of dark secrets”. The tree is linked with warfare, wounding and death, associated with the Cailleach - the Crone of Death, and the Irish Morrigan. Winter begins when the Cailleach (also the Goddess of Winter) strikes the ground with her Blackthorn staff"
"The Blackthorn has a long and often sinister history, associated with witchcraft and murder, but it is also associated with the concept of the cycle of life and death and protection not to mention its practical physical uses. It is often associated with darkness, winter, and the waning or dark moon, a particularly cold spring is referred to as 'a Blackthorn winter'. The devil was said to prick the fingers of his followers with Blackthorn to seal their pact. It is considered the opposite of the benign Hawthorn (which is also known as Whitethorn) with which it so frequently grows. The Blackthorns spines are extremely hard and can cause a great deal of bleeding, and the wound will often turn septic. They were frequently used as pins by English witches and became known as the 'pin of slumber'. The shrub was denounced as a witch’s tool by the church and therefore the wood of the Blackthorn was used for the pyres of witches and heretics. They were also placed under horse’s saddles, by the rider’s enemies, causing the horse to throw its rider when the spines pieced the horses flesh, causing injury or death to the unfortunate rider.
The Blackthorn is also seen as a protective tree and representative of the endless cycle of life and death. For all its deadly associations the blossoms were used in ancient fertility rites as well as being hung in the bedchamber of a bride on her wedding night. It provides blossom whilst there is still snow on the ground while everything else still seems dead from its winter sleep, its dense branches protect the year’s new chicks from predation and in their adulthood provides them with food when many other species of plant have lost their berries. It is a thicket of these trees that protects sleeping beauty in her castle, and witches in northern England would carve the symbol for thorn on a Blackthorn staff for protection.
The tree itself is said to be protected by the fairy folk. It is considered a fairy tree and is protected by the Lunantishee, a type of fairy that inhabits it. They will not allow a mortal to cut Blackthorn on May 11th or Nov 11th (said to have been the originaldates of Beltaine (May Day) and Samhain (All Hallows Eve) before the calendar was changed. Great misfortune will befall anyone who ignores this advice. The Lunantishee may also be the Leannán Sidhe or Fairy Lover"
Some nice secondhand finds this last week...
It's March 17th so I thought I'd share this wonderfully evocative old postcard depicting Station Island - otherwise known as St.Patrick's Purgatory and rumoured to be the entrance to hell...
"Historically, the cave at St Patrick’s Purgatory was considered a turnstile to the Gates of Hell, where St Patrick is said to have witnessed the tortures of eternal damnation in the fifth century, and in 1148 Knight Owein is said to have been dragged into the Underworld by demons with iron hooks".
There's a nice article about this by the late Philip Coppens which can be found here:
St Patricks's Purgatory : oracle of the dead
I'm a recent convert to the work of Folklore Tapes, in their own words being "an open-ended research project exploring the vernacular arcana of Great Britain and beyond: traversing the myths, mysteries, magic and strange phenomena of the old counties via abstracted musical reinterpretation and experimental visuals". I picked up a vinyl copy of "Volume III - Inland Water", haunting melodies, field recordings and writing concerning British water lore in a beautiful gatefold / booklet package. I've now got my eyes on their recently released box set concerning itself with spectral Black Dog traditions in England... [www.folkloretapes.co.uk]
I'm also looking forward to getting stuck into "Star Ships - A Prehistory Of The Spirits" by Gordon White (who also maintains the hugely entertaining Rune Soup site and podcast). I'll probably make an attempt at a review here on the blog in due course but it's available now over at Scarlet Imprint. [scarletimprint.com]
Interesting (and sometimes funny) peek into the world of Serbian shamanism via Vice.