Video of “Under Its Spell: Magic, Machines, and Metaphors”

This video is from Theorizing the Web 2015, which was a fairly momentous weekend in the existence of Technoccult. A wide-ranging conversation about Magick, Technology, Labour, Work, Knowledge, Science, Ritual Initiation, Police Surveillance, and much more.

Starting at right around 44:30 Karen Gregory predicts the recent K-HOLE/ELLE/Vanity Fair/Capitalist Co-opting of Chaos Magick.


Presider: Melissa Gira Grant (@melissagira)

Hashtag Moderator: Anna Jobin (@annajobin)

Karen Gregory (@claudiakincaid)
Damien Williams (@wolven)
Debbie Chachra (@debcha)

Panel organized by Ingrid Burrington (@lifewinning)

On GOTHAM and Always Being Batman

A good deal of our remit, over here, is to talk about many of the themes of the fringes of things through the lens of pop culture. To that end, I’ve been having some thoughts about what they’re doing with the idea of the Joker in the show GOTHAM. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen this, already, or maybe sometimes your eyes just glaze over when I go on the long rants, but anyway… Spoilers. Also, one image of violence and blood.

Throughout all of season one of GOTHAM, they teased over and over again that this or that villain of the week was going to end up becoming the entity that we know as The Joker. They did this all the way until the end of the first season, when we were introduced to Jerome Valeska, who worked with the circus and killed his mother and had just the most Infectious laugh.

They brought this character into season 2, as well, and in every ep we saw more and more of the Joker’s trademarks: constant killing for no reason, jokes and storytelling while putting himself in potentially deadly situations, desire for the spotlight, and the laughs and laughs and laughs. His father, the circus psychic, even prophesies to Jerome that his legacy will be madness and chaos and death and blood and laughter, and that children will wake screaming at the very thought of him. Jerome dies at the end of episode 3 of season two, at the culmination of a televised hostage situation, during which the whole city sees that face and hears that laugh.

Jerome is stabbed in the neck and he dies with a rictus grin on his face, and his own bright red blood around his lips and pooling in the corners. In the wake of the hostage situation and Jerome’s death, the TV news predictably plays the footage over and over. Showing that smile, that face, and letting everybody hear that laugh. A laugh that spreads through the city, to men in bars and children in wealthy homes and homeless people on the streets and two thugs who kill a homeless guy, laughing the whole time, one of whom then turns on and kills the other. Who dies laughing. All while Jerome’s father’s prophecy plays, again, as voice over.

In this way, The Joker is not a person. It’s not even People. The Joker is a demon, a virus, a possessing spirit and a disease that looks for the optimal structure, the precise right moment to enter you and make you into one of its limbs.

So I’ve gotta say, unless GOTHAM‘s long-term plan is that there will never be a singular Batman, never any Individual Rogues, i am really divided on the Jerome thing. I love the literal take on Grant Morrison’s ‘The Joker Is A Virus of Super Sanity, and thus is any- and everyone who is able to be that “free,”‘ but that idea really only works if the show also goes Batman, Inc., from the BEGINNING.

That is, if the animating spirit of justice/vengeance rests on or emanates from Bruce Wayne, first (though its origins, if any, would have to go back to at least Thomas Wayne, as things stand in the show), but ultimately is such that Everyone With A Mind To Becomes some form of Batman. In this, Bruce doesn’t “train” Dick, Jason, Tim, Barbara, Stephanie, Cassandra, Terry, he resonates with them and simply shows them what they are. What they all always have been, together.

I say that  this has to be the way of things because, now, anyone other than Jerome Valeska being possessed by that spirit of Jokerness and becoming the nemesis of a Bruce Wayne Batman, in the GOTHAM universe, will just ring far less mythic than it could. It would be a single human fighting an idea, a spirit, a legend, a myth, an evil god whose source that human has SEEN and TOUCHED. When what we could have is two Archetypes battling each other, forever.

