American Fascism and the Divine Feminine

Two pieces of note:

Gary Lachman appears to have suddenly discovered Dominionist Xtianity… actually, it’s a good and thoughtful piece, not only about the influence of mysticism on politics but also how he tries to synthesize past and future in modern times. Worth sticking through the comments thread for GL and Daniel Pinchbeck arguing about the importance/value of the 2012 meme and much else.

Speaking of dualistic propositions… this piece by Elizabeth Debold is on the false oppositional dualism of male and female, and considers how to address this in creating a modern female sense of divinity. Food for thought – especially in her consideration how steeped in Victorian ideas of the gender divide Carl Jung was, and how this colours his archetypal models.

‘A New State of Mind’

Fascinating article about the work of neuroscientist Read Montague and his work on dopamine and social phenomena;

Montague realized that if he was going to solve the ciphers of the mind, he would need a cryptographic key, a “cheat sheet” that showed him a small part of the overall solution. Only then would he be able to connect the chemistry to the electricity, or understand how the signals of neurons represented the world, or how some spasm of cells caused human nature. “There are so many different ways to describe what the brain does,” Montague says. “You can talk about what a particular cell is doing, or look at brain regions with fMRI, or observe behavior. But how do these things connect? Because you know they are connected; you just don’t know how.”

That’s when Montague discovered the powers of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. His research on the singular chemical has drawn tantalizing connections between the peculiar habits of our neurons and the peculiar habits of real people, so that the various levels of psychological description — the macro and the micro, the behavioral and the cellular — no longer seem so distinct. What began as an investigation into a single neurotransmitter has morphed into an exploration of the social brain: Montague has pioneered research that allows him to link the obscure details of the cortex to all sorts of important phenomena, from stock market bubbles to cigarette addiction to the development of trust. “We are profoundly social animals,” he says. “You can’t really understand the brain until you understand how these social behaviors happen, or what happens when they go haywire.”

(Found on Technoccult.)

Guttershaman – Meanings and Patterns, part 2. The Nature of Reality, and other short subjects

Before I get started, many thanks to those who commented on the series so far. Special thanks to my old mate Gyrus, for pointing out the work of Ramsey Dukes to me. Dukes is one of those writers I never quite got around to reading until recently… and as one of the direct influences on the Chaos current, he’s important. I recommend his book ‘SSOTBME!’ highly – you can download a free copy of it at www.skilluminati.com/docs/RamseyDukes-SSOTBME.pdf . Put it this way – if you’re interested enough in the subject to read what I think, you’ll certainly benefit from reading him.

And a convivial shout-out to those who found their way here from Whitechapel.

Onward!
————-

What is truth, man? You heard the weirdo…
Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Earlier, I made the point that there’s a difference between what is (for want of a better word) real and what we can actually describe. This is an idea which many find a little troubling.

It’s not a new idea. Plato’s Cave model is a couple of thousand years old at this point, the acceptance that reality cannot be fully described a basic in Taoism, which is at least twice as old. The modern riff on this usually called Post-Modernism has been around long enough in modern society to become cliché.

I think the reason folk find this notion unsettling has a lot to do with the need for stability. Once you start considering just how much of ‘consensus reality’ is neither that real nor that much of a consensus, things get very unstable, very fast. People work harder to reinforce the boundaries of their version of reality when it is questioned – often falling back into simpler beliefs which they don’t have to think too hard about.

“Just keeping it real”…

Another reaction is, of course, to ridicule the idea. Often when the idea of a subjective element in perceived reality comes up – both in discussing post-modern ideas in general and modern magic in particular – the line of attack most used is “You don’t believe anything is real, right? So why can’t you walk through walls then?”, or similar.

It’s not that we think nothing is real. It’s just that we’re aware that local definitions of reality vary, that the context matters.
If you change language, you change the way you think. Change the way you think, you change which parts of the outside world get filtered. The outside world doesn’t suddenly go away, you just notice different bits of it.

Of course, even that notion of ‘the outside world’ is a blurry one at best. All we can ever know about reality is what we sense – and it’s known both to science and common experience just how easy our senses are to fool. Eyes have blind spots, ears have sound frequencies they can’t hear – and even a small chemical change in the brain (say a few microgrammes of an entheogen like LSD, or a lowering of sugar or oxygen levels) will completely mess up both the filters and the mind receiving the data. Yet knowing this doesn’t change most people’s opinion that what they see and sense is Really Real Reality. But there seems to be something beneath that sense data and filtering. Usually.

For example…
Just because you’re so off your face that the cars whizzing past you on the street look like Technicolor Unicorns doesn’t alter the cold hard fact that all cars continue to be real – as you will soon find out if you step in front of one. Like Philip K Dick said – reality is that which, if you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. But that still leaves a lot to play with – especially if belief itself can actually alter what you sense as being real, what you filter out… and maybe on some level, in a very small way, the underlying reality itself.

That’s the trouble with magic. It’s so much smaller, subtler, than the hype makes it out to be. The myths and fantasy tales about mages walking through walls, levitating mountains and disintegrating enemies bear as much resemblance to what actually happens as cars exploding in movies does to driving down the road. Of course from inside the mages head, what happens can have the same impact mentally as lifting a mountain with their mind… or indeed, being hit by that car.

It helps a lot to have some way to balance solid reality with subjective imagination. Magicians lacking this are often found in mental health facilities. The ones who do come to an understanding of the difference often develop a kind of ‘model agnosticism’, an ability to switch from one description of reality to another, depending on the needs of the moment – but never ignoring all those cars.

One of the most handy mental tools in modern magic is often stated like this – ‘treat the things you encounter as if they are real, not as real’. It’s a key concept in the work of Austin Spare and informs many of the less dogmatic Fortean theorists like Jacques Vallee and Patrick Harpur. There’s a need in magical practice for the mage to immerse themselves in belief – if they don’t believe in what they’re doing, the magic doesn’t work too well – but that all too often leads to slipping into the oh-so-easy mindset that the belief system they’re immersed in is Real. The ‘as if’ rule-of-thumb helps guard against this.
(Crowley’s technique of working intently within a belief system until you get a magical result and then dropping that belief system completely, swapping another one in and repeating the process is also quite instructive. Eventually.)

It’s a lot easier to deal with some of the heavier results of magical working – such as being faced with something that looks, sounds and acts very much like a god/demon/angel/alien – if you can take that one step back and act as if it’s what it looks like, not that it really is that. Though at the same time, it’s a good idea to treat the alleged apparent entity with the same degree of respect as you would if they were Really Real. That’s just polite. And much, much safer than not doing so.

————

I’m very aware that this piece is kind of loose and non-specific. That’s the nature of the beast. I’ll likely waffle on more about this in later posts.

For a longer and better consideration of the subjective nature of perceived reality, you could do a lot worse than reading Robert Anton Wilson’s ‘Cosmic Trigger Volume 1’.

(Next on Guttershaman – a quick guide to spellcasting. Thoughts on the misuse of scientific terminology. And maybe some of the things I promised last time.)

Xtianfuckwitwatch Returns, with… Harry Potter and the Xtian Plagarist

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;

The Christian Parent’s Answer to the Harry Potter Phenomenon

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.

(How… original.)

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.)

Olympic Free Zone

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!”
Vivian Stanshall.

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

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5bTUs6ao_s]

The Mutual

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufOPWrO6vyw]

Guttershaman – Meanings and Patterns, part 1

“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 fashionthe 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.)

Guttershaman – intro

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.

Disclaimer.

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.

Thinking about The Dark Knight

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”