ART MANIFESTO: Utopian Fevered Dreams

“If you are unwilling or unable to create your own Utopia, you will inevitably live in someone else’s.”

From Patacelsus


I have it on good authority that good art manifestos start with a declaration denouncing all previous art movements and putting them on notice that they have been found out to be hacks concerned only with money. In keeping with that fine tradition that may or may not even exist, I am putting the leaders of all previous human societies on notice, we have found out that you are run by hacks concerned only with money. Most leaders who are dead are safe from the embarrassment of being found out. Those leaders currently alive don’t seem capable of shame, so for now lets just end the ritual formality of denunciation and get into it.

But what is Utopia exactly? It’s heaven, heaven on Earth. A heaven built with one’s own two hands. Everyone is in the Utopia game. Since Ur and Babylon, all of civilization has been an imitatio in divinus. Everyone wants to build “their” Utopia. Guess who’s Utopia we are living in now?

Why Art Manifesto and not An Art Manifesto? Well, to put it quite plainly, I’m not just talking about art, or the arts, I’m also talking about THE ART, the only Art really. All of the rest of it is just practice in technique. Some people are technically amazing, and an even smaller slice of people actually achieve Art without ever intending to. Many who practice The Art have no artistic technique to speak of and yet still make it work. But many, many, many, who aspire to art or The Art, fail, miserably. Because they never even try.

If you are unwilling or unable to create your own Utopia, you will inevitably live in someone else’s. Many create their own Utopias, but have neither the means or the will to build it very far outside of their imagination. This is the consequence of the Capitalist Utopia we all live in. Our Utopias either stay locked in our imagination, never breathing free, or quickly bankrupt us, or sometimes, get us locked away behind bars, either in a jail or a hospital.

Then there are some who have technique, they achieve unto The Art, and spend their lives churning out baleful anti-art, which like the flaming eye of Sauron, seeks out imagination, creativity and freedom, and burns it out of a person, replacing it with product jingles, corporate logos, and asinine TV/video ads. The products of these anti-art da Vinci’s go on to live their own lives in the ether, astral plane, noosphere, collective unconscious, whatever you like to call it.

But imagine having the means and the will, and choosing not to create a Utopia. What does one call that? Imagine not having the imagination to create a Utopia. That is the beginning and end of poverty. The Capitalist Utopia has broken your body, and hence, your mind. Or it has broken your mind, your body is soon to follow. The Capitalist Utopia is a meat grinder, and Mammon turns the crank.

What kind of art can you make these days that some jackass isn’t looking to commodify and sell? Or would it be better to say commode-ify? What kind of art resists best this trend of the endless shit torrent of “content”? What medium aesthetically and physically resists being owned and sold?

While we’re on the topic of demonology, why do Capitalists get all the fun? Belphegor is in Peter Binsfeld’s demonology too. He is the demon of sloth, and teaches mankind ingenious devices. Seeing him inside out, he encourages mankind to cast off drudgery and instructs in tools designed to eliminate work. He was known to the ancient Middle-East as Baal-Peor, his symbol was a phallus and he was associated with orgies. The Kabbalists know him as the disputer, would that more people in a labor dispute had made friends with him. What better demon to evoke for a Utopia? What better demon to preside over the end of someone else’s Utopia?

In Tibet they have a tradition of art called sand mandalas. There was once a team of monks making a sand mandala in a museum, after they had left a small child decided to play in the pretty sand, the mandala was gone in an instant! But I do not suggest you take up making Art in sand. No, instead I suggest you take up Art with chalk. Lasts just long enough, but not too long. A medium burn in a universe on fire! Let your Art adorn every surface! Let every McDonald’s arch face down with the orison of Papa Guedhe! The local block looking drab? Cook up a special haunt and make it interesting again, seal the deal with a Seal of Solomon! Chalk is cheap and so is talk! Get out there and make street Art!

(Chalkable…)

Strikes and slowdown’s were once the tools by which worker’s unions twisted the arm of capital to get what they wanted. But the union slowly became a tool of the establishment. Wages have been stagnant since the 70’s, and yet worker productivity has risen since to over 70%. The eight hour workday is an idea that goes back to 1810. Eighteen hundred and ten! We are living in the world of the future according to those people, now long dead. In the duration since, repeatedly it has been promised, more often than not in the contemporary discourse, that in the world of the future drudgery would be gone, post scarcity would render society radically differet. So what happened?

Why chalk and not spray paint, or something else more permanently defacing? Well, in the case of paint, it no longer permanently defaces like it used to. Society has become accustomed to it, works around it. In other words, paint isn’t permanent as it used to be, and permanence isn’t the point. This universe is a burning house, everything is impermanent. Chalk then is the perfect medium as message, as well as resisting attempts to commode-ify Art. Most taggers tag in paint to see how long a run they have before their tag gets painted over. As well, most tags are just names written in elaborate, barely readable script. A bunch of latter day Andy Warhols, signing their name on civilizations concrete coral reefs. Boring!

Murray Bookchin, in his book “Post-Scarcity Anarchism”, a book written in 1971, seemed to be of the opinion that a post-scarcity that provided a high quality of life, as well as a harmonizing with the environment, was possible. That was in 1971. Some might argue that we weren’t there yet, but are today. Some might argue that we are almost there, but maybe tomorrow. Many anarchists are jaded with the notion entirely, convinced that the long promised technology will never manifest, that it was a fever dream that distracts from the revolution.

The reality is startling and may cause you to shit yourself from seizures; the shock from this revelation will be overwhelming. It was the Capitalists that promised the future of post-scarcity. They lied.

Spray paint has become passé, something to be ignored on the urban landscape, not pretty enough or weird enough to grab attention. Permanent enough that it is an annoyance to the particular “owner” or caretaker of whatever bears the mark, but not impermanent enough that it becomes worth looking at simply because of its short life. “Tagging” artists have also partially pushed into the mainstream, it is no longer the universally hated pastime it was in days gone by. In contrast, chalk is too ephemeral in its duration to be worth hating or accepting. The simple fact that it is still there makes one curious enough to look. Though it is imminently destructible, no one bothers, it’s chalk, let the rain handle it.

Oh, they didn’t lie about the technology, that’s for sure. If we didn’t have it in the 70’s we definitely have it now. No, they lied about using it. They had no intention of ever improving the quality of life with it. No transformation of society was going to happen, regardless of whether or not the tech was real. The point of Capitalism isn’t the greater good, it isn’t the most benefit to the most people. It is about getting that mutha fuckin’ money. Every single other thing that a Capitalist does is auxiliary to that. Give up all that money and power so that people can live in dignity and without fear of having basic needs met? “Fuck that bullshit”, says the Capitalist. The point of a Capitalist society is so that the most sociopathic and ruthless can get more. It’s an asinine way to run a civilization, if you want it to last for more than a few hundred years, and not collapse into ruin.

How complex your works need to be is entirely up to the artist and their skill. You can go for the fully utilitarian mode of sigil work, or create murals that will wash or blow away within the week. What matters is your intent, and how much life you breath into that intent made physical. You might even find that as you make more works, that your technique and your ability to bring these works to life, to Art, grows and takes on a life of itself, that’s real Art.

And if our leaders are asinine, then why work so hard for them? It’s one thing to show up because you need a paycheck, its another to let yourself be goaded into working as hard as you can because you’re afraid one of the salarymen is going to call you lazy! Constantly on the media streams, these assholes get up in front of everyone and the gods to either implicate or out right accuse the citizenry of laziness, despite all research asserting the opposite. You have a 70” LCD TV that you bought on credit, what do you need with all that health care and minimum wage anyway? Right!?!

