Tag Archives: Chicago

Unintentional Experimentation – Exercise 33 & Aetheric Insinuations in the Everyday

This weekend paranormal investigator Howard Heim and I stopped in at The Occult Bookstore in Chicago to discuss the possibility of organizing an upcoming lecture by Dennis William Hauck from the International Alchemy Guild.  While absorbing the store’s ambiance I noticed they had a copy of Clint Marsh’s Mentalist’s Handbook out on a table. Having enjoyed his introduction to William Walker Atkinson’s Clairvoyance and Occult Powers, I decided to pick it up for something to read on the train ride home.

Marsh’s exploration of the ‘aether’ is interesting for it’s experimental nature. Rather than rush in with a head full of New Age jargon, he’s open in his introduction with the fact that he is consciously writing in an authoritative voice to facilitate the work (and because it’s almost impossible to resist after getting a taste for the style while reading 19th and early 20th century initiatory and mind science publications.)

Being subject to the same questions of authenticity, and reality, that anyone is when honestly approaching liminal phenomenon, he requests that those experimenting with the suggestions in his book contact him with their results, questions and reports. In light of this open sense of inquiry into the unknown potentials of human existence I hereby present my own initial report, a day after purchasing the book, and in a situation where the experiment was quite unintentional…

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Yesterday’s Impossibilities – Tomorrow’s Proven Facts: How to Achieve Clairvoyance & Occult Powers

wwaWilliam Walker Atkinson is a fascinating persona in the history of American esoteric ephemera and parapsychology. Ass0ciated with the Yogi Publication Society and Advanced Thought Publishing in the early 20th Century, he wrote a surprising array of work under various pseudonyms on the more occult aspects of the New Thought movement. Along with Atkinson’s numerous identities, the Yogi Publication Society also put out works by A.E. Waite, Jacob Boehme, Frater Achad, Paschal Beverly Randolph and Charles Gottfried Leland (the author of Aradia – The Gospel of Witches).

Atkinson had a penchant for the more occult oriented objectives of the positive thinking movement, specializing in telepathy, clairvoyance and similarly outer phenomenon. Yet his focus on bringing this information to the public lead to  a number of popular self help and success titles aimed at a wider audience. He was an active popularizer of the “power of positive thinking” technique recently reveiled via Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Anyone delving into his oeuvre, however, will find that the thin trickle of truth that may dance around in Byrne’s revival is nothing compared to the extensive ocean of accessible practical mysticism that Atkinson included in his works. It is interesting to see material from Atkinson which varies very little from later advances in practical psychicism developed by groups like the Standford Research Institute during their contracted work with the U.S. intelligence community.

Atkinson’s approach has always held a sense of sincerity that his progeny find sorely lacking. Where their work often comes off with the faint scent of confidence trickery, the genuine flicker of a gnosemic flame shines through the heavy handed marketing that accompanies his extensive output. His business savvy is a charming accessory to explorations of the deeper aspects of consciousness, rather than the uncomfortable accoutrement we find in today’s pop culture pedantry.

Such an inspired touch comes from a wider range of reference. Forget about a book on successful business craft being dull when the author has a head full of clairvoyance, spiritualism, psychometry and American Rosicrucianism. He also had the good sense to actually come into contact with those active in the hidden side of his interests, such as members of the Golden Dawn, as well as more orthodox proponents of heterodox ideologies such as Tantra and Christian mysticism.

The Yogi Publication Society ran it’s mail order operations from a number of different locations in Chicago. One of Atkinson’s most effective publishing techniques was to use different company names to approach different audiences and topics. For a number of years his publishing ventures shared the address of fellow New Thought publisher Sydney Flowers’ Psychic Research Company. 3855 Vincennes Ave., Chicago, where the Psychic Research, Co. was headquartered is now a mix of decaying factory buildings and new condominiums. The area’s confused and crumbling facade holds a history that is much more potent than mere appearance would suggest. In this is mirrors Atkinson’s own work.

An  interesting aspect of the complex web of authenticity and advertising excess that he created is his interplay with the Society for Psychical Research. The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research is one of Atkinson’s favorite sources to scientifically explain the occult psychism that is the main focus of his writing.

This penchant can be demonstrated in a brief excerpt from his book, Telepathy – It’s Theory, Facts and Proof:

“So far as the subject of modern Telepathy is concerned we may as well assume that Telepathy had its birth into modern scientific thought at the time of the formation of the English Society for Psychical Research in 1882. One of the stated objects of the said Society was to conduct an examination into the nature and extent of any influence which may be exerted by one mind upon another apart from any generally recognized mode of perception. While the latter years of the Society’s existence has been devoted principally to an investigation of the phenomena of clairvoyance, spirit return, trance mediumship, etc. its first decade was almost entirely devoted to the investigation of telepathy, thought transference, and similar phenomena. The early experiments of the Society have been fully reported and these reports which comprise several volumes have given the world a record of psychic phenomena of the greatest value to science.

