One could consider this an example of trying to learn at the feet of a bunch of old magicians…
Springtime always reminds me of magic. That’s a really silly statement since there isn’t very many days that pass without me being “reminded” of magic. Yet it was in the spring when I vowed to become “an occultist.” In fact, as of last week, it’s been five years since two young, foolish boys decided to be even more foolish.
Last night we sat outside and contemplated where we’ve been and where we’ve come with magic. How, in many ways, it has always been happening. Just not the way that I ever expected…but then who am I to demand the world turn out according to my plans?
I’ve already noted my awkward first steps in magic here but I failed to mention my early attempts at reading Eliphas Levi. Levi is a character who recent books have been hailing as the progenitor of everything we think of as “magic” in the twentieth and twenty first century. He is credited with single-handedly compiling the material that the Golden Dawn and Crowley would later draw on and consequently most of the primitive workings for the rituals used by Wicca and other Neopagan religions today.
One of the few writers who downplays Levi’s role in magic is Gary Lachman. This could be because Lachman doesn’t dwell as much on “ceremonial magic” as other writers. His works on occultism seem to focus heavily upon more “mystical” approaches to the subject such as Blavatsky, Steiner, and Gurdjieff/Ouspensky. While I must confess that I am very guilty of neglecting these writers myself I feel that Lachman’s focus may be correct. Even John Michael Greer, who is one of the writers who inflates Levi’s import, muses that it is regretful that for many modern magicians, if it didn’t come out of the Magical Revival that birthed the G.’.D.’. and Crowley, than it isn’t really magic. (This select group would include Austin Osman Spare and Chaos Magic.)
Yet even within his studies of the tradition of ceremonial magic or the Western Mystery Tradition or Qabalah-based magic or whathaveyou Lachman still downplays Levi’s role. In his Dedalus Book of the Occult he claims that Levi was in truth a scholar who had one experience with practical magic in his entire career. This experience was his famous conjuring of the spirit of Appolonius of Tyana upon a London rooftop. According to Lachman, a much better canidate for the great magician of the nineteenth century was one of the guest at Levi’s sole demonstration; Edward, Lord Bulwer-Lytton. It’s been a few years since I read the Dedalus Book of the Occult but I used it quite often in college so I hope I’m not being too capricious when I say that it would seem Lachman believes that Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Zanoni may be a better candidate for the “great occult compendium” of the nineteenth century rather than Levi’s Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie or Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual as the title was translated by Arthur Waite.
Another book that Lachman believes deserves more credit than Levi’s for actual worthwhile information is Francis Barrett’s, from whom Promethea’s Jack Faust’s real last name is derived from, great plagiarism The Magus. However “Barrett’s book did not start an occult revival because, for all its scholarly apparatus, it is a dull read. Levi is never dull.” However, here I must disagree with Lachman.
My first month in occultism was mostly reading. I banged my head against The Anathema of Zos and The Focus of Life before giving Austin Osman Spare up for a loss. I ended up taking Jack Faust’s advice to Promethea that Spare is best understood by more advance occultists. I was devouring, digesting, rereading, obsessing over the rest of Promethea. I had read the first book earlier in my life when I had first read Crowley’s Moonchild; back when I had very little idea that I would one day devote most of my energy to pursuing the seeds those two books planted in my soul. In the twelfth issue, Sex, Stars, and Serpents, the first issue where the more obvious magical theory enters in to the series, Faust gives Sophie Bangs four books to read for her first foray into learning magic. The book are Magick Without Tears, (which I would read the following month in a haze of sinuses which may be why I seemed to take different ideas from that book than many Crowley fans), 777, and “some Eliphas Levi.” As I already had 777 and was very disappointed to learn that it was mostly charts, hey I didn’t know what I was getting into, and Magick Without Tears costs sixty dollars for a beat up copy, a lot of money for some one unfamiliar with the occult book market, the “some Eliphas Levi” was what caught my eye.
So I trotted down to the local bookshop and purchased the Dover edition of Magic: A History of Its Rites, Rituals, and Mysteries; otherwise known as A History of Magic. I could only assume that this was one of the two books that Faust was handing his student as it, along with Transcendental Magic, is one of Levi’s two core texts. A History of Magic is the later of the two and the more tame. Perhaps it was the tameness of the text or perhaps it was my prejudice against the translator, for, if nothing else Moonchild will make you hate A. E. Waite if you are an impressionable boy, but I found Levi to be only good for confusing me which led to a wonderfully frustrating soporific effect. So my sputtered curses went on from Spare to Crowley to Levi- all of my heroes and teachers end up whipping boys at some point. I finally read Levi’s History all the way through a couple years later when I was more familiar with the “magical language” and the text didn’t read like a conflagration of strange names and archaic terms. Perhaps I would be wiser today if I had persisted and read more of Levi; I still have yet to read Transcendental Magic though I have read Crowley’s translation of Levi’s Key to the Mysteries.
