Guttershaman and the Fictionals

14 June, 2010
This isn’t so much a full Guttershaman installment as a kind of “DVD extras” post for the talk I gave to the Omphalos pagan moot in Bath today.

The set-up was:

“Stories and myth are the ground that magic, and culture in general, are rooted in. Although many magicians and pagans endeavour to base their practice on authentic historical roots, there are other ways… using the fictional tales that fill our culture as a modern mythology. Movies, TV,  SF and fantasy fiction and comic books can all offer insights on magic and mysticism.
Cat Vincent coined the term Guttershaman to describe this perspective – an urban path based on the mix of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ with personal experience. He talks about some of the inspiration he has found along this path, with particular reference to the noted comic writers and practicing mages Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.”

A few links for those that braved my mad rantings… (and thanks for a great reception!)

All the Guttershaman posts are collected here - start at the bottom!

On Alan Moore and Idea Space:

http://technoccult.net/archives/2010/04/22/alan-moore/

http://www.angelfire.com/comics/eroomnala/Lautwein.html

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article822552.ece

On V for Vendetta, Anonymous and Scientology:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Chanology

On Grant Morrison and The Invisibles:

http://technoccult.net/archives/2010/04/22/grant-morrison/

The canonical Invisibles site was Barbelith – which developed from a fan page to one of the most interesting occult discussion groups around. Quiet these days but much food for thought there.

A  very detailed Morrison interview, covering which bits of The Invisibles are purely autobiographical:

http://comicnews.info/?p=3269

How close is The Matrix to The Invisibles? Here’s 15 points of similarity – Morrison claims over 80!

http://everything2.com/title/The+Invisibles+vs.+The+Matrix

On Hypersigils:

http://www.barbelith.com/topic/20184

http://technoccult.net/archives/2010/02/18/hypersigils-reconsidered/

On fiction and reality merging, comic books and Moore/Morrison both:

http://electricchildren.com/wordpress/?p=334


Guttershaman – Of Avatar and Otherkin…

8 April, 2010

“…stories dramatize ideas and truths that we all intuitively recognize. Although these stories are not exactly ‘true’, they nonetheless offer a kind of Truth that is more compelling than hard facts.”

Rabbi Cary Friedman, ‘Wisdom from the Batcave

“Believe nothing,
No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it,
Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.”

The Buddha

———————————

It’s an interesting time to be writing about belief and religion.

Consider, for example, the Avatar Otherkin.

Otherkin, for those of you who’ve not come across the concept, are people who believe they are (in some sense, be it spiritually or literally) non-human. There are lots of variations of this belief – some feel they are elves, vampires (in all flavours from Anne Rice-y to Twilight-ish), werewolves or dragons – others believe they are entities from what we usually call fiction – such as inhabitants of the Matrix, anime characters… or, recently, Na’vi from Pandora.

I trust I don’t have to explain what Avatar is.

What’s especially interesting to me (as someone who not only has a lot of sympathy for people looking to fiction for their spiritual metaphors but also who was involved with Otherkin earlier in my occult life) is not just how quickly this particular strain of Otherkin have emerged, but how vehement some of them are concerning their rights.

The Na’vi Anti-Defamation League were founded only a few weeks after the film was released. Their purpose is “to monitor and take action upon groups and individuals who are promoting hate speech and anti-Na’vitism against fans, Na’vi-kin, and followers of Eywa.” Now admittedly they’re a small group on Live Journal… but nonetheless, that they exist at all is interesting to me.

Why Avatar was the film which stimulated such strong feelings – among many people world-wide, not just the rather specialised area of the Otherkin community – is of course not entirely known. Some have suggested it was the exaggerated realism of the immersive 3D environment and computer graphics, or that its (to some folk) rather diluted version of classic mythological themes allows it to appeal to a wide range of viewers – or it could be simply that it’s the biggest hit movie of our time. For whatever reason, it’s become a major metaphor – to the point where Palestinian protesters in Gaza dressed as Na’vi when on protest.

After seeing Avatar, I have to say that all the criticisms – from plagiarism to white guilt – have justification. (A nice cumulative bitchslap version of them all here.)

But, you know, Smurf Pocahontas jibes aside… parts of the film still made me weepy with the sheer mythic aptness of it all. That much-maligned plot – a crippled warrior, twin of a dead scholar, seeks healing & truth in another world he enters through (more-or-less) lucid dreaming, finds magic powers after trials and ends as a fusion of his old and new cultures – None More Miffick.

