Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Ruthless Angels: review of Jason Louv - John Dee and the Empire of Angels

Jason Louv - John Dee and the Empire of Angels; Enochian Magic and the Roots of the Modern World.

Back in the 1980s, I and a few friends worked the Enochian System of John Dee and Edward Kelly (see my Tales of Magic, episodes 17-21, soon to appear on https://iotbis.wordpress.com/author/iotbis/). It is a system of staggering detail and complexity. Not to mention the distortions and baggage introduced by MacGregor Mathers, which have made it hard to know where to start. One of my co-workers once said: It would take a whole Enochian University working for a hundred years to work out what all the potentials of this system are.

And that was just the technical, magical aspects; we had little idea then of exactly how important Dee's work was in creating the world we live in now. Louv's book makes a compelling case for the angels that Dee and Kelly channelled having a profound influence on both the British and American empires. And that's just for starters.

This is a rich, fact-crammed text. The first thing I'm moved to say is that it is an immensely readable history of John Dee. Louv has gone to the trouble to read dozens of historical books (the references are generally uncommented-on book details) and distil those narratives into something exciting and pacy (well, if you like occult histories!). There's even an examination of occult texts such as the Emerald Tablet which we may catch brief spectral glimpses of in other books. And great obscure facts. How else would I have learned that Hildegard von Bingen channelled an angelic language she called Lingua Ignota? 
Louv refers to a large number of secondary sources, and he's also dug into primary material, the Diaries and the artefacts themselves. The book is generously illustrated, with well-reproduced colour plates of a lot of Dee-related magical kit.

Secondly, it has a great central idea: 'esoteric Protestantism' as a driving force for apocalyptic magic (P32):
'All religions have an exoteric shell-a system of rules and dogmas for lay people-along with smaller inner esoteric groups focused on mysticism, individual experimentation with spiritual techniques, and, very often, apocalypticism.
'Examples include the tantric schools of Hinduism and Buddhism, the Holy Orders in Catholicism, the Kabbalists in Judaism, the Sufi schools of Islam, and many more. Though Protestantism in its many varieties is only five hundred years old, it is, of course, no different. Esoteric Protestant groups like the Rosicrucians, Freemasonry, the Golden Dawn, and, indeed, the collective of scientists that became the Royal Society-  are the esoteric core of Protestantism. Protestantism's often aggressively "bland" approach, even approaching open secularism in the case of many modern denominations, makes it easy to assume that it possesses no depth and to miss  what is (or at least was) hiding in plain sight.'

The magical philosophy Dee built that underlies this esoteric current was fed by Hermeticism and Neoplatonism - the idea that we can climb back up the Great Chain of Being, which amounts to an initiatic method supposed to lead to full spiritual awakening. On which topic, more later.

The history part is also a political/spy thriller. Dee was constantly in danger of being denounced as a heretic, and his position in the foodchain of Elizabethan realpolitik is summarized by the idea that the central reason heresy is taken seriously is that a heretic is someone who is 'defining the narrative of reality' (p87).

The angels themselves are the weirdest characters in this narrative. Their primary interest is apocalypse. This is the central idea of the book - the persistence of the apocalypse myth, and its intimate relationship to esoteric Protestant thinking. The angels behave like remote chess players, saying they are instructed by God, yet admitting at least once that there is war in heaven. Their plans for humanity are grandiose, involving the establishment of a perfect society, but these grand strategies are changed all the time in response to tactical considerations - is this aristocrat in a good enough position for us to use him or not? The angels have no concern for the well-being of their agents; Dee and Kelly were materially ruined, and this was not the only personal cost.

No wonder Enochia is so weird - this work is an invocation of apocalypse, the revelation, the stripping away of everything except divine truth; the 4 Watchtowers are also the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The angels are brutal and ruthless, not above issuing threats against Dee's son's life, 'for withholding angelic knowledge' from the king they are trying to gain control of. Details such as this are hardly surprising, in the light of the angels Endlösung - an earthly paradise built on the annihilation of all but 144,000 of the world's population. And the angels are as shameless as the lowest kind of politician in rewriting their own past statements, such as when they tell Kelly to take a wife, then years after he has done so, they accuse him of marrying against their wishes!