Not only will your works take on a life of their own, but they are also embedded there in the moments they occupy, there for any being with eyes to see them. The beings we (and I’m just going to assume that since you’re reading this you are one of those types who talks to spirits, gods, demons, etc.) talk to exist on another plane, sure, which is another way to say higher dimension. Just like the floating silvery orbs often seen over populated cities might be aliens, sure, but are more like cross sections of hyper dimensional shapes being rotated on their 3+n D axes, and less like beings from another planet in our “volume sliding along a duration” type of existence. That means that the chalk is actually not just an aesthetic statement about anti-commodification, but also an effective way to conceal your works from the mundane peoples.

Look, in the past it was sabotage, strikes, and slowdown’s that twisted the arm of capital. But punctuated events have become easy for the Capitalist and his Statist cronies to deal with. Instead, why not provide the ultimate slowdown? Belphegor makes sense as an adopted comrade spirit in these times. Corporations are now more than ever trying to foist as much work for as little pay as they can on the worker. If it isn’t overtime due to under-staffing and high volume, then it is pursuing your personal GOALS, which must meet the SMART criteria, and though they are refereed to with various anti-prose euphemisms such as employee enrichment, what they are friends and fiends is extra work. Extra fucking work, as if the shit they have you doing for a whole third of your life wasn’t enough.

I have a confession to make, I don’t think the revolution will happen soon. I do not mean to say that we should not make the attempt, or struggle in other ways. What I mean to say is that until there is a collapse, the kind that normally happens when a society spins off into massive inequality in wealth and environmental degradation, that the inertia of our collective history will deflect naturally such efforts. We should struggle anyway, however, because the attempt itself plants seeds that can be watered later, to grow in the fertile corpse of our current context. I would not deny anyone that demands “revolution now” the opportunity to make it happen. But in the succession of “nows” that pass, why not engage yourself happily? Why not make Art? Why not paint this soon-to-be corpse of a civilization, like a cemetery mortician putting make-up on someone’s gran-gran, in runes of struggle, revolution, liberty and community? If you have better things to do, then feel free, certainly, to get on with it. But if not, why not pick up a stick of chalk, and paint the world mad?

They don’t lift a finger except to count their money, and they vilify us, these scoundrels, for not wanting to drudge in a world where drudgery could be done away with. It keeps us tired, unable to absorb information as fast, and closer to docile than not. It is not a lack of technology that prevents Utopia, it is the fear of the privileged, and indeed today they enjoy such “private law” that has not been seen since the days of aristocracy. The slick haired, over perfumed, chemically tanned aristocracy of money want you working hard so they can continue to enjoy the privilege that comes from their money. Ready to play hookie yet? Ready for an, ahem, “sick day”, full of fun and adventure?

Indeed, if I should be so bold, I might suggest that one’s whole life should be a work of Art. A magical statement to echo down the ages, heard only by ears that can hear such echoes, and yet the waves of which affecting those who can and can’t nonetheless. Like Nietzsche suggests to us, “What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’” If indeed your life were to occur repeatedly in such a manner, would you want a third of that time spent drudging for a douche-bag with a watch collection worth more than hundreds of thousands of families incomes? Many think when they die the drudgery is over, and if it isn’t, would this not then be hell?

“What kind of adventures”, you ask? Well, you could do a lot of things, with free time comes choice, a thing most at least dimly remember. I could make a suggestion, why not art? Paint the town red as they say. And why not magical art, or as they used to call it, The Art. An abattoir of Art, the concrete deserts of the worlds cities blooming on a spring, summer, fall, or winter day. Any time of the year is good. Not a bad suggestion if I say so myself. I should write a little primer, a wee little Art Manifesto to rouse my glorious fellow rabble into acts sacred and profound. Why not an Art Manifesto, I don’t have much better to do. I wonder if anyone knows anything about Art Manifestos?

Who wants to live in hell on Earth? Why not then use Art to make a Utopia? Nothing fancy mind you, this present context is two breaths away from being a rotting corpse. Perhaps then we should just plant dreams in the subconscious minds of our fellow humans, and nightmares for Capitalists who hope we all stay sleeping. But whether or not we bother to plan our Utopia or with Jovian profligacy spread our Art like so many weedy species spill seeds into the wind, we should at least have a talk about Utopia. If you could live your life as a work of Art, in a civilization that was a work of Art, that might be Utopia, if you were into that. But definitely, lets talk about Utopia first.

 


Patacelsus

mal1A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.

Magical arts and sacred geographies

A few weeks ago I read an article by Maranda Elizabeth called: How Magic Helps Me Live With Pain And Trauma (read here). The article directly inspired the reflections below, as I want to highlight the importance of magical and artistic geographies when it comes to both magic and creativity.

Before I dive into the magic of geographies, I want to start with the importance of creating meaning, specifically with stories:

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. —Ursula K. Le Guin

The aliveness of story is essential to me. Art creates life. Through the magic of stories I learned that, hidden in mundane and ubiquitous objects are infinitesimal possibilities of interpretation. The first time I read the fragments of Sappho, the Anne Carson If Not, Winter interpretation, revealed to me the power of even the most broken and lost relics of literary archeology and antiquity. Sappho, an ancient lyric poet and musician, lived on the isle of Lesbos around 630 B.C. Her fragments, all that remains of her music and poetry not lost to history, “are of two kinds: those preserved on papyrus and those derived from citation in ancient authors.” (Carson xi) Yet those fragments, some extremely brief, evoke powerful insights into the past, the present, and the lives of the poet and her poems’ subjects. No matter how ephemeral, Sappho’s work, translated and untranslated, fragmented and less fragmented, has a life and power that continues to mesmerize authors, historians, poets and readers today:

yes! radiant lyre speak to me
become a voice (118)

messenger of spring
nightingale with a voice of longing (136)

someone will remember us
I say
even in another time (147)

Whether it’s music, writing, and even the most fragmented poetry, art creates powerful evocations, bringing the immaterial into existence through an experience with the material. It’s not only a process defined by reading, viewing, or experiencing the art as a “finished product”, the act of making art, the act of creation, is also infused with aliveness. We might learn to glimpse the making of art or magic in the landscapes around us, with or without obvious “authorship”. For instance, one could see magic in the delicacy of a lone wild iris, hidden away from sight, sheltered and nurtured by the shadows of a nondescript, graffiti-clad toolshed within an urban park.

doodling by Gersande La Flèche on 500px.com

The importance of landscapes to magic and creativity cannot be overstated, where the aliveness of stories meets the magic of place. As Tim Robinson wrote about his literary cartography:

These images I am offering you—the wild-goose chase of the alphabet in the sky, the waves whispering to each other under the currach, the donkey uttering seanchas from the well—are little myths, to tempt you to hear the language as if it were being spoken by the landscape. For me it was so from the beginning, as I shall explain. But is there any more defensible, objective truth in the idea of a deep connection between landscape and its language?

