The Blood of the Earth
The Blood of the Earth
John Michael Greer
Limited to 55 copies; bound in full black Nigerian goat, gilt blocked with weeping sun device, custom marbled oil and gold endpapers, ribboned and presented in a slipcase
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Standard hardback edition
Limited to 747 copies; bound in an edenic green cloth, black foil blocking on front and rear, embossed black endpapers
Bibliothèque Rouge edition
Unlimited paperback; cover image by J. Henry Fair from the Industrial Scars series; isbn 978-0-9567203-8-2
8vo (240 × 156 mm)
Industrial culture is in collapse. There is no infinite growth on a finite planet and oil, our most critical resource, has passed peak. We have entered a period of radical flux, and magic must respond to the world in which it operates, or it is nothing but empty escapism. The Blood of the Earth: An Essay on Magic & Peak Oil is a challenging and radical book. It fuses hard physical science with an adept’s understanding of magic. It is a smart, articulate and devastating piece of writing. You could call it a polemic. You could call it a prophetic work. We believe it is essential reading for the modern magician.
Magic, like peak oil, is the voice our civilisation has failed to heed. Greer argues passionately that the answers to our darkening age are to be found in the practice of magic, provided we understand what it can and cannot do. He gives a lucid explanation of how magic works and crucially, where it does not. His vision of the future covers the dangers of political thaumaturgy and the threats of new dictatorships in an increasingly unstable world. Neither does he shy away from a critique of the mind control antics of the black magicians of the advertising industry. Cautionary examples of UFO cults, mysterious assassinations and fake science are all grist for his mill. Whilst attacking the failures of scientific materialism and the empty technological utopias he does not spare the New Age.
Instead he presents a tour de force of occult philosophy covering Neoplatonism, Theurgy, Ritual magic, and thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Giordano Bruno, Joséphin Péladan and Rudolph Steiner. He presents the highly practical mental training methods of magic for countering the tyranny of dualistic thinking. Clearly written and accessible, The Blood of the Earth is part of the fusion of deep ecology and deep paganism we continue to champion, and is equally relevant to heathen, druid, magician and witch. By reading this book you will have a far clearer understanding of the unfolding future. More than that, it will give you clear and direct strategies to break free of the mind forg’d manacles.
Strange Bright Banners
A Lesson in Practical Magic
The Myth of the Machine
Begin It Now
Ceremonial magicians aren’t usually known for writing books on the decline and fall of industrial society, and futurists don’t normally write books on magic. It so happens that I’m both of these things and write on both topics. How that happened is a long story and not that relevant to the project of this book; suffice it to say that I encountered occultism and the first solid warnings of our civilization’s approaching destiny around the same time, when I was in my teens, and have been a student of magic and of the deindustrial future since that time.
It’s easy enough to think of these two subjects as unrelated, and just as easy to relate them in an unproductive way. On one side of the balance, you have the claims of current scientific materialism, which insists that magic is nonsense, and therefore can bring nothing worth hearing to the pragmatic issue of whether the world’s industrial nations can continue to find and extract the immense energy supplies they need to stave off collapse. On the other, you have the claims of a variety of popular spiritualities and pseudospiritualities, which insist that metaphysical factors can overturn the ordinary laws of nature and make the concerns of today’s scientists irrelevant.
Neither of these claims is particularly useful – it would be as accurate to say that neither of them is particularly true. The claims of the metaphysically minded, who trust that God or the Space Brothers or some conveniently undefined leap of consciousness will rescue us from the consequences of more than three centuries of misguided collective decisions and more than three decades of increasingly desperate attempts to delay the inevitable, rely on the same failed reasoning that convinced people in the last days of 999 ce to brick themselves up in towers, the better to ascend to heaven when Christ appeared in glory with the new year.
