I'm short on cash these days, but I still decided to hit one of my favorite restaurants for lunch after a long drive to New Jersey's illustrious capital, Trenton, to drop off some items at their huge Goodwill center. (OK, it's technically in Ewing, but that's really a Trenton neighborhood. This part sure looks like it, too).
I'm acquainted with a couple of the waiters and waitresses there. If you recall my blog posting from a couple of years ago, The Guide to Brigid for the Romantically Perplexed, I mentioned a waiter who referred to me as a "character". This is the same guy. Who is something of a character himself. On this particular day, he wasn't waiting on my table, but he dropped by with his iPhone. He showed me a picture he'd taken on the Main Street of a pile of garbage bags with a sign on top that said, "free cats". He prefaced showing me this photo by saying, "Here, you're semi-disturbed, you'll like this." My waitress then popped over and said, "yeah, he showed me that too. But I happen to love cats." "Yeah, me too," I said. "I have three of them. But it's still pretty funny."
I think my status there has moved from "a character" to "semi-disturbed" because of another visit, when I was reading D.P. Walker's "Spiritual and Demonic Magic" while having lunch. Which is an academic treatise that attempts to create a theoretical construct of magical philosophy as described in the writings of famous alchemists and occultists from the time of the Orphic hymns and Chaldean Oracle through the Reformation. In other words--not a book of magic, even though I've read lots of those too. Of course, explaining that when asked goes nowhere--it's like sitting there with Playboy and saying you're just looking at an interesting article. Even if it's true, no one believes it.
People have always treated an interest in the occult as a sign of deviance, something to be suspicious of. I recall all of those videos and TV programs that were on when I was in high school, that saw "Satan" everywhere, and urged parents to intervene with their children if they were even reading about the subject. I read Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's great history of Western Esotericism (The Western Esoteric Traditions), and one of the first things he mentions in the introduction is the fact that "occult" subjects are rarely treated in academia, except in sociological studies of deviance. (And, as a friend of mine noted--when discussing the practices of primitive cultures). Originally, "magic" had to do with shamanism, and the shaman is someone who stands between "this" world and the "other" world. They are both feared and reverenced because they have seen the Numinous and lived to tell about it. In our modern society, which dismisses the idea of the "other" world, such a person is "crazy" and "irrational". Modern "religious" people associate occultism with the "devil" and with "black magic", and that means everything and anything related to it--crystals, Tarot cards, etc. They all forget that much of our modern science, especially chemistry, medicine, and psychology, were developed by alchemists and other magicians.
I've been reading about the occult and about comparative religion since I was in the first grade. They may have been simple books in the school library, but I was always looking to get more at the public library. I could always be found in the 133.4 section (or, in some cases, 398.2. They're Dewey numbers. Look 'em up). As an adult, this has blossomed into an interest in depth psychology--the actual shamanic bridge between our material world and the "other". Magic ought to be explored, because its rich symbolism tells us much about ourselves.
My current read is a collection of Dirk Mosig's writings on H.P. Lovecraft. Mosig is a psychologist, and his psychological (and particularly Jungian) take on Lovecraft is interesting to me. He points out, as other critics do, that Lovecraft was a materialist, and would have scoffed at the occult in the same way he scoffed at religion--and at science, when it came down to it. Both religion and science act as though they can control the vast, indifferent forces of the Universe, which can't really be done. We are like ants marching in front of humans--we could be squashed or not, and there's no reason except that we've gotten in the way. In spite of August Derleth's Catholic pleading, the "Cthulhu Mythos" stories (which Mosig said should be called the Yog-Sothoth cycle instead) are not a battle between good "Elder Gods" and evil "Old Ones". The monsters confronted are nothing less than one's own archetypal Shadow, and the terrifying realization in Lovecraft's stories is that we are nothing but a speck in a vast cosmos, and our lives are meaningless. Lovecraft would have seen occultism as another way to "find" meaning where there isn't any. I tend to look at it differently--I don't think life has any meaning, but that makes it a game--it's happening just for fun. It's a puzzle that's been split into a thousand pieces, and you have to put it back together again. And--the puzzle is incredibly complex. Doing puzzles is merely entertaining and not meaningful. But that's really what we're doing. It's a long and colorful journey, sometimes wonderful, sometimes tragic, back to nothing. Which doesn't have to be terrifying. We enjoy playing the game, but eventual annihilation into Nothingness means we don't have to deal with the suffering that goes with the game.
In any case, I'm glad to read more and more criticism refuting Derleth's view. I didn't know the background for years, and when I read Lovecraft stories vis-a-vis the Lovecraft knockoff stories, I found the latter very dissatisfying, while I can read the former over and over again. Mosig notes that the "knockoffs" have completely missed the point, accepting Derleth's "good vs. evil" view of the pseudomythos. And it shows.
So, now I will take my semi-disturbed self, and begin my evil, sinister day by making some tea and an English muffin, and putting some laundry into the washing machine, then washing my floors. Then I will make my bed, wash dishes, go for a walk, and then back to some reading. Oh, the scandalous and shocking life of a deviant...