I’ve been feeling a little blah today. A flat-liner day, reflected in the grim winter weather that has robbed the world of colour, encasing the sky in grey, sapping vigour from anyone and anything.
I have several occult books on the go at the moment – a case of double-dipping multiplied by factor χ. The foreword in one book is a concatenation of obfuscating terminology … just like that sentence. It makes me want to shake her and demand why she has to veil the simplest of things in sentences that wrap themselves around and strangulate your left temporal lobe (governing language and comprehension). I attended a talk by this woman, and she’s no better in person. I listened for about fifteen minutes and then whispered to my friend, “Are you understanding any of this? I think my brain must have died after I left university…” But no, my friend looked up from a doodle on her pad and scribbled, “She’s talking rubbish!” Who knows if she was or wasn’t? She seems innately incapable of clear and simple communication, and yet she is published and called on for talks. Hey-ho. Horses for courses. Maybe my brain is just not hardwired to understand her. Like sexual chemistry, our lobe chemistry is so radically different we could never indulge in pleasurable intercourse.
Thankfully I’m not having the same issue with other books … in spite of some abysmal editing and poor translations. My proofreader and editor head just won’t switch off. When I think of the number of editing and proofreading runs a translation would go through in my job, I wonder if some of these occult books get barely a cursory read-through before being approved for print. Why oh why can’t there be quality writing with good information in all occult books, instead of in just a cherished few? Sometimes it feels like any old magickian/witch can publish any old shit. Oh AND, it’s doing my head in that so many seem to be jumping on the back of David Beth’s Voudon Gnosis and are flinging around the word gnosis like it gives them kudos just to bandy the word around. I have followed several writers for years, and it is only since the success of David’s books that certain people have started to define themselves as Gnostics and use the word gnosis. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Sad, sad to be the ducks following in the wake of a sailing ship.
Ooh, I’m being a bit of a bitch today, hey? Must be hormones removing the censors of bland pleasantries. That’s the benefit of being independent and “unaffiliated”, I can just say it how I see – personal opinion. Never take my word for it. Read and draw your own conclusions.
A slightly peeved
Thrilled today to find that Scarlet Imprint had posted a new blog entry with a field recording of Peter (one of my favourite magickians in “the public eye”) giving a talk on Armageddon, Babalon and the challenge facing us as individuals and as humanity.
Here is the blog post:
… do take the time to listen to the entire talk, unlike many speakers, Peter is very easy to listen to and the time flies by. I know that we are all attuned to 5 minute focus these days, but push yourself a bit!
The talk was interesting for me on a personal level for several reasons. Babalon entered my life in 2008; during that time she stripped me bare, turned my life upside down and threw me into a period of extreme turmoil and terror. After my last (and hopefully last) suicide attempt, I awoke initially peeved at the world, that it was still there and I still had to engage with it. A month later, Pomba Gira came down on me and I became her devotee. In turn, she has also stormed through my life, but in a gentle-raucous way, the way that extreme laughter can make you hurt but feel so good. So much has changed both in my head and heart since she came to me (and by coincidence Scarlet Imprint have recently released a book on Pomba Gira: Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold – I will be reading that after my current study book, Holy Harlots, Femininity, Sexuality, & Black Magic in Brazil by Kelly E. Hayes).
In the talk, Peter spoke about Armageddon and the need for magickians to respond (I won’t detail his talk here, because I really think you should listen to it yourself). All of what he said reflected my own thoughts over the last couple of years, and my own personal revelations – yes, on a macrocosmic level, but more specifically on a microcosmic level. And just as I have struggled with the concept of my own life being something I wished to preserve, so part of me listened and thought, “Is humanity worth saving?” Through my own studies in paleontology I have seen a distinct pattern in the life of the earth and its animals, and our own destruction, in which ever form, seems inevitable and justified. In my own mind, I do not see that Armageddon is coming, but that it has come, it is too late for mankind [sic], but not for individuals – as contradictory as that may sound.
I agree that there is huge benefit in learning a martial art, connecting with like-minded communities (specifically within the magickal subculture), learning how to glean our needs directly from nature rather than relying on oil-driven industries: yes, all of that is right and rather along the lines of “good advice will never harm you, even if it won’t directly cure the situation” (not that Peter was suggesting a “cure”).
