Roberts Avens, “Henry Corbin and Suhrawardi’s Angelology”
Note: Thanks to http://touba.tumblr.com/ for finding this on Scribd
Roberts Avens, “Henry Corbin and Suhrawardi’s Angelology”
Note: Thanks to http://touba.tumblr.com/ for finding this on Scribd
In the Western world this tradition has been pushed to the background of our spiritual heritage due to misunderstanding the practice and charges of heresy. In the late Medieval period and into the Renaissance, these practices were assigned the term Quietism and labeled as part of the Gnostic heresy. In more contemporary times literalist groups claim that the practice of contemplation “leaves the doors open to satanic influences” and are very suspicious of any mention of meditation or contemplation.
It is surprising then to find that the authorities in all branches of the Christian Tradition, Catholocism, Orthodox and Protestant, have been well versed in the contemplative practice. In Catholicism many of the most revered saints, such as Therese of Avila, were deeply engaged in this practice, the Philokalia which collects the writings of the early church fathers, and forms a core authoritative text for the Orthodox tradition, is, as a whole, an exposition on Divine contemplation, and the writings from the founders of the various Protestant sects are also fully engaged with the practice.
Jeremy’s examination is an excellent introduction which shows how true contemplation moves beyond these charges of Quietism and demonic influence and provides a very active connection to a higher reality that is so necessary in these trying times.
In the tradition of astrology each planet is assigned a set of associations which it governs. On a personal level these are said to affect every aspect of a person’s life, from love to employment, death to birth, and even the emotional state of the individual dependent on the planetary alignments active at any one time. These associations are also said to affect the fortune and fate of nations.
While today many offer explanations based on gravity or magnetic forces, these concepts are foreign to the origins of the traditions of astrology. In the ancient system these correspondences were explained in terms of music. The Pythagorean concept of Musica Universalis, the harmony of the spheres, assigns harmonic correspondences to each of the planets, and their effect on earthly affairs was understood quite literally in terms of the affected dancing to the tune of the stars.
If you consider the practical implications of this theory of correspondences it becomes rather overwhelming. To take just one example, each ingredient in the food you eat has a corresponding planet, the time it was cooked does as well, as does the person who cooked it. The time the ingredient was prepared, whether slaughtered or picked, has a correspondence, as does the person who slaughtered or picked it, and the time it was born or planted has a correspondence. All of the implements used to cook the food have similar correspondences relating to their material make up, the person who made them, time they were bought, etc. This also affects the time that you ate it, your own correspondence to the planetary influences, and in the end becomes a very complicated mathematical problem whose solution equates to the effect that the food has on your fate.
We don’t need any acquiescence to the efficacy of astrology to see how, with very little adjustment, this is a wonderful analogy for subliminal marketing and propaganda techniques. When we raise the level of influence up to the stars we are forced to take a holistic look at how things come about from potential to action. In some ways it provides an early example of the kind of global control that individuals and groups now have thanks to satellite technology (See Paul Virilio’s wonderful book Open Sky for more on how our perceptual field affects social governance.)
In bringing to England more advanced cartographic and navigation techniques based on the understanding of astronomy and astrology at the time, the mathematician, and Elizabethan Magus, John Dee was able to help the expansion of the British Empire. Looking into the history of these ideas, we find that those who were most talented in theorizing their execution were also aware that this process was more complicated, and culturally attuned, than a cursory skeptical understanding would permit.
Within this system it was thought that a skillful and knowledgeable Adept was capable of using harmonic correspondences and ratios as a model to control events and individuals, what in common parlance is known as magic. As Cornelius Agrippa put it:
” This place doth require that we speak of Magic; for it is so near joined to, and of affinity with Astrology, in so much that he that professes Magic without Astrology, doth nothing, but altogether is in an error. “
The medieval philosopher Giordano Bruno in his treatise On Magic discusses the means by which a magician can manipulate these correspondences. Today Bruno is best known for being burned at the stake as a heretic for his views on the nature of reality, however his writings on magic provide some of the most precise and unobfuscated examinations of the true nature of the practice.
When we speak of ‘sorcery’ or call someone a ‘sorcerer’ we are directly referencing this ability to manipulate fate and fortune, as these terms come from the Latin term sortiarius which means “one who influences, fate, fortune.” The sorcerer is one who, through the manipulation of these planetary correspondences, or bonds, can change the course of fate, from it’s natural movement within the Harmony of the Spheres, to the harmony conducted by the sorcerer’s will.
“Everything desires to remain in its present state of existence and does not comprehend, or even think about, any other new state of being. Therefore, there is, in general, a bonding of reciprocal love of a soul for its own body, and of that body (in its own way) for its soul. Thus, the diversity of natures and drives gives rise to a variety of bonds which aﬀect both spirits and bodies…
Let us now turn our attention to the many bonds between spirits. This is where the whole teaching of magic is to be found.
1. The ﬁrst bond which ties spirits together is general in character and is represented metaphorically by the three-headed Cerberus of Trivia, the doorkeeper of hell. This is the triple power which is needed by one who binds, i.e., by the magician: namely, physics, mathematics and metaphysics. The ﬁrst is the base; the second is the scale; the third is the summit of the scale. The ﬁrst explains active and passive principles in general; the second explains times, places and numbers; the third explains universal principles and causes. This is a triple cord which is diﬃcult to break.
2. The second bond is also triple and is needed in the agent, in the action and in the thing on which the agent acts. It consists of faith or credibility, of invocations, of love and of strong emotions in the application of the active to the passive. The role of the soul is to produce changes in the body of the composite, and the role of the body is to change the soul materially. If these bondings do not happen, or especially if they are not present, then no amount of attention or motion or agitation will produce any results. For a magician is most fortunate if many believe in him, and if he commands great persuasion.
3. The third bond, which is the source of eﬀectiveness, is the number of the principles, which are distributed according to the four sectors of the universe and which are needed for actions which occur in the heavens and in nature. In addition, there are other principles needed for volitional and preternatural eﬀects, but they do not have a speciﬁc location.
