198 Methods of Bioregional Reinhabitation

In honor of Gene Sharp’s Life…

Standards:

  • Community self-sufficiency de-centralization
  • Eco-centric/bio-centric perspective
  • Bioregional identity
  • Cooperative organizing principals
  • Sustainable economic practices
  • Nonviolent action
  • Respect for biodiversity, including human multi-cultural values
  • Social/environmental justice

Methods: 

Education for Sustainable Future

  1. Learn about ecology, systems thinking, and natural sciences!
  2. Determine your ecological footprint through an ecological assessment and take steps to lessen it
  3. Map your bioregion, paying attention to plants, animals, natural features, cultural components, best and worst practice regarding human activities…
  4. Set up bioregional study groups that meet regularly
  5. Create a climate/bioregional action plan to catalyze transition
  6. Engage in eco-pedagogical praxis through project/service-based learning
  7. Establish partnerships between education groups and green businesses
  8. Set up monthly gathering to teach principles of sustainability
  9. Hold forums for presentations and discussions
  10. Organize gatherings, summits, teach-ins, and major conferences on specific topics (renewable energy, responsible construction, sustainable regional economies, infrastructure design, sustainable communal well-being, sustainable life-place culture…)
  11. Offer seeds, saplings, and appropriate tools for those without them
  12. Provide technical assistance to those without it
  13. Subsidize classes that promote bioregional awareness
  14. Publish a directory of urban gardens and gardeners
  15. Solicit neighborhood visions of futures and integrate them into action plans
  16. Encourage teachers to develop courses in local bioregional health
  17. Teach bioregional information and sustainability as required subjects
  18. Offer points of entry for the public
  19. Provide a source of general bioregional information
  20. Provide organizing skills
  21. Annual organizing conferences
  22. Provide concrete lifestyle examples
  23. Cultivate bioregional arts
  24. Create a world-wide presence on the web
  25. Develop an online sustainability map
  26. Develop an online green calendar for public events
  27. Establish databases with bioregional information
  28. Establish a skills exchange database
  29. Assist local organizations in bioregional activities
  30. Do outreach at schools and universities to present bioregional perspectives
  31. Establish a speaker’s bureau from different bioregions
  32. Learn navigation techniques and survival skills
  33. Provide free basic ecological education universally (MOOCs…)
  34. Generally explore and play nature games!

 

Local Food System

  1. Redesign your meal plan to become independent from industrial systems
  2. Forage your food!
  3. Begin a compost
  4. Plant a garden
  5. Locate all of the local organic, unprocessed, whole foods coops/collectives in your area
  6. Establish a neighborhood food distribution/trade network to share garden harvests
  7. Redistribute surplus foods to food pantries
  8. Discover all of your local farmer’s markets from a 100-mile radius
  9. Find every Community Supported Agriculture that delivers fresh food in a 100-mile radius
  10. Organize local community meals with neighbors
  11. Establish local composting centers to provide parks and gardens.
  12. Initiate programs that involve communities to grow food through small-scale agriculture
  13. Convert unused lots to garden plots and community spaces
  14. Organize guerrilla gardening and urban planting projects
  15. Convert city parks into food forests
  16. Plant native species in median strips, sidewalks, etc.
  17. Open up spaces for gardening, i.e. rooftop and balcony gardens
  18. Renovate former manufacturing and storage spaces for growing food
  19. Restore water purity of rivers, creeks, lakes, wells, etc.
  20. Reuse filtered grey water and establish grey-water systems in buildings
  21. Develop new sustainable ways and techniques to better satisfy basic human needs
  22. Employ indigenous subsistence techniques where possible
  23. Establish permanent subsistence zones where possible
  24. Establish nodal networks of gardens and permaculture subsistence zones where possible
  25. Learn preservation skills

Green Building and Renewable Energy

  1. Decrease energy use
  2. Build a sustainable cobb house out of natural elements
  3. Retrofit homes to be off-grid
  4. Install solar roofs and solar water heaters
  5. Install living/vegetated roofs
  6. Install native plant landscaping
  7. Demonstrate and make accessible cost-saving applications of renewable energy
  8. Design new buildings to be LEED platinum (or whatever the highest standard is) certification
  9. Find clean sources of energy
  10. Commit to zero net energy development
  11. Sponsor energy education programs
  12. Subsidize low-income energy retrofits
  13. Conserve land through dense clustering
  14. Locate and convert greenhouse gas emissions towards carbon neutrality
  15. Pass ordinances requiring homes and apartment be weatherized/retrofitted when sold
  16. Redesign building codes to remove restrictions for renewables and ensure their use
  17. Install utility meters that show dollar cost of energy and raw consumption data
  18. Convert city waste into energy, assuming environmental quality and recycling options are not compromised.
  19. Research how biomimicry can be used to supply a region’s energy needs and implement strategies
  20. Institute curbside pickup of separated recyclables

Land Use and Transportation Alternatives

  1. Commit to going car free
  2. Convert your car or vehicle to use and recycle renewable energy (veggie fuel/biodiesel)
  3. Set up a ride share
  4. Set up a bike share
  5. Install city-wide bike racks and encourage public use
  6. Establish car-free zones
  7. Reclaim common areas for public use
  8. Rewild large tracts of land
  9. Establish, expand, and connect wildlife corridors
  10. Reintroduce rare species
  11. Require developers to set aside areas as plantable space
  12. Require companies to shoulder transportation costs
  13. Adopt mixed use zoning policies to enable homes, workplaces, and entertainment to be near each other
  14. Discourage sprawl and housing-only subdivisions and suburbs through zoning policies
  15. Introduce green audits to ensure no public funds subsidize unjust/unsustainable projects and all city/regional planning is sustainable
  16. Emphasize long-term, regional sustainability in planning
  17. Prohibit converting agricultural land into low-density housing
  18. Identify sacred spaces and natural habitat that may not be removed or disturbed
  19. Purchase ecologically sensitive areas for protection or damaging buildings for conversion or removal
  20. Reexamine city activities to restrain toxic chemicals
  21. Require minimal distance between development and habitat.
  22. Protect and restore wildlife habitat within city limits through set-asides
  23. Establish mechanisms (taxes, etc.) to fund maintenance of existing urban wild habitat
  24. Create new wild places
  25. Create Departments of Natural Life to coordinate efforts to protect and restore wildness
  26. Daylight creeks and streams to constitute wild corridors
  27. Redesign parks and open spaces as habitats for ecosystems using wild places as models
  28. Use local native plants whenever possible in parks and landscaping
  29. Restore and conserve natural systems
  30. Eliminate industrial farm subsidies; shift to urban farms

Local Living Economy

  1. Establish a green resource hub and mutual aid associations to provide gardening facilities, tools, and equipment for all citizens
  2. Purchase from fair-trade stores that are sustainably certified
  3. Promote a local network of green businesses
  4. Boycott, divest, and sanction all non-green business
  5. Ensure agriculture is organic, sustainable, biodynamic, etc.
  6. Begin a food delivery service
  7. Begin a time bank
  8. Set up gift circles
  9. Begin a local currency
  10. Lobby for green jobs, i.e. remanufacturing, etc.
  11. Learn to design and produce clothing from local sources
  12. Set up a place to donate and reuse clothes and items
  13. Design and utilize compostable containers
  14. Organize seed exchanges
  15. Celebrate community ideas about livability by underwriting blueprints for success
  16. Form neighborhood design review boards to require developers to incorporate recommendations
  17. Set up a credit union to fund green or ecological justice projects, or opening and expanding locally owned sustainable businesses
  18. Create small business incubators to encourage green start-ups
  19. Establish zoning policies favoring neighborhood sustainable start-ups
  20. Fund neighborhood scale activities and institutions that carry out local projects like place-making common areas
  21. Use city money, tax incentives, or district levies for urban revegetation projects
  22. Encourage local life-place celebrations to strengthen connections and express cultural diversity
  23. Find ways to express community identification with local natural features and characteristics
  24. Establish metrics and transition plans to increase gross domestic happiness
  25. Develop rituals and spiritual activities that foster a sense of place
  26. Institute “green bans” to prohibit ecologically destructive projects
  27. Protect and restore forests
  28. Conserve and rebuild soils
  29. Regenerate fisheries
  30. Protect and restore biodiversity hotspots
  31. Plant trees!

Alternative Media

  1. Promote causes that offer solutions
  2. Focus on positive news
  3. Detail examples of sustainability
  4. Identify destructive practices
  5. Cover festivals of life-place culture
  6. Link local issues to global issues
  7. Engage in case studies of habitats for biodiversity, soundscapes, etc.
  8. Produce bioregional documentaries
  9. Set up neighborhood lending libraries
  10. Ensure public access to all materials
  11. Blog about re-inhabitation
  12. Advertise for bioregional solutions and issues
  13. Assist in developing localized media such as murals, newsletters, radio shows, community bulletin boards, etc.
  14. Showcase public artwork that stresses descriptions of natural history
  15. Establish media contacts/distribution centers
  16. Share information, beliefs, and experiences from a bioregional perspective
  17. Publish bioregional newsletters
  18. Provide a handbook of ideas for how to organize locally
  19. Prepare a wide variety of stock materials
  20. Compile reading lists from each bioregion
  21. Distribute tapes and conference talks
  22. Develop public sustainability information for citizens in public places
  23. Create bundles sharing critical bioregional information and culture
  24. Set up a clearinghouse/network to contact other bioregionalists
  25. Raise awareness of elements, techniques, and importance of sustainable practices
  26. Create press releases and news conferences taking vocal positions on bioregional issues

Health

  1. Offer free health clinics
  2. Eliminate food deserts
  3. Open organic and health coops
  4. Teach and provide herbal remedies
  5. Exercise outdoors!
  6. Offer free birth control and family planning services

Citizen Activism

  1. Boycott, divest from, and sanction dirty industry
  2. Build coalitions, movements, and consortiums to coordinate greening operations
  3. Identify and eliminate point and nonpoint sources of pollution
  4. Research conservation groups and donate to or volunteer for them
  5. Advocate for devolutionary policies promoting local empowerment and sufficiency
  6. Repeal ordinances/procedures that are barriers to planting native species and fruit trees
  7. Use volunteer groups as labor forces for ecological restoration
  8. Levy gasoline, severance, parking, and auto taxes to pay for public transit and other reinhabitory activities
  9. Engage in district elections to improve representation of neighborhoods in municipal decision-making process
  10. Establish watershed councils for long-term ecological planning
  11. Set up bioregional gatherings and continent congresses
  12. Determine metrics to convert urban areas into eco-cities
  13. Initiate participatory government and economics
  14. Set up bioregional committees of correspondence
  15. Get involved in NGOs and ensure they operate according to bioregional standards
  16. Set up Community Sustainability Indicators to reach and improve upon
  17. Set up non-hierarchical informal global eco-regional federation to protect human rights and the rights of nature (natural rights)
  18. Establish a comprehensive cybernetic monitoring and analysis system to determine ecological limits of earth in ways that can be applied to economy
  19. Establish a global reserve to stabilize earth systems and allocate and distribute basic human services and goods
  20. Establish a global trusteeship of Earth’s commons to protect earth’s life support systems and ensure these are used for the flourishing of the community of life
  21. Establish a global court to prevent the abuse of power and enforce global rules
  22. Learn how to live without electricity
  23. Live without money
  24. Live a zero-waste life
  25. Engage in ecological defense actions
  26. Implement Gene Sharpe’s 198 methods of non-violent resistance
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Of Cultures and Witchcrafts

The cultures and religions of the Moche and Egypt cultures have much in common, and many cultural elements unique to their own particular cultural regions. As such, a comparison between the two allows for an intriguing inquiry into the universal structure of human societies.

