Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We're all Children Now, in the Aeon of Horus

Aleister Crowley, early 20th century ceremonial magician, sex maniac and Great Beast 666, may not be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, at the time he was alive, he was about as popular as James Blunt would be nowadays if he revealed that he's also actually a Nazi. 

But certain of his ideas I've found very interesting, and you don't have to believe in the occult to see grains of truth in terms of how our society has progressed. 

Bear with me.

A brief and superficial history, for those who aren't aware of him - born into a wealthy English family, entered into a lifelong path of spiritual self-exploration which led him to join and found various occult orders, travelled the world, had sex with a lot of people, was a pioneer of the use of psychedelic drugs in the context of 'religious experience', went broke, was simultaneously spying for British intelligence while being seen as a traitor in his homeland, and published poetry and novels that were generally seen at the time as being the work of a hack. He died in 1947, with the contempt of a lot of those who had heard his name, seen by some as immoral, evil, and even as a satanist or the devil incarnate. 

While clearly this was the tabloid press of the day having their usual fun, he was an arrogant man, and a bastard to pretty much every woman he had been with. But we all have our faults. He wasn't evil. And I think he was a genuine pioneer in a lot of respects. 

Perhaps his most important legacy was the founding of a spiritual philosophy, Thelema. He claimed that, on his honeymoon in Cairo in 1904, a non-human intelligence had dictated a sacred text to him, over the course of three days. This came to be known as the Book of the Law, the founding text of Thelema. Whether a spirit actually dictated this to Crowley or whether it was a drug-induced hallucination is anyone's guess, and besides the point for me. Thelema is far too complicated an idea to go into in a blog, but essentially, and again superficially, it involves the individual becoming aware of their 'higher self', while at the same time becoming 'at one' with the Universe, through a mystifying and mystical journey through occult techniques and spiritual development. It could be seen as similar to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment, with some western occult trappings. 

A central concept of this spiritual paradigm is the idea that mankind has moved through identifiable spiritual and societal 'stages', known as Aeons. These can be seen as not necessarily literally true, but symbolic of the journey of humanity through time (although some take it literally). The first, when we stood up straight as a species and looked around us, was the Aeon of Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess - in which we worshipped the earth as our goddess, because we depended so completely on her during our brief lives on her hostile terrain - we needed sustenance, we needed shelter. So 'pagan' religions, with the emphasis on the mother goddess and nature, flourished. 

As humanity progressed, and we became better at mastering our environment, we entered the Aeon of Osiris, the father god. This, broadly speaking, saw the emergence of patriarchal religions, with their emphasis on self-sacrifice and submission to the father god. 

1904, Crowley believed, was the dawn of the Aeon of Horus - Horus being the crowned and conquering child of Isis and Osiris. This was to be an age of the individual, but also in some ways a synthesis of nature/goddess-worship and the worship of the father - fitting with Crowley's pantheistic, universal view of the nature of divinity. In some ways he was foreseeing humanity's fight for the rights of the individual and the oppressed parts of society that the 1960s is partly remembered for. 

On the flip-side, Crowley foresaw apocalyptic war and destruction on a grand scale. He perceived the political ideologies that originated in the 19th and early 20th centuries as being 'infantile' - not in the sense of being harmless, but in their inexorable and dangerous conviction that their way of thinking is the only way - absolute truth. And absolute truth is always a dodgy concept. In this way, the dangers of fascism, nationalism, communism, religious fundamentalism and their sway over the greater part of the 20th century, and even the 21st, contrasted with the growing trend towards individual rights, encapsulates the idea of the Age of the Child. He saw the inevitability of world war, unimaginable horror, and the renaissance of the individual, all in 1904. 

Now, we've had our playtime, we've run riot, and we're about to be put to bed. We need to be put in front of the TV and soothed. This is the phase, symbolically, we have now entered. Our popular culture is geared towards treating us as children. I'll use the example of television and cinema, which can sometimes be the most amazing and innovative art forms, but which are often centred around, for want of a better and less snobbish-sounding phrase, the lowest common denominator. 

