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


Voting

6 May, 2010

“Politics is the art of reconciling aspirations.” Bruce Sterling, Distraction

Election day begins. And, for the first time in the 28 years I have been eligible to do so, I am going to vote.

I always vowed that I would never ever do so, unless a candidate or party came along that were supporting at least some of my non-standard views, were not merely players in the status-quo game. I also vowed I’d never vote against a party or position rather than for one, unless the BNP or similar scumbags stood a chance of winning.

(How serious was I about that? I didn’t vote against Thatcher.)

I despise party politics. I think it a vile mash of knee-jerk bollocks veneered with hypocrisy and histrionics. I’ve seen good, honourable people I knew personally become part of the party machinery and rendered either irrelevant or absorbed into the Borg Continuum. Churchill’s line about Democracy being “the worst system of government except for all the others” never struck me as enough excuse to support it. My reply to questions on why I didn’t vote was, “Same reason I don’t gamble in Vegas – the House always wins.” The longer version is; governments effectively perform experiments on the entire population of their country while in power, based not on science but various economic and (HAHAHAHA) moral principles, with no training in doing anything other than winning and dealing. I’d love to see candidates have to show an understanding of this simple fact and act accordingly – rather than their usual skills of rhetoric and corruption.

I’ve worked in the British Civil Service (Treasury), so I’ve seen how the game is played. Like working in a sausage factory, but far worse for your sense of smell.

I was one of the few on the night that misbegotten mad-eyed cuntbag Tony Blair was elected who stated outright that he’d be a worse whore than the Tories for corporate cock. That ended any chance of voting for the working-man-gutted version of Labour. And the behaviour of that vile man we called The Smiler and his glum successor in regard to unjust foreign adventurism, erosion of civil liberties and in the end their inability to realise the oligarchs they served would sell even them into the ground – and then demand compensation when the economy noticed the fraud – and Labour gave it to them… no way could I ever vote for them, even to stop a return to Conservative rule.

My disgust for the Tory hypocrisy on matters such as homosexuality, and their utter disregard (now shared by ‘Labour’) for the non-rich, non-elites renders them unacceptable under any circumstances to be given power again. They think they deserve to rule us plebs – reason enough for them to never do so ever again.

The LibDems blew their chance with me by their cowardly “oh we’ll fix it later” attitude to the Digital Economy Act (and that after writing personally to my local MP on the subject, I was fobbed off with press releases.) Also, another status-quo white public schoolboy as leader. Same song, slightly different verse.

Greens just seem overcommitted to their special-interest angle (and a little Luddite for my taste) and the other small parties are right-wing wankers of various stripes.

I also never considered it right to just turn up and spoil the ballot paper, or just piss it away on a Monster Raving Loony Party-like candidate. Given the options I faced, I felt (like that line in Slacker) that withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy, so that’s what I did.

So why change the habits of an adult lifetime now?

Because I have a local candidate whose platform comes from the poor bastards who usually just suffer political decisions rather than make them – ordinary people. He stands for a controversial and important position in social change – drug legalisation. And, in the very likely hung parliament, it’s a time when a single voice could actually be heard and do some good.

I’m voting for the People’s Manifesto candidate, Danny Kushlick.

(More on the People’s Manifesto here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_People’s_Manifesto)

EDIT: One way that I think voting should be changed is to allow actual voting against a candidate, rather than having to vote for someone else as a protest/attempt to curb them. Simple enough – one column for Yes, one for No. You can tick one candidate in one column, not both. That way, those who wish to express the (all-too-common) view that “they’re all scum but this fucker shouldn’t be allowed near anything even vaguely resembling power” can be accounted for.


Me? Being geeky?? Well I never…

4 May, 2010

Yes, I’m tinkering with my kit again. (Insert crude innuendo here.)

Despite my delight in my iPhone, there’s just some things it doesn’t do. Like offer some choice in the little things – like what noise it makes when you get an email, or which kind of virtual keyboard you run (and honestly, when it’s a soft keyboard, why doesn’t the option of changing it to, say, Dvorak, come as standard?) or tethering your datanet to another machine wiothout getting gouged by your phone provider, or…

So I decided to jailbreak it.

After the months of consideration and trepedation I spent thinking about this, it was astonishingly painless – thanks to a new app called Spirit (Windows and Mac flavoured options available). Took about 5 seconds to JB, another 30 to reboot and that was it.

Then came the fun – playing with the amazing range of options available on the Cydia app store.

For those that care… I’m currently running PogoPlank, Winterboard, InfiniDock, BTstack Keyboard, Lockdock, SBSettings and a few sound/wallpaper tweaks as my basic loadout.) Had a couple of freezes and battery life seems a little hungrier, but so far it’s entirely splendid.

(Tethering, that Dvorak keyboard – and possibly a haptic feedback option!  – to come.)

So, that’s what I get up to between bouts of writing, hanging out with the wives and watching too much telly.

(And a little multitasking of course – this post is a test for the considerably improved Mac blogging editor MarsEdit 3.0)



Guttershaman, “…of Jedi and jail”

2 May, 2010

So, like I was saying earlier – this Jedi walks into a Job Centre

Because it’s a British Job Centre and we’re the proud world leaders in intrusive CCTV surveillence, the staff ask our hero to lower his hood. (Of course he’s in hood and robe – Jedi, remember?) He politely refuses, on the grounds that doing so is against his deeply-held beliefs.

So they chuck him out. And he sends a letter of complaint.

A couple of weeks later, the Job Centre send him a formal apology for disrespecting his faith.

