Someone once said some things – and because they were things, there were usually words for them. That’s what words are, you see; names of things. There’s old magic in them, so much magic and so very old that we have forgotten it’s magic at all. The names of things become the things themselves, until you can speak the name and everyone knows and sees the thing.
That’s their cue. Speak the name, and lo, they appear!
(“Speak of the devil…”)
They come to life, moving on the stage, strutting their stuff, speaking their lines so that you can gain insight into their character, into what they are. Maybe they’re present for the whole of the performance, only vanishing when the curtain falls, or perhaps they’re gone after one line, leaving it hanging there as they exit stage-left. It doesn’t matter. They do their jobs, communicate what’s needed and then poof, gone like smoke, lost in the rushing stream of experience.
(“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage[.]”)
None of what is written here is important – someone once said some things, is all. We know the map is not the territory. We know that the world of words is not an accurate representation, just some quick and dirty joining of the dots, some pattern recognition, a short-cut quickly scribbled down in blood and ink and breath.
( “O friend of man, and prophet of discourse:
Great life-supporter, to rejoice is thine, in arts gymnastic, and in fraud divine:
With pow’r endu’d all language to explain, of care the loos’ner, and the source of gain.”)
We know that, because we understand magic; we know that the line between the charlatan and the magus is perilously thin. We know that Clarke’s Third Law applies, and how, in ways that most folk do not, and in that knowing we have an edge. Magic is just a word for something vast and terrible, inexplicable and faster than quicksliver, slippery as sin and twice as sweet.
(“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)
Techne and Poiesis. Just words, just names, just things. Arrangements of sound and thought like the posts and lintel for doors. Did you know we’re more likely to forget things when we pass from one room into another? Frames and context it seems, are key; when a word ends, it stops being. When a word is forgotten, we struggle to describe a thing, to extract it from experience, to communicate it to others.
(“Looking out over the wine-dark sea, he spoke out
in passionate distress:”)
What does it mean? No word for blue in Ancient Greek, a description of a sunset sea, or an ocean that flowed like wine? Poetic allusion, the kenning of the skald; the opaque, apophatic denial of direct representation. Would you beg Mercury to stand still? To tell wild, wandering Woden to cease his endless stalking over the graves of giants?
If so, you’re an idiot. You know, from idios “personal, private,” properly “particular to oneself.” That’s perfectly fine, by the by – after all:
(ὁ Ἡράκλειτός φησι τοῖς ἐγρηγορόσιν ἕνα καὶ κοινὸν κόσμον εἶναι τῶν δὲ κοιμωμένων ἕκαστον εἰς ἴδιον ἀποστρέφεσθαι) (“Heraclitus said that the waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.”)
Rest well. No harm done, my idiot friend. None at all, for everyone wakes eventually, whether they like it or not. For the rest of us, well, we’ll keep right on with the show.
(/Come breathe with me/Breathe with me/)
I have a confession to make, and it’s nothing new, because someone once said some things. Someone once said what I’m saying, and what I’m going to say now. You see, I’m a Gnostic Agnostic. I’m of the opinion that we live in a created world, and that we can never know if the created world is anything more than a representation.
I’m of the opinion that this is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Do you see? Someone once said some things, and they built the world you inhabit. You watched them, learned how to use the same tools as them, the tools called language and thought, through mimicry and rote. There is no demiurge. Just a bunch of idiots; an interactive audience of people letting things play out; following a script whose author has been forgotten, if there ever was a Creator anyway – instead of a weird ad-hoc collaboration. A hastily codified improv session gone a bit wrong.
Do you like being called an idiot? I’ll bet you don’t, and I’ll bet it’s because someone said some things, to you, right? Spoke some words, communicated their displeasure somehow. Maybe they called you names?
Yes, there’s old magic in them, so much magic and so very old that we have forgotten it’s magic at all.
Forgotten that the tools can be used in other ways than simple maintenance; simple manual, grinding, repetition. Not simply as technologies, but as disciplines – arts even – of living. The wonders wrought by the premier thaumaturgists now appear common-place. Yes. So they appear, wrapped in the hooded cloak of the mundane, the veil of the bride.