4. The fourth bond is the soul of the world, or the spirit of the universe,
which connects and unites everything with everything else. As a result,
everything has access to everything else, as was said above.
5. The ﬁfth bond is the souls of the stars and the principles of places, of the
winds and of the elements.
6. The souls of demons which preside over times, days, storms and the
7. The souls of men who are tyrants and rulers, and of those who have
acquired some degree of fame and thus have become spirits.
8. The divine names and the names of the divine orders.
9. Markings and symbols.
10. Strong invocations and supplications to make the power of the superior overcome that of the inferior, for example, to banish evil demons by good ones, and to banish lower evil demons by higher ones. These demons are enticed by sacriﬁces and holocausts; they are frightened by threats, and they are summoned by the powers of inﬂowing rays of light.
11. By the power of the threefold world: elementary, celestial and intellectual.
12. The disposition to ask good things from good people, for example,
chastity, honesty, puriﬁcation and abstinence.
13. The adoption of cults and natural things in which there reside spirits
which are similar to those required for actions.
14. The assessment of cults according to their diﬀerent qualities.
15. The force of consecration which comes from perseverance, from prayer
and from rituals.
16. A knowledge of feast days and of the days and hours of good and bad
17. A knowledge of the diﬀerent objects and methods found in religious
observations in regard to the purity of their locations, and in regard to
ablutions, contacts, endings, clothing, incensing and sacriﬁces.
18. The use of active and passive powers, for example, in the ﬁrst or nearly
ﬁrst elements, and in stones, metals, plants and animals, in accordance with
20. The techniques of enchantment.”
The very name of the film is expressive of a magical purpose, in the truest sense of the word, the manipulation of fate and fortune by the active Will of an individual or group of individuals acting under an ideology. Will triumphant over fortune, the sorcerer’s control over the Harmony of the Spheres.
To take only a few items from Bruno’s list, we find the Swastika, the powerful focal point of Nazi ideology fits within category 9, the knowledge of signs and symbols. With the volks and “back to nature” movements we find item 13, “ The adoption of cults and natural things in which there reside spirits which are similar to those required for actions.” In the S.S. and associated orders within the Nazi regime we find number 14, “the assessment of cults according to their diﬀerent qualities,” and of course in the speech itself, held in ritualistic fashion using paraphenalia of the Roman Empire, we have numbers 15 and 16.
To continue through the list would be a bit futile, and the reader will find it perhaps more fitting to do their own meditation on these items to see how one of the world’s most tragic examples of political sorcery fits into Bruno’s schema. When we step outside the suffocating influence of superstitious rationalism, it becomes much easier to understand how systems like Nazism are able to gain such a strong foothold in culture. We don’t even need psychoanalytic ideas, or Reichian musings on fascism for that matter, to tease out the subtle mechanisms, it’s actually all very practical and straight forward. Bruno’s system is not some historical cast off, it’s a surprisingly efficacious, and contemporary, model of social influence.
It also sheds light on areas that may, in some sense, seem more innocuous, if no less lethal the the truth. Let’s take a look at someone who we would normally only jokingly (or polemically) reference in light of something like Nazism, the popular American evangelist Billy Graham:
In this clip, taken from a revival held in 1957, one is immediately struck with the superficial similarity between the 20th century’s most notorious dictator and one of the world’s most respected religious leaders.
These superficial similarities in fact lead deeper into the issue, as rite and ritual are themselves the ‘exoteric,’ or outward manifestation, of an ‘esoteric’ force. In these similarities we see the outward manifestations necessary for the sorcerer to pull the bonds he seeks to manipulate by Will. In this case, the minds of the devotees that sit in rapt attention. The frantic gesticulations of the evangelist are the movements of a composer conducting a concert whose music consists in the emotional harmonies of his audience.
Can we be so bold as to say this of a religious evangelist? Yes, if the evangelist is merely a person using the ritual image of a religious tradition as an efficient means to an alternate end. Giordano Bruno points out in item 17, the skillful manipulator must have ” knowledge of the diﬀerent objects and methods found in religious observations in regard to the purity of their locations, and in regard to ablutions, contacts, endings, clothing, incensing and sacriﬁces.”
Reflecting on Graham’s apprenticeship to evangelizing, Bob Shuster of the Billy Graham Center Archives states:
There were to be many, many refinements in years to come, but most of the basic elements were in place, built not only on his own experiences, but also on the collective experience and practice of centuries of Trans-Atlantic interdenominational evangelism. Graham and his coworkers were to perfect an existing system and adapt it to the age of radio, television and satellites.
At Charlotte, too, talking for the hometown papers, he had begun to reflect on his experiences so far.“I learned to look straight at them. Say I am reaching to an audience of three or four thousand. I can look straight at them and I can tell when a man way in the back blinks his eyes. When he does that, I know it is time for a change of pace or I’ll lose some of the people. That’s what I’ve trained my voice for. It’s a change of pace that’s the secret.”
“I Learned to Look Straight at Them.”
The Apprenticeship of Billy Graham, 1937-1949
(Expanded version of the Treasures of Wheaton Presentation by Bob Shuster of the Billy Graham Center Archives, May 9, 2009)
Now that we can begin to develop a better understanding for how a leading figure in the world of Christian Evangelicalism can be considered a sorcerer (which is probably less surprising these days than it once might have been,) let us step away from Bruno for a moment, while continuing our quest to understand this process.
How can it be that someone whose outward appearance is so carefully constructed to piety could hide in their heart an alternative intention. A.E. Waite in his Book of Black Magic and Pacts provides a very clear explanation:
“The attempt to propitiate the Deity by means of prayers, sacrifices, and abstinence, and thus obtain the Divine assistance for the successful consummation of hideous offenses and preposterous or impossible undertakings, is, of course, madness; for the God acknowledged and invoked by Goetic Magic is not the Principe of Evil, as the myth of Modern Satanism supposes, but the observance followed in reality from the interpretation placed by “terrible and venerable Deity” who destroyed the power of the rebellious angels, the Jehovah of the Jewish rituals and the Trinity of the Christian magical cycle. The insane observance followed in reality from the interpretation placed by Goetic Theurgy on the fundamental doctrine of practical magic, namely, the power of Divine words to compel the obedience of all spirits to those who could pronounce them. Collections of these words and names were recited as invoking and binding forms, and, incorporated into a suitable setting of official prayers, were used in all magical ceremonies. Black Magic was simply their application to unlawful purposes.
