Category Archives: Psychology
And so, my quest to understand magical theory continues with another volume on Chaos Magic. I gained a great deal of insight and clarity from Carroll’s prior book, Liber Null & Psychonaut. The present work under review, published five years later, has turned out to be not so valuable.
We begin with heady material on quantum theory from a magical perspective. The majority of this was beyond me, but what I could understand struck me as far too theoretical to place any real confidence in – the idea that magic, which has its roots in the transcendent, can be reduced to a few equations. I don’t buy it. Carroll also makes the startling claim that there was no singularity at the beginning of the universe. He states that no matter when you exist in time, the universe always gives the appearance of being four and a half billion years old. This claim is in stark opposition to what we appear to observe about the motions of galaxies, and what we know of gravitation.
Next we have some material on aeonics. Carroll claims that all philosophical worldviews fit one of three basic paradigms: materialistic, magical, and transcendental. The ebb and flow of these paradigms throughout history is reduced to a line graph that shows a definite cyclic pattern, as the world moves through aeons called shamanic, religious, rationalist and pandemon – the latter being the one that is allegedly emerging. It’s all very interesting, but unconvincing. There was plenty of rationality going round in the days of the ancient Greek philosophers, and there has been plenty of religion in the two and a half millennia since. There’s no doubt that Carroll has done a lot of homework, but his “psychohistory model” of aeonics appears fanciful at best. The decline and growth of our various worldviews is a product of consciousness, and consciousness will not be turned into a deterministic line graph that we have no control over. We are not automatic machines.
When Carroll turns to practical magic, that’s when the book takes a shift in a much more positive direction. He introduces a delightful phrase, “sleight of mind,” and explains it at length – as the key to effective magic. In my own experience with psionics, I can affirm that success requires a mind that is distracted from the task you wish to perform. You have to play a little mental trick with yourself to, for instance, accomplish a successful act of psychokinesis.
Terms like “psychic censor” and “sleight of mind” are useful in understanding the inner workings of magic, but a good portion of the book is also concerned with building new a system of magic, full of pointless new terms – as if the world needs yet another. Magic is divided into eight categories (seemingly for no other reason than the Chaos symbol has eight arrows). These are: octarine (pure magic), black (death magic), blue (wealth magic), green (love magic), yellow (ego magic), purple or silver (sex magic), orange (thinking magic), red (war magic). My question is: why? All these categories are arbitrary and artificial. It’s fine to break magic down like this for the purpose of talking about particular applications of magic in the practical sphere. But there is no benefit whatsoever to memorising this jargon as some kind of fundamentally meaningful system. Magic comes from that fuzzy non-dual transcendence from which everything springs. It isn’t truly eightfold in any sense outside of the author’s personal subjective preferences.
Evocation, divination, enchantment, invocation, illumination, sorcery, shamanic magic, ritual magic, astral magic, high magic. In my opinion, there’s a lot of pointless vocabulary being held up as important. And if that’s not enough, we have to contend with “sorcery invocation,” “shamanic enchantment,” “ritual evocation,” and a plethora of other allegedly meaningful combinations.
The book closes with some appendices that are mostly concerned with the administration of the organisation, the Illuminates of Thanateros (also known as The Pact). The material was of no value to me other than to reinforce the pointlessness of such semi-secretive groups.
I had high hopes for this book. Sadly, I have to report that I was able to extract only a few morsels of usable insight.
Ever since I achieved some success in experimenting with psychokinesis a few years ago, I’ve been faced with the reaity of what may be called “magic,” and I’ve been highly motivated to learn what I can about it. This ongoing quest has been both mind-expanding and frustrating, as magical theories tend to be littered with all kinds of unprovable abstractions.
The Chaos Magic approach is somewhat unique in that it supports using beliefs as methods rather than relying upon them as objective truths. For instance, when attempting particular magical endeavours, it may be suitable to view the universe as having an astral plane populated by actual entities that can be compelled to do your bidding. This may not be true, but it could be a useful method of producing a desired effect. Another belief is that all minds are interconnected as a single Mind, allowing subtle communication and influence to occur between individuals. The truth behind appearances is a very slippery thing to get hold of. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is the slogan of Chaoist. This is mirrored in our conventional science, too. The dualistic Newtonian view of the universe worked fine until, in the early 20th century, our experiments forced us to to develop a quantum theory that blew our assumptions about the nature of reality to bits. Nevertheless, the Newtonian perspective can still be employed successfully as a usable model of reality for the vast majority of our everyday experiences.
Hine has done a great deal more dabbling into ritual magic than I have, so I can’t really comment on the effectiveness of his approaches. I found the material on the creation of sigils fascinating. The book’s brevity is deceiving, as it is crammed with information, and requires slow, careful reading to digest. Something of a treasure trove. Much of the magical theory concerns the transformation of the self, and the information is often given with a dose of humour. I like Hine’s presentation of magic a lot. He comes across as a genuine person, rather than someone who projects himself as a grand poo-bah of the occult.
