Human Sacrifice and the Deficient Magical

“It is common to both the Renaissance and our own era that the most terrible exterminations take place: then those of the Inquisition, now those of which the dictatorships were, and are, guilty. The gas ovens of ‘The Twelve Year Reich’  (perhaps only a harbinger of what is to come) are the stake of the Inquisition with the horror quantified into larger dimensions, befitting the general and progressing quantification of our day. (Most likely it was the ‘same’ people then as now who were guilty.)” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin (p. 158 n 23).

It’s a worrisome thought, really, that the fuller meaning of “chaotic transition” (or “havoc”) might also entail human sacrifice on a mass scale, and something which, in Gebser’s assessment, might make Holocaust and Inquisition look like child’s play — and one might add to that, The French Terror, the Red Terror, and the Black Terror. For it appears from some of Gebser’s remarks that his anticipated “global catastrophe” involves some resumption of the deficient magical, and human sacrifice is one of the chief symptoms of the deficient magical.

Recently published research on human sacrifice (reported in Nature and summarised in Quartz) is timely, in that respect. The Quartz article asks “Was a modern, unjust society built on the bones of human sacrifice?” The researchers found a strong correlation between human sacrifice and high social stratification (inequality) suggesting human sacrifice was a means of social control.

That conclusion, though, rests on an assumption of calculating rationality, a coldly designed ritual affirmation and justification of social hierarchy and inequality — that human sacrifice had a (more or less conscious) rationale. Gebser, on the other hand, seems to hold that it is a manifestation of the decayed or deficient “magical” structure of consciousness, and one associated with Angst (anxiety) and in “a maelstrom of blind anxiety”.

All higher civilisation, Nietzsche insisted, was erected upon a crime. That’s what the title of the Quartz article suggests, too — modern society was erected upon the “bones of human sacrifice”. But it’s ambiguous, as periods of intensified human sacrifice, in the name of some supernatural power or higher destiny, seem to mark both an ending and a beginning. In Nigeria, reputedly, it is customary for the opening of a new road to be inaugurated by a blood sacrifice, usually a chicken. Crossroads (because of their connection with the meaning of “crisis” or “crucis”) were frequently places of sacrifice, where convicts were executed, or witchcraft was presumed to be practiced. Crossroads are places of anxiety, because they represent change, and this becomes particularly poignant when we speak of “the crisis of the modern age” or, as Mr. Fukuyama did, America at the Crossroads and Our Posthuman Future. And large scale inequality also constitutes a social crisis — a parting of the ways.

Human sacrifice, a “maestrom of blind anxiety”, social crisis, and the return of the deficient magical all seem strongly correlated with a sense of a “parting of the ways” — thus with the meaning of “chaotic transition”, too. The evidence strongly suggests that — and it’s worrisome in that respect, although one must take care not to be drawn into the vortex of this maelstrom oneself, or what Gebser calls “the demonic”.

Human sacrifice had become a veritable orgy in the waning days of the Aztec Empire as they, by magical means, attempted to stave off the prophesied “end of the world” which finally came for them in the form of Cortes. Witchhunt and Inquisition marked the waning days of Christendom and the Late Middle Ages. Then, as now, problems in the functioning of society were attributed to the malevolent influence of some supernatural agency — witchcraft in their time. The document called Malleus Maleficarum (or “Hammer of the Witches“) purported to provide ample (and rational) evidence that the problems of social order were the result of widespread witchcraft, leading to torture, Inquisition, and the stake. German Angst (and not just German Angst) after the World War and the events of the interwar years rationalised all the problems of the functioning of German society as the malevolent influence of der Ewige Jude, the “eternal Jew” and in “international Jewry”, and claimed to find just as much “evidence” for that as the Inquisitors did in the Malleus Maleficarum for a coordinated conspiracy of witches against Christendom, necessarily calling for social purification by fire.

The French Terror (amongst other and more recent colours of terrorism) was also an irruption of human sacrifice and again corresponded to a social crisis of the ancien regime. The “Old Adam” had to be liquidated so that the “New Adam” could have a future, and this human sacrifice was also performed in the name of a supernatural agency — “the goddess of Reason” (but, as we know, there is a very close affinity between Athena and the Gorgon, or Minerva and Medusa, or Dionysus and Hades). And although The Terror was justified in the name of “Reason”, the Terror itself exceeded by far the bounds of the reasonable, and owed more to magical thinking and “the maelstrom of blind anxiety” that always attends civilisations in crisis and at a crossroads. And behind all forms of human sacrifice or blood sacrifice and the scapegoat lies the “deficient magical” itself.