But I am drawn once again to reiterating things I have been saying for years and experiencing for years. There is a need for us to drastically dispense with the trappings of our “social selves”, to realise that the persona we project is usually not who we truly are. Mental health is a case in point: where else do you see such a dramatic and often violent stripping of the social niceties to reveal the true bones of a psyche, often damaged by the demands and experiences of a sick world. We become the earth, walking examples of excessive stress, tired hypocampi, exhausted adrenal systems. We are ravaged and pile-driven, raped in the head, raped in the body – literally and figuratively. And like some inverse homeopathy we continue to feed the disease with more disease: as pagans filling our heads with fluff and saleable shit, buying our spirituality with the “must-have wand”, the matching cloak … all the while we are layering more and more plastic turf over polluted ground, allowing the pollution to sink deeper and deeper into our souls.
There is something in experiencing the head-smack of mental health WHILE practising consciousness and awareness, because you can bypass years of deconstruction and experience the polluted soul much more quickly than, say, someone who is stuck at the material level of life consumption and believes themselves to be “well”.
My last suicide attempt shook something within me and my health in very many ways has started to climb since then. It felt like a final purge of soul pollution, and even though I experience the dregs occasionally, I am in a place of construction and re-formation, aided by by the spirits of Lucky Hoodoo and my devotion to Pomba Gira.
I doubt I am expressing myself half as eloquently as Peter, but the point I want to make is that we, as magickians and witches, should not get stuck at stock-piling cans of peaches because I personally believe that nothing will save our world, and this is a natural cycle on this particular planet. But there is a microcosmic Armageddon playing itself out within each of us, and it is up to us individually as to whether we respond to it or die face down in the poisoned earth. There is more than this planet, and the transmutation of our Selves has to go hand-in-hand, or even take priority, over what we can change in the visible, mundane world. What we see is merely an echo of a greater reality; our microcosmic experience broadcasts a macrocosmic echo.
One night I was walking and saw a tree. Then I saw through the tree and experienced the essence that was expressing itself as a tree in this world. There is a dire need for us to find our own essence, the point of being that is represented as us on this plane of existence: because who we think we are, is not who we truly are. And if we continue not-knowing, that will be our own personal, inevitable Armageddon.
I am currently reading Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry by Armando R. Favazza, M.D. It is the first comprehensive attempt at dealing with the subject of self-mutilation from a cultural psychiatric perspective. I am only about 20 pages in, but I already feel that this man has understood the concept of self-mutilation not only from a cultural and ritual perspective but from the perspective of a mentally ill person.
Many people, knowing either vaguely or intimately my personal belief systems and practices as a witch, question and frown upon my use of a crucifix in my practices, and the fact that I often wear one when I am in a particularly bad “demonic” phase. The fact is I take great comfort in aligning myself with the voluntary self-mutilation that the mythic image of Christ allowed to be imposed upon himself. The crux of Christian myth is based around this voluntary sacrifice, but the issue for me is not sacrifice for another but identification with excruciating internal and external pain.
The images of Christ on the cross have been graced over the centuries with a virtual delight in the gore and excruciating agonies of this man-God. As such he can become the epitome and symbol of a self-harmer’s attempt to make peace with the forces inside and to say yes to life; because self-harming is not a suicide attempt but an attempt to avert suicide.
Quoting a discussion about Fakir Mustafa by Graver, Favazza says:
[Fakir] feels [the pain] not as a foreign invasion of the body but as a sensation of the body that separates the body from the mind.
And this is certainly one of the prime motivations for my own self-harming urges – to demarcate boundaries between mind, body, and I would add, soul, to separate out the mix and to ease the pain of their co-existence.
Suppression is a beautiful tool which can facilitate the survival of someone who has lived through the unspeakable; but it can too easily become a means of self-destruction, where the emotions that should be focused on “enemies” is turned inwards, thus indeed creating a form of social self-sacrifice. Favazza elucidates this point:
Blood has awesome symbolic and physiologic powers, as evidenced by its role in religious sacrifice, healing, the formation of brotherhoods, and blood feuds. When harvested properly, it can alter the course of personal and communal history. It is my contention that some mentally ill persons mutilate themselves as a primitive method of drawing upon their blood’s ability to foster bonds of loyalty and union among members of their social network, to demonstrate their hatred of and conquest over real and imaginary enemies, to heal their afflictions, and … to set right their relationship with God.
Favazza discusses the subject of self-mutilation within Christianity extensively, identifying possible schizophrenics, anorectics and self-harmers amongst the martyr crew. He writes:
It is clear that the individual human body mirrors the collective social body, and each continually creates and sustains the other. Misperceptions of reality, feelings of guilt, negative self images, antisocial acts, and all the other symptoms we associate with personal mental illness defy understanding without reference to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical integrity of the communal “body.”
