I have been a reader of the work of writer Warren Ellis for a long time. His work has been instrumental to a lot of my thinking about magic and the future. Online groups he formed led directly to my professional career and to many lasting friendships. He was personally kind to me online a couple of times. I’ve quoted him extensively over the years, including in the last talk I gave and posted here.
It has become clear in the last week that Ellis has been using his power and privilege to manipulate younger women into providing sexual favours. From dozens of women. For decades.
I have heard many of their stories. I believe them all. And much of his work, and public conduct, has hinted at this. His recent attempt at an apology is an insufficient piece of corporate-speak obfuscation which covers his arse career-wise and does nothing whatsoever for the women he took advantage of.
The facts remain. He was a sexual predator, of a type especially prone to recidivism – they rarely stop, but only pause then relapse. He had a type, practiced prey selection, honed his technique and pressured the women not only to be sexual with him, but to not discuss it with others. Then he dropped them from his life if they tried to expand out of his immediate control, often with severe implications for their careers; certainly, on their lives.
Most (I am told, in confidence, not all) of what he did may have been legal, but that is not the point.
It was dishonourable. Reprehensible.
It replaced a duty of care to vulnerable young professionals and fans in his field with the attitude of a greedy child in a sweetshop.
He chose to do this. He knew better, and did it anyway.
Over and over again. Just because he could.
And now, everyone knows this. Reactions have… differed.
I am leaving my references to his work on the blog, but I have to note the context in which his words should now be regarded. And to say this…
Men need to do better.
Yes, all men.
Even if you’ve never dreamed of harming or exploiting a woman or anyone, the male-dominated cultures which permit and even exalt such behaviours have to be challenged, opposed, destroyed.
And it is men who should, need to, do the work here.
Because Jake Stratton-Kent asked me nicely… here’s the text of my talk given at the Cockpit Theatre, London, on 23 February 2020ce, between performances by Andrew O’Neill and Daisy Campbell. I’ve added a few links for context.
TALES FROM THE INTERFACE
After Andrew’s stand up comedy, here’s some sit down thaumaturgy.
The last time I played this room, I helped start a new religion.
On the last night of the Cosmic Trigger play, following John Higgs’s inspiring ‘Pessimism Is For Lightweights’ on the first night of the 2017 London run, I had the honour to perform the closing ritual, where I riffed around a concept from the science fiction writers Spider and Jeanne Robinson
…suggesting that we should become the opposite of terrorists: plotting in public to make people’s lives better. The Robinsons called this Rapturism: Higgs, noting how Google treats the word Rapture, changed it to Wonderism… and that led to the first Journey to Nutopia and brings us back here today.
It has been, to put it mildly, an interesting six years. We all know the political and actual heavy weather we are facing… but on a night like this one, I think it’s important to underline something else.
We are living in a truly unprecedented renaissance of magic.
The sheer amount, range and availability of magical information today would shock our ancestors. For a start, we are benefitting from a resurgence of interest in magic and the occult in historical and archaeological academia. The recovery and restoration of ancient documents, such as the Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri, one of the oldest spellbook we have, has led to the rise of many highly detailed explorations and modern recontextualisings of these old magicks: for example, there is a resurgence of interest in working with old school grimoires such as the Grimorium Verum, led by writer-practitioners like Jake Stratton-Kent, who balance the texts with a modern, post-chaos-magic sensibility. For those who seek a specific path, from reconstructions of lost religions such as the Kemetic revival of Ancient Egyptian magic to living traditions from the African diaspora such as vodou, you can find detailed instructions, working groups and initiators.
If you’re more inclined to find your own path, chaos magic has never been healthier: the IOT is still going strong, and we have experienced and talented authors drawing on that first wave of chaos magic, such as Gordon White, old hands like Phil Hine and one of my new favourites, Aidan Wachter.
If I was to recommend just one book on magic from the past few years as both an entry to finding your own magic or for resharpening your existing practices, it would be his Six Ways. A term he coins in it, which I have become fond of, is The Field, which he defines as
‘The totality of manifest and unmanifest reality’
…which means both the Tao and the fine array of strangeness and powers that I usually just call Weird Shit.
Western mainstream culture has also become friendlier to the possibilities of magic, partly through the rise of popular fantasy fictions.
From Terry Pratchett to Harry Potter – who doesn’t get a slide because Rowling is a fucking TERF – to the often practitioner-written urban fantasy subgenre, this permits imagining a weirder, wider world that anyone can explore, outside of religious or national hierarchies. As a result, the level of what Genesis P. Orridge called Occulture has been rising since the Sixties and has exploded in the last twenty years or so.
Much of this, of course, is due to modern media and the internet. Not only are these materials available, and usually quite cheaply or even for free, there are countless places where they can be discussed in depth. Magic is becoming simply easier to find… and more people are doing so.
This is, it has to be said, something of a mixed blessing.
More materials, and a sizeable industry to sell them, means that these grains of magical nutrition are usually found somewhere among an awful lot of shite.
Similarly, for every smart, experienced and capable magician talking about what they do, comparing notes with others as equally as they can manage, there’s dozens of far less experienced, half-trained, half-arsed dogmatic people who will happily jump into these conversations with their own agendas, bad research and worse opinions. This ends as well as it usually does.