The scapegoat, as you probably know, is an ancient custom of sacrifice. The community laid its hands upon a goat, transferring its sins onto the poor creature, and then killed it or drove it out into the desert to die. The cruel custom is reputedly still practiced in parts of Spain, where instead of a goat, a donkey is selected, and the community’s sins are laid upon the poor donkey whereafter it is beaten to death with sticks. This is the deficient magical, for had they understanding at all, they would know that Jesus had offered himself up as the sacrificial scapegoat — the “Lamb” — to “bear away the sins of the world” himself, so that human beings no longer had to practice human or animal sacrifice as rituals of “atonement” or expiation. The poor beast is made to bear the burden, and pay the price, for what is only human self-loathing and self-contempt in the form of guilt. None of that is necessary. It belongs to the meaning of “paganism”

The return of the deficient magical with the breakdown of the perspectivist or mental-rational consciousness structure, and its return in the form of ritual blood sacrifice or dismemberment, is the thing that Gebser dreaded most about the “chaotic transition”, but which also seems to be implicated in his enigmatic notion of “the law of the earth”. The law of the earth might be called “the revenge of Gaia”, but which has some association with the cult of the Terrible Mother, the dark shadow side of the “Goddess”. This is Kali the Devourer, whose cult of Thugees (ritual murderers and assassins) is where we get our word “thug”. Kali represents, in some degree, the deficient side of the magical. Some think there is no relation between the present Kali Yuga (or “Dark Age”) and Kali Ma, the “Dark Mother“, but I think they are quite wrong, as the name of both comes from the same root meaning not only “dark” but also “time”. Gebser spends quite a few pages of print discussing the root meaning of the word *kel in respect of its subsequent derivations of “cave” or “cavern” (darkness) or time, and refers to Kali only in passing, which is strange, because the ego’s fear of being dismembered, swallowed and devoured by the darkness of the so-called “unconscious” is the meaning of Kali the Devourer. And magic, in its effective phase, was the budding human ego’s original line of defence against being devoured by time and the Darkness. Hence the association of both magic and rationality with power and empowerment. The fear of being devoured by “Kali” into Non-Being is the very reason for “the maelstrom of blind anxiety”. Kali appears to be the emanation called “Vala” in Blake’s mythology — the wandering earth spirit called “the Shadowy Female”. As Kali is the consort of Shiva, Vala is the consort of the Zoa named Luvah.

One must understand this about the Kali Yuga. It represents the lowest point or nadir of humankind’s spiritual existence, exemplifed by the quantification of time. This total quantification represents the “Fall of Man” — a fall from what is called “eternity” (or ever-present origin) into time, and from infinity into finiteness. It is in this sense that Gebser speaks of “progression” as also “distantiation” — the Prodigal Son who grows progressively more distant and remote from origin. Yeats’ “widening gyre” of his poem The Second Coming is the Yuga cycle. The Falconer is what Gebser calls “the human Itself” — the core or nucleus of the human form, and it is identical with “origin” or “ever-present origin”, while the Falcon is the human ego consciousness, which, in its “widening gyre” — the path of the Yugas — threatens the whole with disintegration by losing connection with the Falconer or the “Itself”. The Falconer and the Falcon correspond to McGilchrist’s “Master” and “Emissary” in his book on neurodynamics and the divided brain called The Master and his Emissary.

It is the “widening gyre”, corresponding to the loss of the “vital centre” or nucleus, that is the “maelstrom of blind anxiety”. You don’t want to be on the circumference of the cycle or circle. You want to be at the centre — the “still centre of the turning world” and known as the Tree at the centre of the Garden of Eden. The circumference is the maelstrom. The ego nature is all circumference, and that’s the cause of its anxieties.

Much more could be said about the Yugas (and the Kali Yuga) in relation to the “Four Ages of Man” as known to the Greeks — golden, silver, bronze, and iron — and how these pertain to the “Fall of Man” but also to the meaning of Blake’s “four Zoas” of the disintegrate human form. But, basically stated, the “Fall of Man” is really only about the Fall into Time and into the forgetfulness and sleep of time.