Late in the story, there is a hint that the angels may come in different flavours of apocalypse, according to who is channelling them. A skryer that Dee used before and after Kelly, Hickman, whose work was almost entirely burned by Dee, seemed to get a much gentler kind of angel, who sought to comfort and reassure rather than curse and threaten.

Book 3 leaves Dee's life behind and traces the influence of his angelic work up to the present day. The sequence runs: Dee to Rosicrucianism, which Louv identifies as the 'shock troops of Protestantism', a Protestant equivalent to the Jesuits, to the establishment of science as a respectable pursuit in Protestant countries; Rosicrucians were the original 'invisible College'. Fans of Grant Morrison will be pleased to see that they were even referred to as 'the Invisibles'. Then via the ideals of Freemasonry, when it was still an esoteric brotherhood, to the American and French revolutions. Even colonialism can be seen as a twisted reflection of the angelic apocalypse, some groups believing they could leave behind the evils of the old world and form a perfect society ruled by illuminated ones.

So why has Dee not been acknowledged as such an influence on modern science and politics? The era he rose to prominence in, that of Elizabeth, was replaced with the puritanical reign of the sadistic witch-torturer James I, a time when it was not wise to speak of magic in any way.

The magical heirs to this current certainly seem to include Crowley's Book of the Law, with its apocalyptic tone. Louv develops a reading of Thelema as essentially Satanic, a current of opposition designed to bring about the fall of the old aeon and a rebirth of true Christianity. His considerations of Crowley's ultra-Christian upbringing make this bizarre position kind of believable. Crowley 'was not exemplifying the Western tradition, but that he instead created an inverted, shadow version of it.' (p369). This is reminiscent of the idea of counter-traditions, such as Setianism, the work of Aquino and followers, who may take the name of Ipsissimus but deny the reality of the awakening on which such A.:A.: titles are based.

The Protestant approach to contact with God fits with the idea that Dee and Kelly would encounter the angelic forces directly, without any human intermediary. This is the beginning of the idea of the individual soul, the sovereign individual, which seemed like such a good idea at the time, compared to the stale violence and corruption of the Roman church. Its endpoint is Crowley's Aeon of Horus, read as a childish hyper-individualism which is wrecking everything. Since the 1940s, people have been pointing this out, that either Babalon (or perhaps Maat) needs adding to AC's theology to balance the destructive individualism of Horus.

The final chapter summarizes nicely the main thesis (p458):
'And just as Dee's imperialism and later angelic proselytizing built a British Empire from the ashes of the Holy Roman Empire that had been created by St Paul, Jack Parsons's creation of solid state rocket fuel and concurrent work with Watchtowers and Aethyrs might be said to have performed a similar role in expanding the boundaries of the Anglo-American empire off world.'

The book ends on a great rant, an outpouring of passionate bile against the current world mess. This brings us to the point: what (if anything) is the point of doing Enochian magic these days? Louv is certainly in a better position than most magical historians to address this question; this is one of those rare books that is written by a magician but whose statements are rooted in consensus reality. He manages that excellent balancing trick of never skimping on academic depth but not dragging the whole thesis down into the pit of academic dismissal of everything outside scientism. As RAWilson might have put it, Louv is using both halves of his brain.

After the (exciting) Satanic interpretation, Louv acknowledges another reading: if we are talking about an initiatic system here then the apocalypse has to be understood as an allegory. In that case, we need more mystery schools, spiritual communities that form support networks for those who are experiencing the mutant realities of inner apocalypse.

An example of a recent use of the Enochian Aethyrs is in Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford's early trilogy (available either as a high-priced rare paperback or free from https://archive.org/details/01TheBloodOfTheSaints/page/n1). Chapman and Barford record in detail their use of the Aethyrs to gain understanding of their progress in initiation. The Aethyrs are of course the least messed-about-with part of the Enochian System. Chapman has gone on to found his own mystery school, https://wiserbydesign.com/ , which works as a community to support its members in their quest for initiation.

