My experiences this last weekend at the Esoteric Book Conference are not going to be recounted here in as in-depth a fashion as I have been accustomed to doing in the past several years, for the simple reason that a) I don’t have as much time to spend with this today as I’d like (nor will I have time later in the week), and b) some parts of it I just don’t have a lot to say about. I enjoyed attending the entirety of the conference, though I found a great deal more relevance in the second day’s presentations than the first overall. I didn’t do much of the “outside” stuff that was affiliated with the conference (e.g. the after-party on Sunday or the entertainment on Saturday night, or any of the formal or informal pre-events on Friday), but on both Saturday and Sunday nights, rituals happened that I attended, and in many respects these–in particular the second one, on Sunday night–were especially important.
I must begin by expressing my deepest and utmost heartfelt thanks to my host, Michael Sebastian Lvx, for allowing me to stay at his apartment for the duration of the weekend; to TurningTides, for hanging out with me and giving me a ride back up the hill on Saturday; and also to Jay, for giving me a ride on Sunday, and likewise getting me to the ferry on Monday morning–thus saving me bus fares and needlessly lost time and walking and inconvenience! Many thanks to all of you, without whom my legs and my spirits would have been in much greater pain, not to mention I’d have been awfully cold sleeping outside! ;)
Travel down and back wasn’t bad, but having to carry an air mattress is a bit of a burden; I also had an umbrella, which I didn’t need while in Seattle, but was necessary to keep me somewhat more dry on my walk from my apartment to various errands on Friday morning in Oak Harbor before departing. I found myself having to go directly from a meeting at college to the bus on Friday, and then on Monday, I only had a short while to return home after arriving back in the morning before I had to be at college to teach for the afternoon. (Something similar will be occurring when I go to the World Parliament of Religions next month…or, really, in sixteen days!) The older I get, the less I enjoy travel; but, little enough is occurring these days in terms of organized conferences of great interest to me in my immediate locality, so it’s what is necessary, alas.
One of the only major disappointments–which was ultimately a blessing in disguise, it turns out–was that after I obtained my registration for the conference (for which I pre-paid several months back), I went to buy my first book for the event, only to find that my credit card didn’t work. I suspect this is because they sent out new ones, but I had not activated a new one meanwhile, and thus wasn’t aware that they’d be de-activating this one at some unknown date. This was a major disappointment, needless to say, since one of the great perks of attending this event is all of the wonderful books on offer. But, on further reflection, I realized that I can obtain paperback copies of some of the books for cheaper later, and as much as I enjoy the fine hardback editions of some books, if they are available in paperback, it is a bit easier on the pocketbook. I had hoped to perhaps use what little cash I had on one book in particular from the Inner Traditions table, which always offers a 50% discount on all their books…but they, too, had problems, because according to UPS, Fope Prancis’ visit caused some delays in shipping, and so the books that were meant to arrive for sales at the conference were in Portland, and would not show up until Monday…which would be too late. So, no books there, either. There was one table that had a number of books for free, and I considered taking one of them overnight on Saturday, only to find that they were all gone by Sunday morning. There were a couple of paperbacks on the table in the middle of the room in small stacks that were marked “free” on Sunday morning, though, so I availed myself of two of those…and that was my book haul for this year. Oh well…considering I’m still having trouble finding enough shelves, and space for shelves, in my new apartment, getting more books (no matter how important or desired they are) is probably not in my best interests at present. However, considering how much space and how many words I’ve spent telling you here the essentially short message of “I didn’t really get any books,” it’s probably kind of obvious how hard and upsetting, though important, this particular circumstance and the lessons that come with it happened to be for me on the occasion. :(
The first day’s presentations were interesting. Especially good was the first, which was by Oksana Marafioti, and it was on magical realism in Russia, and how house cults (i.e. ancestor and land/house-spirit cultus), shamanism, and Christianity have all played a role in Russian culture, and have influenced Russian literature a great deal, despite apparent attempts of Christianity and Communism to destroy the pre-Christian (and all religious) traditions in that culture. I learned that in Russian culture and in the household cultus, werewolves are essentially ancestor figures, which is good to know (!?!). I also some terms for a few sacred roles in the culture, which might be useful in trying to deepen my own ancestor veneration practices, since my dad’s side of the family came more directly from there.