For example: the Tumblr social media platform has developed a lively community of witches. They draw on a wide range of personal experience and research – and of course personal biases and leftover habits from the beliefs of their families and cultures – striving for ways to make magic work for them in a modern context. A lot of these witches are young women living with their usually very Christian families in American flyover states: they have developed a clever and subtle set of practices which allow them to speak with the gods and powers they feel connected to without tipping off their folks, and they have much to recommend them.
But, of course, they argue. We always do. That’s an inevitability in working with The Field… because magic is, I think, the most subjective pursuit humans have found to date. This subjectivity makes defining hard and fast rules about How To Do Magic tricksy at best, especially when it comes up against the human need for stability, structure and coherence.
So many gods and spirits, models and metaphors. So many paths you can explore. So damn many contradictions.
I’ve been chewing on my own set of these for getting on fifty years, now. The more I do so, the more I try to reconcile all these different approaches, their striking similarities and their warring contradictions, the less inclined I am to say there are any universal Rules Of Magic. Anything I come up with ends up as
“more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules”.
So, that’s what I’m bringing you tonight. A handful of guidelines that have served me well over the years, and one basic, minimalist model to underline them, which tries to navigate a path between and through the possibilities of doing magic in 2020.
The model isn’t very original: it’s basically the result of a working class English lad meeting some no-doubt iffily translated Taoism in his youth and messing about with it ever since. But, for me, it’s one that allows for the widest spread of possible magical paths and realms while avoiding becoming locked into dogma.
I’ve taken to calling it Interface Theory, and it goes like this…
Whenever we encounter something weird in The Field, there is one common factor in all such encounters, which is our minds. Our upbringing, our culture, the things we’ve read and seen and done, create a series of patterns, arrangements of symbols and ideas. Our ‘connectome’…
“a complete description of the neural wiring of an organism”.
Every pattern we have ever seen, hard wired into our neurology.
The structure of our reality tunnels is made from our connectome… and it is the interface by which we try to comprehend the universe. In the physical world, when we encounter events, phenomena, other people, the subjectivity of this gets corrected somewhat. Like the old saying goes: no matter how hard you’re tripping balls, assume that all cars continue to be real.
This does not apply so well when our Interface meets The Field, because we cannot really know what the other side of that Interface is. There’s no possibility of solid, objective confirmation of what we find there… and we can only describe it through the impact it makes upon our connectome.
The Tao of which we can speak is not the Eternal Tao: the Field described is not The Field… because as soon as we open our gobs, we’re at least a little bit wrong, due to the limits of symbol and language. We can try to find common threads between all the different recorded encounters we have of other people describing what happened when their interface met The Field, attempt to triangulate on what the other side of the interface is up to… but we can’t confirm it objectively, and I think it’s a mug’s game to try.
The history of magic is basically a fairly random compilation of the research notes of various people whose interfaces bumped into The Field, by accident or design, filtered through either just their connectome or that of everyone else who’s worked similarly. Observations become habits; habits become dogma. And, there is no way to verify if any of it is true or useful, other than by comparing notes and running the experiments.
This idea of verification is a key one. There’s a phrase in modern occultism some of you may have heard:
‘Unverified personal gnosis’.
First mentioned in print in Kaatryn MacMorgan’s book Wicca 333 but originating in the Norse Asatru communities in the 70s, it means, roughly, an experience with The Field you’ve had that doesn’t precisely match up with an existing system or mythology, or contradicts them. The term is used a lot in pagan circles… usually as a negative. The implication is that somebody has the authority to verify, to approve, what your Interface told you about The Field.
Now, the term has some precautionary value; for example, just because you had a personal gnosis in which, say, Papa Legba told you he really likes muffins doesn’t give you the authority to stroll into a group of initiated Vodou practitioners and insist on buns at the crossroads. That’s both rude and missing the point. But, it does mean that leaving a bun at the crossroads could become part of how you venerate Legba… and maybe, some day, if enough people do it too and find it fits, it could become part of a ‘verified’ personal gnosis.
I found a better pair of terms for me than verified versus unverified personal gnosis in fandom: the idea of Canon and Head-canon.
Canon is, basically, the existing texts. Head-canon is what you think the texts imply or something which you can make a case for from them.
Canon is all the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle: Head-canon is believing Holmes and Watson were lovers.
You can ‘ship Holmes and Watson all you like… it doesn’t change a word of the text, but it’s a valid and popular interpretation of it.
Taking this back to that point of gnosis, of connection via the Interface to The Field: on a personal magical level, your head-canon actually comes first. Something Happens: your connectome tries to interpret the event using its existing kit and you then try to use the result to make similar connections, or try to describe your connection to others.
That’s when the fun starts… because people tend to assume their gnosis-plus-connectome Is Truth, rather than the Interface being partly a mirror, reflecting our own reality tunnels back at us… so they will usually start arguing about which interface is True. Real.
Something I’ve come to believe over the years is that Truth and Authenticity are basically irrelevant to actually doing magic.
A huge chunk of my connectome was taken from being a nerd. I was a science fiction fan before I knew I was a magician, and that stuck. As a result, a shocking amount of my utterly unverified magical gnosis has come from reading or watching fiction rather than grimoires or histories… and one specific insight came to me from a comic book: the sadly unfinished science fiction collaboration between writer Warren Ellis and artist Ivan Rodriguez, DOKTOR SLEEPLESS, in which the protagonist delivers a stirring radio rant whose punchline is…
“Authenticity is bullshit. Never more so than today.”.
