"No More Oil, No More Bullshit" by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 17/July 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 17 (July, 2005)

Illustration by Arik Roper

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“No More Oil, No More Bullshit”

The recent appearance of a sizable excerpt from James Kunstler’s new book in the glossy pages of Rolling Stone may well represent the beginning of a cultural sea change. It is not that the argument presented in The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century is particularly new—in fact, the bulk of it was offered by Thom Hartmann’s The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (1999), as well as World Watch editor Ed Ayre’s God’s Last Offer (1999), among others. The significance is that the mainstream finally finds itself compelled to pay attention to it. What these authors have been telling us is stark and simple: Our current form of mass post-industrial civilization based on fossil fuel consumption and over-use of natural resources is about to end. There is no way to prevent a collapse that may be more or less sudden, and more or less cataclysmic. All we can do is decide what to do in the time that remains to prepare for it.

The reason for this radical and imminent shift is the exhaustion of cheap fuel, causing a continual and irreversible rise in energy prices. In Hubbert’s Peak, Kenneth Duffeyes, a former geologist for the oil corporations, made a convincing argument that we are passing the point of “peak oil,” and the oil that remains underground is exponentially more difficult and expensive to extract. As Kunstler—and Hartmann, and others—report, there is no real replacement for fossil fuels in running our current sprawling, suburbs-based, energy-wasting civilization. The end of cheap oil (accompanied by the almost more worrisome depletion of clean water reserves the world over, as well as the various side effects of accelerated global warming) will cause extraordinarily far-reaching changes in the way life will be lived by all of us, in the near future.

In The Long Emergency, Kunstler takes a hard-nosed look at the consequences of our profligate ways in the last decades. “Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It has a tragic destiny. The psychology of previous investment suggests that we will defend our drive-in utopia long after it has become a terrible liability.” He offers a cogent regional analysis of what America may become in an energy-scarce future, in which social inequity increases, paramilitary activity escalates, and desperate urban ghettos riot at a level exceeding all previous phases of unrest. As sea levels rise by several feet in this century, low-lying cities such as New Orleans may disappear underwater. At the same time, water-scarce regions like the Southwest—and cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas—should become essentially uninhabitable. Along with forced mass-migrations out of unsupportable areas, Kunstler foresees the “end of industrial growth, falling standards of living, economic desperation, declining food production, and domestic political strife,” as well as a probable increase in terrorism.

And yet, as severe as Kunstler’s diagnosis is, his prognosis is not all bad. The massive changes caused by our energy emergency will force community building, re-localization of industry and an ethical revaluing of life, as well as a careful attention to all living processes. The passive consumer-trance of our current age will no longer be possible, as people who want to survive in this new world will have to be fully participatory as well as fluidly adjustable to continual changes in social structure and environment. In the end, Kunstler’s perspective is similar to Hartmann’s, who foresees, in the collapse of the steroid-pumped values of the current dominator culture, a return to the consilient and collaborative life-patterns of indigenous tribal societies. Prolonged, long-distance war such as the current Iraq conflict will, also, soon be a thing of the past: “A point will be reached when the great powers no longer have the means to project their power at a distance,” Kunstler notes. All of our institutions—from schools to government—will have to be reconfigured, downscaled and re-localized to mesh with our new realities. “Social responsibility to the community will be hard to evade,” he writes. “The pervasive and corrosive idea of just being another wage-earning ‘unit’ in a consumer society will be dead.”

Although Kunstler considers this approaching crisis to be a “long emergency,” reaching full-blown form by the middle of the 21st century, there is another possibility. According to this vision, the long emergency may actually turn out to be a short emergency of a year or two, followed by a movement into a vastly different—and far superior—way of thought and action for humanity as a whole. By this alternative perspective, humanity is currently going through an accelerated evolution in consciousness that will culminate in the creation of new social systems and new spiritual possibilities. My own thinking on this subject led me to the study of the outsider hypothesis that considers the Mayan Calendar to be a model of the evolution of consciousness, culminating in the establishment of a harmonic and compassion-based global civilization before the end-date of the Mayan Calendar on December 21, 2012. An excellent video presentation of this point of view, by the artist Ian Lungold, is available at http://www.mayanmajix.com; Carl Johan Calleman’s book The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness is another useful tool for exploring this radical vision. According to their meticulous study of the fractal model of time apparently presented by the Classical Mayans, Lungold and Calleman propose the year 2008 as the point of collapse for the current socioeconomic paradigm, to be superseded by a new form of consciousness and a unified planetary culture in the following years.

A “new form of consciousness” may sound like a specious concept, but it is one that many philosophers and visionaries have proposed, and tried to define, from Ken Wilber to Sri Aurobindo, Carl Jung to Jean Gebser. My perspective is that, as part of this 2012 transition, we are witnessing an integration of the modern rational mindset with the archaic shamanic or esoteric worldview—many people I know seem to be paying closer and closer attention to synchronicities and psychic events that appear in their lives, not in a naive or fuzzily “New Age” way but in a very sophisticated and careful manner. Such a shift is almost impossible to quantify—though the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University is giving it a good shot, placing random number generators in cities around the Earth and noting significant statistical deviation from normal patterns of randomness after—and even hours before—major world events such as 9/11 or the massive tsunami.

