December 22, 2015

TURN: WASHINGTON'S SPIES


I just finished the first season of AMC’s Turn. The series is a dramatized account of the Culper Ring, the spy ring organized at the height of the Revolutionary War during the British occupation of New York City. Despite having a terrible name (why didn’t they call it The Culper Ring?), it’s very good with high production values, solid acting, and some quality scripts. The first season moves expertly between several sets of characters, balances big and small personal drama well, and manages to offer lots of suspense and tension while still having a good bit of action.



If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it whole-heartedly. It’s engaging viewing and an excellent reminder that America began as an act of bold, political protest. It also further confirms my conviction that for spy fiction to be successful, it needs to be set in the past.

December 19, 2015

American Alien

Are you reading Max Landis's Superman: American Alien? If you're not, then you really should be. Easily the best thing DC/Warner has done with Superman in years. Years. It's so refreshing, especially after the awful taste Man of Steel left, to see someone completely get Superman while still telling an intense, realistic story.

December 18, 2015

Eclipse Phase




It's been a very long time since a role-playing game has excited me like Eclipse Phase

November 28, 2015

You Should Be Reading



Kelly Sue DeConnick's Pretty Deadly is one of the best comics around. It's a beautiful, violent, magical realism, manga-fueled spaghetti western. And I'd gladly tattoo Emma Rios's art all over my body.


November 20, 2015

What To Do With James Bond




I’m a longtime James Bond fan. I vividly remember when Channel 4 made an event out of airing Doctor No. My parents let me stay up late and watch it. After that I was hooked. I checked out all the available films from the library and then quickly moved on to the books.

While the first Bond film I saw in the theatre was Octopussy, my favorite Bonds are Dr. No through On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Connery was great as Bond, I don’t think anyone would dispute that. Lazenby could have been amazing if he’d been in more films. I’m glad though that OHMSS is getting a second look from fans. I think it’s a great Bond picture. Good action scenes. Good character development. And Bond does actual spying for a change—I literally think it’s one of the few movies where he does actual spy work. Not to mention, Telly Savalas made a chilling Blofeld thanks to a zero camp factor and projecting real menace.


I enjoyed the Moore films much more as a kid. All the funny, campy, pulp action with gadgets galore and secret moon bases are awesome when you're thirteen. Dalton was good. I should probably revisit his spy-noir films because for whatever reason they haven’t stuck with me. Brosnan had some good moments, though I think the tone of his Bond is muddled. He was somewhere between Moore and Dalton in terms of his Bond portrayal while not hitting either note well. And I just think the films aren’t very good. Honestly, the best thing to come out of the Brosnan era was the GoldenEye game for N64—man, I played the hell out of that when I should have been going to class.

I don’t mind the new films. I grok the thought process behind a gritty, character-driven Bond franchise. I understand wanting to capture the tone of the books more. Audiences want different things now, even from event films like Bond. Not to mention the spy genre in general and James Bond in particular have been spoofed so much, you can’t do exactly what you’ve done before without running the risk of audiences laughing you off the screen. And there’s a particular set of problems beyond that. A modern spy film has to address the audience knowledge that this would all be resolved now with an intercepted email, a satellite image, and a drone strike. Then you either have to ignore the contentious mire of actual foreign policy or acknowledge it no more than necessary for your story.


I think the problem though is that the new films are uneven both individually and as a whole. Casino Royale was good but about 35 or 40 minutes too long. Quantum of Solace was an hour and forty minutes I’ll never get back. I dug Skyfall quite a bit, even understanding the complaint about the stalkery weirdness and the creep-o homoerotic vibe of Bardem’s character choices. Haven’t seen Spectre yet, though I’ve heard nothing but mixed opinions. And none of the Craig-era Bonds have been very much fun.

I think it was a mistake to place the emphasis on Bond being a “dinosaur” and the world not needing espionage agents. Too often in the new films the manner that they've addressed this theme has slowed the pacing down too much and ventured away from dramatic and engaging straight to tiresome navel-gazing...which I think can leave an audience wondering why they’re watching this in the first palce.

Craig has made no secret about his unhappiness with the role of James Bond. When he leaves, I think the smartest thing to do would be to set the next set of films period. And there’s no need for a period Bond to be Mad Men with guns. There’s plenty of the 1960s that never made into that show, and I don’t just mean fashion. I think it would be easy to set Bond in the Cold War, dial back the misogyny, and make the dramatic thrust the deep toll of being a loner and a killer without needing to remake anything. There are plenty of titles and plots from Fleming stories that never got used, like the Hilderbrand Rarity or The Property of a Lady. You’d avoid all the problems with modern spy films in terms of foreign policy and technology. You’d have a clear set of villains (the KGB, Stasi, ex-Nazis in Brazil). You could easily have plots that require active agents doing something, you could even riff on real incidents (the capture of Eichman, the U2 spy plane, the Cuban Missile Crisis). All sorts of great locations (Moscow, the Berlin Wall, the jungles of Brazil, the streets of Harlem, San Francisco drug dens) with possibilities for tension and suspense. And you could more easily have all the things you think about with Bond: the flashy clothes, the fast cars, and the beautiful women in exotic locations with danger around every corner.


