Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stele of Revealing - A Night to Remember

February 1996:

We had just finished recording and photographing Jali Kunda, Griots of West Africa and Beyond - Bill Laswell, Janet Rienstra, John Brown, Daniel Laine and our host Foday Musa Suso comprised our group for this venture.
"There's some money left over in the budget, we're in Africa, where should we go for a few days? ... Mali?" Bill said.
Janet responded, " Let's go to Cairo and see the Pyramids."
I said, "Yeah, sure, sounds good to me!," thinking she was joking
"Ok, let's do it, let's go" Bill replied. Then I realized he was serious, but could hardly believe this incredible opportunity. It would give me the chance to visit the Stele of Revealing in the Cairo Museum. The Stele of Revealing, an ancient artifact, is the funerary stele of the priest Ankh-af-na-khonsu circa 8th century B.C. It played a prominent role in Aleister Crowley's reception of the Book of the Law (Liber Legis). Crowley had the text on the Stele translated and incorporated some of it into Liber Legis. It's a Thelemic altar piece.
I was very grateful to Bill and Janet for letting me tag along on this new African adventure.

We were flying out of Brikama, Gambia. To get to Cairo we had to go through Paris; we had a 2 day layover there. I was feeling feverish and sick but was determined to keep it together long enough to get to Egypt. A couple of days before we left Gambia, driving up through Guinea Bissau at the conclusion of a long and rewarding, recording roadtrip, our van got into a small accident with a tree. The road was so pockmarked with deep and treacherous potholes that you could only drive 35 mph right on the edge of the shoulder which had the least amount of potholes. The driver still had to negotiate this weather-beaten road like he was competing on a road rally obstacle course. At one point he lost control, slid off the shoulder and slammed directly into a tree. Being an alarmist in the face of disaster, I thought we could be done for. If not done for, much uncertainty as to when and in what condition we would return home, if ever. The part of Guinea Bissau we crashed in was known to be unstable . Some French tourists had been abducted in this region a month before. To my great relief, the van started up right away and the driver had no difficulty getting it out of the ditch and back on the road. I've never been more grateful to hear an engine turning over than I was at that moment. Also very grateful to travel in a solidly built vehicle that could withstand such a shock and drive out like nothing happened. Still not out of the woods at that point, we had to get to a small ferry crossing before it closed at dusk. The ferry had been taken over and was being run by the military due to recent unrest. The last ferry was set to launch as we pulled up. The soldiers told us we were too late to get on board, that we'd have to wait until the morning. Some cash quickly changed their minds. We were allowed on the ferry, and made it back to Brikama that evening. A couple of days later, when we got to Paris, I started feeling feverish and sick. Apparently I had incurred a slight internal injury as a result of the sudden jolt of the accident and the fever was a reaction to that. I wasn't going to let a small thing like a viral infection interfere with this rare opportunity to work with the Stele of Revealing.

It was Bill, Janet and I making this pilgrimage to Egypt. John Brown shepherded the field recording gear back to New York. Suso stayed with his family in Gambia. Our illustrious and inspired photographer, Daniel Laine returned with us to Paris where he lived. Later, Daniel drove us to his home for a visit. What I remember most about that visit was this incredible John Coltrane music he had playing in the car. It still seems like some of the most expressive and explorative music I've heard from Coltrane. Apparently it was Coltrane and group Live in Japan which also included Pharoah Saunders at that time. Someone said that this was Coltrane in his "acid phase."



cover of one of Daniel's books

My other vivid memory of that brief Paris visit was of walking the street just after it rained. Everything felt fresh and clean. It had gotten dark but was still early enough and warm enough to accommodate the hustle and bustle of shopkeepers and their clientele: fresh flower markets, wine stalls and delicious looking fresh bread and cheese. Praise be to the amenities of a first world country after a month in Africa! I felt incredibly, vitally alive despite my body having other issues. At 3am a driver picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Brussels where we caught a flight to Cairo.

Going through customs we had to purchase visitor visas. Bill pointed out a sign to me that said something to the effect that anyone caught with drugs would be executed on sight. The way it was worded made it sound even worse than that.

