Sigils

Sigils are a hallmark of chaos magick, yet it was interesting to hear Phil Hine suggesting recently that the chaos magickal approach might actually have over-complicated their usage (Ross 2020: 11’53”).

Peter Carroll in Liber Null and Psychonaut (1987: 20-22) delineated the classic process for sigil magick: construct a glyph from a written statement of intention; focus upon the glyph and enter an altered state; and then, after the climax of the rite, forget all about it.

Carroll’s technique was based on the writings of Austin Osman Spare:

When conscious of the Sigil form (any time but the Magical) it should be repressed, a deliberate striving to forget it, by this it is active and dominates at the unconscious period, its form nourishes and allows it to become attached to the sub-consciousness and become organic, that accomplished, is its reality and realization. (Spare 2001: 177)

In Spare’s view, conscious desire or belief separates us from what and who we really are – which is unconscious. Spare, in turn, was influenced by Freud. Spare’s sigil magick produces a symbolic form for an intention, but then, by disguising and forgetting that symbol, it supposedly creates a means for the intention to fall into the unconscious where it becomes “organic” – part of our lived nature rather than merely a desire for or a belief about ourselves.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

A process or a technique is a means of causing something to happen. Spare’s use of sigils supposedly turns a belief or an intention into a realised, unconscious aspect of the self. But because he draws upon Freudian thinking Spare is open to some of the criticisms levelled at Freud, including the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s argument that Freudian thought is bedevilled by a confusion between reasons and causes.

For instance: low atmospheric temperature causes snow. But the reason for snow is the air being cold. What distinguishes a reason from a cause is meaning: the interposition of a perceiving mind between one thing happening and another. Cold weather causes snow regardless, but a reason for snow arises only in a perceiving mind that has or shares with other minds a lived experience of snow.

Wittgenstein criticised Freud’s tendency to suggest that psychoanalysis revealed the causes of human behaviour and was therefore a science. Certainly, this is not the case. However, in Freud’s defence, in the realm of the mind reasons often carry more significance than causes. Consider: the cause of a depression is decreased serotonin, but the reason for it might be the death of a loved one. Reasons are how reality operates at the human level.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

Freud set out by attempting to account for human mental processes at a causal level, but soon abandoned his so-called Project for a Scientific Psychology (Freud 1895) and psychoanalysis was born. It is a mistake to regard psychoanalytic entities such as the id, ego and superego as anything more than theoretical constructs. Through these constructs psychoanalysis offers not causes but reasons for various types of human experiences. Freud may have wanted to intervene at the level of causality, but the degree to which therapy is effective lies in its exploration of reasons for suffering, offering possibilities to change the meanings we ascribe to experience rather than necessarily altering the conditions that cause it.

What chaos magick incorporated from Freud, via Spare, is perhaps a similar preference for causes rather than reasons. However, the skeptics who insist that magick does not work are correct in the sense that magick does indeed lack any basis in causality. Instead, it operates at the level of mind, of reason. Where the skeptics go wrong is in supposing that by “mind” is meant something not wholly sufficient in itself nor quite real.

Carroll’s procedure for sigil magick yields results, but it does not work (in the sense of causing something to happen). Alan Chapman and I made the experiment of messing around with Carroll’s technique, sometimes leaving out the altered state of consciousness, sometimes intentionally remembering the sigil and/or the desire it represented after the ritual. Guess what? The magick still bore results.

Servitors are another staple of chaos magickal practice: these are thoughtforms or entities created by the magician to perform a specific function. The advantage of a servitor over a sigil is not having to start a working completely from scratch. If you need to heal someone or find a new job or a place to a live, you fire up the servitor previously designed for the purpose. Yet this evidently contradicts the principles on which sigil magick is supposed to work. How could it be that sigils work only when we forget them, but servitors work (supposedly with increased efficacy over time) if we give our attention to them frequently and repeatedly?

Many magicians will have had the experience of deciding to cast a sigil, only to find that the desired result manifests even before they get around to doing it. This suggests that results from sigil magick arise regardless of whether we forget the sigil, alter our state of consciousness, or – indeed – whether we actually produce a sigil or perform any kind of ritual at all!

Alan’s conclusion:

Magicians (in their various guises) have always strived to understand “how” magick works so that they might be able to do it “correctly”. But whenever a magician wonders “what is the correct method of getting a result?” they are falling victim to the fog of simplicity — because what you do, and the result you get, is your decision. There are no laws (unless you create them) and there are no secrets (unless you pretend). (Chapman 2008: 36)

There are no causes in magick, only reasons. And because reasons proceed from mind (rather than from matter, as it is conceived by materialists), then we can determine them for ourselves to a significant degree. Magick can change and expand experience because it is not restricted by causation.