November 10, 2015

Diabolik



In case anyone ever licenses the rights or the Italian publisher decides to do an English language run, I'm throwing my hat in the ring for Diabolik scripts.

November 9, 2015

Netflix Recommendations

Dark Matter 
Dark Matter is a Canadian science fiction series with a lot of promise for future seasons. Six people wake up abroad a spaceship with no memory of who they are. They name themselves One through Six, the order in which they woke from cryo-sleep, then set about solving the mystery of themselves. The cast is solid. I mean, if you’ve watched any science fiction or horror television in the last 5 years, you will recognize faces. And the creative team is just as polished; most of the episodes are written by the two guys who wrote the original comic book and contributed extensively to the Stargate television franchise. The first big reveal comes pretty quick and maybe isn’t that surprising but the show movies so well, you don’t mind. But the following reveals are handled very, very well.

Strange Empire 
Strange Empire is another Canadian series. This Western drama is set along the border Montana-Canada border and follows three women who band together for protection and support after the men in their town are murdered. Was disappointed to learn it was cancelled after one season. It’s an engaging show, beautiful shot, well-written and well-acted. And it was nice to see a program other than Orange Is The New Black feature a diverse cast of women.

November 6, 2015

Association Fallacy


The “Nazis were socialists” bunk started circulating again. First, this is a probably just a natural response for the right to take, based on the left’s insistence on calling everything we don’t like “fascist”. Honestly, this bit of anti-socialist propaganda is probably a sign of real momentum toward actual economic and social progress for all peoples. The opposition has nothing left but to play the dumb Nazi comparison. Association fallacy is often the weapon of the desperate and lazy mind.

Yes, the full name of the Nazi party translates to “The National Socialist German Workers Party,” but that still doesn’t mean they were actual socialists. You can call yourself whatever you want, but that doesn’t make it true. I know this is a hard idea for a lot of people to process. I work in a college town. All over town there are number of businesses with “campus” in their name. Everything from apartments to cleaners to pizza. Not a one of them has anything to do with the university. Yet, here at work, at the university, I still receive calls complaining about those businesses.

  • In the 20s and 30s, calling yourself “socialist” was the hip thing to do.
  • Marx defined history as the class struggle, Hitler defined history as a race war.
  • Nazi regime was solidly anti-Bolshevik and had a policy of crushing labor unions.
  • Industrialists made a lot of money under the regime.
  • Hitler was a corporatist.
  • Any coalition between labor and capital was only to prevent class war.
  • Any socialization of economy took place purely to generate profits to prepare for war.
  • Their economic policy moved on a pendulum, left to right, whatever was necessary to secure power and prepare for war.
  • Marx was ancestrally Jewish, so Hitler probably wasn't a fan.

And whatever socialist policies the regime that were socialist, still doesn't make them an actual socialist government. The US has plenty of socialist policies in place and we're not a socialist country by any means. 

November 5, 2015

Bat-Cow


I love Grant Morrison. The Invisibles had a huge, huge impact on me. But this panel from Batman & Robin makes me ridiculously happy. It's Morrison summed up for me: meaningful, aware, and yet a little absurd in a totally meta way.


October 29, 2015

The Party Over The People


Socialism isn’t a foreign concept in America. At the height of its power, The Socialist Party held 1,200 public offices and boosted 135,000 members. So what happened? Well, a whole bunch of different things but socialism in America has always taken its biggest setbacks when the politicians chose political interests and holding office over the needs of the people.

Eugene Debs
We really need to start with Eugene Debs. Debs began as a Democrat. And it was as a Democrat that he held his first public offices. His radicalization began with the railroads. After goons, Pinkerton Agents, and the Federal Government killed the 1888 Burlington Railroad Strike, Debs organized the massive American Railway Union.

ARU won huge against The Great Northern Railway, but weren’t so lucky in their next big battle. The Pullman Company cut wages by 28% triggering an ARU strike. When the union applied the force of 80,000 angry workers against the railroad, the Government again intervened on behalf of business interests. They issued an injunction against the striking workers for “interfering with the delivery of the US Mail.” President Grover Cleveland sent the Army to enforce the injunction. The Army was successful but breaking the strike resulted in 13 dead workers and nearly $80 million in property damage.

And Eugene Debs went to jail for the first time.

A man named Victor Berger visited Debs in jail. Berger was a socialist journalist who later became a career politician and founding member of the Socialist Party. He left Debs with a copy of Marx’s Das Kapital. So Debs comes out of prison a socialist and then spends the rest of his life fighting for that cause, helping to fund the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and the Socialist Party, not to mention being a 5-time candidate for President. Unfortunately, if Debs didn't tow the party line, the Socialist Party might have fared a lot differently.

