We sat over a pint, a regular haunt of esotericists, witches, necromancers and Typhonians near the British Museum, deep in conversation. The hustle and bustle of those partaking in after-work drinks and kicking off their weekends faded to insignificance…
“In the Chimehours is no more, I’ve taken everything down”
“You need a creative outlet”
“I have plans but I’m starting from scratch”
“You had better!”
Snap forward many months and I was still stuck with a pile of notes and unfinished images; searching for a direction, a definitive outline to the portal from which I would unleash my mad ramblings. So here I finally present to you ‘Tremoribus Subterraneis’. A place where I will share my artistic vision, a veritable menagerie of arcane and folkloric oddities from a place beyond the veil of modernity, wreathed in the creeping ebony vines of the Unseen. As the German expressionist, Max Beckmann, once said – “What is important to me in my work is the identity that is hidden behind so-called reality. I search for a bridge from the given present to the invisible, rather as a famous cabalist once said, ‘If you wish to grasp the invisible, penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible.’”
Through prose, art and photography, I aim to illuminate that which lurks within the shadows, joined at times by other intrepid adventurers along the way; sharing stories of wonder and darkness, of ancient lore and the remnants of ages long past. Whilst I may write about areas that are fairly well known at times, my writings here will be from a different perspective. Those of you who have been following my blogs over the years would know that ‘In the Chimehours’ was the “older, ever so slightly demented Sister” of my original blog, but ‘Tremoribus Subterraneis’ is the oracular one, the Key Keeper of deep, dark, forgotten gates…
I’d like to thank those of you who have joined me on my journey from my initial blog, which seems like a lifetime ago, through the madness to where we stand now. I am forever indebted to all of you who have encouraged me, driven me forward and provided unending inspiration, especially my darling Euriel, Sairah Brighton, Sean Woodward, Mishlen Linden, Fabio Silva, Edward Gauntlett, Cobweb and Kt Mehers, Afira Khan, Robert Anderson Plimer, Madeleine Le Despenser and Edgar Kerval.
So without much further ado, I’d like to give you a wee taste of what’s to come:
A deep mauve sky hangs above as the last remnants of light retreats, turning the Cuckmere’s Meanders to a deep shimmering purple. Vestiges of chirruped evensong gives way to night call and gaining shadow as the moon, cloaked by wisp, plays pee-a-boo from above. Yearning for song sung faintly ‘neath moon glow, as tides ebb and flow, I sit. In nights previous the hills that rise up on either side of the valley, had resonated with lightning strike but now they lay silent; the air close, damp and vegetal, the tang of salt heavy on the breeze. From the vast reaches of space, cold burning stars reflect upon muculent mools of lacquered darkness. Beetles hover and spiders scuttle across the limpid marsh weeds, trailing their silken woven light. Corpse candles flare from within the stagnant waters as gnarled frogs leap to reaches unknown, winged reptilian creatures swoop and larval lunar shades mass in the shadows…
140 million years ago, fragrant swamps shaded by Cycads and fringed with Horsetail and Alethopteris, which can still be found around here fossilised and black-tinged, spread out across this landscape. Over time the earth’s crust subsided and the sea flooded in, burying the beds under marine sand and clay. For the next 35 million years, chalk was formed from the gradual accumulation of shed coccoliths and decaying bodies of minute sea creatures that fell at the end of their lives like rain. This land is built upon the dead that lay dreaming at its core, the blood-stained undulations dream too and we within them. At the end of the Cretaceous period, the land began to rise and a vast chalk dome lifted out of the water, of which the North and South Downs are the fragmentary remains. The years since have carved the landscape into deep valleys with sandstone ridges and rolling hills. This is the way of the world, swept up by a silent, shiftless flood which perpetually swirls in and out of time, and will eventually obliterate everything in sight, for forms rise and then they collapse.
Fast forward years upon years and salt marshes dominated the Cuckmere valley as a result of another rise of sea-level which turned it into a shallow tidal estuary, up until approximately 500 years ago. The serpentine curves of the Cuckmere’s Meanders might have the reputation for being nature personified, but the Meanders themselves have for some time been almost motionless. In 1847 the river’s flow was diverted by a soldier-straight channel through the valley to the sea. Apart from two sluices, which are used to manage the water levels, there actually isn’t any natural flow passing through the Meanders, in effect turning them into a winding canal. Whilst this place holds a magestic beauty, once the sun sets the atmosphere changes, this is especially felt on warm nights when the chimes from Bell Deep* toll and the stench of decaying Alder rises up from beneath the silt and shingle, beckoned back by memories of its primeval roots. Water can provide an entrance to different worlds, subterranean or set aside. And even though the Cuckmere is now intensely managed it contains within its curves something far less than tame, especially as the light dims and the shadows move in.
