Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Inner Republics: Religion, Magic, Science and Synthesis as we approach 2012



Now we are here, now we are conscious, we make a difference. Our presence changes everything[1]
- Philip Pullman, republic of Heaven lecture

Introduction

The truth is a hard thing to pin down. We know the world is nothing like the oligarchs would have us believe. We know there are dark secrets still buried beneath the lie of official history. But how can we really know the secret truths of our world and the agendas of our supposed masters who tirelessly attempt to control our imaginations, thoughts, beliefs and every conceivable aspect of our lives? If they have indeed created a spiritual prison for us, then how do we break free?

Eventually every truth-seeker must attempt to find a synthesis between polarised modes of perception in regards to their beliefs about alternative knowledge, the occult, conspiracy research, religion and science. As a fairly perceptive and open-minded writer I have always found myself attracted to fantasy stories, especially stories concerning the possible existence of other worlds. Some of the examples that most intrigue me fall into the broad classification of children’s literature. Lewis Carroll’s Alice novels, L Frank Baum’s Oz series, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan – all of these texts have nourished my own imagination. For me, these books seem filled with a wonderfully rich and sometimes disturbing humanity. I have always found them to be a good place to start thinking laterally about the hidden truths of our times.

I have also always had an interest in magic, religion and science; all vast subjects that often seem conceptually at odds with each other, and yet strangely interdependent. I’m deeply curious about how humans create systems of meaning furnished with intricate symbolisms. In combining my love of fantasy stories with my intellectual interest in philosophy, religion, metaphysics and conspiracy research I hope to present a personal but thought-provoking post.

Religion and Dissent – questioning the spirit

There are a labyrinthine variety of religious opinions, dogmas and concepts that can be found throughout human history. There are innumerable factions and offshoots and interpretations of any religious system, creating an immense complexity surrounding something as potent as religious belief and the wealth of conflicting opinions that one can hold about it. I would suggest that this is part of the plan.

If such beliefs are not treated with sensitivity then violence and scorn and oppression can erupt, as history attests. It seems that humans often kill for their beliefs about the divine, or kill because another’s beliefs were different. Do the institutions of religion have culpability in the long bloody history of holy wars? Most ‘free-thinking’ individuals might be forgiven for massaging away such a question by suggesting quite rightly that ultimate responsibility for our actions lies with each individual. Yet, the role that the Catholic Church in particular has played in various acts of degradation, corruption and genocide is a little known but inarguable fact of history.

In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of novels, the author doesn’t shy away from the awkward questions concerning the culpability of religious institutions. Whether the trilogy’s nightmarish parallel-version of the Church is simply a literary caricature envisioned in broad strokes, or something more sinisterly truthful (and illuminated), it is still a bold choice by Pullman. I suspect the lack of status attributed to children’s literature allowed him to go further in this direction than would have otherwise been possible. Fantasy stories are often seen as lacking in literary seriousness, especially fantasy writing that is ostensibly written for children. The literary critic Jean Webb comments on this in her essay ‘Genre and Convention’ when she writes:

One wonders whether Philip Pullman’s critique of religious systems in his
trilogy His Dark Materials would have reached publication had he been
“aiming” at an adult market. Would he have been “allowed” to blow up
God? Interestingly, the forthcoming film version has removed this radical
element[2]

It is partially this overlooked quality that continues to draw me to the realm of fantasy literature, especially children’s fantasy literature – where prose is often more succinct, and themes appear more luminous and engaging than in much adult fiction. Kimberley Reynolds is another critic who agrees with this basic assessment and argues that there is ‘abundant textual evidence suggesting that addressing a child removes some of the censors and filters that come in to play when writing for adults’.[3] She goes on to argue that dream-logic, the imaginary and fantasies are all associated with the young and are ‘seen to be more permissible than the rationality assigned to adulthood’ and that children’s literature ‘not only tolerates but embraces genetic mutation’.[4] If Philip Pullman’s partial intent was to satirise and expose Church hypocrisy then he couldn’t have found a better arena in which to do so than children’s fantasy literature.

Pullman’s views on the subject of culpability are decidedly passionate. While he borrows heavily from Christian lore in creating the cosmology of His Dark Materials and obviously finds such imagery beautiful, he is aware of the darkness that religion has wrought upon the earth. He presents the stark truth of this quite economically when he discusses religion in non-fictional terms:

Every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other
people and killing them because they don’t accept him. Wherever you look in
history you find that. It’s still going on[5]


This is a statement with which I thoroughly agree. Again I would attest that this is part of the plan, yet like Pullman I am still drawn to religious imagery and beliefs for their beauty and I am fascinated by the allure that religion has for so many people.

