Sunday, December 28, 2014
Magus Magazine: Ritual & Transition States in Gods & Man: Ritual &Transition States in Non-Humans by Preston Copeland Discussing non-humans has many more implications than just anthro...
Discussing non-humans has many more implications than just anthropomorphism. As Latour has remarked, “Non-humans have not been emerging for aeons just to serve as so many props to show the mastery, intelligence, and design capacities of humans or their divine creations. They have their own intelligence, their own design, and plenty of transcendence to go on, that is, to reproduce” (Latour, Bruno. Will Non-Humans Be Saved?2009). Although many non-humans do have human-like qualities or tendencies, they are autonomous entities that have their own trajectory and hold their own agency. Attributing only anthropomorphism to deity production is like trying to play a three-note guitar chord with only two strings. Although there is a familiarity with the sound, something seems missing. This something in terms of non-humans is evolutionary and experiential.
Truth be told, non-humans aren't so much ineffable or infallible as incommensurable. Much like biological organisms, there is an evolution of the supernatural. Deities that are fittest or created with a favorable evolutionary trait tends to be more successful over time. These genetic variances may mutate and shift as in the case of the Holy Tree. According to what is known as the “Golden Legend”, the true cross came from three seeds from the ‘tree of mercy’ in the Garden of Eden. These three seeds were placed in the mouth of Adam’s corpse by Seth. After many centuries, wood from the tree was used to build a bridge that was used by the Queen of Sheba on her travels to meet King Solomon. When she walked across the bridge, Sheba was struck with a portent and began to worship. After reaching Solomon, she told the king about her omen of the holy-wood that would eventually lead to a new covenant between God and his people. This terrified the king and he had the timber buried. However, fourteen generations later, it would be wood from this bridge that is fashioned to produce Christ’s cross.
The narrative shows how non-humans have an evolutionary trajectory. The tree (object) went from being a seed, to a tree, bridge, crucifixion cross, and holy relic. But its symbolization, or what it means epistemologically, also evolved as centuries passed. This non-human’s meaning changed as it was imbued with the numinous. In fact, the severity of its numinous qualities ebbed and flowed through time. It was certainly a sacred object when it was in seed form and placed in Adam’s mouth. However, it lost some of its sacred power when Solomon buried it underground. Not till it was fashioned into Christ’s cross did the object reach its evolutionary potential. As a religious determinate, the true cross underwent an epistemic trajectory wherein its power as a religious symbol changed.
Self-determining deities also show evolutionary prowess as they move through time and space. However, there is an incommensurable aspect to the trajectory that keeps us from making oblique comparisons of sacred narratives. Because of its experiential nature, interactions with deities are necessarily incommensurable and must be examined as autonomous but non-comparable events. Its like comparing an entheogenic psilocybin experience with the visitation at Fatima by the Virgin Mary. Both are numinous events but they cannot be compared in any way. The experience of psilocybin-its affective qualities and pure unmitigated surrealism cannot be compared to any other numinous experience in any way because every experience of the sacred is new. Every numinous event is different in every way from other religious events due to the subjective experience in a sacred event. After all, we’re not comparing the experience of going to a baseball game or a movie. An experience of the deity is something extra-ordinary. It can be wholly beautiful or awful and terrifying. But the interaction will be unique and the experience new. And these are the qualities that are renewed or re-embodied through religious ritual. Although the experiences are incommensurable, they can be renewed subjectively to foster a change of state.
In the work of trajectories, the re-presentation of gods are a form of ritual economy. The rite of passage involves Man and the Deity to be successful. As Chris Knight and Camilla Power have remarked, “The gods do not just appear and then replicate themselves autonomously through being ‘attention-grabbing’. Rather, the immortals need organized communal help” (Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute. 4(11) March 1988. pp 129-132. Comment). Through the rite of passage sequence, the Deity and Man exhibit a ritual exchange of goods and services. But it is Man that performs the high-cost activities of conjuration. It is Man that does the dancing, and chanting, and trance exploration. They must in order to be embodied. And every occultist knows this.
We already know that transition states lead to re-presentation of the initiate. What isn't as readily discussed is the effect ritual has on the deity. After all, ritual is an interaction. In the past, the deity has enjoyed a central place in the interaction. As Bastaire & Bastaire have remarked, non-humans had a central place in theology, in spirituality, in rituals, and of course in art which they have almost totally lost. Nowadays, a crisis of representation has nearly left the deity completely out of the ritual equation. Uncertainty about adequate means to interact with these non-humans has led many religious systems to forget their presence entirely. The ritual may be performed without god even in mind. When the process becomes mindless, re-presentation doesn't occur and the ritual fails.
Moreover, ritual interactions are the most successful when both the ritual specialist and the non-human connect personally. I don’t mean pure anthropomorphism although the deity may take on human or animal qualia. I refer to metaphysics of presence that function as an ontological foundation. This gift of presence is consciousness. And it is this presence, this re-presentation, which forms part of the fabric of social reality. Until now, we have viewed the present crisis of representation as one distinctive, alternate swing of the pendulum between periods in which paradigms, or totalizing theories, are relatively secure, and periods in which paradigms lose their legitimacy and authority-when theoretical concerns shift to problems of interpretation of the details of a reality that eludes the ability of dominant paradigms to describe it, let alone explain it.
We have conjured a reality where non-humans exist but lack any ontological ethos. We are quick to assert that god exists but ascribe no autonomous status to the concept. Our interactions with non-humans are without any interaction at all. Yet it is us that provide meaning to the deity. We imbue it with qualities and characteristics and even a personality. We give it presence and in so doing, renew its importance in reality. The same concept is used by quantum physicists to describe the position and momentum of particles in the universe. These postulated entities are defined and given meaning through the techniques used to measure them. Like deities, they wait on us to give them an ontological situation.
And we have many ideas as to what makes up the qualities of our deities. Some cultures say that god resides in caves, others in forests; for many, god is in the sky while others suggest underground. And still others would persuade us that god is a form of consciousness while their counterparts argue for an entity outside of the human universe. The prevailing thought is that either god is out there or in-here. We call this relationship transcendence and immanence.
Transcendence refers to our deities as being outside of human influence. God then, is beyond anything that is other than god. This form of thought is indicative of monotheistic religions. However, polytheistic and ‘nature-religions’ also experience moments of grace or enlightenment characteristic of transcendence. A transcendence deity is beyond thought, ‘above’ physical things and apart from the world we live in. In the Kantian sense, transcendent means beyond all the forms and categories of experience and knowledge: space and time, as well as quantity (unity, plurality, or universality), quality (reality, negation, or limitation), relation (substantiality, causality, or reciprocity), or modality (possibility, actuality, or necessity). All these things are the preconditions or presuppositions of human experience and thought. Hence to imagine creation (causality) and creator (first cause) of the universe is only to project the categories of human experience and reason beyond their field.
On the other hand, Immanence refers to the divinity being near or within. In eastern orthodoxy, it is hypostases or energies of god. Immanence finds god in this life and in the world around us. According to Joseph Campbell, the immanence of god is in the faces, personalities, loves, and lives all around us, in our friends, or enemies, and ourselves.Furthermore, immanence takes place in the mind and is entirely subjective. Perhaps the best way to understand the immanence of god is in its experiential qualities. When we experience the divine or what if feels like to be the deity.
