Friday, March 04, 2016

Have You Heard the News? Occultism is Dying. Again.

When I began actively blogging again I wrote a piece on the Borg-like power of the New Age movement, a movement that seemed both ubiquitous and invisible. 

The New Age's power seemed to partly reside in its formlessness but also in its ability to invade, subvert and assimilate a host body from within. I don't know how seriously people took me at the time. They may have taken me more seriously when I pointed out that the memberships of some New Age groups on Facebook are larger than most Christian denominations in the US at present.

The New Age has apparently assimilated yet another target; the most recent Occult Revival, which seemed poised to present a credible alternative to the New Age just a few years ago. The Occult Revival was being fed by many streams, the neopagan movement, the popularity of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, the mystique created by occult symbolism in fashion and pop and the growing disenchantment with both organized religion and secular rationalism. 

But what I'm hearing now is that this latest occult revival is dying, perhaps an inevitability given the promises made by the popular misconceptions of the occult and the boredom that has always lurked beneath the glamour and promise of occultism (or Ceremonial Magic, more accurately). At the feet of the best of teachers Ceremonial Magic is work, at the worst it's pure drudgery with nary a miracle or wonder in sight.

But this list got my attention, I'm sure you'll see why. From "10 Reasons Why Public Occultism is Dying":
1. The contamination of occultism by dumbed down “New Age” systems, fantasy and fraud.
2. Contamination by Intellect.
3. Contamination by Psychology.
4. Contamination by fundamentalism.
5. Contamination of training systems by “non-occult” leaders.
6. The failure of modern students to study or give the work priority.
7. Failure to financially support teachers, writers, or orders.
8. The collapse of the Order and Teaching system.
9. The Internet has made occultism too accessible.
10. The quality of occult information has become less and not more.
Now I don't mean to be facetious here but it seems the author is claiming that the occult (by which I think he means "Ceremonial Magic") is dying because it's the occult. Is there a reason it isn't dying? I'm reading all this from a distance so I'm not one to judge, but from my outsider's perspective I'd have to say no. But look more carefully at the first reason, since it speaks directly to what I've been saying all along:
1. The contamination of occultism by dumbed down “New Age” systems, fantasy and fraud. Occultism and magic cannot be boiled down to seven basic laws or principles or simplified. New Thought, the Secret, NLP, Chaos magic, New Age have all given a completely false impression of what magic is. 
However rather than resist this, the various occult movements have adopted some or all of these principles. Eastern ideas, such as karma, have been repackaged and placed inside Western occultism to fit New Age thinking. This dumbing down of occultism has made it acceptable to spiritual tourists. They provide a common language between many different shallow occult groups which are about show rather than serious work.
Well, yeah. But New Age grows in popularity because it fills a need in its followers. And the author surely isn't earning a lot of good will by throwing chaos magic into the mix, since as far as I can see it's the chaos magicians (like our Gordon and his Scarlets) who are forcibly injecting pop occultism with a much needed dose of scholarship. Or is that the dreaded "intellect" the author speaks of?

Another author picks up the cudgel ("Is Public Occultism Fading Out?") and also bashes the New Agers and chaos magicians with it. But first he too laments the lack of interest in Ceremonial Magic, which from an outsider's perspective often looks like a bunch of Magic the Gathering gamers LARPing out the ritually bits. Unfair, I know.

But I'm just saying it like it is.

Pagan festivals, on the other hand, actually are often a bunch of Magic the Gathering gamers LARPing out modern rewritings of rituals that, more often than not, included some kind of blood sacrifice, if not actual fucking and flagellation (while bathed in the blood of said sacrifices). And those were the socially acceptable rites:
Some have suggested that it is not magick that is fading away, so much as popular interest in Golden Dawn-style ceremonial.  And that is true to a large extent. “Western Mystery” (read Ceremonial Magick) conferences hardly ever happen these days, and if they do they are small and informal...My current Ceremonial Magick 101 class does not have a single ceremonial magician in it...But it’s not just the CM community that seems to be in a slump.  Attendance at Pagan Festivals has been down over the last couple of years.  
And here we get to the bashing of New Agers and Chaos Magicians:
 Yet the same venue has no problem filling seats for New Age classes.  In fact, my wife and I have both noticed that the shop itself has, over the years, progressed from being an occult shop where Pagans hang out to a semi-Pagan/New Age shop where New Agers hang out.  And this has been in reaction to the market, not a decision made by the owner.  You see, the biggest and fastest-growing occult fads out there today are the New Age (yes, still) and Chaos Magick – both systems of E-Z Occultism that encourage you to just make it up as you go along. No study.  No work. No effort. Just play.
Again, I'm saying this as a friend but maybe the New Agers and chaos magicians are filling a need in their audience. Which is why they have one.

I don't know why Ceremonial Magic needs to be like endless algebra homework, particularly when the audience is not exactly perceiving a huge payoff in benefits from the effort.  Mostly what they see is a bunch of confusing busywork and a bunch of sects constantly at war with each other. I'm sorry to be so blunt, just trying to help.

I don't think I've ever put it quite this way but I think "the Occult" is actually the worst vehicle for the occult.  It's not only its worst vehicle it can be its worst enemy. The Occult is like an endless rulebook when people really want to play the game. And what's the game? 

Ah, the game is Magic, kids.

But Magic is not an end unto itself, it's a power tool.
You use it to build whatever it is you're building, whether that's a David Bowie album, an Alan Moore comic or a Gordon White alt.history book. It makes whatever you're building bigger and louder and more lasting. I think the record is pretty clear and consistent that that is when it works best. 

"Occult Revivals" only work so far as they inspire artists to create magic and magicians to create art. We remember the occult revival of the 60s and 70s for Rosemary's Baby and Simon, King of the Witches and Don't Look Now and The Magic Mountain and Led Zeppelin IV and Station to Station and The Norliss Tapes and The Night Stalker and the Illuminatus Trilogy and VALIS and Tomb of Dracula and Doctor Strange and the art of San Francisco poster artists and Hypgnosis and Roger Dean and so on and so forth.

"Occultism", on the other hand, usually ends up a weird power game where people fuck with each other's heads (a best-case scenario) and every one eventually goes home feeling bad. The history here is fairly unambiguous.

Jung said religion was a shield against the experience of the Divine and I'm wondering if occultism isn't a shield against the power of Magic. Occultism is the illusion that we can impose our will on powers that were ancient before we were even human. I don't think that ever ends well. I'd say it's better to enter into Magic with a profound sense of humility and gratitude. Try it and let me know how it goes.

Occultism has waxed and waned many times before, it's true. However, things do die, or become so esoteric as to be essentially invisible. But as Terence McKenna said, "If it's real it can take the pressure." If not let it die.  And go make Magic.