The virtual topographies of our millennial world are rife with angels and aliens, with digital avatars and mystic Gaian minds, with utopian longings and gnostic science fictions, and with dark forebodings of apocalypse and demonic enchantment
…All our so-called consciousness is a more or less fantastic commentary on an unknown, perhaps unknowable, but felt text…
Science fiction is always more important that science
Everything that can be said has already been said, or something to that effect. It is not original to make the statement that originality no longer exists as it’s all been done before. Yet, as Marshall McLuhan famously said, ‘the medium is the message.’ So it may not be the message we are concerned with here but rather the medium of its passing. And the adage goes that everything exists according to ‘time and place.’ When the ‘sacred speaks’ – so to speak – it does so through the ways and means of the times. This could apply to prophets, oracles, and channelling as well as pop culture and its modern fictions. The sacred, the sublime, has always walked amongst the profane. The signs are everywhere, blended into the sidewalks, pulp fictions, and the kitsch ‘n’ kool of the art world. For iconic sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, most of the sublime things of his world were disguised as trash that seamlessly slipped into the background of a dysfunctional world reality. As modern society slipstreamed into a post-modern smorgasbord of chaos, clutter, poetically burnt outbursts, and beat-ific revelations, a new landscape of the sacred was scattered across the bedrock. The seeming trash of the everyday mundane clashed with the incoming cosmic, and a new urge for the transcendental found its way into so many popular cultural forms that it would take an encyclopaedic mobius-strip to recite it all. For my purposes here I will only all-so-briefly take a hop and skip around some of the budding flora that displayed a burgeoning sacred urge to blur the boundaries and reach for the sublime connection.
However paradoxical it may sound, one of the mediums for the sacred virus to spread came through the channel of chaos. Chaos, contrary to what we may think of it as being an anarchic and senseless cacophony, is actually a canvas for patterns to play out on. As the later emergence of the chaos sciences showed, there was a theory behind chaos – a method behind its apparent madness. Chaos, as we soon learned, did not operate in isolation. As the famous ‘butterfly effect’ was apt at promoting, a minimal disturbance in one part of the world (e.g., a butterfly flapping its wings) could result in a climate effect in another part (a tornado was often cited!). Everything thus existed in patterns, and not in arbitrary, random molluscs and mole-hills. The Santa Fe Institute (founded in 1984) quickly became a prominent centre for the research into complex systems, otherwise known as chaos science. Yet the emergence of chaos science had been actualized earlier through many different cultural forms of recognizing ‘chaos’ as a precursor to states of consciousness. Many forms/functions that emerge as aspects of the human condition are first seeded in popular culture ahead of their wider actualization. After all, the basis of the sacred refers to actualized aspects of human consciousness. And what the sacred art shows us is that its presence in our reality-matrix is determined by our capacity of consciousness to receive and acknowledge it. Chaos, as well as being patterns embedded in physical, computational, biological, and social systems, is also patterns of our minds. In fact, it can be said that chaos is part of the order of the cosmos.
Chaos & the Cosmic
“Tis an ill wind that blows no minds” – Principia Discordia
The signs for magic, chaos, and transcendental byways were popping up almost everywhere on the western landscape in the post-war, post-modern years. Enochian magic, Golden Dawn rituals, and meta-computing of the self were seeding a growing experimentalism of the human mind. In the US especially, a blend of anarchic cultural subversions were manifesting that played upon known semi-mystical memes. One of these was the text of the Principia Discordia that emerged in the nineteen-sixties as a ‘sacred text’ of Discordianism. Written by Malaclypse the Younger (Greg Hill) and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst (Kerry Thornley) it proclaimed “All hail Discordia!” in a mixture of goddess worship with the notion of order and disorder as balancing illusions. The fifth commandment of Principia Discordia states, ‘V – A Discordian is Prohibited of Believing What he Reads.’[i] In mode with a rising tide of memes dealing with truth-through-contradiction the Principia Discordia also went on to claim that,
All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense.[ii]
Discordia came to influence the writings of maverick author-philosopher Robert Anton Wilson, who popularised it further in his books, especially in ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy.’ These utterances were echoed by the writer William S. Burroughs who, besides experimenting in cut-up narrative techniques, proclaimed a Discordian-esque ‘Nothing is absolutely true – Everything is permissible.’ Burrough’s infamous outburst was a culmination of religious history (the Assassins of Hassan-i Sabbah) with anarchic chaos from his spirit-possessed universe.[iii]
Around this time literate and literary magicians were cropping up everywhere, writing tracts on magic for a modern reader. Many of these literary figures were connected to the Golden Dawn system of magic[iv]. Yet another emerging stream was that of chaos magic which originated in United Kingdom in the late seventies. This broader magical path was liberal enough to combine forms of neoshamanism, eastern philosophy, quantum science, visionary art, and later computer technology. This experimental perspective on magic was part of a wider trend in experimenting with known forms for new avenues of stimulating and awakening consciousness. These ‘chaotic’ paths were attempting to destabilize our conditioning patterns and our resultant consensus reality. They were all aimed at waking up the usually-slumbering human mind. As the seminal work Waking Up (1986) by Charles Tart showed, humanity was largely intoxicated with a ‘consensus trance’ that kept us from recognizing sigils of the sacred. In more recent years the metaphors and memes of being trapped within a waking dream, or of dreams within dreams, have been explored in such popular films as ‘The Truman Show’ (1998); the ‘Matrix Trilogy’ (1999-2003); and Inception (2010). Part of the myth we find ourselves popularising is the mythology that we are in some sort of constructed reality – a gnostic-inspired simulacrum of truth.