In fact, my thesis is that, in Gotham’s universe, Wayne CANNOT be the only Batman. Ultimately, he can’t even be the first one in a line of Succession. Wayne has to be Gotham’s Shaman. He has to be its instructor and instrument of combat magick, its Medicine Man (which also gives greater mythic weight to the role Dr Thompkins plays and will play). He’s a guide to this realm where we are all caught between these miasmas of despair and longings for justice and the constant desperate madness underneath it all.

Unused Rian Hughes Batman, Inc. Logo

In this shamanic take there’d be no “order” or “chaos” to battle. At least not as we usually define them. There’s a Batman who recognizes a dark kind of balance and harmony and knowing that the struggle is eternal because the struggle is all of reality pulling against and defining itself. In this version, Batman’s purpose is rendered not as dichotomy of Good Vs Evil, Law Vs Crime, Justice Vs Injustice, but as a dialectic where all these things, all of these elements of Gotham, generate each other. Wayne’s purpose is to strive for the better, but always knowing that there will be forces that seek utter imbalance and destruction. THAT’S Jerome’s Legacy. That is what the essence of the Joker IS.

So, if they can still surprise everyone and pull THAT off—Bruce-Wayne-As-Shamanic-Guide, initiating Tim, Dick, Babs, &c into Batman’s/Gotham’s Mysteries—then I’ll be satisfied.

Just some thoughts, now that I’m caught up with GOTHAM.

Shall Do What Thou Wilt Be the Whole of the Tech?

Image Copyright The Independent UK

There is nothing that is not magick, if apprehended correctly, and there is nothing that is not technology for the same reasons. We’ve mentioned, before, that the roots for both technology and magick are in “craft.” The Greek root for this is “Techne,” and you can look to Athena and Hekate and Hermes and Hephaestus and see deities of both Art and Artifice. They are goddesses and gods of skill and cunning and language and creation and weaving—stories and textiles—and theft and all of these things are bound together.

This is part of why we talk, here, about magic and technology, and what “artificial intelligence” really means when we break it down.

But the Western world’s Greek ancestors aren’t the only ones who bound their technology and their magic together. Egypt saw Thoth creating language and magic, being a god of technology and the repository of all memory and knowledge. Odin is the Master Speller and the great artificer (and thief and Cunning Man). Legba and Ellegua are spiritually tied to crossroads, thresholds, beginnings, endings, and communications, making the Lwa the obvious choice for Gibson to map onto the Internet.

And in all of this we have the root technology of language. The manipulation of words and memories and “spelling” and, again, “craft.” Kim Boekbinder reminded us, some weeks ago, that, “Songs are spells, incantations. Careful what you sing for. Songs are spells. Be mindful of what you listen to.” And we’re back around to phonomancy, again. But these are the more poetic uses of language, and their intent, as stated, is to hit you in the heart, in the viscera, in the instinct. Less prosaic (but no less powerful) uses of language than these are laws.

The law is a spell that works on you, at every moment, whether you will it or not. Laws are the codification and concretization of moral codes and systems of justice, all of which are derivations of a society’s values. They are the concentrated beliefs and essences of what people think and feel and believe are best, and their particular parsing and deployment can have long lasting, permanent effects on your life, even at great distance from you, and without your conscious knowledge. But, just like other forms of magick, the law can be learned, can be understood, and in most cultures, one can even become fully initiated into its mysteries. And when you know the law, you can use it to your own advantage.

The law is alive, and somewhat adaptable, but it’s also rigid, the pace of its change is often glacial, and its outcomes are not always Justice. The knowledge and recognition of that last fact allows for those who see antiquated and even repressive expressions of the law to do things like erecting a 9-foot-tall Baphomet Statue, and carrying it around the country to places where one religion’s views seem to be given state-sanctioned preference. Or Wiccans and Pagans working out how best to use various “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” against the people who only ever seem to mean Christian religious freedom.

If we understand the law as a technology of social control, we can see the cruxes of influence and words of power that allow us to utilize it, and to leverage its often purposefully-occult nature. We can, as with many ritual forms, use it to transgress against itself, to subvert its grasp long enough to craft a more permanent solution.

Imagine A Quote From ‘Phonogram’ or ‘Soul Music’ Here

[Editor’s Note: This blog entry is an edited and modified version of a portion of this week’s newsletter, so if you received that, feel free to skip this.]

