Cults of One


In his latest post, Gordon quotes Hansen and the relationship between the Paranormal and Religion. Let me just say that I read Hansen's book and enjoyed it but the whole "Trickster" thing gives me a headache, since it all too easily becomes a RAW-type way to say nothing and sound like you're saying something unbearably profound. 

Hansen himself often comes across as the Trickster, trying to skirt the edges of scholastic propriety while still playing with his paranormal toys. A cake-and-eat-it kind of proposition. There's a lot of that around, as you are probably all too aware:
The trickster unifies major, but seemingly unrelated, themes surrounding the paranormal. For instance, the paranormal is frequently connected with deception, and deceit is second nature to the trickster. Psychic phenomena gain prominence in times of disruption and transition. Tricksters are found in conditions of transition. The paranormal has a peculiar relationship with religion; the trickster was part of many early religions, and he was viewed ambivalently. The statuses of paranormal phenomena are typically uncertain or marginal in a variety of ways. Tricksters’ statuses are similar. [The Trickster and the Paranormal.]
Gordon, as usual, cuts out the bullshit and gets to the core of the matter:
Only rarely does the numinous, the extradimensional, appear in such a fashion that an operational framework can be built out of it. Attempts to scale what are effectively personal Mystery experiences into group structures always create monstrous, octoparrot abortions. Just look at Christianity.
To which I would simply add this: Which Christianity, though? Christianity was a boiling cauldron of mutually hostile sects until one of those sects- the one led by the so-called "Bishop of Rome"- was chosen to be groomed as the cult of state by the Emperor Constantine. It split into two in the Middle Ages and then into several Christianities during the Reformation. 

The Christianity practiced by Roman Catholics has undergone several major revisions over the past two millennia, so much so that the versions would be incomprehensible to one another. Even the practice of the Mass is changed. And you can be certain- without lapsing into Ehrmanian revisionism- that the Roman Christianity of the Fourth Century would be incomprehensible to the primitive Levantine Christianity of the First.

Gordon is spot on- it is almost impossible to create a group entity out of what is essentially a personal experience. The Mysteries themselves were content to provide a venue for shared personal experience- see Samothrace and Eleusis. It wasn't until the macho Mithraists rolled into town that things got all structurey, with ranks and poobahs and rituals of endurance. 

It's pretty hard to imagine the Bacchants taking roll or going through any kind of high ritual motions (high ritual being the kind of endless pageantry you see at the state cults, the deadly boring stuff you still see the European royals run through).

The other problem you have with coalescing along these shared experiences are the inevitable tourists and wannabes. I imagine this was/is a major problem with the abductee movement. People want to belong, people want to have unusual experiences. The fact that many abductees report their experiences as traumatic is no problem, you can find just as many others who claim they were angelic.

But any field of human activity is going to face the same problem, especially when it becomes fashionable. It isn't just occult groups that have to deal with internal dissension. Anyone who's paid attention to the ongoing civil wars in the skeptic community should realize that (you can add in other civil wars I'm missing in the comments). 

The sad fact is that groups are usually only successful when led by a strong, charismatic figurehead who has access to money. You can have one or the other but you really need both.

The Internet has made everyone a super-genius and expert at everything so getting anyone to join a group- in which they'd have to submit to the will and/or discipline of an organization and its leadership is almost unimaginable these days unless money is involved. 

Indeed, there are all kinds of phony "grassroots" groups out there, most of which are astroturf entities funded by politically motivated billionaires like George Soros and the Koch Brothers. Their "members" are pliable college grads who are either interns or wage slaves. And there are the usual pressure groups out there, which consist of a letterhead, a mailing list and a few slick operators who don't want real jobs.

Globalism and the ubiquity of the media have done a number on civic consciousness, which is really the prime motivator behind movements and groups. I think there was a genuine threat posed by the various Occupy movements- for about 5 minutes in 2011, but TPTB cannily unleashed the social justice warrior virus into the mainstream, which at this writing is well on its way to completely atomizing liberalism and liberal society into countless thousands of hostile nano-identities. They rolled out of prototypes of this after the Yippies caused trouble in the late 60s and again after the turmoil of the early 90s but I think they're playing for keeps this time.

