Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Occult and Actor-Network Theory

Occult and Actor-Network Theory


            I had gone shopping. It was a simple process that I’d done countless times before. I had gone online and searched for antique books and manuscripts. Being a sort of bibliophile, my collection consists of a half dozen rare or out of print books about the occult. Clearly a modest beginning but one that has the potential to grow into a commanding library. After all, I have years to acquire the titles I want. For now, I’m content to place the little assemblage in a curio cabinet to be showcased adoringly. It was this simple action. This act of collecting and classifying that started me on a path of circulating reference study.
I had just received my latest treasure: L’Histoire Des Imaginations Extravagantes de Monsieur Oufle. Purchased from a seller in the United States, I marveled at the life of this little book. Printed in Paris circa 1700s, the ‘Histoire’ is a stunning piece of occult literature and a beautiful work of art. “What did it say?” I wondered. I knew it was about the occult. Perhaps a grimoire or first-person account of supernatural happenings. I knew it had traveled far. This little book has traveled the world since its publishing. And I imagined the many readers who had caressed this book. “Was it a favorite?” “Who loved this book a hundred years ago? A hundred and fifty?” I wondered at the many bookshelves it has rested upon. And I imagined it criss-crossing the globe. I watched it form its own net in evidence of a life lived. I opened the leather-bound cover and heard the faint sound of a binding once again doing its job. I could smell the pages. I glanced to the cover page and beheld the most incredible engraving I had ever seen. How glorious! This little book was a treasure-trove! I wondered at what it meant. How did this beautiful artwork fit into the occult themes of the book? “What did it mean?”
            It was then that I decided to study the etching. I became engrossed in identifying what the image meant and what information is relayed. What was its message? I wanted to know what it had to say to me. And it was at this moment that our journey together began. A surface inspection of the engraving yields a cacophony of the bizarre and wondrous. As I sit at my desk and run a magnifying glass over the image, a cursory examination shows a plethora of folkloric motifs all vying to be the focal point of the image. (See Figure 1)
            In the top-left portion of the engraving, dragons or sprites can be seen zipping through the air and gazing down at the unfolding scene below. Just adjacent to the dragons, a horrifying abduction is taking place! Three demons or devils have taken hold of a man and are carrying him away as he exudes some form of ectoplasm or smoke. As the substance billows out of his mouth, he throws his head back in dismay. Infant demons or devils seem to be created within the smoke. Were they using his body in parasitic fashion? Are the three abductors now taking him home to hell? Directly below the abduction, another devil appears to be brushing a horse while a woman stands bewildered near the center of the image. Was the abductee her lover? And were they riding a horse when they were accosted? Her look of shock and outstretched arms imply horror at the scene. Another horse watches the abduction as it takes place while a robust man in the background seems to point at something further down the road. His smile seems to indicate being privy to something neither the abductee nor his terrified love are aware of. The woman also appears oblivious to the gargoyle-esque apparition that sits nearby. In the foreground, a stately gentleman seems to be witnessing the scene as it occurs. His outstretched left hand and docile facial expression makes us wonder whether he is in trance or enchanted in some way. Ominously, a jester holding a scepter is poised to touch the gentleman with two fingers on the back of the neck. Interestingly, only the jester directly breaks the fourth wall and stares directly at the viewer. What new horror is about to befall the gentleman? Or is the jester an instrument of awareness who will wake the man from his slumber? To the right of the pair and in the immediate foreground, a jinn trapped in his bottle sits next to some kind of conjuring demon. Perhaps the orchestrator of the entire episode, this winged creature has a horrifying face and some kind of mysterious power. Another woman stands behind the conjurer and is nearly obscured by the binding of the book. She is robed and wears a look of complete shock. Is she a nun? Is she the only representative of light in the entire image? The engraving is ripe with occult themes and characters. These entities saturate the image in symbol and allegory and serve as a perfect platform with which to study the network and associations of occult thought.
