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Speculations on Practice in the Electronic Astral Plane
by Iona Miller, ©1992
We are entering an era of magical technologies which are relevant to the inner world of imagery and imagination. Through Virtual Reality (VR) we can create an electronic representation of typical symbols of the psyche and interact with them. Even though these images have no concrete existence, they are influential in the process of transformation.
The practice of magick, a sacred technology, normally involves concentrated visualization activity coupled with immersion in the autonomous stream of consciousness. Since much of the training and practice in magick is based on a recipe, formula, or protocol, these could easily be programmed, using virtual reality, to guide an aspirant into a specific state of consciousness. Biofeedback monitoring could enhance that state.
Each virtual world would include a panoply of symbols related to a specific archetype. The aspirant would journey through this world. In the process of positive interaction with these archetypal forms (or perhaps imaginally becoming them), the psyche becomes "inoculated" with their resources. A conscious relationship is fostered. This leads to a greater sense of wholeness and communion with transpersonal energies.
Through the arrival of Virtual Reality (VR) technology, we will soon have access to a fully programmable electronic "astral plane." Magic has always been a sacred technology, and combining it with VR makes for a state-of-the-art practice. In virtual reality, we can create a world which is, in essence or effect, "as good as" normal reality. Through the use of visual, audial, kinesthetic, and olfactory feedback, the experiential (rather than analytical) part of the brain is guided to suspend its disbelief in the synthetic reality.
The realization of a system of interactive fantasy will allow us, as artists or magicians, to shape the experience from the inside. It will allow us to re-shape ourselves, also. A central premise in VR is that you can manipulate your self-representation, or self-image. VR represents a cultural revolution in the way we view reality, nature, art, ourselves, and our relationship with transpersonal powers.
Interactive media will give us the ability to author moving images. When you can put your images in cyberspace, you introduce your own unique content into the experience. Background, or natural imagery, will be texture-mapped for ambiguity. Ambiguity is one key to the engagement of the imagination (Laurel, 1992). Communal virtual reality is also possible for group rituals, but requires a tremendously powerful computer to keep track of all the details which perpetuate a believable virtual space.
The realm of imagination has traditionally been the province of shamans and magicians. More recently, psychotherapists have entered the arena of imagination as guides to the heights and the depths. There are many different styles in the practice of magic from primitive to sophisticated. Magic is the ancient technology for dealing with lost or questing souls, while archetypal psychology is a modern counterpart.
Basically, there are three ways of encountering the inner world, reflecting the state ofconsciousness of the practitioner: 1). prototaxic mode, a "possession" or trance state where the ego is absent through regression; 2). parataxic mode, which includes art, archetype, myth, dream, and ritual wherein the ego is enthralled; and 3). syntaxic mode, which includes creativity, gnosis, and higher mystical states, where the ego is enraptured and eventually transcended.
Sophisticated magick, or Theurgy, has been practiced in western occultism through the centuries largely by an elite group of eccentric intellectuals. Many of them identified with the Rosicrucians, Masons, Gnostics, or other "hidden" orders. These practitioners of the mystic arts were the forefathers of modern sciences like chemistry, botany, medicine, physics, astronomy, and philosophy. Through magick, they learned a unique way of looking at the inner and outer world. This is the major premise of any philosophy: "Look at it like this..." The magical philosophy has left a tremendous legacy. The history of these alchemists, mystics, healers, and theurgists outlines one of the most interesting areas of human endeavor: consciousness studies.
The mapping of consciousness states and their corresponding typical experiences (plus how to attain them) forms part of the doctrine of any magical philosophy. The most widely embraced map is called The Tree of Life. The very foundation of the modern western occult tradition is contained in this circuit or glyph of The Tree of Life. It describes a hierarchy of 10 states of being (Spheres), and 22 characteristic modes of transition between them (Paths). All the corresponding symbolism of the human psyche is categorized according to this comprehensive basic structure. It represents all ways of being and becoming--all possible states of consciousness.
