These early mornings in London look like someone has shot the whole place up with a diamond cannon. Leaving the house before the sun is up and watching the (brave!) joggers in a Hyde Park painted frosty and foggy has been... well, it's been lovely.
Bickany -'between Christmas and New Years'- is typically a grim and confusing time in the Northern Hemisphere. (Meanwhile, I just Skyped my mother the psychonaut back in Australia and she's drunk, wearing a raver's glowstick necklace and had yet more glowsticks stuffed down her blouse. She is in her late sixties, I point out. NYE in Straya is great.) It's possible I feel this low point more acutely because this is the low point of my personal wheel, so to speak. I have that whole 'St Johns Eve birthday and Dog Days as holy days' thing going on.
Anyway so there is this post that will probably never see the light of day that I was struggling to write a few nights ago. That doesn't tend to happen to me. It might be because it's overly grim. It might be because the AirAsia thing was happening as I was writing and so it seemed 2014 still had an extra couple of inches left to insert into us before the fireworks start. It just wasn't coalescing. I'll include the intro below so you see what I mean. It's still 'true' but not really where I want to go.
My entire career has been in communications and communication theory; how information spreads through a system, how audiences react, how signals warp. 'Grimoire' coming from 'grammar', 'enchantment', from the early Anglo-French word for 'song', even the humble 'spell'. Media, advertising... these are sorceries. If there was a single word I would use to describe 2014 it would be 'bullshit'. In my professional opinion, I have never encountered a year -in my life or in my studies- in which the pivotal events were so devoid of evidence, were so devoid of any basis in reality. North Korean Sony hack? Bullshit. Russia shooting down MH17? Bullshit. Thinking MH370 is anywhere but Diego Garcia? Bullshit. Economic recovery? Bullshit. A 'popular Ukrainian uprising' not funded by NATO? Bullshit. 'Misplacing' the dossier of cabinet-level paedophiles from the 1980s? Bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit. Whether this preposterous flim-flammery was instigated by the same shadowy group -by a single instance of 'The Great They'- is irrelevant. Across the Anglosphere, our economic masters have reached the exciting realisation that we are now stupid enough to unhinge our jaws and eat whatever steaming, fecal claptrap spews out the back of their gilded, drone-guarded palaces. They don't even need to roll their shit in glitter (NIST reports, Royal Enquiries, JFK autopsies) anymore. We'll just eat it fresh from the sewer pipe. Here's a question then. In about two years time, when Hillary unpacks her bags in the White House again do you think it will usher in a new era of sane foreign policy and racial and economic equality? Will she pick the Constitution up from the waste basket underneath the shredder and tape it back together? Will she fuck. Her biggest campaign contributor to date is Goldman Sachs and her largest source of campaign contribution by industry is the financial sector.
Where do I want to go? We should at least briefly nod at the fact that we'll all be white-knuckling through a pretty fucking intense 2015. 2015 isn't a year to reform the line. 2015 is a year to retreat to whatever your own version of Helm's Deep happens to be. What's going to play out is going to play out.
And I guess the other reason why I don't want to put on the 'the end is nigh' sandwich board and yell at traffic is that 2014 has been the most interesting and successful year of my life. Health, money, career, publishing, adventuring, making new friends, spirit work, MCing the absolute shit out of weddings. Not too bad given that I didn't even have a job for the first quarter of it. It's also been quite a good year for 'weird media', which surprises me even as I write these words. Here's my round-up and I just know I've forgotten some important ones.
Best films of 2014
Fine, so 2014 when I watched them, but they're recent enough.
Under The Skin - No contest, this wins by a mile. Fantastic and weird and brilliant and I wish I was watching it right now.
Snowpiercer - Runner up. Awesome film.
Grand Bupadest Hotel - Coming in with the shameful bronze.
Highly commended goes to What We Do In The Shadows. I met Jermaine once in Wellington, pre-Conchords. That's a story for another time.
You all thought I was going to say Interstellar, didn't you? (Also I haven't seen Boyhood so this list is subject to change.)
Books of 2014
Ugh, this was difficult and I'll tell you for why. I read a lot of old stuff this year -sometimes centuries old- so here is a list of commendable books that were actually published in 2014.
