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I’ll never be Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury leapt up from sleep with a story running electric through his body, racing to the typewriter just in time to let the sparks discharge onto the page, grounding the story out into this world. Ray Bradbury wrote every day of his life for over seventy years, never once uncertain of his way, or doubting that he was a writer. Ray Bradbury was in love with life and people and all the things of the world, dark and light, without stopping once to sneer cynically or wallow in self- doubt and pity. I’m not Ray Bradbury, and I probably never will be, and that’s okay.

Every writer is different. I know, I know, that’s so obvious its banal. I should probably say instead that every writer needs something different. Ray needed Buck Rogers comics and Lon Chaney movies and magicians at the carnival, and a single red gleaming speck in the night sky overhead, and that was enough. I needed Tolkien, and Bradbury and Wolfe and Howard and Gygax and Leiber, and then to be swallowed up by the world and politics philosophy religion drugs madness obsession and 10,000 other things, occasionally peaking my head up, taking a few sweet breaths, and plunging down again, sometimes for years, scouring the depths for something that I didn’t know, and wasn’t sure I’d recognize anyway.

I don’t know why we need things, but it seems like we do. I don’t mean things like air and water and sunlight and love. Those things are obvious. But why do we need special things like carnivals and stories about gods and magic swords and monsters and life on other planets? And we do need them, truly NEED them, or we wither and die. We die by inches, for these are the living things, the magic things, the points of light that break through the gray of our lives like twinkling motes of some other world that is also strangely this world and the real world. It’s the every day world of traffic jams and tax forms and reports and lines – that’s the fake world, the unreal world, the murky mud bottomed underwater world. We forget we’re in that world until we touch one of those magic things that is, for us, a gateway or a transporter – a hand reaching down to us from somewhere unknown, and then we’re in the real world again, the magic world, and we can breathe air and for days or even weeks afterwords we’re our real selves again, until we forget where we came from, and believe in ridiculous things like credit ratings.

Ray Bradbury’s magic things aren’t exactly the same as my magic things, or yours. They’re not even necessarily the things you’d want them to be, but they’re the things you need. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to “fit”. You don’t have to understand. The gods understand. You just have to trust them. My wife loves horror movies, monster makeup, gore drenched killers and the whir of chainsaws carving flesh. In her off time she likes to bake. Sometimes she plays bingo with her mother at the church. She’s also fond of Scrabble. Me? It’s swords and sorcery and full moons rising over alien hills, and gateways carved of jade, wizards and barbarians, and civilizations long since forgotten. Anytime a hero overthrows a dark regime, or dies a glorious death fighting for the just cause, the tears well up in my eyes, the hair on the nape of my neck stands up, my heart glows. Maybe my wife loves horror because of those first movies she watched with her high school boyfriend, years before she came into my life. Maybe I love mythic heroes because I read stories of the Greek gods at a young age, or because of Star Wars films, or because of my early love of Dungeons and Dragons. Or maybe our magic things were always ours before we knew they existed. Maybe they were just waiting for us, reaching out to us, and we took them up because we already loved them. Think back on it. The first time you saw one of your magic things, wasn’t it a feeling of recognition? Didn’t you already know what it was, feel what it meant? Wasn’t it a missing piece of yourself falling back into place, like finding something from a past life, and knowing it used to belong to you?

Adolescence is the worst time for magic things. We want to “grow up”. We want to be serious and be taken seriously. We’re still children, and we have a child’s view of what it means to be an adult. Adolescence is a different age for everyone. For me it was my twenties. Adolescence is anytime you want to put your magic things in a box in the attic and pretend you don’t need them anymore. Even Ray Bradbury had an adolescence. He was nine and he ripped up his Buck Rogers comic because his “friends” thought it was dumb. After a few days he realized these people weren’t his friends (they really weren’t), and breathed life back into the corpse of Buck Rogers, and woke him from his slumber; and Ray Bradbury suffered no more and was one with the magic things. We’re not Ray Bradbury, so we have to suffer longer. But everyone has to suffer a little bit in this life. You have to suffer because you have to understand that the magic things are only magic if you breathe life into them. If you give them some of yourself. You have to be strong enough to give. You have to meet them half way.

We do change as we get older, and sometimes the things that were magic for us then aren’t magic in the same way for us now. They’re still magic, but it’s a different kind: the magic of memory. You change as you grow older, and you have to let your magic things grow with you. You have to take them along for the ride and let them change shape as you go. You have to do this because they’re part of you and you’re part of them, and you have to change together – otherwise you’re out of balance and grotesque. Paradoxically this is the only way to keep the magic the same, by letting it change. Magic is like that, paradoxical. We all know someone who never did this, don’t we? Someone who stayed in the nursery, afraid to let his magic things grow, stifling them, smothering them in childhood. Real adulthood comes when we realize we don’t need to try to “grow up” but have already done so and now we’re free to be who we like. We turn then, once again, to find our magic things, the things we truly love that love us in return, like monsters, and Buck Rogers, and gleaming swords, and gateways of jade on moonlit nights.

Whatever it is you love, go do it, and if you lost your magic things go find them. It’s not as hard as you think. You already know what direction to travel, you just have to set off and you’ll find your way. The hardest thing is setting off, letting go of the fear, the fear that you’ll get lost; but listen to Ray Bradbury and you’ll be alright. He said, “Stand at the top of a cliff and jump. Build your wings on the way down.”

