Scarlet Imprint’s Pleasure Dome (21st July 2012): A Review By Ivy Kerrigan
This is a personal review of Pleasure Dome hosted by Scarlet Imprint on the 21st July 2012 in Brighton. I say personal because it’s not a straight forward retelling of each talk. As all such events should the day wound it’s way around me, entwined itself with my beliefs, the strands of each talk weaving with something from myself, something that is essentially me into a brilliant tapestry so that now it would be difficult to separate them and I find that I don’t want to pick apart something so beautiful and vital. This is what I have gained from the day – my part of the “quantum quilt” that we all made. Everyone else will have taken away something different so my views are in no way definitive. The event was being recorded and the talks from last year’s event (Summer of Love) were posted as pod casts throughout the year. I assume Scarlet Imprint will do this again so if you couldn’t attend I would highly recommend you look out for this year’s talks, listen, digest and make up your own minds and if you also missed last year’s talks I urge you seek them out now!
I decided to write this after several of my friends saw my Facebook status praising Peter Grey’s talk and requested more info. I’m not very good at putting myself forward, opening myself up so I was just going to put them off. I’m scared, scared of failure, scared of success, most of all scared of criticism and it’s only been getting worse lately but certain people both corporeal and non keep telling me that it’s OK to get out there and I want to believe them, I don’t want to be scared any more and so here we have it. I’ll briefly go through all talks in the order that I heard them as I feel the same message winds it’s way through each before finally blossoming for me in Apocalyptic Witchcraft. The message isn’t new – Pagans, Occultists, Goths whatever we choose to call ourselves – rebellion, revolution it’s what our counter-culture is all about but how often do we actually actually listen? How often do we walk the walk instead of just talking the talk? It’s time we listened and most of all its time we acted.
I love events like this and I think they are a vital part of the magical community. My husband and I try to support as many as possible not only nurturing ties with people in disparate paths but in doing so feeding the thirst for knowledge, for companionship, for acceptance and the very spirit that resides within us. These gatherings are necessary, as pack animals we need contact with other people and if we don’t support them then they will disappear. They are not just for cronies they can and should cross boundaries so if you belong to another group, if you don’t agree with the hosts, if you’re on a solo path then you can still benefit from discussion, connection with others of your kind. I find these affairs inspiring but often difficult. I’m awkward with people, rubbish at small talk and very uncomfortable with those I don’t know. Unfortunately my husband not only knows just about everyone he’s also very sociable but it’s good for me. It helps me grow, gets me away from my own solitary world and out with real people and fresh ideas. I know a lot of people use these events for networking and there is nothing wrong with that to an extent but I do think its a shame that some of those make no effort to see the talks and take in the thoughts of the wider community. They are already so entrenched in their own patterns they meet the same people, talk about the same things, recruit for their own groups and cannot see anything beyond. So what I say to you is these events are a gift and a valuable resource so make an effort to attend more of them even if they aren’t run by your group and once there keep an open mind – step outside of that comfort zone – take part – listen to the talks. I find that the richest nuggets are often discovered where I least expect them. The universe doesn’t make it easy for us so I attend talks I have little or no interest in and not always, maybe not even the majority of the time but sometimes – sometimes I’m rewarded with a shining jewel that changes the way I think and alters the course of everything.
The first talk was entitled Babalon and delivered by the lovely Alkistis Dimech. This is familiar ground for me, she’s preaching to the choir but there are several threads I’d like to pick out.
