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February 29, 2004

As Bill Hicks would have said...

... is life too fucking weird or what?

Alex Jones published a photo, supposedly from a 1982 issue of the SF Chronicle, that shows a smiling John Kerry as he visits... well, as he visits Anton Szandor LaVey, former leader of the Church of Satan.

That's all I'm going to say about it. Personally, I don't think the event itself is such a big deal, or that it somehow proves anything, like Jones seems to imply (as if LaVey and all Bonesmen belonged to some Cartel of General Wholesale Evil).
I'm just enjoying this newest flash of surreality sweeping across the mediasphere.

But it would be fun, again for the surrealistic effect, to drop by the library sometime, check out the July 17, 1982 Chronicle and see that photo for myself — if it really exists, that is. How was that old journalistic adage? "Fact check everything. If your mother says she loves you, check it out", or something like that.

(Thanks to American Samizdat for the link.)

UPDATE: And in fact, the photo has been quickly revealed as a fake. Thanks to the two people that commented on my post on Disinfo for the heads-up. Guess that opportunity to nose around a bunch of old, dusty newspapers is blown... case closed.

February 28, 2004

going nowhere at a billion bits an hour

Killing Time by Mark Dery: a collection of brief strings of thoughts about — among other things — life in the Net age.

Life lived at Net speed means sitting at a computer, our thoughts racing, our bodies unmoving. I call it "terminal inertia": the sensation, experienced daily by millions in our wired society, of overflying infinite landscapes of information while sitting still. In a sense, we’ve arrived in the future foretold by J.G. Ballard in his short story, "Memories of the Space Age."

Via Heckler & Coch.

quantum immortality?

This is interesting:

In the experiment, a physicist sits in front of a gun which is triggered or not triggered by radioactive decay. With each run of the experiment there is a 50/50 chance that the gun will be triggered and the physicist will die. So according to the Copenhagen Interpretation the physicist is either dead or not dead, but death lies somewhere in the picture.

Via MadGhoul.

But if the many worlds interpretation is correct then at each run of the experiment the physicist will be split into a world in which he lives and one in which he dies. In the worlds where the physicist dies, he will cease to exist. However, from the point of view of the physicist, the experiment will continue running without his ceasing to exist, because at each branch, he will only be able to observe the result in the world in which he survives, and if many worlds is correct, the physicist will notice that he never seems to die.


What are you doing still here? Read the whole thing!

The Altered State :: class notes // part 1

For some the end of miles is Denver, Colorado
But something always kept me moving West
I’m lately out of reach
In towns along the California shore

I’m leathery and bleached
I’m lost and I am lonesome to the core
I’ve got nowhere left to go
But I’m satisifed to know
There’ll be miles nevermore

— Frank Black, The End of Miles

OK. Here I am with tons of notes from the first 2 meetings of Erik Davis' The Altered State, a CIIS class about "California's Spiritual Frontiers". The following is my best shot at a rundown of this course's outline and perspective, with some of the connections that Erik's lectures have so far inspired.

When I heard about this class (via Bruce Sterling's blog), I immediately knew I would attend. Erik's slant on the subject made, as always, total sense to me. I had often felt the uniqueness of California's spiritual history, blessed as it is with some of the most amazing, eccentric, rare individuals ever — almost all seemingly connected with each other, all contributing to build what is probably the most cosmopolitan and multifaceted spiritual landscape on the planet. I recognized California as a sort of living Mythos, but I lacked the words and the research to really frame my recognition. Then, all of a sudden, Erik Davis appeared — bringing those words and that research, describing California "as a distinct religious tradition on its own".

The time spent in class so far has been, to no great surprise of mine, compelling and engaging. Erik riffed for hours on the topic at hand, tracing compelling, hypertext-like connections with lucidity and humor. Right away, we learned that the research behind this series of lectures (and a slew of other projects, including one or two upcoming books) has a personal focus. Davis told the audience of a time when he felt envious of a friend who — following a spiritual crisis — decided to re-approach the traditional Judaic roots that he had originally rejected. Erik's envy came from the realization that, were he to do such a thing, he couldn't have: raised in a mostly dogma-free environment, with just about as much religion "as you could hang on a Christmas tree", he'd never had a traditional "mold" to break out of — let alone return to.

After some soul-searching, and remembering all the encounters with the spiritual and religious that punctuated his life so far, the maverick scholar realized that there was indeed something common to them all. A genetic signature of sorts connected the dots, and pointed towards an answer as obvious as the ground under his feet. He did belong to a spiritual tradition after all, and its name is "California".

:: The End of Miles ::

Davis' point is that the manifold factors that shape Californian history, atmosphere and everyday life have converged to create an ideal environment for a peculiar mixture of spiritual impulses and trends (pretty much none of which originated in California). Such mixture has eventually come to constitute enough of a discrete entity to justify treating it as a tradition of sorts. Like a regular tradition, it is defined by a set of core elements, a shared cultural environment, and a characteristic way of approaching the timeless spiritual issues. Unlike a regular tradition, it lacks a central, unifying dogma and/or a set of rituals repeated throughout many generations. This does not invalidate our use of the term — the point is that we are participating in a living culture, and that culture has roots, history and identity.

