I was thinking about flotsam and jetsam – that which floats, is borne aloft then settles, claimed. Messages in bottles flung in desperation. Bodies jettisoned for insurance money. Washed up on distant and alien shores, detached from root significance, become weird.
The largest seeds in the world, those of the Lodoicea maldivica would find their way onto the shores of the Maldives and Indonesia, seemingly as from nowhere, the sight of them bobbing on the water surface providing some names; Sea Coconut, Double Coconut, Maldive Coconut. But unlike the true coconut, it was not a sea-bean or drift seed, evolved to disperse over water, instead its excursions were purely accidental, growing only on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles.
Occasionally sailors would see them rise up out of the ocean, and hypothesised that they grew on a tree on the sea bed from which they fell upwards, gifts from the underwater gods to man. This myth gave it another name – Coco de Mer – nut of the sea. These flotsam seeds would not germinate, they were hollow, the kernels inside rotted and turned to gas in their time on the sea bed, facilitating the nut’s sudden appearance from the depths.
Nonetheless the empty cases were highly prized by the kings of the Maldives, for their medicinal uses, and more prominently, aphrodisiac properties that were revered throughout Asia. The shape of the seed gives it yet more names; Lodoicea Callipyge, (Greek for ‘beautiful buttocks’), Coco Fesse (Seychelles creole for ‘bum nut’), Love Nut. Many names from many lovers, all borne aloft, jettisoned, floating and settling, claimed.
TO MAKE A WAND FOR SEARCHING FOR IRON, ORE OR WATER.
On the first night of Christmas, between 11 and 12 o’clock, break off from any tree a young twig of one year’s growth, in the three highest names (Father. Son. and Holy Ghost), at the same time facing toward sunrise. Whenever you apply this wand in searching for anything apply it three times. The twig must be forked, and each end of the fork must be held in one hand, so that the third and thickest part of it stands up, but do not hold it too tight. Strike the ground with the thickest end, and that which you desire will appear immediately, if there is any in the ground where you strike. The words to be spoken when the wand is thus applied are as follows:
Archangel Gabriel, I conjure thee in the name of God, the Almighty, to tell me, is there any water here or not? do tell me!
If you are searching for Iron or Ore, you have to say the same, only mention the name of what you are searching for.
The above comes from the ‘Pow-Wows, or Long Lost Friend’ of 1820, compiled by John George Hoffman, a pennsylvania dutch healer and mystic. The text is a compendium of charms, animal husbandry advice and medicinal recipes. Whilst the ‘Pow-Wow’ of the title borrows from the Algonquian milieu into which the transatlantic settlers in pennsylvania had inserted themselves, the magic and superstition contained within finds its roots firmly in the germanic christian magical tradition, with the inclusion of Dowsing as one clue to its european derivation.
Martin Luther condemned dowsing as occultism in 1518, part of Protestant attempts to rid Christianity of its magical charge. The practice survived however within the religiously protestant but culturally middle-european people of America practicing the Powwow or ‘Braucherei’ magic in companion with their faith, performing their rituals with a Bible in one hand. The dowsing rod continues to resist the protestant modernist project – an investigation widely circulated by the UK press in November 2017 found that 10 out of 12 UK Water utility companies still used Dowsing rods to find buried pipes and water sources. A Severn Trent spokesman stated that “some of the older methods are just as effective [as] the new ones, but we do use drones as well, and now satellites.”
The co-existence of Dowsing Rod with Drone and Satellite – all three as tools for the expansion of sensory perception, the rod/wand/stick as most basic tool and haptic feedback circuit, put in pursuit of the most primal substances of human (not to mention Eukaryotic) life (i.e. water). Can we posit Dowsing as an anticipation rather than antecedent of these contemporary sensing technologies – as though pure desire willed the machines into being – as superstition focused into a hyperstitional instrument for finding not just water but a future too.
Flowing onwards from thoughts of hydralised ‘Wet Rocks’ on the ocean bed – of water turned mineral, my mind turns to thoughts of petrification – which is to say not water turned to rock, but water as that which turns another to rock. Water as an agent of encrustment. This is not water that flows with classical humanist notions of freedom. This is water as that which fixes, reifies and subsumes all within its binding calcified deposits.
One such petrifying well can be found in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire. The town has an idiosyncratic relationship with water: a leftover of railway tourism, of victorians looking for opportunities to offer leisure and novelty to mill workers from towns slightly too far from the coast to make day trips feasible. It is a small piece of the seaside transplanted to the peak district, the river derwent standing in as an ersatz coastal promenade. One of the side diversions the town peddled for profit is the quality of the water running down from limestone hills to deposit layers of calcium onto all it touches. Scientifically speaking this is not true petrification, which would require the replacement of an objects’ atomic structure, but rather a simulacral overlaying, maybe an overcoding. Fake rocks at the fake seaside.
The photographic record shows that once a grotesque altar of objects was offered up here for mineral subsumption. It is possible to pick some out from the undefined mass; a bowler hat, kettles, lanterns, a basket of apples. Weirdly, skulls and bones appear to be a favoured offering – Human, Horse and Cow skulls are visible, with a section of spinal column forming the upper centrepiece of the altar, perhaps in an effort to re-calcify the agrarian ossuary, of vertebral dissolution within the crusted industrial mass.
Research published in the 15th November 2018 issue of Nature states that much more water is absorbed below the surface of the Earth’s crust than previously thought. Through Subduction zones such as the Mariana Trench – the deepest point on the earth’s surface – water is swallowed below the join where one tectonic plate moves under another, with this study finding that ‘at least 4.3 times more water subducts than previously calculated for this region’.
The study utilised ambient noise tomography (ANT) to map the flow of water between tectonic plates, listening carefully to the sounds of seismic murmuring, the earth gurgling, slurping while it sups. The vast amount of pressure involved forms much of the water into hydralised minerals or ‘wet rocks’ such as lizardite, but a large portion remains fluid, entering a subterranean cyclic flow, re-emerging in volcanic emissions. The Mariana bed is described as ‘a water-rich system owing to the prevalence of forearc serpentinite mud volcanoes,’ – the wet ocean does not lie inert atop dumb dry crust, the interface is a system, wherein the Earth ‘continuously exudes a mud-like substance’.
The surface is not a limit, a barrier, rather it is porous, continuously internalising and shedding. The thirsty earth drinks deeply from the ocean, through many mouths. It spits the water out again as it exhales, a vaporous sputum, expectorating with abandon like a breaching whale. The Earth drinks deeply and slakes its thirst.