Saturday, 29 December 2012

Short story: KILNEST by David R Lee


Here's a short story. Kilnest is a housing estate, and a curse, a hate-spell that misses its target and claims the wrong life. 

KILNEST

By David R. Lee

Give me Death, he said, looking at his reflection in the car's rear-view mirror. That's what I'll say in front of whatever choice item of 'pagan' femininity takes my fancy. Bravado, skillfully blended with apparent personal depth, that's the ticket. He tweaked the gelled peaks at the front of his hair and glanced back at his iPhone. Pagan Moot, said the Facebook page, friendly gathering of folk from different spiritual paths, blah blah, newcomers welcome. The picture showed a smiling, fiery-eyed redhead holding a silver cup in front of her ample bosom. Earth Mothers, Goths and hippies, Roger had posted. Well, Tuesday night in a strange city, any port in a storm, Darren had replied. The hair looked perfect.

It was the back room of a pub in the centre of town. He stood at the bar, casting around for the best place to sit. Of the three women I can see, none of them rate above a '4'. And that's minimal shaggability on Darren's 0-10 scale. Right, a drink. 'Eyup mate, a pint of lager.' No-one's drinking lager. Have a swig and check out the scene. Over to my right, a blowsy, henna-haired harridan. A 'spread' of Tarot cards joins her to the chinless, furry geek across the table, in a conspiracy of superstitious bollocks.

And to my left: A brace of men, both weirdie-beardies, and a woman I can't see. Manoeuvre round a bit, let's get a look at her. The redhead glanced up, catching his eye with the speed of a shutter click as she turned to face one of the men. She blazed out, hyperreal, a whole lot more vivid, more alive, than anyone else in the room. The weirdie beardies were leaning forward, intent on the girl.
Who could blame you my friends, but you're out of your depth tonight. Darren the Love Muscle is in da house. 'Hey!' he said, to no-one of them in particular, as he took a seat. The weirdie beardies turned and looked (blunt) daggers. The redhead blended graciousness and irony into a smile. Darren smiled back. 'Don't let me interrupt you,' he said, taking a slurp of his pint, vacating the conversation so it could get going again, while he focused on the girl.

Built like a classic statue, a fine, healthy bird. Posture's good, something commanding about the way she holds her chin. The conversation was in full flow. He earwigged, discreetly, and caught the words 'sex magic'. Oh yes, game on. This bird could be well worth my punt on this lame meeting.

He glanced round behind him, so as not to crowd the girl and her interlocutors. The Tarot reader was spreading some greasy cards on the table and speaking with apparent authority. OK, how can I fit this old tart into my pickup stratagem? Then another sex reference grabbed his attention. One of the beardies was speaking. 'So, what happens if you just shag someone and decide it's magick, with a K?'
Darren turned back to the redhead and the two freaks. The beardie spoke again. 'And what about the partner?'

'Crowley seemed to think it didn't matter,' answered the redhead. 'His sex magick diaries are full of shags with street prostitutes, yet occasionally he seemed to get a result.'

Wow. A statuesque redhead who talks about mystical shagging. But the conversation was petering out so he went to the bar and ordered pork scratchings while he Googled 'sex magic'. The stuff that came up while the barman stood holding the snack... Well, that looks a bit deep. Much too much to be doing with right now.

'Cheers mate.' He paid and sat back down, but the sex talk was off. The weirdie beardies watched the redhead. Fookin' pond life, victims, look at 'em.

The Tarot reader looked like she might be packing up. Darren left his pint as an anchor for his return and slipped over to her table. Right, come on like a loser, gain her sympathy. He nodded at the harridan. 'Er, I could do with a few cards drawing, like. I'll be right back.'

He went to the toilet and took a piss while he googled 'Tarot readings'. WTF, too much information. I already know it's not cool to assume the Death card means actual snuffing it and the Devil isn't, like, Satanism.

Dropping back onto his stool, he watched her cut the deck and draw a card. 'Give me Death!' he said.
The harridan's fleshy, red face hardened. 'You what?'

He pointed at the top card in the woman's hand, the one she was about to deal. 'The Death card, there it is!'

The woman looked over at the slim, young, average-looking man seated across from her. The corporate-blue polyester suit and cocky attitude said it all. She took a slow breath. 'You are a salesman.'

'A bond trader, actually.'

'Very well, a salesman of imaginary things.' She took her time turning the card over. The pasteboard showed a skeleton bending to wield a scythe, Death taking his universal toll on the human race. She lay the card down on the round table, crossing the other card that lay there, which showed a young, androgynous figure in a pastel blue doublet holding a cup. 'That was a lucky guess. Or do you have a touch of the psychic gift, Mr er...?'

'Darren.' He spoke with little attention; he was looking over at the other table, checking the impact his lucky guess and the Death-card bravado was having on the redhead. Yes, she's noticed, and she's smiling. Game definitely on! The harridan laid out more cards for him. He paid barely any mind to her comments; he was watching the redhead, and now he was getting eye-contact.

He turned back to the Tarot reader. She seemed to have finished the reading and was sipping from a pint of real ale. 'Thanks,' he said, crooking his mouth into a half-smile. He stood and moved back over to the table with the redhead and the beardies.

Jade had her unwitting assistant, right there in her sights. Look at him, coming back over and sitting down. Mine to do with as I will, she smiled, the thought hovering just behind her lips, making them move in the shapes of the words. It's right there on my face, what you are to me, can you not see? The salesman smiled back. No, you can't. You really can't.

Tarentina came over and stood behind the salesman. He looked up. The Tarot reader loomed over him like Fate. Her face was soft, beguiling. She brushed a beringed hand over the maroon velvet of the stool next to him and seated herself, carefully. She picked up his lager, raised an eyebrow at him, smiled and took a sip. 'What do you want, most of all?' She replaced the pint.

Darren's character armour, forged in the rah-rah ecstasis of corporate motivation, plus his habit of thinking fast that distanced him from humanity, served him well. And he knew the answer to that one, anyway. 'A two litre Cosworth engine wrapped in a metallic blue 4x4.'

Tarentina flipped over a card. 'The rest of your reading.' She smiled blandly and showed it him. Figures plunge from a shattered tower, ragged lightning against a cracked pall of darkness. She took another sip of his drink and stood up, smiling at Jade. Darren frowned at his desecrated pint.

Tarentina left. Darren looked up to see the redhead gazing over at him. 'I'm Jade, pleased to meet you.'.
'Yeah, cheers, Darren.' Disconcerted, he knew it showed in his smile; even he was finding it unconvincing.

'Are you from round here?'
'No, um, just passing through.'
'Where are you staying?' This man is totally out of his depth. A perfect, naive partner, a fool.

He couldn't quite remember how he came to be seated in his white Mondeo, Jade, still smiling, in the passenger seat. Driving helped him compose himself a bit; he didn't speak until they joined the northbound M1 slip road, swishing through thick curtains of rain. 'What turnoff?'

'Barnsley. It's hard to find, an estate called Kilnest.'

In the car, the silence and the rain helped her focus on planning the spell. The curse that will purge my hatred, that  will set me free. She smiled sideways at Darren's profile. Yes, this one looks good enough. Give him a good shag, fuck my way into trance. Take a little of his energy, which he has no use for, while I get loose and crazy and travel back in time. Just take what I need from him, then kick him out. I've never mixed sex into a curse before, but there's no reason why it shouldn't work, if I keep him from getting mixed up in the actual magick. Don't want him getting in the way, or getting hurt. It was warm and cosy in the car, listening to the sound of the wipers on the windscreen, travelling in their capsule of comfort through the streaming night.

She sat up, alert at the flash of a sign. 'Oh, there it is. I'm not a driver, I'm slow to spot these things.' Darren steered the wide arc of the turnoff, onto a four-lane feed road, hypnotised by the night and the rhythm of the wheels.

They swished through more rain and darkness, in endless serene motion, pointed at somewhere he didn't know. Yellow streetlight pulsed like cool, drowsy music. Then Jade touched his elbow, directing him to the fluorescent blue flare of a sign, arrowing them into the deeper night. He cut the car's speed, turning again at the soft pressure from her hand, then again, and again. The roads they drove on got narrower and narrower, their bends more curved, increasing his sense of lostness, as if they were turning inwards, into a clockwork spring or the windings of a snail's shell. She leaned against his arm. Her half-whispered voice felt like it was inside his head. 'See how it winds in, how there's no through road? It's closure. In good times, that's security and belonging. In bad times, it's a trap.'

