New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black is the editor of the By Gaslight steampunk anthology series. He has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon has just published a short anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fiction short stories entitled Mechanical Tales and is working on completing his first novel. His most recent story “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” has been published in Capes and Clockwork 2.
All text copyright Brandon Black 2016.
I posted Shakespeare’s Sonnet 127 to my facebook page and my friend, Eva Caye, thought it was one of mine. It’s great work to be sure, but it’s not my great work. When I said that to her, she said I needed to label it because “here I was thinking you took steampunk to this whole celestial literary level!!!”
So now I have a new goal — to take steampunk to a whole new celestial literary level.
Here’s the sonnet by the way:
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name.
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame.
For since each hand hath put on nature’s pow’r,
Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bow’r,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem.
Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
— William Shakespeare (Sonnet 127)
I posted it to my facebook page because one of the ongoing themes of my work is to re-engineer Western imperialist colour symbolism and fight the idea that “Black = Bad/Evil.” Black means rich depth, beauty, and mystery to me and that’s something I try to convey in my work.
And in trying to promote that, I’ve gained a whole new goal for my work — to bring steampunk to a whole new celestial literary level.
How am I going to accomplish that?
I’ve no idea.
I’ll take suggestions. Really.
Behind the Spider’s Eye is the heading I’m going to use for practical occultism posts and essays — whenever I feel the need to talk about paganism and crafting pagan ritual, that’s the heading I’ll use. Okay? Let’s begin!
Night Magick by Philip D. Williams
This book was an invaluable resource when the time came for me to write my first public ritual. I’ve always hated the Western colour symbolism that says “White = Good; Black = Evil” and have always opposed it. I thought my pastor cowardly and disappointing as a child when I asked him why we as Black people would go along with the whole Black is Evil thing and he refused to discuss the issue. He didn’t even have the sense to feign indignance at the thought of entering into a theological discussion with a child; the man just ran off apologetically as though he were terrified of even talking to me (I did have a bit of a reputation I imagine with the Sunday school teachers).
When I got a chance to perform my first public ritual with the CUUPS group in New Orleans, I wrote a ritual celebrating the wonder and the mystery of the Night. I used the four Persian Watcher stars as my watchtowers and celebrated the Dark Goddess. I “reversed the polarity” of the Four Elements and did meditations that connected us to their dark aspects.
Actually performing the ritual taught me two key things I would have to remember always when dealing with public ritual. One: there are always going to be people present at a public ritual who don’t take the occasion as seriously as you do. Two: there are always going to be hiccups — people not knowing where to stand, people having to hold the script and some other object at the same time, etc. That’s why it’s always nice to practice beforehand but some times you can’t prepare for what happens.
At the height of the ritual, a huge current of wind started blowing in the courtyard of the UU church we were holding ritual at. And a few pages of one of ritual scripts got caught up in the wind. Everything came to a screeching halt as we all watched these pages circle faster and faster around the courtyard and then get sucked higher and higher into the night sky and then straight up out of sight.
I sighed, exasperated, wondering what else could possibly go wrong. And my Wicca 101 instructor looked at me and said, “You wrote a ritual to the Night and it was literally accepted by it; some people go their whole lives waiting for a sign like that.”
1. Of the color black
2. Covert, clandestine, surreptitious <~ ops>
3. Secret, unknown, fraught with import and intrigue <a ~ purpose>
4. Free, unregulated, hidden <~ market>
5. Possessed of richness and depth <~ chocolate>
6. Weighty, important, heavy or serious <a ~ intrigue>
7. Complex, obscure, dense, difficult to understand, impenetrable <a ~ tome>
8. Of or relating to praeternatural powers, sorcery and/or magic <the ~ arts>
One of my objectives with my writing is to re-engineer Western Color Symbolism and to erode the symbolic connections between “dark” and “black” with “evil.” I admit I’ve had a tough time convincing some people of the importance of this, particularly, to my deep regret, the young, who just don’t see it as terribly relevant. It pains me to see Black people using the word black in that sense. I point out to them that part of the racism that drove Europeans to conquer half the planet and take everything that wasn’t nailed down was the sense they had that they were doing something good and proper by doing so — the White Man’s Burden can be expressed in no more clear fashion than the idea that it’s okay to bring the “light” of Western civilization to “darkest” Africa. It wasn’t that long ago that the Mormon Church taught that the dark skin of Africans and African-Americans was the “Mark of Cain,” the first murderer. And so, I’ve always tried in my work to show darkness as I see it — a wondrous thing, a miraculous thing. To me, the night sky is not a place that holds terrors but a place of mystery and delight, a source of aspiration and contemplation. And that’s what the color Black means to me.