Jason Michel is an outsider. He has exiled himself from his home country and travelled the world extensively and he is a true original. He is the editor of Pulp Metal Magazine and spotter of new talent. He has not been corrupted by the mercenary wiles of multinationalism or the meretricious ruses of profit seeking touts.
He is a deep thinker, an eclectic individual who knows many necessary and esoteric lores. He is a talented individual and a great guy.
In addition to his services as an editor he has written unique fiction that escapes definition.
If you haven’t read ‘Confessions Of A Black Dog’ do so now.
Jason inhabits the position in literature vacated by the demise of authors such as Burroughs and Celine.
He met me at The Slaughterhouse and we talked about Magic and Cults.
Scroll to the end of the interview for more links.
When you lived in Morocco how much daily practise of Magic did you see and to what extent do you think it differentiates their culture to that of Europe’s?
Well, that depends on your definition of Magic, really.
If you’re talking about so-called folk magic then, of course, they have the hand of Fatima to combat against the Evil Eye, a belief which stretches as far as parts of Greece & Italy (Are you looking at me?) but I didn’t see much evidence of it on a daily basis. But their beliefs in things such as Djinn actually originate in their pre-Islamic animism, which some of the Berber tribes still manage to get away with in an Islamified form. You have to remember that we still “knock on” or “touch wood” for luck, which comes directly from the Pre-Christian belief in tree worship. Same instinct.
Oh yeah, & there was that time bumping into the Fish Women at the corner shop. But that’s another story.
If, on the other hand, like Crowley you think that magic is “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will” then, I would say that comes down to altering perception & you could definitely see that in the most mundane of situations. I lived in Melilla, which is a shitty Spanish enclave on Moroccan soil. The end of “civilisation”, if you will.
If you take people who have a poor but basically content life where they know their place in society & have the support system of family & culture to lean back on & then they throw themselves into a society looking for the myth of the Good Life (TM) where the initial burst of culture shock is that values are just down to the bottom dollar & their senses are assaulted with the magic images that we call advertisments & billboards showing women in lingerie & rolexes (Saatchi & Saatchi, the greatest mages since Goebbels) that tell us that life is for buying things & you can only buy with cash in your sticky fingers. How else could you expect them to react but in an extremely schizophrenic fashion? We are told that we should “Just Do It” & that “You’re worth it”. You have to admit that advertisers certainly know their magic.
But Asia is place for the mysterious side of life.
For example, everybody believes in ghosts. No question. In Thailand, they say that only “Good” people can see ghosts, so, of course, everyone’s seen one & they leave offerings in little spirit houses out for the spirits of the land where their houses rest. I met a lass from Sumatra who swears blind to not only have seen this Indonesian evil spirit with hanging entrails but who had also been witness to an exorcism of sorts in her village where the shaman/witch doctor blokey placed a dagger on the chest of the possessed unfortunate & it rose spun hurtled into a tree.
Strange stuff, indeed.
I, myself, have been right in the middle of a Hindu festival on the island of Pulau Pankgor in Malaysia where the guru & others was sticking metal skewers & hooks of various sizes into the devotees & you would see the eyes roll back & they … would … change. Physically. Some had skewers in their tongues or cheeks, others had hooks in their backs & they were pulling little chariots & one guy was suspended on hooks with paper maché butterfly wings. As I said they changed, they looked, for the want of a better word, “possessed”. Have you ever seen the old pictures of the Hindu/Buddhist angel & demons, the Devas & Asuras? Well, that’s what they became.
It was the whole shebang, the way they moved, the eyes, the works.
Very strange thing for a “rational” Westerner to behold.
Pulp Metal Magazine paraphrases Aleister Crowley’s dictum ‘Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law’, Hassan-i Sabbah was the Persian leader of the Assassins, an Islamic mystery cult, and is reputed to have said ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’, to what extent do you think they were saying the same thing?