The philosophical system which the Tree represents originated in the Jewish culture. Through synchronism it amalgamated with the Gnostic, Egyptian, Arabic, and other systems. This synthesis became known as Hermetic Qabalism. In divorcing itself from its Hebrew roots, Qabala returned to the mythic domain of its informing archetype, Hermes.
In ancient Egypt, this archetypal energy was represented by the god Thoth, Lord of Magic. He presided over skills such as writing and translating. In Greece, as Hermes, he was the messenger between the realm of the gods and men--he who could fly into the heights or depths. Our modern forms of writing and translating have moved into information processing via computers. Information processing is fundamental to any form of communication.
Information processing is the foundation of all technology. Thus, Hermes is the informing myth of a technological approach to sacred psychology and spirituality. Hermes' domain includes gnosticism, alchemy, magick, and depth psychology. Like programming, they are all hermeneutic endeavors, involving the process of interpretation. Jung noticed that, "Every interpretation necessarily remains an "as-if." The ultimate core of meaning may be circumscribed, but not described." He refers to the "as-if" reality as the closest we can come to direct knowledge. For example, our God-image in the psyche is our closest (and only) experience of Divinity, however unique it may be. We perceive it directly, but it is a specific interpretation of the unknowable archetype.
Ultimately, it is our sense organs which help us interpret the world and our experience through our perceptions. They help us make a distinction between what is "real" and "unreal." The emotional part of the brain, (the right, spatial lobe), cannot analytically distinguish a symbol from a symbolic representation. In imagination or virtual realityit becomes a moot point. Fantasy, in fact, animates both our inner and outer worlds, and creates meaning. The on-going imaginative process of the psyche is the ground of being. Jung spoke of the psychoid aspect of psyche as the vast non-human action of the universal forces.
Through the technology of virtual reality, we can take the imagery arising from deep within our psyche and create an "as-if" reality which we can enter at will. If magick is the art and science of changing consciousness at will, in this context, imagination is reality. It manifests as images. Jung implied that our closest approach to God or any minor deity is through the God-image. This brings to mind the process of invocation, or calling in the god-form in magick. The conjuring of these archetypal images, and identification or interaction with them is a primary application of ritual in theurgy. In magick, it is taken virtually literally, as magician Dion Fortune's comment shows:
...the Ministrant proceeds boldly with the ceremony as if that which he had invoked had actually come about...He must have the courage of his convictions, and give himself up boldly to be the instrument of the forces he has invoked, relying upon them to bring about the transition from fantasy to fact, which is the meaning of transubstantiation. If he proceeds to play the part he has assigned himself as if it were a reality, he will find, provided the force he has invoked is a genuine force and the pictorial image he has made is a suitable one, that imagination has become reality and that an influence is flowing into him, and emanating from him, which is a very real thing indeed...
Since archetypal images arise from the collective unconscious, they are common to all mankind. The God-forms invoked in magick are the basis of our psychic life and our relationship to the universe. Everything we are is virtually imagined through their forces and forms. There is nothing but their primary essence to be found in either our concrete or imaginal reality, if psyche is the foundation of reality. Magic and archetypal psychology allege this is so.
Jung advocated the practice of Active Imagination for transformation. He based his technique on the alchemical meditatio, or dialogic exchange with the transpersonal. It involves entering the autonomous stream of psychic imagery with the values, ethics, and perspective of the ego, and interacting therein. Magick proposes a very similar premise, but has an entire technology for clearing out a purified psychic "space" into which an undiluted primal force may be called forth. Both techniques share the same result: a consciousness journey with real-time effects. Imagination is reality when it has the power to move us biologically, kinesthetically, viscerally, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
The prospect of "home-brewed" imaginal worlds for exploration and recreation is on the horizon before the turn of the millennium. Those pursuing the age-old Quest or Great Work will certainly want to put this possibility to purposeful use. When a person becomes caught up in a ritual, visualization, or meditation, inner vs. outer becomes a moot point. Imagination becomes a spontaneous influence which can be "seen" through the Observer Self. Magick is the directing of that experience in a specific direction, to a particular focus. Each ritual has its own telos, or goal. It is this striving, goal-oriented attitude of the ego that makes magick a heroic quest.
