Find The Art & Not The PopPosted by VI
Not content with me residing in a morphine-based haze, Gordon’s gone and done a number on the back of my brain with his post entitled “They Live In The Starlight.” Go and read it, because I can’t be arsed re-contextualising it fully. Suffice to say, his remarks about following the wrong birds and hence not eating for a week ring horribly true to me.
I call following the ‘right’ birds black bird magic because of many reasons, but in actual fact, it’s because in the particular grammar of my worldview, black birds are a multi-level multivalent symbol of meaning. Crows, ravens (and almost all corvids including rooks, jackdaws and magpies) and other black winged carrion-eaters and raptors such as vultures and eagles, all operate within a constellation of Importance.
On one level, it’s quite simple – where there’s a bunch of the black birds, there’s usual something going on Growing up in rural Cornwall, you’d see great flocks of them congregate when the earth had been turned by farmers; to say nothing of the classic idea that they appear where dead things are. So already, we have the idea of chthonic, deathly revelation. What’s hidden is revealed, what’s under the earth is brought to the surface. Conversely, the seed put down into that earth attracts them, so they exist at that interface-point. Winged messengers descending from on high to consume the fruits of the earth and under the earth. They eat the dead things too – are at home in the trash stratum of Phil K Dick. Gaining nutrition from the excrement, from the rubbish, from what would be corrupt and rotting, they can make food out nearly anything.
That’s just practical observation, except for the metaphor of the winged messengers, right? But lets cast ourselves back to the hunter-gatherer stage – where the black birds are, there’s nutrition. Maybe we, as hunter-gatherers, can get some meat without having to expend so much energy running down prey, eh? Maybe there’s a clump of nutritious plants nearby. You get the idea. They convey the message of import, the thing that allows you to survive.
And the weird thing is, they get to know you. They recognise the hunter-gatherer, the one who leaves them leftovers, the farmer who digs up those tasty worms and bugs. And if you listen to them, you could swear they’re communicating complex ideas with each other (and it seems you’d be right). So, the literal lived experience of the black birds occurs first. Then you dig down, and find that the raven’s head – the caput mortuum or caput corvi – is associated with putrefaction. with nigredo in alchemy. Have you ever looked at a crow’s feather ? Black as night, except when the light catches it just so. Then you see the whole rainbow, somehow hidden within the darkness.
Lived experience again.
Signs of death, of putrefaction, of potential nutrition. Of hidden light and colour. Signs that can solve problems, and that can speak..
Or, this full documentary is pretty good for a watch, talking about the communication and facial recognition:
The point being, these associations are logical extrapolations of lived experience – they do not come from nowhere. They are not made up out of whole cloth. Instead, they arise out of context and observation – all the magical correspondences you’ve ever seen, all the narratives and systems, grew out of a moment when the kosmos connected with the human mind and in doing so evoked something, brought it forth. As Gordon says:
This brings us back to the ‘rainforest’ of ‘cultural symbolism’. Theoretically, the chaos magical use of cultural symbols can yield equivalent magical effects as using more traditional mythological systems, but only in certain instances. There is a naïve assumption -which I have repeatedly stressed was never there in chaos magic’s original formulation- that you can just use anything you want and they’re all the same. But if you go looking for apotheosis in the subtext of Everybody Loves Raymond rather than the X-Files then you are ‘following the wrong birds’ and your family won’t be eating pig that week. Or ever. The problem with so-called pop culture magic is not on the magic side… it’s on the fact that modern culture is mostly shit and getting worse. In fact, you are better off approaching any of this from an almost Alan Moore direction: art is always magic and sometimes popular culture. Find the art, not the pop.
This is no institutional theory of art, either. Rather than asking What is Art? the kind of art in question is that which induces, which affects, and produces effect. Let’s take Star Wars as an example, or Lord Of The Rings. These did not come out of nowhere, but rather were deliberate attempts to evoke the power of myth, to bring forth the mechanisms of affect. When I sat in the cinema as The Two Towers came out, I was, in some sense, joining my childhood self reading the book, entering once again the world of Middle Earth. And that world was conceived in the mind of Tolkien, who himself drew on Norse myth and Anglo Saxon lore,
George Lucas worked Star Wars in such a way that it evoked themes as described by Joseph Campbell. Campbell himself developed his theory of mythic structure by distilling, comparing and contrasting myths from all over the world. There’s a continuity there. As I sat in the cinema watching The Force Awakens a second time, I thought about all the idiocy of those who said it was just a rehash of the original trilogy. Idiocy, because of course it revisits themes and story beats. Of course it tells the story of a family dynasty and rebels and outcasts and heroes.