To begin with, both cultural sites were discovered and explored by archaeologists, thereby giving historians new understanding of these periods, and answering many questions that had been left a mystery for so long. In doing so, we are able to surmise to what extent their geographic and political structures permeate their religious institutions and sense of magic (and play).

Both cultures for instance are deeply affected by the location of their civilizations—the Moche, who lived roughly 100AD-800AD—did so on the coast of Peru, whereas Egyptians established themselves around the Nile River before the Third Millennium, lasting all the way to the days of Alexander, when the Ptolemy dynasty led the country until Cleopatra lost her power to the Roman Empire (I’m like almost kinda sure).

The spatial and temporal distance between these geographies are important due to the ecological constraints and context that conditioned each civilization. For instance, whereas the Moche would have to contend with El Nino storms that would eventually cause their downfall, Egypt would need to adapt to a continuously flooding river, as well as many other neighboring rival cultures that were benefitted by the favorable conditions of Eurasia.

In many ways, both civilizations were victims of their own geographies, albeit in different ways.

These geographies had a number of influences on their civilizations. For one, both were hospitable to agriculture, which in turn allowed for a surplus of food to be stored, the effects of which necessitated a labor force (along with the state power necessary to mobilize this labor force) as well as contributed to the specialization of the populace, for instance farmers, warriors, artisans, and the ruling elite.

One major way this agriculturally based specialization and state-controlled labor force materialized is in the architectural infrastructure of the pyramids in both Moche and Egyptian cultures.

Beyond the possible symbolism of the pyramids, for instance the hierarchical correlation to a stratified society, or the elevated position that evoked notions of heaven and divinity, the mere size of both examples exemplify the intentional directive to make such buildings central to the social life of both cultures, disregarding the stylistic or technical differences between the stepped mud brick pyramid of the Moche and the smooth limestone pyramids of the Egyptians.

The centrality of such infrastructure necessarily provides us with insight in the sociopolitical structures of the societies, as well as their functional uses, insights that would have to wait until such structures were thoroughly explored: while the Moche pyramid displayed signs of being a religious ceremonial structure where rites would be carried out (burial of the god-king?), Egypt’s pyramids functioned as tombs to house a body whose soul journeyed to the afterlife.

Both examples detail the extent to which “the triple authority” in which a ruler is invested with political, military, and religious power is present. The gold, art, figurines, apparel, and all around level of detail devoted to the mortuary burials, and ceremonies provides evidence that, like the pyramids, these figurines held central importance in cultural life.

Such importance would further be supported by the recordings of each culture, for instance in the pictographs of the Moche and the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians. The Moche for instance depicted their leader with a headdress, sacrificing men to a decapitator god that took many forms, presumably as a means to secure favor for the society. Similarly, Egyptians encoded in their writing the stories of their own gods to invoke their power to ensure the soul’s safe passage to the afterlife.

This may provide another example of similarities and differences between magical civilizations, that while both cultures were polytheistic and recorded their history and culture in images: the Egyptians, using magical spells from the book of the dead to protect the tomb from raiders and ensure the soul’s afterlife; the Moche used their own religious ceremonies as a way to magically appeal to gods for safety, perhaps to stop the rains that would wash away their temple and irrigation systems. In both cases, the magic, while differing in kind, were perhaps equally ineffective in their aims, as the number of tomb robbers, sometimes even the military-priest-kings/pharaohs themselves would rob older pyramids for materials, while the Moche civilization fell as the waters swept them into the past.

In both regards, a universal structure of human civilizations can be conceived of.

The geographic context of a human society conditions and informs the food source and technical infrastructure labor power will need to ensure its survival. This infrastructure is likewise governed by the political economic structure that can efficiently maintain such a system, leading to a regulatory superstructure of values, ideas, rituals, and behaviors that in turn are permeated, informed, and constrained by the material conditions they arise from and emerge out of.

In the case of the Moche and the Egyptians, the water sources they lived by allowed for irrigation systems that could, through agriculture, provide a surplus allowing for the increase in population whose labor would be exploited as specialization stratified each culture, putting the population to work on architectural projects (pyramids) that structured political, economic, and religious life, out of which art forms and polytheistic religions could be conceived of that provided protection to the human soul after death, the material culture of the living, or both.

As the impotency of magical rites and geographic constraints set in however, these civilizations would fall, their legacy remaining only in the material artifacts that, if not destroyed by natural and human inclinations, could only give us a faint glimpse into their former glory.

Well, not quite.

Perhaps in studying the Moche and Egyptians we can better see how history is structured to repeat in different pulses arising from the land itself, in different ways, in different places, in different forms perhaps, but ultimately expressions of the same struggle to survive, the success of which depends upon often hidden forces of nature (and perhaps what is beyond) that cultures accord their behaviors and traditions to. As such it may be present in similar activities and techniques thereat today and yesteryear.

In this regard, perhaps a word about comparing other magical traditions and witchcrafts are worth glancing at…

Comparing the sorcery of the Azande people to the alleged diabolical nature of European and Neopagan revivalism of Wicca makes for an interesting lesson in the various species and strains of witchcraft at large.

As such, two themes become readily apparent in all of them, namely a) a magical worldview rooted through ritually evoked oracles via an ethnobotanical relationship, and b) an interaction with Christianized culture. I will suggest that the many differences they share benefit from an understanding of the historical dynamics contextualizing their relationship.

The Azande community differs from these other modes of witchcraft in that there is no opposition to the belief system – everyone believes witchcraft exists, with sorcery, the threat of intentional evil done by others able to be relieved through magic. Such a worldview, like others, believes in unforeseen forces and powers that can be identified and, if not outright coerced, then understood through oracles, and appealed to and communicated with through those objects (or people) that are imbued with symbolic meaning and spiritual intent (for a deeper synopsis of sympathetic magic, or like knows like, read the Golden Bough).

Likewise, there are thus indicators for malevolence, which in turn prompts rules of behavior, and the potential for excessive unwarranted, and dominating or oppressive relations. Christ-based thinking is similar in nature to this, still taking the efficacy of witchcraft for granted, and indicating for malevolence only through a different cultural set of oracles and sacred objects and readings. (That is, the only difference being Christ-based thinking assumes barbarity where there is only a mirror, and, empowered by a theological state, seeks to conquer and subsume the savage primitivism within its own hierarchical order under the banner of the civil religion.)

This requires a comparative method that utilizes emic and etic perspectives, with in-group and out-group perspectives on the phenomena of witchcraft in different cultural and ecological contexts (spatial and temporal), providing holistic understanding.

To summarize the last few paragraphs, these few witchcrafts share a supernatural magical worldview, rooted in ethnobotany and the natural world and cycles, and all have interacted with the modern Christianized western worldview (excepting of course the Moche, though presumably there are at least some who can call them ancestors) and can be understood from both outside and insider perspectives.

As such the rest of this essay will focus on three aspects of an earth-based healing religion:

  • Ethnobotanic infrastructure
  • Ritualized Oracle-making
  • Magic and psychic potency

The Azande, believing hidden forces and power underlies the structure of reality, thereby understand these to reveal themselves through rituals invested with their magical properties (potency). Therefore the ability to use sticks or simple techniques using the natural world to conjure answers is further complexified so that chickens are fed poisons and the state of reality is revealed. As techniques are specialized, specialists like medicine men or witchdoctors are consulted, with elaborate concoctions of natural materials utilized to adapt to the nature of witchcraft as it relates to their lives.

This is similar to the so-called “witchcraft” of the Middle ages in Europe, when natural remedies, pharmacological recipes, hallucinogenic herbs, and midwivery in childbirth made women (and particularly elder women) the power centers in healing practices.

Contemporary wiccans’ high priestesses of the coven can similarly be seen as the specialized whose presence both asserts the importance of femininity and leads the coven in rituals and sabbats meant to revitalize/ritualize and celebrate power by aligning with earth cycles on certain dates of planetary alignment.

In each of these, an ecological and social relationship is established, producing an empowered mental and physical state. Each time the ritual is enacted, the social structure is re-enacted. In effect, such rituals are moments, infused with spiritual and social drama, meant to achieve a power state for healing to have real effects in the material world. The witch is the intermediary between material and spiritual worlds that can intercede through ritual and objects for psychic and emotional individual (hedge witch) or collective healings that reconnect to transcendent forces throughout the material world.

With these natural-supernatural mediating structures in mind, specific socio-political forces are set up: diviners in Azande culture are paid and exclusively male; older women in middle ages learn medicines amass wealth; wiccans establish covens of 13.

This is to say, the power center of the group is in fact centered around the wealth of knowledge about spiritual reality: the witchdoctor, the midwife, the high priestess. I will also suggest this is similarly the case for Christianity, with “Jesus Christ” infused with the image of a master of spiritual forces offering healing through oracles, or miracles, which are used as evidence to divine gods will and act accordingly (destroying the relevance of mediating institutions like the Temple or Roman Empire in the process with every freely gifted act of god, I might add).

