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Born Again Pagans:

An Industrial Band Discovers Sea, Hill, and Wood

By Hayes Hampton

he Beatles did it in India. he Stones did it in a French chteau. he Kinks did it in lyrics and imagery: the Village Green
Preservation Society. Across the Atlantic, Bob Dylan did it
with he Band. Julian Cope is still doing it. Few did it more
famously than Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, whose
stay at Bron-Yr-Aur in the Welsh countryside spawned their unexpected folk-rock third album, and whose retreat to East Hampshire resulted in their fourth or runes album. he trope of the rock band, an
inherently urban unit, getting back to nature, especially when viewed
in the context of the agrarian chic of the 1960s and afterward, points
us towards what Nick Freeman (2001) identiies as a cultural script
of disdain for modernity (20) in favor of apagan sensibility that
exalts the natural world and pays devout respect to its inhabitants. As
Rob Young puts it in his study of musical agrarianism, Electric Eden,
the move to the countryside reveals
the contradictory impulses that shape the British
artistic imagination: craving the freedom and peace
of a countryside that is always already shaped and
manufactured; nostalgia for a golden, bucolic, pretechnological age, yet improving tradition with new
instruments, exotic flavors and electricity; needing to
explore and incorporate a historical dimension while
simultaneously writing over the past. (2010:44-45)
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Ronald Hutton, in he Triumph of the Moon, traces the origin of
this sensibility to widespread disafection with the industrial revolution. In the cultural imagination of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hutton writes, the urban centres had turned into monsters,
destroying the world about them and spreading ill health, pollution,
ugliness, and social instability, while he shrinking and depopulating
countryside had become the epitome of continuity, community,
and social harmony. By the second half of the 19th century, Hutton
(1999) continues, mere contact with the open country could be represented as an act of grace (117), and the myth of a stable, standardized
folk culture was well on the way towards solidiication, with morally
elevated folk music conveniently and dichotomously opposed to the
new commercialized popular music (Hutton 1999:119).
he cultural power of these twin attitudes of nostalgia towards the
country and suspicion of the city has not diminished signiicantly
since the early 20th century, Hutton writes, and, indeed, the myth
of the superior wisdom of country folk and their organic, immemorial lore (1999:117) was omnipresent in the world of 1960s and
1970s popular culture. Rurally-inlected nostalgia was prevalent in
the pop music of both Britain and the United States and, as David
Ingram points out, a mystical view of the natural world, bordering
on pantheism, was inluential on both the 1960s counterculture
(2006-2007:1) and the rural chic of the nouveau riche rock stars of
the 1970s. (Ingram 2010:169). As the 1970s progressed, however,
cultural attitudes were shifting: punk and post-punk music valorized
artiiciality and the city, as did industrial music, a genre that, like punk,
evolved in the urban centers of mid-1970s Great Britain. When people
traditionally excluded by heteronormality and the British class system
began to make themselves heard via these new musical movements
and their self-consciously urban lyrics, fashion, and visual imagery, the
countryside began to lose some of its cachet. By the time the pioneerADF Publishing | r nDraocht Fin

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ing industrial band hrobbing Gristle broke up in 1981, the pro-urban
backlash in pop culture was old news.

