Friday, July 23, 2021

Ishtar Rising Week Six: Revolutionary Plastic Vampires

Artwork from the seminal underground publication International Times which used Theda Bara's bewitching gaze as it's icon.

Happy Maybe Day Everyone! Make sure to check out all of the programming and work Bobby Campbell has put together this year! 

Ishtar Rising Chapter Three: The Breast Repressed 

I well remember the anxieties of being a preteen boy that we all experience; curiously conscious of the changes my body and those of my classmates were going through and anxiously wondering if finding Louise Brooks attractive made me gay.

Like any sweeping model for looking at the world/psychology/sexuality/culture, the matrist/patrist can be overreaching and based on cherry-picked ideas. For me, the 1920's were hardly a decade of sweeping, desexualized repression. Granted, all the ideas that Wilson brings up are true; the Republican administrations drove our country straight into the ground, it was the era of the United States' disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition, and women's fashion, at least for those women who cared to be fashionable, trended towards a "boyish," androgynous elegance. Yet, let's consider our century-ago chronological counterpart from another perspective. 

The Twenties were a time of sexual freedom for many women- as the gorgeous nude photos of Louise Brooks show, whether or not large breasts were as present on the silver screen, the female form was still very much appreciated. Brooks and Theda Bara brought an air of mystery and exoticism to the world with their beauty and acting skills. Brooks' dazzling array of emotions communicated without sound in silent film was enough to inspire Adolfo Bioy Casares' eerie masterpiece, The Invention of Morel. Theda Bara somehow transformed herself from an Ohio girl into the daughter of a French dancer and a Sheikh. Her costuming was so revealing that it was used as one of the reasons for the Hayes Code. Across the pond, despite being unable to perform in her racist homeland, Josephine Baker's "wild" dancing style brought her acclaim on the Continent as "the Black Venus." She would go on to be an instrumental part of the French Resistance and be a spiritual grandmother to the American Civil Rights Movement. (Coretta Scott King even offered Baker the metaphorical reigns of the movement after the assassination of MLK; Baker declined because of her age. She had fought the good fight for most of her life by then.) If these women are only appealing to repressed, plasticized homosexuals I guess you can consider me pegged. 

In an interview from the late Seventies, Wilson recommends that then-younger readers seek out the fiction of Thorne Smith. Smith, a hard-drinking author whose fantastic romances are formulaic but incredibly affecting, published his best novels at the end of the Twenties. Indeed, the presence of Prohibition and the fact that Smith's characters loved the bottle as much as he did is responsible for most of the comedic set pieces in his work. These bits of cherry-picked fact don't take into account the "bright young things" of Britain chronicled by Evelyn Waugh in Vile Bodies, the artistic exuberance of Weimar Germany or the myriad of other works that chronicle the Roaring Twenties and its proto-counter culture. Nor does this take into account the lives and preferences of the folk who lived away from the big cities where fashion and trend are the rule of the day (if one can afford it): as someone who was reared in a rural area, I find it hard to believe that farmers were ever turning their noses up at plump women with big bosoms. 

The 1920s were a time of shifting sexualities and shitty government, how the times do change. 

Stray Thoughts 

I realize that these blog posts might seem to be quibbling or focused on what I don't agree with in Wilson's book. I guess I am trying to build a counter-narrative to Ishtar Rising, perhaps trying to build a counter-melody would be more accurate. There wouldn't be a whole lot of new information if I spent the posts repeating Wilson's points and saying "I agree with this." I agree or sympathize with the majority of Wilson's ideas, so assume the parts I don't pick at I more or less agree with. If that makes sense. 

I figure no one needs me to explicitly point out the relevance to the anecdote about arguing with Nazis from Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism. 

I have no interest wading into the still-raging debate about breast feeding. While I somewhat understand Wilson's concerns about "the plastic nipple," the person I know best who wasn't breastfed is still one of the most oral personalities in my life. 

