Monday, 2 November 2015

The Kibbo Kift - Mystic Folksy Weirdness

An interesting Guardian article looks at a British political movement that's almost forgotten, yet produced some of the most striking ideas and images of its time. The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift was formed after the Great War to revitalise an exhausted, demoralised nation and - by extension - the entire world. Its founder, artist John Hargrave, styled himself White Fox and exhorted people to go camping, learn craft skills, and breed superior beings. If that sounds a bit proto-Nazi, well, associated groups in Germany were assimilated by the National Socialists. But to be fair to Hargrave, he seems to have been equally opposed to communism and fascism, eventually forming his own 'Green Shirts' and arguing for peaceful coexistence and a world government. That rational, if highly idealistic, objective was married to some quasi-mystical notions.
'Hargrave held that the postwar reconstruction was doomed “because the rulers have not the courage to abandon the mechanical civilised slavery which by an unseen course brought about the war”. His solution was to build up an elite group that, taking the woodcraft elements from the Scouts, was designed to be a complete fusion of aesthetics, politics and spirituality that would use the visual “as a form of magical persuasion”.'
Hence the emphasis on gatherings where members dressed as spirit animals - like White Fox, seen below centre - and engaged in rituals that might be mistaken for something sinister. But probably weren't. By the way, that term 'mechanical civilised slavery' recalls Robert Aickman's world view to me. Maybe he encountered the Kibbo Kift? Or perhaps such notions were simply in the air at the time.

'Just as their spiritual beliefs and rituals took from a grab bag of late-19th and early 20th-century occult and gnostic thought, so their aesthetic took from Anglo-Saxon, Spartan, Celtic, Egyptian, Indian and native English mythology.'


Laura said...

I have heard of this for some reason, though I can't think why. But I was a member of the Woodcraft Folk, which seems to be similar in some ways. Interesting what people get up to, anyway.

valdemar said...

I think you wrote a feature about it at AIRS!