Stephen O’Malley

Gast Bouschet’s "Letter to sorcerers” 20 January 2020

Posted: Mar 26, 2020


Negarestani writes: On this plane, you either turn into diabolical particles or evaporate and are recollected as cosmic-pest ingredients. 

By all means, but let's start this thing with an opening question: what do we empower with our art and what do we destroy? 

A growing number of people locate the roots of our destructive attitude towards the planet in the loss of the sacred in nature. It is well recognized that the emergent monotheisms of the first millennium BC exorcised the sacred from the world to relocate it in a transcendental realm beyond Earth. Monotheism represented a massive split in the relationship between humans and nature but it was the Enlightenment and the Protestant reformation that finally put an end to the concept of a sacred nature in Europe. From here, the road was traced that led to the capitalist exploitation of the planet and the sicknesses of our contemporary demon-infested ecologies. I will not go into detail about how this reorientation took place; there are many articles and books on the subject, so I will focus on a few principal ideas that are at the heart of my concerns. 

I do not believe that it is possible or even desirable to return to an idealized past to reconnect with nature in the way that our pagan ancestors did. If we long for a sacred relationship with nature, it can only occur in terms of a dark sacred, a direct face-to-face encounter with the dirty ecologies of a poisoned planet. The world is drunk with poison. You may not see the poisons immediately on your stroll through the woods, they may hide in the sap of trees, in the water of streams and rivers or deep below in the layers of the earth but they are there. And they are here to stay and, at least in the case of nuclear waste, they are here to stay for a very long time. Radioactive waste is now part of the earth's geological strata. And it's only the beginning, so let's stop pretending that there's a way back to the innocent and healthy state in which our ecosystems evolved. 

Painful as it may be, we sorcerers have to work with the intoxicated monsters of our ruined landscapes. So what ideas are capable of encouraging an art that takes into account destructive and transformative processes? Art and sorcery are practices that you learn by doing, but a solid theoretical background has never prevented anyone from elaborating a workable system of art and sorcery. There are many inspiring thoughts out there, from the old philosophical theories of panpsychism and hylozoism to the contemporary theoretical writings of object-oriented-ontology, speculative realism, dark ecology and black metal theory. There are the treatises of the alchemists, who always knew that the stone has to be extracted from the black earth of filth and decay. Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia and Peter Grey's Apocalyptic Witchcraft were of tremendous help, but I can't elaborate on all of them. So I would like to specifically point out two bodies of work today. 

First there's African Vodun: Art, Psychology and Power, Suzanne Preston Blier's study on contemporary Vodun practices in which she describes an empowering art bound up with societal and countersocietal values such as dissonance, force, destruction, decay and danger... An art that expresses not only an aesthetic of negativity but also frappe or shock. Sagbadju, one of Blier's informants explains: The strong object is not something of beauty, one does not need to carve a sculpture so that it is attractive in order to have it work. Vodun sculptures show us that sorcerous art is forceful, not pleasant. Another element that I find relevant to our purpose is the concept of a crippled world that she briefly addresses in the chapter Bodies and Being. Ayido, another respondent observes: When we came into the world, we saw the world straight, thus it is we who made our world crippled. Vodun sculptures are exemplary in the way that they bound sorcerous art to the tension, anxieties and dangers of a chaotic and threatening world. What these sculptures demonstrate, is that sorcerous practices are firmly grounded in the body and in matter, not in some lofty and vague spiritual space outside of them. This strikes me as enormously important as it dissociates the dark sacred of sorcerous art from the heavenly sacred of the transcendental monotheisms of Judeo-Christian traditions. 

And then there's Georges Bataille's satanic base materialism which provides us with a philosophical view of matter as an active principle having existence as darkness which would not simply be the absence of good, but a creative action. Of the vital importance of base materialism, Bataille says: For it is a question above all of not submitting oneself, and with oneself one’s reason, to whatever is more elevated, to whatever can give a borrowed authority to the being that I am, and to the reason that arms this being. This being and its reason can in fact only submit to what is lower, to what can never serve in any case to ape a given authority … Base matter is external and foreign to ideal human aspirations, and it refuses to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations. And: It is difficult to believe that the whole Gnosticism does not manifest above all a sinister love of darkness, a monstrous taste for obscene and lawless archontes... Black magic has continued this tradition to the present day.

Bataille's base materialism provides a theoretical framework for a black magical revolution from the ground up. The afflicted anti- or non-gods that Bataille sets out to devote himself to, seem to me to be ideally suited to embody the dark chthonic forces of a hostile and unpredictable world. In a similar way to Vodun artworks, they express the wounds of trauma and the blackening powers of decay and transformation. We should learn from these examples. Our sorcerous art will not be able to act in the world if it does not first of all assimilate the black venom in which our planet is soaked. Sorcery does not repel the forces of pollution but draws them in to redirect them back to the true source of evil, which is not an organic heart of darkness but an artificial tower of light. 

At a time when those who destroy the earth hide behind high-definition aesthetics and immaculate design, we should turn our gaze toward the flawed and impaired that lies at the heart of the sacred. What I propose is an art that shows its wounds, a sinister practice that acts as a counterpoison to the aesthetics of sterility.

To be continued.