I had the great pleasure of giving a talk about Slenderman (based on my two Darklore articles, but expanding on the practical occult aspects) at the celebrated Treadwells bookshop in London on 25th November 2013ce. Now, the video of the talk is available on YouTube.
If I can clean up the audio, I’ll post the Q&A session later.
As I had a few requests for it, the transcript for the original script is below the cut – but you’l have to watch the video for my hilarious improvisations and my appalling Alan Moore impersonation!
(Slide 1 – title)
Good evening, thanks for coming. Tonight I’ll be introducing you to The Slenderman.
As you can see, Slenderman is an unnaturally tall, long-armed and faceless entity. In modern times, it always appears to be wearing a smart black suit, sometimes with a red tie. It has often been observed to manifest grasping tentacles.
(slide 2 – Tentacles)
It lives in liminal spaces. It can appear anywhere, seemingly at will… and it hunts people – sometimes torturing them for years with its manifestations and baleful influence, sometimes simply vanishing its prey from our world. It seems to have a special taste for our children… sometimes scarring them psychologically and persecuting them for years before it finally claims them completely – either by disappearing them or making them serve it to terrorise others. And, the legend says, Slenderman cannot be killed.
According to the legend, Slenderman has haunted the edges of human society from as far back as Stone Age times…
(slide 3 – Cave painting)
…appearing as a figure of fear in many ancient societies as wide spread as Egypt…
(slide 4 – Hieroglyph)
… Europe, Asia and pre-Columbian America. It has been associated with mythological monsters ranging from the noppera-bō …
(slide 5 – Noppera-bō slide)
…of ancient Japan to Der Ritter and Der Grossman…
(slide 6 – Der Ritter)
…of Medieval Germany.
Since the the arrival of the internet, Slenderman has inveigled its way into the very consciousness of the modern world, manifesting in every form of media and often wreaking technological havoc in its wake. Now appearing as the subject of several video series and computer games…
(Slide 7 – Slender game)
…its influence continues to grow.
But, the thing about that legend is… it’s less than five years old.
Slenderman’s true origin came on 10 June 2009, in a photoshop competition on the website somethingawful.com to ‘Create Paranormal Images’. His first appearance is in two images from artist Eric Knudsen, under his pseudonym of ‘Victor Surge’.
(Slide 8 – The 2 originals)
Slenderman’s image in these pictures is intentionally obscured. It can be seen…
(Slide 9 – Slide 8 with arrows)
…there and there, lurking in the background.
This pair of images and their brief text notes describing the supposed origin of the photographs caught the imagination of the site.
Those lines went;
“we didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but it’s persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…”
-1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.
One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence.
-1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.
It should be noted that the very next user comment, said,
“You just know a couple of the good ones are going to eventually make it to paranormal websites and be used as genuine.”
From this point, the comments and contributions almost entirely focussed on Slenderman.
In interviews, Surge has said his main inspiration for Slenderman came from three places – the classic Men In Black of UFO lore, The Tall Man from the Phantasm film series
(slide 10 – Tall Man)
… and The Gentlemen from the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode ‘Hush’…
(Slide 11 – The Gentlemen)
…though I suspect other influences were The Strangers from the film Dark City…
(Slide 12 – The Strangers)
…and the creature known as Cabadath…
(Slide 13 – Cabadath)
…in the Chzo Mythos game series created by Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw.
Whatever its origin, Surge’s work took hold. A huge wave of creativity riffing on his initial premise followed. More pictures appeared, including the photoshopped cave painting and hieroglyph I showed you earlier, as well as short pieces of Flash Fiction – of the type called ‘creepypasta’ – which placed Slenderman in a variety of historical periods, from prehistoric times through to the recent past. One of these stories – told as a field report from a World War II US military unit called Optic Nerve, which supposedly hunted paranormal entities – first established the idea that Slenderman could not be killed.
