Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Siren: Secret Commonwealths

Kelpies, Blue Bells, Sirens, Sylphs of the Air, 
and ancient ritual magick... 
Oh, you thought this was about an old New Wave band?

Read part one and part two

One of the kickers about doing this work is how your understanding of a pop culture icon can be turned inside out with the simple discovery of the most simple facts, facts that have been seeming to stare you in the face for ages, waiting for you to notice them.

I'd been listening to Garlands forever but hadn't bothered to actually find out what Elizabeth Fraser was actually singing about until I picked up this story again, for reasons I still have yet to fathom. Parsing her lyrics takes a bit of detective work, since the interpretations you read online are usually ridiculous, but in Garlands' case, swatches of the lyrics had actually been published.

So to discover that nearly every song is drenched in the lexicon of witchcraft was rather stunning, since it didn't jibe with any of the dominant narratives we've seen about this band. 

It was all the more remarkable given the fact that the lyrics are so subtle and self-effacing, not the clownish, Hammer Horror witchery of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Garlands' obvious antecedent.

But it also served to frame this story in an entirely new light, and raise disturbing questions that heretofore went completely unconsidered. It inspired me to place this story in the greater context of topics I've covered on this blog, and even to consider some extreme possibilities, given some of the facts I've uncovered related to the story. 

The lyrics to Garlands speak to a more-than-casual familiarity with witchcraft on someone's part, presumably Fraser's. In that context, it should be noted that the singer underwent a rather stunning metamorphosis from 1982 to 1983. 

Her appearance, her wardrobe, her voice, her lyrical style, and her comportment all underwent a radical change. Gone were the punk togs; the provocative leather minis, fishnet stockings and high-heeled boots and in their place were billowy, neo-Victorian frocks (Fraser always wore long sleeves to hide her tattoos). Her lyrics began evolving towards the near-total glossolalia of Treasure, though the lyrics on Head Over Heels still retain the violence and menace of Garlands

Even allowing for the effect of makeup, her face (most noticably, her irises) seemed to change- she looked like an entirely new person. You can see it in the live videos as well, where lighting and makeup have less power to disguise (or did back then).

And she certainly sounded like one; her voice was no longer the post-punk warble of Garlands- in its place was a howling, soaring mezzo soprano Fraser wielded like a weapon. The turnaround was stunning- an April 1983 recording from Newcastle has Fraser singing the old material in her new voice and the confidence- the arrogance, nearly- is almost palpable. 

It's a young woman realizing she has an incredibly unique gift.

But the Cocteau Twins had no interest in playing the Top of the Pops game. If anything their music would become more arty and obscure as their powers increased. But it's the symbolism we're looking for.

The leadoff track on Head Over Heels is 'When Mama Was Moth', one of many songs Fraser titled, for obscure reasons, in reference to moth and butterfly symbolism. 

Both animals are universal symbols of transformation, as well as death and resurrection. They're also linked to fairy lore, something that is particularly relevant in the Cocteau Twins' home of Scotland.

It's here where we should begin to look at some of the para-whathaveyou aspects of this story, which is only appropriate given that we have a story filled with witchcraft, fairy lore and Siren symbolism that ended beneath a giant pyramid at the end of Beale Street, a name which "James Shelby Downard" seemed to think was particularly significant in KingKill33. I'm not necessarily endorsing such interpretations, but I do think they should be at least be considered.

Yearly Beltane fire festivals in Edinburgh

The Cocteau Twins hailed from Grangemouth, Scotland, part of the Falkirk council area (Falkirk is roughly equidistant between Edinburgh and Glasgow). Grangemouth was an old mill town and is now an oil town. But is has another feature to its economy- the military:
Grangemouth has an Air Training Corps Squadron, 1333 (Grangemouth) Squadron (located at the TA Centre in Central Avenue), an Army Cadet Detachment (also in Central Avenue) and a Sea and Marine cadet corps at Grangemouth Docks.
Parapolitical researchers may have their antenna up now, given the fact that some MK researchers might label Fraser as a "multiple," which would account for her rather remarkable reinvention (and her later public meltdown and hospitalization for "nervous collapse" in 1994). It's interesting to note that all of the bases here are training facilities. It's also worth noting that the Twins outfitted themselves in army surplus gear in their post-punk days.