16 responses to “Human Sacrifice and the Deficient Magical”

  1. Steve Lavendusky says :

    All civilizations, arose out of a sea of chaotic violence, and were in fact established by acts of such overwhelming and consummating violence (the apocalypse) that chaos was stilled and stability reigned. At least for a while, as in the Bolshevik Revolution. This “screen” of history (or myth) is a whitewash protecting the civilization from facing its own founding horrors, especially by shutting away the faces and voices of the countless innocent victims. “History” we admit, is written by those who win. The celebration and ritual re-enacting of this founding act of “sacred violence”, now a sanitized myth, is the beginning of religion, with its bloody sacrifices (often human), and its prescriptions and taboos, all intended to placate fickle gods (ideologies) who alone, it is now exhorted and believed, have the power to keep the apocalypse from recurring.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Everything points to Kali Ma as being the meaning of the ‘law of the earth’. Here’s a couple of excerpts from Gebser,

    “It is almost as though the material-crazed man of today were the ultimate victim of the avenging mother — that mater whose chaotic immoderation is the driving force behind matter and materialistic supremacy. Besides, a world in which only the man or the father (or his representative, the son) has status and worth is ultimately inhuman.” (p. 150)

    “This law of the earth inexorably comes to pass, but this should not be cause for anxiety or fantasies of impending doom; only those who permit themselves the injustice of surrendering to the earth, from which they should have disengaged themselves via the magic structure, will perish in the maestrom of blind anxiety.” (p. 80).

    “In order to estimate or adjudge something, we must be able to measure it; and more particularly: whoever would gain patriarchal supremacy over the mother and mentally establish man, that is, the human being, as the measure, must be able to measure the earth; geometry is, after all, ‘earth measurement.’
    Here we find the clear and still qualitative expression of that relationship between man, discovering his mentality and the earth, a relationship which has reversed itself since the definitive victory of the deficient mental, that is, rational structure (around 1790). Since that time, the primacy has passed from man back to the earth; it is the earth’s red which glows on the revolutionary flags. Having once ordered the chaotic mass and detached himself from it — a process mirrored by the image of the human head on ancient coins — the individual now threatens to resubmerge into it.'” (p. 84).

    1790 is about the same year as William Blake starts raging against “Single Vison & Newton’s sleep”, as well as the time of the French Revolution.

    Once again JG returns to “the law of the earth” p. 96 in connection to growing autonomy of “one-sided technological and dehumanizing ‘progressive’ developments” which, if not weakened, will “automatically fulfill the law of the earth…. If the law of the earth is not yet to be fulfilled, the process of outgrowing and mutation from the old and deficient mental structure will extract or sublimate sufficient energy, strength, substance — or whatever we may call it — so that the structure that is overcome will have no greater destructive effect than, say the deficient mythical or deficient magical residues in us or in the world.” (p. 96).

    • Steve Lavendusky says :

      The word Cain in Hebrew comes from the same root as the word Kali in Sanskrit. The Hebrew verb Kanna, like the Sanskrit equivalent, means to count, to calculate, to acquire, to own, to subjugate. In his book The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin notes that “Cain also means metalsmith. Since, in several languages – even Chinese – the words for violence and subjugation are linked to the discovery of metal, it is perhaps the destiny of Cain and his descendants to practice the black arts of technology.”

      • Scott Preston says :

        Now, that’s fascinating and revealing. Thanks for that.

        I read The Songlines years ago. Also a fascinating book. Something I should read again, I think.

  3. dadaharm says :


    I would say we are already practicing human sacrifice. For that we do not need any magical reasons. Science and other forms of rationality easily provide justifications for doing it.

    Drone strikes in large parts of the developed world will not make the western world safer. It is obvious that a poor farmer in a remote area of Pakistan cannot be a threat to western civilisation. Still many rational people think the farmer and his family are a threat and need to be killed.

    People die as a consequence of the economic austerity measures in the western world. Because of mistakes of bankers, financial speculators and other elites, ordinary people have lost their job. Some even have lost their house because of it. Still many people believe that austerity is needed and that the victims of it are to be blamed.

    In these two examples just looking at what actually happens in reality makes it obvious that the logic of the reasoning used to justify it is absurd. Yet as long as you listen to the experts and their reasoning, it all sounds perfectly logical and rational.

    I would say that currently science, logic and other forms of rationality are used to hide the actual reality. They are used to make what should be obvious invisible. It is like the story of the naked emperor.

    Somehow reason, science and rationality are being used as a form of magic. They make what should be obvious disappear from view. It is like a form of collective trance or hypnosis.