One is also reminded of the subject object relationship in philosophy. The subjective immanence seems to sit in stark contrast to the transcendent object until we realize that a unitive experiential understanding of the divine dissolves any distinction between immanence and transcendence. Spetnak remarks that what is emerging now is the nondualistic understanding of immanent and transcendent long seen as opposites in western cultural history, transcendence is coming to be understood as “beyond” but not “above” the material plane we can see in everyday life. Our minds will never be able to map the endless networks of what I call “relational reality”, so spirituality that seeks to commune with either immanence or transcendence now sees that they are no apart. This realization is not new to eastern philosophy or indigenous cultures, of course; we were simply late coming to it in the modern west because of our dualistic and mechanistic worldview. Understanding god as both immanent and transcendent was also proposed by Plotinus when he asserted that “we should not speak of seeing, but instead of seen and seer, speak boldly of a simple unity for in this seeing we neither distinguish nor are their two”. And also by Flemish alchemist Theobald de Highelande when he says that “this science transmits its work by mixing the false with the true and the true with the false, sometimes very briefly, at other times in a most prolix manner, without order and quite often in the reverse order; and it endeavors to transmit the work obscurely, and to hide it as much as possible”.  We understand then that the deity and what it feels like to be the deity are one in the same. Just as the object and subject, seer and seen, even god and man enjoy a unitive relationship, we can expect that a rite of passage would affect the deity equally as much as the neophyte.
It’s hard for many to accept this basic occult principle. The tendency is to see god outside of ourselves or as something greater than us. We grant him extraordinary powers and omniscience. We are taught that man is flawed or wicked and must be separated from god. At least for now. And this separation is the definition of hell. Our dualistic frame of mind places us, by default, in an experience of eternal punishment by refusing to acknowledge the one-ness or at-one-ment of god and man. This wasn't always the case. Scotus Erigena discussed divine ignorance in the 1800s when he stated that there is yet another kind of ignorance of god, inasmuch as he may be said not to know what things he foreknows and predestines until they have appeared experientially in the course of created events.  Just as the initiate must undergo experientially the rite of passage that confers a new state of consciousness, so too the deity must wait until events play out in order to know what the ritual accomplished. Erigena goes on to say that there is another kind of divine ignorance, in that god may be said to be ignorant of things not yet made manifest in their effects through experience of their action and operation; of which, nevertheless, he holds the invisible courses in himself, by himself created, and to himself known. Just as man has nascent potentialities that must be unlocked via ritual, so too the deity is ignorant of things not yet made manifest. A rite of passage must unveil or bring to light aspects of himself.
Furthermore, sometimes the rite of passage involves man awakening nascent potentialities in the deity. Carl Jung one stated that, “For the alchemist the one primarily in need of redemption is not man, but the deity who is lost and sleeping in matter only as a secondary consideration does he hope that some benefit may accrue to himself from the transformed substance as the panacea, the medicina catholica, just as it may to the imperfect bodies, the base or “sick” metals, etc… His attention is not directed to his own salvation through god’s grace, but to the liberation of god from the darkness of matter”. 
Here man acts as initiator to the deity. Object and subject although unitive are also autonomous entities that reveal parts of the whole to the other. It is a paradox. Object- subject immanence-transcendence, man-god is both unitive and separate. They are mutually exclusive yet inseparable.
This classic example of religious of religious paradox is best seen in the idea of light in darkness and darkness in light. When consciousness becomes unitive or objectless, we are left with a consciousness not of anything. It is a pure or “cosmic-consciousness”. There is nothing empirical in this state of mind. Unitive consciousness is both something and nothing. Sometimes it is described as there and not-there. Merleau-Ponty has remarked that this state of being is experienced not from the depths of nothingness but from the midst of itself.
Religions have many names and describe “cosmic-consciousness” in a myriad of ways. Christians identify it with god. The bible calls it a “desert” or “wilderness”. Dionysius the Areopagite stated that god is “the dazzling obscurity which outshines all brilliance with the intensity of its darkness”. Buddhism also recognized this paradox by labeling it the void. The Tibetan Book of the Dead speaks of “the clear light of the void.” It is the darkness of god. It is called darkness because all physical distinctions disappear. It is the same as the Indian Brahman and identical to the Atman. Object-subject distinctions simply dissolve. Therefore, we can’t say that there is a light in the darkness because there would then be no paradox. The light is the darkness and the darkness is the light.
Philosophers have also identified with unitive experience brought about by metaphysics of presence. Schopenhaur called it the ‘Will’. He stated that,
Up to now, the concept Will has been subsumed under the concept force; but I am using it just the opposite way, and mean that every force in nature is to be understood as a function of Will. For at the back of the concept force there is finally our visual knowledge of the objective world, i.e. of some phenomenon, something seen. It is from this that the concept of force derives…whereas the concept Will, on the contrary, is the one, among all possible concepts, that does not derive from the observation of phenomenon, not from mere visual knowledge, but comes from inside, emerges from the immediate consciousness of each of us: not as a form, not even in terms of the subject-object relationship, but as that which he himself is; for here the knower and the known are the same.
The Will then, is without empirical content. It is pure “cosmic” unitive experience. This is not a new or radical concept. It is simply experiential. Our metaphysics of presence is one in which personhood is granted to the deity. In other words, there is not one deity in the mind and one in the physical world. As Neils Bohr once remarked in terms of the Quantum, “Theorizing should be an embodied practice, rather than a spectator sport of matching linguistic representations to preexisting things”.  When we unite object-subject, we unite matter and meaning and man and deity.
That’s not to say that the deity is solely a part of man. Again, they are mutually exclusive yet inseparable. When we experience the deity, we experience a corporeal or bodily component to experience. At the same time, the object(body) gives us access to subjective or numinous experience. And in this state, we cannot articulate the experience because we are embodied by the deity. You could say we are possessed. Mystics are used to this idea. As Stace remarks, “the mystic, of course, expresses thoughts about his experience after the experience is over, and he remembers it when he is back again in his sensory-intellectual consciousness. But there are no thoughts in the experience itself”.Philsopher Merleau-Ponty also states that “He who sees cannot possess the visible unless he is possessed by it, unless he is of it”. Those who possess the numinous cannot see it because they are, at that second, part of it. They are experiencing the unitive.
This is exactly what is occurring as man and deity undergo the rite of passage. But there is one crucial difference. Whereas man embodies the unitive and experiences subjectively what it feels like to be the deity, the deity itself is re-embodied. While man is transcendent and immanent undergoing a change of consciousness, the corresponding deity is also unitive yet because of their inherent divinity being renewed through the ritual. Anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep identified three stages to the rite of passage. First, the initiate is separated from his or her group. This separation is also one in which they abandon their previous social niche and head into the unknown. This unknown is a state of liminality. Here the initiate is betwixt and between or without any social status at all. It is during rites of liminality that the initiations actually occur. The rite then culminates with the neophyte being reintegrated into society. They return a new person with a new social role and identity.
The deity also experiences a rite of passage as the initiate undergoes a change of consciousness. During the ROP, the deity is sent into a liminal state and is also betwixt and between. However, this liminality is unitive or at-one-ment. The deity cannot transcend or enlighten because they are already transcended; they are already enlightened. There is nothing for the deity to become for the deity has already become. The ROP is a renewal of the numinous. In it, the deity is ‘made anew’ or ‘re-embodied.
