The Shaman Reborn in Cyberspace
or Evolving Magico-Spiritual Techniques of Consciousness-Making by Manie Eagar
Abstract - With the expansion of consciousness comes new ways of seeing reality. The hypercontextual pretexts, contexts and subtexts created by the new technologies of virtual, immersive and cyber realities create boundaryless experiences that are analogous to the archaic techniques evolved through shamanic journeys designed to transcend all human boundaries.
The magico-spiritual imagination, far from disappearing in our supposedly secular age, continues to feed the utopian dreams, apocalyptic visions, digital phantasms, and alien obsessions that populate today’s ‘technological unconscious’. The language and ideas of the information society have slipped into and even transformed the myriad worlds of contemporary spirituality. What is emerging is a networked framework for grappling with some of the impulses that are currently tearing us apart: spirit and the machine, modernity and nihilism, technology and the human. ‘We find ourselves trapped on a cyborg sandbank, caught between the old, smouldering campfire stories and the new networks of programming and control’ (Davis 1998: 131). We are ‘beached’ between the archaic sea of our magico-spiritual ancestors, freshly emerged from our proto-modern past, and spawned into the postmodern reality of fragmented selves, networked options, downloadable digitized consumerware and ‘technologies of ecstacy’.
Reality is under construction (Ernesto Barros Cardoso)
Reality is what refuses to go away when I stop believing in it. (Philip K. Dick)
- 1 Fire in the Brain
- 2 The Landscape of Mind
- 3 Cosmogenesis: A vision of all worlds
- 4 Beyond space and time
- 5 Archaic to modern steps of a shamanic experience: the stages of the shamanic journey
- 6 Modern technologies of knowing and reality manufacture
- 7 The making of meaning and myth: the manufacturing of reality
- 8 On varieties of consciousness
- 9 Em-bodi-ment (mind/body alchemy)
- 10 ‘Liminality’ (from Latin limen, ‘boundary or threshold’).
- 11 Magico-spiritual techniques: programmes of the mind
- 12 Future psychonautics; alternate states of consciousness and hypercontextual consciousness
- 13 Manufacturing reality
- 14 Meaning/sense-making
- 15 Conclusion
- 16 Bibliography
Fire in the Brain
While the possible objects for an imaginative archaeology of information are vast - ranging from trickster tales to mystical conceptions of the Logos to divination - the first steps are the garnering of one’s personal capacity to see, imagine, and visualize in a trance or dream state, or ultimately, a technognostic state (Davis: 1998), where everything becomes but a ‘dream within a dream’, that the boundaries of reality fade and the world of the shaman, of new reality-making becomes possible.
The power to evoke images in one’s mind - to see and believe something that is very different from what one normally sees and believes, or what one thinks one should see and believe - is a process of coming to new knowledge. When one’s view of how things happen is temporarily challenged and suspended, a doorway opens - a doorway where anything seems possible. The shaman is someone who lives permanently in a state of wonder, and tries to understand these things without fear. With understanding comes knowledge, and with knowledge, power.
For the shaman, seeing is an active power and imagination is a sense, which brings information on different dimensions of reality. Common reality is as much a function of one’s imagination as dreams are. The shamanic adventure works on all levels of reality.
Dreams take place outside of space and time - therefore are perceived as ‘unreal’ - a liminal arena in which no-space and notime and now-space and now-time overlaps.
Consciousness is simply what everything is aware of - there is therefore a multiplex, a multiplicity of consciousnesses which, because of its subliminal nature cannot be independently verified and of which the range of human consciousness is just a fragmentary part.
There is increasing evidence that certain mental states and activities are correlated with certain physical states in different specific regions of the brain ... there is psychophysical parallelism: conscious states somehow reflect physical states in the brain ... conscious states ... are at least correlated with (correspond to) brain states.
Any scientific theory must establish a postulate of psychophysical parallelism. (Barbour 2000)
We are consciousness-making cyborgs (part machine - part organism) there is no consciousness ‘out there’ of which we are the product, but rather consciousness emergent. The body is a vessel, a container, a vehicle for consciousness. From the aleph point of the body we shoot our arrows of sense-making, of being and becoming through the fabric of space-time ... and beyond.
The outer boundary of the body describes your physical sensemaking capacity, as well as envelopes your experiential capacity. It is an economy of organs bound in space-time interpenetrated by the boundaryless ... your spaceship in space.
