When did distinctions between art and craft first arise? Did this separation of utility and beauty come in the heady days of the 19th century when creators were rebelling against those who thought the sole value of art was to serve didactic and moral purposes? How will l‘art pour l’art fare in a time when resources will need to be allocated according to concerns more pressing than the aesthetic?
A lot to think about. and I don’t know that I will be able to answer every question I have raised for myself to the fullest degree, which is why this avant-garde grimoire for art school drop outs is an ongoing affair, nibbled on and chewed away at in chunks, not all of them digestible.
For most of history the skilled handyman was also considered an artist or artisan. They made work to serve a purpose other than the conceptual, the shocking, or just for arts sake (or Pete’s). Making art does have value in and of itself, at least for the person making the art. Whether or not it serves another purpose can only be decided by the experience of the people the work impacts -or fails to impact. Although the term “art for arts sake” was used to help separate the judgment of a pieces aesthetic value from the themes the work might touch on, the spirit of this phrase, has gone on to influence several generations of artists, who still working under romanticized notions about their particular trade, “create just to create” and perhaps because they can’t do anything else.
The glamorized image of the inspired artist working under immense pressure, subject to the whims of the muse -or the availability of mind altering drugs- has come down to us as gospel. The tortured, frenetic artist, oscillating between states of gloomy despair and wild eyed ecstasy is set at odds with the craftsman who steadily drums up water from the inner wells of creativity. The person who makes tools or objects of everyday use is contrasted with the composer whose genius requires a battery of other musicians to play according to his own scored requirements. The music may be moving. It may touch the soul. Will the social cohesion and sense of status provided by an orchestra be necessary once the funding is gone? The first chair violin player may find herself as a fiddler instead at a campfire with a bluegrass band playing for an extra sip of moonshine. Maybe at home though, she will keep a collection of scores by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, and Terry Riley. She might play in a noise ensemble as well. Yet she will have in place some other skills to keep herself fed when l’art pour l’art is no longer a paying gig -not that it has ever paid exceedingly well by the standards of bankers, or been available in the same level to the astounding number of people who count themselves as artists in the world of today.
Art for arts sake, was very much product of a time when the amount of surplus energy available for pursuing these types of creations allowed larger numbers of individuals to move away from having to occupy themselves with subsistence alone. The wealth of nations as a whole allowed them, even if not “rich” themselves to live off the relative fat and table scraps thrown their way.
Why should I buy your ink splattered canvas hanging on an otherwise perfect coffee house wall when I can go home and create my own? Art as a commodity will lean towards those who can also be artisans and create objects of both aesthetic and utilitarian value. There will always be room for painters, illustrators, sculptors and musicians in the collective economy of the future, but during the interim between the end of the industrial age and the rise of a new civilization most folks will be living in third world conditions -whether or not they arrive slowly in a soft crash or come abruptly from a hard crash. Getting a job as a set designer for the local metropolitan opera might not be feasible. It’s best to have some alternatives -while working to keep low budget community theater a going concern.
There are many potential areas to work at as an artisan. Some of these can be done on the side as hobbies rewarding in their own right but that would also give the practitioner skills and products they could trade for other commodities or services.
The beginning list looks something like this. These are areas where artists may want to get a hand at working in now, developing those skills, building a culture of craftsmanship and putting down roots in between the cracks of current society.
The Book Arts: inlcuding bookbinding, calligraphy, papermaking, inkmaking, letterpress printing. These skills will be of use to all those who need to keep records. This is a personal area of craft I want to make further headway in.
Furniture Makers/Woodworking/Carpentry: Access to cut and seasoned wood may at times be wanting. The ability to use salvaged and reclaimed materials will be a boon. Think of reupholstering/refinishing the stuff you picked out of the garbage and trading it for a good knife or pipe wrench. Folks are still going to need things like tables, chairs, cutting boards, butcher blocks, shelves, cabinets. As mass produced pressed boards get burned to keep warm during the long winters, strong pieces which could be come new heirlooms will need to be made.
