Originally published in PLEASURE 2012
Illustrations by Meryl Bennett and Matt Taber
A discussion on juxtapositional magick
First published in KAOS 14, 2002, from a discussion on alt.magick
HH: So grand poobah, how do you do it then? What’s the big secret?
Joel Biroco: Juxtapositional magick. But essentially we’re talking about things that are experiential. I gave up trying to explain my own experience as a substitute for other people’s lack of experience. Don’t ask me to explain it, if you want to know what it is cast a sigil--and jack off on it if you must--to understand juxtapositional magick, and then maybe one day you will and you might thank me for taking the scales off your eyes.
BPS: Hey, I was wondering if you could go into more depth. I’ve still got a LOT to learn, but this sounds interesting.
Joel Biroco: It is beyond words, but if you think about what the term ‘juxtapositional magick’ might mean, and indeed cast a sigil to understand it (as simple as that), you will begin to glimpse things that come under the heading of juxtapositional magick. But for now: take a moment to study your room wherever you are reading this and take in the juxtapositions that are already present. Make connections, join up things, visualize a collection of objects as one object, loosen the boundaries of objects. Notice your world and its juxtapositions. Juxtapositional magick is not something one learns overnight, it is a lifetime’s work, you must realise I can’t explain that to you, you must see it with your own eyes. Don’t seek explanations, seek juxtapositions and study the natural placement of objects in the world. The act of noticing should be a daily task until it becomes natural, even if you have no idea what the juxtapositions mean all you have to do is notice them. Understanding comes later. Then you can learn to manipulate juxtapositions and learn to be a juxtapositional magician. Make a juxtapositional altar, which is one that grows spontaneously over time without thought and is only one day noticed as such. If you already have aptitude for this art then you will see that you have already formed a juxtapositional magick altar without even realising it. Any conscious effort to create such an altar will only destroy the possibility of producing it, so if you feel the urge to create one and can’t see that you have one simply forget about creating one and concentrate on noticing juxtapositions, then in time you will see where you have created your juxta-positional altar. This is the essence of the power of juxtapositional magick, it gives method to spontaneity.
HH: Holy shit, that is one of the best things I have ever seen you type up, vague because of the nature of it, but informing… damn… that’s deep… I mean really.
David Cantu: Thanks Joel, this makes sense. I guess you would have brought pattern in if you had meant to, so slap me for mentioning it.
Joel Biroco: Juxtapositional magick is my own formulation derived from many different systems of magick over many years, and certainly the Chinese concept of li or ‘pattern’ feeds into that, but to mention such advanced concepts to a self-proclaimed beginner would be out of place, so I simply provided a sketch to get him going. A brief description couldn’t possibly exhaust juxtapositional magick.
David Cantu: Please correct what you see wrong in this view, but the rearrangement of knowledge into symbolic systems like the Tree of Life lead magicians to see juxtapositions between elements in new ways. I know that this isn’t what you mean in the present practice, but it could go to the heart of why such symbolically connective systems work. Any comments on that Joel?
Joel Biroco: Yes, and the art of ‘correspondences’ is also equally as important in bagua, but although these methods do certainly relate to what I refer to as juxtapositional magick what I am really talking about here is something far more ‘second-nature’ and tuned-in, real moving with spontaneity without thought. Study of trigram and qabalistic correspondences can lead to this, but in itself it lacks the sheer elegance of true juxtapositional magick, which operates in the sense of wuwei (‘not doing’, doing nothing, no effort, no purposeful action). I am talking about something far more direct than going via a symbolic filter of correspondences or resonances, or any kind of symbolic framework. In this sense, by juxtapositional magick I really mean pure magick.
Mika Kaplan: It seems like using a symbolic filter of correspondences would be a good ‘first step’ then. One approach to the qabala (and I think Crowley discusses this somewhere…?) is that you relate everything to the Tree of Life, everything, from the grocery bill to the color car in front of you at the stop light, to the snippet of conversation you hear passing people in the street, etc… to the point that the connections become subconscious. Or maybe the correct word is unconscious. The need for the symbolic framework disappears and there is no effort involved in seeing, knowing, understanding how it all comes together.
