Monday, March 11, 2019

Florence Farr, the Mummy, and Me

Florence Farr was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1892 and attained a position of national leadership by 1897. As a successful Golden Dawn initiate it was to be expected that Farr would become fascinated by Egyptian religion, considering the large part it played in Golden Dawn ceremonies, as well as Egypt’s ubiquitous presence in Late Victorian London exhibitions. In addition to assuming responsibility for the entire order in Britain, Farr composed and performed complex rituals to Egyptian deities, lectured publicly on Egyptological subjects, wrote two Egyptianising plays and after resigning from the Golden Dawn in 1902, was conducting her own ‘Egyptian’ initiations by 1903. Like MacGregor Mathers, Farr utilised the British Museum as a place for both artistic inspiration and study. It was while researching material for her book, Egyptian Magic, in the British Museum in 1895 that Farr ‘made contact’ with what she described as ‘an Egyptian Adept’. 

The identity of Farr’s ‘Egyptian Adept’ is contested. On the one hand, friends of hers to whom she left a wooden ‘shrine’ in which an Egyptian being allegedly dwelt claim that its name was Nemkheftka whereas on the other hand, eye-witnesses report that the name of the entity was Mut-em-menu. Either way, this ‘Adept’ was a long-dead ancient Egyptian that Florence obviously felt perfectly comfortable about ‘speaking’ with. The idea that one could converse with the dead was a staple of Victorian Spiritualism and it was a cornerstone of the Hermeticism that imbued the Golden Dawn that all knowledge is obtained through revelation, not reason. Ancient Egyptians had a habit of manifesting themselves to kindred spirits in the 1890s and even London journalists reviewing Late Victorian exhibits of Egyptian antiquities were liable to ‘reanimate and evoke the people of the past in a quasi-psychic way... as if through a medium.’ Consequently it was not at all unusual for Farr to believe that she could receive information through a discarnate entity she met in the British Museum.

Both Nemkheftka and Mut-em-menu were (and are) part of the Egyptian collection in the British Museum. Nemkheftka – actually Nenkheftka – is a painted limestone statue of a provincial official from Deshasha, dating to the 5th Dynasty, around 2400 BCE, at the height of the Old Kingdom. The statue was acquired by the British Museum in 1897, so ‘Nemkheftka’ could not have been the ‘personality’ Florence was in contact with in 1895, although it seems that he did fulfil that role after 1901. ‘Mut-em-menu’, a coffined mummy acquired by the British Museum in 1835, is a likelier candidate for Farr’s ‘Egyptian Adept’ at this time. Like other museum attendees, Farr would have been under the impression that Mutemmenu was ‘a lady of the college of the God Amen-Ra at Thebes’, however we now know that this description is only half correct. While the coffin is indeed that of Mutemmenu, a Chantress of Amun, dating from the 19th (1295-1186 BCE) or 20th (1186-1069 BCE) Dynasties, the mummy in the coffin dates from the Roman period (30 BCE – 395 CE) and is actually that of a man whose wrappings are padded and swathed so as to imitate feminine features such as breasts and rounded thighs. (According to X-rays taken in the 1960s. The mummy was most likely paired with this coffin by an Egyptian antiquities dealer, according to the Catalogue of Egyptian Antiquities in the British Museum. I: Mummies and Human Remains. Warren R. Dawson and P.H.K Gray, P.H.K. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1968. xii). 

It is understandable that in the 1890s this mummy would be taken at face value to have been female and Farr obviously deemed Mutemmenu a satisfactory link with the authentic Egyptian past. Fellow Golden Dawn member, William Butler Yeats, re-created Florence’s British Museum experiences in his unfinished novel The Speckled Bird where the hero, Michael Hearne (Yeats), accompanied by Maclagan (Mathers), was to meet a certain woman at the Britsh Museum who is later discovered meditating ‘with her eyes half closed on a seat close to the Mut-em-menu mummy case.’ She is not to be disturbed because, according to Maclagan, ‘she is doubtless conversing with Mut-em-menu’ who was, among other things, describing Farr’s past incarnations. Florence went to Paris in 1896 to confer with Mathers about her ‘Egyptian Adept’, a drawing of whom she had previously sent him. Mathers agreed that because the Egyptian had responded appropriately to signs that Florence had shown her, she was indeed ‘one of the 8˚=3˚’, making her one of the ‘Secret Chiefs’. He subsequently gave permission for Farr to form a group with higher degree members of the Golden Dawn to ‘work with’ the Egyptian.

For further information on Florence Farr, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Egyptology and Mummies see my articles here (which is more recent) and here (dating to several years ago). 

Mutemmenu’s Coffin

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, the online catalogue of the British Museum shows images of the mummy associated with Mutemmenu’s coffin, but not the coffin itself. 

