Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Raising Hell: Subversive Spirituality, Insurrectionist Witchcraft, and Black Magic

Book Review: Raising Hell: Subversive Spirituality, Insurrectionist Witchcraft, and Black Magic by Kali Black (Megalithica Books 2009)

This was a fun and refreshing book for me, full of sound and rational ideas for rituals and healthful psychological and magickal advice. Of course, I don’t agree with everything in the book. The suggestion of rational self-interest being more important than altruism – I would be at odds with that I guess. I am more into cultivating unbiased kindness rather than specifically targeted kindness only to those deserving. (Although sometimes this can be necessary).

There are some fun exercises in this book as well as some rather boring ones. The chapter on guerrilla warfare gives some info on art as sabotage. For instance (perhaps this is only in the UK where the book originates) she notes that most billboards are illegally placed so that it is not illegal to deface them. There is one exercise that involves merely noting the vast amounts of advertisements one meets in a day – of counting them. Guerrilla art, glamourbombing (which she calls fey poetic terrorism, as glamour is a noted faerie enchantment – I have known to do this meself), and sniggling, which she defines as playful politically subversive pranks are defined. In fact, this book reminds me of the old books by ReSearch publications in the late 80’s – there was one about Freaks – a kind of history of freaks and another one on Pranks – that was simply a great read.

There are the usual magical suggestions: keeping a journal, keeping a dream diary, maintaining an altar, practicing correspondences and formulating your own, learning a method of divination, and making charms. There is an interesting paragraph about practicing ecology which she defines as, “the study of consequences.” The idea is to mindfully consider the impact of all of ones actions and behaviors. There is a suggested practice of regularly attending a variety of religious services with the intent to truly experience them, noticing how the ideas and practices affect you. She says, “The point is to learn how various religions create and manipulate these rare but real human experiences, and to learn how to have those experiences without being vulnerable to that manipulation.” Another practice mentioned is to write a letter to the seventh generation. This is roughly 140 years. The idea is to explain to them who you are, what life is like, what you do and why you do it – making note of what things you do may affect future generations. I think this could be a meaningful exercise. Another suggested practice is to constantly challenge your own boundaries and comfort zones. I think if people did this just a little more – whole new worlds would open up for at least some of them.

There are short sections about meditation, trance, lucid dreaming, and the interesting practice of building the imaginary astral temple. There is a discussion of entheogens that is not really pro or con – but is well-informed. Also there is a short section on the more electronic forms of trance induction such as various flicker/sound rate CDs, DVDs, self-hypnosis, and dream machines. The author seems to really like the mechanisms of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) developed by the trance-study pioneers Bandler and Grinder.

The next section is interesting and covers some techniques such as automatic writing, cut-ups, and collaging. Some of these methods arose from the Surrealist and Beat movements. The techniques of cut-up recording developed by the famed William S. Burroughs are mentioned as yet having much magickal potential. Burroughs noted that recordings of a place played in the same place later had strange effects. As an aside I used to have a friend that would VCR record swathes of several hours of TV with various channel changes and so we would be watching last week’s or last month’s TV without really even knowing it. Burrough’s books, “The Electronic Revolution,” and “The Invisible Generation” are mentioned. Also I would recommend the books by Burrough’s comrade in Morocco and Tunisia – Brion Gysin – particularly, “Planet R101 Here To Go.” Also covered are the sigil methods of Austin Osman Spare. These are simple but very powerful methods of magick. Spare’s methods were expanded on by various magickal groups such as Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth (TOPY). Here individual sigils were collected in a magickal bank being done regularly at synchronous times. The use of various bodily fluids in the sigils was also a regular practice. These are forms of self-initiation and indeed the whole form is rather anarchic in that all grades and hierarchies are ignored.

There is an interesting section about self-censorship. Basically many of us are subtly but powerfully effected by the very institutions around us: the government, corporation, and religious institutions. They affect us by censoring our activities – we feel we must conform to their ideas of what is socially acceptable. Things like art and automatic writing are suggested as methods to overcome this. But the most powerful method, covered later, is that of Black Magick itself, in this case - formally rejecting the subtle conditioning of predominating belief systems, particularly the Church in our cases.

The section about sex is mostly about increasing one’s awareness of one’s own body by playing with various textures and tactile sensations. There is also some discussion of sex roles and role playing, particularly that of breaking out of roles defined by the society of institutional control. Here she notes the dangers of accepting our normal defined roles: “The contrived belief in separateness of mind and body is a life-hating belief, one which is deeply damaging to the individual who accepts it, and overcoming it is one of the goals of black magic.” She mentions cultivating ones “carnal awareness” as a means to re-unite mind and body. The importance of physical exercise, particularly mindful physical exercise is emphasized. She also mentions the importance of noting things like psychosomatic and placebo effects – which she rightly describes as nothing short of amazing. The mind is very powerful to be able to cause or eliminate physical symptoms.

