Thursday, 2 August 2012

Sigils And Tags

posted 8/2/2012 by the Salt City Sinner

A popular clip from comedian Louis C.K. (  "everything's amazing and nobody is happy"  ) regards the wonders of modern life and our horrible lack of appreciation for said wonders as a culture. C.K. describes how people bitch and moan about the hassles of flying rather than being struck dumb with awe at the miracle of flight itself - and he has a point (Louis usually does).

I feel the same way about the human mind.

Instead of an airplane, each of us pilots a fantastic, glittering starship, one capable of broader capacities of perception than most people realize, as well as astonishing feats of willpower and quantum leaps of lateral thought capable of placing us in touch with realities both profound and trivial that beggar description.

Unfortunately, I think that people ignore these things and spend quite a bit of time suffocating from boredom - and what a tragic waste that is.

It's only in the last two centuries or so that even the beginnings of an understanding of our brains, both from psychological and neurological standpoints, have been embarked upon. From  Freud and Jung  to  de Sade  and  Krafft-Ebing , from James Braid to Stanley Cohen and Rita Levin-Montalcini, the last few centuries have seen an explosion of scientific knowledge regarding the seat of our higher consciousness - and other consciousnesses, as well.

Add to that scientific knowledge the thoroughly parallel-to-science (I won't call it "unscientific") practice of chaos magic, and you have an interesting amalgam; one that seeks to use our knowledge regarding consciousness and other para-conscious states to effect change and use perception in creative and reality-altering ways.

Chaos magic evolved out of the esoteric and occult traditions of the early 20th century. It's primary "belief" is that belief itself is a tool, one that can be used to unlock the world-altering potentials of human willpower as filtered through a rag-tag collection of reality structures ranging from comic books to quantum physics to the demons,  archons  and deities of ancient grimoires.

To a practitioner of chaos magic, every belief system, every framework of perception - even every individual personality or "self" - is a high-level operating metaphor, a consciousness-map (or "psychocosm") that can be refined, altered, or discarded depending on what works to create the effects that one desires.

One of the methods that chaos magic emphasizes is the use of sigils.

In " Sigil Magic, " Joseph Max writes:

Sigil Magic is a widely used form of magical spellcasting, common to many cultures throughout its history: Norse Bind-runes, Arabic charms and the Kabballist's Khem are historic examples of using a written alphabet as a way of devising magical talismans. 
In general terms, a sigil is any glyph or symbol with mystical or magical significance. But for our purposes, we will use the word to describe a glyph created by using the methods originated by British artist, writer, clairvoyant and magician Austin Osman Spare (1886 - 1956)... 
The theory goes like this: the conscious mind is not directly capable of performing magic (in fact, it inhibits magic), so the subconscious mind must have the magical intent implanted in it somehow so that it might "unconsciously" manipulate aetheric information to bring about the result.
If this seems far-fetched to you, consider that darkest of the Dark Arts: advertising.

From the relatively new and hilarious phenomenon of  stoner hypnosis  to the  mixed  results  of scientific experiments regarding subliminal advertising, it's obvious that something is going on regarding the efficacy of symbols and semiotic shortcuts in bypassing our conscious mind and its filters to access the powerful and untapped potential of our subconscious. Modern sigil magic seeks to actively use these perceptive shortcuts for magical and self-programming purposes.

To provide a quick and dirty rundown of how Austin Osman Spare, Peter Carroll, Joseph Max and others put it, the construction of a sigil is a three step process.

Step one: formulate the goal you wish to achieve in a single, simple strongly worded sentence. Step two: using one of a variety of methods, take the letters and/or glyphs of that sentence, and boil them down into a sigil that contains all of their shapes and subliminal visual stimuli (see below). Step three: burn your completed sigil into your subconscious via self-hypnosis, meditation, or a combination of concentration and any of a number of routes to states of altered consciousness.

Now this, in my humble estimation, is where things get interesting.

In his amazing non-fiction book Supergods, Grant Morrison writes of symbols, sigils, and hypersigils. Morrison, a long-time chaos magician and comic book auteur, has a lot to say on the subject.

I can't sum up Supergods in a way that will do his treatments justice, but he identifies meta-story-based "hypersigils" and "fiction suits" (the latter has a double meaning, as "suit" can be defined as either a form or semblance that one adopts or a magical working), archetypes and tropes throughout the world of comic books, etc. in a very complex and interesting way. Morrison at one point also asks (to roughly paraphrase): "Why are we surprised at the concept of sigils - of living symbols - when they are all around us? The Nike swoosh breeds and replicates itself on clothing, in buzzed-on hairstyles, on billboards - these sigils are already practically self-aware and are busily colonizing our subconscious."

I noticed a form of sigil that has been rapidly proliferating for the last thirty years myself.

Salt Lake City is not a particularly old city, even by American standards. Hell, even the oldest cities in America - a handful at best - are whippersnappers compared to the old cities of Europe and elsewhere.

That said, any city soaks up the history of the people living there like the stones of an old fireplace absorbing smoke.

Walking around downtown Salt Lake, you can see buildings made of crumbling brick or red rock that have been repurposed again and again but still bear the fading paint of businesses long dead since the 1900s or 1920s.

You also see a great deal of tagging - graffiti that goes up, is sprayed down, multiplies again, is sprayed down again, etc.

A "tag" in graffiti, for the three to five adults over 40 who might read this, is a compressed and stylized signature that an artist leaves behind as a sort of coded territorial claim. A compressed Word of Power, if you have the mystical and partially psychotic bent that I do.

Who's to say that these swooping, angry, jagged glyphs are not a form of sigil themselves, a Holy Name scrawled in joyous self-absorption on the walls of the world? 

A secret equation compressed into rumor and the coded language of an esoteric elite?

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