August 1st, 2010
|03:56 pm - Musings on Alan Moore and life as a magician|
andrewducker posted a link to this fascinating site with a multitude of writings by Alan Moore about magic, creativity, and being a magician. Alan Moore is brilliant and vastly eccentric, but I haven't previously read much of his writings about occultism, other than his amazingly excellent work Promethea , which is both an excellent comic and one of the best introductions to occultism that I've seen.
In any case, I read most of the links on the above page, including this page, which starts off with a poem Moore wrote about the Roman snake god Glycon that he worships, and includes an interview with Moore that is the single best descriptions that I've ever read of what being a magician is like. It's the sort of thing that I expect every other serious occultist to read this and nod along. If you want to know one part what being a magician and occultist like actually like
"MDA: I can understand that on an abstract level. If the information provided is useful, why question the actual existence of whatever is providing that information. But on a personal level, if you were receiving information that you couldn't immediately attribute to as coming from yourself, wouldn't you feel absolute terror? I completely identify with the idea of connections to gods and other powerful non-physical entities becoming more casual and informal over time. For me, entities that I first could only contact using rituals, special chants and suchlike are now things that on rare occasions show up completely unannounced and more commonly require only a bit of quiet concentration to talk to. It's definitely a strange experience to have experiences of the divine become commonplace, but with repeated exposure everything can become commonplace, and yet for all that, these experiences of (for me) dragons and angels are no less specially and wondrous.
AM: In my own experience - and this is where we get into the complete madness here - I have only met about four gods, a couple of other classes of entity as well. I'm quite prepared to admit this might have been a hallucination. On most of the instances I was on hallucinogenic drugs. That's the logical explanation - that it was purely an hallucinatory experience. I can only talk about my subjective experience however, and the fact that having had some experience of hallucinations over the last twenty-five years or so, I'd have to say that it seemed to me to be a different class of hallucination. It seemed to me to be outside of me. It seemed to be real. It is a terrifying experience, and a wonderful one, all at once - it is everything you'd imagine it to be. As a result of this, there is one particular entity that I feel a particular affinity with. There is late Roman snake god, called Glycon, he was an invention of the False Prophet Alexander. Which is a lousy name to go into business under. He had an image problem. He could have done with a spin doctor there. Anyway, the False Prophet Alexander is a Moon and Serpent hero, a saint if you like. He was running what seemed to be a travelling Seleni medicine show, he would do a performance of the mysteries of the goddess Soi. The only reference to him is in the works of Lucien, who calls him a complete charlatan and fraud. At some point, Alexander the False Prophet said he was going to preside over the second coming of the god Aeschepylus, the serpent god of medicine. He said this is going to happen at noon tomorrow, in the marketplace. So everyone said 'sounds good' and they all went down there. After a little while, they said "come on, False Prophet Alexander, where is the second coming of Aeschepylus?" At which point, The False Prophet Alexander bent down, reached into a puddle at his feet, pulled up an egg, split it with his thumbnail, and there was a tiny snake inside, and said "Behold, the new Aeschepylus", took it home with him, where over a week it apparently grew to a prodigious size until it was taller than a man, and had the head and features of a man. It had long blonde hair, ears, eyelids, a nose. At this point he started to exhibit it in his temple, providing religious meeting with this incarnate god. At which point Lucian said, it was obvious, I could have done that. Lucian is another James Randi, you know, I could have done that, he got the snake's head under his arm, speaking tube over his shoulder, child's play. And he's probably right, that's probably how he did it. If I'm going to adopt a god, I'd rather know starting out that it was a glove puppet. To me it's a real god, there's nothing that precludes a glove puppet from being a real god. How else would you explain the cult of Sooty? But a god is the idea of a god. The idea of a god is a god. The idea of Glycon is Glycon, if I can enhance that idea with an anaconda and a speaking tube, fair enough. I am unlikely to start believing that this glove puppet created the universe. It's a fiction, all gods are fiction. It's just that I happen to think that fiction's real. Or that it has its own reality, that is just as valid as ours. I happen to believe that most of the important things in the material world start out as fiction. That everything around us was once fiction - before there was the table there was the idea of a table, and the idea of a table before tables was fiction. This is the most important world, the world of fictional things. That's the world where all this starts. So I had an experience which seems to be an experience of this made-up, Basil-Brush type entity. It was devastating.
MDA: This was the pivotal experience. You were forty when you had this occult Road to Damascus.
AM: Yes. On the day I was forty, I decided I was going to become a magician. That was on November 18th. On January 7th the following year, that was when all of a sudden the lightning bolt hit. It all got a bit strange. For a couple of months after that, I was - looking back - probably in some borderline schizophrenic state. I was very spaced out - godstruck, you babble for a while. It's a natural response. Babble like an idiot. I'm surprised that - when I look back at what I was saying - that so much of it at least makes a fragment of sense because I was in some divine haze. "I see it all now", you know, I must have been unbearable for two or three months. I've integrated that now into the rest of my life. Now I can deal with functionality on a practical level. And I still have this relationship with this imaginary snake. My imaginary pal. If I'm going to be dealing in totally imaginary territory, it struck me that it would be useful to have a native as a guide. So I can have my imaginary conversations with my imaginary snake, and maybe it gives me information I already knew in part of myself, and maybe I just needed to make up an imaginary snake to tell me it.