The ironic thing about the paranormal is that once you peel away the cultural accretions you're dealing with the same basic types of phenomena. And as much as occultists and pagans hate to hear it and will scream and rend their garments when you point it out, UFOs have always been at the center of weirdness. Start at Babylon and work your way up- you'll soon see.

If there's another Fatima-type event (which is to say a mass paranormal event), I think all bets are off and all outstanding loans will be called in. You'll see an explosion of cults and sects such as the world has never seen. But in the meantime I think cults of one are what we'll be seeing for the time being.

17 comments:

  1. Some good stuff here Chris.

    On the subject of elite meddling, I think the last group to really get a clue in America are our friends the liberals and progressives – those smart, educated, privileged, well-meaning folks who can’t imagine that they could ever be played for fools by a more Machiavellian elites (and more aggressive leftists). I see this all the time – college liberals are such sheep-like dupes, so easily manipulated, such tools of Archonic forces, yet somehow they get the good-guy badges in our society (more likely they give them to themselves). This is the group that artists and culture creators need to go after, and stop giving a free pass in favor of those dreaded “right winger” straw men.

    Also, it’s nice to see Robert Anton Wilson come in for some criticism. I mean, the guy’s books are fun, and he covered a lot of interesting memes, but what did he say that was of any lasting potency? That people live in reality tunnels? Is that really such a revelation? In a post-internet era where the memes he borrowed are all a mouse click away, RAW (like his friend Tim Leary) increasingly seems like a relic of another time.

    If there’s a “counter-culture” in 2015, surely it has to be at least as anti-liberal as anti-conservative -- they’re both part of the same apparatus of imperial control as far as I’m concerned (in fact liberals are much better at both the social control game and the imperialism game, which is why they are so dangerous). There is a conservative counter-culture emerging, mostly as a reaction to the Stalinist overreach of the social justice warriors, which isn’t exactly my cup of tea but is certainly understandable. For me, the leftist/atheist/tech/plutocracy axis represents the absolute nadir of human spiritual possibility, which needs to be resisted by everyone with a living soul.

    As for UFOs and tricksters, I agree with Hanson that they gain prominence in times of disruption and deception. I find Sufi traditionalist Charles Upton’s idea – that UFOs are a sign of the fraying of the present metaphysical order, and the penetration of dark forces into our world at the end of the Kali Yuga, which is being actively being abetted by agents of the “Counter-Initiation” (e.g Crowley & Parsons) – to at least be an interesting thesis worthy of consideration. (see for example http://www.sophiaperennis.com/uncategorized/ufos-mass-mind-control-and-the-awliya-al-shaytan-by-charles-upton-an-update-of-cracks-in-the-great-wall-ufos-and-traditional-metaphysics-sophia-perennis-2005/ )

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    1. There are two RAWs- the RAW of Cosmic Trigger, and the unfortunate alcoholic RAW of garbage like Everything is Under Control. It's a shame. I think his drinking got the best of him and took all his mojo away. I apologize but I found that Upton article to be poorly argued and filled with basic errors of fact. It's also a religious tract for more of the same old, same old. Traditionalists think they can turn back the clock just a bit to the arbitrary time of their choosing but don't realize the basic fundamentals will lead everyone exactly back where we all are now. It just may take a little longer. Linear thinking produces linear results.

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  2. Four or five years ago, I’d cheerfully scoff at folk who used the ‘trickster’ as a panacea for every mystery and unexplained experience. To be fair, I still do! At the same time, it’s a concept that I find increasingly useful for discussing these topics. Maybe it’s a sign of destructuring and threadbare liminality? Maybe I’ve lost my way or mistaking wayward cognitive functioning for insight? The panacea proponents would claim to have the answers and yet they often miss the point that ‘trickster’ is only a placeholder to aid discussions about anomalies and outliers.

