I’ve said in the past that I don’t write much about magic. I’m in the process, I think, of changing that. But more specifically, I’m going to write about the intersection of magic and Maker culture, because I think that the two groups have a great deal to say to one another, and to learn from one another. And maybe this is the beginning of a waypost for both sides.
As a school teacher, I’m aware that it’s kind of awkward that I’m interested in the occult philosophy. I’m calling it the Occult Philosophy, or the Hidden Wisdom, because we tend to lump panpsychism and metaphysics and crystal-gazing and magic and a variety of other things under the same rubric: not in schools. And yet, the Hidden Wisdom as taught by Henry Cornelius Agrippa and others since then has a great deal to say about and to modern schools: about ‘grit’ and persistence; about learning from mistakes; about scheduling and organization; about proper planning and materials-acquisition; about design and technique. (Yes, it also has a great deal to say about angels and daemons and unicorn horn and ancient gods and astrology and divination and alchemy and other discredited topics… but maybe there’s something to that which is important in modern Maker culture, and I’ll come back to that sometime).
And it’s in that context — of planning and preparation and materials-acquisition — that I present the following project: The Book of Mars.
The Book of Mars is my own creation. I decided to make one after making another album according to this design. It’s five sheets of 12″ x 12″ paper, sliced and diced in various ways; two are one shade of red, the other two are another shade; and the third is the patterned paper that is a common theme throughout the work. There’s also the addition of additional sheets of printer paper run through a color printer to produce the textual and technical and visual elements within the book.
Red, of course, is the color of Mars, both the planet and the god of war from ancient Rome; and the astrological identity which rules over men’s matters, conflict, war, sieges, aggression, assertiveness, severity, command, and other matters. It’s a color of projection, of force, of deliberateness, of intention and fierceness and bravery. The image on the front cover comes from the work of the modern American sorcerer Jason Miller. Maybe we shouldn’t be celebrating the culture of violence that Mars represents, of course; but maybe some of his other powers and virtues — of assertiveness, of command, of deliberateness, or bravery, of self-discipline — should be things that we ask students (and ourselves) to cultivate and develop.
Within the book, Mars rides by twice; between his chariots that ride on the wheels of Capricorn and Scorpio (symbols of passing time, and the necessity of putting one’s life in order and under one’s command, in a sense) is the Kamea or magic square of Mars — an ancient mathematical puzzle designed to teach complex addition and larger number theory in an age without calculators. Someday, additional Martial (Mars-like) symbolism shall appear here; for the moment, this seems to be sufficient (although we should always be conscious that coincidence doesn’t always mean correlation).
But open the Book of Mars again. A new layer appears. Here’s a photograph of a famous statue of Mars, and the Kamea of Mars again. And the emblem of Mars, also (I’m leaving space above it for further texts about Mars, as I find them or they emerge.
I’m making a genuine effort here, to build up a lot of Martial images in the same place, on an appropriate background, with appropriate visuals, text, and emblems.
The book expands outward, revealing more and more layers of Mars imagery and ideas. Poetry from Thomas Taylor, and two of my own, as well: one for Mars from my Neo-Orphic Hymns, and one for Mars in Exaltation. In fact, the book opens and expands eight times, in eight different ways, revealing more and more layers of meaning, more and more texts and prayers designed to call upon Mars to refrain from violence, to help the reader explore the virtues of bravery and assertiveness without resorting to aggression or violence, and to explore the mysteries of Mars as a spiritual and metaphysical concept.
It is, if you will, a scriptural volume, an experimental sutra, an illuminated book of astrological hours and days, for working with and studying and understanding the powers and capacities of Mars. It was simpler to build than some of my other books, although some of those others would make rocking magical volumes on various subjects. No matter. This one is what it is (I’ll probably build six more, but not eight more, because I tend to work only with traditional planets, not the three Outermost and Recent discoveries).
It’s also just a bunch of pieces of paper, taped and glued together in a nominally pleasing way, designed to help the viewer understand some things… as books and albums and decorative objects like this have always done. We’re left with an overall impression of who and what Mars is, and how he/it interacts with us. It’s an effort to work with available materials — both cultural and intellectual on the one hand, and physical and technical on the other — to produce a rich, enduring experience which is portable, intellectually comprehensible, emotionally interesting, culturally intriguing.
Did I succeed? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe not yet. Maybe so. Maybe you’re already thinking of ways to make one of your own.
If so, then in a sense I’ve succeeded. The modern definition of magic is something like “To cause changes in consciousness in accordance with will.” Magicians do this by practicing on themselves first, and then (maybe) on others. My goal was to make something that designers (and teachers of design) would find visually interesting and intriguing, but that might also appeal to magicians of a particular brand or stripe…. and yet might also be intriguing to magicians of many different stripes.
Surely some of each are looking at these tiny photographs and thinking, “I could do it better.”
Now… the designer would say that this is egotism at work. But the magician, who believes in other layers of reality besides the physical one, will look at this, and be moved by other forces — call them spirits, or angels, or daemons if you like. Gordon calls them the Neighbors, and I like that language. In some places they’re called guides. Maybe you call them your Patronuses after J.K. Rowling.
But I have to ask… do the spirits and forces that you acknowledge and recall and remember want such a thing? When you call out to them in your mind, does another spirit answer back, like an echo of a string on a guitar, to say “Yeah, I want one of those. But not to Mars. Make it about me. For me.” For some magicians, or designers, the answer will always be “no, I don’t hear that.” They don’t see or feel or hear the appeal; the universe doesn’t sing to them that way, or call for them to be makers of objects and creators of things. They have other roles and purposes in the world.
But some are looking upon this book, even in these tiny photographs, and are hearing the call to build it and make it anew. But if you’re going to build this book, you have to accept that there might be things you don’t know how to do, like build the book, for example; and you will have to submit your will to Loretta long enough to learn how she did it — and how I did it. You’ll be joining a ‘school’, if you will, of crafters and artisans that you might feel some shame or weirdness about joining… but at the same time, you’ll be growing your capacities to work with new materials and with new ideas, and growing your insights. You will, as you Make, be unfolding yourself in new patterns.
The magician builds this book, or others like it, to grow in wholeness — to grow in a sense that they are attuned to all things: this plant, that tree, this planet, that star. The designer builds this book in order to grow in skill: to grow in a sense that they can do or make anything that they set their mind to build. The one is seeking power and understanding, the other is seeking community and recognition. I’d be hard pressed to tell you for sure which is which, though.