an epidemiological epistemology


What has struck me over the period of this crisis is how close the current psychological environment is to cultism and shamanism. This correlation I first recognised from my early Catholic schooling and indeed, in later life, whenever political and aesthetic cultism arose. In Melissa Dykes' excellent short film 'The Characteristics of an Initiation Ritual' - Here - , she proposes the 3 following phenomena, all of which are present in the current Covid related environment:

1.) Isolation for Purification (suspension of the normal ways / surrender / sacrifice / masking / trauma)
2.) The Transition (the old self dies, descending into a state of liminality / fever dream / void in the middle / blank canvas)
3.) Integration into the New Reality (or Resurrection to the New Normal)

Although she alludes to the shamanic 'wearing of masks', she misses that other item prevalent in many cults and religions - namely that of the fetish item or holy relic.

I have now filled that void by creating a series of virus relics that can act as a reminder of one's commitment to the cult. As well as the physical presence I thought the whole needed a mythology about how the relics came about. In this imaginary narrative about the origins of the virus I allude to 1000 year old prophesies of the Oracle at Delphi. In the sonic version I include a background of incoherent voices redolent of that institution. These are generated from text-to-speech software and sampled singing voices.


Click for sound file: - best with headphones.

“Civilizations demise under the weight of their own mythologies”.
Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001)

The Oracle at Delphi lasted for over 2000 years and, in its heyday, was visited by rulers, philosophers and religious leaders seeking advice on how to conduct their affairs. The advice was said to originate from Apollo whose words were channelled by illiterate peasant girls (pythia). They spoke in ‘ravings’ or ecstatic speech, often under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. These ravings were then ‘translated' by the priests of the Temple into elegant hexameters before being released to their supplicants. Large amounts of money changed hands, and this industry made Delphi one of the wealthiest settlements of the ancient world.

Of course, today we are so much more sophisticated and would never be taken in by such practices. We have science, computers and the guidance of a failsafe peer review process. It has indeed been stated that we know everything there is to know, barring a few inconvenient phenomena which will, in time, bow to our methodologies. No longer do our leaders have to consult oracles to determine policy and what they decide is seamlessly communicated to the people through an instant and reliable media.

That is until the early part of this year. Artists throughout the world started to experience dreams and visions that were without precedent. Collated, these described a dank cyclopean cave in central China and a strange artefact that shone in the eldritch gloom. Initially these were dismissed as the usual artistic delusions, even as a resurgence of the Cthulhu cult of the 1920’s, but events hinted at a more sinister reality. A baffling plague proceeded to stalk the globe. Statesmen and experts spoke in tongues and to issue edicts, ineffectual and at random. Some amongst the populace started to wear ritual masks reminiscent of prehistoric shamans or the plague masks of the 13th century. But to no avail.

It was decided that only the artists could Save the World and it became a priority to investigate the origin of their visions. At the same time reports were coming in of a meteorite that had landed in the self-same location which the artists had described in their dreams. An expedition was assembled to investigate. Of what was found you can see on the right. Intense heat had metamorphosed many of the viral and bacterial contents of the meteorite into exotic metals. Those that survived became a panspermeric diaspora, acting as agents of the next stage of human evolution. What this will be remains to this day a total mystery.

©Paul Malone 2020

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All artworks are approximately 3 cms in diameter (15 x 15 cms on background) and are made of nickel-silver. They are sprayed with a light coating of polyurethene to prevent tarnishing. Their surfaces are individually distressed and mismatched - this is deliberate to give a 3D effect. They come with an A6 certificate of provenance signed by the artist.

Price £90 framed against a black digitised stellar background (see below). Postage free in the UK.

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Microbes on starmaps (click image to expand)



Available microbes (click image to expand)