I know things have been quiet here since the reboot.  Between the day job, a new home – definitely a “fixer-upper”, and the new addition to our family, there hasn’t been much time for blogging.

If you miss my particular brand of pedantry, I’m back with my friends John and Joe from the Logical Anarchy web-cast tomorrow night from 7 till 8 PM PST live. The night’s topic will be “Western Civilization”. See you there!

As a teaser, here are some of my show notes:

Edmund Burke, a compact between the living, the dead, those yet to be born.

Three ways of looking at history:  Nietzsche’s Monumental, Antiquarian, Critical

The problem of Culture.  Where does culture come from?  Geographical, Historical, Ethnic, Philosophical [ Technical, Political, Metaphysical ]

The problem of mere Geography.The problem of Racialism

Carl Schmidt: Politics as the distinction between friend and enemy.  

Applied metaphysics – Athens and Jerusalem.  The “west” as a child of this union.  The terms of the union.  The dissolution of the union: Judeo-Christian historical claims, multiculturalism, the scale of values -Nietzsche again..

The rejection of values and post-modernism.  Tradition vs “Traditionalism”.  

Inertia and “hardening” of positions.  

Evola, Guenon, Plato revisited: the map of the decline – from transcendent values to momentary desires.  

The way forward: Heidegger, Poesis, a guardian caste, problems for anarchists.

I wrote an adaptation of Lord Dunsany’s stage-play Gods of the Mountain for the Samuel French short play contest last year.  I didn’t win anything (or even place).  Perhaps it was because adaptations, even of old and forgotten works, were discarded, or because the subject matter didn’t fit what the judges were looking for.  Issues of “social justice” and “current events” seem to be preferred. The winners for my year included a story about a robotic hentai maid, a disabled college student, and a high-school boy who hides in his room covered in blood and eating snack food. It’s also possible that my writing simply wasn’t up to snuff.  Regardless of the outcome, it was a lot of fun, if only because it allowed me to stretch out my long dormant dramaturgy muscles, and immerse myself in the imagination of one of the greatest fantasy authors who ever lived.

Since this script has just been sitting on my hard drive for the last year collecting virtual dust, and I don’t have plans to do anything with it in the near future, and a major writing project (notes soon) is taking up the majority of my spare brain cells, precluding me from generating any new blog content, I thought I would share it with you good people. I hope you find it as amusing to read as I did to write.

Act 1 – Homeless Encampment
hobo_encamp

Two beggars, OOGNA and ULF, warm themselves around a trash-can fire.  Oogna is a middle-aged “bag” lady.  Ulf, a younger male “crusty punk”. In the background are the silhouettes of others in the encampment. Hiding in the silhouettes is Agmar, an older and archaically dressed hobo.

ULF: The days are bad for beggary.

OOGNA: Some evil has befallen the rich ones of the city.

ULF: It is true.  They take no joy any longer in benevolence, but are become sour and miserly.

OOGNAA: sore affliction indeed, and bad for those of our calling.

ULF: What thing, do you think, has befallen them?

OOGNA: There has been a comet come near to the earth of late, and the earth has been parched and sultry so that the gods are drowsy.  While the gods sleep all those things that are divine in man: benevolence, drunkenness, extravagance, and song; have faded and died.

ULF: Well, it has indeed been sultry. If things do not change, I will forsake the calling and buy a shop, and sit at ease –

AGMAR: You will keep a shop?!

Ulf and Oogna look over, startled. Agmar leaves his concealment and joins them.

ULF: I spoke but hastily, the times being bad.

AGMAR: Bah! I have been three times knocked down and injured by carriages.  Seven times beaten and robbed.  I have had nine diseases.  One time I was killed!

ULF: Killed?!

AGMAR: Apparently.  Yet never have I followed a trade, or haggled and bartered and sat in a shop!

OOGNA: Times are bad for the calling here.

AGMAR: They are bad.

ULF: This city is unworthy of our calling!  Did you not say the gods are drowsy and all that is divine in man is dead?

OOGNA: They are drowsy in their mountains away at Marma.  The green idols are drowsy.  Who is this that rebukes us?

AGMAR: I am but an old beggar.  One who has known the mystery of roads and felt the wind arising new in the morning.  Who has called forth out of the souls of men pity, and benevolence, and the charitable giving of alms!  Let us speak no more of any trade or the miserable gains of shops and trading men.

ULF: The times are bad.

AGMAR: Then let us set right the times!

OOGNA: Have you a plan, great master?

AGMAR: Perhaps. Have you any thieves among the calling here?

ULF: We have a few that we call thieves.

OOGNA: But they are not very good ones.

AGMAR: Find one, for we shall need fine raiment, and it must be green.  Also, we shall need a corner-preacher to spread a prophecy throughout the city before us.

ULF: We will dress ourselves as lords and impose upon the city?

OOGNA: Yes, yes; we will say we are ambassadors from a far land!

ULF: And there will be good eating!

OOGNA: And wine!

ULF: And perhaps… dancing girls?

AGMAR: Hah!  Not as mere ambassadors!

ULF: Then as kings?

AGMAR: Beggars as kings!

OOGNA: Then what, master?

AGMAR: Why, we shall go as gods.

OOGNA and ULR: As gods?!

blackout

Act 2: Part 1 – City Hall

SFcityhall

Citizens gather in small groups to chat about the business of the day.  Among them are LANAN, a city official, RANDER, a guard and KAMOS, a merchant. 

