An Interview with Uncle Setnakt

Set Is Mighty

It is Man the Magician who leads humanity toward the Unknown. Magic seeks to translate energies from one state of existence to another in accordance with an intention of the operative intelligence. So does science. The difference between Magician and Scientist lies in methods and materials, which sometimes are not so dissimilar as might appear. A circle-dance and a cyclotron have much in common. The symbolic tools of Magi and Mathematician both operate through Inner dimensions to cause Outer effects.

Modern science has evolved far more ritual procedures in its techniques than ancient magicians ever dreamed of, and they all come from the same source- Man’s curiosity concerning the Cosmos and what he has to do with it; human attempts at growing into Godhood. Ritual is a major tool of Magic and science alike for patterning the consciousness of its operatives so that calculable results may be obtained. Unhappily is it’s a sadly neglected tool, ill cared for and misunderstood.

-Badiou, A. Peut manuel d’inésthétique.

Meeting Setnakt was strange.  I had expected a man that names him self after a XXth Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh, Setnakt “Set Is Mighty,” to have Egyptian jewelry or tattoos.  Or worse yet, to have a Gothic aesthetic that would have matched a man thirty years his junior.  Instead he wore an Hawaiian shirt and gifted me with the current issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in which he had a story.  After he got his chai and made small talk about the dryness of Austin weather, we got down to business.  He broke off occasionally to meet other people in the coffee shop, and had a tendency to wander off into Austin stories.  “All Texans are story tellers.  Texas is a continuous magical narrative that we tell ourselves. Like all sorcery, ten percent sublime Truth and ninety percent bullshit.  We only have problems with Texans that forget the ten percent like George Bush.”  He asked me to send him transcripts by e-mail so that he could be more accurate with his quotes.  “I have a reputation of being smart.  Sadly that may not be in the ten percent.”

Per Setnakt’s request, I allowed him to make frequent use of capitalization, which he feels reflects the archetypical nature of the topics discussed, and I feel reflects a clinging to occult style.  We disagree where additional capitals lie in the ten-ninety percents.

Q: How is Setian magic different than other magical systems?

A: Setian magic is about managing synchronicities.  Setians, like most Western magicians since the Renaissance are Neo-Platonists.  We see change in the Subjective Universe, the realm of Forms, produces change in the Objective Universe, the realm of common perception.  We understand that Desire is the key to changing the realm of Forms, and that the manifestation of that change is an event with at least two “edges.”  One edge is the effect on the Subjective Universe – how does the magician feel and think about herself and the Cosmos after the event has occurred and the either edge is the effect in the Objective Universe.  Take a simple example, Setian Boniface needs some money to go to Conclave.  He creates a prosperity rite.  He chooses the language of American Hoo Doo, for various personal reasons.  He might just as well have used Runic magic, or sigil creation, etc.  The rite conveys information to his unknown self – the timeless self that exists outside of the manifest realms.  His desire has been strong and the unknown self sends a message back.  One side of this message is overhearing a great job opportunity while waiting in his dentist’s office, another side is having the confidence and daring to act on the overheard information.  He gets the job – and this affects him in many ways.  It creates a sense of empowerment, it causes him to grow more disciplined in manner, it causes him to deal with some of his baggage by being exposed to a new emotional environment.  On the Objective edge it gives him more money, opportunities for professional growth and an airplane ticket to Munich.  The event isn’t a simple “make a wish and get a treat” happening, it changes him and requires balance and artistry to incorporate the change into his life.  The Setian realizes that Initiation may be defined as thinking the right thoughts at the right time, puts great care in managing these synchronicities – she knows the “dangerous” side of Black Magic (that is to say magic done for the Self) comes in the moment that she sees her own Will manifesting inside her and beyond her.  The Setian differs from the Chaos magician (and most Thelemites) that “belief is everything.”  The Setian does believe that Truth exists and that it is invariant, however she does not believe in a single method to learn Truth by.  Setians must engage in what French philosopher Alain Badiou calls “truth-processes” – methods by which the self acquires truth.  Badiou lists Science, Art, Love and Politics – to which the Setian would add Magic. This is a Remanifestation of an older idea.  For example in the third book of the Picatrix there is an interesting dialogue (after an Apotheosis spell!), where in Hermes asks Socrates how magic is like philosophy.  Socrates replies that it is “Perfect Nature” and goes onto explain that the Magician becomes aligned with his Perfect Nature (here seen as a planetary spirit) in the same manner the philosopher is empowered by Truth “It is this which opens the gates of the science, it is by this that the unknown is known, it is this which affects the open and hidden dimensions of the world. “  Our method reflects these same intents, which Aquino rediscovered and I have provided a firmer scholarly link to through the Work of the Order of Setne Khamuast.