Instead, he speaks of being authentic to your own evolving inner self and calls on his listeners to experiment upon themselves, to…
“…become mad scientists. Here, at the end of the world, it’s the only thing worth doing.”
That insight rewrote my connectome. And it soon occurred to me that, though it might be debatable in some areas of life, it seems to be spot on for magic.
Because, frankly, it really looks like magic doesn’t give a fuck if it’s authentic or not.
Magic doesn’t care if you get your Four Corners in a formal ritual round the wrong way, or if you swap out archangels for Star Trek characters, if you use a bone-handled athame or a Swiss Army knife. If it speaks to you and gets your Interface positioned well enough, you’ll get results. Likely a bit different from the purists… but you’ll get something.
Those Laws of Similarity and Contagion some magicians and scholars talk about? Again, more sort of guidelines than rules. Any set of correspondences you make for yourself will always carry more weight for you, and maybe someone else will like the feel, too. But until then, shop bought is of course fine. Magic is always about relationships: the ones that arrive into your life and the ones you choose to nurture.
Here’s a small, silly and yet tenacious example of making a correspondence from my own work:
A few years ago, before I realised quite how buggered my bones were with arthritis, I was at a gig: the Tuareg blues band Tinariwen. Standing room only, my back and knees were killing me and I had no painkillers with me.
What I had was a packet of Polos…
…and an idea from another of my science fiction favourites. In John Varley’s novel The Golden Globe, the protagonist has to quickly stow away on a spaceship with little oxygen. The only way they can survive the trip is if they sleep through it… and they have no sleeping pills. Just a packet of aspirin. So, they settle themselves into the cargo hold, and meditate on the idea that those aspirin were Very Powerful Sedatives. So powerful that they would knock them out for the journey. They took an aspirin – just one, because two would be Too Powerful, and settled in… and fell asleep for the whole journey.
So, I took my packet of Polos and meditated on them as being Very Powerful Analgesics.
I cast a spell that said Polos Are Painkillers, and carefully took one. Just one, because two would be Too Powerful. And the pain eased off.
Ever since then, for me, Polos are a magical painkiller. Pretty sure that’s not on the packet: it’s certainly not a Verified Gnosis.
Magic is one of the few activities where Doing It Wrong works pretty much as well as anything else. After all, who truly has the authority to say what counts as Wrong here?
Tradition, as the saying goes, is just peer pressure from dead people.
Which is not to say you shouldn’t pay some heed to either tradition or what appears to be the dead: both have much to offer. But, simply put – they were then. This is now.
That brings me to consider this: a great deal of what crosses the Interface from The Field seems to act like some kind of sentience: call then gods or demons, angels or aliens. You can split magical theories about this into roughly 3 types:
…the Energy Model (it’s all Ch’i, The Force, in various forms), Spirit Model (there’s spirits, they do stuff, lots of different types – basically, pantheism) or Psychological (it’s all just my Interface talking to different bits of itself, yer basic atheist position).
My own beliefs tend to a combo of Energy and Spirit, with the Psychological staying entirely within my end of the Interface. The reason I stay away from the hard-atheist variant of the Psychological model is based on a lot of experiences where it seemed like something that really isn’t me, or in many cases isn’t even remotely human, has communicated with me in various ways. And, most importantly, treating these encounters as if they are with actual intelligences works really well… and treating them with disdain can go very badly indeed.
Think of it as good manners, if nothing else. Never a smart move to say to a possible friend and ally “I don’t believe you’re real, I think I’m just talking to myself”… especially if said being could cheerfully fuck up your life completely. Even if, perhaps especially if, they are supposed to be a fiction.
Truth be told: one of the longest and most valuable relationships I have had with an intelligence from the Field has been with John Constantine. To me, Conjob is at least as real as any historical or mythological being: always a valued colleague, but never, ever, a friend.
But how those seeming intelligences behave is often clearly influenced by our connectomes, our idea of what such beings should or could be, and there are so many pantheons, some of which overlap but most of which clash. The idea that the Interface mediates comms between us and Them, provides a lingua franca between our minds and The Field, helps me deal with this multiplicity without getting into arguments about which is more Authentic. As Alan Moore notes, ‘the one place we know that gods and spirits certainly exist is in our imaginations‘.
The question is; how much of their nature is imaginal and how much… something else, something reaching across the Interface?
Think of the Interface as a meniscus…
…that thin and paradoxically strong threshold layer between air and water. The meniscus is host to its own separate ecosystem of plants and animals, partaking of both layers, both worlds: but, seen from above, it’s hard to tell which beasties live in the meniscus, which live below it, and which can move between those realms… until they move.
This is a good time to emphasise that what happens across the Interface can never simply be an assemblage of our experiences and biases. The other side can, will and should surprise us… which I am sure Daisy will testify to later.
Here’s an example. One of the best magicians I read on a regular basis is Craig Slee, also known as Mister VI, creator of the blog Cold Albion. Craig started out in chaos magic in the Eighties, like so many of us, and among his workings, he tried, as well as an uninitiated Cornishman can, to go to the crossroads and speak with Papa Legba. He did the work, he waited… and Legba spoke to him.
What Legba said was basically this:
“Hi. Thanks for dropping by, but you’re not one of mine. See that bloke over there…
…floppy hat, one eye, two ravens? You’re one of His.”
Craig became, without planning to do so at all, an Odinsman: a relationship which transformed his life and magic.
