I had no idea who Peter Redgrove was until I read Scarlet Imprint’s collection of occult essays and poetry, Datura (which I wrote a review of for Spiral Nature). I was intrigued by his work (and that of his other half, Penelope Shuttle), and added his name to my long list of used bookstore bounty hunting. After a few years of sniffing around, I finally found a used copy of “The Black Goddess And The Unseen Real”. And while I had a busy weekend (a closing weekend play run, acting in a late night show, catching some improv and seeing Los Campesinos do a great set at the Crescent Ballroom on Saturday), I made time to crack open the Redgrove book and work my way through it. It proved to be a satisfying and thought-provoking read, and very well-written: despite being a book whose subject matter could easily fall into dry-philosophical-hell quickly, Redgrove’s poetic background made even discussions of meteorology and moth mating habits interesting and lively.
“What we call ‘black magic’, and shudder at, is black only in the sense that it is a science of the invisibles”. -Peter Redgrove
It’s a hard book to “nutshell”, but here goes: much of “The Black Goddess” is Redgrove positing that what we call magic and ESP and paranormal powers may very well have roots in the natural world. He talks about many of the strange sensory abilities found in nature (animals navigating via magnetic senses, the hyper-powerful sense of smell that dogs have, UV and infrared vision, sonar, pheromones, etc), and wonders just how much of our behavior is influenced by these kind of powers, that humans may in fact have similar abilities and are sensitive to them, but are unaware of their effects on themselves and others. He talks about weather sensitivity, Tantra, sex magick, matriarchal religious views vs. the patriarchy, the 13th century Troubadours, the Romantic poetry movement and how many of its biggest names were obsessed with similar man/nature communion ideas, and the influence of pheromones on human behaviors (going so far as to make the provocative suggestion that the “subtle body” talked about by occultists may in fact be our individual pheromone signatures). He offers up a metaphor to describe the empty state of mind that comes with meditation and other forms of altered states that I found quite striking: he likens the human mind, stripped temporarily of its ego, to being like a “black theatre” (in which the lights are shined at the audiences’ eyes, blanketing the stage in complete darkness so that the only way performers can be seen is if they wear white clothing). Once the mind has been reduced to this black state, everything that comes after it (thoughts, imagery, physical senses) will be heightened and enlarged and more significant, the way that a white glove on a “black theatre” stage will pop out of the darkness like a full moon glowing in a cloud-less sky.
Reading Redgrove’s book and its championing of cultivating the neglected senses (i.e. touch, taste and smell) makes me think of how often I take those senses for granted. I’ve been stuck in my head for most of my life: the first 25 years of my life were not sensual ones. I was a bookish lad, interested in words and texts and theories and shunning all types of experience. Over the last 4 years, I’ve been trying to make up for lost time. I’ve expanded my palette beyond burgers & fries & boiled pasta, gotten laid (praise Eris!), started dancing, got heavily into body modification and experimented with hallucinogens and different kinds of sounds. Hell, a major part of the reason why I cross-dress (aside from the fact that it’s fun) is for the sensory experience: getting to FEEL different kinds of fabrics and clothes and makeups that I normally never wear. When I take off my fishnets and dresses and dress up as a man again, I feel renewed. The denim and button-up shirts feel… different, a good different, after wearing a wig and a frock.
While reading Redgrove’s books, I kept thinking about my family’s dogs. We’ve got 2 Shih Tzus that I often walk, and I’ve always been fascinated by their sniffing expeditions. The way they’ll stubbornly anchor themselves on certain patches of grass and sidewalk, sniffing intently and resisting my attempts to keep on walking. How they’ll follow crazy zig zag patterns and make tiny doggy Nazca line drawings on the gravel with their nose, chasing after something I’m completely blind to. It’s not hard to believe in an invisible world, cause I can see them every single day living in it. Over the last couple of days, I’ve embraced my inner bloodhound and I’ve been sniffing as many things as possible. As I walk my dogs, I pause to sniff at every flower we pass by. As above, so below: they stop to smell the invisible world, and I do the same.