Fly the light
The occult is traditionally seen by its practitioners as an art of shadows, their calling, casting, conversation and compulsion. From figures on the cave wall, to goetic ritual and necromantic enquiry, the shade has been our constant companion. Yet our companions have been anathematised, and so too have those of us who continue to traffic with them (in that descriptor I include psychoanalysts). I will argue that the shadow itself is being entirely excised in late capitalist culture, and to make the counter assertion that it is in casting shadows and the practice of the occult arts that we are most complete. Occultists have consistently developed strategies to negotiate the unseen worlds, but these have a consistent physiological basis that has been steadily eroded by the mono-culture and neglected by modern practitioners.
Jung writes, ‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however is disagreeable, and therefore not popular.’ (C.G. Jung, Alchemical Studies 265–266). Such an unpopular procedure is the hallmark of the eldritch realms of both psychoanalysis and the occult. The shadow is the unconscious, the devil with whom we must engage in conjunctio. It is what we fear and despise both in ourselves and as a culture. So we share common ground. But magic is wary of psychoanalysis, and with good reason. One does not have to be Foucault to realise that psychoanalysis can be seen as part of the continuum of control mechanisms of state, church, school, factory, hospital and prison; a device for producing and replicating compliant and well adjusted workers. In a witchcraft context, it is a descendant of the inquisition relying on the testimony of women in particular to articulate its script.
Our ‘cure’ includes the performative and ritual aspect that psychoanalysis for the most part lacks, and we are, for the most part, both literate traditions with our jargons and procedures, and our preoccupation with making the darkness visible. We have in fact more points of agreement than either side have acknowledged, our shadows have been dancing together, even if psychoanalysis once sought to exorcise us in search of credibility. We could in fact be described as the shadow of psychoanalysis. Indeed, James Hillman wrote in 1976, ‘Some people in desperation have turned to witchcraft, magic and occultism, to drugs and madness, anything to rekindle imagination and find a world ensouled, […] But these reactions are not enough. What is needed is a revisioning, a fundamental shift of perspective out of that soulless predicament we call modern consciousness.’ I see no fundamental reason why our living ensouled magical world, for which we have a tradition and battery of techniques, is not the very answer that Hillman sought, though I am mindful that much of occultism remains as reactive, immature and ill-starred as the culture which cradles it. Psychoanalysis, like Prospero must ultimately accept Caliban, and Shakespeare gives the simple ritual formula required: ‘This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.’
If we are looking for a statement of intent in shadow work, then this is the one to employ, and perhaps a worthy statement of intent for this conference.
Jung writes, ‘Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.’ (C.G. Jung, 1940 CW 11: para 131) It appears as a rupture, a criminality, a mark of the primitive and less ideal man, an idea that is contiguous with Kristeva’s semiotic, which ‘…contains childish or primitive qualities which would … vitalise and embellish human existence, but convention forbids!’ I observe here that the dense shadow of the occult is finding ever darker expression. There is a tendency to fall in thrall to the rejected aspect and transfer our loyalty to it. Our goal is not to be subsumed by the shadow, but to be able to employ it at our bidding. As Jung observed, ‘A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps.’
Ours then is a difficult task, the navigation of threshold states in the pursuit of power. I purposefully do not say knowledge, or self-realisation which may occur as side effects, but power which is the aim of our practice. The site of that enquiry is to be located in the body, which is ever partaking at the threshold of life and death, constructed of a patina of shadow and light.
The body of surfaces
Michael Maier in Atalanta Fugiens, his alchemical emblem book, states in Epigraph 45, ‘The Sun and its shadow complete the work.’ It is a quote taken in turn from Aureus, and the even more shadowy Hermes Trismegistus who advises ‘extract from the ray its shadow.’ Jung too describes the shadow as the necessary component of a three-dimensional body. It is an observation drawn from lived physical experience which opens up the possibility of a revived occult practice.
The human body is a gnomon, the shadow placing us in time and space. By reading the shadow we know both who and where we are in relation to the light. The shadow revolves with the cosmic dance. The body is not a standing stone, but articulates a range of contrasting meanings, of stories and deceptions. It is a dynamic form which the practitioner must learn to manipulate, or is manipulated by.
