The following text comes from
John Michell: From Atlantis to Avalon
Paul Screeton, Heart of Albion Press, 2010 and is a slight abridgement of chapter five.
Confrontations and Reconciliations
A well observed phenomenon [is] that the official theorists in
every field turn out always to be wrong – not just slightly and
sometimes wrong, but totally and invariably.
For someone so placidly outgoing and the epitome of gentlemanly charm, some of John’s excursions into print were the very essence of deliberate confrontation. Yet on other topics, where he held strong views, John could see beyond the warring factions and pigheadedness to adopt a unique yet traditional conciliatory tone and plausible solution.
One of the most ingratiating aspects of John’s character was his espousal of various causes, whether popular or otherwise, without consideration for public solicitude, approbation or condemnation. These ranged from championing the derided Watkinsian leys to opposing the folly of arrogant and alien metrication; to challenging science to face up to anomalous data and to put a mystical spin on the crop circle phenomenon. He campaigned for the reconsideration of Michael X’s character, for the denigration of Salman Rushdie’s and rehabilitation of Hitler’s better sides. His defence of James Kirkup’s allegedly blasphemously libellous poem was based upon illustrative proofs.
Unpopular in many quarters as certain causes were, John’s support indicated that here was a man willing to lay his hard-won reputation on the line for the truth as he saw it. Nor was his support half-hearted and he was the last person to jump on an easy bandwagon only when it was rolling merrily. He had credibility in aces.
Yet John’s obvious acts of liberalism belied an occasional right-wing streak and even a somewhat distancing manner from the underclass, particularly as he grew older – with his background, no surprises there.
In The Oldie, John boldly proclaimed: ‘The only newspaper which conveys any idea of what is going on is the Telegraph.’ Actually, I applaud The Daily Telegraph, to give it its proper title, which is a distinctly right-wing organ of the Press (leavened with its anti-global warming stance). Waiting for a service to Durham from Hartlepool bus station, John resolutely refused to make the journey until we found a copy of his newspaper of choice, to which my remonstration that he could get one in Durham fell on deaf ears and we scuttled to a nearby newsagent’s. Typically and perversely, the newspaper remained unopened when later in the day I left a train at Darlington as John continued his journey. I bet he never bought the Daily Sport, despite my championing of its fortean coverage....
John’s ‘mucky’ books
Visiting John in Notting Hill one day, I almost tripped over a large, heavy box. It turned out to be remaindered stock, unsold copies of John’s Radical-Traditionalist Papers, No. 4, which John went on to tell me a pornographer had offered to buy his entire stock until realising that To Represent Our Saviour as ‘that great cock’ (Kirkup – Gay News) is not blasphemy but eternal Christian orthodoxy, was not under-the-counter filth.
The pamphlet’s provenance was John’s solidarity with James Kirkup, who had published a poem, The Love That Dares to Speak its Name, which became a cause célèbre in 1977 after moralist Mary Whitehouse successfully sued Gay News editor and co-founder Denis Lemon for publishing blasphemous libel. Even though the offending passage, ‘For the last time I laid my lips around the tip of that great cock, the instrument of our salvation, our eternal joy,’ was regarded as blasphemous by a judge directing a jury, John went back to early sacred sources to point out that true Christian orthodoxy avers, ‘Jesus did not have a big cock, he was a big cock.’ In Gnostic iconography Christ was represented as Saviour of the World by male genitalia upon the head of a cock, emblem of the Sun, all supported by the neck and shoulders of a man. John illustrated his defence of the beleaguered professor with many other illustrations and Carl Jung’s conviction of the archetypal nature of the erect penis as an image of divinity. As an advocate John had supplied irrefutable proofs that the basic spiritual dynamic cannot be divorced from such sexuality. However, when the conviction went to the House of Lords, five law lords were split three-two in their decision not to allow the appeal. Perhaps testifying that truth will out, Kirkup’s poem (described by John as ‘meek’) was subsequently placed on the internet in 1995 for all to read.
Naughty, but nice
Twenty years ago Ayatollah Khohemini issued a fatwa (death threat) against Salman Rushdie for what was regarded as provocative and blasphemous in his novel The Satanic Verses. The book’s literary merits or otherwise were hardly relevant; it was one particular long passage which upset many Muslims and being an educated man born into Islam, Rushdie knew this. As with John’s previous foray into blasphemy pamphleteering his slim booklet, Rushdie’s Insult, was a particularly vituperative political tract.
