Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.
Α (Ø, 1,2, …) Ƶ Β (Ø, 1,2, …)
Α Ƶ Β (Ø, 1,2, …)
A Ƶ Β
Any set of objects will have all possible individual relationships with another set of objects as well as set to individual relationships and a hierarchical relationship to relationship set.
I was at a New Year’s Eve celebration in 1992, featuring a symbolic battle between two huge dragon puppets on a stage in a public square. One dragon represented the old year and the other dragon the new year. My ears were burning with the cold, but the crowd was big and getting bigger. The air seemed to buzz with a dark energy, as the drummers played an aggressive beat and the dragon puppets danced around each other menacingly.
The performers didn’t know it, but some of the people in the crowd belonged to a street gang active in the hardcore punk scene. Not everyone liked them, naturally – and some of the other people in the crowd could be considered their enemies.
As the drumbeat continued, an announcer wearing a carnival mask came up front on stilts, and started trying to incite the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, who will win the battle? The old year or the new year?”
The crowd roared in anticipation, feeding on the energy of the drums and the dancing dragons, the appeal to primal instincts. A ripple of energy seemed to pass through us from the stage, affecting the young men most of all. There was a shove here, a bump there.
The dragons fought, a choreographed display of ritual violence between the light and the darkness. The dragon of the new year won the battle and drove the old year from the stage, and the man in the mask called on us to cheer our victorious champion. Hundreds of voices yelled out together, and clusters of young men began to gather and face off with each other along the edges of the square.
As the crowd dispersed, fighting between the two groups of young punks and skinheads spread rapidly along a front stretching from the square to a nearby movie theater. A gang fight doesn’t look much like a Hollywood battle. There are no clearly-defined lines of fighters, only a constant turning and wheeling like a flock of birds.
Someone I knew got pulled down by several attackers, but he came up roaring and swinging punches from underneath them. Someone else pulled a screwdriver, and stabbed his opponent with it several times. (This was the only part of the whole incident that ever made it into the local newspaper, which presented it as a fight between two people when in reality there were about thirty.)
The police arrived from every direction, and most of the fighters scattered immediately. One of them decided to confront the cops instead, and walked toward them rapidly striking his chest and gesticulating. He got pepper-sprayed in the face, and the cops started hitting him as soon as he hit the ground.
I went to the same New Year’s Eve ritual for a number of years, and it always featured the same battle between dancing dragons, the same aggressive drumbeat. However, nothing remotely like that ever happened again. So why did it happen that time?
The performers had obviously studied the folklore of seasonal festivals, and were trying to create a similar magic. Although officially secular, it was in some sense a pagan event and intentionally so. On this one occasion, the magic created by the performance seems to have triggered an outbreak of violence, but on every other occasion it was just an innocent civic gathering.
According to the Three Relationships formula given at the start of this article, “Any set of objects will have all possible individual relationships with another set of objects as well as set to individual relationships and a hierarchical relationship to relationship set.”
This formula describes the different ways in which entities and sets of entities can relate to each other in information space. In this situation, there were two sets of people – the dragon dance performers and the crowd attending the event. Every year except one, the crowd consisted of a random mix of people – but this one time it included a number of rival gang members. If we examine what happened using the three relationships and the six bells, what we get is this:
1- Α (Ø, 1,2, …) Ƶ Β (Ø, 1,2, …)
All the individual zed objects in set A interact with all the individual zed objects in set B. A performance is intended to affect the audience using a mix of techniques. In this case, the performers were using a physical performance of ritualized combat (the first bell) with carefully designed aesthetic elements (the fourth bell) to convey mythopoetic symbolism (the sixth bell). Every performer in the dragon dance was trying to create a certain atmosphere and emotional experience for every member of the audience.
2- Α Ƶ Β (Ø, 1,2, …)
Every individual zed object in set A interacts with set B as a whole. As an individual member of the crowd, I was emotionally affected by the ritual. I had a personal and subjective reaction to the ominous yet compelling energy created by the performance.
3- A Ƶ Β
Set A as a whole interacts with Set B as a whole. The third relationship is “hierarchical” in the sense that one object set gives some form of energy to the other object set. In this case, the performers gave an intentionally dark and aggressive energy to the crowd, without knowing that a number of people in the crowd were rival gang members. Every member of the crowd was affected by this energy, but in the case of the gang members it was like tossing a lit match into kindling soaked with lighter fluid. The result was a small riot.
The performers were basically playing with magic, and didn’t mean for things to turn out the way they did. When you’re designing a magic working, you always want to ask yourself what information set your magic will affect, and what type of energy you’re adding to that set.
Image by Evelyn de Morgan