Thoth Herma: The Life and Land of Nular-In
John's Bar and Grill OS Arts House
February 14, 2008
William Blake’s aesthetic of idiosyncratic world-making, espoused in his declaration that “[he] must create a System or be enslaved by another Man’s” seems a fitting ethos for Thoth, who’s spent his life creating the world Festad, which boasts a mythic history, world geography, Festadian language, and the Herma, an epic in the form of a three-act solo opera. Peopled by twelve-fingered humanoids known as Mir, the Festad cycles through three epochs until it is finally destroyed and reborn in a ritual dance performed by the hermaphroditic wanderer, Nular-in. Thoth, clad in a red-silken kimono and black thermals, asked the audience at the OS Arts House, who’d arrived primarily to see the bands and pop-star hopefuls also performing that night, to imagine that he had appeared to them from the Festad as the embodiment of Nular-in.
He began the first “scene,” Anya, by twirling a large red feather in a ritualized spiral above his head. Then, holding it like a pen, he traced the words “I Am” in the air before him. He then swung a diamond-shaped wooden frame from a string, the sonorous talisman of the crystal god Anya, who created the Festad and populated it with the Mir. This instrument produced a foreign-sounding, cricket-like hum/buzz that helped to cleanse the ear’s palate.
The first time I chanced upon Thoth’s “solopera,” I was walking with a companion through Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace. Thoth was performing one of his weekly rituals under the Angel Tunnel, a handpicked site he’s used for many years as a large drum and echo chamber for his rattle-clad feet and oscillating ululations (from soprano to baritone). There, he attracts the haphazard but often enthusiastic attention of the passersby. Unfortunately, here at the OS Arts House, Thoth had to contend with the din of the adjoining bar and an unreceptive audience of twenty-something barflies.
Those who did not escape into the bar before the next band were treated to the whirling death-dance, Nular-in. Thoth spun out into the audience singing a vowelly aria and playing a see-sawing jig on a violin, something like a funeral dirge at high speed. Three times he broke off and caught the eye of someone in the front rank of the audience, slowing his tempo as he held the spectator’s gaze, singing at pointblank range, body arching like a delirious harlequin. An attempt, perhaps, to communicate something fundamental about the Festad, to express how it exists in the here and now of an interpersonal exchange. Thoth’s heavily mythologized “spiritual landscape” conveys an awareness of our own subjective “landscapes,” spiritual or otherwise, and the closer he bears in on us the more tactile the barrier between these two mutually unknowable worlds becomes. An understanding similar to the Russian avant-garde group oberiu’s conception of human beings as neighboring worlds who’ve burdened language with the impossible task of bearing messages between them.
Although the space and the crowd were not ideal, Thoth’s “prayformances,” which have not changed greatly over the years, would not be effective as true rituals if they were aesthetically adapted to fit inhospitable terrain. A public space like the park provides a wider demographic and the possibility of a wider array of interactions, but the Festadian philosophy plays itself out wherever Thoth is, whether it’s eye to eye with the park police, neighboring buskers, a suspicious audience, or new friends. The Herma and the Festad are similar to those acts of personal mythologization found in 19th-century Decadence, which cling to the individual like his/her skin. As Thoth wandered about between his performances, his foot-bells were still jingling. This mode of social exchange does not shirk from confrontations with the surrounding world.
Thoth does not play the role of Nular-in, rather he is a disciple of his own mytho-creative world, whose philosophy of balance and purity (cultural, sexual, spiritual) reveals itself in these exchanges between the public and the prayformer. Rarely does an artist with a worldview backed by such an insular mythology share and project that vision outwardly with such spirited and uncompromising élan.
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