The problem with the Socialist Party came down to factions. There were a lot of them, but two primary ones butted heads hard. You had the electoral faction, the career politicians like Victor Berger and his “Sewer Socialists” (a pejorative term for the socialist politicians from Milwaukee who thought the best focus was on public health programs and not revolution) and you had the radical faction from the IWW, primarily working men whose experience with government was as the tax-funded muscle the businessmen call when the hired goons failed to bust enough heads to convince people to shut up and be happy they have a job. The electoral faction thought the IWW guys were anarchist thugs that just wanted to cause trouble, and the IWW guys thought voting accomplished nothing but sending another Congressmen to Congress.

Haywood (far right) and strike leaders.
This came to head with the Lawrence Textile Strike. Under the IWW banner, the strike united a workforce composed largely of women and immigrants, representing over 51 different nationalities. The strikers won but the battle was intense, taking place over two months during a particularly brutal winter. At one point during the strike, elected city officials called in the police who used their clubs on children. In response, Big Bill Haywood, IWW leader and organizer of the strike, did the thing the electoral faction hated most--spoke out against politicians.


The Socialist Party's response to Haywood's speech was to oust him and his “anarchist thugs” from the party by passing measures against all direct action.

The party never recovered. Membership dropped. Then the elected socialists lost their offices one by one.

The only person who could have saved Haywood and the radical faction was Eugene Debs. He was the all-around hero of both the IWW and the Socialist Party. All it would have taken is one word from him to stop the career politicians from ousting the workingmen and the radicals, but he didn't. He kept his mouth shut and towed the party line and so sealed the fate of the Socialist Party in the United States.

World War I came along and the AFL cut a deal with the federal government: we'll support the war effort and help you crush other more radical and left-leaning unions in exchange for favors and preferential treatment.

Then at the tail end of the War, came the Russian Revolution. Western Industrialists tend to get really, really nervous when people organize against the corrupt powers in charge, let alone when they win. Not to mention, the Bolsheviks signed The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers in order to turn their resources away from the War and instead focus on their own Civil War. When the Russian Civil War was over in 1922, the Bolsheviks had triumphed over more moderate socialist groups like the Mensheviks and the nationalist, pro-Tsar White Army. Before Stalin rose to power and made “socialism in one country” policy, the Soviets backed Lenin’s belief that revolution in one country was insufficient. There needed to be a “permanent revolution,” as Trotsky called it--this belief eventually earned Trotsky forced exile and, later still, an ice axe to the head. Apparently, no one liked the sound of permanent revolution.

The next blow came when FDR sold out Henry Wallace, the most liberal member of his cabinet, for someone the mainstream Democratic Party preferred more--Harry Truman. 

This all of course eventually set the stage for the Red Scare and that was pretty much that. 

So now, where do we find ourselves? Facing an election where the Democratic Party, the so-called "liberal party", is looking out for party and corporate interests over our wellbeing by ramming a corporate-shill warmonger down our throats. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, the man who could have done something about it, chose instead to follow the party line.

History really does repeat itself. The problem is when history repeats itself, the people suffer.











October 23, 2015

Anime and Influences

I’m going to show my age here but I remember when anime was hard to find.

Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets/G-Force
Speed Racer
and Astroboy were way before my time. The first programs I remember that aired in America were redubbed, rewritten and heavily edited for cartoon syndication. Gatchaman was reworked into Battle of the Planets, then reworked yet again into G-Force. The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada were hammered together to become Robotech. While Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV were Americanized into Voltron. The success of these programs lead American companies to utilize Asian animation studios for a lot of 80s American cartoon classics like G.I. Joe. And Hasbro, never one to pass up on a way to sell toys, even purchased the licensing rights to the failed Diaclone and Microman Japanese toylines, combined them, rebranded them as Transformers and then hired writers to come up with a TV show.


But “authentic” anime was hard to find.

Ninja Scroll
For years, unless you had two VCRs and didn’t mind bootlegging, there were only a couple of films you could get your hands on thanks to expensive VHS copies: Vampire Hunter D (1985), Demon City Shinjuku (1988), Wicked City (1987), Akira (1988), and Ninja Scroll and Ghost in the Shell (both in 1995). I don’t remember more anime becoming widely available until the new millennium and DVDs. Unfortunately the practice then was to parcel a single series over as many DVDs as possible and charge a premium for those 5 or 6 measly episodes.


The internet and Adult Swim helped change that. And now with all the streaming options available you can watch all the anime you want (half the reason I pay for Hulu is for their anime selection).

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia
And, man, I have watched a ton. A ton. I plan on blogging about several of my favorites because anime has had a huge, huge influence on me but yet it’s something I haven’t really discussed. I mean, if you’ve read “The Whistler In The Graveyard” and watched any of the supernatural school anime, it should be absolutely clear how big an influence. And once you get to further Coffin Boy adventures, discover more about Coffin Boy's powers, The Black Veil Society, the Spirit Fog, and Lydia fully comes into her own, you won’t be able to miss the influence.


October 21, 2015

Baphomet Rising , Part VI: The Monstrosity of the Idol



Baphomet Rising, Part VI: The Monstrosity of the Idol


The Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled the Ten Commandments monument unconstitutional and ordered its removal in June of 2015. The Satanic Temple withdrew their proposed Baphomet statue in response.


Unfortunately, while the battle over the Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma was playing out, Arkansas passed Senate Bill 939 for the exact same thing.

