Archives For Magick

[With only one week away from the final election day in the U.S., we invited Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, a Washington D.C. Witch and Priestess, to share her thoughts on the interplay between politics and magic. Through our guest writers, The Wild Hunt is able to offer perspectives and viewpoints beyond that of its regular columnists. If you enjoy this column and the diversity of voices visiting The Wild Hunt, consider donating to the 2016 Fall Fund Drive. We are now at 62% of the goal with 3 days left. Donate today to support Pagan and Heathen journalism.]

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As a Hellenic Pagan and a priestess of Athena and Apollon, I consider my duties as a citizen to be sacred. These responsibilities include being deeply informed and engaged in political deliberation and always exercising my vote, in national and local elections; being ready and willing to serve on a jury; taking the Good of my communities and my polis (neighborhood, city, nation) into account in all of my decisions. This also includes working to serve the collective Good, even if it makes me unpopular; and dedicating time and effort to create opportunities for members of my community to engage in thoughtful discourse. I strive to serve with as much of my nature as I am able, which means, as a priestess and a magickal practitioner, in addition to “normal” political activities, I also perform magick for the good of the polis.

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Political magick is a branch of magick that was important in many ancient cultures, and it is part of my greater work to collaborate with others in its revival. In our contemporary context, politics has a narrower meaning than it had in the ancient Hellenic Pagan perspective.

The word “politics” and all of its variants come from the Hellenic word polis, which means the community and also means the body of which we are a part. When Aristotle famously said that a human being is a “political animal” what he meant was that we naturally organize ourselves into communities that are larger than the family. This is, perhaps, the most essential aspect of human nature. We are naturally communal.

Accompanying this understanding, the primary emphasis for the citizens of any polis is on their responsibilities. Although the concept of individual rights is critically important, it is, in no small measure, intended to ensure that all of the members of the polis are able to fully participate in and meet their responsibilities to community.

I believe we are at a dangerous crossroads in our country, much of which has been laid bare in this election and the competing visions of what kind of country we want to create. I see this current situation in our nation within the context of a greater initiatory crisis for humanity. However, regardless of whether or not you concur with any of the following spiritual ideas, I believe we can agree on the objective facts that the economy of the United States is the largest in the world and our military is the largest in the world. Therefore, the citizens of this nation have an ethical obligation to wisely govern ourselves, not just for our own good, but for the good of the planet. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are not just citizens of the United States, we are all citizens of the cosmos, the cosmopolis, and we have responsibilities to all of the beings with whom we share the Greater Earth.

I believe humanity, collectively, is in a coming of age initiatory crisis, as stated earlier. I am convinced in the reality of group minds and that we collectively learn from our past, becoming more “mature.”  This is what I call “spiritual evolution.” The climate crisis is our initiatory challenge and that we are going to make it or die and, if we fail, it will not harm humanity alone. Our world is interdependent.

Democracy, the United States, and Spiritual Evolution

Two of the Great Ones who I believe are deeply invested and involved in helping humanity successfully pass this initiatory challenge are Athena and Apollon. Both of Them have clearly documented historical roles founding Democracy in Athens and, I think, were powerful influences in its rebirth here. So what does democracy, the rule of the people, have to do with spiritual evolution? It is not that democracy inherently leads to actual better government. Whether it does or not depends completely upon its citizens and, historically, it has often led to worse government than monarchy. However, one of the key characteristics of an adult is self-governance, including the taking of responsibility for the decisions one has to make, developing self-control, reason, deliberation, cooperation and compromise, and dealing with the consequences of one’s choices. That is what self-governance is, individually and collectively.

Democracy, when it is functioning, requires a tremendous amount from its citizens and, therefore, is a powerful stimulus to the group soul. In a complex society, our citizens must broaden their perspective into trying to understand global issues. Imagine, for a moment, what a truly functioning democracy would look like and what would be required of its citizenry.

