Circle Round
(The Glory of the Middle Pillar)
Church: Electronic fundamentalist ‘super-saver’ preachers solemnizing the union of electronic capital and automated fetish gods; intensified importance of churches in resisting the militarized state; central struggle over women’s meanings and authority in religion; continued relevance of spirituality, intertwined with sex and health, in political struggle.

Donna J. Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto


Kether - The Illusion of Attainment

At the End of History, we are left alone. All the bogeymen and shibboleths and bêtes noires have Slouched Toward Bethlehem, been born, crucified and buried, risen again on the third day, and interviewed endlessly on day-time talk shows.

We, who eat our heroes, who cast about like crack-fiends for the slanderous tales of those we have never met, astride the threshold of another way of being, half the Oedipal wreck of passion, but closer still to the Omega of Infinite Compassion - stand divided, connected, and overwhelmed by forces unleashed but only dimly understood.

What hath God wrought?

Tesla knew; Teilhard knew; McLuhan knew. If these commanding geniuses, dismissed as cranks by a culture which possesses no role for the Sacred Fool, the Coyote, the Shaman-Trickster could announce the truth, and, like Saint Joan, burn for it, what picture can words paint? What language can announce the immanence of the Eschaton?

At the End of History, we are beyond words.


Chokmah - Drawing Away

To cross again is not to cross.
G. Spencer Brown, The Laws of Form

In theology we might discuss the nature of divinity, but perhaps it is more appropriate to discuss the activity of divinity. Boundary is an essential quality of vitality, and I would argue, is the essential action of divinity.

Boundary, therefore, is a central issue of theology. How Man defines himself is equally how separates himself from the divine. However, Man is divided himself; lines that cut across being cut across man, both as an individual and as a participant within culture.

Wisdom lies in an intuition of boundary; particularly the boundary between divinity and Man, for Man is the meeting-point between the profane and the divine, marking the true boundary between Heaven and Earth. This placement is as vexing as it is vital; we can be neither perfect nor perfectly corrupt. In this twilight, our choices define our placement on the line between good and evil.

How can we, as Scientists, even speak of good and evil? There seems a rational contradiction between religious impulse and scientific law. Yet, this illusion of difference comes from a fundamental misapprehension of the function of boundary. The world without can be dissected and analyzed endlessly; but the world within must be considered as a whole.

From the preceding, it becomes vital to determine what is without and what is within. It is the position of this author that this determination is always prejudicial, that we invariably draw these lines to suit our own wills rather than the intent of the divine. The boundaries between divinity and humanity, these Man-made boundaries, these mind-forg’d manacles, create the space of profane culture.

Ontology, that is, the foundation of our own being, is equally the reflection of our relationship to divinity. Where our being meets the divine - or fails to - we discover the line we ourselves have drawn, by our own hand. The lines that separate this from that, within from without, I from Thou, represent the internal theology, beyond reason and words, the active will actively willing itself into separation from - or union with - the divine.

This work lays out a general system which defines the relationship between perception and ontology, for perception is both shaped by and shapes reality. It is of essential import to my work as a scientist, for any simulation (a broader word than "virtual reality") raises basic issues of ethics for its creator.

Binah - A Maker’s Guide to Cyborgs

"Knowing is doing, and doing, knowing."
Maturana & Varela, The Tree of Knowledge

To begin, let me introduce the model of perceptual cybernetics or neuro-cosmology, as developed by Dr. David Warner, a cognitive neuroscientist at Syracuse University. From an informational standpoint, the entire universe can be divided into three domains. The external domain - that is, everything exterior to the self - is identified by the Greek letter F, representing the physical universe. The internal domain - the realm of thoughts and emotions - is identified by Y, representing the domain of the psyche. Everything between these two - the sensors and affectors which mediated between the internal world and the physical universe - is represented as Fx. The precise content of each of these "islands" of information are unimportant; what is important are the interfaces that each present to the other. Both F and Y must pass through Fx, and each presents an interface only to Fx. Two examples will illustrate this point clearly.

If, for example, I were to take an infrared remote control, and shine it at someone, it’s unlikely that they’d perceive it. Though information is being transmitted from the device, you have no senses which can receive this information. This information is lost at the F / Fx interface.