Leatherwork: The skins of beasts killed by cars are there for your taking. If the power goes out you will need to stay warm, and in the summer a belt is nice to keep the loincloth up. Which leads to…
Fashion: Tailors, hatmakers, and shoemakers all had a skill useful for fiat currency or trade. And they could make a man dandy or a fop, a woman a trendsetter fit to scandalize society with the latest thing. Getting nimble with a thread and thimble and other arts of the cloth can be a way to transform an entire thrift store while staying stylish.
Glassblowing: This is already being practiced by the folks who keep head shops supplied. I know of one homesteading farmer who does glasswork on the side. He is able to sell sake sets, pipes, and other commissioned pieces at the same stand he sells his collard greens at in the neighborhood farmers market.
Jewelers: Most everyone likes pretty shiny stuff. When the banks go down jewelers are often de facto banks. Even-if-not, being able to make baubles out of bits of wire, metal, glass and bone will give you an edge. Gifts become valuable and things like rings, necklaces, bracelets, etc. will still be given and exchanged by people to mark special occasions.
Locksmiths: keeping your hoard or stash safe from bands of raiding warlords or petty thieves might be something you want to be able to do. Jewelers may be able to moonlight as locksmith, as could others who work with metal.
Potters: New bowls, cups plates etc. will need to be made for when the plastic ones become brittle with age and break.
Instrument Makers: While electronic detritus remains, and batteries are still available, the fine art of Circuit Bending may help to keep electronic noise music alive for another couple of decades. Otherwise it will be nice to learn how to grow gourds and turn them into string, percussion, and wind instruments. Luthiers will remain in demand, while those who work with metal may get a chance to specialize in crafting and repairing the brass instruments so important to jazz music, which has a good chance of remaining part of Americas cultural legacy.
Tattoist/Piercer: This one is for all you post-postmodern primitives out there. Tattooing, piercing and other forms of body modification have been around for a long time and will be here to stay. This is a useful sideline for groups of squatters living in the margins between rural and city-life. Its a good skill for anyone employeed as a gangster. Even for those still struggling to uphold white middle-class values the occasional marker of some quasi-initiatory rite of passage is still in order.
These are just a few areas of artisanal trade a person could become a practitioner of, all the while working on the magnum opus during a lunch break where no carryout will be ordered. It is also true that the avant-garde techniques that were pioneered during the late 19th to early 21st century can potentially be applied to artisinal trades. John Cage’s I Ching informed chance operations have been used in printing, for instance. Perhaps there would be ways to use them in glassblowing, to determine the colors used. Cut-ups and collage will be apparent simply from working with an array of salvaged materials.
Some of these arts can be practiced in a spare corner of a home. Others require a bit more of a set up. Outfitting your Reality Studio with the tools needed for the Work is a part of the game, as is being able to improvise with the things already around you.
The artist who wishes to prosper during the unraveling of empire and into the coming dark ages will have a need to wear many hats. Developing facility with different materials will increase your chances of doing something that has personal and collective meaning.
Artifacts of our cultural ancestors surround us, whether they be in the form of books, paintings, sculpture, or audio-visual recordings. The media is not as important as the transmission, though the medium might determine what is transmitted. Sometimes a pilgrimage must be made to visit the holy relics of the mighty dead. Whether it is to a museum in Cleveland or Chicago, to a Cathedral, or to a library to pick up a history of the Lettrist movement, the recordings made by the artists who have gone before us are available for us to interact with. their minds are waiting to be renewed through contact with our own. When we are touched by the work another artists it becomes another ingredient ready to be transmuted in the cauldron of our own art.
In this bridging between the zones of time the individual may become fearful of the crisis of collusion. This is but one of many initiations. For the scribe is in many ways both copyist and originator, when she is not playing the game of outright theft (see KLEPTOMANCY). Under the auspices of influence we may often come into our own, receiving just the right nudge, crack of the whip, or insight necessary to allow us to tread further along our own path. Before the block of marble can be carved the light within it must emerge. And this light is often called forth from the resonance of being in the presence of an ancoestor or elder whose own shimmering of the secret fire awakens further that flame which is within the heart of the artist.
