From Occultism to the Fine Arts, again

The last time Europe had respectable occultists was back when the Rosicrucians were running the roost.

After the Rosicrucians started fading and the Theosophists looked like they were converting the masses, a bunch of fine art types led by W. B. Yeats started the Golden Dawn, and since that time, magic has often been artsy instead of magical.

That little artistic movement called Surrealism was just an offshoot of occult research. For years, comic book artists have been bragging about their Chaos Magic.
A commenter on a different site wrote, about Alan Moore:


I think Mercy’s observation that Morrison keeps murdering Moore in his comics, assuming this is accurate (I personally don’t know), may be more important than it seems. Most of us here, I assume, would regard such a thing as juvenile, perhaps dickish, maybe even funny, but let’s remember what Morrison by all evidence seriously believes or makes himself believe. He believes that, as a chaos magician, he can shape reality by representing intentions symbolically. For example he has stated that with chaos magic, one could anytime win the lottery by creating a “sigil” (magical symbol) representing his winning it, masturbating while meditating on the sigil, having the sigil fill his mind at the moment of orgasm, and (this part is important! he says) buying a lottery ticket. He says this technique never fails. He also believes he can create sigils in comic book form and says the entirety of The Invisibles was a sigil directed at magically creating cultural change in the world. And he believes getting an audience focused on the sigil increases its power. So, if he is symbolically murdering Alan Moore repeatedly in his published work, this may suggest some seriously bad intent and a somewhat demented attitude. It also belies his tone that all this is, from his perspective, just silly. I realize that most people giggled at my descriptions of a sigil, and are going to have trouble taking them seriously. I’m not saying they should be taken seriously as a real thing, but they do seem to be very real, powerful, and important in Morrison’s mind.

And, of course, Moore believes this stuff, or something like it, too. That may be what is really bugging him. He can’t just say in an interview “Grant Morrison is trying to kill me with magic spells” – then he will really sound like a paranoid old nut. I also don’t know whether a chaos magic “death spell” would imply an intent of literal death or just severe misfortune – I don’t know much about this, so I don’t know how literal it is. But this business about Moore cutting himself off from anyone who has worked with Morrison, and asking people who read Morrison not to read him may just sound petty, but could be an attempt at a sort of psychic quarantine to protect himself. At least, I think that’s how that stuff works.

All of which would probably make a great comic. Two comic writers conducting a covert magick war in their stories. Who thinks like that? Well, these guys.

I mention this only because Legionnaire seems to be taking Bryce seriously.

And he claims that “declaring one’s name” is the discovery of a deeper truth that deserves to be called “divination.”

Look, words are supposed to have meanings. If Beowulf knows that he is Beowulf, he is communicating a familiar claim to a stranger. He’s not discovering the claim; he knows the claim, and he’s sharing that with someone else. That’s not divination.

Did the story, The Invisibles, change the world? Yes, in my opinion, it radicalized a bunch of activists who otherwise would have been lazy. Does that change deserve to be called “occult”? No, in my opinion, “occult” should refer to actions that cannot be explained by conventional means.

A skilled communicator who changes the world through communication is engaging in normal action. A skilled psychic who changes the world is engaging in paranormal action. And a skilled psychic who dresses up psi phenomena in mythological and archetypal symbolism is engaging in occult action.

Quite a few technologists and engineers change the natural environment with various tools (e.g. electrical batteries, optical lenses, fire, etc.). Engineering has been formalized for more than 800 years, but the self-appointed elite of “science” try to pretend that they started it all in the 16th century. Because the “scientists” usually have nothing better to do, they like to denigrate occult approaches as entirely inferior to “science.”

Occultists often address the natural environment with an empirical approach that has roots at least as old as Iamblichus. Successful and nontrivial demonstrations of this theory are hard to come by – and thus I would hate to see people who are looking for occultism get misdirected to Bryce’s latest efforts in persuasive rhetoric. It would help those Truth-Seekers if everyone used “magic” to mean the tarot-card-and-pentagram stuff. We can still talk about how to use communication to make social changes. We could just call it “communication” or “rhetoric” or “contractual agreement” or something like that.

I understand that Bryce has no respect for tarot cards and people who report that they can kill a toad by staring at it. But I, for one, try to keep my footnotes in the proper categories. If I define “magic” too loosely, and if I start to say that every willed action is a magical action, I’ll start citing Baumeister in the same section as Dion Fortune, and the resulting text won’t be very useful. Thus I will continue to resist Bryce’s definitions of magic.

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