…A low and resonant drumming surrounds the circular mound of mossed earth, an outcrop encrusted with glittering stone. The rhythm overshadows until undulating haunches sway darkly and serpent slime curls upon the left ankle. A rattle awakens the night fiercely; arousing the Stymphalides – those beaked with shimmering bronze, bedecked in deadly glinting feathers – from their slumber by the thousand-fold. Or are those just glistening black Cormorants soaring skywards out of the river? The exquisite kisses from razor-sharp plumes whisperingly caress bare skin and crimson rivulets feed the slender soul-lighted pyres which rise with pungent fumes. Amid the cacophony of piercing shriek and trailing blood we can reach back to the remotest past through the water’s surface, as black as an obsidian scrying mirror, in order to reanimate the ancient ghosts of ancestral memory, creating resurgent atavisms which are born to manifestation through the backward gateway when it is once again opened by sonorous crooning of old song…
I was susceptible to the points in ingress and egress even as a child; I instinctively “knew” that our world was laid upon others. The stories, mythology and folklore I read as a child helped to feed my obsession with Otherworlds, places reached by rabbit holes, by plunging through mirrors, or lingering on river banks and wandering in darkened woods, exploring forgotten alleyways, secret gardens and peeking through hedgerows. Those special places you wander across after straying off the beaten path can influence life on the surface, and merge past and present in a continuous embrace.
The Anglo-Saxon word ‘helan’ is the root of our word ‘hell’, it meant ‘to hide’ and related to ‘hole’ and ‘hollow’ and I meant to find the entrances, or at the very least merge with those thin places where the subterranean tremors resonate in your bones and surge in your blood. It was something that I never grew out of, the obsession only deepening over the years, and being beside water has always been my first love. I was brought up beside the Thames, my aunt had an overgrown pond at the bottom of her garden and summers were spent either beside the sea or wandering banks of river and stream.
The reflections in the still water of the Meanders distorted the shadows of tall grasses that shivered and swayed along its banks, fists of stars snatched from the heavens were buried here and above all the ice-cold moon burned fiercely in the depths. An echo of what lies beneath. As always, I was deliciously entranced by the shadow-line where the two entwine as one. No longer truly visible as separate states, but suspended and conjoined by the dark mist in-between, the place of dark dreaming, far memory and deepest vision of our future past and temporal becoming. There are untold mirrors in the world, a source of emergence and immersion; where we can indeed follow Alice through the looking-glass or call those things that lurk on the other side forth.
…Primordial soup churns nebulously around my wading thighs as visions blacken in eddying dream-shudder. A pungent odour pervades, saturated with the perfume of the violet mists of emptiness; in which time recoils and twists back on itself, as those incessant drums reverberate deep and reedy veils part to deeper spells and paludal caverns beneath and the bells, sunken deep, call you home. Pockets of gas break in streams of bubbles fighting their way to the surface in Mauvean-glow. Pallid lights lead down to crumbling towers and turrets of a time long lost and forgotten, and sinking further still to the depths of Ande-Dubnos where darkened pearls cluster in hidden grottoes, shimmering as the lustrous darkened jewel She secretes to lapping tongue, swallowed…
Soon the artificial restraint that contains the Cuckmere will corrode and the Spirits will break forth sending the waters flowing, gushing and foaming in their old tracks, returning the area to mudflats and salt marsh before it is reclaimed completely. As the ocean licks at the land, the land bows submissively to its moist mistress and gives itself up to her snaking tongue…
Dream with the land and the land dreams with you.
“Sometimes we move openly, sometimes in silence and in secret. Night and day are one to us, calm and storm, seasons and the cycles of man, all these things are one, for we are at the roots. Supplicant we stand before the Powers of Life and Death, and are heard of these Powers, and avail. Our way is the secret way, the unknown direction. Our way is the way of the serpent in the underbrush, our knowledge is in the eyes of goats and of women…
…We are the Witchcraft, and although one may not know another, yet we are united by an indissoluble bond. And when the high wild cry of the eagle sounds in your mind, know that you are not alone in your desire for freedom. And when the howl of the wolf echoes in the forests of your night, know that there are those who also prowl. And when the ways of your fellows about you seem the ways of idiocy and madness, know that there are also others who have seen and judged – and acted.”
The Witchcraft: John Whiteside Parsons
(excerpt from Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword)
Text: Sarah-Jayne Farrer
“Fire and Water”: Sean Woodward
“Into the Gloaming”: Sarah-Jayne Farrer
“Of Bone and Wildfire”: Sarah-Jayne Farrer
*Bell Deep – A story for another day. “Sunken bells are tolling for thee. Out of caverns of Num-Yabisc, dark and terrible deep, the ocean is calling her children home.” – Hellboy: Wake the Devil, Part 5.