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.
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.
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 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'.