And, several forum members started to report – whether truthfully or not – that they were having nightmares about him. An example:
The Slender Man came to me in a dream and told me that he existed between “everything” and “nothing” and that time and matter are like toys(???), then he broke into tiny “jellyfish” like things that swam away into my radiator…
By the first ten days, two major developments had appeared which shifted Slenderman from being just another brief internet fad into something far more wide-reaching… the appearance of the first of many video series about Slenderman – Marble Hornets, which I’ll come back to in a moment – and the first time Slenderman was described using a word that would become deeply associated with him – Tulpa.
The first mention of Tulpa on SA came a mere eight days after the initial Surge post, from a user named ‘Soakie’:
Has anyone thought about the possibility that we are creating a tulpa? It’s a thought form that is realised through the efforts of a group of people. We might be creating the Slender Man, making him real.
The Toronto Society for Psychical Research did this with an entity called “Philip” in the mid-70’s. There was a book written about it, called “Conjuring up Philip.” “He” was a fictional person, knowingly created by the group. It was all fun and games until “Philip” started to take on a mind of his own. “Philip” became real, as far as any paranormal thing could be said to be real. So take all this with a big grain of salt.
How long until there is agreement about what the Slender Man looks like? When will he have a specific MO? Can the hidden superstitious heart of the Something Awful goons (readers) give Slender Man an independent existence? Think about it, a few hundred or maybe even a thousand goons, all looking at the pictures and creating the stories. I find myself looking at the shadows, imagining how they might fall together to show a lurking Slender Man. The Slenderman pulls so many primal strings: his wrongness to our eyes, the hair on the back of the neck rising, the subconscious “Nonononono” that bursts across the imagination. He drags the monsters out of the back of our modern minds. He is a satisfactory booger man, pressing all the right buttons. Even if we don’t really believe in the supernatural, even if our rational minds laugh at such an absurdity…we are cutting him out and sewing him together. We’re stuffing him with nightmares and unspoken fears.
And what happens when the pictures are no longer photoshops?
The term Tulpa was first used in the West in 1929 by…
(Slide 14 – David-Neel)
…Alexandra David-Neel in her book Magic and Mystery in Tibet. David-Neel was a remarkable woman; a world traveller and enthusiastic student of Tibetan Buddhism, she eventually reached the rank of Lama – one of the very few women to do so.
During her studies, she heard from her teachers of the practice of creating tulpas and decided to create one of her own. Rather than using a traditional figure to imagine, she chose to manifest an entity apparently based on Friar Tuck.
This is how David-Neel described the creation and eventual banishing of her tulpa:
I shut myself in tsams (meditative seclusion) and proceeded to perform the prescribed concentration of thought and other rites. After a few months the phantom Monk was formed. His form grew gradually fixed and lifelike looking.
…Though I lived in the open, riding on horseback for miles each day, the illusion persisted. I saw the fat tulpa; now and then it was not necessary for me to think of him to make him appear. The phantom performed various actions of the kind that are natural to travellers and that I had not commanded. For instance, he walked, stopped, looked around him. The illusion was mostly visual, but sometimes I felt as if a robe was lightly rubbing against me, and once a hand seemed to touch my shoulder.
The features which I had imagined, when building my phantom, gradually underwent a change. The fat, chubby-cheeked fellow grew leaner, his face assumed a vaguely mocking, sly, malignant look. He became more troublesome and bold. In brief, he escaped my control. Once, a herdsman who brought me a present of butter saw the tulpa in my tent and took it for a living lama.
I ought to have let the phenomenon follow its course, but the presence of that unwanted companion began to prove trying to my nerves; it turned into a “day-nightmare”…. so I decided to dissolve the phantom. I succeeded, but only after six months of hard struggle. My mind-creature was tenacious of life.
There is nothing strange in the fact that I may have created my own hallucination. The interesting point is that in these cases of materialisation, others see the thought-forms that have been created.
That second development – the YouTube video series Marble Hornets – appeared two days after the tulpa reference. The series is part of the horror subgenre known as ‘found footage’ movies – a type popularised by The Blair Witch Project and now a mainstay of Hollywood horror in films such as Cloverfield, The Last Exorcism and the Paranormal Activity series. Although by Hollywood standards, these were relatively low-budget films, by comparison Marble Hornets and its descendants are incredibly cheap to make – the first season of Marble Hornets, some 3 hours of footage, only cost around $300 dollars.