In turn, Christianity evolved from its origins as a personality cult surrounding an oracle, to become a spiritual cult and full-fledged religion with the backing of the empire. Such an institutionalized state religion necessarily would need to control the land and infrastructure of its sociopolitical structure, and so, “witchcraft” was alleged by the institution as an oppositional and heretical set of values, and behaviors to conquer and appropriate. This became a useful technique to fragment opposition so that it could not materialize against the religious state, assert control of infrastructure and with it, the political and social structures of labor, along with the ideological values, while finally scapegoating the original power centers—usually older women.

For this reason, unlike the Azande witchcraft or neo-pagan Wicca, alleged diabolical witchcraft is usually defined by its opposition (or those setting themselves up as oppositional), rooted in an insecurity that the magical potency of Jesus and God’s power could be rivaled, and the materialistic changes wrought, by an alternative “messianic” figure, the witchdoctor, midwife or high priestess.

Whereas the middle age “witches” were tortured by a church in power, wiccans are emerging while it is not a dominant power, due in part to the Reformation and liberalization of church and state.

This increase in freedom can further be seen in the evolutionary path of both European and American forms of witchcraft.

One might consider the difference in witchcraft as simply as set of adaptations in different regions at different times. As one Wiccan suggested, the cave paintings of the Paleolithic employed similar “power images” that contemporary Wicca uses as well. As cave paintings and rock art displayed evidence for spirituality evidenced in remaining artifacts, hunter-gatherers may have diffused such thoughts on nature religion through glyphs and structures such as Stonehenge, Gobeckli Tepe, and through to the more or less unrepressed (though I am unsure in this regard) spirituality of the Azande.

As magical specialists gain power with social structures changing accordingly, we can see a transformation from Jesus persecuted for magical beliefs to a Christian religion persecuting other magical specialists they believe to be engaged in witchcraft. Medieval witchcraft is especially understood in this way, with witches synonymous with enemy, and therefore able to be victimized.

This can similarly be seen in how Voodou might have come to be seen, as when Salem perhaps experienced an “outbreak” of African/Caribbean witchcraft when a slave, Tituba, shares a ritual with daughters of an Orthodox Christian religious preacher.

As such beliefs on both continents were systematically persecuted based on the “naming effect” torture has on victims, a shift away from theocratic governance towards toleration of religious beliefs has meant the repeal of laws against witchcraft and Voudou on both continents (relatively recently in fact) and the revitalization of these traditions since.

For this reason, we might consider Voudou and neo-paganism to be species of an older African spirituality that, over the course of millions of years, cultures—built around charismatic personas, messianic figures, and in concert with the political machinery of the time—committed a genocide of natural spiritualities over the course of the Middle Ages that enslaved the original inhabitants of Africa to transport them to the Americas. The descendants of both victimized groups, in adapting to new environments, underwent a change in magical thinking in form, with different elements perhaps, though all retained the core belief of forces and powers beyond what was visible to the untrained eye.

In this regard, each magical variant, Azande, Messianic, Alleged Diabolical, or Wiccan revitalization might be understood as different sides of the same structure (a pyramid?) of magical reality, their witchcrafts conforming to basic and fundamental tenets.

As regards to the efficacy of the witchcraft, science as a method can become problematic. Potions and herbal tinctures have physiological effects and can have healing qualities. In terms of seeming “miracles,” science cannot disprove claims of supernatural ability, but rather hypothesize alternative solutions, control conditions, and test for results. It can only state that other methods can be used as similar techniques to effect the same thing.

But magic, or witchcraft, by sheer definition, suggests an unknown mechanism for change, hidden to all except, presumably the witchdoctor, or spiritual technician. For this reason, the same dynamics might be in play when western anthropologists did ethnographies and ethnologies on “primitive” people like the Azande. Rather than ethnocentric “rational” conclusions, like magic was irrational and therefore impotent, a more holistic analysis might see the witchcraft in each case as potent as well, Azande relieving mental tension and maintaining a patriarchal society, messianic religions achieving legitimacy and dominance by assuming itself as “the greatest magic” for political control, midwives using earth knowledge as healers to amass some semblance of power before being conflated with diabolical sorcery through scapegoating and torture, and eventually neo-pagan Wicca healing generational trauma through Earth ritual.

In all of these cases the potency of witchcraft seems to stem from the belief in it, a non-rational sense perhaps, but one not even science has the power to destroy completely, the hope for a hidden way. Whether this means magic will move from the disciplines of anthropology and parapsychology to physics, ethnobotany, and theology may therefore become a worthwhile consideration.

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Mathematical Principles of a Cosmic-Erotic Force: Deriving Magical Formulas and Equations from Reality, Perception, and Divinity

In John R. Van Eenwyk’s Archetypes and Strange Attractors: The Chaotic World of Symbols, he writes in an appendix that mathematics, being a language unto itself, can help us calculate the energetic potential of archetypes. Through a series of Jungian quotes, the author makes the following calculations:

Value = archetype + energy

Symbol = value + image

Image = form + content

And therefore:

Symbol = (energy + archetype) + (form + content)

He goes on to explain,

“expressing the dimensions of a symbol in a quasi-mathematical form opens up another language to play with the definitions. For example, archetypes are basically “forming devices.” That is, they arrange psychic energy and, when their character complements the form of the image, arrange the content of the image.”

Here therefore proposes a better equation to express the dynamics of symbols:

Symbol = (Energy + Form + Content) / Archetype

So, the archetype is the denominator that permeates the three elements of the numerator, setting up a proportion between numerator and denominator that can evaluate the degree to which a symbol is conscious or unconscious…the larger the numerator, the more conscious the symbol; the larger the denominator, the more unconscious the symbol.

He summarizes Jung: “Archetypes arrange perceptions and experiences into complexes, thereby building the basic structures of the psyche. By creating fields that attract perceptions and experiences, archetypes weave networks of associations that are identifiable through their feeling-tones. They also play a role in psychodynamics by exerting an influence on our psychic energy, which largely determines who we are. Remember the various aspects of our personalities are collections of psychic energy.” 89

experientialstateascomplexnucleus10-21-121.png

I was reminded of this book after rehashing a conversation with a friend, in which we had set up a series of equations that derived from the idea that magic is a matter of how we perceive reality, or

Reality = Magic/Perception

which leads to others:

Magic = Reality/Perception

Perception = Magic/Reality

(This then brought up other factors to consider: consciousness, awareness, illusions, delusions, what is unconscious, psyche, etc. which factored into our equations as well.)

This is really to say that the state of being that is the human experience (reality) is itself magic, though it is affected in part by the limits of human perception. That is, magic is the phenomenon when the perception of reality is limited by our ignorance of the state of reality. The more limited your perception, the greater the sense that reality is magic, or rather that  the magic done is perceived as real.

This is not to say magic is not real. If ones perceptive filters can be completely overcome, reality and magic would be indistinguishable, just like it would be if the perceptive filters were unable to be overcome, but from a different perspective. That is, it is the difference between the magician knowing how to do the magic (“magic is science uncovered”) and the audience not knowing how the magician does magic (“any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic”). I would suggest that this is what magicians seek out: unmediated reality, introducing it into perceived reality as it breaks into people’s consciousness to be perceived as magic.

Working out these equations, looking at symbols that interface and mediate between consciousness and unconsciousness by participating in both. Further, the idea that the perception of reality can changed through educating the mind to become aware of the unconscious archetypes that affect the psychic energy of the symbols in question through techniques and systems like astrology, divination, and ultimately magic, I think, suggests the powers of an archetypal field theory–a preexistent, archetypal field associated with particular behaviors, influences, and tendencies, leading to therapeutic work to articulate and free the individual from the iterative dynamics of the field they may be trapped within.

There are more equations that could be brought in– for instance

Art = Time*Energy

Dance = movement(revolution)^style

or even the ability to determine degrees of divine perfection where the perfection of God has a rank of proper classes of ordinals that are absolutely infinite. Hence the perfection of God is an absolutely infinite perfection. That is, the endless series of degrees of divine creativity is associated with some collection of created objects (trees, planets, archetypes, angels, the universe…) that are “more perfect” according to their rank. All objects might have some degree of perfection, though the perfection of God would be superior to all objects and in fact all objects would by definition be limited by their degree on the maximal ordinal line of divine perfection. Something like,

P(God) = [U(i)|iEQ]

That all said, if the human human mind can transcend the limits of perception to become aware, or conscious of what is beyond perception, assuming an ever increasing rank because the consciousness of reality is increasingly more divine as it approaches Godly creativity–one could approach divine perfection, its realization incarnating as experience is translated in language, mathematical or mythological etc.

This I believe necessitates an exploration into the source of creativity/perfection from which objects like the revolving planets derive their material bodies and “inner lives” (interiority, so to speak) so that the philosophy (or magician) can go beyond revolution to practice an integral approach to archetypal resonance that will be able to become aware and capable of experiencing symbols that mediate unconscious from consciousness, so that the psyche can move towards wholeness, transcend a limited perception, know the objects of reality in their different degrees of perfection, and continue approaching the infinite through various techniques, ways of knowing, or perhaps simply a matter of revelation.

Whether the infinite can ever be known or experienced is perhaps irrelevant, since we would likely not know if there were another level to experience until we had experienced it. That said, it may be the case that we are each able to program our own velocity when it comes to our trajectory towards the infinite, recovering the degrees of perfection “beyond” our limits as we are made known of them. In turn, such ideas may be found to have such inertia that they are for all practices immortal, since they will forever resonate at different frequencies, in different combinations, but always with a psychic energy that, while ebbing and flowing perhaps, can be aligned with to restructure reality over time as obsolete psychic and social patterns not aligned with degrees of perfection are discarded as more perfect patterns are concretized.

This essay has attempted to move through several equations:

  • Symbolic Power
  • Archetypal Energy
  • Magical Potency (To perceive–and affect–reality)
  • Artistic Spacetime
  • Various forms of art (i.e. Dance) as a matter of stylistic choices for revolutionary movement
  • Degrees of Divine Perfection and Creativity
  • The Value of any of this

As a final summation, or perhaps to draw to implications that this post and this blog seek to make explicit, is that effects of objects on perception (media, politics, philosophy, guerrilla theater, the Spectacle, propaganda by the deed, memes) is a critical question to consider, both in terms of what hinders one’s perception of reality versus what enhances it. By understanding the archetypal energies that underly symbolic power, one can develop one’s magical potency to develop artistic manifestations in spacetime that offer creative outlets for revolutionary movement to structure more perfect objects that increase the velocity of a social state towards a state of divine presence.