The celebrated Sidgwick experiments conducted under the auspices of the Society for Psychical Research in 1889 and 1890 excited great interest in scientific circles. and placed the subject of Telepathy upon a basis which science could not afford to refuse to perceive. And the result has been that many careful scientists have freely acknowledged that ‘there may be something to it,‘ some going so far as to openly advocate Telepathy as an established scientific fact, although there are many scientists who still adhere to the opinion that Telepathy remains to be proven scientifically, while some of the ultra conservatives go so far as to insist that Telepathy is scientifically impossible, this latter opinion being calculated to cause a smile to one who remembers how many ‘scientifically impossible‘ things have afterward been proven to be not only scientifically possible. or probable. but also actually existent. It is either a very bold man. or else a foolish one. who in these days can positively assert that anything is scientifically impossible. In this connection one is reminded of the learned body of scientists who sitting in conference solemnly decided that it was scientifically impossible for a vessel to cross the ocean by the power of steam. While the decision was being recorded on the minutes the word was received that a steamship had actually made the voyage across the ocean and was that moment entering the harbor. One also recalls the story of the eminent English scientist who had for a lifetime positively disputed the possibility of certain facts and who in his old age when asked to witness the actual demonstration of the disputed fact refused to look into the microscope for the purpose and left the room angrily shaking his head and saying ‘It is impossible!’ Yesterday’s impossibilities are often tomorrow’s proven facts.

Atkinson’s references to his scientific contemporaries run as  strange counter points to reviews in the same journals which he quotes from. While he was glowing in his citations of the SPR, they were often less enthusiastic about a number of books put out under his authorship, calling into question the veracity of his claims.

Considering Atkinson’s use of pseudonyms, ghost written personas, and created characters, we find a perfect example of George Hansen’s theory of the ‘trickster and the paranormal.”  On one side Atkinson is using the veracity of the SPR’s journal to back his practical advice on psychic development, along with what can honestly be said to be a fully engaged understanding of his subject matter. At the same time, Atkinson dissolves that veracity through his pseudonymous publishing efforts that slip past the critical analysis of the SPR, and the romantic associations he uses to promote his work.

To dismissing him outright doesn’t do justice to the riches that can be found in his bibliography. Few have extended such an open invitation to exploring the vigorous realm of practical psychism, and none have been as steady focused in providing simple, every day advice on developing the fine art of advanced mentalism. Rather than abandon him as a curiosity of the past, I personally prefer to join him in exploring ‘yesterday’s impossibilities,’ in search of ‘tomorrow’s proven facts.’

Red Wheel/Weiser has put out a reprint of Atkinson’s Clairvoyance & Occult Powers, with a great introduction to Atkinson by Clint Walsh of Wonderella Press. Reading the review copy inspired this brief animated ode to Atkinson and the grandeur of mail order esotericism:

Written by a Master of Occult Science you are given a full and complete explanation, in plain, simple, easily understood language for the development and manifestation of Occult Powers…

Including –
Premonition & Impressions
Clairvoyant Psychometry
Clairvoyant Crystal-Gazing
Distant Clairvoyance
Past Clairvoyance
Future Clairvoyance
Clairvoyant Development
Astral-Body Traveling
Astral-Plane Phenomena
Psychic Influence – Personal & Distant
Psychic Attraction
Psychic Healing
Thought Transference and other
Psychic Phenomena!”

The Eyeless Owl presents –

How to Achieve Clairvoyance & Occult Powers,

for William Walker Atkinson,

Pseudonymous Pioneer of Advanced Thought.

Note: Special thanks to Red Wheel/Weiser for providing a review copy of Clint Marsh’s reprint of Atkinson’s Clairvoyance & Occult Powers.

Handler’s Tail

“There is something about Chicago that paralyzes the spirit under a dead weight of formalism dictated by hoodlums…everywhere the smell of atrophied gangsters, the dead weight of those dear dead days hanging in the air like rancid ectoplasm…You suffocate in the immediate past, still palpable, still palpable, quivering like an earthbound ghost…Here the dream is suffocating, more real than the real, the past actually, incredibly, invading the present. It’s almost like you could reach out and have your youth over again, so solid, nostalgia taking solid form and face…But the fraud is immediately apparent. And the horror, the fear of stasis and decay closes round your heart.”

