I first encountered Grant Morrison at the Disinfo.com conference of 2000, organized by Disinfo's founder, media magician, Richard Metzger [founder of Dangerous Minds]. As I walked upstairs from the basement hangout zone of NYC's Hammerstein Ballroom, at the beginning of his now legendary lecture, I heard Morrison's bone-chilling scream into the microphone, which reminded me of another Morrison, and thought "Who the fuck is this guy?' He then announced that he was drunk and had just eaten some hash and it was about to kick it in, all with a thick Scottish accent. Such punk rock antics won the rapt attention of the wild crowd, myself included, and over the course of the next hour or so, he voiced all the countercultural excitement of the moment. During that cold February day in New York City, Morrison's message was clear, Magick works, but you should not take his word for it, you have do it yourself to learn how it works.
What originally brought me to this two day conference was the fact that Robert Anton Wilson was the headlining speaker. Throughout the late 90s, and especially 2000, I was completely immersed in the works of three psychedelic philosophers, Timothy Leary, John C. Lilly, and most of all, Robert Anton Wilson. RAW was more than just a psychedelic philosopher, he was the greatest living writer that I'd discovered up to that point.
During his talk, Morrison exuded such optimism and joy that I immediately went out and read as many of his comics I could find. Reading The Invisibles was a monumental experience, contributing to my own seismic breakthroughs about the potential of my consciousness in this vast mysterious universe.
Since that Disinfo conference, Morrison's stories have jettisoned his name to a pantheon of comic book wizardry. This year marks another ascent for him, as the TV world has finally managed to secure his story-telling talents. Syfy Channel contracted Grant to film a pilot based on his graphic novel, Happy!, as well as a television series rendering of the Aldous Huxley classic Brave New World.
Morrison was in town to work on the Happy! Pilot, when he, myself and the Semiotic Alchemyst (aka Laura Kang) met up on a frigid February night for some food, drink and conversation. For three hours, we covered such varied topics as the utilization of Magick to survive the idiocy of Trump and Brexit; the greatness of the work of Robert Anton Wilson, the role that women are playing in bringing in a bloodless revolution in the Aeon of Ma'at, Gnosticism, Acting, Theater, The Disinfo.com conference, Voodoo, Kool Keith, the KLF, and the importance of maintaining a sense of humor, among other amazing things.
How did your Brave New World project come about?
They, being the Syfy network, liked what Brian Taylor and I had done with the Happy! pilot script and asked us to pitch for the Brave New World series they've been putting together with Amblin. They liked our take and now we're working to get the pilot right. We used Huxley and the original book as a springboard but we had to expand the original finite story into something new that can sustain a TV series through several potential seasons.
The pilot for Happy! Is being filmed now. What happens when it gets picked up?
If it goes to series, which I'm sure it will, I expect there'll be a writer's room and new episodes will be created and shot at speed. So far, it's just been me and Brian working together, so I have no idea how the process will play out.
Is it going to be a series that may continue, then, or is it going to be a portrayal of the graphic novel as you wrote it?
Well, again, as with Brave New World we're opening the story up and adding a lot of new material for TV.
Christopher Meloni, from Law and Order and Oz will be playing Nick Sax, the protagonist of the story. What does he bring to the role?
Meloni is a human dynamo – the room lights up when he comes in. He's just brilliant. He inhabits the character of Sax, and improvises entire runs of dialogue and action which tend to be better than what we've written! He's just endlessly inventive and he can be scary and funny and everything else we need, so he really gets to show his range. I can't imagine a better actor in the Nick Sax role. When you see the photographs of Chris Meloni in his Sax coat, with the guns, it looks exactly like Darick's drawing on the cover of the first issue of the comic. All the actors, even the ones who play minor roles, turned out to be brilliant. And the guy we got for the voice of Happy was the best, I can't tell you until it's announced but my god, I thought he was brilliant at the read-through. He really brought it to life.
How did you hook up with Brian Taylor?
I was a huge fan of his Crank movies, especially that second one, which is just nuts, and one of those films I'll watch every time it comes on. We share certain sensibilities and an odd sense of humor so we really hit it off. He's really smart and has an amazing work ethic. I tend to prefer working out the big picture and because I'm used to putting so much detail in my comic scripts, I usually overelaborate when I'm writing screenplays. Brian cuts to the bone and really focuses down on getting all the details right, so we've made a good team so far.
How are you enjoying your time in Brooklyn?
I have a great corner room with an incredible view of Manhattan and the river, so it's not a bad place to be for a month. I'm working ridiculous long hours, in the cold, outside, at night. Otherwise, I've embraced the whole Williamsburg hipster thing – brunch, hoodies. I'm just glad to get away from the television right now, and 24 hours of MSNBC Trump TV.
Yeah, it's very disturbing to think of Trump anywhere near any form of power. I guess Brexit, in a sense, was the British version of Trump becoming President.
In Scotland, we almost unanimously voted to stay in Europe but the attitude in England was very different, at least outside the major cosmopolitan towns and cities. Sombunall, as Robert Anton Wilson would say, some but not all, of the anti-Europe sentiment was undoubtedly fueled by ill-informed xenophobia and a sort of ambient, directionless anxiety. You can definitely make parallels with the Trump campaign. Otherwise, it's just our fellow human beings reminding us not to get too complacent! If you're making art, it's just grist to the mill.
Do you think perhaps a good way for individuals and as a collective to get through a Trump and Brexit world would be to learn more magick skills?
