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World Goth Day, Observation and Contemplation

23 May

Another exploration of Düsseldorf’s Nordfriedhof, in the twilight of the evening hour and short before rain set in. It’s becoming a habit and I keep being surprised by how much splendor and pomp but also food for thought this place has to offer. Some facts:

The graveyard is the closest nearby place, where I can enjoy a bit of calm and solitude in “nature”. There are wild parts, reminiscent of English landscape gardens, which occur quite magical to the senses. On the other hand, the majority of graves is fostered with an accuracy resembling that of miniature baroque gardens. The ballast bed trend is also taking over people’s last place of rest. There are exceptions, with lush planting gone wild, such as the grave covered in columbine, which is pictured above.

The caretakers seem to employ ecological concepts and care for biodiversity. E.g. I found an abandoned sandy part, previously covered in black nightshade, and now filled with fragrant phacelia, which is a soil conditioner and attracts a multitude of pollinating insects, not only honey bees. There are bee hives being implemented on this graveyard. There is a small pond visited by various water fowl as well grey herons and I spotted at least one large bird of prey, a common buzzard. The entrance on one side smells heavily like fox. There is a huge population of rabbits digging burrows all across the graveyard, which is probably not to the liking of all bereaved, but partly amusing to observe.

There is an abundance of large and impressive family gravesites as well as memorials for the victims of WWI and WWII. The annexed stonemason does an admirable job with the restoration of the historical gravesites.

It is easy to become enticed by the romanticism conveyed through the abundance and sheer beauty of the place and its funerary art. Yet I am also finding something oppressive or at least overwhelming about this. There is some money flowing into the maintenance of these graves, which are also a symbol of status and an ultimate expression of people’s egos. This in turn touches upon my own ego and leaves me behind with mixed feelings.

As much as I am occupied with the topic of death and the dead, I am part of a generation that will likely not enjoy the luxury of such post-mortem vanity. In truth, it has always been only a small part of humanity to take part in such luxury. Further, the fate of today’s youth is likely, to dissolve into spirit and not leaving much traces of physical existence behind. The larger mankind grows, the less space it will have for its exponentially growing amount of bodies. Neither are the monuments built over decades to last forever. However, they help to implement and strengthen the status of a few over a certain period.

Yet I keep returning to these places, which exhibit at least 2 centuries of opulent European grave culture, while caught in a dichotomy between the modern world and the past, between ego obsessions and spiritual ideals, between personal emotions and the need for detachment.

R E D

23 May

Contemplating life, death, the dead, ego, status and family dynasties

Walpurgisnacht 2019

3 May

Having spent past Walpurgis nights in relative solitude for over a decade, the stars aligned now in such way, that this year I was invited to spend it together with fellow photographer and occultista Anna Krajewski. Above are a few impressions of our little sabbath, as we explored a chapel built in follow to the execution of the region’s last witch, and ventured on through the forest, as the blue hour began. Finally we came to sit among tree roots descending towards a lake, in the company of myriads of bats and various waterfowl, a swan and last but not least a grey heron, sliding elegantly across the water’s mirroring surface…

Samhain, Halloween, Day of the Dead

1 Nov

“End of Summer”

Samhain means “end of summer”. The Gaelic festival marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Today it is celebrated on the night between October 31st – November 1st. It is also associated with St. Martin’s day, November 11th. Some also connect it with the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice (or the nearest full moon), when the ecliptic longitude of the Sun reaches 225 degrees.

Samain is also the name of the Celtic god of death, who from this point on ruled over the land, while the goddess of vegetation was forced to decent into darkness until the coming spring. Her parting is accompanied by the honk of the geese leaving for the South. Any herb harvested after this point would be considered harmful, save for the grey mugwort. During Samhain the doors to the spirit-/ underworld opened, and the spirits that would enter, were not always friendly. In some tales, spirits of darkness and chaos (such as the Irish Fomorians and the Crom Cruach) would be given human sacrifices.

Rural people’s survival depended on the harvest. The fear of loosing the harvest, fierce autumn storms, the long nights etc. was real. It was essential to secure the harvest and protect the home, barn and family. It was custom to cleanse and protect the home by burning herbs. Processions and rituals were performed to ward off revenants – or Wiedergänger – the returning spirits of the restless dead.

From the need to protect oneself may also have sprung the latter-day custom of placing candles in hollowed out objects. Turnips or pumpkins were turned into grimacing lanterns. Similar to the scarecrow, the lantern was to ward off ‘evil’ and at the same time its flame lit up the night. This “light in the dark” is embodied by amber, a shiny yellow  fossilized tree resin. Amber is called Bernstein in German, from Low German börnen, meaning “to burn”. The Greeks knew it as ḗlektron, from ēléktōr, meaning “shining sun”.

Samhain also marks the time when deciduous trees have shed most of their leaves. The leaves fall to the ground, decay and nurture the cycle of life. Burning their wood keeps men warm, their bark heals. Evergreen conifers deliver in addition aromatic resins with cleansing and healing properties.