    That in my view is one way in which the magical consciousness structure expresses itself currently. Science and rationality are used as magical spells. A new kind of opium for the people. The human sacrifices are just the logical consequences of it.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    “German Angst (and not just German Angst) after the World War and the events of the interwar years rationalised all the problems of the functioning of German society as the malevolent influence of der Ewige Jude, the “eternal Jew” and in “international Jewry”………”

    This “eternal Jew” may be a figment of someone’s imagination, but prominent Jews seem to like to validate and reinforce it.

    Netanyahu himself resurrected this “eternal Jew” by announcing in the U.S. Congress that soon (the day after his speech there) Jews would celebrate Purim – a celebration of the slaughter of 77000+ Persians. This everlasting grudge enshrined in the Purim celebration creates the “eternal Jew”.

    Imagine, if you will, if the Turkish president gave a speech in the U.S. Congress, announcing that in a day or two the Turks would commemorate the Armenian genocide.

    Even before Netanyahu, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, who is the Jewish MP in the Iranian parliament, enshrined this “eternal Jew” with his comment in the Iranian parliament, calling Jews of today in Iran as “immigrants.”

    Strange! Very strange! Which other people would consider themselves as “immigrants” even after nearly 100 generations of life in the same country? How is it possible for these Jewish leaders to be inflicted with such ingratitude and sense of exceptionalism?

    It seems to me that brutality (human sacrifice being but one example of it) is a way of survival, too. I remember Tacitus’ account of the German tribes and that the only peaceful German tribe was the one that was completely annihilated by other German tribes.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Those who remain trapped in time and history, in repetitive cyclicity of events and nationalist or racial myths, and who have not learned to detach themselves from narrow, parochial and sectoralised tribal, racial, national, or religious identities will succumb to the ‘maelstom of blind anxiety’ and will never, ever arrive at integral consciousness. What do you really think “transcendence” is really about if its not about time and history? What do you think the “Chrysalis” is about? Follow that pathway into the vortex of mutual perdition if you want. I will follow a different path.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “…….What do you really think “transcendence” is really about if its not about time and history?”

        That is to say, transcendence is about people, since both time and history are the creations of people.

        To me, transcendence is partly about empathy and compassion in the here and now, when people are present. Also, when no one is present, it seems to me that transcendence is about realizing that one’s existence is not limited to physical reality and the inner-self provides a path to this other reality that is non-physical. These two tiers of understanding pretty much sum up my understanding of transcendence. No more. No less.

        Nationalism (I only bring this up since it was in your comment) in the Western sense does not exist everywhere. Your eye and affection for history should provide you with ample proof for that; especially in those nations with long enough history for one to look for such faults.

        Nevertheless, Western nationalism did serve its purpose by grabbing tribalism and “hurling it over to the East”. Did it not?

        Now, the East needs socialism more than anything. But this desire for achieving a social structure based on increasing commonwealth is being blocked by powerful entities. Thus the East – like the West – will need to rally its troops under some unifying flag. It doesn’t matter what that unifying flag is so long as it gets the job done – which is to quash all those powers that are preventing the society to reach socialism.

        Nationalism? No! Socialism? Yes!

        Regarding “integral consciousness”, my understanding is that it is not something one can reach for (as if reaching for some precious object like gold), but it is something that reaches for its subject.

        “………………Follow that pathway into the vortex of mutual perdition if you want.”

        I am at a loss there. My comment was regarding your point about the notion of “eternal Jew”. I merely pointed out two Jewish leaders (both of whom hail from the Middle East) who uphold the “eternal Jew” in the comments they make. So, the “eternal Jew” doesn’t seem to have been only a construction of the Nazis.

  5. Charles Leiden says :

    Good writing and discussion. I enjoy reading Gebser also. I just wanted to mention authors that offer related insights. Rene Girard is known for ideas about scapegoating and sacrifice. Here is a paper about his ideas. Chilton Pearce in his books offers many ideas about creativity and the way human being develop. He suggests there is a blueprint for human development that is about play and creativity and this plan get derailed by lack of proper nurturing (love) which creates anxiety. One gets stuck on the anxiety and loses touch with the transcendent purpose. Culture could be a vehicle for all this anxiety that creates violence through projection, scapegoating, etc. I am simplifying obviously. Marty Glass wrote a book years ago YUGA An Anatomy of our Fate that is well written insightful articulation of humankinds “fall into time.” You write
    One must understand this about the Kali Yuga. It represents the lowest point or nadir of humankind’s spiritual existence, exemplifed by the quantification of time.
    His whole book is about this theme. The Reign of Quantity Keep up the good work.

