Technocratic Shamanism and Hermeticism

The uses of magic or of the principles of Jung’s archetypal psychology in “holistic branding” or “marketing 3.0” presents a conundrum for me — a great big riddle and question mark. It even occupies my dreams at night.

Here’s the rub of it: Jung’s archetypal or integralist psychology is founded upon his rediscovery of the symbolic meaning of alchemy and the Hermetic philosophy. The Hermetic revival is also figured in Northrop Frye’s rediscovery of William Blake, in his book Fearful Symmetry, that is credited with arousing renewed interest in Blake. Blake was also an Hermeticist. Hermes the Messenger, who is the courier of the gods, is also the patron of magic and the Trickster, and as such the patron also of the advertiser as also messenger, trickster, and magician (FTD Florists even uses Hermes with his winged sandals as its logo, but bearing a bouquet of flowers rather than his usual wand, the caduceus).

The Hermetic Philosophy that was forced underground, or into the background, with the Age of Reason seems to be returning with a vengeance. Books like Philip Ball’s The Devil’s Doctor on the alchemist Paracelsus also reflects this trend. But it’s returning in the peculiar form that Algis Mickunas calls “technocratic shamanism” (in his essay “Magic and Technological Culture”). It’s also implied in Raymond Williams’ aforementioned essay, “Advertising: The Magic System“. It could just as easily be called “technocratic Hermeticism”. What’s going on here? There is, in fact, a precedent for “technocratic shamanism” in the lore of alchemy.

First, it might be said that the Hermetic Philosophy is the theory (or theoria) for which alchemy serves as praxis. This has to be understood in specific ways, though. For Blake, Hermetic praxis was “the Arts” — the Arts guided by Vision or Imagination. The Arts are the path of spiritual transformation, symbolised by the transmutation of lead into gold. The Hermetic Philosophy is less about analytical reason and discursive logic as it is symbolic thinking or metaphorical consciousness. The transformation of lead into gold, often deemed the chief goal of the Hermetic Philosophy and alchemical practice, was modeled upon Christ’s “miracle at the Marriage of Cana” — the transubstantiation of water into wine. True alchemists weren’t so crude as to interpret this as some kind of magic trick, but as a living parable about spiritual transformation, the transformation of crude materialistic existence into the light of spiritual enlightenment, and the Marriage of Cana itself was interpreted as the hieros gamos, or “sacred marriage” — the union of the opposites. The Hermeticists saw the life and teachings of Jesus not as a matter of “history”, but as symbolic and mythical in depth, and the entire New Testament as a symbolic code of the mysteries.

Those who believed that alchemy was literally about turning lead into gold (of which there were many) were dismissed as “puffers”. The word “puffer” referred to someone furiously working the bellows in his laboratory, whereas in the Hermeticist’s symbolic code, “bellows” was a symbol of the lungs and of breath (spiritus). In other words, the “puffer” was a technician, and while he may have come across useful materials in the course of trying to change lead into gold, he was nonetheless precisely he who cannot discern the “letter of the law from the spirit of the law”, which are, in one way, antitheses. The statement that “only a hair separates the false from the true” corresponds to this confusion of the letter of the law for the spirit, and this is the flaw of the “puffer”. The “puffer” is the example of what is called “spiritual materialism”. And this “spiritual materialism” is probably the intended meaning of “technocratic shamanism”.

It’s now well-known that Sir Isaac Newton practiced alchemy in secret. But that didn’t prevent William Blake from dismissing him as a “puffer”, too, when he denounced “Single Vision & Newtons sleep.”

A way in which alchemical practice and art or craft are closely linked is in the making of compost, which can be sacramental, in fact. Good compost is a proper and harmonious mixture of the four elements — earth, air, fire, water — in equal proportion. That’s the rule. These are not only the four “essences” of antiquity, but also have some symbolic connection with Blake’s “four Zoas”. The task of composting is to transform crude matter into living soil. If you approach composting in that symbolic mode, and with the proper mood and attitude, it becomes a meditation, for the four essences have correspondences or affinities with your own psychophysical structure — respiratory system, circulatory system, nervous system, and metabolic system. Composting work also becomes an enactment of the work of self-realisation, because there is a bond or affinity between preserving the equilibrium of the compost pile and the equanimity of the human form. Human and Humus become one process. Making compost, and approaching that work in the proper sacramental mood — becomes “the Great Work” itself as alchemical process. As you turn crude matter into living soil or humus, you yourself become equally more human. It is symbolic process, which is probably one reason why some people become great compost enthusiasts.

