Oracle the Fifth: From the Head of a Horse


Please return to Cambridge, to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology ground floor gallery, with your smartphone (follow the directions as described at the start of my fourth post). On the opposite wall from the Roman sarcophagus of my last post is a vitrine containing a bronze spiral bracelet with horse heads at each end.

Oracle the Fifth will issue from this object, number 1953.25.

Please concentrate your gaze on the mouth of the horse on the top of the bracelet. Then ask it a question, any question, as long as you hope the answer to it will help you to face life itself. On your phone-device, press the Play arrow on the audio file below. The horse’s mouth, if you look closely enough, and if you go along with my playful fancy, will utter its oraculations, which will make their way through your headphones into your head.

You have now heard the words of Oracle the Fifth, and in the rest of this post I will attempt to interpret the oracular utterance as best I can.

The entry for this bracelet in the online catalogue of the Museum states: ‘The animal terminals are of Celtic inspiration […] Found lying on the cremated bones on the bier, but itself is unburnt. Was deposited when the bones were cool; (Bib): Lethbridge, TC, “Burial of an Iron Age Warrior at Snailwell”…’ The presence of the horse head bracelet in the grave was possibly symbolic of the horse as a guide on the journey to the Otherworld.

Glorious Robin, who has incisively commented on some of my previous posts, and who lives in a blackberry bush near the cemetery lodge, is an authority on the author of that entry, TC Lethbridge, and it is Robin who I have to thank for most of the following information. Lethbridge was the Keeper of Anglo-Saxon Antiquities at the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology from 1923 to 1957. To the right of the vitrine containing the bronze spiral bracelet is a case which contains, according to Robin, many other objects excavated or collected by Lethbridge: two shield bosses and an iron spearhead from an Anglo-Saxon cemetery north of Cambridge, an iron axe head dredged from the Cam in 1926, and a large cremation urn with swastika decoration. The room no doubt contains many other antiquities that Lethbridge had uncovered from multitudinous Cambridgeshire trenches.

When Lethbridge heard of a legend of a giant figure cut into the turf of the Gog Magog Hills, he became determined to excavate it. The giant Gog Magog, who was a descendent of the giant Albion, son of Poseidon and the founder of Britain. By mighty Gog Magog’s time there were few giants left: ‘The Island, not yet Britain, but Albion, was in a manner desert and inhospitable, kept only by a remnant of Giants, whose excessive Force and Tyrannie had consumed the rest…’ (Milton).

Gog Magog is amorphous and many stories have him or her multi-headed or split in two: Gog and Magog, according to Revelation, will be the name for the nations of the earth rallied for battle by Satan, in the end times. The internet is always writhing with speculations as to which of our current great powers are Gog and Magog, and on which date they will bring the end. According to a William Blake Revelation influenced vision, Gog and Magog are two of Satan’s demons ‘with their hammers and tongs about to new create the seven-headed kingdoms’ at the last judgement. A triple-headed ‘Gog Magog’ also appears in Blake’s ‘Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion’.

Lethbridge presumed that the ‘giant’ of old Albion had been carved into a chalk hillside, so in 1954 he began to look for it by driving an iron bar into the ground, assuming that the turf covering the image of the giant would be deeper than that surrounding it. Eventually he discovered a ‘goddess’ on horseback, representing, Lethbridge speculated, the Iceni horse goddess Epona. The Iceni were the tribe of the famously rebellious Boudica. Two other figures were also discovered, a sun god and a warrior. They were added later, possibly by the Belgic Catuvellauni tribe, Lethbridge postulated, whom the iron age warrior buried with our horse head bracelet may have also belonged to. The symbol of the moon was discovered behind the goddess, suggesting that she was turned into the Celtic moon and earth goddess (Ma-gog), who, with the sun god (Gog), represented light battling the forces of darkness. So here we have the ‘moon under the hill’ phrase that is sung over the squalling guitars of our fifth oracle.

As Dunnock commented after my last post, Shine-On-Syd Barrett folklore tells that he took his first tab of LSD at Gog Magog. A friend of  Syd’s, Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon, explained lysergic acid diethylamide: ‘It brought to me an understanding that all is not as it seems. There are other realities and a consciousness that is eternal.’ The oracle bellows the word eternity a number of times.

Time is so abbreviated in today’s world, Walter Benjamin writes, that even the idea of eternity has declined. And ‘the face of death’ has also changed: ‘In the course of modern times dying has been pushed further and further out of the perceptual world of the living.’ This is a problem because the cycles of life and death are at the centre of storytelling, ‘Death is the sanction [a phrase from the oracle again] of everything that the storyteller can tell. He has borrowed his authority from death.’

Let me engage in further conjectures, as blogging is ideal for such hypothesising. Is the oracle telling us that we now require a space for TRUE STORYTELLING, as Benjamin conceives it, a space able to share experience and create A NEW LORE that can be re-told, a space which, in Benjamin’s words, ‘permits that slow piling one on top of the other of thin, transparent layers which constitutes the most appropriate picture of the way in which the perfect narrative is revealed through the layers of a variety of retellings’? Can we stop on our march of progress, turn our eyes from the way ahead to our feet and the earth we are standing on, and dig the lore buried beneath us?

