Maybe I should start by telling my most recent churchfail story. This was five years ago, before my wife and mine’s first child, Coraline, was born, and before my own personal occult rennaissance. I had it in my head that witches would come and eat our baby (only [or totally] half-serious about this) if we didn’t get her baptized. At the time I worked as a building mechanic for a large and reknown Jesuit university. There were several churches on campus including one large official cathedral. I contacted the resident Jesuit at the dorm where my maintenance office was in and he put me in touch with the young priest that was in charge of handling conversions to the faith.
I was raised Lutheran, my father’s line is Swedish and Irish and my Irish grandmother’s family cut ties with her when she married a Lutheran Swede. My maternal line was Lutheran, but from what I understand, that had only been true since my grandmother was a child. My great grandfather was Catholic but my great grandmother had had an argument with a priest and shifted gears, raising the kids Lutheran. I’ve always wondered what that argument was about. If I can get my grandmother dialed in, maybe I’ll be able to ask her spiritform. I’m not sure it matters.
True to my family tradition, it seems, I had my own falling out with the Catholic church, before ever getting started. It was a problem of not having the proper paperwork.
When it came down to brass tacks, both my wife and I needed to produce paperwork that we had been confirmed (me by the Lutheran church I went to as a kid and her from the Catholic church in Corpus Christi). I did my investigative work and it turns out that, even though I had for a long time considered myself Lutheran and had attended services throughout my childhood, I hadn’t taken it far enough to be considered a member of that faith. My wife, surprisingly, got the same report from the church she had gone to as a child. This was surprising because she never stopped going to church, went to Catholic High School, and even though she didn’t go to church after High School, considered herself 100% Catholic. This created a real barrier for us joining the church on campus, which created a barrier for our children to even become baptized.
My leanings being the other direction anyway, these barriers proved too much for my constitution and I abandoned the effort.
Why bring up the churchfail? Well, Occult Facebook lately has been exhibiting a splilt, a longform occultist spat that probably has past context but not one that I am privy too so I’ll view it through my own lens. If you have evidence of the history to this argument, please pass it along, I dig on the histories.
The twenty-first century rise of Saint Cyprian, Santa Muerte, and magical saintwork in general is causing real tension for a lot of people on Occult Facebook. I have seen new friends (all my occult friends are new, I’m new to the community) post definitive statements that they will never work with saints or any magic at all related to Catholicism specifically and Christianity in general.
I feel them, I do. I get what their saying and recognize that trauma is real. That’s why I brought up my latest churchfail, to exhibit I am not an apologist, or even remotely a fan of modern church practices. From my perspective, the rise of our century’s technocracy, defined as a bureaucracy that gains its power through technology, created those barriers that kept us out of that church and, quite frankly, denied the Catholic church’s own mission of saving souls by placing a barrier between having my children baptized under their roof.
That said, why do I work with saints, and not just work with them, but derive some of the most tangible physical results from that work? You have my context, so here is my perception.
I view saint work through two lenses, the Chaos Magician and the folk Catholic. One of the tenets of Chaos Magic that I identify with the strongest is the act of engendering a strong but impermanent faith in the practice you are engaged in. You see, I have been faithless for probably more than thirty years. It was a Yes Virginia, Santa Claus is a fraud moment when I was young that broke by beliefgland permanently on many different fronts. This damage has, I think, what kept me from any kind of serious magic until my mid-forties. If you can’t manage faith that something larger than you or other than you is real, its hard [read: impossible] to enact any kind of serious ritual or spirit contact. Why, I even spent a decade of my life as a pre-Republican appropriation Ayn Rand and objectivist fan (she is rolling in her non-denominational grave, I assure you. Speaking as someone who has gone far far down the Zonpower / Objectivist wormhole, Rand would not tolerate her modern incarnation as being held up as the patron of neo-nazi Republiclone dogma). Digressions aside, the Chaos Magic thread I have pulled on the hardest is the magical act of maybe not false faith, but temporary faith (I’m not 100% on how to describe it really) in a spirit or system that you choose to work with. This is the avenue that allowed for tangible results in working with comic book archetypes and the Necronomicon, but it has also allowed me to form a deep connection with Saints Barbara, Cyprian, and Santa Muerte.
The second lens (in my head I am Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper with long hair and round frame sunglasses, one red lens and one blue one)
is that of Folk Catholicism. I’ve only just been introduced to this concept really, through the work of Gordon White and Mallory Vaudoise. The way I understand it, a Folk Catholic is an individual brought up as Catholic and has a strong belief in saints and the other facets of Catholicism, but that sidesteps the dogma, the technocracy (this term can apply to the church way before digital technology as the codex fits the definition of a type of technology and books [and reading] were monopolized by the church for um, a hundred years maybe) of the church itself.
