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I recall an old cartoon joke which depicts a pair of ancient Greeks standing before a Doric column on which one had just carved the words ‘Earth Air, Fire, Water’. The other one says, ‘That’s an interesting start’. The first one then says, ‘A start! What do you mean a start, that’s it!’
Most classical cultures seem to have started out trying to describe reality using similar semi-abstract, semi-concrete analogies.
Nowadays the word Element has a very precise technical meaning when it refers to a specific type of atom, for example Carbon, and more general colloquial meanings when it can refer to any components of a system, for example an element of chance in a game of cards, or the elements of the environment such as wind and rain, sunshine, temperature and terrain.
However in the classical paradigms the elements implied abstract metaphysical principles which supposedly had some sort of power over, or connection to, actual physical phenomena like rocks, winds, burning substances, and liquids. Humans have a deep propensity to think like this. To understand reality they attribute essences or qualities to phenomena and then imagine that such abstractions have some sort of independent reality.
We cannot really avoid doing this; even our so-called laws of physics consist of such ‘Platonic’ archetypes. We can however strive to derive abstractions and descriptions and attributions which correspond as accurately as possible to our observations of the behaviour of reality.
The elemental archetype theory seems to have two serious flaws. Firstly it generally lacks the concepts of mechanism and dynamics. It provides a more or less static catalogue of reality in which the elements do not really interact except by mixing to produce phenomena which we cannot easily describe as arising from a single element. Some oriental elemental systems do at least make some attempt at a dynamic representation with the idea like water generating wood, wood burning to produce fire, fire acting on stone to make metal, and water condensing on metal, providing a simple idea of mechanism at least. Secondly, the abstract elemental categories try to encompass too much, a concept which means almost everything or at least 25% of it, means almost nothing if it lacks a reasonably tight definition. The category of all phenomena attributed to ‘Earth’ tells us nothing about its contents except that we have associated them together in our imaginations.
The poor explanatory and predictive power of the theory of elemental archetypes has led to its successive abandonment, first in physics, then in chemistry, then in medicine, and only fairly recently in psychology. It has only ever tended to appear referenced in religions when those religions were borrowing the idea from the technical world views of the time.
So why has it persisted in various branches of magic and esoterics?
The short and dirty answer to this question suggests that many contemporary magical and esoteric traditions simply continue to draw their paradigms from now defunct views of reality, somehow imagining that their very antiquity sanctifies them despite their general abandonment in all other fields.
I rather suspect that the Golden Dawn bears heavy responsibility for the re-appearance of the elemental archetypes in contemporary western esoterics. In its attempt at omniscient eclecticism it tried to shoehorn just about every esoteric idea it could get hold of into a neo-kabbalistic grand unified theory that doesn’t really bear close inspection.
An apologist for the retention of the theory of elemental archetypes could perhaps argue that it serves as a tool for the sort of associative or lateral or apophenic thinking style which often underlies creativity. Nevertheless I do feel currently rather annoyed at the prospect of trying to reprogram my imagination with a symbolic system that I dismissed decades ago, in order to penetrate the mysteries of a new system that I have encountered.
Esoteric thought seems littered with concepts which got borrowed from elsewhere, and which got out of hand and led to only weak and ineffective theories.
I strongly suspect that astrology began as a purely calendrical discipline. In ancient times keeping track of the date held great importance for agricultural societies as the temporary vagaries of weather and climate do not give a sufficiently reliable guide to the timing of such critical activities as planting and harvesting. The bureaucracies which supported early empires also required accurate calendars, and to some extent so did their armies. Initially astrology seems to have remained reserved for matters of state, like agricultural and military policy.
Given a tradition of date keeping it would not have taken people long to notice some association between a person’s season of birth and their health characteristics and life outcomes. This effect remains measurable today despite that we can generally now more easily isolate ourselves from the seasonal effects of daylight, food, and temperature fluctuations, (although not from school age entry requirements).
