DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #5: The Authenticity Rant

Posted here for reference, one of the most important things I ever read in a comic book: the rant on the nature of ‘authenticity’ in music, personality and life from 2007’s Doktor Sleepless issue 5, “Your Imaginary Friend”.

I gave a spoken-word performance of this piece in 2014 at Treadwells as part of my talk ‘Cthulhu, Fiction and Real Magic‘.

(Worth noting that an earlier issue also contains the retelling of Alexandra David-Néel’s tulpa experience, which I discuss in my recent academic paper The Tulpa In The West.)

I was also recently delighted to discover one of the ur-texts for this piece: Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor  (ISBN: 9780571226597, which has the Big Bill Broonzy information and a treasury of other tales in this fascinating area. A must-read if any of this interests you.

All rights to this piece remain with writer Warren Ellis, artist Ivan Rodriguez and Avatar Press.



It’s 1991. Richey Manic is carving something into his arm because Steve Lamacq has suggested that The Manic Street Preachers lack an essential authenticity. What’s echoing in the backstage room is the voice of Ian Brown, still saying “Cos it’s 1989.Time to to get real.” In 1999 Godspeed You! Black Emperor start releasing CD’s sleeved in untreated cardboard. Intended or not, it denotes authenticity. Keeping it real. Like brown paper bags from Muji, founded 1980: Full name Mujirushi Ryohin, which means “No Brand, Quality Goods.”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor didn’t play the media game. Half of them were anarchists, and all of them hated the music industry. But of course they had a brand. You can’t help but notice that Naomi’s Klein’s book “No Logo” had a fucking logo on the front. Godspeed’s brand was authenticity. That’s what they had to sell. And if they didn’t sell records and gig tickets, then they were just 12 guys in Montreal eating ramen until they died. Richey Edwards couldn’t be Richey Manic, THAT RICHEY, unless he sold you on the concept that he was 4 real. Ian Brown and the Stone Roses couldn’t be that band, the band of the moment with the authentic voice that turned out to be the band in the right place at the right time and raised everyone up – unless they were more real than you.


Around the turn of the century Justin Timberlake began to carry around with him a group of black vocalists, whose job it apparently was, in live performances, to declare how “real” Justin Timberlake was before he began to sing. In 1938, sharp-dressed bluesman Big Bill Broonzy who’d been tearing up Chicago, played New York for the first time. But a blues guitarist in a good suit brewing up the primal muck of rock n’ roll with drummers and bassmen didn’t seem authentic enough to the Carnegie. So the concert programme described him as a poverty-stricken farmer who “had been prevailed upon to leave his mule and make his very first trek to the big city.” And they had him do acoustic guitar blues on his own. From there to his death twenty years later, he booked pretty much nothing but solo acoustic gigs. Because fake Big Bill Broonzy was deemed the authentic version.


No matter that he pioneered electric instruments in the blues, and was also recording with people like Pete Seeger, who wanted to take an axe to the cables when Dylan went electric in 1965. He changed his story in later years, but he was clearly offended by Dylan’s sudden inauthenticity, that maybe he’d been championing a fake all along. Because no one ever knew, or every one pretended to not know, that Bob Dylan was a fictional person. His authenticity was entirely constructed. Bob Dylan and Superman are the two greatest American myths created in the last century.


Who the hell wants to be real?


In 2006, Bob Dylan’s playing ” The Levee’s Gonna Break” Except the song’s called ” When the Levee Breaks” and it’s by Memphis Minnie. And she’s playing it in 1929, a few years before she moves to Chicago to tear up the town with Bill Broonzy. Who’s Memphis Minnie? One of the other great electric blues pioneers. And her name is actually Lizzie Douglas. And she’s not from Memphis either.


Authenticity? Authenticity is bullshit. Never more so than today. We can be anyone we can imagine being. We can be someone new every day.


You know why Grinders never got any respect in this town?

See if any of these comments are familiar:

‘You should be happy with who you are.’
‘Be yourself’.
‘That stuff is just fake.’
‘Don’t get any ideas above your station.’
‘Take that shit off.’
‘Dress Properly.’
‘Why can’t you be like everyone else?’




We are not real enough. We are not authentic to our society. Free speech does not extend to our own bodies.


But you know what? Back in the days before the internet, a kid called Robert Zimmerman said, “Fuck that, I’m going to be the man I dream of being. I’m going to be someone completely new and write about the end of the world because it’s the only thing worth talking about.” And that was one guy in Minnesota, in the same decade the telecommunications satellite was invented. Imagine what all of us, living here in the future, can achieve.


