The Shaman and The Law of the Earth

Dwig, a couple of posts back, issued something of a challenge for me to unfold the meaning of the shamanic consciousness, or what Jean Gebser calls “the magical structure of consciousness”. This I will attempt to do today, although my first impulse was to comment on an article that appeared in The Atlantic on the limits to scientific understanding. I can work some of that into today’s post also. It is often the case that the limits to scientific understanding are also the beginnings of the mythical or the magical and shamanic one.

You may recall the Hermetic principle of epistemology — empathetic epistemics: “to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know”. This, naturally, requires great fluidity and flexibility of consciousness and identity and a readiness to forego the mere “point-of-view” and “line-of-thought” approach associated with what is called “the objective attitude”. This is sometimes represented as “the descent into the Underworld”. This is possible for any one of us, as Gebser, Jung, and Blake also demonstrate. Since these “structures of consciousness” or modes of perception are latent within us still, we can access them. In fact, we frequently do without really being conscious of doing so. The boundaries between the consciousness structures/modes of perception are rather porous and permeable.

What results from this “descent into the Underworld” are very different worlds of perception, a different pattern to space and time. As you may know from reading Gebser, what he calls “consciousness structures” are very different Gestalts or constellations of space and time. If we try to compel these structures to conform to our current mechanistic models of space and time, associated with the mental-rational or perspectival consciousness and objective attitude, we end up doing violence to them, and not as they are in their own terms — as being, in their terms, complete worlds of perception.

You might think of this as an archaeology of the self, or an archaeology of consciousness. Anyone can be an archaeologist in this sense.

Now, as to the shamanic consciousness structure, if you have read Gebser’s interpretations of this (the “magical structure”) in his Ever-Present Origin, you will know that Gebser makes no distinction between what he calls “white magic” and “black magic”. This is a more or less romanticised or moralised interpretation of magic, in terms of good and evil, and it’s quite out of place within the magical structure of consciousness. The shaman traffics with “forces” or powers that may be benevolent or malevolent, friendly or hostile and must negotiate his way with both. The concern of the shaman is thus not with a moral world order but with what Gebser calls “the law of the Earth”. Knowing this “law of the Earth” is the art and science of the shaman.

If you have read Gebser’s work on the magical structure, you will have come upon this phrase “the law of the Earth” a couple of times. It may have seemed quite enigmatic or puzzling. It certainly was for me until it leapt out at me one day while watching one of the “Men in Black” videos. There, an alien tells Agent J that “where there is death, there will always be a death”. We refer to that in popular language as “paying the Devil his due”. The shaman is, then, like an accountant or bookkeeper who balances the assets with the liabilities, or the credits with the debits, and these in terms of the benevolent and the malevolent powers or “the orders of the dreamed”. But the dreamed may be benevolent or malevolent, and the shaman can’t ignore either.

As Castaneda’s don Juan explained, the art of the shaman-warrior was “to balance the wonder of being alive with the terror of being alive”, or, put another way, the awesome with the awful. The shaman, then, does not traffic in moral causes and effects, as in mythical consciousness, or in mechanical causes and effects as in the mental-rational consciousness. The causes and effects the shaman deals with are living entities, powers both benign and malign, and it’s less a matter of navigating them as negotiating with them.

An example of a latter day shaman is actually Carl Jung. (At least, many people think and feel that way about Jung, and not in an admiring way). There is, in fact, an episode recorded in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections that probably exemplifies Gebser’s “law of the Earth” in action. Jung once had a heart-attack and was dying. He recalls his spirit ascending towards a structure that looked like a temple, but before he could reach it, a hand reached up and pulled him back, and he sensed a voice telling him it was not yet his time. Jung was revived by his attending physician, and recognised the hand that had pulled him back as that of his physician. Yet, two weeks later or so his own physician died. “Where there is death, there will always be a death”.

The shaman can, indeed, pull someone back from the brink of death. But then, the Devil must have his due, the accounts must be balanced, the reckoning must occur, and the shaman will have to substitute something or someone acceptable in their place — the sacrifice. I mentioned Jesus’ act of casting out the demons from the demon-possessed man, but then sending them into a herd of swine. Good for the madman. But for the farmer who owned the swine, it was probably necromancy more than miracle.

