Peter Gray’s Bardic Re/Destruction

DISCLAIMER: I continue to post without finishing the entire book, Apocalyptic Witchcraft, so the previous disclaimer still applies. I decided to do peace-meal posts because the material presented is non-obvious and dense. It requires incremental analysis to do it proper justice.


To start with, I felt impatient with this chapter’s focus on poetry, which is surprised me. I may not be a poet (at least not in comparison to Shakespeare or the other luminaries Gray expounds upon) but I appreciate the art. I know it is essential in religious ceremony, old and new. It has a role to play in “breaking open the head” to allow new concepts to flower on the plowed fields of the mind. I still don’t know why it rubbed me the wrong way, except that I was mostly unfamiliar with the poets and works discussed, and Gray assumes familiarity with them.

In my previous post, I reacted to Gray’s assertion that we should disconnect from the cultural milieu in which we live, saying there was no apparent plan to break up and digest the content we’ve absorbed since childhood. In “A Spell to Awaken England” (and I hope the world, Gray) he drags the reader through a journey of apocalyptic spellcraft that proposes a way of reprogramming ourselves.

You can read the specifics in the chapter yourself, if you have the patience to work through it. I suggest absorbing the information, visualizing it, and letting it work itself out without conscious interference. The meaning of this chapter might become clear in the “twilight hours” before sleep or just after waking–much like the dream therapy he spoke of before. It is, after all, the moment where the mind might embark on doing precisely what he aims to do–digesting our destructive, blind, and oppressive culture into the fertile ground for new ideas to emerge.

I do not think Gray expects anyone who takes apocalyptic witchcraft seriously to abandon their past entirely. The Devil is the Goddess denied, but it is still Lucifer. Its rage is justified, and much like the demons of Goetia, it might drag the dabbler into a world of hurt and pain. Gray admits this, celebrates it even. What else could be expected from a prophet who would inject rage into magick and co-exist with the environmental and social collapse of the world?

Regardless, I am not sure that I agree with Gray. Not in sentiment or idea, but on praxis. While his entryway into these mysteries was through the abstraction of poetry and dreamland, not every witch may do the same. Not all of us have the same educational level, artistic capabilities, or even personal prejudices. We are nothing if not diverse. Furthermore, he professes abhorrence to science. Here I admit to have bristled, but perhaps that is a personal idiosyncrasy that will resolve itself out later, when I have a better grasp of things.

So what does it all amount to, this process of breaking up and reconstructing our culture? It is dealing with the myths of our culture as ingredients for a new dish–hell, it is making them into ingredients first. Gray proposes that there’s nothing like the wildly creative (and wildly destructive) art of the poet to accomplish this act. I maintain that careful analysis is required.

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