Sunday, 16 February 2020

Jeffrey Kripal's The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge

In about 1980 one of Robert Anton Wilson's books, I forget which, had a cartoon in it, of a hippie juxtaposed against a scientific looking type. The caption was: Hey man, are you only using half your brain? As an acidhead with a science degree, I liked this; it was part of the drama of early chaos magic, or at least that's how I saw what we were doing, combining the rigour of science with openness to magical experience. For too long, people had either been space cadets who'd believe any old flim-flam, as long as it had shiny bits and rainbows on it, or 'hard-headed' science types, who rejected anything they couldn't measure.

So when I picked this book up (as the result of listening to Kripal interviewed by Gordon White), I was already someone who'd been there, done that and worn out the t-shirt decades before. And I wasn't much impressed with the first couple of chapters, in which he writes about various scientists who'd gone through some epiphany or other, left behind their naïve Scientism and adopted a spiritual perspective. The kind of epiphany that frees the scientist from Scientism he calls the flip, hence the book's title. Sure, these were interesting experiences, but was this to be just another of those books that lists some people's weird moments?

No, it's more than that. A lot more. Kripal shows scientists who continue practising science without the dumb religion of Scientism, in which anything that you can't do in the lab doesn't actually exist, thereby deleting the majority of human experience. And he also shows how their philosophies are breaking new ground, even to the extent of giving us a glimpse of what a future intellectual culture might look like, with neither science nor magic and religion being rejected.

He outlines the ideas of a few key thinkers in flip-world, classifying the extent of their departure from Scientism. The first stop he notes on this journey is panpsychism, which is getting to be quite popular with scientific thinkers - not as the answer to everything but as something considerably more realistic than Cartesian dualism. 

His second stop is dual-aspect monism, in which both matter and consciousness are aspects of a third, deeper principle. This is a philosophical standpoint with a lot of pedigree. It can also be seen as a favoured metaphysics for chaos magic, in that mind and matter both arise from chaos.

His third stop is quantum mind. Now I must confess to being a bit over most of the 'quantum physics = cosmic consciousness' stuff; that was being peddled back in the 1980s too, along the lines of 'Look, quantum physics shows you can believe in magic now!', and the metaphor is getting a bit threadbare. But Kripal follows Alexander Wendt in insisting it's not a metaphor, but that quantum metaphysics can rescue us from the prison of dualism.

His fourth metaphysics is cosmopsychism. He expounds the 'priority monism' of Philip Goff, 'the top-down view that the one and only fundamental entity in the universe is the universe itself, and that all conscious subjects are partial aspects of this more fundamental unified subject.'

The fifth and final, the furthest departure from Scientism, is idealism, the 'position that mind is fundamental and that matter is an expression or manifestation of some cosmic or universal mind.' This is another metaphysics with an ancient pedigree in both Western and Eastern philosophies. This is where it gets exciting. AI researcher Bernardo Kastrup writes of the role of imagination in forming the world:

'... in consensus reality synchronization emerges across the imaginations of multiple conscious entities, so to form a coherent shared picture. The constraints entailed by such emergent synchronization may be what we call the laws of physics. Perhaps the apparently fixed mechanisms of nature are merely an epiphenomenon; an emergent property of the sympathetic harmonization of different imaginations, imagination itself being the true primary substance of reality.'

Now that's my kind of talk. We can continue to do science without being Mr Stupid. Scientism is profoundly dehumanizing; Kripal defends the arts against Scientism's zealots who would relegate the arts to a secondary, unimportant human activity where in fact he shows the humanities to be prophetic in nature:
'In the humanities, the truths discerned almost always offend or violate the status quo and the comfortable... This is precisely why these truths are so important'

These shifts in culture will not be easy:
'I am certain that many will consider my emphasis in this book on extreme religious experiences and anomalous states of consciousness an eccentric means to argue for the future centrality of the humanities, much less the irreducible nature of consciousness. I make no apologies. We must be bolder. We must proceed through an intentional and systematic ontological shock if we are ever going to arrive at the future of knowledge.' [My emphasis]

This is where it gets exciting for the future of culture. Our present culture is Scientism-based, and its basic philosophy is that we live on a bleak prison planet where all that matters is individual survival and greed for more stuff. That culture does seem to be in its death throes. For the last few years, I've been asking myself what a culture could look like that had spiritual awakening at the invisible centre point of its cultural mandala.