Presentations by Jeff Lavoie on Christian theosophy and Emily Pothast on sacred geometry in art of the (Christian) Apocalypse were also interesting, but rounding out the day on Saturday were talks by Stephanie Spoto and Jeffrey Erwin on Lilith in the works of John Dee, John Selden, and other 16th century writers, as well as an amulet of Catherine de Medici (fun fact: the Medici family traced their ancestry to Medea!), and then finally one by Eric Purdue on Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s work. Spoto and Erwin’s talk was intriguing, though it leaned in the direction of monism–understandably, given that Selden and others seemed to lean in that direction where the interpretation of different Goddesses are concerned, but they decided to adopt that monistic hermeneutic themselves in discussing the material (which I don’t think was necessary, but oh well…it’s not my presentation!). Purdue’s presentation gave me a lot of information on what to expect when I at last get to reading Agrippa–which I’ve only had occasion to briefly dip into previously–and I look forward to the preparation of his translation of the text in preference to the only one easily available at present; I also know that despite the ongoing relevance of Agrippa and his importance in the overall tradition of magic and grimoires in the European tradition (and indeed, the repeated references to him in the presentations the following day!), nonetheless his work isn’t as essential to what I hope to be doing in the years to come as some other things might be.
That night, after getting a ride back, I had a quick dinner before a small group of people, including the
merry band of pirates! last three presenters from the following day, came to attend a gnostic liturgy in honor of the feast-day of Sts. Cyprian and Justina at my host’s apartment. MSL is a deacon of the Apostolic Johannite Church (amongst many other things!), and I have been interested in attending one of their liturgies for a while, and have been invited to them previously but have not been able to make it. Given the occasion, though, my staying there, and the fact that St. Cyprian–not unlike Agrippa–would be mentioned frequently the following day, it seemed like a very good idea to be there. The liturgy wasn’t that different than what I have experienced previously in Catholicism, with some noteworthy and positive differences at a number of points. In any case, it was a good thing to have done! We were given the opportunity to ask St. Cyprian for something at the appropriate time, and perhaps part of what I asked for came about later that night…
The various guests, as well as my host, went out to party, while I stayed in, wrote this short post and checked my e-mail, and then decided to try and sleep a bit. After learning later that my host would not be returning home that night, I took advantage of his absence by borrowing his duvet, as I was extremely cold for some strange reason…it was as if the heat of the entire apartment dissipated. It didn’t feel like a “natural” departure of the heat, either, I think something might have been afoot, if not in the larger apartment and surroundings than perhaps simply in my own process at that moment. I ended up having a dream later in the morning (though I had several over the course of the night) in which I was in a rather unpleasant medical situation, and was being asked a lot of questions by the medical personnel who were causing me all the discomfort, and one of them–in an attempt to try and seem more personable–asked me about what I was working on at the moment, and my answer was “I’m writing a book about Polydeukion,” and then I had to explain who he is. I woke up soon after that…but here’s the thing: I have no current plans to write a book about Polydeukion (though he certainly comes into several other books I have in the works), but perhaps I should be. I’m going to be exploring some options in that regard over the coming weeks, amidst working on the various other things I have in process, but this dream also had some relevance to what followed the next day, as you’ll see. ;)
First up on the second day was Ezra Sandzer-Bell and Cassandra Johns, who presented on plant music medicine. Sandzer-Bell’s books look interesting, and he discussed how he arrived at the system which he uses to develop music for the plants he has worked with; likewise, Cassandra talked about her role in their overall project, being much more trained herbalist focused. While I don’t think I have any future as an herbalist, I was interested in how Sandzer-Bell developed this system, and I think I might try it, but I’m going to have to adjust, because his system is based on Hebrew letter musical note and color correspondences, whereas I think I’m going to try and do it based on Greek (which, having 24 letters, more easily lends itself to a two-octave chromatic scale than would the 22 Hebrew letters, particularly since I will be using many Greek words and names). I may see if I can obtain those books at some stage, though given how deeply they go into things like Golden Dawn and Rosicrucian symbolism, I don’t know if they’ll be as relevant to what I hope to do as simply the ideas he was presenting and the variations he was suggesting people explore is stimulating to the possibilities I might experiment with in the future.