I belong to a tradition that the wider clan describes as traditional British Witchcraft. I love this land, these islands and I can’t imagine even wanting to live anywhere else. I grew up on the chalk downlands and I loved it but it wasn’t quite right I felt slightly out of place, not completely comfortable in my own skin. I loved the landscapes of Ireland and Scotland longed for the wildness they conjured within me, now I live on the heathland (all be it under several layers of concrete) and I BELONG. My roots are obviously acid loving and now they have found the soil that they love and I am happy and nurtured. However one thing never sits well with me – I don’t connect with the British Gods – the spirits of this land, the fae that live here they touch that deep place within me but the god names, they just don’t feel real to me. I know the stories of the Irish, the Welsh, the Scottish gods but none of them claim me. I love the Greeks – always have, always will, they speak to me, sing in my blood, whisper in my dreams. You’d think I’d find this a conflict but no – it has no impact on how I feel about my clan and my country, they are the very foundation of my world, never has anything felt quite so right as being with this set of people in this place. It works for me and for my gods. Part of what the clan does is they peel back the layers to what’s underneath. The gods and in particular the goddesses have been damaged with whitewashing, made acceptable when in reality they are not nice, not moral, not perfect. They are visceral and bloody and real. I know this because I have strong, even challenging women in my spiritual court. The one that probably illustrates this best is Erzuile Mapiangue. She’s a Vodou Loa who walks with me. I tried to research her – I don’t know if you’ve tried to find proper information on it but Haitian Vodou maybe more than any other religion/magical system has so much misinformation that it’s nearly impossible to find anything concrete without personal contact with another practitioner. Everything I found said she was evil, it was universal, even the more moderate writings said that if she turns just up give her what she wants so she leaves as soon as possible but I couldn’t! She was mine and I was hers but people thought she was bad and were scared of her and I was heartbroken. I remember sobbing to my husband saying “Why, why can’t I have one of the pretty prom queens? Why cant I just be normal? Why do I always get the vicious, violent ones, the ones that survive what ever the cost? Not one of my spirits could be considered nice, safe or easy. I’m twisted and broken and bad and that’s why I always draw these kinds of spirits”. Well I got over it and at my first ritual to her I had none of the proper info, I didn’t know any of her songs I couldn’t serve her properly but I stood there handing her this ritual full of holes like a child proudly handing it’s mother a bedraggled, mud spattered bunch of wild-flowers and she should have taken one look at the whole shoddy ceremony and slapped me down but she didn’t. She accepted me, ALL of me, even the bits I don’t like. She’s not good, will never be easy, has set fire to our home several times but I love her faults and all and she does the same to me. We need this – black and white, good and evil, they don’t work any more, this understanding of our gods of their natures it’s missing and we need it back.
Something that intrigues me and really gets the inspirational juices flowing is the wearing of masks. It fascinates me the masks we wear, the different faces that we save for different people maybe its because I wear them, sometimes I feel like I’m suffocating under the weight of them. They can liberate you, offer freedom from who you are, they can hide things you don’t like but when you can’t remove them they become a snare and you are trapped. It’s something I’d like to do a more in-depth study on. Alkistis was talking about using masks in ritual and I have found this very helpful as they are not worn long enough to become entrenched. I have bad eyesight and find that removing my glasses for a ritual is as helpful – its a sort of mask. Because I can’t see it removes that sense, that set of preconceptions, it makes me rely on other things, makes it easier to see the otherworlds. Another type of mask she mentioned and a pet hate of mine is cameras. In their place they are fine but when we forget that they are a tool, when we cannot function without them, cannot interact with the world without the insulation of the lens there is something wrong. A few years ago we visited Chelsea flower show and I was horrified by the point and snap, point and snap, not looking, never seeing! It drives me mad especially at rituals – they are not spectator sports, I am not a zoo animal, if you don’t want to take part, to experience then bugger off! The final type of mask she touched upon is make up. Every woman knows putting on the slap can change how you feel, give you confidence, alter your viewpoint. I’ve fallen foul of this particular mask myself, years ago, young and thin and stupid I couldn’t leave the house without my make up, my little outfit, my plastic persona. It took me a long time to realise that it harmed more than helped twisted me into something that I really didn’t like. I swung to the other extreme, donned a new mask, stopped taking care of myself was proud of the fact that I was totally myself, unadorned, presenting my ‘real’ face to the world but as I’ve discovered its a more dangerous, harmful and insidious mask, one that is far harder to remove.
To illustrate the final point I’ll use a quote from the speaker “There is always danger in a locked stance”. In my opinion this applies equally to our bodies as to our minds. Dance, song, performance these aren’t new age and fluffy, they are a vital part of our expression and magic. Structured Golden Dawn AM-DRAM type rituals don’t do it for me but more improvised, flowing, instinctual performances I find wonderful. One of the things I love most about Haitian Vodou is the singing and dancing and it makes me sad to see it missing from so many of our rituals. At Summer of Love last year the speaker performed a piece of dance that was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t say I liked it but I didn’t dislike it either – it wasn’t anything so easily definable, some parts made me distinctly uncomfortable but it bypassed all of my higher functions and spoke directly to the something that is me, it grabbed me and shook me by the scruff of the neck and I believe that is what it’s all about. Getting out of our heads dropping our ingrained thought patterns, trusting and seeing what happens and if we can do that then it wont be nice, it wont be comfortable but often what we find will be simply amazing.
