Shifting Gears: The Sea of Time

Some time ago in The Chrysalis, I suggested we change the designation “spacetime” continuum to “timespace”, reflecting the primacy of the time “dimension” for the lifeworld. Time is of the essence. And yet nothing perplexes and confounds the mind, or arouses its anxieties, as the mystery of time. Descartes, the father of contemporary rationalism, was baffled by time and consequently made no place for it at all in his “wondrous strange method”.

The Chrysalis has been both a critique of space-bound perspectivising rationality or “point-of-view” consciousness and perception, as well as a preparation for a kind of “revaluation of values” — much as the chrysalis stage is itself. It’s appropriate because the butterfly or moth is also a traditional symbol of the soul. And as Augustine once put it, “time is of the soul”.

Space-bound thinking emphasised point-of-view perspectivism and the subject-object divide and dichotomy. Existentially speaking, we first come to know a difference between the “in here” and “out there” only by the fact that desires and needs arise in us that meet resistance to their immediate satisfaction from “out there”. The belief that “Nature can’t do anything right”, which is the fundamental premise of the Modern Age really (and a pretty narcissistic evaluation in itself), and the motive for our becoming “masters and possessors of nature”, as Descartes framed it, originates from the discrepancy between desire and the resistance to the satisfaction of that desire thrown up by “Nature” or objective reality more generally (or society for that matter).  “Scientia potens est“, or “knowledge is power” — pretty much the motto of the Age of Reason — makes the pursuit of power, of command and control, the meaning and chief activity of modernity. Happiness, the ostensible goal of it all, being a matter of progressively overcoming, if not obliterating,  by rational and technical methods the differential between subjective desire and the objective reality’s apparent resistance to the satisfaction of that desire.

The Eastern tradition, on the other hand, takes a much different approach to the issue of the unsatisfactoriness (dukkha — malaise or suffering) of existence. Since unsatisfactoriness or dukkha arises from unsated need and desire (which is associated with a consuming “fire”) the extinguishment of need and desire is seen as the cure for samsaric existence. In effect, to dispossess ourselves of ourselves by non-attachment or disinterestedness. The onus is not on Nature to change her apparently insufficient ways, but on man to change his nature and his expectations. The progressive satisfaction of need (and sense of neediness) as the meaning of the pursuit of power in the West, is matched by the progressive elimination of need and desire in the East. Ostensibly, both aim for the same goal — happiness. One aims for the conquest of objective space, another for the conquest of subjective space.

This contest between desire and resistance to desire, or between will and necessity, is ancient man’s first dawning awareness of his situation in physical reality — his first awareness of a differential. Magic was the first technology to overcome the difference between desire and its satisfaction. One might say that magic was even the first economy, the first “means of production” — the first pursuit of power by spell-casting. It is also the structure of consciousness that has the greatest affinity with the rational structure in terms of making and power (“make”, Macht, machine, magistrate, and magic are related words). When Francis Bacon weighed the relative merits of science or magic for man’s gaining knowledge and power over Nature, it was precisely because science and magic shared this affinity. In fact, the Greek word techne (art or means) was synonymous with magic as well. Tool magic, hunting magic, fertility magic, shapeshifting, warfare magic — you name it, it was all covered by an appropriate spell and magical technique or formula. And there’s no question that it was effective in its terms, as attested to by many anthropologists who have familiarised themselves with even contemporary shamanistic cultures. Placebo effect, nocebo effect, and the black magic and spell-casting of contemporary propaganda attest to its latent persistence within us, even in the form of technology, in contemporary “rational” civilisation. The perennial question of ‘mind over matter’ (or the “masses”) is the question of the effectuality of magic, and a lot of quantum scientists would (and do) today attest to its (often dangerous) effective reality.

The intentionality of consciousness — or intent — is the magical element and factor. “You create the reality you know” is, essentially, the persistence of the magical factor implicit in consciousness. Consciousness is doing something funny with space and time. In fact, the magical consciousness structure, and the magical factor of intentionality, plays a big role in Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics, as described in his book The Master and his Emissary. If, as he insists, the “mode of attention” you bring to the world determines your “mode of being” in that world, that’s intentionality, and that’s the magical factor — the factor of “making happen”. The Emissary is, though, the proverbial “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in this regard — the image of Gebser’s “deficient magical consciousness” owing to its lack of insight into this ancient influence still present in its activities. Whether we know it or not, we are all “magical beings”, as Castaneda’s don Juan told him. We are all magical beings, by virtue of the intentionality of consciousness, although some of us don’t know it, and that makes us vulnerable to the “dark side”, as it were. The “dark side” is just the unilluminated and unintegrated aspects of the psychic whole.

