What are the critical disciplines by which 21st century humanity will initiate itself? How will those who wish to move from reality’s spectator seats to the middle of the ring do so?
How has humanity done so in the past?
The ancients represented the hall of initiation into the Mysteries as being flanked by two columns — one black, the other white. The tradition survives in Freemasonry, ceremonial magick and the High Priestess card of the Tarot, where Isis as initiatrix into the Mysteries sits between the pillars, reconciling them.
For the ancients, the black pillar represented, among other things, the path of ego calcination; the white, the path of ego dissolution. These more abstract principles. or “ways to do life,” if you will, have ended up in the common parlance as “white and black magic” and have become divorced from their original meaning and taken on new and largely inappropriate baggage.
Restored to their original symbolic association, however, the Pillars of the Temple of Solomon can offer critical suggestions about the modes of transcendence that 21st century humanity is beginning to explore.
For the young psychonaut, I draw clear the lines:
The Left-Hand Path: The Transhuman
Transhumanism is the augmentation, and therefore reinforcement, of the self. It is the current edge of the “project of Western civilization” that is concerned, and always has been concerned, with the extension of the individual will into physical, manifest reality. It is the directed use of technology to amplify the human experience — and technology can easily mean nonphysical means or techniques as well.
Here I place the increasing inseparability of humans and advanced communication technology; actual augmentation of the body with wetware, body modification, nanotech, etc., but also body change techniques like hatha yoga, martial arts, plastic surgery; the work of Wilhelm Reich; energy medicine, EFT/EMDR; the contributions of the Human Potential Movement and the increasingly clever and byzantine supplement industry. We can add modern and ancient brain-change techniques like NeuroLinguistic Programming, the Leary/Wilson Eight Circuit Model, Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine, radionics, tantra, chaos magick and the rest of the never-ending occult and New Age corpus. All of these and more can be used to change, warp, clean out, amp up, empower, manicure and otherwise “make cooler” the thing you call “I.”
Access to these technologies is increasingly wide-spread and I believe their use and refinement will likely produce some admirable customizations of the human experience as well as increasingly grotesque ego distortions as once-normal human beings mutate themselves into what might only be described as “creatures” comprised of a multiplicity of shattered and exaggerated ego shards rather than anything resembling a healthy, grounded, integrated identity.
The Right-Hand Path: The Transpersonal
If transhumanity can be seen as a continuing quest for dominance over the physical body and physical world, the transpersonal offers a much more direct (if perhaps even more dangerous) path — that of breaking down the barriers which separate the small-s self from the wider world itself. This is what might more vaguely be called the “spiritual path” — the path of the dissolution of the ego by uniting it with something larger than itself.
Under the heading of transpersonal we must place the many branches of mysticism: Gnosticism, Sufism, Qabalah, Advaita Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, the higher Yogas, true Tantra, shamanism, depth psychology and the activities that stem from the accelerated empathy that these practices can produce: namely activism, human rights work, ecology work, directed work on the problems of the human race and other such forms of “doing the world’s dishes.”
Leaving questions of actual higher spiritual perception or “cosmic consciousness” aside for the moment, and grounding the spiritual directly into the material world, I believe we can find the highest expression of the transpersonal path in the growing field of ecopsychology: a psychological model which proposes, broadly, that individual problems are in fact manifestations of the problems of the world itself, and that it becomes impossible to talk about healing a patient without healing the world they live in. Self and world are ultimately indistinguishable. There was never a separation to begin with.
Between the Gates
It’s easy to see how these two paths may overlap and blur at their higher reaches. Push the self to the limits of its expansion, for instance, and you may well break it in the process, allowing the “greater reality” to flood in. Similarly, the depth insights that arise from transpersonal work can and should become more greatly actualized in the physical world through the strengthening and empowerment of the “individual” who experiences them — there comes a time when you may have to lift your scarecrow-like, malnourished body from the meditation mat, do some pushups, put on a suit and start communicating what you’ve learned within the marketplace.
You can also see how these two paths can be intensely antagonistic.
Have no illusions about it: transhumanism arises from the same dominator impulse that gave us empires, Satanic mills, nuclear and biological warfare, technological slavery, the rape and degradation of the physical world, and so on. To the expanded awareness of the transpersonal, the products of Western culture and the calcified, soulless ego-worship of the transhumanists can feel as comfortable as splinters under fingernails.
Alternately, it’s questionable how much effect the insights of mystics actually produce — whether their “higher visions” are actually accurate new views into the human equation or just so much hallucinatory navel gazing. The most lasting contributions of the walkers of the transpersonal way are inner insights that, once expressed, can produce massive shifts in how cultures think — but these insights get turned into bureaucratic dominator religions overnight as soon as the original mystic is (all too often) conveniently disposed of… Godfather-style.
What Are We Left With?
Two paths. The black: Change the self as something separate from the world. The white: Delete the self and erase all separation from the world. Both provide a “beyond human” experience.
Followed exclusively, the transpersonal results in ineffectuality; take the transhuman alone, and end up a soulless machine in a world of soulless machines.
Or step between the pillars, and find something new — with no promises — for those who pass through these pillars step through and onto a yet-unlit road where only few have passed before, and where none has yet seen the destination.
Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Generation Hex, Ultraculture and Thee Psychick Bible. www.jasonlouv.com