Andrew and Chaweon talk about the nature of magic in the social media age. They get into how it is like finding other paths. The pros and cons of WitchTok and Chaweon’s explorations of starting cults.
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Andrew: Welcome to another episode of The Hermit’s Lamp. I’m here with Chaweon Koo. We talked originally back in February of 2019, so it’s been a good stretch of time since we last caught up, creeping up on two years here. As I continue to watch the stuff that they’re up to, it just hit me where I’m like, “You know, we should talk again.” You seem like a person who’s plugged into what’s going on and has a lot to say about what’s happening in the world right now, so I thought we’d get together and have a conversation.
Andrew: For those who don’t know who you are, why don’t you give us an introduction?
Chaweon Koo: Oh, let’s see. Recently on TikTok, because that’s sort of where I live right now, I have been called an occult journalist, which I love. I’ve also been called an occult curator, and I like to call myself an occult anthropologist as well. It’s interesting that my identifications have changed. I started off with my YouTube channel, Witches & Wine, and at that point I just considered myself somebody who was extremely interested in learning more because I’d come from a very atheist, materialist, skeptical background. And I wanted to talk to those I considered to be knowledgeable in the field of Western, and of course since I speak English, English-speaking esoteric arts. That included you, included other guests.
Chaweon Koo: This journey has been absolutely fucking wild. Since I started the YouTube channel, I’ve spoken at the inaugural Magickal Women’s Conference in London last year. Magic helped me get to Bali and live there for five months and just in general the connections that I made. And also the money magic that I’ve done has had amazing results. So I can definitely say that a lot of my skepticism has turned into extreme interest and curiosity, and now because of my interest in what’s going on in the wider witch world, especially amongst the younger generation on social media, how technology is influencing magic and the way that people think about and identify as those who practice the esoteric arts, my identifications have also changed. Yeah, I guess that’s how I would introduce myself now is almost like super abstract.
Andrew: Yeah. Before we recorded, we talked with the idea of how this question of identity is really relevant to a lot of these conversations, right? How do we think of ourselves? How do we engage with the world from that filter? And one of the things is I’ve never really had a title. I remember when I was working as a reader and launching my store and trying to come up with some super marketable encapsulating thing about what I do. I was just like, “I got nothing.” All of them seemed too limited, too this, too that, too whatever, right?
Andrew: In some ways my identity has often been an identity of not constructing one or actively seeking to have a tremendously flexibly identity so that I’m not limiting myself, not limiting my beliefs, not limiting where I’m operating from so that I can shed stuff. I remember saying to one of my magical teachers… We were discussing why some people get stuck and fall off the path when they start trying to learn different things. And he’s like, “Well, why do you think you’re staying on the path?” And I said, “Well, I think it’s because I’m always willing to give up who I think I am in order to discover who I am or who I’ve become.” That process continues. So when it comes to words and labels and so on, other than if I’m in a specific role, I don’t tend to really take them on very well.
Chaweon Koo: That’s very interesting. And I think what I’ve noticed, because okay, so I’ve done my YouTube channel, which has been going for the past three and a half, four years. So I consider it me basically going to undergrad for the past three, four years speaking to amazing professors, people that I consider to be just really amazing occultists, witches, people who are from a diverse background. I never went in with any sort of feeling like I absolutely wanted to be a certain type of path. I just wanted to know why I did money magic and I would get a lot of money. I was like, “I need to reverse engineer this shit so I can figure out how to make it even better.”
Chaweon Koo: Along the way, my aspirations and goals, they evolved and changed. And I was able to, of course, after four years of talking to people who are very experienced and who’ve given this a lot of thought, you evolve as well. When you’re a freshman in college, you are very different, very different than when you’re a graduating senior in undergrad. That’s just undergrad, right? I just consider myself to be kind of like that. I don’t even consider myself to be the person who’s going to go on to grad school now and to get a PhD. No, I’m not even there yet because my journey I consider to be quite new. But what I’ve noticed are patterns and trends.
Chaweon Koo: One of the things I’ve also realized is that almost every single experienced occultists, and I’m just going to use the umbrella term occultist, that I’ve spoken to, no matter what their tradition, they all have something in common. And that thing that they have in common is that the more that you talk to them, even if they’re known as a certain label, and I think Frater Ashen Chassan is a good example of this. He’s very well known, and it’s very easy to just say, “Oh, he’s a super traditional grimorist, very traditional ceremonial magician. But the more you talk to him, the more you realize that he’s actually super flexible, super fluid. And his personality is in many ways label-less.
Chaweon Koo: All the top occultists that I’ve spoken to, even though other people may say, and maybe in some ways it’s easier for them to say, “I’m a witch, I’m an occultist,” whatever it is, ultimately when it comes down to it, they are very non-invested in the label versus somebody who’s just starting out on the path. It’s important, perhaps, to have this label and to hold onto this label almost as a way to stabilize yourself.
Chaweon Koo: But at a certain level the labels don’t mean shit anymore, and you just honestly don’t care.
Andrew: Yeah. I think it makes a lot of sense, right? I mean as a 20-year-old Thelemite, right, I was pretty invested in that. But now as however old I am now…
Chaweon Koo: 26.
Andrew: 26-year-old Elocha, right, or priest or Chango, I mean, I identify with that. And in ceremony and in those contexts in that role, then sure, I identify with that, but I don’t really put that out. People have to have an organic conversation to that point as opposed to me being all ready to bring it up at the drop of a hat. You know? Yeah, for sure.
