Transcript of Talk given at ‘Rewriting the Future’ for ‘Psychoanalysis, Art and the Occult’, Merano, Italy. 2019
Spiritual Evolution; For the Masses or for the Few?
Much as we would like to deny or ignore it,the behaviour of human beings as a mass tends to operate within repetitive patterns and loops.
Just as the history of humanity can be seen to work within recurring cycles of behaviour, the practice of the esoteric over the centuries is dictated by the way that man operates within context of these patterns, either as a passive acceptor of the status quo or as an initiator of change.
The magician is a being who relates to the world of ‘other’ and changes their mundane actions in recognition of this relationship. Observing the workings of the earthly realm and relating them to our emotional and intellectual selves is part of our personal survival, and relating these things to our spiritual practise is a necessity of a deeper progression. Only those who are spiritually ill, or who are part of a race doomed to extinction, do not allow themselves to see the interaction of the worlds without and the worlds within.
Both the human survival instinct and their innate desire to strive and progress dictates that spirituality looks outward. I’m not talking about syncretism although of course is relevant here, I’m talking about progress on the evolutionary level.
Historically this is not the first time to have such enormous, global turmoil and scientific and technological advancement, however I would say that the closest past parallel to this era would be the late 19th to early 20th century.
Then, the exponential progress in rational thought was counterbalanced, as human beings naturally and instinctively do, with a surge forward in educated, creative occultism and an interest in various types of alternative spiritual explorations.
However the climate of that era necessitated that various approaches towards magical spirituality were something that was kept very much silent.
Partially this was because magical and esoteric studies teaches silence as part of their basic tenets, but also because anything that steps outside the mainstream has always been considered a threat to the establishment and when the masses turn, the weird or wyrd minority become the scapegoats.
Homosexuals,pacifists, bolsheviks, freaks, witches (to name just a few) have all been targeted throughout the ages, and especially so in the 20th Century. Thus, keeping ones views to yourself was not just part of an arcane tradition but also a method of survival.
It is also well worth bearing in mind that this necessary silence, can heighten the glamour, creating an aura of being elite, elevated and superior in some way.
So now, in the 21st Century, all of these rules of spiritual behaviour have changed, although the behaviour of the humanity as a whole, seemingly has not. The world is a crazy and crazed place and once again technology and the rational plunges forward and its time old counterbalance, magic and paganism, is running strongly beside it; two sides of the same coin whose shared goal is to be ‘more than’.
What has also changed are the views about what constitutes a target, an outsider and a scapegoat.
There has, ostensibly, been an upheaval in attitudes towards race, gender and belief systems- the narrow minded are now pilloried and targeted and brought to task with the same vigorous aggression that those who lived on the fringes once were.
This time around, with the aid of social networking, magic has gone mainstream; it is talked about loudly and proudly brandished as a banner of power, and a way to bestow status.
Fashion conglomerates use tarot as part of advertising campaigns, television programmes adopt figureheads of Satanic groups within their shows, and etsy stocks supplies for every type of modern magical practice with sales for tarot cards being the highest in 50 years and increasing all the time.
Now magic has always of course, been about power.
On a base level this power has been over illness, enemies, financial impoverishment and love and on a higher level, power over the elements and human nature.To the onlooker this working with power, depending on the perspective, appears either amoral and horrifying, or glamorous mysterious stimulating and enticing.
Now power is a huge draw card for all human beings, especially if one feels a lack of it, but it is also necessarily attractive to the corporate world, as power and money are the gods and the goals of these structures, so its natural that magic hold an attraction to many operators within business environs, even if it is due to its ‘gloss’ and potential for spin, rather than its actuality.
I’ve seen surges of popularity in magickal expression and practice many times over the years,but never one that feels quite like the present magical revival…probably because previous movements haven’t had the benefit of social networking to push things into the focus of the publics vision.
There is a term called the Diffusion of innovation S Curve where a trend can be pushed to become a norm by the power of ‘influencers’ people with enough charisma and power to create changes in perception on a wide scale. William Gibson had a term …’cool hunter’ …for people who hunt down influencers that will work for them in the corporate world.
I recently did an article talking about the esoteric and magical as applied to contemporary fashion and the research for this was fascinating when analysed using the lens of the ‘Diffusion of Innovation Curve’.
Of course part of magic’s appeal is that it is replete with stimulating, evocative and very strong and inspirational imagery that lends itself beautifully to creative projects, but then most established and long standing religions also have such imagery; however unlike most standardised belief systems magick has long has been epitomised by the Uber cool and the iconic, people who generate waves that disturb the norm.
Generally these bright beings have remained on the fringes, or have been so obscure or niche as an original reference point, that although the effect of their stimulus is widely recognised the esoteric source isn’t.
Icons such as Jack Parsons, Marjorie Cameron, William Burroughs, Anita Pallenberg, Gen P Orridge, Auston Osman Spare, Kenneth Anger, Crowley..all were or are very very cool beings who acted as a radar and inspiration to others who wanted to emulate, imitate and learn.
Although these people and their trappings hit the limelight many many times they faded again..until the power of social networking provided the impetus for them to become mainstream and in more recent trends, even adopted by Corporations as prime advertising fodder…one example being a campaign using Kenneth Anger advertising for Gucci…
Okay counter culture practices becoming the norm has been done many times before- ask anyone who used to keep their tattoos and piercings, things some considered to be markings of their persona, place in society and life choices, hidden and now find that every C list star and their grandmother has tattoos piercings and a bit of BDSM gear in their closet.
