The Invocation of the Black Sun
What Happens When Performance Art, Post-Industrial Music, and Ritual Magic Meet
Gnosis, 1985

by Tim O'Neill

June 21st, the day of Summer Solstice, 1985, in London and San Francisco, two "Post-Industrial" artists, John Balance (of COIL) and Kristine Ambrosia (of Ambrosia Transpersonal Communications) embarked upon an ambitious and carefully planned simultaneous transcontinental ritual that combined music and art in an attempt to focus upon and use a specific aetheric energy locked in the dark realms of the Underworld (the symbol of Nigredo, the Blackening and purging of the Soul) toward the brighter lands of the White and Red Suns (the Albedo and Rubedo, or ultimate cleansing of the Soul). Kristine and John planned to collect the appropriate aetheric energies and focus them through the "lens" of performance and ritual. The ultimate goal was to create a "gateway" or tunnel between aetheric planes that could be used on an extended basis, to enter and work with the energy of the Black Sun, both magically and artistically. The hope was that this powerfully purifying experience could be "stepped down" to the audience in such a way that any of them who wished to make use of that energy could do so, safely and easily.

COIL began life between 1982 and 1984 as an offshoot of the seminal "Post-Industrial" band, Psychic TV, which was a development from the mid 1970's "Industrial" band, Throbbing Gristle. The "Industrial" bands and artists of the mid to late 1970's were primarily interested in working with the darkest passages and hidden recesses of the decaying foundations of Western Culture. Their works examined states of insanity, violence, disease, mind control, and death; all the deepest taboos of the West, with the dispassionate detachment of a pathologist conducting an autopsy. As with the Dadaists, earlier in the twentieth century, their work began to run into the problem of desensitization. Their audiences came to expect more and more violent and powerful imagery, until the artist's freedom to explore became bound by the spectacle of cultural dismemberment.

Most of the artists associated with Industrialism had long-standing interests in the occult sciences; however, the industrial music milieu was savagely opposed to any expression of "otherworldly" interests. Finally about 1981, the dam broke. Psychic TV came out with their first album, "Force the Hand of Chance," which contained direct references to Aleister Crowley and the practice of Magick. One song on the album was even intended to be used as background for a guided pathworking! The long-suppressed interest in the magical that had functioned for most of these artists could now come safely to the surface. Almost overnight, a whole movement of "Post-Industrial" music, oriented toward ritual and magic, sprang up. In a very real sense, this could be seen as a logical extension of the Industrial fascination with death taken to its extreme limit: entry to the land of the "dead" - the Inner Planes - via the magical path. The Post-Industrialists found in magic (and Crowley's conception of "Magick") both a powerful image for the invocation of long forgotten and suppressed forces within Western Culture and a doorway into perspectives not bound by rational constraint. Where late 1970's and 1980's Heavy Metal music took occultism as a tribal image whose value was found in a shallow marketing appeal, the Post-Industrialists, outside of the inevitable poseurs and dilettantes, took the magical arts with a relatively high degree of intelligence and care. Their attempt to inject the virus of ecstatic magical experience into the decaying corpse of the West has not had widespread influence yet, and many of the problems of attempting to achieve altered states of awareness in an artistic context remain to be worked out, but some of the tremendous promise of this odd alliance became evident during the Invocation of the Black Sun.

John Balance, one of the founding members of COIL (along with Peter Christopherson) began his interest in the occult arts at the age of ten. As a long time pathworker in the Underworld, his music and lyrics reflect deep intuitive experience of the beings and forces found in that plutonian realm. COIL's first major recording, "How to Destroy Angels," was a serious attempt to create music specifically for a ritual environment focused on visualization of the various aspects of the Martian octave and the corresponding arousal of male sexual energy, alongside an onanistic practice reminiscent of Austin Osman Spare's "Death Posture." Using percussive instruments made of iron (and other metals favorable to Mars), and rhythms calculated with mathematical precision to affect the intended psychic centers, the recording has a powerful and remarkable effect, when taken in an open sprit. COIL's first LP album, "Scatology" further explored the "lower" realms, and one song in particular, "Solar Lodge" caught the attention of the American ritual performance artist, Kristine Ambrosia.

Kristine had begun her performance art career in 1976, in the midst of a spontaneous Kundalini awakening that gradually brought her through the realms of the shaman, medium, and clairvoyant seer. By 1985, she was working with a mediumistic entity named "Atlan" who was leading her into a realm symbolized by the Red Sun, an emblem worn at the time by all the members of her performance group. Once she heard COIL's "Solar Lodge", she immediately realized that she was working in very similar territory on the Inner Planes. After some correspondence and a few phone calls to John Balance, a simultaneous, transcontinental ritual performance was agreed upon. The Black Sun would be "raised" into the carefully defined area of the working. They discussed the problems of connecting with each other in the "subterranean" aetheric passageways of the Underworld in order to accomplish this mutual quest. They also discussed the various Inner Plane personages and energies that they were likely to face and how to work with them. The practical problems of how to channel this energy in a safe manner to the audience also took much of their time.

As preparations were underway for several weeks prior to the actual performances, John, Kristine, and I, began to keep meticulous journals of our experiences and insights. John's journals and workings remain private, however, our journals have been printed in a magazine devoted to COIL [available at] and Kristine was able to elicit many important details from John when she visited him in London during her 1985 European tour. Kristine kept journals on her mediumistic contact with Atlan, John kept his on the pathworkings and entities that he was contacting, and I kept track of all the alchemical research and workings that I was doing to support the principals. Miguel Serrano's Book of NOS (Routledge & Kegan Paul) proved to be a key source of confirmation for much of the intuitive, mediumistic and direct material that John and Kristine were receiving.

