Recently I found myself whistling the tunes for Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s Tierkreis. These melodies were originally written for music box -and inspired by a dream of a mysterious birdman, from whom Karl pulled three music boxes out of his stomach. He wrote Musik Im Bauch, or Music in the Belly based on this dream, composing the twelve pieces for Tierkreis in tandem (as the music boxes were used in Musik Im Bauch). This piece of music is probably the most listenable of his works for those who don’t really give two cents about avant-garde art music. And it is adaptable for many types of instruments. It was also the basis for his piece of music Sirius, and the melodies featured there.
Often times when I find myself whistling or humming a tune, the particular song that is coming up has a message for me. In the case of the melodies for the twelve zodiac signs I was whistling, I realized it had to do with the various astrological configurations happening in April 2014. On April 15 there is a Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, and on April 28 there is a Solar Eclipse. Furthermore there is also the Grand Cardinal Cross. The full moon lunar eclipse on the 15th takes place in the sign of Libra. The new moon solar eclipse takes place in the sign of Taurus. The planets squaring off in the grand cardinal cross are as follows: Mars (retrograde) in Libra
Pluto in Capricorn
Uranus in Aries
Jupiter in Cancer.
So how does all this tie in with Stockhausen’t music? The eclipses and grand cardinal cross are challenging but dynamic aspects. A trusted adviser put it to me this way, “keep your ass tied to the ground.” Stockhausen, in writing the music for the twelve signs, studied individuals of each sun sign. Furthermore he said that an agitated person should listen to the melody for his or her sun sign three times in a row -and often when the piece is played, the melodies are repeated three times, in some cases improvised upon. During this astrologically challenging time I found it helpful to not only whistle the tunes from this piece that I know to myself, but also to listen to a few of the recordings. I think of this music as a kind of astrological tonic, and meditatively listening to the entire sequence for me, has a soothing effect.
His instructions for playing the piece live are to complete the entire sequence of twelve melodies, but to begin with the sign the zodiac is currently in. This would make for a variety of listening experience each time it is performed. Furthermore, because it can be played on a number of different instruments, the permutations for possible listening are almost endless. Most recordings go from the beginning of the year to the end, Aquarius to Capricorn. As an intuitive piece, a number of players can each pick a sign to represent, and they then go back and forth with the melodies, improvising as they go. There have already been many versions recorded and performed. Here are a few that go through the entire sequence for your listening pleasure.
A short piano version at 13 minutes:
These two videos go through the zodiac sequence and are played on Lute. Very nice. The two parts are about ten minutes each.
Part 1: Melodies for signs 1-6:
I dreamed a popular occult/magic blogger came to visit me in my home. I was so excited to have a magical house guest I went up to him and hugged him. I started writing an article on my own blog about him. I wrote about how good of a magician he was, that he could go into a CVS convenience store and whip up a magical working.
This dream struck me on a number of personal levels, and I felt the dream was more a reflection of myself than the person I dreamed about. For one thing, I’ve been going through a bit of a Saturnian/Netzach phase. I’m more aware of what my limitations are, and am attempting to embrace those limitations and use them as a channel for focused activity. Over the years I see how often I’ve been a scatter-shot, only hitting the target I’m intending on some occasions, mostly sending my energies wildly out in all manner of directions. Now what I need to do is reel in some of what has unraveled. This dream acted as a mirror towards my own attitudes towards magic and so much else: I’m gung ho and able to improvise when its convenient, but discipline demands I grow out of soft comfort zones, take on burdens, stretch myself further, and rely on my own resources instead of what can be had in the convenience store of magic. Magic itself is not a convenient path. It is a test of strength.
CVS is supposed to be a pharmacy, a place that sells you medicine, things to help you get better when you are sick. In reality what it sells are things that make you sick or keep you sick: junk food, cigarettes, cough syrup & booze, the latest drugs from big Pharma. Sure there are times when allopathic medicine will save your life. There are just as many times when it isn’t necessary, but is used as a short-cut. Don’t lose weight on your own, take this medicine. Don’t reflect on the fact that unhappiness can come from a lack of meaning in life, a sickness that can lead to soul loss, just pop this back and you’ll be numb enough to not notice anymore. Consumption to mask the ever widening discrepancies between the world as shown in mainstream entertainment and the reality of 474,000 new unemployment claims in one week.  It is convenient to be an American consumer only as long as the jobs are available -but with so many “hidden” costs.
The convenience of going to a store that is going to sell me something I don’t need quickly fades as the glamour of “being a magician or initiate” wears off and the work begins. The desire to improvise with a choice of items from off the shelf isn’t as interesting when I look inside the inner flame of my own heart and see that the ingredients I need are all available within. I don’t have to jump from path to path to path, or this lodge and that school, and this way of boxing the Mysteries into a prepackaged meal. It is enough to take the next step. If I find that I am sick and need medicine I may just have to wildcraft and forage herbs from the great outdoors and make my own pharmako potion; it will be something that won’t hide me from who I am, but rather expose those sides of myself I don’t like to see. Abandoning the convenience store model of magic is also another step towards resilience and sustainability. Walking the path of an initiate isn’t something to be bought or sold, but is something earned when I begin to shoulder responsibility for my every act -and this in addition to taking on a portion of magical work in service to other beings, in both the inner and outer worlds.