Absolutely. Magick provides a powerful context and support system for even the darkest or most fucked-up times and experiences. Following in the footsteps of Harry Potter, every boy and girl, should familiarize themselves with the disciplines of magic even if only for shits and giggles. It's also engaging and absorbing and creative to make spells and do rituals and to form rewarding relationships with things that SHOULDN'T EXIST.
Magic encourages you to take charge of your own life so it confers a sense of agency and self-control that can seem lacking at times like these when sort of epic, elemental forces seem to have us all at their mercy. Given the options, who wouldn't prefer to be rampaging around in higher planes, interacting with eternal archetypes and pop culture gods? Who wouldn't want to bring back ideas that could change the world?
Things are malleable around the edges right now, which is good news for magicians. The attack on the Twin Towers, in 2001, can be read as the physical manifestation of a world-shaking metaphorical event Qabalists call the Descent or the Collapse of the 32nd Path. If you look at most versions of Tarot Trump 18, the Moon, you'll see two towers or pylons. These are representative of the gateway that separates "reality" – in the form of everything we can touch and weigh or think about – and "illusion" – all our ideas, daydreams, fantasies, hallucinations and the like. On the Qabalistic Tree of Life we have Malkuth, the material world, dangling down at the base of the structure. The sphere above is Yesod, the Moon, representing the world inside our heads – and linking them is the 32nd path, also known as The Universe. When the Towers fell, the barrier between what is real and what is illusion disintegrated.
During the Descent or Collapse of the 32nd path, basically the end of the Universe as we understand it, Malkuth gets drawn up into Yesod and the two spheres merge, which results in the repair or restoration of the horizontal symmetry of the Tree. Qabalah uses the metaphor of spheres but think about the real world and how that collapse of the boundaries between reality and illusion has manifested in our lives since 9/11. The real world has been getting more like fiction while fiction has worked hard to become more realistic and plausible, as they attempt to meet in the middle. After 9/11 you had to explain the most ridiculous superheroes scientifically, like Iron man or Batman. We witnessed the rise of reality TV, scripted documentary, fake news, cognitive dissonance. We have the rising tide that is VR and AR tech which will shatter the last of the walls. So it's clear to see what an apocalypse of that nature might look like to us in the material world…
That's a trip man. One wonders where things will end up.
As far as magick goes right now, I'm choosing to live in a sort of Kenneth Grant reality tunnel where the Aeon of Ma'at is revving up while the influence of her twin, the fiery Horus warrior boy wanes. In Egyptian mythology, Ma'at is the daughter of Osiris and Isis. She's the Goddess of Truth, so I'm convinced that women will inspire and lead the next great bloodless revolution - and you know you're seeing all these women marching, like my mum did back in the Women Against the Bomb days, and their voices are growing much stronger. Thanks to the internet, minorities and outsiders, non-conformists, trans people, everyone's getting a chance to talk and agitate, and the world is learning to listen. I think new viewpoints and useful new ideas will naturally come from the queer margins into the center of culture. But I think, as I said, the Utopian counterculture project might also be a longer process than any of us wanted to believe - when we did that Disinfo thing back in 2000 we were so sure we'd arrived at the end of history and the final assimilation of the counterculture – which we chose to celebrate -
That was a great event wasn't it? Pure rock n' roll, and so much fun.
Yeah, but we really thought, "this is it! The counterculture! We won! They want our shit, they want to swallow our lovely poisons, our blue pills, and be like us and join us in the sexy fetish Matrix". Doug Rushkoff said this too, quite independently at the same event. We were watching the mainstream of entertainment and business eating up our culture, and we reasoned that there could be only one result - they'd inevitably get seriously high off our weirdness. They'd transform into US and they'd change in ways that were inescapable. Or like the cows with BSE at the time, they'd get sick off us and die. I still think we were right. This world certainly acts like it swallowed something very unusual…
Right on, the Outer Church (reference to Gnosticism and The Invisibles) is sending out a lot of Archons right now.
Fuck yeah. But they're generally easy to spot. All ideas become vulnerable when they leave the safety of the imagination. By choosing to manifest in the solid world, our monsters and Archons end up having to go through the ravages of time and process like the rest of us. If you want to destroy a demon, give it flesh and watch it rot in confusion and agony.
The Invisibles is such a great story. It stands alone, yet reminded me of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's classic Illuminatus! Trilogy when I first read .
I read Illuminatus when I was 21 and it blew me away. Bryan Talbot turned me onto the book as he did with so many things back then. It was the scale of it – the way it connected all these dots I didn't even know were there, this entire worldview from the gutter to the cosmos, you know, it was all encompassing. It seemed to bring together everything I liked or was interested in into one story. Lovecraft, magic, pop music, sex, drugs, spy-fi, metafiction…
I'd always wanted to do something on that scale and that's what The Invisibles was. Illuminatus was obviously a direct influence on The Invisibles. That's the kind of work I wanted to do for my own generation because Illuminatus kind of came out of the West Coast Boomer hippie culture of the late '60s, '70s, I wanted to do something that could be a bible for the philosophies and experiences of educated working class punks like myself and then, going into the '90s it absorbed the influence of rave and dance culture, and tapped into all that Mondo 2000, Terrence McKenna, Cyberia stuff that was happening. It also became a fictionalized diary of my travels and magical experiments at the time.
