Hello you. And welcome to what will be the first in a series of posts discussing the various strange and hidden ways the world of comics and magic are connected. I’ve dealt with some of these issues in my paper The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman (find that here) but these posts will be a bit more relaxed in style and content.
Less theory, more wierdy.
So lets begin with Comics are Magic Part 1: The Myth of Superman.
Its become pretty commonplace to refer to superheroes as a modern mythology, or contemporary manifestations of mythic patterns. And while this is interesting on a purely intellectual level it also has interesting occult implications.
Much of ritual magic involves invocation. here is Uncle Ali Crowley describing the experience of invocation:
The mind must be exalted until it loses consciousness of self. The Magician must be carried forward blindly by a force which, though in him and of him, is by no means that which he in his normal state of consciousness calls I. Just as the poet, the lover, the artist, is carried out of himself in a creative frenzy, so must it be for the Magician.
Crowley describes three main categories of invocation, although “in the great essentials these three methods are one. In each case the magician identifies himself with the Deity invoked.”
- Devotion —where “identity with the God is attained by love and by surrender, by giving up or suppressing all irrelevant (and illusionary) parts of yourself.”
- Calling forth—where “identity is attained by paying special attention to the desired part of yourself.”
- Drama—where “identity is attained by sympathy. It is very difficult for the ordinary man to lose himself completely in the subject of a play or of a novel; but for those who can do so, this method is unquestionably the best.”
Another invocation technique that the magician can employ is called the assumption of godforms—where with “concentrated imagination of oneself in the symbolic shape of any God, one should be able to identify oneself with the idea which [the god] represents.” Comics writer and practicing magician Grant Morrison describes the process in his essay Pop Magic. The Gods of myth are primal forms, expressions of big ideas that have been here long before us and will remain long after.Morrison writes that, for example;
ANGER is one of those Big Ideas and LOVE is another one. Then there’s FEAR and GUILT
So…to summon a god, one has only to concentrate on that god to the exclusion of all other thought. Let’s just say you wish to summon the Big Idea COMMUNICATION in the form of the god Hermes, so that he will grant you a silver-tongue. Hermes is the Greek personification of quick wit, art, and spelling and the qualities he represents were embodied by Classical artists in the symbol of an eternally swift and naked youth, fledged with tiny wings and dressed only in streamers of air. Hermes is a condensation into pictorial form – a sigil, in fact – of an easily recognizable default state of human consciousness. When our words and minds are nimble,when we conjure laughter from others, when we make poetry, we are in the real presence of Hermes. We are, in fact, possessed by the god.
Morrison is keen to point out that there need not be a ghostly or real reason for this. As Crowley wrote:
In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.
Still, two questions arise. if these Gods are not ‘real’, why invoke them at all? Morrison answers that for us nicely:
People tend to become possessed by gods arbitrarily because they do not recognize them as such; a man can be overwhelmed with anger (the Greek god Ares), we can all be “beside ourselves” with passion (Aphrodite) or grief (Hades). in life we encounter these Big Ideas everyday but we no longer use the word “god” to describe them. The magician consciously evokes these states and renames them gods in order to separate them from his or her Self, in order to study them and learn.
So for example, “You may wish to connect with Hermes if you’re beginning a novel or giving a speech or simply want to entertain a new beau with your incredible repartee”. Practical magic then. Choose a god based on their qualities; what Platonic ideal or archetypal human experience they represent, and invoke them in order to know and learn from them. But again, a question arises. If these archetypal forms ‘work’ i.e. have effects, but they are not real, then why work with the old gods at all? Why not draw on modern myths.? Chaos Magician Phil Hine says of Star Trek that:
Star Trek is a modern, mythic reflection of our psychology. The characters embody specific qualities - Spock is logical, Sulu is often portrayed as a martial figure, Scotty is a ‘master builder’, and Kirk is an arbitrator, forever seeking resolution of conflict through peaceful means.
But the answer to the first question is the same-why invoke a modern God? Practical magic: to study and learn and understand. Hine says of the Star Trek example:
One of my colleagues had to sit a computer exam, and was wracking his brains trying to think of an appropriate god-form to invoke upon himself to concentrate his mind on programming. Mercury? Hermes? And then he hit on it – the most powerful mythic figure that he knew could deal with computers was Mr. Spock! So he proceeded to invoke Mr. Spock, by learning all he could about Spock and going round saying “I never will understand humans” until he was thoroughly Spock-ified. And he got an ‘A’, so there!
