sigils: towards a modern aesthetic

It occurs to me that not a single person who has worked on popularizing Austin Osman Spare’s methods of “sigil magic” has been, like, actually an artist.

So everyone draws these little things that chase the aesthetics of Goetic demon seals. Occasionally people will look at a Vodun veve for inspiration. But whatever they do, they always make little line-drawn symbols that positively reek of Witchiness. Or of the glyphs in Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra. Sometimes you will see people paraphrasing Grant Morrison about how you can see corporate logos as powerful sigils of corporate egregores… but I never see anyone writing about Sigil Majgickqgh who actually tries to use that aesthetic. They just make the usual witchy scribbles. Because none of them seem to, like, actually draw as their vocation.

But I’m an artist. Spare was an artist. Sigils are fucking art majgickqgh.

I mean, I’ve been guilty of making Obviously Witchy Sigils too. It’s what everyone does in their examples, so it’s what I copied. And sometimes that is exactly the aesthetic something needs.

But. Lately I’ve been getting out of my armchair and making some sigils again. I’ve been starting with the usual modern chaos magic workflow of “throw out vowels and duplicate letters, start combining letters into a pleasing pattern”… but instead of keeping it a linear thing I could draw with pen and paper as I start finessing it, I’m just letting my hands do what they do naturally when I’ve got Illustrator open, and using a lot of solid shapes. Treating it as a rough sketch that vanishes, instead of lines to preserve.

I haven’t quite gotten anything down to the graphic power of, say, one of Paul Rand’s logos yet. Or maybe one of Jim Flora’s lively cubist album covers. But I’m getting somewhere that feels right. Somewhere that feels like art as well as magic.

I should probably actually find a copy of Spare’s books and plow through them sometime soon instead of reading yet another person rehashing Peter Carroll’s simplification of Spare.

above: some WIP sigils, none of them are entirely There yet, never mind charged, and in fact one of them saw some major revisions after I asked myself “what would Jim Flora do with this image to make it suck less” in the course of writing this post.


(and yes, I know that there is also a tradition of making sigils by just hooking up points on a grid of letters, and, y’know, that works but it is so utilitarian and boring…)

Cultist Simulator: not quite a review.

A while back I played this art game called “Sunset”. In Sunset, you took the role of a maid, wandering around a super awesome bachelor pad the developers had built based on a spread in a late sixties issue of Playboy. You found messes, you clicked on them, the screen faded out and back in, and then they were cleaned up again.

There was something about a romance between your character and the Brazilian dictator who owned the place, told through furtive notes left lying around as the game progressed. But I don’t remember anything about that. What I remember is that after a while playing it, I closed the game, got up, and did some cleaning around the apartment that I’d put off. I never returned to it afterwards and probably never will.

I bring this up because I am feeling the same sensation from Cultist Simulator.

I drag a few cards into slots, I watch a timer expire, and then I am told I have Made an Art, which resulted in some mix of money, fame, and the occasional emotion. Sometimes, at random, I am told I have made a Great Art. If I made it secretly about something majgickqghahl then I get a lot more famous a lot faster. Which is not without its own problems, but it sure makes it easier to make money making art that’s about nothing but my own passions.

I look at my Tarot deck and the obvious opportunity presented by reprinting it, and I feel the same sensation I felt playing Sunset: “get up”, my brain says, “get up, stop pretending to do this, do this for real”.

And maybe get up and break out the books on majgicqgh and try to spend a little time with that more days than not, too. Probably not to the extent that I become a notorious cult leader who sends her minions off to raid libraries and ruins for ever-more-esoteric texts and trinkets, that sure sounds like some work.

Cultist Simulator is a much more compelling system than Sunset. There’s a lot of things to play with. A lot of things to figure out. And I can feel it tickling the same parts of my brain that the beginning of an idle clicker game does, before it starts taking longer and longer to build up enough resources to do anything interesting. There’s a lot of neat little stories that assemble themselves out of the masterfully-crafted snippets of prose throughout the game, and those are fun to see when they happen.

But I can feel restlessness growing inside me. I can fee the urge to get up and resume the Great Work, whatever I determine it really is.

