Thirty years ago today—on May 21st, 1991—a bullet fired by an unknown murderer sadly ended the life of 41-year-old Professor Ioan Petru Culianu.
Romanian-born, citizen of the world and of the mundus imaginalis, Ioan Culianu has been a brilliant scholar of religions, gnosticism and Renaissance magic. In a few years of hectic work he established himself as an esteemed author, renowned for the breath and originality of his works, as well as the depth of his thinking. Armed with a mighty erudition and a mercurial intellect, he deftly moved across disciplines, bridging history of religions and ethnography, literary criticism and relativity theory, historiography and cybernetics. His academic career reached its peak at the prestigious Divinity School in Chicago, where he taught from 1986 till his untimely death, in 1991.
Still today, his works remain essential reading for any student of the Sacred and its theological, metaphysical, sociological, and cognitive implications.
One of the recurring themes in Culianu's body of work is the importance of the imaginary dimension and its potential to reconfigure reality. With archeological accuracy, he reconstructed the historical viccisitudes that brought to a mutation of the imaginary in the shift from a magic-based society (like the Renaissance), to a modern society based on a scientific ideology. Liberating magic from the "primitive" interpretations typical of certain anthropological and ethnological traditions, Culianu restored magic to its mainly cognitive dimension: magic is a science of imagination, a technology of the mind to investigate the world and ourselves, a mode of operating to shape reality itself. Here's an often quoted fragment from his book "Eros and Magic in the Renaissance":
Historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared with the advent of 'quantitative science'. The latter has simply substituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises rst formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate with faraway regions of space, to y through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one's disposal. Technology, it can be said, is a democratic magic that allows everyone to enjoy the extraordinary capabilities of which the magician used to boast.
As Culianu explains, magic never actually disappeared, it just shapeshifted. And the role of the magus, thanks to his knowledgeable use of the imagination, is to access that "mental space"—a parallel and infinite "elsewhere", whose ontological value is equal to our consensual reality—and bring back what he saw and learnt. The awareness of the laws of interdependence and interference existing among parallel and co-existing worlds allow the magician to reprogram reality, causing change to occur in conformity with will.
Counterpoint to his rigorous scientific activity, it's been his spellbinding and mind-warping narrative production. With trickster wit and serious playfulness, Culianu designed interdimensional labyrinths, making the concepts of ordinary time and space elastic and evanescent, and the boundary separating reality from fiction much less sharp and tidy than what feels reassuring to believe.
Culianu had a lifelong affectionate relationship with Italy, the first country granting him political asylum, in 1972. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his passing, the magazine Antarès honors him with the special issue Ioan Petru Culianu. Argonauta della Quarta Dimensione. Thanks to the dedication of curators Horia Corneliu Cicortaș, Roberta Moretti, and Andrea Scarabelli, with an introduction penned by Professor Grazia Marchianò, this book collects Culianu's unpublished material, essays on his work, testimonials from friends and colleagues, letters and interviews. This publication is a tribute to a sensational scholar, whose spirit and ideas are still alive and vibrant. This is also an invitation to the next generations of explorers of knowledge to continue journeying in the mundus imaginalis, the way Culianu pioneered.
Up for a magical adventure? Follow Master Magician Jeff McBride through the looking glass of your screens.
Since the pandemic hit, many forms of theatrical experiences did their best to pivot online, with mixed results, as artists from different fields are still exploring the possibilities of the new online platforms. Many magicians tried their hand at this medium, including household names like Penn & Teller, Michael Carbonaro, Justin Willman. And now, here comes Jeff McBride — and he is reinventing the rules of the game.
Jeff 'Magnus' McBride
In the magic community, the name Jeff McBride commands undivided respect and admiration, being widely regarded as one of the most innovative and dynamic magicians alive today. Jeff has done it all: earned the major accolades from the industry, holder of multiple Guinness World Records for his dazzling sleight-of-hand, performed on all major stages and TV networks worldwide, most recently fooling Penn & Teller. As a teacher and consultant, Jeff is the founder and driving force behind the Magic and Mystery School, arguably the most important school for serious students of magic. Jeff is the authentic incarnation of a contemporary shaman and modern hermeticist.
Surfing the waves of our present circumstances, Jeff embraced the creative challenge of designing an online "magical experience". The result is MagiQuest: almost one year in the making, it's a fun, exciting, fully interactive online experience. This is an adventurous journey into the mind and the world of a true magician, who shares his encounters with the magical and the miraculous, shows his delightful and mindbending deceptions, opens the doors of his Library of Secrets, his Exquisite Collection, and his Cabinet of Curiosities, everything live from his Wunderkammer in Las Vegas. This is nothing less than an "initiation" into the real mysteries of magic, an experience that promises the participants high doses of wonder and astonishment.
MagicQuest's curtain opens on May 7th at 7.00 PM (Las Vegas time) and runs for 8 performances through May 16th. More about MagiQuest visiting here.
In the latest installment of his wonder-filled Burning Shore newsletter, Boing Boing pal Erik Davis dons the music critic hat, and unearths a true gem: David Crosby's 1971 enchanting and piercing song Laughing.
With his usual flair and subtlety, Erik provides context for the song and surgically dissects its lyrics, unleashing hidden layers of meaning and beauty to flow along with the bewitching sounds.
Laughing is Erik's favorite "seeker song" of the countercultural era.
We don't use the term "seeker" much these days, which is kind of a shame.
As the religious historian Leigh Schmidt illuminates in his book Restless Souls, the modern sense of "seeker" emerges at the end of the nineteenth century, as liberal Protestantism gets so loose that it arguably ceases being Christianity, and becomes Transcendentalism, or New Thought, or Theosophy, or, increasingly, something undefined and personal, roving and uprooted from homegrown traditions, open to ideas and symbols and practices from around the world, particularly the East, and especially keen on cultivating direct experience of the sacred. The seeker sensibility would bloom significantly in the postwar world. The Beats took it up in the fifties, as did many of their beatnik followers, and so too the far more numerous hippies and travelers and self-realizers and proto-New Agers of the late '60s and '70s, many of whom would self-identify as "seekers."