Chaweon Koo: I’ve definitely noticed that because mainstream society and mainstream media is at that point where they’re back to the cycle of witches are interesting and cool, because of that, that label is very important because in today’s society that label can be used as branding, as some sort of tool of capitalism, which I have nothing against. I’m like, if you want to do that, more power to you. I have no judgment.
Chaweon Koo: But what I’ve realized is that the nature of marketing in this society means that the label has to be reductive simply because you’re marketing towards a mass audience. And there’s so many things competing for the mass audience’s attention, so witch has become distilled. Occultist, that label has also reduced into something. I think sometimes it’s easier just to be like, “Well, I’m more complicated than that, but whatever, let’s run with it.” What it’s done is it’s created this very interesting situation where the internet has become a tool, a bridge between those who are interested, occult curious maybe, magic curious, to try out almost like an outfit. And that’s literally what people today are doing, especially younger people.
Chaweon Koo: They are trying out the clothing, the outfit of being a witch, of being an occultist. Who knows how many will still stay and how many will not be here in five years. But I feel like even though it’s happened in the past, like every couple decades witchcraft has become popular, the sheer number that the internet has introduced to witchcraft, even if it’s the same percentage, let’s say 90% of those who try it will fall off in the end of five years, well, maybe back 20 years ago it was 10,000 people. Now we’re talking hundreds of millions of people, so what does that mean?
Andrew: For sure. I mean, I think it means a variety of things, right? I mean, I think that it runs into the way in which access to those kinds of ideas starts to change people’s notion of empowerment, right? I think that there’s a question about the way in which witchcraft, especially amongst women, is a manifestation of feminism and a movement in that direction of claiming power and making change. That whether people stick with ceremony or stick with candles or not over time, it still changes a person’s mindset, right? I think that it also becomes a question of what role does…
Andrew: It also ties into this thing that has happened more and more as social media has accelerated around the death of experts, right? What does it take to be an expert now, right, versus what does it take to be an expert whenever, right? I remember talking with a bunch of people in tarot who had been reading cards for 30, 40, 50 years. When you ask them how long should you read cards for before you’re ready to read for other people professionally, and I think the average answer was 12 years, right?
Andrew: I read cards for 15 years before I started reading for the public. Now what’s that cycle, six months, a year, two years? It’s not much, right? Not to say necessarily that one’s better than the other or whatever, but it becomes something very different, right?
Chaweon Koo: Just from my observation, as I mean before, I basically live on TikTok. So it has been an amazing eight months where I started back in March because the pandemic happened. I was bugged out, and I was like, “Everybody’s on TikTok. Let’s see what that’s about.” In eight months at this point I’m at about 95K followers, close to 100K, who knows? I haven’t really checked. But I have spent the past eight months really going through TikTok, especially Witch Talk, #witchtalk. That’s the official title.
Andrew: That’s your jam.
Chaweon Koo: Yeah. That’s the jam. That’s the official title that collectively these millions of young people have decided to call themselves as well. What I’ve noticed is that there is a weird sort of policing and identity that is happening amongst these young people that is also happening in just society at large.
Chaweon Koo: It’s a very, very interesting phenomenon, and I keep using the word interesting because no matter what my personal opinions are, I feel like just to watch it unfold is a mind trip. So you have these young people. They don’t really know a lot. To be perfectly honest, about 90% of them, they really don’t know anything. They haven’t read any books. They don’t know any experienced occultists. I honestly don’t know where they’re getting their information from half the time. I literally do not know.
Chaweon Koo: There’s an entire hashtag called Phoenix Talk, so phoenix as in the phoenix rising from its ashes. This is the hashtag of these young witches who feel as though more experienced witches are condescending and are going to be like, “You need to study tarot for 15 years before you read to the public.” These young witches are like, “Fuck you. You’re not my mom. Who says?” Who died and made you god, basically? They really only want to talk to other new witches. Because when they try to reach out to more experienced witches, the experienced witches, the go-to answer might be, “Well, why don’t you google it? Why are you bothering me with these elementary questions?” So they are feeling as though they’re being excluded.
Chaweon Koo: So amongst themselves, they’ve created this strange, strange world where they talk about oddly conspiracy theory-esque things about how Lilith and Hecate hate men, how you can quantum reality shift into anime universes where astral projection is considered to be one of the hallmarks of maybe spiritual initiation, where closed traditions and whether or not you’ve been initiated as being a priest/priestess in a closed tradition makes you more of an expert than anyone else.
Chaweon Koo: Non-initiatory paths are considered almost a way to be inferior. And people who are not even in these initiated paths, they are the biggest gatekeepers. They’re just like, “You cannot in any way even basically talk about, let’s say, Oshun if you are not, number one, initiated, but also number two, you are not of the ancestral heritage.” There’s this big thing where people who are not even in that heritage or in that tradition have become, in many ways as we see in politics, have become gatekeepers for those who they consider to be maybe marginalized people. And they’ve taken that role very, very seriously. It’s become part of their identity as well. There’s this very strange mix of just a lot of things. And again, half the time I don’t even know where they’re getting this information.
Andrew: It reminds me of a lot of chaos magic stuff circa-
Chaweon Koo: Oh, chaos magic.
