Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Exegesis: Culture Creation in the Age of Upheaval

The point of art for most of human history was magical- culture was about the cult.

The goal of art was to commune with the gods- to create environments in which human beings were surrounded by images of them.
We'll leave aside the obvious parallels with the post-World War II cargo cults and the rest of it (for now at least), because I'm more interested in exploring the cultural aspect of this.

The rise of the Protestant movements in the late Renaissance were accompanied by distinct anti-cultural trends-- the iconoclasts, Biblical literalism, the anti-liturgical movements and so on-- that were in fact the logical precursors to atheism.

What arose from this was an emphasis on legalism and the power of speechmaking that very easily allowed successive generations to peel away from the cult, exactly as what we're seeing in America today and what we will see in the developing world in the future. The Puritans of old New England evolved into the Congregationalists and then into the Unitarians, both of whom are in serious decline today, if not in fact moribund.

The Church was the culture for over a thousand years, until successive technological innovations-- the invention of the printing press foremost among them-- gradually began to chip away at its monopoly. The rise of Protestantism eventually whittled away at the artistic and cultural aspects of Christianity, mostly because the people it tended to attract didn't understand art or music and were primarily concerned with the law, money and most of all, politics.

The Middle Ages weren't much different than Ancient Egypt when it came to the use of the arts in ritual, which is to say magical ritual. Pre-Christian architectural techniques were revived and improved upon in order to create a literal sanctuary (meaning "holy place"), a place where the parishioner directly encountered the supernatural.

Chartres is probably the greatest expression of this, but it's by no means alone. The wealth and relative social harmony of the High Middle Ages gave birth to the artistic movements that would later result in the Renaissance, meaning the rebirth of the old arts, sciences and particularly, the old gods.

The Romans paid lip service to culture, but were always more concerned with the material world and its pleasures. But the massive influx of conquered peoples into the Empire brought all of the Mystery cults with it, as well as a worldwide craze for all things Egyptian. Isis nearly conquered the world, and it was mostly because of her beauty, her rich and complex rituals, and of course all of the art. Isis was a goddess of the senses, a lush, feminine presence in otherwise bleak lives.

Check out this site for more info on this image

No Roman who visited Egypt could come away unimpressed with the art; the sculpture, the paintings, the architecture, the music, the beautiful costumery. It was everywhere, especially in the major metropolises and cult centers. And ALL of it was dedicated to the gods and designed to create Heaven on Earth. To create an environment in which the gods never left, in other words.

The grandeur of Egypt would influence the Greeks and the Romans to upgrade their temples from humble, functional shrines to places like the Temple of Zeus and the Parthenon, where supplicants would be awestruck by enormous, painstakingly rendered depictions of the gods. Clever priests would devise elaborate machines to make these images "speak," using an early type of PA system.

All of this is to say that people in ancient cities were as heavily mediated as we are today. Advertising was everywhere as well, as was grafitti, particularly that of the pornographic variety. It didn't matter that most people couldn't read; they didn't need to. Someone would always be on hand to tell them what all of those hieroglyphs were saying, or at least their own interpretation of them.

As I wrote about in
Our Gods Wear Spandex, modern fandom has recreated all of this. I'm no different- my walls and shelves are cluttered with artworks depicting gods old and new. What this is all about is creating your own sanctuary and creating your own reality.

From time to time you'll see stories on super-collectors; people who spend all of the disposable income on tchotchkes: posters, figurines, collectibles and all of the rest of it in tribute to their respective obsession. This becomes a question of degree; the only difference between these fanatic fans and everyone else is simply their level of commitment.

So we have an ancient and modern analog of cultish devotion,
all in service of creating an alternative to the crushing boredom and endless disappointments of ordinary reality.

We also have the billion dollar advertising and promotion industries working to sell us their clients' alternative reality, a dreamworld in which that popular soft drink isn't just semi-toxic fizzy water but a totem, a kind of amulet guaranteed to summon the good times back into your life.