A Folk Catholicism is a Catholicism without the churchfail.
I dig this, I’ve always been fascinated with the ideas in Catholicism, the ritual, the artifice, the ‘actual magic’ as Gordon White terms it.
Through these two lenses, which are just lenses mind you, I think I’ve found a way to work with saints, to find a real connection to them as entities that exist in the spirit ecology, and to derive real magical results in my life in a world gone mad.
That said, this isn’t right for everyone and is not coming from a place of unsolicited advice or mansplanation. If it is still seen as such, the fault is mine. If turning away from saints because of their affiliation with the Catholic Church makes sense to your magical self, that’s what you need to do. I have every reason to do the same, but magic is, ultimately, more about practical results and technocratic politico-religious complications just can’t get in my way. Otherwise I’m creating my own barriers, right?
This week’s imbrication, as has been the theme, came to me right at the writing of the post. That’s nice, I like the instant sync that information traveling at the speed of light can sometimes create. This week we are going to tune into the DJ known as The Black Madonna.
Currently residing in the gnostic spiritual capital of the United States, Chicago; The Black Madonna (a.k.a Marea Stamper) according to this article on the Chicagoist has been working in the rave scene and dance party circuit since the mid-nineties. This force of nature is imbricated across so many layers of magic and culture, I won’t be able to encapsulate here. As an example, dig on her explanation for her DJ name from the Chicagoist article:
"Allowing myself to go inside my own head has been transformative for me and if I am ever to do or be anything that is worth a crap, it will be because I am willing to make an unpopular decision and stick to my guns. I picked this name because The Black Madonna is a religious figure in a lot of traditions that I felt connected to. She is closely associated with Ezili Dantor in Haitian vodou. She is a revolutionary, powerful force who came just when I needed her."
A body / gender positive vodoun / DJ superstar come up from the midwest underground, Holy Poe's Raven, yes pleaz!
The Black Madonna imbricates on our theme this week because of all of these qualities, there is the analog / digital technology imbrications of the art / science / craft of being a DJ. The name (and the reasons behind it) layer on top of our magical investigations into Folk Catholicism.
And personally, there are imbrications with my own youth in the cultural wastes of the midwest and first discovering Chicago house music at hands-down the best record store in the continental United States, B-Side records of Madison, WI.
Check out The Black Madonna below and let me know what you think!
I feel strongly that we cannot talk about the twenty-first century magical renaissance without talking about technology. Many might disagree with me. Magic might mean a return to nature, a preservation of the natural world. I’ve read / heard arguments from people that I deeply respect that rituals cannot or should not be performed indoors, or that they won’t be effective if not done in a natural setting, in the dark of night, using a whale-oil hurricane lamp…
I’m not against this, I wish I lived in a place and had the balance in my life to visit these places more often. I don’t. I work in as an information scientist for a tech-dominated professional design firm. I am surrounded by technology all the time, my kids are (and I’m not one of those parents that tries to limit or suppress access), I am an analog technology hobbyist that collects cassette tapes and theorizes on what cassettes mean in the modern world. This is more of my context.
I strongly believe that we should use technology to our advantage while practicing magic. I’ll copy prayers down and read them off of my smart phone while standing in front of my altar at 4:30 AM. Its easier to read than my hand-written spell journal, no matter how many candles I have lit. I have used (as I’m sure we all have) computer programs both basic and advanced to generate sigils and calculate exactly when a Decan drops <inside_joke>@ghostlyharmless</inside_joke>, or when precisely is sunrise so that the magical (as opposed to the Capitalocene) day begins. I find these small acts telling, not trivial.
I also think it is a worthwhile exercise to pull on these threads, to press modern analogyflowers into the grimoire, in an effort to better understand the context of magic in the modern world. One of these metaphorescences is the idea of the anti-pattern. An anti-pattern, generally referenced in literature and research surrounding software development, is a response to a reoccuring problem that is common and widespread and also not effective and generally counterproductive.
For instance, the eschewing of all technology in twenty-first century magic, or ostracizing powerful and generally very helpful spirit beings due to their affiliations with an Anthropocene-specific religious institution like the Catholic Church.
Lovecraft gives us one of the most powerful anti-pattern archetypes available, the godhuman Nyarlathotep. In the short piece that shares our archetypes name, the below phrase is offered at the very beginning:
“To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger…”
Nyarlathotep is a political archetype, or, I would argue, an archetype of technocracy. Visualized as a thin dark skinned man that uses steampunk and Teslaian technology to impress upon the masses his power and influence - in my head he appears as a mix between Elon Musk and Julio Cesar Ody. You can take that however you want.
