Night is a sun too.1
In 1967, on the second night of Christmas, my grandfather, who had just passed away, was laid out in the adjoining bedroom when I had my first life-defining dream. A stone of immense density lay on my chest and cut off my breath. I jolted out of sleep and fell into the heaviness of black matter, which suddenly began to pulsate with violent burst of light. I was nine years old then and had no idea what had happened to me. Only much later in life did I realise that a vision of Sol Niger had overwhelmed me. The death of my beloved grandfather, the dreadful night, and the following months of solitude, silence, and traditional Catholic mourning traumatised me to such an extent that I barely grew for the next three years. After that Christmas, my life was no longer the same, the light-heartedness of childhood was gone.
The internet didn’t exist in those days and it took more than a decade before I stumbled upon an image that reminded me of my dream. The skeleton on a shining black globe depicted in Johann Daniel Mylius’ Philosophia Reformata 2 made me finally realize that what I had experienced on that Christmas night was something more universal than I thought. The enigmatic engravings from Mylius’ book triggered a lifelong fascination with alchemy and I was soon made aware that the Black Sun is associated with Saturn and the nigredo stage of the magnum opus. There are only a few scholars who consider this to be more than merely a phase of the alchemical process. Among them is Jungian psychoanalyst Stanton Marlan, who states (in his book The Black Sun – The Alchemy and Art of Darkness)3 that blackness is not just a stage to be bypassed once and for all. Allow me to quote at length: One of the dangers of placing blackness into a process of development is the tendency to move too quickly away from its radicality, its blacker-than-black aspect, its depth, its severity, and the suffering associated with it. The unidirectional, spiritualized version of the alchemical opus wants to move out and away from blackness. Its focus is on the move from black to white, from nigredo to albedo, the classical alchemical formula. Nevertheless, to focus on movement and transition from one state or color to another, useful as this might be, runs the risk of not seeing with that dark eye that sees blackness for itself, and not simply as a passage to whiteness, change and generation.
The Jungian interpretation of alchemy is reductive because it neglects the dynamic systems of the earth that underlie the alchemical mysteries, but I agree with Marlan when he says: to see through blackness is to understand its continuous deconstructive activity as necessary for psychological change. The view through Saturn’s eye reorients our mental and emotional worlds. His black gaze burns away the human mask and opens us up to the wild abyss of anonymous matter. Those who have endured the teachings of Saturn feel his pull deep down in their gut. Jung certainly deserves credit for carrying alchemical imagery into our age, but in recent decades alchemy has too often been associated with psychological theories and not enough with the anarchic materiality that primarily determines our existence in the world. What I would like to propose is an art and thought that does not aim to psychologically or spiritually overcome chthonic blackness, but to channel the transformative possibilities that grow out of it. Saturnian Alchemy is dirty and belongs to the earth, it does not avert impurity, but rather lures disruptive powers into physical things and bodies. The aim is not the purification of matter and consciousness but the transmutation into the multiplicity of nonhuman otherness.
At the most fundamental level of material reality, we find the black light of eternity. This is the secret wisdom that the Black Sun reveals. Our blackness is the Alkahest, the flaming water that dissolves all things and returns them to their original state. In my view, the Black Sun represents the essential togetherness that God has desecrated by separating the vulgar light from the living darkness. Sol Niger is a symbol of interpenetration, continuous multiplicity, and eternal generation that does not point to a beginning or an end, but rather to a timeless substratum underlying biological and geological time. When we summon the Saturnian current into our innermost self, we make it participate in who we are. The assimilation of fundamentally anarchic substances is a dangerous process that can easily lead to disaster, but if we succeed in coagulating and combining vital essences, our work will lead us to a populous new form of existence. I am Legion, for we are many is the oracle revealed by the demon.
Our alchemy will only be successful if we work with, and not against Sol Niger (also sometimes known as the Devil). To call him evil is lazy, the devil is a mysterium tremendum, a terrible mystery: dark to the blind, and radiant to those who have eyes to see. In the same way than the Black Sun, he consolidates the principles of light into the form of Lucifer (the higher octave of the planet Saturn according to the Fraternitas Saturni), and darkness into the form of Satan (the lower octave of Saturn). But what we call Lucifer or Satan refers to something more ancient than the Abrahamic belief systems from which these terms emerged. The presence of the devil looms over many creation myths as the primordial chaos that contains all of existence in potentia. The Old One manifests something elemental and unpredictable that cannot be destroyed once and for all. He is the overall disorder of the universe, the revolutionary power of nature, an alien threat, a black star at the outer limits of space, a cloud of antimatter that spreads and infects, a glowing line of flight that bridges stellar and chthonic realms, a black hole, a wormhole, the devouring dragon who unfolds deep within, an acosmic poison, the opposer of rigid systems and ordering laws. Should I go on?
Whatever we call it, the radiant alterity of darkness projects us into another reality. The sorcerous alchemy I have in mind is not presided over by the God of transcendence but by the midnight sun that ignites rebellion and creative freedom at the bottom of the immanent abyss. My personal take on the Great Work is unorthodox and may seem contradictory at times, but does it really deviate so far from the underlying intentions of the secret art? Many European alchemists, especially in the late-medieval to Renaissance period, claimed to fulfil God’s will by accelerating what nature would have done anyway, but the truth is that their practices were heretical from the beginning. Their interventions in the spiritual and natural order of life have always been revolutionary. Moreover, what we know as “alchemy” assembles cultural practices that have arisen in many places and at many times. Not all practitioners pretend to merely speed up the work of nature. In Taoist internal alchemy, for example, the elixir of immortality is created by deliberately going against the current, and taking the movement of life back to its abysmal origins. Both Eastern and Western alchemy express, openly or less openly, a transgressive will to interfere with the laws of destiny.