Gnostic ideas are being gnawed over, processed, and consumed in ever more popular forms of culture. There’s an odd wave of mystical-spiritual impulses now radiating through popular culture that encourages us to throw ourselves into new world-spaces, fantastic realms, and mythological fictions and factions. These are new mash-ups of the counterculture now being packaged and presented as part of mainstream culture. And in recent years the most extraordinary success in this area has been the incredible, phenomenal rise of the modern superhero.
Superheroes & the Super-Self
Ever since Nietzsche first declared that ‘God is dead’ we have been reeling and dealing from our encroaching mortality – and trying to avoid this by seeking new technologies and cultural expressions of immortality. This collective experience on the possible ‘death of god’ is like a shock hammer-blow that propels us against the loss of sacred meaning and sublime mystery. Whether we admit it or not we fear the sense of absence, where nothing exists to which we can lend our communal assent. We don’t wish to struggle fragmented and bewildered, abashed by creative forms of indulgence. We cannot be left behind[v], losing our vital contact with the imaginal, the numinous, or the magical. We cannot be left untransformed in our vacant spaces as a paranormal pop culture washes over us. No – we need our superheroes, our possibilities, our potentials. We need to find a cultural expression for the human psyche; for our psychic currents and transmissions and sacred communication – our superheroes must live on!
Perhaps through the loss of our gods we have had to become our own multiple gods, as we realized a need to fill a vacuum left by myth. With the loss of the godly connection a different psychic wave was released upon the world to coincide with a rising arc of human consciousness. According to Jung, the gods gradually became our disease – ‘The gods have become diseases…who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.’1 These diseases have now morphed into mutations that make us into a hybrid human-god, with superhuman capacities, yet shunned by the world for being heretical against the natural order. We have the X-Men walking amongst us, a mutant subspecies of humans. The natural order is evo-mythological – it is sacred, beyond human, and connects us with evolutionary currents. In the absence of our ancient myths we have ingested the sacred alchemical root and through pop-culture morphed this transformation into the new wave of superheroes – myth lives anew in spandex. Maybe it is a cliché because it is true; we wish to find the personal superhero within each of us – the journey of the individual, unfolding within the great cosmic drama. This myth – this journey – has largely been taken from us through scientific rationalism and an industrial modernity. Yet now, by becoming more than oneself, we serve the larger story arc.