“Day of the Dead”

The pagan festivities surrounding Samhain have been substituted by Christian feast days throughout a large part of the Western world. Folkloric customs continue to merge with modern consumerism. From the pagan Samhain to the Christian All Saints day, the modern world celebrates “Halloween” with plastic skulls, led pumpkins and dressing up as corpses. Everyone can be a zombie for one day or night. Halloween gives a good example for cultural appropriation gone wild. It is part of human nature, both to adopt other traditions as well as to defend one’s own culture and rituals.

One tradition that has been sinking into Western culture and heavily influences our aesthetics, is the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. As the festival in Mexico becomes bigger and is celebrated in impressive ways every year, so grows the fascination with it outside of Mexico, similar to how the cult of Santissima Muerte is growing in numbers both in and outside Mexico. The worship of death and the dead is prospering and it is nothing extraordinary.

All over the world people venerate their ancestors and saints, with altars at home, at their graves or in temples or chapels dedicated to them. Often there are special festivals dedicated to the veneration of the dead. In some countries these celebrations fall in the months of July and August, such as the Japanese Obon or the Argentinian feast for San la Muerte. In other countries they center around the days and nights spanning from All Hallow’s Eve (October 31st) to All Saints (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd).

In Germany it is custom to visit and adorn the graves of family members on the Totensonntag (the “Sunday of the Dead”). It falls on the last Sunday before the first Advent (usually at end of November) and, though of Protestant origin, is a protected holiday in all of Germany. The day is meant to be spent in silence and it is forbidden to dance or play loud music in public.

In Mexico the celebration starts on All Hallow’s Eve, when children make altars for the angelitos (the souls of dead children). November 1st is referred to as Día de los Inocentes (“Day of the Innocents”) or Día de los Angelitos (“Day of the Little Angels”), which is when the souls of dead children are honored. On November 2nd, the actual Dia de los Muertos, the graves of dead family members are visited. The graves are adorned with cempasuchil flowers, the flowers of the dead. Between the orange sea of flowers, candles are lit and Muertos (the bread of the dead) and sugar skulls are placed as offerings, along with favorite food, beverages, photos etc. The dead are greeted and welcomed back to the world of the living for one day and night. Dancing and intoxication are welcome and encouraged.

Finally within some antinomian and Gnostic traditions Lucifer or the “Bringer of Light” is worshiped and called upon during this night, e.g. by using the formula:

Lucifer, Ouyar, Chameron, Aliseon, Mandousin, Premy, Oriet, Naydrus, Esmony, Eparinesont, Estiot, Dumosson, Danochar, Casmiel, Hayras, Fabelleronthu, Sodirno, Peatham, come, Lucifer. Amen.

Harvest Seal (or making sure, you reap what you sow)

26 Feb
Reaping Seal

Original “Harvest Seal”, 2011

I am writing this due to recent events. I thought this was yesterday’s news, but apparently it isn’t. So once again:

The above design is my work.

It has been spreading on the internet, which is great.

What is not so great is, that it continues to be mistaken for being in the “public domain” (it isn’t). E.g. it has happened repeatedly that people used it for promoting their events, printed it on t-shirts and other types of merchandise, without knowing that the original design was by me and without awareness of the original context and purpose for which I designed it.

To shed some light (and hopefully to prevent future abuse and misuse), I explain here the concept behind the image and why it would be not particularly smart to employ it out of context.

I created the sigil in 2011 with ink and initially titled it “reaping seal”. I designed it for myself, as I was looking for a suitable sigil to burn on my altar table. It is pyrographed in the center, along with other esoteric glyphs and illustrative elements (the usual “satanic” suspects, serpents, pentagram etc.). Here are some photos of the table with different powerful herbs placed on it (some harvested by myself, others sent to me by fellow practitioners):

My other sigil designs are inspired by my study of and practical work with traditional “witch herbs”. But before that I had been illustrating occult books, where my job was mainly to execute other’s ideas and visions. I literally “inked” hundreds of sigils from another author and this way became familiar with current specific symbolism and its peculiarities. I understood that in order to develop artistically I would have to come up with my own designs, also in my personal ritual work, rather than replicate another’s. This posed a challenge since the illustration job had inevitably left a trace on me and I was stuck in its forms.

The then so-called “reaping seal” serves as an example for a transition period, both in my art as well as ritual work.

The design plays with harvest symbolism, with sickles and quarters (connected to the four seasons, the four elements and returning cycles). It carries obvious references to the aforementioned occult forms employed within said books. (I do not name the book titles here, not because I do not want to give credit, but because the magi of said current do not like to see official links made between real names and their esoteric teachings, which is a rule I generally respect, but which was also the reason why I had to start creating my own designs if I wanted to get more jobs as an artist).

It should be clear now why (due to the aforementioned influence) it would not be smart to use the seal out of context. I uploaded the digital image to my Pinterest account years ago (I do not remember when exactly I pinned it there and Pinterest does not provide such information). I also uploaded (and later deleted) the image to my occult art page on Facebook, as well as a photo of the pyrographed altar table. I changed the title to “harvest seal”, which does not sound as grim.

