English Heretic Black Harvest

‘Call the world if you please “the vale of soul-making.” Then you will find out the use of the world’ - John Keats

English Heretic present a bleak vision for 2013. The new single Black Harvest is a complex road trip developed over the last couple of years; its inspiration drawn from a wild compost of Paul Devereux, Neil Young and James Shelby Downard. The track began in its embryonic form as part of the set for English Heretic's Kennedy Day celebration in 2011 and constellated around the notion of the Journada Del Muerto. The phrase Journada Del Muerto is used in the sublimely paranoid conspiracy theory surrounding JFK's assassination as expounded by James Shelby Downard in his essay Kill King 33. Kennedy's assassination is the ultimate road trip - the existential death drive of Kowalski's Vanishing Point and Easy Rider taken to religious levels . Even Christ had to walk to Calvary until Jarry invented him a pataphysical bicycle. However, the startling revelation of Downard is that the world and its microcosm at Dealey Plaza is one massive Masonic chess board – schizoidally livid with Hermetic alarm bells – the AVIS rent-a-car building next the book repository is a backward mask of the Goddess SIVA. Even the horses at Kennedy's funeral are sombre knights in a sinister cosmic ceremony. Remnants of the original lyrics for our nascent track comprise the main refrain of Black Harvest, half recognisable hints of the original vehicle and like the debris of a long since passed car crash.
The title of the piece Black Harvest is a nod to Neil Young's similarly named album(s) and an attempt to transpose the sound of southern America gothic to an English context. One of the more increasing preoccupations of English Heretic is to create an imagined and exotic Albion – oh to not be in England. The analogy is with the diasporic urge or the desire for Egyptian architecture in follies, cemeteries and industrial buildings. Neil Young achieves high Gothic credentials for his life long obsession with hearses. When his Motown record deal foundered in 1966, he drove to LA in his Pontiac hearse nicknamed “Mort” to discover Stephen Stills; a paradox of the death drive leading to new pastures. This is the conundrum of Black Harvest – it's an alchemical joke – to borrow James Hillman's psychotherapeutic dictum, “stick with the images”, “stick with the lack of images”… meditate in your nigredo to train the eye to see in the dark, to see through the dark. Melancholy energised by the inner eye. And what threshed and rotten harvest yields from the solis niger? The Pontiac was also the chosen dead wagon of JFK at Dealey Plaza, the vehicle brand named after Chief Pontiac, a native American Indian who fought against the English occupation of Michigan – oh to not be England here! The second set of words (comprising the verses of Black Harvest) follow the thread of the hearse to the phenomenon of coffin roads. The lyrics themselves are taken from runic glyphs on an embroidery of St. Hilda, in the nave of the ancient church at Danby, North Yorkshire. St. Hilda's church is situated at the end of a corpse road called Old Hell's Way, which meanders over Danby Dale, a tricky terrain signposted by the occasional witches' stone. Local folklore describes the practice of the lychgate seer. It was said that a voyant would watch at the porch of the church and be able to see a procession of the villagers feted to die in the next year, their future spirits walking the corpse road. Earth mysteries guru Paul Devereux's gazetteer Fairy Paths and Spirit Roads is the seminal R.I.P Atlas of this custom. The embroidery features four runes stitched beside the figure of St Hilda, which transliterate to the characters H(hagalaz), I (isu), L (laguz) and M (mannaz). The first three runes are consonant with the saint's name, but the fourth rune is somewhat of a conundrum - M alluding to the Mann rune (Mannaz). Mannaz is the rune of death or mortality and so makes sense as a

kind of full stop to the proceeding runes. In fact, it would seem that there is a shamanic journey in evidence in the sequence of runes (allegorised by the concomitant poems ascribed to each of the glyphs). Pointedly perhaps, Johnson and Wallis, in their guide to runic shamanism Galdrbok, maintain that, ‘with the Horse run, Heathen Runesters go on to travel the Yggdrasil tree of life and death, a process involving a death (Mann rune) and submergence (Water rune) into the otherworld'. The water rune is lagu (L). Each rune according to lore has a poem associated with it and fragments of the rune poems ascribed to each of the letters in the embroidery comprise the verses of Black Harvest... “Man is an augmentation of the dust...” The Norse Valkyrie Hildr (Hilda) is attributed with the power to raise the dead which also suggests a good fit with the church location at the end of Old Hell's Way and furthermore, the practice of the European seidhr (from which our word ‘seeress’ is derived). Themes of journeying, death and water crop up again in the chorus with the phrase “Shrive me oh holy land and give me peace, on coffin ships to Green Dragon Tavern”. The words abstracted from Shelby Downard's Kill King essay explode with new meanings. As Downard mentions the Irish ancestors of JFK traveled as refugees from the potato famine to the new land on damned boats nicknamed coffin ships; not much more than water borne necronautical vehicles, these vessels were infamous for their exceedingly high mortality rate; overcrowded and disease ridden, they took with them a typhoid epidemic. The ships were said to be followed by sharks because of the copious amounts of bodies thrown to their feast. But again in the case of the Kennedy clan it represents a journey from death to kingship; paupership to principality. Settled in Boston, the Kennedy family resided on the same street as the Green Dragon Tavern; a public house at the very cornerstone of revolt. It was here that Paul Revere and his fellow Nationalists planned the Boston Tea Party in the basement and where the Masonic lodge of St. Andrew's met on the first floor. A pyramid of conspiracy and secret societies but also as our researches into the ciphers of the Black Harvest deepen another chime of dissension against Blighty.

When I made my first visit to Danby Dale, a crimson sunset swirled over the hills beyond the churchyard, evoking explicitly for me the apocalyptic vision of John Martin – the phrase “a fugue for a darkening island” pushing its way to my inner ear. I had been reading Christopher Priest's book of the same name, a catastrophe fiction set in England, written at the beginning of the 1970s, where the country descends into civil war as a result of tensions over immigration. It's a frighteningly plausible prophecy of a logical conclusion to Daily Mail type xenophobia. Shortly after completing the track I then chanced upon a copy of John Christopher's Death of Grass. It's title sounded a wyrd alarm – this could be the subtitle of Black Harvest. Death Of Grass, written in 1956, imagines a future where over-zealous intesive farming and a wheat virus spreading across the globe results in an environmental apocalypse. The hero of the story ventures from the blighted south of England to his brother's potato farm in the Lake District and a fictional vale where crops still grow due to his sibling's careful agricultural practice. En route they descend into a near Ballardian barbarism like that of High Rise. Strangely, it's the reverse death trip of the Irish refugees of the potato famine, a mythic inversion. But the images of the Black Harvest continue to conflate. Following the initial promotion of Black Harvest I was given a gift of a Tourmaline egg. Tourmaline is a black mineral, and in its polished sculptural form the egg looks curiously like an ovoid mutation of the obsidian scrying mirror used in medieval prophecy, a symbol of some warped kind of divination where time bends to reveal a dark present. The final revealing symbols came when fellow Heretic Dean Brannagan, charged with designing the cover for the single, decided on using a woodcut seal from the treasure seeking grimoire of La Poule Noire (“The Black Pullet”). It's a sinister sigil for a decidedly creepy magickal operation. A flower at the centre of the grimoire's talisman is adorned at the corners by spermatic entities, a skull, a scythe and a hourglass. These images seem to poeticise many of the keys stored in the concept of the Black Harvest – blighted fecundity, greed, prophecy and mortality.

Andy Sharp and Dean Brannagan forEnglish Heretic 31/12/2012