Actually, “Do What Thou Wilt …” was originally written by Rabelais in his “Abbey of Thélème” of which Crowley half-inched both the catchphrase & the word Thelema, Greek for WISDOM. Crowley used it in his usurping of the Western Mystery Tradition from a Christian based system into a more paganistic, & in his mind, libertarian system. He never truly managed it, of course. His system was rife with Christian & Jewish symbolism. He called himself The Mega Therion (Great Beast) 666, for Pan’s sake!
When Crowley uses the “Thou”, he was not talking of being overly egotistical (although, the man was not a modest lamb, was he? To call yourself The Great Beast is hardly timid), but about doing the Will of your True Self, a tenet of occultism. The True Self was the genius or daemon that guided Socrates & the Guardian Angel of the Christians. In fact, in the Seventies there was a series of books by Julian Jaynes that suggested that the human psyche had been, in some way, “divided” in the past & even the Arch-Atheist Richard Dawkins has said the book was “either genius or utter madness”. The closest I have ever felt with this idea has been those moments of writing when the story seems to be writing itself, when it seems to come alive from outside of one’s own perceived self.
A big part of Crowley’s mojo was derived from the idea of taboo breaking to transcendence which leads us to dear old Hassan. The man from who we supposedly get both the word for assassin & hashish. Holy Warriors & Holy Herb for some. He was, by some accounts, a bit of lad himself.
The saying “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” seems to me to tell us to figure it all out for ourselves. It became the catchphrase for the Discordians & a group of occultist upstarts in the seventies that became known as Chaos Magicians. They were as influenced by Austin Osman Spare & his anarchic & independent view of magic(k) as much as Crowley’s caddish pomp & circumstance.
So, maybe both sayings lead to the same thing. A momentary death of the “little” self & a glimpse of the “bigger” self. “The Law” being the one “Thou” discover yourself, beyond Good & Evil.
But then, a good old fashioned heavy guffaw or/& wank’ll do the same thing.
“La petite mort”, as our gallic chums like to say. Which, of course, is why sex plays such a big part in Magic(k), especially since Al, the old deviant. Bless ‘im.
Julian Jaynes heard a voice say ‘include the knower in the known’ when writing ‘The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind’, which postulated the theory that ancient civilisations could not introspect. While many artists and writers are highly aware, do you think that creativity is sourced from the subconscious?
That’s the biggie, isn’t it? Where the bejeesus does this creativity come from? Will we ever know?
In Corpus Christi college on Oxford, there is a carving of a scribe & behind him stands the god Apollo holding the severed head of Orpheus who is whispering in the scribe’s ear. The Greeks had a fascinating take on life & death. They saw humans as empty vessels to a certain extent that were filled by the “gods” (emotions) & even their word for “god” or “divinity” meant an event or sensation that was out of ordinary experience. Whether it was an earthquake or the madness of a mid-life crisis after years of drudgery in accountacy. It was divine. It was why the gods were feared & placated as well as worshipped. One ancient scribe said a life without the gods was one not worth living, yet be prepared to pay the price for their intervention.
I quite like this idea. Gives the writer or artist a sense of sanctuary from the ever-present feeling of preciousness of their work, doesn’t it?
That story was a piece of literary gold … don’t take all the credit, buddy boy!
That story was a mediocre pile of shit … damn that sodding useless daemon!
Maybe, that view’ll relieve some of the arrogance that comes from the obligatory ego-masturbation of seeing one’s work published. Hubris was the greatest crime for the Greeks.
I heard a story that Tom Wait’s was driving his car in L.A. on some freeway or other, when this music just comes flowing into his head & he can’t, of course, stop the car. & this music is getting more & more vivid & in the end the simian-like growler just screams, “OKAY, YOU BASTARD! WHY NOW?”
Thinking of Tom Waits’s observation that ‘there ain’t no devil there’s just God when he’s drunk’ music and sexual ecstasy have been linked since the Dionysian frenzies of the Greeks. George Clinton of Funkadelic, as well as Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger participated in publications of The Process Church Of Final Judgement, which was an offshoot of Scientology. Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor of the Charles Manson family trial said Manson may have borrowed philosophically from the Process Church. Do you think that the use musicians make of ritual and sexual rebellion is a modern version of the cult of Dionysus?