It all began as a SA post from someone calling himself ‘Jay’, an amateur film-maker who had worked on a low-budget project, a fairly typical art student navel-gazing piece, which was suddenly abandoned by the director Alex. When Jay talked to Alex months later about why the project had been abandoned, Alex gave Jay all his tapes… which contained several images of Slenderman lurking in the background of the shot scenes. Alex didn’t care what Jay did with the footage, as long as it was done far away from him.
Of course, once Jay started to look at the footage himself… Slenderman’s attention was drawn.
Here’s a short montage of scenes from Marble Hornets:
(Slide 15 – MH clip: Entries 14 & 29)
((Give them time to recover!))
Marble Hornets helped define several ongoing aspects of the Slenderman mythos – including how recording equipment is adversely affected by his presence, while at the same time those whose attention he has drawn are driven to continually record their activities – which of course gives a convenient reason for there to be all this found footage floating around!
Another key aspect is the idea that Slenderman – or, as he is always referred to in Marble Hornets, The Operator – can create ‘proxies’ from those haunted by him. His influence produces the recording compulsion, periods of lost time… and drives many of them to obsessively draw and redraw a glyph – The Operator Symbol…
(Slide 16 – Operator Symbol)
…which is either a summoning for, or a protection against, his presence. It’s typical that nobody really knows which.
Many video series in the same vein appeared. Most of them brought in the self-referencing, meta-textural elements that had been a feature of the earlier posts – a particular favourite of mine is the EverymanHYBRID series. EMH first appeared on YouTube as a supposed amateur series about health and body-building. After a couple of episodes, someone played a prank on the film-makers by getting someone dressed as Slenderman to appear in the background of their latest video.
(Slide 17 – EMH)
Unfortunately, this prank led to the film-makers attracting the attentions of Slenderman himself. So, we have a story where a supposedly fictional entity is taunted, and then proven to be real, within that story. After that, the meta-textural layers to the Slenderman mythos got even more involved.
EMH was also significant in that it brought in deeper elements of the Alternate Reality Gaming genre to the mix. This had been part of the Slenderman discussions from a couple of days into the original SA thread, but EMH raised the stakes.
Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) can be defined as “an experience that encourages players to interact with a fictional world using the real world to do it.”
Players of an ARG are asked to look for clues which further the game’s storyline in a variety of media – websites, film clips and so on – usually taking part in exchanges of email and other communication with those running the game and other players. The ARG acts as a kind of filter through which the ‘real’ world can be seen. The more you participate, the more you learn about the story which the game is telling you. Players usually communicate on a variety of message boards set up either by the game creators or the players themselves to compare notes and theories.
On these boards, an important concept is the distinction between discussions of events within the given storyline or In-Game, and those which are Out Of Game, or OOG – discussions about the game itself, rather than within the created storyline. These are kept strictly separate.
EMH had a variety of hidden messages in their videos through various kinds of steganography – concealing a coded message amongst the content of another, supposedly innocuous piece of media. Some of these hidden clues lead to geo-location tagged boxes containing various hints which followers could find and dig up, in a very modern kind of scavenger hunt.
The kind of people who embraced the audience-participation aspects of what came to be called the Slenderverse have a lot of crossover to ARG players, so the one stream of activity fed into the other. For example: the original Out Of Game thread about Marble Hornets alone on the most popular ARG discussion site Unfiction.com was locked after a few months… at 323 pages. And by the time people were getting seriously interested in Slenderman, literally hundreds of blogs advancing and expanding the story had appeared.
The thing about ARGs is that they’ll often spiral out from the intent of their creators, almost taking on a life of their own at the hands of enthusiastic participants.
One possible example of this – or, perhaps, the first clear examples of Slenderman actually appearing in our world for real – came a few months after the beginning, when on 6th November (notably, a week after Halloween) the popular American Fortean radio show Coast To Coast AM received several phone-ins from people who claimed to have seen and been stalked by Slenderman… most of them referring directly to elements of the mythos as expressed in Marble Hornets and the other video series. One of the more convincing-sounding callers reported that she had been having dreams of Slenderman from as early as 1982.
