We interviewed Gary Lachman to discuss his new book, Dark Star Rising: Magic and Power in the Age of Trump, and explored what Pepe the frog has to do with “hypersigils,” how magical traditions were co-opted, adapted, and electronically remixed for nefarious purposes in the recent US election, and what Steve Bannon was on about with the occult politics of Julius Evola. Most importantly, Lachman suggests ways to move forward through this new, occult battleground.
First of all, what is the “occult connection” with Trump, chaos magic, and the alt-right?
It seems that some figures on the far right claimed to have “willed” Trump into office. This is what Richard Spencer, founder of the alt-right, declared at the meeting of the National Policy Institute held soon after Trump’s election. He opened the meeting by declaring “Hail Trump. Hail our victory. We made this happen. We made this dream our reality. We willed Trump into office.” He called it their “victory of the will.” The audience responded with cheers and Nazi salutes.
This caught the media’s attention and was widely reported on. But one report pointed something out. Harvey Bishop, a New Thought blogger, remarked that “making dreams a reality” is the essence of New Thought. New Thought is a generic name for different philosophies of mind that share the belief that “thoughts are causative,” that through sheer mental intention, the mind can affect reality. The reality the alt-right wanted to affect was the 2016 US presidential election.
How they went about doing this – if they did – was by using the internet as a way to create or alter reality. This leads to your second question.
The weird recesses of the internet very much seem to have conjured memes into reality, like the warped iconography of Pepe (a relatively harmless meme turned alt-right icon), or the chilling story of the tulpa-like Slenderman attributed to a case of real life attempted murder. What’s the magical link here between the internet and culture, reality and virtuality?
What seems to have happened is that people noticed strange coincidences taking place between things posted on the internet and the “real” world. It was rather as if the sort of “meaningful coincidence” that Jung called “synchronicty” – a coincidence that is so meaningful that we can’t ignore it – was happening between internet memes and reality. The story is that some people posting on 4chan noticed some odd coincidences between memes they had posted about film The Dark Knight Rises and the 2015 German Wings Flight 9525 crash in the Alps. They had posted about the scene where Bain, the villain, takes over the plane flying him to prison, escapes and crashes it. There seemed to be some similarities between this scene and the German Wings crash. The crash happened in the Alps near a town called Bains. One of the crash site investigators was named Bruce Robin. The pilot crashed the plane, just as Bain does in the film. Did their posts somehow make the crash happen? The idea that it may have appealed to their morbid sense of humor. Those who thought it was possible christened the phenomena “synchromysticism,” which means when something on the net bleeds into the “real” world and effects it in some way. It is a techno retread of Jung’s synchronicity, where instead of one’s consciousness or inner world, the “meaningful coincidence” happens between the internet and the world. If we think of the internet as a kind of exteriorized collective imagination, we can see how it could work.
If it happened by chance, could it happen on purpose? Could one intentionally use internet memes to “make things happen”? The idea of using memes for magical purposes suggests that meme magic is an offshoot of chaos magic, a kind of Do It Yourself approach to magic that started in the 1970s. Briefly, instead of relying on the traditional magical implements – wands, circles, spells, etc. – the chaos magician relies on imagination, initiative, and will, and makes use of whatever is at hand. Chaos magic has a long history of adopting elements of pop culture in its practice – the famous eight pointed chaos star comes from Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series of novels, which charts a never-ending battle between the forces of Order and Chaos. Nowadays, what is at hand are internet memes.
The meme in question here is Pepe the Frog. Pepe started out as an amphibian slacker but he was abducted by the dark side – the alt-right and Trump supporters – and became their mascot. But he was something more than a mascot. The idea was that Pepe would become a sigil – a hyper-sigil, in fact, a magical symbol charged with imagination and intent – the intent being to put Trump in office. Pepe appeared alongside Trump, as Trump, as one of the Deplorables, even as Aleister Crowley, a magician with whom some feel Trump has much in common. Then the weirdness started.
Posts on 4chan are anonymous, but each one receives an eight digit number. Pepeists began to notice that they seemed to be getting double, triple, or even quadruple numbers in their eight digit tag. It seemed that their posts about Pepe or Trump were being acknowledged in some way and approved of. They began to bet whether a post would receive a “dub” or a “trip”. But who or what was acknowledging them?
The answer to that question came from two incongruous sources: the World of Warcraft video game and ancient Egypt.
4channers were fond of World of Warcraft and they were aware of a strange glitch in the program. Whenever they wanted to write LOL it invariably came out KEK. Oddly enough, this had something to do with the Korean language. In any case, they eventually just went with it, and so whenever anything tickled them – like one of Trump’s tweets – they burst out kekking.
The odd thing is that Kek happens to be the name of an ancient Egyptian frog headed deity of – chaos.
So it seemed that the Pepeists were getting approval from Kek, ancient god of Chaos, who had been incarnated among them – at least electronically – in the form of Pepe.
If that wasn’t enough, in the book I suggest that although he most likely never heard of it, Trump is a kind of natural born chaos magician. Certainly chaos is something many people associate with him. And one of the odd coincidences I came across is that positive thinking, New Thought, and chaos magic share one central element: they are all results driven. They each want to make things happen.
The occult, historically, has had forward-thinking traditions (progressive, radical and experimentally left) as well as conservative. Can you give a brief summary of the Traditionalist occult impulse that influenced Trump’s ascendancy? For instance, Steve Bannon name-dropping Julius Evola or Rene Guenon.
