The magic theatre of High Weirdness

In Hermann Hesse's novel Steppenwolf we visit a mysterious and strange magic theatre, where some pretty weird things happen. Meant for madmen and madwomen only, the price of admission is nothing less than one's mind. In High Weirdness, you are invited to enter another kind of magic theatre. It is a place of magic and madness, heaven and hell, beauty and terror. Luckily, the price of the ticket is not your sanity, but just the price of the book, High Weirdness, the latest literary exploration by Erik Davis.

Erik Davis, PhD

A long-time Boing Boing pal, Erik Davis is an intellectual of the highest caliber: a persuasive and provocative essayist, an erudite and unconventional scholar of religions, a charismatic and engaging speaker, an adventurous-minded tripster and all-around experienced explorer of the edges of our reality. Davis is one of the most admired and refined interpreters of all matters mystical, psychedelic and occult. His decades' long travels in hyper-reality—roaming seamlessly from musical festivals to Burning Man to academia—make him a uniquely qualified cyber-anthropologist, a keen observer of our contemporary and turbulent cross-cultural mazes of techno-mystical realms, fringe subcultures, neo-shamanic practices, pop mythologies, conspiracy theories, and spiritual impulses. For those who arrived late to Erik Davis' extensive body of work, let me single out three important contributions: his classic (and still  relevant) read Techgnosis; his musical hermeneutic homage to the Led Zeppelin IV album; and his podcast, a cornucopia of weekly interviews with artists, intellectuals and all sorts of weirdos, all concerned with the cultures of consciousness.  Read the rest

Bizarro Bazar keeps the world weird

Within the topography of the human soul there is a strange land called the Uncanny. As Sigmund Freud wrote in his classic essay on the topic:

The subject of the ‘uncanny’ (...) is undoubtedly related to what is frightening—to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general.

The Uncanny is a liminal zone at the outer fringes of our normal awareness. Both repelling and attractive, the Uncanny magnetizes the mind with its potent brew of sublime and horrible, beautiful and obscene, familiar and alien, enchanting and morbid, the ultimate mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

For the intellectually adventurous, a signpost of the Uncanny is the blog Bizzarro Bazar.

Bizzarro Bazar

Devoted to all things “strange, macabre, wonderful,” Bizzarro Bazar is a virtual wunderkammer made up of queer collectibles, absurd oddities and twisted curiosities from the history of medicine, anatomical collections, anthropology, tanathology, alternative sexuality, literature, cinema and other obscure sources. The result is a swirling tapestry of eldritch, poignant, otherworldly delights.

Bizzarro Bazar is the brainchild project (and nom de plume) of Ivan Cenzi. Based in Rome, Cenzi is a prolific author and eclectic intellectual, Arbiter Elegantiae of all things weird and wonderful. His books, with text both in Italian and English, are devoted to Italy's most unusual anatomy museums, catacombs and charnel houses. With a peculiar mix of erudite poise and eerie playfulness, Cenzi's work articulates the words of JBS Haldane: "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine."

Web series

Bizzarro Bazar's latest creative endeavor is an enjoyable and entertaining web series. Read the rest

Joshua Jay: Six Impossible Things is a different kind of magic show

There is a time in every artistic and scientific field when a precocious and promising young star appears. More often than not, as time goes by, the young star proves to be a meteor, blazing their ephemeral light for too a short time. Very few cultivate and nurture their spark of genius into adulthood and see the full fruition of their gifts.

In the realm of prestidigitation and sleight-of-hand artistry, such a very young practitioner of magic was a kid called Joshua Jay, who has passed the test of time, having grown into the artist true to his early vocation. Unanimously acclaimed and esteemed by his peers, Joshua is presently a successful international performer, lecturer, author, magic creator and consultant, event producer and Guinness World Record holder. He has fooled Penn & Teller and recently has appeared on Jimmy Fallon. Although still in his mid-thirties, Joshua has skillfully played his cards. From Ohio, Jay is now based in New York, and has made the world his stage.