Coheed & Cambria – [The Velourium Camper III: Al the Killer]— We’ll be doing a thing, this week, that I used to do in the old days, back when LiveJournal was a thing. I took the “Current Music” tag pretty seriously, back then, you see, and I would pretty much always be listening to a rather large playlist on random/shuffle, and whenever the song changed I would. (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – [I Put a Spell on You]). Note it. Voilà.

So we’re going to do that, this time around.

I also bought myself a copy of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, for my birthday. That’ll become pertinent, later, but for now it’s just coincident that there have been a great many articles and thinkpieces about machine intelligence, this week, including some more fun pronouncements about “killer robots” from Hawking, Musk, and now Steve Wozniak. (Nine Inch Nails – 3 Ghosts I). It’s difficult, at times like these, to not just print out things I’ve said on a sandwich board and wander around with a megaphone, screaming like some kind of prophet of not-doom.



That kind of thing.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – [What a Wonderful World]— I think what makes this all the worse is that I’m really stoked about this “Teaching-Robots-Jazz” idea, and that makes the glaring failures of imagination in re: change and adaptation all the worse, in the end.

Likely none of this is helped by the fact that I finally saw Ex Machina (Kirsten got me a copy for my birthday; coinciding), and it was almost exactly the film I would have made. Almost.

Weezer – [The World Has Turned and Left Me Here]— One thing about doing the music notation is, you can see how often I pause to do something else while I’m writing these.

So let’s cut to it and, talk about Divination.

Radiohead – [Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)]— Divination is best understood as a process of gaining information from the conjunction of symbolically meaningful signs, omens, or portents. The flight of birds, the coil and overlap and colour of intestines of certain animals at particular times of day, the way three coins or sticks or leaves fall, in relation to each other. Divinatory practices are languages with grammars, and those languages have dialects and those dialects have slang, and each one means something in its larger context, yes, but also has something very specific to say about the kind of thing it is and what it can do. Dr Karen Gregory has some really interesting and useful thoughts on divination and its place in sociological history.

Divination can be used to talk about the future, or the past, or the present. Carl Jung believed that all we were doing in divination was using a psychologically potent symbol system to tell us things we already knew, in a method that we’d actually listen to and understand. Or at least that’s what he most often claimed in public.

Patsy Cline – [Sweet Dreams]— Jung was a Tarot and I Ching kind of guy. Liked the cards and coins and sticks, and thought that the more resonant and primal the better for the purpose of understanding what the unconscious knew but couldn’t directly say. (Aesop Rock – [Coffee] Good idea…). So we’re talking about resonance. Emotional resonance, mental resonance, things that hit you right in your gut, things that engage intellectuality, sure, but aim for your feels. So let’s talk about music.

The hidden track on this song, for instance, makes me think about things going on this week (month, year, century, epoch) that I don’t want to raise my blood pressure about, right now, so we’re skipping it and going to…

Avenue Q Original Cast – [Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist]— …Be confronted with the exact same thing, in a tauntingly humourous context. Hm.

Welp. Still, I wanted to make a point so here it is: Divination, scrying, applied synchronicity, pronoia, directed apophenia, it all comes down to the determination of patterns from seemingly unconnected instances. Drawing pictures in clouds, and then living your life by what they have to say. Like that one episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Childish Gambino – Unnecessary (ft. Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul) {prod. Childish Gambino}— Put it down to confirmation bias if it fits, but the longer you live your life in this way, the more things start to take on that kind of “Fertility of Meaning.” Our experiences conform to our expectations, regardless of the sources of either.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – [Shoggoths Away]—Now Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie introduced the word “Phonomancy,” to the wider world in their groundbreaking Phonogram series, but if you’re still unfamiliar, just know that it’s a word that means what it says on the label: Magick via sound. (Mike Geier – [12oz Mouse Jazz Theme]). It’s most often specifically used to mean magick via music, and this is where the whole thing comes together.

