Slenderman Darklore piece, free to read online

Quick pimp:

My piece on Slenderman for Darklore vol. 6 has been put on their website as a free sample, so if you want to read it Right Now, go here. (And NB there’s a page of relevant links for the piece right here on the blog.)

But I’d still recommend the actual Darklore book, as it’s packed with fine Fortean writing and is simply gorgeous.

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Out Now – Darklore vol. 6

I’m happy to announce that Darklore volume 6, the latest instalment of what has become one of the best Fortean journals around, is out now – and I’m in it. This is my first professional published work and I’m proud as hell to be there.

Here’s the good word:

Ladies and gentlemen: the sixth instalment of our anthology series covering hidden history, fringe science and general Forteana, Darklore Volume VI, is now available for sale. You can pick up your copy from any number of online retailers through a simple search. But here’s the links to Amazon:

Darklore VI Paperback

Darklore VI Limited Edition Hardcover

Darklore Volume 6
Above is the totally awesome cover (conceived by myself, and perfectly executed by Mark Foster), and below is a listing of what you’ll find within:

  • Cat Vincent examines the birth of a modern monster meme: The Slenderman.
  • Mark Foster unlocks the mystery of the ‘Trial Passages’ beside the Giza pyramids.
  • Robert Schoch evaluates the chances of our Sun wiping out modern civilisation.
  • Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince lift the veil on the esoteric foundations of The Royal Society.
  • Neil Arnold goes in search of sewer monsters.
  • Mitch Horowitz points out America’s mystical history.
  • Nigel Watson shares a case of ‘alien contact’ that he investigated.
  • John Reppion sheds some light on Liverpool’s forgotten megalithic history.
  • Martin Shough looks into the strange case of ‘double suns’.
  • Blair MacKenzie Blake discusses the mystery man of 20th century alchemy, Fulcanelli.
  • Greg Taylor points out the astronomical archetype behind depictions of gods and kings in ancient cultures.
  • Jack Hunter heads to the dark side of anthropology and finds the weirdness that doesn’t often get talked about in academic circles.

Thanks for everyone’s support of the Darklore series – it helps to fund this website, and also provides financial support for contributors so that they can continue researching and writing about the stranger side of life.

Well worth your time and money – despite my presence!

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Myth: Conceptions

(for Modern Mythology Week)

“Politics is the art of reconciling aspirations.” – Bruce Sterling, Distraction

They say that the personal is political. That’s certainly true about personal mythology.

Most people rarely, if ever, question the myths, the narrative, they are born into. They absorb this mythos from family, friends, church and state – and it becomes, to them, the very basis of their reality. The assumptions and metaphors of that mythos are not something they examine in any depth – they have little reason to, most of the time.

The problems arise when they encounter people with equally entrenched myths, which disagree with their own. These encounters are rarely without conflict.

This was always true. But it’s becoming more and more of a problem these days – the global reach of modern communications means that people from thousands of different mythos are having to deal with the fact that other beliefs and myths not only exist, but are taken as truth by people as sincere and dedicated to their mindset… and equally willing to fight for their right not only to believe in their myth, but to force others to believe it too. These encounters often, if not usually, lead to conflict. That’s when politics – usually, the politics of violence – kicks in.

But there is another way.

Some of us make the leap from one mythos to many. Doing so isn’t at all easy. You need a damn good reason to question the underlying basis of your whole reality. This often takes the form of some kind of neurological shock – coming up against something that simply doesn’t fit into the prevailing myth’s structure, or is rejected by it. Discovering one’s sexuality is at odds with the morals defined by one’s mythos is often such a shock, for example… but sometimes it can be as simple as discovering a piece of art or writing that challenges those assumptions and moves one’s soul, or meeting one of those rare folk who can speak eloquently about a different perspective without it becoming either evangelising or threat.

Once you’ve made the jump from one mythos to two, what’s to stop you jumping to three, four… ten thousand? Nothing at all.

And once at this stage, the urge to examine myths, and what they do to human consciousness, becomes a strong one. The problem there is… where do you start?

One thing that can help immeasurably is to read about how others handle their personal myths, how they expand on them, how they perceive other mythos and the influence of myth in general – which, as we’ve seen, can go unexamined so very easily. Which is why I’m very proud to be a contributor to the Modern Mythology project.

