Monday, December 31, 2012

Occult Themes in Childrens Television

I was quite thrilled this Christmas holiday to be reminded that I have a secret vice; that of going back and recapturing all the classic fantasy programmes which haunted my childhood. This spark has always been with me of course and over the years I have maintained a fondness for shows such as the Box of Delights and of course Doctor Who.  Now adding to this there are stories such as The Children of the Stones, The Moon Stallion and The Owl Service all of which are a pure delight and are genuine time machines taking me back to the 1970s when it was safe and reasonable for children to go on quests and adventures without over protective parenting fuelled by hate and fearful politics and media wanting to coddle everything in cotton wool and anti-bacterial spray.

I will hit my 42nd year this coming February and so I was lucky enough to have grown up through the 1970s and early 80s which were a golden age in Children’s Television.  Since the mid 1990s however I have been haunted by half remembered enchantment, television stories that I watched but to which many details are forgotten.  Shows such as the Box of Delights or The Enchanted Castle have left a silver seam of magic seared across my memory ever reminding me of their presence but leaving me with the echoes of so much lost and eluded until recent research shined some light illuminating these forgotten places.  Over the years it has become very frustrating and trying to recapture a half-remembered magic is in many ways worse then not being able to find it at all.  Sometimes I could not even remember the names of the programme in question and I wasted ages searching for “Elizabeth and the Witch” when I should instead have searched for Lizzy Dripping.  Memory can be fickle in this way.

It was in these early days when the occultist fire started burning brightly.  I was 12 and picked up and read (smuggling home from the library without my mother seeing) two occults books, "Astral Doorways" by JH Brennan and "The Magician, his training and work" by WE Butler.  Both were (and still are) cracking reads, classics on the occult and as I later found out ones which still influence me greatly.  Both books lead to my reading other books by these authors and others, some of which were illuminating and other which turned out to be blind alleys which wasted a couple of years.  There is serious learning here however and I feel that when I have children getting them to read Mr Butler's books will be a high priority.  Many of these books speak about the power and important of the imagination and exactly what can be done with a trained mind.  All this however started with the fiction which inspired me to read more.

Childrens fantasy fiction can be truly magical, in enthusing our minds with such potent symbolism the magic grows within us as we assimilate this imagery and concepts binding them into our deepest consciousness creating genuine possibilities for change regardless of the colder logics of the waking world.  The fact that these shows work themselves in deep is clear whenever we re-watch an older show as an adult.  The same emotions experienced as a child are still remembered and stirred up when the show is reviewed.  For example go back and watch a classic Doctor Who story which you have not seen as a child, one which scared you then.  You will feel the same emotions as you did as a child, albeit hopefully as an adult you will be able to temper those feelings better.

Science Fiction and Fantasy really go hand in hand and both are often saturated in occultism.  We see this blended most adeptly in television of this era with Doctor Who remaining one of my favourites.  For all his protestations as to being a scientist, the good Doctor is clearly a magician first and foremost and understands the need to work towards maintaining a balance rather than being strictly a good guy.  Very much a trickster and avatar of Mercury, the Doctor walks through reality like a dream, showing us how to counter the terrors of our nightside and bring them into the day.

Some early Doctor Who stories bleed occultism to my absolute delight.  Most fondly remembered of course is The Daemons.  Here we see Roger Delgardo as the Master dressed up like a Golden Dawn magician, epically misquoting Aleister Crowley with "To do my will shall be the Whole of the Law"[sic].  We see other occult concepts also appear here such as the idea of the energetic rebound.  The concept here is simple, one sends of a magical attack in the direction of a target who has a defence in place.  The attach will then rebound off that person and hit the sender.  Whilst clever occultists will usually have a timey-wimey way to get around such limitations these strictures are staples of beginner books and occult fiction and serve mostly to keep wannabe students on the straight and narrow.

The writer of this tale, Barry Letts was an esoteric Buddhist with a massive interest in magic and we really see this shine with a later story which became Jon Pertwee's swansong as the Doctor - The Planet of the Spiders.  This tale could really have been written by the esteemed Kenneth Grant - it is very esoteric.  On Earth we have Tibetan Bon Buddhist monks who are secretly Timelords existing in self-imposed exile.  There is a heavy suggestion that tulpas are used by Timelords to shape their future regenerations, each future self is a new tulpa.   All this is framed in mauve with a very Typhonian gloss of spiders from a distant world seeking to impinge themselves upon the Sphere of sensation of wannabe black-magicians and rule our world. 

This story was released in the very early 1970s just after Kenneth Grant had released The Magical Revival.  However if it turns out that Letts had read a copy of Kenneth Grant's Beyond the Mauve Zone which had somehow got itself caught in the time distortion left in the wake of Children of the Zones and sent back in time I would not be surprised.

Tom Bakers swansong as the Doctor (Logopolis, 1979) also included a watcher; his future self existing as a projection, a tulpa already able to influence events.  This idea was abandoned by subsequent writers and producers of Doctor Who but in its day these ideas are very suggestive.  The idea of rebirth enriches much fiction, as shown, in The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe with Aslan regenerating after the White witch sacrifices him.   The idea of a phoenix as a bird of regeneration is also a common motif which pops up, of course in E Nesbit’s “Phoenix and carpet” and more recently in the Harry Potter mythos.

Occultists have always written fictional stories and embedded their ideas within fiction as a way of getting past our sceptical censor.  An early story was the seminal Zanoni, written by Bulwer Lytton and plugged as a "Rosicrucian tale".  Zanoni definitely influenced Samuel MacGregor Mathers whose wife, Moina; used it for him as an affectionate nickname.  Moina of course crossed astral swords which another seminal occultist, Dion Fortune who really made use of the occult novel as a way to transmit ideas.