But perhaps - to move on to our second example - I chose a form of communication which you were most likely well-equipped to receive - say the human voice. I might say, "Watashi wa chisai no midori no hito desu." This information would pass across the F/Fx boundary, but - unless you knew Japanese - would be lost at the Fx / Y boundary. There’s nothing inside of you which can grab hold of the raw sound and make sense of it. The Japanese have no trouble understanding this sentence, as they posses an innate interface to this information, a bridge across the boundary.

There are ways to overcome the problems I’ve outlined. In our first example, infrared-sensing lenses would be a good start; in our second example, an introductory Japanese course would be sufficient to decipher that I’ve written, "I am a little green man." But in each case it requires that we augment some existing set of capabilities.

The aim and the art of simulation lies in the craft of creating ways to sneak information across these interfaces, to optimize information transfer, augment our own perception, so that the message sent is clearly intelligible. Everything the simulation community has done with computers since Ivan Sutherland created SketchPad thirty-five years ago has been toward one end - bridging the natural, innate gaps in perception.

However, this activity has problems of its own. Boundaries exist in order to preserve and reify integrity, to divide this from that, to maintain difference. The maintenance of difference is perhaps the primary function of organism, the reason life is alive. In order to understand how boundaries transform under the aegis of information, we need to take a look at informational biology, in particular the work of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. In their book The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, they synthesize biology and information theory into a new understanding of organism as informational system.

According to Maturana and Varela, systems which exchange information - such as the ones we create - generate autopoesis (self-organizing systems) - through a process known as structural coupling. They say:

In describing autopoeitic unity as having a particular structure, it will become clear to us that the interactions (as long as they are recurrent) between unity and environment will consist of reciprocal perturbations. In these interactions, the structure of the environment only triggers structural changes in the autopoeitic unities (it does not specify or direct them), and vice versa for the environment. The result will be a history of mutual congruent structural changes as long as autopoeitic unity and its containing environments do not disintegrate: there will be a structural coupling.
In other words, while the precise qualities of information transfer may not be directed, the fact that there is information flow between an organism and its environment - in the context of the current discussion, between F and Y - necessarily implies that a second-order unity - a meta-system - is created. It is my assertion that this autopoesis creates what we call "reality", that any presentation of information engages us in a feedback loop between information presenter and informed presentee until both form enter a stable meta-state.

In other words, what we perceive becomes, or rather, converges, on what is real, and both what is perceived and what is real undergo epistemological transformation during the process of what I would call generative epistemology.

Simulation is a feedback loop which repeatedly passes into and out of systems changing both sides simultaneously. There is no outside, there is no objective, there is no other. Information exists not in isolation but only in a field. "The difference that makes a difference," as Bateson put it, only does so when it crosses over into system which can parse, and adapt, and reciprocatively transform its message.

Where is the human - the scientist or interested observer - in the context of this revelation? Our drive to improve, to tune our ability to secret messages across our biological boundaries can, if taken to an extreme condition, produce a situation where that which is presented outside is perceived inside with one-hundred percent fidelity. We already have a word for this condition; we’d call it a cyborg, that ultimate fusion of biology and mechanism which disintermediates but equally dominates.

The better we get at talking to ourselves, at bridging the boundary between the message and the receiver, the less room we leave for the ambiguity which - it must be argued - forms the most fecund part of our experience. To tell someone what something is - exactly - is to extinguish any re-visioning. Anything - any mechanism or communication - which attempts to close those gaps, equally extinguishes our capacity to innovate, to overcome, to be at once errant and wise and human.

Yet, at the same time, all of us here are engaged on a journey of discovery and creation, giving birth to new organs of perception, capable of taking us where we had not gone before, yet these organs - have no doubt - change us even as we use them.

Chesed - The Maker’s Mark

No boundaries allowed, no boundaries exist.
John Lilly, Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer

The transfiguration of perceptual boundaries through structural coupling induces the boundaries of the ego to refigure themselves. Changes in perception produce changes in ontology, redrawing the boundaries of the self.

Two works of simulation, ART+COM’s T_Vision, and Char Davies’ OSMOSE, represent the ontological endpoints of the boundary refiguring characteristic of interaction with simulation.

