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


Grant Morrison on The Matrix ‘borrowing’ from The Invisibles

11 April, 2009

Since it’s the tenth anniversary of the cinema release of The Matrix (and as I found this synchronistically while looking for something else), here’s Grant Morrison interviewed at Suicide Girls on the subject of just how much the film took from his epic magical (literally) comic The Invisibles:

It’s really simple. The truth of that one is that design staff on The Matrix were given Invisibles collections and told to make the movie look like my books. This is a reported fact. The Wachowskis are comic book creators and fans and were fans of my work, so it’s hardly surprising. I was even contacted before the first Matrix movie was released and asked if I would contribute a story to the website.

It’s not some baffling ‘coincidence’ that so much of The Matrix is plot by plot, detail by detail, image by image, lifted from Invisibles so there shouldn’t be much controversy. The Wachowskis nicked The Invisibles and everyone in the know is well aware of this fact but of course they’re unlikely to come out and say it.

It was just too bad they deviated so far from the Invisibles philosophical template in the second and third movies because they blundered helplessly into boring Catholic theology, proving that they hadn’t HAD the ‘contact’ experience that drove The Invisibles, and they wrecked both
‘Reloaded’ and ‘Revolutions’ on the rocks of absolute incomprehension. They should have kept on stealing from me and maybe they would have wound up with something to really be proud of – a movie that could change minds and hearts and worlds.

I love the first Matrix movie which I think is a real work of cinematic genius and very timely but I’ve now heard from several people who worked on The Matrix and they’ve all confirmed that they were given Invisibles books as reference. That’s how it is. I’m not angry about it anymore, although at one time I was because they made millions from what was basically a Xerox of my work and to be honest, I would be happy with just one million so I didn’t have to work thirteen hours of every fucking day, including weekends.

In the end, I was glad they got the ideas out but very disappointed that they blew it so badly and distorted all the Gnostic transcendental aspects that made the first film so strong and potent. If they had any sense, they would have befriended me instead of pissing me off. They seem like nice boys.

And while I’m at it, here’s XKCD’s take on the anniversary. And seriously… if you’re a magician and haven’t read The Invisibles yet, why not?

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.


Shamanism, myth and metaphor – and Wolverine

22 March, 2009

From this piece on the popular funny book character as shamanic figure:

Myths, rituals and religion bind us together and can be seen metaphorically as the bones of our society. Our personal belief and value system can be seen as our soul’s set of bones. As we grow up we take on the beliefs and values of the people around us. There comes a point for some of us where we start to doubt the absolute truth of the claims of our culture. We question and question and lose all belief. We are left dismembered and torn apart.

Our symbolic bones are brittle and fragile to begin with because we see them as being literally and absolutely true. For example, when the claim that the moon is a goddess is understood literally, it is smashed to pieces when we land on the moon. Stories and symbols address psychological needs and these change over time. In order to stay relevant and useful the stories and symbols we hold dear must also change. The literal and absolute perspective can not accommodate change and so is weak and fragile.

A man with unbreakable bones has a belief system that is fluid and adaptive to his life. He chooses from the stories and symbols around him and defines himself through them. He dances to the beat of his own drum. He is protected from the manipulation of others by his conscious recognition of the power of symbol and story. The transition from a literal to metaphorical perspective requires the complete dissolution of everything that we previously held to be true. When the process is completed the core of our being is left free from doubt and insecurity.

Well said, bub.
(And don’t get me started on the shamanic arc of Hugh Jackman’s career… let’s just say, go see a double bill of The Prestige and The Fountain and see how that does ya.)

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Inevitable Watchman post

13 March, 2009

Need I emphasise, here be spoilers?

I enjoyed it. And I didn’t miss the squid.

It could have be so much worse. Whatever you say about Zack Snyder not being a great director  – and frankly, he really isn’t – his sheer love for every frame of the book overcame his shortcomings.

