Tag Archives: counterculture

Comics are Magic Part 7: The Book of Vishanti

Fictional books have a special sort of attraction. Who wouldn’t want to peruse Borgesian infinite libraries, or wander through the halls of unwritten books stored in the library of the Sandman (Alice’s Journey Behind the Moon by Lewis Carroll, anyone?). Perhaps the most mysterious of such book is the Necronomicon.. It’s a truism to note that much of H. P. Lovecraft’s lasting influence is the deep mythology woven into his work. The Cthulhu mythos has outlived its creator (or  medium? host-body?!), becoming a source of inspiration for numerous other writers as well as practising magicians. Chaos magicians such as Phil Hine have worked the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu mythos into their magickal rituals, while Kenneth Grant, former secretary of Alisteir Crowley, argued for a fundamental magical reality to Lovecraft’s fictions that even the author himself was unaware of.

At the heart of the Cthulu mythos lies the Necronomicon, a magical grimoire written by  the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, a worshipper of Cthulhu and Yog-Shoggoth.  Containing an account of the Old Ones, their history, and various  means for summoning them, the Necronomicon had a complex history, as outlined by Lovecraft himself in the History of the Necronomicon. Despite Lovecraft’s private protestations that the book was a product of his imagination alone, the Necronomicon has been remarkably persistent in manifesting itself in the “real world” too. If you were to visit the University Library of Tromsø, Norway, for instance, you would find listed a 1994 version of the Necronomicon, attributed to one Petrus de Dacia, although the document is ominously listed as “unavailable”. Or you might be able to track down one of the 348 editions published by Owlswick Press in 1973, written in the  indecipherable, apparently fictional language known as “Duriac”. More easily available is what has become known as the “Simon Necronomicon”, a translation of the “real” Necronomicon by the pseudonymous Simon. The blurb rightly warns the reader that this is indeed, “potentially, the most dangerous Black Book known to the Western World“. Also easily available is 1979 Necronomicon edited by George Hay, with an introduction by noted occult scholar Colin Wilson.

The Necronomicon is not above intruding on universes other than our own either, having made several appearances in both the Marvel and DC Universes. There is even a comic book about how the Necronomicon came to be written. But while the Necronomicon is perhaps the most legendary fictional (OR IS IT?!) book in Western literature, there is only one book of true magical power and import in the world superhero comics; The Book of Vishanti! Continue reading

Grinders, hackers and makers versus the “grim meathook future”

In an interesting rumination at transhumanblog the author muses that:

As the imminent emergence of a transhuman society begins to take to shape and moves increasingly from the realm of theory to fact, transhumanists and futurists are going to have to start asking some hard questions. No longer can we focus simply on the technological challenges of creating such a future, but we must also consider what those technologies imply for society and the international community. Much has been written and said about the threat of uneven distribution of these technologies…Little has been done to address these concerns though, and what has been done tends to focus on inequality within the developed nations that most futurists are from.

This is an interesting point and worth elaborating upon. Hence this post. The author above is right to raise the point that such critiques “focus on inequality within the developed nations that most futurists are from“. Given that the libertarian technological utopia espoused by some transhumanists is only made possible by a globalised economy we would do well to address the question of global disparities. As the author above goes on to write:

it is of paramount importance that we focus strong attention on the technological and infrastructural gap that exists been post-industrial and developing nations. Unless we take strong, positive action to address these issues, transhumanism will not be the global revolution we hope it to be, and we will instead take the form of the techno-oligarchs that we fear.

In a similar register Joshua Ellis has noted that:

There are nearly a billion Facebook users in the world, and half a billion Twitter users (though of course there’s probably nearly a 90% overlap between those two). Those are indeed astonishing numbers, but the problem is that sometime around March 12, 2012, we passed seven billion people living on Earth. That means that the vast majority of humans aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. The majority of people have mobile phones, but there are more people still who don’t have mobile phones than use Facebook.

Most of us never see these people, of course, except as faces briefly glimpsed in the background of news footage. They are outside our Big Room. Not because we’re intentionally keeping them out, you understand; at least, not really on any overt institutional level. Basically. We don’t do that any more, and we feel good about it.

It’s just that living in the Big Room is expensive, you see…and, well, these people can’t afford it. They don’t have Facebook because they can’t afford the technological artifacts that would allow them to be on Facebook. They don’t tweet about how much the new version of iOS sucks, because they don’t have any way to tweet and they damn sure don’t have a device that will run iOS, because these devices cost more than these people often make in a year.