Industrial Culture
In the explosion of musical experimentation following the brief heyday
of British punk rock, the band Coil began as a solo project of singer,
lyricist, and mystic John Balance, a teenage fan of hrobbing Gristle
who attended the live recording of that bands Heathen Earth album
in 1978 (Brainwashed 2013) and soon began a relationship with
hrobbing Gristle member Peter Christopherson. After a stint in the
post-Gristle project Psychic TV, Balance and Christopherson began
to record full-time as Coil in 1984, compiling a large and musically
diverse oeuvre as they explored realms from Scatology (the title of their
irst album) to BDSM, psychedelic states, (post-)helemic magick,
discarnate intelligences, abasement, self-loathing, AIDS, ecstasy,
transcendence, and, generally, sex, death, and visionary experience.
As members of the hrobbing Gristle circle, Balance and Christopherson helped create industrial culture, a determinedly urban
aesthetic that investigated social control mechanisms, brainwashing,
commodiication, and anomie via engagement with Charles Manson,
Jim Jones, totalitarianism, mind-control, mass cultural kitsch, and all
things gross, atrocious, horriic, demented, and unjust (Vale 1983:2).
Industrial artists made these phenomena even more defamiliarizing by
refracting them through the jaded lenses of Situationism and heatre
of Orgies and Mysteries-style confrontation, and singing or shouting
about them over cacophonous, pounding, sample-based music. Heavily inluenced by Dada and Surrealism, industrial artists regularly cited
Artaud, Ernst, Apollinaire, Dali, Duchamp, and modernist forerunners
like Sade, Nietzsche, Huysmans, and, above all, Lautramont.
As industrial culture exposed the irrationality behind socially
constructed reason and explored the alternate rationalities of outsider
artists, shamans, psychedelic adventurers, and visionaries, its exponents
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were drawn to the occult, either as a philosophical system, or a repository of outr imagery and beliefs, or as a set of practical tools for
altering ones consciousness and surroundings. Inspired by transistorized hexes and cut-ups deployed by William S. Burroughs (1989) and
drawn to Aleister Crowley as a pioneer explorer of altered states, the
members of hrobbing Gristle and, in particular, Psychic TV adopted
Crowleys bricolage, his love of stylistic mimicry, and his devotion to
social provocation and pushing the boundaries of the self. Psychic TVs
popularizing of Austin Osman Spares magical system, via albums and
the magical order hee Temple ov Psychick Youth helped, along with
the work of the Illuminates of hanateros, to bring chaos magick to the
forefront of the 1980s and 90s occult scene.
hough magically inclined, industrial culture tended not to be
Neopagan. It celebrated, however cautiously or ironically, vast and
alienating urban spaces and sought its magical tools and techniques
there, and so industrial musicians made the classic pop music pilgrimage in reverse, from rurally based music and inluences to new sounds
inspired by and imitative of the fragmented, noisy nature of urban life.
In the words of Genesis P-Orridge, hrobbing Gristles front man,
Rock n roll had been somewhere away in
the sugarcane fields of the West Indies and the
cottonfields [sic] of America, so we thought it
was time to try and update it towards the
world as it is now. (P-Orridge 1983:10).
In contrast to the guitar, bass, and drum foundation on which rock
and pop had rested in the 1970s, industrial music fueled its expression
with processed, distorted synthesizers, drum machines, stolen and improvised technology, and cut-up sounds and texts la Burroughs. While
folk- and blues-based rock traded in sounds and symbols of rurally
derived authenticity, industrial music was intentionally inauthentic,
founded on sampling, sound collage, and ineptly played or repurposed
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ity. he displays of fervent, allegedly genuine emotion celebrated by
mainstream pop were replaced with emotional distance and ambiguity,
emotions inappropriately expressed, and a postmodernist tendency
to view the self as mutable cultural clay, not as a stable essence to be
expressed via sincerity. Again, this was partially inluenced by Crowley, whose magick aims at destabilizing and dissolving the mundane,
culturally-conditioned self. As gay men, Balance and Christopherson
were particularly drawn to Crowleys solar-phallic mythos, his proto-queer sensibility and joy in confrontation, and his pranks based on
sexuality. On the streets of London in the mid-1980s, at the height of
anti-gay sentiment in the wake of the popular presss sensationalized
coverage of the AIDS crisis, Balance and Christopherson could be seen
handing out lealets saying, Kill a Queer for Christ (Balance and
Christopherson 1992). At the same time, their musical palette, while
it preserved some of the sonic characteristics of early industrial music,
was rapidly expanding to include sounds borrowed from classical and
club/dance music, jazz, and Spaghetti Western soundtracks, and they
came as close as they would ever come to having a hit with 1991s Loves
Secret Domain.