This is one of those weird books that is hard to review, because I’m not sure what I got out of it, but I know I got something important. It’s hard to crystallise that benefit as one single thing, because the structure of the book is diverse; I got a bit of this and bit of that. In particular, I gained a deeper rational appreciation that the world is magical, as opposed to viewing magic as something completely otherworldly. When I read a magical text, I’m not looking for a whole new belief system to swallow. I’m ploughing through information that is unusual and cryptic, looking for insights that will make me go “Ah-ha!” adding greater depth and rationality to my own personal take on magic. Condensed Chaos provided that. A worthy addition to any occultist’s library.
When browsing the “body, mind, spirit” section at my local bookstore, I am frequently disappointed by the books that I flip through. A lot of teachers of non-duality (or “advaita” as it’s called in the East) are quite disappointing, in my view. They are not grounded in a realistic appraisal of what it means to be a human being living in a physical world that is essentially adversarial. Spirituality becomes something that is divorced from the predicamenet of fleshly existence, and so it ultimately fails to deliver the promised goods. The Mystery Experience, by contrast, was a refreshingly realistic book. In the store, I read bits and pieces randomly from the text, and came across lots of little gems of wisdom about all kinds of things. I was really intigued by some of the chapter titles, such as “Mad Scientists Do Mysticism,” “The Ego as Hero,” “Celebrating Separateness.” And so, I had to get the book.
Tim Freke is very much in touch with the earthy, carnal side of life. Life is not about denying the body, or about subduing the ego, or about avoiding attachments. Life is to be lived fully, as an adventure. At the same time, Freke is in touch with the spiritual side of life, with an understanding that consciousness is something transcendment, and that under the surface we are all one.
In the book, Freke invents a new term called “paralogical” which he defines to mean two things that appear equally true but are incompatible with each other. It reminds me of what Stephen Hawking calls “model-dependant realism” – the view that we may have more than one model of reality, depending on our perspective, and that each model has merit within its particular context of observation, while the models themselves are in conflict with each other. Of the two authors, I would have to say Hawking explains it better (in The Grand Design), and I’m honestly not sure that the word paralogical helps in any way. It feels as if it almost gives us license to remain complacent about our paradoxes, failing to realise that it’s only our approximations of reality, gleaned through our inadequate models, that contain paradoxes, not reality itself.
I do have a few criticisms of Freke’s approach. He’s very much a believer in the importance of an “awakening” experience, whereas I feel this is too similar to the Christian idea of salvation. I don’t believe there is anything broken about natural life that needs fixing, even our natural belief in duality. Tim also puts a lot of emphasis on techniques as a means of deepening your spirituality. My view is that if you need a technique to convince yourself of something, then something’s wrong. When a truth becomes clear to the mind, it needs no repeated technique to constantly renew it. Freke also verges on the melodramatic when talking about love. I tend to think love and hate both have their place.
Don’t make too much of my criticisms, because I really did enjoy this book. I took it slow and savoured it, reading a few pages each night at bedtime. The writing was vibrant, easy to read, personal, and practical. In keeping with the title of the book, Freke places a huge emphasis on the mysterious nature of the ground of being. The “mystery experience” is the conscious appreciation of this impenetrable mystery at the heart of life. Freke’s writing on this theme helped me to deepen my own perspective on what I call the Infinite.
It saddens me that Eckhart Tolle gets all the fame, while guys like Tim Freke are little known by comparison. You might say that Tolle belongs to the “escape from life” branch of non-duality, whereas Freke belongs to the “embrace life” branch. The philosophy advocated by Tolle pales by comparison to this. I highly recommended The Mystery Experience, and it’s a book I’m likely to read again in the future.
Here in the West, we’ve all grown up under the influence of Christianity, where God is viewed as a divine monarch. Little do we realise that we only picture God in this way because we’re unconsciously projecting an entirely human political structure onto him/it. Watts’s book challenges this, by describing the very different concept of God that has arisen in the East, specifically Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. To the Hindus, the Universe is viewed as God play-acting, or dreaming each of us. God is inside everything rather than above everything. It’s like a game of hide and seek; each one of us is God-in-disguise without realising it. In Taoism the Universe is viewed as a single organism (indistinguishable from God). Watts helps us to look upon the Universe in a very different way, not as a collection of separate things which exist independently of one another, but as a series of interconnected relationships. These Eastern approaches differ greatly from the likes of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, because they are not concerned with divine revelation, or obedience to a monarch. In this sense, they are not really religions at all, in terms of what we understand religion to be. The focus of the East is a transformation of consciousness. Learning to look upon the Universe in a different way that dramatically affects one’s life.