Q: How does Desire play into Setian magic?

A: The Right Hand Path in its purest form – southern Buddhism – rejects desire as the force that causes the Self to believe itself separate from the Cosmos.  Dr. Aquino’s magical theology elevated Desire to a central role – in his Ceremony of the Nine Angles, he described the Ninth Angle as being a flame that burns to the glory of desire.  We embrace desire as the source not only for individuation but also for meaning-making.  As a consequence the Setian experience is one of gradually causing all lesser desires to be subsumed into one great desire for Becoming, of manifesting the sense of order of the unknown timeless self into the chaos of the this world. Each feat of Becoming is designed not to quench Desire but to lead to a state of functioning in which stronger and more complex desires may be obtained.  This differs from the Church of Satan’s immanent path where Desire is seen as an expression of a mortal being subject to carnal decay – such desires are fleeting and ultimately fail with carnal self.  The Setian seeks to refine and discover her Desire so that the Unmanifest part of her Self will exist in the realm of Becoming long after the physical part has failed.  One of the aspects of my High Priesthood had been to emphasize the importance of Life-work, finding a cause in the world that you infuse with your Will so that it serves your psyche much as the ancient Egyptian mummy was said to serve the Ka of its owner.  One of my experiments with this was my part in the Recognition of Lilith Aquino’s V* Word of Arkte, which consecrated her Life-work in the realm of animal protection into a vehicle of her Will that will endure on this world in ways much magically potent than simple fame (or an expensive tomb at Forest Lawn).  My use of her Work as a teaching moment of the idea of Initiation would be an example of VI* Work.

Q: What would you say are changes in the formula and practice of Setian Initiation that you brought into the Temple?

A: I draw much more strongly on anthropology and the social sciences than my predecessor did. In particular the work of Arnold Van Genep and Victor Turner. Genep provided a model of Initiation of Isolation-Liminality- Reintegration.  The Temple of Set, because of our roots in the Church of Satan, which emphasized hedonism and social criticism (reactions to the Society of the Spectacle), were very good at the first two steps.  Most Setians, horrified by the mindlessness and hypocrisy of society, had voluntarily withdrawn from it in some way – whether the simplistic adoption of a “Goth” or “Industrial” lifestyle or something as radical as subsistence farming.  Once the forces of the human macro-cosmos are withdrawn, the forces of the Self become manifest.  Strange things happen and the “Chinatown” phenomena that Robert Anton Wilson likes to write about.  In the liminal state the arbitrary rules of the intrasubjective universe are exposed as arbitrary, synchronicities abound and  magical might is confirmed by strange signals and omens. Setians tended to park themselves in this phase of the process.  They enjoyed weirdness for weirdness’ sake, which leads to two problems.  Firstly most Setians burned out after about four years, just wanting a “normal” life.  Secondly, there isn’t much power taking in Liminality.  You live paycheck-to-paycheck in your apartment at the beginning of the process and you are still there at the end of the process.  The third phase, Reintegration means you take your transformed self back into the world, working at a stronger and more complex level.  I helped Setians understand the goal of magic is not more magic, but to take areas of the world they initially loved but were estranged from.  Setians began much longer stays in the Temple, education became a more recognized goal.  Six percent of Setians have PhDs, which is a very different profile than when I joined and most Setians were college drop-outs (as I was at the time).  Victor Turner, a successor to Van Genep, talked about the effects of Initiation on groups.  Turner argues that groups of people that undergo initiatory processes at the same time form close bonds.  As High Priest I utilized this by announcing themes the Temple could work on.  I would choose broad open-ended ideas (like the Ankh, the Monolith, etc.) and encourage people to explore this ritually.  Strong friendships developed in the Temple and without any enforcement or manipulation from the leadership some of the economic synergy of Freemasonry came into being as well as a higher level of philosophical dialogue within the Temple. I modified the institutional structure of the Temple which had Pylons, groups of people exploring basic Setian Initiation (usually on a geographic basis) and Orders, groups of people that study and refine the Teachings of a Magister Templi, to also include Elements, group who co-operate in specialized study or coordinated social, political, cultural or magical actions upon the world.  Examples would include groups for musicians, writers, martial artists, women’s empowerment, graduate students etc.

