Comments on Ray Sherwin's Observations
on Hierarchy in Majikal Practice

by Zona MajiKa Autonoma

Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 10:30:39 +0100 (MET)
From: Martin Knutsen (
To: zee-list

Inspiration bit me in the shoulder yesterday, heres a little essay. Thanx, Fenwick, for your excellent Homepage.

Comments on Ray Sherwins observations on Hierarchy in Majikal practice by Zona MajiKa Autonoma Having read Sherwins "Philosophical and Practical Objections to Hierarchical Structures in Magick" I feel that a few comments are in order, hopefully constructive ones, particularly concerning practical organization in its various aspects. My personal experience with organized work is gained through some practical teamwork within the Origami tribe, concrete work within several "mundane" organizational structures, and as one of the first nodes of the Z-Cluster. I apologize for my English if at times it seems unstructured, exposure to the internet has somewhat fucked up my school-grammar.

Sherwin starts by sketching three points wich he deems important in the recent history of magik:

  1. Emphasis on technique
  2. Avoidance of dogma
  3. Avoidance of over-structuralization

Quite where he observes these phenomena unfolding is a bit unclear, though I suppose he refers with this to the work employed by IOT and various associated networks and orders. Also, I do not know when he wrote these lines, if what he writes is an honest appraisal of what he percieves happening inside the "Organized" magikal currents I hope it was written some time ago, and that a reaction has taken place, otherwise I shall have to doubt mr. Sherwins observational faculty. My experience, granted a very limited one and mostly gathered through the Net, is that most organized magikians within what I call the IOToS current are quite unable to let go of their paradigms, not to mention clearly state any why to what they are doing. As it has been said, most occultists seem genuinely un-sexy, there is no sense of fluid movement in the way their minds run, and rarely do you find anyone willing to play with ideas for the flow of that plays own sake. So while the avoidance of dogma and over-structuralization has indeed taken place, you have instead ended up with a landscape where the exchange of ideas has become replaced with feudal lords leading battles over various points of dispute totally absolutely unrelated to anything else but their own internal positions in relationship to each others friends.

It is, however, easy to talk about that wich does not Work, more interesting is it to try to find Why Not, and What Does. Why hierarchies fail is easy to see, especially inside a area so full of power-wankers as that of magik, but I think one concern wich is often overlooked is the concept of the magikal Act itself: Most "Practitioners" have this feeling of becoming special when entering into the labyrinth, there is this sense of "rising above", becoming ba'al shem, keepers of the name, guardians of the Secrets, or as many IOTs have stated it, one becomes separated from the mundanes. For me, and my friends, who always have held our parents as our favourite Icons, this seems ridicolous, and, especially when one looks at the persons claiming superiority, it can be downright funny. I once ended a personal letter to a rather dogmatic Thelemite with the words "Remember when you were Child", and the reaction recieved back was so scathingly angry one should have thought it was a fullfledged Death curse. This I think is one of the main problems inside the field: The Ars Magik isnt something you play with, son, this is the Labyrinth invisible so you better wear your faces hermetica proudly. (I think it was A.mcKenzie who said that a movement dies in the transition from Work to Faith.) To me, any organization built up around a inflated self-image, be it inside politics or Art, is a failure, because any result gained will then be a result gained not for the satisfaction of the result but for the status gained in the eyes of the others playing the game. Wich again seem to lead to a perception of the World as a grey blur outside the boundaries of Self, with individuals not inside the ceremonial dance not even cattle but simply invisible. Wich again leads to a lack of Quality, a missing depth of resonance, in the Work and its result.

Wich leads us to the second problem, mainly that of Work: What do these organizations DO? For me, as for Sherwin, it seems that any organization not grounded in a concrete paradigm of Action is not particularly useful, at best it becomes a storeroom for theoretical knowledge and discussion, at worst it becomes like a society club where the members do the secret handshakes, wear fraternity rings and have tea while chatting about what terrible headaches that last summoning gave them, or how the new leather whip just has the most delightful twang. (Anyone read the comic where Sandman - Theater of Dreams by Neil Gaiman, will know what I mean). Work as a fundament for theoretical approaches seems to be the only way to avoid personalities of domineering tendencies to start the "Its my party and I decide who gets to eat sausage" game wich inevitably leads to the interesting people disappearing back into silent contemplation or restless movement, when a structure is founded in Work it becomes a matter of natural competence and in my experience those that are competent are those who most rarely feel a need to dominate anything.

