What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
As I have now finished reading all of Crowley’s autobiography, it’s probably time to address the question: Was Aleister Crowley the evil black magician that he was portrayed to be? The short answer is, I don’t know. To quote Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And I think this was Crowley’s take on magick, that there is no good or bad magick, there is just magick. He uses the metaphor of music as an example.
Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F is a bad one; yet this is exactly the standpoint from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.
In a manner that is very familiar in our current political climate, Crowley blames the news media of his time as spreading “fake news” about him and his practices, asserting that what was written about him amounted to nothing less than slander.
I replied ‘Allegations utterly absurd.’ My only annoyance was having to pay for the telegram. Presently copies of the Sunday papers for November 28th arrived. I read them with tireless amusement. I had read in my time a great deal of utter balderdash, but nothing quite so comprehensively ridiculous. It gave me the greatest joy to notice that practically every single detail was false. There was, for instance, a description of the abbey, without a single failure to misstate the facts. If a thing was white, they called it red, if square, circular, if stone, brick; and so for everything.
To sum up, this is a long book, probably longer than it needed to be, but interesting in providing context for the development of the occult ideologies that have had a profound impact on the ideas and practices of those circles ever since. I also, personally, ended this book with the impression that some of Crowley’s stories were embellished, either to establish a cult of himself, or to convey symbolically some mystical information to the careful reader who could notice the subtleties of metaphor woven into the text.
I will close this series on The Confessions of Aleister Crowley with a quote that is most appropriate.
I read this play many times when I was in college, because it was part of my senior thesis, which I called “Order and Authority in Shakespeare’s Comedies.” I basically argued that Petruchio was a play on words and symbolized Patriarchy, and that the play sought to reestablish patriarchal rule that was being challenged by the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Needless to say, I didn’t feel the need to read it again for a long time. But reading it again, I realized that I had totally forgotten that this is the classic example of metatheatricality, or a play within a play.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, metatheatre is “theatre which draws attention to its unreality, especially by the use of a play within a play.”
Shakespeare places an Induction before Act I. Basically, it has a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly who passes out, and as a trick, is dressed up as a lord and treated as such when he awakens. His “servants” then have him seated to watch a play performed, which is “The Taming of the Shrew.” So unlike “The Mousetrap” within “Hamlet,” here we have the entire play set within a play.
The Induction also functions as a foreshadowing of the events that will transpire in the play itself. For example, the main theme of the duty and obedience which a wife is expected to show to her husband.
Sirrah, go you to Barthol’mew my page,
And see him dress’d in all suits like a lady:
That done, conduct him to the drunkard’s chamber;
And call him ‘madam,’ do him obeisance.
Tell him from me, as he will win my love,
He bear himself with honourable action,
Such as he hath observed in noble ladies
Unto their lords, by them accomplished:
Such duty to the drunkard let him do
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say ‘What is’t your honour will command,
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?’
(Induction, scene i)
And when the page meets Sly disguised as a woman, he reiterates the idea that a woman must be subservient to her husband.
My husband and my lord, my lord and husband;
I am your wife in all obedience.
(Induction, scene ii)
In addition to the obedient wife theme, there is also the theme of clothing, and changing of clothes to change or disguise a person. This is a key component of the Induction, and then plays out in the actual play. For example, Lucentio disguises himself and takes on the name Cambio, which is Spanish for “change.” It is in this changed manner that he woos Bianca.
His name is Cambio. Pray accept his service.
(Act II, scene i)
I suspect that Shakespeare used metatheatre to create an additional layer of protection for himself. If the play was intended to be a subversive jab at the Queen’s authority, he could argue that it was not intended to be taken seriously, hence twice removed from reality. Artists challenging authority do so at grave risk, so one cannot be too cautious, especially in a time and place where sedition is dealt with in the harshest of ways.
I’ve had my eye on this trilogy for a while. Everyone I know who has read Grossman’s Magicians Trilogy has raved about it. I’m just always hesitant to commit to a trilogy. But at last, I bought the first book and read it, and I have to say that it certainly lived up to all the hype.
Basically, Grossman takes aspects from some of the best fantasy books and weaves together a tale that is unique, yet seems familiar. I had impressions of Harry Potter, Narnia, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings. But there is also a modern edginess to the book, which works well in my opinion.
There is a lot that can be explored in this text—addiction, power, corruption, escapism—just to name a few. But since brevity is the soul of wit, I’m just going to focus this post on the topics of magic and the multiverse.
Early in the book, Quentin enters a school of magic, and one of the professors offers an interesting definition of magic.
“The study of magic is not a science, it is not an art, and it is not a religion. Magic is a craft. When we do magic, we do not wish and we do not pray. We rely upon our will and our knowledge and our skill to make a specific change to the world.”
This definition resembles Aleister Crowley’s, which states that magick is “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” And as Quentin continues his studies, he learns that the actual practice of magic is quite difficult, and is not something that comes easily, which is how magic is often depicted in books.