Of course, these could have been hoaxes – it’s certainly not unknown for such hoaxes to be perpetrated on that show, and they could easily have been intended to be tie-ins to the various ARGs. But, then again… maybe they did see something. Maybe Slenderman was beginning to appear, or to return. Certainly, many people insisted in Out Of Game forums that they were certainly dreaming about Slenderman more and more…
Between the surge (pun intended) of blogs and videos riffing off the initial SA thread and manifestations such as the Coast To Coast show, Slenderman started to leak into the wider internet – people on social media started noting these weird little horror videos and creepypastas… and that’s when it first caught my attention, less than a year after the original Surge posts.
I’ve always been fascinated by how elements of fiction can inform magic, ever since I started working with it in my youth – and I’ve found that working with currents and even entities which have a known fictional origin can be at least as useful, and sometimes more flexible, than more traditional approaches.
My attitude to how this works has always been tied up with the multi-model, post-modern, Taoist influenced approach which I first encountered in my teens in the work of the late Robert Anton Wilson…
(Slide 18 – RAW)
…whose writings in both fact and fiction explored the limits of human language and symbology when dealing with what I call, in a professional capacity, weird shit.
As the saying goes: “The Tao which can be expressed is not the Tao”. Whenever we try to describe anything, and in particular when we try to describe mystical, religious and magical phenomena, we are trapped by the limits of our own language or symbol-set. In a way, language and magic have always been intertwined. We talk about casting Spells, books of spelling are called Grimoires – an old word for Grammar. We say “words have power”.
And, Aleister Crowley once said, “magick is a disease of language”.
Our mythologies, our stories, bind us… and my attitude – one shared by a lot of practitioners usually grouped under the heading of chaos magic – is that the best way to escape that bondage is to become acquainted with as many different stories as you can, and to run them as possibilities. To treat them, as chaos magic’s godfather Austin Spare said, “as if they are real, not as real”.
There are, of course, certain commonalities in any mythological symbol-set – key tropes and metaphors which tend to appeal to us on a deep emotional level and repeat in slightly different forms across most mythologies and storylines – but again, I’ve found the more tales you’re familiar with, the more points of triangulation you can find to perhaps home in on something useful and even generally applicable. And of course, fiction has always been able to directly play with these mythological components with far more options than mere reportage.
So, for me to find a whole new mythology with elements like tulpas and fictional beasts forcing their way into our realm was a fascinating discovery.
I watched the whole run of Marble Hornets and many of the other video series around at the time… and after getting over the scares (and I have to admit some of that stuff scared the crap out of me!), I looked deeper. Those ARG aspects, to my eyes, looked a lot like using the same kind of temporary suspension of disbelief magicians, especially of the Chaos variety, use in a ritual context. Treating the possibilities of the Slenderverse as if real…
If, as so many fans were saying, Slenderman was a tulpa… how could I, in theory at least, fight such a thing? Within the mythos, I found a whole sub-genre of work dedicated to exactly that idea, and in a way that spoke directly to the post-modern elements that I liked to apply in my praxis.
This aspect of the Slenderman canon is called Core Theory.
(Slide 19 – Core Theory)
Core Theory developed from a series of eventually inter-linked written blogs with multiple authors, told from the perspective from victims and survivors of Slenderman. The earliest of these – The Tutorial – gave straightforward advice on how to avoid Slenderman:
“Get up high. Keep moving. Keep your eyes open.”
This was soon followed by Seeking Truth – a blog told from the perspective of a detective named Zeke Strahn who had encountered Slenderman in connection to investigating a series of child abductions by one of Slenderman’s proxies. After losing both his partner and a child under his protection, Strahn decided he would find a way to fight back… and bring others into that fight. One of his posts read:
“…here is my message to the people out there, reading this, fighting him:
I know at the end of the blogs, they tell you that when the time comes that he comes after you, that you should end it yourself. Take your own life so that he doesn’t take it.
Well today, I tell you the opposite.
Don’t give up.
Fight him as long and as hard as you can.
He may win in the end.
But don’t give him the satisfaction of an easy kill.
Let the fucker work for his food.
You can’t keep letting him think that just because he holds the royal flush that it means you have to just fold.