Yeah, The Process was one of the more bizarre cults connected to the Sixties, wasn’t it? All that Satan/Christ/Jehovah profiling. But then, hey, who’d have guessed Scientology would be the Hollywood cult-de-jour that it has become. Wish I’d thought of that bloody idea.
Job description – cult leader/bad Sci-Fi writer. Classic. There’s still hope for me.
Incidently,I believe Hubbard was a member of the OTO initially & even had a hand in the rocket scientist Jack Parson’s famous Babablon Working, then he legged it with all Parson’s cash & after that Parson blew himself up by accident. What a bummer.
I would say that you’re correct about Dionysus being quite a Rock N Roll god. Sex, Drugs & Rock N Roll, baby. Losing oneself in the ectasy of the moment. Which is why all the best of them died. As I said before you have to pay the price for all that debauchery. I saw enough of that when I lived in Bangkok, people dying, lives getting lost, liver’s destroyed. We used to call the seedier parts of town The Valley Of Death. Fun, fun, fun …
&, of course, Nietzsche heralded his return into the Western mind with the brazen loudhailer of a circus ringmaster. He saw Dionysus as the way beyond Schopenhauer’s pessimism, an archetype of losing all to create something new. & then, ironically, he lost his mind & began hugging horses.
The rock musician Julian Cope (of The Teardrop Explodes & books on megaliths fame) has an interesting take on this. For him it is not Dionysus but Odin that is the Rocker of the pantheon. Another god of ritual ecstasy & something Dionysus doesn’t do – language. The cross dressing god of writers, the mind, magic & bloodletting. A Heavy Metal god attacking his audience with no mercy. Do not fuck with him!
The worship of Odin may date to proto-Germanic paganism. Thailand as a Buddhist country views much of our inherited religious beliefs as dualistic. We are perpetually caught up in the struggle between good and evil. Nietzsche, who advocated going beyond that, is a cited influence on Anton La Vey, who founded the Church of Satan, and shaved his head one Walpurgisnacht in the tradition of ancient executioners. To what extent you think these forms of paganism are connected and if so are they perpetually in conflict with monotheism?
Nietzsche was indeed an influence on the COS, which I see as a very American religion (not a bad thing). Fiercely individualistic. LaVey was, I think, equal parts a showman, charlatan & scapegoat. The Black Pope was, like Manson, the Sixties taking a long hard look at itself. A shadow side to the liberal movements that had appeared. Pop culture Satanism. & why not?
Chaos Magicians say they have been channeling everybody from Bugs Bunny to The Flash …
& from what I can gather they are atheists, choosing the symbol of Satan, Lucifer et al while not “believing” in Old Nick at all. Or at least not in a fawning sense. Worship of the self & of the flesh seems to be the order of the day.
& any religion that has counted Sammy Davis Jr, Jayne Mansfield, Mark Almond, Boyd Rice & a certain damn fine writer I know amongst their members can’t be bad!
Remember that Lucifer originally was the Roman god of the morning star, “the bringer of light” …
Now, the idea of paganism is a very murky one to start with. For instance, there has been no proof of any kind of Pan-Celtic religion. From what I can gather they were a mixture of animism & tribal gods, which blows the original premise of Wicca out the window. Not to say that it invalidates someone’s personal belief at all. Belief can exist fine without truth, that’s one thing the “new” atheists seem to forget or not understand. Also, the idea of true nature-worshipping & not a nature-placating/fearing in terms of Western paganism is a fairly modern one. The highest deities for the Greeks, for example, were those that valued civilisation or very human actions. Pan was originally a bumpkin, only to be brought into our minds as a reaction against the dark satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution. Odin was a god of the mind & language.
