It’s been a while – and more than that, it’s been a strange time, hasn’t it? The world seems to be getting stranger every day, and even the familiar institutions by which we’ve navigated the late 20th and early 21st centuries seem like something else entirely.
Those of us who hit the dystopian vein of science fiction, the crazy Gnostic speed-dreams of Philip K Dick, or the Cyberpunk worlds of Gibson and others – tell me you’re not laughing at times when the height of the future was 50 megabytes of RAM?
But the laughter’s a little hollow, isn’t it? Because we’re not all blood and chrome, all fibre-optic veins, and yet we recognise the ancestors of megacorporations all around us. We watch as politics is ever more openly revealed as a branch of the plutocratic Ruling Party – allegiance means little now, and nation-states are hollowed out, becoming more and more like the shell companies created to subvert the laws of those very same nations. The comedy of those paleofutures, all mirror-shaded as they are, bites a little. After all, it’s all a bit ridiculous, as campy as Buck Rogers and disco space-suits really.
It’s like catching sight of yourself in a shell-suit from your younger days. Cringeworthy, even.
I was in London last month, running around doing things for FoolishPeople’s latest project, Strange Factories. Those who know me will be able to tell you I have been busily scribbling away for the past 6-7 months, creating content for this live cinema/immersive theatre hybrid which premiered on the 26th of October, and is available on demand here.
It’s a funny thing, being thrown in at the deep end, and even moreso when the world in which you are working has been created and manifested by other people, and then recorded on film months before. You’ve been given the prima materia in the film itself, the egg from which the world is to emerge.
The film, the work, exists in itself as a fully formed thing, and you have to contemplate it. Then you have to go out into the dark and swirling chaos, the unformed potentiality, and you have to extrapolate, from what you know.
Because the egg didn’t appear out of nowhere. Instead, it coalesced, through blood, sweat and tears. It arose, and now it’s your job to allow it to expand. To take that raw stuff, and with what litttle knowledge and skill you have, to put things together, and to pull them apart, until they are what’s needed. Until everything you do, everything you create, is Necessary and inevitable – for it to to be as if there were no other possibility, no other way it could be.
And all you have is what you know, because there’s nothing else, and from that, you have to make a universe. From that flash of inspiration, that moment of gnosis, you play; you dance, you create. You kill. You destroy. And then, if you do it right, there’s another flash, a burnished gleam of comprehension, to light your way. One step in front of the other, just keep moving and don’t look back!
I was so busy in London in fact, that I never managed to meet up with Gordon, despite wanting to.
(Sorry dude. Third time’s the charm, yeah?)
But, in the spirit of the last entry of mine before this one, let me tell you that London is Weird. It’s the sleeping beast the rest of the country tiptoes around for fear of waking, and when it does, they rapidly sacrifice their firstborns to it so it won’t go around devastating everything.
I know this through observation, and in my bones – my Mum’s a Londoner, y’see.
And I wish I was kidding about the firstborns, but I’m not. Not completely. You see the thing about a good metaphor, is that it’s really a kenning.
“to know,” Scottish dialect, from Old English cennan “make known, declare, acknowledge” (in late Old English also “to know”), originally “make to know,” causative of cunnan “to become acquainted with, to know” (see can (v.)). Cognate with German kennen, Danish kjende, Swedish känna. Related: Kenned; kenning.
It’s a way of bypassing the usual episteme, the usual analytical mind that wants things piecemeal and regulated. It’s fast, uncompromising and evocative – just like an actual experience. So you know what I mean, even if you don’t agree, and language means I’ve got you. Even without long explanations of the literal truth of all the young people who flock to London in search of a better life, or the inner city kids who fall through the cracks every year. Or even the deals pulled by plutocrats and banks to rig the system.
I say third time’s the charm, partly as a throwaway term, and partly as something more. Repetition of an action is usually assumed to have the same effect, compounding whatever you’re doing at the very least, and certainly serving as the basis of scientific method. Which is fine in a clockwork universe.
Except we’re not in a clockwork universe are we? We’re in a universe where the Large Quasar Group exists, which may suggest some troubling problems for the idea that the universe looks the same from wherever you are. The universe we know, may not be how it works all over.
There may be a different set of rules beyond the firelight.
Stand in a city like London, and watch the world race furiously by. No rest for the wicked – not in our universe. No indeed ,because each of those repetitions happens in a different place and time, even if there’s only a minute difference between them. Which does funny things to probablities, doesn’t it?
So, me being me, I’ll probably be back down in London in the first six months of 2014, if only to visit the British Museum. But this time, I shall not just be visiting the mask of Tezcatlipoca, or reciting the Orphic hymn to Hermes in front of his statue on a Wednesday.
No, I’ll be visiting the Viking Exhibition.
