Baphomets in the High Street!

As I walked through the crowds on New Year’s Eve, and looked around on the last day of term before Xmas, I saw a strange sight in the streets; dozens of young people dressed as animals. Pandas, dogs, cats, tigers, bears, reindeer, wandering the high street with human faces. Inverse Egyptian deities, they embody the deep seated need for humans to be animals.

The Baphometic current is strong in these children of those of us who grew up with the plethora of wildlife upon our screens courtesy of that great demi-god, David Attenborough. They are happy to align themselves with the fur covered bodies of their relatives. While a few mythological creatures appear, with dragons a favourite, alongside various odd coloured monster types, the overwhelming majority of onesies depict real life mammals.

Contrasting with the cosplay/furry/otherkin mindsets, onesie wearing does not change the human centred internal identity of the wearers. They go shopping, talk with friends, attend school, go out with family and friends to watch fireworks, lounge on their sofas surfing the web, and generally do normal stuff. Teenagers go out of an evening to pubs and clubs as lions or zebras with scarcely a second glance from their companions who wear jeans or dresses. Ordinary people, that simply look like animals.

Baphomet is conventionally represented by a human figure with furry legs, and the head of a horned mammal. In aeons past, the costuming of the human head was our way of identifying with the animals around us, as we tried to put their intelligences onto our bodies that we might learn from them. Then, for thousands of years, we only used animal costumes rarely, and human animals became distant figures absent from our daily lives. Nowadays, we seem to prefer to dress up the body as animal, placing our human selves into the animal kingdom while still human; this change betokens a flip in relations with Nature, keeping our own individual faces while simultaneously dressing ourselves as mammals, and not in human clothes.

Does today’s surge of identification with animals (manifested in the onesie craze) emerge from a deeper felt need to come out as ‘animal’? Or does it merely reflect the popularity in mainstream culture of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’?


A human animal, in the wild

I tend towards the former view; young adults today (in this island at least) are well aware of their common ancestry with all mammals, and must have a greater sense of kinship with their cousins than previous generations who, even for those of us in our 40s, were brought up with the Book story of Adam’s dominion over the beasts as an early childhood formative legend. We were told we were different, above the animal kingdom, unique, special and better. Today’s youth has had Life On Earth available to them on DVDs and other media since birth. They know in their bones that humans are just another form of the flourishing of this Life. This is their Normal.

They know their place.

This heartens me greatly: An emotional connection to our furry friends, our bluds, means a different take on issues such as ‘the environment’; when ‘those creatures over there’ fit within the terminology of ‘us’, we make different choices. Whether this might affect future decisions on behaviour, or influence policy decisions, I do not know, though it seems like a positive change of perspective.

As with all such cultural shifts, the phenomenon itself became possible only through the appearance of technologies which allow it to occur. Fluffy fabrics easily manufactured en masse, and distributed across the world, were not a feasible option a century ago, hence the fads for various real animal furs added to clothing. Whilst the clothing industry of here and now does have many ethical questions to answer, the days of thousands of beavers etc slaughtered to satisfy fashion are long gone. The recent abandonment of angora by so many stores, shows we do not like to feel that actual animals have been treated cruelly in the production of clothing items.

Will we one day see onesies depicting other branches of the animal kingdom, or members of the plant/fungi/microbe kingdoms? No one can say. However I feel it is only a matter of time before we see starfish, oak trees, and fly agarics shopping in the High Street, and I look forward to that immensely.


Human Animals

Magick has as one of its results the creation and promulgation of paradigms. For me, Magick represents the free space beloved of lateral thinkers, a playground where we try out ideas without restriction, realising novel words, terms and models of thought & behaviour.

One of the major paradigm shifts (apologies for getting Chaos Magick stereotypical!) I’ve worked on for some years involves nudging the inclusive view that our species can, in fact, identify itself as a type of animal. Man and Nature, indivisible.

We have made great strides towards this perception, however a programme on the telly reminded me the other day we still lack the linguistic habit that allows us to maintain this view on an everyday level. The presenter used the phrase, “people and animals”, when of course he meant “people and other animals” or even, “animals including people”, or, perhaps, “animals”…

I sighed, and turned off.

Apart from those poor benighted souls who have been brought up to disbelieve in evolution, I would hope that most of the readers here would accept some version that origin of our species, indicating our great great great great … great great grandmothers and grandfathers were non-human animals. Hominids, yes, but not like the average man in the street. And their ancestors were yet more different, right back to the monkey squirrel frog fish creatures posited in South Park.