The three beggars: Agmar, Oogna and Ulf enter slowly, swaying back and forth and chanting.  Bits of fine green silk can be seen here and there through their ragged clothing. The beggars circle the stage, spiraling towards the center.  Slowly all conversation stops.  When all is quiet the beggars seat themselves cross-legged, and hold their right hands up, like seated Buddhas.

ULF produces a bell and strikes it once.

SFX: A BELL RINGING

RANDER: What do you do here?

OOGNA: What is it you do, mortal?

RANDER: Who are you, and whence come you?

ULF: Who is to say what we are, or whence we come?

RANDER: Look here! Beggars are not allowed –

OOGNA: Who said we were beggars?

RANDER: You people cannot –

ULF: Who said that we were people?

Rander looks hopelessly at Lanan, who bustles over.

LANAN: To what purpose is this? By the moon, I’ll –

AGMAR: My sister.

LANAN: What?

AGMAR: The moon is our little sister.  She comes to us at evenings away in the mountains of Marma.  She trips over the mountains when she is young.  When she is beautiful and slender she comes and dances before us, and when she is old and unshapely she hobbles away from the hills. Yet she is young again and forever nimble with youth; yet she comes dancing back.  The years are not able to curb her, nor to bring gray hairs to her brethren.

Ulf strikes again on the bell –

SFX: DING!

The crowd murmurs. Lanan and Rander look at each other helplessly. The merchant Kamos joins them. The beggars sit as if meditating.  Lanan, Rander and Kamos huddle together and conspire.

RANDER: This is not wonted.

LANAN: It is not in accordance with custom.

KAMOS: I heard men speak today in the market place.  They spoke of a prophecy read somewhere of old.  It says the gods shall come down from Marma in the guise of men.

LANAN: Is this a true prophecy?

KAMOS: Who can say?

RANDER: If it is all the prophecy we have, we should heed it.  My grandfather told me that man without prophecy is like a sailor going by night over uncharted seas.  He knows not where are the rocks nor where the havens.  To the man on watch all things ahead are black and the stars guide him not, for he knows not what they are.

KAMOS: Should we not first make inquiries as to this prophecy?

LANAN: Let us accept it. It is the small uncertain light of a lantern, carried it may be by a drunkard or a fool, but perhaps along the shore of some haven.  Let us be guided and, discretely, also make the appropriate inquiries.

The three break their huddle and address the Beggar-Gods.

RANDER: We humbly worship you, if you are gods!

LANAN: You are mightier than all men and hold high rank among other gods and are lords of our city.  You have the thunder as your plaything and the whirlwind and the eclipse and all the destinies of the human tribes – if, of course, you are gods.

AGMAR: Let the pestilence not fall at once upon this city, as it has indeed designed to; let not the earthquake swallow it all immediately up amidst the howls of the thunder; let not infuriated armies overwhelm those that escape – if we be gods.

The crowd murmurs and chatters.  Lanan turns to address them.

LANAN: Come friends!  Let us sacrifice!  Bring lambs and wine for these very divine gods!

The people shuffle out.  As they leave the lights fade, two of them, CITIZEN 1 and CITIZEN 2 linger briefly in the spot-light.

CITIZEN 1: These are most divine and uncommon gods.

CITIZEN 2: Indeed!  I heard it said that they have made us and all human beings!

blackout

 

Act 2: Part 2 – Throne Room
audience

The city-hall has been transformed into a throne room.  The beggars lounge on great chairs styled like mountains. Agmar sits in the center, on the largest throne, Ulf and Oogna to either side. They have dressed themselves entirely in rich green silk and gold accoutrements. Banners are draped from every possible location. 

Rander, dressed  in a tabard with three mountains embroidered and carrying a long spear, stands to the side of the dais.  Lanan reclines against a pillar next to Rander, watching the proceedings. A line of citizens wait to be received by the three.  One, CITIZEN 3, steps forward to address the beggars.

CITIZEN 3: Master, my child was bitten in the throat by a death-adder at noon.  Spare him, master; he still breathes, but slowly.

AGMAR: And is he indeed your child?

CITIZEN 3: He is surely my child, master.

AGMAR: Was it your wont to thwart him in his play, while he was strong and well?

CITIZEN 3: I have never thwarted him master.

AGMAR: And whose child is death?

CITIZEN 3: Master?

AGMAR: Who is it that created life and therefore death?

CITIZEN 3: Why, the gods surely, if anyone.

AGMAR: Do you that never thwarted your child in his play ask this of the gods?

CITIZEN 3: (weeping) But! But! Master!

AGMAR: Weep not! For all the houses that men have builded are the play-fields of this child of the gods called death.  Now go.

Crying the Citizen 3 leaves, consoled by others.  Another steps forward, CITIZEN 4, wringing his hat, but a MESSENGER, shoves Citizen 4 aside, and throws himself on his knees before the beggars.

MESSENGER: Master, it is terrible! It is terrible when you wander in the evening.  It is terrible on the edge of the desert!  Men die when they see you in the evening!

AGMAR: In the desert?  What are you speaking of?

MESSENGER: Last night masters. You were terrible last night.  You were terrible in the gloaming.  We ask, we beg of you, stay as you are now, in flesh like men!

ULF: You say as we are now.  How did we appear in the evening?

MESSENGER: Otherwise master, otherwise.

OOGNA: Be not afraid.  How did we appear?

MESSENGER: Masters, we can bear to see you in the flesh like men, but when we see a rock walking it is terrible.  It is terrible.

