The Tarot Mural Ceiling
The Gift ‘Angel of Death’ Statue by Leilah Wendell
Alex Grey “Sacred Mirrors”
Endless classic dinner parties
“Teach what you would learn”
Our Great Dumb Suppers
Eddie Munster Famous Dinner Party
The YHWH chairs
Funerals in this room
(photo by Jason Furda!)
The Dining Room back in the day with the Timko family (above).
The Dining Room today (below).
“TEACH WHAT YOU WOULD LEARN”
(The story to follows feels reminiscent of how artists Richard Huelsenbeck and Hugo Ball supposedly named Dada-ism, finding the random word in a French-German dictionary.)
My second year here, on a particularly dark evening when the future of our hotel experiment seemed surreally fantastic and charging full speed ahead but without clear direction, I asked the Universe what exactly it wanted us to be doing here within this breathing canvas. “God, I know I am on to something, and we are achieving incredible results left and right, but where do you want us to take all this …like exactly?”
Via bibliomancy, I flipped open the closest book, which was A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman, 1965, so my finger could land on a single line. It hit a line which read, “Teach what you would learn.”
Thus, the method suggested became the adventure’s steering wheel and hotel motto. The quote now can be read boldly above the dining room book shelves.
The Tarot Ceiling Mural
Here artist Terence Kauffman stands beneath the stunning masterpiece ceiling mural he painted in the Grand Midway Hotel. It took him six weeks to paint. The woman used as the model for the painting was first season hotel guest Videssa from California.
The ceiling mural was inspired partially from The Universe Card of the Thoth tarot deck (see example Universe Card below). This deck was painted by Lady Frida Harris, over the years 1938-1943. She took her instruction from Aleister Crowley, who wrote of the multitude of symbols, “The proper method of study of this card -indeed of all, but especially of this card- is long-continued meditation.” So here is a collective of some other Universe Cards (also called World Card) to compare their symbols and artwork.
Pamela Colman Smith, also known as Pixie, designed the earlier Waite-Smith deck completing the art in six months between April to October, 1909 (see World Card below). The woman Pamela used as model on the card was her friend, British actress and early feminist Florence Beatrice Farr. Farr was considered “the Bohemian’s Bohemian.”
For those curious for further comparison, here is a version of the World Card from the 15th Century, the Tarot of Marseille Deck (see below). Artist unknown.
Here is a beautiful version of the World Card from the 15th Century, from the Ccar-Yale Visconti-Sforza Tarocchi tarot deck.
THE GIFT ‘ANGEL OF DEATH” (STATUE) BY LEILAH WENDELL
This lifesize work is titled “The Gift” (above) created by Leilah Wendell and George Hisham now stands in the hotel’s Grand Dining Hall. It is of Leilah in the arms of the Angel of Death. This was also used as the model for one of the cards in her deck The Gothic Tarot. It is our great honor that Leilah has just donated this signature piece to the Grand Midway Hotel. It was a great adventure to pick up and transport of this work for 2014. At first it resided in room, #25, but it became so popular we simply moved it front and center downstairs for the world to enjoy.
(The Angel of Death by Evelyn de Morgan, 1855-1919)
Leilah Wendell created the famed necromantic Westgate Gallery down in New Orleans. The Westgate was extremely popular as a New Orleans destination point through the 1990s. In the mid-1990s I visited the Westgate Gallery and became instant friends with Leilah and Daniel Kemp, the curator. That same weekend I met Damien Youth, seeing him perform for the first time at the Anne Rice Memnoch Ball. it was like a thunderbolt hitting me. After the show I ran up to him and introduced myself, throwing it out there that intuitively I knew we were going to be friends and work together. Who could have foreseen we were eventually going to purchase the Grand Midway Hotel together states away? I met so many artists that first weekend in the Gothic realm, from author Poppy Z. Brite to poet Stan Rice, I simply joined their ranks entirely and dove in. I relocated from Hollywood to New Orleans for a full year of dark art and enchantment. Leilah Wendell actually became my landlord as I rented the balcony apartment next door to the Westgate Gallery. It was a grand, rich, fun, enchanting season. I kind of thought of Leilah as my new cool, creepy Aunt. She liked to do long, daily walks down the sidewalks of New Orleans and gaze at the beautiful romantic architecture. Sometimes I would join her. Leilah did the cover art of two of Damien’s classic albums (cassette tapes at that time). Leilah was championed endlessly at that time as the cutting edge creator of necromantic art.