Sources: 1. Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times, by Carolyn Baker, 2013, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California. Page 33
Some people say memories rise in the blood
to glisten in the rain when the muds been washed away,
the silt of years once over, once buried under stone
now burns in the marrow, now blazes in the bone.
The seasoned have learned
the elders know what’s at stake
they’ve been kept awake by distant riddles
they have heard the harpers cry
the weird sigh of still more distant fiddles
the lung rattle as friends and lovers die.
These memories ache and will not be put away
they cannot be swallowed with hard or easy drink
they open on a pain that does not lead astray
a honed sword, they cut and cleave, bringing light to dark.
Pointing like darts into hallowed ground
where coffin wood roots grow deep
to the Tree that stands in the grove on a grave
where the Beloved Dead dream in sacred sleep.
Do not weep for me, the Willow says
for I am beyond your tears
live out your nights under Moon, under Stars
until your skin whorls from all the days of your years.
Some people say memories rise in the blood
to glisten in the rain, when the muds been washed away
the salt of life once over, once buried under stone
will burn once more in marrow, will blaze again in bone.
The Mercantile Library Reading Room, downtown Cincinnati
The medieval guilds helped to create community by embracing three primal aspects of life: eating & drinking, death, and the work that fills up so much of our time. As the traditional workplaces of industrial society continue to fall into disrepair, the monetary rewards and benefit packages the middle-class has become dependent on will also erode their way into non-existence. Guilds helped their members navigate a world of limited resources, and offered tools that the collectives and workplaces of our own times could benefit from restoring. For those building new ventures, these can also be incorporated into the work culture from the beginning. Sharing food & drink and providing services for the dead also point to deeper Mysteries of Communion that exist on both sides of the veil. Sharing in these is a way to bring back a sacred element to the world of work.
In exploring the origin of guilds and the way they pointed towards the corporations and worker unions of today I am deeply indebted to Anthony Black’s Guilds and Civil Society. He points out that the word guild comes from the German, gild and meant a “fraternity of young warriors practicing the cult of heros”. (1) Later the word took on the meaning of a group of people tied together in friendship and ritual. Upon paying the entry fee, mutual aid was offered to the members. Furthermore the word gilda “signified a sacrificial meal. This was accompanied by religious libation and the cult of the dead. The sacred banquet, signifying social solidarity, was, and remained throughout medieval times an essential mark of all guilds”
Companies today may have an annual staff dinner or Christmas party. The people you eat with are your co-workers. Some of them may be close friends. Others, probably not. In this respect the corporate model of work organization has failed in the creation of tight-knit bonds between people of the same profession. Perhaps they are built instead at the golf outing, or during the power lunch. Maybe the bonds are celebrated with cigars and bourbon after a deal has been executed to continue screwing the middle-class, working-poor and downright-poor. Maybe mad men celebrate their kinship in work while destroying animals who live in an ecologically sensitive habitats. These types of jobs do not create community but schism and separation. Part of the work of reweaving our tattered world involves coming together in fellowship.
Barry Schwartz in Paradox of Choice writes, “Our social fabric is no longer a birthright, but has become a series of deliberate and demanding choices. What was once give by neighborhood and work now must be achieved; people have to make their own friends…and actively cultivate their own family connections.” (2)
The Feast Halls are Now Empty
The breaking of bread in communion with brothers and sisters at a sacrificial meal has a much more serious character than the power lunch. It partakes of the Mystery of communion. This was often done on the feast day of the Patron Saint associated with the guild, though also drinking and eating together were done on a regular basis inside the Guildhall.
Eating bread and drinking wine or beer together in a meal recalls not only the Last Supper of the Christian Gospels, but also the mystery of Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom. In Proverbs chapter 9, verses 1-6 it is written, “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense she says, ‘come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’” (3)
This passage shows a form of communion with Sophia the Goddess of Wisdom. Fraternizing within a guild was a way of sharing the wisdom of work in a less formal manner at the dinner table. Here true learning, spiced with gossip and a tale or two, leavened the weight exerted in the preceding hours. While there is much to be learned under the guidance of a Master in the course of official duty, much more is often gleaned from the spontaneity arising when people are just hanging out. The sanctity of workshop or classroom can be balanced by cutting loose and letting it rip at dinner table.
Food and other alms were given to the poor from the larder of the guild as an act of charity to the community at large. The business association of today may make donations, but these are part PR spin and part tax write off. Guilds were not infallible by any means -older does not mean better-; they could have given to charity to keep up appearances just as much Coca Cola does. However, since guilds arose out of societies for voluntary mutual aid among strangers (i.e. not family or blood relatives) during in-stable times, and since they pledged support to each other and not to a CEO or a bottom line, it can be suspected that they gave to charities outside the guildhall from the heart, not out of the caprice that they may reap some future reward.
