09 September 2005

Interview: Tim Boucher of Pop Occulture

Here it is! The moment everyone’s been waiting for, the Tim Boucher interview. Albeit a bit longer than expected (about a five-minute read), it’s here unedited for your reading pleasure. It was a pleasure talking to Tim, as always. Hopefully this gives you a bit more perspective into not only who Tim is and what he’s up to, but into what I believe represents an attitude and approach shared by many contemporary occultists. I know I share a lot in common with him, so this leads me to believe that we’re not as bad of people as they make us out to be. Enjoy!—

Fell: Just reading over your bio on your website, it provides some decent history on how you came to be so inquisitive. Running a site dedicated to “popular occulture,” can you explain some of the effects the website has had in acting as a mirror of yourself; if social discourse is, in fact, akin to peering into oneself, how has your reaction been thus far?

Tim Boucher: Well there’s a couple big problems with trying to peer into yourself in front of a lot of other people — namely that they are looking too. And they have their own ideas and comments about who you are, where you should go, etc. Sometimes it’s really awesome, but it can also be really frustrating. Mostly because well a lot of times when you try to fix yourself into a particular format of living, of art, whatever, it eventually doesn’t depict you accurately. At least, that is, if you’re growing and changing all the time — which I hope I am. The other weird part is that other people can get fixed on the outward form, the persona that you convey, and when you try to change it, there can be a backlash. I guess it’s because when you create a public persona, on some level, it’s not just a part of you, but a part of everybody who interacts with it.

Another weird thing related to that, I’ll get emails from people who have been quietly lurking on my website for months (or longer), and feel like they know me intimately. But unless you comment a lot or have corresponded with me for a while, chances are I have no idea who you are. And it can be kind of weird on a personal level to be interacting socially when the intimacy is so lopsided like that.

Anyway, the only reason I’m saying any of this is not ’cause I hate engaging people publicly — because I love it. It’s more to describe some of the thinking that caused me to put aside the “occult investigator” brand/persona I’d been working with for the past couple years. The image I’d created of myself wasn’t me anymore, and I had to change it. I’m really happy with where it’s going now, and want to thank everybody for comments, suggestions, arguments, and just sticking around for all of it. There’s lots more good stuff to come, too.

This is a good example of what can happen when one person becomes central to public discourse. That the image that you created “wasn’t you anymore,” it seems that an individual — perhaps yourself in this case — becomes wrought with what you become to them. The word “occult” comes from Latin occultus (hidden), most commonly referring to knowledge of subtle truths or wisdoms. Keeping with this (or a similar pursuit) and in the context that knowledge can help you mould your course in life, where do you wish to go with all of it? Do you find yourself heeding to your dreams at all?

Shit, this is pretty much the question that I’m struggling with right now, and that I have been for months. Where do I want to go with it? What do I want to have happen? I forget who I was talking about this with on or offline, but if you don’t know what you want, it’s surprisingly easy to not know when you achieve it. One of the things that I started to find interesting about certain definitions of magic(k) is that it has to do with figuring out what you want and then just doing it. I don’t know if that’s necessarily magical or whatever, but it’s very much what I need in my life.

Do I listen to my dreams? Oh hell yeah. Do I always know how to act on them? Not really. I’ve had a lot of quasi-initiatory dreams (shamanic and otherwise, I guess you could say) over the past few years, and mostly I take them as a sign that I’m on the right track. What that track is, I still don’t know. But I’m ready to find out. As I said a few weeks ago, I feel like I’m finally ready to get started for real. Not that I was just fooling around before, but maybe I was just getting warmed up for the main event.

It’s been often said in the occult that when people slumber, we dream of the gods, and we are, in turn, the dreams of slumbering deities. I know it’d be fruitless to ask you about the “what” you’re getting ready to start on for real, but if I had to guess I’d say this mirrored the beginning of the Hero’s Journey as put forth by Campbell. I think the whole point of all of this is simply to locate and prepare oneself for these so-called journeys, until you get routed to your own personal Mother of All Journeys. Unfortunately, from what I notice most people never get the opportunity to work up to the Mother. How do you see your life? In what context? As an adventure? As a series of conflicts? An hedonistic pursuit? Perhaps a context to put one’s life into (a board game?) can aid in the journey, as well as employ particular “gods” in your favour by sharing their predispositions towards life; how do you see yours?