The shadow is one way that we can communicate with the subtle intelligences in a dynamic exchange. However, my contention is that in the digital age the shadow has been excised, and deliberately so.
The seeming aim of late capitalist culture is to produce what I call the body of surfaces. By which I mean the virtual body, that by definition, can cast no shadow. It is untethered from the relationship with light and shade that the body affords and that the heavens enact. In alchemical terms it partakes of no natural processes, meaning that it is entirely inert. Nor is such a body entitled to a shadow in the panopticon of the modern world where it is lit from every direction.
We are becoming a screen for images projected onto us and our increasingly barren environment, there is simply no shadow play possible in the digital sensorium. The old TOPY proverb states, ‘our enemies are flat,’ but so too are we and our supposed ‘friends.’ Our dreams are constructed for us by algorithms and become indistinguishable from our ever diminished waking state that is fractured into compliance by our addiction to the demands and small rewards of the simulacra. Subtlety is lost in blank text, the banality of gifs and crass emoticons: the shadows have been swiped away.
Therefore, the first paradoxical action in approaching the shadow is to recognise the body, a problem that neither Jung nor Freud faced. The body itself has become the shadow, and it has both waned and bloated. As a society we are skinny fat, presenting a form to the digital world that looks ideal but which is on the other side of the screen, diseased, depressed, degenerate and poverty stricken.
We witness the loss of the body, and this reflects the changing shape of capitalism, with robotisation set to permanently destroy many jobs not just driving, manual and factory work but the professions too. This erasure of the body is achieved in a destruction of differences that accomplish the triumph of the monoculture. It is a step towards our bio-obsolescence as production units or sources of value. The body is already surplus to requirements, unless you desire to utilise its occult or creative powers. Magic and analysis may soon be the only tasks that computing cannot perform!
Much of our social life is relegated to the artificial world, which undeniably enables connection, but never consummation, for which we require shadows and flesh and place. This will be the next revolution, as presaged politically by Occupy and the Nuit debout and magically in the witchcraft revival. The most radical use of the internet is as a way to coordinate the movement of bodies into physical space. (This conference is a further demonstration of that possibility). We categorically do not need more information, we need context, and that context is the three-dimensional body as explored through the shadow arts.
Above all, the occult requires a renewed physical practice, of the restorative movement patterns, and an attention to diet and the breath; psyche. These are now largely the province of the high resonance narcissists of the New Age and the immortalist corporate high achievers. There has been an almost total loss of physical culture in the occult and in broader paganism. Witchcraft, it must be remembered, was once identical to anathematised forms of dance whether La Volta, the Sarabande or more rustic revels. Shadows are by their nature not fixed, but flicker and dance.
I state categorically that the realm of the flesh is the realm of the shadow. In a Christian sense, matter is an illusory form that clothes the Holy Spirit. That has an exact parallel in digital culture where the body is a ‘meatsack’ and the digital identity is where truth is to be sought. Mine then is a strictly Satanic conception, a return to the body and a return to the world as the site of being. Such a view of occult anatomy does not launch straight into a collection of spheres or paths, belts, wheels and sheaths but asks that we begin with the body itself in relation to place.
The occult has failed in seeking after a magical body, the shadow which it has not been able to relate to the physical body which casts it. Such a fundamental error is magnified by digital culture, a status game played without any requirement to demonstrate proofs by a dislocated populous whose starting point is an alienation from the corporeal. A questioning of reality and the necessary introspection that typifies an occult awakening all too often involves a rejection of physical culture and the world. I repeat, the body is the site of power. I am not suggesting that such an occult body needs to conform to a Greek ideal – often initiation is the result of sickness, often occult power is exhibited by the deeply hurt – but it can best be expressed if we put movement in our lives and practice, and if we become adept at navigating the boundary states.
One could propose that ritual is accomplished by dance, sound and sign making; all attributes and extensions of the dynamic body that with intent and training can project further into shadow as ‘occult power.’ The mimetic dance with the chiral symmetry of the cast shadow is pivotal to this. These are perhaps our oldest forms of ritual.