In the eyes of many social critics, the seeker was nothing more than the pupa stage for today's spiritual consumer: an atomized neoliberal self-empowerment junkie, mixing and matching a "cafeteria religion" and pampering the ego they are claiming to overcome. Perhaps we no longer speak of seekers because we are more comfortable as finders, or better yet, buyers — not just of Goop chakra tech, but of lifestyles, or Instagram paradigms, or self-help regimens that buffer us from the dark nights and stark confrontations that arguably undergird authentic spirituality.
But let's not toss the baby out with the Emotional Detox Soak bathwater. In my (admittedly slanted) view, a mature seeker is, like the Beats of yore, a spiritual existentialist. The seeker is not a finder, or a knower, or a master. They are always on the road, or traversing, even drifting, along Krishnamurti's "pathless path." (…) Longing fuels the entire quest, and that longing is always oriented to the beyond, to the not-yet, to a liberation that almost certainly won't happen the way one imagines, and may very well not happen at all.
Trying to define Art is a challenging and hazardous occupation, given the elusive and slippery nature of such concept. Playing with definitions, however, can be a fun exercise to grapple with the enormous variety of artifacts, practices, and experiences called Art.
If you had an oracle available to you, I mean a real oracle—a person or an "entity" able to actually peek into your future, and thus provide advice and direction—what question would you ask?
Does divination work?
Divination and fortunetelling are ancient and universal human practices, meant to satisfy an inborn desire to know our futures and fortunes. A quick Google search will provide dozens of techniques and traditions from all around the world. When we come to any of these methods—from Tarot to tea leaves, from abacomancy to zygomancy—it's legitimate to ask: do the combinations of obscure signs and mysterious symbols actually contain information about our lives? Answer is: probably not. However, if the question is: do fortunetelling systems really work? Answer is: probably yes. In fact, divination systems can offer a focused and structured space for reflection, potentially fertile for psychological exploration, encouraging creativity and fostering intuition. When relieved of any expectation of literally "predicting" the future, divination can be a fun sensemaking game, to play with new ideas and discover more about ourselves, thus leading to a renewed sense of agency towards the future. So framed, divination actually does work.
A latest incarnation of the divinatory impulse is Oracolarium, an exciting oracle deck I stumbled upon, that modulates ancient signals through a unique aesthetic and esoteric sensitivity. The offspring of multi-media artist Andrea Aste and conjuror in all things magical Neil Kelso, Oracolarium strikes a great balance between originality and tradition, irony and seriousness. As the portmanteau "Oracolarium" reflects it can be used both as an "oracle," a device to answer questions, as well as an "Imaginarium," a playground to cultivate the imagination.
At its core, this pack is an impressive artistic achievement: it is an internally coherent art gallery, where each card is in conversation with all the others, through a hidden web of reference and resonances. Thanks to an Augmented Reality feature, when viewed through the magic mirror of a smartphone or a tablet, these cards come to life providing a mesmerizing cinematic experience. All in all, Oracolarium is a magickal talisman, endowed with an ethereal intelligence, awaiting to be awakened and interact with human forms.
What would you like to know?
Back to square one, if you had an oracle available, what would you like to know? Here's a secret hidden in plain sight: when it comes to exploring a personal issue, the mere act of designing a well-formed question is a covert invitation to clarity of thought, not a minor endeavor indeed. This may be half of the job. The rest of the game of divination is to experiment with tools and processes, to discover what fires your imagination, making you want to engage with a practice, and harvest insightful messages.
Here is a thing of beauty: the highly praised theatrical show "In & Of Itself" has been made into a film. Performed and created by Derek DelGaudio, directed by Frank Oz, this is something truly magnificent.
Derek DelGaudio is a world-renowned magician and sleight-of-hand artist, but this show is no typical magic show. Living up to its hype, this is pretty much something in and of itself—a unique brew of magical performance, storytelling, and other difficult to describe "things." With mastery and presence, DelGaudio invites the participants to explore the illusory and elusive notion of identity. The result is an intense, emotionally charged, and philosophically challenging piece of performance art.
Making a movie out of a live event can be like catching lightning in a bottle. Having seen the live show twice, both in Los Angeles and New York, I can fairly say that the operation is a total success: the force is strong with this film!
It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go WTF is going on? And of all times, WTF? is presently a totally legit response.
What do I know, actually?
In his brilliant and uncannily prophetic Netflix show End Times Fun, actor and comedian Marc Maron, wrestling with the confusion and turbulence of our times, asks himself: "What do I know, actually? How much do I really know?" His answer goes like this:
If you think about what you really actually know, it's only a few things, like seven things maybe everybody knows. If you actually made a column of things you're pretty sure you know for sure, and then made another column of how you know those things, most of that column is like: "Some guy told me." You know, it's not sourced material, it's just clickbait and hearsay, that's all. Goes into the head, locks onto a feeling, you're like: "That sounds good. I'm gonna tell other people that." And that's how brand marketing works and also fascism, we're finding.
It seems to me this is pretty much how the majority of people decide to buy stuff, choose to vote, and make other consequential choices about their lives. Can we go deeper than superficial clickbait and hearsay, in order to shape well-informed opinions about complex issues, and take actions accordingly? This is the problem of sensemaking, probably one of the most crucial challenges that will define our civilizational course.
Who can we trust?
We're living in wild times, with growing chaos, unrest, and unprecedented uncertainty. Global existential threats feel more real than ever, and civilization breakdown is causing the collapse of consensus reality and familiar frames of reference—both at the individual and collective levels.
How can we find direction and make sense of all of this? Where can we find good sources of true and reliable information to base our sensemaking upon? Given such a vast endeavor, it's always been legitimate to offload some of the cognitive complexity and proxy our sensemaking to experts and authority figures. Sadly, the unsettling fact nowadays is that we can't easily figure out anymore who we can trust. Those who used to be trustworthy experts and institutions—from journalists to academics to politicians—have often compromised their credibility and authority. The trust has been broken. What is also broken is the whole information ecology, severely polluted with disinformation, propaganda, and all kind of fake news. It's a clusterfuck. Good sensemaking is probably as hard as it's ever been.
