As my world building review of China Miéville's Perdido Street Station is being slightly delayed, I thought I should maintain the relative freshness of this blog by relaying a small comedic anecdote. So, without further ado, here goes:
This summer I am studying Western Esotericism at Stockholm University for the purposes of research for a novel I am trying to write. The course involves the history of such diverse traditions as alchemy, Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, channelling, yoga, New Age, Satanism, and so on and so forth. It's pretty interesting, if a trifle nerdy even for mine own fantasy-laden cultural tastes. Anyway, that was merely the necessary background information.
The course is led by two professors, whom I will here refer to as Alice and Bob. Alice is a woman who dresses after the fashions of your average goth/black metal subculture current, despite being somewhere in her thirties. As soon as I espied her on the first lecture, I bethought myself, "Oh, dear, here's someone who actually believes in this esotericism nonsense. I bet she conducts séances on the weekends thinks that Lovecraft's books were really biographical."
Of course, because prejudice is a very bad thing, I was proven utterly wrong in my supposition. In fact, all of Alice's first lecture worked out around the topic that the research field of Western Esotericism, which is very young, has had trouble getting off the ground within academia for decades because it's been plagued in the past by "researchers" who were really just ideologues pushing an occultist agenda. She wanted to paint for the students a picture of the up-and-coming wave of new, young, eager esotericism scholars, who were fully committed to approach their subject with a clear and scientific eye.
Alice only held two lectures for us, and was then whisked away to some conference or other, leaving the group in the hands of her colleague Bob. Now, Bob is a perfectly strait-laced, Lacoste-wearing man in his early forties who looks like he's never been asked to leave a golf course in his life. In fact, his whole demeanour is so blatantly upper-middle class that I suppose I should have been suspicious from day one.
Bob has for the last two weeks bee subjecting us to a series of historical lectures, objectively but entertainingly laying out the history of astrology, kabala, and all the other myriad manifestations of Western Esotericism. I found him very charming and eloquent, and in fact a bit more intelligible than Alice's unfortunately a bit too abstruse and postmodern academic style. In short, I have been leaning back in my chair for two weeks now, thinking: "Well, here's a good example of these young, in-your-face, empirical and rational professors who're going to blow away all the cobwebs what’ve been obscuring the deserving public's proper insight into the field of Western Esotericism."
Boy was I in for a surprise.
For the purposes of fun and profit, a few nights ago I googled my professor's name, and after some rummaging about I discovered something rather baffling. There's a "magical order" in Sweden, some kind of modern occultist group that worships "the great world dragon" and whose members have as one of their main goals to "realize their hidden magical, mental and physical potential" and turn themselves into gods. Apparently they got the all-clear to start upon this quest for apotheosis when a group of older chaotic beast magicians officially passed the torch to them
The founder and leader of this order, called Dragon Rouge, the largest of its kind in all of northern Europe, with loges all over the continent, is my bally professor. I was stunned. I was agog. I was baffled and befuddled and somewhat aroused. He'd never let on so much as a hint! It's like something out of a frickin' Dan Brown novel, I says to myself. In the daytime Bob has a well-paid teaching position at a major Swedish university, jobbing along and giving the youngsters the good old plain and simple about the ancient Gnostics and their influence on the Neo-Platonist mystics of the Renaissance and so on and so forth. Then, at night, he pulls on the crimson robe and descends into the secret room behind the bookshelf in his suburban Stockholm abode, kneels down on the Ouroboros sigil and starts crafting eldritch spells to summon the powers of the Great Dragon.
I think a handful of other students in the class know of this, because some of them are a deal more aware of the whole esotericism thing than I am. Yet no one has said anything. Not once. Not ever. And yet a lot of them have been bringing up how much they've read and liked Bob's books. Yet they've been pointedly ignoring the fact that the man is moonlighting as a crazy fucking dragon magician! I'm beginning to feel a bit wary. Last class for the summer term is tomorrow. I just hope that right towards the end the lights won't dim, all my class mates rise from their desks and start chanting monotonously, and Bob turn slowly from the podium and pierce me with a reptilian regard, hissing:
"You just had to go poking around where you weren’t' supposed to, didn't you, Mr. Johansson..."
Cor! I mean, I say, what? I mean...I mean, what? I mean to say, what?
(Yes, it's all bloody true. Bob's identity will be fairly easy to deduce if you start reading up on Dragon Rouge via Google. At the time of writing their website appears to be down, but apparently their hot stuff for discussion on esotericism forums, and there're fan pages full of information in both Swedish and English.)
Charlie O. Johansson