Once upon a time, there lived a man on a mountainside – a visionary who burned to warn the world of imminent danger. So he wrote factual books disguised as fiction, aimed at a broad audience. Yet the dangers he feared grew with each passing year, while publishers ignored him. Then cancer struck. And the treatment didn’t inspire him (nor could he afford it) so he declined it, made peace with his past, forgave his foes, then wrote and self-published a book distilling seven decades of wisdom gained through staying creative. At last, the magical thinking that had made him a misfit paid off. His book sold so well (inspiring readers to think magically too) that he could afford state-of-the-art cancer therapy – which cured him.
The moral of the story? Society conditions us to dismiss mind over matter as myth. Submit to the biomedical model of healthcare, it warns, or prepare to drop dead. I once heard a self-styled shaman speak about how she’d healed herself of cancer through shamanic practices while receiving chemo. But bona fide shamanism drew power from the fact that no other option existed: hard to believe if we feel entitled to have our cake and eat it. Capitalism invites us to choose our own paradigm. Pick an era, any era, then take the best and leave the rest (and fuck integrity). This layer of largely wishful thinking, a faint echo of our collective past, on top of science-based conditioning isn’t delusional, but nor does our culture support it. To set up small, remote, self-sufficient communities, as many dared do when fascistic vax mandates divided wider society, might make a true alternative more viable – because, today, so-called alternatives are too often defanged by regulatory bodies. Witch hunts persist, as pandemic edicts made clear. While the guise of the church has changed, it still condemns heretics.
Speaking of which, the story above isn’t true; that writer, a friend of mine, died at 70, riddled with tumours. But he was a true visionary, and since his death six years ago, humanity (such as it is) has been busy fulfilling his worst fears. Mine too. Yet he really believed he could save the world if he just tried hard enough. Call it magical thinking or a God complex… Because for all his brilliance – he’d made millions in the tech sphere – he couldn’t even save himself.
Meanwhile, in the vast outer space created by God’s reputed death, science searches for extraterrestrial life. A tad narrow-minded: ‘life’ – vs. consciousness – presumes a biological find. Yet speculation re its nature often involves technology so far in advance of our own – teleportation, time travel, shape-shifting, invisibility – that it evokes myths of ancient gods.
But what if this ‘life’ never came from outer space? Would we see it coming, or know if it bit us on the bum? Could it seem familiar due to simple proximity, indulging our whims yet taken for granted? What if the modern ego ID’d by Freud a mere hundred years ago emerged as an unconscious defence against its burgeoning presence? And what if this overlooked Other ruled us in ways akin to our dominion of nature? What if we never invented technology, but just hosted its development, believing we were gaining power as it gathered momentum?
I lack the patience to tackle The Decline of the West (1918) by the German philosopher of history Oswald Spengler (fun fact: Beat icon William Burroughs turned Jack Kerouac on to him). But I’ve read scads, on a few blogs, about Spengler’s model. Civilisations follow a cycle: after a cultural peak, the initial religion undergoes reformation, which segues into rationalism that then begets a second religiousness – mass reaction to decadence favouring dictatorial government. If Spengler was right, we’ve already entered that final stage of decline. But what might a second religiosity look like?
Would-be contenders include the re-enchantment project, a narrative shared by it’s-all-gooders as disparate as psych professors, New Agers and old hippies. Take cultural historian Richard Tarnas, whose rigorously researched seminal Cosmos and Psyche (2006) does more to bridge the chasm between astrological knowledge and scholarly method than any 20th-century text. And yet he belongs to a tiny and uncommonly learned minority:
It’s as if, for all his erudition, Tarnas has a blind spot re a topic on which he’s often written. What do the re-enchantment boffins not understand about where this magic for which they wax nostalgic has gone? The world has haemorrhaged meaning as we’ve fallen under technology’s spell; the loss of one and the rise of the other are parallel developments advancing in lockstep, not separately. We know the trope from fairytales: cursed by a devil’s bargain or evil ambition, we wait for true love to save us.
In his post ‘The Nature of Enchantment’, seasoned mage John Michael Greer dismisses the idea that we live in a disenchanted world (as Max Weber famously claimed in 1904) and proceeds to cite evidence of modern enchantment, e.g.: ‘the number of people who make their living from astronomy is a small fraction of the number who make their living from astrology’. Yet even the inclination to summon numbers as proof seems symptomatic of digital-age disenchantment.
When I made my living from astrology, I learned that self-marketing boosts business more than in-depth knowledge. That’s why it’s wholly possible to practise and even teach astrology while believing that the Earth is flat. But good luck keeping a full-time astronomy job. The relative dearth of professional astronomers attests to the fact that their training is far more exacting, requiring familiarity with physics and maths. Indeed, most of the data astrologers use to ply their trade relies on calculations enabled by precision technology, the efficiency of which negates the need for more astronomers. Since the invention of the telescope, astronomy’s accelerated development has been instrumental in disenchanting astrology to the extent that it went underground for two centuries. That it’s now returned with a vengeance points less to rampant magic than to an unhinged craving for answers. And the numbers compulsively consulting Google etc. leave the numbers who credit astrology for dead.
