Monday, 23 May 2016

Heart of Magic: Based on talk given at Twisted Power event, London, May 20th 2016


I begin by saluting all the gods of magic, language and poetry.
Hail Woden!
Hail Tehuti!
Hail Hermes!

Why are gods of magic also gods of language and poetry?
Because the heart of poetry is also the heart of magic.
That answer first came to me in the course of a psychedelic experience.

The first time I smoked DMT, once I got the hang of it ('pay attention!') and let go, I was being guided, on a journey along a strange road. Something inside me said 'this is the heart of poetry'.
I have never thought of myself as a poet, and it was one of those sayings that seem unutterably profound at the time, but which I could only make a limited amount of sense out of the next day.
In this case, I found it was one of those sayings that you understand later.
Years later.

It took me nearly 20 years to put together the rest of the answer, to understand that that the voice that spoke was the voice of the god within me, and that god was the storyteller god.

When I speak of stories here, I'm not just talking about the visible, audible narratives we consume daily, in the forms of internet stories, TV, the printed word and audio. Our massive appetite for narratives from other people is still but the tip of an iceberg of storytelling, much of which consists of the unaccounted-for things our minds do, the dark matter of our worlds, the inner monologue that holds our worlds in place. Because we tell ourselves stories about ourselves and the world ALL THE TIME.

That voice came from me from my innermost core, the place from where I build my world, and it had made that astonishing leap of becoming self-aware. The I that makes my world, normally way behind the scenes, was now fully conscious and visible. And it was telling a tale, of a cosmic roadway, a journey along which was laid out, visually-rendered, answers to deep questions about life, death and transformation.

The storyteller god is actually present all the time, only obscured by the very stories he or she tells; we are quite literally spell-bound by her; he is what is at the core of the world, the story. She is there all the time, the narrator, and we watch and listen avidly.

Writers record glimpses of that very state in which the self is identified with the storyteller and the world s/he makes: As Thomas Traherne wrote in the 17th century:

'You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.'

On that trip, I'd stumbled into the place where we are all Gods, telling stories that make the world turn, that put the stars in the sky.

So why do we tell ourselves stories all the time?

The universe does not provide us with meaning. So we have to make it for ourselves. We do this by telling ourselves stories about our experience. Our inner narratives are how we make our lives meaningful. And making meaning is what we are all engaged in, all the time. It is the very core of being human.

The themes of our lives, the stories we tell ourselves are ideas that we stake our very lives on. Love, struggle, victory; compassion, sacrifice, transformation; transmutation, growth, awakening.

Our gods are all made by this central storyteller god - not for no reason is Odin called Allfather, not for no reason is Hermes called Kosmokrator, creator of the Cosmos. It's all there in the name.

So all our gods are fictions scripted by our innermost storyteller, the God behind all the Gods.
And our demons are fictions too.

No, I didn't say they weren't real.

As William Burroughs wrote in Apocalypse:
The creatures of all your dreams and nightmares are right here, right now, solid as they ever were or ever will be

So stories are right at the heart of magic.

The link between stories and magic is more practical and explicit too. Kenneth Grant was perhaps the first magician to emphasize the power of fiction, in his taking on of the Cthulhu Mythos as a magical system.

Chaos Magicians recognize the utility of fiction in constructing magical worlds. Cthulhu Mythos entities can be as or more effective than those obtained from grimoires of dubious provenance.
And then there is Baphomet. This is a deity of magic and nature, reconstructed from sources so uncertain and dubious that it can be considered fictional, but which works anyway, certainly more so than many other gods.

Chaos Magic also recognizes the layers of storytelling involved in working magic. First, you have to tell yourself that you are a magician, and get used to that identification for some time before you get sufficiently behind it to make magic work for you. Or you will sabotage your magic, again and again, because it does not fit with the world you have created, by being 'normal.'

Then you engage in the specific theatre of the magical style you have chosen.

So when we do magic, we are engaging in magical theatre.
On one notable occasion, the early Chaos group known as the Circle of Chaos used science fiction theatre. We told ourselves we were channelling our future, relatively-perfected magical selves. This idea is close to Edred Thorsson's concept of the Wode-Self, or even an existentialist version of the Holy Guardian Angel.

From this position of power, we created a group servitor, my first experience of making an egregore entity, which is an extraordinarily powerful magical tool.

Each of us wrote and delivered an evocation of the entity. These are the words I used:

Intelligence of boundless sight
Soaring eye, winged snake of light
Who was a pool of timeless water
Gusts of starlight scattered in
Whose breath was as the speech of Gods
Whose heart a whirlpool, atom thin

And who in Chaos exhaled Time
And who in Time was clothed in skin
Is whom we see in wakened eye
Acknowledge in unfettered mind

I am as thee, thou art as me
Emergent soul of humankind

Another way in which magic and stories intersect is what comic writer Grant Morrison called a Hypersigil, an artwork that exists to perform a magical task.