I would add that I'm only writing from a western cultural perspective, as that's all I can do. 

Think about a lot of primetime television - comforting and formulaic, but with a non-threatening level of suspense, before we find out which of the no-hopers is going home this week. You've seen one, you've seen them all. Soothing. And we have our own say, through the audience vote, which makes us think we have control of the toys. We like watching programmes when we think someone might have a tantrum, have an argument, be stupid - see where I'm going with this? Childishness.  And I'm not in any way placing myself 'above' all of this - I'm just as much part of this as anyone else.

But hasn't popular culture always been 'lowest common denominator?' What am I trying to say?

Well, yes, of course it has, by the very nature of it being popular. But as time is going on, new and innovative ways of amusing us, without challenging us, are thought up. The barrel is being scraped.  A lot of popular culture from forty years ago, while being looked down upon by some at the time, now looks like I, Claudius by today's standards. Shakespeare's plays were a fun night out half a millennium ago, but are now seen by many as intimidating, boring and untouchable - too highbrow. That's progress! 

Of course, I am talking about general trends here, and there are some geniuses out there still making though provoking and astonishingly good popular art - maybe next time I'll talk about one of them, and I can be a bit more upbeat!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Struggle (with Facebook)

I have a complicated relationship with Facebook. It's not what you would call a love-hate relationship, because I don't love it - I feel worryingly dependant on it. I do, however, hate it. A lot of it is because of this feeling of dependancy - as well as many other reasons that I'm about to skim over. 

Before I go any further, I am fully aware of the irony of writing a blog about the downfalls of Facebook, which I am sharing on Facebook. But that's part of the problem - it makes you think you can't function in normal life it without it, as it's one of the few easy ways you can distribute your thoughts - which to be fair, is a positive in a lot of ways. Arguably more democratic. But still, it's democracy on Facebook's terms.

In the halcyon days, before Facebook - or 'b.f.' as I will call it from now on - social interactions that weren't face-to-face were conducted via text or email. If I could help it, I personally wouldn't answer a phone to speak to anyone. Partly because I come across like a moron on the phone, and partly because I feel someone ringing me is the height of rudeness - instead of a ringtone, the phone might as well be shouting "PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEE". 

I have not, as yet, got over this aversion to phone calls, as my nearest and dearest will be all too aware. I like to think it adds a bit of mystery though, although no one else seems to agree with that assessment.  

But anyway - emails and texts were fine. Brief (unless I was feeling particularly self-indulgent, which I often am), personal and 'no pressure'. What I mean by 'no pressure' is that, although the person who has been emailing you for last month pleading with you to answer their original email may be putting you under pressure, you don't get notifications from Hotmail reminding you to email your friends if you haven't done so recently. Which is why Facebook irritates me - the feeling of guilt, that you're neglecting your friends; a few lines of computer code and automated notifications are making me feel bad as a person! That email you get if you haven't logged in for a while or suspended your account: John is missing you; Jane is missing you.

Are they though? 

Periodically, I flirt with the idea of leaving Facebook for good. Thoughts go through my head like 'could I cope?' How would I communicate with people if I left Facebook? And then I remember, I spent approximately 22 years of my life without Facebook. Although, to be fair, not entirely successfully from a social perspective! But I got by, you know. Perhaps it's also a matter of not entirely trusting that people would bother contacting me if I left - though that's more to do with my self-esteem than me underestimating people! 

I did suspend my account for a few weeks a while back - just to see if I could. A little bit like an alcoholic who may go without for a few weeks to prove they're not addicted. It worked ok, and as I wasn't idly checking Facebook on my phone every thirty seconds, I felt somehow freer. But then, I thought to myself, 'I'll reactivate my account and just check it every so often, now I've reigned myself in it will be fine - I'll only check it once a day'. Like that was ever going to work. Gradually, I checked it more often, then reinstalled the app on my phone - then I was back in with a vengeance. 

So close!

