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Wednesday 18 June 2014

The Alchemy of Bollocks --Turning Pop Culture into something useful

Attached is an old article I wrote for the Horus Hathor Temple in Nottingham when I ran it.  I found it on my computer this morning so I thought I would put it here. 

In the UK there is a term which means something is completely untrue, or a waste of time.  It is called 'bollocks' and it is considered a rude word which you are not supposed to use in polite company.  It is the complete opposite of the phrase the 'dog's bollocks' which is said to mean something very good – particularly for the dog.

Popular culture is built on bollocks. It sucks you into a morass of TV chatshows, Jerry Springer and reality game shows. It is bollocks that television presenters can do up your home or that you will be better if you look like they say you should.  It is bollocks that you should take drugs to make you 'normal' or that is wrong to be depressed occasionally. It is bollocks that your flight is somehow safer because you took your belt off and let someone sniff your trainers. Soap operas are temples of bollocks that we sacrifice our brain, time and souls at its virtual altars. 

Popular culture demands not only that we build our lives on bollocks.  We are encouraged to look away from things that are sensible and well thought out in search of bollocks answers to everything. 

Occultists consider themselves outside the mainstream.  They are supposed to look at the unseen world and find a measure of reality that is unseen by other people.  But despite this, popular culture seeps into their reality too.  Despite our attempts to be outside the system we cannot escape it.

This has lead many modern magicians to say “if you can't beat them join them” Is it possible to turn the symbols of popular culture into something we can use.
The logic is that if modern popular symbols are archetypes it should be possible to use them to key into the same forces that were opened by older symbols. 
However this is not as easy as it appears.  Older symbols are often hard-wired into the consciousness of humanity.  They are based on beliefs held by our ancestors for thousands if not millions of years.  This gives the symbols a depth which more recent symbols cannot quite match.

For a long time I followed the view that a symbol was a symbol.  It did not matter which one you used so long as it meant something to you.   In the spirit of experiment to prove this I did two rituals. The objective was to remove negativity in a particular area.  In the first rite I used pop culture symbols of Star Trek New Generation.  It was a great laugh,  I got to play Picard.  The negativity was visualised as a Borg cube which was destroying the area.  The ritual was effective.  Energy from the phaser banks was seen belting out of the East of the temple by more than one of the temple psychics. In short it did what was expected and was a lot of fun. 

The control ritual was one using heavy cabbalistic symbolism, neo-platonic symbolism with a bit of alchemy thrown in.  It was less of a ritual and more of a pathworking, but it also was designed to send a burst of spiritual energy outwards to smash up a negative thought form.  It did this to the same technical standard as the other ritual. One could say well that was proof that pop culture symbols worked just as well as the traditional ones.  But it didn't.

When the ritual officers asked which they thought was the most effective they all felt it was the classical ritual.  The felt that the symbols gave them more to grab hold of.  While the Star Trek rite amused them and intellectually they could understand the logic of the symbols it failed to move them emotionally  like the cabbalistic version.  So my experiment failed, it seemed that it was not entirely possible to root a magical system in popular culture symbols.  They were simply not deep enough to carry it off.

Does this write off then the use of popular culture symbols within magic?  Not at all.  But it is not simply a matter of replacing your rituals with popular symbols you have to alchemically wire it into the collective unconscious yourself.  In short, you have to turn bollocks into gold.

This has been done before, and will probably be done again in the future, with the myth of Atlantis. Popular culture has muttered that Atlantis was a real place for centuries, but in the 19th century the literal idea of this place really took off, with the works of the Theosophical Society.  One of the people heavily influenced by this teaching was Dion Fortune who became convinced that she was an Atlantian adept in a past life. She worked with the symbol of Atlantis and made it into a system.

This lead to a funny incident in the 1980s there was a very famous collective of magicians that used to meet around a residential centre called Hawkwood.
They had heard a legend that when Atlantis had sunk, the Solar Logos, which in Dion Fortune's system ruled the solar system, had decided that it did not want some of the Atlantian adepts to re-incarnate because they were too evil.  It stuck their souls on a comet with an incredibly wide orbit around the solar system, to gnash their teeth  until the solar system was ready for them.

