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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Finding a good therapist

I broke up with my therapist yesterday. Actually, it was the first time we’d met – a first date, if you will – but it rapidly turned into an argument. This is the latest in a series of failed attempts to find a therapist. I struggle with therapeutic relationships. I should get some therapy for it.

I’ve had the idea of going to see a therapist in the back of my mind for some time. Occasionally, I feel I want more intimacy in my life – better friendships and a long-term relationship with someone. I got through my emotional problems as a 20-year-old by becoming a Stoic citadel of self-reliance. But at a certain point I realized I need to lower the drawbridge somewhat and let other people in.

I thought that Christianity would help: it’s all about being vulnerable and accepting you need God and other people. Jesus would clean all those difficult-to-reach stains on my heart. But, having plunged into the warm bubble bath of Christian community, I still came up against the old issues of distrust and rejection. I do feel it’s deepened my relationship to God, but, in the words of Kim Jong-Il, I was still ‘so roneree’.

Therapy! The great hope of western civilization. Therapy will bind up your wounds and bring abundance to your life. But where to go? Who to see? You can get free CBT on the NHS for clinical emotional disorders like social anxiety or depression, but this was not clinical, this was basic life-grumblings. And I felt I’d gone as far as I could with Stoic therapy (‘you don’t need anybody, just you and the Logos’).

A friend recommended a therapist they had seen, he said she did somatic body-work and was basically a witch. This sounded good to me – I felt like I needed to go beyond or beneath the cognitive. I needed some magic.

So I went along yesterday for a free consultation, to a place that she works from in the City – a massage room with statues of the Buddha everywhere. She greeted me at the top of the stairs and gave me a firm handshake. She didn’t look much like a witch, more like a middle-aged French teacher, with a thin smile and a rather severe haircut.

We sat down and I launched into a 20-minute monologue about my life-history and my continuing issues with intimacy and relationships. Get it all out there, I thought. Leave no stone unturned. I finished and looked at her expectantly. ‘And can you…help with that?’ Eye of newt? Toe of frog?

‘Wow’, she said. She sort of leaned back in her chair, like I’d just given the locations of 15 buried bodies. ‘So what I’m getting from you’ – ah, I thought, she’s picking up my chakra – ‘what I’m getting is massive sensitivity and massive introspection.’ Really? Massive sensitivity, maybe, sure, why not, that sounds good. Massive introspection? I’m not the most introspective person…am I?

‘So let me describe how I work. I do somatic therapy, have you heard of that? I studied under Richard Strozzi-Heckler.’ Ah, the Great Heckler. ‘This method works at the embodied level, with how we carry ourselves. You know how some people walk into a room and they just establish their presence as a strong person. For example…’

I bet she says Bill Clinton, I thought.

‘For example Barach Obama. Or Bill Clinton. And then other people come in and they’re much more turned in on themselves, and nobody pays them any attention. So we work with how people carry themselves…but it’s not body language.’

Definitely not.

‘So let me give you a practical example.’ She stood up. ‘I was quite similar to you. Before I started the training, I used to stand like…it’s quite difficult for me to do it…sort of like this.’ Her head slouched forward, her shoulders hunched in. ‘And now I’m like this.’ She stood up straight, shoulders back, feet apart. ‘And I have the confidence to walk into a room and establish myself, to give public talks and so on. You see?’

I see.

She sat down again. ‘One of the words that came up with your story was ‘shame’. Now I’ve read a lot about shame, I’m actually writing an article on it. Shame is something you feel in the presence of the Other. And it can only be healed in relationship with an other. So that’s what the therapeutic relationship is. A truly non-judgmental relationship.’

‘Yes but it’s not non-judgmental, is it?’

This is where it kicked off a bit. Or rather I did.

‘You’ve just made a judgement of me, very quickly. You said I was massively introspective, and that you used to be like me, all hunched up and turned in on yourself, but now you’re better and you stand with incredible confidence. So you’re setting up a hierarchy – I’m down here, not well, and you’re up there, all better. And, you know, who are you? I do more public speaking than you.’

I genuinely said this. I think the old Stoic drawbridge had come up.

‘And frankly, why would everyone want to be like Bill Clinton, that’s one type of personality. What kind of a therapeutic goal is that?’

