Book of Lies
The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult
Edited by Richard Metzger, 360pp, A4. Available from cafeshops.com
The adult urge to pass acquired information forwards down the genetic line — to educate — is obviously an essential cultural force, relating to creativity itself as the procreative urge relates to the sex drive. Often the latter, while sufficient unto itself, has the practical effect of the former, intense involvement with the present overflowing its own bounds and spilling gifts into the future. Sometimes the two work powerfully together, becoming one, future-consciousness inspiring present efforts. Richard Metzger writes in his introduction to this latest Disinformation collection of occultural writings:
When you are in the book publishing business, at a certain point — hopefully early on — you need to ask yourself "Who is going to read this book? Who is it for?" This anthology is for the person who is like I was back then …
This was certainly a core motivation when I started writing and publishing, and for me the notion has fascinating wider correspondences: in the occult, we find the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel as Future Self, stretching an ethereal helping hand back through time in a paradoxical loop of self-help; in eschatology, we have Terence McKenna's vision of humans as "flesh, which has been caught in the grip of some kind of an attractor that lies ahead of us in time, and that is sculpting [us] to its ends" (Alien Dreamtime).
Here, the impulse is directed forwards in time, to new generations, but given a reverse-flow flavour through the conscious connection made between these successors and past self of the educator. No doubt this bootstrapping impulse will grow ever more intense, and manifest in more bizarre forms, over the coming years.
I digress. This book is, in the tradition of RE/Search and Rapid Eye, an energetic and usefully self-conscious access point, drawing together various strands of occult and subcultural theory, practice, history, art and philosophy to provide a profusion of gateways to further exploration. As such, it succeeds very well.
However, its back cover self-description (via Grant Morrison's preface) — "a 21st century grimoire, a How To book designed to inspire the young magician-warriors of this new and turbulent century" — belies its dominant concern with now-established icons and themes from the 20th century and earlier. This is history — a history of potent evolutionary currents, but history nevertheless, and far from a "How To book" (although Morrison's own essay on stripped-down practice, 'Pop Magic!' nicely flies the no-nonsense hands-on flag).
Most occultniks past 30 will find little genuine novelty here. Even some "new" material, like the extract from Daniel Pinchbeck's Breaking Open The Head ("something I had despaired of seeing again after the untimely death of Terence McKenna, an instant classic of drug literature" says Metzger), seems to demonstrate how the bar has been lowered. There seems to be a sheen of newness, but no real revelation.
To be fair, we're not even a decade into this new century, and western culture has recently been strangely bereft of the kind of obvious surges of youthful energy, like punk and rave culture, that catalyse genuinely new configurations of thinking — or at least, new styles that are interesting enough to act as fertile frameworks for new thinking, for a time. Disinformation are performing a necessary cultural task at a very difficult time, where novelty has grown outwardly shy in the face of a voracious mainstream. With no wider "wave" to ride, and with a mainstream increasingly intelligent and skilled in its absorption of errant flows of information, collating inspiring currents must be an uphill struggle — let alone scraping together new ideas.
(It's interesting, though, to consider the notion that "new ideas", in the sense we're used to them, as culturally transmittable memes, may in some way be running out. This doesn't preclude novelty; it just means that our frontiers are more to do with the application of ideas than the generation of new ones. Assuming a true commitment to application, high street bookstores have for decades contained enough information to shake the world.)
Whether you think staples — such as Genesis P-Orridge's 'Thee Splinter Test', McKenna's 'Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness', Nevill Drury's reflections on Austin Spare and Rosalee Norton, and extracts from Phil Hine's Condensed Chaos and Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger — deserve another breath of life in print may well depend on your tastes. However, it seems more important to neglect Grant Morrison's misleading blurb and accept Book of Lies as an "Occult History 101" primer for aspiring young magicians. Given such a perspective, these reprints seem to me to be pretty essential.