The materially minded who scoff at such thinking, though, are themselves guilty of an equal and opposite mistake. The forces that have backed the world’s industrial nations into a blind corner, and are keeping them pinned there, have much less to do with strictly material realities than with the realms of mind and consciousness that are the raw materials of magic.
Getting beyond these two unhelpful approaches will take, among other things, a clear sense of what magic is and what it does, and that’s a sufficiently vexed question these days that most of the first chapter that follows, and parts of the others, will be taken up in dealing with it. It will also take at least a nodding acquaintance with the shape of the blind corner I’ve just mentioned, and thus with the meaning of the phrase peak oil.
That term is shorthand for the peak of global conventional petroleum production, and the massive challenge it poses for the future of the industrial world can be summarized readily enough. Right now, some 40% of the world’s energy consumption – the largest single share – comes from petroleum, including essentially all the energy used in transportation, most of the energy that powers agriculture, and nearly all the energy used to produce other energy resources. Since petroleum is a nonrenewable resource, geologists pointed out a good many decades ago that sooner or later the rate at which old fields run dry would outstrip the rate at which new fields could be found and brought on line; the point at which that happens marks the arrival of peak oil – the time at which oil production stops increasing, and begins its long and irrevocable decline.
When peak oil gets mentioned at all in the mainstream media, it’s treated as though it lies somewhere off in the indefinite future; it’s hard to think of a better example of the way that the supposed realism of our contemporary society masks a mass of delusion that would do credit to the wards of a mental hospital. Global conventional oil production peaked in 2005 and has been in decline since then. The petroleum industry has responded by throwing into the mix almost any liquid that will burn – ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas liquids, tar sand extractives, you name it. All these cost more and take more energy to produce than conventional petroleum does, which is part of why the price of oil has nearly tripled since 2005, not to mention part of why the cost of food has skyrocketed over the same period – acreage growing feedstocks for ethanol and biodiesel, remember, can’t be used to grow food for seven billion hungry mouths.
The conventional wisdom all along has insisted that once the price of oil started shooting up, more oil would become available, and other energy resources that weren’t economical when oil was $10 or $20 a barrel would supposedly become economical once the price per barrel rose to $80 or $100. You may have noticed that that hasn’t happened. Coal and natural gas, the other two fossil fuels, are already being extracted from the ground as fast as possible and put to other uses; nuclear power has never been economical without gargantuan subsidies from governments; and sun and wind, abundant as they are, are too diffuse and irregular to power technologies that depend on highly concentrated, regular energy supplies. To sum up, petroleum is essential to the world’s industrial societies; it is being used up at a rate of 84,000,000 barrels every single day; and after half a century of increasingly frantic research, it has become all too clear that no other energy resource can replace it as it runs short.
It’s a safe bet that most of the people who read this last sentence, unless they already know their way around the literature on peak oil, will refuse to believe it. To my mind, this is one of the most fascinating things about the situation. Since 1956, when renegade Shell Oil petroleum geologist M. King Hubbert broke ranks with his colleagues and issued the first public warnings about peak oil, one prediction after another made by peak oil researchers has been proven correct, while the dismissals of those predictions from mainstream economists, the oil industry, and the political establishment have over and over again ended up looking remarkably foolish. One after another, heavily promoted “solutions” have been trotted out, sucked up their quota of investment money and government grants, and gone belly up. Yet for the vast majority of people throughout today’s industrial nations, the thought that there might not be any replacement for oil – a replacement, mind you, that will not only keep all the extravagances of the modern world amply fueled, but provide for endless economic expansion as far into the future as the mind can reach – is quite precisely unthinkable.
That in itself traces a connection between peak oil and magic, because the suggestion that magic might just possibly be something more than primitive superstition is also unthinkable to the vast majority of people throughout today’s industrial nations. Still, the connection goes much deeper than this. As I suggested toward the beginning of this introduction, and as the chapters just ahead will show in more detail, the reasons why the modern industrial world backed itself into the blind corner called peak oil have a great deal to do with magic. Somewhere behind the bland emotionless labels favored by contemporary culture lies a tangled realm of unmentioned motives and murky passions, where petroleum – the black blood of the earth, as shamans and loremasters in a surprisingly large number of cultures call it – has become an anchor for fantasies of omnipotence and dreams of destiny, and that realm must be confronted directly in order make sense of where our civilization is headed.
