by Charles Webb
“…the violation of taboo or the transgression of
cultural norms is an ancient and essential component
of practical magic. To temporarily break a taboo is to
unleash tremendous power because the sorcerer
steps outside the rules or conditions governing the
proper function of reality.”
Gordon White, The Chaos Protocols
At the outset let’s just say that what you are about to read is an “imaginal” piece rather than a documentary account. “This is a work of confabulation…no resemblance to any characters living or dead is implied.” That way, all asses are covered.
Once upon a time…
…there was a graduate student in psychobiology in the Psychology Department of the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1960s…let’s call him C.
C lives in the Shadyside district of Pittsburgh, Pa. in a rundown Victorian house, which he and his first wife bought just before they broke up several months before our story begins. The house is empty of furniture, but for one room, in which C “lives” and works.
C has become disenchanted of the academic life extending out before him (his “future”) and has taken a 16mm movie camera home with him from the lab (used in perceptual experiments) to make “experimental” films…circa 1960s.
It is winter. Early Pittsburgh mornings in this season are best described as frozen mist.
C is making one of his first films. (This will become his profession of some 40+ years). He goes out every morning at dawn and films the trains passing under a footbridge over a track running through Shadyside.
One morning as he approaches the bridge over the tracks, he sees a tall woman standing at the center of the bridge tossing objects onto the trains passing underneath. She is wearing a cape. She is dark complexioned…her hair is a massive black tangle…
C raises his camera to film her. She looks up. Her eyes seem to flash. She turns away quickly and hurries away.
The next morning the woman is on the footbridge again. What is she doing?
C half remembers a novel…a murder mystery (L’Amante anglaise) …by Marguerite Duras, he thinks…in which a character disposes of a body by dropping pieces of it onto passing trains heading in different directions.
Is that what this mysterious woman is doing?
C walks up onto the footbridge and approaches the woman. She smiles at him and hands him one of the small boxes that she is dropping onto the passing trains.
“Gifts”. She says. “I send them on their way to the four directions…offerings. The bars just opened, you want to get a drink?”
Her name is S. She is also a graduate student…at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. Her parents were Romanian Gypsies, killed in WWII.
She was saved by a Catholic family fleeing Romania in 1943. They found her tiny body by the side of a road…where she had fallen when her mother flung her from the window of a speeding car as it was overtaken by her parents’ executioners.
Her adopted family managed to make it to Montreal, where she grew up within the Catholic miasma.
At the age of 14, S was seduced (I say seduced rather than assaulted because she was “taken in”, “turned out”…she liked it…) by a nun, who, upon being discovered, renounced her vows and left the church.
S was disowned by her adopted family and went to live with the ruined nun, whom many now accused of being a defiler of innocents, a “daughter of Satan”…obviously, a witch of the first order.
S thrived and eventually graduated from McGill.
C listens to S’s story and then tells her his…he came from a long line of “unorthodox” Southern doctors in West Tennessee…grew up in rock and roll (Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis) and root working country, circa 1950s. His father practiced hoodoo at the same time he was a respected surgeon in town, etc….C and S connect.
S and C seduce each other, and she sets up shop in his empty Victorian. Her method is “taking the edge”…since this guy has an empty house, she uses it.
Judith Malina, Julian Beck and the Living Theater Company come to Pittsburgh in 1968 to perform Paradise Now at Carnegie Mellon. Some members of their troupe need a place to stay.
S offers an empty bedroom in C’s house. Several Living Theater members move in.
One member of the Living Theater troupe…let’s call him MC… specializes…besides his theater doings…in being able to create singular psychedelic effects with odd combinations of alcohol and other substances…”take shot of Scotch, then one of tequila, then a glass of red wine and a whiff of coke and a taste of mushroom, followed by a glass of absinthe…etc.” S, C and MC and company inevitably escape consensus reality for lengthy periods.
Turns out, MC is also “experiencing” ceremonial magic…spent time stoned with Aleister Crowley in Tangiers…he claims.
The connection between ceremonial magic(k) and the theater of cruelty (and…btw..Alfred Jarry’s UBU ROI…MUST be soberly explored one day.)
But, in the meantime…”missions” of guerilla transgressive theater must be carried out (the Living Theater is busted for this…running naked in the streets… repeatedly in the 1960s).