This volume consists of various verbal lectures given by Alan Watts, transcribed by his son Mark in the 1990s, from earlier recordings. The lecture “The Mythology of Hinduism” examines the religious side of Hinduism, where the godhead is said to be dreaming each of us. “Eco-Zen” delves into how the individual is one with the world, showing how the line between organism and environment is blurry and insubstantial when we get past the idea of “things.” “Swallowing a Ball of Hot Iron” examines the relationship of student and master in Zen Buddhism. “Intellectual Yoga” looks at the mind as a path to enlightenment. The volume finishes with “Introduction to Buddhism” and “The Taoist Way of Karma.” This is not a lecture series, as such. Mark Watts draws together material that spans his father’s career into single book of related topics.
Since this is the fourth book by Watts that I have read, I’m starting to notice a lot of overlap, but that’s unavoidable, and actually serves as a reminder of important insights. I continue to be impressed with this philosopher, and I have a better undersatnding of the Universe as a result of his work. This book provides a short and often humourous brief on Eastern philosophy. It’s certainly not detailed enough for the serious student, but as an introduction, it makes perfect reading.
Alan Watts is a non-dualist, as am I. Among those who think in this fashion, opinion is divided on the helpfulness of psychedelic drugs in the quest for enlightenment. Watts is in favour of their use, although he cautions that such experiences are wasted on those who do not approach the activity with a philosophical mindset.
Personally, I’ve never felt the need to take drugs in order to heighten my awareness. The human organism is working perfectly just as it is, and I’ve been able to grasp very deep things about reality from an intellectual perspective, and to feel these insights so deeply that I doubt drug use would be of any benefit. Many have congratulated me on my ability to talk and write about things they have felt but been unable to articulate; one individual even expressed great surprise that I have managed to comprend life to such a deep extent without resorting to drugs. My suspicion is that psychedelic drugs are merely a shortcut – something that takes the hard work out of the endeavour of understanding our place in the cosmos. And the drawback of such a shortcut is that it can leave the user stunned by glimpses of a deeper reality without any ability to communicate what he has experienced meaningfully to others. He feels a lot intuitively about what he went through, but cannot process it mentally. Since I haven’t dabbled in drugs, I’m doing a little guesswork here, but I hope intelligent guesswork.
The Joyous Cosmology is Alan Watts’ attempt to articute his psychedelic experiences in words. He never had hallucinations, except when his eyes were closed and he allowed his visual cortex to run amuck. In normal consciousness, the effect of drugs was to heighten perception. The simple act of gazing at a flower takes on far greater significance. Ordinary things became objects of incredible wonder. As I said, I think it’s possible to cultivate this appreciation without resorting to drugs. In fact, the author’s endeavour to capture his experiences in words attests to that.
Some people who are interested in non-duality have a strange view about life: they’re trying to “awaken,” to experience the underlying oneness. But if your individual mind were able to experience unity with everything, then it’s still the individual mind experiencing something separate from itself – still in duality. Any experience of oneness brought about by meditation or drug use will only be a halfway house, by virtue of the ever present subject-object (dual) relationship of consciousness. So, if that’s why you want to take psychedelics, you might as well forget it. What you seek can’t be accomplished.
The main aversion I have about mind-altering drugs are the toxic effects of drugs in general, especially when used habitually – which the author does not advocate. If you’re thinking about using a psychedelic drug for “spiritual” purposes, first educate yourself with this book and others. For me, this whole endeavour is of little practical value, because I’ve already achieved something the hard way. Still, a highly interesting book.
I was attracted to this book by its subtitle: “Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality.” The odd combination of spirituality and mundanity appealed to me because I have a profound distrust of the kind of spiritual teacher who puts on a pretense of living on some higher wavelength of reality. I used to read a lot of David Icke, and much as I now disagree with many of his views, I still love the down-to-earth “spirituality with balls” attitude that he maintains. He was never ashamed to get pissed off, to swear in public, to trample on tradition, and to question authority.
In the same regard, Brad Warner didn’t disappoint. I smiled when the author poured scorn on all the pomp and ceremony that is attached to Buddhism, without losing sight of the value of the philosophy itself. And I found Zen Buddhism to be surprisingly agreeable.
The universe desires to perceive itself and to think about itself and you are born out of this desire. The universe wants to experience itself from the point of view of a tree, and so there are trees. The universe wants to feel what it’s like to be a rock, and so there are rocks. The universe wants to know what it’s like to be a famous Austrian body-builder cum film star and so there is Arnie. We don’t know that rocks and trees have an idea of “self,” and it doesn’t matter one way or the other. But we do know that human beings like you and me and Arnie believe in the existence of “self.” And this belief is the root of all of our problems.
Some might view the above assertsions as absurd, but I completely get the idea of duality as an expression of a more fundamental non-duality. In Eastern terms, I could say that I believe in the Advaita branch of Hinduism. But I’m damned if I can see any fundamental difference between Advaita and Zen – except that Zen has an emphasis on meditation as the principle means to enlightenment.