Yeah, I tend to be really into framing my life according to various story-devices. For example, deciding to adopt the role of “occult investigator” gave me a framework (based on comic books, etc) against which I could act and study creatively. Again, it gets tough for me because I’m really restless, so I’ll end up picking up and dropping stories to help kind of guide me through life. But none of them end up sticking in the long run. Certain things are useful for a time. Like a couple years ago, I was really gung-ho on trying to hitch across country and live off the land and sleep in gutters and bus stations and stuff. And I thought about it and prepared for it mentally for months. But when I set out, I didn’t end up doing that at all. I stayed with a friend for a couple months and then ended up living with my brother for a while. Which turned out to be equally worthwhile. But the point is that the sort of dream-story I’d concocted for myself wasn’t fulfilled. And I realized the importance of it was more in what it did for me psychologically, the big inner change that it prepared me for.

Speaking of the Hero’s Journey and all that, it’s funny ’cause I used to think I was actually in the middle of it. But it turns out I probably hadn’t even started it yet, and was just sort of dreaming about it and living through it in my head. That’s, I think, the big danger of using these types of framing devices to understand your life according to. Is that it’s really easy to end up living inside the frame instead of the life.

Personally, I come from a magical background. You’ve inspired numerous people online to further explore alternative aspects of spirituality and sowed the seeds of many discussions. Some of your readers are involved in sorcery, some are not. I may be wrong, but I’ve also seen some hints left by yourself that you may be working yourself up to a level of comfort in your own understanding before heading down such a road yourself. At this point, what is magic to you? What would you hope to grasp of it?

Hehe. The phrase “I come from a magical background” is kind of funny just taken out of context by itself. But anyway, that’s been part of my problem with a lot of magick-type stuff over the years. A lot of it just sounds kind of, I don’t know, silly to me. At least when certain people talk about it. One of the awesome parts of having my site though has been gathering together people who *don’t* talk about it in a stupid way, and who have given me the opportunity to ask hard questions without feeling stupid or weird about it. Y’all know who you are in that respect.

I’ve finally worked through a lot of the hang-ups I had about all that magic shit before. Maybe not all of them: invoking demons, etc, kind of still gives me the willies. But I’m comfortable with talking about all this stuff and entertaining the “reality” (if that’s the right word to use in this context) of what people are doing with magic.

As far as “choosing a path” or devoting myself to a particular craft, it’s not happened yet. And I’m not sure if or when it will. I’m trying to be patient and not rush into anything for the wrong reasons. I’m trying to be quiet and listen to the signs that are unveiling themselves to me, in terms of the spiritual direction I’m supposed to take.

At this writing, the best I can do is tell you what I gravitate towards in terms of, I don’t know, resonance, or stuff that just feels more right to me. And it’s not ceremonial magick. The culture of people involved with it tends to turn me off, for one. Chaos magick has some neat media & cultural theory to it, but it doesn’t feel rooted enough for me to want to be a serious part of. I guess if I’m headed anywhere, it’s more than likely in the direction of things like hoodoo, folk magic/religious practices, or shamanism. These things seem more grounded to me somehow, and I like the fact that they aren’t afraid to aim towards making life better rather than like transcendent truth or whatever.

I guess a “magical background” does sound a bit pretentious, not to mention silly. Regardless, I like my pointy hat. And like anything, magic can be seen as simply a tool in perspective in order to learn more about oneself. It’s a nice idea that people can be unified under banners of a similar nature, whether social or personal interest, but thus far no organised efforts have been particularly successful at inspiring the Western world to live more spiritually, sans Oprah Winfrey and AD&D. Do you have any observations of the current state of the Western esoteric community? Any ideas on how to improve on it (not to imply you’re not doing your own good part)?

I’ve wondered about this type of thing a lot: “How can I get people to be more spiritual?” For me, I have come to the realization that what I’m really after though is to become more spiritual myself. The act of outwardly trying to influence others is sort of a projection of what I really want for myself. And it’s absolutely necessary to work that way, but once you start to see how much you’re projecting, it gets kind of funny. Throws you back on yourself and makes you be a lot more honest about what it is you really want and what’s the smartest way to get it.

As far as improving the overall state of Western esotericism, well people just need to fucking get off their high horses and talk to each other. It’s okay if this sometimes involves screaming and arguing, but that can’t be all it’s composed of. I think one of the biggest problems among various different groups is that we don’t respect each other’s personal experiences enough. Because we think we know better. Really, it’s just that our own experiences are closer to us, and thus more tangible. If everybody can recognize sort of provisionally that everybody else’s experiences are equally real — on whatever level — then I think that’s one of the cornerstones of starting good conversations.

