I was around 14 when I first discovered Grant Morrison’s magnum opus The Invisibles. I am not the first to say that this comic changed my life. It was my intellectual introduction to anarchism, the nature of reality, and most importantly to this discussion, the occult. Morrison’s discussions on chaos magic made me start thinking about the nature of the occult and how it shapes reality. To those hard-nosed skeptics, this quote by fellow anarchist wizard Alan Moore may help “Magic in its earliest form is often referred to as ‘the art’. I believe this is completely literal. I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness.” Magick (which I will from henceforth be spelling as such), is real. It is the art of effecting the human mind and through that, affecting the world around us. To be a magician or sorcerer is to believe in your own ability to make change in the world. Artists, writers, activists, propagandists, marketers, advertisers, and even at times, hackers, engineers, and scientists are practicing magic. All those in the business of creating something that will change behaviour are magicians.
One may wonder, in modern secular society, what is the role of magick? This is a fair question, I have always been a skeptic myself. The answer lies in where the role of magic has always been, empowerment. No one ever calls on the old gods of civilization if everything is going well for them. Magick is the tool of the damned, the disenfranchised. Using magick gives us a sense that we can in fact cause change. The advancement of science has brought humanity to heights it could never imagine. But for a great many this progress has de-enchanted the universe. This will only get worse as neuroscience marches on. Science fiction author R. Scott Bakker, in his novel Neuropath introduced an idea known as the semantic apocalypse. In this idea, not only could the revelation we are automatons controlled by our brain’s programming potentially destroy consciousness itself, but as we learn how control and modify the functionality of the brain, we will lose our ability on a fundamental level to understand each other and recognize each other as thinking beings.
In our postmodern world, where all narratives are equally true and false, digital bubbles of conflicting narratives create political and social tribes already approaching semantic collapse, we are finding more people searching for meaning, leading many to fall into outdated narratives that promise to turn back the wheel of postmodernity. Of course it is impossible to put the genie back in its bottle. There were no golden ages and it’d be impossible to return to them if there were. This is where I turn to the metamodernist idea of Protosynthesis, creating narratives that may not be completely literally accurate, but are useful. The key is to both be able to treat them as true, but be aware they are not. Thus you can believe in them while they are useful, but if new information makes them less so, you have no dogma keeping you from disregarding them in favor of new ones. This is how even the skeptic can treat magic, and is in fact a tenet of chaos magick; belief is a tool.
Sanity is essentially a consensus reality, but in a world where consensus reality is falling apart there is room for embracing insanity. Obviously I can’t wave my fingers and fire lightning at my enemies (yet), but If I cast a spell calling for luck and proceed to win the lottery, or hex a political figure who then falls prey to a national scandal, why not assume my magic worked, even in a microscopic, butterfly effect way. It may be insane but it also may supply that spiritual connection to our other physical, political, and philosophical goals that once may have been held by oppressive religions.
Now that the “this is not as insane (or rather exactly as insane, but perhaps not as irrational) as it sounds” disclaimer is out of the way, let’s dig into the real purpose of this piece. To understand magick, at least within the scope of this piece, is to understand the Western Esoteric Tradition. This is the study of magick and “hidden (occult) forces” in the western world. In practice, Western Esotericists mostly just borrowed much older ideas and mixed them together into a series of mystical practices. The origins of these tend to be neopagan religions, folk magic traditions such as hoodoo and “granny magic”, Eastern religions, Kabbalah (jewish mysticism), the Gnostics, and most relevant to this piece the Hermetic Tradition.
The Hermetic Tradition, originating from ancient Egypt, was infused with Kabbalah to become the backbone of the modern Esoteric tradition. The Hermetic-Qabalah as practiced by groups such as The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (no relation to the modern neo-nazi movement in Greece), came to essentially define the Esoteric Tradition, eventually spawning directly and indirectly Aleister Crowley’s religion Thelema, Wicca, and eventually chaos magick. The Hermetic worldview is one in which there is the All, consisting of the Godhead, the Universe, the World, or the Truth, whatever you wish to call the origin and summation of all of existence. In the hermetic worldview all magic and spirits, even polytheistic gods, are ultimately products of this totality. The goal is to, through study, become more attuned to the Divine All. Magick is one way in which you accomplish this. We see much of the prototypes of modern sciences and philosophy in Hermeticism, from alchemy to astrology (many astrologers were also early astronomers) and the inspiration for Hegelian dialectics.