Finally, they turned up to where a hill rose on their left, the upward slope just disappearing into total blackness. A row of council houses curved down to their right. She pointed, 'Here.' She began to zip up her jacket. 'You coming in?'

'Sure.'
The rain was total, blinding. Wet weeds lashed him as they ran, up a path, and through a side door she just pushed open, like no-one lived there. The tiny entrance area had a faint aroma, like leather, but burned. She flung her coat on a peg and crossed another darkened room, exiting into deeper darkness and calling back, 'I'll get you a towel for your hair.' He saw a bare wall, bare wood floor, yellow-dark shadows of rain playing on dust, a few sheets of paper stuck to another wall around a framed picture. As his eyes adjusted, a line appeared on the floor, dark and shiny, the painted limb of some geometrical design.

She reappeared, framed against faint light from the further space. She was wearing a large bathtowel, and handed him a smaller one. He dried his hair. She approached him and took the towel. They kissed, and he was incredibly, extraordinarily excited, dizzy with desire for her. When he reached between her legs, it felt as if he himself was opening up, as if there was no resistance in him. A sensible thought surfaced: Condoms? Check the back pocket... Fuck, they must have fallen out in the car. No, I'm not going to stop... She led him up bare, creaking wooden stairs, to a room in the streaming, yellow light, to a mattress where they fucked in a storm of urgency. 

The room was pale, the light through net curtains, the marbling, yellow light of the rain. As soon as he'd come, Jade got up and ducked out of the room, stooping, wiping between her legs. She returned, silhouetted, slow and poised against the window before she spread herself back on the bed. He noticed the pendant round her neck; she was stroking it, something dark and shaped in a pointed oval, a bit like a cunt.

He glanced at her as she laid beside him. He'd seen a TV programme about AIDS the other night, and the unsafe sex was bothering him. There didn't seem much point in saying anything, though. What's been done has been done.

In fact, he wasn't really that bothered. He said, 'I think I'd better be going.'
She faced him, smiling in the streaming light. 'OK, suit yourself.' She seemed to have been about to offer him something, and to have changed her mind so as not to risk being turned down. To fill the conversational vacuum, he said, 'I'm round these parts for a few days.'
'Call in for a coffee, then.'

'I will.' Darren felt sleepy. Before he could get himself going, he suddenly found his thoughts drifting like a rudderless boat, the image that came to him. 'Yeah, got to...' He fell into a dream.

He is propelled along a dark river. His small boat runs with the flow, in a dark landscape peppered with points of yellow light. The stream he rides joins another, and the current carries him faster, headlong into the night. Under a sky of scudding clouds, he enters a distributory of the river, the boat lurching in the eddies. Again he races on into darkness, the yellow lights fewer now, new patches of emptiness on either side as the channel narrows. Finally, the current hurtles him out of the river into a side limb of stagnant water. The vortex ends, but he is still being swirled, on his way to a darker, emptier place.

He sat up, frightened, the dream evaporating like the sweat between his shoulder blades. The woman snored softly. He got out from under the quilt with care, almost holding his breath as he pulled his trousers on and stuck his arms through the sleeves of his shirt. He tiptoed to the door, glancing round as he shuffled his trainers on, at the woman in her halo of thick, red hair.

It was Friday. Darren went to join ex-colleagues Steve and Wayne at the Casino for lunch and a drink. Membership was free; Steve used it for entertaining clients away from the hoi-polloi, like Darren used to, before he'd moved up in the world, moved to London and the selling of imaginary things. In the lobby, Darren spotted the swollen nose and unhealthy bloatedness of Steve, hiding with his bulk the tiny figure of Wayne. 'My fellow Poets!' cried Steve. Darren and Wayne chorused, 'For it is we, and we will Piss Off Early, 'cos Tomorrow is Saturdee!'

They took stools in the bar. The croupier girls, retro-dressed in halter neck, formed moving wallpaper. Darren reappeared from the Gents, flourishing condoms. 'Forgot last night.'
Steve lifted his drink and muttered, 'There's more to life than fanny. Grow up.'
'Mister Happily Married, congratulations, you old cunt.'
Wayne leaned forward. 'What's she like?'
'A statuesque redhead.'
'Club, like?'

Darren wasn't about to 'fess up to how far he'd trawled into fringe culture for a shag. 'New club, near Sheffield.' Wayne's face suggested interest, so Darren added, 'Not much good,' forestalling any further questions.

With anticipation, and a streak of unadmitted fear, he set off for the motorway. Kilnest Estate wasn't easy to find. He hadn't set his satnav that night, and hadn't asked Jade her address; he was back in the stone age of maps and memory. No main roads led to Kilnest, even though it was almost in the shadow of the motorway. Jade's voice echoed in his head, like a soft buzz-saw. 'See how it winds in, how there's no through road?' A wound-up spring, a filthy curl of stagnant water, the last, tight turn of the spiral. This was a place you went to, not through.

Finally, he recognized the hillside road entering the estate. In daylight, he saw that the ragged hill to his left was crowned with a closed-down mine. The stone tower, topped with its winding gear, the cluster of stone buildings, shuttered and dilapidated, the long, dark track, loomed over the close, loomed over him now. What a fookin' dump. He turned into the close and located the house. He approached the red door, raising his arms above the nettles waving from the weed-choked garden. He tried the bell; no ring. He took a deep breath and gave the door a friendly, salesman's kind of knock. No one came. He hesitated; knocked again, louder.

He sat in the car and glanced at the timetable on his iPhone, almost empty for this seeing-old-pals break. He'd made a special effort to visit this girl, and she wasn't in. I didn't call her though. She might just be at the corner shop. He felt sleepy. The sunlight dazzled him; he yawned, and dozed.
Again, he's in a boat. He mustn't touch the water; it's full of little dancing motes of light, which he knows are poison. But the boat is rocking, wider and wider, the lethal water splashing up. He lurches from side to side, trying to steady the motion, but an unseen hand is rocking it.

He woke with a start, and stared at the blank, round face grinning through the windscreen. The child was rocking the car. A fat adolescent with a shaved head looked on. Thugs. Loonies. Violence. They saw him start awake and ran off, giving him the finger.

This time he tried Jade's door. Fuck. It's unlocked. He stepped in, called, 'Halloo.' That leather stink. Then she stood in front of him. She smiled. Her hair was tied up with a scarf. She was wearing a patterned cotton skirt, unfashionably long, and a plain white blouse. The loose fabric brushed, clinging, to her long thighs as she crossed the room.

She led the way up the stairs, to the bedroom. Deep red, heavy velvet curtains closed it off from the day. The warm, fusty darkness was spiced with incense, like the smell downstairs, but pungent, oppressive. She lit a candle. They undressed, and got onto the mattress. She kept the fanny-shaped pendant on, and its point dug into the skin of his chest while they were fucking.

When he'd come, she got up. He dozed for a while. She brought up some coffee. Music seeped through the wall from next door, a pop song he'd surfaced into, mumbling nonsense words to its tune: One for his eyes, one for his mouth.

Making conversation, he told her about his wait in the car. She laughed when he said he'd thought she might be out at the corner shop. 'There's no shop for miles. Everything stops here.'
'So what're you doing here, then? You're educated, this is a dead-end dump, and your neighbours are a few steps short of a flight.'

'I'm finishing a task. Trying to end a part of my life.' She glanced up at a framed picture over the bed. 'It was my father's house. He... died here. He worked at the pit. It killed him. Literally.' She reached across the bed, picked up a pack of cigarettes and lit one. 'In 1984, they sent in thugs, police in un-numbered uniforms. They crushed the area, beat everyone down.' Her eyes flicked sideways. He followed her gaze: trails of paper rayed out from the picture, stuck to the wall, like the crime walls you saw on TV cop shows - yellowed news clippings, a crumbling bus ticket, a circular chart with colourful geometric shapes on it. Her voice was dreamy. 'Someone ought to pay.'

'You political, then?'
She shook her head. 'No. Politics is... broken.' She looked at him for a second, her lips parted slightly. 'He was a shift foreman, too old and sick for coalface work. He sided with his co-workers. His manager sold him out, made sure the un-numbered thugs found him, alone. They killed him.' She drew on the cigarette. 'Said 'heart attack' on the death certificate. But that's always just your last gasp they write down, isn't it? Not the underlying cause. Some people knew. Nobody listened. And now it's too far in the past.'