Which leads me on to the disgust, bewilderment and rejection that self-harmers continually face from the “communal body”. Favazza’s statements support my own experience of the anger, disgust and fear that self-harmers illicit not only amongst passers-by but even amongst their so-called “caretakers”. Nobody truly understands the self-harmer from a psychiatric perspective and instead dismisses the person saying, e.g. it must be a chemical imbalance, or part of borderline syndrome, or a way of getting attention. Favazza summarises self-mutilation amongst the mentally ill as a morbid form of self-help, but warns that it is nothing to trifle with and that for those individuals who cannot control the behaviour it may end in unsightly scars or even “the loss of an eye”.
Personally, I wear my scars as a warrior would those won in battle. When your insides resemble the direst of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, and your outside is that of an amicable, sweet and smiling Englishwoman, there is a sense of relief when your external appearance begins to resemble the internal reality. Naturally this comes with extreme forms of social and familial rejection. Nobody likes to see pain, nobody likes to be forced to imagine what’s inside the person wearing the scars. There are very few who would reach out and kiss the scars, saying, “There is beauty in such life-affirming pain.”
I know that most pagan writers are self-published or working through small publishing houses where budgets are tight. But why, oh why, oh why can’t they at least run a basic spell-check if they can’t afford a decent proofreader? Are people so arrogant that they don’t get a friend or colleague to read through their manuscript before going to print? Or are their friends so sycophantic, all they can say is marvellous, rather than, bloody hell, where did you learn to speak English?
I have read pagan books by Worthies in the past and really struggled with their phraseology and ‘typos’. This is a trend in publishing in general; the standard of proofreading has slipped considerably since the 1960s. Am I betraying an academic snobbery by thinking that people who are published should take pride in every aspect of their writing? I know when I worked at the bookshop that the same slovenliness applies to mainstream writers too. I received a proof copy of a novel by someone like Maeve Binchy or Patricia Cornwell (a woman writer at any rate). This proof had not passed the editorial bench yet, so I was reading it in the raw. I only managed 2 pages before throwing it on the pile to be pulped because the standard of writing was appalling. This writer MAY have come up with the original idea, but based on the writing, the future kudos for her work most definitely lay with the editor…
Last night I cracked open a new tome on witchcraft. I’m not going to mention names because his writing is typical of many. Apart from the spelling mistakes … and I really don’t believe they were all slips of the finger on a keyboard … his phraseology was so obtuse that I had to virtually do the ‘magic eye’ trick by unfocusing my brain and allowing my subconscious to filter the main words in a sentence and try and make sense of it that way. This book is a modern-day grimoire. It is a book leading the reader into some very dark aspects of magick. The writer warns the reader that he takes no responsibility for what happens to the practitioner working with this book. If he is so bloody concerned, shouldn’t he have at least done a spell check on his demon names and invocations??!! At best nothing will happen, at worst the practitioner will summon a demon as pernickety as me who will want to know why his sigil is wrong and his name mispronounced!! I am (as usual) writing with tongue firmly in cheek, BUT this is a serious point.
I have often felt compelled to offer my proofreading services to certain pagan authors. I am a qualified proofreader, and I would even do it for free as a matter of principle to raise the dross standard of pagan writing. How on earth can we expect to be taken seriously, if our literature – the very books we base so much of our learning on – is full of errors that even a mundane-minded 15-year old would spot. If writers are so lackadaisical as to allow basic grammar and spelling mistakes to pass (bear in mind, their readers are paying for this substandard shite), then I start to question the seriousness of their research and the magickal gnosis that they say they are imparting to me.
I identified one basic error of Egyptian mythology within the first couple of pages of the book I started last night, and now I feel that all the other information I am being fed, I will have to strain through a filter of research and double-checking. I am not a knowledgeable person, so if I can spot an error, how many others are stuck between the pages. And this is NOT about deliberate blinds, smoke-and-shadows, hiding the true gnosis from the initiated; this is about slovenly research and poor writing skills.
And don’t even get me started on books that contain statements like,
“[The author] … is (like me [the person writing the preface]) constantly in the company of beautiful women as any true Magister should be. What more proof of power need there be? Genuine power is sexy. Crap magicians do not get laid.”
Oh, puhleease pass me a barf-bag. Really.
© starofseshat 2008
Erich Fromm, in his book Psychoanalysis and Religion (specifically p. 24-38), speaks of the general compulsion in humanity to transcend the disharmony of living, to make sense of his condition. Because man is mind and body, he needs more than just a thought-system, and more than mere physical satisfaction.
The choice is therefore not IF religion but WHICH religion – any thought system that invokes a sense of devotion he considers a religion. Consequently he cites an unprecedented focus on one or both parents as a form of ancestor cult. Totemism is expressed in the exclusive devotion by a person to his state or political party. He gives an example of fascism or Stalinism to illustrate the religious vigour that people apply to this kind of “modern-day” Totemism.
