Zines and Comics and Anthologies, oh my!

I thought I’d post a round up on my personal blog of a few things I’ve been doing, so you can check them out if you’re not following along with my other projects elsewhere. Of course, all but the first are things you could purchase as gifts for yourself or others, and you’d be helping to support the creation of more things like these. Just sayin’.

Back in May, I posted the first Reader’s Theatre for Hermetic Library.

In June, I released the first ever Hermetic Library Zine. Each zine is a wild and wooly whatever of occultura and esoterrata compiled together, generally related to Hermetic Library’s overall mission of archiving, engaging and encouraging the living Western Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism, and Aleister Crowley’s Thelema.

Back in October, I released BENT BROKEN BEAUTIFUL, from the Odd Order Anthology Project. This was the first ever release from the project, has 14 tracks by 13 artists, all new voices for this inaugural issue.

In November, over at the library I released two things: a collected volume of comics from Inktober and the second issue of the zine.

Finally, on the 20th anniversary of the birth of Hermetic Library, on December 3rd, I released an absolute monster issue of Magick, Music and Ritual 12, with 45 tracks by 41 artists.

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Witches of Lychford

Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford starts out weakly, with what felt like a complex fictional world only superficial developed and told in a rather pedestrian way. I had to go back and check to be sure this wasn’t intended to be a YA novel. But, it develops some fun. It’s kind of like an episode of Buffy, but without the effervescent dialog. The overall story is about a small town facing a big box retailer’s attempt to move in, but this happens in a town with both a paranormal history and a band of nascent defenders, further the big box campaign turns out to be orchestrated by the Big Bad. The titular witches, although not explicitly itemized, interestingly to me, includes a witch, a skeptical new age shop owner, and a new vicar. There’s some interesting themes about finding various faiths in the face of catastrophe and evil. Half way through I wouldn’t have been interested in the sequel, but in the end I enjoyed this enough to be curious. All in all, Witches of Lychford is not as engrossing or developed or thoughtful as Heuvelt’s HEX by lateral comparison, but it was a good enough for a bit of quick escapism.

Paul Cornell Witches of Lychford

I made 28 highlights.

Theoretical Animals

I picked up Gary J Shipley’s Theoretical Animals because a quote from something else Shipley wrote related to Cyclonopedia Studies came up in a conversation so I wanted to check out a full work by him. I got this one because it was an inexpensive short ebook. This turns out to be literary performance art; it has merits but also isn’t for everyone. In editing something, I suppose, there’s a choice whether to fine tune and sharpen the story into a concise narrative or to go the other way and obfuscate and bloat the shit out of it. Don’t get me wrong, both have merits; but Shipley picked and stayed his particular course for this one. For this story, with interesting reflections for me of Farmer’s Riverworld in that there’s a kind of artificial stream of humanity stuck in a mysterious situation, Shipley went for obfuscation. There was lots of interesting turns of phrase, though the vocabulary was not dense; but the story, for me, got lost in a generally unsuccessful experimental outcome. On the other hand, this may be of timely interest to those watching the remake of Westworld, as it has a certain trippy theme of who’s a real human among those stuck in an artificial world … but with more cannibalism and bodies floating in the waters of this Lethean hellscape.

Gary J Shipley Theoretical Animals

I made 89 highlights.

The Assassin’s Road

I’d actually read Kazuo Koike’s and Goseki Kojima’s The Assassin’s Road, volume 1 of Lone Wolf and Cub, with a cover by Frank Miller, back in the late 80’s. I had a friend that introduced me to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, and ended up checking this out as well, probably due to the cover; but I’d also actually already seen one of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies years before.

I was trying to think of a good way to describe the main character in Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf and Cub series, and of course it’s pretty obvious to me that there’s a reflection of Dark Knight here, which probably explains the attraction for Frank Miller and perhaps some influence as well. The main character is an über-mench who outsmarts, out-fights, and out-darks everyone he comes to face; and he’s got hidden tricky gadgets. Cub is even a parentless side-kick who sometimes helps out in a minimal and comedic way.

But, either way, whether there’s an overall similarity for you as there is for me, the specifics are the story. The main character is an anti-hero. He doesn’t really start that way, but it sure turns out that way as this volume progresses. He’s a mary-sue of appearing to be an anonymous underdog but turning out to have been a better prepared and better skilled veiled personage than anyone that mistakes his reserve and self-control for weakness instead of cold and tempered steel revenge. He’ll fuck you up, son. He’ll also let you die if you’re a complication or not worth his notice, so that sucks for you. He’s a right shit at only putting effort into getting to his goal, and you’re in the way today which means it’s your time to die. He’ll stand by while that happens because you’re not important to his story. You got what you deserved, apparently, for being meaningless in his scheme of things.

I don’t know if the language in the original Japanese was compelling, but it’s pretty minimal and not a reason to pick this series up. The story is good, the art is better, but the dialog is underwhelming in translation. The dialog services the story and plot, but that’s about all. It’s not literature, at least, not in English as it appears here.

The art is surprisingly minimal and folksy, but really does something amazing about providing details of environment and expressions; simplicity that provides complexity. There’s plenty of those peculiar moments of non-action action that I love much in other Japanese art and anime, and seems only to be found delivered with confidence there.

All in all, a worthy reputation was earned by this work of art, and I find myself with renewed interest in the following volumes, which I didn’t ever read, as well as not only my beloved Kurosawa movies, but also interest in even re-approaching things like Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, which I also read one volume of and then lost interest, I know not why.

Where is this Eight Gates of Deceit? Looks like a ritual! I want to go to there. Someone needs to write this ritual so I can go to it.

Koike Lone Wolf and Cub 1 Eight Gates of Deceit

Hey, I wonder if O-nibawan (meaning Spy, or “government-employed undercover agents established by the 8th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684–1751). They are sometimes described as ‘ninja’.”) is where Obi-wan Kenobi’s name comes from?

Koike Lone Wolf and Cub 1 O-niwaban

Koike Lone Wolf and Cub 1

Her Scales Shine Like Music

Pleasant language pleasantly written, with a few pleasant word surprises, and an interesting future world built quickly in Her Scales Shine Like Music, a short by Rajnar Vajra, was worth reading, though the very end left me slightly underwhelmed as it didn’t feel quite right to me. Seemed to me that the very end would have been more interesting and thought provoking and possibly poignant if ………(spoiler: hover over to reveal)……………….. so as to leave me feeling and wondering more than it did.

Rajnar Vajra Her Scales Shine Like Music

I made 4 highlights and noted 2 errors.

The Sons of Osiris

The idea behind this little ebook-only release is pretty awesome. This little ebook-only release is a fucking embarrassment. This ebook is part of a series Weiser Books put out a few years ago that was a combination of re-packaged, but notable and not readily available, public domain material selected by Lon Milo DuQuette and several Freemasonic side-degrees selected from a private collection, each with a little intro essay by DuQuette. But, it is completely plain that whomever was responsible for producing these at Weiser Books didn’t even bother to so much as glance at the text between simply running source pages through an OCR and quickly pasting the unchecked output into the template for the series.

I picked up several of these, mentioned them on the library blog when they came out, but I have not read any of them after slogging my way through a couple that revealed the trouble was endemic to the series, not just one book in it. I only made three highlights in The Sons of Osiris: A Side Degree. Two were errors that made me laugh aloud, and the third was a particular point in DuQuette’s introductory essay that is of note. This specific book isn’t unreadable, but it is so riddled with enough errors that it hurts to read.

First off, they didn’t even fill in the placeholder text on the copyright page. I mean: they didn’t minimally put in even that much effort.