A FEAST FOR LIFE AND A GREATER FEAST FOR DEATH
Guilds are also related in origin to the Roman collegia. These “social clubs, burial societies, and cultic groups went back earlier than recorded history.” That both the German gild and Roman collegia have origins involving cults of the dead is noteworthy. The Medieval Guilds were becoming prominent in the twelfth century, the same time the Inquisition got rolling with its war on heresy. It is conceivable that practices otherwise frowned upon were preserved inside these fraternities. As each guild had a Patron Saint as a tutelary spirit of their work, the cult of the dead merely took another guise and fused with the dominant religious form.
Being a part of a guild offered distinct benefits in life and death. Providing the families of their members with sick pensions, burial funds, and pensions for widows was a common feature. This later was taken up in Freemasonry. An emphasis on providing burial grounds can be seen in the many cemeteries in America erected by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. “Burying the dead was taken very seriously by early Odd Fellows, and most lodges purchased land and established cemeteries as one of their first activities in a new town or city. In many areas all phases of burial (sometimes including services now provided by undertakers) were provided by Odd Fellows in the earlier days. Cemeteries were often open to the public, and plots were sold for a few dollars each. Many California lodges still own and operate cemeteries, and in some instances the major cemetery in the community is the Odd Fellows Cemetery.”  
I recently went to the funeral of a man who worked for many years in one of the largest manufactures of jet engines in the world. Nothing was said of his work and it did not seem like anyone from his work was at the funeral. This not only says something about the strength of friendships within the industrialized workplace, but also about Westerners attitudes towards the “greater feast” of Death in general. As the benefits associated with employment in industrialized “1st world” nations wane, workers will once again look to a place among fellows who can help them meet their basic requirements of burial, and the after care of those left behind. Health care itself is already long in the wane for Americans, the most costly procedures only being available to the highest bidder, or those whom the only choice is between Death and the indentured servitude brought on by debt. Just ask anyone you may happen to know whose job is to collect money from those who can’t pay their hospital bills.
A package which includes burial or cremation as part of the benefits of employment will be a boon to poor families facing a coming reality of lower life expectancy.
John Michael Greer has also pointed out that fraternal lodges also provided health care to their members. He writes, “the arrangement, once known as ‘lodge trade’ among doctors, makes an interesting contrast with the corrupt monstrosity masquerading as health care reform currently lumbering its way through the US Congress. Each lodge simply went out and hired a doctor, usually on an annual contract. The doctor received a flat monthly salary from the lodge, and in return provided whatever general medical care the lodge members and their families needed. If it had a large enough membership, the lodge might also hire a couple of visiting nurses and a dentist on the same basis. Notice that this arrangement gave the patients a meaningful voice in health care quality, and imposed an effective limit on prices: a doctor who provided substandard care or charged more than the lodge wanted to pay would simply find himself out of a job when his annual contract came up for renewal.” 
Fellowship among the living, caring for the sick, the dying, and the dead, giving alms to the poor, were all once part of the province of the guild. Those who are seeking to build new work collectives inside the cracked shell of our society can look to those models for guidance. People who are involved in magical lodges, and especially the larger orders, can look into setting up these kind of programs for the benefit of each other.
The communion shared in life can continue as a way of respecting and healing our relationship to Death.
1. Anthony Black, Guilds and Civil Society, Cornell University Press, New York, 1984
2. Barry Schwartz quoted in Sacred Stacks (below).
3. The Bible, English Standard Version
4. Catholic Encylopedia, Guilds article: www.newadvent.org/cathen/07066c.htm
5. The Three Link Fraternity by Don R. Smith and Wayne Roberts:
One of the conversations I get to hear a lot of, whether on the bus, at work, or with family, is about the exorbitant cost of a college education, the lack of jobs for graduates, and peoples desire to go back to school for a Masters or Doctorate as a way to defer paying accumulated debt, and as means of specializing further in the hopes of finding some niche in the job market. I’m not the only one having this conversation. What gets me the most though is how willing people are to think this is still the main pathway to take in life. Even as evidence mounts higher than the walls to the university itself, people are in denial about the pragmatic utility a degree will give them. This is because western culture at large has been thoroughly schooled.
E.L. Anderson, quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary writes: “It is not necessary to use a sharp spur upon a schooled horse.” The spurs of society continue to push on those who are still within the system enough to think its not collapsing to hop into the saddle of massive debt, at the expense of true learning, because they have been trained and disciplined to do so.
This has also had an effect on the Mysteries. As if a correspondence course or a weekend workshop will make you an initiate, anymore than a class in creative writing will make you either creative or a writer. Even more than these are the institutionalized bodies of initiates (think OTO, Golden Dawn, and even the various branches of organized Druidry) that aim to teach magic through a long drawn out process of grades. Just as “progress” is not a straight line from prehistory to industrialization, linear approaches to schooling magicians from neophyte to grand ipsissimus are counterproductive.