In 1997 I wrote Chaotopia! I knew that Chaos Magic needed to expand its discourse, take in mysticism and the pursuit of so-called higher consciousness, uncouple all that from religion and treat it as a subjective-experimental discipline, in the same way it took in magic, and make more sense out of it for the modern age.

It was a book of essays structured around a model of consciousness, deliberately loose and open-ended, it was a hypersigil to manifest the same kind of critical approach to mysticism as CM had done with magic.

It succeeded - First came Alan Chapman's Advanced Magick for Beginners in 2008, laying out magic in a way which related its practice explicitly to Awakening, and making the idea of Awakening much more believable for many people, including myself. Previously, I'd always been put off the idea by the religious viruses inhabiting most mystical discourse.

And then in 2011 came an even deeper deconstruction of what magic is about, Aaron Daniels' Imaginal Reality, finally updating Chaos Magic's philosophical basis to take in existentialism, and developing a full-on mystical-existentialist approach to the Quest.

So how does my fiction connect to my magical world? What is it for?
One purpose is the imagining of futures, which is why I write SF, which requires more world-building than mainstream literature. In short, thought-experiments about societies.
These always starts from a bright, optimistic view of future possibilities.

The other, darker side of world building concerns the dystopian themes I play with in my mind and in my fiction.

What this amounts to is me dealing with the madness of the world, what I think of as metabolising it, making it part of me without the damaging power of helplessness. More of which in a moment.

I started on at least three other novels before TRTT. I never finished them. Part of one of them became my first-ever published piece of fiction, in the 1990s Rebels and Devils collection. My previous novels stalled because I never had a big enough theme for it to seem to be worth extending to novel length.

What started me writing TRTT, the first novel I ever finished, was a comment at a Rune-Gild Moot by Edred Thorsson, who suggested we each might try writing about our 'ideal worlds'. Although the idea was not directed at work for publication, I started making notes about what became the Kingdom of Wessex, writing for an imagined readership.

Quickly, I realised that in order to make it interesting it had better not be a perfect society. Rather, it needed to be decidedly better in some ways than the present one but flawed and under pressure.

So I had my big theme: A techno-magical dystopia, a flooded world, a neo-traditionalist, English Heathen society.

I mentioned the damaging power of helplessness. Clearly, it is good for those in power if we feel helpless. The world is being grabbed by big interests, from under our very noses and sold back to us, piecemeal.

With Twisted Power, I am processing my own terror and revulsion and anger at the state of the world. It is a dark tale.

But it has an upside - the promise of magic.
Magic works.
Magic has real effects.

Magic is a potential source of agency for disempowered people (nearly all people) who have no real influence via conventional channels.
I've heard of a whole range of magical styles in use for enchantments to improve the world, from hedge witchery to evocation of corporate spirits as mighty demons.

For an instance of the latter:
'Mighty Monsanto, thee I conjure, poisoner of the world, dispossessor of the poor, deceiver of multitudes, mighty thief and most puissant murderer, thee do I bind into this Triangle of Magic Art, in the Holy Names of Chaos!'

We are not victims of the global neoliberal conspiracy, or whatever other appearance of irresponsible power seems to you to be imprisoning us. It is all narrative.
And we can change it, if we become conscious enough.

Get to the core of your narrative-making godhood, your inner Woden. Take control of your output of magic because, make no mistake, we are all doing magic, all the time. We are constantly spinning tales, which keep the world as it is. Thus is the world scripted, the religious would like us to believe. As Burroughs parodied, 'Mektoub: it is written.'

So we can learn how to unwrite it. To write our own scripts.

As Burroughs put it, 'Storm the reality studio'.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Two Icelandic Magic books

You wait for years for another book on Icelandic Sorcery and then two come along.

In chronological order:

Icelandic Magic: Aims, Tools and Techniques of the Icelandic Sorcerers, by Christopher Alan Smith, http://avaloniabooks.co.uk/catalogue/norse-viking/icelandic-magic/ 
Previous to this, the only material in English on Icelandic magic and my first taste of its magical syncretism had been Stephen Flowers' The Galdrabok, in 1990. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Galdrabok-Icelandic-Grimoire-Stephen-Flowers/dp/087728685X) .

This book is a thorough and very readable survey of five hand-written manuscripts, personal books of magic, giving us a glimpse across time, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, of a whole tradition of magic which still feels alive today. One of these volumes Christopher Smith translated himself.

'Aims, Tools and Techniques' provides rich backgrounds to the folk-magic - the material history, the religious shifts and persecutions, which are interspersed seamlessly into the exposition. The spells themselves range over the usual human preoccupations, particularly in a poor and pressured community, and are categorized into ten main categories, with careful consideration of the distinctions between 'white' and 'black' magics. The text and presence of the material is made more vivid with facsimile insets of original manuscripts.

