Archives For Magic

Jean Genet’s text “The Criminal Child,” previously unavailable in English, was translated and published in December 2015. An anonymous commentary on the text, included as an afterword within the same pamphlet, reads “The Criminal Child” as an intricately coded set of instructions for magical initiation and ordeal.

criminal_child“The Criminal Child” was originally written in 1948 as a speech to be read on a radio show in order to address reforms to France’s youth prisons that had been proposed at the time. It was rejected and never read on the air. When Genet published the censored text the following year, he wrote in his introduction, “I would have liked to make the voice of the criminal audible. Not his plaint; rather his song of glory.” 1

Genet, who had spent two and a half years as a teenager imprisoned in France’s notorious Mettray penal colony (punctuated by a brief but glorious escape), clearly intended to prove himself the exception to Nietzsche’s observations that “the criminal is often enough not equal to his deed: he extenuates and maligns it,” and that “the advocates of a criminal are seldom artists enough to turn the beautiful terribleness of the deed to the advantage of the doer.” 2

Though perhaps expected to be supportive of prison reforms due to his own past experience, Genet instead recalled that he and his fellow delinquents took pride in the harshness of their treatment, and were ashamed to admit to light sentences: “It’s with a sort of shame that the child confesses that they have just acquitted him or that they have condemned him to a light sentence. He wishes for rigor. He demands it.” 3  From my own teenage years, I can corroborate this worldview.

Of course, Genet never claimed that all incarcerated youth share this adversarial attitude. As an adult and a well-respected writer, he (re)visited a youth prison where the director pointed out to him a “scout team he formed to reward the most docile children.” Scathingly, Genet wrote that these were not the “chosen” of whom he spoke:

Looking at those twelve kids, it was clear that none of them was chosen, elected, so as to take on some audacious expedition, even an entirely imaginary one. But I knew that in the interior of the Penitentiary, in spite of the educators, there existed groups, gangs really, where the bond, what made them stick together, was friendship, audacity, ruse, insolence, a taste for laziness, an air about the forehead at once somber and joyful—this taste for adventure against the rules of the Good.5

For this latter category of youth, Genet argued that imprisonment is an ordeal: “Their demand is that the ordeal be terrible—so as, perhaps, to exhaust an impatient need for heroism.” 6 The youth prison is imagined to be a “corner of the world from which you don’t come back.” 7 And this premonition conceals an underlying, occult truth: “In fact, you didn’t come back. When you came back, you were someone else. You had come across a blazing fire.” 8

His Unique Magical System

“Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’ ” the exegetical essay published alongside Genet’s text, treats Genet as a sorcerer: “Here Genet details some of the workings of his own internal cosmology, the rites and methods of his unique magical system.” 9

Genet’s system of “criminal rites” offers initiation “not into an order, but into an adventure;” nonetheless, like any initiatory system, it is “ineffable to the uninitiated, but shared between himself and other youthful offenders.” 10

The author(s) of “Notes” fill five pages with their distillation of Genet’s occultism. I cannot quote them in their entirety here, so I must pour these words through yet another alembic:

The youth prison is Genet’s fountain of memory, but each of us has our own clandestine world into which we were initiated as youth. It was there in those spaces that we learned magic as a force of liberation, self-creation, and world-building. Though our childhoods are gone, we can access that space again in remembrance and invocation.11

Mercury, Barcelona [Photo Credit: Ed Uthman / Flickr]

Mercury, Barcelona [Photo Credit: Ed Uthman / Flickr]

This space is what Genet called “the nocturnal part of man, which you cannot explore, which you cannot enter unless you are armed, unless you are coated, embalmed, unless you are covered with all the ornaments of language.” 12 Genet’s “ritual work prepares the initiate to enter this nocturnal space.” 13

Drawing heavily upon Genet’s novel Miracle of the Rose, “Notes” observes that this “nocturnal heaven” is populated “with spirits, demons, deities, ancestors, and figures from his past with blue eagles carved across their chests, youths who stand ‘the way Mercury is depicted.‘” 14 You know the look.

And how does one arm oneself to enter this “nocturnal heaven?” The same prison director who introduced Genet to the “scout team” of “the most docile children” also showed him a collection of improvised knives, but patronizingly confided in Genet that he didn’t really believe in the need to confiscate the knives: they were made of tin, and therefore harmless.