            One way to track the movements of occult is to study it in terms of circulating reference and worldmaking. I don’t intend to rehash past conjectures of occult thought or practice. As an anthropologist and folklorist, I’m not required to address the ontological status of theoretical entities portrayed on the engraving. Officially, it’s not my job to substantiate the images as relevant non-entities or question whether they are no more than symbolic presentations of occult themes. However, I do have a profound respect for metaphysics and actor-network theory. Please indulge my philosophical meanderings while we examine occult agency and the many mediations that appear on account of its action.
            In the past, any philosophical mention of the occult relied on the dichotomy of dualism and materialism. Were occult happenings a product of the affects mind has on the external world or was the entire phenomenon in the mind. And when I say in the mind, I don’t mean the practitioner is delusional but that the imagination is utilized as a tool and vehicle of perception. These base metaphysical questions are essential to understanding the many agencies at work in occult study but not the only avenue of research. I have chosen the craft of etching and engraving as a platform with which to study occult and hope to show just some of the many actors in the phenomenon.
            I’m not an artist. I’ve never had any profound artistic skill nor studied Art History in any critical way. My interest in engraving stems from my love for the printing process. However, for purposes of this study, I was to put plate etching in a laboratorial setting. An actor in a network, I coupled the creation of plate etching with the engraved image to show the many substitutions possible in occult thought. By substituting an interplay of ink, designs, and paper into articulations of meaning, I have identified a shift from etching to creation. This shift shows the tendency for actors to be re-situated in their associations. Therefore, we can’t merely superimpose the various movements onto one another, they must move and be moved- substitutions must occur.
            One possible avenue of associative research can be found in transporting the viewer into the etching and into the etching’s creator. What was the train of thought in the engraver when he produced furrows on the surface of the plate? Did he imagine a process of becoming that the viewer will also experience albeit in a purely spiritual way? As Dyson has remarked, Engravers saw themselves as translators rather than imitators; and in an important sense they were. [i] But what was being translated? With the novice image barely discernable on the plate, did our creator then dust it with resin and plate it on a Bunsen Burner? Like an alchemist, the heat on the plate melts the resin into tiny globules that act as a protective shield. And this is an important part I want my readers to understand. It is the space between the globules that is effected in ‘the bite’ of the acid. A liminal place where transformation takes place. This is the same Ordeal that the viewer/initiate experiences when moved into the piece. In being betwixt and between, the engraving and its viewer are both bitten into by an agent of change. Through a succession of immersions, the acid is a baptism by fire. A purifying catalyst for re-presentation, the plate has changed forever. When our engraver then brushes the ink within the crevices and sends it through the press, it is the inked image that stands to re-present the new plate. No longer what it was, the plate has taken on a new ontological status. An entity has come to life. Multiple immersions only serve to give detail to this new form and it has taken on a state of viewer and initiate. In this regards, the creator affects the image just as the image affects the viewer. The new entity is epistemologically re-situated when the viewer is changed or made anew by associative circumstance.
            It is worth being said that charting an engraving’s production is not necessarily structuralist. Although reducing the process into its constituent units can be an attribute of action displacement, the entire point of evaluating the etching is to identify where action is re-distributed or, at the very least, to indicate where movement has occurred. Nor is the plate a strict metaphor for the occult initiate. That would be too easy. Indeed, the image re-presents but not in the archaic formulated way of symbolizing something else. The engraving makes use of an ecology of action. By reallocating its various attributes, a network is formed that distributes action. In this circumstance, the whole is not the sum of its parts. Whether we are talking of the chemical processes within hydrochloric acid that ‘bites into’ the plate, or the molecular makeup of ink that allows it to adhere to paper, these parts give substance to the entire network. So much action circulating in a myriad of ways! And all of this must be taken into account when we study occult thought. The connections that interlink the network make use of all the actors whether it be the contents of the image or the sciences involved in producing the plate.
