Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Friday, 1 April 2011

ubi dubium ibi libertas.

Crow, Magician, Cat - Rex Van Ryn original, 1981

H - As a result of the positive feedback we received on the comics pages we put up three weeks ago, we're going through a process of change in the way that we're planning to publish our graphic novel, which we are very excited about. We're still clarifying how this is going to work, which means that there is going to be a short delay before we post the next pages in our story. While we are busy working on this, we thought we'd just post art today...

R - However...
H - However, our last two posts have elicited such interesting and detailed comments that we couldn't resist joining in the conversation. In particular, comments from Jon, Mermaid, Terri, and the two Anonymouses (apparantly that is the correct plural!), together with a new post that Dharmaruci put up on his Astrotabletalk blog, have created a mini “Movable Feast,” focused this time on magic, science, and the nature of reality. This lead Rex and me into some interesting talks, which in turn brought up the following questions which we’d like to throw out into the general discussion.
Is there an objective reality?
H - Yes, I believe there is: in the sense that there is ‘existence,’ and existence is an objective fact. This is not something that one could ever completely define however. In the Kabbalah tradition, as I understand it, it is suggested that there's a realm of existence that we can never ‘know.’ At the start of the Taoist classic text, The Tao Te Ching, there's a wonderfully absurd discussion of the futility of even attempting to discuss that which the text is about to discuss in depth! After years of trying to find that ultimate reality, I have been forced to accept that it is just a mystery, and will forever remain so. 
R – Is there an objective reality? Absolutely not. Unless there is.
Is dogma created by taking the mystery out of religion? 
R - Is the Pope Catholic?
H - Yes, he clearly is. Now answer the question.
R - All right then. Probably.
H - Okay, I think that dogma is partly created by the removal of the mystery, but is also often quite deliberately created as a ‘political’ act in order to keep people under control.
Is magic an internal process? If so, is it only an internal process?
R - It is, but magic can be externalised if you bring someone into the process. For example there is the story told about an assassin who called a man at 6:00 on Monday evening, and told him that by 6:00 the following day he would have killed him. The man was duly terrified. The following day, the assassin called the man again at 6.00 to say that he had changed his mind and was going to kill him at 6:00 the following day. The man’s terror increased. This continued each day of the week, and by Friday the man died of a fear-induced heart attack. Of course the effectiveness of this method of assassination relies on the victim's state of mind. If the recipient of the phone call had simply said “f**k off,” the assassin wouldn’t have been paid! 
H - I absolutely believe that magical principles can be used to bring about change within oneself, and in that way it is an internal process – but then the effects of that change are almost inevitably manifested outwards as a consequence. I'm intellectually satisfied (through my studies of quantum theory and esoteric philosophy) that, in theory at least, it's possible for one to directly affect the material, external world through internal processes; yet I'm not quite as certain that it's possible in practice. Or rather, I think that it is, but it's hard to prove, and thus drifts into the territory that Dharmaruci describes as 'delusion,' so is best left as an open question.... 
Are matter and consciousness intimately connected?
R - Yes.
H - Yes.
If you are creating and acting on a magical intention, can one ever fully know the consequences of that action? 
R - No, you can’t. 
H - This question arose when we were discussing magic and the conversation turned to the issue of ethics in a relativistic world. This is something which often exercises my mind. Can we ever know the consequences of any actions? There is a Taoist tale which goes something like this: Once there was a farmer, whose horses ran off during a storm. The villagers all commiserated with him, saying, “That’s terrible!” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day, the farmer’s son, who had been out searching for missing animals, came home with a herd of horses that were even more beautiful than the ones they'd lost. The villagers said to the farmer, ” “How lucky you are!” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day, while breaking in one of the horses, the farmer’s son fell off and smashed his leg...etc., etc.. While we can’t ever fully know the consequences of any actions, magical or otherwise, I do think that the intention under which one takes an action has an influence on its effect.
R - Yes, I think that’s a fair point. I don’t think it’s necessarily true, but it’s a fair point.
If one can’t be certain of consequences, how then does one decide to act in any given circumstance? 
R - One tries to do the right thing.
H - If there are no absolutes to judge by, how do you know what is the right thing?
R - You don’t. It’s a personal thing, what one considers personally is the right thing to do.
H – Errrr...
R – See, you can’t think of an answer either can you?
H - No. I concur with your previous statement, damn it!
R - At last.
Does Aleister Crowley’s dictum, “Do as you will is the whole of law,” imply a lack of compassion?
R - I always thought it did, until you gave me your view on it. Now I don’t know.
H - I think it depends on whether the ‘w’ in will is capitalized or not. If it is, then he is referring to the Will as a force, which is a magical principal -- which could mean that what he is actually saying is that the Will is the moving force of creation. We are all using our Will all the time, though most of us are doing so unconsciously. If the ‘w’ is in lower case, then I take that to mean “do as you want,” without the corollary statement: “but harm none” -- in which case, it almost certainly does imply a lack of compassion. 
Does one need to go on a journey in order to discover there is no journey?
R - Yes and no.
H - Do you want to expand on that?
R - Does this spring compete with last spring to be a better spring?
H - WTF! 
R - That’s all I’m prepared to say.
H - My answer to the original question, then, is...probably. And does this summer compete with last summer to be a better summer, Rex? 
R - You know full well it does, Howard.
H - Damn you!
Is love the closest thing to truth?
R - I'm not answering that. It's too poncy a question.
H - Even though you were the one who stated that it was, in our discussion just yesterday? With a tear in your eye.
R - That was yesterday. I’ve moved on.
H - Unbelievable!