Joel Biroco: It’s not about having a pinboard. It’s not about making a symbolic framework unconscious, it is about making a symbolic framework unnecessary. Correspondences are arbitrary associations, they don’t ‘mean’ anything except what you allow them to mean. We also each have our personal correspondences funded from memory and associations made in the past. Though it may not seem like it, even these connections are arbitrary; they may appear ‘meaningful’ and we may use them to feather our nest of belongingness in the universe, but this is complete illusion. We hear magicians speak of, oh, I dunno, green for Venus, whatever, gold for Kings, whatever, all of it is completely arbitrary and meaningless. We invest in these associations because people always have. If I’m saying anything here it is that juxtapositional magick cuts free from all of this and so I categorically state: studying qabala, bagua, correspondences, whatever, is of no use for learning juxtapositional magick: no use whatsoever, in fact, it’s a hindrance. But we will continue to hinder ourselves and our magick because that’s the way we are. Juxtapositional magick is not about taking on board ‘ways to learn it’ it’s about unlearning all of what we have taken for granted so far.
David Cantu: A similar notion is touched on in Liber Null & Psychonaut when Carroll touches on coincidence, and its importance – I read this more as patterns in reality, because ‘coincidence’ occurs on all sorts of levels.
Joel Biroco: I’m not talking about synchronicity but spontaneous ritual. Forget Carroll, he knows nothing.
David Cantu: Is it safe to assume that juxtapositional casting involves using patterns which basically assemble themselves?
Joel Biroco: Er… sort of… but don’t try to define this too soon…
David Cantu: Why, then, is an altar relevant?
Joel Biroco: It is a place of focus, a place of power, but altars can be found anywhere, this was my point.
David Cantu: Say, for example, I notice a ‘physical coincidence’ between a bass guitar, a stereo, and a grapefruit. This ‘unified object’ (ie, I remove perceptual boundaries between these objects) relates to a particular unwanted emotion, or desired effect.
How then does one make the leap between seeing and doing, or is there a leap at all?
Joel Biroco: No leap because no thought, just spontaneous action directed by insight. But to try to address your comment in as helpful a way as is possible, I wonder if you are one leap ahead of yourself. You are wondering how to make the leap from seeing to doing, but I wonder whether you have really made the leap between bass, stereo, grapefruit and an unwanted emotion, or whether you are positing an example hypothetically. Hypothetical situations are the antithesis of juxtapositional magick. There is no point in saying ‘What if…’. Learn from spontaneity itself, from the moment itself, in real time. You cannot second-guess juxtapositional magick or have pre-prepared responses. It is ritual, but not ritual ‘as we know it Jim’. So avoid thinking about it and trying to answer hypothetical questions about it. You can’t come to an understanding of it that way.
As for feeling like a beginner… Remember that your understanding of this next week, next year, in five years’ time, in ten years’ time, in twenty years’ time, will advance. Also be aware that there are many magicians who have been studying and practising more documented forms of magick for many years who know next to nothing of juxtapositional magick, to whom these ideas will be new. There are no books on this and this is the first time I have even mentioned juxtapositional magick in a public forum myself, though I have been practising this form of magick for many years. ‘Juxtapositional magick’ is only a name I came up with for convenience, that kinda describes it, but it’s the doing of it that’s important, description fails dismally to convey the real power of this magick, which is why I’ve never attempted to write about it, it was only because I was pressed that I am doing so now. I first evolved this form of magick in experiments with Goetic evocation in the 1980s, and, just thinking about it now actually – because I really don’t think about it much at all, I just do it – perhaps I was taught it by a demon… hmmm, food for thought. And, if so, it would have been on the one occasion when I ‘made a mistake’ and permitted a demon to possess me, and, while possessed, carried out a form of magick I had never seen before. I watched myself do it, taking it all in. This is like personal revelations in real time! I’m laughing to myself, because the more I think about it the more I think that is indeed where I learnt how to do this, and yet, that’s the first time I’ve had that realisation. Up until this moment I had believed it was something that I ‘kinda evolved’, but no, initially I was shown it by a demon and then I developed it. Well I’ll be!
David Cantu: You will probably disagree with this first part but read the whole thing. This all seems important, and the idea that other patterned forms of magick may have a root in this is interesting to me, because it gives power back to the creation of systems rather than the systems themselves, which you point out, are arbitrary. Please note the following though. For rank beginners, the juxtaposition of ideas according to a set pattern like Kabbalah is a tool for seeing connections in the world that were, previously, invisible. Now, I am not touting any one system or systems in general, only pointing out that new ways of thinking arise from rearrangements of connected symbols (whether they be ideas or physical objects existing in space).
