Monday, May 23, 2022

Dispatches from Occult Cincinnati (and Elsewhere) Part II

Note: This is part of a series of articles I've written chronicling my recent travels for The Farm's Patreon. Dispatches from Dandyland (Somerset, KY) and Weird Wisconsin can be found there along with the entire first Cincinnati dispatch. A preview is available on this blog here. Finally, my traveling companions and I recounted our experiences in Cincy for The Farm recently. That interview can be found here and here. Look for part three in this series to appear on The Farm's Patreon in the near future. 

Day two of our exploration of occult Cincinnati and the surrounding area kicked off on the morning of April 30th. It was most apt for our destinations that day, being Walpurgis Night. In the occult calendar, eight major points of interest are the quarter and cross-quarter dates. The quarter days refer to four solar events that have long been observed as holidays on European calendars: Midwinter and Midsummer (the former was typically celebrated between December 21 and 25th while the later normally fell on June 23-24); and the spring and fall equinox (which are normally celebrated around March and September 20th, respectively). 

The cross-quarter dates fall in between these solar markers. In many traditions, they are seen as more significant than the quarter dates. Traditionally, Walpurgis Night and May Day (which followed the next day) were celebrated as Beltane during the Pagan era. The other cross-quarter dates are February 1 (Imbolc or Candlemas), August 1 (Lammas), and of course, November 1 (Samhain or Halloween). The nights preceding these dates (especially Walpurgis and Halloween) were seen as especially magical, a time when the veils between worlds was supposedly at its thinnest. 

As you may have surmised from the first part, Cincinnati is certainly a choice location for such festivities. And to be sure, we had an especially mystical spot tapped to spend the evening at: Spring Grove Cemetary. it's a remarkable location that's attracted its fair share of strange denizens over the years, to be sure.

It was not to be, however. Spring Grove is open deep into the evenings, but only after April 30, when it's summer schedule starts. For Walpurgis Eve, it closes up early. No doubt, vandalism caused by teenage metalheads and the like is a concern. I witnessed these sickening spectacles for years at Cassadaga's own mysterious cemetery (which, in a lot of ways, is like a scaled down version of Spring Grove...). But given the connections Cincinnati's founders have to secret orders and the amount of them buried in Spring Grove, its easy to make sensational speculations as to why else the cemetery is closed for Walpurgis Eve. But I will refrain from doing so. 

Spring Grove would have to wait till May Day. Fortunately, there were no shortage of strange sites to explore in and around Cincinnati for Walpurgis. And we already had one selected for that morning: the Great Serpent Mound


For myself and other members of our party, this was a major bucket list event. Long time readers of this blog will recall that the Great Serpent Mound was one of the first subjects I ever wrote about here. I've continued to revisit the Mounds of Appalachia ever since (see, for instance, here). Having grown up in this area, it's a subject close to my heart. I've been surrounded by these Mounds my whole life. They seem to follow me everywhere I venture

As for the Great Serpent Mound, it did not disappoint. For those of you unfamiliar with this site, here's a rundown: This particular structure is located in the midst of the Ohio Valley, which encompasses all of Kentucky and Tennessee; most of West Virginia and Indiana; slivers of Illinois, New York state, and Pennsylvania; as well most of Ohio. While Native American mounds have been found all over the southeast of the present United States, and deep into the Mid-West and Great Lakes area, this particular region is arguably unsurpassed in terms of both the numbers and scale of the Mounds found here.

The Ohio Valley's crown jewel is unquestionable the Great Serpent Mound. It's located in Ohio's Adams County in the midst of the Serpent Mound crater. Yes, the effigy is within a crater left by meteorite roughly 300 million years ago. It's been speculated that the impact contributed to the alien landscape of the area. I can attest to its odd geographical features. This placing is all the more interesting in light of the Mound's astronomical alignments, which I'll get to in a moment. And the fact that the full scope of the Mound can only be gauged from the air...

the Serpent Mound crater

Stretching out at 1,348 feet in length and up to 25 feet in width (it varies between being 3 and 9 feet high at different parts), the Mound is believed to be the largest serpent effigy in the world. And predictably for a monolith of such grandeur, there is much debate as to who built it. 

Contrast that aerial shot of the Serpent Mound to the ones I took of either side of it with my phone from the park's observation tower. 

Early archaeologists credited to the Adena civilization. More recently, its been chalked up to the Fort Ancient culture. It's linkage to the latter is problematic, however. Radioactive dating placed construction of the Mound around  1070 AD, at a time when the Fort Ancient civilization inhabited this region. But the samples used may have been faulty. Layers of earth were added to the earthwork from the surrounding area towards the end of the 19th century. Thus, the samples used may not have originated from Mound's origins. Finally, the sacred geometry of the site is more in keeping with the Hopewell civilization, according to William F. Romain in The Mysteries of the Hopewell. Romain certainly makes a compelling case. 

The astronomical alignment of the Serpent Mound is justly celebrated. Its frankly nothing short of remarkable to view it in person. The megalith is aligned to True North plus/minus 10 minutes of arc. This alignment stretches from the tip of the serpent's tail to the triangular space of its head. The oval-to-head area of the serpent is aligned with the summer solstice sunset. Further, the serpent's body convolutions are believed to have astronomical significance. Romain believes they are aligned to at least six lunar azimuths. Others speculate that the three main curves point towards the sunrises of all four solstice and equinox.

The Hopewell civilization had a reputation for astronomy. The Adena and Fort Ancient civilizations were also fascinated by it, but not seemingly to the extent as the Hopewell. The Great Serpent Mound is also aligned to the Moon's midpoint in addition to the other links to the lunar body. This is in keeping with other Hopewell earth works, which were commonly aligned to the moon. 

