Monday, January 03, 2011

The Year of Thinking Magically

The Vision of Hermes Trismegistus, Johfra Bosschart, 1985

The Mindscape of Alan Moore has insinuated itself into my own mindscape the past few days. It got me to thinking about magic, what it is and what it isn't, as well as magical thinking.

Now I know magical thinking gets a very bad rap, but I think that maybe that's a question of semantics. Magical thinking is generally defined as a kind of "Hail Mary" approach to life - cross your fingers, throw caution to the wind and hope for the best. We see this in the media all of the time, particularly as it applies to politics, specifically the politics of resource allocation.

Now, for some strange reason I have this weird visual in my head of Alan Moore punching through someone's chest, tearing out their still-beating heart and burying his teeth into the bloody mess. This is pure allegory, mind you; it stems from the fact that A., Moore is notorious for not suffering fools gladly, and B., he looks exactly like Rasputin (which inevitably sets me to thinking about the demonic Rasputin of the early Hellboy comics). So the visual usually arises when I picture some idiot waltzing up to Moore and saying something so incredibly stupid as to awaken some atavistic impulse, hence the whole heart-eating bit. I think Moore would probably be flattered by all of this, but you can never really tell.

The reason I bring it up is that I picture this whole scenario when some idiot (say, your average "skeptic" type) confronts Moore and blithely dismisses his magical work as some air-headed New Age floofery. Because Moore exemplifies what I see as the best example of magical thinking, which means to throw one's self so completely into one's work that every possible avenue of approach has to be explored, even the magical ones.

It's about putting all of the balls in play, not just the ones that polite society will respond to with the obligatory "delicious, delicious, oh, how boring." Because in present-day cultural, academic and science studies circles the aim is to bore, to stultify, to anesthetize, to ensure that the boat remains unrocked on placid, stagnant waters.

Moore is a born boat-rocker, which is why he's interesting and all of his critics are so boring. He's a born feeding-hand biter, he's a born shit-stirrer. He threw himself into magic because in his post-Watchmen fallow period (fallow being a relative term- Moore's fallow period is another's hyperactive period) he couldn't explain the miracle of creativity according to the dreary cultural Marxist paradigm that was so dominant in English cultural circles.

I don't know if he's said as much, but that paradigm was a eulogy for Western culture, not a rebirth. It so marginalized cultural studies that we're looking at a situation now where the future of the Humanities in the university system is by no means assured. You can't help but wonder if that was the plan all along.

Sticking a fork in the eye of his jaded and ennui-plagued contemporaries, Moore decided instead to pursue the study of ritual magic and symbol systems, which bore fruit in his Jack the Ripper fable, From Hell. That signaled a remarkable burst of energy that gave us America's Best Comics, a reconstruction of the occult foundations of the superhero mythos. The jewel in ABC's crown was League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I see as the greatest superhero narrative ever written, even if the movie version sucked (Moore delights in placing curses on all of the movie adaptations of his work, because he specifically writes stories that can only work as comics).

But Moore didn't use magic as a substitute for back-breaking labor (he puts more work into a single script than your typical "decompressed" comics writer puts in in an entire year), magic was the mortar for the bricks that he spent his life learning how to put exactly into place through trial and error. In fact, it's been my experience that that's how magic works- it's the coagulant that takes the results of all your sweat and labor and makes it whole.

This ties back in a strange way to the ancient Mysteries- your typical Johnny Skepticpants would look at the mindlessly hedonistic Dionysians as the magical thinkers when in fact it was the studious Hermeticists who were the real McCoy. They understood that magic is the result of very hard work, otherwise everyone would understand it and it would no longer be magical.

Same goes with the things we look at here- understanding the collision of symbol and synchronicity only takes flight after a long period of hard work. Part of that work is discernment, learning to discriminate between what is meaningful and what is trivial.

It also means learning how to play your own devil's advocate- if a sync isn't truly meaningful it's usually be a waste of energy pursuing it. Never mind that it can make you look like an idiot trying to explain it. That's hard enough with the real business - in my experience powerful syncs usually induce a "Mudd's Women" kind of neural meltdown in the skeptical mind, which is inevitably followed by anger and ridicule.

I bring it up because symbol and synchronicity should be at the center of any variety of magical thinking worth its salt. That's the way it's always been- Hermes was understood to be present when a particularly fruitful sync occurred. But I hope to impart that the bricklaying aspect of it cannot be overlooked, which extends to your life. History is filled with the wreckage of magicians- even great ones- who didn't realize that taking out the trash and balancing the checkbook was part of the process as well.

Magic is the crown of the arts, but in the olden days wearing the crown meant bearing much heavier burdens than your subjects. One Roman emperor whose name escapes me at the moment said that anyone conspiring to take his place should be pardoned on grounds of insanity. We don't live in a magical realm, we live in a shitty, miserable, unmagical realm that can only be sporadically redeemed when true magic occurs.

Understanding the more ethereal arts can greatly enrich your life, particularly in your creative work (funnily enough, this article popped up on The Daily Grail while I was mulling over this essay) but it's no substitute for dotting your i's and crossing your t's, as too many people think. These arts also call for a tremendous amount of sacrifice and hardship, which can often be only slightly more tolerable than living in a dead and cold universe in which magic is absent.

Everyone knows magic exists, we just have different names for it, and different understanding of its mechanics. It may seem in dreadfully short supply these days, in which the Archons and their works are in the ascendancy. But everything is cyclical, nothing is linear. Things rise and then fall. That's one of the most important revelations that magical thinking led me to.

Last night as I was doing the boring work of dragging up the recycling, I heard a blue heron flying overhead. It was dark and foggy, so the bird was invisible. But the sound it made -more like a weird, hollow bark than a bird sound - reverberated through the cold. The heron's bark whispered strange and ineffable things to me, something about the dawn of time and the enormity of it all. This all happened shortly after I began thinking about this essay and it struck me as pure magic, given the rich and powerful symbolism invested in that magnificent creature.

What it all means (if anything) I'm not sure, but it's absolutely the reason this essay was written rather than sinking back into my mindscape like any hundreds of others. Take that for what it's worth.

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