I was surprisingly angry. I realized I had shared a lot with her, quickly, and was then disappointed and defensive about her reaction – first of all the snap judgement about me being massively introspective. If Bill Clinton is the goal, massive introspection is probably a bad thing. Why do therapists make snap judgements in the first session? Perhaps they think it will showcase their intuitiveness, like a palm-reader guessing your dog’s name, but it’s dangerous and even rude.

And secondly, I was disappointed by the crapness of her therapy, which just sounded like a body language course for executives. I was hoping for…I don’t know…the magic sponge of therapy, which washeth all sins away.

‘I’m sorry if you feel I’ve judged you’, she said. We got back on track, more or less. She said the therapeutic relationship was all important, I should trust my gut. My gut was telling me to leave. Then she explained ‘the logistics’ – she held sessions in two locations – Mayfair and the City – and her rate was £170 an hour.

Good God, £170 an hour, for a therapy which, as far as I’m aware, has no clinical evidence for it. ‘It’s cutting edge – we’re about ten years behind California’, she said. ‘Ten years behind California’ are words no therapist should ever utter.

So off I went, dragging my baggage behind me down Liverpool Street, feeling very self-conscious about my massively introspective posture. I got on a bus, and nobody paid any attention. Non-judgmental indeed, I muttered to myself. Who was it that said ‘therapy is the sickness for which it promises the cure’?

This was, alas, the latest in a series of attempts to find a therapist I could bond with. I often come up against the same issues – therapists seem more attached to the precious theoretical schema they’ve spent so much on learning, rather than seeing the person sitting in front of them. And I do often feel judged by them and then feel ‘who are you with your mickey-mouse credentials to sit in judgement of me?’  How many really smart therapists are there out there? And what do they cost??

I’m also aware that many therapists are nuts. They often have a huge amount of baggage themselves. A friend of mine went to see a therapist regularly, and decided to end the therapy – the therapist threw a huge hissy fit, shouting ‘you’re just like my husband, you only think about yourself!’

If there’s a tussle about who is right in the analysis, the odds are always stacked against you – if you disagree with their analysis, you’re in denial, or being defensive. This is even more the case if you’re a psychiatric in-patient, by the way. Then you never have a chance. Whatever you say is mad, whatever they say is science.

I guess I don’t particularly trust the wisdom of most therapists. But I do see the point in therapy, and do think a good therapeutic relationship would be an amazing thing to have in one’s life. So…can anyone recommend a good therapist for me to fall out with next?

Crowley’s Children

turnoff_yourmindA couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog-post analysing the video for Blondie’s Rapture, and pointing out the voodoo, occult and mystic symbolism in it. I wondered if Blondie were into that sort of thing, or perhaps I was seeing things. It turned out they were, and one of them – the bassist Gary Lachman – had even become a historian of the occult. He was kind enough to give me his time for an interview.

I met up with Gary in the British Library, to ask him about the influence of occult ideas on rock and roll – and particularly the ideas of Aleister Crowley. I’m interested in this because I’m interested in ecstatic states and how we reach them in modernity. Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and magic are part of that story.  It’s not always a very nice story, as Gary’s book ably chronicles.

He first encountered the occult in 1975, when he was playing bass in Blondie, and sharing an apartment with fellow band-members Debbie Harry and Chris Stein. ‘They had a fun, kitschy aesthetic appreciation of the occult, little voodoo dolls, pentagrams, a model of a nun with an upside-down cross painted onto her forehead.’

He was introduced to the writings of Aleister Crowley through Tommy Ramone, who leant him a couple of books. After he’d left the band, Gary became more and more interested in Crowley’s ideas and rituals. One day in LA, he signed up to join the Ordo Templi Orientis, a secret cult dedicated to following Crowley’s religion of ‘Thelema’. For a while he got very into Crowleian magic – he got himself a robe, did every ritual in Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice, tried out sex magick with his girlfriend, even consumed a wafer containing menstrual blood as part of a ‘gnostic mass’.

Gary made the transition from punk-rocker to secret magus and writer on all things occult. But eventually his love-affair with Crowley waned as he decided his ‘religion’ was one long ego-trip. His new book, Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World, explores Crowley’s flawed personality and its influence on pop culture.