She looked up at the picture, then at him, as if deciding whether she should tell him something, then smiled and shook her head.

'So what about all these other bits of stuff, right over your bed?'
She smiled, her hand reaching down to his cock. He moved, uncomfortable. 'It's my time-travel wall. When we fuck, I trance out, I travel.'

Through the wall, he could hear the same pop song, being played again and again, someone too young or stupid to change the theme, someone who never got tired of repetition. He gave up on the conversation. Fookin' serious bird, no fookin' fun. He finished his coffee and left.

That evening, he felt tired, too tired to go out to a pub or club. He went back to his hotel, stripped off and pulled one of the thick-pile bathrobes round him, feeling weak enough to enjoy its soft comfort. Looking round for his phone, he found a folded square of paper in a trouser pocket. It was pale yellow and stiff; a special kind of paper, like they use for certificates. He opened it up and saw a kind of monogram, a mixture of letters, like old-school businesses had for their logos. It dawned on him that Jade had put it there, and what it meant. Fuck off, I'm not afraid of that bollocks.

He drove to Kilnest the next day. This time, she was different, kind of brisk, but odd, giving him long looks. As soon as he'd come, she disappeared. She came back, knelt upright on the mattress and unhooked one of the pictures from above the bed. 'Do you know what magick is?'

'Assuming you don't mean Paul Daniels, then we're talking witches with broomsticks, ritual sacrifices, satanic orgies?'

'That's the newspaper shite,' she said. 'I'm talking about real magick. This...' She put the picture in front of him. It was a collage, stuck together from newspaper cuttings, yellowed with age. The main one showed a photo of a chubby middle-aged businessman or administrator in a smart suit, getting out of a car. The face didn't ring any bells. Stuck next to it was a curled Polaroid, faded to noise. She was looking sideways at him.

Her silence was creeping him out. 'It's not real, though, this witchcraft stuff, this magick, is it? Not grown-up real?'

She looked at him, eyes hooded. 'It's real enough. A coven of witches asked a friend of mine to do a curse for them. They wanted to curse veal production, but they didn't have the balls to do it themselves. You won't have read about that plane that came down a few weeks back, near Birmingham. Just a freight plane, full of calves for the French veal market. But two humans were killed too. My friend caused that. Curses can miss their targets.' She paused, her eyes narrow. Again, she seemed to be about to say something else, then shook her head. 'I don't want you mixed up in this, any more than you already are because I'm fucking you. That's why I gave you the talisman.' She took a deep breath. 'I'm channelling a legacy of hate. Everything round here is soaked in it. It's about vengeance.'

Darren turned away from her. 'Fuck off, Jade. Sex is just sex. I tore that piece of paper up.'
She looked searchingly at him. 'Why did you feel the need to do that? You could have just thrown it away.'

He had no answer to that. He got up and dressed, unhappy. Jade stood as he went to leave. 'Take care. You... you're more caught up in this than you think.' She went to kiss him. He turned away. 'Magick makes sense of life,' she said, 'sense out of all this anger, and loss, and hate. Gives it somewhere to go and rest, makes use of it.'

'It's stupid, expecting things to make sense. None of it does.' He pulled away and left. Her voice carried down the stairs, soft, concerned. 'Maybe you shouldn't come back, Darren.'

He is alone, on a bleak, empty hill top, under a full moon. A river of darkness winds around him, a spiral course of utterly black water, made visible by the poisonous yellow lights that swarm within it. A figure crouches by the watercourse, a naked woman who dips a shining cup into the lethal flow. She stands up; it's Jade, and she walks slowly towards him, bearing the cup of poison. Around her neck is a strip of something, in the shape of a vesica, the outline of a vulva, anointed with something slimy, that glows silver in the moonlight. She raises the chalice; a tremor shakes the ground she stands on, and starry gouts of poison shake out of the cup, splashing over him.

Darren spent about thirty seconds sweating, thinking about the dream, which was thirty seconds longer than usual. Normally he remembered nothing at all from the hours of sleep.

'Darren, you look terrible. That bird of yours must be keeping you up all night.' Wayne put down his fork and underlined the 'up' with a penis gesture of fist and forearm. Darren managed a weak smile. They ate their roast beef lunch, just the two of them. Steve was in hospital, gastrointestinal unit. Darren got in the car, started driving, then realised he was heading north on the motorway, away from home, away from his friends.

Turning off for Kilnest, the deep roar of a big engine grabbed his attention. A metallic blue 4x4 cut right in front of him, tyres screaming as it took the roundabout. He swerved, caught his nearside wheel on the kerb, then regained control. He was sweating, and he thumped the dashboard with an uncharacteristic loss of temper, momentarily furious that his life was being disrupted so.

He resumed his journey, following the inward spiral of the turnoffs. He took the curve that wound round to the entrance of the close, then spotted the blockage across it. Someone had piled some dustbins, the remains of a divan bed and a rotting mattress into a kind of barricade. He had to park on the road below the pit head tower. The sun was just going down through a slit in the leaden sky, and the stone building with its shuttered windows sat on the horizon, a long-doomed castle of industry overlooking the decay of the streets beneath it. 

He put the car alarm on and crossed the road to the cul-de-sac. The side door of the house was wide open. He stepped in, and glanced into the sitting room, which looked even emptier than before. He mounted the stairs to the front bedroom, calling 'Hi.' The curtains were open, the dull light showing the shabby wallpaper and the mattress they had used yesterday. There were no covers on the bed. There'd been some books on the floor; they were gone. It dawned on him: She's left, gone away.
He felt annoyed. Above the bed there was a design drawn on the wall in felt tip. It was a triangle, with some sort of monogram made from bits of letters in the middle. Walking over to look at it, something crunched under foot. He stepped back and bent down. A glint of dusty light caught his eye: a shard of broken mirror. Stuck to it was a tiny piece of white paper with a daub of brown blood on it. He glanced up at the wall, where a paler rectangle of old wallpaper outlined an absence.  The silence flowed out around him. Wrong silence; bad absence; incipient disaster walking on his grave.
In a dreamlike tension he looked down again and saw another scrap of paper with another monogram, parts of a name arranged into a design. Something in the corner of his mind threatened to make appalling sense of these grubby conundrums. The pop song next door started up again. His heart was pounding and sweat already starting on his face when he heard the crash. He jumped to the bedroom door and opened it.

The fat boy he'd seen the day before was at the bottom of the stairs, a lump hammer in his fist. He spotted Darren, and leered up at him, his face a caricature of brute stupidity. Pulling at his crotch, he hollered, swinging the hammer up. Darren dived back through the doorway into the bedroom and slammed the door. There was a sound of smashing glass, hooting laughter, and running feet. Darren breathed deeply and leaned against the panel.

The cause of the second crash took a couple of seconds to register, then he was on his feet and down the stairs. A car alarm was sirening from the end of the road. Keeping close to the fronts of the houses, he plunged through the overgrown gardens and through scrawny, scratching hedges, hands over eyes, breath near-whooping in panic, until he reached the end house in the close. It was boarded up, and he crouched in the doorway, getting his breath. As he dropped down, his hand touching something soggy in a carrier bag. The dead puppy must have been there a few days, and Darren jumped up, whimpering, and ran out over the T-junction.

His car was a wreck. The windscreen was smashed in, all the tyres had been cut, and there were big dents all over the bonnet. The fat boy and the moon-faced child were running up the service road leading to the pit head, making monkey noises. Something snapped in Darren. With little idea of what he was doing, he grabbed a brick and ran up the colliery track. The youths melted into the complex of shuttered buildings. He reached the darkened tower at the top of the hill and spotted a broken doorway, a hole into pitch darkness blowing out a freezing draught, a collapsed shaft into nothingness. Then a sound made him turn, a deep, powerful engine.

He watched, enthralled, as the metallic blue SUV swung around the curve of the main estate road and screamed through the wreckage of the fence onto the pit head track. It was coming right at him, this ugly-beautiful car, in the last tight curl of a long, looping curve, the tyres letting out intermittent yelps of protest. He caught a glimpse of a face, eyes glazed with acceleration as the driver tried to wrench the car out of its skid. The tyres screamed, the car swerved, regained forward movement then spun out of control on the grease-slick cobbles, tyres singing, wheels tracking side to side, hypnotizing him in its skipping-gripping death-dance. Too late, he flung himself aside, and the fat, rectangular nearside wing of the wondrous car glowed blue in his eyes as it smashed into his ribs, hurled him through the doorway, hurled him into the windy dark.