About ‘miracles’ - insofar as telling stories of ‘little things to be wondered at’ tends to divide epistemology, splitting ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ from ‘body’, such stories will be regarded as irrelevant interruptions. Insofar as such stories enrich or modify a synthesis, they will be welcome. (Bateson 1976)
The ecology of mind is an ecology of pattern, information, and ideas that happen to be embodied in things - material forms. (Bateson 2000) Inside every normal person’s mind there is a certain portion, which we call the Self, which uses symbols and representations very much like the magical signs and symbols used by sorcerers to work their spells. For do we not use magic incantations, in much the same ways, to control those hosts of systems within ourselves? How else can one do things one doesn’t understand? ... consciousness: it is the part of the mind most specialized for knowing how to use the other systems which lie hidden in the mind. Marvin Minsky (Vinge 1984)
I am the knowledge of my inquiry. The Thunder, Perfect Mind(Robinson 1990)
The material world and the ‘spirit world’ are interpenetrative - a realm where both coexist, where ‘our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different’ (James: 1901/1958: 228)
. ... reality is composed of several different but continuous dimensions. Manifest reality, that is, consists of different grades or levels, reaching from the lowest and most dense and least conscious to the highest and most subtle and most conscious. At one end of this continuum of being or spectrum of consciousness is what we in the West would call ‘matter’ or the insentient and the non-conscious, and at the other end is ‘spirit’ or ‘godhead’ or the ‘superconscious’. (Wilber 2000)
... spirituality is referring to experiential things that happen to people that give them the feeling that there’s something much bigger than ordinary, material life. (Tart 1997)
The Landscape of Mind
Boundless in the sense of ‘apeiron’. For Anaximander, this conception of apeironas externally unbounded is rooted in the word’s use to mean ‘ring’ or ‘sphere’, on whose surface one may travel for an indefinite period of time without coming to a bounding line (Rohr 1995).
For the shaman, all the territories of mind - bound and unbound constitute a landscape to be traversed and explored by a multiplicity of techniques and approaches - literally that an archaeology of mind is available to us and an ecology of consciousness can be evolved from these recorded experiences, through a variety of practices, and related experimentation.
In a broader sense, the farther reaches of the conscious and unconscious mind are being increasingly scientifically and experimentally explored through a variety of psycho-deconstructive and integrative techniques - from the shamanistic ‘manufacturing of reality’ by deconstructing boundaries of sense-making reality, to the reality and consciousness-making of artificial intelligence, studies into animal and plant sentience, and psychonautic explorations into other ‘dimensions’ of reality and consciousness constructs. It is a netherworld, a ‘twilight zone’, of either or neither that has attracted, and been navigated by generations of psycho-spiritual seekers and mind explorers in the form of shamans, artists, poets, philosophers and the modern-day high priests of science and latter-day cyber shamans.
The concepts of mind and consciousness overlap greatly. The concept of mind is used here in the sense of mindscape, mindmap or landscape of the mind, to be mindful of something, in the mind’s eye in short, our sense-making ability. Consciousness is the awareness, and sensate experience, of being in, travelling through, traversing the landscape of the mind. From this follows our sense of reality ‘out there’, outside of our ‘bound bodies’, outside of our skin so to speak, enclosed within liminal space.
Consciousness is simply everything that we are aware of - there is therefore a multiplex, a multiplicity of consciousnesses which, because of its subliminal nature cannot be independently verified and of which the range of human consciousness is just a fragmentary part.
To travel through this landscape into which it was deposited, the body, and its sense-making tool, the mind, also produced a mirroring, reprogrammable, data-sifting capacity to enhance its chances of survival and with the added ability to conjecture, to imagineer beyond the boundaries of the physical body and the sense of self - into the future, whilst looking back onto lessons of the past for as far as its memory banks will allow.
For the last few tens of thousands of years, it is clear that this sensemaking capacity has evolved to the point where the mind within the body can literally project beyond itself and its physical locale in the landscape - both the inner (the mindscape) and the outer (the realm of physical objects - both animate and inanimate) whilst traversing the temporospatial world. Some things made sense - was within the grasp of the senses. Most things did not and became the realm of mythmaking.
For the ancient questing shaman this became a matter of life and death - knowing the cycles of time, the times to hunt, the times to seek shelter, when to mate, when to move across this dangerous foreign landscape in which he and his tribe were located - meant pushing the limits of what he or she could do with their sense-making tool, the mind. And the short answer is, much as we experience today, most things do not make sense and do not seem to have the same humanlike bound-within-a-body purpose as we enjoy it.
The environment from which we are spawned itself is a vehicle for shaping boundaries on the edge of space and time and the quantum flux, at the exact boundary where extropy and entropy meets. This balancing act of the bound and the boundless1 has moulded us inside our skins for purposes of survival and imbued us with a lifespan, similar to our android protagonist Roy in the SF movie Blade Runner, with a limited lifespan, for such are the cycles of time.
For we are hunters of time, bound in dimensional space, attempting to make sense, interpret, conjecture, speculate, and roll the dice again as we go along. Such is the nature of our being (here).
Our challenge to such thinking is - can we ever know enough? Have we reached the boundaries of our sense-making capacities? The human is far too curious a monkey (the Eastern philosophers accuse Western thinkers of having a ‘monkey mind’ and for good reason - our curiosity is insatiable). Is there a point where one would ever close off all avenues of query and relax into a state of simply being. I do not think so. In many ways many histories of mankind have been written, and will simply become footnotes in the broader tapestry of knowing, of expanding mindscapes and landscapes, of history and sense-making that we ourselves have yet to traverse.
At issue here is - do we lack the sense-making capacity to see, feel and be conscious of meaning beyond our physical selves, and beyond the cycle of life and death. This is the Sisyphean task of the shaman as he/she grasps beyond the immediate realm of the now into the realm of the witches; the twilight zone, the liminal space between the worlds; the world of peripheral vision on the boundary of sense-making.