– from Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs

There’s a certain feeling in the Midwest that’s not readily captured by images of Detroit or Chicago.  If our major cities were the mark of Midwest culture the Manhattan Project would never have gotten off the ground. Despite the international mystique of the University of Chicago, it was in the prairies West of the city that Argonne and Fermi Lab were built. In that open air and golden landscape the seeds of the 21st century were sown by metallurgists and physicists working on a project that changed everything about the way we look at life and death, international relations and the power of applied science.

A park near where I live sits on an abandoned missle silo that used to protect Argonne and Fermi during the Cold War, but most folks around here just go their to play baseball. It’s called Nike Park, first in honor the missiles once housed there, and second after the Greek goddess of victory.

The Congregationalist Church down the street from me was one of the first churches built in the area in 1833.  In 1955 Rev. Eugene Kreves broke with the church and founded the first Unitarian Universalist congregation in DuPage County.  The current church congregation still remembers the “heretic pastor” and blames him for bring the Devil to Dupage. When the church steeple was destroyed by lightening awhile back they saw it as a continuation of a curse on the building.

Drive a half hour out and you end up in corn fields, but that only gives you the perspective to see industrial factories on the horizon. About an hour south of here you hit “Armory Road” where a giant gas refinery sits all flashing lights and grey smoke. Lew Welch summed up the feeling in his Chicago Poem:

“I lived here nearly 5 years before I could
meet the middle western day with anything approaching
Dignity. It’s a place that lets you
understand why the Bible is the way it is:
Proud people cannot live here.

The land’s too flat. Ugly, sullent and big it
pounds men down past humbleness. They
Stoop at 35 possibly crining from the heavy and
terrible sky. In country like this there
Can be no God but Jahweh.”

I live in the suburbs, heading into the city by train it looks as though Chicago sits at ground zero of it’s own sociological atomic bomb.  Everything surrounding the city is dead and crumbling, a rotting infrastructure that no one cares to rebuild.  Head away from the city and you’re met with the plastic facade of suburban development, go out farther and you hit small semi-rural towns were the memories of farmers hold fast in the midst of economic collapse.

At night the metallic howl of the freight trains cuts through the constant hum of highways and the electric hiss of high tension wires. I think of  missile silos, government laboratories, lightening struck churches and factories squatting fat on once fertile farmland. I get together with friends, we pick up instruments as folks have always done, and tell our tale in the minor key:

“This Summoner bore to him a stiff burden …
A voice he had as small as hath a goat.
No beard had he, nor never should have;
A smooth it was as it were late shave.
I trowe he were a gelding or a mare.”

Josh Stockinger (HorseThief) – Bass, Electric Mandolin, Drums, Guitar
David Metcalfe – Guitar, Keyboards, Thermin

Become Who You Are

On some recent trips to Chicago I’ve noticed that a number of buildings have Pythagorean symbolism worked into their facades. These are visible on brownstone apartment buildings, as well as commercial buildings, and it got my little mind wondering what lead to their inclusion in so many seemingly mundane examples of architecture.

If you jump back a century Chicago was a buzzing hub for the New Thought and Mind Science movements, and home to a number of publishing houses that were responsible for the creation of everything from the Kybalion ( a Neo-Hermetic text put out by the Yogi Publication Society ) to popular pressings of the famous resource of respectable Conjure Doctors, The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses. Frank Loyd Wright, who spent much of his time in Oak Park, had some theosophical meanderings (he was married to a former student of Gurdijeff’s) and his connection to Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft movement puts him in touch with various streams of Rosicrucian thought, but Wright wasn’t responsible for the buildings in question.

In the process of searching out clues online I became side tracked by the publishers and nearly forgot the architecture. One of the beautiful things about Google books is the ability to not only access books, but archival material from journals, news papers and publications as well. What I found was a whole host of material that gave me a new appreciation for the diversity that can spring out of a single source of inspiration.

It seems that most of these publishing houses were in one way or another connected to the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, famous for it’s influence on  Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O., C.C. Zain‘s Brotherhood of Light and a number of other groups that have spread out far from their initial origins,  while always keeping a similar thread of thought. The same folks who were publishing New Thought, American Yoga, and Mind Science were also putting out books on Hoodoo, Rosicrucianism, Western Kabbalah and Hermetic science.  Just like in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, these publishing houses (often using different names from the same office) covered diverse esoteric territory.

As I read through some of these books I started to wonder, what happened to the creative impulse that lead to this massive production? For all the pseudo-scientific jargon and ahistorical theorizing found in many of them, there always seems to be a focus on civic responsibility, personal integrity and community development, a sort of wide eyed optimism for the potential of humanity to move beyond petty differences and grow into something better.