Interdisciplinary stuff is going to be key also, I think. Right now I see all these different groups of people pointing towards the same thing, and using the same methodology, but they are by and large scared to talk to each other and draw strength and inspiration from one another. Take conspiracy theorists. Take Wiccans. Take anarchists, anti-civilization stuff and activists. Take the open source software community. Take Creative Commons. Take occultists. Take the Emerging Church. Throw them all together and they all want the same thing. They want to throw off outmoded control systems that don’t serve them. They all want the authentic human experience stripped free of all the bullshit. It’s all the same struggle, and there are other factions out there looking for the same thing. People have kicked around the idea of a sort of mega-church to unite all these banners under. I don’t know if we need that so much as we just need simple, open, honest and sometimes critical communication. I think the web is doing that though, but I think it’s only in it’s early stages, and what all of us are doing could very well blossom into something really amazing. I mean, it already has.

Interestingly, my friend just sent me the link to Pink Floyd’s short film, The Final Cut, in which an elderly man contemplates taking the life of himself and his wife. From what I can tell, the reasoning was that they had both chosen the easy lives of comfort, love, and mediocrity. According to what I understand of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhist philosophy: there is suffering, which is an intrinsic aspect of the human condition, yet the way out of suffering is to eliminate attachment and desire. Because the continued quest for knowledge and so-called answers are elements to satiate a thirsty self — perhaps the ego — do you consider other methods of learning, of being? Of letting go of your own suffering, which is in this case an aspect of your quest for understanding? An understanding of something fundamentally ineffable?

Mm, not totally sure what you’re asking here, but a few different things spring to mind. First, the suffering question. I’ve come to a point in my life where I “get” suffering. That doesn’t mean I like it, but it means that it’s part of what makes for a full and rich and beautiful experience of life. And even in situations where I’m really upset, I kind of perversely enjoy it on another level, because I know I’m really alive — I’m really out there doing it.

I’m interpreting your other question here as being, is the desire for knowledge a cause of suffering? If that’s the question then I’d say yes. But that’s no reason not to desire knowledge. And maybe it’s some weird addictive ego/intellectual thing to be relentlessly searching. I don’t know if that’s what you’re saying, but I’ve thought that before too. And there have definitely been times where I just sort of wished I could turn it all off and live like a “normal” person, whatever that means. You know, somebody who doesn’t worry all night about really arcane and quite possibly pointless shit. But hey, this is who I am, you know? Gotta play the hand your dealt to the best of your ability I guess. I like to think I’m doing a good job.

I totally agree. It reminds me of the tale of the scorpion and the fox, where the fox hesitantly gives the scorpion a ride across a stream on its back after making an agreement that the scorpion would not sting the beast. Once they hit the other side, the scorpion stings the fox. The fox, obviously a little distraught, asks the scorpion why, to which the little guy replies, “I am truly sorry, mate. It’s in my nature, yo.” I guess what I was trying to articulate was whether you find the struggles involved in this lifestyle of self-exploration worthwhile. Like others I know, I can sympathise with you when you say you wish you could turn it off sometimes. You’ve been making it clearer, especially with your recent “re-branding,” that you weren’t happy with what you were becoming. Any ideas or analogies as to what you are, in fact, becoming by “waking” yourself up?

Worthwhile? Oh fuck yeah. I’ve gone through some really hard times with all of it (and I’m sure I will again). But I’ve come to the realization life is supposed to be a challenge. Either way though, it’s amazing

As far as becoming, well I have been thinking a lot of the two currents that Rudolf Steiner talks about. With the Luciferian current leading people upwards towards liberation, towards pure consciousness, dreams, possibilities, fantasies, etc. And the Ahrimanic current leading towards manifestation, towards matter, towards limitation, and so on.

I have a feeling this is really common to people who set out on these paths of consciousness-awakening, and moving beyond “normal life.” Namely, that during the first stage of your voyage, you’re really obsessed with throwing off the chains, “waking up” and moving into limitless pure potential — stuff like that. Exploring the fantasties, and the liberating Luciferian current. And it’s really invigorating and opens up new vistas that you’d never even imagined before. I guess part of what I started to feel though was that limitless possibilities started to become a trap. In other words, that I always had so many ideas and possible options that I never did anything. Or rather, I could never really complete anything. Or at least not the really big projects I want(ed) to do. So I was trapped in this kind of floating state, all because I didn’t want to “limit” myself.

