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Smoke and Mirrors (part three) – Gog and Magog

December 12th, 2011 |  Published in Articles

Read Smoke and Mirrors parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven on Bang the Bore.

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GuildhallIn the third part of his London Odyssey, Stephen Grasso reveals similarities between British creation myths and the Nephilim of Genesis and Enoch, recounts a history of insurrection in the capital under the banner of King Mob and casts a timely light on the occult stronghold of the City of London Corporation.

The Guildhall is the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London. It is claimed by London mythology as the ancient location of Brutus the Trojan’s royal palace. On his arrival at these shores, Brutus was challenged by two great British giants named Gog and Magog. The origins of these beings are ambiguous, as they appear widely in both Biblical and Islamic tradition, often portrayed as ancient ancestors of mankind that have been bound and might one day break free. According to the British legend, the Roman emperor Diocletian had 33 wicked daughters who murdered their husbands and were sent into exile. Led by a sister called Alba, the women took to the sea, where they were eventually shipwrecked and washed up on a land that they named Albion, after the daughter Alba.

Here they coupled with demons and gave birth to a race of giants, of whom Gog and Magog were the descendants. When Brutus showed up, he had all of this to contend with before he could settle and build the city and temple prophesied by Diana. Together with the Cornish hero Corineus, he fought a war and subdued the remaining giants of Albion, renaming the land Britain, after himself. Gog and Magog are sometimes conflated into a single being called Gogmagog, the largest and most ferocious of the giants, who was defeated by Corineus in a wrestling match and thrown off a cliff at Plymouth. Another legend claims that Gog and Magog were taken captive by Brutus and chained to the gates of his palace at the site of the Guildhall.

GuildhallWhatever its prehistory, the Guildhall has been a site of continuous usage and importance since the days of the Roman city. During the construction of the adjacent Guildhall Art Gallery in 1998, the foundations of Britain’s largest Roman Ampitheatre were uncovered, dating to around AD70. A fragment is preserved in the basement of the gallery, still in its original location, so that it is possible to stand at the spot where gladiators would have entered the arena. There has been a Guildhall at the site since the 11th century, and significant parts of the current building date from the 1430s.

London’s square mile maintains its medieval administration with the area divided into 25 wards or districts, each associated with a particular guild or trade association. These guilds have their origins in Saxon religious societies whose members shared an occupation. They were afforded certain rights and privileges by the crown and in time granted livery status, which gave senior members the right to wear distinctive costumes on ceremonial occasions. Rivalry between the guilds was intense, and there are accounts of livery companies skirmishing in the streets.

The guilds include worshipful companies of mercers, grocers, drapers, fishmongers, goldsmiths, merchant tailors, haberdashers, salters, ironmongers, vintners and clothworkers. They meet at the Guildhall and participate in the election of the Lord Mayor who heads the City of London Corporation. Candidates for Mayoral office must have first served as a Sheriff of the City, elections for which are held each year on Midsummers Day and decided by a vote of Aldermen.

The Aldermen themselves are representatives of the 25 Wards of London, a position which entails having been first accepted as a Freeman of the City of London, a title that is also a prerequisite for becoming a member of a Livery company. On Michaelmas Day, some 23,000 livery men are summoned to the Guildhall and elect the new Mayor from among the nominated Sheriffs. On the Friday before the second Saturday in November, the new Lord Mayor is sworn in with a ceremony called the Silent Change, as no words are spoken during the handover.

City of London CorporationThe following day, the Lord Mayor embarks on a processional route to the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand. Riding in a golden coach drawn by six horses, this procession is known as The Lord Mayor’s Show. Carved wooden statues of the giants Gog and Magog are kept in the Guildhall and paraded through the city during the procession. The earliest version of these carvings were destroyed during the Great Fire, their replacements lasted over 200 years before being wrecked in the Blitz, with the current statues presented to the Guildhall by a wealthy Alderman in 1953.

Infamous Lord Mayors of London include John Wilkes, an enthusiastic member of Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club, who purportedly brought a baboon dressed in cape and horns to participate in the rituals of the infernal society. A radical politician, once forced into exile in France for having written a pornographic poem, Wilkes’ political career went into decline after he ordered soldiers under his command to fire into a crowd attacking the Bank of England, during the Gordon Riots of 1780, killing around 280 protestors.

The riots were ostensibly a grubby anti-Catholic uprising, provoked by changes to the Popery Act that returned certain rights that had been denied to Catholics in England since 1698. It was feared that the lifting of these restrictions would somehow open the door to a nefarious Catholic conspiracy that was waiting to seize power over England. Yet the anti-Catholic sentiment whipped up by aristocratic orators such as Lord George Gordon, who headed the Protestant Association, lit the touch-paper upon a simmering rage that engulfed the City. The nation’s costly wars had led to poor economic conditions in England, with rising unemployment, low wages and an increased cost of living. The right to vote was limited to property owners, so a large section of the populace felt disenfranchised and unable to effect reform through political channels.