The subjective, psychic, or shamanic aspect of being is only barely alluded to in Kunstler’s analysis of a potentially spooky, Road Warrior-like future (he does propose religion will become more essential to many people, with the melting-down of our current support systems), but it is one that needs to be considered. Dean Radin, Director of the Consciousness Research Laboratory at the University of Nevada, has compiled and analyzed the statistical evidence for “psi” phenomena, presenting the data in his book, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena (1997). According to his meticulous study, thousands of experiments in telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance have fulfilled the scientific requirements of verifiability and repeatability, indicating that these phenomena do, in fact, exist, and can be measured. In our current understanding of psychic phenomena, we may be in a similar place as the West was in the 1750s in regards to electricity—the scientists of that time had noticed lightning and static shocks, but had no conception of how to convert this energy into a transformative force for their world. It may be that the transfer to a harmonic world will be accompanied by global psychic experiments focused on planetary healing.

Rather than thinking of a retraction or destruction of human possibilities in an approaching economic collapse, it might be that such an episode would be bracing as well as clarifying, leading to a sudden switch-over of the elites who run our crudely globalized and inequitable world-system. It is worth considering previous epochs of revolutionary change, such as the French Revolution. Before the French Revolution, the Enlightenment philosophers, pamphleteers, and cafe intellectuals of the ancien regime had little clue that they might end up the vanguard of a new social order. Revolutionary moments are mythological and archetypal situations—and we may be closer to such an episode than most of us currently dare to imagine. After all, before 1989, how many people managed to predict or even imagine the sudden and astonishingly peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall? Would the collapse of Wall Street—symbolizing a system of abstract monetary value that is a bit like a parasitical artificial life form feeding on the natural capital of the planet—be any more surprising?

If this alternative hypothesis is correct, the time between now and the approaching change-over represents our singular opportunity to develop alternative paradigms and basic support systems—of food production, alternative energy, new currencies, and so on —that could be applied on increasingly large scales as the mainstream socioeconomic system continues its inevitable entropic decline. The macroscopic utopianism of someone like Buckminster Fuller—who believed humans were fated to succeed on the Earth, designing societies of abundance rather than scarcity—may deserve more of our current attention than the dystopian visions that have become so prevalent, and so popular. At the same time, the pursuit of spirituality may come to seem increasingly less fuzzy and more pragmatically necessary and straightforward. When Yogi Bhaijan —the master of kundalini yoga who died last year—was asked by his disciples to define the true meaning of the long-awaited “Age of Aquarius,” he replied bluntly: “No more bullshit.” His answer may be a mantra for our time.

"A Future Worth Having" by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 16/May 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 16 (May, 2005)

Illustration by Arik Roper

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“A Future Worth Having”

I first encountered the idea that we are quickly approaching a “Technological Singularity” in the works of Terence McKenna. In McKenna’s great essay, “New Maps of Hyperspace,” published in The Archaic Revival, he wrote, “We are like coral animals embedded in a technological reef of extruded psychic objects. All our tool making implies our belief in an ultimate tool.” He saw the archetypal apparition of the UFO or Flying Saucer as a foreshadowing of this tool awaiting us at the end of history. For him, this ultimate tool would exteriorize the human soul and interiorize the body, releasing the psyche into the infinite realm of the Imagination—”a kind of Islamic paradise in which one is free to experience all the pleasures of the flesh provided one realizes that one is a projection of a holographic solid-state matrix.”

McKenna was writing in the first flush of technological euphoria that accompanied the “dot-com” boom, and his perspective reflects a certain amount of that decades-long bedazzlement with the new forces unleashed by the extraordinary evolution of the Internet. Ultimately, however, his perspective was Gnostic, as well as Apocalyptic, informed by his psychedelic journeys into psilocybin and DMT-space. McKenna was a brilliant man. However, his euphoric focus on the self-organization of this technological event—which he often correlated with the 2012 end-date of the Mayan Calendar—left in its wake a certain passivity. The hipster counterculture that has beamed into this meme is too quick to celebrate the upcoming Eschaton, without doing the hard work required to bring it into being. From my perspective, what we need to consider now is not technology, but technique.

Before elaborating on that idea, let’s take a brief look at the “Technological Singularity” meme as it is currently propounded on the Internet by John Smart, of Singularity Watch, and Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines and operator of the KurzweilAI.net website. Kurzweil and Smart are “transhumanists,” who promote the prospect of an imminent super-technological future in which humans have merged with machines in order to transcend our biological limits. In his essay “The Law of Accelerating Returns,” Kurzweil looks at the exponential evolution of technology, and argues that this mathematical growth-curve eventually reaches a point where it accelerates to a level that is close to infinite. He believes that this will most likely occur sometime in this century: “Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity—technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.”

Smart shares Kurzweil’s euphoria: “Technology is the next organic extension of ourselves, growing with a speed, efficiency, and resiliency that must eventually make our DNA-based technology obsolete, even as it preserves and extends all that we value most in ourselves,” he noted in a 2003 interview. Unlike Kurzweil, who sees humans evolving technologies that expand out to fill up the universe, Smart sees the eventual destiny of the species in what he calls “transcension,” essentially escaping this universe in the other direction, by creating simulations or virtual realities that will be like new universes—or, in fact, new universes, as we draw all local information into the black hole of our information-processing and technology-generating engines.