Furthermore, a deity is both a determinate and self-determining. As well as being able to decide their own course of action or fate, the deity is also a fixed or distinct symbol. For example, the goddess Demeter is a mother to Perseophone, daughter of Cronos & Rhea, and part of the triple goddess manifestation. She is spatially identified with Greece and the Telesterion; She is temporally identified with the Thesmophoria and the festival of Chthonia. But Demeter is also a mystery. She is the goddess of the harvest and responsible for the frigid winter months. When she is renewed or re-embodied through a rite of passage, the harvest is also renewed. Her determinate qualities are inherent and a part of her, and they too become re-embodied through the ritual. In this way, man’s transformation that occurs as part of the ROP also acts as a renewing agent for the harvest and agriculture. Moreover, as his state of consciousness changes, man renews not only the transcendent qualities of the goddess but his own immanent determinate symbols.
 Bastaire & Bastaire 2004
 George E. Marcus and Michael M.J. Fischer, ed. Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment In The Humans Sciences. 2nd edition. University of Chicago Press. 1999. Chicago.
 Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. Penguin Arcana. 1968. New York.
 Ibid pp 578
 Spretnak 2011
 Plotinus reference
 Theobalde de Highelande reference
 Scotus Erigena 1838. 594c.
 Ibid 596c.
 Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy. Trans. by R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series XX, vol. 12. Pantheon Books. New York, 1968.
 Merleau-Ponty 1968. pp 113
 Schopenhaur, Die welt als Wille und Vorstellung, II 21; Samtliche Werke, Vol. 2 pp 152-153
 K. Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC. Duke University Press. 2007.
 Walter T. Stace, “Subjectivity, Objectivity and the Self”, Religion For A New Generation 2nd edition. Ed. Jacob Needleman, A.K. Bierman, and James A. Gould. Macmillan Publishing Co. New York. 1977.
 Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible. A. Lingin Trans. Evanston. Northwestern University Press. Pp134. 1968.
 Bruno Latour, “Will Nonhumans be saved? An Argument in Ecotheology.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. (N.S.) 15. pp 459-475. 2009.
Monday, December 8, 2014
They say that postmodern ideas of religion have no need for anachronistic or archaic pagan debris left by the wayside of complex religious institutions. These old rituals died long ago and good riddance. Nowadays, organized religion has tried to run over any alternative like a rotten piece of road kill. We’re talking about so-called legitimate organizations of the sacred that are overwrought with pedophile priests, crazed assertions of a one true faith, and greedy evangelicals that live the highlife of hookers, heroin, and hedonism. It’s a rockstar status and nobody seems to mind that these spiritual charlatans are conducting the heavenly orchestra. Have we learned nothing from Swaggart and Baker? Good god! These salesmen don’t even try to be pious. And most now equate the Ten Commandments with the ten venereal diseases that rack their holy-poisoned bodies. “Thou shalt not pick up hepatitis from the Whore of Babylon on Lexington and 2nd street.” “Thou shalt not covet the church leader’s wife until that harlot gets treated for gonorrhea and my rash goes away.” And yet we fork over millions in a feeble attempt to make Jesus happy. And why? Why my brethren do we buy our way into paradise when it can be found in any number of ways?
I recently attended a pagan ‘full-moon ceremony’ held at a local university. Since I’d had no real experience with pagan ideology, there were no preconceived notions on my part. I didn’t fear being cannibalized or chased with pitch forks. Actually a little raw fear may have intensified the experience. After all, I was warned of the pure, unadulterated evil of the pagan persuasion. I came to expect wild, crazed dancing and Bacchic fits. I was fully prepared to be terrified by a torch-lit procession of anthropomorphic lunatics chanting in unison and dragging the carcass of some poor pet-owner's dog in their wake. I even brought my pepper-spray just in case I had to douse somebody and make a run for it. Oh, I was warned. “They’re gonna be taking over and burning some effigy of Jesus.” One correspondent remarked. Another witness just hid in the bushes adjacent to the ritual and mumbled Christian counter-curses to ward off the pagan idolatry. “They should burn!” He seethed. “They should all burn in hell!” We can expect this kind of reaction as the pagan movement gears up for an all-out assault on the local political scene. Rumor has it that a neo-shaman and traveling warlock plans to usurp power from the conservative Christian hegemony that characterizes North Utah. “We’re afraid to leave our homes at night.” One local remarked, “The goddamn pagans have set up shop in the canyon and [sic] doing who-knows-what in the hills up there. I heard they eat babies and worship a goat.” The police department has been inundated with calls about maniacal howling, a Witches Sabbath, and a secret meeting place deep in the National Forest where pagans perform filthy rites and speak in tongues. The zeal of the local community in castigating this pagan tribe has reached fever pitch with the coming of the full-moon. A demonstration in the middle of town was checkered with signs that read, ‘Save our babies, punish the pagans!’ and ‘The only good pagan is a dead pagan!’ As I approached the small clearing where the pagans had gathered, I must admit to a feeling of trepidation. I could still hear the hissing of that freak in the bushes and the night seemed electric and ready to deliver something awful and unexpected.
As we stood in a horse-shoe pattern and read aloud the introductory prayer, I didn't notice anything overtly heretical. We weren't forced to trample a cross, lick anybody’s ass, or worship of bodiless head. Seemed pretty tame. Even by my standards and I was fully prepared for some hideous blasphemy. Or at least some screeching of the faithful sort. What I found was basically coherent and actually quite beautiful. Amid the nervous mumbling of the uninitiated, the comfort of those used to buying this brand of holy-roller, and strange screaming coming from somewhere not far away, the experience felt legitimate. I could tell by the care taken with the altar and the honesty of those participating that the mechanisms used to negotiate belief was apparent in the pagan experience. And although in the back of my mind, I really wanted some terrible goddess to show up, I didn’t know if all the players present could handle such a vicious jolt of the sacred. An appearance of Persephone to somebody not really equipped to handle the shock could lead to a sleepless night of anxiety or such a severe case of righteous bewilderment that being afraid of the dark just wouldn’t seem to cover it. How do you tell your Sunday preacher that a great and powerful goddess likes to straddle your chest at night and whisper beautiful sweet-nothings in your ear? That it arouses you and her scent still lingers long after she rejoins the underworld. What do you say to that? Well, be that as it may, the pagan experience was a kind of soft beauty. There was a calming lucidity that led to gentle smiles and warm caresses. And towards the end, in that stillness and the slight rustle of trees, there was a breeze and within it, the breath of a smiling and satisfied goddess.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Simulations & the Supernatural: How Tarot Theory & Baudrillard’s Nightmare Shed Light on the Nature of Reality. By Jack Vates
Simulations& the Supernatural: How Tarot Theory & Baudrillard’s Nightmare Shed Light on the Nature of Reality. By Jack Vates
“We accept the real so readily because we sense that reality does not exist.”- Jorge Luis Borges
Is it all an illusion? Is there truly a veil that prevents us from correctly perceiving reality? Many occultists believe so. And they’re not alone. Recent times have afforded a myriad of philosophers and even “pop culture” references that question whether or not our entire world is a fabrication. Jean Baudrillard certainly thinks so. In fact, this social philosopher negated reality in its entirety. A groundbreaking perspective, Baudrillard asserted that all of reality is a simulation. He once stated that “we have passed out of the industrial era, in which production was the dominant pattern, into a code-governed phase where the dominant schema is simulation.” And he meant this literally. For this innovative thinker, reality directly coincides with an apparent law of value. What he called ‘hyperreality’,or ‘floating values’, what makes up reality is an indeterminate fluctuation much like money or power. It is significations of reality called simulacra and not reality itself. in other words, an illusion.
