Psst… wanna chew some bay leaves?
My last newsletter included an invitation to play the Omphalos Game. Some of my friends who played sent me their results, and here they are.
I live on an island off England’s south coast. It’s the seasonal, sea-lapped belly of a beast that hibernates, and this is the time of year when it begins to stir. One of the first signs of spring is the reopening of Godshill Model Village.
All model villages are mysterious – the more so as you get to know them. This one has a special wonder at its heart. Inside this model village is a smaller model of the model village itself. Inside that model is a model of the model. And on it goes, fractally downwards, to a depth beyond sensory perception.
Obviously, this fractal model village is the navel of the island. To use a more technical term, its omphalos.
There are omphaloi all over the world, but the most famous is at the location of the Delphic Oracle. Some say the omphalos itself was the channel of communication between the oracle and the gods.
So for this season, I invite you to play the Omphalos Game with me.
- Find an omphalos in your vicinity. Identify it, commune with it, draw it, paint it, frottage it, as it moves you.
- When the time is propitious, station yourself at the omphalos, perform an appropriate ritual, and let the oracle of the gods speak through you. Record your results.
- Optional step: consider the nature of the umbilical cord that was once (or is still) attached to this navel. Who or what was its mother?
I found the omphalos on the number 7 bus riding through centretown. It was April 4, 2019 – which I later realized was Lautréamont’s birthday. While I had been convinced it would be around that part of town, the cold and snow had thus far put a damper on my explorations of any fixed point outdoors. That day I found myself boarding a semi-full bus passing right through the centre of the city, and sat by chance right in the middle of the vehicle. This was what we call an “accordion bus” (or “articulated bus”) which is essentially two full bus-carriages joined in its centre by a pivoting joint. On Ottawa buses this joint has a circular centrepiece upon which are placed four seats facing each other 2×2.This, I realized, is the city’s mobile omphalos.
The seats on the omphalitic-carriage have the characteristic of pivoting in a semi-circular motion when a turn is taken, unlike any other seat on the bus. The sensation of riding on one is disconcerting and feels a bit like a low-grade carnival ride, swerving around while awkwardly looking at all the other passengers happily stable on their unwobbling tuchuses. Growing up there had been urban legends about this part of the bus – how it would at the slightest disturbance get torn into two and fling any fool sitting there to their inevitable pavement-based deaths. In its design and atmosphere, it certainly seemed to fulfil the requirements for a magic circle.
For my ritual, I placed a silver(ish) dime in between the cracks of the cushion, knowing silver coins in particular have a ritual significance, and waited. Immediately afterwards I noticed a hand-carved “R” on the plastic base at the bottom of the seat across from me. Could this stand for the Hebrew רע (ra) for pollution or impurity, possibility invoking Maldoror, the birthday boy cut from the navel today?
I discovered in mankind, as I swam towards the depths, opposite the reef of hatred, the black and hideous wickedness which lurked amidst the noxious miasmata admiring its navel.(Maldoror, trans. Paul Knight)
I then noticed the imprints of wet boots of passengers crossing the omphalos. Dance patterns for a ritual. I realized the driver was going very fast, taking sharp turns, and that horns were blaring. There was some kind of congestion problem heightening the atmosphere. She asked everyone who needed to get off at the stop to come up to the front. As if in a trance, four women stood up and somnambulistically traipsed across the omphalos.
Considering Navel and Cord
I discussed the find with the Ottawa surrealist group that evening. Our conclusions on the navel were:
- The last remnant of a missing purpose.
- A connection to an unbroken ancient matrilineal line.
- The primordial injury.
- If we had magical a healing capability actually able to cure this wound, it would in effect reverse time and heal our own birth and severance, and our mother’s, and so on until the first umbilical cord was cut from the first navel. Perhaps this was prefigured by the four somnambulant women walking over the omphalos mentioned above.
Under Hastings pier is an area of quiet. Separated from the sounds and movement of people passing above, it’s hidden from view in the cool, and often wet, shadows. The continual movement and salty smell of the sea becomes intense here. Depending on the tide and mood of the sea, it can be almost overwhelming.
Mother sea. Giving birth to that primordial soup, the source of organic life.
I am one of those that are drawn back to the sea like a magnet to its other half.
Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reverie.
………They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand – miles of them – leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues – north, east, south, west. Yet here they all unite.(From Moby-Dick or, The Whale by Herman Melville, Chapter 1: Loomings)
……..There is magic in it.
Today when I was there, I noticed a curved steel girder lying in the sand that could have been the rib of a Leviathan.
And as I was daydreaming and becoming attuned to the rhythm of the breathing sea, a childhood memory surfaced. Of sitting on the lowest step at the end of a wooden pier at Durban docks, my face as close to the water as possible to watch the small silvery fish in their watery element moving in and out of the slushy vegetation growing on the foundations of the pier.
Later I learnt that, from 1909 to 1975, a whaling station functioned across the bay from the docks in an area known as the Bluff.
Before this exercise in astral travel, the customary preparations were made and the necessary rituals performed.
I hear D above middle C. I raise it, an octave at a time, and with it I rise from my body, up, up, until I’m rising through the ground outside the entrance to the model village. The final, very high D remains in the background throughout what follows, like an auditory shimmer.
I walk through the entrance and into the model village. For a while I stroll pleasantly around the familiar grounds, the miniature airfield, the railway, the church, the Lilliputian chine. As I stroll I am aware of the presence of the omphalos, eluding me gently, always just ahead and to my right.
After a time I see that the big “real” Godshill church behind the model village is not real after all; it’s just been painted onto a huge enamel backdrop. The model village is now the real village. Time to can approach the omphalos.
The model-within-a-model-within-a-model tiers conically downwards and out of sight, an inverted Tower of Babel. At its lip stands a tiny man in an old-fashioned diving suit with helmet and lead boots. I assume I must enter and inhabit his body to descend. But he says no, he’s going to lower me down using his air pipe as a rope.
I descend on the pipe/rope. The inverted funnel of the omphalos has become a spiral of pink translucent fleshy stuff. The rope disappears from my hands and I slide-revolve down alone.
I come out into a dark cave that contains an underground lake. The translucent spiral that brought me here bathes the scene with dim pink light. The rocks and surfaces of the cave glint hard and obsidian black. A dolphin’s head emerges from the lake.
My disappointment is crushing: a sappy bloody dolphin! But I am small enough to enter its mouth feet first until I fully occupy its body. I discover that its element is not water but air. We fly through space which is mottled pink and purple. The colours and shapes swirl and change like a kaleidoscope of forming stars and galaxies. We fly like this for a long time. Eventually we are flying above the model village itself.
We dive nose-down into the omphalos. This time, though, the descent is black and noisy and chaotic. I become uncomfortable and alarmed. I’ve lost track of time and begin to panic.
But I keep it together and remember to use the high D. I slowly lower it octave by octave, lowering myself with it, back into my own body.
Delphic oracle tripod image in the public domain.
Mobile omphalos photo, copyright Jason Abdelhadi 2019, reproduced by permission.
Hastings pier girder frottage and Leviathan rib photo, both copyright Kathleen Fox 2019, reproduced by permission.
The Bluff photo, in the public domain, as far as we know. No copyright infringement intended.
Godshill model church photo, taken by Merl Fluin, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
Take a peek behind the veil.