TWH — On the song “Descent to the Realm of the Dead” by the duo Nemuer, singer-guitarist Michael Zann chants and growls, “Ušellâ mītūti ikkalū balṭūti,” but only a handful of scholars in the entire world will know, without looking at the liner notes of the band’s new album Gardens of Babylon, that Zann is singing, “I will raise up the dead so that they devour the living.”
That’s because the Czech-born Zann isn’t singing in his native tongue, some other Slavic language or Klingon. Rather, he’s singing in Akkadian, the extinct language that was all the rage in Mesopotamia from 3000 B.C.E. to 1000 B.C.E.
Evocations of flesh-eating, netherworld denizens aside, Nemuer (pronounced Ne-moo-er) isn’t some black metal band. Instead, Zann and his mate Katarina Pomorska call themselves “an atmospheric dark folk duo.” Their bio proclaims that “in order to keep the atmosphere utterly immersive, they use solely authentic dead languages or lyric-less primordial chanting.”
Zann’s co-writer for “Descent to the Realm of the Dead” was some anonymous, ancient Babylonian scribe who carved the tale of the goddess Ishtar and her descent to the netherworld onto a clay tablet some three millennia ago. That song and the rest of Gardens of Babylon are certainly atmospheric and dark, but it’s the darkness of shadows and sorrow, of dread and the Dark Side of the Moon rather than something overtly sinister or evil – even if the band did use the term “Lovecraftian atmosphere” to describe some of their earlier work. Cross-breed the sound textures of that Pink Floyd classic with the mythopoeic world music ensemble Dead Can Dance, then mix in the story of how Ishtar, the ancient Mesopotamian goddess of love, sex, fertility and war, ventured into the netherworld, and you have an idea of Gardens of Babylon.
TWH — If Emily Dickinson, Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf, and Agatha Christie were Witches, they kept that side of their lives out of history’s spotlight, yet they and 26 other female writers are “initiated” into a coven in the new book Literary Witches: a Celebration of Magical Women Writers by poet-writer Taisia Kitaiskaia and illustrator Katy Horan (Seal Press, October 2017, 128 p.). Literary Witches is a charming (witchy pun intended) grimoire that weaves biography, recommended readings, Kitaiskaia’s prose poems and Horan’s moody paintings into a heady brew of brief, off-kilter but always evocative portraits of these writers. Refreshingly pan-cultural, Kitaiskaia romps across space, time, history, ethnicities and genres to anoint the famous (the aforementioned writers as well as Toni Morrison, Sappho, Mary Shelley, and others), plus lesser-known wordsmiths (Iranian poet Farugh Farrokhzad, Laguna Pueblo novelist Leslie Marmon Silko, and more). The foreword by Pam Grossman is not only engaging and informative itself, it also is essential to this book. Frankly, Literary Witches wouldn’t make much sense and would struggle to bridge women writers and witchery without Grossman’s framing device.
TWH — In the new TV series Britannia, a Celtic sorceress in ancient Britain draws a large pentacle on stone and casts a spell, saying, “Dark mother, send me a demon to do my will!”
Early in the series, top-dog Druid Veranm and his Druid tribe, who live in a rocky, mountainous hollow apart from the warring native tribes they serve, capture an invading Roman soldier. Veran performs some sort of ritualistic soul-sucking thing which causes the soldier to reanimate as a zombie under Veran’s control, after being tossed over a waterfall to his death. The zombie soldier shows back up in the Roman camp and delivers a verbal get-the-hell-out-of-our-land message to the general, Aulus Plautis. The general and Veran then trade notes back and forth by placing messages in the mouth of the dead Roman soldier’s severed head. Later Veran, who looks like a cross between Skeletor of He-Man fame and Richard O’Brien’s characters Gulnar (in the Robin of Sherwood TV series) and Riff Raff (in the Rocky Horror Picture Show), has a Vulcan mind-meld with Aulus Plautius, who has decided to seek the Druid’s help to go on a vision quest to the underworld..
Finding Magic: A Spiritual Memoir by Sally Quinn. Published by Harper One (416 pages).
“There was always a part of me that could not deny the psychic energy I had been brought up with and the magic I believed in.” – Sally Quinn (p. 119)
In September, HarperOne publishers, an imprint of HarperCollins, released Sally Quinn’s book Finding Magic. Quinn is a respected journalist, author, television commentator, and Washington insider, who eventually helped to launch the Washington Post’s religion site On Faith. The book is a memoir tying various aspects of her life’s journey together with a search for meaning, more specifically deep, spiritual meaning.
Gordon White’s Star.Ships: A Prehistory of the Spirits, published by Scarlet Imprint in 2016, challenges the overly materialistic shortsightedness of both academic and “ancient aliens” theories regarding the development of human “civilization” during the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic periods. As the subtitle of the book suggests, White offers a spirit-working chaos magician’s perspective on the question of of “civilization” and its relationship to spirits and star lore, utilizing data from a wide swathe of scientific disciplines. “Instead of measuring a civilisation by its density of sprockets, what happens when we consider civilisation to be a collection of values, thoughts, mythologies?” White asks, “What happens when we count up the non-physical sprockets?” (9)
White begins his book with a chapter on the limitations of scientific answers to this question, ranging from methodological problems such as the non-publication of findings due to political or careerist reasons, the deliberate limitation of access to evidence, and blatant fraud, to thornier issues of interpretation: the inevitable gap between facts and interpretation, confirmation bias towards exclusively materialist explanations when dealing with spiritual or mythic subjects, and racist assumptions about “primitive” cultures “progressing” into “civilizations.”