While this might seem overly theoretical, we can see how an equation like 1>2 resonates in physics, mythology, society, and government, for instance as hydrogen atoms are fused to create sunlight that evolves into life, how the creator and creation (united in creativity) are represented in the symbol of the syzygy, or bridal chamber, where ecstatic union with the divine leads to a union of opposites necessary for psychic healing, the Church being the material representative for spiritual authority, etc. In all of these cases, the archetypal image resonates in the psyche, manifesting in reality, so that the experience of spirit becomes an ontic event, creating a disturbance in being, whose cosmic principle is provides a fractal reiteration where energy is shared equitably, and individuals can participate in the divine life.

Insight into the mystery of reality is revealed in moments of transcendence, clarity of a coherent whole can often be discerned. Our modern, scientific material worldview has developed mathematics as a symbolic language to express the laws, trends,and habits of the physical universe, a language many have criticized as woefully inadequate to articulate cosmic interiority. This essay has hopefully touched upon several unique principles that can help us make sense and meaning of our place in the flux of time as we determine how best to live according to those principles from which everything derives. ❤

 

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Reconstructing Prehistoric Religion

A Book Review on D. Bruce Dickson’s The Dawn of Belief: Religion in the Upper Paleolithic of Southwestern Europe 

“There is good reason to suppose that what has come down to us is the merest shadow of their actual achievement, for we find dozens of palettes for grinding ocher colors in places where there are no wall paintings…we may in our mind’s eye summon up admirably painted skins of horses or bison, marvelous wood sculptures, and dancing and singing people, their bodies painted with intricate designs in black, red, and white – all the panoply and vivacity of the great Magdalenian rituals, the major part of which must remain forever unknown…The science of prehistory is extremely well equipped when it comes to providing certain details, such as in what direction the ocher was rubbed over the palette, but it can tell us nothing about what happened when the hand was raised to apply it…If we are to be perfectly truthful, we must confine ourselves to the surviving evidence and let it tell us what it can in fragments which are often incoherent. Prehistoric art is thus no more than a remembered impression barely supported by a few hundred finds, the tiny remnant of a vanished whole, which happens to have come down to us because these objects were less perishable than the rest.”

-Andre Leroi-Gourhan 

“We must look for explanations based on authentic material discoveries, but we must do so not simply on the basis of facts in the positivist sense but rather must take into account the world of the spirit, the supernatural, the supersensory, the realm of faith.”

-Marie Konig

As part of my exploration into prehistoric religion, I reviewed D. Bruce Dickson’s The Dawn of Belief: Religion in the Upper Paleolithic of Southwestern Europe, a study which reconstructs the ancient lifeways of the era’s peoples and religious practices. In doing so, it is my hope to better understand the ecological context of such spirituality, and the spiritualization of the ecosystems themselves, in order to understand early human narratives that may have bound people, biodiversity, and place together. Whether such early religious cosmologies, expressed through its art, rituals, and myths have potential for orienting, grounding, nurturing, and generally revitalizing our own society’s religious practices and historically complex views of nature is, while not an explicit focus of the author, certainly implicit in the work, or at least the subject of an ecological culture searching for a social and spiritual order that could sustain them in their ecological context. As such, what holds “value” for such early people, what they find themselves dependent on, namely the natural forces that contextualize them, the community of life they are embedded within, their own technological apparatus and social relations, the phenomenon of transcendence and aesthetic experience—all of these make up the dynamic prima materia from which a formalized “religion,” with its symbolic narrative and ethical implications must draw from. Dickson, for all of his work, does terrific work in his archaeological inquiry to reconstruct all of these layers necessary to focus on the core elements at the heart of Paleolithic spirituality.

Finding a Method

In the first chapter, “Humanity, the God’s and Archaeology,” Dickson gives an overview of culture, what he terms a proper unit of analysis that gets historically more complex as interrelated social institutions make up systemic wholes. Culture he says, is praxis, transmitted symbolically as evolutionary adaptive techniques. As such, one can take two lines of thinking on the subject, a cultural materialist approach in the vein of Marvin Harris that looks at the ideational superstructure as permeated by corporeal reality, or an ideational approach that sees symbols as cultural patterns that act as blueprints for institutions that shape behavior, trigger events, and revitalize the social order. In this regard, patterns are organized around notions of the sacred, with religion functioning as a struggle with the reality of the human condition by performing specific tasks, of which Dickson points out four mental (m), and five behavioral (b):

  1. Coherent worldview (m)
  2. Moral Ethos (m)
  3. Congruent glue holding the social order to the worldview and ethos (m)
  4. Explaining the meaning of historical experience in intelligible ways (m)
  5. Establishing mechanisms of social control (b)
  6. Reducing tension through therapeutic psychological support (b)
  7. Integrating various institutions (individual, family, government, etc) into whole (b)
  8. Justifying systemic operations (b)
  9. Revitalizing and transforming the sociocultural order to adapt to new circumstances (b)

With these functional tasks in mind as the operating principles and functional tasks of religion, Dickson sees religion as falling into four different types, individualistic, shamanistic, communal, and ecclesiastic, based on the size and complexity of the society that encompasses it. These tasks and categories of religion then become for Dickson, while still incredibly difficult to reconstruct in the Paleolithic, at least a plausible with regards to formulating a method for his inquiry. As the author states,

“This work illustrates through an analysis of Upper Paleolithic archaeological data some of the ways we can use this sympathy […] to interpret the material remains recovered by the archaeologist and to reconstruct what appears to be farthest afield from the material [that is to say, religion].” 15

Here Dickson’s relates his basic premises of his inquiry, that humans share similar psychological regularities and patterns throughout cultures in space and time; and that human culture is likewise patterned and reflected in the material aspects of life, i.e. art, architecture, settlements, debris, mortuary practices, etc. With this in mind, Dickson will use as methods 1) the archaeological analysis of material remains to infer nonmaterial behavior; 2) formal analysis of the external arrangement of imagery and symbols to discover clues to the cosmology in question; and 3) anthropological data from living societies to analogize the remains of such disappeared societies. Before applying these methods to Southwestern France during the Upper Paleolithic era though, Dickson briefly sketches how such a process might give insight into religion, using Christianity as a quick example.

For instance, with regards to the archeological evidence, one might classify church buildings as a type of ceremonial architecture, arrange subtypes in a presumed chronological order, and plot the distribution and regional subdivisions within space and time, before developing a set of inferences about the functions of the various types of architecture based on similarities and differences as they change over time. In terms of the formal analysis of Christian religious theory, insight into the worldview and ethos could be developed through better understanding of the material remains of its social history, as through its art and iconography. And finally, an ethnographic analogy might posit Christianity as a series of rites of passage, mechanisms of social control, psychological support, and social integration. With these in mind, and going into more depth for each, the author speculates that an archaeologist might suspect Christianity’s growth into a political and economic institution to become institutionally central in social life, employing mechanisms of social control and psychological tension-reduction. Two great regional stylistic traditions (Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), each with unique art and architectural traditions, over time, developed an increasing structural remoteness that paralleled archeological evidence of growing social complexity and class stratification in late medieval European society. Moreover, as mortuary remains concerned with death figured heavily into art, as did images of resurrection of the dead, the archaeologist would find powerful clues to economic stratification, political hierarchy, and the religious organization of European society reflected in the Christian burials, giving insight into differences in social identities, ranks, and classes. Added to this would be the formal understanding, through images of important men and subservient women, angels, devils, halos, thrones, and a resurrected god-man, that Christianity was a male-centered polytheistic cult, highly structured and hierarchical in nature, with a complex set of symbolic and ideological associations, that saw the world as violent and dangerous with a well-developed belief in a spiritual afterlife and fear of divine judgement and punishment maintaining adherence to the Christian ethos.

In this regard, Christianity might well be conceived of by the archaeologist as a conservative state-sponsored cult whose political and economic interconnections preserved the status quo, which in turn would likely neglect the interpretation of the religion as a potentially revolutionary and radical revitalization movement with a millenarian message. For this reason, if we are to apply such methods to the prehistoric period, we are bound to miss much. Still, as Dickson ends this first introductory chapter,

“patterns are evident in the material remains of these late Pleistocene epoch cultures, their art and symbols likewise are susceptible to formal analysis, and the ethnographies of modern hunter-gatherers provide a likely source of analogic interpretation. Perhaps this fanciful example will embolden the reader to accompany us in our attempt at reconstructing religious life in the Upper Paleolithic period.” 27

Building a Timeline

The second chapter gives an overview of the Pleistocene and Paleolithic eras, its geological formations characterized by seven major processes or phenomena:

1) increased volcanic activity,

2) great cycles of glacial expansion and inter-glaciation,

3) changes in worldwide sea levels,

4) rapid climatic and environmental changes,

5) extensive changes in the distribution of plants and animals,

6) accelerated pace of worldwide mammalian evolution and extinction, and

7) the evolution of the hominid line.

With this in mind, Dickson traces the evolution of the hominids through the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs, tracing major developments from skeletal remains, traces of fire, animal bones, stone tool kits, and biological and cultural adaptations leading to new hunting strategies along with mental and behavioral differences. As the author states, “The appearance of Homo sapiens sapiens is correlated with a series of fundamental technical changes in the hominid cultural repertoire and with evidence of increasingly complex aesthetic and religious impulses.” 37

As Dickson goes into the archaeological systematics, he suggests that early humans began to become concerned with realities transcending mere biological needs, citing the intentional collection of ochre as having “no apparent practical or technological use,” suggesting the development of a “nascent aesthetic sense.” 43 The purposes we can only speculate at (ritual body decoration, ornamentation, ability to mark rank, status, age, sex, delimiting symbolic spaces like ritual areas, healing grounds, graves, or alters, etc.), but the ability to symbolically categorize suggests concerns beyond simple survival, and an appreciation of form and color for their own sake. Moreover, the increased specialization of tools (as seen with the technological transformation through the Levallois technique to the Mousterian tradition) offer adaptive advantages correlated with cognitive or intellectual complexity, for instance examples of art or engravings, the increased use of ochre, and intentional burials with mortuary offerings. Finally, the Upper Paleolithic displays dramatic evidence of increasing complexity as technical and intellectual achievement accelerates, and modern Homo sapiens sapiens replace Neanderthals.