It is not clear where the legend started from.  It has all the hallmarks of a channelling session, but it could have come from Dion Fortune's own Inner Light.  However the story got several of these famous magicians thinking.  It seemed to them after a few thousand years the Atlantians should have sorted themselves out and should be ready for an incarnation or two.   They meditated, and prayed, about the idea and got a good feeling about it.  Those who channelled the Secret Adepts of Power also got the nod from their contacts for the project.

So they met at Hawkwood with a plan to do a huge ritual to save the Atlantian evil adepts.  The ritual was set up, everyone was robed, but all was not well with the bloke in charge of the ritual.  He was starting to have a few doubts.  What if the Solar Logos was not happy with the idea of pulling these people back into incarnation?  What if he was releasing a plague of terrible evil on the world?  The rite opened and in the West the priestess made her contacts and poured power into the thought forms that were supposed to draw the errant Atlantians back onto the planet.  There was a pressure building.  The Mighty Magus of Power had broken out into a sweat.  Suddenly he knew he wanted to do this ritual about as much as he wanted someone to jab red hot needles in his eyes.   He decided that the Inner did not want the ritual to happen and used an emergency ritual shut down technique that delivered his fellow magicians to earth with a bump.

The Priestess, speaking words of her contact, said: “Priest you have failed” and stormed out of the temple room only to faint when she got into an outside corridor.  Many of the other officers felt physically sick and the ritual when down in legend as one of the ones which went bang.

But no one seemed to have paused before the ritual took place and thought; evil Atlantian magicians on comets that is complete bollocks that is! Nor did they consider what would have happened if the ritual had been completed. 

The idea of the souls of these adepts being stuck on a comet by the God of this solar system did not seem funny or odd to them.  Even if accept this bollocks they even had to accept other things that they did not believe.  They would have to believe that the soul could be attached to a physical reality. Further that the Solar Logos, or Sun, might consider some humans too evil to allow them to re-incarnate.  This would mean that the Solor Logos woke up one morning and decided to abandon the law of karma for these evil sods.  Adherents of this flavour of occultism are great fans of karma.

Yet they disabled all of these 'common sense' structures to accept a pop-culture myth and then allowed it to effect them so deeply that one of them passed out when it 'failed'.  Why?  Well it was all about faith. It was  serious magic to them.  What normally would have been popular culture symbols had been rooted into their belief structure so deeply that they were wired to the archetypes.  They were able to take the symbols and use them in a way that I was not able to hit with my Star Trek ritual.

This 'faith' built out ideas in other areas. I know of four people who claim to be the priestess who guided the ships from the sinking Atlantis to the shores of Britain.  The first was Dion Fortune who invented that version of the myth.  Others have been those who often are not aware that Dion claimed that role for herself and think they must have done it because they are such shit hot psychics.  However the Atlantis myth also developed into a system of magic based around geometric shapes.  Each shape was held to have a magical virtue and officers in a rite were told to hold lines in this pattern.  The idea was to make the shape light up on the astral.  Now this idea is really superior because it shows that the bollocks has been refined into pure intellectual magical gold.  It is producing something incredibly useful that could be adapted outside of that particular system.  The probably owed a lot to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but that is not so important to the people who are using this system.

Popular culture can also motivate esoteric people to do workings that they normally would not consider.  As the world readied for the First Gulf War there were a number of magical groups that responded by doing rites for victory.  Some responded by digging up copies of Dion Fortune's Magic Battle of Britain book which described the setting up of wards around Britain during World War Two.  What was interesting about these groups was that they had apparently ignored the fact that the Dion Fortune defence rituals were designed to protect Britain from invasion from the Nazis.  There was no way that the Iraqi army was ever going to fight its way through Europe to besiege Britain. But what they were doing was responding to a stirring in the popular culture that felt that Britain was being attacked.  This was, of course, bollocks but it added power to the working that perhaps logic alone would not have provided.

So how is it possible to redeem a popular culture symbol so that it can be used to the same magical level.  The Atlantian working was based on faith.  The people practising were certain that it must be true and therefore made it happen.  The Gulf War working was based faith based on war propaganda and mass hysteria.  These are things that are very difficult to mimic in the regular working of a magician.