On these terms, tender Mouse is a digger. What follows is an excerpt from the website that Mouse set up a while ago in tribute to Syd. I have to admit that his website is also one of the inspirations for this blog, though his site is currently offline due to want of domain name fees. This excerpt also references Rob Chapman’s book:

The myth of Syd has been re-told endlessly. Part of its layered fabric is the Arcadian setting of Cambridge in the 1960s, part of it the heady movement of creative, political and psychic revolt that Syd joined when he left Cambridge to go to art college at Camberwell in London. Some of the earliest performances of Pink Floyd (whose other members also moved from Cambridge to London to study) were at the Notting Hill Free School (nothing to do with current Tory education policy), an autonomous community initiative, a ‘prototype for our spontaneous University’, which became a convergence point for the new counter-cultural energies of the London of the mid-sixties, notably the UFO Club and the Notting Hill Carnival. The free improvisational avant-gardist musicians AMM were a crucial part of this underground, and shared a bill with Syd’s band a number of times. ‘Their music was so far out it was on the border between music and noise and street sound,’ claimed UFO Club founder Hoppy Hopkins. ‘Of all the music and groups and ideas of that era, the ones that have stayed closest to the original concept are AMM.’ Rob Chapman writes: ‘Resisting commodification and complacency at every turn AMM adopted a strenuously analytical approach to their music…that critiqued the very nature of music itself. [AMM]’s deconstructionist approach to the guitar in particular would have considerable impact on Syd Barrett.’

It all reminds me that in late 1968, my cheeks still flushed with the orgasmic political events of May of that year, I had gotten my life together enough to end up in an experimental music commune formed by my eternal friend Beetle called The Band of Shepherds. I used to make percussive or wind sounds with various types of wood, reeds and other natural materials, while Field Vole improvised on a Hammond, Beetle vocalized in various ways and Roe Deer and Swallow manipulated deconstructed Stratocasters.

We were questioning the conventional methodologies of music making with each rehearsal performance, to such an extent that Vole and Deer began to take the splendid vortex of critical discussions that accompanied all our rehearsals to unfortunate extremes. Beetle had begun using her vocal contributions to our collaborative compositions to channel ‘divinational utterances’, that, she said, often emanated from bushes and shrubs in gardens around Cambridge. She would directly channel these gnomic enunciations in performance, whose enigmatic perceptions Beetle claimed provided wisdom that could enbrighten our land of shadows. Though the ethos of the group required each member to bring to it whatever they felt was important to articulate, the response of the rest of the group to Beetle’s ideas was unanimous hostility. She was often screamed at, and physically threatened, by Vole and Deer and each of the rest of us in turn, and often locked in the rehearsal room for days until she could properly analyse her useful place in the collective. Beetle left the group in 1970.

I was not comfortable with my part in her departure – O no my heart-mate Beetle, I was not – nor with the darkly cultish turn of the group. In the midst of a 1971 performance at the Union Cellars I suddenly felt my limbs growing as heavy as my logs of walnut and cedar. It was as if in the face of psychological brutality, and my own collusion in it, my body had decided it was unable to carry on, and as the collective continued to play I was rendered immobile. I was only able to look out blankly at the audience for the rest of the performance. At one point I stared at the bar at the back of the room, willing my vision to pierce through it, and through it I stared, out to the workshops and houses at the rear of the building, then beyond them and the rest of the city edgelands to the dark fields and copses of the Fenland countryside, then on, on into the night sky, on my perception penetrated, towards unknown galaxies glimmering in pulsating rhythms that seemed to respond to the dissonant playing of the band, and as I sat there in the sweat-heat of the venue I suddenly felt the breezeless dead-chill of outer space, or of the ice-dark presences Eternal that seemed to brood around me there on the galactic plane, gigantic forms the size of worlds that were muttering to me words that I knew I wanted to understand. One moment I thought I almost made sense of a phrase that was uttered to me, and the sharp air of my gasp of fear at this seemed as loud to me as the amplified guitar skronks and skritches of Swallow. In that instant the leaden-loom of the astronomic presences dropped away. I was in the room. There was silence.

I have not made music since.

I heard various stories of Beetle’s whereabouts over the following years, until the news came through from her friend Magpie that, alas, she had died in mysterious circumstances on Wandlebury Hill in 1973.

Alas again, for we must return back along the meandering overgrown-briar path of memory to matters in hand. Mouse takes up a lot of space on his site rightly eulogising Syd-Floyd at their peak. Remember the phrase ‘Interstellar Possibilities’ in the oracle, and think on it when reading this excerpt from Mouse’s site:

Have a listen to the anti-music improvisations of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ (ideally take 6 on the 2007 remaster release) to get a sense of the influence of this [Free School] milieu on Barratt, and to get a heartbreaking inkling of what could have been possible for Syd if he had continued making music at this level. It is a mere glimpse of a merging of melodic invention and experimental innovation that could have transformed both popular and avant-garde music, collapsing their distinctions at the same time. Forever.

I will, in Friday’s All Hallows’ Eve blog post, meditate on the shaman improvisers, their fictions that produce us, on the new devil who had been the god of old, on the old gods who had come to earth from the sky, in the Golden Age, the age of Death and Stories, the stories of oblivion for the Golden Ones.

One thought on “Oracle the Fifth: From the Head of a Horse

  1. Syd’s sui generis creativity of 1966 to 1967 – see Arnold Layne and See Emily Play – is unsurpassable. The opposition between Syd Barratt and later Pink Floyd encapsulates the division in all art between gold and river-bed gravel.

Comments are closed.