I’m reminded of a quote from Aleister Crowley recounted by John Symonds in his unkind (but ironically enticing) biography ‘The Great Beast’. Where, in answer to the question ‘do you think the world is about to come to an end?’ Crowley replied that the planet had already “been destroyed by fire” in 1904. I agree; if we’re going to have an apocalypse let it be in the past! A magickal colleague of mine favours this interpretation, she says (speaking very much of recent history): ‘Environmental collapse, check! Mass social unrest, check! Economic disaster, check! We’re already living in a post-apocalyptic future so let’s get on with it!”
The key word here is ‘interpretation’, because for a magician, interpretation is a creative process. It’s how we do our magick, how we weave spells. We interpret the world in a way that permits us to do healing (or hexing) at a distance with our poppet dolls. It allows us to interpret the world of the Goetic spirits as having a personal meaning and relevance. It allows us to make sense of 78 bits of cards and divine a message.
Now it’s true there is a lot of upheaval in the world, or at the very least we have (it seems) more of a sense of this, mostly because of digital communications. However depending on your situation things could have looked pretty turbulent in the 20th, 19th, 18th … etc centuries. Just how bad things are depends on where, when and who you’re talking about.
And of course when bad news flows we sit up and take notice. Generally, and for fairly obvious biological reasons, humans are most inclined (neurologically speaking) to remember when things go wrong, especially compared to when things were just ‘okay’. Then there is a feedback loop; the media (whether it be oral ghost stories. Penny Dreadfuls or Fox News) feeds us fear because we notice it, and in a sense we like it, crave it. This makes us more fearful, and even though by most measures the world is becoming less rather than more dangerous, it makes us seek out more information about what we should be being scared of.
It’s also perhaps true that, like never before, we possess a capacity to screw things up on a much grander scale than hitherto. I needn’t rehearse the list. I’m sure you know.
So apocalyptic fears trade on these situations and attempt to make themselves seem reasonable. They present what seems like the only realistic opinion. In the face of all this evidence what other sensible interpretation is possible?
Our own magickal work can bring us to stark confrontations, as well as drip-fed doses of apocalyptic fear. If we are exploring magickal styles such as syncretistic African Diaspora religions, Norse mythos, the Grimoire tradition, Santo Diame belief et al, we need to be aware that all these systems contain a payload of an ‘apocalyptic-mania virus’. Of course the virus isn’t ‘bad’, it’s just a virus but it’s sensible to make sure that as well as getting exposure to the virus we’re able to build up a tolerance to it. To be overwhelmed by the monotheist agenda implicit in these styles of magick would be ironic, especially since it’s usually within an esoteric or Pagan context these beliefs are deployed.
There are plenty of spirits, especially in the Grimoire traditions, that will happily try to get you to buy into their (usually fairly one dimensional) interpretation of reality (and if you don’t believe in ‘spirits’ at the moment we could call it simply these ideologies). But when any entity, be it human, institutional or esoteric tells you only It has THE answer to life, the universe and everything – it’s probably wrong. The same goes for having a simple, irrefutable interpretation of a complex set of future possibilities.
Since interpretation is an active, magickal process (verbalised as ‘To Know’ it’s one of the Four Powers), what could you call an entity that has set up home in your mind and goes about framing your perceptions so that you can only see one possible future? A spirit that is informing (perhaps controlling) your interpretation of tomorrow so that you could can only imagine a bleak desert of wrath and fire? Why yes folks it’s a demon! The word demon in this sense isn’t the Genius or even simply a spirit that’s a bit off-piste according to your preferred esoteric style. It’s a demon in that it is essentially a part of the Judeo-Christian mythos.
Although the lineage of various demons arise from pre-Monotheist sources, these spirits (as described within the texts of say the Goetia) are as interpreted from within the Christian world-view.
I suspect that these entities (these ‘interpretations of the world’) appear in the triangle not just with the smell of sulfur and a voice sounding like they’ve smoked 200 Rothmans, but also with a rather nasty viral load of apocalypse-mania. Such spirits have become infected while they’ve dwelt within the body of monotheism. It has become part of their identity and narrative.
Apocalypse-mania with its ‘any minute now Armageddon’s gunna get ya!’ symptom is of course pivotal to many monotheisms derived from the backward cultural elements unfortunately present in groups of Middle Eastern goat herders. It’s a cunning virus. The more it fails to deliver a match with the apparent world, the more active it becomes. Each time some arcane date passes without incident, each time a cultural ‘time bomb’ fails to go off, those infected with the virus actually make more copies in their minds to compensate. Now it’s GM, now it’s colony collapse disorder, now it’s runaway climate change that becomes the next best bet. Check out Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance for a few details of how this curious bit of human psychology works. In an intelligent mind the notion of a specific date for The Big One may be absent. But even for such people the general foreboding sense of ‘soon, very soon’ can be believed whole heartedly.
Now of course humans could probably make a pretty good job at destroying our own and many other species if we put our minds to it. But equally perhaps, as a magickal act, we should seek to act ‘as if’ something else might happen? For those who’ve been exposed to a high dose of monotheist apocalyptic-mania virus I recommend simply going one step further and imagining that the End of Days has already been and gone and, look! We’re living in the aftermath right now!
Let us erode the Last Judgement by placing it in an actual physical context. In the simplest sense we can take as read (unless we think our planet is mysteriously special, which would be a sure sign that another monotheist virus is inhabiting one’s psyche) that life exists elsewhere in the universe. Life will very probably continue no matter how impressively we reduce our homeworld to a radioactive cinder. It’s a bit harder to get worked up with all that implacable fire and brimstone when you realise it’s just happening on a tiny little rock in the unfashionable western spiral arm of the galaxy.
Then there is Earth itself. Despite a history in our planets’ biology where vast extinctions, sometimes of almost all life on our world, have happened, still it persists. Even if by some fabulous technological innovation we could destroy all life on earth it would quite likely, because life is implicit in chemistry, arise again. Earth has all the ingredients necessary for Genisis II, III and onwards until such time as the sun blows up (which if you must have a simple future apocalypse is the one I recommend. Awesome special effects too!).
And back to a human scale; what if there was no apocalypse? For me the idea we could explore space, inner and outer together forever, is a much more entertaining notion.
So if you’re working with those magickal traditions that have spent much time snuggled up next to Jehovah keep an eye-out that you’re not overrun with apolcalypse-mania virus. Banish often, laugh, keep your critical abilities honed and spend some time enjoying Glitter and Kittens.
Maybe such an approach, where we allow ourselves at least the possibility of a glorious future, also represents a real Satanic project (if you want to sex things up within the Judeo-Christian iconography). Rather than spending our lives gleefully impotent in the face of the inevitable Judgement of The Lord, instead we decide to turn ourselves into Gods; to rejoice in this other Eden right here, right now.
As a test for infection: ask yourself if your beliefs enrich the possibilities for the future. And if you find yourself staring down the barrel of one nihilistic reality tunnel watch out, it’s probably that dry desert God with no sense of humour whose finger is on the trigger.
Apocalyptic interpretations of the future can certainly make for some entertaining fun [see below], but they’re too last aeon for me to take seriously.