Text and photos via Caroline Edge
The city of Camgüey in the east of Cuba is known as ‘The Maze’, its twisting streets built to confound marauders in the 16th Century. Whilst I was lost in its labyrinth serendipity took hold and I met a man who wanted to show me his pet crocodile. Strangeness begat strangeness and later, in the humid night, he led me deep into a barrio of wooden houses. From a hut cold light and the sound of drums streamed into the night. Smiling faces welcomed us into the space, dense with bodies, ripe with the scent of death and swarming with flies. An altar filled half the space laden with fetishes and sticks; a Halloween mask, a desiccated snake, crucifixes, dolls; all covered in black, congealed blood. My companion whispered in my ear that beneath these sacrifices lay a vessel filled with human remains. And then the ceremony began.
Palo Mayombe is a religion developed by the slaves transported to Cuban plantations from the Congo in Central Africa. The religion is practised through ‘houses’ which often have differing practises and beliefs, although ceremonies typically include spirit possession and blood sacrifice. The hierarchy of each house is structured like a family, originally providing a substitute for those separated by slavery from their blood relations.
Palo symbolism reflects a diverse heritage. Rolled up suit trousers echo the clothes of plantation workers, Cuban cigar smoke feeds totemic objects and Catholic iconography is synthesised into Palo belief. Paleros believe that the spirit world, populated by their ancestors, is all around them. In the Palo ceremony reality and spirit are brought together through music, drumming and dancing. By feeding and veneration spirits are encouraged to possess the worshippers and speak through them. Palo is a product of intense transculturation, transcending linear time and physical location. It provides a coping mechanism for its believers throughout the upheavals of slavery, revolution or exile.
‘African’ religions were practised underground in Cuba until the abolition of slavery in 1886. As Spiritualism became internationally popular during this time religions like Palo came out of the shadows. After the 1959 Revolution, Cuba embraced its African heritage and the government took a stance of tolerance towards non-Christian religions. Palo and other Afro-religions, such as the more widely practised Santeria, became accepted and increasingly popular. Today Cuban exiles have made their religions internationally popular, especially in the USA. However, Palo beliefs have been easily confused with voodoo or labelled as Satanism, with accusations of grave-robbing levelled at devotees. As the religion does not have a top down hierarchy and centres on the individual’s relationship with the spirit world is it is difficult for believers to challenge these misrepresentations.
I have never understood the appeal of ventriloquism. There is something infinitely creepy about ventriloquist dolls; maybe if the acts were more along the lines of weird and horrifying I would enjoy them more. I really wonder about people who do ventriloquism. The dummies always have the weirdest, most exaggerated faces, with huge staring eyes, bulbous noses and cheeks stretched into a grimacing smile. No wonder so many horror films have featured talking dolls. Also, their voices are terrifying – all high and squeaky and manic. I just don’t like them. But if I feel like freaking myself out, I can stare at photos of vintage ventriloquist dummies for hours, feeling the thrill of a chill down my spine. So if you feel like that today, check out a wonderful and weird gallery below…
I had friend who owned a hearse. It was how he got around town, in slow, loud and methodical style. One time, he had to drive me to work – I had 20 minutes to get there, it was a 5-minute drive, a no brainer. But he didn’t tell me that his hearse went 15 to 20/km tops. I was late, but I did arrive in a hearse, so my boss forgave me. There is something about these vehicles of death that fascinate us; the last earthly travel of a corpse, before it rests forever in earth. Back in the day, hearses were ornate and richly decorated, demonstrating a certain nobility in death. Especially in South America, where they were often made of carved wood attached to the standard Cadillac or Lincoln body – a huge, plumed and shiny black death carriage – or in Japan where mini-pagodas adorn the backs of hearses in gold splendor. I am a big fan of the 50s models, with their wings and tails and white-walled tires, or the 20s and 30s models with their false curtained windows, ones that the dead never need look out of. In California, you might even see a pimped-out, fully tinted hearse sitting on dubs if you’re lucky. After the jump, Check out a gallery of beautiful and strange funeral coaches!