If enough people fight, if enough people give him a good run around…it may be enough to finish him.”
The comments to both The Tutorial and Seeking Truth soon filled with writers taking the part of other victims who wanted to band together and fight – many of whom started blogs of their own telling their own versions of this story. And, like so many ARGs before them, reality and fiction… blurred. The distinction between In-Game and Out-Of-Game became increasingly hard to determine. Some of the commenters were seemingly not part of the game, taking Slenderman as real not as if real, but still shared their ideas. Some of the comments appeared to come from proxies of Slenderman – and some of them had been former fighters. And on those comments, and in the blogs that followed and their comments, a plan began to form.
They would find a way to take Slenderman’s origin as a tulpa… and turn it against him.
They would rewrite the story.
Eventually, details of a possible approach were agreed between the in-game writers. By taking on various archetypal identities – Mystic, Hermit, Warrior, Guardian and Hero – the various allied blog writers would form a counter-balancing force to Slenderman’s influence, and create between them a new storyline. A suggestion was made to tell of a time and place – the Winter Solstice of 2010 – where Slenderman would be incited to attack and be ambushed. Those who were to be (In-Game) physically present would be aided by the many writers in associated blogs to create and amplify a scene where Slenderman would be successfully wounded… which would show that hurting the monster was possible, greatly increasing the chance for a later set of heroes to deliver a final decisive blow.
The call to arms for those writers who would not be physically present in the actual battlespace, which came from the character Zero in his blog A Hint Of Serendipity, shows how this meta-textural aikido was planned to work:
“I’ve said before, that you are the key to victory. You always have been. What I need you all to do is simply write a story about what happens. It’s that simple.
…Why should you do this for me? Because this is how we kill the monster. We, as a blogosphere, discuss, critique, and solidify a story of this Event, enough that we can agree and deem it canon. It doesn’t matter what is true within it or not. The point is that we progress further into the chain of events, advancing another rung closer to killing the Slender Man. In a literal sense, I am putting my life on the line, that you readers and bloggers can come together to give a cohesive answer as to the happenings today.”
The event – both in terms of action In-Game and the overall aspect of an addition to the ongoing Slenderman storyline – went more-or-less as planned. Zero struck Slenderman a lasting wound… but all those involved paid a heavy cost.
Because, after all… this is an ongoing story about a monster that can’t be killed. A lot of writers in the Slenderman canon objected to Core Theory as both lessening the power of Slenderman as a figure of terror, and because it led to many blogs changing from being about struggling against hopeless horror to the kind of wish-fulfilment superhero fantasy of the type scornfully referred to as a Mary Sue.
But nonetheless, the idea remained with me… if you’re going to fight a creature made of fiction, then surely the best weapons to use would be fictional too? Or as Crowley once said – the best way to fight an imaginary snake is with an imaginary mongoose.
The more I thought about how Core Theory changed the stakes in the Slenderman mythos, the more I was reminded of parallels between how the canon had evolved and seemed to be affecting reality, and the work of two comic book writers – Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.
(Slide 20 – Moore/Morrison)
…Alan’s the one with the hair.
Moore and Morrison are similar in a lot of ways. Both come from working class British roots – Alan from Northampton, Grant from Glasgow. Both came to fame through working for 2000AD and then DC Comics in the States, where their work directly led the greater mainstream acceptance of comics as a legitimate and literate art form.
Both have more than a passing interest in the principles of anarchism. And both are practicing magicians, who had also had significant encounters with the power of fictional forms entering quotidian reality.
Alan Moore is best known for such highly-influential comics as Watchman and From Hell. He first came to attention as an influence on occultists with his creation in the comic Swamp Thing of a character who’s become something of a patron saint for British magicians, especially those of us born to the working class…
(Slide 21 – Conjob)
…John Constantine. Based originally on Sting – not Keanu Reeves – and manifesting a sarcastically non-conformist attitude to both authority and the formal niceties of ceremonial magic, Constantine became an immensely popular character, being continually written for over 25 years by the cream of comic writers such as Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis… and Grant Morrison. And Moore has publicly said that he has actually met John Constantine in the real world.