In the words of science-fiction mythmaker Philip K. Dick: ‘But I have never had too high a regard for what is generally called ‘reality’. Reality, to me is not so much something that you perceive, but something you make’ and ‘The world of the future, to me, is not a place but an event. ... a construction which there is no author and no readers but a great many characters in search of a plot’. (Sutin 1995: 204)
It is a world in which we manufacture our own reality as a conscious, knowing, active expression and manifestation of our purposeful, sensemaking self (willed existence) through the manipulation of our present reality/ies. Each instant, a personal ‘through the looking glass’ conglomeration of contexts. I become ‘my habits of acting in context and shaping and perceiving the contexts in which I act’ (Bateson 1978: 275
Cosmogenesis: A vision of all worlds
For us, consciousness is the penetration, the unveiling of the layers of perceived reality. Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live. (Albert Einstein)
Archaic systems of knowledge and techniques of reality management
A thread through space-time: from shaman to psychonaut
The path to altered states of consciousness can be strikingly similar and ubiquitous when compared to the experiences of practitioners from all over the world.
Two traditions come to mind - the approach to, and achievement of trance states of the San Bushmen in Southern Africa, and the traditions of the Amazonian ayahuasceroswho work with the sacred plants of the Amazon, specifically San Pedro and ayahuasca. These trance, or altered, states are expressed through dance, singing and artwork.
Modern ‘urban shamans’ have adopted some of these techniques to project into other, alternate, heightened or ‘all potential’ states of consciousness and a new technoshamanism is emerging that draws on a range of disparate traditions and far-flung cultures to create a new sense of rootedness to earthly body and spirit whilst projecting the ‘disembodied’ self into alternate realms of reality and consciousness.
It is the world of the shamans that we now enter and psychonavigate mindscapes that do not regard themselves as bound by space and time, or this or any other reality.
Our journey inwards and outwards starts with the (San) Bushmen of Southern Africa, who left behind the world’s richest heritage of Stone Age rock art (the earliest dating has been made at 26,000 BCE, contemporaneous with the Upper Palaeolithic art of Western Europe; the Lascaux cave paintings date from 17,000 BCE). Initially seen as merely ‘caveman doodles’ and ‘bush graffiti’, the latest research has uncovered the layers of sense and mythmaking that envelop this hugely rich tapestry of symbolized human consciousness.
For the Bushman his rock art is a unique record of altered states of consciousness, even alternate states of consciousness, as perceived and experienced through trance dance and the raising of boiling energy (a potency, like electricity, called !gi: or /num. These shamans are the ‘owners of, and full of potency’ and whose task it is to control it for the good of the people. For these myths were both personal and tribal - the whole community participates, supports, and draws on this mythmaking process to this day through their trance dances and subsequent healing rituals (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 2000).
In the case of their rock art ‘... we realise that the San conceived of the cosmos as layered ...’ For them ‘The rock face was like a veil suspended between this world and the realms inhabited by spirits and spirit animals.’ ‘Everythingpainted on the “veil”, no matter how secular the images may seem to us, was in fact set in a spiritual context and contributed to the dissolution of distinctions between the material and the spiritual worlds’ (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 2000: vii). ‘When viewing Bushman rock art, we should remind ourselves that we are looking at a bridge between two worlds’ (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 2000: 36).
These magico-spiritual techniques (they did not practice sympathetic magic as was originally thought) are taught to apprentices and passed on from generation to generation through dance rehearsals, to the point where they even face and keep in view the rock paintings made by the tribal shamans (the ‘owners of potency’, the n/om k”ausi) to heighten the level of their own potency as they enter trance states and the days of ‘eland power’. Blood from the eland was used in the paintings which became storehouses of potency. This made contact with the spirit world possible, guaranteed humankind’s existence by facilitating healing, rain-making and animal control, and, by flowing between nature and people, gathered up all aspects of life in a single spiritual unity.
It is estimated that about half the men and a third of the women in a Kalahari Bushman camp may be shamans. The Bushmen of today hardly ever use hallucinogens. They rely instead on hyperventilation, intense concentration and highly rhythmic dancing to alter their state of consciousness. It is likely that, having recovered from the trance state, the shamans remembered and then depicted their experiences while in a normal state of consciousness.
Having recovered from trance hallucinations, shamans in other parts of the world also experience after-images which may recur for many months after a trance experience. These after-images may last for a few seconds or up to a few minutes. They seem to float before one; or, if one is looking at a flat surface like a wall or a ceiling, they are like colour slides projected on a screen. Projected onto the wall of a rock shelter, such mental images could have provided the inspiration for paintings (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 2000).
In the trance, the shaman enters an altered state of consciousness, triggered by rhythmic dancing, their dancing rattles, and thudding steps, clapping and chanting. The Bushmen activate a supernatural potency that resides in songs and in the shamans themselves. This potency ‘boils’, rises up the shamans’ spines and they enter a trance. They call on the power of spirit animals to allow them to heal their people, and feel like they have animal characteristics themselves and that the power flows painfully from themselves. Both the Cape and European rock paintings show humans with animal features, and people twisting in apparent pain from arrows piercing their body. These represent the experience of being a shaman (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 2000).
‘The shamans’ experiences and practices have fundamental similarities around the world because they reflect innate brain processes and experiences’ (Winkelman 2000). Further support for this idea comes from psychologists looking at what happens to people in altered states of consciousness or with altered brain function. For Lewis-Williams and Dowson (1998)2, this is a neurological bridge to the past. Shamanic rituals are still carried out around the world in traditional religions, and non-shamanic people can experience similar feelings under hypnosis, or during fever, trance or migraine.