Gradually a system of auspicious and inauspicious date keeping seems to have become combined with a developing astronomical measuring system to create a baroque explanatory scheme with precise and fairly predictable astronomical data linked to ridiculously vague generalisations and prognostications about people’s psychologies and futures. This contemporary form of astrology has no statistically significant predictive power at all, precisely because, like the elements, the astrological categories remain so broad and ill-defined. Its apologists can at best argue that it provides a personal mythology or a possible mental map to play around with imaginatively.
In making or choosing a model of reality we have to start in the middle, in the midicosm of human scale experience. From this we can perhaps abstract some concepts that we can regard as fundamental. Some of these concepts we can apply on a bottom-up principle to try to explain or model our human scale experiences. The theory of atoms works like this, so does the theory of elemental archetypes, but not very well for me at least.
Top-down approaches typically begin with things like Gods with a big ‘G’, however this approach also runs into exactly the same problem as the elemental archetypes scheme, the Gods have to have such a vast and vague and self contradictory sets of attributes that they become objectively meaningless concepts, and instead become imaginative tools for exploring the fluctuations of our own subjective experiences, and rather clumsy ones at that.
The use of both approaches simultaneously seems to lead to the worst of all possible paradigms, or possibly to a fertile confusion. If Gods structure the universe from above and elemental archetypes structure the universe from below, then we seem condemned to eternal vague speculation upon the resulting inconsistencies. (Amusingly this rather mirrors the problem of the almost complete inconsistency of the quantum physics of the microcosm with the general relativity of the macrocosm.)
Alternatively, a sideways approach starting from a bit nearer home in the midicosm has a certain appeal.
The more human scale gods of the classical pantheons resume a fairly complete psychology without the cosmic pretensions of the various monotheist Gods. Stripping these gods and goddesses back to their most basic attributes, reveals deep biological and psychological drives coming up from below to meet the pagan theology in the middle. Thus we have gods and goddesses of Sex and Death, Fear and Desire, Love and War, Ego and Magic, etc etc etc.
Armed with such an idea we can perhaps formulate a mysticism and a magic based on various intents, instincts and drives that we can identify in ourselves. To flesh out (suitably anthropomorphise) such a system we can re-clothe the bare bones with ideas from the classical pantheons for the purposes of invocation and enchantment. This sort of ‘planetary magic’ has remained a staple of occidental magic since classical times. It forms the basis of all varieties of pagan thought from antiquity to the present day.
However we can quite comfortably ignore the actual astronomical planets these days. Venus for example provides an adequate goddess-form of love, and we can add a touch of Aphrodite, Isis, Ishtar, and various others of Her sisterhood to taste. Yet although the planet Venus itself looks beautiful in the springtime sky, conditions there resemble hell, with atmospheric pressure at 300 bar, a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead, and a continuous drizzle of fuming sulphuric acid instead of rain. So we may as well forget about the actual planet and its astronomy, and concentrate on interface with the Venusian archetype within, adding attributes by intuition.
On the other hand the elemental archetypes leave me with a sort of off-white night of the soul feeling, as I can find little that links ‘Water’ with my emotions, the melancholic humours, the geographical direction of west, and constellations designated Pisces and Aquarius which have by now got out of kilter due to the precession of the equinoxes.
Have I missed something here?
I raised these topics with a leading contemporary Mage recently. He suggested that we can regard The Elements as a sort of personal inventory, with earth symbolising the senses, water our emotions, air our intellect, fire our passions and spirit. Using such a scheme we can identify our strengths and weaknesses and maybe decide on making the most of our strengths or remedying our weaknesses.
He also suggested that beyond that, the concept of elemental archetypes has rather more artistic and poetic applications than scientific ones. (I shall now abandon forever my attempts to equate earth, air, fire and water with space, time, mass and energy).
And go with his interpretation.
Friday evening and I arrive at a secret location and meet people whose identities I have oathed not to reveal, for a semi-surprise inspection of my old order, after some decades on retirement / sabbatical. Suffice to say that the location lay in a magnificent forested area with splendid facilities, a temple and outdoor circles, and the assembled throng have many and varied unusual abilities and histories. Half of them I have never met before due to my long absence up my ivory tower, they seem astonished at my visit, I’ve hopefully made some new friends and colleagues.