Where it differed significantly was that here was no declaration of freedom of speech, indeed the opposite, but an attack upon a fellow author and a broadside at the literary London coterie of dinner party liberal intellectuals. Frankly, I could never see what all the fuss was about in 1989, nor do I wish to get engaged in the politics of multiculturalism in 2010. Scanning several cuttings I have slotted into my copy of Rushdie’s Insult, the only helpful remark came from a full-page article canvassing the intellectual intelligentsia whether it was wise to publish a paperback edition of The Satanic Verses.
John’s friend and amazingly – as a former editor of publish-and-be-damned Private Eye – Richard Ingrams, believed it should not, citing: ‘Penguin and Rushdie have made enough money out of it already. I recommend John Michell’s pamphlet Rushdie’s Insult which set out the case against better than I could.’ James Kirkup, whose homoerotic poem was the subject of John’s previous diatribe on blasphemy, was another notable dissenter here.
Yet John withdrew Rushdie’s Insult, writing of his withdrawal: ‘The object of the pamphlet was to combat the flood of anti-Islamic passions and propaganda, unleashed in Europe and America by Rushdie’s apologists.’ Doubtless, John’s detractors would echo Rushdie’s most famous advertising copyrighting slogan, ‘that’ll do nicely.’ But John had the last laugh as we in Britain face another wave of anti-Muslim populism.
Knave of spades
To really have your credentials established, any public figure or celebrity has to have their own contemporary legend. In John’s case I kept hearing a rumour that upon hearing of the hanging of his erstwhile controversial friend Michael Abdul Malik, John took down a copy of his book The Old Stones of Land’s End from his bookshelves, took out a sharp knife and ripped ferociously at the page upon which he had dedicated the book to the Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles. When I challenged John about this circulating tale, he simply laughed and assured me that the story had no substance whatsoever. Another rumour was that John saw Charles as a mystical sovereign-to-be.
As for Malik, born Michael de Freitas in Trinidad in 1933 of a Barbadian woman and a Portuguese shopkeeper, he was better known as Britain’s Black Power leader Michael X, having rather unoriginally modelled himself on and renamed himself after American activist Malcolm X. Fashionable figures in London society cultivated him (as with the Krays). After Malik was hanged, drawn and quartered in his native Trinidad for his role in the murders of a cousin and an English woman who had belonged to his Caribbean commune, John, together with former IT editor Bill Levy, produced a ‘souvenir programme’ for the ‘official lynching’ of Malik, the booklet being illustrated with photographs and graphics, and containing biographical notes, prose, poetry, views and opinions by Malik and a letter from his widow Desiree to John.
Both light and dark sides of Malik’s contradictory behaviour and personality were presented, with nothing glossed over, particularly his penchant for pleading poverty and making financial appeals. This multi-faceted portrait of Malik seems perceptive and probably a balanced and deserving epitaph. Doubtless it was Suck editor Levy’s idea to include a drawing of a naked white woman having intercourse with a hanged half-caste man. The royalties were donated to Malik’s widow.
Was John attempting to rehabilitate the reputation of a man who had pimped prostitutes, ran gambling dens, sold drugs and collected rent for slum racketeer Peter Rachman, who immersed himself in radical politics and was himself jailed under the Race Relations Act for suggesting the Queen should have a black baby, was a fantasist and probably clinically paranoid? In fact, were there doubts about Malik’s guilt? Was he framed? In effect, was he lynched? Or was it simply convenient for the authorities to be rid of him forever?
Was John aware of the events which would eventually turn into a full-blown conspiracy theory – and film? Among the Trinidad commune was an American who called himself Hakim Jamal, although his real name was Alan Donaldson, who boasted of attending functions alongside Princess Margaret. There had been rumours of sexually-incriminating pictures of the Queen’s sister taken on the Caribbean island of Mustique and most of these were supposedly stored in a bank vault in London. In 2008, a film entitled simply The Bank Job claimed that Tory MP’s daughter Gale Benson, Jamal’s friend, was working deep undercover for MI6 as part of a campaign to infiltrate the Black Power movement. According to the film, the notorious unsolved Baker Street robbery’s motive was to rescue the controversial pictures being used to blackmail the British Establishment. Gale’s role was to find out if any other photographs or negatives might be at Michael X’s Trinidad home.
John had a splendid network of friends and contacts, and it is intriguing to think he might have had insider information on this sensitive matter.