Q: What was the effect of the Utterance of Runa in the Temple?

A: In the Year XXIV, the Council of Nine Recognized the Runa, Word of Magus Stephen Edred Flowers.  I had joined in XXIII and I was at ground zero.  The effects of Runa were huge and I would like to point three areas.  During my High Priesthood and especially in my actions of the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Degrees I strongly taught Runa in the Temple.  The three areas I wish to focus on are firstly that Runa ended modernist conceits that magic is undiscovered science, secondly Runa emphasized an objective balance to subjective inquiries, and thirdly Runa has emphasized objectivist results.

The Church of Satan’s aesthetic largely comes from Weird Tales and Unknown – Twentieth Century fantasy magazines fond of the “magic is undiscovered science approach.”  Since the Church of Satan emphasized magic as an expression of individuals rather than a tradition – magical theories did not involve traditional beings and forces.  Magic was thought of as energy liberated from the psyche and subject to scientific laws.  This differed little from New Age beliefs, and the Temple was attracted to the pseudo-sciences and simplistic popular metaphors of the seventies and eighties.  Flower’s simple observation that systems that had worked in the past would work again, partially drew attention to traditional approaches, and his academic background drew Setians to linguistic and anthropological theories of magic – particularly Dr. Stanley Tambiah’s linguistic model.

The Temple has always favored a subjective approach to the subjective universe, influenced by one of Aquino’s favorite philosophers arch-idealist Fitche.  The notion, which remains a central part of LHP  ideology, is that the best guide to me is me. However as humans we may shy away from what is painful to us, or difficult to understand because of lack of experience.  When a symbol system is chosen to help understand the daemonic and emotional selves, the magician must examine his blind spots. Flowers points out that symbol systems that have stood the test of time – the Runes or the Tarot for example – will alert the magician to lacking areas in his development.  If someone learning the Tarot says “I don’t get the Moon.” It points to a blockage in their nature that can be explored and addressed leading to both healing and empowerment.

Lastly the Runes as an historical artifact communicate across time.  Master carvers carved the stones, set them in public areas, and generations.  The notion of a masterpiece has become part of Setian culture.  The Temple had thirteen published writers when last I checked, unlike the days when it was Dr. Aquino, Dr. Flowers and me.  The Temple now also has artists with gallery shows, not just folks that show up at Conclave with pictures about the devil, jewelry makers, Setians creating retreats etc.

Q: What is your magical anthropology?

