Thursday, March 13, 2008

Barbelith Advice part 1

Barbelith is a discussion board focusing mainly on pop culture and philosophy issues, named after an occult "entity" in Grant Morrison's graphic novel series The Invisibles.

Every so often, a cliched posting will pop up with someone asking how to put together a hypersigil. Over the past couple years, I've collected these posting and will now put together the responses and my commentaries, including hyperlinks to the original discussions where possible.

The first section of reflections and comments I admit I lost track of the source on Barbelith and I believe that it has been deleted. One project starts out:

I spent several weeks writing a third-person narrative of my existence, up to this point and continuing in broad strokes into the future. To make sure it worked I interwove as many details - names, dates, events, etc - as felt necessary, and then logically extended those into the immediate and distant future. I kept the details open and sometimes vague - indicating what I wanted to happen, such as a future job position, without indicating where or how it would happen.
I've been involved in a similar project, but instead going back years in my life to the beginning of a bad relationship that scarred my life. Before moving into creating the future, the writer has to start from the past in order to put together a substantial autobiography. This autobiography serves as the basis for the voodoo doll - the closer the details match your real life, the more sympathetic the magic is.

My question is, how realistic and in synch with the writer's life does the hypersigil need to be? If a hypersigil becomes too symbolic or different from real life, does it lose its power? The above author suggests that vaguer details work best because they leave the magic room for interpretation. I've had this type of effect before particularly with money magic: it's best to magic up money from a safe location and let life give you the money the way it seems fit. I've never won the lottery but I've received numerous job offers and tax returns out of the blue.

The above author focuses on third person narration, so instead of writing, "I went to work" I would write "Kristen goes to work."

Past or present events become the basis for the autobiography and then the author extends present life into the future to produce magical results. Verisimilitude in character and probability must be important here, especially in terms of narrative conflict. If you write a story about a co-worker suddenly falling in love with you and doing you on the office desk, I doubt a beginner would have such power to make that event come true. Less specific magic might lead to an attraction, then more magic to a romance, etc.

Sourcery Forge refers to this process as simple personal narrative magic:

The most simple approach would be to tell yourself a little story which you would like to become true. For example Bob tells himself this story: "Bob goes into the interview. Bob is calm and presents himself well. A little while later Bob gets a letter which says he has got the job!" OK, this is just Affirmations, but they are a simple and effective form of magick.
Affirmation magic is another type of magic which I will have to get into later.

The writer continues:

I've been writing a lot of poetry recently and it does have a multi-layered nature that reminds me of the best visual art (I say this because I've studied visual art). Those many layers allows for a real magical power to poetry. I'm trying to take my work in a devotional and invocational direction and from the little feedback I've gotten, so far so good!
This is key to the 'reconstruction' phase I'm now entering - unifying my various interests, particularly magic/spirituality and art/writing, into a juggernaut of personal and social power...
I've heard of hypersigils that work their most primaly when loaded with intertextual references. A good hypersigil should unify all of the writer's interests into one streamlined narrative. The Invisibles for example combines voodoo, time travel, urban magic, and UFOs (along with a whole bunch of other stuff) into one conspiracy theory.

The reconstruction phase needs more elaboration but it means to take apart one's self into its individual components -- our pieces, sort of -- and then bring them back together into a new form.

How to take apart the pieces is an important question for later on. More than likely, this is a shamanic journey or illness, the conflict of the story.

Delving back into poetry as the ideal form, another writer comments:

I think the reason that poetry works is that you have words working in many dimensions at once: along the denotation axis, along the connotation axis, along the narrative axis, and along the various sound axes (like rhyme, consonance, etc.). I suspect that slamming words together in such a way that they 'line up' in some other way than linearly might be interesting. You'd have spoken incantations that sounded like the lyrics for 'Come Together.'
Magic spells then are like poetry or song. The use of powerful imagery for its poetic effect enhanced by the connotations and associations of the images and words at its purest form create the most powerful effect. Poetic devices enhance that effect as does the non-linear quality of many poems.

The first writer continues:

I began a comic in January of 2002. (For reference: I knew nothing of magic, fiction suits, or The Invisibles at the time). It was the first one I intended as a "serious" work. From this intention came three titles that I didn't understand at the time but sounded like working ideas. I draughted these down and began to flesh out each story (one for each title). The result was a three-episode 16-page book, largely freewritten (a lot of sitting in clubs and the library letting ideas pour out).

The stories all focused on a late-teenage girl named Sam, who was vaguely an alter-ego character. Each story also involved some circumstances of my own life: a family death, a 'meditation' of daily activity, questions of androgeny.
Here we see the representation of the true self. Fiction, like cyberspace, is an ideal place for exploration of identity, in particularly gender-based identity, since art is often associated as a feminine ideal. Here the attempt is androgynous but still exploratory.