Having a ball with Hitler
I must admit to having become alarmed when one day a mutual friend told me he had just been to visit John and was shocked to find huge amounts of Hitlerian literature cluttering the study. Had John shifted even further to the right than his beloved ‘Daily Torygraph’? Had he abandoned Wilhelm Reich for the Third Reich? It all became harmlessly clear when it was revealed that John had been busying himself with a small book, The Hip Pocket Hitler, from which extracts appeared in a bumper issue of The Fanatic, an occasional anarchistic magazine produced by whoever, whenever and wherever any persons wish. These quotations put Adolf into a new perspective as a challenger of orthodox beliefs, humorous and in many ways commonsensical and prophetic.
Apparently, John had been inspired in this venture by two precedents – Chairman Mao’s similarly little red book and a compendium of the wit and wisdom of Prince Philip. The introduction stated that ‘an object of this selection, apart from the vast amount of money it should earn for its compiler and publisher’ (John later remarked to me that it must be the first Hitler industry work not to prove profitable), ‘is to demystify Hitler by quoting some of his expressions of a philosophy, which in his practical expression of it, he so perverted.’ The slim book itself was an eccentric concoction though useful in giving uncanny insights into Hitler’s beliefs. My personal copy has on the flyleaf a penned dedication ‘To mein friend Herr P. Screeton from the compiler John Michell’.
Battle of Stonehenge
It took the subtlest authority on Stonehenge, John Michell, to see most clearly the true perspective of Stonehenge’s plight in the 1980s. Angered by police brutality on 1 June 1985, when men, women, children and babes in arms were attacked unmercifully in what became known as the ‘Battle of the Beanfield,’ John published three weeks later on Midsummer Day his sixth Radical-Traditionalist paper. Here John looked at Stonehenge’s past, its embattled present, a balanced possible immediate future and even a long-range speculation: ‘It could well be that the imprint of the festival will be of as much interest to future anthropologists as any other evidence of what Stonehenge has meant to the people.’
Central to this essay and thesis was the Stonehenge Free Festival, an ancient solstice gathering spontaneously re-instituted in the 1970s. These events panicked the uncomprehending authorities and in 1978 Stonehenge was fenced off and the public excluded. So the monument, which had been presented to the nation with a condition of (virtually) free access in 1918, was illegally and arbitrarily violated. In 1985 the Druids were banned and that bloody confrontation provoked with the festival goers.
What made this site so important that thousands made an annual pilgrimage and faced charges by riot/ing police armed with clubs and shields behaving like latterday Berserkers? It was because, as John explained, Stonehenge is unique. It is a cosmic temple dedicated not to a single god or goddess, but to all twelve gods of the zodiac. ‘It represents the ideal cosmology, the perfect and complete image of the universe.’ And: ‘One of the reasons for identifying Stonehenge as the cosmic temple and true image of the universe is that whatever ideas are brought to it find a positive response.’
All well and good if the ideas are positive. What of the negativeness? This may allow the plausible excuse that by charging more than a shilling one was rightfully worshipping Mammon at Stonehenge or that by attacking the ‘peace convoy’ a sacrifice was being made to Mars. In this context, I noted at the time a parallel cautionary tale in the happenings at the Golden Temple of Amritsar and the eclipse of Indira Gandhi in India. The British authorities, too, were similarly courting chaos by barring the people from their chief temple.
John pointed out that Stonehenge belongs to us all, having been bought by locksmith Cecil Chubb at auction for £6,600 and presented to the nation on the proviso that: there be free public access on payment of no more than one shilling per head; that no other erection be made apart from a pay box; and that the monument be maintained in its present condition. All Chubb’s conditions have been flouted by the nation’s trustees, English Heritage, ‘whose Ceaucescu-style additions – the razor-wire barriers, concrete tunnel, coach park and trinket shops – have made it into one of Europe’s most repulsive tourist attractions.’
Stressing Stonehenge as ‘an image of the all-embracing universe,’ John pointed out that ‘it should therefore be capable of reconciling all the claims and demands which are put to it.’ Particularly as the various interested parties are basically willing to acknowledge each other’s viewpoint. Once this principle was observed a solution could follow to the reasonable satisfaction of all concerned.
John’s solution approaching the ideal was as follows:
Stonehenge should be returned to legality by removing fence, car park and other accretions, closing the road going past them and leaving the stones as the only visible structures above the sheep-cropped turf. Tourist facilities with shops and a museum should be build on a site sheltered by trees about a mile away, from which visitors could walk to the stones by way of other ancient monuments.
On the other side of the stones from the tourist centre, and at a similar distance from them, land should be found for the festival, which would be held legally under whatever conditions were agreed between its organizers and the authorities.