My experience with ouija boards is limited to two years of my teenage life. From the age of 14 to 16, I was obsessed with ouija, and I “played” with many different groups of people in many different parents’ basements. We used spirit boards every chance we got, and would use them for hours at a time, or at least until someone very negative and evil got a hold of our planchette. This could happen in minutes or hours, but it happened every time. In the spring of 1994, we wanted to talk to Kurt Cobain, of course. He had just died, and my friends and I (and teenage girls everywhere) spoke to his spirit briefly through the board. He told us that his favorite composition was “About a Girl,” and – I shit you not – the next day my best friend and I heard that song played in several different stores five times throughout the day. That was when I first got into ouija, but most times after that we ended up speaking to Damian or Demon or Demian or D-whatever the evil spirit called itself at the time, thrusting the planchette at one of us, telling us it hated us or her or everyone. One night, my friend and I decided to use ouija, so we made a board (as we always did; only one of my friends actually owned a real one, usually they were cardboard), sat down in her empty house with wine and candles, and within 10 minutes were so scared we flipped the board and planchette and swore off ouija then and there. I have never touched a board since. But now I have found a treasure trove of beautiful handmade ouija/spirit boards on Etsy! They are carved, varnished, painted and sculpted by hand and some are truly lovely to behold. I am sure if they are used correctly they are a great way to connect with spirits, but as a teenage girl we didn’t have the respect or experience to use them correctly. I have picked some of my favorite I have found on Etsy, from craftspeople like PereplutCW, SpiritBoard, Midnight Crossroads, Magic Craft Shop, Lord Mock Designs, Graven NY and Hollow Wares. After the jump, check out a selection of handmade spirit boards…but watch out for Damian!
People may want to hate on the cupcake trend, but in my opinion there is nothing better than having an entire cake to yourself, even if it is small. When I was a kid, I loved having cupcakes at my birthdays, but since my mom wasn’t the biggest baker/homemaker type, I had to settle for the store-bought variety with that pretty but chemical-tasting icing. Now that I am older, I have a better appreciation for the things that can be done to the individual cake. You can take inspiration from the things you love and turn it into a delicious edible creation. Like…metal! I have followed Metalcakes out of Chicago for a while now, and I decided it’s time to do a post featuring cupcakes that are inspired by some of my all-time favorite bands. While the inspiration may sometimes be disgusting, Metalcakes manages to make it mouth-watering. Some of my favorites are the Sleep “Holy Cupcake” Tres Leches cupcake, the Judas Priest “Hell Bent for Cupcakes” bondage cupcake, the Saint Vitus “White Batter/Black Batter” cupcake the Black Sabbath “Cupcakes Bloody Cupcakes” strawberry syrup cupcake and the Watain “Sworn to the Cake” flourless chocolate cupcake with ganache frosting and red M&Ms…I mean, come on, that takes a creative brain to make Watain taste good! Metalcakes doesn’t share their cupcakes with you just to taunt you with their scrumptiousness, she actually gives you the recipe for each cupcake and provides you with a video and musical soundtrack to inspire their preparation! So embrace your need for chocolate graveyard dirt and strawberry blood, and check out a gallery of Metalcakes after the jump, and find all the recipes on her site!
Before contacting Orion about the art, we had come up with a few ideas that we thought would be accurate visual representations of the music. We wanted to incorporate Tibetan prayer flags and a lot of open sky. We really wanted a photograph, too. All of our art in the past had been drawn, and it was awesome, but we felt like a well done photograph could more acutely capture some of the ideas we explored.
But more than specifics in regards to the imagery, we really just wanted the album to come off as classy. It was our opinion that having this look like a typical “heavy metal record” would do it a disservice. When I finally talked to Orion about our ideas, he basically read my mind. It was almost surreal. He was throwing out idea after idea that completely resonated with everything we as a band had previously discussed. When he brought up actually constructing a funeral pyre and basing a photo shoot around that I knew we were in good hands. He had our full blessing from them on. We probably took longer on picking out a font that we liked than on the actual art itself. He really knocked this one out of the park. Much love.