The names, languages and stories we use to describe landscapes around us are intrinsic to those landscapes, or at least our relationships with them. Maranda Elizabeth’s writing on magic as resistance and healing speaks emphatically of the magic of the city and the beings that inhabit them. When I use the word beings I mean those creatures, plants, objects, things, and locations— man-made or not— that end up forming the basis of the geography around us. An important such being in Maranda Elizabeth’s geography is their cane:

My first cane was black like tourmaline, a crystal used as an aid against jealousy, negative thoughts, destructive forces, and internal conflicts; I’d adorned it with Hello Kitty stickers. When I brought it home, I adjusted it to a comfortable height, anointed it with oils and prayers, and welcomed it into my life. It was a live creature come to help me out, lend me a hand, give me access to the spaces and activities that were slipping away. I used to walk for hours at a time, no destination in mind. I’m a city witch, I believe in city magic. I found signs of magic in plants growing through sidewalk cracks, symbols of encouragement in graffiti, charms and rocks found in alleyways, the sound of squirrels scurrying up old trees with fallen acorns, tiny free libraries on quiet streets. —Maranda Elizabeth

Through story, magic, and everyday use, the cane takes on a life of its own. The cane becomes a vehicle for artistic and magical expression. The cane transforms into a sword, a shield and a wand—in Maranda Elizabeth’s own words: a “magical object pressed to my palm, holding my body, giving me strength to move through the world when my bones and muscles are no longer enough.”

By creating stories and relationships, magical and artistic, with the cane, Maranda Elizabeth simultaneously creates or builds upon a relationship with their environment. Art and magic intertwine with place. Maranda Elizabeth’s article is full of magical and artistic cartography: naming and mapping their space and the myriad beings within.

The milk-crate furniture of my bachelor apartment contains jars filled with found objects from the city walks I can no longer take: petals and stones, pinecones, dried leaves. There’s a magic to these objects, too; they are reminders, tangible proof that I felt okay in the world for just a moment. —Maranda Elizabeth

The magical collection and curation that Maranda Elizabeth describes is not only a form of magical and artistic cartography, it’s also an artistic project that consists of creating art and meaning out of place and with place. This is a kind of magical artform that Anne Morris calls the expression of “a rare sacred geography that consists of a complex knowledge of place and sacred terrain”. (175) Maranda Elizabeth describe themselves as a city witch, and their love of city magic. This is extremely important to me, as I feel so many discussions about bioregional animism or relationships with the land prioritize those places that are described as rural or “natural”. The work of creating relationships with sacred geographies through art and magic should not be limited to the realms of the wild woods or faraway mountains, or even the dreamscape. These sacred geographies occur everywhere there is life and decay and being—especially in urban and domestic spaces. The material, mundane details of human life in the city influence art-making and storytelling. Though it is a landscape of a different kind, it’s no less powerful or significant, and comes with its own baggage, history, and terms of engagement.

The ecosystem, urban or rural, that we create relationships with not only directly shape our lives and art practices, but they also influence spiritual or magical workings, as Stuart Inman and Jane Sparks write about in their essay on Traditional Witchcraft: “A Gathering of Light and Shadows”, in the section “The Mythic Landscape”.

[T]he land becomes hallowed through working with it and new relationships, between the practitioner and the land, and its spirits, develops.

Choosing to consciously develop a working relationship with the environment that we inhabit can change our worldview in small but significant ways. We can reject misleading dialectics such as the opposition of “pristine” nature versus urban landscapes in order to hold more nuanced approaches and knowledge. Our artistic and magical practices, hopefully, become part of the landscape themselves and help us build towards more sustainable futures. The relationship-building between artist and earth, between magician and landscape, changes the way we view geography as something outside of ourselves and can bring us to accept that geography is a part of us, and we can accept that we are also a part of the environment we live in. As Becca Tarnas expressed recently with regards to environmental ethics: we are of this earth, and we are meant to be here. In creating relationships with spaces, land, and environments, we start thinking as creatures within an ecosystem rather than as higher-ups on a hierarchical chain of being. We also might, perhaps, move away from individualistic practices and seek to build community practices. It’s up to us, as the community as much as the individual, to find ways of healing, creating art, and practicing magic in a way that is constructive and coherent with the landscapes and geographies that surround us.


References & Further Reading

  • Anne Carson If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho 2002
  • Maranda Elizabeth How Magic Helps Me Live With Pain And Trauma The Establishment 16 April 2016
  • Stuart Inman and Jane Sparks, “A Gathering of Light and Shadows” Serpent Songs 1 May 2013, 40-58
  • Isabelle Stengers “Reclaiming Animism” e-flux journal #36 July 2012
  • Anne Morris “But to Assist the Soul’s Interior Revolution” Serpent Songs 1 May 2013, 173-182
  • Tim Robinson “Listening to the Landscape” Setting Foot on the Shores of Connemara & Other Writings 5 May 1997, 151-164
  • Becca Tarnas Talking Tolkien and Jung on Rune Soup 30 April 2016

Cover image is mine, a photograph of a shrine on a beach on Tancook Island taken in summer 2015.

This essay was originally posted at http://gersande.com/blog/magical-arts-and-sacred-geographies/.

mind_of_a_dog_

A review of Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog

A stream of consciousness documentary of fragmented memories, emotions and excerpts from the life of Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog is hardly a regular film. Do not expect a linear or well-rounded narrative. But if you love atmospheric imagery and being taken along into someone else’s inner world, it is worth to go and see this film if you get the chance.

I love art house film, but I do not regularly visit the cinema. So the response here is not the response of a “vetted” film critic, but rather a personal reflection of someone who is, on account of inexperience, very impressionable. The reason I felt compelled to write about it anyway was the fact that the film, perhaps inadvertently, posed a couple of vital questions to me.

The reason I went to see the film in the first place was shamefully mundane: I had read it was, at least partly, about her rat terrier Lolabelle. We have a Dutch rat terrier ourselves; any work of art featuring such a willful canine would have caught my attention. The film turned out to be not as much about Lolabelle herself, but more universally about love and loss, and danger too. To be honest, the friends and family who visited the film with me, were not as impressed as I was. The references to 9-11 elicited a “not again” response from our very European group. It did not bother me. If it had happened on my threshold, an event of that scale would trickle through in anything that came after.

Questions of hierarchy

The lovely thing about a film such as this one is that the free form and associative imagery enables every individual to take home something different to ponder upon. For me, the question of hierarchy in relationships arose. In this film, I felt, there is no inherent hierarchy in relationships; if there is, it is only a qualitative distinction the author makes. Her dog was, as it seemed at least, as important to her as her mother: their decline and death are given equal attention. We follow Lolabelle into the unknown; the Bardo; and we wonder what she experiences there. She is considered a spiritual being, on an equal plane of existence with us (which I believe to be true).

Yet this apparent lack of hierarchy is problematic when one considers that Lolabelle is, in the end, her pet. As their owners, pets rely solely on us, without any choice. I said: We “have” a rat terrier. Although we might look upon him as one of our own, a family member, in the reality of our society he is our property.

The film shows this poignantly when we hear how vets try to convince Laurie Anderson to end Lolabelle’s suffering at the end of her life. Yet, she decides, guided by a Buddhist teacher, Lolabelle should be allowed to live out her life in her own time (albeit with pain killers). This troubled me deeply. There are reasons to decide to end an animal’s suffering when death is near; there are perhaps also reasons to decide to let an animal live out its natural life and only ease their passing. I have buried quite a number of pets in my lifetime. I am frankly always very relieved when the decision is made for me.

On the leash

In essence, our relationship to our pets can be compared to the relationship with a young child. The film demonstrates this sentiment when Anderson tells us of her dream of giving birth to her dog. The difference is that our children grow up; eventually they are emancipated, and we are relieved of this power over life and death; which I feel can be oppressing to them as well as us. What is more: only in extraordinary circumstances would a person have to decide about the life and death of their living and breathing child. Yet, in the relationship towards our animals this is a regular occurrence. We decide the range, scope and duration of their lives, the existence and extent of their sexuality. Although many pet lovers, including myself, abhor the notion, pets are in effect commodities in the way children could never be.