Bright shards of imagery flared and died as he fell: the girl - what was her name?... a city in rain and dusk, seen from above... a broken hoop around him, sliced apart by hot light... a talisman shaped like a vesica, a cunt, discarded in the mud.

It made no sense at all.

Another Grenoside video

video

Friday, 28 December 2012

Grenoside Boxing Day Sword Dancing

 We arrive at about 10.30, get a drink and stand in the street with about twelve other people. Suddenly there are 100 people here, standing alongside the road, cars passing every few seconds. The many dogs start a chain reaction of barking. There's a tangible buildup of excitement. I'm wondering how the road is going to be blocked, because it's clearly going to take place right in the road, when we all step forward into the road and take command of it. Wow.

This display of people power is in response to a team of 8 men in white trousers and very fine brocade jackets marching down the road and into the centre of what is a now a circle.






A fiddle starts up, and straightwaway a basset hound standing at the front of the crowd joins in with some howls. The crowd roars with laughter.

The next team is a women's dance troupe called Lizzie Dripping, announced as 'from Sheffield'. This underlines the fact that we are indeed not in Sheffield, but in Grenoside. Then a troupe of sword dancing women from Maltby called Mums and Daughters. Their style is decidedly different to the Grenoside men. We are in the midst of fierce local pride!







There's a solo dancer who does a Scottish dance to a new fiddler, then a sword-dance troupe of young kids. This is clearly not a dying tradition, or a precious, academic revival. This is a vital, living tradition, and those present range from rug rats to the very old. The children's troupe have wooden swords and perform the elaborate stepping patterns to the tune of Bobby Shaftoe. Even smaller kids play dance.




The raising of the hexagons and pentagons of swords really feels like a solar rite, a welcoming back of the sun after midwinter. It's cold - the fiddlers are having trouble keeping their fingers warm enough to play, but the day is wonderfully clear and bright, and the sun shines warmly. This is a great way to spend the 26th of December.
















Grenoside Sword Dance, 26th Dec 2012

This was a terrific few hours out. Here is a video of the Grenoside troupe. More pics and a brief account of the event to follow.
video

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Three Thurses for thee: towards a demonology of consumerism

Here's an essay adapted from a talk I did last year at the RuneGild World Moot.

Three Thurses for thee: towards a demonology of consumerism


This article is partly a rant, and partly an attempt to isolate some of the demonic elements of consumerist culture.

Consider this pair of familiar propositions:
- We are all in a dream most of the time
- We can choose to wake up, but it takes work, and this is the Work of initiation.

So, in what sense are we in a dream?

Imagine you are watching TV, and you see an advert featuring sizzling rashers of bacon. Your mouth waters. You get up and go into the kitchen. You catch yourself, frying pan in hand, at the point you realise you aren't actually hungry. No harm done.

Now imagine you are riding in a car along a city street. You are wide awake, as aware as it gets. From a billboard, you see a face smiling down at you, lips parted, eyes moist and luminous... this is not just a rumbling in your stomach that emulates hunger, this is real desire; lust and happiness are fused in the eyes of the beloved, the woman, man or beast of your dreams that is used in that car or coffee or toothpaste advert. That image has wormed its way into your inner world, and it will keep on generating feelings. If they're pleasant feelings, you will probably not resist its internalization. It has become part of you, a powerful element in your mythic world.

We are all in a dream of this kind; that's what the mystics have been telling us for thousands of years: from Lao-Tse through to Plato.

We are all in a dream; that's what critics of consumerism tell us too: In the words of Walter Benjamin, 'the advertisement is one method whereby the commodity infiltrates the dream-world of the consumer.'

So, in critiquing consumerism, we may come to understand some important lessons for our illumination.
In doing so, we are following an ancient initiatory process. By unmasking and learning how to resist these Thurses, we come to free ourselves from their grip, and so we become more conscious.

So what are these forces, and to what extent are they Thursic?
I expect many of you will have heard of Crowley's Aeonics, that succession of principles around which human spirituality organizes itself in each historical era.

First there is Isis the Mother, the Pagan Aeon, ruled by the laws of Nature; then Osiris the Father, the Aeon of monotheism and most recently (1904 according to Crowley) Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child, the beginning of the maturation of humanity beyond repressive laws.

Before I'd even heard of magick, I was a natural child of the Horus aeon. Freedom was my game. 'Playpower', a famous (and famously overrated) book from the years of my youth, gave us a term that seemed to make sense. 

And some of the things I dreamed about in the Playpower phase of my youth have come true, and I hate them.
As a youngster in the early 1970s, viewing the ruined industrial landscapes of North-East Sheffield's Attercliffe and Tinsley, the bit you see when you pass between turnoffs 32 and 31 of the M1 motorway, I cried out passionately that they be replaced by a children's playground.

The dream came true, the monstrous Meadowhall mall sprouted on the site of the steel industries' ruin. I served my time there in the run-up to Yule '95, the Xmas feeding frenzy, running a stall selling my aromatics company's products. Every day, driving home, I played the most nihilistic industrial rock I could find, to try and banish that consumerist hell. 

But the Aeon of Horus was needed: much of the old world had to go - in particular, the insane sexual repression of the Victorian era, which was dealt a significant blow by the lifestyle rebellion of the 60s. The Aeon of Horus was still making sense.

It still made sense to me in 1997, when I wrote Chaotopia!. In that book, I prized neoteny, which, biologically speaking is when individuals reach sexual maturity without developing all the other adult characteristics of their species. Neoteny is therefore a metaphor for continual openness to development.

That open-endedness is the crown and the burden of humankind - that we are creatures of chaos, that we don't really know what we are. That means we can and do become anything - our freedom produces Auschwitz, and Beethoven, James Joyce and Big Brother. So I stand by my defence of neoteny - minds that are flexible and adaptable are those which retain youthful characteristics, and in turn those qualities reflect one of the deepest features of the human mind. 
 
So let us look at the Thursic side of that Aeon. 

Here's one example of something I hope I am not alone in being sick to the teeth of : adults using baby talk.

The other week, I read a report of a magistrate doing the requisite telling-off thing to a woman described as 'heavily pregnant' for an alcohol related offence. The admonishment actually went, 'You've got a baby in your tummy...'
Yes, this is a magistrate we're talking about here, not some soppy teenage twit who gets a warm glow inside from saying the word 'tummy'.
Did she think the woman she was addressing was severely intellectually retarded? Aren't magistrates supposed to be mature and sensible members of the community? Apparently 'no' is the answer to both of those questions.

Even professionals like doctors and vets use the word 'poo' these days, a perfectly suitable term for 8-year olds, before they get the hang of what social contexts demand 'excrement' or 'faeces' and which 'crap' or shit'.

So what is that about, that infantile regression in an adult?
To cast the question wider: Why can't I jump on and off buses as they hang around in traffic? Is it because we can no longer stand to lose a few idiots a year in exchange for these trivial freedoms?
Are we thereby a more compassionate society?

That's the surface of it, that is what we are supposed to believe about this rubbish, but the rate at which the overprotection culture has conquered everything suggests a very strong economic driver.

That driver is insurance; this is what makes sense of the extreme anti-smoking notices, which in some places even appear out of doors these days, in defiance of any basic human sense. (Just for those who haven't yet worked out how deranged that notion is, just look up the term 'infinite dilution').
Harm is not the issue; the true logic of this idiocy is that some person might sue, and sue successfully, someone who allows smoke to drift over their home or business premises. After all, we are talking about a legal system that awarded a claimant against McDonalds for serving her the hot coffee she scalded herself with. I mean, I wouldn't mind seeing Mac's getting screwed into the middle of next week, but that decision has made the law into a moron, and one fears what such stupidity is capable of.

Thus, three Thurses for thee, dear citizen, and not, like in the words of Skirnismal, 'lust, loathing and lechery', but things far filthier and much less fun: things that contribute vitally to the nourishment of the system we find ourselves in, the sordid details of the pathology of consumerism.

That was the first one: Infantilization. It is the Thursic side of the Child principle, which is in itself no better nor worse than the Mother or Father principles. All Aeons get corrupted, cheapened, vulgarized; monetized, to use the most revolting of new expressions.

So we've isolated one horrible strand of modern politics and control: the Crowned and Conquering Brat, alive and kicking down the legal system...