I was honoured to read Chris Smith's book when it was in the version that became his Master Work of Rune-Lore for the Rune-Gild. One of the vital functions of the Gild is to nurture, encourage and challenge people to give of their best in what they write and produce, thereby helping light the way into Germanic esotericism. Such documents form lasting monuments to the author's personal quest. Chris Smith's book is one such.

The head of the Gild in its present form has added another stellar book to his long list of essential reading for anyone who wants to look seriously at the Northern Tradition.

Icelandic Magic: Practical Secrets of the Northern Grimoires by Stephen E. Flowers, http://www.innertraditions.com/icelandic-magic.html
His Galdrabok contained enough magical detail for an experienced wizard to build a few rituals; Icelandic Magic is a full-blown practical grimoire. Historical perspectives and an underpinning of the kind of confident and precise exposition of magic only a seasoned magical teacher can offer, build a solid base for the grimoire section. Thorsson declares:

'What you now possess is ... a genuine book of magic and should be treated with reverence to ensure that it maintains its magical essence.'

Then we are treated to some very interesting tales of great Icelandic wizards. These were men (most victims of witchcraft trials in Iceland were men) of widely differing reputation, and this section gives us food for our imaginings of what it is to practice magic, what kind of being we might become.

The grimoire from which the spells are taken is the famous Gray-Skin. The extensive appendices include tables of runes and rune kennings. The usual range of spells is present in the grimoire lists, but the way Thorsson expounds magical practice makes 'Practical Secrets' a unique volume, not a mere collection of spell-recipes.

I can unreservedly recommend both of these books to serious students of Northern magic.




Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Brief review of two books about William S Burroughs

https://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Magical-Universe-William-Burroughs/dp/1906958645?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

and

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scientologist-William-Burroughs-Weird-Cult/dp/0956952526?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0


Books on WSB are getting better. I've just finished two very good ones. My darling bought me The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs by Matthew Levi Stevens  and I just had to go and get what is more or less its unofficial companion volume, David S Wills's 'Scientologist: William S Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult '.' You know how it is with bibliophilia.

The latter is a superb piece of work. Wills puts together a lot of archive material to shed light on WSB's few years of involvement in the Church of Scientology and the enduring effects on his thinking of some of Hubbard's ideas (such as the idea of engrams) and some of Scientology's practice (auditing and the E-meter). Present day readers may be surprised to learn that a lot of people found the auditing technique helpful, that Scientology was not at the time the laughing stock it is now.

But this book is also valuable in showing us aspects of WSB's life and character that led to his being interested in these techniques. Wills argues that Burroughs was the ideal subject, with his emotional problems and his view of life.

I've read a few biographical accounts of William Burroughs but never have I felt his vulnerability so acutely. Wills writes of a deeply troubled man who sought relief from his emotional pain through psychoanalysis, drugs and various other techniques  and eventually stumbled upon a system that made more sense to him than any other because, for a few years, it really seemed to help him feel better.

However, he was alert to the controlling features of Hubbard's org from early on, though his enthusiastic experiments with the E-meter lie detector continued for many years after he was thrown out of the Church of Scientology for criticizing the organization.

This really is a most intimate portrait of a complex and distressed man, and left me feeling that I know him better through these revelations, couched in Wills's sympathetic though unflinching words, than through any others.

The Magical Universe of William Burroughs cites Wills and the author has obviously had a fruitful correspondence with him. This book tracks down an astonishing amount of evidence for WSB living in a full-blown magical belief system, veering through OOBEs, sex magic, cursing, the development of the cut up as a spell casting technique and of course, Scientology (which nicked its best stuff from Jack Parsons)

It was clear to me from early on that Burroughs not only lived in an essentially magical world, as many artists do, but was actually writing about and doing magic. Back in the day, around 1990, I collaborated with Phil Hine on an article called Operation Overload which was published in Chaos International issue 5, (available here http://www.philhine.org.uk/writings/ess_opov.html) . I think this was pretty much the first exploration of Burroughs's magical world on its own terms. Phil has been very active since then in writing pieces about WSB, and is referenced extensively in this book.

William Burroughs' involvement with the IOT is of course recorded, mentioning Bob and Stephani Williams and Douglas Grant (and I even get a name check).

This is a thorough book, and a very readable portrait of a unique magical mind.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Tyr journal, Northern esotericism and politics

This blog started off as a review of Tyr issue 4, and that review arose out of discussions about the (unfortunate) appearance of White Nationalism in Germanic esotericist writings. So the post expanded into an argument that White Nationalism is by no means typical of the Northern mysteries.

Tyr: Myth, Culture, Tradition. Issue 4. 
Edited by Joshua Buckley and Michael Moynihan
Volume 4, 2014, ISSN 1538-9413, ISBN-13: 978-0-9720292-4-7, 6" x 9" perfectbound, illustrated, 430 pages.