What I find particularly relevant to the Saturnian path is that the material imagination of Western philosophers shows us what makes base matter become radiant. We cannot reduce alchemical allegories to simple meanings, but in my view, what shines in the Great Work is the pain they inflict again and again on that poor matter. What we are dealing with is a metaphysics of suffering. It is not successive washing that gives dull matter its golden shine, but torture. Or alternatively, to stay close to their way of expressing themselves, we can say that pain is the sacred agent that purifies and transmutes matter. Strange as it may seem, the wise philosophers fully identified themselves with the fiery transformations that they initiated in their bodies or athanors. Perhaps some of them have succeeded in activating and perpetuating the generative power of the wounded earth. Their knowledge would be essential for us to bring the vitality of matter into focus at this time of massive planetary change.
There are many out there who urge us to rethink our relationship with the earth. Few of them are able, or even willing, to put themselves into a state of mind that escapes anthropocentrism. The alchemists of old call on us to embark on an adventure that will make us part of something greater than ourselves. Let us embrace the multitude that constitutes us. Let us love our passing human existence for what it is, especially in the time of catastrophic breakdown. To envision a future beyond the human, we have to associate ourselves with life in all its fullness. What else can we do? The meaning of the earth reveals itself only when we join it in its cyclic dance of dissolutions and coagulations. We are the planet, it gave us birth and will eventually draw us back again into the ouroboric loop. What we witness in this day and age is not the end of all things. Life will go on, albeit in different ways. There may, or may not be a future for humanity as we know it, but either way, the time has come for us sorcerers to transform the pessimism of our world into a profound acknowledgement of mystery. Prepare to enter the alchemical maze and expect to get lost in a thousand withins.
The destructive aspect of the Great Work has often been mythologically equated with chaos monsters, who are the earliest embodiments of a narrative figure that came to be known as Satan. But, however we look at the annihilating forces of nature, we cannot escape them. Destructive change is built into the flesh at birth. We experience the pain of metamorphosis as a hostile force that invades and possesses us. It distances us from those we love and makes us feel less human, but it also expands our sense of being in the world. The possibility to germinate the seed of the new lies within the alchemical womb of the body. The human self must be wedded to the internal energies that animate it before our dark essence begins to shine. Even without drawing on occult imagery, the concept of human identity would dissolve if we could see ourselves from the perspective of the microscopic organisms that populate us. Contemporary scientists tell us that bodies are ecosystems. Animals and plants are no longer heralded as autonomous entities but as biomolecular networks composed of the host plus its associated microbes, i.e., holobionts.4 The microbial communities that live inside of us chemically alter our brains and change our moods.5 And what evolutionary biologists call the necrobiome 6 will one day transform us into something that can be looked upon as “our” chaos, a fertile massa confusa that produces new lifeforms.
A body is never simply itself, but rather expresses a dynamic relationship between different beings. Microbes don’t give a damn about human life, but that does not mean that they don’t interfere with the way we experience and perceive the world: so we better include the multiplicity of anonymous life into our art and thinking. Alchemical art may well be the perfect tool to communicate with the earth and let it speak with its own deep voice. The more we succeed in translating the language of the nonhuman into the human, the better we understand that our differences are no more than various aspects of a foundational force that contracts and expands simultaneously in the material world. There’s a cold fire that runs through materiality that makes it vibrate with demonic intensity. We can synchronise our efforts with the pulsations of the planet and the stars but we cannot subject the earth to our will, and we cannot boss around elementals. All we can aspire to do is conjure subterranean possibilities into constellations of images, and then let them work themselves together when the stars are right. But this should not lead us to believe that Saturnian art passively submits to higher forces. What we deal with is alchemy, not religion. The challenge of sorcery consists in undermining biopolitical power relations. Let us not forget that the alchemical texts often speak of poisoning the tyrannical king in order to restore him to new life: by destroying human supremacy (the capitalist imperative and biblical command to subdue the earth) we set ourselves free into the eternal mystery of life.
The subversive goal of Saturnian Alchemy is to corrode the roots of our homocentric behaviour and create new modes of being on planet Earth. Our black poison needs time to merge with the king of the world. We cannot help but proceed with patient humility and glide slowly into the dragon’s pool. Eventually, everything will appear as it is, Infinite.7 Again, we are the planet, we are the universe, all is contained in all. The mystics of all traditions agree that this is the core wisdom of the world. Christian anarchist Simone Weil expressed it in these words: Even though I die, the universe continues. That does not console me if I am anything other than the universe. If, however, the universe is, as it were, another body to my soul, my death ceases to have any more importance for me than that of a stranger. The same is true of my sufferings.8 Alchemy is par excellence the domain of intuitive universality. We need its visions of a multidimensional biology, now more than ever, to prepare ourselves for the changes that are taking place on an individual and a species level. Perhaps we need to renounce the urge to grasp and own everything. Perhaps it’s necessary to go into uncharted territory to produce the conditions for a new world. Our future as nonhuman beings cannot be understood or experienced in our lifetime, but we can revive the alchemist’s dream to produce the embryonic seed within the body. With the help of inner alchemical techniques, we condense our multiple selves into a singularity; a fiery mercurial essence that will be unleashed at the moment of separation into the dark freedom of the Unground.