You previously mentioned to me that Masks of the Illuminati is your favorite Robert Anton Wilson book. Why is that?
The characters are great – and the way he brings them to life with research and details, Joyce and Einstein, each using his special talents to solve this quintessential modernist occult mystery. There's the gripping, twisting plotline that also doubles as a magical initiation. It's operating on so many levels. It's so brilliant, too, I think because it's self-contained, unlike Wilson's epic trilogies. It would make a great film. David Fincher should do it.
The other one I really like is The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles - that's when I came back to reading Wilson in a big way but he never finished that series -
Like volume two of that trilogy, The Widow's Son. He was in such a satirically sharp place when he wrote that book. That was one of the books he wrote while living in Ireland, and his writing reflected all the exuberance the best of Irish writing offers. His homage to Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman is fucking brilliantly executed the way he riddles The Widow's Son with footnotes referencing the work of de Selby in a similar way O'Brien did it. I agree, it is such a brilliant book.
Yeah, it's just amazing what he could do. Before I came out tonight, I was just reading up on him again, cuz I hadn't really thought about Wilson for a while and I was reminding myself of what he'd done and it's just phenomenal, the number of books that he wrote. He was just such a brilliant writer across multiple disciplines, a brilliant writer of essays, a brilliant writer of fiction, he did stand-up comedy. It's astonishing, and that's before you get into the non-fiction stuff like Quantum Psychology, Prometheus Rising, books which completely rewrote my head when I read them. They were practical manuals of self-help and self-actualization. He introduced me to humanism, NLP and E-prime and the 8-circuit model – things which genuinely changed my way of thinking for the better.
What was is it about Prometheus Rising that really inspired you?
Wilson provided his readers with very direct and practical tools we could use to examine our own heads and change the often self-defeating negative narratives we feed ourselves. The exercises in Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology were as utilitarian as the Chaos Magic rituals and DIY shamanism I was practicing at the time and proved to me that real magic is very down-to-earth and pragmatic. They really worked. He also introduced me to the multi-reality-tunnel approach, where you make an effort to see beyond your own narrow view of the world by incorporating as many different viewpoints into your own as you can. Experience is prismatic, inconsistent – you know, the sun is a scientist's gravitational fusion process and a poet's host of radiant angels. Both descriptions of the sun are real descriptions made by real observers with different points of view, that when added together give us a more accurate, nuanced understanding of the nature of the sun. To understand any idea or a person or a thing you have to see it from multiple, contradictory angles. The right-wing view of things is justifiably true from a certain perspective. Justifiably untrue from others. And vice versa. The only way to understand this complex thing called reality is to understand it from all the available perspectives. See it from as many angles as possible and you might start to glimpse the actual shape of the thing.
I'm trying to do that with Trump right now.
Trump's confusing because there's been a tacit agreement that politics and politicians will behave in certain ways - this doesn't look like traditional politics; it's more like some late stage, super-cynical, decadent corporate capitalist thing. It's like the Borgias in the 21st century. America hasn't elected a President, it's elected a boss, who expects to be told only what he wants to hear. Obviously that strategy will soon disconnect him from any real world he might still be clinging onto and he'll quickly wind up with no idea what's actually going on outside his personal virtual reality. Wilson, of course, talked about this effect of the power pyramid a long time ago; the boss loses all touch with reality because no-one dares tell him truth that he may not want to hear. He becomes the blinded eye at the top of the pyramid. The Gnostic archon Samael, or Sauron from The Lord of the Rings.
That's one of the great things about RAW, in seeking to do something like he had done, you have all these different angles and models but you need the language system to describe all those experiences, which is why he's so great.
He's also just a great clear writer. I like dense, surrealist, psychedelic prose as much as the next man but Wilson's prose is very clear and unadorned – the writing is stripped right back, there's nothing fancy or frilly and I find that harder to do myself. I sometimes wish I could write as plainly as he does with the clarity that he has cuz I have a terrible tendency to ramble and over-write.
Jesse Walker wrote in his book The United States of Paranoia about several films that came out in the late 90s containing Gnostic narratives. The underlying themes to movies like Dark World, The Matrix, and even The Truman Show presents the world we perceive around us as a false and possibly malevolent illusion. For me, coming of age in the late 90s, that Gnostic vibe was everywhere. Gnostic elements also played such a key role of the story in The Invisibles. Then 9/11, and everything surrounding it, seemed to push this Gnostic narrative in pop culture underground again. Do you think that perhaps we may be see another surge in a Gnostic narrative infusion into our culture after a seventeen to twenty-three year hiatus?
The Gnostic narrative is still valuable and relevant because it concerns itself with what we can call the Matrix, the idea that we live in a simulation of reality that enfolds and engages us, while blinding us and concealing from us the true reality of our existence – the Gnostics were the first to build whole cosmologies around the idea that the universe is somehow fake or counterfeit, the half-assed, broken effort of a jealous, self-deluding demiurge.
I think there's a kind of truth there but the attempts of the Gnostics to express it were naturally stuck in their times. We have computer metaphors now and the understanding that, yeah, we've proved you can simulate universes now. You can play games that have become increasingly more complex and ornate; something like Grand Theft Auto, to me that's like the Sistine Chapel - that ordinary people collaborated to make something so beautiful, so intricate, where even the pigeons on the ground are doing stuff. I mean you can find peyote plants in Grand Theft Auto and if you can take them, you experience the game as an animal, or a bird. It's not important to the gameplay, it's just an amazing little detail that adds to the immersive effect. There are ghosts and UFOs hidden in the game. To me, the intricacy of that creation is astounding - you know so, obviously if we can already create simulations that good, it's easy to imagine that we could also be living in a higher-order simulation created in some barely-imaginable super-computer.