We may speculate that similating archetypal forms in VR gives their transpersonal energy a "body" to inhabit, just as visualizing does. Chronicity (the propensity for archetypal forms and events to cyclically recur) and synchronicity (acausal connection) provide magically-charged energy for the simulated forms. All perceptions of archetypes are simulations of their unknowable primal nature, anyway. This holds true in mystical experience, art, and imagination. According to Jung, archetypes are everywhere, so they will certainly be found in virtual reality, alive and well. In this form, they will be more accessible than ever. The novice could easily get a first-hand training experience in what inner dialogue is like.
Archetypes will be just as inclined to inhabit or inform these virtual images as any other. In fact, there is no way around it, if the programs are consistent and coherent. With an artificial intelligence program added, they will behave with a certain degree of spontaneity and novelty, congruent with their character. VR conjures them, evokes them, or calls them up into awareness for interaction. The imaginal character speaks and behaves in its characteristic manner, but reacts uniquely in each specific situation. The entire panoply of symbolic correspondences, for which the god-form is the nexus, could be displayed interactively for the aspirant.
In the magical operation known as assumption of the god-form, the participant identifies with the archetypal power. In VR, the aspirant could experience being decked out in full regalia, with all the symbolic appurtenances, in an environment and atmosphere exclusively geared to expressing that power. To role-play the characteristic utterances and acts of that god or goddess could be a further amplification of the process. Mythic journeys, programmed by master magicians, will be available like the electronic games of today. It could be used for accessing and anchoring transpersonal resources for the personality.
A major tenet of Qabala and occult philosophy concerns the nature of the astral body. The Jews call it the Tselem. This starry body is composed of scintillating etheric energy. It is perceived in imagination as being composed of light that takes on various fine forms. The analogy with electrical energy and light in cyberspace is obvious, if not literal.
To work on the astral level, the magician identifies with this virtual double of the physical body. In imagination, one perceives with the eyes of the body of light while maintaining its perspective and orientation. The light body has the ability of separating itself from the constraints of the flesh and blood body, without limitations of a mortal frame.
The astral body contains the fully functioning consciousness of the aspirant. Its existence is alleged to persist after physical death, as reported by those with near-death-experiences. Magically, or psychically, the astral body is built in the imagination through the process of breath control, or pranayama. The VR program supercedes the trained imaginative faculty. It opens the experience to those who are not of contemplative nature, those unwilling or unable to spend years training the mind and visualization capacity. It makes the dialogic realm open to all in limited form. It establishes a new medium for the traditional I-Thou dialogue.
The virtual astral body could be employed for the practice of pathworking. Magick, itself, is the practice of practical Qabala, and its most practical exploits are the imaginal consciousness journeys known as pathworking. As a magical practice, pathworking differs from ceremonial invocation by imaginally transporting the aspirant to the location of an archetypal Form, rather than calling the Form into the circle or oneself. The experience includes a "there-and-back-again" experience of a very specially conditioned terrain. The exposure to symbols keys processes in the mind which influence the process of transformation.
The paths of The Tree of Life are metaphorical "in-roads" through the imagination. Each is marked by typical landmarks, milestones, and signposts. Each contain their ordeals, challenges, and intrinsic rewards. Pathworking offers a way of "finding" or "locating" archetypes in imaginal space. In imagination, we do it simply by wishing ourselves there, actively interacting. In VR, it requires some programming, but the initial intent is the same whether creating your own program or authoring a master program for others.
