Alan Moore is still better known for his super-hero work than for his esoterically themed or experimental genre-breakers, but this may not always be the case. As he proceeds further in time from the creation of work for DC or even Image, he establishes a place for himself outside of imprint, or even sub-genres within comics. Of course, he’s often spoken of moving away from comics entirely, and has put his energy behind that claim with the production of Voice in the Fire, the upcoming Jerusalem, and even the publication of Dodgem Logic, which presented some prose work of his. But his ongoing efforts on projects that truly inspire his imagination keep him associated with sequential narrative storytelling, such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the Lovecraftian comics he has produced for Avatar Press, from The Courtyard, to Neonomicon, and soon beyond (a follow up to Neonomicon has been announced). Alongside this, there is the sequential adaptation of other prose work of Moore’s by Avatar Press. It’s a medium that he found essentially exciting in his early days of comics, and one can’t quite help but feel that he hasn’t given up the ghost on comics. Like any other form of media, it contains the potential to disgust Moore with too much “sameness” that seems to choke out new and original storytelling, which Moore feels this world so desperately needs. If Moore hadn’t managed to so richly express some of his highest ideals in art through the line of America’s Best Comics, however, perhaps that faith might have faltered sooner.
A full discussion of magic in Moore’s works must deal substantially in the subject matter and execution of Promethea, Top 10, and Tom Strong, but eliciting the connections between those really very personal works made after Moore’s experiences working on From Hell, and his earlier works turns up greater similarities than differences. Think of From Hell as a magnifying lens through with Moore was able to isolate and tease out the essential aspects of his own philosophy of human existence, after which those tools remained more readily at his disposal to convey a resonant message. When he sat down at the keyboard to produce the ABC line (which initially included League of Extraordinary Gentlemen also), he had a running start on conveying those themes, having clarified and refined them so precisely in his epiphany producing 10 year stint on From Hell. We’ve discussed the gods and demons paradigm, and what that means to human psychology, but the geography of the universe surrounding that human equation also bears investigation. If a human being can be both a god and a demon, what universe does such a being truly inhabit?
Moore’s Snakes and Ladders explores the geography of intangible realms, and even Swamp Thing takes us on a tour of hell, while Moore’s interest in psychogeography confirms that this is quite simply, an important factor in any storytelling he creates. Moore speaks both visually and spatially, and in From Hell, as well as in interviews, he articulates some consistent elements in his view of what I would term “psycho-cosmology”. Essential to Moore’s explanation of cosmology is his developing understanding of time, in keeping with Einstein’s insistence on the unity of “space-time”.
Time and the Magus
Taking a voyage into Moore’s conception of time and space requires visualization; thankfully, he often explains his own ideas in terms of well-known scientific language, traditional mystical constructs, or literary comparison as a way of triangulating his position to the “ideal reader” who might be interested in what he has to say. In interviews, Moore describes time in relationship to a 4th dimension. In some instances, he defines it as a 4th dimension in itself, but in later developing thought, he explains time as the “shadow” created by a 4th , eternal dimension:
“Einstein and Hawking seem to agree that this is a four-dimensional universe, with the fourth spatial dimension being what we perceive as time. So, it’s not that the fourth dimension is time. It’s more like time is the shadow of the fourth dimension, and its only our perception that we’re moving through it” (qtd. Berlatsky 187).
Interestingly, Moore confirms that these concepts have been present throughout his work, from the very beginning, which reinforces the continuity of his own mythos before the discoveries he made working on From Hell: “I realize that I’ve touched upon this, seemingly, throughout my entire writing career. I’ve got stories about this sort of notion in 2000AD. There’s Dr. Manhattan’s view of time in Watchmen and all the stuff in From Hell” (qtd. in Berlatsky 187). Moore’s idea of time is closely allied to human perception, but he attempts to step outside that microcosmic perception to more of an external view in order to elucidate the human condition. He explains:
“…you’d have to think of a human life as being a fourth-dimensional shape which is about 6 foot 3 foot by two foot deep, by about seventy years long….But these things would be little filaments in the giant egg of space-time, an they’d be suspended there forever. So your birth and your death are no more meaningful than the soles of your shoes and the top of your head” (qtd. in Berlatsky 187).