I must admit that I really hate Fortune's writing style.  She cannot characterise men in her books and they all too often end up an impotent and effeminate fools seeking a stronger woman to complete them.  However in fairness to her I understand that her later books were meant as romantic fiction rather than occult novels.  Her books are loaded with occultism however and many things she left out from her non fiction made its way into her novels, so they are well worth working through despite the prose.  Her first book however; “Doctor Tavener” makes up for this in advance and (Oh look) the Doctor is an adept who helps resolve a number of problems with his esoteric knowledge and intelligence.

Weaving back to television, Children of the Stones is rightly held up as a classic and is fondly remembered by many people.  Re-watching it recently it was nice to spot a copy of Elizabeth St George's Casebook for a working occultist on the shelf in episode 2 (about 5 mins into the episode).  This is a rather obscure book now and St George has sadly faded into history and not really remembered nowadays.  In her day however she was a noted occultist who worked with the esteemed (and lovingly bad-tempered) William Gray who for all his faults certainly knew his stuff and is respected for his occult knowledge.

I feel that the story captures all the important elements of an occult tale.  We have a stone circle, a dastardly black magician (also called a priest and magus) seeking to control the population.  A lot of the modern tools used by psychic researchers, psychic questers and paranormal researchers are also shown here such as looking at stellar alignments and tracking lines on maps.  We also see a remarkably open minded scientist (played by Blake’s 7 actor Gareth Thomas) encouraging his son in experiments in psychometry.  His line "There is a lot we don’t understand" is priceless in context and I wish that the likes of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking focus upon that rather than the tiny amount achieved by humanity so far.

The story is not perfect however and there are leaps of logic which may sound scientific but degenerate into silliness.  For example arguing that the stones were aligned to a supernova is fairly plausible if unlikely.  But then saying that since the star then became a black hole things reversed is just silliness.  Similarly the whole time slip thing at the end where the protagonists drive out of Milbury (Avebury) to pass the much younger and still alive bad guy driving in at the start of his wicked adventures is not a clever twist but silliness which cheapens the whole story.  However these faults do not really matter in what is basically a fascinating and engaging romp through magic and esoteric lore.

We see other elements of magic in The Moon Stallion which features elements of magic much popularised by the late Andrew Chumbley over the past decade, namely the infamous Toad ritual.  This nasty ritual has several variants all of which basically involve finding a (sometimes already dead) toad, buying it in an anthill until the flesh has been picked away then at the right time tossing the skeleton in a river at midnight, then selecting a particular bone to keep as a talisman.  Accounts differ as to whether the required stone floats, sinks last or on the more unlikely accounts floats up against the current where the devil appears to try to wrest it from the magician.  

Here is how The Moon Stallion dramatised this:

The child in the above clip rightly says "who would want to do a nasty thing like that" and it is rather unpleasant and certainly anything which involves mistreating animals in any way should be utterly condemned in my opinion.  Certainly it should be remembered that toads are protected in the UK and a very serious view with be taken with those foolish enough to harm wildlife.

It is however relevant to note that these traditions are out there and we do see them reflected in children’s television.  Is this a bad thing?  I do not think so since most children know the difference between good and evil and these programmes emphasis this and teach children to be willing to get up and make a stand.  It is telling that the children in the Moon Stallion make a stand against Todman.

It is nice to know that there was a time when writers were still there weaving the magic into children fiction and subtly influencing children underneath the radar of fundamentalists or the new puritans such as mumsnet.  Magic is a crucial part of our childhood and long may it remain so.  But also this is a tribute to these forgotten writers who wrote such wonderful tales for television.  Screenwriters are never remembered but the ones who gave us these stories deserve a moment of respect and a glass in their honour.  Long may these stories be told and retold and maybe one day we will see a new golden age of powerful childrens fiction being dramatised and shown.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happy Birthday Alexandra David-Néel

Today, October the 24th I shall be raising a glass to wish Alexandra David-Néel a very happy birthday. Alexandra was awesome as a sorceress, buddhist and adventurer, she penetrated Lhasa, indeed Tibet when it was still a closed Kingdom. She was also an anarchist fighting the fight against oppression and a brilliant writer who influenced luminaries such as Allen Ginsberg and Alan Watts.

Amongst the many reasons to remember this remarkable lady is the fact that she brought m

agical tales of Tulpas to the West. Tulpas are vital game changers of which I shall have a lot (one hell of a lot in fact) to speak about very soon. Her description of the fabled Dubthab rite was very hard to trace and even then assumes that the reader can read-between-the-lines; such was early 20th century esotericism! Even Google doesnt know everything

A tulpa is basically an imagined idea which through intensity of envivification is brought into reality as a solid object. They are different from the thoughtforms of western magicians (although often confused) in that they take a lot more work to create and are visible to other people much as a ghost is. However with work a tulpa can be as solid as a punch in the nose.

Happy Birthday Alexandra David-Néel. I say "awesome" a lot nowadays, but you really were that. If I only ever manage to follow in your footsteps I will have achieved much and lived a life worth living. October the 24th will forever be your day!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Pantacles of Solomon by S. Alderanay

This exellent book by S. Aldaranay couldnt have come to me at a better time.  I have recently been looking at the Pantacles for a project of my own (watch this space) and walk away from the various versions in disgust.  Many editions (including the Mathers edition) have errors, the psalms cast around each circle are often unclear squiggles and it is all hard work to go through.  This version has the pantacles cleaned, corrected and redrawn and is a breathe of fresh air after pouring through so many dusty grimoires.

