Monday, April 7, 2014

Representation and Re-Presentation of the Occult Mind

The occultist is a savage. That’s not meant in any mean or disparaging way. The occultist is like primitive man, largely an invention. We construct what we think they were like. But it’s a paradox. Scholars instruct us to make a “picture” even as they warn us not to make it up. [1] Perhaps we have no idea what premodern occultism was like. It’s our best guess.  Savagery unhinges the opposition between mimesis, a discourse of imitation and poiesis, a discourse of invention.  For example, when we construct a wax figure of our favorite deity, the creation is only a representation of the actual entity. But if we then imitate that creation, the wax figure becomes the original and we are now the representation. The creation becomes the original and autonomous of us. Even the simple act of observation consists not in any reflecting on an entity but in the unfolding of spirit in an entity.[2]

Much of the occult focuses on these areas of presentation and re-presentation of the initiate and deity. This is because the rite of passage affects both. Representations: as described by the occult arts include the ideas, beliefs, and iconography of the occult on our minds. Mental representations such as emotions, memory, and the subconscious are all effected by occult interaction. But that’s not to say that the occult experience is only in the mind. Representations occur in relation to environment. In this way, the mind extends beyond the brain and the bounds of an individual.[3] We see this in magic writing such as curse tablets or ritual paraphernalia. A tablet inscribed with magic lettering serves the same function as a spell spoken aloud because the lettering triggers mental representations in those who read it. This is an aspect of its communal nature. But although mental representations arise in the interaction of embodied brains with the environment (which also includes other brains), this in no way makes the distinction between mental and public representations irrelevant.[4] After all, how we experience mental representations is done on an individual level. As Dr. Sperber and Deirdre Wilson remark, “people do not simply transfer representations from mind to mind; communication instead involves active inference and reconstruction by the receiver.”[5]
But how we receive and infer the occult representation is largely a matter of interaction and intentionality. Ancient savage philosophers inferred that every man had a life and a phantom.[6] For a representation to take form, we must accept that this part of ourself, this phantom or doppelganger can be interacted with. EXAMPLE    Also, for something to be intentional, we must acknowledge a choice between several alternatives. Our intention must be to choose to accept that the occult reality- an alternate reality- is legitimate. This reality as shared by religious specialists the world over is another part or dimension of reality as a whole.[7] We are able to tap into alternate reality in a number of ways. Lucid dreaming, ritual trance and psychedelics are all ways to tap into the this realm of the Other.
A pertinent example can be found in the rites of ancient Egypt. Initiates first went through a purification ceremony which readied them for their ultimate becoming. When nighttime came, the initiate was dressed in a linen robe never previously worn. Then the priest took him by the hand and led him to the remotest part of the sanctuary. The neophyte was probably shown statues that were concealed from the gaze of ordinary followers. The ritual then enacted the change of status that corresponded with becoming the deity. This moment occurred in the middle of the sanctuary. A platform was set up which the initiate mounted, this time in an embroidered linen robe. When the curtains were drawn, he was revealed like a statue, crowned with palm-leaves and armed with a torch, for the admiration of the faithful, who filed slowly past his feet. [8] The initiate is presented anew and holds a different ontological status from before. They have become like the deity.

However, transition states lead to re-presentation of the deity as well. After all, ritual is an interaction. In the past, the deity enjoyed a central place in this interaction. In fact, non-humans had a central place in theology, in spirituality, in rituals, and of course in art which they have almost totally lost.[9] Nowadays, a crisis of representation has nearly left the deity completely out of the ritual. Uncertainty about how to interact with these non-humans has led many religious systems to forget their presence entirely. Moreover, sometimes the deity itself is ignorant of its own rite of passage. Erigena discussed divine ignorance in the 1800s when he stated that there is a 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.[10] Just as the initiate must undergo a 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. Also, if the gods are ignorant of things not yet manifested by their own action and operation, they hold these potentialities within themselves.[11] Just as man has nascent potential that must be unlocked through ritual, so too the deity is changed by what is manifested through the rite of passage.
Furthermore, sometimes man himself is the catalyst for awakening potentialities in the deity. Carl Jung once remarked that 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. His attention is not directed to his own salvation through God’s grace, but to the liberation of God from the darkness of matter.[12]
Ritual interactions are the most successful when both the operator and the non-human connect personally. I don’t mean pure anthropomorphism although the deity may take on human qualia. I refer to a metaphysics of presence that functions as a foundation for Being. This gift of presence is consciousness. And it is this presence, this re-presentation, that forms the fabric of successful occult ritual.
In the work of occult trajectories, the re-presentation of gods are a form of ritual economy. The rite of passage involves man and the deity. The gods do not just appear and then replicate themselves autonomously through being ‘attention grabbing’. Rather, the immortals need organized help.[13] During 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 singing, and trance exploration. Most importantly, it is usually man that instigates the rite of passage. The deity will come along for the ride but its man’s gift of presence that re-embodies the deitic mind.

