Another architectural phallus tumesces appropriately on Love Lane. Such stone erections are thought by some to be connected to ancient Priapic worship, the male principle deified.
The name Love Lane appears frequently in different cities, often so named for their brothels: “in the Middle Ages the wanton women of the City gathered in [Love Lane near Aldermanbury], seeking customers, and the street thereby acquired its name” (Smith, Al. Dictionary of City of London Street Names. New York: Arco, 1970). Similarly, The London Encyclopedia cites the latter Love Lane as having been “a haunt of prostitutes in the Middle Ages” (Weinreb, Ben, and Christopher Hibbert. The London Encyclopedia. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983.). Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names corroborates this point, citing Stow in her description of Love Lane between Wood Street and Aldermanbury as a place frequented by “‘wantons’”.
As naval towns Rochester and Chatham were rife with prostitution as documented in Brian Joyce’s The Chatham Scandal: A history of Medway’s prostitution in the late 19th century
It is sometimes the case that a daily walk through the same landscape dulls the eyes to what one is seeing. It takes an event or an incongruity to shake the indifference from one’s own eyes, to reconnect with the act of seeing.One of the features I have always liked about the Medway Towns is the network of alleyways that thread through the built landscape. Inevitably many are filled with dogshit, fast food litter, fly-tipped mattresses, fragments from pornographic magazines and Haynes car manuals, pieces of clothing discarded for unknown reasons and graffiti “If U read this U R Gay“. They are a psychic vomitus – the lives lived around them made flesh and manifested in these land canals. The council appears to be slowly closing them off, putting gates at either end (or Alleygating as LocalGovernmentSpeak phrases it) to deter what is known as “anti-social behaviour”. A strange view of what society consists, self-perpetuating and doomed to failure. There is a sadness in this apparent willingness to erode what we have in order to control what we don’t like… something which has echoes throughout contemporary Western society, a naive strategy that only truly hurts those it’s meant to help.
There is an alley through which I regularly walk that differs from what I have just described in that it isn’t an old fire-alley running between rows of terraced houses, but a small cut-through alongside a former pub. (The slow disappearance of pubs and local shops is another feature of these towns that I hope to return to at a later date). I have been disappointed to discover that this alley is nameless, but recent events have suggested to me that is part of a powerful conduit or pathway of ritual.
What marks this alley immediately, and what I found I had astonishingly not noticed before, is the pair of bollards blocking vehicular access. These bollards have at some time in the past been anointed with black paint. This anointing of a stone in a ritual context is a very ancient act of worship found in many of the world’s oldest religions:
In Genesis Chapter 28, Jacob, son of Abraham (from whom the ‘Abrahamic Religions’, the three prevalent monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all stem) poured libations over a stone in an early documentation of this act of worship:
 And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran.
 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:
 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
In Islam, a particular stone plays a very important role: The Ka’ba is the holiest site in Islam with the Holy Mosque built around it.The qibla, the direction Muslims face during prayer, is the direction from any point to the Ka’ba.
Inside the Ka’ba is the Black Stone or Al-Hajarul Aswad, which has been revered in Mecca since pre-Islamic times – some believing that it dates from the time of Adam and Eve. It became a Muslim relic in the time of the Prophet Muhammad and pilgrims to Mecca try to stop and kiss it while circumambulating the Ka’ba during the hajj.
In Hinduism the term lingam is sometimes used synonymously for shivalingam, a specific type of icon or altar representing the god Shiva.
“… Shiva was and still is chiefly worshipped in the form of the linga, usually a short cylindrical pillar with rounded top, which is the survival of a cult older than Indian civilization itself…. The cult of the linga, at all times followed by some of the non-Āryan peoples, was incorporated into Hinduism around the beginning of the Christian era, though at first it was not very important.” Basham, A. L. The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent Before The Coming of the Muslims, Grove Press, Inc., New York (1954).
What alerted me to a possible ritual quality to these twin linga, aside from the black anointing, was the discovery one morning of a smashed guitar – which had clearly been destroyed over one of these pillars.
When things are smashed up in alleyways during the hours of darkness, it is very often drunken rage that precipitates it. But I suspect the specific site makes this less likely to be a random act and more likely to be part of a ritual channelling of Dionysian energy.
Apollo, the Greek god who personified youthful masculinity was a god of many roles, including music, Nietzsche’s Apollonian archetype (described in The Birth of Tragedy) represents form, structure and rational thought.
What I discovered was the remains of a Dionysian will at work – destroying all rational thought, smashing the Apollonian in the form of guitar in an ecstatic drunken (Dionysius being the god of wine) outpouring, intent on surrendering individuality, to submerge the self in a greater whole. A smashed guitar and the litter of broken vodka bottles a hymn to a powerful working.
Interestingly this alley runs from Baker Street and Dionyus was also known as Bacchus and the frenzy he induces, bakcheia. A possible lexicographical link? Another link to the god of drunkenness is the ivy that clings to the wall… ivy that is sacred to Dionysus.
Sir James George Frazer’s Golden Bough speaks of a Dionysian spring festival linking him to the advent of spring: “the god was supposed to bring the season with him. Deities of vegetation, who are believed to pass a certain portion of each year underground, naturally come to be regarded as gods of the lower world or of the dead. Both Dionysus and Osiris were so conceived.”
Plutarch suggests that Dionysus/Bacchus and Osiris are one and the same. The Ancient Egyptians related the cult of phallus with Osiris. When Osiris’ body was cut in 13 pieces, Seth scattered them all over Egypt and his wife Isis retrieved all of them except one, his penis, which was swallowed by a fish.
So we are back to these phallic bollards.