(/Come play my game/Inhale, inhale, you’re the victim/Come play my game/Exhale, exhale, exhale/)
I’ve been an idiot. I’ve turned away from confronting the nature of things. Some days I still do, because it’s hard work, and it changes you, sometimes even beyond all recognition. Forces you to dissolve the armour that gave you shape, and definition. Turns you from automatism and the apparent safety that it brings.
Suddenly you are standing on your own. Few people like doing that; even most iconoclasts use their iconoclasm – how they are seen by other people – as a bulwark for their identity. Humans are social animals, constantly referencing their position in terms of others, reacting to stimuli. It’s a kind of homeostasis, and yet what gets lauded is the appearance of balance, stillness and peace. To achieve that, there are thousands of micro-movements, millions of tiny adjustments, and yet it is the appearance which is regarded as worthy.
Does that not seem a little odd, to you? That fixity and stability is so prized; a direct denial of how things are is elevated above others?
We all have a tendency towards idiocy, you see. A tendency to turn away and keep turning. Eventually of course, in our turning, we end up back where we started. If we haven’t sorted the point that started us turning, we’ll just keep turning. Eventually, we’ll get dizzy and fall over though, which is why you will eventually wake up – you’ll do the equivalent of falling out of bed.
We usually call this hitting of the floorboards by a familiar name:
It’s the end of the world, the place where your word stops, where you leave the stage. Where your name no longer applies to you, if it ever did. We have a less terminal concept in our spinning too – we call it failure. That thing that disrupts your plans, the thing that causes the break-down, that pulls you up short. It’s all a bit Hexagram 23 really.
(Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;…)
So what to do? What indeed, except take advantage of that natural tendency to turn, to whirl like dervishes, to willfully leap from the bed! There is a concept here, a concept called afragility; it has similarities to Stoic philosophy, to the contemplation of death in the Hagakure. The concept suggests, quite brutally, that in terms of the balance-sheet of the universe, many human things dislike change or volatility. There are however, things and ways that may benefit from this Nietzschean ‘creative destruction’.
Things that occur in spite of ‘success’ or ‘failure’. Things that don’t have goals, but are inevitable. Afragility is asymmetric, and magic is an asymmetric attack on ‘reality’. It does not accept reality’s terms of engagement. This is key to everything I’ve ever written; it is not about denial of reality – to do that is tantamount to signing your metaphysical, as well as your physical death warrant. A rock falling will crush you, however much you try to deny it, after all. But if there were a way to make that rock fall as ten smaller stones, you’d get out of it with a few cuts and bruises, and maybe a mild concussion.
This is of course impossible. Which makes it our business.
The possible may as well be the mandatory. If you want to do something, you must do it a possible way, or so the received wisdom says. Likewise, navigation is mandatory; all forms of navigation require external references, whether it be maps/charts or landmarks or the stars.
Over a long enough timeline, the survival rate drops to zero, the chance of a failure increases to near certainty – these are important if you look at magic in terms of probability and odds of success. Fortunately, that’s not the game we’re interested in, because the practice of subtraction, of negativity is what we want.
If we’re properly interested in asymmetry and afragility, then the principle is to put ourselves in the worst situation possible, and not just robustly survive, but thrive. To be able, with the absolute minimum of effort, benefit and increase our influence, in whatever circumstance. This means specifically concentrating ourselves, divesting ourselves of everything that is unnecessary.
Note that I not advocating asceticism here, but neither am I denigrating it – just as we take advantage of that urge to turn away, domesticating it and turning it into an engine for finding the inevitable so we can turn inward. By doing that, in discovering the inevitable change and volatility of ourselves, we can find a guiding principle, an inescapable virtue which exists throughout that volatility.
Throughout all emotion, all experience, one finds a presence or quality which is unique to each of us. One cannot say what it is, only what it is not. I could waffle for ages about light in the darkness, or the Tao, or whatever. The fact is, none of these are right – all I would be doing is creating an image, a map.
I would be making it mandatory, and none of the names are it. But if you look at everything, inside and outside, you’ll find traces of it. Heraclitus would call it the Logos, and I have no problem with him calling it that, so long as you understand that the word means nothing, until it does.
But the weeping philosopher, like the poet, said that the Logos was Fire. All is flux. Yet emerging from that flux is the appearance of a principle, a principle that is seemingly inevitable and inviolate; a principle which exists through and in all things. Even you. Based on the ancient notion of sympathy there is no difference between you and it.