A New Direction
By the mid-90s, however, Coil were seemingly casting about for a
new direction, writing ilm scores, releasing compilations of outtakes,
working on side projects. hey were also growing weary of London.
Balance told an interviewer, We were doing too many drugs and we
were too Here Christopherson inishes Balances sentence:
isolated (Balance and Christopherson 2010). he pair moved to the
other side of England, to a house in North Somerset situated at the
juncture between land and sea, urban and rural, modern England and
the pagan past. Located on Worlebury Hill above Weston-super-Mare,
31 South Road was compared by one band member to a house in one
of the Edgar Allen [sic] Poe ilm adaptations (highpaulsandra 2013).
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At the same time, though situated above Weston, the house was also
geographically a part of the town, close to churches, schools, hotels, bus
stops, businesses, etc. Worlebury Hill itself is a liminal area: it is home to
an Iron Age fort where Balance and Christopherson gave hanks and
Prayers to the resident Spirits upon moving to Weston. (Brainwashed
2012). he hill gives evidence of habitation for at least 5,000 years; it is
also home to a golf course. Meanwhile, in the ocean-side resort below,
tourists can Explore the SeaquariumGo kite suring and Give the
children a ride on Westons famous donkeys (Visit Somerset 2012a) as
well as meet the Witch of Wookey Hole Caves and wander through
the caves and their prehistoric valley of the Dinosaurs featuring
King Kong (Visit Somerset 2012b). Weston, with a population of
around 70,000 when Balance and Christopherson moved there, was
hardly as isolated as Led Zeppelins Bron-Yr-Aur, but the Coil houses
elevated position over the town, the couples isolationist tendencies,
and Worlebury Hills status as geographic barrier between town and
country, land and sea, past and present, imparted to the house a sense
of separateness, happily enforced by Balance and Christopherson. As
if to underscore Westons apartness from London, the center of British
culture and center of its music scene, when Fortean Times published an
interview with Balance in 2001 its editors said their writer had visited
the singer at his home in the farther reaches of the West Country.
(Balance 2001).1 While they hardly became folk-rockers, Coils music
and lyrics changed in startling ways upon their move to North Somerset.
Weston has a symbolic status in the British imagination. First,
Weston and the surrounding magical county of Somerset (Knight
2003:vii) have played an important part in British paganism and
Romanticism: the legendary location of the Holy Grail and the grave
of King Arthur, and the literal and spiritual home for nature mystics
from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Dion Fortune to todays neo- and
paleo-hippies. Additionally, Somerset is rich in Roman, Neolithic,
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1984 Trevor Rickard4

Weston-super-Mare seen from Worlebury Hill in 1984, looking southwards along the Weston beach.

