Look at that: it’s beautiful, yes? In fact I invite you to click on the image and enjoy it full size, then come back and read on. I’ll wait while you soak it up and experience a little awe in the face of natural beauty!
Such images are all around us, and unfortunately it’s often the case that we don’t notice, because they’re not situated as singular things – they’re part of a rushing continuum of sense experience. But, if they’re divorced from that surging river, framed as frozen moments – as icebergs that are above the surface, they become something that draws you in.
Framed correctly, you can appreciate them as themselves, as a piece of art, as an extra-ordinary impression and experience, or simply a memory. And here’s the thing – how we frame things dictates our behaviour. If we frame an event as a pleasant one, we react differently to it than if we frame it as unpleasant.
It makes sense really, because people are extremely well hard-wired to avoid discomfort, and you’re wired that way because in some immeasurably distant time, an ancestor of yours responded to dangerous and hostile conditions by simply not being in them if they didn’t have to. Because of this, that ancestor prospered really quite well, lived long and reproduced probably quite a lot, which ultimately culminated in you reading this.
And next time you start to want to avoid do something, instead of getting annoyed or frustrated with yourself, simply take a moment to thank your ancestor for that reflex because without it? You probably wouldn’t be alive to enjoy the lovely and wonderfully enjoyable things you have planned out anyway.
Which would certainly be, as they say, a bit of a bugger for reasons you can no doubt imagine.
There’s an argument in the philosophy of aesthetics called the Institutional Theory of Art which can be summed up as follows:
“A work of art in the classificatory sense is 1) an artifact 2) upon which some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld) has conferred the status of candidate for appreciation.” – George Dickie, Aesthetics, An Introduction
Basically, philosophising aside, it suggests that it’s situation and context that makes an object art – which is why objects in an art gallery are art, because people who inhabit the ‘art world’ say that it is of that world. Now, anybody with half a brain can can see the issues with this but that’s not the point. The point is, it illustrates something intriguing about culture, authority, communication and human culture in general.
If an expert in a field declares something to be their field, it’s generally accepted, unless other experts contest the assertion. Media pundits ride the same current – if you can get on television, or in print, you’re elevated above normal mortals. Because you’re Media:you partake of the role of channel of communication.
Media is the plural of medium. Think about that – the middle, the in-between.
Gordon’s written a couple of interesting posts on Exorcism and Summoning Ghosts which play off this nicely. It’s these figures that inhabit both worlds which are given a peculiar power over the human mind. Just as how people like Oprah, Glenn Beck, Martha Stewart – and for the Brits, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Clarkson – wield a strange sort of influence.
People listen to them don’t they? They accept what they say, invite them into their brains, their homes, to speak to them from newspapers, from the tv screens and the web. You let in the ideas spoken of, the words written on the screen, and they slip into your mind and quietly, furiously, replicate.
Everyone does it. You’re doing it now, and as you’re reading, words are intermingling with your subconscious, linking with autonomic processes. Because that’s what language actually does; bridging the gap between two worlds, it utilises shared structures and rapidly, speedily, it bypasses concious perception and definition and uses the vast ocean of experience to keep us on the same page.
The fascinating thing is, it does this almost instantaneously.
The pundits and the Media? They communicate with you, shape the happenings of a global world beyond your office and your living room into something you can comprehend. They’re in the middle, and so they speak a language you can understand, a closer tongue to your own. Now, Gordon’s done precisely that with his post on Summoning Ghosts The Old Fashioned Way. He’s given you modern analogues for ancient processes, and he’s done it in such a way that you look at it and see which subconscious ideas each portion of the rite plays off.
This then, is at the heart of the movement that eventually became known as Chaos Magic. Results-based work stripped right down to basic principles and then rebuilt in a way that is relevant and potent for the here and now. What’s more, I’m pretty damn sure Gordon knows exactly what I mean when I talk about regarding media and influence, being as he’s not…unacquainted with that sphere.
A disclaimer here: I’ve never actually met Gordon, this is just from reading Runesoup so I may be way off. (That said guv, if I’m ever down south and in the Smoke, and if you’re of a mind to, wouldn’t mind a natter and a drink…or six!).