The Berlin design organization ART+COM has spent the last nine years working to create simulations of the planet; in 1993, work began on a project to visualize the whole planet.

T_VISION simulates the entire Earth; that in itself would be somewhat unremarkable, but the complexity of the model transcends any previously existing example. Using level-of-detail to manage scene complexity, T_VISION presents a model of the Earth as scene from a million kilometers above its surface, or at the level of a desktop in Berlin, in 22 steps of progressive resolution. There’s a one-to-one correspondence between manipulations of T_ VISION’s navigational controls and the projected view onto the simulation, while seamless integration of level-of-detail with the navigation mechanism creates a realistic effect of flying over the Earth. It is also possible to map additional databases onto the simulated topography, so weather systems, or other ecological events can be easily correlated to specific topographic features. The simulation is dynamic and real-time; T_VISION presents the Earth, as it is, right now.

On the two occasions when T_VISION has been exhibited in North America, the public reception has been incredibly positive, even enthusiastic. It seems as though there is something about the work which speaks to and enthralls almost everyone who comes into contact with it. The authors of the work are themselves enthralled - so much so that they are even somewhat embarrassed at the acclaim they have received for their work, believing it somehow disingenuous because the nature of the content is so evocative. But what they humbly neglect to mention is that before T_VISION, only astronauts knew the evocative power of the Gaian image.

A body of anecdotal evidence appears to indicate that the Apollo astronauts - who apprehended a real Earth much as T_VISION does - passed through profound spiritual experiences as they intuited their relationship to the planet. It seems reasonable to expect that a similar situation could prevail with the earthbound T_VISION participants, who, in the play of interactivity come to the same intuition. This intuition represents a structural coupling of comprehensive affect.

As the model becomes more articulated - T_VISION represents the archetype to a constellation of coming systems - we can expect to see a greater degree of ego dissolution into the Gaian body as represented in the simulation. The reasoning is straightforward; the more interaction one has with such a model, the more the one becomes coupled to it, until such time as one’s conception of the body of the planet and the model converge. In fact, with the advent of such systems, it appears inevitable that this will happen, and our vision for the planet has already begun to converge with the output of the systems which simulate it.

At the point of convergence - with a consequent collapse of proximal ego boundaries - an old mystical truth reveals itself as self-evident: all life on Earth is one, and any of the boundaries drawn between one part of the biota and any other are just as self-made as the visualization of political boundaries. In the structural coupling of the human noosphere to the Gaian biota, the only fundamental boundary lies at the ionosphere.


Canadian artist Char Davies’ vision of "the forest within" drove her toward an artistic expression of her numinous experience, first in conventional media (1975 - 1985), then in mixed electronic and conventional media (1985 - 1992), finally culminating in OSMOSE, a fully immersive work.

OSMOSE is an intentionally intimate piece, utilizing a "traditional" head-mounted display. For the purposes of navigation - this is the singular feature of OSMOSE’s interface - a thin plastic band is placed around the chest cavity to measure chest extension; in addition, two position trackers are mounted at the top and base of the spinal column. These two devices together from the entire navigation mechanism, with no hand or foot gesturing required; the immersant (Davies’ neologism for the participant in an immersive virtual world) is unconstrained through most of the field of movement.

OSMOSE presents the immersant with the evocation of a natural space - naturalistic, but not natural. In the center of the "world" stands a great tree, around it is a glade, with woods further beyond. "Portals" bring the immersant to particular "zones" within the greater world of OSMOSE; the deepest substratum is "Code World", where the 20,000 lines of ‘C’ code of which OSMOSE is constructed rise up in great columns (thus the substratum is truly the substratum), while the stratosphere of OSMOSE is a universe where the clouds contain bits of poetry and philosophy from Rilke, Gaston Bachelard, Heiddiger, and Davies herself. A continual stream of sound accompanies the journey through the worlds; this is generated from two samples taken from a man and a woman, and reshaped in real-time, in a non-deterministic manner.