So this book has come to us at a perfect time and I am sure that Ceremonial magicians and Hoodoo practictioners alike will find this new version invaluable.  Get it now from Hadean press.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Starry Wisdom: A perichoresical perambulation through the works of Kenneth Grant

The Starry Wisdom:  A perichoresical perambulation through the works of Kenneth Grant

It seems that like buses my writing comes across in twos.  Here is a link to an article I have written for Darklore which is the awesome journal put together for the Daily Grail.  I have been following the Daily Grail for ten years now and I am certain that there is not a finer source of esoteric news.

This link here will take you to a page detailing Darklore and includes links to Amazon in the UK and US.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Walking the Spectral Path

My book, "Walking the Spectral Path" is due to be published by Hadean Press on the significant date of the 31st of October.  This short work looks at ghosts from the magical perspective examining what a ghost may actually be and details some occult methods of exploring the paranormal.  It is very much a personal piece which also details a number of my own experiences.

It will be available from Amazon (UK (soon) and US) from Halloween but available now direct from Hadean Press.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dangers of forgetting the past

Dangers of forgetting the past

 Gareth Hewitson-May in Dark doorway of the Beast (New World, 1992) starts with the following paragraph which I feel is very relevant to people such as myself who are interested in taking things apart to see how they work.

The utter devastation that has swept through the esoteric fraternities for the last two thousand years has unfortunately completely dissolved the coherence of attitude that is necessary to the understanding of the system. It is therefore of monumental importance that all attempts to recover such complete doctrines should be abandoned as futile. The very fact that language, understanding, communication, terminology, relevance of material are now so very different, that it is plainly obvious that the 'return' of any such 'recovered doctrines' in today’s culture would only serve to confuse, rather than to illuminate.

I feel that this paragraph is very important and it does point out that there will be (at best) problems if we try to truly recapture, recreate and practice an ancient tradition exactly as it was practiced in the past.  We have changed, the world has changed and so our interface with magic must also change.  We have moved away not only from the mental processes which our ancestors followed, but even our physiology has changed – we are very different to our ancestors.

An often quoted[1] example of this transformation concerns Homer’s reference to the wine-dark sea.  In no way can the Mediterranean Sea be said to be “wine-dark”.  Part of this “evolution” seems to stem from how our thinking processes have changed from being a tribal consciousness (which was perhaps closer to a group mind) to an individual consciousness.  In antiquity perhaps this shift was still happening and we did not necessarily have the same consciousness then that we have now.  This transformation is continuing and even within the lifetimes of our grandparents we can spot differences.

As another example, consider how our use of the English language is always mutating and we use different terms and phrase things differently in modern times.  I remember that at school during the 1980s the word “wicked” was used to describe something which was totally brilliant, nowadays “wicked” just means very bad again and like people using “swell” or “fab” its use in the schoolyard has thankfully declined.

For another example of this consider how we find different things funny.  Modern sitcoms have a very different humour to sitcoms written only 30 years ago and (for example) Terry and June is vastly different from say One foot in the grave even though they both involve a middle-aged couple living their life. Perhaps I am speaking personally, perhaps not, but the older comedy seems much more dated and arguably less funny that the later.  In 20 years time One foot in the grave will also seem dated compared to whatever is shown in our future.  It is sobering to contemplate that many people from the generation reading this blog will be the generation satirised in that future comedy.

As a final example, Victorians used to entertain themselves in the evening by watching jellies wobble. To our minds that seems to be the formulae for the most inconceivably tedious evening. And whilst cannabis was perfectly legal, acceptable and obtainable in the Victorian era I don’t think that can account for this mad behaviour.

Some of this change is driven by technology.  For example before the creation of gas lighting, human sleep patterns were very different to what they are today, with people commonly going to bed at around 6pm, waking up for an hour or two around midnight and then returning to bed until morning.  Literature referred to people having a first and then a second sleep.  Interestingly the liminal period between first and second sleep was the “witching hour” where people were more likely to see ghosts.  I suspect that this is due to the effects of the first sleep on brainwaves.

Author and Enochian magician Scot Stenwick recently gave a fabulous interview[2] on the awesome Deeper down the rabbit hole series of podcasts.  He makes the point in relation to Enochian scrying that a short burst of alpha/theta from a mind-machine prior to scrying makes everyone a seer.  I suspect that this is the state many people are in between their first and second sleep and thus being highly psychic are able to pick up on anything which may be around them.  Similarly the entities which people pick up on during sleep paralysis are detected because whilst the brain is in a highly receptive state when awake; even though the body is “asleep” – actually paralysed by the body in order that dreams are not acted out.  The paralysis is purely physiological and definitely not supernatural.

So, we have changed and we will continue to change as our past recedes into the distance and we humans are continually reinventing ourselves. 

So, I am not sure what to think when we read about modern magicians seeking to recapture an authentic tradition and attempting to reconstruct it exactly as it was. Could this be the equivalent of trying to compile and run a computer program written in say Java 1 with a Java 7 compiler?  Sure you may get something working but also lots of errors given that we are so substantially different to the magicians of antiquity.

I feel that one engine of change which affects us is language and perhaps this is the most fundamental driver of all, since we frame our thoughts in language even though it is in a continual state of flux.  Whilst our true selves are deeper than just a conscious layer which processes the input from our perceptions on a linguistic/semantic level and which equates to our everyday conscious selves, researchers since Freud and Jung have shown that we are far deeper than that.  So there is the question as to how much our language influences our thinking?  This idea is referred to in linguistics as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which proposes that a person’s language sets constraints upon how they think. This idea is by no means universally accepted, but it does seem to be partially accepted as one of the factors which influences our thought processes.