It is my understanding that the United States, at this moment, has a crucial role to play in the spiritual evolution of humanity. Why was democracy reborn here? If Athena and Apollon (and possibly other Divine beings) were part of the inspiration that rebirthed democracy into the modern world, why were we chosen? The United States has a number of characteristics that are incredibly rare and bring important possibilities.

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[Public Domain]

With the exception of First Nations people, the blood-lines of everyone who is here are not from here. Many Americans feel some ancestral loss, but it also gives us flexibility and malleability in our national character that is rare. Although most of us are painfully aware that we are not doing as good a job as we need to do in terms of true equality and embracing our diversity, there is a reason the “melting pot” metaphor has poignancy. We don’t have thousands of years of parochial thought forms built into our national identity, and we are blended in ways that reflect the cosmopolis in microcosm.

There are, additionally, certain aspects of our national character that, when we can embrace and embody them, put us in good stead to be able to meet the initiatory crisis of humanity. It is easier to see our national character when traveling abroad, but qualities of daring, creativity, optimism, forthrightness, and generosity are deeply rooted in the collective American psyche.

There are also deep challenges inherent in the American soul. We are suffering under the miasma, the spiritual pollution, of the genocide of the First Nations people and of the slavery of Africans and African-Americans. But these banes were present at the founding of the nation when we were tapped by the Great Powers for the rebirth of democracy, so I believe that we are capable of healing and purifying this miasma, if we can muster the courage and will to really address racism and oppression. I believe we can leverage the higher aspects of courage, daring, and forthrightness to meet this challenge….and we must. Justice is a human concept, it is not a fact in nature, and it is one of humanity’s spiritual duties to manifest it.

The Role of Political Magick

In many ways this sounds overwhelming and terrifying, but we also have good reason to hope. Because we are part of the group soul of humanity, our work, on this plane and on the inner levels of reality, can shift things powerfully. We don’t have to convince every individual. We need to get seminal and important thoughts to the tipping point where they make up part of the mental field of about 20% of our population.  This, combined with emotional juice, will start shifting reality rapidly.

Magickal people know how to work directly in the realms of thought and with power. This is what many of us have been training for. We understand group souls. We understand thought power. We need to use our skills, as members of the group soul of humanity, and drag our collective consciousness over the threshold of initiation and make sure we don’t fall.

We can do many things working in the realm of mind. We can fortify hope and determination. We can construct and strengthen narratives of purpose. We can build heroic belief in change. Humans need to see themselves as heroes in meeting the crises we face.

And we can use our thought power to make people uncomfortable with the status quo, making sure we are not slowly boiling frogs, which is often our greatest danger. We can work to reinforce thought-streams about reforming those things that threaten the integrity of our government.  We can continuously buttress the grand ideals that lie behind our polis and combat the cynicism and coarsening of our national discourse.

Goddess Columbia [By Sean Shapiro / Wikimedia]

Goddess Columbia [By Sean Shapiro / Wikimedia]

In my practice, I work with Columbia as Athena Columbia, because I believe that she is the manifestation of Athena Polias for the United States. I do protection magick for the polis, including working with divine guardians. The psychic atmosphere around most structures of governance and courts is often quite polluted, which is not conductive to clear-headed, compassionate decision-making. I work on dispelling the poison, especially in my city, Washington, DC.

I magickally reinforce thought-forms about what a functioning democracy looks like and our national ideals. I perform magick to emphasize certain needs that require societal focus, either to protect or restore the integrity of the system (“get money out of politics,” “end gerrymandering,” “everyone’s vote should count equally”, “end mass incarceration”). I bless certain important events, such as the Paris Climate Change Summit, to support the courage and resolve of those attending. I feed the sense of urgency on the inner planes about great social issues that require focus.

In ancient Hellas the most important courts met outside under the light of Helios because Light is Truth. I work to reveal Truth and strip away glamour. Likewise, I use magick to boost the best aspects of our national character.

While all of this is part of my individual practice, it is also perfectly appropriate within the context of a 501(c)(3) organization, as many Pagan churches might be. It does not violate the separation of Church and State, because it is not endorsing nor opposing particular legislation or candidates. Magick that crosses that boundary is only properly performed outside of the context of a 501(c)(3) organization.