Parapolitics buffs will also be familiar with the long and storied connection between the British military and elements of the occult underground, which was directly connected to Scottish royalty during the Second World War. The occult-military connection also included some well-known names:

During World War II British Intelligence invited many occultists into its ranks because it needed their specialist knowledge and skills. The assistant director of Naval Intelligence during the war was Lt. Commander Ian Fleming RN, best known later as a thriller writer and the creator of the famous fictional spy James Bond 007. Fleming was also interested in astrology and numerology and he was a friend of the notorious magician Aleister Crowley, who had worked for MI6.
Whatever of these connections were still at work in Scotland during the early 80s, I can only speculate. But suffice it to say that precedents exist, for whatever they might be worth. However with this avenue of inquiry, it falls apart if you don't have names and dates and actual fact to deal with. 

And as tantalizing as it might seem, nothing  jumped out at me. What is worth reiterating however is that Fraser claimed to be a victim of incest, the repercussions of which got the whole ball rolling with Jeff Buckley in the first place.


With Garlands in mind, I tried researching the occult history of the area. Grangemouth lies next to Bo'ness, site of one of Scotland's last major witch trials in the 17th Century. It's worth noting that Grangemouth's Masonic lodge sits on Bo'ness Road (Grangemouth Road runs through Bo'ness too).

What I found even more fascinating though is that Falkirk now boasts two giant statues in honor of the Kelpie, Scotland's native version of the Siren, a shapeshifter that haunted local rivers luring unsuspecting travelers to their doom. Given the Cocteau Twins' connection to Falkirk and the overall drama at hand, the history of the Kelpie is must-reading here: 

The Kelpie, Thomas Millie Dow, 1895

The Kelpie is the supernatural shape-shifting water horse that haunts the rivers and streams of Scotland. It is probably one of the best known of Scottish water spirits and is often mistakenly thought to haunt lochs, which are the reserve of the Each Uisge. 
The creature could take many forms and had an insatiable appetite for humans; its most common guise was that of a beautiful tame horse standing by the riverside - a tempting ride for a weary traveller.  
I couldn't help but think of post-Garlands Fraser with this little factoid:
The Kelpie was also said to warn of impending storms by wailing and howling, which would carry on through the tempest. This association with thunder - the sound its tail makes as it submerges under water - and storms, may be related to ancient worship of river and weather deities by the ancient Celts, although this is difficult to substantiate. 
One of the other forms assumed by the Kelpie was that of a hairy humanoid, who would leap out from the riverside vegetation to attack passing travellers. 
All of which serves to remind us that ancient paganism bore little resemblance to its modern cousin, which seems more like an mildly exotic variety of Unitarianism than anything the Celts themselves would have recognized. 

Paganism was about life and death, was about appeasing the gods and seeking to understand their whims and desires in order that plagues, floods, famines, invasions and other catastrophes may be averted.

The "Celtic Paganism" that is popular in New Age and Wicca circles really has nothing in common with its ancient namesake, and these overfed LARPers running calling themselves "Druids" really have no fucking clue what they are talking about. From The Religion of the Ancient Celts:

Human victims were also offered by way of thanksgiving after victory, and vows were often made before a battle, promising these as well as part of the spoil. For this reason the Celts would never ransom their captives, but offered them in sacrifice, animals captured being immolated along with them. 
The method of sacrifice was slaughter by sword or spear, hanging, impaling, dismembering, and drowning. Some gods were propitiated by one particular mode of sacrifice--Taranis by burning, Teutates by suffocation, Esus (perhaps a tree-god) by hanging on a tree. 
Drowning meant devoting the victim to water-divinities.
Other propitiatory sacrifices took place at intervals, and had a general or tribal character, the victims being criminals or slaves or even members of the tribe. The sacrificial pile had the rude outline of a human form...enclosing human as well as some animal victims, who perished by fire. 
The victims perished in that element by which the sun-god chiefly manifested himself, and by the sacrifice his powers were augmented, and thus growth and fertility were promoted.  
But with the rise of scientific agriculture and medicine, did ritual magic begin to take on another meaning and purpose to the people of rural Britain and beyond?

