Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Ritual and Romance

My birthday on the now secular Valentine's Day sparked the title for this post, but also the fact that I found myself working on material related to Jessie Weston's book about the Death and Resurrection Show, and myths and legends, elements and initiations, The Holy Grail, the Hero's Journey, and all that.

At the same time, reading Turn Off Your Mind (originally published as Turn Off your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius), and the latest Crowley biography, "Aleister Crowley: The Biography - Spiritual Revolutionary, Romantic Explorer, Occult Master - and Spy" by Tobias Churton.

I have to say that I have never found Magick that attractive. But then again, even as someone who reached the age of 21 in 1967 (and lived in Notting Hill at the time) I never could finish reading "Lord of The Rings". Too twee, too fey. And I don't have a religious bone in my body. The Christian subtext of books by C.S.Lewis must have leaked out to make me feel queasy. I didn't get involved in "Stranger In A Strange Land" (a rather right-wing Heinlein cult book, with curious links from Crowley to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology) and I also find the trend to self-mutilation as a fashion (tattoos and piercings) quite weird. So I have little interest in, or affection for, gnomes, elves, hobbits, magical powers, sword and sorcery, faerie, witches, cosplay, etc. Sad news for Star Wars fans, I dare say, who seem to still love that 'knights in armour' romance, with swordplay as a pastime (or honourable, serious duel) in a world of guns. The code of the samurai, Zen, etc.

Having said all that, in an online study group I mingled with serious students of Magick who seriously disliked my flippancy and sarcasm, and worked hard to convince me that Thelemic Magick did not belong in the same camp as the religions I sneered at. I still consider that a moot point, but out of respect for other people's belief systems (BS) I cooled it.

I don't have any 'taboo' problem with Pagans, or Wiccans or people who choose to follow Lucifer (I suspect Madame Blavatsky called her magazine that just to tease 'the straights'). I simply don't believe that the world actually contains ghosts and spirits and aliens, etc. I haven't experienced them. If this mysterious world does contain other lifeforms, or higher intelligences, or gods, or spirits, etc - then presumably that remains true across time and space. Why would they have knowable names in Latin and Greek (what would a South American shaman call them?) Why would they even want to communicate - do you talk to the ants in your garden? How come Crowley doesn't seem to have met Mescalito (as Castaneda claimed to have done)? All the silly questions of the smart-ass child. Secret Chiefs? Um, yeah, OK, whatever. Duh.

I think I had trouble with the American Thelemites because they didn't understand that my resistance to Crowley did not arise from Christian horror, or tabloid name-calling, fear of Black Magic, etc. He obviously had great intelligence and charisma, etc. What I suffer from (as a prejudice of my own) arises from the British class / caste system.

All his achievements seemed less impressive (to me) when I thought that he never had to work a day in his life, had the freedom to travel around the world (when that put you in a much more exclusive club than in these days of tourism), and so on. Not to say he didn't suffer, or go through poverty and insecurity, etc. I think of Crowley as a Cambridge graduate Still, he appeared to me to belong in a group called 'Conservatives' (however broad a spectrum that can cover) and I had a built-in loathing for the position. I didn't even have too much of a problem with his Nietzschean elitist attitude, as I probably appear pretty snobby about stupid people, the bourgeoisie, etc, myself. The arrogance and smugness of the affluent and powerful in the UK, however, still pushes my buttons. One thing that Churton suggests contributed to some of his love of show was the fact that he had money but it came from 'trade' - so he never really got accepted by the aristocracy (you have to understand the caste system). Maybe that led him to enjoy appearing as Lord Boleskine, or various Counts, Princes, Sheiks, etc. Then I read on, to find just how much AC came to hate the stuffy, rigid, inflexible world of the British class system himself. Recasting him in my mind as a bohemian and artist changes the whole feel of the thing, for me.

Anyway, and ahem, this new biography seems the fairest and clearest I have read (and I've read them all). Tobias Churton has done a fine job, and this helps me understand more of AC himself, including the almost untold story of his involvement in espionage (although Richard Spence's "Secret Agent 666" did get there first with this theme).

In fact, not just Crowley has emerged as having possible 'intelligence' connections. Both Gurdjieff and Madame Blavatsky have now had similar rumours spread about them, as has Houdini! I put some of this in a blog as ESPionage and magiCIAns - which also indicates John Mulholland (well known stage magician) as having advised the intelligence services about using sleight of hand to (for instance) spike people's drinks.


I just don't do rituals. Me personally. I don't even do birthdays and New Year, marriages and funerals, very well. The small 'rituals' of the day - like coffee - I consider as more like routines. Dressing up and taking on other personas belongs in theatre and performance, to me.

I remember a sharp-suited and witty, married, Jewish atheist - a friend of my mother - who eventually came out as gay, split from his wife, became a Catholic and dived into Opera, and when I asked him about it he said he just loved all the costumes, and incense, and music, and emotions and ritual, etc. It sounds like a stereotype, but this was one (real) person. Ceremonial magic appears to employ the power of ritual, just as the Catholic Church does (dwarfing scale of cathedrals, the sound of choirs and organs, the incense, the ritual movements of kneeling and crossing yourself, the wafer and the wine, etc). I guess my resistance came from perceiving the parallels, not the differences.

I certainly can't dismiss other people's experiences, and I know that if I don't try the experiments then I can't really comment effectively. One of my teachers, Robert Anton Wilson, certainly considered some of Crowley's experiments worth trying, but I never did agree with him on everything. In Cosmic Trigger he dismisses vegetarianism as sentimental, and never had a good word to say about astrology (even though Crowley - and Antero Alli - spent a lot of time on it, wrote about it, used it, etc). Bobby Campbell's fine illustration work
To me, astrology proved a rather effective mythological language and short-hand for discussing states of mind, temperaments, etc. So although Bob recommending ceremonial magick to the well-prepared and cautious it didn't move me to try. But each to their own. He didn't get much out of a flotation tank (and neither did I), but some people swear by them. Whatever, as they say, turns you on.

So, hey - I will try to shape up some of my ideas in this realm, as part of this year's project. You can see some initial work I did on the elements and initiation for a blog back in 2005, here - The Third Degree.

I also wrote an imaginary meeting between two different kinds of magicians, Houdini and Crowley, which might have ended up as a comic book, Houdini and Crowley in the British Museum
but never did. So I expanded the words, and got a few of the illustrations done, and put it online anyway. Magical Means.

As you may have guessed, I find magic of the stage variety far more interesting and entertaining. I compile notes about the subject (including the psychology of it) in a blog called Intelligence Increase.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Good to know it can be done...

Of course, reading about self-published people who made it big closely resembles reading about lottery winners who say "I went into a shop, paid a pound, and guessed six numbers", but it still feels good to know that some people have made print-on-demand (or, in this case, eBooks by Kindle) work for them, without going the old mainstream publishing route.

I feel reassured it can happen, but that doesn't improve my own odds from 14 million to one, not really.

Any more than anyone could have predicted that combining Just William, boarding schools and magic spells would have made J.K. Rowling richer than the queen.