Our cultural ancestors -like our living circle of guides and friends- is often great for giving introductions to others. Was not Allen Ginsberg influenced by William Blake, Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams? Was not William Blake under the celestial wing of both Emmanuel Swedenborg and the many eyed angels of the heavens? Thus the chain of inspiration may be followed back. Did not William S. Burroughs glean from the writings of Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene? And was not Graham Greene a dream journalist of excellence who sat down every morning to transfer the memories of sleep to the waking page?
We need not be dominated by the lives of our cultural ancestors. They often have achievements which seem to tower above our own. Besides, it is not for us to merely emulate, but to create new patchworks out of the total materials available to us. This is not just our interaction with the mediated forms all around us, but from the stuff of our life, from the tragedies we have all been witness to, from the joys which have sprung out of our heart. We can learn not only the techniques and disciplines which propelled any given artist forward from the study of biography, but we can also learn from the wreckage of their lives what behaviors we can attempt to avoid. We can also learn resilience from the study of the Saints of Art. In our own lives there will be wreckage, pain, suffering, heartache and privation. These are the trials of human life. The cauldron of inspiration cannot be filled unless their has been some schism. Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light.
The skilled artist knows how to open and close the crack at will to bathe in the effulgence of the Void. He or she becomes a skilled mediator bringing the gifts of the ancestors through in her or his own mature work.
The term “dreaming in code” has entered into popular parlance among information and technology professionals as a way to denote those elite programmers who have so mastered their various software languages that they can “dream in code”. A hacker can write a script and inject it into cyberspace, altering the flow of information. By parallel a skilled worker of the Art Magical can utter their breath into the void and astral plane, altering the flow of imagination, becoming someone who “codes in dream”. This article looks at other parallels between the world of hackers and occulture in search of inspiration for the magical community.
THE VALUE OF OUTSIDE INFLUENCES
(Cosmic or Otherwise)
There is the danger in any field of endeavor to slip into a comfortable routine, to not seek the boundaries and push them, to play it safe and not experiment. In the arts this happens from following whatever is fashionable and trendy at the time; in the sciences from working around the pet theories of the day; in life from not pushing ourselves hard enough to see how we might expand our edges and do the better work of which we are each capable. This is no less true for magicians than anyone else.
As much as occultists work towards self-realization, individuation, and mastery of the Art we are not immune from the trends circulating amidst our various esoteric communities. This is not to place a value judgment on any given trend, but a call to closely examine the reasons behind a trend, and the effects its adoption can have within oneself and the community. The dangers of following trends blindly are there just as much for the solitary practitioners who often look to books, articles, and internet sites as the basis for their practice, as to those who work in covens, lodges, and circles.
Whether you are a solitary practitioner, work in a group, or some mixture thereof, tremendous sources of creativity and insight can be tapped, and utilized in the magical arts by taking a cross-disciplinary approach and researching what is going on in other fields of human endeavor. Does it matter if ones inspiration comes from the transplutonian mauve zone as opposed to an adjacent subculture? Either way outside influences remain essential sources of inspiration.
While insulating oneself from outside influences can have the beneficial effect of strengthening inner resources, at other times those reserves need to be refilled and built up by looking into lines of work we are unfamiliar with. Delving into alternative lines of thought and thinking is very much akin to traveling and immersion in a foreign culture, or the new contacts we make when being of service to the inner worlds. Upon returning home we will find we have been changed, perhaps even transformed by our journey. If nothing else, we will come to appreciate the diverse approaches people have towards life and learn that the path we walk on is not the only path to walk on. At the same time we will perhaps develop a better understanding of the similarities people share beneath the surface appearances of different goals and aims. And then we can see where the paths come together and merge.
It is in this regard that I wish to share my own voyeuristic love affair with hacker culture.
In the course of my contemplation of the lovable bunch who spend their hours writing code, reverse engineering hardware, figuring out where systems are weak and security is lax, I came across a number of similarities between the communities surrounding hacking and esoterica. I have looked at our shared strengths and weaknesses and have noted some differences. From this exercise in analogical thinking I realized there are a number of activities and attitudes, as well as ways of approaching problems that occultists could adopt from the practice of hackers. [Further study also gave me ideas for a number of magical techniques inspired by hacking.]