The type of meditation advocated in Zen Buddhism is pleasantly basic. It’s called “zazen” and it’s basically all about sitting still. There is no requirement for mantas, or specialised technique. The purpose of zazen is to open yourself to your true self. Given enough practice, it is claimed that we will be confronted with everything we’ve repressed.
There’s a really interesting chapter where the author makes a strong case against the idea of seeking enlightenment through psychoactive drugs. Another where he shows the error of belief in reincarnation. For the most part, I found my own views echoed and reinforced throughout the book. But the one chapter where I learned something new and important was “The World of Demons.” This was an alarmingly honest discourse on human nature – especially its nasty side, and how we should relate to that socially unacceptable part of ourselves. This chapter was so good that I went back and read it a second time, after finishing the book.
This is one of the more important books I’ve read in recent years. I don’t know that I would call myself a Zen Buddhist, but I am definitely keen to try zazen, even merely as a means of daily centering myself. It’s something I’ve always neglected, perhaps to my detriment.
The usual argument you hear from religionists about morality is that unless you derive your values from a higher power, then those values are objectively meaningless. What right has one man to say to another that his actions are morally wrong, when they are both merely men making personal judgements?
That said, Harris’s target readers in this book are not religionists, but scientists. He maintains that science has, for too long, steered clear of this issue, and in doing so has allowed religion far too much leeway. Harris’s premise is this: the consequences of our behaviours have an objective impact on the wellbeing of conscious creatures, therefore ethics is a matter of objective scientific inquiry. Measuring our actions against this basis is something that we do unconsciously anyway. Well, unless we are a psychopath, that is. (And the book does include a very eye-opening section on psychopathy that doesn’t pull its punches.)
Back when I was a Christian, I knew better than to use the moral argument for God’s existence. I understood that atheists had every right to refine their behaviour in light of the impact of their actions – for purely pragmatic reasons. But sadly, there are still Christians who will use this argument – totally blind to the fact that every other social species in the animal kingdom is able to get along just fine without a divine lawgiver.
My view of ethics differs somewhat from Harris’s, although he writes with such precision and clarity that his assertions had a profound effect on my perspective, helping me to refine it. Before reading this book, I understood that the primary function of ethics was the refinement of natural instinct in the interests of personal survival; ethics that included the wellbeing of others were ultimately for the benefit of the self. However, after reading The Moral Landscape, I gained a fresh perspective on altruism. I came to understand it as the flowering of the survival urge (not something that Harris explicitly asserts). When personal survival is established to the point where there is abundance, that same urge blossoms into an interest in the wellbeing of others less fortunate. To state that another way: we must be good to ourselves before we can be good to others.
I also disagree with Harris’s assertion that we should be able to come up with objective values – clearly defined “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” if you will. I don’t think it can be that simple; each unique situation merits individual consideration. For instance, in the interests of my survival, I know that I would not act in the same way in a post-apocalyptic world as I do in present-day Western civilisation. In the former, I might have to kill to survive, whereas in the latter, it’s likely I will get through my life without doing much harm to anyone.
The main downside to the book was Harris’s assertions about free will. He views it as an illusion. One of the main problems I have with atheists is that they tend to be materialists, and materialists make a pretense of understanding consciousness. Harris unfortunately makes this same error, turning human beings into little more than automatons, despite the fact that we feel our “selfness” very keenly. They key to understanding this lies in differentiating the mind (which is physical) from the pilot of the mind (which is metaphysical). A lengthly discussion of this is beyond the bounds of this review. Faults aside, The Moral Landscape is an insightful book that has the power to be transformative.
The first book ever to be written on the subject of satanic ritual abuse (SRA) was Michelle Remembers in 1980, co-written by Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. Over a period of one year, Pazder records hundreds of sessions where Smith allegedly recovers repressed memories of herself as a five-year-old undergoing a prolonged period of ritual abuse at the hands of a satanic cult. She is tortured, sexually abused, locked in a cage, witness to murders, and painted in the blood of sacrifice victims. At one point, a Satanist sews horns and a tail into Smith’s flesh. The scars left by this surgery would have proved invaluable in authenticating the account, but there is no such evidence on Smith’s adult body.
The ceremonies were gory and bizarre, and bore no relation to the rituals of the Church of Satan. Nevertheless, Pazder wastes no time in naming this specific organisation as the perpetrator of Smith’s abuse. He also states, in total ignorance of known facts: “The Church of Satan is a worldwide organization. It’s actually older than the Christian Church.” Pazder was forced to withdraw his assertion of the Church of Satan’s involvement after the book’s publication, when Anton LaVey threatened to sue for libel.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Smith’s idea of Satanism suffers from the same faulty assumptions as Doreen Irvine’s account (see From Witchcraft to Christ); she depicts Satanists as worshippers of the literal devil of the Bible. The rituals are filled with pointless, nonsensical, sinister elements, and horror movie trappings, including at one point the appearance of a monstrous spider crawling across the altar cloth and a vampire bat with claw-tipped wings perched on the altar’s edge. In the final quarter of the book, Satan makes regular appearances in the flesh. And Smith’s depiction of him is an all-out horror movie cliché, right down to the horns on his head and the claws on his hands. Curiously, he has a pig’s snout and sports a tail that occasionally shape-shifts into a snake. Fire sprouts from his back. Amusingly, Satan insists on continually speaking in rhyming verse throughout the account:
The knife is ready. It is time to begin.
