The New Counterculture Tarot

The Moon
Hexen 2.0 (c) Suzanne Treister

There’s a rising spirit of rebellion in the air – and the whiff of repression – that seems very much like the sixties.  The parallels were driven home when I visited the excellent  ‘You Say You Want a Revolution?’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It examines how a range of cultural activities combined with political activism across the globe to try to bring about epochal change near fifty years ago, but also, tellingly, links those times to today.

One aspect examined the resurgence of occult thinking during that time – as much a metaphor for spiritual transformation and advancement as it was magical thinking.

A key part of this section was the tarot designed by conceptual artist Suzanne Treister, a redesign of the traditional tarot deck and one that echoes other historic re-imaginings, say Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck.  It’s a fantastic piece of work that fully understands the psychological dimension of the tarot and links it to a very contemporary drive for change.

At the top you can see The Moon card from my own deck – the card for intuition, dreams and the unconscious – which here summon up transhumanism, techno-gaianism, futurology and more aspects of radical change thinking.

The Hanged Man
Hexen 2.0 (c) Suzanne Treister

The Hexen 2.0 deck’s alchemical drawings pick up the interconnected histories of the computer and internet, cybernetics and counterculture, science fiction and futurism, ideas of the control society, as well as philosophical, literary and political responses to advancing technology.

Here you can see Stewart Brand as The Hanged Man, creator of the Whole Earth Catalogue in the sixties and an associate of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in the tarot’s traditional archetype of the spiritual thinker who accepts sacrifice for the greater good.  Treister recognises Brand’s key role in today’s digital culture.

Other cards feature The Control Society as The Devil, Aldous Huxley as The Fool, the wisest card in the deck, Timothy Leary as The Magician, Ada Lovelace as the Queen of Chalices, Quantum Computing and A.I. as The Star, and many more fascinating pieces that are well worth reflection in the true tarot spirit.

I’ve found this deck is actually influencing a lot of my thinking about this new world that we’re all moving into, and particularly the kind of response it needs.  Hexen 2.0 is available online in the V & A shop.

Testimony Revisited

Very shortly you can expect a new ebook which reflects upon my one and only non-fiction book, Testimony.

This was a truly terrifying account of a family trying to make sense of a maelstrom of supernatural experiences after they moved in to an isolated house in the wilds of Wales. The book sold out its first print run in record time – and then disappeared from the shelves completely. Another story surrounds that.

The ebook will feature new content – including a detailed commentary about the case and how I went about investigating it. At the moment, the aim is to include enough to make it, to all intents and purposes, a new book. That’s one reason why I’m planning to retitle it (the other is that several other books called ‘Testimony’ have come out in the meantime).

The book has already been formatted and the new material prepared – all that’s holding it up is the title.

More soon when I have a publication data.

Unconvention 2010: Forteana And Fiction

Thanks to the people at Fortean Times magazine, here’s a recording of the panel I was on at this year’s Unconvention in London, alongside Adam Nevill, Natasha Mostert and host Nick Cirkovic. We talk about ghosts, night terrors, our experiences of the paranormal and writing.

We Can Predict The Future

A major scientific journal is about to publish a peer-reviewed paper that may have staggering implications.

“Extraordinary claims don’t come much more extraordinary than this: events that haven’t yet happened can influence our behaviour.:

In other words, we have instinctive precognition, if the evidence presented in the paper holds up. The study has already been examined by sceptical psychologists who can’t find any flaws.

Cautious scientists don’t get to extrapolate from this. Everyone else can have a lot of fun. And there are *many* potential repercussions.

Alan Moore On Magic

“Literature, meanwhile, is so intrinsically involved with magic’s very substance that the two may be effectively considered as the same thing. Spells and spelling, Bardic incantations, grimoires, grammars, magic a “disease of language” as Aleister Crowley so insightfully described it. Odin, Thoth and Hermes, magic-gods and scribe-gods. Magic’s terminology, its symbolism, conjuring and evocation, near-identical to that of poetry. In the beginning was the Word. ”

Alan Moore wrote a sprawling, in-depth and typically smart study of the occult for Kaos Magazine called Fossil Angels. The magazine folded before publication, but you can now read the piece online. The quote, above, comes from part two.

Part One is here.
And Part Two here.

The Death Of The Ghost

A few weeks back I wrote how our increasingly rational society was behind the growth of fantasy as people sought out their irrationality fix. Some people wrote to decry any idea that we were getting more rational, citing everything from medievalist religious views to the growth of New Age-ism.

But when the Society for Psychical Research starts to get worried, you know you’re on pretty firm ground. According to the SPR’s Tony Cornell, reports of ghost sightings have declined from two a week to none at all in just a few years. The SPR bizarrely blames it on the rise of mobile phone usage – read the article, I’m not going to begin to explain the ‘science’.