NOTES FROM A PASSIONATE OBSERVER
As a student of the Western Mystery Tradition I write about hacking and hackers not as someone who has been deep on the inside of that scene, but rather as a passionate observer. I may be on the sidelines but I have had an ongoing fascination with the history, lore, and practices of hacking and phone phreaking since I was an adolescent. My own computer and technical skills are very average. What continues to draw me back to hacking is my own sympathy with many of the political and social aims inside the movement, their love of pranks, and long history of culture jamming.
As a kid I was something of an amateur phone phreak. I knew a few tricks for making free calls on pay phones. A precocious reader, at a young age I’d zipped through Steve Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution and had gotten all excited about making further explorations of the electronic frontier via the telephone wires. It was around this time that I once got a hold of a phone lineman’s box. I didn’t steal it, just took it. The phone guy was nowhere around, but a piece of his equipment had been left at a switching box. When I figured out it had a modem and rudimentary computer in it I started using the device to connect to various BBS’ in the hopes of accessing further knowledge on any number of arcane subjects. Little did I know the box made a trace: anytime I placed a call the box also connected to the Cincinnati Bell office. One day while I was being subjected to a compulsory eighth grade education, an agent from the phone company came to the house, looking for me. He asked my mom where I was. When she told him I was at school, he asked if she had seen the lineman’s box, telling her that it had been traced to our address. My mom, always keeping a sharp eye on me, had of course seen me hooking it up to the phone line and quickly turned it over to the authorities. On that day perhaps, I was perhaps lucky to be at school. It probably spared me from a stern grilling from a telco agent.
And although I didn’t pursue the path of active hacking and phone phreaking much further than that, my interest in it remained and I was later blessed to have close friends very savvy in this area. I started investigating hacker culture on a deeper level.
I do this in several ways. The first is by reading 2600: The Hacker Quarterly on a regular basis. Some of the articles fly way over my head, especially those that involve dense coding. Others that are on such things as phone systems, amateur radio, satellites, GPS, subverting digital rights management, and basic security are suitable for the beginner. Something of a radio geek myself, over the past four years I’ve also been a regular listener to the two radio shows hosted by Emmanuel Goldstein, editor-in-chief of 2600, these being Off the Hook on WBAI in New York, and Off the Wall on WUSB in Stonybrook (both available archived online and as podcasts). The magazine and radio shows go together like bread and butter. Whereas the magazine provides practical articles, as well as perspectives from individual hackers in both a column and extensive letter section, the radio shows explore the social and political implications of technology.
Apart from these sources there is a plethora of audio and video available from various hacker conferences, including the Chaos Communication Congress and H.O.P.E. (Hackers Of Planet Earth) to name just two. I absorb a lot of this audio material while at my day job or when doing home repair. I think it would be a good move if more of the occult oriented conferences and festivals archived all of their talks online as well. These would become tremendous resources after an event to be tapped by attendees who weren’t able to hear or see every presentation. It also gives those who didn’t go, whether by choice or circumstance, the gift of learning something new from the speakers. And it may inspire them to go in the future. More importantly, putting a talk online adds to the corpus of occult knowledge available to anyone with an internet connection.
The magazine, radio shows, and talks from the cons got me very excited, and I thought about applying myself towards becoming a hacker. Because hacking is inspiring to me I decided to make some technological shifts in my life. But where would I begin? Up until the end of January in 2014 I presented radio programs for over a decade, first on a pirate station Anti-Watt and now on WAIF in Cincinnati. Despite having chosen to focus more of my efforts on writing, radio is still a medium I love. I had learned that many hackers are also Hams and have decided to apply myself towards receiving an Amateur radio license. I also decided to learn about Linux by running Oneiric Ocelot, a release of Ubuntu on one of my computers (perfect for someone who “codes in dream”). Learning a new Operating System is like learning a new system of magic. Routine tasks on a Windows system are now not quite as simple, but the mastery that comes from training, is in itself a source of pleasure. Open Source projects and software are also more closely aligned to my own personal values and ethics.
HACKER CULTURE AND OCCULTURE: SIMILARITIES AND SYMPTOMS OF STEREOTYPE
Though I have dipped my toes into the world of hacking, I am most passionate about occulture and those communities surrounding the ongoing magical revival. As I became more familiar with hackdom it was a natural step for me to notice similarities between these two camps and the places where their boundaries overlap.