One thing had always confused Quentin about the magic he had read about in books: it never seemed especially hard to do. There were lots of furrowed brows and thick books and long white beards and whatnot, but when it came right down to it, you memorized the incantation—or you just read it off the page, if that was too much trouble—you collected the herbs, waved the wand, rubbed the lamp, mixed the potion, said the words—and just like that the forces of the beyond did your bidding. It was like making salad dressing or driving stick or assembling Ikea furniture—just another skill you could learn. It took some time and effort, but compared to doing calculus, say, or playing the oboe—well, there really was no comparison. Any idiot could do magic.
Quentin had been perversely relieved when he learned that there was more to it than that.
(pp. 148 – 149)
As a writer, I understand that words are just symbols intended to represent aspects of our reality. Which is why I was intrigued by a passage that asserts that magic somehow dissolves the boundaries that exist between language and reality, that it merges the symbol and that which the symbol represents into a single form.
“But somehow in the heat of magic that boundary between word and thing ruptures. It cracks, and the one flows back into the other, and the two melt together and fuse. Language gets tangled up with the world it describes.”
(pp. 216 – 217)
After graduating the school of magic, one of the young magicians, Penny, discovers a way to access parallel dimensions of reality, or what theoretical physics would call the multiverse. He terms this portal to the other dimensions the City (also Neitherlands), which seems like a type of matrix that allows one to pass from one reality to another. Penny goes on to explain to his friends what this means to our limited view of reality.
“The thing is, the more I study it, the more I think it’s exactly the opposite—that our world has much less substance than the City, and what we experience as reality is really just a footnote to what goes on there. An epiphenomenon.”
Penny proposes exploring an alternate world (Fillory), which was described in a book that the other young magicians had all read. Quentin is reluctant, but Penny pushes the issue, stressing that the exploration of hidden dimensions is truly the greatest quest that humans can embark upon.
“So what?” Penny stood up. “So. What. So what if Fillory doesn’t work out? Which it will? So we end up somewhere else. It’s another world, Quentin. It’s a million other worlds. The Neitherlands are the place where the worlds meet! Who knows what other imaginary universes might turn out to be real? All of human literature could just be a user’s guide to the multiverse! Once I marked off a hundred squares straight in one direction and never saw the edge of this place. We could explore for the rest of our lives and never begin to map it all. This is it, Quentin! It’s the new frontier, the challenge of our generation and the next fifty generations after that!”
As Hamlet so eloquently put it: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I strongly suspect that there are multiple universes existing beyond our current scope of perception, and just maybe, ancient mystical arts once provided glimpses of these hidden realms. It certainly warrants further exploration. If we dismiss ideas and potential knowledge because they conflict with our present paradigms, we are doing so at our own risk.
Even though Neil Gaiman is not writing the several offshoot arcs in the Sandman saga, I figured I would read them. So far, they are holding my interest, but still not up to Gaiman’s caliber. I haven’t felt the need to write about the other arcs/issues I have read, but there was a quote in this one that I felt was worth sharing.
Magic is neither good nor bad. Only its use determines its character. There are always consequences for its use.
The quote echoes Hamlet: “Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” It also hints toward the concept of karma, where all our thoughts and actions—good, bad, or indifferent—have an effect on our selves and the universe around us. Nothing that we do happens within a vacuum. There are consequences for every action we take, regardless of how trivial it may appear to be at the time. It’s the butterfly effect.
So far, the jury is still out regarding these offshoot comics. I’ll keep reading them for now and see where they go. Cheers!
Not a whit. We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.
(Act V, scene ii)
This may be my most often quoted passage from Hamlet, because I think of it a lot. And lately, in the wake of the election and watching social changes beginning to unfold, I once again return to Hamlet for wisdom and guidance.
By the fifth act of the play, Hamlet has been through the proverbial ringer. His entire world has crumbled around him. He has dealt with the loss of loved ones, was betrayed, struggled with thoughts of suicide, questioned his sanity, and faced “analysis paralysis” as he wrestled with whether or not he should act or respond to certain events. But now, Hamlet reaches the point of acceptance. He understands that what will be will be, regardless of what he does. I am reminded of the teachings in the Tao Teh Ching, to stop fighting against the flow and instead follow the current and allow the current to bring you to the place where you are supposed to be.
And of course: “the readiness is all.” It is pointless to obsess about what is, what was, and what may happen. The best we can do is prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually for what is to come. And what a relief it is to shed the burden of obsession and accept what is to be. And once we let go and accept, then we can be loving, caring, and supportive of others, and that is what I truly believe our purpose is in this life.
Another excellent installment in this arc! I keep thinking that the creative team cannot possibly keep up the quality of the writing and artwork, but yet with every issue I am astounded and impressed.
This issue is based upon a discussion between three familiars: Salem, the cat; and Nag and Nagaina, two cobras. They share the tales about how they were all once human but were transformed into animals. These tales of transformation comprise the issue.