The point may be, granted, more poetic that factual; or it may be somewhat arbitrary. Indeed, it strikes me as a "poetic fact" like, say, the history of Hassan-i-Sabbah. Certain concepts outgrow their own factual roots, and become symbolic, infectious memes that help us redefine our relationship to reality. And that, as far as I am concerned, is Davis' real line of business. The man has a knack for drawing those connections that reawaken our awareness of Mythos in this apparently Logos-dominated world. Almost as an incidental by-product of his research, itself clearly motivated by a sincere quest for mythical consciousness, we are stimulated to explore new perspectives and become able to see how certain stories have never stopped being told; how indeed we are still participating in them. Such awareness is the hallmark of the state of poetic consciousness that precedes all existential meaning.

The stories being told in this case have a lot to do with something that we might call "the Going West". We humans started going West a long time ago, and didn't stop until we reached the end of it. Beat poet Lew Welch, in his "The Song Mt. Tamalpais Sings" muses on how "human movements, but for a few, are Westerly" — following the Sun — and how these human migrations eventually ended in California. California is where we finally arrived to the end of the land. "This is the last place. There is nowhere else to go", in Welch's words. California is the geographical and historical end not only of America, but of our entire human journey of discovering unknown land. It is the Frontier to end them all.

:: Nature, Experience and the Body ::

This theme is key to framing the Californian landscape, in spiritual as well as natural terms. It tends to stay in the picture no matter which point of view we take. For starters, it has to do with nature, one of the defining elements of the "California experience" as framed by Davis: the climactic conditions here are famously extraordinary, coming close, in the South, to a situation of "endless summer". We did succeed somewhat in our desperate chasing the Sun westward. Testifying to this, we still have much of California's unique natural landscape, with its huge sequoias that look like cathedrals, and the vast mountain and coastal roaming grounds that framed the nature mysticism of John Muir and Robinson Jeffers.

The first white settlers in this area must have seen it as some sort of Arcadia, a veritable Heaven on Earth, especially coming as they were from the East Coast, with its cold winters and frigid Puritan outlook. The direct experience of such pristine natural wonder must have been quite a shock to them — one imaginably akin to that of religious ecstasy. In this context we find the roots of another core element of California spirituality: experience, rather than dogma or traditional belief. A tradition of questioning tradition, I might venture.

Contact with nature, especially at the untainted intensities it has reached here, tends to puncture the invisible wall between the world and our perception of it. Such a membrane is maintained by looking at the world in symbolic terms to be interpreted: seen that way, nature can become "God's Book"; its earthly plenty becomes a shadow of Heavenly abundance; those rays of sunlight, filtering down through the sequoias' impossibly high foliage, are but a reflection of Divine Light, and so forth. Well — It might have been easier to relate to things that way in the Cold East, but California offered enough sensuous, opulent lushness to her visitors to make them forget such illusory distinctions: the light is the Light. The Kingdom is this kingdom. The warm breeze that caresses your skin is saying, 'I am the body of God — be one with me'.

And there is little doubt that such a union will occur in the flesh — at least in California. The body is the third key element identified by Davis. Here the connection with nature blurs quite interestingly: on one hand we have the nature mysticism I've already mentioned, with its implication of the human body finding spiritual fulfillment in a union with the wilderness, physicality, maybe even a kind of spiritual hedonism. On the other, the physical vessel itself becomes a self-contained way to spiritual fulfillment, one that eventually separates from the traditional notion of "nature", sometimes dramatically so. We discover we can manipulate the body, extend its life span, change its appearance, change its gender, cosmetically erase the signs of aging, and even freeze it and save it for later, better times.

This last kind of mythology tends to be quite popular around the Southern part of this Altered State, which is also — as Davis pointed out — the only genuinely "bipolar" state in the Union: not incidentally, earth activist and author Starhawk, in her sci-fi novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, envisions Northern and Southern California locked in a classic Manichean struggle, Utopia (North) vs. The Evil Empire (South).

At any rate, the escape from physical death — and its shadow — does seem to be a defining theme for the drier Southern environment, certainly more so than the Northern oneness with nature (and therefore with Earth's cycles — including living and dying). Here, our going West starts to resemble the quest for the Egyptian/Burroughsian Western Lands in its trying to achieve immortality, but without letting go of the body once the "far shore" is reached...

:: Media and Techniques of Consciousness ::

The environs of Los Angeles, that apocalyptic sprawl messily clustered around Mount Olympus Hollywood, have long been stage to a vast gamut of collective fantasies. From there, those fantasies are regurgitated all over the globe via worldwide broadcast, and become media phantasms that haunt the imaginations of millions. Adventure, sex, metaphysics, epic, horror, religion, transcendence... anything can be recorded, reproduced, virtually experienced on demand; massive amounts of currency change hands in attempts to buy that which can't really be packaged or sold. Media constitutes a fourth, huge aspect to the Californian trip.