While the methodology utilized by hackers and operative magicians may seem to be in diametric opposition, their aims need not be so. At their core individuals in both movements seek to utilize their abilities to change and challenge themselves, and through magic, or manipulation of technological systems, change the world. The skill sets and ethics upheld by each have much to offer the other. Both hackers and occultists have also suffered from stereotypes that are striking in their similarity, and looking at them can suggest ways these stereotypes can be maneuvered around and disarmed. Weaknesses can be overcome, similarities built upon, and the strengths of one group borrowed for use in another to arrive at a new synthesis.
The negative stereotypes in both communities come from stigma surrounding those who have used their skills, whether it be at hacking (hardware, software) or at practical magic (spells, hexes, talismans) for nefarious ends. People outside of these groups fear these abilities because they do not understand them. Distinctions between White Hat and Black Hat hacking find their parallels in Black and White magic. Many occultists and hackers however decry these distinctions. You are either a mage or not, a hacker or not. A person engaged in criminal computer activity is simply a criminal, and an occultist who puts hexes and curses on people needs to take a close look at their own values. Yet it remains a truth that curses are a part of magic, just as hacking for personal gain is taken up by technological adepts. However both magic and hacking can be used in the cause of Justice when the typical channels of law are insufficient or are themselves corrupt.
Magicians and hackers both suffer from stereotypes that focus in on what is perceived to be “dark side” activities. The media has perpetuated images of pagans, witches, occultists and hackers as antisocial terrorist misfits, out to destroy society and brainwash your kids. But the corporate media aren’t the only people upholding this myth. The clandestine and elitist attitudes often ensconced within both the hacker and occultist scenes have served to reinforce perceptions created by the media that both groups are up to something illegitimate.
Being “out of the broom closet” and transparent about our beliefs, activities and practices is one way to combat these negative stereotypes. This is akin to the way that technologists and desk jockey wizards’ share their techniques and programs in the Open Source Software movement, which allows users to study, change, improve and redistribute software code, that in other situations would have been kept hidden and proprietary. Joshua Madara, who is a key innovator doing much to explore the intersection between occultism and hacking, rewrote the traditional four Powers of the Sphinx as “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Make Open Source” in a blog post he wrote on the subject of “Open Sourcery” . Groups like The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn have also taken the values of the Open Source Software movement and applied them to magic.
There remain groups and teachers who think it is best to keep information out of the hands of magical students, whether “for their safety” or so they can hold on to flimsy claims of power, and keep a person beholden to them. Magic and the Mysteries protect themselves, and those who are not ready for certain magical experiences or techniques will be blocked out by the beings of the inner world. Sure, there may be folks who can penetrate into a certain dangerous place in the inner realms, or use a technique to awaken their kundalini in an unsafe/unprepared way, and they will get blown up. From time to time to, a script kiddie may access something online that he wasn’t ready for and have the authorities called down on him. That doesn’t mean the information shouldn’t be out there.
Hackers who expose secret information have been in the headlines for years now. Julian Assange’s Wikileaks project is just one high profile example. Other folks, like the people behind Cryptome have also been releasing important documents to the public. Luckily in the magical world some kind hearted souls have stepped up to the plate with the Watchers of the Dawn website to “keep an eye on the antics of occult groups.”
Leaking magical secrets is a time honored tradition in magic itself. Besides serious errors in our ideas of the transmission of occult lineages (see Frater Acher’s wonderful posts on the Asiatic Brotherhood for more insight on this) mages have been ripping each other off for ages, Crowley’s publishing of the Golden Dawn material a prime example.
John Michael Greer said in his talk, A Magical Education, “We know one thing for sure about magicians in the past— anywhere in the past: they used what worked. The oldest and most authentic tradition in all of magic is the tradition of stealing anything that’s not nailed down, and bringing along a crowbar for use on the things that are. Choose any magical tradition from the past, look into its roots, and you’ll find a fantastic gallimaufry of sources.”