So the whole post was me saying I’d like to read Transcendental Magic sometime soon since it’s spring and I’ve been thinking about my early days in magic. Now, who wants to buy me a copy as I’ve blown my book money for the month buying a copy of the Crowley Cross Index? Happy Feast of Hadit!
Thinking about this made me wonder what four books I’d give to someone who wanted to learn about magic. Off the top of my head I would have to say Promethea, The Living Qabalah, The Book of Thoth, and Prometheus Rising. (It was difficult as I wanted to include Magick Without Tears, Moonchild, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Masks of the Illuminati, as well as Unearthing and Somnium!)
This is the NWs prologue to Jack Trevor Story’s Wind in the Snottygobble Tree that wasn’t included when the novel was published as a single volume. Wind was discreetly referenced, along with Story’s common stand-in Horace Spurgeon Fenton, in League 1969 when Jerry Cornelius mention Hunchback, itself a stand-in for the famous International Times, was serializing his adventure as a comic strip. Reading this makes me very sad that the book itself costs fifty dollars or more today. It’s obviously enjoyable and I found myself grinning at the clever queerness of the prose. Alas, with a daughter and wife to support I can’t blow my load, so to speak, quite so easily.
I still have I Sit in Hanger Lane, with Fenton’s first appearance,at home though! If I like it enough, I may make an exception…
Frondibus hirsutis; n: thrives in burial grounds and bears slimy fruits (snottygobbles). Poisonous.
PROLOGUE: THE CURFEW NATION
“In the midst of life,” Horace Spurgeon Fenton said, “we are in St. Albans.”
Coming from Horace, whom I’ve known since 1952 when we were on the Amalgamated Press slave belt together, this was an unusually profound remark and it led to my asking him to show me the rest of the manuscript; the story you’ll be reading for the next four issues. DV, that is and always assuming somebody doesn’t throw a grenade in the printing press. When he said St. Albans, of course he didn’t mean St. Albans, nor life, life or even, probably, midst. What he meant was that with the increasing legislation (i.e. breathalyser, drugs, immigration etc etc) nibbling away at our liberties the good old British bobby now has the power of Graham Greene’sTontons Macoute of the Haiti of The Comedians. That is, in effect, the power to kill in the early mornings when there’s no one much about and the power to convince a magistrate that somebody slipped over while crossing the charge room floor.
“Too many people are hanging themselves in prison and police station cells with their braces,” Horace said, “and it’s high time everybody wore belts.”
Of course he didn’t mean people or hanging or any of those things but what he did mean is that the good old British Public are getting increasingly frightened to go out at night in case they meet a squad car — this is a kind of curfew. And if the police are not what they seem, how about the rest of the municipal services; how about dustmen, firemen, ambulance men, magistrates; how about County Cricket Clubs? How about anything?
In other words, nothing is what it seems and particularly justice.
“In the courts of justice,” Horace said, “the well substantiated lie is all the rage and the truth is old-hat.”
He makes injustice sound trendy, but in fact it can’t be new because Doctor Samuel Johnson once said (in effect, for I wasn’t there) that if more than two men agree precisely upon a tale, then treat that tale with extreme caution.
Now nobody here in NEW WORLDS editorial agrees precisely on this tale of James Balfour Marchmont, therefore treat it as a fable for our times and afterwards think twice before dialling 999. The marbled horrors of Marchmont’s imagination may stalk your own particular cosy corridors and may even one step ahead of his. The death, corruption and decay of freedom succours the roots of the Snottygobble Tree; the wind in the branches comes for the turning of the pages of our awareness.
Now read on: Ludicrous Crudicrous , Editor, Hunchback
For some more information on Story I recommend Moorcock’s excellent remembered of his friend and fellow author “Jack’s Unforgettable Christmas.” I’ve already noted elsewhere what an excellent and poignant writer Moorcock can be when speaking about his friends so go ahead and read it. I actually found that it adds a new dimension to this small and tantalizing bit of Story’s novel.