They have done well in my absence (or perhaps because of it?), anyway, they grant me an honorary first for the weekend and work begins.
To a civilian, the work which followed may look like a religion masquerading as a joke, or a joke masquerading as a religion, or as something incomprehensibly surreal and esoteric, yet everyone sets to it with a manic determination, git hard magic leavened with a bizarre humor that you don’t often see in the po-faced new-age community. I feel pleased to see some classic material of mine still in use, plus many intriguing innovations.
Many actually survive the rigors of the nights work well enough to participate in the physical workout wakeup before breakfast the following morning.
And thus it goes on all weekend, ritual upon ritual, spell and conjuration, for we have many tweaks that we need to apply to ourselves and to reality at large.
Towards the end I deliver an Apophenia ritual, the first mass participation one I’ve ever tried, a late birthday party for Her.
Then a dash back across country for Sacred Grove on Sunday night, and possibly something a bit less frenzied, however they have planned a shamanic dance sort of thing for the evening. Towards the end of this I get the answer to the question I posed earlier to Apophenia, I should use the star ruby Agamotto style amulet for the purposes of yellow/solar/class 6 type magic.
Then a 5 mile hike back home.
I had expected to wake up half dead or never, yet today I feel splendid and inspired.
Apophenia’s Official Birthday.
On this little rock circling a nondescript star in an unfashionable spiral arm of our galaxy Apophenia’s Official Birthday happens tomorrow, Thursday 26th of May.
At least in the northern hemisphere this means that spring has truly sprung, my pond hosts newts, the grounds of Chateaux Chaos sprout all kinds of green stuff with obscure Latin names known only to the Memsahib. Clumsy maybugs batter the windows like poorly designed toy helicopters.
I intend to celebrate with copious doses of theobromine, I may go on a chocolate only ‘fast’ just for the day, followed by an invocation with a view to discovering what to do with The Eye of Agamotto, plus any other peculiar inspirations that She, Apophenia, suggests.
I predict that the world will not end tomorrow, although it seems an auspicious day for doing or thinking something paradigm challenging.
Accordingly, after ritual, I’m packing robes (of various colours) and wands and amulets for a long weekend at various esoteric events, in contradistinction to my usual reclusive behaviour.
A merry and discombobulating Apophenia-mass to all.
Eye of Agomotto
To prepare this most puissant magical amulet let the sorcerer first study the career of The Sorcerer Supreme, the mythical Dr Steven Strange.
Then let the sorcerer travel to some far and remote peninsula in the old Celtic lands, there perhaps to find some ancient fool conducting a fire sale of lapidary items at a Craft Fayre, and purchase from him a large star ruby mislabeled as a garnet, despite its giveaway hexagonal columnar structure, for a mere five pounds fifty without haggling.
Then let the sorcerer find an unwanted and unused bench mounted electric grinder going for a mere twenty five pounds at a shop of worthy charity, and again purchase it without haggling.
Then under auspicious stars let the sorcerer grind the ruby to a cabochon over many nights, sacrificing the electric grinder to the Great Work in the process, chanting (without blasphemy) throughout.
Then let the sorcerer take an old watch that has died, and file its casing of adamantine steel down to accommodate the gem, finally burnishing the casing to the color of bronze in a fire of ancient hydrocarbon gases, and then hammer in the jewel.
The metaphysical preparations can then begin. (Details to follow eventually, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_of_Agamotto for an interesting selection of magical properties that the sorcerer just might succeed to some degree in associating it with.)
Now that’s what I call Chaos Magic, the investment of meaning and effort into something that appeals to will and imagination, with due contempt for the conventions of dull common sense and myopic logic.
I strongly suspect that most published Grimoires got written retroactively, after a certain amount of literary research and practical experiment; they probably didn’t get delivered as finished items by deities and demons. Thus we should interpret them merely as general guides to the sort of stuff worth trying out.