There is something to be said about working in secret, developing something clandestine, with a group or alone. But when the material reaches a level of maturity and strength, the results should be published or shared so that the rest of the community can get to experimenting and working with the material.
WHATS YOUR HANDLE?
As our communities have become more transparent and open we have been witness to the big strides taken in reclaiming such words as “witch” away from the negative connotations media authorities have imbued them with, just as the LBGQT community has done with the word queer. This is also true of the words hacker and hacking.
A time-honored tradition among occultists and hackers is the practice of taking on a handle, moniker, or magical name, for instance Cap’n Crunch, the handle of John Draper, or Starhawk, the magical name adopted by Miriam Simos. The names we choose are used as a way of solidifying our identity with the movements and cultures we believe in. Choosing a name is an area where a person is able to show off their cleverness, creativity and distinguish themselves as well as show the areas of practice or subjects they are interested in.
In my opinion a magical name or handle is a mixed bag. It can be quite fun and empowering to choose our own name, for names have power. On the negative side I see this trend as reinforcing the clandestine and elitist attitudes of these cultures, as these names serve to set an individual apart from the mainstream. I don’t see anything wrong with the practice per se, especially if the person is using it to remain anonymous and they work in a field that may persecute them. But it can be offsetting to those who would otherwise embrace our ideals. It is also good thing to stand behind being a hacker or occultist under our own given names, to show that there is no separation in our life – we are who we are, outside the ritual circles and away from the computer screen or soldering iron. Using your given name also is a good way to keep an inflated sense of self in check.
THE HACKER ETHIC
While part of the work of an initiate is to work with inner contacts and spirit beings, which can work to regenerate 21st century magical practice, lateral thinking and taking what has worked in other fields and subcultures, and applying it to the magic is another way to nurture the community. The principles of the hacker ethic in particular could be adopted by individual working occultists. These are looked at in brief below.
SHARING & OPENESS: Publish your magical research and share your experiments, both the successes and failures. Advanced techniques should not be kept secret for the solo pleasures of XI degree inepti. To paraphrase Josephine McCarthy has said, “the idiots will blow themselves up!” while those who can put the information and knowledge to good use will have access to it.
MISTRUST AUTHORITY, PROMOTE DECENTRALIZATION:
While lodges, covens and groves will continue to play a role in the ecology of magical communities, an increasing number of workers are finding more fluid forms of collaboration to be desirable. People gather together when the work needs to be done, and disperse afterwards. Natural leaders and officiators may arise in such situations, but the work is bared and born by the group. When it is over, the workers return to their daily solitary practices and projects. The traditional groups magicians would find themselves in become networks of connection rather than bureaucratic hierarchies passing out merit badges when a successful banishing ritual is done. Though the priesthood may be decentralized over space and time we can all come together circling the flame of the inner convocation.
WORLD IMPROVEMENT: Whether the improvements come from triggering the tides of death, destruction, and cataclysm, or through being a catalyst for growth, regeneration, or birthing, service should be the byword and guiding principle behind the work that is engaged in. Magicians are midwifes of life and death. They uphold civilization, whether in its upswing or decline. They go in from one job to another, not always knowing what will be required of them, and stretch themselves in the process, becoming more pliable for future jobs. They get on with the dirty jobs other folks in their right minds wouldn’t want to touch. Carrying the stillness within them, they show up.
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.
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”.
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
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 book is published by Marsh Hawk Press.
“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.
Grappling with peak-oil and the collapse of industrial civilization is similar to undergoing the death-in-life initiation of the Mystery Schools. Indeed some writers on the subject have equated acceptance of peak-oil and other converging crises with the five-stages of grief elucidated by the brilliant death-worker, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Along this road to the stage of acceptance there is often a crisis of meaning. Where once the view showed a rosy future propped up and propelled onwards by the optimistic preaching of a media in the pocket of the tech-sector, now the picture is dimming and the promised trajectory has been shown to be empty. So meaning in life, in the activities which used to bring pleasure, in the diversions and distractions where I once sought escape, are empty as well.
