Thursday, March 20, 2008

Barbelith Advice part 2

To summarize from last week's blog:

  1. Hypersigil should be constructed in a third-person narrative.
  2. Begin by creating a rough autobiographical sketch, perhaps through journals or diaries and then slowly work your way into future events.
  3. Narrative magic works in relation to sympathetic magic and affirmation magic. Become familar with these techniques or areas of study.
  4. Actively deconstruct yourself: take yourself apart and examine your most foulest parts, like a plumber or mechanic changing the oil. This is refered to as a Shamanic illness. Become familar with the process.
  5. Incorporate references to other more famous works into your hypersigil plot.
  6. Poetry is a good way to get started, working with raw non-linear images and poetic devices.
  7. Freewriting is the best way to harness magic/creative power.
  8. Revolve your hypersigil episodes around particular themes or exploratory issues.
    Shorter is better.
  9. Begin by creating fictional representations of yourself (fiction suits) that you can project into your more powerful memories to rewrite these memories.
  10. Contemplate the basic transformation of hypersigil: transform an experience into a picture and then the picture into words and a story/poem. Experiment with rawer forms of pictorial writing like rebus or hieroglyphics.
Continuing on from last week’s blog, I am focusing on more advice giving from Barbelith, particularly this column.

I had to sift through a lot of information so this week’s blog is less extensive than previous post and relies more upon direct quotation. In future weeks, I will return to previous blogs and summarize their content and elaborate more.

To get started,
As a first step, I'd suggest becoming a popular sci-fi author or comic book writer with a solid fan base,
At first I thought this advice was like the old Steve Martin joke: “to make a million dollars, the first thing you need to do is…get a million dollars.” If I were a successful author, why would I want to write a hypersigil? I would be successful and not need magic to change my life…

But what the advice is saying is that exposing your writing to a large fan base with high interaction is important to harness the full power of the magic. The more people who invest themselves in your writing, the more powerful the story and thus your magic. Magic is a lot about marketing. Let other people contribute to your desires. Let your stories take on a life of their own.

then come up with an idea for a serialized story that will come out every month or so and be read by thousands of people.
Why serialized? Serials allow more flexibility in storyline as well as better interaction with the audience. I also think that serials have more power to them because they provide a constant charge of energy and expectation. A book can be read in a night while a comic book or television show has that cliffhanger or twist that forces the reader to sit and wait in expectation until next month or next week.

Ideally you should develop a concept that reflects the zeitgeist of the times and resonates with so many people to such an extent that they are inspired to create places like barbelith that are still going strong almost a decade after your hypersigil is completed.
Star Wars, for example, is a product of its time. It captures the fantasy escape of a war torn era. The best works tap into the modern collective unconscious or interests of the vox populi. This again is a matter of marketing, figuring out what people want and providing a service through your writing. Easier said than done, of course.

I'd root the story in a fictional world that's not too dissimilar to our own, but perhaps a more glamorized, sexier version. The kind of world that you would most like to inhabit yourself.
Obviously, if you don’t want to live in your world, who else would, and thus your setting would have no appeal to it.

How to glamorize and sexify your world again is a matter of marketing: we’re talking James Bond, America’s Next Top Model, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous stuff that you would find in the glamour magazines. Sexy people, high fashion, fast fun and adventure, or on a different note more evident in younger reader fiction, adventure at every corner.

Get the story going and get your readership excited by it. Heat things up a bit. When you think that your fictional world has started to permeate the consciousness of several thousand people on a monthly basis, start adding subtle autobiographical elements into the narrative.
Creating a fictional world first and then adding autobiography? A little different from what I was thinking. I was presuming that the story would be based on autobiography from the beginning. Instead we are working on a type of self-insertion.

Once a successful story is created, start making it more autobiographical. Put people who you know into it.
A way to increase the autobiography but a dangerous move to do too boldly. I’ve tried that with my writing: real people don’t make good characters and have to be re-organized into actual solid characters. A name, background, description, etc, isn’t enough.

Take the characters to locations that you have visited and have them do the things that you have done. Try and reflect different aspects of your own life in this fictional world.
Work in location where you have been. I actually have never thought about that so literally. Most of my hypersigil sketches have been plot-wise similar to my life but I’ve never thought about focusing on the places I’ve been: Amsterdam, Transylvania, Germany, even smaller places like the opera or a haunted house.

