Friday, March 23, 2012

Magic for the Revolution

Merry Mayday, Comrade!
(Early, but I've always wanted to make this art...)
When I was sixteen, I was an occult lunatic. I mean, I could pass, having the trickster’s skill of putting on an acceptable face almost anywhere I went. I didn’t make it easy on myself. It was 1972 and I was bell-bottomed, military-coated and long-haired, without my first mustache. But I could drink in working-guy bars, fit in with steel-town leftists and the rich kids on the east side, and mostly avoid the police. It was a great time to be kite-high, with a head full of Crowley, Michelet and Huson, wandering the streets and parks of one’s home-town under the moon.

That era also saw the high point of the organized American left. The organizing efforts of the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement produced a sense of conflict in the country that I still think was greater than anything we see today. As a kid, I faced possible… probable… futures that included nuclear kill-downs of society and/or a government crackdown of which the shootings at Kent State were the paradigmatic event. I considered it entirely likely that there could be a shooting war between the government and the American left. But, I was a kid.
Still, I had a head full of visions, inspired not only by the plant and molecular allies we were learning to use, but also by half-assed rising on the planes, and amateur Vassago-summonings, as well as bootstrap season-based Paganism. Of course ‘Silent Spring’ had launched the environmental preservation movement in the US some years before, and that joined Crowley, Leary, Hoffman (Abby, not Albert) in shaping my ideas.

So I envisioned a world in which magic returned. Judging from the fashions in fantasy literature I’m sure I wasn’t alone, and it seems clichéd now. In those days I imagined a spell to make the grass defeat the cement, to crack the hard surfaces of the 20th century with a return to green. I saw the city fountains pour out the Mist of the Between, inspired by foggy city nights long before I knew of Celtic story. I saw the badge of the lawman replaced by the five-pointed star of the mage, and the streets lined with planetary temples.

The tale of the Yippie effort to exorcise the demons from the Pentagon, a giant circle of freaks chanting “Out, Demons, Out”, galvanized my imagination and I considered a book I would call “Magick for the Revolution” (everyone used the k then). It would have court-case magic focused on legislation, spirit-callings to enchant local parks, orgy-spells to disrupt church picnics, and of course good advice on using what we call entheogens as more than party-favors.

Thing is, I’m not really the messianic type. The years proceeded, neither the world nor the nation ended, and in fact I made my way into a comfortable corner of things and built a Pagan and magical life to live in. At this point I’d be annoyed by a revolution, though I have more resources than before. In youth one expects to speak the word and walk unharmed through the fire. At my stage I stand firm behind walls I trust.
But there’s more than one way to skin a world-view. What didn’t happen by strife has happened to some degree by sheer cultural weight. We now live in a world where multiple religions and spiritual paths advertise in almost every city, where every schoolkid with an internet connection can read Crowley, where the adherence to both orthodox religion and to social conformity is steadily declining. Environmental awareness is now normative, even if we’re still fighting the corporate money-eaters. As someone who has worked to create settings for the magical and Pagan worldviews to grow and be expressed, and done my bit to contribute content to that work, I feel as if a groundwork has been laid.

In fact, I have never seen a better chance for a revolution of spirit among American white people. Listen, I can’t speak for those whose cultural heritage varies widely from my own, but I know that in the culture where I dwell there is, more than ever before, a willingness to be open to the spirits, to hear the Inner Voices again, to light the fires and do the dances and set aside the rules of both religious custom and materialist rationalism.

I still want in on that. Really, my work has always been about re-enchantment (a pale term, really). Why did our generation like Lovecraft? I think because one of his big themes is “Let the Old Ones Through”. Lovecraftian paranoia aside it has always been the return of the Old Gods that I have sought. As we have begun to succeed in that effort, I find that it is equally important to seek the return of those that the Celts call the Not-Gods – the spirits of the Dead, of the daemons and war-band and feast-hall-servants of the Gods, who so often interact with mortals.