We mold their behavior: Lolabelle’s piano playing is indisputably cute, but clearly not a way of expressing herself. It is a bargain: she gets snacks, and we get to see her play. It is hardly natural behavior, and can we even speak of such a thing in dogs like rat terriers; especially bred for many generations to suit human needs? We are their Gods and laugh at our own creatures’ folly.

Surrogacy and hypocrisy

However loving our relationship to our pets might be, it is not always a complementary or additional relationship. Social mobility and displacement lead many of us into isolation; pets are often utilized to fill the gaping holes in our heart. In relationships with other people we are held accountable; the attraction of a relationship with our pet is the absence of this. They love us anyway. They have no choice. Our lives are often stifled, and cramped in time and space; and this leads to even more cramped and stifled lives for our pets. And, when we are no longer able to care for them, they are sometimes discarded, even though we never set out to do so.

Our relationship with the animals is tainted by this surrogacy, and also by hypocrisy.  This hypocrisy is clearly demonstrated in the miserable lives of millions of animals in the bio-industry. They suffer and die in the machine, so we and the class of so-called “lucky” pets get to eat, often in great excess. Only in their relationship with us, do the animals “earn” their worth. We do not, as our society’s actions show, endow all animals with this intrinsic value. Our pet’s relationship with us is the portal by which they are vindicated and elevated, sometimes only temporarily, from the horror of an industrial exploitation of our fellow beings.

There is great duplicity in our relationship with the prime representatives of the animal kingdom in our daily lives. I have no clear cut answer if and how this duplicity should be resolved. I do think, as someone who has lived with and loved pets all my life, it is good to be aware of these issues. I am not advocating the abolition of pets: I cannot imagine my life without them. But our understandable desire for communion with them, has numerous problematic side-effects. Even as I personally endeavor to do no harm (which for me is striving towards an entirely plant-based lifestyle)through my pets I am still a cog in this maelstrom.

I realize this review turned out to be less about the film itself, and more about the questions the film posed. If the object of art is to make you think, this film certainly succeeded in this respect for me.


linda-and-puk

Religious by nature, Linda lives in Dutch suburbia with her family and pets. She is an avid gardener and a budding writer. She blogs at theflailingdutchwoman.wordpress.com.

 

 


Culture Weaving

It is not very well-known outside of anthropology just how much culture (and our enculturation from the day we are born) shapes the way we think and how we see the world. Our consciousness takes shape within a social container. A larger piece than you might think of your own personal identity and personality has come about as a response to your social environment, whether embracing or rejecting aspects of the society into which you were born and/or exist within now. Culture is a powerful force that shapes societies and, yes, individuals.

In a hyper-individualistic culture, like that in the U.S., hearing that culture shapes our personalities and identities might chafe. We’re all self-made men and women, right? Nobody/nothing makes us think things or be any way other than what we choose – we’re independent thinkers and islands of selfhood!

Except that we aren’t, not totally. Humans don’t actually work like that. Humans are social creatures, and culture permeates our minds. But our culture has decided that every man and woman is an island (which might come together in a nuclear family archipelago, at least), and to shape our society as if that were true… which causes problems. It detaches us from our community, and erases the community’s role in personal development, in collective responsibilities, and all manner of things. The culture re-styled us as islands, but we’re not, and delusions like that wreak some havoc with the functioning of systems like societies, and even personalities, making them maladjusted and unsustainable. They often carry that corruption forward and affect other people, society, and even other societies detrimentally.

In a question of nature vs. nurture, people in this culture don’t usually realize that culture is both. It can nurture, but it is also nature – the environment we develop within, as well as a natural phenomenon that evolved with/in us – inextricable. Humans aren’t humans without culture. We aren’t even capable of language unless other humans teach it to us at the critical early stages of psychological development. If we miss that enculturation due to isolation, at that point in our childhood, we’re not going to learn language at all. There will only be rudimentary communication for the rest of our life, like the other primates — even if we’re later surrounded by language and being actively taught — if we miss that window of opportunity, we will not have human language (grammar, recursion, storytelling, etc.) We need to develop within culture to be human, and it’s best if our culture is a healthy one. Unhealthy cultures/societies tend to produce unhealthy individuals.

John Fire LameDeer

Shaping reality is wielding magic, and that’s why I find culture (and religion) so fascinating. I’ve always found magic fascinating. Magic is in the subtle programming underlying what we see in front of us. Bardic arts involve being able to see and illuminate for others the influence of fine distinctions, in words and meaning and emotion. Wisdom flourishes in being fluent in this subtle language, able to understand it, speak it, and direct it.

You can trace so many of our problems back to culture and mistaken conceptions / bad memes that became installed in culture and that have cast a spell of illusion on our society, making us stumble along blindly and knock over things that we need… like belonging, equality, and other aspects of healthy relationships with each other and with nature; the intrinsic value as well as the instrumental value of each person/being so that we won’t treat each other as mere means but always also as ends; contemplative time to develop our minds and sense of subtlety/spirit; and so on. The lack of these in our present culture can be laid at the feet of capitalism, the Protestant work ethic, Abrahamic religion’s concept of human dominion over the earth, and such memes that have developed into chaos over time, barely contained by increasingly complex technology or systems of law, as they grew to their logical ends within the arc of history. Nature is proving them out as unwieldy mistakes, but they are still dearly held beliefs, because it’s somewhat rare for memes and their effects to be visible to people.

Since culture teaches us individuals how to see the world, a blind culture makes for blind people, unless another culture, sub-culture, or some circumstance teaches one of us to see differently than our culture sees. Most people reading this have probably had a taste of such circumstance and the experience of seeing differently than their culture taught them to see; if not from being in a minority religion in a predominantly Christian culture (especially one with roots in the healthier cultures that came before much of what ails this one) with a whole other cosmology, then perhaps from some other route to caring more about nature and community than is normal for this society, and thank gods/spirit for that, I say! You have been called, initiated, and given a responsibility. The world needs you. You can bless it.

I believe that this is like a second sight, and that learning to see behind the cultural curtains can ignite a desire to heal the flaws in the system because you can see right where they reside, how it came to be that way, how it can be undone or done better, and understand that it is within your power because we make culture, as much as it makes us. We wear it, but we weave it. We can bring our culture back into alignment with nature’s truth, and off the distorted track caused by beliefs that disconnected us from it.

Culture, religion, politics, ethics, art, personality, spirit… it’s all interconnected and mutually-influencing. As much as we sometimes like to examine them separately, they do not exist separately. We can use this holistic vision to wield a healing magic and to become culture-weavers who influence society to bring balance where it is needed. I know that’s why I’m here at Gods & Radicals, offering our community and the world my art and the insights I’ve gleaned from my experiences, education, and the meta-view afforded by walking between the worlds. I’m singing guiding songs to awaken and help my people see magic, know health, and weave in wisdom. You, my kin, should weave with me, and spread healing out into the world, setting things a-right for healthy community. Learn all you can about this world and it will come naturally, as all the pieces come together in a clearer view of the whole, and you’ll develop a trust in nature to tend toward health, wholeness, and the sustainability and stability of goodness. We just need to help smooth out the knots where ignorance and imbalance make ideas tangle and distort the whole cloth of this beautiful world. There will always be knots, but we have some really gnarly knots to work out right now, after centuries of some truly bad ideas that dominated and have been tearing the fabric, outright. The medicine of our hands, minds, and spirits are needed. Come, learn to see the patterns, so we can re-weave with stronger threads.