Where can we start to orient ourselves? Currently, my sensemaking dojo is Rebel Wisdom. Founded by David Fuller and Alexander Breiner, this media platform was set up with the explicit intention of making sense of the world at a deeper level than the mainstream media. This is a space for conversations grounded in authenticity and earnestness, intellectual bravery, and epistemic humility. Independent thinkers share their ideas with a quality of analysis and nuance that are needed for sincere truth-seeking in the extraordinary times we are going through.
To start poking around the content-rich Rebel Wisdom portal, and see if you resonate with these ideas, here are four entry points:
War on Sensemaking, with Daniel Schmachtenberger
A key realization is that the thing we call "news" is mostly propaganda. We are immersed in ongoing and ubiquitous information and narrative warfare, operating mostly below the threshold of our awareness. How can we sort out good signals and true information from noise and distortions? This is sensemaking 101.
Our Pandemic Psychedelic Trip, with Erik Davis
The ongoing pandemic, acting like a "non-specific amplifier," is inescapably bringing to the surface existing issues in our personal psyche, in society, and culture at large. Framing the pandemic as a collective psychedelic experience (or a "spiritual emergence") can offer insights on how to embrace not-knowing and navigate this space of high weirdness as an initiatory experience.
Can Truth Survive Tech? with Tristan Harris
Social media have a dark side: they hijack our nervous systems making us addicts to our newsfeeds, weaponizing our attention in a dangerous game of social and political polarization. We need to figure out ways to regain our individual sovereignty and critical agency.
In Shadow: Where Artists Fear to Tread, with Lubomir Arsov
The arts have the timeless power to shape culture, allowing us to expand our notion and understanding of reality, even awake and nurture a transcendent impulse. Art can help heal our fractured cultural psyche and offer much-needed hope in times of darkness.
From caterpillar to butterfly?
We are living in a liminal space/time, that is both perilous and ripe with possibility. This is not a time for improvised quick fixes and everything-is-going-to-be-alright empty optimism. We're in the midst of an evolutionary shift that might propel us to our next level as a civilization and as a species. Or, equally possible, the experiment of our global civilization might come to an end. At present, nobody knows.
What we do know is that we need to write a completely new operating manual for Spaceship Earth, and we need to do it fast. And this task—as Buckminster Fuller put it more than 50 years ago—"is predominantly metaphysical, for it is how we get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous social behaviors that will avoid extinction."
Infinite Potential, The Life And Ideas of David Bohm is a gem of a documentary (and you can watch it for free. Directed and produced by Paul Howard, it pays homage to one of the unsung intellectual heroes the 20th century. David Bohm was a physicist, philosopher, and explorer of consciousness—the man Einstein called his "spiritual son.", and the Dalai Lama his "science guru." His search at the crossroads of science and spirituality led to new insights into the profound interconnectedness of the universe and our place within it.
An intellectual dissident Questioning the orthodoxy of this time, Bohm tried to reconcile the two main distinct paradigms within the world of physics, namely, classical Newtonian physics (explaining "reality" as directly tied to our sensory experience of it, grounded in a three dimensional space, and time being a singular linear progression), and the new paradigm of Quantum Mechanics (describing the bizarre world of subatomic entities which, simultaneously wave-like and particle-like, form the underlying structure of the whole universe, a place where "ordinary reality" and linear time cease to be). Physicists have been wrestling for decades—without success—to reconcile these two seemingly incompatible and contradicting models, respectively accounting for the realms of the macro and the micro. Bohm's maverick intelligence sought a larger framework of interpretation to do the job.
The Holographic Universe One of Bohm's most dazzling leap of the imagination is his Holographic Theory of the Universe.
A hologram is a two-dimensional photograph of a three-dimensional object. When a laser is used to illuminate the hologram, the stored three-dimensional image appears. Here's a very peculiar feature of a hologram (compared to an ordinary photograph): cutting a regular photo into smaller pieces, one ends up with fragments of the original; when the pieces are put back together, the complete original picture is restored. But cutting a hologram into smaller pieces, each piece will contain a smaller but exact version of the complete original picture. In other words, every portion of the hologram contains the image of the whole. And that's a pretty uncanny feature.
Back to Bohm. According to his Holographic Theory of the Universe, the tangible reality of our everyday life is a kind of illusion, which we can compare to a giant hologram. The everyday world of solid bodies, unambiguously located in space and linear time, corresponds to what Bohm called the explicate (or unfolded) order. But this explicate order is a manifestation of an underlying and deeper order of existence, a vast and more primary level of reality that gives birth to all the objects and appearances of our physical world, which Bohm called the implicate (or enfolded) order.
The manifestation of all forms in the universe can be seen as the result of countless enfoldings and unfoldings between these two orders. This constant flow is what Bohm called the holomovement, holographic in nature, but in constant motion. Even consciousness is part of this continuous process of unfolding and enfolding: our thoughts are the explicate forms thrown up by the underlying movements of the implicate orders of mind.
To continue with the holographic analogy (not meant to be a literal truth), every portion of the universe, according to Bohm, enfolds the whole. As author Michael Talbot wrote in his marvelous The Holographic Universe:
This means that if we knew how to access it we could find the Andromeda galaxy in the thumbnail of our left hand. We could also find Cleopatra meeting Caesar for the first time, for in principle the whole past and implications for the whole future are also enfolded in each small region of space and time. Every cell in our body enfolds the entire cosmos. So does every leaf, every raindrop, and every dust mote.
This is a vast idea, one that gives new meaning to William Blake's mystical verses:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
and heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of
our hand and eternity in an hour.
The holographic model is an all-encompassing framework that has both internal consistency and the capacity to explain widely diverging phenomena of physical experience. It also happens to explain a whole variety of weird and strange phenomena—from psychic experiences to synchronicities, from Out Of Body to Near-Death Experiences. These side effects are the most uncomfortable for materialists and hardcore skeptics to digest.
Everything is connected For Bohm, the wholeness of life included nature and consciousness in one single wholeness. At a deeper, quantum level, everything is interconnected and internally related to everything else, each part of the cosmos contains the whole universe, and it unfolds in our perception of reality. Beyond one's baseline state of consciousness lies a realization of Oneness, the "unbroken wholeness of the implicate order".
