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Comix and The Occult

A Brief Comparison, Review and Critique of the work of Alan Moore, Hellblazer, and Druid (with additional notes regarding The Great Beast of Thelema) by Marshall R. O’Keeffe

Alan Moore: Well researched are his books, which are based on "mainstream" western ceremonial magick; that is to say it is ultimately Masonic in origins and style.

Crowley. Sir Aleister Crowley, of whom Moore makes much, derives his basic style from the Golden Dawn, which is itself quite clearly Masonic in outlook and character. Moore gives us some interesting hints, but most importantly the magickal experience is very well portrayed. This is the way Magick works, Magick as an experiment in accelerated brain change in the magician.This is scientific illuminism, as Sir Aleister called it sometimes.

Ah, yes, you were wondering when HE was going to be mentioned, weren’t you?. It seems as though it is de rigeur to bring up "The Great Beast" whenever Alan Moore's work is discussed, and far be it from me to defy this convention! Let us get it over and done with, by all means!

Here, then, is the obligatory section dealing with E.A.Crowley:

The story of Sir Aleister Crowley is a complex one, not to be understood at a glance: yet this is what most do who examine the life of this wonderfully unique, brilliant and deeply troubled man. Sir Aleister is for me a fine example of an extremely intelligent and determined person trying to make sense of his universe by any means necessary.

He spent his life in pursuit of "scientific illuminism", attempting to cleanse the doors of perception not just for himself alone, but for the entire world through the advent of the Aeon of Horus, of which he was (and for many still is) the prophet.

Thelema has a certain air of al-Islam about it, which Crowley reinforced through his OTO rituals, rituals which combined his essential grounding in Masonry with his desire to dress up and play Arabian Nights. His admiration for a culture in which his own bisexuality was accepted as "normal" behaviour was quite understandable, and of course the attraction of "going native" and leaving behind the spiritual wasteland of Christendom has a long history in the West: The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is a fine early example of such. See also P.L. Wilson’s Gone to Croatan.

After he died, several OTOs emerged, each with about equally valid claims to be Crowley’s “successor”. The Typhonian OTO seems to be the most serious, and (from what little I have read of its XI degree…I am unaware of its arcana, and can only go by hearsay…) more congenial to my heterosexuality than the others. Crowley believed that he had discovered the lost secret of Masonry, and that it is basically a homosexual magick secret, revealed in his highest degree of OTO, which Crowley made one of male homosexual magick. This is fine for homosexual and bisexual men, but I feel that “straight” sexual magick isjust as valid, as are women as magicians. (Crowley never did like girls that much…e.g., he mentions what he considers to be the intrinsic ugliness of women, comparing it to the intrinsic beauty of men, in his poetry.)

Crowley apparently felt that men could be “guided” into homoeroticism, and the step by step initiation into his version of OTO led to this by means of gradual desensitizing along with subliminal conditioning. Initiates of higher degress are to worship and adore a fetish in the shape of a lingam, yet this is unbalanced for both males and females to do. It seems to me that males should adore a vulva, and females a lingham: IF THAT IS THE WAY OF THEIR PROCLIVITIES!! Crowley basically was I think trying to show his initiates that "“A man knows what a man needs"” and he doubtless loved that idea of being a proselytizer for his own sexuality whilst creating a network of men whom he had made into his image. He would show them the way…and incidently feel less insecure about his own proclivities. We all feel better when “everybody is doing it!”

Be that as it may, the OTO never did become the Thelemic replacement and reenergizer of Freemasonry that Sir A hoped it to be.

Sir Aleister's “Caliphate” OTO continues to function in the USA, although the latest Caliph (named unless I am mistaken, Bill Breeze, although rumour has it that he hates for his real name to be revealed…ooops!) has I understand moved to Bohemia.

The “Caliphate” OTO is the one that advertises in the back of current editions of Sir A.”s works, having litigated their way to ownership of Crowley’s copyrights.

There is also a “United Rite” OTO, and the list goes on…Each seems to me to be about equally valid, more or less. It has always seemed odd that people suppossedly concerned with the individual evolution of humans toward illumination and godhead could be so worked up about titles, “lineages” (apostolic succession!!) and who Crowley REALLY liked best…

Crowley himself was well aware of the fact that consciousness is a metaphor that most mistook for reality and that sleep was the natural state of people who walked about dreaming that they were awake. His attempts to awaken himself and those around him were sometimes pathetic, often heroic, and frequently misunderstood.

In his autohagiography, Sir Aleister writes that he was born on the 12th day of October, 1875 e.v., adding in a footnote that this was "nature's compensation for the horror which blasted mankind on that date in 1492 e.v.", showing a remarkably advanced and aware concept of history for his time, which celebrated Columbus for the most part as the "discoverer" of America and as a “hero” of White Civilization. It would be many decades later before the mainstream of American scholarship acknowledged the frightful and inhuman crimes perpetrated by Columbus and his financial backers against the peoples of the Carribean. A People's History of the United States contains an interesting account of the Columbian expeditions, as it might have been told by the Arawak people of "Hispaniola".