But the interesting thing is, the number of ghost sightings has remained pretty constant for centuries, according to Cornell. And now…nothing.

Richard Dawkins Is Killing SF!

Or how you can lose by winning…

Science fiction is in a slow sales decline (or not so slow, depending on which bookseller you talk to), and now accounts for a fraction of its former market. Meanwhile, fantasy remains a sales juggernaut, with what Publishers Weekly described at its last roundtable close-up (admittedly nearly three years ago now) as a ‘huge’ audience for immersive epics.

Which is strange when you consider that the quality of SF is arguably at an all-time high, a new golden age of speculative fiction. I can name several authors whose books will undoubtedly be read in decades to come, and I’m sure you can name many more. Fantasy – and I’m stating this as charitably as I can – has not produced so many quality works. One or two maybe. There have been a lot of good books, entertaining books, comforting books, ones that please their readers, but classics? Not so much. (I’m a fantasy author – I can say this.)

There’s been some debate about why SF is failing to resonate with the wider public in the same way that it used to do. Part of the reason is that we live in a science fiction age. The wonders that were on the page are now all around us. But to follow that argument to its conclusion would suggest that SF sales should be increasing rapidly as it becomes the fiction of the mainstream, true 21st century literature that shines a light on the way we live our lives today. Instead it’s following the trajectory of the western.

If we look to psychology we may find some answers. We are creatures that are held in stasis by opposing forces: our nature demands a balance. Right brain/left brain, masculine/feminine, intuitive/logical. Plato defined two ways of seeing the world – ‘logos’, from which we get ‘logic’, looking out at the world, scientific in common usage, and ‘mythos’ from which we get ‘mythic’, which mapped our inner selves and was just as vital for defining the way the world works.

Long memories or a little research will show how irrational we were back in the sixties and into the seventies. Belief in the occult was much more mainstream than it is now, with serious people discussing it in a serious way. You won’t find that today. I know some of you American readers will beg to differ, as you face a rising tide of irrational religiosity infecting mainstream life, but those pressures are coming from the outside into the heart of society, and are generally resisted by the opinion-formers and the establishment which shapes the consensus-reality of our society.

This was very clear in Richard Dawkins’ recent TV series where he charged out to attack what he saw as a tidal wave of irrationality from creationists, new agers and charlatans threatening to swamp science. In reality, he came across as a complete bully, using his intellect to smash down people who couldn’t vocalize their beliefs, or even really comprehend why they felt the way they did. It’s a flaw that’s just as clear in his best-selling book, ‘The God Delusion’.

The fact is, his side is winning. Generally, society is much more rational than it ever was.

I’m talking here about subtleties – about the mood of society, the ‘feel’ of it. You can probably find a million examples of perceived irrationality, from the high sales of ‘mind, body, spirit’ books to millionaire astrologers. But those things are accepted, often wryly, often hopefully, but very rarely at the heart of a world-view. Commentators in the media who shape opinion are united in their acceptance of the scientific paradigm. You don’t even find UK tabloid newspapers covering occultist or fringe subjects to the same degree they did in the sixties and seventies. As someone with lots of journalist friends, I know this is because even the tabloid people consider these things beyond what their readers would take seriously.

Dawkins knows this, I’m sure, but he’s on a crusade to stamp out irrationality wherever he might find it. He has stated that any irrationality is a threat, even if it’s a lightly held belief or a half-hearted curiosity about things he believes could never, ever be true.

And he’s wrong. Utterly. We need our mythos. We need our irrationality. We are built to need it. Cultures before ours managed to integrate both into the same world-view quite easily; it’s not an either/or situation. If you’re interested in magic, it doesn’t mean you think Einstein is a charlatan. (On the fringes, some may, but we’re talking about ‘real’ people here). The more people are unable to find irrationality in the culture around them, the more they will be driven to seek it out through their imagination.

In other words, every time Richard Dawkins kicks a quivering new ager, a hard-pressed science fiction writer loses another sale.

Right now, and for the foreseeable future, society needs fantasy. It doesn’t really need SF.

Lots going on at Treadwell’s

If you live in London and you’re interested in anything from modern-day magickal workshops to literary readings, esoterica study groups to academic conferences, you should probably check out Treadwell’s Bookshop in Covent Garden.

I have to confess that I haven’t actually attended any of their events myself, but that’s only because it’s a heck of a commute from my place in Manchester. But I have been on their mailing list for quite a while, and there’s never any shortage of fascinating-looking goings-on; just take a look at their list of forthcoming lectures for examples.

Do let us know how you get on if you go along to any events, we might even be persuaded to post a short account of your experiences here on