The utterance of the Divine Name, which was supposed to make the devils tremble and place them at the will of the Magus, was at least equally powerful, it was argued, to enforce their obedience for a purpose in consonance with their own nature. Then seeing that prayer to God and the invocation of the Divine Names presupposes a proper Spirit of reverence, devotion, and love as the condition upon which prayer is heard, it became a condition in Goetia. The first impossibility required of the adept in Black Magic is therefore that he should love God before he bewitches his neighbor; that he should put all his hopes in God before he makes a pact with Satan; that, in a word, he should be in good order to do evil.”
Let’s continue to avoid the superstitious rationalism that plagues contemporary discussions of magic, and keep a clear view of the natural basis for these observations. Waite’s analysis of Goetia is predicated by how it was seen at the time in the circles that he frequented, and his own understanding of magic, it isn’t a very good definition of what Goetic practice actually is, but it is a good analogy for what is going on when these things are applied to social systems.
The “devils” that tremble before the Divine Name, in one sense, are the various particular aspects of what in Arabic is referred to as the “naf,” or unrefined animal nature. In the case of Graham, and the politicized religious tradition that he works within, we have a perfect practical application of creating a problem in order to introduce a predetermined solution.
By invoking these ‘devils’ with impassioned speeches playing on the fears, inadequacies and expectations of his devotees, Graham is able to control them through invocations of God, and manipulate them to his will. You have the devil of anger riding you, who can help you? God. How do you get to God? Jesus. How do you get to Jesus? The evangelist is here to tell you the way. You’re three steps out from the Man buddy, but the Evangelist can get you what you need.
Another meaning to the Arabic term ‘naf’ is ‘ego’, and these fears, inadequacies and expectations are all based on an ego still centered in the Self. The folks who go to a revival are seeking a refining of their ego, and they provide the perfect opportunity for a skillful manipulator to work; a fertile ground to sow, grow and reap a garden attuned to the will of the sorcerer. If there is doubt as to what purpose such a garden might serve, don’t forget that Billy Graham has been an adviser to every president starting with Harry Truman and continuing on through to the current U.S. president. This isn’t to imply conspiracy, merely that religion outside of the Truth has always served the purpose of political factions, and individual ideologies, rather than the positive development of it’s devotees.
Looking at the 20th skill on Bruno’s list, ‘the techniques of enchantment,’ we find another word whose common understanding strips it of the meaning it holds in this context. Enchanment comes from ‘in cantare,’ which means roughly to ‘sing into.’ If we look at this in conjunction with all of the items on the list we can see that in a certain sense what is implied by ‘sing into’ is the ability to lead the person, or persons, the sorcerer is seeking to affect into a predetermined narrative that ends with the sorcerer’s will being fulfilled.
Here we can find a number of different applications. If we think of a ballad, they usually have a standard story arch. In one sense to enchant is to bring someone into this story arch, whose denouement is already predetermined, and fits the intent of the sorcerer. In another sense to enchant is to literally infect the person with the ‘tune,’ so that they are forced to ‘dance’ their way through the story. In other words, it describes the means by which one fulfills the necessary steps for the problem/solution dialectic to play out.
There’s no need to look very far to see how this is a real force in the contemporary world. Just look at any music genre that has a corresponding social scene. It’s not hard to market to a group whose tastes are sculpted by artists who are all invoking the same visual, narrative and emotional aesthetics. Nor is it difficult, once this is established, to guide that group by slowly introducing new elements into the familiar pattern. Even better for the sorcerers, if you get the person while they are young to invest in this process, as they grow up their trusted memories will be cued to music that you already know, so 40 years on you can still influence them through invoking nostalgia by tying the most popular songs of their youth to product placement or social movements.
Using terminology that reflects music we have both a nod back to the idea of Universal Harmonies, as well as some practical advice on how to start the process since, within the classic system, each emotion and mental state has a corresponding note or tone, which in turn matches up to the planetary associations. This makes it easy when you’re working in a cultural system that follows all of the rules, but ditch the planets, and the system of correspondences, you still have a clue that it might be a good idea to look into how a culture reacts to specific rhythms, sound stimuli, and narrative patterns, and this is just taking the term enchantment at its most literal.
“One who is born in Imagination discovers the latent forces of Nature. Besides the stars that are established, there is yet another – Imagination – that begets a new Star and a new Heaven.” ~ Paracelsus
It’s a convenient support for the current “scientific” worldview to consider Girodano Bruno’s martyrdom as a fevered reaction by the religious authorities of the time to his support for the heliocentric theories of the universe. This, however, ignores the fact that his conception of the universe was based on an infinite expanse, something closer to Ibn-Arabi’s ‘ocean without shore.’ It takes a very willful ignorance of the cultural setting Bruno was working in, and Bruno’s philosophy as dictated through his writing, to think that Bruno was some kind of proto-scientific martyr, unless the science we’re talking about is a strange combination of Transpersonal Psychology and bleeding edge physics. More than the threat of science, Bruno’s writing exposed the mechanisms of politicized religious ideology, and it’s power to manipulate the social order. There is a reason, according to some, that the London School of Economics assigns his De vinculis in genere (Of Bonding in General) to it’s students.
His writing clearly lays out the methodology through which a self centered imagination can usurp the Musica Universalis to beget “a new Star and a new Heaven” in line with a false ideology. Giordano Bruno’s crime was not that of the rational scientist against the irrational order, it was the crime of one who is no criminal except in the eyes of the true criminals who seek to manipulate innocents that put their trust in ‘magical’ authority.