What is so brilliant about this story is that it makes reference to numerous stories and folk tales that are part of our culture. There are allusions to Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Kipling, the Arabian Nights, pirate folklore, and so on. So what this short installment in the graphic series manages to achieve in just a few pages is demonstrate how stories cycle through our history, that our society and culture is guided by the stories that have been retold through generations.
As with so much great literature, you can read this without knowing the references to “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” or having never read “Rikki Tikki Tavi” and still enjoy it for the sheer elegance of the3 writing and the evocative artwork. But having knowledge of these texts adds another level of depth to the tale, making it interesting to a literature nerd like myself as well as being an entertaining read for the average reader.
There is nothing I love more than stories that serve as portals to literature, opening the vistas of the literary world to people who may not have been exposed to it. This is definitely one of those portal tales, or gateway drugs, enticing you into the wonderful world of art and the imagination.
In this opening section of the Odyssey, the goddess Athena petitions Zeus for permission to intervene on Odysseus’ behalf and is granted permission to go to Ithaca to speak with Telemachus, Odysseus’s son. It has been ten years since the Trojan War ended and Odysseus has yet to return. As a result, suitors seeking Penelope’s hand in marriage are gathering and taking advantage of the estate. Athena meets with Telemachus in the form on Mentes, a friend of Odysseus, and advises him on how to deal with the suitors. She then instructs him to journey to Pylos and Sparta to inquire after his father.
For this post, I am going to focus on the sea as a metaphor for the subconscious.
When Athena is petitioning Zeus, she mentions Odysseus’ captivity on Calypso’s island. She states that Calypso is Altas’ daughter and that Atlas is one who knows all the depths of the seas.
But my own heart is broken for Odysseus,
the master mind of war, so long a castaway
upon an island in the running sea;
a wooded island, in the sea’s middle,
and there’s a goddess in the place, the daughter
of one whose baleful mind knows all the deeps
of the blue sea—Atlas, who holds the columns
that bear from land the great thrust of the sky.
(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 3)
What is implied here is that Atlas understands the deeper aspects of the collective unconscious. That is what the sea symbolizes here. This collective unconscious is the realm of archetypes. And Odysseus is one of the archetypes that exist in this realm. So in the following passage, where Athena is conversing with Telemachus and she states that “never in this world is Odysseus dead,” she is implying that he is one of the eternal archetypes.
But never in this world is Odysseus dead—
only detained somewhere on the wide sea,
upon some island, with wild islanders;
savages, they must be, to hold him captive.
Well, I will forecast for you, as the gods
put the strong feeling in me—I see it all,
and I’m no prophet, no adept in bird-signs.
He will not, now, be long away from Ithaka,
his father’s dear land; though he be in chains
he’ll scheme a way to come; he can do anything.
(ibid: p. 7)
It is important to note that Athena asserts that Odysseus will “scheme a way to come.” He is already being cast as the Trickster archetype; although, he is also an incarnation of the Wanderer archetype.
As Athena’s meeting with Telemachus nears its end, Telemachus begins to suspect the divine nature of the being who is with him. He acknowledges that she must return to the sea, of the realm of consciousness where gods and archetypes exist, but offers her a gift before she leaves.
“Friend, you have done me
kindness, like a father to his son,
and I shall not forget your counsel ever.
You must get back to sea, I know, but come
take a hot bath, and rest; accept a gift
to make your heart lift up when you embark—
some precious thing, and beautiful, from me,
a keepsake, such as dear friends give their friends.”
(ibid: p. 11)
There are many other interesting aspects about this opening book, but to quote a famous writer, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” so I will just mention a couple more things that caught my attention. First, I was fascinated by the passage that discussed the responsibility of the son to avenge the father, whether directly or through guile. It made me think a lot about the connection between characters like Telemachus, Orestes, and Hamlet. Lastly, I loved the image of the poet as a weaver of spells. I have always considered poetry to be a form of evocative magic, conjuring through the use of words and cadence.
Phêmios, other spells you know, high deeds
of gods and heroes, as the poets tell them;
(ibid: p. 12)
If you are reading along, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to post below and we can engage in a conversation.
I was very excited when I found out that a new Kill Shakespeare series was being published. I read the first series and loved it. Unfortunately, when I went to the local comic store to buy a copy of the first issue, it was already sold out. I placed an order and thankfully was able to get a copy last week.
The blurb on the cover states: “This comic features sex, pirates, swordfights, poetry, AND people puking. It’s basically classic Shakespeare?” And yes, this comic has all that.
The story begins with Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, and Shakespeare aboard a vessel that is attacked by the pirate Cesario, who is accompanied by his first mate and lover, Viola. The four had escaped the destruction of Prospero’s island, but are plagued with daggers of the mind and seem to lapse into moments of anger and delusion. Still, Cesario recognizes the value of these captives, especially Juliet. His ultimate plan is not made known, but the stage is set for what is to unfold in the upcoming issues.
I have issue #2 already, but I have a lot of other stuff to read, so I suspect it will be a little while before I get to it. But rest assured, I will peruse these glossy pages and share with thee my thoughts.
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