Applied Magic(k): Sigils, Logos and Lucky Charms
by the Center for Tactical Magic
Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (June 2006), available from The Arthur Store
One of the first lessons of magic(k) that we learn as children is that words and symbols have power. Abracadabra. Hocus Pocus. A five-pointed star. A four-leaf clover. As we get older, this primary notion quickly degrades and often becomes the source of one of the first dismissive tendencies towards magic(k) that arises amongst adults. Too many hokey movies and failed attempts to levitate with an utterance conspire against us. Soon the lesson is forgotten; magic(k) words and the power of symbols sneak away to party with Santa and the tooth fairy.
But words and symbols continue to work their magic(k) regardless of whether or not we believe in them. Look at the recent outcry against Madonna singing from the cross or riots in response to Mohammed cartoons and we begin to see that the power of symbols is anything but make-believe. For those who insist that religious sensitivities are an easy shot, consider this secular example: For over 150 years the United States had a Department of War. During much of that time U.S. foreign policy consisted of “neutrality” and therefore the DoW did not lend any direct military support in foreign conflicts. World War II put a definitive end on U.S. neutrality once and for all, and in 1947 the DoW was renamed the “National Military Establishment” or NME (pronounced “enemy”). Realizing the error of their acronym, politicians again changed the name in 1949 to what we know today as the “Department of Defense.” More than half a century after “war” became “defense” the DoD sits deep within the Pentagon planning “pre-emptive defensive strikes” while waving a flag with 50 pentagrams on it.
Okay, so spin-doctoring isn’t exactly the same thing as witch-doctoring. Still, most performing magicians (conjurers) won’t deny the power of language. And few will debate the fact that word choice makes a difference when presenting a trick. Many will even insist that the “patter” makes or breaks the illusion. More to the point, the strength and efficacy of a trick is often closely tied to the audience’s ability to relate both specifically and abstractly to the overall illusion. This is precisely why magic with money tends to hold people’s attention more than tricks with handkerchiefs. Money is already a loaded symbol, whereas how many people revere a silk hanky? If you still maintain your doubts, try first performing card tricks over lunch and then later in the middle of a poker game. Any guesses on which audience gets more riled up when you magically produce four aces from up your sleeve?
Admittedly, the ability to make a scrap of green paper covered in Masonic symbols disappear doesn’t quite live up to our childhood expectations of magic(k). Perhaps this is especially true because we become adept at making dollars disappear all the time. Continue reading →
The Alchemy of Things Unknown (and a Visual Meditation on Transformation)
at Khastoo Gallery (7556 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90046 / (323) 472 6498 )
June 10 – July 31, 2010
Opening reception: Thursday, June 10th, 6pm – 8pm
With a film performance by Raha Raissnia, sound by Charles Curtis.
“After the cursing comes laughter, so that the soul is saved from the dead.”
– Carl Gustav Jung, The Red Book
This exhibition intends to examine and expose individual works of art in relation to theosophy, sacred tradition and devotional practice. From William Blake’s illuminated works of divine imagination to Carl Gustav Jung’s drawings of collective symbolic unconscious, the visual is undoubtedly an integral creative tool for reaching, exploring, animating and pervading the indefinable spaces beyond body and mind.
The artists in this exhibition, some more explicitly than others, sought after or seek spiritual truths through art making and employ an almost fervent and reverent experimentation to their practice, one that is both ritualistic and against the grain. This mystic behavior is what defines the show; the persistence on new and unorthodox visual experimentation reaches beyond the worldly sphere to heightened states of consciousness.
This exhibition is made possible, in part, by the generous contributions of William Breeze, Ordo Templi Orientis, Richard Metzger, John Contreras, Scott Hobbs, David Brafman, William Swofford Cameron, Hetty Maclise, and The Estate of Alfred Jensen.
Just spotted this announcement in the “Forthcoming” section in the Autumn/Winter 2009 catalog from Starfire Publishing (available as a PDF from here):
Two Grimoires by Austin Osman Spare — set for publication in Spring/Summer 2010
The early years of the 20th Century were a time of great creative ferment for Spare, and amongst the items which survive from these early years are two intriguing and sumptuous grimoires, each of which is a notebook consisting of fine pen and ink and watercolour drawings. These notebooks were unfortunately not completed by
Spare. There are a number of full-page and half-page paintings and drawings; other pages have embellishments, with spaces for text which clearly was to have been inserted later. From the addition of his bookplate, it is clear that both notebooks were at one time the property of Spare’s patron Pickford Waller.
The first of these grimoires, entitled The Focus of Life & The Papyrus of Amen-AOS, is dated 1905-6. Much of the lettering remains in pencil, some of it giving clues to the underlying meaning of the imagery. An important element of this grimoire is that it features an early form of the ‘exteriorisation of sensation’ which Spare subsequently developed into the Sacred Alphabet which is a feature of The Book of Pleasure.
The second, slightly later notebook is The Arcana of AOS & the Consciousness of Kia-Ra, dated 1906. This is in some ways the more finished of the two notebooks, and picks up some of the imagery from the earlier notebook as well as integrating some new elements.
These two grimoires by Spare are at once enigmatic and full of haunting beauty. The paintings and drawings from each notebook are here reproduced in full colour. With analytical essays by Michael Staley, Stephen Pochin and William Wallace, and an introduction by Robert Ansell, this publication adds to our understanding of Spare’s early years as an artist, mystic and philosopher, and sheds light on the early development of his sigilisation techniques.