The homeland of mega-entertainment and computer culture knows how, under certain conditions, technology itself can lead to experience — or, at least, to a convincing simulation of it. To some, this suggests ways to amass immense wealth; in others, it inspires art. Both recognize it as a powerful means to work different kinds of magick. It is one of the new frontiers that developed after the Western edge was reached: we are now exploring ephemeral "New Worlds" made of images, data, information — and the infrastructures that such things need to get around, creating webs of intricate links that bridge our individual minds.

If we look at media as being a tool to change consciousness, we are looking at the fifth key element of this class' framework: techniques of consciousness. Psychedelics would, of course, fall within this category, but so would innumerable other technologies to alter the perceptual and cognitive faculties of the ultimate media, our body. California's cultural matrix is literally teeming with every variety of spiritual practices, ritual traditions and systems of magick, taught by an army of more or less peculiar individuals, organizations, churches and so forth. Rosicrucians, Scientologists, Thelemites, Satanists and many, many more have long coexisted — mostly peacefully — within the borders of the Altered State. All promise results, and offer tools to achieve them.

This approach is itself very Californian, with its pared down, hands-on practicality; a drive to get to the heart of the matter through experience. It is not hard to see how this attitude, when applied to the Spirit, might find itself at odds with orthodox religion — after all, it is tantamount to "immanentizing the Eschaton". During California's early days, priests in the East considered the state pretty much as pagan as China, and sent missionaries here to counter this "straying from the path". Needless to say, their mission was not successful. A cosmopolitan variety of religious experiences, present from the very start, continued to flourish, avoiding dogma and remaining open to the new and different.

:: Evolution or Mutation? ::

This constant influx of novelty creates the question at the core of the sixth and final point in Davis' outline sketch: the evolution/mutation dichotomy. It's a timeless question, and the first settlers were already asking it, as they watched a 3000-years old sequoia being cut down and turned into a bowling alley, or the machines of Big Business thrust into the earth to appropriate its minerals. Is all this novelty adding up to some evolutionary force? Is all this change leading us to betterment, or just to more change — blind, unpredictable and possibly catastrophic?

Obviously we don't have an answer — at least not yet — but only differing ways of looking at it. What we do know is that California features prominently both schools of thought: believers in a coming Utopia (often technological/chemical/cognitive in nature) and concerned voices warning of an imminent disaster. Both the exhilarating impression of surfing the high wave of evolution — and the nihilism of mutation without meaning — reach a peak in California. And, as Davis aptly points out, they are both legitimate states, experienced in response to spiritual crises or emergencies. At the end of miles, both the light and the dark sides are pushed close together against the same abysmal Void.


That's all for now. As the class progresses, I'll do my best (involved as I am in a whole series of other projects) to post follow-ups about items of particular interest, and/or partial summaries. Stay tuned...

[end of part 1 // to be continued]

February 25, 2004

How To Charge & Fire A Sigil By Playing A Video Game

This article, posted on Disinformation by occult author Taylor Ellwood, offers an original and interesting approach to sigil magick (Disinformation article).

'Ever wanted to charge a sigil through a state of gnosis that wasn't induced by an extreme form of behavior? Have you wanted to be entertained while charging the sigil? Occult author Taylor Ellwood can tell you an effective and easy method of charging a sigil that'll have you entertained as well. Just play a video game.

One of the most fascinating aspects about pop culture magick is the adaptability it grants you. Case in point, recently I'd been reading Disinformation's Book of Lies, particularly the essays on Austin Osman Spare. The ideal state to be in to charge a sigil is one where the mind is blank, vacuous, and thus open to the influences of the sigil (Drury 2003). I began to think about that and how pop culture could be applied to charging and firing sigils.

Now we know that a sigil is a statement of desire compressed into a symbol. When you're in a state of gnosis, focused inwardly, you imprint the sigil within your unconscious and then promptly forget about it. You can do this through a variety of ways, be it through sexual excitement, physical exhaustion, or some grand ritual or meditation technique that brings you to a heightened state of zero and thus to a state of openness for the sigil. Or you can do what I do. Play a video game.'

Very nice. The only detail I didn't understand is Ellwood's opening statement, with its reference to "extreme behavior". Is sex (one of the most popular ways to charge sigils) really that "extreme"?

Nitpicking aside, read the whole thing here.
For another original approach to sigilization, try here.

February 17, 2004

speaking of occulture

...speaking of occulture, this 1993 Antero Alli essay, OCCULTURE: The Secret Marriage of Art and Magick (Paratheatrical ReSearch link) offers another interesting perspective.

The piece would already be worth reading, if nothing else, for its fast-paced, perceptive recapitulation of various occultural trends up to the Nineties, complete with mention of some key events and figures (remember Jose' Arguelles and his Harmonic Convergence?). But there is more.

As I read Antero's OCCULTURE some 10 years after it was written, the recapitulation hits home, memories comes back; I am prompted to reflect and retrace the passage of those future promises that Antero talks about: from the way they looked in 1993, to how they unfolded during the decade, to the image they have assumed now.