Let's pan out to the bigger picture:

The BIG BOSS THURS - Consumerism;

This is fed by a whole slew of demons:
First, Control: - This is a genuinely Thursic force, one with no conscious side at all. William Burroughs had this one's number: Control doesn't operate rationally; its horizons are limited; hence it is a genuine thurs. Burroughs saw that it emerges from the fear of death and its appetite for more control is insatiable.
In a dialogue he conducted via cut-up trance, he asked:
'What does Control want?'
'More Control,' came the reply.

Control turns up in every society. It is an old whore, which will work for anybody stupid enough to employ it. It is not peculiar to our present age. Think of it like this: it forms the demand side of the economy of stupidity.

In its present form, it is nourished and strengthened by :  -
Infantilization - an Aeonic thurs, specific to the Aeon of Horus.

Let's look in more detail at infantilization.
It's in full swing with our claim and blame culture, surely the epitome of infantilization, the attitude that
the adult citizen is not responsible, that Baby needs protecting from Hirself every second of every day.

What then is its function of infantilization?

Its function is to keep us grasping, grasping for more, like a spoiled, unloved child.
It is the slave of corporations and advertising, which exhort us to buy much more stuff than we need.

According to a survey done in the late 90s, it was at that time only about the first £10,000 of income that made a difference to our material happiness; below that level, we are genuinely poor. Above that level, income only impacts our happiness to the extent it is more or less than what others are earning.

In other words, many people work long hours at boring, pointless, unsatisfying jobs simply to achieve status.
That strikes me as deeply pathetic:  people destroy their lives through work, to obtain something as ridiculous as relative financial status.
No wonder infantilization is necessary to drive consumerism; a truly grown-up person would not buy into such a crock of crap.

In a parallel and related development, you've probably noticed doctors getting more aggressive about health. Your health, that used to belong to you, to care for or abuse as you saw fit. Doctors have become as whiningly moralistic as priests, and the cult they are priests of is life-extension. This cult has become as powerful as the old priesthoods of morality and work. Recent attempts to destroy the free market in medicinal herbs is sold to the public on the basis of 'we know better than you do', but its real reason is obviously profit for big drug companies.

That link relates to a structural relationship: Infantilization is supported by:
Intellectual dishonesty.
This Thurs has really come out of the closet lately; governments are getting shockingly blatant in their lying. A recent example - 2 years ago, the UK Govt's chief drugs advisor, Prof David Nutt, was asked to come up with a scale of the harmfulness of drugs, both legal and illegal, based on objective, measurable quantities like hospital admissions.

He did so, and the Govt didn't like his findings. When Nutt defended them, they sacked him, saying that his scale of harmfulness - sanctified by scientific method - sent out the wrong message.

Let's run that past ourselves again: The truth, ie the best data we can get, sends out the wrong message.
Such contempt for truth would be funny if it wasn't causing so much harm.

Another Thurs that supports Control is:
Loss of trust in subjectivity.
We are living in an era where subjective reporting is not to be trusted. This of course links in to the  embedded institutional distrust of people's behaviour and judgment, which in turn feeds into our disempowerment by the medical profession.

Prizewinning American writer Marilynne Robinson tackles this problem. In her book 'Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self' , she writes:
'A central tenet of the modern world view is that we do not know our own minds, our own motives, our own desires. And - as an important corollary - certain well-qualified others do know them. ... of the ... testimony of individual consciousness and experience among us, ... We have been persuaded that it is a perjured witness.'

This reminds us of the mental violence done to the public by the arch-manipulators of the last century, particularly Edward Bernays and Emma Freud. Between them, these two demonized any inner authority humans might have and attacked autonomy and community, in order to reduce people to docile consumers. Where subjectivity is devalued, we have no position to fight from, no other source of authority to oppose the rapacity of government, big business and vested professional interests. 

Robinson is coming from the humanities side of the argument, and the whole territory of the arts is threatened with trivialization by the anti-subjectivist position. That position is associated, with some accuracy, with the scientific attitude. You may have seen articles with titles like 'Yes, we really do fall in love - brain scans prove it', as if subjective reports of feelings have no validity, and the objective measurements of science do.
So is Science then the enemy, the Thursic force here?

Before going into that big question, I want to say that I'd really rather you didn't take my word for any of this. Check it out for yourself. Confront, immerse yourself in, question, every aspect of this modern world and determine which you can use, which you need artfully to avoid, and which are your sworn enemies.
And with all of them, understand how to transcend their influence. Even those you approve of, you will eventually need to learn how to overcome in yourself, because they represent partial truths. 

A personal example: my Science story:
I remember vividly the moment I fell in love with science. It coincided with the first time I abandoned magical thinking. I was around 4, and my dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I replied: a magic wand, a real one, like Sooty's got, one that can do real magic. My dad told me then that magic wasn't real. I recall the moment precisely; we were facing a row of shops on a mundane street in the West London suburb I grew up in. At that point, something big happened inside me, and the next time I thought about that incident it was from the point of view of someone who had turned wholeheartedly towards science. Science represented power, and I had unknowingly launched myself into the mystery of the Faustian bargain, which is so much the modern history of the Indo-European people.

Many occultists , and even some magicians, believe that science is the enemy. It is not. Science is common sense, ordinary logic, in its most detailed form. It is foreign neither to our nature as human beings nor to the projects of personal power and initiation.

What is the enemy, has been called Parascience. The term was coined by Marilynne Robinson, and can be defined as the talking of science-like religious drivel by scientists.

I'll give you an example from a science writer I used to respect, Ben Goldacre. He critiques a parapsychology experiment which failed to demonstrate extraordinary powers; so far, so good - methodological criticism is part of the advancement of scientific knowledge.
But he is not satisfied with a mere technical critique; he wants people to stop conducting parapsychology experiments at all, because, quote, 'we know that ESP is not real.'
Do we? That sounds like a religious position to me; it is certainly not a scientific one.

Parascience is a very special Thurs, another one that is peculiar to the Aeon of Horus. We have rejected the religions of the monotheist Aeon, but we can't do without big, simplifying, stupid statements about the nature of the universe, so we form a new one. Parascience is a rather shabby attempt at a religion, and it is practised by a curious subculture, the best known member of which is Richard Dawkins.

Dawkinsites have constructed an argument which is superficially like science, but lacks it rigour. They have descended to a religious position that owes everything to Christianity's simplistic monochrome, in its energetic denial of some part or other of the human being, in its sterile inability to embrace the totality of what human experience is. They take science as their starting point, but then go way beyond its remit, much further than the evidence warrants, to present their hysterical-sounding denials. They are cops, patrolling the limits of reality with big sticks, falsely labelled 'Scientific Reason'.

Robinson writes:
'...the polemical impulse to assert the authority of science, understandable when the project was relatively new... is by now an atavism that persists as a consequence of this same polemical impulse.'

And further:
'A difference between ... science and parascience, is the desire in the latter case to treat scientific knowledge as complete, at least in its methods and assumptions, in order to further the primary object of closing questions about human nature...'
That pretty much pins down the Thursic nature of Parascience: the closing off of questions which have in no way been adequately addressed by science. The old separation into 'non-overlapping magisteria' is under attack from parascience,  and the flavour of this discourse is a shallow triumphalism, a territorial pissing match by scientists who have blundered into areas that their discipline is not competent to address.

True science is at home in the real universe, which is chaotic and open-ended; parascientists like Dawkins and Goldacre are deeply uncomfortable about that lack of closure; they are seeking faith in order and closure. Either Dawkins has no insight into his own psyche or he is being dishonest about the fact that he is seeking faith.

Many people confuse science with parascience, and none more so than in magic. This confusion is greatly to the benefit of parascience, whose adherents would love us to think they were talking real science, and it has led some magical writers to attempt to justify magical thinking by invoking the radical relativism of postmodern philosophers.

Whilst I salute the intention behind such attempts, I remain unimpressed by such short-cuts to magical belief as the following:
'... if everything we believe about the world is an arbitrary, socially-constructed symbol; if nothing inherently means anything; if reality itself - as many postmodernists claim - is just a collection of such arbitrary symbols, then magic becomes not only possible, but inevitable.'
That's a quote from 'Postmodern Magic', by Patrick Dunn.

