Introduction to Year Two –
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
– The Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
In addressing the “question of reality” we are constantly faced with seeking to understand not only the role of myths, storytelling, and ritual in traditional societies, but also their expression – one could even say their corruption and mutation – in modern technological societies. Whereas the book and pen were once the keys to secret knowledge, now it appears that there are no secrets, and everything is revealed on the Internet, with YouTube being the most common vessel of revelation.
However, media has always been a means of preserving, veiling, revealing, and transmitting ancient truths. In fact, the only limitation has been that of the media in question and not its content. We can only imagine what minds like Bruno, Lull, Dee, or others would have told us if they had even the most primitive cinematic technology, let alone the creative possibilities of the average computer.
As demonstration of this, consider the movie Prospero’s Books (1991). Directed by Peter Greenaway and starring John Gielgud, this amazing visionary representation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest is visually stunning in its dreamlike qualities as well as its revelations of the nature of magic and its dangers – to be lost on a sea of dreams and to forget the world in which one lives being one of them.
While The Tempest is rooted in an understanding of magic from the Renaissance perspective and conveys its message to both learned and ignorant alike, the same can be said of modern “mystery plays” broadcast across the airwaves and channeled through high-speed data transmission cables of various sorts in the shape of television shows and movies. Here, modern occult mythology comes into full bloom as virtual worlds are created, inhabited, and even sire offspring in the form of series spin-offs and movie sequels. These fantasy landscapes are so extensive that the term “universe” is used to describe them by their creators and fans alike.
Yet, despite complex mythologies (to the point of becoming cultural forces shaping the metaphysical views of generations), each of these media-created “universes” is woefully incomplete. In itself this is unimportant, but when we consider that media portrayals of the supernatural are increasingly the primary source of inspiration (and often sole source of information) many have regarding metaphysics, this becomes a true esoteric handicap.
It comes as no surprise that some of the leading authors of fiction were involved to varying degrees in esotericism. How could it be otherwise? Good fiction requires addressing the great existential crises of human existence. Yet, while the Harry Potter books have inspired an entire generation of aspiring alchemists and magicians, in itself they do not provide sufficient coherency to be a means of self-realization: inspiration, yes; deep awakening, no.
In his essay, “Trafficking with Elementals: Kenneth Grant and Arthur Machen” (2008), Christopher Josiffe makes several important points regarding Kenneth Grant’s (1924-2011) use of fiction as a magical device and basis for occult rituals. Grant’s status in British post-war occultism is well known. He was one of the few people to have had personal relationships with Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, and Austin Osman Spare. However, it is through his use of “magically inspired” fiction (notably the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen) that he is best remembered.
At the risk of gross over-simplification, Grant argues that from the earliest stages of humanity, humans (and their predecessors) have been in communication (or, as he puts it, have been “trafficking”) with transmundane intelligences. Most recently, in the twentieth century, such contact had been re-established by Crowley (the channelled “Book of the Law” transmitted by the discarnate entity Aiwass, whom Crowley believed to have originated in Sumer) and, later, by Grant himself. Related to this, he regards the fiction of Lovecraft and Machen – especially those stories which allude to the existence on Earth of prehuman or suprahuman beings – as having an underlying truth. Thus, in Outside the Circles of Time:[I]
In modern fictional fantasies designed ostensibly to while away a few hours, certain adepts have approached more closely the real secret of magick and of creative consciousness…some of which Western science has but recently re-discovered. One such adept was the writer, Arthur Machen.
In his Cults of the Shadow, Grant writes:
Machen, Blackwood, Crowley, Lovecraft, Fortune and others frequently used as a theme for their writings the influx of extra-terrestrial powers which have been moulding the history of our planet since time began; that is, since time began for us, for we are only too prone to suppose that we were here first and that we alone are here now, whereas the most ancient occult traditions affirm that we were neither the first nor are we the only ones to people the earth; the Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods find echoes in the myths and legends of all peoples.[ii]
What makes this most peculiar is that Lovecraft, whose writings have been more popular and influential in actual occultism in the decades following his death, affirmed belief in a rational and atheistic worldview. He denied belief in the supernatural. Grant’s response to Lovecraft’s denial was that the creative process was an unconscious one, and that the dreams (nightmares really) that Lovecraft drew upon as his inspiration were in fact his accessing a different reality.
