A Boyhood in the Shadows – a journey from Chozzar-Shugal to the Satanic Banana

It was one of those awkward moments. I’d recently returned from an esoteric festival in London (you know the kind of thing; people doing tarot readings, people selling crystal balls, candles and other paraphernalia of the Dark Arts, demonstrations of ‘auric reading’ etc etc). Arriving back at my family home my Mum enquired over the set black bound volumes I was clutching under my arm. I was about fourteen years of age at this time, already a serious occultist, into spending my time mediating, doing rituals and preparing my own incenses. The books in question were: The Magical Revival, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, Nightside of Eden, Cult of the Shadow and Outside the Circles of Time. Each was a first edition of Kenneth Grants’ Typhonian oeuvre with cool OTO style lamen on the spine and chock full of powerful left hand path magick. I’d started reading them on the train, and rapidly became engrossed in tales of the sinister atavistic praeter-human denizens of Universe B. But on sitting down in the living room my Lam shaped bubble of Set/Sirius gnosis was about to be shattered.

“Let’s have a look at them” asked my Mum. I handed over AC and the Hidden God and Mater began to leaf through the text, finally the book fell open at a charming image of a witch by Austin Spare. Deftly Spare had depicted a wanton hag (the kind of language he would probably have used) with pendulous breast. Legs flung wide open, her eyes fixed on the viewer, a serpent was drawn raising itself up before her its tongue flicking just inches away from her bald cunt. Embarrassed, I looked down at the image in the volume open on my Mothers’ lap. I quickly gathered up the book, muttering something about it being ‘all very symbolic’ and disappeared upstairs to my wizards den (ie bedroom). Luckily this incident happened several years before the Satanic child abuse panic hit Britain otherwise I may well have found myself having to explain Spare’s quadriga sexualis to a bunch of bemused social workers.

Over the summer of that year I immersed myself in the works of Kenny G. As well as doing various innerworld journeys exploring such amusing locations as the Plateau of Leng, the realm of the Forgotten Ones from the sorcery of Soror Andahadna and the Tunnels of Set, I was enjoying the full flood of schizophrenic gematria. On inevitably black walls of my bedroom I draw pictures of strange new Qabalahs that would include the mysterious extra paths and universes that Grant and his colleagues alluded to. I made mathematical calculations, trying to discern the relationship between the symbolism of the highways of Horus and that freaky Orphidian plumbing which apparently exists on the dark side of the Tree of Life. Surrounded by a scatter of texts (including various classics by Crowley and old copies of Man, Myth and Magic) I draw up plans for magical orders (of which I would naturally be the head) with insignia of eleven pointed stars and various squiggles form LIBER ARCANORUM τών ATU τού TAHUTI QUAS VIDIT ASAR IN AMENNTI SUB FIGURÂ CCXXXI and LIBER CARCERORUM τών QLIPHOTH CUM SUIS GENIIS. ADDUNTUR SIGILLA ET NOMINA EORUM. Inevitably the summer hols simply flew past.

collect the set...

Collect the set…

As the new academic year dawned I found myself back in school, an environment that was about as far from the vertiginous spaces of the Voltigeurs as I could imagine. At weekends I would travel into the country to hang out with my best friend who lived in a little village. Together we would try out rituals and various herbs in an effort to get loaded and have visions. It was that year, at Halloween, that I did my first proper attempt to summon a spirit through ceremonial ritual. The process I embarked upon was the assumption of a Godform, the standard ceremonial magic practice of becoming a god. Naturally the deity I chose was Set (or more accurately since I was so hooked on Grant’s work at the time ‘Set/Sin/Shaitan’). With my family out of the house and the mattress I slept upon removed from my bedroom (allowing me to remove the carpet and thus expose the magic circle and pentagram which I’d painted on the floor boards) it was time to summon the Dark Lord. Naturally the ritual was a success. Set arrived and, as Horus might have put it, I felt him enter me. The rest, as they say, is history.

The next year I found myself working in an experimental, what today we might call a ‘freestyle’ Wiccan coven. By a curious twist of fate I ended up leading the group (though by this time I was only fifteen) and this game me the chance to introduce more Thelemic elements into the ritual process. During this time I worked with Phil Hine (later to become editor of Pagan News magazine and author of several seminal how-to texts on chaos magick). Like me Phil rather enjoyed a spot of Grantian weirdness; Elder Gods, Vama Marg tantras and infra-liminal vibrations. Our soundtrack was Current 93, Coil and the emerging industrial and goth music scene. When I wasn’t hanging out with the witches I’d go prowling the bookshops and occult events of London. I got a readers card for The British Library and consulted Kenneth and Steffi Grant’s Carfax Monographs and started reading some of the more obscure writers which Grant name checks in his works.

Of course I’d also been watching the development of a new impulse in occultism in that time, namely chaos magic. Although I didn’t get involved directly with groups such as the Circle of Chaos or the nascent Illuminates of Thanateros I was in the orbit of many of those who were developing this approach. Their desire was to cut to the chase and that was something I really understood. You see for years I’d been plodding through the Grant material looking for techniques. So what were you actually supposed to do? Sure it was cool that the Hebrew word for witch added up to 81, and this connected witchcraft to the moon and therefore (by some slightly unclear inductive leap) to the retromingent priestess of the XI degree. I got all the sexual symbolism. I understood all the mathesis and Qabalistic iconography, but trying to get suggestions for actual practice from Kenny G was like trying to get blood out of a Werespider. I remember one day going to visit Dave Lee (he lived in a flat a couple of floors below the one occupied by Phil Hine). I was integrged to notice his copy of The Voudou Gnostic Workbook by Michael Bertiaux (then a very rare volume) and several obscure treatises on Enochian magic. I asked Dave if he’d worked with the Enochian and he told me he’d picked out the core elements in the system, made contract with several of the entities and got them to impress themselves on his neural wiring so he could learn from them and share their powers. The simplicity of this approach reminded me of the home-spun techniques of the Wiccan tradition. Dancing, cord magic, wine and erotic flirtation; being skyclad and the Five-Fold kiss lending the frisson of desire to an otherwise potentially turgid Co-Masonic ceremony.