Bruno was a whistle blower on a universal scale, cluing the marks in on the fact that they are easy pawns in a con game played at a ‘celestial’ level, by people who understand mass psychology better than the most adept marketer the corporate world has today. So rather than lament the influence of corporations, or some abstract elite, look a bit higher to the realization that for all the strings they can pull, it’s still you who has yet to follow the Socratic maxim to “know thy self,” and step out from under the influence of the stars which can be used to set the tune for a sorcerer’s devotion.
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.”
- Malachi 3:5
Note: Thanks to Khem Caigan for inadvertently providing the quotes from Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus that helped guide this essay along.
Our relationship to death has a funny effect on the mind. Clinging to our bodies or waiting for transcendence, the importance we place on our mortality is often a very powerful motivation for action.
Back in the 19th century the Civil War left America reeling, and the untoward number of dead helped encourage the rise and spread of what became known as Spiritualism, and in France, under a more science leaning orientation, Spiritism.
Trance mediums and seances spread through the United States with surprising vigor, spreading to Europe the phenomena met with a sustained interest as well. It wasn’t that these phenomenon hadn’t been around before, but in prior centuries these visionary states helped plant the seeds for very different mentalities. The Shakers, Quakers, Boehemists, Philidelphian Society, and a whole host of Protestant and Revivalist religions used the same phenomenon to call up radical new theosophic and Utopian visions of society and religion. What was different about the Spiritualist and Spiritist movements was their surprisingly secular focus, which quickly lead to a divorce from traditional orthodoxies and the development of the New Thought and Mind Science movements, among other tangential offshoots.
This transition is interesting because it leads to one of the core tenants of a movement active today that most wouldn’t tie to table tapping and ectoplasm. The Singularity movement, spearheaded by Ray Kurzweil, holds as one of it’s main goals the transfer of human consciousness into machines. Now a lot of cognitive scientists and philosophers are digging deep into the grey matter to find the material basis for consciousness that would make this transition easier. If you do a close read on Kurzweil’s writing, however, he’s talking about something more ephemeral, something closer to a mechanized seance.
“In 1970, well before the era of nanobot doctors, Mr. Kurzweil’s father, Fredric, died of a heart attack at his home in Queens. Fredric was 58, and Ray was 22. Since then, Mr. Kurzweil has filled a storage space with his father’s effects — photographs, letters, bills and newspaper clippings. In a world where computers and humans merge, Mr. Kurzweil expects that these documents can be combined with memories harvested from his own brain, and then possibly with Fredric’s DNA, to effect a partial resurrection of his father.”
In a number of interviews Kurzweil mentions that the death of his father is an impetus for his research. The idea of reconnecting with his father in the digital domain is a personal quest that guides much of his theorizing about the possibility of man-machine interface and the possibilities of virtual reality. Some would like to think that this is just a convenient example he uses to illustrate a point, however a storage locker filled with memorabilia is not very convenient.
One is reminded of a psychic gathering up articles of clothing and items from a missing person or someone who has passed away in order to get a sense of their “psychic residue.” The similarities don’t end there, the Singularian promise of a more perfect world is surprising in it’s correspondence to the Spiritist concept of evolution:
“In the measure that the spirit is purified , the body it wears becomes more spirit-like. The matter is less dense; it no longer creeps laboriously along the surface of the earth; physical needs are less gross; living beings no longer need be mutually destructive in order to feed themselves. The spirit is freer and has perceptions unknown to us, of things far removed. It sees with bodily eyes what we see only in thought. In the beings in which spirits are incarnated, this purification leads to moral perfection . Animal passions are weakened,and egotism yields to sentiments of fraternity. Thus in worlds superior to the earth, wars are unknown; hatreds and discords have no object because no one dreams of working ill against his neighbor.”
- Le Livre des Esprits, Allan Kardec (Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail)
Compare this to Kurzweil’s intimations in a foreward he wrote for James Gardners’ Intelligent Universe:
“By 2029, sufficient computation to simulate the entire human brain, which I estimate at about 1016 (10 million billion) calculations per second (cps), will cost about a dollar. By that time, intelligent machines will combine the subtle and supple skills that humans now excel in (essentially our powers of pattern recognition) with ways in which machines are already superior, such as remembering trillions of facts accurately, searching quickly through vast databases, and downloading skills and knowledge.
But this will not be an alien invasion of intelligent machines. It will be an expression of our own civilization, as we have always used our technology to extend our physical and mental reach…Once we saturate the ability of matter and energy to support computation, continuing the ongoing expansion of human intelligence and knowledge (which I see as the overall mission of our human-machine civilization), will require converting more and more matter into this ultimate computing substrate, sometimes referred to as “computronium.”
The utopian spirit world envisioned by Kardec turned into some easy cash for those willing to take advantage of the public’s credulity in dealing with communiques from their dearly departed. Today Kardec’s ideas form the a basis for a number of thriving traditions in Latin America, but in the United States and Europe more often one encounters pay for play psychics and degenerate instances of trance channeling.
The Traditionalist philosopher Rene Guenon critiqued the Neo-Spiritists of his time for being prolific in inventing words for the purpose of popularizing their ideas. In his essay on Spiritist evolutionism Guenon begins his critique with an assault on this tendency:
“One can hardly imagine the seduction that grand words offering a false semblance of intellectuality exercise on more or less uneducated or elementary spiritists. This is a kind of verbalism which provides the illusion of thought for those incapable of really thinking; it is also an obscurity which passes for profundity in the eyes of the common man. The pompous and empty phraseology in use among all ‘neo-spiritualist’ schools is certainly not one of the least elements in their success.
But spiritist terminoogy is particularly ridiculous because it is composed in large part of neologisms coined by quasi-illiterates in defiance of all the laws of etymology. For example,if one wishes to know how the word ‘perispirit’ was coined by Allan Kardec, it is quite simply thus: ‘As the seedof a fruit is covered by a perisperm, similarly the spirit properly so called is surrounded by an envelop which may by comparison be called perispirit. Those with a penchant for linguistic research could find in this kind of thing the subject of a curious study, but we will only note it in passing.”