Whether I’m casting aspersions on our favourite Antipodean Magus or not, it’s obvious that the role of Messenger/Pundit still has potency. And as folks who are interested in the deep roots of these sort of things, it’s fairly certain that the mediator, the hedge-sitter, the in-between, liminal role has always had resonance.
Mercury and Hermes, Woden or Odin, Enoch and Raven.
All these are speakers, communicators, middle-men. The medium and the message. Some argue that the art and the artist are inseparable, and that makes sense doesn’t it? To become a living embodiment of that, to be able to shift your shape, to alter your methodology or jargon as the need arises to develop near-perfect communication?
We can often read words by outline and shape alone, and at the risk of getting repetitive, I’m going to connect this to another of Gordon’s posts – his love letter to Pete Carroll, A Definitive Review of the Octavo, and once more we’ll reach into the arena of Chaos Magic Theory.
And before I do that, I’d like to recount a little tale that arose out of a discussion with a fellow known internationally for his wizardly ways – some folks may recall him being mentioned in an article of Pete’s, for example. It’s a short story, and it’s designed to go straight past your conscious mind and into the fertile soil, so with an apology for sneakily lodging things firmly in your deep mind, I’ll begin…
Once upon a time, when the world was a little quieter, when the cold was crisper in the winter and the summers smelt of warm grass, there was a Master Carpenter. Now this Master Carpenter lived in a small village at the edge of an ancient wildwood, and though he was far from civilisation, word of his craftsmanship had spread far and wide, even to the biggest cities.
So much so in fact, that wealthy merchants would send send messengers on fast horses out into the wilds where the Master Carpenter lived. But those messengers would soon be forced to dismount and walk their mounts along the almost non-existent trails, lest they fall and break an ankle and then die there as food for the wolves that still roamed the lands in those days.
And as ever, when they finally arrived, travel-stained and weary as they were, the Master Carpenter would welcome them to his home. He would stable their horses with his own calloused hands, and pour them a drink from his own still. Invariably, the messengers were terribly confused, for all knew that the Master Carpenter’s work fetched only the highest prices, and yet he dwelt in a small homely house with no sign of the vast riches he must surely have amassed.
They always became even more perplexed when his wife arrived from the kitchen to kiss him lovingly on the cheek and ask them of their home city and the wider world. And what, I hear you ask, was the source of their perplexity? Why, it was simply this:
The face of the Master Carpenter’s wife matched exactly that of a beautiful princess, a princess of whom it had been said that she was the most beautiful woman in all the land. Larger still was their surprise when dinner was served and they found the exquisitely carven table marked with the royal coat of arms and the table linen bearing the royal seal.
By the end of the dinner, curiosity always won out over politeness, and the resemblance was remarked upon. Always, she would smile graciously while the Master Carpenter watched in amusement. And always, the answer was given that it was not merely a resemblance, but that in fact she was truly Princess Sophia, daughter to he who held the Oaken Throne.
Curiosity still raging with unspoken questions, silence would then reign. It would reign until Sophia would refill their cups and quietly tell of the day that the King had set forth to find a master craftsman to make the mark of his rule upon that very same throne. For, as all know, the Oaken Throne was immeasurably ancient, hacked from the body of the First Tree in elder days. And all know that each monarch makes his mark upon that timeless wood – generations of kings have turned that black-faced seat into a creation of purest art, layer upon layer.
“And a Master did my father find,” Sophia would always say, with a fond smile towards her husband. For his part, he would shrug modestly, eyes twinkling as she told the tale.
In her honeyed voice she wove their first meeting. She recalled her father’s impatience with the Carpenter who seemed so reluctant to leave his paltry village despite the promise of royal patronage and wealth. She set air to throng with memory of quiet nights with a man so unlike others in the royal court, a man who had never left his home in all his life, or so the locals said.
And so it was that the messengers would learn of her persuasion, which brought her husband to work upon the Oaken Throne in the shining city of her birth. Of how he worked upon that wood, alone and at night in the fabulous hall of the king, whistling a simple tune – the kind children make at play.