(Leilah Wendell & Daniel Kemp, 2007)
In 1988, Leilah’s book Our Name Is Melancholy: The Complete Books of Azrael exploded on the scene. Goodreads writes, “A unique and haunting ‘autobiography’ of the Angel of Death, hailed by readers and reviewers as “The most fascinating true story of the 20th century!” A 12 year Best Seller of occult non-fiction, it sparked a subtle revolution in the way we deal with death in general, and Death, the entity. It brought us up close and personal with the melancholy spectre known as The Reaper. Through the Angel of Death’s own words and the writings of His incarnate ‘soul-mate’, this awesome spirit reveals to all His true nature and purpose. Also included are selections from The Necromantic Ritual Book, Shadows in The Half-Light, and treatises from Infinite Possibilities. Azrael is an eerie herald, come to enchant the world with a divine Dance Macabre. A story mighty in both sorrow and joy. The ultimate tale of Love & Death is, indeed, a True Story!” In 1996, when Anne Rice released her book Servant of the Bones about an “Azriel” character several goth fans raised an eyebrow noting the similarities. One review simply read, “Whoa, jump back Leilah Wendell!”
From her webpage, “Westgate moved lock, stock & barrel to the Crescent City’s famed Magazine Street where it stood as both monument, and museum/Temple to the Angel of Death. The opening of the Westgate signified that the time has come for mankind to reconcile Life with Death. The place stood out like a beacon, calling to all souls who feel an affinity to what it represents; A physical & symbolic manifestation of the true Westgate through which we all pass upon our death. “The House of Death”, as we were more commonly called, was a place for special souls, and you know who you are, to gather & feel at home. After all, it is His house! Our purpose remains to put forth the word of the Angel of Death & thereby conquer fear through understanding. We endeavor to make people aware of the essential nature of Death & to help humanity see their universe through His eyes, & thereby gain a macrocosmic understanding of both, Life & Death. We must loosen this last remaining fear that keeps many tethered to the narrow view & burdened by the weight of flesh. We must learn to view the world from neither side of eternity, but rather from the threshold between the dimensions of space & time. For over three decades, The Westgate has been rekindling primeval memory, & replacing fear with love and serving as a point of contact between Life & Death. A place where folks can come & be touched by the melancholy spectre of the Angel of Death, & hopefully come away with a new & poignant understanding. It is a threshold between two worlds & a place where Love & Death embrace unabashed by their own spectacle. The ideals of the Westgate are a quantum leap beyond the veil of fear that still exists, even among the most “enlightened”. We stay with love & commitment to our cause in being the voice & vision of the Angel of Death. Our determination & success over the past 33 years has spear-headed His message from the fringe, to the forefront of a wave that sweeps beyond current revelationary thinking into an area that The Westgate alone has charted.”
(“Death & the Maiden” Elna Borch -Photo Copyright by Scott Davies)
Despite great attention, the Westgate Gallery eventually shut it’s doors. She continues online with their webpage http://www.westgatenecromantic.com/index.html
“ORION AWAKENING” BY LEILAH WENDELL
The painting Orion Awakening hangs here as well. This original work was from about 1994. Leilah describes this work as, “Wow! I had to dig back into my archives for that one! Yes! That was the painting based on the three-fold infinity paradigm that I wrote about in ONM (Our Name is Melancholy), basically stating that Orion is Earth’s stargate of origin and it is also the combing point where past, present and future all merge as one, and can be equally accessed from that vantage point. The three figures represent the former and the ‘spirals’, the ‘paths’, if you will.”
THE ALEX GREY “SACRED MIRROR” PAINTINGS & GOOD WISHES
COSM ART CHURCH …So I drove six hours in the snow up to Cosm, Alex and Allyson Grey’s art sanctuary compound above New York City, for an art session of “setting highest intentions” for the new year hosted by the Greys. My little sister Meg joined me. Here she is in the picture pregnant between the Grey’s. Yeaaa new mama Meg! In his book The Mission of Art, Alex Grey poses the challenge “Can we transform the art world, or our attitude toward the art world, to the degree that we can regard it as a spiritual community?” I have so much respect for this artist and his vision. He’s a master painter. His wife and he speak all over the world. Their place is a wonderful art escape, similar to the Midway but about ten times greater. Late that night their place filled up with people, maybe two hundred, for a full moon ritual / party. I waited in line to get some of his prints autographed. I sat down next to Alex. We’re strangers. All I said was, “I bought an old hotel for Art.” He lit up, “Not the Midway? Kerouacfest?” Insert my mind being blown. You know me?! “Sure, I follow your stuff. You’ve been doing this longer than us.” It hadn’t occurred to me he’d have researched similar art retreats and compounds. The next twenty minutes he speaks to me making suggestions for the Midway. He tells me to keep fighting the good fight, people recognize it, or something like that, I’m paraphrasing. “Remember earlier tonight,” he asks, “Allyson was speaking about Abraham and the Torah? Abraham, they say, was an inn owner.” Then he says it again to stress the point, “He was an inn owner. And he told stories. And off of this first came the generations of tribes…” Then he laughed and said, “Let’s take a selfie.” He reached out his arm and took a few pictures of us. I was so touched that he recognized my own efforts I stood in their coat room almost with tears in my eyes.