Originally published as (or excerpted from) [insert original author, title, publisher, and year]

In the introduction, which I presume was not written for this book specifically, and vaguely recall appears as the introduction in another side-degree issue in this series, Lon writes:

What is of primary importance is that the master key to the initiatory method itself becomes a permanently installed fixture in the individual. Once we have learned the process of becoming something greater than we are, we can and eventually will, apply that same alchemy to ourselves to achieve the supreme attainment.

Now this has to be a curious statement that has stuck with me and percolated. The suggestion here seems that it isn’t the Mysteries, the specific content of an initiation, that matters so much as the experience of mystery and the internalizing the overall initiatory process as a lesson. It’s not the content, but the experience of the structure; and internalizing that meta-level of initiation. Lon said something in one of his in-person classes that struck me similarly as an odd thing when, I don’t have my notes at hand at the moment to be more clear or to phrase this how he said it, he suggested that learning the Kabbalah was about getting the ego self out of the way with busy work so it didn’t get in the way of the Work. That and this seem to me to be similar. Isn’t it odd in ostensibly extolling Kabbalah in a class about Kabbalah, Lon says learning Kabbalah isn’t about Kabbalah per se and in talking about initiation Lon says initiation isn’t about the initiation or the particular symbol and meaning system internal to the initiation per se; rather, both are about the meta-level effect of either giving the self busy work so it doesn’t get in the way or of having the experience of the initiatory method which one can internalize. The latter reminds me of something I’ve been known to say about the initiation experience being a way to become comfortable with the uncomfortable experience of not knowing, meaning that there’s a meta-level benefit to the experience (which, I’ve suggested, one wouldn’t get from just a reading of the script or, moreover, ever get from the experience if one read the script beforehand); but, there’s more to this that that. If I ever do an interview for the library with Lon, this will be something I’d love to discuss with him. But, it’s something, if even the only, I’ve felt was a great takeaway from this book and I’ve had in my thoughts ever since.

Then, buried under the bulk of not-at-all amusing textual and formatting errors, I still laugh when I think about Zeus and his “frank incense”.

ZEUS.—“Now spray him with the frank incense of the gods.”

I see and hear Laurence Olivier in full Clash of the Titans costume booming this line out and it just totally cracks me up. Another thing that I imagine from this is some awesome Rocky Horror style audience participation in these side degrees. There’s a little voice in the audience of my imagination that calls back “Don’t laugh!” or “Don’t call me Frank, Shirley!” or something each time I recall this mistake in the text.

Weiser Books hasn’t even corrected a mistake in the Amazon detail text, and this ebook was released in 2012. It’s been like that for years. Obviously, no one has looked at this either, so, you know, par for the course.

Lon Milo DuQuette Sons of Osiris Amazon detail

Apparently no one gives enough of a crap to fix even that, flapping in the wind for all who might otherwise be tempted into purchasing the book to see, let alone to have done it well in the first place. Furthermore as far as I can tell there’s never been an update to the text of the book itself either. A quick glance at the current “Look Inside!” for this book displays this exact same error I highlighted still on the first pages. I can’t bring myself to look further lest I relive the horror because, it turns out by page one of the preview text, it’s even worse than I remember. They didn’t even fill in the copyright year placeholder for their own cover!

Lon Milo DuQuette Sons of Osiris look inside

This is just an awful disappointment, and as much as the source material could be of fun for people to read; there is no way I can recommend this book to anyone. And, unfortunately, this is not the only book I read in the series with egregious errors. There’s another book in the series with many more errors than this one. I’m embarrassed for Weiser Books and embarrassed for Lon Milo DuQuette as his name is attached to this series.

Wish I had access to the source material, in the private collection from which this was curated, so I could put it up on the library because I’d actually proofread it. These side degree rituals are actually of interest both in and of themselves but also something that local bodies of Whatever∴ Whatever∴ & The Other Thing∴ could put on for fun and enjoyment in a local body or something.

But, no. Don’t bother with this edition unless you’ve a strong stomach for dealing with extremely distracting copyediting errors.

Lon Milo DuQuette Sons of Osiris

I made only 3 highlights, all mentioned above, and submitted 60 corrections.

Lost Horizon

I’ve seen the Lost Horizon movies, both 1937 and 1973 versions at least a couple times, but for some reason I’d not picked up James Hilton’s actual 1933 novel. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Of course, this is a classic that introduces mysterious Shangri-La. The book’s framing story sets up the sense of verisimilitude for the narrative in a fun way, provides an instant sense of discovering something through the obscuring mists of memory. The framing story also gives a good sense of longing for what was lost and the sense that the quest is ongoing for everyone, to some degree, no matter how lightly touched by the experience. I felt there was an noir quality to it. There’s essentially a detective story here that unravels a mystery but I was surprised how amusing I found the dialog in places.

I was a bit uncomfortable with the main protagonist and another plot element fulfilling the white saviour trope twice. And there’s an under-developed escape from sexism in the coda that feels like a bit of a let down to me. I mean, it’s a solid story per se, but I guess I feel it doesn’t really rise above the time it was written in some particular aspects. In others, such as the voice and tone of narration and dialog, I felt surprised by how modern it felt to me in spite of being written over 80 years ago.

The philosophical underpinning of Shangri-La should be amusing to those familiar with other quasi-religious abbeys, and while it doesn’t dive into “Fais ce que veulx” territory, there’s another different sense here of interest to those, like me, who ever wondered on which word the emphasis falls in the phrase “all things in moderation”.

“If I were to put it into a very few words, my dear sir, I should say that our prevalent belief is in moderation. We inculcate the virtue of avoiding excess of all lands—even including, if you will pardon the paradox, excess of virtue itself. In the valley which you have seen, and in which there are several thousand inhabitants living under the control of our order, we have found that the principle makes for a considerable degree of happiness. We rule with moderate strictness, and in return we are satisfied with moderate obedience. And I think I can claim that our people are moderately sober, moderately chaste, and moderately honest.”

and

“I can only add that our community has various faiths and usages, but we are most of us moderately heretical about them.”

Lost Horizon is a good casual read, but becomes a welcome addition to the list of remote mountain / travel spirituals with Franz Hartmann’s earlier (both in terms of being written in 1910 and in having been read by me just recently) With The Adepts, perhaps John Uri Lloyd’s 1897 Etidorhpa and, no doubt, plenty others that come to mind, more or less contemporary, such as René Daumal’s unfinished 1959 Mount Analogue and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 The Holy Mountain.

James Hilton Lost Horizon

I found a lot of interest here as I made 152 highlights.

Nightmare Abbey

As I read Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, published in 1818, I kept seeing this story in my mind’s eye as a darker Dahl, Tim Burton stop action, Fallen London thingy. It felt like one of those modern period pieces. Surprisingly modern to the point of seeming anachronistic to the setting and the period in which it was actually written.

I quite enjoyed the story for itself but also I went a bit highlight crazy on this one because of all the fun thoughts Peacock had about his Romantic friends and milieu, especially Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley & al.

There’s a wonderful sense of bedroom farce absurdity here with the comedy of slamming doors in the face of attempts by the main characters to hook up in some combination, though amusingly the idea of a plural arrangement as a solution to the conundrum is actually contemplated, though dismissed. The whole is only more delicious in that it hides a glimpse of how contemporary society, and Peacock, saw the Shelleys.

I enjoyed the author having a fun poke at friends, society and culture around him. And, there are plenty of amusing little digs at the aspirational political science of the age, which at that time was quite heavily flavoured with active and contemporary Illuminati and Rosicrucian groups.

“He began to devour romances and German tragedies, and, by the recommendation of Mr Flosky, to pore over ponderous tomes of transcendental philosophy, which reconciled him to the labour of studying them by their mystical jargon and necromantic imagery. In the congenial solitude of Nightmare Abbey, the distempered ideas of metaphysical romance and romantic metaphysics had ample time and space to germinate into a fertile crop of chimeras, which rapidly shot up into vigorous and abundant vegetation.