Davies is a deep-sea SCUBA diver, and learned - in that unconstrained three-dimensional environment - the trick of a seduction that lies outside of reason; OSMOSE couples the automatic and unconscious processes of the body to the automatic and reactive medium of the simulacrum. To do this, OSMOSE uses breath and balance as the twin gyres of its navigational mechanism. Like a diver, filling the lungs with air will cause the immersant to rise, while emptying the lungs precipitates a drop. This close coupling between the unconscious autonomic and the automatic mutability of the mechanism closes a cycle of feedback that is both utterly innate (hence intimate) and deeply unconscious. There is no way to resist it - save stopping breathing. The natural seduction of breath and balance together make it difficult to avoid becoming opened onto the simulacra, and at one point ego boundaries between self and simulacra become tenuous. It is "inside you".

This mechanism - which is not merely one component of the system, but the emergent result of the structural coupling of immersant and simulacra - produces a state most uncommon in the history of immersive "amputative" VR - people like it. Davies’ was forced to insert a 15-minute "time-out" feature, because individuals would not otherwise leave the system - and this while wearing a 20-lb. HMD!

The fifteen-minute time-out artificially introduced into OSMOSE inadvertently highlighted the delicacy of the Y-state communicated in OSMOSE; during the concluding portion of the simulacra, the immersant is gradually lifted above and away from the world. On repeated occasions this produced a recognition in the immersant of a Near-Death Experience, so much so that one immersant remarked that they were "no longer afraid of death".

That such a statement can be made about any work of art is singular; that it can be made in reference to an immersive simulacrum is without precedent. OSMOSE is the 21st century equivalent - in the conscious architecture of the divine - of the Cathedral at Chartres, an artifact capable of creating a bridge between the unspeakable domain of numinous awareness and the highly circumscribed region of ordinary human perception, through a refiguring of the boundaries between the human self and the numinous other.

If the effect of the structural coupling engendered by the body, breath and balance interface is to exteriorize the Y-state so that it presents its interfaces for manipulation - which has been sufficiently demonstrated from the observable phenomena - what if that mechanism of engagement works - according to the natural functioning of power, as defined by Foucault - to "close the gaps"?

Here is the true territory of the cyborg-as-"Borg", the boundary between self and exosomatic other which contains within it the potential for pathogenic ontology, a reality-state which seeks to abridge the ego as a mechanism for dominating it. The shadow-image of OSMOSE is the immersive hell of "Room 101" in Orwell’s 1984, where the immersant faces the one fear that causes all self-esteem and sense of empowerment to collapse, a simulacra which acts to penetrate the ego in order to render it docile and manipulable. This is remarkably easy to achieve, unless the mechanism is consciously constructed to avoid that situation.

T_VISION and OSMOSE represent the endpoints of simulation; the literal and the evocative. Between them lie military simulations, video games, data mining applications, information space visualization, and an entire galaxy of undiscovered possibilities. Each betrays the power of simulation, a power to fundamentally refigure the boundaries of ego, to reconstruct ontology through structural coupling. The ethical question that confronts those who construct these simulations rests on a fundamental discussion of intent: when we create machinery which manipulates ontology, do we desire rape or consummation?

Geburah - The Common Mind

No one would dare to picture to himself what the noosphere will be like in its final guise, no one, that is, who has glimpsed however faintly the incredible potential of unexpectedness accumulated in the spirit of the earth. The end of the world defies imagination. But if it would be absurd to try to describe it, we may none the less - by making use of the lines of approach already laid down - to some extent foresee the significance and circumscribe the forms.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man

The transfiguration of ontology through structural coupling produces consequent changes in human culture; mass media must necessarily imply massive change, both within the individual, and within the body politic. For each refiguring of ego boundary, there is a consequent change in social structure, an autopoesis, generating of new forms of culture, visible as meta-human organization.

It becomes difficult to empirically prove the point I am about to make, because, in any discussion of systems beyond the individual, and in which the individual is thoroughly embedded, the element of Incompleteness - in the formal sense - becomes important. We can not fully see those forms in which we - as a whole - play a role.

It is not an overstatement to frame the World Wide Web as an innovation as important as the printing press - it may be as important as the birth of language itself - for in its ability to completely refigure the structure of civilization (as Egyptian papyrus did for Roman Emperors), it has already begun to display all of the signs associated with an signifying technology - as the steam engine and telegraph did for the industrial era, or the plow for the agricultural era.