This July, the Satanic Temple unveiled the Baphomet statue in his full glory at a ceremony in an industrial warehouse in Detroit. Then, in September of this year, the Satanic Temple filed to have their Baphomet monument placed alongside the Ten Commandments monument in Arkansas. Finally, in October, only a few days from this writing, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin called for a constitutional amendment to restore the Ten Commandments to her state’s capital.

In an interview with Vice, Lucien Greeves says the Satanic Temple is both a satanic and satire group. He then points out that their Satan is a “literary construct inspired by authors such as Anatole France and Milton—a rebel angel defiant of autocratic structure and concerned with the material world.” Their Satan is not the Lord of Evil, but “an atheistic philosophical framework” they want to use “to separate religion from superstition and to contribute positively to our cultural dialogue.”

Even without Greeves' statement, the goal of the Satanic Temple should be obvious and you don’t need to understand anything about Baphomet, really. The blurred line between church and state has gone unchallenged for too long in America. If our country is based on the constitution, if our government is democratic, if our society is founded on the principle of religious freedom, then we cannot allow a religious monument at a state capital. However, if we are going to allow a religious monument at a state capital while still claiming all those things, then we must allow all religions to have monuments.

Oftentimes the best way to point out the complacency of our human thought, our dull acceptable of what should be unacceptable, and our lazy consideration of an issue is with the absurd. And is there anything more absurd than a religious monument to the sentient, supernatural champion of evil funded by a group of people who do not believe in the sentient, supernatural champion of evil?

Once we understand the history of Baphomet, it becomes clear why it’s the perfect choice for a protest monument. Not only is Baphomet an effective challenge to the lapsed division between church and state, it also demonstrates our silly insistence on allowing ridiculous superstitions to govern us (remember the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck), acknowledges all those paradoxes in thought and behavior that come with being human (Crowley's "Divine Androgyne"), champions knowledge while managing to represent the typically unrepresented (Levi).

But it also fulfils a particular human need. Remember Greeves' statement about seperating religion from superstition? In his “confessions,” Crowley wrote with uncharacteristic clarity and lack of theatrics about his Gnostic Mass featuring Baphomet:

“Human nature demands (in the case of most people) the satisfaction of the religious instinct, and, to very many, this may best be done by ceremonial means. I resolved that my Ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.”

Eliphas Levi probably sums it up best, however. In his The Book of Splendours, he wrote, “Baphomet is knowledge rising in opposition to idolatry, protesting through the very monstrosity of the idol.”

Can there be a better idol against idolatry then Baphomet?


PART I: The Dark God of the Templars
PART II: The Goat of Mendes
PART III: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck
PART IV: The Great Beast
PART V: The Devil for Fun and Profit
PART VI: Monstrosity of the Idol


WORKS CONSULTED:
Barber, Malcom, and Keith Tate. The Templars: Selected Sources. Manchester University Press, 2002.
Brantley, Max. "Satanists Petition Arkansas for a Place at the Capitol." Arkansas Times. N.p., 08 Sept. 2015. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
Bugbee, Shane. "Unmasking Lucien Greaves, Leader of the Satanic Temple." Vice.com. 30 July 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.
Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. Perigree Books. New York, 1967.
Crowley, Aleister. The Book of Lies. Weiser Books. Massachusetts, 1986
—.The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. Penguin. New York, 1989.
—. Magick: Liber ABA, Book 4. Weiser Books. Massachusetts, 1998
—. Magick in Theory and Practice. Dover Books. 1976
Gilmore, Peter H. "The History of the Origin of the Sigil of Baphomet and Its Use in the Church of Satan." Church of Satan. Web. 06 Oct. 2015.
"January 13, 1128: Pope Recognizes Knights Templar." History.com. A+E Networks, 2009. Web. 05 Oct. 2015.
Johnson, M. Alex. "Oklahoma Removes Ten Commandments Monument Under Court Order." NBC News. 7 Oct. 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.
Herodotus. The Histories. Penguin Classics. New York, 2003.
Jenkins, Nash. "Hundreds Gather for Unveiling of Satanic Statue in Detroit." Time. 27 July 2015. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
Levi, Eliphas. Transcendental Magick. Weiser Books. Massachusetts, 1968.
—. The Book of Splendours. Weiser Books. Massachusetts, 1973.
Nelson, Sara C. "Satanic Temple Submits Application For 7ft 'Baphomet' Demon To Be Erected Next To Ten Commandments." Huffington Post. 01 July 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2015.
Peters, Edward. The First Crusade: "The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres" and Other Source Materials. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011
Trayner, David. "Satanic Temple Unveils Controversial Baphomet Sculpture to Cheers of 'Hail Satan'" The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 26 July 2015. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. Dover. 2005

October 20, 2015

Baphomet Rising, Part V: The Devil for Fun and Profit


Baphomet Rising, Part V: The Devil for Fun and Profit


Anton LaVey didn’t care about mystical opposites. For him, Baphomet was synonymous with the Devil, a particular devil—the one he could sell you for a $200 membership fee.