Went to a community meeting this evening, largely to oppose the off-license sale of alcohol to the local teenage yobbery till 11pm. The local yobbery has a pretty grim effect here and plenty of drugs anyway, and they'd probably create less of a problem if stoned rather than drunk.
Anyway the foyer of the primary school exhibits a massive display of childrens rights material, including such gems as 'you have the right to think or believe anything you like so long as it does not offend anyone else'. So presumably they don't have the right to think anything that might offend anyone else.
The school had the fences and windows and bars and electronic locks of a medium security fortress or prison, which says a lot in itself, after all, the rights material did not explicity deny the right of children to burn their school down.
Then on the back of the community questionaire lay an invitation to complete the diversity survey about ethnicity, religion, and sexuality, on the basis of which the local council can presumably discount any survey it wants that fails to include sufficient transgender persons for example. Finally it included a box to tick if you didn't want to complete the survey, so I ticked that as well as all the relevant boxes on the basis that I didn't actually want to complete it, but had done it so that the inclusiveness survey would at least include one person who didn't want to include themself in an inclusiveness survey, or perhaps to create some sort of Barber of Seville type paradox for some bureaucrat somewhere.
Does our society sink towards some sort of politicaly correct dystopian maddness, or do I just become a grumpy old git?
Animageos - the visual equivalent of anonymous, pronounced An-imar-gus , and meaning not having your image in the public domain, rather like Banksy.
In these times of omnipresent CCTV and 'Lookist' culture where appearances and hype and public personality triumph so frequently over substance and sanity, preserving your animaginity (visual anonymity) and not permitting the theft of your soul by photography seems like an excellent policy.
By some strange serendipity I just came across a passage in Pratchet's Going Postal where he explains the view of time taken by the race of Golem's (who more or less have immortality). They consider time to have a doughnut shape and if you wait long enough it all comes round again, but you can take different decisions each time it does. Ha, that rather neatly summarises much of what the previous post strived to express. However the chances of anything remotely resembling humans, let alone any of us personally, still existing 22 billion years hence does seem rather remote, so we don't have to worry about what we'll do 'next' time. Discworld on the other hand has a rather shorter temporal 'diameter' of a mere 6,500 years though, according to calculations shown in The Octavo.
Ah, how refreshing to excercise one's democratic rights, whilst voting seems less fun than rioting, it seems much more fun than all out civil war, so I dragged my womenfolk down to the polling booth to vote NO to AV with a high expectation of success. Unfortunately no illiberal dimocrat canvassers were present for me to bait with insults and rhetoric.
anyway, now to something a bit more lighthearted for a change..........
The Geometry and Topology of Hyperspherical Time.
This essay arises in response to frequent questions about TIME that have arisen from the VHC, Vorticitating Hypersphere Cosmology hypothesis advanced in our recent books The Apophenion and The Octavo, which concentrated mainly on the spatial aspects of a hyperspherical universe.
By popular request we omit most of the supporting mathematics and attempt to express this in prose. Heck, mathematics only means measuring and counting really, this doesn’t hurt much once you get used to it, although some do seem to have an inexplicable terror of it, which perhaps derives from having only ten fingers.
The big bang theory does not supply an explanation for the existence of the universe; it merely purports to explain how it got into its presently observed condition from a highly improbable previous condition of extreme density or singularity, into which it may yet collapse again. It cannot explain the origin of the supposed big bang or what came before it, although it can perhaps sidestep the question of what came before it by pronouncing that time itself began with the big bang, and may end in another singularity at a big crunch.
Conditions before a big bang or after a big crunch cannot in principle submit to any kind of rational investigation because at a singularity all physical laws become meaningless. The speculation that singularities explode into new universes ‘elsewhere’ in some sort of a multiverse does not solve the question of the existence of the universe, it merely makes it into a much bigger question.
Either way, any version of big bang theory appears as a species of Creatio ex Nihilo, ‘creation from nothing’. This theory began to take shape amongst second century Christian theologians keen to replace previous pagan ideas about the universe and the gods themselves evolving from Chaos with a vision of an uncreated single god that created the entire universe with a beginning and an end. The big bang theory seems to have devolved from a similar linear view of time and has attracted the attention of monotheists as a possible supporting argument for such a Creatio ex Nihilo.