How then, to incorporate a structure of Work into a organizational model? Here I draw quite heavily on the Origami model, wich again draws quite heavily on its interpretation of the early TOPY model, when that organization still was something weird and wonderful inside the fields we know. The first practical point is to have a set of common symbols, preferrably symbols wich are not self-explainable but are open to interpretations wildly different. The second is to create a framework-philosophy, again something wich is far from explainable but wich provides key-points, be it visual or literal, around wich the participants can spin their own web of correspondences and associations. This structure of symbols and words must NEVER be "understood" by anyone, nor must it ever be termed "truth" or "Core of the organization" or "the defining factor", at the moment the organization starts to exclude those who Are not on the Bus, they have lost because they have then defined themselves, and thus placed their selves in relationship to Others. This is the third point, the organization must never enter into a 0/1 relationship to any other body, be it society at large or some rivalling organization. Burroughs writes very well about this, about the necessity of avoiding the War language of binary conflict, and I think this is perhaps the trap that is easiest to fall into and hardest to avoid, to refrain from defining your Self as part of the Body of Action, to become the 1 in the 0/1. The solution to this seems to beto have a amorphous organizational structure, built on a multitude of sub-organizations all in prolific uncoordinated cooperation, with new orgs being founded all the time in order to realize those projects that do not fall in under the main organizational umbrella. Member of a majikal org, but wanna do street theater? Start a sub-org tracing your affinity to the main org, weave in the symbols in the performance, voila, another departement. Wanna work with someone else, who do not want to become a member? Start a sub-org, declare your alliance to the main, and become part of the Friends and Allies file. Link up via Mail-Art. Do projects for fun, not to summon Chorozon and the Merry crew of outer Aliens.

Wich brings us to the next part, mainly that of ritual Work: If majik is to become something for others than kids with a desperate powerneed, a different approach to the concept of ritual is needed. I do not by this imply that the knowledge gained this far is to be thrown away, but the business of shuffling round wearing funny hats and capes while muttering incanations is a thing that is to majik what the leopard trousers was to heavy metal inthe seventies. The World has moved on, and if Majik does not adapt it will very quickly become an anachronism best suited for wanna-be freemasons without the contacts. Here I wish to point to one of my personal heroes, Z'evs, who through his Rythmajik performances to me embody perfect ritualistic Work, combining the element of the Performance of personal Art with the structures of esoteric symbolism. The ideal organization, in my view, is working on the model of a positive interface with the different worlds within the Worlds, adapting its form to the result intended. Here lies another critique of the "modern" majikal scene, with its focus on majik as the reason for being. It very easily becomes like persons who, having learned how to drive in a nail, start hamerring nail after nail into the same piece of wood, suffuced int he extacy of being able to do but without any intention of building something. "The Great Work", "Immanentizing the Eschaton", all of this seems to me to be part of what I choose to call the Layer of drivel designed to hide the hollow core of most current organizations, and this in turn can be psychologized down to modern magiks seemingly universal acceptance of material pre-determinism and the concept of nihilistic sorrow. To my naive little mind it seems that a Work wich does not give the Worker pleasure is a barren effort, and that a theoretical structure wich is designed to let the participants avoid the fundamental complex of Choice and free Will through Hegelian absolutism is at best nothing more than a construct of stillness and at worst a bearer of the disease of intellectual decay.