OK that was longer than I expected! On to the second talk entitled Go forth and let your brain halves procreate by Carl Abrahamsson. This talk was all about art and vision and trance. This talk wasn’t really my style, that’s not to say that is was bad, not at all, I spoke to several people who loved the talk and I did chime with the many of the points within it. One of the things I adore about such events is that we are all different, we don’t all think in the same way, my thought processes can be very different to someone else’s even if they have much the same views as me. We learn in completely different ways and a good conference like this takes this into account and has a range of styles. I don’t see the fact that I didn’t connect with Carl’s talk as well as some others as a flaw but as a celebration of our individuality and differences. Carl talked about different types of visionary art he put forward two different types, V1 which is usually done just after the working/vision and is usually less polished and V2 which is usually done later once the trance has had time to recede, is usually done from the earlier notes and is more polished. I liked these distinctions, I often find rougher, rawer works of art far more moving and pleasing and real than more perfect pieces and maybe it’s because I’m reacting to the spirit within. I am in no way claiming that I’m an artist but when listening to talks I like to doodle, words, phrases pictures – whatever comes into my head. I sometimes worry that speakers will see and think I’m rude and not listening but I really find it helps. It occupies my mind so that the information can really sink into me. I’ve often thought I should keep them and look back on them and see what they bring out so I’ve attached photos of the days doodles (see the bottom of this post) and the reviews have been written using them. In some ways I could say that the doodles are an example of V1 and the reviews of V2. Carl also called upon us to reject dogma including the new militant atheism and the elevation of science to a religion something that I can really get behind. He said that everyone should “keep and open mind and then open it some more” something that we can all learn from. Even those of us who think we are really enlightened have prejudice. I always make an effort to listen to other points of view even if I don’t agree with them and I hope that when discussing opinions that I don’t agree with I’m respectful even if common ground cannot be found. I dislike it when people attack rather than discuss the views, opinions and morals of others even worse if they resort to name calling and attacking of the actual person. I know my brain is flawed, that I have been conditioned, that my responses can’t always be trusted and thanks to Carl’s talk I resolve to be better at spotting this.
I feel bad that I haven’t done the previous talk justice but I have to accept that I’m just not the best qualified person to do this. The third talk Lucifer Risen by Levannah Morgan was about Kenneth Anger. I’m not normally a fan of talks about magical personalities but this one surprised me, it wasn’t a train-spotting talk, a blow by blow retelling of his life. I had read the book Lucifer Rising by Gavin Baddeley and I knew a bit about Anger but the only film I’d seen was Invocation of my Demon Brother at a previous event in Bath. I hadn’t liked the film it was angry and aggressive and pushed me so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Lucifer Rising even though Lucifer is my major spirit. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I loved it! I’ve been attending some rituals held by a group working from the Grimoire of Aleister Crowley and I immediately recognised a lot of the imagery. I’m not yet sure how I feel about the rituals they can be beautiful, effective and moving but I’m not sure if they ‘fit’ me. Or if I can handle the dogma that goes with them. Not that I’d be involved with a group that got bogged down with that but a lot of people do have a lot of ‘baggage’ about Crowley. One of the things I really dislike about some people who work with Crowley is that they are so impressed by the Great Beast and so in awe of his work that they cannot see beyond this. There is no innovation just a sad rehashing of his rituals in a misplaced celebration of his work – I don’t think this is what he would have intended or wanted. Don’t get me wrong he probably would have liked to be raised up like a god but I don’t believe he’d want this at the expense of the work and I liked the way Anger had made it his own. The movie was enticing and I’m looking forward to obtaining more of his work.