For all the utopian dreaming of  transhumanist philosophers it remains the case that much of it remains rooted in a Western libertarian tradition. Continue reading

Tales from the Sphinx: An Interview with John Thompson

DEADBIRDSONG- John Thompson, 1969

Some time ago Nth Mind published a series of articles about Robert Anton Wilson, the final on of which, Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 3: RAW and the Comix Underground (click on the title to read it) discussed the work of John Thompson, artist for Cosmic Trigger and co-founder of the comix anthology The Yellow Dog. In the time since publishing that article I have been able to contact Thompson who had some very kind words about the original article. Moreover, John was good enough to agree to an interview as a follow-up to that article, the final version of which is presented below. I hope this interview encourages readers to follow the links included within, find out more about John’s (and his wife Judy’s) extraordinary art and contribute, as always, to keeping the cosmic trigger happy.

So settle down, get comfortable, and we’ll begin.

NTH MIND: When did your interest in art begin?

JOHN THOMPSON: As a small child I was drawn to some forms of Gnostic Christianity and a few schools of Buddhism, and can recall past lives where I illustrated and copied manuscripts. So as a little boy I tried to draw and write like I once did, and was frustrated that my abilities had not yet matured to do this. Then in Fifth Grade my books full of strange words and detailed drawings evolved, thanks to my teacher Mr. Sciara (Greek). Past life memories always have me in a loving family, in cultures without currency or fame or even signing pages, cultures involving Luang Prabang circa 1830, Languedoc/Provence 1200s, and rural hills of Western Sichuan . In these places my happy childhood involved copying books and illustrating them. Also ancient Miwoks of the Central Sierras, S E England’s Six Celtic Clans, and Greco-Alexandrian culture.

NTH MIND: Who were/are your artistic influences?

JOHN THOMPSON: Seeing Blake’s works was one of my happiest childhood memories.

NTH MIND: In Art in Time you list astrological symbolism of the Hellenist Greeks, Pythagorean Revival ideas mixed with celtic lore and Jewish mysticism, Swedenborg, Walt Whitman and Nyingma Buddhism as influences on your work. Also you wrote to me that, “In Edinburgh 1970 I researched my ancestral home, and in London studied Dr Dee & The Golden Dawn etc, so I’m a big fan of British esoteric lit & art.” When did you first become interested/initiated into esoteric ideas?

JOHN THOMPSON: Behavioral Psychologists agree that most children develop cognitive patterns the first six years of life, so I’ve been “thinking” like this since being born here in Carmel in 1945, surrounded by natural beauty of this coast. Such thoughts may seem esoteric to those who think differently, but not to like-minded people.

NTH MIND: At what point did you start including these ideas in your art?

JOHN THOMPSON: As soon as my hand held a pencil and my mouth could form words. Continue reading

Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 3: Anarchist Superhumans

In my thesis I have made a distinction between the types of posthuman body found in comic books and how these relate to various other versions of posthumanity in philosophy and transhumanist texts. Of particular interest in terms of posthumanism and anarchy is what I call the posthuman Cosmic Body (more detail can be found by clicking on the link). This final post on Anarchy and Posthumanism (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) will consider how anarchism has been presented within superhero comics and note how these representations usually chime with this vision of the ‘Cosmic Posthuman’. Continue reading

Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 1: What is Anarchy?

I’m going to go right ahead and guess that for most people (at least here in the UK), anarchy is the video below. According to taste that was easy either loud and scary; scruffy and childish; or an invigorating shot of piss and vinegar. If it was the latter for you then its probable you’ll already be sympathetic to the topic of this post. For the rest, I’m going to try to attempt to appeal to your better senses and paint a picture of anarchy or more specifically, anarchism-that you hopefully won’t find as jaggy and scary. The Sex Pistols are, after all, just the public face of anarchy, but anarchy wears many faces. There are quieter, cosier forms. Anarchy doesn’t mean chaos after all, but freely chosen order. Saying that, an inkling of Pistol’s deep and thorough disrespect for authority will probably help, even if you wouldn’t express it in the same way.

Here’s the nub: even if you have perfectly legitimate intellectual objections to the notion of anarchism it would be difficult to argue with the basic moral position of anarchy. There’s no getting around this. Dismissing anarchism out of hand is effectively saying, “I think its okay for people to tell other people what to do”. Now to be fair, you wouldn’t be alone in that position, but that’s kind of the point of this post. Continue reading


American Psycho

A number of recent studies appear to suggest a correlation between class and ethical laxity, or to, put it another way, rich people are bad. Now that’s a touch of deliberate bombast based on what for many, myself included, is a healthy, instinctual mistrust of wealth and authority. And for healthy, sane , fully functioning individuals such as us these results will come as no surprise. However, some less well-balanced humans argue that it is an absurd generalisation to claim that all rich, powerful people are liars and murderers so let’s point out right from the off that correlation does not imply causality. Indeed the authors of one studies highlight the fact that “upper and lower class individuals do not necessarily differ in terms of their capacity for unethical behaviour, but rather in terms of their default tendencies toward it” (The Grauniad). Never the less the same authors do claim that self-interest may be a “more fundamental motive among society’s elite” and selfishness “a shared cultural norm“. Continue reading