- Why Science is Wrong... About Almost Everything. Recently published from Alex of Skeptiko, it's basically a collection of choice excerpts from his many excellent podcasts. Pleasingly polemical and, frankly, I haven't read anything else as good in the consciousness arena that was published this year. (To say nothing of 'popular science' books which are now known in my house as spare toilet paper.)
- The Cunning Man's Handbook. Content wise, this book played a blinder. From a publishing perspective I think it struggled to match a lot of the excellent insights -tucked away in footnotes, for instance- with some of its quality primary sources. I'd say this is the best book of the year you haven't read, and would at least have photo-finished for the best book of the year had the editing been more confident. For instance, in the intro, Jim Baker writes what is probably the best description of the role of the Devil in early modern magic in a few paragraphs -themselves worth the price of admission and a testament to his knowledge of the material under discussion- and then the book just carries on. That's a whole fucking chapter, good boy!
- The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. Not that any of you would even think of questioning my Cassandra-ing, but if you want straight-up MIT professors telling you about how a minimum of 40% of all Middle Class jobs will be gone in the next decade -teachers, nurses, dentists, etc- then read this book. The 'solutions' it offers are so milquetoast that you'll end up reading the Archonology series just so you can relax enough to go to sleep. Excellent book.
- Esotericon. I remain slightly disappointed that other than me upsetting a bunch of people who evidently can't construct an historical timeline when it comes to the difference between ancient, dangerous gods and happy little planets designed to get you slightly promoted in some flyover government clerk job, little else has been said publicly about Pete Carroll's latest book... which is still unquestionably one of the best of the year. (The private discussions have been lengthy and sometimes heated.) There is a whole system of space magic at the back that actually dates from this century, rather than the cobbled-together, flat-earth silliness that otherwise still abounds. (Not that I've tried it yet. I'm terrified I'll get sucked into another dimension.) We landed a robot on Mars. Time to update the tables. The book also restores a lot of godforms that have been muddied by misinterpretation over the last several decades. Principally Baphomet and Horus -a dog I have never been able to get to hunt until now.
- The Testament of Cyprian the Mage. The Return of the Jedi of Jake Stratton-Kent's Encyclopaedia Goetica. Sometime last year I happened to mention to Peter Grey that I got loads more praxis out of Geosophia than I did out of True Grimoire. He said "that's because you're smart." While the jury is well and truly still out on that suggestion, TCM is a similarly remarkable book for those that have eyes to see. If you're wondering what magic books kids will be reading in a century just as we do Crowley, it's these.
- Reasonances. I think I mentioned in Carl's FTO that I found his book weirdly relaxing. Let me try and explain what I mean. As a book of essays, remembrances and interviews, it feels like a book from a pre-blogging age but I don't ever remember reading a book like this prior to the age of the blog. So it's like a book from a pre-blogging age that could only come about in our post-blogging world. And we are truly post-blog. (Not me, obviously, but chaos magicians haven't been on trend for decades. Count the fucks I give.) It's very Scarlet Imprint in that it is almost more about art history than magic -chapters about Rosaleen Norton (a personal interest of mine) and interviews with Kenneth Anger- but the thing about Reasonances is that such a dividing line is entirely arbitrary. Too often the magical world vanishes up its own asshole, arguing over minutiae, etc. Carl doesn't. Carl sees the continuity between art and magic.
- The Book of St Cyprian: The Sorcerer's Treasure. Oh, but I love this book! Obviously 2014 was the year of St Cyprian and this remarkable book from Hadean was a big part of that. The first part of the book is a translation of the source text and the second half is largely José Leitão's footnotes and commentary. In a similar-but-different way to The Cunning Man's Handbook, I found this publishing decision mildly frustrating. It is clear this was a deliberate decision rather than editorial timidity but José is just so fucking funny and knowledgable and if I were king of the world I would probably have blended the two together more. Had that happened it would have been my book of the year. So I got the Four Kings from The Testament to Cyprian the Mage and I got the Lonely Soul and St Bartholomew from The Book of St Cyprian. And I have now just described forty percent of my altar to you. That's how good these books are.