This summer, Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon held its inaugural gathering for political magick, Thaumapolitikos. The event was tied to election cycles. In 2017, Sacred Space Conference will offer several sessions elaborating on content shared at Thaumapolitikos as well as one session sharing the specifics on how I do this kind of magick.

A Ritual to Strengthen the Vision of a Functional Government

As both an example of political magick and an offering to the community, I am providing a ritual that can be conducted individually or with a group that strengthens the thought forms about how our government and citizens should function. I encourage anyone who has the desire to work for the good of our polis to perform this ritual prior to the election and to carry its spirit with you through the election and beyond. Ideals need continuous reinforcement.

And of course, please vote.

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About the Author: Gwendolyn Reece is the founding priestess of Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon in Washington, DC and serves as Apollon’s mantis. She is also the President of the Sacred Space Foundation, which runs the Sacred Space Conference and is a member of The Fellowship of the Ancient White Stag, a coven in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.

 

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Column: Magic vs. Religion?

Sam Webster —  January 24, 2015 — 33 Comments

Are magic(k) and religion contrary? One of the ongoing debates in our Pagan Community is the place of magic. Some gather to ‘only’ celebrate and worship. Some find magic central to their practice. Being heterodoxic, Pagans revel in the diversity of opinions we hold, so the range held on this topic is vast.

We are not alone in the discussion. There is a very long standing argument in the academic community about what magic is and how it is different from religion. Attempting to coerce the God(s), which they call impiety, or rites performed outside the customary space, time, and staff for them, which they call illegitimacy are among the more consistent elements. Often this shades over into magic meaning any expected result of a ritual action. [1]

Communal harvest altar at Faerieworlds 2013.

Harvest altar [Courtesy Photo].

Historically, we get these values from the Romans, which were then taken over by Christianity and became dominant in Western civilization. In history, even these ideas are problematic. Going back to Egypt, the use of Heka, more or less what we call magic, was available to anyone with the skills and will. Unless you were using it for crime, the act of magic was in no sense a crime.[2] Contrast this to Europe, through most of its history in the so-called Common Era, where imprisonment, torture and death were the common punishments for magic.

With a life potentially on the line, one might think we would have a very clear definition of magic, but that has yet to be produced. Scholars, starting from their Eurocentric foundation, discovered it was much harder to separate magic from religion when they were looking at cultures other than the West. Whereas for us, Christianity supplanted the ancient traditional religions of Europe, but did not come with a substitute for all of the common magics that folks used to potentiate medicine or bring a little luck. (Actually early on it had a number of traditions of magic, taken over from older practice, but these were suppressed in the first centuries.)

To fill this void, spells and techniques from the ancient world were reused, often but not always with a change in the divine names empowering it. The Kyranides text containing elements from the Greek Magical Papyri shows the enduring nature of these ancient spells well into the Christian period.[3] Naturally, biblical resources were deployed, such as using the Psalms for magic. Misunderstood elements of the Mass were taken out of context for magic, giving us the famous “Hokus Pokus” arguably from ‘Hoc est corpus meum’, meaning ‘This is my body,’ the Latin words of consecration.

However, as we well know from our inheritance, many other elements of the classical world came over into Christian culture to provide for the needs of magic. The most obvious ones being the Elements, and the names and character of the Planets. But when we look at the world over, this is unusual. We are possibly unique in that the (once) dominant religion of the West, Christianity, is not the religion we take our magic from. (There may be structures like this in Islamic and Buddhist countries.)

In most cultures the main religion also provides for the deployment of spiritual resources to accomplish the needs and desires of its adherents. Mantra (spells), talismans, all manner of rites of blessing or expiation exist to heal, to help, to make things a bit better. But when they perform these rites, they call upon the names of the Gods they regularly worship. This posed something of a problem for scholars in that it made it hard to see the difference between a prayer and a spell.