  1. Once again, the JB blog surprises and delights. From comics to Taoist tales, ethics, and the nature of reality...I never know where you're going to go next. Very intrigued to hear of this new direction and impatiently awaiting more story pages! (But will try to be patient....)

    I want to engage more in this discussion but am on a tight deadline so I'll leave it here for now and comment again in a day or two as work permits. Thank you again, gentlemen, for another stimulating post.

  2. I'm reminded of the notion that simply observing something changes the way it behaves, even something that we presume can NOT be conscious of being observed. This fits so well with the discussion last week, I thought maybe I read it there. But I'm pretty sure I read it in one of the books that I flicked through this week while I was attempting to do some de-cluttering (I have too many books)! That scientists 'observing' the behaviour of photons (I think, though I was just flicking through) found that just when they thought they'd got it pinned down, the pesky little photons decided to completely stuff up their theory by behaving in an entirely different way. I'll admit that I'm paraphrasing this horribly and know nothing at all about photons. But I've heard this before. And it really does stuff up any ideas we have about being able to objectively stand back and observe some eternal TRUTH of reality. I agree with Howard, that there IS an objective reality (at any one moment), but we are never going to be able to observe it because we're in it. And it's ever-changing and we are part of that change.

  3. I'm also thinking about the unlikelihood of me just happening to open a random book at a page explaining that theory, after last week's JB post about the nature of observable reality, while flicking through it trying decide whether I should keep it or not. And the fact that today's wonderful illustration is of a man working on an illuminated manuscript, after I yesterday managed to track down a copy of the beautiful animated film "The Secret of Kells" for our Friday night family movie night! Spooky!

  4. I love that I never know where your conversations are going to wind up. I also laugh out loud because you two are so damn funny!

  5. Is there an objective reality? Yes, provided you don't take it too seriously.

  6. The motto is really true, but: Does this world **truly** want freedom... That is the great answer...
    Or do they all want a lead role in a cage...

    I do think that the main leading answer in the world at large may be the second...

  7. It is an interesting conversation...funny and involving too. We have problems because we can't see ourselves acting and we can't help being subjective and sometimes we reach objectivity. I still believe in striving for the big view even though its hard. I love the winding path of this conversation!

  8. i dare say , but i will, i love you guys... the unbeleivable and random chance of witness to this crazy hilarious conversation that does affirm , we humans might survive ourselves. dude.