And here’s the odd thing – given as the University of Central Lancashire discovered the Large Quasar Group – it’s not all Pendle Witches and hangings up here. Oh no. I think I shall pootle along to the Silverdale Hoard at the museum next week.
Quasars, Witches, and Vikings – oh my!
It’s almost like a fellow could make connections, and follow the kennings, to a different, more Gnostic kind of knowing. We know it’s impossible to sit still, after all. This planet is spinning at many thousand miles an hour. If we want to get anywhere, we have to learn how to drive the boat – how to navigate.
The funny thing about sailing, of course, is that the sea has other ideas. It has its own currents, its own moods. So if we extend the metaphor, do we simply wait for fair weather? Or do we learn how to sail, how to tack, to build boats with keels which take us thousands of miles from home?
If we’re the wizards going a-viking, to seek new lands, explore, trade and bring back stories – what’s the equivalent of our journeys thousands of miles from home? What’s our Persian Silk?
Gordon asked if Neo-Theosophy was a Thing Yet, and then Jow’s got some interesting points in his Mutations post too. The pragmatism angle is something that’s always struck me – does it work, regardless of how weird it is?
And here’s the thing – like Gordon, I happen to believe that a working model of the Weird must have its basis in consciousness, whatever the hell that is. The old Hermetic scenario that everything is Mind can quite reasonable be tweaked to point out that everything we ever will perceive is consciousness.
Whether or not objects are themselves conscious/alive is irrelevant. We are, and we are all we will ever know. You don’t have to be a Stoic to realise that the division betwen objective and subject is arbitrary. Even the most ‘objective’ fact causes a subjective response.
Once you realise that, the pragmatism of belief in different forms of consciousness kicks in – hell, you exhibit different forms of consciousness throughout a twenty four hour period, do you you not? Anyone with experience in dealing with hypnosis, meditation, or any kind of trauma, will realise we’re constantly shifting modes of consciousness throughout the day.
The key then, is recognition of these changes – to quote Crowley:
Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.
If we take that and run with it – that all is consciousness, then change in consciousness is a magickal act. To be able to deliberately shape your consciousness is to be able to steer the boat. This is where it gets funky, of course – because the change has an effect, not just on the boat, but the sea itself. That’s the essence of chaos-theory, that and the notion of wyrd.
The fundamental interconnectedness of consciousness means that ‘white person’s Hinduism’ as Gordon bluntly puts it, is a fundamentally vitalistic paradigm. And it’s fundamentally an ancient proposition, something that exists in forms of mana, maegen and the n/om of the San people or the Kalahari, or the better-known qi – but something that goes beyond the confines of the energy model of chaos magic, something closer to the information or cybernetic model.
Contemplating that model in relation to consciousness, we’re really poking at the idea of gods/spirits/entities as different arrangements of consciousness, in the same way as other humans and animals are. What’s deeply interesting about this is that it pretty much allows the weirder bits of Buddhism/Hinduism to exist without contradicting the original teaching. The idea of the reality of meditational deities, marmas, mantras and yantras , tulpas, servitors and the like, as being made of particular arrangements of mindstuff isn’t weird when you realise that everything is made of mindstuff.
The barrier between inside and outside is pretty much non-existent – it’s a human construction, a ward if you like, to stop ourselves becoming overwhelmed. Suppose for a second, we view the universe as a sea – something that’s intimately familiar to the aquatic-ape-pigs of the genus homo, given the percentage of ocean on our planet.
Many things swim in it – and pretty much all of them are ugly-bags-of-mostly-water, from the microbial level to the Squid-lords of the vasty-deep. We swam in it once, and then we hauled ourselves out onto land, which is just another arrangement of elements. Evidence abounds that most of our braingrowth occurred during the coastal phase of our existence.
(We’re still in that coastal phase – still on the beach, in some sense – the dividing line between the land and sea, but that’s by the by)
We have the ability to develop tools and technologies – we can build boats, observe the stars, and navigate the ocean. Buddhism and Hinduism suggest that humanity is the optimal configuration of consciousness – precisely because we can develop these tools.
And these tools are in themselves specific arrangements of consciousness – be they induced by fasting, ritual, intent, entheogens etc. Specific arrangements of experience and mindstuff which cause ripples in the ocean, and certain things are attracted to certain ripples, for their own reasons.
The technologies that we have developed for navigation are manifold, but at their core, they are methods of inducing change – and since the universe is not static, it is a participatory interactive action. What’s more, the most potent technology we’ve developed for changing consciousness – in terms of ease of use – is language.
The downside of language is that much like the handy-dandy hammer, everything can start to look like a nail – you become a little too focused on the arrangements of consciousness language provides.
This is where logocentrism comes in.