It is necessary to consider the particularities of the advent itself. Tim Berners-Lee, under the direction of Robert Cailleau at CERN, constructed the basic technology of the Web (even then called World Wide, though it didn’t extend beyond Geneva, yet somehow pre-cognizant its own later ubiquity) as a tool for the researchers who used CERN’s facilities for high-energy physics research. Constrained to a text-only "line mode" interface, the Web’s earliest days suffered behind an interface which severely limited the range of possible effects; good for scientists, but of very little value to anyone else. When Marc Andreesen and the Software Development Group at the U.S. National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA) introduced the graphical "NCSA Mosiaic" Web browser, which rectified the interface issues, they catalyzed an event which is still building, still spreading, and still radically transforming every institution which it comes into contact with. It appears that as soon as the "barriers" to interface dropped below an observable threshold (namely the transition from character mode interface to graphical user interface) pent-up pressures violently, instantaneously and ubiquitously released.

The fact of the ubiquity and simultaneity of the advent of the Web - which in any reasonable historical sense has occurred in an instant - contains within it the most significant indicator of the presence of meta-human organization - its most distinct "footprint". The explosive force released in the hybrid relationship between Internet and interface occurred in an absolutely unilateral sense - everything was simultaneously transformed, and this transformation continues through to the present time (showing signs only of gathering speed and strength). Yet all of this intensity is without a visible focal point; the Web "assembles itself" without any "purpose" that is consistent and communicable, gathering intensity before - and mostly outside of - any clear benefit to business, but instead seems to be anchored in some other drive. Furthermore, the archetype of the Web has spread even more quickly than its actual manifestation: in 1996, Tokyo subways featured advertisements where products are "presented" in the window of a pseudo-browser - and this in a nation in which less than 1,000,000 people had Web access!

Structural coupling is the mechanism of inclusive boundary formation between autopoeic entities. The "recurrent perturbations" which create the greater autopoeic unity can be modeled after the path dependency economics of Brian Arthur, and allow us to model the systematic nature of the phenomenon. Humans, structurally coupled - through interfaces - create the first Web, which perturbs the rest of the system (Internet); as the system sustains more perturbation (i.e., a greater the effort directed toward the Web), it increases the likelihood of more perturbation, and the system begins a feed-forward run-away, which culminates in the formation of a new autopoeic unity. That unity - and its associated meta-stability - is another signifier of the noosphere.

From our vantage point - embedded within this run-away process - it remains to be seen if this meta-stability is now present or still some distance away. Certainly a three order-of-magnitude change in the size of the Web in thirty months does not articulate a stability that we are familiar with. The Web has not yet grown to the limits of the human knowledge, but it appears inevitable that it will; when it does, its meta-human nature will become more readily apparent.

It is as if (here I will be careful not to assign absolutes to any teleology) the Web invoked itself into being. Any particular individual can tell you why the Web had meaning for them, why they worked to construct it; the great mass of human begins, working as if in concert, without any actual coordination, implies the existence of a collective consciousness, a human noosphere (to borrow from Teilhard), the manifestation of an order beyond human visibility.

The Web is assuming the role of the collective mind of humanity, in the very specific sense of a storehouse of memories, histories, and factual knowledge; soon, all of our own "knowing" will be in reference to it, rather than to a particular individual, or school, or culture. The Web transforms the individual - who will come to think of it as the absolute (and, ideally, self-contradictory) authority on all we have ever learned, and perhaps, all we have ever experienced. The children born after the Web will never know a world without it, their ontology will be formed by it as much as their minds are informed through it.

Beyond this, the Web transforms the entire culture of humanity, making its needs the cultural imperative. In the impossibly short space of four years, the cultural project of humanity - as a whole - has spontaneously self-organized, cutting across all boundaries.

Tipareth - Holy Boundary

        "Destroy duality as you would destroy falsity." - Buddhist teaching

Each of the projects mentioned - T_VISION, OSMOSE and the World Wide Web - transfigure ontology, refiguring the boundaries between self and other. Areas outside the self, suddenly swept within, become incorporated, innate features of being. Every medium redefines who we believe we are. Religion - organized or individual - performs a similar function (though this is not its sole action), drawing boundaries between the sacred and the profane.