“To achieve his end, Weishaupt inaugurated a secret society. He then became a Freemason, in order to appropriate the lodges’ vast network of contacts and hierarchies. His disciples quickly infiltrated most other lodges, which were already filled with members of various other secret societies. (The situation resembles somewhat the plot of Chesterton’s The Man Who was Thursday) Cagliostro, it is believed, was an early convert to Weishaupt’s cause…” from The Dedalus Book of the Occult: A Dark Muse by Gary Lachman
Like Twin Peaks, there is no “burden of proof” upon The Man Who was Thursday. One may say with certainty that it was and is an extraordinary thing. Its clear view of a confused world, its history, its fans and admirers are enough to attest to its ubiquity. My relationship with the book began in 2008 when I read it in a couple of days as an attempt to break the month long quest to finish Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. While Pychon remains a great writer in my eyes and Against the Day is my favorite out of his novels that I have read, it would be the slimmer volume by Chesterton that won a lasting place in my heart. Later I read the banquet scene out loud to my best friend in a state of emotional turmoil prompting an emotional breakdown and forever associating myself with the dolorous Friday. Most recently I read the entire novel as a bedtime story to my Grandmother before she died last year and tried to read it to my daughter. I think we got as far as the confrontation with Saturday/Dr. Bull.
I’ll have to grab my copy off the shelf later to find the exact quote but Chesterton wasn’t pleased with certain aspects of Thursday‘s reception. He even wrote a letter to the Times to remind the readers that the novel did not represent how he viewed God or the Universe and that reader’s should keep the subtitle, a nightmare, in mind. Yet Chesterton was an orthodox, if erudite and witty, Christian while many of the readers who viewed his novel askew were, like myself, agnostics and mystics. Perhaps Sunday’s rule is unkind at times but the world is as well. What more could any of those who seek God in the world hope but a chance to confront their creator and ask- why? Indeed the book seemed prophetic from the get go when I saw the flap for my edition, marketed to young readers, advertised it as an older version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Undoubtedly the book was talking about the travesty of a film but, as The League was my first step on the path to a new consciousness, it was an eerie indication of things to come. A few weeks ago G. told me, while we were discussing our possible and annoying role as “cultural antennas,” that there had been a revival of interest in Chesterton’s book around the time we first read it. In fact the Modern Library edition I had bought for G. as a gift was published that same year.
I’m happy I didn’t know about it as I hate when things I hold sacred become popular. Petulant, surely. But nevertheless…
Toward the end of summer I read a review of Thursday by the New Age author and cultural critic Erik Davis where he tackles some of the problems facing modern readers and Chesterton. (It would seem that Davis’ interest in the novel occurred during the the time when our interest and other’s was going on.) Unlike Davis and other commentators I find little troubling in Chesterton’s ideal that romance is far superior to rationalism. It is easy for me to sidestep the Christianity and orthodoxy and, like George MacDonald, I find it very easy to project my own meaning into his works. And, as Chesterton’s work proves in itself, despite his protests it suits my interpretation. Perhaps, if I may be so bold, more than the one that Chesterton would have had for it himself. Imagination crosses the boundaries of religion with ease.
“Amber was the greatest city which had ever existed or ever would exist. Amber had always been and always would be, and every other city, everywhere, every other city that existed was but a reflection of a show of some phase of Amber. Amber, Amber, Amber…I remember thee. I shall never forget thee again.” from Nine Princes in Amber
Roger Zelazny never held that much interest for me until recently. I always thought of him as one of your average science fiction writers; innovative in some ways but trapped by the genre. Happily this is one of the cases where, to my great joy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. After reading his excellent Lord of Light with it’s references to Hindu mythology and the tales of the Buddha I moved on to his Amber series. Amber is, in my view of the matter, nothing less than a qabalistic romance set against the backdrop of eternity. For this is a tale of reality, stories, and shadows; an epic of creation, transformation, destruction, and rebirth.
I read the first five books of Amber while recovering from a case of hypochondria this past summer. Almost immediately I was struck by the masterful storytelling and the parallels to the Western Mystery Tradition. Basically the plot of the original Amber series is this: the descendants of Oberon, the King of Amber, vie for the now vacant throne. Who ever wins will not only control Amber itself but the entire multiverse as everything in Creation is merely a shadow of the hyperreal Amber. It seemed familiar when I was first diving into the series; this is because Zelzany was one of George R. R. Martin’s mentors and one can see flashes of his Song of Ice and Fire series in the novels- especially the machinations of the siblings.
