RANT KLAXON: The following blog post is one of those I might regret when I am an older, wiser man, because its a blog post on the powers of magic in writing.
This is the sort of blog post I think will make Rob Jones rub his forehead and say “For Christ’s sake Nick”. I think he genuinely thinks I’m batshit on occasion.
I write many words on consciousness magic, summoning and reality, and if you are likely to think that’s bollocks, then don’t read and keep your opinion of my unmarred.
If not, read on.
I listened to about eight Grant Morrison talks back to back last week, which was an interesting experience, because not all of them were purely comic related.It was also an interesting experience because only today did I realise how one of Morrisons points linked to a question as part of this Sunday’s Comic Book Hour, a twitter based conversation that happens weekly and can be found here. Kind of because as its a hashtag its everywhere.
I was looking for talks on subjects that grabbed me, so I started with a Warren Ellis one on that boiled down to uselessness of speculation, which was interesting to me because the first ever piece of academic writing I did was a building appraisal that centered around preparations for dead futures. Speculative futures are interesting, because they’re based solely on the presents idea of what is futuristic. In Star Trek the original series they’d developed a technology to teleport people, but they communicators were less functional than a mobile phone circa 2015. In the Next Generation they had the fully functioning android Commander Data, but he had to type messages into the computer as he was unable to wirelessly connect with it and send his message direct.
I also get really het up about the phenomenology of aliens in science fiction that they’re always based on different human cultures, rather than the mind bending philosophies that would be generated on worlds vastly dissimilar to ours. Oddly enough something that is tackled head on in Rick and Morty via their inter-dimensional television.
Back to Grant Morrison. He is a practicing Magician, and he is not afraid to say it. He’s not afraid to tel the world. I am very much into Chaos magic and magical theory.
As a side note; I am both skeptical and open to spiritualism; a great bone of contention I have is with the afterlife and mediums. Another one is past life experiences. Past life experiences basically enter into a linearity of time that I don’t give credit to. It says that everything has happened in one order merrily avoiding the idea of past lives that haven’t happened yet. The two are obviously not mutually exclusive, but ultimately I would like to think of myself as someone who has magical influence and has actively used this in the past to change my life, and the lives of others.
In one of his talks, Grant talks about summoning. Summoning up Gods to talk to, to speak to, and how the deities you can conjure envisage elements of personalities, eternal personalities that are a part of us all. Similar to the Seven Basic Plot types there are basic personality outlines, and these appear in many cultures, and often take the form of the Gods of their Pantheon. Pantheons have a War God (Anhur in Egyptian, Ares in Greek, Mixcoatl in Aztec), a Music God (Apollo Greek, Benzaiten in Buddhism, Saraswati in Hindi), a God of communication (Mercury, Freya, Thoth), and these all represent personality types.
So we come to the question I mentioned earlier:
— #ComicBookHour (@ComicBookHour) 12 June 2016
The answer I gave was a wide spread thing. I said “Research, Knowledge and Empathy” which I think to be a rather sound explanation. If I want to write anything, I usually try to read something about that subject, get some view points, so I don’t feel like I’m talking guff. Theres a page in 50Signal 2 where there’s a hyperspace relay, and I read a few articles on possible power supplies for something like that, and eventually settled on Dyson spheres, not because I don’t have the imagination to cook up a power source for it, I just wanted it to feel real to me. Write what you know and all that.
But characters are slightly different. When it comes to writing what you know, and with a person you’ve made up, you’ve got to know them. A lot of answers to this question revolved around people saying “When they make a decision, I think about the decision they’d make, not the decision I’d make” and I can’t help but think “Yeah, but how do you know what decision they’d make?”. I think that’s where Morrison’s idea of summoning comes into play.
I take a pragmatic approach to magic, I don’t believe in Midichlorians or light shooting out of wands, to me Magic is the manipulation of consciousnesses, and as humans are a pack animal, a communal energy, our powers of conscious are interlinked. Sigil magic works, I believe, because you are bending your consciousness towards an outcome, and positively reinforcing it within your head. You’re using things like confirmation bias and mind set to will you to achieve a reality. Giving yourself a spiritual goal. So when I think of summoning, I don’t see it as the conjuring of something real, like a deity, I see it as conjuring up a part of the large consciousness of the human race, you’re pulling into your mind parts of the world around you to create an artificial intelligence, a personality model of that you want to speak to.