Sir Aleister Crowley was in this and in many other respects (such as sexual liberation) "ahead of his time", which may be why he struck a chord with many of the leading counter-culture figures of the 60's, such as Dr. Timothy Leary, Dr. Robert Anton Wilson, Charles Manson et c.

Charles Manson? Of course: there is a very dark side to Crowley's Magick, as Sir Aleister would himself be the first to admit. It does not do to whitewash this or try to play it down, as the American/Caliphate OTO has a habit of doing.

This dark side included many of the racial prejudices that Sir A considered de rigeur for a member of the British upper classes. This "casual racism" as I like to call it was for many an invisible medium through which their thoughts swam like fish in H2O. It enabled Sir Aleister to on the one hand (whilst discussing his (Spanish) knighthood and contrasting it with the British Chivalry of his day) make a casual remark about "when renegade Jews and clowns walk into dinner before gentleman, the latter may prefer to go without..."; whilst on the other hand regarding Oscar Eckenstein, a Jew, as his best friend and most valued teacher, dedicating his autohagiography in part to him.

(Autohagiography? The autobiography of a saint. Sir Aleister was also Saint Aleister as well, Saint E.A. Crowley of the Gnostic Catholick Church. The GCC was so far as I can see a means whereby Sir A worked out some of the kinks left over from his upbringing as a devout Christian. Yes, Sir A was born and raised a member of the "Plymouth Brethren" sect of the Christian cult, and much of his subsequent work was marked by this. To the end of his days he was fond of Jewish and (by extension) Christian techniques of Magick, often bending over backwards to syncretize Jewish and Christian symbols and ideas with pagan, magickal and, later, Thelemic ones. This is of course in line with the traditionsof the Graeco-Roman Gnostics.)

"Will" is a central concept to Thelemic philosophy, and is used in its technical magickal sense several times by Alan Moore in his book Voice of the Fire. The idea that the Will is independent of and functions better in the absence of conscious attention is an insight into the conditions of the origin of awareness and its basis in metaphors drawn from activities in the physical world which can thus be seen to pre-date it as such. As the psychologist of consciousness Dr. Julian Jaynes used to say, "no operation goes on in consciousness that was not in behavior first." The Will predates and conditions conscious awareness, not just in the human race as a whole but in each individual as they grope towards illumination.

Alan Moore knows whereof he writes, and brings a craft and style to his work which raises him above mere “writers of comix” to the level of Writer, pure and simple.

Hellblazer seems based on Goetic forms of Magick, the stuff you read in Grimoires that include blood sacrifices and barbarous names of evocation and whatnot. Sufficiently well researched for its purposes, Hellblazer depends upon the quality of the writing (which is usually quite high) rather than accuracy of occult detail.

Hellblazer’s magic also happens in a firmly Christian universe. This does give the writer some advantages. For one thing, since the Christian conquest of Europe and the forced conversion of our foreparents, Christian mythology is probably very familiar to almost every reader, even those who are not Christians.

The Christian myth itself is rife with dramatic possibilities. The myth of the great struggle between absolute good and absolute evil, god and anti-god, is monstrous and horrifying in itself. Such beliefs are quite Lovecraftian and can indeed lead to the most horrendus results. (The film Dogma was an excellent if rather heavy-handed look at Roman Catholic mythology’s Lovecraftian basis.)When you are absolutely good, then your enemy is absolutely evil. Absolutes are abstractions, they are not compatible with sanity. Person who act from belief in absolutes act monstrously. Hitler believed in absolutes. It is a monstrous belief which will engender monsters.

(When I say “foreparents”, I am using the term to indicate cultural forebearers rather than racial ones. Americans of whatever race are essentially living in a culture modelled on and indeed derived from the European. Like it or not, we are the result of a long lasting European meddling in the affairs of the world,and since the enforcement of Christianity on Europe that meddling has become increasingly viscious. There is much evidence of Pre-Columbian contact between the Americas and Europe, but it was only after the post-Christian contacts with Columbus, Cortez, Balboa, et c. that mass enslavement and genocide became the norm. Religious genocide was introduced by Christianity, first to Europe, then to the world!)

Although the film Dogma is similar in this respect to Hellblazer, I think that Hellblazer is much more creative with the material.

Hellblazer does not to me portray the magickal experience, but rather the psychotic one. Occultism attracts both the best, and the worst. Many people with severe personal problems have used a supernatural framework to justify acts of sadism. The Roman Catholic Church's Inquisition, and the cognate Protestant organizations, are certainly an example of this. And let us not forget the other branch of Christianity, Satanism, the worship of the Christian anti-god, shadow of the Persian myths of Ahriman that were used (in part) to create Christianity.

The details in the case of this comic book are useless to the reader looking for occult truths anyway. Goetic magic is all very impressive looking, but it doesn't work as advertised. Magick is not essentially an external process.