Born Howard Levey, he ran away from home to join the circus at age 16. For most of his life, he continued working in circuses and carnivals, but also played piano for burlesque shows. In the early 1960s, LaVey’s minor celebrity status in San Francisco drew a few notable locals to his regular parties. Supposedly, as reported by his Church, from that party scene came The Order of The Trapezoid which met regularly to listen to the showman lecture on philosophy and the occult. After LaVey ritualistically shaved his head and declared 1966 the Age of Satan: Year One, The Order of the Trapezoid become the governing body for The Church of Satan.

The Sigil of Baphomet
Whatever his faults, or perhaps because of them, LaVey was a master of marketing and branding. After introducing the world to his church and enjoying several years of media spectacle, including the first Satanic Wedding, LaVey’s next move was to release The Satanic Mass on LP in 1968. Emblazoned strikingly on the cover was the Church of Satan’s mark, now famously called the Sigil of Baphomet: a goat’s head in the center of an inverted pentagram with mystical symbols at each of its points. This Sigil would become the official symbol of The Church of Satan, forever tie Baphomet with the Devil of Christianity, and was, of course, lifted from another source.

Marquis Stanislas de Guaita was a morphine-addicted poet and a mystic who founded the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Cross in Paris. He was also a fan of Eliphas Levi. In 1897, before his death by overdose, de Guaita published a book called La Clef de la Magie Noire (The Key to Black Magic) which included an image based on a description by Eliphas Levi. Several other occultists used de Guaita’s image in their own work, after some tweaks, before Maurice Bessy included the original in his A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural which was published in the 1960s. From that book, LaVey took de Guaita’s image, removed the words “SAMAEL” and “LILITH,” then distorted the Hebrew characters positioned at the star’s points until they looked appropriately more sinister. This was all, of course, supposedly to fully realize the Sigil of his church but more likely had to do with the trademarks he later filed.

LaVey or Ming the Merciless?
LaVey was, of course, no stranger to appropriation. As befits a strident proponent of Social Darwinism, most of his shtick was borrowed: his look was pure Ming the Merciless; his Satanic philosophy was a dash of Nietzsche mixed with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, then hidden under the hokum of magic and the distraction of naked women holding serpents; while portions of his Satanic Bible are simply cribbed directly from Ragnar Redbeard’s Might is Right.

His appropriation claimed Baphomet for the Devil in the popular consciousness. And perhaps the most honest thing he ever did was operate his religion as a business.




PART I: The Dark God of the Templars
PART II: The Goat of Mendes
PART III: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck
PART IV: The Great Beast
PART V: The Devil for Fun and Profit
PART VI: Monstrosity of the Idol

Thoughts On The Star Wars Boycott




The best response to the assholes pushing ‪#‎BoycottStarWarsVII‬ and claiming it's "anti-white" because it features a diverse cast and people of color? It's not blog posts and flame wars and screaming matches on Twitter or whatever. It's pretty simple really. Ignore them and go see it. Don't engage. Make sure it makes money because that's going to have far more of an impact on what the cast of future Star Wars movies look like and whether this ushers in a real change for the faces we see on screens both big and small.

If you feel that you have to do something else, contact Lucasfilm, contact Disney, and let them know how happy you are to see people of color in Star Wars.


Everything else is probably going to do nothing else besides cause you grief. There have always been assholes and complainers in the world. Complaints in and of themselves are meaningless. I don't know where we got the idea that every single complaint matters or warrants the need to be addressed. When we lived in caves, I guarantee you there was an asshole sitting around the fire with Thrack and Kruk complaining about something (probably how leaving the cave was a bad idea or how Kruk should have drawn his antelope thing on the south wall or how we should really not mingle with the strange tribe in the other cave across the chasm.) When we're all loading into our silver ships to depart earth, there were be another asshole there too, complaining about something that isn't even worth acknowledging.

So what? Those people don't matter. Don't be fooled by how easier the internet has made it to notice them. Because s
ociety progresses. We left the caves. We left Roman Catholic Church. We left the rule of the king. And every step of the way, someone has complained. Just like now when society is progressing in a new way. We're moving forward, whether the hate-monger pissed at a black stormtrooper wants to like it or not, doesn't matter.

October 19, 2015

Baphomet Rising, Part IV: The Great Beast


Baphomet Rising Part IV: The Great Beast



“He is ‘the Devil’ of the Book of Thoth, and His emblem is BAPHOMET, the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection.”
—Aleister Crowley, Magic in Theory & Practice


Aleister Crowley is perhaps the single most famous figure in the entire history of magic and the occult. Often wrongfully dismissed simply as a debauched and drug-addicted Satanist, Crowley was a poet, a painter, a mountain climber, openly bisexual, and a rebel against a controlling society he felt imposed outdated morals based on ridiculous superstition. He was always a master at publicity, a flagrant attention whore, and could be exceedingly cruel.

Unsurprisingly, Baphomet was an important figure for the man who called himself “the Great Beast.” Crowley began his formal magical training in The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn before founding the Argentium Astrum (usually written A∴A∴), and finally reorganizing the pre-existing Ordo Templi Orientis under his own religion/magical tradition called Thelema. When Crowley was initiated into the O.T.O. by its founder Theodor Reuss, he took the name Baphomet as his mystical name.