In his work Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich wrote, “the mere existence of school [in North America and Latin America] disables the poor from taking control of their own learning. All over the world school has an anti-educational effect on society: school is recognized as the institution which specializes in education.”  Society as a whole has been inculcated in the idea of school itself that it has become a form fundamentalist technocratic religion. Instead of looking to the interior realms for guidance from within, contemporary humanity is largely exteriorized. It would be one thing if we looked to the exterior of the grand book of Nature. Instead we look to certified teachers and schools and accept only those models which have been drafted up into curricula following narrow minded orders of progression. K-12 or from 0 to XI. Initiates want a certificate of having memorized all the colors of the Queen scale on the Tree of Life instead of stepping into the landscape of the Tree itself.
Gnosis and magic are wild. They tear through boundaries. They have no do not discriminate based on a badge of entitlement. “Curriculum has always been used to assign social rank,” Illich says. We see this in the way some schools only allow you to join in a particular magical or spiritual activity if you have passed through the other grades. For illuminated folks who say they envision an egalitarian society based on the principals of brother-and-sisterhood, those types of abject requirements will need to be done away with.
The Mysteries need to be deschooled.
Never mind that so many teachers are authoritarian figures merely by donning the name of teacher. Instead of the students choosing what they want to focus on and learn, a teacher imposes his or her will of what they think the students need to learn upon them. It’s as true in magical circles as it is in High School. Again Illich sees through the ruse. “Theme-matching is by definition teacher centered: it requires an authoritarian presence to define for the participants the starting point for their discussion.”
When money enters the equation you end up with other problems. Say a person has a skill you really want to learn. But its not a popular skill. If you only teach as a means for making an income, you might not travel, or connect in other ways with people who want to learn what you know, because it isn’t “cost effective”.
One of the upsides of collapse, outside all the trauma it is creating, is a natural deschooling of society. As institutions without dollars shut their doors, Westerners have an opportunity to deinstitutionalize themselves. For those of us tired of living in straight jackets with a needle of thorazine in the vein, it is a welcome relief, despite the challenges. And it is exciting to work on creating new ways of learning, and reinvigorating traditional ways that have fallen by the wayside. Tradition and innovation can truly work together, but we all need to deschool ourselves about how we think things should be.
Note: My current readings of Ivan Illich are forcing me to rethink some of my premises I laid out in my series of posts on guilds. However a third part to the guild essay is in the works, and there is still much humans can use again from the toolkit they created in medieval times.
1. Quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary under the definition for “schooled”.
2. Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 1971, Harper & Row, New York
Manifesto, from the Middle French, manifeste, meaning to make manifest. Also a written declaration of views and explanation of conduct, with emphasis on political and artistic public written declarations. (1)
To make something happen, first write it down. The manifesto falls into the category of textual art, written magic, a scribal activity that channels the power of the inspired word out into the world. The action of writing a manifesto can bring on changes in a culture or society and is illustrative of the process of manifestation. As such, the writer of the manifesto bears the weight of responsibility for whatever he has wrought. Perhaps this is why so many manifestos have been issued by a collective of people, to share out the burden, or why they have been published anonymously or under a pseudonym, as if that alone could deflect the forces invoked. Artistically, having your name tied to a movement is a mixed bag. Andre Breton is remembered as the father of Surrealism. It could be said that the movement itself was his greatest work of art. How many people have actually read his novels or poetry as compared to those who have heard of Surrealism and think immediately of Salvidor Dali?
The effect of the manifsto itself is mixed bag. Some manifestos fail in bringing about the changes they desire. Others do succeed in galvanizing some sector of the human race into work on a particular project or aim. Most lie somewhere in the muddy in-between. Where there were clear waters before the circulation of a tract, seeing the way ahead is now hard because the writing has stirred up debris. Still a manifesto has its uses, and can help act as a strainer, removing the excrement from a once pure spring, or pointing a way for those who have become lost.
Manifestos exist as pixels inside the illuminated screens of the electronic frontier. Lingering on some forlorn weblog they may never get read by more than the author and a handful of her friends. Thus the potential for inciting revolutionary action is diluted. They are also amenable to print and dissemination as handbills and broadsides. These manifestos can be wheat-pasted to the sides of buildings and telephone polls, left on the bus, or at the bar, so that anyone who stumbles across their path may potentially inherit the underlying memes and act as a transmitter of the word-virus. The printed format will also continue to exist in times when computer technology is no longer viable.
The manifesto may be oriented towards magical, artistic, political, scientific, or educational areas. It may combine all of the above into a smorgasbord or just a few into a unique synthesis. In the magical realm the manifestos that gave birth to the Rosicrucian movement helped to usher in another tide of growth in the magical revival of the West; a tide of growth that I believe is a braided counterpart to the ongoing collapse of Western civilization.
