By special request from my beloved Kirsty… the classic Gymnastics scene from Big Train.
By special request from my beloved Kirsty… the classic Gymnastics scene from Big Train.
Back in the good old days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was on LiveJournal, I ran an occasional series called Xtianfuckwitwatch. This was news posts (and, I confess, some ranting) about the type of idiocy that seems particular to certain extremists of the Christian persuasion. (Now, as then, I emphasise it’s not that these people hold that particular faith that annoy/amuse me… it’s the way they assume not only that their version of theology is The One Truth, but also that anything that comes out of their mouths and brains carries that same weight of Ultimate Truth with those who are not of their persuasion.)
(Plus that whole” kill or convet their foes, keep women and kids and queers ‘in their place’ and banish all ideas foreign to their twisted rulebook” thing. Never sits well with me for some reason.)
I debated long and hard about whether or not to continue this thread here. But frankly, when I find news like this, it’s impossible not to share. (And woe betide the next one of those fuckwits who manages to kill their client in an exorcism, as I take that kind of professional cockup very personally indeed…)
(Found via Bulldada News)
This is a press release from “Mary’s Lamb Publishing”, called;
Scotland’s J.K. Rowling, the unknown author who claimed to create Harry Potter from her imagination, stirred up America by exposing our children to spells, witchcraft and wizardry. Now an American author is stirring up the answer, exposing our children to true secrets, myths and miracles, introducing J.C. Lamb who came not from the imagination, but from a sacrifice and a vision from God.
(CatNote – You have to love their command of language here. Jo Rowling ‘claims’ to have created Harry Potter from her imagination – of course we all know the story really came straight from Satan Himself, don’t we kiddies? – but by the end of the paragraph they’re saying Harry did come from the imagination of JKR. And that the author of the obvious ripoff divinely inspired parallel sequence didn’t use her imagination at all. It was from God’s lips to her ears. Perhaps He mumbles…)
On July 15th, 2008, Mary’s Lamb Publishing debuted their first “Give & Share Book(TM)” titled The Secret of Yahweh! at the International Christian Retail Show, and it proved to be an instant favorite. The line that formed to meet the author and get a copy of her book was one not usually seen for an unknown author, (especially one whose testimony claims she is “not much of a writer.”)
(The books just write themselves… and so do the jokes)
LeFerna Arnold-Walch, has become a leading authority on the unchurched family since her son’s car crashed into a church in 1998. “My firstborn son’s coma was the sacrifice it took to open my eyes to God’s plan for me. Now I have a promise to keep,” she says…
(I am not going to say a mean word about how a parent deals with such a tragedy happening to their child. I will note that some parents would not have taken their child driving into a church and ending up comatose as a sign of a loving God…)
(And I find that ‘leading expert on the unchurched family’ bit very disturbing indeed. How exactly does one qualify in this field?)
…What makes her Christian children’s novel newsworthy and unique
(For very low values of ‘unique’…)
is not only that it stands up for our “under God” Christian history in the USA,
(Er, I thought you said the imagination wasn’t involved?)
or that it introduces a character whose mission is to reach 100 million unchurched Americans, but that each book creates twelve new or reaffirmed disciples for Christ when the circle goes unbroken and the book is returned.
(It is notable that the version of Xtianity espoused by these types – usually a variation of what is often called Dominionism – is not at all averse to casting spells, ranging from non-consensual blessing rituals involving whatever oils they have handy to cursing those who oppose them. Or, as we have here, a variation of the Ringu curse. Yet somehow, the spell-casting of Harry and his chums is bad…)
(And precisely how are all those new disciples created anyway? Now that’s a story I’d read… unsuspecting non-xtians suddenly zapped with super-jesus-powers, maybe like Ninja Turtles bathed in radioactive christ-gloop. Or maybe cloning.)
…A “magical” book with secrets the author didn’t see coming – Instead of a lightning bolt on the forehead, J.C. Lamb wears the sign of the fish on his chest, right over his heart.
He’s magical because God sent him as a messenger in a vision from a song. Instead of using wands and witchcraft, children learn how to spiritually see with their hearts by believing in things they cannot always see with their own eyes– trouble is, they can’t all see J.C. Lamb, either!
If only I was sure this would be the resounding belly-flop it deserves to be. But in a country where Left Behind sold over 58 million copies, perhaps it’s a shoo-in. Perhaps it’s the myth they deserve.
