The Right Man/Violent Male

I was googling for links describing the Right Man syndrome (for, of all things, a post to the AV Club’s review comments on this week episode of The Good Wife), and I found 2 things – there’s still not a vast amount of stuff on this vital model of extreme male behaviour, and something I wrote on the subject for the Dark Christianity LJ is still on the first page – and I don’t have it reprinted here. So, here it is (mostly, as you can see, quoting RAW) & a few additions after.

I’ve often mentioned here the theory of the Right Man/Violent Male as a model for the behaviour of the Dominionists. This was created by AE van Vogt and later developed by Colin Wilson – but there’s not much about it online.

Here is a lengthy but excellent consideration of the model by Robert Anton Wilson, which puts the model in context.

“If, as Colin Wilson says, most of history has been the history of crime, this is because humans have the ability to retreat from existential reality into that peculiar construct which they call The “Real” Universe and I have been calling hypnosis. Any Platonic “Real” Universe is a model, an abstraction, which is comforting when we do not know what to do about the muddle of existential reality or ordinary experience. In this hypnosis, which is learned from others but then becomes self-induced, The “Real” Universe overwhelms us and large parts of existential, sensory-sensual experience are easily ignored, forgotten or repressed. The more totally we are hypnotized by The “Real” Universe, the more of existential experience we then edit out or blot out or blur into conformity with The “Real” Universe.

Concretely, the Violent Male—the extreme form of the Right Man1—edits out the suffering and pain he causes to others. That is only appearance and can be ignored. In The “Real” Universe, the victim is only one of Them—one of all the rotten bastards who have frustrated and mistreated the Right Man all his life. In existential reality, a large brutal male is beating a child; in The “Real” Universe of self-hypnosis, the Right Man is getting his just revenge on the oppressors who have abused him.

We have repeatedly employed Nietzsche’s metaphor in which existential reality is abysmal. In one dimension of meaning, this merely asserts that it is endless: the deeper you look into it, the more you see. It has the sense of infinity about it, whether or not it is topologically infinite in space-time.

The “Real” Universe—the model which has become experienced as the real universe—is, on the other hand, quite finite. It is compact and tidy, since it has been manufactured by discarding all the inconvenient parts of existential experience. This is why those self-hypnotized by a “Real” Universe of this sort can be so oblivious to the existential continuum around them. “How could a human being do something so cruel?” we sometimes ask in horror when an extreme Right Man is finally apprehended. The cruelty was “only” in the world of existential appearances; it does not exist in the edited and improved “Real” Universe of the Right Man. In The “Real” Universe, the Right Man is always Right.

The ghastly acceleration of violent, inexplicable and seemingly “pointless” crimes by Right Men in this century—and their hideous magnification into mass murders and war crimes by Right Men in governments—indicate the prevalence of this type of self-hypnosis and what Van Vogt calls “the inner horror” that accompanies it. This “inner horror” is a sense of total helplessness combined with the certainty of always being Right. It seems paradoxical, but the more totally Right a man becomes, the more helpless he also becomes. This is because being Right means “knowing” (gnosis) and “knowing” is understanding The “Real” Universe. Since The “Real” Universe is, by definition, “objective” and “outside us” and “not our creation,” we are made puny by it. We cannot act but only re-act—as The “Real” Universe pushes us, we push back. But it is bigger, so we will lose eventually. Our only defense is in being Right and fighting as dirty as possible.

This, I think, is in succinct form the philosophy of Adolph Hitler. It is the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, and of any rapist or thug you can find in any prison in the world. Where Single Vision reigns—where The “Real” Universe is outside us and impersonal—this shadow-world of violence and horror follows in its wake.”

 

The new stuff: Found a couple of excellent pieces on the subject from blogger PHinn – here’s a shortish quote, drawing mostly from Colin Wilson’s A Criminal History of Mankind:
“The notion of ‘losing face’ suggests an interesting alternative line of thought. It is obviously connected, for example, with the cruelty of Himmler and Stalin when their absolute authority was questioned. They were both men with a touchy sense of self-esteem, so that their response to any suspected insult was vindictive rage. Another characteristic of both men was a conviction they they were always right, and a total inability to admit that they might ever be wrong.”