If we suppose instead that magick “works”, that it operates according to specific principles or techniques, then we enter the realm of technology. I disagree with Arthur C. Clarke’s assertion: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Clarke 1973: 21). Technology is a kind of image or echo of magick. There is always a significant difference between them: magick expands or changes experience, whereas technology seeks merely to replicate inner experience outwardly. For example, internet technology connects us in an ersatz telepathy but has not changed human experience itself in ways likely to facilitate the union of humankind any time soon.

Nevertheless, technology is valuable. Meditation and prayer are technologies: methods for replicating certain states or insights. But whether they produce genuine growth and change depends on our reason for practising them. “Magick works in practice but not in theory”, Peter Carroll commented recently, and was seemingly taken aback by the implications of his own remark (Carroll 2020). There can be no theory of how magick works other than the theory that it does not work at all, because magick operates in the realm of reasons rather than causes.

Having a reason to use magick is all and everything we need.

References

Carroll, Peter (1987). Liber Null and Psychonaut. San Francisco: Red Wheel / Weiser.

Carroll, Peter (2020). Magic works in practise [sic] but not in theory. https://tinyurl.com/y8y2l9p2 (specularium.org). Accessed January 2021.

Chapman, Alan (2008). Advanced Magick for Beginners. London: Aeon.

Clarke, Arthur C. (1973). Profiles of the Future: an Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible. New York: Harper & Row.

Freud, Sigmund. (1895). Project for a Scientific Psychology, in: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, translated by James Strachey, vol 1: 281-391. London: Hogarth.

Hoenisch, Steve (1996). The myth of psychoanalysis: Wittgenstein contra Freud. https://tinyurl.com/y7exutz2 (criticism.com). Accessed December 2020.

Ross, Keats (2020). Pragmagick: Phil Hine’s varieties – beyond chaos. https://tinyurl.com/y6vg2sop (wethehallowed.org). Accessed December 2020.

Spare, Austin Osman (2001). Ethos. I-H-O Books.

 

Relationship

I am not sure that he ever wrote it down, but Alan Chapman gave what I consider the best definition of the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA):

A dualistic representation of the non-dual.

In eastern spiritual traditions realisation of non-duality is labelled “awakening” or “enlightenment” whereas the western magickal tradition personifies this realisation as the Knowledge and Communication of the HGA (KCHGA).

“Angel” is often employed as a term of convenience in western magick for any type of entity, process, or experience that lacks a material basis. For instance, if a person survives a situation or illness against extreme odds, this can be experienced as the intervention of an angel. Similarly, processes that act on a transhuman level (such as historical, national or cultural transitions) may also find expression as angelic personifications. A famous example is the Angel of the Mons, an entity that supposedly shielded British forces from certain defeat at the Battle of Mons in Belgium, 1914. This incident most likely originated from fiction and propaganda, but that did not prevent eyewitness reports of angels from troops who were present (e.g. Russell 2017).

The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, our source text for the KCHGA, powerfully describes what meeting our HGA is like:

you shall see your Guardian Angel appear unto you in unequalled beauty; who also will converse with you, and speak in words so full of affection and goodness, and with such sweetness, that no human tongue could express the same […] In one word, you shall be received by him with such affection that this description which I here give unto you shall appear a mere nothing in comparison. (MacGregor-Mathers 1976: 84-5)

The experience of non-duality can be described in many ways, but the dualistic representation of the non-dual that is the HGA very clearly portrays it as like being in the presence of someone lovely beyond expression. For Abraham, the narrator of the text, the KCHGA is a coming into relationship with a being absolutely good and perfect. It is a wondrous and unique relationship: “your Guardian Angel is already about you, though Invisible, and conducteth and governeth your heart, so that you shall not err” (MacGregor-Mathers 1976: 78).

To arrive at the KCHGA demands of the magician attainment of the understanding by which this relationship becomes possible. The ritual given in the text for this purpose (henceforth referred to as the Abramelin ritual) is elaborate and long and it is not my aim to rehearse it here. What it boils down to essentially is prayer, but not routine or formulaic prayer: “it is absolutely necessary that your prayer should issue from the midst of your heart” (MacGregor-Mathers 1976: 65). In its very core, the Abramelin ritual is simply heart-felt prayer, for a couple of hours every day, over a period of six months.