Did the purpose of ritual magic become what Crowley described as the "Great Work", the contact and communion with non-human intelligences?

As in Iceland today, the people of Scotland once took the existence of elves or fairies very seriously. A Presbyterian minister interviewed a number of locals and published a book on these creatures, which he himself took to be very real as well:

In the last half of the seventeenth century, a Scottish scholar gathered all the accounts he could find about the Sleagh Maith and, in 1691, wrote an amazing manuscript entitled The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. It was the first systematic attempt to describe the methods and organization of the strange creatures that plagued the farmers of Scotland. The author, Reverend Kirk, of Aberfoyle, studied theology at St. Andrews and took his degree of professor at Edinburgh.   
Kirk invented the name "the Secret Commonwealth" to describe the organization of the elves.
The primary characteristics of the Sleagh Maith are listed here. But as it turns out, Kirk was not the first to write seriously about these creatures. The Italian mathematician Cardan and the legendary alchemist Paracelsus wrote of their own encounters with similar non-human intelligences.
Both Cardan and Paracelsus write, like Kirk, that a pact can be made with these creatures and that they can be made to appear and answer questions at will. Paracelsus did not care to reveal what that pact was "because of the ills that might befall those who would try it." 
 Kirk is equally discreet on this point. And, of course, to go deeper into this matter would open the whole field of witchcraft and ceremonial magic, which is beyond my purpose in the present book.
Here's where Fraser's own interest in witchcraft changed the whole landscape of this story.

As fashionable as it is for people to pretend weird things happen for no good reason at all, I believe that weird things happen for weird reasons. Weird effects have weird causes. 

I can't explain the exact mechanics of the strangeness of this story, but I can say that I do believe that not only was Fraser already an unusual individual to begin with, she consciously behaved in such a way as to attract the attention of a force or forces not generally understood by our modern citizenry, those crowns of creation with their fedoras and Kool-Aid dye-jobs, their eyes glued to their iPhones® and faces filled with deep-fried Milky Ways™, stuffed-crust bacon pizza and Big Gulp Slurpees®.

Having grown up around professional musicians I can tell you that the Muses tend to choose broken vessels for reasons I'll never fathom. Don't be surprised when X or Y famous singer has a meltdown, be surprised when they don't. 

As a victim of sexual abuse, Fraser was all the more vulnerable to outside influence, and the evidence that something extremely powerful took hold of her and later let her go again is unmistakable.

The question becomes, given Scotland's rather colorful history, was this process a solo or a group effort? Was Fraser simply a precocious teenager toying with the occult or was she part of an occult order? It sounds like a preposterous question until you realize those lyrics have meanings

Even as late as Milk and Kisses she was not only namedropping Elijah and his chariot of fire, she was singing of a "Serpentskirt." What does that mean?

It's related to yet another of these terrible mother goddesses.

Coatlicue is the Aztec Goddess recognized to be the “Mother of the Gods”. She is often associated with fire, fertility, life, death, rebirth and childbirth. Coatlicue was known to the Aztecs as a loving Mother Goddess, who gave birth to the moon, the stars, the sun as well as the other gods of the Pantheon. Despite this, she was also seen to have a ferocious and terrible aspect, being the Goddess who devours everything that lives. 
Goddess Coatlicue is known under many names including Toci (which means “Grandmother”) and Cihuacoatl (Lady of the Serpents/Lady Serpent Skirt).
Yeah, not your usual pop fodder. When I think of that howling maelstrom 'Persephone', I begin to wonder if Fraser not only read The Golden Bough but The Secret Commonwealth as well:
Fairyland is clearly a memory of the pre-Christian Hades. There are other elements in the complex mass of Fairy tradition, but Chaucer knew "the Fairy Queen Proserpina," as Campion calls her, and it is plain that in very fact "the dread Persephone," the "Queen over death and the dead," had dwindled into the lady who borrows Tamlane in the ballad. Indeed Kirk mentions but does not approve of this explanation, "that those subterranean people are departed souls."
As mentioned before, the song and album title Blue Bell Knoll isn't just more frilly Cocteau word play, it has a dark connection to Scottish fairy lore:
 The British variety is now a protected species, under the 1998 Wildlife and Countryside Act so unfortunately it is illegal to collect them. However they were abundant in the woods where I grew up and there were no restrictions on picking them, although no one I knew ever uprooted them. This may have been because of an ancient superstition, which says that anyone who picks or damages a bluebell will die because they are fairy flowers. 
It was thought that the fairies rang the bluebells to call a fairy meeting and any human who heard the bells ringing would die, or fall under the enchantment of the fairies. In some parts of the country it was believed that you shouldn’t walk into a ring of bluebells because you would fall under a spell or die. They are sometimes called Dead Man’s Bells.
Like I said, there's strong currents at work beneath that placid surface. Someone should have been warned.


