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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Sometimes the words come easily. And sometimes they don’t come at all. In which case I have to let others speak for me. As Maria Lionza , the Spirit Queen of Venezuela does here:

Imagine she had said, imagine the live bodies trembling there on the spirit queen’s mountain rising into the mist sheer from the plain where ghostly labourers tend the sugar cane and clouds swirl around high-voltage pylons. Imagine what it means to enter that space where she rules over the courts of spirits swarming there together with the serpents and the dragons. Imagine your body in its spasmodic resurrection of those who died in the anti-colonial wars that founded the state of the whole. That my friend is really something!

She smiled. Yes! A whole typecast of spirits of Europe’s Others; the fierce Indians who fought the early conquistadores, the African slaves and freedmen, and then all manner of riff-raff insinuated into the hearts of the people the past few years; Vikings like Eric the Red, not to mention fat smiling Buddhas and cruel dictators who sunk this country in blood turning neighbour against neighbour; all in an impossible mix, a fantastic martyrology of colonial history …And her voice trailed off as if she, too, in her effort to explain had succumbed to the impossibility of that very imagining and was about to be silenced forever …
From Michael Taussig : The Magic of the State: 1997

Just a few days ago in a piece called ‘Commodity fetishism as magick’ I used these found words and a zombie film image as an illustration :

Wim van Binsbergen remarks, regarding the new zombie cults, that "the reference to earlier forms of globalisation (slave trade) is now used in order to express and contest, in a witchcraft idiom, newer forms of globalisation, such as the differential access to consumer goods and post-colonial state power." Van Binsbergen makes a suggestive distinction between slavery and wage labor. In slavery, the entire being of a person is alienated, so that one person becomes the property of another. The slave ceases to exist as a legally autonomous subject. In wage labor, however, only the part of a person's life which is sold as "labor" is alienated. The person remains a legally autonomous subject, but he gives up a portion of his life -- that is, of his self -- in exchange for a symbol of that portion. This symbol, which is money, then attains a subjective power, so that it determines the lives of the people whose activity it represents. A money economy is one in which people are ruled by a fetishized representation of their own selves. Market economies are ruled by this ghostly, dead -- but supernaturally active -- power called money.

This image - of our lives and our world ruled by a ‘ghostly dead power’- is echoed in Michael Taussig’s ‘The Magic of the State’ (Money and Spirit Possession in Karl Marx) where he suggests that through understanding - through experiencing - spirit possession we are ‘enabled to read Marx differently’.

Money as a vast accumulation of ‘alienated labour’ - the working lives not only of the living, but of the dead. That we live in a world ruled by the fetishised representations of ourselves. As The Pop Group put it “Capitalism is the most barbaric of all religions”.

I am still struggling to absorb and make sense of this ‘spirit possession reading of Marx’.

Taussig is an anthropologist who has mainly worked in South America. ‘The Magic of the State’ is fictionalised summation of his experiences in Venezuela focused on ‘the theatre of Spirit Possession at a Spirit Queen’s magic mountain’. The Spirit Queen is called Maria Lionza. Perhaps I should ask her to ask the spirit of Marx to help me?

Ah, she says she already has…she found one of Marx’s letters for me.

The reform of consciousness consists only in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out of its dream about itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own actions. Our whole object can only be — as is also the case in Feuerbach’s criticism of religion — to give religious and philosophical questions the form corresponding to man who has become conscious of himself. Hence, our motto must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas, but by analysing the mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests itself in a religious or a political form. It will then become evident that the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality. It will become evident that it is not a question of drawing a great mental dividing line between past and future, but of realising the thoughts of the past. Lastly, it will become evident that mankind is not beginning a new work, but is consciously carrying into effect its old work.

Thank you, Maria Lionza: “The mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself “.

As it stands - this is unintelligible :

Voodoo is a Bad Tradition. The basic mechanism: displacement of an individual human consciousness from their body and temporary replacement with a parasitic life-force-harvesting energy - this kind of psychic body prostitution in payment for magical favors - is inherently problematic. AAAW! You say, but it was the last resort of the oppressed! Well, so is hiding razor blades up your bum. But when the crisis is over - and, believe me, the people who are at risk from slavery now mainly live in Africa and Eastern Europe (and, depending on your particular views of economic coercion, China). It’s time for people to grow out of voodoo and start investing in approaches which are suited to the modern world, rather than dragging these horrible parasite-gods out of the Medieval Colonial Barbarism period into the present. They should have died with slavery, in short, and to continue to feed them is perpetuating part of the slave system into the present day, under the guise of “liberation.” Being enslaved to the parasite gods is not freedom.