            I hear the inevitable question. “Why? Why Preston-must we give a hoot about the mechanical and chemical processes that give rise to etching? Is it not the image and interpretation of the image that counts?” I don’t deny the image is important. It is one of the attributes that give meaning to a non-entity. But by affirming the entire network that surrounds an occult engraving, the piece becomes self-contained and autonomous. It exists independent of the occult (in the form of art), the viewer (it doesn’t wholly depend on symbolic systems for existence), and even its role as fetish object. We make a distinction between the image and the engraving. One is purely epistemic whereas the other is ontological. The former we ascribe meaning to, the latter requires no external meaning or explanation. It is a product of combining certain methods to create a specific object. However, manufactured objects always have a life and fate of their own. Often times, the trajectory or destiny of the object serves multiple purposes and functions. Such is the case with our engraving. As well as being a beautiful work of art, the etching is also a mediator for the occult. An inanimate object endowed with mystical qualities, the fetish is a supernatural happening. Similar to sacred stones or ancient Grecian curse tablets, the engraving itself is talismanic. In principle, it wouldn’t matter what the image on the engraving was, the object as amulet is what is important in negotiating mystical agency. Charles de Brosses brought this into sharp focus in his Culte des dieux fetiches (1760) in which he reexamines the etymology of the word “fetish”, linking it to the Portuguese fetiso, “fairy thing”, in other words, “magic spell”, “spell object.”[ii] A contemporary of our engraving, it’s not difficult to discern the occult attitude towards fetish objects in 18th century France.
            We can take this line of thinking into occult ontology as well. If each actor is examined in terms of its associations in the network, we are given much more information about the movement that flows from the sum to its parts and visa versa. Now I know the common reaction to this theory is one of horror and shame. “You’re asking us to grant being to non-entities! You want us to ‘really believe’ in ghosts, daimons, and aliens!” And I say, “Why not?” If it works for electrons, protons, and quarks, why can’t it work for spiritual entities as well. After all, do we not accept the idea of gravity or evolution? Of course we do! And as Harpur states in regards to non-entities, the daimons or subatomic “innerspace” are called particles, although strictly speaking they aren’t- electrons, for example, are both particles and waves at the same time. They are paradoxical, both there and not-there, like fairies.[iii]
            The only thing that makes me any different from a run-of-the-mill folklorist or anthropologist is in the fact that I grant non-entities actual existence. To me, the creation of reality and everything in it is analogous to the creation of our etching and the occult image it contains. A contextual theory of meaning, these theoretical terms are given substance based upon implicit definitions of terms. Saying nothing empirical about the observable world, our theory of the entities is neither true nor false. If again you’ll bear with me to draw analogy to subatomic entities, the movement of an electron can be used as a bridge gap or correspondence rule with occult entities. As electrons move out of an atom, a wavelength of light is emitted. There is no way to test it and it holds no reference to the observable world. Because there is no empirical content, scientists tie it to correspondence rules in the observable world. In this case, color lines in a spectrum. We identify a range of wavelengths in light that are emitted by an atom. We can perform the same procedure with occult entities. If we posit a wavelength of light, separate dimension, or timbre of sound where these entities can be experienced, we ascribe a bridge gap in the theory that will provide meaning. We once again invoke Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’ and say that these entities are both there and not-there.
            What sets occult agencies apart and ensures a constant flow of mediations is in the fact that it is always on the run. Not just moving, the occult has been forced to flee not only more accepted religions but lawmakers and legislators who perceive some nefarious agenda or conspiracy within the occult. Occult agency moves because it must. Have you not noticed that wherever the occult crops up in the media it always appears under the strangest of circumstances? It’s always a surprise! Some bizarre event such as crop-circles or ceremonial magic and “voila!” the occult is running for its life. But what if instead to trying to find a niche to cohabitate, the occult ran forward and deliberately into the array of entities that sought to discredit its thoughts and practices? Would the movements burst open and explode into a multitude of new movements and colorful discourse? If the occultist were allowed and even encouraged to undergo transformation, would we, for example, witness apparitions of the Holy Virgin Mary undergo a shift from paranormal entity, to religious icon, to anthropological informant? What would be the chain of interactions and what kind of inertia would she generate by being transformed through agency? Its time we as occultists began to explore these questions as a means to better understand the networking capability of our chosen thought forms.
To be continued…                  