This is where we can already draw on the Bushman’s sense-making abilities and align it with global mythmaking cultures (the sacred, animated spirit world is as real as the secular, physical world; using trance dance for healing; exercising supernatural powers through dreams; rainmaking; visiting distant camps on out-of-body travel; the control of animals; to reinforce successful hunting expeditions, for personal and tribal protection, connection with the spirit world and the ancestors; to receive messages from and maintain a relationship with their gods; and to maintain a sense of structured, supportive community through a communal sense and mythmaking).
Beyond space and time
J.D. Lewis-Williams and T.A. Dowson (1988) in their article ‘The Signs of All Times’ propose a neurobridge backwards in time to the Upper Palaeolithic Age by which we can gain insight into the nature of the origins of art. Our nervous system has not changed much in the past 100,000 years. We are still physically very much the hunter-gatherers we were prior to agrarianism. In the signs of Upper Palaeolithic art Lewis-Williams and Dowson see entoptic phenomena very similar to those produced by people in altered states of consciousness today.
‘The entheogen possesses the body, making it an epidemic in jaguar-potency. The jaguar-potency in the yagé-inebriation disorganises the body to activate the becoming. The invocation is necessary. To invoke is to potentiate the event in the word. It is not any word that invokes the force’s presence and the ally’s potency. The invoking word is esoteric: mentioning it touches the allied presence, making it present. The allied potency has chosen and touched the initiate as soon as it has chosen him or her. The yagé-inebriation propitiates the invocation of the allied potency in the word that is appropriate for becoming. It is a word that flows toward the dimension of potency in order to activate it in the instant of naming it. Herein lies the force of invocation. Its force is potency’s will. To invoke the jaguar-becoming is to invoke that will of potency to become.’ Jaguar-becoming by William Torres (Luna 2000)
One of the shamanic traditions that has been steeped in the use of hallucinogens to induce altered states of consciousness, for healing and divination, is that of the ayahuasceros- the medicine men and women, the mestizoshamans of the Amazon region. Ayahuasca derives from the Quechua language: huasca meaning ‘vine’ and aya meaning ‘dead people’. Thus the ‘vine of the dead’ (Metzner 1999).
With a growing body of research around altered states of consciousness, shamanic practice and therapeutic use of entheogens, DMT (short for the powerful psychoactive ingredient dimethyltryptamine of the ayahuasca brew) has drawn attention because of its reputation to induce special states of consciousness, during which the ‘plant teachers’ function as spiritual teachers and sources of healing power and knowledge. The plants represent a healing power or energy that can be associated with a plant, a person, an animal, or even a place. ‘In the tribal societies where these plants and plant preparations are used, they are regarded as embodiments of conscious intelligent beings that only become visible in special states of consciousness, and that can function as spiritual teachers and sources of healing power and knowledge’ (Metzner 1999).
The ayahuasquerosor vegetalistas(plant specialists) see the material world and spirit world as interpenetrative - a realm where both coexist, where ‘our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different’ (James, 1901/1958: 228).
Crucial to shamanic practices is the belief that many plants, if not all plants, each have their own ‘mother’ or spirit. It is with the help of the spirits of some of these plants, which I have called ‘plant teachers’, that the shaman is able to acquire his powers. (Luna 1984: 228)
The role of sacred plants in both ancient and contemporary societies are to allow the personal relationship with reality established in a mythical time; to develop relationships with an animal spiritual realm which is the source of power and self identification; the dissolution of death and ego and its resurrection and transformation; and, in social rituals, to enhance social identity formation, group integration and cohesion and to reaffirm cultural values and beliefs (Winkelman 1995).
Along with the intake of the ayahuasca brew, is the performance of the icaros - shamanic power songs learned either from a maestro shaman or directly from the spirits (Luna 1984). They are used to communicate with the spirits of the natural world, to heal the sick, and to actually provoke certain kinds of visual displays or visions in those medicated with ayahuasca. The most important of these songs are those learned from the spirits themselves or those received in the dream visions which often follow an ayahuasca session.
There are icaros for increasing or decreasing the strength of the hallucinations, for calling defenders or ‘arhena’, for curing specific illnesses, for reinforcing the effects of medicinal plants, for attracting the love of a woman (huarmi icaro), for calling the spirits of dead shamans, for causing rain, wind or thunder, for bewitching, for hunting or fishing certain animals, for curing snake bites, for protecting oneself before sexual intercourse, etc. One shaman even relates that if one knows the principal icaroof a shaman, you can attract his defenders when he dies, and can incorporate his knowledge (Luna 1984).
Icaros are used only during ayahuasca sessions. In the highly sensitized state of ayahuasca intoxication, the icaroshelp structure the vision. They can also modify the hallucinations themselves. The icaros are the quintessence of shamanic power. Luna reports: ‘There are icaros for increasing or diminishing the intensity and color of the visions, for changing the color perceived, and for directing the emotional contents of the hallucinations.’