Electric Hellfire Club – [Whores of Babylon]— The basic idea behind Phonomantic Divination is really pretty simple: Open the music player of your preference, load all of your music into it, repeatedly click Shuffle/Random while thinking of a question, then listen to whatever songs play, relating them to you and each other. I do mine in the style of a tarot Celtic Cross, which requires 10 Songs, and I tend to listen to each song all the way through, before moving on.

µ-Ziq – Gruber’s Mandolin—If you’re unfamiliar with the tarot, the Celtic cross looks like this:

And I tend to think of each position as:

1) Me As I See Myself:

2) Immediate Influence:

3) Goal:

4) Recent Past:

5) Further Past:

6) Near Future:

7) Me As Others See Me:

8) Further Future:

9) Emotional/Mental State:

10) Ultimate Outcome:

The Chemical Brothers – [Block Rockin’ Beats]— I like this format because it more easily puts everything in an individual and intercontextual significance, but you should use whatever feels most comfortable to you.

You could throw shuffles on three open instances of your music player six times and do an I Ching thing. You could assign each song a value and then do complicated math to get rune values. You could write down lyrics on paper, burn that paper, and read the smoke. Whatever. After all, this is about finding a symbolic system with emotional resonance to you and using it to probe the depths of your psyche.

Flogging Molly – [May the Living Be Dead (In Our Wake)]— Or it’s about using ancient mystical secrets and new technologies to tell you about the shape of the future. Whichever.

All I know is, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to map divinatory practices onto my DVD collection, for years, and I still haven’t sorted it out. Honestly, it’s a large portion of why I want Netflix to institute a feature where they give you a (pseudo)randomly selected episode or movie from your lists and preferences and maybe even its algorithmic discernments about your tastes. I also think it could really be the last nail in the Traditional-TV-vs-Netflix/Hulu/Etc competition, because it’d effectively replicate channel surfing.

That’d be really nice.

Brianna Olson uses Twitter for what looks like a kind of divination, very often. She’ll get a word or phrase or concept in her head, and plug it into the search function, and retweet what comes out. Fascinating process.

Nine Inch Nails – [Closer]— Final thoughts: Kirsten bought me Ex Machina for my birthday, I bought myself a copy of Extraordinary Machine, and I still think Carl Jung would’ve really loved Twitter.

Until next time.

A New Moon Birthday Ritual

The next time your birthday falls on a new moon (preferably on a Wednesday), try this neat trick:

In front of a mirror, surrounded by things that mean the world to you, layer sheets of paper and cloth soaked or spotted with your blood, under your shorn hair, all shredded and cut with a sharpened piece of million-year-old volcanic glass, and mix in the shards of your former lives (melted silver, raven stone shards, chunks of quartz and tigers eye, obsidian and onyx and garnets…); then sprinkle on the dust and sand from a 4575 year-old necropolis, and drip with the melted ice and snow of 34 million years ago.

Take the mixture and carefully collect it, layers intact, into a receptacle, and take gather some matches and a liquid deemed sacred to a deity of your choosing (or choosing you; wine, rum, rosewater, etc…), and move to a place where you can easily make a fire.

Read to yourself our aloud a meditation on life, impermanence, loss, death, time, change, adaptation, becoming, memory, and creation. Perhaps this will work for you. Then pour the sacred liquid into the mixture, set the whole mix into the fire place, with the receptacle in a place to catch the ashes, and light the fire. Tend it, carefully, rendering it all to ashes.

After the fire, collect the ashes and as many offerings as you need and walk to the nearest crossroads (best if it can somehow manage to be both three AND four ways, at once). Remembering what each offering means, place all of your offerings (more rum; a trick. like a turkey sausage coated in ashes, to make it smell like Flame Cooked Meat; a contemplative day; and the whole working done under the Moon’s darkest face) in the center of crossroads. Place and pour, each on each.

Thank yourself and whatever or whomever else for whatever gets done, and exit the crossroads. Walk home, wash your hands, arrange your work, and think about what you’ve done and what you’ve become.

Happy Birthday.