It is interesting that Wilson never wrote much about male circumcision (he briefly mentions female circumcision in the chapter), which should properly be deemed male genital mutilation. I guess that Wilson was from an earlier generation than the ones that had their dicks slit as infants in masse. Talk about a traumatic experience that could possible warp someone's early psyche. I am still pretty annoyed I had a barbaric surgical procedure performed without my consent. 

I always loved the detail about Cretan women. In Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neil's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Gloriana (the fictional counterpart to Queen Elizabeth I) is depicted as wearing clothes cut in the Cretan style. According to Moore, this is to symbolize the reign of Elizabeth as being another example of a female led society on an island. While Elizabethan society wasn't matriarchal by any meaning of the word, we can find evidence to fit the idea that it was a more oral time period in English history after the brutal, bloody reigns of the Plantagenets and Lancasters. 


  1. Thank you for your interesting post.

  2. I suspect RAW would appreciate a critical approach to his books if not necessarily agreeing with all of the particular charges. In one of the later intros he kind of alludes to leaving in his older thoughts for the sake of posterity. I can accept the premise of cherry-picked ideas. The question then becomes, why those ideas, what agenda might he have?

    Looking at the form of the book hermetically, chapter 3 (Binah) shows the many photos of women. From this angle, The Breast Repressed could symbolize Binah repressed. Chapter 5, The Return of the Repressed also has quite a few female photos. The 5th Sephira, Geburah, connected with all the war gods, also gets categorized as feminine. Chapter 6 The Breast Expressed and Possessed has the only continuous section of photos.

  3. Glorianna as Liz I comes from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene as you likely already knew. Recommended reading for students of Magick, at least the first couple of volumes. Inspired by Spenser, yet much more contemporary we find the SF classic, The Compleat Complete Enchanter by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague deCamp - HIGHLY recommended! Ishtar rises in that grimoire in the form of the heroine Belphoebe.

    I very much enjoy the music posted with these blogs.

  4. Bob Wilson's comments about the origins of clothing in this chapter made me think about the rise of tattoos in the last thirty years.

    I enjoyed Frances Yates's book "Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century" which dealt with the Glorianna theme.

  5. @Eric- thank you for commenting! I don't have any tattoos which I've always found somewhat odd considering my love of symbols. I have noted how much my generation adore them.

    I thought I had read all of her books, damn it. I'll have to track that one down someday. Frances Yates was often a vertebrae in the backbone of my undergrad essays; her, Elaine Pagels and the somewhat sensationalistic Gary Lachman.

    @Oz- That is a great question Oz. An agenda of seeing the world (or at least the 20th century) in the terms of clear matrist/patrist cycles? An agenda against the common culture of the 1920s? I guess my agenda would be defending the relative hotness of Louise Brooks and Theda Bara. I think "agenda" might have been a poor word choice on my part in today's time when shadowy conspiracies are often dubbed "the X Agenda."

    I love "The Compleat Enchanter!" I read "The Wall of Serpents" in one of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy collections. (I collect(ed) the Ballantine Fantasy series, I haven't acquired a new one in years. If you are a bibliophile and haven't explored the series, I highly recommend it. Some of the best cover art in all of publishing history.) I really enjoyed it and found a secondhand copy of "Enchanter." I didn't enjoy their "Land of Unreason" as much though. I always thought that was odd considering my love of Faerie.

    I've read a few of the books in "The Faerie Queen." I disagree with people who say its turgid, you didn't but most people I've spoke to do. I think its a pretty compelling read. The descriptions of the Faerie Kings' retinue is enough to sucker me in. I enjoyed writing Spenserian Sonnets more than Petrarchan or Shakespearian back when I wrote poetry.

  6. I don't know what to think of Wilson's theories, but I've always been interested in the Roaring Twenties,and I think Louise Brooks and Theda Bara were hot, too. The 1920s seem like the first "modern" decade, a decade with lots of technological change, albeit with radio rather than internet. Maybe technological change goes along with shifting gender identities?