Here then begins the period Dickson will spend his next chapters explaining, the biogeographic and cultural sequences of the area in question, Franco-Cantabria in Southwestern Europe, tracing the transition from middle to upper Paleolithic eras through the various industrial tool phases from Mousterian to the Azilian (chapter three); an analysis of the burials and art of these epochs as hierophanies reflecting social structure and metaphysics in the mobiliary art, decorated weapons, tools, and ornaments, and religiously significant objects, for instance the Venus figurines, decorated slabs, parietal art, and cave painting subjects and techniques, (chapter four); a survey of “classical” interpretations of the art and religion of the period as incorporating rites of passage, hunting magic, cave art, and shamanism, followed by contemporary interpretations by Andre Leroi-Gourhan, Alexander Marshack, Anne Sieveking, and Clive Gamble (among others) as to the patterns, meanings, and external causation factors of these developments (chapter five); and then to a reconstruction of society, culture, and religion through the ethnographic analogy of hunter-gatherers, an analysis of its limitations, and a set of useful hypotheses about Upper Paleolithic sociocultural systems (chapter six).

In this regard, Dickson is able to make a number of findings which I will list below.

Key Findings

With regards to the cultural transition in Upper Paleolithic sites, we notice:

  • An increased size of sites
  • Changes in settlement pattern and subsistence
  • A general predominance of blades over flakes in stone tool inventories
  • The rapid appearance of new, highly standardized tool forms
  • Appearance of composite or multi-component tools
  • An increase in the number of artifacts made of shaped bone, ivory, and antler
  • The first appearance of amber, flint, shells, ochre, and other materials from non-local sources
  • Changes in the numbers of burials and in the nature and composition of burial populations
  • The first appearance of cave and portable art and the possible development of complex notational and calendric systems
  • A dramatic heightening in the pace of cultural and technical change

Dickson’s ethnographic analogy breaks down to the following characteristics of cultures living in similar environments:

  1. Simple technologies
  2. Subsistence system capable of producing only relatively low levels of food energy
  3. Plant-based diets
  4. Little emphasis on accumulation
  5. A low density of population per area
  6. Dependence upon wild food resources, spatially dispersed and seasonally fluctuating in the availability
  7. Population size determined by the amount of wild foodstuffs collectable during the season of minimum availability
  8. Band organization
  9. A reliance upon kinship as the most important principle of social organization
  10. Economic distribution and exchange based on reciprocity
  11. Individual and collective ownership
  12. An absence of full time specializations
  13. An absence of ascribed statuses and roles
  14. Feuding, but no true warfare

These ethnographic findings however are limited by several major points:

  • Upper Paleolithic (UP) period hunting and gathering peoples inhabited many environments that have no equivalent in the historic or modern world
  • UP peoples in Europe hunted numerous animal species now altogether extinct, regionally extinct, or far less abundantly available to historic and modern hunting peoples
  • UP hunting and gathering peoples inhabited richer and more varied environments than do modern hunter-gatherers
  • UP peoples must have subsisted entirely upon the hunting and gathering of wild foodstuffs; very few ethnographically known hunter-gatherers do so
  • The assumption that modern hunting and gathering peoples retain the institutions and behavior patterns of the Paleolithic period is unwarranted

This leads Dickson to several hypotheses:

  • The dietary contribution of hunting was probably more significant during the UP period than among most ethnographically known hunters and gatherers
  • Human population densities were relateively high during the UP period
  • At least by the end of the UP period, subsistence systems were based on seasonally timed combinations of specialized big-game hunting, salmon fishing, and broad-spectrum hunting and gathering that allowed people to live in comparatively large, nucleated communities during some period of the year
  • UP society developed more complex forms of political and social organization than the band

Reconstructing religious practices then, the ethnographic model can predict certain behaviors:

  1. Ethnographically known food collecting societies lack religious specialists just as they lack specialists in other aspects of their social life and political economy.
  2. An ability to enter altered states of consciousness is highly prized and is common in food-collecting populations
  3. Among hunter-gatherers, the rules governing hunting procedures, the treatment of game animals, and the distribution of meat tend to be buttressed by religious sanction
  4. Communal rituals among hunter-gatherers tend to mirror or express the social relations that organize and energize their subsistence systems
  5. Communal rites of passage of hunter-gatherers tend to emphasize the initiation of adolescents into adulthood
  6. The scale and elaboration of the mortuary practices among food collectors is determined by the degree of their sedentism, the nature of their seasonal schedule, and whether or not they practice a delayed-return formed of subsistence

With all these sets in place, Dickson is thereby ready to give his interpretation of religious life in the Upper Paleolithic era in his final chapter. He suggests six attributes:

  • The material patterning which appears to reflect religious activity most directly is found in the UP mortuary remains, parietal art, and certain mobiliary art objects
  • Compared to the preceding Middle Paleolithic period, these mortuary remains exhibit an overall increase in the number, far greater likelihood women and children will be buried, a dramatic increase in the variability, frequency, and quality of grave goods interred with burials, and inter/intra-regional variability in the manner of the interments
  • Uniformity in the styles of parietal and mobiliary art
  • A spatial dichotomy between locations of human habitation and the location of parietal art
  • Parietal art cave sites vary with regards to the quantity of art they contain and the scale and elaborateness of their decoration
  • The natural interiors of parietal art caves exhibit evidence of being decorated and utilized in systematically different ways, with different kinds of “architectural orders”

These six generalizations lead to tentative conclusions about the nature of religious practice. For instance the burial and cult types imply “an ingenious, even elaborate cultural tradition. The continuity and apparent sophistication of this tradition argue persuasively for the presence in the Upper Paleolithic period of social and religious institutions of greater complexity than…[a] shamanistic cult.” 199 Moreover, the seasonal schedules and ceremonial centers suggest a locus of seasonally timed aggregation and religious and ceremonial activity embody and encode a “sacred canon” or religious model of social order that weds the economic realities of the people to a metaphorical expression of social and ideological realities. Finally, the uniformity of the parietal and mobiliary art styles suggest the works were deeply embedded in the ritual life of the period, acting as “an attempt to control nature and society by supernatural means.” Apart from the aesthetics of such art, the shared religious meaning likely “fostered cooperative interactions or information sharing among widely separated UP peoples,” providing peoples with a “common ideology and a universal symbolic grammar for expressing it. This in turn would have likely “fostered general intercommunication and selective advantage [which] accrued to hunting groups with information about game movements over a wide area.

Formal Analysis

Dickson further uses formal analysis to penetrate the systems of meaning to understand the religious life of the period. Binary thought was evident in the spatial separation of “living space” and “ceremonial space,” as with the four other binary oppositions found in the artwork: red and black, left and right, positive and negative, whole or mutilated. This in turn might lead to notions of morality or an afterlife, such as good and evil, life and death, male and female, sacred and profane, beginning to be set in ritual participation and binary code. As with binary thinking, the sexual dualism may have similarly been associated with a regenerative and cyclical worldview, as evidenced in a notational system for recording the lunar cycle and its association with the human female’s menstrual cycle, and by implication the cycle of human birth, growth, and death.

The empirical knowing of the natural phenomena, the passage of time, and the nature of human—especially female—sexuality are characterized and predictable, and so may have become a kind of “grand analogy,” useful in explaining, rationalizing, and investing the universe with intelligible meaning. An ethos emphasizing careful observation of natural cycles would further allow the prediction of the behavior and movements of animals, further confirming the material benefits of such an understanding. This in turn could suggest the meaning of the Venus figurines, whose conjoining of sexual and regenerative principles through the symbolism of women who, far from being just images of “divinity,” represented such distorted proportions (massive breasts and obesity), they may in fact represent a woman with symptoms that suggest a disease (hyperadrenocorticism) associated with states of high excitability and euphoria, which would have perhaps been associated with shamanic powers, and imply the figurines represent a personality cult based on real individuals. This is bolstered by the fact that a majority of the figurines themselves come from a period of two thousand years, becoming more scarce as time passes, as well as the Upper Paleolithic period being the first time when females were commonly buried, perhaps achieving social status on par with men, reflecting a parallel increase in significance. This is all to say the “sacred canon” of the Upper Paleolithic spiritual realm “symbolically reproduces the social processes of production and asserts that the duality and complementarity of the sexes were essential to the social and economic persistence of society.” 214

This has been a long book review for a simple reason, in order to understand the main thesis of the author’s work, decades of archaeological work looking at millions, if not billions of years of context are necessary to understand the major trends of a worldview itself spanning millennia. The rich regional environment that enabled complex subsistence systems to support human populations in densities that would have forced scheduled moves in response to annual cycles may have led to initiation rites as part of ceremonies held at times of maximum social aggregation. The ceremonial centers may have served as the focus of the rites that occurred during these times, suggesting the complexity of their socio-political-economies surpassed that of simple nomadic bands. The religious life in turn may have depended upon part-time shamanic practitioners seeking to engage the spirit in ecstatic encounters whose altered states of consciousness would have contributed to a religious ideology that sanctioned the rules surrounding interpersonal relations, gender roles, hunting procedures, the ethical treatment of game animals, and distribution of food, all of which would have been reflected in the religious and symbolic rituals which modeled the social order. This complex order was experiential, deriving perhaps from the perceived cyclicality in time and its association with sexuality, which would have been generalized into the universal principles and correspondences that formed the basis of Paleolithic consciousness as it reflected upon nature, humankind, the cosmos, and reality, embodied and reflected in the art caves of the region.

Here then the author ends his project, demonstrating through a culmination of material and formal analysis, along with ethnographic analogy, a detailed middle-theory capable of inferring behavior from the scant records left behind in the earthy layers of our planet, with the intention of answering the question as to the nature of humanity’s original religious experience.

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Ecology, Magic, and Cultural Materialism

A Review of Marvin Harris’ Cows Pigs, Wars, and Witches

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  “We don’t expect dreamers to explain their dreams; no more should we expect lifestyle participants to explain their lifestyles”

-Marvin Harris

“There are very important and practical issues raised by following this alternative route which says, let’s look to material conditions, to the systems of production, to the needs that human beings have, and to competing alternative solutions to the satisfaction of those needs.”

–Marvin Harris

Intro: A Reason for Being

As part of some preparation for advanced work in ecology, spirituality, and religion, I’ve been moving a bit out of philosophy and into the world of anthropology. Recently I picked up Marvin Harris’ Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture (1974) to better understand the cultural materialist perspective, a paradigm and research strategy I readily admit to actively avoiding for some time.