But not their children. Won’t somebody please think of the children?
(Thanks, always, to the extensive work in opposing Dominionist hegemony by the tireless researcher DogEmperor and the Dark Christianity LJ group. Also, if you’re not reading Fred Clark (aka Slacktivist) and his precise and hilarious disembowelling of the text of Left Behind, you’re missing a rare treat.)
There will be nothing on this blog about the Olympics. Not the sports, not the politics. Nothing.
Unless someone blows it up or something.
That is all.
“Sport, sport, masculine sport,
Equips a young man for society.
Yes, sport turns out a ruddy good sort.
It’s an odd boy who doesn’t like sport!”
There will be no posts on this blog about the Olympics, in any way.
Unless, y’know, someone blows it up or something.
EDIT – Managed to find a YouTube of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performing the song quoted above. For some reason, the only version there has visuals taken from `Napoleon Dynamite’, a film of which I am not especially fond but kind of fitting. Anyway – here it is
Warren Ellis has an occasional podcast series of cool and interesting music from original creators online – he calls it The 4AM. From these I discovered Dorian Wood, a man with a great voice and some very tasty songs.
This is the video for his track The Mutual. It’s a very odd video – NSFW due to male and female nudity, general grotesqueness (and a guy with a doll’s foot growing out of his forehead).
I like it a lot. That probably says something about me.
“The trouble with humans is, we’re all too symbol-minded.” Jolane Abrams.
What do I mean when I say that I’m a magician? What is magic, anyway? And what kind of person goes around believing in it these modern days?
Definitions of magic are many and wide – even if I stick to using those of practitioners rather than anthropologists and such. (A very interesting recent consideration of this by Taylor Ellwood appears here. )
Rather than rehash that debate, I’ll offer my very rough working definition – magic is the means by which some observers can use and manipulate the patterns they observe to change the world.
For me, magic has always been about seeing and making patterns – connections between events, people, symbols, myths. What would be mere coincidence for someone who is not a magician can be a rich signal from Fate to one who is – or, depending on the timing and the mindset of the mage, just an amusing synchronicity. Pattern-making is the core of the oldest magical theories – from the Law of Similarity onward.
There’s a technical term in psychology for faulty pattern recognition – apophenia. It’s the sort of word used to dismiss conspiracy theorists and ‘schizophrenic’ points of view. The problem with that of course is, what exactly is ‘faulty’… especially if that pattern can give rise to a magical action which results in actual change in the world. (And of course, who gets to define faulty.)
Pretty much all human thought, by definition, is about manipulation of symbols. Language is made of patterns of symbols interacting – and if the language lacks a symbol for a concept, it can’t express that idea. Most people, most of the time, do not question the symbols they use, or the patterns made by them. They only rarely question whether the symbol-set they inherited is a faulty pattern or not. To do so isn’t just frowned upon, it’s immensely difficult to do – because the person doing so is trapped by their own language. (I’ll be talking a lot more about this in later posts.)
Large and sucessful patterns of symbols (Richard Dawkins’ memeplexes) have great power, even over those who do not actually consider themselves a part of them. Religions, scientific models, the amorphous thing we call culture… these things shape us, define most of what and how we think.
One way to look at the difference in perspectives could be:
Religion insists on a single pattern for the world, declared by their prophets. To be a member of a faith, you have to stick to that single pattern. If you contradict the pattern, you’re out – or become the prophet to a new religion.
Science claims to define the underlying pattern of the world, and tries to test that pattern. Some parts of the pattern get changed, slowly, when a new variant on the pattern which fits their observations comes along (and enough scientists actually agree that the new pattern is better).
Culture is the mix of old patterns from religion and science, home and abroad, myth and fiction and fashion – the sea in which our ideas swim. This changes constantly, influences all within its range to varying degrees.
Magic uses patterns of all the others and makes up ones of its’ own, mucks around with them and uses the result for its’ own ends.
(I’m aware this is a gross oversimplification. Among other things, there’s a lot of crossover between religion and magic – and the black sheep of both called mysticism. There’ll be more on this as Guttershaman continues.)
Of course, some patterns work better than others, in some circumstances, for some people.