When I first started undergoing the death-of-civilization initiation it disabled my love of recorded music. I had been writing music reviews for Brainwashed.com and after a few years passed I really started to contend with the fact that all the energy I had put into listening to and loving a particular musical format was most likely drawing to a close. This being the culture of cassettes and CDs I had grown up with. Sure, they’d already been usurped somewhat by the MP3, a loss I had bemoaned. When I projected the potential future of the CD fifty years hence into a further destabilized society, the pursuit of championing this format started to shatter, and along with that fragile sense of self I had belt my love for the medium. After all, I had spent much time as not only a devotee of the recorded album, but also as a priest of the record, playing them on the airwaves as a programmer and DJ.
One way I began to grapple with this was by writing a short-story about a radio DJ in small town about seventy or so years from now who used phonograph records as his main medium. I have faith that radio can survive the long descent, though I moved on from being radio active myself. I still have hope that phonographic recording can be preserved into the future. I think what many interesting labels, such as Vinyl-On-Demand and the many independents releasing new music on vinyl are doing is the musical equivalent to the trend in publishing of making fine edition books. There is a definite market for “Talismanic Music on Vinyl”. Vinyl, when properly cared for has a longer shelf life than the other formats for recorded music. It’s pretty much stayed the course since its invention, while tape, CD, and eventually MP3 will have all come and gone. Will the technology to be able to record also survive in the same way? Will I be able to have a steampunk hi-fi set? The album as such is a new format for the consumption of music, made only in its particular manner because of the technology.
As far as artistic legacies go, my feelings started to sink about the album. Books are a much stabler format. And even if I know that nothing I produce may survive for more than a couple of generations, striving to make something that is durable is a significant driver in human behavior. Especially for the whole slew of Gen X, Y and millenium slackers who think -or thought- of themselves as artists. Was the recording and broadcasting of music still an area of cultural production I wanted to my resources on? In the end, no, and one of the reasons why I gave up my radio show.
Letting go of who we think we are is hard to do, not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones and friends. We may see a change in ourselves. We may see a potential for change that we’d like in someone close to us. The process of maneuvering through what we might actually need to do to change has the unwelcome tendency to disturb settled habits. Those habits may need to be disturbed, and given time, after a major transition, things do have a way of re-settling into a new pattern. Magic, meditation, and other forms of inner work all have a way of pushing our boundaries, dissolving them, forcing the worker to look at themselves in the cold light of day. Things are seen for what they are. Fantasy is replaced by the urge to get to work on things that truly matters.
These are all things that happen to an individual when they reach out and touch death. Letting go. From fear of death to acceptance.
Looking at peak oil, climate change, and other collapse related subjects is kind of a macro vision of death on a large scale. It’s not just yourself anymore, but the society that you grew up in that is going to die. Of course that’s been true for civilizations and people all across history. Doesn’t make it easy or comfortable. But an initiate has to learn to become okay with uncomfortable.
Thinking about the future of music in a society on the downward slope got me to thinking about art in general, and how much of a luxury it can be, but also how necessary music and art are to life. They will certainly be a part of our society down the road. They always have been. What forms they will take is another matter, and one that I seriously began to contemplate.
In addition to listening to a lot of avant-garde music I’d spent much of my time studying the theories and practices of avant-garde musicians, artists, and writers. I was especially interested in the points where their working practices crossed over into the realms of the esoteric and occult. I began to feel that there was so much innovation in art since around the 1880’s, roughly coinciding with the magical revival, that it would be a shame for this body of practice to be lost to the vagaries of time.
I also wanted to work further on synthesizing the artistic avant-garde with magic. As occupiers of fringe territory in society they already share a lot of common ground, but to bring the two subject into further dialogue in my writing is one of my ongoing projects. So in order to save what I can, at least for awhile, I have started putting together an avant-garde grimoire of artistic and occult praxis. It does not contain the seals and sigils of spirits and entities, but rather is a collection of grammar from my wide range of reading on these practices; like any good vocabulary, it should be put to use.
Music geeks and musicians, and artists in general, have placed a premium on obscurity, on the making of limited editions and hard to get albums. There is something enticing about what is Not Available. The unheard album, the lost studio track, the book that is so expensive you will never be able to buy it, and therefore never know what it contains, becomes a cipher for the numinous, for mystery. The search for the obscure becomes a spiritual quest.