James Curcio and his band of merry mythologists have been trying to set forth a set of optional views not only on the myths which sustain us and our societies, but on the very nature of narrative itself. The first physical product of this effort – the remarkable anthology Immanence of Myth - is already being used to teach classes in mythology in American colleges – and a new collection of writing on the subject (including a little from me) is in the pipeline. One of the best parts of this is that anyone can play – if you have a perspective you want to share, the floor can be yours. That’s how I got involved… you can too.

This project is gearing up to expand greatly – but it needs help. You can lend support by spreading the word, contributing to the discussion – or by bunging a couple of quid or bucks to the fund-raising going on right now at http://www.indiegogo.com/Modern-Mythology

Do what you can. In times like these, we need all the ways to reconcile differing mythologies we can get.

(For more, follow the #myth hashtag on Twitter.)

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Catchup: Slenderman, cinema and separation

So, a few things have been happening since my last post.

My divorce/separation continues. As far as these things go, I guess it could be worse. Looks like Kirsty & I won’t be moving until January at the earliest (the wheels of legality grind exceeding slow). Many thanks to all those who have wished us well.

In the midst of all this, it seems as though I’m actually becoming a professional writer. My two-part piece on the Slenderman phenomenon has been accepted for publication by the prestigious Fortean journal Darklore. Part One should appear in Volume 6, later this year, Part 2 in the following volume. My thanks to Greg Taylor for offering me the opportunity.

This is officially my first paid piece of writing, and I’m pretty pleased at how it came out. I will of course remind you all when it’s released. (I’ll also be putting up a permanent link page on the site for all Slenderman-related stuff.)

I’m also happy to say that my long-delayed Mason Lang Film Club series at Weaponizer is now in full swing. The first piece, on The Matrix, is here and the second, covering The Thirteenth Floor, is here. The rest of these should be appearing roughly every month – the next installment discusses The Truman Show.

There’s a few other items on the horizon… one hint I can drop is that there could be some interesting developments in regard to The Tribe Of The Strange. More news hopefully soon!

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Review – The Apophenion

The Apophenion
by Peter J. Carroll
(Mandrake Press 2008) $23.00
ISBN 978-1869928650
168 pages
Reviewer: Ian Vincent
“It’s all ‘cos of Quantum.” — Sir Terry Pratchett.
It’s a common meme in New Age writing is to use physics paradigms, from vague hand-waving about “vibrations” and “energies” to the movie What the Bleep Do We Know!?. Rarely does this go beyond crude wielding of metaphors not actually understood by the proponent. (Fair enough — you don’t have to be a physicist to make use the metaphor. . . but most often it’s used lazily.) So it’s a real treat to see this idea explored well.
After a long absence from the field, Pete Carroll, the Father of Chaos Magic, comes back with a new interpretation of the Chaos paradigm, heavily rooted in his own background in mathematics and a strong appreciation of modern physics, as well as his extensive magical investigations.
He starts with a simple distinction — between being and doing. Considering what an object or person or phenomenon does, rather than what it is allows one to examine the assumptions that underlie so much of western thought, especially the processes which fuel division and bigotry: “. . . the seemingly innocuous idea of ‘being’ encourages sloppy thinking and prejudice, it allows us to create idiotic religious ideas, it prevents us from understanding how the universe works, and it renders us incomprehensible to ourselves.”
From this simple basis, he extrapolates a plausible and coherent system of thought which encompasses magical phenomena and materialistic science without the need for a separate controlling/ creating godlike entity.
He’s taking a similar tack as the later work of the last truly great writer who combined quantum models and magical thought, Robert Anton Wilson (especially in books such as Quantum Psychology), but Carroll’s take is more methodical and much clearer.
It’s also instructive to compare his perspective to the tenets of the “New Atheist” position on the nature of consciousness and evolutionary reasons for the existence of belief — especially in Chapter 4, where he says;

“. . . where does the widespread idea of literally real gods and spirits come from?
It comes from the same ‘theory of mind’ facility that has evolved to equip us with a working hypothesis about the existence of minds in other people (and animals), and a self-image.”
… a position many neurotheologists would consider entirely reasonable. I suspect however that few of them would be able to make Carroll’s (from my perspective, entirely reasonable) leap into a (his term) Neo-Pantheism, which holds scorn for the fundamentalism of both faith and science.