Morrison too advocates drawing upon fictional entities in magical practice (full interview here):
So once I got into the chaos magic thing, I started to think well if all I’m doing is triggering a state of mind can I do the same thing with something I know to be unreal? And I would start instead of summoning up Greek gods or Voodoo Loa, I would summon up Metron from the New Gods or HP Lovecraft monsters, or the Cenobites from Clive Barker and get the same thing. It was all about, okay, so even fictional things appear as long as they correspond to the specific feeling that you’re trying to create using this ritual method.
Could Superman work this way? Certainly the religious and mythopoetic elements of the Superman story our often argued. Noting the Jewish heritage of Superman’s creators some commentators have read Superman as a Moses figure. Superman’s home of Krypton was about to be destroyed by events beyond his parents control. In Biblical Egypt the Israelites faced the mass murder of their male children. Both the infant Moses and the infant Superman were saved from death by their parents, one placed in a reed basket and sent down the Nile, the other in a rocket sent into space and bound for Earth. Both children grew up in foreign cultures, discovered and raised by adoptive parents who realise their true potential. Superman disguises his Kryptonian heritage with the human persona of Clark Kent, just as Moses was forced to keep his Jewish ancestry a secret.
Another variation says that Superman is a Christ figure. Like Jesus, Superman is sent by his father from the ‘heavens’ to save mankind (albeit one at a time). Both are raised by adoptive parents of humble means-Superman by farmers, Jesus by a carpenter. And both possess extraordinary powers that they use for the benefit of mankind. Furthermore, Superman’s real identity as Kal-El, son of Jor-El, has theological significance, “El” being a semitic word for ‘deity’ or god.
The storyline Death of Superman even modelled an illustration Michelangelo’s Pieta, just to hammer the Christ allegory home. And, like Jesus, Superman was soon resurrected. Although it is true that the Bible does not speak of a cyborg Jesus, teenage clone jesus, metal-armoured Jesus, or visored, energy powered Jesus with all of his memories vying to take Jesus’ place during his three-day leave of absence.
We can go further. Place Superman in even older spiritual traditions than Judaism or Christianity.
During the later periods of Roman history, sun worship gained in importance and ultimately led to what has been called a “solar monotheism.” Nearly all the gods of the period were possessed of solar qualities. The feast of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) on December 25 was celebrated with great joy, and eventually this date was taken over by the Christians as Christmas, the celebrated birthday of Christ (wikipedia)
Perhaps then, like Jesus before him, Superman is the latest incarnation of dying and reborn god, or of the Solar deity variously known as Horus, Sol or Apollo. In his book Supergods Grant Morrison neatly summarises what archetypal function Superman, as the latest manifestation of a perennial form, then serves. superman, he writes, embodies our species ‘loftiest aspirations’. As such Superman
was brave. He was clever. he never gave up and he never let anyone down. He stood up for the weak and knew how to see off bullies of all kinds. he couldn’t be hurt of killed b the bad guys, hard as they might try. He didn’t get sick. he was fiercely loyal to his friends and to his adopted world. He was Apollo, the sun god, the unbeatable supreme self, the personal greatness of which we all know we’re capable. (Supergods, p.15)
It seems obvious why one would want to invoke Superman and absorb those qualities. What’s peculiar to Superman however is his tendency to leave the pages of his dimensional universe and manifest himself in our 4-dimensional realm.
Take Alvin Schwartz’s story in An Unlikely Prophet for instance. Schwartz was a writer of both Batman and Superman for seventeen years in the forties and fifties. Later he was contacted by a Buddhist monk named Thogden. Thogden claimed to be a Tulpa, a ‘thought-form’, a being thought into existence by a Tibetan mystic. Thogden proceeds to take Schwartz on a spiritual journey that takes in many of the familiar stopping points on the twentieth century magical path-shamanism, quantum physics, and of course, superheroes. Schwartz’s journey apparently continues in A Gathering of Selves, which focuses on Batman (who as Morrison points out is the Lunar counterpart to the Solar Batman). As it happens, I haven’t yet read the second book so if anyone knows more about it I’d love to hear.
Most important right now though is Thogden’s claims that Superman, too, is a Tulpa. That Schwartz’s (or perhaps all the readers and creators) thought and focus on Superman have given him some kind of materiality; some ability to manifest in and interact in our world. Certainly, Schwartz has an experience that may or may not be evidence of Superman’s intervention. Grant Morrison has also had a magical contact with the Superman thought form. As he said in an interview with Newsarama:
My specific take on Superman’s physicality was inspired by the “shamanic” meeting my JLA editor Dan Raspler and I had in the wee hours of the morning outside the San Diego comic book convention in whenever it was, ‘98 or ‘99.