You can see for yourself how deep the rabbit hole goes. Here's the trailer of Infinite Potential.
This year, the merry-go-round of summer music festivals is not happening, all the major events have been canceled. And that's a bummer. But luckily, the pandemic didn't stop artists' creativity. Here comes a musical consolation, Flux & Contemplation — Portrait of an Artist in Isolation courtesy of Simon Posford.
Simon Posford (a.k.a. Hallucinogen) is an internationally acclaimed figure of the psychedelic trance scene, with groundbreaking productions under his belt, among which the boundary-defying collaboration called Shpongle.
Reflecting on his own experience of being in lockdown, Posford has crafted a refined psychedelic chillout/downtempo piece of work. Flux & Contemplation is an elegant gallery of sonic portraits, each track a signpost of an inner journey—ranging from minimal, trance-like, haunting vibes, to more uplifting melodies and groovy rhythms. The overall result is a very satisfying and intense listening experience.
In a culture "where music has become more and more a commodity barely heard in the background, Posford's inspired and involved creative process transforms his handiwork into foreground music, his experience breaking free while in isolation providing a parallel experience for listeners".
Looking forward to seeing Simon Postford live again on stage, surrounded by a crowd of happy revelers, Flux & Contemplation is a ray of hope while imagining brighter futures.
We humans are castaways on an ocean of uncertainty. Since the beginnings of history, our ancestors sought knowledge and understanding about their lives, their relationship with the cosmos, and perhaps take a peek into their future. In such effort—long before the answers of science—earthlings developed a rich variety of divination practices and systems. Many forms of divination survive to this day, and can't be easily dismissed as irrational nonsense, or mere curiosities of a bygone age. On the contrary, divination seems to be essential to culture.
Astrology is indeed the most historically relevant of all divination practices, its aim having been nothing short of a systematic account linking the nature of the heavens to our own human nature. Across civilizations, human beings have proven to be superb stargazers. Entranced by heavenly patterns and periodicities—through sheer naked-eye observation—our ancestors were able to crack with uncanny precision the workings of the cosmos. Exact geometric relationships and precise mathematical elegance spoke of divine design and transcendent beauty.
For a long time, astronomy and astrology were one and the same magical "enterprise." Alexander Boxer, a data scientist, whose eclectic erudition includes a PhD. in physics from MIT and degrees in the history of science and classics writes:
"Astrology was the ancient world's most ambitious applied mathematics problem, a grand data-analysis enterprise sustained for centuries by some of history's most brilliant minds, from Ptolemy to al-Kindi to Kepler."
In examining how ancient astrologers looked for correlations and extracted insights from vast quantities of raw, celestial data, A Scheme of Heaven throws a mirror at ourselves and our inescapable fascination with using numbers to predict the future. Astrology's survival through the ages is a testament to a timeless seduction for seeing patterns in data, a seduction still very much alive and kicking. According to Boxer:
"Astrologers were the quants and data scientists of their day, and those of us who are enthusiastic about the promise of numerical data to unlock the secrets of ourselves and our world would do well simply to acknowledge that others have come this way before."
Boxer's deep investigation of astrology from a scientist's perspective introduces an unsettling question: Why is astrology considered unscientific, while economics—which also uses complex mathematical formulas to 'predict' the future—is regarded as a perfectly respectable field of study, despite its many failed forecasts? With the neutrality of statistical science, Boxer shows that today's sophisticated models are, embarrassingly, often no better at predicting the future than the algorithms of astrology. Just think back to the 2008 housing crisis, the 2016 election, or, indeed, the wildly divergent, if not contradictory forecasts for the spread of COVID-19.
Mathematical models can appear to offer the solidity of a mathematical proof. We tend to believe in numbers: they offer "certainty" to our rational minds. But numbers still mislead, figures still deceive, and predictions still fail—sometimes spectacularly so. Put it differently, here's the uncomfortable truth. Many modern disciplines that advertise themselves as purely rational (and especially those that rely heavily on numerical forecasting), actually contain elements from the domain of the magical, even if they don't realize it or are unwilling to admit it.
Our modern forms of divination—based on AI and big data, with "corporate astrologers" dressed in suits—offer little from a purely rational perspective, given that their track records are hardly any better than astrology. Yet we are drawn to these forecasts. Evidently, there are deeper forces at play. Perhaps these modern forecasts, with their own peculiar esoteric symbols and mysterious jargon, serve to satisfy an essentially magical, divinatory need. Understanding this explains, in part, why astrology continues to thrive (despite every effort to eradicate it) alongside its modern, data-driven successors.
"And thence we came forth to see again the stars"
Divination systems are sensemaking tools, which continue to fascinate, enchant, and nourish an archetypal need. Among these, astrology is the ur-example: a narrative art form of weaving stories out of numbers and data points.
For anyone interested in the history, and, indeed, the future of these ideas, A Scheme of Heaven is a deeply learned guide. Filled with fun charts, diagrams, and statistical tables, Boxer clearly explains the richly complex language and "science" of astrology in a refreshingly, readable manner. With its light touch and wonder-seeking tone, the book is a beacon shone onto the mysteries of the cosmos, rekindling our timeless capacity to marvel at the universe.
When watching a magician perform some card tricks, it's a legitimate question to ask: "Would you be able to cheat at a card game?" Most performers will smirk and wink, implying they could. Truth is: they probably can't. Sleight-of-hand with cards for conjuring and entertainment purposes is one thing; gambling techniques to cheat at cards is a whole other story. Sometimes these two domains overlap, in that liminal zone of the so called "gambling demonstrations." However, the gamblers' "real work" entails a very different skillset from that of a magician—while true gambling techniques are among the most fascinating and difficult to master.