I wasted no time the first morning getting to the Cairo Museum to see the Stele of Revealing. The plan was to meet up with Bill and Janet in the afternoon and go out to Giza to see the Pyramids. We would stay the night at one of the most luxurious hotels I've ever been to, the Mena House Oberoi. The Mena House has a rich history playing host to such notables as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlton Heston, Charlie Chaplin, and Winston Churchill among others. It was at the Mena House in 1977 where representatives for Egypt and Israel met to discuss a peace settlement which eventually lead to the Camp David Accord that has lasted to this day.

I got to the museum shortly after it opened, around 10am. I decided to check out the rest of the museum before finding the Stele of Revealing. It's hard to convey the experience of navigating the museum corridors surrounded and often dwarfed by the stone-carved statuary, monuments, tombs and artifacts of Ancient Egypt. I kept my eyes open for the Stele but didn't see it. It even took awhile to find when I started to deliberately search for it. Finally found it on the 2nd floor, a little out of the way. It still had it's own label from when Crowley and his wife Rose saw it in 1904 which gave the exhibit number as 666.

For those who don't know, the story goes that Aleister and Rose were visiting Cairo on their honeymoon when Rose uncharacteristically started having some kind of visions after Crowley performed a ritual Invocation. She started saying, "they are waiting for you. " After further investigations along those lines, Crowley determined that "the waiter was Horus," an Egyptian solar deity. He was still very skeptical so he plied Rose with a barrage of questions. All her answers indicated Horus despite having no conscious knowledge of Egyptology or occult subjects. Crowley took Rose to the Cairo Museum, which they had never visited, and asked her to pick an artifact related to the Intelligence coming through her. Some accounts have him gleefully watching as Rose passed several statues of Horus with no indication. Finally, she spotted the Stele of
Ankh-af-na-khonsu from a considerable distance and said that's the one. Crowley was astounded to discover that the exhibit number was 666, a number that he identified with as his life's work. Much later in England under oath at a court trial, Aleister told the judge that 666 was simply a number of the Sun. "You can call me Little Sunshine," he humourously proposed to the ponderous magistrate. Crowley renamed Cairo Museum's exhibit 666, the Stele of Revealing.



My intention was to psychometrize the Stele though I didn't have much of an idea of how to go about it. I just stood in front of it and tried to quiet and empty myself of all thought and be open to receiving any impressions. Nothing dramatic occurred. I experienced no visions or strong cognitions. After about 40 minutes of this I started becoming self-conscious and ended the experiment. I did feel like I was in a mildly altered state. You might expect to feel this way after meditating on anything for 40 minutes but this felt distinctly different like a vague, undefined opening of some sort had been made. Maybe it was "just my imagination" to quote the Rolling Stones quoting The Temptations.

I met up with Bill and Janet and we caught a taxi out to Giza spending the afternoon out by the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx, and the not-as-great-but still-pretty-impressive lesser Pyramids - I forget their official names. A local tourist guide had a camel for tourists to get their picture taken on. Bill asked if I wanted to get on but I was still in far too much pain to undertake such a feat. He did snap a picture of me with the Great Pyramid in the background. It's a photo I've often used as a profile picture over the years.




In the evening we assembled in the lobby of the Mena House before heading out into the night. Bill said, "Oz, I have something for you that will make you feel better," then gave me a small piece of blotter paper which I ate after a quick and silent consecration. This isn't something I normally do but it seemed like an extraordinary circumstance so I thought I'd follow the advice of the Guide and trust the situation. I did start to feel better quite soon but then rapidly started feeling a little too good for my body's comfort zone. I knew exactly what he'd given me, and through previous study, knew exactly what remedy to take to tone down the dosage. I didn't have any vitamin B12 with me, but was well aware that alcohol would act as a mild sedative so I had a couple of shots of whiskey to relax.

We didn't have any real plans so thought about going back to the Pyramids. Turns out that they cordon off the area and charge tourists admission to a laser light show they put on. We weren't interested in that so we told the cab driver to take us somewhere near the area. He took us to a street that ran along the eastern side of the Giza plateau. To our left, in the darkness, was the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Suddenly the Great Pyramid lit up in a brilliant dark green hue as the laser light show began. A soundtrack was blasting across the plateau with music that sounded like it could come from a Cecil B. DeMille epic over which a narrator was lecturing on the Ancient Egyptian pantheon in French. A sequence of changing colors continued to illuminate the night. I felt like I was in Disneyland but then remembered that this was one of the monuments of the Ancient World. The Pyramids had been co-opted by consumerism, this must be the end of the world, was how my reasoning proceeded at that time. For the rest of the night I had this feeling of living in end times.