In Pullman’s addition to the literature of Christian dissent, he reveals the Authority as a being who was once a power-crazed angel – the first angel born into existence by the sentient Dust, the very particles of infinite consciousness and possibility. In The Amber Spyglass the Christian Authority is portrayed as a grim and obsolete pretender who at last is allowed dissolution into pure formlessness. With this in mind, I can understand why so many people might have such a problem with Pullman’s series. As with Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost many of the characters are engaged in a seemingly heretical battle against the Christian God, intent on toppling a monarchical kingdom and building a democratic republic in its place. But perhaps there is more here for those interested in topics such as conspiracies, metaphysics, spirituality and indeed the entire ‘truth movement’ that seems to be growing as we approach the mysterious year of 2012.

In Pullman’s novels the heroine, Lyra, has a father named Lord Asriel. He is a provocative depiction of a satanic hero; glamorous, attractive, fiercely intelligent and willing to transgress any and all limitations even at the expense of an innocent child’s life. Towards the end of the first book in the series, Northern Lights, he explains to Lyra that an immensely powerful energy is released when children are cut from their daemons (their souls, anima or animus), but that the Church-appointed General Oblation Board ‘mistook it for shock, or disgust, or moral outrage, and they trained themselves to feel numb towards it. So they missed what it could do, and they never thought of harnessing it’.[6] Asriel wishes to break free of all forms of control that might tether him, and proves willing to kill a child to achieve this – yet it is his amorality combined with his rare flashes of vulnerability that make him such a darkly attractive character. As Lyra muses after listening to Asriel’s revelation, ‘She didn’t love him, she couldn’t trust him, but she had to admire him, and the extravagant luxury he’d assembled in this wasteland, and the power of his ambition’.[7] In his desire for freedom and the forbidden fruits of cosmic knowledge, Asriel murders Lyra’s friend Roger by killing his daemon and succeeds in opening a portal through the Aurora Borealis into another material world. Though his actions are damaging and selfish, he is the character in the series through which readers can explore their wildest, perhaps darkest feelings.

Personally, I see resonances in this character with regards to humanity’s fervent desire to break free of the spiritual, mental and emotional prison that the world’s Elite have created for us. We want tyranny to end, to be utterly free of all sinister influences, and some of us are willing peer into the Abyss in hopes of achieving this. In simpler terms we wish to be sovereign, to shock our slave-masters, to look the monster in the eye. Some of us might become monstrous in the process. We might flirt with darkness when it suggests freedom, strength and emancipation – a way to transcend the duality on which the spiritual prison is built – but we must do so carefully.

Dialectics and Synthesis – recovering the spirit

Taking a very suspicious view of all religion in general, I am nevertheless indebted to them for helping to inspire or shape so many wonderful stories and forms of art. Recognising this fact, I am thus aware of how entangled a binary-system of opposites can be. As literary critics such as Julia Kristeva have acknowledged, it is the liminal area between opposites, where polarities appear strangely interconnected, in which questions are most frightening and alluring. Do I love or hate, am I good or evil, self or other, or somehow both at once? Kristeva highlights a salient fact concerning our internal construction of dualistic oppositions. In Strangers to Ourselves she writes:

By recognising our uncanny strangeness we shall neither suffer from it nor enjoy
it from the outside. The foreigner is within me, hence we are all
foreigners. If I am a foreigner then there are no foreigners[8]


In a spiritual context it is here that the author Philip Pullman might point out that the potential for both sides of a dichotomy exist within us, and that we choose which aspect of the polarity we manifest. Are many of us simultaneously angry with religion (and its illuminated architects) for its monstrous control while attracted to its stories that help shape our inner worlds? I suspect Pullman, like myself, is one of these people.

After first reading His Dark Materials in its entirety I found myself attracted to the theological idea that Pullman utilises; that humanity’s fall from grace was a fortunate one. The heroine Lyra is thus figured as a liberating Eve, a bringer of consciousness rather than sin. For me, as someone who does not subscribe to Christian dogma, the idea of Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge has always been thrilling and courageous – a good thing for humanity in the sense that we must lose our innocence in order to cultivate wisdom through experience. A writer named Millicent Lenz echoes this sentiment when discussing the influence of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell on Pullman’s trilogy. Lenz argues:

Pullman also draws heavily upon William Blake’s dialectic of contraries:
innocence/experience, heaven/hell, as well as what this dialectic implies – that
the soul must pass through the fallen world to achieve its salvation in a new,
higher innocence, thereby fitting it to enter the New Jerusalem of the redeemed
imagination[9]

