Saturday, 8 December 2018

Burning Issue - the world's first magazine for Money Burners and other Destroyers of Currency


For months I've flicked through this publication, loving the pictures, and reading the odd bit. So I only just finished reading the whole thing. This is an idler's read, in the best sense - that reading it is to be taken slowly, for pleasure, both to appreciate the artwork and the humour and also to dive deep into the so-called 'think pieces'.

The mag opens with an advert for a very expensive bottle of whisky. From Jura, of course! And 23 years old! Then a summation of how much money has so far been burned, as far as the editors can tell: £7,254,885 at time of going to press.

Then there's the record of all known money burns - this includes the US retreat from Saigon burn of a million bucks, and a curious bit of Nigerian money sorcery that cost the client £1.5m in burned notes. That's before we get to the KLF - we have a historical arc here, and the KLF were doing something new. With an account of the 23-years-after public discussion of why the KLF did what they did in 1994, we are now firmly inside the Discordian tent. More on which later.

There are some reports of money-burns from here and there in the world - including Jerusalem and two Jura pilgrimages, and many tales of personal burns.  There's also a report on a closely-related magical event: Reclaim the Sacred, with King Arthur, Caroline Wise, John Crow and Jonathan leading a merry series of rituals around the City of London in 2017, right in the belly of the beast.

A fair bit of space is devoted to a history of mass burns - starting in 2015 at the Cube Cinema in Bristol, 2016 Festival 23 in Sheffield, 2016 and 2017 in London. All in all, we see a wide range of reasons for burning money - from the political to the sacred, from revenge to forgiveness, and we get glimpses of the way it felt to do those various rituals, and therefore ideas about what might work as ritual for us.

Burning Issue features some really great artworks made by defacing banknotes. This is one of the best reasons for buying a copy - the production values are up to displaying these beautiful collages and constructions. 

So you don't have to burn 'em, you can also make beautiful things from them, such as Melusine the mermaid, who has arisen from a mediaeval German money-chest to become a new deity from the dawn of money. Collage by Mark Wagner:

Or a chilling vision called 'Military-Industrial Complex' by C. K. Wilde:

Or you can both make a collage and then burn it. (If it's nasty enough):

There's another big section of interviews with various performers and musicians, displaying a range of personal views of art and magic in the context of resistance to the dominant idiocy. Then we get an added a bit of class with burlesque babe Talulah burning, and some ritual wear whose prices suggest customers with money to burn. Not only this, but an agony aunt column, a conspiracy corner, and a free £23 note commemorating the life and death of sex workers' rights campaigner Laura Lee.

Jonathan Harris gave out some copies of the mag at one of John Crow's Crossbones Graveyard  occasions, adding another layer to this conspiracy of magic.

Because magic it is, make no mistake. This is magic as a basic layer of a new form of the counterculture. There are some explicit magical references - my piece about sacrifice and magic for instance - but the magic in Burning Issue is more implicit and pervasive than that. 

The Discordian overlap is obvious; Discordianism is one of the forms the counterculture has embraced this time round. A lot of what emerges into the public domain from that mix is artworks - performance, music, pictures, theatre and so on. These artists seem to be going beyond the slick, detached irony of PoMo and are at least tentatively edging into using magic as a core idea and in some cases embracing it fully as a way of articulating what they are doing.

And this has to be the core of any counterculture now; other political mechanisms seem to be consistently failing to change the world in any human direction. When democracy is a casualty of 'post-truth', what is a chap to do (I do of course include, to misquote an Army wit of yore, 'chaps of all genders') but do some wizardry to help the messed-up world?

Undo yourself with ecstatic states and stabilize those ecstasies with meditation, allowing insight into your divine-human nature to surface. Identify what runs you. Identifying and dismantling the false beliefs you've imprinted in trauma or just inherited from family and society gives you insight into how the world is made. You see behind the scenes of the world to how the stage-crews of your nervous system, your beliefs and the society you are embedded in make it all up. Having seen how it fits together, you have the insight to change it, to bring into this world, that is ever-dying and ever-being-born, better things. You can help to mend the world we are always breaking.

This is magic.

Its tools include not only its public face of art-forms - pictures, films, performances - but the much vaster hinterland of magic in the private meditations and gatherings by which we re-make the world in the inner vision.

Deeper insight than this may lead you into understanding that what you call your self is also a construct, a cobbled-together organ which you grew to get you through the everyday world. The self is not the most real part of you, and having that perspective enables you to know that the bad stuff in the world cannot pervert or destroy your essence.

This is wisdom.

Both magic and wisdom are filtering up from the private worlds of magic and art, and are the best tools we have for mending the broken world. The magical attitudes and styles in Burning Issue range from Jonathan's forgiveness of debt to the revenge politics of Cassie Thornton and Max Haiven, with many other flavours in between.

Jonathan Harris is an extraordinary person. He is not rich, in the sense of having millions to chuck about. Like most of us, he has to go out and earn a living. But he is dedicated - at considerable personal expense he made this unique thing. So he is in that sense an artist, of the magical persuasion I've just been discussing.

But there are other Jonathans too; he is the keeper of the Staff, which he insists we hail whenever it is mentioned - All Hail the Staff! He is consistent about this; this is actual real religion, I think - of a completely home-grown flavour for the Discordian age. Then again, through that guise we might also glimpse a prophet, walking the world bare of foot, dispensing forgiveness and setting things right.

So you can see that this is not an easy artefact to categorize. But it is very good indeed. Buy a copy, to help Jonathan move around his flat again. And then buy another, to give to someone whose mind it will blow.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Poems and stories by WriteOutLoud's Poet of the Week - Hubert Tsarko / John Short

I've reviewed some of my friend John Short's (aka Hubert Tsarko's) work before on here, so I'm delighted he's been declared Poet of the Week by WriteOutLoud. Who have some pretty good stuff on their pages. You can read some poems from when he was Poet of the Week here.

On the 15th December, five of John's poems will be published in issue 36 of The Blue Nib . What's more, Stepaway Magazine, in which he's been published, even recommended him for the prestigious Pushcart literary prize.

John has also been writing short stories for as long as I've known him. We go back to the Leeds magical scene in the late 1970s, and I travelled with him in the 80s. He has distilled some strange essences of untoward lives in rural France and Spain in forthcoming collection The Private Unmentionable Gargoyle. This is la vie routiére with its drinking, its loves and its bizarre friendships born out of the economic necessities of following the next job. In some ways, those migrant workers of former days foreshadow the world of gig economies and mass migration that the present generation is growing up with. These stories are from that era, the 1980s, that seems so distant now.

The Private Unmentionable Gargoyle and Other Stories (Publish & Print. Pontypridd, Dave Lewis 2018) - do a search on it in a few weeks' time from here

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Sacred Mountain and the LSD Helicopter - a talk

This is the talk part of a working I presented at Manifestations, the IOT+friends event in October in Sheffield. A very kind person with much better tech skills than me (and who has chosen anonymity) has kindly improved the sound!

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 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 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, , 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.