Dead Names, Dead Dog: A Magical Muddle, Part 3

Following the previous two sections, I want to recap one aspect of “Simon’s” critique of John from Dead Names:

Gonce attacks it from the point of view of a self-described pagan and ceremonial magician.

It’s that last phrase I want to point out.

The twentieth century has seen the explosion of people interested in various alternative spiritualities.  Although some outsiders would call this an explosion of cults, most of the people who hold these beliefs practice as solitaries who learn what they can via books or the Internet.  Groups are often temporary and fluid in membership.  This does not rule out the existence of lineages in certain ceremonial magic groups or witchcraft traditions, but few of these can be traced back more than a century.  This leaves most people free to define themselves as they see fit and to change that label when they feel it no longer applies.  Many see such an arrangement as not merely an organizational choice, but as an aspect of their beliefs.

Outsiders, more used to more conventional religious churches and organizations, find this unusual, even disconcerting.  As a result, writers often trot out qualifications for those they encounter based on their lack of affiliation, actual or no, with an organized religion.  It’s common to find news stories that refer to a “self-described witch” or a “self-proclaimed…Satanist“, while individuals who are of more traditional beliefs merely have their religion noted without comment or simply unstated.  The Canadian Religious Tolerance site actually lists phrases like these in its page on media bias.

When confronted with one such instance, we might conclude that such a phrase stems from a lack of knowledge.  Yet this is not the only time “Simon” uses a similar phrase.  In some cases, some might argue it is justified with regard to titles – “self-anointed, self-appointed elders of the Western occult tradition” or the “self-appointed critics and judges of occult and pagan societies” or the “the self-appointed experts in this wide-open field” whoever they might be.  Nonetheless, “Simon” moves on to broader categories, denouncing “self-proclaimed occultists and ‘ceremonial magicians’” not to mention “self-appointed ‘mages’ and magicians.”  (Notice those odd, inconsistent quotation marks?  That’s another tactic of minimization.)

Dead Names even uses these tactics when it shouldn’t. A member of the OTO, dedicated to Aleister Crowley’s philosophy of Thelema, is referred to as “a self-avowed Thelemite.” Murderer Roderick Ferrell is labelled “the self-proclaimed head of a vampiric cult.”  That may be true, but he also had a number of followers willing to back that up.

“Simon” can hardly be ignorant of what is going on here.  In Dead Names, he seeks the credibility that comes from his association with famous figures from the NYC occult scene.  Nonetheless, when it comes to talking about occultists and practitioners of alternative faiths, he immediately breaks out what many such people regard as ignorant slurs.  Although “Simon” wants respect from the occult community, he has no qualms about trashing aspects integral to people’s faiths to make cheap points in a debate.

This one will get worse.  Stay tuned.

Published in: on October 4, 2006 at 10:37 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. This morning, while glancing at titles being sold at an online occult bookshop, I got to thinking about the issue of occultic legitimization and how it might be possible to establish some kind of authority to ‘certify’ who is and who isn’t qualified. Yes, I realize this isn’t exactly an issue of high importance, but I think we can agree that only chaos and injustice will reign upon the earth as long as people can, as you put it so well, be “free to define themselves as they see fit and to change that label when they feel it no longer applies.”

    So what can be done? I think I have a solution that should work without causing the expected problem of every self-proclaimed ceremonial magician arguing over why this or that person has any authority. Three words: Inter-Peer Review Panel. What is that you may ask? (Or not ask. I can’t tell if you’ve read down this far or not. Oh wait, there you are. Ok, hold on a sec for the explanation.) Its a notoriously assumed fact that occult/magick/metaphysical/label-of-your-choice books being published today can and may contain incorrect scientific and historical information. And really, aside from trust in a publisher and the hope that they have some form of quality control, there is no way to tell what you are getting is accurate or honest. So what needs to be done is the formation of a panel whose job would be the rewarding of a certification of the book. Something like the National Book Critics Circle Award but more obviously more common. The idea is that all occult-related books would be reviewed by currently recognized writers in the field and, this is the important part, current specialists in other fields like history, physics, etc. They would then either reward the book with their certification as being a legitimate contribution without any outstanding errors or dismiss the book as being unworkable and distorting of current theory or facts. This isn’t censorship by any means, just a way of establishing some body politic that would be capable of maintaining some kind of authority within the field. After a few years, this body would then start conferring certification for ceremonial magicians and the like. I think it would work if done with the clear intention of establishing this kind of certification process and if it was initially well-funded.

    Yes, the devil lies in the details, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a certification process was started for a chaotic field and I think if the board was composed of a diverse skill-set and gave off a sense of impartiality it could succceed. And really, isn’t that what we all really want in today’s market economy? Brand Name Trust?

  2. […] I’ve heard people criticize John’s sections of The Necronomicon Files for their mocking tone.  In retrospect, though, this was an excellent decision, because it made “Simon” angry.  When an author is furious and writes in a hurry, it can make for powerful work.  If that fury is not checked during the revision process, however, that same anger can often cause the author to reveal more than he should.  In this case, it caused “Simon”  to openly display disdain and hypocrisy toward the very sort of people for whom he’s supposedly writing the book.  Instead of showing himself to be an authority in the occult community, he has shown himself to be a man outside it. […]

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