and Paleolithic sites and thus provides a strong link to pre-Christian

Britain, both in conventional historical narratives and in the more
imaginative narratives of those who believe the stone age dead to be
the direct antecedents of todays Neopagans and believe that Somerset
harbors ley lines, UFOs, and fairies.
Whether in the service of spiritual narratives, pop-historical ones,
or pop-musical ones, certainly some who are nostalgic for pagan
Britain and who vaunt rural life as an antidote for urban corruption
could be accused of ignoring or fabricating history. Robert Wallis, for
example, describes musician and modern antiquarian Julian Cope
promoting the idea that the Neolithic was a period of matriarchal
Goddess culture, which Wallis understatedly says may not sit well
with archaeologists (Wallis 2003:152). Cope follows in the footsteps
of earlier cultural igures, from Dion Fortune to John Michell, who
have romanticized history and the countryside in their quest to create
a sacred geography of Britain, centering in particular on Glastonbury.2
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Characteristically, however, Coils retreat to the countryside was not
a nostalgic gesture, nor was their newfound nature imagery couched
in prelapsarian ideas of rural authenticity and the purity of nature,
nor in dreams of noble paganism. Rather they seemed, in addition
to wishing respite from London, to want to ind and map new occult
geographies. he last album they made in London, Astral Disaster, is
replete with references to mythic places. he song MU/UR invokes
the fabled continent of Lemuria, popularized by Madame Blavatsky
and said by Kenneth Grant, one of Balances favorite authors, to have
been the ultimate origin of the Ordo Templi Orientis (see, for example,
Grant. 1992, 1994). he Avatars honors Irish mystic George William
Russells novel of the same name, a ictionalized tale of Russells and
W.B. Yeatss intense youthful friendship, set in a baroquely idealized
rural Ireland. he song he Sea Priestess, named for Dion Fortunes
novel, which is set within sight of the Coil residence in Weston, crafts
an alternate universe from Aleister Crowleys murals at the Abbey of
helema and, in Balances words, lyrics written as a result of experiments with a small obsidian scrying mirror (Brainwashed 2011).
A key diference between Coil, however, and many Pagan proponents
of alternative history and geography is that Coils visions arent presented as utopias or correctives for social ills, but as part of an ininite
multiverse of which no part is necessarily preferable to another, and in
which the Earth and the human species play but an ininitesimal part.
Balance and Christopherson took the urban lneur into the British
countryside of Pagan memory and into the astral realms mapped by
Crowley and Grant, never settling on one particular ideal vision and
never promising, even in fantasy, the best of all possible worlds.
Coils late-career fascination with occult geographies stands in
contrast with the imagery of earlier albums like Scatology (1984) and
Horse Rotorvator (1987), when their musical sound and lyrical content
more closely matched those of other industrial bands. Given industrial
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musics preoccupation with urban decay (Collins 2005:175), it is
hardly surprising that the primary locus of Coils early work was the
sewer and its doubles: the brickwashhouse, awash with excreta, in
he Sewage Workers Birthday Party (Coil 1984b), Charles Mansons
bottomless pit in the Mojave Desert and the cathedral in lames
on Scatology (Coil 1984a), the dark, mysterious temple interior on the
verso of Horse Rotorvator (Coil 1987b), Secrets inside Black boxes (Coil 1984c), thrones underground / And monarchs upon them
(Coil 1991b), the dim, No Exit motel room in hings Happen (Coil
1991a), he Anal Staircase (Coil 1987a), the anus and rectum themselves, mirrored in the visual pun of Coils black sun logo.
Coils lyrics were always damp with tides, both bodily and oceanographic, but the Somerset period, with its explicit evocations of the
moon, of lunar magick, and of tidal pull, is especially replete with luid
imagery. Russell Cuzner calls Are You Shivering?, the opening track
of Musick to Play in the Dark (1999), the duos irst Somerset recording), an ecstatic tale of bukkake and the lunar body (Cuzner 2011).
hat song invokes the solid/liquid boundary also explored in he Sea
Priestess (Coil 2000b), A White Rainbow (Coil 1999d), Ether
(Coil 2000a), and other songs of this period. In contrast to the enclosed spaces of their early career, the ide ixe of Coils post-1999 work
is the unstable liminal space with shifting borders: the ever-changing
moon and the inner and outer tides it impels, the constantly morphing
world of dreams (he Dreamer Is Still Asleep, 1999b), and the luidity of experience as it is edited into mass-mediated hyper-reality (Red