When Crowley later wrote his Gnostic Mass, Baphomet figured prominently as a symbol of the perfect union of opposites, the divine Androgyne. The goal of the "master magician" is to master the universe. One of the laws of magic is “as above, so below”—to put this in less mystical terms, everything is connected to everything else (stripped of the magic phraseology, the interconnectedness of all things is a familiar idea--one you see in everything from physics to Buddhism). So, in order to master the universe, the magician must master himself. Every part of himself, both the noble and the ignoble, the base and the divine. 


That sounds strange and complicated. Mystical and flowery. It’s not. Walt Whitman got it -- "I am large, I contain multitudes". What that really means is that the master magician wants to become a fully realized human being, who acknowledges everything about himself and what it means to be a human being. I've talked before about our tendency to decide that something is either good or bad based on one situation or example, then apply it across the board when nothing actually works that way. The goal of the master magician is to toss that tendency aside and see things for what they are, when they are...which brings us to the really interesting thing about magic and the occult. It's not that there is anything actually mystical, there's no such thing as Dr. Strange magical powers, the night is not full of gods and demons and spirits waiting hungrily in the outer dark, and there has never been any historical and scientifically-proven evidence of some cohesive world-wide body of lost knowledge/religion. When we examine magic and the occult, we see how long we have struggled to make sense of those deep questions about what it means to be alive and aware in this universe and inside this human body.


PART I: The Dark God of the Templars
PART II: The Goat of Mendes
PART III: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck
PART IV: The Great Beast
PART V: The Devil for Fun and Profit
PART VI: Monstrosity of the Idol

Forgettable Cases


I’ve been slowly making my way through the first season of Elementary since Hulu added the show to their streaming service. Currently, I’m a little over half way through the first season. I like the BBC’s Sherlock, but if we’re talking purely character and my emotional investment, then Elementary wins hands down. Miller’s Holmes comes off as a more honest portrayal of a human being. I buy that’s he’s super-smart and has a distant father, both of which make it more difficult for him to relate to people. Even though she’s not fresh from a war, Lucy Liu comes off as more genuinely wounded than Martin Freeman’s veteran. Miller and Liu is just a much more engaging relationship, and I like that there’s no hint of a hook-up. I like the actual use and acknowledgment of Holmes’s drug addiction, which most modern adaptations gloss over. The main problem for me with Moffat’s Sherlock is the same problem I have with most of Moffat’s writing. His writing often comes off as smarty pants, like he’s gloating over the audience and showing off--Quiet, children, the adults are talking. (Not to mention he has a terrible narrative sense, hammers multiple episodes worth of plot into ten minute resolutions, and is just kind of awkward writing actual human beings.)


My problem with Elementary though is the cases are so utterly forgettable. It's all stuff we've seen before. I want cases from clients. I want big, epic cases that only Holmes can solve. Even with the smarty pants writing that can be so often off-putting, that’s the thing Sherlock has over Elementary in spades. So far first season the mystery of the week has left me cold. It’s all so forgettable except for the episode called “M,” then only because of the character focus and motivation. Every case has been through the police which is quickly becoming silly without some acknowledgment--that's why Pysch made the consulting thing a running gag. You could strip Holmes and Watson from most of the plots and insert Goren and Eames or any other crime drama pair with zero work.

October 18, 2015

Baphomet Rising, Part III: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck




Baphomet Rising, Part III: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck


“With more than his usual derision for the arts which he pretended to respect and interpret as a master therein, Eliphas Levi affirms that the Baphometic figure is occult science and magic.”
--A.E. Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot.


Arthur Edward Waite was a mystic, a scholar, a member and, after the expulsion of S.L. MacGregor Mathers, the leader of the Golden Dawn. Waite’s early interest in the esoteric turned fully to the tradition of western hermeticism and the occult when he discovered Levi’s writings in the library of the British Museum. Not only was Waite the eventual English translator for Levi’s work but he was also the first person to write of the occult tradition as its own unique and cohesive spiritual tradition we could take something from, instead of a disparate group of beliefs or practices that all served as a kind of combo proto-science/religion.

Waite was also an early influence and mentor to another important figure in the history of Baphomet, 
Aleister Crowley...before the two became enemies—an enmity mostly due to mean-spirited but extremely funny reviews of Waite’s work and Crowley’s later insistence on referring to him as “Dead Waite” due to his incredible dullness.

Today, however, Waite is best remembered as the man behind the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. This fortune telling device is still available today but its claim to fame rests firmly in the fact that it was one of the first decks to illustrate every single card, not just the 22 Major Arcana. And for our discussion here, for making Baphomet synonymous with the Devil.


The Rider-Waite deck was illustrated by an American artist named Pamela Colman Smith. She was friends with William Butler Yeats who introduced her to The Golden Dawn, which is how she met Waite. For the Devil card redesign, Waite directed Smith to Levi’s Baphomet for her inspiration. Prior decks tended to feature “devils” that were either more clearly meant to represent Pan or a satyr, or were simply inspired by Hieronymus Bosch and his penchant for grotesque body horror as punishment for sin and excess. Previous illustrations kept more fully to the basic meaning of the card. The card has nothing to do with a sentient force of preternatural evil. The card represents the problem we have with our own passions, our tendency to ascribe our actions as being dictated by outside forces when we actually are the ones in control.