The values I would see reflected in the culture include an attitude to the world that doesn't just see it as resources for humans to exploit, but as a thing in itself, a thing which has its own sacredness. A society in which human life is valued for its own sake rather than what people can produce.
A massive shift away from materialism.

This book has part of the answer: once we learn to value mystical experience and its implications for how the world really is, we will have to undo much of the intellectual world of Scientism. This will give us the opportunity to learn to live as what we really are. Kripal calls this cosmic humanism.

The Flip is a shard of a possible brighter future. What this future requires from us is a little optimism about the possibility of integration of science and spiritual reality. In these stupid and scary times, that might seem like a big ask. But it's what we need, and it's happening out there. Kripal shows how broad the movement is, how many professional scientists are making brave attempts to integrate their science with their cosmic experiences. Sure, these are a specialist subset of the population, but hopefully books like this can spread these ideas to lay readers.

Should you buy this book? Yes, if you're interested in science, in (readable and relevant) philosophy and want to think about what the next stage of civilization might look like. Yes, if you want to find real things to take heart about in the fertile chaos of the world.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

John Higgs - The Future Starts Here - Adventures in the 21st Century

John Higgs's other books are enjoyable, well written and sometimes downright inspiring, which is why I decided to buy this one. From the things people were saying, I was also led to think: This is going to be a feelgood book, like that newsletter 'Future Crunch', wherein you get the good news about the world to counteract the learned helplessness generated by the mainstream news. This generated a bit of resistance in me before I even read it; I certainly wouldn't describe myself as a miserabilist, but sometimes the statements people make to cheer us up are so poorly-researched or downright shallow that they can have the opposite effect.

But I was mistaken. It's nothing like as simple as that.

Yes, it's a book full of good information about the world today. But it has a larger purpose - to expose the endemic scourge of nihilism in the cultural mainstream. He traces 20th century optimism about the future and how it died in the 1980s, using a lot of examples and building a very convincing case. In his opposition to this trend, he's not advocating blinkered optimism, but 'pragmatic optimism' - looking the future 'in the eye, to truly understand the problems ahead and then adopt an optimistic approach regardless.'

It's no wonder Mr Higgs has been known to quote Salena Godden's superb catchphrase 'pessimism is for lightweights.' Here he is:

He tells us the media have been indulging in a kind of conspiracy of despair; this is not so incredible when you see an (apparently) deeply-pessimistic book such as Human Compatible by Stuart Russell reviewed in the Guardian and The Future Starts Here is not even mentioned in the review as a counterbalance to such thinking.

The book has 9 sections, amongst which are lengthy refutations of commonly-held fear-ideas. One is that AI is not coming for your job. This is a delightfully underwhelmed deconstruction of the myths about AI; for a start, AI is really not very good. Even in the case of facial recognition software, which has had a lot of money pumped into it for obvious reasons, we get truly pathetic levels of performance:

'South Wales Police experimented with facial-recognition software ... and from May 2017 to March 2018 the technology flagged up 2,685 individuals as people of interest. 2,451 of these proved to be false alarms. In London, the facial-recognition system used by the Metropolitan Police only correctly identified two people, according to information released under Freedom of Information laws in May 2018. Neither of these people was a criminal and no arrests were made.'

Chapter 4, 'The Metamodern Generation', starts off by asserting the differentness of the various post-WW2 generations, using the common definitions of Boomer, Gen X, Millennials (defined as those who came to adolescence around 2000) and Post-Millennials, known as Gen ZZZ by some unkind folk.

The start of that chapter was challenging for me: a tale of law students who were refusing to study rape law and wanted the word 'violate' expunged from their law books. Surely it's not just me, being an old-fart Boomer, who finds this obscenely stupid, and deeply antithetical to anything that can be dignified with the term 'education'?