Now what I’m realizing is that limitations aren’t bad. They are what you use to create form. Edges, boundaries, borders. I was all about smashing those before, but now I’m starting to see the beauty in limitation and how it’s necessary to adopt it in order to manifest anything into reality. So that’s the direction I’m focusing now is getting myself to willingly accept limitations and make decisions that lead me into manifesting actual things into reality, instead of just this floaty world of whirring ideas. My plans for Pop Occulture basically include ramping up the brand name so that I can publish books by myself under it, and take on other small authors, as I see fit. Plus I’m going to push into magazine publishing. In general, I just want to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. That’s the direction I’m headed.

Even though people hate to admit it, you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear. They’re not exactly cheap, so this way people have to carefully choose to represent themselves aesthetically to the world. Perhaps every decision one makes, depending on knowledge of oneself, can be attributed to a further expression of the soul. What kind of shoes do you own?

Hehe. Well, my pride and joy as far as footwear is concerned is my pair of black Carolina boots. They are basically motorcycle boots, although I don’t ride. I think the style is called an “engineer boot.” Actually, here’s a good photo of them, or how they looked when they were new. I used to wear those all the time, but this summer I’ve just really been wearing shitty $3 flip-flops from Old Navy. But I’m looking forward to rolling out the boots again as it gets cold. I tend to really like cold weather stuff a lot, hats, big jackets, etc. Maybe that’s just a Capricorn thing, I don’t know.

I read somewhere that Capricorns make good occultists. Are you uptight and rigid in your ways like other (stereotypical) Capricorns?

Yeah I’ve read that too. Capricorn horoscopes (or rather sun sign descriptions) always suck. The ones that don’t say you’re obsessed with money just say that you’re hard working. I think I used to be really uptight, but have been overcoming it. A major part of that was how I was raised as well though, I know that. I was just looking at some Capricon descriptions online, and was surprised/not surprised at all to see them say: “Without the structure of rules, restrictions, and values to guide them up the mountain toward their goals, they lose their way.” Which seems really accurate in relation to what I was talking about earlier about how I’m realizing limitations can actually be good for you. Or at least for me. I guess Saturn, Capricorn’s ruling planet has something to do with that too, doesn’t it? It seems like a lot of my stereotypical Capricorn tendencies are mitigated by my Cancer ascendant and Leo moon though. One of the most interesting things I often read in Capricorn descriptions though is that they tend to come into their own later in life than other signs. I’m only 25, but I’m starting to see that happen I think.

You read more than the average bear, but what are some of the most influential or important books that you’ve come across in your years?

I’ve been meaning to put together a reading list on my site for forever, but it always falls by the wayside. I can never think of all the ones I want to include though. Right now I’m re-reading Jim Dodge’s Stone Junction which a co-worker and good friend gave to me a couple years ago when I was leaving that job. Every Philip K. Dick book I’ve read has blown me away, obviously. But I talk about that often enough. There’s this one really brilliant book I wish I’d written called What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy which is just phenomenal for so many reasons. I love love love Marie Louise Von Franz who is the best introduction to Jungian psychology ever. The first book I got by here was very accidentally picked up The Grail Legend, which I think was a collaboration between her and Jung’s wife. Another great one by her was On Dreams and Death. Totally mind-blowing stuff. There are also books that had a big impact on me at the time, but I’m not as into today. Wilson’s Prometheus Rising knocked me for a loop about 3–4 years ago. Douglas Rushkoff’s Media Virus blasted my mind when I was in high school. I got into Bukowski and some of the Beats for a while, Gregory Corso and at least On the Road, though I don’t love a lot of other Kerouac. I was really really into fantasy growing up, especially stuff like Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, and Madeleine L’Engle’s trilogy that starts with A Wrinkle in Time. Plus, of course, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Those are all books my mom gave me at a very young age and which formed me in immense ways. Oh, also Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is totally awesome. Anyway, that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Yeah, Prometheus Rising was my first metaphysical kick to the junk, and I also have the wonderful Understanding Comics. I remember reading about Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy in Wired when it was released some years ago. I definitely understand where you’re coming from, which raised another question which I’ve been exploring on my own recently, too: are there any particular experiences — in contrast to the scholarly research — that you pursue to garner anything akin to holy or spiritual experiences?

