17. John Crow (John Constable) at Southwark Playhouse ph Juliet Singer
Invoking The Goose in Southwark Playhouse. Photo (c) Juliet Singer

The Halloween of Cross Bones Yard is an annual ritual drama to honour the spirits of The Goose and the outcast dead of Crossbones and to reclaim the old pauper’s burial ground as a sacred site.

The ritual was first performed in Southwark Playhouse on 31st October 1998, conducted by John Constable in his John Crow persona, with the actress Di Sherlock in the role of The Goose, the singer Francine Luce and actor Duncan Law.

Tantric Mistress Jahnet de Light, as ‘Goose of Honour’:

took the spotlight and told us, to righteous, warm applause, about her progress from massage parlour to tantric enlightenment.

(Sebastian Faulks, Evening Standard, 2nd November 1998)

The performance was followed by a candlelit procession to the site of the Crossbones graveyard, where the dead were honoured with candles and precious offerings.

The event coincided with a ‘London Bodies’ exhibition featuring a ‘young woman’s syphilitic skull with multiple erosive lesions, from Red Cross Way, Southwark, 18th century’.

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The Altar to the Ancestors. Photo (c) Max Reeves

The Halloween of Cross Bones was conducted every year from 1998 to 2010.

Over these 13 annual performances, the ceremonial drama evolved its own ritual forms. There’s an Altar to the Ancestors, on which participants offer personal mementoes or photographs of lost loved ones, along with morsels to feed the hungry ghosts. A Goddess Priestess conducts a samhain ritual in honour of the pagan new year, when the veil between the worlds is thinnest.

Then John Crow opens the ritual honouring of The Goose:

Spirits of the dead. Spirits of the Living. Kindred. Welcome.

There follows a ritual drama – a performance of songs and poems from the Vision Books of The Southwark Mysteries – a kind of vision quest or guided meditation in which The Goose initiates John Crow into her hermetic teachings in order to reveal:

The Spirit in the flesh, the Sacred in the profane, Eternity in time.

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Whores d’Oeuvres. Photo (c) Max Reeves

The form of the ritual embodies these contraries: combining a sense of awe and reverence with a playful,  bawdy humour befitting The Goose. It presents a syncretic vision of healing, liberation and transformation, rooted in native pagan animism and John Crow’s idiosyncratic Goddess worship, and encompassing elements of ‘left-hand’ Magdalene Gnosticism, Buddhism, Tantra, spiritualism and the Western Magical Tradition.

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Michelle Watson as The Goose and John Constable as John Crow. Photo (c) Max Reeves

However, Crow has always asserted that The Goose’s teachings are not a doctrine, creed or belief-system. They can best be understood as a spiritual practice in which conflicting ideas can co-exist within a spiritual or astral state of ‘Liberty’ or an ongoing process of liberation. The Southwark Mysteries and other teachings of the Goose-Crow source are revealed in poetry and song, as allusions and emblems of that which cannot be spoken, rather than as literal, ‘gospel’ truth.

Halloween at Cross Bones - at the gates
At the gates. Photo (c) Max Reeves

Participants are given a ribbon recording the the name, address, profession and year of death of someone buried in Cross Bones. These records were retrieved from the London Metropolitan Archives. People are asked to tie the ribbon around their wrist and to adopt their spirit for the course of the ritual.

CLICK FOR photo sets by Max Reeves: The Halloween of Crossbones X (2007, colour) and VIII (2005, b/w).

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John Crow at the gates. Photo (c) Max Reeves

Each performance flows seamlessly into a candlelit procession to the Cross Bones site. There, the ribbons and other totems are tied to the bars of the iron gates, the names of the dead read aloud and prayers said to light their ‘open pathways’.

These ritual performances have been conducted in venues all around the Borough – The Drome (later SEOne and Venue) in the old caverns under London Bridge station, the former Green Angels community space, The Ragged School, The Ship Inn, The Hop Cellars in Southwark Street and The Table Restaurant. Each performance was followed by the procession to the shrine at the Memorial Gates.

CLICK FOR photo sets by Jonathan Greet: The Halloween of Crossbones IX (2006) & X (2007)

The first 11 Halloween of Cross Bones rituals were conducted by John Crow, variously assisted by the Irish poet and musician Niall McDevitt and actor-singer Michelle Watson, who played the part of The Goose for 7 of the first 10 annual performances. Jahnet de Light led the tantric pulse for the first 10 Halloweens, and trained her Whores d’Oevres to hold the space for this third aspect of the triple ritual at the eleventh.

At the Halloween of Cross Bones XI, held on 31st October 2008, John Crow announced that the Cross Bones rituals had entered a new phase:

The Portal and pathways are open to all who honour the dead and the living
in The Goose and the Crow
in acts of selfless service
in our firm foundation
in emptiness incarnate in us and our all works.

The 13th Halloween of Crossbones, on 31st October 2010, completed a magical cycle. As Crow called out the Goose blessing at the gates, a chevron of five wild geese flew directly over the graveyard.

CLICK FOR photo set by Dominic Search: The Halloween of Crossbones XIII

Crow smudges Redcross Way entrance
The procession to Crossbones led by John Crow with Wolf’s Head & Vixen Border Morris troupe. Photo (c) Angella Dee

From 2011 to 2014, as The Halloween of Crossbones took a break, the Samhain observances were made at the October vigil. The Halloween of Crossbones returned in 2015. The performance featured a procession led by Wolf’s Head And Vixen, the Border Morris dance troupe, culminating in them ‘dancing with the dead’ on the Crossbones burial ground.