Tyr is an extraordinary publication, unlike any other. On the back cover of each edition the journal's mission is outlined: 'TYR celebrates the traditional myths, culture and social institutions of pre-Christian, pre-Modern Europe. It includes in-depth original articles, interviews, translations of essential works by radical traditionalist thinks, as well as extensive reviews of books, films, music, and the arts.'
An answer is given to the question 'What does it mean to be a Radical Traditionalist?'
'It means to reject the modern,.'. materialist reign of  "quantity over quality," the absence of any meaningful spiritual values, environmental devastation, the mechanization and over-specialization of urban life, and the imperialism of corporate monoculture, with its vulgar "values" of progress and efficiency. It means to yearn for the small, homogeneous tribal societies that flourished before Christianity-societies in which every aspect of life was integrated into a holistic system.'
(Full mission statement at http://www.radicaltraditionalist.com/tyr.htm.)

The articles in issue 4 give a good idea of the range of topics covered in Tyr's four volumes (no's 2, 3 and 4 of which are still available).

The theme of religion from a Traditional point of view is taken up by Alain de Benoist, in 'What is Religion?'. He asks 'Do we live in the age of the 'death of God' or the 'return of religion?' He examines various models of religion - its psychological, sociological and biological dimensions, concluding that they are inadequate, and asking what the essential features of a religion are. He concludes with a return to the idea that 'we are quite far from the old gods.'... '"Deserted"' is the appropriate word... the divine has withdrawn from our world... a world where one exploits the Earth, no longer knowing how to honour it.'
Mourning the death of the living world of the old gods, he ends on a Heidegger quote: 'Only a God can save us.'

Nigel Pennick's article on 'Traditional Time-Telling in Old England' is one of those wonderful meditations that cuts across regular cultural lines to show what we have lost from our pre-Christian cultural heritage, and the extent to which we are recovering forms of that heritage appropriate for this era.

Claude Lecouteux is represented by two articles. 'Garden Dwarves' is an inspiring essay on the ways we build magic into our homes. Lecouteux is very worth reading on this topic - see his The Tradition of Household Spirits (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Tradition-Household-Spirits-Ancestral/dp/1620551055). In his other piece, 'Geiler von Kaiserberg and the Furious Army' he retraces the myth of the Wild Hunt.

Steve Harris's 'On Barbarian Suffering' examines the traditional mind-set in which disasters are visited on us by the gods, and traces this thinking into the modern world.

Stephen Pollington reviews 'Germanic Art in the First Millennium', asking pertinent questions about the magical meaning of decorations on brooches, sword hilts and so on.

Contemporary artists whose ways of seeing have been influenced strongly by Northern Tradition ideas are also represented. From Michael Moynihan's essay I learned of the 20th Century American artist Rockwell Kent and how the Northern mythos inspired and sustained him.

Other artist cameos include Cult of Youth's Sean Ragon, and Sequentia's Benjamin Bagby. If you haven't heard Sequentia's Edda [http://www.sequentia.org/recordings/recording23.html] then do make time to do so - it is an extraordinary re-creation of an Eddic recital which you will never forget.

Tyr's production values are stellar and, as you would expect, integrated with the content; even the cover has something important to say about culture. Benjamin Vierling's beautiful, moody painting shows a woman holding a baby warthog. It is executed in classic oil painting style. Vierling's comments on art show that he has no desire to be part of the game of money and fashion that fine art has largely become. The idea that art should be driven by fashion to the extent that it becomes an in joke between an elite of artists and Charles Saatchi is repulsive enough to generate all sorts of responses from art lovers. When her boyfriend resumed proper painting Tracy Emin called his work 'stuck'. Proudly, he adopted the label 'Stuckist'. Vierling clearly opposes the idea that just because something is done in a new style, does not make it intrinsically less susceptible to criticism.

So Tyr amounts to a unique cultural project, unearthing and making vivid the thoughts and feelings of the pre-modern era, some of which underlie the confused layers of modern culture, and seeking glimpses of pre-instrumental views of the world, of cultural layers in which the Earth is not just a 'resource' and people aren't just 'human resources'.

The allusion in the title to the god Tyr is another reminder of the transcendent principles of Tradition: Tyr is the Norse form of the Indo-European sky god. His name resounds thorough the Germanic languages and denotes a principle of justice and rightness. Tyr journal celebrates and demonstrates the breadth and depth of the gnosis that has been nurtured in Germanic cultures and written or sung in Germanic languages.

Amongst the ancient and modern stirrers of the gnosis are the psychedelic sacraments. Of course, the German speaking world was seminal in the 20th century revival of the psychedelic gnosis - one only has to think of Albert Hoffman, the 'father of LSD'. In Tyr 4 we have an article by German psychedelics expert Christian Rätsch on 'The Mead of Inspiration'. The good Doktor, author of numerous scholarly books on the history, ethnobotany and sheer importance of psychedelic plants, turns to the question of the ingredients of ancient sacred drinks, in which 'alcohol is little more than a preservative or a solvent'.