Cliff Pickover in Sex, Drugs, Einstein and Elves gives several examples of how language shapes and constrains things. In one example he illustrates how language compartmentalises words. Let us consider the words “Strawberry, Raspberry, Mulberry and Blueberry”, all words linked by the suffix “berry”, which we can use to link these as examples of “berries”. Thus through the English language we can process these words and categorise then as examples of “berry” without any further information.  We will know without actually needing to examine the objects exactly what class they belong to. 

Now let us consider the French equivalent of these words – “Fraise, Framboise, Mure, Myrtille”. Clearly they do not share any common parts such as a “–berry” suffix.  Any thinking processes working with these cannot unify them except with a knowledge that is larger that the words themselves, a meta context which places them into an information-order.

We frame our thoughts in language, and so without any form of mystical practice, our thoughts become very much limited by that language. Mysticism is accessing the ineffable, takes us to places where language cannot describe because these are places not visited by evolutionary humans developing language; and so we often come back “mind-expanded” but at a loss for words to describe the experience, often in trying to reach for the language we have to stretch to metaphor and/or take the risk of sounding nuttier than the average squirrel’s dinner.  Our languages have evolved, growing out of the human experience and so are strong in describing deeper experiences; concepts such as food, sex, fight, flight etc.  They are however weak in describing deeper spiritual encounters which are rarer and less embedded within our day-to-day consciousness; particularly now since we have grown more materialistic over time. 

Perhaps we can learn something from the emerging culinary art of molecular gastronomy.  Chefs such as  Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria are true alchemists literally applying the alchemical processes of “salve et coagula”; divide and recombine; to create new experiences that push the limits of taste into creating interesting new sensations. Whilst I think that in pure food terms what these researchers are achieving is phenomenal, I also think that we can learn a lot from them and apply these ideas back to magic.

As an aside (which may or may not be relevant) I don’t think we can eat food such as Heston and Ferran cook every day. As ever a good diet based on organically grown natural produced ingredients seems to be the key. Whether this also applies to magic remains, I believe, to the discretion of the magician.

Just to give you a taste of what I am on about, here is an article on Ferran which I think is particularly profound in that it discusses Ferran's thoughts.

Most importantly from the clip:

He kept referring to a new language and that to create a new language you need a new alphabet, new grammar, new tools and processes. He argues that his style of cooking is this new language and that, with every new technique, he's building up the alphabet.

I think that this is vitally important; taking things into a modern direction needs this sort of mentality, this sort of fresh angle.  Austin Osman Spare wrote about an alphabet of desire; this is exactly what chefs like Heston and Ferran Adria are doing, breaking their “reality” down into base ingredients and processes and building things up from there – solve et coagula. 

Let us go back to Hewitson-May’s original quote.  How much of this do I actually accept? 

Part of the problem with magic is that unless one were lucky (or unlucky!) enough to have been born as a natural psychic producing a continually repeatable result is actually very difficult, especially for a beginner.  So whilst with chemistry we know that every time we mix hydrogen and oxygen we will get an explosion and water, this does not happen so readily in sorcery.   The magical arts are not repeatable in the same way that a scientific process is.

This makes it incredibly difficult  to quickly and efficiently build up a toolbox of magical techniques where one can go from meditating one day to raising demons a week later.  These things take time whilst we learn to meditate, tune our visualization abilities and begin working with an energy practice such as opening our chakras (or using the Middle Pillar exercise enough) that we then start realising that our psychic awareness is tuned enough to then begin making contacts and eventually obtain useful and practical information from spirits.  This is the point where we really begin to become a magician and can change the universe.

It has taken humanity a very long time to work out the above usually in scenarios where the trailblazers had much more free time on their hands to think and to practice.  I very much doubt that we will get very far at all if we literally bin everything we know (or think we know) and say something like “Ok how do I make the universe do this” then work out how.  It will be easier for a Stone Age society to discover physics and then decide to build a rocket to the moon. 

The problem with discovering physics however is that I suspect it is like working with the operating system of the universe.  Once you start working with that however you are also limited to its rules.  With magic I very much see us learning how to hack the machine code which underlies but is not dependant upon physics.  You will not be limited by annoyances such as the speed of light or the Planck length and I feel in principal that one is able to do absolutely, literally anything; however it is very very difficult to get out of the fact that we ourselves are composed of matter which is part of (and therefore limited by) the operating system, by physics itself.

So I have to disagree with Hewitson-May up to a point.  I do not think that we should bin the past and of course to forget the past is also to forget the lessons of the past.  I do agree however that we are different now that we will need to recalibrate our knowledge to reflect the fact that we are different.

Much as I have argued against the incompatibility between science and magic elsewhere on this blog; science has and will continue to push human development for the foreseeable future and most importantly science has lead us down a path where humanity does not and should not take things as gospel, but rather we must ask, question and evaluate then more on.  This is true for every field we look at, as true for physics as it is for sorcery and whilst I still stand by my argument that physics and sorcery are incompatible and we will never arrive at an explanation of one using the other, the “method of science” to quote Aleister Crowley is still valid in all human endeavours since it is a methodology, a way of thinking rather than a solution or an explanation within itself, even though paradoxically the method of science can be limiting when its light is fully turned onto psychic experience which is holistic in nature and dependant upon a human and the universe; a reductionist interpretation required by Popperian science erodes the magic.