There are concepts that are directly reminiscent of Qabalah as explained by popular twentieth century writers such as Gershom Scholem and Kathleen Raine. The idea of “shadows” is a direct correlation to the qabalistic concept of emanations. More tellingly is the existence of “the Pattern.” The Pattern is an inscription located in Amber and in a few other choice locations such as Tir-na Nog’th, the stratospheric city that appears above Amber during the full moon and acts as a living oracle, and in Rebma the underwater sister of the great city. The Pattern is obviously modeled after the Otz Chiim or the Tree of Life; like any magician the descendants of Amber must walk the Pattern at some point in their life to gain control over the various worlds and their own existence.
The other interesting factor is the existence of the Trumps- a set of Tarot cards that have the Princes and Princesses of Amber painted on them instead of the familiar Greater Trumps of our Tarot pack. The characters are able to use the Trumps as a method of communication, transportation, and as a method to spy on one another which brings me to my next point.
A lot has happened since I read Amber and planned this piece which is why I’m avoiding too much detail and keeping this short and (hopefully) sweet. However at the time I was finishing the series and afterwards I began experimenting with a method of “communication” using Tarot. So, here’s goes, I’ll try to give some instruction for an operation.
Firstly you’ll need to have some sort of connection to whomever you are trying to contact or “spy” on. (This can come off as very creepy and/or insane, I know!) My best friend and I were willing participants so that might be the best place to start out. You could even schedule an appropriate time to try to make contact with the other person. You must know the person well enough to pick a querent- however in keeping with traditional methodology I’d recommend using a Court Card instead of a Trump. After picking the querent focus upon it as a representative of the person. Using your will and imagination activate the card as a representative of the other person. Shuffle the querent into the deck as many times as you please, keeping your focus, cut, and layout a spread.
My friend and I both came up with our own spreads to use for this but a Tree of Life spread would work nicely. Interpret the cards in light of your question. Assume that the Court Cards are other people in the querent’s life or in both of you lives. In the way of clarification I don’t know exactly how to use the cards as a telegram- by contacting a person I mean looking into what they are doing…so it’s spying either way.
This method is also used by Aunt Nora Cloud in Little, Big so blame Zelazny and Crowley for being odd. Not me.
“And during the following day they journeyed among more than one of those unusual races who diversify so widely the population of Saturn. They saw the Djhibbis, that apterous and Stylitean bird-people who roost on their individual dolomites for years at a time and meditate upon the cosmos, uttering to each other at long intervals the mystic syllables yop, yeep, and yoop, which are said to express an unfathomed range of esoteric thought.
And they met those flibbertigibbet pygmies, the Ephiqhs, who hollow out their homes in the trunks of certain large fungi, and are always having to hunt new habitations because the old ones crumble into powder in a few days. And they heard the underground croaking of that mysterious people, the Ghlonghs, who dread not only the sunlight but also the ring-light, and who have never yet been seen by any of the surface-dwellers.”- from The Door to Saturn by Clark Ashton Smith
The Door to Saturn has been my favorite Clark Ashton Smith story since I first read it. I became interested in Smith for the obvious connection to Lovecraft and the atmosphere that seemed to surround his Zothique stories. After hearing about Smith’s Averoigne stories and the supposed greatness of The Tale of Satampra Zeiros I felt let down. The first story in the Zothique cycle, The Black Abbot of Puthuum, is almost identical to the first in the Averoigne stories, A Rendezvous in Averoigne, save for their aesthetics. In many ways it is similar to Moorcock’s The Dreaming City and the beginning of The Final Programme although I hope one can be forgiven if they make the assumption Smith wasn’t being experimental but rather trying to crank out a quick yarn. I’d heard about The Tale of Satampra Zeiros the first time I read about Smith’s work and was ready for something new and innovative. I was disappointed to find that it is more or less a straightforward adventure yarn with a supernatural twist. Perhaps the reason it is so highly regarded is Lin Carter’s decision to include it in his The Spawn of Cthulhu for the virtue of being the first story to mention Tsathoggua. While an interesting collection formatted around what is perhaps my favorite of Lovercraft’s longer stories, The Whisperer in Darkness, I found some of Carter’s remarks presumptuous at best and ridiculously misguided (and misleading it would seem) at worst.
My biggest beef with Carter is his strict criteria for what constitutes a “Cthulhu Mythos” story. He even goes so far as to say that there are only twelve authored by Lovecraft! While I suspect it may have been August Derleth who first started the differentiation between “The Cthulhu Mythos,” “The Dream Cycle,” and the basic horror stories in Lovecraft’s oeuvre (or perhaps it was Lovecraft himself!) Carter seems particularly proud of his observation as if it was novel or unnoticed before he pointed it out. Personally, I’ve never understood why any Lovecraft story is different from any other and always imagined it was all occurring in the same fucked up universe- I’d almost go so far as to say that all of Weird Fiction takes place within the same contiguous world with the stories merely told from different perspectives in time, space, and sanity.
