Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bela Bartok: Tapping into the Power of the Early 20th Century

This morning, on my way to stinking work, I had the good fortune to hear a story on NPR about Bela Bartok. He was a Modernist composer who wrote some lovely dark-themed music based on the cultures of Eastern Europe, and it totally reflects the post-industrial Modernist influence of the late early 20th century.

Who cares? Magicians care. We have to. So many of our modern occult influences condensed in the Modernist period. Crowley, Mathers, Fortune, and even the Chronicler Regardie were products of the illuminated age brought about by the wealth of the industrial revolution and the excesses of colonialism. The culture of their time influenced their writings, and to understand their legacy, we need to be able to tap into the gestalt of their period. It provides a frame of reference from which we can understand why they said things the way they did.

Bela Bartok captures in his music the dark side of the struggles of the post industrial age. Society had changed, and people were glorifying things that they took for granted twenty years earlier. People were adapting to the automated production of basic goods and services, they were adopting the most efficient methods to achieve their goals. Increased wealth and leisure created a culture of opulence for many, but at the same time revealed in stark contrast the darkness of the soul. Man's eternal struggle with himself entered a new stage of understanding.

The industrial revolution hit the realm of the occult, and a new system of initiation emerged. The Golden Dawn took your average Anglo and fed them the pablum of the esoteric in the early degrees, progressively building up the framework of the system until the finished product could be taken off the assembly line and put into the Inner Order. Like the rest of society, the members of the occult had to adapt to the industrialization of their processes. The writings of Crowley take on a new meaning when you can see behind his words both the glorification of traditional craftsmanship and the child-like wonder of the shiny new method to produce attainment. His cynicism becomes warm and friendly when placed in the context of his day.

To get a feeling for what I'm talking about, try listening to some of Bartok's music. NPR has some available here:

While you're listening to this music, read some of the poetry that reflects the Modernist literary current. The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot is incredibly good to read while listening to Bartok, in my humble opinion. It can be found online here:

After you've read The Wasteland while listening to the profound music of Bela Bartok, go back and re-read Crowley's Notes section on Liber Samekh. It explains a great deal of what was going on in the background that influenced the publication of this work.