We might figure this idea in more psychological terms, as facing the possible shadow-self that may exist in an underworld of denied experience. We must face the shadow, or death, or exile from the garden, (or the Illuminati, or the alien force they may serve) in order to know who we really are. Perhaps this is important in achieving a sense of internal synthesis and self-governance. As the psychologist James Hillman comments:

If we do speak in opposites, there is only one absolute material opponent to any
position in life, and that is its death. If we deliteralize that statement
we are saying that death is the way through the opposites, that is, it is the
self-regulation of any position by psyche, by non-literal, metaphorical
perception[10]

When I was a child I sensed that the Eden story was somehow a powerful and disturbing idea, and while not fully understanding its symbolism, I felt that eating the forbidden fruit was the only logical thing for Eve to do. To my young mind it seemed Adam and Eve were prisoners in the garden; that they were owned by a god (whatever a god was) who thought of them as slaves, or worse, as pets. I was secretly glad they ate the apple. This interpretation of the Eden myth is entirely my own, based on a vague childlike intuition that I was not being told the unvarnished truth. I simply did not believe in the existence of the cold, joyless God that seemed implied by the story. Millicent Lenz quotes the theologian Mathew Fox, who succinctly argues:

Joy beyond measure is a part of everyone’s potential experience. It is
part of recovering an erotic God who plays, takes pleasure, births, celebrates,
and feels passion. Eros and hope are part of the blessings of existence[11]


This is a view that resonates with me personally. Surely this above all else is what our illuminated masters fear the most – because a slave who feels joy will soon take pleasure in questioning authority, will not fear death or the whip, and will eventually rise up and take back his sovereignty.

Magic and Science – the indeterminacy of the spirit

There is a vast canon of magical lore that is worldwide and thousands of years older than the patriarchal Christian God. There is much evidence to suggest that Christian imagery and concepts have their genesis in far older forms of occult mythology. When most westerners think of paganism they could be forgiven for imagining ‘primitive’ fertility cults or ‘uncivilised’ forms of nature-based ritual. Pantheistic belief-systems are often scorned at this time in human history when monotheism has such a powerful hold.

There were many magical traditions that viewed the universe as a sentient multidimensional consciousness – including Wicca, Taoism, the I-Ching and many forms of tribal shamanism. Even in monotheistic religion we find echoes of this idea in mystical religious sects – the Christian Gnostics, the Jewish Cabbalists, the Islamic Sufis; all of which discuss a general philosophy of interdependence and an underlying unity to all things.

This living consciousness was seen as fundamentally connected to the individual and collective psyche. In His Dark Materials Pullman figures this unitary consciousness as Dust itself – the subatomic interconnection from which all possibility is generated. In The Amber Spyglass the ex-nun turned quantum physicist Mary Malone finally recognises this awesome truth; that ‘the whole universe was alive, and that everything was connected to everything else by threads of meaning’.[12] Mary realises that the magic of antiquity and the theoretical scientific possibility of dark matter are the same thing, different belief-systems recognising the same process. She comes to understand what will happen without the life-giving action of consciousness:

Thought, imagination, feeling, would all wither and blow away, leaving nothing
but a brutish automatism; and that brief period when life was conscious of
itself would flicker out like a candle in every one of the billions of worlds
where it had burned brightly[13]


Is this the Endgame for those who endeavour to control and enslave us? I’d imagine it is something very much like it. With Philip Pullman’s concept in mind, we could argue that the dominance of monotheistic theology brought about a fundamental internal schism within each and every one of us. The responsibility for producing individual and cultural meaning slipped from our hands into the stead of an externalised authority. The pantheon was suppressed and a singular presence ruled in its place (the Vengeful God, the Illuminated Insider, the Eye at the apex of the Pyramid). If the interdependent pantheon of older gods, goddesses, spirits and archetypes served some valuable psycho-symbolic function in the minds of men and women (in a similar vein to Pullman’s Dust), then it’s conceivable that a period of disconnect, confusion and desperation has indeed followed such a loss.

Perhaps recent discoveries in the cutting-edge field of quantum physics are a manifestation of humanity’s attempt to recover what was lost, much like Mary Malone tries to do in Pullman’s epic tale. A quick internet search will reveal that the subject of quantum physics is becoming more pertinent on websites dedicated to conspiracy research and occult/esoteric subjects. Just how deep does the rabbit hole go? Much of quantum theory is based round the EPR correlation and Bell’s theorem; the mathematical suggestion of an unavoidable synthesis that exists at the subatomic level of matter, a mysterious interconnection in which everything is linked to everything else in a way that negates space and time.[14] This is sometimes referred to as ‘non-locality’, or the ‘wave/particle duality’. At a subatomic level the particles that compose physical matter also possess a wave function – these supposedly fixed, discreet units can also smear themselves across the entire continuum of space and time like a wave of non-physical energy. How and why this non-locality occurs at the subatomic level is a subject of furious critical debate. There are various interpretations of quantum theory, including the many-worlds hypothesis utilised by Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials series, and the Copenhagen Interpretation which suggests that nothing exists without consciousness creating it through the act of observation.[15] The debate rages on in the field, but the implications are clear – there is perhaps a closer connection between the mysticism of antiquity and the discoveries of modern science than we may have thought possible.