 

Lia Hunter

LiaHA student of anthropology and philosophy, lover of learning and homeschooling mother, Lia Hunter grew up in a conservative Christian cult and had to learn critical thinking the hard way, now values it highly, and looks behind all the cultural curtains. She came home to Paganism in 2000 and blogs at SageWoman blogs (The Tangled Hedge) and her personal spirituality blog (Awenydd of the Mountains).

The Other Gods

“Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.” Xenophanes

At the time of deep winter, the solstice, the day of the longest dark, as the Wild Hunt courses the night, my mind turns to thoughts of the Other Gods who are not like us

The Panther

Everglades_National_Park_Florida_Panther

Like most of us, I like to get in touch with the spirits and gods of the land where I live or lands that I visit. I lived for a time in Florida and there I found this task to be exceptionally difficult. I would walk the boardwalks raised above the swamp, watching alligators hunt the deep and snakes slide along the water’s surface, and I would reach and call. Often enough my calls were answered but not by any voice or energy I could understand. Eventually I made a few spirit allies and came to know, if distantly and with difficulty, a few of the ancient gods and goddesses who walked that land. 

The one I felt most often, as if she called to me more than I to her, was a goddess who took the form of a Panther. I knew that she was a “she”, and I felt her frequently in the wild and in the night. I knew she was dangerous but not unfriendly or malevolent. I knew she was as old as the oldest people who ever lived in Florida and likely much older. But for all that, I didn’t know much because what I knew most of all was that she was foreign to the world of humans with thoughts, desires, goals, and concerns that I couldn’t begin to understand. She knew me, I could feel her glance in the swamp, but I could not manage to know her.  

The Image of the Other

Chaos_Monster_and_Sun_God.png

There are gods that comfort and then there are – others. For many people, perhaps even most, the comfort derived from the divine is the reassurance provided by the thought or feeling that a humanlike entity orders and structures reality. It can be very comforting to know that a god that loves like a person is watching out for you, and indeed there are many gods who (at least on the surface) love and care like us. But there are – others.

Divinities can be conceptualized along a spectrum with four main zones, stretching from what is often called the “God of the Philosophers” on one extreme to entities that resemble the Panther Goddess on the other. In the center lies the region of the most humanlike, the anthropomorphic, divinities.

The God of the Philosophers is the ultimate God of a conceptually consistent monotheism. It is an utterly abstract and unknowable entity – the Perfect, the Good, the All-Powerful. As recognized since the time of the Pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes and repeated by Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, and many others, a perfect entity can’t resemble humanity. It can’t change, for the only change from perfection would be to imperfection. It can’t feel, for a feeling such as love or anger would have to be triggered by something external to itself which means other things have power over it and can cause it to change. This leaves us with an utterly abstract entity that couldn’t be further from the life of people. 

Closer to the center of the spectrum we find the most common and well known gods and goddesses, from the god of most Christianity to many of the gods of the various pagan religions. These are thoroughly human gods, at least on the surface. They are thought of as appearing human, they love and hate, they speak and listen. They are caring or stern fathers and mothers, ardent protectors, wise teachers, and so on. They are the gods Zenophanes has in mind when he criticizes humanity for thinking of gods like themselves. But many of us have met these gods, the ones who relate to us as if they were like us.

Further along the spectrum, but still firmly in the central realm of the anthropomorphic, we find a variety of animal divinities such as the Coyote or Crow of many Native American cultures. These are not generally divinities cast in the form of humans but they do talk, think, and act much like us. This is often the only type of divinity recognized under the guise of divinities in the form of animals. See, for example, Hallowell’s claim in his essay “Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View” that:

“Speaking as an Ojibwa, one might say: all other ‘persons’ – human or other than human – are structured the same as I am. There is a vital part which is enduring and an outward appearance that may be transformed under certain conditions.”

This, however, is not sufficient to capture either the full variety of Native American animal-like divinities nor non-anthropomorphic gods in general. This leaves the furthest extreme of the spectrum, as foreign and mysterious as the utterly abstract God of the Philosophers, but far from abstract. Here we find, I feel, the Panther goddess I met in Florida and many others besides.

It is my suspicion that this spectrum rests on the level of appearance more than reality. Or perhaps on the level of mode of communication. Nature, when it wishes, can speak to us in a language we can understand, but that does not deprive it of its hidden depths and foreign regions in which we would be lost. Gods can put on human shape, and some indeed may come from human lives, but this hardly captures their fullness.

“O mighty-armed one, all the planets with their demigods are disturbed at seeing Your great form, with its many faces, eyes, arms, thighs, legs, and bellies and Your many terrible teeth; and as they are disturbed, so am I.” Bhagavad-Gita 11.23

Even as Krishna appears to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita in human form only to unmask his foreign, utterly overpowering form upon request, even as Semele daughter of Cadmus requests to see Zeus’ true form and then is utterly destroyed by it, so the gods can put on forms fit for human minds without being truly captured in these. Perfection deprived of specificity is just another word for mystery, and the most familiar and comforting god still wears a mask. 

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so,
because it serenely disdains to destroy us.
Every angel is terrible.”

Rilke Duino Elegies

What Rilke says of angels can be said just as easily of gods, especially those who kindly come to us in beautiful forms. 

Terror and Truth

IMAG1078
Sekhmet from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I first met Sekhmet it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she terrified me. The museum has several extraordinary statues of the Egyptian Goddess of destruction and the first time I set eyes upon one I felt Her, like a blow, set eyes upon me. She gazed down upon me, with a silent growl, and it was the most powerful experience of sudden awe and fear I have ever felt. I was trapped in the sight of “She who Mauls”.

This was the goddess who the Egyptians desperately tried to placate every single day of the year, by sacrificing at a different statue each time – and this practice largely accounts for the many statues of her that survive. I fled the room, but have gone back many times since that first experience years ago.

I have come to know Sekhmet, the champion of Ma’at or Justice, at least as much as she can be known by me. Like the Furies and Nemesis of the Ancient Greeks, she is the fierce defender of law and punisher of crime, a force of chaos in service to an ancient order. She is not tame, but she can serve more humanlike divinities when she wishes. Like the Panther goddess, Sekhmet is very different from myself, and though she recognizes me when she sees me–and I recognize her–she remains beyond my ken and, I suspect, beyond the ken of any human. In facing her we face a truth and a reality that is all around us and yet which shares no measure with us. It is incommensurable with us, as the world is always in some part incommensurable with us. 

There are other such gods and goddess. There are the forces of the incommensurable unrestrained, like the Sumerian serpent of chaos Tiamat, the Norse wolf Fenrir, the Greek Typhon – and there are equally incommensurable forces more willing to tolerate our differences, such as the Panther goddess or Sekhmet. There is terror in the face of their truths, but these are truths shared in part with other gods who deign to terrify us less.

We can learn much from the inhuman gods, not least of all to avoid becoming too comfortable or perhaps complacent with their more friendly distant kin. They also teach us that our arrogance, our perception of the world on a human scale, our assumption that we are at home and that the world is for us, is a dangerous and disrespectful illusion – and most of all these gods demand respect. The anthropomorphism of so many of our monotheist and polytheist gods, if unquestioned, mirrors and contributes to the anthropocentrism of the practices with which we dominate and destroy each other and much of the world around us. 