Regardless of the card’s actual meaning, the choice of Levi’s art paired with the name, cemented Baphomet’s association with that supposed, sentient manifestation of evil.


PART I: The Dark God of the Templars
PART II: The Goat of Mendes
PART III: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck
PART IV: The Great Beast
PART V: The Devil for Fun and Profit
PART VI: Monstrosity of the Idol

October 17, 2015

Baphomet Rising, Part II: The Goat of Mendes



Baphomet Rising, Part II: The Goat of Mendes


Baphomet’s name would next be taken up by the son of a Paris cobbler named Alphonse Louis Constant. Constant was a smart boy, and despite being born poor, his parents groomed him for the priesthood. Accounts differ as to why he was expelled from the seminary; either he fell in love or he wouldn’t give up vocalizing “strange views.” Whatever the reason, he never fully shrugged off the fetters of his Catholic upbringing. The conflict between his religious education and his fascination with the weird and the esoteric is present in all his work. Unsurprisingly, in 1860 Constant reconciled with his church. When he died fifteen years later, he received the last rites. Before then, however, he would shape the entire concept of the occult in Western Civilization and become, perhaps unwittingly, a champion for Baphomet.

When he began his magical writings, Constant transliterated his name into Hebrew. His first treatise Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Dogma and Ritual of High Magic) was published in 1856 under the name Eliphas Levi. Arthur Edward Waite later translated the work as Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual (Sometimes also referred to or printed as The Doctrine and Ritual of Magic) in 1896.

Levi barely made any money from his books during his lifetime. While his work could be fun and evocative, sometimes insightful with theories void of the worst traps of superstition, more often than not he tended to be wordy, ridiculous, and at times virtually incomprehensible. Mostly, he supported himself by "teaching" magic. However, despite being friends with the English novelist and practicing mystic Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Levi was more interested in theorizing than doing. In his lifetime, he was known to have carried out only a single magical working—the evocation of the ghost of the pagan philosopher and magician Apollonius of Tyre in 1854, an experience that supposedly disturbed him for the rest of his life (maybe even sent him back to the arms of his church).


Levi’s image of Baphomet is of a human looking figure with breasts, wings, and the head and hooves of a goat. A candle rests between its massive horns, a pentagram graces its forehead, and a caduceus rises from its groin like a malformed phallus. It bears no resemblance to any of the allegations or descriptions mentioned in any of the records concerning the Templars. The most likely source of his inspiration was the work of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the gothic revival architect whose “restoration” of Notre Dame meant adding the now-iconic gargoyles to cathedral.

Like any good occultist, especially one who made his living selling the occult, Levi hedged his bets by making his Baphomet cover everything. Levi referred to his image as Baphomet, The Goat of Mendes, and The God of the Witches’ Sabbath. In the very same chapter, Levi alternates between saying Baphomet: “…reproduces the exact figure of the terrible emperor of the night, with all his attributes and all his characters” and “…the god of our modern schools of philosophy, the god of the Alexandrian theurgic school and of our own mystical Neoplatonists…”, while still attributing his creation as the dark god who sat in worship at the witches’ Sabbath--though he very wisely also surmisses that the allegations that arose from the witch hunts were either outright lies or actual rites seen but completely misunderstood.

The Goat of Mendes is often thrown around as being some sort of more historical origin for Baphomet. It’s not. Mendes was the Greek name of the ancient Egyptian city of Djedet where they worshipped a ram deity named Banebdjedet who would be letter repackaged either as one of Zeus’s many forms or simply Pan, depending on which source you like. Herodotus describes the worship in some detail (I’m never surprised by this—ever notice how the Greeks and Romans loved to give long descriptions of the perversions of conquered peoples?), while Cavendish describes it briefly and to the point, “A divine he-goat was worshipped at Mendes, the most beautiful woman chosen to couple with it.”

Any association with Mendes is not historical, it’s all Levi.

But for Levi, Baphomet was everything.

October 16, 2015

Baphomet Rising, Part I: The Dark God of The Templars



I wrote a non-fiction piece to submit to a specific market that ended up falling through. Instead of tossing the piece, I figured I'll break it up and post it here.



Baphomet Rising

"And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET."
—Aleister Crowley, The Gnostic Mass

In 2012, a private group funded the installation of a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma state capitol. This clear and bold violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution received its first real challenge in the media from The Satanic Temple. If one religion is allowed to have a monument, they reasoned, then all religions are allowed.

Through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, The Satanic Temple then raised $28, 180 to construct theirs: a nearly 9-ft tall statue of Baphomet sitting on a slab, flanked by two children eager to hear his words.
But who or what is Baphomet?  And what does this mean?