To our right was a 2 story building that looked like a motel. A single street light revealed it's fluorescent blue color, very similar to the color of the adobe dwellings in Jajouka, Morocco where Bill and I had recorded the Master Musicians of Jajouka playing their Rites of Pan. No signage appeared on this "motel" except for large "A A " letters painted in black at the front top. The A .'. A .'. is the magical order founded by Crowley and George Cecil Jones in 1907 and still exists to this day. I am not a member. It still seemed strange to randomly end up at the AA motel after attempting to psychometrize the Stele of Revealing, an artifact of central importance to the A .'. A.'.

The aural landscape sounded equally rich. Besides the surreal melodramatic classical music and French narration recording electronically blasting across the plateau at full volume, we could also detect spirited acoustic music from just up the street. I had my DAT recorder with me and immediately got it out to record to this collaged, kaleidoscopic soundtrack to the end of the world. Unfortunately, the batteries needed changing - 6 double "A"s in an awkwardly fitting enclosure. They were challenging to quickly replace even under the best of circumstances such as, for instance, when the world wasn't ending. That night, for some reason, it was smooth and easy. The batteries just slid into place. "It worked," you can hear me say in surprise at the start of that recording.

You literally can hear this, if you like. I used some of this night's audio on the first track, titled What Is Your Job? from my cd All Around the World. Portions of it also appear later on the 8th track, Bells of Sacre Couer/ Showtime at Giza.

Janet, Bill and I proceeded up the street toward the live music. It sounded very similar to the Master Musicians of Jajouka. About 15 - 20 musicians were playing drums and raitas (high-pitched double-reed horns). Turns out they were playing the music for a dancing Arabian horse show. One by one, the dozen or so horses would take a turn doing their thing in the center of the circle. Except for us and about 4 other people, there weren't any spectators. Nearly everyone there seemed to be participating in the show. There also wasn't any separation between us and the horses waiting their turns. We were right beside them. They seemed incredibly high strung as if the riders were right at the edge of keeping them under control. The possibility of one of them losing it and kicking us seemed real. They were certainly within striking range. I could feel adrenaline pumping through my body. When the horses took center stage and did their thing, they danced with poise and grace. They were highly disciplined.

Horse is one of the animals that corresponds with Horus by qabalistic reckonings. The Stele of Revealing helps announce the new aeon of Horus by Thelemic reckonings. Dancing horses seems most appropriate.

After about an hour the show ended and we made our way back to the hotel. We had a late dinner then wandered around Mena House a bit taking in the luxurious but fading decor. Various interesting and unusual rooms or "chambers" appeared off the hallways we traversed such as the room full of hookah smokers, a light blue smoky haze floating above them exuding the pungent aroma of exotic tobacco. Another "chamber' reminded me of a beautiful treasure room I had once visited.

I rested for a few hours then got up early to record the ambience inside the Great Pyramid before we went back to central Cairo. Going up the stairs inside the pyramid I caught the chaotic, boisterous chattering and shouting of school kids on a tour. Inside the Kings Chamber it was very quiet. I tried to imagine where Crowley might have done the demonstration of magic he famously did there to impress his new wife, Rose, which produced an astral light. No sounds were happening to activate the chamber's acoustics so I clapped my hands a few times. These recordings also appear on my cd.

6 comments:

  1. That's an interesting story. I have listened to your "All around the World" a few times-- its very unusual but enjoyable. I must get to Egypt one day.

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  2. Hi Oz,
    by coincidence I found myself reading your blog, been enjoying it all thus far. I love the "All around the World" album, and it's great to hear stories such as this that reveal the background events...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really enjoy your blog and I am going to start following it.
    My blog is eclectic, not as unusual as yours. If you want to check it out:

    http://www.napelvision.blogspot.com
    I would value your feedback!
    Thanks OZ! I love stories like yours.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank-you skorpio and napedog!
    I will check out napelvision. Some of my ancestors are actually from Naples. :)

    ReplyDelete
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