The gambling expert
In the realm of gambling techniques with cards, one name immediately commands undivided admiration and respect. That name is Steve Forte. It's no hyperbole to say that what Forte can do with a pack of cards borders the unbelievable; his skillful handling is the closest thing to perfection in terms of technique.Here is a taste of his smooth and classy dexterity:
Steve Forte's career spans over 40 years within the gambling industry. After dealing all casino games and serving in all casino executive capacities, he shifted gears to a spectacularly successful career as a professional high-stakes Black Jack and Poker player; shifting gears again, he later became a top consultant in the casino security field. To dig deeper into Forte's adventurous and shapeshifting life, the go-to place is the enduring profile penned by R. Paul Wilson for the October 2005 issue of Genii Magazine.
Although Forte spent his whole professional career in the gambling world, in the early '90s he became widely known in the magic community after releasing his famous Gambling Protection Video Series. These tapes turned him into an almost mythical figure, someone with a uniquely vast repertoire of gambling moves, and the remarkable ability to execute these moves—all of them—flawlessly. These tapes still remain the gold standard for any serious gambling enthusiast.
In 2009, the Academy of Magical Arts honored Steve Forte with a Special Fellowship Award, in recognition of his outstanding creative contribution.
Forte Years of Research
Steve Forte just released his magnum opus,Gambling Sleight of Hand – Forte Years of Research: the most ambitious compilation of gambling sleight-of-hand and cutting-edge card techniques published to date. Forte offers his encyclopedic research from the privileged perspective of someone who has been around card games for his entire life, gambled professionally, met all kinds of cheaters and hustlers, and been a lifelong fan of magic. Separating the wheat from the chaff with his elegant prose, Forte shares the "real work." This book it's about "the pursuit of technical excellence for magicians and sleight-of-hand hobbyists, a modern starting point for cardmen and cardwomen to continue an exploratory journey where dedicated research, practice, and passion will forge ahead and advance the art."
Gambling Sleight of Hand – Forte Years of Research is already a classic, a must have for collectors and anyone interested in gambling sleight-of-hand.
The man behind the expert
In any art and craft, there are experts, heroes, role models. Sometimes these people are friendly and accessible, other times they are plain abstractions or disappointing idealizations. In this weird domain of gambling techniques, Steve Forte unintentionally became a mentor to many—myself included. What strikes everyone meeting Steve is his kindness, his modesty, his unbound generosity. Besides his exceptional expertise and mastery, worldwide fame and success, he remains a laid back and unassuming guy. What're the odds that one of the brightest minds in your field of interest, someone whom you'd dream to hang out with, is also one of the nicest human beings you could hope to meet? Steve Forte is a total mensch.
As a magician and sleight-of-hand artist, I've been wrestling with the thorny and slippery notion of Art for a long time. A recent "magical project" rekindled my attention about this ongoing quest. Here follow my latest musings on this domain.
What is Art?
Art can be seen as the lifeblood running through the veins of human history. From prelinguistic cave dweller to postmodern city dweller, art stands as a witness to the evolution of every culture, reflecting and participating in our views of reality, consciousness, and the cosmos. Art existed long before the word "art" itself existed; for most of history there were no museums, no galleries, no concert halls, and no special class of people to be known as "artists." As human societies developed and evolved, so did the category of art — which now includes a boundless constellation of forms, languages, media, materials, technologies, and aesthetic theories. As a result, the contemporary discourse on art is a fascinating and intricate spectacle. Many players — creators, critics, curators, merchants, collectors — interact within a matrix of sociological, cultural, political, and economic forces. The interplay of unpredictable factors generates the perceived value of artists, as well as the price of their work, and ultimately what ends up being labelled as art. The art industry produces an unstoppable stream of innovative ideas and artifacts, never-seen-before contaminations, and all sorts of category-defying "artwork." On the inevitable flip side are all kinds of aberrant deviations and plainly Barnumesque stunts. Today, everyone is welcome to decide for themselves what is what, and consume any piece of the cake of their liking.
The twentieth century decisively established that art doesn't have to be "beautiful" and beauty need not be part of the definition of art. But this liberating separation made things trickier and fuzzier. To score an easy point: there was a time when the staggering perfection of a Canova sculpture, or the epic breadth of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, actually left people in awe. There was no question that these creations of undisputed skill and technical mastery, vibrating with spirit and glowing splendor, deserved to be called art. Nowadays, many people hobnobbing in an art gallery, in front of the latest hyped "installation," are either unaffected, or reiterate some version of the snarky, naive comment: "What the heck is this! Seriously? Is this 'art'? Oh well, I could have done it myself!" This common response signals a certain kind of estrangement from art, as it's become an incomprehensible and self-referential game, where vapid provocations and tired stunts trump authentic aesthetic creations. Or perhaps the very category of art is broken and useless, having gone through an irreversible mutation, leaving it an empty shell of what it used to be. In a world gone bananas — cut loose on a sea of postmodern irony and indifference — is there a way to "reconnect" with the spirit of art, to satisfy our craving for aesthetic rapture?
Art is the name we have given to humanity's most primal response to the mystery of existence. It was in the face of mystery that dance, music, poetry, and painting were born.
From my perspective, this is a full-on invitation to return to the ancient shamanic roots of art, reconnecting with its numinous, spiritual, ineffable, and transcendent dimensions.
True beauty is not pretty. It is a tear in the façade of the everyday, a sudden revelation of the forces seething beneath the surface of things.
Yes, there's more to art than beauty. From the blissful and sublime to the ugly, weird, obscene, horrific and disturbing, true art taps into the whole palette of the human experience. It affects us viscerally, amplifies our feelings, expands our sense of Self and others, has the potential to transform us, punching a hole in the veil that separates us from the glowing heart of things.
Here is Martel's simple test to "assess" Art. Just as we don't need to be a chef to appreciate the food we're eating, we can rely on the immediacy of our senses, using astonishment as our compass:
Astonishment is the litmus test of art, the sign by which we know we have been magicked out of practical and utilitarian enterprises to confront the bottomless dream of life in sensible form. Art astonishes and is born of astonishment. (…). To be astonished is to be caught unawares by the revelation of realities denied or repressed in the everyday. Astonishment has an intellectual as well as an emotional component—in it, the brain and the heart come together. The astonishment evoked by great artistic works puts them square in our sights.