I have never been all that interested in science (hence part of the movement towards anthropology for me), and so treating ideology scientifically does not seem to make much sense, so that cultural and behavioral events can be seen from an etic perspective as the change agents, rather than assuming, from an emic perspective, the ideas, values, or other mental events are. Such a strategy seems almost like a processual archaeology of sorts, and positivist, seeking the underlying forces of history, downplaying individuality’s role in social change for an environmental determinism, while attributing the engine of transformation to a society’s infrastructure (relations to government, modes of production and reproduction), structure (social relations), and superstructure (ideational aspects and relations, e.g. arts, rituals, goals, etc.)

This goes to what appears to be Marvin’s thesis, that the “social dreamwork” of a culture, or rather, “the lifestyle consciousness of the participants,” obscures the reality of our lives and, in America, has “become a full-fledged industry, culturally manufactured to spread an ideology of market sensibilities and a fiction that capital creates wealth, erasing realities from consciousness like class and labor’s role in creating such wealth.” In fact, this social dreamwork or lifestyle consciousness in really not much more than the manifestation of a society’s cultural adaption to ecological constraints. As Harris writes,

“Ignorance, fear, and conflict are the basic elements of everyday consciousness. From these elements, art and politics fashion that collective dreamwork whose function it is to prevent people from understanding what their social life is all about. Everyday consciousness, therefore, cannot explain itself. It owes its very existence to a developed capacity to deny the facts that explain its existence.” (6)

In his view, the relevant material factors in human events are disguised as lifestyles, wrapping themselves in myths and legends drawing attention to supernatural conditions, giving people a social identity and purpose that conceals the truths of social life. Such deceptions about the mundane causes of culture “weigh upon ordinary consciousness like layered sheets of lead. It is never an easy task to circumvent, penetrate, or lift this oppressive burden.” (5)

Now, I find myself a little offended that the stories I might live my life by, indeed my entire consciousness might be an “oppressive burden” determined by my ecological context (wherefore art thou free will!), and that a degree of over-subjectivity might have deluded my understanding of my own lifestyle and reified that delusion. Nevertheless, I am open to a dose of scientific objectivity concerning the causes of lifestyle phenomena, for the simple reason that scientific materialism might balance out a tendency on my part to privilege the more cultural ideation that the so-called “counterculture” might be employing in part of their criticism of the dominant paradigm (the hope that the Pentagon could be levitated if only enough people had sufficient faith strikes me as one glaring example).

Witchcraft of the Counterculture

And here is really where Marvin’s book seems to start, for the entirety of the book seems to be in service of understanding the failure of Vietnam. Indeed, he believes “our consciousness was mystified by symbols of patriotism, dreams of glory, unyielding pride, and visions of empire…we enthralled ourselves with visions of our own ineffable majesty. In short, we were stoned.” (266) His goal, therefore, and one I can certainly appreciate, is to articulate the sound basis for “assuming that by struggling to demystify our ordinary consciousness we shall improve the prospects for peace and economic and political justice.” Otherwise, we will continue to fail to expand this consciousness beyond the instrumental and banal tasks to the practical significance of national goals and policies, as he, rightly, I think, points out.

In this way, it is rather a shortage of scientific objectivity, not a surplus, about the causes of lifestyle differences that has brought on two competing tendencies: a grandiose vision of military-messianic consciousness on the one hand, as well as the counter-cultural enthusiasts who, while intending to subvert the scientific worldview, are actually quite harmless, if not complicit, because they simply are too complacent and disconnected to redeem or fulfill their mission on a cosmic scale. That is, the level of popular befuddlement in the counterculture ignores the important and constructive questions of how to serve humane ends and reduce inequities and exploitation, but rather deepens the confusion, psychic involution, and epitomizes amorality, disdaining reason, evidence, and objectivity for a ‘superconsciousness’ that “strips an entire generation of the intellectual means of resisting the next call for a ‘final and decisive struggle’ to achieve redemption and salvation on a cosmic scale.” (263)

This, Marvin states, is no more than a return of the witch craze, where the lifestyle consciousness arises from a set of practical and mundane conditions similar to those responsible for the rise of religious saviors, whose boundless, millennial promises made with boundless, prophet-like conviction ultimately bring history to a preordained consummation, invoking Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, Lenin’s Communist Jerusalem, Trotsky’s True Paradise, and other devils’ and witches’ utopian fancies. This book then, is designed to uncover the ultimate reasons for these present social phenomena that we must deal with objectively to understand their own influence on our own lives today.

As mentioned, this book begins from a position of anti-warfare as a moral imperative. And yet, the counterculture’s anti-war movement, even with its hope that it can transform society through “revolution by consciousness,” is perhaps more engaged in obscurantism than anything else. Harris writes that while the counterculture touts a radical rejection of science and technological values, it does not reject technological values, remaining explicitly a middle-class movement, steeped in the myth of its social dreamwork and radical doctrines “that prevent people from understanding the causes of their social existence.” (255) This consciousness is, it is claimed, “so far out of touch with practical and mundane constraints is, in fact, witchcraft rather than politics.” The conditions however, “cannot be imagined into or out of existence the way a shaman makes hundred-foot gnats appear and disappear.” Rather, they can only be modified by practical activities aimed at “changing consciousness by changing the material conditions of consciousness.” (253) Theirs then, cannot be called politics, but rather witchcraft, or magic, which seeks to subvert objective knowledge while at the same time subverting the basis of moral judgement. In this regard, in the anthropology of counterculture, primitive, non-technological consciousness is epitomized by the movement’s ideal figure, the shaman, who cultivates hidden powers of the universe and possesses a super-consciousness that both controls history and is prior to structure: Change consciousness, the counterculture’s thought-process goes, and the entire corporate state, and all its evils, will simply be dissolved, along with other “unreal” social illusions—time schedules, rational connections, competition, anger, excellence, authority, private property, law, status, the primacy of the state…

The counterculture, therefore, sees its millennial consciousness as the truth serum that repeals false consciousness (dominant culture), for the sake of propping itself up whereby the non-intellective capacities may reign supreme. In this regard, psychotropic drugs, shamanic states of mind, and social dreaming are thought to unlock the potential of the mind to create a separate reality which can be imagined as a supreme reality.

I will admit that I may be guilty of such thinking (indeed, the entire ecomagicians project may be as well!), and yet at the same time this critique is one I have seen elsewhere, for instance in the thought of Eric Voegelin and his science of politics and political religions. Indeed, just as Voegelin traces the origin of such ideas through history into the structure of consciousness itself, Marvin Harris will answer the question of the origin of this phenomena by looking into the past, at identifiable and intelligible sources as cultures and societies (and I might add, that structure of consciousness in general) struggle to adapt to their environmental circumstances. As such, his layering of new adaptations onto others means a journey to peel those layers back…

Hammering the Witches

For instance, the magical thinking Harris accuses the counterculture of is, he suggests, rooted in the Great Witch Craze culminating in the years after the Protestant Reformation, which Harris explains as “largely created and sustained by the governing classes as a means of suppressing a wave of Christian messianism that sought to protest social and economic inequity. As feudalism gave way to strong national monarchies and the development of trade, markets, banking, land owning and capital enterprises seeking to maximize profits, serfs were displaced and dispossessed, drifting to towns to find new lifeways ruled by commercial profits rather than tradition. Messianic theoreticians like Joachim of Fiore in turn devised prophetic systems that would purge the Church of wealth and luxury while destroying the clergy altogether. As these messianic movements became more militant, preaching the massacre of moneylenders, price-fixing merchants and unscrupulous lawyers until all property would become held in common, these subversive and anti-clerical movements were declared “heretical” and forced underground, or, alternatively the troublemakers and alienated poor were enlisted in the Crusades to fight against approved enemies elsewhere.

The threat of radical lower-class revolution drove Europe towards the Protestant Reformation and beyond, so that it is easy to see why the witch craze and development of European messianism took off—these were rejections of an institutional structure found wanting. And yet, Harris goes beyond this: Witches and heretics, like the counterculture, were no real threat to the established order, for explicit doctrines of social criticism and threatening courses of actions were absent from such groups. Rather, the witch hunters went out of their way to increase the supply of witches simply to make witchcraft, as a threat, more believable. By examining the earthly results of the witch-hunt as opposed to its heavenly aims, Harris recognizes that,

“the poor came to believe that they were being victimized by witches and devils instead of princes and popes…against the people’s phantom enemies, Church and state mounted a bold campaign. The authorities were unstinting in their efforts to ward of this evil, and rich and poor alike could be thankful for the energy and bravery displayed in the battle.” (237)

This is to say, what people thought happened was as interesting as what objectively did happen, in the sense that the reality is distinct from the lifestyle consciousness of the participants. In this way, the Devil was to blame, rather than the corrupt clergy and rapacious nobility, and not only were witches used as scapegoats for any evil seen in leaky roofs, aborted cows, withered oats, soured wine, headaches, infant mortality, broken fences, etc, but now, the church and state were indispensable, great protectors of humanity from an omnipresent enemy. As Harris points out, “Here at last was a reason to pay tithes and obey the tax collector. Vital services pertaining to the life rather than the next were being carried out with sound and fury, flame and smoke. You could actually hear the witches scream as they went down to hell.” (238)

For this reason, out of only three instances of accusations of witchcraft against members of the nobility, not one accused was executed. 82% on the other hand were defenseless older women and lower class midwives, the remaining being those they accused under duress of torture. And so, whereas military messianism brought together the poor and dispossessed over vast regions to focus their energies into battles against those at the top of the social pyramid, the witch craze was a defense of the institutional structure that

“dispersed and fragmented all the latent energies of protest. It demobilized the poor and the dispossessed, increased their social distance, filled them with mutual suspicions, pitted neighbor against neighbor, isolated everyone…in so doing, it drew the poor further away from confronting the ecclesiastical and secular establishment with demands for the redistribution of wealth and the leveling of rank…the magic bullet of society’s privileged and powerful classes.” (240)

And whereas witchcraft, brooms, and Sabbats have their own unique history (Harris traces it to a hallucinogenic herbal medicine containing nightshade that users take to fall into a deep sleep, seemingly creating sensations of flying and dreams of frenzied dancing and orgies), so too does the tradition of messianism…

Adapting to Imperial Violence

Living under the Roman empire, the Jewish people sought a savior, or messiah (Christ in Greek), born out of years of tradition that held Yahweh’s covenant with David and Moses had been broken. Once the relationship had been mended through repentance and atonement, a military prince would end the age of suffering and lead a great Jewish empire into glory. And yet, this was not to be a peaceful messiah, but a vengeful military messiah. For this reason, Palestine was the context for a guerrilla war with centers of insurgent activity aimed at liberating the Jews from Roman rule, with many “zealots,” “bandits,” “magicians,” and “guerrillas” all claiming the mantle of messiah and engaging in a revolutionary praxis involving harassment, provocation, robbery, assassination, terrorism, and martyrdom. As Jewish military-messianism rose and fell, “continuously re-created by the practical exigencies of colonialism and poverty, the revolutionary impulse burst forth,” an insurrectionary fervor culminating in the Jewish Revolt of 66-71 CE followed by Bar Kochva’s miraculous victory in establishing an independent Jewish state in 132CE, albeit for only three years.