AGMAR: A rock walking?

MESSENGER: Yes master.  Green stone should not move.  Rock should not walk.  When men see you they do not understand, and they die.  Green stone should not walk in the evenings.  It is terrible! Spare us, masters!  Spare us!

The Messenger collapses in fear.  The beggars look at each other uncertainly. Rander approaches and helps the Messenger to his feet and off stage. As he leaves, Kamos enters and approaches Lanan, to whisper in her ear.

AGMAR: There… there have been doubters of late, who now should be satisfied.  Be faithful, and no harm shall befall you.

Citizen 4 finally bustles forward.

CITIZEN 4: Lords, my wife and I are childless and we –

AGMAR: Enough! Trouble us not now, but tomorrow, for it is the accustomed hour at which the gods speak to the gods in the language of the gods.  If Man heard us he would guess at the futility of his destiny, which were not well for Man.  Begone.

LANAN: Before you dismiss us, Lord!

Lanan walks to center, followed by Kamos and Rander.

RANDER: (to Lanan) Hush! You anger the gods!

LANAN: (to Rander) I am not sure whom I anger.

LANAN: (to the beggars) Two holy pilgrims have gone to your sacred shrines, wherein you were wont to sit before you left the mountains.  They return even now with gifts for you from your homeland.

ULF: (aside to other beggars) They went to Marma!

OOGNA: (aside to other beggars) We are lost! They will have seen the green jade idols sitting against the mountain.  They will say, “The Gods are still at Marma!” and we shall be burnt!

Agmar hushes them rapidly, swatting them back into composure.  When he addresses the crowd his voice cracks with uncertainty.

AGMAR: They left us here and went to find the gods? A fish once took a journey into a far country to find the sea.

KAMOS: Most revered deity, their piety is so great that they have gone to worship even your empty shrines.

AGMAR: I know these men that have great piety.  Such men have often prayed to me before, but their prayers are not acceptable.  They little love the gods.  Their only care is their piety.  I know these pious ones.  They will say that the seven gods were still at Marma.  They will lie and say that we were still at Marma.  So shall they seem more pious to you all, pretending to that they alone have seen the gods.  Fools shall believe them and share in their damnation!

The crowd drops back in fear, murmuring.

LANAN: Regardless, most holy master, they are here.

Enter PILGRIM 1 and PILGRIM 2 dressed in travelling clothes.  Kamos rushes up to them and they speak whisper briefly together.

OOGNA: (aside) We are doomed!

AGMAR: (to Oogna) Not yet! Not yet!

LANAN: Are these the men that went to the shrines at Marma?

KAMOS: Ah! Yes, yes!  They are!

Kamos ushers two Pilgrims forward. The beggars shrink back, fidget and grip their thrones in fear.

LANAN: Did you men see the Gods at Marma?

PILGRAM 1: We… we did not.

LANAN: What? They were not there?

PILGRIM 2: The shrines were present, but empty.

RANDER: Behold the Gods of the Mountain!

The crowd cheers.  The beggars look at each other amazed. 

KAMOS: Yes… yes, of course.  They have indeed come from Marma!

LANAN: Yes… yes… come all!  Let us bring to the gods a great  sacrifice!  A mighty sacrifice to atone for our doubting!

As the lights come down there is a sound of drums, and horns, and dancing and drinks and a great revel.

blackout

Act 3- Finale
party-aftermath3

The throne room lies in disarray.  The beggars are draped over their thrones. Agmos and Ulf are drunk.  Oogna is snoring.  Discarded food and beverages litter the floor.  Clothes and other fabrics are strewn about: the end of a great revel.

AGMOS: Never have beggars had such a time!

ULF: Never.  And yet… it is strange – the missing idols.

AGMOS: Bah! Someone has stolen them. Who knows when men last visited the mountain shrines?  They are remote and difficult.  They could have vanished ages ago!

ULF: True.  Yet.. there is something –

OOGNA: (waking with a start) I had a dream!

AGMOS: What was your dream?

OOGNA: It…it was nothing.  I dreamed that I was thirsty and one gave me wine; yet there was a fear in my dream.

ULF: That man!  That man’s face had been near to some fearful thing!

AGMOS: What man?

ULF: The man who – someone was coming this way from the desert he said. He begged us to spare him.

AGMOS: They have seen their own fears dancing in the desert!  They have seen something green after the light was gone, and some child has told them a tale that it was us.  I do not know what they have seen. What should they have seen? It is… it is only we that have frightened them, and their fears have made them foolish.

There is a booming noise outside, low and distant, but reverberating… boommmm.

AGMOS: Was that? Did you hear?

SFX: Boom.  Boom.

ULF: Ah!  Dancing girls.  I have requested dancing girls.  With flutes!

OOGNA: Is it sunset already? We should have good eating.

ULF: They should come in with baskets on upon their heads.  With fruits.

AGMOSAll the fruits of the valley.

SFX: Boom.

ULF: There is no sound of flutes.  They said they would come with music.

SFX: (louder) BOOM!

Agmos jumps up startled.  Ulf and Oogna crowd near him uncertain.

OOGNA: What heavy boots they have. They sound like feet of stone.

SFX: Boom Boom Boom!

The beggars now cower half on and half behind the thrones.

AGMOS: I do not like to hear this heavy tread! Those that would dance for us must be light of foot.

ULF: Yes.  They should come more nimbly.