“There is no longer such a thing as ideology; there are only simulacra.”
Occultists recognize this line of thought. Specifically, the tarot readers absolutely understand what Baudrillard is referring to and have been espousing this point of view for centuries. In the Trump card of the Major Arcana called the ‘Devil’, the Tarotist intuitively recognizes the bondage or ‘simulation’ of materiality. Whenever this entity turns up in a tarot spread, there is always an idea of restriction or Saturnian influence. It’s not entirely negative, it’s simply a matter of identifying the simulacra in one’s life or unconscious.
Baudrillard also came to this conclusion but described it in philosophical terms. He asserted that the unconscious relinquished its own reality principle in order to become an operational simulacrum. At the exact point where its psychic principle of reality is confused with its psychoanalytic reality principle, the unconscious becomes another simulation model. But how does it work? For Baudrillard, reality is a “processual matrix”. In its most idealized form, it has a binary structure. it’s a simple questions/answer, stimulus/response format of bi-polarity that pushes us to place ‘value’ or signs of the real instead of the real itself. He states that, “It is the processual mode of the simulations that dominate us. They can be organized as an unstable play of variation, or in polyvalent or tautological modes, without endangering this central principle of bi-polarity: Digitality is, indeed, the divine form of simulation. Why does the WTC in NYC have ‘two’ towers…”
Again, the Tarot reader would agree with this idea. Part of reacting to the Devil is to negate the simulation of difference. To slip the veil or chains, so to speak; To not get lost in representations. And that’s the real fear isn’t it? When our icons are substituted for an ‘Intelligible Idea’ of divinity, we are pulling taut the chains of simulation. And the overarching fear that there never was a divinity and only simulacra keeps many a Tarot enthusiast up at night.
So what is the way out? How do we see through our illusions and end our reliance on simulacra? Baudrillard had some ideas. He suggested a use of equal and opposite value reversals or ‘inversion’ to create a kind of symbolic disorder to annihilate the simulation. He borrowed the concept of ‘Death’ and the ‘reversibility of death’ to breach this code. But this isn’t death in the bodily sense. He states that “Death should never be interpreted as an actual occurrence in a subject or body, but rather as a form, possibly a form of social relation, where the determination of the subject and value disappear.” In other words, utilize a process of inversion to destroy the simulation.
Again the occultist is familiar with the concept. To the tarot theorist, both Death and the Devil speak of inversions and reversals to achieve a ‘change of state’ during a liminal period. Traditionally, Death is an archetype of change. Appearance of this card suggests something is or should be exiting in favor of renewal. The Devil makes blatant use of inversion in its ideas of bondage. In fact, the Devil is portrayed on many tarot decks is a posture directly opposite to that of the Hierophant or ‘Pope’ card. The idea of an inversion of freedom or simulation is blatant in its iconography.
It’s impossible to not leave the discussion of simulation theory without at least mentioning a very curious sentence in Baudrillard’s essay on simulation. Did you catch it? When he states, “Digitality, is, indeed the divine form of simulation. Why does the WTC in NYC have ‘two’ towers…”(Ibid) Reading this now has a haunting and almost prophetic feel to it. There is something awful about it. And we all know why. There’s no sense stating the obvious here only to say that the implications of this one sentence is enough to send any conspiracy theorist into a fit of gleeful jabbering. What did Baudrillard mean when he asked, ‘Why does the WTC in NYC have ‘two’ towers?’ My first impression of the remark was that the two towers represent the concept of bi-polarity that the philosopher abhorred. But if that’s the case, then the towers were a ‘symbol of the simulation’. And this is where the conspiracy junkies will want to tap a vein. Because the implication is that the attack was an attempt to end the simulation. To shock us back into reality. Of course, the line of thought then begs us to ask: How did Al-Qaeda choose this target? Was it simply just a symbol of the West or something more? What if the goofy child terrorists were not even aware of their role in a real Kuhnian paradigm shift? Or even more horribly, what if they were given the target by someone else? It’s not hard to surmise where the conspiracy can go from here. But it is strange though yes? Baudrillard’s remark is more than curious. It’s scarily eerie.
Tarot does have a card that would give meaning to this scenario. Curiously, it is called the ‘Tower’. The card usually depicts the destruction of a tower by an impenetrable force. And get this, two figures are typically seen falling from the tower. They are the Pope and the King. The card is one of cataclysmic change. It is destruction; A horrifying shift in consciousness. It clearly points to revelation and revolution. Because in this card, ‘revolution is revelation’. See how easy it is now to fit the events of 9/11 in this framework? And it’s even easier to include Baudrillard’s ‘simulations’ or matrix theory into the equation. What becomes difficult is exploring how the implications could be interpreted. There is obviously somebody in the world ready to point to Al-Qaeda as potential saviors of reality; as martyrs to the simulation. But no serious occultist would suggest that Al-Qaeda was smart enough to come to this obscure philosophical argument on their own. Nor would we assert that it’s the Illuminati. The occultist position is that the event was a paradigm shift. It was the ‘Tower’ manifesting into reality. ‘Fortune’ turns and a universe persists. Al-Qaeda played a role. Like the adversary, they had a particular job but made no conscious choice or decision to be part of the larger design. They were simply used by a universe that persists.
And in regards to Baudrillard’s simulation? Occultists are not iconoclasts. We don’t destroy but create in a literal sense. To us, representation occurs only in the re-presenting or re-newing of the sacred. Our entities exist and are both determinate and self-determining. They are created and become autonomous through the act of creation. Are they simulations? Are they simply significations of a reality substituted for reality itself? Are we simply deluding ourselves in a matrix illusion? I would provide a resounding no because of the experiential nature of the occult conjuration. For a simulation to take hold it must have time to form and be accepted by those it tries to enslave. The trajectory of ceremonial magick forms and reforms continuously in real time. There simply isn’t enough time for a simulation to perverse the pot. During an operation, the nature of reality and what can be accepted is in a state of flux. Magicians speak of doorways or gates. Aspects of numinous reality being experienced as the entity is renewed and re-embodied by ritual. Simulation simply doesn’t enter into this experiential numinousness. And if it could, it would be like a ‘temporary file’ or cookie on your computer hard-drive. Not possibly something that could take hold but something deleted upon exiting the web browser or ‘ritual’. The occultist is naturally familiar with ideas of science, cyberpunk, and technology. But there are inherent differences that allow the occultism to escape simulation bondage. It is these esoteric nuances that make the conjuration such a remarkable shaper of reality.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Magus Magazine: Creating the Magick: The metaphysics of Occult tho...: Creating the Magick: The Metaphysics of Occult thinking. Magus Magazine: Creating the Magick: The metaphysics of Occult thought. New Blog! What is the philosophy of occult?
“Poor idiot! Are you so foolish as to believe
we will openly teach you the greatest and most
important of secrets? I assure you that anyone who
attempts to study, according to the ordinary and literal
sense of their words, what the Hermetic Philosophers
write, will soon find himself in the twists of a labyrinth
from which he will be unable to escape, having no
Ariadne’s Thread to lead him out.”