His description of the (no shock!) eight underlying principles of Neo-Pantheism are one of the many very precise pleasures of this book. I found myself nodding in agreement with each of them.
Later chapters expand on these basics, discussing consistent (and verified as plausible by several anonymously-thanked physicists) models in both quantum and astrophysics which allow not only for magic to work but for it to fit our understanding of the physical world. No small trick — and the science bits (though complex) are elucidated well (though visualizing a “vorticitating hypersphere” was beyond me!).
Then, to cap it all off, he introduces us to the newly-minted goddess Apophenia. The word apophenia is usually taken to mean “false pattern recognition” (it was that usage of the term by William Gibson that first drew my attention to it), but as Carroll points out, that just means, “finding pattern or meaning where others don’t” — something many magicians do on a regular basis.
Apophenia is often acquainted with a similar trait (also incarnated as a goddess here) called Pareidolia — best illustrated by the excellent blog on the subject Madonna of the Toast. Carroll illustrates the difference between them thus: “. . . whilst Apophenia could bring the Universe to us in a grain of sand, Pareidolia merely distracts us with the face of the Virgin Mary in a pavement pizza,” (though he does note Her influence in art and mystical religion).
The ritual given for working with Apophenia — and to a lesser degree her sisters Pareidolia and Eris (who should need no introduction!) — does require some background in the working style of Chaos magic in general and IOT-based ritual work in particular, but even if you don’t swing that way, it holds a lot of useful tools.
The appendices give deeper explorations of the maths involved in his model and a brief description of how the concept of Apophenia-as-goddess was born.
Like any paradigm there are a few things he takes for granted, and sometimes these assumptions are not fully explained or justified — but for the most part it all holds together nicely and it certainly held the attention of this reviewer (who, though someone who uses Chaos concepts in my work, was not the biggest fan of Carroll’s earlier books). Though the paradigm is not perhaps a complete one (and to his credit Carroll says precisely this) I suspect it’s as close to a Unified Field Theory of Science and Magic as we’re going to see for quite a while.
The whole thing is leavened with Carroll’s characteristic dry wit — for example: “I describe anyone I’ve not actually net as ‘imaginary.’ (Only lunch can translate imaginary people into real people.)” Several pages also have more poetic insights, including a new-variant Tree of Life, nicely illustrated by Ingrid Glaw.
A small book in size, but enormous in scope. I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in expanding their own praxis or models of the universe, to magicians looking for ways to reconcile their worldview with modern scientific thought, and especially to pagans who need convincing that Chaos Magic isn’t all about wearing black and not believing in anything.
Review content ©2009 Ian Vincent
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Ian Vincent was born in 1964 and is a lifelong student of the occult. He founded Athanor Consulting, a specialist paranormal protection consultancy, in 2002. He closed Athanor in 2009 to better focus on studying wider aspects of the Art. He blogs on magical theory.

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Change

So here’s why I’ve been quiet for the last few weeks…

My triad is ended. Wife-the-shaman has decided her path takes her away from Kirsty & I.

We lasted fourteen years, and it was against the odds all along the way.  And it was done for love. But now it’s over. With as little animosity as possible on all sides – but irrefutably ended.

The fallout from this is going to be complex and not really for open discussion, but the basics are:

Kirsty & I are leaving Bristol & moving to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. Feels like a good place to recover and start afresh. We are as in love and solid together as ever, perhaps even more so. We will miss her, of course – but it’s time to adapt and change.

This is likely to take a few months – probably not before November  - to actually happen. A lot to do before then.

 

Comments disabled. If you know me well enough, you know how to reach me.

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Guttershaman – Toolkits

Since I actually used the phrase ‘Way of the Guttershaman’ last time, I should say a bit more about what that entails.

The Way of the Guttershaman cannot be taught. But it can be learned.

God, that’s really fucking pretentious, isn’t it?

What I mean is, the Guttershaman approach is just that – an approach, a set of habits, a perspective for interacting with occult possibilities. A bricolage of weird shit. In short, a way of making your own toolkit for working magic using whatever fits.

The toolkit idea is one that’s important to me. I’ve written about it elsewhere, in my thoughts about what I call the Tribe of the Strange, that Outsider-fanboy-weirdo cohort that pops up every generation, and has to find it’s roots elsewhere than the mainstream of its birthplace society. The Guttershaman approach can be seen as a toolkit for the magic-using wing of the Tribe.

So, assuming you want to… how do you make a Guttershaman toolkit?