AGMOS: Go out.  Go out and tell them that I shall not smile if they are not airy.

Ulf reluctantly moves toward the side of the stage.  As he just about reaches the exit, a loud rapid booming cadence breaks out, and he goes flying – half running half crawling, back to the thrones and the other beggars.

SFX: BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM

A cacophony of screams rips through the air.  The voice of dozens in mortal terror.  The beggars clap their hands over their ears.  Suddenly, all is quiet. They sit for a moment, in fear and wonder.

ULF: I have a fear.  An old fear and a boding. We have done ill in the sight of the gods.  Beggars we were and beggars we should have remained.

AGMOS: What nonsense do you speak?

There is a loud creak, as a door slowly opens.  The beggars are bathed in a green light. Agmos and Ooga start and stare, transfixed.

ULF: It is we who have brought the gods down from the mountain.  For this doomed city, we have called down an evil thing.

The green light spins and a great rushing noise rises as if from a river.  The beggars scream and hide their faces. The noise becomes deafening, drowning out all other sounds.

SFX: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.

blackout

Dim light falls from off stage into the room, as if the room were in darkness and a door were being opened.  Enter Lanan, Rander and Kamos tentatively, carrying lanterns. Three heaps sit where the beggars were previously.

LANAN: Masters?  Masters are you here?

Their lanterns illuminate the heaps. They are perfect statues of the beggars, cowering, their faces distorted in terror.  The three citizens fall back with gasps.

Kamos approaches and prods them, finding them solid.

KAMOS: They are cold!  They have been turned to stone!

RANDER: We have doubted.  We have doubted them, and they have turned themselves into stone idols yet again, and left us.

LANAN: Yes.  They were the true gods.

curtain

 

GReek_theater2

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little diversion.  If you haven’t read Dunsany before, do yourself a favor and bump him up to the top of your book pile.

I know things have been quiet lately.   Personal obligations have made blogging low on my priority list, but I have content coming – I promise.

To re-open comms, I’ll be a guest on the Logical Anarchy show tomorrow night from 7:30 – 8:30pm Pacific Standard Time.

You can tune in here: http://www.logical-anarchy.com/

Or subscribe on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC13AgynyGrqRJxW0_YKJgNw

This will be a departure from my usual posts, as we’ll be discussing current hot-button political issues like immigration.

 

The-Wind-in-the-Willows-001

 

A: So, I just finished reading Kaczynski’s Perdurabo.

JT: What do you think?

A: I’d recommend it. On the whole he presents a far more coherent and balanced view of Crowley than the Symonds bio. I think for the last few years I have been struggling through the “vision of the demon Crowley” where his most difficult aspects take on monstrous proportion, and that’s literally all you can see anymore. He complained about having this effect on people. I feel much better about my investment in his work now, but I am more thoroughly convinced that the dominant interpretation found in the community simply will not work. Most of our problems, as a movement, are not new but have been with us from the beginning.

JT: Heh. I was just talking with a friend about the weird critical thinking problem we find in the community, like among people who otherwise seem able to navigate life and career just fine.

A: Well, I don’t think they see contradiction as an inherent problem. While Crowley tried to gain a rational understanding of his work – and he frequently encouraged his students to learn logic, he also indulged in self-justification through rejection of philosophical rigor. He wasn’t a philosopher and while he often found philosophers useful, suggestive, inspiring…

JT : He was an artist and a poet, and when he was told something he didn’t want to hear…

A: Exactly, and this problem still plagues us today. We point out “Hey guys, this can’t be A and B at the same time. That’s logically inconsistent.” And it’s like we’re speaking Mandarin to housecats. They just look at us like… “So?”

JT : And they can cite where Crowley avoided the same issue, or double-talked around it.

A: Right. Even if they’re smart enough to follow the point, they don’t really grasp why we think it’s so important. They are totally willing to criticize Crowley as a person, but they never trace back his errors and problems to fundamental mistakes in reasoning. Instead they trace it back to the aristocratic values of Liber AL, which they reject.

JT: Hmm… so how might a more philosophically rigorous approach help us?

A: Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between art, theurgy, philosophy, and meditation.

JT : ok

A: What do they have in common? What about each is different? What distinguishes prayer from theurgy (if anything ) and art from ordinary productive activity?

JT : Big questions.

A: Indeed.

JT: To play devil’s advocate, and taking just the last question, I would argue in both cases that there is no essential difference, it’s just about the skill of the practitioner.

A: In so much as art is the highest form of external activity, and theurgy the highest form of prayer, I agree; but each is also distinguished by their character of transcending the rest of the category. Theurgy is prayer that becomes something more than prayer. Art is productivity that is more than regular productivity; not just more quantitatively, but qualitatively.

JT: Qualitatively in that they exist in a state of greater… connection, I want to say?

A: That’s one way to put it. I think what all these have in common is an orientation to being’s transcendent aspect, rather than its merely contingent aspect. Art, for example, is the concrete materialization of the artist’s metaphysics. Philosophy – classic philosophy anyway, is the discipline and organization of thought around the transcendent dimension of being. Prayer is the orientation of the person to the transcendent through direct symbolic communication. Theurgy, pace Iamblichus, is participation in the creative demiurgy through symbol.

JT : Direct participation as opposed to supplication?

A: In a sense, although I think theurgy should always be preceded by prayer. In prayer we orient ourselves toward the highest symbol of being. In theurgy we participate in that current. Crowley in Book 4 says that all magical work should be preceded by the confession, which is part of the consecration. If one reads his description of that act, it’s pretty much prayer – rather typical Christian prayer, actually

JT: So there is no “ascent on the planes”, you’re not identifying with the Gods.