But if there is political understanding of such convulsive utterings, if we can understand through spirit possession by Maria Lionza that…

…the practices of Chaos magick - in reifying the ‘current social landscape’ - encourage participation in the consumption of neatly-packaged experiences of exotic otherness, drawn from the profusion of signs, images and ‘lifestyle options’ characteristic of consumer capitalism….the proliferation of occultural movements is as much a consequence of economic booms as of social and economic deprivation. In the former case… these movements represent a means of managing the anxieties emergent from the indeterminacies that proliferate within consumer capitalism rather than challenging the conditions which produce those anxieties…
and that…

…another manifestation is the schizoid attitude with which the members of such a society necessarily confront the phantom objects that have been thus abstracted from social life, an attitude that shows itself to be deeply mystical. On the one hand, these abstractions are cherished as real objects akin to inert things, whereas on the other, they are thought of as animate entities with a life-force of their own akin to spirits or gods. Since these "things" have lost their original connection with social life, they appear, paradoxically, both as inert and as animate entities. If the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time and still retain the ability to function, then the modern mind can truly be said to have proved itself. But this is testimony to culture, not to mind.

…then all is revealed. In the unintelligible confusion of mystic consciousness, stimulus and response have been reversed. Rather than recognising ‘voodoo’ as a collective, defensive response to the stimulus of slavery, it become its cause.

Parasitic life force-harvesting = capitalism as commodity fetishism
Medieval colonial barbarism = New World slavery

Such reversals of causality and of history are precisely the forms of ’mystification’ necessary for the survival of the Spectacle of Commodity Fetishism. However, it is noteworthy that such ‘mystification through reversal of causality’ is rarely expressed in such direct language in the discourse of (post) modernity. The necessity of recourse to such language indicates - here at least- a breakdown of the usually seamless mechanisms of Spectacular control via recuperation.

But why, I wonder, is it out here on the magical edge (Ultraculture as it claims to be) that the cracks, the tears and rips in the seamless web of the Spectacle are so obvious? I suggest because there is a danger that a set of social relationships which are not mediated through commodification/ spectacle is being proposed:

The role of hoodoo worker, as I interpret and try to aspire to, is a profession. Possibly the world's second oldest profession. It's about becoming very good at results magic, in order to administer grassroots occult assistance to the body of people that might loosely be considered your community. Doing stuff for other people. Providing a service to those who need it. Not out of some lofty altruistic sense of duty, but because it's the obvious application of those particular skills. To do otherwise would be like the surgeon who studies medicine for ten years only to perform minor operations on himself, or the barrister who only ever represents himself in court. If you're operating from the hypothesis that magic works and tangible results can be accomplished through the medium of sorcery, then I think you really have to consider the social implications of that statement. How does the magic that you practice relate directly to the world around you? How do you integrate it into your life and adapt that potentiality for change to the environment you are a part of?

For instance, how many people here tonight that identify as practising witches or magicians or whatever, regularly use their magic to actively engage with the problems that might be going on around them? Helping people you care about, using the magic to look out for friends and family when they're having a rough time, even becoming involved in local community problems at a magical level, keeping the local arts centre open, stopping a small business from going under at the hands of corporations, sorting out the bunch of kids that bricked your next door neighbours window, finding lost property, healing the sick, giving divination, using this stuff to try and make a difference in whatever small way that you might be able to. It strikes me that a lot of people don't seem to even think about sorcery in these terms, or relate their practice directly to the world around them, and I'm interested in why that is. I think there's almost a tendency to shove the whole issue of "doing magic for other people" into a box marked "shamanism" and forget about it, as if shamanism is a completely separate "system" of magic entirely divorced from "chaos magic" or "Thelema" or whatever flavour people happen to identify with. "All that 'serving the community' stuff? It's a calling isn't it, shamanism, on a different shelf in the occult bookstore mate, nowt to do with me". I think that's a load of bollocks.

If you can make stuff happen, then using that ability to intervene in situations that really desperately need some kind of intervention, is not some magical mystical "shamanic" vocation. It's just taking responsibility for your skills and what you can do. The world seems to be at a crisis point. You could argue that there's no time for all the theoretical dilettante shit that characterises much of contemporary occultism, no time for magic as an entertaining hobby or diverting little parlour game. If you want a hobby take up knitting or fisting. If you're going to be spending countless hours of your life studying and practising magic, then at least think about finding something tangible and practical to do with it.

These are dangerous ideas. It is significant that their author is entangled in the ‘Ultraculture war on voodoo’. Maria Lionza reminds me - rememory the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ (1985). The Struggle for Stonehenge? No, it was deeper than that. It was a successful assault on a UK (or just England?) counterculture which was moving beyond its limitations and starting to become something more. Starting to become a network of social relations existing outside of commodities.

Which had to be suppressed. Violently. As in physical violence.

No physical violence was used in the Ultraculture dispute. Just words. So many words.

So here is a word, the word Maria Lionza has found for me to speak. I thank you Maria Lionza for this word. This new word.


Rememory? It is here.

Rituals of rememory: Afro-Caribbean religions in Myal and It begins with Tears - Critical Essay

MELUS, Spring 2002 by Pin-chia Feng


Recent theoretical works on trauma and memory place special emphasis on the limits of representation and the ambivalent relations between fictional and historical narratives. Theodor Adorno's remark, "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," still rings true. How to write about extreme experiences that elude immediate understanding and threaten to destroy the narrating subject remains a question for literary artists and critics. Afro-Caribbean writers, in particular, need to confront multiple layers of traumatic memories and, among them, the "original trauma" of the Middle Passage in which their diasporic identity is rooted.

The image of dismemberment succinctly summarizes the history of African diaspora. Harris is most insightful when he stresses the importance of the creative co-existence and constructive reassembly of alien cultures and when he recognizes the liberating power of ritualistic cultural expressions such as limbo and vodun. In almost all of the African diasporan religions there is an attempt to remember the historical separation and by extension an underlying desire for reunification with the African homeland, Ginen or Guinea, in what Joseph M. Murphy terms the "orientation to Africa" (185). (7) Through the practices of these rituals, therefore, Afro-Caribbean people can start what I call their "rememory" of collective and individual memories, which leads to a re-membering with their ancestral cultures and to a certain extent frees them from the traumatic nightmares resulting from tribal dismemberment and racial encounters.

Rooted in the creolized belief systems of the Caribbean, rituals of rememory mobilize the collective force of the community and through the power of sympathy free traumatized characters from layers of repressed memories and further empower them to battle against imposed racial, sexual, and class oppressions. Thus the traumatized characters are able to survive the crime of "spirit thievery" and physical violence inflicted by representatives of colonial powers, and finally come to terms with their individual and collective haunting experiences. The power of Afro-Caribbean religions resides in Afrosporic peoples' ability to resist Christian monotheistic domination with the support of their African belief-system legacies. Despite Christian proselytizing in the Caribbean, Christianity has never achieved full hegemony, even though colonial powers established religious and educational institutions, profound interpellative instruments intended to erase the cultural identity of the colonized and to reproduce the colonizer's culture at the colonial site.

As Dale Bisnauth stated in his study of the history of religions in the Caribbean, "the most orthodox practice of Christianity in the Caribbean by blacks is affected by a spirit that is identifiably African" (100). Moreover, the master's tool has been used to dismantle the master's house; the Baptist War of 1831-32 and the Morant Bay uprising of 1865 in Jamaica, both led by black Baptist ministers, are two examples.

In early October, 1865, news of a minor scuffle in Morant Bay, Jamaica, were exaggerated into alarmist reports of a fully-fledged "black uprising". Governor Edward John Eyre of Jamaica declared martial law and sent his troops on a terror spree throughout the island, burning down black settlements, flogging much of the black population and executing some four hundred blacks. Applauded by whites throughout the Caribbean, Eyre's activities alarmed the British -- not only for his brutality, but also for his disregard for the procedures of law. Eyre's hanging of one of his prominent political opponents, George William Gordon, without a fair trial (and outside the area declared under martial law) was a particular case in point. Carlyle supported Governor Eyre.

For Carlyle, see my ‘Thunder, Perfect Mind’ and this

from which this analysis of Carlyle as a ‘proto- Fascist’ is taken.

To some extent, the West Indian plantation society appealed to Carlyle's sentiments about idealized "feudalist" societies. Carlyle's vision was best expressed in his earlier writings, such as Chartism (1839) and Past and Present (1843). He contended that only in a feudalist society, where roles were clearly assigned, could the Puritan ethic of work-for-work's sake be possible -- and that, he held, was the whole purpose of living. Note that Carlyle never recommended a return to slavery as such but rather a return to something akin to European-style serfdom. Slaves can be sold and bought by masters and thus, unlike serfs, they are not guaranteed constant "life-time employment", the critical feature of Carlyle's personal gospel. This feudalist ideal was something he felt Britain had abandoned to its peril when it set off in pursuit of capitalist industrialization.

With capitalism, workers were reduced to nomadism, scavenging and competing for the next shilling in uncertain wages or profits. And if employment cannot be readily found? Then pauperism, idleness and starvation. In Carlyle's view, the world of British industrial capitalism reduced half the population into nomadic Hobbesian beasts, and the other half into idle paupers. Such an outcome, Carlyle felt, was no better than slavery, and in many ways worse.
With the emancipation of slavery in the West Indies and the supportive BFASS activities there, Carlyle believed the hitherto peaceful black ex-slave would be condemned to idle pauperism. The principal image that horrified Carlyle was that of the West Indies being reduced to a "Black Ireland". To the idle, impoverished "potato people" of Ireland, Carlyle saw the potential counterpart in an idle, impoverished "pumpkin people" in the Caribbean.

Remember that at this time, Ireland was still in the thrall of the Great Famine Carlyle visited Ireland in 1849 and filled his journal with tirades, referring to Ireland as a "human swinery", a "black howling Babel of superstitious savages".
Carlyle's sentiments towards the paupers of Ireland (and the ex-slaves of the Caribbean) is not plain brutal racism, but a different, more paternalistic concern. He does not see their predicament, as many contemporaries did, as being due to the inherent immorality or natural laziness of the "Gael" or the "Negro". No, Carlyle argued, set a man to work and all those "savage" qualities disappear. The character of the Irishman (or the West Indian, for that matter) is not inherently corrupt but it has been corrupted from lack of work.

This is not too far from contemporary opinion. For many British philanthropists, not least Charles Trevelyan, the pious Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of British relief during the Irish famine, the problem of Ireland was a cultural one and thus not irretrievable. They believed that "savage" Gaelic/Negro attitudes could be "fixed" if they were given the right upbringing and incentives. Irish paupers could be transformed into proper, industrious Englishmen with the discipline of the market-place, moral education, religious piety and the whip of hunger.

Where Carlyle differs from Trevelyan and other "philanthropists" is that he believes that the culture of pauperism cannot be fixed by the market, because that very culture was created by the market. The market, he argues, does not create an incentive to work, it gives an incentive to sell -- and, for Carlyle, these are two very different things. As an axiom, Carlyle refuses to accept that wage payments induce work. Work comes first, payment afterwards. Work is done "for the favour of Heaven", not with a view to recompense. As such, wages are an imperfect measure of the worth of labour.
With the rise of capitalism, the "cash nexus" intervened in the relationship between work and reward.

"That all useful labour is worthy of recompense, that all honest labour deserves the chance of recompense; that the giving and assuring to each man the recompense that his labour has actually merited, may be said to be the business of all Legislation, Polity, Government and Social arrangement whatsoever among men." (Carlyle, "Petition on Copy-Right", 1831, Examiner)

What Carlyle (1839) called the "cash nexus" intervened in the relationship between labourer and master. [Note: ‘cash nexus’ developed by Marx into commodity fetishism]

Carlyle despised "systems" of thought and philosophy, particularly those which claimed to have captured the "Truth" and were willing to up-end the given organic, "natural order" of society in pursuit of it. Moral or scientific absolutism and "collective wisdom" irritated Carlyle, and his very method of argument -- sweeping assertions, hard-hearted conclusions, twisted appeals to anecdotal evidence, shocking language -- were geared in part against it. His life-long "mission", if he had one, was to subvert widely-held "systems" of theory and belief, like those of the evangelicals and economists. "I am not a Tory", he declared, "no, but one of the deepest though perhaps the quietest of Radicals."

However, none of this should detract from the fact that Carlyle was (or certainly can be seen as) a proto-Fascist. Many of his policy recommendations -- such as compulsory military drilling, the reinstatement of servitude/serfdom for blacks and other "servant" races, etc. -- foreshadowed the policies put into practice by Fascist regimes of the 1920s and 1930s. Of course, Carlyle's theories were not novel. Like Nietzsche's, they were late industrial age manifestations of earlier 1800s Romanticism. But Romanticism itself -- at least as expressed by Blake, Goethe, Schiller, Coleridge, Byron, & Co. -- was harmless enough, intended for personal consumption as opposed to social implementation. Romanticism was perfectly compatible with a relaxed cosmopolitanism.

Where Carlyle goes beyond any of the Romanticists, beyond even Nietzsche, was in pushing for a practicable re-organization of society in the "service of great men". It is in the practical policy arena, in Carlyle's misguided call for his kind of social reform "from above", that he anticipates the Fascist era. Sadly, this "moral desperado", as Matthew Arnold called him, might not, in the end, have been inconsequential.


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