On Magick, Technology, Philosophy, and Pop-Culture

Those are my main areas of interest. It may not sound like a whole lot, but you’d honestly be surprised at the kind of mileage you can get out of recombining them and applying them as lenses through which to look at the world.

Hello. I’m Damien Williams, known by many of you as Wolven. Klint did a pretty fantastic job of introducing me, last time, so I’m not going to rehash any of that. What I want to do, right now, is to point you at a few places where you can get a decent sense for the kinds of plans I have for what we’re going to be doing, around here.

First, there is, of course, the Mindful Cyborgs interview I did with Klint.

Then there’s my presentation from Magick.Codes.

My Master’s Thesis.

My article “Fairytales Of Slavery: Societal Distinctions, Technoshamanism, and Nonhuman Personhood.

And this atemporal conversation between myself and M1K3y, over at the Cosmic Anthropology Podcast.

What I want to be doing here is taking the time to engage in conversations with multiple thinkers about philosophical, religious, political, and occult perspectives on our science fictional present, and posting the audio, video, or transcriptions of either of those. I want to do this with some major frequency, but that requires the time and space to do so.

Which brings me to my next point: A discussion of an overarching framework of where A Future Worth Thinking About and Technoccult are headed. “Protected: Thinking About the Worth of the Future: Logistics.”

To be frank, it’s a money conversation. As I say, there, “I know we’re usually encouraged to not discuss anything as gauche as cash, in Western Society, but since we’re somehow still using a system of psychologically transferred and collectively-agreed-upon value to determine who gets to eat food, I say fuck it. Let’s talk it out.”

So please take a look, there, then tell your friends.

The Technoccult Tumblr is here.

Twitter handles are @Wolven and @Techn0ccult

The Perfunctory Facebook Page is here.

You can sign up for the newsletter here.

And as always, the Patreon is here.

That’s enough, for now. I need to go get back to work on some more substantive posts. See you next time. And thanks.

A New Era for Technoccult

As technology embeds itself ever deeper into our lives, the strange relationship between magic and technology is finally gaining widespread attention.

There was the Magick Codes conference late last year, then the Haunted Machines event in Manchester earlier this year, and most recently a panel dedicated to magic and tech at Theorizing the Web in New York last April. Warren Ellis just published a book of talks, and they’re shot through with thinking about magic and myth and their role in technology.

We’re only at the beginning of a series of new conversations about all of this, and Technoccult should be at the forefront of these discussions. I mean, it’s right there in the name. It’s as if finally, after all these years, the site’s moment has finally come. But I’m not the right person to lead the site into these conversations.

That’s why Damien Williams, known to many of you as Wolven, is taking over Technoccult, effective immediately. This will be my last post as editor of the site.

Damien has been writing and speaking about the intersection of magic and technology for years. There are other big names in the current conversation, but few people — if any — have Damien’s track record for covering this topic. And what’s more, he’s a good friend. I can’t wait to see what he does with the site.

Why the change?

Short explanation: As I’ve gotten busier with other work and lost interest in the occult, I’ve been thinking for a while about either shuttering Technoccult or going on some sort of extended hiatus. But after our Mindful Cyborgs interview, I realized it would make more sense to hand it off to Damien. We talked it over at Theorizing the Web in April and agreed that it makes sense for both of us, and for readers. I think of this as a continuation of the spirit of Technoccult rather than an end or shift in direction.

Long version:

I started Technoccult over 15 years ago with the idea of doing a site in the same vein as Disinfo, but with more of a focus on arts and culture than politics and conspiracy theory. Obviously I’ve drifted considerably from those original intentions.

To be honest, I wasn’t even all that interested in the occult when I started the site. It seemed like a cool “cybergoth” sounding name. I had’t read The Invisibles. It was, in fact, learning that the name turned up in The Invisibles that made me read the comic, and start exploring the materials linked in Disinfo’s chaos magic dossier.

Discovering chaos magic and the works of Grant Morrison set me on a course that shaped my life for years to come. Key 23. PDX Occulture. EsoZone. It was through these channels that I met my wife. It was blogging on Technoccult that gave me the clips and confidence to land my first journalism job.