Fast forward to the late 20th century and we see a new, postmodern tradition rise in the occult: chaos magick. Chaos Magick attempted to cut the elitist bullshit from occultism. It encouraged experimentation, play, and pragmatism in it’s magick. Belief is treated as a malleable tool. If you want to work in a Hermetic or Kabbalistic paradigm, do so. If you want to invoke Superman, go ahead. Temporarily believing in different gods, archetypes, or even whole religions is common practice for a chaos magician. You then set aside those beliefs when you no longer need them. Seeing synchronicities, or meaningful coincidences, between your magical practices and reality keep you in the occult mindset. In a way, you can see it as weaponizing the placebo effect.
This is where we enter Meme Magic. During the campaign for the 2016 American presidential elections, we saw a series of memes rise on imageboards. They had taken the image of Pepe the frog, already established as a meme in these circles, and found synchronicities between him, various other memes in imageboard culture, and Kek, an ancient Egyptian god of primordial chaos. Through much misinterpretation of ancient Egyptian myths, and several synchronicities, the troll wing of the alt-right had developed an intricate memeplex, a parody religion based on Kek, who, through worshipping him and practicing “meme magic”, would help them elect Donald Trump president in order to destroy the liberal status quo. And for a while it has seemed as though it was working. With examples such as Trump’s victory and members of ISIS being killed after destroying a temple of the god Baal, who they link to Pepe/Kek through his shared name with the goetic demon Bael, who takes the form of a king, a frog, and a cat, supposedly linking him to both Pepe and 4chan who has long had an affinity to felines.
Now as silly as all this sounds, this is on one level classic chaos magick. The trolls were picking an archetype to work with, creating ritualistic behaviour (such as the trolls on 4chan seeking “dubs”, as repetitious numbers are seen as signs of Kek’s favor), and seeing synchronicities between their magic and reality. However this concept of meme magic, superficial and silly as it may be, might be hinting at a new evolution in occult tradition.
The key in this new evolution is an introduction of cybernetics into traditional chaos magick. For a quick explanation, Peter Carroll and Frater UD, two fathers of chaos magick, spelled out 4 “models” explaining how magick works. The Spirit model, in which magick relies on working with spirits or deities; the Energy model, which relies on manipulating invisible pseudo-scientific energies (such as chakra or orgone); the Psychological model, as more or less explained above, magick is mental, working through the manipulation of symbols and archetypes significant to our psyche; and lastly, the Information or Cybernetic model, where magick functions in a manner similarly to information in a digital system.
Chaos Magick, despite claiming to be able to work within any of the models, never really grew beyond the psychological model. Despite being coined by chaos magicians, the information model seems to have taken a while to really be fleshed out. As explained in Patrick Dunn’s Postmodern Magic, information theoretically is infinitely storable (provided you have the room for it), is not bound by the laws of energy or matter, and according to quantum physics, can exist independently of matter. Theoretically, it reconciles all three of the past models. If we do indeed live in a simulation, as is increasingly popular thought in recent years, perhaps the spirits and deities we imagine are purely informational beings, sentient memes like Nick Land’s Capitalistic God AI. Perhaps the manipulation of energy is simply the transfer of data. And the reason that the archetypes and symbols have such psychological significance is because they store/are made up of information. Under this understanding the science of memetics is arguably indistinguishable from cybernetic magic.
This finally takes me to my point. Perhaps this next model of magic is reconciling the wider Western Esoteric Tradition with “meme magic”. We now live in the anthropocene, where the human race has and continues to irrevocably change the face of the planet and it’s ecosystem. I propose that the Hermetic All is the collective human consciousness and all the interconnected systems we form with each other and our environment. Thus magick is simply manipulating these systems on a small scale in hopes of causing a butterfly effect on the wider system. Memes, aka magick, are the tool to accomplish this.
This is a metamodern mysticism, memetic hermetics or Mermeticism, if you will, combines the goals of the older Esoteric tradition, chaos magick, and meme theory. It seeks a form of enlightenment like the Hermetics, rejects their elitist hierarchies in the manner of chaos magick, and aims to spread and evolve it’s mystic knowledge throughout the human consciousness through the science of memetics. From the Mermetic perspective Enlightenment is not a static destination to reach, but a never-ending process which promotes constant change to keep up with an ever-changing world. Even if we do not live in a simulation and magick isn’t real, this may be a useful myth to believe in, one that gives a better understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos, a pragmatic hyperstition for the eternal crisis of existence.
