Saturday, July 19, 2014

'Darren Storer Reading' at Русский мир, 18th July 2014

"This is David.  He's a journalist.  He's going to write about us".  A roomful of eyes turned to me as I sheepishly waved hello.  The speaker was David William Parry, Heathen Priest of the Goddess Nerthus, poet, critic, dramaturge, academic - kind of a big cheese in the Pagan community.  Ruddy-faced and tweed-clad he fixed me with an authoritative stare that unmistakably read "don't write anything nasty, or else".

I began to wonder just what the hell I'd signed up for.  Underneath a sex shop on Goodge Street lies Русский мир, a book shop, restaurant and repository for all things Russian. Inside are a motley gathering of Britain's heathens, heretics and pagans; collectively gathered under the umbrella of 'Theo-Humanist Arts'.  They describe themselves as "promoting the cause of radical religious Arts across the globe.  We celebrate our shared humanity, while aiming to grasp spiritual truth".

Sounds reasonable enough.  The centre of the night was poet Darren Storer, reading from his new book The Recusant Who Never Recanted, an epic collection of poetry that probes the author's beliefs and the hypocritical society that surrounds him.  Storer is an incredibly interesting man; a self described powerful psychic prone to dramatic visions and who frequently lapses into trance states while writing, emerging to find pages of text he has no memory of writing.  In appropriately reverent tones he explains that he could be channelling Edgar Allen Poe, or even The Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley.

Storer's poetry seeks to make followers of those that experience it, joining him in an epic voyage through a world populated by those antagonistic to him, whose reactions range from incomprehension to aggression.  He bats questions away from Christians who interrogate him as to whether he's a Satanist, "I have older friends" he archly replies.  As he recites he leans on a cane, grimacing every few lines as he worked his way through a fat bushel of papers.  

Darren Storer
At about 40 minutes long this is a one hell of a reading, often feeling as if he's guiding us down the rabbit hole.  There's the odd overly forced rhyme and a blizzard of purple prose, but it all hangs together.  As Storer spins out his poem it occurs to me that the very act of reading it might be some form of magickal incantation in and of itself. I glance over his wife's Sarah Tiger's paintings hung on the wall next to me - clawed hands reaching through sigils and spiralling pentagrams.  

My life keeps intersecting with the occult in all sorts of weird ways.  Last year, just after having been invited by the Warberg Institute to examine his personal papers I literally stumbled across the Crowleyian history book Sword of Wisdom by Ithell Colquhoun, which someone had, for some reason, left lying on a Notting Hill pavement.  Just a couple of days ago I was enjoyably picking my way through the Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK exhibition in the British Library. I turn a corner and find the staring eyes and hairless pate of Crowley bearing down on me, hearing an audio recording of the man himself tinnily chanting down through the years.

Sarah Tiger and one of her paintings.
I don't buy into the mysterious forces that Crowley claimed to have grasped, but I do respect the man for leading one of the most interesting lives I've ever read about.  I'm also fascinated with the history of Occult Britain, which I like to read as a mutant reflection of very British preoccupations for ceremony, tradition and class.  But it's one thing to sit around writing about this.  It's quite another to be sat in a small, hot room full of people that really sincerely believe.

Looking around I wonder who these people are, what they do and where they go at night. Chatting outside later I learn that they consider themselves a family - members are husbands and wives, godfathers to each other's children and so on.  To be honest the word 'family' in this context makes Charlie Manson (that other famous beast of the 20th Century) spring unbidden to mind.  I feel guilty making the association, especially as everyone here appears nice and polite enough.  That said, I still felt a little bit like Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man.

Adding to my nerviness is knowing the unfortunate tendency of some strands of Paganism to trip over into far right views.  Hanging out with Satanist Nazis is the last thing I want to do on a sunny Friday evening, so I find myself desperately hoping that I don't spot any old NF tattooes in this pleasantly diabolical crowd.  Thankfully everything feels relatively apolitical - perhaps I've just read a bit too much about the vagaries of Norwegian Black Metal and their predilection for Norse mythology.

I love discovering what's going on in the hidden places of London, sniffing out interesting subcultures and meeting the kinds of people you only hear faint whispers of.  In that regard I had a hell of an interesting time - though not knowing anything about theo-humanism or this particular brand of Paganism left me afloat in a deep, murky, unfamiliar sea.  As I cycled home my head spun trying to think of some way to conclude my thoughts on the night.  Then I stopped off at a supermarket to buy some dinner.  

Oh shiiiiiiiit!

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