As I dream within the den of the sanctuary’s folds, life vibrates itself inside obols of coral, and eidolon, rind and ray of my body, spools slowly.
The first thing I saw as I walked toward the sanctuary of Asclepios was a man with a fart-red face. He was hunched over, repeatedly slapping his leg whilst chanting, ‘what is this, is it the tree of our hands’. The ground, on which lay some myrtle and sacrificial cakes, seemed to emerge from him.
The pillars of the temple, itself situated on the borders of the town among goats and wet herbs, stand in the quincuncial regularity of trees in an orchard. Among them, shaped by tessellating pediment, a flaxen-yellowed silence, is the image of Asclepios, staff and snake in hand, a dog by his side.
As I crossed the threshold I saw an initiate leaving the round house, no doubt having left a little statue of what had been healed, a foot perhaps, or an arm. Imagination reveals where healing will come from, the turtle-creep of continents, a double-headed pinecone, a petrified vertical wave form.
As I arrived at my bed the ground squealed red underfoot. The priests were picturing the sound of Hygieia’s pentagram in the ear. Bright awareness rises between lair and lunacy, the inconstancy of wandering moons. Planets are seeds in this earth, a kind of echo–making me refractory.
The frequencies of eidolon glean my organs as they bend. Like undulating sap, my resistant static tills silver, green and white. I feel impossible, avoiding and attaining stillness in order that I might arrive at stillness, whose tendrils curl and countercurl.
The dream is awake in sleep and my body does not come apart, does not expand or contract. My body spins with the interstellar hum that is the hearing in my skin, the transparency of my skeleton, the force and resistance in my calves, the weight of my hair.
Matter rises then barley, a farrago, sheds and sloughs. The tailings and dross merge and reality becomes a slow constellation, bringing me to the dead. The hum of the priests issues from the fire-spraying stars, heart and throat above me, poppy and mint inside me.
The noise of my body is called out in a wash of branch and slime, giving shade and sustenance to the hissing breath of the priests. A sound like roots seeking water, the sun moving through itself. Liminal dendrons flow into me and out of eidolon, embracing the wet–warm hole of katabatic mud.
Humuskind lives in the spiralling respiration of planets, a birth from death, eyes neither open nor closed, the end of life and the whole Aion.
As I dream, the crowd of initiates are a piping syrinx, suspended animation of eidola, conduits for their miasma that become a channel for the stars. They exude their bodies like a grass that does not wish to grow from the ground, hoping to know the deepest darkness of themselves before they die.
Eidola are held in repetition of endless form, invisible viscosity of spectra. I watch the procession travel along the sacred road, roots extending upward. Their chant is their waste, a Thalassal excretion that corresponds to the pipe that descends from the sun.
Though the chanting Hierophant—wet throat, dry soul—addresses himself to the fires that warm his teeth, I am unable to hear the sounds that emerge from such a wind–wide mouth, as if stretched by fingers. The world breathes for us, a maw of red cows in the shallows.
The officiates are the aperture through which they mimic triglyphs and metopes. Sheaves of wheat and replica skulls of bulls roll among the sprouts and green ears and poppy orbs, laid out along the road of armless boys as if they were a sky of solid rose.
The inaudible becomes a quartz ear of grain in my gut, a flower sermon, staring into the sun at night. Fungus, barley, Cyprian honey, mint and water, vows under the mane of silence, a closed hole of secrets in the seed. The end of existence has two faces because the partridge dances.
Skin above me shimmers, eyes pulled to light like lips to wine. Galls of smut hold my body in aroma, opopanax on a mirror. I could be imprisoned for this telling, perhaps put to death, but the vertical ponds of night gongs transmute consciousness like leeches in fire.
Moon returns to a world of life, to Venus, the glass of green vertigo. Silver results from this forest fire, grown from the head of forest consciousness. Raging, charring and decimating, plant souls as humans meet in votive contemplation, in bones wrapped in birchbark.
