Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Tannhäuser Gate

In the Venusberg by John Collier
 “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.”
- Roy Batty, Blade Runner.
“Although the viewer is given no additional clues as to where this gate is or what it might be a gate to, the viewer nevertheless recognizes the allusion to Richard Wagner's opera, Tannhauser, about a “minstrel-knight” who has fallen from the graces of not only his fellow man but God as well... We can read Roy's mention of this gate as an aligning of himself with Tannhauser, a character whose fate and predicament seem just beyond his immediate control...”

It was at the height of a major Venus transit in the last year that I became obsessed with the Venusberg. It was a brief, if fruitful (heheh), encounter. The major request that was made of me was to re-write a scene of Wagner's Tannhauser and dedicate it to her. This has been done; though the way I'd hoped to mesh that result failed utterly. I'd hoped to hide the narrative inside a longer essay, but got side-tracked by hating on Paul's views of Christianity.

Nonetheless, I have wanted to talk more about the Venusberg since the attempt, and was going to use the alien discussions of late as a convenient excuse. But once again, I have discovered myself to be wrong. When I noted that the Clerici Vagantes (we'll get there shortly) claimed to be “on” the Venusberg, I imagined it as an airship, and my brain patched it into the Airship sightings of the 1890s that were eventually replaced by today's flying saucers.

Alas, the Clerici Vagantes are not talking about airships. They are still talking about a mountain. Or perhaps a mysterious otherwordly realm. Or both, at once. But not airships. My bad.

Still, All Aboard the Venusberg.

Regardless of that problem, it's still possible for me to talk about the Venusberg at length, and to talk about how myths and folklore changes shape over time. The best known depiction of the Venusberg is, of course, Wagner's Tannhauser. Wagner located the cave of Frau Venus on the Horselberg, but this is actually a relatively late location. He presumably got these ideas froms the Grimm brother's Deutsche Sagen, where they tell the folk-tales of the Horselberg: “in which the Devil lives, and to which the witches make pilgrimages. Sometimes fearful shrieks and howls come from it, made by the devils and the poor wretched souls. In the year 1398 three great fires broke out in broad daylight near Eisenach, burned for a long time, joined together, then separated again, till at last all three made for the mountain. Country people who were later passing by with a load of wine were enticed into the hill by the evil fiend, and there they were shown several well-known characters who were already sitting among the flames of Hell.”

Earnest Newman, in his The Wagner Operas, explains:
“The place became known as Satansstedt, which name was gradually transformed into Sattelstadt. So much for the Horselberg as the Middle Ages saw it. The modern identification of this fearsome mountain with the Venusberg, however, was a mere flight of fancy on the part of some nineteenth century German scholars. There is nothing in the Horselberg legend connecting it with either Venus or Tannhauser; and it is not an earthly paradise, like the Venusberg, but the haunt of devils.

Classical antiquity ad loved to dream of mountains or caves inhabited by beings whose life was one long round of delights, and of favoured mortals who had been permitted to taste of these. Naturally the longer these stories were in circulation the more circumstantial the details of them became. One mediaeval Italian legend, which was possibly the source of that of the German earthly paradise is what is still knoiwn as the Monte della Sibilla, a peak in the Appennines between the modern Norcia and Ascoli. We have a romantic description of the place by an adventurous Frenchman, Antoine de la Sale, who essayed, though he was finally beaten in the attempt, to penetrate the innermost depths of the mysterious cave of the Sibyl. From the people of the neighbourhood he learned the legends connected with the place, and particularly the story of a German who had actually succeeded in penetrating to the recesses of the mountain, where he found the queen of this paradise seated on a magnificent throne, surrounded by nobles and ladies richly dressed; the felicity of these people, who never lost their beauty and never grew old, would endure, he was told, to the end of the world itself.