The hypersigil narrates and comments on personal events as the grounding framework. It's best then to keep hypersigils short and interweave them into a longer narrative. Like with poetry, the shorter, the more primal and focused.
The strongest narrative of them all was a story I had heard from a family member, that I then projected Sam into and fleshed out.
Think Quantum Leap where the main character possesses someone's body each episode and lives out the possessed person's life usually to resolve some important issue or solve a mystery. Grant Morrison makes a similar comment in an interview for Writers on Comics Scriptwriting:
[W]e are now astronauts entering fiction as a dimension. I can go into the comics world wearing a Superman body and walk around and tell them stuff like what's going to happen on page sixteen if I want. (213)
These alter-egos in our stories are often referred to as fiction suits, characters the author uses to interact with the fictional world, explore the story. The above Barbelith writer takes his fiction suit and then writes it into the narrative of his memories. The original memory is reworked with the introduction of the fiction suit.
That spring I followed it up with a sequel, much less intensely done. It was more of a pastiche of influences: Joyce Carol Oates, Tori Amos, other comic authors, and my own ruminations, but still using Sam and her story-world as a foundation. This one I worked through with a professor to get a more coherent narrative structure, and wound up being less impressive than the first.
Pastiches work better as hypersigils because they are drawing upon already well-established influences mixed with the author's personal narrative.

I would speculate that the Barbelith writer's hypersigil was less impressive because it was more tightly wound and less spontaneous. Haphazard hypersigils that are wound together from dreams and freewriting/poetry are more emotionally charged. Tight narrative is restrictive and intelectually controlled. A balance is necessary: a tightly narrated freewriting style perhaps.

A different writer from Barbelith takes hypersigil experimentation to a more philosophical level:

Language effects the manifestations itself. Experience => image => symbol => glyph => letterform
At first I didn't quite understand what the above meant until I looked at it more and developed other ideas. Basically, imagine you are snapping a picture of something (or someone important of you). You are taking an experience and converting the real life experience into something else: a picture. There is an old saying, "this is not a pipe, this is a picture of a pipe." Experience becomes image, whether photograph, painting, pencil sketch, or what-not. The image in itself is likewise a symbol or construction of the event, not the actual event itself. An image can become even more abstract to the point that it becomes iconic or abstract like Nordic runes.

Eventually a symbol could become a glyph. Think back to the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which was a language of pictures. Imagine also a comic book without words or even simpler, rebus - these are systems constructing meaning from images.

A glyph is an image that is turned into a linguistic unit. For example, the letter "A" is a symbol, an image, that when a part of the alphabet is used to constructed visual representations of oral communication. We see the transformation of real life into language. Can we do the opposite?

The above theorist continues:

Any use of written words is an establishing of signifiers. These connect whatever is signified to the context in which they were established.
Words are symbols to connect with real life concepts. "Apple" represents the real world apple but is not actually an apple. The word "apple" and a real apple are two different things.

I look at the bookshelf right now: all sorts of titles. Each of those words has been printed on the spine of the book in order to convey a summary of the contents. But each of those words also pulls at my particular associations with the words itself, and creates a fusion between my subjective associations and the subjective intentions of the printer.
Words are symbols but symbols have connotations, associations that go beyond their literal meaning. Furthermore, because communication involves at least two parties, the writing of a word by one agent and its reading by another agent creates multiple associations. Between connotation and association, any particular word becomes loaded with multiple meanings/symbols.

So all these interconnections form a huge network. The general purpose of communication - the exchange of complex symbols. Language is a network of agents and symbols. Narrative magic works within the network, cross-referencing various established nodes until a new node can be inserted that references a potential event or manifestation. Shorter version: you use a system of references to set up the 'context' for a new reference. You make this new reference and insert it in the existing references. That reference will then manifest to complete the net.
Uh, this is ass-talking but I kind of understand the message. When writing a hypersigil, you have to rely upon established symbols, mediums, and such to access a type of collective unconscious of communication, working with and within an established system to gain the full power of the complex network. Otherwise, imagine your magic like it was in a different language than its audience. They won't understand and the magic fails. Once the traditional system is set up, new information can be added. This is often called schema, meaning, how do you relate a new, obtuse idea? By piggybacking it to related concepts that the audience understands. Once you add something new - your magical intention - reality has to carry on with this new information. You write your reality and then throw in a monkey wrench that forces reality to re-adjust and proceed in the direction you want.

If our 'reality' is defined by the markers we lay down - ie, language - what happens if you rearrange the markers?
Exactly, although still way too philosophical to be functional.

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