Vegetalistas are masters of synaesthesia. Through using the most interesting acoustic effects produced by whistling and singing, the geometric designs can be seen acoustically. The icaros refer to a medicine as ‘my painted song,’ ‘my words with those designs,’ or ‘my ringing pattern’ and relates to the entoptic phenomena described by Lewis-Williams and Dowson (1988) visible in the San Bushman rock art.
The authors explained the signs in Palaeolithic cave art as entoptic images which arise within the human optic system, particularly when people are in altered states of consciousness. The authors compared entoptic-type images appearing in Palaeolithic cave art with similar ones in shamanistic rock art of the Coso Indians of California and the Southern San Bushmen of South Africa to argue that Palaeolithic cave art was also associated with altered states of consciousness and was indeed a pan-human phenomenon.
Archaic to modern steps of a shamanic experience: the stages of the shamanic journey
Common to all shamanic or magico-spiritual experiences is that some degree of alteration of consciousness or heightened state of awareness is necessary (Harner 1990: 49). The following steps illustrate the common boundary-breaking steps that earmark any shamanic or magico-spiritual, altered, ecstatic or trance-state experience, and can be summarized as follows:
- Inducing ecstatic or altered states of consciousness (through trance states or the ingestion of entheogens; usually accompanied by the inner or outward declaration of wilful intent and possibly cultural context through ritual);
- Various stages indicating the commencement of the journey (visual effects - entoptics; physical symptoms; signs of allies and familiars, etc. as the altered state of consciousness gains momentum);
- Dissolution of boundaries of self and normal perception of reality (usually associated with the releasing ‘little death’ experience which can be incremental or sudden) - into the void;
- Achieving an altered state of consciousness (reality shift into boundaryless space; sense of connection to everything - a sense of individual existence, of separateness from the physical world around him, evaporates - the so-called ‘ocean of consciousness’ experience) - in the void; and
- The return to the normal mundane realm and existence associated with psychointegration and remembering of imagery and ‘messages’ - through the void.
In essence, for the shaman, the magico-spiritual experience honours and/or recognizes the interpenetrative spirit of the body, and the body as a product of the landscape at the same time. The body, the vehicle for our minds and consciousness, is a product of its environment, and needs to engage with it continuously, through all states of consciousness for its survival. Consciousness is a by-product of this interaction. The limitation of consciousness, altered or alternative, is the degree to which it can consciously process this reality on its own terms, and in terms of its environment, communal, spiritual, physical or otherwise.
It would be more accurate to talk about states of consciousness per se, than trying to carve up or layer these states of consciousness, which is an arbitrary act in its own right. Awareness is like a torchlight beaming out onto the landscape of being and becoming. These states of consciousness are all intensities of the same torchlight, not altered versions or aspects of it.
What is of more interest from a magico-spiritual perspective is if alternate realities truly exist - alternate realities of which we can become consciously aware and engage with (the true aspiration and domain of the ancient shamans and modern psychonauts). The continuous attempts to penetrate these alternative or other realities are the same quest for the shaman, the scientist and the magico-spiritual practitioner.
Modern shamans have adopted some of these techniques to project into other, altered or ‘all potential’ states of consciousness, to explore the contours of their minds and discover ‘the pattern that connects’ (Bateson 1995). For them, all minds are landscapes to be traversed and explored by a multiplicity of techniques and approaches. An archaeology of mind is available to us and an ecology of consciousness can be evolved from these recorded experiences and related research.
Modern technologies of knowing and reality manufacture
Excerpted from ‘Shamanism is the original neurotheology’ article on Dr. Winkelman’s homepage located at http://www.public.as u.edu/~atmxw/neur o.html.
Shamanism, then, represents a series of individual performances in a dynamic complex across space and time, a going beyond (Luna and White 2000). A key aspect of shamanism from ‘both worlds’, from the landscapes of the Southern African San Bushman and the Amazonian ayahuascero, is that it is a way which embraces a deep relationship with nature.
Eastern techniques embrace the shamanistic approach, particularly Tantric methods of the left-hand path (such as the way of the aghora), which includes meditating at funeral pyres at the ghats, in graveyards and at a variety of Himalayan pilgrimage spots. In the broadest sense shamanism is the natural science of the subjective condition, a position it shares with Gnosticism - an extended awareness of oneself in the existential flow. It is humanity’s search for self-transcendence.
Achieving altered states can take place during meditation, hyperventilation, the practice of yoga, hypnosis, fasting, and physical suffering (such as the self-inflicted pain in certain religious traditions or by modern-day body-alchemists). It is a state that can be reached in many ways to explore aspects of reality different from those perceived in an ordinary state of consciousness.
‘Many cultures have developed technologies for altering consciousness and inducing spiritual experiences’ (Winkelman 2000). Describing shamanism and its ancient healing practices within the context of neurotheology, he has demonstrated that there are basic similarities in shamans in cultures around the world (Winkelman 2000). The similarities in shamans include the use of trance or ecstasy - altered states of consciousness (ASC) - to interact with the spirits and heal. These spirit-world interactions are often referred to as ‘soul journeys’, flying, out-of-body experiences and astral projection. These abilities are acquired when the initiate shaman undergoes a ‘death and rebirth experience’ and acquires animal allies and spirit powers.