The trick Dunn is using here seems to be to degrade the objectivity-status of consensus reality in order to make it more vulnerable to magic. We might call this the Chemotherapy Ploy: with cytotoxic drugs, we hope they will poison the cancer cells rather faster than the healthy host cells. Similarly, with PoMo anti-science we attack consensus reality, in the hope that the 'irrationalism' of magic gets a foothold before our universe crumbles into total incoherence.

Postmodern philosophy brought in a breath of liberating ideas, especially in analysing how philosophical positions are affected by the social reality of the writer. However, some of these tendencies have become profoundly toxic and downright silly where they've tried to deal with scientific epistemology.

PoMo critiques of physical science have delivered tools into the hands of the religious ultra-right, who are only too glad to be told that the theory of biological evolution (one of the scientific theories most consistently supported by the evidence), is just another possible viewpoint, to be placed alongside non-scientific views like creationism. The PoMo science agenda also benefits the rapacious corporations and their political puppets who would squirm out from under the mountain of evidence for global warming. 

Anyone who is still mucking about with PoMo anti-science drivel would do well to read theoretical physicist Alan Sokal's critiques of that tendency's worst excesses. In 1996, Sokal's article 'Transgressing the boundaries: Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity' was accepted, and published in all seriousness by the prestigious American cultural studies journal Social Text. After its publication, Sokal 'fessed up to the hoax, declaring that every statement in that article was either trivial, nonsensical or meaningless, provoking a storm of often-acrimonious debate. One of the more delightful exchanges to emerge from this brouhaha was when one of the editors of Social Text declared that Sokal was 'under-educated' in the branch of philosophy he was critiquing; one of Sokal's supporters asked that editor: 'How does it feel to be duped by the under-educated?'

Basically, we don't need some hippy-dippy paradigm shift in order to fight parascience - all we need is clear thinking.

Let's go a layer deeper: much misunderstanding of what science is, is underpinned by confused notions of what materialism really is.
'Materialism' is often blamed by 'magicians' for the state modern culture is in. Is that fair? is Materialism a Thurs?

One understanding of the word, in which it means 'obsession with owning more stuff', is totally thursic. This pathology is better thought of as consumerism, which I dealt with above.

Consumerism is of course underpinned by the parascientific denial that there is any reality other than the external stuff we can measure; why should we seek anything except money and goods if inner states are not really real?

However, this position is actually pseudo-materialism, and is definitively demolished by British philosopher Galen Strawson. He writes:
'To be ... a genuine, realistic materialist, is to hold that experiential phenomena ... are part of this total physical existence.' 

So REAL materialism does not equal reductionism. Strawson writes:
'When I say that the mental, and in particular, the experiential, is physical, and endorse the view that 'experience is just neurons firing', I mean something completely different from what some materialists have apparently meant by saying such things. I don't mean that all aspects of what's going on in the case of conscious experience can be described by current physics ... Such a view amounts to some kind of  ... 'eliminativism' with respect to consciousness and is certainly false. My claim is quite different. It is that the experiential considered specifically as such ... just is physical. No one who disagrees with this claim is a serious or remotely realistic materialist. One might put the point by saying that real materialism is not reductive... It doesn't claim that experience is anything less than we ordinarily conceive it to be, but that matter is more than we ordinarily conceive it to be.' 

This materialistic monism is very close to panpsychism, which Strawson admits as his personal belief, and continues:
'... real - materialism involves full acknowledgement of the reality of experiential phenomena. Experiential phenomena are as real as rocks... ' 

No, real materialism, properly understood, is not eliminative of consciousness; it is not Thursic; its Thursic face is a subset of parascience, which we've already dealt with.

So, we have isolated our 3 Thurses, our toxic triad:
At the top, Consumerism.
This is fed by Infantilization and Parascience.

So, finally, how do we work against - or with - these entities?

Thurses we must fight; that is the nature of the path of consciousness. We must resist, critique, undermine and sabotage these forces of rampant stupidity. That is a life's work, and I wish you all persistence and luck in doing so.

However, some of the forces we've been considering are not Thurses, but Etins. Science, in both its methodology and its results, can be seen as Etinic. As Odin knew, Etins can give wisdom - as long as we are cautious and cunning in dealing with them.

In Vafthrudnismal, Odin, disguised as Gagnrath, must show that He has some wisdom too, or Vafthrudnir will not be interesting in playing the game. The questions Gagnrath has are cosmological ones - it is not hard to imagine Him as a cosmologist, questioning the universe through scientific procedures - He asks about moon and sun, about the origins of the universe.

"Tell me an eighth, Vafthruthnir,
since they say you are wise, and that you know:
what is your first memory, your earliest knowledge,
since you are wise, ettin?"

"In the endless winter,
before the shaping of the world,
Bergelmir was born..."

But in the end, Odin succeeds through a ruse:

"Far have I fared, much have I dared
oft have I tested the Regin.
What did Odin say to the ears of his son
before he was hoisted to the pyre?"

"No man knows that which you spoke
to your son in the days of yore.
It was with a doomed mouth
that I told old staves and spoke of Ragnarok.
Now I have exchanged my wisdom
in words with Odin. You are the wisest."

Odin wins by insisting on the primacy of the subjective: the answer to the riddle He poses is owned solely by himself. He values the wisdom He obtains from Vafthrudnir, but not to extent of wanting to drown in it and lose Himself. In the end, His own life, His own continuation as a principle of higher consciousness, must be valued above scientific knowledge. This is where Odin's approach differs from that of a scientist caught in the shallow illusions of parascience. He is the living principle of higher consciousness, so He must never lose sight of those higher perspectives. To do so would be to forfeit His life, lost forever in Vafthrudnir's vasty halls, and that is His lesson to us in dealing with Etins. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

2012

Here's something I wrote for a 2012 collection which never happened. I thought it was high time to publish it.

2012 - or 12,012?

We all desire something from the Singularity. Conditioned into instant gratification by consumerist culture, we want to believe that  the mere quantitative - a date on a calendar promoted by Pope Gregory in 1582 - will deliver real qualitative change. So, disappointed by the Millennium, which didn't even manage to crash all the world's computers, we reach out for 2012. Like kids writing 'Dear Father Christmas' letters, we hope that something we haven't contributed to will provide a quick fix to global problems and rescue us from our mass folly.
Rather than hold our collective breath until the unknown rescues us, why not take the situation in hand, and create something new instead. Let's mark 2012 with a new calendar, a new system of numbering the years.

When we study any history before the past 2000 years, it looks messy. The years before 1 CE are arranged to present a run-up, all the nonsense that occurred before that date relegated to preparing the world for the advent of the Christian god. Or that's what it looks like, when we consider that Plato lived his life backwards, from around 427 to 347 BCE.
The 'AD' designation is somewhat improved by 'CE', or the Latin Thelemic variant 'EV' (Era Vulgaris) - but this doesn't go far enough. To call the last 2000 years just the 'common era' is almost an admission of defeat - we eliminate the reference to Year of Our Lord, but we still leave his supposed birth year as our temporal baseline.
This produces a skewing of history; it is as if Bishop Usher were right, and the time before JC was relatively short, and only significant as an introductory chapter to the narrative of a god's incarnation.
So how can we change the dating system?

One possibility is to date everything in reverse, like we do for geological and cosmic events; it makes sense to say that the Solar System was formed four and a half billion years ago, rather than at just-under-4.5bn BCE. But it makes a dog's breakfast of any other scale of history. For a start, everyone's lives would run backwards, and it would be a swine of a job renumbering all the important historical dates every year. So we need a forward-counting year system for most historical purposes.
 
The next question is obviously: Where do we start our new forward-count from? A sensible answer would be: From a time before most of what we study historically. Recorded history starts about 5000 years ago, with the development of cuneiform, the oldest known script. The period 5300 to 2500 years ago brackets the oldest known civilizations - early Egyptian hieroglyphs, pre-dynastic China, the Indus Valley cities. Archaeology pushes the origins of these civilizations back a few more centuries. Going back somewhat further, we collide with the last Ice Age. Any civilizations that existed before that have been ground to dust by glaciers or submerged in the flooding that came with the retreat of the ice. The current Interglacial Period is generally taken as starting about 11,000 years ago. This figure approximates to the round figure of 9,000 BCE. An even rounder figure, much easier to work with, would be to take our starting point for historical dating as 10,000 BCE*.   

