Friday, February 10, 2012

The Lord of the Magicians Part I

Clive Barker needs no introduction as far as many horror and fantasy fans are concerned. For the more casual pop culture junkie, Barker is probably best known for the horror films Hellraiser (which he wrote and directed) and Candyman (which he co-wrote and produced). Both films were based off of writings of Barker's. The chief villains of both films, Pinhead and Candyman respectively, would go on to become modern horror movie icons, in addition to spawning several low grade sequels of which Barker had little to no involvement in.

While Barker is best known for his work in film he is also a prolific visual artist and novelist. He's even worked on comic books and helped develop video games. It is his novels that Recluse has had the longest association with. I, like many people, discovered Barker via Hellraiser and Candyman but it was novels like Weaveworld, The Damnation Game, The Great and the Secret Show, Everville, and the Imajica books that occupied so much of my teenage years. While Barker is primarily known for his work in horror, much of his fiction is far more fantasy oriented, displaying incredibly detailed worlds and mythologies. Think Neil Gaiman with an even darker edge.

Candyman, another of Barker's famous creations

Unfortunately, I do not remember much of Barker's fiction -its been nearly ten years since I've read one of his books and a lot of drugs and booze occupied that space. It's a pity, for Barker's book are quite good in addition to being rich in occult lore and symbolism. To make things even more interesting, Barker claims to have dreamed many of his key ideals. The Imajica books, for instance, are said to have been based off of a series of dreams Barker was having that took 14 months to transform into the 800+ page work. Imajica, a combination of imagine and magic, is heavy on gnostic and kabalistic ideology. Consider the plot summary, courteously of Wikipedia:
"The Earth is actually just one part of 5 connected worlds or Dominions, called the Imajica. Overseeing all of the dominions is the Unbeheld, Hapexamendios (God). However, Earth became separated from the other four worlds long ago. This explains both the appearance of extraordinary phenomena on Earth as well as the lack of understanding of magic and acceptance of the extraordinary as commonplace (as it is in the other four worlds). The void that separates Earth from her sister worlds is called the "In Ovo." Great magic users called Maestros have attempted through the ages to reconcile the Earth with the remaining Imajica, including Christ. This Reconciliation can only happen once every 200 years. All previous attempts failed; the most recent resulted in the horrific death or madness of those involved. A secret society known as the Tabula Rasa formed after this failure; its directive is to prevent the use of magic on the Earth, motivated by the fear that such a disaster may occur again. At the present time, the four reconciled dominions are ruled by the Autarch, who lives in the great city of Yzordderrex in the Second Dominion.

Imajica's concept of Dominions is similar to the notion of seven heavens found in esoteric Judaism as well as Gnosticism and the closely related Hermeticism. The figure of Hapexamendios is a purely Demiurge-like being that overcame and imprisoned the female deities that once benevolently ruled over Imajica. When this being came to power the physical Earth (the 'Fifth Dominion') became cut off from the other four Dominions. In Gnosticism, the Earth is also separate from the other realms for it is comprised of matter and was entirely the creation of the Demiurge. In many Gnostic strands the Demiurge is named Samael, which literally means 'blind idiot.' Hapexamendios lives up to this billing by inadvertently killing himself due to his ignorance of the circular structure of Imajica.