Hellblazer is a good comic because it is generally well written and is from what I have seen basically character driven. The magic is really not an essential part of the storyline, which seems to me to do with power and its ramifications. If instead of magicians it were martial artistst, or diplomats, or corporate "Captains of Industry" that were presented it would still be essentially the same comic.

Druid, by Warren “Writer of Comics” Ellis...My Goddess, he is making this up as he goes along! I tried to read it, really, but couldn’t keep subjecting myself to such prose. I am not enough of a masochist, I suppose. I had no idea he could be so poor a writer! I don’t follow his stuff much, but I figured it would anyway be up to Transmet’s standards. A D&D Adventure at least has more consistency to its magical ideas than this sorry attempt to cash in on Alan Moore’s success. It has "I wish I could be Alan Moore without having to work as hard as him and without his talent as a writer" written all over it. Warren has obviously done zero work in occultism, as his writing demonstrates. Indeed, his tiny little mind would probably melt if he ever had to deal with the real thing!

To be fair, this author has done some good work occasionally, but seems to need collaboration to achieve his best results. Transmetropolitan, for example, was written with the books of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson propped up in front of him as he wrote (and the Bill Murray film Where the Buffalo Roam playing in the background ), providing a "silent" collaboration with Dr. Thompson. (Not to mention Bill Murray!) This gave Ellis the structure he so clearly needs to create effectively. It was Druid that really open’d my eyes about this: I cannot think of another reason for such an enormously extreme variation of style and just plain ability to write than that Transmet was written with the help, albeit “silent,” of Bill Murray and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (and so is a fairly well written comic, if quite unoriginal)and that Druid must have written all by himself (and so is a fairly…no, no, let us be honest: a VERY poorly written comic, whilst still not being overly original.) Why is Ellis able to create an effective Murray/Thompson pastiche and not be able to do the same with Alan Moore? Prob’ly because Dr. Thompson and Bill Murray are easier to “research” and comprehend than Alan Moore. Thompson’s prose is not difficult, after all, and if that gets too boring there is always a handy epitome of Spider Jeru…er, ah… Raoul Duke in Trudeau’s“Doonesbury”…oops, looks like yet another “silent” collaborator for Warren! I wonder how many of Trudeau’s books are on his shelf? Well thumbed, no doubt...

Ellis prob’ly tried to read Moore or Crowley whilst writing Druid, but it looks like he gave up the attempt pretty early as being too much hard work, unlike reading “Doonesbury” strips and watching Bill Murray films! Unfortunately the back issues of Dr. Strange that he apparently found more on his reading level do not serve him so well.I am sure his masters were disappointed with his failure to provode a viable Moore clone, but the shot was not on the board. They sent a boy to attempt a man’s job, and it shows. I certainly hope they didn’t pay much for this stuff…but, after all, it IS writing for comics, the lowest common denominator of which is pretty low …I feel sorta sorry for Ellis. He’s sunk to his level, and although he tries to climb upon the backs of others to raise himself, he just sinks all thedeeper. It must be very frustrating for him,and humiliating.

Still, you cannot copy that which is beyond your comprehension.This is the lesson of Druid!

How does “SILENT” COLLABORATION work?All anyone has to do too understand Warren’s technique is to rent Where the Buffalo Roam from your local video store. Watch it (it is a great Bill Murray vehicle, not overly accurate in its characterizations and less dark than Thompson’s writing actually is but great fun) and then open up to the first Transmetropolitan story. Start reading. Behold the wonder of “silent” collaboration!

One wonders how many other "silent” colloborations are responsible for other of Ellis' more readable works? ( A little research of lesser read works and lesser watched films of similar genre and plot to Ellis’ stuff might be rewarding…I don’t have the patience to wade through any more of Warren’s stuff, personally, but would like to hear of anyone else’s results.)

At least he finally stopped calling himself a "Writer of Comics"…no doubt he finally noticed how ludicrous (and insecure) it sounded. Yet, on second thought, it is actually very true: he was extremely accurate on his first instinct to describe himself so (and as we all know from experience this is usually the case). What I have read of Ellis’ missives to his critics certainly seems to me to have been written by someone both ludicrous and insecure.(For example, he really seems to think that profanity is somehow “cool” and “adult”. He is obviously very desperate that people believe him to be both!)

Not to waste any more time on this subject, I guess that what it all boils down to is that I agree with Ellis on what his gut instinct told him about himself. Warren Ellis is, and always will be, a "Writer of Comics". ‘Nuff said!

In Summation: Although keys are to be found everywhere, not all keys are I think worth finding. Druid is the sort of thing that no one with any grounding in occultism will be interested in. It is a poor attempt to exploit another’s success, and the writer has clearly bitten off Moore than he can chew. He’d better spit it out before he chokes. Hellblazer is for the most part well researched (so far as that goes), but its Christian Goetism is widely available elsewhere, and is no more likely to be taken seriously by anyone with a basic grounding in physical science and psychology due to its presentation in comic book form than not. Besides, Hellblazer is quite openly fantasy fiction, and has no pretentions to the contrary.

The works of Alan Moore however will provide the seeker with food for thought.

-- Marshall O'Keeffe

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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