Anyway, I digress …
Here’s my take – Monotheism, whether it’s the kind who can eat pork or not, is a very narrow form of religion because only their god (Jehovah, Christ, Allah) exists & all that contradicts their variation-on-a-theme Holy Books is blasphemy. Pagans are essentially polytheists in the sense that although they may worship some form of deity, they accept that it may not be the only one. That’s one thing about atheism, it tends to be defined by monotheistic culture. If you tell a Hindu that you don’t believe in god, he’ll just ask you – “Which one?”
Seems like it has just an experiment in the evolution of thought & ideas & something will inevitably appear to change it. The spiritual impulse is hard wired into us, as a species, I’m afraid. If we don’t blow ourselves all to hell, new stories will appear.
As David Eagleman said “scientific evidence is only a story, but for the moment, it’s the best story we have”.
Sir Isaac Newton made many of his scientific discoveries from failed alchemical experiments. To what extent do you think alchemy is proto-science?
& to what extent will our science seem like alchemy in future generations? That is the intriguing thing, eh …
I became interested in alchemy years ago through its mysterious symbols, & then I discovered that Jung believed that it was through alchemy that both hermeticism & gnosticism had survived after being outlawed by the Church, which is why the symbols were so esoteric. They had to be or the fucking pompous arses in the Church would get you.
Alchemy was the search, not only for gold but for the divine. It was the process that was important, not the end result & they even had their own veiled “death of the ego” stage known as Nigredo that the alchemist went through. Exactly like art in all its forms. The process. Magick has always been known as the Great Art, hasn’t it?
What is interesting is that Monteverdi, one of the originators of opera, was also an alchemist. He tried to create an artform that flooded as many of the senses as possible. As does Magickal rites. Occultism does seem to have been rather instrumental in the creation & development of science & art. One perfumes the other.
Da Vinci, Bruno, Newton, Monteverdi, Blake, Dali et al.
One of the most tragic things about the human is that we, as personal individuals will never know where thought & ideas & science will lead future generations. We won’t be around to see.
We can only dream.
Popularity arises from a tension within our culture, the tension between fashionable paradigms, such as science, and the iconoclasts who make something new. Louis Ferdinand Celine’s ‘Journey To The End Of The Night’ is a seminal work of fiction by a scientist that has been cited as an influence on many writers who have subverted popular paradigms, why do you think his novel has had such influence?
Céline, like many so-called outsider writers, spoke his own truth. Here, in France, it is almost taboo to talk about the man because of his blatant pro-Nazi propaganda & anti-semitism, but one has to separate the writer from the work. That book is such a tour-de-force of honesty. There are few other writers that can rise or plummet to such a level of raw human experience.
Dostoevesky was one.
Vonnegut was one.
Knut Hamsun was one.
Herbert Selby Jr was one.
J G Ballard was one.
Each of them went through something that most of us cannot imagine. War, debilitating illness, addiction, concentration camps, mock executions, madness … jesus harold christ on a bike, how could they not changed after that? I do think that one’s experiences of life make it onto the page. Directly or indirectly. I also think that if you don’t give a fuck about whether the audience likes it or not or if it is sellable & you’re just as honest as you can be, whatever the genre, as sci-fi or horror or noir or whatever “low brow” writing can still hold essential messages, then you’re doing something right.
Afterthought: I have a Hispanic/Native American friend from New Mexico who used to sleep in a cupboard with pictures of Céline, Dostoevesky & Bukowski on his sparse cupboard walls when he wasn’t shooting at cassette players or taking peyote & getting caught by the police running through his town in his underwear.
He turned to me one day & said, “Why do you write, man. Céline’s said it all. There ain’t no more to say.”
Jean Genet rejoiced from his prison cell when the Nazis marched through Paris and wrote novels which were lauded by the likes of Cocteau, why?