There is still a massive value in researching and understanding the past.  There are fragments of lore which we still need to learn, things to rediscover and reweave into our practice; not forgetting that our practice is constantly new.  The power in Andrew Chumbley’s reboot of traditional witchcraft in the Azoetia is that it itself is not traditional but rather it is contains traditional elements which have been reformulated to be of relevance to the modern mind.   Perhaps even more prominently work such as the corpus left by the respected Kenneth Grant gives us keys to sort the information and understand what worked in the past ready for us to mould ready for future work.  Grant powerfully left us whole connected strands of interpretation which not only shows how concepts evolved, but how concepts stretch from our deepest unconsciousness out to the light of our everyday right-brain selves.
Similarly we can inherit a lot of techniques which have been knocking around for millennia such as the qabalistic middle pillar exercise, Austin Spares method of creating sigil-entities (which actually goes back to Agrippa) or even reformulate a practice of creating a tulpa based upon Tibetan Bon techniques but using a qabalistic rather than a Bon/Tantra paradigm.  There are massive differences between a true Tibetan style Tulpa and a thoughtform as I will be examining in a future post.  These techniques are still present and waiting to be practices and understood from a modern magical mindset, something humanity has yet to fully achieve.

However I feel that we must be mindful always that a lot of what we have inherited are dry techniques, divorced from their spiritual underpinnings.  Communication and interaction with spirits may not be the only component in magic, in fact it may not be the most important component.  However it is an important component of all magical practice and whilst I feel that this is somewhat downplayed by the Golden Dawn and its inheritors this is something which needs to be remembered.

I feel that one of the biggest points to be almost lost is that we are in danger of losing contact with the spirits; and these always mediate the magic.  Magic as taught by the offshoots of the GD seem more about visualisation and banishing rather than actually learning to still the mind and speaking to those presences which are around us.  As I dig deeper and learn to effectively use practices such as Enochian and Hoodoo I find that taking this as literally true becomes more useful than an abstract idea that this may be my subconscious talking; an idea which I do not accept.  Ultimately it does not matter but for someone like me who gets bugged by the tiniest details it is important and whilst it does go against my scientific knowledge, accepting the literal existence of spirits is the most honest way I can move forward.  It doesn’t really matter if I am wrong since acting in this way creates results, which is definitely the most important thing.

This avoidance or even fear of spirits seems endemic to many modern groups.   Newbies then either go goetia crazy and try to hold everything in a triangle of art – a barbaric offshoot of a medieval mentality which leads to a nasty albeit symbolic (at least on our level) torturing of spirits to compel them into obedience.  This always ends very badly and I feel that authors such as Joseph Lisiewski are particularly wrong here.  His background is in physics and it seems that he is trapped in a philosophy which leads him to act as if magic is a recipe book such as depicted in Harry Potter.  He does not understand the underlying principals and so is stuck in the medieval mindset which the writers of the grimoires existed within.

There are other examples here, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki of the Servants of the Light in her “Ritual magic workbook” instructs students not to investigate ghosts or touch Enochian, despite these activities being two excellent ways in which we can learn to reach out and touch the spirit world.  How can people learn to be mediators and magicians if they are forbidden to speak to spiritual entities!   I find it interesting that Dolores then goes off to recount her own Enochian experiences – a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do”.

This spiritism is a vital part of magic and whilst I have no idea as to what the underlying “physics” is as to what is happening (if that is even a valid question – perhaps it is liking asking about the physics of the dream world I found myself in last sleep!), working with entities whether we are talking about contacts in the sense that the esteemed WE Butler describes, venerating the Vudou Loa or pestering ghosts to see what happens is vital stuff.   This approach gives a range of results ranging from inner knowledge to outer experiences and at the very least helps to develop ones psychic perceptions.  That alone is vital since it teaches one to realise that personal experience is important, regardless of what sceptics such as Susan Blackmore might say.

So let us remember that we have changed, the past is past and not totally relevant to us.  However it is still very important and digging through ancient practices and techniques will give us a vast wealth of otherwise impossible to obtain knowledge which we might not be able to rediscover today.  Ultimately this will help us to grow into a new understand of magic, tempered by modern concepts and consciousness and really evolve as individuals.  We must never however forget that in missing out the spiritist perspective we are potentially ignoring half of creation.

[1] First in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Dr Julian Jaynes

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is there ever really a case for the academic study of the occult?

I originally wrote this several years ago for a forum I used to run, however decided that it was time to update and refresh it.  I have added a few biographical details here at the beginning since I feel that the whole piece makes more sense if I describe where I am coming from and why my attitude is as it is. 

I did intend my last posting on “Liminal Whispers” to be my last piece on the social and scientific impact of the occult for the time being but on reflection I wanted to get this one out there first to close these thoughts for a time, freeing myself to write about something more experiential next, probably something new on tulpas if I can get all my material together in a coherent fashion.  I also feel that in getting all this out there I had drawn myself a line and can move on from the fundamentalists on all sides of this argument.

I am writing this as someone whose background has always been scientific and “rational” despite a firm acceptance of the existence of magic and the paranormal.  This is mostly due to a number of very strange experiences growing up that have convinced me that there is a larger reality out there than the likes of Dawkins and Randi can dream off in their limited philosophies.  So for me it is not even really about trying to prove that the paranormal is real, it is very much my trying to live in and understand the world with both a scientific and a magical worldview. 

This has probably left me a little eccentric in my views, which is fine with me.  Frankly I am surprised that I cope so well since many in my family have either gone nutty-religious or nutty-materialist.  I have managed to disentangle and dispel some of the more religious aspects of my family to the extent that they no longer think that I am a diabolist and my mother has been known to borrow and read my Crowley books, not that I think too highly of Aleister Crowley, which is a story for another day.  The materialists are actually more trouble since they are convinced I am bonkers and that it is their job to make me see reason.  However I suspect in at least two cases this is more a fear reaction to their own psychic sensitivity.  My sister in particular is very psychic but wants nothing to do with the paranormal which is really annoying on those days when I need a really good seer…

For example, there is one experience which happened when I was quite young and playing with my younger brother back in our house in Lincolnshire.  We both stopped for a moment and I remember seeing an apparition of our niece, Jennifer standing just next to us.  Aaron (my brother) asked me if I had just seen Jenny there.   I said yes and we were both a little started by that.  We could both describe the image identically including the fact that she was wearing her yellow dress etc.  Since the house was empty apart from us and Jenny was 20 miles away in the nearby town of Boston it couldn’t have been her physical self.  My nasty rationalist mind has pondered and broken down this event for 25 years or so now and I still can’t explain this in “rational terms” although I can draw on a number of paranormal theories to explain this.  It doesn’t really matter to me what the explanation is as much as the fact that events like this show that the phenomena is real and that we are immersed in it as a part of out reality.