For me juxtapositional magick is how I create music. The compositional control is loosened so that the Universe can create through me. Each instrument is more or less channelled, and interactions, mostly ‘acci-dental’, occur that Could Not Be Written Out. No compositional system can hold them, or spew them out, because each system is based on arbitrary restrictions which keep things from happening. In fact, it has been my staunch refusal to learn a musical theory that has allowed me to explore in realms no music theory can touch, so from that point of view, the system becomes a hindrance to the manifestation of willed forms. All things that come out of these systems will always be an extension of the relationships in the given system and will miss the multitude of relationships not covered by the system. The results, for me, are always more real if I abandon system constraints and just do.
Joel, you may not relate to this music analogy, but you do a type of visual art which, I bet, bears relation to this type of magick.
Joel Biroco: Oh absolutely, and I was discussing this very point with some artist friends only last night and gave a kind of spontaneous lecture on the relation between juxtapositional magick and the creation of art. The essential difference is that in magick there is a purpose in the creation of an object beyond aesthetics, in juxtapositional magick the creation of an object is the means not the end. I suspect artists may grasp the actual ‘doing’ of juxtapositional magick more than many occultists, but not grasp the magical side of what they are doing and not know how to use that for specific magical ends. I have seen this many times in the artists’ group to which I belong and often wish that occultists had this kind of talent for what is really magick, particularly in performance art, quite a few of the members including myself having an interest in performance art. One girl astonishes me every time with the sheer originality of her created objects (cutting open an apple, staining the inside with red food dye and placing a pomegranate in the cored-out centre, and stapling it back together like a Frankenstein apple which she opens up to show us, all of her objects she opens up layer by layer to show us, or she might bake silver foil spiders in Cornish pasty cases, or place a light bulb and sunflower seeds inside a hollowed-out loaf, stoppering it with a bread brain, and her use of mould, and hair, and other found materials) and I have had conversations with her about how I identify her manner of creation of art objects as being similar to my own approach to the creation of magical objects and the strange spontaneous processes I subject them to before they are finished, which makes use of what is to hand, and, more to the point, what is to hand is always exactly what is needed if you’re in the juxtapositional-magick way of looking. The astonishing ideas one has that are simply ‘perfect’ to create the desired magical effect, I use a lot of burning, for instance, and scorching, and soot-wafting from flames, and wood-cutting, and rubbing in of aloes wood ash, and beeswax, and use of pigments such as pyrrole red and of course blood, my own blood, and semen, and the milky sap of dandelion stems, or perhaps a moth may stray near the lamp I am working under and briefly coat the back of my hand with a touch of mothwing dust, what a find in the middle of an act of juxtapositional magick! What does that represent?! Bloody obvious! Use it! Sudden thought, are the lilacs in bloom yet, should it smell of lilacs, well let’s see if they’re in bloom and out I rush into the garden in the mad frenzy of juxtapositional magick, no they’re not, they’re not, but look at the way that centipede is moving on the stones, good god it’s drawing a sigil, draw that sigil NOW! Draw it on the object in your own blood, slash your palm with a blade and draw out blood and do it now and I’m commanded so I do it! And so it goes on. THIS is juxtapositional magick! And so when I tell her like this about some of the juxtapositional magical objects I have created and the way I have created them she wonders why I never bring any of this kind of ‘art’ along to the group, just my paintings, and of course I say: ‘Er, well, because that’s magick, that’s not art…’
This is not to say that juxtapositional magick is simply about the creation of magical objects, more it is about the way they are created.
Pansamsara: I’m so so glad that you have written all of this stuff. I feel like you have handed back to me something I chucked out because I was scared that I was ‘losing it’. What you call ‘juxtapositional magick’ was what I initially thought ‘chaos magick’ was about--directly working my own meanings. Then I just got confused by reading too much chaos literature (never quite got over the intellectualism of it all). I used to be an artist of sorts when I left school and so am familiar with frenzied moments of creation. It was stupid to try and straightjacket those abilities like I seem to have done. Thanks Joel, now I may need never read another ‘how to do’ book again. It’s as I suspected way back. This all integrates so well with where I am at now. Well timed, thanks again.