This delightful tale of modern manners is interesting to me for many reasons.

For one thing, it hit the news a couple of weeks before the finale of another case of alleged religious disrespect, one where the complainant didn’t get the result they wanted. In this case, it was a Christian woman, a nurse, who was asked not to have her crucifix-on-a-chain visible at work. She sued the hospital and lost.

The parallels are notable. For one thing, both complainants were making a fuss about a display of their faith which is not defined as either a right or requirement of their belief – the Bible has no “Thou Shalt Have Jesus On A Stick Swinging Around Thy Neck” commandment and the Star Wars films have many examples of Jedi doffing their hoods in a variety of public and private settings.

The major difference, the thing that really interests me, is that the believer in a completely fictional faith actually got more respect and better treatment than the one from the long-established, allegedly historically-based one. That’s a first, I think.

And it’s a game-changer.

What happens when belief systems which cheerfully admit they are based on fiction get the same recognition in society and law as the ones that claim they’re not?

So far, the established religions have a hard enough time admitting any other faith deserves the same recognition or rights they they have. The case of Patrick McCollum in the US offers a sad example of the situation as it stands. McCollum is a Pagan priest who wants to be a prison chaplain. So far, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is refusing him permission to do so. The reason they offer – which is supported by a Xtian protest org perfectly named The Wallbuilders – is that there are two tiers of religious belief under the US Constitution. The First Tier consists of the so-called Big Five faiths – Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Native American – who have all the rights and privileges. The second tier – everyone else – simply don’t.

Needless to say there’s a lot of pressure from pagan groups, and people who seem to have actually read the Constitution, against this opinion. The case is, to date, unresolved.

But now we have this precedent, that Jedi-boy has all the rights and privileges of any other believer.

I use that word ‘privilege’ carefully. Its original meaning, ‘private law’, seems more than a little significant under the circumstances. One rule for the First Tier… and there’s nothing so galling to the privileged as being made to share with the rest of the group.

There is of course one New Religious Movement that’s managed to secure itself all manner of rights and privileges – the Church of Scientology. Suffice it to say that recognition of your faith’s status is fairly easily enhanced by having access to lots of expensive lawyers. (Though it doesn’t seem to have helped them any in their home state of California, as noted above. Maybe there are some things money can’t just buy?)

(Interesting to compare this to the UK situation. As I understand it, members of any faith, including pagan, can be prison chaplains in Britain. I don’t know if anyone’s tried to be a Jedi chaplain yet, but I do know that all of the 139 prisons in England and Wales and many of the 16 prisons in Scotland have the equivalent of their own Scientology chaplains and spiritual services… and there are precisely three Scientologist prisoners in the whole system.)

So – how does society decide which beliefs should be respected? Who decides? On what basis? Who gets to choose what is called real?

Obviously, the belief systems which hold the current monopoly of privileged status aren’t going to give up their exclusive specialness without a fight – which, judging from previous displays of their intentions towards anyone disagreeing with their beliefs, will involve everything from whiny protests to inciting murder. So there’s that to look forward to.

Meanwhile, my position is this:

I honestly believe all religions and beliefs are, at best, stories. Possibly stories with some level of truth to them, but no less mythological for all that. We can debate the degree of ‘truth’ at the core of each ’till the cows come home – but it seems to me a politeness for all beliefs to meet on an equal playing field. Certainly, the hard core believers will insist that their faith deserves privilege above the others because theirs is the Real True Truth… but after the first fifty or so different flavours of believer stating that with a straight face, it gets real old, real fast. Either raise all beliefs up to the level of the most-favoured… or bring them all down to the lowest. No special pleading, no tax breaks, no exemptions from civil law on grounds of belief. Everyone gets the same treatment. From the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to the Na’vi one. From Sunni and Shia to followers of Sol Invictus and Satan and Scooby-Doo.

Then, finally, perhaps we can all compare notes about what we believe, and how we see the world, like civilised people.

Yeah. Sure.

(Next time on Guttershaman – looking deeper at the ‘Hyper-Real’ religions via the work of Adam Passamai, who coined the term.)


I have been …Weaponized

20 April, 2010

(Weaponizer logo design by Paul Sizer. This and similar goodies available here.)

One of the many creative offshoots of the Warren Ellis battery farm for genial artists, writers and other wonderful passionate madfolk that mortals call Whitechapel is the group writing blog Weaponizer. Under the kindly eye of Bram E. Geiben aka Texture, it’s set a very high standard of work in a short time.

So last weekend I thought I’d try submitting a piece for them, see if I was ready to play with the big boys and girls.

Seems the piece – Tribe of the Strange: Origin Myth – went down OK. Enough for Bram to invite me onto the team as a staff writer, working the Fortean and occult beat.

I am beyond chuffed to be doing this. I have huge respect for all there and hope my mad point of view finds a home among them.

First piece as staff writer – Frequently Asked Questions about Weird Shit – went live this evening. Hope you like my new(ish) direction…

(To come at WPNZR – more rumbling on about oddness and hopefully the birth of the Mason Lang Film Club!)

And here, the next Guttershaman – “…of Jedi and Jail” – coming soon.


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…


Theme Tune

1 April, 2010

There is, in fact, new content coming here – the long hiatus partly circumstance, partly a need to retool the direction of the Guttershaman series. Until then, here’s my contribution to the intarwub meme du jour – if your blog had a theme tune, what would it be?

Easy – King Missile’s title track from their 1990 album Mystical Shit.