You can certainly make a case that Na’vi spirituality is a watered down appropriation, a morass of once truly authentic cultural memes reduced to their lowest common denominator… but probably not to someone like me, whose view of the value of authenticity in mysticism is, shall we say, a tad harsh. It could be that the diluted Deep Green/Gaia Consciousness of Avatar simply fits some folk better than anything that other mythos of the world can offer.

And of course you could also make a case that Otherkin – Avatar or otherwise – are just mad. That they’re taking their imagination and wish-fulfilment too far, that they’re just sad fanboys-and-girls who’ve played one too many role-play games.

I wouldn’t.

For one thing – every religion or belief system looks crazy from the outside. All of them. Yes, even yours.

For another, these sort of beliefs are not only becoming more prevalent, but they’re also starting to be recognised as a legitimate expression of spirituality in our post-modern (and increasingly – I hope! – post-Judaeo-Christian) world. The sociologist Dr. Adam Possamai has coined the term “Hyper-Real religions” to describe them, and I’ll be coming back to that idea much more in later posts. Short version for now – people trying to seek meaning in a world where trust in traditional top-down belief structures has failed them often look for new myths to try and work out just who they are. They’re often a lot less picky about how ‘true’ something is for it to be ‘real’ to them… and there’s an awful lot of mythos to choose from these days. The end result – Otherkin, the Jedi religions and much else.

The Tribe of the Strange has a lot of overlapping sub-groups. The Venn diagram for ‘SF fan’, ‘occultist’, ‘tabletop role-player’, ‘BDSM/kink practitioner’, ‘polyamorist’, ‘Pagan’, ‘computer programmer’, ‘comic book reader’, ‘cosplayer’ etc. will often show a lot of people in any one category having at least two of the others going on. Unsurprisingly, they all feed into each other… so that, for example, the roleplayer  – whether in the form of tabletop or computer gaming or sexual exploration – will see a parallel between what they do in that state-of-mind and carry it across to their spirituality. (And if you’ve not yet experienced the kind of intensity which a good role-play session can create, the heightened unreality that nonetheless feels, at the time at least, utterly true and real… then your opinion is, shall we say, uninformed.)

But like any bunch of tribes, there’s a certain amount of internecine warfare going on among the conversations between them. (Drop words like ‘furry‘ or ‘Gorean‘ into some of those conversations, for example…) The degree of snottiness involved usually stems from one group having a perceived status over the other – of being more ‘real’ or ‘sensible’ or ‘proper’ or, my old fave, ‘authentic’. But there’s a phrase from one of those overlapping groups that fits pretty well here.

Your kink is not my kink and that’s OK.

Why not draw inspiration from a myth you know isn’t based on fact? Why does that idea harm your beliefs? For some folk, it just suits them more than the half-true (at best), ‘legitimate’ religions of the world. Some mystics would bluntly state both come from the same source (one version of which is Alan Moore’s concept of Ideaspace). Some would even say it’s more honest than insisting a blurry, ancient myth structure is unassailable truth. At worst, it’s a new perspective, a different angle from which to view the numinous signals that inspire all faith. (Assuming of course that you’re not one of those believers who’s utterly certain theirs is the One True Way…)

There’s nothing at all wrong with drawing on avowedly fictional sources for definitions of your personality, mysticism, even sexuality. The trick is, as I’ve said often before, being able to step away from that viewpoint from time to time, to consider it as if real, not as real. And to be fair, many of those who identify as Otherkin do so. It’s nowhere near as simple as these people suddenly deciding they’re a dragon and not actually thinking about what that entails…

From my experience in these realms, that’s actually hard to do. There’s something deeply attractive, even intoxicating, about getting some confirmation that not only are you not like everyone else, but that there are people similar to you who feel much the same way. The dichotomy of being an individual and being part of a tribe, combined. For me, finally, it was a good and beneficial place to visit, but I couldn’t stay there. For others, it’s a perfect fit. Same could be said of any faith or perspective, really.

But there’s no question that once you permit the possibility of a belief based on fiction having as much validity in consensual reality as established religions, all sorts of interesting problems occur.

Such as the one which sounds an awful lot like a bad joke, that starts “this Jedi walks into a Job Centre…

More on that next time…

“The movie is the modern equivalent of oral tradition. The indigenous people would transfer their theology and ancestral through storytelling. Those stories were mythological from modern standpoint, but still maintained identity in their cultures. Avatar is our equivalent of oral tradition.”

http://nadl-org.livejournal.com/1011.html

———————-

Post Script:

I’m far from the only occultist to note and draw inspiration from the Otherkin – the clear leader in this field is Lupa, whose drawing together of the Otherkin impulse and older shamanic aspects (such as shape-shifting) is well worth your time. Start here with her piece on Shamanism & Subjectivity. This old thread at Barbelith is also worth reading.

