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Journal archives: August

November 16, 2004

More Bookshopping

Following my earlier comments about the vagaries of hunting through London's bookshops I have to report a successful recent trawling. My first stop was Treadwells where I left a whole heap of old occult 'zines and various other bits 'n' pieces from the Eighties. So if anyone out there is hunting for, say, the first issue of Nox magazine, or Nick Hall's Chaos and Sorcery drop them a line. Having dropped off, I felt in need of another wander through the emporiums branching out from the main artery of Charing Cross Road.
My first stop was Waktins in Cecil Court. Established in 1894, Watkins has one of the best selections of Indological studies in London, ranging from the general to the highly arcane. Even the second-hand section is good - I've picked up occasional rarities there in the past, such as Agehananda Bharati's Light at the Centre and Miranda Shaw's Passionate Enlightenment. This time I acquired The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India and a little book entitled Sri Chakra which, amongst other things, gives details on the various Shaktis inhabiting the Sri Yantra. This sort of work is quite rare, as the only other work I am aware of on which deals with Sri Yidya in any depth is Douglas Renfrew Brooks' Auspicious Wisdom which is a little heavy going, to say the least.
Onwards then. I managed to get in and out of Blackwells and Borders without incident, although I was slightly miffed by the fact that the former had had a shift-around of sections so I was initially disorientated. Popping over the road into Foyles I found that they'd finished their mammoth refurbishment and all the old chaos has been ripped out and replaced by neatly-labelled shelves. After spending only about half an hour in there (a personal record!), I emerged clutching Realworld InDesignCS, a kind of work-cum-personal purchase, as I will shortly be writing a series of Advertising design tutorials for some of the production staff so getting to grips with InDesign is a priority. I have to be careful with computer manuals. I tend to buy them in the sudden grip of enthusiasm for getting to grips with a particular package, then after the initial buzz wears off, they just take up shelf space or end up in my office.
Out of Foyles, I headed up to Silicon Alley to purchase a USB flash drive. And guess what? Two days later after buying a 64mb flash drive, I get given not one, but two more. One emblazoned with the logo of Lufthansa and the other, vaguely curved in a way that is dimly suggestive of a 747, from Boeing. Flash drives are this year's freebie givaways from the big companies. It makes a change from pens, desk diaries and inflatable A320s though - freebies that are actually 'useful'.
Finally, I wandered in the direction of my old workplace - The Atlantis Bookshop - and on the way, I thought, "what the hell, I'll just pop into Unsworths on the offchance." Now back in October, I'd looked in vain for Hugh Urban's The Economics of Ecstasy and had, this very day, asked Christina at Treadwells to order me a copy. So what do I find on getting to Unsworths' shelf on Hindu studies? Two copies of The Economics of Ecstasy discounted from 45 quid to 11.95. Whoopee!
Lastly, Atlantis. I've been avoiding Atlantis for a while as I'd promised them months ago I'd do a review of the re-issue of Steve Wilson's Chaos Ritual. Being too busy with other things, I've 'farmed it out' to a mate to review, and with one thing and another, it hasn't happened yet, so I was feeling a little guilty. Still, it was a good thing I did go in, as it turned out that Geraldine had suggested to the organisers of this year's Pagan Federation Conference that I'd be a good speaker for them this year. Dunno if this'll actually happen, but it was a nice gesture for which I'm grateful. At Atlantis I bought Now that's what I call Chaos Magick! by Julian Vayne & Greg Humphries. After which it was time to call it a day.

November 11, 2004

Revolt into style?

I'm currently reading Karen McCarthy Brown's Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn - a really enthralling book that is just streets ahead of anything I've ever seen by "occult" writers on the subject of Vodou. Brown is one of the "new wave" of academics who do not shy from placing themselves as subjects within their narratives so that their own feelings, experiences, etc., are part of the story. I've read quite a few works that take this approach recently - Meena Khandelwal's Women in Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu Renunciation being another fine example - and the more I read them, the less inclined I am to go back to reading 'occult' books, which tend to be dreary and simplistic in comparison.

Occult web boards and magazines periodically resound to cries of writers advocating some kind of "occult revolution" - the desire to find a new direction or ethos. Of course, this has been going on ever since the advent of Chaos Magic in the late '70's. If anything, I feel what's needed is a "revolution" in how texts are "written".

Something that tends to get missed in occult texts is the "human touch". Discussions of theory (or at least opinion that gets elevated to the status of 'theory') and techniques are all very well, but what tends to be left unsaid is just why an author did a particular thing at a particular time, or how they felt about it, or how things didn't pan out exactly as they expected. In other words, the context in which something is done. Occasionally, I've heard this kind of writing dismissed as being merely "anecdotal", but I feel that the autobiographical approach to writing about magic is, if anything, more interesting than the more common, third-person presentation of ideas, which distances the writer (and reader) from what's being presented. In some ways, occult writing hasn't moved on much from Theosophists such as "Bishop" Charles Leadbeater and Alice Bailey, who presented accounts of cosmic laws and spiritual sciences. This is still a dominant approach - it's just that the lingo has changed somewhat. Interesting that in this age of so-called cultural relativism and multiple perspectives, there's still a perceived need for Cosmic Laws and unassailable Truths.

Actually though, its often the more general notions that actually slip by without being questioned overmuch. I call these notions the "givens" - the beliefs that are just accepted and never really thoroughly critiqued, and so, as Pete Carroll once quipped: ...pass from book to book without any intervening thought. For some time now, I've been interested in attempting to trace the 'sources' of some beliefs that have achieved the status of being generally accepted. The Chakras are an obvious example, and that was the subject of my last lecture at Treadwells where one of the themes I was attempting to get to grips with was the difference between "historical" Indian representations of Chakras (i.e. what one finds in yer actual Indian esoteric texts) and modern Western-based interpretations, which owe more to the aforementioned C.W Leadbeater, Jung, or Barbara Anne Brennan. The lecture will eventually be turned into a series of articles for this site, so I'll leave it at that for now. As I said earlier, I don't tend to read many "occult" books nowadays, but the last few I have read all had the obligatory section on the chakras. I wonder sometimes where this sort of formulaic presentation is coming from? Is it from the publishers? "Look kid, we really like your manuscript. You're gonna be big. But before we go forwards you're gonna have to have a chapter on Chakras. Oh yeah, and you haven't talked about "energies" enough either. Gotta give the public what they want y'know ... more of the same."

Hopefully Jason Louv's forthcoming Generation Hex will be a breath of fresh air.

On another note, apologies to anyone who's sent me email via the site recently. My usual tardiness at replying to email has been ramped up to new heights by the death of my computer. The primary hard drive went into a severe decline and eventually just turned up its toes. I managed to archive most of the core data, but its been a bit of a pain nonetheless. A new system is in place, but at the moment, I'm still in the stage of er, "testing out the graphics card" and haven't got down to actually using it for work.