Clas­sics and the coun­ter­cul­ture

RICHARD GE­ORGE ponders a magic-fu­elled clas­si­cal re­vival that coloured both ufol­ogy and mu­sic in the 1960s

Fortean Times - - Contents - Richard Ge­orge

Crow­ley lurked on the cover of Sergeant Pep­per and was the Laird of Led Zep­pelin

Long be­fore I stud­ied Vir­gil at univer­sity I knew about the Tro­jan Horse – from John Keel’s clas­sic 1970 book with its ded­i­ca­tion to Lao­coon. But Vir­gil doesn’t just do sea mon­sters...

Bird-bod­ied, girl-faced things they are; abom­inable

Their drop­pings, their hands are talons, their faces hag­gard with hunger... 1

Moth­man could just as well have been fe­male, like these Harpies, or the buxom en­tity that buzzed Da Nang around the time of Wood­stock. What’s go­ing on here? One of the odd­est as­pects of Keel’s oeu­vre is this re­crude­s­cence of the clas­si­cal, al­beit in greatly di­min­ished, al­most car­toon form. A num­ber of his names de­rive from Greek: Kronin, Orthon, Aphloes, and, strangest of all, Mr Apol, an am­pu­tated stump of the de­ity Lao­coon served as priest: Apollo. ‘Lu­cretius’ vis­its an ec­cen­tric old lady, and Brazil­ian con­tactee Aladino Felix adopts the nom

de plume Dino Kraspe­don, the sur­name Greek for ‘fringe’ or ‘bor­der’. How very lim­i­nal. He preaches in a pan­toglot, a uni­ver­sal lan­guage com­bin­ing Greek, Latin and He­brew. Keel writes: “The gods of an­cient Greece are among us again, in a new guise but still hand­ing out the old line. Be­lieve...” 2 So why were they back ? What the Six­ties coun­ter­cul­ture craved, ul­ti­mately, was a pre-Chris­tian world, where sex­u­al­ity and sen­sual ex­cess were cel­e­brated, not con­demned. Jim Mor­ri­son, true to his own dai­mon or guid­ing spirit, de­clared him­self as Bac­cha­na­lian: in The End his band, the Doors, re­booted Oedi­pus. Heavy metal pioneers Blue Cheer called their first LP Vince­bus Erup­tum, per­haps to echo the word ‘erup­tion’. Latin, even if gar­bled, had mys­tique: it was freaky, and para­dox­i­cally per­plex­ing to the older gen­er­a­tion.

Even more telling con­tri­bu­tions came from a folkier di­men­sion. The In­cred­i­ble String Band wrote a Gil­bert and Sullivan pas­tiche called The Mino­taur’s Song, and Tom Rapp ref­er­enced Herodotus in his sub­lime Translu­cent

Car­riages. The fa­ther of his­tory’s de­scrip­tion of stoned Scythi­ans howl­ing with plea­sure may also have im­pressed him. 3

But there was an­other fac­tor in all this: the resur­gence, in the 1960s, of the oc­cult. Magic was in­te­gral to clas­si­cal pa­gan­ism, from Homer’s Circe down to the

Neo­pla­ton­ists of late an­tiq­uity. Ne­cro­mancy is men­tioned in Homer and Herodotus, Cicero and Ovid, and, most no­to­ri­ously, in the witch Erichtho’s abom­inable prac­tices in Lu­can’s Pharsalia. 4 There was even a div­ina­tory prac­tice in­volv­ing Vir­gil him­self, sortes Vir­gilianæ, where one picked a line of his at ran­dom. 5 The Grate­ful Dead (see pp40-47 and p67) ar­rived at their name via a sim­i­lar process.

The cru­cial in­ter­me­di­ary here is Aleis­ter Crow­ley. Ed­u­cated in the Clas­sics, and de­light­ing in ridicu­lous Latin han­dles like ‘Frater Per­durabo’ (a good al­bum ti­tle for some­body!), he drew in­spi­ra­tion from Egyp­tian mag­i­cal pa­pyri as he raised Pan and set up the orig­i­nal com­mune at Ce­falu (see FT231:76-78). 6 Pink Floyd ref­er­enced Pan in the ti­tle of their first LP; Crow­ley lurked on the cover of Sergeant

Pep­per (above) and be­came the laird of Led Zep­pelin (see also FT333:51, 343:56-57)

In spring 1963, Erichtho had made a sen­sa­tional come­back at Clophill in Bed­ford­shire. There’s not much to do in these vil­lages (I grew up in one). As old wives say, “The Devil makes work for idle hands” – in this case lit­er­ally. Goat-headed Pan is now Satan, and still in­spires epony­mous ter­ror: in 1979 the band UK De­cay, on a photo-shoot at Clophill church, “be­came spooked” and “fled back to their car”. 7 Ac­cord­ing to Artemi­dorus, Pan in­spired night­mares. 8 Ac­cord­ing to Toyne New­ton, He­cate was re­duced in the 1980s to chair­ing a Satanist cult in Sus­sex with a fetish for sac­ri­fic­ing dogs. 9 Here she is in her pomp, in Vir­gil: But lis­ten! – at the very first crack of dawn, the ground

Un­der­foot be­gan to mut­ter, the woody ridges to quake,

And a bay­ing of hounds was heard through the half-light: the god­dess was com­ing... 10

One day, in thou­sands of years, Jim Mor­ri­son will min­gle with the Bac­cha­ntes, and the ghouls of Clophill merge with the cel­e­brated necro­mancers of Etruria. All will be mythic.

And deep in the mix will be Vir­gil. “It’s get­ting dark, too dark to see,” sang Bob Dy­lan. Here is the dy­ing war­rior maiden, Camilla: Shad­ows are fall­ing, it’s grow­ing dark around me... 11

And where did Arthur Shut­tle­wood’s ul­tra­ter­res­trial cold-call­ers hail from?

Aen­s­tria. Planet Aeneid. 12

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