Our popular subcultures are gradually becoming the norm. It is not only a question of whether more people are interested or not, but rather that these ideas are more widely available now thanks to popular culture. As William Irwin Thompson notes – ‘We Americans, who are so intent on creating a culture of technological materialism, cannot take in esoteric lore directly; it has to find another way in, and so comic books, science fiction, and movies are the back door.’ 2 Popular culture has been the back door for most of us, and not just for the Americans. But now perhaps the door frames are merging into the background and disappearing altogether. The waking life and the dream are becoming part of the same movie plot, as in Richard Linklater’s film version of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (2006). We are more and more waking up into our own movie – our very own Truman Show – where ideas are seeded directly into our environments in order to catalyze our awakening. Like the ancient Eastern tales told us,[vi] we have been asleep in a distant land and now we are receiving messages – signals – flashing like neon signs through our popular culture. This marks our juncture, our crisis point, between moving toward waking up or falling back into archaic, catastrophic and catatonic slumber. Again, Thompson reminds us that we ‘intuitively sense our evolutionary crisis and are expressing the catastrophe bifurcation through art – primarily through science fiction.’3
Our ultra high-definition visual culture is acting like a portal for the otherworld to enter. The psychedelic experiences that were once fringe and condemned are being re-played out through modern fictions that blend Gnostic tropes, mythological memes, and multidimensional portholes. Transcendental states of consciousness, ratified by the far explorations of new science, are adding to the mix of a new 21st century mythology that as of yet remains unnamed. Perhaps we are emerging toward the birth of new sacred gods. These are the gods of mutations, of neurological and biological adaptations. And they are emerging first in our pop-culture as our superheroes and psychic mutants. In this initiation into a psychically enhanced future we will need more than ever to learn how to distinguish the demonic from the spiritual. Hence the current barrage of cultural tropes in our films, TV series, and fiction that show angels vs. devils, humans vs. vampires, and the whole gamut of the good vs. the bad that has crawled from the forest floor to enter into the quest for the holy grail. All the while the Fisher King sits immobilized, feasting on an orgy of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). In this way the gods will never be forgotten as they merge with a super-augmented mutant humanity in spandex. As psychologist James Hillman says,
Remember: what the Greeks said their Gods asked for above all else, and perhaps only, was not blood; it was not to be forgotten, that is, to be kept in mind, recollected as psychological facts… [The God’s] reality can never fade as long as they are remembered, that is, kept in mind. That’s how they survive. 4
The real gods, as we knew all along and yet had forgotten, reside within our psyche – they are kept in mind. And yet they can only become real for us – to re-mind us – when dashing about on the stage and streets in front of our very eyes. We need the sacred to slap our faces in spandex gloves before we begin to blink a waking eye.
As Jeffrey J. Kripal writes in his Mutants and Mystics, we have entered the stage of ‘Realization’ whereby we begin to recognize that the events around us in popular culture are not only real but are participatory. That is, our sacred and supernatural fictions appear for us and require our engaged reading of them in order for them to read us. Kripal says that,
In some fundamental way that we do not yet understand, they are us, projected into the objective world of events and things, usually through some story, symbol, or sign. Realization is the insight that we are caught in such a story. Realization is the insight that we are being written.5
The latest revival in the superheroes genre is significant in how it takes the mutant trope further and projects it forward as a form of evolutionary mysticism. Our new heroes are displaying to us our latent capacities and powers that are yet to unfold. We are witness to the first wave of mutant evolutionary pioneers. The summit of human evolution is far in the distance, and yet its early stages are manifesting through the Marvel[vii] and DC[viii] Universes where god-like potentials await us. Through such characters as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine, and Doctor Strange, Marvel mesmerizes paranormal subliminals into popular cultural consciousness. And DC does the same with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Green Arrow. Then as gangs they come together as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men (Marvel), or as the Justice League (DC). They are now our teachers, our guides, our mutant futures that are beyond human. As Kripal recognized, the mutants have become practicing mystics.
We are seemingly living more and more in a mutational and metaphysical universe; and with the arrival of augmented reality our boundaries of interaction with the physical world around us will blur. And yet this suggests a return to the sacred perspective whereby the tangible and intangible worlds become an integral part of our holistic reality-matrix. And we are already well on our way as our outer and inner spaces explode into new blistering supernova.
Outer Spaces – Inner Spaces
Humankind has always been a child of the stars. Our early civilizations mapped the heavens before they mapped the terrain under their feet. The abode of the gods was amongst the glitterballs of the night sky, and their chariots blazed across the incandescent cosmic canvas. So it was no surprise then when the UFOs started to dart across our urban skies and come crashing down disguised as government weather balloons.[ix] Recent popular culture has nurtured a fascination with outer spaces and our galactic cousins from the Golden Age of science fiction of the nineteen thirties, forties, and fifties to the new wave of the sixties and seventies. The concerns of our outer space relations shifted from how to make contact with our space cousins[x] to the entropic death of the universe[xi]. And then the environmental trope entered our outer spaces, as if a subliminal projection from our very own inner spaces. The sacred inner space of humankind was now tethering with the galactic outer spaces concerned with our future place in the universe. The growing number of alleged UFO abductees that emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century began to relay messages of extraterrestrial concern for our planetary well-being.
