Davie Bowie and the Cauldron of Regeneration

Davie Bowie and the Cauldron of Regeneration


When that fabulous shape-shifter David Bowie died I was curious to see the videos he had done to accompany the release of his album ‘Dark Star’. If you have not seen them, take a look here. The imagery is enigmatic and visceral: the ritual shaking of the buxom women in their summer dresses, the crucified scarecrows with their rotting faces, his own withered hands, the weird black costume with silver stripes (lines of coke?) and his final disappearance into the wardrobe at the end of ‘Lazarus’. These images haunted me, particularly one night as I lay awake worrying about a friend who had just had a life-or-death operation. To me the images were all about a terrible fear of death. For me there was no sense of acceptance or equanimity about dying in these videos. Fair play to Mr B for his courage in exploring and exposing this terror via these images, but I needed to get them out of my head if I was to get to sleep.

I got up and found that my friend was fine, up fiddling on his computer. Reassured I slept and woke to make a trip to the British Museum to see the Celts exhibition. I was not feeling too good myself, being dogged by a virus which was draining my energy – and then London is a shock to us country dwellers and the BM staff were grumpy and unhelpful. Or was it me out of step with ‘life’ having spent the night thinking about death?

Anyway I was finally admitted, still feeling fragile and bad-tempered about the crowds who were obstructing my view of the beautiful Celtic artefacts. But then I got to the Gundestrup Cauldron.


Abruptly it all changed. As I clambered up the steps to look inside and saw the images face to face a wave of joy swept through my body: the horned god clutching his snake!


the silver warriors marching towards the cauldron to be reborn!


And at the bottom the  sinuous victory of the woman warrior over the Death-Bull with her three dogs (I can’t find a decent pic of that).  I wanted to cry and laugh. There was no reason for despair! This was the cauldron of regeneration itself, famed in our old stories! It was there to tell us there is nothing dies, everything goes into the cauldron and is reborn in a new form.

Later, back in Wales, I lay on my sofa staring at the pictures in the BM book (worth buying). I wanted to investigate how the cauldron had had such a galvanising and cheering effect on me – but I didn’t want to kill the joy and physical exhilaration I could still feel coursing through my body with analysis. There is plenty of that around, no more needed.

Here’s what I experienced looking at the horned god plate, here’s what I felt in my own body: the antlers connect me with the world around, melting my usual boundaries and joining me to the beasts and plants; the snake connects me to the life force, the chi, of the natural world, the torc anchors me and makes me feel safe. Sitting in the dancing half-lotus I sense the kick of the kundalini energy rising through my body.  I feel a blissful pulsing power flooding through me… I find myself letting go of thought, of ideas of who I am and what I want, I want to dissolve into the cauldron, to just let go … in the faith that all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

This is the quality I found missing in Bowie’s videos – but which I hope he did experience when he died. The Tibetan Buddhists say we feel this intense wave of bliss when we die, when we let go of the painful and constricting coat of flesh we have worn for our lifetimes here. The great mystery rituals like the one enacted at Eleusis in ancient Greece freed the initiates from fear of death. The great silver cauldron of regeneration, made by men and women long ago who knew the truth about life and death, has risen up from its bog in Denmark is delivering the same message. It’s only on show at the BM till 31 January, then it moves to Edinburgh. You have GOT to see it: it has come through time and space to bring back what is lost.


Maps to the Stars, Carlos Castaneda and finding the path with heart

Maps to the Stars, Carlos Castaneda and finding the path with heart


Mollie and I went to see ‘Maps to the Stars’ on Friday, directed by David Cronenburg, written by Bruce Wagner. If you need to read a good review, here is one.  It’s a dark disturbing, actually revolting tale of incest, greed, lasciviousness and murder. Mollie usually likes dark stuff (she runs the Death Cafe in Hay and is no wimp when it comes to the macabre) but even she was somewhat taken aback by this film. ‘You know’ I said, as we watched the credits roll in the empty cinema, ‘Bruce Wagner was a pal of Carlos Castaneda..’ ‘Oh’ said Mollie. I got home and googled him. Yes, I was right, he wrote a seminal article about Carlos Castaneda when he started to appear in public after a silence, and, Wikipedia informed me, he had got involved with CC and even been the partner of Carol Tiggs! Carol Tiggs? She was the mysterious and potent ‘nagual woman’ in the books, the one who disappeared into the ‘second attention’ for years. Or, in another version, went off to have a couple of kids and have a normal life for a while.

I had to know more about Wagner, so I kept googling and found a long conversation on Sustained Reaction, a Castaneda-critical website about what kind of chap he was, whether he was gay, or bisexual, or a ‘dweep’ or an ok guy. It did my head in, so I had a look at Cronenberg. He lives in Toronto, doesn’t drink or do drugs and seems a decent, morally alive man. All his actors seem to love him. But there was one part of the post-show chat at Cannes which disturbed me: someone asked young (14 year old) Evan Bird, who plays a spoilt, corrupt young movie star in the movie, what he thought when he read the script. The kid coloured up and said the usual stuff about how the script was great but he had wondered how such words could be in a screenplay. He was fourteen years old and when I thought of him being part of this brilliantly told, hellishly graphic tale, I felt a bit sick. Is it right to expose a kid to that kind of stuff? I don’t know.

And, when I ask myself why someone would want to make such a film, I don’t find it easy to answer the question. It’s not like Tarantino’s luridly violent ‘Django Unchained’ which has rage against slavery at its heart, it’s not like ‘The Wire’ or ‘The Sopranos’ which takes you right into the hearts of the characters, good or bad – though no-one is entirely good or bad in these amazing series. It doesn’t seem to have a heart. It is about ‘dead’ people, by which I mean the kind of people who have sacrificed their human hearts to materialism and greed. You wouldn’t like to know any of them. They are already destroyed, already dead – except perhaps the young star, who may still have human elements in his being – but he ends up in a scene in which he ‘marries’ his big sister and they lie down together to die.  Heavy stuff, and Cronenburg says its not just about Hollywood, but could be about lots of places. Could it be like mid-Wales, I asked myself? The answer has to be ‘yes’ because there is sex abuse, murder, incest, greed and gory suicide (a lot of that) round here. In the final analysis, I think it was a very provoking and interesting film – but I won’t be recommending it to my recently bereaved friend.

Castaneda was a big hero of mine when I was younger, and I still like some of his books, but his end is shrouded in dark speculation which has taken the sheen off him for many. I sometimes wonder whether, in the end, illness and sexual addiction destroyed his integrity. A depressing thought, but it does look like the world which he and Bruce Wagner shared in West Coast America, is pervaded by a particularly hellish miasma, which, on the whole, we don’t have here in mid Wales. Instead we have fog, we have ‘bright mist’ which Castaneda used as a metaphor for the place where the two sides of the brain meet, which we need to cross before we can fly into infinity as a warrior. Fine words. I wonder what the reality was. I don’t know. Maybe he lost the path with heart and stumbled off into the wastelands?  The fog has cleared here now and it’s raining. May all who read this find their path with heart.