Interview With The Magus

I had my first interview for the Acts of Simon Magus on May 7, with the Aeon Arcanum Gnostic Show!

I don’t normally get to actually talk to anyone about the themes and ideas surrounding the Acts and it was a lot of fun. Host James (and, briefly, Alex) were very knowledgeable, and are in fact writing their own book (non-fiction) on the same theme. It’s interesting how different people can have such different takes on the same topic; of course the realities and mythologies of Simon and his more famous contemporaries have been fervently debated for 2000 years and will no doubt be for another 2000. What’s also interesting is how one looks on video when not accustomed to it: when you’re used to seeing yourself in a mirror you don’t notice any facial asymmetries, but they’re doubled when you see yourself unreflected. Well, I guess I’ll have to get used to it!

Blood Creature From Beyond The Grave

…and on an unrelated topic, I have finally got unlimited length permission from YouTube and was able to upload a film I made with Ron Hier in our student days. It’s at Blood Creature From Beyond The Grave, our tribute to the black & white silent horror films of the 1920s. I play the demon Baal-Rakon. Rather lo-res: taped from a 16mm projector on a VHS camcorder 20 years ago and transferred to disk at 352×240 resolution. Will Simon hit the big (or small) screen one day? Are The Acts even filmable? With current technology you can film anything you can imagine, but some scenes may be too much for even the most permissive modern sensibilities: Derdekea In Trouble maybe? What do you think? Comment below, and sign up at left to follow this very strange journey I find myself embarked on.

A note on language

Continuing my previous post on the language of The Acts, I’d like to address one aspect of that, namely that spoken by the players in the tale when addressing each other. For the past 300 years or so the English language has lacked the formal/informal distinction of, for example, French or German, where tu/du is used for people who are equal or socially inferior, and vous/Sie is used for elders and superiors, as well as for the plural. English has used “you” for everyone since the 18th century, but the old singular thee/thou survived much longer in the King James Bible and is now regarded as a kind of marker for ancient and obsolete biblical speech. Restoring it in The Acts allows me to play with language and express the sense of both modernity and archaism (as well as making the job of the translators into other languages easier :)). The characters use modern slang and ancient forms to show that they are of both times. Even the most historical of fiction or out-there sci-fi is the product of an author in a particular time and place and will inevitably reflect that. The Acts does deal with contemporary questions, whether political, social or religious/spiritual, through a distorting glass of 2000 years. The answers to those questions considered acceptable today are not necessarily (in my opinion) superior to what I have proposed for that far-off time, and I’ll let you figure out my true opinion from the context.

For the exam: How does the Phoenician hustler’s offer of “Hello my friend! You fuck me, I fuck thee? Sure, no problem!” exemplify the dynamic discussed in this post?

What is the Purpose of Religion?

This question is one of the main themes of the book, answered differently by different characters. It is posed by the Jewish philosopher Philon to young Simon, who is working as his scribe in his class at the Academy in Alexandria. Philon’s own answer is a foreshadowing of Christianity, involving the individual in a personal relationship with God, mediated by His Holy Word who acts as intermediary. Simon, from a Canaanite pagan background, has a more practical answer:

Spent all last night preparing materials for Philon’s lectures. His main thing is reconciling his own faith with Hellenic philosophy and the Aigyptian mysteries.

Here is a taste, transcribed from the first seminar I attended under him.

“What,” he intoned, “is the purpose of religion?”

He looked around expectantly at the polynational crowd at his feet, and they looked back. No one answered. Well, I knew, and raised my hand. He nodded.

“If you please, sir, to please the Gods.”

“Interesting. Please explain.”

“You know, if you want the crops to grow, you give praise to Them and sacrifice something you hold dear. That way They’ll like you and spare you over to another season.”

“I see. And to which Gods dost thou sacrifice in… where didst say thou wert from?”

“Syria. The Baals of the High Places. But of course when we go to a Greek town we pretend to sacrifice to Zeus and His lot, and here I guess to Whomever they have here.”

“And what happens to thee after thou diest… in Syria?”

“Same as anyplace. You hang around as a ghost if you’ve got unfinished business, then off to Mot’s Place, feed off whatever sacrifices your folks send you, and help them out if they need you.”

“Interesting. And finally, how did the world come to be?”

I’m glad you asked: Uncle Khain’s drilled it into me often enough!

“Well, first was Black Cloud and Wind, They produced Desire (but didn’t know it), and Dirt and Water came together to make World, and the Watchers were like eggs and they Watched as Black Cloud blew open and bled Daylight, and Water covered all, and Other Wind mated with Wilderness so Time could begin and Sun could rise (but Fire bore Himself), then the Highest One came together with Covenant and made Sky and Earth and Mountains and The Deep, and the First Gods came from them, but Sky hated Him and sent Her to kill Him, but They married anyway and had the other Gods… I can name them all if you like…”

“That won’t be necessary,” he smiled. The others snickered. “Anyone else?”

And for the next quarter-hour we had to listen to the wildly conflicting and utterly incomprehensible deeds of weird and whacky Gods from all over the world. I don’t know why they didn’t just accept mine; it was the only one that made sense.

What’s your answer? Let me know below.

