“At the end of the day, it’s all just weird shit.” — Me, quoted in Sandman by Neil Gaiman.
One of the main reasons I put up this blog is for my thoughts about magic. I have considered myself as a magician for pretty much my whole adult life – and the seeds of that go even further back, to when I was about seven years old. For years, I’ve been trying to find ways to describe what it is I do, and how I think about “the occult”, “the Dark Arts”, “mysticism”, “psychic phenomena”, what have you.
This seems a good place to do more of that, and hopefully the end result will be of some use – or at least amusement – to the reader.
By the very nature of the subject, anything said here can only be my opinion – working model at best, subjective bias at worst. The only absolute I have found in nearly forty years of study and working is there are no absolutes – and that this paradox may well be the whole point.
In many ways, I am not a refined or subtle man. I come from lower-working-class English mongrel stock, and despite a childhood where I was reading books and thinking thoughts far outside the experiences of my family, school ‘friends’ and teachers, the habits and speech patterns of that time stayed with me.
(It’s notable, for example, that whenever I become emotional about something my normally fairly neutral Brit speech patterns revert to those of my family – in short I sound like John Constantine getting stroppy! Well, without the Scouse undercurrents. You get the idea.)
(Also, I swear like a fucking bastard.)
My background meant that my first exposure to theories and concepts of magic came from my local library. Finding books on myth, then occult praxis, pretty much saved what for sake of argument I shall call my sanity. I never stopped reading – and after a while I noticed something very odd… that I was picking up a lot of useful ideas and myths from fictional works, perhaps more than so-called non-fiction.
Now, I’m hardly the only person to realise that. At about the same time as I was making this connection in my early teens, the founders of what’s now known as Chaos Magic were investigating the possibilities of fictional archetypal magics. Call it Steam Engine Time, perhaps. Or that we were all reading Robert Anton Wilson. Either way, this realisation let me explore ideas about magic with a freedom I appreciated – amongst other reasons, it let me make stuff up and work with improvised tools in a way that a more formal style would have frowned upon. For a poor boy on a very restricted budget, this was helpful.
At the same time, I kept getting this sense of vocation, that my magical interests were leading to something. The best parallel I could find was in the tribal figure usually called ‘shaman’. The archetypal magic-worker, a figure who would otherwise be an outcast due to their differences from the rest of the tribe. One called to serve. (And, as I found many years later in a talk on Tibetan Bön Shamanism by Christian Ratsch, the first duty of that school of shamanism is to fight demons. Considering how my career ended up, this fits rather too well.)
That word shaman has a lot of heavy connotations – especially when used by a Western white man who’s not remotely using a strict traditional ceremonial form. Issues of cultural theft and inauthenticity pop up. And since ‘urban shaman’ as a term has been co-opted by some of the fluffier (and IMO sometimes less than effective) denizens of the Newage movement, I needed an alternative.
One day, the word ‘Guttershaman’ popped into my head. And it seems to fit. A town-going mage, happy to work magic with whatever he finds on the street and in his pockets. A bit rough-and-ready, but workable.
So that’s where I come from. As I go on in these posts, I hope to dig a little deeper into all this.
Looking at things like the way words and magic combine, and the things that seem beyond words. About being authentic to yourself in an increasingly inauthentic world. Why magic and religion make such unsteady bedfellows.
Why something like a Guttershaman has a purpose in the twenty-first century.