The Singularity movement seems to have picked up on this playful, etymology defying, word creation without hesitation. Kurzweil’s “computronium” is not alone in the Singularian lexicon. In his article From Cosmism to Deism, the writer Hugo de Garis uses the term ‘artilects‘ which he defines as “artificial intellects, i.e., godlike massively intelligent machines with intellectual capacities trillions of trillions of times above the human level” which will, in his opinion, finally give reality to the concept of deity (which he defines as “a massively intelligent entity capable of creating a universe.”)
When Plato defined man as a hairless biped, Diogenes of Sinope came up with a plucked chicken and exclaimed “Here’s Plato’s man!” In the same light we could put an AI processor on a toaster, label it ‘Deity’ and hand it to de Garis. Although it may seem an unfair critique for Guenon to call the Neo-Spiritist movement illiterate, especially considering the vibrant Latin American traditions that have grown in their wake, if we take de Garis as an example of a contemporary proponent of this kind of theorizing, it becomes more clear where Guenon is coming from.
The idea that Deity can be reduced to “a massively intelligent entity capable of creating a universe,” flies in the face of a more mature reading of traditional texts. Illiteracy is not defined by the inability to read, it’s core component is in the inability to comprehend what is read.
This lack of intellectual maturity is also shown in Kurzweil’s need to resurrect his father. To have this kind of regressive goal is, in my opinion, disturbing for someone with a powerful influence on the culture and the funding to make his ideas come to fruition.
His theories at this point are calling for the complete overhaul of the solar system to support some vague notion of a hyper intelligent machine:
“What is that limit? The overall solar system, which is dominated by the sun, has a mass of about 2 × 1030 kilograms. If we apply our 1050 cps per kilogram limit to this figure, we get a crude estimate of 1080 cps for the computational capacity of our solar system. There are some practical considerations here, in that we won’t want to convert the entire solar system into computronium, and some of it is not suitable for this purpose anyway. If we devoted 1/20th of 1 percent (.0005) of the matter of the solar system to computronium, we get capacities of 1069 cps for “cold” computing and 1077 cps for “hot” computing. I show in my book how we will get to these levels using the resources in our solar system within about a century.“
What decides the material used and not used? The needs of the grand ‘artilect’ made from ‘computronium’. L. Ron Hubbard couldn’t have written something more ridiculous in his most devious, reality rewriting moment.
Kurzweil’s excitement over technology’s capabilities for “remembering trillions of facts accurately, searching quickly through vast databases, and downloading skills and knowledge,” show his idea of what it means to be “intelligent.” Even more telling is his continued repetition of factored numbers to explain his points. He doesn’t need to upload any nanobots, his brain’s already made the leap.
This isn’t to say that these men are not intelligent within a limited sphere. They are highly functional, as functional as the machines they love, and are useful fleshy components in the technological and scientistic society that has been created to foster the profit margins of corporate entities that operate on the same mathematics Kurzweil envisions for the triumphant rise of artificial intelligence. It’s very telling that one of the most immediate uses for these AI advances is in military applications and the banking industry.
Just as Spiritualism as it decayed into a populist curiosity turned humanity’s discomfort with mortality, and interest in anomalous phenomenon, into a secular past time, a commodity that could be sold through Ouija Boards and television psychics, the Singularity takes the potentials of mathematics and science and turns them into a jargon filled playground for corporate interests. Remember, the same folks selling you on an immortalist techno-utopia are the one’s who try to humanize their websites with stock photos and annoying chat bots.
“I see the Fourfold Man; the Humanity in deadly sleep,
And its fallen Emanation, the Spectre and its cruel Shadow.
I see the Past, Present, and Future existing all at once
Before me. O Divine Spirit! sustain me on thy wings,
That I may awake Albion from his long and cold repose;
For Bacon and Newton, sheath’d in dismal steel, their terrors hang
Like iron scourges over Albion. Reasonings like vast Serpents
Enfold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations.
I turn my eyes to the Schools and Universities of Europe,
And there behold the Loom of Locke, whose Woof rages dire,
Wash’d by the Water-wheels of Newton: black the cloth
In heavy wreaths folds over every Nation: cruel Works
Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic,
Moving by compulsion each other; not as those in Eden, which,
Wheel within wheel, in freedom revolve, in harmony and peace.”
- “A Vision of Albion” from Jerusalem, William Blake
illustration from The Secret Fire – An Alchemical Study, by E. J. Langford Garstin
As a researcher into the liminal edges of our cultural consciousness, who has often been employed within the confines of the corporate world, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my mortality.
Between moments of existential panic and giddy freedom I’ve come to face the inevitable fleshy concerns of this world, and to realize that in the hustle and bustle of executive life it’s not often that we have the chance to deeply engage with reality.
When it’s all bottom lines, ROI and sales slicks, when does one sit back and think on the human condition. The problems that we face in society are, in part, due to this disconnect between the executives and businesses that provide leadership and material support in our communities, and the simple facts of being human.
In light of this I propose a humble solution, Memento Mori for the C-Suite. Small tokens to remind those who have the material means of motivating society that they too are made of flesh and bone, and that death awaits us all. In a culture that promotes plastic surgery, dental reconstruction, and photoshop enhancement to hide our mortality, the clocks come round to a time when we need to readdress the basic fact…we’re all going to die.
This is no morbid mockery, rather it’s a return to a long tradition in philosophy and spirituality where symbols of death and decay bring people a true sense of how much life is really worth.
Here at The Eyeless Owl we dream of launching a campaign by creating a series of drawings, paintings, bas-reliefs and sculptures that carry the traditional grotesque into the 21st century.
These items would be offered up for sale (to further fund the project*) for people to distribute to the executives in their lives, along with a brief meditation guide to help those executives come to terms with their mortality, and the positive application of this realization for society at large. I say give because I figure that most executives aren’t responsible enough to do this for themselves, and it’s going to take someone else to slip these things into view. For those rare few who are open to their mentality, they could send their C-Suite credentials and we’d gladdly give them a memento for free.