Andrew: … early ’90s, mid ’90s. I don’t know somewhere around there, right, where I remember my friend was discussing his astral temple. I was like, “What do you got for your astral guardians?” He’s like, “Oh, I got giant rubber duckies.” I was like, “What?” He’s like, “Yeah, giant rubber duckies. Whatever, they patrol the border.” Because you can make astral stuff into anything, you can make a servitor or whatever look like whatever you want. There was a lot of really just super random seeming stuff going on there that at a certain level I’m like, fine, would you rather have Chewbacca. Whatever, it doesn’t matter, right?
Andrew: You can have it be whatever. But on another level what always struck me as like, what’s going on psychologically with that person when they’re making those kinds of choices? What’s going on that they’re buying into this idea or that idea or this way of doing it? What’s going on where people are so intent at rejecting authority or this or that or other things? I think that maybe nothing. Maybe it’s fine. I’ve met those people who are just like, “Listen, I’ve been doing this for 6,000 years and you just go away.” It’s like, “Well, cool. Nice to know you.”
Andrew: But yeah, what goes on with all those things? I think it’s very fascinating to me, right? I’m deeply curious about a lot of these things and in a way that’s… I said this beforehand. Sometimes when I tell people that I’m really curious because I don’t understand what they’re doing, it goes very badly. It’s not a conversation that people often are amenable to, and it’s often a conversation… And maybe I’ll someday strike upon a different delivery, but I think I’m pretty easygoing. But people just get really tense or weirded out or feel immediately criticized. I’m like, “No, I’m just really curious because it’s so far out of my range of experience that I don’t understand it.” And I would like to understand it, but I just don’t.
Chaweon Koo: Speaking of chaos magic, it has made a resurgence amongst these TikTok witches and occultists. It’s like the thing, which I find super interesting because you and I both know that most of the people who are doing chaos magic, who are the people who wrote the books on chaos magic and moved on to other things since then. They are basically doing and working with technology that in a lot of ways has become sort of a, that was a cool time but maybe, perhaps, more effective magic has been worked with since then. We already know that. This is not a secret. This is not a secret that people have moved on to other traditions.
Chaweon Koo: Because chaos magic, it had its great points, but maybe it wasn’t as complete as a lot of the magicians wanted it to be. And yet, these young people, I think they either don’t care or they missed that memo, and they’re treating chaos magic in the same way that people back in the ’90s. They were treating it as the solution, the ultimate of that punk ethos of like, magic is what I say it is, not what the man says it is but what I say it is. And because I say it and I’m god. It’s very edgelord when I think about it. And I’m god, I get to decide. And who are you? Who are you to tell me that I cannot reality quantum shift into a universe made of anime characters? Fuck you.
Chaweon Koo: That’s what’s going on.
Andrew: I’m sure you can. I’m sure you absolutely can. I don’t doubt that that’s a possibility at all. I wonder what it actually means and I wonder what the benefit of that is on whatever level that people are looking for benefits. That’s my question.
Chaweon Koo: The comments that I had, because I actually put up a TikTok saying, “Do you guys even know what that even means?” And a lot of people commented saying that, “I hate life. Life sucks.” So if you’re going to take away this potential, mathematical potential and probability, even if it’s super, super itsy-bitsy, if you’re going to take that away from me, then I am not going to be happy with you because that is my way of surviving psychologically.
Andrew: Yeah. Well, I am all for doing whatever people need to do to get through the day, right? I think that there’s, especially in this time we’re in now, god, I think that I’m never for taking any of that stuff away. I think that ultimately it doesn’t really matter, right? You’re going to watch more TV. You’re going to astral project into an anime universe. I’m going to go for a three-hour bike ride. It’s all varying levels of like, I just need to get out of what’s going on right now, right? So I don’t think there’s any problems with that. You know?
Chaweon Koo: I do see some problems in that when people have decided that they’re an authority and they’re using their own UPG, their unverified personal gnosis, as their authority. And some of them have very charismatic personalities and they’ve developed cults. They’ve developed groups of young people and they’re drunk on power. I remember there was this one person. I forget who it exactly was, but this TikTokker was saying, “You’ll start to notice that a lot of these bigger accounts once they become just completely and utterly high on the huge follower count and the influence, something in their eyes change.”
Chaweon Koo: TikTok is a video platform, about 60 seconds maximum. He was like, “You can see in their eyes that it looks like broken glass.” And what happens is a lot of these people, they start to create wars, like witch wars. They start to send their followers to cancel other followers or other people. It becomes a very sort of like a microcosm of the macrocosmic idea of the cult of personality and conspiracy theories and also, what it means to have that word and concept of cult just in general.
Chaweon Koo: Recently, I was blocked by this person. So Z, that’s Z’s pronoun, blocked me after I made a very mocking, I thought it was super clever, a very mocking meta duet with Z saying that I also have a cult. Because Z has a cult, and Z says, “No, this isn’t cult like the way that you think that cult is. Not like Charles Manson. This is completely different.” Of course, Z never explained how it was different, and I personally think that Z is a little shit. So I made a duet saying that I also have a cult. It’s called toilet magic. My cult-
Andrew: Did it help you get rid of your shit?
Chaweon Koo: It really does. In fact, the great thing about this toilet magic cult is that it’s so hardcore and edgy that other cults ask us in the toilet magic cult how to be a cult, right, because we’re so full of shit. I thought it was super clever.