Fraser and Buckley had a whirlwind romance during her ongoing emotional crisis in 1994 and seem to reunited for a time in 1996, inspiring Buckley's song 'Morning Theft'. But he broke her heart again, leaving her for his on-again, off-again relationship with singer Joan Wasser. 

Buckley often swam for pleasure in the Wolf River and thought nothing of doing so the night it took his life. From the reports on scene, the wake of a passing tug threw him off balance and the wicked undertow of the river did the rest. Anyone with any experience with strong currents won't be surprised by this.

But the symbolism won't go away. It only seems to grow. Sirens lured young men of their choosing to watery graves on rivers like the Wolf and it was a Siren that brought Elizabeth Fraser and Jeff Buckley together in the first place. Whatever gave Fraser her gifts seem to drift away following Buckley's death and her subsequent work has been just a shadow of her former glory.

The only records she's released under her only name since Buckley's death have been the singles 'Underwater' and 'Moses'. The symbolism there speaks for itself. To say this is odd is an understatement.

There's more, too.

Aside from 'Teardrop', she also recorded 'Black Milk' with Massive Attack around the time of Buckley's death. The vocals are more of that ethereal, wispy soprano and the lyrics, such as they are, speak of "sunken chapels" and one line reads, "Mother fountain/ Or live or not at all."

Remembering that Buckley died beneath a pyramid, the Egyptians referred to the Nile River as milk of the mother goddess Hapi, and the famous Doobie Brothers song, 'Black Water', is about the Mississippi, of which the Wolf River is a tributary.

I think Elizabeth Fraser is a very strange woman. A witch, very possibly. I got that vibe a while ago in an interview when she seemed to be calculating gematria while chatting about her new record. But I think there's more to this story than that.

With the bizarre syncs from Heaven or Las Vegas fresh in my mind, I looked at the next album Four Calendar Cafe. The eighth and ninth songs are titled 'Essence' and 'Summerhead'. 'Essence' seems to be a song sung to a young girl yet the chorus asks, "why do I not mourn?" 

Remember, this is a woman who would come to sing entire albums with lyrics that were essentially, "Fliffy wiffy diffy dipple/ Yadda wadda wiffy diffy/ Squee Squee Squee."
Well, maybe not exactly, but pretty damn close.

'Summerhead' is interesting in that in mentions the month of May, a Spring month, and not any of the months of Summer. What also interested me is that "Jeff Buckley" was a stage name, he was known as "Scott Moorhead" to his friends growing up.

Scott Moorhead- S. Moorhead- Summerhead.

Buckley and Fraser wouldn't meet until the tour for Four Calendar Cafe. If she even knew he existed before then, I seriously doubt she knew his real name. Forget all the syncs on Heaven or Las Vegas, from 1990. She was the receiver, not the transmitter here.

Don't ask me why, but I have a feeling that whatever forces were steering this drama, they were far beyond anything we could control with blades and chalices.

The real things always are.

*It's also worth noting that Chris Carter stole the ominous bass drum thuds to "Moth" for his serial killer/ritual murder series, Millennium.

We looked at how Millennium ransacked the old USENET conspiranoid underground for story ideas and butterflies made an appearance in the third season opener "The Innocents,"

which also featured women who also had strange irises.