The funding from this campaign will go to the material costs of creating and distributing the pieces, as well as the development of a larger media outreach campaign to remind executives of a very basic fact of life.
Memento Mori is a meditation technique used by some of the greatest thinkers that humanity has produced, isn’t it a small thing to ask of our current cultural leaders that they approach their task with the same serious reflection on life and death?
*Note: Originally we figured Kickstarter might be a good way to get this thing going, but after meditating on it, we want this to be a personal project that comes from the heart and all the carnie barker antics it takes to get a Kickstarter thing going seem a bit antithetical to the whole concept. No offense to Kickstarter, it’s just that not everything in life is based on deadlines and fundraising.
“For debased souls religion is a yoke imposed, through self-interest, by the poltrooneries of fear and the follies of hope. For exalted souls religion is a force, springing from an intensified reliance in the love of humanity.
Religion is the collective poesy of great souls. Her fictions are more true than Truth itself; vaster than Infinity; more lasting than Eternity; in other words, they are essentially paradoxical.
They are the dream of the Infinite in the Unknown, of the Possible in the Impossible, of the Definite in the Indefinable, of Progress in the Immutable, of Absolute Being in the Non-existent.
They are the ultimate rationale of the Absurdity, which affirms itself, to deny doubt; they are the science of foolishness, the embrace of Folly and Knowledge. They are the cries of the eagle mounting above the clouds, the roar of the lion of the Apocalypse, that takes to itself wings and flies away; the bellowing of the bull beneath the sacrificial knife, and the never ending moan of mankind before the portals of the tomb.”
- From Paradoxes of the Highest Science, by Eliphas Levi
With the hot conversations surrounding issues of religion and science, the beauty of both often burns out in our collective conversation. Rubbed between rhetorical frictions, our brains agitated and aching, it’s difficult to meditate on the simplicities that attend the greatest expressions of both fields.
In religion, the most profound expressions of faith are found in those who sought to live simply with minds alert to changes and souls at rest in the heart of existence. Science finds its finest expression in those who have sought elegant ideas, simple solutions to seeming complexity. The two are never mutually exclusive, and both, when they reach their true foundation, are immune to a fire of words that can’t bear long against stone.
“Western civilization, it seems to me, stands by two great heritages. One is the scientific spirit of adventure — the adventure into the unknown, an unknown which must be recognized as being unknown in order to be explored; the demand that the unanswerable mysteries of the universe remain unanswered; the attitude that all is uncertain; to summarize it — the humility of the intellect. The other great heritage is Christian ethics — the basis of action on love, the brotherhood of all men, the value of the individual — the humility of the spirit.”
- Richard Feynman – Remarks at a Caltech YMCA lunch forum (2 May 1956)
No matter what guise is worn, the one who approaches the truth takes the same steps and encounters the same ineffable mystery.
I marveled at an Ocean without shore,
and at a Shore that did not have an ocean;
And at a Morning Light without darkness,
and at a Night that was without daybreak;
And then a Sphere with no locality
known to either fool or learned scholar;
And at an azure Dome raised over the earth,
circulating ’round its center – Compulsion;
And at a rich Earth without o’er-arching vault
and no specific location, the Secret concealed…
I courted a Secret which existence did not alter;
for it was asked of me: “Has Thought enchanted you? “
- To which I replied: “I have no power over that;
I counsel you: Be patient with it while you live.
But, truly, if Thought becomes established
in my mind, the embers kindle into flame,
And everything is given up to fire
the like of which was never seen before!”
And it was said to me: “He does not pluck a flower
who calls himself with courtesy ‘Freeborn’.”
“He who woos the belle femme in her boudoir, love-beguiled,
will never deem the bridal-price too high!”
I gave her the dower and was given her in marriage
throughout the night until the break of Dawn -
But other than Myself I did not find. – Rather,
that One whom I married – may his affair be known:
For added to the Sun’s measure of light
are the radiant New Moon and shining Stars;
Like Time, dispraised – though the Prophet (Blessings on him!)
had once declared of your Lord that He is Time.
Film should aspire to the condition, or effect, of ancient Greek drama, which displays a philosophical approach to art. Uniting moral seriousness with the Hellenic imagination for myth, tragedy probes and forges a unique conceptualization of humanity, nature, and philosophy. Ancient drama explores the network of seemingly inexplicable, contradictory forces that govern the order of human activity by stressing the communion between artist, art, and spectator. Tragedy works toward resolving the most difficult problems of existence through a philosophical method of aesthetic-existential inquiry, or analysis.
Tragedy elicits pathos on a grand scale, arousing fear and pity through audience involvement within the emotionally charged atmosphere of the mimetic spectacle. Tragedy seeks to resolve its conflicts by way of the illusory world created by artist and actor. The pleasure-cum-pain of tragic katharsis, that is, the purification of emotions occurring at the sublime, dread-inducing moment of the protagonist’s down fall, is possible only through audience identification and involvement within the events of the play. Thus, tragedy works only as the interplay of perspectives. As spectators, we witness our own Being within the existential plight of such characters as Oedipus, Antigone, and Electra. Through the optics of the tragic-aesthetic, we perceive and experience the world through a common attunement.
The tragic experience of sight, sound, and symbol uncovers “truth,” or more accurately, attunes humanity in such a way as to enhance its receptivity to a new form of fundamental intuitive knowledge, which is revealed within a collective psychical-physiological moment of supreme clarity. The truths of tragedy are never purely theoretical in nature, that is, formable truths with the undisputed veracity to serve as rigid “eternal” principles for a system of knowledge. Rather, these truths emerge from an intuitive capacity within humanity, facilitating the recognition and understanding of life’s “ultimate situations,” i.e., the acknowledgment that such phenomena as death, suffering, fear, and fragility cannot be surmounted, for these conditions alone guarantee the possibility of revealing the authentic meaning of human life and freedom.