“The Rosicrucian idea, as presented in the Fama and Confessio, can be seen as an embryo which, in the years immediately following the publication of the manifestos, began to grow and develop surprising traits. The way in which this organism evolved into its mature form was determined to a large extent by those who leapt to the defense of the brotherhood in the furor that followed the appearance of the manifestos.” -Christopher McIntosh, The Rosicrucians: The History, Mythology, and Rituals of an Esoteric Order (2)
The various Rosicrucian orders that sprang into being did not exist until after the manifestos associated with it began to circulate, first in Germany and then elsewhere in Europe. There may have been a Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross that existed in secret before the Fama Fraternitatis and Confessio were published. Whether or not they did is “immaterial” to how many people and groups took up the Rosicrucian cause in the wake of the manifestos. It is certain that the inner impulse that gave rise to the Rosicrucian manifestos already existed on the inner planes -thus the person or people who penned these documents participated in a form of “contacted writing”.
“Witchcraft is a strength, not a command. Witchcraft is rhizomatic, non-hierarchical. Witchcraft challenges the organization, not the meaning. We are merely marked” (3)
will be used and taken up by workers. What is certain now is that it is a strong call to action, for “if the land is poisoned, witchcraft must respond“. A poisoned land is part of the post-industrial heritage humanity is leaving unto seven generations. We must not only seek the grail, but use it towards remediating the wasteland when it has been found. There is much to do even during that particular quest.
Another warning is due to those who would write a manifesto, and that is to beware of the slippery slope that would turn a manifesto into a creed. Aleister Crowley fell down this slope when he wrote Liber Oz whose main declaration is “There is no god but man“a fallacy proved through the observation of Nature and true mystical and magical experience -which has the effect of showing just how small Man and his “Will” actually are.
It is unfortunate that over time manifestos will turn into creeds, even if precautions are taken to stop this from happening. New artistic movements come along that need to break from the heterodoxy of practice a manifesto may establish. They are a fun form to work with, and are suitable vehicles for containing transcendental vitriol. As such they are filled with fire. Both writer and reader may end up getting burned.
1. interpolations from the etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary.
2. Christopher McIntosh, The Rosicrucians: The History, Mythology, and Rituals of an Esoteric Order, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine 1997
3. Peter Grey, Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Scarlet Imprint, 2013
Divine Madness is a liminal book. It traces the inner lives of a number of visionaries who dwell in the margins of our culture. It looks at both gods and men, to see where they have been cracked, and shines a light through the fissure to create a pattern of connection. These poems about people expose the places where the tower of human society has cracked only to make a building game out of the resultant rubble.
Paul Pines has listened to the dead whisper, and in these poems, he becomes a speaker for a diverse assembly of cultural ancestors. Thomas Paine rubs elbows with Leonard Bernstein. Columbus and Giordano Bruno are enshrined with Audubon and Telemachus. His ear has been attuned, and now he can share the same ear that Chan-Bahlum “pressed to the spirit tube / on the platform / of the Temple of The Inscriptions / at Palenque” and so can empathize with the life of Van Gogh who “chewed so much foxglove / his world turned yellow.” In listening closely to these lives touched by the madness of the Muses, Paul is able to show his readers that “the voices of the gods make us / ciphers for what cannot / be deciphered”.
To truly listen to the dead speak, the volume knob of reason will need to be turned down. “We who are trapped / in a nation / of lost intimacies / can’t hear // what the dead / buried / in our hearts// ask us to honor / in their name”. Peoples boundaries have become rigid. The veil separating the living from the dead has become thick, where once it had been thin. The underworld is a clogged sewer, filled with all the things humanity rejects. Children feel this “unspoken / terror of our fear”. To really sit and be with the fear requires the person who has been infected with divine madness to go and sit on the edge, between sanity and lunacy, between wilderness and civilization, between the outer person made of skin, bones, body, and the inner self, of our imagination, the shining body, and the eternal flame. Paul Pines has become comfortable walking these edges.
Vulcan is another edge-walker who appears in the pages of this book, “whose hairy blacksmith hands” can make “a net of fire in water” or a net of words thrown across the page in brief dancing lines. The spaces in between those lines make another kind of confluence, just as the workshop of Vulcan lies deep beneath the oceans waves in a cavernous cleft of volcanic lava.
The artisans of culture sit forever betwixt the crossroads on the outskirts of town. They are exiles, whether from Olympus or Eden. They are alchemists who take the raw ore buried in the earth and forge it into the ploughshare that is also a sword. Agriculture and warfare, are the uneasy twins of the city-state, progeny of the blacksmith. The inspired gifts brought forth by the hands of the metal worker are both fearsome and awe-inspiring. These poems elicit a similar response in how they mediate Paul’s encounters with the numinous. The terror and ecstasy which come from making contact with powers and beings outside of oneself are both here.
Yet these words also speak to the “alchemists / of the every-day heart” who experience the “coagulatio et separatio” even as they “punch a clock / drive kids to school //support the weight / of a routine”. I may meet gods and daimons in the inner worlds but I come back here to my wife and children and work. Even if I climb Jacob’s ladder to the stars and their snaking heavens, I return to this place of my body and face my own mortality. Paul writes, “His wife kisses him / then turns away / a pillow tucked to her chest // awake in the hotel room / afraid of death / he counts possible years / left // calculating his daughters age / if he lasts twenty more”.
