One year ago I closed my chapter in New York and crossed the bridge into Newport. I arrived in my U-Haul at twilight, that “exquisite hour” as the poets say, with a lifelong on the radio: Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.” I felt I was crossing into a fairy tale kingdom where I could further my spiritual awakening among the forests, cliffs, and old buildings vibrating with four centuries of history.
Then 2020 came, and the dream quickly became a nightmare.
Except that’s the way life always is, a mixture of darkness and light. Many times I’ve taken a stroll and found myself at the cemetery at sunset, and two weeks ago came a moment of epiphany. I realized that here I was in New England, in the beautiful month of November, at the hour of twilight, and in a cemetery. It was the culmination of an entire life spent with an inexplicable Gothic sensibility. And now here I was taking in the heavy atmosphere, and what did I find myself doing as darkness fell, with my soul so stirred? I raised my gaze from the grave markers, through the barren treetops and up to the sky, where it became fixated on four bright luminaries: Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. So there is where that mysterious Gothic feeling leads, when finally lodged in its proper place: up, away and beyond the stars.
Throughout this year, like an alchemist with his principle of solve et coagula — or take apart and put back together — I’d wandered through Newport dissecting where this inner sympathy had come from. I was certainly born with it. My late mother combined Jungian psychology with astrology, and I learned from her that at the moment and location of my birth four out of the seven heavenly bodies known to the ancients — for which the days of the week are named — were all situated in the Fourth House, which symbolizes home, history and heritage. Venus in Scorpio has a dark sense of beauty and seeks transcendence, while Sun in Sagittarius in the Fourth House, as I’ve come to discover since looking more deeply into the details, can lead one to seek “spiritual ancestry” in the second half of life. In other words, the search for the Primordial Tradition.
As a child I’d loved Halloween, and in the late ’70s the masks and makeup and fangs and glowing green putty all had graphics inspired by the classic Universal horror films of the ’30s and preserved through the magazine Famous Monsters Of Filmland. It was only in the decades that followed that Halloween imagery became focused on slashers and dismemberment. Then there were the movies, such as “Return Of The Jedi” with its dank chthonic swamp and little green wise man, Dungeons & Dragons, and the art of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo I saw at the comic conventions. Next came heavy metal, with all the demonic imagery on the album covers and the musicians looking like marauding barbarians, and The Misfits, with their hysterically cool use of ’50s B-horror movie visuals, and song titles like “I Turned In To A Martian.” A few short years later and I’m a college junior reading Byron, watching “Dead Poets Society” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” and discovering the art of Gustave Moreau and the operas of Wagner, which feature the hero Siegfried slaying the dragon Fafnir and the entry of gods into Valhalla. The progression looks something like this:
Now, all these years later, I find myself riding out the pandemic reading old tomes of ancient wisdom by candlelight, like Faust in his study. And I realize that all along the same themes and symbols and archetypal images keep popping up, as if there’s no escape from them. In the end, whether it’s Homer or Hollywood, it’s all heroes, gods and monsters.
The gods are the divine powers in man that we can channel — like King Arthur receiving the sword from the Lady Of The Lake — and the monsters are the demons we carry within ourselves: the fears, complexes, weaknesses, obsessions, insecurities, vices, and unrealized potentials. All of it points to the part of life that is beyond life. The ancient castles guarding hidden secrets, the foggy graveyards, the dusty latch-locked leatherbound books, are all symbols of the supernatural, the divine design that comes from somewhere beyond our earthly realm. And the Gothic feeling is a bridge from our world to all that lies beyond, the narrow gate that leads from the physical to the metaphysical, from our own little spark of cosmic consciousness back to the infinite mind of the One, the Creator, the Absolute, or what most people of the world call God.
I can think of no better style trend for this moment in time than the Dark Academia we posted about yesterday. Instead of being rocked by outside events, our consciousness unsettled and diffused by mobile technology, let us pick up dusty books filled with timeless insight and learn to appreciate this time we’ve been forced to spend alone with ourselves, rather than taking the easy way out and trying to drown out our feelings of isolation with trivial distractions. Turn your focus inward, venture into the dark cavern of your heart, face the dragon of the unconscious, conquer your fears and claim the golden treasure of wisdom. Dark Academia is not a cause for depression, it’s the cure. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
This post was composed on a foggy morning in a cold cottage somewhere in Rhode Island, while wearing velvet slippers, tattered paisley scarf and black oxford, to the smell of incense and the music of Von Weber.