I've been watching with some interest just how much traffic my post about my disillusionment with the occult scene has generated. It even got linked by Chas Clifton, a pagan blogger and academic. He summarized that post as, " Aleister Crowley's legacy still poses problems for occultists -- especially when they take Internet "life" as equivalent to a "scene." Unfortunately that summary misses the point of that post entirely. I can understand, however, why he might think this was an issue with Crowley's legacy (such as it is) given my previous posts about Crowley on this blog. However Crowley is just a symptom of the problem, albeit to my mind, one of the originating symptoms. My original issue with Crowley essentially boils down to this: If after seventy years since his death, Crowley still represents the pinnacle of occultism, then occultism as a discipline hasn't advanced at all, which then brings up the question as to why any of us even bother practicing magic at all, if all we're trying to do is emulate him. Mind you, I don't believe all of us are trying to emulate him, but my original issue with Crowley was spurred on by seeing this person talked about so much, with so very little attention seemingly given to other occult authors or other original perspectives that weren't necessarily overtly influenced by him, to the point that some of these occult authors are only, in recent times, being rediscovered (Franz Bardon particularly comes to mind, though I can think of a number of others).
But after re-reading some of Crowley's work, I came to realize that my issue with Crowley was just a symptom of a deeper problem. I could see that Crowley had some valid points to make, even if the end I felt that while what he wrote could be insightful, I still don't believe its as influential as some people would argue. Before I get into any arguments with people who disagree, I'll just accept that yes he obviously has a lot of influence on you and your practice of magic. However, in re-reading his work I still don't find it very illuminating or graceful or any of the other things you think about it (so let's agree to disagree about that).
But this brings me to the problem I now see Crowley as a symptom of. Crowley's image, his notoriety is to me symbolic of the problem I perceive with the occult scene. I honestly wonder if people would find his work as influential if he didn't also have that bad boy image that he has. In other words, I think that the image has overtaken the content. And given that there are no other occult authors that really have that kind of notoriety, a further question I find myself asking is, "If another occult author had that kind of notoriety, would people read his works in the same way...would the image influence how the content was perceived?" Now someone might say, "Hey it's not fair that you assume that Crowley's image influences my reading of his content." Yes it may not be fair, but it is a valid consideration to bear in mind. Does Crowley's image overtake, overshadow, and consequently influence how his work is read and/or practiced? Is Crowley the best role model of a magician that we have? Should he be a role model for us? But it doesn't end with Crowley. The problem here is how much is the occult scene invested in image opposed to content (and who decides what is image and what is content?)?
When I talk about the occult scene, I'm not just talking about Crowley and I'm certainly not just talking about the internet occult scene. The Zee list was an excellent example of what I considered to be part of this image problem I've talked about, because on the zee list what you really had occurring was a lot of chest beating and posturing over who was the uber occultist of them all. What didn't occur was a lot of sharing of ideas or experiments. Some of that occurred, but most of the time you had flame wars erupting...and to a lesser degree this also occurred on other e-lists. I can't say if it's occurred in recent times, because I'm not on any of the e-lists I used to be on. I stayed off them when I realized that any experiments or work I was going to do would probably be best shared with only a select group of people.
So dear reader, at this point, you might ask, "So why are you feeling disillusioned?" And my response: "Is occultism as a culture about image or content or is there a good balance for both?" I think of Generation Hex, the anthology edited by Jason Louv as an example of what I'm asking about. Because on one hand it represents a snapshot in the lives of certain people and their pursuit and practice of magic, and on the other hand it also represents a method for marketing the practice of magic as something cool people can do. It's a cultural text that offers us insight into why people decided magic was relevant to them as a practice and as way of connecting with other people, etc, but it's a statement of how magic could (should?) be perceived.
And then too my disillusionment about occultism comes down to: "What does doing all of this stuff really do for me? How is this really changing my life?" I have no doubt magic has changed my life and changed it for the better, but in considering questions such as those, I also consider the role of occultism as a culture and as a practice in my life. Is the practice of magic just a practice that allows people to connect socially or culturally? Is the practice of magic an elaborate social schema for interaction with certain types of people? Or is there more? I can point to my own experiments and say yes there has been more than just a connection on social or cultural level. But when I look at occultism as a whole, as a culture, I'm asking, what are we practicing magic for? What is the purpose for practicing magic? How does this practice benefit us as individuals, as a cultural group, or humanity, or the Earth, or the universe? What is the significance, if anything...or is it just image in the end?
And to be clear I'm not commenting on the practices of others or your choice to be influenced by Crowley or whatever else as a way of dismissing it. To quote a tried and true maxim of chaos magic, "Whatever works for you" I'm really commenting on all of this for myself, as a way of looking at how I situate my practice of magic into my life, and into my interactions with the occult community and culture. I'm seeking answers to my questions, because those answers will really shape the direction my spiritual path goes into, as well as how and if I continue to take part in the occult community. Posting it here is the opportunity to articulate my feelings and concerns, to get some distance from them, to come back with a different perspective down the line. What answers I get, which could come from commentary that others offer, still are answers I have to find on my own. I suppose you could my disillusionment my spiritual mid life crisis. It's not necessarily a dark night of the soul, but it certainly is something to me...and that's just fine, because it means something is happening.