Which patterns work best for magic? Usually, ones that have an emotional resonance for the mage. This wash of emotion is the fuel – or perhaps better, the catalyst – for the magical act. Emotional patterns are rarely logical or organised… and can come from a relatively pure interpretation of a belief system/culture/memeplex, or a hodge-podge of seemingly (to the outside observer) unrelated influences, or anything inbetween.
And it doesn’t seem to matter where those patterns come from, or even if those patterns are (for want of a better word) real – sometimes, they just work.
(I think it’s this emotional subjectivity that particularly offends Rationalists on the one hand and religious types on the other. Both insist that their dogma is an objective truth and that to oppose it or treat it as less than The Complete Truth is just a form of stubborn rebellion, sin, or mental illness. They of course miss that their own beliefs are just as subjective and emotional as the mages – and usually a lot less flexible.)
(This, no doubt, would be the point that a rationalist would point to modern technology and say something like, “this is the proof that our theories are the right ones! Our machines work and we understand why!”
To which I would say… religions made all sorts of nice kit too – churches, books, powerful mind-altering songs and chants – and they were certain they knew why theirs worked, too.
Basically, I think the modern dogmatic rationalism comes from a massive dose of insecurity on the part of its adherents. They know on some level just how recently magic and science were part of the same world-view and hate to be reminded of it. The rest is an understandable fear that the achievements of the ‘Enlightenment’ will be lost as fundamentalist religion tries to regain its stranglehold on the world – and there I have some sympathy.)
Aside from all that of course comes the question of how magic works. What those ‘means’ I mentioned earlier are.
My own view is I have no bloody idea how it works.
I have some theories – tested in practice – on how it can work… But underlying that is a distinct feeling that however we attempt to describe the working of magic, it relies heavily, perhaps completely, on metaphor and simile, on patterns of symbols – and that those metaphors change depending on the ideas and myths available at the time.
I think that’s one of the more interesting aspects of being a magician in these heavily interconnected days. Rather than our range of myths-and-metaphors being limited to the local religious practice (or crude rebellious inversions of same, i.e. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer Backwards) or our immediate cultural influences, a modern mage can find the whole range of human thought to work with, to create patterns from. Or at least the bits that got put in books or online… (Of course this has always been true to a degree – culture absorbs foreign ideas constantly, and magicians are creatures of their culture. But modern communications makes that mixing faster and more complex.)
For example, it’s fairly common for mages these days – as I did above – to use meme theory as a basis for magical models (and oh, how I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the arch-rationalist prophet Dawkins hears about that!). It’s a handy tool, to be sure – and the point that meme theory is in itself a meme has a nice recursive aspect, always a plus in magical theory. But it’s just another pattern, another metaphor.
The question then is… a metaphor for what? What do these symbols actually symbolize?
I’m kind of old-fashioned about this. I think the thing which a magicians patterns and metaphors try to describe/work with/approximate is the Numinous, The Ineffable, the thing which is beyond/before words or symbols.
It has no name, so I call it Tao.
(Coming up on Guttershaman: More on the word Shaman. Where religion, science, mysticism and magic meet – and usually have a row. Words and symbols, and what may lie beyond them.)
(And something about movies and comic books. Just because.)
“At the end of the day, it’s all just weird shit.” — Me, quoted in Sandman by Neil Gaiman.
One of the main reasons I put up this blog is for my thoughts about magic. I have considered myself as a magician for pretty much my whole adult life – and the seeds of that go even further back, to when I was about seven years old. For years, I’ve been trying to find ways to describe what it is I do, and how I think about “the occult”, “the Dark Arts”, “mysticism”, “psychic phenomena”, what have you.
This seems a good place to do more of that, and hopefully the end result will be of some use – or at least amusement – to the reader.
By the very nature of the subject, anything said here can only be my opinion – working model at best, subjective bias at worst. The only absolute I have found in nearly forty years of study and working is there are no absolutes – and that this paradox may well be the whole point.
In many ways, I am not a refined or subtle man. I come from lower-working-class English mongrel stock, and despite a childhood where I was reading books and thinking thoughts far outside the experiences of my family, school ‘friends’ and teachers, the habits and speech patterns of that time stayed with me.
(It’s notable, for example, that whenever I become emotional about something my normally fairly neutral Brit speech patterns revert to those of my family – in short I sound like John Constantine getting stroppy! Well, without the Scouse undercurrents. You get the idea.)