Each successive pathworking increases the area of perceptible inner space. One can enter the experience as a passive spectator, or as an active participant. The emotional impact of the experience is real. Imagine when these experiences become re-processed in your dream life! In VR, other humans could play the parts of entities encountered, or the journey may be undertaken as a common adventure. All pathworkings return the traveller to the point of origin, which is usually some symbolic form of door to the netherworld.
Another magical exercise, rising on the planes, is conducted while in the Body of Light. In this process, one imagines oneself moving further and further up through the hierarchy of planes described in the Qabala. You can get a sense for it if you can imagine an ever-widening perspective moving from sub-atomic to cosmic. For example, imagine you are a sub-atomic particle, an atom, a molecule, an organism, an animal, a human, the biosphere, the earth, the solar system, the galaxy, ad infinitum. All of this type of imagery is readily programmable and universal in meaning.
When people hear of VR, one of the first application that leaps to mind is the possibility of virtual sex. Extending that idea into magical realism we come across the notion of virtual sex magick. Virtual sex magick awaits the development of tactile feedback systems. However, the act itself is a generator for surplus magical energy which may therefore be focused on a specific desire or intent. This is known as the "bud will" or "magickal child." It uses the emotional energy of enflamment coupled with the directive powers of will, visualization, and intentionality.
Perhaps the most commonly recommended application of sex magick is for attaining "knowledge and conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel." While this wasn't meant as "knowledge" in the Biblical sense, it is certainly a possibility in VR. The consummation of the act means either identification with, or dialogic interaction with the higher self. Most acts of sacred sex reenact the holy union (hierosgamos) of God and Goddess, Shiva and Shakti, Krisna and Radha, Yang and Yin forces. It is a cosmic union of complements. Here again is fertile ground for the programming of a VR reality to enhance the imaginative faculty.
Imaginal variations on the mystic marriage could use images of mythical and historical figures or draw from the symbolism of Tantra, alchemy, and Taoism, to name a few. One might perceive the experience from the perspective of a particular god or goddess in a classical union. Each program might contain one or many experiences of a similar nature. The menu might include the union of God and the Shekinah, God and Sophia, spirit and nature, anima/animus, priest/priestess, or King and Queen. One time you might be Solomon and Sheba, another Ares and Aphrodite, another Arthur and Guinevere.
The Royal Marriage is a transcendent symbol of the Self, and embodies psychic totality. With plasticity of form and interaction we can only speculate what hermaphroditic creations might result, what androgynous beings. These experiencesmight not represent their mature psychological counterparts, but they could be inspiring dress-rehearsals, which jump-start the creative imagination, adding a new dimension to sexual life--sort of the reverse of pornography.
Normally, we are not taught to direct our thoughts into any higher purpose during sex, much less at the point of orgasm. Yet, to do so can be healing and connective in a very deep way. VR could serve as a model and demonstration far beyond any orthodox sexual therapy. Interactive fantasy could be raised to new heights. This technology could teach us new ways to relate to our bodies, sexuality, and art (including the art of magick). Virtual tantra is a new medium in the sexual arena.
Another VR alternative for sex magick is to engage in actual sex with one's partner. Both parties have VR helmets (much reduced in size from current cumbersome models) which allow the simultaneous visualization of the "bud will," the "magickal child," or goal of the operation. This dynamic image is the focus of the lovers who invest it with their mutual energy and love to transform it from mere potential into a vital force for change in the real world. VR insures that both parties visualizations are identical as possible.
The moment just prior to orgasm is a very open, suggestible state. For some it is difficult to hold the magickal focus at that moment. Passive impregnation by the VR system (based on the aspirant's desires) could be readily accomplished at that point with suitable imagery. It could be a non-literal, yet post-symbolic way of conceiving an inner, spiritual "child" through ritual--the embryonic form of the greater self. Countless variations on magical talismans and mandalas might constitute part of the programming, as well as explosive imagery of cosmic union. For the Royal Wedding to be truly consummated, insights must be applied in practice. For it to fully work its magic, it requires a prior marriage of Anima and Animus within each aspirant. This is a form of "spiritual body" building.
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