The last paragraph reads,

"Whether it's on the streets and/or incognito computerized virtual realities, the time has come for the chaotic emergence of the species' own intuitive genius. How will we recognize it? What will it look like and what will it do? It transmits a dream more optimistic than the beats, more precise than the hippies, more dynamic than the new agers and more soulful than the bleak cyberpunks. What's "it"? All these occultural movements make up the groundwork of its unfoldment. What "it" is, however, is now up for grabs which makes IT all the more breath taking, dangerous and imminently alive."

Right. What is "it"? It seems that this question hasn't been fully answered yet, and it probably isn't meant to be. It may be, if anything, that it should be asked more.

I remember this idea, that I heard from E.J. Gold, of certain "work questions" to which an ultimate answer can never be found, unless one decides to settle for something that sounds good, and treat it as the ultimate answer. The point of course is not answering the question, but mantaining it within the consciousness; asking it sincerely enough that it becomes a centrum of gravity for the entire being, rescuing it from fragmentation and focusing it into a single "I", for as long as we can keep that particular alchemical fire burning.

As more and more maps are shattered, and occulture finds new languages, abilities and perceptions, a strange sense of urgency still seems to be enveloping us. Maybe, as Antero wonders in his essay, it is the voice of imminent extinction as it slowly begins an abrupt, vertical crescendo from whisper to deafening scream. Or maybe, paraphrasing Jose' Arguelles, we are approaching the end of Time as we know it. Or maybe not, but in any case it seems to me we are finally beginning to ask some good questions with a certain amount of intensity, beginning to allow them to guide and restructure us. If we keep the friction alive, it might erupt into fire. If we fan the flames, they might eat away at the doors behind which the huge storehouses of our "intuitive genius" lie.

How was that Vaneigem quote?

We must discover new frontiers... People have been standing for centuries before a worm-eaten door, making pinholes in it with increasing ease. The time has come to kick it down, for it is only on the other side that everything begins.

In the end it all comes down to practice. How focused are we, how penetratingly fixed our gaze on exploring all the possible forms of "IT"? It is enough for friction, but what about fire?

That may be the challenge of this time and its warp, after all - focus. Maybe that's the difference between 1993 and now - we have 11 years less to lose.

Maybe. The answer keeps eludes me, always one step ahead; I would like to take its bait and keep chasing its ghost, but it's the middle of the night, and sleep is already having its way.

Good night.

February 16, 2004

Grey Lodge Occult Review #10 :: online!

What a treat:

Issue #10 of the Grey Lodge Occult Review is online.

Featuring: William S. Burroughs, Antonin Artaud, Philip K. Dick, Julius Evola, Jean Baudrillard, Emil M. Cioran, and... yes, and many others, as if those weren't enough already.

Credit for the link goes to the folks at Technoccult, who got it from the folks at New World Disorder. Both of them are exquisite occulture blogs. Check'em out.

(Note to self: set up a blogroll!)

the punishment follows the crime

Haven't seen any other American blog pick this up yet:

The British Government is considering dismantling the BBC (Yahoo! News article).

Dismantling the BBC?

'The [government] documents, which the newspaper said had been drawn up by "senior civil servants", also suggested that the job of ensuring the BBC's impartiality could be taken away from the corporation's board of governors.


The dispute came after a BBC radio report alleged in May last year that Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites)'s government deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction in a pre-war dossier.'

How very interesting. So since the government is not happy with some reporting about the government, the government wants to take over "the job of insuring the BBC's impartiality".
Sounds like government censorship to me.

Will the British people stand for this one? Will anyone be able to do anything about it? It remains to be seen. In the meanwhile, I look forward to the debate extending to US news sources. After all, the BBC is a worldwide, mainstream force among news media, maybe the only one that the big conglomerates here at home really have to reckon with. The Beeb is invaluable for Americans, in that it imports points of view from abroad that are rarely widely available here.
And it's publicly funded and independently run, another thing that's quite rare in the US.

No wonder the anchors over at FOX think this of the BBC.

Why isn't Mr InstaPundit commenting on this? I understand that griping about the comment that a reporter at NASCAR made - about Bush's war record - may seem like a matter of larger American concern.
However, whether or not the BBC is allowed to continue broadcasting uncensored should concern us, too.

But then, maybe Glenn Reynolds agrees with the FOX guy above. You can never tell, with these techno-libertarians.

(Thanks to Mortimer at Media Underground for the link to the BBC story)

UPDATE: Not too long after I posted the above, Reynolds caught up with the story. Here, FYI, is his actual opinion on the issue.

Great. Guess I must be psychic.

February 15, 2004

aimless wanderings of the mind [on and around Erik Davis' TechGnosis]

Well, the upcoming seminar with Erik Davis inspired me to start re-reading his Techgnosis.

The book is a brilliant study of the currents of magic, mysticism and religious mythology that easily slither through the cracks of technoculture to envelop and imbue its means of communication, all the while remaining largely unseen.

