Friday, December 7, 2012

Going underground

Urbexers are so sexy
I commented before here on a tunnel under the Hagley Road near my home. I have often used that tunnel for the disposal of magical remains, including burning sigils in there. That post was more specific to the spirit of a particular place, but this one is more about the spirit of the underground. As witches we have adopted the word 'hedge' to refer to the idea of liminal places where we go for transformation, but we have downplayed the underground aspects of this idea, perhaps because 'underground witch' is a less appealing idea to people's romantic idealism than that of the hedge! Robert Cochrane was very fond of working in tunnels and caves, for example, and there are actually many archetypal buttons to be pressed in us by the idea of tunnels and caves. Sometimes they are seen, if the earth is the body of the Goddess, as her womb.
No longer seen as safe
The first and second pictures show one of London's abandoned underground stations. I think it might be British Museum or Bloomsbury, but don't quote me on that. If urban explorers put pictures of themselves on their websites they can only expect the Hound to fancy them. Underground has a secondary meaning embodied in urbex: of secrecy, something not respectable or legal. This is how the underground refers best to the idea of the hedge, because underground places are on the (h)edge. When I lived in London the guided tours of abandoned underground stations had just been stopped so I've never been in one except virtually.
This is of course because underground places are also seen as places of danger: both objectively in terms of health and safety legislation being extraordinarily demanding around work in enclosed spaces, and subjectively in terms of what we think will happen. Subways (and who on earth had the lack of taste to call that one 'Gothic Subway'?) are one of the things which most embody disastrous 1960s town planning, because of their notoriety for having hiding places allowing muggings and rapes to go on there.
To return briefly to the underground: one of my favourite old films, which has disappeared from youtube is Bulldog Jack, a take-off of the Bulldog Drummond films which manages to be better than the films it is parodying! It has several scenes in a disused underground station which perfectly embody the idea of underground: it is being used by the crooks as an access point to the British Museum so that they can steal treasures in the dead of night without being seen. Our heroes have to undertake a para-mythological journey in which they risk life and limb by going into The Underground, with no backing from the official police, to sort this. This idea of danger also occurs in A Clockwork Orange, including in the revenge scene at the end, when Alex is beaten up by the tramps.
The danger implied in underground extends to death: traditionally the underground was the place for the dead, it was where dead bodies were disposed of, it was seen as a haunt of the dead and undead. Most literally this is found in the idea of catacombs: if anyone fancies a trip to Paris there is a whole movement of 'cataphiles' who explore (at great personal risk and with great opposition from the police) the catacombs where there are often literal piles of bones and skulls, where they have been placed as the city's cemeteries have been cleared of old burials.
There are catacombs closer to home, in Warstone Lane cemetery in Birmingham: this is one seriously sexy Victorian cemetery. The catacombs are all properly sealed and walled up nowadays, but when as a very young weirdo I first walked around there, some of them were broken open, so that I can truthfully claim to have been inside the catacombs there. Only just inside I'm afraid, I was alone early on a Saturday morning with nobody around and didn't have a torch so I literally just popped in and out again, couldn't tell you what they look like because obviously it was was dark in there, and have been unable to find a picture of the interior online.
Underground takes you to different times and places
If I hadn't been as canny as I was - I wouldn't have called it this but what I did was a dynamic risk assessment and decided it wasn't worth the risk even though I really really wanted to see inside and could have gone to get a torch - my outing to the cemetery could have ended differently. I could have been trapped or squashed, or my foot could have found a contaminated needle, for example: a journey into the underground can only end in a transformational experience. However we humans go underground, for whatever reason and for however long, we must eventually emerge back into the light, this is a necessity for us, even artificial environments created for survival in war, such as London's Cabinet War Rooms, could only allow survival for a vertain length of time. We humans must emerge, blinking back into the light, to find whatever has happened - to us and the outside world - while we have been underground. Whether this was volitional or not, a journey underground can only lead to us emerging different.

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