Shamanic culture has no conception at all of anything like “progress” in the sense that the “evils” or malevolent forces in the world can be exorcised from the Earth, leaving only the good and benevolent spirits, and a final utopia established. You can’t purify the Earth of its malevolent powers.  It’s always a matter of balancing the books, so to speak, and that’s why Gebser refuses to recognise the validity of such separate matters as “white magic” and “black magic”. The law of the Earth is neither good nor evil. On the other hand, you could say that it is both.

There are some additional hints about the law of the Earth in some other passages in Gebser. For example,

“All work, the genuine work which we must achieve, is that which is most difficult and painful: the work on ourselves. If we do not freely take upon ourselves this pre-acceptance of the pain and torment, they will be visited upon us in an otherwise necessary individual and universal collapse. Anyone disassociated from his origin and his spiritually sensed task acts against origin. Anyone who acts against it has neither a today nor a tomorrow.”

There is, in that statement, an explication of the meaning of “the law of the Earth”, and what he’s describing is, in indigenous cultures, the performance of the Sun Dance. What Gebser is asking of us here is very akin to the sacrifice the individual makes for the sake of his tribe or community through the Sun Dance. I have a good friend who has done this. The dancer takes upon himself a great deal of pain and torment so that these will not be visited upon his kin and community instead. If the sacrifice is acceptable, it fulfills the law of the Earth and preserves or restores the equilibrium of things — the Sacred Balance. The Sun Dance of the Plains Indian tribes was the equivalent of the Potlach ceremony of the West Coast tribes.

Gebser is suggesting we do no less.

So, the shaman’s special task is to know, interpret or perform the law of the Earth for his or her community, and fulfill its obligations. He or she does this well, or does it badly, or, in Gebser’s terms “effectively” or “deficiently”. Gebser is, himself, playing the shaman in that quote from Ever-Present Origin. And the only question is whether he is misleading us, or telling us true.

25 responses to “The Shaman and The Law of the Earth”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Just occurs to me… if I were to put it another way: the task of the shaman is less expurgation than it is propitiation. And that also seems implied in that quote from Gebser and his references to the law of the Earth.

  2. davidm58 says :

    We’ve had discussions here before about the meaning of “the law of the earth.” I like to think of it in terms of the fundamental, universal pattern/polarity of expansion/contraction, or concentration/diffusion. Basically, what goes up, must come down.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Or focus and scattering (as of light and energy)?

      Scattering — or, especially, waste — appears to be modernity’s forte. The sheer amount of waste in our purview boggles the mind. Anyone who has ever worked in a corporate, retail environment is likely appalled (if not numbed) by the sheer wastefulness readily apparent in it. Be forced to “damage out” (euphemism for “trash”) or relegate to “Final Disposition” more than fifty bags of foodstuffs that didn’t sell as they were expected to because their “best by” dates happen to be expiring in a month (as opposed to being donated to a local shelter for no other reason than fear of lawsuits), and you’ll get a sense of just how wasteful our societies truly are.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Or “what goes ’round, comes ’round”? Or, “tit for tat”? (Knock on wood).

      Or, you could also say that the law of the Earth is simply “eat and be eaten”.

      These are the laws of the ouroboros. And I suspect that the ouroboros is what Gebser has in mind by “law of the Earth”.


      this was displaced by the cross, the the cross by the pyramid or triangle, and now replaced by Gebser’s “sphere”, although the sphere could be said to integrate all of them, as it contains all of them within itself, as demonstrated in the alchemical symbol of the hieros gamos or sacred marriage.

      hieros gamos

      this is the re-unification of “Adam and Eve”, or primordial androgyne. To help interpret the meaning of Rebis, you should probably compare and contrast it with Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man

      vitruvian man

      • Scott Preston says :

        Just a note about the “Rebis” figure: the seven stars surrounding the Androgyne are, clockwise from the left: venus, mars, sol, mercury, luna, jupiter, and saturn.

  3. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    As if life has no final purpose but hands up and hands down, focus and scatter and a continual dance of polarity,expand and shrink and the cycle repeats itself again and again without end, then why humans end. Why things are renewed and rejuvenated from death comes life and out of life, death is elicited again. Why night enfolds the day and the day enfolds the night in a constant process of cancellation and new imaging. The Sunday of this week is not the same Sunday of last week until we return to the non-changeable same. Life is a collections of opposites , it is not for us to take some and neglect some . it is one package and among the opposites are the evil and the good which in the world of numbers and quantity ,the materialistic ethos, this polarity is neglected to enhance the operation of consumption ,entertainment and enjoyment. Is it Postman who wrote entertainment until death. All the world wants to be Poppy. The absurdity of the post post humans. Just watching the scene of the earth one finds enough signs to break the cavern of the single vision. Let us not be like Descartes when the truth knocked on his door he sent it away. It is making stand.

