This weekend I’ve become fairly obsessed with modern mysticism. Not in a run-to-the-woods and burn incense while eating the flesh of rabbits type of way. Rather, just trying to understand how it fits into our current mental/societal frameworks, along with frameworks of the past.
Listening to the Radiolab interview of Eugene Thacker, he mentioned an occurrence in or around 450CE in which there was a flight from the city of Alexandria. As the city became overpopulated and corrupt, people walked into the desert and set up civilization in the caves, despite the dangers they faced. Alexandria was, at the time, the height of civilization, so it seemed couter-intuitive for these individuals to make a flight into the desert. Thacker talked about this flight as a type of nihilism, a deliberate flight from truth and order. The people that set up civilization in the desert were later known as the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers. They were Christian mystics, and claimed that they became closer to God in the caves outside of Alexandria.
Eventually there were so many people in the desert, that it was said to become a city that rivaled Alexandria.
In addition to Eugene Thacker, there is a heavy trend toward mysticism in modern philosophy. Particularly in the CCRU collective and similar thinkers. Take Nick Land for example in his essay, “Meat”:
“The function of shamanism is to implement what is forbidden, exactly and comprehensively as and why it is forbidden, but in specially segregated compartments of the socius, where it provides a metacoding apparatus, meticulously quantified against ‘the transmissibility of taboo’ with its ‘power of infection or contagion’.”
Reading into this, it seems that the purpose of the shaman is to convey the truth that is sought, rather than the truth that exists. In a world that seeks the opposite of truth, it seems we’d gravitate toward a new type of shamanism. When we begin valuing the tribe over the establishment, then we’d naturally seek alternate truths and people that can effectively convey these.
I notice this trend deep in the communities on the web, with incels, alt-right, and the leftist Tumblr types(maybe we can call this cyber-shamanism?). The individuals (the cyber-shamans) that lead these ‘compartments’ or tribes tell the truths as the community wants to hear. They seek ways of infecting their ideas into the general population by creating a ‘metacoding apparatus’, as Land goes on to call it.
Continuing, Land dives deeper into the metacoding apparatus.
“It enables the codes of the primitive socius to operate upon themselves, to monitor and adjust themselves, according to a secondary regulation that is repressed in general even whilst it is encouraged in particular.”
The Shaman, in this way, creates a social norm based on the perceived oppression of the shamanistic tribe. The Shaman provides a code to the tribe that allows them to adapt to perceived enemies all while growing as a cohesive unit. With this code, the Shaman is given social status as a central role in the tribe, both uniting and forging the path in a reality that seeks alternate truths.
Land goes on to describe the shaman’s role in the tribe.
“The shaman has a double aspect, at once a monster and social agent, creature of darkness and light, tending in one direction towards the explorer-werewolf, scrambling the codes in contemporaneity with all generations, and in the other towards a bureaucrat-priest, redoubling the codes with a reflexive traditional authority.”
Based on this, the Shaman serves as both an explorer and a rational being. They pave the way, while building new realities in their path.
As we walk away from established truth, and continue dividing into tribes, we will continue increasing the value of our shamans. Being, as Land calls it, both an explorer-werewolf and a bureaucrat-priest can be of benefit particularly in a world where we’re scrambling to keep up. They are both the conjurers of chaos and order.
The Shaman serves to make reality more bearable. With social codes, perceived enemies, and dangerous ideas, the Shaman prevents our decent into infighting and cannibalism. In an endless search for truth, the power of the Shaman is the ability to conjure up a meaningful existence. The ability to keep us together, united against a perceived enemy and rallied behind our alternate truths.