The difference between such religious forms and a neurosis is that in a society where ancestor worship is accepted, the worshipper finds acceptance and understanding, he can share his thoughts and feelings. Otherwise he is isolated. This feeling of isolation is the sting to the neurosis!
Once a doctrine (however irrational) has been established in a society, people will rather believe it than feel ostracised and isolated (cf. the example of fascism and Stalinism).
Ideally monotheistic religion (as Fromm says) should protect man from falling back into regression, should protect man against ancestor, totem or idol worship (e.g. devotion to the power of the capitalist market – money and profit as idol form). This would be the case if religion managed to succeed in its stated ideals. But history has shown that religion capitulates to secular power again and again, concerned more with dogma than with practising ‘religious’ traits such as loving your fellow man.
Can we continue to trust religions to represent these ideals? Or should we start to separate religious needs from organised religion to prevent a further collapse of our moral structure?
Fromm distinguishes between two forms of religion (as a general concept):
authoritarian and humanistic religion.
Authoritarian religion is where the religious experience is based on the surrender to a power transcending man. The main virtue is obedience; the cardinal sin is disobedience. In contrast to the omnipotence of god, man is insignificant, weak and powerless. Submission to this overruling power is the way he escapes the feelings of isolation. Through surrender he loses independence and integrity as an individual, and feels protected and PART of the awe-inspiring power. Man is subject to experiencing self-loathing and a feeling of poverty of mind, grateful to be subsumed into the omniscient god-mind.
Humanistic religion is centred around man and his strength. Man should develop reason to understand and a relationship to his fellow men and the rest of the universe; he must find his place in the world. He must develop powers of love for himself and for others and experience solidarity with all living beings. This religious experience is the experience of oneness with All. The aim is strength not powerlessness; the virtue is self-realisation not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one’s experience of thought and feeling, not blind dogma taken on the pure merits of the person proposing the dogma. Here, God is a symbol of man’s own power which he tries to realise in life, not a symbol of force and domination with power OVER man.
These are two forms at opposite ends of the spectrum and yet they can exist within one religion at the same time.
On the surface of it we can see Christianity as an authoritarian religion, and surprisingly witchcraft as a humanistic one. I say surprisingly, not because I would have expected it to fall under an authoritarian structure, but because I did not think it had such an established moral structure as might be necessary to call it humanistic. That is based on my own misunderstandings. But another thing that these notes make clear to me, is where in my life there is still an old hangover from the authoritarian religion of my childhood. This split between authoritarian and humanistic has suddenly enabled me to draw some very clear lines and circles in myself. I can see now some of the things that have been holding back my spiritual progress – the lack of self-love, the doubt – these are things belonging to my past and to a religion I don’t hold any more. Yes, the two focal Christian (although originally and still Jewish) commands of Love the Lord your God (authoritarian), and Love your neighbour as your self (humanistic) are a combination of these two. Yet as Fromm points out major religions have consistently capitulated to secular power and sacrificed the humanistic aspect. I think in some ways I have been guilty of the same things in my life. How interesting that reading Fromm should confirm and reassert my humanistic path, and clear my head of the final vestiges of that authoritarian god-form: a step forward on my path as witch.
© starofseshat 2008
“The disharmony of man’s [sic] existence generates needs which far transcend those of his animal origin. These needs result in an imperative drive to restore a unity and equilibrium between himself and the rest of nature. He makes the attempt to restore this unity and equilibrium in the first place in thought by constructing an all-inclusive mental picture of the world which serves as a frame of reference from which he can derive an answer to the question of where he stands and what he ought to do. But such thought-systems are not sufficient. If man were only a disembodied intellect his aim would be achieved by a comprehensive thought-system. But since he is an entity endowed with a body as well as a mind he has to react to the dichotomy of his existence not only in thinking but also in the process of living, in his feelings and actions. He has to strive for the experience of unity and oneness in all spheres of his being in order to find a new equilibrium. Hence any satisfying system of orientation implies not only intellectual elements but elements of feeling and sense to be realised in action in all fields of human endeavour. Devotion to an aim, or an idea, of a power transcending man such as God, is an expression of this need for completeness in the process of living.”
Psychoanalysis and Religion, Erich Fromm (p.24; Yale 1961 edition)
I identify very much with this piece. It seems to express perfectly my ultimate aim: to transcend the disharmony of existence, to reach through the thought forms, grab hold of The Essence and pull it through every area of my life, so there is integrity and completeness. Unity, union, wholeness, completeness – between me and my Godhead source. Not through another, not by proxy, not piggy-backing off another’s strength, but walking my path in strength and gratitude to the friends who may walk for a time parallel with me.
© starofseshat 2008