[i] Dyson, Anthony. Etching and Engraving-Technique and Tradition. Longman Publishing, New York.1986.
[ii] Harpur, Patrick. Daimonic Reality. Penguin Press, New York. 1995.
[iii] Ibid.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil

Hello again! With this post I want to introduce you to Jack Barrow's The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil. This book is an incredible work of occult fiction and will be showcased in Magus #2. I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Barrow and will be including the interview with an extract of his book in the upcoming issue. Here is a taste of 'The Hidden Masters'! 

Our heroes, The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, have discovered a conspiracy to build casinos in the decaying English  holiday resort of Blackpool, so turning the resort into a seedy, tacky and depraved town. Having consulted the Tarot they have discovered that there is some unspeakable evil at work behind the plot.

As we join the story it is late Friday night and two of our heroes, Nigel and Geoff, have gone missing after going out to the corner shop to buy more beer. Left wondering what has happened to them Wayne and Clint have resolved to find them, suspecting that the missing magicians may have gone to Geoff’s workshop and temple housed in a nearby old converted stable block. However, Geoff omitted to tell them exactly where that is.

Chapter 7 – Illuminating Experiences

Using Nigel’s Internet telephone, Clint and Wayne searched the length of Waterloo Road for premises that might have been Geoff’s workshop. Beyond the streets of Blackpool were gardens, which backed onto alleyways, and it was up and down these alleys, known as ginnels, that Clint and Wayne now searched.
The weather had once again become inclement, so they turned up their collars to the wind and did their best to shield the phone from the rain. Occasionally, they would stop to look at the map on the tiny screen, taking shelter in some corner to shield them from the elements.
To either side of the ginnels, which were perhaps six or eight feet wide, stood sturdy red brick walls. The seemingly endless corridors of brick were broken by gates into backyards or gardens every twenty feet or so. This is the classic view of the rear of Victorian housing that can be found across much of northern England. If the Victorians did anything, they built things solidly, and this was all jolly sturdy stuff.
Here and there was a solidly built Victorian red brick shed or a disused red brick privy, perhaps now containing tools and trowels instead of the toilets once therein. In fact, this is the very origin of the term ‘built like a brick shithouse.’ Each structure was built to last, in true utility fashion, with grey slate roofs that you could park a truck on. They may not have been attractive, but like the cockroach and the weeds in my front garden, they will probably be here after the apocalypse has come and gone.
On either side, beyond the red brick walls, sheds and privies; beyond the yards and gardens, there was a row of equally indestructible red brick houses. Beyond those there would undoubtedly be a street, another row of red brick houses and another ginnel, complete with sheds and disused privies now containing lawnmowers or leaf blowers instead of long-lost lavatories. Then there would be another row of red brick houses etc., all seemingly ad infinitum.
Huddling down in a corner to get out of the weather, they stared at the small coloured screen. The light from the screen gave their faces an eerie illumination, just like the effect of holding a torch below the chin. In the light, Clint had a particularly unearthly appearance, almost a disembodied head looking at the phone.
Wayne was beginning to have doubts about their chances of success. “This is ludicrous,” declared Wayne. “There are dozens of these alleys. The workshop could be anywhere in this Cretan maze. We do not even know on which side of the road to search!”
“Ah, stay loose, man,” responded Clint with more optimism. “We’ll suss it out. We just tighten up and get down. We’ll soon get the low-down for sure, we can Google it, you dig?”
Wayne certainly didn’t dig! Instead, he just looked at Clint, tried to ignore his habit of murdering the English language; the use of a noun as a verb really grated.
“What did Geoff say? It was an old stable building? Let’s have a shufti here.” Clint carefully manipulated the cursor on the phone until he could enter a few details. “Blackpool, Historic Buildings, Workers’ Houses, and Stables, that should get us started.” Selecting the advanced options he entered a few extra words using Boolean algebraic functions to take out the pages he didn’t want. “That should do the trick.”
Soon the search engine came back with a list of eight likely pages.
“How on earth did you manage that?” asked Wayne. “Whenever I use the Interweb, I get millions of utterly meaningless pages that lead to inevitable gibberish.”
“Sure man, but you have to know what you’re doing. It’s not too much if you’re switched on. I mean, I’m not trying to be a wise-ass here, because I do have the low down of this shit, but this page should have a link to a page that will take us to what we want.”
“How can you possibly know that?” asked Wayne incredulously. “You have not even opened the page yet!”
“It’s just a matter of knowing the lie of the land. That’s all.” Clint clicked on the page, ignored the contents that talked about Blackpool’s social history, and went straight to the links page. “No, hold on, just one more link, I reckon.” He scrolled through the next page to find the links section. “If I dig this right, there should be a link somewhere down here… err… there.” He clicked through a blog that described the pet cats of a local Blackpool resident. “If I take a short-cut through this site here” —he paused as he fiddled with the cursor— “…and we’re there, man.”
There was the sound of a dog barking in the distance as Wayne looked around to see a cat running into the darkness. The wail of a police siren rose on the night wind.
“Okay, here we are.” He read from the page. “History of Transport and Haulage, Blackpool, the Early Twentieth Century.” Reading down the page, Clint quickly found a list of the locations of stable blocks and their current usage in the South Shore area of Blackpool. This was no mean feat, as this was probably the only page on the whole of the Internet that would have given the information they needed. “Right then, man,” he declared with a very determined tone as he stood up, “I’d say,” he turned left to look down the alley as he switched the browser back to the street map, “this way. Let’s take a hike, man.”
Wayne shook his head and stepped out, following Clint as he led them on a short but purposeful march down the ginnel, across Waterloo Road and into another. Clint strode ahead, his long legs carrying him easily as Wayne struggled to keep pace, his shorter legs going at twice the speed.
Soon they found themselves at a confluence of ginnels outside a red brick structure as Wayne caught his breath.