The transhumanists begin with the idea that our biological limitations should be overcome through mechanical augmentation. We are too slow, too cumbersome in our inherited meatsuits, and therefore trapped in what John Smart calls “slowspace.” Through immersion in virtual realities or direct fusion with cerebrally accelerating artificial intelligence agents—or some other technological genie—we will leap beyond our current imprisonment in the organic realm, and attain a higher, faster, snazzier state of being. Kurzweil notes: “Biological thinking is stuck at 1026 calculations per second (for all biological human brains), and that figure will not appreciably change, even with bioengineering changes to our genome. Nonbiological intelligence, on the other hand, is growing at a double exponential rate and will vastly exceed biological intelligence well before the middle of this century.” By inserting “nanobots” into our brains or ultimately perhaps downloading our psyches into immortal silicon-based supercomputers, humans will be able to contribute our pitiful little brain-wattage and antiquated personalities to the evolution of A.I.’s higher, faster levels of functioning.

We can, in fact, according to Smart, even feel some compassion for the next level of machine consciousness we are currently gestating to succeed us. He writes, “Consider that once we arrive at the singularity it seems highly likely that the A.I.s will be just as much on a spiritual quest, just as concerned with living good lives and figuring out the unknown, just as angst-ridden as we are today.” Even if, during some hyper-insectile phase of Terminator-style behavior, the A.I,’s accidentally destroy the human species, Smart reassures us, they would no doubt want to recreate us eventually – just as we build museums to understand the history of our planet and how we arose out of earlier life-forms, as well as documenting indigenous cultures that we too have accidentally destroyed.

It is instructive to consider—and to dismiss—the transhumanist perspective, as it reflects our cultural fantasies about technology and about transcendence, as well as our deep anxiety and deeper misconceptions about the essence of time, space, consciousness, and being. It may be the case—I would propose—that our future lies in an entirely different direction. To begin to conceptualize that direction—to draw in an imprint of what a truly human future might look like—we first have to give some thought to the essential nature of technology. Continue reading

"The Fifth World and the Hopi Apocalypse" by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 14/Jan. 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (Jan. 2005)

Illustration by Arik Roper

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“The Fifth World and the Hopi Apocalypse”

Last summer, I visited the Hopi on their tribal lands in Arizona. The Hopi are thought to be the original inhabitants of the North American continent–this is what their own legends tell us, and archaeologists agree. My initial interest in the Hopi came from reading about their oral prophecies and their “Emergence Myth.” According to the Hopi, we are currently living in the Fourth World, on the verge of transitioning, or emerging, into the Fifth World. In each of the three previous worlds, humanity eventually went berserk, tearing apart the fabric of the world through destructive practices, wars, and ruinous technologies. As the end of one world approaches a small tunnel or inter-dimensional passage —the sipapu—appears, leading the Hopi and other decent people into the next phase, or incarnation, of the Earth.

Of course, most modern people would consider this story to be an interesting folktale or fantasy with no particular relevance to our current lives. Even five years ago, I probably would have agreed with them. However, my personal experiences with indigenous cultures and shamanism convinced me, in the interim, that there is more to traditional wisdom than our modern mindset can easily accept. The Hopi themselves say that almost all of the signs have been fulfilled that precede our transition to the Fifth World. These include a “gourd of ashes falling from the sky,” destroying a city, enacted in the atomic blasts obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a spider web across the Earth, which they associate with our power grid and telephone lines. According to Frank Waters, who compiled accounts from 30 Hopi elders in his Book of the Hopi (1963), the current Fourth World will end in a war that will be “a spiritual conflict” fought with material means, leading to the destruction of the United States through radiation. Those who survive this conflict will institute a new united world without racial or ideological divisions “under one power, that of the Creator.”

The 12,000 Hopi live in a dry and dramatic landscape strewn with enormous boulders, resembling the surface of an alien planet. Their towns are clustered on three mesas—high, flat cliffs overlooking vast swathes of desert. Traditionally, the Hopi are subsistence farmers; they work with ancient strains of corn and beans that are, almost miraculously, able to grow in that arid environment. For obvious reasons, water is sacred to their culture—many of their rituals are aimed at bringing rain. Each spring, each well, is precious to the Hopi. While I was visiting Hopiland I attended a raindance in the town of Walpi, on First Mesa. Perhaps 50 men of the town—wearing masks and costumes and feathered headdresses —participated in the dance, which was held in the town’s center. The dancers are dressed as katsinas, the spiritual beings that are thought to control elemental forces. The ceremony is a form of possession trance—the goal is to summon the katsinas to temporarily inhabit the bodies of the dancers. The Hopi believe that their culture can only prosper if they maintain direct contact with the supernatural powers that manifest directly through the natural world.

In his book Rethinking Hopi Anthropology, the Cambridge anthropologist Peter Whitely recalls, with an almost embarrassed reluctance, that during his time with the Hopi in the 1980s, he witnessed repeated demonstrations of their precognitive abilities and their ability to influence natural forces through ritual. He was transfixed by his first visit to a Snake Dance in 1980: “This was no commodified spectacle of the exotic … its profound religiosity was tangible, sensible. Within half an hour of the dance (which lasts about 45 minutes), a soft rain began to fall from a sky that had been burningly cloudless throughout the day.” When he went to see one of his informants, Harry Kewanimptewa, a septuagenarian member of the Spider clan, he would often find that the elder would answer the questions he had intended to ask before he could vocalize them: “I have no desire to fetishize or exoticize here, but this was something about him and some other, particularly older, Hopis that I have experienced repeatedly and am unable to explain rationally.”