John. E Mack, an American professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in his later years became a leading authority on the spiritual or transformational effects of the alien abduction experience. Mack came to view the alien abduction phenomenon as acting as a catalyst to ‘shatter the boundaries of the psyche and to open consciousness to a wider sense of existence and connection in the universe.’6 For more than a decade Mack rigorously studied the alien abduction phenomenon and interviewed hundreds of people (whom Mack referred to as ‘experiencers’). What initially started out as an exercise in studying mental illness soon turned into an in-depth inquiry into personal and spiritual transformation. Mack eventually came to see the alien abduction phenomenon as one of the most powerful agents for spiritual growth, personal transformation, and expanded awareness – in other words, as a trigger for a sacred experience. Despite the external anxiety produced by the experience, it was clear to both Mack and his set of experiencers that a profound communion was being established between humankind and other realities. Further, that this interaction was catalyzing a shift in human consciousness toward collapsing the old models of materialistic duality and opening up a connection not only ‘beyond the Earth’ but with other dimensional realities. Mack notes that ‘the process of psychospiritual opening that the abduction phenomenon provokes may bring experiencers to a still deeper level of consciousness where the oneness or interconnectedness of creation becomes a compelling reality.’7
This interconnectedness became a channel for the experiencers (abductees) to receive an impressive range of information; such as healing knowledge, spiritual truths, science, technology, and ecology. A major part of the information was apparently concerning the status of the Earth and humanity’s relationship with its environment. Many of the experiencers referred to their own abduction phenomenon as participating in a trans-dimensional or interspecies relationship. The transformative effects of these unusual encounters were often remarkable. Mack’s experiencers talked about an expansion of psychic or intuitive abilities; a heightened reverence for nature; the feeling of having a special mission on Earth; the collapse of space/time perception; an understanding of multi-dimensions of reality and the existence of multi-verses; a feeling of connection with all of creation; and a whole range of related transpersonal experiences. Significant from these accounts is that, according to the experiencers, the abduction phenomenon is sometimes accompanied by a sense of moving into, or connecting with, other realities or dimensions. The sacred space and outer space were becoming one and the same. Or to put it another way, the contact initiated from those ‘out there’ was having a catalyzing effect to trigger an awakening in the inner spaces way ‘down here.’ It made sense then that our human future was going to include space migration. And according to our galactic cousins, it may even be a necessity if we continued to mess up our planetary home as if it were nothing but a playground to scoff around in.
Inner space junkie Timothy Leary was already riding that space-me-outta-here ticket with his S.M.I.2L.E. philosophy. Leary’s S.M.I.2L.E. stood for Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, and Life Extension. Basically, these were all the tropes from the post-humanism melange added on to the sci-fi dream of humanity living off-planet. We also have now the commercial race to establish a new branch of space tourism, with Virgin Galactic being one of the visible and vocal frontrunners. SpaceX, another private enterprise, is banking its dollars on helping to colonize Mars. There’s no lack of vision, it’s now down to the know-how and the technological leg-up. Now that the space cat is out the bag (excuse the pun), it’s only going to be a matter of time before the picture we have of ‘being human’ will incorporate the starry, cold vistas of outer space. From the earliest sacred expressions in the cave art of our ancestors to the ideas of space migration, they all show two fundamental urges within the human being: i) I am human, I am here (recognition); and ii) Where is the heavenly connection? (contact). Human dreams have encompassed living on Mars, leaving and migrating beyond the solar system, and of contact with ‘Higher Intelligence.’ Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, managed to combine both contact and communication through his receiving of channelled information. It has been documented that Roddenberry was introduced to an entity called ‘Tom’ who represented the Council of Nine, through the channel medium Phyllis Schlemmer.[xii] Roddenberry was allegedly receiving information for a film script to be written that would help prepare the public for extraterrestrial contact. The alleged film never got made, yet we might wonder what ideas made their way into Star Trek (including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). It appears that there are those ‘out there’ who are concerned for our proper preparation for the sacred communion. And the archetypes are now flooding through our popular culture like an evangelical tsunami.