Whenever Elon, er, I mean Nyarlathotep is at a rally, he inspires everyone with technology and techno-driven insights. He drives them to a frenzy that even the participants don’t understand, and then he leaves. This might be something like dropping in on an uncontacted Amazonian tribe, handing all of the children iPads, and then disappearing back into the forest.
Lovecraft describes what happens in Nyarlothotep’s absence as nights filled with mindterrors and insomnia. Use a smartphone long enough or stare at a computer screen coding for twelve hours and you’ll get a similar feeling.
When Nyarlothotep needs to turn it up, he calls all the townsfolk into the local movie palace and shows them Man In The High Tower style films of their own town but one disrupted by a type of apocalypse, hooded acolytes in black robes and yellow silk masks walking sullenly amongst their fallen town-founder statues and burning Carnegie libraries. They empty out of the theater only to find that what was represented via his technology is in fact, reality.
Towards the end, Lovecraft uses a really curious symbol, that immediately struck me as being alchemical or alchemical-adjacent, that of the Green Moon. Now, I couldn’t find an exact match in alchemical symbolism, but I did find a new-to-me blog by the name of Distillatio that talks about an illustration in the Rosarium Philosophorum of the green lion devouring the sun. This is a symbol of a substance that it absorbing gold.
If anything is clear about our modern technocracy, it is that technology absorbs all of our gold. Extending the metaphor of the green lion and layering it over the most recent phenomena of a total solar eclipse, in the words of Mr. Gordon White again, “if we squint” we can see a techno-magical match with this strange symbol in the tale of Nyarlothotep and our own struggles against Pokemon-Go zombie hordes and a president that vomits literally world shaking non-policy via Twitter.
We see echoes of Nyarlathotep in Levenda’s the Dark Lord when he talks about Set:
“Set is the Beast. He is Therion. Set is that supernova that exploded on April 30th, 1006, when his asterism ‘hung from its tail in the sky’ and destroyed a civilizaiton, and buried one of the largest temples in the world under a mountain of volcanic ash not to be see again for more than eight hundred years.”
Nyarlathotep is the Mega-Therion, he is the most accurate representation of the devil we face today, not a goat-headed Baphomet but a man with self-driving cars, drones, bankless money-exchange software, and rockets that take off and land like Flash Gordon’s ship at his fingertips. He is also, in pure Lovecraft fashion, an ‘Other’, with his dark skin and hidden origins in unknown lands. This is where I think those that concentrate on nature magic and hide from the world miss the mark. The understanding of evil, of the enemy, from that perspective is incomplete. Levenda says it better than I:
“As in the case with the Necronomicon, normal modes of protection may not obtain. The entities one meets in the Tunnels of Set… are not those that were bound by the Seal of Solomon; they are older than Solomon, older than dynastic Egypt, older than Babylon. The only reasonable description we have of the realm and its denizens is what we come across in Lovecraft… The standard demons and evil spirits of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are unequal to the task of representing the deeper archetypes that are encountered in this high-intensity approach to… magic.”
The Green Moon and Nyarlathotepian tech as the devourer of gold is where we find our match in the Tarot as well. The Ace of Coins, in the Etteilla deck, in its reversed state (for how else shall we view Nyarlathotep) carries the keyword Bourse d’argent, or ‘Silver Bursary’. This, in turn, maps liguistically to the treasures (read: dragon horde) of a religious institution. Nyarlathotep is the Ace of Coins, he is the symbol of not only technocracy but also our own insatiable technophilia, as we covet the wares of the technocrats and shower them with ever increasing and ridiculous amounts of our own hard-won gold, we fill their horde with our blood, sweat, and labor, with milk meant for our children, with our own and with the next generation’s future.
In Holistic Tarot, we read that the Ace of Coins represents someone with great power for achievement on the material plane. It is the project kick-off meeting gone well. This bit from Wen is telling, so much so I don’t want to paraphrase it:
“the focus of this card… is not on material or financial manifestation, but rather on the hand that brings about material or financial manifestation.”
Nyarlathotep is the embodiment of all our own magical anti-patterns, which have scaled beyond our own conception now that the entirety of the magical diaspora is finding connections anew in cyberspace.
He wins politically through technological slight-of-hand. Look over here, look at this new thing that does these things that you need. Don’t watch as nightmares are planted in your subconscious, your witchy generation (read: the new ruling class) weakened spiritually and financially, concentrate on the magician’s right hand while he steals your wallet with his left.