Although I wasn’t impressed by two out of the first three stories I read by Smith there was something about him that kept me coming back. Perhaps it was the writing..it’s a pretty common idea that Smith paints these bizarre landscapes and atmospheres with his words and I perfer his writing to Lovecraft’s…but whatever it was I’m sure happy I did. Stories such as the grotesque The Coming of the White Worm and the magnificently sinister The Beast of Averoigne demonstrated how Smith’s Hyperborea and Averoigne were truly different lands from the ones I had grown used to over time. For his Zothique stories I’d have to recommend The Charnel God as his best with The Isle of the Torturers, even with the regrettably predictable plot twist, coming in second. I used to sit in my high school’s library, where I had more of less free reign in between actual classes, and print off his stories from the web until I eventually sprung for the Bison Frontiers of Imagination reprint of Lost Worlds. Regrettably that’s as far as my knowledge of Smith goes for now.
If one wanted to read more of his work I’d recommend the aforementioned volume, with it’s twin Out of Space and Time, along with the collections in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, as being pretty good places to start. Eldritch Dark is probably the best resource on the internet for Smith and is where I read much of his work.
Here is their page for The Door to Saturn. While it may seem to fit in with genre fiction with it’s bizarre but prosaic world more than Smith’s other stories I think it has a lot to recommend itself to new readers. One, it’s actually very funny with its disinterested god (a great uncle to the god that one character had worshiped on Earth) and Smith’s wry treatment of the characters. Then there’s that quality of painting with words that Smith has- for me I can really see the landscape of this prehistoric Saturn and it’s odd inhabitants. I hope you take the time to read it and enjoy.
“Morghi, however, was not entirely happy. Though the Ydheems were religious, they did not carry their devotional fervor to the point of bigotry or intolerance; so it was quite impossible to start an inquisition among them. But still there were compensations: the fungus-wine of the Ydheems was potent though evil-tasting; and there were females of a sort, if one were not too squeamish.”
I feel bad that all I have the composure to put up is updates. A month ago I began a magical interpretation of Zelazny’s Amber series which I never completed; this reminds me that I still haven’t posted my review and theories about Steve Moore’s Somnium. Something about the book now intimidates me. I first read it at a fever pace; staying up way past my bed time trying to soak in each word and image. Perhaps I’m afraid that there’s no other way for me to read it and know that I don’t have the damned energy to do anything like that right now.
I’ve also been meaning to put up something about the recently released Unearthing photobook. It’s excellent…that’s the best I’m going to be able to do right now.
Just as a housekeeping note: recently updated my early Twin Peaks articles. When it was published on WF I had completely finished and digested Mundy’s The Devil’s Guard and I’ve revisited it to include my thoughts on Madame Alexandra David-Neel’s Magic and Mystery in Tibet. So if it looks messy that’s because I just copy and pasted it from the articles on the site. I’m lazy.
I’m working with Psychosynthesis currently so maybe there will be some breakthrough that can get me off my ass to write something other than rants and bad poetry!
I’ve published two of my oldest pieces of writings that I’ve ever considered showing others. They’re from a time in my life that was marked by emotional turmoil and inner strife but I feel they give a glimpse of how a mind all muddled with magic deals with trauma. Or, you know, at least how my mind deals with trauma. Some are in serious need of editing so I apologize in advance for any roughness around the edges.
I apologize for the brevity and lack of good writing in this post. It’s just a jump-start for what will hopefully be another round of regular writing of a higher caliber.
Magic, as of late, has played out in ways that, although I have perceived them as subtle, should be obvious…certainly to the participants. It is merely, due to my human foibles, that I have a hard time paying attention to what is going on around or inside of me. Usually I am fantasizing about scenarios entirely separate from the matter at hand. Yet lately, after conversation takes off and reflection becomes easier I’ve had what I recently dubbed “the tetris effect;” where parts of the day or week that had been glossed over suddenly come alive with a whole new significance. I imagine having this happen all the time would be akin to enlightenment…or at least a sample of satori.
Beginning back in November my mind was thoroughly blown by a heady mixture of taking Lon Milo Duquette’s Maybe Logic Academy class, reading novels such as “The Earth Will Shake” and “Just Kids”, staging a ritual based around a Soft Machine song, and the artistic atom bombs of Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’ new films.
