I’d love to get some feedback from Klint’s wonderful community and readership here, especially those who happen to have experience in design, marketing, and business. After some discussions with fellow designer, Coe, who himself has an esoteric streak, I’ve been considering some issues that might be keeping the contemporary spiritual movement that is the occult subculture (and its legion of niche cultures and interests) from reaching its potential in North America (and possibly Europe).
First to address is whether being different is something that the members of the occult community thrives on, in and of itself. Personally, I’ve noticed differences between the persons I know involved in the esoteric arts. I’ll call them the Few for brevity’s sake. There are the goth shops that stock the books on magic that I’ll visit if I’m too eager to wait for an Amazon shipment. While the books and knowledge are the factors that draw me to their locale, the people and artefacts that are sold there are of no interest to me and, in fact, sell a stereotype that I find repugnant. (Sadly, the books in my section are the cultural accessories to the majority of wares they huck: clothing, hair dye, witchcraft gobbledygook, incense, shoddy pewter jewellery, and punky goth paraphernalia.)
There’s also the New Age shops that huck their own brand, though with a more aligned focus to the ultimate goal of spiritual exploration: crystals, incense, oils, lame calendars with ooh-ahh paintings on them, CDs, cheesy T-shirts, et cetera.
So all this material would be the halo effect, as it’s referred to in marketing. Unfortunately, goth and witch cultures seem to have let the accessories take the focus away from the core cultural values that spawned them in the first place. Which leads me to wonder what state does the North American occult community find itself.
Now, keep in mind that I’ve worked in design for a number of years and now currently work as a brand consultant. What most people don’t understand about brands is that they are what the people say they are, not what the companies wish to define them as.
This is an interesting point to get across because persons that decide to hate a particular brand are projecting their own form of identity by hating on the brands that rub them the wrong way. The little mental boxes in your mind that you used to define that brand is neurologically linked to other elements that you associate with in your life that you use to define what you’re not. Sadly, by choosing one’s enemies, like I see in these books and posts about “occult warfare,” fans of this thinking do themselves the disservice of filling in all the boxes they dislike. The mental boxes (or mental white space) that remains moulds personal self-identification with the cultural or experiential leftovers that haven’t been already commandeered by others.
Rarely do I see popular subculture movements hijack and infiltrate the mainstream in order to spread their art among the masses. The Few that become self-inflicted prisoners, bound by the things they refuse, begin to wrap these leftover ideas into its own mishmash subculture. Then they get mad when the mainstream adopts and makes it their own. Think of punk culture adopting military garb as their own, or the Barbie girls out there that seem to be standardised with a back-ass tattoo and pierced bellybutton and tongue.
This brings up the universal archetype known as the Elixir. In Joseph Campbell’s monomyth one of the necessary traits of a Hero is to enter the underworld and return to the masses with a so-called Elixir. The Elixir is wisdom. And I define wisdom as knowledge + experience.
“It is important that art is produced, but it also has to be consumed. The dynamics of producers and consumers is the motor of art.” Turkish caricaturist Ercan Akyol said that, and it remains true in all elements of life (unless you’re pursuing a Zen-like knowledge of the self, in some cave somewhere, by choice.) But think of art in this case as a the Elixir of wisdom, this knowledge and experience that is being hoarded by one group or the next, but rarely shared across borders. Borders who’re really only being defined by these little, semantic boxes we build in our heads: aka brands.
One of my favourite things that Grant Morrison says during his well-known Disinfo talk has nothing to do with sigils or his writing. It’s that he’s wearing a Donna Karan suit. Then he spills his drink on it and cheerfully laughs, “Fuck it!” The suit is a beautiful piece, and it serves its purpose. It’s Morrison’s mask magic at work. He doesn’t avoid fashion as a vice of contemporary life, but embraces it and uses it as a magical tool in his everyday life-experiencing what a fine garment can elicit in others, and how that attention can be embraced.
Rollo May says, in Man’s Search for Himself, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice… it is conformity.” Whom among us have conformed to our particular set of friends? Their expectations of us, our subcultures’, or our families’? Why? Like Morrison, laugh out loud, “Fuck ’em!” I want everyone reading this right now to say to themselves, three times, Fuck occultism, fuck conspiracies, fuck the little boxes in my head that keep me from exploring the things I simply believe I hate.