Here’s how Moore tells the tale of his first encounter with his own creation in the 1980’s:
“One day, I was in Westminster in London – this was after we had introduced the character – and I was sitting in a sandwich bar. All of a sudden, up the stairs came John Constantine. He was wearing the trenchcoat, a short cut, he looked… no, he didn’t even look exactly like Sting. He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially, and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar.
“I sat there and thought, should I go around that corner and see if he is really there, or should I just eat my sandwich and leave? I opted for the latter; I thought it was the safest. I’m not making any claims to anything. I’m just saying that it happened. Strange little story.”
His second meeting with John Constantine is recounted as part of Moore’s theatrical performance piece, Snakes and Ladders, which was later turned into a comic called, after Crowley, A Disease Of Language:
“Years later, in another place, he steps out of the dark and speaks to me. He whispers: ‘I’ll tell you the ultimate secret of magic. Any cunt could do it.’ “
I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Alan Moore a couple of years ago and I took the opportunity to ask him about this second encounter – which he said had taken place in the context of a magical ritual. But under the circumstances, that may make it more relevant to my point, rather than less.
A little over twenty years ago, on his 40th birthday, Moore declared that, after years of studying the occult to research his writing, he was now choosing to define himself as a magician. He also stated the main focus of his praxis would be the veneration of the ancient Greek snake deity Glycon…
(Slide 22 – Glycon)
…who, most historians agree, was basically a glove-puppet worked by a priest. A better example of deliberately post-modern worship would be hard to find. Moore’s results working with Glycon led him to develop a theory of magical action and the root of human creativity – a concept he calls Idea-Space.
The basic idea of Idea-space is that there is a parallel level of reality to ours which is both inhabited by, and the source of, every idea humans have or ever will have. That the concepts and characters we think we create are actually discovered.
As Moore puts it;
“Maybe our individual and private consciousness is, in Idea-space terms, the equivalent of owning an individual and private house, an address, in material space? The space inside our homes is entirely ours, and yet if we step out through the front door, we find ourselves in a street, a world, that is mutually accessible and open to anyone. What if that was true of the mind, as well? What if it were possible to travel beyond the confines of one’s individual mind-space, into the communal outdoors, where one could meet with the minds of other people in a shared place? This would at a stroke explain dubious phenomena such as reported telepathy or knowledge-at-a-distance.”
Moore’s work continues to express this idea, especially in such books as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Promethea…
(Slide 23 – Promethea)
…a retelling of the Western Occult Tradition, featuring another fictional entity who enters reality and a delightful retelling of Crowley’s Snake and Mongoose story. Certainly, his cultural influence can hardly be said to have been lessened by his magical working… especially when you consider how his early work V For Vendetta’s imagery has now become the very symbol of modern, internet based resistance to the status quo.
(Slide 24 – Anon)
Remind you of anyone?
Grant Morrison can also be said to have influenced the world far outside his comic book readership. A magician from his late teens thanks to an uncle who lent him some of Crowley’s books, Morrison’s work has always dealt with the meta-textural. In his first book for DC Comics, Animal Man, Morrison ended his run by appearing in his final issue as himself…
(Slide 25 – Morrison in Animal Man)
…apologising to the hero for all the terrible things he put him through to entertain the unseen audience. He continued to explore these ideas along with his love of the occult and surrealism in books such as Doom Patrol and his Batman story Arkham Asylum. He also wrote a short introduction to chaos magic techniques, especially sigil magic, and distributed it free online under the title “Pop Magic!”.
These ideas would eventually come to full flower in his epic occult conspiracy series The Invisibles…
(Slide 26 – Invisibles grenade)
…which was one of the major influences on (and, according to some, the only-slightly-rewritten source of) a film which still haunts the culture – The Matrix.
The Invisibles in the story – a shortening of The Invisible College – are an ancient conspiracy of anarchist mages who fight against the evil forces of Order. In the six years the book ran, Morrison used this battle to explore elements of urban myth, cutting-edge scientific and philosophical theory and modern occultism – with an underlying agenda.