And that's also kind of what I experienced when I had the whole thing in Kathmandu, when I was convinced I'd been stripped off the surface of the space time continuum and shown the universe from "outside". From my point of view, our universe was very definitely contained inside a bigger, more "real" continuum with more dimensions but it wasn't like we were a simulation – the universe was created naturally as part of an organic process but there was no doubt that our lives were just small slices of something with more angles.
It's possible to trigger states of consciousness where these higher spaces and times seem like undeniable facts of reality. These states of consciousness were available to the Gnostics and others but, as I say, they didn't have the computer metaphors we use to imagine a simulated universe so they expressed it in these religious terms.
Do you think they had access to psychedelics back then?
Absolutely! Psychedelic cultures been around since people could stuff mushrooms and other ingredients in their faces. If they didn't have plant-based procedures, they could use other methods – magic spells are specifically-designed formulae which use props and other psychological cues to bring about specific states of mind.
BBC Scotland had once optioned The Invisibles, what happened with that?
I wrote two scripts. I even got paid for them and then the executive that commissioned the series went on maternity leave or something and someone else took over her desk. Suddenly here was this project The Invisibles and the new regime was like what the hell is this thing and they called me and said we don't want anything like this with telepathy in it. This is ridiculous. There's no such thing as telepathy. No-one will believe this madness. I don't even think there was any telepathy in there but what can you do? Oh, and they didn't like the use of the word "occult". Naturally, X-Files was the biggest show on TV at the time and it was filled with all that stuff. So somebody just decommissioned the whole project and that was it. The scripts were good though. It was a little ahead of its time for the BBC but I think it would've been a good thing. I might have ended up writing "Dr. Who"!
Was your Kathmandu adventure a Chapel Perilous experience?
The Kathmandu thing was a very positive and energizing experience. It was the most remarkable thing that had happened to me in my life to that point, and opened floodgates of creativity that kept me going for years. I felt as if I fully understood the universe, its origins, its future, my place in it. There was no hint of Chapel Perilous or the Dark Tower until about 2 years later. When I wound up in the hospital almost dying, that was my Chapel Perilous, that was the real deal. I got a staph infection and it was in my blood stream, I didn't even know it was happening to me and I was just getting sicker and sicker and sicker for about six months. It was all coming out in The Invisibles long before I even suspected how sick I was – you can see it all happening in the comic before it happened to me.
Fortunately, I'd been doing a ton of martial arts and yoga so I was in good physical shape. If it happened now it'd probably kill me. I got this infection and it started with mediaeval boils appearing behind my ear, then on my face. All sorts of weird lesions on my skin. Then it just got worse and worse and worse until I was so weak I could barely move and just lay on the living room floor for a week. I started to hallucinate that the windows in my house seemed all wrong, you know like HP Lovecraft where the angles were all fucked up, and I'm seeing hearses coming through the walls.
Things worked out for me in odd unlikely synchronistic ways and thanks to some friends, my mum found me a doctor who saved my life. He swung it to get me a hospital room, after diagnosing me with advanced septicemia and a collapsed lung. There were no available rooms but the girl, the nurse who answered the phone, had gone out with a friend of this doctor's once, and she got me a bed as a favor. So I was in the hospital the next day, diagnosed with two days to live and that was it. The night before they took me into hospital, I had this vision of Christ, this savage Gnostic Christ, this pillar of light coming through the door. I put that in the Invisibles too. The bearded stone. The alien. Barbelith. All I could remember were his first words which were I am not the god of your fathers, I am the hidden stone that breaks all hearts, and he just started on this thing, this sermon. this talk, I wish I could remember the rest, there were tears pouring out my eyes. it was just like well you can stay or go now. You can stay and you're working for us, and you have to spread the light. And I thought yeah, I want to stay on please, so I survived. The doctors saved me. That was that my Chapel Perilous, my Dark Night of the Soul.
After that, I experienced an absolute euphoria, like being on ecstasy every day for six months. It was an incredible natural high, which felt great but I was kind of psychologically inflated, you know, I felt like the messiah, and I was just like I love everything and everyone, and blithely insisting everything was great just because it felt great to me. I began to realize I wasn't engaging with the emotional pain of other people anymore. I felt I had the answer to it all. Everything is awesome! Dance with me! I became like a car salesman for brightness and bliss - so I had to get through that phase to restore a kind of human balance and that was hard; that was like eventually coming to this very sober, cold, Buddhist understanding of suffering. So, it was a long process of going through these different kind of stages, it took a while to organize it all. And I think the Disinfo thing came at the culmination of the whole experience that The Invisibles represented. The comic was just finishing its 6-year run when Disinfo happened.
After 9-11, all the magic I was doing went into a kind of reverse and rituals weren't working for me in the same way. I began to concentrate more on doing magic in the specific form of the comic books I was creating, rather than staging the theatrical, ritual, performance stuff that I'd been doing prior to that.
What was the time frame between Kathmandu and the hospital and the disinfo event?
Kathmandu was '94 and being in hospital was '96 and then the Disinfo Con was early 2000. It was early 2000, yeah?
Yep, February, 2000. Seventeen years ago this month. You've also told that your take on magick is a little different than RAW's. Can you explain how it is different?