I recently had the good fortune of catching Jay's latest show, Six Impossible Things. Whatever your notion of a magic show, this is likely something different: the audience is not expected to simply watch magic but to experience it. With only 20 guests allowed at every show, Six Impossible Things is an immersive hour-long experience, brimming with mystery, intrigue, and spellbinding magic. Directed by Luke Jermay — another well-respected magical performer in his own right — Six Impossible Things is a show with a soul. Read the rest

The Miracle Club: How Thoughts Become Reality

Mind metaphysics, or positive thinking, is a fascinating and mysterious field of personal exploration and inquiry. The guiding principle and basic tenet of mind metaphysics is that thoughts are causative, i.e. thoughts — those intangible acts of cognition, attention and intention — can actually shape reality and the material world in accordance with our wishes and desires. With roots in ancient Hermetic traditions, this profound idea made its way into culture, though not without resistance, via the New Thought and Human Potential movements, and more recently, Positive Psychology, as well as myriad incarnations in business motivation and the self-help industry.

The latest noteworthy work on the contemporary metaphysical scene, already hailed as a modern classic, is The Miracle Club, How Thoughts Become Reality by Mitch Horowitz.

A longtime Boing Boing pal, Horowitz is among the most articulate and authoritative voices in the fields of alternative spirituality, occult and esoteric history. He has curated and authored dozens of books, such as the fundamental Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, and One Simple Idea: How the Lessons of Positive Thinking Can Transform Your Life.

The Miracle Club is part memoir, part historical map, part "operating manual" for manifesting your true will and your heart's desires. The promise of the book is pretty simple: you can make miracles happen. There's a catch though: miracles ain't free — there is work to do.

Grounding his reflections in personal history and a life of experimentation, Horowitz comes across as the real deal: he is an authentic "adept mind" and he knows his stuff. Read the rest

The great Ricky Jay was the magician’s magician

Ricky Jay – magician, sleight-of-hand artist extraordinaire, actor, author, scholar of weirdness and oddities, Guinness award winner for throwing playing cards – passed away on November 24th at age 72.

Ricky Jay's life and legacy have been dutifully celebrated in the feature documentary Deceptive Practice, an enduring 1993 profile in The New Yorker, and lately by David Mamet's eulogy. The man indeed left a dent in the magic community.

A personal note should say enough for my love of this man's work. I have only one object hanging on my studio walls: an original print of Ricky Jay’s book cover “Cards as Weapons.”

I was a teenage kid when I stumbled upon the card-magic bible "The Expert At The Card Table" by S.W.Erdnase. This book became an obsession of mine for a few years; eventually I translated and published the work in my native Italian. One day I got my paws on a VHS tape of a man who took Erdnase’s century-old presentation “The Exclusive Coterie” and brought it back to life – with humor, a charming style, and a never-before-seen flair. I was completely enraptured. That performance set the bar for artistry and excellence for years to come.

Ricky Jay’s long time friend, collaborator and co-conspirator Michael Weber said, “The real mark of an artist is not becoming known as the finest exponent of their art. It’s when the only way to describe what they do is to name them.”

Well, Ricky Jay’s name is set in stone: an artist in a league by himself. Read the rest

The College of Extraordinary Experiences transforms you in the most mind-blowing way

The world is full of places of wonder. Some of them are physical places; others are places of the imagination. The College Of Extraordinary Experiences is both. Once a year, the Czocha Castle in Poland (a real 13th century castle), becomes a most unusual and peculiar college, much like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. Only this one is real — and it’s not for kids. In order to try to convey the nature and the spirit of such a one-of-a-kind place, allow me to provide a bit of framing and context.

Welcome to the Experience Economy

In 1998, consultants and authors B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore published an article in the Harvard Business Review, introducing the term "Experience Economy" for the first time. The following year, the authors expanded their ideas into a successful and widely influential book of the same title. Thus the Experience Economy was officially born, and the word “experience” gained new meaning in the business world.

Broadly retracing the history of economy, Pine and Gilmore identified four main developmental stages of “economic offering.” This progression goes from early human societies, mainly concerned with "Commodities," to the Industrial Revolution and large-scale production of consumer "Goods," followed by a steadily increasing demand for "Services," and finally, in the present day, the latest form of economic offering: "Experiences." Amply corroborated in the past two decades, the book’s thesis is that in a world saturated with largely undifferentiated goods and services, the greatest opportunity for value creation (and revenue growth) lies in staging experiences. Read the rest

The OZORA music festival is a psychedelic tribal gathering I keep coming back to

Every year, summer brings a merry-go-round of global music festivals. For the past 15 years, I've been keenly surfing the international weirdo festival circuit, from small parties to mainstream mega events. The one place I keep coming back to—and attended again this year—is the EDM festival, a psychedelic tribal gathering, called OZORA.

