Every society needs a central point of focus; an area of universal significance that people can build a culture around. In Ancient Greek mythology, Zeus sent two doves to find ‘the centre’, and when they collided over Delphi, it took on this significance and became known as the ‘navel of the world’, an omphalos.
Highlighted in John Higgs’ elucidating, ‘Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense Of The Twentieth Century’, an omphalos is “a universal symbol for all cultures, but with different locations”. He explains that whilst the Ancient Greek saw Delphi as centre; the Japanese centred around Mount Fuji; the Sioux around the Black Hills; Ancient Romans around Rome itself; the Christian world, Jerusalem and so on.
However, as Higgs notes in the book, the twentieth century saw the ‘deleting of the omphalos’, which at that point, globally, was the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. This deletion led to dissipation as people flocked around smaller, more specifically focused, yet no less meaningful omphalos. For the hippies it was Haight Ashbury, for the civil rights movement it was Harlem, for the embryonic stages of disco it was David Manuso’s Loft and for those in the midst in the rave explosion, it was the Haçienda.
As the complexities of the last century unfolded, culture grew so sporadic that it became impossible to fully grasp. One thing definite though, is that Mathew Street was the omphalos for Liverpool’s counterculture on two separate occasions. The official centre of Liverpool isn’t too far away, the Sanctuary Stone on Castle Street. Though, it has to be said that Mathew Street has a far better claim.
Most people will already be aware of the road’s significance in the 1960s, with the Cavern Club acting as the crucial incubator for the Merseybeat explosion that engulfed the city and put four lads firmly in the annals of history.
A less told history of Mathew Street began in 1974, when Peter Halligan leased an old apple warehouse on the relatively empty street and established a new hub for the city’s creative misfits with the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream & Pun. To understand his inspiration, and the underlying meaning of everything that followed, you have to look back to 1927, when an otherworldly vision of Liverpool, ‘the pool of life’ illuminated a Swiss psychologist in a dream.
Having only ever visited the immaterial conception of the city in the collective unconsciousness, not the real world Liverpool we dwell within, Carl Jung explained that everything was “extremely unpleasant, black and opaque” but amidst this grim backdrop he had a “vision of unearthly beauty” that brought with it a revelation…
Through this dream I understood that the self is a principle and archetype of orientation and meaning. Therein lies its healing function. For me, this insight signified an approach to the centre and therefore to the goal. Out of it emerged a first inkling of my personal myth.
Although Jung was talking about a journey into the centre of the self, the same thinking can, and has previously, been applied to this city – to invert an ancient phrase, as below, so above.
Halligan interpreted Jung’s dream as occurring at the junction of roads on Mathew Street and his will and direction drew fresh breath into the area and paved the way for a new legend. If a modern myth is to be built around Liverpool, similar action is required.
We’ve witnessed the centre of the city fall into decline as creative attention moved outwards. Ham-fisted management and flagrant neglect has seen Mathew Street diluted beyond recognition, with cutting edge youth culture replaced by the comfortingly banal drone of the post-Waterman pop charts. Even the powers-that-be have noted a problem but we’re not fans of their solution: gentrification.
That’s why we’re returning to the heart of the pool of life on 6th June 2018, the anniversary of the three Jung Festivals that graced Mathew Street annually from the blistering summer of ‘76, marking the date the Swiss luminary left his mortal coil.
We’ll finish what we started with ‘The Renaissance Of Mathew Street’ on 23rd November 2017. Having ceremoniously expelled the malignant forces from our omphalos, this time, we’ll be evoking Goddess Bellisama, the spirit of the Mersey, who’ll be escorted by a Captain of the Swiss Navy along to Mathew Street, flanked by a procession of illuminated ‘changels’.
To inspire the creation of a new myth, the Liverpool Arts Lab have identified a host of ‘Liverpool saints’ including:
Arthur Dooley, Impassioned Artist
Edward Carter Preston, Formidable Sculptor
Eleanor Rathbone, Principled Politician
Jayne Casey, Pioneering Proto-Punk
Josephine Butler, Victorian Feminist
Ken Campbell, Theatre Maverick
Kitty Wilkinson, Slum Saviour
Olaf Stapleton, Sci-Fi Visionary
Roger Eagle, Music Evangelist
Stan Ambrose, Anarchist Harpist
William L. Keeling, Forgotten Inventor
Each saint will be represented by a symbol, left as an offering at ‘Flanagan’s Shrine’. We’ll also offer the street a Swiss Frank from both the year of Jung’s birth and death, forging a deeper connection to his dream, the second half of which will be read atop the manhole cover, followed by the ‘Wonderist Manifesto’. Using the birds of Liverpool, we’ll relocate the centre to its rightful place in Mathew Street.The omphalos – as well as being the centre – is also a direct line to the divine: legend has it. This points to the fact that if the city is to reach towards new cultural heights and craft a new mythology, it must first turn its focus inwards.
“The centre is the goal and everything is directed towards that centre.”
We assemble at 18:23 at the Pier Head. Are you going to be one of those present?
[OFFICIAL L.A.L. DISPATCH]