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Cryptomancy – Artist Statement

By April 16, 2019October 2nd, 2019Reviews

Junius Deckhardt – Candidate for the degree of Master Of Anthropology Of Ritual and Musicology
Cryptomancy (2017)
Arranged For Voice, Electric Guitar, Bass Guitar, Percussion, Strings, Synths and Piano

My work in this Independent Study with the Institute’s Anthropology of Ritual department has centered around an interdisciplinary nexus between musicology and the recovery of lost methods of spiritual practice. I view the reconstruction of ritual technologies as a necessary ballast in an increasingly impoverished scientistic, positivist cultural environment. A thread that I have been chasing through my work has been the myriad ways many forgotten peoples – or often more to the point, exterminated ones – found power in participation with nature, rather than immersion into it. This notion flies in the face of much of the conventional, perhaps even racist colonialist assumptions about “primitive” psychologies, “participation mystiques”, and unformed egos. Conventional wisdom and literature in this field has often accentuated the degree to which early human enclaves lacked a capacity for agency in the face of a sublimely overbearing nature. In excavating some of these liminal practices, I believe they can give us a clearer appreciation for the variegated paths to a construction of Self evidenced in pockets of our ancestral past, as well as some much needed perspective on our own orientation toward Nature.

In this particular work, my capstone recital entitled “Cryptomancy” I hope to show, in a modern idiom, just such an orientation toward power and Lifeworld. Due to the highly personal function of the ritual, I have had to choose as the subject and inspiration for this piece an event that is both personal and of grave significance. It is not without a certain vulnerability that I do so. Nor is it without some self-consciousness at what may be considered self-indulgence or a lack of scholarly remove. But in this case, rigor demands commitment. So, indeed, does a proper respect for the rite in which I will perform.

This piece is a reconstruction of a sacrament performed by members of the Perga, a nomadic band of steppe people last seen as a wholly constituted society in the 7th century around then-Sarmatia. This presentation is the result of 5 years work engaging and sowing together what has been collected from the region in terms of oral tradition and some extrapolations from surviving cultural practices and musical artifacts. What we can glean of interest from the history and culture of this people is indeed rich and fascinating, but beyond the scope of this writing.

Interestingly, there appears to be no formal, compositional requirements to effectuate what I have dubbed a “cryptomantic rite” save that it is a loosely mimetic aural working. Its purpose is to capture the essences of a loss, or trauma, and to breathe life into that impression in the form of a daemon, a spirit bound to the cryptomancer as a guardian and guide. It is, by all accounts, a simple ceremony. The lack of ritual prescription would seem to be unusual, perhaps even singular in human workings of this kind. But this simplicity and formally underdefined quality likely stems from a basic aspect of the Pergan metaphysic. To paraphrase the leading scholar of the Perga, Nils Rilken of St. John’s College at Oxford, the temporal veil between this world and the supernatural one is tissue thin. For them, it is only hidden from us because of the amount of concentrated effort needed to interact with it. For the Perga, sustained and significant affective agitation provided the phenomenological ground for piercing this veil. But it alone is not enough. This affective priming must be directed, with total singleness of purpose. And the recurring, perseverative nature of trauma and loss fit this bill quite neatly for these goals.

And so I have devised a ritual of my own. The locus of the affective ground shall be the childhood death of my twin sister, Violet, 20 years ago after she strayed into a nest of hornets on a jaunt through the woods during summer vacation. The ritual itself will, according to the formula, consist of as much of the central sensory and affective memories that I can express in sound. The performative output feeds the affective and intentional input, creating a feedback loop of energy. At the close of this ritual, the lore says, I will have sparked life in this fertile atmosphere to a thing which could only live previously in my mind and soul. Or more accurately, off of my mind and soul. A thing which can now think its own Self into continuity and permanence. It will not leave me, as it never could survive without me, and I could never recognize myself without it. But it will finally be free from me, and me free of it. A Symbiote where I was once merely a Host.