The initial march on Parliament led by Gordon exploded into violence and quickly escalated under the banner of King Mob. Foreign embassies were attacked, and the gates of The Clink and Newgate Prison were thrown open, with William Blake allegedly fighting in the front lines to free debtors who had been incarcerated due to poverty. Ultimately an unsuccessful effort was made to storm the Bank of England. All of this occurred within the same volatile period of history that bred the French Revolution and the American War of Independence, and for a moment the potential spark of a people’s revolution in England was almost kindled into full manifestation.

City of London CorporationThe Old Boys knobbled it. The City of London has an ancient power base that protects its own interests at all costs. The quaint medieval pageantry of the Livery Guilds, the Aldermen, and the office of Lord Mayor masks a very tangible, very old power. A tight-knit consortium that has exerted an influence over the capital and by extension the country, both directly and indirectly, for centuries in an unbroken line of transmission. During the English Civil War of 1642-1651, the Livery Guilds threw their support, and considerable wealth, behind Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces – a factor contributing to the defeat of the Royalists and the establishment of the UK’s present structure of government. But there is no such thing as a free lunch, when you are dining out at the expense of the Old Boys.

Today the Worshipful Company of Mercers alone reports some £454.6 million in assets under management, mostly held in property owned throughout the city. The square mile is home to a concentration of money and influence that has been accumulated since the Norman invasion. The Old Boys have had around a thousand years to consolidate and fortify their position. The bones of their Egun safely ensconced in the crypts of many old churches throughout their patch, fed and empowered by the continuous repetition of ritual, pomp and circumstance. Our zombie rulers, stretching a baleful hand into the affairs of the living.

It is the specific role of the Lord Mayor to represent and promote the interests of the City of London and its businesses, which today are overwhelmingly within the banking and financial services sector. The strength of the government is dependent upon the tax revenue it takes from the financial institutions of the City. Failing banks are bailed out to the tune of billions and remain unaccountable. Money is abused in a way that creates an underclass. Sickening bonuses are passed around like a packet of cigarettes. Education is made the exclusive preserve of the wealthy almost overnight. Libraries are removed. Liberties are compromised. Learning is obstructed. Children are forcefully confined on Westminster Bridge and cavalry charged by police on horseback. Nobody says anything. Celebrities dance on ice.

Gog MagogThe subtext of the Gog and Magog stories are resonant of witchcraft. The notion of Alba and her wicked sisters copulating with demons to produce an elder race of giants is highly suggestive of a similar tale in the Book of Enoch. Excluded from the Biblical canon by all but the Ethiopan Orthodox Church, the Book of Enoch recounts the erotic coupling between the daughters of Cain and a group of fallen angels known as the Watchers, Elohim or Grigori. These beings are alleged to have taught mankind the arts of writing, blacksmithing, sorcery, herblore, astrology, mirrors, cosmetics and the courses of the Moon. All the tricks of the trade. The offspring produced by this lovemaking between witch and devil was a race of giants known as the Nephilim, which are described in the Book of Genesis as “the heroes of old, the men of renown”. The placement of Cornwall, named after Brutus’s pal Corineus, as a location for some of this drama is apposite, given the close association between that region of the country and witchcraft.

Today we tend to think of giants as monstrous beings of exceptional size, but it’s a term that occurs in many mythologies and often does not refer to physical size at all. In many traditions, such as the Norse tales of the Jotunn, the giants are more akin to untamed forces of nature that dominated the earth in wilder times, but were subjugated by a younger group of deities. A parallel from Greek mythology would be the overthrow of the Titans by the Olympian Gods; or in Yoruban belief, the chaining of the primeval sea mystery Olokun at the bottom of the ocean by Obatala. In all these mythic narratives, there is an implicit threat that the chained Elder Gods may one day slip their bonds and wreak their havoc. That is not dead that can eternal lie.