Holiness always centers on separation: the Jews, with laws and commandments, separate themselves from their Semitic cousins; the Christians, by faith alone, separate themselves from the pagan masses of the Roman Empire; the Muslims, in ritual prayers, fasting and pilgrimage, identify themselves as Allah’s chosen. The ascetic climbs a pole and separates himself from the world; St. Benedict’s Rule separates monks from power, wealth and privilege; the Yogi denies himself food and shelter: over and again the spiritual impulse bounds one man from another, and divides to connect him to the divine.

The essential principle of Buddhism (if I can be so bold as to reduce a venerable philosophy to a single tenet) is non-attachment, the transcendence of all boundary: this is the ontology of Nirvana. The only difference of significance between the Christian saint and the Buddhist Boddisatva is that one focuses on the Godhead, while the other focuses on nothing at all. Holiness is boundary, and boundary - in part - is a function of perception.

Not all boundaries are holy; however, it seems universally true that the boundaries that reify life become identified with holiness. The Jew and Muslim abstain from pork and perform ritual ablutions; the Christian may not fornicate; the Buddhist does not drink alcohol or eat flesh: the laws of holiness invariably vivify the self.

Conversely, the absence of boundary - except in the most transcendent sense - has characteristically been associated with evil; the prostitute, the alcoholic and the criminal all derive their status as pariah through the transgression of boundary: each sin, each turning toward evil, breaks the barrier that defines the self. At the end, the self is ruptured, like a cell attacked by an invading virus, and the soul is lost.

Underneath the skin, that is, within the boundary of the self, the boundaries of life are known as "good", and the boundaries of pathology are known as "evil". The attribution in scientific or spiritual language depends purely upon the location of the boundary. Hence, as we refigure boundaries, that which reifies becomes the good, while that which desiccates becomes the evil: look at the language of ecology, as our conception of self extends to encompass the Gaian biota - pollution is more and more seen as an act of evil intent, while our greatest ecologists acquire a nearly holy status.

Netzach - Those Giant Sucking Sounds

"Fairness? Decency? How can you expect fairness or decency on a planet of sleeping people?"
G. I. Gurdjieff

Chaotic attractors typify the path of the human soul in a world of mediated reality, a world which adapts ontology to its own ends, recursively, drawing the soul into a satellite relationship. The various churches can (and occasionally, do) serve as the attractors of vitality, the good: the Gospel has the power to save men’s souls. The Law, when written on men’s hearts, keeps them just and upright before God. Contemplation of Krishna induces an isomorphism of spirit. Christ said, "Be like me," and this commandment is meant to be a constant reminder - a goad, as it were - to circle around the vital center of faith, hope and love.

Just as often, these spiritual tendencies will become caught in ever-tightening cycles of hatred, of lust, and anger. The zealot will pronounce the xenophobic word which casts the unlucky from the congregation; the magician will seek personal power over harmony of the heart; the "chosen people" will become self-satisfied in their own spiritual authority. Insofar as a religious impulse or movement reinforces these tendencies, they are pathogenic, sowing their own destruction.

It is within our power - through our simulations - to create fertile ground for either of these dwell-states; to induce a mind-numbing catatonia (a criticism made of television, not entirely unfairly) and consequent collapse of will, or a vivifying of the spirit, an affirmation of the imminence of the sacred, and our essential divinity.

The choice, as always, is ours. The works which I have chosen to highlight throughout this piece represent some of the best efforts made to date to construct vivogenic systems, which can stir the divine within. As so much is yet to be done in simulation, and on the Web, this is a time of beginnings: chaos theory tells us that initial conditions can set the stage for the entire future of a complex system.

Therefore, we have an ethical obligation - before God, and to our fellow man - to construct systems which reinforce our own, human vitality, which give us room to be good. We know so little about what shapes us, but this knowledge is enough to keep us from great evil.

Hod - A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for the Soul

The sacred is that which ontologically founds the world.
Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane

First and foremost, we must understand that as we interact with our artifacts, our media, we become inseparable from them. Our tools inform our ontology, and blur the boundaries between them.