You start with metaphors.

The definition of magic I came up with in an earlier Guttershaman piece goes like this:

Magic is the means by which some observers can use and manipulate the patterns they observe to change the world.

This means you’ve got to look closely at how your personal patterns interact with the phenomenal world. It also means the more (and wider) varieties of patterns you’re familiar with, the more scope your explorations will have. More symbol-sets, more metaphors. Better, more complex tools – ranging from metaphorical mallets to jeweller’s screwdrivers. And, always, a good reliable multi-tool for use in a pinch.

Your multi-tool, to push the metaphor, is having a solid yet flexible set of symbols which relate well to each other and pack together neatly. This means that somewhere along the line, you’ll have to study one occult system or symbol-set in depth. In my case, it was the combination of Western Alchemy and its Sufi parallels/influences – but as long as it’s a system with a lot of built-in flexibility, and one that you can relate to on a deep emotional level, it doesn’t really matter which one it is (though of course which one you work with will strongly influence all your other tools). It is vital, however, that you ingrain it deeply. In order to gain a working knowledge of what other bits and pieces will work for you, you have to have something to compare them to – this system provides your baseline.

(Hate to resort to yet another hoary cliché, but it’s kind of like jazz – before you can successfully improvise, you have to be able to play the bloody tune properly.)

And of course having an actual multi-tool is a damn good idea too – along with it’s communications equivalent, a smartphone. (More on physical tools and props below.)

I’d also strongly recommend you learn a martial art – not a fancy dojo-only dance, but something you can actually use in a street fight. A -jutsu, rather than a -do,  in Japanese terms. Nothing grounds you quite so well as knowing you can defend yourself, and specifically that you can use your body’s energies (Ch’i, Ki etc) and apply them directly. A spell, in the Guttershaman model, is simply ch’i with instructions encoded into it – so learn to push the ch’i hard and precisely.  Also, knowledge of tactics and strategy has an awful lot of application in magic, especially at the pointy end.

(I only ever recommend one book on martial arts… because while you can’t learn martial arts from a book, you can learn strategy and tactics. That book is A Professional’s Guide To Ending Violence Quickly by Marc ‘Animal’ MacYoung. All the practical tactical and strategic advice you’ll hopefully ever need. Though a look at Sun Tzu & Musashi certainly won’t hurt.)

Most of your toolkit will be things that you use to get you in the mood for magic, to raise the ‘energy’ for you to use – sets of associations with particular emotional states, that you can draw upon at will. My love of movies and TV means that a whole bunch of mine come from those media. (For example, I’m especially fond of the use of tunes from soundtracks and scores as musical cues for particular head-states. Make the associations deep enough, and you don’t even need a MP3 player… humming or whistling a couple of bars will do the trick nicely.) Particular ‘ritual’ clothes and jewellery can have the same effect – a practice that’s been codified at least as far back as Crowley.

This brings me to the subject of props. The actual physical tools of your toolkit.

They should generally be the best quality you can afford, though preferably something that can be easily replaced – but, most importantly, they should be the most apt object for the purpose, not necessarily the most expensive or rare. Some of them you’ll want to make for yourself – other bits you’ll buy off the shelf, and maybe customise to your needs.

(Here’s a lovely example: magician Jason Miller based a magic wand around a shop-bought replica of Doctor Who’s Sonic Screwdriver… which he enhanced with an elemental ritual. Nice bit of work, that!)

But at the same time, you have to be able to improvise, to use whatever is to hand – relying on your bespoke kit is fuck all use if you don’t have it on you, or it gets lost, or the batteries run out. Your primary toolkit is the collection of symbol-sets your imagination associates with magic – and that improv skill should mean you can pick up any object with a rough-and-ready resemblance to what you need and treat it as the exact, perfect tool for the moment.

(There’s a handy mind-trick I like to use for that, taken from live-action roleplay. Often, an object in the physical world of the game is considerably less accurate-to-type than what it is imagined to be in the fantasy setting – say, a tennis ball in place of a Magic Missile. These lesser objects are called Phys-Reps - physical representations. Maintain a catalogue of the archetypal versions of your tools in your head – usually, they’ll be considerably better than any object you actually use anyway. For example, if you like using lightsabres in magic – and, honestly, who doesn’t? – even the most expensive replica will pale in comparison to the one in your imagination. Make and keep that detailed imagined version of every tool… and when needed, superimpose that pattern on whatever phys-rep you actually have. Bingo! Instant enchantment.)