It’s in the same sense that Nietzsche’s famous maxim: “What does not kill me makes me stronger” belongs to Hermeticism, which is why I’ve found some strictly logical types don’t get it at all, and think it’s illogical. But, it’s akin to composting. You’re taking something crude or false, and transmuting it into something alive and true, and that is, properly speaking, magical or alchemical. It’s the meaning of “transubstantiation”. It’s the same imaginative process of intending or transmutation that Blake used to defeat the deception of the angel in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In Blake’s view, “Imagination” (or “Vision”) and Intent are exactly equivalent and belong to Hermeticism.

Symbolic or metaphoric thinking is associated with the mode of attention of the right-hemisphere of the brain, according to Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary — his great work on the nature of the “divided brain”. This is largely the mode of attention that Hermeticism relies upon. The left-hemisphere mode of attention (the Emissary) associated with the ego-consciousness, or analysis and rationality, is the realm of “technique” proper — instrumental and instrumentalising rationality and the pursuit of power or the self-interest. “Technocratic shamanism” or “technocratic Hermeticism” would seem to suggest the continuing attempt of the Emissary to usurp the authority of the Master — the theme of McGilchrist’s book. That is to say, that the eruption of “unconscious knowledge” in our time, as Seth puts it, appears to have some connection with this “technocratic shamanism” and the Hermetic revival. But, as Seth also warns, unless this eruption is accompanied by an “enlightened ego consciousness” capable of organising this unconscious knowledge into new cultural gestalts or patterns, the result will be catastrophic — cultism, superstition, fetish, and wars of religion and ideology. This has to be our concern when assessing the meaning of technocratic shamanism.

Now, contemporary branding practice now consciously (relatively speaking) uses Hermeticism, via Jung’s archetypal psychology, for its advertising campaigns. Manufactured products are magically transmuted into symbolic forms, and marketers no longer sell “products” but “meanings”, no longer market “ways of life” but “reason for being” — magic and myth are becoming the norm of social communications in our “post-Enlightenment” era. Goods and services are not only being sold, rather, as Jung’s “archetypes” (basically, the gods and goddesses of antiquity as now “brand identities” and “brand personalities”) but also capitalism is being sold as a “religion”. All this is being done consciously and deliberately and strategically and with the promise that the new cultural milieu (branded culture) and the branded articles of consumption will facilitate the individual’s “self-actualisation” and “self-realisation” through consuming meanings. Rolf Jensen calls this, for example, The Dream Society. The subtitle runs “How the Coming Shift from Information to Imagination Will Transform Your Business“.

There is, in this shift to Imagination, both promise and peril. Remember the slogan of the 1968 student uprising in Paris — “Imagination is seizing power”. It was a rebuke and repudiation of managerialism and technocratic approaches to social organisation and public life, and it is really the cry of the Hermetic and the Hermetic Art, which holds the Imagination to be higher and more fundamental to life and consciousness than instrumentalist rationality. Imagination is the true creative faculty in the human form and reason exists only to help guide the creative imagination in the process of actualisation and realisation (reason and reality and realisation all being related words). McGilchrist’s “Master” is, in fact, the same as Blake’s “Imagination”, and the Emissary is Reason. Reason is the ambassador for the Imagination.

Marketing 3.0, or “holistic branding”, proposes the whole redesign of the consumer culture and society along the lines of this “Dream Society”. Whereas before, products in the form of goods and services were packaged as “values”, the new model specifies the reverse — the packaging of meanings as products — as goods and services. The meanings are the “archetypes of the collective unconscious” as “brand personalities”. In effect, people no longer consume goods and services, but meanings, which the goods and services only symbolise. Thus, brand managers are now reconceived as “makers and managers of meaning”. The rationale for this is that the brand “personalities” will guide the consumer to a truer, more authentic form of fulfillment through self-actualisation or self-realisation of their inner archetypes, inasmuch as the ritual of consumption, through identification with the “brand personality” or meaning, will facilitate and enable the consumer to express their true inner self, through the drama of consuming the “personality” of the brand, which is, as I mentioned in the last post, what is called “theophagy” — eating one’s god. “Meanings” are sold as food and nourishment and fulfillment.

Now, this “Dream Society”, superficially at least, resembles Blake’s “City of the Imagination” called Golgonooza, the city of arts and sciences. And that’s where the similarity actually ceases. Blake’s city is a city of creativity — arts and crafts and true science because true individuation happens through creativity, not in a paradise of consumption. So this “Dream Society” of ubiquitous fantasy looks like an inverted image of Blake’s Golgonooza — a fake of the “genuine imitation” variety.