Micea Eliade stated in The Sacred and the Profane, "The sacred is that which ontologically founds the world." Simulation is world creation, and the creation of a world necessarily implies the creation of a world-view. To create a world without a sacred element is to create a space uninhabitable by divinity; to enter it, we would need to shed our connection to the divine. This can not be allowed, for that separation creates the fertile ground for pathology; without our higher selves to guide us, how can we expect to resist the wiles of the Tempter?

The Balinese have a yearly festival wherein they bless all of their own tools; in this way they assure that the fruit of their labors will come to good ends. We work with all sorts of tools which we have neglected to bless, and for this reason we remain blind to their capacity to express the sacred. Yet, if we do not bless our tools, they must inevitably profane us, for we can not neatly separate ourselves from them, draw the line which says, "I am this, and that is other," for as we create, and become one with the tool - reaching for creative expression - it becomes one with us.

The blessing of tools is not mere animism; we need not presume that the tool has a life of its own, but rather, that its relationship to us is what must be protected, and sanctified. Relationships comprise the entirety of human experience, and represent the total of our passage through life; each relationship, once blessed, becomes a pathway for divinity, another manifestation of the immanence of God. We need more such reminders, not to batter us into submission, but to stir the soul to its highest capacities for good.

Yesod - Every Man and Every Woman is a Star

"If the work of the city is the remaking or translating of man into a more suitable form than his nomadic ancestors achieved, then might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?"
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

We can no more rid ourselves of evil than we can shed our own humanity: even within each of us, each cell contains its own Genesis, and its own Apocalypse. We are divided, down to our fundamental constituents, because balance - the Middle Path - is health, is life, is good. We can circle the divine attractor, but that’s as close as we’ll get while we’re still breathing; we are caught between attractors; I and Thou, Evil and Good; Life and Death.

And yet, the universe seems to want it this way. In The Cosmic Doctrine, Dion Fortune’s book of "received" messages detailing the fundamentals of a metaphysical cosmology, she states - in the first chapter - that the Prime Evil (a metaphysical force quite different from mundane, earthly evil) is the original motivator of the universe; without that force, creation itself could not have come.

Since evil will remain with us, the appropriate response is Right Action, the Buddhist (and Christian, and Jewish and Muslim) ethic of compassion, of mercy, of love and forgiveness, of releasing hatred and fear and lust. As someone once said, "It’s not complicated, but it is difficult." But more - much more - depends on those of us who will be shaping the common mind, the common heart, and the new human being now coming forth.

Teilhard and McLuhan - both very conservative Catholics - announced the noosphere, each from his own understanding. Teilhard saw the advent of the Omega, the realization of the Mystical Body of Christ, of all humanity coming together as one super-organized, radically-complexified being. McLuhan saw the global village, but dreamed of a day when, "consciousness will be piped into the household, much as gas and electricity are." With that consciousness comes a responsibility; this, I think, was the root of McLuhan’s deep religious conviction. McLuhan saw Catholicism as a way to protect his being from the fragmenting and refiguring assault of mass media, and despaired of the generations who would come after him, who would quickly fall prey to the depredations of media over-involved in peddling product. What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

The spiritual impulse, then, is more than a luxury to be cultivated by those so inclined; it is the only way to maintain our integrity in a coming age of unity, the link between the individual and a super-planetized (Teilhard’s phrase) mankind.

Malkuth - When the Three Were One

This work, explicitly constructed after the Qabalah, a Jewish mystical system of great antiquity, extends a line, a relation, between Heaven and Earth. In the Qabalistic system, one passes through ten spheres, or sephiroth, as one moves from Kether (Heaven) to Malkuth (Earth). These spheres are commonly arranged on three pillars: on the outside, the pillars of Severity and Mercy, in the middle, the pillar of Mildness.

The glory of Mildness, the middle pillar, is the path we must tread, walking carefully between the impossible perfection of the absolute divine, and the unspeakable corruption of depths below, between closing ourselves up in Severity and emptying ourselves out in Mercy. Whether we choose to take these images literally or not, they can serve to inform us, and our work. The future is in our hands, and - this time - we have some idea of the powers we are unleashing.

One of the most important axioms of magickal work is, "Do not call up what you can not put down." Our actions are invocations, our work the testament of our will. The first action: a blessing, on ourselves and our enterprise, that our works might glorify God.

Santa Monica, Berkeley
January 1998