When this movement failed, Jews were nearly wiped out, resulting in the complete loss of the territorial integrity of the Jewish state. It was, according to Harris, an “adaptive failure” to the inequities of Roman colonialism. He puts it thus:

“In culture, as in nature, systems that are the product of selective forces frequently fail to survive, not because they are defective or irrational, but because they encounter other systems that are better adapted and more powerful. I think I have shown that the cult of the vengeful messiah, like cargo, was adapted to the practical exigencies of a colonial struggle. It was extremely successful as a means of mobilizing mass resistance in the absence of a formal apparatus for raising and training an army.” (173)

Such revolutions occurred, according to Harris, because the environmental conditions for the Jews were so abhorrent they revolted against the most powerful empire the world had known, so that the Jewish military-messianic consciousness expanded greatly at the time of Christ, stories of whom were only written about after the destruction of the Jewish temple, so that Harris will conclude that the Jesus cult would rework the militant messianic character into a “prince of peace” figure, whose adherents (Paul, in particular) would proselytize successfully to both Jews (wanting to escape persecution) and non-Jews (without demanding circumcision). For this reason, Christianity was able to grow after the fall of Jerusalem as the gospels spread, absolving Romans of guilt and allowing Jews to escape persecution. Christianity then was able to become a state within a state, which “concentrated in the urban centers, had infiltrated the Roman upper class, maintained effective social welfare programs, and were building a fiscally independent international corporation led by skilled administrators [so that] the Christian churches had once again become a political threat to Roman law and order,” eventually undergoing imperial persecution again by Christians before Constantine would adopt it as the state religion after uniting his armies under the banner. Turning the militant messiah into a purely peaceful, non-hostile leader had become a “practical necessity” in the years after the Jewish destruction when a defeated people sought to distance themselves from a movement seeking to topple Rome, growing until it could be the lynchpin of that same empire’s imperial violence, the language of the Jesus cult’s stories changing accordingly.

Messianic cults are not however relegated to the middle east and Europe however. As Marvin Harris demonstrates, the so-called “Phantom Cargo Cults” engaged in a similar belief system.

 After Europeans colonized New Guinea, indigenous groups were astonished by the amount of cargo that seemed to come from nowhere to their homeland, airlifted into strongholds or coming from ships. Natives, seeing this, soon began anticipating a total upgrading of their own lives, where, in accordance with their own ancestral worship, the “dead and living will be reunited, the white man thrown out or subordinated, drudgery abolished, with no shortages of anything. The arrival of the cargo, in other words, will mark the beginning of heaven on earth.” (134)

Cargo prophets emerged when white missionaries and government soldiers, taking on the mantle of “Big Men”,  began bribing natives with promises of cargo to convert them to Christianity. This would eventually lead to open rebellion once natives realized missionaries and soldiers were exploiting them without giving them rewards of cargo, believing that cargo was not produced by men but rather in a supernatural realm, not accepting or able to learn theories of European capitalism or colonial economic policy. As these concepts, analogous to themes in the aboriginal belief system, became the idiom in which mass resistance to colonial exploitation was first expressed, Harris points out how the wealth enjoyed by colonizers and produced through the work of the indigenous groups and expropriation of their lands created a new symbol, “cargo,” that, like the messianism of the Jews, becomes the vehicle to express the wealth they believe they are entitled to but that their colonizers have failed to reciprocate, which in turn demands a millennial mechanism for redistribution.

Reciprocation, Primitive Warfare, and Carrying Capacity

The idea of reciprocation has its own roots in the “Big Man” system of New Guinea and similarly in the Potlatches of North American native groups as well. In these cases, the drive for prestige will have as its object a ceremony in which to show oneself superior to other rivals. Indeed, the whole aboriginal economic system might be bent to the service of such obsessions. And yet, beyond the social dreamwork of personal aggrandizement is something else. That is, prestige is not their only reward, but rather, competitive feasting by big men and the chiefs involved in “wasting” wealth in the potlatch ceremonies “acts as an automatic equalizer of annual fluctuations in productivity among a series of villages that occupy different microenvironments.” (118) The greatest chiefs, the big men, gain their prestige  by being the best providers, able to transfer food and valuables from centers of high productivity to less fortunate areas. Transfers are thus assured so that unpredictable fluctuations in food sources are addressed, stabilizing regional populations as a whole. That is, “they gather together the results of the productive effort of many individuals and then redistribute the aggregate wealth in different quantities to a different set of people.” (121) Reciprocity then is the technical term for an economic exchange, so that if the exchange is not reciprocated “people begin to suspect that the taker is possessed by malevolent spirits or is practicing witchcraft. In egalitarian societies, individuals who consistently violate the rules of reciprocity are in fact likely to be psychotic and a menace to their community.” (123)

Beyond an individual, or social aspect to competitive feasting, there is the larger ecological context that is addressed as well. Marvin points this out thusly: “Competitive feasting and other forms of redistribution overwhelmed the primordial reliance upon reciprocity when it became possible to increase the duration and intensity of work without inflicting irreversible damage upon the habitat’s carrying capacity.” (127) This is to say, whereas reciprocity continues, as gift-givers become powerful, no longer needing to obey the rules of reciprocity, they begin to force people to pay taxes and work for them, enslaving others who must then engage in intensive extra productive effort which depletes the resources around. To paraphrase, conditions where everyone has equal access to the means of subsistence means competitive feasting prevents the labor force from engaging in levels of productivity that offer no margin of safety during periods of crises. However, once reciprocation is ignored and intensive extra productive effort is engaged in, an adverse effect upon group survival is engaged in that ecosystems simply cannot tolerate. The relationship between individuals, and therefore between society and its ecological context becomes unbalanced, much like European capitalism and taxation did, replacing reciprocity with competition, in turn forcing mankind to work harder to feed more people at even lower levels of material well-being, leading to stratification of classes and further desire to maximize productivity to “keep up with the Jones’” so to speak.

Marvin talks about primitive warfare as another example of addressing carrying capacity. For instance, the Yanomamo engage in warfare and brutal sexual relations due to, as Harris states, “the fact that there are already too many Yanomamo in relation to their ability to exploit their habitat.” (104) For this reason, warfare and violence are extreme, necessitating a primacy of male children for battle, leading to female infanticide. The lower female birthrates, and increased amount of fighting males prevents the further degradation of their habitat’s carrying capacity, or “eating the forest” beyond what it will take to sustain their culture. Similarly, the Maring people engage in warfare “as an ecologically adaptive lifestyle,” that regulates and maintains their systems, so that “population pressure exists as soon as a population begins to move closer to the point of calorie or protein deficiencies, or as soon as it begins to grow and consume at a rate which sooner or later must degrade and deplete the life-sustaining capacities of its environment.” (66)

Similarly, this idea of an ecologically adaptive lifestyle can qualify the relationship between human cultures and animals as well. For instance, Harris describes as the reason for a taboo on pork by desert cultures as stemming from the fact that pigs, unlike sheep or cows, are more of a threat than an asset to the ecological and cultural integrity of their society and ecosystems due to the fact that pigs, unlike cows and sheep, compete for food with humans without providing other items like wool or milk. It is more than simply economically inefficient; it borders on being fatal to the continuity of the society in question. This is similar to the Hindu worshipping of cows and taboo on beef-eating which would strain the entire ecosystem. Cows instead provide for a continual source of traction animal, along with milk and dung (for energy/heat), and if they were killed for meat, their owners would starve as they would have no way to cultivate the fields they will depend on after monsoon rains. The cow’s symbolic and religious status as mother of everything that is alive no doubt stems from its integral role in the maintenance of Indian culture:

“What I am saying is that cow love is an active element in a complex, finely articulated material and cultural order. Cow love mobilizes the latent capacity of human beings to persevere in a low-energy ecosystem in which there is little room for waste or indolence. Cow love contributes to the adaptive resilience of the human population by preserving temporarily dry or barren but still useful animals; by discouraging the growth of an energy-expensive beef industry; by protecting cattle that fatten in the public domain or at landlord’s expense; and by preserving the recovery potential of the cattle population during droughts and famines….Since the effective mobilization of all human action depends upon the acceptance of psychologically compelling creeds and doctrines, we have to expect that economic systems will always oscillate under and over their points of optimum efficiency. But the assumption that the whole system can be made to work better simply by attacking its consciousness is naive and dangerous.” (30)

This is similar to the Maring’s systemization of Pig Love in New Guinea, in which pigs thrive in the temperate and humid forests, freely roaming over the forest floor, until the steady increase of pig population overburdens and endangers the gardens on which the Maring depend on for survival, virgin lands are brought into use, and the efficiency of the entire agricultural system plummets. This in turn is when a pig feast that pleases the ancestors will take place, ridding the Maring of animals that have grown parasitic and helping to keep the pig population from becoming too much of a good thing. In this way, Harris shows, “the entire system results in an efficient distribution of plants, animals, and people in the region, from a human ecological point of view.” (56)

The Past in Service of the Present

Here, we reach the “bottom layer” of Marvin Harris’ cake, and with it his reminder, or article of faith, that complex cultural phenomena is objectively reducible to basic constituent precepts, namely that spiritual motivations have their basis in ecological necessity. His logic, it appears, therefore goes something like this:

The sacred relationship Hindus have to cows is fundamentally geographic and ecological in nature (Ch. 1) , much as Jewish and Islamic bans on pork (Ch. 2) is—namely, it is an ecological adaptation that has been intuited and enshrined in doctrine over the course of generations. In a likewise manner, primitive warfare (Ch. 3) and violent patriarchy (Ch. 4) act in a similar way, attempting to ensure carrying capacity will not be strained to a point that would induce societal collapse or increase societal discontent to unsustainable levels. The Big-Man system and potlatches (Ch. 5) similarly act as mechanisms to maintain balance within societies and act as ways to protect against dangers of fluctuations in ecological productivity of the region. However, once the reciprocation is pushed to the point of imbalance, where certain individuals produce more that the ecosystem can accommodate, exploitation may occur, leading to the enslavement of others, in turn setting the conditions for rebellion against such individuals. This can be seen in the cargo prophets (Ch. 6) or militant-messiahs (Ch. 7) and their “peaceful” adaptation (Ch. 8) whose appeals to spirituality communicates and expands a new conscious realization that has been molded by unsustainable environmental conditions. And while such spiritualities as witchcraft may be as innocuous as tripping out on hallucinogenic plants and crafting herbal remedies (Ch. 9), those engaged in exploiting people may develop and spread narratives painting these individuals as threats to the established order (Ch. 10), to both scapegoat others as the causes of resource deprivation they themselves are responsible for, but also to foster dependence on the state or religious apparatus as a way to maintain the legitimacy of their own existence as they perform the assumed necessary function of eradicating society of these “threats,” paralleling much of the phenomena of the 60s-70s as with the counterculture, anti-war movements of the (Ch. 11) .