Maybe I'm wrong. I think he saw magic - in the Crowleyan, ritual, alien contact sense - as some collision of psychology and quantum weirdness. For me, it's much more literal and it's all about emphasizing the transcendent, psychedelic aspects of the ordinary by following logic to its conclusion. Magic for me is all about maintaining a fluid and creative relationship with things as they are.
Simple things, like adding time, or the 4th dimension to the picture can eliminate a lot of apparent psychic phenomena, like clairvoyance, action at a distance, ESP, reincarnation etc. When you add time, you realize fairly quickly that all living things are intrinsically connected as one singular organism. You wind back into your mother's womb, she winds back into hers, like branches retreating into buds on a tree and it all goes back in billions of unbroken lines to the first mitochondrial cell dividing in the pre-Cambrian ocean 3 and a half billion years ago. It's no surprise that sometimes people get a sense of other parts of the structure they belong to, or experience "past lives" – those lives are all still happening, all simultaneously.
That same original, immortal cell is still at it, separating inside all of us. Maybe mitochondrial DNA might be what humans have been calling "soul" for centuries – the fact is, we actually do have an immortal indwelling presence living deep inside the perishable structure of our bodies. Maybe mitochondrial DNA has consciousness and when we narrow down on that waveband, we experience the feelings of timelessness and divinity people refer to as a religious experience…
Right after Disinfo, I read Howard Bloom's amazing book The Lucifer Principle. That really changed the way I thought about the world at a time when things were getting a little more fraught internationally. The Invisibles came out of indie via rave culture – the dancing, the sex, the happy drugs, psychedelic consumer future, the alien imagery – but that approach didn't seem relevant to the darker turn the world was taking around the turn of the century – the turn toward surveillance culture, the erosion of privacy with reality TV and the internet, a kind of exhaustion and capitulation to global satanic corporate forces...
Reading The Lucifer Principle forced me into a harsher and more honest confrontation with mortality, aging, fear, loss, the fragility of things. I wanted my ideas about magic to be more grounded and pragmatic too, so that I could also talk to scientists and strict materialists about what to me were undeniably real experiences but without using vague and meaningless language about spirits, essences, energies, angels, psychic powers or anything that was supernatural or New Age or faith-based. I knew magic worked. I'd had encounters with apparent gods and devils and even made real art and even money from those encounters. I'd also manifested entities I knew were fictional, so I wasn't looking for proof of religion. I didn't believe in survival of individual consciousness after death. I didn't believe in Heavens or Hells or ghosts. I just wanted to get to the root of what was happening when we performed magic rituals and communicated with seemingly-discarnate entities, or made things appear to happen. Behind all the robes and chants and systems what was actually going on?
And it all sort of came down to magic being this powerful, proven method for stimulating a range of very specific and directed states of consciousness. Using the techniques of magic, we can cure neuroses, increase creativity and imagination, expand our personal limits, you know, we can add more fun, purpose and fulfilment to Life. Firstly, magicians learn to pay really close attention to everything around them; they like to see how things fit together and work so that they can make things of their own, or make things work better. They get more information and inspiration out of every moment.
Basically, the work of the Magician involves the skilled, meticulous application of Meaning or Significance to Life Experience. The more Meaning the Magician can add to Life, the more Magical and enchanted the world becomes.
Over centuries, to make their lives easier, practitioners of magic have developed and refined actual repeatable, dependable formulae called spells or rituals that produce specific material effects on human consciousness; a ritual designed to summon Hermes, for instance, is unlikely to result in a visit from Kali or Erzulie, so these methods have proven themselves to be pretty reliable. Rituals are constructed with one aim - to harmonize or tune your consciousness to a single frequency, using smells, images, sounds and clothing appropriate to your chosen state of consciousness in its chosen personification – for the duration of a successful contact with Ares, God of War, you might wear combat fatigues, burn tobacco, and punch the air, to summon righteous rage and power. Tune into Aphrodite, with pink champagne, rose petals and Botticelli, you'll be consumed by love, for as long as your nervous system can handle it. Think of gods, angels or demons as specific states of human consciousness which have been identified and given names.
Love never disappears from the human experience. Someone, somewhere is in love right now, embodying that state of consciousness. Jealousy, Anger, Bliss. They're all qualities which are always expressing themselves somewhere at some time. That persistent ever-present quality of Love or Anger that outlasts individual humans, outlasts generations, that immanent "field" aspect of Love or Jealousy, is what people used to call a "god" or "demon". The magician chooses to deliberately induce these powerful focused states of Love, or Joy, or Creativity, and interact with them as if they were living individuals, as a way of engaging with the world in a heightened manner which tends to produce heightened, seemingly uncanny results.
In my view of magic, there's no supernatural element at all. Other than the higher dimensional spaces proven to exist inside our skulls – like Dr. Who's TARDIS we all know for a fact that we're much bigger on inside than we are on the outside – there are no ghostly immaterial realms to worry about. Nothing you need to take on trust. The magic is self-evident.
I know Wilson was suspicious of New Age fuzziness, faith and lack of precise terminology. He was skeptical of every fixed viewpoint, so I may have misinterpreted his views and it may well be we're not so different at all!
It's interesting to think of magic in terms of acting as well because it's all about relaxed concentration and imagination which you're filtering through your physical body. That takes care of the material aspect of ritual, it seems most people think magick is something that can't be seen.
