notes from the ever-emerging field
I hold the most archaic values on earth … the fertility of the soul, the magic of the animals, the power-vision in solitude…. the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back— Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
The idea there is that we have gone sick by following a path of untrammelled rationalism, male dominance, attention to the visible surface of things, practicality, bottom-line-ism. We have gone very, very sick. And the body politic, like any body, when it feels itself to be sick, it begins to produce antibodies, or strategies for overcoming the condition of dis-ease. And the 20th century is an enormous effort at self-healing. Phenomena as diverse as surrealism, body piercing, psychedelic drug use, sexual permissiveness, jazz, experimental dance, rave culture, tattooing, the list is endless. What do all these things have in common? They represent various styles of rejection of linear values. The society is trying to cure itself by an archaic revival, by a reversion to archaic values. So when I see people manifesting sexual ambiguity, or scarifying themselves, or showing a lot of flesh, or dancing to syncopated music, or getting loaded, or violating ordinary canons of sexual behaviour, I applaud all of this; because it’s an impulse to return to what is felt by the body – what is authentic, what is archaic – and when you tease apart these archaic impulses, at the very centre of all these impulses is the desire to return to a world of magical empowerment of feeling. And at the centre of that impulse is the shaman: stoned, intoxicated on plants, speaking with the spirit helpers, dancing in the moonlight, and vivifying and invoking a world of conscious, living mystery. That’s what the world is. The world is not an unsolved problem for scientists or sociologists. The world is a living mystery: our birth, our death, our being in the moment – these are mysteries. They are doorways opening on to unimaginable vistas of self-exploration, empowerment and hope for the human enterprise. And our culture has killed that, taken it away from us, made us consumers of shoddy products and shoddier ideals. We have to get away from that; and the way to get away from it is by a return to the authentic experience of the body – and that means sexually empowering ourselves, and it means getting loaded, exploring the mind as a tool for personal and social transformation. The hour is late; the clock is ticking; we will be judged very harshly if we fumble the ball. We are the inheritors of millions and millions of years of successfully lived lives and successful adaptations to changing conditions in the natural world. Now the challenge passes to us, the living, that the yet-tobe- born may have a place to put their feet and a sky to walk under; and that’s what the psychedelic experience is about, is caring for, empowering, and building a future that honours the past, honours the planet and honours the power of the human imagination. There is nothing as powerful, as capable of transforming itself and the planet, as the human imagination. Let’s not sell it straight. Let’s not whore ourselves to nitwit ideologies. Let’s not give our control over to the least among us. Rather, you know, claim your place in the sun and go forward into the light. The tools are there; the path is known; you simply have to turn your back on a culture that has gone sterile and dead, and get with the programme of a living world and a re-empowerment of the imagination.
Freud, of course, began the project of psychoanalysis with the study of hypnosis, a kind of interaction between subjects that has been dismissed by many as a parlour game of manipulation. Freud would later distance himself from hypnosis as the origin of psychoanalysis; he argued that hypnosis was tyrannical and did not lend itself to scientific explanation. Freud moved from suggestion to free association, attempting to “free” the patient from the tyranny of suggestion. Freud examined hypnosis as a form of communication that operates prior to the formation of meaning.
Hypnosis has been discussed as a kind of magic, an art of illusion. Some ancient Greeks felt language in general functioned this way, that even the everyday use of language was a kind of magical incantation that produced results by acting directly on the world, leading the soul,* inducing trance and movement, shaping reality. Verbal inspiration was seen by the Greeks as a kind of divine possession rather than as the conscious product of self-aware human genius. It’s useful to recall that the Greeks did not hold “magic” in contempt, or denigrate “belief” as superstition. And why should they? Schutzman points out that “This economy of ‘faith’ which we are so quick to devalue is really very much the same as the economy of evidence, which we are so quick to valorize.”
Chris Chesher has coined the phrase “invocational media” to describe computer technology. The computer functions as a kind of magical device; the human user does not “talk to the computer” but rather issues commands which change the nature of reality. While all technology is to a certain extent invocatory, computers invoke “programmed sequences of instructions, where the results of one invocation become inputs for others. They are open not only to inputs from outside through peripherals, but to distant events through networks and to records from the past on databases. This combination of components exponentially expands the range of invocations that become articulable.” The “associative indexing” available through the technology of hypertext allows us to navigate vast amounts of data with such strings of invocation. “There is no fundamental difference,” Chesher continues, “between a poet invoking the Muses for inspiration, and me invoking a search engine for material to use in this talk.”