Comics are Magic part 2: Using Superheroes for Divination and Manifestation

In Comics are Magic Part 1 we discussed some strange coincidences and comic book predictions. In this part I want to discuss the use of comics to deliberately manifest such coincidences and changes in reality. First of all it might help to consider the intuitive capabilities of comics creators, starting with Jack Kirby. Kirby is arguably the most influential comics artist of all time, especially in terms of superhero comics. Chris Knowles, author of the excellent Our Gods Wear Spandex, has written frequently about Kirby over at his blog Secret Sun. Knowles says,  “Kirby was a man who one co-worker described as being “hermetically sealed in his own imagination.” I’d counter that only by saying that I believe that Kirby instead was in deep communion with the Collective Unconscious. Kirby even claimed that his characters existed inside his head and he merely projected their stories onto paper.” Knowles suggests that

Continue reading

Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 3: RAW and the comix underground

Page from John Thompson's Book of Raziel (1969)

Portrait of RAW from Cosmic Trigger Artist: John Thompson

As I wrote in part 2 (part 1 here) Robert Anton Wilson’s brand of ‘scientific-shamanism’ is linked to a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, a postuman form not uncommon in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes  in the 60s/70s  constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Having briefly considered what seems to be a largely implicit influence of RAW on the work of Moore and Morrison, it occurred to me that Wilson’s cultural milieu might align him with the comix underground in some way. As I said in Part 2 underground comix are not my speciality but curiosity led me to investigate te idea a bit further. So what follows is a brief investigation into the topic by someone who is not an expert. Still, I think I’ve unearthed some interesting tit-bits and hope that if anyone has any further information they get in touch. Continue reading

Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 2: Ontological Anarchy

So now then, after the last post became a general hurrah for Robert Anton Wilson (no bad thing necessarily) I’ve finally got round to writing about his links with comic books. Only that hasn’t been as simple as it seemed either. Fortunately it seems to have resulted in an interesting little bit of cultural archaeology.

Some context: I’ve written briefly about Wilson and his cohorts as ‘scientist-shamans’ and how that ties into a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, and how we can also discern the Cosmic Body in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes like Dr Strange and Adam Warlock in early seventies Marvel comics constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Underground comix are not my specialty by any means. Other than the usual suspects like Crumb and Spiegelman and British variants like Viz, and a broad-strokes idea of the movement and its relationship with mainstream comics, its not a history that I’m wholly familiar with.

What does this have to do with Wilson? In thinking and reading and googling this post I was surprised to find very little interest in RAW”s work and comics. Moore and Morrison have certainly both name-dropped him (and Moore delivered a poetic eulogy for him at an event in 2007-video included at the end of this post), but I couldn’t turn up anything specific in terms of direct referencing. (For instance, I wonder if Alan Moore enjoyed the idea that ‘V’ was also the Roman numeral for 5, a number to which a great deal of significance is attached in RAW’s work and Discordianism, of which RAW was a pope of course. Continue reading

A Treasure Trove of Mind Expanding Documentaries and Movies

Just found this site (TubeGnosis) and thought it was worth sharing with the world. Great site with documentaries and films on and from all the usual suspects, Burroughs, RAW,  Crowley, Jodorowsky and on and on. Weeks worth of viewing here.

I’m particularly excited to see the 1972 documentary about R. D. Laing Asylum:

In 1971, filmmaker Peter Robinson and a small crew entered a world of anarchic madness and healing compassion unlike any other. The resulting film, Asylum, records their seven week stay in radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s controversial Archway Community — a London row-house where the inmates literally run the asylum. Laing’s conviction that schizophrenics can only heal their shattered “self” where they’re free and yet are held responsible for their actions, challenged patients, doctors and, in Asylum’s incredible document, the filmmakers, to live communally and peacefully. 

A documentary treasure built from truthful moments of astonishing tension and grace, Asylum takes on a gripping narrative strength usually only seen in fiction. Hailed as “beautifully done” by The Village Voice at the time of its 1972 release, Asylum has since become “a model of cinema verité.” (The New York Times) 

“[Asylum] The only thing we have in film that shows what we think works for – well, for people who feel that society is destroying them.” – R. D. Laing

Plenty more besides that one. Going to be a busy week.

Tube Gnosis: Mind Expanding Documentaries and Movies.