Lunar ferments in brain dew as it digests the planets, as the elements merge in a cosmos curved by the sun. The air is as dark as water, and the red coral of the initiates, keeping the shape of the first thought they ever had, turns from moisture to stone as it grows in the air.
Oxygen is this weight of mind. Resonance cracks the throat so that breath might be heard. I wake up to a dream in which my feet are covered in bone, a life that is separate from separation. Ghosts coming down from the stars talk with the voices of the crowd, with silver’s wild wrack of waves.
My heart beats and keeps me awake in death, that I might take care of illusions, that they do not become real.
The experience of writing this short text can be constellated any number of ways. Here are just a few of them. The words draw in part from ‘Return to Eleusis’, the last chapter of Roberto Calasso’s book, The Celestial Hunter, that focusses on the ancient and highly secretive religious rites and beatific visions of the festival of Eleusis, the ‘culminating experience of a lifetime’, according to classicist Carl A.P. Ruck. The Celestial Hunter drifts in the space between one life and another, in the fine effluence, or mundus imaginalis, of Henry Corbin’s celestial earth, the ground our heads touch.
I first encountered the ancient oneiric healing practice of incubation (which in Humuskind takes place in Epidaurus) in the work of Michel Serres, notably his Five Senses. But, as is so often the case, I didn’t realise this was what I was reading about until much later, Serres being, for me, a consummately alchemical writer, veiled in simile, in the stick both hidden and loved by the snake.
Pulling such things into close orbit is my interest in photosynthesis, the inaudible excretion of the living. Whilst preparing to introduce a talk by Nisha Ramayya, I discovered it was once called photosyntax, a way of light falling together as it silvers the psyche. This began to square the circle, as in another book by Calasso, called Ka, he discusses the sampads, the correspondences (that which falls together), of the ancient Hindu texts known as the Vedas, asking… ‘how, if things never stop pitching about, are we to perceive the equivalences?’
A constellation, like the process of writing, can be miasmatic, not so much a definition as an observation of motion. In the last chapter, called ‘King Soma’, of Calasso’s book, Ardor, he connects humans with the invisible through the development of symbols, or bandhu, with a creature etching its name on the ground as it moves, an incandescent clarity existing everywhere at once.
Soma is a juice or sap pressed out of the fibres of a now forgotten plant, also called Soma. It was written about extensively in the Vedas, to the extent that the Rig Veda has been described as a collection of nearly 120 hymns to Soma. It’s no coincidence I feel, that Calasso chose to end The Celestial Hunter and Ardor with Eleusis and Soma. Going beyond ‘the blazing walls of the world’, their Natures correspond, as Charles Baudelaire says in another book by Calasso, like spectral hieroglyphs in the ‘obscurity of things’.
‘King Soma’ echoes the mycologist Gordon Wasson, who famously believed the juice to be a psychotropic mushroom, an emergent plant soul. This was a belief brought to bear in his book, The Road to Eleusis (written with Ruck and the chemist Albert Hoffman, and published in 1978), wherein a dawn of Western Civilisation was proposed to hinge upon psychedelic experience, the silent pitch that takes place among the constellation of Virgo, or what Ruck calls, ‘the hallucinatory nature of a dancing universe’.
Patrick Farmer lives on the Malvern Hills and teaches in Oxford, where he is also the manager of the Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University and a curator of the audiograft festival. Farmer has published several books and written compositions for the Extradition Series and the Set Ensemble. A monaural artist, he is part of an AHRC funded project, Tinnitus, Auditory Knowledge and the Arts, and has recently had essays published online by Zeno Press and Socrates on the Beach.
Bibliography (all titles by Roberto Calasso)
The Celestial Hunter. Allen Lane, 2020. Translated by Richard Dixon.
Ardor. Penguin, 2015. Translated by Richard Dixon.
Ka. Vintage, 1999. Translated by Tim Parks.
La Folie Baudelaire. Penguin, 2014. Translated by Alastair McEwen.