Far too often – out of comfort and strange notions of safety – humanity likes to separate things into supposed opposites. Black or white. Order or chaos. Magical or mundane. But what if these things are not the opposites we think they are? What disservices are we doing to ourselves?
But first, some background. This past weekend Nathan and I performed at the Eldritch Ball, which was part of Necronomicon Providence – The International Festival of Weird Fiction, Art, and Academia. As part of the perk of bringing some darkly-inspired music and dance (based on The Music of Erich Zann by H.P. Lovecraft) we got a badge to the whole conference.
This may be shocking to some, especially with my Goth background, but I’m not really a big horror fan – so a lot of what the convention focuses around really isn’t my jam. (Though I do know that quite a few folks find both my art and dance to be very well-situated in that genre, which is interesting.) Anyway, I have loads of friends for whom it is totally their jam, and Nathan has a pretty extensive collection of Lovecraft-related books and gaming stuff. So it was a good opportunity to see folks and check things out.
A few weeks ago, I keyed into the fact that Pam Grossman along with some other folks I know would be on a panel about magical art. Pretty much if you put magic and art together, I’m probably going to be there – but I had especially enjoyed Pam’s talk at the Esoteric Book Conference a few year’s back, and was also interested in what the other folks listed had to say. The full name of the panel was “Every Angel is Terrifying: Exploring the Mysterium Tremendum in Magical Art.” The panelists listed: Peter Berbegal, Richard Gavin, Pam Grossman, Dennis Quinn, Janaka Stucky, and moderated by Anthony Teth. I knew that Janaka had recently collaborated with another friend, K. Lenore Siner and there had been a special performance the same time I was in London, but alas it sold out. And Teth and I work on some of the same local projects, so I was pretty excited to see what would be discussed.
The description for the panel read as follows: “In his seminal work, “The Idea of the Holy,” German philosopher and theologian Rudolf Otto codified the notion of the mysterium tremendum as an apprehension of the divine that has its “wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering,” but may also be “developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious.” In this discussion we will examine how the holy or divine expressed in art and mystical traditions is also often terrifying, and how magic can be mistaken as demonic rather than daemonic.”
I got myself a seat in the front row. Unfortunately it turned out that Pam was unable to attend the convention, making it quite the visual line-up of dudes in front of me. (I’m not going to lie, I braced myself a bit.)
Janaka (the panel was his idea) explained that the title “every angel is terrifying” came from Rilke, which of course got my attention because I love Rilke. From there they all discussed the impact of fear and awe – and it was stated that “If you can describe the divine, you haven’t encountered the divine.” Which I thought was interesting, especially since I use my own artwork and dance to explore the divine – which feels more accurate than trying to put those experiences into words. Trance and vision was discussed to aid in those encounters. I know Teth had some great prompts at the ready, but there were a lot of opinions that had to be shared on every aspect, so I don’t think they got as far as they could have in really connecting magic, art, and the Mysterium Tremendum.
But the thing that got me thinking was when Dennis Quinn (I believe at one point he described himself as a mundane academic), asked about quantifying or explaining trance-induced visionary/fantastical/magical experiences to those who don’t have them. That question was danced around a bit, then the topic switched, there were comments from the audience, and soon time was up.
Here’s the point that I wish was made: everyone can experience trance, it’s part of how our brains work. The problem is that we have a lot of negative or seemingly boring ways of describing different states of trance: daydreaming, spacing out, losing track, being in the groove, getting absorbed in something. Very every day right? Furthermore, especially in magical communities we tend to connect trance with extraordinary things, as well as the need for using substances to achieve those divine experiences. Far too often I hear someone lamenting that maybe they just don’t have the right magical skills because they’re not having these Hollywood movie special-effects experiences. But if you sit down and talk with them for a bit, they indeed have had remarkable experiences – they simply didn’t recognize it as such, because it didn’t fit their expectation or sound like what that other Witch or magician described. Or the circumstances didn’t seem particularly special – i.e., sitting at their desk vs. being naked dancing around a bonfire slathered in herbs. It all comes down to building a practice and allowing for awareness.
The difference between mundane and magical comes down to perspective. Sometimes all you have to do is walk one more step out of your regular routine, look at the normal a little out of focus, and suddenly you see things differently. The barrier between the two is largely the space between expectation and actuality. I think far too many people are discounting their own abilities and the power they have to manifest magic in the world around them. If you look at the ordinary long enough, you can start to see the spaces in-between and without expectation, you can indeed experience the extraordinary. Even if you don’t consider yourself a magical practitioner, artist, or visionary. Similarly, horror and awe can be definitely seen as two sides of the same coin – how you interpret that energy depends on your own experience. Some of us revel in the same feeling that others are compelled to run from.
By the end of the panel, I penned the following: “Trance is the result of being in synch with the universe, and out of synch with the perceived or expected social paradigm.” It’s all part of the same universe – we’re all made from the same star-stuff. The difference is simply how we choose to interact and connect with it.