Next up in the morning before lunch was our old friend Amy Hale, who presented on shape and color as entities. She started with the premise that iconography of Divine Beings that is representational and often anthropomorphic is wonderful and beautiful, and among some of her favorite artistic pieces are such depictions; but, there is a long tradition in the ancient world of aniconic or less representational divine images, like Aphrodite of Paphos’ sacred stone, which while there are aspects of it that might suggest a “Goddess”-esque presence or form, nonetheless is a natural stone that was venerated for centuries. (Indeed, Artemis of Ephesus/Upis’ depiction originated in this fashion as well, as did Cybele, the divine namesake of Elagabulus, and many other such images.) What followed this discussion was a quick summary of the color theory systems of a number of different people over the last several centuries, and then a discussion of very modernist artists like Piet Mondrian (as was discussed a few years ago by Pam Grossman) and Ithell Colquhoun, and how the purpose of many of these artists was to give some sense of the “fourth dimension” in their work. At the end of the presentation, Hale asked the audience to consider why and what qualifies something as “esoteric art,” and as an example, she showed us a stele by Austin Osman Spare, which included “a naked chick” (her exact words!), a snake, some arcane-looking symbols and writing, and a number of other things, all of which elicited the opinion that this is, indeed, “esoteric art.” Then she showed us a Mondrian painting, with its quadrilaterals outlined in black and with a few primary colored examples amongst the mostly white shapes, and she asked, “Why not this?” While this is a question and an issue I’ve heard before, on this occasion it landed a bit more impactfully for me, and perhaps the reason it did not the last time (in 2012 when Pam Grossman presented on it) is because she presented before I did, and my presentation on that occasion was on the Serpent Path.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Let me illustrate with a few examples, then.
When most people think of Antinous (though, admittedly, most people NEVER DO THINK OF ANTINOUS!!!), they think of something like this:
And, let’s be honest: why wouldn’t you? I mean, that hair, that face, that ass!–what’s not to like? ;)
Then, there’s the Serpent Path version of Antinous, which looks like this:
It is linear, schematic, abstract in the extreme, minimalistic…and also, when its various movements and iterations and permutations are taken into account, it is not only fourth-dimensional, it is infinitely-dimensional in its implications.
It is no surprise that a very limited number of people are interested in the latter, or understand it; whereas there is a section of modern Antinoan devotion that is entirely based on the former (and on modern Tijuana-Bible-gay-comic versions of the same), and which has a ton of members who are paying a full-time salary to a priesthood based on it, and on their messages of gay male cisgendered spiritual essentialism that goes little beyond “coming out” theology.
And, what is the main difference between the two approaches?
