Sage Jane Harlow
Date of Award
Edith Cowan University
Doctor of Philosophy
Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)
Dr Jonathan W. Marshall
Dr Frances Barbe
This thesis documents practice-led research exploring the intersections of, and tensions between, improvised invocation ritual within a chaos magick paradigm and Buddhist insight meditation. I explore the extra-normal self—those aspects of consciousness not usually present, or not usually accessible, in day-to-day life—by mean of improvised ritual work with the extra-normal voice and seek to maintain a Buddhist ‘witness’ consciousness throughout these explorations. I also explore the tensions between politics, aesthetics and spiritual practice; in particular, queer and trans politics, a timbre-centred vocal aesthetics and chaos magick, shamanic and Buddhist spiritual practices. This work constitutes part of a larger project of attempting to secularise and democratise spiritual practice greatly influenced by Sam Harris’ book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014) and to some extent from chaos magick, some iterations of which strive to ‘free’ the western esoteric tradition from its religious trappings. I also take cues from Hakim Bey (1985) as one of the few anarchist writers who sees spiritual practice as profoundly important and not at odds with anarchism. I make use of a ‘radical agnosticism’ (Wilson, 1977) in my practice, privileging subjective experience and critical engagement over the search for an objective truth. I take an autoethnographic approach to this project with a focus on process rather than outcome, with the final project consisting of a description of these approaches and their value (and limitations), accompanied by selected musical examples (recordings).
The thesis also explores a practice that functions as a navigation away from the normative, phallogocentric western esoteric tradition taking cues from feminism, trans and queer politics as well as anarchism. My improvised possession rituals seek to give voice to aspects of the extra-normal self and/or spirits or demons. The different Belief Systems used in this work frame these experiences in different language. My practice strives to accept ‘whatever arises’ (a meditation term) with compassion—whatever their ontological status.
The main text of this thesis consists of three sections: Improvising Theory, Workings and Scores. The first section presents some of my thinking through concepts and theoretical paradigms that I have engaged with over the last few years of my research. I explore the illusion of free will, the intersection of gender and timbre theory and the use of the cut-up technique in chaos magick generally and my practice specifically. The second section of the thesis presents in-depth discussion of some of the explicit ritual performances and recordings that I have explored over the course of the research. This section explore more fully concepts central to my practice such as the interweaving of insight meditation and improvised ritual work. I present reflections on my explorations of dada ‘anti-magick’ ritual which critiques the normative, phallogocentric western esoteric tradition, taking cues from feminism, trans and queer politics as well as anarchisms. This culminates in an exploration of the concept of ‘True Shamanic Black Metal’—a tongue-in-cheek gesture towards a serious exploration of rhythm inspired by my understanding of shamanic drumming, particularly from Tuva, Mongolia and Korea, merged with an interest in extreme metal traditions, particularly black metal. I explore what shamanic black metal might sound like, centring the discussion around the album I recorded in 2017 invocations of unknown entities. The third section of this thesis presents thoughts on playing scores and on writing scores. I explore scores as open invitations to explore either extra-normal states of consciousness or particular aesthetic or ethical interests.
Harlow, S. (2019). Giving voice to the extra-normal self with the extra-normal voice: Improvised exploration through the realms of shamanic chaos magick, insight meditation and gender performance. Edith Cowan University. Retrieved from https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2210