Five of Swords Esoteric Magazine, a free to view digital project that explored the more abstract ideas at the bleeding edge of modern occultism, has recently been put on permanent hold. While this passing may be generally ignored, those who either contributed or devoured the articles held within the three published issues will no doubt miss it just as much as myself. Out of respect I have decided not to seek a new publisher for what would have been my submission to the fourth volume, choosing to present a slightly expanded version of it exclusively here at my portfolio instead.
These Viral Gods
Deity As A Memetic Aggregate
By Gavin Fox
Skeptical by nature if not practice, I have long considered a staunchly agnostic stance to be my default setting between magickal operations. Nothing is true, and very little is real. This is hardly a unique viewpoint, as many who once held the chaos current as an ersatz guide would agree with that statement wholesale. When belief is simply seen as a tool to be adopted and discarded as the need arises there is little room for either worship or dogma unless a direct benefit can be derived from doing so. Yet the further down the rabbit hole that I tumble, the more I experience direct contact with entities that resemble the gods and goddesses of classical folklore.
Ever the iconoclast, I am not happy to simply accept their existence wholesale. I want to dig beneath the obvious trappings of devotion and worship to isolate the process whereby such godforms can find purchase within a more modern context. It may seem a pointless consideration as long as the results keep rolling in, and were I still a card carrying chaote I would no doubt agree. But I have moved towards a blend of occultism and non-fascist Accelerationism in recent months, demanding more integrity from my adopted systems of belief as a result. Ultimately when it comes to magick, the continued evolution of technique and understanding of function are the only things that matter. There are no sacred cows to protect here, and no priests worthy of praise.
If we discard the accepted argument that the deities and demons of classical myth are venerated ancestors, fallen angels, omnipotent spirits or just the froth from some great cosmic egg, many alternative hypotheses present themselves. Of these, I have found two to be the most personally attractive. The first involves internal processes that remain so, leading to something approaching a reductionist or nihilistic view of the unseen world. The second takes those same godforms and flings them with intent forward into the material realm for all to see.
Under the first theory, we find the gods as sociological constructs appealing to some hidden aspect of our personal natures. They are little better than internalised memes that the skilled mage or blind believer can call upon to adopt those aspects within themselves as and when required. Such a system, which in truth owes much to the psychological model of magick, demands that said spirits have no finite existence of their own, simply forming one way among so very many that the human psyche defends itself against failure or adversity.
The second theory argues that the gods are projected thought forms, fed by those who are interested in them and gifted an odd, mechanical semblance of life by the continued interest of both believers and the uninitiated alike. What makes this view unique among my peers, and places it firmly within the memetic model of magick, is the lack of distinction between followers and fanboys that it allows. The mental attention, dreams and nightmares of every person who has ever stopped to think about a particular concept are what adds context to said information, not the purity of belief. That their mind stuff oozes into the fabric of reality while focused on a given topic is enough.
All books mentioning a certain entity become a Bible, every fan website apocrypha. What started out of convenience as a simple bastardising of memetic theory soon led me to a paradigm whereby internal archetypes are capable of gaining purchase in the supposedly real world. As supporting evidence, I encourage the many delightfully odd followers of Cthulhu to the witness stand. Few can argue against their success in working with a deity that has no real existence outside of the writing of a shy and starving recluse who himself fervently denied that his sleeping, squid faced ball of blubber had any basis in fact. Yet when they call on this spirit of madness, they do get results.
Of course, the truly devoted followers of the Great Old One are nowhere near numerous enough to generate the mental energy required when empowering such a pantheon of gibbering nightmares against the prevailing normality of every day life. But the externalised theory outlined above states that they do not need to be. All they must do is become adept enough at crafting devotional and memetic practices that allow them to hijack the existing lakes of thought which are already waiting untapped in the cultural zeitgeist. Thus each fandom becomes a potential magickal current, and every godform nothing more than a creation of the group mind.
Sadly, should we seek to find similar pantheons of literary godforms to work with it soon becomes plain that few aspects of modern pop culture could claim to have generated the same level of continued interest as Lovecraft’s mythos has done over the last hundred years. Yet there may be an unlikely contender. Despite being far younger, as well as lurching its way through various rewrites and revisions, the narratives created by Games Workshop are both equally rich and just as bleak in tone. It also boasts entities more alien, and powerful, as those described in The Call of Cthulhu, though less inclined to destroy the minds of those seeking their aid.
Of special interest is how the most infamous of these deities, the very gods of chaos themselves, were created within the lore of the game. Khorne, Nurgle, Tzeentch and Slaanesh formed in a purely psychic dimension from the thoughts and fears of sentient beings across the galaxy. The inference is that in times of strong enough emotion, these internalised responses birth creatures in the immaterial realms which reflect that polarity. Harvest enough such psychic energy in a single event and you can even create an entire pantheon. Of course this is very reminiscent of the way tulpas are created by sorcerers even now, and I have often wondered if those involved in the earliest days of Games Workshop as a company had at least a passing understanding of chaos magick too.
