Overdue update

Blimey, it’s been a long time since I updated this blog! There are all sorts of reasons: quickest way to sum these up and give you a clue as to what I’m doing next is to reproduce my latest newsletter

CATERWAULING 17 June 2016ce

In which your narrator reboots after a crash

I am truly sorry about the gap between the last newsletter and now.

Basically, I did a lot of things, was too busy to write about them during them, and then fell over hard afterwards.

It’s something that never used to be talked about much concerning the effects of chronic illness (in my case, over a decade of Type II diabetes) – your body simply has less ‘energy’ to go round. Doing things, especially things involving a lot of travel, becomes incrementally difficult. Activists on these ‘invisible illnesses’ have come to use the metaphor of ‘spoons’ to describe this effect. I did a load of stuff, then I had no more spoons.

Here’s the things I did…

2nd of April was the marvellous Spirits Of Place event: hosted and envisioned by John Reppion. I was on the bill with some remarkable people, talking about the power of landscape, especially that of Liverpool and its environs. My talk, ‘Where The Buddleia Grows’ was on liminal spaces in urban magic, and seemed to go down well. You can read the text version over at Medium. Was an honour to be in that crew: meeting old acquaintances such as the great Ramsey Campbell and making many new friends. I also took advantage of the chance for a serious night of drinking with my partner-in-crime, David Southwell of Hookland fame.

On the 23rd of April, headed to That There London. I was called in to assist with a public magical working for Daisy Campbell and the Cosmic Trigger troupe: the immediate reason was that the gang were about to submit their bid for Arts Council funding for a second wave of the play next year. As a token of public interest in support of this, a Indiegogo was set up for that day to sell 123 tickets to the last London night of the show (which will happen, with or without the funding… but obviously it’ll be a lot easier with), and of course the first thing Daisy wanted was a ritual to nudge this result. In the middle of Hampstead Heath. The spirit of Eris was fully manifested (in the sense that a shitload of things almost went too wrong but not quite) and the Mischief was Managed. By the time we’d got a couple of rounds in at a nearby hostelry, those tickets had all sold. Took a little under three hours.

(I also got to crash at Daisy’s mum’s flat: which had that specifically odd sensation of sleeping in the home of a former Bond Girl.)

The last weekend of April, brought the extraordinarily fun and gorgeous Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival. This 4 day event brought the cream of international performers to our little town & its environs. (This event is so inspiring that I wore four different outfits, none of which was in black!)


So many amazing acts; including our town’s first Naked Girls Reading event, where our own Heidi Bang Tidy read one of my wife’s blog posts about working with the Hebden flood food relief, which had all of us, including Kirsty, in tears.

The peak was the glorious Perle Noire: seeing her perform was like watching the child of Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt dance her exquisite arse off. A gracious woman, both on stage and off (had the chance to pay our respects in the pub after). Yet another triumph for our local community, and further proof that not even a flood can keep this town down.

The week after that, I went back down to the Smoke, to see one of the last performances of KEN: Terry Johnson’s play about his friendship and working with the late, great Ken Campbell, with Jeremy Stockwell in the title role. As Ken was a big influence on me in many ways (from seeing his staging of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy at the Rainbow in 1980 to being the officiant at Daisy’s impromptu wedding at the Find The Others festival in 2014), I had to go. Not only were the play and the performances splendid, but I met two long-lost friends from the HHGG fan club ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha that I was an early member of! (And there was this whole part after the show involving naked people and psychedelic UV body paint. You had to be there.)

The next day was the pleasant change of going to a Treadwells event that I wasn’t actually speaking at: a one-day conference for the launch of the book The Secret Lore Of London. Christina and her gang always put on a good show, and this was no exception: the highlight for me was meeting John Constable aka John Crow, whose extraordinary shamanic and poetic work in, around and for the spirit of London’s lost was inspiring.

A couple of days back home, then down to Brighton for three days. The event I was going to was the Odditorium’s ‘Adventures On The Edge Of Culture’ for the Brighton Fringe. This featured my dear Daisy again, along with John Higgs, Melinda Gebbe and Alan Moore. This was as fascinating as you’d imagine… and then Higgs was kind enough to introduce me to Alan as a colleague.