A delusional state in which that odious bodyspray will get you laid by the hottest chick you've ever seen in your life. Or in which guys who don't drink that light beer that tastes like O'Douls-flavored urine are all homosexuals.

It doesn't end there, of course. It get a lot more insidious and destructive. Those very same agencies also create a world in which anyone who mildly inconveniences --or even looks cross-eyed at-- our plutocracy is a communist or a Muslim or a homosexual (these guys always go for the homophobia fail-safe, whether they're trying to sell beer or a bloodsucking political candidate).

Subsequently, billions upon billions of corporate dollars have been spent pushing Evangelical Protestantism all over the world
as the closest thing there is to a One World Religion on the market today, ensuring a huge labor pool of docile and submissive serfs.

Imagery, music, and other sensual stimulants create realities. What you pay attention to becomes the building blocks of your weltanschauung. Targeted media has accelerated this process, created a multiplicity of microcultures, all certain of their beliefs and all equally certain of the invalidity of the belief system of those who disagree with them. These in turn become schismatic, leading to ever more refined micro-mini-cultures.

In this context, there's no reason at all to ask permission to create your own culture and your own worldview. All of the minicultures out there can wax ecstatic about the shortcomings of their opponent's worldview, all the while ignoring the fact that their own shortcomings are nearly identical, if not identical in their opposition. So don't worry about them at all.

However, what then becomes the aim is efficacy. Sure, you can find a bunch of people to worship some old Sumerian fire goddess or the works of some obscure Italian anarchist philosopher, but does that mean that culture produces the results you're looking for? The great cults rose because they answered the questions of their adherents, producing results if often only in the form of a beatific or tranquilized state.

The great cults fell when the times changed and the old answers stopped applying to new realities. The old pagan cults gave way to the Mystery cults when civilization softened the hard edges of Nature, and the Mystery cults gave way with the rise of the philosophic religions and the challenges of the imperial state. Catholicism gave way to Protestantism with the rise of mercantile capitalism and Protestantism gave way to Evangelicalism with the rise of corporatism and electronic media.

Religion is giving way to Science today only out of a kind of forfeiture, since most sensible people realize that the real power of Science is monopolized by the corporate state. Atheism and skepticism are negatively inspired in that they are reactions to religious fascism. The corporate fascism that Science is the completely submissive handmaiden to is less of a concern to the people gravitating to the movement. But that will surely change. And soon.

We're well into an age of upheaval, a state of flux, of uncertainty. Historically-- specifically, the late Roman republic and the Industrial Revolution-- people gravitated towards belief systems that seem to tame uncertainty while exploiting it. The occult, the Mysteries and so on are expressions of this process.

And this is why mainstream culture has so perfectly co-opted those expressions that we don't even notice anymore. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Walking Dead and World of Warcraft are nothing but a new coat of paint on a very old geek chassis. But they speak to young people in a way that religion or high culture no longer can. The hideous celebrity culture is a fantasy as well-- fake celebrities who are built up by the media solely so they can knocked down again.

You are what you eat, and your worldview is evidenced by the culture you surround yourself with. I won't even get into the magical possibilities of all of this right now. But you can at home.


  1. I woke up the other day hallucinatin, like usual, yelling the Green Man is here scarin the hell out of my Jesus freak of a mother and now my two best friends in the world wont talk to me cuz they think i'ma devil worshippin free mason part of the illuminatti thanx to Eddie Long, etc.

    Thats my way of sayin i really love your blog/books/facebook.

  2. Great post. But whereas media "ritual" like Harry Potter, Twilight, et al., might be deemed the new coat of paint on a very old mystery/occult chassis, isn't the big difference that today's "adherents" are supposed to know that it's not literally real? (Though, I suppose even this is transmogrify given the increasing number of reports that tell of people believing they're vampires, lycanthropes, necromancers, etc).

  3. Does anyone have an idea of what Christopher's outlook on stuff that may seem to be considered new-agey like, energy shifts and 11-11-11 or Dec, 21 2012?