Such stories tend to function as parables of magic. In this light, Gog and Magog might be considered the fierce, terrible spirit of the land itself. When you peel back all the layers of history, strip away all the old variant cities, and pare London back to its core – it is Gog and Magog that remain. Raging, dreadful land wights that existed here before even the first mud huts were built on London soil. The courtyard of the Guildhall is flooded with this grizzly sense of pregnant expectation. As if something old and big is trying to force itself into the contemporary moment. When Obatala chained Olokun, in order to separate land from the watery abyss, the chains could not wholly restrain him and what could not be bound became Yemaya, the ocean as we know it. The tension at the Guildhall feels something like this. Gog and Magog chomping at the bit, rattling the gates, tearing at their chains. Too big to fit in your head, all you see is an immense cross-section of a thing. The shape and dimensions of what you are looking at are unfathomable. It could be a fragment of elbow or the lobe of an ear, but even that is too much. All you can comprehend is the pressing in of something. It’s difficult to endure for very long.

St Mary le BowCarven effigies of our giants are paraded through the City every year by their captors, displayed like the spoils of war. Wooden voodoo dolls painted in garish colours and designed to humiliate and belittle their subject. The magic of the Old Boys is petty and mean-spirited. Sorcery as imagined by a snide public school boy in short trousers. Terribly brave and confident about tormenting the lions when they are bound, sedated and muzzled. But what would happen if the manacles slipped? Can you still remember how to put it all back in its box? It would only take a correct nudge at a propitious moment to unravel some of the threadbare seams. Old locks break easily. No problem at all for a master keysmith. It happens.

Break the hypnotist’s gaze. Take an exit down Ironmonger’s Lane towards Cheapside. The hammer-ring of Ogun pounding through time. To the right is St Mary-le-bow, the cockney church. Built from the same stone used in the construction of the Tower of London, it was originally viewed with resentment as an extension of oppressive Norman power. Wherever you go in the City, it is never far enough away from the creeping blight of the Tower. Heads on spikes and a right royal bloodbath. You don’t go near it if you don’t have to. Even the surrounding streets seem to speak of the area’s toxicity. Seething Lane. Savage Gardens. It feels as if normal rules don’t apply, and if you dwell too long or stay there too late, the vans might round you up. The Tower falls within the parish of St Olave’s Hart Street, renamed by Charles Dickens “Our Church of St Ghastly Grim”, on account of the five grinning stone skulls that adorn the arched entrance to the churchyard. Baron Samedi, Baron Cemitiere, Baron La Croix, Baron Criminale and Baron Piquant. Buried in its boneyard are the remains of Samuel Pepys; the pantomime character Mother Goose, apparently interred in 1586 despite being fictional; and Mary Ramsay, the woman believed to have brought the Black Death to London in the 17th century. Strange services have been observed occurring at hours when a church has no business being open.

The Tower was once a sacred hill of the city, before the sickness set in. William the Conqueror built his wicked tower upon the White Mount, where the head of Bran the Blessed was buried as a protective talisman. Bran was another mythic protector of the City who appears in the Welsh ballad, the Mabinogion. After a mortal battle, his still talking head was cut off and interred on the hill, facing France to ward off invasion. Another legend claims that King Arthur dug up and disposed of the head of Bran, unwilling to share the limelight with a rival protector of the land. Bran’s name means Blessed Raven, and it is assumed that the tradition of keeping ravens at the Tower of London is a continuation of the Bran cycle of folklore. So long as there are ravens at the Tower of London, England will endure. But it doesn’t count if you clip their wings and hold them captive. You can’t cheat magic.

The TowerDespite these associations, St Mary-le-bow is a much beloved church. A true sanctuary of Our Lady. The traditional entry requirement of being a Cockney is having been born within the sound of Bow bells. A difficult accomplishment today, as the area is no longer residential, there aren’t any hospitals in earshot and the noise of the city drowns out her voice. The word “Cockney” is derived from the idea of “Cockaigne”, a medieval peasant’s utopia where social norms are turned on their head and the hard realities of peasant life are no more. In the land of Cockaigne, pigs walk the streets with carving knives stuck in their backs so it’s easy to help yourself to a sandwich, cooked fish jump from the river and land at your feet, the sky rains cheese, and unlimited wine and sex are readily available. The theme of Cockaigne is immortalised in a 14th century Irish poem and a painting by Pieter Bruegel, and at some point the notion became satirically applied to London – in a way that recalls the folk belief that London’s streets are paved with gold. Whatever the tyranny of present circumstances, there is always this dream of London as the Golden City, an enduring Cockney El Dorado that might somehow be reached or brought through into the contemporary moment.

Article by Stephen Grasso

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Read Smoke and Mirrors parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven on Bang the Bore.

A printed version of this article – distilled into potent shot glass form – appears in The Wanton Green, a collection of essays on the magic of place, edited by Gordon Maclellan and Susan Cross, and published by Mandrake of Oxford. All author royalties have been donated to Honouring the Ancient Dead, a British network organisation that advocates respect for ancient pagan human remains and related artefacts.

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December 12th, 2011 | by | Published in Articles

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