All magic – all Life – is influential. It’s simply not possible to exist in a vacuum, because any thing will affect another thing. As part of an interconnected whole, we’re all at the mercy of the larger kosmos. So when we talk about magick and influence, that ‘k’ has an affect. Because somewhere along the line, the illusion reveals itself as not really an illusion; its context shifts and all the smoke and and mirrors undergoes a kind of alchemy and we observe real-world effects.
This post has been in the back of my head for a month or so, luxuriating in the dark of my hindbrain, waving lazily at the last post as it got itself sent out into the aether. As with many things, the reason it is being written is not because of some magical revelation but because another part of my brain seized on something someone else wrote. This time, it’s writer Warren Ellis in his weekly email newsletter ORBITAL OPERATIONS:
[A]lso about the nature of networks and “influencers.” Some…are citing my Twitter follower count, which is a ridiculous metric for influence. I was an earlyish Twitter user. I have some 530K “followers,” but Twitter is bad at clearing out dormant accounts and spam accounts. Between that, different usage patterns, timezones and timeline churn, I’d have to work really hard to reach fifty thousand live humans from that five hundred thousand. The follower count is a meaningless number. Engagement is the other metric — not even how many people click on a link, but what kind of conversation is happening, and with who. Here’s a great example of actual understanding: Medium measures not hits and clicks, but how many people read to the end of a Medium post.
So if you only have three hundred followers on Twitter but you get to talk with them all the time and you share your tastes and you follow up on each others’ recommendations? You have more actual influence on the shape of the world than some crappy fast food brand with a million followers.
And here’s where it gets interesting, because we as humans have limits to the numbers of people we can model as people, with thoughts and desires all their own. There’s a limit to the number of folks we can maintain stable social relationships with. Beyond that, entities get amorphously lumped together as Them, The Other Folks or whatever. Mostly popularised as Dunbar’s Number, other research takes the 150 person mean and ups it to nearly 300, which is interesting to me because, do you know what else is around about that size?
Let’s consider, for a second, that such a company is a group of primates. Let’s also consider what I spoke of, in the last post:
[A] thing of humanity, of shared bone and blood. Of survival and compassion in a world that shows itself as not some heaven, but instead as a forest in which there is much to nourish and strengthen us, but also much that which might disrupt our existence and perhaps even make things appear hostile.
Understand then, that when I speak of liberation, I do not speak of freedom in the absolute, but within the context of room-to-move, a territory in which we are allowed to pursue our individual Beingness.
When I speak of sovereignty, I do not speak of the tyrant; instead I speak of the proto-monarch. I speak of the one who has-the-knowing-of-how-to-Be-and-is-constantly-doing-so. The One who recognises and remembers that they are merely First-Amongst-Equals. I speak of the person who knows that a gift demands a gift.
Imagine, if you will, the proto-monarch, the one who has others agree to support them, who gathers about them household, a band of loyal warriors and retainers. The web of influence and loyalty between them forms them into a singular unit. A cohesive group of individuals that work for the benefit of each other. Suddenly, the hand of that king, that person who knows, becomes capable of so much more. Suddenly ‘I’ becomes ‘We’, the singular becomes the multiple.
And that is when the band is made, when each member is elevated beyond themselves, while also being themselves. This multiplicity, found in bands, is precisely what exerts social and physical force. We all know that Many hands make light work, and yet we also know Too many cooks spoil the broth.
There’s a tendency in much modern thinking, to head towards acquisitiveness which goes hand in hand with the so called ‘individualism’ of much of the monoculture. To think that we can gather resources ourselves, without recourse to others. That we can boot-strap ourselves to any goal we choose. This is patently ridiculous, as ridiculous as someone declaring themselves monarch without support or some form of validating authority.
This also has implications in modern occultism; acquiring occult ‘bling’, collecting different ‘initiations’ and ‘titles’ as if we were in the cafeteria or playing Pokemon. If we can just acquire enough, so the narrative runs, complete enough goals, then we’ll be happy and fulfilled. When somebody is told that no, they shouldn’t pursue a particular path, they don’t fulfil certain criteria, or the system is not open to them, the reaction is often outrage. Why shouldn’t they be able to access that technology as easily as subscribing to Netflix?
Given what I and others have written on the Forest Passage of Junger, you might think I’m contradicting myself by saying that one’s resources are not enough to boot-strap oneself. After all, didn’t Junger say that the Forest Passage was a banishment where; “[A] man declared his will to self-affirmation from his own resources.”