If the initial 4D model wasn’t mind-expanding enough, trying to conceive of a human being as something of a “centipede” in time (not unlike Grant Morrison’s famous depiction of the Supercontext in The Invisibles), containing all of the moments of existence within the “egg” of space time between the Big Bang and the big “crunch” will give you a few moments, at least, of head-scratching. Moore works out his own concepts through language, and is careful not to exclude compatible synonymous concepts that help to explain the same principles. It’s an inclusive, rather than exclusive, model of human existence. Moore is quick to point out the implications of this model on human perception and even geography, but takes a questioning tone. He posits: “It would also mean that we don’t have free will and would explain things like déjà vu and premonitions. It would also suggest that we are already outside the third dimension” (qtd. in Berlatsky 188).
How does this relate to magic? We can see from previous readings that déjà vu and premonitions are associated with magical practice by Moore, particularly in his performance “workings” and when dealing with characters who have magical associations. Sir William Gull, for instance, is able to perceive past and future in terms of geography. During “workings”, the past of Highbury, or Northampton, impinges on the present to express meaningful continuity in human experience. This also has underlying connections to psychogeography. Things in the past and the future within the “egg” are tied to certain locations. Moore concedes that if people are essentially 4D then geographical locations are, likewise. He concludes if this is true, then “everything is fourth-dimensional” whether or not we can perceive that reality in a given moment (qtd. in Berlatsky 188-9). It is all part of an “unfolding” fourth dimension of reality that can be perceived under the right conditions. Realizing this also influenced Moore to create Voice in the Fire and to commence work on his in-depth study of psychogeography, Jerusalem, both dealing with the geographical location of Northampton. When Moore questions the construct of time, it leads him back to geography, and when Moore considers geography, it is most often interwoven with a study of time. It’s essentially a return to Einstein’s space-time model, but one which he wants to articulate in magical terms.
For Moore, this is essentially a magical perspective, penetrating via magical perception into the realities of a 4th dimension that is, essentially, eternal. It seems to be the goal of magical awareness. The magician is able, for certain intervals, to tap into a perception of their own existence, and also that of a geographical locale, in terms of the 4th dimension, which contains and encompasses space and time. In some ways, it’s an extra-human perspective, or at least an immortal perspective.
The Blast Zone
Moore isn’t content with merely expressing beautiful ideas. He implements them and fleshes them out through storytelling. Constructing From Hell required an even more articulated explanation of why and how Whitechapel became a magical locus that determined the direction of twentieth century life. In the From Hell interviews with Eddie Campbell, Moore links geography with a host of mystical concepts. He talks about cosmology in terms of going “higher up” and gaining an “aerial” perspective of human history in a given location. In this “high altitude mapping”, he perceives a “blast distribution pattern” concerning the murders in Whitechapel which explains the continuing impact, and fascination, of Ripperology. The “blast distribution pattern” focuses on a small area of geography, and a specific location in time, 1888. It is a “point of impact”, a point “where some event or personage of considerable size collided explosively with the landscape of history”(qtd. Millidge 314). From this explosion point, further points create a surrounding “ripple effect” in time: “These points are seemingly randomly and evenly distributed to either side of the impact zone, which is to say in the past what precedes the event and in the future that comes after it” (qtd. in Millidge 314). The blast-zone is a-temporal, or perhaps multi-temporal. In other words, the blast zone extends into the 4th dimension and is therefore best viewed from a fourth-dimensional perspective. The magical perspective is best equipped to deal with the size and scope of this patterning. The influence of the blast-zone is so great, however, that even “normal” human perspective is affected and drawn into its “spell”. This is how Moore explains the kind of Ripper frenzy already erupting during the Whitechapel murders, a disturbing level of “dark and dazzling obsession” when “everyone got a little crazy” (qtd. in Millidge 316). The influence of this “spell” perhaps originates in the distinctive connection formed by the impact between the “normally” perceived three dimensions and the extra-human 4th dimension. In short, magical perception began to impinge on normal life. The “glamour” of that impact lingers. Moore, in fact, considers the vast mythos of Ripperology to have accumulated so much glamour that it has become “self-aware, which is to say aware of itself as a process, as a developing body of myth” (qtd. in Millidge 316). Moore does not further speculate about what this “self-awareness” hopes to accomplish other than expanding its myth still further, bringing a sense of the eternal into finite time.