Davis takes a pretty good crack at restoring the reader's awareness of these factors. After reading the book, you might find yourself thinking of the instruments of information technology in a different way, one which reveals them as embodiments of cosmic forces - like those symbolized by the Greek gods - or parts of an unbroken, animistic cosmos, where the divide between Nature and Culture has never existed.

Indeed, by absorbing the visions encoded within the pages of this book, and digesting their kernel of perceptive lucidity, readers may be pushed to experiment with a new vision of their own. And in casting a new light over InfoTech, they might end up reconsidering the entire world we live in, riddled as it is with info-technological elementals of all kinds.

Such a vision can help us restore our ability to decipher the timeless myths woven in the fabric of the universe around us. Through it we may reclaim the "other" side of our selves, the one very much connected with, embedded in the cosmos. All those flashing LEDs, flickering screens and interactive gadgets around us may finally cease to distract us from our path, and instead come to take their place among our mythologies. That way we might actually develop our own, current mythos, rather than keep trying to cram a world far too huge and complex inside old maps, just because they are traditional and/or exotic.

Obviously, this is kind of a tricky issue.
For instance, I feel a lot of affinity for Hakim Bey's comments on what he calls "CyberGnosis" (quote: "Virtual Reality as CyberGnosis. Jack in, leave Mother Earth behind forever"), and believe strongly that a general burial of all body-denying mythologies is long overdue. However, I don't see the TechGnosis that Davis is writing about as having anything to do, necessarily, with the Gnostics' wholesale condemnation of the entire material universe.

The conflict is mostly just apparent. Already elsewhere, Bey has exhaustively acknowledged the important role that communication technology can play in supporting his Temporary Autonomous Zone. But that's not really my point here. I can see the outline of something else in the strange jumble of feelings that I inadvertently unlocked by re-opening TechGnosis.

It seems to me that a worldview that erases the split between Nature and Culture (as Davis does, following Bruno Latour), that makes technology part of our magico/spiritual dreaming landscape, is exactly what we need to battle the dehumanizing aspects of the postmodern age. Choosing the opposite would be counterproductive, in my opinion, except maybe for those of us that have distanced themselves altogether from the "newer products" of Nature, and withdrawn deep into pre-technological nature. But then, those folks simply do not need to face this question, as their chosen route avoids it entirely.

Remember Greek mythology. When Peleus and Thetis got married, the other Gods decided to exclude the troublemaking and unpredictable Eris from their celebrations. It was a Very Bad Move, of course: I'm sure you remember what happened as a result.

Now. Maybe it's because of my Discordian tendencies, but I've always felt there is a clear - even self-evident - yet profound warning embedded in the story: if you try to keep out something inconvenient, or "bad" or "negative", chances are it will eventually kick the door down and blast its way in with a vengeance. Or you can look at it from Lao Tzu's perspective, with his admonition (in the Tao Te Ching) that the widespread recognition of certain things as "good" automatically defines others as "evil". The two opposites create each other, so that the more we try to have the good, the more we create evil. And it's nobody's fault. Blaming the Trojan War on Eris, all evil on the evildoers/Satan/etc., only widens the dualistic divide that created the trouble in the first place. Better would be to make peace with the Other, learn to befriend its ambiguous energies even as they surround and besiege us, and begin harnessing its blessings, mixed as they may be.

Soul, spirit and myth have never left this planet, and never will.
They have merely put on new clothes. It's up to us to see through them and maintain our humanity in a changing world, this one, not some imaginary past Arcadia, or an equally fictitious Brave New World. If what makes us human eventually gets stripped away from us, because we can't adapt to the new challenges that we have created for ourselves, whose fault will it really be?

All the timeless dreams and symbols, "as old as suffering and despair" (to paraphrase WSB), that have accompanied us ever since we moved our first steps on Earth, are still there. And paradoxically, this mediated age might be the best time to relearn to experience them directly. As interconnection grows exponentially and we become exposed to ever-increasing quantities of each other's thoughts and feelings, an ancient reality begins to shine through the cracks of consensus reality: the cosmos is alive, breathing and conscious, and there is nothing that is not part of it.

[may be continued ...]

February 13, 2004

The Altered State

This is exciting:

I've recently found out about and registered for an Erik Davis workshop at the California Institute of Integral Sciences in San Francisco. Theme, The Altered State: California's Spiritual Frontiers.

From the workshop blurb:

"Alongside its body obsessions and media dreams, California is perhaps best known for its spiritual eccentricity. For well over a century, the state has been host to a dizzying number of exotic religions, ad-hoc cults, and all manner of mind-and-body-altering fads and fantasies. California has been home to spiritual mavericks like Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley, to popular visionaries like Starhawk and Carlos Castaneda, to mystical nature poets like Robinson Jeffers and Gary Snyder, and to living nightmares like Jim Jones and Heaven's Gate. It cradles the Church of Satan and the Church of Scientology; looking east, it built the first Zen monastery and first Hindu temple in the western hemisphere. California is responsible for UFO cults and Esalen, for the Grateful Dead and Burning Man, for soul surfers and the Sierra club. If consciousness is truly evolving, then California has served as its American Petri dish.