Any meaningful response to the crisis of peak oil will thus have to have a great deal to do with magic as well. Before the options for such a response can be explored, however, it’s going to be necessary to think about the unthinkable – to understand what magic is and what it isn’t, and what it can and can’t do about the rising spiral of crises that threatens to overwhelm the modern industrial world. That in itself is a major challenge, for reasons rooted deeply in the history of magic in modern times.
Since Alphonse Constant, under his pen name Eliphas Lévi, kickstarted the modern magical revival with the 1855 publication of Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (clumsily Englished as Transcendental Magic by Arthur Edward Waite), a double transformation rich in irony has unfolded. On the one hand, students of magic following in Lévi’s wake have slowly recovered much of the body of magical philosophy and practice that was all but lost when the Renaissance gave way to what today’s historians awkwardly term the Early Modern period, the age of conflict between paradigms of knowledge and power that resulted in the triumph of modern scientific materialism and of the technological approach to the challenges of human life that followed from that revolution. On the other, a great many students of magic have fallen under the spell of that same scientific materialism, and redefined magic in ways that do little or nothing to make sense of magic’s potentials or its pitfalls.
This book therefore pursues a twofold work. First of all, it will attempt to make sense of what magic is and what it can do, and (at least as crucially) what it isn’t and what it can’t do. As those questions are settled, the focus of the book will shift to the options that are available to the student of magic as the age of abundance we have all known gives way to an age of contraction and decline. Much of what will be discussed in that setting may seem to have little to do with magic in the conventional sense of the word, but all of it follows from core teachings of the occult philosophy of the Western world, and provides a framework within which practitioners of magic can pursue their own more specific visions.
As the blood of the Earth runs dry, a great many assumptions at the core of the modern project are going to have to be discarded. The toolkit of magic is one of the few available options we’ve got to make that difficult transition a little easier, and to begin making sense of a future that has not yet even begun to darken the dreams of most of today’s humanity.
Review by Frank Kaminski on Resilience
It was as an inquisitive young man during the 1970s that John Michael Greer – now an accomplished author and an indispensable source of wisdom on things both worldly and otherworldly – began to question the world around him. Raised in a suburban neighborhood near Seattle, Washington, he felt deeply unfulfilled by both the trappings of the suburban lifestyle and those of American intellectual life, for he plainly did not fit into either. He was a youth of uncommon intelligence, intensity, focus and creative ability, and he owed these gifts largely to an autism spectrum disorder that he’s had his whole life (and that he incidentally shares with the present reviewer) called Asperger’s syndrome.(1) Like many with Asperger’s, Greer skipped the typical social life of an adolescent in favor of a search for truth and meaning. He read voraciously and widely, and over time amassed a broad and penetrating intellect.
His book The Blood of the Earth is, in many ways, a grand culmination of this intellectual journey. It draws on twin themes developed throughout Greer’s work – the regrettable fate of industrial civilization and the extraordinary potential of ceremonial magic – and relates them both in brilliant and myriad ways. Greer sees several key connections between the two. To begin with, they’re both fundamentally issues of mind and consciousness, rather than of material reality. The imminent resource shortages that our society faces are rooted not in the dwindling quantities of these resources left to be extracted, but in the thinking that people in wealthy nations have used to justify their lavish lifestyles. As for magic, its main purpose is not to make objects appear out of thin air, as in so many pop culture misrepresentations of magic, but rather to cause changes to one’s consciousness.