Blushing slightly, the lovely princess would confess to watching him work, veiled from his sight by rich tapestries full of scenes of battle and heroism. It was then, she would explain, that she knew she loved him. For from her hiding place she could see that he glowed brighter than gold in the night as he worked.
“Complete and whole,” she’d say, “Like a river running or the moon gleaming, full to the brim and flowing over with it, so that it made the room even greater, the sight of everything truer and clear.”
Then she would tell them of his return home, and her eventual nocturnal flight from the palace to join him. She spoke fiercely of her resistance to the idea of return, and of how the very wildwood seemed to devour the men her father had sent to bring her back, and how the very Oaken Throne had burned beneath her father until he had consented to do as she wished.
Oftentimes at this point, the messengers would be watching the Master Carpenter warily, lest he curse them with foul sorcery or burn their buttocks as in the tale.
And always the Master Carpenter would chide his wife for scaring the visitors, and explain that he meant no harm to no thing, living or dead, or wood or stone.
“Be that as it may husband mine,” Sophia would say “Harm comes to those who mean you ill, whether by your hand or by what lies in their hearts. It matters not which.”
Once again, silence would reign, until the bravest of the messengers would ask the Master Carpenter how he came by his skill, and who had been his teacher.
At this he would smile, and it was the kind of smile you would find ‘pon the lips of a mischievous boy who has been caught, and is in no way sorry for the trick he has played.
“When I was a boy,” he would say to them, “I was as clumsy as an ox and my fingers stumbled over the wood and stained it with blood, for the tools were always hungry. My father despaired of me ever having any skill at all, for nothing would help. Neither beatings nor kindnesses, guiding hands or simple pieces to practice on helped. It all eluded me. So I took to fleeing into the wildwood and walking amidst the green, fighting imaginary enemies and rescuing Princesses from jealous kings, that sort of thing.”
At this, he would smile widely, full of honest mirth while his wife watched him levelly over the rim of her cup. He would spin more of his wanderings in the wood for a little while, until his listeners began shift uneasily. Then he would pause and tell of the day he met the Hooded Man, there amidst the green.
Tall he was, all cloaked in shadow and dappled sunlight; patchwork leather – some stained brightly, with other portions of more dusky hue – made up his clothes. His face was hidden, as all the stories say.
And in a voice like croaking ravens and rumbling earth he spoke to the boy in the wood:
“Boy, I have need of sure hands and clear sight, will you aid me?”
“I’m no craftsman sir,” the tale-teller would recount. “My father is back a-ways, perhaps he could help?”
“No, boy. I cannot come to those whose minds are fast as iron. Yours, I can see, may bend like a bough in the breeze, or run as quick as deer. To your father I am nothing but a demon of the wood, to be kept back with fire and fence and metal. He will carve me and cut me to fit such a form, and thus I will be naught but that.”
The boy was thoughtful, and there at the table the Master Carpenter would grin at his guests like a cat. After a moment, he always continued:
“But you’re the Hooded Man, just like the stories say.”
“That I am boy, that I am. What do you think lies under my hood?”
“Don’t know. Could be anything, couldn’t it? Maybe that’s the point – to keep people wondering? So they keep telling stories about you?”
At this, the Hooded Man, Lord of all the Wildling Bands, be they Light or Dark, laughed loud and long.
“Perhaps you’re right boy, and perhaps I’ll let you look so you’ll have a story to tell about me, if you’ll help me?”
And agree the Master Carpenter did. For days and days he gathered fallen wood as the Hooded Man bade him, and in the noisy night of the wildwood, he wove and carved with stone and vine he found there, until at last there stood a great lintel strung between two trees as doorposts, and a patchwork of animal-hide hanging over the door-frame.
Though rickety and rude, it seemed to please the Hooded Man beyond measure; the faces the boy had carved in the wood of the lintel seemed to gape and grin with a strange life all their own, the kind of leering, sinister childishness that unnerves the righteous. All bulbous and grotesque, features knobbly and moss-spotted, they looked down upon the boy as he worked, until he finally stopped.