What differentiates our practice from those who see matter as the prison of the soul is that we value sorcerous materiality. We consider the demonic forces at work within matter as active agents that free the seed and expel it into a continuous process of generation. Eldest Night and Chaos 9 stand at the beginning and end of Saturnian Alchemy. The ancestors of Nature endlessly forge the dark star that dissolves and reforms in unpredictable ways. What our stone reveals is not superior esoteric knowledge but the essential mysteriousness hidden behind the concepts of life and death. The mystical union of opposites manifests itself as a black light that sustains the material world. In alchemical thinking, solidified blackness and the chaos of matter are considered to be under the rule of Saturn. His black lead holds the original image of the universe out of which the paradoxical light of the Black Sun shines forth. The mythological figure of Saturn has appeared in many forms throughout the ages and across the world. In my book, he is an embodiment of the primordial otherness that God has violated and cast out of his master plan. Saturn is the damned beast whose horns of pain push us down into the groundless ground. When we look into the black slitted pupil of his eye, we see the primal wound caused by the traumatic separation of light and darkness.
1 Georges Bataille ventriloquizing Nietzsche in “l’absence de mythe,” Le Surréalisme en 1947 [exposition catalogue, edited by Marcel Duchamp and André Breton] (Galerie Maeght, 1947), 65.
2 “Putrefactio” from Mylius, Philosophia Reformata, engraved by Balthazar Schwan (1622), see https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Philosophia_Reformata_Emblem_9_-_Putrefactio..jpg
3 Stanton Marlan, The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness (Texas A&M University Press, 2005).
4 Seth R Bordenstein and Kevin R Theis, “Host Biology in Light of the Microbiome: Ten Principles of Holobionts and Hologenomes,” PLoS Biology, 13.8 (18 Aug. 2015), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002226
5 James Gallagher, “How bacteria are changing your mood,” BBC (24 April 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/health-43815370
6 Ed Young “Meet the Necrobiome: The Waves of Microbes That Will Eat Your Corpse,” The Atlantic (10 December 2015), https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/12/meet-the-necrobiome-the-predictable-microbes-that-will-eat-your-dying-corpse/419676/
7 William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (ca. 1790)
8 The Notebooks of Simone Weil 1 (Routledge and K. Paul, 1956)
9 John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667), see https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Paradise_lost_by_Milton,_John.djvu/76
Gast Bouschet, 21st of December 2020.
Soiled by Rebel Powers
Chapter One: Toward a Dark Sacred
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.
Gast Bouschet, 2nd of January 2020
Chapter Two: Revolutionary Withdrawal
Sorcery, in its most profound and sacred sense, connects us to an anarchic substrate that underlies everything in the universe. Sorcery has a mystical edge, adversarially mystical perhaps, but in any case mystical. Unlike practitioners of monotheistic religions, sorcerous seekers do not know from the beginning of their quest what they will find at the end of it, namely God. One could say that sorcery implies a form of mysticism, without a religious safety net, that plunges us into the depths of the unknown and the unknowable. It is an appropriate destination at a time when we are becoming aware that the ground beneath our feet is slipping away. What we discover in our fall is a black (w)holeness that eerily resonates with the mystical experience itself.
The blackness of the universe is the base matter out of which all things come and to which all things return. It is both Urgrund and Ungrund; the original ground of existence and the void that annihilates all ground. The black wilderness of the universe can never be understood by rational minds, but only intuited by sacred fools who fearlessly face the threats of abandonment and engulfment. To work with the universe, we have to draw it into the body and make it become part of us. Once we see the same blackness within and beyond, we feel no longer disconnected from the life-death continuum. It is a wisdom as old as humanity itself, but what empowering practices like sorcery can do in these times of depression and anxiety is to create a reciprocal relationship with the planet and give us a new sense of agency. Sorcery expands our sphere of action and allows us to actively participate in a truly universal ecology.
Ultimately, only death opens the floodgates, but we can train the body to loosen the ties throughout our lifetime. A good way to start is with a darkness meditation which empties the body and makes the inner and outer blackness resonate. The dynamics of exchange between existence and nothingness play an important role here. However, it must be said that invoking and mirroring abysmal forces can seriously mess you up before you reach the longed-for goal. It took me years to recover from the existential despair that I experienced during the mind altering practices of my youth. If you are not adequately prepared, nothing destabilises you more than the sensation of being pulled into an inner black hole. So, before staring into the void, one should first look at life, and one should look deep and long. Sorcerous knowledge rests on a focused and patient observation of minerals, animals, plants, weather and astronomical phenomena. One has to embed oneself in the world before even thinking of ungrounding the deep self.
One of the most important things I have learned from observing and contemplating nature is that pain and suffering are part of the fundamental conditions of life. The pain in my body attunes me to an existence that is vaster than the individual human self. Sorcerous meditation allows me to alleviate chronic pain by breathing it out into the woods, but the power of transference works both ways. The woods also infect and affect me in return. Working with the forest means creating a dynamic relationship with a totality that envelops and grounds you. This totality includes the geological, mythological, biological, cultural, political, and economic history of place. It all begins with the truly ancient powers of geology. In the case of the Ardennes Forest, we are dealing with an old mountain range formed by intense folding and faults that have inscribed themselves into the landscape and the geological memory of the ground. Older strata have been thrust up over younger strata and these violent upheavals are visible in the topography of the area. Combine that with layers of accumulated narratives and myths of the Ardennes as a meeting point of the living and the dead, beliefs of metempsychosis into plants and trees, destruction resulting from industrial deforestation and the savage ravagings of two world wars, and you will get an idea of the traumatic memories that emerge when working ritually with these forests.
The natural forests of Europe were destroyed a long time ago but there is still a primordial sense of mystery and darkness in these woods that were once said to extend until Constantinople. The spectre of nonhuman otherness still hovers over fog-shrouded trees at night, and the need to conjure metaphysical possibilities never entirely disappears from a place that is cradled by the unchanging rhythm of nature. Our great task is to pick up the threads that our predecessors have spun and weave them into the fabric of a world yet to come. The goal of our art is to create an intimate relationship with the earth, however poisoned that earth may be. Living and working in the Ardennes immerses me in complex, interwoven histories and makes me identify with the scars and wounds of an abused land. Maybe most importantly, it has made me develop a sense of empathy towards all that lives and dies here in these woods. Empathic involvement opens me up and projects me into another reality.
