Magic and the Political Animal

There is a great tradition of fans of the esoteric also being into politics, and I’m no exception. Whether this is the heretical solar-centred cosmological ideas of Giordano Bruno (not just an astronomical system, but a radical way of re-imagining the relationships of human and divine worlds), or the agitation of women such as Annie Besant (Theosophist and key figure supporting the ground-breaking London Match Girls strike), or Irish revolutionary and Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn initiate Maud Gonne.

JC on the mic

JC on the mic

Recently politics in Britain has taken some interesting twists and turns. I’ve been heartened to see the election of Jeremy Corbyn to leader of the opposition. While I’m aware that socialist policies are not without their drawbacks, I’m pleased to see the return to more radical human-centred policies (that were beaten back during the Blairite years, primarily into the Green Party), once again emerging within the Labour movement.

During the turmoil of the recent events in my nation’s political life I’ve been tempering my enthusiasm with a practice that I call (using deliberately offensive language) the ‘Momento Moron’. A traditional ‘Momento Mori’ or ‘remembrance of death’ may be an actual or model skull, placed on the desk, that serves as a reminder of the transient nature of life. A Momento Mornon is similar but, instead of reminding us of our mortality, it is the deliberate reminder of the datastream emerging from people who views I do necessarily share. In my own case this practice includes buying and reading magazines such as Hello, Take A Break Magazine & The Economist. Online it means my occasionally dropping in to read the erudite and considered comments on the ‘UKIP page Supporting Nigel Farage’ within Facebook.

The Momento Moron helps counter the tendency, noted by Tim Berners-Lee  and other technorati, that the internet (and especially social media) can prevent us being exposed to differing views. We crawl into a silo of data we like, connected only to our friends and people who think like us. We reinforce our own perceptions, prejudices and proclivities by only hanging out with those who think, more or less, like we do.

In the example of the UKIP page I can become directly exposed to ideas which, were they not held with such apparent honesty, I would assume were part of some darkly-comic writing about the human tendency towards genocide (the page is less about UKIP’s policy to decriminalise cannabis, which I support, and more concerned with how we must address the current refugee crisis in Europe; mostly it seems, with the use of razor wire and guns). Noticing (if not necessarily engaging with) these views helps remind me that not every one in the world thinks like me and my mates.

The Economist, from my perspective, is a little more considered than the learned commentators of the UKIP facebook ‘swarm’. However there are still (from the perspective of my preferred reality tunnel) some bizarre ideas. For instance, in a recent series of articles on Mexico The Economist journalists bemoan the fact of the ‘informal’ economy where, “…tacos sizzle alongside every bus stop, as it is in the shops and stalls of India, where only 2% of food and grocery retailing is in the formal sector.” But help is at hand, “Electronic invoicing, which creates digital trails for the taxman, and mobile banking, which brings poor people out of the cash economy, both offer promise.” Cool! The promise of providing more regular and larger amounts for governments to spend, ostensively in the name of the people, on all kinds of things. Sure that may mean infrastructure projects, but also weapons, citizen surveillance, and increased centralised control by the State.

Meanwhile the part of the Mexican population characterised as ‘los tontos’ (‘the fools’) stick with the old traditions. “Farther out (from the centre of the big cities) the jobs became more traditional; midwives, herbal doctors and firework-makers. At the very edge of the town people did not even tell the time; there were no watches, and they were too far away to hear the church bell.” No watches, not even a sense of time? No sense of urgency? No wonder these ‘fools’ are ‘poor’. What is worse is that in “…the chunk of (Mexican) society where cultural links to Meso-american civilisation are strongly felt…Many run small firms – but rather than reinvesting to improve their businesses’ efficiency, they may prefer to splash out on fiestas and family gatherings.’’ Honestly! If only these folks spent their time hoarding their capital then they could have bigger businesses; but parties for their community? I ask you…

This dissolute and short-sighed view of the Joy of Capitalism can be laid at the door of teachers (natch); “…the CNTR (in Oaxaca), a rebel teachers’ union which uses mob tactics [or perhaps, ‘popular support’? – JV] to thwart reforms. In Oaxaca the union’s Section 22 chapter promotes its own educational agenda based around indigenous values such as communal work and village fiesta.” The horror, the horror!

Radical anti-capitalists

Radical anti-capitalists

As an occultist one of the things I value is the complexity of the human experience; multiple sexualities, many different approaches to spiritual and philosophical questions, ethic and cultural diversity and all that. I also suspect that while ‘wealth’ may be understood in terms of sufficient good food, shelter and access to services such as healthcare, it may also be about good relationships with others, community cohesion and, who knows, even the occasional fiesta.

Folks who dislike this kind of stuff, this kind of diversity and complexity, are typically more inclined to right-wing and authoritarian political positions. It can be interesting to imagine the left-wing attitude as one that admits more possibilities, whereas a right-wing approach is often deployed when dealing with immediate problems (typically threats – see Wikipedia). This model, while perhaps rather simplistic, is helpful in that it suggests why people behave the way they do in my Momento Moron datastream – simply; they are afraid.