This four-week seminar, which will include slideshows, film clips, and music, is devoted to the idea that California's alternative spirituality stands as a distinct religious tradition on its own-a kind of improvised and hedonistic Hinduism, full of contradictory sects, cultures, and spiritual techniques, but all speaking to our core predicament: how to rediscover spirituality in a modern world defined by technology, consumer culture, and a scientific cosmology. In the class, we will encounter unknown ancestors, sacred spots, and secret histories buried in the cultural landscape. Such discoveries may provide a regional sense of "rootless roots" at a time when so many of us are feeling unmoored. Indeed, many of our contemporary concerns with deep ecology, human transformation, body-positive spirituality, and the techno-science of mind are rooted in California's maverick tradition of spiritual innovation.

The first class will provide an overview of California spirituality, and suggest some reasons why this peculiar sensibility set down roots here on the west coast. The remaining three classes will focus on major dimensions of the "California Tao": nature, the body, the evolution of consciousness, and technology. California, after all, has led the way towards a postmodern culture of media, subcultures, computer technology, aero-space, and rootless consumerism. Its alternative spiritual movements both mirror this process and attempt to compensate for its considerable problems. By understanding these dynamics, we can better approach the transformations and disruptions that lay ahead for all of us. [...]"

Sounds good to me. As far as I can remember, I have always had a perception of California's assorted spiritual weirdness as a sort of "distinct religious tradition on its own", and I'll love to hear what Erik has to say on the subject. You know, absorb factoids about this and that local cult, spend a bunch of brainpower crossreferencing little bits of data, take an intellectual wide-angle shot or two of the cultural landscape that we'll be exploring... and, at the end, receive the beautiful gift of a nugget of inspiration falling from who knows what inner sky, pretty much unexpected. That's usually what happens when I allow myself to be where I should be. And this is one of those times and places - I can tell.

After all, I have a track record of indulging in such pursuits.
I can even say I survived the extensive chapter - which felt like several - about the Church of Satan in Stephen E. Flowers' landmark book Lords of the Left Hand Path. Not that I'm really complaining about the length of the chapter or anything. Mr. Flowers is one of those, um, darkly unusual scholars whose corrosive and politically incorrect mind I would follow just about anywhere in its meanderings. It's just that I didn't think I would ever ingest quite that much detail about Mr.LaVey's doings and dealings, in the space of just one chapter.

Anyway. Yeah. The Altered State - sounds just great. Heck, the Corridor of Madness meme itself comes from yet another weird Californian spiritual personality and his enclave. I am planning to take design measures on the site that will make that connection permanently clear, but first I have to figure out enough of all this Movable Type mumbo jumbo. Until then, check out this quote. Ah, and good luck with the color choices that they've made on that page. Brrr.

That's all for now, folks. Oh, and thanks so much to good ol' Bruce Sterling for mentioning the workshop on his blog and turning me on to it. Chalk up another great find to the blogosphere...

February 11, 2004

Initiations - End of Lab :: Personal Notes // part 4 and conclusion

In which I delve into a detailed description of two of the most powerful group rituals that emerged out of our autonomous (yet coordinated) efforts as ritualists, during the course of the "Initiations" paratheatrical lab. I will also summarize the major insights gained throughout this experience, and attempt a working assessment of this medium, in terms of its usefulness to my personal work (which might even - who knows? - be useful to other individuals, similar to me in type or in conditions at this time).

:: Safety/Danger and Sobriety/Intoxication ::

Maybe the single most intense ritual for me was one based on an interesting pair of polarities: Safety/Danger and Sobriety/Intoxication, along with - of course! - the powerful tensions generated by their interplay. That's right. Very, very interesting stuff.

After going through the usual preparation/warm-up cycle (common to every session), we entered a process aimed at developing safety in our personal area. Once again, this meant autonomously finding whatever movements seemed to accomplish this (success is your proof, always).

I found myself engaging in a series of decidedly outgoing gestures, that tended to saturate the space around me, and were very obvious and "showy" in nature. That's quite unusual for me; my movements being as a matter of course quite moderate and simple, rarely commanding the attention of the casual observer. But these were not "matter of course" movements. These were intentional, symbolic gestures aimed at "owning" my space, and I found that, the more expansive they became, the safer I felt. This makes some objective sense, too: potential "intruders" (at least the not-so-determined ones) would feel much less inclined to cross a boundary that is claimed with such intensity and energy.

I should say that we were positioned in a circular fashion, all around the room. Each individual in their little circle of Safety, all the little circles disposed to form a circle as large as the room itself. The Safety zone was also the Sobriety zone. We knew that at some point we would be stepping out into the space described by the circle of all our personal zones... a space defined as that of Danger and Intoxication. We didn't know what would be happening in that space, only that in it the presence of Danger and Intoxication would be felt. Or missed.

