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John Higgs's Octannual Manual #43
When the invites to Charles’ coronation were revealed, there was a minor kerfuffle about the amount of magical, supernatural or pagan imagery involved - especially the figure commonly known as the Green Man. The fuss reminded me of that scene in Casablanca, when Captain Renault closed down Rick’s bar. “I am shocked, shocked, to find that gambling has been going on in here!”, he explained, just before being handed his winnings. Monarchy and coronations are as magical and occult as things get, and to pretend otherwise is always going to be funny.
I’ve talked about this before, but there is nothing rational about monarchy. The concept of a head of state - where one individual is said to personify a nation - is magical thinking. The British establishment is founded on magical thinking to such a degree that the crown had to be chauffeured to parliament when the queen was ill. Our modern 21st century government couldn’t function without the presence of a magic hat.
The monarchy knows that is not a success despite its magical nature - it is a success because of it. It’s interesting that, for Charles’ coronation, they are making no attempts to hide their occult nature. If anything, they seem to be doubling down on it. Hence you have all the publicity surrounding the gathering of the magical artefacts needed for the ceremony, from bringing the Stone of Scone down from Scotland to fragments of the ‘true’ cross from the Vatican. Then you have a cast list with this sort of craziness - note how unapologetic and blatant it all is:
The failure of the republican movement in Britain has a lot to do with their failure to grasp this. To defeat something, you need to understand the source of its power. To try and defeat monarchy with rational thought is a category error. Republicans suggest rational alternatives for choosing a head of state, but these fail to attract support because they lack magic. They don’t ask why we bother having a head of state in the first place. That’s a shame, because it is very hard to argue convincingly that we need one.
Now, I’m all for a bit of irrational bugnuts ritual. On Saturday, for example, I was out in the fields of Sussex watching a newly installed standing stone be encoded with music. If you put your ear to it, you could somehow hear the new single from the Local Psychos - aka Jimmy Cauty and Jem Finer. This is a deranged manic novelty folk stomper called The Hurdy Gurdy song. There was a procession, banners, smoke grenades and drone cameras - these days, a walk in the country demands production values.
Things like this are par for the course at the moment. When people tell me about the projects they are working on, it’s now weirder if they don’t involve ritual, folk horror, magic, ancient landscapes or at the very least weird animal masks (those that don’t, curiously, tend to be AI-based). Hence we now see things like Wet Leg performing with morris dancers at the BRITs, the success of Stone Club, and the work of folk-exploring artists like Ben Edge. Even the Guardian has noticed that something is going on. Because magic always undergoes a resurgence during times of hardship, economic decline and political failure, all this has been baked into the Brexit project from day one.
But not all magic is good. At the heart of hereditary monarchy is a very dangerous magical idea - that certain bloodlines are in some way ‘superior’ to others. If you isolate this idea and examine it in the bright light of day, it’s abundantly clear that it’s complete bollocks. The dark magic of monarchy, however, is adept at distracting you while it installs this belief into your reality tunnel. Once there, it will corrupt a great deal of your thinking. It is a very troubling and dark error. It’s no exaggeration to say that most of the darkest hours in history have this idea at their heart.
One striking thing about the current revival in magic or magic-adjacent shenanigans is that it is more about looking forward rather than looking back. For all its interest in folk traditions, it is not trying to faithfully recreate or preserve the past. Instead, it is trying to create new rituals for the future. Interest in folk horror or hauntology used to be linked to 1970s nostalgia, for example, but that is not the case with a film like Ben Wheatley’s pandemic-era In The Earth. While The Wicker Man has a 1970s view of nature, In The Earth has a modern understanding of ecology - and the vast interconnected plant intelligence in underground mycelic networks. Justin Robertson’s fantastically disturbing novel The Tangle is similar - they both explore the horror of how alien the mind of nature is. I suspect if Charles had read Justin’s book, he would have thought twice about using Green Man imagery.
All this might seem a little paradoxical - that people are looking backwards in order to go forward. But a great deal of culture in this country is entangled in issues of status, class and opportunity, and a great deal of energy gets drained away trying to deal with that particular tar-pit. The current magical revival sees all that as doomed, and not something to engage with. It has wandered off to start afresh, leaving all that behind. From this perspective, the establishment offers nothing of value and the idea that some bloodlines are superior to others is ridiculous. People who believe it are best avoided. In the circumstances, all you can do is build something better, and try not to make the same mistakes.
A good example of all this is The Pillars of Wonder, a collaboration between Richard Norris, Jamie Reid and Matthew Shaw, involving ritual, music and art. Countless others are involved, including myself, Gwenno and David Keenan - who has written lyrics to a song called The People’s Magic. Given the strength and darkness of the establishment magic that will be on show next week, the idea of the People’s Magic seems particularly important right now. Keep an eye out for all this over the next year or so.
It will be hard to avoid the coronation. TV screens will be full of pomp and ceremony, and a cathedral full of people who don’t get the joke. You might get swept up in its magical power, for it offers tradition, spectacle and identity and these are powerful spells indeed. They can distract from the suspicion that there is something dark and wrong at the heart of it all. But the reason why the monarchy are making such a show of strength is because they are vulnerable. Once you turn your back, it’s amazing how quickly the illusion bursts.
EVENTS - SWINDON, BATH, TUNBRIDGE WELLS
I’m back on the road soon, talking about Love And Let Die to whoever will listen. At the Bath event, on May 13th, I’ll be in conversation with David Hepworth, whose history of Abbey Road is fantastic and highly recommended. Swindon is this Friday 5th and Tunbridge Wells is on the 14th - for more details, see my events page.
If you’re in the market for some twisty-turny sci-fi, I can heartily recommend THE FIRST TEN, the debut short story collection from Jamie Mathieson. Jamie is best known for writing some great Peter Capaldi Doctor Who episodes, including Flatline, Oxygen and Mummy On The Orient Express. If they worked for you, you’ll love these wild yarns and should head to his website and find out more. You’ll also find the original, and very different, version of the Mummy On The Orient Express script there.
Also worth a look is THE PEOPLE WE TOOK FROM THE TOWN, a compilation of essays, photos, poems and much more from David Erdos. I’ve not seen a copy yet but I believe there’s a couple of my columns from Mu Magazine in there, as well as contributions from Iain Sinclair and the late Blakean poet Niall McDevitt, so I’m very much looking forward to it.
Have a joyful May Day! Until next time,