He now became troubled with the passion for reforming the world. He built many castles in the air, and peopled them with secret tribunals, and bands of illuminati, who were always the imaginary instruments of his projected regeneration of the human species. As he intended to institute a perfect republic, he invested himself with absolute sovereignty over these mystical dispensers of liberty. He slept with Horrid Mysteries under his pillow, and dreamed of venerable eleutherarchs and ghastly confederates holding midnight conventions in subterranean caves.”

And there is some solid satire about the method of groups like Weishaupt’s Illuminati, which was a contemporary movement when this was written, in spreading the Enlightenment through authoritarian, even paternal, means and structures.

“Knowledge is power; it is in the hands of a few, who employ it to mislead the many, for their own selfish purposes of aggrandisement and appropriation. What if it were in the hands of a few who should employ it to lead the many? What if it were universal, and the multitude were enlightened? No. The many must be always in leading-strings; but let them have wise and honest conductors.”

Of course, the spreading Enlightenment triggered much larger and less controlled revolution ultimately than such organizations could actually manage. But, for those interested in such things as I am, there is plenty of material like this in the rest of the work to find this an amusing and enjoyable experience.

I picked up the free version of Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, so I didn’t get the advantage of reading a critical essay about the allegorical nature of the characters. You should get a critical edition, or do some reading online, to get the full flavour of the biting satire and commentary.

Thomas Love Peacock Nightmare Abbey

I made 180 highlights and submitted only 15 corrections, mostly formatting issues.

Off to Be the Wizard

I picked up this series over a year ago but accidentally waited to read Off to Be the Wizard until after it had not only been revised but also upgraded to Kindle-in-Motion, which includes additional art and animation by Liz Pulido, and I quite enjoyed that added bit of flair.

Shades of both reality-in-a-simulation Matrix and humor-behind-the-magic-curtain Myth-Adventures, the story follows what happens when the main character discovers one ultimate secret about reality, and the silliness, with occasional seriousness, that ensues. I enjoyed the idea of technical reality manipulation and time travel, exploring the necessary implications and complications, the setting and situations, and the well-developed characters in dialog; and am pleasantly excited to check out the next installment … but find myself hoping that the subsequent books are upgraded by the time I get to them.

Scott Meyer Liz Pulido Off to Be the Wizard

I made 77 highlights.

Doriana: Succubus at Large!

B L Lacertae’s Doriana is a sequence of three shorter stories about a succubus on vacation, undercover as a librarian, who accidentally becomes a dominatrix for kicks … as one does. I loved the worldbuilding, snarky tone of the main and diabolical character as narrator, and occasional self-aware self-deprecation breaking the fourth wall. Most of that was in the first part, and I could almost recommend stopping there. The second part was almost entirely simple erotica with barely any of the fun narrative frame. The third part finally warmed up to a welcome return to the narrative frame of the main character, and a suitable escalation. A quick and dirty quickly dirty read, with a fun and funny framing story that was the actual worthy part in and of itself.

B L Lacertae Doriana

I made 33 highlights. I didn’t keep track of errors, but there were some.

The Mindful Geek

I picked up The Mindful Geek by Michael W Taft because Al Billings was talking about it. After finishing it, I feel like up until now I’ve been lied to about the purpose, techniques, and outcomes of meditation. I mean, that’s okay, but, if you’re not seriously into meditation and already have had this epiphany long ago, I can recommend this is as a great practical compelling introduction to revolutionize something you probably think you already know about. I feel like my understanding of the purpose, techniques, and outcomes of meditation has been revolutionized.

You can pick up a free copy of this book, and find downloadable audio of the exercises, at the author’s site The Mindful Geek. After reading the book and awkwardly doing the exercises on my own with half an eye on the text, I made a playlist of the audio files. I shuffle the playlist when I set aside time, so I get a random exercise each time I sit during daily practice. But, the important point is that the book and audio files are all free. Check them out, and consider enhancing, or adding this to, your daily practice.

The amply supported discussion of the outcomes for mindfulness meditation described by Taft are grounded neurobiological improvements in concentration and depth of the complex interconnections between physical human sensations, thoughts and emotions. The crux is that Taft details how mindfulness practice has been shown to actually and practically grow the part of the human brain that allows for greater focus and deeper, broader human experience. This is entirely different than the outcomes I have heard espoused in the past. This is an entirely more welcome outcome than I have heard espoused in the past. This revelation alone is enough to recommend this book.

I admit most of my experience has been with the idea that meditation was a tool to clear the mind of thoughts. The techniques outlined by Taft in this book are clear and concise methods to practice focus and depth with thoughts, emotions and feelings. This isn’t mindlessness practice. This isn’t a practice to stop the mind. This isn’t a practice of body hate or combat to kill sensation or volunteering for deliberate extended body torture. This is a set of practices that increase skills with and capacity for focus and depth with one’s mind, body, and emotions.

Even Crowley when talking about “awareness, one-pointedness, mind-fullness” in On Concentration still suggests, and frankly kind of muddling what Hatha Yoga actually was as a precursory practice to prepare the body for and not the same as meditation, “to stop the mind altogether. That is Yoga.” And suggests the idea is to “sit down in Asana to quiet your mind.” However, the discussion of focus in this volume seems to me quite in line with other supporting statements that come to my mind about concentration and focus.

“Your nail must be hard, smooth, fine-pointed, or it will not move swiftly in the direction willed. Imagine then a nail of tinder-wood with twenty points—it is verily no longer a nail. Yet nigh all mankind are like unto this.”—Liber CL, De Lege Libellum

This further revelation of the practical neurobiological outcomes of this practice for me is even more important, I think. The outcome of increasing depth and breadth of being human potential for thought, sensation, and emotion revealed here should hearten every practitioner. But, specifically, as part of leading toward an overall clear, concise and unobfuscated practice of sex magick, the outcome of strengthening the neurobiological capacity for focus and sensation should be obviously desirable.

“Wisdom says: be strong! Then canst thou bear more joy. Be not animal; refine thy rapture! If thou drink, drink by the eight and ninety rules of art: if thou love, exceed by delicacy; and if thou do aught joyous, let there be subtlety therein! But exceed! exceed!”—Liber AL, II, 70–71

Taft has offered here a practical discourse that is quite literally and precisely “the method of science, the aim of religion”, a phrase familiar to readers of Crowley material and here reified. All obfuscation and frou-frou of superstition is keenly stripped from the nitty-gritty details and a case is made clear that practical application of the techniques will bring about outcomes worthy of one’s work.

I was surprised to connect the discussion in this book to New Thought. If one ignored the cruft and superstition, New Thought’s admonition to breathe deeply and engage in positive thinking are, interestingly to me, quite well supported by the practical techniques and proven neurobiological outcomes discussed here.

Another thing I found myself thinking about is a personal hypothesis I’ve long had that damaged people are more interesting, and tend, I think and feel, to be the only people worth talking to. People who have not struggled, not faced hardship and setback, seem to me to be exquisitely boring and useless. As I was reading this book, it occurred to me that the inward facing reaction to strife, the self-examination and inherent reflective practice of hardship in life might be seen as a practice of mindfulness and that creates, as discussed as an outcome of mindfulness practice, an actual neurobiological depth of capacity for thought and emotion and sensation. That which does not kill us, actually does (with apologies to Nietzsche and The Cure) make us stronger; bigger and sleeker and wider and brighter.

Michael W Taft The Mindful Geek

I made 84 highlights and submitted 39 corrections.