Fear tends to offer simple answers. It plugs into some of the deep structures in our bodyminds; we react. We don’t consider, we don’t empathise and we don’t actually want to engage with whatever the issue is. We simply want out of our situation. Fear demands order and simple, often draconian answers.

Meanwhile, trumping even the story of thousands of people trying to escape a place where their children are being killed by barrel bombs in the Middle East, we have the recent revelations about the current British Prime Minister.

For those of us who have been enjoying the #piggate #snoutrage story (as well as perhaps paying attention to the other allegations made by ‘call me Mike’ (Lord) Ashcroft), recent days have been a joy to behold. There’s also been some very intelligent reflections on the broader implications of the necrophiliac porcine narrative written by Lawrence Richards:

“The pig scandal that now has the world laughing at Cameron wasn’t from the Bullingdon Club but the Piers Gaverston, less well-known (until this week), but with a reputation for bizarre sexual rituals and initiation rites. Where the Bullingdon boys built their fraternity around shared values of hating the poor, the Piers Gaverston was about sexual humiliation and the creation of shared secrets. Its structural function is as an agreement of mutually assured destruction between the rulers of tomorrow – I know your secret and you know mine, so let’s stay on the same side, yeah?”

The Bullingdon Club (mentioned in the article above) involves some unpleasant ritual antics as part of its initiation, allegedly including burning a £50 note in front of a homeless person. Such acts are interesting examples of the ongoing magical (in the sense of the conscious manipulation of symbolic structures to change the relationship between the Self and Universe) processes that humans engage in. Recently I came across a nice example of cultural magic while working with a museum collection. A literal Victory bell, forged from the metal of a Nazi warplane that had been shot down. Melted together, these spoils of war had been formed into an object bearing the V for Victory sign (supposedly devised by Aleister Crowley) and the faces of Allied war leaders. Things like this are commonplace, we live in a symbolic world, for it is in the noosphere that human culture arises. Whether it is refusing to singing the national anthem or sexing up piglets, our acts have both a literal and metaphorical dimension.

For whom the bell tolls

For whom the bell tolls

Occultists work with the power that comes from these symbolic acts. Today thousands of practitioners, be they Wiccans, Druids, Shamans or whatever, use ritual technology to empower themselves and to explore the Mystery of existence. However the symbolic meaning of shagging a dead pig, or burning fifty quid in the face of the down-and-out, is far from a self-empowering act. Instead these rituals exist to form tribal affiliations within a pathological culture. And this is perhaps where we get to the heart of the matter. While we should acknowledge the human givens of conflict and competition it often seems to me that, while most people are broadly co-operatve entities, many of the people we choose to lead us are psychopathic.

While a psychopathic mindset (or brain) may be seen as one aspect of a continuum of behaviours that (considered as a species) confer on human society an adaptive, evolutionary advantage, having these people in charge may not be the way forward to assure a more humane and fair society. We have been taught that leaders need to be tough, self-assured and decisive. While these things matter, they are not the be-all and end-all of what is needed. Add to this the processes embedded in the rites of the British ruling class, of rituals design to ‘other’ the poor, to reduce the capacity for empathy, and to otherwise screw up the human psyche (the ruling class practice of putting kids into boarding schools is another example of this). Include a liberal dose of the ruling class drug of choice (cocaine) and hey presto! A world run by madmen.

It is for this reason that characters like Jeremy Corbyn, however imperfect he may be as a person and ideologue, feel like a breath of fresh air in a system that is otherwise dominated by insensitive, inhumane, economically obsessed politicians.

These are indeed interesting times! Next up, the debate about the legalisation of cannabis in Britain. The debate is to be led by an MP who has, for many years, argued for the decriminalisation of weed, with a new leader of the opposition who is on record as also being against its prohibition. As J.P.S. Haldane and others have observed; the universe is not only stranger than we suppose, it may be stranger than we can suppose. So in a world turned upside down I’ll leave the last word of this esoteric blog to His Holiness Pope Francis speaking to the US Congress:

“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”


Top Secret Occult Secrets

Dear readers, I have recently been enjoying Yvonne Aburrow’s excellent All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca published by Avalonia Press. What I have really enjoyed is Yvonne’s thoughtful and inspiring reflection on how a contemporary Pagan path (in this case Wicca) can evolve and become more conscious regarding issues around inclusivity and power. For our magic to be real, it needs to impact directly on issues regarding justice, freedom and seeking political change within society. To meet with the Gods means not only to access archetypal forces from times past, it can also ask that we engage with the on-going impulse of cultural transformation that fed into the Neo-Pagan revival.

Let Hir worship be within the heart that rejoiceth

Let Hir worship be within the heart that rejoiceth

Inspired by Julian’s recent musings on Priesthood, I’ve got to thinking about the exoteric dimensions of our occult or esoteric paths. As magicians it can be easy to get lost within the labyrinthine halls of our spooky clubs. In seeking to plumb the depths of mystery and our own process of psychological change we can be endlessly inventive in developing techniques and elaborate symbol systems. While folks may find value in roaming the paths of the Qliphoth or in liaising with denizens of the Nightside, it seems fair that at some point we should ask “and what difference does that actually make?”

Personally I think that the socio-political implications of our paganisms will be as diverse and complex as the religions themselves. It may well be that the libertarianism of a Setian and the eco-collectivism of a druid are equally valid ethical stances generated by their personal philosophies. To me what feels critical is that our claims to personal development or magical advancement need to birth something that contributes to the betterment of humanity.

This is not to suggest that we all need to be reduced to blanket prescriptions as to the focus and shape that our activism should take. The manifestation of our spiritual passion into the realm of Midgard can take many forms. Whether via writing, music, marching, advocacy or innovative financial investment, the forms of our engagement are rightly tailored to our personal preferences and drives.

In Yvonne’s book, we are given a really helpful overview of Wicca’s historical development and the wide variety of theological positions that initiates into that tradition might hold e.g. forms of monism, duotheism, polytheism and animism. These are rarely neatly delineated positions and there are often huge overlap and apparent inconsistency as people seek to live the reality of how they engage with their experience of the Gods.

As with all good books, Yvonne’s work triggered my own reflections as to how my own take on Pagan Theology might help shape my own attempts to evolve a deeper sense of engagement. This list is by no means definitive and each deserves a blog post of its own:

  1. Multiplicity: Even if one’s Paganism takes a decidedly scientific and monistic form, there is usually an engagement with the concept of Polytheism at a mythic/psychological level. The idea that we should understand the divine as a series of differing beings (or principles) that have an interaction or relationship with each other is appealing for many of us. While Polytheism can take many theological forms, what it does seem to entail is a move towards acknowledging the multiple, the complex and the relational nature of how we experience life and contemplate the numinous-what we might call “Pantheonic” consciousness.

In our devotional work we may well chose to focus our energies towards a specific deity within a given pantheon e.g. the God of consciousness, the female destroyer, the Son of new endeavours etc. but we remain conscious of the whole. Similarly in our activism we may focus on a given issue (Indeed we have only such much time and energy) but seek to resist becoming overly narrow in perspective.

In reflecting on this emphasis on theological interconnection, I couldn’t help but think about the general increase in awareness of intersectionality with regards both identity and social issues- issues rarely (if ever) stand in isolation, rather the parts effect the whole in a way that demonstrates the subtle ecology of any given situation. Such awareness helps us more fully appreciate both the weight of multiple struggles and also the positive impact that change in one sphere can have in creating larger scale change.

  1. Localised discourse: In my practice, much attention is given to location and what might loosely be called “the spirit of place”. As much as my being a magician is located somewhere my head and heart, it only really becomes activated within the context of “what’s out there”. I can only really focus and shape magical attention when I am in the place of doing it.

In many ways my activism (i.e. living my life in relationship with self and others) is profoundly shaped by the place I find myself in. Yes I am increasingly connected globally and engaged in struggling to evolve macro scale principles, but “small is beautiful” still has meaning. Yes I may contribute by signing numerous on-line petitions, but what am I willing to do within my immediate communities. How can I use a form of “social animism” to tune-in to how reflection and change might occur at a grass-roots level?

  1. Importance of human drives: In her book Yvonne helpfully seeks to examine ideas of what holiness, piety and sacredness might mean for the modern pagan. In contrasting an integrative Wiccan perspective with potentially more dualistic paths, we can begin to evolve ethical and spiritual positions that have sensuality at their core.

While issues such as sexual liberty and artistic expression may be seen as somewhat periphery when confronted by issues such as poverty, war and terrorism, it is my view that they are often at the very heart of why these conflicts take place. The drives to experience pleasure and to express creativity are central to humanities’ attempt to find meaning in life. Many conflicts and the resulting social inequalities seem to result from trying to overly police these passions via either religious or political means. In seeking such constraint and potential suppression, it is sadly all too common that that those threatened by their own humanity then project onto an “Other” who becomes demonised in the process. For our spiritual paths to take seriously the pursuit of sacredness in its fullest sense, it must call us back to the sensual and provide a challenge to thin-lipped piety.

While there are always dangers inherent in the process of seeking to evolve forms of religion that are more inclusive and liberal (consumerism and over-simplicity spring to mind!), they do offer the possibility of informing any process of social change. Yvonne’s book provides us with an excellent example of how religions can evolve. These are processes that rejoice in the way in which our ever inventive humanity interacts with the divine. To be open about this unfolding does not rob our religions of power, rather they ask us to seek and use power consciously.