Queen, 1999c). On the Megalithomania! live album we hear 40 minutes of the sound of dripping water (Coil 2003b); Everything Keeps
Dissolving (Coil 2003a), one song title from Coils post-London
period reminds us, alluding both to the microcosmic efects of LSD
and the macrocosmic efects of entropy. Coils natural cycles, however,
unlike those depicted in the average Llewellyn grimoire, do not have
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a stable meaning, nor are they presented as evidence of a personiied
divine intelligence. Coil rarely looked up without irst looking down.
he human characters inhabiting Coils lyrics and imaginary landscapes evolved during the North Somerset period as well. While Coil
remained social constructionists rather than essentialists, they tended
in their late period to view humanitys place in the universe in a less
deterministic, conined sense. he MDMA-fueled sexual encounter
described in Are You Shivering?, for example, revises the Emerald
Tables mystical adage; it seems to assert as below, so above. he song
portrays bodily luids simultaneously as the etheric streams of vitality
envisioned by occultists, as rivers, as the oceans of the moon, and as
the moon itself. Similarly, the narrator imagines he sees his own sperm
cells, In the oceans of the moon / swimming squidlike and squalid
(1999a). his bottom-up cosmology is also present in, among other
songs, A White Rainbow from Winter Solstice, perhaps the song that
best encapsulates Coils uniication of delirium, inspiration, ecstasy,
sexuality, physicality, and spirituality. he lyrics of A White Rainbow
locate the narrator at once in his body, in the sky, and as caught between solar and lunar--between sexual ecstasy and madness:
Moons milk spills from my unquiet skull
and forms a white rainbow
(A psychosis, a roaring aura)
Aurora borealis
A lunar ascension, a solar declension (1999d)
he white arc of the narrators ecstatic release is inscribed, as
Coils embodied experience often is, upon nature itself, and thus he
co-creates the cosmos. In one sense co-creation is an old idea in occult
circles, of course, but in John Balances lyrics, in contrast to the conventional attitudes of piety and humility before nature with which we
are familiar from romantic literature and the music of rural nostalgia,
and in contrast with the formalities of the ceremonial magic tradition,
the narrator touches divinity with neither diminishment nor mastery.
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Balances lyrical persona is Whitmanian rather than Wordsworthian;
before nature, he is not acolyte, but lover and divine equal.
Coils Somerset period also overlaps roughly with a new sound, inaugurated by the four Solstice and Equinox EPs, recorded at the exact
moment of their namesake astronomic events in 1998-1999. he four
recordings were collected under the title Moons Milk (In Four Phases),
and as David Keenan observes, he process of making Moons Milk
seemed to alter the very DNA of Coils music (Keenan 2003:263).
Industrial music since the days of hrobbing Gristle had tended to be
drum-machine and vocal-based, and Coil largely followed this pattern in
the 1980s and early 1990s, though even their irst album gives hints of the
free-form, classically-tinged direction they would eventually take. By the
late London and early Somerset periods, the pounding drum machines
have fallen away and Balances voice, when present, sometimes doesnt
enter the songs until several minutes in. Balance, who had toned down
his Johnny Rotten-esque snarl by the recording sessions for 1991s Loves
Secret Domain, in the late 90s and early 2000s often spoke his vocals or
crooned them in an aching baritone. he addition of highpaulsandras
(Tim Lewis) keyboards and William Breezes viola3 rounded out the new
style with slant references to Krautrock, sequencer-based 1970s synth
pop, and music of the English Baroque era and the neoclassical movement of the early twentieth century. Coils new sound blended gothic
gloom, spacey drone, analog synth-driven ambient, intentionally glitchy
electronics, classical lourishes, and Balances new Sprechstimme vocal
style, a combination Coil would explore until Balances death in 2004.
If Coils new sound didnt closely resemble the modal melodies and close
harmonies of folk-rock bands like Pentangle and Fairport Convention,
or the acoustic-electric amalgams of Led Zeppelin or Traic, their Somerset-era sound nonetheless took industrial and electronic music in a new
direction, replacing the martial beat of industrial with drone-based music
that is not only part of the foundation of much folk and modal music
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from around the world but that is said by mystics in the Hindu and Sui
traditions to be the very undertone of existence (Boon 2002:65).

