Konton magazine, Issue one, Winter Solstice 2004
52pp, plus covers. Available via www.chaosmagic.com
Konton is a new quarterly magazine devoted to chaos magic, and whilst chaos magic isn't really my main focus of practice these days, I still vastly prefer hard copy 'zines to web pages, so I jumped at the chance to review it.
Konton is nicely produced - good use of white space & unobtrusive illustrations, plus striking colour artwork on the covers by Nemo. It's been an easy temptation for occult 'zine editors to be seduced by modern DTP applications' ability to bend text or run text around artwork, but I for one am grateful that editor D.J Lawrence (aka Dead Jellyfish) has avoided the more garish DTP effects.
So what about the content, then? First up is Jaq D. Hawkins' Defining Chaos, which presents an introductory overview of the development of chaos magic, focusing on Austin Osman Spare, and "chaos science". Unless someone is a complete newcomer to the wonderful world of Chaos, it's all fairly well-known stuff. So, no mention of Crowley's influence on Chaos magic, and much quantummery about science, energy, and "aetheric space" which is presented in such a way as to imply that its commonly accepted that this is the way that magic works. Personally, whenever I hear the word "energy" I hear the echoes of Pete Carroll saying "the energy model is long past its sell-by-date" which is one of the few points on which we both agree.
Next, Joseph Max writes on Open Source Magick, I've been interested in the "open source" phenomena, ever since I read Pekka Himanen's The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age and hacker Eric Raymond's various essays. Max contrasts the difference between the "open" method of producing software, for example - Linux - and the "closed" method of software development - for example Microsoft - where software property is jealously guarded and protected. Similarly, Eric Raymond makes the distinction between 'the Cathedral' where development occurs behind closed doors by a small group, and the general public only get to see the finished result, and 'the Bazaar,' wherein ideas are freely shared, there is a multiplicity of viewpoints, and the 'work' is under constant revision and criticism. Both Raymond and Himamen stress that the real innovation of Open Source is social rather than technical, so its no wonder that its caught the imagination of magicians. Max shows how the same principles that apply to Open Source software can be applied to magic. This is fair enough, as far as it goes, and it does raise some interesting questions about the nature of secrecy. The assumption of "Open Source Magick" seems to be that it would put an end to that rather antiquated notion of magical orders keeping secret knowledge to themselves, and also, that it would present magical symbolism and procedures in simple, easy to understand language. Whilst aims such as this seem laudable, I cannot help wondering if secrecy has its place, and if there are limits on how far one can explain magic in easy terms? Max doesn't really go into how Open Source approaches to magic actually function in any depth, but sketches out the activities of three organisations that are using the Open Source model to varying degrees. Open Source seems to be an idea whose time has come, so hopefully this article will stimulate more debate.
Third in, we have Darren On the Path of the Magickian looking at some aspects of magic - namely those relating to self-discovery and self-healing - that easily get glossed over by practitioners eager to invoke their first god or attempt their first enchantment. Again, this is all good stuff, even if Darren does come on a bit strong at times, banging on about "that dark side" and the "dangers" of finding "allies" (presumably other magicians).
Jaq D. Hawkins second piece for this issue is Initiations, Memberships. And Other Games that People Play - a witty and insightful look at the pompous nonsense and status games that can occur around the process of initiation into a group.
Haosanto's Order in Chaos is a short essay arguing for the need for "structure" in shaping magical rituals. I found this interesting, as it presupposes that there is a rather more dominant view that argues that one shouldn't try and impose any structure on ritual. Perhaps I've been out of the chaos loop for too long, but I've never really come across anyone arguing that you can't structure rituals - surely if there's no structure, its isn't a ritual any longer?
With that thought, I'll move on to Taylor Ellwood's A Fresh Approach to the Astral Realms Ellwood asserts that the majority of distinct magical practices have not really been improved or been extended beyond their "initial use", and that a good example of this is how Astral Projection is generally treated in magical practice, and the way the astral plane is depicted by authors. I'm not quite sure what he means by 'initial use', but be that as it may, this article critiques the way that the astral plane is represented in broadly dualistic terms, with higher & lower planes corresponding to different types of 'natures'. This is a notion I've never found particularly persuasive myself, when I first encountered this notion in the writings of Charles Leadbeater and other Theosophists. In fact the more I think about it, the less keen I am on this notion of the Astral Plane as a distinctly separate realm of experience. Ellwood notes that: "the astral realms we experience are ones that we at least in part help to create" which I understood to be more or less the common view of the astral anyway, at least from the writings of Crowley onwards. He asserts that the astral plane has "an objective reality" which I would take issue with, but really it shows how restricted our language is for dealing with and framing these type of experiences. How "objective" can one be about any aspect of magical experience, and in particular, the "astral", with its associations with delusion & imagination. There's a wider debate here to be had, but I think it is interesting how much staying power all this quasi-theosophical stuff about 'planes' has.
Yuik is next, with a consideration of creative visualisation. This article asserts that: "Probably the most powerful tool in the Chaos Magickians arsenal is the process of creative visualisation" and goes on to look at the relationship between visualisation and the so-called "empty-handed" approach to ritual. This article left me musing about how much of what gets labelled visualisation, isn't experienced primarily as, er, visual.
In many ways, the two 'high spots' of this first issue of Konton for me were Dead Jellyfish's narrative Passion and Ceilede's Giving up the Ghost. Both examples of how magic is lived rather than mere theorising. Passion is a narrative describing an intense affair, its bittersweet ending, and the acts of magical exorcism-cum-cursing by which the narrator responds to being dumped, and the consequences thereof. One of my friends commented that the narrator, gleefully recounting his 'cursing' of his ex-lover, comes across as a bit of a twat, which is true, but then when we're in the grip of strong emotions, we rarely act rationally. In contrast, Giving up the Ghost is an account of surviving a series of abusive relationships, and what might be termed Ceilede's act of 'unconscious magic' in manifesting a spirit she later called "Bleeding Woman" - the embodiment of her pain and hurt which she subsequently reabsorbed and entered into a dialogue with. This is an excellent article and I can't help wondering if it was deliberately placed following Jellyfish's Passion to highlight the contrast between the male and female perspectives on relationships, control, and magic.
Brian Shaughnessy's Tesseract Magick explores the possibilities of using tesseracts as a nexus for entering liminal states with the aim at exploring alternative perceptions of Time. Reading this, I was immediately shot back in time to my early 20's when, as an avid player of D&D, I incorporated tesseracts and necker cubes into my dungeon designs, much to the bemusement of my players. As an attempt to overcome the linear perception of time, this article gives some potentially useful directions for exploration (although the author continues to to consider time in terms of pasts-presents-futures) and its not clear to me why the use of tesseracts should be considered as "the 144 current" - perhaps that'll be dealt with in a future article?
The final article, Bood Samel's Reflections on Antinomianism and the Left-hand Path asks the very good question "what is subversive in a world where the most extreme forms of self-destructive over-indulgence are commonplace?" After all, one person's act of antinomian taboo-breaking might be considered normal and commonplace by another. The author quite rightly points out that "the act of breaking a taboo should be to gain a full understanding of a particular phenomena, an understanding that leaves one feeling that the matter is now inconsequential."
Overall, I found Konton an excellent, thought-provoking read. With reviews and poetry too, this is a fine start that hopefully will only get better and provide a much-needed vehicle for new voices and debates in magic. - Phil Hine