Despite that we never observe anything created out of nothing, and that instead we observe all things as recycled out of other things, many people seem to regard nothingness as somehow more fundamental than something-ness, but for no discernable reason.
Now from the HD8 perspective, only the moment of observation or interaction has a particle like existence, the past and the future consist of a quantum wavelike (or ‘astral’) reality that we cannot directly perceive, and the past and future wave reality spreads out like two cones from the point of the present.
Whilst most people can readily accept that the future contains many possible states represented by the ever expanding forward cone, the idea of multiple possible pasts seems more challenging to common sense. Nevertheless we have to remember that the present moment, including all records and memories present in it, could have arisen from ANY past that could have given rise to it, and indeed we cannot explain the behaviour of fundamental particles or even many chemical compounds without accepting that they behave as if they had had more than one previous state before observation or before interacting with one another.
For most recently recorded or remembered events this makes little difference, the coincidence of my birth with other events occurring 7.5 hours before sunrise some 58.3 revolutions of the earth about the sun ago remains on paper, but if the paper ceased to exist an anatomical examination of me could not achieve an accuracy now of better than plus or minus 3 or so years. The further back we seek to date events the greater the uncertainty. Indeterminacies in planetary motions mount up over hundreds of thousands of years, whilst we can calculate full moon dates for the past several centuries we cannot calculate such things with any confidence over millions of years.
Given sufficient time, the uncertainties surrounding any past event mount up to make it objectively indeterminate in the sense that increasingly vast numbers of possible states may have applied. For atomic particles, sufficient time may correspond to mere fractions of a second, for astronomical events, sufficient time may correspond to millions or billions of years.
Now in a universe with a finite and unbounded spacetime geometry and topology, time exists as a closed ‘loop’ as does space, and gravity achieves this closure by curving both. Thus the very deep past of any event or moment of observation also corresponds to its very deep future. We can visualise this as the expanding cones of past and future probabilities bending round in a circle and eventually meeting at the temporal antipode about 11 billion years away. The vast disc like surface where they theoretically meet would represent all possible pasts and futures of the moment of observation.
However because of the 3 dimensional nature of time the present moment of time also has a similar sized disc surrounding it in the orthogonal time plane and this represents all possible pasts and futures of some arbitrarily designated moment of observation at the temporal antipode.
Indeed, all moments of the present would have a disc of orthogonal time surrounding them, so if we string together all the hypothetical moments of the present to form a circle then the whole structure looks like a torus (a doughnut) with a ring representing the series of hypothetical moments of observation running hidden in the middle of the torus.
Now the past and the future of any moment of observation do not actually exist in particle form because time consists of nothing other than a succession of particle arrangements, it consists of movement. Thus time travel remains a nonsensical concept that would require the recreation of an entire previous arrangement of the particles of the whole universe or the sudden creation of a future arrangement that somehow bypassed all the usual intermediate states.
The pasts and futures of any moment of observation exist only as probabilistic wavefunctions, or what esotericists have sometimes called the ‘astral’, they don’t consist of the same sort of particle like manifestations that compose the moment of the present, and remain somehow hidden. Nevertheless as experiments in both physics and magic confirm, such wavefunctions do have real effects on the observed particle reality of the moment of observation, and from this we infer their reality, although we cannot perceive or detect them directly.
Now the toroidal model of time remains useful only in the context of an imagined sequence of moments of the present that did happen or will actually happen, represented by a line running like a ring through the middle of the body of the torus. Yet no certain past or future actually exists very far from the moment of the present and the wavefunctions of the pasts and futures of the present spread out in closed finite and unbounded 3 dimensional time to form a temporal hypersphere that actually has no preferred direction, although as Hawking observes, ‘entropy increases with time because we choose to measure time in the direction in which entropy increases’, and local events usually tend to move in the direction of more probable rather than less probable states.