Alan was utterly lovely. Listened to my somewhat burbling words, shook my hand 3 or 4 times… and then, when I said “there’s so much I’d love to talk to you about” said, “oh, we must go out for a drink next time I’m round your way”. Which, as it turns out, is fairly often. So, that happened.

The rest of the evening was spent nattering with Daisy & the crew (Alan had to make an early exit), which gave me the chance to natter with parts of that tribe I’d not spent as much time with as I’d liked before – people like Greg Wilson and Kermit Leveridge.

Day after was spent with my dear friends from that area that I’d not been in the same room as in years; my ex Lucy (one of the folk Neil Gaiman based Delirium in Sandman on) and her husband, the writer Adrian Bott. A fine reminder that time and circumstance don’t always triumph over love and friendship.

And then I got home and basically collapsed for a couple of weeks.


I have some spoons now. Here’s where they are being used…

Spent today doing final proof-reading of my next Darklore article, for the upcoming ninth volume of that ongoing Fortean compilation: an adaptation of my Treadwells talk on SF & fantasy’s influence on paganism and modern magic. And I just found out it’s right in front of a piece by Alan Moore… (Mine mentions him and Grant Morrison in the same breath – what could possibly go wrong?)

Tomorrow, back down to London to meet up with more of those old ZZ9 people. Folk there I’ve not set eyes on in a quarter of a century or more, so that’ll be interesting.

On the 23rd of the month, I will be getting a new tattoo: the White Horse of Uffington, inside of my right forearm. The timing of this upon the referendum date is not coincidental: seems the perfect time for an old cunning man like me to reaffirm his bond to Albion at a time when fascist and xenophobic forces are trying to make my land into a place of fear, suspicion and hatred. (RIP Jo Cox: she was MP for a nearby community and someone who clearly had no time for fear and hatred. May she be remembered for that, and not the manner of her death.)

Next week, Hebden Bridge is having an extra Christmas because the flood buggered up the last one. Following that, back Darn Sarf: I’m giving a talk on the 27th at the first Art Arcana event, BORDERLANDS, organised by the immersive theatre/ritual troupe Foolish People: tickets are free if you want to pop along, but do book first. My talk is called “Betwixt And Between”.

Following this is Festival 23 on the 23rd (natch) of July and surrounding days. It’s going to be an incredible weekend, and the latest culmination of the 23 Current I’m honoured to be a part of. I’ll be doing a reading of selected works and teaching a workshop in Defence Against The Dark Arts 101. Say hi if you come along!

Thank you reading, and for your patience in my absence! (Now over 500 subscribers.) You can leave any time you want, of course… but hopefully I’ll have more to tell you, and more spoons to jingle.

 

 

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.

doktor5.3

 

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?’

 

Yeah?

 

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.”

 

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.

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 academia.edu) 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!

Cthulhu, Fiction and Real Magic: talk & footnotes

cthulhutalkpic

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

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/10/13/heres-why-h-p-lovecraft-matters-more-than-ever/

http://www.jasoncolavito.com/pauwels-bergier-and-lovecraft.html

http://lovecraft.wikia.com/wiki/Cthulhu_Mythos

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/09/ghostbusting-lovecraft A great thinkpiece on Ghostbusters as the most optimistic expression of the Mythos.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/20/ten-things-you-should-know-about-hp-lovecraft

The HP Lovecraft Historical Society are at http://www.cthulhulives.org/

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

Their history: http://www.cthulhulives.org/whatisit2.html

The Michel Houellebecq HPL piece. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/jun/04/featuresreviews.guardianreview6

 

Official history of the tabletop roleplay game:

http://www.hplovecraft.com/life/myths.aspx

http://www.chaosium.com/on-call-of-cthulhu/

Alan Moore on his published and upcoming HPL comic books:

http://thequietus.com/articles/16129-alan-moore-providence-cthulhu-philosophy-language-lovecraft

Plush Cthulhu history:
http://www.toyvault.com/history.html

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/mar/07/cuddly-cthulhu-hp-lovecraft-merchandising

On HPL & the World Fantasy Award furore: http://www.elizabethbear.com/?p=2513

Me on True Detective and The King In Yellow: http://www.spiralnature.com/culture/hype/true-detective-flat-circle-chapel-perilous.html

FICTION

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:

http://darklore.dailygrail.com/samples/DL8-IV.pdf

MAGIC

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.

