SortGüld – para-shamanist shape-shifting
SortGüld, or BlackGold, was a para-shamanist performance and exhibition at Evergold gallery, San Francisco, with Josh Short, exploring the mystical rituals around alchemic art and fashion occulture. Two nights of performance transformation, literally changing mind and matter. Art chiaroscuro that celebrated the daimonic reality of the Dark Arts of American Junk Culture. Aligned with para-shamanistic spiritual restoration rituals and the use of an alchemic Gold Standard machine, junk was transformed into purest black gold.
As an attempt to transgress and dig deeper into the alchemic processes of fashion, the Evergold gallery was remade into a temple of SortGüld, the spiritual powers of alchemic transmutation; power, oil, fashion and black gold, through mystic translations of John Dee’s and Anton La Vey’s speculative work Cyclonopedia. Responding to George Bataille’s call in his essay “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, that myth is the only path to reach the human essence after the failure of art and science (Bataille 1985), SortGüld invited the spirits of American consumer religion to be summoned and possess new idols of worship, exposing to the faithful the golden essence of junk culture. As noted in DuBois’ work on shamanism, the aim of shamanist rites of passage is to learn to transform a spirit “from a possessing to a protective one” (DuBois 2009: 67), and correspondingly, the aim of SortGüld was to ritually negotiate with the spirits of art and fashion.
SortGuld shaman


SortGüld ritual of transmutation
The rituals took on the transmutation of material culture, expanding on the reports of Johannes Schefferus (1674) and Sergei Shirokogoroff (1935) about the shamanic rituals of spirit travel and cosmological navigations. The contemporary magic at use in the “temples of consumption” was exposed to the participants. Two daimons were incarnated which summoned some the indigenous fashion spirits of the United States; Lauren, Jacobs, Hilfinger, Diddy, and not the least, the essential fashionista La Vey. The faithful were guided through a cosmology of multiple parallel worlds, or what Peter Berger would call a “sacred canopy” (Berger 1969). This cosmology was in turn illuminated on the walls by the sombre scriptures of Negarestani, Quorthon, Galliano and Acephalix. In resonance with the ideas of Andreas Lommel (1967), the temple exposed traces of spiritual trance experiences where shape-shifting daimons exposed their skin-shedding transfigurations throughout the journey towards SortGüld transcendence.
Shamanist ritual costume is a key component in spirit travel and dwelling, with material components helping to incarnate the spirits and make the robes a vehicle for cosmic shape-shifting; the robes “are vehicles for the spirits’ presence” (Kendall 1995: 31). The Mongol shamans adorn their robes with owl or eagle feathers, ancient totems of the Mongols. They also use snake tassels as applications as the snake acts as a “messenger between various deities and the shaman” (DuBois 2009: 177). Ethnomusicologist Lisha Li points out how Manchu shamans hang percussive elements onto their waist as signalling elements for the spirit journey and as interlocutors for interaction (Li 1992: 54). The SortGüld shamans donned war-signalling outfits, uniforms of spiritual warfare, adorned with jewelry, weapons, bling and punk-rattles. These symbols of contemporary idols embody the ego of competitive individuation and conspicuous consumption; which in turn are the traditional and native elements enchanting the spirits of contemporary culture.
SortGüld shaman in "Samalga" and Buryat shaman 1904

As their Siberian counterparts, the SortGüld shamans had their faces covered by holy pendants, what the Mongol calls “samalga”. These pendants are used as a “means of attracting the spirits” but also as “protection for the shaman during ritual activities” (Purev & Purvee 2004: 174), but also as a means of limiting their vision in order to “activate their second sight” (Vitebsky 1995: 146). As a mask, this “creates a lens through which the shaman views the outside world” (DuBois 2009: 182), that is, the cosmology of the spiritual realm.
To put SortGüld critical aspects into context we could have a quick glimpse to religious studies. In a controversial critique of the studies of religion, theologian Timothy Fitzgerald has raised the issue that pretending to be a science, religious studies significantly distorts socio-cultural analysis, as the notion of “religion” severely slants the study of belief cultures in favour for discourse and easily accessible, or written, sources. Fitzgerald’s intention has been to escape the blanket term of “religion”, traditionally set as a category of study, and its dominant reference to the Judeo-Christian systematized doctrines of belief. Instead, Fitzgerals suggests to examine the constituting parts of belief cultures, so new relations and traditions of belief can be revealed and encompassed which might otherwise escape theological denominations. To accomplish this, Fitzgerald subdivides religion into three sub-parts in order to pick out finer distinctions; ritual, the symbolic ceremonies undertaken as expression of belief; soteriology, “the sense of a personal quest for salvation located in a transcendent realm” (Fitzgerald 2000: 15) and finally politics, the interaction between belief culture and social formations. For Fitzgerald, soteriology, or the issue of salvation, should be understood in the widest sense. For the Hindu this means “liberation from inequality and exploitation” as well as its “important spiritual or transcendental element” (Fitzgerald 2000: 5). However, Fitzgerald also acknowledges that the distinctions cannot always be precisely demarcated.
Goldes shaman priest in his regalia 1895