Becoming conscious of this magical factor in our consciousness and psychic constitution is a big part of achieving “integral consciousness”, and it hinges on the proper recognition of intentionality and intent. The ego-consciousness believes it is the master of intent, as “will power”, “captain of its soul” and fate. But that’s essentially a delusion of the “Emissary” because the ego-consciousness is, itself, a construct of intent, but which it then confuses with its own “will”. Nonetheless, it experiences the workings of intent as a “fate” (Heraclitus’ maxim, “character is fate” is all about the magic of intentionality). So, intent has much to do with the meaning of the karmic law of action and reaction. It is intent that not only turns the wheel of space and time, but also intent that “stops the wheel of space and time”, or what Castaneda also referred to as “stopping the world”.

But we’ll return to that and the role of intent in stopping and starting the wheel of time and space when we resume the discussion of the relationship between Now and the Momentary, and the primacy of time. But it’s because the “Emissary” (the second attention or “Prodigal Son”) as “usurper” has become dissociated and estranged from the Master or the core, that it has become the proverbial “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It’s will is not aligned with intent, and the consequence is perverse outcome, unintended consequence, reversal of fortune, blowback and revenge effect, all of which are now becoming epidemic at our “end of history”. These are the consequences of the “deficient mental” consciousness, which Gebser calls “rationality” — the image of H.G. Wells’ realisation that “mind” was now at “the end of its tether”.

Insight into the various hitherto realised consciousness structures that constitute the human psychic whole and persist as effectual (albeit unconsciously so) in everyday life is the key to integral consciousness, or the “aperspectival-arational”. Otherwise, we end up as their “playthings”, as Gebser puts it. Then we feel like helpless dry leaves blown about by strong winds. The pathway to the aperspectival, arational, and achronic (of which more later) hinges on one very simple rule: to know when to “make happen” and to know when to “let happen”, which is a matter of time, tempo, and timing. All that really amounts to is the knowledge of when to “intend” and when to “attend“, which are the two poles of consciousness in its yin and yang aspects, or animus and anima aspects.

“Gebser’s Rule”, as we might call it: to know when to “make happen” and to know when to “let happen”, emphasises time and timing (and which is also a major theme of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “time-thinking” also). But if you know Castaneda’s writings, you might also recognise that in a rebuke that don Juan issued to Castaneda about his clumsiness, something to the effect that “you’re problem is that you rush when you should wait, and you wait when you should rush”. In other words, when to intend or “make happen” and when to attend or “let happen”.

Castaneda’s problem was, of course, that he was a “modern man” with all the “modern man’s” peculiar sense of time, timing, and tempo. It’s the clock, machine time — the time of economic production and interest rate calculation — that conditions modern man’s insensitivity to the meaning of time and timing. Modern man’s soul has been mechanised, routinised, measured, weighed, calculated and quantified. And it’s a fact of which he is almost completely unaware because he knows no other meaning of time or tempo.

So, for his soul’s sake, the human of the modern type must wake up to the meaning of time, and the conversation of time and eternity– in which the polarity of “Now” and the “momentary” supercedes that of subject-object dualism. Time is the primary dimension of the human lifeworld, time and the achronon. So, it’s to time that we will turn for the clue to the new and emergent consciousness structure — the “aperspectival” or integral.

And one of the first places we are going to look is, in all places, the economics of Adam Smith and neo-liberal economics — the economics of acquisitive individualism and competitive egoism. For Smith did something peculiar to time even when he himself knew better. And we are, today, largely living with the consequences.



8 responses to “Shifting Gears: The Sea of Time”

  1. Dwig says :

    Reading about “the magical” here, and having followed Greer’s “Well of Galabes” blog for some time, I’m seeing connections, but also some apparent dissonance. In recent posts, Greer has laid out a general taxonomy and philosophy of Western magic, starting with November’s post “A Plea for Occult Philosophy” and continuing with posts on “The Scope of Occultism”.

    I’d be very interested to learn your take on the relationship of “magical” a la Gebser vis a vis Greer’s “natural magic”.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. I read Greer’s essays on magic.Greer’s definition of magic: “Magic, in the nonfigurative sense of the word, is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.”

      Nothing wrong with that at all. Gebser would most likely agree with that take, although it needs to be mentioned that this understanding of magic could only come about as a result of the contributions of the mental to “understanding”. In fact, Greer does mention the contributions of the mythical and the “philosophical” or “science” to the interpretation of magic, indicating that it is conscious of itself as such.

      The one danger in that definition is the hypostatisation of the will. Will is, indeed, associated with the magical, which historically brought the mythical and the mental into conflict with the willful because of their own bias towards the purely emotive or the purely intellectual. You know the old proscription of the mythical consciousness — “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” — probably a recollection of the deficient phase of the magical consciousness which Blake did indeed associate with “Druidism”. Blake’s opionons on Druids and Druidism are not very positive, despite that fact that much in Blake is magical itself. I suppose it’s because he did not think that the Druids were conscious of what they were actually doing.