The rule of the place was this: a visitor could stay eight days, and depart of his own free will on the ninth, but if he did not leave then he would have to remain until the thirtieth, and so on until the three hundred and thirtieth day; if he did not depart then he must stay there for ever. There was only one little blot on this captivating picture: from every Friday at midnight until midnight on Saturday the queen and the other ladies transformed themselves into snakes and serpents, Strangely enough, it was only on the three hundred and thirtieth day he bade his charming hostess adieu and went off to Rome to confess...” (p.64-5)

He then recounts some basic parts of the Tannhauser tale which are known today, including the Pope being an ass. This version of the tale is believed to have made it's way to Germany, but in this version after the German has been rejected by the Pope, he returns to the Paradise of the Sibyl. Today, the Monte della Sibilla is not far from Narn, Italy. You might recognize the name of Narn as it was written on ancient Latin maps: “Narnia.”

But Were There Visitors to the Venusberg?

The short answer is, more than simply one German fellow claimed to have made his way to the Earthly, Hidden Paradise, of Venus. For more of these details, we might turn to Historian Carlo Ginzburg, who was kind enough to bury helpful details about the Venusberg and it's visitors in his The Night Battles:

“For in the year 1544, Martin Crusius, in his Annales Svevici, cites a curious tale, borrowed from an older chronicle. Wandering about the Swabian countryside were certain clerici vagantes who wore yellow nets draped about their shoulders in the place of capes. They had approached a group of peasants and told them they had been on the Venusberg and had seen extraordinary things there. They claimed knowledge of the past and could foretell the future; they had the power to discover lost objects and possessed charms which protected both men and animals from witches and their crimes; they could even keep hail away. With such boasts, intermingled with fearsome words mumbled ominously through clenched teeth, they shunned both men and women, especially the latter, and extorted money from them. As though this was not enough, they also declared they could call up the 'Furious Horde', made up of children who had died before they were baptized, of men slain in battle and of all 'ecstatics' – in other words of those souls who had had to abandon their bodies, never to return. These souls, they said, were accustomed to gather in the deserted places on Saturday nights of the Ember seasons and on Thursdays of the Advent, andering about, sorrowing, until the appointed timeof their deaths, when they could be received amongst the blessed. These clerici vagantes claimed that they had two lenghts of rope, one for grain, the other for wine: if one of them was buried, the price of grain or wine would increae that year...

Once again, if this evidence had come from the Fruili instead of Swabia, we can be certain that these clerici vagantes would have added being benandanti to their boasting. Here too there are obvious similarities: the journey to the mysterious kingdom of Venus (where, in the popular mind, there was believed to be a real afterlife as we shall see later) gave them the power to cure spells, and, during the Ember Days, to summon the ranks of those who had died prematurely, to which 'ecstatics' like themselves belonged, whose souls had not been able to return to their bodies; it also gave them abilities to obtain wealth for farmers by working their magic, not on the fertility of the fields, as did their Friulian counterparts, but curiously enough, on the prices of agricultural products. This was the year 1544... At any rate, groups of clerici vagantes who claimed to have been on the Venusberg appeared at Lucerne in 1576... and again in 1599 and 1600. A similar group, belonging to an association called Johannesbruderschaft, was tried at L'vov in 1694: like their Swabian fellows of a century and a half before, these clerici vagantes searched for treasures, claimed to have seen the souls of the dead on the Venusberg and tried to call them forth.” (p.55-56)

Fuck. I was gonna write more, but now I've made it so I have to think on this subject for a bit. More on this later. Maybe. Edit: I did not expect what I was writing to get necromantic as fuck. But I probably should have noticed some details sooner. Christ. Caves and cthonic deities and those that claim to meet them. Lmao.


Rufus Opus said...

I was reading this, and I kept thinking, didn't Jake reference this in Geosophia somewhere?

I don't know if he does or not, but it's got the exact same flavor, and there's all that talk of the caves and even the sybili.

I think you're totally caught in the chthonic current. I think it's because you take your witchcraft seriously, and the current is accepting your earnest devotion.

Jack Faust said...

@R.O.: I know he references the Sybili and associated caves, though I am not sure he connected those legends to Tannhauser and the Venusberg.

As for having caught the current... Yeah, heh, maybe. I am fairly earnest in my devotions, at least.

Jack Faust said...

There's also that ritual he pulls from Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft regarding the "fairie Sibyllina".

And,"Sibylli". Ahem.

Jack Faust said...