Chaweon Koo: Salty Girl, one of my friends on TikTok, is the one who came up with this idea because she was just like, “TikTok Witch Talk is so ridiculous.” We were running with it. We even had this sort of greeting. It was 22. It was very like, all of that. Z blocked me. Z had no sense of humor, and I was just like, “Well, that’s the worst part of all.” I would almost respect Z more if Z was like, “Yeah, it’s a cult,” but there was sort of like a, “I get it,” like a sense of humor or a sense of awareness about it. But instead, Z just blocked me. I thought, “This is such a massive part of Z’s not only personality but also maybe even finances.”
Chaweon Koo: So there’s all these people on TikTok right now trying to debunk Z as a cult leader. I was just like, this is the sort of stuff that was happening on a smaller scale back in the day, but now thanks to TikTok, thanks to people’s videos becoming viral, I’ve had some videos of mine, TikTok videos of mine, go viral. We’re talking over 500K views.
Andrew: Right. Well, I think that this is a really interesting question, right, this question of charisma and what role does charisma play in this stuff, in popularity, in the growing popularity of occultism. Because I know a lot of older occultists, and some of them are kind of charismatic and some of them aren’t. But a lot of the ones that I met, especially those who were doing stuff pre-social media anyway, maybe not pre-internet but pre-social media, almost none of them are charismatic.
Andrew: They have their spooky charm or their something, but it’s not in the way in which social media charisma works to draw people in to where charisma and charm or charisma of some sort or glamor magic of some sort from their personality can very easily define everything about it in the absence of other content, right? Not always but it can.
Chaweon Koo: Can I tell you my newly evolved definition of what charisma and glamor magic is in the age of social media?
Andrew: Hit me with it, please.
Chaweon Koo: Okay. My new and evolved, and it may change, but right now my definition of glamor magic and charisma in the age of social media is algorithm, those who have an intuitive sense of algorithm. So they don’t need to go to social media classes. They don’t need to hire an expert. They understand what works for a certain platform’s algorithm. Those who have that sense are charismatic for that social platform. People who are great at TikTok, they may have extreme glamor on TikTok and extreme charisma on TikTok, are not going to be as charismatic, let’s say, on Instagram. In fact, a lot of these million-plus followers on TikToks have 20K or less followers on Instagram.
Andrew: I think that makes a ton of sense, actually. I would say that my connection to algorithm has ebbed and flowed over time. Currently, I would say I’m in a very good place with it on Instagram, which I consider to be, no offense to TikTok, the pinnacle of social media. But there have been times where I’ve not been aligned with it or I’ve not felt it, and these days I feel it very clearly. Yeah.
Chaweon Koo: I realize that algorithm, we call it that now. We have vocabulary to describe it now because we have computers, we have technology. But algorithm existed from the beginning of time. It’s just that we just didn’t have the words to describe it. Just like dark matter, it always existed. We just didn’t develop that vocabulary until relatively recently. So algorithm is like the dark matter of glamor and of anything related to that sort of… what Mesmer maybe was talking about, that animal magnetism, that it factor. And that it factor is the intuitive sense of what works.
Chaweon Koo: When Clara Bow was considered the it girl, she knew how to work the algorithm of silent films. She just knew somehow and then people had to study here. And then they learned that algorithm. Then when talkies came out, there was that algorithm. Then when radio came out, there was that, et cetera, et cetera. Probably radio came out before the films, but anyways. In each of these communicative platforms, because that’s what glamor magic really is, it’s the sensual manifestation of being on certain communicative platforms.
Chaweon Koo: It’s kind of like if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? It’s like if you’re just by yourself in a monastery and there’s literally no one around, are you doing glamor magic? There needs to be some sort of communication happening, and communication requires other people, other entities. It doesn’t have to be human beings necessarily. If that’s the case in that communicative platform, whether it’s you communing with the spirits like in a monastery where there’s no other human beings but there are spirits, what does that mean? What is the algorithm of that?
Chaweon Koo: I was like, “Oh my god. If that’s the case and if glamor magic and all of that stuff is about the algorithm, then we can also say that there are those who are skilled at, first of all, working with the algorithm, aligning with the algorithm. And then there’s those who are just more in tune with certain algorithms but not with others.” So in a sense magic is about you figuring out which communicative platform your natural algorithm most aligns to. But if you don’t want to stick with just that and you want to go to other communicative platforms, you just need to study it a little bit more. And maybe you’ll always suck at it. Who knows?
Chaweon Koo: Because it really helps in video-based communicative platforms like, I would say, Instagram more and more video today, but definitely TikTok and YouTube, having some sort of traditional definitions of beauty, physical beauty is being aligned with a certain type of algorithm. So having a nice voice really helps with podcasts. It’s just a lot of these things. It’s sort of like knowing what you naturally are aligned to as well. I was like, “Oh, okay. It’s really about algorithm.”
Andrew: Yeah. I think that there are space for everything, right?
Chaweon Koo: Yeah.
Andrew: Because I mean on Instagram you can be one of those accounts where it’s all about you and the way you look and whatever, and that’s one option. But you can also be about other things as well that will fly, like you can just take stunning pictures of things, or you can show your art or show whatever. There are people who can make each of those different kind of paths work.
Chaweon Koo: There needs to be a visual yumminess, whether it’s yourself or something else, but there needs to be a visual yumminess to your Instagram posts, to your video posts on TikTok or YouTube versus you don’t need the same visual yumminess for a podcast. But it’s sort of like, what does that mean to be visually yummy, to be audially yummy, to be textually yummy? That yumminess, maybe we can say the algorithm is yumminess, the umami sense, the sweetness.