In his mind, Genet could only laugh at the jailer’s obliviousness—confiscating the knives was indeed pointless, but they were far from harmless, and would only be replaced by more dangerous weapons:

Did he not know that, the more it deviates from its practical destination, the more the object is transformed, becoming a symbol? […] What is the point of taking it from him? The child will choose another object to signify murder, something apparently more benign, and if someone doesn’t take that as well, he’ll keep in himself, preciously, the more precise image of the weapon.15

Armed with symbols, the initiate must “pay attention to signs and signs and sigils carved and painted onto walls—M.A.V. (Mort aux vaches), B.A.A.D.M. (Bonjour aux amis du malheur)—and read these as you’d read inscriptions on the walls of an ancient temple.” 16 “Notes” instructs the initiate to build a temple within as well: “Build your inner temple here and consecrate it to ‘amorous passion.’ In this temple you can now face your ordeal.”17

[Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

“Notes” recalls the eponymous flowers of Miracle of the Rose—in which Harcamone, convicted of murdering a prison guard, transformed “his chains into a garland of roses, one of which Genet clipped and concealed”—and further explicates the term “ordeal” by quoting Raven Kaldera:

Take the rose into your hands, and squeeze the thorns until your hands bleed, even as you smell the scent of Aphrodite. When you can understand why there is no contradiction there, the first step of the path will be open to you.18

To Insult the Insulters

If mysteries can only be understood through experience, why write of them at all? Sannion, of the Starry Bull tradition of Bacchic Orphism, writes that “There are two ways to keep a religious secret concealed: the first is to never talk about it at all and the second is to talk about it all the time.” Like the Starry Bull tradition, Genet opted for the latter approach.

Genet’s primary objective, of course, was to speak directly to the initiated:

This whole time I haven’t been speaking to the educators, but to the guilty […] I ask them to never be embarrassed by what they do, to keep intact inside themselves the revolt that has made them so beautiful. There are no remedies, I hope, for heroism.” 19

Once his speech was censored from the radio, he despaired of reaching his target audience, but decided to publish anyway: “I speak in the void and in the darkness; but even if it were just for myself, I would still want to insult the insulters.” 20 

For the uninitiated, Genet’s counsel is as harsh as it sounds: “Refuse all pity to the kids who don’t want any.” 21 He is explicitly and unapologetically hostile to mainstream society: “Let a poet, who is also an enemy, speak to you as a poet, and as an enemy.” 22 Even Edmund White, Genet’s biographer, found his “poetry” in “The Criminal Child” difficult to translate: “since for Genet crime itself is beautiful, he supports the cruelty of the unreformed prison system because it turns youngsters into hardened criminals.” 23 But that’s not quite right:

“Supports”White’s word—doesn’t quite fit here. Genet is explicitly in his enmity toward this society, its prisons surely included. He sees the prison as an obstacle to be overcome in a path of criminal becoming, a path of individuation.

This is the folly of trying to read him as “the political Genet.” To say that Genet supports (or doesn’t) any given state policy enmeshes his words in a political mode unbefitting the text at hand. Genet neither supports the prison nor desires to reform it. He seeks to escape it […] 24

Flammarion

[Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

Blinded by Their Brilliance

In Miracle of the Rose, Genet compared religion to prison, but his comparison was based upon the possibility that the bounded space of the finite (as opposed to the infinite) can lead to a “minute” exploration of the heart:

Abhorring the infinite, religions imprison us in a universe as limited as the universe of prison–but as unlimited, for our hope in it lights up perspectives just as sudden, reveals gardens just as fresh, characters just as monstrous, deserts, fountains; and our more ardent love, drawing greater richness from the heart, projects them on the thick walls; and this heart is sometimes explored so minutely that a secret chamber is breached an allows a ray to slip through, to alight on the door of a cell and to show God.25

Similarly, Genet wrote that prisoners “sentenced to death for life” (i.e. those serving life imprisonment) become hardened and brilliant in their captivity:

Living in so restricted a universe, they thus had the boldness to live in it as passionately as they lived in your world of freedom, and as a result of being contained in a narrower frame their lives became so intense, so hard, that anyone–journalists, wardens, inspectors–who so much as glanced at them was blinded by their brilliance.26

One recalls, of course, that Zeus’s name is etymologically derived from Proto-Indo-European *dewos, meaning “god,” is cognate with Latin deus and Sanskrit deva, and ultimately comes from the root *dyeu- meaning “to gleam, to shine.” The “deities” are “the shining ones.” And so the “shining ones” among the living are touched by gods as well.