Whatever one might be able to say about them theologically or methodologically, and on one being more esoteric than the other, what is definitely true is that, unless one has particular fetishes (which I do not, personally, have, nor do I know anyone who does), you can only masturbate to one of the above images effectively. So much esoteric art does seem to be fantasy-feeding, wish-fulfilling, sexy-in-a-smutty-way imagery for its own sake, in my estimation, and the same goes for a fair bit of devotional imagery in paganism and polytheism. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like beautiful and sexy imagery probably even more than the next person, and in fact my devotion to some Deities has been stunted for lack of sexy imagery that I like; but, I do understand that there is a difference between alluring and erotically-charged devotional imagery and porn, and as much as the former is nice and enjoyable, and as much as beauty and pleasant stimulation of the human sensorium is always enjoyable and worthwhile to pursue, nonetheless for some things getting too caught up in the physical is an impediment. Indeed, this is exactly what Mondrian said, in a rather Platonic fashion (and Amy Hale’s presentation made frequent reference to Plato!), and so even despite me writing things like this from time to time, nonetheless it’s an important point. This presentation was an excellent reminder of why it is important to be doing the work that I am with the Serpent Path and other such processes, and reaffirmed the utility of being able to give a sense of the fourth dimension and multidimensionality in this work, rather than getting stuck with static images, no matter how beautiful they might be.
After lunch, the first of three presentations by
one of the merry band of pirates! Jesse Hathaway Diaz occurred, and his presentation is in many respects the hardest to quantify; after a while, I stopped taking notes on it and just sat back and enjoyed it. Amongst other topics, he discussed how in certain Afro-Diasporic traditions, not merely St. Cyprian, but St. Cyprian’s grimoire can be a lwa, and how simple possession of particular books can be seen as a kind of initiation, or even as a guarantee of authority for the work one is doing magically, even if one isn’t using the book to read and learn out of. He also discussed the rabbinic idea of “theft of mind,” and how it not only applies to not crediting one’s sources (“not citing your sources delays the coming of the Messiah!”), but also to being both too effusive in crediting other people and over-citing (and thus denying one’s own authority), as well as under-citing. There was an interesting tension that he drew out between writing a book and not writing it, between making it very accessible widely and making it a limited-run and expensive printing. A phrase that he started with and ended with was “burn all the books; consume the ashes; like the palimpsests clean,” and this is a very interesting viewpoint. Bibliomancy, which had been mentioned by Oksana Marafioti the day before as something that oftentimes was seen as the only use for the Bible in Russian contexts (even by parish priests!), also seemed to be implied in the usages discussed by Jesse here. He also mentioned how “Agrippa” is not just the Three (or Four) Books of Occult Philosophy in some cultures, but can in fact refer to any or all types of magical book; he gave us an example of a Basque woman he interviewed, who had books chained above her mantel, and he asked her what they were, and she said “Agrippas,” and he followed up “which ones?” to which she replied “all fourteen of them.” He also discussed how he had a dream of a magical book when he was younger, and his grandmother explained to him that it was “the Cyprian,” and that because he had dreamed of it, he already had the authority of it to some extent. This got me thinking about the apparent Polydeukion book I may now have to write…!?! In any case, it was an energetic and entertaining presentation, as well as informative and great to think with, and I informed him afterwards that he is one of my new favorite people. ;)
Next up was Dan Harms,
second of the merry band of pirates! who was presenting on fairy magic, and on the work he did in co-editing the recent edition of The Book of Oberon. The fairy magic rituals he described, and how they are similar to but differ in important ways from the typical ceremonial magic procedures and approaches, was very interesting. One of the rituals discussed from the book involved the invoking of King Arthur along with various other being to compel the appearance and compliance of the fairies who were being summoned, which has all sorts of interesting implications. I might end up doing some experiments with this material in the future, not only in furtherance of my own Celtic-related practices, but also to see if I can bridge some of my Antinoan and Celtic work, given that Oberon himself is a kind of transitional figure–sometimes said to have been the child of Morgan le Fay and Julius Caesar, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, anti-syncretists! ;)
The final presentation of the conference was by Al Cummins the final of the merry band of pirates! (and it isn’t struck-through here because I actually did say to him that I thought he and the other two were like a merry band of pirates!) It turns out I’d forgotten that I met Al at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in 2014, which then made that much more sense as to why his name and photo seemed familiar (!?!), and he knows so many people in common with me. His presentation was on a particular English magical manuscript of the sixteenth century, and the record of a few months of visions which accompanies it. The edition of the manuscript will be interesting to see when it is finished, but the details were especially curious on a variety of points. The magicians who used it were given it on the authority of a variety of figures, including the biblical Adam and Job, and even (here’s that name again) Agrippa! As they were doing the operations and were having experiences, in their early visions they saw visions of themselves as advanced magicians commanding hosts of spirits successfully; and in a later vision, they were told that the result of them doing this work would be that they would become saints. In essence, these visionary and divinatory actions on their part were also in a sense initiatory, and they became “self-fulfilling prophets” through the work. While this is yet another interesting manuscript that I look forward to being able to consult one day, the inspirational quality of the presentation was what really caught and enthralled me–if some of my magical and spiritual work ends up going in a similar fashion, then I think we’ll be on the right track with it, and indeed the Serpent Path thus far (in my experience) had indicated as much.