What I think is kind of funny about the dark imagery found in metal art and music is that a lot of it stems from the religions of this world – religions that claim to comfort while investing heavily in fear. The Catholic Church was obsessed with skulls, bones, demons and death imagery long before the 20th century dawning of metal and goth, and used dark imagery and human remains to create a powerful and fearful impression on its followers, reminding them of their certain death and potential fate in the afterlife. All over Europe in the Middle Ages, monks built magnificent chapels out of the bones of plague victims, massacre victims and members of their own ranks. When our baby is a little older, we want to tour Europe and visit all of the bone chapels; places like the Kostnice Ossuary in Czech Republic, made of the bones of 40,000 to 70,000 people; the Capela dos Ossos in Alcantarilha, Évora and Faro, Portugal; the Cathedral of Otranto in Italy, where the remains of 800 massacre victims line the walls of the chapel; the Ossuary Chapel of San Martino, and the Capuchin Crypt in Rome; and the Chapel of St Michael in Hallstatt, Austria. These aren’t the only bone chapels to be found on the continent, but they are some of the best known, and you can find stunning images of them after the jump and in the gorgeous photography book The Empire of Death. Entering a place filled with the bones of so many human beings must be a humbling experience – the energies retained in its walls, the lives of health and solitude or sickness and violence, all looming over you and multiplying in arches and columns overhead. I can only guess at the feelings I would have in such a place. I think I would be literally breathless. Check out a vast gallery of bones after the jump…
I don’t have TV (cable, satellite, direct or whatever it’s called these days), so much of the time I am blissfully unaware of all the bullshit media conglomerates are shoving down our throats. But occasionally I miss something that I wish I had known about, and Villafane Studios is one of those things. These two men, Ray Villafane and Andy Bergholtz, carve immense and breathtaking sculpture using impermanent and fleeting materials. They are most famous for their pumpkin carving (yeah I’m a few months late, no TV), which apparently our taxpayer dollars go towards on Halloween, when the White House is furnished with these stunning carved fruits. They are pretty fucking sick though, and the end product of Villafane Stuidio’s pumpking carving is usually what I imagine before I start my own sad and simple Jack O’Lanterns. They are also masters of sand sculpture, and this isn’t your Venice Beach crocodile variety, these are sweeping landscapes filled with drama and movement. The hours it must take them to breathe life into billions of rock remnants is unimaginable, only for their sculpture to erode with the slightest change in humidity and airflow. Same with the pumpkins, although I think that as they rot, they must become even more disturbing to behold, in an awesome way. Check out a massive gallery of Villafane Studios’ pumpkin and sand carving after the jump!
Some of my favorite things to look at when I go to someone’s house are the little trinkets they deem worthy of placing on tables, shelves or mantlepieces. I especially like said trinkets when they are weird antiques, bones, teeth, feathers, bottles, jars, skulls, taxidermy, pickled parts or doll parts. The best way to display such things is obviously in a fucking amazing cabinet, thus creating a cabinet of curiosities. Today I wanted to compile some of the beautiful specimens of tribute to the Victorian era in a massive gallery of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Some are small and others are huge, but they all catch my eye in their careful, chaotic arrangement of curious items. In my researching for this post, I found people who dedicate their lives and livelihoods to creating these cabinets and the specimens that can be placed in them, and I have a feature or two in the works on them. However, I think that the act of collecting is just as pleasurable as displaying one’s collection. One of my life’s goals is to acquire my late grandparents’ china cabinet (from my sister…delicate negotiations) and fill it with whatever I can scavenge on my life’s travels, so that when people come over they can spend minutes or hours peering at weird things. After the jump, check out a gallery of inspiring takes on the cabinet of curiosities…
One of the things I appreciate about the explosion of reality-based TV is that I have found shows like “Oddities,” which indulge my love of weird, wacky and sometimes nauseating art and the places that dedicate themselves to it, like Obscura in New York and Loved to Death in San Francisco. One of the things I love best about these shops is their focus on taxidermy – through them, I have learned about these wonderful things called “gaffs” – where a “rogue taxidermist” creates the creature of their dreams by altering and combining the animals they are working with. The King of Rogue Taxidermists is Japanese-born, Coney Island-based Takeshi Yamada. While many gaffs are of the standard two-headed poultry variety, Yamada takes taxidermy to new heights of artistry, using mainly organic materials to create freakish visions of nature’s most strange creatures, such as my daughter’s favorite, Cinadora the eight-legged spider dog. His creatures are from a world where the normal rules of science don’t apply, where trees are the habitats of octopi and starfish, where gerbils and rabbits and human-faced fish roam the seas. He fashions realistic and terrifying alien skulls, things that would look at home in an ancient alien tomb excavation. He uses materials like horseshoe crab shells to sculpt hideous scuttling beetles and insects, like his NYC giant subway bugs. Anyone who has been in the dank depths of the New York subway system can imagine these mutant fuckers scurrying around in those dark tunnels. By far his creepiest collection of sculpture – in a kind cute way – is his baby series, where he immortalizes the corpses of various humanoid species in their larval stage – lobster baby, snake baby, lizard baby and my personal favorite, potato head baby. Yamada has his own showcase on Coney Island, Takeshi Yamada’s Museum of World Wonders, where his children roam the walls of their world together. After the jump, take a look at some of Yamada’s creations…