On the eve of the longest day the Druids would proceed on foot to their temple to perform the priestly offices, watched at a respectful distance by the crowds. That is their right by virtue of seniority. After they have seen the sun up, it is the turn of others, pagans and sun-worshippers, to occupy the temple. By this arrangement Stonehenge regains its natural appearance and performs once more its proper function as nation equilibrator, the instrument by which the priests, the Druids of classical record, effectively served the nation as peace-makers.’
In an expression of solidarity over the prevention of a Stonehenge Free Festival, which in previous years had featured such diverse bands as Hawkwind, Amazulu, Thompson Twins and Misty in Roots, New Musical Express adapted for publication John’s polemic and gave over a whole page to his thoughts on the matter.
A second edition of John’s booklet was printed in 1986 with a new introduction, more grisly details of the 1985 debacle and leading archaeologist Christopher Chippindale’s complementary recommendations to resolve the human problem at Stonehenge.
On a mystical level, John had spent his adult years wrestling with a particular problem – how to square the circle. He found it eventually in a simple act which we can all observe nightly, for it occurs in the relative dimensions of the Earth and the Moon, and also Stonehenge, it being the New Jerusalem with the circle squared, being the cosmic temple. Both for all to see. No wonder he championed a steady state cosmos and the human right to visit the greatest temple on Earth.
The Irish question
John’s pamphlet offering reconciliation of all interested parties at Stonehenge had been preceded by the suggestion that a ‘practical idealism’ be applied to Ireland to resolve the Emerald Isle’s troubled situation. Concordance of High Monarchists, Radical-Traditionalist Papers No. 5, proposed a return to an element of prehistoric Ireland whereby the four provincial rulers and their chief lieutenants would assemble in hierarchical order around the High King to settle disputes and discuss matters of common interest. As was common in traditional societies, this monarch would maintain standards of science and art and concern himself with the health and fertility of the entire realm. For a modern Ireland, John proposed each of the four provinces have its own departments running separate systems of transport, law, police, education, medicine and so on, and their administrators report to national high committees, acting in the name of the High King. Short sections of the booklet dealt with the High King’s selection and duties, religion, geomancy, finance, religion, practicality and objections to the proposals.
The illustrator of the pamphlet, Martin Brennan, foremost a visionary archaeologist, fell into a reverie while working upon the drawings and had a mystical experience in which he visualized the High King performing various rituals. As it has transpired, since 1982, there has been a strengthening of unity among the Irish people, whether it be sectarian or unification. At least John’s belief that the people’s priorities would change has come to pass.
Holy City, unholy mess
Having proposed a blueprint for reconciliation in Ireland, John later had a revelation as to how resolution might be found to bring peace to the warring factions in Jerusalem.
Today the Old City of Jerusalem can be regarded as one large temple and a sanctuary of three global religions – Jewish, Christian and Islam. In The Temple at Jerusalem; a Revelation, John argues that these compete among themselves, as any reader of the broadsheets knows, for the same sacred places with the authorities bound to keep the peace between rival religions and sects. It has, as John described it, a ‘messianic axis,’ a mythological path rather than a secular highway, and which will be familiar to the current generation of ley hunters as a spirit path or way of the dead. He believed that the rectangle he perceived, stretching across the newer, northern part of the Old City, formed the outline of a large-scale temple, being ‘a temple of the spirit, seen by the spiritual eye, invisible to the grosser faculties. It has no cult or priesthood of its own, no property or possessions, nor does it demand tribute from the separate religions in Jerusalem, to all of whom it gives protection.’
John notably saw his revelation in terms of prophecy and overall the book focuses upon ‘a deep and mystical subject.’ Interpretation of measures, geometry and even the twelve tribes connotations had me somewhat mystified. Nevertheless, being venerated by the three great monotheistic religions, Jerusalem has been the bone of religious and political contention throughout the ages. Mayhem and violence has ranged from the decapitation of the city’s populace during the Roman repression of the great Jewish rebellion in 70 CE, to slaughter during the Crusades and lately Palestinian suicide bombers. All sensible folk are agreed on the need for compromise over Jerusalem as part of a wider Israeli-Arab peace. Hopefully John’s book can help in some way to legitimize the city’s plural character: politically, demographically and spiritually.
John’s literary interventions into the problems of Ireland and Israel are particularly relevant, as by not taking one side or the other, nor ignoring such serious problems, he presented bold initiatives in proposing a new order for both troubled lands.
On a final note regarding personal intervention, on one occasion when I visited John in Notting Hill, I quickly noticed that he had lost a front tooth. Apparently, two men had a confrontation and in a bid to act as peacemaker reconciling the situation, for his troubles, one of the combatants thumped John in the face.