Other uses of Enochia include the invocation of angles or kerubs of the elements. This is something I did a fair bit of back in the 1980s, and it was very interesting. But I wouldn't really advise anyone to follow the track I used, unless they are part of a group who all have a lot of time to spare. You get a lot of excitement, a lot of bizarre (and often strangely-beautiful) information, but not much more.

The most seductive use for this system is to get into the occult side of history and contemporary global politics. This might be the worst idea of all. Whatever sustains the identification of apocalypse with actual historical events is almost certainly going to be bad for world peace. The pervasive Western obsession with apocalypse does not need feeding in this way; the apocalypse is internal and spiritual.

This book is superb. Brilliant, even, though you are unlikely to agree with all his interpretations. If all you have read of Mr Louv's output is some of his early work, do not judge this book accordingly. It is from a different planet.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' and the Grecian gnosis

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig; back in the 1970s, this book was a must-read, seen on the housebrick-and-milk-crate shelves of every well-read stoner. I read it, was deeply moved, realised there was something very important about its main thesis, but did not by any means understand all of what he was saying. I bet hardly anyone understood it all. (The copy in the photo was also enjoyed, as you can see by the tooth-marks, by a much-loved and long-departed dog of my girlfriend.)

I came back to this book over 40 years later via a chapter-heading quote in Kingsley's 'Reality' (My review of that book here).
'And the bones of the Sophists long ago turned to dust and what they said turned to dust with them and the dust was buried under the rubble of declining Athens through its fall ... buried so deep and with such ceremoniousness and such unction and such evil that only a madman centuries later could discover the clues needed to uncover them, and see with horror what had been done.'   

What I now understand of Pirsig's book is down to the fact that I have studied the works of Peter Kingsley and the pre-Socratic Greek gnosis he reveals, the luminous vision of those who are now called philosophers, who were so much more than the dry-as-dust academics that term now evokes.

The madman in the above quote is the author. The book is a story of a road trip, a man and his son, and some old friends. He had what was called a serious psychotic breakdown some years before, and he is on a kind of pilgrimage now, to recall and understand the fragmentary memories he has of the man he used to be, who was burned away by a lot of electro-convulsive therapy. The story is underpinned by Pirsig's tragic relationship with his son, which develops a glimmer of hope when the author finds the courage to be honest with the boy about his mental illness.

That previous man was a teacher of English and Rhetoric who became obsessed with a philosophical problem which arose from considerations of the ugliness and stupidity of much of modern life. The ghost-self he is searching for, whom he calls Phaedrus, Greek for 'wolf', was building a philosophy based on what he called Quality. I shall try to explain what he meant by that.

He starts out by talking about how everyone knows what Quality is, everyone recognizes it, but where it is addressed in, for instance Aristotle, in his writing on rhetoric, it is considered to be the result of a tedious and unimaginative set of style-rules, which Pirsig shows are totally unhelpful to the rhetorician. Rather, Quality should be, according to Pirsig, right at the centre of any scheme of thought based on what life really is like. It does not need defining or limiting - it is the core value of everything we are trying to achieve in life. So he tracks back, via Plato, to the pre-Socratics, to ask where Quality went. 

The pre-Socratics and older Greek culture had a core notion of arête - excellence. This is Quality. Everyone recognizes it. Plato then takes this idea of arête and calls it the Good, but in so doing divides it from the True and the Beautiful. At a stroke, arête has been demoted from the core value to merely one of three.

Aristotle then decides that the True is more valuable than the Good or the Beautiful, so arête is completely deposed. And our entire culture is based on the result of this dismal decision. Sure, that decision gave us what would become science, with all the material power that developed, but it gave us an ugly world which is horribly out of balance and in which few of us ever want to be where we are, doing what we are doing.