Yeah, indeed. As for women and men and such categorical separations, I hope sincerely that those entering into the realms these days have put all that bull about set roles behind them. You Are What You Do is the Word of the nineties, and it seems to me to be a almost too obvious necessity to any org wich is to become something else than a college fraternity that any action deemed worthy of a member to perform under the name of the organization is so, because that member has found it so. Here another practical point comes in, that of the project shaping itself naturally through the acceptance of the authority of the instigator of the Action: Whoever draws the plan, has the authority of the final word on the performance, those who do not want to be a part of it quite simply do not participate. This ideally implies that persons who know that others are more comptent than themselves approach these people with ideas, that a state of constructive communication exists between members so that criticism is honest and the standard patterns of insulted fractionalization is avoided. Here I have quite a lot of personal experience, it does wonders to a internal setting to tell people who wish to slander others that you intend to settle this once and for all, and then bring it forth, this quite simply forces a crisis wich then will resolve itself. If people hold their Egos above the Work that is being performed, they are quite free to do so, but prefferably somewhere else. I do not by this state that this is a easy matter, but I do feel that one of the main objectives of any collective organization is to train their members in emphatical conversation, mainly the ability to judge a argument not in a term of personal conflict but as a choice of tactics. This is a area that most of the post-Golden-Dawnians seem sadly lacking in, any argumentation not employing their symbolical language is more often than not quite simply ignored.

Wich brings us to my last point of critique, and my personal hobby horse, mainly that of linguistic Awareness and the emphatical approach to communication wich is a necessity if any sharing of ideas is to become something else than a stream of clever blather. I shall not presume to speak for currents that I have very little knowledge about, such as Santeria and Shamanism in its various shapes, but when it comes to the majik wich relates to the cultures of the books, it seems to me that all too many forget that a ritual is a formulation, a formula, wich is designed to interface with the mainframe of surrounding formulas. This, by necessity, implies that the language employed does not have one iota of independent importance in itself, it is the precision with wich the language is able to express the resonance of the communicators intention wich matters, and it is the challenge of the receptor to be able to decode the communication recieved, if he or she is genuinely interested in such a reception. Personally, i have experienced much ridicule from various Norwegian thelemites for using the symbol of the Unicorn as a symbol for the Graceful Act, a symbol I personally find perfect for that sense of wonder and clearness of direction wich I aim to express through my usage of the majikal apparatus, and it is my view, without grinding my axes too much, that the unwillingness I have met by persons to examine that paradigm from within, to enter and decode that into their personal language in order to examine it and see if they can find it of any worth, is a symptom of a lacking facility wich is dominant in most of the magiCKal world.

There is no willingness to examine that wich does not fit in already, there is no wish to avoid the bubble of self-reference, there is no wish to examine the banal truths and there is absolutely no concern for beauty. In my view, any Work wich does not feel good is a dry dicipline akin to asceticism, and I do not think that a ideal organization wich wishes to have an impact on the pseudo-majikal reality we see emerging now will do very well with introverted trancendental dryness as its central substance.

To sum it up, I would like to say that to me, and to most of my friends, the main importance of Majik and majikal symbolism, is as a tool, as a language of expression and as a means for manipulation. The first ritualistic structure I wrote was a ritual for a majikal Revolutionary action to be performed world wide, this was before I even knew what it was all about, and as I read more and more I am still shocked to see how few of those I encounter who I would like to perform such an Action with. For me, the Italian Anarchists, the last rest of the European Resistance to the Great Hex, is the true carriers of the Grail, for me the Gypsies are the very carriewrs of majik itself. I feel a much closer allegiance to some of the little old Men I find living in the Norwegian mountains, in secluded places everywhere, than I find to both Crowley and Gibson. It is my concern, that the whole majikal current has lost itself in the garden where the four rabbis entered, that we have forgotten the face of our fathers, and thus are fast approaching the state of Dust, of no consequence, of no attraction to the Shekinah. A ideal organization does not work with the concepts of Power and the Act of forcing God/ess to Act, a ideal organization works with ways of putting her into a state of Wonder. A ideal organization works with the Joy of Wonder, and this I find sadly lacking in the modern structure of Occultism.

"Damned are those who think they have befriended Death"
--Matt Burt

Zona Majika Autonoma