And if there is one thing this game has taught me, it is that Restlessness turns into Dread after a little while, and that if enough Dread piles up then you succumb to it. And die.

Five stars out of five. Would stop playing again.

Resolute

So the other day I was reading a book about astral projection when the back of my brain said “draw your dragon self in cool fantasy armor”. I was also very stoned at the time. I then worked on this on and off over the next few days.

Did you know that drawing cool fantasy armor is kind of a pain in the ass?

Technically, I’m happy with this one. There’s a lot of use of gradients in ways that come together quickly, that make it look a lot like a painstakingly masked out piece of airbrush art. Which ALWAYS makes ten year old me ecstatic to be able to knock out.

majgickqgh

Tool-Assisted Sigil.

Process: write statement of intent, cast out vowels/duplicate letters, draw cool sci-fi versions of letters, rotate/join/overlap until happy. Make pattern fill, crash Illustrator a lot while doing so (because I accidentally did my source imagery at a very large size, I think).

Abandoned version, part of the results of an hour or two of fooling around with a very stylized font I recently acquired.

 

megapolisomancy 1: the freeway

come to within a block or two of the freeway

and sleep

with your spine aligned to the flow

open up your senses (no, the other ones)

and just dip in

like a pelican skimming the surface of the water

like a spaceship skimming a sun’s photosphere with its fuel scoop open

don’t take too much, you see, you’ll drown

perhaps make a few passes, skim down going both ways, bring in a bank of the opposite polarity to better balance within

but be careful, you’re not the only one to know that all that hurry, hurry, hurry going in one direction for years on end carves open its own kind of ley line

and be careful to not get sliced to ribbons on the complex harmonic fields generated by the intersection of  whole cloverleaf (i found Rez to be a useful metaphor to pass through intact, YMMV)

now i know why I miss LA, it’s a giant hole in the world torn by its neverending gyre of freeways, and it must be real good for sucking in popular stories or something, because it is our nation’s source of Dreams.

Aleph-4

Every now and then I get asked about a few of the stranger cards in my Tarot deck. This morning I got asked about one that I would swear I have written a lengthy email about before, but couldn’t find in my archives. So I’m gonna write about it again here, and be able to point future inquiries to this.

Aleph-4 is the fifth end of this deck. The other four ends are the Fool (first card sketched, though that rough as abandoned), the Sun (first card finished), the High Priest (the last of the traditional 78), the 99 of Swords (the last of the cards I actually planned to add when doing the additional cards while getting it ready for publication). Aleph-4 is the last card I drew for the whole thing.

And yet it also predates the deck, in more ways than one.

So: March, 2005. I was living in a friend’s living room in Sunnyvale, after my dreams of the animation world had collapsed. One day we took a trip to one of the neighboring towns and I doodled out something that just came to me with no real conscious thought; I soon brought it through Illustrator to become this:

I really had no idea what the hell my subconscious brain was getting at with this image. It certainly felt fraught, like there was Meaning behind it, but it arrived pretty much all at once.

Two years later, I found myself revisiting it.

I was living in Boston with my boyfriends; things were going mostly better than they were in Sunnyvale.

I still didn’t know what the hell my subconscious was getting at with this. Six months later, I found myself working on the Tarot deck that would end up being called “The Silicon Dawn”.

My first sketch of Fortune quite consciously drew from this imagery, and felt good enough that it went into the finished deck.

By August of 2008, I was about halfway through with the deck. The 0 of (VOID) and the 99 of Cups appeared – the former in the same sort of “here’s a thing your subconscious wants you to draw, now draw it” process as the first two iterations of this image, the latter as a joke.

And my subconscious also presented me with the flip side of Fortune:

For what it’s worth, there were a few other titles I played with, preserved off the side of the artboard in the original file: The Story, Narrative, The Querent, Self-Awareness, Timebinding, and Definition.

I still didn’t understand what the hell this image was supposed to be about. Something about defining the universe by telling stories. Maybe.