Indeed, Genet canonized the prisoners he wrote of as saints:

The audacity to live (and to live with all one’s might) within that world whose only outlet is death has the beauty of the great maledictions, for it is worthy of what was done in the course of all the ages by the Mankind that had been expelled from Heaven. And this, in effect, is saintliness, which is to live according to Heaven, in spite of God.27

Genet hated Sartre’s biography of him (Saint Genet) and said of it, “In all my books I strip myself, but at the same time I disguise myself with words, choices, attitudes, magic. Sartre stripped me without mercy. He wrote about me in the present tense.” The “words, choices, attitudes, magic” that Genet spoke of are surely the same “ornaments of language” required to explore the “nocturnal part of man.” Sartre stripped Genet of his magic, perhaps because he was afraid of being blinded by it. We honor him for it.

The Ekklesía Antínoou honors Jean Genet as a Sanctus, especially on his birthday (December 19) and the date of his death (April 15). Similarly, Brennos Agrocunos has declared David Bowie to be “Saint Bowie, Patron Saint of Enchanted Misfits.” And at the shrine of Jesús Malverde (the unofficial “Santo de los Narcos”) in Culiacán, Sinaloa, women who have never met Joaquín Guzmán Loera (A.K.A. El Chapo, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and two-time prison escapee) pray fervently on his behalf: “I ask God to take care of him wherever he is, to take care of his sons, his wife.”

In “The Criminal Child,” Genet expressed the ethic of veneration in simple but elegant terms:

I don’t know of any other criterion for the beauty of an act, an object, or an entity, than the song it arouses in me, which I translate into words so as to communicate it to you: this is lyricism. If my song is lovely, if it has upset you, will you dare say that he who inspired it is vile?

You can say that there have always been words charged with expressing the haughtiest attitudes, and that I would have recourse to them so that the least appears haughty. But I can respond that my emotion calls for precisely these words and that they come naturally to serve it.28

Jean Genet, 1983. [Photo Credit: International Progress Organization / Wikimedia]

Jean Genet, 1983. [Photo Credit: International Progress Organization / Wikimedia]

Genet also castigated mainstream French society for its hypocrisy: “Your literature, your fine arts, your after-dinner entertainment all celebrate crime. The talent of your poets has glorified the criminal who, in life, you hate. So deal with the fact that, for our part, we despise your poets and your artists.” 29

TV shows and films portray outlaws as protagonists, but “those who were their more or less exact models suffered for real. […] You know nothing of heroism in its true nature, in the flesh, how it suffers in the same everyday way that you do. True greatness brushes past you. You ignore it, and prefer a fake.”30

Endnotes

  1. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” v.
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 4, Aphorisms 109 and 110.
  3. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 3.
  4. Ibid., 11.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 4.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 37.
  10. Ibid., 37-39.
  11. Ibid., 41-42.
  12. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 12.
  13. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 46.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 10-11.
  16. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 40. “Mort aux vaches” is translated as “death to cops,” “Bonjour aux amis de malheur” as “Greetings to friends of misfortune.”
  17. Ibid., 42.
  18. Raven Kaldera, qtd. in “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 43-44.
  19. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 14-15.
  20. Ibid., 25.
  21. Ibid., 16.
  22. Ibid.
  23. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 45.
  24. Ibid. Emphasis added.
  25. Jean Genet, Miracle of the Rose, 43.
  26. Ibid., 42-43.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 13.
  29. Ibid., 20.
  30. Ibid., 21-22.

Yesterday, on Facebook, Holly Allender Kraig announced that her husband, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. They are asking for prayers and magical assistance to help get rid of the cancer.

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I was able to contact Holly Kraig directly, and she sent this statement for Wild Hunt readers.