To fully understand the extent of mystical philosophy in modern culture, one must be aware of the obscure heretical religion Gnosticism. A quick explanation: Gnosticism is a diverse set of teachings that broadly share the following doctrine: the world in which we live is a false one, created by a being known as the Demiurge, which sees itself as the supreme being, and the goal of the religion is to become spiritually pure and unite with the Realm of Light and the Monad, being the heavenly true plane of existence and its creator. For the Gnostics, the god of the Abrahamic religions is the flawed Demiurge, a cruel, petty being with the goal of keeping humans ignorant and spiritually trapped, with the aid of his servants the Archons (equivalent simultaneously of both biblical angels as servants of god, and demons as malicious spirits causing human suffering). Often other figures such as Christ and Lucifer are recast as messengers of the Monad, trying help humanity break free of the Demiurge’s control.
Gnosticism as such was heavily persecuted and marginalized, always lending itself to radical fringe ideologies. On one hand it could be anarchistic and hedonistic, rejecting the mind-body dichotomy in most traditional religions and rebelling against the reactionary authoritarian morality of the Judeo-Christian religions. On the other hand, it also lends itself to extremely reactionary ideologies, pitting the material world and all its machinations as creations of the Demiurge, promoting asceticism and even primitivism. Esoteric racialist groups have at times used pseudo-gnostic theology to frame Jews as directly worshipping evil, or non-white races as soulless creations of the Demiurge. Fascistic groups, often framing themselves as opposing the old order that oppresses the people, could claim to be destroying the Archonological forces suppressing humanity in favor of a more spiritually pure new order.
Neo-Gnosticism has become big throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We see it in the Astro-Gnosticism of ancient alien theorists, UFO cults, and films like the Alien/Prometheus franchise. We also see it in the Cyber-Gnosticism that became big in the late 90s. The Matrix directly portrays the gnostic world of illusion as a simulation, while the anime Serial Experiments Lain is explicitly a Gnostic parable using discussions of The Wired to tell a story of the rise and falls of The Demiurge and Sophia (the god of the world of illusion, and its creator). Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, most of Grant Morrison’s work, Philip K. Dick’s work (especially The Valis Trilogy), John Carpenter’s They Live, and Silent Hill are just a few media examples of Gnosticism in pop culture. It seems as though the rise in interest in Gnosticism coincides with the rise of postmodernism.
Here, we need to reconsider the concept of metamodernism. Metamodernism is an attempt to move past and fix the problems caused by postmodernism. Postmodernism opposed the grand narratives of the past that had caused so much worldwide conflict, and in response deconstructed them and promoted relativism. While this was a necessary step in society, many feel it has outstayed its welcome. No longer is the biggest problem overbearing grand narratives (at least in western society), but the gluttony of narratives and no basis to judge them. Postmodernism becomes a destructive apathetic form of nihilism. Metamodernism tries to fix this by keeping the useful parts of postmodernism while reintroducing the meaningful parts of modernism. For radicals however, metamodernism has many problems, such as its basis in metaxy or middle-ground. From this perspective, any metamodern politics is doomed to centrism. Another is it’s apparent basis in transcendent ethics (as discussed by my fellow ensorcelled writer nildicit). Transcendent ethics place an impossible goal of perfection for us to reach and just falls into modernist and romantic traps of what the Truth is. It is argued what we need instead is a more imminent ethics.
One contemporary political movement steeped in Gnosticism, intentionally or not, is the Neoreactionary movement. Heavily reactionary, this alt-right sect tends to be based, to varying degrees of adherence, on the Traditionalist School (itself heavily based in occultism), claiming some point of pre-Enlightenment history as a golden age of civilization, and essentially framing all social progress post-French Revolution as liberalism and the decline of civilization. Most importantly to this conversation is their concept of the Cathedral, a “distributed conspiracy” of leftist values that controls society. The Cathedral is the gnostic world of illusion and the “cultural marxist” forces of the left are seen as controlling society as pawns of the Demiurge. Modern society is inherently Archonological. Furthermore, we’ve come to see the right coopt the term Red Pill for “waking up” from the leftist world of illusion, a term of course borrowed from The Matrix mentioned above. We can see the Nrx as romantic thinkers, seeing the Truth as something we’ve lost and need to rediscover. The parallels to Gnosticism make sense as both are transcendental mythologies.
The most (in)famous Neo-Gnostic today is probably Nick Land, former member of the CCRU and current neoreactionary. Along with writing on many of the topics mentioned before, he also often writes on AI from a right-accelerationist perspective. Among his more outlandish claims is that capitalism itself is actually the incursion of a godlike AI from the future, ensuring its own existence. This being to Land is an inevitability. His Dark Enlightenment is one in which hyper capitalist meritocracy is the way to defeat the leftist Archons, whose world of illusion is an attempt to decelerate the creation of God. His focus on IQ is a grotesque twist on the search for gnosis, or wisdom. The Dark Enlightenment in fact may be seen as an inverted gnosticism. Humanity itself are the Archons, humanism is the world of illusions, and the Demiurge will free us from such delusions.