Sometimes the edification of the obscure is annoying. No one wants to be sitting in a bar or coffeehouse next to a hipster who can only talk about how cool such-and-such a band is because hardly anyone else has heard about them. These snobs give off an immature reek. Ownership of a limited edition items becomes a mark of elitism in the possessors imagined hierarchy of self-worth.
On the other hand, one of a kind and limited editions break up the monotony of sleek mass produced products and forms of work. They exist as threats to the status quo. Not everyone can have them because not everyone will like them or understand them or need them. At the apogee however are works made without the intention of ever releasing them to the public. They may be shared in private or enjoyed alone by the creator. It is in this category that albums such as The Residents, “Not Available” fall into.
The work was inspired by the legendary Bavarian composer and sometimes Resident collaborator N. Senada. It was a direct application of his theory of obscurity which states that an artist can only truly create pure art when the expectations and influences of the outside world are not taken into consideration. Thus The Residents recorded their album in secrecy with the intention of never releasing the work until they themselves had forgotten about its existence. It only took a few years after recording however before the album was released. The release of their album Eskimo kept getting pushed back and so the record company, Cryptic Corporation, demanded this treasure from the vault. It now exists as a testament to the power of creating something without compromising the potential vision inherent in a piece of work in favor of what might be termed, “market forces” which are ever a threat to the artist who would keep her integrity.
The album Pagan Day by Psychic TV is similar. Subtitled, Sketches from a Notebook, the songs were recorded onto four-track tape by Genesis P-Orridge and Alex Fergusson as part of an evening ritual. They were doing this just for fun, a way of relaxing and being creative as they watched the children play while the sun went down. The album was made just for the fuck of it, and only later released, almost like an afterthought.
The Theory of Obscurity could be equated magically to Silence, the fourth power of the Sphinx. These are the secret operations no one ever knows about. They are not done to achieve lasting fame, but to hermetically seal the circle of art in which the operation is performed. These acts remain invisible to all but the denizens of the Inner Planes. The majority of magical work partakes of the draught of silence.
In artist work then, remember the power of silence. The notebook, sketchbook, dream journal, albums and songs which no one but you alone have heard are pregnant with power. The act of making something for you own eyes and ears alone has tremendous value. These pieces can later inform and instruct when work needs to be done for other eyes and ears. It isn’t just practice, though that is part of it, but is also about planting seeds. Some of them may sprout and grow to maturity later, others may simply rest and be reabsorbed into the soil after being added to natures compost heap. Either way the imagination will be fortified.
William S. Burroughs personally destroyed at least a thousand pages of his writing. In a lecture he gave at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics he said, “Sinclair Lewis said that if you have written something that you think is just great and you cant wait to show it to somebody he said throw it away it’s terrible. Now this is very often true. I had the experience of say writing something that I thought was just great and I read it the next day and said for God’s sakes tear into very small pieces and throw it into somebody else’s garbage can. It’s awful. And that is one of the deterrents to writing – the amount of bad writing you’re going to have to do before you do any good writing.”
The important thing is to have something to throw away, to do something and not speak about it. This practice will in turn fortify the practice of editing, of cutting, of letting go. Silence is also an aspect of Invisibility. The cultivation of invisibility can be used when engaging in various aspects of guerilla art and illegal public art.
There is another aspect to things being Not Available, and they are particular to a world where the resources people grew accustomed to during the trip upwards to Hubbert’s Peak will not be around anymore. Accordingly, the making of certain types of work which rely on industrial products will no longer be available. Gaps in production, transport of once common goods will be de rigeur. Ingenuity is the red headed step-child of necessity; as such she won’t have all the same toys to play with as her elder siblings had. She’ll have to learn how to work with the scraps available to her, mix her own paints, fix her own guitar. The visions she has may not feasibly translate into works on the physical plane of existence. Therefore what she builds may only be available on mental and spiritual levels.
1. The Residents, “Not Available” album
2. Psychic TV, “Pagan Day” album
3. William S. Burroughs Workshop – Jack Kerouac Conference, Naropa University, Bolder Colorado, July 23, 1982 as Transcribed from the Original Audio Recording by Marcus D. Niski.
Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.