Monday, March 12, 2012

Re: The Brotherhood of Blackness (As Mythology)

In response to my recent entry on PBR and the Black Brotherhood, Harold commented:
I've been reading Crowley's novel "Moonchild," and his villains are part of the Black Lodge, but they are all white people--Mathers is the head and Waite is in it.”

I'll respond here, because, I want to clarify my comments a bit. There is a long and varied history of treating “evil magicians” or a “black brotherhood” as antagonists in a novel. Victorian occult literature – like Ghost Land or Dr. Traverner – included stories by occultists wherein they hid the work they did. Fellows like Machen, as well, have societies or cabals of evil or dark magicians that get together for unspeakable ends. In terms of a fantasy motif, I think the “dark brotherhood of pure wrong” makes a great deal of sense and for a good story.

In the context of real, occult practice, however the issue is a bit murky for me. I have to acknowledge the way that Crowley worked the Black Brotherhood into the Vision and the Voice and Magick Without Tears. In both contexts, he uses the term to clarify what he considers “evil” magick, and in MWT he even contextualizes an example where one may be a crap magician doing it wrong, or one could become his ideal abomination. Neither use appears overtly racist.

We could set this as an example, though, against Fortune's Psychic Self Defense where “Black” or “Dark” Brothers are: sodomite, drug-dealing-drug-taking magicians or “swarthy” individuals who use magical powers, abilities, or Siddhis (or whatever) to get sex, drugs, money, power, or abuse children. I'm really condensing a lot of her whacky tales in this generalization, though.

Unfortunately, fewer magicians follow Crowley's example – in which he made mistakes, such as calling Austin Spare a “Black Brother” for his extensive use of autoerotic sex magic – and more lean towards the abusive examples of Fortune or Blavatsky. I won't point fingers. Plenty of groups of asshats do it, and I'd earnestly like them to shut the fuck up.

Similarly, I don't want to suggest tolerating extremely abusive or extremely criminal behavior. My antinomian leanings aside, there's plenty of potential for sexual or mental or emotional (in which case: get out of the group) or physical abuse from any given group of criminal folks or charlatans. The police, however, exist to arrest such individuals.
Anyway, I feel like Crowley 'updated' the mythology of his “Black Brotherhood” to fit with his internal visions and experiences and system, in a way that's generally less obnoxious than the use by post-Theosophical madmen or madwomen. These days, we could probably update the category again with enough vision work. Between the 1980s and 1990s, numbers of Chaos Magicians practiced things like the “Mass of Chaos B” and the “Mass of Choronzon” and called up Choronzon in an effort to discover if the Demon of Dispersion was as bad as Crowley made him out to be. I saw three folks actually help themselves towards insanity with materials like those, but simultaneously plenty of semi-balanced folks who returned to say: “Nah, he aint so bad.”

Whether or not you wish to trust them is, of course, up to you. I don't really worry about it, because I don't really worry about the Abyss much, frankly. That sounds like some other, dead, Faust's problem. Magical vision states tend to reinforce the symbolic and narrative patterns that we reinforce them with, at least in some contexts (there is always the universe pwning you in the face, for example, and forcing you to alter your “beliefs”). At different periods, the spirit world and what exists in it was contextualized differently. Since I tend to use a lot of Ptolemaic Astrological Magic (which doesn't mean I remotely understand it), I am less concerned with the Abyss, Choronzon, and the horrible mess of the Qliphot than I used to be... Some day, I may do work with Dee's Enochian magic the right way and see what the Aethyrs hold to see, but there's plenty of shit around me right now to pay attention to, not to mention the entire history of magical practices prior to Blavatsky, Fortune, and Crowley to look at and try to figure out.

Still, some tales are pretty good, if told well. I may some day come across another great “occult” oriented epic with Black Brothers taking center stage to mess with crap that oughtn't be messed with, and enjoy it very much.

Hell, if you're reading this blog and want to write a story about that, be sure to let me know you wrote it.


Jason Miller, said...

While I do agree that there is an element of the racist to the whole "Black Brotherhood" thing, I think it is a mistake to carry it all the Randolph Blavatsky split. Lets not forget her insane focus on Dugpas as Black Brothers extraordinaire!

As for Choronzon. People can evoke him or invoke him and walk away thinking he ain't that bad because honestly, all he does is reinforce dualistic reality - the perception that most of us operate under anyway! Those that are already unbalanced can indeed be upset by having their delusions made even more concrete by the encounter.

Other magicians evoke him in an effort to defeat him and cross the abyss, which is one way to go I suppose. Though people have done it that way, from what I have seen it is difficult to stabilize that stste of awareness into an actual stage of development.

Harold Roth said...

I don't trouble myself much about the Abyss either, because frankly, the whole stand-alone evil thing seems really bogus to me and a way of avoiding responsibility. I see it also as a somewhat Christian perspective. Evil in my world is something we DO, not something we ARE. I look around and see evil things being done by people who are not Evil, not psychopaths, not on the Dark Side, not possessed by demons, but just plain selfish and mean. I don't see the need to complicate it any further.

As for the klippot, something I read in the Zohar really struck me--you cannot have a nut without a shell. So the klippot kind of the essence of Saturn as limitation and boundary, but showing them as something that literally gives form and shape. Seems very different from Evil. Due to that and some other stuff, I have come to view the klippot as simply part and parcel of the Tree as a whole, not some mirror tree--the dark side of the Moon rather than an alternative Black Sun, if you know what I mean. That said, I still want to do a mirror klippotic Tree on black goatskin. :)

In Moonchild, Crowley is making a big deal out of the Black Lodge doing black magic. Frankly, I was surprised at his snobbery about it.

Rufus Opus said...

I did the mass of Choronzon in the 90s. I was impressed by his presence, and I walked away TOTALLY SANE.


Ok. so I posted the mad gibberings of my research in the comments of your previous post, I won't repost them. I don't agree that the phrase "Black Brotherhood" is intrinsically a racist phrase. I think that, like the phrase "big black cock," it can have a totally non-racist meaning.

Jack Faust said...

R.O.: It can; but I think the activities, fears, and comments of those who use the phrase calls their other comments into question. At the same time, as I admitted, Crowley does appear to have racist leanings in his use. At least, on the surface. During HIS Black Magic phase he actually used blackface on himself. I think Lawrance Sutin talks about it in his recent biography of Crowley. Nonetheless, his use in texts mentioned is non-racist. AI yeah. you have a good point.

Jason: I forgot about the Dugpas. Heh. That woman. anyway.

I do not understand the White Magician vs. Forces of Darkness mentality, honestly. But to each their own.

Harold: Heh... Damn, man. I agree with the weird need to create a universe of evil; but I still think plenty of magical work can influence you in negative ways and help bring out tendencies you might otherwise keep in check. In the midst of crossed conditions, I've allowed my anger to get the better of me and said things that cost me friends. I blame myself; and have learned to meditate before saying something cruel to someone I love. But that's at the price of experience and reaction. We may CHOOSE to do evil, but when we do, a million helping hands appear offering sage advice on how to be more of a monster. Learning to say no requires discipline of a sort.

Satyr Magos said...

I am, in fact, working on a couple such novels. Because while "evil people being evil for the sake of EVIL" is not something that happens in the real world, it can make great damn fiction.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who read Moonchild as a work of satire, or saw quite a bit of humor in Crowley's "black lodge"? He's thumbing his nose at Mathers and Waite for sure, but I thought that the tongue was quite obviously in cheek with that one.