But it’s not my passion anymore. Partially that’s because my journalism career has left me with less time and energy to write here. And partially it’s because my interest in the occult and the constellation of other themes around it has waned. When I do write, it’s often about largely unrelated topics, like the environmental impact of almonds, the state of journalism, or why like to call my neighborhood “Columbia Ridge.” It’s as if Sports Illustrated stopped covering sports and decided to basically cover every other conceivable topic instead. Of course I’ll always maintain some interest in the occult and fringe topics, and I might even feel a calling to write about magic again in the near future. But it’s just not my main focus.

Yet I didn’t want to just let Technoccult die either. It’s outlived dozens of similarly themed sites over the years. Strangers have told me it’s their favorite site. I’ve tried to “rebrand” the site before and it hasn’t really worked out. It feels like it has a life of its own now.

So when I interviewed Damien a few months ago, something clicked. He writes about the intersection magic and technology, transhumanism, and the evolution of human consciousness. All the things that Technoccult readers keep telling me they want to read more about. I thought “why isn’t HE writing the site?” Then I realized: I should just let him take it over. It would give him a broader reach for his writing, give Technoccult readers more of what they’re looking for, and let me resign knowing the site is in good hands. Win-win-win.

Plus, his interest in pop culture analysis brings things full-circle back to the original idea behind Technoccult. Oh, and the first time I met Damien, he was wearing a Luxt shirt. I had Luxt on heavy rotation while I was cobbling together the original Technoccult site all those years ago.

I’m aware that although I’ve brought in other writers in the past, my voice has been the one consistent thing on the site, and that some of you might be happy to have me keep writing here, regardless of what I write about. Some of you might even prefer it. But overall I think Damien’s voice will be more of a continuation of the spirit of the site than mine at this point. And while he’ll surely bring a different perspective on a wide range of topics, I think we have compatible world views.

Yes, I could have just asked him to join the site as an additional contributor. But frankly my attempts at managing other writers have not gone well (and that’s completely my fault). Plus I can’t pay him, and it felt wrong to ask him to work for free on something that has sort of become my personal brand. The only thing that really made sense was to hand it off entirely.

I don’t know where exactly he’ll be taking the site. That’s up to him. I’ll be around in the background for the next few months trying to clean up the technical mess I’ve left. But editorially, it’s in his hands now.

What’s Next for Me

For now my focus will be my journalism work, co-hosting the Mindful Cyborgs podcast and researching the code literacy book I’ve thinking about writing, depending on how the research goes.

I’ve got tons of other ideas as well. Someday I’d like to do a print magazine, or maybe a zine hand printed by mimeograph. I’d love to start an old school dial-up BBS. I’ve still got a good start on a FATE-based pen-and-paper role playing game to finish, and that mutant history book I started researching ages ago. I have fiction ideas running out of my ears. I’ve been learning to draw and want to make a comic, and I’ve been learning to program and would love to make a video game. I have more Psychetect albums in me as well.

If you want to receive sporadic updates on what I’m up to, I’ve started a new newsletter that you can sign-up for here.

So long and thanks for all the Fnords!

Mindful Cyborgs: High Fidelity Connections and Social Media with Amy Donahue

This week Sara and I talk to writer Amy Donahue about the way that social media shapes our relationships.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: High Fidelity Connections and Social Media with Amy Donahue

Mindful Cyborgs: Consciousness Hacking

I was out this week, but Sara and Chris talk to consciousness hacker and robotics engineer Mikey Siegel in this episode.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Consciousness Hacking With Friends and Mikey Siegel

Also: I forgot to post last week’s episode, where Sara, Chris and I continue to catch-up after Chris’s retreat.

Mindful Cyborgs: Metta of Data

This week, Sara and I interview Chris about his experience at a week long silent meditation retreat.

Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Path of the Mindful Cyborg, Mett? of Data

Chris has also written a reflection on his time at the retreat:

There were no gadgets, no devices, no sensors, no talking, no books, pens, paper and no looking at each other.

All vegan meals.

Hours of meditation.

It was life altering.

Coming back “online”, I notice that so much of our world is suffering, as I often say in my talks.

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