MDA: Do you have a ritual during which these various conversations take place?
AM: Increasingly, with that particular god, it becomes more casual. It will be talking to the giant imaginary snake god much in the same way you talked to God when you were six, in the quiet silence of bed. If I wanted a full-scale manifestation, one that was apparent to other people, then I would do a ritual. I have displayed the snake god to other people. Or I have consciously hypnotised them into accepting my psychotic belief system, given them drugs, and made them think they are having the experience I have. Whatever you want. I'm not fussed.
MDA: How did they react? I mean, they're your friends, they are going to be curious, they are going to want to see what is going on.
AM: They want to know if I'm mad or not.
MDA: So you organised a ritual with them in which you said, "well, let's find out".
AM: I went through it with numerous friends. Most of which seemed to experience something, something they had never experienced before. It got very weird. It's surprising, you don't have to believe in this stuff very much to get extraordinary stuff out of it. I was surprised by how easy it was to reproduce these effects for other people to experience. I remember one guy - I hadn't even told him the details of what I believed - he didn't particularly like the mushrooms so he only took a couple. I did the invocation and he got a bit giggly. He said "I'm trying to listen to what you are saying but I've got this Hanna Barbara cartoon in my head, a sort of Jungle Book type animals, and there's this one thing…" And I said "Can you describe these jungle book animals?" And he said "Well, it's just cheap animation that I can see, it's just cartoons. There is nothing mystical about it. There is this one particular animal, it's a snake, but it's got a tea towel over its head." And I drew a snake, drew the tea towel, and I said "does it look like this?" And he said "Yeah, like that." Then I pulled out this picture I had done - one I had drew earlier - a fully rendered crowned drawing of the snake as I saw it, with the long hair. He went "Oh Jesus Christ". I said, "Don't worry about it, this is the snake god, this is Glycon, he's in your head now talking to you. Don't worry about it." Yeah, so it was that sort of thing. It's proven very easy to work with, frighteningly easy. All you have to do is take that step from "this can't possibly happen" to "oh, maybe it could happen". Also, I can understand why magicians have such a high insanity rate. We don't end well, most of us, it has to be said. Paul Daniels might escape the worst effects, but the rest of us are pretty obviously doomed. Once you step over that line, you are in danger from a lot of stuff. Delusion, obviously, being the main thing. When I started to get into magic, I said to a lot of friends "well, I'm not going to know if I go mad, am I?" So let's think about this. I want you all to keep an eye on me. If I am happy, that in itself is no indication of not being mad. You can be drawing pictures on the wall in your own shit and be completely happy. The only thing I can use as a yardstick is if I am happy and functional and productive. If I am producing more work than I did in the past, then that's a good sign. And if it's better work. Madness and insanity are two terms that are so vague and relative that you can't really apportion proper values to them. The only thing I can think of that has any use it functional and dysfunctional. Are you working as well? In which case, it doesn't matter if you are mad. So it was quite an experience. I was also surprised to find out how frightening it was for everyone else. How much powerful the magic has got when we were all, officially, not supposed to believe in it anymore. But if you start saying "Actually, I've become a magician" there is a look of terror on people's faces, which I understand. You can divide them into two categories. There were some people who had fear and worry on their faces because they were afraid I had gone mad, which is understandable. Then there were the other people who were afraid that I hadn't. Who were faced with a dilemma because they were faced with somebody who seemed relatively articulate, relatively sane, and who they respected, intellectually, who was suddenly saying they were a magician and talking to a snake, an imaginary snake. I can see why that would worry them because they are faced with a choice. Either they have to decide I am deluded, or if I'm not deluded, then that opens up a whole can of worms - or snakes - because they have to re-adjust their view of the universe to include that possibility. If I realised the power of magic to worry and terrify people before, then I certainly would have used it before. Everyone freezes before it for different reasons - perhaps because it means madness to them, or because it means opening the door to a whole lot of stuff that the Age of Reason should have firmly bolted the door upon. A lot of concepts that we got rid of a long time ago that would be a bit creepy to have them back."
Moore's interview also includes one of the best quotes about sanity that I've seen, and which I complete agree with:
When I started to get into magic, I said to a lot of friends "well, I'm not going to know if I go mad, am I?" So let's think about this. I want you all to keep an eye on me. If I am happy, that in itself is no indication of not being mad. You can be drawing pictures on the wall in your own shit and be completely happy. The only thing I can use as a yardstick is if I am happy and functional and productive. If I am producing more work than I did in the past, then that's a good sign. And if it's better work. Madness and insanity are two terms that are so vague and relative that you can't really apportion proper values to them. The only thing I can think of that has any use it functional and dysfunctional. Are you working as well? In which case, it doesn't matter if you are mad.In any case, I also find Moore's discussion of magic usefully synchronicitous for two entirely unrelated reasons. The first is that I've been thinking about getting back into more serious occult practice for the last week, and reading this essay has given me a useful boost. More amusingly, three days ago, while working on on my latest RPG project I wrote a section about modern grimoires and in it described a thinly veiled version of Alan Moore and the dangerous grimoire he had written as a graphic novel.
Current Mood: contemplative
If you haven't read From Hell then it's very much worth it. Deeply unpleasant in a few places (As you'd expect), but the issue that's an occult walk through london is amazing.