And on that, as I digress from my initial hope to encourage some feedback to better a conversation I am having with Coe and sometimes with Rev Max, I leave you with two quotes to encourage some thought on this matter. But remember, they apply when you embrace the lifestyle of a Hero yourself. The archetypal Underworld in many a case might just be the very mainstream that so many so-called “occultists” tend to avoid and dismay. It is that very nightmare I encourage you to embrace! Learn to flirt, learn to dress up as much as you might desire to dress down, and truly put Robert Anton Wilson’s and Ramsey Duke’s ideas to work:
“It’s amazing how much panic one honest man can spread among a multitude of hypocrites.”
“A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.”
November 22, 2007 at 7:15 pm
I would say that one thing that I, as a kind of dabbler, find that holds back the blooming of the hyperculture is it’s packaging. Why does everything have to be so cheesily done? I would say that is what I liked about disinfo’s books The Book of Lies and Generation Hex.. they didn’t look like crap. Also, I think that part of the fact is the hyperculture, as far as I have noticed, are so worried about taking things seriously that they sometimes turn serious things into jokes. Which I can understand, the whole universal jester and such, but from the outside it almost comes off.. well, I don’t know how to put it. As I said, I am just a dabbler.. so I am kind of looking from the outside. I walk through the new age/metaphysics section of the bookstore and it is all.. just doesn’t look appealing, which is part of the problem. How can you take a book seriously when it is so cheesily multicolored rainbow mind altering from the outside? You don’t want to read a book that makes you come off looking like a basement junkie from the outside. On the otherhand, look at Generation Hex.. I was reading it in school and had multiple people ask me about it in a positive way.. so that’s my thought on the matter.
November 22, 2007 at 7:16 pm
A clarification, I mean that they take serious things and turn them into jokes purposely.. not that they are so serious it is funny.
November 22, 2007 at 7:29 pm
Great feedback, G.V. Thanks! And I don’t mean to knock them, but again we see elements of this “cheesiness” surrounding the videos recently posted right here on Technoccult. The swirling techno background behind the Esoteric Science Roundtable (whose hosts I quite enjoy), or the bric-a-brac strewn about the table in The Freeman Perspective.
*cough*cough* Or almost every book cover put out by New Falcon?
Our first experience with anything is almost always visual. And yet the sense of aesthetic seems lost on occultists. Which is odd, considering its artistic history.
November 23, 2007 at 12:35 am
Okay Fell, you asked for it, here goes.
I’ve always marched to my own drum. If you saw me walking down the street you would not identify me as an ‘outsider’, occultist, or metalhead. I don’t have any tattoos, any piercings or wear jewelry or anything that screams “look at me”. I, in fact, look (ug) “normal”. Not that I find anything wrong with the above, except that I’m older now and went through the purple/orange hair thing, and dressed in all black,etc., before they used the words ‘Punk’ and ‘Goth’ to describe it. Been there, done that. I’ve found through the years that sometimes the best way to make a difference is with subtly and by NOT drawing too much attention. That way there’s little interference to the work being done. Occult means “hidden”, after all.
As for the marketing aspect, the cheesiness is a way to draw attention to the product. The fact that G.V made a remark about how “cheesy” some of the items were, meant that they got some attention. Why aren’t occultists more artistic about it? Remember you’re selling something to a particular market. You are also dealing with various companies and buyers who see things differently than the occultists trying to sell their product. The occultist doesn’t always have the final say on what they’re selling. Many times it’s the publishers and merchandisers who make the final decisions. IMO, capitalism is a wonderful thing. It puts food on our table and pays our bills. It creates entrepreneurs, and innovation. It’s the ‘super-capitalism’ that creates monopoly, unemployment and ruins our economy.
As for the humor aspect and serious things being turned into a “joke”. You have to remember that the occultist/seeker is dealing with things that are hidden, and unknown. Certain things that cannot be scientifically proven. The one thing you learn is to never lose your sense of humor. If you lose that while looking within and working with your inner self, you lose your balance. Some of the best and most notorious occultists had a wicked sense of humor (i.e. Crowley, Robert Anton Wilson[yes, he dealt with the ‘hidden’]).
Hope that helps….;)
November 23, 2007 at 12:57 am
Brilliant stuff, man. Thank you. The feedback is great. Yes, I think the sense of humour is hugely important, as is the sense of play and fairness in all things we do.