If you can’t express it via language – often directly, it ‘doesn’t exist’. To be sure, we’re all capable of experiencing non-linguistic constructs within the body. But how to communicate such modes of consciousness?
Perhaps this is where the division kicks in – the easily replicated and utilised language begins to assume primacy over the body. The body becomes a secondary role – the body-communications seem murky when compared to the speed, clarity and rapidity of language. Suddenly, the precise distinctions of syllable, letter, sentence – as representation and signpost – are seen as purer.
Oral tradition develops further, ritual observances of language, eventually converted into written words. Patterns of experience become codified – adherence to law and scripture. Definition is King. Language as basis for materialism? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s certainly something to think about, no?
After all, didn’t William S. Burroughs say that Language is a virus from outer space?
Of course, in most traditions, the gods and spirits of language are tricksters – by definition, they are fluid and ambiguous characters. To me this seems oddly anathematic to the notion of word-as-law. Clearly, something happened along the way.
So what happens when we try to restore language to its ambiguity, to its indefinite continuum of metaphor and experience? Nothing short of poeisis – a literal bringing-forth.
Study Hinduism and Buddhism and you’ll find snake-people monkey men, flying chariots and thunder-birds, many-headed gods and an astrological mastery of time and cycles. That’s not even the the strangest parts of the Vedas or the Mahabarata or the Bahagavad Gita. Even Grant Morrison has got in on the act.
And speaking of Morrison, his epic The Invisibles is where I first encountered the material from the infamous Voudon Gnostic Workbook of Michael Bertiaux, a tome of such high weirdness that it seems you either grok it or you don’t. Therein you will find a similiar level of weirdness – Lovecraftian entities and Shinto Kami, the ojas and Gnostic Neo-Pythagorean churches mixing with universal computers. It’s so dense that people often dismiss it, so absurd that it seems ridiculous. Yet that suff works, somehow. It’s why I have always have had a soft spot for Gnostic Voudoun – Bertiaux’s unique syncretism of Theosophical, Martinist and Haitian ideas, amongst others.
Some would suggest such creativity is insane or disrespectful – yet I wonder if one might say the same of the Puranas or even the King James bible, given the work of editing down that so obviously went into those texts. If there’s one thing that can be said of Bertiaux’s work, it’s that he’s adept at creating vessels by which one may navigate the ocean of consciousness. That, really, is the primary lesson here – it’s not the system that its important, rather, it is the audacity in creating something this diverse, based on simple principles. More than that, it’s the fact that this stuff works, that it even hangs together!
Am I saying that Bertiaux’s cracked the Theory of Everything that Gordon’s looking for? Not at all. But by treating his work as an ambiguous (and I mean that strictly in the technical sense) text, and reading between the lines, we’re left with what I consider to be the best irruption of High Weirdness in the past 50 years, and as wizards and professional Weird People we should examine all such outbreaks to see if they have any value to us.
As a side-note, one of the best introduction points to the Voudon Gnostic continuum is David Beth’s Voudon Gnosis – it’s a fine point of ingress, particularly as David makes it clear that such things are meant to be perceived, not just as simple written texts alone, but comprehended with the eyes ears of the heart and soul. Those looking for a stripped down understanding of Bertaux’s peculiar (again in the technical, rather than perjorative sense) logic would do well to obtain Bertiaux’s Cosmic Meditation and give it a good meditate on. Somewhat synchronistically, Hadean Press has just released Syzygy:Reflections on the Monastery of the Seven Rays by Tau Palamas, which is fine example of creating a vessel to navigate the soul’s ocean, using tried and tested techniques.
All these books owe a debt to Bertiaux obviously, and may not be to everyone’s taste – but the principles of synthesis and creativity, rather than simple empty ritual repetition, stand to me personally, as sincere efforts to rediscover the vital and manifold forms of consciousness. Because we know that Something is going on, and it’s Weird. It takes place in the arena that Austin Spare would call the sacred inbetweeness of concepts.
That’s the fluid spaces, the oceans dotted with archipelagos filled with strange fruit. Islands of dead men, of sorceresses who can turn men back to pigs, hollow-earth theorists meeting comics artists who bring forth shapes of Norse gods and flying long-boats that generate hundreds of millions of dollars.
And here’s a funny thing…just a hint. Who’s the best known boat builder in history, but Noah?
He built an ark, did he not, because God told him so. Yet Noah has an older antecedent – Utnapishtim, referenced in the Epic of Gilgamesh, is the man the gods made immortal after he survived the flood. And who warned him? Not YHVH, obviously, no. It was Enki, or Ea, and it’s Enki, lord of the waters beneath the earth, who brought ‘contention’ to the language of men. Master of magic, arranger of the world, ambiguous friend of man.
Just saying. Read between the lines.
Be seeing you.