Further, the Hopewell were one of many indigenous cultures that employed "charnel houses." The Native American version was quite different from the European structures, similar to crypts, which they are named after. The indigenous ones crop up all across the Southeast, appearing along the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Florida; around the Gulf and to the lower Mississippi Valley; and as far north as the Ohio Valley and westward till at least Oklahoma. They were used for mortuary services, usually cremation. Typically, they were burned down with body, despite the effort it took to construct them. In virtually all cases, they were aligned with the moon. 

The association of the moon in several Mound building civilizations will be of interest when we get into the next installment in this series. But, in brief: Among those tribes from this region, a belief existed that the Otherworld was a mirror image of our own. An identical twin even, but in reverse. Thus, while the sun is the primary life-giving body in this world, the moon would take on that function in the Other. 

Unsurprisingly, Hopewell magicians employed tools similar to their European counterparts. Their remains are commonly found with a thin sheet or two of mica. In sheet form, this mineral provides a naturally occurring reflective surface. A mirror, in other words. The prevalence of the mica sheets among the Hopewell remains led William Romain to conclude that they were used to access the Otherworld, in much the same way European magicians employed mirrors for the purposes of scrying. This is the basis for the fortune teller's crystal ball trope and it would seem the Hopewell had their own variation. 

a Hopewell mica sheet

There is also ample evidence the Hopewell ventured into altered states of consciousness via entheogens as part of their rituals. Their shamans possessed magical wands that in some cases were in the shape of Amanita mushroom, one of the psychedelic variety. Mound City appears to have an entire effigy modeled upon the caps of the Amanita.

Nor is evidence of altered states limited to the mushroom effigies. Ceremonial pipes are a common feature of Hopewell earthworks as well. A particular type of tobacco, Nicotiana rustic, was smoked in these pipes. This tobacco is much stronger than what is used for modern cigarettes. The nicotine content can be up to five times higher. There are indications that excessive use of Nicotiana rustic can induce altered states. 

So, these sits may have constituted a proverbial witches brew of astronomy, magic mirrors, and psychedelics. But, to what purpose? If you happened to catch my interview with Fortan researcher Joshua Cutchins, we made a very compelling case for these set-ups constituting a kind of astral magick. 

Another interesting aspect of the Great Serpent Mound is its presence atop a hill/plateau. There's a trail that leads down to a creek that runs alongside the plateau. It's a strangely beautiful area. I was unaware that I was in a crater left by a meteorite at the time, which makes the landscape all the more remarkable. 

It was a magical day on any number of levels, but nothing better personified that than the fairy ring we noted on the way up to Serpent Mound. It was located just a mile or so from the Serpent Mound, and was across the street from a farmhouse with a small effigy mound in its front yard. Inevitably, we stopped for a closer look on the way back. For me, this was especially striking, given the remarkable fairy garden in Milwaukee a few days earlier. Much like the Mounds, the fey seemingly turned into an unintended traveling companion of mine for these journeys. 

From there, we made our way back to Cincinnati. Along the way, we stopped in the suburb of Fairfield, OH, so that we could partake of an entirely different effigy, one firmly rooted in American consumerism: Jungle Jim's International Market. While nominally a grocery store, the place has more the feel of Ripley's Believe It or Not. "Theme park" is a common description used, and not unjustly, considering the bizarre statues, music and animatronics on display. This isn't to say groceries are neglected --in fact, it may have the most impressive international selection I've ever seen. It's probably the size of a Cosco's or two --the international section mind you, not the entire store. But regardless of how one choses to classify it, the combination of ambition and kitsch is as quintessentially American as it gets.

As I noted at the beginning, we had planned to wrap the day up at Spring Grove Cemetery for Walpurgis Night. After being denied entry, we made our way to Eden Park. While not quite Spring Grove, it was a nonetheless satisfactory conclusion to the day. As should come as little surprise at this point, the park is littered with a host of strange structures. 

Not entirely sure on this one....

Easily the most notorious is the replica of the Capitoline Wolf StatueMussolini commissioned the statue and gifted it to Cincinnati in 1931. It's certainly apt for the most Roman of American cities. It depicts the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus, the mythological twins believed to have founded ancient Rome. It certainly occupies a choice place in Cincinnati, overlooking the Ohio River and the city proper. Of course, my companions and I couldn't resist having a bit of fun with it. 

The most striking thing we encountered was the "Eden Park Standpipe." As you can see, this structure is more in keeping with a Gothic tower than a conventional standpipe. This thing was eerie and even featured a bat or two that had taken of residency. They fit in well with the standpipe's gargoyles. The bats threatened to descend upon us at a few points, but an uneasy truce was maintained. 

I couldn't help but be reminded of the final incarnation of Phillip Jeffries while standing in the presence of the standpipe. The structure apparently now services as a "communications facility" for the city of Cincinnati. Predictably, there's virtually nothing online about what this consists of. 

And so concluded day two in Cincinnati. After being denied the Spring Grove Cemetery for Walpurgis, it was at the top of the list for Beltane. Not only did we get to spend several hours at the graveyard on that Sunday, but we had some unexpected adventures in Covington, KY. It was there that I was once again struck by the hidden side of America, the one hinted at by strange monuments, their locations and the other curiosities. But it's certainly an America the likes of Michael Bertiaux and the Bate Cabal are familiar with. I'll explore these things and more in the final installment of this series. Until then, stay tuned dear readers.

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