Funny, I just finished watching American Gangster, and there are two scenes devoted to Frank Lucas’s opinion on standing out. First he warns his brother not to dress flashy, to avoid drawing any undue attention. Second, he loses focus and wears a fancy outfit to a boxing match and is made as an associate to another well-known gangster, ultimately leading to his identification. He burns the outfit afterwards.
I find this interesting in the context of the occult as a culture. If you stand out, you’re painted a certain way and the ideas have that predisposition in the rest of society in which to either help or hinder the benefits the occultist might be espousing.
Like I said, I am looking for as much feedback as possible. Cheers!
November 24, 2007 at 7:53 pm
I would personally fell that the whole mandate of entering or commandering the profane or mainstream culture is largley best understood as a rethoric of motivation. Occultists/shamen/mystics and other types of fringe theorists seem to traditionally make adjustments the overculture quite invisibly. Pertinently (and poetically, I suppose), there is the example of Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” and it’s direct influence over the inception of “The Matrix”– the flash-suited bald headed terrorist chic and evil subliminally domineering Empire (with an insectoid motif in it’s pure form) were all directly applied with the occult themes reduced to subtext. And look how they failed to follow through in the subsequent movies on the subversive message and its eventual deconstruction, instead favouring circular theological debate.
If there is a value that all occultists share it’s an appreciation for the virtues of iconoclasm and it would cease to have meaning if Occultism commandered the culture. The very word means ‘hidden’ and implies a permenant alienation from the larger public discourse so as to remain meaningful and effective.
Of course, wearing respectable drag and going out before the cameras necessarily remains occult so long as it’s larger purpose remains obscured. One of the reasons I think that we’re in such a vital period of magic(k?)al expression and development is that there isn’t an easy umbrella term to encompass everything people are up to. If there were the mainstream press would be there to point and laugh and simulate debate, as happened once someone popularised the term ‘New Age’. Even if one were devised and sucessfully made stick, someone would walk away, dissociate themselves from it and continue plowing an occult furrow under an new invented, maybe private term. Because the Gnosis can’t be bound by words, it just happens, often without invitation let alone invocation.
April 24, 2008 at 2:43 pm
My suggestion is, ‘to help quicken the evolution of humanity’.
May 2, 2008 at 4:36 pm
I. What are the values of “occultists”? As far as I can tell, the Internet Illuminati value buying books, reading books, psychedelic drugs, computer-geek action management schemes that will get you fired in some industries, web design, standard-issue marketing dogma and sometime yoga. The one thing they don’t seem to value is progressive spiritual development or even the practice of magick, which is odd, being that so many of them identify with those things but don’t do it.
II. “Like Morrison, laugh out loud, ‘Fuck ?em!’ I want everyone reading this right now to say to themselves, three times, Fuck occultism, fuck conspiracies, fuck the little boxes in my head that keep me from exploring the things I simply believe I hate.”
First off, Morrison never “explor[ed] the things” he hated. Dude was and is a comic book author, full stop. He wears a suit. But he still writes comic book scripts. He’s not a code monkey somewhere. He’s not a lawyer. He’s not a cop. He’s not a day laborer. He’s a worker in a creative field and always has been. Go ahead, drop him into a 12 hour day behind stack after stack of paper and see how long he keeps up that schtick.
I have spent plenty of time “exploring the things I simply believe[d] I hate[d]” in addition to things that are also terribly foreign to me. Guess what? I was more right than I thought. Squares really are square, expensive vacations are very over-rated, credit card debt really sucks, and the upper middle-class and cosmopolitanites really are different from bumpkins like yours truly. If you “explore” this crap, you get that crap. Full stop. No “elixir.” The only thing I learned is that everyone should cling desperately to their little identity and build a California-esque “lifestyle” including their occupation (like “magick”? hope you are a freelance web designer or a massage therapist) around it if they hope to do anything they value.
III. Joseph Campbell is an armchair philosopher. His “wisdom” or “elixir” or whatever it is the “hero” recovers from “the underworld” is just garbage and has next to nothing to do with the practice of any spiritual discipline, or for that matter, life. Anyone who thinks that some third-rate social or psychological insights that come out of bad situations show something “spiritual” should be talking to a shrink, not confusing amateur psychiatry with absolute reality. I find it mind-boggling that anyone even considers him relevant anymore.