That would be in the old system; I propose the Interglacial (IG) dating system, in which we add 10,000 to all the years in the old system, counting BCE dates as negative and subtracting them from 10,000.
Here's how a few historical events would look in Interglacial (IG) dating:
Catal Hoyuk earliest finds                                    2500 IG
British Isles separate from rest of Europe            3900 IG
Pre-dynastic Badarian culture, Egypt              4500-6000 IG
Sumer, agriculture                                                4700 IG
West Kennet Longbarrow                                    6500 IG
Oetzi the Iceman                                                  6700 IG
Indus Valley civilization earliest findings            6700 IG 
Stonehenge earth bank and ditch                         6900 IG
Egypt, pyramid of Khufu completed                   7520 IG
Beaker People                                                  7600-8200 IG
China, Zhou dynasty begins                               8055 IG
Hallstadt culture from                                         9200 IG           
Socrates                                                       ca. 9520-9601 IG
Traditional date of founding of city of Rome     9247 IG
Saul of Tarsus invents new religion                 ca. 10,040 IG
Earliest known sequential Futhark                   ca. 10,400 IG
Invention of poured steel                                    11,742 IG
Invention of the computer                                11,941-44 IG

This system has advantages both practical and cultural. It does away with all that silly BCE reverse dating and the removal of that 2000-year ago discontinuity would place the story of Christianity in a more balanced perspective, rather than something which squats astride the whole of history. It would be easier to implement than any other calendar reform I've heard of, and I think it would stimulate interest in ancient history: dating our current civilization from the end of the last Ice Age would give us a sense of being embedded in greater cycles of time. 'Negative dates' would take on a whole new meaning - things that happened before the ice retreated - and this should benefit research into long lost eras.

So how do we start?

* This would place our Year 1 in the throes of the Ice Age, but that is no problem.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Sorcery and Wisdom: Chaos Magic as a vehicle for Magical Philosophy


This is a talk I presented at Midsummer to a roomful of esoterically-inclined Freemasons. It was a fun afternoon, and went down well, with most of my audience. More importantly, it networked together some remarkable people...

The full, extended version of the model of magic presented here is in my book Bright From the Well (http://mandrake.uk.net/bright-from-the-well-northern-tales-in-the-modern-world/)

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The thing I’ve pursued more than anything since an early age is magical connectedness to the universe, the everyday world.

I am not alone in this; I know I share this world with a minority, whose effects on it are disproportionately great, who reject its crass assumptions, its narrowing down of the epic sweep of life. Those who seek something to assuage the abiding sense that materialist dogma produces of having been robbed or defrauded.

There was a slogan going round in my youth which summed up this perspective nicely: Reality is a rip-off. Part of the price we pay for the wonders of industrial culture is a scientistic dogma which aggressively contends that only things are really real. Only exterior surfaces are worth investigating. All depth, all interiority, all subjective experience is denied or denigrated as a mere epiphenomenon, a sideshow, of matter. So I sought a way to take me beyond the prison planet of materialism, to prove my subjective connection to the universe, so as to re-enchant the universe in my own eyes.

That is what I mean by 'magical philosophy' in the title of this talk - daily, lived magical consciousness.

Now, there are many agendas that seek or claim to assuage the emptiness of mainstream culture. To a naturally skeptical person with a science background, such as myself, there are few believable options.

We may at first seek to reintroduce magic by the retro-romantic ploy. The history of various forms of romantic escapism resonate through the modern era. We take on such a sweet deceiver and we may get a few days, or weeks, or even months of naïve belief, of magical puppy-love, before it wears thin, and the critical faculties come back into play. And tell us that all we were doing was re-enactment.
That ploy has only succeeded in showing us what we want reality to be like, rather than convincing us that it is actually like that.

Beyond retro-romanticism we have PostModernism; we can let a chink of light into the prison: we are allowed to doubt that there is only one valid description of reality. We are no longer stuck with the narrowest interpretation of the materialist Aeon. The world is now full of guerrilla ontologies. Under this tolerant regime, guerilla spirituality may flourish, and, just as every coin has two sides, the desperate search for some spiritual dimension outside of mainstream religion has two main forms: the mass movement known as the New Age and the tiny band of dedicated people who call themselves by the old-fashioned and deservedly romantic name of magicians.

PostModernism allows such a romantic position, without treating it as ludicrous, unlike a 4th Aeon/ Materialist critique would.

But on closer inspection, PoMo isn't really magic-friendly at all; it simply tolerates all universe-maps. It's a philosophy that can't say no. It opens the door to all comers, but has nowhere in particular for the guests to stand, let alone sit, since it refuses to privilege any one viewpoint over any other. Its tolerance merely includes, without truly utilizing. And, because of its refusal to privilege any one view, it cannot distinguish the genuine from the bogus or corrupt. In the roadside diner of Postmodernism, magic may be on the menu, but the diners are as likely to be served the uncritical slop known as new age (or, as I prefer to call it, for the rhyme, newage) as they are the nourishment of real wisdom.
The newager wants knowledge without thought, enlightenment without effort, faith without the pain, guilt and wretchedness that monotheistic religions offer to the discerning masochist. The newage is PoMo's embarrassingly bad attempt at a religion.

So how do we lift ourselves up out of this flatland? How do we become initiates, in the magical sense?

For a sceptic, one approach is to evaluate our development through the practical results we create. In particular, in order to convince yourself that you are embedded in a living cosmos, if you are sophisticated in 4th Aeon thought – that is, if you've been exposed to science and thought about what it actually means – the evidence required is that some real, material, consensually-visible change occur in conformity with our individual Will.

This pragmatic approach has its most developed form in chaos magic.
Some people have struggled to define Chaos Magic but it's actually very simple to define: it's a meta-view of magic, it's about magic, rather than being a system of magic. And it is based round the observation that Belief is central to magical effectiveness.

The seminal book of CM was Peter J. Carroll's 'Liber Null', first published in 1978. In that book he declares that, in order to do magic, you  need two things: One, what he refers to as GNOSIS, which is what most people call and altered state of consciousness, and I would prefer to call an extraordinary state of consciousness or ESC; and Two, a shift in belief.

The ESC can be created using concentration, meditative stillness, quiescence so deep that the normal identity slips away, or it can be pursued actively, using the excitement of dance or sex, or small doses of alcohol or other psychoactive drugs.

As for the belief, let's look at that in more detail, using examples.
Let's say I wish to do a spell to gain ---. In order for it to succeed, I need to believe:
a) that magic is possible
b) that it is possible for me
c) that my desired result will come about after I have done certain procedures. These procedures can include banishing, the creation of magical signs or sigils, singing of chants or mantras, use of coloured objects and lights, dressing up in certain clothes and all the gorgeous, crazy paraphernalia of ritual magic.

Some magical writers, notably Alan Chapman, contend that the belief is really all you need, that you don't have to have an extraordinary state of consciousness at all. This I think is true, but only if the magician is capable of shifting into the belief that his spell will work without the need to alter the way he thinks.

As you may have gathered from the above, the actual ritual structures we choose to use in CM are actually arbitrary. 
Chaos magic is capable of demonstrating to each practitioner that, with sufficient precision and passion, you can use pretty much any belief to dance with the universe, to open yourself to the mysteries of practical sorcery.

Sometimes the sceptical, results-based discipline of that magical path leads to a criticism of CM that I must address: Some people see it as petty, as materialistic, that chaos magic is only about ‘doing spells or sigils’ for personal gain. Opening up the question of why we attempt magic leads us to a deeper understanding. Although magic is, practically by definition, a path of power, surely we do not do it solely for the effects we can make on the world. We cannot rely on magic as a substitute for more worldly skills. Our ancestors knew this. In The Lay of Fafnir, a poem of the Elder Edda, Sigurd says:
The Helm of Awe protects no-one
where angry men have to fight;
I think a shrewd guess may tell us that individuals who went into battle armed only with a powerful bindrune took a rapid, Darwinian route to extinction.
No: The effects we have on the world are, or should be, useful to us. But they point to more than themselves. They can be taken as signs that we are on the right track.


So what counts as magic? What counts as personal proof that I am connected to the universe? My short answer is: weirdness.
I have a few anecdotes to present to you, of increasing levels of peculiarness. They’re spread over thirty years of magical practice. The full range of anecdotes is in my book Bright From the Well. [Show book round]

Anecdote 1. A magical group meeting in London. I present a ritual for remote healing. We have heard that our friend and magical associate has just been diagnosed with massive kidney damage. He has lost two thirds of his kidney function. We use a completely absent procedure, the magical link being some hair in a wax doll. We use a dark voudon-style invocation, of the Zaraguin loa, the spider lords of the future and nanotechnology. Why, for a healing? Because they’re damned impressive, and also stop any other entities getting the energy.
Result: at next measurement, a few days later, the specialist declares that he now has recovered one of the lost thirds of his kidney function. Our friend quotes him as saying: ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing it!’