“Don was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in late 2013. It’s a diagnosis, not a death sentence. It is possible to put this into remission. That is the goal, remission. Don is a fighter and is adamant that beating this is already a done deal. I stand beside him as his wife and best friend to help ease him through the battle he’s facing. The community support is amazing. I know he will be healed through all the love, support and healing energies coming his way. This is a done deal!”

For those unfamiliar with Donald Michael Kraig, he is a very influential author and thinker in the realms of ritual magic(k), magical theory, and related practices. Kraig is perhaps best known for Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts, which was dubbed a “modern-day classic” by Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero. Other recent works include a remembrance of author Scott Cunningham, and an occult-themed thriller novelHe’s also an acquisitions editor at Llewellyn Worldwide.

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig is not only a noted author and thinker, he’s also a charming, funny, and supportive individual. When I was invited to my very first festival as a newly minted “Big Name Pagan” I was very nervous, and felt completely out of my depth. My first talk during that weekend was attended by, like, 4 people, and very few people there had heard of me. Luckily, Don was there, and was very supportive. He attended my second talk (which was better attended) and afterwards praised my performance, saying I was a natural at public speaking. Now, whether this was true is up to debate, but perhaps he helped make it true by saying it to me, reminding me that I had done the work to be invited there, and that I did have something to contribute (magick!).

Just as Don had helped me, so he has helped many other people in his life, which is as good an argument for extending his remarkable life as any (that, and the amazing stories of his rock-n-roll past). Also, to be frank, the Pagan community can’t bear to lose a wit of his caliber. So, whatever your practice, belief structure, or method, let’s get in gear to help beat this cancer. Because cancer sucks, and I want to buy Donald Michael Kraig a drink at PantheaCon.

The (in)famous occultist Aleister Crowley once explained his theory on magic, “Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,” by noting that the act of writing a book was a magic(k)al act.

“It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take “magickal weapons”, pen, ink, and paper; I write “incantations” — these sentences — in the “magickal language” ie, that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct; I call forth “spirits”, such as printers, publishers, booksellers and so forth and constrain them to convey my message to those people. The composition and distribution of this book is thus an act of Magick by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will.”

This has always been the definition of magic I’ve preferred when explaining its practice within modern Pagan religions to the uninitiated. These are exercises of our Will, we see our actions in this world as magical acts that create changes around us. For that reason I’ve often seen the activism of someone like Starhawk, as unified with her magical practice, something she asserts often in her writings. So it has been fascinating for me to witness the activities of my friend Alley Valkyrie here in Eugene, Oregon.

Alley is a Feri initiate and Witch who runs a small local gift and clothing business in town called Practical Rabbit, and has become a central activist regarding how the homeless are treated in Eugene, Oregon. This solidarity with the homeless rose to new levels when she became involved in the local Occupy movement a year ago, and continued as Occupy Eugene splintered into smaller, more focused, organizations, with the battles over Eugene’s controversial “exclusion zone.”

Jean Stacey said police use the law to harass and exclude homeless people from downtown. “We are ruining people’s lives,” she said. Alley Valkyrie said the ordinance provides the perception that downtown is safer. “Who are we as a people?” Valkyrie said. “Do we exclude? Do we really think it works or do we bow down to perception?”

Now, Alley is a part of SLEEPS which aims to “establish and maintain safe, legally entitled, emergency places to sleep for those who are currently unhoused and want or need such a place.” In Eugene, it is illegal camp on public property, and the homeless in Eugene are often cited for carrying camping equipment. As a result, Eugene’s homeless often sleep in isolated spots and are exposed to violence and environmental hazards. To draw attention to this issue a coalition of homeless and housed activists have been publicly camping at targeted public spots, including the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza, where Valkyrie was recently arrested after defying an order to shut down and vacate the space.

A Wiccan altar is erected at the SLEEPS camp in Eugene, Oregon.

A Wiccan altar is erected at the SLEEPS camp in Eugene, Oregon.

“Immediately after Valkyrie was arrested Thursday, the protest group that had camped outside the county courthouse earlier in the week returned to the Federal Building property and pitched about a dozen tents there.”

Alley Valkyrie holds up the front-page story of her arrest.

Alley Valkyrie holds up the front-page story of her arrest.

I recently sat down with Alley Valkyrie to talk to her about SLEEPS, working with the homeless, and the practice of activism as a form of magic.