Surely, it would seem far more likely that in some previous existence Lovecraft was well acquainted with the Necronomicon and…the nightmares from which he suffered came, as he himself suspected, as a result of crimes perpetrated in a former incarnation in which he practised black and abysmal sorceries.[iii]
We are left with the question about the purpose of Grant’s writing, which clearly is of mixed value when it comes to historical accuracy. But occultism is not linear, nor are its experiences. The associations Grant makes – though at times ridiculous from a historical viewpoint – are perfectly acceptable as an “association” from the occult or even psychological perspective. The free association of Freud or dream analysis of Jung are based on the same principle of non-linear connectivity, as is the gematria and notarikon of Kabbalah and other heavily symbolic systems of esotericism.
While critics have been guilty of admiring Grant while dismissing him, Grant himself stated that the purpose of his writings is “to prepare people for encounters with unfamiliar states of consciousness.”[iv] Thus, reading Grant is a magical experience preparing us for even more profound and possibly disturbing encounters with reality. As Alan Moore wrote in his review of Against the Light,[v] “Kenneth Grant’s books, despite or possibly because of their forays into dementia, have more genuine occult power than works produced by more conventionally coherent authors, and are certainly a more engrossing read.”[vi]
A more recent author’s use of fiction as a means of conveying (or at least suggesting) deep truths is well documented in the case of the “Simon” Necromonicon and its registered copyright holder Peter Levenda. Levenda has made a writing career out of suggesting, intimating, and “connecting the dots” on a variety of occult-political theories, and while his most recent novel suggests that it is revealing truths about deep conspiracies, little that is not readily available is actually found within its pages. Dr. Jacques Vallée, on the other hand, makes no such suggestion that he is writing anything other than fiction, and it is widely believed that he is in fact revealing through this medium deep truths about contemporary UFO and paranormal research.
In this manner, the writings of Grant, Machen – and to a different degree even Levenda and Vallée – share a part of the inspirational current that runs through Shakespeare. In fact, Vallée comes closest to the Renaissance ideal by being open to all areas of study and experience, freely moving between material reality and highly esoteric philosophical speculations. As Dame Francis Yates points out in Shakespeare’s Last Plays,
To define the opposition as Protestant versus Catholic would be a misleading and much too narrow interpretation. On the one hand there is a “Rosicrucian” type of culture, inheriting the traditions of Renaissance magic as expanded by alchemical and Paracelsist influence, an exoteric approach to religion involving tolerant and kindly attitudes to religious differences, and a hope of reconciliation through the younger generation. This is Shakespeare in The Tempest and in the Last Plays generally. On the other hand, there is a dislike and contempt for all such influences. This is Jonson in The Alchemist.
Or, if one thinks of the attitudes in both plays to the type of “occult philosophy” taught by Agrippa, Shakespeare in The Tempest makes a positive use of this, to deepen and expand religious consciousness though a magical approach reaching into what is vaguely called the esoteric sphere. For Jonson, this is anathema, and all “occult philosophy” is a cheat and a delusion.[vii]
To read the above and think we understand the meaning of “religion” or religious tolerance in the context of the Renaissance would be foolish. The worldview of the period is so far from us that it is merely a shadowing, both intellectually and psychologically, of what was. As Professor Yates points out, we have taken the “path” or philosophical view presented by Jonson in The Alchemist, rather than the “path” of Shakespeare presented in The Tempest.