But if it pushes my buttons to that extent, there has to be more to it than that. Remember, whatever generation you're from, the student politicos? Ambitious individuals who take some issue and whip up support to launch themselves on a political career? This idiocy sounds like the Gen Z version of that kind of social predator, taking some issue that is already in social media and driving it to ludicrous extremes, because basically no-one else will, so it provides a USP for that politico, a handhold on the slippery slope of political mendacity. The people who drive such things will, I imagine, be doing something much nastier in ten years' time.

So that was how I found some way not to condemn a whole generation because of its more idiotic excesses. However, the very fact that such balderdash can exist at all does make me ask what is wrong with Gen Z. And Higgs does a good job of redeeming Gen Z; this is a generation whose values lean strongly towards service. Their hyper-sensitivity may be the main driver behind their commitment to global issues such as Extinction Rebellion, and if the future needs anything, it's people who are driven to serve, to oppose rather than abjectly accept the cynicism of the cultural mainstream.

I ended that chapter feeling decidedly more optimistic about the future; it's in the hands of people who actually care, whose idiocies will fade into history, while they work to preserve and reform the human world.

In that chapter, Higgs introduces us to metamodernism as the philosophy that is replacing postmodernism. We can all breathe a deep sigh of relief at that - the corpse of PoMo has been stinking the place out for a while now. We can now move on from that pretentious anti-science nonsense and the misuse of the word 'problematic' as a noun.

The etymology of metamodernism is encouraging; it's not from 'meta' as in 'overview', but 'from the Greek word metaxy. Plato defined metaxy as being between two contrasting poles. ... The way that post-Millennials can oscillate between being childlike and sensible, or being conservative and liberal, is a ... contemporary example of metaxy'
He quotes one Luke Turner: 'it is important to oscillate between opposing poles rather than choosing one and identifying with it ... the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons.'

Astonishingly, this is pretty much the 'Polarian method' as defined by Edred Thorsson in his description of the path of Odin and those who would emulate him. Thorsson writes:
'It is in the eternal ebb and flow, in the dynamic process - unending and without end - that the ultimate synthesis is found - not in a state of being. This is the essence of what I call the "Polarian Method".'

I can't see how we could have got from Thorsson's words to those of Turner, but these interesting times make for strange bedfellows, and in such an exoteric context, Polarian thinking is an excellent antidote to rigid, dogmatic positions.

Higgs does a nice job of trashing social media. Apparently, Zuckerberg at age 19 referred to the first few thousand member of his fledgling Facebook as 'dumb fucks'' for trusting him. Now, we are seeing an exodus from FB, especially among younger users.
About this, Higgs writes: 'The way the platform can be used to trigger negative emotions works as a powerful addictive drug on the Baby Boomer generation, yet this repels the young.'
I'm warming even more to Generation Z!

In the penultimate chapter, 'Fixing Things', the author confronts climate gloom and rejects such positions as the Dark Mountain Project. Some years back, I read a good deal of their stuff and it struck me as, ultimately, selfish and whiney. Saying there is nothing that can be done and that everything is fucked and all we can do is huddle together and weep collectively is not a good way forward on any level as far as I'm concerned. Higgs sees this attitude as a facet of the Gen X tendency to nihilism, which he addresses in the earlier chapter about generational differences. 'Once you adopt that position you no longer need to worry, or keep thinking about the problem, or look for solutions. Giving up is seductively easy, especially as you get older.' There is always reason to doubt, and never a time to give up hope. Higgs sees Dark Mountain founder Paul Kingsnorth's hopelessness as a yearning for an impossible golden age of humans living in a perfect harmony with pristine wilderness. As Higgs puts it, 'Giving up eventually becomes inevitable when what you seek can never be found.' We just have to live with the mess and make the best of it we can. Which will be a lot better than abandoning all effort.

In the final chapter, 'More Than Individual', Higgs muses on where the mainstream's culture of individualism has got us. He quotes Chris Bateman on how, 'once you have cut the ties that were unique to you, you become adrift in the same mass-culture corporate networks as everybody else... Pursuing individuality in this way results in becoming, essentially, the same as everybody else. The background and relationships that were discarded turn out to be the very things that would have made you a distinctive, unique individual.'

