That Wicked Man

Aleister and Rose Crowley, 1910
Via Plutonica, a Life magazine  slideshow on Aleister Crowley and his influence on pop culture.

I had not known that Sidney Blackmer played his character, Roman Castevet,  in the occult thriller Rosemary’s Baby, partly on impressions of Crowley.

When the movie came out, I was too young to appreciate the depth of its scariness, let alone know who Crowley was. I should watch it again.

Mark Teppo on Magick and Fiction

I noticed this post about Mark Teppo and urban magick on Instapundit, linking to an Amazon blog item about his thoughts on the nature of magick.

Like I said, the definition [of magick] is a bit slippery, and it might be a bit much to attribute to the writing of a pulpy occult noir book the grandiose intent of creating magick, but that’s part of what inspired the Codex of Souls. Not so much making magick, but rediscovering the possibility of it. Instead of holding such strangeness at arm’s length and pretending that we’re an entirely rational species, I wanted to embrace our esoteric history. Let it all be true. Why not? It’s a matter of faith, isn’t it? One of the things that separates us from the beasts with smaller brains is the ability to believe in something that isn’t there, and you can argue that when we learned how to dream, our brains got bigger.

Sounds interesting. Have any of you read his books? What do you think? How do they stack up against, say, Charles De Lint?

Don’t Visualize, Organize!

That is the takeaway message from Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

Like much of Ehrenreich’s writing, it is fueled by righteous anger.

First, as a breast cancer patient, she is disgusted by the happy-face positive thinking of what she calls “pink ribbon culture”:

The cheerfulness of breast cancer culture goes beyond mere absence of anger to what looks, all too often, like a positive embrace of the disease  (27).

From there it’s often into the “motivational” business culture that routes laid-off employees into seminars where they learn to be “a brand called you.”

And there is “prosperity theology” in the churches, a/k/a “God wants you to be rich,” and “positive psychology” for the non-churchgoing.

Not to mention the “prices will always go up” thinking that contributed to the recent real-estate bubble!

And in Ehrenreich’s view, it’s 99 percent bullshit, a new synthetic Big Pharma opiate of the masses that prevents people from clearly seeing their economic and political quandaries.

She does give some space to a fairly mainstream history of creative visualization (or whatever you want to call it) via New Thought, Christian Science, and so on.

Reading Bright-sided as an adherent of a magical religion, I obviously have some disagreements with Ehrenreich’s wholesale condemnation.  These things work, sometimes with unexpected results–hence the old admonition to be careful what you ask for.

So where do we draw the line between possible and not possible? I do think that “visualize world peace” is a fruitless task, although one may act in a peaceful manner. And whatever you seek under the idea that “thoughts are things” has to be backed up and affirmed by tangible actions.

Greenwood’s Anthropological Study of Magic

British anthropologist Susan Greenwood is interviewed at Pagans for Archaeology about her new book, The Anthropology of Magic.

In this new book I have taken that argument further and related it to a classical anthropological debate on mystical mentality; and I have also explored the nature of reality in relation to an inspirited world, developing a new methodology of magic from my own experiences, as well as those of others.

The “Luhrmann effect” mentioned by the interviewer refers to the backlash against anthropologists expressed by some British Witches and ceremonial magicians whose practices were discussed by anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann in her 1988 book, Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft.

All Great Men Were … Rosicrucians?

It’s the 100th anniversary of modern Rosicrucianism.

For all their concern about tracing lineage, however, it is possible to find beneath the umbrella of modern Rosicrucianism just about any belief, philosophy or superstition you might care to name – pantheism, reincarnation, alchemy, psychic power, astral out-of-body travel, telepathy. There are Cosmic Ray Coincidence Counters and Sympathetic Vibration Harps. And you can corral just about any historic hero – Plato, Dante, Descartes, Newton – into secret membership of the movement (unbeknown, of course, to the dull minds of conventional historians).

For all the snarkiness, at least one serious historian of esoteric movements is quoted in the article.

Your Prayers, Our Magic–Do They Always Help?

It’s a common argument among Pagans–Witches in particular–when conversing with monotheists to say something like, “What you call prayer, we call spells,” or words to that effect.

No doubt we think ours are better. No one is testing them, but there have been a number of studies attempting to quantify the effects of “intercessory prayer,” usually meaning prayer for people facing health crises.

Some seemed to show that such prayer helped, results that were seized upon by Christians.

But the results of one are not so simplistic, reports Christianity Today magazine. (I urge you to read the whole thing.)

The study received some attention at the time [three years ago], but seemed to have escaped the notice of many Christians, probably because of its surprising—and for Christians, disturbing—conclusions.
. . . .

The result: The group [of surgical patients] whose members knew they were being prayed for did worse in terms of post-operative complications than those whose members were unsure if they were receiving prayer. The knowledge that they were being prayed for by a special group of intercessors seemed to have a negative effect on their health.

Where does that leave people who say that you should get permission before “working” for anyone?

The authors then turn theological:

Our prayers are nothing at all like magical incantations [!]. Our God bears no resemblance to a vending machine. The real scandal of the study is not that the prayed-for group did worse, but that the not-prayed-for group received just as much, if not more, of God’s blessings. In other words, God seems to have granted favor without regard to either the quantity or even the quality of the prayers.

And then they have to jump through more theological hoops to answer the obvious question, “Then why pray at all?”

Obviously, that is not our theology. Pagans do not expect the gods to conform to our standards of either/or logic.

But try reading the article and substituting our language for its authors’. How would you respond?

A Hymn to Extrication and Destruction

In my role as a volunteer fireman in this little hamlet, I went to a “vehicle extrication” class today in a nearby town. That meant learning to use the “Jaws of Life” (firemen just say “splitter”) and other hydraulic tools for ripping apart vehicles in order to remove injured occupants.

In that larger department’s classroom, the instructor had written on the board:

Welcome to Vehicle Extrication
Cut It. Split it. Ram it.

And all I could think of was Aleister Crowley‘s “Hymn to Pan.” (YouTube version here.)

Through solstice stubborn to equinox.
I rave; and I rape and I rip and I rend
Everlasting, world without end,
Mannikin, maiden, maenad, man,
In the might of Pan.
Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan! Io Pan

I’ll bet Uncle Aleister would have liked to see us ripping the roofs and doors off of motorcars.

Call for Contributions: Women in Magic

This call for contributions to an edited collection comes from editor Brandy Williams’ blog.

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for an anthology on women working in the magical communities, particularly in communities where women have not been extensively published or in which women face stereotyping and misunderstanding within and without the community. These communities include (but are not limited to) groups and individuals working in the Golden Dawn, Thelemic, Aurum Solis, Alchemy, Chaos, and Experimental Fields.

Women have been involved in traditional and ritual magic since the late Victorian era. However women are often viewed as tangential to these communities or as soror mysticae, assistants to the magician. Today women are actively involved in ceremonial magical groups and lodges, alchemy, chaos magic, and Experimental Magic, overcoming stereotypes and creating new visions of magic within the communities.

Go here for the whole thing.

Lucifer Rising

I took a little trip back into the 1970s today to watch occult/underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising.

It is not about Satanism but more about invoking energies of nature, a highly symbolic short film with not a word of dialog on the soundtrack.

Or you could say that it is about the aesthetics of ceremonial magick.

You can watch a low-quality version online, but I rented it as part of a Kenneth Anger collection from Netflix.

Even the story of its music is a masterpiece of Psychedelic Age gossip, involving a composer imprisoned for murder as part of the Manson Family, after Anger’s first choice, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, failed to deliver.

Another article on Anger’s use of color symbolism is here.

Gallimaufry with Atoms

Just some links while I am busy on two editing projects and a proposal…

¶ Aleister Crowley’s legacy still poses problems for occultists — especially when they take Internet “life” as equivalent to a “scene.”

¶ Lonnie muses about animism and consciousness.

¶ A British celebrity chef recommends henbane in salads. Much concern ensues. The ethnobotanist Christian Rätsch has a recipe for henbane beer, which he says is excellent. (His personal site, in German, is here.)

¶ Peter Bishop has been reading the book of Genesis. It’s fun to watch the reaction of an intelligent, non-Christian reader, “letting it speak for itself, instead of viewing it through the lens of later writings.” I love the idea of Yahweh as a sort of venture capitalist investing in Abram and Sarah.