A: When I joined the Temple it relied strongly on Initiatory material from other systems. One of the books on our reading list was Peter Ouspensky’s The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution, which outlined a three center man – the stomach/physical center, heart/emotional center, and brain/mental center.  I changed this model and provided an approach for each of the four centers.  The carnal center is the physical body.  I suggested that it is firstly an altar to the psyche and that the Initiate must explore and broaden the ways her body can know pleasure.  Secondly taking a tip from Indian Left Hand Path (particularly Indian alchemy), I advocated finding forceful ways to reverse the processes of entropy, disease and old age.  This is physical antinomianism.  The emotional center are the emotions we have been trained to feel, plus those that arise from our authentic experience.  I advocated examining and removing material that is not your own, but which had been forced upon you using Crowley’s methods to pairing images and sensations with their opposites.  For your own material seek to deepen it, and taking a tip from Assagioli’s  Pyschosynthesis work to make sure your emotions follow you, not that you follow your emotions.  The intellectual center needs training in logic and critical thinking on the one hand and training in creativity and lateral thinking on the other.  The average person attracted to the occult is not a critical thinker, since the magical state is not a rational one; this has lead to the sad state of the occult sciences these days where to be a magician is (justifiably) equated with being a gullible fool.  The daimonic center is the result of such magic as you have perceived coming into your life.  The other three centers may be said to exist in three parallel lines.  We often mistake a emotion for a bodily sensation, or an idea for an emotion because we have not learned to be self observant.  The daimonic center may be seen as line running orthogonally to the other three.  I advocate increasing the daimonic center through play and observation.   The daimon of ancient Greece was seen to be a being below the perfected gods, but beyond the limits of humankind.  When the daimonic center is aligned for self-evolution and powered by a love of magic all other centers (if working properly) will flourish in many ways – getting mysterious boosts from an interesting and beautiful life.  My four-fold system also helps Setians understand the lack of coherence in the self, and the need to Self Create the Self.  Xepera Xeper Xeperu.

Q: What do you mean by your statement that “Magic is a Truth process”?

A: Most religious and philosophical systems understand that humans begin in ignorance. We are given a model of the world based on sense perception, received ideas and notions deliberately crafted to make us feel or “think” in a certain way at a certain time. In our postmodern world there is no central paradigm that holds intelligent people together.  When one stands against such a world by asserting that one’s own reality is more authentic than the spectacles presented to us, intelligent people are presented with the choice of assuming either there is no reality save what we believe, or that Truth is hard to get at.  Chaos magicians choose the first, we the choose the second.  Setians distrust pre-packaged realities (even those coming from other Setians) – so you can’t hand them a text and say “read this!”  Setians are given a Need.  In order for their magic to Work they must discover real principles behind themselves and their cosmos in order to know what changes are possible and what are the most efficient  methods of achieving those changes.  The Setian seeks Truth he can verify by experience because each Truth leads to an empowerment of the Self – “Perfect Nature” from the Picatrix above.  Humans have several areas wherein the process of dealing with ideas — Seeking after Forms – can yield Truth to them.  Among the Truth processes are Art, Love, Science, Politics and (for the Setian) Magic.  The “Truths” yielded by the processes are experiential Truths.  For example you can understand when I say, “It is better to have loved and lost then never  to have loved at all.” However if you have had the experience alluded to in the words, your understanding is based on gaining Truth, if you have not had the experience, your understanding will be an intellectual one only.  Truth processes expose the psyche a reflection of itself that bridge more than level of the four-fold human.  At times the Truth processes of different sorts may come into a play – a successful love spell may yield Truth in the realms of both Magic and Love.  Badiou calls these moments “sutures” when you gain Truths that hold you together.  I prefer the Setian term Remanifestation, which refers to the deeper re-experiencing of a state already known on some level of being.  These moments knit the human together, and can be seen as a personal manifestation of Ouroboros or Leviathan.

Q: How are Gurdjieff’s Work and the idea of “sutures” related in Setian practice?