This seems obvious to me, but then again I've been involved for years in magical currents some of which articulate 'radical traditionalist' positions. The radical traditionalist argues for small against large, for family and 'organic' community as against corporate and state methods of organizing society. Sadly, the 'organic' bit in 'organic community' is often interpreted along racist lines, ruining the whole argument as far as I'm concerned; who wants to be stuck in a village with a tiny gene pool run by people who hate anyone who is different from them? So it is refreshing to find that the basic idea of the strength of family and local community against the corporate state is gaining currency without the shameful idiocy of racism. 

His parting shot is at the recent rise of the populist ultra-right, as 'the twentieth-century world view lashing out and trying to save itself from coming change ... like Canute ordering back the waves.' Let's hope he's right.

One bit of astonishingly good news that I was surprised not to find in this book is about the best projections we now have on the growth of world population. The old projections were based purely on what had gone before, with no accounting for new variables. Those projections leave us with a version of the future with nothing but overcrowded cities, starving people and no wildlife; it's hard to avoid very bad dystopias when thinking about such a relentless march of overpopulation. However, some clever researcher a few years ago worked out that the biggest factor in reducing birth rates is the education of women: the more educated women you get, the fewer children they have. Projecting the curve with this variable increasing realistically, we get a population which peaks over the next century then starts declining*. Without that effect, there would be little cause for hope.

Reading this book was quite a ride for me, as you may have noticed. It changed a few of my ideas for the better, particularly about the generation in whose hands we are leaving the planet. It's a gripping read, and possibly his best book to date. Buy it, especially if you are over 30. In fact, it should be compulsory reading for anyone in that age group. 

(*See for instance

Monday, 25 November 2019

Would You Know Yet More? The Runa Interviews with Edred Thorsson

Edited by Ian Read and Michael Moynihan

This is one of many books that feature the words of Edred Thorsson, but it is the only one which involve an interviewer. The book consists mostly of the interviews conducted by Ian Read for his Rûna magazine, which ran from 1997 to 2009, plus a 2019 interview done by Joshua Buckley and Michael Moynihan.

Ian Read supplies a foreword, and the text is nicely organized according to the themes of the questions, so it's possible to follow an idea through the relevant chapter. The themes include:
- The Rune-Gild, Cosmology and the Gods, Monotheism and modernity;
- Asatru and the neopagan revival;
- The Woodharrow Institute;
- The Goths;
- J R R Tolkien, the Spear of Destiny and the Modern Mythos;
- Tradition and Modernity;
- Towards the Birth of an Odian Philosophy: Hans Naumann and Nietzsche's Ewige Wiederkunft.

There's a lot of high-powered ideas in here. I'll just pick a favourite. In the piece on Nietzsche and Odian philosophy, Thorsson makes a very interesting point about the history of thought:
'At present, our chief task in the development of a true philosophy rooted in timeless Germanic principles lies in the translation of mythic thought into theoretical thought. ... The process ... here is identical  to what happened in India, where mythic patterns encoded in the Rig Veda were used as sources for the theoretical concepts expressed in the Upanishads... A similar process took place in Greece, where Homeric myth became a springboard for the theoretical speculations of the Hellenic and Hellenistic philosophers.'
This possibility in Germanic thought was 'blocked by the onrush of Christian theology...', so that this process is only now being resumed.

In the same piece, writing on Nietzsche's idea of eternal return and how it can relate to the traditional Germanic idea of aptrborinn, of being born again within the clan, it becomes clear that we are not being reborn in order to be perfected. We do 'not look for far-off unknown blessings ... but rather we should live in the way that we want to live once again, and as we want to live for all eternity!'

Buy this book for what its title promises - as close as you'll get to the thoughts of the most influential contemporary teacher of the Germanic esoteric reawakening.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Welcome to Paradise! and... Westworld? and Midsommar? Ozora Festival

It's evening, and very warm at Budapest airport. We get on the minibus shuttle - it's for Ozora Artists. Here's I'm an artist - I'm going to speak on 'Psychedelics and Magical Energy' at this gigantic psytrance festival.