Mitch Horowitz points this out in his book Occult America, talking about C. C. Zain (Elbert Benjamine) he writes:

“In the midst of the Great Depression, Benjamine conceived of a universalist belief system he called the Religion of the Stars. He saw it as an occult religion that could unite humanity under a peaceable, nonsectarian creed based in the study of ancient astrology…His 1930’s print ads for the Religon of the Stars reflected the social values of Henry A. Wallace’s “The New Deal of the Ages.” One showed a torch-bearing horseman riding a winged steed labeled The New Civilization and holding a flag that echoed Benjamine’s motto: Contribute Your Utmost to Universal Welfare. The horse and rider leaped over the words Want, Fear, Censorship, Atheism.”

Today when we think of the “occult sciences” what all too often comes to mind is some fear mongering nonsense about secret societies and cults plotting against the good intentions of the common people. Yet if you go back and read the historical works that were being published in the late 19th century…there isn’t much of a secret, and all of these organizations were pretty open about their intentions. Horrible intentions like self respect, helping the disenfranchised, providing for the common good, realizing the full potential of life and other dark designs on the future of humanity.

Here’s an example of an ad for The Hermetist that ran in a number of publications at the time:

Is a sixteen-page monthly magazine, the organ of the Hermetic Brotherhood. Its motto is “Get Understanding.” It deals with Mysticism in a common-sense way. It teaches that If Occult Power can be of help to mankind, It ought to be made practical. It seeks to tell its readers how to use the powers they have neglected for so many centuries. Send 10 cents for sample copy. Yearly subscription $1.00.
HERMETIC PUBLISHING CO., 4006 Grand Boulevard, – Chicago, III.

Terrifying stuff indeed.  It may be tempting to think that the entire focus of these groups was some massive deception, or perhaps some kind of long running scheme to cash in on people’s hopes. Thoughts like these usually come from the fears and malintention of the accusers and fly in the face of the fact that the consistency in the message, the austerity that many of the members of these organizations lived in, and the undeniable earnestness of their writings shows that, whatever their personal failings, there is an honest sense of integrity behind these movements.

It’s been very heartening to see that there are contemporary esoteric groups beginning to get back to this sense of social consciousness. Scarlet Imprint recently put out Geosophia, by Jake Stratton-Kent, which looks at the Goetic arts as a means for cross cultural understanding, bringing it out of the mire of misinformation that they’ve been stuck in for centuries. Another upcoming publication by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold, Palo Mayombe – The Garden of Blood and Bones, is an honest appraisal of the Palo tradition, one of the many African diaspora traditions that get’s so much bad press due to it’s raw honesty with the facts of life and death. Nicholaj is an anthropologist who has been initiated into a number of Western and diaspora traditions, and makes the astute observation that much of the fear that surrounds paths like Palo are nothing more than veiled racism.

Beyond publications there are also organizations reemerging to tackle the self flagellating victim script that we’re being constantly given by the Western media. The New Extreme Individual Institute runs on a simple motto:

Become Who You Are – There Are No Guarantees

This isn’t the Victorian era, and the problems that we face today are definitely nothing to slight. Paranoia, fear and self victimization, however, are not going to get us out of the hole. Along with the NEII’s motto is a further elucidation of their principles:

Just as there are athletes of the sports and the arts, so are there athletes of the spirit. The first search for excellence and perfection in their chosen field of endeavour and are so recognized, while in the latter there is similarly a search for excellence of technique and perfection of all the vehicles of the Self.”

As our economy continues it’s rolling descent into oblivion, our cultural institutions sit paralyzed with inertia and our supposed leaders continue to puff out weak rhetoric,  avoiding any recognition of the realities that we face, we’re going to need some spiritual athletes to lead us past the finish line.

Are you ready?

The Hermetist

Aural Architecture – Building a Temple in Sound: The Swans | Thee Majesty & the Concert Ritual

“Fairly often while I was talking quietly with the Shaikh, the name ‘Allah’ had come to us from some remote corner of the zawiyah, uttered on one long drawn out, vibrant note…It was like a cry of despair, a distraught supplication, and it came from some solitary cell-bound disciple, bent on meditation. The cry was usually repeated several times, and then all was silence once more.

…Later when I asked the Shaikh what was the meaning of the cry which we had just heard, he answered:

‘It is a disciple asking God to help him in his meditation.’

‘May I ask what is the purpose of his meditation?’

‘To achieve self-realization in God.’

‘Do all the disciples succeed in doing this?’

‘No, it is seldom that anyone does. It is only possible for a very few.’

‘Then what happens to those who do not? Are they not desperate?’