And when he stopped, he said quite gravely, in the fashion of small boys everywhere:
“I think it’s mostly done for now, sir. I could do more, but I might make it look silly, and I don’t want to do that.”
The Hooded Man loomed out of the shadows and prowled around the forest door, poked the hide and scratched at the wood, checking the boy’s work. At length, the darkness beneath the hood seemed to smile somehow, and the tall figure gave a slow nod.
“It’ll do boy. It’ll do.”
“Sir, what is it for?”
“Why, it’s a door. What are doors for but opening and closing?”
“But sir, there’s just the wildwood. It doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Of course it does boy. It’s a door, same as a hood’s a hood. Doors always go somewhere, otherwise there’d be no need for them, would there?”
“No sir, I suppose not.”
“Would you like to see what lies beyond the door you’ve built, boy?”
“Well sir, if it’s all the same to you, may I see your face? I mean I’d like to see if there’s anything on the other side, but you sort of, maybe, promised?”
“Yes, I did indeed sort of, maybe, didn’t I?”
And with one hand the Hooded Man pulled aside the hide that closed the forest door to reveal the lands beyond, while with the other he pulled back his hood…
Now, at this point in the tale the Master Carpenter had his audience on the edge of their seats, desperate to know what he had seen. Yet, without fail, every single time he would shrug minutely, saying only:
“And thus I gained my skill.”
No amount of cajoling or pressing would draw anything more from the Master Carpenter. No offers of bribes, or uttered threats would make him yield. Many were the times the messengers passed the nights sleepless and wondering, while the luckier ones dreamed strange and troubling dreams.
Always without fail, the next morning, there would be a letter of acceptance or rejection of their master’s proposal resting on that fine table, words written in a lovely feminine hand. Their horses would be waiting for them, and the lady of the house would bid them farewell, explaining that the Master Carpenter was a-bed, as he had been working all night.
The bravest or most troubled of the messengers would sometimes pluck up the courage to ask the princess what her husband had seen. But their questions were met with gentle resistance, for she would only say this:
“What the Master Carpenter sees is in the grain of the wood and the heart of all things. It remains with, or without him, yet you can only see it because he does as you ask.”
And so it was that the messengers carried back tales of the Master Carpenter and his wife, back to civilisation. I heard one, and now you have heard one, and so the legend spreads. This is the way of things, is it not?
So, how does the Master Carpenter link to anything? Well, if anything can be said of the Chaos Magic philosophy, it’s that it originated as a practical toolkit. Gordon’s stated that his review is a love letter, and that’s no bad thing. Because it echoes the idea that it’s not actually a rational undertaking. Carroll’s attempt to bring magic into the realm of science is laudable. But for me it’s not laudable because it is pure and clean and Science! which removes us from the dark fog of ignorance.
It is at best, one man’s attempt to make sense of the vast oddness of the universe. Mathematics is about relationships, just as language is. Communication and comprehension increase the richness of experience, and certainly I liked the Apophenion for its implicit (some might say explicit) acknowledgement that there is an human urge to make connections, even where there are none to be made.
No, Carroll’s work is laudable because it is, at is core, the gloriously irrational labour of love which is attempting to have a world that makes sense. So the Octavo, as with much that has arisen out of the original Chaos Magic ethos over the past thirty-odd years, is a fantastic piece of contouring and shaping, albeit one born of an irrational urge.
Making sense of chaos might sound like an oxymoron, but humans have been doing it since the beginning, so Pete Carroll is in good company. If reductionism helps you, so be it. If you take comfort in the idea that everything is accurately intelligible to the human mind, I’m not going to tell you that you are wrong.
What we perceive is defined by the method of perception. The way things appear is contingent on how we re-cognise them – which is not a typographic error, by the way.
If you like your Chaos with probability scores, then Pete’s weltanschauung is probably more easily inhabited. As a medium he proposes theoretical constants and shapes – takes head-bendy maths and physics and brings it into the world of the occult. For that alone he should be regarded as partaking of the magician role.
Myself, I’m not going to try and explain what truly lies beyond the door-frame. Because in my view, it only relates to the door, and not what it is, in and of itself.
I may tell you some beautiful and terrible lies about it though!