Tragedy’s authentic influence is expressed within this communal, non-dogmatic, philosophical approach to art as a legitimate form of existential inquiry, which is to suggest that it is the experience of art that defines the essence of both the artist and spectator, situating them in a relation to truth’s uncovering. This important concern with “spectatorship” is expressed within the modern films of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Derek Jarman. As opposed to predicating their films on the axiomatic conception of truth, offering up rigid and absolute solutions to life’s most complex problems, they instill within the spectator a reverence for truth conceived as an ever-changing, communicable phenomenon, i.e., a living expression of the universality of humanity’s Being. Recognizing that only in connection with the Being of Others are we truly living and fulfilling life, both filmmakers demonstrate an acute awareness of the importance of interplay between art (film), artist, and spectator. They envisage communicability and discourse as essential elements to the understanding of art, truth, and the awareness of human essence.
Pasolini’s films are often categorized as works of “neo-realism.” We experience the visceral immediacy of his inventive storytelling as it unfolds within an experimental, narrative framework. Conversely, Jarman, whose more adventurous works embrace the spontaneity of the creative moment, is perhaps best described as a flamboyant “expressionist”. Although their filmic styles differ, the method by which they approach aesthetics and life remains strikingly similar. Working to modify the dominant Western attitude toward truth and reawakening the mythic sense of wonder at the vast complexities of existence, their films call us to enact our lives philosophically. Their works often focus on the many problems engendered by “theoretical optimism,” which is humanity’s overconfidence in the ability of ratio-scientific-logic to categorically explain the world, e.g., the blight of political absolutism and the tyrannical victimization of the marginalized, disenfranchised segments of the populous. Tracing the innumerable, distressing social conditions, which haunt our experience of freedom, to the negative influence of rationalism, both filmmakers portray the search for, and reclamation of, authentic Selfhood within a harsh and segmented world where human identity is lost amid gender-metaphors and asymmetrical struggles for power.
Most filmmakers are oblivious to the important role of the spectator within the process of art. In rare instances when a filmmaker does consider the audience, more often than not, that filmmaker wrongly interprets the artist’s role as one whose duty it is to think for the viewer. Before clicking off one frame, most directors know exactly what their film will say and where it will transport the viewer emotionally and psychologically. Hence, the spectator becomes a mere “thing,” an impersonal entity to be manipulated, denied participation in, and access to, the opening of truth within the genuine experience of film, which is the aesthetic dialogue growing out of the philosophic relationship of artist and spectator – the true spectacle of cinema. When reading our own history within the greater context of the historicity of humanity as a whole, we come to understand that truth is never found in the isolation of a solipsistic moment, within the interiority of a closed individuated, consciousness – Truth happens only as a result of our worldly communications!
Philosophical analysis is demanding. It is never simply a process of question-and-answer. First, it requires the identification and diagnosis of a problem. Next, it requires reflection on the most effective way in which to address the problem. Finally, it requires asking the appropriate questions. Authentic thinking is a careful and thorough methodological process of arduous reflection. When thinking philosophically, we simultaneously discern and clarify the problems while perfecting the line of inquiry we follow in search of answers.
With such understanding, we must be highly skeptical of the filmmaker who believes to have categorically answered the questions that first gave rise to the film. In such instances, we are right to ask with skeptical concern: Around what conception of truth is the film organized? Is the film asking the “right” questions, the important questions, those concerned with value, morality, human worth, aesthetics, and secular spirituality in an era descrying the fall of onto-theology? These are philosophical matters, the type of quandaries that elude easy answers and defy complete explanations, the very problems that push hard against the limits of our understanding and drive us to the periphery of the circle of knowledge, the point at which “hard” logic annihilates itself.
When an artist believes to have adequately solved such problems, advertising a privilege to the unquestionable notion of universal truth, she is, in a dogmatic manner, corrupting the art of film. For neither our questions nor answers to life’s most important problems arrive in neatly wrapped packages. Accordingly, any attempt at marketing and selling truth, as a ready-made, commodity of an absolute nature, is a seriously misguided and dangerous endeavor. Yet this is precisely what the commercial film industry is doing, and worse.
With this in mind, the cinema would greatly profit from the insight of Nietzsche and Heidegger, the celebrated non-dogmatic philosophers. Both thinkers vehemently opposed any form of systematized, absolutist thinking, and instead employed a hermeneutic methodology, stressing intense and ongoing inquiry. They adopted a mind-set in which every assertion was open to assessment and reassessment. Truth became a malleable concept within their works – a multi-perspectival interpretation of life. Viewing the world as a chaotic, irrational, “monster of energy,” forever in a state of change and flux, they found naive the belief that theoretical-rational inquiry alone could produce anything resembling a secure and definitive account of existence, as truth was conceived as a process rather than a destination – a temporal movement of humanity’s destiny towards the perfection of its spirit, or Being. As opposed to the formulaic knowledge of dogmas or articles of religious faith, truth for these thinkers sprang from the historical context of the lived experience.
To embrace such an unconventional and radical philosophical attitude toward the pursuit of truth opens one to the possibility that at any moment within the filmmaking process something new might be discovered, something more primordial might manifest. If an artistic model exists for the filmmaker, it must oppose any categorical declarations of eternal truth, which is to say, taking formulaic truths for exclusive truth. According to film scholar Ray Carney, filmmaking represents an attempt to learn something new, forcing us out of our “everyday” mental and emotional ruts. If this is so, filmmakers would do well to draw “artistic” inspiration from the works of directors Pasolini and Jarman while reflecting on the problems of existence in a more “philosophical” manner, i.e., with a critical mindset that embraces the enigmatic aspects of life, in the tradition of Nietzsche and Heidegger. To approach life in such a way, is to understand that authentic existential inquiry asks more questions than it can ever hope to answer, and that the answers it does uncover, can never serve as ready-made, dogmatic solutions to life.