I have to admit my previous exposure to psytrance - two parties in the late 1990s/early noughties -was not encouraging. Naively, I was expecting 'psytrance' to mean 'psychedelic trance', but no-one was interested in psychedelics at all, only in pills and coke and squabbling over nitrous oxide hits. So I hesitated when I was invited to speak at Ozora, but not for long, because it did sound like something better than that. And it was.

I meditate on the long, winding drive, and it's exceptional. I'm in a bliss of trusting to a guidance that took me through each moment of experience, a silent knowing that was there in some of my teenage acid experiences but which I'd mostly lost since. I feel as though I've come home.

The festival has a giant entrance sign, welcoming us to paradise, and then an orange drive-through pavilion as the entrance. We get our wristbands and artist's lanyards and queue up for some chips. The festival at this stage is darkness and sound and confusion. We meet a friend, drink a beer and get another lift. The car is struggling with the hills, I'm beginning to wonder if we will be stranded in the middle of the night, but we arrive at our apartment in a village, Kisszekely, about 15 km from the site. I learn one Magyar word - koszi, thanks.

We breeze into our apartment some time past midnight, talking as we decompress from our journey, unaware that we were waking up flatmate Ayana Iyi, who's also talking at Ozora, on psychedelic witchcraft.

The next day it's hot. I'm beginning to wonder whether it was a good idea to opt for the off-site apartment, it being so far from the site, but it's no problem - the Ozora staff are happy to give us lifts to and fro at any time of day or night. I've never had such great treatment from organizers. This is the day of my presentation, so we make our way to Chambok House, where the talks and discussions take place.

My talk seems to go down well. I'd no idea how many people to expect or what level of interest; I'm guessing 50, but it's nearer 200, and people are enthusiastic enough to get up and do some energy work. People reported amazing states of consciousness and one person got healed. The next day, a participant came up to me and told me how she'd used a chi-ball energy portal to find the man she'd been looking for. All in all, one of the best audiences I've ever had.

Now we've got a chance to explore the site properly. Catching sight of the timeless traditional architecture of the Artibarn, I'm suddenly in the film Midsommar, in that beautiful reconstruction of an ancient heathen village (before they start offing people).

After music, art is the big thing in this festival. The land is owned by a rich Hungarian chap who loves the psytrance scene and many of the structures are permanent. Art events are on all the time. Walking across a field, we hear what sounds a bit like a warm-up for the Anvil Chorus from Das Rheingold - it's some people improvising around the sound of hammer and anvil.

The Mirador art gallery is a tower, filled with a stunning display of psychedelic art, so good we get overloaded and have to pause our viewing for a day.

Climbing the tower gives fantastic views all round the site.

And right in front of it is a Cat Temple.

Then we get the biggest visual shock of all. From the Mirador tower we have a vague sense of the main stage field behind the trees, downhill. So we start down some wooden steps that drop about 200 feet between platforms. As we emerge from the trees onto the first platform, we finally see the main stage field and gasp at the sheer scale of it. Judy says, 'It's like Westworld!'

Later I'm back at Chambok House for the panel discussion, alongside Kilindi Iyi, Dany Nemu and Ferdinando Buscema, discussing 'Magical Psychonauts: Intersections of Magic and Psychedelics'. The room was packed, and the questions were interesting. Magic, or at least the possibility of it in people's minds, is thriving in this subculture.

The next day it's really hot. Dancers walk round with those 5 litre garden sprays you pump up then release a fine mist. It's very pleasant for us, probably essential for people dancing in the 29*C sunshine. This is a scene where people look after their health and each other's. There's plenty of nice vegan food, no need to eat meat-industry waste disguised as burgers. We drink beer, for the heat, but not very much. There is almost no drunkenness on the site. I see one bloke staggering down the hill shouting and waving a bottle, but he is conspicuous by his rarity. We don't see any of those lairy packs of lads, pissed and coked-up, that infest most public gatherings.