That quote above illustrates how passionately Pirsig pursued this concept and its philosophical elaboration. Peter Kingsley's works have a similar passion, and in a sense continue Pirsig's thought beyond what he was able to achieve. Kingsley points to an ancient gnosis that travelled from Hyperborea in North-East Eurasia, via Anatolia to Greece, descending through Parmenides, Empedocles, Zeno and the Sophists, whom Plato so roundly condemns.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is part of a current that is just breaking the surface again after twenty six centuries. It has been concealed because of Plato's politically-driven sleight of hand and his student Aristotle's embrace of dull and ugly systematization. And like it says in the quote above, all of that radiant gnosis has been buried so deep that it is almost as if it never existed. Which is of course what Plato and Aristotle and a lot of people in academic philosophy would rather be the case.

But it is rising again, a true system of initiation which is not borrowed from any other tradition, but lies right at the heart of the West. It is as if a parallel timeline has been spotted, dimly at first, but coming increasingly into focus as these ideas are researched, developed and applied to initiation by Kingsley and those who are following after him, such as Alan Chapman. Pirsig died last year; the work he did is now part of a new view of the origin of our culture, what it means, how it went so horribly wrong and how we might set it on a better track by reawakening the gnosis of our forebears, our birthright of spiritual and worldly wisdom.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Northern Dawn: Vol 1. By Stephen Edred Flowers


Stephen Edred Flowers is of course better known in the esoteric world as Edred Thorsson, highly productive author of books on esoteric runology and leader of the Rune Gild. Dr. Flowers has done an enormous amount towards getting the practice of Germanic magic on a sound historical and spiritual footing, partly by making use of the mainstream academy's research into runes, language and culture in the pursuit of initiation. So it is not hard to get the impression that before he did that, there was academic runology and occultizoid nincompoopery and ne'er the twain did meet, that nothing much of interest happened in the world of Germanic magic between the millennium-old suppression of the ancient ways and the recent runic revival.

But of course it is not as simple as that, as Dr Flowers points out in this excellent book. In the wake of the cultural destruction of the ancient world there wasn't just a yawning void, but some very interesting things happened in the world of Germanic culture.

Flowers sets the scene with a thorough exposition of the methods of study he will be applying in the book. He writes that the book 'concerns the most fundamental aspects of what we call culture, and defines 'the Germanic cultures as those that speak a dialect of the Germanic branch of languages.'

Volume 1, 'From the Twilight of the Gods to the Sun at Midnight' covers the history from the end of the ancient world to the peak of Christianity's ascendancy in the Middle Ages. Flowers lists the elements necessary for the current reawakening of Germanic cultural awareness and explores the religion, art and cosmology of the elder tradition via historical records and material culture. This volume then leaves us in the age of darkness that came with Christianity, the mediaeval period - which is actually astonishingly rich in Germanic culture; we can see clearly how the tradition never died.

This book was originally published in 2003 under Thorsson's own imprint, Runa-Raven Press. This is a revised, expanded and more robust volume. Strongly recommended for anyone who wishes to take a serious look at what the current reawakening of Germanic esotericism is actually rooted in.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Amorphous Albion, by Ben Graham


I'll start with a declaration of interest: Ben is one of the founders of Festival 23, so I got to know about this book on the Discordian grapevine.
But it shouldn't stay in that particular community (or echo-chamber). It's too good for that, and it's needed out there!

Amorphous Albion is an heroic tale set in an impoverished future England in which a group of magical people called the Hove Space Programme take on, against overwhelming odds, a militaristic government, themselves lackeys of evil Illuminati-figures. This dystopia is underpinned with magic - on both sides. We are in the realm of earth energies as materiel, magical concepts as strategy.

We are also in a ream of shameless fantasy and a glorification of freak lifestyle: heroes that survive a battle check to see if they can still roll a joint. (Yes, it's 'freak', not 'hippie'. The latter words always stank of newspaper-ink. Welcome to True Freakdom!) Another main character made me think of the Mutoid Waste crowd. The realm of gods is occupied mainly by pop culture deities -  old KLF items as power objects, the Beatles as immortal magicians.