    Your article implies an irony that’s lost on most. They don’t always recognise that labelling the unknown is an act of applying order to what they insist is marginal chaos or unbridled creativity.

    There are two out-dated and underused metaphors that might usefully frame these assertions. We’re essentially discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or trying to define the meaning of a Rorschach blot. Without trying to sound all ‘Zen,’ who can define what angels, pins or ink-blot images mean in any consensual, definitive way?

    ‘Cults of one,’ in this context, can lead people to apply someone else’s perceptive overlay to what’s ‘unknown’ by nature and unwittingly obfuscate their own subjective understanding. In basic terms, just because someone says it’s so doesn’t mean it is.

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    1. Well maybe that's the Trickster's trick- if it's used as a panacea than nothing is actually learned, nothing gets accomplished. I often hear people use the term so promiscuously you wonder if they truly respect the power of the idea in the first place. It's time for a rethink.

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  3. I know of one potentially cultish phenomenon growing incrementally out there in cyberville some here probably know well: The study of what’s termed media fakery- The digits and dots that replaced exposed emulsion has spawned a new movement in the forensic examination of what corporate media is passing off as real time reality- Attendant to this is a mass of historical revision which, among other things, has put orthodox science on the stand (I found National Geographic’s latest cover story amusing in that they felt this questioning needed a polite, somewhat condescending reprimand)- The flat Earthers alluded to a few posts ago have sprung from this question everything mentality- The temples for this movement are public forums, complete with a nominal initiation/vetting, hierarchies of moderators/administrators, core beliefs and blasphemies which merit excommunication- I can’t say corporate media didn’t have it coming and some of the findings have been compelling, but new ideas take some time getting used to and impatience breeds excess and can stinktify everything in the vicinity-

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    1. NatGeo doesn't dream of acknowledging the rampant fraud and fakery that is being exposed in science, nor the fact that every single scientist in the world is ultimately a tool of the power structure and its whims. It's why I call Associated Press "American Pravda." We're in soft Soviet times to be sure.

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  4. I've really struggled with being able to compare seeing an alien with seeing an angel or spirit but I can now. When you bind it all together it makes sense. Maybe there's a battle between good and evil going on in more than one dimension. So much to explore I guess. Thanks for this, it's fantastic.

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    1. Being able to tell the difference is the name of the game, I suppose...

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  5. What I like about the entheogenic center I've started to attend is that there is no central ethos or tenet, but rather an emphasis on personal experience. Every session has a different theme, ranging from Hinduism to the Virgin Mary, and there are shrines to all sorts of gods and spirits, but there is no ritual (except of course what is necessary to have a good "rubbering", as they call it - meditation, peaceful mantras, etc). There's no "if you're not with us you're against us" mentality - as a matter of fact, I don't think I'd ever felt more welcome by a group of strangers. There is a lot of respect for subjectivity, and no one will impose on you unless you are showing signs of distress. It was unlike anything I've seen before - which frankly was an enormous relief for me, because even the very open-minded spiritists tend to be rather dogmatic (which is exactly what turned me off from spirituality in my first 25 years of life)

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    1. That's awesome. My only caveat is that I think really impressive results come from focus and from dedicating yourself to an idea and doggedly pursuing it. It's a power all its own.

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    2. Indeed - as a very Piscean man focus is probably my biggest stumbling block. Another downside of globalism, if you ask me

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    3. "...really impressive results come from focus and from dedicating yourself to an idea and doggedly pursuing it." This should be carved over the doorway of every "spiritual center" in the US, and I'm speaking as a ten year veteran of one. A person can spend their life sampling from the spiritual smorgasbord without every venturing very far past the threshold of any of the samples, and many do. You summed up a useful alternative in three sentences. Thanks.

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    4. Ah, the spiritual supermarket. I noticed that at Esalen, the pick and choose approach that fits right in with the needs of consumer culture. I have to say that watching a bunch of non-Native upper income people in a sweat lodge aroused some uncharitable feelings. Those traditions exist for a reason and serve a long-held cultural purpose. They can't be absconded for a weekend retreat.