The mythic archetypes from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces filled out the roles in George Lucas’s epic Star Wars universe. The good, the bad, and the hairy all took their cue and played along with the hero’s journey for an updated mythological rendering. Whilst the rise of industrial modernity and the secularization of culture may have contributed to an eroding of our myth-consciousness and a demotion of mystery, a new vital force has emerged that is shifting our planetary pranic energy. There may be those who bemoan that our current civilization does not have a mythic centre, yet they’re missing the point. And this point is that there is no exact point anymore. As hermetic lore states, the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere. The earlier gods retreated back on their sky chariots until we finally arrived at the point where we asked ourselves where all the gods went. The new sacred guides are now secreted in our popular texts that penetrate the outer and inner worlds. These post-historic mythic guides are first to be found within us – within our collective species psyche that gets projected out onto our celluloid and digital-scapes. These re-modelled chameleon mythic memes are telling us that we are not here alone, nor are we here for ourselves alone. The future is both arriving, is here now, and has already been.
We have such films as Back to the Future, Primer, Looper, Terminator, Interstellar, and all the rest to attest to our obsession with shifting our timely perspectives. Everything is now malleable, according to our new quantum sciences, and our sacred revival is knocking down linear walls of rigidity. Just when you thought that you were safe in stable comfort zones, the paranormal is getting ready to redress itself as the new normal. A Gnostic-like awareness of being embedded in a reality-construct will become ever greater as our technologies increasingly broker and interface our physical experience. There are a plentiful array of fictions and films that ply us with plots on technologically-driven machine gnosis. Perhaps they are trying to signal that we are entering the sacred space of hybrid awareness. The film Transcendence (2014), for example, showed humanity edging toward sacred sentience as a means for solving the world’s global problems. As Vaclev Havel stated in one of his addresses – ‘Transcendence is the only real alternative to extinction’ (July 4th, 1994). Yet we are not on our way out, despite what the fear-mongering mainstream media may be trying to ram down our throats. Nor are we heading toward a techno-machine Overlord future with us as the slaves. Because the sacred works in multiple streams and never hedges all bets on a one-trick pony.
The game changer coming onto the scene is the participatory mind of human consciousness. The coming space migration is a reflection of our expanding inner spaces. We are toying with these memes in our popular culture now ahead of their coming actualization. What our fictions are dealing with are the blueprints before we’re ready to go the full hog. And that’s why we’re in a period of incredible experimentation – we are juggling with a new type of energy coming into our cultural realities. And this new pranic force is getting expressed in a myriad of multiple forms; be it creatively, chaotically, commercially, or crazily. It’s a cacophony of exuberance and experimentation trying to find its harmonic resonance. We are gaming, bopping, and trailblazing our way into a re-identification with a sacred energy. There’s a strong sense of the sacred filtering through our modern cultural memes, and it’s not all as chaotic as it seems…
1 Sabini, Meredith (ed) (2008) C.G. JUNG on Nature, Technology & Modern Life, Berkeley, CA, North Atlantic Books, p98
2 Thompson, William Irwin (1998) Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, p218
3 Thompson, William Irwin (1998) Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, p223
4 Cited in Hollis, James (1995) Tracking the Gods: The Place of Myth in Modern Life. Toronto, Canada, Inner City Books, p147
5 Kripal, Jeffrey J (2011) Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal. Chicago The University of Chicago Press, p217-18
6 Mack, John, E. (1999) Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation & Alien Encounters. New York: Crown Publishers, p218
7 Mack, John, E. (1999) Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation & Alien Encounters, New York, Crown Publishers, p136
[i] Available online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/pridisc.htm
[ii] See http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/pridisc.htm
[iii] Burroughs proclaimed that an ‘Ugly Spirit’ pervaded him for his entire life, and ‘in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.’ – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Burroughs
[iv] Several of them, including notably Israel Regardie and Christopher S. Hyatt, were published by New Falcon Press.
[v] A somewhat semi-serious reference to the Rapture book series
[vi] Such as ‘The Precious Jewel’ and ‘The King’s Son’
[vii] Marvel Comics (owned by The Walt Disney Company)
[viii] DC Comics (owned by Warner Bros.)
[ix] A tongue-in-cheek reference to the Roswell incident of 1947
[x] For example, see Ted Owen’s contact manual How to Contact Space People
[xi] A good example is J.G. Ballard’s short story The Voices of Time
[xii] For Schlemmer’s channelled information see The Only Planet of Choice (1993)