Winkelman outlines the neurobiological basis of shamanism humanity’s original spiritual practices - and explains puzzling aspects of shamanism: its universal presence in the ancient world, as well as its modern resurgence. ‘Universals of shamanism are related to basic brain functions. The shamans’ experiences and practices have fundamental similarities around the world because they reflect innate brain processes and experiences’ (Winkelman 2000).
Winkelman’s research findings place shamanism in the context of human evolution and suggests that shamanic practices were a key element of the evolution of modern humans some 40,000 years ago. Shamans helped people acquire information and develop new forms of thinking. Shamanism also provided mechanisms for healing and personal development, building alliances and creating group solidarity.
‘Shamanism is not just an ancient practice nor is it limited to simpler societies. The contemporary world has many examples of “neoshamanism”, current adaptations to these ancient principles of spiritual healing and consciousness’ (Winkelman 2000).3
The shaman knows that the psychedelic experience, the altered state is programmable whilst his frame of mind and the surrounding mise-enscènecontributes substantially to the experience and demonstrates the enormous role that both culture and the psyche play in shaping the experience (Davis 2000).
The making of meaning and myth: the manufacturing of reality
For the shaman the experience of ASC is as if the anchors of his mind are set free and consciousness is set adrift (unbound) needing to find new bearings and co-ordinates, improvising, and forcing alternate reality constructs as he goes along.
In this sense shamanic art (reference the San Bushmen rock art and ayahuasca visions) become representational of the inner worlds and visions of the practitioner. They are ‘probes’ sent out into the real world to represent and align with the inner world of the ancient shaman and modern psychonaut. It becomes subjective layering of alternate realities and an extension of the inner world of the shamanic seer/seeker of meaning.
These probes can be viewed as mind-trajectories - from liminal into boundless space - an attempt to incorporate (integrate) and reach out into unbound space from the ‘bound space-time’ of the skin-clad body (leading to the experience of embodied and disembodied space-time) beyond the boundaries of skin, beyond the contours of the normal consciousness of the shaman.
On varieties of consciousness
Consciousness cannot be bound - it is boundless. Like ancient threemasted ships safely hugging familiar coastlines, we are traversing inner space bound by skin and boundless outer space enveloped in spacetime - we are embodied consciousness. For the journey is still not complete - we are still refining our tools of investigation and exploration. The journey for mankind has just begun. The need to look within and without (with feeling, with meaning, without boundaries spiritually, scientifically or otherwise).
We have to enter a magical realm where we can reimagine ourselves being and becoming ad infinitum - a progression upwards and downwards on the snakes and ladders of existence. From a shamanic perspective we are still evolving in every direction - into and out of extinction (genetically and memetically). Thoughts, like clouds, rising, drifting and vanishing - such is our lives - like the fleeting swallow of reality flying in from the cold, through our hall of consciousness and back into the cold night again (from the tale of the Venerable Bede quoted by Weinberg 1993: 208-09).
The first step is to discover what lies within. This is still our chief preoccupation - to bind things and thoughts. The problem is that what we imagine can be bound, is boundless. All states of reality and consciousness shift - it is a pesky little thing that cannot be pinned down, especially not in our quantum universe stalked by Schrödinger’s, or was it the Cheshire, cat?
One moment you are selling your audience Coke consciousness and the next body comes along and sells Pepsi consciousness. From this point onwards things get blurry and indefinable on both terms, unless you elect to experience interpenetrative Coke-Pepsi consciousness in which neither is distinct nor has a separate identity (reality) any more simultaneously a gain and a loss.
The point of course is to go for neither and remain in a boundaryless state of flux - in a state of so-called Buddha, boundless or non-dual mind - where you can literally think yourself up and down the evolutionary ladder. You can imagine (manufacture/imagineer) what you were before or states of being yet to come ... witness the unfolding mystery of all mysteries, the ‘source of all things’ of the Tao-te-Ching.
What you can imagine you can become. It is all quite simple from here onwards. And you can realize it in this lifetime. Leave it up to the quanta and the life force and from this rich soup you can serve up anything you like. Today you can witness this instance in space-time around you. Everybody and everything is in different states of being and becoming; you have this multicameral mind taking snapshots of emerging realities in space and time.
From this point onwards it all becomes trajectories. Bound in our bodies, we become trajectories of mind into boundless space and time. We are the hunters - bound in our skins we hunt space-time which is boundaryless - without beginning or end. Add some quantum flux and you can have infinite possibilities (infinite potential), universes, consciousnesses, realities ...
‘We regularly experience our skin as the boundary of our body. Our identity is in part formed from our understanding that we are bounded creatures. One way we understand our self is that we are defined by the body we inhabit - we are bounded objects, contained within our skin’ (Rohr 1995).
Similar to the ‘Osmose’4 (1995) experience - an immersive interactive virtual-reality world created by Char Davies - these inner and outer landscapes are ‘spaces for exploring the perceptual interplay between self and world, i.e. a place for facilitating awareness of one’s own self as consciousness embodied in enveloping space’.
It is the artist’s ‘belief that traditional interface boundaries between machine and human can be transcended (in the case of Osmose) even while reaffirming our corporeality, and that Cartesian notions of space as well as illustrative realism can effectively be replaced by more evocative alternatives’ has a very shamanic ring to it. For her, ‘Immersive virtual space, when stripped of its conventions, can provide an intriguing spatio-temporal context in which to explore the self’s subjective experience of “being-in-the-world” - as embodied consciousness in an enveloping space where boundaries between inner/outer, and mind/body dissolve’ represents a very altered state of consciousness.