Yes I am arguing for the legitimacy of working with the many and varied godforms that dwell at the heart of that most storied of pop culture properties. I am also stating that, due to the high level of mental attention which is expended by those who take part in the hobby, be it through painting, playing or just immersing themselves in the thousands of hours worth of background lore, Games Workshop is one of the most powerful tulpa factories available anywhere at this time. With all that psychic force being expended in ignorance it falls to magickians to reap the rewards, and those who try will find the chaos gods of Warhammer particularly open to making a trade.
For occultists that dogmatically consider deity to be something infinite and unknowable to the human mind, however, it may still be worth viewing the chaos gods as potential archetypes or more general tulpas without the omnipotent trappings of actual godhood. Results can still be gained in that way, I suppose, though doing so misses the main thrust of my argument, as well as falling far short of true memetic sorcery. Regardless of semantics, the four entities mentioned above remain a powerful force in the cultural landscape.
Of course, there are other pop culture properties to explore as well, and there is no need to restrict yourself to working with the gods that they provide alone. If Magic the Gathering is your preferred hobby, Liliana Vess can be approached for aid in understanding the necromantic arts. If you like comic books, Constantine could be called to advise you on how to find a way out of a less than favourable deal. And of course, Grimlock is by far the most obvious Transformer to petition when all else fails and seething rage is the only option left.
The main consideration is one of reach, however. No matter how powerful within their personal narrative, a mortal hero will lack the omnipotence of a deity from the same realm. This weakness will be mimetically encoded into the zeitgeist by those who eagerly devour those stories with either relish or indifference. Grimlock could never destroy Unicron, the closest thing to a supreme evil as described in the Transformers universe, and Liliana Vess would never beat Nicol Bolas in a fair fight either. As such, those who wish to work with tulpas as godforms might as well use those that have already been encoded with the idea of divinity from the outset.
Ultimately, this process is more involved than simply using superheroes to replace the angels and demons named in existing grimoire rituals, as was the vogue among Technopagans around the turn of the Century. It goes beyond making a list of your favourite literary characters and slotting them into tables of accepted subconscious archetypes for future use. The idea behind the memetic model of magick is to encode the very material of the universe with concepts that alter the zeitgeist in intriguing and unexpected ways, as well as recognising the benefits of taking those that have already been empowered by others and adapting them to fit your needs.
At its most abstract, the external theory hints that even pandemics can be retooled as gods, dominating the real world in a way not too dissimilar to the remorseless evil which burns entire cultures to ash within most fantasy tales. Rarely in recent history have so many people been focused on a single event, and as a result the Coronavirus has seen the most dedicated worldwide response since the Second World War. Social media has allowed for a ground level narrative that would have been impossible during that earlier conflict, feeding this pseudo demonic abomination as it dominates the psyche of an entire planet through fear and anxiety alone. Billions of people, all focused on the same disaster, over and over again.
For the memetic sorcerer, the fact that the virus itself kills is no longer the only consideration here. In the minds of the population it has become something else, something way more powerful than a simple contagion. The Coronavirus looms over the Earth like a great devourer, and will now be a permanent fixture in our collective psyche in a similar way to the flood myths of old. The more we feed the idea of this beast, the more powerful it will become, and until a vaccine is found there is little that can be done to remain safe other than trying to avoid those who may have fallen under its sway. In this, it boasts many Lovecraftian overtones, returning us to the idea of Cthulhu as a literary godform made unflesh.
While a concerted effort by a group of pop culture sorcerers could conceivably gift this bundle of entropic ideas some semblance of intelligence through manipulating and sigilising the global information flow, there is little to gain from doing so. Indeed, giving such a destructive force enough intelligence to adapt and direct the damage it is doing would be a deadly mistake, as there is very little reason to believe that it could be reasoned with to slow down its pace should contact be made. A plague spreads, using every evolutionary trick at its disposal to do so as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Indeed, is that not what we are already witnessing, on a truly global scale?
There are both physiological as well as psychological aspects to consider when speculating upon the likely feeding habits of such a remorseless memetic entity. Long term stress and depression have been proven to have a detrimental effect on the human immune system, as well as cultural cohesion and interpersonal relationships too. A newly birthed godform with the inherent knowledge to grind humanity into the dirt through fear itself would have no ethical boundaries preventing it from using such mental trauma to weaken the biological health of the very survivors it is hoping to infect.
As previously mentioned, Games Workshop’s chaos gods were supposedly given form within the conceptual boundaries of the game through a slow accretion of such heightened emotion. If Khorne, Nurgle, Tzeentch, Slaanesh and even great Cthulhu itself can be summoned forth to work with a magickian who recognises divinity despite their origins, then attention as opposed to belief must prove to be the driving force of assumed omnipotence. Should as yet non-sentient concepts such as the Coronavirus become personified in a similar fashion then the sheer weight it has accrued in the global zeitgeist thus far would create a truly terrible entity, and the whole world would tremble in terror as the devourer viewed its new dominion through freshly opened eyes.