The sacred, the sublime, has always walked amongst the profane. The signs are everywhere, blended into the sidewalks, pulp fictions, and the kitsch trappings of the art world. For iconic sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, most of the sublime things of his world were disguised as trash that seamlessly slipped into the background of a dysfunctional world reality. The seeming trash of the everyday mundane clashed with incoming cosmic mutterings that have found their way into much of our popular culture.
Science fiction is always more important than science
In the US especially, a blend of anarchic cultural subversions were manifesting that played upon known semi-mystical memes. Enochian magic, Golden Dawn rituals, meta-computing of the mind, and a weird kind of chaos were springing up within treatises of popular culture. One of these was the text of the Principia Discordia that emerged in the nineteen-sixties as a ‘sacred text’ of Discordianism. Written by Malaclypse the Younger (Greg Hill) and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst (Kerry Thornley) it proclaimed “All hail Discordia!” in a mixture of goddess worship with the notion of order and disorder as balancing illusions. The fifth commandment of Principia Discordia states, ‘V – A Discordian is Prohibited of Believing What he Reads.’[i] In line with what today we would call a ‘post-truth’ position the Principia Discordia knew that ‘Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.’
Discordia came to influence the writings of maverick author-philosopher Robert Anton Wilson, who popularised it further in his books, especially in ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy.’ These utterances were further echoed by the writer William S. Burroughs who, besides experimenting in cut-up narrative techniques, proclaimed a Discordian-esque ‘Nothing is absolutely true – Everything is permissible.’ And with this endless possibility came the rise of literate figures, or rather literary magicians, who were connected to systems of magic, such as the Golden Dawn. Popular culture began to open up and see combined forms of neoshamanism, eastern philosophy, quantum science, visionary art, and computer technology. This modern twist on magic was part of a wider trend in experimenting with new forms of stimulating and awakening consciousness. These paths were attempting to destabilize our conditioning patterns and our resultant consensus reality. They were all aimed at waking up the usually-slumbering human mind. As the seminal work Waking Up (1986) by Charles Tart showed, humanity was largely intoxicated with a ‘consensus trance’ that kept us from recognizing sigils of the sacred. In more recent years the metaphors and memes of being trapped within a waking dream, or of dreams within dreams, have been explored in such popular films as ‘The Truman Show’ (1998); the ‘Matrix Trilogy’ (1999-2003); and Inception (2010). Part of the myth we find ourselves popularising is the mythology that we are in some sort of constructed reality – a gnostic-inspired simulacrum of truth.
Gnostic ideas are now being presented and consumed in ever more popular forms of culture. There’s an odd wave of mystical-spiritual impulses now radiating through popular culture that encourages us to throw ourselves into new fantastic realms and mythological fictions. These are modern mash-ups of the counterculture now being packaged and presented as part of mainstream culture. And in recent years the most extraordinary success in this area has been the incredible, phenomenal rise of the modern superhero.
Superheroes & the Super-Self
It appears we are now in desperate need of our superheroes and mutants to save us from a form of tyrannical humankind. We seek a cultural expression for the human psyche; for our psychic currents and transmissions and sacred communication. Hence, our superheroes must live on! We have the X-Men walking amongst us, a mutant subspecies of humans. The natural order is evo-mythological – it is sacred, beyond human, and connects us with evolutionary currents. In the absence of our ancient myths we have ingested the sacred alchemical root and through pop-culture morphed this transformation into the new wave of superheroes – myth lives anew in spandex. Maybe it is a cliché because it’s true; we wish to find the personal superhero within each of us – the journey of the individual, unfolding within the great cosmic drama. This mythical journey has so far taken us from scientific rationalism and industrial modernity, and now we may finally be becoming more than we are; that is, more than human.
Our popular subcultures are gradually becoming the norm. It is not only a question of whether more people are interested or not, but rather that these ideas are more widely available now thanks to popular culture. The waking life and the dream are becoming part of the same movie plot, as in Richard Linklater’s film version of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (2006). We are more and more waking up into our own movie – our very own Truman Show – where ideas are seeded directly into our environments in order to catalyze our awakening. Like many of the ancient wisdoms have foretold, we have been asleep in a distant land and now we are receiving messages and signals flashing like neon signs through our popular culture. This marks our juncture, our crisis point, between moving toward waking up or falling back into catastrophic and catatonic slumber.