His influence is huge. It turns out all those nutty Christian evangelists who warned that rock and roll is demonic were right. The wafer of pop music is soaked in the occult, particularly in Aleister Crowley’s highly egotistical version of it.

So, a quick magickal mystery tour:

Crowley appears on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. John Lennon once said ‘The whole Beatles thing was do what you want, you know?’

sgt-pepper-crowley

A statue of him also appears on the cover of the Doors’ album, Doors 13. The Doors admired Crowley as someone who’d ‘broken through to the other side’, and who was a master of anarchic showmanship. Jim Morrison once said, in very Crowley-ite words: ‘I’m interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that appears to have no meaning.’

doors_aleister

Jimmy Page was a huge Crowley fan, and bought his house next to Loch Ness. Crowley’s famous motto, ‘Do What Thou Wilt’, was embossed on the vinyl of Led Zeppelin III.

The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull were into Crowleian magic through the film-maker Kenneth Anger – hence their album His Satanic Majesties and their song Sympathy for the Devil. Jagger also made the soundtrack to Anger’s film, Invocation to my Demon Brother, while Marianne Faithful appeared in Anger’s Lucifer Rising, which starred a future member of the Manson Family.

CIS:S.468-1984
David Bowie was also a big fan of Crowley – he mentions him in the song ‘Quicksand’, and was very influenced by Crowley’s magic techniques, symbolism, and superman philosophy. Bowie was deep into the occult in the 1970s, particularly during the making of ‘Station to Station’ when he feared he’d invoked an evil demon, and that witches were trying to steal his semen to make a Satanic love-child (no, really).

AleisterCrowleyDavidBowieSphinx
Both Crowley (left) and Bowie liked the fancy dress of magic

In the 1980s, of course, various metal bands were explicitly into Crowley, from Black Sabbath to Iron Maiden. More recently, and perhaps more surprisingly, Crowley’s ideas are apparently an influence on rap stars like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and that ardent practitioner of sex magick, Ciara.

Jay-Z-Do-What-Thou-Wilt2
Jay-Z wearing a Crowley top. Like Bowie, he seems to buy into the idea of being among a tiny superhuman elite who…er…’run this town’.
Kanye West in full demi-god mode for the video of 'Power'. He used to be such a nice boy....
Kanye West in full demi-god mode for the video of ‘Power’, including wearing an occult Horus necklace. And he used to be such a nice boy….
Crowley has got Ciara's back
Crowley has got Ciara’s back

More broadly, as we’ll examine, pop culture helped to make Crowley’s philosophy of unfettered egotism – do what thou wilt – the ruling philosophy of western society. We are all Crowley’s children.

Who was Crowley?

Crowley’s parents were Plymouth Brethren – a rigidly puritanical Christian sect. They were also quite well-off, and Crowley inherited a decent fortune. This combination of a sense of entitlement with a need to rebel against the puritanism of his parents seems to have been fatal for Crowley. He never grew out of the need to shock, to rebel, to provoke, and to get others to notice him.

As a teenager, he got into ‘Satanizing’, which initially meant being deliberately bad in the decadent style of Baudelaire or Huysmans. By his 20s, he was dabbling in the Occult, and fascinated by the idea of a ‘Hidden Church’ made up of magicians with secret powers.

He eagerly joined the Golden Dawn in London, a magical order whose members included the poet WB Yeats. However, he quickly fell out with them all, despising Yeats when he failed to appreciate Crowley’s attempts at poetry, and annoying the Golden Dawn elders with his desire to ascend rapidly up the ‘magical scale’ to become a top-level magus, even using black magic to do so.

Aleister_Crowley,_MagusHe claimed to have achieved top-level magus status by 1904, when he says he made contact with a demi-god called Aiwass in Egypt (in the Great Pyramid of Giza, to be precise), who dictated a book to him called the Book of the Law. Aiwass was an emissary of the Egyptian bird-god Horus, and he came to Crowley to declare a new age, the aeon of the ‘Crowned and Conquering Child’.