A few other similarities are well worth noting here. First, the general public is averse to both topics and is unable to accept their reality. There’s also the fact that both magic and the machinations of industrial society in its dying throes make use of incantations, spells and other magical rites. Indeed, Greer points out that the chants of "drill, baby, drill" coming from Sarah Palin and John McCain during the 2008 presidential race were quite literally an incantation, one whose purpose was much the same as that of incantations in occult magical practices: to soothe and to enchant rather than to effect change in the physical world. This parallel can be extended further, to the way in which all those who stand in thrall to technology and the idea of progress are immersed in a spell as powerful as anything a magician could create.
Greer describes the question of what magic is and what it does as being “a sufficiently vexed” one that an entire chapter is needed at the beginning of the book to address it. In this chapter, he clarifies that he’s not talking about stage magic or the kind depicted in light entertainments, but rather the occult practices of esoteric traditions. Focused on spiritual development, this type of magic is “the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.”(2) Thus, unlike the physical sciences, magic is not a means of directly manipulating matter and energy, so it isn’t capable of bringing about the technological leap that most people think will save our civilization from ruin. However, it can be used to change people’s perception of our crisis so that they can respond to it more intelligently.
Besides magic, another crucial concept that Greer defines at length is that of peak oil, which refers to the point at which conventional world oil production stops increasing and begins irreversibly declining. It’s now clear that this peak has already occurred—it happened in 2005, according to the best available data. It’s equally apparent, reasons Greer, that our society waited far too long to deal with the threat that peak oil poses. A report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2005, and now widely known as “the Hirsch report,” concluded that we would have had to anticipate the peak by two decades in order to avert serious economic impacts from it. Greer thus contends that our society faces a protracted period of steep decline, much like those of the Anasazi, Maya and other doomed civilizations that have waned through the ages because they overshot their resources.
Ever since the improvement of the steam engine in late 18th century England helped spur the industrial revolution, machines have held a profound enchantment over us. Their power to transform the world has given us a misplaced sense of superiority and omnipotence, to use Greer’s terms, and has duped us into believing that we’re destined to forever progress to higher states. These mistaken perceptions keep us from seeing the blind alley down which they lead. For example, as fuel prices began to soar at the dawn of the millennium, economists maintained that the higher prices would create new supply and make unconventional energy sources more economical. That hasn’t happened, of course, and yet most people haven’t taken economists to task on this or any of their other false predictions on energy. Such questioning would cut to the core of our culture’s cherished “Myth of the Machine,” to quote the title of a classic Lewis Mumford book that Greer cites.
The glib reassurances uttered by economists and other pundits represent a form of magic known as thaumaturgy. This type of magic plays on people’s non-rational, primal drives in order to gain control over them. Greer observes that soft drink companies make very effective use of thaumaturgy in persuading us to pay money for carbonated corn syrup beverages that are bad for our health. He also shows how thaumaturgic principles are at work in advertisers’ efforts to portray automobile dependence as freedom, and the solitary act of watching TV alone at home as a form of community involvement. Similarly outlandish distortions of the truth are to be found in the prevailing views about our energy future pedaled by the press, politicians and energy industry leaders. And yet, most people uncritically accept these, too, as fact. Thus, Greer insists that anyone who hopes to prepare for the actual future ahead must work to undo the effects of these thaumaturgic spells.
The antithesis of thaumaturgy is theurgy, or “divine work.” Theurgy’s purpose is to purge the mind and will of the biological drives and social reactions that thaumaturgy seeks to exploit. In contrast to the latter’s stealthy manipulation of the masses, theurgy works on an individual level and cannot be passively received, but must be mastered through long training and hard work. Himself a practicing mage, Greer well knows the pains involved in this process. He believes that for those willing to undertake the necessary discipline, it is as viable a means of purifying one’s reason and will as it was during the ancient Greek period in which it originated – yet it’s hardly the only means.