Not Symbol but Source

La tombe de Horemheb (KV.57) (VallŽe des Rois / Thbes ouest)

Hegel, perhaps more than any other philosopher, attempted to come to grips with the differences between the gods of the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, those of the Greeks and Romans, and the theology of monotheistic Europe. His analysis is brilliant, and I would have the arrogance to say almost entirely wrong. But this only means that it provides valuable insight if reversed.

Hegel approaches the ancient gods by means of art. He claims that the nature of art is to express truth, and that art can be analyzed in terms of how well, or poorly, it expresses the ultimate truth.

The history of art, which mirrors the history of culture and religion, passes through three main eras. There is the Symbolic art of the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Classical art of Greece and Rome, and finally the Romantic art of Christian Europe.

For Hegel, art reached its pinnacle in the Classical Era when the depiction and the truth depicted were perfectly matched. In other words, the anthropomorphic forms of Ancient Greece allow for the realization that divinity and reality is ultimately human. However, eventually the truth (which has a history of development of its own) was no longer able to adequately be captured in the human form. The ultimate truth is, then, human consciousness as expressed in culture which can no longer be perfectly captured in art.

Thus Romantic art directs our attention to the impossibility of capturing human thought and consciousness in finite forms as found in Hamlet’s struggle and failure to grasp his own place in the world. It maybe just be, however, that we were nearer to the truth at least in part in the beginning than at the end – a fact affirmed by the sad state that the historical march of Spirit has brought us to. 

For this reason the first stage of art and culture is the one I would like to focus on in line with my earlier discussion. The Symbolic stage is, for Hegel, one in which truth or reality is inadequately captured through a mix of animal and human forms. Hegel sees in this a struggle to capture truth that approximates it in the symbolic understanding of animals but fails to realize that only the human form is the perfect symbol of reality. This understanding, if deprived of its larger metaphysical grandiosity, largely matches the most common understanding of the many animal forms that gods take throughout the world. The animal forms are symbolic of various comprehensible, indeed even childlike, characteristics.

This, I have been suggesting, is a mistake. What my experiences with the inhuman goddesses has taught me is that their inhuman forms are not symbols of commensurably human characteristics. “She who mauls” is in some sense more truly lion than human, though ultimately she is neither. A mask is not always a symbol, and for most of these gods their masks are far from symbols. Or, perhaps, a better way to put it is that those very elements that cause Hegel to see a symbol are the points at which the mask cracks and lets in a bit more of the reality beneath.

We would get closer to the truth if we were to think about the animals themselves from whom many of these gods borrow appearances, rather than these animals as conceived by us. When facing a storm on a mountain top, or a bull elk in the redwood forests, I have not had the experience of a symbol but rather a wild force against which my human expectations and understanding is utterly inadequate. Face a lion in the wild and you would, I imagine, come closest to understanding Sekhmet. 

What these gods offer us is an experience, not a symbol, and it is an experience  from which our relationship with the other gods takes its source. In each of the gods, we face a reality, one which we can touch in part, one which we share in part, but not one that we can encompass and contain within our own understandings. We can not fully comprehend, we can only experience and learn from this experience to respond. The beginning of this response may be awe, terror, respect, but most of all the humble recognition of the non-anthropomorphic nature of reality.  

Author

Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem

Kadmus is also the author of Nature’s Rights, available in A Beautiful Resistance–Everything We Already Are

Scarlet Imprint’s Tara Morgana and the Magic of Poetry

What is this book?

tara_morgana_slice

The book description tells me it’s about magical work and a journey, seeking a form of the Tibetan Tara mixed with Morgan Le Fay. How does that even work? I don’t understand this book. What am I missing?

Let me start it over. Again. Perhaps this time with a cup of nettle tea by my side……

Before we talk text, let me talk about headlessness. Beheadings, mine, yours. Headless statues and bleeding gods appearing everywhere. The gods, at least my gods, as if gods can be “mine” or “yours,” are asking for my head. Three paragraphs into the first preface I am reading about akephaloi and staring at a picture of a headless statue.

What have I gotten myself into?

Peter Grey, in the second preface, suggests these prose poems are what “the Fool’s journey looks like.” I agree. Because I feel like a fool when this book is in my hands, and I have no idea where we have leapt.

This is a work to be read more than once, and in more than one state of being, state of mind, geographical state even.

I’m working through this book  yet again. This short work is pretentious and banal.

And then I am gut punched, spirit sucker punched, by an image that bypasses my brain. It’s like I’m walking down an ordinary street and all of a sudden a strange hand grips me, pulls me into the hedges, and I stare at a beautiful, dirty face that speaks of love and birds, lost objects and rose-hips. I’m simultaneously confused and annoyed, and desperately trying to remember every word she utters, because I know there is meaning in each syllable, waiting to be unwrapped like a gift.

Is Paul Holman, the author, obsessed with a manic pixie dream girl (1) who doles out words like skeleton keys and candy coated E? We will each of us find who we want to see in these words. Who are you? And who are you looking for? Likely she/he/they/you are in this text.

Tara Morgana reads like a magical journal, too personal to have much meaning for most readers. Except – dammit, there is another headless statue.

This book is a found sign that catalogs found signs.

My head hurts.

I don’t know who this book was written for, or why. I don’t know who this book was published for, or why. I really don’t get it.

Except, I think it was written for me, right now, as an offering, gift, encouragement.

Fuck.

One more reading awaits me. Once I’ve lost my head.


1 – Nathan Rabin ‘defined the MPDG as a fantasy figure who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”’


I received the Bibliothèque Rouge edition of Tara Morgana for free as a review copy from Gods & Radicals editor, Rhyd Wildermuth. You can read more about this book and purchase it here.

The Mega Golem: A Review of Carl Abrahamsson’s “Reasonances”

Reasonances by Carl Abrahamsson, Scarlet Imprint 2014

reasonances

If gods can die, leaving us to wander amidst their bones in the miasma of their defuse rot, then gods can be born. Neither ex nihilo nor ad nihilum travel the lives of the gods. Perhaps some gods find their birth in the work of the magician-artist. Amidst the conquest of noise over signal, the dispersion bred of accelerated techno-empirico-capitalist-fragmentation pushing all apart into isolated well-measured sameness, what can bring about a return of some sense of the whole? It is against a background of such considerations that the book Reasonances takes form.

“Meta-programming through fiction and art is the most scientific and poetic way there is of solving our problems, at least according to me. The words affix themselves to the worlds. The worlds filter themselves through the words. The images become parts of the imaginations, the nations of images, all seeking each other out like grounded magnets, polarities or cruising sybarites of the night. If we stop and look, we can see a pattern, or several. And we can use these patterns as tools more than ever before in our own quantum quilts and our own Mega Golem processes.” (Reasonances p. 49)

Carl Abrahamsson’s book is many things: a prismatic net of reflections on Twentieth-Century occultism, art, and their overlaps; a philosophical engagement with the porous border between the magical and artistic processes; a surprisingly hopeful walking along the knife edge of market nihilism, ecological disaster, political corruption, technological acceleration and the dawning of a new way of life; an extended meditation on death and the fragmentary remains of artists and magicians past; a call for the creation of a new divinity, the Mega Golem.