I can sympathize with Whiteley’s plight. Since I started exploring shamanism almost a decade ago, I have found myself living in two worlds simultaneously Continue reading

"Towards the New Edge" by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 13/Nov. 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 13 (Nov. 2004)

Illustration by Arik Roper

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“Towards the New Edge”

A few weeks ago, I attended the annual Burning Man festival, in the Black Rock desert of Nevada, for the fifth year in a row. Burning Man has been called the world’s biggest party, but I don’t even know if I have “fun” at Burning Man in any ordinary sense—being there is incredibly intense, a kind of psychophysical endurance test. Despite the difficulties, I will continue to return as long as it is possible to do so. The gathering acts as an enormous shamanic transformer, constellating new insights and clearing away old junk.

I chose to go to Burning Man instead of staying in New York for the protests surrounding the Republican Convention. My increasing suspicion is that traditional forms of protest, at this point, are only playing into the hands of the security apparatus. The police and military get the opportunity to test out their latest tactics and shiniest gadgets, while the corporate media finds the most incendiary images to broadcast across the US, amping up the anxiety. The catharsis that protesters get from yelling slogans across barbed wire barriers and out of “free speech pens” might be energy that could be more creatively invested in other ways.

As the corporate and governmental superstructure continue a lockstep march towards their own self-destruction, their attempts to pulverize the collective psyche into submission becomes more transparent and overt. Electrical currents of spite and anxiety ripple across our public discourse and private lives. The individual’s refusal to fall into these traps or accept this negative conditioning can be a great liberation. At Burning Man, I kept thinking that the most meaningful political act, right now, is to continue cultivating fearlessness in pursuit of joy. To be fearless, calm, and joyful is to jam a wrench into the “Brave New 1984” technodystopic machinery that is seeking to impose itself on our world.

I consider the current sociopolitical abyss to be a kind of evolutionary tool. The control apparatus of modern society may be functioning as a training ground for a new level of consciousness. Many different thinkers of the 20th century, as well as the prophecies of archaic and indigenous spiritual traditions, have proposed that a major change in human consciousness is imminent. This has been articulated in various ways. Before his death in 1961, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw that the “reality of the psyche,” repressed by the modern mentality, would soon become unavoidable. Mankind was being forced to climb “to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness,” to handle “the superhuman powers which the fallen angels” had dropped into our hands.

The Austrian visionary Rudolf Steiner (founder of Anthroposophy and Waldorf education) claimed that the mission of his life on Earth was to return the knowledge of reincarnation to the West. According to Steiner, individual human beings reincarnate again and again, and the Earth itself passes through successive incarnations. He considered this phase to be the fourth incarnation of the Earth. Steiner thought we are approaching a fifth incarnation, the “Jupiter state,” where humanity would evolve new capacities and reach a new level of wisdom. Actually, it’s not just humanity: according to Steiner, the plant and mineral kingdom would reach a higher level of consciousness during this next incarnation, while humanity would split into several different “human kingdoms,” undergoing different forms of evolution.

The Indian philosopher Sri Auribindo also felt that we were moving towards a new level or intensity of consciousness. In one of his last essays, “The Mind of Light,” he defined this as the “supramental” state. Just as life had self-organized out of matter, and mind had self-organized out of life, consciousness would evolve beyond the obscurations and ignorance of our current condition to attain a level of truth-consciousness, and spiritual awareness, that could not be manipulated or fooled. Aurobindo speculated that our evolution would accelerate exponentially from that point. Once we had reached this supramental state, this truth-consciousness, we would be able to transform our physical reality and our bodies. “Man,” Aurobindo wrote, “is a transitional being.” The powers unleashed by technology might be reintegrated into the psyche, at a higher level of development.

As counterintuitive as it may seem at first, I propose that our current environment, saturated with noise and chaos and fear-mongering, is the necessary background for attaining this supramental condition, for accepting and mastering the reality of the psyche. The new mindset stems from a fearless curiosity and hunger for truth, and a rejection of the cynicism and negative programming foisted upon it by the corporate-controlled media and current power structure. The new intensity of consciousness accepts the reality of psychic and occult levels of reality, denied by modern materialism, but integrates this understanding with a scientific, pragmatic, and empirical approach to existence. As a speaker at Burning Man pointed out, it is not “New Age,” but “New Edge.”

My hypothesis is that at least a portion of humanity attains this level of “supramental” mind – including, as Aurobindo proposes, an accelerated evolution —as we approach the year 2012, prophesied by the Mayans as the end of the 5,125-year “Great Cycle” of human history. Continue reading

"Fellowship of the Vine": an interview with shamanic psychonaut-author Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 1/Oct 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October, 2002)

“The Garden of Magic; or, the Powers and Thrones Approach the Bridge” by Alan Moore (1994)


Fellowship of the Vine
An interview with shamanic psychonaut-author Daniel Pinchbeck

Daniel Pinchbeck is a New York-based writer and journalist who co-founded the literary magazine Open City in the early ‘90s. The son of the writer Joyce Johnson (a member of the Beat Generation and author of Minor Characters) and the painter Peter Pinchbeck, Pinchbeck has been on a passionate intellectual quest for the last years that has taken him across Nepal, India, Mexico, the Amazon and West Africa, writing pieces on art, psychedelics, and altered states of consciousness for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Wired, Salon, and The New York Times Magazine, among others. His new book, Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway), is an account of that quest, blending cultural history, personal narrative, and metaphysical speculation. The original interview was conducted by Joseph Durwin on the eve of Breaking Open the Head’s publication; there’s been some slight futzing of the text by Arthur’s editor.