It has been poisoned and sharpened very thin.
I confess that when I began reading this book, I seriously considered that this child might have been the victim of some deeply unethical occult group. But by the time I finished, the entire tale had made a nosedive into total religious farce. In addition to enduring the devil’s bad poetry, Smith witnesses heads spinning, just like Linda Blair in the movie The Exorcist (1973). Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Michael appear to Smith at various points during her dark days in the ritual chamber. Absurdly, Mary sprinkles her sentences with French, which would not have been her native language, nor is it Smith’s. The two authors’ combined depiction of Satanism seems to be a fusion of their own Catholic prejudices and Pazder’s past encounters with unusual religion from when he was working and living in Africa in the 1960s. He goes as far as drawing this comparison himself in the book. It’s hard to see how Pazder maintained any credibility with his peers after publishing this unconscionable mix of psychiatry and superstition as fact.
It also turns out that some of Smith’s claims are provably false beyond reasonable doubt. Early in the story, she is allegedly involved in a car crash that is staged to look like an accident, as a means of the Satanists getting rid of a dead body. Conveniently, it happened so long ago that police and hospital records of the event were destroyed at the time of Smith’s therapy. However, Pazder overlooked the fact that it’s possible to check the newspaper records in library archives. No such incident was reported around the time indicated by Smith’s testimony.
The book features a photograph of a mausoleum at Ross Bay cemetery, at which a ritual allegedly took place. However, when this building is snapped from different angle (as another photographer has demonstrated), the mausoleum is revealed to be within eyeshot of suburban houses. Maybe the Satanists used one of Doreen Irvine’s invisibility spells!
Towards the end of the book there is an eighty-one-day non-stop ceremony. Yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school have revealed no indication of her being missing for a lengthy period of time.
There are many more problems with Smith’s account that I could raise, but these examples suffice to destroy her credibility. All that remains is to determine whether she is delusional or an outright liar. The coherency and detail in her account causes me to side with the latter.
Even without the evidence against Smith and Pazder, the simple fact that nothing can be corroborated ought to raise warning bells in the minds of readers. But many people have never made the mental effort to learn what criteria they ought to use in determining truth from falsehood. People tend to believe things if they merely feel true, or if they simply want to believe. The ability to believe claims in the absence of evidence is how witch-hunts are born. And in this instance, that’s exactly what happened.
Michelle Remembers opened the floodgates for countless reports of satanic ritual abuse. Pazder was considered to be an expert. He became involved in the Cult Crime Impact Network and lectured to police agencies about SRA during the late 1980s. By September 1990 he had been consulted in more than a thousand ritual abuse cases.
Closure of the Satanic Panic finally came with the publication of the Lanning Report (1991) by the FBI. Three hundred cases of multi-victim, multi-offender SRA were examined and no physical evidence of abuse could be found. Aside from the occasional unethical pseudo-Satanist, there was no evidence whatsoever of any underground occult organisation engaging in SRA. This document can be read in full on the internet. Conspiracy theorists still like to keep the phenomenon alive. I read this in an online forum: “The Lanning Report is load of pig shit, if you ask me. Written by the same people it claims ‘do not exist.’” Of course, the conspiracy theorist doesn’t require actual evidence of the FBI’s involvement in a cover-up; the mere suspicion of it is enough to warrant belief.
During the years of the Panic, the lives of many law-abiding Satanists (and other non-satanic occultists) were subjected to the judgements of a dangerously ignorant population (including its law enforcement) that was feeding on a diet of sensationalist propaganda.
By contrast, the uncovering of real, verified, widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church has to be one of the most spectacular reversals of expectation in history, as we discover that real evil lies within those who masquerade as the good, rather than those who merely enjoy the glamour of sinister symbolism.
The Satanic Panic must never happen again. That will only be possible through the widespread triumph of reason over superstition.
The name of this volume would lead you to believe it might be one of those pretentious self-help manuals. It’s nothing of the kind. In fact, it’s quite an unfriendly book that flies in the face of conventional ethics. I suspect some people would put the volume aside in disgust. As for me, I prefer to read on with a critical eagle-eye. And in the end I’m able to synthesise something realistic and useful without losing my soul in the process. Let me put it this way: if you followed all 48 laws to the letter, you would be a dangerous sociopath.
