Wyrd Daze Seven : Armageddon Gospels – an interview with John Harrigan

incidental art by Eph

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John Harrigan is a writer, director and performer. He is a founder of FoolishPeople and is one of the earliest pioneers of immersive theatre. Harrigan’s work centres on the creation of film, ritual theatre, and installation art. Its aim is to raise a numinous experience within the witness. He has performed at the ICA, the Horse Hospital, Arcola Theatre, and throughout London and the UK. His work has been presented internationally in the United States and Netherlands.

The award-winning film Armageddon Chronicles has recently been released on Apple TV.

Refugee gods, transposed to flesh and blood, wash ashore to rouse the myths of ancient England, half-drowned in a forgotten past. They disperse through shifting realities to awaken the giant Albion and find the holy grail in a ritual to save England from the rot of darkness and hatred that’s strangling its soul.

An uncanny harmony of visceral and noetic experience, Armageddon Gospels is an extraordinary work of re-enchantment.

What inspired Armageddon Gospels, and what does it hope to inspire?

Death was the inspiration for Armageddon Gospels. Death in all its guises, as a potent form of transformation. 

My mother’s death was ground-zero for the film. Joyce Rose Harrigan passed away after a long battle with dementia, I was her sole carer for six years, while trying to continue to work and raise a family.

In 2016 my mum declined, she refused to eat and was eventually hospitalised.

Witnessing someone who defined the landscape of your childhood slowly starve themselves to death leaves a lasting imprint, it’s a terrible form of hell.

The final stages were a period of late night hospital visits, listening to Bowies ‘Black Star’ on the journey to and from seeing my mum. After one night when I thought we would lose her and I expected to wake to bad news, my phone was filled with the news that David Bowie had died, it was one of the strangest experiences. In this moment, the loss of Bowie became a powerful augury and omen for the following events.

My mother slowly faded away, and then the Brexit referendum occurred a couple of months after.

These three monumental events. Bowie’s death, the death of my mother and the referendum result were the three key experiences that in turn inspired the screenplay.

The basis of my work is in ritual, it’s how I engage with the world. One of the most difficult aspects of this period was not having the full ability to express my experiences through ritual. Strength and time had been drained from me.

I knew that a ritual was how I would survive what I had experienced over those months and that ritual was ‘Armageddon Gospels’. 

Even a personal Armageddon can eventually offer faith and hope. This is what I hope the film inspires. The strength of hope in the face of Armageddon. 

Six refugee gods wash ashore the south coast of England to awaken the giant Albion and find the Holy Grail. Who are these gods? (Is Pearl a manifestation of “Grail Bearer” Elaine of Corbenic?)

The quick answer is yes. If Pearl appeared as Elaine of Corbenic, then that is indeed who she is. Pearl is a formulation of many different stories and Gods. When you invite others into a Ritual their experience is critical to how the story is shared and grows.

Percy is inspired by Percival from the earliest grail rituals, Dianna is based upon the moon archetype, Aradia the witch within us all and Robin is the child who never grew up.

In what ways did the alchemy of vision, writing, acting, music, location, cinematography and production synchronise toward the making of this film?

These are the types of questions you dream of as a practitioner of ritual.

Alchemy is the key to ritual. You’re right that all these elements comprise an alchemical event, that produces an experience; a film.

One of the important things I’ve learnt in ritual is that each element of the ritual is of equal importance. The key aspect is that they must combine to create a landscape where the sacred can exist. A landscape and space for the miraculous. 

Still from Armageddon Gospels

What is the importance of harnessing archetypes, myth and folklore in the telling and understanding of story? 

It’s very hard to give this question the honour it deserves, it’s critical, I’ve been creating stories for most of my life and I think I’ve internalised these tools. They’re part of how I think and see the world, they’re organs in my body. They’ve created calluses on my soul.

They’re the fundamental tools of storytelling and they were used to build all forms of communication. 

Now, having said all that, all good craftsmen know that you need to be willing to adapt the use of your tools, to the task and challenge at hand. So myths and archetypes are only as important as the ability and freedom to interpret them in your own way. 

Why is nostalgia the most peculiar of emotions?

The experience of nostalgia can often feel like it’s based outside of our bodies.

