Magic(k)al Thinking

Welcome to Monday, folks.

Last Thursday Jon and I went to see Erik Davis (author of Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV (33 1/3) and The Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscape) speak on Aleister Crowley. It was an interesting lecture which strung together some video clips showing the influence of Aleister Crowley on film, music, and spirituality. It was a compact lecture, and could have gone into greater detail – but what are you going to do with a late night, 2 hour lecture?

I try to be a fairly unsuperstitious person. All supernatural beliefs, in my mind, fall under magical thinking – though a quick Google search shows that others will quickly classify their chosen beliefs as being not magical, but all others being such. My interest in consistency makes me wave my hands, if only because to say that you don’t believe in ridiculous magical thing A but believe strongly in ridiculous magical thing B, for whatever reason, just seems silly.

I know of a few people who have taken Aleister Crowley very seriously, and Erik Davis shared with us some video of a Christian televangelist in the 1980’s warning that Led Zeppelin was more or less trying to invoke the devil in their live shows (not to mention the backwards masking, which we didn’t get into, but I’ve heard tons about over the years.) Years ago, I read The Magick of Thelema: A Handbook of the Rituals of Aleister Crowley, which, more than anything, I got the sense that good ol’ Aleister Crowley was having a laugh. The question seems to be, did he take himself seriously? Was he anything like the rumors of L. Ron Hubbard (who had less than 6 degrees of separation from A.C.)? Was he just doing it to see how much power he could exert over others? Was it the combination of heavy-duty hallucinogens, harsh climates and magical thinking that created the cosmology of Mr. Crowley?

The conclusion I came to, years ago, is that Aleister Crowley was Ha-Ha-Only-Serious. Even if you strip out all the concepts of “real” in the rituals and dismiss the belief that any supernatural creature can be invoked, the role of these ideas in the brain is a powerful one. Rituals and the supernatural have a place in society, and continue to exert power over the masses, regardless of what brand you subscribe to. Even atheists are vulnerable in that their non-belief gives a contrasting tension that gives the believers something to work from. Atheists cannot get away from the impact that magical thinking has on society. I see Aleister Crowley as a brilliant, warped, drug infused, megalomaniacal madman whose only power was granted to him by followers and those who feared him (and I guess, sometimes both.) His influence through the years is what keeps him interesting.

This Friday, Jon and I are scheduled to see Mike Daisey perform his monologue The Last Cargo Cult. Until Jon told me of this monologue, I hadn’t heard about the Cargo Cults. To put it short – when Americans used South Pacific islands as bases in the 20th century, they brought their wealth and technology with them – and when they left, they took it away. The islanders, to summon that wealth back, took to creating meticulously crafting radios, runways, planes, all non-functioning, made of local materials, and holding rituals. The description for Mike Daisey’s work states: “Their religion is explored alongside our own to form a sharp and searing examination of the international financial crisis. Daisey wrestles with the largest questions of what the collapse means, and what it says about our deepest values. Part adventure story and part memoir, he uses each culture to illuminate the other to find, between the seemingly primitive and the achingly modern, a human answer.”

Magical thinking is alive and well in our society today. Mike Daisey’s monologue should prove interesting.