“Himmlers and Stalins are, fortunately, rare; but the type is surprisingly common. The credit for recognising this goes to A.E. Van Vogt who is also the author of a number of brilliant psychological studies. Van Vogt’s concept of the ‘Right Man’ or ‘violent man’ is so important to the understanding of criminality that it deserves to be considered at length…”

[...]

“In 1954, Van Vogt began work on a war novel called The Violent Man, which was set in a Chinese prison camp. The commandant of the camp is one of those savagely authoritarian figures who would instantly, and without hesitation, order the execution of anyone who challenges his authority. Van Vogt was creating the type from observation of men like Hitler and Stalin. And, as he thought about the murderous behaviour of the commandant, he found himself wondering: ‘What could motivate a man like that?’ Why is it that some men believe that anyone who contradicts them is either dishonest or downright wicked? Do they really believe, in their heart of hearts, that they are gods who are incapable of being fallible? If so are, are they in some sense insane, like a man who thinks he is Julius Caesar?”

“Looking around for examples, it struck Van Vogt that male authoritarian behaviour is far too commonplace to be regarded as insanity. [...] [For example,] marriage seems to bring out the ‘authoritarian’ personality in many males, according to Van Vogt’s observation.”

[...]

“… ‘the violent man’ or the ‘Right Man’ [...] is a man driven by a manic need for self-esteem — to feel he is a ‘somebody’. He is obsessed by the question of ‘losing face’, so will never, under any circumstances, admit that he might be in the wrong.”

 

PHinn knows what he’s talking about and is well worth reading on the subject.

For me… Colin Wilson makes a good case in Criminal History that the Right Men were the drivers of civilization – they tend to be charming when not pushed, smart and driven at what they do, and usually unconcerned by the consequences of their need to be Right – in short, excellent generals, leaders and despots. But the price of having them eventually becomes too high.

I think that time is now.

Dunno about you, but I’m seeing signs that this habit of thought is appearing more and more, especially in the intersection of politics & religion.

It’s impossible to negotiate with a Right Man – so a prevalence of them appearing in, say, the leadership of various extreme Dominionist Xtian paths makes any kind of resolution of opposing philosophies almost moot. They Are Right. Can’t argue with that. But, knowing how their rage cannot fail but descend if you insist (however politely and calmly) that they are in error… well, I leave that as an exercise for the combat philosophers in the audience. (And I know there’re a few – Hi Damien!)

The fewer of these in the world, the better. I don’t mean slotting them – I mean breaking them. Force them to show their monstrous nature whenever possible. Taunt them, tell jokes, satirize them  where they can’t help but see it. Drop these fuckers like Cain dropped Abel, like Godzilla dropped Tokyo. Break their wills, so hard and strong but oh so easily shattered.

Because they’re as Wrong as men can be.

(Colin Wilson’s books on the Right Man, Criminal History… The Killer & Written in Blood are all still available, as is van Vogt’s initial Report on the Violent Male.)

 

 

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The start of the end of the world, and I feel fine…

I suddenly realised I’ve not posted this auspicious(ish) year – at least, not here – so it’s catch-up time, folks!

Happiest bit: I was asked to join the staff at The Daily Grail. So now I’m a contributing editor at TDG, mostly so far working the media angle (my review of the semi-sucessfully realised found-footage show The River can be read there.

This means that between the DG work & some actual professional writing I’ve got going (NDA’s, and it’s not that interesting, really), I’ll have less time to produce work for some of the other venues. I DO however plan to get more of the Mason Lang’s Film Club pieces to Weaponizer as soon as I can write ‘em.

Other events recently have been less fun. Both Kirsty & I had vicious illness over Xmas – I’m only just recovered, she’s still wiped out by it. So in a sense, it did us a favour to turn down the people who were about to buy our house (they were obnoxious dicks who tried bullying my lawyers & estate agents to drop the price at the last minute). Luckily, we got a better class of buyer (not mad, which helps) who offered out original price. But… they can’t move until July, so we’re stuck in a mostly-packed house for 3 more months. At which time – Goodbye Bristol, Hello Hebden Bridge! – and not a moment too bloody soon.

And my decree absolute came valid last month. I’ve been unmarried (reasonably effectively & near-painlessly), so that’s done. Recovering from the actual marriage… that’ll take a while longer.

That’s all the news fit to rant for now… but there are Plans Afoot.

Watch out for The Tribe of the Strange. 

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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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