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  6. I made it through a little more than half of that book before I felt my brain being sucked into the loop of the author saying the same things over and over, while telling myself it couldn't go on like this for the remainder. I lost faith. Was interesting enough to begin with but I had to set it down and not sure I'll ever pick it back up to finish. Hats off to those that did.

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    1. I won't blame you. It's a scholarly text and is written for that audience. It did get to be tough sledding, I can't argue that.

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  7. Hey Chris,

    A very interesting and timely post. You know, the myth of Narcissus is perhaps often used as a synecdoche of our contemporary selfie-obsessed culture, but I think that myth is indeed pertinent. Born of a nymph and a river god, Narcissus’ obsession with his own imagined beauty ends in his drowning. From water he came and to water he returned, like humanity perhaps. It’s pretty resonant stuff, I think.

    Your point about fragmented nano-identities is very lucid. We live in an age where the virtual is colonizing ever more of the actual. Gloss, syntheticism, gentrification – our skin, our souls, our societies. Establishmentarians masquerading as subversives, each and every counterculture co-opted. I think this nihilism and self-absorption (and the loss of civic consciousness you mention) is also an expression of individualism gone to seed. Mercenary consciousness masquerading as unapologetic self-expression. Hence the proliferation of sociopaths, psychosis and sexual abuse among the demigod predator-elites. And the trickle-down thought-contagions that such a situation promotes. After all, humans have always imitated the gods.

    This might be slightly off-topic, but I was recently reading about the erotic fascination certain women have with serial killers; that they cite his willingness to kill as intoxicatingly attractive – a disturbing blurring of sexuality and violence in which his capacity to kill becomes hers by proxy. An emptying out of things, or people, as a way of enforcing your own will. Authenticity by proxy. I think it’s this particular kind of amorality that accounts for the way the paranormal is treated too. Transcendence by proxy. A kind of neo-colonial impulse to tame the wildness by imposing your own, barely disguised; our own imperiousness and atrocities viewed as some kind of grotesque romantic idealism. Demystifying and gutting the High Strange, piecemeal and with no reverence, is to be expected. Who cares what IS in a culture/psyche that only values what APPEARS to be?

    To talk about how the Imagination is being colonized by the predator-elites only gets you labelled as a troublemaker, or even a painfully unhip conservative with a small C, bemoaning the good old days. It’s in these cognitive gulfs that the mind and soul scrambles for purchase, finding only deceit or useless atomised narratives. And so it plunges even deeper into distraction, surfaces and nonsense, in some silent prayer that it will all become meaningful somehow. But without bedrock, without tenacity or underworld or the paranormal, things collapse, fragment, implode. Pop will eat itself, if it’s not nourished by true expressions of the soul, of human will under duress and fighting to maintain integrity despite everything. If personal signifiers are replaced with gentrified universality, in counterculture generally or the paranormal specifically, then we might never understand what lies before us. The mainstreamers and hangers-on and vulture capitalists ALWAYS have to turn intimacy and magic into product in order to sell it. Revile and ridicule the cutting-edge, whilst surreptitiously milking the mind of the shaman or the creative or the ‘experiencer’ and then sell back that cutting-edge as taxidermy. Approved Revelations of Dead Light.

    Yeah, so those are my thoughts. Apologies if they don’t seem as tightly focused as normal. This stuff is painful. Maybe I just need a hit of old-school astrognostic sci-fi to take the edge off. Great work as ever, brother.

    Peace

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  8. Well, I think it's always important to keep your own imagination your own, which is always a struggle. It's important to stay focused on your own goals, which is hard enough as the everyday world makes demands. But at the same time I wonder if we are losing something vital by losing sight of shared goals. Divide and rule is thrust upon us every minute of every day- it is easier to retreat into yourself. But maybe this is just another incarnation of the Me Generation and that something will inflict itself on our shared narcissism and force us to actually look at one another again.

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