I always note in the comments that I am the creator of the work and do not wish for my work to be used without permission. Most of the time people respect this wish. But apparently sharing a work on online platforms such as Pinterest means that some people consider it free to use as they please: from changing or deleting the original artist comment, to downloading and re-uploading, this way erasing all traces of the original source. Low resolutions seem to be no obstacle either these days, because there is software capable of vectorizing the smallest images. Due to this (and because the sigil seems to be really popular with esoteric online folks) it has sadly become one of my most stolen artworks. From witches printing it on their products to bands using it on their merchandise or for advertising events – it has happened and continues to happen. Once some band even claimed old illustration work of mine as their “graphic designer’s own creation”. But even individuals that bother doing a check-up and search the original artist behind artwork they find online and would like to use, end up being fooled. The question is not so much, who is to blame, but what to do about it.

No longer uploading my work online cannot be the way. Marking all works with bold ugly watermarks cannot be the way either (especially if the work is already a mark of sorts on its own). Putting a lawyer in charge – sorry, but I don’t make that much money. Contacting google – I have been told this would be the most efficient way, alas I may need help there by someone, who has already been through the process and could guide my step by step.

I am hence thankful that my followers are keeping an eye out and bring art theft to my attention. I am also thankful for everyone that reacts positive and respects my copyright. As it happens to be, once the connection is made, I sometimes end up with new illustration jobs. An example is the altered “harvest seal” I created specifically for the “Samhain Celebration” in Gotha:

"Samhain Celebration" merch bundle, Nov. 2016

“Samhain Celebration” merch bundle, Nov. 2016

With my consent and being compensated, the organizer was welcome to use the design on all merchandise sold on that evening and it was also painted on the backdrop used only on that night:

"Samhain Celebration" Gotha, 2016

“Samhain Celebration” Gotha, 2016

Earlier, I made my own set up with the seal, employing it in the blessing of my seed boxes before they were shipped to customers:

Harvest Blessing, 2016

Harvest Blessing, 2016

In this ritual I constructed the seal with dried plant parts strewn on soil – a meditative and joyful work. I used vervain (Eisenkraut) for the sickle blades and fennel stalks for the sickle handles. The center circle is strewn with aromatic fennel seed.  The symbols for the four elements are made out of corresponding herbs: fire – wormwood (Wermut), water – belladonna (Tollkirsche), earth – mugwort (Beifuß) and air – bittersweet nightshade (Bittersüßer Nachtschatten). The forked stang in the center is a dried thorn-apple stem. The triangle at the base (representing the “fifth” element – spirit) is made from dried thorn-apple leaves and seeds. The wooden boxes placed inside the four sickle blades are my “seed boxes”, which are pyrographed by hand and filled with seeds from different witch herbs – many of which are gathered by myself and then filled into little bags to be contained in these boxes, which are then shipped to fellow practitioners for sowing in their own witch garden.

To quote much admired fellow artist, Harold Roth, I am “working my butt off” on these boxes. And in the same way I am putting a lot of thought and work into all other art I do, and of course I wish to share this work with the whole wide world.

So all I can hope for is, that awareness will grow and that more people know about me and my work, respect it and not trying to take advantage.

Sacred Space

10 Jul

A space, empty. A place for contemplation. A prayer room, a modern “church” if you will. The human is confronted with the present, the past, the future – ultimately the inevitable end of it all – and what will be left. There is a black figure of death, a red candle and behind the figure is a large painted canvas. The painting has a vertical format. The colors are merely shades of dim grays on a muted white. Forms dissolve in white mist. A thorn tree is barely visible in the distance. To the right of the statue is a small potted tree. The statue carries a rosary made of seeds and is mounted on a small reliquary box made of dark wood. There is a censer for burning copal, frankincense and aloeswood. The walls to the left, right and in the back are empty. The individual enters to face himself and the inevitable.

Solstice Serpent Seal

13 Jun

Solstice Serpent Seal by X.A.121

Only one week left until midsummer! This seal is dedicated to the rituals surrounding the summer solstice, when the sun reaches it’s annual zenith. The seal is inspired by the viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) herb and adorns the vessels containing the solstice incense, which you can order from my etsy shop and which will also go up at the mail-order site in a few hours. Below is a preview of how the blend looks:

Summer Solstice Incense

Summer Solstice Incense

The ingredients are the herbs and flowers traditionally associated with the summer solstice. The incense blend evokes in particular a vision of a summer meadow at dusk: bushes of blue flowering viper’s bugloss cover the ground and transform into nests of serpents. Plantain, thistle and St. John’s wort grow at its side. Nearby, the fragrant yellow flowers of the evening primrose glow in the evening light and emit their sweet scent into the sweltry air, attracting the most wondrous kind of fairy folks…

Use this incense blend for cleansing, purification and letting go of the old, for protection, renewal, celebrating the night, inspired dreaming and creativity. The blend can also aid in decision making: cast out the serpent as a symbol of “evil” or embrace it as a symbol of wisdom and become a serpent yourself.