Because myth is cyclical. Mythic time is cyclical. The reiteration of theme and shape occurs because these, like the black birds, are Symbols, signs and portents. The spoor of the numinous reaching out to catch the human mind, to coyly hint at its ever-presence.
portend (v.) early 15c., from Latin portendere “foretell, reveal; point out, indicate,” originally “to stretch forward,” from por- (variant of pro-; see pro-) “forth, forward” + tendere “to stretch, extend” (see tenet). Related: Portended; portending.
tenet (n.) “principle, opinion, or dogma maintained as true by a person, sect, school, etc.,” properly “a thing held (to be true),” early 15c., from Latin tenet “he holds,” third person singular present indicative of tenere “to hold, grasp, keep, have possession, maintain,” also “reach, gain, acquire, obtain; hold back, repress, restrain;” figuratively “hold in mind, take in, understand.”
The Latin word is from PIE root *ten- “to stretch” (cognates: Sanskrit tantram “loom,” tanoti “stretches, lasts;” Persian tar “string;” Lithuanian tankus“compact,” i.e. “tightened;” Greek teinein “to stretch,” tasis “a stretching, tension,” tenos “sinew,” tetanos “stiff, rigid,” tonos “string,” hence “sound, pitch;” Latin tendere “to stretch,” tenuis “thin, rare, fine;” Old Church Slavonic tento “cord;” Old English þynne “thin”). Connecting notion between “stretch” and “hold” is “cause to maintain.” The modern sense is probably because tenet was used in Medieval Latin to introduce a statement of doctrine.
It strings us along, lays a thread for us to follow, like Ariadne leaving Theseus a thread so he could escape the Labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. We’ll come back to Ariadne later, but for now, it’s the thread which is important. The connecting sinew that binds us, that holds us, that possesses us.
This is something that we’ve only recently forgotten about, in some senses. Ironically, it is this loss of memory which propels us to explore, to descend and learn and bring forth. Not only have we forgotten the things we once knew as magicians and wyrd folk, but we seem to think we can automatically do things better. The cyclical, spiralling understanding, the back and forth has been abandoned in favour of straight line, linear progress.
Now, I’m not being so foolish as to say ‘older is better.’ Often, those older things have become moribund, hidebound pieces of ineffectiveness based on simple “doing what has always been done”. But, again like the birds and their Symbolism, it is often forgotten that these older, traditional systems, came forth out of lived experience.
It’s that experience, that becoming acquainted with, that gnosis of the cross-roads meeting point, which we seek. The moment where something is summoned forth from Memory. Memory then, is not merely the act of recall, but the grasping and following of that thread.
Which brings us to a link passed my way by the good Dr. Al Cummins in a conversation on Mugtome, It’s an academic article on John of Morigny – a medieval scholar who wrote Liber Florum, a text which was intended to ‘destroy’ the Solomonic grimoire known as Ars Notoria. Now, by ‘destroy’ we mean a series of prayers and rites designed to remove the demonic influence from the rites and preserve the holy core of knowledge which somehow remained in the Ars Notoria.
Except, good old John didn’t actually write the purificatory text of Liber Florum – or rather, he wrote it but it had an otherworldy originator. Specifically, the Virgin Mary. From the article:
John petitioned the Virgin for the delivery of Liber florum’s thirty central prayers for the explicit purpose of destroying the Ars Notoria, which John had come to regard as demonically corrupt. […] Though John aimed at destroying the Ars Notoria, he also stated he wished to preserve what was good and holy in it, and that he had plundered its divine words as the Hebrews had plundered the Egyptian treasure.
[R]eliance on an idea of prelapsarian knowledge which is constituted primarily in a curriculum is perhaps the most important common feature of the two texts. Both open with general prayers for the faculties which enable absorption of learning: memory, perseverance, stability, eloquence. Both proceed via a series of prayers and figures through the seven liberal arts, first the trivium, then the quadrivium, leading to prayers and figures designed to take philosophy, and in the culminating stage, theology.
The seven liberal arts formed the basis of a medieval education, themselves passed down from the Graeco-Roman world, something they share in common with Hermetic philosophy. This article by John Michael Greer of the Art of Memory in Hermetica is worth a read to get some context, but I’d like to return to John of Morigny, in his own words:
On a certain night, I was placed in a kind of ecstasy, whether in the body or out of the body I know not, God knows. And lo, I saw a certain horrible figure, and it seemed to me absolutely certain that it was the enemy of the human race. And that figure rose up against me, wishing and craving to suffocate me. When I saw it, I fled aghast in great fear from its terrible face and it pursued me hither and thither and could not catch me, and yet pressed upon me as it followed, so that I left the house that I was in, fleeing from the face of my persecutor. And when I went outside, it did not cease to pursue me; and when it rose up hugely I stopped in my tracks and ran towards the church of the blessed Mary. I entered it through the right hand door of the main entrance on the west front , and when I was in the church, I immediately lifted my eyes – I was next to the door at some distance from it – towards the image of the blessed virgin Mary. And lo, suddenly the devoted virgin Mary counselled me sweetly with a sign of her arm that I should come to her. After seeing this, I ran to her quickly and fled as though to the true comfort and refuge of sinners.
As the article states, the iconic link between Mary and the liberal arts is clear – and it is through purification of the soul that one may access the prelapsarian knowledge, for learning is said to be the uncovering and remembering of the knowledge. But this knowledge is not the knowledge of men, but of God – complete, whole and absolute. In this sense, it’s displaying its Neoplatonic heritage. Track that back further, and what do we find but the pre-Socratic notion that knowledge is learnt from the gods, or in the case of Parmeneides – a Goddess.
Which brings us rather neatly back to Ariadne. In some versions of the myth, she is abandoned by Theseus, only to be be found by Dionysos and made his wife, raised to godhood. The same Dionysos whose maenads tore apart Orpheus. You know, the poet-singer who went to the underworld. The one who is supposed to have founded the tradition which left tablets instructing the initiate to identify themselves to the judges in the underworld as being of Earth and Starry Heaven. Doing this, gets them a drink from the well of the Mnemosyne – you know, the Titaness?
Oh, and the name of the Minotaur, at the centre of the underground Labyrinth? Asterion, or Starry.
All of this goes some way to show the recurring signs and symbols involved here. The Wyrd is a shameless flirt, a coquettish trickster leading us on in some erotic game. Onward, ever onward, except like a labyrinth, we end up circling back on ourselves, going ever deeper each time. And whether its the crazy furor guy driving us, or the utterly pure (arihagne) virgin, we are propelled into ecstasy. We are taken outside, set beside ourselves by that thread, by that noose.
Art is the propulsion method, the affector. Culture is an accretion, a stabilisation mechanism and mode of defence against the High Strangeness because we intuitively understand that there’s a very real risk we might get torn apart by it. What’s popular is often so diluted that it often has only the tiniest morsel of it left, because anything more would threaten stability. The task then, is to mine, to dig, to follow the signs through and beyond the popular – run the risk of getting lost in the rainforest, dying of dysentery and snake’s poison.
We enter into a world that is run on non-human logic, returning once more to a state which is variously described as primal, prelapsarian, pre-Adamic – Titanic in some senses. This is not popular. Not something that extends into realms of sociability. Because to find one’s own relation to the neighbours, to the daemonic, is to become daemonic. There comes a time when one has dug down to a level where the raw affect leaves one uncivilised, shuddering and shaking, unmoored from what everyone else knows.
Nor is this hyper-individualism – one might start out worshiping Marvel’s Thor because you like the character, or because you want to assume a godform of a thunder deity who millions have watched on screen, reasoning that its more relevant than some archaeological deity. But dig further and you’ll find he was created by Jack Kirby, the mad bastard artist of comics, with a whole load of strange and paranormal associations under his belt. Then the blond guy with the hammer might shift in your perception to a burly redhead who drives a chariot of endlessly resurrecyted goats, until that day when thunder rolls and you see the lightning connect heaven and earth in an erotic charge. The thunder hammers your ears, shakes your bones, and suddenly you become aware of the beingness behind the medieval texts, the presence behind the thing your mind shapes like a man.
And boom. There’s just you and a thing generations have called a god. It was never about you.
Because there’s always More. To quote Michael Bertiaux:
¨In opposition to all humanistic culture, we are lured ever to the brink of chaos. We want to go where we are forbidden. We want to know what has been denied to us. We seek, in a word, the ‘more’.¨
If it’s turtles all the way down, we become-as-turtle, in a erotic congress from which emerges Art itself. We re-birth Symbols, bring them forth in our own flesh, our own lives. We scavenge the mounds of trash, scavenging for the nuggest of nutrition, the shining gleam of the numinous. Ingesting it, we are inspired, intoxicated, and in ecstasy. It is within that ecstasy that we attend the sabbats, we take our place as co-creators of the world, affectors and affected.
Art doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to all beings as a method to break us out of that humanistic fugue trance, if only for a moment. Art seizes, it possesses, it disrupts and reawakens.
And if the pop culture is the tamed, gentled version, then it is is time to voyage back along the ancestral tree, from the cute puppy to the feral direwolf which may or may not walk like a man under all moons but the full. Back to the age of ice where naked hunters waited steaming in the blizzard, warmed by inner fires while their prey froze to death. Back to see what made them that way, and to touch it once more.
The fusional chimeric mediating Being at the centre of the labyrinth is our own quixotic mirrored soul which reveals the immensity of the daemonic. Then it casts aside one mask after another and we realise that it is not us that possess Soul, but Soul who possesses us; the awe-inspiring, terrible ever-desiring, constantly creating pandaemonic All.
The bricolage of the magician draws its power from a well of Memory, until all events and objects can be re-membered, put together again, thrumming with might and potency as enlivened members of a whole. The well of Wyrd connects us all, and it is bottomless.
Down into the Underworld and out into the stars we must go.