Arthur: In your book, you talk about exploring many of the same hallucinogenic drugs—LSD, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca—that postwar Westerm bohemians like the Beats and the Hippies were interested in. How does your quest compare to those of people like William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary?
Daniel Pinchbeck: The Beats were working by instinct and intuition. They realized that modern society had become a horror show, and that their task was to begin to uncover, in Allen Ginsberg’s words, “a lost knowledge or a lost consciousness.” They took that process as far as they could in the context of their times and their individual personalities.

I believe that my approach—and my book—is more scientific and analytic, because that is the task of the “counterculture” in our time. Perhaps I am the only person who feels this way, but I see a clear goal ahead. This goal is a direct legacy of the counterculture —but it is actually hundreds, if not many thousands, of years older than that. In fact, it is the mission that we must somehow accomplish. Think of it as a secret raid to be carried out deep behind enemy lines, despite incredible odds, and with no possibility of failure.

The Beats and the Hippies saw through the abrasive insanity gnawing at the soul of America–this warmongering, money-mad, climate-destroying monstrosity, which is now casting a dreadful shadow across the planet. Where the Beats acted intuitively, from the heart, we now have the necessary knowledge to put together a new paradigm that is simultaneously political, ecological, spiritual, and far more scientifically accurate than the out-dated Newtonian-Darwinian model which is propping up the doom-spiraling status quo. The psychedelic experience supports the physicist David Bohm’s vision of a “holographic universe,” which is also identical to the alchemical perspective of “As above, so below.” We now have the tools to reinstate the archaic cosmological perspective on a firm scientific basis. Once that sinks in, it becomes obvious that the true goal of human existence is psychic and spiritual development, and the entire thrust of the capitalist system is a samsaric delusion that is keeping humanity from recovering its birthright.

Perhaps there is a reason that humanity has been frantically seeking to develop a “global brain” through the Internet, cell phones, and satellites: I suspect that a moment will come when complete social transformation becomes not only possible, but inevitable. That moment may be sooner than we think.

What were the circumstances that led to pursuing the experiences you relate in your book?
I first tried mushrooms and LSD in college–as many people do—and my experiences left me intrigued but puzzled. It seemed extraordinary that such vast alternative dimensions of consciousness could be revealed with such shocking immediacy. And it was equally extraordinary that the mainstream culture didn’t find this a worthy subject of discussion or thought. After college, I put psychedelics aside to enter the “real world.” When I hit my late twenties, I began to feel increasingly desolate and despairing. I was lucky enough to be connected to the New York media world, the art world, and the literary world, but all these scenes began to seem unbearably empty to me. I realized that I needed to know for myself if there was a spiritual dimension to existence–I really thought that I might literally go insane or prefer to die without access to some form of deeper knowledge. I didn’t think a bit of yoga was going to do the trick. At a bookstore, I heard about iboga, an African tribal psychedelic plant used in Gabon and the Congo that is said to show initiates the African spirit world. Most people just take it once in their lives–it lasts for thirty hours. I got an assignment to go to Africa and go through the initiation, and that was where my quest began. Continue reading

"Regarding Crop Circles" by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 12/Sept. 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)

Illustration by Arik Roper

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“Regarding Crop Circles…”

By the time you read this, the 2004 crop circle season will be over. Harvesters will have scooped up the fallen wheat and canola, as it lay swirled into inscrutable patterns. The symbols that attracted thousands to the verdant countryside of Wessex, in Southern England, will only exist as a set of astonishing images (to see this year’s patterns, visit http://www.cropcircleconnector.com, http://www.temporarytemples.co.uk and http://www.cropcircleresearch.com). The pictures will go into the archives and databases kept by the “croppies,” those devoted students of a phenomenon that has been resoundingly ridiculed by journalists and ignored by the masses. After all, the prevailing judgment offered by the media and the public is that the crop circles are a hoax, made by drunken farmers, bored teenagers, or unemployed artists. If this is the prevailing belief, then surely it must be the case. When is the mainstream media or mass popular opinion ever wrong?

Crop circles have appeared annually, in the UK and around the world, since the late 1970s. The patterns began as simple circles, but quickly started to complexify into formations such as “quintuplets,” four smaller circles arrayed around a single larger one. In the early 1990s, the crop circles moved to a new level, as hundreds of designs appeared each summer. One type of formation seemed to display a kind of abstract sign system unscrolling across hundreds of yards. In 1991, crop circles started to depict recognizable symbols from alchemy, fractal geometry, and various mystical traditions. Beginning at that time, hoaxers stepped forward declaring that they were the perpetrators of the phenomenon. Some of these groups—such as http://www.circlemakers.com—continue to claim responsibility, parlaying their skills in simulating formations into lucrative contracts with corporations and music video producers.