There is quite a bit of enjoyable satire on countercultural magical scenes: Leeds as a foggy city of steampunk chaos magicians, Liverpool as home of the archetypes, Sheffield as a fine Discordian high-tech ruin.

The satire is mostly tender, but a bit less so when it comes to the smugness of Glastonbury. Kept happy and subservient to dark forces, the inhabitants live in a land of sweet meadows and abundance, which is down to life-energy being siphoned away from the rest of England. I read it while there for the Occult Conference early this year, a lovely clash of levels.

This is a lighthearted tale, but with dark bits. The characters have bad pasts and inner pain. And the satire makes it ultimately a serious book - all dystopias are reflections of the evils of current culture, and this is no exception; except that the battle for the world has shifted onto the level of magic.

Verdict? If you are a Discordian, magician, art-as-resistance person, counterculture enthusiast or freak, buy it. If you don't really get what I am talking about, buy it anyway, and experience the VR of a different dream of culture. A very different one. At the very least you will never again see Glastonbury High Street in the same way.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Psychedelic Press Journal, Issue #23

Psychedelic Press Journal, Issue #23. https://psychedelicpress.co.uk/products/psychedelic-press-xxiii

Nikki Wyrd writes a beautiful intro to a superb collection of historical, poetic, magical and fantastical offerings. The contents are carefully framed between the opening item, the first published account of mescaline intoxication, by Havelock Ellis in 1898 and a mescaline trip record by Discordianism founder Gregory Hill.

Next up is John Constable on '23 and Me'. John is a man whose work proves that one man's vision can change the world for thousands of people, resulting in an extraordinary injection of wisdom about death, celebration and magic into counterculture. He tells a story which takes in his early connections with the Discordian world via Ken Campbell, his life-changing acid-soaked night with the spirit of the Goose, and some very sound advice on living magically.

Ben Graham's 'Is This For Real?' is a great survey of the Discordian scene and the creation of Festival 23. It also checks a bit of cultural philosophy: thank you Ben for the concept of Metamodernism. I had been wondering for a while about when the corpse of PoMo was going to be dragged out and given a decent burial.

Adam Gorightly's 'Sex, Drugs and Discordia' is another precise fit for this issue - a history of the psychedelic involvements of early Discordianism and how those stories played out over subsequent decades.

The article that had the biggest effect on me is Catherine Kneale's 'Don't Be A Hero', an exploration of alternative narratives to the Hero's Journey. This isn't the first time I've heard people criticize that archetypal structure, but it's the first time I've been able to make useful sense of the argument. Kneale points out that our identification of the transformational power of some experience may only happen a long time after we originally assigned some kind of significance to it. In other words, we cannot expect our lives to conform to narratives that always demand closure. This approach makes space in your life for what some would call Chaos (and others Grace?). It suggests a relationship with experience in which you accept that you cannot force every single significant event into a straitjacket of heroic meaning. The significance is there - you know something important has happened, but you can't relate it to a conscious idea of yourself and where you are going. None of the narratives you already know and are practiced in will help in assigning meaning to it. Some of the experiences I have had on psychedelics are of this kind - I know something exceptional has happened, but afterwards I cannot parse the experience into any form that does not strip it of its primal irreducible significance. In fact, I cannot even recognize it among other kinds of experience until I encounter it again, which may be years later, and then there is an undeniable ring of familiarity.

My brief history of how Chaos Magic, Discordianism and psychedelics are all mixed up together is followed by Adrian Reynolds's 'We Flirted With Muses'. This is a highly personal take on some wonderfully leftfield, non-corporate-style applications of NLP and how they linked the author up to Eris. I also enjoyed being reminded of that London show in 1996-7, where Richard Bandler was accompanied by Robert Anton Wilson, who got to sit in Marilyn Monroe's chair.

The penultimate piece, 'Hold On 2.0' starts off with a pun on the Sam and Dave lyrics of the title, then erupts into a narrative which eluded me completely until I realised that it must be an allegorical blow-by-blow account of the JAMs Welcome to the Dark Ages Liverpool event of Summer 2017.