I have always liked rephrasing the idea of Order and Chaos as a balance between Structure and Surprise. The Interface is our structure to be with Tao, The Field: we should be ever open to the possibility of Surprise.
Aiden Wachter’s book Six Ways has a couple of different definitions of magic: the one which particularly struck me is this…
After all, what is more surprising than falling in love?
For me, it’s never been about doing magic because I sought power or felt drawn to a specific pantheon, or to be cool – because where and when I started out, it was not cool at all…. It’s far more I just fell head over heels in love with magic as an intrinsic part of my life. Something to be wooed, rather than conquered. To build a relationship with.
I was, in a word, enchanted.
My Interface picked up the habit at a very early age of seeking out strangeness, looking for magic in all the ‘wrong’ places. And, to my delight, I found the wrong places – back alleys, science fiction conventions, cinemas or car parks or sex clubs or bus stops – could be as magical and enriching as any ancient monument. As a result, much of my life has been spent in an act of re-enchantment: of sharing the delightful possibilities of The Field, showing that you don’t need special tools, expensive robes or a precisely constructed magical space… though all those things are nice and can certainly add to your magic.
All you really need for magic is to be open to the possibility of falling in love with the Field. And then, the stories and patterns and symbols you associate with that love become part of your power. A method or ritual you’ve worked with, something that truly calls to your deepest Self and across the Interface to its denizens, becomes as intimate and utterly all-encompassing as singing the song you fell in love to. And, the more you and the Field talk, the more your connectome and Interface shape themselves to fit; like an old married couple who know each other intimately and deeply, that dialogue can be damn near telepathic.
Some places, to be sure, seem to carry more possibility of this than others. That horrible old Victorian term, trotted out every Halloween of ‘a thinning between the Worlds’, does have some truth to it… some times and places just seem thinner, both straddling and encompassing that meniscus. Magic itself can be seen as a threshold state, a quintessential liminality: some thresholds you find, and some you carry with you.
As a result, there is no better advice to a magician than to really get to know your own patch. You have to be fully within your environment, be open to its possibilities, wherever you want to do magic. Start with your immediate neighbourhood: find those odd little corners that feel a little thinner; talk to the local plants and animals and other inhabitants, and perhaps leave them small offerings. Find somewhere that ‘sparks joy’, and make it sacred to you and to anything else that may pass by. Those threshold points are as vital to an ongoing magical practice as breathing, grounding, raising and banishing.
Love them: protect them.
It is that love, that intense passion for something that fits into your soul like a missing jigsaw piece, that I think is the core of doing magic. Rather than the borderline fascist idea of the Pure True Will so beloved of Crowley and his lesser imitators, I think it’s loving the act of magic itself, and all that you connect with it, that provides the impetus for magic to, for want of a better word, work. Empty ritual does nothing, regardless of origin, especially if it doesn’t connect to you other than superficially. The rites and symbols that stir you… they’re the ones the Field takes interest in and responds to. Like any good relationship, it’s about reciprocity.
Typically for me, I only really understood this by falling in love with, and becoming a citizen of, a place that does not physically exist.
Hookland was born from the mind of writer and cunning man David Southwell (shout out if in the house). One time, he was at the BBC and managed to blag a taxi ride home with J.G. Ballard. They talked a lot about writing and Ballard said to Southwell something which changed his life.
“You need to write about place: nothing else is worth a damn.”
A couple of years later Southwell had what can only be described as a download – over a few days, the history, folklore and magic of a lost English county poured from the Field through his Interface and onto the page, and he called it Hookland.
The mythology of the county, rich with a deep retelling of Albion’s folklore, has grown hugely, many folk finding its weird darkness oddly friendly and welcoming, contributing to this open-source mythos – among other things, it’s birthed art, several horror stories, a film plot and even a pair of orchestral suites. Hookland summons a remarkable act of magic: creating a spirit of place for a place with no physical form. A simulacrum of authenticity… but one real enough for people to fall in love with. And I did. Through my relationship with Hookland, I found a personal path into the English Cunning which awoke in me a connection to place I’d never known before. The Ghost Soil – David’s term for the ancestral memory of Albion, under our feet and available to any who sweated or bled into it, no matter where they were once from – opened to me.
As I said: we are living in a great magical renaissance, beyond even that of the 1970s weirdness which helped to birth Hookland. Unfortunately, not everyone involved in it plays well with others.
The 21st Century could, frankly, do without a return of fascism: but, for whatever reason, we are stuck right in the middle of a rise in xenophobic popularism supported by entrenched political and financial might. They take attention; they take money and power. And, they are definitely trying to take magic for themselves, too. Blood and soil for them, instead of a ghost soil for all.
Hookland has taken a very loud stance against this, especially the attempt by various Volkish movements to try and claim British folklore as both intrinsically isolationist and entirely white: a terrible lie to set upon our Mongrel Nation, a theft which lessens us all.
A resistance which builds inclusive and loving communities who can share their Interfaces and compare notes about the Field, which refuses all claims for an absolute Truth, especially one which only takes and burns and never shares.
We can be Wonderists, for more than a day. We can journey to Nutopia, and we can live in Hookland.
About five years ago, I got a message across my Interface from the Field, which seemed to come from the ancient Celtic war-goddess Brigantia. She said to me:
“A cold, harsh wind is coming. Look to the borders.”