Andrew: Yeah. You never know what that’s going to be, right?
Chaweon Koo: You never know.
Andrew: I remember I was on somebody else’s podcast. When they announced it, they’re like, “And Andrew’s pauses are just absolutely delicious.” I was like, “Well, there you go, hilarious, perfect.” Because I do it, and after they said that I noticed that I’ll be like, especially when I’m being asked a question, I will say something and then I will stop and take 30 seconds to collect a really clear thought and then proceed. It was an interview with a lot of silence in it compared to a lot of interviews.
Chaweon Koo: Ooh, very jazzy.
Andrew: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Where do you think this stuff is headed? I mean, first of all, it’s fascinating that to me, and how could it now, it mirrors our current political climate, right? I mean we’ve got fake news. We’ve got social justice issues. We’ve got indigenous issues, race issues, and all these different things going on and on both sides of those arguments. I see and hear that in this conversation and people who take those positions in those various polarities and social dynamics. But where do you think it’s going? Where do you feel like it’s going?
Chaweon Koo: It is going to the next big algorithm, and I don’t know what that’s going to be, to be perfectly honest. But what I will say is that at least on TikTok what I’m seeing more and more is people trying to find intersections. I think because the audience and most of the content creators on TikTok are of a certain age group, of a certain generation, what they define as progress is going to look very different than somebody like the audience of Facebook, the audience of YouTube. I think YouTube is actually the most diverse audience of them all. Definitely, Facebook tends to skew older.
Chaweon Koo: Instagram tends to skew millennial, and I think TikTok tends to skew gen Z. You can see clearly there are some things that cater to… The algorithm caters to each generation in a specific way. I’d be interested to know if somebody wants to write some sort of dissertation trying to look at Pluto and you know how Pluto’s in certain generations, like Pluto and Libra, Pluto and Scorpio, how that relate to social media and the algorithms of that social media, so the glamor and the algorithm of each generation. Super curious about that.
Chaweon Koo: But what I’m also seeing in general, and maybe I’m only projecting my own interests out into the world, but I have been talking a lot more to people outside of the occult who are still studying things that would be considered paranormal. Like I just had some lovely email interactions with Dr. Jeffrey Kripal of Rice University, and he wrote about the flip. He’s written The Super Natural, super space natural. He runs the department of religion, I think, or he’s the department chair of religion at Rice. I could be totally wrong about that. This is somebody who his circle is intersected in some areas with the occult, with the esoteric arts, but also it’s from a different perspective.
Chaweon Koo: I’m also talking more to artists. I’m talking more to people who are occult adjacent, and this is making me believe that the lines that we had before that we maybe needed before, they’re not as necessary. That is what the internet has done because the internet has sort of blurred the idea, because it’s so meta, is it real? Is it real life? There’s a book called The Messages, The Massage, I think. Right now my memory is just not working, but it’s a very famous book about media communication and media theory that was written, I think, in the ’60s or ’70s. It’s being taught in universities.
Andrew: Sure. Marshall McLuhan.
Chaweon Koo: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Is that what it’s called?
Andrew: The Medium is the Message.
Chaweon Koo: The Medium is the Message or the Massage. Basically, what it’s all saying is that there’s a certain point where everything becomes so meta, and this is also very Baudrillard. So, so meta that we don’t know what’s real. We don’t know what’s fantasy. We don’t know what’s magic because everything has become meta symbolic. Are we the identity that we show on Instagram, or are we the person who’s eating ice cream alone at 2:00 a.m.? Because one is where if everybody, like if you get a million likes on a post, isn’t that more you, because the marketplace is saying that to you, than you are when you’re just by yourself and there’s absolutely no one human wise to witness what you’re doing?
Chaweon Koo: What does that all mean? In that sense, everything has blurred. So I’m a little bit more interested now less in what’s considered to be straight up occult and a little bit more like, what are the places that intersect with what we consider to be straight up occult?
Andrew: I have a lot of thoughts about this, right?
Chaweon Koo: Yes.
Andrew: Number one, I think this is just another cycle of those kinds of thoughts. When I was in art school and studying postmodernism and so on, certainly not so much with the internet back then but certainly have a lot of these ideas. I think that one of the things that’s very interesting is this sort of idea of how do we get to what’s real? Are we searching for the real here and all those sort of other ideas.
Andrew: I think one of the things I think is, A, it’s a Western problem. Because when I talk to my non-Western elders, or I mean they’re Western, they live in the States, but people who grew up in Afro-Cuban religious practices and culture and when I speak with various African people that I work with as clients and so on, these questions don’t exist, right? These questions don’t exist at all. The world is more imminent and direct and taken at face value. And all of these extensions into social media and other things, if they’re considered beyond a practical level, they’re just considered as an extension of everything else. It’s just all the same.
Andrew: I think that there’s something else possible as well. And I’ve never expressed this before, but when you said it, I was like, I actually feel like this is something I’ve been doing for a while, which is I think there’s always the option to be the trickster in this regard and to instead say, “I’m going to pick up and put down these games and these things and these positions, and my identity is a core that various faces of it show in different places but that none of these things are me, the external things per se.” Maybe the ice cream at 2:00 a.m. more than anything else.