This where Paul Pines excels. He sends the reader out on a “raft of snakes” into the terra incongnita, pushing the voyager to cross boundaries and seek new horizons, and then he shows the common rubble everyone must contend with, and brings it all back home, into the present, making Divine Madness something that anyone can aspire to be touched by.
“The first task of the man who wants to be a poet is to study his own awareness of himself, in its entirety; he seeks out his soul, he inspects it, he tests it, he learns it. As soon as he knows it, he must cultivate it! . . . –But the problem is to make the soul into a monster, like the compachicos, you know? Think of a man grafting warts onto his face and growing them there.
I say you have to be a visionary, make yourself a visionary. A Poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons and preserves their quintessence’s. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes among all men the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed–and the Supreme Scientist!” -Arthur Rimbaud to Charles Izambard
The Systematic Derangement of the Senses
The original sense of Arthur Rimbaud’s call to systematically disorganize all the senses as a means for knowing one’s self in the depths has been lost since he wrote these words in the 19th century. Since this call was taken up by the Surrealists, and later the Beats, it came to take on the singular connotation of experimenting with drugs. While it is true the precocious Arthur was an avid drinker of Absinthe and had the leather lungs of a Hashish smoker, the passage from his letter to Charles Izambard does not specifically mention the use of substances.
Poisons are mentioned, and drugs can certainly be classified as a poison. There is even a branch of magical/poetic praxis termed “the poison path” by Dale Pendell (best exemplifed by his own writings in the Pharmako trilogy, as well as by Daniel Schulke, speficifically in the latter’s Veneficium). I think that while the Poison Path may encompass a disciplined approach to the systematic derangement of the senses, all too often the person who intends to use a plant or a chemical as a tool ends up getting used instead. In the context of magical service “being used” or “ridden” may be a good thing. But when it comes to using drugs as a means for doing creative and magical work the person who is to do so must really Know Thyself beforehand, or else the relationship with a plant or substance as an ally is likely to be misjudged and instead form into a mutually destructive co-dependence.
Yet exploding the head is a time honored tradition among artists, and the use of plants in magic goes back all the way to its beginnings in shamanism. Yet drug use has exploded in previously undreamt of ways throughout the 20th century, alongside a black market that parallels the growth of Big Pharma. Part of this growth in users has been just another side effect of industrialization. There are simply more drugs available: soft, to hard, exotic entheogens, or designer creations from the laboratory. Most use falls into the recreational category. Drugs are simply one of the many ways people deal with the unique stresses of our time. An artist or magician, being no more special than anyone else, can fall prey to these as much as the next guy or gal.
Outside of the moral black, white, and gray zones surrounding discussions of drug use, the meme of the artist as a user or addict, and the lateral notion of creators being inherently mentally unbalanced or ill has had wide cultural ramifications. Witness the number of savants who become idiots the minute they take a toke and have a “brilliant” idea. I’ve been in this category more times than I care to recall, and by the same token my ideas on this matter are informed by my own experiences, and readings.
The myth of the mindfucked artist has been with us for awhile. We have Edgar Allan Poe’s depression, Sylvia Plath’s depression, Van Gogh’s depression. The schizophrenia of Louis Wain and John Clare who also spent time in an asylum. People as different as Joe Meek and Antonin Artaud. For those born without apparent mental or emotional aberration drugs have been used by the aspiring decadent aesthete as a means for overcoming this deficit. The question remains however, whether or not the scrambling of the sensorium will result in an enlightening synaesthesia or the (comfortably) numb feeling of anaesthesia? The answer to this question depends in part on what substances a person ingests and there individual reactions. While the broad effect of various classes of chemicals, plants and the like can be known, they interact with each persons system in subtle and unique ways.
The euphoric and overblown thought bubbles of a marijuana high for one person can turn into a flight of fear and paranoia in another, or even the same person depending on the situation. After repeated exposure to THC molecules the inner life of a smoker can turn slack and stagnate, despite the seeming elasticity of their imagination while stoned. Alcohol may relax the guard of our boundaries and inhibitions, disarming the sense of self. At low dosages this may be fine for the “social” drinker; yet as the number of beers, shots or glasses of wine increases behavior may become more erratic (though broadly predictable across the range of drunkeness). Stimulant uses engages the neuro-semantic circuit of consciousness, and are a favorite among writers and hackers.
For those who sample from the many dishes available at the Psychedelicatessin, prolonged hours of intense shoegazing or looking at the walls and floors as they breathe become the norm. Pattern recognition becomes heightened, aural perception overclocked. Trips can be intensified by intentional inner journeys that lead to “new” revelations, universal cognition or interpersonal insight. These somehow disappear for the most part after coming down. A period of reintegration follows. In the case of those predisposed to mental illness this reintegration may never happen. Other factors such as sheer quantity of a psychedelic ingested, or recent emotional disturbances, may also lend themselves towards fragmentation of the soul.
