Monday, April 04, 2011

Castings by Fern Knight – Arcana & Archetypes

Our past lingers at the edge of cultural consciousness; tracing through music, poetry, literature and art it draws us back to mysteries, moving us deeper into understanding. While technology pushes to the forefront, these lingering lines are kept alive by artists who pursue the trail where ever they find it. Margaret Ayre of Fern Knight is well versed in the visions of mythography, and Fern Knight’s latest release, Castings, presents a suite of songs centered on the Tarot and the archetypal imagery of it's arcana.

“The tarot pack used by modern cartomanciennes at Paris and elsewhere, for fortune-telling, is called by them “Livre de Thot.” Thoth was the Egyptian Mercury, said to be one of the early kings, and the inventor of the hieroglyphic system and its attendant mysticism.”

- Vide Henri Delange, Le Monde Occulte, fourth edition, p. 26

Tarot can be seen as a reflection of the Game of Life, each card a Key to a deeper understanding of the movement of the universal Mystery into concrete forms and situations. For centuries it has proven a vital enigma, giving rise to complex interpretations that use its basic substructure to formulate visions of the intricate operations of existence.

On a personal level this potency can aid in understanding situations that we find ourselves in, to cast the cards is to allow chance an opportunity to open archetypal windows into our lives. For Castings Ayre used these potencies to formulate the thematic thread for the album and to create a framework for weaving her songs. “Castings was born out of my frustrations, I started writing it right around the economic downturn,” she says “I was tutoring kids after school and seeking solace in my tarot spreads.” Margaret has been teaching music for 13 years, but with the present state of the economy parents have been less able to pay for arts education.

Prior to moving to the Washington, D.C. area Margaret and her husband Jim Ayre accompanied the Gnostic Mass at the O.T.O. Thelesis Lodge in Pennsylvania, “picking one or two instruments”, Margaret says, “it was really bare bones.” The music accompanied meditation and provided an under tone to the ceremonies.

With Castings, this intimacy, along with the maturation of her collaboration with the two others musicians in the quartet, Jesse Sparhawk (harp) and James Wolf (violin), helps to open up the possibilities for Ayre’s musical expressions. “It is great to work with people who just get it,” Ayre explains, “it’s very organic.” Although classically trained, for her work with Fern Knight, she has largely abandoned the strictures associated with formal training for a more experiential approach. “Being a classical musician tends to be a little stifling,” she reflects.

"In the vocabulary of the modern game of tarots, we have certain terms preserved...the word mat, for instance,by which the Fou is designated, and which means prostrated, dead, cracked; the word pagad again, which is the appellation of the Bateleur or Cup Juggler, and which, derived from pag (master) and gad (fortune), seems to mean Master of Fortune. The juggler master of fortune! here's a philosophy for you!"

-The History of Playing Cards, with Anecdotes of Their Use in Conjuring, Fortune-Telling, and Card-Sharping, ed. Edward Samuel Taylor

The Fool and Magician open the album with From 0 to ∞. The ambiguity of the two archetypes, and their interplay expressed in the transition between 0, the whole expressed as limitless potential, and infinity, the whole expressed as all realized potential is a fitting exploration of the current economic and social climate. Old systems are crumbling and being renewed through fire and revolution, we are left with nothing but the potential for growth as the Magician in potentia within the Fool emerges to set the standards by which we’ll move forward.

Musically these archetypal interplays work as well to explain the contemporary experimentation which intermixes the more traditional feeling attended by each band member’s expertise with their instrumentats. The archaic feeling extends through hard riffs and aggressive movements combining old and new into a potent formula for exploration.

Beyond archetypal figures Ayre also investigates archetypal forms through songs such as Pentacles which elaborates the Rota Fortunae (Wheel of Fortune). Lyrically material fate emerges and merges with the infinite through Ayre’s repetition of “Your Pentacles are made of Gold.” Throughout the album the interaction, emergence and reconciliation of opposites provides momentum and movement, reflecting the ambiguity of symbolism and fitting for a suite of songs which finds it’s basis in a game of cards which has become a symbol of both the Lesser and Greater Mysteries of initiation.

The video for the Poisoner, directed by Derek Moench, found inspiration in Arthur Machen’s short story, The White People, about the daughter of a chemist who takes small doses of Mercury and goes into the woods to enter into the Otherworld. In the video the main character, played by Ayre, uses Belladonna drops rather than Mercury to enter into the Borderland worlds.

This innovation, Ayre comments, was inspired by a trip to the eye doctor where she was forced to recon with the disruptive potential of dilating eye drops. Throughout the album this intermixing of personal, archetypal and collaborative inspiration brings a depth and personality to the music and presentation that signifies the work.

Outside of Fern Knight Ayre also contributed to the liner notes for the reissue of the 70’s French Neo-Folk band Sourdeline's 'La Reine Blanche' through Guerssen Records in 2010. Her conversations with the band have lead to plans for future collaboration, bringing Ayre’s contemporary interests to play in reinvigorating one of her early influences as they return to the stage.

Castings demonstrates the potential for myth and tradition to come together in exploring present-day developments. Opposites colliding, the old and new intermixing, bringing about new movements and potential for growth., “a poke in the face of darkness,” as Ayre calls it, and a way to explore the important question of “how can we not destroy this beautiful green age we live in.” -


David Metcalfe is an independent researcher and artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is author of “Of Dice and Divinity – Some Thoughts on Gambling and the Western Tradition,” forthcoming in The Immanence of Myth.

Writing and scrawling regularly for The Eyeless Owl, his illustrations were brought to life in the animated collaborative grotesquery A Serious Enquiry Into the Vulgar Notion of Nature featured at select venues in downtown Chicago during the Spring and Fall of 2010. He also co-hosts The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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