the Demiurge

That Barker largely conceived the Imajica mythology via dreams is most interesting to me. Another noted horror author whose work was largely inspired by night terrors also conceived a complex mythology steeped in Gnosticism and various other branches of the occult. That author was the great H.P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft has only recently begun to gain a popular following due to the success of several horror films loosely based upon his short stories, beginning with the cult classic Re-Animator. Prior to the 1980s, when adaptions of Lovecraft's work became relatively common, his work was probably most popular with occultists, especially those influenced by the legendary (or infamous, depending on your mileage) magnus, Aleister Crowley. The mythology Lovecraft imagined bore striking similarities to the cosmology and practices of modern ceremonial magic. What's more, Lovecraft seemingly conceived this mythology in a vacuum -By all accounts he did not actively start researching real life occult practices until the end of his life, when most of his most celebrated works had already been written. In other words, Lovecraft essentially dreamt highly complex occult mythology that bore striking similarities to the real thing.
"Lovecraft was writing in the 1920s, when most of his more famous stories were published. He was writing of a New England that, in his imagination, had ancient roots in unknown cultures; where Druidic circles and pagan chants would infest the countryside; where a kind of subterranean culture existed, parallel to the world of own reality. He peppered his stories with references to the works of archaeologists and anthropologists (some real, some fictitious), and connected the American Indian culture to the worship of strange, perhaps extraplanetary or extradimensional beings who viewed humans as little more than uncooked hors d'ouevres. His work has attracted a great deal of attention in the past 30 years or so, oddly enough in France where -like the films of Jerry Lewis -he is an adopted obsession, but also certainly in America where he maintains a cult status even now, more than sixty years after his death. He has attracted serious, albeit fringe, attention from academics and historians of both literature and mysticism, and has even been graced with an anthology of his works prefaced by no less a literary light than Joyce Carol Oates. The blind Argentine author of many essays and stories on the macabre -Jorge Luis Bores -has written in the Lovecraftian mode in homage to the cranky Yankee master. In addition, there are several hardcore occult organizations in Europe and America that owe allegiance to the bizarre principles outlined in his works. They have taken their names and identities straight from his published work, with cults like Dagon and Cthulhu, and occultist emeritus Kenneth Grant has written extensively on the relation between the works of Lovecraft -an author of gothic horror fiction -and the rituals of modern ceremonial magic and communication with extraterrestrial intelligences."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pgs. 3-4)

H.P. Lovecraft

Kenneth Grant, an associate of Crowley's, was quite taken by the similarities between the mythology of Lovecraft and that of Crowley.
"Writers such as Arthur Machen, Brodie Innes, Algernon  Blackwood and H.P. Lovecraft are in this category. Their novels and stories contain some remarkable affinities with those aspects of Crowley's Cult... Whether it be the Vision of Pan, as in the case of Machen and Dunsany, or the even more sinister traffic with denizens of forbidden dimensions, as in the tales of Lovecraft, the reader is plunged into a world of barbarous names and incomprehensible signs. Lovecraft was unacquainted both with the name and the work of Crowley, yet some of his fantasies reflect, however, distortedly, the salient themes of Crowley's cult."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pg. 114)
One of the chief gods of Lovecraft's mythos was the being known as Azathoth, another Demiurge-like creature. Azathoth rules a group of entities known as the 'Outer Gods' and mistakenly believes that he is the supreme being of the cosmos. In actuality the Outer Gods pale in comparison to the Old Ones, extraterrestrial/extradimensional beings that came before them. Lovecraft describes Azathoth thus:
"...the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose center sprawls the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord of All Things, encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a demonic flute held in nameless paws."
(H.P. Lovecraft, "The Haunter of the Dark," The Dunwich Horror and Others, pg. 110)

Yes, Azathoth is also a 'blind idiot' god as well. Lovecraft conceived this being at least a decade before the Nag Hammadi texts were unearthed as well. This, combined with Lovecraft's ignorance of the occult, certainly argues strongly for some kind of collective unconscious transference. It seems likely that Barker, unlike Lovecraft, had actively researched the occult before he began his writing career, though to what extent I know not. But I see no reason to doubt Barker's claim that much of Imajica, as well as many of his other works, were inspired by dreams. I suppose the question then becomes, how much of his dreams come from the collective unconscious and how much is inspired by the writings he's consumed over the years. If much of Barker's vision does in fact come from the collective unconscious, then he would merely be another in a long line of 'Dream Gnostic' authors, of which Lovecraft is the most widely acknowledged.

So much, then, for Barker's literary output. Hopefully someday I will find the time to reread the various novels listed above and give you folks a more detailed account of Barker's Dream Gnosticism. For the time being, I would like to consider my favorite Barker film, the 1996 picture Lord of Illusions.

Illusions was largely a commercial bomb upon being its release, and is to date the last picture Barker has directed. One gets the impression that Illusions soured him to the whole Hollywood experience. In the film's DVD commentary Barker implies that funding for the effects laden film was a problem throughout while frequently noting that he was forced to edit the theatrical version of the film in such a way as to greatly altar his original vision. Illusions was conceived as a merger of supernatural horror and film noir, specifically the private detective subgerne of the latter. Curiously, two other modern films, Angel Heart and In the Mouth of Madness (which was loosely based upon several of Lovecraft's writings) also attempted this mixture and both are heavy in occult references. All three films are highly recommended for those passing through initiation.