This prophecy is the reason I got the White Horse of Uffington tattooed on my arm on Referendum Day…
…a piece of Old Albion in my flesh and blood. And it’s why much of my last few years, when I’ve not been doing Discordian magic with this lot, has been spent on a series of anti-fascist, specifically anti-Brexit curses working with the band The Indelicates, based around their Juniverbrecher album, which reveals Mister Punch, Jimmy Savile and Boris Johnson as avatars of Albion’s dark heart. We tried to banish Mister Punch as best we could, in 3 rituals culminating in our Hexit working of last Halloween.
We could not stop Brexit. But, I think you’ll agree, it’s cursed to shit.
That cold harsh wind is blowing now, literally and otherwise. And rather than making our borders harder and more exclusive, we need to open them – across nations and between ourselves and across the Interface deep into the Field.
To make all of our borders semi-permeable membranes like the wall of a cell, allowing nutrition and information to pass through as it needs to.
For a cell which shuts off its borders completely is destined to die, and I’ll be fucked if I’ll let that happen to my home.
That’s my time done, so let me just quickly sum up.
Last Halloween, in a virtual gig before COVID-19 made it cool, The Indelicates and I teamed with a range of pro-EU artists for our third pass at cursing Brexit.
We couldn’t stop it. But we cursed the SHIT out of it.
Today, in the face of Johnson’s cowardice and idiocy in the face of these awful times, for reasons we can only guess… it’s time to re-up the Working.
Here’s my original script. Sing along with the tune at the bottom.
let’s get him gone by the 31st: Seven months to the day after I told him “you will wish you had died in a ditch”.
I speak here tonight as a cunning-man of Albion; bound by oath and mark to walk the borderlands and protect my tribe from the dark. And we of the cunning have ever known that borders are not walls.That crossing them is the point. That without people from everywhere else crossing the shores of Albion, there would be no Albion. That crossing a border changes you. And that some people fear change, and hate difference, so much that they would wall up every border there is, no matter who that harms… even themselves. Those borders which the cunning protect are porous and open to all but that which means harm… but harm comes all too often from within. The cunning is about relationships. Only a fool burns their relationships for no good reason. Only a dangerous and selfish fool burns other people’s relationships for profit or ideology. I took my Oath and Mark on Referendum Day, 23rd of June in the year of Their Lord 2016: the Mark of the White Horse, to have Albion in my flesh and blood because I could see the dark was rising. Twice now, my kith and I have stood to oppose the vicious poison of Brexit Hate, and twice have I cursed that enterprise of blaming Europe and using that to wrap fascism in the Union Flag. And now, twice I can say, despite the lies, the bribes, the corruption and the death… We’re Still Fucking Here. We stand again on the threshold. We have cursed them, we have opposed them, but still they push on. Still they claim The Will of the People they deceived, the authority of a Democracy they undermined. We stand for all peoples of Albion: a Mongrel Nation, because all the first natives of these islands drowned ages past in Doggerland. The ghost soil of Albion grows richer for every new person who walks it, and we reject none who call it home. And the ghost soil knows that all who have walked here, sweated and bled here, are part of its story. Nobody gets to rewrite that; to lie about our shared past and make it whiter than white, spin a false tale of purity and sovereignty. Nobody gets to use the myths and legends of Albion to destroy its people, to banish them from walking the ghost soil. Not without cost. It is time to pay up. So once again, by the power of the cunning and in Albion’s name, I call the forces we have raised against the predators, thieves and crushers of hope. I first call Elen of the Ways, she who makes the paths free and clear. I call all the ancestors, gods and Fair Folk, wherever they first came from, who are part of Albion’s mixed and complex soul. I call Brigantia, warrior goddess of Boudicca. I call Arthur and Merlin and Robin Hood. I call The Wild Hunt and Black Shuck. I call the warriors of these isles from the lost past and history known; from Wat Tyler and Jack Cade – he who first called Black Shuck to aid the poor, women and children – to the Suffragettes and those who fought at Cable Street and the Battle of Britain and the Poll Tax riots. I call Saint George, Turkish mercenary, and I call the Dragon entwined with him. I call William Blake and Austin Osman Spare and all the artists and poets who saw Albion most clear and told its rudest and most honest truths. I call John Constantine, The Laughing Magician, patron saint of back alley magic and master of synchronicity. I call all the nameless ones, the forgotten dead who ever stood between hope and fear, compassion and rejection. I call upon all these powers and principalities once again to defend the oppressed and to oppress the indefensible. And I call upon all listening at this time to reject the dark heart of Brexit hate, the wicked song of Mister Punch, and to stand with those who refuse fascism and bigotry. May the cunning aid and keep you all. And now I call on other forces to aid us at this threshold point. The politicians who lied about Brexit, who misled the folk of these lands, have broken their oaths. They swore to “do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”, and they broke this oath. The ones who chose to treat leaving Europe as a war have broken their essential oaths by treaty to the people of those nations also. The Queen, to whom they swore fealty, likewise swore on her coronation to “cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all her judgements”. By supporting her Prime Minister, in full knowledge of his malfeasance, she also broke her oath. The Monarch and her government are out of balance with the Land: the Land stands above and beyond them all. And so, I call forth Horkos, son of Eris, he who brings full consequence to oathbreakers, to have his way with them. They refuse us justice? Then we will take our own. I call all the spirits of the wronged dead of austerity, racism, homophobia, transphobia and violence against those of us who do not fit their pale and narrow ideals of Normal, to claim the vengeance which they are owed. I call all the powers of Albion and beyond, from fact and fiction, myth and legend, named and unnameable, on behalf of all the good folk of these isles and lands to three tasks: To heal and protect all in these isles from the worst deprivations of this unnecessary strife: may those who saw the dark rise be given the light they need, and may those fooled by the liars and thieves have the scales fall from their eyes… but knowing that before forgiveness, they must make restoration to gain our protection. To unite all the peoples of these tiny islands, no matter their origin, against the darkness and hate of these times, to stand against fascism. To render those who willingly supported these cruel actions against the land and its people as Thrice Without: May they all be left without money, friends or luck. They are scented as prey to every beast and demon that ever walked these isles: may their souls be torn open and left to be fed upon. Thrice now we have stood to bind and banish the darkness we have named as Mister Punch. To the current host of that dark spirit, Alexander Boris De Pfeiffel Bloody Stupid Johnson, I also gift this… You think yourself cut from the same cloth as Winston Churchill? Very Well: May the Black Dog haunt your steps evermore. You will wish you died in a ditch. We see you all. We see you very well. We know who has been doing it, and We Will Send Them Back.
