Sacristy painting commissioned by the Observant Franciscans. The catalogue description did not give many details, but I would guess by the costumes that this was made somewhere between 1560’s to 1580’s. The theme of the Dance of Death was hugely popular throughout multiple periods of European history, and saw a particular revival after the 1538 series by Master Holbein the Younger, whose works were widely distributed with the advent of the printing press.
Facsimile of a fresco by Traini, exposed to nature for centuries but severely damaged in WWII, located in Camposanto, Pisa.
“A scroll warns that ‘no shield of wisdom or riches, nobility or prowess’ can protect them from the blows of the Approaching One. ‘They have taken more pleasure in the world than in things of God.’ In a heap of corpses nearby lie crowned rulers, a Pope in tiara, a knight, tumbled together with the bodies of the poor, while angels and devils in the sky contend for the miniature naked figures that represent their souls.”
-Barbara Tuckman, The Black Plague
Today’s little lesson on mortality, from the Black Pope’s lips to your ears.
Scurvy Drunkard is an up-and-coming multimedia artist based in Australia. She first attracted my attention with the paintings she makes with her own blood. Everything she produces is deeply disturbing, and I absolutely love it! Her work touches on themes of fear, body horror, consumption, magic, Eros, and so much else. Who knows what twisted and depraved ideas will come pouring out of her mind at any moment?! See more on her Instagram.
Some of my favorite work of hers, featured below.
Sunday, November 11th MMXVIII. Waxing Moon in Capricorn.
Our group has a powerful tradition of nocturnal witchcraft. When we determine the times and seasons are correct, we go out hiking deep into the wilderness where we have free reign to wander the woods under the cover of darkness. This is a mixed group of experienced psychonaut-witches and others new to our craft. This night was S’s initiation into our Mystery. After hiking a few hours, we arrived at our gathering place: a small clearing at the foot of a dense cypress dome. By sunset, our camp was set up, the sacred fire lit, and the tall pines stood watch as they were beautifully silhouetted against the twilight sky. As the slender crescent moon loomed low over the horizon, it was time again to take the mushroom potion I had so diligently prepared months ago.
We each bring our own different intentions to the rites. Some were there for guidance, others for healing or communicating with nature. My specific intention was to grow in magical knowledge and personal power. The group dynamic was just right, so I felt brave enough to take a very large dose. As we sat around the fire waiting for the arrival of the Mushroom Spirit, that old familiar indelible sensation of a subtle unveiling passed over us, wave after wave after wave. By the time we were each in a fully altered state, a strong wind passed us and we came to attention. Almost in unison we rose to walk. As we traveled silently in the darkness, the world became new again. Our sense of separation from nature was replaced by profound harmony. We slowly and carefully crossed a patch of swampland and into a scrub field. By this point, we had all been babbling to each other in endless streams of consciousness, roaring with raucous laughter and profound joy. When I peered through the darkness towards T and C (the other two experienced witches), we had been visibly transformed. T with his wavy golden locks, and wearing a cloak of stars became to me like the god Apollo! C with her bright blue hair and wearing a cape with a dark, colorful mandala, became like Gaia. I looked at myself and had become like Hades.
We decided to lay down and rest together a moment (the Mushroom always creates an alternating need to move and then to stop moving). I told the group it was time to be silent and listen to the world. The sudden quiet covered us like a blanket. After a moment (or maybe an hour? Time was becoming so difficult!), I went up to “Apollo” and asked him to walk with me alone. A short distance later we were shocked and surprised to find a crossroads in our path. This was the sign I needed! In many western traditions, a lonely crossroads is a particularly powerful place, and one especially where Satan is known to present himself.
Remembering my original intentions, I asked “Apollo” to guard my body. I did not know what I should do. By this point I was at the peak of altered consciousness. I stood at the edge of the crossroads and whispered into the darkness ahead of me, “Please, show me what to do.” Again the wind picked up and seemed this time to carry on it the whisper of a voice. I sensed the presence of a mighty and dread spirit. “Satan,” I said, “Here am I. If you would grant me the fantastic powers I’ve heard about, which you are known by men to offer those of us who call on you, I would freely give you whatever price you would ask of me!”