It was all those tight black SS uniforms. To paraphrase P J O’Rourke: Nobody has ever WANTED to be strapped down & abused by someone who looks like a liberal …
I remember reading Our Lady Of The Flowers years ago in Salford. The way he elevated whores, murderers & rapists to the level of Sainthood was one of the most enjoyably blasphemous pieces of writing I’d ever read. & then you learn about his life & how he wrote that book repeatedly on toilet paper as his guards would find it & destroy it.
Getting that book published was the best thing Sartre ever did, the miserable old turtleneck wearer.
Talking of blasphemy, have you ever heard of the folk saints of Mexico & South America? There’s Maximón – the patron saint of gamblers & drunkards & then there’s my favourite, Santa Muetre (Holy Death) – Our Lady Of Last Resorts. She’s the one that all the people who can’t go church pray to: the drug cartels, the prostitutes, the killers, the poor, they all go to see her as she’s said to embrace all without judgement. She loves tequlia & cigars too.
I’m proud to say that I have a statue of her in my bedroom brought over from Mexico by a chum. Possibly the only one in France.
Do you think that all artists and writers have to exile themselves?
In some sense. Even if it’s not physically. But I have no inclination to tell anybody what they “have to” do & maybe, just maybe, I’m talking out of where the sun don’t shine. Either way, I could care.
Yet … just look at the writers who did just up & leave – Pound, Miller, Céline, Greene et al …
To land in a place that is essentially foreign & where you have no history & you have no idea of the language, that most basic & subtle of information systems, & to try to build something there yourself is a very isolating thing. It leads to either introspection or its opposite. You either become self obsessed or try to lose yourself in the noise around you. & many people just re-invent themselves, they become their fantasy. I met one or two who to this day, I still have absolutely no idea who they were.
Not everybody can travel nor live abroad. I have seen a lot of people who judged everything by their homeland’s standards. They never truly left. That way lies madness, my dear fellow. The ones who survive with all their mental capabilities intact are the ones who can adapt.
Exiling oneself is living in permanent cultural adolescence.
Also I think the cutting of oneself off from your peers, or your soceity can be helpful for someone who is creative bent. Questioning yourself is an essential part of being the human animal, is it not? If you are so sure of yourself & the world & the way life works, then you are left with no surprises & that could well show up in what you do. Of course, to have all that lowdown would also make you an eternal dullard. It is our ignorance that makes us essentially noble & the daftest of creatures.
Or maybe I’m just talking out my poopchute.
Tell us about your novel.
Confessions Of A Black Dog started out when I heard an old urban legend in Bangkok that you could get a man killed for a hundred dollars. I began to think of the reasons why a man takes a hit out on himself & how he would feel. That then metamorphosis after I had this vivid dream of a Black Dog.
That changed everything.
I already knew that Blighty was steeped in stories of Black Dogs (I saw Black Shuck in a book when I was a lad) & the fact that it had also been a symbol for melancholia (That is a far better description of it than depression or some such whiny term, don’t you think? Less victim-y) & I delved into those old stories.
Anyway, the book took on a life of its own (Black Dog daemon?) after this & I kept it on the back burner as I moved from Thailand to Morocco & back to Britain after eight years. When I ended up in London I submitted a short story version of Black Dog to Lee Rourke & Matthew Coleman at their fabulous Scarecrow Magazine. They dug it, surprisingly enough. It was my first story published.
Then after I was off again, this time to France & it was here that the book just flowed all together.
I originally self published COABD along with a book of my short stories, but the splendid Pablo D’Stair of BrownpaperpublishinG read some of my writing & recently asked if he could publish it. It’ll be out sometime between now & Christmas.
It was finished about three years ago & seems so distant now. I haven’t read it since I finished writing it.
Thank you Jason for giving an extraordinary and unique interview.
And ‘here’s another link that’ll shed more light (or darkness) on the Black Dog for you…’
The Beaten Dog Bites Back here on Pulp Metal Magazine’s Dictatorial.
And of course the Pulp Metal Magazine itself, ‘a heady smorgasbord of odd fiction, cult celluloid, unreal doodling, lowbrow waffle & heavy, heavy music’.