Dear NSA

Dear NSA by Harmon Cooper is a collection of more or less purely insane short stories. Stand outs “Pedo Drew” and “Feeding Governor Christie” are worth the sticker price alone for sheer amphetamine wackiness, but there’s more! These are quick reads that have rapid fire internal pacing. Basically, this is a series of fitful indigestion-fueled dreams of a pre-therapy John Cleese funny-walking through your brain.

Harmon Cooper Dear NSA

I made 38 highlights.

The Weirdness

The Weirdness by Jeremy P Bushnell is a terrific twisty toboggan ride of a read. Good thing the author is an instructor because this is a well-crafted writing masterclass in fun fiction.

The protagonist is jerked through a shocking, surprising character arc. There are fun plot twists that change everything. There are several bites of fine, healthy wisdom folded within this narrative confection, but also mixed with some zesty flavor grains of good surreal absurdity. Fun little nods to actual esotericism are just enough chocolate sprinkles on top, but not too much or too literal. The main antagonists have Zelazny’s Amber-level meta-capability compared to the protagonist, and yet, somehow, like Heinlein’s Job, the hero soldiers on through hell, food-service hell, even public-speaking hell, and back, and all with a tidy satisfying aftertaste beyond.

Jeremy Bushnell The Weirdness

I made 69 highlights and submitted no corrections for this book.

Third Time is the Charm

I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut, but I can no longer let certain things go by without comment. I am quite sure I will offend some of the True Faithful, but that cannot be helped.

I am here today to speak aloud these words: J K Rowling is wrong. In fact, not only is she wrong about two things she thinks that she got wrong, but actually got right; Rowling is also wrong about something she thinks she got right, but actually got completely wrong.

Many would have you believe that the wrongs J K Rowling has unleashed on the world are something along the lines of an inappropriately out of the closet Dumbledore, the traumatic death of Dumbledore (for entirely unrelated reasons to his homosexuality), rampant incipient Satanism and Witchcraft, and any number of those sorts of things. But, no. I’m fine will all that, as should you be as well. I’m talking about more important issues here!

Three strikes and you’re out, right? You know that thing where you write something the first time and then try to re-write it but nothing is better than the first thing you wrote, only now you’ve lost that because of your subsequent changes? Yeah. That. Someone needs to take the pen out of J K Rowling’s hand. She’s drunk and should go home. Let me demonstrate:

The First Wrong of J K Rowling

Oh, so many moons ago, I read that J K Rowling no longer liked the opening to the first book. I can’t quite just now find a reference. But, what I remember is that she wished she had re-written the opening of the first book to be more obvious in genre setting and quicker into the story, instead of the way it appears in print.

She is wrong.

The opening is delightful in how it starts out normal and slowly the increasing number of owls reveals to the reader and the character of Mr Dursley just how abnormal the world really is. I know that there is advice out there, I forget from whom, about making clear in the very first sentence what genre one is in, but I absolutely adore the way normality melts away in the opening of the first book. Moreover, we get to be present at the very moment when Mr Dursley’s sanity dissolves and he becomes unhinged. And, I will abide no loose talk about changing that feature.

The Second Wrong of J K Rowling

Recently, J K Rowling has publicly stated that Harry and Hermione should have gotten together, and she regretted that they didn’t. This is an idea which should be killed in its crib … but, um, successfully this time.

She is wrong.

First off, even if Hermione wanted to end up with Harry at any point, there is no way that Hermione would have stabbed her friend Ginny in the back like that. In order to double-cross Ginny like that Hermione would have to become a selfish narcissist instead of who she was, and that would have been against her very character, and if allowed would have been the beginning of the end for everyone, because without a good-at-heart Hermione everything would have fallen apart and fizzled into infinite darkness under the real Dark Lord.

But, I’d argue that the fact that Harry and Hermione didn’t end up together is part of what helped Harry not turn into his father, and merely repeat the same story as the previous generation acted out. And, all the other characters would have fallen into enacting the same systemic failures demonstrated in the flashbacks and revelations about how completely shitty the Marauders really were to everyone else. Ginny saved Harry, not the other way around; because it was in Harry’s relationship with Ginny that he became a fully functioning and feeling adult; and it was always in Hermione’s hands how this entire story unfolded.

You think I’m overstating that? Let me put it this way: Harry had absolutely no apparent talent of his own until he discovered he was a natural at Quidditch. And, there is no way that Harry would have ever been discovered and joined the team if Hermione hadn’t used a fully functional and useful spell to repair Harry’s glasses in the very first book so Harry could actually see anything at all.

And, there’s no way Hermoine would have ended up with someone with a complete absence of actual magical aptitude … um, okay, at least Ron could play chess and throw gnomes like nobody’s business! And, red hair! They made beautiful babies, so shut up!

In fact, I bet, by the end, Hermione full and well realized that without the Horcrux in his head, Harry Potter was nothing more than a magically inept, whiney rich jock who liked to beat up on goth kids. There’s no way she would have gone for someone like that … well, you know, after she learned her lesson from how it didn’t work out with Victor Krum, anyway.

The Third Wrong of J K Rowling

J K Rowling lost the plot in the end. Yes, the entire end of the series was screwed up. Harry was no hero, for reasons I think I’ve already detailed. So, the only other kid left, and someone mentioned specifically in the books as fulfilling the same prophecy as Harry supposedly did: Neville Longbottom.

Rowling would have you believe that Harry was the hero and saved the day after coming back to life, a pathetic attempt to twist the actual truth and instead turn Harry into a risen Christ figure.

She is wrong.

In fact, without the stolen power of the Horcrux in his head and the overly patient coddling of whiz kid Hermione and the army of people around him doing all the actual work, Harry Potter would have been nothing better than how Neville Longbottom is portrayed throughout most of the series. But even still, the truth will out. You cannot deny that Neville Longbottom steps up, grows a pair, and stands up to Voldemort, and if he had half as much preparation as Harry did there’s no telling what he could have done. Probably have sealed things up behind the scenes of book three while Harry was busy being freaked out about what turns out to be his escaped petting zoo godfather.

In fact, even still, Harry died. That Harry died killed Voldemort’s horcrux in his head and left both Voldemort and Harry relatively powerless, there’s sympathy and contagion between these two that people only vaguely realize, after all. As the inaccurate Rowling version of events unfolded, unless Voldemort went completely off the rails and challenged Harry to a Quidditch match … (Hey, dumber things have been known to happen, people!) there really was no longer any chance for Voldemort at all, really just a matter of time, if he didn’t simply die at that moment the last Horcrux was broken, by Voldemort killing Harry, who is merely a functional and folkloric double of himself. And Harry should have stayed dead, or transformed into the Dark Lord he was always incipiently to become, which would have left Neville Longbottom to fulfill his destiny as the person referenced in the prophecy as the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord, i.e., to kill Zombie Harry, back from the dead to assume his rightful rôle in the succession scheme of evil! And, in a beautiful Delphic-style twist, the assumption that the Dark Lord mentioned in the prophecy refers to Voldemort is simply a mistake only revealed in hindsight: the one who lives is Neville and the Dark Lord is actually what snivelly rich jock Harry of the future cycle of the generational system would become! And, there was some guy named Voldemort who died too, but no one really remembers what he had to do with anything.

And, shit, people, just look at pictures of Neville nowadays and just try to tell me that guy doesn’t look like a real Big Goddamned Hero who pretty much towers over Harry, who went off to become some kind of Auror, like, pshaw, whatever, prance around like a naked pony on stage, and write Beat poetry.

Societies with secrets, security culture and online social media

There’s a post about a new Social Media Code of Conduct for Massachusetts Freemasons [PDF] (HT @Masonictraveller) over at Freemason Information, part of The Beehive series by Fred Milliken. This document mentioned is particularly interesting to me because it touches on some issues I think are important; and the reactions to the document are also interesting. (I’m also more amused than I should be that the date on the original document is May 1st, International Workers’ Day, due to the frisson between seemingly oft conservative Freemasons and the ideas of the, frankly quite often more broadly fraternal to my mind, international workers’ movement; and, also because of the connection between the ideas I’m going to talk about and the direct and indirect history of May Day.)