At the same time, make a conscious decision to start acting like the characters. Go to places they might go, do the sort of things they might do, look for opportunities to get to know the types of people that they might know, maybe get the haircut that one of your characters has, or start wearing the type of clothes that they would wear.
I’ve noticed more directly this particular effect: if you want to be or meet a certain type of person than you have to do the things these people do or go places where they go.

Acting like your character is tricky because your character is you, but since you want to change your basic personality, you will have to start writing in character traits different from your own personality. Maybe you want to be braver. What brave things do you want your character to do? Have your character do them and then start doing it yourself. Take note of the results for verisimilitude. Perhaps you should do them first and then write about them or write about them to inspire yourself like writing a spell.

At the simplest level, give yourself a makeover so that you resemble your character instead of your character resembling you.

Where do you want to go? Writing your story gives you incentive to check out transformative places. Once you have written about places you’ve been, plot out the places you should go to.

Once you start going to the places your character goes, you will start meeting the people your character meets or who you want to meet. But first you have to find these places or make them up. Every type of character that might seem fictional exists somewhere, or if they don’t, your fiction can influence someone to mold themselves into the image of who you want. Your writing can act as a call to action for people you want to meet to seek you out. The question is, who do you want to meet?
Slowly and subtly start to dissolve the boundaries between the two worlds, and start to recognize how much of your own life and the limitations and parameters that you impose on yourself are in fact just fictions themselves. Gradually replace some of these fictions with new ones out of your hypersigil, that have more or less the same level of objective validity as, say, the fiction that dictates you need to smoke 20 cigarettes a day.
Your writing is part fiction and part reality in the same way that your own life is part fiction and part reality. By acknowledging the fictional parts of your personal reality, those fictions can be rewritten.

The hypersigil is a prompt to inspire the writer beyond normal bounds. Inspiration to enter into new territories that may have been unrealized. You become capable of previously incapable tasks, each impossible success expanding your ability to succeed at higher levels.

Be careful not to disrupt the flow of the story's narrative though. For the hypersigil to work it has to function as a consistent and engaging fictional world, you have to cultivate and nurture it so that it starts to take on a life of its own within the consciousness of your readership. You have to be careful not to push things too far too fast, or sacrifice the integrity of the narrative by being too eager to force the results you want through it. You have to be patient and let it cook in its own time.
As I mentioned in a previous post, writing a love story about an anonymous stranger suddenly falling madly in love with you and doing you on the office desk would lose it’s reality. Instant and perpetual success have no drama and lose their audience interest. Let your fictional life unfold as it goes. Instead of quick sex, look for a extended courtship. Think about the sexual tension between a lead male and lead female character like Mulder and Scully in the X-Files. The minute they hook up, the tension that made them such a good interesting pair is gone. Take it slowly. Let the plot unfold.

If we are to define a "hypersigil" (which I think is a slightly misleading term anyway...) as a method of making transformative changes to your life using the medium of fiction, then I'd suggest that the process of keeping a magical journal is a hypersigil. One of the things a journal does is help you to construct a magically empowering narrative out of the events of your life.
A relatively simple concept: keep a journal to keep track of your life. Weave these details into your fiction and assign yourself tasks in your journal based upon your fiction. I’ve tried a few different types of journals. A large sketchpad which was good for drawing but inconvenient. A smaller notebook with a Superman insignia and then a smaller green velvet covered diary: both of these were still not compact enough. Finally I bought a pocket-sized notebook from Wal-mart that I could keep comfortably on my person and pull out easily. The other journals were too big and not conveniently portable.

However, you could always just write 2000 words of wish fulfillment fantasy where you're this cool kung fu sorcerer guy who fights shoggoth powered politicians and shags loads of goth birds, then put it on the internet and just call it a hypersigil. Seems to be the done thing.
That would actually be pretty cool, but I think the advice is warning against Mary Sue fiction, all powerful characters engaging in high adventures with low risk or drama or interest.

You can also do retroactive sigils. fix (a/the) past, clarify it, maybe even alter it.
That’s my goal.