  4. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Perhaps of interest to some in light of recent conversations, especially regarding an incessant focus on and amplification of “what’s dying” as opposed to what is struggling to be born (particularly in social media): Making Our Movement See Itself. [via Kosmos Journal]

    [I]t’s increasingly clear that as our old economic structures and civilizational forms hit the wall of our planetary limits, a new world is taking shape that focuses on bridging the three major divides of our time: the ecological divide, the social-economic divide, and the spiritual divide….

    [W]hy seem the forces of destruction so much more powerful than the forces of co-creation? Because the latter one’s do not have any real amplification mechanism. And that’s exactly what we are trying to build and prototype over the next few months. The main purpose of the interactive media hub and platform is to help the emerging global movement sense and see itself across sectors, systems, and cultures. To the degree that this happens we will see the dynamics shift from destruction to creation, from absencing to presencing.

    Well, he’s certainly hopeful. Considering the colossal failure of that “shift” to happen on other social media platforms (e.g. Newsvine), however, I have serious doubts about this one, especially considering that HuffPo is one of the most partisan of all partisan outlets in the US and has, in fact, been peddling “the mainstream option” (aka the “status-quo”) since its inception. Then again, other social media outlets have not defined their mission as “helping the emerging global movement.” (In fact, Newsvine itself was apparently just another build-it-and-a-major-player-will-eventually-buy-it-for-tons-of-cash, “Web 2.0” kind of endeavor. It certainly sold out to the highest bidder in very short order.)

    Okay. So, I have serious doubts. But…

    The deeper problem includes a broader loss of empathy in society. The amplification mechanisms here include digital echo chambers within social media….

    Wow. That sounds familiar. Perhaps it’s worth monitoring for a time, at least.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Not sure what it’s like in the US, but here in Canada, all the main political parties are anxious to describe themselves as “movements”, and to be perceived as “movements”.

      Now, the opposite of “movement” is “establishment” or status quo and it then makes you wonder, if all the politicians are “movement” politicians, who then is representing the establishment — the status quo?

      Of course, most of it is polispeak — perception management stuff which ultimately co-opts the whole meaning of “movement” as transformational and structural change — change in depth rather than tinkering at the edges.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        It’s the techno-speak surrounding this project that has me a bit more concerned at the moment. Societal… “operating systems?”

        The Presencing Institute and MITx u.lab are apparently the brain-children of a MIT duo. That, and the fact that they’ve hooked up with HuffPo (of all “news media companies”) to launch an “online-to-offline movement-building” project leaves me wondering if they’re not laboring under the same dichotomies that got us into this mess in the first place. Then again, “computational” language may simply be the language with which they are most familiar and comfortable, which doesn’t necessarily imply “mechanistic” thinking.

        I suppose we shall see. With any luck, MIT won’t actually turn out to be the equivalent of the “CIT” of Fallout fame. : )

        • Scott Preston says :

          Theory U actually sounds quite akin to Gebser’s “presentiation” and “concretion”.

          I was impressed with this approach. There is, naturally, a kind of “transvaluation of values” that occurs in any transitional period. New metaphors that are simply translations of older ones. This is the case here. And, of course, their notions of the inner states and conditions are quite pertinent to the previous post on social media and the stream of consciousness.

          They’ve noticed it. Very pertinent in fact.

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            The foundations of the American state are crumbling.

            The foundations of the modern world are crumbling. There’s nothing quite like having the rug pulled out from under our feet to wake us up and shake us out of our complacency, however, and complacency is the hallmark of the status quo.

            That the focus of and participants in the activities of the Presencing Institute are global and not particularly confined to the US (or, especially, the US’ absolutely stagnant political sphere) is an encouraging sign that its founders are really committed to offsetting the reach and influence of those digital echo chambers and actually “helping the (true) emergent global movement.” That they’ve chosen two of those self-same echo chambers in the US to do so, on the other hand, is not such an encouraging sign.