Andrew: But my engagement in all of these is merely performative in a way and performative of my identity in a way that when I’m using the algorithm or I’m aligned with the algorithm is functional and achieves what my own trickster aims are. And most of my trickster aims are to encourage people to consider themselves differently and expand their minds and look at what’s actually going on outside of these arenas or beyond or below these arenas where there is depth and where those other tricksters or other entities flow behind the world of masks and illusions.
Andrew: That’s where I feel I’m at with all these things. So I actually don’t take any of these questions all that seriously because I’m like, “Yeah, that’s cool.” I can put on a mask and we can talk postmodern theory or we can talk Medium is the Message. We can talk this, that and all these things, and they’re fascinating and they’re interesting. But they’re all kind of a game that is layered on top of what I perceive to be real. Maybe everybody feels that way, but go ahead.
Chaweon Koo: This is actually kind of a coincidence that you’re bringing this up. Because okay, on TikTok you can do these things called lives. So once you have about a thousand followers, you can go live. These are public, so anybody can join. I mentioned that I’m part of the toilet cult, toilet magic cult. I’m also the head, CEO and mascot of another cult. And again, this is being done purely out of jest, and it’s called rv4lyfe, RV as in the RVs that you drive when you’re going camping and stuff. What happened was there was a troll who came into one of my lives. Troll is such an internet feely thing, right?
Chaweon Koo: A troll came in and started to put in emojis of the Russian and Mexican flag just constantly, and everybody was getting really annoyed. But then I remember looking at it and just starting to laugh. I was just like, “This is perfect.” Because everything that you just said just came into my mind like, who cares? This is all so meta. This is just the internet. I was just like, “Guys, all we are are RVs. We’re the driver of the RV. We’re not the actual RV. And our RVs, we’ve decided to pack rocket propellers on ours. Our RVs have those special tricked out rims. Everybody else is driving boring-ass RVs on the highway of life, whatever. We’re off-roading in our RVs. And who says our RVs can’t turn into submarines either?”
Chaweon Koo: Then I was like, the person in my live, their name is Salsa Shark. I was like, “Salsa Shark, you are our mascot, okay. So our symbol any time you need anybody in the cult, our symbol is going to be the Mexican flag and the Russian flag with an RV, okay? This is how we identify and remind each other, thanks to a troll, that we are just the driver. We get to basically trade in RVs, soup it up, add those lights that the Middle Eastern truck drivers add on, like all the ornaments and stuff. You get to do that and you don’t have to go on the highway. You can literally off-road this RV.”
Chaweon Koo: I was like, “Thank you, Salsa Shark.” All of a sudden Salsa Shark was no longer annoying. Salsa Shark was a messenger, was an archangel in this live coming in with a message of what it really is all about, this postmodernism, post-postmodernism. Ever since then, things have shifted. This is so strange that a troll just coming into my… The thing is I have a friend who has told me, “I have been on other lives,” and Salsa Shark has gone into their lives and done the same thing, trolled them with the Mexican and Russian flag or whatever. But in my live, it’s become a symbol, this grand and wonderful archangel-esque symbol versus in other ones it’s seen as trolling. What is it? Is it trolling, because it technically is trolling?
Andrew: Well, is it now proselytizing when they do it in other places?
Chaweon Koo: No. They’re doing it because they’re trolls. They’re literally-
Andrew: I know. But now that you’ve claimed it, does it become proselytizing?
Chaweon Koo: It’s for our select group. And now that everybody else knows about our secret symbol, you guys are also very welcome to use it. It’s the Mexican flag, Russian flag and an RV.
Chaweon Koo: Sometimes we add the little star. This is just our symbol, almost our sigil, our logo. If McDonald’s gets to have a logo, so does rv4lyfe.
Andrew: For sure.
Chaweon Koo: It’s RV, the number four, L-Y-F-E. This is very ’90s.
Chaweon Koo: That’s what I think in a lot of ways for me it’s going towards. And this is, perhaps, I would like to think a very fun and perhaps healthy way for this to go towards. It’s like, yeah, what you mentioned, can we put on the suit of postmodernism? Can we take it off? Can we put something else? Can we be different facets of the same diamond?
Andrew: How big a shoulder pad should I wear to this event?
Chaweon Koo: Okay. I would say that it comes out less than six inches from your actual shoulders, it’s not enough.
Andrew: Right, yeah. I’m thinking Talking Heads, like classic. You know?
Chaweon Koo: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Andrew: Yeah. I think it’s interesting because what I see is, and I’ve seen lots of what you’re talking about because I’m just not on TikTok and so on. Yeah, I’m just not in those spaces as much. The conversations that I do have with people in that generation, they come into the store. I’m there, and they’re like, “Hey, I want a thing for this.” Or, “Do you know what crystal or geode?” Like, “Hey, I was looking for this, but you don’t have it. Do you have something similar?” It’s all brief conversation around practical matters, right?
Andrew: We saw this emergence of animism two years ago, three years ago, maybe something like that, and emerging as a label around a bunch of stuff that was emerging into the occult scene, stepping away from formality but not a return to chaos magic. With that comes the emergence of witchcraft and the claiming of that as well. I think that those things happened around the same time. Then what I see happening or has happened is that people drifted into more formal stuff. Astrology became tremendous. Astrology has had this huge rise over the last couple years.