The occult as a source of study has traversed a myriad of philosophical schools of thought. Anthropologists and Folklorists have discussed the implications of magic on socio-cultural and religious levels but have largely shied away from individual agency as part of the occult process. The reason is simple. It is much easier to infer the effect that magic and religion has on a group rather than make speculative guesses on the causal and deterministic motives that the ‘individual’ makes use of. That’s not to say that metaphysical quandaries don’t have a place in occult study. On the contrary, much of what characterizes occult discussion is based on solid metaphysical properties. For example, Jan de Vries has remarked that, “If we view magic as an institutional technique, it does seem that the sprinkling of water causes the rain to appear. But the person who executed this act for the first time did not in the least desire to apply, albeit incorrectly, the law of causality. Primitive man had not come that far at all; He laid hold on the expedient of magic because he found himself in one or another emergency” (176). Even if the causal factor is refuted, the fact that causality is included in a study of magic shows the potency of metaphysical thinking on occult study.
Even Frazer’s work on sympathetic magic had largely causal concerns. It is no surprise that imitative magic makes use of causation as part of their design. For example, the desired effect of manipulating somebody’s personal hair clippings or clothing was to produce a significant effect in their owner. A classic cause and effect scenario. Often times, the experiential nuances of the occult ritual are much more important to understanding occult reasoning than causation or deterministic structure. Famous folklorist Lutz Rohrich has stated that, “The experiential legend depicts numinous astonishment at the apparent suspension of the natural laws of causality in external reality” (26). The shock of witnessing the supernatural becomes an integral aspect of interpreting the magic experience. But is this all there is to occult philosophy? Are there other paradigms that enter into the occult way of thinking?
Whether it is demonic legends, Old Hag, or even UFO abduction narratives, the occult disregards theories accepted in scientific milieus yet is concerned with science. The occult wants to be legitimate. Many occultists strive for the valid deductive argument form: If [theory + experimental conditions + assumptions] then prediction. The problem lays in the fact that many occult and paranormal researchers tend to affirm the consequence of their predictions. For example, a Ufologist might suggest that:
If a UFO, then presence of anomalous lights.
If presence of anomalous lights
Therefore, a UFO.
However, just because there are anomalous lights does not automatically mean there is a UFO present. There obviously could be another explanation. These invalid deductive arguments are more common in studies of paranormal and occult than you many realize. In fact, even some aspects of Ancient Astronaut Theory is guilty of invalid deductive form. It is known that many aspects of AAT make use of highly complex megalithic structures to prove the influence of extraterrestrials on early Man. They postulate that at sites such as Puma Punku in Peru, early Man wasn’t sophisticated enough to design or engineer such an intricate complex. Therefore, aliens must have intervened. The argument tends to take these forms:
If ancient aliens, then highly advanced megalithic structure.
Highly sophisticated megalithic structure,
Therefore ancient aliens.
If highly advanced megalithic structures, then aliens.
Therefore highly advanced megalithic structures.
Although these examples may seem trivial, you can see the complications that arise when attempting to deductively formulate a sound occult or paranormal prediction. However, that’s not to say that the occult is abhorrent to philosophy. On the contrary, there are other philosophical forms that lend a great deal of credence to the occult.
I would lean towards an experiential phenomenalism that relies on some aspects of materialism for its foundation. This theory would postulate that behavior is based upon the phenomenal qualities or interpretations of experience. The mind would provide input based on experiential happenings and determine whatever output or behavior is appropriate. Subsequently, we negotiate phenomenal qualities based upon our perceptions of an experience. And since we are constantly experiencing, we are constantly digesting new input that affects our behavioral output. This would be conducive to memory as well. Past experience would necessarily effect our interpretations of phenomenal qualities thus potentially altering our behavior. For example, if somebody happens upon a UFO, experiential insights are going to be produced by inferring phenomenal qualities as it happens. This person may have never seen a UFO or indeed have no conception of what a UFO is and yet still experience something on account of phenomenal associations. Whether the behavior is awe, bewilderment, or terror, the experiencer’s mental state will change and produce more mental states. The fact that the experience and its phenomenal sensations are occurring and changing in real time as the experience unfolds is why we see multiple behaviors manifest. (i.e. confusion, to fear, to awe)
Much of what constitutes occult and the supernatural involve reality and how we interpret the world around us. Whereas a realist would say that our world is not dependent on human minds for existence, a post-realist philosopher such as Hilary Putnam would assert that the external world is mind and theory dependent. The world is a human construction. He states that, “There is, then, nothing in the history of science to suggest that it either aims at or should aim at one single absolute version of the world” (228). A relativism concerning ontology and truth, what exists and the nature of what exists is relative to society. As we formulate a theory in society, we construct a world. Therefore, all versions of world-making are equally valid. It’s not hard to see how proponents of the occult and investigators of the supernatural would find this philosophy significant. World-making is a relativism that is community dependent. A pertinent example can be found in the social organization of Malaysia. As part of the social structure that permeates Malaysian culture, magic is a key ingredient in the belief systems and solidarity of the group. Along with socio-political and economic milieus, the magic that accompanies their religious convictions is an integral aspect of understanding Malaysian reality. Although the Western world largely trivializes magic as something anachronistic or archaic pagan debris, for the Malaysians, it is accepted as part of their everyday reality. Because as a society they make the choice to include magical practices, it becomes true and real. As Goodman eloquently remarks, “If we make worlds, the meaning of truth lies not in these worlds but in ourselves—or better, in our versions and what we do with them” (38). By utilizing a social and religious ecology to make sense of reality, Malaysia has found what works for them as a culture.
Another mediation that occurs in occult practice and metaphysical thought can be found in the ‘paradigm of appearances’. Paul Feyerabend uses this ‘paradigm’ to discuss the idea of god in different societies. He remarks that the god that is worshipped in the Abrahamic religions (i.e. Christian, Muslim, Judaic) is ultimately the same God but described differently. A very new-age concept, this God appears to people in different ways but it’s a same reality. God and reality are ineffable and determined by interpretations of appearances. For Feyerabend, reality is pliable and we sculpt the external world. In regards to the Greek Homeric Gods, he concluded that these otherworldly entities were constructed in the same way that modern society constructed the idea of electrons and protons. He remarks that, “If the entities postulated by a scientific worldview can be assumed to exist independently of it, then why not anthropomorphic Gods?” (34) Indeed, why not? If reality is malleable, then all the demons, ghosts, or entities an occultist can conjure are equally valid and real. They take an autonomous existence.
Another example where concepts of appearance and construction can be applied is in supernatural assault narratives. Folklorists have studied accounts of UFO abduction in terms of their morphology and structural similarity to more traditional supernatural narratives. However, much more work could be done with these stories using a study of ‘appearances’ and social construction. For example, for somebody who has had a first-hand UFO abduction experience, their initial impression of the trauma is a legitimate and more importantly, real occurrence. However, if the abductee comes to realize that the experience was akin to a liminal rite caused by some extenuating circumstance or personal Ordeal, then that impression is equally valid and equally successful. Because reality is ineffable, both impressions are a manifest reality or experiential construction of what exists.