            They’ve noticed it. Very pertinent in fact.

            Indeed, they have.

            • Scott Preston says :

              The foundations of the modern world are crumbling

              Indeed, though the one difference here is that other jurisdictions are scrambling to try to secure these crumbling foundations, while America under Trump is going the other way — accelerationism. If Bannon’s ambition is to bring the whole thing crashing down, he’s certainly found his champion in Trump.

              This erosion, corrosion of the foundations certainly brings to mind Nietzsche’s remarks that the foundations of the Modern Era were erected upon “running water” — therefore unsustainable. “Sustainability” is all about the soundness of the foundations upon which everything else is erected. “Resilience” also.

              Rosenstock-Huessy once defined a citizen as one who can potentially found a new city — ie, erect new foundations. That strikes me as a pretty good definition of citizenship, emphasising creativity with responsibility.

              Gebser also believed that the Modern Age was erected upon unstable foundations — like a tripod or three-legged stool. Hence the “fourfold”, which might well be the significance of the “square” that the anima aspect of the “Rebis” symbol above represents, while the animus aspect holds Urizen’s compass — a triangle.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              other jurisdictions are scrambling to try to secure these crumbling foundations

              What are other jurisdictions doing?

              while America under Trump is going the other way — accelerationism. If Bannon’s ambition is to bring the whole thing crashing down, he’s certainly found his champion in Trump.

              Judging by the sheer number of lawsuits that have been filed against this administration to date, I wouldn’t be too sure about that.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Actually, there was something this “Poppy” meme stated in one of her videos I watched yesterday that was quite sophisticated, I though. She said that the world was more like a transparent cube with light shining through it.

              Well, holy smokes, that’s cubism — that’s Picasso and Braque, and it also recalls Gebser’s own notion of “diaphaneity”, despite Gebser’s preference for “the sphere” as symbolic form.

              Yet, “Poppy” cloyingly plays with the “Illuminati” conspiracy theories, and its supposed symbols — the number three, the triangle, the pyramid, or insinuating that the “cult of Poppy” is part of a “masterplan” or “secret” Illuminati conspiracy.

              That irony may be lost of many people, but it could well be that “Poppy” is looking at the whole matter from this new vantage point — the world is a transparent diaphanous cube, not a triangle.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Judging by the sheer number of lawsuits that have been filed against this administration to date, I wouldn’t be too sure about that.

              And how is that going?

              Judging from what I read in today’s Guardian about that, not too well.


            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              We’ve yet to see for the most part, especially regarding those being filed by State Attorneys General, which are not often reported on. (Not sensational enough, I guess.)

              That the number of lawsuits filed against various administrations is itself growing exponentially (and has tripled in the case of Trump’s thus far) doesn’t change the dynamics of corporatism, of course, but does call into question whether any administration (or major party majority) can completely undermine democracy before a true transformation has a chance to occur.

              Speaking of which, while I’m unable to purchase Monbiot’s book, at the moment, I was nonetheless able to catch up with a few of his ideas courtesy of a YouTube video of his Gaia Foundation address. It may be of interest to some.

            • Scott Preston says :

              That lecture by Monbiot was very good. Nothing I would take exception with.You might also note that his insights into the fourfold nature of the economy also reflects this new thinking in terms of a quadrilateral logic. To the “market-state” axis, he inserts very often neglected (in fact, almost always neglected) “household-commons” axis. So, you may think of those two axes in terms of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, or even in terms of Blake’s “four Zoas”.

              As I’ve emphasised in The Chrysalis, too — restoring the “commonwealth” is a matter of urgency if there really is to be a revival of the sense of community. Monbiot really hits the nail on the head, there. Commowealth is more than “public infrastructure”. While it is that, it is also anything shared — including air, water, soil, etc. The classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water — these are also elements of the commonwealth and community with which we have kinship.

              Our kinship with the elements, and with other living creatures, must also be seen as part of the commonwealth.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              Our kinship with the elements, and with other living creatures, must also be seen as part of the commonwealth.

              Contrary to popular belief, indigenous communities are not alone in having cultivated attunement with and commitment to “the call to relationship.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      The foundations of the American state are crumbling. There has been some articles published lately that add up to that conclusion. I haven’t linked to them because it was getting tedious to do so, and, besides, I’m sure many are aware of it anyway. Automation may well deal a complete sledge-hammer blow to what remains of those foundations. It’s going to get very ugly, I suspect.