This is what most grimoires fail to teach their devotees. Discussing non-humans is much more than summoning and banishing. It’s much more than trance or possession to glean spiritual answers. And anthropomorphism is only the beginning of this savage philosophy. Non-humans have not been emerging for eons 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 intelligences, their own design, and plenty of transcendence to go on, that is, to reproduce.[14] Although non-humans hold humanlike qualities or tendencies, they are autonomous entities that have their own trajectory and hold their own agenda. 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 is evolutionary and experiential.
Just 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. The others fall into oblivion or are assimilated into another deity. Some genetic variances may shift as in the case of the Holy Tree. According to the “Golden Legend”, the true cross came from 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 crossed by the Queen of Sheba on her travels to meet King Solomon. When she walked across the bridge, Sheba was said to be struck with a powerful urge to worship. Upon reaching Solomon, she told the King about the experience. He became terrified of the portent and had the timber buried. But, fourteen generations later, it would be wood from this bridge that made up Christ’s crucifixion cross. The narrative shows how non-humans have an evolutionary trajectory. The tree changed from a seed, to a tree, bridge, cross, and ultimately holy relic. There are also implications of birth, maturation, and death in the story. The holy wood went though changes in status as it changed in form. It has been re-presented a number of times but every devotee who uses the cross in modern ritual continues to renew its potentiality.
Occult representation makes use of an entire network to give meaning to the rite of passage. Again something the grimoires fail to mention. A successful occult interaction involves not just the entity and operator but a host of other determinate factors. The network consists of the magic circle and all its components, the time, place, and context of the rite. It involves the candle makers and their process of creation as well as any and all group affiliations the operator may have. Is the operator a Freemason? What kind of ink was used in the drawing of the sigils? Where does the rite derive from? Was it appropriated from an earlier ritual or incarnation? What gods were used? What were their ontological trajectories? Was the liturgy written on papyrus? Bound in sheepskin? When? These are just some of the questions that the occult practitioner must address before attempting to re-present the demon or deity. This is because there are a myriad of mediations or circulating references that determine the components of the rite.

[1] Christopher Bracken. Magical Criticism. Univ. of Chicago Press. 2007. pp5.
[2] Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings Volume 1, 1913-1926. Ed. By Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge. MA. Harvard Univ. Press. 1996. pp. 151/166
[3] Andy Clark and David Chambers. The Extended Mind. Analysis 58 (1), 7-19. 1998.
[4] Ilkka Pyysiainen. Supernatural Agents. Oxford Univ. Press. Oxford. 2009. pp. 45.
[5] Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Harvard Univ. Press. 1988.
[6] Ibid Pyysiainen.
[7] Felicitas D. Goodman. Ecstasy, Ritual, and Alternate Reality. Indiana Univ. Press. Indianapolis. 1988. pp. 7.
[8] Robert Turcan. The Cults of the Roman Empire. Blackwell Publishing. 1996.
[9] Bastaire & Bastaire 2004.
[10] Scotus Erigena 1838. 594c
[11] Ibid
[12] Carl Jung. Psychology and Alchemy. Trans. By R.F.C. Hull. Bollingen Series XX, Vol. 12 Pantheon Books. New York. 1968.
[13] Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute. 4 (11) March 1988. pp. 129-132 comment.
[14] Bruno Latour. Will Non-Humans Be Saved? 2009


  1. Very well Written....I agree with much of your work here,and yes,The occultist is a savage.....and a Surrealist.