Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Notes on the Occult

There are three things about the occult:

First, it’s about symbolism—but in an unusual way. The symbol does not just indicate the thing, it affects the thing. A regular symbol is like: the eagle represents America. If hurting the eagle hurt America, then you’d be moving toward the occult.

Second, while the system of symbols is (this is the literally meaning of the name) hidden—it is often hidden in plain sight. This is perhaps most purely expressed in the sentence from Twin Peaks “The owls are not what they seem”. The occult indicates a series of hidden connections between seemingly mundane things—it doesn’t just involve esoteric words and phrases, it uses ordinary words and phrases as if they had a significance we don’t give them.

It is, in this way, simply a parallel alternative to scientific explanations. Science claims that a pencil lead and a diamond have a secret connection (they are both carbon), the occult merely claims a different correspondence: this triangular window over here has a hidden connection to that man’s eye over there. Once the system of connections is understood, the whole world looks different: the investigator is living in a world full of levers to push and knobs to twist. 

Third, the system of symbols is old. It has been hidden (occulted) for a long time. In order to charge, say, an inverted triangle with occult flavor you don’t have to immediately give it a sinister meaning—just give it a meaning that goes back to ancient Babylon.



S. P. said...

I was going to contest point three before realizing there aren't any counterexamples. If a modern chaos magician invokes the Incredible Hulk to gain strength, the Hulk itself is composed of strength symbols dating back to Gilgamesh.

There's probably a whole campaign in there in unpacking how modern symbols pick up the occult detritus of the ancient symbols they reference.

FM Geist said...

I feel like there are also some great books for DM reference on this? Like off the top of my head: Foucault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco), Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (Reza Negarestani; and also The Black Gondolier by Fritz Lieber); the man who collected the first of September 1973 (Åge Bringsværd) & a host of others to like... go crazy with yr weird fever dream connections

S. P. said...

Great references! I can't believe I neglected Umberto Eco in the above comment. Also, you just introduced me to Reza Negarestani, and preliminary research makes it sound like I'm going to owe you a debt of gratitude for that one.

FM Geist said...

It's "like the Celestine prophecy except for instead of a fake journey into woo it's a bunch of elaborate jokes about critical theory and oil being sentient and having alien desires"

Also Scott R Jones "When The Stars Are Right: A Guide to Authentic R'ylehian spirituality" is less elaborate correspondences and more "making the Sanity snap in call of Cthulhu a moment for the party to really lean in and serve outer and alien majesty rather than simply roll a new character"

FM Geist said...

I think False Patrick makes a pretty good case for reading anthropology with his takes on James C Scott

djymm said...

Last Call by Tim Powers gets into the occult mindset beautifully as well.

Marvin L. said...

An interesting take on ancient symbols (though hopelessly dated by now) is the series "The Masks of God" by Joseph Campbell (more interesting than the hero with a thousand faces, anyway).

Also, for a reply to the antropological approach common in older texts ("The Golden Bough" being the seminal example), that older mystical symbolism is just a symptom of primitivism, is the "Wittgenstein
Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough". Highly recommended on the business of making the occult feel natural and organic.

FM Geist said...

I can't believe I blanked on Frazer esp. Wittgenstein's remarks; honestly all the old anthropology is interesting (also Vivernos de Castro's Cannibal Metaphysics and Rusolfo Kusch (sp) and Fausto Reinaga if you have some passing Spanish could make for something really fucking weird... or Bataille if your table is really into sex and human sacrifice)

Sean McCoy said...

Came here to say that!