Power is the ultimate goal here, and it’s right there that I question the wisdom of the book’s premise. Power to what end? As an end in itself? Do I want power? Of course. I won’t deny it. But to me, power is merely an aid to survival. Too little of it and I may end up homeless, scrounging for food. But too much, and I create other hazards for myself, such as maintaining my empire against the plots of my enemies. The book presupposes that power is what we’re after. Power, power, power, and there’s never enough of it to be satisfied. And everything about your humanity should be sacrificed in the quest for it. Any principles you cling to are worthless and should be discarded at every opportunity for the accumulation of more power. No one should be trusted. Relationships should always be viewed with suspicion, and no one allowed to get too close. In fact, your friends are mere pawns to be manipulated at will to do your bidding. I pride myself on seeing through much of the nonsense that masquerades as ethics in the world, but it’s hard to see how you could embrace a philosophy like this and not end up feeling very alone and empty.
Don’t get me wrong. This was an immensely useful read. It gave me a sense of awareness about how some morally vacuous individuals might attempt to manipulate me. It also provided great insight into the arena of politics. Admittedly, there were also many genuinely useful insights in the book – principles a sensible person could use to improve his life. Some of the useful laws could be summarised as “act, don’t react.” Control of the emotions is paramount, as is focusing on long-term goals rather than hot-headed short-term satisfaction; diplomacy, acting always with full awareness of how your actions will be interpreted by the parties concerned.
Each law is presented with detailed historical examples of its usage. This helps makes the laws memorable, but it should also be noted that a few incidental examples don’t necessarily make these principles concrete, as they could just as easily be flukes. The first ten laws are:
- Never outshine the master.
- Never put too much trust in friends; learn how to use enemies.
- Conceal your intentions.
- Always say less than necessary.
- So much depends on reputation. Guard it with your life.
- Court attention at all costs.
- Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.
- Make other people come to you; use bait if necessary.
- Win through your actions, never through argument.
- Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky.
In light of my own personal “following” on YouTube, and my book on spirituality, Reality Check, I was highly amused by law 27: “Play on people’s need to believe to create a cultlike following.” Doing such a thing is utterly abhorrent to me. Greene is essentially justifying the turning of oneself into a cult leader. Of course, in his view, speaking the truth is not considered important at all. He emphasises the value of spouting vague flowery nonsense that makes your audience feel good.
Ultimately, there is a fundamental hypocrisy in this book. If the author truly believes in the 48 laws of power, why on earth would he share them with us? Isn’t that giving your power away? Staying at the top of your game involves being the smartest, not giving your opponents the tools to outwit you.
The 48 Laws of Power is a very useful book, but one to be read with a large pinch of salt.
Wilhelm Reich is a name that has fascinated me for some time now. He was a radical individualist, sexual revolutionist, and discoverer of “orgone” – his term for a mysterious hidden life energy. Like all outspoken individualists, he was tarred with the “villain” brush by the common herd of humanity, because he didn’t conform to established norms.
This short volume of only a hunded pages doesn’t go into his theories. Instead, it is a rant against the small-mindedness and pettiness of the herd animal that is the common man. And it’s fabulous. A damning treatise against group-think. It was originally never meant to be published, but I’m very glad it was. Written not long after the Second World War, it makes frequent reference to the Little Man’s own self-destructive insanity, in his need for a fuhrer to rule over him – which Reich blames on the cowardice of refusing to take responsibility for one’s own existence.
The Little Man spoken of throughout the book is a composite character of every perceived pettiness, written from the bitter experience of being at the brunt of it. The book is honest, thorough and passionate, with both anger and fear prominent emotions. If you’re an outspoken individualist, then you might know what it’s like to suffer at the hands of others who consider it their moral duty to bring about your undoing. You will find much to relate to in Wilhelm Reich. For a book that’s so angry, it ends on a surprisingly optimistic note about the human race. There is also some important introspection on rooting out the Little Man within all of us.
Listen, Little Man! actually inspired me to write an essay of my own in the same formula, based on my own personal life experience. I might never publish it, but writing it served me as a personal exorcism of unwanted emotion.
Michael Aquino was a Lt. Colonel in the US Army (now retired), as well as being a high-ranking member of the Church of Satan. These two facts have caused plenty of wild speculation among paranoid conspiracists about links between the government and Satanism; I will not indulge them here. Aquino left the Church of Satan in 1975, after a major disagreement with its founder Anton LaVey. He went on to form the Temple of Set, taking with him a portion of the Church’s priesthood who sympathised with his stance.
Aquino is interesting because he is what is known as a theistic Satanist (or Setian, as he would now call himself), where Satan/Set is viewed as more than a mere metaphor for rebellion. Theistic Satanists would seem to be in the minority today, but they are commonly misunderstood as being believers in the actual Satan of the Bible. In reality, they are no different from theists who see all religions as vaguely pointing to the same metaphysical reality. Words like “Set” are used to give substance to a reality that is ultimately beyond our understanding and must be intuited.
