I got a new tattoo this week. If you asked me to describe it to you I could say it’s a piece by obscure occult artist Brian Ward. I could say that it’s apocryphal origin is that it’s a depiction of a Lovecraftian entity, a great old one, or a Nyarlathotep. I could say it’s a demonic lightbulb (it kinda does if you squint) but if I wanted to cut through the nonsense I’d tell you it’s the cover to the first book written on Chaos Magick
Liber Null & Psychonaut, an Introduction to Chaos Magick. Peter Carroll wrote it as the first fledgling attempt to make sense of what was at the time leading edge occult thought. Its ideas have become so accepted among the mass of occulture that we may take for granted that at the time this was a radical new view or at least codifying fringe ideas compared to the traditionalism of the stuffy robed orders that constituted Western esotericism. It’s stayed in print for decades now and seen revised versions as recently as last year but would you believe that back in the dark ages of the 1980s publishing magick books might have been even harder than it is now?
In a world devoid of print at order self publishing, crowd funding, and substack, getting a your coffee and tear stained manuscript to complete its alchemic transmutation into a paperback was a herculean task and at the intersection of revolutionary thought and introductory text it occupies a unique position that’s seldom seen in the mind body spirit section of your local books-a-million. Of course if you were to go slumming in the witchy section you might notice something about the current state of spooky woo woo publishing.
Everybody has a Beginners book.
If you’re a budding magus or baby witch the world’s your oyster as far as books to jump in “Introduction to Practical Magick”, “How to talk to spirit guides”, and “Throwing Fireballs for Dummies” Far as the eye can see you’ll find volumes dedicated to telling you how to get started disappointing your Youth Pastor.
To get anywhere in magick you need to some level of base information. If it isn’t from a book it’s from a teacher, or if you’re really 21st century, it’s communication with an Illuminati operative through
your snapchat at 3:33 am. However you get there you’ll have no shortage of people giving you the groundwork to using aetheric forces to get that text back from your crush or make 20 bucks to buy that band tee you want.
Often this goes hand in hand with another problem, these ideas are repeated over and over from volume to volume with little discrepancy except between the most opposed of traditions. (Note what I said earlier about Liber Null’s radical notions of belief as a tool and intent having bled into to large facets of the occult community) Yes, we have all the books but most of them were copying each other before copy and paste was a two click process. New ideas are in short supply and they’re drowned out in a sea of underwhelming intro books.
It’s part of the filtering process of occultism, more people will start then will maintain a meaningful practice so you’ll sell exponentially more books at the front door of magick than a single step past it. Oddly enough there’s an interesting parallel of gun ownership in America. The people that are really into them buy more than they can reasonably expect to make use of and a great deal of people will buy one and never take it out to the range.
Here we start seeing the bigger picture. If its easier to sell baby’s first grimoire than anything else then publishers have a financial incentive to pump them out. The largest demographic they can target is the magickally curious who are offered a million and one flavors of get in the door magick guides.
Conversely we have a smaller but dedicated demographic of veracious magick bibliophiles who despite having what I can presume is a near encyclopedic knowledge of the fundamentals of magickal thought will shell out what’s left of their burger king check to buy “Advanced Magick for Beginners” (That’s a real book btw, it’s good even, but boy does it illustrate our obsession with accessibility).
I’m not here to suggest that publishing occult texts is some sort of devilish money making game, where cigar chomping execs have dollar signs in their eyes and their fingers in your pocket. It’s simply the reality of capitalism. You want to stay in business you have to publish the shit that will sell. You want to make money as an author? You have to write the shit that will be published. You want to support authors writing occult books? You have to buy what they write. Well, that’s that right? Everyone get out your mom’s credit card and purchase 3 copies of a book that repeats the same ideas that you got from the last 10. It begs the question.
Do we have better options?
You could vote with your wallet. Only pay for a higher quality material. Sure, There are notable publishers out there that do seem to seek a higher level, dare I say academic form of Occult literature. I don’t envy the nickles they have to rub together nor the pennies they pinch to keep their presses running, but often their business model relies on expensive cover prices in very limited runs and just as often these companies will resort to the same idea of accessibility or entry level books with a veneer of sophistication. It certainly beats not publishing at all but still leaves much to be desired. The more academic a text becomes the more we find our grimoires transform into dissertations on anthropology or comparative
religious study. They becomes less about how to do magick and much more about how magick was done at one time by a culture that no longer exists. Reading the cultural background of ancient Romans will make me a sorcerer in the same way that Don Quixote became a knight by reading
I’ll be the first to say that I know people that are very versed into historical understandings of magick that aren’t very good at magick, just as I know High Maguses who’s practices are so deeply personalized that I’d love to get their intro book so I’d know what they’re talking about, hell if what you’d like is new ideas those are the people that should be publishing books in the first place but I’ll circle back to that in a moment.
Maybe we’re all better off keeping our money and pencils in our pockets and doing our own thing with the meager offerings we can scrape from the bones of the proceeding centuries? Did Magick peak with the reclaiming of the Greek Magical Papyri? Does Agrippa’s 3 books give us enough to go on? Can we look at the leftovers of Blavatsky and Spare and say “Ok that’s fine.” Is advancing a personal understanding of a magickal universe all we can reasonably expect of ourselves?
Are we to expect authors and pioneers of the occult to do as Tu Mega Therion did and squander a small fortune on the self publishing of high holy knowledge? Is the innovation and continued evolution of magick to be seen as an act of more or less selfless altruism for the good of people we have yet to meet possibly yet to born? Is it a thankless job to usher in the new aeon?
Do we dare inform anyone unfamiliar or uninitiated with the knowledge that we blundered and fought for over a number of years? Can we consider ourselves even worthy of an audience? Take arms against the tide of ignorance? Dear readers, let me tell you, there are compounds worth of would be cult leaders eager to hunt acolytes and give them all the secret teachings that their little pea brains can stand. There are hacks and conmen and zealots in the wings that feed in the vacuum of worth while readings and honest practitioners. To hush up and say everyone one fend for themselves is to wash your hands of this whole magick thing. To let go of the wheel and let the profit motivator force publishers and authors to eat themselves alive til they all inevitably go under. Where does that leave us?
Passing the Buck
If you want better books, if you want magick to go anywhere new, you might have to do it yourself and worse yet you might have to write it down, and worse still you might not even get paid, and they might hate your guts for having nerve to tell people what to think. At the very least it is our obligation to put more effort into promoting the thinkers and writers that are pushing the culture into the future we’re seeking, and that might mean having to give them some of our hard earned taco bell money. That’s a lot of ifs and mights but its all we’ve got.
Boutique books written for intellectuals with disposable income will not solve the problem, regurgitated reworkings to spell out the simplest ideas of Crowley aren’t going to help either, and another blog post about how to make a sigil will not only not help but quite possibly drive me to my wits end. (Too late right?)
The modern magician’s greatest strength is also their great weakness, a radical sense of personal responsibility for the version of reality in which they inhabit.
You are the only hope for book sections across the globe, you alone hold in you the salvation of blogs and online discourse, you are quite possibly the only thing standing between the whole the occult community and legions upon legions of “Secrets of the Tarot”.
Which means you better get down with it, I want a rough draft on my desk by next week, and while you’re at it take this copy of “Black Leviathan: Grimoire Magick of the Big Forehead Tribe” to the pencil necks in proof reading.
In all earnestness Magick books have and always will be dominated by the Beginners guide, but as we move foreword in a shifting landscape for technology, piracy, publishing, and our understanding of the current occult revival we have to look to ourselves if we want to insure that the first page one reads on occultism opens the path rather than becoming the final word of a stagnating literary pool.