Despite my familiarity with most of the themes in here, many pieces sparked off fresh enthusiasm for them. Joe Coleman's brief description of the ritualistic processes behind his paintings cast them in a whole new light. Reading about his lack of active construction in his apparently obsessively "composed" works invigorates one's faith in the ability of the Whole to take care of itself — given, that is, our undivided attention to the Parts.
Genesis P-Orridge's new essay on Burroughs, Gysin, cut-ups and magick, 'Magick Squares and Future Beats', is possibly one of his most interesting elucidations of this crucial influence in his work. He details how his meetings with these people acted as formative influences in his magickal concepts, and in turn, as ever, works to validate them as true figures of the occult, rather than of "mere literature". The piece's conceptual frame — a perspective on reality as "tape recording" that deals with how our selves are falsely constructed by our parents' images of us — really adds vitality to the topic at hand.
The extract from Brian Barritt's 'The Road of Excess', relating his mightily strange trip in the Moroccan desert with Tim Leary, and the resonances they find between themselves and Crowley/Neuberg and Dee/Kelly, acts as a transformative glue in the anthology. It vibrantly brings to life the notion of occult lineages, and deals directly with the current (in the widest sense) that Book of Lies, right from the title itself, consciously locates itself in.
A major failing becomes apparent, though, when we reach the section entitled "Scarlet Women". Marjorie Cameron, Ida Craddock and Rosalee Norton are lumped together to represent the female sex under an oft-contested, probably out-of-date image of "the magickal female". Outdated, at least, as a lone pigeon-hole. New sexualities — in the psychological and social sense — are a vital, often central part of occultural evolution. To read Book of Lies you'd be forgiven for wondering if Annie Sprinkle, and the wide-ranging post-seventies advances in sexual knowledge and permutations that she represents so well, ever happened. Richard Metzger's lionisation of Jack Parsons as the "James Dean of the Occult" may or may not succeed in sparking younger magicians' enthusiasm for their predecessors. However, on reading the pieces on Majorie Cameron and Ida Craddock (both highlights of this collection), his declaration that "Abbie Hoffman, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos and Che Guevara seem total pussies in comparison [with Parsons]" seemed hollow. Next to these women, suddenly Parsons appeared to be the one lacking balls.
The regular Thelemic acknowledgement of female sexuality informs this volume, then. But there is a strange absence of sex in a post-seventies occult context, female or male, gay or straight or whatever.
To run through the noteworthy remains... Boyd Rice's investigations into the Grail legend uncover some interesting mythological threads, to be taken with a pinch of salt; P.R. Koenig give the Caliphate O.T.O. a thorough dressing-down; Tau Allen Greenfield provides an interesting, heretical history of Gardnerian Wicca; and Hakim Bey, in the reprints 'Sorcery' and 'Media Hex', makes others' use of "anti-copyright" seem optimistic, and his own very generous.
A few pieces failed to do much for me. Paul Laffoley's 'Memento Mori' seemed promising, but it gets bogged down in (instead of invigorated by) personal idiosyncrasies. Robert Mason's 'The Advent of Ahriman', summarising some of Rudolf Steiner's "spiritual science" work, is an admirable attempt to encapsulate the modern era in a mythological framework which ultimately fails through taking itself too seriously. More precisely, it confuses the gravity of the situation at hand with the gravity of the model used to make sense of it. And the curious final note, Stephen Edred Flowers' 'The Secret of the Gothick God of Darkness', touches on interesting ideas relating the transmission of spiritual currents to the physical transmission of DNA, but really seems too narrow a perspective (smacking of American over-emphasis on pagan heritage in Europe) with which to round off an ostensibly wide-ranging volume.
In all, while anyone who's been exploring the occult for a decade or more may not find much here to really raise those jaded eyebrows, as an occult history primer for those just dipping their toes in, Book of Lies is — boy-bias notwithstanding — a fine place to start. Disinformation's upcoming Generation Hex looks like it may be the book that Grant Morrison wanted; together with this collection, it could act as a potent trigger for new mutations.
- Gyrus, 15/2/04