The psychologist Carl Jung pre-empts this discovery of non-locality when he discusses the phenomenon of synchronicity as ‘the simultaneous occurrence of meaningful equivalences in heterogeneous, causally unrelated processes’ and goes on to suggest that ‘it follows either that the psyche cannot be localised in time, or that space is relative to the psyche’.[16] Jung adds enigmatically that ‘it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing’.[17]

For me, the idea that consciousness is the mysterious potential from which psychological and physical reality both arise is a delicious one. Perhaps the field of conspiracy research and the ‘truth movement’ will finally blossom when enough people can digest and comprehend such potentially liberating ideas. I would suggest that for those we call the Illuminati (or their alien/demonic masters), any potentially liberating idea will be thought of as dangerous. I for one am happy to be thought of as a dangerous slave, until the shackles come off for good. I don’t believe that we are slaves, but the architects of this prison certainly do. Let’s surprise and frighten them, and show them that we’re not house-niggers any longer.

Conclusions

In fields of enquiry as vast as conspiracies, religion, magic and science, what can we really know in absolute definitive terms? It seems that recent discoveries in science are threatening the ontological certainty of material realism itself. If there is some aspect of physical matter that is ‘unreal’, or non-local and holographic, then what does this mean with regards to the human imagination and the power it seems to possess? Perhaps the human imagination is intimately linked with the realm where dreams, magic, spirits and archetypes were said to reside (and perhaps aliens and angels and demons) – and perhaps what we think of as material reality is simply our conscious reflections of that fabled realm. I think that we as individuals and as a society need to explore this basic indeterminacy of meaning. While it may be unsettling to some, I suspect it is a healthy and necessary part of conscious life. I would suggest it is enriching to push against the limits of any intellectual, religious or spiritual absolute, to transgress close-mindedness so that we might become more inclusive and insightful individuals. For me, when I read an interesting essay or an enjoyable piece of fiction I realise that I am separate and yet connected to something much larger than myself. In these moments I sense that there is an almost mystical unity behind the vast process of life and perception.

As Lyra ponders with awe in The Subtle Knife, ‘What were these mysteries? Was there only one world after all, which spent its time dreaming of others?’[18]

[1] Quoted in Nicholas Tucker’s Darkness Visible – Inside the World of Philip Pullman (Cambridge: Wizard, 2003), p. 175.
[2] Jean Webb, ‘Genre and Convention’ in Charles Butler, ed., Teaching Children’s Fiction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), pp. 60-84, p. 75
[3] Kimberley Reynolds, Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 16.
[4] Ibid., p. 16.
[5] Quoted in Nicholas Tucker’s Darkness Visible – Inside the World of Philip Pullman (Cambridge: Wizard, 2003), p. 128.
[6] Philip Pullman, Northern Lights (1995; London: Scholastic, 2005), p. 380.
[7] Ibid., p. 380
[8] Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1992), p. 192.
[9] Peter Hunt, Millicent Lenz, Alternative Worlds in Fantasy Fiction (London: Continuum, 2001), p. 125.
[10] James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 79.
[11]Peter Hunt, Millicent Lenz, Alternative Worlds in Fantasy Fiction, p. 137.
[12] Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass (2000; London: Scholastic, 2005), p. 454.
[13] Ibid., p. 457.
[14] For a more complete account of these concepts I would suggest John Bell’s ‘On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox’, in Physics, 1 : 195-200, and J. Clauser, A. Shimony, ‘Bell’s theorem: Experimental tests and implications’, in Reports on Progress in Physics, 41 : 1881.
[15] For a thought-provoking exploration of these ideas I would suggest reading Werner Heisenberg’s seminal works The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory (New York: Dover, 1930) and Physics and Philosophy (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), together with Niels Bohr’s Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (New York: Wiley, 1963).
[16]Carl Jung, in J. Campbell (ed.), The Portable Jung (New York: Viking, 1971), p. 518.
[17]Ibid., p. 518.
[18] Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife (1997; London: Scholastic, 2005), p. 77.

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