Echoing that of Fitzgerald, we are to set off an inquiry of the belief cultures of fashion, but by trying to escape the blanket term of “fashion” and its bias towards the dominant fashion system. Instead the purpose is to widen the realm and expressions of fashion by manifesting complementary beliefs. By addressing alternative, especially para-shamanistic, the practices of SortGüld was a point of departure into the realm of “other” fashions; with their distinctive rituals, soteriology, and political expressions. To expose such spiritual transpositions is to expose an alter-reality which, according to anthropologist Susan Greenwood, requires a “change in the mode of consciousness” to an associative “not only, but also” perception of the world in order to be rendered sensible (Greenwood 2009: 149) Other cosmologies, daimonic topographies of fashion and art, are made tangible.
SortGüld black altar and Gold Standard Machine
In an attempt to question these borders and to stretch the field of possibilities, SortGüld transposes a range of contemporary para-shamanistic practices and “obscure knowledges”. Just like in the old alchemic traditions, it is a synchronized transmutation of mind and matter. The rituals are journeys through soteriological transcendence and spiritual transmutation, and take the shape of alchemic hacking and the mis-appropriation of everyday tools, in a similar vein as in original punk or voodoo.
By ritualizing the unknown into soteriological calling and ceremonies the action establishes a transdisciplinary foundation of art and fashion which does not hide behind the “tacit knowledge” label, but rather strive to make the tacit, or even secret, explorable, tangible and discussable. As called upon by George Bataille, it is myth beyond art and science, but it is not voiceless or non-discursive. Even highly mystical traditions, like those of shamanism, alchemy, speculative Sufism or Rosencreuzianism have a rich texture of dense discourse, and yet the research within these traditions has not followed the course of the western scientific revolution. This stands apart from the academic strategies of art or science, which for good and bad, has been (illusionary) cleansed from myth.
SortGüld travels the mythic passages between the occulture of fashion and the junk culture of the spirit.
- - -
Bataille, Georges (1985) Visions of excess: selected writings, 1927-1939, Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press
Berger, Peter (1969) The sacred canopy: elements of a sociological theory of religion, Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday
DuBois, Thomas (2009) An introduction to shamanism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Fitzgerald, Timpothy (2000) The ideology of religious studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Greenwood, Susan (2009) The anthropology of magic, Oxford: Berg
Kendall, Laurel (1995) “Initiating Performance: The Story of Chini, a Korean Shaman” in Laderman & Roseman (eds) The performance of healing, New York: Routledge
Li, Licha (1992) “The Symbolization Process of the Shamanic Drums Used by the Manchus and Other Peoples in Northe Asia” Yearbook for Traditional Music, 24: 52-80
Lommel, Andreas (1967) Shamanism: the beginnings of art, New York: McGraw-Hill
Purev, Otgony & Purvee, Gurbadaryrn (2004) Mongolian shamanism, Ulaanbator: Admon Publishing
Schefferus, Johannes (1674) Lapponia, id est, regionis Lapponum et gentis nova et verissima desriptio : in qua multa de origine, superstitione, sacris magicis, victu, cultu, negotiis Lapponum, item animalium, metallorumque indole, quae in terris eorum proveniunt, hactenus incognita produntur, & eiconibus adjectis cum cura illustrantur. Francofurti: Typis J. Andreae, ex officina C. Wolffii
Shirokogoroff, Sergei (1935) The psychomental complex of the Tungus, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co
Vitebsky, Piers (1995) The shaman, London: Macmillan & Duncan Baird
new gold
Excited believer with shoes in black gold (standard edition)