No.23 is a fabulously freaky issue of this fine journal, from the beautiful Pete Loveday cover, with its affectionate caricatures of counterculture stereotypes to the rich variety of ideas so thoughtfully assembled inside. A feast for the mind, buy it now!

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Greeting the Unconquered Sun in Grenoside

Yesterday morning's Grenoside Sword Dancers' Boxing Day dance, in the road outside the Old Harrow, Grenoside village, greeting the Unconquered Sun.

This is a very old tradition, not a re-enactment. It has been kept alive continuously, but now they need new members. If you are interested in dancing this two-centuries' old dance and can get to the Sheffield area of an evening, get in touch with them at http://www.grenosword.f9.co.uk/.

Here's a short sequence where they are weaving through the swords.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Review of Psychedelic Press Journal, Issue 22

Available from https://psychedelicpress.co.uk/collections/psychedelic-press-journals

The stated theme of issue 22 is the integration phase that happens after a psychedelic experience, the delicate protocols of coming back to the world. The articles 'all play with this theme in various ways'. PPJ in general plays with themes as a way of structuring the vast surge of psychedelic writing that is emerging at the moment, in science, literature and other areas. And it does this very well; I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in psychedelics and the culture and issues around them. It has an immensely readable mix of academic-type discourse, trip reports, poetry and history.

This issue has two outright trip reports. Julian Vayne writes this issue's My First Trip, in which he tells a hair-raising tale of taking 4 times as much LSD as he intended to, how he dealt with a rather intense metaphor that erupted into the trip, and what he thought about it all afterwards. Sam Ross's 'AnOther Dead Hippy ReBirthday' is a lengthy and thoughtful mushroom trip report, much of it in free-form verse. I know... the times one has gazed with dread upon such writings... but fear not, this is very good. His warped language gives the precise feel of that stage of a trip when your speech centres just feel like molten plastic. Writing of the fabulous lichen he ignored on the actual trip then went back to engage with, he comes up with a beautiful and powerful notion: 'I went back and found, among the many trees in that small wood, the very lichen (I am sure) and I contemplated it and documented it and together we processed each other into art.'

In the arts corner, Aaron Oldenberg in 'Altered State Machines' writes of computer games which attempt to recreate some aspects of a salvia divinorum trip. This idea was a genuine novelty for me - my contact with computer games is pretty much limited to a single, decades-ago experience of playing Sonic the Hedgehog and wondering what all the fuss was about, followed by a suspicion that some games were actually interesting enough to waste too much time on, time I'd rather spend reading. It seems things have progressed a bit since then, and I look forward to trying out something like this.

One area of the politics of the psychedelic scene is covered by The Rev. Danny Nemu, with an engrossing report on the divided worlds of ayahuasca. Danny's writing gives a real sense of knowing what he's talking about because he knows some of these people. Anyone who has wondered about the different 'rules' for the use of cannabis with ayahuasca has something to learn from this article.

In the area of magical technology, Elio Geusa offers 'Master Plant Dieta', which is just the medicine for those of us who have been wondering at the apparent variety of pre-ayahuasca 'diets'. He distinguishes clearly between the health and safety issues that are covered by the avoidance of certain foodstuffs and the spirit-magic practice of relating to the spirits of various cleansing jungle plants.

Rob Dickins reviews 'The Tawny One' by Matthew Clark, a view of the constituents of soma that is much more believable than any I have yet come across.

And finally the history slot: our very own British acid historian Andy Roberts reminds us that, back in the day, flying saucer imagery was widespread among British trippers. In fact, it was so ubiquitous I'd kind of forgotten about it. Which is why we need historians like Andy to draw posterity's attention to these things.

One thing I love about PPJ is that it is not beset by the rigidly dogmatic scientism of some psychedelic discourses, the sort where any mention of inner work, transformation or awakening is sneered at. This is because it is run by interesting people, including freaky people such as magicians, who recognize and do not dismiss the multiple realities opened up by the psychedelic experience. Maybe PPJ will play a part in saving psychedelia from becoming too straight when psychedelic medicine goes mainstream!