We knew that at any time we could return to our Safety (and Sobriety) zones. It was clear the main and first objective was to generate enough safety to gain the ability to take some real risks. Connection to vertical sources has had for me a few peculiar side-effects throughout the lab: one of them was definitely being able to claim my own emotions back, to feel that I was more "in charge" of them than usual, that outside events couldn't affect me as easily. So after enough gestures of the kind described above, I felt safe enough to decide it was time to step into Dangerous territory and see what I could see.

Inside the circle, people were running around and embodying varying degrees of Danger or Intoxication, allowing those archetypes to motivate their movement. This often translated into assaults of various kinds; being grabbed, pulled, attacked (mostly playfully, although a back-and-forth of reactions might occasionally escalate into a small confrontation), confronted, played with (without being asked for permission!), tickled, and other random forms of uninvited interaction. General chaos reigned within the circle.

Needless to say, it was fun, while not without a bit of real fear, or at least uneasiness. My attempts at embodying Danger were mostly about playfulness and spontaneous contact with other people, two areas that are often charged with a sense of danger for me. It felt like falling into a quiet clearing inside my own mind, or at least quieter: if not exactly the eye of the hurricane, at least closer to it. From there I could look at the self-restricting aspects of my personality as a series of habits, offshoot of the archetype of Habit itself...

I could feel the presence of those habits as an actual force operating inside me, like a sort of gravity, with its blind tendency to compel me always in a particular direction - towards avoidance of Danger. In those moments I was intentionally not listening to the voice of Habit, and passively tolerating its presence without kowtowing or reacting to it, just observing its unpleasant tug as a form of mechanical self-conditioning. And, meanwhile, allowing myself to cross the boundaries of safety a bit. Yeah. Refreshing.

Very occasionally, the level of danger would reach a point in which it seemed advisable to return to the Safety zone, but mostly I was able to glide back and forth around the edge of the "red zone".
I also had to try Intoxication at least once, fond as I am of its presence, and re-entered the space to embody some energies of the utterly drunken, disorderly, Dyonisian, Discordian, etc kind. That was fun too. I found it an interesting way of being, one which allowed me to stumble incoherently around, get in the way of people, bump into them, giggle stupidly at them, laugh maniacally as I crawled on the floor, and other nice things that usually entail strong doses of alcohol and nastier types of danger to accomplish. In this case they became ways to work on myself instead, and the energies they liberated even got to intermingle with other people's in a conscious way (as opposed to "mostly unconscious"). Ah, Intoxication of a myriad faces and forms! Will you ever cease to amaze me?

:: Core and Surface ::

Anyway. Another, quite powerful ritual revolved around the polarity of core self and surface self. For this one, after a preliminary group polarity session done in a No-Form corridor, we stood in a No-Form circle around the room. From there we would make our way through the room in large spiral motions, to arrive at the center. The center was defined as Core, the rest of the room as Surface. We also knew that, somewhere along the way, some Points of Initiation were present. We were not told where they would be, just alerted to their presence. At those points, passage and change would erupt on the Surface, ideally in spontaneous outbreaks, while we - ever so slowly - spiraled our way towards Core.

The walk through Surface for me was all about social masks; acting their roles, the tension of maintaining them, and their function of as filters and mediators of my experience. My way of walking felt unnatural, self-conscious; in all interaction with others I only connected through codified expressions, always while shielded by a social mask to conceal whatever feelings I might really be experiencing. I did my best to observe this process, and noted the amount of energy that maintaining those masks required. This maintenance process faltered at times; maybe the very effort to maintain it caused it to collapse occasionally, when energy ran out... in those moments, I stood there in the middle of Surface, temporarily stripped of its trappings. Such were the cues by which I recognized my Points of Initiation.

As more and more of us approached Core, the space was changing palpably. I sensed my social masks falling off and a more direct perception emerging. I detected no urgency to reverse this process, therefore I spontaneously relaxed into the new mode of operation. Others around me seemed to be in a similar space as well... people were effortlessly finding their place around Core (marked by a pillow placed at the center of the floor). While the spiral movement across Surface saw each of us going at his or her own pace, each quite alone in our own processes, as we approached Core some sort of harmony seemed to build up.

Four of us (me included) found themselves sitting cross-legged around the Core pillow, moving our hands around and above it, like a strange form of worship; a caressing of invisible energy fields. Soon our hands were touching, forming a circle of contact around Core.

Other circles were forming around us, as more people came. I am not exactly sure what was going on in the outer circles, as I was quite focused on the wave-like hand motions and contact between myself and the other three in the inner circle. By this time we had started producing sounds, which were articulating and weaving themselves into effortless, hypnotic harmonies. The others around us seemed to be magnetically drawn towards Core. Some people were stretching their arms to touch the pillow through our circle of hands. Eventually one of them, Paradox (who is a cool guy, incidentally), crawled inside the circle and sat directly on the Core/pillow.

At that point the situation seemed to transform into some kind of spontaneous healing ritual for Paradox (for lack of better words), as people around Core directly responded to the presence of someone within the circle. Paradox became the recipient of the energies that we had been stirring up. The voice harmonics were in crescendo, and occasionally evolved into beautiful, brief bits of song. We went through what felt like a complete cycle of this, and slowly the formation around Core dissolved, with people returning individually to their No-Form spots at the edges of the room.