Yet this astrological excess in the US (or cyberspace) matches that of self-published authors and bloggers who add nothing new to the sum of human consciousness but just advance the lucrative cult of personality. Nor do astrology clients worship planets as divine, but trust astronomy to define them: masses of rock, gas or ice circling the Sun in an endless night sky. They see astrology through a sciencey lens despite its mystic image. So its popularity doesn’t spell enchantment; it reflects how many Western lives lack purpose and direction. It can’t convey meaning the way it once did if clients pay for a reading, reject any details that threaten their ego, then run to yet another astrologer… And the more input they absorb, the less each subsequent reading counts. All these opinions blur together, cancelling each other out.
And so, confined to towers, alone yet constantly monitored, or comatose inside our glass coffins, we dream on, waiting for a prince called AI to find us and upload our minds to a virtual happily ever after.
“What if we never invented technology, but just hosted its development, believing we were gaining power as it gathered momentum?” I felt nauseous reading this line. Thank you as always for provoking, prodding and articulating in the manner that you do, always asking questions that take us broader and deeper into the reality of our times.
Many thanks for your affirmation & for sharing this response. I wonder what it would take to nauseate the majority so complacently embracing technology at its most toxic? Because the sensation of nausea implies to me (though I’m no doctor!) that you’re in touch w/ your body. ☺️
…so true, the disembodied response to life in this moment is a sad state. That you are not a doctor is a plus, when it comes to the freedom to explore and articulate a deeper truth, which you do with integrity and skill.
My casual stint training med students in the late ’90s made me aware that 4 out of 5 were there due to parental pressure & had little if any real aptitude for what ought to be a calling… (I’m grateful that my calling enables me to keep a low profile in this increasingly monitored age.)
I know it’s a cheap shot to comment on the end, but per astrology (which I’m really woefully equipped to discuss at length) does new necessarily equivocate better? I get what you’re edging at. But my answer to astrologie is Runes. In Runes, and I suppose Ogham, the pressure to produce novelty has led to bastardy. We’re all guilty. Where I think the shame lies is the omission that novelty here exists to facilitate the bridging of past into future via the present, whereas most cult novelty doesn’t consider the immediate future as the far future’s past thereby attempting to make theories to outlast decades. Hence maybe the New Age Charlatan archetype.
Thanks, as always, for engaging w/ these ideas (which perhaps I tend to pack together too densely w/o doing enough unpacking – or so I’ve sometimes been accused). Do you use the runes for divination? I haven’t worked w/ runes for ages, but I found they opened up for me when I began to explore their planetary correspondences (astrology has always opened doors – perceptually, if not socially – for me). Some astrologers argue that astrology is a divinatory art – usually those who’ve looked more deeply into it than many who try to insist that someday soon, science will give it validity.
Much of the astrology popularly practised & marketed today is far removed, if not totally cut off, from its roots in ancient tradition. Like a lot of things. I guess you’re familiar w/ Ralph Blum’s popularisation of the runes?
My pleasure. I have used, and do use Runes in that way. I should do more. I write with them every day. I have seen many folk tie the Runes to star stuff. There is a blog, Magin Rose, which does this. I don’t, but that’s me. I see the Runes as archetypes ensconced in a dualistic micro-macrocosm, with the Row representing the liminality between Ginunnagap and Ragnarok, the core Ættir being ages of man, and the Stafir being causal variables. I use the Anglo-Saxon Fuþorc, which as you might know, has a much fuller figure than the Elder or Younger Futhark with an additional 9 stave ætt. I see the 4th Ætt as a reformation of Celto-Norse spirituality specific to British Isles descendants.
Yes, I am tangentially aware of Blum. But to be true, I never read him. Have the book though…
You mentioned new-age charlatans. Enough said.
Oh, Maggie’s blog… https://www.maginrose.com/
As to the next stage, I wonder too. I only know where I want the chips to fall. Preferably something tied to Phat Earth. I think a personified Earth, as our ancestors had, could do much good. Consciousness of whom pared with our… state sponsored environmental concerns, we’ll say, might produce interesting effect. Perhaps ideally, arrested decay of our current technological path toward presumptive doom, as well as a connection to and stewardship of nature. Paradigms can be funny things.
Imagine if the Earth had as many legal rights as corporations do. That’d put an interesting spin on things. ☺️ Hopefully John Michael Greer is right when he says the whole techno-utopian transhumanist-or-whatever project (I paraphrase) will fizzle due to global resources crises; sounds reasonable. Not that widespread collapse of fragile supply chains, infrastructures etc. sounds like fun. But neither does the ‘Great Reset’.
That would be good. There are few things I actively fear beyond your standard husband fears. But this business with the A.I., the transhumans, etc, and the absolute cucking of all institutions… is worrisome.
Sounds like you’re enviably free of free-floating fears! Thanks for the Magin Rose link. Her approach looks very accessible. You’re obviously a lot deeper in. Writing w/ runes – or any characters that express whole concepts (of which the writer is consciously aware) – would have to be an excellent antidote for today’s mindless surplus of words. Archetypes, yes – that’s how the runes happen to have planetary resonances.
Runewriting is… well it is what it is. I do it in Plainspeak, or Anglish. My apologies if I’ve said it already. If you’re ever bored, you can go to my navigation page and hit “Operative Runology” some of my Rune stuff is there. … link: https://spergbox.wordpress.com/spergalicious-commentaries/
And I’m sorry to hear about your pal there. Tumours ain’t no joke. Hopefully life is treating you well on this Monday morning, or whenever.