Parallel consciousness takes on another dimension for physicist Fred Alan Wolf - altering the way in which we see reality alters reality. Existence as we know it is a subset of reality which is unknowable. Our minds are tuneable to these multiple dimensions or multiple realities (Wolf 1991).
From her online ‘Immersense’ exhibition notes: http://www.immerse nce.com/immersenc e_home.htm.
Em-bodi-ment (mind/body alchemy)
Manufacturing reality is about binding consciousness in space-time enveloping it with skin. We are embodied consciousness that can imagine disincarnate bodies, experiences that are unbound - unbound by our reality. Within that manufactured reality we cloak, we dress, we provide skin, we tag and attempt to define. It is what we were designed to do - it is consciousness by design, manufactured reality.
The latest neuropsychological research has demonstrated that regardless of culture, space, time, shaman, cave, priest, temple, magician or psychonaut - you are stuck with an apparatus that is bound in skin, chased with memes, seeking out new trajectories into spacetime/reality - imagining reality unbound (a space in which consciousness as we know it does not exist).
But we can dream it - in the little labs between our ears we can excite potential and past states of being, and project trajectories to the future, into nether realms of reality. Especially in excitatory states, the timelines cross over and new states (modalities) of consciousness can be imagined and engineered (imagineered), manufactured and projected into space-time (our space-time).
That is why the experimentation and exploration can never stop - the experiment, the experience that is us, cannot stop (even though we are only facets (fractions) of reality and can only realize so much of what we are made of in one lifetime - a sea of potentiality, reality, self, consciousness, awareness bound in skin.
Can there be one consciousness, bound and unbound, inside and outside of skin at the same time? We’ll leave that to you to decide and speculate upon. But for all of us we predict the journeying has just begun. The exploration has just commenced; when science embraces techniques of consciousness in the same way that modern technoshamans have embraced all possible realities, bound and unbound, at a stage when consciousness is still formulating and revealing itself to our biocomputers.
‘Liminality’ (from Latin limen, ‘boundary or threshold’).
We are still in for a real treat of cosmic proportions. The first step towards integrating these ‘opposing’ realities is to take a holistic view of the universe - to take a step back as the mystics did with hermetic statements of ‘as above, so below’ and ‘solve et coagulum’ - you have to dissolve in the one realm of consciousness (lose your skin so to speak) to emerge in the next dimension of reality - to move from bound to unbound to bound again; to gnostically, hedonistically and ecstatically engage with reality head on and discern as you go along - the path of science - and to dismiss the whole.
Things we ‘know’ about consciousness from a magico-spiritual perspective:
1. The mind is telescopic. 2. Consciousness is the product of bound, liminal space-time. 3. Consciousness is evoked potential. 4. Consciousness is personalized, embodied reality. 5. The landscape of mind describes the boundaries of consciousness. 6. Consciousness is the brain’s attempt at sense-making. 7. Consciousness as ‘having a point of reference’, a rootedness in reality.
Where most people are quite content to occupy ‘dead centre’ of the landscape of their lives and experiences, to live in so-called ‘balance’, the shaman seeks out the liminal spaces - the zone that lies not-quiteone-side and not-quite-the-other-side of such conceptual boundaries.5 Inside liminal space ritual, and its ‘product’, altered states of consciousness, becomes the metaphor for proceeding from the known to the unknown, from the bound to the boundless. Employed within bound space, it disconnects its participants from everyday existence (Connerton 1989: 4). The actors have entered a ‘liminal’ or ‘threshold’ state. Both metaphor and ritual are ways of recognition in which the identifying qualities of one thing are transferred in an instantaneous, almost unconscious, flash of insight to some other thing that is, by remoteness or complexity, unknown to us. ‘In this gap between ordered worlds, almost anything may happen’ (Turner 1974: 13).
On the ‘... concept of “ecology of mind”, which states that mind is immanent in systems and not isolated to individual locations’, Bateson concluded that the individual mind is immanent, but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. This larger mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by God, but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social systems and planetary ecology (Bateson 1978).
Magico-spiritual techniques: programmes of the mind
This concept is similar to Pete Carroll putting forth anathemism as a technique to liberation of the mind of the magician. (Carroll 1987).
Far beyond Palo Alto and MIT, in the margins and on the nets, phantasms hover over the technologically mediated information processing that increasingly constitutes life in the world. Today there is so much pressure on ‘information’ - the word, the conceptual space, but also the stuff itself - that it crackles with energy, drawing to itself mythologies, metaphysics, hints of arcane magic. (Davis 1998)
A variety of traditional and modern magico-spiritual techniques centring on achieving altered states of consciousness have evolved to project will and intent towards specific outcomes - either for personal development, therapeutic applications or for mundane, personal use. These practices have evolved into ‘cyber-shamanism and psychonautics’ through a variety of ecstatic techniques such as gnosis, breathing, meditation, visualization, and the use of psycho-integratives (entheogens such as ibogaine, San Pedro and ayahuasca), tantric practices and ritual.