Sensitive to Place
From one perspective, that of industrial culture and the 90s music
scene in general, Coils new-found interest in nature mysticism was
contrarian: what could be more dclass to the sort of retro industrial
sensibility that still lurked in the underground music scene, than an
embrace of the countryside? From another perspective, of course, it
was to be expected that a couple of self-identiied born-again pagans
(Balance and Christopherson 1992) would ind inspiration in the
natural world. Coil had always paid tribute to the genii loci, even in
London, where they had irst turned their attention away from solar
magick to a more tidal, lunar point of view by observing the rise and fall
of the hames (Keenan 2003:250). Also, since the beginning of their
career their work had communicated a sense that situation, geographic
and cultural largely determines what one is able to perceive and do
and the musician and the magician should not exaggerate the extent
to which cultural norms can be transcended. Eventually this sense of
place informed Balance and Christophersons decision to leave London
as the bands magical focus shifted from solar to lunar; the citys solar
vitality was both a blessing (in terms of Londons rave scene and gay
culture) and a curse (in the sense that too much partying sapped the
duos creative energy).
Abandoning the model of the all-powerful Renaissance mage who
imposes his will upon astral and mundane worlds, refusing Pagan revisionist roles of reshaping history or nature into more congenial narratives, Coil seemed to gravitate towards a more organic approach, so to
speak. Being sensitive to places meant not only that Balance and Christopherson sought inspiration from the most intense, storied locales, as
in their 1999 pilgrimage to the ruins of Crowleys Abbey of helema,
but that they tried to open themselves to whatever energies resided
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in a particular, rather than trying to master those energies. In 2000,
Balance, speaking of the bands creative process after they had moved
from London to Somerset, told he Wire magazine weve deliberately
decided to go from solar to lunar aspect. We just decided to become
completely open to whatever happens: make more relective music. It
seems a logical step moon music (Balance 2000).
his lunar openness made for strange bedfellows. George William
Russell (pen name A.E.), for example, the inspiration for at least two
Coil songs, was hilariously lampooned in James Joyces Ulysses, his theosophy burlesqued via Sanskrit-tinged double-talk and his vaunting of
timeless rural values contrasted with what Stephen Dedalus perceives
as plodding careerism. Stephens take on Russell strongly resembles the
standard modernist contempt for rural nostalgia and for mysticism, a
stance that, of course, informed the aesthetic of industrial culture in
the late 1970s and early 1980s. he John Balance of the late 1990s
and early 2000s, however, held that Russell has written some of the
most inspiring and inspired prose about direct enchantment and transcendental communion with Nature (Brainwashed 2011). he bands
tribute to Russell amounted to, Balance wrote, A plea for experiential outings, pilgrimages etc. (Brainwashed 2011), a call for listeners
to ind their own sacred places as had the characters in Russells he
Avatars and as Coil had done, both in London and in their move to
Weston. In the song Bee Stings from Summer Solstice, Balances lyrics
urge the listener to not merely read Russells words but to follow his
example and Seek the advice of the summer ields / Before the tractor
comes and wakes you Be an idiot Drink the dew (Coil 1998).
In this sense, Coil sound rather conventionally Neopagan, opposing
summer ields to the tractor, and urging listeners to forsake socially
sanctioned forms of reason for a more nature-based consciousness that
seeks inspiration from healing dew. he songs music, though, undercuts such a reading: Bee Stings begins with a swirling, phase-shifted
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synthesizer melody panning slowly across the stereo channels, and soon
this very artiicial-sounding keyboard is joined by a rhythm section
made up of heavily processed drums and what sound like sampled
Morse code transmissions, arranged in a lopsided, tick-tock pattern.
Midway through the song, Balances husky, half-whispered vocal has
layers of echo added to it and begins to pan across the mix in contra-position to the synthesizer. he total efect, while elegiac, is as far from
a spontaneous, folk-inlected performance as possible and suggests a
natural world whose majesty cannot be tamed or anthropomorphized.
Coils Nature, indeed, is closer to Tennysons Nature, red in
tooth and claw (Tennyson 1973:36) than to Russells Eden. It is a
place of beauty and gnosis, but at the same time Coil never allows us to
forget that gnosis comes at the cost of the ego and that Attainment,
as Crowley (2012) liked to call it, is a destruction of the self as much
as it is a union with the All. On the island ruled by Coils Calypso-like
Sea-Priestess, natures predatory side is presented without moral overlay: Here, all nature is naked / We watch acrobats bathing themselves
in blood / And over the doorway is a beast of prey / Straddled on
the threshold of pleasure. Drops of bodily luid that would be taboo
or polluting on the mainland are likened to tiny diamonds there,
because there is no hierarchy of meaning or signiication, and therefore
no judgment. he Sea Priestess herself is indistinguishable from the
surrounding ocean; Her wizened mouthpiece whistles with silver ishes and her sibilant esses are escaping gas from the sea loor. hough
