Gerrit Lansing: A personal reliquary
Or, notes toward an essay
For out there lies the great campaign that comes first and last, the ultimate adventure of the individual into himself.
John Whiteside Parsons, Freedom Is a Two-Edged Sword
This reliquary could never do a halfway decent job of getting down everything I want to say about Gerrit Lansing, but that’s not the purpose of these relics, for they exist to help me out of the cave of my mind. They are but signposts to the beginning of friendship, which all began with a discussion of John Uri Lloyd’s book Etidorhpa, within which we find, “Come, my friend, let us enter the expanses of the Unknown Country. You will soon behold the original of your vision, the hope of humanity, and will rest in the land of Etidorhpa. Come, my friend, let us hasten.” Through knowing Gerrit, I have come to better un-know myself, to decipher the strange paradoxes of what I thought I knew, and in turn ease the continual pressure to be entirely aware and to reside in a field of broadened consciousness.
It must have been in the winter of 2007 that Mike and Tanya County introduced me to Gerrit in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Meeting Gerrit helped me to better know the cosmos within myself. The first ‘gateway book’ Gerrit gave me was John Anthony West’s Serpent in the Sky, knowing the research for my first novel needed a broader context. West’s Serpent presents the Egyptological work of R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, who was radically ignored by scholars for years, keeping alive access to civilizations outside of our own.
Ohio is common ground. I mentioned d. a. levy and Gerrit recalled Jim Lowell’s Asphodel Bookstore in Cleveland. Sometimes our conversation travels to his childhood home near Chagrin Falls and the sculpture of Henry Church, a primitive American artist who not only fashioned his family gravestone but also was the creator of a towering relief carving overlooking the Chagrin River called “The Rape of the Indian Tribes by the White Men.” Gerrit grew up in this part of Ohio when it was all farmland and Starbuck was just a character in Moby Dick. Like myself, it was H. P. Lovecraft who gave him his first glimpse of New England through those strange shadowy stories. I’ll remain jealous of Gerrit’s Northeast Ohio, mine was a nasty suburban hellish high school experience followed by a cacophony of cars and bars.
A consummate bibliophile, the shelves towering and stacked deep with a coterie of adepts, Gerrit has a book for all of us, not just any book, but the book we were missing all along. It’s happened countless times and between us exists a fast-paced two-way lending library and serious addiction to all things Ex Libris. With our seasonal trips to Weiser Antiquarian Books in York Beach, Maine, I have had to add a couple of bookshelves to my own collection, most of which focus around the work of Austin Osman Spare (AOS).
In fact it was on my first trip to Weiser during the summer after our meeting, that I arrived by invitation to one of the world’s premiere dealers of esoteric books and found the very book I had been trying to locate since beginning work on my novel. The Serpent Mound, by E. O. Randall, was published by the Ohio State Archeological Society in 1907 — it was the resource I had been wondering if I’d ever locate, and here it was sitting on a shelf in what was once a gallery for the artist Walt Kuhn. Gerrit was finding yet another way to get a book into my hands.
It is the artist, Austin Osman Spare, for whom I’m most indebted to Gerrit for bringing me along on somebody’s oeuvre of work I would have never located through the traditional channels of art school or even at the far from traditional Kerouac School where I last studied. Spare has left bruises on my mind that will linger. Spare like any of us only sought to fulfill the desire of the subconscious or in Zizekian terms he had used fantasy to stage his desire into infinity. On loan, until I could afford my own copies, I had Gerrit’s books on Spare, including the stunning three volume From the Inferno to Zos: The Writings and Images of Austin Osman Spare, published by First Impressions in 1993. I was eventually able to purchase these books from Keith and Marilyn Richmond at Weiser who always give Gerrit and me the most graceful and magickal customer service one could hope for. Inferno to Zos opened AOS to me as more than any one of his chosen paths. AOS was an artist, chaos magician, illustrator, occultist, philosopher, and sigilizer. His dedication to multiple pathways forged for me the spirit and spit to carry on in my own directions. I began painting portraits of Spare a couple of years ago and there is something about them that is at once a nuisance and a devious delight. Many people never see them on the walls, others notice them at once, and like Gerrit they differentiate and meet their viewers at many levels.
Gerrit also has given me Gloucester, through our drives, walks, and in the stories of its core inhabitants. From his arrival to town and short stay at the Hammond Castle, to his current residence across from Stage Fort Park, Gerrit has shared it all openly with me over many hours of spirited conversation. I have a golf ball from the oldest cemetery in Gloucester sitting on my bookshelf. I grabbed it on a day when we hit four cemeteries including Beechbrook Cemetery, where Ipsissimus Charlemagne rests in peace. Jonathan Bayliss once said of Charlemagne, “I’d hate to be his employee or employer — yet he’s just the kind of teacher I need. He knows more than I do about everything except steam cleaners, and I must admit that he understands me better than I understand him.”
Most importantly Gerrit has written poems, specifically he has written the poem, “One of the Company of Light,” which to me is a damn fine poem that gives me chills each time I read it. “One of the Company of Light” was published in The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward (North Atlantic, 1977), Heavenly Tree Soluble Forest (Talisman House, 1995), and most recently in Heavenly Tree, Northern Earth (North Atlantic, 2009). It is a poem of immense solitude and fortune-hopping, a song for dark nights. It begins, “The star man in my heart / is young and moves with all the strength / memory masters.” Like many of Gerrit’s poems it is eye-opening, aligned with star and stone, a mystery lodged in my mind and on the tip of my tongue. I feel like I’ve read these words before, but know that it’s the voice I recognize, the depth of care in each syllable, that for me Gerrit becomes his poem, “He moves in the untold vigil / of / the children of others, / the warrior behind the dolor of actual war game stupidity.”
In 2008 I painted a portrait of/for Gerrit after his poem, “One of the Company of Light.” I titled my painting the same and included the following epigraph from Christopher Smart, “For I am ready for the trumpet & alarm to fight, to die & to rise again.” Smart, another shared pleasure, for me is a litmus test for taste, one that Gerrit passes with the highest marks. The painting features a portrait of Gerrit based on a picture I took of him in Stage Fort Park during a picnic lunch with James, Amanda, Abigail, and Sam Cook in the summer of 2008. He dons a well-worn Red Sox cap, Terminator sunglasses, and the slightest hint of annoyance in noticing the camera aimed his way; above him in a flood are royal colors that shake loose red sigils and the familiar for whom Gerrit’s bookstore was named, Abraxas.
Currently we are planning an excursion to Lynn, Massachusetts, to visit High Rock where Spiritualist John Murray Spear built his mechanical messiah also known as, New Motive Power, a machine which could collect and disseminate the universal motion of all things. There is some required reading for this mission that I’m still working on and hope to finish soon, I’ve yet to uncover the story of the destruction of Spear’s machine and the crowd who did it with pitchforks and fire.
I look forward to every visit with Gerrit, knowing that I’ll be surprised at the range of our conversation and the willingness on his part to listen attentively as my mind races to catch up. I always leave his house feeling refreshed, driven, and inspired. His warm spirit continues to unlock the light in many.