This new aeon would be, writes Lachman, ‘a time of unconstrained personal freedom’, in which a handful of supermen (led by Crowley) would perfect their wills and become gods. ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ for the supermen. They will delight in ‘wines and strange drugs’ which ‘shall not harm ye at all’, as well as every kind of sexual excess. Meanwhile, the rest of humanity, ‘the slaves’, shall be made to serve the supermen. ‘Compassion is the vice of kings’, Aiwass told Crowley. ‘Stamp down the wretched and the weak.’

Crowley was excited, though perhaps not surprised, to discover he was the Messiah of the New Age. He tried to usher in the New Age with magic rituals, both private ones (long orgies of sex, drugs and magic) and public ones – most famously, a ‘Rite of Eleusis’ which he organized in London in 1910, where participants took peyote, danced to bongoes and listened to Crowley declaiming his magickal poetry. This was, I think, the first hallucinogenic rave of the modern age.

Other people were disposable ingredients for his operational magic. A succession of mentally unstable women were cast in his magickal S&M orgies as ‘the Scarlet Woman’. The women usually ended badly, in alcoholism, drug addiction, madness or suicide. The debris included his first wife, Rose, who he abandoned along with his daughter, the unfortunately named ‘Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith’ , who died of typhus in Rangoon. He didn’t much care. ‘‘Morally and mentally, women were for me beneath contempt’, he wrote. ‘Intellectually of course, they did not exist.’

He was equally cruel to any man foolish enough to follow him. This included an acolyte called Neuberg, who signed up to be his student. Crowley subjected him to years of sadistic humiliation at his hut in Scotland, including making him cut his arms and sleep naked on a gorse bush for ten days. Crowley also tortured cats, crucified a frog, and was an enthusiastic big-game hunter.

A keen mountaineer, he fell out with a team he was leading in the Himalayas, after they complained about his fondness for beating the sherpas to assert his racial superiority. He flounced off, and then failed to come to the team’s aid when it was hit by an avalanche, despite their cries for help. Several of them died.

His desire for ‘blasphemy, murder, rape, revolution, anything good or bad, but strong’ led him to consider the idea of human ritual sacrifices as the ultimate magickal taboo. Lachman tells me he ‘would tease his readers with remarks about human sacrifice in his book, Magick in Theory and Practice’. There’s no evidence he actually did kill anyone, though he gleefully claimed his spells had driven one lady to suicide, and his ideas about human sacrifices inspired later psychopaths like Charles Manson.

Was Crowley a black magician? He certainly wanted to be, recklessly invoking evil demons, and trying to harm his many enemies with spells. But if he did sell his soul to a devil, he didn’t get much in return. His poetry and writing are rubbish, he never made much money, he never had much power, although he did apparently have a great deal of sex. He died poor, friendless, unread, addicted to heroin, the same gargantuan egotist he’d been as a teenager. His last words were ‘I am perplexed.’ He used many pseudonyms –  Master Therion, Baphomet, the Great Beast, Nemo, Perdurabo – but the most accurate word for him is probably a ****

The age of the crowned and conquering child

So how did this idiot become such a huge influence on 1960s culture? Partly, because his ideas were embraced as part of the 60s counter-cultural philosophy of what Robert Bellah called ‘expressive individualism’, or what Gary Lachman calls ‘liberationism’.

Timothy Leary, who at one point thought he was chanelling or reincarnating Crowley
Timothy Leary, who at one point thought he was chanelling or reincarnating Crowley

Lachman says: ‘It’s the idea of breaking the rules, getting rid of repression and going beyond all convention. Liberationism goes back through George Bataille, Nietzsche and his idea of the Dionysiac, all the way to the Marquis de Sade. And Crowley was a poster-boy for liberationist philosophy. It makes perfect sense that he would be picked up by rock and roll and later forms of pop music, because in many ways it’s tailor-made to the adolescent sensibility. Think of Jim Morrison’s ‘we want the world and we want it now’, or Iggy Pop: ‘I need more than I’ve ever done before.’ When you’re young you want to throw away all constraints on you. Crowley did that his whole life. His whole thing was excess in all directions.’

Liberationists want to liberate themselves from any social hang-ups, which means liberating themselves from traditional morality and even from reason itself. ‘Turn off your mind and float downstream’, as Timothy Leary said and John Lennon later quoted. Leary and other key figures in the 60s saw in Crowley a genius explorer of altered states of consciousness accessed through drugs, music, poetry and sex – just as they were trying to do. His Rite of Eleusis was a blueprint for the acid tests of the 1960s, and the raves of today – which also aim to bypass rational thought and get the audience into trances.

