In his wild wandering look at the history of comics ‘Do Anything,’ Warren Ellis (in many ways the ideogical inspiration for Weaponizer, according to Texture) says;
“You can see how everything ties to everything else, that nothing happens in a vacuum, and that all culture is a web of connections.”
To me, being a magician is entirely about this realisation. Ever since Weird Shit first entered my life at roughly the age of seven, I’ve been batting around the morass of connections and links that have formed between my mind and the universe it seems to inhabit. Guttershaman, which I began as a project in 2008, is an attempt to write down how some of the more important connections work for me, in a manner others can understand.
(By which I don’t mean that my perspective is some rarefied thing above the heads of mere mortals and needing to be dumbed down for them – it’s far more like making the babblings of a raving loon even slightly intelligible to others.)
Since my Kind Hosts have offered me the chance to taint you all with my memetic ooze, I thought it’d be a good idea to offer a quick flashback on what I’ve covered there. Links to the individual blog entries are provided in case you wish to delve deeper into my head.
You lucky people.
I coined the term Guttershaman in response to a common problem among occult practitioners in the modern world – how to describe the urge to connect with the Other in a mostly secular/scientific/rational society, while at the same time making a distinction between my worldview and that of a tribal worker of either the past or the developing world. My background (lower working-class, avid devourer of any source material to try and understand just why my point of view was so different from my family and peers) means that my angle on the occult is… piecemeal at best. A Frankenstein of overlapping parts and ideas – a large amount of which came from fiction rather than ‘factual’ sources. Somehow, out of that mix came a clear instinct:
“…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.”
Shaman fit, but not perfectly. Not for a guttersnipe like me…
Guttershaman it is, then.
“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.”
After setting out my store, I next leapt onto the importance of patterns and connections, starting with a quick-and-dirty definition of magic as:
“…the means by which some observers can use and manipulate the patterns they observe to change the world.”
From there, I looked briefly at how science, religion and culture are defined by how they treat perceived patterns, noting:
“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.”
As for how magic functions, I note:
“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.”
Feeling that I hadn’t dug my own grave sufficiently deep at this point, the next part – pretentiously titled ‘The Nature of Reality, and other short subjects’ – threw in the post-modern angle… while noting:
“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.”
Another point I emphasise, which is rarely mentioned about magical activity but is a vital one;
“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.”
That balance between subjective perception and what for the sake of argument we call Objective Reality is a thorny one for mages and shamen – who, singly or as a group, are about as stable as an upturned egg. The way I try to keep a semblance of balance is a concept I first saw in the work of Fortean writer Patrick Harpur (but seems to be borrowed from Austin Osman Spare) – to treat the bizarre things we perceive or imagine as if they’re real, not as real. A fine line, but one that, if crossed, soon leads to believing everything your imagination emits as utterly real – a useful trick in spell-casting (as I noted in the next piece ‘Working Magic’) but a lousy habit for trying to actually live in the world.
(The Working Magic piece, of all my rantings, is probably the best one of ‘em all to read in its entirety to get an idea of How I Think I Do Stuff. Warning – words like ‘energy and ‘quantum’ are used in ways that are often frowned upon. Remember – it’s only a model!)
The next bit – a three-parter which includes the Halloween special commissioned for the Rending The Veil ezine, in which I first coined the phrase Tribe of the Strange – chews on the problem of ‘authenticity’ in neoshamanism. Short version, as Doktor Sleepless tells us:
“Authenticity is shit.”
Slightly longer – if magic is a bunch of patterns used to alter perception of the universe (and maybe even the universe itself), it doesn’t really matter where you nick the patterns from. A new combination of old ideas and myths can do the business as well as a supposedly pure and venerable old tradition – and pretty much all of those traditions got founded by someone doing much the same thing. This has been a major point of the Chaos Magic school and has worked pretty well for me so far. Plus, it means I get to quote comics and films I love to justify my beliefs, which is always good for a laugh.
After these first two bits, I took a look at how problematic the mix gets when money is involved, including a severe kicking of the Newager Guru-for-hire stance:
“I can make your soul better. I can bring you wealth in this world and the next. But in order to show you are ready, that your are committed enough to begin this process, you have to make an offering. A sacrifice to the coming purity of your soul and the inevitable favour of God.”
“That’ll be ten thousand dollars, please. Here’s your receipt.”
One thing I seem to keep circling in Guttershaman is how fiction overlaps consensus reality. That’s the focus of the current arc, which begins with a look at two words which can provoke a lot of disgust in many users – Avatar Otherkin.
“…of course you could also make a case that Otherkin – Avatar or otherwise – are just mad. That they’re taking their imagination and wish-fulfilment too far, that they’re just sad fanboys-and-girls who’ve played one too many role-play games.
For one thing – every religion or belief system looks crazy from the outside. All of them.
Yes, even yours.”
And (as I go on about in the latest post), in a time when someone can get an official apology from a government department for disrespecting their religion – and that religion is Jedi – that line between fact and fiction, religion and truth, gets interestingly blurry.
If there’s anything a mage likes, it’s blurry lines. Well, that and free food, kinky sex and a good laugh.
So that’s Guttershaman to date. If you manage to get though the whole damn thing, you’ll have a good idea just where I’ll be going both here at Weaponizer and generally. At worse, it may make an interesting case study in abnormal psychology someday.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the veal.
Original image ‘Day 264 – Magic Man‘ by Kat B Photography. Some rights reserved.