While allowing for a few exceptions, most of us who practice magic think what we are doing is good. When we look at how magic is viewed from the perspective of non-magic users (muggles, cowans, normals, etc.), magic is generally seen as bad. Much of the discussion about it in the academy, or among ourselves, really comes down to a value judgment. It is all the harder to discuss since the topic is being variously valued by the participants in the debate: what is the value of magic?

[Photo Credit: by Leila Darwish ]

[Photo Credit: by Leila Darwish ]

The rub is that the definitions of magic, centered in coercion or legitimacy, run into trouble when very similar actions are found in not obviously coercive modes or performed under legitimate conditions. If a need is being addressed through supplication or prayer, the ‘spell’ (such as the Pater Noster or ‘Hail Mary’) is religious, but if presented in a more aggressive mood, it is magic. If done by the right person under the right conditions it is religious but if not it is magic.

We might be able to make these distinctions in our own culture, but they are much harder in other parts of the world. When looked at overall, any given action, such as the repetition of a phrase, would be considered holy japa (mantra repetition) in India, but ‘vain repetition’ in Biblically dominated cultures. (but then there is the Rosary…)

It has become very hard to find an objective difference between magic and religion. So, much of the judgment is actually subjective. It begins with the idea that magic is bad and that religion is good. This is, of course, not universal. The Atheists and Humanists often think of religion itself as bad, but then for them magic is even worse, being vain foolery or failed science. However, the larger society holds to this pattern.

The other major distinguishing factor is the outcome. Are any boons asked, are any supplications made? Is there any hope or expectation that after performing this action spiritual power will be deployed to accomplish what is asked for? If worship is without expectation, but magic expects results, we have an even worse problem separating magic from religion. It is very easy to make the case that the Catholic Mass is magical. It gathers spiritual force and then propitiates the God for benefits for the congregation and beyond. Indeed most worship includes prayer for those in need. If you think about it, even the hope for spiritual improvement or a good afterlife state is still an expectation of result.

What about the ecstasy that comes in worship itself? Is this not an effect or a benefit? When this analysis is applied it becomes very hard to find an example of ‘pure’ worship that has no expectation of result.

I propose that part of the problem with the argument is that we have such a hard time distinguishing between magic and religion that what we are really talking about is a value judgement: is this given spiritual activity good or bad? Calling it magic just becomes a way of saying to someone that their spirituality is bad. Irritating, I know…

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[1] A selection of sources that deal with this problem: Ruth Benedict, ‘Magic’, in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 10 (1933), pp. 39-41; ‘Religion’ in Franz Boas (ed.), General Anthropology (Boston: Heath, 1938), pp. 64-67; William J. Goode, ‘Magic and Religion’, Ethnos, 14 (1949), pp. 172-82, and Religion among the Primitives (Glencoe: Freepress, 1951), pp. 52-55.

[2] Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization). (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; 2008 reprint edition, 1997). 322 pp.

[3] One example is a spell for getting one’s lover to say who they have been having sex with by putting the tongue or heart of a frog or bird on their breast while they are sleeping. It shows up in all three texts: Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), LXIII. 7-12 p. 295, and another version VII. 411-16 p. 129. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa Von Nettesheim, The Three Books of Occult Philosophy: A Complete Edition, ed. Donald Tyson, tr. Jame Freake, (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1993) p. 47, and Anonymous, Kyranides, On the Occult Virtues of Plants, Animals & Stones (Renaissance Astrology Facsimile Editions, 2005) p. 67.

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 following is a guest post by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender person, and one of the founding members of the Ekklesía Antínoou–a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and related deities and divine figures–as well as a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the traditions of gentlidecht and filidecht, as well as Romano-British, Welsh, and Gaulish deity devotions. Lupus is also dedicated to several land spirits around the area of North Puget Sound and its islands.]