Then by an impulse I dropped to my knees, my arms spread out and my eyes looked up to the vast cosmos. Suddenly the sky itself rippled open into a terrible vortex! It was a swirling kaleidoscopic tunnel reaching into infinity from some other dimension. Fangs, bones, flames of Hellfire, glowing texts in an unknown language that revealed secrets unfathomable, hideous demonic faces with burning eyes staring through me, all rotating and ever changing before my dumbfounded self. I felt waves of new power crashing down on me, penetrating deep into my bones! My chest heavy with this power, I felt like I could become anything, do anything! A burning orange light rose out of me like a red-hot ball of iron. I knew this was my soul ascending towards the vortex. Out of the whirlwind appeared a terrible black claw with a singular reptilian eye. It was slowly coming down to snatch up my soul like the prize in an arcade claw machine. Then to my complete disappointment, the trance was broken with the sound of my name, which clashed and roared like thunder! “Gaia” appeared behind me, radiantly, standing next to our Apollo, to intervene and save my soul from being taken away.
The empty silence of the woods surrounded me again, and the vortex was gone, leaving only the countless stars sparkling down on us. I was equally grateful for their concern as I was desperate to go back into that trance. I appreciate my friends’ intervention, I know they meant well. But who knows what could have become of me had I not been interrupted. Twenty-four hours later I can still feel that power dwelling in me, so perhaps something was given to me after all?
The night continued, the trip was the most visually intense experience I have ever had. We eventually returned to our camp to rest by the fire, but the visions just would not stop. The group’s mad ravings and fits of laughter and wailing continued through the whole night. Ever restless, we broke into smaller groups here and there to explore the more familiar parts of our woods, rapidly exchanging our disjointed thoughts, sharing our visionary experiences, and gazing out at constellations and wishing on shooting stars. Sleep would not come to us till just before the dawn.
Was my encounter with Satan real? On a psychological level I may rationalize the experience in terms of brain chemistry and the power of suggestion. But on a spiritual level, I know my soul was touched that night, and had that infernal transaction been completed, I can’t say what would have happened to me. The experiences that night were real enough that we will be forever changed.
Happy Hallowe’en! For visiting today, I give you this blessing.
Tonight with the setting of the Sun, may all thy troubles be undone.
And may the stars in sweet repose, shine light upon all sorrow and woe.
When the waning moon does appear, so shall the waning of thy tears.
The spirits who in darkness dwell, grant thee the power of this spell:
“A year of good fortune, happiness, joy.
May all thy works and charms employ
The very best of all thy skills,
And ‘ere the perfection of thy Will.”
So be it!
Credit: Austin Pardun
Ah, the fun ways the rich waste their money! I confess, I would probably do something equally lavish as having a staircase that leads down into oblivion, while the mouth of Hell belches ash and smoke billowing past the borders of a baroque mural. This piece, located at the remarkable intact Elizabethan structure of Burghley House, came from the 18th century master Antonio Verrio. The house is a treasure trove of paintings, sculpture and other fine art from the 16th century and later. You can take a 360 tour of the Hell Staircase here. How many famous figures can you see? I found a Sybil, Hercules, Cupid, Laocoön and his sons, Hades and Persephone, Orpheus and Eurydice, Medusa, Hephaestus(?) and countless others.
Remember how all the Republicans thought Obama was the Antichrist, and would bring about the end of the world? Well now those poor fools have my sympathy because that’s exactly how I feel about Donald “General Bone Spurs” Trump, and all his fattened criminal cronies here and abroad (seriously, fuck them straight to Hell). But since he still has his grubby, tiny fingers on top of the most devastating nuclear arsenal ever seen on planet Earth, my mind has been brought back over and over to the Apocalypse. And nothing says “Apocalypse” more than a good old 15th century woodcut (seriously I am crazy for woodcuts). So lets dive into the famous Four Horsemen by Albrecht Dürer (1498).
This woodcut is so incredibly impressive because of the grand and small-scale details found everywhere, and the constant sense of intense motion, chaos and fear that the End of the World promises. The muscular strength of the mighty horses, the severity of the riders and the anguished faces of Earthbound man struggling against the coming Doom. A frightful, powerful image.
Continue reading “The End is Nigh…”