Andrew: We see a return of people going back to grimoire magic and really old old-school texts and stuff like that and becoming very formal and dogmatic about things. Then I think we see this other offshoot into more psychology stuff, the emergence of trauma consciousness and trauma informed-ness and these things. It’s not that these pieces haven’t been around, but I feel like there’s a direct emergence of those people who got so far into some spiritual practices and then were like, “Oh, no, no. I’m going to go deal with my trauma now.” Or, “Oh, no, no, no. I need something more structured.” Probably they don’t think that way, but I’m drawn to more things that seem more structured or more legitimate or more any army of terms. None of this is dismissive. Please don’t send me angry emails. I don’t mean it that way.
Chaweon Koo: Shadow work.
Andrew: Right. And going into astrology because astrology promises that everything is knowable. If we are attentive enough at a certain level, everything is knowable and the same with grimoire magic and other things. It’s what drew me to ceremonial magic in my teen years to begin with, the idea that if I learned and studied enough that everything became knowable. Then I think there’s this other offshoot or perhaps a separate movement that’s evolved, which is this sort of chaos magic, whatever it is that’s emerging as well. I feel like that everything’s fanning out from the same things again.
Chaweon Koo: That is something that I absolutely agree with. And also, I would say for me, I’ve been shocked but also not exactly surprised that there’s a lot of stuff going on in Russia that I think is kind of cutting edge. I don’t think they would characterize it as occultism because… Okay, so I actually have a lot of Russians that I interact with.
Andrew: Are you referring to them interfering with the election in America?
Chaweon Koo: No. I’m talking about spiritual technology that they’re using.
Chaweon Koo: Okay. In the past couple years there’s been a growing movement centered around this book written by a guy named Vadim Zeland. It’s called Reality Transurfing. We’re talking this is like if Dostoevsky was a physics professor and wanted to just, I don’t know, mix Dostoevsky with, I don’t know, just the most intense 600, 700 page unified theory of everything in a way.
Andrew: Okay, yeah.
Chaweon Koo: It’s like law of attraction 500.0.
Chaweon Koo: I found it super fascinating that in this post-Soviet world, and it’s been a generation since the fall of the Soviet Union. And I always thought of Russia as being still kind of Soviet in a way, but it’s actually very different. It’s super cutting edge and super… There’s such a dichotomy, but at the same time there’s this underlying feeling of oh, of course, we have kitchen spirits. We’re European, but there’s also the strong Eastern influence as well. In some ways I see a lot of Russia, especially outside of Moscow and Saint Petersburg in the regions like Siberia, the former Soviet Union, the regions, especially in Central Asia as well, as being this incredible mix of just lots of cool ideas. But you have Reality Transurfing by Vadim Zeland, which is I think going to become the next The Secret.
Chaweon Koo: Also, you have astral projection or just sort of like astral surfing that’s being taught in seminars, that’s being taught by Russians all across Europe in these group seminars. There’s this really cute website, and it’s so Russian, the name. It’s OBE, Out of Body Experience, the number four, and then the letter U, OBE4U.com or something like that. They have a free ebook about how to astral project, and I did a TikTok about this. They’re basically treating all this stuff with a weird level of, I don’t want to say casualness, but it’s sort of like, “Oh, of course.”
Chaweon Koo: I was very curious, so I did some research. Because as we all know, the CIA, they declassified of their, what is it, the Stargate experimentations and all that stuff. Remote viewing and things that the CIA, that the government was doing in secret, it was a huge thing in the Soviet government. It wasn’t a secret. In the Soviet Union they were just like, “Well, of course people have psychic abilities. Of course people can have clairvoyant abilities, hello.” In fact, I have done a little bit of digging into this, and there’s the guy that the US military trained, the number one guy that they trained to do remote viewing, McNagal, McNeagle? I forget his last name. He teaches at the Monroe Institute right now.
Chaweon Koo: He wrote a book and he was talking about how in the Soviet Union scientists were literally inventing headgear that an average person can wear that they could amplify their natural psychic abilities because they really thought it was brainwaves and it was all scientifically explainable. Instead of the Soviet government being like, “You guys are crazy,” they were just like, “We have a gazillion other things that we need to test. Thank you very much. We’re going to put it in a storage room, but we just don’t have time.” But they treated it very differently than the Americans have treated it.
Chaweon Koo: So that sense that’s sort of away from this maybe Western European, continental European, American, North American materialism, empiricism, but it’s so Europe because it’s Russia. I think that’s super, super, super interesting. Also, the fact that you have places like South Korea and increasingly because South Korean pop culture is becoming de facto Asian culture in a lot of ways, South Korea has taken old traditional indigenous spiritual beliefs as well as Western beliefs like Western astrology, Western tarot stuff, mixed it with their super fast… 99% of the population being connected to high-speed broadband internet. And they’ve taken it and they’ve supercharged this sort of spirituality and occultism, and they don’t have the same sort of maybe existential crisis that we have about the mixing of the two.
Chaweon Koo: They’ve very clearly decided that it is something that is an everyday part of life. The president consults a shaman. I may have mentioned it in our previous talk. Instead of food trucks, they have tarot trucks. You can go outside and go clubbing in Gangnam, like Gangnam Style, that song. You go clubbing in Gangnam. You come out of the club. You just met a guy and you want to know what’s up. You go inside this tarot truck and you get your cards read. You go to cafes where you can order a macchiato. You can order an iced coffee, and somebody will come and sit down with you. And they’ll do your astrology chart or tarot. Not a big deal.
Andrew: Now I want a food truck to drive around the country and do readings for people.