Malin Ackerman didn’t suck anywhere as much as rumoured (after all, Juspeczyk isn’t exactly the deepest of characters in the first place). Though Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian was good, he wasn’t quite the powerhouse I’d hoped for. Jackie Earl Haley’s Rorschach was, however… truly splendid work, and if there was any justice he’d be a shoo-in for next Best Supporting Actor Oscar. (Well, maybe if he dies, he’d get it. Too soon? Tough.) Also big points for Patrick Wilson in the thankless role of Dan – subtly handled, and the transform from pudgy dude to combat machine worked for me. (One criticism that I sort of agreed with is that all the heroes seem to be super-powered – able to kick through walls, snap arms with a light punch etc – which kind of reduces the impact of Veidt’s bullet-catching act. But the fights sure were pretty.) It was also great to see old-time SF veterans like Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Rob LaBelle and (briefly) Alessandro Juliani turn up. (And Apollonia Vanova, who played Sillhouette, was the loveliest woman in the movie. Which is saying a lot.)

Some of the make-up and FX were a little slack, but overall the impression was good. Doctor Manhattan’s Big Blue Cock wasn’t that distracting (though there’s probably a paper to be written on the semiotics of him being circumcised…).

Yes, using Happy Uncle Len for the sex scene was a dumb idea. The use of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ in the background was crass – and though enjoyable, using Philip Glass as the music for building a ship made of, er, glass, lacked subtlety. And I missed hearing Elvis Costello’s ‘Comedians’ and really didn’t need All Along the Watchtower (unless of course Veidt is the Last Cylon…) The actual score (as opposed to the plundering of the music archive) was well-done.

After checking with IMDB I found my suspicion that one of Veidt’s TV screens was showing (among other favourites as Mad Max 2, Rambo 2 and Generic Lesbian Sex Scene no.5) Altered States was correct… nice touch!

Also I found after reading a couple of interviews with the screenwriters, it seems Alan Moore (described memorably as ‘the Dumbledore of comics’ by Daily Grail recently!) actually saw and (whisper it) approved of an early draft. (Just wondering – if Alan’s the Dumbledore of comics, what does that make Grant Morrison? Snape?)

Another criticism I agree with is that the overall sense of menace and sheer insanity of the Cold War mentality wasn’t really brought across. It was portrayed, but felt flat – and I’m a cold war kid, so I can’t imagine what you young whippper-snappers who were born afterwards thought. (For the record, using ’99 Luftballoon’ in the soundtrack as ironic counterpoint doesn’t fucking count, m’kay?)

That ending… worked. Let’s be honest, Moore’s not great at endings, especially in his earlier books. The solution they came up with for the resolution made sense, took much less set-up than the squid and had about the same punch. (Interesting to note the strategic use of images of the World Trade Centre throughout – especially at the end, overlooking the New York rebuild.)

Needless to say, I am looking forward to watching the Director’s Cut, with Black Freighter put in etc – partly ‘cos my son (who just read Watchman and is a bit of a purist, like many recent converts) is waiting for the long version.


You’re a yellow bastard, Charlie Brown

11 March, 2009

Wandered across this little gem – Charles Schultz’ Peanuts, in the style of Sin City-era Frank Miller (click the link to see the whole thing!):

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My talented friends and family 3

16 January, 2009

When I was a kid, it would have been unthinkably cool to have a friend who wrote for 2000AD. Now I do. And he’s a very busy boy.

Here’s the splendid Jaspre Bark:

My book on Leonardo Da Vinci was translated into nine different languages and published all over the world. Here’s a link: (NB, link goes to .pdf download.)

The first four in the series of graphic novels I wrote to help improve literacy in 12 – 16 year olds in UK schools can be seen here:

On a totally different note my new novel is a gore soaked horror tome and coming soon from Abaddon books here’s a link to some advance publicity:

And I’ve got a few comic stories up on my Facebook page now.

Looking forward immensely to that Abbadon book, ‘Way of the Barefoot Zombie’!


Authenticity and its discontents

19 August, 2008

There’s a Guttershaman piece coming soon on the small problem of ‘authenticity’ in magical systems and belief systems in general. I’m still chewing that one over, as I don’t want to insult or belittle too many people at once… but at the same time I have a need to point out a few holes in the whole concept of authenticity, with a little help from my friends such as Doktor Sleepless.