It goes without saying that the Director's Cut of Lord of Illusions is the only version worth tracking down. The explanations of actual magic found in this version are priceless. The film itself centers around two dueling magicians. One of them is a Manson-esque cult leader named Nix. Regular readers of this blog know that I've had a lot to say on the strange life and times of Charles Manson. The neophyte is advised to read my original series on Manson, found here and here, and then precede to my series on Adolfo Constanzo, found here, here, and here. Nix's cult, like the Family, is based out of ranch located somewhere in the Mojave Desert. Thus, we find one of the numerous esoteric references dropped throughout the film, for the Mojave Desert is considered to be one of the chief centers of power in Crowley's magical system. More information on the occult significance of the Mojave Desert and the magical workings performed there can be found here.

Nix (top) and Manson

The name use of the name Nix is interesting as well. Nix is also the name of a German elemental beings similar to a merman. These beings are more commonly known by their Scandinavian name Nokk, while females are referred to as Nixie.
"...the Nixie loves to dance. As a frequent visitor to village dances, she always appears in the guise of an attractive young woman. There she entices many a victim and lures them home to the nearby millstream. In pagan times, she was given at least one sacrifice a year, so now she takes her own as her due. In fact, rescuing a drowning person can often cause a reprisal by the Nixie (who feels understandably unhappy about the food loss and disrespect). She expects to be propitiated not scorned.

"The Nixie can live on land for extended periods; she has been known to marry a mortal man, and even to raise an entire family. However, these long absences present problems among her original water demon kin, who sometimes come to claim her. Whenever a young wife vanishes, it is certain she was a Nixie if she is last seen sinking into a body of water, and the water turns the color of blood. These occurrences are not infrequent as the Nixie often chooses human mates to propagate her species, and her frequent intermingling has caused much talk of changelings...

"The male of the species is the Nokk. He lives in lakes, ponds, rivers, and waterfalls. He resembles an old man with green eyes, huge ears, and a long wet beard. The Nokk drags people down, especially small children if they play too close to the edge of the water or attempt to pick up water lilies. He is most dangerous after sunset, and to see or hear the Nokk means someone will drown. He is often heard shrieking during shipwrecks. The Nokk often takes the shape of a bird that perches on the surface of the water. He has also been seen as a horse or half a horse, also as half a ship, or a gleaming silver coin or ring. The Nokk plays music on a golden harp to lure his victim closer if his precious-object disguise doesn't work."
(A Field Guide to Demons, Carol and Dinah Mack, pg. 33)

a Nix/Nokk
 Despite being named after a water elemental, Nix is seemingly possessed by a fire elemental ("And the fire said to me..."). As noted above, his cult is based out of the desert, the chief region for fire elementals. He is shown manipulating fire through magic and even claims to engage in dialogues with it. For those unfamiliar with the concept of elemental beings, I shall direct you to a prior blog I've written that addresses such entities. It can be found here.

The striking opening sequence of the film drops some of the choicest occult references in addition to introducing us to Nix's magical revival, Philip Swann. The swan is of course one of the most loaded symbols out there.
"From Ancient Greece to Siberia, via Asia Minor, as well as among Slav and Germanic peoples, a great mass of myth, tradition and poetry has gathered in praise of the swan, the spotless bird whose whiteness,.. strength and grace have made it a living manifestation of light itself.

"There are, nevertheless, two whitenesses and two lights, the solar, male light of day and the lunar female light of night. The meaning of its symbolism depends upon which of these two the swan embodies. If it remains undivided and, as is sometimes the case, tries to bear synthesis of both, the swan becomes hermaphroditic and even more highly charged with mystery and holiness. Lastly, just as there is a Black Sun and a Black Horse, so there is a Black Swan, not desacralized, but charged with occult and inverted symbolism."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 953)

swan and Swann

The thirty-third degree Freemason Manly P. Hall had a very specific occult meaning for the swan.
"The grace and purity of the swan were emblematic of the spiritual grace and purity of the initiate. This bird represented the Mysteries which unfolded these qualities in humanity. This explains the allegories of the gods (the secret wisdom) incarnating in the body of a swan (the initiate)."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, pgs. 278-279)
Thus, the swan is symbolic of the initiate braving the Mysteries. This is an apt description of the character of Philip Swann, who began as Nix's pupil until Nix's teachings became too extreme. Thus, at the symbolic level, the theme of initiation is introduced. It will remain prominent throughout. Indeed, the astute viewer becomes an initiate while watching Illusions. In the second part of this series we shall examine the depths of initiation the film takes the viewer too.

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