Kenny G with one of those spooky angels off of Dr Who

Kenny G with one of those spooky angels off of Dr Who

It was around this time that I started to appreciate two things. The first was that Grant was being evocative rather than instructive. His books are themselves gothic texts rather than grimoires. The point of Grant (in some ways like the point of much of Spare’s writing, which itself is heavily influenced by Kenny G.) is that he’s trying to summon a mood, a sense. It’s poetic rather than practical. It’s about style and not substance. If nothing else I’d studied the Qabalah long enough to know that the idea that there was a ‘dark side’ of The Tree of Life was, to put it mildly, a rather idiosyncratic interpretation. Grant wanted to hint darkly; in part this was an exercise in hyperbole and nothing is as likely to arouse the interest of an occultist (the clue is in the name ‘occult’ ie ‘that which is hidden’) than saying something is shrouded in mystery and should probably be left well alone.

The second point is that the darkness, the mysterious reality that Grant points to is actually all around us, all the time. In Grant, as in most romantic fictions, magick happens in deserted, decaying buildings. It’s in the depths of the desert, deep in sunken cities etc where it all kicks off. But in fact the adumbrations of the left-hand path are with us all the while, and rather than being limited to blasted heaths and extraterrestrial transmissions we can come to discover them pretty much wherever we are.

So these days while I still dress predominantly in black I recognise that, as Spare put it ‘all magic is colourful’. Grant’s work was certainly a spell that worked its evocative magick on me as a young man (we corresponded for a while by letter and I’ve still got his typed replies somewhere in my archives). It was also a nice corrective to the obsessively ‘white light’ occultism of the mid 20th century Hermetic schools. But I think its best not to get your Chariot suck in a rut on the wrong side of Daath. So rather than wallow in imagined qlippothic slime it’s better to broaden ones appreciation of magick and in doing so do away with all those (I’ll say it) ‘old aeon’ distinctions between dark and light (or good and evil) and instead conceptualise a magick which is one of flow, of blending – where there is an apparent opposition we instead see not just complimentary descriptions but a whole universe in which it is our perspective (and needs) which determine our interpretation.

Allow me to give an example.

The banana is not typically imagined as a very Typhonian fruit. In fact the banana is one of those things in the universe that hardly screams Satanism and is more likely to be sniggering away at the back of the temple. Perhaps the darkest thing in the bananas’ nature is it’s propensity for its skin to be involved in slap-stick comedy and minor personal injury. There is, to my knowledge only one reference to the humble banana in the works of Kenneth Grant and I suspect that a brief survey of modern spooky Cultus-Sabbati grimoires would yield very little Musa acuminata or Musa balbisiana related action. So is the world divisible into two halves; the zone of transakashic occult strangeness and the everyday mundane reality inhabited by bananas (and glitter and kittens for that matter)? But what if, rather than proposing a universe in which there is a dichotomy between esoteric and exoteric we can instead learn to read each part of a whole universe in a way that reveals the mystery in all things? (Even bananas.) We might, for instance, note that the banana is a typical offering in the African and African diaspora religions (or ‘cultus’ as Grant might prefer). The banana contains significant amounts of the radioactive potassium-40. Remember that Kenny claims it was the nuclear experiments of the 20th century which have caused an invasion of “powers from the other side”. Bananas have been doing this dark work for millions of years before we puny humans came on the scene.

zombie banana

zombie banana

Bananas were first cultivated in Papua New Guinea and you can’t get a landscape much more ‘primitive’ and mysterious than that. The banana is also, of course frequently used to symbolise the phallus. The ancient Tamil banana variety, Poovan Pazham, is sacred to Shiva and in the modern age the discordant soundscapes of The Velvet Underground are introduced through their debut album bearing a lurid banana designed by Warhol. In Hawaii a variety of banana is planted near altars and offered to the gods for love magic. The local name of these bananas means ‘to leap through the air’ (towards the Gods – or as Grant might put it ‘between the worlds’). Then there is the physical nature of the plant itself – all plants struggle, they try to out-compete other individuals in their locality, their growth is predicated on death, both of outpaced competitors and the millions of life forms that have decayed into the soil from which they rise. The banana, enigmatic scheming fruit, is so tasty that it has enslaved thousands of humans throughout history, propagating its species far and wide, spreading its Empire across the earth. Bananas ripen, from Netzachian green, through the yellow of Tiphereth but finally turn a distinctly post-Abyss Saturnian black…

So my point isn’t that we should abandon our spooky styles of magick, quitting the night and seeking (only) the day. We certainly need the mysterious, the chthonic and the dark but it’s a mistake to limit oneself to the a monotonous diet of those books, sounds and esoteric styles which position themselves as macabre, dreadful visitations from the spaces between the stars (or whatever). Certainly magic is about the mysterious, the hidden, and in that sense ‘the dark’ but it’s also about finding our power in all aspects of the world and not only in the haunting words of writers like my boyhood friend Kenny G. So if you can see the brooding power of mystery in the humble banana as well as in the Elder sign or the sigil of Set, then your magic is strong, whatever side of the Tree you happen to be exploring.

JV

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