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Comic Books, Heroics and Magick

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.pagan,alt.magick.folk,rec.arts.comics.misc,
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: Comic Books, Heroics and Magick (was Re: Pentagram Symbolism ...)
Date: 17 Jun 1997 13:04:05 -0700

49970617 aa2 Hail Satan! (Matthew R. Sheahan):
>people come to magick looking for comic book superpowers.  

either that or (A)DnD spellpowers, yes.  they want to be able to have an
EFFECT on things, mostly because they feel powerless, insignificant, and
are seeking what the Indians call 'siddhis'.  this is an age-old story.

>but if they'd read comic books properly, 

how's that?  I think there are some very important ways to read comic
books and would like to delve into them slightly here in response to
your apparent dismissal of them as a source of inspiration/wisdom.

>they'd have noticed that the upshot of comic book superpowers is that 
>however spiffy they may be, they're helpless to address anything of 
>real significance.  

false.  most superheroes (especially the older ones) utilize their
power to promote the cause of, and demonstrate the temperament of,
classic chivalrous ethics.  they go about saving people in distress,
catching villains, and resolving disputes.  they are an adjunct, in
most cases, to the police force or armed services.  an example,
Batman, while provided a variable internal character, is literally
summoned by the police to solve crimes too difficult to handle.
during WWII such characters as Captain America were heavily involved
in the war effort against the Axis Powers.  there are even councils
of superheroes who pool their resources to fight the nasties of the
world (the Justice League of America perhaps one of the first if you
don't count the Fantastic Four).

the 'real significance' is heroics in everyday life (albeit hyped 
into fiction through the occasional introduction of super-villains, 
but this is merely to keep the reader's attention, the original 
heroic comic books were about doing the job of the police in stopping 
crime and apprehending criminals -- sometimes there were 'false 
villains', misunderstandings which snowballed and had to be resolved 
by the comic superhero).

and this is what people who come to magick want: to be HEROIC  
within the context of modern society.  however, it is becoming more
and more difficult (with draconian laws and corrupt politicians, or
at least the appearance of these) to determine just who are the 'bad
guys' and who are the 'good guys' and to securely oppose that which
is obviously bad (since criminals also specialize in obliterating
their opponents).

the problem of determinacy was resolved in DnD with the incorporation
of a character's 'alignment', whereby you could (magically, or even
beyond the game) tell precisely 'where a person was at'; whether
they wore a black hat (evil) or a white one (good), whether they
served the cause of justice and order (law) or egotism and disorder
(chaos).  comic books made this plain in the characterization of the
individual by the narrator, or through witnessing the extent of the
villain's atrocious behaviors.

in fact outside the game it has NEVER been easy to discern these, 
though simplistic notions in media perpetuated the idea that it was 
so simple.  there are of course notorious 'outlaws' (murderers and 
poisoners, for example), who were condemned as 'evil'.  more grey 
areas included thieves and extortionists (piracy and commerce were 
indistinguishable early on, only determined later by who controlled 
the law and purse-strings).

with criminal specialization and the advance of techology, it has 
become much more DANGEROUS to be chivalric than in the times described 
by heroic stories.  previously people just didn't seem to have the option 
to cuddle up in their cozy hovels and avoid harrowing experiences and 
might as well make an adventure of it.  without the security forces of 
police and military, there was plenty of need for the Dudley Do-Rights, 
and cudos for those who could do it well (as was the case in the Old 
West for just gunfighters).

but now there is too much RISK involved.  we'd rather sit in our 
apartment and engage ceremonies than actually put ourselves on the line 
for their fellow human beings.  who can blame us?  instead of learning 
martial discipline and taking up the path of the knight in shining 
armor, today's typical "knight-monk" is neither martially-expert nor 
chivalric and pure.  as long as we can undergo a ceremony which grants 
the status, then this appears to be sufficient.

comic books describe a fantasy which the urbanite engages, somehow
breaking free of the monotony and boredom of the office atmosphere
and doing something obviously heroic.  my favorite comic series has
within it a twist.  the character, one Stephen Strange, claims to
be a 'Master of the Mystic Arts' and 'the Sorcerer Supreme' for the 
dimension in which the our modern Earth resides.  he wears strange 
clothes sporting a Saivite/Neptunian/Satanic Fork and exhibits weird
mudras (hand-gestures reputed to have magical effect), incanting
all manner of mystic-sounding gibberish.

he supposedly keeps 'normals' from knowing the extent of his true
powers, allows us to believe that he is a charlatan while he defends
our sheltered lives from the horrific mystical villains surrounding
us on all sides (in our nightmares, from dimensions of insanity and

in *reading* this comic ('Doctor Strange', previously 'Strange Tales',
which has gone in and out of print many times) it is easy to come 
to an hypothesis that what is being portrayed here is a psychotic
episode -- the man has some megalomaniacal fantasy about his place
in the cosmos and barely connects to those around him in meaningful
ways.  his life, through the series, is a constant battlefield of
internal and external struggle even with his assistants and students.  

his very ascendancy results, not from a dedicated pursuit of some 
grandiose ideal, but as a byproduct of his attempts to retain those 
skills (of surgery) of which he had been suddenly and cataclysmically 
bereft and which he was using in casual and compassionless ways.

most DS fans may not like my characterization, and yet if we are 
honest, the twin visions of HERO and MADMAN are clear to be seen.
it is keeping this twin vision very much in mind that I find
to be a valuable and perhaps 'proper' means of reading comic books
generally, this one in particular.

as regards magick I think that it is very easy to enter into a fantasy
world where we are being heroic only in our minds and not taking any
kind of real chances, imagining all manner of 'powers' without really
taking the time to analyse what is going on, and generally treating
ourselves to a flight of fancy rather than achieve anything meaningful
or with lasting repercussion.  this is the trap of arrogance, 
particularly surrounding power which is ascribed to magick: 
self-delusion and megalomania.