the narrator, fascinated yet repelled by the Sea Priestess, looks forward
to leaving the island, he cannot forget her entreaty Do not lose sight
of the sea (Coil 2000b). In other words, do not forget your own tidal
nature, your own ebb and low as a creature of entropy. Like Dion
Fortunes Sea Priestess, Coils seems to be a priestess of the moon and
thus is ruler of the tides and lux and those tides of life that low in
the souls of men, and out again as they live and die (Fortune [1935],
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2003:166). For Coil the emphasis placed on individual immortality by
mainstream religion, and by some occultists, and the way both communities tend to treat death as an anomaly, misses the point: there is no
self to preserve, and our physicality is as tidal as the sea. We are all
only temporary curators of our present bodies, Christopherson said,
shortly before his own death in 2010, which will all decay, sooner or
later (Simpson 2010). his tidal self, too, marks an advance beyond
their industrial years, whose pater la bourgeoisie tone depended on
a stable, heroic, countercultural self, deined in opposition to social
norms. hus, one way that Coil confronted the idealized imagery of
nature common in Neopaganism is by turning attention to natures
violence; another is their subversion of an inherent, stable personal
identity, central to both sixties countercultural rock (Ingram 2010:
170) and the folk-rock movement and to many Neopagan narratives of
self-discovery via encounter with the natural world.
As did all musical artists who have engaged with Britains traditions
of folk music and culture, Coil proceeded partly by homage to carefully
chosen ancestors and partly by invention. As Rob Young shows in Electric
Eden, there is no single, univocal, allegedly authentic folk tradition; rather,
each generation (re)creates the past partly in its own image. With roots in
industrial music and artistic modernism, Coil had no patience for rural
nostalgia, but then again the music of the bands Somerset period does
not deny or denigrate folk traditions, real or reconstructed. John Balance,
for example, proclaimed his love of he Watersons, the group that, more
than any other, inspired the 1960s folk-rock movement, calling singer Lal
Waterson a manifestation of the Goddess (Balance 2000). As a tribute to
he Watersons, Coil released a version of the 18th-century song Christmas Is Now Drawing Near on 1999s Winter Solstice (the song had been
performed by he Watersons on the similarly Pagan-themed Frost and Fire:
A Calendar of Ceremonial Folk Songs [1965]). hough Coils music, in this
song and others, is about as far from acoustic folk or folk-rock as music can
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get, the reasons behind their move to Weston-Super-Mare seem to echo
some of the sentiments of 1960s forebears like he Watersons.
After John Balances death in 2004, his partner, Ian Johnstone,
scattered Balances ashes around a Hawthorn tree by Bassenthwaite
lakeside in Cumbria on the Spring Solstice following his death (Johnstone 2013). Lyrics from A White Rainbow are inscribed on a plaque
nearby. Johnstone writes that For [John] the Hawthorn was the faeriest of the trees (Johnstone 2013), and the liminal status of this tree
is borne out by the Celtic magical lore in which Balance seems to have
immersed himself, judging from the contents of his book collection
(Aleister Crowley Society 2005), as well as the work of Balances favorite
nature mystic, Russell. From those sources he would have been likely
to see the hawthorn both as a symbol of death and as a gateway to the
realm of faeryin other words, a symbol of liminality and transition.
According to Liz and Colin Murrays Celtic Tree Oracle, a divination
set Balance owned, the hawthorn, whose pure white lowers betoken
Beltane and then eventually turn to glowing red haws in the autumn,
stands, like Coils artistic vision, between light and dark, life and death,
beauty and chaos (Murray and Murray 1988:34). It is itting, then, that
a forked hawthorn tree on the shore of Bassenthwaite Lake marks the
inal step in John Balances journey to the dual landscape/dreamscape
of Britains interior (Young 2010:45).

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In a personal conversation on April 12, 2013, I asked scholar and Somerset

resident Ronald Hutton whether such a characterization (the farther reaches
of the West Country) might be simple hyperbole or an attempt at humor, and
he said No, that is how people in the London media see a place like Weston.

Michells work, he View over Atlantis (1969) directly inspire[d] the long-lived
Glastonbury music festival, according to Fortean Times founder Bob Rickard

he 1997-2004 membership in Coil of William Breeze, outer head of the

Ordo Templi Orientis, is one of the more obvious ways the band is linked
to helema and helped make them a favorite among helemites. Balance and
Christopherson, however, pointed out several times publicly that Coil were not
partisan and that the bands music did not exclusively represent any sect or

he copyright on this image is owned by Trevor Rickard (

nqjvycc) and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons AttributionShareAlike 2.0 license (

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Cherry Hill Seminary

74 1 Hayes Hampton
Boon, Marcus. 2002. he Eternal Drone: Good Vibrations, Ancient to Future.
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Keenan, David. 2003. Englands Hidden Reverse: Coil/Current 93/Nurse With
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