‘Ken Campbell is amazing’, they said. I’d never heard of him but he was about to do a show, ‘The Meaning of Life’, at the Eden Project in Cornwall. I expected a Pythonesque spoof. It was funny but completely serious, stimulating beyond measure. Next day we met and talked. I had the naivety of someone completely ignorant of Ken’s extraordinary work so we got on well. He described his one man shows as ‘oral novels’. He’d seen a performance I’d done and at the end of our chat invited me to visit him at his home in Epping Forest. He liked helping younger artists, he said. He scribbled his address in my notebook but then said I should first read ‘Story’ by Robert McKee.
I got the audiobook. It took me a year to listen to it. Now finally I could contact Ken. But the next day I heard on the radio that he’d died, aged 66. Ach! There was a lesson in that. Act now, don’t wait, seize the day.
Eight years passed. One day I got a request from a group to come to Cae Mabon - in January. They were theatrical types working on a show called ‘Cosmic Trigger’. Turned out the director was Daisy Campbell, daughter of the aforementioned Ken. When she heard I could act she offered me the part of Timothy Leary. I ached to say yes but had immovable commitments that clashed. However I did get on Daisy’s radar.
Just before Christmas 2018 I had an email from her describing a ‘heretical caper’ she was planning, a pilgrimage from Cerne Abbas, the chalk giant with the ‘large hard on’, to CERN, ‘the large hadron’, via the Temples of Humanity at Damanhur (Ken had enthused about them) and finishing up at Jung’s Garden in Bollingen. There were to be 69 pilgrims. Sounded like a crazy adventure, a one-off magical mystery tour. The central mission was to ‘Immanentise the Eschaton’ which, simply put, means to bring about heaven on earth. I was intrigued. To join this crazy escapade you had to write 23 words by the 23rd December. The number 23 was suddenly everywhere! I was busy round midwinter with festive celebrations and on 23rd drove down to our family Christmas gathering on the Gower, picking up Edie, my daughter, en route. It was 23 minutes to midnight when I remembered the 23 word challenge. I had nothing to lose so rustled up my shortest application ever, in by the zero dot. And on New Year’s Eve I heard I was ‘on the bus’!
Our next challenge was to create a Tarot card of ourselves. The idea was to make an image that would express the ‘highest vision of your archetypal pilgrim self’. Arising from the work I’d done at Dinas Emrys clearing the pool and opening the eye of the dragon, I came up with Omphalos, meaning world navel, axis mundi or sacred centre. This ancient gathering place is I believe a Snowdonian Delphi. It’s older name means ‘the fort of fiery higher powers’. It’s a tribal temple. It’s been my invisible, shimmering destiny for decades.
With help from my friend and photoshop fiend, Jem Dick, we created a card rich with layers of meaning. All the symbols are treasures revealed to me over the years. The cauldron, the salmon, the eagle. The bee and the bear. The mountains, the pool, the standing stone. The pebble of memory and dreams. The community of the roundhouse. The old Druid standing by the awakened eye. The young seeker peering over the horizon. The flame. This card represents completion. It may be a grandiose claim but the scene on this side of the mountain is what the youthful traveller was seeking. Perhaps it approximates The World in the original Tarot pack.
So Omphalos became my pilgrim name. Sometimes it was more ‘oomphalos’, other times more ‘omphalost’. But it felt right. Someone said I was a mobile ‘world navel’! Anyway, here’s the card!
On the evening of Friday April 19th we gathered at a forest campsite a few miles from Cerne Abbas. It was a friendly and excited crowd. The pink full moon shone brightly through the trees. Early next morning we were off to the giant where we were greeted by five golden-robed wizards who explained to this earthly Orion, this ancient spirit of Albion, the pilgrims’ mission and sought his blessing. We did a lusty ‘time dance’ and I quoted Christopher Fry’s piece about taking ‘the greatest stride of soul we ever took’. We sang a ramped up fertility-inspired version of Jerusalem (Rejusalem!), then, wearing white bathing caps repurposed as ‘sperm hats’, we traipsed up the hill. A few went onto the giant’s phallus and danced while the rest uttered a mighty cosmic orgasm. We were on our way!
Cars to Portsmouth, a six hour ferry crossing to Caen, 12 hours overnight in a luxury double decker coach to northern Italy and the extraordinary community of Damanhur.
Damanhur (www.damanhur.org), described as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, was founded more than forty years ago by Falco Tarassaco, an Italian mystic, genius and visionary. It is a high functioning spiritual community of 350 people. Its most astonishing achievement is to have hewn by hand out of the mountain caverns which have been made into exquisite Temples of Humanity. Extraordinary painting, stained glass and sculpture illustrate human history and diversity; Earth landscapes from snowy mountains to steaming
jungles; creatures of the natural world, many threatened with extinction; gods and goddesses from all religions; symbolic languages, crystal spheres, a hall of mirrors... I was in tears in the first temple. Never had I been so moved by such beauty.
Daisy had visited Damanhur with her Dad when she was 16 and had been several times since. This time she wanted to give them something back, so on our first evening the Pilgrim’s Opera was performed. It was a lively and tender telling of our pilgrim’s tale with colourful characters and costumes, fine singing and music, wild images and symbolism, video footage of us at Cerne Abbas and on the bus. Despite minimal rehearsal it was a rousing spectacle which enthused our Damanhur audience.
That day we also learned a sacred dance. Our Dream Fisher, who’d dreamed many elements of our journey and indeed the first visit to Cae Mabon, had dreamt the phrase: ‘Please show us the way so that we may have the power and ability to know’. The Damanhurians taught us a dance to express this. It was to be part of our ceremony to Immanentise the Eschaton.
Damanhur is an amazing place and I hope to go back there longer one day. Perhaps I’ll take Edie when she’s 16. Meanwhile I recommend you check out the website and get connected.
We left Damanhur early on 23rd April and drove north through the wondrous Italian and Swiss Alps to CERN, the Large Hadron Collider. This was the day we were to Immanentise the Eschaton! At first sight the visitors’ centre was surprisingly like one of the Damanhur temples with domed display panels. But there the similarity ended. We were plunged into the world of high science and cutting edge technology, taken, for example, on a journey from a human hair down through the twists and turns of ever smaller matter to the realm of quirky quarks. We saw how particles were accelerated on ever increasing loops to near the speed of light. I remembered Ken’s story about how Stephen Hawking’s voice-synthesised laugh was identical to the echo scientists have recorded of the Big Bang! And then it was time to Imm the Esch...
The Hadron Collider is a 27 kilometre underground ring. We had divined the exact centre of the circle at ground level and made our way near to it on the bus. Then, in full costume (I wore my Bee mask), we made our way in silence through beautiful woodland and meadow to the X spot. At a bridge over the river we spied ‘Four Horsewomen of the Eschaton’ passing nearby. Daisy wore a long white dress, once worn by her mother, cut into twenty-three strips, each strip inscribed by the pilgrims with three magical sigils. Mine was taken from Merlin’s Prophecy: ‘Root and branch will change places and the newness of the thing shall seem a miracle’.
Daisy stood at the centre with 23 people holding the strips and walking slowly round her anti-clockwise. Around them a large circle moved together in the sacred dance. And around them more dancers added energetically to the potent brew. No one was allowed cameras but the whole thing was filmed by drone. There were no words but the climax of the ritual was another orgasmic cosmic cry! We walked away without looking back. Many were deeply moved. Our final act was washing in the river by the bridge.
On the last day of the pilgrimage our destination was Jung’s garden at Bollingen. Long ago Jung dreamt he was in a dingy city with some Swiss companions when he saw a pool with a sunlit island. A magnolia tree growing on the island radiated an inner light. He knew he was in Liverpool and declared it to be ‘The Pool of Life’. He said this was one of the most important dreams of his life. Unsurprisingly some Liverpudlians have taken this to heart, none more so than members of the Liverpool Arts Lab, many of whom were with us on our pilgrimage. What a great bunch!
On our walk to the garden we were treated to a guided tour of Liverpool by the inimitable Tommy Calderbank. Along the lakeside, with the snowy Alps in the distance, Tommy conjured images of Liverpool’s history, docks, buildings, speakers’ corner, the Florrie... We posed for photos by statues of the Rolling Stones (!) and sang a moving rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone’. It was brilliant. A new art form, indeed: a storywalk through an imaginary landscape.
Then we were at Bollingen and the tower that Jung built as an externalisation of his inner world. One pilgrim wrote in the Pilgrim’s Guidebook that Jung had a stone in his garden which he was carving. ‘With just one blank side remaining he was overcome by a desire to carve the words “Le cri de Merlin!” Legends say that the cries of Merlin could still be heard after he vanished from the world, but no one could understand or interpret them.’ This then, seemed a fitting place for a rendition of Merlin’s Prophecy, his ‘cry’ finally understood for our time. With the wind sweeping through the reeds the breath of prophecy was inhaled and the immortal words uttered.
‘Root and branch shall change places
And the newness of the thing shall seem a miracle.
The healing maiden will return, her footsteps bursting into flame.
She will weep tears of compassion for the people of the land,
Dry up polluted rivers with her breath,
Carry the city in her right hand, the forest in her left
And nourish the creatures of the deep.
With her blessing Man will become like God waking as if from a dream.’
Soon after the prophecy and the speaking of a new dream a magnolia tree, brought lovingly all the way from Liverpool, was planted. The pilgrimage was complete.
Apparently Ken Campbell used to sometimes give his actors impossible things to do and then shout at them when they failed. But sometimes what seems impossible becomes possible. Daisy and her trusty band of helpers made a seemingly impossible pilgrimage dream come true. Cue tumultuous applause. Maybe Cae Mabon is an impossible dream come true. Maybe you have an impossible dream to make true.
One final word. A key theme to the pilgrimage was this: ‘If we knew why we were doing it we wouldn’t be doing it’!