Hallucinatory drugs tend to dissolve the sense of self and being. While this can have long lasting positive influences on a person under the right circumstances, the dissolution of self can lead to more serious instances of Soul Loss. This is a danger any users should be aware of. It becomes increasingly common when experimentation turns into regular use, then dependence and addiction. I don’t mean to suggest that any and all use leads to addiction or Soul Loss but that those possibilities exist inside a spectrum of predictable outcomes.
The malady of addiction itself has been romanticized as the special domain of artist and mystic explorer. Addiction creates severe distortions in the mirror of self knowledge which prevent the seeker who started out earnest, from seeing a true inner reflection. Instead fantasizing-without-footwork replaces the more arduous and slow procedure of splashing ice water on the face and looking at your self in the cold light of day.
I will not deny my own experiences as a psychonaut. I have had powerful visions using LSD, DXM, and Marijuana. I did however experience Soul Loss as well. Luckily, these fragments of myself were recovered from a sewer-passage in the Underworld by means of Dreamwork. Other friends from those times have gone the route of the acid casualty, a famous example of such being Syd Barret.There is nothing casual about hallucinogens.
Astral parasitism is another danger. The parasites will feed off the energy produced while a person is high, inducing the addictive behavior, all so they can get a meal. Furthermore, my visionary experiences while on drugs were not any more earth shattering than the ones I have received sober. It takes more discipline to cultivate the means of receiving of waking and magical visions, but it is worth the effort. While some of the inspiration from certain trips went into writing poetry and making music, the use of substances did not help me to establish the good work habits and self-discipline necessary to be a working artist.
Many are the artists whose mental stir fry has been laid on the canvas or the page in an explosive fury of creation. The explosion may produce something beautiful or throw light onto an interior realm long closed. Yet after the explosion the artist is spent, and the social landscape around them may also be damaged by their actions. I feel that using drugs as a doorway to creativity is like skipping foreplay with your partner and jumping straight to the orgasm. It may feel good for a moment, but it leaves neither person fully satisfied. The overemphasis on the culminating moment of pleasure redefines the experience of making love. Tearing down the doors of perception to peer behind the veil of reality may induce a feeling of elation on having reached a mountaintop or plateau only you arrive at the top with all of your baggage still attached, when it was supposed to have been jettisoned along the way. The little skills that would have been learned in training, in building psychic muscle, in climbing up the foothills, in taking the long route with many burdens, is bypassed in the instant approach. The user is catapulted into a psychic state or realm they have not been prepared to navigate. Furthermore, the usual safety nets are gone, leaving the person open to the less savory denizens of the astral commons. And if one of these fuckers gets their hooks into you, it may take some time to undo the damage.
A case in point may be the work of Kenneth Grant. I think he is at times brilliant, other times completely inaccessible and of no use to the beginner. He pushed his New Isis Lodge in directions other versions of the O.T.O. feared to go, building on Aleister Crowley’s foundation of Thelema, rather than allowing it to become a fossil. In Richard Kaczynski’s masterful biography of the Beast, Perdurabo, he speaks of The Master Therion teaching Astral Projection to Kenneth Grant by the administration of Ether. That this method worked as a way of abstracting the astral body from the physical I do not dispute. But did this foundation of practice later lead to some of the wilder magical ideas he put forth in the later volumes of the Typhonian Trilogies? (Please note, these particular comments are not intended to disparage the great works Grant did do, such as popularizing the work of Austin Osman Spare, upholding the work of Frater Achad and Nema, or his creation of a unique and highly personal system of magick. I just have a hard time grappling with many elements of his work myself -but that would require another critical article.)
Knowing the difference between exploration, work, recreation or addiction when using substances to derange the senses is difficult for even the most astute funambulist. Consider how many resources drug use eats up -time, money, physical health, concern or distancing from within family/community. In a country where access to critical resources will become the prime concern for most people, this area of research may be better off left at arms length. Furthermore, the energies directed to using could be better put into making and doing. As supply chains break up, whether unofficial black market drug dealings, or legit transactions at the pharmacy or seven-eleven to purchase pills and booze, there will be many dry drunks and addicts forced to go cold turkey without wanting to. This is a potential area of service for many people to become involved in and it will require their own level headed sobriety to help clean up those who get that way out of necessity rather than desire. Art therapy and spiritual counselling are two ways the artist or priest/ess & magician may be of help.
News Flash! My friend Ken Henson is having an opening for his show The Emerald Tablet this Saturday, Feb 24, at the Lloyd Library. Ken and I first met over a decade ago at the occult bookstore Aquarius (a place that is no longer with us sad to say). We only met that once, until with the help of Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies, our paths crossed again. I had an article that came out in issue 4 and he has an article due out in issue 5 on J. Augustus Knapp, illustrator of many books by John Uri Lloyd, and Manly P. Hall. Ken has also been at work on an exciting project with the Philosophical Research Society to reissue the Revised New Art Tarot of J. Augustus Knapp and Manly P. Hall.