As I often say, we can't see, touch, boil or fry the Meaning of Hamlet either but we know it exists.
Once we've grasped what magic is and how it works, the goal of the magician is to condense insubstantial thoughts into the substance of the material world, in the form of things other people can interact with. An intangible thought can become a very real atom bomb, or a thought can become a poem. You have an idea; an idea can be baby and a magic ritual to create a baby might involve having sex until a baby appears in accordance with your desire. It still has to start with somebody's idea of a baby. The conception. An idea can turn into a bridge, or a novel, or a war, and change lives, you know. You have to be careful with ideas. Magic teaches us respect for ideas and their volatile power.
Maybe you simply want to meet someone – as a magician, your job is to wrangle that phantom notion into materiality using all the skills and sleight of mind at your disposal. If you act in certain ways, the universe will react. You can dress up as the lead singer in a band, and if you start to live and behave like the lead singer in a band, people will soon interact with you as if you're the lead singer in a band, a role which brings with it certain expectations, possibilities and responsibilities. You can dress up and go out and become anything you wish to be and the universe will respond to your act by applauding or booing. During the '80's and '90s, I performed all my rituals cross-dressed because I got really into the idea as the magician as this sort of Mercurius hermaphrodite androgynous figure.
Like Lord Fanny's character from The Invisibles.
Yeah, and I'd been reading about the Native American tradition of the Berdache sorcerer, who is neither woman nor man and there was the same notion from Tarot and Alchemy that the magician's "soul", or sense of Self, should be a fusion of complementary qualities. Jung went into this at length as well. So I chose to bring a trashy '90s fetish update of that and I did all my most powerful ritual work in this kind of dominatrix gear. I found that this female anima persona was utterly fearless. She took absolutely no shit from demons. She could smoke cigarettes, and do things I couldn't, or wouldn't ordinarily do. This type of exo-persona or memeplex thing can be seen metaphorically as a kind of app, a plug-in, that allows us to expand our functionality, you could say. So, it was absolutely an immersive acting job as well. As I said, if you behave in a certain way and the universe will react in its own particular way. Dance the tango, it will tango right back at you. There will be results and consequences.
I had my own ritual outfit and I would just improvise my own versions of summonings, banishings and magic circles. Instead of a traditional wand, I had a little wand from a magic set my parents gave me when I was a kid, just one of those little black and white conjuror ones. The dagger was one a friend had brought me from Istanbul. The Lamp an old railway man's lamp found at the side of the tracks. I made my own tarot pack with Polaroid pictures of places and things that were meaningful to me – the Key, the Fountain, the Bridge. It was all about this kind of homemade, D.I.Y. Chaos punk magic. I had this kitchen-sink shaman approach and I liked translating magical practice into the everyday and ordinary. That's how I developed my own system with things that meant something personal to me as well as working with more traditional gods or ideas. I was doing magic a lot. Regular full-scale formal rituals. I would dress in my magical armor. It would take an hour. I would play certain types of music, put on makeup. I would just assume this persona in a slow, super-ritualistic way and the effects were always amazing. I spoke to and interacted with a lot of interesting entities and intelligences. Magic in the '90s was very pyrotechnic and intense with immediate and obvious effects.
The hyper-sigil that you write about in The Invisibles.
Yeah, and the idea behind the hyper-sigil was to add duration to the traditionally-static compressed sigil. If there is intent behind it, anything can be a hyper sigil, anything that has focused, intended extension through the time dimension is a hyper-sigil. A play or a ballet performance, anything. A marriage or relationship can be a hyper sigil.
You wrote a play about Crowley. What was your approach for that play?
It was all about Crowley's acolyte Victor Neuberg, who was arguably Crowley's most prominent disciple. Crowley really fucked with him, he screwed quite cruelly with the poor guy's head and Neuberg was pretty much insane for a while. Eventually he ended up in this artist community and kind of dragged himself back to semi-normality, then just ended his life writing poetry, living a quiet life. Crowley took him to hell quite literally. Together they used the Enochian keys to explore the so-called "Aethyrs" and it was during the opening of ZAX the Abyss, that Neuberg lost his shit. Crowley sat unprotected in the triangle of manifestation and summoned Choronzon, the arch demon 333, the Guardian of the Abyss, into himself - and what happened next was a wee bit too much for Neuberg's nerves.
The play was about Neuberg's life basically from his point of view, trying to rationalize what had happened to him with a psychiatrist. And every now and then, Crowley drifts into the scene and takes control of the story, so it was just a three-hander and it kind of shifted between the psychiatrist's office and scenes from Neuberg's life story, all told as this Egyptian Book of the Dead trial and judgment scenario. Thinking about it now, it's very much in the tradition of something like The Masks of the Illuminati, so there's Wilson's influence again.
One character I really liked from The Invisibles was Jim Crow, the Voodoo practicing rapper. Crow who first appears investigating a new form of crack that turns its users into lifeless zombies. That's real relevant today with these new synthetic drugs like K2, Flaca, Spice, and other nasty drugs. Jim Crow also works with Papa Ghede, the god of death, and he manifests in the story as a giant scorpion named 'Baron Zaraguin.' That whole character and arc was ill. Where did all of that come from?
I went through a phase of working with several of the Voudon loa and I felt I'd made a good connection with Papa Ghede so I created the Jim Crow character to talk about those experiments. I loved the idea of a voudon rapper/magician but I didn't actually hear anything that sounded like Jim's music until Octagynacologist by Doctor Octagon came out in 1997.