One of the greatest revolutions that Pagan magic could accomplish for western culture would be the return of a living relationship with the spirits. We can help ourselves to realize the living truth of the land, and thus to value and respect it. We can learn that not just the wellbeing of our climate and food-stream but of our spirits and minds depends on the wholeness of the world. We can learn to remember our Ancestors, and make a peace with the Dead that has been missing from our culture for hundreds of years.

I’m going to be a little more conscious about that mission. Don’t worry, I’ll be putting the soapbox away. But I’m working on a cycle of rites intended to be worked by a mage who wants to call the attention of the spirits back to a particular place, to weaken the walls that separate the culture’s normal awareness from the spirits. Maybe I’ll write a little charm… “How to Haunt a House…” Good for generating business for the new cunning trade… Did I say that out loud?…
Here’s a draft of the intro to that grammary. It’s rather like the Rant from the Bell-Charm, but more complete:

This is the call to the Ancient Ones. Return to us, in our time and our ways. The Fire is lit, the cup is full. Draw near again to mortals; give us your blessing, and we will give to you due offering.

This is the Calling of the Old Ones, the Reclaiming of the land. From time out of mind we dwelt with the Spirits, in a land filled with story, dancing among our ancestor’s bones. We grew in strength and wisdom, and the Gods and Spirits were our partners and our proud chiefs.

In time there came new kings, and those kings brought new ways. Priests in black robes swept upon our holy places, with soldiers of foreign rulers. They blasphemed the holy places, put out the sacred fires and cut down the ancient trees. With their book and their bell they pronounced an imprecation, and bid the wights of the worlds to flee.

The shadow of their temples fell where once the Sacred Fire had burned, and in time the true names of the spirits were forgotten. Perhaps many fled to wilder places, away from the places of mortals who no longer sang their praises. Many simply withdrew, deeper behind veils of appearance.
As centuries ticked by, what was first done by black-robed priests was done again by white-coated proclaimers of Truth. “Matter is all”, they bleated, and invented a war between good and evil, calling them science and superstition. Every child was taught their doctrine, every adult was set to making wealth for their masters. Where first hearts had been closed to the spirits, now the very Inner Senses of mortalkind were made weak and dim by the recitation of strings of numbers, and the flash and clatter of machines.

Now is the time for these errors to be put to an end.

A new day has dawned, and no longer must every person bow to some supreme creed. No king or priest may force our duty, and once again the Fire is being lit, and offerings made to the spirits. Neither any God nor the disdain of scientism stands in the way.
So let the voices of poets and magicians call for the spirits to return! Let us give a plain invitation, and a pretty welcome, and call the spirits to return! Let us knock at the door, and ring a new bell, and call the spirits to return!


Sean Ó Dea said...

I certainly enjoyed this!

Fawn said...

I look forward to that day as well...when connecting to the spirits of this land is not seen as stealing from Native American religion and honour can be re-instated to the Nature Spirits.

Anonymous said...

In a way, I see me and my punk rocker friends when we were teenagers in the 80s/early 90's whipping ourselves up into a transcendent frenzy through slam dancing, screaming, stage diving as a modern expression of ancient ecstatic practice. It was almost like a group possession! Seems that mystic current is an inherent part of the soul. Interesting that it is emerging again into consciousness and intentional manifestation within our generation and younger.

Gordon said...

Ian... consider writing some kind of mid-incarnation autobiography. You dropped some fascinating hints here... there's definitely an inspiring story in it.

Ceworthe said...

Most Native Americans don't mind if people contact the spirits of the place they are at.It is taking and using their specific ways of doing things and their ceremonies that they object to (especially if it is used to make a buck). They would probably be more than happy for caucasians to pay attention to the earth, the plants, trees, animals and spirits of the place.
Thanks Ian for this piece. I look forward to what you do next on this.

Shawneen Bear said...

The Evocation, Will Not Be Televised!

telerisghost said...

Write the rest, please. And if anyone's in the market for wide eyed revolutionaries with a messianic bent who never retreated to material comfort, I'll be happy to set aside my sewing, hop onto the GimpMobile and roll full steam ahead...

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