If you feel drawn to looking at the Otherkin community further, you could do worse than looking at the forums at Otherkin.com. But if you’re going to comment, don’t be so impolite as to troll or stir it – for one thing, they’ve heard it all before.

And a big retrospective thanks to the Elves – you know who you are…


Meeting fictional characters

10 April, 2009

Found this excellent piece on Electric Children on the subject of (specifically comic book) creators who have spoken of fictional characters as being in some sense real – and those who have met them.

The classic example is Alan Moore’s oft-told story of having met his creation John Constantine – twice. The article doesn’t accurately quote the one thing Constantine told Moore (on their second meeting), which in the unexpurgated version goes like this:

“You know what the secret of magic is?
Any cunt can do it.”

Long – but do read it.


Xtianfuckwitwatch Returns, with… Harry Potter and the Xtian Plagarist

9 August, 2008

Back in the good old days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was on LiveJournal, I ran an occasional series called Xtianfuckwitwatch. This was news posts (and, I confess, some ranting) about the type of idiocy that seems particular to certain extremists of the Christian persuasion. (Now, as then, I emphasise it’s not that these people hold that particular faith that annoy/amuse me… it’s the way they assume not only that their version of theology is The One Truth, but also that anything that comes out of their mouths and brains carries that same weight of Ultimate Truth with those who are not of their persuasion.)

(Plus that whole” kill or convet their foes, keep women and kids and queers ‘in their place’ and banish all ideas foreign to their twisted rulebook” thing. Never sits well with me for some reason.)

I debated long and hard about whether or not to continue this thread here. But frankly, when I find news like this, it’s impossible not to share. (And woe betide the next one of those fuckwits who manages to kill their client in an exorcism, as I take that kind of professional cockup very personally indeed…)

(Found via Bulldada News)

This is a press release from “Mary’s Lamb Publishing”, called;

The Christian Parent’s Answer to the Harry Potter Phenomenon

Scotland’s J.K. Rowling, the unknown author who claimed to create Harry Potter from her imagination, stirred up America by exposing our children to spells, witchcraft and wizardry. Now an American author is stirring up the answer, exposing our children to true secrets, myths and miracles, introducing J.C. Lamb who came not from the imagination, but from a sacrifice and a vision from God.

(CatNote – You have to love their command of language here. Jo Rowling ‘claims’ to have created Harry Potter from her imagination – of course we all know the story really came straight from Satan Himself, don’t we kiddies? – but by the end of the paragraph they’re saying Harry did come from the imagination of JKR. And that the author of the obvious ripoff divinely inspired parallel sequence didn’t use her imagination at all. It was from God’s lips to her ears. Perhaps He mumbles…)


On July 15th, 2008, Mary’s Lamb Publishing debuted their first “Give & Share Book(TM)” titled The Secret of Yahweh! at the International Christian Retail Show, and it proved to be an instant favorite. The line that formed to meet the author and get a copy of her book was one not usually seen for an unknown author, (especially one whose testimony claims she is “not much of a writer.”)

(The books just write themselves… and so do the jokes)

LeFerna Arnold-Walch, has become a leading authority on the unchurched family since her son’s car crashed into a church in 1998. “My firstborn son’s coma was the sacrifice it took to open my eyes to God’s plan for me. Now I have a promise to keep,” she says…

(I am not going to say a mean word about how a parent deals with such a tragedy happening to their child. I will note that some parents would not have taken their child driving into a church and ending up comatose as a sign of a loving God…)

(And I find that ‘leading expert on the unchurched family’ bit very disturbing indeed. How exactly does one qualify in this field?)

What makes her Christian children’s novel newsworthy and unique

(For very low values of ‘unique’…)

is not only that it stands up for our “under God” Christian history in the USA,

(Er, I thought you said the imagination wasn’t involved?)

or that it introduces a character whose mission is to reach 100 million unchurched Americans, but that each book creates twelve new or reaffirmed disciples for Christ when the circle goes unbroken and the book is returned.

(It is notable that the version of Xtianity espoused by these types – usually a variation of what is often called Dominionism – is not at all averse to casting spells, ranging from non-consensual blessing rituals involving whatever oils they have handy to cursing those who oppose them. Or, as we have here, a variation of the Ringu curse. Yet somehow, the spell-casting of Harry and his chums is bad…)

(And precisely how are all those new disciples created anyway? Now that’s a story I’d read… unsuspecting non-xtians suddenly zapped with super-jesus-powers, maybe like Ninja Turtles bathed in radioactive christ-gloop. Or maybe cloning.)