Reproduction of the Prague Golem
Reproduction of the Prague Golem

“However, in the end nothing matters. But until then, some things do. Your own mind, for instance, and your own time.” (Reasonances p. 51)

Reasonances is a book of missed appointments, uncompleted artworks, lost connections. For Abrahamsson there will be no future revels with Anton LaVey in San Francisco, though we are graced with a living sense of LaVey’s life and effect as a master magician. We may never know what the moviemaker, Conrad Rooks, was crafting in his bungalow filled with computers in Thailand. But we learn in these pages about his struggle with drugs and the way this struggle was definitive for his film Chappaqua. Ever wonder what it was like to be friends with William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Man Ray, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac? Conrad Rooks tells you by telling Abrahamsson. But his final work, drawn from the void stretching from his two great films “Chappaqua” (1966) and “Siddhartha” (1972) to his death in 2011, remains a mystery. We get the sense of an expansive vision, incomplete.

We witness Abrahamsson’s love for Lady Jaye, half of the ongoing “Breyer P-Orridge Existential Art Project” aimed at the creation of one hermaphroditic entity from the lives of Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye, and are left to wonder what remains when half of that one entity has died. Genesis P-Orridge speaks as “we” but Abrahamsson speaks of loss and the dream of a new totality become a fragment.

In Reasonances we witness a fascinating excavation of largely forgotten figures at the borders. At the border of art and the occult we learn of Rosaleen Norton, the Australian artist depicting bacchanals and occult rituals, who faced social rejection and police persecution from the 1940s until her death in 1979. At the border of mysticism and science we find the German philosopher Ernst Junger and hear of his experiments with hallucinogenics, including experiences with LSD shared with its discoverer Albert Hofmann, interwoven with his experiences during the World Wars. Destruction and dispersion face off against the divine he approached through drug experimentation.

“The Seance” by Rosaleen Norton

Reasonances’ cast of characters is extensive and it weaves stories of forgotten acts of bravery and enchanting personalities that enrich and enliven the history of art and the occult while remaining challenging throughout. What are we to make of Yukio Mishima’s suicide when it is understood as a work of art and connected to his blending of homoeroticism and nationalism in the milieu of the Samurai code? How are we to navigate the call to freedom in Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law when faced with its seeming glorification of violence and the rule of the strong? How truly critical of the Nazis was Junger whose work, by and large, was admired by them – including by Hitler himself? The book is consistently a work of provocation, seeking to inspire questioning and action without dominating its reader with prefabricated solutions or simple answers.

We could go on to explore the extensive interviews with the Thelemic moviemaker Kenneth Anger, or the exceptionally careful orienting of the life and works of the important novelist Lord Bulwer-Lytton within the occult circles of 19th century England, but ultimately all of these stories and histories are examples of Reasonances’ larger vision – the dream of the Mega Golem.

“As an experiment, try to leave the hermetic and arcane frames of reference alone for a while and use instead those of artistic creation and, if you feel really daring, those of fiction.” (Reasonances p. 41)

To understand the Mega Golem we must first recognize it as the axis of Abrahamsson’s proposal that art needs to learn from the occult and occult practice needs to learn from art. The connection here is not at all unusual, as will be apparent to those with experience in the occult or with knowledge of the history of art. Cave painting, story telling, dance and music all were originally largely the province of priestess and priests, shamans and mystics – occultists par excellence. All served a vital function in bringing about changes to the world of ancient people and maintaining the metaphysical structure and nature of those worlds. Looking at the situation from the contemporary occult angle the connection seems just as obvious. The practice of magic involves visionary states of consciousness much like those used in forms of artistic inspiration, handcrafted tools and sets, dramatic impersonations of gods, poetic invocations and songs.

Beyond the historical overlap, Abrahamsson offers a deeper connection between the processes involved in art and magic. Both involve the control of causal forces through non-causal or non-rational means. In other words, both recognize that there is something about their process of creation that cannot be fully understood or, if it were to be understood, the very act of analysis would destroy the effectiveness of the process. We can see this in the overlap of inspiration and mystical experience in the creation of both works of art and magic. Each starts with the play of unconscious forces rising to consciousness, the moment of inspiration, that must then be distilled into a singular embodiment. Each involves a trust in, and channeling of, intuition. Each manifests a new reality.

This brings us naturally to the Mega Golem. Both the magical act and artistic creation suffer from potential failings or, at least, what can be seen as failings against a certain background. Magical acts can be dominated by a lower worldly will, in other words they can be channeled almost exclusively towards short-term selfish ends. Personal gain in all its various forms, from accentuating natural talents and uncovering insight to gaining money or power, often dominates magical goals even when hidden under the rubric of ongoing initiation. Art, on the other hand, can be devoid of coherent worldly will and instead merely the outcome of immediate inspiration and intuition. We might say, in the case of both magic and art, that inspiration and will need to be conjoined in a final product that goes beyond the immediate ends of the creator.

For magic to escape its solipsism and art to escape its self-indulgent immediacy each must wed themselves to a goal that goes beyond the individual. This is the Mega Golem, a new divinity built from individual artistic-magical acts and works.

“Consider this idea: new, consciously made, magical, talismanic totems as members/parts of a new divinity. Artworks of different kinds become cells and building blocks of a new pagan pantheon of intelligence, of whose essence future generations can rely on and partake. Special importance should be given to indigenous, traditional, tribal and folk culture, woven into the fabric of genuine human creation. The final times of our mercurial technocratic culture could actually help in setting this up before these new gods are properly established enough to live on through the rituals of the post-technocracy-survivals.” (Reasonances p. 30)

We might speculate that the idea of the Mega Golem owes its origin to a distinct aspect of both magic and art. In magic, particularly Chaos Magic, we encounter the idea of the living Thought Form or Egregor. This is an entity that begins as an individual or collective creature of imagination, which, once invested with will or magical energy, becomes an independent spiritual entity with its own lasting existence. Similarly, in art, the work which begins in the artist’s internal processes eventually takes flight into a world where it will give rise to its own interpretations and maintain its own unique existence beyond the intentions of the artist. Both the artwork and Egregor are outcomes of acts of creation that develop, in some sense, a will and life of their own.

The idea of the Mega Golem opens up the possibility that both art and magic might overcome their own limitations. From channeling or communicating with divinities we move to crafting them in a communal form, from creating works of art we move to creating a new world and way of life.

We get a better sense of the central role of self-overcoming in the texture of Reasonances when we consider Abrahamsson’s discussion of Babalon as a magical formula. After tracing the history of the figure of the whore of Babylon from ancient practices of holy prostitution, through the Book of Revelations, to Crowley’s own recreation of the concept he distills what he takes to be the central elements of the magical process that Babalon came to represent. This process is one of self-development through the transgression of taboos. As the author rightly points out, the process requires one to transgress taboos that are still meaningful and powerful within one’s own psyche, not just arbitrary social limitations one has already rejected. Instead, we challenge our own limits and go beyond our own comfort zones through acts of reinvention that release pent up energies within our own being.

William Blake's
William Blake’s “Whore of Babylon”

We can see each of Abrahamsson’s investigations of, and interviews with, artists and thinkers as case studies in the practice of the formula of Babalon and the uniting of art and magic in a way that might serve the birth of the Mega Golem. Similarly, we can see the very idea of the Mega Golem as a self-overcoming on the part of its inventor. Repeatedly within Reasonances Abrahamsson reveals his own occult upbringing within the context of the Thelemic Ordo Templi Orientis, the Church of Satan and the more Chaos Magic focused Temple ov Psychick Youth in his heavily individualistic understanding of the nature of human existence and both artistic and occult work. Abrahamsson claims in the concluding interview of the book that, “…everything is individual. Any collective or communal decision is based on a consensus formed by individuals. Hence, politics may seem to be rooted in ideas and ideals, but in actual fact the driving force is always individual will, that may or may not be joined by others of a similar persuasion.” (Reasonances p. 160-161). Yet this very view, while exceptionally common in today’s world and a major aspect of most understandings of both libertarian Satanism and Thelema, is a central artifact of the technocratic age Abrahamsson wishes to get beyond. T.O.P.Y., in this regard, is something of a mixed heritage. Based on the use of sigil magic aimed at self-overcoming through the achievement of personal private desires, the organization’s basic structure and goals were nonetheless aimed at the creation of productive networks of artistic exchange and support. Much like the Mega Golem itself, we might suggest that the process of T.O.P.Y. began with the individual in order to escape the contemporary prison of isolation that goes along with our almost unthinking acceptance of radical individualism.