I’m hoping to have a transcript of the interview up soon. In the meantime, you can follow the exploits of SLEEPS at their Facebook page, or their official website.

Obviously not everyone will want to become an activist in solidarity with the homeless, but I think Alley’s experience highlights how magical practice unifies with the choices we make in our lives, and brings a sense of sacred purpose to what we do. Magic is just as much about what we do, as what we believe or ritually practice. With magic we become increasingly aware of the ripples we create with the choices we make, and act accordingly, with intent in all things. You may not want to be arrested as a form of magic, but every magical act should be weighed as seriously.

For some time now there’s been a current of occult and magic(k)al elements within the arts, most notably in the worlds of fashion and fine art. An especially popular theme within this current today are the works of magician Aleister Crowley, most likely due to the influence of experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who introduced several famous actors and musicians to Crowley’s philosophies and practices. I mention Anger specifically, because a recent ritual performance of a Crowley working at L&M Arts in Los Angeles stems directly from his influence, involving Anger collaborator Brian Butler. Why is this of note? Because Butler was joined (and almost joined) by some rather famous names.

Noot Seear at The Bartzebel Working.

Noot Seear at The Bartzebel Working

“Tuesday night, artist/musician Brian Butler assisted by Twilight: New Moon actress Noot Seear, and actor Henry Hopper [son of Dennis Hopper] was supposed to  invoke Bartzabel, the forceful spirit of Mars into to the body of actor/hipster/James Franco at L&M Gallery to celebrate “For The Martian Chronicles” exhibit, honoring the work of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury. But UPDATE: JAMES FRANCO MISSED HIS FLIGHT AND THERE WAS AN UNANNOUNCED STAND-IN, ACCORDING TO COMMENTS AFTER THIS WENT TO PRESSWe have revised this post to reflect this. According to L&M Gallery, Material Basis was performed by Christopher Emerson.”

I’ll leave commentary on the ritual itself to Lisa Derrick, who noted that “despite the act of invoking and drawing a magical circle, at the end of the ritual, there was no closing or banishing–kinda like sterilizing a jar, making jam, then leaving it unsealed in a toilet.” What I’m more interested in are the larger cultural questions this poses. Is this just a closed cul-de-sac of the hipster famous (and semi-famous) slumming it with robes and a bit of Thelema to bring a bit of excitement to their lives (and the LA gallery scene), or does this represent something else? Are Seear, Franco, Emerson, and others earnestly interested in ritual magick? It’s not all that unusual to see an occasional “big name” become truly interested in Paganism or the occult, but it is unusual to see a number of them expressing their interest at once (publicly).

 

My second question is, if this is simply theater, a performance in tribute to Crowley and the mystique of magic(k), does this event signify a new resurgence of ritual as performance art? Performance art has often turned to religion and magical ritual as a vehicle for expression, Gina Ulysse’s recent avant-garde meditation, “Voodoo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman,” or the “Manhattanhenge” workings in New York, for instance. But both of those have a sincerity at their core that implies adherence to the underlying belief systems involved. While I have no doubt that Brian Butler is a sincere occultist, one wonders how Seear or Franco understand or experience events like this. In short, can you separate the art of magic(k), of religion, from its tenants or belief systems? One spectator at the event seemed dissatisfied with how the ritual performance seemed to want to both be a serious ritual, and be a performance piece.

“Would it be an actual (attempted) evocation of Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars? Would it rather be a piece of performance art inspired by Crowley’s evocation of the same? It was neither – or, to be more specific, it was BOTH and that’s why it failed miserably. Evocation is an art unto itself. Even if one is skeptical as to the efficacy of magical activity outside the purely psychological realm, one must recognize the fact that every art form has its own rules. Film has its rules. Theater has its own. Performance art also has certain ideals and conventions that make exclusive demands on the artist. Successful evocation is no different.”

If we are going to see more high-profile ritual magic(k) as performance art, then the ritual must be respected as an art form in of itself, one that can be appropriated, surely, but treated with care all the same. Practitioners who have connections with the art world will also have to decide how they want to engage with this trend, and if it serves their beliefs and practices well to become involved, or distance themselves. Finally, for the famous, semi-famous, or nearly famous who decide to practice these rituals, if only for the sake of performance, should remember that even the intoning of lines and mere participation can have consequences. Not of the dark and spooky alarmist variety, but simply that invoking your Will ritually can change you, and those around you.  What begins as fun, can turn into something else, and no one should make a decision like that lightly.