In the evening we go to one of the smaller stages where the most interesting music is on to watch Tentacles of Static, an Ozric Tentacles reincarnation. They're great, playing against the spectacular backdrop of a thunderstorm which at first we think is a light show and distant sounds. The rain comes down thick and heavy. We just have to walk through it to our lift for the night, soaked to the skin. Back at the apartment, we chat and smoke with Xenia our driver and Alana.

The next day we check out the Dome. In the daytime it looks a bit like a gigantic WW1 German helmet with its low curving brim and spike on top, all made of thatch. By night, it's lit up with the most incredible lights inside and out.

As we walk in, we're hit by a gust of air laden with the unmistakeable tree-resin-and-petrol aroma of acacia DMT. People are lying in hammocks, in this loud, immersive chillout music, watching projections on the ceiling. We have arrived in the final realisation of Wagner's dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk - the total artwork, total immersion in artistic vision.

For Friday the forecast says thunderstorms, and they're not kidding. We're trapped in the bar for the first part of the day, while the rain buckets down and puddles become ponds. Since that experience on the minibus on Monday, it's easy to meditate with eyes open, switching into silence and eternity. A stylish couple sits behind me. She looks like a Japanese aristocrat; his face is Samurai, from an old print.

We check out the Ozorian Prophet, a daily print newspaper with news and interviews with people on site. It's a jolly publication, a bunch of good vibes, but a bit deluded in places - one of the articles has someone claiming there's no single-use plastics in the food area, someone who clearly has never had to use any of the bins on the site.

Eventually the rain recedes enough to escape the bar and wander. We see people building flood barriers and cutting drainage ditches. A truck appears and dumps sand on a major route. This site is being really well looked after. I get the impression that the organizers are actually spending a lot of the income on keeping the place nice. It's cheaper than Glastonbury for 6 full days, and much better managed.

We're back at Chambok House for a panel discussion on psytrance. I find myself agreeing with the  Australian DJ who says psytrance is too repetitious, a 'rectilinear steel prison.' The American DJ defends it, saying the insistent 'machine-gun beat', was essential to keep the trance going, or you get broken out of the trance. The repetition is a 'a warm blanket, a comforting thing.' It's clear that we are talking here about an actual technology for getting higher, based on the relentless monobeat. I mean, whatever floats your boat, but it's not my thing, that repetition. I prefer shifting, swirling rhythms that take you off in new directions, exactly the kind of thing that the Australian guy is saying are now 'transgressive' and 'forbidden' in the psytrance world.

Later, we take in a set by Youth with Gaudi on the small Dragon's Den stage, exactly the kind of 'transgressive' beats we were talking about this afternoon. This music has delighted in techno, dub, trance and drum-and-bass, and folded them all together into complex, shifting rhythms that are a joy to dance to. It begins to occur to me that the best way to understand the psytrance scene is that it's a church. Its sacrament is the 'warm blanket' of the monobeat and its limiting of the wildness of psychedelics, the collective ecstasy is signalled by people raising their hands at the climaxes of the music, its creed is caring and inclusive (insofar as any church can be inclusive) and its faith is that its beliefs are better for the world than the dominant ones out there. Which seems perfectly reasonable.

It's the final full day on Saturday. We've enjoyed some intense conversations in the car as we were ferried back and forth, on topics such as small-scale farming, the history of the region, working as a translator of Russian for the Hungarian government, children and psychedelics, and yoni balls. Today is much cooler, and I'm enjoying a major sacrament, so I'm doing fire breathing all day. I discover that each breath is a recapitulation of cosmology. That's maybe a story for some other time.

On Sunday it's time to go home. We wait in the Artists' Camp for the airport shuttle. I give my lighter and my last two joints to the man behind the transport desk, and he's delighted.

I never did well with churches, and psytrance dancing is too High Church for me - too prescriptive in its approach to gnosis. However, it was nice to worship with this congregation for a while; on the Saturday I danced to Youth's 'History of Trance' set, and I got the psytrance gnosis. And it's a nice congregation. Humans do religion; this is one of the better ones.