The topic of psychoactives continues with a pair of interviews with psychedelic pioneer Ralph Metzner, one conducted by Carl Abrahamsson and the other by Tyr editor Joshua Buckley. Metzner comes over as vitally interested in using the psychedelic gnosis, not simply indulging in it as a species of private ecstasis. This attitude is of a piece with a major theme in Tyr, and in German esotericism - the necessity of incorporating polar extremes into personal illumination, of exploring the world in order to reach one's own spiritual truth. Metzner also voices an evaluation of the spiritual role of psychedelics I share - that they provide a preview, what I used to think of as a helicopter flight up the sacred mountain. In a world circumscribed by crude, triumphalist philosophies of science such as that peddled by Richard Dawkins, many of us require that helicopter ride to gain the knowledge that experience of one's own truth from within is even possible.

This is the point at which to consider Collin Cleary's Tyr 4 essay 'What is Odinism?' This is a wide-ranging philosophical survey which illustrates how deeply-embedded in the culture of North Western Europe are the qualities ascribed to Odin. The issues covered include the Faustian model of Western culture via Oswald Spengler and the core Left Hand Path idea that a human being is potentially a god, or something even greater. Odin is of course the role-model for the aspiring illuminate in Germanic culture.

Cleary's account is also sensitive to the tragic dimensions of the Odinic myth - that we may, in emulating the god, become obsessed with knowledge and power, and thereby 'lose our souls'. This is of course the dark side of the Faustian obsession that has brought Western civilization its greatest triumphs, and its greatest disasters.

Cleary introduces some of Edred Thorsson's ideas, particularly the notion of Odinic consciousness as encompassing the whole world, in all its extremes. Odin gives us a model to embrace the universe and thereby find our own inner truth. This is a gnosis which does not in any way demand the abandonment of the world and the flesh; indeed, the Odinic seeker arrives at truth at least in part via the world and the body.

However, Cleary does not take this idea as far as Thorsson does with his Polarian Method. This is the explicit notion that we need to seek out extremes in our personal development, integrating the experiences of them into greater consciousness. It seems to me that this strongly implies that reasoning can not always be top-down, starting with general principles and deriving specific guidelines to action. I shall return to this point below.

Cleary's article is well-written and introduces some powerful and important ideas, but he does make a curious attempt at conflating Odinism and Odianism, right at the start of the piece. In a footnote, he justifies this, but he is either missing the point of the distinction, or this is a deliberate attempt to elide that distinction, with no real justification other than that he finds the word 'Odianism' cumbersome.

Cleary's footnote mentions Thorsson's reasoning, kind of in passing: 'by "Odianism", Thorsson means a particular path to which not all Asatruar will be called.'

Surely this is a good enough reason to maintain the distinction? The way of the Rune-Gild, called Odianism, is about self-mastery and higher consciousness. Religions, including Asatru or Odinism, have little space for such concerns because they are mainly there in order to make people feel better about themselves and their circumstances, to cater to a level of consciousness which is about following, belonging and conformity. Development of greater awareness, magic, awakening - these are at best peripheral to religion.

Why would anyone want to blur or undermine that distinction? To pretend that seekers after truth are really just the same as the faithful flocks of Asatruar? In the essay under consideration, he asks 'Is there hope for the Odinic-Faustian West?', and answers with an acceptance of ontological determinism - just admitting what we 'are' according to 'biological, historical, cultural and social' destiny.

This is a tad vague, but looking at Cleary's other writings, it becomes clear that he has a political agenda at least as important to him as his esoteric one. An essay at http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/10/asatru-and-the-political/ plunges us straight into the depths of that programme, with an opening statement:

'I regard Ásatrú and White Nationalism as so inseparably bound to one another that to espouse Ásatrú while rejecting White Nationalism is to involve oneself in a fatal contradiction (fatal, really, in more than just the logical sense).'

By "White Nationalism" he means:
'very simply, a movement which recognizes White people - people of European stock, in other words - as a distinct nation or race, with its own set of national interests, and that seeks to advance those interests.'

That advancement involves resistance to a selection of the lies of the ruling class, those that appear to privilege other 'races' above Whites. The usual is stated, about not hating other 'racial' groups, and Cleary makes some very general statements about differences, but then the mask slips, and another layer of language shows through:
'But so long as there are distinct human groups these [differences] are ineradicable (which is exactly what some Leftists have realized in advocating miscegenation).'

I haven't heard the word 'miscegenation' since I last read a novel about rednecks in America in the 40s-50s. Does anyone not stuck in some ultra-racist timewarp still use the word?

I mentioned the perils of top-down argument above. One of them is that if the conclusion of your argument takes you somewhere that is grotesque on a number of levels, then its premises or its construction must be wrong. It is better to start over again, using insights into one's own visceral prejudices and arguing directly from those rather than trying to cloak dubious political ideas in respectable philosophical clothes. The association of White Nationalism with Asatru, taken with the deliberate conflation of Odinism (Asatru) with the esoteric path of Odianism does just that, and so the motive behind that curious elision comes into view. And to associate the Path of the Mysteries with a political movement, particularly one that is capable of using terms like 'miscegenation' is, to my mind, repellent.