I know that modern psychologists would try to explain this sort of thing away as a shared fantasy or shared hallucination or something.  However they would be utterly wrong.  There was no two way discussion of details where this could happen.  I saw the apparition and my brother described it exactly how I saw it.
My education was formally academic up to MSc level, and at the time I dallied with the idea of taking a PhD which would have probably been in a mathematical or computational subject.  One of my regrets however is that I did not study physics to A level and if I could live the early part of my life over again (or win the lottery) I shall certainly take an A level in physics and use that as a springboard back into academia and some hard sciences.  This is more for personal interest however rather than feeling a need to prove anything to the world. 

I hesitate to use the word “psychic” to describe myself.  Despite a number of very odd experiences which are only explainable in terms of the paranormal, my day-to-day mindset is generally analytical and left-brained.  I have had to (and continue to) work very hard to open up to different consciousness and experience the paranormal in a willed sense.  Years of meditation and visualization exercises have helped, however the biggest switch on point was joining the ghost club and actually experiencing a number of hauntings where I found that the psychic part of me switched on very quickly to dramatic effect and I have found subsequently that it is much easier for myself to switch this on now that I know what that state feels like and have developed my own personal routine to activate it.

I am generally my own worst enemy however in that I try to over analyze when I should be sensing.  This is something which I am working on however and it just takes time, effort and self-control.  I can easily see this taking another twenty years or so, in fact it is probably a lifetime task.

Those states of mind where the psychic facility is active however are fascinating to me, and alike those dreams which we get sometimes, that seem deeper and more “real” than other dreams, than “reality” itself sometimes.  I assume that I am fairly average in the sense that most (if not all) other people have similar weird experiences and dreams, so I am frankly a bit surprised that most other people are not really interested in the paranormal or occult except as in a vague voyeuristic way and in fact many people are openly hostile to it.  I have really given up trying to persuade people to be interested in the extraordinary things which happen around us all the time and see myself basically as an explorer, exploring solely for myself to learn and find out rather than find the proof to enlighten humanity. 

I am at heart a bit of an academic however in that I like things to be nicely and precisely defined all with terms of reference etc.  I am all for furthering occult knowledge, however I feel that given the experiential nature of the experiences it is not something which works well within the academic environment.  I have commented elsewhere on this blog my issues with physics and the paranormal.  However conversely with magic we also have to deal with the concept of studying spirits, in fact of communicating with the spirits you wish to study.

So, let us start by defining the term “occult” so we are all on the same level here.  Occult derives from the Latin “occultus” which means “hidden” or “secret”.  The association of this word with the paranormal or magical began somewhere around the 17th century.  I tend to use it synonymously with “paranormal” to denote the range of phenomena ranging from psychicism to haunted houses to the effects of ritual magic.
I think that academia itself is quite odd and in many ways academics are a law unto themselves. They see themselves as the holders and the guardians of sacred knowledge and the only ones who can grant access to it, knowledge which is not academic is often seen as not quite acceptable.  A person outside that community often finds that it is very hard to be accepted or even printed in Journals such as Nature. This causes massive problems in that subjects which are seen as “politically” bad choices for research are automatically ignored. Placing them below the discussion threshold means that this can happen without debate.  We see this happen frequently with the rise of the sceptical movement, totally dismissing (and even name calling) researchers such as parapsychologists.

I see this “political correctness” as the first barrier with regards to the academic study of these subjects.  Doubtless over time it will be overcome and if there is any truth in these subjects then eventually proper study will come about.  However to expose them to an environment of disbelief could bring about considerable short term damage preventing them from being studied for much longer.

We see a similar situation arise with the evolution debate.  Broadly (very broadly) speaking the argument is polarized between monotheists who either argue for the old Garden of Eden chestnut, or slip their God in with the intelligent design sophistry.  The other side of the argument is dominated by sceptics such as Dawkins who insists upon the literal truth of Darwin’s model for evolution; “Natural Selection”.  Before Wallace and Darwin independently postulated “Natural Selection” as the mechanism behind evolution there were other theories which have long been discredited such as “Lamarckian inheritance” where acquired characteristics are passed on.  So a Blacksmith would have strong arms and we would then expect his children to inherit this trait.  Clearly this is not what happens.  Darwin himself however had some doubts as to whether Natural Selection explains everything but it is widely accepted as the whole story.

As far as I am concerned we (humanity) came about by evolution, so I have no time for the monotheists arguments at all.  However I am a bit annoyed that these monotheists are the only ones causing a fuss here – We don’t see Odinists arguing that mankind was made from trees as some Northern traditions suggest.  It all seems to me to be all about a big mouth middle-eastern storm deity who now has a lot of big mouthed followers.

However the problem arises when one wants to study the mechanism of evolution to a deeper level.  To scientifically suggest that there may be more to the theory is academic suicide and any actual problems with the theory are suppressed to the favour of the purist neo-Darwinian argument.  

A number of noted academic such as Lynn Margulis ( (beware Wikipedia is a bit one-sided))  have raised theories such as the endosymbiotic theory which argues that Eukaryotic (complex) cells can assimilate less complex cells to build up their complexity.   Other researchers have raised questions such as noting that bacteria is the most prolific of all life on earth and is also very simple, then asking where is the impetus towards more complex life forms evolving including humans coming from. 