Ozora festival was much, much more than psytrance, and far better than I imagined. It was, in the end, one of the best festivals I've ever been to. Big thanks to everyone who made us so welcome, and to Giorgia for inviting me in the first place.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Thug, Two Tales in Poésie Noire, by David Jonathan Jones

I was ready when the parcel fell through the door. It came with a bullet-hole in the wrapper. I opened it. The hole was on the front cover, just below and to the right of the head of a shadow. The shadow that mostly fills the rain-glossed pavement of the darkened street. Stalking prey in the urban night, the shadow looks down... The background is the bleak existentialism of New York cop noir, with its jazz, its hard liquor and harder drugs, its seedy clubs where the opportunity for deadly violence is ever-present. So elegantly. With so much fucking style.

The car, radio
Night voices and soft bebop,
A blood requiem

And this world is invaded by an ancient goddess and her cult of sacred murder.

Skin, luminous dark,
Axe like nothing of this world,
Those still, ancient eyes.

Like nothing I'd seen,
Exotic beyond foreign,
Even in this hell.

I've never read anything remotely like Thug. This is meticulously-constructed epic poetry for a very unheroic age, built from Anglicized haiku, seventeen beats over three lines, forming a rhythm of cool, merciless witnessing.

The companion piece in here is The Gullveig Working, a deep, deep dive into desire and addiction, laced with the language of psychogeography as the protagonist scours the streets for glinting pieces to feed his gold-lust. If you were at Festival 23 in 2016 you may remember David's performance, done with George Rogers' haunting music.

As you pan on and on
On the cities' hidden tracks of fuck and fight,
For the cursed Rhinegeld, you Alberich, you Uber-prick,
Mired in the midden
Of others' loss, bad luck and tough fucking shit.
She is in that glint.
Like the shooting star flash
Of gusset in the cross of legs

Gullveig, or Goldie, becomes the very Goddess of hopeless desire, leading the seeker into gleaming gutters of détourned culture, deep mythological learning displayed lightly, Odin mashed up with William Burroughs, Elvis with Edgar Allen Poe. And we are all Her slaves, never to find fulfilment:

That broad in the red velvet dress
Is elusive beyond Elysian
And I'll claw my way through concrete
For a hint of a whisper of a rumour
Of her perfume
In a room she thought about going into
Once a thousand lifetimes back
When I was still hint and dust and starlight.

If you like these excerpts, if you like this poésie noire, buy this and take the ride. You won't regret it.

Monday, 15 July 2019

History of the Rune-Gild. The Reawakening of the Gild 1980-2018, by Edred Thorsson - Review

A version of this book was first published in 2007 but this volume is really quite a new thing. A lot has happened since then. This volume is still principally a history of Edred Thorsson's own re-creation and involvement with the Gild, as should be the case, but it also honours those who have contributed to the Rune-Gild in the last few decades, including myself, by way of declaring an interest.

This is 'volume 3 of a much larger project', which will start with a history of the Rune-Gild in ancient times and continue via the Rune-Masters of the late mediaeval and early modern period. Also, as evidenced by the substantial changes in this over the 2007 edition, it is not a final version but an 'ongoing chronicle'.

Few esoteric organizations have as much interest in chronicling their own history. I am one of nature's archivists, so I like this. I think it's important that groups of people involved in initiatory endeavours reflect on what has happened so far, as a resource for new people who come along.

The cover starts the book off well, showing a rune-stone carved and raised by P. D. Brown, one of the world's foremost rune-carvers and a Master in the Rune-Gild. The beauty of this modern interpretation of an ancient Germanic aesthetic is plain to see, and demonstrates how successfully some artists have internalised those ancient patterns.

Edred writes about his personal history, the beginnings of his runic work, his involvement in the worlds of publishing and academia, his re-creation of the Rune-Gild and his part in organizations that Thorsson also had a big part in creating or nurturing, including The (Ring of) Troth.

What is the Rune-Gild about? Edred disposes of the notion that it's somewhere we go simply to learn runic sorcery (though you won't find anywhere better for doing so!) Rather, the Gild is an organization whose purpose is to revive Germanic esoteric culture in a context of radical traditionalism, a wider transformation of culture along traditional lines.

Edred talks us through his involvement with the 'dark side' which phrase is an actual chapter heading. The chapter is a detailed account of what went on between him and the Temple of Set and Michael Aquino, so part of its function is to set the record straight.