This chosen path, the path of Jonson, is very much a repression of the invisible, imaginative, and various psychic (both mental as well as paranormal) forces resident within each of us and the world around us. It is a purely intellectual and material path, and therefore one of examining effects rather than causes. It is comforting as much as it is narrowing. It reveals while at the same time keeping us hidden and safe from how the cosmos works rather than how it appears. It is the world view of the Age of Enlightenment and gave us the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions – revolutions that in turn would give birth to psychology and parapsychology as an attempt to remedy (in very different and often conflicting ways) the repression of the totality of being that they nearly inevitably required.
Those who contend that people of the Renaissance felt, thought and acted like us are greatly mistaken. On the contrary, we have the time-honored custom of seeking within ourselves the world image of the Renaissance person, to such an extent that he is confused with our own “unconscious,” with what we have learned to uproot and mutilate within ourselves. He is a sickly colleague that we still harbor within ourselves because we cannot rid ourselves of him. For lack of reaching a friendly understanding, we must learn to gaze at him without too much condescension. For we have lost that which he had and he lacks what we have mastered. When all is said and done, these quantities are equal. And, if we have accomplished some of the most burning wishes of his imagination, we must not forget that we have destroyed just as many others, which may prove to be irretrievable.[viii]
― Ioan Petru Culianu , Eros and Magic in the Renaissance
But not everyone has forgotten the imagination and its effect on the human mind. Some remember, and without the vision of the Magus, the integrated being that Prospero represents at the end of the play, knowledge of the mind and the powers of imagination easily become tools of deception and oppression rather than illumination and liberation. To easily understand this, all we need to examine is the twentieth century and the rise of mass media and the shaping of public opinion.
The Big Lie: Propaganda and You
While manipulation of the basic needs and desires of the human psyche has been part and parcel of organized societies since their inception, it is in the early twentieth century that it takes on its most insidious and ubiquitous expression in the person of Edward Bernays, the man who united early psychoanalysis (his uncle was Sigmund Freud), early print and radio mass media, and politics (he was an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson). The writings of Bernays would become the “bible” of Nazi propaganda leading up to and during the Second World War. After the war its theories and techniques would fuel the post-war consumer and advertising boom that typified the growth of the “American Dream.”
It was not until 1915 that governments first systematically deployed the entire range of modern media to rouse their populations to fanatical assent. Here was an extraordinary state accomplishment: mass enthusiasm at the prospect of a global brawl that otherwise would mystify those very masses, one that shattered most of those who actually took part in it. The Anglo-American drive to demonize “the Hun,” and to cast the war as a transcendent clash between Atlantic “civilization” and Prussian “barbarism,” made so powerful an impression on so many that the worlds of government and business were forever changed.[ix]
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, articles and books appeared discussing the role of subliminal suggestion – hidden symbols – in advertising. Government military and intelligence agencies would begin researching various methods of mind control, manipulation, and even psychic abilities. Some of this would come to light in the 1970s and become the focus of many conspiracy theories, both legitimate and delusional. …
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[i] Kenneth Grant, Outside the Circles of Time (London: Starfire, 2008) 24-25.
[ii] Kenneth Grant, Cults of the Shadow (London: Skoob, 1994) 196.
[iii] Kenneth Grant, Outside the Circles of Time (London: Starfire, 2008) 167.
[iv] “Kenneth Grant talks to Skoob.” Occult Review. 3 Autumn 1990. (pps. 5-7).
[v] Kenneth Grant, Against the Light: A Nightside Narrative (London: Starfire, 1997).
[vi] Alan Moore. “Beyond our Ken.” Kaos. (pps.155-162) http://www.biroco.com/kaos/kaos.pdf [Accessed 05/09/2008]
[vii] Francis A. Yates, Shakespeare’s Last Plays (New York: Routledge, 1975) 118.
[viii] Ioan P. Couliano (trans. Margaret Cook), Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) 184.
[ix] Mark Crispin Miller, Introduction to Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda (Brooklyn, NY: Ig Publishing, 2005 ) 11-12.