I hope it's clear from the above that while I am criticizing some features of the Germanic revival, I am doing so from the inside. A study of the topics broached in Tyr enriches many a person's magical world, and provides a growing undertow, a sense of belonging to something good, which started long before you were born and will continue, we hope, long after you die.

Currents of world-changing thought, visions of beauty and awakening, traditions of embeddedness in a magical universe that answers to the awakened mind; currents of social and political liberation, the recovery of better ways of living (in Tyr 3 there is an article on the Wandervögeln); these are just a few of the themes that have emerged within Germanic cultures and been written down in Germanic languages.

But there is also the Thursic side. Thurses are the stupid giants in the old Northern tales and they provide, as mythic truths often do, useful tools for thinking about the modern world. Thurses are characterized by stupidity. (See my blog piece Three Thurses For Thee, http://chaotopia-dave.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/three-thurses-for-thee-towards.html). Everything about them stinks of automatism and unconsciousness. They represent the undertow of human consciousness, the forces of habituated, ignorant resistance that lurk beneath the conscious will.

If White Nationalists, despite their attempts to make their ideology respectable, want to ban breeding between different ethnic types, then it is perfectly clear to me that we are in the presence of a Thurs, one powered by the faithful flock's philosophical leaders' encouragement of the flock's most childish fears. On its own level, that conduct looks to me like a dereliction of leadership, but quite aside from that consideration, I, for one, do not want any kind of political game polluting my esoteric worldview.

The main reason for writing this review has been to point out to those who may think that White Nationalism is typical of Germanic esotericism that this is no more the case than any of the excellent other currents given voice in Tyr. The mix of articles in Tyr 4 presents Cleary's views as just one of a richly diverse selection of outlooks. So there is no need to shun Germanic esotericism because of the political programmes of a minority of its writers. The world of Northern Magic is much, much bigger than that.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Review of Wilhelm Reich - Biologist, by James E. Strick

Wilhelm Reich - Biologist, by James E. Strick, Harvard University Press, 2015.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wilhelm-Reich-Biologist-James-Strick/dp/0674736095

I came of sexual age in the 1960s, when the so-called Sexual Revolution was already well underway. Widespread, reliable contraception had finally detached the sex act from the raw biology of reproduction. Young people were becoming much freer with their explorations of sex; long before I ever had sex with anyone else, I, in common with nearly all my contemporaries, embraced the zeitgeist - the idea of sexual freedom - in a spirit of hopeful anticipation.

A few years later, reading Wilhelm Reich, my friends and I were digging back into the foundations of the Sexual Revolution, a phrase coined by Reich, a movement he hoped would arise and dissolve the bonds of locked-in sexual-emotional energy and lead to a better world. Reich was the erratic visionary who had looked forward to an era we were now living in. He wrote in Function of the Orgasm:

'Psychic health depends upon orgastic potency, i.e. upon the degree to which one can surrender to and experience the climax of excitation in the natural sexual act. ... Psychic illnesses are the result of a disturbance in the natural ability to love. In the case of orgastic impotence, from which the overwhelming majority of people suffer, damming-up of biological energy occurs and becomes the source of irrational actions.'

Wilhelm Reich was a psychoanalyst who studied under Sigmund Freud, but came to treat libido as an actual, physically-detectable energy, an aspect of a universal vital force he called orgone. Reich's life-force has to be physically detectable. His philosophy could be described as 'mechanistic vitalism'; he claimed that it bridges the gulf between the classically-opposed vitalistic and mechanistic philosophies of life. Reich's vitalism demands a very different way of looking at the world; things are not to be understood merely in the ways they commonly manifest.

'What is Bio-psychic Energy?' he asks in a chapter heading in his book The Function of the Orgasm, and admits that he cannot fully answer this question. However, he insists it is electrical in nature, referring to it as bio-electricity on occasion.

Reich's legacy is broadly twofold: he is best known and respected for the founding of an important tendency in psychotherapy. Some of his ideas concerning psychotherapy rest on controversial or unprovable ideas, but the idea of 'character armour' is an amazing insight. According to Reich, the frustration and pain we bring forward from childhood trauma we do so by carrying it in tensions in our musculature. There was nothing like this notion in modern psychology until Reich suggested it, yet it is of a piece with the ancient Germanic concept of the hamr, the soul which imprints a shape upon our bodies, a shape which derives from habitual patterns, patterns which can be dissolved and recast in shapeshifting acts of magic.

Reich's greatest psychotherapeutic legacy is surely Alexander Lowen's Bioenergetic Therapy. Lowen was a patient, then a student of Reich's, splitting from him in 1952. His writings do not emphasize orgone or Reich's dubious physical theories, but give central place to the Reichian concept of character armouring. Despite Lowen's obvious respect for his former teacher, it is not hard to get the impression that their split amounted to Lowen's developing what was useful and leaving behind theoretical frameworks that were useless for therapy and, what's more, may eventually have been harmful to the credibility of therapies stemming from Reich's original and challenging biological microscopy.