The majority of the Guttershaman perspective is learning which symbols and metaphors work best for you. This doesn’t mean just settling for a few different sets and leaving it there – it’s about using whatever you learn and applying it to how you interact with The Weird. Every fiction, every news article or speculative science theory, every dumb meme and ancient myth, should be grist for your mill. There’s always room to learn more, to think differently, to upgrade your tools. But you should also strive to remember: Never mistake your toolkit for reality – and respect the toolkits, the paths and stories, of others. Learn from all other ways, share the best of your own.

The Shaman part of Guttershaman, for me, is always about taking those tools and using them to go into the Weird and come back with more tools, more ideas… to hopefully enrich the Tribe of the Strange – and especially, to protect it. Not everyone who works magic is a friend or ally. Not all practitioners share our views or have our needs. Some, frankly, are just spiteful vicious cunts. If you’re thinking the Guttershaman path makes sense to you, never forget that the primary duty of the Shaman is to defend their tribe from demons.

I’ve been looking here at how the Guttershaman’s mindset works – how to construct working mindsets and models inside your head. Next time, I’ll be looking at the stuff that’s outside your head, and how you deal with it.

The little things. Like, for example, gods.

 

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Guttershaman – The Ultimate Secret of Magic

If ever a modern writer could be described as a legend in his own lifetime, it is Alan Moore. Already considered a genius for his reinvigoration of the comic book scene, he upped the ante considerably when he announced, at the age of 40, that he was now a magician. He’s been publicly out about this ever since – one notable aspect of his praxis is his claim to worship the Roman snake-puppet god Glycon – a deity who was probably a con-job. (There’s an excellent piece about the history and veracity of the Glycon story in this month’s Fortean Times – issue 276.)

Another notable aspect of how Moore’s magical working blurs alleged fact and supposed fiction is his story of how he met one of his creations – the working-class mage John Constantine – in the real world. Twice.

In 1993, he told Wizard Magazine of his first encounter with Constantine (whose appearance was initially based on the pop-singer Sting):

“One day, I was in Westminster in London - this was after we had introduced the character - and I was sitting in a sandwich bar. All of a sudden, up the stairs came John Constantine. He was wearing the trenchcoat, a short cut, he looked… no, he didn’t even look exactly like Sting. He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially, and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar.

“I sat there and thought, should I go around that corner and see if he is really there, or should I just eat my sandwich and leave? I opted for the latter; I thought it was the safest. I’m not making any claims to anything. I’m just saying that it happened. Strange little story.”

His second meeting with John Constantine is described in his performance piece, Snakes and Ladders (adapted in comic form by Eddie Campbell and available as A Disease Of Language), and it’s of considerably more importance…

Moore said:

“Years later, in another place, he steps out of the dark and speaks to me. He whispers: ‘I’ll tell you the ultimate secret of magic. Any cunt could do it.’ “

In a later retelling of the latter story, featured in the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore (which can be seen on YouTube here), Moore adds that the second encounter took place in a ritual context. Nonetheless: whatever you believe about how ‘real’ the encounter was, those words are worth considering very carefully.

Any cunt could do it.

Let’s assume that this instance of ‘John Constantine’ was telling the truth – admittedly a bit of a stretch for a fictional character, especially one noted for being something of a con-man… but let’s go with it. Let’s also assume he wasn’t being literal about the ‘any cunt’ bit – in this context, from a working-class Englishman, it should be taken to mean ‘anyone’. Besides, it’s certainly true that the successful practice of magic is not limited to those with vulvas.

So – the ultimate secret of magic is that anyone could do it. No limits of race, gender, religion, caste or class. Especially, no limits on how rich you are – magic is so very often what the poor have instead of material wealth and power (or, sometimes, a route to same).  Sure, it’s nice to have bespoke kit, your own house, a selection of good quality incense, candles, knives and drugs… but it’s not necessary. You can do very effective magic stark bollock naked in a bare room with nothing but your Will and your bodily fluids. Trust me on that.

