Last week I went for a quiet drink at The Man of Kent in Rochester – a fine alehouse. I was moderately disappointed to see some musicians setting up their equipment, wishing to talk with my companions rather than listen to music. However, in the sort of coincidence that proves that there is no such thing as a coincidence, it turned out to be Doug Hudson and Ian Cutler.
A few months ago a very good friend of mine gave me a copy of a magnificent record of Kentish hop-picking songs by a group called Tundra – a folk outfit of the late Seventies, early Eighties led by Doug Hudson who collected and recorded a number of local Kentish songs. But the real surprise came when I realised that Ian Cutler is a former member of the band Magnet (who recorded the Wicker Man soundtrack)! So there IS a Wicker Man connection with Rochester, not dark and sinister, but joyous and magnificent. The mists are parting and some fragments of the jigsaw are being revealed.
In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen. The dogma of science is that the will cannot possibly affect external forces, and I think that’s just ridiculous. It’s as bad as the church. My viewpoint is the exact contrary of the scientific viewpoint. I believe that if you run into somebody in the street it’s for a reason. Among primitive people they say if someone was bitten by a snake he was murdered. I believe that.
W. S. Burroughs
Chatham High Street is quite honestly a dark and appalling thoroughfare through the centre of a bleak, dying area. At the true commercial start of the street the sadly doomed Theatre Royal is marked with some inferior graffiti – Venom… appropriately enough for this ur-Black Metal band’s first LP was “Welcome To Hell” and it marks the Devil’s territory like a pissing dog.
Edward Hasted writing in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent at the end of the 18th century wrote of Chatham “It is like most seaport towns, a long, narrow, disagreeable, ill-built town…” and Arthur Prosser’s meisterwork “Medway History” notes that “In 1826 a voluntary police force was formed from among the townspeople “on account of the drinking riots, especially on Saturday and Sunday nights, and because of certain burglaries which alarmed townspeople”… “In 1837, the situation was so bad that the Rev. W. H. Drage of Ordnance Terrace had to have an armed military escort when he visited the Archdeacon at Rochester.”
This is a still hard, unloveable place… broken down and defeated, even the Pound Shop is trumped by a 99p Shop. If you want it cheaper, shabbier, more genetically modified and made in China from brittle extrude plastic, this is the place to come. The sense of defeat and resentment is palpable in the air in a swirl of aggression and anomie. Youg women, in revealing clothes and layers of makeup put the lie to their coquettishness with their diamond-hard stares By the time they are 40 they will be bloated on alcopops and processed food, wearing shapeless grey sportswear and dragging unhappy children, so there’s not a lot to smile about I guess. Like a battlefield on which no bird sings, Chatham High Street is a place where a child’s laughter is never heard – I have never noticed before, but every child under 10 I walked past was howling it’s eyes out to a disinterested parent. There is a wounded look in many people’s eyes, a prison sallowness and the feral sideways glance which attests to a people used to having to look over the shoulders both spiritually and in the world. The Crowleyite ’93’ sigil is also present – suggesting a Thelemite current is at work here, “There is no Law beyond Do what thou wilt”, a strongly felt philospophy.
Further down I come across some strange graffiti, “Glory To God In The High St” the meaning of which is obscure to me. Either it is a sign that a Church is going to be built on this empty lot where a building burned down a couple of years ago and the pun is intended – or the pun is a comment on the inexorable rise of Adam Smith’s consumerist vision in which the market has devoured all before it including religion. Or the writer was referring to Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon”. Or it was a religious zealot with a faulty stencil.
The walk back along the High Street up onto the New Road brings one up out of this darkness and confusion onto the New Road, where the Thanatos current is perhaps blown away and dispersed by the wind coming from the River Medway that makes Jacksons Field such a great place to fly kites. The trees are in blossom and all the symbols begin to point to another form of spiritual influence. Firstly I catch sight of a couple of bumper stickers – and bumper stickers are where this odyssey began – which I immediately recognise as some kind of mobile spiritual warfare unit, bringing in prayer-charged vehicles to demark the limbic zone between Chatham and Rochester and to push the ‘darkness’ back down into the river.