(Also, I swear like a fucking bastard.)
My background meant that my first exposure to theories and concepts of magic came from my local library. Finding books on myth, then occult praxis, pretty much saved what for sake of argument I shall call my sanity. I never stopped reading – and after a while I noticed something very odd… that I was picking up a lot of useful ideas and myths from fictional works, perhaps more than so-called non-fiction.
Now, I’m hardly the only person to realise that. At about the same time as I was making this connection in my early teens, the founders of what’s now known as Chaos Magic were investigating the possibilities of fictional archetypal magics. Call it Steam Engine Time, perhaps. Or that we were all reading Robert Anton Wilson. Either way, this realisation let me explore ideas about magic with a freedom I appreciated – amongst other reasons, it let me make stuff up and work with improvised tools in a way that a more formal style would have frowned upon. For a poor boy on a very restricted budget, this was helpful.
At the same time, I kept getting this sense of vocation, that my magical interests were leading to something. The best parallel I could find was in the tribal figure usually called ‘shaman’. The archetypal magic-worker, a figure who would otherwise be an outcast due to their differences from the rest of the tribe. One called to serve. (And, as I found many years later in a talk on Tibetan Bön Shamanism by Christian Ratsch, the first duty of that school of shamanism is to fight demons. Considering how my career ended up, this fits rather too well.)
That word shaman has a lot of heavy connotations – especially when used by a Western white man who’s not remotely using a strict traditional ceremonial form. Issues of cultural theft and inauthenticity pop up. And since ‘urban shaman’ as a term has been co-opted by some of the fluffier (and IMO sometimes less than effective) denizens of the Newage movement, I needed an alternative.
One day, the word ‘Guttershaman’ popped into my head. And it seems to fit. A town-going mage, happy to work magic with whatever he finds on the street and in his pockets. A bit rough-and-ready, but workable.
So that’s where I come from. As I go on in these posts, I hope to dig a little deeper into all this.
Looking at things like the way words and magic combine, and the things that seem beyond words. About being authentic to yourself in an increasingly inauthentic world. Why magic and religion make such unsteady bedfellows.
Why something like a Guttershaman has a purpose in the twenty-first century.
I know – original, huh? But I only just saw the film (UK release dates, thanks so much). And as a mage who’s done a fair bit of work with hero-archetypes (and has an especial fondness for The Batman), it’s a subject close to my heart.
The Dark Knight is not a perfect film by any means. There’s a lot of reviews calling it The Best Superhero Film Ever, The Empire Strikes Back/Godfather II Of Our Time, etc. It’s not. Hell, I don’t even think it’s the best Batman film I’ve seen (which honour still belongs to Mask of the Phantasm).
What it is, I think, is much rarer. An adult film about duality, morality and corruption – wrapped up as a summer tentpole action flick.
It’s also bloody good, with many excellent performances.
SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT
Continue reading “Thinking about The Dark Knight”
Been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but this is too good to ignore…
Birmingham (UK) city council has blocked its staff from looking at some religious websites, but not others:
Lawyers at the National Secular Society said the move by Birmingham City Council was “discriminatory” and they would consider legal action.
The rules also ban sites that promote witchcraft, the paranormal, sexual deviancy and criminal activity.
The city council declined to comment on the possible legal action, but said the new system helped make it easier for managers to monitor staff web access.
The authority’s Bluecoat Software computer system allows staff to look at websites relating to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions but blocks sites to do with “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.
Nice that they class atheism as a form of mysticism… but otherwise really dumb.
Firstly, noting the death of Lyall Watson, author of Supernatural (and my favourite of his work, Gifts of Unknown Things), aged 69. A true pioneer.
Also this… faceless ‘aliens’ at Wimbledon.
Clearly someone’s gone to a lot of trouble over this. Is it a viral marketing bit? A little Operation Mindfuck action? The Anonymous crew pulling a fast one? Hopefully, time will tell.
EDIT – well, that didn’t take long. It was indeed a marketing ploy. For a fucking car. Oh well.
I like me a good pun. Actually as anyone who knows me will tell you, I especially like a bad pun.
But I’m still having trouble with the BBC not noticing the one in this headline about the annual attempt to stop the Japanese hunting and eating whales… or maybe they did and left it there. I hope so.