Memento mori headstone
Clark Ashton Smith headstone
Hand of Glory headstone

Charnel Nectar: Philosophy and mission

The artistic journey should be open to all in times of grief, as the freedom to express emotions and memories should be felt, seen, heard, and embraced. It is mutually transformative. The potential this art form has to bring individuals, families, or whole communities closer to their dearly departed lies at the heart of its philosophy, practice, and gnosis.


This is the preservation of Memory.

Gravestone rubbing

Toward Mons Saturnus

"Maier’s journey through the planetary houses begins with Saturn, who is the coldest, heaviest, and most distant of the planets, the maleficus and abode of evil, the mysterious and sinister Senex (Old Man), and from there he ascends to the region of the sun, to look for the Boy Mercurius, the longed-for and long-sought goal of the adept. It is an ascent ever nearer to the sun, from darkness and cold to light and warmth, from old age to youth, from death to rebirth. But he has to go back along the way he came, for Mercurius is not to be found in the region of the sun but at the point from which he originally started." —Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis


The cyclic work of Saturn begins at death rather than birth. He is Sol Niger who illuminates the corpse in its grave and the forest in decay with a veil of shadows and silence. He is reaper and resurrector, wielding a scythe in one hand and a serpent swallowing its own tail in the other. The fermentative microcosm that nourishes the growths of fungi and flora upon a rotting corpse is his active alchemy. As the nigredo, as Father Time, he remains omnipresent in every natural process.


The mortificatio, which is conceivably the most negative of the alchemical operations, reverberates directly from the saturnine nigredo. In the throes of mourning, the mortificatio is a devastatingly cruel arcana but also a gateway to dramatic transformation. After the loss of a loved one, we are never the same; we are reminded to not squander the precious moments of this fragile, transient dream. Memento mori. Love deeply and fully, cherish every minute as if it were your last, pursue the Great Work with passion, and never cease cherishing and honoring your ancestors. Allow every thought, action, indulgence or pursuit of ecstasy to become a supreme art, while taking pleasure in the simple details of life, the most menial of tasks and labors. Saturn may seem a cruel teacher, but it is not without purpose, not without the gift of wisdom and humility in return.


While Saturn cannot be defied, there are ways in which his role as Father Time can be diminished. A headstone is a remarkable example of this with its ability to stand throughout many generations and ages with a name, epitaph, and story engraved upon a surface as ancient as the earth itself. His interference comes from the elements which erode the stone—the slow decay from the dark warp of time. Nevertheless, there is an inherently supernatural quality to a headstone as the Memory of the dead is greatly extended for hundreds upon thousands of years. Through the rites and rituals of its creation, an esoteric function can and should be assigned to intensify these inherent characteristics. This very principle alone is deeply forgotten through the modern production of funerary art and monuments. The market of industrialized headstones, as it stands, is so far removed from this higher vision and purpose that graveyards no longer feel like a place of communion, but a mass burial grid and vacuum of commercialism. Between the impersonal ceremonies and plastic fortresses of caskets, it is no wonder we are losing reception to the dead, for it is as if we have made every effort to banish them, severe contact, and shun them out of sight, out of mind.

“To turn inward to melancholy is to move to a distant place within, to the cemetery of the soul. Cemeteries are usually located at the edge of cities, and that is where Saturn takes the soul. In alchemy he was imagined as a tomb, and his children were grave diggers, as we have seen. Not only is there construction taking place 'in Saturn', but also burying.—Thomas Moore, The Planets Within

In order to reclaim the land of the dead, we must first re-forge the gateways to the underworlds which have only extended in their remoteness from us. A ritually crafted headstone, as mineralis in its magickal connotation, is ideal as it already has natural geologic encryption.  Think about how after thousands of years megalithic and ancestral burials remain "active" from an alchemy that was once considered essential. Think of the portal or passage tombs of Ireland—even the title alone is evocative of a link to the past. Their purpose, lore, and association with the Other is quite intentional. A mason who is both exoterically and esoterically minded should be instrumental in providing that vital, preliminary communication with the dead. It is mercurial work.


“Mercurius stands at the beginning and end of the work: he is the prima materia, the caput corvi, the nigredo; as dragon he devours himself and as dragon he dies, to rise again in the lapis.” —Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy


Both Saturnus and Mercurius are present during the initial blackening, but only Mercurius comes into play at the beginning and end—that is, during the nigredo and rubedo—unifying the process through its circular and ouroboric sequence. He is the luxurians in se ipso (serpent rejoicing in itself). Throughout designing and carving, the ritual aspect of the work is never compromised or considered secondary, as the archetypal form of Hermes Chthonios is embodied by the mason who is acting as an intermediary within the vertical axis. By engraving messages and symbols or integrating any aspect of the deceased’s identity on to the stone, contact has been made, and this connection will only grow stronger upon reinforcing the sympathetic link between the living in mortificatio and the dead in putrefactio. Mercury cannot heal theurgical disharmony between varying states of the nigredo, but he can be a catalyst of inspiration for taking therapeutic initiative, leading those lost in the Meadow of Asphodel safely back.


“As bats fly squealing in the hollow of some great cave, when one of them has fallen out of the cluster in which they hang, even so did the ghosts whine and squeal as Mercury the healer of sorrow led them down into the dark abode of death. When they had passed the waters of Oceanus and the rock Leucas, they came to the gates of the sun and the land of dreams, whereon they reached the Meadow of Asphodel where dwell the souls and shadows of them that can labour no more.—The Odyssey, Book XXIV 


The language of memory and emotion establishes a dialogue in silence. As a headstone is situated directly between the living and the dead, it should be regarded as a tool of evocation—a hermetic portal. There are few artisans left dedicated to preserving headstone carving as an art form, and even fewer who are committed to enhancing these sacred and numinous properties. That being said, the theurgy of communion has the power to heal. It is of the utmost importance that we do not stop sharing a conversation or meal with the dead, and that we resist the agenda of a thanatophobic culture that intends on concealing death and pathologizing those who partake in rites of the dead as "morbid". This will only further severe the link between our loved ones, ancestors, and benevolent spirits that are slowly being dissolved by the ravages of time and fate. This is a task performed in the interest of Memory preservation—a star within the twilight of folk arts.