Consumerism 3.0 (it’s all the same, whether we call it marketing 3.0, capitalism 3.0, propaganda 3.0 or “holistic branding” for that matter) promises “authentic” (it’s a word they use a lot) experience of individuation through the consumption of meanings and of forming honest-to-goodness communities of shared interests around these brand names and brand meanings (eg, Pepsi Generation, Harley-Davidson Clubs, the Saturn family, and so on — “where two or more are gathered in my name”, as it were).

In The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson (which is another “marketing 3.0” manifesto) the number of Jung’s archetypes exploitable for branding purposes are presented as twelve: Creator, Caregiver, Ruler, Jester, Regular Guy/Gal, Lover, Hero, Outlaw, Mage, Innocent, Explorer, and Sage (a similar “twelve” also occurs in Martin Lindstrom’s Brand Sense). This number “12” is most peculiar — it’s the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve disciples of Christ, the twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve winds of the Compass Rose, and probably has some connection, too, with Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s essay on “The Twelve Tones of the Spirit”. All these archetypes have their roots in or correspond to some symbolic process in alchemy, because each one of us is a composite of these archetypes, although one usually constitutes the “ruling mythos” or predilection of the individual. They are all part of the ecology of the soul, we might put it. The twelve are processes, aspects for facets of the Jungian “Self” — the symbol of psychic integration that Gebser calls “the diaphanon” — and the effective reality that underlies them all. So Consumerism 3.0 is essentially the claim that “holistic branding” empowers consumers with the tools necessary to achieve true self-realisation and individuation, and therefore has a legitimate right to call itself a “religion”. This is its lure and seduction. But is it really just the old “bait and switch”?

This is technocratic shamanism. Is if fraud? Is its claim to empower of consumers in terms of aiding individuation and self-actualisation “authentic” (as they claim) or a disguised will to total domination? This is the riddle I’m wrestling with. It has all the features of the Hermetic creed, and yet… there seems to be something quite fishy about it all, perhaps competely narcissistic and, therefore, somewhat pathological. Spiritual enlightenment through realisation of “wholeness” does not seem to be its real motivation.



11 responses to “Technocratic Shamanism and Hermeticism”

  1. davidm58 says :

    I’ve had a quite memorable ritualistic experience making biodynamic (Steiner’s method) compost, where we strongly experienced earth (what we were working with), air (strong winds), water (rain), and fire (bright sun and lightning) all in quick succession.

    • Scott Preston says :

      That may be connected with Jung’s “synchronicity”. In fact, what I described in terms of the affinity between compost making (equilibrium) and the human process (equanimity) can be described as the synchronicity of human and humus — in alchemy, it was not called “synchronicity” per se but “affinity”. But these largely mean the same thing. Alchemy does not work with “definitions” but with “affinitions” — affinities

      • davidm58 says :

        I love this affinity or synchronicity between equilibrium/equanimity, and human/humus.

        • Scott Preston says :

          There is probably an affinity still in the words “soil” and “soul”, too, although Gebser thinks the affinity is essentially one between “soul” and “sea” (in German, See and Seele are sea and soul, respectively). That still may be, although the name “Adam” means “soil” or earth (the name “Eve” apparently means “life”, and therefore a possible connection with “evening” — ie, “to have lived”).

    • Scott Preston says :

      I should add, too perhaps, that “synchronicities” do come up in Mark’s and Pearson’s archetypal branding — in the suggestion that there are “synchronicities” between the ruling archetype of a person’s psychic constitution or soul and the brand personality or meaning. In essence, that’s the old doctrine of the affinities. And on the basis of this “affinity” between the psychic archetype and the brand meaning, “brand loyalty” is built.

      I’m trying to understand the implications of that.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Perhaps a little description of the archetypes is in order: they are essentially “meanings”, but in a special sense. In the magical structure of consciousness, they are the spirits and demons, and are effectively real within that framework. In the mythological consciousness, they are the major and minor gods and goddesses, nymphs, fauns, satyrs, etc. And they have effective reality within that framework. In the mental-rational consciousness, they are the “abstract ideas”, or the Platonic “eidola” or “Forms” or “species”, and have an effective reality as “ideas” in that framework construct.