These four “Sacred Mirrors” paintings (prints) by Grey now hang in the Midway Dining Hall:
The YHWH Chairs
I built two dozen high-back medieval-looking chairs for this room. During hotel tours people continually ask what is the symbol painted on them. It is Hebrew for the name of God, represented by the tetragrammaton four letters Yod Heh Vav Heh. It was later spelled in Roman script, YHWH. It was never said aloud as speaking the name of God was considered blasphemous so the original pronunciation was eventually completely lost. Later, Greek records showed us that it was likely pronounced “Yahway.”
Many a festive costumed night have taken place within this room.
EDDIE MUNSTER DINNER
Here Butch Patrick, AKA Eddie Munster from the television show The Munsters, joined us for a great grand dinner in our Grand Dining Hall. Politicians, artists, paranormal investigators, dancers, and authors all joined us that night. The guest list was an amazing cultural VIP gathering. The footage from that legendary evening later was incorporated into the movie Zombie Dream. News of Butch Patrick’s date with attending former NFL cheerleader Donna McCall made news across America. People were charmed with their new romance. The photo below, from that party weekend, made The Enquirer.
Here is the opening title sequence footage from The Munsters if you would like to float down Memory Lane…
THE DUMB SUPPERS
The evening of March 24, 2012, we held a very large, elaborate Dumb Supper in the Grand Midway. The title ‘Dumb’ is reference to the silence. A Dumb Supper, or Dinner for the Dead, is an ancient, funerary-like, somber, sober meal where one “steps into the sacred realm of the dead”.
Dumb suppers are set in a sacred place. They are to honor those who have died. During the entire meal no one speaks. Each course is served backwards, from dessert, to main course, to soup, and eventually ending with salad. An empty seat and plate are set for the departed. Music carries the silence. Memories swell. Participants often break down in tears. Many claim to be touched by those passed on.
Dumb suppers used to be common. For a while they were a Christian tradition. They are a big deal still in various Wiccan and Pagan traditions. They are held mostly at Samhain (Halloween), and sometimes at New Years, but one can enact the ritual any time. When you sit alone at your dinner table with a glass of wine recalling a loved one in silence you are in essence on some level doing this. The main point is reverence.
Salem, Massachusetts’ own Christian Day, who wrote the Witch’s Book of the Dead, and hosts a large Dumb Supper at his annual Festival of the Dead, flew in as our mediator for the Grand Midway Hotel’s first official Dumb Supper. We had thirty guests. We almost even had Leilah Wendell joining us, curator of the New Orleans Westgate ‘House of Death’ Art Gallery and author of Our Name is Melancholy, but something turned up last minute and she was the one guest who couldn’t make it. In this photo outside the Midway is Christian Day on the right, with host myself, Blair Murphy left, and famed paranormal author and researcher Rosemary Ellen Guiley in the middle. Rosemary wrote Talking to the Dead and The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft & Wicca. We held the event in the hotel’s first floor dining room. The entire space was dark, illuminated entirely by candlelight. Several Midway friends volunteered as staff. Chef Thom cooked and in-house manservant Kyle served with his wait staff. People brought photos of their loved ones who’d passed on as well as letters they’d written them. After welcoming each guest into the ‘sacred realm’ with a nod and a swing of the arm for a direction of where to sit, Christian played music for the hour of dining silence. At one point he put on a skull mask and stepped around the room holding a mirror in front of each guest as they dined in silence. The night felt historic. The dinner was a smashing success, perhaps our greatest night in the Midway yet. An article appeared immediately after in Psychology Today by Katherine Ramsland describing our legendary evening. Katherine also attended. We unveiled Terence Kauffman’s stunning tarot mural ceiling as well this night. He’d just finished painting it that week. Terrence also attended the dinner. Candlelit, paranormal celebrity-clad, and deeply touching, the hotel seemed one throbbing mystical temple.