So, looking at that success, we have a first layer of weirdness. I call it Body Alchemy. These effects are apparently caused by action of will entirely within the skin, or involving recordable, non-occult communication between skin-bounded humans.
This is what psychologists might call a holistic-psychological effect. There is actually nothing here to challenge materialistic scientism. The will acts via some subconscious instructions to change gene expression. This type of causality includes firewalking, wart-charming, most forms of healing and the so-called placebo effect, which is, of course, healing magic.
Despite the impressiveness of some of the effects in this area, it could be said that this isn't really magic at all, because science can, with an increasingly small stretch, explain it. The finding that immune system cells communicate with central nervous system sites was one of the discoveries that narrowed the gap and enabled more materialistic scientists to take the plunge of believing in psychosomatic healing.
This explanation will work for this anecdote. Since the target person knew the ritual was being performed for him, it could have catalyzed a shift of belief massive enough to do that impressive bit of healing on his kidneys.
To be more generous with our belief, we could regard that third healing as weak evidence for a transpersonal, telepathic effect of some kind, as well as body alchemy. The following example is, I think, stronger evidence for some effect of that kind. 

Anecdote 2. This next incident was not one of my own successes, but I include it because it is so stunning. My friend had lost touch with a friend of hers. All she knew was that he lived in York. So, to get a phone number for him, she took her tarot deck and drew six cards. Being new to magic, she was overwhelmed by the idea of the sheer weirdness of what success might mean. So, she left it a day before phoning the number she’d got. The number turned out to be that of the next door neighbour of my friend’s friend.

Definition C:
These effects are not confined to the skin. I’ll label this effect Transpersonal, meaning that instructions and other information appear to be transferred between two or more people’s nervous systems.
As an aside, I think this level fits the reality of Astrology as I observe it: it seems to have a weak effect, not enough for accurate predictions, but enough to generate a fairly consistent set of zodiacal types. I think it works at this weak level not because of radiations from the stars, but because of expectations generated by unconscious acceptance of its myth. Sun-sign typing provides a myth to explain the fact that we are all different, but fall into certain archetypal roles in our interactions with each other. People pick this up unconsciously, maybe because of other people’s expectations of their behaviour – Oh, he’s born in November, treat him like a Scorpio – but I think it more likely that we soak up the whole mythos telepathically, and sculpt our behaviour accordingly from an early age. We fall into a limited number of archetypal roles on the stage of life, ready-made off the peg identities generated by the mythos of astrology.
However, this anecdote suggest levels of weirdness beyond the transpersonal. Here, we seem to be looking at something which not only suggests communication between nervous systems, but some kind of coordination of effects between more than two nervous systems. One of the definitions of magic I like is by Pete Carroll: the engineering of synchronicities. So I’d label these anecdotes as Strong Transpersonal and also as Synchronistic. With such results, it seems as if the world is a matrix, or an operating system, or a field of interconnected consciousnesses.
The example I just gave show this connection as still recognizably tied to human brains, albeit in a way which science cannot explain, only reject. Some experiences take us even beyond this, where the non-human world itself seems to be affected by our magic. This next example has just that quality.

Anecdote 3. I and 3 friends are trying out a new pathworking, Pete Carroll’s Cthonos. We decide to go for a very precise, publicly-visible result, the BBC 9 o'clock news having a problem on sound sufficiently serious to warrant an apology from the newsreader, between 9.10 and 9.15. We sit down for this quiet, inward working, when a burglar alarm goes off in the bakery next door. We delay the start for a while, then decide that if we are going to do the working before the news starts, we have to just get on with it. So we sit there for about 20 minutes doing our visualization with this shrill screaming in our ears. When we finish, we rush down and get the news on just as it is starting. We get our result at 9.12. It's one of the most precise magical results I've ever had.

Definition D:
This seems to be a strong Synchronistic effect, only partially dependent on a human brain receiving the information my group put out there. This is what is commonly thought-of as being magic: events with no apparent physical connection bend the rules of probability; effects occur as if will acts directly on the physical universe, without the intermediary of a human receiver. Remote viewing is another effect of this kind. 
Stronger examples of such effects is in the next anecdote.

Anecdote 4. On this occasion, a group of us are asked to do an exorcism for a couple in Sheffield. Now, the deal is that the people who set up the investigation are film students from Manchester Film College and insist on a film team being present. So our group decide to make it a group research event, and four of us tramp over to a middle-class housing estate on the ring road to meet with the agreed minimum of two filmmakers. To cut a long and educational story short, we end up looking at a piece of video film which confirms the description of the main hauntee, whom we incidentally decide was the source of the hauntings. He had told us he experienced the entities that were vampirizing his girlfriend as wrapping themselves around his neck like sleepy cats. Our video shows a clear band of smoky light around his neck like a scarf on two sequences, when he was sitting just where he had told us about the apparitions.
I count this as an evocation to visible appearance.

Definition E:
Here, we seem to have direct effects on matter itself. OK, the exorcism video could be interpreted as a local electromagnetic field around the guy’s neck, which would drop the weirdness level back to something like body alchemy, but I believe it’s worth including here because of the close fit with the hauntee’s description of it.
We are looking at some crossover of Synchronistic effects, as outlined above, with what is usually called an Etheric effect.

Now for the weirdest of all.
Anecdote 12.  Back near the beginning of my magical career, my lover was a woman of extreme psychic ability, whom I shall refer to as Anna for the purpose of this tale. This person it was who, one afternoon when I went round to visit her during a light summer storm, was standing in her kitchen shaking, lightning having just come through her window and struck her washing machine. On another occasion, she and I were at the home of another magician.  She started telling a story about how her ex-boyfriend had been a little peeved when she got into his sports car and it blew up. The TV which had been on in the background emitted strangled noises and gouts of sparks and ceased working for ever.
Anyway, one evening, after a meeting where we’ve been doing pathworkings, four of us are sitting around back at Anna’s place. We’re drinking nothing stronger than tea, and the conversation had faded into an easy, pleasant late-night silence. Then, looking up I noticed that Anna, who’d been lying on the floor, was now raised off it. It seemed that only the back of her head was touching the carpet, and the rest of her was upwards, straight, at an angle of about 30 degrees to the horizontal. Her left hand was raised to touch her brow, as if she was concentrating. This image stayed perfectly in focus, unlike fleeting eidetic input from the deep mind. I looked round at the other two witnesses, who looked as silently awed as I was. After a few seconds, Anna was flat on the floor again, and I asked her what she’d experienced. She replied that she had felt herself drift upwards, just as all three observers had witnessed.
It is worth adding that everyone was sober, and at that stage, that was our norm.

This can only be explained as a Strong Etheric effect, something acting directly on the material world. This is also the realm of poltergeist activity. We have here what appears to be an outright violation of normal physical constraints. We are definitely no longer in Kansas, or even any official version of Leeds. This kind of thing, a dogmatic materialist can only consign to the abyss of unrespectable, anecdotal evidence – the realm of the Damned, as Charles Fort called it.

So through those experiences, amongst many others, I sought and succeeded in proving to myself that, at the very least, the universe is a lot weirder place than science gives it credit for. One reason for doing magic is satisfied. I had re-enchanted the world - at least, under certain, very special circumstances.

What remains to do, is of course the hardest work of all: to transform, to become, to transcend - to extend this occasional consciousness of embeddedness in a living cosmos right into one's everyday world, to transform and transcend until that becomes possible, and indeed inevitable.

In that quest, practical sorcery is the laboratory of your personal, esoteric philosophy, the bench on which you test the metaphysical ideas you encounter and embrace.

Beyond effects on your individual consciousness, we may consider the worlds we each create. The Word I have been putting out into the world for the last 15 years is 'Chaotopia', one of the  meanings of which is that the universe we perceive is built of the overlapping projections of sovereign consciousnesses. Most of these projections are done unconsciously, and therefore provide a kind of soup, a background hum to reality.
For a few, noise becomes signal; we live in a world of deepening significance. And by taking on increasing responsibility for the worlds we create, we thereby have more power to change and fine-tune those worlds.
This is magic, as lived experimental philosophy.

Thank you