I found Ghede a very appealing and funny and relatable god of Death. He radiated this amazing sexiness and humor, and was utterly non-judgmental. You'd definitely hang out with him. The thing is, Ghede has quite an entourage of graveyard creatures and somehow I wound up getting sidetracked one night into a very odd and threatening space inhabited by the insect-loa which swarm around him. I found myself face to mandibles with the patriarch of the scorpion-loa family – this whole experience went directly into The Invisibles - I was lying on my bed and it all got really kind of nasty – I was presented with this immense scorpion thing, this multi-faceted creature with a sort of semi-human face. It just said "We're going to teach you how to destroy souls. You're going to be an assassin for us. You're going to be a psychic assassin."
That was when you were in the hospital?
No, this was before that but it kind of led to that. Basically, I got stung, that's why I ended up in the hospital as far as I'm concerned. I regard my illness as the physical manifestation of a psychic event. The loa was really creepy, doing this weird monumental flamenco with its many legs. And it just said you're going to be an assassin, you'll be killing for us. And I just said I won't do it. I don't want to do this. They were showing me psychic death techniques. Ways of irreparably wounding "souls", destroying people by stripping away their auras and leaving them naked, to be fed on by vampiric psychic parasites…it was really fucked up.
That was during a ritual?
Yeah, and they said, "You're going to have to get a scorpion tattoo at the base of your spine," and I was just like "no, I'm not doing any of this – I'm a pacifist," and they were angry with me. I came out of this experience quite freaked out so I tried to chill out and do a banishing ritual, I turned on the TV and the Howard the Duck movie is on, of all things and at the end of the Howard the Duck movie, this stupid dumb movie, these scorpion sorcerers attack our world through some dimensional tunnel gateway and I'm watching it, and those are the fucking things I just dealt with, showing themselves as bad special effects. I thought the experience was over and now here they are using the TV. In The Invisibles I turned my King Mob character into the killer they wanted me to become and gave him the tattoo at the base of the spine and the whole burden of Zaraguin's knowledge.
The next year, in spring 1994, I was in New Zealand to launch The Invisibles with a bungee-jump and a sigil and I found The Voudon Gnostic Workbook (by Michael Bertiaux) which I'd been looking for. I'm reading up on that and I discover that part of Ghede's family, you know, there's the insect loa, and it talked specifically about scorpion gods. And that's where I learn the name of Zaraguin, his wife, Mystere Araignee, and their two scorpion children, and I find out "Zaraguin governs the base of the spine." The experience freaked me out so I didn't spend too much time with Voudon after that. I sort of kept a vague connection with Ghede but the kind of dedication and bloody commitment this path required got to feel like something beyond my pay scale.
I remember I did a ritual after that, like I said I would do these crossdressing rituals and I always wore this dominatrix thing, this vinyl mistress leotard. The fetish outfit that Robin wears in Book 2 of The Invisibles, basically that was the look. I just remember the end of this ritual, crawling through a window to vomit it all out. I felt poisoned you know. And I was tearing off this thing, this latex thing, tearing it off like snakeskin, or a bug's exo-skeleton, peeling it off, throwing it out the window like something I'd outgrown - and then I was sick for the next 6 months or something before they finally got me into hospital and saved my life.
Was your practice of Magick something you got better at the longer you did it?
Yeah, I got better. I got really good at it, but right after 9-11, as I say, it changed. The crazy dress-up ecstasy rituals were over for me. Being in a steady relationship and ramping up my comics career with New X-Men was taking up all of my time and energy. I felt I had to change tack again and be more together and responsible. I was facing the illness and death of my dad. Rather than offshoots or side-effects of the rituals, the comic books became the rituals. The Filth was the start of an extended, exhaustive meditation on the Abyss that ran through Batman, Final Crisis, Annihilator and Nameless too. All-Star Superman was a hymn to the sun and success.
I just don't do much in the way of big old-school performance rituals with all the trimmings. I did one last year but that was probably the first in more than ten years.
How did that turn out?
It worked shockingly well. These things done properly tend to have impressive results.
What was some of the music you were listening to when you were writing The Invisibles?
I was listening to music constantly, every day while writing. The list is too long. Highlights? The Shamen, Future Sound of London, The Orb, Zuvuya, Suede, Nirvana, Sheila Chandra, Underworld, Doctor Octagon, Creation records, Britpop stuff, Momus, Pizzicato 5, Dmitri from Paris. The KLF. They're supposed to be coming back this year.
The KLF are great. I've been listening to them a lot while writing this RAW biography.
Remember when they destroyed their back catalogue and said they'd be back in 23 years? They've got the whole 23 years' thing going on, the Burroughs/Wilson thing, so now 23 years is up in September and everyone's waiting for The KLF to return.
Nice! I saw that one of the pair, Jimmy Cauty, is presently doing the Riot Tour, which is basically a shipping container poked with holes and placed on a street. When the viewer looks through any of these holes that see a whole mini world of a society in total collapse. A full on traveling apocalypse tour. He is calling it 'The Aftermath Dislocation Principle.'
That sounds great. I love things with miniature worlds. He did a Lord Of the Rings poster back in the '70s and I had it on my wall long before I ever heard of Cauty, or Bill Drummond or the KLF and I suddenly realized oh it's that guy, I used to have his poster on the wall. Bilbo Baggins, Golem. That lot.
