As Samhain approached this year I was gradually and gently drawn to the ballad of Tam Lin, traditionally of Scottish origin. It started out on my honeymoon with my wife Audrey. We took two books to Maine with us to read to eachother during the long nights after days tramping around the forests and mountains of Acadia National Park. The one in question is “Fire and Hemlock” by Diana Wynn Jones. I picked it because it was said to be a romantic fantasy. While the action in this book is admittedly slow it carries with it the strong force of the otherworld. It is a retelling of the story of Tam Lin in a modern idiom. Admittedly, I have heard versions of the Tam Lin ballad before, most notably by Current 93 who are a favorite band of mine, but it was one of the few Current 93 songs I had never given much time to in their vast ouevre. So I was not altogether unfamiliar with it, but not very. During the second half of our trip we were staying with friends and family in Portland, Maine and progress on reading the book slowed until we got back home to Cincinnati. I hadn’t made the connection, until it came to that point in the story, that the final actions in the Tam Lin ballad take place on Halloween. It was the night before the vulgar, calendar Oct. 31st version of Halloween that we finished the book. It was a nice match up of events that was not planned at all, but was of course perfectly natural.
Now for a diversion, eventually returning us to the subject of the ballad:
On our last night in Maine I had a powerful dream:
I am walking out of the woods on a path I used to travel as a child. It is taking me into the Valley, a place of nature between two streets where I also used to play as a young child. As I walk into the Valley I feel the same sense of mystery and magic that I felt when playing there as a child. I see a house nestled in it and I go into it. Inside I realize that I want to live here. But this house already belongs to someone, the poet Gary Snyder. Yet it still feels right that I am there. There is a pile of wood outside for the fires that will heat the hearth come winter.
In the past year I’d developed a moderate interest in the poetry of Gary Snyder, for his naturalist mysticism, his involvement with Eastern cultures, and his views on community, the environment, in the grounding of experience in a particular place. Having had this dream, part of the action I wanted to take on its behalf was to delve further into Snyder’s work.
THE MAGIC MUSIC OF THE MOON
On my second day back at work at the main Library in Cincinnati, I read a nice article on Reality Sandwich about the ethnomusicologist, magician, filmmaker, and collector Harry Smith. As I read it I was thinking about how much the Beats have given to culture, the ways in which they shaped it, and how their own ideas were influenced by mysticism & magick. I was also thinking of how the Golden Dawn did this in a similar, seeding various ideas, concepts, and magick into the world. As I was thinking these things I felt the strong presence of the ancestors around me. This was all still leading up to Halloween, and so it seemed very natural that the ancestors would be near me. Maybe they are not my genetic ancestors, but are part & parcel of the spiritual of which I am a part. Among those whose presence I felt was that of Allen Ginsberg, and the next day, following intuitions lead, read “Kaddish” the long poem written for his mother. It seemed appropriate also that I would be reading a poem mourning the death of a mother, as my own Mom had passed away in the summer of 2008. She and I were very close, and indeed still are. In any case, by following these inner promptings I eventually wrote some new poetry inspired by Harry Smith’s conception of the Old Weird America and Allen Ginsbergs vision of a new America.
In the meantime I had started reading “Moon Magic” by Dion Fortune. All of the ideas from these various readings were cross pollinating in a wyrd brew. Various sections of Moon Magic seemed to be directly related to many of the motifs that we in the Hermaphroditic Chaorder of the Silver Dusk are working with. That shouldn’t be suprising really, but the actuality of it struck with new force, we being the Lunar Artistic counterpoint to the Golden Dawns Solar Science. Then a phrase leapt out of the book which was directly related to the way I had been thinking of the influence of the Golden Dawn and the Beats:
“We hold, we initiates, that we can bring a thing through from the Inner Planes into manifestation by acting it out symbolically. That is why ritual is used. Now if you and I were to work out together the particular problem I want to solve, it would be solved for the race, because we are part of the race, and whatever is realised in our minds becomes part of the group mind and spreads like ferment.”
I like this very much because what is a culture but a type of fermentation? And as my friend Oryelle said in an email, “maybe the beats were the Acidopholous.”
In the meantime I had looked up some audio files on the internet. Archive.org hosts a huge collection of recordings made at the Naropa Institute. I was very pleased to find recordings of Harry Smith talking about Pacific Northwest Indian ceremonies and a series of classes given by Gary Snyder. I was even more suprised, on the actual Full Moon day of Samhain, Nov. 2nd, to listen to his class, and lo and behold he begins to discuss the Ballad of Tam Lin. He even played a version by Fairport Convention. (a very different-textually & otherwise- C93 version here). His talks delved deep into shamanism, one of the most interesting parts being how a shaman (or poet) catches a song that can be used to heal the sick, and by extension the whole community.
Part of the way I honored these insights/experiences/etc. was by playing both versions (although there are countless more) on the radio. Today I decided that I am going to go a stop further and record my own version of the ballad, although I still have to decide on which version of the text to use. It will be more surreal and electronic than the other versions I’ve heard because that it is the way I am comfortable working musically, and I may re-write & synthesize various texts to produce my own version. Whatever I do I will be working to call forth the energies of the Otherworld and ground them further into this one.