The ritual was a two man act centered around the hymn-like “A Certain Kind.” It’s purpose was to make contact with our particular deities. While conversation afterwards, we almost always hold a post ritual soiree, was inspired, witty, and trippy the effects of the ritual were not too terribly powerful as far as I could tell. I am still unsure of my relation to any deity. Or I know who my deity is and I don’t want to accept it. I don’t know. This became confusing. The point is the ritual was, if nothing else, very beautiful and I did redecorate and consecrate a bedroom into what is now universally referred to as “the temple” in my household and circle of friends. So, again, perhaps the ritual was powerful in ways not immediately discernible to my clunky, philistine mind. And I did receive some visions…I may just be whining. It’s all very muddled right now.
So that is an example of how some things have worked lately. It’s fun, it’s profound…and yet, it might not be when I feel bored and tired.
After this my friend and I celebrated Mr. Moore’s birthday with a reading by yours truly and the proper festivities.
For the rest of November I sat around reeling from Moore’s two films, considering the implications and majesty, and trying to reconcile such sophistication, such awe-inspiring talent with “normal” magic work. For anyone that takes Moore’s advice in Fossil Angels to heart it must be difficult sometimes to just do magic. I feel silly occasionally obsessing over rituals and unsatisfied with myself for not creating anything. Alas, my lack of talent makes it so I can’t live up to my ideals.
The nights I spent with my fellow magician would occasionally take off into the nethersphere of mysticism with synchronicities suddenly unveiling themselves and conversation shooting off into odd dimensions. One night I came up with a theory that the Golden Dawn system was actually just a lot of bored Masons and that it wasn’t given any life until discovered by the Surrealists, of whom Aleister Crowley was a secret agent. This silly thought was based off of Arlen Wilson’s theory that Jean Coucteau and a few friends all started the Priory of Sion.
At one point in December we came up with the idea to begin a magical order based around Yeat’s occult philosophy called The Order of the Celtic Twilight. It would operate, in the outer order, along similar elemental lines as the Golden Dawn. Save for the idea that instead of simply rituals it would be the job of the aspirant to evoke the proper elemental spirits at each grade and demand their cooperation. In this order the Holy Guardian Angel would not be seen as Vau or the Prince but as the final Heh and the Princess. The magician would have to rescue the kidnapped Princess who was trapped by the illusions of the material world and gain her hand in the proper chivalrous manner. Sadly this came to naught though the idea may still be worth revisiting one day.
Lon Milo Duquette’s Enochian End of the World ceremony provided me with a wealth of visions but did little to change my life in many ways. The holidays proved to be an annoying distraction from my personal work.
Through January I had been working with Enochian, my own personal magical rituals, and finally seemed to reach a dead end. Though some particular magic moments at the beginning of the year were watching Orson Welles’ F for Fake and two of the best films I’ve ever seen. Luis Bunuel’s Simon of the Desert and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie are masterpieces of wit and living art. The first has what may be my favorite depiction of the possible end of magic and religion, and the modern world. So many nights that I’ve spent in bars I’ve felt like the flawed Simon sitting at the bar. Later, listening to Sandie Shaw’s version of Sympathy for the Devil it would make all the more titillating and hilarious sense. My best experience with the second film was stepping outside to have a cigarette halfway through; it was only after a few minutes that I realized that the world I was in did not work the same way as the world within the film. I imagined that is how surrealism is supposed to work…to suck you in to what is beneath the veil of the everyday. Yet I’ve arrived back at the work of Will Parfitt which seems promising, as Alice would say, and this week the November ritual seems to have finally met it’s end. We’ll have to see how it all goes I imagine.
Note: This was authored for WF so there’s a great deal of rehashed information. I just thought that putting something up here may be a good idea. I think that this website could benefit from becoming a place where I just dump all of my speculations like unwanted children. So this has gone from “a journal of magic” to the firehouse steps. Speaking of dumping some writings here I just added three essays, very short, essays in the Archive. Their more bitchy literary in tone than magic but, hey, it’s my website.
Last week I became fascinated, if one considers frantically (if incompetently) scouring the internet fascination, with an old book titled A Visual Guide to Alien Beings by David W. Chace. This book proposes to be a collection of descriptions of standardly encountered (established?) alien species drawn from abduction reports and contactee experiences. It’s a funny concept that I’ve ran into on Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends where a fellow was compiling a “field guide” to aliens and in one of my favorite childhood books The UFO Hunter’s Handbook which includes a brief outline of different aliens one might encounter. The sheer bravado of the idea that one can catalogue beings that there is no consensus even exist is enjoyably (or frustratingly, perhaps) absurd. Is there even an agreed upon nature of these extraterrestrial beings among believers?
