Friday, 26 October 2012

Cutting the head off the snake

Magicians should be asking themselves very serious questions about how they relate to technology. We engage in this self-interrogation on a regular basis and have come to the decision to leave facebook, the maw that rapaciously devours online traffic, a memetic infestation which trivialises the numinous and significantly alters behaviour patterns for the worse. Facebook in particular is choking under the weight of content, and awaits the same inexorable fate as myspace before it and no doubt diaspora next.

As we have previously stated, without Scarlet Imprint we would choose not to have any personal online profile at all. As such we have a duty to Her, the daemons, spirits and our authors to get the work out for the serious participants in the occult community. We will continue to maintain an online presence, as a necessary evil. Our friends are scattered like stars, and online has been essential for us to make these connections. We are fortunate to say that many of the best practitioners we know have no online profile, and would suggest that those who are most vocal online should perhaps have their claims taken with a pinch of salt.  

The pernicious rise and ubiquity of 'social media' is an important thing for us to consider if we take our path seriously, meaning that it does not simply become another element in what Guy Debord called 'the Spectacle' or feed into what has been called the commodification of occulture.

Advertising has long held that the mind can only concurrently hold seven pieces of information, based on George Miller's work in Princeton in the 1950s. As such all advertising is designed to carpet bomb you into submission by displacing every other competing product until you believe that the message of the advertiser is your own genuine thought. Online this strategy has contributed to a ceaseless churn of ill-disguised commercial messages, sock puppets and blank-eyed repeaters. Were this simply the ugly face of  monolithic corporate brands we could filter it out, ad-bust, culture jam, derive. These remain important strategies against Burroughsian agents of control, but they are not enough.

Recent work on the function of human memory suggests that rather than seven pieces of information we can hold three or four. This is linked to a concept called cognitive load. Cognitive load is the amount of information entering our minds at any given instant. Facebook and its ilk place a phenomenal amount of cognitive load on us, as the advertisers want their information to be one of those three or four pieces. Inevitably that means that they dial up the 'salt, sugar and fat' to make their content more compelling to our submerged drives. The same occurs in the occult, typically with claims of darker, more powerful, more complex, more elite, which have to compete with the corporate messages for mental space. Everything becomes dumbed down.

The effect of cognitive load is that our working memory and our intellectual capacity are degraded. The internet is making you stupider, stupid. However much coffee you drink (the legal working stimulant of choice) you become more absent-minded and have what are the 'senior moments' that your elderly parents do. What was I  just doing?

This should make you very concerned whether as a magician you aspire to the powers of the Sphinx, to Know, Will, Dare and Keep Silent. Or as a witch you seek to build what Paul Huson calls the Witches' Pyramid of Imagination, Will, Secrecy and Faith. Or if you simply wish to be in control of your own mind.

All of these elements are being catastrophically eroded by digital culture.

We would suggest that one way to cultivate these abilities is to disconnect from all media and experience the intimacy of reading a book, taking paint to canvas, dancing with the spirits of nature. These are after all, magical actions in a culture that is becoming progressively less present and more intrusive.

The commercialisation of the free internet has been decried by hacktivists, geeks and alternative thinkers. Cyber terrorism and piracy are being used to corral the frontier, identities pinned down and anonymity anathematised. This is widely understood. However, the latest stage is more akin to Stockholm Syndrome. Rather than resisting the commercialisation, the denizens of the internet are rushing to commodify themselves. In this model every man and every woman is not a Star, but a celebrity which can be defined as 'famous without any identifiable talent.' This is due to the external pressures of a capitalist culture in its death throes, devouring the last natural resources with its snapping jaws, and an internal mechanism known as 'like.'