Using neo-platonic thought,  the reason for this is a symbol is not a single object but a gateway to many other objects that link to single divine idea. Look at it this way. One day a creator God, let us call him Jeff, decides to create beer.  He does not visualise a pint of something wet, hoppy, refreshing, lager or dark beer.  He thinks about everything that beer is and conceives it as a symbol.  A primal symbol of all beerness.  This image flows towards manifestation and gives birth to other symbols that make for different types of beer and flavour until there are legions of different types for creation to use.

Popular culture symbols are a bottom up creation.  They make links based on other symbols.  Picard is is not wired into the Universal archetype for leadership, he is  a symbol of other captains who show these qualities.  The Borg are not the archetype of a mechanistic collective, they are based on human societies where these ideas have gone wrong.  

But a divine idea which attracts more ideas to it over time. 
Popular culture symbols might track a way to becoming archetypes over time, but the very nature of popular culture is that it is ephemeral and will pass into history.
But the magician will not let that stop them.  Equipped with a knowledge of how these things work, it is possible to connect popular culture symbols to more primal ones.  It will take some doing and will probably only be personal to you, but it will make symbols from popular culture carry the same weight as those older and more traditional ones.

Firstly you have to do some internal wiring and this requires some meditation.  Take the symbol that you wish to redeem and stare at it for some time.  Allow it to create some 'ideas' in your mind.  So if we use Buffy, we allow the idea of being a chosen one roll around in our mind.  We think of a few of the adventures she has had etc.  Then try to think what she is a symbol of.  Compare  and reject those other heroes who do not fit the  qualities you find interesting about her.  So Alexander the Great for example was a 'Chosen One' but he led armies fighting humans and while Buffy only had a small gang fighting evil.  It does not quite work.  If you think that it is vital for the archetypal 'Buffy' to be a female hero then you will have to find a heroine who fits.  Remember, you do not have to use humans, myths and legends, gods and goddesses will all work.
Once you have selected a 'hero' then you start to look at the qualities that hero has which makes them represent what you want to use. 

Say we decided that Buffy, with her super powers and tendency to rush into dark places to fight evil, has enough links to be similar to the symbol of Hercules.  What is it that Hercules has that connects us to the ideas of heroism? We might generate a list – bravery, leadership, not fleeing in the face of monsters, or being eaten by them and, above all, a strong sense of humanity.

Now, in our mediation, it gets a bit tricky.  We have to take these qualities and ascend upwards with them.  The process makes them more abstract.  Generally I see the symbols as becoming geometric shapes but they radiate feeling.  Allow the shape to move upwards and follow it in your mind's eye toward a single point of light.  That light has symbolically to be damn big.  It represents the singularity of the creator... in my case Jeff.  In that light you should see the shape changing before settling on a single shape.  You might want to note that shape, before allowing it to come back.  Watch it change, moving from primal shape, to new forms, separating out into different beings, heroes, linking to Hercules and finally, like the bottom of a family tree, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

What you have done is link Buffy magically to something more primal and when you use her you will find that she is 'connected' to all the symbols that you meditated on.
It might be interesting to see if some of these symbols start to evolve in the direction that you meditated on.  You might pick up a Buffy comic and see a story line which reflects your meditation.  In magical terms it would be a good 'check on earth' that the links have been properly made as others who work with the Buffy image will have started to pick up on the same connections.  Again that would be a matter for experiment, but from your perspective when you tap into that image you will be free from a lot of the bollocks that surrounds popular culture icons and rooted into a divine reality.  Because you have seen those links between Buffy and 'Jeff' you can believe in them and because you have felt the depth of the links between her and him you benefit from the depth of the symbol.

This technique can be applied to any popular culture symbol, from Star Trek to and Andy Warhol tin of soup. But as an experiment I suggest you do a ritual using the pop culture symbols and then try and linking an iconic set before trying something else. Take the whole cast of Buffy, or the Bridge of the Enterprise, the Jerry Springer show, a range of cars, anything. Then use them as magical symbols to see if you can improve them by linking them to the Divine.  It does make watching the shows, or car spotting a completely out of this world experience.

Nick Farrell

Sunday 15 June 2014

Mathers' Last Word on the Golden Dawn name

Picture was by Paola Farrell and the quote comes from my book Mathers' Last Secret (revised edition) which can be found here