However, the idea of Land as Neo Gnostic introduces an interesting idea of Gnostic accelerationism in non right-wing context. Enter unconditional accelerationism or u/acc. U/acc intends to destroy all the systems of control that exist with the world of illusion. Whether it be The Cathedral, Hobbes’ Leviathan, or Stirner’s spooks, all these systems will be rendered moot by the forces of acceleration. We will be the enlightened cynics of Shaviro’s accelerationist metamodernism (as discussed by Charles Kingsley in part 7 of his exploration of metamodernism), accepting the worst as having past and the future as only getting better, even if we have to accept, in an absurdist sense, that the future may be nonhuman. Accelerationist gnostics desire to take the world of illusion, which they see as inherently unstable, and push it to its utmost absurdity, causing it to collapse on itself, making space for what comes next. In u/acc circles it is discussed that the concept that the universe trends towards greater complexity over time applies to all functional networks, including civilisation.
To finish describing our magical world, we must tackle the topic of animism. There is an idea coined by occult blogger Gordon White, that “Gnosticism is the map, animism is the territory”. In this concept even the spirit world held so dear by humanist religions are were not meant for us, but for much older beings beyond our understanding. Animism, one of the oldest conceptions of human spirituality; is the idea that all things, animate or inanimate contain spirit. The trees, the stones, the rivers, and forests are all alive in a sense. Animism is also historically less hierarchical than other mystic platforms, as we are partners with the spirits, rather than being at the bottom of the cosmic hierarchy.
Interestingly, alongside the rise of accelerationism, we have seen the rise of object-oriented-ontology (OOO). This, broadly speaking, is the study of the nature of the existence of objects. It holds that no thing is special in of itself, even things we consider “conscious” or “alive”, including people. All people have flawed experiences of reality; all our subjective realities are caricatures of “True” reality based on our sensual experience and notions of the world. OOO holds that this is true too for objects such as a rock. I experience myself standing upon the ground and a rock experiences itself laying on the ground. While this may not be literal animism, OOO has been considered to be a form of panpsychism (the idea that consciousness is a trait of all matter, essentially new age word for animism) by its critics, we can see from an occult perspective how this treatment of objects as philosophical actors in of themselves leads us to a world where materialism has looped back around to the oldest ideas of reality. A chaos magician may say, that while the rock may not be literally alive in the same way I am as a human, if it is it’s own experiential agent, than treating it as if it’s alive is, at worst, a harmless hyperstition. This also starts to give us an interesting new strategy to approaching the semantic apocalypse. In the future I might meet a person whose modified their consciousness to the point I no longer recognize them as a conscious being, but if we widen our definition of what a conscious being is, we might start to form a praxis where we don’t immediately wish to destroy our xeno-human cousins.
Now, back to the Mermetic view of magic. We exist in a complex series of interconnected systems making up nature, civilization, society, and culture. In this modern animist worldview, it is not only nature that contains a multitude of spirits, but the cities and cyberspace as well. This also takes us back to u/acc, specifically it’s anti-praxis; humanity, in accordance with primitivism, is not necessarily the end-all be-all of our world, without accepting the primitivist naturalist fallacy. As the Xenofeminists say, “If nature is unjust, change nature!” The future may be inhuman but that’s not necessarily a reason to fret. The end goal of this is a mysticism that, rather than transcending the nihilistic, anti-human nature of reality, embraces it. We are surrounded by networks of forces that exceed our understanding and we ourselves may be changing into beings we currently couldn’t comprehend, but the only way to beat them is to join them. We gladly make deals with the Devil, ally ourselves with the Great Old Ones, and commit any heresy which allows us to destroy the forces that would destroy us. The Mermetic magician may very well be an urban animist, seeing life in the streets and buildings of the city. The Mermetic magician may be a technoshaman communicating with the The Wired’s own spirit world. If the spirits are indeed informational beings, this is surely their true home. If magical energy is simply data, this is where it flows. This is the turf that current meme wars are fighting over. The Wired is ultimately is an extension of human consciousness. We are but one type of potential informational being alongside many others.
To say I know the future of magic would be arrogant and almost certainly incorrect, but I hope to open discussion on the possibilities. The occult has grown stagnant since the development of chaos magic, which the post-truth era has devoured and co-opted in the same way the modern era did to the older Esoteric Tradition, adopting the precepts useful to the popular cultural narrative, and strip the rest of its meaning and relevance. The world is always changing and we magicians, witches, and occultists must consider: how does magic evolve with it?