I should also say that I’m intentionally using the term “society with secrets” here to mean not just Freemasonry, but really any group with secrets that is publicly known. Freemasonry is not a secret society, really, after all. But, like everyone sharing a book or movie recommendation who doesn’t want to reveal the important points of the plot, let alone the ending, Freemasonry does have secrets. (I’ve been meaning to write about my thoughts around “society with secrets vs secret societies” for a long time, but, I suppose the fullness of that topic will remains one of my own secret for now.)

 

The “code of conduct” document itself offers a number of specific directives about how the Freemasonic Grand Lodge of Massachusetts wishes its members to behave online, not just in social media though that’s what the title suggests is the scope.

 

“As a Mason, he must be aware that his postings are a permanent record; therefore, his conduct may influence the world with a positive or a negative opinion about him personally and also about any organizations to which he belongs.”

As the librarian of the Hermetic Library, I can say I’ve received email from people several times wishing my help to remove, alter or obfuscate content they wrote that still appears online.

In some cases, people want their names removed. In some cases, people want the content to go away. In others, they want links to archives of their content removed so that Google stops indexing the linked to archive. In even other cases, people have contacted me to let me know they’ve removed previously written content from their site due to a new role they’ve taken in which those comments aren’t now appropriate, as if the whole of one’s history is merely, and must conform with, the current accidents of the moment (which ironically requires history to constantly be changed to make an illusion). In some cases, it’s clear that the person contacting me is embarrassed by something they’ve written in the past and wants to distance themselves from that; which motive I personally find revolting and pathetic and deceitful. In other cases, the motives are more or less clean, such as needing to manage how others might use past writing as a weapon, how others might twist and misrepresent the past to impune the present person. (You might, or not, be surprised at how much vitriol and willful harassment there is out there, sometimes hidden in back channels and sometimes not, in which cases managing access to one’s information becomes important as a defensive measure against evil, unscrupulous or stalker-y people.) So, there’s a whole gamut of reasons why people seem to want their previous work forgotten.

Interestingly, there may seem a serious disconnect in my own views on this matter. For example, I am viciously adamant about my own right to remove content from services like Facebook, but I am relatively lassez-faire about my content being permanently on display in various revisions at the Wayback Machine. Of course, the primary difference is that Facebook, and corporations like it purporting to offer a service, is in fact constantly and expansively trying to enclose and encumber not just the works of our minds but every hour of our lives in order to control and monetize both; and to that my resistance is very consistent and internally consistent.

 

“Do not identify any Freemason as a member of the Craft unless he has provided his consent, or has already identified himself as such.”

Another of the points in this code of conduct is not to reveal the identity of a member unless they’ve already done so. This point is a big one for many sub-cultures, and is an important one. “Outing” another person is a serious breach of security and etiquette. But, it should also be considered a serious breach to reveal information about not just the identity but also the location and activities of another member, especially to strangers. (This point is a hint at why personally I almost universally refuse to broadcast my future whereabouts or add instant, or even relatively contemporaneous, geolocation data to my content. I also do not participate in any service which is either dedicated to showing my instant location data or where I cannot hide that, even from “friends”, even so far as to eschew instant messaging services in favour of asynchronous email.)

Anyone with any IT security experience should be able to share strong reasons not to succumb to social engineering, revealing important details to not only strangers but even well-known people who should not have some bits of information. Anyone who’s worked in retail or the service industry should be able to confirm how dangerous it can be to reveal personal information or work schedules of co-workers, both about their time at work and their time away from work. Loose lips not only sink ships and breach internal security, but lead to things like stalking and other antisocial behaviour.

I can hardly begin to tell you the times I’ve gotten strange looks and had eyes rolled at me when I’ve tried to educate people about the dangers and dimwittedness of revealing information about not only others but about themselves to strangers. I cannot count on my fingers the number of times I’ve tried to shush someone who’s speaking on the phone to some random stranger who’s just called and to whom they are revealing all kinds of privileged information about someone else’s schedule and whereabouts … It’s just shocking and disheartening to have people I know, or moreover people I’ve cared about, be so dumb about such things. Really, the Pavlovian desperation to respond most people have to phone and electronic communications, and moreover the ease with which most people reveal information (passwords, account information or even just random particulars) to some unknown person as if merely by being on the phone or online imbues some Milgrim-like authority, is something both breathtaking and bizarre to me.

Developing security culture is not just about the security of groups, but is also protecting individuals. I hope those people prone to such information breaches are never in the situation where they learn the hard way by ending up pursued by a stalker, pursued by someone so mentally stunted or backward that they cannot understand the meaning of “no” or even the basic social contract of consent, and then to have information about their activities and whereabouts revealed by themselves or others simply because they didn’t know better. And if that ever happens I hope that nothing seriously harmful happens as a consequence other than learning to be more careful next time, though so many worse things are possible.

Just one more story, of any number of others, about this: At one of the really big Occupy marches in Portland, OR, I have to tell you I cringed every time someone yelled out another person’s name to get their attention. Really? Serious protest foul, that, people!

But, really, the lack of awareness about security culture is a symptom of not having one in the first place. How’s that for a tautology? No, seriously, the adoption of a general security culture could be helped by having serious security culture in subcultural groups, and thus pushing out the wave of adoption by having smaller groups educate and inform their members who then end up bringing that awareness to larger groups and the overall culture in which they each participate. (So, now that you’ve read this, go and find out more so I can pretend I’ve been effective in widening the general awareness of security culture …)

 

The commentary in the post itself, and the comments by readers to that post, over at Freemason Information are interesting to me as well. Primarily the reaction is focused on how some of the points in the code of conduct are just common sense ideas about protocol and etiquette, but there’s also a perception that the code of conduct is an overreaching attempt to control the actions of members. I think this code of conduct document, while not perfect, seems to me a good first step toward building a meaningful and reasonable security culture. The worth of that, at the very least, is as a catalyst to considering and talking about meaningful and reasonable security culture for any subcultural group of people, whether that’s in, to name a few, a fraternal organization, social club, workplace, or, yes, even in one’s own home environment. But, recognizing that such ideas can be seen as unreasonable attempts to control behaviour suggests how important it is to reveal and share the reasoning behind them, and the reasons why they are being suggested.

 

There’s a lot of useful thinking and writing that’s been done on creating security culture, and this post is merely a few initial words on the topic. I wrote a setup document for GnuPG, aimed at members of a society with secrets in which I am involved which has a mandate for the use of encryption which is not supported by a culture in which use of encryption is easy for non-technical users or even has much use in spite of the mandate. In that document I tried to include some background and links to further information about security culture, by way of saying how important it is to at least think about such things in any social group with secrets. In the same way that the encryption requirement by the US Grand Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis is essentially and largely mooted by the apparent lack of implementation among the membership, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has started down a pretty slippery slope of creating mandated behaviour and requirements that it cannot hope to maintain ahead of breaches of conduct, but rather only after the fact in selective punishment against those who happen to get caught. Without a security culture, these rules are mostly meaningless as far as stopping behaviours from happening and are really only rubrics that can be used to evaluate behaviours that have already occurred. In other words, it seems to me, these kinds of guidelines need to be part of a program of proactive education instead of taken as proscriptive measures to control behaviour, and where they are merely the later they should be transformed into the former. Guidelines like these need to create a culture in the implementation not create criminals in the breach.