 

Somewhere in the beginning of 2008, I took a break to draw this. It wasn’t intended to be part of the deck, but it was definitely intended to be part of this same series. I can’t pin the exact date down as the file creation date has been lost over migrating my data through three or five different computers since then. A post on the livejournal I kept for the deck says “The third, unfinished version was done after contemplating some writing around the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis that (in short) “language shapes thoughts”; any other details of what I was driving at then are gone. I was too lazy to render the ribbon from the mouth turning into wings, much less the archways crashing down around her.

I finished the core 78 cards, and had a gallery exhibition of the whole thing (plus the 0 of (Void), the 99 of Pentacles, and History), then put it away for a while. Until Lo Scarabo decided they were interested in printing it, and would I like to expand it with these extra cards I’d thought about, and maybe use this cool process they’d just gotten where they used spot gloss to accentuate the cards? Ultimately I decided ‘yes’ on both of those, and spent about half of 2011 on the book, enhancing the cards with gloss, and figuring out how the hell to make the dark counterparts to the goofy 99s.

A few extra images popped up during this process and demanded to be part of the deck. Some of them were secret significator cards for friends. And the card at hand? Well.

Because of the way the deck was going to be printed and cut, there were going to be some extra cards that would end up blank. I could put stuff on them if I wanted to. And when I was done with the whole thing, I decided to take this image and finish it up as a personal Secret Personal Significator. Its title was to be rendered only in spot gloss – seen here as a bright blue – and was a sigil I’d designed last year as the Majgickqghal Name of a somewhat insane sex goddess dragon I’d been playing on Tapestries for a while. Her name was “November-4”, which referred to the group of “Impersons” she started out as part of – anonymous perverts chad in full-body latex, all with names of the form [letter from the military phonetic alphabet]-[number]. The card wasn’t originally going to be a fourth-order Cantorian transfinite, but the fact that ‘aleph’ looks a lot like ‘N’ made the private joke irresistable.

Said sex goddess dragon may or may not be my Higher Self/Holy Guardian Angel. My own magical practice is pretty half-assed and jokey. So that’s what this card’s about: transcendence, trying to contact/become that theoretical hyperdimensional being outside of time of which you are just a fragment. Finishing a magical process and starting the next one, because there’s always another thing to do until you’re dead. Phoenix imagery and everything that symbolically represents,

So that’s the story behind this card, and its private dirty joke finally revealed. Mostly it’s just my signature. But it’s also part of this personal narrative of, I dunno, maybe transcending the bounds of reality and becoming a Real Majgicxghian, maybe just wishing I was willing to put in the long boring work to do just that instead of slouching in front of the projection screen playing video games. I mean, I do some of that – I spent four years drawing Decrypting Rita, and you can find the same sigil printed in spot gloss at its climax. And maybe a few other places as well.

(There’s another card in the deck that’s a self-portrait, and if I ever did a second edition of the deck, I’d probably replace it with something else. This one’s much better as a Personal Significator than the 9 of Cups.)

Also notable: there are four Fool cards in this deck, numbered 0-1 to 03, and maybe this one fits into that sequence too. I make absolutely no claims to be a Great Ascended Master Of Magic. I personally don’t consider it a Fool but then again of course I wouldn’t, would I?

an account of a week and a half

Sunday, Jan 29: Protest.

Tuesday, Jan 31: Hung with friends, watching them buy supplies for their Physical Art Doings at the art store. Impulsively buy cool mirror with dragon on it. Seriously it is fucking rad, it's circular and has the dragon splaying across it, dividing it into a ying/yang sort of pattern.

Thursday, Feb 2: finally unbox cool mirror. Contemplate places to put it. Come to vague decision, don't feel like nailing anything up. Leave on floor in foyer.

Friday, Feb 3: the inner Magician vaguely wonders if it's really a good idea to leave this mirror right at the door, reflecting the energies being filtered by the big picture of the semi-divine version of my dragonsona that's hanging on the inside of the door. Other things like “hanging with girlfriend” and “buying some magic chocolate with high THC and CBD content because my throat hurts when I smoke and there is no way I'm doing the Trump regime sober” distract me from this. There are ten little chocolates in the bag; I will go through them over the next few days.

There is pretty much no point in the rest of this journal entry where I am not at least a little high, until the last day.

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