      On the other hand, there is now a great deal of urgency — more in the US than elsewhere it seems presently — to begin to experiment with re-integration and restructuring, and so it will probably start happening first in the US, for it seems that nothing less than a revolution at this stage will fix those crumbling foundations.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    I’ve been doing some more study of this “Poppy” meme on the internet, and there are some very interesting cultural aspects to it, although its apparent takedown and parody of the cult of celebrity (or anti-celebrity) could itself potentially become cultish — a celebrity cult of Poppy. So, it is more than a little ironic.

    Anyway, one of her videos is Poppy singing the “Freedom Song”, the Star-Spangled Banner.

    It’s peculiar because she sings it off-key and in a cracked voice. I puzzled about that a bit because she actually has a very good singing voice, so why would she mock it like that?

    It occurred to me, though, that she was picking up the ambient cultural mood and spiritual condition, and simply performeing it. Artists are very often like the cultural antenna or radar, picking up the ambient dynamics or mood, whether consciously or unconsciously, and encoding these in their art. Poppy seems not only to be this antenna, and so encodes it and performs it. The crumbling foundations of the American state and society become the cracked voice singing its anthem off-key.

    That’s kind of brilliant, in fact. But it provides a clue to understanding a lot more about what’s behind this meme called “Poppy”.

    • davidm58 says :

      This is my first exposure to the so-called Poppy meme. Interesting. Obviously digitally manipulated to achieve the off-key, cracked voice, so this was definitely intentional. I like your interpretation.

      • Scott Preston says :

        If Walt Whitman was famous for saying “I sing the Body Electric” (and much of his poetry does sing the body electric), Poppy sings the Body Computer, or digital. That’s what I find quite intriguing about the Poppy meme.

        There’s a certain sophistication behind the Poppy pose. She absolutely stunned one interviewer by suggesting that the universe was expanding not into space so much as into time — into the fourth dimension. The interviewer just sat there stunned, either from incomprehension or from sudden comprehension.

        When you put these two things together: Poppy’s remark that the universe is expanding into time, and that the world is a transparent cube through which the light passes — you have, actually, two fundamental elements of Gebser’s theory of consciousness structure.

        “Poppy” took me by surprise there. So, I started paying more attention to the Poppy meme.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I might add that there is a certain element of what I might call “digital witchcraft” and witchery to Poppy, too, about which she also seems to be self-conscious, comparing herself to a “spider” in her son “Interweb”, as well as some of her more hypnotic videos like “Delete Your Facebook”, which just repeats that over and over again for minutes.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    “Gin Craze”? Now, this is truly wierd stuff….

    A while ago I mentioned that the opioid crisis in North America bore some similarities to the gin epidemic in Britain during the Industrial Revolution. So, what appears in today’s Guardian? Gin sales setting new records.

    Is this another of those symptoms of the morbidity of the Age?

  7. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    It is the repercussion of the value deficit disorder that is calling for the draining of the swamps of the white suprermacy and nationalism. In the world of the one nothings go amiss. It is a crisis of faith that can not tolerate the mention of the god who has given them what sustains their physical existence and their spiritual existence. In defiance they filled themselves with fear that deprives them from the real light that they thought will compete with the me ethos that reigns the systemic scene of their dying civilization that can not be helped because it established itself on the wrong premise. The premise that there s no god and there in no other life than this one and the white man is the lord of the coming time on this earth. No wonder this call for cleaning the swamps are everywhere we turn on the internet. We are all in the same ship the victims and the victimizers the oppressed and the oppressors the rich and the poor the good and the bad. The tragedy is that they want to rebuild it on the same ugly premises. A mixed that needs to be shaked strongly to separate the chaff from the grain, the sick from the healthy the truthful from the liars. This is the final stage of all previous civilizations before god reset the march for a new go or put an end to humanity that has never learned its lesson without a harsh closure. Trump decision to make Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is another inflaming ingredient in the already raging fire in the heart of the earth. It is the missing
    light force of empathy and compassion that leaves our mind, our heart and our will in darkness. It is a process of inner work under his watch not a collection of fragmented external corrective measures away from him. May the one that no space and no time misses his presence come to help the good to participate in the good of this distressssssed humanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: