Sunday, May 14, 2006

Geometry of the Blood

The following is an abridged version of the interview with Robert Taylor that will soon appear in its entirety in issue #9 of Destroying Angels. Robert Taylor is one of the founders of contemporary Odinism in America. He is also the vocalist and founding member of late 60's folk band Changes, who are perhaps best remembered for their early association with the Process Church of the Final Judgement. A veritable Renaissance Man, Mr. Taylor is also an accomplished visual artist, poet, craftsman, and lyricist. The following interview was conducted in May 2006 and will appear in the upcoming issue of Destroying Angels, slated for release on Summer Solstice.

Dennis Dread: What does the word “heathen” mean to you?

Robert Taylor: In its literal meaning, it means simply a person of the heath (land or fields), a rural person subscribing to native folk religion and beliefs. It has the same meaning and connotation as the word “pagan” (countryman). I am sure in both cases it was a term of condemnation, sort of like the word “hillbilly” in America today. They all have illusions that are brought to mind when the word is said or made use of. In the current vernacular of today it implies more. It not only means a person who ascribes to and believes in the archaic natural deities of his folk or kind, but often is used to imply someone who has rejected the Christian faith and is in some way Anti-Christ or a heretic or devil worshipper. “Heathen” is often used to denote savagery and such. These other things are not accurate of course, but they are images created in the popular mind. Those of us who proudly assume the title of heathen see it as a sign of one’s healthy mind, spirit and soul, and a return to primal sources of a primordial tradition. In essence, a return to one’s true self as opposed to alien Salvationist faiths which promulgate a false sense of self.

Could you elaborate on your personal relationship with the Nordic/Germanic pantheon?

It has been a long (nearly 40-year) relationship on many levels, encompassing mystical experiences, scholarly study, much thought and deliberation and active participation in the rites and rituals of the path of Asatru. I was among the three people who more or less founded the Odinist/Asatru troth. The two other principle individuals were Elsa Christenson and Steven McNallen. We all more or less found the pathway to the Gods in the same several-year period. The differences in approach were that Elsa took a philosophic and less spiritual approach. Steve formed what was, in the beginning, a national organization of largely dispersed members with the original AFA (Asatru Free Assembly). My former wife (Karen) and I founded a locally based group of Asatru adherents and practitioners called the Northernway. Unlike Elsa’s or Steve’s approach we maintained the Northernway as a local group. That was because we did not want a mail order organization so much as a group of actual people who knew one another and conducted services and rites in person together. Eventually the AFA began to hold annual Althings and the group became more of a flesh and blood organization as opposed to simply subscribers to a publication and correspondents. Eventually, the Northernway broke into two groups: one essentially became a Norse or Germanic Wicca group (and after a couple of years went defunct) and those that came with us reformed into what became first the Wulfing Kindred and later, when we began to spread in numbers and geographic locations, the Tribe Of the Wulfings. At some point early on, we affiliated with the Asatru Free Assembly and became an active kindred of that organization, and remained so until it’s demise. I view the Aesir and Desir from many points of view. As Jungian archetypes, as numinous forces of nature and the universe, as composite symbols of the Germanic and related people themselves. I also see them as pure spiritual entities and forces which guide their people from the inner planes. They are symbolic. They are metaphoric and they are actual in my personal experience, estimation and insights.

Stephen Flowers has shared his life-altering experience of hearing the word “Runa” whispered in his ear. Did you have an initiatory experience of this nature? Can you recall your first exposure to the Gods and Goddesses of Northern Europe?

My own introduction to Germanic spirituality was perhaps less prosaic and succinct then that of Dr. Flowers. I have had numerous mystical experiences over the years that partook both of the Germanic as well as the larger corpus of Indo-European symbology. One of those I covered in an article that was published in Robert Wards Fifth Path magazine titled ‘Animal Spirit’. I’ll not repeat that here due to its length and context. There is now a Robert Ward memorial website and perhaps one day articles from his Fifth Path magazine will be posted on the site for others to read. We all have dreams and many people have mystical experiences. The ones that matter most are those that give guidance which, when acted upon, have effects in the material world and in some way facilitate and further our spiritual quest. My introduction to the Germanic pantheon was by way of my own father, George Ellis Taylor, who considered himself a heathen all of his life and passed those thoughts and feelings on to me. Initially both Karen and I were among the very early people in the larger pan-pagan movement in the Midwest. We affiliated our Northernway group with the Midwest Pagan Conference, which held gatherings in and about the Midwest. We withdrew from the larger pagan community due to differing perspectives on just what paganism/heathenism really was and should be. We felt that the general pagan movement was too eclectic and contrived and lacked any real ethical code or basis. Much of it was based on the contrivances of people like Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders and the largely British occultism of the early part of the 20th century Asatru, as it has evolved and as it actually was in its tribal period, was first and foremost a heroic/ethical religion. Theological concepts I think played an auxiliary part and were more the prerogative of the priest class (Gothis), Vitki (rune masters) and the exoteric side of Asatru. It largely remains as such in the present resurrection of Asatru overall. The primary ethics of Asatru can be found in the Havamal (Words of the High One).

You were among the very first to establish Asatru in America. Could you set the stage culturally for that period in the 70’s? What was happening in your own life that helped guide you to Asatru?

I have answered the above question in part already. As for the cultural stage of things at the inception period of Asatru, life was in a general flux culturally and more importantly in a spiritual sense. Early on, perhaps as early as 14 years old, I began to be aware of this spiritual crisis. In the larger European context, this crisis begins with the German philosopher, Fredrich Nietzsche. Even before Nietzsche, one can find the seeds of it in Schopanhauer and Hegel, but it comes into full focus and expression in the writings of Nietzsche. In a sense all roads lead back to Nietzsche and begin with him as far as this spiritual crisis is concerned. I can hardly imagine anyone having a grasp of this crisis, both spiritual and intellectual, without studying his writings. I derived immense insight from studying his thoughts in relation to all of this. If I recall correctly, it was in my fourteenth summer that I began studying his works at the suggestion of my father. I spent nearly an entire summer reading his collected writings in English translation at the main downtown library in Chicago. This was followed by reading and studying the works of Oswald Spengler (particularly his Decline of the West) and Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Foundations of the 20th Century, and Egon Friedel’s A Cultural History of the Modern World -all of which drew similar conclusions in their own manner, and all of which owed a huge debt to the philosophy of Nietzsche. Having studied, analyzed and pondered on these works, the question that remained was, how can we reverse the downward spiral of Western civilization? A spiritual rebirth seemed necessary to affect this decline. Christianity had become so played out and corrupted of spirituality that it did not seem the answer in any way whatsoever. It was already dying or dead. It was in a large part the religion that was at the forefront of the decay and decline. Nietzsche had already dissected it to its marrow, but what could take its place? A return to an honest spirituality was the general answer I came to. The Eastern religions are in many ways as corrupted as Christianity is. Plus, like Christianity, they are alien to the true nature of Western man and the Western soul. They are all constructs or expressions of other people, not us. I could find no real resonance in any of them myself. Buddhism is an ethical philosophy of passive nihilism. Nietsche’s nihilism is its anti-thesis. It extols heroic active nihilism, but the Arlen Specter of nihilism or the teetering edge of the abyss is not an answer in and of itself. It is largely a diagnosis of things. Cultural Pathology 101. As Tony Wakeford’s song ‘Looking for Europe’ says, “If you’re looking for Europe just look in your heart.” Or as the Changes song says in a slightly different variant, “For the soul to know the soul, to the soul you first must go, for the answers lie there hidden in the legends that we know.”
I felt it was necessary to return to our own spiritual roots and build up from there, and I spent the next two decades finding the soul of Western man. I found it in what later emerged as Asatru. It was and is the answer. We as Western people must draw from within ourselves, from within the true Western legacy of our legends and myths and archaic beginnings, and it does not simply end there. We must take what we have found and re-seed it with a new vision, a new creativity, a new and vibrant spirit.

What was your role in the Minutemen movement? Were you arming yourself for the impending collapse of American society?

I began association with the Minutemen in my early teens. As I grew older, so did my involvement develop from member to local leader, to executive council as head of the organization’s intelligence, and finally as National spokesman for the group and publisher of the organization’s publication, On Target. We were arming and training for the Second American Revolution. I know it is a given that when you mention the Minutemen, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is guns. In actuality, guns played a much lesser role than intelligence, counter-intelligence psych-war, and such things as those. Though ostensibly an armed citizenry preparing against the threat of international communism on the surface, the true aims of the organization were revolutionary. The revolution had as its goal the reestablishment of America as a constitutional republic replete with the checks and balances it had been founded upon. We felt our liberties were being legislated out from under us all, and they were. Most of the warnings on these things have come to pass as it were. Most of the freedoms and liberties we have on the books are more apparent than they are actual. Try using them and you will quickly realize that you are under surveillance by the secret police. That is what occurs as soon as you elect to exercise such guaranteed liberties. Our leaders offer license in place of these actual liberties. They will persecute anyone using the first amendment rights in an adversarial manner toward them, but they will allow you the license of watching women get it on with barnyard animals on the internet. Our world today is full of license and deficient on true liberty. It is a very bad trade-off.

Have you received much attention from the FBI since those days?

Yes, to be sure--undo attention by them or the other intelligence agencies that have no mandate to operate domestically. They investigated and interviewed family, friends, neighbors, etc. I had my phone taped, mail covers, agent provocateurs and such which they utilized in one manner or another. I’m sure I’ve kept a lot of agents busy and working and earning their salaries for decades. Even now, I am listed on the immigration security list as some sort of dangerous character and put through the usual indignities every time I travel by air. And in the nearly forty years they have been giving me attention, nothing practical has evolved from their standpoint. You would think, after that much time, they would wise up and allocate their efforts elsewhere, where it might do them some good or serve some actual advantage. Maybe they missed 9-11 so completely because they were all preoccupied with shadowing people like myself who have done nothing they can construe as illegal. After forty years, you would think they would find something more profitable to allocate their resources toward. One thing I have come to think after all the years of their attention is that they are very myopic of mind and there isn’t a great deal of real imagination among these types of people. suppose one can justifiably expect too much of accounting and pre-law students. They are hardly the epicenter of imagination or very profound thoughts. Interestingly, as I write this, there is a big flap over telephone taping or surveillance by the Bush oligarchy in Washington. It seems like most all of what I have predicted over the years is coming to fruition. And I don’t think Specter is going to save the nation from further tyranny. Only the American people as a whole can possibly do that. I can’t imagine what they’re all waiting for. A leader?

Would you agree that your visual works, similar to mandalas, reflect a yearning for wholeness?

That is the general thesis, that such round art is an attempt to reach or acquire wholeness of being. I started doing mandalic-type art in the late sixties. There was nothing in particular that inspired me to do so. I had no real knowledge at the time about oriental art or religion or Jung’s writings. I was quite amazed when I first encountered other artists who were in effect doing similar mandalic art like that which I was doing in the late sixties. I instinctively thought that there must be a deeper reason for this synchronistic occurrence in art. I am sure it was as you mentioned a desire toward wholeness, as Jung would imply. The modern world is a very fragmented wasteland. That fragmentation is within us as people (a spiritual crisis) as well as on the temporal material level around us (environment). I saw zietgeist in the art of that period being projected in such work. There also was the prolific use of psychoactive plants and drugs which created a shared experience among a large number of people who did not necessarily even know of one another. This in itself was, I am certain, another factor in the rise of such in approach as mandalic art. I did drawings and paintings as well as shaped verse (concrete poetry; calligrams; pattern poems) also in a mandalic mode. In fact, I had a one-man exhibit in Chicago of my mandalic art and calligraphic devices. I titled the show Full Circle: Art and Poems in the Mandalic ModeĆ¢. Today when I do anything in what could be termed the mandalic modeĆ¢ it is simply one of the ways I create and express something. I am no longer seeking totality of being or wholeness. I think I largely achieved that long ago. I have pretty much gone through the individuation process of life.

What effect would you like your visual work to have on the viewer?

A visual effect. I consider myself an op-artist and love to employ the optical in the visual art I do. I have explored, and continue to explore, ways of using optics in my art: hidden pictures, anamorphic distortions, optical illusion, geometric impossibilities alluding to a fourth dimension, chroma-depth techniques, 3-D, subliminal and other similar approaches and meldings of such. I love to play with the human optical apparatus and mind. To surprise; to transfix; to perplex. I am a bit dismayed that there are practically no real books concerning op-art that I am aware of. Plenty on pop art and every other type of art, but little relating to op. There are some books on optical illusion art, or books on actual optical illusion techniques, but nothing in print that I know of which covers the movement of op-art. I think there is a corollary between op-art and what is termed fantastic or fabuklist literature in the vein of Jorge Louis Borges, Danilo Kis, Italo Calvino, Milorad Pavic and others. I am not in any way the first artist to do optically oriented art. You will find many such optical gambits in the work of DaVinci, Durer and artists of every period and time. Dali in our own time used such devices and ploys in many of his works, as did Dutch graphic artist Escher. Especially Escher and his disciples such as Sandro. A prime similitude that artists who have done so seem to share is a knowledge and practical ability in the realm of geometry. It is a given of sorts toward crafting such art. About fifteen years ago, I came upon the subject of geometry. It all began with a project I was getting together at the time. I had a 14-foot reinforced concrete slab laid in the middle of a field on the farm I had at the time. My intention was to build an astronomical dome that would sit upon the slab. One of the ideas I had was to paint a mural time-line of the history of astronomy. To do so, I would need to know how many linear feet of painting I would require to complete the painting on the wall from one side of the door to the other. That, of course, required the pi equation. I never finished the dome and hence never did the painting except a few preliminary sketches. The same day I was figuring out the pi ratio for that project, I happened upon two people whom I knew at a local restaurant discussing pi ratios and there were other synchronicities that occurred that day on such sacred geometry. I had a volume containing both the books and propositions of Archimedes and Euclid. I spent the rest of that winter studying the propositions and working them out on paper. So I acquired something of a crash course in geometry. Since that time, geometry has become an integral part of my daily life, perhaps as much as poetry is. I am sure I am not through with it yet. Several times I thought I had gone about as far as I could with it, and then some new insight occurred and I was off and running on it again. Geometry is a very old practice, an archaic subject. There is not a lot that one can add to it today (at so distant a time from its inception). Many great minds have wrestled with the subject and added some small contribution. DaVinci was a very able geometer. His melding of the icosahedron and the dodecahedron into what is called the icosidodecahedron, which has 20 triangular faces and twelve pentagonal faces, was certainly a stroke of genius. Durer was an even more knowledgeable geometer than was DaVinci. Geometry for the artist is a challenge as to how one might employ geometric knowledge and skill in representational art. Escher was a master at this. He was able to take geometry and turn it into graphic art of a high level. His concepts and skills have always left me awed. I am still grappling with the matter of employing geometric knowledge in a representational manner. Most of my artistic efforts of the past several years have been devoted to doing that. Two of the three contributions I had in the recent Heathen Art show were eggs done with design and geometry. I think the initial inspiration for doing egg-shaped art was as a result of having investigated the visica pisces. The visica pisces is the center shape created by overlapping two circles. The curved lines of the inner arc of the circles cross at the center of one another forming what is termed a mandala at the center. It is very much similar to an egg shape; in fact, an egg shape can be created from the visica pisces, as can all the archimedian and platonic solids be created within the shape. It is termed by the classical Greeks as the womb of geometry or the womb of numbers.

Several years ago you described your construction of the Wulfing hof as “the pinnacle of my personal creative endeavors.” Do you still feel this way? What has become of the hof now that you’ve moved?

I did think so at that time. I think the Opus Dei project will transcend that project in a quantum way, though the hof project was a worthwhile one in so many ways. Most unfortunate was the fact that it was never totally completed. There was much carving and decor to be added both within the hof as well as without. It was completed in the sense of a structure and was closed in, had a roof, windows, doors, etc. I did some of the decor on the inside--mostly the wide baseboards that undulated like a serpent. I also completed a world tree and other runic devices within. The Dragon’s Head montage I had in the Heathen art show was a design for a dragon’s head to be fashioned of wood and installed in the hof. I also have designs for the dragon’s wings and tail which I may one day do as a similar paper montage. All three of these things were to grow out of or emerge from the undulating baseboard on either side of the Irmunsil Tree. It is no longer being used as a hof as far as I know. Initially, there was an agreement with my ex-wife that the hof would be set aside for Asatruars and maintained from a joint trust fund set up to pay the taxes on it, but that agreement never materialized. It was just one of many promises and agreements that were broken. Such is divorce and the parting of ways with human beings.

Do you have a less elaborate hof or similar “sacred space” for spiritual activities at your current home?

I do have plans of building another hof at sometime in the future. I have other projects I am concerned with at the moment. I think it will be very different from the previous one in the way I design and build it next time. I had an area set aside for that in my home until recently. I remarried this summer and am presently in the process of renovations and reorganization of my house. Once I have squared the main of that away, I will find an area to once again set up a sacred space or shrine.

If you could change any aspect of modern society right now, what would you change?

The people within it. Make them self-reliant and not dependent on powers outside themselves. Expand individual liberties while at the same time generating through all medias and education the responsibilities necessary in maintaining said liberties. Only responsible people can maintain any measure of liberty and selfhood as individuals.

How might your art (visual, writing, music, etc.) assist toward this aim?

In continuing to respond to interviews like this one and helping to clarify issues and reinstating sound principles that safeguard our individual lives and fortunes as a people.

The Changes song ‘Twilight of the West’ is perhaps your most challenging political statement in that you articulately address much of your frustration with modern society. Could you explain what a more ideal contemporary society might look like?

A traditional society would be best, if it were imperative, due to population numbers and the complexities of a technological society. If those considerations were absent, then I would personally prefer to live in a Free State system, much like our American West was before civilization and its expanded population caught up with it. A similar free state system existed in Iceland in its early years. Of all American statesmen, Thomas Jefferson is my favorite social philosopher and governmental architect. It was Jefferson who said, “The government is best which governs least of all.” Thoreau of course one-upped Jefferson with his paraphrase, “The government is best which governs not at all.” I think, however, that Thoreau took it a bit too far. I believe in law and justice. Without some form of fair and equitable law and justice, we end up with the sort of criminal outbursts recently exhibited by some of the residents of New Orleans in the wake of disaster and a cessation of law enforcement. Anarchy always ends up as thugism and an open invitation to criminal elements in a society to have a field day of rape, robbery and destruction as was witnessed in New Orleans. As for ‘Twilight Of The West’ I think it continues to be fulfilled in its import and meaning. Perhaps that’s why my adversaries seem to hate it most of all. It sort of rips the mask off things, on both the inner and outer plane, that are currently unfolding. As much as I hate to quote my own poetry, I feel impelled with the thought: See? I told you so! “And opponents you thought vanquished have come to take their fill as they hover on the sidelines preparing for the kill.” I think I summed up something of the current controversy of the 11 million ingratiating illegal aliens that have poured mostly unchecked across our southern border and are now demonstrating in our midst. Some of them, like the head of the Azatlan movement in the southwest, are saying that it may be necessary to start killing old white people before they get what they want. And what do they want? To take back Texas and the southwest and other areas once a part of Mexico. I foresee many little Alamos occurring in those areas in the future. And like the demonstrated reluctance of the federal government to do anything about the illegal flow into the U.S., they will, I am certain, leave all the Americans in those areas in the lurch to be slaughtered if that begins to occur. That was exactly what I was thinking of in 1973 when I wrote that while residing in New Mexico. We surely do live in interesting times and I’m sure it will get more interesting in time.

The Red Salon