From this perspective, then, anyone who intentionally creates something that alters people's mind, hacking their signal, leading them into a space of astonishment, is an artist. To my ears, all of this echoes the perfect equation between art and magic, set forth by of Alan Moore:
I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness."
During my recent week-long residency performing at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, I had the pleasure of collaborating with the Los Angeles-based street artist WRDSMTH. In the spirit of the above musings, sharing a common appreciation for the power of words, as well as for the poetic, impermanent nature of graffiti art, we co-created a "piece" that was incorporated into my live magical performance. Through the juxtaposition of our tools-of-the-trade, we shaped a statement that was cheekily intended to reveal a "secret" (or a "trick?") to its viewers. We unleashed this "thought-form" into the urban landscape, hiding it in plain sight, written in big letters on a utility box, at the busy crossing of La Brea Ave and Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood. Spelling out this hypersigil has been a playful and rewarding magickal operation. Its radiating vibration are still rippling out. It looked like this:
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 Davisis 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.
Consensus Reality vs. High Weirdness
High Weirdness can be seen, in part, as a playful assault on reality, which, after all, is a complicated business. We all go through life, trying to make sense of things, navigating a so-called "consensus reality." Our very notion and understanding of what "reality" is (and, as a consequence, our own experience of it) is dependent and mediated by an existing matrix of institutions and cultural frameworks. These frameworks filter, shape and organize the world through shared and enforced patterns of perception, signification, and conceptual organization. In other words, whatever we ultimately come to believe to be possible, real, legitimate, or reasonable is a function of these structural mediations at play. We are all subject—more than we are generally able to acknowledge—to what our culture has programmed us to believe about the way things are and how the world works. However useful and necessary these structures and frameworks are, they are too limited, flawed, and incomplete to encompass of the whole spectrum of reality. To paraphrase a famous Aldous Huxley piece: every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the consensus reality into which s/he has been born. We are beneficiaries inasmuch it allows us to build a coherent and useful model of reality; we are victims in so far we believe that this reduced awareness and understanding of reality is the only thing there is. The point is: there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. And sometimes, weird shit just happens: the rug is pulled from under our feet, our known terrain and categories won't work anymore, and our familiar consensus reality threatens to crumble to pieces. We are not in Kansas anymore. We are entering the space of high weirdness, which can include intensely bizarre and extraordinary experience, paranormal phenomena, overwhelming synchronicities, extraterrestrials communication and direct encounters with nonhuman entities, mystical seizures, occult effects, and psychedelic experiences.
Whenever faced first-hand, such anomalous experiences are ontologically confusing, potentially disturbing, and unnerving. They deeply shake our very model of reality, our beliefs about the nature of consciousness and the physical cosmos itself. Inherently ambivalent and paradoxical, high weirdness events have a peculiar mix of sacred and profane elements, both alluring and scary, terrifying and blissful, a blessing and a curse.
Trying to dismiss these "perturbations in the reality field" (as Philip K. Dick called them) as mere glitches, or hallucinations, or delusions, or pathological conditions is a shallow oversimplification. The stale rhetoric of rationalism and materialism falls short in providing satisfying answers or sustainable explanations concerning these enigmatic and compelling events.
High weirdness is a kind of incandescent magma running underneath the quiet crust of our ordinary consensus reality: be it by mere accident, or disciplined training, or intentional ingestion of psychoactive compounds, high weirdness can erupt into one's life—potentially everybody's life—with an unannounced and unpredictable degree of power.
High Weirdness – the book
Davis's book High Weirdness – Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience In The Seventies is the literary equivalent of the Voyager spacecraft launched into outer space in 1977: it is a literary probe propelled into fringes of the space within, the "here be dragons" zones of the inner mindscape. A hefty, lavish, philosophically stirring tome, High Weirdness analyzes and juxtaposes super wild stories of three seventies' mavericks of the mind, heroes of the imagination, and quintessential weirdos: the psychedelic bard and raconteur Terence McKenna, the cosmic jester and pop-philosopher Robert Anton Wilson, and the science fiction gnostic visionary Philip K Dick. With the '70s California milieu as their common petri dish, these writers went to the far edge of their reality, peeked into the abyss, wrestled with their own extreme bouts of high weirdness, and brought back mesmerizing and intriguing reports of their out-of-this-world encounters.
Davis deconstructs and recombines their stories, handling this very slippery and elusive materia prima, with the rigor of a scholar, the openness and curiosity of a true skeptic, and the playfulness and irony of a Zen master. With his mercurial language prowess, he unscrews the bolts that keep our rational world-view together, and through the cracks, we can glimpse flashes, and sometimes blazing beams, of weirdness.
High Weirdness is a gourmet meta-literary mind-fuck, a pragmatic user manual, a cautionary tale of the sublime and blissful heights, as well as the transpersonal terrors, that are in store for those who dare to dance in Weirdland. Once the cat is out of the bag, all bets are off. Read at your own risk. Perhaps the price of admission is just the cost of a book… or, maybe, it will be your mind after all.
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.
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."
Bizzarro Bazar's latest creative endeavor is an enjoyable and entertaining web series. Shot in the suggestive wunderkammer Theatrum Mundi, the series is a carefully researched and documented collection of bizarre tales, incredible stories, and unlikely objects: a lavish celebration of the Uncanny. (Note: before watching, you might want to activate English subtitles.)
The eighteenth-century philosopher Edmund Burke, enquiring into the sublime and beautiful, wrote:
When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be and are delightful.
And so, this is the gift of Bizzarro Bazar: to provide just the right distance from the Uncanny, allowing us to savor its most delightful sides.
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. Imagine having been invited to someone's very cozy, quirky and fascinating home; a place where magical things happen right under your nose and in your very hands.
Taking his guests by the hand into the Wonderland of his own creation, Joshua has the elegance, warmth, and caring attitude of a master host. As Joshua himself says, "The interplay between magician and audience isn't only the most important part of a magic show; it's what makes magic unique in the performing arts." A seasoned performer, he comes across as an amiable and approachable gentleman, an ordinary "guy next door" who nonetheless makes extraordinary things happen. Jay's greatest gift may be the way he brings magic to people with a richness and sincerity — exemplified by this emotionally intimate and playful participatory show.