That work is his second, and more controversial legacy, and it's what this book examines anew. Wilhelm Reich: Biologist tells the story of Reich's career, from his first stirrings of interest in a biological basis for his patients' emotional suffering through to his most controversial work and his departure for the USA in 1939. His biological work started with observations of amoebae, studying the way protoplasm flowed and trying to relate this to his theory that that basis of organic life is a pulsation formed of alternate expansion and contraction, from protozoa right up to the human autonomic nervous system. In the course of attempts to culture his own amoebae, he observed the formation of vesicles at around a micron in size. Following up this work with sterile preparations based on decaying grass, and then other materials, some of which were heated to incandescence to guarantee sterility, he observed a range of these vesicles, which he called bions. The bions pulsated, and seemed to be associated with larger structures, more like fully-developed cells.

Reich claimed that what he was observing was 'Primary Biogenesis', in other words, the emergence of living forms from non-living matter. This was his dominant theory throughout the period covered in this book, from the first bion experiments in 1935 to the 1939 discovery of the SAPA bions, which Reich observed to affect light-shielded photographic plates, but seemingly under conditions non-one else has yet succeeded in replicating.

Reich certainly observed some previously-unknown or poorly-studied structures that arise in cultures made using all sorts of organic and inorganic substances as a starting point, but his identification of these with processes that generate life where there was none before rests on shaky ground. Reich does seem to be over-optimistic when he claims that the bions possessed "all the criteria of life." Further, the idea of orgone energy is bound to raise the question: Are we in the presence of a scientist who seems in this case to have discarded the first rule of scientific enquiry - Occam's Razor, by which we are enjoined not to multiply entities needlessly?

Maybe, but this possibility does not invalidate his actual discoveries, which this book presents lucidly and with copious references, some from new examination of forgotten archives. What is more, WRB tells the stories of Reich's treatment at the hands of mainstream academic science - men whose worries about tenure occluded their experimental objectivity. This isolation may have been exacerbated by Reich's character, which Strick does not shrink from sketching via key anecdotes.

It is also worth bearing in mind that this is a man who was eventually hounded to his death by fanatics from the US Food and Drugs administration, who were quite possibly infuriated by the fact that Reich was trying to establish a sexually healthy society, and went so far as to burn his books. WRB argues convincingly that Reich was not a charlatan, whatever his character flaws.

Reich is still controversial. You only have to look at reviews of one 2010 book, Adventures in the Orgasmatron, by Christopher Turner, to see how polarized people are about Reich's ideas. The judgments on the book are mostly positive from mainstream critics who found it amusing, few of whom, one imagines, have much background in biology or psychotherapy. However, more than half the reviews from the general public I found were much more critical, more than one of which accused the author of poor research, character assassination and outright lying. WRB has the potential to restore the balance, and honour Reich's discoveries.

In the final section of WRB, we learn of teams who have since repeated Reich's experiments, and conformed his observations - clearly, pulsating vesicle-structures in the micron range do appear under sterile conditions, and these structures can be cultured in sterile growth media. Strick speculates about self-replicating macromolecular structure that have been discovered since Reich's time, such as prion proteins.

This possibility by no means exhausts fresh approaches to Reich's microscopic discoveries. The pulsation of the vesicles suggests some kind of dissipative energy system, for studies of which Ilya Prigogine gained the 1977 Chemistry Nobel. These are self-assembling systems of chemical components that form relatively stable structures which maintain themselves whilst exchanging energy with their environment. A macroscopic example might be a smoke ring, rotating in response to air currents but keeping its form.  

From the point of view of health and personal development, Reich's work gives some interesting crossovers between different descriptions of the experience of sensed-energy, for instance when he talks about the speed at which 'orgone energy' flows: he says it is slow, a few millimetres per second. This is the speed at which a shudder of cold, or of pleasure, or of excitement passes through us when we feel those things. For Reich, this sensation would correlate directly to a measurable energy flow. This is a position which starts and is rooted in embodied wisdom, the recognition of the vast, non-cognitive domains of conscious being, and that position is something our culture desperately needs. After all, any flourishing of individuals which has been aided by inner work with sensed-energy is to be applauded, and what science has to say about such internal processes is surely secondary to the experience of the practitioner. We can do science at one time, and inner work, with whatever models work best for us, at another. There is no conflict, because these things operate in different domains.

This is a  very good book, carefully written and balanced in approach. If you have puzzled about how much of Reich's science is relevant today, then read it.

My thanks go to Dan Lowe, who made me aware of far better informed critiques of Reich than the stupid and sensationalist ones, and at a time when I was researching for my book Life-Force, trying to get a total overview of the area of sensed-energy.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Review - The Heir To The North by Steven Poore

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Heir-North-Steven-Poore/dp/1909845892/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

The book is Part 1 of the two part story Malessar's Curse.