Morrison’s explicit plan for The Invisibles as a series was to extend sigil magic into the fourth dimension of time, an addition which, as he puts it, ‘develops the sigil concept beyond the static image and incorporates elements such as characterization, drama, and plot’. He called this the Hypersigil.
His aim for the Invisibles Hypersigil was to both transform society into a more Gnostically-inclined, authority-questioning state and to shift his own persona into something more powerful… by making the star of the comic a thinly-veiled, enhanced and idealised version of himself, a Mary Sue if you like, called King Mob.
(Slide 27 – King Mob)
There was an unfortunate side-effect to Morrison’s hypersigil, however… he wrote an early run of issues where King Mob was captured by the enemy and tortured. One aspect of the torture included a dying King Mob being made to think his face had been disfigured, with a gaping hole in his cheek.
Morrison fell deeply ill from a staphylococcus infection as this issue reached print, nearly dying… and one symptom was an secondary infection which ate a hole in his cheek. However, he survived and, sensibly, decided to give King Mob less of a hard time in later issues…. and his near-death experience, which involved a full-blown vision of a Gnostic Jesus, who said…
(Slide 28 – Gnostic Jesus)
…”I am not the God of your fathers. I am the hidden stone and break all hearts. Break open your heart. Come from below. Rise unto the heights. Descend again with knowledge.”
This vision informed his later work, bringing a much needed optimism to both his fiction and his life.
During the same volume of The Invisibles as this significant event, Morrison also published a standard-type sigil in the letters page, which Morrison designed to raise flagging sales of the book… and he asked for it to be charged with the orgasmic power of the readers. This spell, known as The Wank-a-thon seemed to work, as the comic gained enough readers to reach its, er, conclusion.
After The Invisibles, Morrison went on to even greater success, bringing his perspective to creator-owned works such as The Filth and Seaguy, as well as reinvigorating classic comic book characters like Batman and Superman. The Invisibles continues to be a strong influence on pop-culture mages, to the extent that groups emulating the structure and techniques of Morrison’s Invisibles have been created. I may be a member of one… But, back to Slenderman.
(Slide 29 – slendy & kids)
Between Moore and Morrison’s experiences and my own dealings with the power of fiction in respect to magic, and especially where fictional creations overlap with consensus reality, it seemed to me that Slenderman could be seen as the product of an accidental hypersigil, a manifestation from Idea-Space into our space. And if that manifestation were to take a stronger hold, if Slenderman became real enough to be a problem, then it would make sense to find the best possible imaginary mongoose to fight this particular snake.
The main thing to understand here is that Slenderman itself can’t be killed – that’s such a key part of the canon that it really can’t be re-edited at this stage, as the eventual failure of the Core Theory subgenre showed. As Alan Moore once said – “you can’t kill an idea”. But, an individual instance or Construct of Slenderman… that can certainly be acted against.
My own experience with working against unwanted occult intrusions have shown me that there are essentially three basic approaches when confronting a threat:
The first is to simply try to oppose and resist the manifestation by whatever means you have within its own context – fight it on its own turf, as it were. This would mean using some of the same kind of attacks and defences that people in the Slenderman mythos have successfully used against it.
As we’ve seen, there really aren’t many of those… so, the next possible option would be to summon something to oppose him from another mythology, which might provide a force it cannot contend with, one beyond that mythos’s symbol-set. Hit it with what the late Iain Banks called “an out-of-context problem”… and, preferably, using an opponent with as large a footprint of archetypal weight behind it as possible. Something people, or at least you, can believe in.
I like to call this the “Oops Batman” approach… as in:
“Hey, Slendy… who’s that behind you?”
(Slide 29 – The Goddam Batman)
…And (especially in Grant Morrisons’ version of him) Batman has a plan for everything.”
This option has some merit… and you don’t have to use something as, well, obvious as Batman – as long as its something you’re comfortable working with and has personal significance, pretty much anything can be used. That’s sort of the point.
However, I think for Slenderman the better approach would be to take a leaf out of the Core Theory playbook, and subvert the underlying mythos itself. Especially if you combine that with a classic chaos magic technique – banishing with laughter.
If the internet is good for anything – other than cat pictures and porn – it’s taking the piss. And, for all the terror associated with Slenderman, that’s been part of the tale almost from the start.