Black Magic was written in successive edits from 1975 to 2010. It was never published commercially, but reserved for new members of the Temple of Set. Due to it appearing in various forms on the internet, Aquino has now publicly released the definitive version for free download from his web site.
Early chapters of the book are mostly concerned with Temple-specific matters, such as identifying reasons why a person should or should not join, explaining the degree system of the Temple and the Egyptian connection.
Where the book really takes off for me is chapter 4, entitled “The Black Magical Theory of the Universe.” My own personal experience with psi phenomena leads me to believe that the fundamental nature of the universe is much weirder than materialistic science would give credence to, so I am always fascinated by bigger worldviews. The Temple divides the universe into two parts: the Objective Universe (OU), which is the world around you, and the Subjective Universe (SU), which is essentially the world inside your head, incorporating the OU filtered through your sense and brain, and also anything you imagine. In mundane existence, the OU affects the SU, and it doesn’t work the other way around. However, there exists what is called a Magical Link between your SU and the OU, which allows the SU to affect the OU.
Magic is divided into “Lesser Black Magic” and “Greater Black Magic.” The former is the use of obscure physical laws to affect another person’s SU; stage magic, for instance. The latter is something genuinely supra-mundane, achieved using ritual. Ritual is seen as a means of affecting one’s own SU to create the Magical Link. Ultimately, ritual is not a necessity, and is referred to as training wheels for magic. Medial Black Magic is non-ritualised magic.
The book also contains material on ethics, discussing various schools of ethics that have developed through philosophy. Of chief concern is the role of the Black Magician in the world, as an agent of productive change. The Temple of Set has completely moved away from the unfortunate stereotype that attaches itself to Satanism: the misconception by the would-be Satanist that he has found a philosophy that will allow him to justify his decadence and destructiveness. No such persons are welcome as members of the Temple of Set.
Aquino is an extremely clear and rational writer. There is no muddy water in his presentation. I’m not sure how much or how little I agree with his worldview, but I found this book to be a treasure trove of useful insights. It’s also not so intellectual that a lay reader can’t benefit.
The one piece of weak scholarship in the volume is Aquino’s conflation of the Hebrew “Satan” with the earlier Egyptian “Set-an.” This shows a complete lack of understanding of the origins of the Hebrew word, which is not even a name, but a common verb/noun, translated as “to oppose” in Numbers 22:22. It also needs to be understand that the Hebrew Satan is not the same as the later development of the Christian Satan. The original character was an angel in God’s service (see the Book of Job), not an adversary to God as he is depicted in Christianity.
Recommended reading for students of philosophy and metaphysics, as well as psychic and occult dabblers.
Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, wrote five books over the course of his life (including one published posthumously). The Devil’s Notebook is his fourth, and represents a return to publishing after a very long hiatus. Actually, not quite. Having now read all of LaVey’s books, I perceive that they can be separated into two clear categories: the early trio and the later duo. In 1969, just three years after the formation of the Church of Satan, LaVey published The Satanic Bible. In quick success after that came The Compleat Witch (1970, later rebranded The Satanic Witch), followed by The Satanic Rituals (1972). Nothing further was published by LaVey in book form, until the 1990s, although he published frequent essays in the church’s newletter The Cloven Hoof. In fact, the two books The Devil’s Notebook (1992) and Satan Speaks! (1998) consist mostly, if not wholely, of reprints of those very essays.
The first three books, from the first decade of the Church of Satan, are groundbreaking works, and when reading them you feel a very positive forward-looking vibe. The latter two works are markedly different in tone, more egotistical, angst-laden, and reflective of the past instead of the future (particularly Satan Speaks!). There is perhaps a sense of a man who is getting more and more misanthropic as he gets older. The gradual decline may be down to the lack of success enjoyed by the church, particularly since 1975 when a disagreement with his second in command, Michael Aquino, led to Aquino leaving the church and taking a substantial part of the priesthood with him, then forming the Temple of Set. Much later the Church of Satan also suffered bankruptcy. It continued to function, as it does today, but seems to have lost much of the mojo of its first decade.
Regardless of these criticism, The Devil’s Notebook contains many thought-provoking essays. Two in particular stood out for me. “Erotic Crystallization Inertia,” in which LaVey speculates about the persistence of the standards of beauty that we form in our youth. Then “Law of the Trapezoid,” in which LaVey speculates about the emotional effects of angles – particularly in relation to supposedly haunted houses or “cursed” rooms, where bad things happen. My background in art makes me familiar with the emotional effects of colours, and it would seem that shapes can likewise evoke feelings. LaVey claims that cursed rooms are due to a slightly off wall, where the conscious mind doesn’t spot the nasty angle, but the subconscious feels the effect of something being askew. This is how rooms can provoke angry confrontations or perhaps even multiple suicides over time. It’s got nothing to do with haunting spirits, as such; merely haunting angles. I’m not sure how much of what LaVey claims is true, but there is certainly something to the notion. I kept thinking about two characters from the Disney film The Black Hole: V.I.N.CENT, the grey-coloured, dome-headed, square-eyed robot, and Maximillian, the red-coloured cyborg with the single glowing red strip for an eye and the trapezoidal head. Ask anyone who has never seen the movie to guess which character is good and which evil, and I imagine everyone would score top marks. And not just because of the colours. It’s in the angles, too. It’s something you perceive intuitively.