In the prologue, we learn of a mighty empire that reigned in the North, eight hundred years before, and was smashed by the sorcery of the wizard Malessar. The echoes of the fall of Caenthell and the High King reverberate down through the centuries, appearing in the tales told by storytellers. Protagonist Cassia is marinated in these and other stories, as a result of homeless wandering with her abusive drunken storyteller father. 

This is a superb plot device - between the storyteller father and a centuries-old wizard whom he and Cassia take up with we have a rich explication of the rich backstory as this ill-matched crew travel the myth-drenched landscape on a quest for the ancient sorcerer Malessar, a quest the true nature of which remains tantalizingly obscure until near the end.

The opening scene of the prologue establishes the cause of the subjugation of the empire of the North, in terms which tell us we are definitely in the zone of epic fantasy: 'Sorcery tore the castle to pieces around him.'

In the chaos, Baum saves the infant heir to the High Kingship of the North. You will spend quite some time trying to work out who is the descendant of this individual, and the tension and doubt are maintained with expert skill.

 

I am not generally a fan of epic fantasy - I think the only one I really enjoyed before this was Lord of the Rings, which I read at age 15 then again, at various ages. Some might say: Come on, powerful warriors, noble kings, beautiful queens, sorcery and blood oaths - what's not to like? But I usually have a problem with the treatment of magic in fantasy novels, especially in epic fantasy, where it is almost invariably over-used, and gives the impression of the arbitrary universes of Dungeons and Dragons rather than a believable world into which magic erupts as a shocking discontinuity, something truly rare, even alien. 

But Poore has got the mix just right - magic is used sparsely and sparingly. We are aware of the existence of powerful and terrible forces, but they are so rare that many people do not even believe in such powers. 

And he can pull out the stops when need be, giving the reader a vision of magic which is alien and frightening. In a magical battle, 'The air tasted of stone, sand and nightmare.'

The religion is also done well. Characters' relationships with the various gods of the peoples of the story is convincing - somewhere between belief and doubt. A wise wizard outlines the nature of the gods:

'They are primal and emotional. There are gods of anger, of joy, of love, and desire. Gods of war, of luck, of fate. They are all of the heart, not of the head.' 

Similarly, Poore is good on battles. He lays on the action in doses that don't stretch one's credulity or reduce the whole novel to increasingly boring bouts of violence. 

I like a lot the way that place and history are woven together. Cassia travels far with her mysterious companions, to places which are forgotten cities reached by uncountably ancient roads, through a whole landscape soaked in layer upon layer of history. This kind of world-building uses the storyteller theme to embed stories within stories, resulting in an intoxicating depth of myth underlying every important event.  

The quality of the prose is excellent. I started an Edward Cox fantasy recently and was so put off by the liberal handful of clichés in the first paragraph I couldn't be bothered to continue reading the book. Poore's writing does not suffer from such literary jerry-building, but is bright and fresh.

The story is strengthened further by the relatively unusual choice of protagonist. Cassia is a girl, in a male-dominated world. And she is young, with the dreams of youth, which often make a poor fit with the realities of the world she lives in. But her secret, which she comes to understand at the end, is about to change that world.  

This is a book to read more than once, for the sheer pleasure of the writing and plotting. Heir to the North is a story told with superb prose and characters and pace. Buy it, read it, read it again.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Brion Gysin exhibition, October Gallery

Went to see this last weekend. This is a last-minute blog - there is only a week and a bit left to see this exhibition, so I won't be writing much. Check out http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/exhibitions/2015gys/index.shtml

There are so many rich things about the work on display. One of Gysin's hallmarks is Arabic-style calligraphy, done in hot desert colours, glimpses into a shadow-realm between words and pictures, a realm of magic.

Another of his techniques is used to create the large pictures, painted with a carved paint-roller, forming cityscapes, dream cities. Friends Popping Out of Windows shows tiny photos of his friends, inset into the enormous structures of the world - again, the feel of magic.
Of course, the thing Gysin is most famous for is the invention of the Dreamachine. In the event we went to last Saturday, Luciana Haill spoke of Gysin's intentions in promoting the Dreamachine - to restore an alternation of the dark and light stages of consciousness, our civilization having got stuck in the light side.



Gysin never fitted in. He got thrown out of the Surrealists for being gay (Andre Breton's exploration of his unconscious mind didn't go as far as addressing homophobia), was in the seminal Lettrist group which influenced Situationism, and then became someone on the outside of the Beat literary scene. He is one of the ultimate Outsider figures in 20th Century art and culture, and his legacy is the power of the one who stands outside, looking at the world through a vision which we are only just catching up with. His work is neither obscure nor comfortable, but supremely elegant and magical, poised and luminous, outside of time. Go and see it while you still can.