Goose and Crow

john Constable aka John Crow. Photo (c) Gary Neale


The story of the raising of The Goose Spirit at Cross Bones burial ground and of her initiation of John Crow is itself shrouded in legend.

It is said that, on the night of 23rd November 1996, the writer John Constable experienced a visitation from a muse or spirit guide who claimed to be the spirit of a Winchester Goose buried at Cross Bones. Her teachings, received through the mediumship of his literary persona John Crow, were revealed in a cycle of poems, or Vision Books, received during the three years leading up to the millennium.

In his preface to The Southwark Mysteries, Constable writes that these Vision Books…

were revealed by The Goose to John Crow at Crossbones… My shamanic double had somehow raised the Spirit of a medieval Whore, licensed by a Bishop, yet allegedly denied Christian burial…

In the course of the Vision Books, The Goose leads John Crow on a journey through the secret history of south London’s ancient Liberty to reveal her transforming ‘vision of humanity’. The second part of The Southwark Mysteries expands that vision in a cycle of contemporary Mystery Plays, set on Bankside. The third part is entitled the Glossolalia, a glossary of local history and occult lore. The entire book can also be read as a grimoire or book of magical invocations.

John Crow at Crossbones Gates - photo Jacqueline Woodward-Smith
John Crow. Photo (c) Jacqui Woodward-Smith

Constable frequently spoke of John Crow as a distinct entity, a spirit much like The Goose. Yet the character had previously appeared as an alter ego in his solo comedy I Was An Alien Sex God and other works. From 1998 onwards, Constable began performing work from The Southwark Mysteries as John Crow, and played the character for the 2000 production of The Mystery Plays in Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral. Since 1998, he has conducted The Halloween of Cross Bones and other rituals in this shamanic persona, and is widely known as John Crow in many pagan, occult and other alternative sub-cultures.

CROW, John: Whore’s Prophet and shaman, origin unknown. There is much speculation as to his true identity, or whether he only exists in the Vision World. The first reported sightings of John Crow in Southwark were in the autumn of 1996. Some say he was himself a spirit: the wandering soul of a rogue priest who ‘went native’ with the witches… We should beware of taking John Crow Trickster too literally. The poet John Constable variously refers to him as an alter-ego, spirit guide and shaman’s familiar. The Crow’s encounter with The Goose apparently triggered his emergence as an autonomous entity.

The Southwark Mysteries, Glossolalia

The writer John Constable evidently had a complex relationship with this shamanic persona. In John Crow Trickster (The Southwark Mysteries) John Crow seems to evoke a past life in which he was himself a Puritan involved in witch-hunts who, perhaps sickened by the excesses of righteous Christian zeal, effectively goes over to the other side.

John Crow Trickster
No Preacher
and if he ever done so
John Crow done defrock
Man done reap as he sow
when Preacher Man make war
on the Witch and the Whore
Puritan done for Crow

The ‘Trickster’ tag may be the key to unlocking the riddle of John Crow and his complicated relationships with The Goose and ‘The Constable’. The Trickster uses humour and paradox – and, if need be, downright dirty trickery – to challenge all belief-systems so as to shock us into new relationships with Heaven, Earth and the mysterious powers that move between the worlds.

Given the wealth of contradictory evidence contained within the work, it’s scarcely surprising that there should be so much speculation – not to say confusion – regarding John Crow’s true identity. Some see him as a separate spirit who has temporarily incorporated in Constable, in order to serve The Goose, whilst others see them as one and the same person. It could even be said that this ambiguity is an essential part of the Goose-Crow’s teachings, using shape-shifting techniques to radically alter our perceptions -or, as Crow would say, our ‘constructs’ – of reality, opening our eyes to the deep unity underpinning the diversity of all living beings, the ‘matrix of living energies and intelligences, interacting across Space and Time to heal the primordial rift between the Flesh and the Spirit’.