These “Put Christ Back Into Christmas” “Equipping The Church For Action” and “Prayer Changes Stuff” small family cars attest to the constant Manichean tussle that takes place along this thoroughfare that is noteable both for the beautiful blossom trees of spring days and the spindle-thin drug-addicted prostitutes of night most of the rest of the time.
Further along I am struck by the night-club sign offering the sticky-floored enticement of ‘female exotic dancers’ – it is perhaps a sign of how far we have come in the world of equal opportunities that the sign should identify the gender of the exotic dancers. It is surely no coincidence that this nightspot, sitting above the river on the front line of the battle for the soul of Medway, should be raising it’s eyes to the heavens and to “The One Above”.
This mixture of the sacred and profane – a godly honeytrap – reminds me a little of the Children of God and their leader David Berg’s philosophy of Flirty Fishing which was utilised by female members of his organisation in order to gain souls for the Lord by the use of religious prostitution.
“In part as a response to the sexual liberality of the early ’70s, Father David presented a more intimate and personal, voluntary form of evangelism, which became known as “Flirty Fishing” or “FFing.” …Father David proposed that the boundaries of expressing God’s love to others could at times go beyond just showing kindness and doing good deeds. He suggested that for those who were in dire need of physical love and affection, even sex could be used as evidence to them of the Lord’s love. The motivation, guiding principle, and reasoning behind the FFing ministry was that through this sacrificial proof of love, some would better accept and understand God’s great love for them. The goal was that they would come to believe in and receive God’s own loving gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus, who gave His life for them. By this unorthodox method David felt many would find the Lord’s love and salvation, who never would have otherwise. Although we no longer practice FFing, we believe the scriptural principles behind the ministry remain sound.”
That these two competing belief systems sit so snugly together, yet remain entrenched in their topological power-bases is a fascinating study in the evolution of human faith. I will return to this theme after I have visited the ancient Greek marble slab bearing an effigy of the goddess Euphrosyne (the Goddess of joy, daughter of Zeus which sits in a parish church in Chatham. Another blogger Islingtongue>Leytonstongue said “It’s my theory that the Druids adopted a tactic of entryism into the church a bit like Trotskyists joining the Labour Party.” It is clearly the case that paganism wasn’t replaced by the arrival of Christianity, but absorbed by it. And the Medway is a place where the fabric between the two wears thin.
This photograph shows him as his incarnation as Father Christmas/Santa Claus (relaxing at the beach with his robes hung up to dry)
This subtle transformation took some time, Odin’s Wild Hunt across the skies on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir became the more genteel trip at Christmas with eight reindeer. His red velvet robes trimmed with white fur are the pelt of a freshly skinned reindeer the bloody side outwards (presumably the 9th reindeer… a particularly unfortunate cervine 5th Beatle) . The shamanic use of Amanita Muscaria (fly agaric mushrooms) purportedly turns the skin on the face red… and therefore has been alleged as the origin of Rudolph’s red nose….
American psychedelicists Jonathan Ott, James Arthur, Jan Irvin and Andrew Rutajit as well as UK mycologist Dr. Patrick Harding suggest that many of the modern features attributed to Santa Claus may somehow be derived from those of the Kamchatkan or Siberian shaman. During the midwinter festival (holiday season) in Siberia (near the North Pole), the shaman would enter a yurt (home) through the shangrak (chimney), bringing with him a sack of fly agaric mushrooms (presents) to give to the inhabitants. This type of mushroom is brightly colored red and white, like Santa Claus. Although some question the relevance of this, the above facts provide many interesting associations. The mushrooms were often hung (to dry) in front of the fireplace, much like the stockings of modern-day Christmas. Furthermore, the mushrooms were associated with reindeer who were known to eat them and become intoxicated. Reindeer are also associated with the shaman, and like Santa Claus, many people believed that the shaman could fly. The fly agaric mushroom has appeared on traditional Christmas cards in Europe for many years.