‘No: they always rise high enough to have at least inward Peace.’

– from Shaikh Ahmad Al-Alawi: A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century,, His Spiritual Heritage and Legacy,  by Martin Lings

Something more raw and real

Contemporary concerts are all too often facile exercises in dead culture; no alchemy, no vision, just genre and acquiescence to the limited expectations of the crowd. It’s rare and valuable when you encounter an artist able to invoke a more powerful experience, something raw and real, bordering on ritual or the screams for self-realization that Lings encountered in his experiences with Sufi sects.

On March 4th, 2010 Genesis P-Orridge brought Thee Majesty to support the first Chicago showing of the William S. Burroughs documentary A Man Within at St. Paul’s Community Center. In a moldering Catholic church  converted to an arts venue, a motley assortment gathered to witness Thee Majesty pour vitriol on the idea of blind acquiescence to ideology or organization.

A culture of individuals

I was surprised at how disparate the folks were in the audience. A guy dressed in a well tailored suit sits next to a man, apparently well into his 60’s, with a long, stringy white beard and a loose, rough cut, red tunic. This was a community of individuals, bound by active acceptance of each other and not a passive belief in unity.

“I have lied to you…” Genesis howls over the discordant drone of Bryin Dall’s guitar and the percussion. The sounds were acrid, melting away blind belief and calling for gnosis. To participate in this ritual was not to loose ones’ self in a hazy notion of the All, it was participation as a self-realized unit of the whole. An existential moment of responsibility that tore down the illusion of cohesion in order to place the individual into an unblinded view of their place.

Further on one discovers through the immersive atmosphere of pandrogyny, alchemical marriage and surgical remembering that Genesis evokes, individuality itself becomes a subtle lie to be shed as well. The concert becomes an exploration of the phenomenal mixing of parts expressed in other traditions through shamanic dismemberment, Chod practice, the Great Work of alchemical adepts and the amorphous therianthropic forms of the witches sabbat.


This experience was repeated when Michael Gira resurrected the Swans at the Double Door on October 5th. Gira in a conservative haircut, collared shirt, tore apart the distinctions between raw sound and lush harmonies. Theatrics stripped away, here was the music itself, naked and real.

They were not there to support the expectations of the audience. Our place was as guests, we were invited to accompany him into a temple built of sound, where we could experience what he wryly referred to as his “poor man’s religion.”

An end to academic rituals

The audience had assembled for a concert in the classic sense. They were expecting what the academics think of as a ritual, with the expected cultural narrative and social interaction accompanied by some fitting genre music. Cat calls from the back demanded that the audience “Fucking dance! This is a Swans concert…” despite the fact that for 30 years of performing Gira has consistently mentioned that he hates the brute  and group oriented elements of musical culture.

Gira is an advocate for the individual, with no interest in rituals like moshing that support group think. A Swans’ concert is not the place for the cheap parlour tricks of a Human Resource department, the street equivalent of trust exercises. When Gira is your host he is there to, in a very personal way, tear you open to reality.

Laying the foundation

The concert begins with the long, droning squeal of a distorted guitar. The tension builds, at first the audience stands in expectation, as time passes it becomes obvious that this sound is not an introductory element and will play for longer than most songs, the audience becomes nervous. People start to yell and cheer, needing some kind of release. They are not tantrics, the power of withholding doesn’t linger long in their mind.

Then the percussion begins, Thor Harris playing what sounds like rhythmic church bells over the continuing drone. All of this the audience interprets as showmanship, they’re missing the very simple fact that these sonic elements are serving to sever them from their daily routine, wiping their mind clean for what’s ahead. The ground is being laid for an architecture of sound in which the elemental drama will play out.

The architect

Gira’s focus, calm and fierce at the same time, Harris and Phil Puelo with alternate looks of agony and release as they hammer an impossible rhythmn. The entire band goaded on by Gira, whipped with looks and pulled forward by his own movement into the sound. If the audience was able they were welcome to come with. Even those left outside the inner chamber of the sound by their own expectations were throttled into submission.

William S. Burroughs compared Led Zeppelin to the Master Musicians of JouJouka, but they were still mired in mid 20th century Western culture. What Gira was able to summon had the immediacy of the Morrocan musicians, sound and vision cultivated from the ruins of Western culture. A ritual fit for the time, the music carrying fragments of traditional narratives torn into an elemental experience of life in the 21st century.

Genesis P-Orridge and Michael Gira are both able to capture the true ritual elements of the concert experience. Untied to tradition, religious, musical or cultural, they pull out the most effective pieces from the cultural drift and create temples of sound, opening up the reality of our times.

(Illustration: Untitled, David B. Metcalfe)