MC insists that in order for S and C to become “truly initiated”…move outside the prison of ordinary reality…experience their birthright in the magical universe…validate that gleam in their eyes…that they must demonstrate to the movers and shakers in the “Big C” (casino)…that they have anted up…they need to “get their attention”…
“…a declaration to the universe that you
have a seat at the table, that your Highest
is united with your Lowest, and you expect the
cosmic croupier to deal you in. It is a
fundamentally radical act, a transgressive move.
It runs counter to almost two thousand years
of economic, and religious diktat.”
Gordon White, The Chaos Protocols
S is “there” already. C is not so sure of all this…feels like he is being lured into come bizarre sideshow.
“In magic based on the violation of taboo. The
individual sees himself placed in a new
relationship with regard to nature: instead
of suggesting to natural forces what he
expects of them, by relying on imitative acts,
he wrests from them the power to coerce
them into yielding to his wishes.”
Laura Makarius’, The Magick of Transgression
Ah…the violation of (in C’s case, family) taboo…a fear that C has grown up with. He was supposed to be the next Doctor in a family of generations of Doctors. He declined. Guilt…failure…he violates the ultimate family taboo…not being the next Doctor.
But now…reframed…this act somehow bestows power not failure?
And then (this is the south in 1963) C gets his girlfriend (and future ex- first wife) pregnant. His “shamed” mother “takes to her bed” for days. His father, the Surgeon, sometimes “two headed” (hoodoo) doctor, by now diagnosed “schizophrenic”, shakes his hand and dances a little jig…
One parent’s taboo is another parent’s gleeful triumph (C’s father didn’t want to be a Doctor either, but did it anyway.)
And now…C’s giving up a promising, grant supported academic career…leaving after the Master’s…”blowing off” the Ph.D….to pursue filmmaking…how arrogant…what a disappointment!
And now…and now…MCs provocation…an affront to one’s honor…like a challenge to a duel…
Transgress! Step outside! Commit the metaphysical, de trop, crime/prank!
“I already transgressed…I’m already outside!”
“But not with intent and understanding”, S chimes in. “Let’s deliberately say ‘fuck you’ to the universe and see what happens…see if that gets “their” attention.”
And so…they act…
It involves performances of a variety of sexual “realizations” (costumed as Jesus and Mary Magdelene) during the “Hour of the Wolf” on the alter of several Catholic churches around Pittsburgh…oftentimes with the dumbstruck but lecherous priest silently watching from the shadows.
C and S are never interrupted or detained, even though they sometimes have to find unconventional ways to get into the churches. (Some were still open 24/7 in those days.)
Another “existential/improvisational theater protocol” involves dosing holy water and sacramental wine (and grape juice in a couple of Methodist churches) with LSD ( by surreptitiously accessing the storage rooms of select churches…maybe a Jean Genet type move?…interesting, but no big deal, he might say…), then attending the service the following Sunday to check out the results. (SEEMS like many who drink the blood and consume the flesh actually “see Christ” for the first time….or see something…). Conversions and/or rapid exits occur.
Radical performance, C and S think. But is it really Transgressive (with a capital T)? Does the Universe give a shit? Probably not. It is, after all, stupidly culture specific.
What would offend the Universe at large? What would it really take to get “their”…whose?…Helper spirits? Allies? Denizens of Daimonic reality?…attention?
But not really…
These acts do change C and S. Whole ranges of “results” expose themselves.
Off kilter synchronicities and multiple incidents of high strangeness begin to occur. Definite results…but via sequences of events never intended (or imagined…or even imaginable…)
C moves to San Francisco and works on films with the Black Panthers, The Grateful Dead, John Holmes, and the monks of the Northern Shaolin Temple in mainland China….
S moves to Mexico City and works with Alejandro Jodorowsky, Salvador Dali (and many others)…
At the time of this writing, they are both getting old (an unintended consequence)…they have (after a gap of almost 50 years) re-connected…and sometimes discuss what the magick of transgressive mischief can…and cannot…accomplish…
Initiation never concludes…the gleam in the eye continues to flash…
About The Author:
Charles Webb is a San Francisco based filmmaker, practitioner of various of the occult arts and founder of the reality handling method Cinemorphics, (Alchemical Conjuration Technique – A.C.T.). His latest book, “Quick-Knife Hoodoo”, is available at Amazon.
Image Attributions: All images are photomontages composed by the author.
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