It has been great to connect with Ken since our initial reconnection last summer. We are kindred spirits in our love for the occult history of Cincinnati, and have a number of similar interests and approaches in esoteric matters. It will be great to celebrate the success of his Curtis G. Lloyd Fellowship with him this coming Satyr-day. I hope to see some other fellow astral travelers there!
The show will also launch Ken’s new treatise, “Alchemy and Astral Projection: Ecstatic Trance in the Hermetic Tradition”. I was gifted a copy of this volume yesterday at psychometric lunch. With full color pictures of paintings made during his fellowship, and with the words of our ancestral alchemists in red, it serves as a fitting bridge into the Otherworld.
“The Emerald Tablet”: Solo Art Show by Ken Henson
Exhibition Dates: February 24-May 17, 2014
The Lloyd Library is pleased to announce its upcoming new exhibition, “The Emerald Tablet,” a solo art show by Ken Henson, the first Curtis G. Lloyd Art Fellow (at right). The show features several new works by Henson, an Art Academy of Cincinnati professor, on the theme of alchemy and astral projection. Henson’s body of work is driven by his interests in magic and mysticism, of which alchemy is a part.
One of the hallmarks of the Lloyd collection is its great diversity of topics all centered on science. Ken Henson, a 2013-14 Curtis G. Lloyd Fellow, spent the summer researching alchemy texts in the Lloyd collection, of which there are many. Henson, already driven by his interests in magic and mysticism, was fascinated by these texts and has created several new artworks based on his experiences with these rare volumes.
Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to see these fantastic new artworks, meet the artist, and hear about how his research experiences fueled the creation of these unique, new pieces.
Plus! This is the public debut of Henson’s new alchemical treatise, “Alchemy and Astral Projection: Ecstatic Trance in the Hermetic Tradition,” also the result of Henson’s research at the Lloyd. The Treatise will be on display throughout the show. To learn more about Ken, visit his website:http://www.artistkenhenson.com/
The show promises to be otherworldly! If you can’t get away this winter, this might be the perfect staycation!
About the Lloyd: The Lloyd Library and Museum, a 501 (c)3 not-for-profit organization, is a local and regional cultural treasure, which began in the 19th century as a research library for Lloyd Brothers Pharmacists, Inc., one of the leading pharmaceutical companies of the period. Our mission is to collect and maintain a library of botanical, medical, pharmaceutical, and scientific books and periodicals, and works of allied sciences that serve the scientific research community, as well as constituents of the general public, through library services and programming that bring science, art, and history to life. For more information, visit the Lloyd website atwww.lloydlibrary.org.
/fjuːˈnæmbjʊlɪst/ A performer on the tight (or slack) rope, a rope-walker, a rope-dancer.
All the world is a circus, and many are the clowns, sad faced or wild eyed, ready to stab you with a surprise seltzer water in the face. Life has a way of making you eat pie. Some people think they are ringmasters holding a rapt audience in the palm of their hand. Others are would-be lion tamers, at home in the pit with beasts who haven’t had a proper wild meal after all the long weeks on the road. Who is to say the tiger won’t turn on his captors? The trapeze artist swings low on her chariot, whooshing through air purloined with popcorn, the sick scent of cotton candy. Outside the freaks are on break, smoking cigarettes rolled by the quadriplegic.
Inside the big tent the tightrope walker makes his ascent. His attention is bent to the bones on the floor below him -all those who attempted to walk the stretched rope before him, and failed; not because the woven threads of cord weren’t stretched tight enough, but because they wavered on the bridge from one side to the other. There is only so much time practice with a safety net is allowed before it becomes necessary to move on to higher stakes. There are people in the audience who remain invisible, yet he knows their eyes are intent on his every footstep across the rope. He wanders if the rope will be the noose that hangs him, yet now, five steps away from the platform he started on, going backward is just as fraught with danger as moving ahead. He gingerly rests his toe, the loud brass band braying below him cannot break his concentration. He thinks of how he’ll feel when all this is done, eating his spaghetti-o’s in his trailer before going to sleep. So many times he’s walked across this rope. Yet despite the familiar way he can trust it to dip down in the middle, he still feels like there is a scorpion in his stomach, just hanging out, ready to dip a pincer in. The tightwire in his head is so strained he thinks he might snap, yet when he steps onto the second platform he feels the tension dissolve.
Next time, maybe it won’t be so hard, he thinks, easing down the ladder back to the ground. Yet as much as he thinks he understands the mechanics behind his funambulism, every time he steps out onto the rope a new dynamic emerges. Some of it is predictable and he prepares, but widely divergent elements, such as the mood of the crowd, or the sudden gust of wind, he cannot account for. His own internal weather also being subject to fluctuation. Yet like everyone else in the circus, he has a job to do, and so when he sets out to walk the rope, musters all his resources and attention to walking that thin line with determination and focus.