OZORAStarted in 2004, OZORA has steadily grown to become a global center of psyculture, bringing together 30,000 people from all over the world to a remote location in rural Hungary. This temporary village is a weird wonderland, populated by a carnivalesque parade of neo-hippies, steampunk freaks, impish elves, delightful fairies and other eccentric creatures with dreadlocks, dressed in fancy costumes and impressive tattoos.

This colorful bunch of happy mutants entertain themselves for a week, dancing amidst a blizzard of sensory stimulations: a dozen music stages powered by hundreds of DJs, live bands and stage performances, art installations, LED-illuminated structures, kaleidoscopic lights and laser projections. On top of all that, the event offers daily yoga sessions, cooking classes, massage workshops, fire-spinning and juggling lessons, a visionary art gallery and a mind-expanding lectures series featuring prominent underground intellectuals. All in all, it's an electrifying, playful and intense experience. For my money, it's the quintessential experience in exotic, otherworldly fun.

Collective Joy EventsBarbara Ehrenreich, in her brilliant book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, analyzes and documents the phenomenon of "Collective Joy" events throughout the centuries. Ehrenreich interprets this kind of playful and partyful festivals—having their pre-Christian precursors in Roman Saturnalia and Greek Dionysian rites—as rooted in ecstatic religious traditions that have been repressed and marginalized by European and Euro-American mainstream culture for centuries. Read the rest

Is control over your life just an illusion? Here's a game that has you making life decisions based on the roll of a die

Here’s a provocative question to ponder: Do you believe in luck?

We generally believe we’re in control of our lives; we proudly take credit for our achievements and tell compelling stories about our intentionally designed successes. And that’s all nice and good — we indeed should enjoy our share of merit. However, the larger picture reveals that no matter how carefully and meticulously we plan our lives, we are all subject to unforeseeable, unexpected, uninvited, uncontrollable events that can make or break the day. In our complex world, Joseph Conrad's words sound truer than ever: “It is the mark of an inexperienced man not to believe in luck.” Luck is indeed a slippery notion, loaded with emotional, philosophical, and mystical connotations.

Better Lucky or Talented?

A few years ago, Nassim Nicholas Taleb packed two strong punches to our collective ego. With his influential books The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, he brought to wide attention how deeply randomness and unpredictability affect our lives and reality. This notion is confirmed in the recently published Scientific American article "The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized: Are the most successful people mostly the luckiest people in our society?"

Physicists Alessandro Pluchino and Andrea Rapisarda, together with economist Alessio Biondo, attempted to quantify the roles that luck and talent play in successful careers, using a mathematical model simulating the evolution of careers in a collective population over many years.

The results: “Even a great talent becomes useless against the fury of misfortune. Read the rest

To Read Aloud is a portal straight to that Middle Earth where magic happens

The Act of Reading

It's been 10 years since the writing of The Atlantic's now classic essay Is Google Making Us Stupid? in which Nicholas Carr addressed how our reading habits (and our cognition in general) have been collectively affected by the use of the Internet. Carr observed his own scattering of attention, a lessening of concentration for extended periods of time, which overall makes the act of reading more and more fragmented, impoverished and shallow. To quote Carr's eloquent metaphor: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” And over the past decade, our nearly ubiquitous access to the World Wide Web has made things worse.

The conspicuous consumption of our daily reading is a steady stream of piece meal information coming from a medley of screens: we endlessly scroll through posts, comments and messages, nervously bouncing from site to site, skimming, browsing and searching, jumping from our latest email or text to social media chatter, compulsively trying to satisfy our information craving. Reading is not what it used to be, and that's that.

But reading comes in different shapes and forms, and is not only for absorbing content. Imagine this: take a few minutes to sit down quietly with someone you care about. Choose a piece of writing you like, and share that piece of writing—reading it loud to the other person. You’ll find something uncanny going on.