These are totally slated by the neo Darwinists, however I think that Margulis etc have a point that questions still need to be answered, these questions still agree with the mechanism of evolution, even with natural selection as the mechanism by which evolution (at least generally operates) but (as with any science) there are quibbles and questions about the details which need research.   However the political climate has suppressed and largely ridiculed this kind of research whilst it wastes time with the children who still think their God did it in 6 days.  Remember we are talking about cases where peer review and research should come to a scientific consensus rather than a spat between a sect of religionists and a sect of scientists.  A cynical part of me suggests that perhaps the neo-Darwinists are going after the easy targets rather than having to try to break down the research built up by the likes of Lynn Margulis.

Another slightly older example occurred with the dating of the Sphinx in the 1990s.   I remember the outcry among archaeologists when John West and Robert Schock argued for the water erosion of the Giza Sphinx. In the Horizon documentary it was reported that geologists were given pictures of the Sphinx with the head taped over (so it looks like any mass of rock). Many (if not all) argued that this was water erosion until the tape was removed, revealing the familiar Sphinx, They then refused to be associated with the work since it was not politically correct at the time to question the archaeological "history" in place.   It seems that archaeologists might be even less flexible than the neo-Darwinists when it comes to opposing scientific theories.

Similarly we have Robert Bauval's Orion correlation. As far as I know no academic would even look at the research.  Regardless of whether the correlation is true or coincidental it should have been looked at since the work was brought to the academic gatekeepers as a well-developed theory, not a “loony new-age” idea.   Refusing to look at research keeps these ideas below the threshold of debate, entrenching set ideas and reinforcing set positions and textbook sales. 

As a minor digression, nowadays I am more included to accept Andrew Collins work on a Cygnus correlation which seems to place a tighter correlation between the stars and the pyramids and also correlates with other objects on the Giza plateau.  However what I or anyone else thinks is not really relevant in the larger context.  Both ideas should be subject to peer review and studied, rather than the case at the moment where we break into the Collins or Bauval camp on the subject.

Finally we have the case of the sceptical parapsychologists such as Richard Wiseman, putting on a show to enforce their ideas (and hide their bad science).  Wiseman is a very poor researcher however he is very good at whipping up a sensationalist fervour which the media love.  One piece of “research” involved his stunningly unoriginal thesis that scary places make people imagine ghosts.  There seems to be a global academic belief that ghosts are not real and that therefore they must be imagined.  This is nonsense of course, since the dawn of history, consistently across all cultures, ages, both genders, a broad range of intelligence and education, ghosts are consistently experienced by people.  Parapsychologists should be asking questions such as what exactly is being experienced rather the belittling the actual experience.

Wiseman’s “research” means getting a lot of silly people to scare themselves in his academic ghost train, to a lot of media witnessing so he can make his sweeping and uninformed statements.  His research does not come anywhere towards looking at the broad spectrum of ghostly phenomena which gets reported including crisis apparitions, poltergeists and possession.  Stepping back for a moment there doesn’t seem to be much thought amongst academics regarding psychic perception in cases of apparitions and people are still looking for (and expecting to photograph) ghosts made of a form of matter.  Our state of knowledge in these areas is now so tenuous that people like Wiseman; who have clearly and absolutely no experience with ghosts or the paranormal in general; defining “reality” and “knowledge”.  This is a reversal of the work open minded Victorian investigators such as Sir Oliver Lodge accomplished who went into the field with an open mind and brought back knowledge gained from experience.

Wiseman and many others often use a tactic of ridiculing serious researchers or battling the more dodgy and fringe people in the field, then using their inevitable victory to blanket-declare it all “woo”.  Richard Dawkins argues against phenomena in “The Blind Watchmaker” by using the example of statues moving and discussing the number of atoms which would need to move for this to happen, James (The amazing) Randi spends his time tilting with Uri Geller and Sylvia Browne using the absurdity and question marks which often surrounds these people as ammunition for an assault against more serious people such as Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin or Brian Josephson.   Finally they resort to name calling. Randi (I know he is not an academic but he is used by academics in supporting their claims - eg the Jacques Benveniste "water memory" episode) labels us all WooWoo's. Dawkins labels atheistic scientists "Brights".
There are a lot of scientists out there with a genuine interest in the occult and the paranormal.  However the noise created by posturers such as Randi and Dawkins or “nobbers” (to use his word) such as Brian Cox means that their chances of funding are reduced to practically zero.
I could go on here, but there are many examples available on line and an attack of these sceptics is not so much my concern as is my question as to whether magical subjects really need a place in academia.

When we do find a supporting academics who at least research the subject and seriously consider the evidence; luminaries such as Jacques Vallee, or John Mack in UFO research; they do produce often startling and paradigm shifting research which is often worth the hassle we get from the rest, however these true pioneers are rare and often caught in the quagmire of backwards thinking from the mouthy establishment which are more interested in protecting the status quo, watching each others backs or the "validity" of their latest book. A kind of “old boys network” kicks in and established myths become self perpetuating in a strange sidereal way as illustrated in Borges "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" where a false and synthetic archaeology and history begins to supplant real history.

So, it will be a long uphill battle to get these subjects ever studied academically.  However I also believe that even with acceptance the academic approach will cause problems. I think that should magic and psychicism ever become accepted there are limits to where academia can go. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what role academia plays in magic?