The main aim of developing and refining magico-spiritual technique over the ages is to achieve altered states of consciousness repeatedly and reliably - an intentional manufacturing of reality through metasense and mythmaking.
Magicians are interested in the utilization of techniques to bring about a state of gnosis/trance or no-mind to create a magical outcome in either themselves or the world around them. Primarily this kind of gnosis falls into what Peter J. Carroll (1987) calls an excitatory mode of gnosis. ‘Inhibitory’ or ‘releasing’ techniques are utilized as a means to strengthen alternate senses that are being excited or stimulated. By mastering various techniques, and through experience, a magician can apply these techniques to effect with safety and reliability.
These techniques include the ability to explore and face all aspects of reality, good or bad, painful or pleasurable, to the point of going to extremes and is the illumination that magicians seek to allow their minds to become conscious of the fact that these feelings and emotions are only constructs of the mind.6
From a shamanistic perspective: ‘The shaman is a technician of consciousness who utilises those (psychobiological) potentials for healing and for personal and social transformations’ (Winkelman 2000).
Future psychonautics; alternate states of consciousness and hypercontextual consciousness
In the introduction to I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon,a collection of late short stories, Philip Dick (Sutin 1995) wrote that we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups - and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener.
‘Experience Design: And the Design of Experience’ by Erik Davis. Paper published on the Internet at: http://www.techgnosis.com/experience. html. This piece will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Australian magazine Arcadia.
Altered states of consciousness are real, and as our media technologies get better at drawing us in and out of them, artists and other non-coercive proponents of the human spirit (or whatever you want to call it) need to become familiar with these states, not simply as a source of inspiration, but as modes of expression, communication, and confrontation itself. By recognizing that the material that we are now focused on is not technology but human experience itself, then we take a step closer to that strange plateau where our inner lives unfold into an almost collective surface of shared sensation and reframed perception - a surface on which we may feel exposed and vulnerable, but beginning to awake.
Experience Design: And the Design of Experience by Erik Davis7
Consciousness is a self-organizing, emergent property of living organisms. It is through meaning, rather than belief, that we are able to transform reality at any level, because meaning changes from moment to moment. Since the discovery of meaning is spontaneous, magico-spiritual work is a collection of discoveries. The psychonaut is interested solely in the green edge of consciousness.
Clearly, the object of magic and shamanic technologies of mind is to achieve higher states of consciousness. The magus is empowered to affect events only to the extent that he is able to recognize that inside and outside is one. To transform the world is to transform oneself and vice versa. However, although those who don’t know what they are doing are obliged to perform magic strictly through the observation of rituals, those who understand its real nature and purpose can move directly to its centre and act from there, without incantations and conjurations.
==Interpenetrative spirit (action==)
The sciences need to plumb the depths of ‘primordial reality’, the ‘first reality’, the so-called pre-rational, and seek out the heights of the post-rational realm, the superconscious (the borders of which make science shrink back suspiciously with statements of ‘metaphysical’ or ‘mystical’), to discern and navigate the contours of human consciousness. Only then can we prepare for the transhuman aeon of transcending the boundaries of human consciousness that will follow.
Steps towards a further ecology of mind:: translative, transformational, transcendental, transhuman
The following ‘progressive stages’ forms a framework for future ‘step(s) towards a further ecology of the mind’ (to borrow from Bateson):
1. Translative consciousness: Newtonian step and repeat thinking; linear; measured consciousness; clear boundaries between subjective and objectives; still evolving; penetrative but not whole-picture awareness; bound, demarcated consciousness.
2. Transformational consciousness: metamemes; conscious metaprogrammes (reference John Lilly’s papers on dolphin research). The self-organizing principles of complexity theory.
3. Transcendental consciousness: e.g. tantra: all layers, all dimensions, simultaneously; ocean of consciousness experience (but with complete awareness and sentience - not a psychedelic, Gnostic or ecstatic, trippy joyride; beyond life and death; connectedness inwardly and outwardly) - the true interpenetrative spirit and possibly the final frontier of human, three-dimensional space-time consciousness. Unbound, fuzzy consciousness. Highest level of complexity and complexification.
4. Transhuman consciousness: boundless multidimensional spacetime. Chaotic random sea of possibilities, probability and potentiality. The pregnant void. The so-called ‘mother’ principle of the Tao. Creative/destructive spirit. Glimpses from the magicospiritual realm; the perspective of the shaman. Emergent transition to consciousness without bounds, immeasurable - the apeiron.
The consciousness that we experience is human consciousness. It is not the totality of consciousness ‘out there’, the totality of consciousness that still has to be experienced or must still be remembered.
Excitatory states of consciousness (the fallacy of mind-body duality)
Consciousness is an excitatory state - a gateway of the mind, e.g. meditation calms one part of the mind which allows a subliminal excitatory state to ‘emerge’ of which you become aware. It (realization, awareness) appears magically (rises up into conscious awareness) as if hidden, from nowhere, therefore the mystical analogies that get contributed to Gnostic and ecstatic states of consciousness. The brain is a fixed state (bound) organic material that has captured or was formed by these excitatory states - interpenetrating the body from boundless reality.
We are the product of this interpenetrative spirit - the apeiron- a boundless excitatory state of potentiality - of interpenetrative matter and spirit.
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