The day of Solstice finally arrived and all of our careful preparations were to be put to the test. Kristine's performance, "Bajo- No Hito" (The Horseman) began during the early evening, at the Lab, a performance space in San Francisco. The ritual began with Eric Love, Fakir Musafar and Monte Cazazza riding upside down (symbolizing the inversion of the Underworld) on a large rotating pyramidal "merry-go- round." Kristine began a slow shamanic drumming and dancing around them as the background music slowly built in intensity. She and all of the performers were entering altered states of awareness and beginning a group path working of descent into the realm of the Black Sun. The energy in the room built and built, along with the music and the intensity of Kristine's dancing, until finally the key moment arrived, the energy of the Black Sun was there and the "tunnel" to the Underworld was open. The collected imagings and energies of the performers in San Francisco were collected by Kristine and "shot" toward John Balance in London, through a specific, pre arranged channel. At the very same moment, John sent the energy that he had collected toward San Francisco, and the palpable shift was reported by many in the room. The cycle of energy, the Ouroboros serpent biting its own tail was born, and the power flowed out. The passage was opened and the purifying light of the Black Sun under the intense control of John and Kristine, flamed out for the use of anyone who intuitively cared to use it. The energy was so powerful that Carl Loeffler, from Artcom, who arrived a bit too late to see the actual ritual, reported to us that the room was still "buzzing" with a remarkable force. The energy was synthesized, channeled and transformed toward the next phase: the raising of the White Sun, the middle stage of our Alchemical work.

On June 26th, five days later, that work was begun. A piece called "Kage Hoshi" (Shadowstar) was performed at the People's Theatre Collective in San Francisco. Kristine presided as master Shaman, directing a series of subsidiary "whirlpools" of collected energy. As she was singing and directing from the mediumistic state, hanging upside down, Fakir Musafar danced in the Kavandi (cage of metal spikes, from India) while images of the Sun poured over him. Monte was spun on a large rotating frame known as a "Witches Cradle" until he reached the Underworld state; Eric Love was placed in a special stationary cage of spears, and I was the subject of a South Pacific pre nuptial fattening ritual with Cynthia Witkin. Each in our own individual ways, we approached the deepest recesses of the Under world and attempted to resurrect the energy of the Black Sun toward Kristine, the White Sun, and John Balance in London.

A few months later, we were able to complete the final stage of this complex series, the raising of the White Sun toward the Red (the Rubedo), in a performance at the San Francisco Art Institute. The end result was a group of artists who had gone through great personal and collective metamorphoses. We also left behind audiences who reported great shifts and awakenings in very positive directions. When Kristine visited John in London toward the end of 1985, they were able to compare notes in detail. Remarkably, even though all John used to construct his ritual performance was the basic structural details that we sent and his discussions with Kristine on the overall Inner Plane matters, the details of what he came up with showed striking parallels. Both John and Kristine arrived intuitively at the same conclusion: a horse had carried them into the Underworld. Each had met the same two "entities" - a large dark brooding figure and a sharp, angular one with long fingers. One was a guardian, the other a nosy intruder. Both John and Kristine had agreed to draw the symbols that they encountered on their journeys, and they were so similar upon comparison that the artists judged them to be genuinely archetypal.

The point behind all of this effort and struggle, besides the personal interests of all the participants in raising a useful evolutionary energy, was to explore the very real possibility of ritual in the context of Performance and the Post-Industrial setting. This rich interlocking of art and magic clearly has many problems. In hands less sensitive and careful, energies could be unleashed that would not be so benevolent. Worse, the mere public marketing novelty of "Magick" could drive serious workers even further underground, where their efforts might languish. The Invocation of the Black Sun demonstrated that, in the right hands, this art could have great benefit, but it also pointed out just how precisely and sensitively such a medium had to be handled. The success of the Invocation encouraged Kristine toward a much larger effort: after two years of preparation, the first week of 1988 will see the completion of "Loquai 111 . . . Moonfish." (Loquai is a Lemurian entity with whom Kristine worked, previous to her current Clairvoyant phase.) Kristine, John Balance, Carlo MacCormick, Willem de Ridder, Joan Brady, Mark Spainhower, Ed Appodaca, Kris Force and I will attempt a transglobal network, based on a central video/software work, in seven cities on seven successive days. The working will begin January first with Kristine invoking "Loquai" in a volcano on the Kona coast!

Ritual "actions" and performances of this nature will doubtless grow in importance over the next few years. Jose Arguelles' large-scale "Harmonic Convergence" of August, 1987 was a perfect example of the problems and prospects of global ritual work. (Ironically, Jose Arguelles was Kristine's Art History instructor back in 1976, before either of them could have conceived that they would both be doing global rituals!) Such ambitious undertakings will continue to be of interest to many of the artists associated with Post-Industrialism. The major names associated with this growing and shifting alliance of music, art and magic: Z'ev, Current 93, COIL, Kristine Ambrosia, Psychic TV, Nurse With Wound, Secret Chiefs, Sleep Chamber, and many others, all exhibit a high level of personal commitment and energy. The essential spirit of information exchange in these circles is surprisingly high. Unlike the occultist/ artists of the late nineteenth century Symbolist and Decadent movements, they have grasped the essential lesson that discipline and effort are the watchwords on this perilous path of merging the roles of artist and mage into a new synthesis.

References to the artists mentioned above can be found in the following magazines:

Tim O'Neill is an art historian, performance artist and student of the Western Mystery Tradition.