The Dark God of the Templars

Baphomet begins with The Knights Templar. Unfortunately, once you examine the actual history of the order, it’s not nearly as fun as The Da Vinci Code makes out. It comes down to what people still fight over—money.

Founded around 1119, during the First Crusade, the Templars were originally composed of a mere nine members. Their mission was to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. In 1128, Pope Honorius II granted them the church’s official sanction—declaring them an army of God.

And making them the single, largest charity throughout all of Europe.

During the next two hundred years of the order’s existence, the Templars gathered considerable power and began several lucrative practices that would lead to modern banking. New members was required to take a vow of poverty so all their lands and money were signed over to the order. Nobles heading off to the Crusades knew they would be away for many years. To protect their wealth and holdings, they temporarily signed control of everything over to the Templars.

Now the biggest danger for pilgrims en route to the Holy Land was never Muslims or agents of the supernatural out to kill Christians. It wasn’t djinn or demons pilgrims needed to watch out for, it was bandits. From this arose the Templars’ most lucrative money-making scheme: a pilgrim makes an initial deposit at a Templar stronghold; then, whenever they need money on their journey, all they have to do is stop at the nearest stronghold and make a withdrawalminus fees.

By the time Pope Clement V bowed to pressure from King Philip IV of France to take down the order in 1307, the Templars had considerable power, vast holdings, immense wealth, and held promissory notes from Europe’s elite. It should surprise only the naïve that King Philip himself also owed the Templars a ridiculous sum.


Most of the accusations leveled against the Templars were the very same ones that had been used earlier against the Cathar heresy when the Church wiped out the renegade religious sect: worshipping the Devil in the form of a cat, worshipping an idol, renouncing Christ and spitting on the crucifix, and engaging in homosexuality. There were probably a few things that were true to an extent, but nothing like the medieval claptrap that went hand in hand with heresy accusations. Undoubtedly some of the knights were homosexuals. However, if any of them participated in a ceremony to renounce Christ and spit on the cross, modern thought is that it was a type of special training in case of capture—how to renounce your faith in deed but not in heart while under duress.

The only unique allegation against the Templars was that they worshipped Baphomet. Sometimes described as a severed head and other times as an idol, it was entirely a fabrication and doesn’t even appear in the initial charges against the Templars. Most of the members put to question had never heard of Baphomet. The ones who mentioned it in their torture-induced confessions offered either wildly different accounts or were clearly repeating what their questioner wanted to hear.

But the Templars did not worship the Devil. There has never been proven to be any organized or wide-spread case of “devil worship” ever. I repeat—ever.

Baphomet is believed to be a corruption of Mahomet, old French for Mohammad. The earliest known reference to the name comes from another crusader, Anselm of Ribemont. In 1089, he wrote: “As the next day dawned, they called loudly upon Baphometh; and we prayed silently in our hearts to God, then we attacked and forced all of them outside the city walls.”

None of this has stopped the flights of fancy that color occult scholarship from offering up a host of possibilities. The wackiest involve complex equations and ancient ciphers in other languages. Probably the sanest supposition is based on the name sort of looking like two Greek words, “baphe” and “metis,” which translate to “baptism of fire.” Unfortunately, this is suggested to support the idea that the Templars were a secret cult of Gnostics holding the keys to some ancient wisdom.

Truthfully, the Baphomet charges accomplished two things. To the superstitious mind believing in the raging engines of hell staffed by an active and vast infernal hierarchy laboring for the downfall of man, Baphomet was merely another name added to the long diabolical roll call. But also, subtly, it was used to suggest the Templars had switched sides. The holy order entrusted to protect loyal subjects of Christendom on their journey to the Holy Land, were, in fact, secret Muslims.

Yup. Secret Muslims. A baseless accusation still being used as a potent weapon today.

The combined might of a king and a pope finally brought an end to the Templar order. Their leaders were executed, their holdings and wealth divided amongst the Catholic Church and the kings of France and England. The Templars quickly became the favorite target of conspiracy buffs and the all-time biggest magnet for pseudohistory and occult bullshit as writers attempted to connect them to virtually anything imaginable, from simple slander against Freemasons to fanciful silliness like a secret bloodline of Christ.

Assuming you’re not peddling your own secret knowledge, writing about the occult can be difficult. Clarity and honesty and objectivity tend to be three things given short shrift. Real logic is often absent from discussion. As occult historian Richard Cavendish explains in his book The Black Arts, “Magical thinking is not random, it has its own laws and its own logic, but it is poetic rather than rational. It leaps to conclusions which are usually scientifically unwarranted, but which often seem poetically right.” Or to put it another way, coincidence is causation, and correspondence and association is key for a conclusion. Human beings are, by nature, pattern-finding animals—regardless of whether a pattern is actually there or not. Nowhere is this more smack-you-in-the-face evident than when it comes to the history of magic. Practitioners and aficionados of the “occult” regularly made things up or simply stole someone else’s work and repackaged it.


Basically, it’s a lot like being on the internet.


But why does it matter? Well, I'll get to that.

PART II: The Goat of Mendes
PART III: The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck
PART IV: The Great Beast
PART V: The Devil for Fun and Profit
PART VI: Monstrosity of the Idol



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