The blast-zone is a geography best seen from above, Moore indicates. What is above the blast-zone? In mystical terms, this is movement up the tree of the Kaballah toward another level of being. In the same interview, Moore explains this higher geography from the top down: “…at the core of things there is a blissful, hermaphrodite, endlessly creative white singularity that you might as well call absolute God. This is the light source in the canvas of existence” (qtd. in Millidge 314). As this original and undifferentiated light breaks into two principles (male and female) and then hits a “prism”, which in terms of the Kaballah might be called the Abyss, the “white light breaks up into a full spectrum of entities: Gods plural, Demons, chimera, angels, fairies, grey aliens…a plurality of spiritual colors and foreces to which we have appended names, images, and identities”(qtd. in Millidge 311).
This trickle-down effect produces more solid matter, the universe and its inhabitants, at its furthest spectrum. Once again, geography leads Moore back to manifestations of spiritual realities in time. This framework explains more fully the Gods/demons dichotomy. If human beings are part of that “refracted” white light in origin, they can contain its many facets, from gods to demons. As they journey “up” into higher perception it may even be more likely that these seemingly disparate qualities are evoked. Sir William Gull, as much as we might want to deny it, represents the potential of humanity, since “Everything in this entire continuum is a refraction of the original singular light source. The entities which we traditionally think of as “other” are in a sense nothing but ourselves unfolded- or at a higher frequency.” (qtd. in Millidge 311). Gull cannot be “other” within this framework. From an “unfolded” perspective, he makes perfect sense. From a “folded” perspective he may seem like a god or demon, but never both. He thinks of himself as a god, perhaps, while a historical perspective would suggest Jack the Ripper was a demon.
From Hell Sets the Stage
When a reader considers the depth of cosmology, mythology, and mystical thought built up in layers in From Hell, it’s clear that this work could stand as a kind of intricate Bible or source-book through which to understand Moore’s magical belief systems. It was a Bible he was writing to help him find his own way of understanding the universe. It forms its own “blast-zone”, in fact, at the center of Moore’s career as a creator, and the initiating blast that produced a self-declared magician. Its ripple effects certainly extend forward in time into his ABC works and beyond, but it would be a clever conceit to also trace that impact’s ripple effect backward into his previous works. While the latter may seem like an impossibility (how could something Moore created later impact what he had previously written?), it’s fair to say that this is exactly the impact of the blast-zone on his readership. Having read From Hell, you cannot “un-read” it in terms of Moore’s oeuvre. Whatever perceptions a reader might have garnered on a first foray through Swamp Thing or even A Small Killing, having read From Hell, and looking back, one sees the unmistakable pattern of impact leading into Moore’s articulated belief system, once established in print. The pattern imposes itself on previous reading, and it is both orderly and helpful to understanding the entirety of Moore’s work.
In From Hell’s original serialization in Taboo magazine, Moore personally produced some illustrations to stand alongside the text. Two, in particular, shed some light on his conception of Ripperology and the position of Sir William Gull as the center of his own narrative’s blast-point. One image is entitled “The Hermit” and another “The Hierophant”. These are not only figures drawn from the Crowleian Thoth Tarot, but also have correspondences in the Kaballah. The Hermit, Aleister Crowley tells us, is associated with the letter Yod in the Hebrew alphabet, which signifies the “hand” or a “tool or instrument” (88). Yod is also, significantly, the first letter of the Tetragrammaton which is associated with the father-aspect of Yahweh. Crowley also associates the Hermit figure with the “highest form of Mercury, and the Logos, the Creator of Worlds” (88). This figure is highly creative and confers the “fluidic essence of Light, which is the life of the Universe” (Crowley 88). His light, in fact “pervades all parts of the Universe equally” (Crowley 89). In terms of Moore’s “aerial perspective”, this is the “white light” that is undifferentiated, at the center of all things, and is then refracted into all its potential manifestations. In terms of From Hell, this is the undifferentiated light which Gull seems to perceive as he moves “higher up”, allowing him to encompass paradoxical qualities. In Moore’s cosmology, this unity, in fact, may essentially correspond to the qualities of the 4th dimension itself. It’s “shadows” or “refractions” create manifested features and the illusion of time itself. The Hermit, via the light he creates, also creates the perception of space and time.