Through the rest of the 1990s and until today, the crop circles continued to evolve—and this took place in relative quiet. Much of the media coverage and popular attention dispersed after the phenomenon was officially labeled a con job. However, those who continued to follow the patterns were treated to ever-more elaborate and extraordinary configurations, using increasingly complex geometry. Averaging perhaps 100 configurations a year, the formations branched into Moebius Strips, toroids, DNA spirals, sunflower bursts, astronomical configurations indicating certain dates in the future, “Trees of Life,” futuristic iterations of the Yin-Yang symbol, various complex fractals, and “strange attractors.” The execution of these patterns—except for the obvious human-made attempts—has been persistently virtuosic.

The intellectual profile of the circlemakers was raised considerably by Gerald Hawkins, former chair of the astronomy department at Boston University and author of the influential book, Stonehenge Decoded. Hawkins began to study the geometry of the crop circles in 1990. He found that even seemingly simple formations contained hidden layers of intention and geometrical complexity. He analyzed a triplet of circles, in a pyramid shape, discovered on June 4, 1988, at Cheesefoot Head. He was able to draw three tangent lines that touched all three circles. These three lines formed an equilateral triangle. He drew a circle at the center of this triangle, and found that the ratio of the diameter of this central circle to the diameter of the three original circles was 4:3. He tested this out with circles of different sizes that allowed tangent lines to be drawn in the same way, and he found that the ratio remained constant. The formation had yielded a geometrical paradigm. Since Hawkins was well-schooled in Euclidean geometry, he went looking for this theorem in the pages of Euclid, and other later texts. It did not exist. The formation was displaying a new Euclidean paradigm that no other geometer had found.

Hawkins found three other original Euclidean paradigms in different crop circle patterns. From these four paradigms, he was able to generate a fifth Euclidean theorem that Euclid, and all later authors, had missed. This theorem involved concentric circles placed inside different types of triangles. Circles drawn within three isosceles triangles generated one typical formation; circles drawn within equilateral triangles generated the other. In one science journal and one magazine for math teachers, Hawkins offered a contest to see if anyone could derive the fifth general theorem from the four earlier ones. Nobody could. “One has to admire this sort of mind, let alone how it’s done or why it’s done,” remarked Hawkins, who also found diatonic ratios in many formations, suggesting the circlemakers take an interest in the musical scale.

Biophysicists have studied the biochemical effects on plants within the formations, discovering that the bent “nodes” on stalks of wheat and canola are elongated towards the center of a crop circle, as if by heat. Many observers have seen “balls of light” hovering over fields in which crop circles have appeared; some have witnessed the extraordinarily fast creation of patterns—within a few seconds—seemingly orchestrated by these “balls of light.” Eltjo Haselhoff, a Dutch physicist and laser engineer, collated data supporting the hypothesis that crop circles are created by single-point sources of electromagnetic radiation. He published the results of his investigations in Physiologia Plantarum, a peer-reviewed scientific journal on plant physiology and biophysics. In his excellent and levelheaded book The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles, Haselhoff writes:

This publication has an important consequence. It means that the hypothesis that “balls of light” are directly involved in the creation of (at least some of the) crop formations is no longer a hypothesis, but a scientifically proven and accepted fact. Moreover, it will remain such a fact until someone comes forward with an alternative explanation for the circularly symmetric node lengthening, or proofs that the analysis was erroneous. However, such a proof will not be an article in some daily newspaper or on the Internet. The discussions about node-lengthening effects in crop circles have clearly outgrown the level of the tabloids and entered the era of scientific communication by means of scientific literature. Consequently, the only comment that can be taken seriously at this point will have to be another publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The Wessex area of Southern England is the epicenter of the crop circle phenomenon. It has attracted a group of thinkers and researchers over the last decades, who have studied the formations and contemplated them over a considerable period of time. Their perspective is that the phenomenon may be intentional, orchestrated by levels of nonterrestrial consciousness considerably more advanced than our own.

John Martineau is the Glastonbury-based publisher of Wooden Books, a wonderful series of slim volumes on astronomy, physics, Neolithic monuments, and other subjects. Martineau’s A Little Book of Coincidence illustrates the beautifully harmonic set of relations between planets orbiting our solar system—Earth and Venus, for instance, create perfect pentagonal geometry. Martineau became fascinated with cosmology and Neolithic stone circles while researching the crop formations in the early 1990s. He describes the crop circles as a “coincidence nexus.” He considers the crop formations to be great works of art: “If they are made by people, I want to study under them.”

Michael Glickman, a retired architect and industrial designer, is one of the most entertaining and articulate of the crop circle researchers. Glickman considers the glyphs to be “a series of profound, diverse, and complex communications of a substantial lightness and subtlety. They are using shape and geometry, number and form, to access fundamental parts of our being which have become culturally deactivated over centuries.”