A: Gurdjieff ‘s great gift to the Left Hand Path is to point out that the “Self” does not exist of its own. He helped make human aware that rather than a single Will working upon itself and the Cosmos, humans are a bundle of little wills.  Such a collection makes change impossible on the human level – and the notion of immortality more of a curse than a promise.  Gurdjieff used exercises in precision and self-awareness cutting across the human centers to create an artificial sense of Self that might grow into true Self with time and continued effort.  My method is to use ecstatic perception of Truth to unify the parts of the Self.  Unlike Gurdjieff I propose there is a Self, however Unmanifest, that communicates with its Remanifested parts, mainly through Wonder.  In Gurdjieff’s system humans must find a School that directs the correct energies (Shocks) that wield the parts together.  In my system only those humans who by self-grace have begun their own Self-Creation can be aided by the School.  Neither I, nor the Temple of Set, can teach a Self to Self-Create, we see this as a holy mystery, the Gift of Set.  I teach that it is possible to pursue certain activities in the presence of others with similar pursuits and useful situations can arise that lead to the moments of suture.  Just as a the Setian learns to manage synchronicities, I have taught methods of group work to the Temple of Set that lead to large numbers of humans experiencing those synchronicities at the same time, and therefore being able to have meaningful dialogue about them in a greater community dedicated to discussing methods of self advancement in all forms from financial to spiritual to health, etc.

Q: What is the Work of the Order of Setne Khamuast?

A: The Order is named for the world’s first Egyptologist and librarian,  Ramses II’s fourth son – Set-Is-Beautiful, A Power Manifests in Thebes, I began my magical order at a Working with the Order of the Trapezoid in the British Museum.  The aim of the Order is to reclaim workable Initiatory and magical formula from Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Mesopotamian and African sources.  Dr. Flowers has a three fold method which he used to remanifest the runic systems: Objective Analysis, Subjective Synthesis, Enactment.  I added a fourth element Teaching.  My students look for the best data they can find on a religious or magical system.  Once they feel they have understood the system in its own terms, they take what they find beautiful and recreate in culturally meaningful terms for their current needs, then they enact the magical system until they get results.  Lastly they must teach what they have done – firstly inside the Temple and then into the greater world.  Some have published as Setians, others choose to put forth their findings in other ways – for example essays in archaeological journals or even in Left Hand Path training manuals that do not have the TOS imprinter.  Others still have made their fourth phase of manifestation art and video.

One example of the Order is my best-selling The Seven Faces of Darkness, where I took the spells involving Set-Typhon from the Greek Magical Papyri and reworked them for use for the modern magician.  On the one hand it provided a good basic spell book, but on a deeper level it enabled a modern human being to experience the magical essence of Set in the contest of his life while understanding how this essence has expressed itself through time.  The historical aspect of the Work of the Order gives the Self a suture that only comes from understanding that the world the Self is manifesting into is conditioned by those very magical currents that awakened their daimonic centers to start with.  Using historical magic not only claims for the  Self the very forces that made it, it Teaches the Truth of Self-Creation.  This sort of suture, this experience of magic as a truth process, can only come through reenactment.

Q: What is the purpose of your Initiatory writing?

A: The simple answer is to find people who are undergoing the Xeper process and help them find the Temple of Set. Self-Creation is always, at first, a daimonic affair.  When you begin going against the stream of the world, you are attracted to images of revolt.  This is your daimonic center awakening you.  For example when Europe began its Renaissance, it wasn’t merely reason that created the new way of looking at the world.  On a daimonic level the images of the old gods were needed – for a good example of this see Godwin’s The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance. People need certain images and magical formulae to ease the Need their daimonic centers possess – and unless that need is met with a blend of intellectual and emotional supports you simply have human beings in pain that spend a few years spray painting the word Satan on the backs of buildings until their fire of self dies down and they become the dead souls that maintain the world of illusion.  Most of the people that read my books won’t seek out the Temple, but depending on how the great Need for my darker memes are, they will spread these ideas into the world – on the one hand making more art and material for Setians to draw from and on the other contributing a more free society that supports the notion of Self Creation, which is the long-term goal of the species whether you see it as Nietzsche’s Over-Man or Ken Wilbur’s integrated  human.  Setians may get there first, but my love for mankind prompts me to help other get there to.  In this I reflect the Will of my Patron. Great Is The Might Of Set, And Greater Still Through Me.