Fnord.

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

campuscrusadecthulhu

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.

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Me, Jung and Constantine

…and because it’s that kind of week, the video of me and Daisy Campbell doing the combined Carl Jung/John Constantine street ritual for Cosmic Trigger as mentioned here just went up.

Thanks to cameraman Nic Alderton for this.

Update: Hyper-real in the Year of the Slenderman

It’s been a while since I put up a post – a lot’s been happening. For one thing, I turned fifty years old – and honestly, it feels pretty good.

I have a new monthly column at the venerable occulture site Spiral Nature: called ‘The Hype’, I’m taking a look at currents in occult-related pop culture which are sliding further into both the cultural mainstream and the ‘real’ world. The first piece sets up my angle of attack (using the perspective of sociologist Adam Possamai and his theories on hyper-real religion – hence the name). The second article considers the way True Detective brought the cosmic horror of The King In Yellow to a far wider audience and the third, up today, considers The-City-As-Character in urban fantasy – with a specific, personal focus on London.

(My interest in Possamai’s models will also be involved in my next piece for the Darklore journal, coming later this year.)

I’ve been doing more for Daily Grail, including my partial review/flag-waving for the upcoming stage adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson’s autobiography Cosmic Trigger which promises to be extraordinary (there’s a crowdfunding campaign for a planned 23 November premiere in Liverpool – get on that!). I’ve also done a review of the recent Current 93 gig at Halifax Minster church and the NSA’s facial recognition algorithm seen in light of the prescient (and excellent) TV show, Person Of Interest.

And then there’s Slenderman…

At this point, pretty much everyone has heard about the shocking events in Wisconsin: the attempted murder of a twelve year old girl by two of her friends, trying (allegedly) to sacrifice her in order to become Slenderman Proxies. News agencies across the world have been trying to get a handle on this ever since – I was interviewed for The Guardian a few days after it happened. Then, two more cases involving Slenderman happened – one was a similar attack by a child upon her mother, the second an aside in the multiple cop-killing in Las Vegas by a husband-wife pair, whose interests included right-wing extremism and cosplaying as Joker/Harley Quinn and Slenderman.

Two days after the latter attack, it was the fifth anniversary of Slenderman’s birth – I noted the occasion for Daily Grail.

And… I’ve been commissioned by Fortean Times to write a feature on Slenderman for the next issue. This is a big deal for me, to put it mildly. I hope to do the subject – and the fall-out from the Wisconsin tragedy – justice.

It’s a strange world, and getting stranger by the day. Be safe out there, folks…

Slenderman: Fight Fiction With Fiction

I had the great pleasure of giving a talk about Slenderman (based on my two Darklore articles, but expanding on the practical occult aspects) at the celebrated Treadwells bookshop in London on 25th November 2013ce. Now, the video of the talk is available on YouTube.

If I can clean up the audio, I’ll post the Q&A session later.

As I had a few requests for it, the transcript for the original script is below the cut – but you’l have to watch the video for my hilarious improvisations and my appalling Alan Moore impersonation!

 

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Killing Slenderman, in Darklore 7: with footnotes!

I’m happy to announce the publication of Darklore, volume 7 by Daily Grail Publishing.

This year’s book is another stunning collection of the best of modern Forteana – and it also contains the second half of my look at the way the Slenderman meme is infiltrating the ‘real’ world.

This piece, Killing Slenderman, looks at what this could mean and what to do about it – taking on such examples of the fictional entering the quotidian as Alan Moore’s meetings with his own creation John Constantine, and Grant Morrison’s near-death experience writing The Invisibles.

As with Part One (which is still free to download as a pdf article here), I’ve put an extensive set of footnotes and links on the site – you can find that right here – just scroll down part the Part One notes.) I include a little more detail in exactly how, as a combat magician, I might deal with a Slenderman incursion.

And remember… No Wifin.