A brilliant, visually and sonically dazzling science-fiction-themed ultra-black comedy about the pretensions of ‘philosophical’ male cinematic auteurs, portrayed through the lens (and, entirely, male-gaze) of a po-faced ultra-luxurious veneer of future-rich spa-dwelling supermodels in lingerie as fridgable objects for the heroic male protagonist’s moral struggle with being MALE AND POWERFUL AND PURE, combined with achingly shallow ‘deep’ voice-over monologues, ending with the last bitter joke of said protagonist (named Vessel 17, for his and our sins) running in slo-mo along the seashore hand in hand with his previously murdered girlfriend after being involuntarily committed to this ‘care facility ( a lovely bit of architecture) by his mum, played by Abbie Cornish… though it’s all a simulation in his dying mutated mind.
It was that final sick gag that clinches it for me as the first great science-fiction postmodern parody.
The first truly great SF comedy of the 21st Century , I will explore how the way the film uses male gaze to dissect itself and its preferred conditions of women in peril as both muse and human sacrifice *to* the male…
*reads interviews with co-writer and writer/director*
Oh, they meant it seriously.
They seriously meant it?
Even the monochrome raping and baby-eating slo-mo scenes, all that Iron John Hunted The Mammoth shite??
The writers and director somehow chose this film, and that seashore finale particularly, put this film out there in full seriousness, and not to make the blackest comedy about modern HOLLYWOOD?
Nah, must be a joke. I will spend my life finding the truth of this!
Blimey, it’s been a long time since I updated this blog! There are all sorts of reasons: quickest way to sum these up and give you a clue as to what I’m doing next is to reproduce my latest newsletter…
CATERWAULING 17 June 2016ce
In which your narrator reboots after a crash
I am truly sorry about the gap between the last newsletter and now.
Basically, I did a lot of things, was too busy to write about them during them, and then fell over hard afterwards.
It’s something that never used to be talked about much concerning the effects of chronic illness (in my case, over a decade of Type II diabetes) – your body simply has less ‘energy’ to go round. Doing things, especially things involving a lot of travel, becomes incrementally difficult. Activists on these ‘invisible illnesses’ have come to use the metaphor of ‘spoons’ to describe this effect. I did a load of stuff, then I had no more spoons.
Here’s the things I did…
2nd of April was the marvellous Spirits Of Place event: hosted and envisioned by John Reppion. I was on the bill with some remarkable people, talking about the power of landscape, especially that of Liverpool and its environs. My talk, ‘Where The Buddleia Grows’ was on liminal spaces in urban magic, and seemed to go down well. You can read the text version over at Medium. Was an honour to be in that crew: meeting old acquaintances such as the great Ramsey Campbell and making many new friends. I also took advantage of the chance for a serious night of drinking with my partner-in-crime, David Southwell of Hookland fame.
On the 23rd of April, headed to That There London. I was called in to assist with a public magical working for Daisy Campbell and the Cosmic Trigger troupe: the immediate reason was that the gang were about to submit their bid for Arts Council funding for a second wave of the play next year. As a token of public interest in support of this, a Indiegogo was set up for that day to sell 123 tickets to the last London night of the show (which will happen, with or without the funding… but obviously it’ll be a lot easier with), and of course the first thing Daisy wanted was a ritual to nudge this result. In the middle of Hampstead Heath. The spirit of Eris was fully manifested (in the sense that a shitload of things almost went too wrong but not quite) and the Mischief was Managed. By the time we’d got a couple of rounds in at a nearby hostelry, those tickets had all sold. Took a little under three hours.
(I also got to crash at Daisy’s mum’s flat: which had that specifically odd sensation of sleeping in the home of a former Bond Girl.)
The last weekend of April, brought the extraordinarily fun and gorgeous Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival. This 4 day event brought the cream of international performers to our little town & its environs. (This event is so inspiring that I wore four different outfits, none of which was in black!)
The peak was the glorious Perle Noire: seeing her perform was like watching the child of Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt dance her exquisite arse off. A gracious woman, both on stage and off (had the chance to pay our respects in the pub after). Yet another triumph for our local community, and further proof that not even a flood can keep this town down.