Here, the same basic conditions present in the 60s and 70s, when Marvin Harris’ book was published, are perhaps more so today, as ecological conditions seem to have only worsened. Whereas there is a state and religious apparatus that seems bent on exploiting capital and a technological logic to maintain inequity for the benefit of a few, there appears is at the same time a militant messianic-like movement attempting to confront and oppose such an apparatus. However, in opposing the “objective,” “scientific,” and “technological” aspects of the ruling apparatus, this messianic movement risks remaining unthreatening, destined to remain a “failed adaptation” for as long as it assumes consciousness is not defined by the material conditions that contextualize it. Harris repeats, “Head trips and freak-outs cannot alter the material basis of exploitation and alienation.” (263)

As mentioned out the outset, the cultural materialist perspective Harris utilizes, while I appreciate it, is not my own center of gravity. Rather I contend that “outside” (in this case “environment”) and “inside” (or human consciousness) do to an extent, “resonate” with one another, and do so synchronistically.

This is to say that while the ecological context may remain unconscious to an extent, as with the larger meta-institutions that may remain hidden from an individual’s awareness, it is never totally absent from consciousness, if for no other reason than the interrelated structure of the universe. Rather, a culture’s socio-ecological relation is intuited at a fundamental level, symbolized and ritualized in both economy and spirituality or religion subconsciously, until, through anamnetic meditation, the hidden structure of consciousness can be retrieved from oblivion and integrated into one’s working understanding and conscious self-awareness. This is to say, our unconscious (but present nonetheless!) awareness of ecological trends and unsustainable relationships must become evermore conscious if we are to avoid collapse or ever address ecological and social inequity, whether through rituals, taboos, or other new developments in religious (or political or economic for that matter) ideology, and with it, our daily behaviors and their impact on the wider social structures and ecological forces that contextualize them.

As a final reflection, it is my observation that while cultural materialism certainly develops a probabilistic infrastructural determinism in which modes of production are taken as the most significant force behind the evolution of culture, it will only be through the ideational and symbolic “dreamwork” and lifestyle consciousness that we will be mobilized to address that infrastructure in material and lasting ways. In this regard I will end with a quote from the Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality, “Laudato Si,” on the necessity to care for our common home:

“It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things…any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well…If a mistaken understanding of our own principles has at times led us to justify mistreating nature, to exercise tyranny over creation, to engage in war, injustice and acts of violence, we believers should acknowledge that by so doing we were not faithful to the treasures of wisdom which we have been called to protect and preserve. Cultural limitations in different eras often affected the perception of these ethical and spiritual treasures, yet by constantly returning to their sources, religions will be better equipped to respond to today’s needs…the gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which demands patience, self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that “realities are greater than ideas.” (From Religions in Dialogue with Science, 199-201)

Whether these words are merely ideas determined by material conditions, or fundamentally able to change those material conditions, or even simply the expression of something greater than either, I will leave up to the reader.

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Incarnational Process Philosophy

(The following was excerpted from the dissertation of Matt Segall at Footnotes to Plato, with a few additions and edits for continuity)

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:22)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galations 2:20)

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. Through these He has given us His precious and magnificent promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, now that you have escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge… (2 Peter 1:3)

Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me—or at least believe because of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:11)


 

The Christian phenomenon, founded upon the birth, death, and resurrection of God on Earth, depends upon the possibility of transcendence becoming immanent itself. The Christian thinker becomes inhabited by a living thinking, generating an image of a worldly advocate whose persuasive love replaces the coercive power of a transcendent dictator. In this regard, Plato’s intellectual innovation is exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ, culminating in its metaphysical interpretation over the course of the next millennia, in which this divine persuasion ultimately achieves a supreme victory by producing a modicrum of harmony amid the forces of Chaos.

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Philosophy without initiatory experience quickly becomes increasingly irrelevant to actual life: a philosopher’s concepts cannot catch fire and acquire the persuasive agency of divine personality. The philosopher’s desire to incarnate divine Ideas is therefore a creative act, allowing for the ingression of common appearance as physically instantiated symbols. That is, after the Christian-Platonic initiation, the philosopher’s world is transfigured into a problematic network of occult icons whose meaning is uncovered intuitively through talismanic thinking.

To think talismanically, to create sensible concepts that vibrate into the world, enacting new erotic bonds and fields of feeling, is to think pragmatically. Ideas are ingressed into appearances, becoming symbols, moments of discontinuity in extensive physical space-time out of which the intensive oddity of self-reference emerges. We become like God, poets of the world—not without terror, as such incarnational thinking is an ecstatic, even violent act, always killing the neurons which support it, “making the brain a set of little deaths that puts constant death within us.”

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In so far as we might partake of this creative process do we then partake of the divine, of God, and that participation is his immortality, reducing the question of whether individuality survives death to irrelevancy. Dragging the “Godhead” down to what is lower, producing a guiding concretization, through which the godhead is able to act in nature, becomes for us a kind of theurgy, in which we strive to narrate a universal process in which divinity becomes birthed in the human soul, humanity generating cosmic nature as the cosmos generates human nature, moving toward a wiser and more loving experience of creation.

The capacity for conscious devotion to divine ideals like truth, freedom, beauty, love, and wisdom is, then, the ongoing work of the divine to realize these ideals in the world, accomplished through us only if we are willing to participate in the resurrection of loving persuasion, a God we are asked to imagine as unfolding in and through the world in our own flesh hospitable to the indeterminate emergence of finite bodies with creativities all their own.  It could be that the growth of this new God in conscious human hearts is granting us the eyes to see the whole creation, not as dead or dying, but as groaning and suffering the pains of childbirth together with us.

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“This integration is properly called philosophy and not just theology, for it is about the world and about being as being. We do not leave our faculties behind, but allow the powers of our body, mind, and soul to be transfigured. This knowing is beyond the reach of the intelligence, but is essentially intelligent; it moves beyond reason, without despising reason. Intellect and love must both be transformed, they must both yield, and in yielding find themselves caught up into a current the end of which is nothing less than divinization. This is, indeed, still philosophy, the sort of Philosophy (with a capital P) that figures like Justin and Clement first learned from Plato and that we , in the West, have continually returned to and may be in the process of recovering again today.

“One might also call it theology, as the later fathers did, if by theology one means the task of speaking about all things in their relation to God. But if it is theology, it is theology of a very difficult kind—the kind that requires both thought and prayer.” (Partakers of the Divine, by Jacob Sherman Pg. 254)

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Eco-Magic: A Definition

From the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature

Eco-magic is the use of magical and spiritual techniques for the benefit or protection of the environment. Because practitioners believe that magic backed by practical action is more effective, eco-magic often supports conventional campaigning or is integrated with direct action.

Eco-magic is an evolving practice that blurs into a whole ideology of change. Starhawk, a witch and political activist, “offers the principles of magic not as a belief system…but as an alternative descriptive system that can help develop a psychology of liberation.” Because eco-magic is a strategy that a conventional opponent will find hard to counter, it has been perceived as a tool of the oppressed.

Any magical tradition or technique can be adapted to eco-magic and practitioners work with a wide variety of deities. Rituals can be public or private and involve groups or single individuals. Western eco-magic does exhibit certain distinctive qualities, notably the use of elements of performance, especially drumming, dance, and chanting. Certain symbols and mythic elements recur. The goddess Gaia and the Green Man appear frequently, as does the Dragon, symbol of Earth energy. Spirals and runic talismans (e.g., the Dragon Tree Rune) are common. Eco-magic often involves working with the “Genius Loci” of the place, the Devas or Faery Folk, who are understood as teachers and allies in the campaign.

Since the early 1980s, a more theorized eco-magic practice has emerged from Western Paganism. Starhawk, Reclaiming and the Dragon Environmental Network have been influential in defining this practice, which I call “Dragon/Reclaiming  Eco[Activist]-Magic (DRE[A]M). Although generally eco-magic may include cursing or similar “aggressive” magic, DRE[A]M is nonviolent, non-hierarchical, and strives toward holistic solutions. It is a magic that works toward building reciprocal relationships between the natural world and humanity. DRE[A]M excludes Western magical traditions that use nature spirits instrumentally. Practitioners allege that such traditions emerge from a cerebral “dominator” ideology of control that is incompatible with an eco-magic that works in tune with nature.

Mainstream environmentalists are generally dismissive of spiritual perspectives while many spiritual people consider political issues to be irrelevant. Eco-magic, like liberation theology, explicitly connects the political and the spiritual: The personal is political is spiritual.”

by Adrian Harris

Further Reading:

Harris, Adrian. “Dragon Decade- A Personal Perspective on Eco-Magic” Dragon Eco-Magic Journal (June 2001)

Harvey, Graham. “Religious Experience in Contemporary Society” Religious Experience Research Centre, 1997..

Starhawk. The Spiral Dance. New York: HarperCollins, 1989

Starhawk. Truth or Dar. New York: Harper and Row, 1987

Starhawk: Dreaming the Dark. Boston: Beacon Press, 1982

See also: Donga Tribe; Dragon Environmental Network; Magic, Animism, and the Shaman’s Craft; Paganism – Contemporary; Radical Environmentalism; Reclaiming; Starhawk; Wicca

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