'Like' is a behaviour modifying feedback loop. It gives an intangible reward for commodifying and digitising your lived experiences. This costs the corporate owners of social media nothing, it is the holy grail of 'free content.' These are addictive empty calories to those who live their lives in isolated cube farms, disfunctional relationships and under chronic low level stress. 'Like' is a behaviour modifier in that it rewards you for revealing more and more, from the banality of your breakfast choice, to your new haircut, to what you look like in the shower. All of this is imperishable data for the advertising industry and security state. It is a feedback loop in that it rewards certain choices and punishes others in a 24-7 popularity contest to be one of those three or four thoughts in the incessant media churn. It is molding you like wet clay.

The concept of social media is a lie. However much content you feed into the machine, it will not replicate the barest realities of what it means to be human. It is the worst kind of shorthand, a butchered and banal txt speak, not a refined and seemingly effortless haiku. You are mediated by the screen which promises to reveal all but in truth reveals less and less meaning. This all fed into our latest decision taken on returning from the woods with yellow gold leaves and dusk and stands of mushrooms which replaced the ones of the week before, skirts burned into inky inversions by the same invisible fire that lit the trees. 

We would suggest that your practice would benefit if you get the hell out of it, or at least minimise your exposure to the cognitive load. This is what we attempt to do, whilst still selling enough books to survive, and making sure that the right people come across our work. 

Occulture is no different to any other content. It rarely resides in a Tower apart, lined protectively with decent books properly bound. Its exponents are as flawed, beautiful, hopeless, as anyone. When you take a picture of your altar, your fetishes, your ritual site, your graveyard, your circle, when you announce to the world that you are about to do a working then you are almost always trivialising the art. This signalling is done for many reasons, and some of them commendable. It is difficult when you are as socially isolated as many practitioners are, and, in lieu of real community, seek it online. It is worth keeping something back, rather than trading everything for approval. However initially secret, special, meaningful, it becomes product, exchanged by others in the absence of real connections. It limits.

When we entitled this blog 'cutting the head off the snake' the reference is not to the social media, but to what we are all doing to ourselves. Our path, like many of yours, is not one of renunciation of the world, but engagement in it. This should not be taken as a blanket rejection of the opportunities that the online world presents, but a reminder that these must be balanced against the threats it contains. This is not a unabomber manifesto, just a timely reminder of the necessity to take back control.


Monday, 15 October 2012

Witchcraft and the Dead

A brace of upcoming Scarlet Imprint public appearances talking on Witchcraft and the Dead:

Second Annual Day of the Dead 
Saturday November 3
George and Pilgrim
Glastonbury UK

Hosted by the Saint Martha Botanica, the second iteration of this vibrant gathering takes place in the open gated New Age asylum that is Glastonbury.

The occult re-conquest continues with Jake Stratton-Kent, Josephine McCarthy and Stuart Littlejohn amongst the speakers. We are also delighted that our friends at Hadean Press will be making the trip over from France.

Alkistis Dimech will be speaking on necromancy and dream work with a focus on the Goetic spirit Bune. This is another element of Abominations our major reformation of the Goetia, which had been slated for publication this year but has been delayed by our commitment to other mansuscripts and the sheer size of the task, now in it's fifth year of work. Abominations is now due in 2013.  

The Day of the Dead is a well attended friendly affair, and the number of tickets are limited, so worth getting yours very soon.

Official webpage and tickets can be had here:

Facebook link for those chained to the tyranny of social media

Friends of the Museum of Witchcraft
Saturday November 10
The Wellington Hotel

We continue to support the work of the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall an essential resource for the magical, witchcraft and pagan communuty. This event is for Friends of the museum only, but membership can be purchased on the day.
Peter Grey is amongst the invited speakers for the AGM and get together this year and will be giving a talk entitled To the Sabbath. Joesphine McCarthy will be talking on necromancy, Damh the Bard on Druidry with Graham King showing a film on Men, Magic and Museums.
The day starts at ten in the morning, runs through til four and continues in the bar after the agm until a boozy midnight chimes. For those making the long journey West, there is an informal meet up on the Friday from 8pm at the Wellington bar.

In related news Sitting Now are cutting the footage from our Pleasure Dome event this Summer, which we hope to share with you soon.