Our ultra high-definition visual culture is acting like a portal for the otherworld to enter. The psychedelic experiences that were once fringe and condemned are being re-played out through modern fictions that blend Gnostic, mythological, and multidimensional themes. Transcendental states of consciousness, ratified by the far explorations of new science, are adding to the mix of a new 21st century mythology that as of yet remains unnamed. Perhaps we are emerging toward the birth of new sacred gods. These are the gods of mutations, of neurological and biological adaptations. And they are emerging first in our pop cultures as our superheroes and psychic mutants. In this initiation into a psychically enhanced future we will need more than ever to learn how to distinguish the demonic from the spiritual. Hence the current barrage of films, TV series, and fiction that shows angels vs. devils, humans vs. vampires, and the whole gamut of the good vs. the bad that has crawled from the forest floor to enter into the quest for the Holy Grail. In this way the gods will never be forgotten as they merge with a super-augmented mutant humanity in spandex. The real gods, as we knew all along and yet had temporarily forgotten, reside within our psyche – they are kept in mind. And yet they can only become real for us – to re-mind us – when dashing about on the stage and streets in front of our very eyes. We need the sacred to slap our faces in spandex gloves before we begin to blink a waking eye. That is, our sacred and supernatural fictions appear for us and require our engagement with them.
The latest revival in the superheroes genre is significant in how it takes the mutant meme further and projects it forward as a form of evolutionary mysticism. Our new heroes are displaying to us our latent capacities and powers that are yet to unfold. We are witness to the first wave of mutant evolutionary pioneers. The summit of human evolution is far in the distance, and yet its early stages are manifesting through the Marvel and DC Universes where god-like potentials await us. Through such characters as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine, and Doctor Strange, Marvel mesmerizes paranormal subliminals into popular cultural consciousness. And DC does the same with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Green Arrow. Then as gangs they come together as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men (Marvel), or as the Justice League (DC). They are now our teachers, our guides, our mutant futures that are beyond human. The mutants have become practicing mystics.
We are seemingly living more and more in a mutational and metaphysical universe; and with the arrival of augmented reality our boundaries of interaction with the physical world around us will blur. We are already well on our way as our outer and inner spaces explode into new blistering supernova.
Outer Spaces – Inner Spaces
Humankind has always been a child of the stars. Our early civilizations mapped the heavens before they mapped the terrain under their feet. So it was no surprise then when the UFOs started to dart across our urban skies and come crashing down disguised as government weather balloons.[ii] Recent popular culture has nurtured a fascination with outer spaces and our galactic cousins from the Golden Age of science fiction of the nineteen thirties, forties, and fifties to the new wave of the sixties and seventies. The concerns of our outer space relations shifted from how to make contact with our space cousins to the entropic death of the universe. And then the environmental theme entered our outer spaces, as if a subliminal projection from our very own inner spaces. The growing number of alleged UFO abductees that emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century began to relay messages of extraterrestrial concern for our planetary well-being.
John. E Mack, an American professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in his later years became a leading authority on the spiritual or transformational effects of the alien abduction experience. Mack came to view the alien abduction phenomenon as acting as a catalyst to open human consciousness to the wider possibilities of connection with the universe. For more than a decade Mack rigorously studied the alien abduction phenomenon and interviewed hundreds of people (whom Mack referred to as ‘experiencers’).[iii] What initially started out as an exercise in studying mental illness soon turned into an in-depth inquiry into personal and spiritual transformation. Mack eventually came to see the alien abduction phenomenon as one of the most powerful agents for spiritual growth, personal transformation, and expanded awareness – in other words, as a trigger for a sacred experience. Despite the external anxiety produced by the experience, it was clear to both Mack and his set of experiencers that a profound communion was being established between humankind and other realities. Further, that this interaction was catalyzing a shift in human consciousness toward collapsing the old models of materialistic duality and opening up a connection not only ‘beyond the Earth’ but with other dimensional realities.