Human Moments

Reading aloud to another person is indeed a peculiar experience, something we are not used to, or if we are, it's mostly for children. Read the rest

Ferdinando Buscema on the power of play

It is common in industrial and post-industrial societies to suppose a rigid, almost antagonistic division between work and play. We work in order to earn enough money to afford us time for something called fun or play—the antidote for work. Moreover, "play" is most often associated with children's pastimes, geeky video games, or other unproductive activities considered the opposite of seriousness. Maybe there is more to play than meets the eye?

In the classic study Homo Ludens, the great scholar Johan Huizinga pointed out the anthropological relevance and the profound evolutionary implications of the human activity called play. Huizinga saw the instinct for play as the central force of civilized life: "Law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play." Five hundred years before LEGO registered the trademark, Renaissance magus Marsilio Ficino used "Serious Play" (Serio Ludere) to describe the way the fathers of Western thought operated: “Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato had the habit of hiding all divine mysteries behind the veil of (...) serious play". And speaking of divine mysteries, in the Hindu mythology the god Brahman creates the world itself, as it were, through Lila — "divine play." Play seems to be serious business after all.

Play is a state of mind, a highly sophisticated approach to life and work. Play is a fun, flow-inducing experience, among the most enjoyable states of consciousness available to humans. Play is a space for experimentation—a primal learning environment that allows one to take controlled risks without dangers. Read the rest

New documentary is a magic portal into a weird and wonderful library

The Hermetic Philosophy

There is an underground current of thought beneath Western culture, running quietly like a vein of quicksilver: The Hermetic Philosophy. This ancient and multifaceted phenomenon is often found rising up from the shadows during times of intense cultural transition and upheaval.

The words hermetic, occult and esoteric are used interchangeably to refer to ideas and beliefs associated with the mystical “Perennial Philosophy” that infused every major religion, and diverse cultural streams, over the past millennia. Rooted in ancient Egyptian and Judeo-Christian traditions, these secret beliefs went mainstream during the Renaissance, a revival that continued through the Enlightenment to modern interpretations in the New Thought and New Age movements and the secular Self-help movement of recent years.

However protean and multifaceted the phenomenon, the essence of most esoteric teachings is that we go about our daily lives asleep, unaware of the true nature of reality and our place in it. This state of affairs engenders numbness, inner disconnection and lack of meaning, with a desolate question lingering in the backs of our heads: Is this all there is? Maybe, there is more than meets the eye. Unlike modern materialism, the Hermetic Philosophy pictures the cosmos as a living entity, the Anima Mundi experiencing itself subjectively. Every thing – fragments of The All – are linked together in a web of correspondences and resonances between microcosm and macrocosm. The ultimate goal of the “Way of Hermes” is to wake up to a divine reality: the actualization of the spiritual nature of man. Read the rest

Eugene Burger, the Magician Philosopher

The whole magic community mourns the passing of Eugene Burger, at age 78. One of the most influential magicians of the 20th century, as well as an exceptional human being, he will be sorely missed by a vast network of loving friends, students and fans all the world over.

The impact of Eugene's contribution to the art of magic is preeminent. His massive body of work shifted the consciousness of magicians, opening doors to new exciting realms of theatrical and artistic expressions of magic.

Eugene’s life was a perfect blend of the active and contemplative: a master performer, he worked in the most prestigious international venues, receiving the highest accolades from the industry and his peers. His magic was strong, infused with wit and humor, a warm and infectious laugh, and gentle kindness. Just being in his presence produced joy and pure delight. Along with his performing career, he was an esteemed philosopher with a divinity college background at Yale University. A gifted writer, a sharp thinker, an enchanting storyteller, an encouraging and generous teacher who left a deep mark in countless students' lives.

The Magician Philosopher

Some of Eugene's most important musings revolved around magic's relevance as an art form, and the role of the magician in present times.

Why is it, that society seems to need magicians to enlighten them? Why didn't Steven Spielberg wipe the magician off the face of the planet? Because what he can do on a screen is far more fabulous than what I can do at a table. Read the rest

A review of Cosmic Trigger, a play based on Robert Anton Wilson's autobiography

What do you after you Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out? Well, you go and Find The Others.