Here is one of the most powerful arguments for avoiding meat that I have ever come across. It was well-considered. I don’t agree with all she says –but really appreciated that discussion. The idea that we have entitlement to subjugate and consume other creatures is flawed as she states it. There is an interesting discussion of hypocrisy – how at all costs we humans strive to avoid “appearing” to be hypocrites – when indeed most all of us are in several ways. Perhaps this is due to our religious conditioning. Anyway in some places even being a vegan can have the effect of being a subversive activity – it just depends what is acceptable in one’s community. She notes that, “When singer KD Lang came out as a lesbian, nobody in her community particularly cared; however, when she “came out” as a vegan, angry mobs burned crosses on her grandmother’s lawn.” (so-to-speak I venture to guess). One part I agreed with during the discussion is the flawed idea that a rite of thanking the spirit of the animal for taking its flesh is enough to make it OK. It is true that indigenous folk developed detailed relationships with the animals that they used for food and clothing and shelter. Nothing was wasted and the relationships were cultivated ritually deeply and often. In our modern societies that is not happening – really anywhere – there are some who go farther than others – but her argument is that it all falls short. Here is one of my favorite quotes in the book,

“A thorough examination of diet is an essential part of the process of maturing into consciousness. If you do not think deeply about what you eat, you are not in control of yourself at the most basic levels. You do not have conscious control of the most fundamental operation of living, which is securing and providing the fuel on which your body runs. How can you expect to possess self-control at any more complex level?”

Next we have an examination of groups – for magick. The idea of the Affinity Group, or “Cells” is discussed. Although this type of group is also used by nasties like terrorists - the structure has been very successful, portable, and less penetrable by outsiders. Also covered is the common (and flawed) idea that we need religion (organized religion anyway) in order to keep us morally oriented. The idea of people being autonomous, or making up their own minds is apparently shocking to many. A coven is a common magickal group structure – usually here the folk are fairly tight - although these days the idea of a collective can be very functional – but is of course more loose and open and variable than the coven structure.

Next is a playful chapter about the mystical secrets of Toontra. This involves developing oneself as a car-toon character with characteristic sub-characters such as a sidekick – perhaps an interesting psychological exercise but a little too “cutesy” for me. But it should be said that along with invoking deities and such one could also invoke the qualities of various characters from books, movies, and other media. She says that looking ridiculous by choice is preferable to looking ridiculous when you think you are doing something serious and important. Another interesting comment she made was about her most effective method of “grounding” – that being toilet cleaning.

Next is a section about Anarchashamanism. There are some interesting ideas to ponder about shamanism in ancient societies in general. She says that, “The principle task of the shaman has always been to oversee the relationship between her community and their environment.” In other words when natural forces are tapped there ensues a necessary sense of ecological responsibility. Regarding Anarchashamanism she says that, “The primary principle of Anarchashamanism is that everyone can experience interconnectedness directly and care for their own spiritual well-being without specialist intervention.” So basically in this model everyone becomes their own shaman rather than relying on the designated specialist. She notes that the experiences of shamanic journeys vary considerably and she promotes personal revelation as both a means to explore oneself and as a means to weaken the influence of the institutions of control. Next there are some suggested Anarchashmanic practices not so different than traditional ones.

The next chapter is about ritual design. Regarding writing invocations she mentioned a text related to that by Aleister Crowley called ”Liber Astarte.” Her he says that the writer of invocations “should express, in order, a range of seven qualities of affection: awe (“as of a slave unto his Lord”), fealty (“a vassal to his Liege”), dependence (“a child unto his Parent”), adoration (“a Priest unto his God”), confidence (“a Brother with his Brother”), comradeship (“a Friend with his Friend”), and passion (“a Lover to his Mistress”). There is next a discussion on the nature of deities, spirits, angels, and demons, and such.

Next is a chapter called the Art of Sacrifice and this regards offerings in magick. The ritual transaction is often from one realm to another. Regular prayer, devotion, recitation, mantra, offerings, and other practices can be seen as this type of spiritual transaction. The use of blood and sexual fluids in magick is discussed as well. Also there is the so-called sacrifice of the ego – which may be temporary as in Vodou possession by the loa spirits or longer-term as when one does a detailed invocation of a quality/neter/deity. This ego loss she says is generally absent from most western spirituality and magic and can be terrifying and unpredictable and generally dangerous.

Next is a discussion of Initiation and rites of passage. She suggests movies as great inspiration for designing rites. Given is a ritual of self-initiation that includes the initiatory death and rising anew. It involves one being confined for a time enclosed in some way like corpse. Also included in this rite is a formal renouncing of Christianity, consumerism, and family values. This so-called black magic may be a useful means for some of disassociating from the subtle influence of these controlling cultic forces. I would say that the effect is mostly psychological. There is another possible rite given based on an imaginary situation given in Plato called Plato’s Cave where the initiates are shielded from the real situation and must discover it themselves or not at all.

Anyway – this could be a useful practical book compared to much of the crap that is out there these days on magick. It is a unique perspective for sure but not at all ineffectual or harmful or a waste of time. It might be nice if more young people read stuff like this - without misinterpreting it of course.

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