:: Conclusion ::

These rituals (and a couple of others) in particular, and all of them to at least some extent, left me some very deep impressions. I had participated to some other things also called "rituals" before, and read/heard/imagined a whole lot of them, but never have I been aware of the existence of such a thing. And yet, many of their principles make total sense; and yes, I have seen similar dynamics and objectives at work before. But, as others have pointed out elsewhere, not much goes on here of what people commonly imagine "rituals" to be about.

However, that's exactly what we do: rituals.
Through intentional acts, we cause change in conformity with our will to contact archetypes and surrender to them, becoming vehicles for their expression. Out of this we gain the experience of both extremes of opposing archetypal polarities, which increases (when repeated, shook and mixed regularly) elasticity in the ego, our main means of functioning "horizontally". This in turn decreases resistance to change and helps develop an ability that isn't taught anywhere (anywhere ordinary, at least) and in a sense cannot really be "taught". This ability I would call shapeshifting, if that term hadn't become quite so inextricably associated with all sorts of pop, new-agey "shamanism".

But if you look at personality as a "form" that our consciousness adopts, and recognize that this seemingly static form often changes by its own accord or because it is forced to, then you can think about shapeshifting as the art of consciously allowing and orchestrating these changes rather than suffering them passively. This allows the ego to flex and mutate much more easily, reducing the abrupt shocks of passage between forms. Note that this has nothing to do with curbing the ego or much less - Goddess forbid! - taking it out of the picture. Quite the contrary: it enables the ego to flower into its manifold aspects, curbing only its tendency to attach itself to a particular one and resist the natural fluidity of change that the Essence loves.
We strive to get beyond ourselves, but we intend our bodies and psyches to be with us when we get there.

That, incidentally, is one important reason why I found this work useful, and why I think it can be useful to others: its focus is quite objective and grounded in physical reality. Even though we talk about sources, archetypes, deities and so on, none of it is made up, or existing only in the realm of the mind. Intellectually-oriented (or "-lopsided"!) individuals such as myself obviously benefit enormously from such an approach, because it demands we develop sides of our self that have typically been left somewhat behind. But it remains a sound method of working for just about anyone, especially when doing work that aims at evoking/invoking "energies" not usually tapped into. For some of us, it's easy to either follow the concept of such energies into an airy-fairy world made of nothing but ideas; or else lack the stability and grounding to properly manage what is invoked.

Moreover, I found this work's emphasis on personal autonomy - before any proper "group work" is engaged - simply invaluable. Here's another skill that just isn't taught, its development being actually often thwarted and undermined at an early age. In this work we re-learn how to rely on our own connection with the archetypal sources of all consciousness, meaning and action before mingling with others. It is hard to overstate how important this is, and how easy to forget how to do it. What Antero calls a "rare area" (a space containing the qualities necessary for such a ritual to take place) affords us the very opportunity to interact with other beings from a standpoint of commitment to our personal integrity, and the ability to expect everyone else to be doing the same. Unconscious child/parent trips are banished from the space right away, and kept out. Rare, indeed.

Paratheatrical work also forces us to do something of paramount importance to anybody interested in any kind of harmonious development of being: through it we feel our body deeply. This may sound like not much, but once it is done, its more profound implications become evident. By answering this key need of our body, that of having our consciousness imbue, accompany and penetrate it, we have an opportunity to honor the alchemical marriage between Psyche and Essence. Which is, by the way, one of those covenants that really can't be escaped - until death doth you part, anyway. One of those that, the more we keep ignoring them, the more often we end up in Chapel Perilous for yet another educational, grueling stay; to be repeated again and again, until Hell freezes over.

Last but not least, this approach is not only about individual and group experience, and personal work. It contains, already built-in, very straightforward ways to feed directly into the performing arts and creative work of other kind. As I write this, Antero has just resumed paratheatrical meetings with a large part of the group of people with whom I shared the lab experience, to synthesize, distill and refine the lab's work into a theatrical performance, Orphans of Delirium. Building performances that are at the same time theater (entertainment) and objective ritual workings becomes possible by using this medium. Granted, it is not the only medium that allows this, but it is a very pure, practical and adaptable one.

Paratheatrical lab work can come in a wide variety of themes. This one's was Initiations, and that's the spirit with which I approached it. The whole process - a demanding, rewarding and rich one - did in the end unveil its initiatory face for me. I am left feeling that a significant evolutionary effort has been made, and that some important doors in the hallways of self-completion have been opened, even if briefly. Such an experience can be recommended to anyone seriously committed to putting the good old "gnoti seauthon" meme into practice, with a special recommendation to dancers, actors and other performers.

That's all for now in regard to Paratheatrical ReSearch. I am looking forward to working more with this medium, attending the Orphans of Delirium performances, and (hopefully sometime within the next few weeks) doing some more Paratheatrical-related writing. Watch Corridor of Madness for any updates.

Over, and out.

[end of Initiations - End of Lab :: Personal Notes]