But really, I think the exposure to the ideas of, and how to create, security culture can offer an essential and necessary set of skills for people in this modern day information age to understand and implement the many overlapping circles of information scope in our lives. (Just as I believe thinking about and deconstructing propaganda models and theory offer essential skills for resisting the influence of not just canonical propaganda but also in resisting the influence of pervasive and invasive marketing and advertising in this Western culture.)

For a general primer, I’d encourage you to check out check out a few documents which stand out in my memory as good initial surveys: Towards a Collective Security Culture, Affinity Groups and Why do you need PGP?.

For further reading, you may be interested in Activism and Security Culture, Security Culture, and Security Culture. Beyond those, I commend you to your favourite search engine for further study.

As a last note, I can’t help but suggest and recommend two works, in no small part because these two are on the list of works that appear in my own thoughts consistently, which I think connect to this post and the broader subject of resistance culture. First, both for the history of the resistance of but also the resistance to the international labor movement, I’d like to suggest an excellent history of Industrial Workers of the World, The Wobblies: The Story of the IWW and Syndicalism in the United States by Patrick Renshaw. And, secondly, for the history and role of Freemasonry in the resistance culture of colonial and early American periods of United States history, Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840 by Steven C. Bullock.

Esoteric & design book sale from my personal library so I can visit New York

I have selected several amazing books of esoteric and design interest from my personal library which I am making available on offer, all in excellent new condition, unless noted otherwise. Where these books are still in print, I have given the list prices. Even if you aren’t in the market for these amazing books, would you consider letting people you know who might be interested in these about this offer? If you are interested in any or all of these books, send me an email.

 

The Equinox, Volume I, 10 issues (1992); Very Good condition, minor discoloration to covers and mylar protective cover cracked
The Commentaries of AL by Marcello Motta (Equinox V, I); Waviness and moisture wrinkling pages, still a readable copy. Hardcover. Good condition
The Occult Requilary: Images and Artefacts of the Richel-Edlermans Collection; Standard edition, list $110
Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley: a correspondence; list $45
The Magic Seal of John Dee. The Sigillum Dei Aemeth by Colin Campbell; out of print
The Progradior Correspondence: Letters by Aleister Crowley, Frank Bennett, C.S. Jones & Others; list $45
A Concordance to the Holy Books of Thelema, edited & with an introduction by Colin Campbell; list $50
Three Essays on Freedom by John ‘Jack” Whiteside Parsons; out of print
The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites by Martin P. Starr; list $50
Magical Revival by Kenneth Grant (2010); list $64
Gamaliel: The Diary of a Vampire & Dance, Doll, Dance by Kenneth Grant; list $50
Images & Oracles of Austin Osman Spare by Kenneth Grant; list $49
Vudu Cartography by Michael Bertiaux; list $73
A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander & c.; Very good condition
The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander; Very good condition
Rat Catching by Crispin Hellion Glover; signed (1990)
OAK MOT by Crispin Hellion Glover; signed & numbered (1991)
Opuscula Magica, Volume I: Essays on Witchcraft and the Sabbatic Tradition by Andrew D. Cumbley; Standard edition, list $60
Cosmic Meditation by Michael Bertiaux (2007); paperback, list $85
Little Masonic Library, 5 volumes (1946); list $85
Liber Sigil A IAF by Aion 131; Library edition, list $49
Jane Wolfe: The Cefalu Diaries, 1920-1923; Special edition, list $175
Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth & The Frame of Time by de Santillana & von Dechend; Hardcover, first printing 1969
Quest for Sita by Maurice Collis, with drawings by Mervyn Peake; Hardcover, 1947, good condition
Lunar and Sex Worship by Ida Craddock (2010); list $45
The Wine & The Will: Rabelais’s Bacchic Christianity by Florence M. Weinberg; Harcover, 1972, good condition
The Thoth Tarot, Astrology & Other Selected Writings by Phyllis Seckler; list $45
The Legend of Aleister Crowley by P. R. Stephenson and Israel Regardie; paperback, 2nd edition 1972
Golden Twigs by Aleister Crowley, edited with and introduction by Martin P. Starr; Hardcover, 1988
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte; Second edition
Envisioning Information by Edward R. Tufte
Visual Explanations by Edward R. Tufte
Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte
The Red Book by C. G. Jung; list $195.00
The Temple of Man by R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz; list $195, still in cellophane
The Temples of Karnak by R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz; list $95, still in cellophane
The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall; Diamond jubilee edition, second printing 1998, large hardcover (12.5 x 19.5) in a slipcase, the spine is cracked at the top back of the cover (2008 printing lists at $225)
Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World by Joscelyn Godwin; list $60, still in cellophane

The antagonist as a limitation to dialogue

Some things just seem to keep coming around; like a bad penny.

I’m not entirely sure when I first ran into the book “Antagonists in the Chuch“, by Kenneth Haugk, but I do know where. It must have been some time close to 1995 when Isaac Bonewits posted “Dealing with Religious Jerks“. I read this review in which Isaac wrote:

“If I had read this book 30 years ago, many, many mistakes might have been avoided and Neopagan Druidism would be much further along in its evolution. In fact, if this book have been read by most of our ‘old timers’ three decades ago, our community would be easily ten or twenty times its current size and far more effective at influencing the mainstream death culture. Tens of thousands of lives — and species — might have been saved and the environmental crisis significantly slowed down. Instead, we spent literally millions of hours fighting unending battles with antagonists inside our own community who never intended to ‘fight fair’ because what they really wanted was the attention we gave them and the joy of destruction for its own sake.”

It was a couple years until I actually picked up a copy of the book, but I regretted waiting for so long. In fact, I note that it was almost a decade ago, in April 2001, when I finally picked it up, but I also know that it sat in my stack of “to read” books after that for a while before I actually read it; but this clearly places my reading of the book prior to my return to college where I studied dialogue in earnest. This book, then, is a forgotten influence on my work since then, one which I did not directly include in my thesis but which had been part of my thinking.

While the book is definitely within the context of congregational Christianity, a tradition which I do not find speaks to me personally; even the parts which are explicitly Christian, such as the section of quotes from the Bible, is interesting to a certain extent. But, the overall effect of the work on me was to give me another name for something which I’d recognized to exist, and by having language with which to speak about the phenomena it becomes easier to see those phenomena in the first place; and, it becomes more possible to develop conscious and intentional responses to times when I’ve been confronted by those phenomena.

To a certain extent, I have to admit that I’ve felt like a bit of a Cassandra because of my awareness of this sort of thing. Being able to see and name a thing for myself leads to a feeling of disconnectedness with those around me about whom I find myself wondering, “Why does no one else see this happening?” And, I’ll also admit that I’ve grown exceedingly tired of dealing with this phenomenon when I run into it, especially within groups that haven’t yet developed strong personal and structural responses to such phenomena. This is an example of the overall, deeply disappointing, cycle of lowered of expectations which leads to attrition within groups. For me, in many ways, I’ve found myself responding to what seems like a deafening silence in response to naming and identifying the phenomenon with an increasing willingness to find something else to do with my time. Instead of tilting at windmills within groups that seem to not respond, I admit that I have more often of late taken a pessimistic path of somewhat selfish cost-benefit analysis, and simply chosen to confront the phenomenon to the point where I feel doing more is futile and there’s probably something else more personally satisfying I can do with my time, and then tarry no further.

Still, this topic sure does seem to keep coming up for me. Just two examples will suffice to suggest that this has, for some reason, been something that has been on my mind for as long as I’ve been mindful.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I must have been shown the animated Animal Farm a bazillion times. Okay, maybe not that many times, but for some reason that film was de rigueur. My take away from that film was quite a strong influence on my thinking, but for some reason it didn’t seem to be the same as other people; and it finally occurred to me what was going on. I reflect on this a bit, back in 2006, in “Why do the bastards hate Animal Farm so much?“:

“But, when I was a kid and the schools kept showing the animated ‘Animal Farm’ I didn’t get the message that community was bad. I got the message that the selfish, evil bastards can ruin community for the rest of the animals.”