This is a magical biography. Some of the events that glimmer in the Rhine of this book are parts of a process of illumination. As with anyone whose life has been rich in magical work, personal history can be broken down into a number of stages which may, in the hands of a subtle enough writer, amount to articulations of the initiation process. The book can be read as a memoir of initiation experiences that, in Midgard, were developments in the Rune-Gild.

One of the most interesting features of this layer of the book is Edred's discussion of the 'higher man', a meeting with whom is necessary for initiation in all proper traditions. The aspirant sees living, breathing evidence in another person of the effects of initiation, and this forms a vital stage of realisation.

The book is beautifully produced and includes a number of photos which bring the narrative to life. If you're a Gild member, if you've ever wondered about the Rune-Gild, if you're interested in modern magical history, or if you want to read a well-written account of a magical life, buy this book.

Monday, 1 July 2019

'The Private Unmentionable Gargoyle and Other Stories' by Hubert Tsarko

The Private Unmentionable Gargoyle and Other Stories by Hubert Tsarko (Publish & Print. Pontypridd, Dave Lewis 2018)

This is Hubert Tsarko's first collection of short stories, consisting of tales from the early 1980s and later set in rural France, Greece and Spain.

The first story sets the scene. It's told in first person, with the author leaving his bedsit in Leeds for France in 1980, somewhat down with his life and wanting something new. He is already commenting about how travelling changed him when - 'with so much exposure to the real world my personality was changing and I was now less inclined to do what people told me.'

Hubert, aka John and I go back to the Leeds magical scene in the late 1970s, and I travelled with him for just one summer, in 1982. He is better known as a poet, but he has also been writing short stories for as long as I've known him. He writes engagingly of that first homesickness, that lonely, uncomfortable feeling. The loss of his sleeping bag right at the start of a journey, the criminal drivers who pick you up only to steal from you, or share their spoils with you, unwitting psychopomps extracting an entrance fee to Europe's underworld. This is the familiar emotional territory of leaving one life behind and beginning another.

The stories then mostly move into third person, giving a bit more distance and introducing all those themes of la vie routière with its drinking, its loves and its bizarre friendships born out of the economic necessities of following the next job.

The distress that often accompanies this lifestyle is suppressed by booze and rears up in hangovers in which the abyss yawns: 'When he woke up on the dusty mattress he felt like shit, his faculties clouded by a sense of abstract doom.' ("To The South")

What is this vagabond lifestyle all about? 'Interesting experiences', adventures that range from sleeping under a tree after a lunchtime on free wine to helping with a failed bank robbery in "The Madman of Mancau": 'Don't worry,' he repeated. 'There's no big deal about a bank robbery in these parts.'

Part of the drive is a search for an authentic identity:
'I was a language teacher,' I said, 'but I gave it up.'
'So now you rough it like this.'
'Now I don't have to put on an act.'

And what we all do, one way or another, try to pretend we are eternally young. But it catches up with us: 'one season older and nothing to show.' So the traveller periodically seeks more order, but falls back into chaos.

The instability of the travelling life sabotages any attempt to find love that's more than a two-night stand. In some ways, these stories of migrant workers from the 1980s, an era that seems so distant now, foreshadow the world of gig economies and mass migration that the present generation is growing up with.

These tales are very well-written, with a vulnerability and occasional dark humour, a solid descriptive groundedness on which the author builds poignant reflections about life. Hubert has got a great ear for language, with well-judged inclusions of foreign words - Greek, French, Spanish and Romanian - that add nuance without obscuring anything.

Some of these tales I've read before, but this is the sort of writing that gets better the more you read it. Is it the case that nothing much happens in these stories? No - it's life happening, often with no discernable plot. The stories belong in a collection - they have more power taken all together. This collection contains the questions distilled from half of a man's life, the unanswered ones building up like silt as the incidents come and go and the years wear on.

If you want to read about a lifestyle that is gone and yet, like I said above, still very relevant today, if you want to read what it is like to seek freedom and authenticity with all the risks and regrets that entails, if you want to read writing that is clear and memorable, buy this book.