The crop circle symbols point towards the possibility of reconciling modern scientific knowledge with esoteric wisdom traditions. In recent decades, a bridge has been built between these two modes of understanding—reflected in popular books such as The Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu-Lei Masters, The Cosmic Serpent, Godel Escher Bach, Earth Ascending and so forth. Quantum physics seems to be a continuation of mysticism by other means. The crop circles repeatedly focus attention on astonishing correspondences between the fractals of modern chaos science and hermetic symbolism. To take one example, variations on the “Koch fractal” have appeared several times. The Koch fractal is the Star of David, with an endless series of triangles added on to each edge to create mini-stars in a self-recursive pattern with an infinitely expansive perimeter, resembling a snowflake. Although the perimeter of the Koch Fractal is infinite, the icon can be contained within a circle, demonstrating the esoteric principle that the infinite is contained within the finite. An extremely beautiful series of crop patterns have presented previously unknown variations on the yin-yang symbol, as a self-recursive shape in which negative and positive are held in dynamic balance.

I began to study the crop circles a few years ago, spending the last two summers in the region of England where most of them appear, tromping around fields and talking to farmers, croppie philosophers, and self-proclaimed hoaxers. My perspective on the crop circles is that they are a teaching on the nature of reality, geared specifically for the Western mind. This teaching is multi-levelled. Some of the formations are made by human hoaxers—although probably considerably fewer than one would think. However, you can never be certain – and this seems to be an intentional part of the teaching. If you take them seriously, the crop circles force you to confront indeterminacy and paradox, without rushing to make some deterministic judgement. In this way, they undermine the dualistic habits of the modern mind, which wants something to be “real” or “fake,” “true” or “false,” right away. Overcoming dualism is essential to the teaching of the Dzogchen tradition from Tibet. Chogyai Namkai Norbu writes in Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State:

Duality is the real root of our suffering and of all our conflicts. All our concepts and beliefs, no matter how profound they may seem, are like nets which trap us in dualism. When we discover our limits we have to try to overcome them, untying ourselves from whatever type of religious, political, or social conviction may condition us. We have to abandon such concepts as “enlightenment,” “the nature of the mind,” and so on, until we no longer neglect to integrate our knowledge with our actual existence.

It may be that the circlemakers are guiding us, gently but persistently, to achieve a new understanding of our world—if we could only be bothered to pay attention.

* * *

“Here and Now” columnist Daniel Pinchbeck is a founding editor of Open City Magazine and author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books). http://www.breakingopenthehead.com

Arik Moonhawk Roper lives in New York City with his cat and two roommates. He’s currently producing a book of graven images and psychonautical roadmaps designed to create true hallucinations through visual stimulation. http://www.arikroper.com

"Kali Can You Hear Me?" by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur No. 11, July 2004)

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“Kali Can You Hear Me?”

Originally published in Arthur No. 11 (July 2004)

When I bring up the subject of the “Kali Yuga” in polite company, I find that few people know what I am talking about, let alone that we are in the midst of it. So what is the Kali Yuga? According to Hindu lore, the Kali Yuga is the last of four epochs which can be roughly equated to the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age known in the Western tradition. Each epoch signifies a decline and a degradation from the previous phase. The Kali Yuga is the bottom of the barrel, where humanity has lost all connection to its sacred source and wallows in lower appetites, materialism and greed. In the Vishnu Puruna, this state is achieved “when society reaches a stage where property confers rank, wealth becomes the only source of virtue, passion the sole bond of union between husband and wife, falsehood the source of success in life, sex the only means of enjoyment, and when outer trappings are confused with inner religion.”

Kali is the Hindu goddess of destruction, usually depicted with four arms, dancing wildly on a corpse, tongue sticking out, blood dripping from her fangs. Kali is the wrathful manifestation of Shakti, the consort of Shiva. While Lord Shiva is the personification of pure consciousness, Lady Shakti represents the current of sexual energy behind all manifestation. The eternal act of love between Shiva and Shakti maintains the balance of forces in the universe.

According to some accounts, the four yugas are immensely long affairs, and there are hundreds of thousands of years left to run in our current Kali Yuga. However, some Hindu sects, such as the Dravidians, say that the entire cycle lasts 60,000 years in total, and we are currently approaching the finish line of the final epoch. The good news about the Kali Yuga is that Hindu time runs in a circle or spiral. The end of the Kali Yuga means a return to the Golden Age, the Satya Yuga, after passage through a transition made in darkness.

According to the French esoteric scholar Rene Guenon, writing in the early years of the 20th century, “We have in fact entered upon the final phase of this Kali Yuga, the darkest period of this dark age, the state of dissolution from which there is to be no emerging except through a cataclysm, since it is no longer a mere revival which is required, but a complete renovation.” Guenon scoffed at the “triumph” of Western values and empirical thought, seeing the modern worship of empirical science as a shallow delusion: “These lower forms of knowledge, so insignificant to anyone possessing knowledge of a different order, had nevertheless to be realized,” he wrote in The Crisis of the Modern World. This realization could only happen at the point where “true intellectuality,” knowledge of a different order, had disappeared or been completely devalued.

The standard liberal, feminist, or left-wing criticism of our society considers it a patriarchal dominator culture that represses the feminine and the natural. This is of course true, as far as it goes. However, in the Kali Yuga, it is the female daemonic current of Shakti energy that has gone berserk, and not the male principle. As Nikolai and Zenia Shreck put it in their entertaining Demons of the Flesh: “During this Aeon, the lunar, sinister current of the Feminine Daemonic is at its zenith, a spiritual condition which allows for the breaking up of all boundaries and the free play of creative chaos, unrestricted by the male ordering principle.” Since Kali is the wrathful manifestation of Shakti, the Kali Yuga could be described as the goddess Shakti throwing a hissy fit.