A couple of pitch-perfect YouTube subversions of the original Marble Hornets format provide some options here:
The first of these introduced Slenderman’s happy-go-lucky relative…
(Slide 30 – Splendorman)
..Splendorman. And once there’s a Splendorman, the options are limitless. For one thing, he ties into another popular Slenderman meme, that of give him a face – in this case, a smiley face. For another… well, put it this way – there’s an internet saying, called Rule 34, which goes:
There is porn of it. No exceptions.
Yes, there is Slenderman porn. There is also Slenderman-on-Splendorman porn. With tentacles. That should be enough to distract anything.
And, if Splendorman and tentacle porn aren’t to your taste – and why should they be? – there’s always the spell called Twenty Dollar.
The other parody video which took off in the Slenderverse took some Marble Hornets footage and dubbed in an annoyingly catchy dance hit of the time, Roy Browz’s “Gimme Twenty Dollar” – the implication being Slendy just wants to get paid. This idea caught on so thoroughly, that there’s a scene in the Core Theory blog A Hint Of Serendipity where Zero the Hero manages to actually banish a Slenderman Construct by giving it twenty dollars… a technique which uses two of the three options I’ve suggested in one go.
It would, of course, be entirely fair to dismiss the whole of the Slenderman mythos as just a story from the internet… if it wasn’t for the fact that many belief systems of our times are based on origins with even less provable veracity than Slenderman.
There is now an entire branch of sociology devoted to the study of what the Australian sociologist Adam Possamai has called “hyper-real religion”. Drawing from the work of post-modern theorists such as Baudrillard, Possamai and others have noted the increase in people adhering to faiths whose origins are partially or entirely drawn from fictional sources… and notes that, in our period of simulacra-dominated late capitalism, such beliefs can take as powerful a hold as any other belief system, or become mixed in with such beliefs. For instance, much of modern Wiccan praxis derives in part from fictional works such as Robert A Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists Of Avalon. Scientology, basically an alien invasion conspiracy myth perpetrated by former OTO member L Ron Hubbard, is one of the wealthiest religions in the world.
More recently, the concept of Otherkin has appeared. Otherkin are people who believe that their souls have a non-human origin – common examples are where Otherkin believe they are the reincarnation of wolves, Elves, dragons or such. And within that group there are those who believe their souls are reborn instances of specific fictional characters, such as Neo from The Matrix. To me, Otherkin are a pretty good example of what happens if you take a fictional source as inspiration, but forget that vital distinction between treating something as real instead of as if real… but there’s no question that the many mages I’ve encountered who identify as Otherkin are just as effective as any other.
Possamai and his school have noted that there is little to no functional difference between the actions of such groups and those of more orthodox faiths… and, as I’ve been saying, there is certainly no appreciable difference between them for magical purposes. In a world of simulacra, there is nothing more important than the symbols we use and believe in – and, to quote another comic book writer, Kieron Gillen,
“Magic is naught but symbolism, weaponised”.
Slenderman, whatever it may be, isn’t going away. The game Slender is immensely popular – especially considering that, unlike the vast majority of First Person perspective games, the most popular kind of computer game, you can’t fight Slenderman at all. All you can do is run. There are two films coming out soon, called Entity and Hylo, which feature him. But, the longer he’s in our minds and possibly our world, the more we shape him. Perhaps like other imaginary fiends of the past, he’ll simply become another thing to provide a fun scare now and then. He’s already become a popular costume option for conventions and Halloween.
(Slide 31 – Halloween)
But, in trying to understand how our minds can form and nurture such a monster from the smallest of starts, I think Slenderman can at the very least provide a window through which we can perhaps better understand how our imaginations affect our perception of reality, and how this in turn shapes our magic.
(Slide 33 – Come Children)
I’ll leave you with this quote from Slenderman’s father, Victor Surge:
“Before you had angels and succubi, and then ghosts and spirits, today we have shadow people and inter-dimensional beings. The Slender Man, and other newly created entities, are just the newest addition in the progression of a long, and very real, human tradition.
You’ve seen him, now you can’t unsee him.”