Many of our modern Pagan festivals are titled for their implied or specific themes: a goddess-focus is suggested by PantheaCon; TheurgiCon deals with theurgy and hermeticism and the traditions which derive from these; Pagan Spirit Gathering is apt to be understood in all the variety of ways which the first two words of its title can imply. But, a gathering that draws a crowd of occultists, magicians, hermeticists, alchemists, gnostics, and quite a few Pagans (whether they are one or more of those things additionally) as well, is Seattle’s Esoteric Book Conference. As Pagans are said not to be “people of the book, but people of the library,” this conference has a great deal to offer many modern Pagans indeed. The diverse Seattle occult, alternative religious, and Pagan scene’s members are the major attendees of the event, though an increasingly national and international crowd is also attending as the conference has progressed.

2013-EBC-Sale2013 saw the fifth Esoteric Book Conference take place again in mid-September at Seattle Center. I have attended them from the beginning, and presented on a panel about modern occult publishing at the first conference in 2009, and likewise presented a session in 2012 on the Ekklesía Antínoou Serpent Path. I hope to make yearly attendance at the conference a reality for the foreseeable future, as it has always proven to be informative, inspiring, a great temptation towards bankruptcy with the beautiful books (and art of various sorts) on offer at the exhibit hall and art show, and a chance to not only increase communal contacts and friendships, but to maintain them with the many individuals and groups I already know in this area that I often don’t get to see at other times of the year.

I cannot possibly do justice to all of the nine presentations that occurred this year in a summary, so I will simply discuss a few highlights for me personally that I feel qualified enough to comment upon. Those who I do not discuss below did excellent presentations, and I suggest you consult the conference website for fuller details of those presentations and the fascinating and accomplished biographies of the presenters as well.

Saturday’s sessions opened with one of the EBC’s hosts and its ever-resourceful technical coordinator, Joshua Madara, who was also described as the “Tony Stark of modern occultism,” with a presentation on “Interactive Media for Occult Book Makers.” This one likely would get the award for “Most Shiny” session, as the various book arts, both throughout history and of more recent vintage, which were shown in his slides were awe-inducing, as well as “aaah!”-inducing. The use of transparencies, pop-up art and models, computer-enhanced books with sound capabilities, and a huge variety of other possibilities was highlighted and presented as a kind of challenge to the audience, and a spur to even greater creativity with future occult-specific creations. Madara asked us to be more child-like and fun in our approach to these matters, and memorably noted (paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke) that “Any sufficiently advanced work is indistinguishable from play.”

At least one of the sessions at each EBC is dedicated to a biography of an important occultist, artist, or scholar, and this year, Dr. Aaron Cheak presented on René Schwaller de Lubicz in a session entitled “The Call of Fire.” Schwaller was a multiply-talented, interested, and connected individual in literary, artistic, esoteric, and academic circles in the early-twentieth century, and was part of the Parisian alchemical revival, as well as a practicing Hermeticist. He spent fifteen years in Egypt studying the temples of Luxor in particular, and while he has not always found a good reception amongst Egyptologists, he (along with his wife Isha, who was with him in Egypt) is still the luminary of Egyptosophists, and many of his books on these subjects are available in English translation from Inner Traditions. He had theories on art that included elemental correlations with colors and number, both of which have alchemical implications that would be of great interest to a large number of modern Pagans.

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An extremely enticing look at a future publication by Ouroboros Press (the occult publishing company founded by one of the Esoteric Book Conference’s organizers, William Kiesel) was provided by Nick Koss’ presentation, “Use of Cryptography in Magical Books: Deciphering the Triangular Book of St. Germain.” Koss’ background in linguistics, mathematics, and computer sciences aided him in being able to decipher the two Getty collection manuscripts, Hogart 209 and 210, which are triangular books written almost entirely in a cipher. Koss was able to decode the entire manuscript, which was an encrypted 18th century French magical ritual designed to extend one’s life, gain wealth, and learn ancient secrets. As these were all things attributed to the authority for the manuscript, the Count of St. Germain (about whom Voltaire is misquoted as having said that he “lived forever and knew everything,” but in reality he said something more like “he knows everything but never shuts up”!), it seems likely that the text for the ritual either did come from him, or from his general circle of associates.