Internet auction house eBay recently released their Fall 2012 Seller Update, which, starting in September, prohibits the sale of divination services (including tarot readings), spells, tutoring services, and potions. The reason for this move, according to eBay, is to “build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers.”

“Transactions in these categories often result in issues between the buyer and seller that are difficult to resolve. To help build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers, eBay is discontinuing these categories and including the items on the list of prohibited items.”

In short, if you’re dissatisfied with the spell to give you a big butt, it’s hard to quantify if the “product” had been delivered, and what the proper expectations on booty enhancement magic is. Because of the (usually inadvertently) comical nature of many of the spells  being sold on eBay, long a source of easy snark on the Internet, sites like Mashable, The Mary SueJezebel, and even mainstream news outlets, have been having a bit of fun with the news.

“In its 2012 Fall Seller Update, the online marketplace said it was banning all sales of supernatural goods and services, exiling its witchy and wizardly clientele to the wilds of Craigslist and other Web-based Diagon Alleys.”

It should be noted before we go any further that magical items, physical objects that have an attributable value, are not banned under this change. Spokeswoman Johnna Hoff told Tiffany Hsu at the Los Angeles Times that such items would be allowed in most cases.

“It’s important to note that items that have a tangible value for the item itself and may also be used in metaphysical rites and practices (ie  jewelry, crystals, incense, candles, and books) are allowed in most cases.”

Which means most of the products in the Wicca and Paganism section of eBay are safe, at least for now. A comfort, no doubt, to the many Pagan vendors and shop-owners who supplement their income by placing items on the site. However, the banning of spellwork, and especially tarot readings, should be explored with greater depth. Pagans in the community seems somewhat split over this move by eBay, some, like Patti Wigington, About.com’s Paganism & Wicca Guide, see this as a smart move by the company.

“…this isn’t a case of religious discrimination at all – it’s a case of a business realizing that customers are being made victims of fraud by unscrupulous sellers – and putting practices in place to prevent the problem from continuing. It does not say “No Wiccans, No Pagans, No Druids.” It says no magic, spells or potions, or prayers — that’s an entirely separate thing. Personally, I’m a little sad Ebay has done this, because it means fewer things for me to make fun of, but it’s definitely a smart business decision.”

Others, meanwhile, see this a chilling move that could start a domino effect, marginalizing tarot readers and magicians from mainstream commerce sites. Some have pointed out that PayPal is owned by eBay, and a similar shift in their policies to be more in line with up-and-coming companies like Square, could have a disastrous impact on small Pagan business that rely on divination services as an important part of their income (it should be noted that Google Checkout used to ban “occult goods,” but don’t anymore). Patheos blogger Kris Bradley, while acknowledging the rationale for this new prohibition, is worried that companies like Etsy might soon follow eBay’s lead.

“I admit I’m a bit torn on the subject.  While I see the possible beginning of the end for sellers on sites like this, I won’t be sad to see the sham “spell casters” go, and the end of taking advantage of desperate people with promises of something that can’t possibly be delivered.  As I sell products of a magical variety, I definitely don’t want to lose my Etsy shop.”

As a private business, eBay, and other online retailers are free to limit what product and services they’ll allow. That said, it is troubling that managing complaints and fraud resulted in a total ban of selling divination and magical work. Recent courtroom decisions have leaned towards defining divination, tarot readings, and other psychic services as protected speech, which could have actually helped push eBay away from trying to simply regulate it on their site. After all, who wants to be the ultimate arbiter of what sorts of speech are acceptable, and which kinds are not? Being in the business of selling speech and expression will always be volatile, and it looks like eBay wanted out, the question now is what the ramifications of this move will be for Internet commerce.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Christina Oakley-Harrington

Christina Oakley-Harrington

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

For those faith traditions that incorporate magic and spellwork into their practices, Wicca, Santeria, Vodou, and any number of modern Pagan faiths, the urge to invoke supernatural help to solve a problem is sometimes overwhelming. This is especially true when an individual feels limited in what they can do in their day-to-day lives to remove an obstacle or improve their situation. That said, if you’re careless, casting spells on your boss could get you fired.