One of the odder things following Trump’s election was an article published in the New York Times in February 2017, about a speech Bannon had given to a select group of Vatican churchmen in 2014. Amidst the usual rhetoric about the Global Tea Party movement, the war on Islamic Fascism, and the immigration crisis, the Times reporter noted that Bannon had mentioned Julius Evola. Julius Evola was an Italian esoteric philosopher who had far right political leanings. In the 1920s and 30s, he tried to ingratiate himself first with Mussolini and then with Hitler, with modest success. Post WWII he was a kind of intellectual éminence grisefor different Italian neo-fascist groups. Today he is one of the ideological heavy weights the alt-right point to, to differentiate themselves from white power skinheads and rednecks. He is an incisive thinker and is the most readable of the Traditionalist school.
Traditionalism was founded in the early twentieth century by the French scholar René Guénon. It’s central belief is that, in the dim past, mankind was given a fundamental revelation about the nature of reality and the relationship between God, man, and the cosmos. This revelation is at the heart of all the great religions, but over time it has been obscured until by now it is practically forgotten. History, Guénon believed, has been all downhill since that initial revelation. We have declined from the Golden Age to the Age of Iron. In Hindu terms, we are smack in the Kali Yuga, a very dark time. Guénon loathed the modern world and so did Evola. But where Guénon was a priest, Evola was a warrior – or at least he liked to think of himself as one. He wanted to actively help bring the west down – the liberal, democratic west – and build a Traditionalist society in its place. This would be based on an organic, caste-like vision of society, a true “body politic,” rather than the atomized self-seeking decadent democracies of the modern world.
Oddly enough, Evola practiced a kind of mental science or New Thought himself, and he also tried to have a magical influence on contemporary events. In the 1920s he contributed several articles under different pseudonyms to the UR journal, the publication of the UR group, an esoteric society to which he belonged. Evola contributed several articles about how the mind can alter and even create reality, through sheer will and imagination. And he and others in the group performed rituals with the intent of instilling the ancient Roman virtues into Mussolini’s fascists – Evola thought they were frankly rather poor material to work with. So just as Spencer, a reader of Evola, is supposed to have used magic to help Trump, Evola did the same in order to help Mussolini.
Alexander Dugin has been described as “Putin’s brain” (Foreign Affairs) or the “Russian Mystic” behind the alt-right (HuffPost). He seems to be a believer in Atlantis and has a rather esoteric history of the world, including a future where “Eurasia” becomes the center of a new spiritual, planetary civilization. I was struck by how radically different this is from the “planetary culture” in our own left-leaning consciousness community here in the West (on Reality Sandwich, no less), or even the experimental futurist communities like Auroville in Pondicherry, India. What is Dugin all about here?
It was in fact in the context of alluding to Dugin that Bannon name dropped Evola. While speaking of Putin and expressing admiration for his embrace of “traditional values,” Bannon remarked that he, Putin, had in his orbit a follower of Traditionalism, someone who read Julius Evola. This someone was Dugin. Dugin has had an interesting career. He started out as an anti-Soviet punk dissident; he was arrested in the early 1980s, before perestroika, for singing an anti-Soviet song at a party. He then drifted into a strange, far-right, occult, science-fiction bohemia in Moscow, where he blended an interest in National Socialism with occultism, Guénon and Evola, and assorted other oddities. An important book at this time was The Morning of the Magicians, a wonderful grab bag of esoteric misinformation. Then, with collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, he realized he was really a “Soviet man,” and combined his fascist aesthetic with a nostalgia for Stalin. He continued through several ideological quick-changes and by the 2000s, emerged as an eccentric but respected authority on geopolitics.
His central idea is that with the collapse of the USSR, the world has become “unipolar,” meaning there is really only one superpower, the US. Opposed to this he wants to create a multipolar world, meaning one in which another superpower is able to oppose the increasing global dominance of the West. For him there is really only one fundamental struggle at work throughout history, what he sees as the clash between the sea-faring Atlanticist cultures – the US, UK, EU – who want to turn the planet into a global market place, and the mother of all continents, Eurasia, the single largest land mass on the planet. (Evola readers will see the basic clash between “becoming” and “being” here.) Where the Atlanticists are liberal, democratic, market oriented, and ‘free’, the Eurasianists prefer a traditional, authoritarian, highly ordered, organic society, that is based on values other than those of individual liberty, so prized in the west. Eurasia is the name Dugin gives to the new planetary culture that will arise from Russia in this century. It rejects the idea that Russia is a backward cousin of Europe, failing to catch up with it. Instead it is a new, original, unique civilization, with its roots in the East – the Mongols and Tatars – which will come into its own in the years ahead. He adopts Spengler’s idea that there is no linear progression of history and civilizations. Civilizations are organic; they are born, grow, and die. Spengler’s masterpiece is called The Decline of the West. For Dugin, it’s about time. He even suggests that we – those who agree with him – should help it along.
What’s the lesson here for counter-culturalists, esotericists, occultists, and the consciousness culture communities that have previously championed a leftist, admittedly utopian, move towards building a more spiritual civilization? Have our traditions been irrevocably co-opted by the alt-right, and is there a positive or constructive way to move forward?
Personally I’ve never thought working toward utopia was a good idea. The road to hell, we know, is paved with good intentions, and pretty much every attempt to force or impose a “better world” on the one we have now has ended in creating more suffering than anything else. I place my bets on the individual. Any real change has to start with you or me becoming more conscious, more awake, more alert, and getting a tighter grasp on reality. It’s depending on us. Times of disruption also bring opportunities. We need to be prepared for them.
What are you working on next?
A book about the return of Holy Russia.
Thank you, Gary. We’re looking forward to that one.