It is widely repeated that Aleister Crowley failed at the Abramelin ritual. The full story is far more complicated and subtle than that. I shall discuss this in more detail in the book I am currently writing, but the gist of my argument is that Crowley completed the Abramelin ritual numerous times in different modalities. Yes, he did not complete the ceremony in the specific form that Abraham describes, but instead he fulfilled its objective through the use of an alternative ritual (both physically and astrally), through visionary trance work, and through purely psychological techniques.

As related in The Baptist’s Head Trilogy, Alan Chapman and I had the good fortune to discover that the methods and techniques of chaos magick can be applied to awakening. So why go to the trouble of sourcing a purpose-built temple with a terrace covered in river sand (which is what Abraham instructs us to do) when (as Crowley demonstrated) simpler methods lead just as surely to the HGA?

However, just because the methods are simplified this does not mean the work will be easy. The “fake it till you make it” methodology of chaos magick will only take us so far into the KCHGA. To imagine we can “belief shift” our way into (or out of) an encounter with the HGA would imply a controlling ego deciding what and when to believe. This may suffice for sorcery, but the KCHGA is theurgy. Eventually we will hit a point where our ego and the dualistic representation that is the angel must yield to the direct experience of the non-dual. Sometimes a preliminary to this occurs as a vision of how the HGA has always been with us, a guiding and nurturing presence. But the full realisation of the KCHGA is that there was never any separation from the HGA – we are one and the same.

I have noticed recently some recurrent difficulties described by magicians undertaking this work from a chaos magickal perspective. The first of these is a sense of incompleteness: “amazing things happen but don’t lead anywhere”. The second is relentless doubt over whether the entity invoked is truly the HGA. The solution to both is quietly ready and waiting in the very notion of the HGA itself.

Unlike other traditions that characterise awakening or enlightenment as a state, the KCHGA is presented as a relationship. The practices we undertake for the KCHGA are therefore intended to cultivate that relationship, rather to act simply as a means for attaining a result.

An analogy: we could go to a restaurant to eat, or with someone on a date. In both cases the aim is food, but in the latter case something more besides. We could still enjoy a good date even if the food were bad. Success at the KCHGA is developing the kind of relationship where the date is great even if the food never arrives.

As previously mentioned, the KCHGA is theurgy not sorcery. Magicians with a background in chaos magick are likely to arrive at the KCHGA with a very results-based mindset, and this is where that feeling of “that was amazing but now – so what?” originates. Just because you had some nice food with someone does not mean you have found the love of your life. Once we decide to use the KCHGA paradigm as the means to arrive at non-duality (and there are plenty of good reasons to do so) then the work has to focus on the relationship to the angel rather than upon any state or experience construed as an ultimate goal or result of this.

Flip it around: suppose you were a HGA whose sole task is to guide to awakening the human being you are guardian over. Your human frequently invites you around for dinner, occasionally seeming totally into you and having a great time, but on other occasions they complain of feeling confused because these meetings are not leading anywhere. In this situation, what would you want to say to your human? What would be the likely effect of their behaviour on your relationship?

Sorcery is great for getting a handle on your HGA. Chaos magick techniques will readily obtain the HGA’s name, sigil, visual image, and other attributes, but these are not the goal; they only serve the KCHGA to the extent that they enable the relationship to develop. Chaos magick obtains results but does not help in ascertaining if those results are true. If you are the type of magician who cringes at seeing the last word of the previous sentence without scare quotes, then the work of the KCHGA may become clouded by doubt.

Rather than thinking in terms of whether a correct result has been gained, once more we should approach the question in relational terms. Suppose you were seeing someone but were not certain they were truly what and who they claimed? If there are grounds for supposing the other is not what they seem then there is simply no basis for a relationship. The HGA by definition wants what is best for us, but our only reason for remaining in a relationship with someone we fundamentally do not trust is because we believe we cannot have or do not deserve anything better. Either we must work on understanding why we do that to ourselves, or we should find someone else who obviously has our best interests at heart. No experience proves more conclusively how much the HGA loves us than a mind-blowing synchronicity, leaving us in no doubt we are indeed at the very centre of the universe.

The HGA is a dualistic representation of the non-dual. What this definition brings to light is at once a potential problem but also that problem’s solution. The problem stems from the fact that the HGA is not the non-dual, but the solution lies in how the personification of the non-dual places the focus of the work not on an attainment of a goal but on the development of a relationship.