As soon as we feel involved in the destructive and transformative processes that shape the planet, we no longer consider the pain of the earth as an intellectual abstraction, but a visceral truth. What we are going through in these pivotal times changes something inside of us. We cannot avoid asking ourselves how to creatively engage the forces that threaten life on Earth, and how to direct the experience toward a new sense of being in the world. What I argue for is a dark art of empathy and survival. We perdure only at the cost of renouncing human supremacy. This is a time to tear off our human skin. This is a time to become powerful without being dominant. This is a time to reimagine our place in the world. The world has become too human, all too human. Nietzsche was right to say that we should change humanity’s future so that we might become the sense of the earth. It is this lightning, it is this madness that ignites the black flame within. The fire of sorcery fuses the ground and the unground into an undifferentiated whole. Herein lies the impure power of our art; in fusing and confusing self and world, and the states of being alive and being dead.
How to go forward, now that our dream of mastery over the earth has been shattered? How to extend human existence into the boundless forest of night? How to breed riotous growth out of the decaying ground? These are matters that can only be addressed by invoking the transgressive forces of sorcery. Without breaking the rules, we cannot hope to become truly other. To participate in the ongoing processes of the earth, we have to transform our understanding of the self. Nietzsche does not teach us how to leave human nature behind, but he encourages us to follow the stream wherever it leads, and asks us to love all that will inevitably happen, including death, as Bataille later subversively adds. But sorcery is a secret that is deeper than death. Cutting out what is merely human in us makes space for the otherness that grows within. With the aid of sorcery, we withdraw into an inner wilderness to live in dark communion with organic and inorganic beings that pass through us, colonise, and consume us.
However superior we may feel to those we consider to be mere background noise, sooner or later, they will devour us and reduce our pride to nothing. We don’t own the life that runs through our bodies, we belong to something darker, deeper and wilder than our hubris allows us to see. The more we deny other life forms their sacred right to exist, the more dangerous they become to us. Viruses spill out of the forest, ancient demons emerge out of prehistoric mud, parasite populations explode, even our own microbe communities mutate and turn against us. Let us destroy the static image that we have of ourselves. Let us reclaim the togetherness with other living things that already exists at the ground of our being. Let us abdicate our authority and embrace non-hierarchical alliances. Words can never fully describe the closeness with forest-dwelling powers that I experience in my night-time rituals, but if these lines help to advance a mythos that changes the way we perceive ourselves in relation to planetary others, my work here is done.
Into the eternal forest I go, utterly hollowed out and insignificant. I feed my fluids and substances to all beings. I sacrifice my mortal body to live in its shadow. I cut off my human head and devote myself to the empty darkness that it leaves behind. This is the anarchic transition into nameless power and freedom; a fertile breeding ground for the outburst of the masses. The coming insurrection will rise from the chthonic depths of the universe. I invite you, magical revolutionaries and black alchemists, to explore the extreme possibilities of immanent connections and becomings. I call on you to embark on a journey into undifferentiated blackness where all things morph into each other. If we succeed in tapping into the flows of experience that move below the threshold of the human, we will be transmuted from a singular to a multiform identity. Visita Interiora Terrae and by multiplying infinitely thou shall attain the elixir of immortality. It is only from a position of radical equality that we can launch the sacred conspiracy that will free the body from its head and the earth from its masters.
Gast Bouschet, 8th of April 2020.
Here’s the prophecy,
If we do not fill our practices with a deeper sense and purpose than selling art to the rich and travelling the world to participate in international biennials and residencies, contemporary art will implode, like one of these economic bubbles on which it increasingly depends. We can all decide for ourselves if such a breakdown will be a good thing or a bad thing for the world but I believe that our work will gain authenticity and strength if we ground it in something other than the art system. Something that makes us see who we are and what our art can do outside the institution of art.
Now I hear again and again that there’s no otherness left but is that really so? If it is true that the Great Other has disappeared from public life then maybe it’s time to embody it ourselves, by the lives we live and by the work we create. What if we restore art to its sorcerous origin instead of seeing it as something to be evaluated and consumed by others? What if we radicalise our practice instead of letting it become part of mass culture? The value of our art is something that we must define for ourselves. It is an individual discovery that we will only fully understand at the very end of a life-long quest.
As long as we are motivated by the desire for approval from the artworld, we are not doing sorcerous art. Sorcery is not concerned with artistic and social validation, it’s essentially a way of working and existing outside cultural and social bonds. Sorcery makes us disappear into solitary practice and struggle. It helps us regain a sense of power and independence and it fosters new and different ways of thinking and doing. In its initial and most far reaching sense, sorcery is the very force that brings change into the world.
The global art world celebrates appeasing and complaisant projects. Those who hold power to define value and taste abhor the fierceness that comes from the wilderness beyond their established institutions. There’s no place for the uncomfortable, polluting instabilities of sorcery inside the white cube aesthetics of posh museum galleries. Sorcery is intrinsically other, it does not reflect the bright shining stars of contemporary art but creates its own dark light. A black fire that devours, not to negate, but to recompose and to place the sacred art of changing matter and consciousness back at the heart of the world.
Let me pause for a moment here to state the obvious: blackened fire and dark, mystical counterpolitics are not part of everyone’s world and I think that’s a good thing, honestly. Art and sorcery are eminently subjective affairs and I do not want to reduce them to a single modus operandi. There are many ways to proceed. The only thing that I would like to encourage is a singular, original approach based on personal narratives and lived experience. Instead of following trends in contemporary art and thinking, we should carve our own path. This is mine, please feel free to tell me about yours.