A: Right, but if you pardon the analogy, you get your compass pointed in the right direction. Okay… I’m here…. North is… that way… now I’m moving North… now I’m AT North. I am North.

JT: So how is classic philosophy different from modern?

A: Well, to further belabor this metaphor: Classic philosophy is like map making. To be worthwhile, philosophy has to be logical organization AROUND something, and that something is supposed to be the transcendent aspect of being. Philosophy is ideally the practice of organizing thought, removing contradictions, and proceeding in a rigorous manner, in order to apprehend this transcendent. Modern philosophy is more like cataloging and describing the map making process. The early and late Platonists, the Stoics, the Peripatetics, and the Cynics are all, more or less, in agreement about the purpose of philosophy – even though they disagree about various aspects and approaches. For example, Platonists and Stoics disagree about the nature of the soul and the nature of universals, but they both agree that the soul is real and that universals are important.

JT: So what happens with the philosophical project? Why does it fall apart?

A: I think Epicureanism and Academic skepticism are the first breaks with the orthodox tradition. They retain the emotional emphasis, but they’re chipping away at the project itself. Ultimately though, I think Iamblichus again points us to the answer, and it is metaphysical. Man IS spirit, but FULLY descends into the body. This is necessary for the universe to remain whole, but it also places us in a very precarious position. Without reference to the transcendent view of the whole, we can lose our way. Through theurgy we can regain that reference point. The ancient Greek philosophers, some 800 years before Iamblichus, simply assumed a traditional pagan metaphysics. Many of them were initiates of the Mysteries or at the very least, were familiar with personal worship. It’s the same problem we run into in all Traditional societies. They already know that the Gods exist. It’s a very different point of view.

JT: Right. The problems of us moderns are… well… modern.

A: But as the social order, which they saw as inherently metaphysical in origin, starts to fall apart this confidence in being’s meaning and significance also breaks down. Maybe the Gods don’t really care about us? Maybe the Gods don’t exist at all? Now what? Christianity offers a solution of sorts. It claims that reason itself must be made subservient to faith. It stops at a barrier. Below the barrier, reason is fine, so long as it does not rise above its station. Beyond this you can only have faith in a revelation that is totally outside your experience and understanding. This is subtly different from what Iamblichus and the Pagan neo-Platonists suggest.

JT: I’m not sure how subtle that is.

A: No, I suppose not. Anyway, this arrangement between reason and faith works for a while, but then things start getting funky. Gaps appear in the world-view presented by a literal reading of the Abrahamic faith. In an effort to deal with these gaps, some people start applying the philosophic method to faith. Initially the hope is to improve the faith, but the end result is that it just reveals how contradictory and ridiculous much of it is. Philosophy, however, still lacks that transcendent connection. It’s been gutted of its original context to make it compatible with Christian faith. So while philosophy has revealed the problems with the Christian synthesis, it can’t really offer a replacement. Today we either hold onto the transcendent as a personal and private “belief” or we have faith that science and technology will resolve the problem – although we really aren’t sure how.

JT: Sounds about right.

A: Crowley inherits this condition, goes looking for the experience of transcendence, finds it…and then spends the rest of his life struggling with the implications. Rather than simply admitting that the transcendent dimension of existence is real, he tries to justify the experience of transcendence within the modern worldview.

JT: hmm… but also retain his own claim to transcendent authority and “mission”.

A: Right. As a result, he often identifies that which is above consciousness as that which is below it, namely sexual desire. This is an understandable mistake if you assume that discursive reasoning is insufficient, but you are also uncertain about whether or not the transcendent experience is actual, or just a manifestation of the powers of the brain or something. You have to locate that power somewhere, so he struggles with this and ends up in weird places.

JT: Such as?

A: Well, as an example, he and Rose are in China and Crowley isn’t sure what to do with himself. He contemplates getting away from Rose and the baby to go on a “magical retirement”. They do some theurgic work and Crowley is told NOT to go on a magical retirement, but rather to leave immediately with his wife and child, return to Egypt. He blows it off and does exactly what he’s told not to do. His first daughter dies shortly afterwards. Later in his life Crowley claims that the gods killed his kid for his ignoring them. He doesn’t think ,“ I shouldn’t have abandoned my newborn and wife in China. “, or “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken a newborn on a walking tour of the 3rd world”, but “the Gods – real external beings – reshaped the world to kill off my kid because they were mad at me.” He doesn’t seem to consider that they were trying to warn him of a natural consequence, or even that it was just impersonal fate, but he assumes that, because of his “chosen” station, it HAS to be personal.

JT : There’s a pretty strong historical backing for that attitude.

A: Sure, but at the same time it’s not compatible with the fundamentals of his own purported philosophy: “There is no god but Man”. It’s this weird back and forth with him.  He believes both simultaneously “I can do whatever I want, because we make our own magic, these entities are just ways of me reaching my highest creative potential”, and at the same time –

JT : “They kill my kids when I disobey”

A: Right. At the same time, “They are real, and I have a special mission chosen by them, and since my authority is divinely sanctioned, if you don’t do what I want you to do, you are in error, because you’re contradicting the will of the gods…which is also your own highest will, of course, and you’d know that if only you did what I told you to do.”

JT: Sounds like most biblically inspired would-be rulers.