There are those, of course, who would insist that the expensive kit is not optional – or, at least, that it brings a puissance to the whole affair that a lash-up job lacks. This mode of thought was nicely skewered in Lionel Snell’s article Paroxysms of Magick and the immortal line about the OTTO – Over The Top Occultist;

When the 70′s occultist says “there’s no point in using a silver censer when a coffee tin serves just as well”, the OTTO initiate replies “there’s no point in using a coffee tin when a 800 year old human skull looted from the ruins of a Mexican temple serves just as well.”

(The point being that few could acquire that skull besides the rich… or a thief. Hermes being the god of both mages and thieves, as I’ve noted elsewhere. Personally, I restrict my thievery to ideas…)

Magic is principally an act of applied symbolism – try hard enough and any concave surface is a chalice, any stick a wand. The shinier they are, the easier it may be to convince yourself of that – but it’s not actually necessary. That act of applied imagination can be done by anyone who wants to try it. It’s that universality, that ‘democratic’, equalizing aspect to magic that’s so important – and it often gets swept away in the Newage merchandise, the expensive tomes and especially the insistence that in order to do magic you have to be special.

I would say instead – you have to become special. The means to accomplish this are varied – and the how-to manuals are out there, prices ranging from ‘how much?’ to free-to-download. Any cunt could find it…

There’s another quote I love – and it’s perhaps apt that the source is a bit blurry:

“Magic is the defense of the self against the malevolence of society.”

-John O’Keefe

To be a magician is, at heart, a rejection of the societal definition of normality. It is a standing-apart from the accepted rules of the game. A consecration of self… regardless of externally accepted status. A rebuke to the ideas of privilege – be it privilege by reason of birth, by wealth or by habit. Deciding that your imagination and willpower have import and can affect the world and making it stick, whatever you’ve been told about Knowing Your Place.

The trouble is, of course, that the world of the Normal can still utterly and easily crush you, magic or no. No matter how well they chanted, the Native American practitioners of the Ghost Shirt ritual did not become bulletproof. But maybe a spell on a Level III ballistic vest might make it a tiny bit more effective… just enough to count.

I’ve said it before – although what goes on inside a magician’s head (and, occasionally, outside it in ritual space) is enormous and epic, the actual physical-world effects are usually minimal – tiny shifts in probability, a little tickle in a person’s mind at just the right moment… small changes with large knock-on events. A little bit of power, in (hopefully) just the right place.

The poor and weak and disenfranchised don’t have a lot of clout, but they can make the best use of what they’ve got. The Way of the Guttershaman, if you like. Having the posh kit will not make you a better magician, ever. Making the best, most creative use of the ideas, the symbols and mythologies – of your own breath and ch’i and sheer stubbornness - will. Those tiny changes can be made to grow, become stronger and/or better timed. All it takes is practice, working at it and keeping your connections to the Real and the Imaginal intact – too much of the former results in failure, too much of the latter leads to the egomania of mageitis.

Any cunt could do it. That doesn’t mean anyone can (or even that they should) – just that they – you - could.

And to anyone who tells you otherwise, for whatever reason… well, I’ll leave that to John Constantine.

 

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Building Character 3 – Character Flaws

 

“I know what it’s like to feel unequal to the task required of you… to feel incapable. I’ll never be the man I was, but I’ve come to embrace those parts of my mind that are… peculiar and broken. I understand now that’s what makes my mind special. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. You have no idea how extraordinary you are. If you can embrace that, there’s no end to what you can do.”

– Walter Bishop, in Fringe


Last time I was considering how pop-culture can inform (and occasionally misinform) one’s personality, especially for those of us whose interests in the spiritual lead us to draw on fictional sources. I asked;

“…when you’re actively trying to build or rebuild your personality around such a basis… what do you do?” How, exactly, does it work when you’re using riffs from multi-media as a way to explore and expand your personality?

Luckily, as I was writing, a perfect example came up. (Synchronicity is, as ever, the magician’s main ally.)

The above quote is from the penultimate episode of the third season of Fringe. For those who haven’t seen the series, (and I really recommend you do) it’s an odd little show which has grown from a monster-of-the-week X-Files vibe into a complex and emotionally satisfying piece of science fiction TV with a lot to recommend it. The quote comes from a scene where two of the protagonists are working on a dangerous problem which can only be solved by the harnessing of the suppressed psychic abilities of one of them, FBI Agent Olivia Dunham – powers which were induced during her childhood by the other, a full-blown Mad Scientist named Walter Bishop.