Shadow play, strategies and ritual
How then can sorcerers, whose art is precisely that of the shadow, work with this most ephemeral and enduring of forms? What strategies and ritual responses are to be employed in order to destroy the tyranny of the body of surfaces? We must, as Jung describes, repossess the shadow as the necessary component of a three-dimensional body.
Though I have talked about the body as shadow, the shadow in turn reveals the body, and the intent concealed within the form. We often consider the aura of an individual, but the shadow also speaks. Witchcraft can be employed as an art of drawing the shadow out of something, of revealing that which is being concealed from a client by themselves, or that which isbeing deliberately kept from us. In traditional witchcraft the shadow is vulnerable to injury and death, so if our shadows have been abducted, we must find them again, along with secrecy, agency and discretion. In working with the demonised forms of sexuality, the drives and the demons, we allow the shadow to manifest and to grow longer darker and more solid. The more antinomian forms of the occult that I mentioned at the start of my talk can therefore be considered as a vital coagulation.
Furthermore, the shadow can provide a counter magic or lay a curse upon the prevailing doctrine. The living shadow can disrupt the hierarchy (or ratio) of the senses. Rather than meditating on the candle we can meditate on the shadow, rather than adoring the sun or moon, we can turn our attention to what they cast; we can thus engage in a series of deliberate inversions that take our existing ritual modalities and make them three dimensional. We can transform the way we are in the world and be conscious and present practitioners of magic. There is almost never a need to add novel methods to occult practice, but rather to discover the depths in that which we already do. Even the finest line of shadow promises to open a breach through which magic will pour.
Marshall McLuhan recognised that, ‘Sense ratios change when any one sense or bodily or mental function is externalised in technological form.’ If digital media has, as I argue, fundamentally disrupted the sensorium, then I posit the shadow as the corrective. The shadow disrupts proportion: it is as plastic as Alice; it is, to pun in the manner of McLuhan, ir-ratio-nal. It magnifies and projects our power, out of proportion to our apparent size, this is an essential element in any strategy of asymmetric conflict. I suggest that the irrational disruption of witchcraft, and the radical decentralisation of the rhizomatic coven is a way of rediscovering our totality and escaping the sensory isolation wrought by the digital. Such forces of irrationality can be dangerous or healing. I say choose your poison, that of the spreading of shadows, or the cowled compliance of an oculus rift headset.
We do not need to accept Marc Prensky’s concept of ‘Digital Natives,’ and consign voices of technological dissent to the box marked ‘luddite,’ or the even worse crimes in our culture: out of fashion and old. Instead we recognise that it is precisely the youth who are being betrayed, and that we as nomads, whether we are wanderers or have been displaced, must use our techne to abscond from the enclosed digital commons and gather instead upon the heath. A community of living shadows.
A magician knows that when you are being shown something – the function of the body of surfaces – it is because something else is being concealed. A trick, a prestige, from praestringere – to blunt the sight or mind. What is being concealed is the ultimate illusion, the removal of the world itself and its living systems. Thus we need to be adept at finding the shadow, realising where it is being hidden from sight. We are not only practitioners of magic, we are victims of it, that is, until we have stitched the discomforting shadows back onto our world. As a result, we cannot consider the dark web as the shadow of the internet, as it functions in the same way, namely as a marketplace that annuls the body. If we want to consider a shadow of the internet, it is to be found in the industrial architecture of servers and machines built and maintained with devastating environmental costs.
We live in quite the opposite to an era of apocalypsis, of revealing; we live in a redacted media culture peopled by reflections and opposed by solitary martyrs. More information will not save us from it, context and the body in action will. Mine is a corporeal witchcraft. It is the shadow’s fluidity, its refusal to adhere to the form, to cross boundaries, that brings our attention to the occulted nature of being and what it means to be human. Ultimately I propose creating a libidinal breach, as the shadow is the realm of the erotic, and eros triumphs over thanatos. The calligraphic shadow is liberated when the written word is performed, the shadows reveal to us that we exist in relation to a cosmic dance in a realm more pliable than rational approaches can ever admit. We do not fly the light, as our detractors contend, but are truly creatures of light and darkness.