Except it’s not a contradiction at all, because it is their own resources that draw others to that proto-monarch I’ve spoken of. Their own skills and affinities, which when honed, make them recognisable as the one who is living out their own Being. Similarly, in magic, we all have resources – as Jack said on his Tumblr:
The Gods and spirits I know had by and large ‘wanted’ to get to know had always lurked around me, waiting for me to come around, nudging me. Visions that left me speechless and feeling like I didn’t know what was going on were trying to point me towards what to pay attention to. But I was blind to their significance, and convinced of my own ‘freedom’ of movement in spiritual spaces.
We all have ancestors, we all have certain skills and affinities which, when practised will, in sometimes odd and convoluted ways, bring us to those gods, spirits, wights, and daimons which have been waiting for us to reach out, to notice them. We each have our core band, whether we notice it or not; the seed grouping of entities which, once we build relationships with, enable us to wield our influence. This is why offerings are so important, because they build that relationship – that gift demands a gift spoken of in the Havamal. It’s not even a case of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, but about building and maintaining relationships.
I becomes We. Because it always was. Because we were never apart from each other. Our ancestors lived, and it is by their life that we also live. Every move I make, every breath I take, every word I speak or type, happens because of them.
Those exiled to the forest do not exist alone. On the contrary, they see it as a living, breathing environment of which they are part. They relearn the sights and sounds, the way to be who they are. Forced to rely on their own resources, they can no longer avoid looking at that which stares them in the face. The band, the company, which was hidden before, begins to reveal itself, and in that revelation, their influence increases, precisely because they have no alternative.
To quote Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Because freedom is not something that can be taken. It is not something that can be acquired. It is something that you are. It is a principle of Being which, paradoxically, is only discovered when all ideas of freedom as that which is outside of you, are annihilated.
For this reason, the search for the next Big Thing, the next coolest form of spiritual technology, rarely engenders any sort of depth, and often fails, precisely because it forgets the fundamental principle that you must be enough.
Stripped of all kit, all ritual paraphernalia, even all technique, only you remain. And how did you come to be, here and now? What powers brought you into existence – what fingerprints did they leave behind. What is it that gives you breath and pulse?
Ask then – who are your Hidden Company? Who are the ones you can call on with your heart’s-blood? Because, when you are utterly alone, they will reveal themselves. When there is only silence and darkness, wordless and primordial things awaken in your heart. Beings you never thought you knew come into your life and greet you like old friends.
I becomes We.
And you learn to trust them. Because you build relationships, and suddenly, if you’re very lucky, you begin to realise that in some strange way, you are one of their hidden company that they can call on, because relationships are never one way, are they?
influence (n.) late 14c., an astrological term, “streaming ethereal power from the stars acting upon character or destiny of men,” from Old French influence “emanation from the stars that acts upon one’s character and destiny” (13c.), also “a flow of water,” from Medieval Latin influentia “a flowing in” (also used in the astrological sense), from Latin influentem (nominative influens), present participle of influere “to flow into,” from in- “into, in, on, upon” (see in- (2)) + fluere “to flow” (see fluent). Meaning “exercise of personal power by human beings” is from mid-15c.; meaning “exertion of unseen influence by persons” is from 1580s (a sense already in Medieval Latin, for instance Aquinas). Under the influence “drunk” first attested 1866.
Slowly, over time, you become as they – because you always were, you just forgot.
Imagine then, what having influence with that company can do? Imagine how much your reach extends, how the network grows. How, if you need something, you ask your trusted advisers and friends to do what they do, and find you someone who can do what you need?
Suddenly you’re not the one blindly picking what looks good in the cafeteria, you’ve got an experienced chef hand on hand who knows your dietary needs, tastes, and has a better grasp of how flavours work than you. Over time, purely by exposure, you become better at recognising what’s good for yourself, and can become a gourmand if that is your particular wish. Or, you ask your personal chef to teach you how to cook nutritious meals on a budget, or with whatever you have to hand.
That doesn’t make you a master chef, mind you. Not unless you have the same level of training, which takes a specific specialist form. And not everyone has the talent for it. But that’s OK, because your personal chef has your back.
(This is, incidentally, the logic of the guru or the surgeon or the craftsman. It’s not about hierarchy, it’s about skill, and ability. Your surgeon might be an arrogant shit with a god complex, but would you prefer a diffident amateur messing with your insides?)
So, if you’re a proto-king, the one who knows? Start looking for your warband. Because they’re there, all about you.
But first, you have to strip down. Not many are willing to do that, to acknowledge their utter restriction.