Tuesday 14 March 2023

Book Extract: Living In The Magical Mode by Phil Smith

Here's an extract from the book Living In The Magical Mode by Phil Smith, published by Triarchy Press. When he offered me the extract, Phil said: "I’m trying to find things out about ways of living, by listening to and speaking in many voices, looking through many eyes, imagining multiple bodies.". This extract is about a strange experience during an archaeological investigation of a bomb shelter. Enjoy!

Midsummer Night’s Report from the Chair (part two)

For all the excitement around the upended yew under the department store, the implications of what was revealed in the second bomb shelter were of a completely different order. It promised little. Once the way in had been forced, our head torches revealed what appeared to be an identical space to the first shelter. But no concrete floor this time, just rough earth (no roots); for a while the archaeologists were sorely exercised by the compacted ground. We were asked to stand around the edges of the room as the soil was tapped and scraped. Speeded-up archaeology, on the fly; the best guess was that there had been some kind of grave there, though the dimensions of the figure were far in excess of anything human. Then there was some discussion as to whether the remains might have been symbolic, like those cut in chalk on the sides of hills, to give the impression of a vast individual. The site administrator grew nervous and said that reburying the floor and the upturned tree were the best we could hope for.

As compensation for our disappointment, we were invited to study the remains in the soil more closely, but not to take souvenirs. It was hard to see what had excited the experts, but as our eyes adjusted to the gloom a pale outline was evident, twice the size of a normal person, approximately body shaped. A pall of melancholy was descending palpably, when one of the shovelbums called us back to look at the walls. There had been a strange odour of composting when the shelter was opened. Now some combination of our breathing and long years of preservation was catalysing something in the slaked lime in the wash. As if emerging through white clouds, figures stepped forward from whitewash; a colourful crowd dressed in green and red and holding garlands of flowers, swinging what looked like balloons on sticks; they were massed like the wilder parts of a hokey cokey. Then larger figures emerged, towering over the celebrants, as vague as the grave, giant sacks of mist. 

We watched these giants move out from behind the veil of lime, gathering power from the surging of the ordinary brighter folk who swarmed around their feet, mobbing them or perhaps to avoid being crushed. As the giants’ faces emerged they were not unpleasant looking, with full, generous features and wide thoughtful brows, eyes of icy blue and green thick-lipped grins. The giants were kneeling before smaller figures; their heads slightly bowed; what had seemed like threat was more like respect. 

The smaller figures were sharper now. Not a chaotic crowd, but parts of a narrative that circled round the walls, a story that was different depending on where you started reading it: there were the giants kneeling before a group of grey haired matriarchs, surrounded by a herd of white deer, antlers tangled, there was a sea voyage in a ship with a broken mast, then the passengers – women in long aristocratic garments, no sign of a crew – coming ashore in a wasteland, hunting scenes with the women carrying bows and spears, the tangle of woods, and the climax of the hunt with the women carrying home dead horses and mountain lions... it had the look of one of those municipal murals on vaguely relevant classical Greek themes. Hunters and fallen prey were bathed in blood; there were erotic scenes in which the sea-faring women indulged in orgies with spectral versions of the animals; the ingenuity of the artist was employed. The last scene showed women attending small children whose features and figures were like those of the giants.

The effect on our members and the archaeologists was remarkable. We found ourselves caught up in the excitement circulating around the room, speaking out in loud voices until we were almost at a run and the voices cohered into a single ecstatic sound more like animal noises than words. Our bodies raced round and round the space, yelling at the tops of our voices. And then the pictures were gone. In a matter of seconds the giants, the women, the animals had faded almost to nothing. “We’ve done enough damage here!” yelled an archaeologist and with that we were ushered to the surface. 

The city seemed strange. The lights brighter, the shadows darker....  

Here's a link for further information: https://www.triarchypress.net/magicalmode.html

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