The challenge to scholarship offered by works such as the exhibits before us is the challenge of the magic of language in the ancient world. These works don’t just operate at the level of meaning and signification (although of course they do that); they also operate at a level that is prior. All communication, of course, operates on this level, but not all communication attempts to interrupt the level of signification with this appeal to the multiple and interconnected nature of subjectivity. “[H]umanity is not constituted of isolated beings, but made up of communications among them; we are never given, even to ourselves, except in a network of communications with others: we bathe in communication, we can be reduced to this incessant communication, whose absence we feel in the very depths of our solitude” (Bataille, 250-2). There are no subjects; there is only the network, and it is us.
Who is this trickster archetype, the one who inspires such mixed
feelings and brouhaha? Trickster has been with us from the
beginning. Trickster will be there at the ending. (If there is an
ending, Trickster will probably trigger it). Trickster is a creator,
a transformer, a joker, a truth teller, a destroyer.
Whoever has created a dance, a song, written a ritual, tailor-made a
job, birthed a child or invented a game has partaken of a controlled
Trickster energy. After all, in Northwest Native and Inuit
tradition, Raven created the world; Loki is known to the Norse as a
co creator (and the bringer of Ragnarok); Anansi the spider-trickster
among the Ashanti of Ghana and Nareau the spider in Micronesia;
Coyote among the Southwest Natives —these are the creator aspects of
this wild and uncontrolled energy. Trickster often begins in the
void, desiring to bring Order out of Chaos; once Order is imposed,
however, Trickster represents the breaking free of negative power
from the Universal Order of things.
As a shape-shifter, Trickster is all things to all people, at one
time or another, and often simultaneously. Of course Trickster is a
creator and a destroyer. Sure he’s a family man and a vagabond.
Naturally he gives fire to humans and then steals their food before
they can cook it. This is his style; when he acts out of
selfishness, everyone benefits — Maui of the Thousand Tricks might
snare the Sun to slow it down, making life easier for humans, but he
did it so his mother would have more time to cook for him. When he
acts out of altruism, there’s most always a negative effect —Marawa,
a Lou Costello prototype from Banks Island carved human figures from
wood and put them in the ground so they would grow and be strong;
however, they merely rotted and death came into the world of humans.
This shape- shifter not only moves from shape to shape, but from
world to world. Number Eleven suffered at the hands of death to free
his brothers; his brothers then took his lifeless body away and
revived him. In the Winnebago cycle, Trickster dies three times and
returns to life three times. In just one collection of Coyote
stories, Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping With His Daughter, Coyote
dies of a snake bite, a gunshot, an arrow wound, a broken heart, a
rock-fall and a drowning; this resembles nothing so much as a
Trickster fuzzes the lines between Male and Female, between cunning
and stupidity (in one story Coyote steals a horse, in another he
almost drowns trying to eat some berries reflected in a stream),
between wisdom and stupidity. Trickster tells us the truth about our
selves, showing us with truth and wit the sides of our nature that we
may be more comfortable not acknowledging; he’s the one who points at
the Emperor’s nakedness, he’s Lenny Bruce and Ashleigh Brilliant, Ken
Kesey and Uncle Remus, Opus, Geech, Tom Robbins, Abbie Hoffman, Don
Becker, Weird Al Yankovich and David Letterman, holding up a skewed
mirror of reality for us to look into. Among the Aztecs, as serious
a culture as this continent has ever seen, Ueuecoyotl, a funny and
outrageously unacceptable clown figure; in the Southwest, at serious
rituals, he’s the Koshare speeding around the circle with tickling
feathers and rattle, being ignored completely by the priest.
Trickster shines on as a culture bringer: Prometheus steals fire for
his poor stunted creations, and pays a terrible and eternal price for
his philanthropy. Loki also steals fire for humans, as do Anansi,
Raven, Coyote, Maui; so far I have found no less than seventeen
stories from different cultures on this theme. Anansi tricked
Nyankopon the Sky-God out of his stories and gave them to the humans.
Clat, from Banks Island, taught humans how to sleep.