Cvr_IsisMagic_1500x0000_RGB_v2The “hangover session” on Sunday morning went to M. Isidora Forrest, and this particular presentation, “Isis: Goddess of Magic, Patroness of Magicians,” is the one most likely to have resonated with the broader Pagan and polytheist audience. Her presentation discussed magic in the general as well as specifically Egyptian contexts, and emphasized that magic and religion were essentially inseparable concepts in Egyptian culture and language. While the presentation was focused on Isis, prominent also was Heka, the Egyptian god of magic, who is not merely a deified abstraction, but instead is an active and personified being with whom one should cultivate a relationship if one wishes to do effective magic at all. Indeed, in one of the Egyptian cosmologies, Re-Atum’s first creation is the god Heka, by whom all else in the universe is created. Isidora’s presentation ranged widely, and ended up spending extended time on the myth of Isis’ gaining of supreme magical power by extorting Re’s secret name, but also dealt with one of my favorite stories (and one important for Antinous-related lore as well!), Lukian of Samosata’s final tale in the Philopseudes, which is the first literary version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” tale, familiar from Goethe, Paul Dukas’ musical piece, and Disney’s Fantasia film. Isidora also launched the expanded tenth-anniversary edition of her magnum opus, Isis Magic: Cultivating a Relationship With the Goddess of 10,000 Names, which I’m looking forward to digging into soon!

The Esoteric Book Conference also usually features someone notable from the local esoteric community each year, whether it is Brandy Williams in 2009, Denny Sargent/Aion 131 in 2010, or Erynn Rowan Laurie last year. This year, the “local act” was a double act, with Kate Merriweather Lynch (who was also the conference’s volunteer coordinator and registration goddess, in addition to having some of her art on display!) and Aron D. Tarbuck, who presented a session on “Comics as Grimoires.” The “usual suspects” like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman were all addressed, though of particular focus was not Moore’s Promethea and the like, but instead Swamp Thing, and how it changed the comics medium forever by ignoring the Comics Code Authority and launching DC’s imprint Vertigo. The conversation and questions after their presentation were the most lively of the entire conference, and were punctuated by rolls of thunder in the distance as well! Also, of potential interest to some modern polytheists who may be reading this and were involved in the recent “superheroes as deities” debates, was their mention of the Shinto Shrine in Japan that is dedicated to Manga characters.

It would be hard to honestly suggest that the Esoteric Book Conference has “something for everyone,” since the nature of the subject and the specific topics of the various sessions themselves are far more limited in appeal than what might be on offer at other events. However, for those who love books–not only for their content, but for their beauty as objects and as instantiations of human craft and skill in conjunction with divine and spiritual inspiration; or, as Robert Ansell put it at the first EBC in 2009, as physical expressions of the meeting between Chronos (Time) and Kairos (Opportunity)–the middle weekend in September in Seattle should be a time set aside to share your love of books with those members of your wider interconnected communities whose devotion to the book makers’ arts equals your own.

Next year in Seattle…!

If you are a Pagan or occult practitioner of a certain age, the word “Vertigo” brings up certain associations. A speciality line of comic books launched by DC Comics in 1993, Vertigo comics focused heavily on mythic, occult, psychedelic, and magical themes, introducing American audiences to rising talents like Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Dave McKean. Inspired by the earlier 1980s work of writers like Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, Vertigo created a new niche of “adult” comics that drew many people, myself included, back to reading comic books. I distinctly remember happening upon a write-up of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” in The Monthly Aspectarian of all places, which led me back to a comic book store for the first time in years. For me, and for many of my peers, Vertigo gave a needed dose of youth, experimentation, and anarchic cool to a Pagan/magical subculture that was still trying to adjust to a sudden boom in popularity. A lot of attention is paid The Craft and Charmed as things that brought young people to Paganism in the 1990s, but for a certain segment of Generation X, Vertigo was the pop-culture doorway of choice (they even released a tarot deck).

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Now, 20 years later, and after many were questioning if the line’s time was over, DC Comics has announced six new Vertigo titles debuting this Fall, headlined by a new Neil Gaiman-penned Sandman story.