The Blood of the Earth discusses in detail the habits of mind that we must overcome if we are to earnestly face the future. Chief among these is the tendency to think in binaries, or in pairs of opposites with no middle ground in between. Greer traces this impulse to our primate ancestors, who had to quickly distinguish between food/non-food, predator/non-predator, etc. It was an instinct well suited to conditions at that time, but it’s since become a hindrance in attempts to make sense of our future. For instance, when asked how they see the world energy situation unfolding in coming years, most people envision either a continuation of business as usual or a cataclysmic collapse, in spite of the vast range of conceivable scenarios in between. The remedy for binary thinking, says Greer, is to make a conscious effort to think of additional possibilities whenever faced with a binary.
Due to his well-founded conviction that we face a predicament rather than a problem with a solution, Greer offers no hope of solutions. Instead, he shares his thoughts on some intelligent, proactive measures that can be taken to better prepare oneself for the inevitable decline of the industrial world. He stresses that we must, above all, curtail our exposure to the “manufactured popular pseudoculture” that tells us what to think and what to do. An excellent first step in this direction is to throw away the TV, since, true to the term “programming,” it plays a huge role in administering mind control. Just as important as shunning pop culture is filling the resulting void with something worthwhile, be it classic literature, music or the arts. When in doubt about what to choose, advises Greer, a good rule is to pick something old enough that it is in no way a product of today’s collective thinking.
In order to be effective, of course, this freeing of the mind must be accompanied by action. And Greer suggests three main lines of action: learning one thing, giving up one thing and saving one thing. When choosing something to learn, it’s wise to pick a practical skill like gardening or soap-making, since the demand for such necessities will far outlast the present-day market economy’s ability to supply them. As for things to give up, one excellent choice is the car. As fuel becomes ever scarcer, cars will become a tremendous burden and the ability to get around on foot will be hugely advantageous. Lastly, saving one thing refers to choosing a cultural legacy to preserve for posterity. There is much of our culture that will be lost forever if no one takes up this last task, due to the impermanence of today’s electronic media and books printed on high-acid paper.
Greer’s studies into magical practice give him a fascinating perspective on the crisis of modern civilization. He first got started in magic during his teens, drawn by the lure of a world that is, in his words, “much bigger, much stranger, much less rigidly defined than we’re told by the propagandists of modern science and the materialist worldview.”(3) He went on to follow a druid path as well, eventually attaining his current, lofty title of Grand Archdruid of the Grand Grove of the Ancient Order of Druids in America. He also has long had a sweet tooth for science fiction and fantasy literature (something that makes him more than okay in my book) and a talent for bringing it to bear in his scholarship. It will be a real treat to see what he comes up with for his next book—and we won’t have long to wait, given his prodigious output.
1 John Michael Greer, interview with Karagan Griffith, "Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth – with John Michael Greer," Witchtalk, Apr. 24, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SybRgLgCr68 (accessed July 24, 2013); Greer, interview with Imagicka, “The New Encyclopedia of the Occult: TWPT Talks to John Michael Greer,” The Wiccan/Pagan Times, Mar. 1, 2004, http://redroom.com/member/john-michael-greer/press/the-new-encyclopedia-of-the-occult-twpt-talks-to-john-michael-greer (accessed July 20, 2013); Greer, “John Michael Greer – Detroit Community Lecture – ‘Not The Future We Ordered’,” YouTube video of lecture given at the Detroit Masonic Temple in Detroit, MI, on Apr. 20, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDSTK3a_q9k (accessed Aug. 19, 2013).
2 Greer has cited this definition of magic by Dion Fortune numerous times in his writings, as he finds it to be among the most apt and useful.
3 Greer, interview with Ian Punnett, "Coast to Coast AM – Monster Lore – Main Show,” YouTube upload of show originally aired on Coast to Coast AM on Oct. 22, 2005, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0xAdTDvoEg (uploaded Jun 7, 2013; accessed July 14, 2013).
(Published at Resilience)