The science of Anthropology had its origins, in part, in a classic work by Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, which was a study of ancient ritual and religion, a kind of an encyclopedia of magic.
Frazer wrote, “Hence the strong attraction which magic and science alike have exercised over the human mind; hence the powerful stimulus that both have given to the pursuit of knowledge. They lure the weary enquirer, the footsore seeker, on through the wilderness of disappointment in the present by their endless promises of the future: they take him up to the top of an exceeding high mountain and show him, beyond the dark clouds and rolling mists at his feet, a vision of the celestial city, far off, it may be, but radiant with unearthly splendor, bathed in the light of dreams.”
When I was in college, I spent an afternoon talking to a charismatic stranger who offered to teach me the secrets of sorcery. Somehow, he knew I had recently read Carlos Castenada’s Teachings of Don Juan, and he sensed that I was struggling to decide what to make of it. He claimed the book merely scratched the surface of mystic arts he had already mastered. Speaking with a bizarre accent that might have been an affectation, he offered to take me into his tutelage. He presented with supreme confidence, as if he were a self-contained measure of all things. I had a flash insight that he was not lying. Not that what he was revealing the truth, but that he absolutely believed he was. I had an intuition that magic was real, but in order to pursue it, I would have to remain psychically intertwined with this stranger, and the ultimate result would be a confusion of our two identities, a loss of self to gain sovereignty over self, and a complete dissociation from the material world. It was a really difficult choice for me at that moment, for the material world mostly terrified me and disappointed me, or it bored me when I wasn’t being terrified and disappointed. I had to make a choice, a truly profound choice, that would dictate the course of the rest of my life.
I was intrigued. I was terrified. I loathed the enormity of the choice I had to make. What was he promoting? The true occult? Or in truth, a cult? Perhaps the greatest temptation lay in the hope that this might provide a means for me to achieve my long-standing dreams of becoming a truly great writer and artist, dreams that were of paramount importance to me. Yet the magic that was offered seemed like a cheat. I still had some faith that I might be able to pull it off on my own. I really couldn’t make up my mind, and ended up making the decision by not making it. The opportunity passed. As this purported deliverer of deliverance vanished from the material world, he left nothing in his wake but grand enticing promises and teases. The only thing that lingered was the idea of him, as if his entire substance and sole purpose had been a mere rhetorical device.
But still the choice haunted me, and nagged with its surreal temptations. Was magic real?
When Carlos Castenada presented his Don Juan works to the University of California, Los Angeles, there was considerable internal debate as to whether or not they were fact or fiction, or so I was told by someone I considered a reliable source. The University, according to this source, decided that the works were brilliant, whether they were true or not, meriting the award to Castenada of both an undergraduate and a graduate degree in Anthropology. My recollection of this account has been dimmed by decades, and I haven’t been able to independently verify it. It might have been a repeated rumor. It might have begun as a joke. Today, it might provoke a debate as to whether the story about Castenada was itself fact or fiction. It doesn’t really matter if the story is true. It doesn’t matter if I actually got the information from a credible source. It was a lesson in how true magic actually works.
And if you’ve believed everything I’ve said so far, I’ve worked a kind of magic, because I haven’t offered much in the way of evidence or authority, apart from my unsubstantiated representations.
To escape the boredom and harassment of 4th grade, Stuart Hopen wrote and illustrated a science fiction and fantasy short story collection that began with a work titled “Me, Temporary Teenager.” He’s been escaping into his writing and art ever since. A graduate of Princeton University, he has written comic books published by D.C. Comics, Marvel, Fantagraphics, Eclipse, and Amazing Comics. His critical writing has been published by Rain Taxi Review of Books and the Comics Journal. He married a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the cover painting on the first edition of his novel, Warp Angel, and they have three children. Though he has traveled extensively across galaxies and dimensions, he spent most of his life in a small town mantled with its unfulfilled dreams of becoming the east coast motion picture capital of America– Hollywood, Florida.
My artistic heroes, heroines, and influences (in no particular order):
Thomas Pynchon, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, Jack Kirby, Tanith Lee, Phillip K. Dick, Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, Roger Zelazny, James Ensor, Jules Bissier, Gunter Grass, James Joyce, William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Hand, Jeff Jones, Alan Moore, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ray Davies, A.S. Byatt, Anais Nin, Ingmar Bergman, Barrington J. Bayley, Stanislaw Lem, Angela Carter, Michael Kaluta, William T. Vollman, China Mieville, Herman Melville, Eudora Welty, Robert E. Howard, Mike Carey, Will and Ariel Durant, G.I. Gurdjieff, Winsor McKay, Neal Stephenson, Toni Morrison, Arnold Drake, Kin Platt, Thomas McGuane, Patti Smith, William Faulkner, Michael Moorcock, Herman Hesse, Lester Dent, Marisha Pessl, Steve Ditko, Maurice Ravel, Ken Russell, P. Craig Russell, Cormack McCarthy, Samuel R. Delaney, Vladimir Nabokov, Colin Wilson, Dashiell Hammett, Donovan, Raymond Chandler, Lon Chaney, Tod Browning, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Norman Spinrad, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Flannery O’Connor, John LeCarre, Don Delillo, Neil Gaiman, Ian Fleming, Bert Jansch,Gardner Fox, Robert Stone, Norvell Page, Bob Dylan, and…
Site Contents: Writing, Paintings, and Drawings ©Stuart Hopen 2018 (or earlier as noted on individual works), excluding quoted material, Whisper, Delta-Wave, and Daemon Mask Art by Russ Martin, Delta Wave Art by Albert Val and Kenneth MacFarlane, and Cyril Knight Art by Mike Hoffman.