“Superheroes are the lifeblood of the comic book industry and have proved to be a big draw at the box office. But Vertigo, whose slate includes fantasy, horror and speculative fiction outside of the publisher’s mainstream lineup, has had difficulty building an audience and developing new properties. DC is hoping to change Vertigo’s fortune this fall with six new series premiering from October to December. The most anticipated project, “The Sandman: Overture,” a mini-series by Neil Gaiman, will begin on Oct. 30.”

witchinghour_NYTMost importantly for readers here, is that the bulk of the six new titles have mythic, Pagan, and occult themes. Most notably: “Hinterkind,” “Coffin Hill,” and the anthology one-shot “The Witching Hour.”

  • HINTERKIND – Decades after “The Blight” all but wiped out the human race, Mother Nature is taking back what’s hers and she’s not alone … all the creatures of myth and legend have returned and they’re not happy. After her grandfather disappears, Prosper Monday must leave the security and seclusion of her Central Park village to venture into the wilds to find him, unaware of how much the world has changed. An epic fantasy adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world, HINTERKIND is written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Francesco Trifogli, and debuts this October.
  • COFFIN HILL – When she was 15, Eve Coffin summoned a darkness that had been buried since the Salem Witch Trials. Now Eve’s back to harness the evil that destroyed her friends and is slowly taking over the sleepy town of Coffin Hill. This is a series full of magic, madness and murder via a twisted family of New Englanders. Arriving in stores this October, COFFIN HILL combines the talents of artist Inaki Miranda (FAIREST: THE HIDDEN KINGDOM) with writer Caitlin Kittredge, a young, dark fantasy author whose writing includes the Nocturne City, the Black London, and the Iron Codex series of novels – which include the recently published titles Dark Days and The Mirrored Shard.
  • THE WITCHING HOUR – Just in time for Halloween, this anthology-style one-shot collects short stories exploring witchcraft written and drawn by some of the most talented veterans and newcomers in the business – including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Cliff Chiang, Lauren Beukes, Emily Carroll, Matthew Sturges, Shawn McManus, Tula Lotay and many more.
Sandman art by JH Williams III

Sandman art by JH Williams III

However, what will most likely draw most of us back to the shops (or the comiXology app I suppose) will be “The Sandman: Overture,” written by the now very famous Neil Gaiman, and drawn by the hugely talented J.H. Williams III, who created the amazing art for Alan Moore’s “Promethea.”

“The most peculiar thing for me about returning to ‘Sandman’ is how familiar it all feels,” Mr. Gaiman said. What is new, however, is the level of attention. “When I was writing ‘Sandman’ from 1987 to 1996, I never had the feeling at any point that approximately 50 million people were looking over my shoulder scrutinizing ever word.” (Mr. Gaiman has about two million followers on Twitter.)

For the six-issue “The Sandman: Overture,” Mr. Gaiman has been paired with J.H. Williams III, an illustrator known for his moody imagery and innovative page layouts. “They are the most beautiful pages I have ever seen in periodical comics,” Mr. Gaiman said. “I ask him to do the impossible, and he gives me back more than I asked for.”

This big new push for Vertigo comes at a time when comic book super-heroes are seen by many as blockbuster movie (and television) properties, and the innovation, strangeness, darkness, and fantasy tropes of Vertigo has been pushed to the margins. Often finding homes at smaller publishers who specialize in giving creators more control and ownership (Brian K. Vaughan’s excellent “Saga” being one notable example). However, perhaps with the new rise of adult-oriented fantasy breaking big with HBO cable television shows like “Game of Thrones,” “True Blood,” and the forthcoming Neil Gaiman-created “American Gods” series, DC Comics realizes that developing and nurturing dark, strange, and mythic fantasy might be good for their bottom line after all.

With this return of fantasy, of mythic beings and occult themes, of The Sandman himself, will it also oversee an influx of new fans? Or is this simply DC catering to a maturing fan-base? Whatever the impetus, I look forward to this new wave of Vertigo comics, and hope they can live up to that line’s past great heights.

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.

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.