* *

“This looks like an old stable,” said Clint triumphantly as he looked at the large red brick shed in the ginnels off Waterloo Road.
Wayne pushed his nose hard up against the black windows, only to see pitch black inside.
“No, it’s too dark. I can see absolutely nothing. Do you have a torch?”
“Not with me,” replied Clint as he joined Wayne with his nose up against the window. Off somewhere in the night, they heard the sound of breaking glass followed by the barking of a dog.
“It would be advantageous to have some illumination. You are the conqueror of the shadows. Can you think of a way to light the darkness?” Wayne was referring to Clint’s patron deity. Each of The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, had taken on the identity of a patron deity as part of the process of taking a magical name. The deities they adopted bore some connection to their personal character, reflected their outlook, or the magicians simply liked the god’s taste in footwear.........

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Creating the Magick: The metaphysics of Occult thought.

Creating the Magick: The Metaphysics of Occult thinking.  

“Poor idiot! Are you so foolish as to believe
                                                we will openly teach you the greatest and most
                                                important of secrets? I assure you that anyone who
                                                attempts to study, according to the ordinary and literal
                                                sense of their words, what the Hermetic Philosophers
                                                write, will soon find himself in the twists of a labyrinth
                                                from which he will be unable to escape, having no
                                                Ariadne’s Thread to lead him out.”


The occult as a source of study has traversed a myriad of philosophical schools of thought. Anthropologists and Folklorists have discussed the implications of magic on socio-cultural and religious levels but have largely shied away from individual agency as part of the occult process. The reason is simple. It is much easier to infer the effect that magic and religion has on a group rather than make speculative guesses on the causal and deterministic motives that the ‘individual’ makes use of. That’s not to say that metaphysical quandaries don’t have a place in occult study. On the contrary, much of what characterizes occult discussion is based on solid metaphysical properties. For example, Jan de Vries has remarked that, “If we view magic as an institutional technique, it does seem that the sprinkling of water causes the rain to appear. But the person who executed this act for the first time did not in the least desire to apply, albeit incorrectly, the law of causality. Primitive man had not come that far at all; He laid hold on the expedient of magic because he found himself in one or another emergency” (176). Even if the causal factor is refuted, the fact that causality is included in a study of magic shows the potency of metaphysical thinking on occult study.