The week after that, I went back down to the Smoke, to see one of the last performances of KEN: Terry Johnson’s play about his friendship and working with the late, great Ken Campbell, with Jeremy Stockwell in the title role. As Ken was a big influence on me in many ways (from seeing his staging of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy at the Rainbow in 1980 to being the officiant at Daisy’s impromptu wedding at the Find The Others festival in 2014), I had to go. Not only were the play and the performances splendid, but I met two long-lost friends from the HHGG fan club ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha that I was an early member of! (And there was this whole part after the show involving naked people and psychedelic UV body paint. You had to be there.)
The next day was the pleasant change of going to a Treadwells event that I wasn’t actually speaking at: a one-day conference for the launch of the book The Secret Lore Of London. Christina and her gang always put on a good show, and this was no exception: the highlight for me was meeting John Constable aka John Crow, whose extraordinary shamanic and poetic work in, around and for the spirit of London’s lost was inspiring.
A couple of days back home, then down to Brighton for three days. The event I was going to was the Odditorium’s ‘Adventures On The Edge Of Culture’ for the Brighton Fringe. This featured my dear Daisy again, along with John Higgs, Melinda Gebbe and Alan Moore. This was as fascinating as you’d imagine… and then Higgs was kind enough to introduce me to Alan as a colleague.
Alan was utterly lovely. Listened to my somewhat burbling words, shook my hand 3 or 4 times… and then, when I said “there’s so much I’d love to talk to you about” said, “oh, we must go out for a drink next time I’m round your way”. Which, as it turns out, is fairly often. So, that happened.
The rest of the evening was spent nattering with Daisy & the crew (Alan had to make an early exit), which gave me the chance to natter with parts of that tribe I’d not spent as much time with as I’d liked before – people like Greg Wilson and Kermit Leveridge.
Day after was spent with my dear friends from that area that I’d not been in the same room as in years; my ex Lucy (one of the folk Neil Gaiman based Delirium in Sandman on) and her husband, the writer Adrian Bott. A fine reminder that time and circumstance don’t always triumph over love and friendship.
And then I got home and basically collapsed for a couple of weeks.
I have some spoons now. Here’s where they are being used…
Tomorrow, back down to London to meet up with more of those old ZZ9 people. Folk there I’ve not set eyes on in a quarter of a century or more, so that’ll be interesting.
On the 23rd of the month, I will be getting a new tattoo: the White Horse of Uffington, inside of my right forearm. The timing of this upon the referendum date is not coincidental: seems the perfect time for an old cunning man like me to reaffirm his bond to Albion at a time when fascist and xenophobic forces are trying to make my land into a place of fear, suspicion and hatred. (RIP Jo Cox: she was MP for a nearby community and someone who clearly had no time for fear and hatred. May she be remembered for that, and not the manner of her death.)
Following this is Festival 23 on the 23rd (natch) of July and surrounding days. It’s going to be an incredible weekend, and the latest culmination of the 23 Current I’m honoured to be a part of. I’ll be doing a reading of selected works and teaching a workshop in Defence Against The Dark Arts 101. Say hi if you come along!
Thank you reading, and for your patience in my absence! (Now over 500 subscribers.) You can leave any time you want, of course… but hopefully I’ll have more to tell you, and more spoons to jingle.
Been getting a bunch of nudges from folk I respect that the weekly email newsletter is a thing I should be doing. And, when one of those nudges consists of Warren Ellis stright-out telling me “you should be doing this”, even I can take the sodding hint.
A lot of folk are moving to this format in place of blogging or social media – I’m finding the ones I read have a personality and immediacy to them which is well worth running the experiment, both as reader and writer.
23rd November of this year was the anniversary of a lot of things: among others, it was the birthdays of both Harpo Marx and Doctor Who. It was also the first anniversary of the end of the Cosmic Trigger: Find The Others festival, which included my performing an impromptu wedding for writer/director Daisy Campbell and her long time partner Greg.
And, because Daisy literally can’t avoid biting off more than any rational person could chew, then swallowing the lot, it marked the start of the process of staging the Cosmic Trigger play… including, Eris Willing, a US performance in Robert Anton Wilson’s final home of Santa Cruz, California.
To set the process going, Daisy and the Trigger Pullers held an event in London – the first of 22, each connecting to a Tarot Major Arcana. This was the Night of the Fool(s) – and I was asked to give a (23 minute, natch) talk. I decided to look at how The Fool, synchronicity and magic connect… and opened a whole can of worms for myself in the process.
By request, here’s that talk in full, with links to quoted folk added.
Posted here for reference, one of the most important things I ever read in a comic book: the rant on the nature of ‘authenticity’ in music, personality and life from 2007’s Doktor Sleepless issue 5, “Your Imaginary Friend”.
I was also recently delighted to discover one of the ur-texts for this piece: Faking It:The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor (ISBN: 9780571226597, which has the Big Bill Broonzy information and a treasury of other tales in this fascinating area. A must-read if any of this interests you.
All rights to this piece remain with writer Warren Ellis, artist Ivan Rodriguez and Avatar Press.