Looking at cell biology, we see identical chemical processes in ourselves and, e.g., trees. I brought up my children to know, really viscerally feel, the relatedness of themselves with all forms of life. Not as an abstract concept, but as a simple fact. For them, our family includes trees. And everything else of course, I picked trees as my flagship because they are very different visually to us, and inspire a certain amount of awe and affection that might prove harder to evoke if I had picked slugs… although maybe not…

This commonality with Life, gives a worldview somewhat at odds with much mainstream culture as it gets portrayed to us through the screens. The dichotomy of Man-made vs Nature, used as a highly emotive divisor of groups, vanishes. I wish, for a wildlife programme that includes people. David Attenborough has come close in some of his series; pictures of ancient rice terraces on The Natural World last night made me marvel at the amazing ways we, as animals, have engineered the world in the same way (though a different scale!) as beavers or termites.

I love, to see youtube videos of human animals leaping, dancing, scaling walls, having control and abilities in their bodies. Human beauty has so much more to it than a static picture. Now we have moved our representative arts technology beyond oil paintings, perhaps our awareness will catch up with this.

Do we realise just how vast a gulf these moving captures of beauty will take us across? Look at the effect of drawings when they first occurred. Whether causal or correlative, the emergence of representative drawing and sculpture tens of  thousand years ago marked the shift from living purely physically in the Now, to a way of concretising the Other-times, the then, past & future alike. We could see what others saw, from their eyes, from another time. That provided a huge leap into a type of objective thinking. Now, with this ease of video capture for so many of us, not only in the affluent industrialised parts of the planet but also beyond that, to desert tents, jungle huts, open beaches and peasant markets, we have immense scope for re-visioning how we see the world. Literally and metaphorically speaking.

So far, so philosophical. Where’s the magick in this?

Well, there’s the rub. I can’t tell you about the fantastic rituals and the successful results because, when Magick works well, it’s as if it hasn’t done anything. Of course the idea of us as another species of primate (& therefore more clearly animal) has a growing sense of inevitability. Naturally we accept our place as creatures of the planet, as complex, troubled, and creative as many others. We easily see ourselves as embedded in the world, rather than above it in some mythical realm of Difference. Many animals can do language, forward planning, laughter, tool preparation and usage, farming, enjoy intoxicants, indulge in sex for pleasure (including homosexuality), etc. Further examples appear on facebook regularly, and we rejoice in these findings. How long until we discover animals doing things we can only file under that catchall phrase, ‘ceremonial purposes’?!

Looking to the future, I see that robots/AIs have got a nice start to their own mythic origins as magicians. Hyperritual’s Robomancy project proposes utilising robots as tools of the magician, no doubt one day they will wave their own wands without our prompting, acting in response to environmental cues or internal algorithmic cues. Once this kind of meme starts to replicate, our own view of Man as separate from Nature crumbles into ash; from which we can perhaps distil salts to use as medicines to heal the hurt that this separatist perspective has caused.

The place of a magician intrinsically arising from the matrix of the natural world does present an issue for those who like the ancient ‘Man as God’ version of how it works… how does one earn the right to command shadowy powers if not by the favour of an Higher power? Do we adopt the hard earned right of the siddhi wielding saddhu, after thousands of hours of meditation, or gain access to the cheat codes of reality via a lineage from other ancient magicians, or does possession of a book/talismanic object confer this mysterious ability?

What will convince us to believe in our identity as magicians in this new 3D video capture realm of global communications? The number of viewers, reblogs, referential links to our viral spells & memes? Has a tv programme aired explaining our New World Vision, have media reports on changes in legislation or public opinion appeared?

Does standing in a chalk circle in a black robe (without a video camera) do it for us in the 21st century; can we maintain that strong belief in our efficacy without an omniscient eye upon us, do we choose to replace the sky god with the watchers of youtube?

As someone who works in groups often, I find enough reflection in the eyes in of my colleagues to allow me to hold the belief for long enough to make magick that works. I carry that belief via props to the times when no-one else accompanies me. By bearing witness, gods/other magicians/spirits shore up our actions, validating their efficacy. I would suggest that as we move into a ever more material world view, the technologically created gaze of the interweb plays that role, as indicated by the immense coverage of celebrity personas. (No I didn’t notice any occult imagery in Madonna’s SuperBowl show,  but, one could argue that she does indeed have ‘magical’ influence on the world.)

Wait though, have I discovered the quality unique to the human animal, namely doing this bizarre seemingly purposeless thing we describe as magick, bending reality to our whim; does this mark out our special status as god (or the current vogue, prehistoric alien) appointed stewards/exploiters of the planet? For me, this need to feel special finds greater fulfillment in recognising how special Life itself is, as a  phenomenon, and taking our place as one amongst many versions of its manifestation.

Only time will tell. Watching the ‘for ceremonial purposes’ antics of other animals in our millions will increase their influence on our shared world. We already like animals playing at other anthropogenic behaviours (sneezing, skateboarding, getting tickled). I await mongoose rain dances, elephant mourning rituals, and chimpanzee invocatory videos with eager anticipation. Please send me links of these so I can share them on Facebook 🙂