When I was in London in 2012, where I had appointments at the British Museum to look at Cypriot cylinder seals featuring images of tree cult and a Cypriot bronze cult stand also with images of tree cult, I was fortunately able to view Mutemmenu’s coffin. I hadn’t actually planned to see this coffin, but whilst happening to discuss it with one of the curators in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities (which was where the Cypriot material was) the curator suddenly offered to contact the Department of Egyptian Antiquities for me and see if I could get an appointment to view the coffin. Usually you’d need to book several weeks ahead however after a quick phone call I was able to get an appointment for the end of the week. When the time came I was able to view the coffin in the fascinating organic material store, the staff there having gotten it out of its storage shelf and placed it upon folding wooden legs so I could walk all the way around it as well as look underneath it.

The Department is happy for what they see as sincere researchers making having access to the collection, and it is generally not hard to make appointments to view material in the British Museum’s study rooms. The Egyptian Antiquities curator I that was dealing with did say however, that they were not too happy when a girl made an appointment and just came and sat in the store with her eyes closed, apparently just ‘feeling the vibe’ (maybe she was channeling Florence Farr?). Perhaps, if you wanted to do such things, it would depend on whether you explained yourself sufficiently to the Department as to why you needed to do it in the store (and it sounds like they’d probably say no), or else perhaps concentrated on the mummies and artefacts that are already on public display. However, we need to remember that (unfortunately) it’s not the 1890s any more so you might find yourself being moved along by the guards (unless you were pretending to draw artefacts… or perhaps got the British Pagan group, Honoring the Ancient Dead, to organise one of their Pagan access appointments?).

Thursday, August 2, 2018

My New Book

This is my new book, The Cultic Life of Trees in the Prehistoric Aegean, Levant, Egypt and Cyprus. Published by Peeters: Leuven.  It is 314 pages, and its dimensions are 30 cm x 21 cm.

This research examines 44 images of Minoan tree cult as depicted in sphragistic jewellery, portable objects and wall paintings from Late Bronze Age Crete, mainland Greece and the Cyclades. The study also compares the Aegean images with evidence for sacred trees in the Middle and Late Bronze Age Levant, Egypt and Cyprus. The purpose of this investigation is the production of new interpretations of Minoan images of tree cult. Each of the chapters of the book looks at both archaeological and iconographic evidence for tree cult. The Aegean material is, in addition, examined more deeply through the lenses of modified Lacanian psychoanalytic modelling, “new” animism, ethnographic analogy, and a Neo-Marxist hermeneutics of suspicion. It is determined that Minoan images of tree cult depict elite figures performing their intimate association with the numinous landscape through the communicative method of envisioned and enacted epiphanic ritual. The tree in such images is a physiomorphic representation of a goddess type known in the wider eastern Mediterranean associated with effective rulership and with the additional qualities of fertility, nurturance, protection, regeneration, order and stability. The representation of this deity by elite human females in ritual performance functioned to enhance their self representation as divinities and thus legitimise and concretise the position of elites within the hegemonic structure of Neopalatial Crete. These ideological visual messages were circulated to a wider audience through the reproduction and dispersal characteristic of the sphragistic process, resulting in Minoan elites literally stamping their authority on to the Cretan landscape and hence society.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

CFP for a special issue of The Pomegranate on Pagan Art and Fashion

A beautiful young woman drapes her long auburn hair over a human skull, pressing it close to her face like a lover. Another, clad in black and holding a wooden staff, poses like a model in a photo shoot on location in an incongruous forest. Long, elaborately decorated fake fingernails like talons grasp shiny crystals, evoking the “just so” beauty of a staged magazine spread. In the world of the Witches of Instagram, the art of photography meets business witchery and feminist activism.
Is it (still) the season of the witch? Luxury fashion house, Dior, has a tarot-themed collection; witchcraft featured in recent issues of Vogue magazine; young witch-identifying women perform “fashion magic”; and an alchemist-fashion designer has invented colour-changing hair dye, inspired by a scene in the 1996 movie, The Craft. An angry yet luxurious sex-positive feminism is in the air; goddesses, witches and sluts are rising up again, a decade and a half after Rockbitch stopped touring and almost thirty years after Annie Sprinkle’s first workshops celebrating the sacred whore.
Exhibitions showcasing the work of living and dead occult artists have been on the increase for several years now, most recently Black Light: Secret Traditions in Art Since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contempor├ánia de Barcelona, and Barry William Hale + NOKO’s Enochian performance at Dark Mofo in Tasmania. Multidisciplinary artist Bill Crisafi and dancer Alkistis Dimech exemplify the Sabbatic witchcraft aesthetic; Russ Marshalek and Vanessa Irena mix fitness and music with witchcraft in the age of the apocalypse; DJ Juliana Huxtable and queer arts collective House of Ladosha are a coven; rappers Azealia Banks and Princess Nokia are out and proud brujas; and singer Lana del Rey admits hexing Donald Trump.
The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagan Art and Fashion, edited by Caroline Tully ( How are Paganism, modern Goddess worship, witchcraft and magick utilised in the service of creative self-expression today? Potential topics might fall under the general headings of, but are not limited to, Aesthetics, Dance, Fashion, Film and Television, Internet Culture, Literature, Music, and Visual Art.
Submissions due June 15, 2019. 
Click for the for information on the submission process
Please note that The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the University of Chicago Press notes-and-bibliography citation style.