As a taster, some observations of my lady Kirsty Hall, regarding our recent road trip to Trellach in Wales:

The Virtuous Well or St Anne’s Well is a Christianised well almost certainly built over a Celtic sacred spring. It’s a lovely place; it’s in a field just off a country road but it feels about a million miles from anywhere. You can walk down into the well and sit on little stone seats while you soak up the atmosphere. There are little alcoves where you can leave offerings – on the first visit I picked buttercups from the field, this time we brought sweet peas from our garden.

The water contains iron, which may be responsible for its reputed medicinal qualities. The water was thought to be especially good for ‘complaints particular to women’, which would make sense if the woman in question was anaemic from endless pregnancies and breastfeeding.

Above the well, people have festooned a tree with fabric offerings.

Kirsty Hall, photograph of fabric offerings at The Virtuous Well, Trellech
Kirsty Hall: Offerings at The Virtuous Well, August 2008

This is a very old British custom: tying pieces of cloth called clooties or clouties onto trees beside sacred wells is believed to have Celtic origins.

Originally people would leave pieces of clothing that had been soaked in the well water in the belief that their ailment would pass from them as the cloth rotted. These days, a more eclectic variety of (mostly) fabric offerings are left. I noted a plethora of ribbons and strips of torn cloth interspersed with more unusual items including scarves; a pair of underpants; socks; a martial arts belt; a ceramic medallion; hollow blown eggs; a hand-crocheted flower; numerous hair decorations; strings of beads; shoelaces; knotted plastic bags; the remnants of a balloon; bright yellow fruit netting; a Tibetan prayer flag and even a cuddly toy. They were all knotted and tied together in what I felt was a genuine outpouring of decorative and sacred expression.

Kirsty Hall, photograph of fabric offerings at The Virtuous Well, Trellech
Kirsty Hall: Offerings at The Virtuous Well, August 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of fabric offerings at The Virtuous Well, Trellech
Kirsty Hall: Offerings at The Virtuous Well, August 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of fabric offerings at The Virtuous Well, Trellech
Kirsty Hall: Offerings at The Virtuous Well, August 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of fabric offerings at The Virtuous Well, Trellech
Kirsty Hall: Offerings at The Virtuous Well, August 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of fabric offerings at The Virtuous Well, Trellech
Kirsty Hall: Offerings at The Virtuous Well, August 2008

I read one review of the well that decried the modern cloutie rags because some of the fabric is man-made. But I loved them all. There’s a raw honesty to this sort of spontaneous folk installation that I find very appealing.

While it might be better if people thought ahead and brought biodegradable offerings, I love that people aren’t constrained by what might be thought as proper but instead offer the item that they are moved to leave. While many of the offerings have obviously been deliberately chosen, I suspect that many people find the well by accident and leave what they have on them in an instinctive response to the existing offerings. It certainly explains the hair ties and beads.

And really, who cares if it isn’t ‘authentic’? It’s far more important to me that this place is still in ceremonial use. And who gets to define authenticity anyway? Perhaps the person leaving a sock was genuinely trying to heal their foot? Perhaps the grimy, slowly rotting underpants were originally part of a fertility ritual! There was no graffiti on or near the well and there was no rubbish lying around. Everything that had been left had been done so neatly, carefully and reverently. Sure, some of the offerings could be seen as irreverent but the way they were placed suggested that they weren’t. Surely authenticity isn’t something that’s set in stone but is, instead, a reflection of what people actually do.

Should I have gone and removed all the artificial objects from the tree in a futile longing for some sort of sacred or environmental purity? I don’t have that right. And I simply don’t want to. If folk customs such as leaving rags at wells are not to fade into obscurity then I think we need to accept that they will change and that some people will leave cotton Tibetan prayer flags while others will leave neatly tied plastic bags. And taking the long view, perhaps one day future archaeologists will unearth ‘inauthentic’ plastic beads and fragments of polyester ribbon that have fallen from the tree and been buried in the earth and they will know that this was once a sacred well. For all its wonderful qualities, cloth made from natural fibres is in pretty short supply in archaeology, especially in somewhere as damp as Britain…

That question of the Authentic isn’t an easy one to examine – but look out for future posts trying to get a handle on it.

(NB – Her art and words copyright to Kirsty Hall on a Creative Commons license – see her site for forther details.)


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.