A few months ago I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask Alan Moore, author of Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From hell, Promethea et al, a question. At the moment I can’t really divulge the circumstances but maybe I can say more a bit later. Alan became a magician at the age of 40. His approach to magic is primarily concerned with altering consciousness. He was worked with existing magical paradigms from Enochian magic to Goetia, but his emphasis is always on the experiential side rather than on enchanting for practical results or merely studying magical systems. Some have called his approach solipsistic, but it isn’t. For Alan Moore, magic is intimately connected with art and he has performed rituals, with others, to receive inspiration for his work. His performance works, such as The Highbury Working, The Birth Caul, or Snakes and Ladders are particularly connected with his magical work. His patron deity is Glycon, a snake godwho, he proudly announces, was known as a work of fraud even in the second century.
Also, don’t forget that I currently have an Indiegogo campaign to fund Gnostic Tendencies: Collected Writings on Gnosticism and Lost Gospels.
I received an answer of around 1200 words! In my next post I’ll ponder Alan’s response, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t, but which in any case I find very stimulating.
Andrew Phillip Smith: Alan has satirized practical results magic in Fossil Angels and has said that he will include a section in the Moon and Serpent book explaining why you shouldn’t do it. What is his objection to practical results magic. Isn’t it at the root of magic and the focus of living traditions like the African diaspora religions such as Voodoo or Quimbanda?
Alan Moore: Well – bearing in mind that the following perhaps pertains only to my particular worldview, and that you of course have every right to question or criticise my stance – it seems to me that employing magic intended to yield practical results and personal benefit is, in the present day, to use the numinous as a kind of internet, and to suppose that it is chiefly there to increase one’s personal comfort. While, as you rightly point out, this rather earthbound use of sorcery has probably been a factor in magic since the subject’s very early days, I’d dispute that this has been magic’s prime use. At the risk of a massive spoiler for The Moon & Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, within those pages we define magic as ‘a purposeful engagement with the phenomena and possibilities of consciousness.’ This definition is certainly broad enough to contain practical results among the purposes for its ‘engagement’, but I think it also suggests much grander applications for magic, on a level of species advancement, that make the attainment of practical, personal results seem to me rather petty and perhaps even disrespectful of the stupefying, primal technology which I believe magic to be: in the Bumper Book we suggest that magic is intrinsically connected with art, language and consciousness to the point where these four things almost become different aspects of the same phenomenon. As we see it the essential capacity for representation, the ability to understand that this collection of lines on a cave wall actually somehow stands for that buffalo over there, must come first, and with it comes art. Representation also allows for the origination of verbal language, with this sound or this collection of marks somehow also standing for that buffalo over there, and modern opinion states that language is the necessary precursor of our apparently unique for of consciousness. It was the opinion of Steve Moore and me that the advent of something resembling modern consciousness in the Palaeolithic mind must very probably have been the single most stunning and awe-inspiring event in human experience. It seemed to us that the concept of magic would be the best and most obvious way of containing that potentially shattering experience – humanity’s first ‘purposeful engagement with the phenomena and possibilities of consciousness,’ if you will. Out of this engagement sprang, almost full blown, the entirety of human culture: writing, painting, song, music, theatre, science, medicine and even politics, with the tribe’s main organiser (we didn’t really have leaders or chiefs back then) generally relying on its medicine-man for advice. It is highly likely that the medicine man’s observations of seasonal change and environmental patterns paved the way for the advent of agriculture, just as when time for migration came it was probably the same shaman’s observations of the portent-filled stars that led to the useful and practical art of navigation. And if the cave-wall paintings of that buffalo over there were initially intended as an act of sympathetic magic with a material result, such as perhaps drawing more of this kind of animal into the area for better hunting, common sense tells us that this probably didn’t work, or worked no better than chance would have provided anyway. But we can be sure that our remote ancestors would have become aware of the real magical work these images were doing: they were enabling the creator to fix moments in time, and thus to fix our sense of time itself. They were enabling the creator to pass information on to other conscious minds, even to those existing in the future long after the perpetrator was dead. And of course, in and of itself, a well-executed image seemed to have the magical power to excite and entrance the mind of a human observer, then as now. What I’m saying is, that while there have no doubt always been people seeking to use magic for personal ease or gain, this is to me magic at its lowest register and I believe that it always has been. While I unfortunately know nothing of Quimbanda – a failing on my part – and while I do know that a significant part of popular Voodoo involves curses, love-charms and other practical magic, I’d argue that the actual essence of Voodoo lies in the more sophisticated cultural understanding of the concept of ‘Loa’, as described by Maya Deren in Divine Horsemen, where to educate one’s children, for example, is ‘to have Loa.’ I think that in magic anywhere and throughout its history you will find these two approaches, one with transpersonal aims, the other with personal agendas; one of which has been the major engine of human culture and advancement, the other maybe not so much. So, one of my objections is that I think merely practical, personal aims are a pitifully limited use or misuse of a sublime and literally world-changing (or even world-creating) way of using consciousness.
My other objection – and don’t worry, all of my answers won’t be this exhausting. It’s just that I feel this is an important point and deserves proper elucidation – is that practically-driven magic would also seem to do a disservice to that other sublime and world-changing phenomenon, the human being. My point here is that I don’t think that for any of us to be able to instantly accomplish our will through something like, say, scrawling a sigil would be very good for us as individuals. And in practice, this kind of magic generally boils down to a limited number of applications, most of which I feel are at least questionable. If you wish to magically conjure money from nowhere, I’d suggest that doing some sort of work, perhaps creative work, is the most reliable way of accomplishing this and may also turn out to have been of benefit to the practitioner’s body and/or mind. (Please bear in mind that the last couple of lines are not to be read in an Ian Duncan Smith voice or concluded with the phrase “and that’s why we’re taking away your disability benefits.” I’m talking specifically about magic here.) If you wish to make someone fall in love with you – which possibly actually boils down to “have sex with you” – then I would hope that the moral problems would be immediately apparent. I am, believe me, not being facetious when I point out that Rohypnol would be a preferable course of action, in that at least that isn’t involving the transcendental in some kind of mystical date-rape. The same goes for curses against some perceived enemy: hiring a contract killer is actually more morally responsible, in my opinion. And if this kind of results-based magic isn’t simply lazy or actually evil, it’s generally inane, at least in my experience. Steve Moore’s favourite example in his own overhearing was “I did a sigil to see a black dog, and then I saw one!” While this kind of magic may have been a big part of the magic of the past, I don’t see that this is any good reason to automatically assume that it is still appropriate to the present or the future. After all, the biggest part of our Greek-modelled civilisation in the West, that model’s founding stone if you like, was slavery. It has to be acknowledged that slavery played a massive part in the establishment of western civilisation, but that of course doesn’t mean that we should reintroduce the practice. There are more angles to this, but I probably should leave them to The Bumper Book. I hope this at least goes some way to answering your question, Andrew.