The Midway’s Grand Dining Hall was used for funerals at one time… (below, a photo taken in this room)
The Ancient Texts Symposiums, or just ‘the Symposiums’, are the hotel’s form of continuing adult education.
Here Mikey P offers one of his annual talks. One year Mike did it on Henry Miller, other years he spoke on Mark Twain, Thomas Moore, William Randolf Hearst, and Walt Whitman. Mike doesn’t use any notes. He talks brilliantly for an hour with endless exact details from memory alone. Here he is telling us all about the bad ass Quaker William Penn.
A “symposium” in ancient Greece was an important social institution, a drinking party, where each man would deliver their “encomium”, their speech in praise of love. This could go in any number of directions, from praising a person, thing, subject, work of art, etc. (Encomium was also the title of a Led Zeppelin tribute album.) At Greek symposiums they would assign a position of a “Symposiarch” who was in charge of the wine flow, kind of like a bartender. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines these brainy parties as, “In ancient Greece, an aristocratic banquet at which men met to discuss philosophical and political issues and recite poetry. It began as a warrior feast. Rooms were designed specifically for the proceedings. The participants, all male aristocrats, wore garlands and leaned on the left elbow on couches, and there was much drinking of wine, served by slave boys. Prayers opened and closed the meetings; sessions sometimes ended with a procession in the streets. In Plato’s famous Symposium, an imaginary dialogue takes place between Socrates, Aristophanes, Alcibiades, and others on the subject of love.” Anymore, symposiums are more academic conferences, minus the alcohol. Our symposium’s don’t have slave boys, but we have had a Symposiarch, sporting a rockabilly look, serving out absinthe.
Almost a loose study group, but interested in everything from the Book of Genesis to the Bhagavad Gita, etc., these brainstorming, text-combing, casual, no pressure, laid back, snack-eating sessions we’ve held at KerouacFests, over coffee on the hotel porch, over five-course dinners with guests in gowns, and over late night Absynthe in the Poe Room. I’ve tried to get Howard Bloom of Yale University here to the hotel several times, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, but he’s declined. I can only imagine how these random invitations from a strange private haunted hotel must read to some of the scholars I’ve written. Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Every Day Life, you are on my wish list, so if you are ever passing through and need a cup of coffee… Some Universities have the Greek Slave Auction. We have the Greek Symposium.
Skot Jones suggested The Hermetica:
The most recent work of interest? The Hermetica. From antiquity we read: “Do you not know, Asclepius, that Egypt is an image of heaven, or, to speak more exactly, in Egypt all the operations of the powers which rule and work in heaven have been transferred to earth below? Nay, it should rather be said that the whole Kosmos dwells in this our land as in its sanctuary. And yet, since it is fitting that wise men should have knowledge of all events before they come to pass, you must not be left in ignorance of this: there will come a time when it will be seen that in vain have the Egyptians honored the deity with heartfelt piety and assiduous service; and all our holy worship will be found bootless and ineffectual. For the gods will return from earth to heaven. Egypt will be forsaken, and the land which was once the home of religion will be left desolate, bereft of the presence of its deities. This land and region will be filled with foreigners…O Egypt, Egypt, of thy religion nothing will remain but an empty tale…”
Consider that ancient text in light of what is happening in the news of modern Egypt this very month? November 12, 2012, CNN reported Extremists call for the destruction of Egyptian antiquities: Morgan Al-Gohary, a jihadi sheikh with a history of radicalism, appeared on the private Egyptian TV channel Dream TV 2 Saturday evening and declared that if he and his ilk ever came to power, they would not hesitate to destroy the Sphinx and the pyramids. He’s no stranger to the notion of vandalizing ancient artifacts, boasting to the show’s host, Wael Al-Abrashi, that while in Afghanistan, he took part along with the Taliban in the demolition of the Bamyan Buddhas in March 2001. His threat was met by Al-Abrashi and the other two guests with shock.
Al-Abrashi: “Am I going to wake up tomorrow to find that, just as you did with the statue of Buddha, that you have demolished the Sphinx and the pyramids?”
Al-Gohary: “That is dependent upon abilities and possibility. According to our Sharia, every pagan and idol must be destroyed.”
Al-Abrashi: “If you are in power, will you destroy the Sphinx and the pyramids and all the pharoanic statues and all the pharoanic artifacts?”
Al-Gohary: “Everything, if it is a pagan statue or idol, that is worshiped or suspected to be worshipped, or is worshipped by one person on Earth, must be destroyed. We, or someone else, must destroy it.”