That being said, I believe that art is a practice that should make us see and experience the world differently. Art is made of more than human things, it is co-created and transformed by all kinds of planetary forces and beings. The work that Nadine and I have been creating in the Ardennes forest over the past fourteen months has continually been transformed by changing seasons and weather. Scorching summers moulded the wax, of which some parts of the sculptures are made, into monstrously reshaped figures and faces. Freezing temperatures made the sculptures appear fissured and fractured, gusts of high wind warped them or knocked them down, riotous vegetation overgrew them. All appearance of stability is deceptive when you work outside museum walls. What makes things even more perilous is that sorcerous objects are often made of a mixture of organic and inorganic materials. They exist somewhere between the living and the dead: elementals, bacteria and fungi inhabit them, dragonflies land on them, birds shit on them, rats and mice feed on them, spiders weave their webs around them, insects lay their eggs inside them.
Sorcery is a dangerous and messy affair as it brings together what is supposed to stay apart. What our cultural tradition separates into clear-cut categories becomes confused in speculative assemblages where everything seeps into everything else. Sorcery confounds the human and the nonhuman along with the living and the dead. Its way of working is based on complex interminglings of conflicting realities. Nothing is permanent in the sorcerer’s garden and everything that defines us or our art as solely human is of little consequence here.
What we deal with is a politics and poetics of extended selfness. It is a thinking that works through sensitive connections and visual associations. Images make us see what otherwise can only be felt: our bodies are part of a vast, entangled net of relationships that include material as well as immaterial or magical ecologies. What is called for today is a revision of the traditional division between natural and supranatural concepts. We need a radical reinterpretation of planetary reality to engage the living flows of matter and affects that constitute it.
Much of my time over the past year was spend in silent contemplation. Solitude and deep looking lie at the root of any serious creative practice I believe. Sometimes, we need to be slowed down to see the depth of our existence. In my case, it was a spinal injury that radically changed my way of being in the world. What brought me to a halt was the result of an intense, extended work period that lasted several years or well, decades probably. I can’t say that I enjoy the chronic pain and the physical restraint that it entails but what the old devil Saturn made me realize is that sorcerous power and wisdom are not to be obtained from the heights but from the depths below. By the way, what being crippled also taught me is that artists should not follow the imperative of continuous busyness. It’s a curse that neoliberal capitalism throws on us to control and keep us working.
Anyway, what I saw and meditated on over the past months was the intimate conciliation between life and death in the forest. Over time, the forest makes everything that thrives within it become forest. There’s an uncanniness in such an observation as it made me see forest not as an accumulation of trees but as an interaction of seen and unseen forces that take effect between and below the trees. It felt like a universal background erupted out of the darksome forest floor, a realization that I found intensely meaningful and moving.
Much of what we discover can only be shown by analogy and visual metaphor. The transformative force can never clearly manifest in the phenomenal world. It conceals itself in uncertain congregations of living and non-living matter and it takes action in that which spreads and infects. The metamorphosis of sorcery is a process that binds our past and future selves. It shows us that our present condition as humans is but a phase in the evolutionary history of life.
Ultimately, sorcerous art points us toward our future at the edge of the abyss. On our way toward it, we will gradually be stripped bare of our illusions of self-importance and individuality until all that is human is finally taken away from us. All boundaries fall away in the end. When individual forms waste away, their vital force escapes and resolves back into where it came from. The way I see it is that we have two options: either we passively endure fatality or we actively work and think toward death. Both ways lead to the same end but we largely define our lives by choosing one perspective over the other.
Our sacred task is to create art as a pure act and to willingly give ourselves over to the universe. It is only by becoming the immensity that lies outside the boundaries of the human that we can pass into what our art has made possible.
Gast Bouschet, 4th of August 2019.
« What dreams! Those forests! »
Unaware of the presence of a tick attached to my abdomen, I went to bed one night in late spring and experienced exceptionally intense hypnagogic visions while falling asleep. Something happened to me on that night. What should have been a vague memory to shake off in the morning became a central liminal experience. I could not help asking questions that are impossible to answer. Was the creature dreaming inside me? Did our existences melt into each other? Were we temporarily sharing a single body and mind?
The visionary states between wakefulness and dreams are too wild to be faithfully translated into written words and I can’t completely recall the cascade of visual hallucinations that engulfed me. What I do remember is a sensation of being pulled out of my body and falling through trees that possessed and emanated energies that were both alien and powerful. I did no longer feel as an individual with a single awareness but as a profusion of beings and selves who expanded out into the depths of forest. The experience triggered a series of observations but let me put my ideas into context.
We moved earlier this year to the Belgian Ardennes. The Ardennes is one of the least populated regions in Europe and conveys more often than not a true sense of darkness and seclusion. Our decision to live in a cabin set amidst dense forests was partly the result of a spinal injury that left me unable to work and travel the world in the same way as before. It was equally motivated by the will to disrupt the routines of my professional life and gain a new perspective on art.
My primary motivations to go into the woods were, and still are, to gain a root understanding of the world and to observe and study nonhuman, anonymous sorcery. I want to learn and understand the system through which the sorcerous power flows. Besides, I need to find out what artistic activity means and reveals if it takes place outside the circle of a specific group or community. Art, like sorcery I believe, is a creative practice that acts on the planet as a whole and not just in a cultural framework.
Drawing from the forest’s underworld in the earth and the palpable but mostly hidden forces of nature, I started to make art that is essentially experiential and often invisible to the human eye. Over the past months, I buried decomposable work to absorb and disseminate power beneath, in the soil. I ritually blackened dead trees, wood decaying fungi and trunk wounds. I excavated roots, carved them and put them back into the ground. I shaped tree limbs that have known the ravaging force of wildfire into dark antlered figures. I exposed leaves on which I had drawn cosmic lines and intersections to the erosive agents of rivers, wind and weather. There must not always be a human spectator for art to exist.
Thus far, the wheel of the year has not turned full circle but I work daily with the forces at work in the forest and watch it perform its living play and drama. I observed birth, growth and decay on the forest floor, the hunting habits of various predators, northern Europe’s hottest and driest summer, the longest blood moon eclipse in decades, lightning that should not exist, electrical storms, changing weather and passing seasons. In addition to ticks, I got attacked by an army of flies, red ants and a caterpillar, whose poisonous hair brushed against the back of my neck and caused an astonishing number of stings.
Insects and arachnids are the only creatures big enough to see with the naked eye that predate on humans but there are countless others. The woods are populated by beings who assault and affect all that comes within their reach. Everything here is sprawling and invasive. The forest itself is in a permanent state of transgression. We are connected to a web of power relations in which everything interacts. If we wish to enter into dialogue with the nonhuman world and experience art as a symbiotic practice, the forest is a perfect place to dwell.
As an alternative to a human-centric approach, I want to suggest the possibility of shifting our perspective to align ourselves with the sorcerous current, the universal force of change that acts upon all substances and affects all things. This is the sorcerer’s grail, the ultimate goal – to incorporate the current and play an active part in the cosmic circuit of matter and consciousness. We act in the game of survival as one among many creatures. Death is our central challenge but death is not our enemy. The interaction between life and death is the necessary cause of the creative process.
The visceral realities of a predatory world don’t fit well with our contemporary worldviews. They reveal a human connectedness with nature that is difficult for the modern mind to appreciate. We usually shy away from the fact that our lives are nourished through the death of other beings but we cannot get something from nothing. We consume living things and will someday be consumed by other living things. Life does not belong to particular beings, it is based on principles of transition, conversion and transformation.
If we want to study interweaving life forms, the forest is the right place to be. In the woods, predatory interactions between different species and embodiments are constantly taking place. The visionary power of the forest results from the assimilation and confusion of all that constitutes it. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish animate from inanimate and finite from infinite in an environment in which elements are continuously destroyed and created anew. The forest does not separate predator from prey or life from death, it spins its dark web around all.
Maybe our most substantial dreams give us a glimpse into a substratum underlying all planetary existence. What if we deepen and evolve our visionary skills? What if we actively embrace the absorption into the outside that we experience during hypnagogia as a form of ecstasy, a state of being outside of ourselves? What if we convert our fears into creative desires? Our sorcerous task consists in transferring the power of transformation from our visions to our working practices. By overcoming the human condition in our dreams, we anticipate our future in the elemental sphere. At the core, we all have a radical alien essence. Sooner or later, it will shift us from flesh to a multiplicity at-one with existence.
Gast Bouschet, 31st of October 2018.
Dear friends and allies,
do you know what the dark art is to me?
Poisonous beauty hovering in suspense, over the abyss. The voice of the non-human that creeps up on us. The awakening of a deeper identity. A longing to become other. A complex relational field of both terror and redemption. A roar of raw cosmic energy and ecstasy. The light of darkness itself.
Allow me to begin at the beginning. First there was something dark and muddy and then there was an unclean signal and glyph, a sign of future becomings. The origin of our art lies deeply hidden within Palaeolithic caves. Secret underground spaces host some of the most powerful pieces of art ever created. People entered zones of total darkness to gain insight and visions into an alternate reality that they projected onto cave walls and ceilings like motion pictures. Their experiences were either related to the mysteries of the underworld or to the starry realms of the night sky. The area of invisibility at the end of subterranean passages served as an entrance to the otherworld and a gateway to transformation. The ecstatic visions of ancient sorcerers had a profound influence on human culture. Summoning the mysteries of the universe into the phenomenal world has been a driving force behind art for millennia. The dark light that shines at the core of nature puts us in touch with our primordial roots and the reality of the all-consuming fire of time.
But few are those nowadays who seem to have a yearning for an art that aims for a participation in cosmic becoming. Most people consider art to be an end in itself. Contemporary culture seems to have forgotten about the cosmic dimension of art. Our will to connect with the universe and its unknown forces seems weirdly displaced today. Let us not eschew the obvious; an art that is made for other purposes than being shown and collected is hardly welcomed by a system that has become part of capitalized mass culture. Galleries can’t sell the black light that our spells are conjuring and museums have little use for artists who aim to invoke those dark creative forces within their white cube spaces. The dark art of transforming matter and experiences primarily thrives outside the contemporary art scene. Driven by the illusion of neutral space and timelessness, art galleries and museums have built an entire worldview on light and all that it represents.
Nothing is more needed in times of excessive light and overexposure than the depths of darkness. In order to connect with our inner being, as well as the universe at large, we have to awake to the dark. In the dark, we feel the universe within ourselves. In the dark and away from the light, we expand into the universe. Art, in its most profound expression aims at the infinite, it opens a gate to the eternal realms beyond our daily lives and makes us participate in the cosmic dance of death and renewal. To recover the primary experience of art, we need to unearth our profound personal desires and motivations. Our art is not driven by the search for popularity. It is not about how high we are ranked on some list or how well we are connected to global networks. One works and acts with others but what affects us at our deepest level is the intense, physical experience of life itself. The dark art expresses a philosophy of alterity, a politics of heresy and a metaphysics of revolt that aims to transform our personal and collective existence. There must always be a vision to strive for.
