Saturday, 28 April 2012

I usually shy away from writing book reviews. I used to be under the misguided belief that as a book dealer, my role should be non-judgemental, a facilitator of knowledge rather than an arbiter. In recent years though I have become slightly disillusioned when faced with a rising tide of so-called magical books that seem spiritually stunted and irrelevant to the life I am living. Occult means hidden, it doesn’t mean separate. The occult is firmly embedded in the very fabric of society. As magicians the occult should inform our world view, not replace it. To treat occultism as an escape from ‘normality’ or as some kind of live-action role play is a gross betrayal, an exchange of one reality tunnel for another. This is binary thinking. We should be engaging with the world, not hiding from it. Blog welcoming rant over, here’s a review of a book you should be reading.

John Michael Greer
Published by Scarlet Imprint.

Peak Oil: The point in time when the global production of oil will reach its maximum rate, after which production will gradually decline.

So to begin. Industrial culture is in collapse. Even this simple statement seems anathema to most. The myth of progress is so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness it seems unthinkable that what we have will not last, will not be replaced by something better, onwards and ever upwards. However, to read The Blood of the Earth is to shatter these myths. For we live illusory lives, trapped by the thaumaturgy of advertising, be it for goods or political ideas, consumed by consumerism. Marshall Mcluhan put it more prosaically; “The modern Little Red Riding Hood, reared on singing commercials, has no objection to being eaten by the wolf…”

The Blood of the Earth is subtitled “An essay on magic and peak oil.” I have absolutely no doubt this will put some people off, it doesn’t sound ‘occult’ enough. (Will there be sigils? Does it mean the blood of Tubal Qayin? Is there a BP grimoire? etc.) What’s more the book is firmly ecological in its stance and the occultists that are mentioned range from Giordano Bruno to Joseph Peladan to Rudolph Steiner, hardly the poster boys of the modern hipster magician. But this is a book you should be reading, because it is relevant to now. If the future plays out as described in this book, your lifestyle and magical practices will have to change.

There are probably equal amounts of science and magic in this book, but you don’t need to be an expert in either to gain insight from it. Peak Oil is defined above and that’s about as much science as you need to know. Greer is very good at summarising the evidence and the various schools of thought (or more worryingly, belief) surrounding Peak Oil. But this is really just a stepping stone to a wider discourse on the nature of Industrial society and how we have all bought into, or rather been fed the technological dream. Governments and corporations shoulder a lot of the blame, but Greer does not spare the reader either. We all live in a state of denial, believing that recycling or hybrid cars or some other technological advance will save us when it will clearly never be enough.

The Blood of the Earth is an easy read (but not a comfortable one). The one hundred and seventy odd pages can be devoured in a couple of sittings. Kudos must be given to Greer for executing such a devastating message in clear, concise prose. Never patronising, the text lays out the main arguments and leads you through several scenarios, past and present, which always finish with the same inevitable conclusion. But this is not doom saying for effect or as a warning. This is not a guide on how to avoid the decline of industrial civilisation; it is a guide on how to survive it. And this is where magic comes in. It is not the magic of ritual (though Greer is the head of a Druid order, the magic expressed is not allied to any one tradition, and is thankfully free of obfuscation) it is magic of thought, or rather, magical thinking; using simple mental exercises to see through the ‘black magic’ of advertising and break free from our conditioned acceptance of binary thinking. The conclusion then becomes clear. If the path to the future leads to certain collapse, get off the path. And sooner rather than later. Abandon technologies that are doomed to obsolescence. Learn to live without them now and the transition will be easier. There is no denying that this a hard message to take and most readers (myself included) will flinch at taking the bigger steps. However, the book finishes with a few practical steps that can be followed but it's up to the individual to decide how far to go...

Congratulations to Greer for writing a book which should be a standard text for the magical activist, be it magician, pagan or witch. I am now following Greer's blog, which can be found here

A final note on the publisher. Scarlet Imprint just go from strength to strength. Committed magicians as well as publishers, they deserve your support. With the release of this title (and XVI previously, not to mention many other titles) they are proving to be not only the voice of the modern occult revival (if indeed there is to be one), but also a publisher that deserves much wider recognition. The Blood of the Earth is available in hardback, paperback and digital editions.