Should it should be there to record occult history, recording the acts (and claims) of magicians throughout history and if this is the case, what purpose does this serve? Most people are not interested in magic as I have shown above, and occultists will already know the histories of other magicians. Also the academic “fact” ignores the mythic element - as a magician I am more interested in the mythic Merlin rather than any historical person who may or may not have even existed.
Let us take Dr Dave Evans’ recent “The History of British Magic After Crowley: Kenneth Grant, Amado Crowley, Chaos Magic, Satanism, Lovecraft, the Left Hand Path, Blasphemy and Magical Morality” at face value and pretend that it did not have the following faults:
  • Lack of Accuracy, in that he doesn’t make incorrect assertions such as Dion Fortune founding the Servants of the Light
  • Lack of Relevancy: He waste time discussing pointless questions such as how many occultists are in the UK or devoting an overly large part of the book to the very minor Amado Crowley
  • Poorly referenced with a reliance on anonymous anecdotes. 
Even if such a book (or rather the Phd to which this book is the dramatization) were to exist, would it have any value to anyon? It is only recording history within a very narrow band (in terms of time and scope) and has only limited use.

Speaking academically I think his use of anonymous people such as "Starbeam" rather damning.  A historian relies on a paper trail and spends a lot of time looking at documents and other evidence rather than hearsay which is effectively what it is. I have no way of tracking his sources and for all I know he might have made them up. This means that no future work can build on this “history” of magic and I cannot see how this contributes to the sum of human knowledge given its inherent unreliability - not even necessarily because bits are wrong, but simply because we cannot verify them.  His PhD supervisor must have cotton-wool for brains if he accepted this.

As a digression, it does seem to be a factor of both the occult community and the internet community to live under pseudonyms which I find rather silly.  This goes back to at least Edward Alexander Crowley becoming “Aleister” and then taking on a myriad of other names (obviously some as a joke).  However here, Aleister became an identity which he could be recognised under.  The internet, with its myriad of forums all with people speaking authoritively under pseudonyms leaves me rather speechless.

In the world of “Dennis Wheatley”, academic study of magic is often life-saving, especially when the Duc de Richleau runs off to the British Library to look up a rare ritual before returning in time to save the day. In reality I doubt that de Richleau would even get past the guards at the door of the British Library who are far more brutal than Cerberus ever was.

However this sort of research (at least on a non fictional level) doesn’t seem to interest academics and it is scholar-occultists such as Kenneth Grant or Jake Stratton-Kent who study folklore and magical tradition within the context of the occult who do this work so admirably.  Then it is the occultists who use this work to magically bringing through a gnosis of lost knowledge to light documenting and exploring these fragments, which can then be used to form a ritual capable of keeping the likes of Mocata at bay or in reality enable a user to expand their magical horizons.

However magicians also have a great deal of insight which comes about from their own personal gnosis. This is something which does not have a paper trail and whilst of massive value to us as magicians not something academics will be able to work with.   That is one of the reasons why we are all told to keep diaries.
I would like to differentiate the study above of the occult or esoteric; with the study of genuinely useful history and archaeology which is generally about an aspect of life which is interesting to us.  So academic books “Curse Tablets and binding Spells” by John Gager, “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation” by Hans Dieter Betz or the wonderfully written (and titled) “Magico-Medical Means of Treating Ghost-Induced Illness in Ancient Mesopotamia” by JoAnn Scurlock are all wonderful studies, not because they are studies of magic.  They are studies of archaeology which happen to be of interest to magicians. 

They do not care about whether this “mumbo jumbo” works or not, which is very different to Evan’s questions as to whether Kenneth Grant is giving genuine accounts or whether ghosts and OBEs are a reality.  In stunts such as questioning the reality of trans Yuggothian planets, Dr Evans is failing to keep his work as a history (such as his title suggests) and ineptly beginning a step into a field of magical parapsychology.   Something which (as I have suggested) the stars are not yet right for mostly for political but partially for practical reasons.

Having said all that I do believe that there is value in a rigorous academic study of the history of magic in that it does bring a perspective on the state of societies and how they change over time. It must be accurate however or there is a risk of placing undue emphasis on history and personality rather than magical practice, which must be the most important thing.  The danger there however is that it slowly begins to morph into either debunking under a materialistic world view, or religion under a mystical world view.  With the magic not being present within the structure it will tend to distort then fall apart.

As a magician it is the magic which interests me the most, and a grimoiric mishmash of traditions can have much value to an occultist, even though it is historically inaccurate or even made up.  An example of this is Andrew Chumbleys’ reboot of traditional witchcraft with the “Azöetia” where he pulls elements from Egyptian Magic , Qlippothic practice and Enochian to form the whole.  None of this is really traditional witchcraft, but it can become a working system which could replicate the results of traditional magic.

Perhaps we need to ask with work such as this; which many people find valuable; is this value coming from Andrew Chumbley as a scholar or Andrew Chumbley the Magician? My money is on the latter, the working practices of the magician are imperative. However the pedantic bastard running in my soul also wants to ask whether we are not better working with the sources afresh rather than working with someone else’s vision.  Well, I think the answer to that is actually yes and no.  Yes, since one forges ones own path, however there is value in others paths which show people what to expect, what sort of things work and so on.

However until the politics of research sorts itself out and our generally materialistic society decide that it will open up a new stream of knowledge, magic and the paranormal as itself, separate and independent to physics and certainly and most definitely and clearly defined as different to the vulgar “history of magic” it seems that academically we are going nowhere. Which is a pity since a title such as Doctor of Practical Magic at Oxford University sounds like a great job and a damn site more interesting than corporate IT.

Until then however and speaking as a psychical explorer I don’t really feel the need to seek academic justification to my beliefs and actions. Maybe we have all achieved an initiation of sorts in we known such things as ghosts and spirits exist and have encountered them, have worked with them and even made deals with them, whilst academics are either debating their existence or denying it entirely.