I would like to say from the outset that the fourth talk Surrealism and the Occult by Stuart Inman was the one I was looking forward to the least but as so often happens I was wrong and it ended up being one of the ones that I got the most out of. My husband and I have very different tastes in art and often disagree – particularly about surrealism. He likes it and I don’t. However I dislike umbrella terms – it’s very easy to say you don’t like something and leave it at that so I try to not fall into that trap. As a whole I’m not keen on surrealist art, it messes with my head and makes me feel like I don’t understand. Not understanding is a feeling I’m not used to and I’m not comfortable with. Academic subjects aren’t so bad because I can and do learn but with something so subjective that’s not possible. This is probably good for me – comfort zones again! However some works of art sink into the consciousness so I don’t look at them with my head but with something deeper, they cause reactions rather than conscious thought with the pieces that we hate being just as interesting as those that we love and that’s what I came across in this talk. Even with such a small cross section I found 2 paintings that I loved (Leonora Carrington’s Who Art Thou, White Face and Green Figure with Wings by Ithell Colquhoun), many that didn’t really speak to me and one that inspired a hate so deep it was visceral (Victor Brauner a self portrait with a missing eye – I don’t have the name of the piece) but even more I became aware of the wider surrealist movement beyond art. I was searching on the internet for a quote Stuart used by Andre Breton that mentioned Lucifer – I couldn’t find it – but I did find his other writings and I was captivated. On first glance they fit in so well with what I took away from the day as a whole. In The Tower of Light, Andre Breton talks about the idea that revolution should aim not only to transform the world but also remake the human mind. He postulates that we have set a suicidal course and we need to change the way we think to make a change. He says that we cannot change the world and remain the same. He points out how the concepts of good and evil are short-sighted and that we will keep repeating the same mistakes unless we can move behind this programming. I can’t wait to get hold of his work and read it in much more depth.
Next came Apocalyptic Witchcraft by Peter Grey but I’m going to leave this one until the end as for me it brings together the separate threads of the other talks into one bright whole.
The final talk was entitled Cut-Up by Al Cummings. I’m very sorry to say that this write up is unlikely to do the talk justice. I was still reeling from Peter’s talk and generally feeling very ungrounded. So I apologise to Al but what I did take away from his talk was very positive and I hope to hear more from him in future. Any one who likes “The Invisibles” is well worth knowing in my book. Cut up isn’t something I’ve ever encountered before or if I have I didn’t realise what it was but I was pleasantly surprised by this speech which was part talk and part performance. I think it fitted in very well with the overreaching “theme” of the day. The artist takes the existing, cuts it up, swirls it round and uses it to make something new – hopefully something better. It raised a child-like delight in me, life gets so bogged down with work, and bill paying and even attending the next ritual, important things that we should be doing but we often forget the pleasure that doing some thing just for the joy of it can bring. Al used those a simple childhood game that everyone will recognise on sight but I cannot for the life of me recall the name of (folded paper that sits on your fingers and as you count you open and close your fingers showing different faces with different things written on. You can then open the folds out to read things written under the flap) to randomly select his subjects. The whole thing was a very pleasing chaos that coalesced into a wonderful whole. I think it would be a valuable magical tool and can’t wait to try it out. It reminded me of something that a lot of people forget about magic, me included, in that anyone can do it and they can have fun while doing it. So stop listening and reading, it’s not enough get out there and do it.
And finally we come to Peter Grey’s talk entitled Apocalyptic Witchcraft. First of all I was really excited to see a talk at a ‘serious’ event about witchcraft. I’m a witch, Vodouisant and magician although my interests and skills have expanded my background is in a shamanic strand of witchcraft and I’m proud of it. Again on the surface these might seem disparate threads that would not felt into a cohesive whole but they do in me. The ground work is a shamanic, necromantic, witchcraft growing out of the ancient Mediterranean that has evolved with grimoire magic informed by the living tradition of Vodou.
However I normally cringe when I’m asked what I do. Peter says that in history witches have always been feared but that now we are seen as silly and are not taken seriously and we need to claim this back if we are to make any real changes to the world. I’m not sure this is entirely true. I believe pagans are seen this way. Pagan is a word I rarely use about myself. I would only ever describe myself as pagan to a mainstreamer particularly someone at work who I have to get along with but don’t really want to go to the effort of building a proper friendship with. I use this label because it makes me appear harmless, they write off my weirdness and idiosyncrasies without becoming worried or scared. It comforts them. If I use the term witch then the response is quite different. It hurts me to realise that by doing this I might be part of the problem – I have been giving away part of our power. Peter believes this view of witches/pagans has come about due to the whitewashing and propaganda perpetrated by our own community such as “An harm it none, do what thou wilt”. I’ve always hated this phrase, it’s trite and completely impossible but he is correct that many people hold it up to the outside world as a shield. At the start of my path I passed very briefly through a branch of Wicca and they emphasised this phrase in particular to make themselves more acceptable to others. So we need to reclaim our strength but equally I don’t want to be feared and reviled so how do we find the balance? How can we be acceptable enough but still retain our power? Another part of the problem is the labels themselves, the fragmentation of our community. Most occultists and magicians would be hugely offended if you called them a pagan and look down their noses at witches as fluffy. With most pagans the term witch is fine but grimoire magic and Vodou = devil worship. I hate these labels, I hate that they cause us to fight among ourselves and I hate the elitism evident in our subculture even while I myself fall prey to it. I believe that until we can overcome this we can never form any kind of effective opposition.