I don’t know if this is going to sound stupid to some people, but I have to say that I think going out and drinking with friends is a really holy thing. Going out dancing, too. And I can see how that became the basis for sacramental rituals like the Mass. I mean, that’s all the Last Supper was really, friends drinking and carrying on. Not to say that I’m a huge lush or anything though. I haven’t even been doing that much lately. I’ve actually been laying pretty low for a while now, and focusing pretty exclusively on my writing and research. But doing that to such a great extent can get you pretty unbalanced I find. So I can feel myself shifting gears right now, getting ready to start new things, get out into the world more, and whatnot. My forty days in the desert are about drawing to a close, and I’m ready to join the land of the living again.

On top of all this, do you have a few albums or movies that have stuck with you over the years as important, perhaps metaphorically or thematically?

For the past few days I’ve been going nuts over this Cat Steven’s Best of album my brother got. That song “Can’t Keep It In” is really kicking my ass. I’ve also been really into this song “Telluride” by Tim McGraw, which I ripped off my girlfriend’s CD collection. I always grew up thinking country was cheesy, but now I’m able to see the beauty in Kenny Chesney and stuff like that. I was listening to that Bright Eyes album, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, really hard for a while. I’ve also been rediscovering some awesome John Denver stuff lately. Before that I was listening to Songs: Ohia non-stop for a while, and My Morning Jacket always comes back around. Lungfish, I can’t say enough good things about. Any and everybody, even if you don’t know who they are, go see them in concert if you have a chance: Lungfish. It’s a mystical experience. I always go back to classic rock stuff, like Van Morrison, CSN&Y, Neil Young, the Stones, the Band, Dylan, Derek & the Dominos. Can’t ever go wrong with most of that stuff. I was really into Biggie for most of the beginning of the summer. And before last winter ended, I was pretty into that Arcade Fire album. That covers most of this year. Mostly I don’t seek out new music. I just get it from friends, and it’s all more or less associated with those people in my mind. I don’t buy CDs anymore.

Batman Begins knocked me on my ass this year. The Last Temptation of Christ which I saw last week is now one of my all-time favorites. I love that story of the hero rising to the occasion. Standing favorites off the top of my head are also that Chinese movie, Hero, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Adaptation are all-time favorites. I really like Clint Eastwood’s movies, though I thought Mystic River was boring or overly melodramatic. Million Dollar Baby ruled though. I think I just like them better when he’s in it and directs. I have a bunch of his old stuff queued up in Netflix. I think Hang ’em High arrives tomorrow.

But I could go on and on about this type of shit, and probably bore half of you, and excite another half of the people, half of which I will turn off by my choices. But oh well.

Speaking of your girlfriend, how do you find your developing involvement in the occult has fared with your personal relations? Since this field is an exploration of one’s own spiritual ideology and, in essence, reality, as your paradigms begin to shift and evolve, how do you find yourself in situations where social norms and peers are based on your old perspectives and characteristics? Or have you had to deal with any of this yet?

Oh you mean that old feeling where you feel like you’re changing but that nobody else around you is? Yeah I’ve felt that a lot, and in some sense, it’s part of what kind of drove me into being more solitary lately, along with moving around a lot in the past 3–4 years. Being able to start over a bunch of times with a clean slate.

As to mixing occult and personal affairs, it’s a sticky situation. I think the best explanation of it is when I go out to the bar with friends or whatever, and people want to know what I do, it’s like I often find myself feeling like I have to dance around actually saying what I write about. I mean I know I don’t have to, but I just get tired of the blank stares and the inaccurate judgements people make — not only when you bring up the word occult, but even if you accidentally say “religion.” People have no idea what the fuck you’d be interested in that for.

And then there’s like the off chance somebody is interested in that stuff, and all they want to talk to me about are The Da Vinci Code, the “sacred feminine,” and What the Bleep? That annoys me to no end when I get cornered into a conversation about that stuff socially.

As to my girlfriend, she’s really accepting, and is into holistic medicine, but is an ardent Christian. She made a joke though about how if I walked into a church it would burn down. Which I think is just silly, and I’m always getting mad at her when she says she’s worried about going to hell. Ridiculous. She’s awesome though.

We’ll have to go for beers one day, geography permitting. I am content to know that persons such as yourself are establishing themselves and publicly exploring what is commonly perceived as the darker or heathen approach to spirituality. As much as I hate to use the term, idols are useful in that we all need to set the bar for ourselves and be inspired by those that have tackled such difficult issues prior to ourselves. Inspiration can come in all shapes and sizes, and you’re one I hope to see grow and expand, and perhaps one day a cult will erect a statue in your honour as anarchy spreads over North America and I hop from tree to tree in my +1 Adidas and pointy hat.

Peace.

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