Last May 2017, I flew to London for the staging of Cosmic Trigger — The Play , a sheer delight for any Robert Anton Wilson fan, a masterpiece of high weirdness befitting the book it derives from. The experience proved to be more mind-shattering and category-defying than I could have ever imagined. A 23-night run hosted at The Cockpit Theatre, the play is an ambitious theatrical event: an intense four-hour long immersive happening, an experimental and multi-layered metafiction, intellectually challenging and spiritually intoxicating, a disorienting dance of Discordian confusion and uncanny mindfuck. An extraordinary cast of actors created a colourfully wild, merry parade of countercultural icons—along with Robert Anton Wilson and his wife Arlen, Robert Shea, Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, William Burroughs, Albert Hoffman, John Lilly, Jacques Vallee, Aleister Crowley—in brief, great fun!

Not only that, Cosmic Trigger — The Play has the inherent magical qualities of a collective ritual or mass initiation: it is "a narrative so utterly complex and so thoroughly self-referential that it becomes to all intents and purposes alive." As magicians know, " by doing certain things certain results will follow."

Hail Daisy Campbell!

The mastermind behind such a unique endeavour and artistic achievement is director Daisy Campbell, who pulled some cosmic and genealogical strings to bring her vision to life. Daisy is the daughter of the late famed British director Ken Campbell, who achieved notoriety in the 1970s for his nine-hour adaptation of the epic science-fiction trilogy Illuminatus! Read the rest

Seven Brief Lessons in Physics: a thing of beauty is a joy forever

Now and then I stumble upon a book that completely blows my mind. The latest of such lucky encounters has been with Seven Brief Lessons in Physics by Carlo Rovelli.

Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist with a solid, international academic career, presently teaching at the University of Aix-Marseille in France. In 2013 he was among the sophisticated minds who were asked the famous Edge.com annual question. The question that year was "What *should* we be worried about?" His reply: "I worry that free imagination is overvalued, and I think this carries risks."

Published in 2014, Seven Brief Lessons in Physics has been an immediate smash hit. In less than 80 pages, Rovelli takes the reader on a friendly trip from the far edges of the cosmos to the edges of the quantum world, addressing some of the hottest ideas revolutionizing our present understanding of the world. And he does so with unassuming innocence, and his enchanting prose makes complex subjects a piece of cake.

In one of his most rhapsodic fragments Rovelli writes:

"There are absolute masterpieces which move us intensely, Mozart’s Requiem; the Odyssey; the Sistine Chapel; King Lear. To fully appreciate their brilliance may require a long apprenticeship, but the reward is sheer beauty."

To this list of timeless masterpieces of human ingenuity, Rovelli appends Einstein's celebrated theory of general relativity, which he calls "the most beautiful of all theories".

Now, here's the deal: modern physics is an unbelievably complex, impenetrable and obscure "thing," well beyond the comprehension of any layperson, however well-read. Read the rest

Happy 40th Birthday to Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here"

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. It's a good time to celebrate that moment, when the portals opened and a stream of cosmic creative force spilled into our reality.

Pink Floyd need no introduction, being one of the most influential superstar bands of the 20th century. Their sound concoctions, played and aired for millions of hours all around the globe, generated a sonic morphic field of unparalleled beauty. These guys hit their musical nail heavy on our collective subconscious' head.

Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd's ninth studio album, strikes a balance between commercial craftsmanship and inspired artistry. Ironically more shining than their previous album's lunar success, this work remains a remarkable exemplar of the prog rock and psychedelic era. The band conjured up a melancholic soundscape, weaving kaleidoscopic interstellar jams carrying emotional weight, grief, loss, disillusionment, yet leaving the door open to the manifold possibilities of love and mystic enchantment.

Forty years after the release of Wish You Were Here we live in a world where the experience of consuming music is peculiarly fragmented: we listen to tunes on YouTube, impatiently skipping from to song to song, or randomly accessing tracks on iTunes and mp3 players. In our hectic and disenchanted times, the electro-mechanical reproduction of musical artworks contributed to the loss of aura in artworks in general. Devoting our full and undivided attention to listening a whole album - from the beginning till the very end - is a sporadic experience and a rare luxury. Read the rest

Use playing cards to remind yourself that you are going to die

A lifehack for dying

Magic Books - the secret art of book hacking

What is a book? The commonly held notion is pretty simple: it is an object

made of pieces of paper, glued or bounded together, with stuff written in it.

Indisputable. But, maybe, there is more than meets the eye. Read the rest

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