Thus time has the same hyperspherical geometry and topology as space. Every moment of the present has a temporal antipode about 11 billion years ago which represents both its deep past and its deep future, however, and here comes the really strange bit, from the position of an observer at any moment of the present, the temporal antipode of that observer does not exist as a single definite state, but rather, like the spatial antipode it seems spread around the entire spherical surface of the temporal horizon.
Here we approach the central schism between classical-relativistic and the quantum interpretations of reality. In classical terms reality must have a singular origin, in quantum terms reality can have multiple probabilistic origins.
Using the quantum perspective presented in The Octavo, we can see that an application of the Boltzmann -Gibbs entropy principle and the Shannon theory of information via the Beckenstein-Hawking conjecture of Black Hole Entropy applied to a gravitationally closed hyperspherical universe suggests that it will have roughly about Temporal Horizon time squared over the Planck time squared, as the number of its possible past and future states.
This number comes out at as an impressive ten to the power of one hundred and twenty, suggesting that from the point of view of any observer at any moment of the present that this universe has a staggering number of possible past and future states, which all contribute in some sense to the observed conditions of now, rather than just one, as classical physics and magic and religion might suggest.
So what does this mean?
Well it strongly suggests that the moment of now, of the present, of the moment of observation of particle reality, consists of an interference pattern from some vastly greater probabilistic waveform reality that we could call Chaos.
Partum in Chaos, rather than Creatio ex Nihilo?
This Chaos at the antipodal past and future of the moment of now presumably permits the universe to exist as a result of random vacuum fluctuations, an improbable big bang, or perhaps as a result of some sort of closed loop of cosmic panpsychism, which we could call god, although that clarifies very little; or perhaps via some form of observer created reality which permits the universe to exist simply because it can.
Either which way, or multitude of ways, we cannot from within the fishbowl of hyperspherical spacetime itself, currently derive an answer to the question of how it comes to exist at all.
Perhaps we should rephrase the question, which itself implies the dubious proposition of the existence of a state of non-existence; with the question of could the universe exist in any other than the form in which we observe it? It does after all exhibit a remarkable self consistency based on a small handful of laws or rules or conventions or whatever you want to call them. Do these form the only self-consistent set possible?
Ah, first 3 surfs of the year down in the Gower over easter, some nice big ones up to 6 foot on Monday, water still rather chilly.
The bank holidays seem endless at this time of year, I've yet to source an Oliver Cromwell outfit for the royal wedding fancy dress party in the village on Friday, may as well enter into the spirit of the event I suppose, the reality of monarchy persists as a social art form as Lionel observes.
So I'm giving my retail manageress a tea break and minding the shopfront today when in walks this huge and fearsome looking anarchist who insists on regaling me with tales of the easter Bristol anti-Tesco riot, he gaily informs me that there's plenty of very cheap tobacco available in the Stokes Croft area, although looting was not reported in the media. I told him that I had little sympathy for Tescos, 'Every Little Buggers Your High Street' as they say, he replies that he hates them too because there's no food worth scrounging from the bins around the back for his squat, unlike at Sainsburys.
So he plonks a few packets of incense on the counter and I'm expecting him to announce that he's liberating them in the name of the people because property is theft or something suitably anarchistic. However he pulls out a credit card to pay and it duly clears.
Anarchy, - I guess that's a social art form as well these days....
Please say NO to AV in the UK on May 5th.
It will result in the Libdems getting more seats as everyone understands. The UK vote is almost entirely negative so if you hate the tories and put labour first and libdem second, or if you hate the labour party and put tory first and the libdems second there is every chance that you will end up with the libdems winning even though they came third.
Plus the nutters who vote BNP or Trotskyite lunatic party will have a much more effective second vote.
I hate the libdems, they stand for nothing. They are just a bunch of lower middle class busybodies who think they know best. At a recent election campaign canvassers resigned in disgust when party officials told them to ask what people wanted on doorsteps and then agree to anything asked.
More libdems means more hamstrung coalitions. Long live the historic creative tension between labour and capital!