There is no bond that can unite the divided but love: all else is a curse. (Crowley 1909: I, 41)

References

Crowley, Aleister (1909). Liber AL vel Legis. https://tinyurl.com/uusb5b3 (sacred-texts.com). Accessed November 2020.

MacGregor-Mathers, Samuel Liddell (1976). The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage. Wellingborough: Thorsons.

Russell, Steve (2017). My grandfather said he saw the Angel of Mons. Beccles and Bungay Journal (27 June), https://tinyurl.com/y2bzrme7 (becclesandbungayjournal.co.uk). Accessed November 2020.

 

Missing

I miss Christopher Kenworthy.

Christopher Kenworthy, The Quality of Light. The most overtly magickal of his novels.

He wrote two extraordinarily atmospheric novels (2000, 2001) and a collection of intense short stories (1997). I miss the strange lucidity and skewed observations in his writing, which trap and bind the reader in the weight of bodily experience, yet somehow at the same time offer something ethereal and transcendent.

There was a passage about how catching a cold changed the perceptions of the narrator, which made a sniffle seem like tripping on LSD. In another passage the narrator leans from the window of a tower block and hears the rain; just the non-sound of water falling through air on its way to the ground. I have not looked up these passages. What the text actually says is not my point.

I read Kenworthy at the same time I had started to wonder about magick. I could not let go of experiences as a teenager, messing with the Ouija board. It felt fake to go about pretending things like that did not happen. I wondered if magick were a way to cause those things, rather than just waiting and hoping for the miraculous. Kenworthy seemed to hint there was a means to see the world as he presented it. I suspected this method was occultism. It felt to me as if he wrote from the perspective of someone who had been to the woods and conducted questionable experiments, had performed ill-judged rituals with unpleasant consequences; that all his stories were attempts at coming to terms with this.

But I do not know this. I know next to nothing about him. I waited for new novels from him that never came. Following his career online, he was moving into directing films. Cinema’s gain was literature’s loss, as far as I was concerned.

During the early 90s I was haunting the small press scene. I printed out stories on A4 sheets and posted them to editors. A free copy of a magazine was usually the only enticement. My stories returned rapidly in the self-addressed envelopes I had supplied. Kenworthy had just about outgrown this scene, but there was a goth magazine named Occular that had a story of mine in the same issue as one by him. This was my highlight. I slogged on for a few more years. I gave up because the effort was incommensurate with the returns. That, and a lack of talent.

Kenworthy had emigrated to Australia and made a successful career directing music videos. He wrote bestselling manuals on filmmaking. And then I remember an announcement that he was giving up making films. No reason was given, but my fantasy plugged the gap: spousal pressure to take up steadier work; a damaged occultist saved and constrained by his commitments. But I had no evidence whatsoever.

He made a feature film (2009) that I struggled for years to find. Strangely, today, at last, I found a copy for purchase. It has been downloading whilst I have written this. So perhaps Kenworthy was never actually missing at all; the obscurity was my creation. Missing something reveals little about what is supposedly absent, but much more perhaps of he in whom the feelings arise.

I have missed writing in public on things I am passionate about. I am thinking about Kenworthy now, perhaps, because I have been absent from myself.

On the Weird Studies podcast I was surprised to hear mention of “two English occultists, Duncan Barford and Alan Chapman, who in the 2000s had a really great blog called The Baptist’s Head and then […] they basically disappeared off the face of the earth” (Ford & Martel 2018).

It is nice to be missed, but we had not disappeared. Alan was building a reputation as a spiritual teacher and developing the teachings that would become Magia. And I was still writing, although anonymously at times, whilst training and building a career in counselling. Anyone who looked would have found us, but what were they looking for? I had been looking for a writer and occultist in someone who was apparently no longer either; no wonder Kenworthy had seemed hard to find. But I had withdrawn also from public view in those fields. Maybe I was missing through someone else what I had turned away from in myself.

Things seem different now. Alan and I are in communication again. Synchronicities are mounting. A feeling is building that what seemed missing was actually there all along.

References

Ford, Phil & J.F. Martel (2018) Weird studies episode 36 – on hyperstition. https://tinyurl.com/yyzrg8zg (weirdstudies.com). Accessed September 2020.

Kenworthy, Christopher (1996). Will You Hold Me? London: The Do-Not Press

Kenworthy, Christopher (2000). The Winter Inside. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Kenworthy, Christopher (2001). The Quality of Light. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Kenworthy, Christopher, director (2009). The Sculptor [aka The Sculptor’s Ritual].