I just started reading Rebecca Seligman’s Possessing Spirits and Healing Selves. The book is based in her research on mediums in Candomble, fusing ethnographic and medical research techniques to approach an account of mediumship and possession that gives equal weight to physiology, psychology, and cultural context.
With the discussion of fate and destiny out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand. The way in which Lovecraft attempts to delimit the Necronomicon’s destiny to the literary sphere suggests a general discomfort with that destiny but an inability to sever himself from it. Not only did he make use of the text throughout his work, but he proceeded to expand its scope, putting it into communication with the literary occultism of his fellow writers, both explicitly and implicitly. Its literary fate becomes a root system, through which its destiny survives and along which it is able to flare up.
I keep hammering on about this connection between modernity as a literary sensibility and modernity as a spiritual/religious/occult one. I’ve admitted that I have more a sense of how not to talk about it than I do of how to talk about it. It seems like what I need is a figure I can pore over easily–I love Benjamin and I’m enjoying Baudelaire, but that is too far-removed from what I know to provide a ready handle. Which, well, makes me think about H. P. Lovecraft.
Tim Powers writes a lot of fiction about magical topics but is himself a conservatively religious sort of guy. I quite respect that sort of attitude–cautious awareness of the wider spiritual world joined to a serious respect for the very humane spiritual traditions that have traditionally been kind to people qua people. Anyway, I quite like the way he portrays Tarot in his book Last Call (which seems to mirror his own personal distrust of Tarot): when you spread out the cards, the spirit world has a chance to look at you. It is something of a one-way mirror, so that while you see in the reading yourself and your situation, the spirits see you. Like a one-way mirror, you can’t always tell if there is someone on the other side, but there might be.
I have mentioned this before, but one of the things I appreciate about George Yeats is her understanding of the medium’s role in mediumship. She makes clear that the quality of the medium shapes the quality of the message. The medium has to work at being a good medium and that includes developing their intellectual faculties so that spirits have easier access to concepts for communicating.
The principle that I am adopting is that consciousness presupposes experience, and not experience consciousness.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (Corrected Edition, 53)
Whitehead and spiritualism seem a bit like peanut butter and chocolate to me, so I thought I would throw up a post about this quote. I’ll unpack the two key terms in it before diving into the spiritualist angle.
One of the things I really appreciate about Gordon’s account of the Necronomicon is that it allows us to posit a unity to it that exceeds its otherwise disparate manifestations, that we can think of it as “a spaceship crashing to earth and flinging pieces over time and space.” That concept of a spiritual message manifesting across disparate points is useful and sits well with some of my own ideas on how the eternal and temporal interact. Here I am going to suggest that we ought to apply this to Jungian typology.
(I suspect you could apply to it to Jungian psychology more generally, with the critical caveat that one of the problems with Jung is that he too quickly falls back on psychology and philology or, to use a Gordonism again, fails to dig a deep enough well.)
The little bit I did about geomancy and spiritualism puts me in mind of an issue that is mighty important for a working spiritualist/magician/shaman/etc. There are many spiritual worlds and while many of them abut and overlap our own world, they are not precisely identical with it or each other. Yet, because there does seem to be some basic cosmic entanglement through their unity in God, there are many parallel patterns. That makes it easy for us to confuse one world with another, one spirit with another. We can hear them described and position them within the spiritual world or worlds with which we are familiar without actually knowing whether they belong there or belong to a world parallel to it.
The ‘really important’ things discussed in the last two posts (here and here) are also what I take to be the really real things. Here I diverge somewhat from some strands of gnosticism that borrow too heavily from Neoplatonism, transforming these really real things into derivative things, illusions that vanish in the bright day of enlightenment. Gnosticism depends upon making a distinction between that which is real and that which is the source of the real (the reality of the real to talk a little like Ibn al’Arabi), not on the reduction of one to the other.
Okay, while I’m at the keyboard and thinking about consciousness and magic, I’ll gripe just a little. (And, by gripe, I do mean to imply a certain lightness to what follows–not a burning critique, just a little grousing.) Why in the world are some folks deadset on making magic and spirits something that emerges from some era untouched by the taint of modernity? I get that, yes, there are a number of cool techniques that have developed in history that got sidelined in the eager march of materialism and that some salvage operations are in order. I get, too, that some of those techniques are connected to specific sorts of spirits and so developing those techniques requires a little face time with spirits we have come to associate with a (more or less) distant past.