  6. abdulmonem says :

    All human beings are born in the sea of pure innocence, then the parent or society mold them in the labels of the different religions or cultures we find ourselves in. We start good and were turned bad and not we start bad and turn good. The message of all religions is to make the humans remember that primordial innocence and to work to regain it. We have been provided with the necessary tools (eyes, ears, head and hearts) to accomplish that and when we misuse these tools or abuse them the human problems start. It is so simple without need to complex theories or mathematical equations that only few can understand. while the purpose of the divine message is to reach everyone. That is why human responsibility is individual and that is why once we start to speak in general terms without specifying the perpetrators or in obscure terms that only few understand we perpetuate the human maladies. I feel we are confusing the concept of sacrifice with murder and killing, forgetting that the most noble of qualities can be turned in the most ignoble qualities through the ability of the human to pervert everything, the same human who can rise to higher moral altitude. It is in this struggle of the opposites, one find himself or lose it . As you said one must take care not to be drawn in the vortex of the demonic. The demonic is real one only watch the vidoe attached with the summary of the study that try to make relation between social strata and human sacrifice which has been prohibited ever since the time of Abraham, to realize the strength of the demonic. It is not reason which is the most important asset of the human but the perversion of its use. Everything has double use bad or good, noble or ignoble and in the way the humans tackle this duality reside his free choice either with the noble or the ignoble. Most peoples think there is no divine documentation and the end of the criminal and the good is the same and everything end by death despite the scientific revelation that nothing get lost in the black hole.

  7. truthandconsequences1 says :

    Mr Preston’s exoneration of Christianity in relation to scapegoating is an instance of the special pleading fallacy surely.

    British philosopher AJ Ayer said, “Christianity is the worst religion in the world. It rests on the doctrine of substitutionary sacrifice which is intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous.”

    While one may not agree with Ayer’s condemnation of Christianity as a whole, it is difficult to disagree with his condemnation of the substitutionary sacrifice element of it. I can’t see how the torture and crucifixion of an innocent person can be justified by the claim that it removes the sins of the world.

    What is in question here is scapegoating – or, to be precise, the human sacrifice version of it. Such behaviour is, as Ayer suggested, not only irrational but morally indefensible.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    Such behaviour is, as Ayer suggested, not only irrational but morally indefensible.

    The fact that something is “irrational” or even “morally indefensible” is not proof of its falsity, is it? It just means it violates the rules of logic and moral norms, which are, after all, man-made.

    All myth and magic are “irrational”. That doesn’t prevent them from being real or true. Placebo effect or nocebo effect are “irrational”, but nonetheless, well-documented effects. The mythical and mystical are “irrational”, but that’s not proof of their falsity. To conclude that, in itself, is irrational.

    • truthandconsequences1 says :

      Dear, oh dear. I’ll leave it to objective readers to decide which of us is making sense here.

      • Scott Preston says :

        It is remarkable that since Nietzsche’s disclosure of the Dionysian, and subsequently Freud and Jung’s explorations of the continuing reality and effectuality of the mythical and magical structures of consciousness still within us, that these “irrational” potencies of the psychic configuration should still be subject to tests of validity based on logic or morality!

        This attitude — the attitude of the merely rational structure of consciousness (which is quite superficial in relation to the psychic whole) — is already antique and antiquarian, and one might say also reactionary.

        And I wouldn’t appeal ot “objective readers” of The Chrysalis, because most of them have long ago seen through the pretense of “objectivity” as a disguised moral imperative and even a political proscription against subjectivity itself — a rationalistic affectation. Readers here have come to distrust “rationalism” and abstraction as a spiritual disease, which it is. But then, you have no familiarity with the back pages of the Chrysalis at all, or you would have already realised that what you said about the “irrational” is nonsensical, since the Chrysalis is all about recovery from rationalism and the “objective attitude”. That’s why it’s called “the Chrysalis”.

        Your “rationalism” and “objective attitude” is about a century out of date, really — since Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, and latterly Jean Gebser have shown that “rationality” is all superficial and shallow compared to the greater depths of the psychic whole. In fact, Gebser considers “rationality” and the objective attitude, rather the diseased or decadent state of Reason.

        I’m sure you understand that Jung, Gebser, etc are all about “integral consciousness” and not about rationalism or moralism or mere “point-of-view” perspectivising perception. They’re about the “overview” not the “point-of-view” — a more universal way of looking at things,and not just the narrowly rationalistic perspective.

        If that offends you, you are definitely in the wrong place.

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