“Officer Elizabeth Torres, a 24-year department veteran, was terminated by City Manager Lyndon Bonner for conduct unbecoming of a police officer, according to a city news release. […] Torres and office manager Yvonne Rodriguez had been accused of targeting Bonner with birdseed, which they believed to be part of a Santeria practice. The two had allegedly planned to scatter the seeds in and around Bonner’s city hall office in August. The alleged plan was concocted after Bonner had planned to cut the police budget, but was discovered after Torres and Rodriguez asked a janitor to help sprinkle the seeds, and the janitor turned them in.”

Both parties involved in the spell plot claim nothing malicious was intended, but it wasn’t enough to save their jobs. So, I guess there’s something of an object lesson here. At the very least, it reinforces the need to not incriminate yourself through accomplices or risky physical manifestations of your work. If it can’t be accomplished at home, or at a private temple, it might not be worth it.

However, underneath this cautionary tale is the larger issue of how businesses, law enforcement, and government should approach spells and spellwork. What’s protected expression, and what’s harassment, or improper conduct? As religions and traditions that engage in magic increasingly enter the mainstream, a larger ethos as to what’s acceptable and what crosses the line will increasingly be needed. What if there wasn’t birdseed, what if they were merely caught after hours chanting, praying, or reading from a book? What if, as Tim Elfrink at the Miami New Times posits, they were Christians caught praying? Would that still be improper conduct? I think we’ll continue to see cases like this in the news, and working their way through the court systems. Until then, I would keep the curses at home.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I’ve often been intrigued by the novels written by Pagans and occultists. Whether well-known like Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” now in the process of being pitched as a feature film, or obscure like Stewart Farrar’s post-apocalyptic Wiccans-save-the-world (or at least Britain) novel “Omega.” I feel that religiously-motivated works like this can often tell you a lot about the beliefs, ambitions, and hopes of the author. While “religious fiction” is often synonymous today with Christian literature, we shouldn’t forget that modern Paganism and the occult/magickal arts have a long used fictional stories as a way to teach and entertain, from Gerald Gardner’s “High Magic’s Aid” to Dion Fortune’s “The Sea Priestess.” One of the most influential novels of all time is “The Metamorphoses of Apuleius” (aka “The Golden Ass”) by Lucius Apuleius, an initiate to the cult of Isis, written between 160-170 CE. So it’s fair to say there’s a long lineage of “Pagan” novels.

Lon Milo DuQuette has now added his own volume to this tradition, a work that takes a romping fictionalized look at the early life and magical adventures of the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley“Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” is set during Crowley’s time with The Golden Dawn and features a who’s who of famous occultists from that period, including William Butler Yeats, Maude Gonne, and Bram Stoker. DuQuette, who has written several texts on magick and the occult, and is something of an expert on the subject of Crowley, brings a knowledgeable flair to the dramas and intrigues of the time, putting his own unique spin on history. I was lucky enough to have  brief email exchange with DuQuette  about the new work, how it came about, and what he really thinks about Crowley’s fiction.


Lon Milo DuQuette

Several occult authors over the years have dipped their toes into writing fiction, most recently Raymond Buckland and Donald Michael Craig, what prompted you to go this route?

“Aleister Crowley — Revolt of the Magicians” is actually my second novel. The first, “Accidental Christ — The Story of Jesus as Told by His Uncle” came out a few years ago. “Revolt…” began not as a book but as a screenplay I was hired to write about 10 years ago. It was optioned by a film production company, and for a while looked like it would actually be produced … but nothing came of it. I had more or less forgotten about it when I was contacted again about nine months ago. As it turns out another film company is interested in the story but in order for the project to qualify for partial funding from (whatever the newest incarnation of …) the UK Film Council the screenplay must be written by a Brit or a Commonwealth citizen. They could, however, adapt the screenplay from a novel written by a non Brit. So I transformed my screenplay into a novel so it might be transformed into a screenplay. Have I confused you enough?

I love the genre of fiction. It is like taking a holiday. I love creating characters and breathing life into them … observing them develop and behave in my mind like independent entities. It’s very magical.