            Even Frazer’s work on sympathetic magic had largely causal concerns. It is no surprise that imitative magic makes use of causation as part of their design. For example, the desired effect of manipulating somebody’s personal hair clippings or clothing was to produce a significant effect in their owner. A classic cause and effect scenario. Often times, the experiential nuances of the occult ritual or much more important to understanding occult reasoning than causation or deterministic structure. Famous folklorist Lutz Rohrich has stated that, “The experiential legend depicts numinous astonishment at the apparent suspension of the natural laws of causality in external reality” (26). The shock of witnessing the supernatural becomes an integral aspect of interpreting the magic experience. But is this all there is to occult philosophy? Are there other paradigms that enter into the occult way of thinking?

Whether it is demonic legends, Old Hag, or even UFO abduction narratives, the occult disregards theories accepted in scientific milieus yet is concerned with science. The occult wants to be legitimate. Many occultists strive for the valid deductive argument form: If [theory + experimental conditions + assumptions] then prediction. The problem lays in the fact that many occult and paranormal researchers tend to affirm the consequence of their predictions. For example, a Ufologist might suggest that:
If a UFO, then presence of anomalous lights.
If presence of anomalous lights
Therefore, a UFO.
However, just because there are anomalous lights does not automatically mean there is a UFO present. There obviously could be another explanation. These invalid deductive arguments are more common in studies of paranormal and occult than you many realize. In fact, even some aspects of Ancient Astronaut Theory is guilty of invalid deductive form. It is known that many aspects of AAT make use of highly complex megalithic structures to prove the influence of extraterrestrials on early Man. They postulate that at sites such as Puma Punku in Peru, early Man wasn’t sophisticated enough to design or engineer such an intricate complex. Therefore, aliens must have intervened. The argument tends to take these forms:
            If ancient aliens, then highly advanced megalithic structure.
            Highly sophisticated megalithic structure,
            Therefore ancient aliens.


            If highly advanced megalithic structures, then aliens.
            Therefore highly advanced megalithic structures.

Although these examples may seem trivial, you can see the complications that arise when attempting to deductively formulate a sound occult or paranormal prediction. However, that’s not to say that the occult is abhorrent to philosophy. On the contrary, there are other philosophical forms that lend a great deal of credence to the occult.

I would lean towards an experiential phenomenalism that relies on some aspects of materialism for its foundation. This theory would postulate that behavior is based upon the phenomenal qualities or interpretations of experience. The mind would provide input based on experiential happenings and determine whatever output or behavior is appropriate. Subsequently, we negotiate phenomenal qualities based upon our perceptions of an experience. And since we are constantly experiencing, we are constantly digesting new input that affects our behavioral output. This would be conducive to memory as well. Past experience would necessarily effect our interpretations of phenomenal qualities thus potentially altering our behavior. For example, if somebody happens upon a UFO, experiential insights are going to be produced by inferring phenomenal qualities as it happens. This person may have never seen a UFO or indeed have no conception of what a UFO is and yet still experience something on account of phenomenal associations. Whether the behavior is awe, bewilderment, or terror, the experiencer’s mental state will change and produce more mental states. The fact that the experience and its phenomenal sensations are occurring and changing in real time as the experience unfolds is why we see multiple behaviors manifest. (i.e. confusion, to fear, to awe)

Much of what constitutes occult and the supernatural involve reality and how we interpret the world around us. Whereas a realist would say that our world is not dependent on human minds for existence, a post-realist philosopher such as Hilary Putnam would assert that the external world is mind and theory dependent. The world is a human construction. He states that, “There is, then, nothing in the history of science to suggest that it either aims at or should aim at one single absolute version of the world” (228). A relativism concerning ontology and truth, what exists and the nature of what exists is relative to society. As we formulate a theory in society, we construct a world. Therefore, all versions of world-making are equally valid. It’s not hard to see how proponents of the occult and investigators of the supernatural would find this philosophy significant. World-making is a relativism that is community dependent. A pertinent example can be found in the social organization of Malaysia. As part of the social structure that permeates Malaysian culture, magic is a key ingredient in the belief systems and solidarity of the group. Along with socio-political and economic milieus, the magic that accompanies their religious convictions is an integral aspect of understanding Malaysian reality. Although the Western world largely trivializes magic as something anachronistic or archaic pagan debris, for the Malaysians, it is accepted as part of their everyday reality. Because as a society they make the choice to include magical practices, it becomes true and real. As Goodman eloquently remarks, “If we make worlds, the meaning of truth lies not in these worlds but in ourselves—or better, in our versions and what we do with them” (38). By utilizing a social and religious ecology to make sense of reality, Malaysia has found what works for them as a culture.