Always helpful is not listing your name directly in the story (if it's about you) and creating similar names (or names you feel evoke your essence, or the essence of whichever character you're dealing with that might be the avatar/ fiction suit/ analogue to one of your friends, family members, etc.).
It is best not using your real name or the names of friends and family members. I like to do multi-lingual translations that keep a similar meaning with a completely different name. For example, my middle name is Lauren, derived from the laurel, meaning the laurel plant. The scientific name for laurel is umbellularia, so my Lord of the Rings-style name would be Laria.

Be careful of Mary Sue names. Mary Sue’s are blatant fiction suits representing super-idealized versions of the author. Mary Sue’s can do anything, are loved by everyone, and are important over all other characters. Mary Sue’s really destroy narrative cohesion. Analysis of Mary Sue names and conventions abound.

I never sat down and said, "I will write a hypersigil". sat down, wrote an autobiographical story.
The irony of the situation is that most hypersigil, including my own, have mainly been accidental. How then does one create something accidentally but deliberately? I think the power of the hypersigil comes from its crime of passion creative spontaneity.

Try translating other techniques of magick into a textual form;

Think back to Star Wars, the Matrix, Fight Club, or Avatar. These stories are filled with instructional philosophies and magical catch phrases. The Invisibles instructs on social magic, how to summon godforms, and Banishing rituals. People need these instructional manuals in their fiction to give their life guidance. Teach and teach yourself through your hypersigil. For example, I’ve been interested in Banishing rituals so I plan on including scenes in my hypersigil with character doing Banishing rituals.

I try to make full use of the emotional effects of writing: intense anger, real arousal, genuine wonderment, calm aesthetic appreciation, outright anxiety, overpowering curiosity, all can be evoked by prose and poetry with a little forethought.
The emotion behind freewriting is the raw power of the magic, the anger, sex, wonder, serenity, anxiety, sadness, etc. Writers should run themselves through every emotion and purge these emotions into the hypersigil and the reader. Scenes and autobiography should focus on particular emotions as their theme, explore these issues.
If you do plan to have readers besides yourself, remember that what you write becomes what they read, and they do so without the benefit of knowing what will happen next. This enables you to treat the progression of your text as a sort of ritual labyrinth, where the pages are a series of chambers designed to have a specific cumulative effect, like a statuary gallery with an artfully arranged counterpoint of images and dialogue.
A beautiful metaphor for the writing process. Ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians trained themselves in a similar manner, called locational memory. Each bit of information or rather packages of information are placed within imaginary rooms in an imaginary mansion. In order to retrieve a particularly memory, the rhetorician would visualize walking through the mansion room by room. A story could be designed in a similar way with dialogue statues and character paintings.
But keep them walking - use every dirty, low-art, sensationalist, pop culture special effect technique you need to keep it riveting and them moving forward without ruining the suspension of disbelief.
True, although I hadn’t thought of that. Your goal is to keep the reader involved. Do what you have to do to keep them tuning in. What then are techniques that could be employed? Death is the first that comes to mind…maybe accidents like a car crash or plane crash. Plot twists, etc. I’ll have to explore this later.
We naturally resolve memory and history into mythic struggles, dramas, and storytelling is a powerful way to directly and purposefully inject material into the Subconscious.
Think about the deification of Roman emperors or Greek demigods. I was surprised to hear that Heracles was a real person. The exploits of life become mythologized and abstracted into greatly impossible deeds and then these real life personas weaved into allegory. Reality becomes fictions becomes myth becomes collective unconscious.
Strongly identifying with/writing as a specific character for weeks and months can lend itself to a bit of 'bleed' where the character gets confused with your own headspace... events that belong in the fictional world start to worm their way into the real, sometimes to a frightening degree.
Having written about a male character for the past several months, I find that when I close my eyes, the image of me in my imagination is of my character. The result wasn’t intentional but the result of hiding behind my character, moreso writing out fictional stories while fictionally allowing myself free reign of expression. In my fiction suit, I could act out, scream, rage and pout, go places and have conversations that the real me could never have. Eventually the real me became someone else, perhaps the realer me deep, deep inside.