A: Naturally. On the other hand, I think his identification of the value of theurgy and meditation is correct, and his visions are beautiful and real, and more often than not he gets things right. He values liberty and genuinely wanted the best for people around him, even if his own bullshit got in the way. He shows a way out of the modern mess – that you can still have the transcendent experience without “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, like refusing modern science and technology.

JT: That’s rather a big deal. Not just “these techniques may be psychologically useful” but rather “this stuff is important for mankind”.

A: Exactly. I also think he was right about the erotic dimension of our existence as a key, but I think he’s wrong about the how and why of it, and that error made his life far more difficult than it needed to be.

JT: How so?

A: Once again he’s locating the transcendent in the physical symbol; not as a correspondence and reference, but as a literal container. It’s not just the highest embodied symbol of the whole – that would be fine. Rather it’s “God” as intellectual superstructure on the physical apparatus of your nuts. If he was philosophically rigorous, he would have realized this doesn’t hold together. It’s just nihilism with some spooky stuff, which may or may not be personally meaningful.

JT: Being raised as a “Born Again” who needed to break through so much guilt about my sexuality, and then just guilt in general, I’m hard pressed to find too much fault with what Crowley linked onto. Embracing sexuality is part of embracing and acknowledging the whole self.

A: Yes, but it also returns us to this idea of fully descending into embodiment. Eros is the infinite force into which we descend. It’s our physical connection to eternity. We have to work with this, but simply indulging in it, letting it lead us around by the dick, which Crowley not only does but explicitly TRIES to do, just leads us into mess after mess after mess.

JT: So enough about these purely modern problems, right?

A: Glad to hear I haven’t drifted too far from the topic at hand.

gandalph_moria
One of the chief difficulties for aspiring artists of all kinds, is that we often misunderstand the relationship between what our art could be and what it presently is.  When we encounter great art it appears like the transformative power of the magician’s staff.  Great art opens a gateway to the realm of the gods. It reveals things hidden to our normal senses. It changes our view of the world and ourselves. Great artists seem to pursue their art as a sacred calling, as if it were the grail itself: a chalice of solace and renewal to which they return again and again throughout all of life’s vicissitudes. Even among those artists who are merely technically excellent, and not necessarily endowed with greatness of insight and expression, we wonder at the power their art has to move the world. We see it bring to some riches and renown. We see it used to shield the weak, humble the wicked, build communities of friendship and tear down prison walls. Our own work of course does none of these things.  It seems rote, mechanical, and immature.  Our enthusiasm for what art represents rubs against our experience of actually doing it. We stop. We balk. We falter.  Why?
There is a pernicious lie we believe.  It is the lie of the “inner genius”. The substance of this lie is that somewhere within us resides an homunculus – a tiny person. This “inner artist” possesses all the wondrous creative power we seek, complete and fully developed. In order for us to achieve the artist’s life, it is only necessary to contact this mischievous imp, who will then spin thread into gold, make the sun still in the sky, and open the doorway to Narnia. This is assuming of course that we are “real” artists.  Non-artists don’t have an inner Shakespeare, a miniature Gauguin, or a tiny Beethoven. Perhaps they have a pet genius for spreadsheets, or an innermost sacred accountant.  Having this model of the creative process, we are disturbed when we sit down to work and find our minuscule demon missing from his station.  Perhaps we have done something to drive him away, and should seek out some kind of artist’s penance?  There is a whole industry of books, support groups, and retreats providing this service.  Perhaps we are not sensitive enough and must “develop” our “creative intuition”?  Most occult and spiritual practices are substitutes for nothing else.  Perhaps we are – horror of horrors – not a “real” artist at all, and should resign ourselves to corporate mediocrity and mindless entertainments?  Whatever it is, we must do something. Clearly something is wrong with us, for the magic gate is closed.

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The simple truth is: the “little artist inside” does not exist.  There is no “inner you”.  There is only you as you find yourself: as you presently are right now.  The art you are drawn to is not a magical wand, or the holy grail of your life, or even a potent weapon for YOU.  It may become ALL of those things in time.  For now though, for YOU, it is but a possibility.  One of the many things which you may become.  It is an interest, for which you have some natural inclination.  It is material to be worked.  No different from learning to shape wood, or metal, or repair machines, or developing your body, you must approach it as a CRAFT.  For that is the possibility the art opens to you right now.  It is how the Muse first approaches anyone – not in her wedding finery, and even less in her bedclothes, but in a humble workman’s smock, bearing tools of labor. This prospect should cheer you and bring you courage, for while the sword is fearful, and the road to the grail unknown, and the wand a mystery – the potter’s wheel, the blacksmith’s anvil, the dressmaker’s shop, these things are all known and open to you.  Craft is not hard to develop.  Anyone can do it.  It only requires a little patience and a small amount of discipline.  Sadly, in our modern world of mass produced goods and “service” jobs, fewer and fewer people have any experience in craft.  Think about it.  Most working adults today have mastered little other than a very specific rote process with little or no significance outside the bureaucracy in which they work.  Because of this, a little instruction may be helpful.
3ofdisks

In my personal experience, the development of craft is a process of three interlocking and self-perpetuating activities.  The first is practice.  You should practice your craft every day.  Even if you can only manage half an hour, or five minutes, it still counts.  Practice grows organically in time.  Some say that it takes around twenty hours of practice for a new skill to become anything other than a difficult and confusing task.  I like to think of this as a day – twenty four hours of time.  When you have spent twenty four hours doing something –  actually doing it, and not worrying about it, agonizing over it, or avoiding it,  then you have a basic understanding of what the activity actually feels like.  Of course, this is just the beginning and, even after you have been at it for some time, your work may feel mechanical, crude, and unimpressive. But practice is not fundamentally about what you produce.  Practice is the work you do on yourself, for your soul has a shape, and through practice you are molding it.  To produce great art you must first become someone who is capable of great art.  Therefore, the more you practice, the more rewarding it will become as your soul takes on the artist’s form.  Periodically however, even in the best of circumstances, you will “get stuck” and practice will seem indescribably tedious.  This brings us to the second activity: experimentation.