In the stories of the Ashanti, Anansi invented the tar-baby as a ruse
to trap an elemental spirit, but in the Native American stories,
Coyote is trapped by a tar-baby set up by a farmer. Actually the
farmer had caught a rabbit with his tar-baby, but Coyote happened
along and asked Rabbit what he was doing there. “The farmer who owns
this field got mad at me because I wouldn’t eat his melons, so he
stuck me here and said he’d come back and make me eat chicken.”
Rabbit replies, “But I told him I wouldn’t do it.” Of course, greedy
Coyote extricates Rabbit and wraps himself around the tar-baby where
he still his when the farmer comes out and shoots him.
So this is the Trickster, the energy that allows us to break out of
our stereotypes, whether they’ve been imposed by ourselves, our
families, our culture. This is the energy that opens the world of
limitless possibilities and it behooves us all to work with it before
it destroys us, to touch the Trickster as he touches us.
………..from RMPJ, Oct.’86
JN: Western models tend to pathologize the two highest chakras, so that if a person were to open to such levels, even for a moment, his or her experience would either be ignored or characterized as some form of mental illness. In fact, when an individual’s psyche prematurely opens to these higher chakras, the conscious energies involved can be extremely disruptive — perhaps even triggering a severe life crisis. It is the difference between, say, madness and creative genius. But my point is this: there are many artists, poets, and sages who do tap into this level of creative or divine inspiration who are not mad, although they may seem so to persons centered at the lower chakras. There are others who could become so distraught by their inspirational visions as to commit suicide. Ann Sexton and Hemingway might be such examples, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, who seemed content to drink himself to death.
I think that it is essential for psychiatrists to reevaluate these individuals and to find better ways to understand the spiritual struggles that can ensue within profoundly gifted people. We need to distinguish spiritual awakenings from personality disorders, rather than obliterating the potentially liberating experience through drugs and inappropriate therapy.
MW: There are a number of physicians like Robert Turner and Francis Lu who are trying to get the American Psychiatric Association to include psychoreligious and psychospiritual problems in their diagnostic manual. With over three decades of clinical observation and research, the need for such a change seems overwhelmingly valid.
The near-death experience is an example of a situation that falls outside our current medical understanding, yet has been substantially documented as a potentially valid growth experience. But it is difficult to change the system.
JN: I have discussed these new diagnostic developments with Drs. Lu and Turner, and I support their efforts to persuade our traditional colleagues to officially recognize them, although we can expect considerable resistance, particularly if we attempt to introduce those notions that are addressed in the two highest chakras, which fall outside of the paradigms of Western medicine. For instance, at the sixth chakra level we begin to see the emergence of psychic and parapsychological phenomena: ESP, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis — all of which have been scientifically validated in university laboratories. But a person who has brief access to these levels is often considered delusional or mad.
MW: On the other hand, many people who claim to have these experiences are, in fact, delusional or mad, and are attempting avoid the problems they are facing inside. People, for example, who are functioning at a second chakra level — the psychological level of magical thinking — insist that their illusions are real, rather than seeing them as partial fantasies and desires, particularly if they have occasionally experienced some higher chakra phenomenon.
JN: Ken Wilber aptly named this failure to distinguish between transpersonal and pre-transpersonal levels the “Pre/Trans fallacy,” an error that has long bedeviled the anti-psychiatry movement and its apologists such as R.D. Lang and Thomas Szasz.
The important point is that one must possess a strong and whole ego before one can begin to transcend it. This is why I believe it is so important to develop fourth chakra consciousness — the heart level — since universal love stands at the doorway to authentic spiritual growth. By exercising empathy and compassion, we can begin to reach these higher levels without being shaken to our psychological cores.
MW: How would you characterize these higher levels of spiritual consciousness?
JN: The sixth, or Ajna chakra, has been called the “shamanic” chakra because at this level one has the ability to alter consciousness and reality at will in order to have direct access to universal knowledge. This is the level of benign sorcery, visionary power, and prophesy. The adept might withdraw from worldly commitments and relationships in order to study the secret knowledge of the mystics. Although sixth chakra capabilities may leak into lower levels of consciousness, this level can only be fully realized after many years of study and spiritual practice, such as meditation.
People who lack grounding in the first five chakras are often frightened by spontaneous breakthroughs from this level, which may incite a rapid regression to the second chakra. What confuses most Western thinkers is that most people experience these capabilities erratically and inconsistently. The difference is that a sixth chakra adept gains full control over these powers and calls upon them at will.”