Be authentic to your dream, be authentic to your own ideas about yourself. Grind away at your own minds and bodies and become your own invention. BE MAD SCIENTISTS.


Here at the end of the world, it’s the only thing worth doing.”


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Anomalous Engineering

anom copyAnd because it’s just not been a busy enough week…

I’m involved in a new project, Anomalous Engineering.

Anomalous Engineering is the banner under which you’ll find unique works of cultural investigation. Finding Meaning in the Mundane, using Pop Cultureto expand on Esoterica. Practising Word Magic and image juxtaposition to reveal the Weird, hiding in Plain SightWeaponised Metaphysics and Improvised Expositional Devices.

Ghost Tribes of the Future, stranded in the Eternal Now. Time travelling Malcontentshacking ontology and dropping theory bombs. Offering up uncommon futures and profane visions of the present.

Anomalous Engineering is a Label, not a Band.

I’m very excited to be be label-mates with old friends such as M1k3y P1rat3, Emily Dare and Damian Williams, and other talented folk like Jenka Gurfinkel, Steen Comer and Jay Owens, with others to appear soon.

This is in the very early stages, so the url of isn’t quite ready; but the first pieces have appeared at both Medium and a placeholder WordPress blog.

So far, I’ve included revised versions of older pieces no longer available at their original site…

‘The Tribe of the Strange: Origin Myth’

‘Into The Hyper-Real’

‘Infinite Diversity’

‘Rate Of Return: Woolwich, 4GW and Kayfabe’

…and original work from us all, including some collaborative pieces (think of them as split singles and/or duets) will follow.

I think Anomalous Engineering may be worth a bookmark if the subject of, oh I dunno, our future as a species is of interest to you…

(Oh: and Boing Boing posted a link to my Robert Anton Wilson talk video, which was nice.)

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Announcing my first book: NEW GODS AND MONSTERS

I’m immensely happy to announce I have sold my first book.

New Gods and Monsters will be published by Daily Grail Publishing next summer.

Here’s the pitch:

“To a new world of gods and monsters!’
-Dr. Pretorius, in The Bride Of Frankenstein

Despite the predictions (and hopes) of some, the early 21st Century of the Common Era is not a time of less religion than before – 85% of the planet’s population profess to hold some religious belief. But… some of those beliefs are a long way from orthodoxy.

As a result of the rise in popular culture in the last century and the increasing speed and density of communications media to carry it, the modern world has a plethora of stories – avowed fictions among them – about religion, myth and magic to chose from. Increasingly, peoples’ beliefs are directly affected by these stories. Some believers take metaphorical comfort and confirmation of their own orthodox beliefs from them, some incorporate part of pop culture into their belief system… and some even take these fictional tales and treat them as the basis of their own new religions.

New Gods And Monsters is the story of these stories – how they began, how they became popular, the influence they can have on us and what they imply for a future seemingly ridden with religious strife.

This will be an expansion of my previously published thoughts on hyper-real religion, Slenderman, multi-model occultism and basically everything I care about, heavily revised and re-examined – plus a lot of new material on how mythology and stories intersect our modern world.

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RAW MAGIC & other talks


The video of my Treadwells talk “RAW MAGIC: The Occultism of Robert Anton Wilson” is now up at YouTube.

As the machine ran out of memory five minutes before the end, the finale is a slideshow over the audio.

The Q&A session after is split off into a separate audio with slideshow, which is here:

Many thanks to Christina and co. at Treadwells for being the marvellous hosts they always are, Marco Visconti for shooting the video and especially Nic Alderton for volunteering to lipsync the audio just as I was about to maim everybody who ever worked on iMovie!

I’m also very pleased to announce another event I’ll be speaking at: Spirits Of Place, in Liverpool on 2 April 2016:

A series of interlinked talks, readings, and interviews taking their cue from their surroundings: Calderstones Park, the carved neolithic stones which give the area its name, the City of Liverpool, and the county of Merseyside as a whole.


Ramsey Campbell (author)

Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent (author)

John Reppion (author)


The organisers would welcome abstracts for twenty to thirty-minute papers/talks/presentations which use some aspect of the geography, or history of the event location as their jumping off point, core, or root. Suggested topics include but are in no way limited to:

Neolithic burial mounds and Rock Artwork

Fictional works set in, around, or inspired by the locale


Prehistoric Liverpool/Merseyside

Local myths and legends, ancient and/or modern

The Allerton Oak, oak and treelore


I’ll be giving a talk about urban magic and the dérive – no doubt with a mention of things like the Cosmic Trigger street ritual at Jung’s bust in Mathew Street. Hope to see some of you there!

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Catch-up: Speaking on Fandom, Religion, Robert Anton Wilson

Been a while since I updated, and a fair bit happened in the interim… (and I’m not even mentioning the many splendid gigs I went to!). The last 5 weeks were especially busy.

The end of July had a personal first: I was invited to give a lecture at an academic conference, based on blind-read peer review selection of my paper. This was a big deal for someone with no college at all!

The conference was on Fandom and Religion at the University of Leicester. It was a fascinating three days. Science fiction and fantasy fandom was only a small part of the range – there were great talks on the religious aspects of everything from Polish football teams to music fans (two talks alone on Bono!).

My talk was called The Tulpa In The West (which you can read at that link to here’s the abstract;

The concept of the Tulpa first appears in Western thought within the writings of world traveller and mystic Alexandra David-Neel in 1929, in her book Magic And Mystery In Tibet. In David-Neel’s account, the Tulpa (which she translates as ‘thought-form’) is a human-form, physically manifest ‘spirit’ entity created by her Buddhist-trained visualization and meditation. After creating her tulpa, she lost control of both its form and intent, having to eventually banish it back to wherever it came from. This concept has infiltrated both popular culture and the occultism of the 20th and 21st century.

Authors such as Walter B. Gibson (the creator of The Shadow) and comics scribe Alvin Schwartz have used the tulpa concept to describe elements of fictive reality leaking into the ‘real’ world. The tulpa has appeared in a variety of other modern works, ranging from TV shows such as Supernatural to the near-future science fiction comic book Doktor Sleepless. It also formed a major element in the origin of the fictionally-derived but potent urban myth of The Slenderman, and has led to magical practices such as the chaos magic ‘egregore’ summonings and the internet-originated, fandom-adjacent act of ‘tulpamancy’. I discuss the rise of this Westernised conception of the tulpa, its considerable variance from the actual praxis of Tibetan Buddhist worship and its implications for both our post-structural, ‘hyperreal’ society and modern occult praxis.

My enormous thanks to the scholars who organised, spoke at and attended this conference, who were uniformly kind and friendly to an unschooled weirdo.

Last week was a double-header. Some of you might recall my involvement in the stage version of Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger (as co-worker at the Liverpool street ritual which channeled the synchronicity powers of both Carl Jung and John Constantine, and then my being the surprise celebrant for director Daisy Campbell’s impromptu wedding the day after the premiere last November)… and that I gave a talk earlier in the year at Senate House Library on the subject of Wilson.

On 27 August, I gave a very expanded version of this talk at my beloved Treadwells bookshop, which seemed to go down well. I’ll hopefully be posting a YouTube video of the talk over the weekend for those unable to attend. As Daisy, Kate Alderton (who played Arlen Wilson in the play) and my Daily Grail colleague/instigator/KLF biographer John Higgs were in the audience, it was quite the reunion… and one which continued into the next day.

On the 28th, John Higgs held the launch for his new book, ‘Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense Of The 20th Century‘, which I can’t recommend too highly. This book deserves to be as big a hit as A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME & read by far more of its purchasers.

It takes all the major developments through that century – from shifts in art and culture to the end of empires, the birth of science fiction and our networked world – and not only explains their development lucidly and ties the whole lot together, he makes it downright hilarious in places. (Especially how he explains postmodernism by comparing it to Super Mario Bros.)

It was great to see the enthusiasm for John’s work here, and meet up with even more of the Cosmic Trigger crew. Even more exciting: Daisy unveiled plans to bring the play to the US in 2017, the tenth anniversary of Bob’s Death. Santa Cruz, Ca, 23 July. Make a note!

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Talks and talking

I did a podcast a couple of days with my friend and fellow Grinder Mikey Pirate (who is totally not the leader of an Asteroid Death Cult): we talked about the usual stuff – hyperreal religion, metafiction, Trickster Gods, Slenderman, Babylon 5‘s Rangers and why those who cosplay the Engineers from Prometheus might not be the nicest people to have over for a cup of tea.

Here it is:


Next week, I’m giving two different talks in London on two consecutive days:

22nd April, I’m speaking at the Royal College of Art’s Battersea campus (RCA students only, sadly) on neopaganism, the hyperreal (again), authenticity and Midsummer.     Details here.

On the 23rd, appropriately enough, I’m giving a talk on ‘Robert Anton Wilson – Gnostic Agnostic’ at the University of London’s Senate House Library’s ‘Marginal Presences’ Symposium – there should still be tickets available for this, and you can learn more here.