Suddenly, asymmetric warfare seems to be the only warfare that even makes sense. A billion sperm failed in order for that one to fertilise a particular egg which grew into you. Failure is the default state. You cannot inhale without first exhaling. Once you understand that this is so, that the condition of Fire is, as the weltfeuer, is in all things, things get easier. You understand that it’s the fire in the cave that throws shadows.
Siva dances, and the Aghori drink from skull cups. Great Mother Kali places her foot upon his heart. Mahakala is wreathed in flames.
‘”Have you ever tried to return to all this?” he asked, gesturing. Quiet, warm, inhabited houses. Late-night cars. The real world . . . she shook her head. All fire burns, little baby. You’ll learn. “You can’t. It’s one or the other. Nobody ever gets both.”‘)
There comes a point when you can never go home. Nothing is ever as it was. If you ever become Master of the Temple, in time it will fall about you, crumbling to dust, like the sand blowing in the wind. Sand that was once mountains, teeth of the dragon, things that can birth warriors;’ seeds of the battle trees that spring up making loud clangor on their shields.
D’ye ken yet? Or would you know more?
Such a whetstone it is; this jewel that slays warriors and thralls and slits their throats; the ease with which they attack each other, as it sets them to frenzy.
(D’ye ken that bitch whose tongue was death?
D’ye ken her sons of peerless faith?
D’ye ken that fox, with his last breath
Curs’d them all as he died in the morning?)
Poetic allusion, sliding past the critical factor as you breathe. You haven’t forgotten to breathe, have you – just because someone said something? Just because the words marked out the boundaries, staked their claim to your perceptions, your knowledge?
Keep your sword in its sheath, swim like the fish in the deeps. Don’t show your cards. You don’t need to grasp – every grasp can be broken, every weapon disarmed. That’s the black hat truth of it; everything can be taken from you. Everything. The words, the things, can all vanish in a puff of smoke.
And there’s no smoke without fire, right?
Idiocy is separateness remember; it’s each of us believing our own worlds are just that – our own. Follow the common, says Heraclitus. So what’s the common, but loss? We hate loss. We hate it like Gollum hates the filthy hobbitses, because those things are our precioussss. We’re as greedy as everyone who ever took the One Ring.
(One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them)
Our worlds are not our own, we can’t own them, they are not possessed by us. You can’t lose what you never had. Perhaps it might be clearer to say that you can only lose something if you buy into the terms of gain and loss. Now, I can hear some of you muttering that this is all very well, but how does this apply in the so called ‘real world’?
This is where asymmetry comes in – the most afragile is that which requires minimal input for maximal effort; the action which, even if it fails, still creates options. Indeed, you should go into any afragile action expecting to lose. Walk into that job interview knowing you will be humiliated, and that you can’t control any portion of the individuals reactions. Know that you will fail;, but refuse to accept that humiliation in yourself. You refuse to accept that, and you smile with the endless smile of the death’s head no matter what.
You will break them. Trust me.
A shallow form of this can be seen in the saw: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Moving deeper however, cultivate your fear, turn it into abject terror. In that grim terror, you will realise you are nothing and no-one; you are mortal. Even now you are burning on the pyre of existence. Even now you are in the common with all things, for mountains fall to dust and empires crumble.
All notions of power and strength, all the things you have been taught to crave, are empty. Value means nothing unless it moves; the quickening is all that matters, and to draw a distinction between the quick and the dead is pointless. So, thus we throw ourselves into the fire, and amidst that fire, we become as Mahakala.
Our death produces options. We redefine and reframe. We make our own luck. We take words and shape them; fold the map up and punch a hole through, passing from one point to another without crossing the intervening space. Remember, navigation is mandatory – canals and roads, seemingly the only way. But in the quickening, the dérive subverts this; the divisive Spirit is co-opted and infused by Soul. The map is remembered as a living, organic thing – full of dancing flame.
Someone once said some things – and because they were things, there were usually words for them. That’s what words are, you see; names of things. There’s old magic in them, so much magic and so very old that we have forgotten it’s magic at all.
( I am the mighty one who possesses the immortal fire…
I am the one whose mouth burns completely; I am the one who begets and destroys...)
Remember that stone that would kill you, except it can now be broken into smaller stones? Remember the laughter in the darkness, the endless upwelling feral joy of it?