Walter is, to put it mildly, a broken man. A genius in several fields and a pioneer in the realm of fringe science, he’s no stranger to mind-altering drugs, spend seventeen years in a mental home and has had several pieces of his brain removed – apparently as his own behest. He has caused immense harm to Olivia in the past, but despite this they have become allies and uneasy friends.

I wept when I first saw that scene. Pure absolute recognition. It was like those words had been written to pierce straight through to my soul.

Of course, they weren’t. Despite the fact that I occasionally entertain as a useful exercise the thought-experiment of The Invisibles’ Mason Lang, that certain bits of pop-culture were created as messages and instructions for the rebellious and inquisitive, I don’t actually think that there’s a hidden Hollywood cadre of illuminated beings beaming Pure Truth to the Worthy. But sometimes it really feels like there is.

The parts of my mind that are, as Walter says, peculiar and broken, have a shape to them. And  sometimes, a film or movie or book or piece of music seems to fit into one of the gaps, drop into place almost seamlessly – and part of me that was incomplete and gaping open and raw feels, even if just for a moment, whole. I think that part of our development as people, what Jung called Individuation, is a process of finding such pieces, trying them out, seeing if they fit. Tessellation of the soul.

That’s why I don’t feel that incorporating a whole personality or a single mythos into your head works terribly well. We’re all of us broken and incomplete and flawed in different ways. I suspect that in most cases, dropping an entire fiction-suit over the top of all that doesn’t actually help to repair the holes, it just covers them up for a while. Band-Aids on arterial spray. It would, I think, be a terrible idea to just become Walter Bishop, even though he’s  one of the most delightful characters in modern television – he pisses himself occasionally, has crazed rants at supermarket packaging, makes terrible decisions that have catastrophic consequences… and, like all such people from all such worlds, he’s incomplete in a significant way, because he’s a fiction. Even more than the rest of us ‘real’ people. Drawing on these archetypal figures for wisdom and guidance, maybe even for the odd quirk or habit, is a good and useful start, but it’s just a start… because their creation is so very different from ours. Their strengths and deeds, flaws and weaknesses are not the same. Similar enough to be useful, but only in part.

I also think that it’s the very act of adapting to our flaws and weaknesses that constitutes spiritual and mental growth. But for that to happen, there has to be a wound to heal.

I don’t know a single person who’s a practitioner of magic or other spiritual exercises who has not, at some point, suffered greatly. Health problems, abuse, being outcast – these are so common among the Tribe of the Strange as to practically be signs of membership. It’s more than possible, I think,  that it’s these traumas – and, more importantly, how the survivor of them adapts and grows to compensate for them – that are where the magic enters. All shamanic systems rely on shock as a means of initiation – an attempt, I suspect, to induce these fractures into people to let the light in.

(This doesn’t always work, either when deliberately induced or accidentally endured. There are plenty of folk out there who are broken and this just doesn’t happen for them. The other factors involved are variable in the extreme. Plus, it makes an awfully convenient excuse for power elites to harm others in the name of Illumination and initiation. Nothing’s perfect.)

For those of us who are broken in this particular way, there’s usually some combination – between the yearning for greater completeness, connection with others and the world, and the initial breach – which makes for a mage, a shaman, a seeker. My own journey on that Path quickly led me to realise that wisdom, guidance – tools – can come from anywhere the soul can recognise as true. That fits those broken places.

This scene from Fringe not only speaks directly to that, but perfectly encapsulates it for me. It won’t for others. That may be the entire point. But if you’re one of the broken ones, one of the Tribe of the Strange… seek your stories, your metaphors, your Truths (the good ones are usually plural) and share them, compare them with others, regardless of their background and beliefs. We can only grow by combining our stories, our toolkits… using them to change our minds, literally.

And, like Walter Bishop said – if you can embrace that, you can be extraordinary.

 

Olivia: I know that you want to believe in me, and I want to believe in me. But believing doesn’t make it true.

Walter: Just try.

Fringe


 

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Building Character 2 – Staying In Character

(Part 1 is here.)

 

Why don’t you be like me?

Why don’t you stop and see?

Why don’t you hate who I hate, kill who I kill to be free?

-The Monkees, Randy Scouse Git

 

Last time, I was talking about how pop-culture aspects are a viable source of inspiration, or even workable as a basis, for one’s personality. I also mentioned that sometimes this can go very wrong indeed.

Here’s an example.