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Science Fiction’s Gifts to Paganism: talk video and footnotes

I am pleased to be able to post the video of my 12 February 2015 Treadwells talk on ‘Science Fiction’s Gifts to Paganism’. My huge thanks to the Treadwells staff as always, especially to Marco Visconti for filming and editing the talk.

The YouTube video went live on 27 February – tragically, this was the day Leonard Nimoy died. Out of the huge respect I had for the man, and how he embodied the concepts of IDIC which I explored in the talk, I waited to post this until now.

(And, not long after, Terry Pratchett also died. I’m glad to have given both these gentlemen some small tribute here.)

As some of the audience requested, I have a few footnotes on the talk below.

Continue reading

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Cthulhu, Fiction and Real Magic: talk & footnotes


On 3 December I gave a talk at Treadwells on about how Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos – both in his hands and in those of his contemporaries and followers – had been a surprisingly potent influence on modern occultism. It seemed to go pretty well… for the first time ever, a talk of mine was both sold out and had a ticket waiting list!

Sadly, plans to video the talk fell through, but there was an audio recording made: you can listen to it here:


Quite a few of the audience asked for a list of footnotes and links for the stuff I referenced, so here we are.

First thing is the bit of research I didn’t get the chance to do… ST Joshi’s mammoth Lovecraft biography, I Am Providence, which looks fascinating. (I did read some of his shorter essays, though – start here.)

LOVECRAFT A great thinkpiece on Ghostbusters as the most optimistic expression of the Mythos.

The HP Lovecraft Historical Society are at

(This is where you can get the excellent Miskatonic University t shirt I wore, by the way.)

Their history:

The Michel Houellebecq HPL piece.


Official history of the tabletop roleplay game:

Alan Moore on his published and upcoming HPL comic books:

Plush Cthulhu history:

On HPL & the World Fantasy Award furore:

Me on True Detective and The King In Yellow:


As ever, one core aspect of my talk was Adam Possamai’s theories regarding Hyperreal religion. You can read my in-depth introduction to his ideas in the Darklore journal here:


My main source for the history of chaos magic and HPL’s influence was The History of British Magick After Crowley by Dave Evans: it’s not specific about the influence of Robert Anton Wilson on the original cohort, but his thought is clearly present.

If you haven’t done it already, read Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati. If you have, then read it again. And if you ever get the chance, see the play.


If there’s any specific questions about the talk, please drop them in comments.


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Sisters – A Thought Experiment

Imagine there are three sisters. Identical triplets.

Each of them shares a passionate enthusiasm for occult mysticism, and has had more than one mystical experience (an Unverified Personal Gnosis, if you will) with a godform. As a result, each has assiduously attempted to follow what this contact, and their resulting studies, has shown them. Each tries to follow their indicated Path with respect and understanding. None make any claim that their path is universal or the One True Way.

Here’s the differences:

The first sister’s worship is of a deity which is not from the culture or ethnic group of her birth.

The second sister worships an ancient god, but their worship does not resemble any of the reconstructions of that system, and parts of her praxis are at variance with the historical record.

The third sister worships a deity only found in pop culture.

So: which one of the sisters is Doing It Wrong the worst?

Show your work.

Continue reading

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Doctor Who: Time Heist – a review in 3 pictures




Nice and smooth.

My man Mr. VI – no, not the one up there – has noted the gnostic and alchemical elements of the episode. I’ll add that, if you count The Doctor twice (because The Architect), the heist team/Invisibles cell is five people…



The Leverage team can be modelled as having the same format as an Invisibles cell, based around the 5 element structure this:

AIR: (Yellow) – Leader – Nate Ford

EARTH: (Black) – Logistics – Alec Hardison

FIRE: (Red) – Combat/Security – Elliot Spencer

WATER: (Blue) – Psychological Ops – Sophie Devereaux

SPIRIT: (White) – ‘Heart’ – Parker

(There’s also the Brains/Hacker/Hitter/Grifter/Thief pentuplet from the show, but we’ll put that to one side for now…)

In Time Heist, the same Invisibles cell structure would apply, if you include both of The Doctor’s roles:

AIR: (Yellow) – Leader – The Doctor

EARTH: (Black) – Logistics – The-Doctor-as-The-Architect

FIRE: (Red) – Combat/Security – Psi

WATER: (Blue) – Psych Ops – Saibra

SPIRIT: (White) – ‘Heart’ – Clara (damn it)


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