I believe that Joshua Jay is one of the true illuminati, contemporary magicians who understand and embody the lesson subtly suggested with the phrase in magician David Devant's iconic poster: "All Done By Kindness."
I'm not the only one who loved Six Impossible Things. By public demand the show has been extended a few times; the next round begins in March. If you happen to be in New York, see for yourself how deep the rabbit hole goes.
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 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. Moreover, endowed with a deep and wide knowledge of the terrain, Horowitz is able to present the essential lineage of modern thinkers who shaped our present understanding of mind metaphysics.
Last but not least, Horowitz has curated an intellectually rigorous guide for the willing practitioner: a collection of tools and ideas to make, quite literally, miracles happen. You don't have to believe, just follow his invitation to the fringes of reason, and experiment with the ideas offered. As Horowitz says:
I believe that thinking, in a direct, highly focused, and emotively charged manner, expands our capacity to perceive and concretize events, and relates us to a nontactile field of existence that surpasses ordinarily perceived boundaries of time and thought. This outlook is less a personal doctrine than a line of experimentation.
Let's pause a bit on this crucial point. Does the mind actually affect and influence reality? This question calls into focus the very notion of what reality is, at its most fundamental level. Is reality matter, energy, spirit, divine intention, nature? Or some combination of the above? According to Horowitz, the mind indeed has creative agency, but its workings are just one thread — a meaningful one — in a tangled web of accidental, biological, natural, and psychological forces.
We live under the accidents of fortune, illness, forces of nature, traumas of the past, and on the waves of relationships with others, who may possess conflicting needs and aims. These are lawful facts of life. But the mind also wields a shade of influence — it is an influence that we don't fully understand, but one that is accorded steadily greater credibility by generations of study in medicine, psychology, biology, and the physical sciences.
This is an undoubtedly labyrinthine and thorny philosophically playground, but what if we are actually co-creators of our own reality? What if our thoughts play a greater role in shaping our experiences and circumstances than is generally acknowledged? What if there are human capacities, still little understood, for affecting the world in a manner beyond our current understanding of physics? The persistent scientific skepticism over mind's effect on matter is often based on outdated assumptions about the nature of reality itself. Simply the fact of acknowledging and clearly describing unusual aspects of reality can encourage a renewed and fresh psychological experience of these possibilities. It's as if our intellectual and social practices "switch on" and "switch off" a set of latent universal human potentials.
I argue that we can pierce the thin veil that separates mental and spiritual experience, thus using our minds not only as tools of cognition and motor function but as instruments of navigation into higher, unseen realms of psychology and cause and effect. We may be unable to see, describe, or fully identify these other spheres of existence — but their impact is palpably felt in our lives.
So just give these ideas a try. Experiment with the capacities of your mind, and see for yourself what happens. And if you experience results: go and tell other people. That's the game.
What do I personally believe of all this jazz? As a practitioner of mind metaphysics techniques myself — and having decided to write the praise for this book in the first place — my own beliefs are summed up by the lovely, suggestive rhymes of author Henry Van Dyke:
I hold it true that thoughts are things;
They're endowed with bodies and breath and wings;
And that we send them forth to fill
The world with good results, or ill.
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.
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.
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. Companies stage an experience whenever they engage customers in a personal way, hopefully creating long-lasting memories, with the promise and ambition to make lives more fun and exciting, or simply better.
Offspring of the Experience Economy is the broad field called "Customer Experience Management," with its many virtuous examples and smart practices, as well as a wide range of goofy and vapid interpretations of the concept. Sorting the signal from the crap, the word "experience" is now an integral part of the corporate lexicon, and all things "experiential" are big business.
Into this milieu enters Nathan Shedroff and his breakthrough work Experience Design. Published in 2009, the book addresses the idea that experiences can be intentionally designed to achieve specific effects and desired outcomes. Introducing this new discipline, Shedroff's pioneering goal was to identify criteria and strategies to effectively design experiences for customers, consumers, users and viewers. As Shedroff himself wrote:
The design of experiences isn't any newer than the recognition of experiences. As a discipline, though, Experience Design is still somewhat in its infancy. Simultaneously having no history (since it is a discipline only recently defined), and the longest history (since it is the culmination of many, ancient disciplines), Experience Design has become newly recognized and named. However, it is really the combination of many previous disciplines; but never before have these disciplines been so interrelated, nor have the possibilities for integrating them into whole solutions been so great. Experience Design as a discipline is also so new that its very definition is in flux. Many see it only as a field for digital media, while others view it in broad-brush terms that encompass traditional, established, and other such diverse disciplines as theater, graphic design, storytelling, exhibit design, theme-park design, online design, game design, interior design, architecture, and so forth. The list is long enough that the space it describes has not been formally defined.
Now, almost a decade later, "Experience Design" is undeniably a thing, woven into our everyday life. The rules of the game may still be in flux, but it has grown into a multifaceted and hyper-dimensional field of inquiry, recognized and established within academia, with dedicated research departments, professors, and PhD candidates.
The College of Extraordinary Experiences (COEE)
Among the wide range of human experiences, "the experience of the extraordinary" is certainly a most fascinating one, with deep, archetypal roots in the domains of religion, mythology and the numinous. Its timeless allure and intrigue has implications for any modern experience designer, whose ambitious goal is to tap into the well of the extraordinary to retrieve fragments of beauty and enchantment. Being myself professionally dedicated to designing "magical experiences," my time at the College was truly mind-blowing. I've never seen anything like it; discovering a place devoted entirely to Extraordinary Experiences was a pure delight.
COEE is at minimum three things: a College, an Extraordinary Experience, and a Community.
First, it's a full-fledged College: a place for higher education and intellectual discourse, offering hands-on, real-world crash courses on Experience Design. Following three guiding principles — Rapid Prototyping, Co-Creation, and Flexible Focus — this intense five-day event has the flavor of an "unconference." There are a few loosely structured activities, as the core of the program is a co-created and co-designed immersive learning space. Information, ideas and practices flow among participants through facilitated group discussions, thought-provoking workshops (where PowerPoint presentations are adamantly banned), and impromptu conversations. One wishes all learning was as enjoyable, and all enjoyment as profound.