60s adolescents had also fallen rapidly in love with the occult, via books like Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians, and through superhero comics like The X-Men, which popularized the idea of the evolution of a new mutation of superhumans with paranormal powers. Baby-boomer flower children liked to imagine they were this new mutation, evolving through the magic potion of LSD.

Crowley particularly appealed to musicians like Jimmy Page or David Bowie because he promised them power. Musicians are like magicians – insecure, impoverished, desperately searching for the magic formula which will bring them sex, money and power.  Many pop-stars shared Crowley’s taste for alter-egos as a way of exploring different aspects of their psyche, and also for using costume, light, sound, symbols and transgressive actions to ‘get the people going’.

Lachman says: ‘Magic and the music industry make use of much of the same materials – imagery, special effects (light shows), illusion, trance – and both reach down below the conscious mind to the deeper, older, more visceral levels of ourselves. Both also cater to that adolescent appetite to be someone ‘special’, to stand out, to be noticed, to belong to the elite and to have an effect on the people around you.’

Above all, Crowley appealed to the pop-star’s desire to become a star, a god, an Illuminatus, one of the superhuman elite – while weak humanity bows down and worships them. You see this Crowley-ite idea in Bowie (see the lyrics for Oh You Pretty Things for example), and also in Jay-Z and Kanye West. Check out the slavish humans worshipping the god:

Lachman says: ‘The idea they’re selling is ‘we’re the special ones, and we’re going to be in charge of this new world order. And when you join the elite, you’re beyond good and evil, you get a lot of power, a lot of sex and fun.’  That’s the philosophy Kanye West and Jay-Z are selling – it’s Berlusconi with a drum beat.

Alas, Crowley’s ‘Do What You Wilt’ philosophy has become one of the ruling philosophies of our time – our culture is now one of ‘occult consumerism’, as Lachman puts it, in which adverts use symbols and incantations to urge us to ‘Just Do It’ – to follow every impulse, to feed every alter-ego, to yield to every temptation, and above all, to spend. Lachman writes: ‘Crowley was a kind of pre-echo of our own moral and spiritual vacuum. For better or worse, we do find ourselves in an antinomian world, beyond good and evil, in which practically anything goes.’

Be afraid of that trapdoor!

I have a very simple model of the human mind, similar to the one described by Coleridge in Kubla Khan. I’ve spared no expense with the graphics here:

Model of the mind.001At the top you have conscious processes, like a weak and flickering flame. Then you have less conscious or unconscious processes, like a mine of coal beneath that flame. Connecting the two is the Imagination, which runs like a mineshaft between the conscious and unconscious levels. Within the mine of the unconscious are treasures – insight, healing, wisdom, knowledge and power. However there are some monsters down there too.

You remember the cartoon show The Trap Door, from the 1980s? Well, the unconscious is a bit like that. As William James suggested, it may be a door not just to our archaic impulses, but also to the spirit world, to both good and bad spirits. So you need to be careful what you let through the trapdoor.

The arts, sex, drugs, magic and religion are all ways of ‘turning off the mind’, going beyond rational consciousness, opening the trapdoor and following the Imagination down into the dark, to try and find the treasure. But I think, in that perilous descent, it’s absolutely crucial what motive you have, and your moral ability to handle what you encounter without losing your shit.

Many artists and magicians make that descent for selfish motives – for money, sex and power. That’s very risky – it’s like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark trying to use the Ark for selfish reasons. You end up with a melted face.

mt-doom-2-frodo-2525951-400-300I’d say Tolkien had the best idea about how to mine the Imagination without awakening too many Balrogs. You need to go in with a small ego, like a hobbit, with a fellowship of people around you to guide you when you feel lost. And you need to be prepared to give away whatever treasure you find, rather than trying to hang on to it for your own power.

That’s the way to create great art, and it’s the way to live a meaningful life. Crowley’s ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ doesn’t end in happiness or power. It ends in emptiness, addiction, madness and self-destruction. It’s a lie – perhaps the oldest lie of all.