Were the Mega Golem to live it would require a specific transformation from being a conglomeration of individual works into a united whole of its own that goes well beyond any totality of pieces. In fact, through an act of retrospective creation we would have to come to see each step in the forming of the new divinity as already implicit and necessitated by its end. We might say that ultimately each piece of the Golem will come to be seen as an expression of its being willed from beyond the individual artist or occultist. This tension between the individual and the whole forms a central paradox of the book from Abrahamsson’s early call for a renewed “…harmony with the macrocosmic, natural life force. Inherent in this harmony is the adaptation to and, importantly, reverential respect for the movements and routines of the whole.” (Reasonances p. 18) to his concluding claims about the priority of the individual. Abrahamsson rightly sees that this paradox is overcome in the moment when the creator is created by her or his creation. The artist becomes the expression of the work, as the magician becomes a vehicle for the magic. Ultimately, then, the call for an active will-driven magico-artistic creation of a Mega Golem aiming beyond the individual towards a communal and natural macrocosmic goal serves to subvert the focus on individual will. At the risk of putting the project in a way that might be a bit disturbing, each contributor to the Mega Golem serves, or retroactively will have served, the new divinity’s will. Ultimately the project cannot be fully understood from the perspective of the individual.

It is not adequate to respond to a proposal as daring and fascinating as that of the Mega Golem through purely analytic means. Instead, it calls out for an active and creative response. It calls out for a contribution. If you could create a divinity, what aspects would you have it contain? If you were to craft a new vision of reality, a new mode of life, a new metaphysical framework of meaning, what would it look like or smell like or sound like? Each of us alone in isolation at our computer screens face in this moment a communal call from the macrocosm – name me. Give me form and, in doing so, find yourself as an expression of the cosmos we all share.

“No matter what, I hereby set the Mega Golem free. This lecture and this text is the right side of its brain, perhaps one of many brains. It may be enough to give it life, or it may not. It is an occult experiment that is also artistic. It is an artistic experiment that is also occult. I have vaguely attempted to state here today that I don’t really believe there is any major difference between these two spheres. What this Mega Golem will or can do is no longer exclusively up to me. I have done my bit and the rest is now up to you.” (Reasonances p. 43)

In response to the call and in thanks for the work Carl Abrahamsson has given us in Reasonances, I would like to offer a humble contribution of my own – a part of the Golem’s heart:

An Elk hart in the shade from Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
An Elk hart in the shade from Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Something stirs –
Where once rivers flowed,
Where the ghosts of trees rest
Unremembered.
Something wakens –
From concrete
Once mossy banks,
And blinks.
It cherishes –
How the crows used to gossip in the branches
Just so,
And the stones of the river winked
With hidden quartz.
It shelters –
The echoes of days without time
When walks went on forever
And we watched clouds play tag
With our backs bruised with grass stains.
Something smiles –
Where slim stalks will grow
And angry voices will rise in joy
To demand life for the earth
The voiceful wind
The wine dark sea
The shivering wave
The silken sky
Once more.
Something remembers –
The songs we will strike
Like bonfires
In the fields at the end of history.
You can hear its voice calling us together
Hidden in the folds of the breeze
In the corners of the night
When no tread paces.
“Golem?” it asks,
“Call me Hope.”

Author

Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem .

Radical Books for Radical Kids

Over at my personal blog I have a feature I call “What We’re Reading,” where I talk about what books I’m in the middle of and what I’m reading to my kids. I’d like to share a few of the books we’re reading that might relate to readers of Gods & Radicals.

AisforActivistA is for activist is a fantastic board book for babies, children, and grown ups alike! It walks readers through the alphabet, from activist to zapatista, educating people on collectivist and community ideas. Bright colors, plays-on-words (in more than one language!), and find-the-cat on each page make this book a lot of fun. I have found it a great way to slowly start discussing political ideas at an early age in a way that is non-polarizing. Plus, it always impresses the pants off adults when a kid can tell you that vox populi means voice of the people! Thanks, Innosanto Nagara!

You can purchase this book straight from the publisher, in English and Spanish. Plus, there is a publisher in Sweden who translated it into Swedish! I’m looking forward to adding the next book, Counting on Community, to our bookshelf.


 

Another beautiful board book is Kim Krans’ Hello Sacred Life. Krans is the creator ofhellosacredearth the fabulous Wild Unknown tarot deck (one I use regularly). Her simple book for the very young is a favorite in our house. The pictures are simple and exquisite, encouraging a reverence for the entirety of the world around us.

In my opinion, this book is appropriate for any family from any religious or spiritual tradition. Babies will love the colors and soothing repetitive quality of the words. Parents will love how easy it is to read. Personally, I find it quite relaxing to read – and we read it a lot!

For older kids, a fabulous book on gender diversity is Talcott Broadhead’s Meet Polkadot. Using a fictionalized version of Talcott’s sweet kiddo to demonstrate the myriad ways gender can be expressed, kids get a lesson in the basics of gender theory, lived experience, and ways they can be an ally.

This is a book that can be read on multiple levels. It’s very wordy, so when I read it to my 4 year old I might not read every single word, but read the bigger points on a page. For my older kid, I will read all of it. This book has led to some great discussions in our house! I love that my kids know transgender people in real life and in stories – and this book helps explain a lot of what that means. When we meet people of any or no gender they already have a bit of language under their belt, so they don’t have to get caught up on words and theory, and can jump straight into getting to know people as people.

Click on the picture below to purchase this book directly from the publisher.

MeetPolkadot

 


 

Last, but not least, is the wonderful, inspiring Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. This is another alphabet book, with each letter highlighting an amazing American woman. Featuring a diversity of races, backgrounds, and sexualities, from across the centuries, this book highlights the incredible women that mainstream histories often gloss over. So many of these women were involved in abolition, socialist movements, workers’ rights, and the Civil Rights Movement. Angela Davis, Temple Grandin, Kate Bornstien, Sonia Sotomayor, WIlma Mankiller, and many others are featured here. The letter X is particularly moving – no spoilers!

Click on the image below to purchase.

rad

Each of these books revels in the beautiful diversity of our world and the collective efforts it takes to be whole, healthy, and thriving – that’s my take away, at least! These books reflect the values I wish for my kids: freedom of self-expression; love of this embodied and created world; virtues of strength, justice, and solidarity with others; feminism, socialism, and beauty.

Another aspect of these books I want to point out, one that your kids probably won’t appreciate, is that all of them are published by independent presses; three out of the four books were the impetus for their authors’ publishing companies! You can order these books directly from them or you can order them through your local, independent bookstore.

 

*Important note: this review is in no way suggesting that Gods & Radicals as an entity endorses these books, or the purchasing of them. These books were purchased by or borrowed from the library by me. The authors have no idea I’m reviewing their books.