Ostensibly, the reason I kept seeing that film in school was, I imagine, that I was to understand that Communism didn’t work. But what I got from it was that communism did work, but that Communism didn’t because it was a broken form of communism, one that had been hijacked by bastards. So, be on guard! (Yes, I’m looking at you Capitalism.)

Fast forward to my undergraduate studies at The Evergreen State College, and the continuation and expansion of that work which culminated in my Master’s thesis, The Fifth Principle of Dialogue as an answer to a specific project:

“As a student and practitioner of Dialogue, I have constantly explored the question of how can we cross our thresholds to meet with the inimical other for the purpose of creating peace. Through my exploration of this question, I have developed a unique theory of dialogue that includes a definition of dialogue as an archetypal process that occurs in an enabling space and that has a set of observable phenomenon that emerge from that process.” [via]

I’m not entirely sure I ever integrated the notion of Haugk’s “Antagonist” into my work, but I have no doubt that it was an influence. Where I speak of the Unwilling Autonomous Principle, I realize that in my own thinking I include this idea of an “Antagonist”, which is to some extent like my interpretation and extension of Rosenberg’s “Jackal” as an archetype in my model of dialogue.

“The Jackal is that Other we are willing to engage and is willing to engage with us. Even though the Jackal may not be able to be compassionate and connected, the Jackal is willing to engage, the Hyena is not. The Jackal may take bites out of each and every Giraffe but will stop feeding when it is full, when needs are met. The Hyena will take bites from every Giraffe that it meets and will continue eating until there is nothing left to eat, including attacking the Jackals. The Jackal has authentic needs that can be met by the Giraffe archetypes in order to build a bridge between them. The Hyena archetype refuses to peacefully engage even if all efforts are made to satisfy its needs.

If the project of crossing thresholds into enabling dialogical space is to engage with our own Other, then staying with the safe intramural conversations in the Giraffe herd is not enough. If there is any hope for progress toward dialogue, the Other must be engaged even if that Other will consistently take a chunk out of every Giraffe. But it cannot be the point of the project to place us in suicidally dangerous places, pointlessly offering ourselves as a free meal to the Hyenas, because this also ends the project as surely as if it were not begun at all.” [via]

I’m not sure whether I managed to fully satisfactorily signify the “Antagonist” as either “Jackal” or a kind of hybrid, a “Hyena in Jackal costume”. But Haugk’s notion of the “Antagonist” is someone who, while unwilling to engage in actuality will constantly act as if they are willing to engage in order to satisfy their needs at the expense of others.

These inimical others are the most dangerous, because they are not just lurking about outside of our social groups and structures, but rather are actively hunting. These others are violently predatory toward our constructive social groups.

Paradoxically, as such things often are, these seriously dangerous organizational psychopaths are actually very often well thought of by those with whom they interact. The natural camouflage of these predators is such that they often appear to be the center of attention, and appear to be charismatic members of the social group.

Much like the apocryphal, prototypical serial killer, they seem to have adoring fans everywhere. And, that’s one of the most surreal things for anyone that finds themselves confronted or attacked by these predators within social groups. There is constantly this sense of the bizarre at the difference between one’s own experience and the way these predators seem to be seen by the group. One constantly feels like the protagonist in John Carpenter’s “They Live”; that everyone is blind to the true nature of what is going on around them, that they are surrounded by monsters and being manipulated into docility to ease their eventual slaughter or use as a pack animal (and yes, that’s a weak joke about being made into an ass, or moreover being made into the butt, or something to do with getting screwed there).

As they say, the first step is to admit that you’ve got a problem. The first step to dealing with the existence of those who would damage social groups from the inside without any remorse, beyond the way a predator mourns when all the easy pickings are devoured, is to recognize that such people exist.

Being able to recognize the existence of these “Antagonists”, these inimical others that are quite literally hunting us down from within (or perhaps to break my own metaphoric structure these are a kind of social parasite; dare I even say vampire? And not the fluffy bunny carrot sucking kind. Don’t even get me started on sparkles!), is not enough. Beyond the really, truly transformative experience of being able to name the phenomenon, as expressed by Bonewits above, and therefore validate the experience of that phenomenon, it is also necessary to respond to the existence of those phenomena. It would be nice if merely seeing that “Antagonists” exist was enough to, like some comforting fairy tale, magically dismiss them, but unfortunately what is required is an actual active daily practice of banishing.

In the conclusion of my thesis, I observe:

“I believe that meeting the inimical other is made possible through the practice of dialogue. This practice is for the purpose of human growth on a collective level, and to transform the self, others and the world.” [via]

And, indeed, this practice of dialogue is an intentional practice of both intra- and inter-personal transformation which has many possible similarities to the personal transformative practice of magick. There is need for a daily practice, a consistent commitment to the project. There is also a need for engagement within some kind of tradition, or within some kind of social group; after all, while I do admit to the possibility of internal dialogue, it is the external variety which is the more germane, or to re-use one of my invented terms “Relephant” [via].

It is in developing a social system which is adapted to respond by individuals invested in a fundamental social bond, in recognizing “an inescapable, essential connection between people that is bigger than any of us” [via]; in this is the foundation of meeting the challenge of “Antagonists” as a limitation to dialogue. But, it is also essential to recognize that the implication of not developing an adaptable social system is to be at the mercy of those who will, no doubt, happily take advantage of every opportunity to feed off of the essential vitality in any group in which they are allowed to hunt for food, or in which they are allowed to suck, for several meanings of that term.

It may in fact be possible, as I suggest in my thesis, to develop systems within organizations, founded on personal willingness and ability, to develop enabling dialogical environments where confronting inimical others is both possible and constructive; but, doing so very likely will require a strong dynamic archetypal engagement, one which may require intermediaries, mediation of one kind or another. But, it may also require something which I didn’t fully develop in my thesis, and about which I’ve apparently only spoken about in passing elsewhere: enclaving [Look for “enclave” or “enclaving”: see, also, et, et, et]. But, in essence, it may be necessary, not to abandon the project of crossing our thresholds, but to be willing to exclude when necessary those that stand in the way of dialogue in order to have any hope of progress:

“Dynamic balance within dialogical space as part of the dialogic process includes the notion of balance between inclusion and exclusion, a dynamic balance between collective and autonomous principles. This is one of the qualities of the boundary between the circles of engagement. Including the truly inimical is something that can be fatal, so exclusion is an essential function of creating a boundary at the edge of a dialogical environment. In my thinking is the notion of ‘enclaving’ where groups determine their useful and necessary boundaries. But, it’s also essential to the overall dialogical environment that these boundaries, which create enclaves, have the possibility for permeability. It is not necessary to take in the inimical, but it seems necessary to have an open invitation to those willing, and moreover to those that become willing in the future as the dialogic process builds and then permeates the surrounding larger environment, to come willingly into a more interior circle of engagement. Further, it also must remain possible for a group to hive itself off from a larger group when the larger group does not offer an enabling dialogical environment.

Thus a sub-group choosing to enclave with those actually willing can become the catalyst for future change in the larger group because they’ve excluded disabling or inimical entities, until such time as it becomes possible to re-cross their group boundary to further, ongoing inclusion. But, even if it does not happen obviously that further inclusion becomes possible, in the meanwhile the emergence of dialogue can create change in the environments within and without the circles of engagement.” [via a response to a comment]

So, it turns out that I’ve ended up recommending Haugk’s “Antagonists in the Church” to people I care about in every social group I’ve been in since I finally picked up a copy and read it. It is a very quick read, but I think it has the potential for catalyzing some very important conversations within organizations, and perhaps also the potential for helping to develop an environment in which true dialogue can emerge.