Towards the close of the volume are a couple of essays on LaVey’s bizarre fascination with constructing what he calls “artificial human companions.” LaVey spent quite a bit of time modifying mannequins. He had the basement of his house decked out as a seedy bar-room, complete with flashing neon that filtered in through a fake window. In here he placed his companions and spent time with them. He predicted there would be a future industry of android companions – something that doesn’t show any sign of materialising. From a magical perspective, I understand the idea of the using proxies, but in mundane existence, a preference for artificial companionship over real companionship escapes me; it’s like having the choice between a real sexual relationship with a woman, or masturbating to porn – and choosing the latter. Perhaps LaVey’s fascination with artificiality simply reveals the extent of his misanthropia towards the human race.
The Devil’s Notebook is well worth reading, as are all of LaVey’s books. The real legacy of Anton LaVey is not the failed Church of Satan, or the Temple of Set. His legacy is the burning torch of individualism within so many people, that might never have been ignited without discovering his writings.
Brave New World Revisited was written thirty years after Brave New World. It is a non-fiction work, essentially a comparison between the predictions of the original science fiction novel and developments in the real world. In the novel, the world population is kept at an ideal number by means of eugenics. In the real world we see an ever encroaching trend towards over-population. Huxley discusses how we have become ever more skilled at “death control” (living longer and healthier lives), but we have no corresponding birth control. The forces of predation, sickness and natural disaster, which keep the rest of the animal kingdom in balance, are having less and less effective against humans, due to our own ingenuity. Related to overpopulation is the problem of over-organisation, where a human being becomes nothing more than as a cog in the wheel of society; the human exists only to serve a greater social organism, whereas the social organism is really no more than a social organisation. Integral to the book is the tension between anarchism and totalitarianism; too much freedom versus too little.
A major theme of the book is mind-manipulation in its various subtle forms. Hitler comes under the spotlight, in particular how he made his propaganda successful using fervent emotion, reinforced through repetition. This is contrasted with propaganda that addresses the intellect. In our advertising-saturated lives, the chapter “The Arts of Selling” is more relevant today than ever. Huxley brings to light how we are exploited by those who sell products by tapping into our fears and wishes. An excerpt from the chapter “Brainwashing”:
The fact that strong negative emotions tend to heighten suggestibility and so facilitate a change of heart had been observed and exploited long before the days of Pavlov. As Dr. William Sargant has pointed out in his enlightening book, Battle for the Mind, John Wesley’s enormous success as a preacher was based upon an intuitive understanding of the central nervous system. He would open his sermon with a long and detailed description of the torments to which, unless they underwent conversion, his hearers would undoubtedly be condemned for all eternity. Then, when terror and an agonizing sense of guilt had brought his audience to the verge, or in some cases over the verge, of a complete cerebral breakdown, he would change his tone and promise salvation to those who believed and repented. By this kind of preaching, Wesley converted thousands of men, women and children. Intense, prolonged fear broke them down and produced a state of greatly intensified suggestibility. In this state they were able to accept the preacher’s theological pronouncements without question. After which they were reintegrated by words of comfort, and emerged from their ordeal with new and generally better behavior patterns ineradicably implanted in their minds and nervous systems.
Later chapters are entitled “Chemical Persuasion” (the use of drugs to control a population), “Subconscious Persuasion” (the subliminal technique of persuasion by association), “Hypnopaedia” (hypnotic suggestibility). The book closes with a forward-looking discussion on education.
This small book is a treasure-trove of rational information to chew over, for anyone who wants to have a more conscious existence – that is, to be more aware of the forces controlling our lives, and thus more able to make our own choices. In today’s world, we have the unfortunate phenomenon of the paranoid conspiracist, who learns the very real nature of the information presented here, through “researchers” like David Icke and Alex Jones, but then he ends up believing that there’s a secret “Illuminati” who are trying to bring about a New World Order – an ancient elistist brotherhood who are actually the Biblical Nephilim in disguise, or reptilian shapeshifters from another dimension. If you wonder how people can get so carried away, that’s because it begins with a genuine grasping of truth leading to an awakening out of a hypnotic trance of sorts. Unfortunately, not all are up to the task of maintaining a sharp critical perspective on information, and they fall prey to the more outlandish claims of fear-mongers and sensation-seekers.
Brave New World Revisited represents the best of the modern “truth movement” without the bullshit. A book to treasure and to read again and again.