You must give yourself permission to try new things, things that will not work, things that will appear – to your critical mind, to lead nowhere.  Think of them as little gambles, for you are embarking on a journey of discovery, no different from a Galileo or a Magellan.  There has never been, in this turning of the cosmos, a being precisely and exactly like you: with your constitution, history, aspirations and perspective.  Thus, no one can tell you exactly how your art will be, or should be, what medium you should work in, or how you should structure your practice.  You must discover this road as you travel.  Do not abandon critical thought, but merely put it aside for a moment, and only analyze your experiment after it has run its course.  The problems of art cannot be solved merely by thinking them through.  You must think, but you also must act even – dare I say especially, without perfect knowledge.  To demand that you succeed before you have experienced failure, to know of what you are capable before you have tested your abilities, is to doom yourself to paralysis and bitter stagnation.  Art is invention.  Without uncertain and untested innovation, it becomes merely industry.  Somewhat paradoxically art must posses a recognizable form, despite what some in the “post-modern” school claim ( a nonsense phrase by the way, as art is eternal ).  Random emotional ejaculation cannot be art, because it can never first be craft.  All learning, all thought, all self-improvement, occurs within a tradition, and this brings us to the third activity to which you must apply yourself: study.

Like any other craftsman, you must study – not just your discipline, but the world.  Along with the lie of the homunculus – the “inner artist”, there is the lie of the ORIGINAL artist.  This is the lie that the content of our art is something we produce from “within” like a gall-bladder produces bile.  In fact, these are two aspects of the same lie: that the artist is some kind of isolated autodidact, and this comes from a faulty view of the world.  Do not misunderstand me.  Self-directed learning is fine, in fact it is necessary, but self-learning is not the same as self-teaching.  You cannot by definition teach yourself something you don’t already know.  The universe is not fundamentally made of isolated bits of stuff.  It is a whole – a continuum – a living body.  An artist is not a world unto himself.  Rather an artist is like a nerve – a particularly sensitive and intelligent ganglia within the cosmic body.  To improve your function as an artist you must reach out to that larger neighborhood of beings who make up “your kind”, and plug in.  To be sure, you will need periods of isolation, for reflection, digestion, and germination, but understanding comes from context.    You must know what has been done in your craft before you came: what works, what doesn’t work, what has already been tried, and what has no one ever attempted.  You must also know what is happening in the world.  To not know your craft is to be ignorant.  To only know your craft, is to be an idiot – in the technical definition of the term, doomed to repeat the same inanities over and over and over again.   For, like a nerve, you cannot decide to feel something that is not present – that does not lie within your field of experience.  To create something great, you must know what greatness looks like.  To create something new, you must experience something new.  This requires no great effort.  Newness is everywhere. Even the most ordinary experiences become profound when viewed with attention.   Cultivate attention, and you will find teachers everywhere.

These three activities: practice, experimentation, and study will develop your craft.  All you have to do is act, and not give up.  There is a fourth… thing, you must develop.  It is not an activity as such, but rather a quality. That is patience.  Be patient with yourself – and, if you do not know how, learn to be patient.  If you study your craft with diligence you will develop this quality.  Patience is not putting up with suffering.  Patience is a knack for finding contentment and happiness within all of life’s situations.  It is the art of learning how to enjoy this journey, on this planet Earth.  For in the end, we never arrive anywhere.  Every ending is the beginning of some new adventure.  No effort if wasted.  No opportunity comes too early, or too late.  There is no experience that cannot be used in the service of the universal harmony, if you come to view it in the right way.  What else did you expect, from art?

artthoth

Europa

“Whenever you experience mental vacillation, cast your mind back to the Greco-Roman mentality as it was before the second century.”

– Montherlant

“In the first place, paganism is not a ‘return to the past.’  It does not consist of what could be called ‘one past versus another’… It is not a manifestation of a desire to return to some kind of ‘lost paradise’ (this is rather a Judeo-Christian theme), and even less… to a ‘pure origin’.

Contemporary paganism does not consist of erecting altars to Apollo or reviving the worship of Odin.  Instead it implies looking behind religion and, according to a now classic itinerary, seeking for the ‘mental equipment’ that produced it, the inner world it reflects, and how the world it depicts is apprehended.  In short, it consists of viewing the gods as ‘centers of values’… and the beliefs they generate as value systems: gods and beliefs may pass away, but the values remain.

Far from being confused with atheism or agnosticism, it poses a fundamentally religious relationship between man and world – and a spirituality that appears to us much more intense, much more serious, and stronger than what Judeo-Christianity claims for itself.  Far from desacralizing the world, it sacralizes it in the literal sense of the word; it regards the world as sacred – and this is precisely, as we shall see, the core of paganism.”

– Alain de Benoist

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