In his talk, Morrison talks about an occasion where he summoned up the form of John Lennon, but how he thinks it wasn’t John Lennon, but the form of a God of music who filled in the role of John Lennon. I have never summoned up a demon, or anything like that. Partly because I find it hard to believe in, and partly because I am frightened that its possible and I’m fucking with things beyond my power. We’ve all read what happened to John Constantine in Newcastle. Chilling.
What I have done, is conjured a story, I have summoned narratives using chaos magic. Its a practice I evolved out of a process that I read about in a Philip K Dick biography. During the creation of his book, and now popular Amazon TV show I am yet to watch, The Man In The High Castle, Dick was heavily into the I Ching. The I Ching is an ancient divination text, and Dick used it to make crucial decisions in the plot development of his book. He used it to develop characters, simply by asking the I Ching questions, and then flipping a series of coins, and by reading into these coin flips, it allowed him to receive the answers he needed. The book was written by an outside force (whether that be spiritual or random in nature) that Dick was interpreting. I wrote a few things early on in my story writing career by using the I Ching, just as Dick did, but found that it was too linear for what I wanted to do. So I started to use a process of story summoning, and I used the central focus of this as music.
Phonogram by Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie posits music as being a fulcrum around which magic is tied, and its an idea that I can get behind. I spoke to Kieron about this at a signing early this year and asked him if he believed any of it was true, and he said that the whole of it is a very good analogy. A metaphor for the power of music, rather than straight up belief that music is magic. Though I think that Music is power, I think it is something that we can use to influence our consciousness and the way we process power through ourselves, which in itself could be perceived as magic. Songs can change us, they can alter the way we feel, make us happy or sad, and live music can change our outlooks. Its a common story to talk about that moment we heard something that changed the way we think, that altered our lives. I remember the first time I heard Joy Division and it completely altered the way I approached my emotions. There’s an issue of Phonogram where one of the non-magical characters, the wonderfully named Kid With Knife, performs some basic Phonomancy, and listens to Wolf Like Me by TV On The Radio and becomes magically imbued, having the night of his life.
The instructions he is given as thus:
Choose a track, doesn’t matter what it is – just that is matters to you. Stick it on, and turn it up. Close your eyes, and listen hard. Focus. Just feel the song. Let it sweep over you. Breathe it in. Let it possess you. And when you can feel it filling every single cell in your body, just ride it as long as you can.
Of course Kid responds to that be saying “That’s magic? Everyone does that” and they do, we all do. We listen to music to enhance how we feel. My girlfriend Camila plays sad songs when she is sad because she wants to cry. I put on angry songs when I’m feeling angry, we put on the sort of music that reflects how we are feeling. With writing, I can put on music that embodies the way I want to think, the way I want to feel, and I meditate on the emotions contained within and I call out to the character I want to write, and the character will come to be because I have summoned them. The Space giant at the end of 50Signal 2 came to me in a gig. That story has been completely changed from how it was originally going to go by me summoning force the story, or the story summoning itself to me.
But you can use an object, an item of clothing, an artifact, or even a word written on a piece of paper as a focus item, to summon forth a fictional character. Get a grip of what that person is on the outside, and sit for a bit, focus on them for two or three minutes, and let them be there with you, call out to them to talk to you, and talk to a character and see what they say to you. From Grant Morrison’s perspective you’re channeling a deity that represents your character, you’re summoning them forth, in the same way you can summon forth a reality you want through Sigil magic.
To me you’re building an artificial construct, a Golem of ideas, that you will be able to interact with, and with time you can focus your meditation to summon more elements of a story, sew in more pieces of your own reality to make it real. Today in a story writing exercise I started with three blank characters and a location, and I wrote down one work for each character, and put on a song that I wanted to represent the feel of the story, and I sat with a note pad and just wrote what came to me, and without thinking I summoned forth elements I hadn’t imagined before, ideas that were beyond what I anticipated for the story. New characters that were outside of my plans for the narrative came into effect. The story wrote itself and it was nothing like what I had set out to create.
So, even if you think that everything I’ve just said about summoning and magic is bollocks, then treat it as a thought experiment, and write something in a similar setting to how I wrote today, and see where it takes you.