Art as grammar of the magickal imagination
“Art is another language which, if you undertake to learn it, will open up a new world that permeates, surrounds and elevates this dull metropolis.” ~ Seshat
When first you enter the pagan or occult world, you will be faced with all sorts of good (and bad) advice. So let me just throw my glove into the ring with a suggestion of my own.
For those of you who are regularly readers (for which I thank you), you will know that I am a great proponent of using one’s imagination (see HERE for my latest article on the subject). Aside from sitting by the fire day dreaming, some might wonder where on earth to start with honing their creative and imaginistic muscles. First and foremost I would recommend art … although that might feel to turgid and bound by rules of aesthetics and skill … so let’s expand that word to “the arts and crafts” which could include everything expressive from music to painting to woodwork and textiles, such as sewing or even knitting. I know that last might baffle you – what benefit could something like knitting have to a magickal life?! But I would ask you to put aside such “art snobbery” and be open to the idea of creation.
Creating A Thing is a practice that involves making and holding a vision, imagination, commitment to follow through and skill to execute. No part of that sequence involves any judgement over “good” or “bad”, “beautiful” or ugly”, “useful” or “useless”. This is not the realm for debating “What is art?” – this is the domain of learning to envision, create and manifest. Sounds a little like the basics of magick and spellwork, right?
And even though creating artistically can indeed give expression to the subconscious mind (I am a supporter of therapeutic art), this does not mean that I equate magick with the mere machinations of one’s own unconscious, or even the collective unconscious. Magick is not mere psychology and the entities one encounters are not necessarily (although they can be) projections of your own mind. So let’s just make that clear. I am proposing some form of artistic involvement as a means to develop the full spectrum of imagination: a process of shifting a thing from energy into matter. This does indeed include music, as I consider sound vibrations to be a material manifestation. So my remit for “arts and crafts” really does include all forms of creativity.
So, now I shall expand a little on my own artistic practices:
Some people, especially in occult practices, like to work fast and furiously on their art, allowing no room for internal censorship. One of my art practices begins like this, in that I put pen to paper, close my eyes, draw madly in swirls and lines for a few seconds and then stop. But that is the fastest I get in my art. In fact, my art – whether it is sketching, felt painting, or textile work – is characterised by an exceptionally slow pace. It can literally take me months to complete a piece. Surely, when working so slowly, I have to battle often with the censor and conscious mind forcing it into a particular conceptual mould? Yes and no. Certainly I occasionally have to battle with the censor, but the processes for my art are often described by others as tedious and boring; I frequently hear, “I would never have the patience to do that!” But for me, it requires no patience. Due to the minute focus that is required, I slip into a hypnagogic state where the boundaries between conscious censor and fluid unconscious are permeable and mobile. This allows my imagination free reign and expression, often with surprising results. I never know when I start a piece, how it is going to turn out. But where’s that “vision” I spoke about as the starting point? For me, the vision is merely the unmistakeable physical pull and urge to create; it is a very corporeal as well as mental drive – for me personally, this is my vision and the manifestation is a process of welcoming the Other that nudged my psychic senses and bringing into a material form. The process will most likely be different for other people, but maybe some of you can identify with my own experience and methods.
And I must make an aside, regarding textile art (e.g. knitting, although in my case not knitting per se as I have injured hands and can no longer knit without pain). I embroider and create knot ropes; again, both techniques are laborious and easily induce a light trance state due to the focus and repetition. My knot ropes (for which I use spools, or French knitting dolls, but also the Anglo-Saxon lucet) may seem banal to onlookers, but to me they are invested with thought and emotion. By doing such repetitive work, importantly while focusing on a particular thing (a solution to a problem, a state you wish to come into being, magick you wish to actuate, or a person) you anchor that thing in muscle memory for a start, making the thing you create a part of your body (mundane example: the first time I watched The Shining I was knitting socks. The next day after watching the film, I picked up my socks and experienced such powerful flashbacks from the film that I could no longer continue knitting. It took a week for the muscle memory to abate enough for me to pick up again). But also, by taking the slow route, one comes to know the Thing one creates intimately well: that point where the shade of wool changes a fraction, that slip in the stitch that creates a loose mark, that struggle to tie in a bead or feather… So what’s the point, you may ask? The point is to enhance concentration, memory, focus, experiencing creation with the body not just the mind, and of course exercising of the imagination. Never underestimate the simple rural crafts such as knotting, spinning, carding, weaving, crocheting, and yes, knitting. They hold an equal place in my heart alongside the more “mainstream” arts of painting and sketching.
The proof is in the pudding. Try it. Try everything. I have sung, played classical guitar, painted, sketched, used textiles and wool, knotted and finger painted! And in each I have been able to reach that hypnagogic state – not always, because it’s not always appropriate – but at will, which is a sign that it has developed into a discipline. The neural pathways are laid, the psychic arteries are flowing, my imagination is working.
The wonderful thing about art is that it is a life-long companion. There is always room to improve your creative and imaginistic skills. Remember that cerebral judgement about “art” does not apply here. If you can think it, you can do it – and that is not a literal adjuration to do whatever you like. Not everything should be enacted literally, but that is the beauty of imagination and art, – there are no rules. I have seen art created by finger painting with menstrual blood, alongside the “Fine Art” painted canvases; I have seen thread embroidered into the very skin on the hand of an artist, alongside ecclesiastical gold embroidery. The end product is almost irrelevant; it is the inner journey that is important – the vision, the actuation, the material manifestation. But like all good magick, don’t hang on the results. Once you’ve finished a piece, do not rest on your laurels, but immediately begin the next! Only so (I suggest) will you develop invaluable skills to your occult, pagan and magickal practices.