The interesting (/scary) thing about Facebook is the ability to to be kept in the loop of people's lives, without saying anything to them, or them directly saying anything to you. There are people I haven't contacted in years, but if they're sufficiently active, I can fill in the gaps over those years with a stream of status updates. Is that a good thing? Should you be peeking in on people's lives if you're not actually 'proper' friends? Perhaps not, but that's how things work now. 

Now, I'm not placing myself above anyone else - I'm still trapped. Maybe more than a lot of others. That's why I resent it! It's not just the fact I can snoop on my friends, it's also an ego thing - how many people like my status update? Has anyone commented on my photo? It's really made me annoyed with my neediness. And whatever happened to mystery?!

I'm not even going to go into details about the stupid, self-indulgent shallowness of it all - maybe some other time. 

I look ahead to the next 10-20 years, and I think to myself - how are our social interactions going to be more controlled and standardised? Facebook, ubiquitous though it is now, will be replaced with something all the more social, vibrant and whizzy in not too many years. A new paradigm will come, and Facebook will be on the scrapheap with MySpace, Friends Reunited and email. Part of me looks forward to that with glee; but most of me is terrified! 

But still, you don't see me leaving, do you...?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Creative Paralysis - A Self-Indulgent Rant

So I've been trying to think of ideas for a blog for at least two years. Well, it's not so much trying to think of ideas, I've got a list of quite a few; it's more that I've been stalled by the idea that anything that goes on in my mind might not actually be interesting to the average person, or indeed that it might give people more of an idea of who I am as a person than I'm entirely comfortable with. Also, I'm blessed/cursed by being friends with a number of wildly creative and vastly intelligent people, who seem to find no problem in expressing themselves, which intimidates me. But while that's still all in my head, it matters less.

Perhaps the most important factor in this is that I couldn't work out whether to go straight in with a meaty first post that would solve all of the world's problems, or just a test post that I wouldn't go out of my way to share with anyone. But if I did that, I'd never share it with anyone. So I'll just jump in with something in between.

As for a subject - it looks like it's becoming a metablog - a blog about blogging. While I don't see that continuing past this entry, writing this is putting me in mind of something else that's been bothering me for the past, well, seven years? Basically since I've left university.

At university, I had an inbuilt outlet for my thoughts. I was focusing my creative energies on the subject I was studying - English Literature - and that was enough. While some people (myself included) may question the ultimate practical use of a degree in such a subject, it served its purpose for me.

But since then, throughout everything that's happened in my life, good and bad, I've felt paralysed by an inability to find something to write about that felt right. Not too personal, but not too mediocre either. And deep within me, there's always been the feeling I need to create, at the same time as feeling that I have no talent for anything creative. While that is the case for music, painting, and just about any other art form, if I'm honest I do feel that I can string sentences together in a decent way.

Something else has been bothering me in the last few years (a lot of things bother me, as you will know by now - I'm controlled by my own neuroses, as many of us are). The idea that I'm out of practice - that I can't write anything any more, as I haven't bothered in years. As I've been writing this, I'm wondering whether my style is too formal, too serious, boring, and so on. I'm also paranoid that the last decade or so of alcohol abuse has shaved off a few IQ points, that I'm past my prime. That may well prove to be the case.

I need to relax. Just let words flow.

But at the same time, future blog posts will be more structured than this. In the past, I've felt my views have been too changeable, I just seemed to instantly adopt a view on something when asked, and argued the toss about it until I'm blue in the face. Now I'm in the closing months of my 20s, I am finally becoming more aware of who I am as a person, and in this way starting to get over my long-held, irrational belief that, somehow, I'm not really a proper person. Views are becoming more fixed - is this a good thing? Am I becoming more closed-minded as the years go on? Or am I just becoming more cohesive as an individual? I don't know, I guess that'll be another thing that becomes apparent in time.

I've got to stop this somewhere, it's becoming more and more self-indulgent. Although I suppose a blog can't really be anything else. Already starting to think about a proper subject that I can write about next - my turn-ons at the moment are mainly revolving around mysticism, cultural infantilisation and... fluffy kittens.

See you soon!

And I'd like to thank my wife Sarah for finally giving me the motivation to do this, albeit indirectly!