Second, like a nested Russian matryoshka doll, COEE is itself an Extraordinay Experience, self-reflectively focusing on Extraordinary Experiences. It's like Hogwarts meets Disneyland, thoroughly spiced with Burning Man ethos and costuming. For five intense days and nights, you live in a real medieval castle, nestled in gorgeous natural surroundings of breathtaking beauty. Spectacular things happen in this unusual, immersive environment, stimulated by a parade of colorful and wild activities, and playful mind-bending events. You are quickly advised to come to terms with the FOMO syndrome: there is so much going on, you can't get to, or even see, all of it. You'll never know when and where the next thing will happen. Whatever is in store for you, however, will certainly deserve the term "extraordinary."
Third, it's a global community of practice. The temporary inhabitants of the Czocha Castle are a heterogeneous mix of practitioners, researchers and scholars, from different industries and backgrounds. Participants include fine artists, escape room designers, musicians, college professors, event planners, immersive theater actors, professional pranksters, movie producers, theme-park specialists, professional facilitators, C-level executives, and entrepreneurs. The proportion of super-smart, creative, successful people is embarrassingly high. The connections forged at COEE become a community, one that offers its wide-ranging creative prowess to projects and ideas beyond the event itself. Since its inception, COEE has assembled a solid following with a sparkling network of alumni, including all the graduates from the previous gatherings.
And then there's "the secret sauce" that holds everything together, making COEE the unique and exquisite experience it is. To avoid pointless spoilers — and being sworn to secrecy — all that can be said is, "What happens at the College stays at the College." And that's that.
COEE is a large-scale immersive game, a complex mystery box, an ongoing treasure hunt where the prizes are sustained and massive doses of wonder, knowledge and meaning. Learning how to navigate this Escher-like environment, finding your way through hidden passages to secret rooms, discovering what it's all about, is part of the deal. The College is a place of intellectual sophistication, emotional thrills, and just damn fun. The end result is without a doubt a category-defying transformative experience — on a professional as well as a personal level.
COEE is the crown-jewel production and brainchild of Claus Raasted, Paul Bulencea, and Philipp Jacobius — the pulsating powerhouse behind Dziobak Larp Studios. Based in Copenhagen and operating worldwide, DLS is a design collective devoted to all sorts of immersive events: from live action role-playing to alternate reality games. Claus, Paul and Philipp, with their uncanny skills as gentle Dungeon Masters and inspiring community leaders, have shaped COEE into what it is today: an astonishing, living, breathing "social sculpture."
Sounds like an extraordinary place to experience, doesn't it? Well, it is. Do you feel you belong there? Would you like to play? If you say the magic words, the castle gates may open for you.
Knock here: firstname.lastname@example.org. Just so you know, the waiting list for 2019 is currently open. Spots are limited. Personally, I am SO returning next year. Fuck yeah!
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.
OZORA Started 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 Events Barbara 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. The cyclical re-emergence of such events in Western society seems to fulfill a deeply rooted impulse of the Collective Unconscious. Present day electronic dance music festivals are a direct offspring of counterculture happenings and events from the 60s and 70s. They are also the latest expression of the ancient lineage of Ehrenreich's Collective Joy event, archaic revivals of the spirit of Dionysius—the archetypical God of ritual madness and religious ecstasy.
Festivals are Temporary Autonomous Zones, happy bubbles where a group of strangers can escape from the routine pull of everyday life. Rhythm, music and dance are ancient and acknowledged technologies for ecstasy, whose "synchronizing force" has the power to arouse, enchant and enrapture, allowing individuals to synch with one another and become a collective. The DJs, acting like the techno-shamans-in-residence, are the ones capable of modulating the "collective energy" of the crowd partaking in the dancefloor ritual. The singular combination of people and place, music and dance, and (if one is so inclined) psychoactive compounds, can lead to communal connection, a flow state, bliss, feeling of cosmic oneness, and ultimately to that altered state of consciuosness called trance.
Are these poeple idiots? I believe that everyone should be able to access their own Collective Joy experience of choice. However, I am not suggesting that everyone should attend these kind music of festivals. As a matter of fact, most of the people I know (besides my close-knit psy-tribe), would find such places unpleasantly weird and terribly chaotic! To many, the sustained collective dance may appear incomprehensible and hellish, the repetitive music beats boring or outright disturbing. Unless one is personally drawn to these places, the true significance of such events and the potential thrill of "the vibe" is something lost in translation. Leading Italian ethnobotanist Giorgio Samorini comments about a possible outside observer witnessing such events:
People who know nothing about this and watch this, their fair judgement could be: "These are idiots." I usually say to them: "Hey, pay attention to your judgment. Because there, on the dance floor, these people indeed discovered something. There is something wonderful, that you don't understand. First try to study and know something about what is the Collective Trance."
OZORA Festival Official Video 2016:
Let's dance! It's been said that: "Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." However, it is during such festivals that I find some of the most entrancing, innovative, sophisticated sounds. And I do believe that some of these sounds can be savored even in a home-like context. While I can't guarantee you'll reach a trance state listening to this while dancing in your living room, it might be fun to give it shot. Being an amateur DJ myself, here's a cherry-picked selection from my personal playlist. Let's see if I can make you dance!
Here are three of my favorite tracks (elegant rhythms with refined melodic lines). Each one has its own character and vibe—downtempo beats, gently escalating to something that invites you to move your body and get down with your funky self! In no special order, check out:
Moment Of Eclipse:
Remix is among my favorite, playful art-forms. Here are two refreshing remixes of well-known pop songs, by acclaimed sound conjurers:
For upbeat grooves, to enjoy while spacing out by yourself alone, or for laid-back social occasions, trust the sonic tapestries of psy-dub maestro OTT:
Shifting gears to a more mellow vibe, here is something a bit more from a meditative, and contemplative, zone. The poetry of chillout is courtesy of Carbon Based Lifeforms.
Last but not least. One the most glowing albums that has provided me with endless doses of wonder and joy. Music that speaks to the body, mind and soul.
From the heroic imagination of Shpongle, check out Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost: