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Illuminating the Obscure
  • Writer's pictureRejected Religion

Re-Cap of Day 2, Trans-States: The Art of Deception Conference, Parallel Panel 2A

Reflections on Day 2 Parallel Panel 2A: “Esoteric Artists and (Oc)cultural Producers; Chair: Heather Freeman Michael Goddard’s presentation, “Into the Welcoming Arms of the Amethyst Deceivers: The Music of Coil and Altered States of Time and Embodiment” was a fast-paced look into some of the work of the band Coil as “tech-mediated magic.” Michael touched on several things, one being the appearance of the entity known as “Elph” (who John Balance and Peter Christopherson considered a type of ‘machine-elves’ entity found in DMT research experiences & references by Terence McKenna). This entity was thought to have directly intervened during the band’s recording process in the early 1990s, as well as creating its own music. The results can be found via the ‘Coil vs. Elph’ project ‘Worship the Glitch.’ Inspired by Austin Osmond Spare’s sidereal portraits, the band members were interested in trying to capture spiritual entities in their work to harness their energies. Their musical experiments attempted to incorporate magickal rituals in order to alter consciousness; additionally, Coil was interested in the effects of sounds on the brain that could create altered states of consciousness, such as what happened with the flicker films and dream machines of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. The band was also very interested in creating power to disrupt time itself. As was the case with other bands, Coil was trying to create a ‘sacred music’ and experimenting with ideas and concepts surrounding time travel. In closing, we listened to an excerpt of “Time Machines” (which can be found on YouTube) – the droning, repeating sounds, and the introduction of other (sometimes dissonant) tones that flicker and fluctuate are very effective in creating a trance-state, even without the use of other substances to enhance the experience. Deja Whitehouse presented an engaging look at the artist Frieda Harris, who was a pupil of Aleister Crowley, focusing on her connection and work with the god Mercury in her presentation, “The Abominable Mercury: An Analysis of Frieda Harris’s Anthropomorphised Concept of the Trickster God.” In 1920s Paris, Harris found her life divided between her bourgeoise duties as the well-bred Lady Harris, and her painting under the name/ alter-ego of “Jesus Chutney.” J.C. became Harris’s independent ‘bohemian’ identity, and this alter encompassed her playful and humorous nature. Crowley commissioned Harris to illustrate his Book of Thoth, and Deja guided us through Harris’s ups and downs as she attempted to paint as well as her training with Crowley in the O.T.O. Harris felt that Mercury was affecting her daily life (sometimes distressing her), and found herself procrastinating in her work. Ultimately, she was able to find a balance in her rituals and work to her own satisfaction and pleasure. Harris apparently didn’t find the O.T.O. or Thelema very interesting, but used the concepts she learned to her own ends and desires, which was art. She created her own ‘art tool kit,’ taking what she deemed necessary. After Crowley’s death, she rejected Thelema.

Gillian McIver gave an extremely interesting look at the artist Philip-Jacques de Loutherbourg with her presentation, “The Mystagogue: Writing Esoterica Back into Art History.” This painter was unknown to me, so I was keen to learn more. Loutherbourg was the youngest painter to join the French Academy, and invented the art of special effects for the stage in the 18th century. He had his own alchemical laboratory, and created his own colors/hues for his paintings, but his secret recipes are still unknown. Loutherbourg was a follower of Swedenborg and worked (alongside his painting and stage work) as a faith-healer and sex magic practitioner (as far as I understand, these esoteric practices were taken from the teachings of Swedenborg’s ‘conjugal love’). Artistic and occult circles overlapped in this time, but this fact seemed to be unknown to art historians. Loutherbourg saw the occult, science, and art as a perfect model for ones life. While his motivations for his services of faith healing and “sex magic therapy” are somewhat unknown, he apparently found it important enough to offer these techniques to others until a scandal that forced him to publicly announce his resignation from this work (although he still continued in secret). Regarding his stagecraft, Loutherbourg believed these activities were productions of his magical knowledge and practice. Creating illusions was a magical practice in itself. His work was ultimately spiritual, and wanted to create a sense of his stagecraft illusions as being ‘real’.

As Gillian pointed out, the occult was ubiquitous in the popular culture of Loutherbourg’s time. Gillian asks how scholars can reintegrate this occult knowledge into art history.

Kasper Opstrup explored the relationship between fiction, reality, and ‘the weird’ in his presentation, “Dree Your Own Weird: How the Fictional Occult Bleeds into the Real.” As the weird seems to be reappearing in various ways in our societies and cultures, Kasper highlights the need to embrace change and mutations, noting that ‘the leap’ begins in consciousness. Looking to earlier occultists, Kasper points out that Éliphas Lévi also introduced fictions into his work, and these fictions were taken up (and incorporated into the ‘real’) by later occultists who used Lévi’s work.

One group given as an example of taking these ideas and putting them into action was the Kibbo Kift. This group was trying to create a new society, and drew on their connections to Theosophy, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and concepts taken from shamanism. Presenting themselves as a type of survivalist society, they wanted to re-enchant the world; this group is an example of reality-fiction interaction that was trying to organize new future realities.

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