The trickster unifies major, but seemingly unrelated, themes surrounding the paranormal. For instance, the paranormal is frequently connected with deception, and deceit is second nature to the trickster. Psychic phenomena gain prominence in times of disruption and transition. Tricksters are found in conditions of transition. The paranormal has a peculiar relationship with religion; the trickster was part of many early religions, and he was viewed ambivalently. The statuses of paranormal phenomena are typically uncertain or marginal in a variety of ways. Tricksters’ statuses are similar. [The Trickster and the Paranormal.]
Only rarely does the numinous, the extradimensional, appear in such a fashion that an operational framework can be built out of it. Attempts to scale what are effectively personal Mystery experiences into group structures always create monstrous, octoparrot abortions. Just look at Christianity.
Actually, let's look at Christianity. A couple of interesting finds have emerged in the past month or so.
- Firstly, there is a system of divination recently discovered called the Gospel of Mary.
Anne Marie Luijendijk, a professor of religion at Princeton University, discovered that this newfound gospel is like no other. "When I began deciphering the manuscript and encountered the word 'gospel' in the opening line, I expected to read a narrative about the life and death of Jesus as the canonical gospels present, or a collection of sayings similar to the Gospel of Thomas (a non-canonical text)," she wrote in her book "Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary" (Mohr Siebeck, 2014).
What she found instead was a series of 37 oracles, written vaguely, and with only a few that mention Jesus.
Very little mention of Jesus? That's okay.
- He's mentioned on this magical cup that could date to more than a century before he 'lived'. (He didn't physically live, by the way.) But he was a magician.
A team of scientists led by renowned French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio recently announced that they have found a bowl, dating to between the late 2nd century B.C. and the early 1st century A.D., that is engraved with what they believe could be the world’s first known reference to Christ.
If the word “Christ” refers to the Biblical Jesus Christ, as is speculated, then the discovery may provide evidence that Christianity and paganism at times intertwined in the ancient world.
“DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS,” which has been interpreted by the excavation team to mean either, “by Christ the magician” or, “the magician by Christ.”
If you're interested in the forms of divination that include oil poured into cups that date back to at least the third millennium BC, you can find them in the Hygromanteia... and from there, a bunch of grimoires.
This brings us once again to the unavoidable reality that the western magical tradition is a chaotic, hybrid soup of ghosts and strange phenomena, and a hyper-pragmatic method of continuous iteration in the face of changing political, economic and obviously environmental changes. Consider this excellent article by Dr Francis Young on liturgical change and ceremonial magic in Reformation England. The broad notion should be familiar with you from several recent posts on hybridity and crypto-Catholicism here. (Whether you agreed or whether you grumbled about it. Now you can grumble to the guy with the Cambridge doctorate.)
Here's prolific magical history nerd, Stephen Skinner, describing the difference between magic, religion and the so-called Mystery traditions. Peter Grey shared it with me on the weekend at a highly opportune time in terms of personal research.
Why was this an opportune share? Because Skinner also goes into some detail explaining the differences between Chinese initiatory systems and 'western magical orders'. Chinese initiation is reliant on whether the initiate manages to actually make contact with and bind the spirit or class of spirit in question. If he or she does (realistically 'he'), then the initiation happened and the initiate moves onto the next class of spirits.
This is a far cry from the lofty, human-centric, quasi-masonic process periodically conducted in rented regional scout halls. Such received wisdom or secrets imparted to initiates delivered in an orderly, progressive structure lacks the historicity of the one-to-one transmission of individual spells, formulae and shortcuts implied in an analysis of the PGM and its world. We have this 'secrets of the initiates/magical order' approach because the nineteenth century groups aped the apron-heavy approach of groups such as the Masons and even, yes, the actual Illuminati. (And people grumble that my magic has too much parapolitics in it. Less scrying mirrors and more actual mirrors may be required.)
There is every possibility that such groups have a goldfish-lifespan built into them as a function of the actual subject these social clubs are convened to analyse. I note in passing that most of the more celebrated order members of the last century actually did their best work outside said orders. Check it out. Back to The Trickster and the Paranormal.
Irrational beliefs abound; psychic battles sometimes develop; paranoid ideas, rumors of death hexes and magical attack are common. Further, groups that strive to elicit strong psi frequently become unstable. Often interpersonal tensions develop, and the groups dissolve. At this point I am not concerned whether these groups actually induce real paranormal events. Attempts to engage the phenomena have consequences. The dynamics of the process need to be understood because similar problems will frequently arise when others elicit, or believe that they have elicited, strong, real phenomena, some of which can be quite disconcerting. Anyone who tries to produce large psi effects faces the same difficulties. Groups tend to reinforce their members’ beliefs and expectations, and when this involves the paranormal, the effects can be insidious. If paranormal manifestations persist and grow, the usual rules of what is possible, reliable, etc. no longer apply. The trickster constellation strengthens.
This observation is neither an advertisement for any particular order-based approach or a recommendation to leave them. Social clubs have value but in terms of transmission of magical tech they are very definitely pre-internet delivery platforms.
How, then, to build a performance or experience structure around magic/psi effects? Well, there is a girl in Seattle who receives gifts from crows. Dozens and dozens of little shiny treasures. What do you suppose would happen to her had she been born in New Guinea? Or in the era of the PGM? Would they break out the aprons and declare her a minerval? Would they exclaim "but... but... what about her Abramelin?" Would they fuck.
Now listen to a presentation from the late, great Dr John Mack... the ivy league psychiatrist who went into the 'abduction phenomenon' of the late 80s/early 90s expecting to find a new mental illness and came out... changed.
Andrieh has a very pleasing rant on his blog in a similar topic area to teaching birds how to fly. And so I want to build out from this a bit because it seems to me the expectation that there is some lofty, super-secret, ancient map of how the universe works that can only be approached in crumpled, homemade robes is kissing cousins with the expectation that 'the next money spell will make me rich' and it's just a matter of finding it. (Or whining to published authors that their magic didn't work, as if sorcery has the same consumer guarantee you got with that vacuum cleaner from Sears.)
My distance-bestie, Kalagni, is inadvertently writing in similar areas. For reasons that probably have to do with the infantilisation effect of our consumer culture, invariably people reject answers they don't like. And mostly they don't like answers where they have to do something beyond opening up Uber on their phone.
In the western tradition, at least, chasing initiations or chasing ever-more-obscure enchantments is just not going to move the needle very much. No one is withholding a 'better' way of doing this. We have been at magic for at least 30,000 years; engaging with High Strangeness, getting our ass handed to us, returning to the cave and then heading out again once the limp goes away. No one has this worked out yet. Some sentences will still have a question mark at the end of them even as the universe eventually sputters and dies.
You want, nay, you expect a clear road but around here they are all long-overgrown, they are all dead. So pick up that machete.