While I admitted to a certain loss of faith, if you will, in the necessity for the project; I have had recent occasion to have the seemingly surreal experience of having a social group, in which I was heavily invested but from which I had distanced myself due to disappointment, suddenly have, if you will allow the unexplained irony, a “come to Jesus” moment with Haugk’s book. Apparently, the book has spread like wildfire and it seems that the topic of “Antagonists” will be included within several of the internal organizational development structures of the organization in relatively short order. Huz-freakin-zah!

I had one long time member of that organization echo in a private conversation with me the sentiment expressed by Bonewits, saying “If only I had read this ten years ago, so much pain could have been avoided!”

So, I’ve recommended this book to people in every organization I’ve been in since running into it, and now I’d like to recommend it to you, and to the people in whatever organizations you are in. There’s something that is both seriously validating that comes from reading this material, but also, I hope, and moreover, contained within is something that will catalyze your next step toward both personal and organizational change.

Antagonists in the Church by Kenneth Haugk
Augsburg Books
January, 1988
ISBN: 0806623101 (ISBN-13: 9780806623108)
Paperback, 192 pages

Låt den rätte komma in

When I saw the movie, I didn’t know there was a book. I think the movie just kind of showed up one day and moved into my Netflix queue. All very normal. Who knew? Then, I watched it. I was so amazed by the originality and atmosphere and everything of the movie that when someone mentioned, “The book is better,” I knew I had to read that too. However, it sat on my stack unread. In fact, I almost gave it away as a present since it seemed a shame to waste a brand new book like that if I wasn’t going to read it.

Then, I’m not sure why, but I picked it up. And, devoured it. But, the whole time I kept thinking to myself, “I wish I’d read the book first.” The pacing seemed really slow to me as I was reading it. I felt that had to be because I’d seen the movie and so I wasn’t discovering the story for the first time. It had to be something, because it was a wonderful story to read.

Well, maybe the word “wonderful” isn’t right, is it? It’s a bleak affair, after all. The pacing is part of the atmosphere. Everyone is struggling to find love in spite of their dysfunctions in a world which indifferently exists around them. I’d say hostile, but that’s not really it. Everyone is doing what they can to survive as wounded individuals, and sometimes that means hurting other people. But, it’s not really out of malice, even the bullies are really not so much vicious as much as indifferently cruel because they are living. And, there’s really no good people, per se, as much as everyone being flawed in such a way that it’s all ultimately ambiguous. And, in the cold and wintery dark, isn’t that idea the real horror? To be alone is to die, but to be around others is to get hurt. To live is to decide to continue hurting and being hurt, and to refuse this is to refuse to go on living. And, that struggle is one that strangles the heart in strange ways, unless you can find the right one that balances out that struggle for a while. So, try to let the right one in.

(It’s an odd coincidence, which will only make sense to those having read the book, that I was proofreading Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente as I was reading the book. After you finish the book, go and read through this Liber to see why this stuck me as synchronicity.)

Then I finished with the story and watched the movie again. As I watched the movie, I realized how very different the two were from each other. The pacing of the movie really was strikingly fast, and after the book the movie is almost dizzying. The movie literally zooms from the start to somewhere in the middle of the book across a couple of minutes. I was really shocked at how much wasn’t there from the book that I had to reassure myself that, in fact, the author was also the writer of the screenplay. Now, that makes it very interesting to think about what got left out, by the author’s own hand; in collaboration, to be sure, but still. Re-watching the movie, I realized there were things that couldn’t have made sense the first time, things that must have seemed odd or wrong about the plot. The movie could have been so very much creepier and scarier. But, it also turned the story from one of many individuals trying for survival, trying to live in a indifferently hostile world, into more of a love story.

In fact so much was left out, that, given what was left unexplored on screen the first time, I’m holding out a bit of hope now that the Americanized remake will actually be truer to the book. Faint hope to be sure, if I’m relying on American cinema to outdo a European film for awesome moody dread and willingness to go uncomfortable places, without turning to shlock and satire.

Of course, I’m reminded of anything by Bergman, but that’s too easy. Like in Cyrano de Bergerac, no one really gets what they want in the end. Like the end of The Princess Bride, it’s really not clear how much time there’s left for those riding off into the sunset. And, as I think about this I’m strongly reminded of my experience of The Silence of the Lambs, because of the realization that instead of any of what would normally be the creepiest stuff, the violence and gore and so on, what really was creepy was the psychological, existential horror that went on in the exchange between the main characters.

While reading the book, there were two places where it seemed to me the translator’s choices stuck out in odd ways, and there was one point past the half way point in the story where I had a feeling that the style of storytelling had abruptly changed. But, all in all the writing and translation seemed to carry me along and into the narrative without making themselves obvious, dissolving into a seamless experience. Nothing here like a tour de force of language, but well suited to the story and did well to maintain my immersion and momentum through to the end.

Now I’m flummoxed over whether I’d rather have read the book first or not. I actually like the movie a lot less now than I did before I read the book. The book is a much richer tapestry and much creepier and much more compelling. I can only, in the end, recommend both, and highly, even in spite of my confusion. They’re such different creatures, the movie and the book, that they both almost live unlives of their own. Both manage to survive, to find a way through the dark; both manage to come out in the end. At least, for a while.

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist; Ebba Segerberg, translator
St. Martin’s Griffin
October, 2008
Paperback, 480, pages
ISBN: 0312355297 (ISBN13: 9780312355296)

Let The Right One In [DVD]; Tomas Alfredson, director; John Ajvide Lindqvist, writer; Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Released March 10, 2009
114 minutes

As great an actor to enact Crowley as this

Not only didn’t I mind SImon Callow’s Crowley, I thought Callow did a really good job … but in a crappy movie. Or, at least, I assume so. I really couldn’t watch the 2nd half of Chemical Wedding because it turned super stupid. I suppose it’s possible that the end managed to turn it around, but I gave up; and, when I talked with people that stayed for the whole thing I’m glad I left.

However, the first half really made an impression, which I was disappointed that the rest didn’t live up to. I kept thinking how interesting, as high concept, to ask what would it be like if Crowley were somehow brought back to life today. What would he say and do, and what would his personality and ideas be like, when placed within a current cultural context. What would he applaud and what would he lament and what would surprise and what would shock, anger, confuse? And what insights and breakthroughs could be made given more time in a new time?

For that matter, it’s an interesting idea which you could ask of any historical figure. Any of the historical figure re-enactments is an example of how this can be compelling. I’m thinking primarily of Holbrook’s Twain and Jenkinson’s Jefferson as these seem to be exemplars. Or, I suppose also the Riverworld stories of Farmer are also examples of this idea of moving historical figures into another context. Maybe some more good examples are the alternative history stories that come out every once in a while and even the recent trend of adding zombies or whatnot to historical literature.

Well, anyhow, I was watching the special features on Branagh’s Hamlet, and I was struck by how closely he seemed to me in some of the videos to resemble Crowley in some pictures.



Branagh [source], Crowley [source]

Admittedly the picture of Branagh above is not the most flattering, but he’s so often smiling that it’s the best I could find on short notice to show side-by-side.

Anyhow, leaving aside the high concept of time travel and resurrection, wouldn’t it be something to see a decent period bio-pic of Crowley done with such production values and acting that someone like Branagh could bring to it? There’s certainly enough material to be interesting. Like the life of Sir Richard Francis Burton which really has only ever appeared once, and then only a short bit, in The Mountains of the Moon (which is actually a really well-done movie that I recommend); a decently done movie about Crowley, with warts and all to be sure, of course, please, but not something that is just stupid sensationalism or worse a really crappy B-grade film, would really be something to see.