Magick Schnippits

You’ve described English Heritage as your nemesis. Why?

It isn’t so much a dislike of them, as the way people seem to lose the ability to creatively engage with history and their surroundings as they get older. Whereas children tend to engage in imaginative play wandering around these historical sites, adults are usually happy to be led by the guide book before ending up at the gift shop.

Andy Sharp (English Heretic)

Why the underworld? There are more fun destinations.

It was a way to look at this kind of “descent” narrative that I identify as starting to emerge at the end of the ‘60s. It’s something that really interests me. Post-World War II, we had this kind of brave attempt to climb out of the hell of our own making via all these hippy ideals. By the end of the decade, we were discovering that they actually carried their own attendant pathologies, which you see in Manson, the Process and so on.

I look at the ‘70s as a place where we begin to understand our position and place in this underworld. For instance, via this newfound love of these weird John Fowles-influenced Greek-set TV thrillers we seemed to develop at the time. It was a good way of tying in bits of British culture people generally don’t talk about.

 

You suggest in the sleeve-notes that the British didn’t really identify their own “descent” narratives until Julian Cope started poking around in Neolithic burial mounds.

That’s right. If you look at his work as part of broader culture, no one was really exploring a specifically British “underworld” until his Modern Antiquarian. You have to wonder why. A lot of attempts at an underworld vision up until a few years ago. For instance, in the work of Burroughs. It would invariably be rooted somewhere else. Mayan mythology was very popular, as was Egypt, something which, again, was marked by a craze for ancient Egyptian culture that emerged in England in the ‘70s. The Underworld Service starts in 1947 with Malcolm Lowry and Under the Volcano, which obviously takes place in Mexico.

 

I’ve noticed—thinking not only of the English Heretic, but also things like Electric Wizard, Kenneth Anger’s work, or even Rosemary’s Baby—that a lot “occult”-influenced art draws heavily on kitsch or pulp. Why is that, do you think?

From my point of view, I’m trying to get across the democracy of myth. We haven’t all got classical backgrounds, our subconsciouses aren’t born in Athens, but we are always immersed in these undercurrents. Myths can emerge through anything, and do.

A lot of that aspect of my work comes from the influence of an artist called Jim Shaw, who creates comic strips out of his dreams, which are in turn are full of pop culture references.

It’s also a matter of being honest to myself. When I was 13, I wasn’t reading Homer, I was watching Don’t Look Now. That’s my primary experience, and I can’t undo it.

Holidays in Hades: An Interview with the English Heretic
Published 14 January 2015
Phil Mason

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