Another mediation that occurs in occult practice and metaphysical thought can be found in the ‘paradigm of appearances’. Paul Feyerabend uses this ‘paradigm’ to discuss the idea of god in different societies. He remarks that the god that is worshipped in the Abrahamic religions (i.e. Christian, Muslim, Judaic) is ultimately the same God but described differently. A very new-age concept, this God appears to people in different ways but it’s a same reality. God and reality are ineffable and determined by interpretations of appearances. For Feyerabend, reality is pliable and we sculpt the external world. In regards to the Greek Homeric Gods, he concluded that these otherworldly entities were constructed in the same way that modern society constructed the idea of electrons and protons. He remarks that, “If the entities postulated by a scientific worldview can be assumed to exist independently of it, then why not anthropomorphic Gods?” (34) Indeed, why not? If reality is malleable, then all the demons, ghosts, or entities an occultists can conjure is equally valid and real. They take an autonomous existence.

Another example where concepts of appearance and construction can be applied is in supernatural assault narratives. Folklorists have studied accounts of UFO abduction in terms of their morphology and structural similarity to more traditional supernatural narratives. However, much more work could be done with these stories using a study of ‘appearances’ and social construction. For example, for somebody who has had a first-hand UFO abduction experience, their initial impression of the trauma is a legitimate and more importantly, real occurrence. However, if the abductee comes to realize that the experience was akin to a liminal rite caused by some extenuating circumstance or personal Ordeal, then that impression is equally valid and equally successful. Because reality is ineffable, both impressions are a manifest reality or experiential construction of what exists.

            Perhaps what really provides ontological and epistemological credence to occult study is the fact that it can be examined in terms of Actor-Network Theory. Latourian ANT theory makes use of mediations to explain the many nuances that make up a subject. According to Luckhurst, “Actor-Network Theory is the predictive tension between the centered actor and the de-centered network, enabling the critic to move across different scales of explanation” (8). Actor-Network lends itself to the occult so easily because there a multitude of facets that construct the occult. Through the use of translations, transformations, and substitutions, the occult can be re-situated and re-embodied. In what I call the expression of movements, the occult can be made to re-appear in a myriad of forms. These ideas are best illustrated in an example: According to authors, Ruck, Staples, Celdran, and Hoffman,

“A drawing of the 15th century Frater Vincentius Koffsky, a monk of the Danzig order of preachers, depicted himself draining the sacred blood directly from the wound of a Christ crucified as a Tree of Life, with an alchemical oven shown as a temple in the background, marked with the symbols for male-iron, female-copper, and an encircled dot, which is the sign for the final goal, the elixir of drinkable gold, and also a common motif for a mushroom cap; the oven-temple itself also resembles a cluster of fungal caps. The inscription reads: “Now learn naturally and artfully, to draw from this Catholic medicinal fountain of the living water and the oil of joy” (34).

This beautifully described drawing has all the earmarks of occult thought. For example, a quick list might include: a Frater, sacred blood, Tree of Life, alchemy, symbol, Male/Female, entheogenics, the inscription, the occult process. But we can calculate other movements such as Catholicism, the fate of the Danzig preachers, the occult in the 15th century, the fate of the drawing, the process of creating the drawing i.e. instruments used to create, and so on. If we centralize the drawing and construct this set of mediations around it in a network, we can use a model of substitution and translation to glean the many meanings in the drawing. I say multiple meanings because the drawing can be re-situated in any number of ways based upon mediations and in doing so, take on any ontological status. It becomes re-created infinitely and enjoys autonomous existence. The drawing then is created and re-created just as in Feyerabend’s ‘paradigm of appearances’ or Goodman’s world-making. It is an entity made real and given meaning through the examination of movements and mediations.

To be continued...