In an article titled Fictive Arcanum by Don Webb, Webb theorizes about the relationship between magic and writing.
Basically the semiotic theory of magic is that man is able to effect communication with his universe, and to think ascriptively (i.e. hidden meaning is ascribed to the phenomenon of the universe and it becomes a partner in communication).
Magic is communication with the universe. Shouldn’t we then learn how to communicate?
The semiotic theory postulates three elements: the magician seeking either a change a psychological change within him/herself or an environmental change, the message which is cast in the form of cultural coded symbols, and the hidden "other side" of the universe. This goes beyond Frazier's notions of "sympathy' by actually elaborating not only a three fold process of sender-message-receiver but actually proposes a willed volition to receive communication (in either the form of a revelation or an environmental change) back from the universe.
The magician communicates with the universe. The universe communicates back through changes in reality.
Summing up this model of magic (after Flowers, Runes and Magic: Magical Formulaic Elements in the Older Runic Tradition - Lang 1986 pg.17):

Subject (Man) --> Direct Object (Symbol-symbolized) --> Indirect Object (Other reality)
An interesting linguistic metaphor. Fill in the blanks. Magician = subject. Some type of verb. Direct object is the symbol the magician uses. The indirect object is the force of the universe being communicated to.
This model suggests that for the magician the great secret is finding the correct mode of address -- that method of communication which will produce the response from the hidden realm.
Self-explanatory. Magic is about finding the correct means of communicating with the universe in order to get the universe to communicate back.
This has always be intuited in the Mediterranean school of magic, as exemplified by choosing Hermes, god of communication as its patron.
Godforms are really just personifications of a particular idea. Gods like Hermes/Mercury and Thoth were worshipped because of their representations of communication, particularly with the divine and the Underworld. Perhaps a hypersigil writer should study and understand these important symbols to develop magical communication skills.
For the magician operating in a traditional society the method of communication is generally heavily determined -- people know how to talk to the gods. But in modern and postmodern societies the quest for the method of communication is ongoing. The book ranks high as a sufficiently mysterious form of communication (video, movies, and the computer network are waiting in the wings).
Ironically, we are in a communication age, but do people have a sense of personal or spiritual communication? How do we communicate with the abstract or beyond in an era of rampant interpersonal communication changes and emphasis? I don’t even own a smartphone!
Dion Fortune didn't create her novels just as entertainment, but to actively Work the magic. By performing illustrative magic concerning the nature of initiation, of secret schools etc. she actually received (from the Hidden parts of her own psyche) such information. The simple act of visualization (i.e. daydreaming) is known to produce effects both psychological and environmental, how much greater an effect can be obtained thought the writing and publishing of magical work?
An incentive then for writing about magic is to explore how to communicate with the universe. Writing is an initiatory means of establishing these communication, the flow of creativity a form of divine inspiration or communication, much like the ancient Muses.
The precision of writing, editing, rewriting coupled with the aching wait for publication (with its inherent travails of lost MSS, marketing mistakes, fraudulent publishers) creates an unbeatable combination of passion and precision.
True that. The editorial process is emotionally draining and charging, as is the feedback received from actual interaction with editors or critiques. part of the hypersigil is to get people interacting with your work (and learning to control their negative criticism into constructive development and progress).
In fact Lovecraft was sensitive enough to this process (despite the fact his materialist attitude kept him from ever consciously expressing it) that many of his stories are "about" the desired result of receiving communication form the other side. Cthulhu sends dreams. The Fungi from Yuggoth take the seeker away on a cosmic quest, or at the very least whisper all the secrets of the cosmos via certain human appendages. The primordial ones communicate through their vast murals found in hidden Antarctica. In the most revelatory of all his work, The Shadow out of Time the hero not only sends a message to the other side (by actually writing in the library of in the library of the Great Race), but actually receives a revelation of finding the message deep below ground (i.e. in the unconscious) "written in his own hand".
Genius idea! Write stories about communicating with the universe. The Sixth Sense, for example, is all about communication.

Webb finishes his essay by recommending certain authors or books which create or illustrate a magical ambiance ripe to enhance communication techniques. Many of his suggestions are actually taken from Alistair Crowley, including Macbeth, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Webb also mentions the works of Thomas Liggoti, J. G. Ballard, Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs, Jorge Luis Borges, Garcia Marquez, Fritz Leiber and the contemporary magazine Elegia. Lastly, scholars such as Grambo, Flowers, and Tambiah (I have no idea who they are – help me, somebody!) as well as J. van Baal’s Symbols for Communication: an introduction to the anthropological study of religion are alluded to.

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