I’m getting off track. Peter started his talk by saying that we are the world, the world as it is. Witchcraft arises from this world. We are the last line of defence and we should be preparing for the inevitable. We have abused this world and we will have to pay. So many times I hear people saying “oh I don’t have a particular path, I don’t practise magic I’m just a pagan I love nature and stuff” while swilling Starbucks coffee, wearing clothes made in sweat shops, chomping on sausages from factory farms, spewing racist hatred and chucking bleach down their drains and it breaks my heart. I know that we are all people and none of us are perfect least of all me but surely if we profess to love this land to be tied to the land then we can try harder? It’s time to stop trying to blame corporations, the Americans, the government, whoever and take responsibility. They may have led the way but we followed it was our own ennui, our own passivity that led to this and now it’s our problem. We have all contributed to the state we are in and its time to step up and acknowledge that – no one else is going to fix it for us. It’s important to remember is that we do live in this world and at this time, running away to the country having a tribal commune/small holding seems to be an accepted cultural dream for us but while it might be a nice dream we live here and we live now and hiding from the reality of our world won’t help. We need to engage with the world.
We must live in this world and the world that we live in is now a multicultural society. Everyday we rub up against cultures that may seem strange and even dangerous. But is it fair or right to denounce them? I know witches who hate Christians for the simple fact that they are Christian as justification they say “Christians have committed many atrocities” – well I’m sorry but show me a people or a culture who hasn’t! Does that make us all evil? Should we ever demonise a whole culture? I have friends who hate Moslems – well all I can say is that I’m pleased to see that the brainwashing has worked so well. We consider ourselves enlightened beings but we still want to eradicate the cultures of others. The eradication of a culture is the worst kind of genocide – it’s not just taking a few lives but killing the very soul of an entire people and yet we still take part. There is an amazing, stunning and awe inspiring range of peoples and cultures in our world, it makes me proud to be human and instead of stealing the bright jewels from each of these cultures, mixing them up swirling them together into a nasty brown sludge of zombified robots we should save and celebrate each and every one of them. My culture, my beliefs are the very foundation of who I am and if threatened I would fight for them without a second thought with whatever weapons I had. Why should anyone else be any different? It’s worth thinking about.
It is also important to remember that it is impossible to be perfect. The reason that I hate the phrase is that ‘An harm it none’ is an impossible concept. I know vegetarians who don’t eat meat because they don’t like to hurt animals but use cosmetics that are tested on animals or who happily kill caterpillars in their gardens, my aim is not to belittle their efforts but to show how laughable the concept of living in this world without impacting on something else in a negative way is. Maybe we need to stop worrying about being perfect and instead but try to be better than we were yesterday. Everyone can make changes, everyone can consume less, everyone can make more informed choices. The crisis facing our world is such a big one and the dissolution of our society has become so bad that I’m not sure a joint effort would work. I think we need to work together while being separate, pledge to make this a better place for us all but in our own ways. We need to take responsibility for our own actions, each and everyone of them. Accept that “I didn’t know” is not an acceptable defence. We need to become warriors each with our own creed of honour and responsibility. I’m not advocating violence, it is possible to fight to make changes without violence. Being a warrior is different from being a soldier it’s about thinking for yourself doing what you think is best to protect what you love and not just blindly following orders. It’s about not resting on your laurels about innovation and always striving to be better. My husband is fond of describing me by saying that nature is red in tooth and claw and it is. It is beautiful but terrible and that’s what we should be. Nature and life isn’t a Capability Brown landscape it’s a wilderness and survival is a struggle, should be a struggle. If life is easy then you’re doing it wrong. My clan has eight paths, eight paths that make up witchcraft as a whole. You may follow one or two of these paths but we all contain a small part of each. One of the most important to me is the path of the warrior. Peter says that it’s all about Blood and Roses. I agree but if that image doesn’t work for you then go to Scarlet Imprint, buy Mandragora, read the poem called Skin and Paper by Adrienne Odasso everything will become clear. I am a warrior – lately I have forgotten this. There was lots of stuff going on I got married and grew in many ways – but I also got lazy and complacent and fat and slow – all the things I swore that I’d never do. But Peter’s talk ripped the wool from my eyes and all that is going to change.
The enemy of our enemy is our friend.