  4. Hey Chris,

    Another very cool and timely post. Your thoughts about culture got me riffing on ideas of the Individual and collective Self. The way you write about culture in this post makes me think of it as the living material of our collective Self. It made me realize that all your recent discussions on magic are intimately interwoven with the idea of returning a quality of lucidity and sacredness to culture.

    After all, if magic is basically the cultivation of the profound usability inherent in the Internal/External relationship - then culture becomes the process of making the external context as fertile as possible for this relationship. In other words, culture is the tended soil in which magic blooms. Surely this is something that the wisest initiates of Old understood?

    And so the desecration and circumscribing of our culture is essentially the act of making the fertile earth increasingly barren. To me, a large part of this has to do with the erosion of lucidity. A sharp insight and dexterity of mind, along with the appreciation of context, is how I would define lucidity. As an example of this loss, how often on websites are people arguing and cussing about some internal conflict or assumption rather than the finer points of the material at hand?

    To me this loss of lucidity is at the heart of this Age of Upheaval, as well as our valiant struggles to reclaim it. I also think this lucidity thing is connected to all the modern 2012, transformation, apotheosis mythology out there. I think it's basically about the reclaiming of a lucidity so powerful that we scarcely dare to imagine it outside the pages of comics and novels.

    I mean, haven't we all had synchronistic experiences that seemed to practically bend space and time around networks of meaning and metaphor? Perhaps then, true high magic is not about the will-to-power kind of parlour tricks we often see in sorcerer tales, but instead its concerned with tilling the earth/culture to the point that a quickening becomes so palpable that ordinary definitions of space-time, reality/fantasy no longer apply. And if you happen to be close enough to this quickening, you can't deny it. It might even affect you by proxy. Or, to paraphrase my own words, 'Subtlety breeds itself.'

    Magic is basically a perpetual-motion machine but it still needs careful tending; otherwise it will slow down to the point of imperceptibility, but it won't stop. It might appear to have stopped, however, to the untrained eye/mind. The darker and and more desolate the soil of culture, the less quick the quickening, if you follow me. Guys like you are trying to pump some juice back into the field, so the magic can quicken and increase its revolutions. Kudos.


  5. Hello sir -
    I always get something from your work - but this one was just Brilliant. Awesome breakdown of culture/ religion/ empire over the ages. Thanks again for the rundown. LOTS of food for thought here.

  6. Interesting content -- you're slaying or attempting to slay all the right demons and ghouls, with advertising/media zombies right up there on the list. And by "right" I mean "deserving of obliteration".

    Agree with much, but not all, of what you say. Wish you'd serve it up in smaller portions though. Lot to digest in one hit.

    I'll be back.

    masterymistery at
    cosmic rapture


  7. This post is great, and captured a lot of the emotions I've been feeling lately.  I've been reading Teilhard de Chardin, and I think he'd agree that the rivers and the lakes of the Noosphere are on fire, which is to say, it is polluted and in danger of choking to death. 

    The most toxic emissions clogging up this Noosphere seem to be spotlighted here at The Secretsun:  popular culture, marketing, xenophobic religious institutions and sects, any American political debate or discussion.  Pornography always seems to get a pass these days, but I feel it has become the cigarette of the Noosphere, a misguided badge of carcinogenic personal freedom.

    Yoga and Magick seem to be the answer, the most effective form of cleansing, more potent forms of medicine than psychoanalysis or modern religion, which, comparitively, functions more like a daily hit of aspirin. 

    Children are taught how to use alcohol by their parents and their surrounding culture.  How are today's children being taught how to use Yoga and Magick?      

  8. Quite the collection of super heros Chris. Being in a circle atop Skinner butte in Eugene Oregon on Friday with wonderful new agers,the wistful comments that went around the circle were amazing. Compassion was heard several times. This is a time for compassion to our species and to the earth, without it nothing is possible.The joy of a loving mind and heart. Shineforth brave souls. Dennis.