Perhaps what really provides ontological and epistemological credence to occult study is the fact that it can be examined in terms of Actor-Network Theory. Latourian ANT theory makes use of mediations to explain the many nuances that make up a subject. According to Luckhurst, “Actor-Network Theory is the predictive tension between the centered actor and the de-centered network, enabling the critic to move across different scales of explanation” (8). Actor-Network lends itself to the occult so easily because there a multitude of facets that construct the occult. Through the use of translations, transformations, and substitutions, the occult can be re-situated and re-embodied. In what I call the expression of movements, the occult can be made to re-appear in a myriad of forms. These ideas are best illustrated in an example: According to authors, Ruck, Staples, Celdran, and Hoffman,
“A drawing of the 15th century Frater Vincentius Koffsky, a monk of the Danzig order of preachers, depicted himself draining the sacred blood directly from the wound of a Christ crucified as a Tree of Life, with an alchemical oven shown as a temple in the background, marked with the symbols for male-iron, female-copper, and an encircled dot, which is the sign for the final goal, the elixir of drinkable gold, and also a common motif for a mushroom cap; the oven-temple itself also resembles a cluster of fungal caps. The inscription reads: “Now learn naturally and artfully, to draw from this Catholic medicinal fountain of the living water and the oil of joy” (34).
This beautifully described drawing has all the earmarks of occult thought. For example, a quick list might include: a Frater, sacred blood, Tree of Life, alchemy, symbol, Male/Female, entheogenics, the inscription, the occult process. But we can calculate other movements such as Catholicism, the fate of the Danzig preachers, the occult in the 15th century, the fate of the drawing, the process of creating the drawing i.e. instruments used to create, and so on. If we centralize the drawing and construct this set of mediations around it in a network, we can use a model of substitution and translation to glean the many meanings in the drawing. I say multiple meanings because the drawing can be re-situated in any number of ways based upon mediations and in doing so, take on any ontological status. It becomes re-created infinitely and enjoys autonomous existence. The drawing then is created and re-created just as in Feyerabend’s ‘paradigm of appearances’ or Goodman’s world-making. It is an entity made real and given meaning through the examination of movements and mediations.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Magus Magazine: Mysterium Tremendum: Why we are to blame for the B...: Mysterium Tremendum: Why we are to blame for the Baltic Anomaly Hello everybody, here is a version of the Baltic Anomaly philosophy art... Check out our analysis of the Baltic Anomaly! New blog!
Mysterium Tremendum: Why we are to blame for the Baltic Anomaly
Hello everybody, here is a version of the Baltic Anomaly philosophy article. It's a bit heavy but I think you'll dig on it. Feel free to leave comments or come say hello on Twitter and Facebook! Enjoy!!!
Mysterium Tremendum: Why we are to blame for the Baltic Anomaly.
www.magusmagazines.comIn one way or another, we are all responsible for the Baltic Anomaly. It’s not far-fetched or absurd to say that the world “happened” to this underwater spectacle. Anybody with even minimal internet savvy has probably stumbled upon the mystery and wondered, maybe in passing, what the big deal is. Over the past couple of months, hysteria has set in as details of the story emerge. But what we hear now isn’t the story that was reported in the beginning of June. So what is the story? What is it about the Baltic narrative that has led to terrible fears of extraterrestrials and government conspiracy? Why does the public prefer a version of the supernatural rather than a pillow rock basalt formation? These are just some of the questions that surround the Baltic Anomaly. And the details continue to fascinate as data streams in. As the object continues to be revealed, our knowledge of the artifact shifts as well. It is this continuous movement that makes the Baltic Anomaly a hybrid of assemblages.
The Baltic Anomaly is a hybrid of evidence and our understanding of the evidence as it changes through time. Following the lead of Bruno Latour in his study of Horse evolution (see A Textbook Case Revisited-Knowledge as a Mode of Existence. Bruno Latour, Sciences Po Paris, a chapter for the STS Handbook), we can orthogonally study the Anomaly’s context of discovery and justification.
Something odd happens when we plot out the object/subject relationships in regards to the Baltic Phenomenon. In our first intersecting plot point, the discovery of the anomaly and the initial reaction of UFO provide our foray into an arrangement of data and impulse interpretation. As time moves forward, the ‘mysterious pillar’ (second plot point) is discovered which moves the UFO theory into an ancient/lost civilization arrangement. Although the object (evidence) and subject (what we understand of the evidence through time) run on separate currents, their points of intersection are where understanding of the anomaly is attempted. Through a flow of discovery, we ontologize each version of truth. A different world-version then comes into being at every plot point.
Furthermore, epistemic conduits aid in the anomaly making sense. What we know through time changes as discoveries are made and provide meaning to the new ontological status. Without giving reference to what we know of the anomaly, it becomes impossible to discern the reality of the object. It is what I call the ‘face on Mars’ syndrome. We all remember the face discovered on Mars in 1976. The interaction of light and shadow created what appeared to be a humanoid face on the surface of the planet. As the Viking spacecraft took pictures of the object, theories came into being that suggested the face was created by an ancient Martian civilization. This image then rippled into a network that included crop-circles, alien architects that influenced ‘our’ early civilizations, and utopian ideas of aliens and god. However, the pieces of the puzzle that led to ‘the face’ theory simply had to be reassembled to suggest that the image was an illusion created through an interplay of light, shadow, and geologic formation. For a time, ‘the face’ was real and a long lost Martian was staring back at us from the planet. However, as the geologic nuances, light, and shadow were re-configured into another sequence, they created another truth-version. Is it the most accurate? Depends on who you ask. There are many that nurture ‘the face on Mars’ theory and keep it relevant and real.
This phenomenon might also be applicable to the Baltic Anomaly. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the object really is a pillow rock basalt formation. And nothing more. If in our context of discovery, we reveal that the object is nothing more than a geologic formation, then this new ontology is given definition through conduits of meaning. What we understand of the object through time is directly connected to its current state of being. This is what makes the Baltic Anomaly a true hybrid. In its status as living theory, it is both object and subject; evidence and our understanding of that evidence. Whether it is of this earth, from the stars, or a result of alien/human interaction, the artifact is alive and made real through a convergence of Being and Meaning.
Truth and the factors that support each truth-version re-embody and are dis-embodied continuously. As new information is discovered and re-configured, taken apart and put back together, truth is shaped. Perhaps this is why it becomes possible to move backward and forward in time on our orthogonal diagram. As new evidence comes to light we are able to go back to theories that were previously discarded and consider them anew. Perhaps a discovery is made that increases the elegance of our initial UFO theory. By breathing new life into this previous theory, we re-embody an ontology and gauge its usefulness in the current state of affairs. Moreover, as well as moving back to readdress previous incarnations, we can also move forward to predict potential ontologies in the research programme. Now I’m not one to assert the efficacy of prediction or prophesy without some form of experiment or empirical study. However, it really doesn’t take a giant leap of faith to infer where future plot points could appear in our orthogonal diagram. For example, we can see that a truth-version of object and subject occurs when the Anomaly (UFO) is discovered. At that intersection, the evidence and what we know about the evidence produces an ontology. By looking at the surrounding network, we can surmise future maturation and reproductive capacity. The network would include folklore surrounding UFO visitation, supernatural assault traditions, and perhaps even fairy-lore. Taking this surrounding network into consideration, it’s easy to discern a future ontology or ‘plot point’ that involves government conspiracy, and/or cover-ups because of the connections between UFO-lore and conspiracy theory. By being able to anticipate future ontologies, we can anticipate whether the theory is progressing or degenerating. And although studying future intersections might be unnecessary, they may also serve as future conduits to keep the ontology fruitful and growing.