‘Revolt’ is a fantasy (albeit based on historic events and characters) about Crowley and his involvement in the breakup of the Golden Dawn.

You’ve written about Aleister Crowley and his teachings for several years, so it must be something of a “no-brainer” to make him the protagonist of your novel. Did your experience and history make it easy or hard to put yourself inside the head of this fictionalized Crowley?

It was curiously easy, and lots of fun.

Literary works featuring Crowley, or ficitonal characters based on Crowley, have been appearing since 1908. Crowley himself engaged in the practice for “Moonchild”. Do you feel this long literary history influenced you at all? Is there a sort of “fictional” Crowley egregore that feeds the many, many, “Crowleys” in various mediums?

I can’t say it influenced me at all. I wanted to follow a young Crowley, brilliant, naive, passionate … encountering for the first time the world of magick and the secret forces that would later shape him into an adept. This Crowley has never to my knowledge been explored in literature.

In addition to Crowley, your book features Bram Stoker, Moina and MacGregor Mathers, William Butler Yeats, and Maude Gonne, among others. Was it a challenge bringing all these larger-then-life figures together in one book, or did the real-life events on which the novel is loosely based help drive the drama and characterization?

Yes, the real-life events drove the plot, and I shamelessly used the dramatis personae as caricatures. It was great fun, and not at all hard. People point out that there is no evidence that Bram Stoker was a member of the Golden Dawn … I ask them to read the book to see how his presence is justified. Besides … It’s a fantasy people …. lighten up!

Now that the book has been out for over a month now, have you gotten much reaction from occultists, Thelemites, modern Golden Dawn members, and other interested magick-makers about the work? Has the response to these “fairytale caricatures,” as you put it, been largely positive?

So far the personal feedback and the few Amazon reviews have been positive. I’m sure I’ll eventually catch s–t from all directions.

In the book, one of your characters says that “this story can‘t be told as a history because truth cannot be revealed in history.” Do you believe that’s the case with the infamous Golden Dawn schism? Do you think that someday we’ll have more fictionalized retellings of famous incidents in Pagan and occult history? Sort of like Katherine Kurtz’s “Lammas Night” or even Gardner’s “High Magic’s Aid”?

The development of myth is a strange and inscrutable process. It isn’t people or institutions that drive the process, but the alchemy of human consciousness that chisels the elements of a myth upon the stone of our souls. No one at this point, I believe, can predict what the mythological Crowley will eventually become.

If someone wanted to research the real events that inspired your novel, where would they start? Are there any good books covering that period?

“Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley” by Richard Kaczynski is the most complete and brilliant biography of Crowley. Kaczynski takes great pains to put all the events of Crowley’s life within the context of the history and characters of his world.

Also, “The Battle of Blythe Road: A Golden Dawn Affair (Golden Dawn Studies No 14)” capably edited by Darcy Kuntz

What authors inspire you in your own writing? Are there any occult-themed works of fiction that you find yourself returning to again and again? What would you suggest to someone who loves “Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” and wants to read more?

You know … It’s even hard for me to read Crowley’s fiction. It’s like trying to be detached and objective when reading the manuscript of a friend’s novel. You know the author too well … you spot the phoniness of it all … embarrassed by the transparent affectations of the ‘voice’. I feel the same way about Dion Fortune’s fiction … only she is, in my opinion, painfully and distractingly obvious in her attempt to be 19th century-ish.

Other than Crowley himself, the writers who inspire me the most are for the most part not occultists at all … Mark Twain, Jane Austen, the screenplays of Robert Benchley, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and (believe it or not) the lyrics of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Dorothy Fields. Great wit is the voice of the gods. I worship wit. Wit is Ruach sizzling upon the altar of the Neshamah.

Now that you’ve written one novel, are you going to write more? If so, will they also be themed around the occult and magic(k)al history? What other works outside of novels do you have planned for the near future?

Who knows when I’ll feel called to write another novel. I’m currently working on two magical texts with a spring 2011 deadline. I’d talk about them but it’s a little early in the game.

I’d like to thank Lon Milo DuQuette for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions. In addition to  “Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” he recently published “Low Magick: It’s All In Your Head … You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is” a follow-up to his acclaimed autobiography, “My Life With The Spirits: The Adventures of a Modern Magician”.