I heard he drew that when he was still a teenager. That's talent. The KLF must have been huge out in the UK. They made a dent here but not like in the UK I'm sure.
The KLF was gigantic back home and then they burnt that million pounds and did all this crazy stuff and people seemed to lose interest a bit. Like the moon landings. They were more of an art project. The music brought them cash but it was only part of what they were up to.
In Brooklyn, I've started listening to a bunch of West Coast girl bands who sound to me like the Pastels and the super-DIY garage music I was listening to and making back in the early '80s – Aquadolls, LA Witch, Cherry Glazer. They all have very different sensibilities but they share a lo-fi aesthetic that fits my mood right now.
How do we turn Trump invisible?
Literally. I think the best thing to do would be to ignore him. Don't tweet about him. Don't respond to his attention-seeking outbursts. Just ignore him. It's the cruelest most painful thing you can do to a narcissist. If you must refer to him in passing, call him Thomas Trump, or Donald Dump, like you haven't been paying attention at all. He'll go mad if he thinks no one's listening anymore.
Of course, then he'll just try harder to get your attention and suddenly its World War Three – and it's all YOUR fault!
Philip K Dick said 'To fight the Empire is to become infected by its derangement." And he was paranoid and off his head on amphetamines so he ought to know!
Yeah that was one of the saddest things, seeing how much Trump was embraced, just to see that so many people paid so much attention to him was crazy.
Well outrage works. We live in a culture of outrage so it's very successful tactic and Trump used outrage to galvanize the voting population. He polarized opinions and made people want to talk about him all the time. It was quite tactically done even though he doesn't come across as a particularly brilliant guy so we have to assume he's been well-groomed. I think he talks to people who have taught him some tactical tricks. I don't know if you saw Adam Curtis's documentary, HyperNormalisation…
I've seen some of his documentaries, The Century of Self and The Power of Nightmares I think are well done.
HyperNormalisation came out the end of 2016 and it's about Trump, and about Putin particularly and their relationship and the situation in Syria, and Curtis follows these trails back, making incredible connections. I feel he's provided us with the master key of where we are right now. And he basically talks about Putin's strategies and how one of Putin's main advisors is a former theater director, Vladislav Surkov.So he's bringing these radical ideas from the post-Marxist counterculture of the '60s and they're using this cognitive dissonance technique where you just tell blatant lies and defy the objective facts of reality. You can contradict yourself and then contradict yourself again and if you just keep doing it and if you just keep your face blank you can deny you just shit on the floor, even when everybody just watched you hunker down and take a very deliberate shite on the carpet.
Trump is clearly using this shite-on-the-carpet technique. There's every possibility he learned it from Russia, which is obviously part of why everyone is seeing this connection between Trump and Putin. Whatever the political connections are, he's learned his stage technique from Russia and from Surkov and he's applying the rules of the cognitive dissonance playbook where you can get away with anything if you just do it on front of millions, then say no, I didn't do it, I didn't do it. You're all mistaken.
As I said in one of my editorials for Heavy Metal magazine, we vow to add to the confusion wherever possible.
To invoke a title of a Robert Anton Wilson book, Reality is what you get away with.
I'm watching him (Trump) on TV yesterday and he's talking about the so-called Muslim ban, which isn't, or is, and he's saying yeah this is all going very well, just look at the airports, you'll see how everyone supports this, then we're cutting to chaotic scenes where people are screaming and waving banners that contradict everything he just said and then back to him, and it's yes, as you've seen, it's all going very well, everyone supports these measures. Cut back to screaming protesting crowds, tear gas, baton charges. And he's got the press guy, the Spicer guy that'll just come on the screen, flat dead, and just say no what you've just seen is not actually happening, it's fake - it's such a weird technique, it's impenetrable. It's hard for rational people to deal with that, so perhaps irrationality might be of use.
It's like they took the Discordian Operation Mind Fuck and started using it as a political strategy.
Yea I was reading about Operation Mindfuck earlier and I thought "Jesus this is happening now but it's been perfected by the other side," – it's on a scale, with a reach, that's beyond anything beyond the Discordian originators ever have imagined.
Indeed, we all need to get our magick and critical thinking skills up for these current times. I'll wrap it up here. You seem to have maintained a low key and approachable personal style in your career, all without a cult of personality around you. Do you think reading Robert Anton Wilson helped you maintain a more grounded perspective around the notion of fame?
He was always grounded and that's what I loved about him. What remains for me is the humor. When a philosopher loses his or her sense of humor, they're in danger of becoming one of those cult-leader-magus ideologue assholes. Laughter can banish any and all demons. Wilson always laughed at the world and himself. He laughed at everything. He was a very serious man, a very well-read and intellectual man, but he found it all FUNNY and I think the ability to find humor in any situation is one of our greatest survival skills.
Prop Anon (aka Gabriel Kennedy) is a New York Multi-Media Artist whose work explores the intersections of Hip-Hop, Punk Rock, Activism, Consciousness, and Propaganda in an Internet Age. As a touring musician he released Squat the Condos which presaged the Occupy movement of 2011 and beyond. His most recent musical release was with his band Hail Eris!, who put out their eponymous EP, Hail Eris in 2016. Prop Anon is currently writing his first book, Chapel Perilous: The Life and Thoughts Crimes of Robert Anton Wilson, a biography about the late counterculture icon, which will be published by Tarcher/Penguin Books in 2018.