  7. The 1920s had a great Jazz scene too!

    Rarebit, maybe intention instead of agenda? What did RAW intend, if anything, by selecting those particular cherries? Gilles Deleuze wrote several studies of older philosophers before writing works (masterpieces) under his own name and with Guattari. When presenting these other philosophers Deleuze always seemed to cherry-pick sombunall of their ideas then put his own spin on things sometimes turning them completely upside down; like Nietzsche's Eternal Return. He made no attempt to objectively document the complete life and ideas of those philosophers because he wrote philosophy, not history. Deleuze definitely appears to have an agenda or intention behind what he presents and what he chooses to ignore. Perhaps RAW writes philosophy disguised as history?

  8. @Tom- thank you, I'm glad I'm not alone in my proclivities. I've always had a thing for historical women, I can totally understand why Faust used his power to woo Helen of Troy.

    I think you really have something with your idea about technology and gender. I really do.

    @Oz- Jazz leads to marihuana and short dresses.

    I'm not up to responding satisfactorily. If you want to continue this dialogue, please do! I just can't hold up my end at the moment. I consider myself a historian, I consider myself a pretty good historian. (And I could've been a contender.) History is all about cherry picking and chopping. I think we all have different purposes in our trips to the grove. Believe me when I say my visits are only for the furtherance of magic.

    I really have to read the Deleuze you sent me, he's pretty intimidating.

  9. @Rarebit, I love history. The first time I visited England aged 13 I decided to become an historian because of the fascination with all the old castles and history there. I agree that History appears largely biased. You've probably seen Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States which presents interesting factoids mostly unknown and overlooked, at least to me.

  10. @Oz- I'm sorry Tom, I was very tired when I wrote that last comment and didn't feel up to elaborating my ideas.

    I did watch a few episodes of the Stone series. It didn't really hook me which seems to happen a lot with documentaries. I'm either into them to the point where I'll rewatch them multiple times or I turn them off before they are complete.

    I think my interest in history was partially born out of my love of weird shit and wanting it to be real. The first time I really became interested in where/what/when was in my childhood with the Grecian deities and Mothman. I so desperately wanted them to be real that I researched where they were from and the "true" history of their stories.

    That led me to conspiracy theory which seemed like a thrilling game to me. How scared could I make myself? What was true? How entertaining can the human capability for bullshit turn out? UFOs turned to magic which turned to rapid onset insanity and the rest is history.

  11. Ishtar Rising has few chapters, and they seem to me longer than in RAW's subsequent books. I find that this makes it harder to properly discuss it, as that means 30 to 50 pages of ideas that goes in many directions. However I would indeed agree that IR looks like philosophy disguised as history. Or perhaps something else...? Let us not forget about Bob's long bout on F For Fake in the introduction.

    I am not familiar with Untold History of the United States, but will definitely check it out!

    Rarebit Fiend, if you find the lack of tattoos on your body odd, it's never too late to change that. I had my first at 29, which is pretty late nowadays. After wondering for a long time if I really wanted one, I decided that although I did not care much for it, I also did not have a strong reason not to have one either. So better get a tattoo rather than later regretting never doing so, if that makes sense.

    This is what I got:
    Note how the eyes look like Bob Wilson's ring. Also, the cow says "moo". You know, as in "justified and ancients of".
    I thought that the day I would stop finding it funny, I should start worrying about myself.

    Then last friday, July 23rd and Maybe Day, I wanted to celebrate the Sirius transmissions by getting the Sacred Chao symbol inked on my arm. I was already feeling something annoying in my throat that day, and then spent the whole weekend wondering if the Plague had finally got to me (the numbers are increasing again here, despite the vast majority of the population being vaccinated, myself included but only with this one shot from J&J). I went to get tested and spent 24 hours feeling like Schrödinger's cat, being both covid positive and negative at once. The possibility of having to cancel my trip abroad next week to visit my family after almost two years was especially painful. The vector finally collapsed, giving me a negative result, which is a positive outcome, thank Goddess.

    Maybe that's what you get when you play with Eris and ask for chaos. I now have another cool/stupid (?) tattoo, but I sure felt like a cosmic schmuck for a few days!

  12. I got a beautiful tattoo of Claude Rains as the Invisible Man.


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