It was Halloween night, 1973. Earl Marlowe, a Voodoo doctor originally from Trinidad, was at Cleopatra’s Needle on Victoria Embankment, London. He was there with his friend Kathleen, a freelance computer programmer from New York. Using a then state-of-the-art Wang 2200 microprocessor she’d created various mathematical formulas to conjure deities and other discarnate entities. She was a rogue programmer who was experimenting with new technology in creative and highly unique ways.
Earl leaned against one of the Sphinxes that overlook Cleopatra’s Needle.
“You got the scripts set up?” He asked Kathleen.
“Pretty much,” she replied as she positioned the last of nine pieces of parchment, with swirling sigils drawn on them in dark ink, around the base of the 68-foot high Egyptian obelisk.
The sigils were based on the mathematical formulas she’d generated on her computer, which she believed hooked into ethereal forces and could manifest them onto the earthly plane. It was an early form of cyber magick that brought ancient grimoires into the modern world.
Earl and Kathleen had become interested in the legend surrounding Cleopatra’s Needle, which involved a terrifying ancient Egyptian deity and numerous suicides.
The 180-ton obelisk of red granite dates back some 14 centuries to the reign of Thutmose III, sixth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. The tall, four-sided monument tapers into a pyramid top. But despite its name it has nothing to do with Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt.
In 1819, Mehemet Ali, viceroy of Egypt, presented the obelisk to Britain to commemorate the victorious battles fought by Nelson and Abercromby. But the obelisk stayed in Alexandria, Egypt, until 1877 when money was found to ship it to England.
The obelisk had been dug out of the desert sands that had covered it for a thousand years. Many of the workers involved in unearthing it believed something evil resided in Cleopatra’s Needle, revolving around the deity Sekhmet, a fierce goddess of war whose cult dated back thousands of years to the 12 dynasty. Sekhmet was depicted with a lion’s mane, beautiful pale face, and penetrating dark eyes and with fangs.
After Sekhmet almost destroyed mankind, Ra, the Sun-god, tricked her into drinking a liquid that put her into a long slumber, after which she was transformed into the gentle deity Hathor. But according to legend Sekhmet was only temporarily tamed and her wraith took sanctuary in the fallen obelisk of Thutmose III.
When the obelisk was being shipped over to England in 1877 six lives were lost when the ship met a raging storm in the Bay of Biscay. After the obelisk finally arrived in England in January 1878, it was erected on Victoria embankment. Just weeks later, a naked man was seen jumping into the Thames close to Cleopatra’s Needle. When the body was later recovered it couldn’t be identified.
Soon after, rumours of a strange and dark power emanating from the needle began to circulate.
And then in 1880, one Miss Davies (27) from Pimlico left her home and wandered the London streets in what was described as a “morose trance.” When she reached Victoria Embankment she felt a “magnetic” force draw her to the obelisk, where she heard eerie sounds of female laughter. She then found herself walking towards Cleopatra’s Needle, and unable to control her legs, jumped in the Thames. Fortunately, she was rescued by a young vagrant who happened to be nearby.
Over time Miss Davies recovered from her ordeal in hospital, but had terrible nightmares about a very tall woman in dark red robes with a white face and black, almond-shaped eyes. In her dream, she was paralysed with fear as the entity opened its large mouth to reveal pointed teeth, which it sank into Miss Davies’ face and tore off strips of flesh.
The nightmares stopped after a fortnight, but Davies insisted the entity was not imagination, but something connected to the obelisk.
It didn’t end there. Various people, from all walks of life, sadly ended their lives by jumping into the river close to Cleopatra’s Needle – to the point that police came to describe the location (with typical graveyard humour) as a “popular” suicide spot.
Aware of these stories, and presuming the Sekhmet connection was more than mere superstition, Earl had long wondered whether the deity was feeding on the life-force of suicides. After getting to know Kathleen, and learning of her experiments with computer code and the occult, he suggested they try and exorcise, or at least tame, the apparent malign force by making the most of their combined and unique talents.
Thus, come Halloween in 1973, the two were at Victoria Embankment setting up a cyber-based ritual to eradicate any baleful forces stored within Cleopatra’s Needle. They didn’t choose Halloween for magickal reasons – after all Halloween is a Christian festival influenced, to some degree, by the previous pagan Samhain festival, but All Hallows Eve, as it was called, was essentially the eve of the church feast day of All Saints. They choose it, as Kathleen put it, for “gathering energy from the collective celebration that has become synonymous with all things dark and creatures of the night.”
With the sigils (or etheric scripts) laid around Cleopatra’s Needle, Earl started to put himself into a light trance, which shuts down the rationalistic conscious mind, and allows the subconscious, the seat of ideaspace, to come to the fore. He then began to quietly chant – no more than a whisper – in “unknown tongues”, which is the language of the unconscious.
Kathleen looked on, leaving the direct magickal work to the expert. But she noticed the air seemed to become chillier and a feeling of oppressiveness came over her. She put it down to her imagination running away with her.
But then Earl looked over to her and said, “Do you hear it?”
At first, she couldn’t hear anything save for the rumble of early evening traffic in the metropolis. But then she noticed a distant laughter, malign and truly unpleasant, and as if coming from somewhere beyond the physical confines of the city or the obelisk itself.
“Do you think that’s Sekhmet?” she asked Earl.
“Yeah, and I can feel a lotta power coming through…” he gasped. “Not sure I can hold it back.”
With that he began to shake and tremble, and groaning, as if trying to resist something, he started moving towards the river, closer and closer to the edge of the embankment. Kathleen rushed to his side, holding him back from what appeared to be a compulsion to hurl himself into the Thames. She noticed a strange “crackling” in the air, like static. And with that Earl fell to the floor, the dark enchantment apparently broken. He managed to haul himself up to his knees, and said, “It’s OK, I think I’ve contained Sekhmet… helluva energy, though.”
With that, Earl and Kathleen collected the sigils and found a nearby bench to rest on.
Puffing on a cigarette, Earl explained that, while in trance, he was able to connect with Sekhmet and that the goddess of war was a vampire, “a terrible and ancient one.” But that he’d managed to contain her and reduce the power she wielded.
“Sekhmet won’t be able to drive people to suicide no more,” he said. “But the place will still likely have a baleful atmosphere – at least to those with the sensitivity to feel it.”
“You couldn’t totally stop her?” asked Kathleen.
Earl shook his head. “Maybe I could’ve, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Sekhmet is a force of nature, she’s needed in the world. Problem only comes if that force becomes overemphasised and is able to exert its more extreme manifestation in the world.”
Kathleen smiled weakly, “And besides, you and I are both of the blood too, right?”
“Yeah,” said Earl. “There’s that too… don’t seem right to kill one of your own.”