This post is about an essential function of the occult subculture, whatever you might define that as. It's also somewhat anecdotal so you'll have to bear with me. Furthermore, there will be strong language although, sadly, no scenes of a sexual nature.
OK, maybe just one.
SMR, for those of you who haven't caught on yet, is a brilliantly funny and frequently cutting blog, which pairs gifs like the above with captions to comment on something somewhere in Occulture. They hit hard and fast and it's hilarious when it isn't you on the receiving end. I have a few words to offer about the necessity of making these jokes, and what to do if you're on the receiving end. But first...
...I started out [this lifetime] in New Aeon Books, Manchester, and other Occult shops in the vicinity. Murgen’s Keep, Shared Earth, the Colosseum, Affleck’s Palace… It was a great place and time to be a fat goth in a trenchcoat who wanted to learn magick. So that's what I did, spending hours reading through books on shelves, and chatting with those who worked behind the counters, and those like myself who just inhabited the scene and would hang out, buy candles and incenses, and talk Occult Shop.
I learned something very important quite quickly. I came from a fairly privileged background, went to a very good school, and even had some money and some charisma. But when I joined the Occult scene in Manchester I realised that those things didn't mean fuck all.
Instrumental in this revelation were two very good friends of mine, who, by and large, are responsible for the way I turned out as a magician and, ultimately, as a person. I would spend hours in the shops they worked in, and eventually I'd talk occult bollocks with them well into the night at their place, just soaking up information about magick, occultism, different groups and traditions, and who knew their shit - usually through anecdotal whimsical means. And what I mean there is, I'd hear funny stories about misadventures in magick, hear people getting the piss taken out of them, and overall get a sense for what it meant to be a part of the scene.
This was the true lesson: If you bullshit, at all, then people who are good at magick will know.* Who or what ever you try to portray will never be as relevant to your reputation as what you do. And if you can't actually magick your way out of a paper bag, then people will find out, and they will mock you mercilessly.
You know. Just like Social Magic Reactions.
This was incredibly humbling. It gave me a real and palpable fear that I would be shown up for a fraud, because I used to absolutely bullshit my way through school, talked myself into friendships and relationships I couldn't actually sustain, and generally I was a mess. A mess in an expensive coat with pretty silly hair. (What's changed? I hear you cry…) I was forced to accept that this was a brand new world about which I knew basically nothing, and was forced to start from scratch before I could even try to speak about anything.
More than this, I learned all about people who were unlike myself. I'm straight, white, middle class, cissexual, and am pretty healthy for the most part. There are a lot of people in the occult and pagan subcultures who are not, and who face constant challenges because of it. From street violence against LGBT, to Government castigation of the disabled, we live in a world where increasingly, if you can't slave away in an awful office or retail job, you're useless to capitalism, and “normal” society is desperate to tell us how worthless the outliers of that society are. I learned that what I did have was the power to advocate and challenge on behalf of those who couldn't, and I believe that if magick really is the art of manifesting the possible, then we should be using that to create a fairer and more just world. I work to make the world a better place. And you can't do that if you're fueled by ego and aiming to be some sort of guru.
What then, should we do when faced with a damn good jab, and in some cases a cross and a hook to follow, from the Puck of our social group? Here's some tips that nobody will want but maybe might give you some grace under whimsical fire:
- Do they have a point? I mean… you know when it's so painful and you can't work out why and then you realise it's because it's… true? If so, just put your hands up. The occult art is about learning, and if you generally just admit you were wrong or got the wrong idea, people will let it go and we can all move on. Unless you're EA Koetting.
- Have you earned it? Maybe it isn't actually true, but you've been acting like a jerk and giving yourself way too much credit without actually earning it (I've been guilty of this). Some humble pie can taste like shit but your friends will be glad when you come to your senses, believe me.
- Could you do something differently? Maybe you need to look at how you go about business, the things you claim to be, do, or know, and make a change in how that comes across. Nobody likes a smart ass, so have you tried being kind to people lately? Uh, unless you run a blog about taking the piss out of magicians, in which case keep it up guys!
- Have you asked someone what exactly it is that's found you in the crosshairs? Try it, be open to honestly accepting feedback and criticism. David Shoemaker has a great tip in Living Thelema, that to find out your Will, ask friends what you're good at, what you're bad at, and what you bring to the party. Then go ask your enemies. Where the answers overlap, is the truth.
So to come to the point - taking the piss is important. Really important. If we can't laugh at ourselves then that’s an indication that there’s something seriously wrong, spiritually and magically, and even just socially.
SMR does that in a way I haven't truly seen on the internet before. Inappropriate Tarot Readings were coming close, and I post a lot up from I Fucking Love Chaos Magick, but they have never captured that being part of a scene feeling of the personalities and inside commentary in the way that SMR has. I know it only covers a fairly specific portion of the internet, from Jake to Gordon to Rufus to the Scarlets, but that's kind of my area anyway, and it feels great to have that laughter available to me again.
Here's to my original years in Manchester, all those who were my friends or enemies or lovers, or all of the above. Here's to being shown in short order that I wasn't the centre of the fucking universe, and to understanding that humility and being open to learning will get you light years further than pretending you're a special fucking snowflake. Here's to getting my ass kicked until I had to shape up and learn something.
Bottom line: Being a knob is bad for business. And if the guys at SMR can smell it, you can bet your gods and spirits can smell it too, so wake up and smell the Abramelin oil. Take it on board and step up - you're destined for greatness so don't be a jackass about it.
* Fun fact: I totally wasn't sure about OTO, but took Minerval to see what happened. This, one of the most important lessons of my life, turned up during my initiation, and is what completely sold me on the whole system. The Order saw me coming, and I did not expect that at all. Good work Crowley, that piqued my interest, and here I am.