- The Magical Universe of William Burroughs. I briefly met the author, Matthew, of this quietly-released book after my dragon presentation in Glastonbury. I said it sounded really interesting and then Mogg said he'd send me a copy. Which he actually did and for that I am grateful because I left mere hours later for several weeks of the worst jet lag of my life and could thus barely remember where I lived, let alone which books I'd heard of that sound interesting. Lest you think I'm shilling, this and Reasonances were the only books on the list I didn't pay for because I think it's important to do so if you're going to review. In both cases it was (hopefully) just a friendly gesture. For instance, with Reasonances: if you don't know too many Swedes then let me tell you they are the dark horses of generosity. You will casually mention that you are running low on olive oil or some shit, they will say nothing and then when you get home there is an entire palette of olive oil waiting at your front door. So I got a Carl care package that included some previous issues of Fenris Wolf in advance of his book launch party because he's a Swede and that's how they roll. Back to The Magical Universe of William Burroughs: let me tell you... this is the page-turner on the list. Granted, I was off work sick at the time so I could stay up all night reading it but I probably would have done so anyway. I can appreciate it if you think that the whole Burroughs thing is played out thanks to the endless repeats of RAW's 'shallow end of the pool' 70s material. That's what I thought, too. But no. This is a must-have for anyone slightly interested in the following: the Beats, New York, magic, cut-ups, Burroughs's weird relationship with Scientology, art in general. I think the secret to its page-turny-ness is that Matthew comes at you with source quote after source quote after source quote. Dozens of ideas and magical possibilities spun out of reading this book. Matthew has surfaced some really detailed and sophisticated opinions regarding magic and the universe straight from the junky's mouth. Really excellent work.
- Sex, Sorcery and Spirit: The Secrets of Erotic Magic. Okay so technically this could have been included in the 'books I was given' because Jason kindly sent me a pre-press PDF. BUT... I did actually also buy it. Why? Because I am pretty sure, for a variety of fairly obvious reasons, that this is going to be the only heterosexual sex magic book that I will get favourably mentioned in. (And now you're really intrigued, huh?) Obviously I can't personally speak to the efficacy of a lot of the practices in the book but if this is a topic that you can or do speak to, then this is classic Jason: Informed, approachable and highly original. And I think it was in an interview with RO that he mentioned that it has been a long time since anyone competently delivered practical tantra techniques to a western magical audience. Which is true.
- Origin of the World's Mythologies. You know what my favourite part of giving my dragon presentation in Glastonbury was? During the Q&A at the end, I happened to mention that Dr Witzel's book is -I would say without question- the most important book on mythology since Campbell. And pretty much the entire room wrote that down. I had a 'my work here is done' moment. Anyway so while this book was technically published in 2013 in the US, I only managed to find it in London earlier this year. And it is my book of 2014.
Removing last year's bedgoblins
Here is an example of the gold to be found -by way of Albertus Magnus- in the Cunning Man's Handbook. It's a house and body clearing spell that I've been using in conjunction with some Evil Eye stuff that appears to be at the heart of my lingering illness. (Long story. Latest exciting diagnosis: viral pneumonia.) I love it because of the term 'bedgoblin' and also because I was in bed, waving around Witches Curse incense and intoning it. That's not exactly my ritual prescription but more of a terrifying mental image to leave you with. If you're after some further house-clearing suggestions to combine with the incantation then haaaaaaaave you met Shadow?
If a Man or Beast is attacked by Wicked People, and how to banish them forever from the House so that they may never be able to do any Harm.
"Bedgoblin and all ye evil spirits, I forbid you my bedstead, my couch; I forbid you in the name of God, my house and home; I forbid you in the name of the Holy Trinity, my blood and flesh, my body and soul; I forbid you all the nail holes in my house and home, till you have travelled over every hillock, waded through every water, have counted all the leaflets of the trees, and counted all the starlets in the sky, until that beloved day arrives when the mother of God will bring forth her second Son." + + +
Speak three times while waving store-bought incense around your bed. Or something much better. Put a bit of malice and force behind the bit where you are sending off the spirits on a mathematical journey. There's a Masters thesis in this but the magical logic behind such a curse is that you're not really circumventing the actions of the evil spirits -technically beings under God's dominion and thus carrying out His will- but merely delaying said actions so that they become pointless. You will be in your cold, cold grave before the counting is done and once the Second Coming happens it's pointless anyway.
And it's that kind of logic that I think should underpin our apotropaia as we head into 2015. Have a wonderful apocalypse, kids. I love you all.