The Hierophant is a natural tarot figure to apply to From Hell due to all the Masonic lore the text contains. A hierophant is a priestly figure who ushers participants into the presence of a religious rite. He is responsible for the “the principle business, the essential, of all magical work; the uniting of the microcosm with the macrocosm” (Crowley 79). This is a fairly exact match for the role of a magician in Moore’s world-view. The Heirophant, however, is also capable of taking on “sinister” associations as he bridges the gap between the material world and the unseen, higher realities. Crowley comments “He seems to be enjoying a very secret joke at somebody else’s expense” (89). Crowley makes one more rather telling observation: the Hierophant is associated with time, and is called the “Lord of all Time” because he moves methodically over lengthy intervals to perform his duties. What could be more appropriate than calling Gull a hierophant? He is heavily involved in ritualistic activity, believes that he is performing rites on behalf of humanity, and even witnesses the impact of those rites through déjà vu and premonitions.
His sinister sense of being “in the know”, and therefore having a “secret joke” of sorts is part of the discomfort created by the narrative for the reader, who can glimpse Gull’s perspective, as well as challenge its rationale in the historical context. Is Gull mad or is he, in some sense, correct about the significance of his role? As hierophant, Gull also stands at the very center of the “blast-zone”. He is the creator of the rite which impacts history and spreads a strange glamour in ripple effect through all four dimensions. He creates the mythology, uniting the microcosm of his own experience with the macrocosm of 4th dimensional perspective. In mystical terms, Gull moves from being a hierophant, a distinctly uncomfortable role for the reader to witness, toward being an avatar of the Hermit. As he moves into an “aerial” view and becomes both a God and demon inside, the undifferentiated light of the universe is expressed through him. Through the course of the narrative, he is caught between the poles of these archetypal identities and the reader views his integration into non-differentiation along with the breakdown in his temporal sanity.
From Hell creates its own “blast-zone” for the reader in terms of Moore’s life and works, but also explores a hypothetical reality built on historical context. It sets up a functioning model of possibility and generates ever-expanding implications within its own fictional universe. Even Moore is not certain what those implications entail, asking himself “If you start to see birth and death as things in a physical geography where time is ignored, then, does that mean…that we just have our lives over and over and over again?” (qtd. in Berlatsky 188). He postulates that this 4D existence is one in which our 3D lives are “like a book” which, when “closed” still contains everything from our lives, “characters and all” and remains in a “bubble” suspended in the “egg” of space-time (qtd. in Berlatsky 188). Once we step outside of the book, what happens? What exactly is a 4D being? Is it a being like Gull (readers may recoil from that possibility) or is it simply a being at one with the “endlessly creative white singularity” of “absolute God”?
From Hell also seems to suggest that to reach the position of the “aerial view” and move closer to the standpoint of the Hermit, one must pass through the magical role of the Hierophant, initially. This answers one essential and underlying question posed by Moore’s work: what is the goal of magic? What is its value, after all? Everything for Moore is a process in gaining higher and higher levels of understanding, so it’s no surprise that his big reveal in From Hell changes everything you might think you know based on his magic lessons: the role of the magician is a stepping stone, and not a goal in itself. It’s something to be discarded as it loses meaning. It’s a significant part of the refraction of universal light, but having passed the point of refraction, it, too, should be shrugged off.
This doesn’t mean that Moore renders his own focus on magic and the role of the magician meaningless. Instead, he places it in context. It is a road, a route, out of 3D perception into something “timeless”. It’s transformative in that it alters perception of reality, which in turn, alters reality itself. The universe then reveals itself to be magical in nature, corresponding to a series of related principles. For Moore, if you desire to know the universe in its higher realities, taking up the role of a magician is a particularly direct announcement of your intentions. It is, quite simply, a particularly powerful organizing factor and system through which to investigate the universe.
Berlatsky, Eric, ed. Alan Moore: Conversations. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2012.
Crowley, Aleister. The Book of Thoth. San Francisco, CA: Weisner Books, 2008.
Millidge, Gary Spencer and Smoky Man, eds. Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman. Leigh-on-Sea, UK:Abiogenesis Press, 2003.
Moore, Alan, and Eddie Campbell. From Hell. Portland, OR: Top Shelf Productions, 2000.
What’s Next? Look forward to a book on magic in the works of Alan Moore from Sequart Research and Literacy Organization that will complete a discussion of Moore’s works up to current day and include several of his earlier works not yet considered in this series.