Could it be true? Is the Baltic Anomaly a hybrid of ontology and epistemic arrangements? Do the object and subject continuously move into assemblages that provide an understanding of being and reality? Following this train of thought, if we grant theories a living status, we must also consider that theories are eligible and even susceptible to rites of passage. Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep did extensive work in areas of liminality and how it pertains to transitional rites. He identified three stages that form the rite of passage. The event begins with a separation from society or family. A period of liminality follows as the initiate experiences the ambiguity and lack of status that accompanies the transitional state. This period of being betwixt and between eventually leads to a reincorporation into society as a changed being. But how does this pertain to our discussion of the Baltic Anomaly? I suggest that evidence and our understanding of the evidence as it changes through time is marked by a liminal period that fills the gap between objective knowledge and subjective experience.
As a theory grows, it either continues to mature or is disassembled and re-configured into a new assemblage. When this happens, our ontology went through a rite of passage. The new theory experiences a new ontological status where its elegance, simplicity, and reproductive capacity are closely observed. As new evidence is incorporated into ‘what we know’, again the liminal period occurs, the theory is disassembled and reconfigured to include the new information. The problem lays in the separation state of a rite of passage. Can we say that object and subject i.e. evidence and ‘what we know of the evidence’ are truly separated at any time? This is the problem Whitehead called ‘The Bifurcation of Reality’. The bifurcation refers to a distinction between objective knowledge and subjective experience. In other words, it is a distinguishing between things that are able to be observed (i.e. sense-data, rocks, atoms etc…) and things in the mind. A proponent of bifurcation would assert a difference between a strawberry and the subjective experience of tasting a ‘delicious’ strawberry.
This idea of bifurcation isn’t acceptable when examining evidence and our understanding of said evidence because it is the subjective that brings into focus our Anomaly. Through the use of imagination, inferences, and logic, meaning is ascribed to the evidence at hand. The discovery of the “middle pillar”, the runway, and the EMF shield knocking out anything close to the Anomaly are all epistemic conduits that give definition to an ever-changing ontology. They help it make sense. Moreover, they change as new data streams in. When the object/subject disassembles, it enters into a liminal period where the plot point has not yet ontologized but is in the process of being created .
The new theory is established when the intersection occurs and evidence coupled with ‘what we know about the evidence’ reassembles into a new ontology. There is no definitive ‘separation’ only a ‘disassembling’ of the theory. The liminal state fills in the gap between the disassembled previous ontology and the reassembling that occurs on account of newly discovered evidence.
Throughout this article, we have been discussing the philosophical exchanges that accompany the Baltic Anomaly. Through an orthogonal study of object and subject, positions of networks, and dialogues with anthropological theory, we are able to follow various ontological versions. Because ‘our understanding of what we know’ changes continuously, there is no real culmination or end to the ontologizing process. Creation is never complete but always shifting and moving due to refinements in our epistemic conduits. The variants in meaning reassemble constantly with the emerging ontology thus making the Baltic Anomaly a hybrid of Being and Meaning. What we discover and how we interpret these discoveries are arrangements that create our truth-versions. So, in reality we really are to blame for the Baltic Anomaly. If we become terrified or awe-filled it is because of the interpretations we have ascribed to the object. In no way can we say it’s the fault of E.T., lost civilizations, or government conspiracy. “We” happened to the Baltic Anomaly. Whatever is conjured is our own damn fault but at least we can look back with fresh eyes and change horror to admiration at any time. At least there’s that.
Preston Copeland is an anthropologist and folklorist. He is a practicing Occultist and mediator of the strange and absurd. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, October 18, 2014
I had just received my latest treasure: L’Histoire Des Imaginations Extravagantes de Monsieur Oufle. Purchased from a seller in the United States, I marveled at the life of this little book. Printed in Paris circa 1700s, the ‘Histoire’ is a stunning piece of occult literature and a beautiful work of art. “What did it say?” I wondered. I knew it was about the occult. Perhaps a grimoire or first-person account of supernatural happenings. I knew it had traveled far. This little book has traveled the world since its publishing. And I imagined the many readers who had caressed this book. “Was it a favorite?” “Who loved this book a hundred years ago? A hundred and fifty?” I wondered at the many bookshelves it has rested upon. And I imagined it criss-crossing the globe. I watched it form its own net in evidence of a life lived. I opened the leather-bound cover and heard the faint sound of a binding once again doing its job. I could smell the pages. I glanced to the cover page and beheld the most incredible engraving I had ever seen. How glorious! This little book was a treasure-trove! I wondered at what it meant. How did this beautiful artwork fit into the occult themes of the book? “What did it mean?”
It was then that I decided to study the etching. I became engrossed in identifying what the image meant and what information is relayed. What was its message? I wanted to know what it had to say to me. And it was at this moment that our journey together began. A surface inspection of the engraving yields a cacophony of the bizarre and wondrous. As I sit at my desk and run a magnifying glass over the image, a cursory examination shows a plethora of folkloric motifs all vying to be the focal point of the image. (See Figure 1)
In the top-left portion of the engraving, dragons or sprites can be seen zipping through the air and gazing down at the unfolding scene below. Just adjacent to the dragons, a horrifying abduction is taking place! Three demons or devils have taken hold of a man and are carrying him away as he exudes some form of ectoplasm or smoke. As the substance billows out of his mouth, he throws his head back in dismay. Infant demons or devils seem to be created within the smoke. Were they using his body in parasitic fashion? Are the three abductors now taking him home to hell? Directly below the abduction, another devil appears to be brushing a horse while a woman stands bewildered near the center of the image. Was the abductee her lover? And were they riding a horse when they were accosted? Her look of shock and outstretched arms imply horror at the scene. Another horse watches the abduction as it takes place while a robust man in the background seems to point at something further down the road. His smile seems to indicate being privy to something neither the abductee nor his terrified love are aware of. The woman also appears oblivious to the gargoyle-esque apparition that sits nearby. In the foreground, a stately gentleman seems to be witnessing the scene as it occurs. His outstretched left hand and docile facial expression makes us wonder whether he is in trance or enchanted in some way. Ominously, a jester holding a scepter is poised to touch the gentleman with two fingers on the back of the neck. Interestingly, only the jester directly breaks the fourth wall and stares directly at the viewer. What new horror is about to befall the gentleman? Or is the jester an instrument of awareness who will wake the man from his slumber? To the right of the pair and in the immediate foreground, a jinn trapped in his bottle sits next to some kind of conjuring demon. Perhaps the orchestrator of the entire episode, this winged creature has a horrifying face and some kind of mysterious power. Another woman stands behind the conjurer and is nearly obscured by the binding of the book. She is robed and wears a look of complete shock. Is she a nun? Is she the only representative of light in the entire image? The engraving is ripe with occult themes and characters. These entities saturate the image in symbol and allegory and serve as a perfect platform with which to study the network and associations of occult thought.
One way to track the movements of occult is to study it in terms of circulating reference and worldmaking. I don’t intend to rehash past conjectures of occult thought or practice. As an anthropologist and folklorist, I’m not required to address the ontological status of theoretical entities portrayed on the engraving. Officially, it’s not my job to substantiate the images as relevant non-entities or question whether they are no more than symbolic presentations of occult themes. However, I do have a profound respect for metaphysics and actor-network theory. Please indulge my philosophical meanderings while we examine occult agency and the many mediations that appear on account of its action.
In the past, any philosophical mention of the occult relied on the dichotomy of dualism and materialism. Were occult happenings a product of the affects mind has on the external world or was the entire phenomenon in the mind. And when I say in the mind, I don’t mean the practitioner is delusional but that the imagination is utilized as a tool and vehicle of perception. These base metaphysical questions are essential to understanding the many agencies at work in occult study but not the only avenue of research. I have chosen the craft of etching and engraving as a platform with which to study occult and hope to show just some of the many actors in the phenomenon.
I’m not an artist. I’ve never had any profound artistic skill nor studied Art History in any critical way. My interest in engraving stems from my love for the printing process. However, for purposes of this study, I was to put plate etching in a laboratorial setting. An actor in a network, I coupled the creation of plate etching with the engraved image to show the many substitutions possible in occult thought. By substituting an interplay of ink, designs, and paper into articulations of meaning, I have identified a shift from etching to creation. This shift shows the tendency for actors to be re-situated in their associations. Therefore, we can’t merely superimpose the various movements onto one another, they must move and be moved- substitutions must occur.
One possible avenue of associative research can be found in transporting the viewer into the etching and into the etching’s creator. What was the train of thought in the engraver when he produced furrows on the surface of the plate? Did he imagine a process of becoming that the viewer will also experience albeit in a purely spiritual way? As Dyson has remarked, Engravers saw themselves as translators rather than imitators; and in an important sense they were. [i] But what was being translated? With the novice image barely discernible on the plate, did our creator then dust it with resin and plate it on a Bunsen Burner? Like an alchemist, the heat on the plate melts the resin into tiny globules that act as a protective shield. And this is an important part I want my readers to understand. It is the space between the globules that is effected in ‘the bite’ of the acid. A liminal place where transformation takes place. This is the same Ordeal that the viewer/initiate experiences when moved into the piece. In being betwixt and between, the engraving and its viewer are both bitten into by an agent of change. Through a succession of immersions, the acid is a baptism by fire. A purifying catalyst for re-presentation, the plate has changed forever. When our engraver then brushes the ink within the crevices and sends it through the press, it is the inked image that stands to re-present the new plate. No longer what it was, the plate has taken on a new ontological status. An entity has come to life. Multiple immersions only serve to give detail to this new form and it has taken on a state of viewer and initiate. In this regards, the creator affects the image just as the image affects the viewer. The new entity is epistemologically re-situated when the viewer is changed or made anew by associative circumstance.
It is worth being said that charting an engraving’s production is not necessarily structuralist. Although reducing the process into its constituent units can be an attribute of action displacement, the entire point of evaluating the etching is to identify where action is re-distributed or, at the very least, to indicate where movement has occurred. Nor is the plate a strict metaphor for the occult initiate. That would be too easy. Indeed, the image re-presents but not in the archaic formulated way of symbolizing something else. The engraving makes use of an ecology of action. By reallocating its various attributes, a network is formed that distributes action. In this circumstance, the whole is not the sum of its parts. Whether we are talking of the chemical processes within hydrochloric acid that ‘bites into’ the plate, or the molecular makeup of ink that allows it to adhere to paper, these parts give substance to the entire network. So much action circulating in a myriad of ways! And all of this must be taken into account when we study occult thought. The connections that interlink the network make use of all the actors whether it be the contents of the image or the sciences involved in producing the plate.
I hear the inevitable question. “Why? Why Preston-must we give a hoot about the mechanical and chemical processes that give rise to etching? Is it not the image and interpretation of the image that counts?” I don’t deny the image is important. It is one of the attributes that give meaning to a non-entity. But by affirming the entire network that surrounds an occult engraving, the piece becomes self-contained and autonomous. It exists independent of the occult (in the form of art), the viewer (it doesn’t wholly depend on symbolic systems for existence), and even its role as fetish object. We make a distinction between the image and the engraving. One is purely epistemic whereas the other is ontological. The former we ascribe meaning to, the latter requires no external meaning or explanation. It is a product of combining certain methods to create a specific object. However, manufactured objects always have a life and fate of their own. Often times, the trajectory or destiny of the object serves multiple purposes and functions. Such is the case with our engraving. As well as being a beautiful work of art, the etching is also a mediator for the occult. An inanimate object endowed with mystical qualities, the fetish is a supernatural happening. Similar to sacred stones or ancient Grecian curse tablets, the engraving itself is talismanic. In principle, it wouldn’t matter what the image on the engraving was, the object as amulet is what is important in negotiating mystical agency. Charles de Brosses brought this into sharp focus in his Culte des dieux fetiches (1760) in which he reexamines the etymology of the word “fetish”, linking it to the Portuguese fetiso, “fairy thing”, in other words, “magic spell”, “spell object.”[ii] A contemporary of our engraving, it’s not difficult to discern the occult attitude towards fetish objects in 18th century France.
We can take this line of thinking into occult ontology as well. If each actor is examined in terms of its associations in the network, we are given much more information about the movement that flows from the sum to its parts and visa versa. Now I know the common reaction to this theory is one of horror and shame. “You’re asking us to grant being to non-entities! You want us to ‘really believe’ in ghosts, daimons, and aliens!” And I say, “Why not?” If it works for electrons, protons, and quarks, why can’t it work for spiritual entities as well. After all, do we not accept the idea of gravity or evolution? Of course we do! And as Harpur states in regards to non-entities, the daimons or subatomic “innerspace” are called particles, although strictly speaking they aren’t- electrons, for example, are both particles and waves at the same time. They are paradoxical, both there and not-there, like fairies.[iii]
The only thing that makes me any different from a run-of-the-mill folklorist or anthropologist is in the fact that I grant non-entities actual existence. To me, the creation of reality and everything in it is analogous to the creation of our etching and the occult image it contains. A contextual theory of meaning, these theoretical terms are given substance based upon implicit definitions of terms. Saying nothing empirical about the observable world, our theory of the entities is neither true nor false. If again you’ll bear with me to draw analogy to subatomic entities, the movement of an electron can be used as a bridge gap or correspondence rule with occult entities. As electrons move out of an atom, a wavelength of light is emitted. There is no way to test it and it holds no reference to the observable world. Because there is no empirical content, scientists tie it to correspondence rules in the observable world. In this case, color lines in a spectrum. We identify a range of wavelengths in light that are emitted by an atom. We can perform the same procedure with occult entities. If we posit a wavelength of light, separate dimension, or timbre of sound where these entities can be experienced, we ascribe a bridge gap in the theory that will provide meaning. We once again invoke Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’ and say that these entities are both there and not-there.
What sets occult agencies apart and ensures a constant flow of mediations is in the fact that it is always on the run. Not just moving, the occult has been forced to flee not only more accepted religions but lawmakers and legislators who perceive some nefarious agenda or conspiracy within the occult. Occult agency moves because it must. Have you not noticed that wherever the occult crops up in the media it always appears under the strangest of circumstances? It’s always a surprise! Some bizarre event such as crop-circles or ceremonial magic and “voila!” the occult is running for its life. But what if instead to trying to find a niche to cohabitate, the occult ran forward and deliberately into the array of entities that sought to discredit its thoughts and practices? Would the movements burst open and explode into a multitude of new movements and colorful discourse? If the occultist were allowed and even encouraged to undergo transformation, would we, for example, witness apparitions of the Holy Virgin Mary undergo a shift from paranormal entity, to religious icon, to anthropological informant? What would be the chain of interactions and what kind of inertia would she generate by being transformed through agency? It’s time we as occultists began to explore these questions as a means to better understand the networking capability of our chosen thought forms.
[i] Dyson, Anthony. Etching and Engraving-Technique and Tradition. Longman Publishing, New York.1986.
[ii] Harpur, Patrick. Daimonic Reality. Penguin Press, New York. 1995.