The short answer is no. There is no widely accepted belief in who is piloting these UFOs, where they come from, what they want, or what they look like. Is it therefore sound to decide that there are different species from different planets, dimensions, or planes? This seems like a giant, nigh farcical assumption to me. It would be easier if contactees could establish some sort of standard for their encounters; are the Greys hostile date rapists or benevolent environmentalists? While smugly contemplating the silly attempt of anyone to classify alien species it occurred that I own multiple books, and believe in their classifications, that do precisely the same thing. It’s just my books are about demons, angels, gods, or elementals instead of extraterrestrial visitors. I than began laughing in an empty room about how crazy that might seem to an outsider before I went to paste some more bible verses and supermodel pictures with the eyes sliced out on my bedroom walls.
With this incongruity now clear in my mind I realized that humans have for the longest time delved into the minutiae of the unknown. They have come up with ingenious and ingeniously stupid conceptions of the mechanics and structure of the universe. This is a very expansive topic that some believe, such as those that buy into magic or it’s children religion or science, explain existence in its entirety. I’m not going to attempt to go into that since I’m feeling slow right now and the answer to all those questions is right under our nose at all times. What I’d like to consider is our attempt to describe our (typically) unseen neighbors; the diverse species of the numinous or the cast that dwells behind the curtains. The crew that never rests.
The first of these that I am familiar with is the Jewish Shem ha-Mephorash which is an extrapolation on the ineffable name of God: IHVH or Yod Heh Vau Heh. The old Kabbalists took the four letters and expanded them into 72 names with the aid of three compounded verses found in the Book of Exodus (14:19-21). This extrapolation not only “simply” provides seventy two names with which to know the lord but a cosmology of angels and intelligences of various rank that rule in the Lord’s stead. As the Kabbalistic view of the Universe developed these powers would be attributed to different paths (which were derived from the letters of the Hebrew alphabet) and Sephiroth (derived from the ten basic numerals) which further explained their place and purpose. By the time that ceremonial magic was being firmly established in the modern world, in the late nineteenth century, the spirits of the Shem ha-Mephorash were allocated to different positions in the astrological starscape and with the Tarot.
Late-Antiquity gave birth to the Celestial Hierarchy of Pseduo-Dionysius which provided the mediaeval church with varying orders of angels. Pseudo-Dinoysius evidently had access to the order of the heavens and communicated this to mankind all the way down from the brilliant Seraphim to the run-of-the-mill Angel. Magicians such as Johann Reuchlin would make use of Dionysius’ Hierarchy to later evoke and hold conference with these spirits. The late Middle Ages gave us a very important man with a very long name, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, who kindly and humbly shortened it to Paracelsus or “Greater than Celsus.” Everyone who has ever benefited from medicine needs to say a quiet thank you to Paracelsus since he really invented the modern concept. When not jumpstarting human medical technology Paracelsus was busy being one of the most famous alchemists and magicians of all time.
Paracelsus invented the “Alphabet of the Magi” which was used to communicate in various ways with angels and (re)popularized the four classical elements as well as the three alchemical ones. More importantly for our purposes, it is in the writings of Paracelsus that we first find the groupings of elementals; beings attributed to the four elements and descendants of the Greek nereids, dryads, satyrs, and other nature spirits. These four classes of beings, salamanders, undines, sylphs, and gnomes, were said to be representatives of fire, water, air, and earth respectively. While today we have a much more expansive and correct table of elements (Paracelsus did name zinc) modern magicians justify the four by way of allegory. Something that is fiery could be the strong nuclear force, internal combustion, our beating hearts, or even our passions. Conversely earthly things could be seen as our monetary systems, fossil fuels, or cave base aliens. Or I’m mentally unhinged after years of studying magic and see sylphs where other people would see the wisps of a cloud.
You see these gnomes or undines explain both our external and internal world. They can be seen as parts of our intelligence and comprehension, or they may be seen as little men in pointy hats, moving the Earth’s crust but invisible to the untrained eye save for when they appear in yard art. There are ways to go about calling up these creatures, and the classic Pentagram rituals teach and demonstrate a control over the four elemental qualities. So we are made to understand that these are not merely paranormal curiosities but integral parts of the composition of everything. Nothing in creation is wasted or arbitrary.