 

Around British SF fandom in the 80s, there was a person who was known (behind her back – fandom, like any group, has its’ cliques and bitching) as Ratwoman. She was called this because of her hobby of keeping rats as pets. Now I’m not going to gainsay that as a hobby – I’ve kept fancy rats myself and found them amiable companions – but she kept (so the story went) over fifty of the buggers and let them run all over her house, with the attendant hygiene issues that implies.

 

Ratwoman was also, like many in the scene, an enthusiastic participant of the occult/pagan fringe of fandom. Her preferred mythos was Pern – the realm of telepathically-bonded dragon-riding heroes in the books of Anne McCaffrey. As you can imagine, Ratwoman getting to meet the author herself was quite an important moment… which she spent explaining exactly to McCaffrey what the books had got wrong about Pern, on the basis that Ratwoman had been there and knew better.

 

I’ve written about Otherkin before, and it’s a position I’ve a lot of sympathy with. I certainly understand from my own experiences the feeling of being so very different from everyone else around you that you really don’t feel, or want to be, human. Around the same time as the Ratwoman story, I was involved with a group of people in fandom who, before the term Otherkin was even coined, identified as being the reincarnation of Tolkienesque elves. (I wasn’t an elf. I had a whole blurry mythos of my own going on at the time, part-Lovecraft, part-Illuminatus. But we got on.) It’s a compelling feeling, that combination of outsider and tribe-member. So I completely get the idea of inhabiting a myth-structure that completely. But at the same time, I can’t help but see just how fucking presumptuous it is to tell the creator of said mythos, “You’re Doing It Wrong”.

 

(Now, if we want to get picky, the possibility that Ratwoman was right has to be mentioned… anyone who’s familiar with Alan Moore’s theory of Ideaspace could raise the possibility that there is a Ur-Pern out there in the imaginal realm, and that some folk could conceivably make contact with it. Or even that Pern, faults and all, truly does physically exist somewhere in deep space and she actually did pick up some telepathic vibe coming from it, or even translated her soul there in some manner. Nonetheless; if nothing else, going up to the person who is pretty sure they actually invented that world with overriding declarations of your version of their reality is, at the very least, impolite and tacky.)

 

I mentioned before that fannish excesses of this type, roleplay in every sense, can provide a useful place to experiment with the tenets of our personalities – and even in the face of such extreme examples as above, I believe that’s a useful and rewarding thing. But a necessary stage of that process is that sometimes, you have to leave the scenario. You have to step away. Or your personality becomes subsumed by the role.

 

It’s a particular problem for occultists. At some level, practicing magic is the assumption that your imagination can directly shape the universe. The problem there is that, if you don’t constantly cross-check what goes on inside your head with what goes on outside it, you’ll fall into the trap of what I call mageitis – spinning exquisite worlds in your mind of which you are the absolute ruler, while  living in your mum’s basement covered in fast-food stains, B.O. and ennui. This is difficult enough for anyone – neurologically, we’re hard-wired to treat metaphor as very close to reality – so unless you work hard at this, the possibility of being swallowed by the fiction is constant.

 

(Somebody once tried to gently question Ratwoman’s view of reality. She responded angrily that the person was so negative that they had “a grey psychic cloud the size of Moscow” over their head. Another danger of mageitis is hyperbole.)

 

Actors have known this for a long time. Examples of the performer being absorbed by the role abound – Jeremy Brett’s tragic battle with the Sherlock Holmes archetype is an especially sad one. The smart performers develop a balance, either a Method-based give-and-take of being completely in character and then fading back to themselves, or (mostly) never forgetting that it’s just acting, luvvy. But when you’re actively trying to build or rebuild your personality around such a basis… what do you do?

 

All personality has a performative aspect to it. Sometimes, all of us feel like the mere act of being ourselves is just too much bloody work. But I can’t help thinking that to just copy an entire personality-type, or character, or mythos from another – be it fact or fiction – is just plain lazy. I suspect a lot of that is an attempt to paper over perceived or actual flaws in one’s personality, bridging a gap between what you are and what you’re told you should be. It’s really easy to just pull on a costume, a fiction-suit, and call it good-enough.

 

Maybe it would have been easier if I’d just done that. But the cracks and flaws, the bits that didn’t fit, were either too big or the wrong shape.

 

And, I was increasingly suspecting, maybe those cracks and flaws actually had a purpose.

 

 

To be concluded…

 

 

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