Now one particular thing about this S curve of innovation is its after effect. When the point is reached of critical mass, and the once obscure, becomes accepted by the mainstream…
As I said earlier Magical practice has assumed a fashionable status before, just never to this extent. Many such as myself are watching the rise of this phenomenon, some rather dryly, others perhaps trying to make a little money, sell a few more books or gain some extra notoriety whilst the esoteric star is high on the horizon, most of them thinking this too will pass.
I see television series, movies, fashion shows, fitness witches and stage shows referencing the esoteric groove and though I still tend to think it will fade somewhat, I believe it is possible, this time around, that a magickal praxis will become an accepted approach.
In many ways this isnt a bad thing, and could even be a positive one if it indicates a move away from established corporate religion although of course there is a possibility pagan spirituality and magical practice could itself become a corporate run belief system.
I also believe that as there is a presently a huge rise in change of attitudes towards materialism, there will need to be a change in attitude towards magical iconography…. a detachment from object orientated spirituality. Seeing Austin Osman Spares work for instance being used on 3ooo pound handbags made me realise that proprietorial feelings one may Have towards affiliated spiritual iconography is something that will need to be discarded in order to progress. The time for the material to represent the spiritual with accompanying territorial instincts needs to be made redundant otherwise ideas of ownership will come into the picture and pagans will be protesting and picketing with catholics outside movie theatres and Madonna concerts. I thought carefully around this one as I create objects that can have spirits or god forms embedded into them, and I also come from a country where colonialists stole many spiritually imbued objects, and in doing so also undermined the fabric of the aboriginal existence, but whilst Gods and spirits can be embedded in objects they cannot be owned…they can be worked with, used to inspire and to focus, but not owned. If we do align our spirituality so completely with an object, then we treat them as human beings have always treated the material…we will see our gods die along with part of ourselves.
To Know to Will to dare to be silent could be also considered to be old hat and another outdated approach, though there is no denying that there is a level of necessary silence implicit in practice…Of course there are many levels of practice in every belief system,and even long established widely accepted beliefs such as Buddhism have a higher level, relatively arcane, esoteric and secret aspect.
One thing that is interesting about all of this isn’t simply the ostensible growth in belief of pagan and magical theologies, but the huge amounts of individuals striving to master and interpret various esoteric systems.
Many cultures believe in magic, but often rely on a priest specific to their system and what I see at the moment is the rise of individual rather than group empowerment via a magickal approach. Of course modern society (western and increasingly eastern)is all about the nuclear family, non Confucian ideals and a steadily growing cult of isolation, with its banner head bedroom dwellers creating a new type of neurosis specific to this era (though admittedly there have always been outsider solitary magicians hidden away amongst their books in dusty rooms, its a pretty archetypical image) although there is now a degree of connectivity of the various isolationist magickal alter egos online, and group workings do occur via this medium …such as the Trump workings for examples.
I’m a great believer in the power of the group to get things done magically but I must admit I haven’t seen positive results to these global workings and I wonder why- because definitions of magic have become so fluid and murky perhaps and there are is no clarity of working perimeters, because there are so many individual personas and no ability to properly join forces and channel power, or because their is simply no real core knowledge about what magic is all about?
Now human beings are pack animals, and our natural instinct is to follow the herd and in the instance of widely consumed media imagery the use of magickal and pagan approaches in expensive glossy spin, utilises the thought of ‘only the few’ generally this few being those with huge amounts of money, but this approach has filtered down on the wide scale and many of those who are buying into the process are doing it on a budget and rather than flag flying for a film franchise or a fashion house it is being used as an individually loud expression of ‘other’…which is intriguing in that it is being obedient to online manipulations but also subversive in the way that information is practically interpreted.
Esoteric studies, paganism and magickal practice have always been fluid things based on the land and the culture. If you work with the spirits with the land and place, and the land changes of course you must adapt. All of these approaches have cherry picked techniques that worked for them from experience, observation and often from other cultures, and with information becoming more accessible the stimulus for change has snowballed and I’m really not sure if practitioners have adapted on a deep level to all of this.
Accepted concepts of gender polarity and sexuality have changed immeasurably, the land and the sea have changed, our ancestors are still there but the values they communicate may well not be applicable, computers are the new altars and rituals that use golden toads will not work if the toad is extinct….however every man woman and being is still a star and still has a shining trajectory.
I believe that a grass roots re-evaluation is necessary starting with a definition of contemporary magickal spirituality and contemporary magickal practice …and that definition need to acknowledge technology and trends and either integrate or separate itself from them…if needs be we can slam that definition to pieces once we’ve made it, but in every beginning there is a word and that word needs to encapsulate …magick is change and magick is progression and magick works…and whilst it may well be on the way to being mainstream at this moment I’ll tell you a secret..magick may become a process believed in by many and it would be a great thing if it was but practice of it isn’t for everyone and never will be, because magick can also painful, challenging and dangerous; under the glamour lies a process of insight and reevaluation, dissembling and reassembling that few choose to undertake; Israel Regardie said that anyone who is serious about undertaking a magickal path should also simultaneously undertake some form of psychotherapy, and though personally I’m a slam myself against the same brick wall a few times type of slow learner, I’d tend to agree.
What I do believe though, is when the mass of humanity are as willing to perform Chod as to buy a Austin Osman Spare emblazoned handbag, the world will be a better place; I’m not denying the fun and self empowerment of magickal spirituality or advocating some Christian process of emotional self flagellation I’m just saying simply that until people are willing to go deeper, the magickal path will remain something that only a few will commit to.