When aesthetic creation is enacted as “perceptive” philosophical discourse, the uncovering of truth’s phenomenon is elicited, thereby broadening, deepening, and enhancing our authentic understanding of life as an evolving, dynamic process of growth. So, as the film’s closing credits roll, amidst the deafening applause of its glamorous premier screening, the quest for “knowledge” has really only just begun.
James Magrini teaches Western philosophy and ethics at College of Dupage in Illinois and publishes on philosophy, art, and education in such journals and periodicals as Philosophy Today, Philosophical Writings, Education, Philosophy, and Theory, and American Atheist.
On some recent trips to Chicago I’ve noticed that a number of buildings have Pythagorean symbolism worked into their facades. These are visible on brownstone apartment buildings, as well as commercial buildings, and it got my little mind wondering what lead to their inclusion in so many seemingly mundane examples of architecture.
If you jump back a century Chicago was a buzzing hub for the New Thought and Mind Science movements, and home to a number of publishing houses that were responsible for the creation of everything from the Kybalion ( a Neo-Hermetic text put out by the Yogi Publication Society ) to popular pressings of the famous resource of respectable Conjure Doctors, The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses. Frank Loyd Wright, who spent much of his time in Oak Park, had some theosophical meanderings (he was married to a former student of Gurdijeff’s) and his connection to Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft movement puts him in touch with various streams of Rosicrucian thought, but Wright wasn’t responsible for the buildings in question.
In the process of searching out clues online I became side tracked by the publishers and nearly forgot the architecture. One of the beautiful things about Google books is the ability to not only access books, but archival material from journals, news papers and publications as well. What I found was a whole host of material that gave me a new appreciation for the diversity that can spring out of a single source of inspiration.
It seems that most of these publishing houses were in one way or another connected to the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, famous for it’s influence on Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O., C.C. Zain‘s Brotherhood of Light and a number of other groups that have spread out far from their initial origins, while always keeping a similar thread of thought. The same folks who were publishing New Thought, American Yoga, and Mind Science were also putting out books on Hoodoo, Rosicrucianism, Western Kabbalah and Hermetic science. Just like in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, these publishing houses (often using different names from the same office) covered diverse esoteric territory.
As I read through some of these books I started to wonder, what happened to the creative impulse that lead to this massive production? For all the pseudo-scientific jargon and ahistorical theorizing found in many of them, there always seems to be a focus on civic responsibility, personal integrity and community development, a sort of wide eyed optimism for the potential of humanity to move beyond petty differences and grow into something better.
“In the midst of the Great Depression, Benjamine conceived of a universalist belief system he called the Religion of the Stars. He saw it as an occult religion that could unite humanity under a peaceable, nonsectarian creed based in the study of ancient astrology…His 1930′s print ads for the Religon of the Stars reflected the social values of Henry A. Wallace’s “The New Deal of the Ages.” One showed a torch-bearing horseman riding a winged steed labeled The New Civilization and holding a flag that echoed Benjamine’s motto: Contribute Your Utmost to Universal Welfare. The horse and rider leaped over the words Want, Fear, Censorship, Atheism.”
Today when we think of the “occult sciences” what all too often comes to mind is some fear mongering nonsense about secret societies and cults plotting against the good intentions of the common people. Yet if you go back and read the historical works that were being published in the late 19th century…there isn’t much of a secret, and all of these organizations were pretty open about their intentions. Horrible intentions like self respect, helping the disenfranchised, providing for the common good, realizing the full potential of life and other dark designs on the future of humanity.
Here’s an example of an ad for The Hermetist that ran in a number of publications at the time:
Is a sixteen-page monthly magazine, the organ of the Hermetic Brotherhood. Its motto is “Get Understanding.” It deals with Mysticism in a common-sense way. It teaches that If Occult Power can be of help to mankind, It ought to be made practical. It seeks to tell its readers how to use the powers they have neglected for so many centuries. Send 10 cents for sample copy. Yearly subscription $1.00.
HERMETIC PUBLISHING CO., 4006 Grand Boulevard, – Chicago, III.
Terrifying stuff indeed. It may be tempting to think that the entire focus of these groups was some massive deception, or perhaps some kind of long running scheme to cash in on people’s hopes. Thoughts like these usually come from the fears and malintention of the accusers and fly in the face of the fact that the consistency in the message, the austerity that many of the members of these organizations lived in, and the undeniable earnestness of their writings shows that, whatever their personal failings, there is an honest sense of integrity behind these movements.
It’s been very heartening to see that there are contemporary esoteric groups beginning to get back to this sense of social consciousness. Scarlet Imprint recently put out Geosophia, by Jake Stratton-Kent, which looks at the Goetic arts as a means for cross cultural understanding, bringing it out of the mire of misinformation that they’ve been stuck in for centuries. Another upcoming publication by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold, Palo Mayombe – The Garden of Blood and Bones, is an honest appraisal of the Palo tradition, one of the many African diaspora traditions that get’s so much bad press due to it’s raw honesty with the facts of life and death. Nicholaj is an anthropologist who has been initiated into a number of Western and diaspora traditions, and makes the astute observation that much of the fear that surrounds paths like Palo are nothing more than veiled racism.
Beyond publications there are also organizations reemerging to tackle the self flagellating victim script that we’re being constantly given by the Western media. The New Extreme Individual Institute runs on a simple motto:
Become Who You Are – There Are No Guarantees
This isn’t the Victorian era, and the problems that we face today are definitely nothing to slight. Paranoia, fear and self victimization, however, are not going to get us out of the hole. Along with the NEII’s motto is a further elucidation of their principles:
“Just as there are athletes of the sports and the arts, so are there athletes of the spirit. The first search for excellence and perfection in their chosen field of endeavour and are so recognized, while in the latter there is similarly a search for excellence of technique and perfection of all the vehicles of the Self.”
As our economy continues it’s rolling descent into oblivion, our cultural institutions sit paralyzed with inertia and our supposed leaders continue to puff out weak rhetoric, avoiding any recognition of the realities that we face, we’re going to need some spiritual athletes to lead us past the finish line.
Are you ready?