I’ve told this story in more detail elsewhere but basically, we were trying to figure out how to “reboot” Superman without splitting up his marriage to Lois, which seemed like a cop–out. It was the beginning of the conversations which ultimately led to Superman Now, with Dan and I restlessly pacing around trying to figure out a new way into the character of Superman and coming up short…
Until we looked up to see a guy dressed as Superman crossing the train tracks. Not just any skinny convention guy in an ill–fitting suit, this guy actually looked like Superman. It was too good a moment to let pass, so I ran over to him, told him what we’d been trying to do and asked if he wouldn’t mind indulging us by answering some questions about Superman, which he did…in the persona and voice of Superman!
We talked for an hour and a half and he walked off into the night with his friend (no, it wasn’t Jimmy Olsen, sadly). I sat up the rest of the night, scribbling page after page of Superman notes as the sun came up over the naval yards.
My entire approach to Superman had come from the way that guy had been sitting; so easy, so confident, as if, invulnerable to all physical harm, he could relax completely and be spontaneous and warm. That pose, sitting hunched on the bollard, with one knee up, the cape just hanging there, talking to us seemed to me to be the opposite of the clenched, muscle-bound look the character sometimes sports and that was the key to Superman for me.
I met the same Superman a couple of times afterwards but he wasn’t Superman, just a nice guy dressed as Superman.
here’s a neat video of Morrison discussing the incident:
Even Superman’s weakness, the mineral known as Kryptonite, or something close to it, has been found in the real world. In 2007 a mineral was discovered in a Serbian mine that matched the chemical structure of Kryptonite revealed in the film Superman Returns. According to BBC News,
Researchers from mining group Rio Tinto discovered the unusual mineral and enlisted the help of Dr Stanley when they could not match it with anything known previously to science.
Once the London expert had unravelled the mineral’s chemical make-up, he was shocked to discover this formula was already referenced in the literature – albeit literary fiction.
“Towards the end of my research I searched the web using the mineral’s chemical formula – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – and was amazed to discover that same scientific name, written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luthor from a museum in the film Superman Returns.
“The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite.”
But it gets weirder. When Superman isn’t busy manifesting himself in our reality he’s making predictions about it through his. The microcosmic world of the DC Universe has served as an unheard and unheeded early warning system on a number of occasions. Superman comics have ‘predicted’ the creation of the atom bomb. Alvin Schwartz writes how it
wasn’t until a few years later…that I happened to see a headline in the New York Post: “Superman Had It First”. it was the story of how the FBI had censored Superman because the bomb was forecast in [Schwartz's earlier story-line]. The FBI had even questioned Jerry Siegel, Superman’s originator, thinking he had written that story…Perhaps it was just as well they hadn’t [questioned me]. What could I have told them? That I was in a strange clairvoyant state when I wrote That segment? (An unlikely Prophet, 131)
Schwartz’s storyline took place in the Superman newspaper strip. Stranger still is that another writer, independently of Schwartz, writing for the Superman comic book, had also written a story featuring an atom bomb. Again at a time when the Manhattan project was still unknown. From the Superman Home page:
One of the more famous wartime Superman stories actually appeared after the war ended thanks to the Department of Defense. “Battle of the Atoms” was originally going to appear in late 1944, but finally appeared in Superman #38 (January-February 1946) and featured a classic battle with Luthor save for the fact that Luthor’s new weapon was an “Atomic Bomb”. Since the Manhattan project, which gave rise to the first two American nuclear weapons, was in full swing in 1944, the Defense Department wanted nothing tipping off the Germans that America was even considering work on an atomic bomb, not even from a comic book. While the weapon used by Luthor looked nothing like the actual weapon, and was not anywhere near as destructive as the real bomb, government agents came to DC’s offices and demanded that the story not be printed until official clearance was given, citing the need for a unified national defense.
Cracked.com has a neat little article on these strange comic book synchronicities, but perhaps the strangest is this on from a Superman comic released on September 12/2011. After featuring images of the aftermath of an alien attack on various places the comic featured this image of the Twin Towers.
Does all this add up to evidence that the membrane that separates reality from fantasy is gradually eroding as our fictions and fantasies become more realistic and our reality becomes increasingly fictional and fantastic? Sure. Why not? (gnashes teeth, rolls eyes, laughs hysterically)
At any rate, Comics are Magic will return soon with Part 2: Using Superheroes for Divination and Manifestation.