This is an excerpt from my new book, Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump. In it I look at some of the strange “occult politics” that seem to be have been a part of President Trump’s campaign and election – and which may well still be at work – and which are also an important influence on the shady, slightly sinister milieu surrounding his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The excerpt below, which comes from the Introduction, tells how I first came across the idea that something more than dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton may have had a hand in Trump’s “victory.” One blog post led to another, and I soon found myself following a trail of esoteric clues leading to a fascinating and disturbing web of occult ideas, involving chaos magick, New Thought, Traditionalism, postmodernism, neo-fascism, the alt-right, Pepe the Frog, and more post-truths and alternate facts than you might think possible, in a world in which it increasingly seems that anything can happen…
On Facebook one afternoon, I came across something that Harvey Bishop, the New Thought blogger, had posted. New Thought, as readers may know, is a generic name for a variety of different beliefs, philosophies, and practices that have as their central theme the idea that the mind can influence reality directly, that through mental effort alone, we can “make things happen.” Starting in its present form in the early twentieth century, it has had many revivals and is by now in some version a mainstay of New Age and spiritual belief. Some readers may be aware of New Thought through Rhoda Byrne’s The Secret, a bestselling book and film of some years back. As Mental Science, Science of Mind and other names, New Thought teaches methods of visualization and creative imagination, through which one can envision a future reality and make it come true. Imagined with enough will, persistence, and commitment, the envisioned future will, it affirms, come about.
Bishop and other New Thought practitioners emphasize the positive aspects of New Thought and its links to spirituality. Indeed, one of its most popular claims is that through the “power of positive thinking” – the title of an immensely successful book about New Thought – one can achieve one’s aims, accomplish one’s goals, and in general secure a good and fulfilled life. But Bishop’s post was not about this. It concerned something much darker.
One of the most disturbing after effects of billionaire Donald Trump’s victory in the November 2016 United States presidential contest occurred at the annual meeting of the National Policy Institute, held in the Ronald Reagan Building, not far from the White House, shortly after the election. “National Policy Institute” seems an innocuous name for what many believe is a white nationalist organisation. Trump’s ascendancy has been seen by the far right – in the United States and also in Europe – as a sign that liberal dominance was over and that it was their turn in power. During Trump’s campaign a loosely connected new far right movement emerged on the internet, christened by the National Policy Institute’s leader, Richard Spencer, as the “alternative right,” or “alt-right,” to differentiate it from its unsophisticated predecessors. Delighted by Trump’s victory, Spencer greeted the NPI meeting with a chilling cheer, which was received with an even more ominous response. As Spencer declaimed “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail our victory!” the crowd responded with enthusiastic applause and not a few Hitler salutes – or, as Spencer later explained, Roman ones. What is more disturbing is that Spencer and his followers took credit for Trump’s victory. He called it “a victory of the will,” and declared that “We willed Donald Trump into office, we made this dream our reality.”
As Bishop pointed out, making dreams a reality is a central aim of New Thought. It takes an ardent wish and, through the power of willed intention, materializes it. In his post Bishop expressed concern that Spencer and his followers may have taken a leaf from New Thought’s book and turned the power of positive thinking to something that Bishop, and many others, did not consider very positive.
Exactly how Spencer and the alt-right “dreamed” Trump into office – if indeed they did – will be examined further on. Here I can say that it seems to have involved what is known as “meme magic.” Meme is a term that comes from the biologist Richard Dawkins, of “selfish gene” fame, who argued that memes serve the same function in culture as genes do in organisms. Memes are ideas, behaviours, styles, images, symbols, slogans, or any other cultural development that can be transmitted to and imitated by others. Memes are flexible and are influenced by their transmission, rather like a game of “Chinese whispers” or “telephone,” in which a message gets distorted as it is whispered from one person to another, and in the end, winds up very different from how it began. When Dawkins first coined the term, back in 1989, the main media for the dispersal of memes were books, art, music, television, and films – old school stuff. Today they spread through the internet, rather like the similarly biologically rooted idea of “computer viruses.”