We find this idea coded into the Biblical story of Genesis. Man was satisfied in Paradise. It was woman, Eve, who bit the apple (of knowledge and desire), and she wants to keep biting. On the deepest level, men are unchanged by history—they are the same soldiers, shamans, and duffers now as they were five, ten, or fifty thousand years ago. Women are the ones who are trying to change. To bite deeper into the apple, “she,” the archetypal feminine, the Shakti-current, needs to be given recognition, permission, affirmation, by man and by the masculine Shiva-force of consciousness.

After giving this much consideration, I suspect that the “fate of the Earth” literally depends on understanding and acting upon this situation. “She” is going to continue to wreak havoc until she gets what she wants in the way that she wants it—which may have nothing to do with contemporary social values or moral and sexual stereotypes. The 1960s provided a dress rehearsal. The Shakti current opened up for a while, after the near-nuclear annihilation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the possibility of a global civilization based on love rather than domination became briefly apparent.

The “feminine” also represents the intuitive forms of thought denigrated by our rigidly masculine rationality, as well as nature itself. The Kali Yuga comprises all of recorded history—the last five or six thousand years. Historical time is the duration required for human consciousness to realize its separation from nature, and penetrate into matter through technology. As Francis Bacon put it at the beginning of the era of modern science: “We must torture Nature until she reveals her secrets.” Western science is a Sadean project. Western Man’s incessant probing of nature is, in itself, a quest for knowledge of the lost and defiled goddess whose body is the world.

When the feminine daemonic went berserk, at the beginning of the Kali Yuga, there was a withdrawal of maternal protection and sensual satisfaction from most of humanity. According to Robert Lawlor’s extraordinary book, Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime, this may have occurred through an actual shift or weakening in Mother Earth’s electromagnetic field. The aboriginals live without shelter or clothing on the southernmost continent, staying in constant contact with the planet’s electromagnetic force, its heartbeat. For the aboriginals, every day is the “first day” of creation, the origin point, and there was never a “fall of man” into a degraded state. Because they maintained this pure condition, they had no interest in developing technologies that would permit them to control or dominate nature.

At the core of our word “materialism” is “Mater,” mother. As the polarity of Kali/Shakti suggests, there are two sides to the mother archetype. There is the nurturing, fertile, and benevolent mother, and there is the aggrieved, possessive, devouring mother. In the modern world, we became obsessed with material goods and possessions. This obsession is due to our subconscious enslavement by the “bad mother” archetype. Kali Yuga humans, deprived of “mother’s milk,” of proper nurturing, become devious, depraved, greedy, insatiable, miserly—we have confused matter for Mater.

In his laboratory, the scientist has sought to understand the wound inflicted on him by the aggrieved feminine. He has asked the wrong questions and received the wrong answers. To ask the right questions, he would have to start with a different understanding. Rather than seeking some delusionary final closure, he would have to accept the nature of paradox, and the paradox that is nature.

Obsessed with the urge to escape the limits of spacetime through a direct phallic extension of his ego, through acceleration, man builds racing cars and rockets. Acting out of subconscious rage, man splits the atom in an attempt to annihilate matter/mater. The oceanic feminine waits for the wave to crash. Kali giggles. She whispers: “You do not know me yet, you man, you failed systemizer.”

Technology is an attempt to create a “second nature” that accords with limited masculine rationality. Modern technology imposes a rigid, static, dead order on the flowing fractal chaos that is feminine nature. At the moment of seeming triumph for modern science, the physicist discovers, to his horror, that matter is an illusion—there is only quantum foam, fluctuation, and flux. It is all feminine sinuous motion: Shakti. It is all relational. There is no hard fact, just spectacle and seduction and uncertainty principles. What holds reality together is consciousness, the observer who changes what is observed. Instead of a bedrock materiality, there is what the Hindus call “lila,” divine play.

The Western project of technology and science have been called into being by the secret workings of the aggrieved feminine current. This may seem counter-intuitive at first. However, it should be recalled that men tend to be “passively active,” while women are “actively passive,” impelling activity and erotic advances like magnets. The deviation in the feminine Shakti current impelled the anguished masculine drive towards rationality. My hypothesis is that the ultimate purpose of technology is to aid in the coming-to-consciousness of women—the realization of feminine desire and self-knowledge. At that point, Kali will retract her fangs, pull in her tongue, liberate her victims, and, with the faintest trace of a Mona Lisa smile, turn back into Shakti. As Wilhelm Reich put it: “Sexually awakened women, affirmed and recognized as such, would mean the complete collapse of the patriarchy.” The underground currents of our time lead in this direction. The mass-market success of The Da Vinci Code, a mystery based on the suppression of the sacred feminine by Christianity, is one of many indications.

As it says in The Tao, “Reversal is the movement of the Tao.” I propose that the conclusion of the Kali Yuga is a cosmic synchronization with the end-date of the Mayan calendar in the year 2012. By that time, masculine technology and feminine nature will have reintegrated, and the liberational movements that crested and collapsed during the 1960s will return, reformat themselves, and complete the task of establishing a new age and a new consciousness. The goddess is returning, and this time around, the apple will be eaten down to the core.