A “magical” book with secrets the author didn’t see coming – Instead of a lightning bolt on the forehead, J.C. Lamb wears the sign of the fish on his chest, right over his heart.

(How… original.)

He’s magical because God sent him as a messenger in a vision from a song. Instead of using wands and witchcraft, children learn how to spiritually see with their hearts by believing in things they cannot always see with their own eyes– trouble is, they can’t all see J.C. Lamb, either!

If only I was sure this would be the resounding belly-flop it deserves to be. But in a country where Left Behind sold over 58 million copies, perhaps it’s a shoo-in. Perhaps it’s the myth they deserve.

But not their children. Won’t somebody please think of the children?

————-

(Thanks, always, to the extensive work in opposing Dominionist hegemony by the tireless researcher DogEmperor and the Dark Christianity LJ group. Also, if you’re not reading Fred Clark (aka Slacktivist) and his precise and hilarious disembowelling of the text of Left Behind, you’re missing a rare treat.)


Guttershaman – intro

31 July, 2008

At the end of the day, it’s all just weird shit.” — Me, quoted in Sandman by Neil Gaiman.

One of the main reasons I put up this blog is for my thoughts about magic. I have considered myself as a magician for pretty much my whole adult life – and the seeds of that go even further back, to when I was about seven years old. For years, I’ve been trying to find ways to describe what it is I do, and how I think about “the occult”, “the Dark Arts”, “mysticism”, “psychic phenomena”, what have you.

This seems a good place to do more of that, and hopefully the end result will be of some use – or at least amusement – to the reader.

Disclaimer.

By the very nature of the subject, anything said here can only be my opinion – working model at best, subjective bias at worst. The only absolute I have found in nearly forty years of study and working is there are no absolutes – and that this paradox may well be the whole point.

———————————————————————————————–

In many ways, I am not a refined or subtle man. I come from lower-working-class English mongrel stock, and despite a childhood where I was reading books and thinking thoughts far outside the experiences of my family, school ‘friends’ and teachers, the habits and speech patterns of that time stayed with me.

(It’s notable, for example, that whenever I become emotional about something my normally fairly neutral Brit speech patterns revert to those of my family – in short I sound like John Constantine getting stroppy! Well, without the Scouse undercurrents. You get the idea.)

(Also, I swear like a fucking bastard.)

My background meant that my first exposure to theories and concepts of magic came from my local library. Finding books on myth, then occult praxis, pretty much saved what for sake of argument I shall call my sanity. I never stopped reading – and after a while I noticed something very odd… that I was picking up a lot of useful ideas and myths from fictional works, perhaps more than so-called non-fiction.

Now, I’m hardly the only person to realise that. At about the same time as I was making this connection in my early teens, the founders of what’s now known as Chaos Magic were investigating the possibilities of fictional archetypal magics. Call it Steam Engine Time, perhaps. Or that we were all reading Robert Anton Wilson. Either way, this realisation let me explore ideas about magic with a freedom I appreciated – amongst other reasons, it let me make stuff up and work with improvised tools in a way that a more formal style would have frowned upon. For a poor boy on a very restricted budget, this was helpful.

At the same time, I kept getting this sense of vocation, that my magical interests were leading to something. The best parallel I could find was in the tribal figure usually called ‘shaman’. The archetypal magic-worker, a figure who would otherwise be an outcast due to their differences from the rest of the tribe. One called to serve. (And, as I found many years later in a talk on Tibetan Bön Shamanism by Christian Ratsch, the first duty of that school of shamanism is to fight demons. Considering how my career ended up, this fits rather too well.)

That word shaman has a lot of heavy connotations – especially when used by a Western white man who’s not remotely using a strict traditional ceremonial form. Issues of cultural theft and inauthenticity pop up. And since ‘urban shaman’ as a term has been co-opted by some of the fluffier (and IMO sometimes less than effective) denizens of the Newage movement, I needed an alternative.

One day, the word ‘Guttershaman’ popped into my head. And it seems to fit. A town-going mage, happy to work magic with whatever he finds on the street and in his pockets. A bit rough-and-ready, but workable.

So that’s where I come from. As I go on in these posts, I hope to dig a little deeper into all this.

Looking at things like the way words and magic combine, and the things that seem beyond words. About being authentic to yourself in an increasingly inauthentic world. Why magic and religion make such unsteady bedfellows.

Why something like a Guttershaman has a purpose in the twenty-first century.


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