The “magic” end of meme magic comes from its link to what is known as “chaos magick.” What chaos magick is – it adopts the spelling favored by Aleister Crowley, the most famous magician of the twentieth century – will be explained further on. For now we can say that rather than stick to the spells, grimoires, rituals, ceremonies, and symbols of traditional magic, it prefers a “do-it-yourself” creative approach that favors the magician’s personal initiative and imagination, his ability, that is, to make it up as he goes along. Rather than fuss over wands and bells and incense, and getting the name of that particular demon just right, the chaos magician uses whatever is at hand. For today’s chaos magician, this means the memes that are propagated across the internet.
For chaos magicians and many other contemporary occultists, the internet serves the same purpose that the “astral plane” does for traditional magicians, as a kind of psychic ether that can transmit their willed intentions. Meme magic happens when something created on the internet bleeds into the “real world” and changes it. In effect it is a kind of induced “synchronicity,” the psychologist C. G. Jung’s term for the phenomena of “meaningful coincidence,” when what is happening in our inner world happens in our outer one too, without any apparent causal relation. If you substitute “internet” for “inner world” you can see the connection.
When it comes to the alt-right “magicians” who willed and dreamed Trump into the White House, the meme in question is a frog who goes by the name of Pepe. This may sound a bit confusing, but then the magick we are considering is interested in chaos after all.
Now, if all of this was limited to a small group of far right enthusiasts who in their excitement over a Trump victory let ideas about the power of positive thinking go to their heads, we could safely relegate it to the lunatic fringe along with believers in a flat earth, fake moon landings and other conspiracies. But that would be leaving out a key ingredient to the story. The president that Spencer and Co. believed they willed into office was, as I said, Donald Trump.
It is no secret that Trump himself is a keen believer in and promoter of conspiracy theories, with his advocacy of the Birther myth, his acceptance of “chemtrails,” and many other equally dubious propositions. What has also come out is that Trump himself is a devotee of “positive thinking.” As he himself said, he is the “greatest student” of the man who popularized the phrase, the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale. Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking, mentioned earlier, appeared in 1952 and was an immediate success, appropriate for a book that told its readers how they too could succeed in life. From Peale Trumped learned the great secret, that “the mind can overcome any obstacle.” It seems that the president the alt-right “willed” into office through the power of positive thinking, does quite a lot of positive thinking himself.
Yet what is also strange about this very strange development is that Trump seems to be something of a “natural” chaos magician too.
One thing that came through during Trump’s campaign, and which was made even clearer during the first months of his presidency, was that Trump did not operate as other politicians did. Many say this is what attracted voters to him. Opponents of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House complained that with her, it would be “business as usual,” meaning the standard bureaucracy and all that came with it would remain solidly in place. Trump said that with him, it would not be business as usual, and he was right. If one word captures for many the character of Trump’s time in office so far, it would have to be “chaos.” Yet while many believe the random, “non-linear”, contradictory and frankly confusing atmosphere that has accompanied Trump’s time in office suggests a president out of control, a look at his previous career suggests something different.
“I play it very loose,” Trump admits, in his self-help book The Art of the Deal, a work from beginning to end full of positive thinking. “You can’t be imaginative and entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.” “Sometimes it pays to be a little wild,” Trump confesses. He is always confident of success, but if situations seem to pose problems, he will take his chances and rely on his chutzpa. He’ll “wing it and things will work out.”
Trump’s faith in his instincts and his ability to “move quickly and decisively when the time is right,” goes hand in hand with his perception of the fundamentally fluid nature of things, their volatile character, an insight that reaches back to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus and which informs recent developments in science, like chaos theory. It also provides the basis for chaos magick. “Anything can change, without warning,” Trump believes. “And that’s why I try not to take any of what’s happening too seriously.”
That Trump does not take things too seriously can be gleaned from his many gnomic late-night tweets and non sequitur style interviews, which if nothing else reveal a flexible view of things like “truth” and “reality.” If, as one chaos magician tells us, for chaos magick, “reality becomes a playground,” a make-believe world “chaoticians” temporarily take for real, Trump’s often outrageous pronouncements give the impression that for him reality is a kind of playground too. Yet what is also interesting is that like New Thought, chaos magick is interested in results, in “making things happen.” It pursues “visible results by which the magician demonstrates to himself that he can do things which, a short while ago, never entered his mind as possibilities.” Getting a candidate into office might be one of those things. This is called “shifting the boundary of Achievable Reality,” which seems another way of expressing the desire to create reality itself.
From DARK STAR RISING: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump by Gary Lachman, to be published on May 29, 2018 by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Gary Lachman.