It’s 1991. Richey Manic is carving something into his arm because Steve Lamacq has suggested that The Manic Street Preachers lack an essential authenticity. What’s echoing in the backstage room is the voice of Ian Brown, still saying “Cos it’s 1989.Time to to get real.” In 1999 Godspeed You! Black Emperor start releasing CD’s sleeved in untreated cardboard. Intended or not, it denotes authenticity. Keeping it real. Like brown paper bags from Muji, founded 1980: Full name Mujirushi Ryohin, which means “No Brand, Quality Goods.”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor didn’t play the media game. Half of them were anarchists, and all of them hated the music industry. But of course they had a brand. You can’t help but notice that Naomi’s Klein’s book “No Logo” had a fucking logo on the front. Godspeed’s brand was authenticity. That’s what they had to sell. And if they didn’t sell records and gig tickets, then they were just 12 guys in Montreal eating ramen until they died. Richey Edwards couldn’t be Richey Manic, THAT RICHEY, unless he sold you on the concept that he was 4 real. Ian Brown and the Stone Roses couldn’t be that band, the band of the moment with the authentic voice that turned out to be the band in the right place at the right time and raised everyone up – unless they were more real than you.
Around the turn of the century Justin Timberlake began to carry around with him a group of black vocalists, whose job it apparently was, in live performances, to declare how “real” Justin Timberlake was before he began to sing. In 1938, sharp-dressed bluesman Big Bill Broonzy who’d been tearing up Chicago, played New York for the first time. But a blues guitarist in a good suit brewing up the primal muck of rock n’ roll with drummers and bassmen didn’t seem authentic enough to the Carnegie. So the concert programme described him as a poverty-stricken farmer who “had been prevailed upon to leave his mule and make his very first trek to the big city.” And they had him do acoustic guitar blues on his own. From there to his death twenty years later, he booked pretty much nothing but solo acoustic gigs. Because fake Big Bill Broonzy was deemed the authentic version.
No matter that he pioneered electric instruments in the blues, and was also recording with people like Pete Seeger, who wanted to take an axe to the cables when Dylan went electric in 1965. He changed his story in later years, but he was clearly offended by Dylan’s sudden inauthenticity, that maybe he’d been championing a fake all along. Because no one ever knew, or every one pretended to not know, that Bob Dylan was a fictional person. His authenticity was entirely constructed. Bob Dylan and Superman are the two greatest American myths created in the last century.
Who the hell wants to be real?
In 2006, Bob Dylan’s playing ” The Levee’s Gonna Break” Except the song’s called ” When the Levee Breaks” and it’s by Memphis Minnie. And she’s playing it in 1929, a few years before she moves to Chicago to tear up the town with Bill Broonzy. Who’s Memphis Minnie? One of the other great electric blues pioneers. And her name is actually Lizzie Douglas. And she’s not from Memphis either.
Authenticity? Authenticity is bullshit. Never more so than today. We can be anyone we can imagine being. We can be someone new every day.
You know why Grinders never got any respect in this town?
See if any of these comments are familiar:
‘You should be happy with who you are.’
‘That stuff is just fake.’
‘Don’t get any ideas above your station.’
‘Take that shit off.’
‘Why can’t you be like everyone else?’
We are not real enough. We are not authentic to our society. Free speech does not extend to our own bodies.
But you know what? Back in the days before the internet, a kid called Robert Zimmerman said, “Fuck that, I’m going to be the man I dream of being. I’m going to be someone completely new and write about the end of the world because it’s the only thing worth talking about.” And that was one guy in Minnesota, in the same decade the telecommunications satellite was invented. Imagine what all of us, living here in the future, can achieve.
Be authentic to your dream, be authentic to your own ideas about yourself. Grind away at your own minds and bodies and become your own invention. BE MAD SCIENTISTS.
Here at the end of the world, it’s the only thing worth doing.”
And because it’s just not been a busy enough week…
I’m involved in a new project, Anomalous Engineering.
Anomalous Engineering is the banner under which you’ll find unique works of cultural investigation. Finding Meaning in the Mundane, using Pop Cultureto expand on Esoterica. Practising Word Magic and image juxtaposition to reveal the Weird, hiding in Plain Sight. Weaponised Metaphysics and Improvised Expositional Devices.
Ghost Tribes of the Future, stranded in the Eternal Now. Time travelling Malcontentshacking ontology and dropping theory bombs. Offering up uncommon futures and profane visions of the present.
Anomalous Engineering is a Label, not a Band.
I’m very excited to be be label-mates with old friends such as M1k3y P1rat3, Emily Dare and Damian Williams, and other talented folk like Jenka Gurfinkel, Steen Comer and Jay Owens, with others to appear soon.
“To a new world of gods and monsters!’
-Dr. Pretorius, in The Bride Of Frankenstein
Despite the predictions (and hopes) of some, the early 21st Century of the Common Era is not a time of less religion than before – 85% of the planet’s population profess to hold some religious belief. But… some of those beliefs are a long way from orthodoxy.
As a result of the rise in popular culture in the last century and the increasing speed and density of communications media to carry it, the modern world has a plethora of stories – avowed fictions among them – about religion, myth and magic to chose from. Increasingly, peoples’ beliefs are directly affected by these stories. Some believers take metaphorical comfort and confirmation of their own orthodox beliefs from them, some incorporate part of pop culture into their belief system… and some even take these fictional tales and treat them as the basis of their own new religions.
New Gods And Monsters is the story of these stories – how they began, how they became popular, the influence they can have on us and what they imply for a future seemingly ridden with religious strife.
This will be an expansion of my previously published thoughts on hyper-real religion, Slenderman, multi-model occultism and basically everything I care about, heavily revised and re-examined – plus a lot of new material on how mythology and stories intersect our modern world.