    The return of the archetypes as “meanings” in the sense of branding 3.0 is the return of the magical and mythical forms of the archetypes, as spirits, divinities, deities, and so on, but now presented as “brand personalities” or “brand identities”, and so this correlates with Gebser’s noting the return of myth and magic, but all now requiring the “integral consciousness” in order not to succumb to their irrational potencies or “psychic inflation”. This “psychic inflation”, takes the form of megalomania, or manias of all kinds, frenzy, etc.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Just as a point of interest, too — alchemy is Arabic — Al-Khem. Khem is the ancient word for Egypt called “the Black Land”.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Black land is the compost of the physical creation that is the basic first lesson that ignites the spiritual journey. The human is basically a creative messenger, both biologically to maintain and sustain the specie and spiritually to maintain and sustain the divine true word. The human however, across the ages has misinterpreted the second message and has invented different gods and different messages as well as has misused the first one. Our modern advertisers who sell goods is a false messenger like his brother the publicizers who sell peoples, What does Hollywood do but sells human images good and bad according to their agenda, they even call their celebrities ,idol in stead of god. Politics can not be divorced from commerce ,I read this laughable advertisement,,,, Don not be gulled by Yankee bluff,support John Bull with every every puff. There is no end to disfiguration and defacement of the proper human concepts, Each sect uses what serves their agenda ,like the fear of illness by the pharmaceutical or Islamophobia by the politicians etc etc.Yet all of them can not present themselves without a mask, that is why they want to work in the dark and accuse those who expose them by all the filthy names available in the dictionaries . I think it is no longer a riddle but as it said by so many, the false psychic bubble is going to explode if not already is exploding in so many ways for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The march of the soldiers of the integral consciousness that is the divine vision can not be stopped, because god is never hasty in his action and always sends signs of warning a head of time.

  5. Dwig says :

    Reading this description of composting presents an interesting contrast to my experience; for example:
    – “Good compost is a proper and harmonious mixture of the four elements — earth, air, fire, water — in equal proportion. ”
    – “The task of composting is to transform crude matter into living soil.”

    I’ve been tending a two-bin compost system (shrine?) with good success for about four years now. I’ve never thought of it as working with “crude matter”; in fact, the inputs have been complex organic materials — kitchen scraps and bush and tree leaves and trimmings, fed to a nice complex little ecosystem of worms, beetles, and so on down to the microscopic organisms. If I do my tasks right, they do the real work (and I can stick my hand into the mix and feel the heat). What I harvest is a rich black mixture (black land?) that has a slight pleasant odor, and holds water wonderfully.

    Actually, I’m not terribly careful of the nitrogen-carbon mixture, nor about finely chopping up the ingredients. I find that my little partners are generally quite forgiving; only on rare occasions have I had to deal with clumps of smelly messes, and I’ve accepted them as due reproof for my mismanagement.

    However, this quote resonates quite well with my experience:
    – “Making compost, and approaching that work in the proper sacramental mood — becomes “the Great Work” itself as alchemical process.” Indeed, it brings me closer to being part of the ecosystem myself. And yes, humus is far from the least result of my labors.

    Changing the subject:
    About this “artificial holism” you’ve been struggling with: I’m reading The Four Zoas, and came across this (near the end of the Second Night):
    “I have planted a false oath in the earth, it has brought forth a poison tree,
    I have chosen the serpent for a councillor & the dog
    For a schoolmaster to my children
    I have blotted out from light & living the dove & nightingale
    And I have caused the earth worm to beg from door to door
    I have taught the thief a secret path to into the house of the just
    I have taught pale artifice to spread his nets upon the morning
    My heavens are brass my earth is iron my moon a clod of clay
    My sun a pestilence burning at noon & a vapour of death in night.”

  6. Scott Preston says :

    I have taught pale artifice to spread his nets upon the morning

    That’s perfect.

    I don’t use “crude” in the moral sense, but in the sense of “course” or unrefined. Composting is refining, and in that sense the crude state corresponds to the lead and the refined state to the gold. In fact, some composters do call finely composted humus “black gold”. There is this more or less conscious recognition that it is alchemy.

    You’re liitle buddies in the composting process of course rely upon you to preserve the proper environment for them to do their work, and that’s why you have to balance the elements, otherwise, as you note, too much of one element or another kills the process — too much water, and you have a “gooey mess”. Actually, that means a lack of air, and proper aeration will restore the process. If you look back into pre-Socratic thinking, the soul is pretty much conceived in exactly the same way — too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold, to airy or too earthy,, and so on.

    So, what’s the “fifth element” in all this? Well, its our consciousness isn’t it? Our conscious involvement in the process. The consciousness is the governor and the steward of the process. I don’t mean by this “mind”, because a lot of composting practice is intuitive, but the mental or analytical process is also invovled in the partnership when we analyse the process into its proper “ratios” of earth (material), air (proper aeration), fire (heat) and water (keeping it moist). In fact, it is known that good compost is a balance of 25% earth, 25% air, 25% heat (caloric content) and 25% moisture. An equilibrium. But that describes what we call “homeostasis”, too.

  7. westcoastrecovery says :

    What an interesting read! Thanks for posting.

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