After all of that enjoyment occurred, and I said my goodbyes to several people, the very fortuitous occasion of the arrival of Jay occurred–he was not at the conference, and was instead at an event elsewhere over the weekend, but he came at the end to see who was about. He parked right across the street, and agreed to drive me back to MSL’s for the night, but upon arrival (as he had no other plans immediately), we got to talking, and decided that because the lunar eclipse was occurring at that very moment, perhaps what we’d do was a short Antinoan devotion–I had considered doing that either the night before or that night, and given the eclipse’s timing that night, it seemed like a better idea to do it then and not crowd out Sts. Cyprian and Justina the night before. Jay and MSL have been doing regular devotional rituals for the last number of months, and have worked out a system, and are developing their own particular local cultus customs with it, and I have been curious about this. Thus, what was presented to me was a rare opportunity to see someone else run an Antinoan devotional ritual from start to finish, with me only contributing a small portion to it. I’m happy for these sorts of things to be occurring, and to see that others can do (and are doing!) these things without me. They performed purifications and preparations for the ritual as they typically do; but, the usual bust of Antinous that is installed and adorned as part of their rituals was not present (as Jay didn’t know they’d be needing it!), and thus what I spoke about at length above in relation to Amy Hale’s presentation was tested on this occasion, and the “square side” Serpent Path glyph on papyrus (which I had given to Jay after my presentation at the 2012 EBC) was used as an icon of Antinous; usually, that glyph on papyrus is what the bust of Antinous would be set on top of, but this time it served as the main icon…and it worked wonderfully, for all of us. (That’s how I know I’m in the right crowd these days!) After their usual procedures, in the “miscellaneous” section, I was able to contribute “Antinous of the Moon” in the psalmic fashion that I premiered at PantheaCon 2013, which I had not entirely remembered until we sang the refrain a few times, and then it clicked back into place…and during it, we went outside and actually sang directly to the moon, which was bright and beautiful overhead after having completed its eclipse phase. (I did see it earlier in the evening when I went out to get some food.) This was quite a wonderful thing; it’s yet another thing I might have to add to the list of “things people might want a recording of in relation to Antinoan practice,” which I hope to produce at some stage. Later on, I also did the short Greek hymn to Sabazios and the Thracian deities, which they had never heard before. And after a great deal more and a bit of discussion and other things, we all retired for the night much later than expected, and in the morning went to our various destinations.
One of the things that I think is the most important about events like the Esoteric Book Conference is not the books that you can get at them (though that’s nice, if it can happen!), or the presentations one attends (though they are often very interesting and useful), or even the wonderful people one meets and interacts with (though they are the actual highlight), but instead the ideas one gets in that environment, and only in that environment, which can then inspire and guide one’s own work for months and years to come in all sorts of large and small ways. I was also happy to attend and be a participant in, rather than leader of, several rituals, including an Antinoan one, and I hope that such will occur on other occasions in the not-too-distant future as well.
But it is late now, and I have a few more things I must do before getting to bed, so I shall draw it to a close there. Thanks to everyone who attended the EBC this year, and especially to the organizers and everyone who made it a success! I hope it lasts many more years into the future! :)