fortunately such comics as DS also feature means by which these maladies
can be understood or at least recognized.  and many guideposts such that
the dangers may be avoided or combatted.  meditation appears to be a
very important discipline to the Doctor, his eventual service to humanity 
and his tutelage under a Master of Mystic Arts are valuable ideas in a
pursuit of remaining grounded.  

his Master's characteristics are exemplary as to their wisdom and resolve, 
humility and depth of character.  Strange's indulgences of immense egotism 
and hubris are typically contained within a private interaction with 
supervillians of equally-humungous ego, and he does not usually take this 
to his interactions with 'normals' (for a good portion of the initial series
he did have a superiority complex, but this was one of the personal
foibles he was to eventually come to resolve in the series).

not only this, Strange exhibits originality in his incantations and
his Order of affiliation.  he does not need to connect, for example,
to all the various occult fraternities like the Golden Dawn or the
Order of the Eastern Temple so as to obtain his power.  instead he
goes to the East, becomes a disciple of a man who is the current
Master of the Mystic Arts and Sorcerer Supreme for our dimension,
known to him as the Ancient One, of a long line of masters of magical
and mystical power.  

perhaps he only made up this mysterious master, like so many other 
occultists (Blavatsky's Koot Hoomi, the Golden Dawn's and Crowley's 
Secret Chiefs, etc., etc.) in order to impress us or convince himself 
of his importance, and yet he seems content with the authority vested 
and to which he has obtained.  he doesn't require that people 
believe him about it.

perhaps significantly the majority of Strange's opponents are others
who have developed skills in the area of magick or sorcery (notice
that there is no distinction made between these here, which I find a
definite plus).  occasionally he will engage in the apprehension of
material-world criminals, but generally he limits himself to repulsing
the assaults/attacks within the psychic and astral (and whatever)
dimensions that are too subtle for ordinary human beings.  he 
therefore functions in a way that modern Wiccans use 'Watchtowers' in
ritual: a kind of guardian whose specialization suits him particularly
for the task (despite occasional competition).

one can take this latter comment about his opponents in many ways.
if there really are such beings against which he is defending us,
then it would behoove us to know about them if we want to somehow
follow in his wake.  if they are symbols or delusions of his
megalomania, then they are still valuable to understand, since they
may well constitute a variety of exploded or hallucinated inner or
outer adversaries with which we will have to grapple.

a good example here is Nightmare, whose power and connection to our
world lies at a nexus-point between waking and dreaming realities.
as with the DnD monster of the same name, a horse is indeed involved,
though the rider is the chief intelligence of manifestation whose
apparent eternal goal is to get Doctor Strange out of the way so that
he might rule human beings through fear in a manner reminiscent of
Cthulhu in stories by HPLovecraft.

dreams and nightmares, visions and second-sight are very important
phenomenon to mages and psychics.  Strange may have externalized a
very important part of himself into the Nightmare opponent if he
is a schizophrenic.  he may be battling the collective unconscious
in its most fearsome aspect if his depictions are to be taken as
any kind of realistic metaphysical challenge.

generally I think that such comics as Doctor Strange (at least when
I was reading him, mostly in the older series) offer us a great deal
of material from which to learn, not only about the world of forces
and physics but more about the inner world of mystical development,
magical power style, and as it discloses to us variations in how we 
might come to see ourselves as we enter into this weirdness.

>...maybe they'd come to magick looking for methods of addressing things 
>of real significance.

I don't find many absolutes as regards significance.  what one person
finds meaningful another finds tedious.  if you are merely saying
something about lasting change or centrality of effect, then I agree
that discovering the traps of self-delusion and megalomania as well
as how to avoid them is a very important part of assimilating the
material contained within comic books.

comic books offer us a way to blast through ordinary blinders about
our powerlessness, if only in entertainment or temporary ways.  this
can, with diligence, become a more concrete and lasting condition,
once one begins to understand the real techniks and subtleties of
magical study and discipline.  too often we take how far we go with
as far as there is to go.  too often the critics are believed while
the undiscovered occult arts and sciences remain only potentialities.

I think that coming to magick looking for supranormal powers is a
natural thing.  given what is contained within many people's ascertainment
of 'normality', this is becoming easier to achieve all the time.  most
expect, for some reason, that no work or time need be taken with the
arts to assimilate their complexity and, if necessary, reformulate them
into a working tool.  perhaps this reflects the jadedness with which we
view science and its breakthroughs to readimade technology.  instead we 
delude ourselves into thinking that we have learned all there is to learn 
and that we are more powerful than we truly are.  

Aleister Crowley made popular the concept of magick as science and art.
I think that his focus on scrutiny and doubt are important elements
to emphasize in every serious study of the occult disciplines and their
results.  it is reasonable to treat the initial dreams and illusions
with which one comes to the Art as a kind of uncarved block, a maelstrom
of half-baked rumor, ill-conceived philosophy, and seeds of understanding.

attempting to refute obvious error is valuable, but condemning or 
belittling those who bring what appears to be outlandish claims to 
discussion is an unfortunate error, mistaking derision for caution 
and conservatism for rationality.  instead it behooves all mages
to honestly and openly consider the visions and dreams of those who 
espouse them in public and private forums.  

as with looking at the Doctor Strange comic books, trying to keep in 
mind the hypothesis and its possible delusions is not only instructional, 
it is exemplary of good discipline.  we may discover in our continued
consideration of the 'false' that our limitations of knowledge were too 
restrictive, and that the newcomer has something to teach us.  this kind
of take-instruction-from-newbies attitude is very important, and too 
often neglected in the Orderly rush to status and notoriety.

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