Thursday, November 21, 2013

Post 4: Magical Mirrors



Magical Mirrors

            Since the Sorcerer isn’t coming back to clean up the mess that we sorcerer’s apprentices have made over the millennia by miscasting magical spells, we will have to re-dedicate ourselves to our apprenticeship, and begin using our magical spells consciously, casting circles so as to orient ourselves, and also grounding our spells by always returning the power back to the source, with gratitude
            Yeah. Yeah. But what in the world does that mean?  
That’s a great question to which I can’t pretend to have all of the answers.

            For starters though, it’s very important to remember that we are not only sorcerer’s apprentices, but clueless honkies as well, who have largely exported the effects of our actions out beyond the horizon of our lived experience. For most of us, we never sense the clear-cuts, the mountain top removal, the sweatshops, and the ocean acidification that our lives conjure into being. So to keep it simple, the best first step is to bring the effects of our actions back into our daily lives as much as possible. Then we’ll be able to see how to fold more and more gratitude back into these processes as the role of affordable energy in our lives slowly wanes.
            As important as it may be to flesh out all of the details of how we might meet our needs in the future both with gratitude and without affordable energy, in my experience, it is much easier to say than to do. While it will make up the bulk of detailed work we face in the next few generations, and will be the subject matter of many future posts; for right now, I want to zoom out as far out as we can, and see if anything interesting comes into focus from taking a very broad look at magic.
            Before beginning that, if you’re having a level of cognitive dissonance from my continual use of the term “magic”, that’s understandable. Just remember that for now, my present definition of magic, “to call or summon into existence what was previously only potential”, can be seen as just another way to name what we usually call technology. I am not saying that all magic is technology. However, I am saying that all of what we call technology qualifies for what I’m calling magic.

            The first thing about magic that I want to point out is that within each magical spell we humans have picked up, there seems to be some kind of mirror, or reflection, embedded somewhere within the spell. As you’ll see, “mirror”, and “reflection” aren’t really the perfect words for what I’m talking about. But for now they will serve the purpose. I’ll give a few examples of what I mean. 
          I’ll start with a very old and basic form of magic – specifically the magical spell of writing, since that is the technology most immediately at hand.
When we write, we use hand-prints to leave marks on a mostly flat surface, marks which tell a story of somewhere else in time and space.  
Writing is but a mirror, or reflection, of the age-old practice of reading animal tracks. Animal tracks are, of course, foot-prints that leave marks on a mostly flat surface, marks which tell a story of the past. (Hmm, a big buck elk passed through here this morning.)

A syllabary, of which this Roman alphabet I’m using right now is one, takes the magic of writing up a notch. Writing originated long before syllabaries, and like Chinese Kanji or Egyptian hieroglyphics, was originally pictograms – or pictures for each word. So the written word for moon was a drawing of the crescent moon, and the written word for water was a drawing of a wave. Each pictogram was a mirror, or reflection, of humanity’s experience of the natural world.
A syllabary, on the other hand, offers a mirror, or reflection, of an entirely different sort. A syllabary is a reflection not of our experience of the natural world, but is a mirror or reflection of our own voice. We literate humans who use syllabaries, as a general rule, hear ourselves speak in our own heads when we read – because that’s actually what we are reading, a series of mirrors or reflections of our own voice. Syllabary writing creates a self-referential mirroring, or feedback loop, within the writer’s and reader’s own mind.
This mirroring has had profound effects on the recent evolution of our world, because it has had profound effects on the evolution of human consciousness. As the dawn of computers recently opened a completely new “cyberspace”, many ages ago writing, and in particular syllabaries, opened up mental spaces that were completely new in their day.
Within this new mental space, humans could then place images, and arrange and re-arrange these images in hypothetical scenarios in a way never before possible. Once again, I am not saying that humans without syllabary writing or humans without writing at all cannot think hypothetically. I am saying that the difference in degree between humans with and without writing and syllabaries is so great that it, in effect, almost becomes a difference in kind.
We can even place images of our own hypothetical self on this mental feedback loop. The slowly solidifying image of our own self within this feedback loop is what we have grown to call the modern ego. Once again, it is not to say that illiterate people do not have egos. (Syllabary writing was certainly not the first self-referential mirroring or reflection to occur within the human mind). It is just to say that the degrees to which illiterate people have egos is drastically different than the degree to which we syllabary writers and readers have egos.
Much of what I have written above about writing can be found either in David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, or in Walter J. Ong’s Orality & Literacy. Both are very worthwhile reads.
It can sometimes be easy to make hasty conclusions about all of this material, sometimes even succumbing to thinking that writing is therefore good, or bad. I recommend trying to understand it instead under the framework that I am recommending for understanding all technologies – that we are all sorcerer’s apprentices, and that all of the magical spells we pick up and use must be used with gratitude (returning the power back to the source) – or else they take on a life of their own.


How about agriculture as a magical spell? Agriculture was and continues to be an entrance into mirroring symbiotic relationships with other species. For example, the ancestors of the Maya entered into such a relationship with Zea teosinte, the ancestor of modern corn. Before corn’s domestication, teosinte was kind of a scraggly plant that only grew in specific ecosystems. It had the potential to unfold and be red, yellow, blue, white and rainbow colored corn varieties. It had the potential to be dent, flint, flour, sweet and pop corn varieties. It had the potential to be grown in northern climates, as well as be planted a foot deep in Southwestern US desert soils to sprout upwards into the sun, and yet still have its roots deep down toward the moisture.  But these were only potentials.  
Before corn’s domestication, the Mayan ancestors had the potential to unfold three different forms of writing, numerous different calendars – some of which are as accurate as any we have today, and a very high civilization. These were only potentials.
Within the relationship between teosinte and the Mayan ancestors, there was a mirroring, a seeing deep into one another as there is a seeing between lovers. And in this mirroring, these potentials were witnessed, and teased out into the light of day.

The technology,or magic, of time-keeping too has mirrors, or reflections, embedded within it. The clock-face is a mirror, or reflection, of the original keepers of time - the celestial bodies. The clock-face overall is a circle, representing the cosmos. The 12 numbers around its rim mirror the 12 houses of the Zodiac that stretch across the band of the Milky Way that wraps around the cosmos from the perspective of our solar system. The hour hand mirrors the sun. The minute hand mirrors the moon. For every “twelve” times the moon travels through the twelve houses of the Zodiac, the sun travels once.
Well, to be honest, actually, it’s not twelve times but 13.36 times the moon travels through the Zodiac for every time the sun travels once.  (And 12.36 cycles of full moon to full moon per sun cycle). But alas, not even the mirroring of lovers is perfect. Nor should we expect any mirroring to be.
(We can expect too much of our symbols, it would be good to remember.)

Check out the next Clueless Honky Blog for more.
Thanks for your time and attention.

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