Simon and the Modern World

A book like The Acts gives plenty of scope for parallels between life in the modern and ancient world. One of Simon’s youthful innovations is a mechanical harvester, and its fate at the hands of the Roman authorities demonstrates an essential difference between the two mentalities. In a pre-industrial society, technical innovation is something to be suppressed as a danger to the established order, something almost incomprehensible to the modern mind. On the other hand, the corrupting influence of money was just coming into its own. The rise of the moneychangers to their utter dominance of the world of today was just in its infancy, but the tales of Christ’s driving them from the Temple and Judas’ betrayal, and the original story of Simon Magus himself offering silver to buy the Holy Spirit from the apostles, were beginning to prefigure such a world. (I have chosen to make Simon’s motives in this affair, like those in all his associated legends, more complex than the Biblical version may indicate.) Simon’s worldly father Adonis has some things to say on this topic.

One obvious occasion for satire is when Simon actually meets someone from our own time. The time-traveling guard of the crucifixion viewing booth, though dressed right, lacks sensory cues which, though obvious to Simon, have been totally overlooked by whoever sent him, and cause Simon to doubt his very humanity. Simon’s werewolf companion Gorgio also provides scope for contrasting big city, relatively modern, life with his rather savage background, usually to the detriment of the former. And the dialogue combines archaic with modern in a way some people have found jarring. Hopefully they’ll get used to it, because I find that’s the funnest part of the whole exercise (not least because I can make the pedants cringe with words like “funnest”!). It can be hard to strike a balance, but I find that if I read it out loud, and fix it till it sounds good, well, I think that’s how it should be done. Even everyday speech has a rhythm to it, which may be lacking in written dialogue. Literature of that time was generally poetic, even novels and scientific texts, so The Acts will be too, except for the breaking into lines part, which I always find irritating in translations of old texts. Sometimes of course the story needs to break into verse, or even song, and that requires even more attention to the sound of it. Great fun!

What do you think of mixing old and new language elements in a story like this?

Simon Meets Dexter

I am quite enjoying this. Simon is, I guess what you would call a sociopath, in that he sees most other people as means to an end and does not hesitate to manipulate them to get what he wants. On the other hand, he is very loyal to those to whom he has become attached. Family is important, friendship even moreso. He is possibly something like the character of Dexter on the TV show, who is supposed to be a psycho killer with a heart of gold. I like the show but wonder if Dexter is really possible in the real world. Like any hero, his appeal is based on the ability of the audience to identify with his struggles; in this case his desire to fit into, and alienation from, human society, and his mission to destroy very bad people without legal complications. Simon lives in a very different society but, like Dexter, he does not really feel part of it, and therefore considers himself unconstrained by its conventions. I am still getting to know Simon by the thoughts and actions he reveals, and have yet to find out if he presents either a plausible or (much more important) an interesting character that people will care enough about to read the next page.

Can an outright villain be a sympathetic character? What are your thoughts?

Getting going

It is very easy to get distracted. In my case it is by another thing which has been delayed much too long and about which I have a real block. So when I start thinking about this project, the other one rears its head and I have trouble doing anything. I am taking 2 days off work and am doing that and I hope that will finally free me. There is so much to do on Simon Magus and I am grateful that this gives me the incentive to clear things up. Progress coming soon!

A Week

OK so it’s been a week since I last wrote here. I have made some progress in the story; I’ve done about 22 pages in the last month. Which is not bad since I thought I might need another 100 over what I had already. But it’s becoming plain that more than that is needed. A lot more. Those pages have filled a couple of gaps, but there are many essential parts with no content as yet. Just push on I guess.

I have been looking into crowdsourcing. That’s the concept where you post your project for the world to see on a site like IndieGoGo or KickStarter, and watch people beat a path to your door to throw money at you in order to complete your project, in this case The Acts of Simon Magus. It requires an active marketing campaign over probably 2 months, putting together a viral video, promotion on social media and above all getting people to respond, putting myself and Simon out there for all the world to see, risking getting shot down, maybe even finding out the whole thing is destined to bust. Well, better to find that out before blowing any more effort. But I really think Simon is worth the effort, and I think I can get others to think so too. What do you think?

I think the world is ready for Simon. He is both part of his world and totally apart from it. He has (he tells himself, possibly truthfully) true magical power but, due to a bad experience with a very bad God, can’t use it. He wants to do right, but doesn’t really know what that is.

The Return of Simon Magus

The Acts of Simon Magus in the First (and Fourth) Centuries AD is the memoirs of the notorious Gnostic sorcerer, a contemporary of Christ, whose name became synonymous with heresy and corruption. I began writing it 20 years ago, wrote for about 3 years, and have largely (though not entirely) neglected it ever since. I have recently decided that I really should get the damn thing done, and this site is my way of ensuring that I do. You are welcome to follow my journey, and please click above to find out more about this fascinating character, read some excerpts from the work so far, and let me know what you think. /glen

Revising

Still rereading, still revising. I have added some new material, but still getting into the story again, trying to reconstruct the mindset of 2000 years ago. Obviously it is somewhat different from today: people lived in a living world, from Sky above to Earth, below everything was alive, if not necessarily concerned with the lives of those tiny creatures in between. And of course they were human like us; they would have reacted similarly in similar situations, but the situations themselves were sometimes utterly alien to anything today. I have tried to capture this in language and action. One passage I have just reread after about 15 years is based on a possibly slanderous tale told of some Gnostic sects founded by Simon Magus, who according to their Christian enemies indulged in unlimited sexual activity, and whenever someone got pregnant, they aborted the child and ate it. Possibly. I have put another spin on this story, which you can find here.