Dear friends and allies, let me ask you: how can we affect capitalist reality through our art? How to withstand cultural hegemony? How to develop secret modes of intervention in a community in which all information is known? What does light and darkness mean in a society of surveillance and publicity? What is the secret of secrecy? What is at stake here is the building of a force outside our ubiquitous circuits of visibility. Our art involves tactics of resistance and insurrection but its greatest strength lies in its concealed nature. Sorcery defies rationality and comprehension so those in power cannot easily recognize and control it. Visibility is always correlated to the sovereign but the ruling class never runs the show entirely. Our methods and ways should be neither predictable nor controllable. Let’s evade urban zones of surveillance and return to the source of our art and magic. Let’s descend into the dark places of the earth which are not entirely owned by capitalism. The dark revolution starts here, in the world of shadows and margins. If our creations resonate with our deep dreams, they will eventually become a contagious drive toward a new bringing into being.
The dark art situates itself at the edge where existing things end and new things begin. Evolution is intensely mysterious and open-ended. By willingly exposing ourselves to the outside, we allow new possibilities of participation and symbiosis to arise. Previously unimaginable opportunities sometimes rise out of new contacts between human and nonhuman agents. Let us expand the horizon and focus on what is emerging. Our existence depends on the successful integration of foreignness and otherness. It is only by assimilating the alienating forces of the other that we can evolve. Our association with the nonhuman is not far fetched. What we usually define as the outside is already present within. We participate in complex networks in which our human parts intersect with the dark streams of the nonhuman and the geological. We are living beings that consist of geological materials such as calcium, iron and phosphorus. Our skeleton is mineral. Our immune system relies upon parasitic worms to work correctly and there are more bacteria in our bodies than human components. It seems that the flora of our intestinal system alone is composed of 100 trillion microorganisms. Whose body is it anyway?
Human domination over the planet is taken for granted today but the earth was not ours to begin with and will never entirely become so. We must let go of the illusion of total control and expose ourselves to the multiple outsides of which we take part. The signs of planetary change are all around us but we do not know whether we are witnessing the end of the world as we know it or the beginning of a new world. Fundamental change is always accompanied by the fear of the unknown. The metamorphosis that we are going through is an identity-shattering process but our enlightened civilization does not teach us how to handle extreme transformative crisis. In a culture obsessed with light and clarity, we have forgotten how to cope with forces too obscure to be quickly explained away. The dark art helps us to go over into foreign territory and participate it its otherness.
Contemporary sorcery is about absorbing the strange and unfamiliar. We need to look out for simultaneously archaic and highly advanced forms of relating to foreignness. The way we see the world has drastically changed over time but there actually exists a continuum between our ancient myths and our latest theories on evolution. What underlies both our most abysmal sorceries and our most recent philosophies of becoming is the terrifying, yet ultimately freeing interaction of human and nonhuman agents. The way in which theories of posthumanism describe contemporary flows of mutation often resonates strongly with the sorcerer’s merging with the demonic other. Both systems of thought aspire to shift our perspective and make us take part in complex feedback processes. Our future will depend on how successful we will mediate power relations between all kinds of planetary agents, including ourselves.
Wherever we look these days, we see cynicism and hopelessness. The biggest threat that humanity faces today is to see the future as nothing but a curse. Neurologists inform us that the worst aspect of depression is that it narrows our field of vision so that we can see no options to escape our present condition. If we can free our eyes for a moment from the media focus on civilizational disintegration, we will maybe see that sorcerous possibilities rise out of the ashes of Empire. The task that awaits us is to find our equivalents for the sorcerous practices that helped our ancestors to confront the massive threats at the close of the paleolithic ice age. We need to recover the original wisdom born from the dark womb of the cave but in order to survive the violence of our times, we must live our visions right here, in the present. The dark art is not something from the past, it is the timeless technique of renewing the world through visionary experience. What is required is a new form of perception that makes us experience reality differently and see the world through the eyes of the other. Sorcery allows us to shed our human skin and expand into the unknown.
We must concentrate our efforts on the long-term effects of our work. Let’s reject the ephemeral, capitalist notion of ‘project’ that rules contemporary culture and set our lifetime goals. Some objectives take decades to be achieved. Our art will continue, growing, evolving, spreading into the universe. Let us dive into the elemental and align our art to the currents of the flickering abyss. Its black light opens a gate to the immensity from which we all emerge and to which we will return. Our sorcerous task is to reach out into the open and become something else, something beyond the human, to transform into the flow of change itself. We need to push the boundaries of possibility and act between life and death. Our current physical and mental structure does not condition our alien future. Ultimately, the radical otherness of Radiant Darkness teaches us the demonic art of living on beyond the edge of a fixed form. The sublime paradox of Radiant Darkness erases the distinction between being and non-being and leads us into the void from which all existence springs. Let the unborn arise in us, invisible.
Gast Bouschet, 1st of January 2017.
Everything calls for new beginnings. We need a new politics of art that is capable of creating unexpected alliances and contact zones between self and other, human and non-human, the terrestrial and the cosmic. What is necessary is a shift in perspective that allows us to initiate a general process of reanimation. The way we perceive the world conditions, the way we act in and through it.
Art does not come out of nothing. Our creations are collaborations with matter and anonymous flows that move through us and in which we take part. Artworks are conceived and produced in complicity with planetary and universal forces. They associate us to a much larger set of relations than our human-centered ideological persuasions make us believe. Art essentially connects us to a cosmic dimension. The metamorphic qualities of dance, sound and moving images in particular are capable of installing the state of fluidity that is necessary to produce visionary experiences and explore the potential to enact change. The flow of metamorphosis is permanently active in the natural world and runs through all things. From quantum scale events to galactic collisions, the predatory forces of the universe leave no boundary untouched and no thing unharmed. Over time, all singular beings and existences are melted down into the milky ocean of infinity. Everything participates in a universal process of transformation and only temporary individual forms and bodies exist.
The conversion of matter into energy lies at the heart of our endeavour. Our task is to install sorcery as a new form of political art. Sorcery’s revolutionary current draws its strength from the will of the deep. It operates at the source of phenomenal existence, where not-fully-formed, unstable matters circulate and pass into one another. Where active fluids take the place of structure and boundaries between the singular and the universal are transgressed and overthrown. We need to act and think like the earth, “with the earth” as Nietzsche wrote, and plug into the deep pulse of cosmos. The universe is in a state of permanent revolution. We can as well look up to the stars as down into black earth, we see the same forces of destructive regeneration at work and we constantly witness the creation of new worlds. There is no final annihilation but only elemental transformation. What is called for today is a vision of cosmological scope. The solution to overcome the distress of our time lies within the planet itself and our relation toward it. Earth is alive with dynamic freedom and revives itself continually. It is never static and never completed.
Disequilibrium is necessary to the dynamic process of becoming. Biologist Elisabet Sahtouris describes how change operates in the natural world: “In metamorphosis, small cells known as imaginal discs begin to appear in the body of the caterpillar. Since they are not recognized by the caterpillar’s immune system, they are immediately wiped out. But as they grow in number and begin to link up, they ultimately overwhelm the caterpillar’s immune system. Its body then goes into meltdown and the imaginal discs build the butterfly from the spent materials of the caterpillar.” It would serve us well to study transformative processes in nature and examine critical thresholds and abrupt changes in nonlinear dynamic systems. Theories of chaos and complexity equally inform us that change is brought about by a growing number of anomalies that eventually add up to throw even the most resilient system into crisis. Small alterations and variations of intensity and stress can have big effects. There are forms of resonance and feedback that hugely amplify the effect of the initial impulse. The micro-politics of sorcery interact with one another and cascade in complex ways that allow them to perform the incredible.
Sorcery has always been present at times of profound ecological and civilisational change. Its tension arises from the ground of uncertainty that underlies both creation and destruction. Sorcery is the unstoppable force of renewal as such, the rule of nature put into effect. The revolutionary movement of sorcery affects and unsettles all that is thought to be pure or safely ordered and structured. Sorcerous phenomena thrive in uncertain forms and chthonic outflows of being. They materialize in volcanic gases and dust that rise from the depths of the earth, in bacteria released from melting glaciers or in strange crystals like viruses that exist somewhere between the living and the non-living. Sorcery actualizes in the lines of flux of the earth’s magnetic field or in extreme natural phenomena that affect the world and possibly shift its balances of power: from severe weather and climate events to the storms that stir up the waters of the sea. Systems contaminate each other and provoke new creative displacements and arrangements. Our ability to respond to fundamental changes of the physical and chemical conditions on Earth will define our future.
Evolution depends on impermanence and the manifold relationships between being and world. Nothing is on its own, everything’s intermixed and all that has been out there at some moment in time is still somehow around. Things do not vanish into nothing, they pull out into the unexposed or reshape into new substances. We share a complex and largely invisible universe with a multitude of other composite creatures and phenomena. Our existence is symbiotically linked to foreign and immigrant life forms that spread throughout time and space. There is no such thing as human race per se, we are made of all kinds of parts. We do not know what the future holds and what role we will play in it. Our chances of adaptation and survival in an uncertain world will have much to do with how we position ourselves toward it. It’s all about interaction, crossover and the space between. Sorcerous art reaches out into the intermediate domain that ties the human sphere to a larger creative process.
Sorcery is the formless power that insinuates itself between things and binds them together. It is the relational factor that connects us to everything else. All matter, human and nonhuman alike, is basically formed of the same atomic material that in turn is essentially made up of stardust. As John Gribbin writes in “Stardust – the cosmic recycling of stars, planets and people”: “Every atom of every element in your body except for hydrogen has been manufactured inside stars, scattered across the Universe in great stellar explosions, and recycled to become part of you.” There’s more, there always is: “You can be absolutely sure that all of the nitrogen in the air that you breathe and in the DNA in your cells, along with most of the carbon in your body, had a previous existence as part of one or more planetary nebulae, expelled from red giant stars.” We should make use of such integral connections and intentionally associate ourselves to the forces that permeate the universe. What is at disposal for a contemporary, sorcerous perspective on change and evolution is the measureless expanse of the universe and our profound connection to it. If we tap into and work with the flow of energies and materials that moves between all stuff, we become boundless.
The agitating forces of matter and the movement of metamorphosis ultimately point toward a dark communion with the infinite that lurks beneath all things. At the planetary level, boundaries and separations dissolve and singular beings withdraw into the depth of atoms, an internal black hole that makes no use of cosmic distances. Individual consciousness exiles itself into the universal fluid of elemental forces. The core of our very existence is indistinguishable from the pulsations and vibrations of all other things in the universe. Sooner or later, all configurations of matter are torn back into an undeveloped state where they subsist in a non-apparent manner, like latent images eventually to be re-formed into new patterns of being. Things dissolve so that other things may emerge. There is an affecting presence of power in all materiality and the deeper we go into it, the more we discover that all is dynamically linked. The world is made of energy transformation. We do not know what animates the subatomic micro-world. Nor what it feels like to be a molecular cloud or magnetized plasma that permeates the universe or if we can attribute inner experience to elementary particles but we take seriously the radical transformative potential of sorcery. We should not exclude the possibility of creatively encountering the unknown.
Gast Bouschet, 21st of February 2016.