We can find this elemental scheme again in the angelic magic of Dr. John Dee, premier mathematician, and perhaps the most literate person as well, of his time and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. Dee spent years with another man named Edward Kelley transmitting astoundingly complex codices, symbols, and even another alphabet that explained existence from the viewpoint of the angels. Corrupted over time and only recently set right by modern scholarship even the hackneyed version of their system was found efficacious and edifying by those who used it. Using five tablets of lettered squares that described the four elements and the angels found within magicians were once more able to call up spirits to explain their office in the Great Scheme of Things and beseech them for their aide and knowledge.
The manner in which one goes about calling up these angels, which according to many magicians appear in surprisingly coherent form, they use the language transmitted to Kelley and Dee. Modern scholars, even arch-skeptics such as James Randi, are at a loss to explain how the scoundrel Kelley (one of their most common criticisms is that Kelley was a convicted criminal) could have come up with an entirely new language. While philologist Donald Laycock has pointed out that Enochian is not as complex as it has been regarded in the past it is still possesses a unique syntax and morphology, qualities often lacking in other invented languages. Working up from the elemental basis of the Enochian universe we find ourselves farther and farther out into the thirty Aethyrs or heavens. Beginning with TEX, the thirtieth aethyr, and ending with LIL the hardy mental traveler will find themselves encountering the angelic governors of each realm.
One of the most popular systems of ceremonial magic today, Enochian is usually found to be delightfully effective. As mentioned in a previous article, the Enochian intelligences have even been compared the modern conception of aliens based on the eerie sketch of LAM by Aleister Crowley. One facet of what makes these angels so fascinating is that they are perfectly mapped out on the various tables; their exact names, their rank, and even their office or nature can be discerned from what letters compose their being and where they are located. It is fascinatingly organized and, in many ways, perfect. Earlier manifestations of Dee and Kelley’s angel magic gave us the planetary system of the Heptarchia Mysteria where the angels are ranked according to planetary correspondences. Even in a glyph as complex as the Sigillum dei Aemeth there is a distinct and impressive hierarchy formed according to a precise logic.
Moving down the Great Chain of Being we find ourselves in the realm of demons, specifically those spoken of in the Goetia a book that catalogues seventy two fiends who are said to be the djinns ordered by King Solomon to help build his Temple of no small amount of fame. Historically, it is obvious that some are in fact perversions of old Semitic gods and goddesses that competed with the cult of Jehovah while others are demons and djinns spoken of in the Talmud and Alf Laylah wa-Laylah (The Thousand and One Nights). However these beings have been extensively examined and, if the accounts are to be believed, called up from whatever sulphurous pit they call home and made to do the magician’s bidding. In the Goetia, which is also known as The Lesser Key of Solomon (The Greater Key is reserved for angelic beings), each demon is individually described. Their description includes their sigil or sign, their appearance(s) that they may make within the conjuror’s triangle, their capabilities, even, in certain cases, their hopes and dreams! Even if one does not intend to practice the Goetia it is worth owning a copy for entertainment and edification alone. In fact, modern editions of the Goetia are usually accompanied by some fantastic Dore-esque illustrations. These illustrations are taken from the French Dictionnarie Infernal which proposes to classify and describe even more demons that the Lesser Key itself.
In modern magical theory (yes, that is a real thing) it is figured that the angels, demons, and other creatures are both subjective and objective. Some magicians propose that the entities are entirely objective and live their lives, or whatever the supernal equivalent of that is, independent of the magician. Others maintain that the creatures are drawn from the depths of the subconscious in line with Crowley’s magnificent Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic where he declares that the demons of the Goetia are recognizably unlocked portions of the human brain.
My own humble working theory is this: that there is, perhaps independently of my own mind, something akin to the Hindu akasha, the classical aethyr, or Eliphas Levi’s astral light. This “something,” as I have so elegantly named it, is accessible by different thought exercises, yoga, ritual, psychedelic substances, and/or concentration…once attained or “noticed” the magician or mental traveler is able to manipulate this substance. Now, perhaps there are archetypes that the astral light willingly assumes the shape of with the proper incantations, gestures, etc. Or this astral light is a landscape, quite like our physical landscape (though I have always perceived it as some odd mixture between second and third dimensional images), and by calling the various angels and demons one can summon them from their hideaways and heavenly abodes. These fascinating visitors have been instructive and amusing.
These grimoires, these grammars, are collections of shapes or visitors that the willing eye may behold.