      I think you might see from this where Gebser believes human consciousness goes wrong — its the hypertrophy of any one faculty at the expense of the others — intellectualisation, willfulness, emotiveness, or sensationalism. The balance is called “equanimity”, the excess is called “mania”. Too great an emphasis on “will” brings consequences for the psychic equilibrium.

      So, that’s where the Gebser’s maxim becomes quite relevant: “knowing when to “make happen” and knowing when to “let happen” ” is the key. But then, that’s the art of speaking and listening, too. But then, “grammar” has some ancient association with magic, as you might recall — as spell-casting or charming. Magic, myth, and logic are already encoded in the structure of grammar and in the acts of speaking and listening, or in the intentional and attentional modalities of consciousness.

      All’s well, as long as this is known.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I should mention also something that Seth said that bears on the deficient character of the magical structure — the violation of another’s consciousness. What Greer calls “operative magic” (instrumentalism) tends towards that. It may well be that’s why “wicca” became “wicked”.

        • Dwig says :

          Greer has discussed that in various places. For example, in “Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth”, he points out that this kind of magic is possible, but it always entails negative consequences for the mage. (Dion Fortune made the same point in “Sane Occultism”.) In an earlier “Archdruid Report”, he discussed “thaumaturgy” in some detail, as characteristic of the kinds of mental manipulation that’s all too common in today’s media.

      • Dwig says :

        “Blake’s opionons on Druids and Druidism are not very positive…”. Hmm, I wonder what Blake’s understanding of Druidism was. Greer has made the point that today’s Druids are, of necessity, re-inventing the concept, since only scarce information is available about what the originals Druids thought, believed, and practiced. He’s quite critical in general of some practitioners of religions, such as Wicca, that claim a long, unbroken line going back to antiquity.

        In my comment, though, I was less interested in the general concept of magic, than with Greer’s analysis of the various disciplines that are gathered under that umbrella, and the underlying “world view” that they express.

        On this subject, I’ve been reading a book that seems to relate to some of your experiences: “Honoring the Medicine”, by Kenneth Cohen (, who has lived, learned, and practiced healing with many First Nations (including the Cree). Many of the aspects of Native American spirituality relate well to things you’ve written, as well as to those of Greer.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I don’t know that we can speak of “world views” when it comes to the magical structure of consciousness because there is no attempt to systematically develop one.That comes later with the mental and conceptual “picture”.

          But we do have a living example of that in Castaneda’s writings. All the chief elements of the magical structure are represented there — don Juan’s emphasis on action over thinking, on the utility of knowledge (pragmatism: “what’s the point of knowing things which are useless” is also an objection to the mythical consciousness or contemplative). The emphasis is on “unfolding the will”, on power and acting, which de-emphasises reflection. The “what” and the “why”, the things that obsess Castaneda at first, only elicit an annoyed shrug from don Juan. The “space timelessness” of the magical also appears in Castaneda’s states of “extraordinary consciousness”.

          Everything that Gebser associates with the effectuality of the magical structure are represented (and more besides) in Castaneda’s works. In don Juan’s world, description and explanation (which are the influence of the mental structure) are entirely secondary and subdued, if attempted at all.

          Of course, Castaneda, being a “Western man” as he put it, did attempt an classificatory scheme and an explanation (the mental). The contribution of the mental is what appears as the summary of his experiences in the introduction to the 25th Anniversay Edition of The Teachings of Don Juan, and it’s a doozey. Really is a masterful piece of writing, I think, that really does clarify the meaning of the magical structure of consciousness.

          • Dwig says :

            “The “what” and the “why”, the things that obsess Castaneda at first, only elicit an annoyed shrug from don Juan.”

            That got a giggle from me. I’ve gotten a similar feeling from some of Greer’s writings. He’s clearly more interested in practicing and teaching “operative magic” than in understanding why it “operates”. (Although some of the Galabes posts do go deeper into what he calls occult philosophy.)

            For what it’s worth, the few times Greer mentions Casteneda, he’s pretty dismissive (I can find some quotes if it matters). On the positive side, Greer has made a deep study of the roots and history of Western Magical tradition, going back at least as far as the Hermetic writers. He’s also worked out a variation of the Golden Dawn system from a Druidic perspective.

        • Scott Preston says :

          As for Blake’s antipathy to Druidism — I think we can interpolate, there, something of Gebser’s meaning of “the law of the earth” and the necessity of detaching oneself from nature — ie, non-identification. I think Blake saw that the Druids had succumbed to this “law of the earth” through over-identification.

          The parallel today is “social darwinism”, which I think Blake would see as this same “Druidism” — surrendering to the law of the earth by taking “Nature” back into society as the “concrete jungle”.

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