Personally, nostalgia feels like it’s a form of emotional time travel. Back to memories and events that have informed our personal stories. And we then relive them at a distance, inside our narratives. At different moments, throughout our passage through life. 

The landscapes we exist within change with us and when we return to a place or space that has been important to us, they overlap or overlay our experience and this can be painful and illuminating. 

Just feeling nostalgia at a biological level feels really odd, and I think nostalgia can be as dangerous when used as a form of emotional propaganda.

  

Armageddon Gospels manages to be both a visceral and noetic experience, affecting instinctive feeling whilst stimulating the intellect and spirit. Why do you think this is? 

Thank you. We all experience loss, we’re all haunted by what exists beyond the realm of life. Death is a visceral and noetic experience that affects both the spirit and intellect.

The film deals in myth and ritual and magic, and as humans we all have a relationship with how these inform the story of our humanity. 

Armageddon Gospels attempts to explore the particular time we’re all experiencing through the lens of myth, ritual and folk-tales.

My central partner in making the film was a landscape. The South Downs National Park and the long man of Wilmington. A sacred landscape, that operated as a portal to a particular set of ideas on how the gods and goddesses might view this moment in the history of Albion.

It’s also about the sacred nature of our audience, the role they play as witness to the ritual. Unique individuals such as yourself, taking the baton and being willing to enter and play their part in the ritual.

The team who came together to make Armageddon Gospels was a brilliant and unique group of artists and individuals that offered their spirit and soul to realise this story and film.

Still from Armageddon Gospels

To what extent did a sense of place affect the making of Armageddon Gospels?

It was the key to the ritual. The leading performer in the film is landscape. Landscape and weather shaped everything we shot, to the extent I adapted aspects of the story as our relationship with the landscape developed over the course of the ritual.

A Genius Loci was my co-director.

Can you tell us of any personal transformative processes that occurred during the making of this film?

There was a form of communion between grief and creation. I died and was reborn. I grieved the loss of the portal through which I entered this world. My mother. The landscape grieved with me, offering me solace and a mirror for the story I was telling.

Landscape is reactive to ritual, so many times we can state it’s coincidence or luck. A psychological trick of the mind and imagination. I choose to believe that the landscape and weather appeared sentient and played an active role in our ritual. The communication I had with Albion changed me as an artist and human.

What does the Bone King represent?

Nostalgia and the parasitic nature of negative space. How negative thoughts breed further negative thoughts. The aspects of culture and society that would like us to believe our dreams and hopes of love and communion are meaningless. 

The endless chatter of the mind, informing of us how we will never be good enough. 

The Bone King is built of grief and decay. Hate and facism. It is the tyranny of time.

One of my favourite quotes from Armageddon Gospels is my next question: “How can you save a landscape that exists only in your imagination?”

Quite possibly we shouldn’t even try.

Especially if it’s haunted by nostalgia and constructed of lies. The idea of what a country can be is dangerous. When we’re told a place must represent a certain ideal. To whom? Everyone? For what purpose? Because we all have different memories of the land we live within. If a landscape has been sacred to our ancestors, then we enliven it through art and ritual that offers the possibility of evolution into new forms. Ultimately, we can only save these landscapes by witnessing their wildness and sharing how important they are to us, through art and song and storytelling. 

Still from Armageddon Gospels

What is the significance of Robin not returning to the waters with the other five refugees at the end of the film? 

Well spotted. It’s very significant. He can’t leave. How would he help the Arcadians ashore next time….

As the ritual of Armageddon Gospels continues to play out as people experience it, what are some of the transformative effects you have noticed in the world at large? 

That’s very difficult to answer. I do see transformative effects in my own existence. I see a return of wonderment. I now teach a weekly class outside in the landscape I live in. This is directly linked to the relationship I developed with Albion whilst making the film. 

Are there any other stories about the making of this film that we should know?

So many.

Meeting the composer for the film, while shooting the final scene is one of the stories I’m most proud of. Jo (Burke) heard the ritual taking place at the foot of the Long Man and was called forth like a spirit. She’s the only person who had the knowledge and skill to do the job right, the landscape called to her. 

There is no one else who could create such a perfect score.

Armageddon Gospel on iTunes

FoolishPeople website

Twitter

John Harrigan      FoolishPeople

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