Author's Note: This essay was originally published in issue #5 of This Is the Salivation Army, 1997.
All art is magical in origin…(it is) intended to produce very definite results.
-- William S. Burroughs
Two of my all time favorite publications are Simon Dwyer’s Rapid Eye books, and Vale & Juno’s classic RE:Search series. Together they exploded the lines between artistic, mystical, sexual and intellectual pursuits and featured one-of-a-kind interviews with luminaries like Derek Jarman, Brion Gysin, Kenneth Anger and Kathy Acker. To a Toronto boy who was spending his days hiding indoors listening to Psychic TV and New Model Army, Rapid Eye and RE:Search made the world seem like something that was going on somewhere else, so in 1996 I launched the first issue of my zine, This Is the Salivation Army. Having one leg in the art scene, one in the homocore movement, and both paws in the occult, it was my way of connecting these seemingly disparate ideas and desires in one forum. But it was more than just a zine -- it was a love letter to a mythical gang that I was consciously bringing into existence. I’d decided that I would imagine a new home, and then move into it…and it worked. Less than a year from the Salivation Army’s inception, I found myself at the helm of a youth cult.
As the zine and it’s devotees flourished, so did the rituals and motifs associated with it; wolfboys, pirate skulls, petty theft, scarification, homemade porn, etc. The editorial rants constantly reiterated that the key element in making anything happen, whether it be magick, art or activism, was the undiluted commitment of one’s energy. Moreover, This Is the Salivation Army underlined the fact that art and magick are old friends, even if they do get split up and thrown in opposite directions from time to time: art usually goes off to suck up to bourgeois commerce, while magick curls up in the lap of an appreciative fringe culture. Historically speaking, this alienation never lasts for very long, and art and magick soon make their way back towards each other like salmon returning to spawn. The zine was so potent and prescient that it briefly attracted the attention of a major soft drinks manufacturer, who came sniffing around for a new demographic. They knew we were on to something -- and if you want an up-to-the-minute example of this phenomenon, check out 19th century occultist Aleister Crowley putting in an appearance in the latest White Stripes video. Better still, at K48’s request I’ve included some notes below on how you can experience this coming rendezvous first hand.
Crowley defined magick as “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” If that’s true, then this is the single best and simplest magickal tool I’ve ever come across for manufacturing the kind of reality you want to live in: SIGILS. A sigil, which rhymes with ‘vigil’, takes two of the best elements of youth culture and combines them into a source of wish-fulfillment: making cut n’ paste collages and jerking off. Like a logo, a cross, or a pentacle, a sigil acts as a point of focus for the compounded, single expression of a particular desire. I first learned about sigils from the visionary writings of divine pandrogyne, Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV). His anti-cult par excellence, thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth, had adapted their technique from the writings of illustrator & mystic Austin Osman Spare, who in turn had learned it from his nanny, and so on. The method is easy and effective and whether you subscribe to the occult, or happen to be more pragmatically minded like me, the results will speak for themselves. Here’s how to make your own:
- Find a quiet time and place where you won’t be disturbed. Surround yourself with things that you find relevant to whatever your particular desire is: pictures, candles, incense, objects that have a personal meaning, etc. Some people find background music helpful, which is fine, just don’t use music that has discernable lyrics or words -- words are intensely distracting. You’re also going to need something to write with, and something to write on.
- Now that you have a place to concentrate, take some time to relax. Chill out, breathe deep. Because you’ve created a particular mood and a safe space, your thoughts will flow more freely in the desired direction. Now concentrate on the intent of the sigil. This is the most difficult part -- what is it that you want? What would you really like to have happen in a perfect situation? Once you’ve focused on your desire, try to articulate it into a sentence. Don’t worry about ‘loop holes’ in the wording or being punished by some kind of ironic twist; this is for you, by you. Only you need to know what it means. For example, I could write: “I DESIRE MONEY FOR THIS MONTH’S RENT”. I could just as easily ask for emotional stamina, a phone call from a friend, a fuck, new clothes, travel, etc…the question is, what do I really want to channel all of my psychic, psychological, and physical energy in to? Use your intuition. And you can always make another.
- When you’ve written down the sentence (eg., I DESIRE MONEY FOR THIS MONTH’S RENT), go through the sentence and eliminate the repeated letters, rewriting it without any spaces between the words. So our example becomes: IDESRMONYFTH. Now remove the vowels: DSRMNFTH. These remaining letters are the building blocks of your sigil. You’ve made a code out of a sentence that only you understand. It’s a compounded version of that original desire. Just as logos function as condensations of corporate ideologies, a sigil is the same thing, a symbolic analogy. Except this one is all yours.
- Take the remaining letters (DSRMNFTH), and try to look at them not as letters, but as shapes. Copy out these shapes into a pattern or symbol, twisting and turning them however you like, just remember to use them all, and try to make the resulting symbol look ‘magickal’. There is no right or wrong way to do this, once again, use your intuition. Decorate it however you like with collage images (without words), photos, different media, colours and textures. Whatever best represents your desire. Work on it till you’re content. Some sigils come together in a few minutes, while others may take days.
- Gathering up the power you need to make your sigil work is the most important part of the process, and it’s easier than you think. Sexuality is perhaps the most powerful drive in the human animal and, accordingly, it is also the biggest threat to established orthodoxy and control. This is why governments and religious organizations spend so much time attacking and trying to limit it. They know all too well that sexuality is where personal liberation develops; hence, it’s key to the sigil-making process. Now that you’ve got your symbol in front of you, focus on it. While you’re doing this, start imagining erotic elements blended with your desire. In this example, asking for money, I might imagine having sex in a bank vault, or with someone who has green hair or a ‘$’ tattoo. As it’s specifically about making next month’s rent, I might imagine bringing a ‘$’ tattooed boy home to my apartment and fucking him. It all depends on what works for you, and what your intent is.
- Still focusing on the fantasy and your symbol, make yourself cum. Orgasm is the moment when your conscious mind short-circuits; all your psychological barriers come down and your ego is annihilated for that tiny moment. It’s an expressway straight to your subconscious -- the place where magick happens. During that vital orgasmic moment, what’s inside is outside, and vice versa. You’re planting your sigil in your subconscious where it can thrive. After you cum, use your spunk or your vaginal fluids to trace overtop or decorate the sigil -- this ‘blesses’ it with your sexual energy and makes it a special, intimate object. Think of it like this: a dildo is just a hunk of rubber, but the relationship you have with it makes it something extraordinary. Some people like to use blood and/or spit in addition to their sexual fluids. Whatever works for you is fine.
- So…THIS IS YOUR SIGIL. Take a good look at it. When you’re ready, tack the sigil up somewhere where you’ll see it regularly. Like a charm or a talisman, it doesn’t need to be in an overtly obvious place, just somewhere where you’ll be aware that it’s there and that it’s working all by itself. Some sigils bring things right to your doorstep with alarming speed, and some take a lot of time to unfold. Sigils always benefit from level-headedness -- so, be patient. You can take the sigil down when you feel it’s done all it can, or keep ‘em on your wall as art.
During it’s 3 year existence the Salivation Army made dozens of sigils with incredible results (group sigils are especially fun), and while I still continue to experiment with them, I have no strict conclusions about how or why they work, all I can suggest is that you try one. And remember, it doesn’t have to stop with 2-dimensional collage. Grant Morrison, the famous comic book writer, is very vocal about the fact that his epic The Invisibles, is one huge, extended visual and textual mega-sigil. It took me ages to figure out that my zine was functioning in the same way. Even films and videos can operate as cinematic sigils, snowballing and propagating the energies of everyone who watches. So, like I said -- TRY IT.