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”.
In more recent magical circles Peter Grey has penned A Manifesto of Apocalyptic Witchcraft in his book Apocalyptic Witchcraft. It remains to be seen just how these maxims such as:
“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