Chaweon Koo: You absolutely should. It’s big business. The entire mishmash of… In Korea, the idea of cultural appropriation, and I think in general in Asia, in a lot of non-North American culture, I think cultural appropriation isn’t seen the same way. I mean, I’ve been to astrology cafes in Korea where they were mixing Saju, which is the Chinese style or the Asian style of divination. They’ve mixed Saju with Western astrology, with tarot cards, with somebody claiming that they were an initiated Korean shaman, so mixed with that.
Chaweon Koo: Plus, they’re going on YouTube and their YouTube name is their name plus their cellphone number in case you want to hire them for some sort of work for hire, which is so smart that they put their cellphone number in their actual YouTube name talking about these things. They do live streams. Korea/South Korea revolutionized and they pioneered this entire live streaming thing. They have these people that are called, and it’s like the worst title ever. I don’t think they realize what they did, but they call them BJs, broadcast jockeys. These are people who go on and they get tons of gifts, money, whatever it is, by going live, whether it’s eating like doing mukbangs or they’re going live to talk about spirituality.
Chaweon Koo: They do something called tum, which is Korean style fortune telling. But they’re doing it in this super modern way. They have no issues whatsoever with technology. All the shamans there, they’re 60, 70 years old with cellphones. They don’t care.
Andrew: When I was in China three years ago, four years ago, I can’t remember when I was in China. The person who brought us there to teach had us on a couple online things doing live videos basically before they were even a thing here. They were just like, “Yeah. It’s just like being on TV.” Then they saw it exactly the same. It’s like, yeah. So it’s fascinating.
Chaweon Koo: For them, the algorithm, it is so naturally a part of what they consider to be magic because there isn’t the same delineation between “mundane life” and magic. It’s sort of like, well, of course, you’re a dummy if you don’t consider the algorithm, of course. You want to get plastic surgery to help the algorithm, the live stream of the YouTube, no problem. There is a different mindset and the fact that there’s so much of this Western European, continental European mindset that’s trying to infiltrate Korea bothers me in a way because it’s now getting involved in that. It’s taking away I think from the speed because what Korea had before was this ability to move just really fast because there was no hemming and hawing and philosophical existential crisis about it.
Chaweon Koo: So now there is more of this feeling of like, what is the meaning of life? What is this? What is that? There’s a spiritual hunger that maybe they’re looking to the West for, but I think there’s also a huge resurgence of indigenous spirituality that’s coming in that’s being done in this very, very new technologically advanced way, algorithmic way, which I think is so cool.
Andrew: Yeah. Well, I think it’s fascinating to see the grounding of deep knowledge and high speed really. Those things are fascinating.
Chaweon Koo: And also, we need to realize that Asia has had war after war in the 20th century, so a lot of this spiritual stuff was either lost, suppressed. They were killed, the old ways. So in some ways the same issues of gate keeping, of trying to keep the tradition pure, are people just making shit up? It’s become an issue as well of Westerners wanting to get initiated as Korean shamans. Now there’s big debates of is that even a thing? Can we do that? Also, the mix of that plus capitalism. Each initiation, as we all know, it can bring in the big bucks.
Chaweon Koo: So how do we do that market demand? Are we providing it? Is it all right if we do that?
Andrew: Well, it’s exactly the same problems facing Orisha traditions…
Chaweon Koo: Exactly.
Andrew: … in Africa and in the diaspora, right?
Chaweon Koo: Exactly.
Andrew: Because there are people out there to be like, “Oh, you got the money? Sure, we’ll do it,” right?
Chaweon Koo: Exactly.
Andrew: Then you look at what they receive, and you’re like, “This has no bearing on tradition.” You know?
Chaweon Koo: None.
Andrew: It’s complicated. It’s complicated times.
Chaweon Koo: It is. That seems to be the sort of wonderful chaos that’s being helped in speed by this algorithm, by technology that is carrying this binary code, which is a type of spell that we call an algorithm. That’s where we’re headed. To me this is so interesting. I’m literally excited about this constantly 24/7.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s great. I love your excitement.
Chaweon Koo: Yeah. I think one of the things that I’m very curious about is how this is going to mature. Because as we mentioned earlier, people are very concerned with identity. Circling back to the identity, they’re very concerned with identity when you’re beginning and when you’re maybe up to intermediate level. There comes a certain point where that starts to dissolve.
Chaweon Koo: When that dissolves, does the algorithm still remain important? How do you communicate your evolution when you ultimately don’t give a shit about the algorithm anymore? Are you developing your own algorithm at that point? All these things to me have yet to unfold. They’re starting to unfold just a little bit right now, and I am so excited to see what it’s going to look like in the next five to 10 years.
Andrew: Yeah. Me, too. Well, let’s keep checking in and keep talking about it.
Chaweon Koo: Absolutely.
Andrew: Yeah. Maybe that’s a good place to wrap it up for today. Where should people come and find you? What’s your TikTok handle? How do people find you there, or where else should people look for you?
Chaweon Koo: I think it might be the easiest to just go on YouTube, which is, by the way, the number two search engine. Perhaps, it’s going to be number one soon in the world after Google. You can look up Witches & Wine, just witches wine, and then I’ll probably be the first thing that comes up. Then all my social media is linked there. My Instagram and TikTok are both the same. It’s hichaweon, but it’s linked in my YouTube. As I mentioned, TikTok is probably where I live the most, but my YouTube is definitely having more and more videos come out.
Andrew: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for catching up with me today. This has been utterly delightful.
Chaweon Koo: Oh, thank you.