Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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.