Power and Magic

A few thoughts today on the close relationship between power and magic, a subject that concerned Jean Gebser — the convergence, for example, of instrumental or technocratic rationality with older forms of magic (ie, the sorceric) which, following Algis Mikunas (one of Gebser’s translators), I’ve referred to in past posts as “technocratic shamanism”. In Gebser’s terms, the dangerous synthesis (or confusion) of instrumental rationality with older forms of magical consciousness or technique, in their “deficient modes” of functioning, results in the corruption of both — the mental-rational and the magical structures of consciousness.

The deficient (or decadent) mode of the mental-rational (which, we may say, is the decay or devaluation of the reasonable into the merely rational) tends to revert to equally deficient forms of the magical consciousness structure. That is so because both structures are concerned with power — the ability to make happen. The ability to make happen may be said to be the essence of power, and this is shared by both the mental-rational and the magical structures of consciousness. Recently, concerns with this (con)fusion of instrumental rationality and the sorceric or magical has arisen in works I’ve already referred to in past posts on technocratic shamanism — Stirk’s Technology as Magic, Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology, or Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom & Dream, and also, in politics, Gary Lachman’s book on “Chaos Magick” in contemporary politics, Dark Star Rising.

Earlier, we noted this resurgence of older, legacy forms of consciousness following the “death of God” — a phenomenon referre to as “the return of the repressed”. Older forms of mythical and magical consciousness, previously proscribed and suppressed, begin to make a resurgence, since the inhibitions against their expression have been removed. It isn’t a coincidence that Nietzsche’s announcement of the “death of God” is followed, subsequently, by Freud’s (and Jung’s) “discovery of the unconscious” or even the discovery of “deep time” and also Einstein’s disclosure of time as the fourth-dimension. These are related dynamics.

What Gebser calls the “irruption” of time into consciousness, even as “deep time”, altogether is what we call “return of the repressed”. Essentially, what we call “the unconscious” (or “collective unconscious”) is the time “dimension” itself. That means, also, older legacy psychic structures that continue to constitute us also “irrupt”, generating a condition that Gebser describes as “chaotic emotion” and a “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, for the present ego-consciousness does not have an adequate framework for integrating these “irruptions” or the return of the repressed. This framework, calle “the integral”, is in process of being developed. We have discussed this new framework in many past posts in The Chrysalis — citing, especially, William Blake, Jean Gebser, David Bohm, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and others in this respect.

Since, as mentioned, instrumental rationality and magic share the same goal — power and technique — they thus tend to converge, with the familiar result called “magical thinking”. Gebser notes that structures of consciousness, such as the mythical, the magical, the mental-rational, have both their effective forms of expression as well as their “deficient” modes of expression — in other words, the healthy modes and the unhealthy or diseased modes. “Technocratic shamanism” is a diseased mode of consciousness. If you are familiar with Jacques Ellul’s critique of the technological milieu and drive, you will perhaps understand then why such technocratic shamanism is a diseased mode of consciousness. It is especially evident in techniques like “perception management” (ie propaganda) or in various technologies of social and psychological control.

“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”, as Yeats put it in The Second Coming. As the numerous crises of Late Modernity prove insoluble by conventional instrumental rationality, their will be a tendency to revert to magic or magical thinking — symptomatic of the sense of uncertainty, insecurity, and the loss of “command and control”.

Now, we do know that what we call “magic” is effective. We know that through the phenomona of the placebo and the nocebo effects, which are today the subjects of much medical and psychological research. As Gebser notes, magic is essentially spell-casting (and propaganda is a contemporary technocratic form of spell-casting). Magic is involved in almost everything we do. The word “grammar” is related to old words for spell-casting — a “grammarye” was a magic spell. To speak at all always involves some ancient form of spell-casting.

Interestingly, the word “fascism” has old connections with spell-casting. In Latin a fascinum was not just “bindings” or “bonds”, but a fascination — ie, a magic spell, or “the binding power”. Fascism is, in that regard, a symptom also of the return of the repressed. We may say, then, that “technocratic shamanism” is the official style or mode of discourse of fascism, largely perfected by Goebbels and Hitler.

The pursuit of power has been a basic theme of Modernity, expressed as instrumental rationality. Francis Bacon gave the Age its marching orders with his formula, Scientia potens est (knowledge is power). Power is desirable, but not at the expense of other considerations where the balance or equilibrium of things is disturbed, as it is currently. Rosenstock-Huessy worked out the proper place and role of power within his quadrilateral “cross of reality” model — those other factors necessary to moderate the place of power in our activities. It’s our tendency to be one-sided that eventually makes the pursuit of power a disease, something that Blake called “Single Vision” as antithetical to “Fourfold Vision”. We see this problem in neoliberalism and current economic policy, the problem of what Lewis Mumford once called “the Megamachine” — a rational economy is not necessarily an ethical economy. In fact, ethics, which respects the equilibrium of things, plays hardly any role at all in technocratic economic theory.

Interestingly, the very words “machine” and “make” are related to the word “magic”, as is the German word “Macht” — meaning force of power. The German verb “machen” means to do, or to make. As such, you may now know why Gebser describes magic simply as the power to “make happen”. As Rosenstock-Huessy noted, likewise, we can hardly utter a single sentence without invoking older elements of myth and magic. It is also notable that the word “grimoire” — a book of spells — is related to the word “grammar” (as is the word “glamour”).

The cult of power and the culture of narcissism make for a terrible combination, presently called “pathocracy”. Narcissism is essentially also called “the empathy deficit”, and so power without empathy portends disaster. When power is not moderated by other factors such as respect or empathy, it becomes demonic, and a demonic expression of the Shadow.

Before we can learn the positive handling of the forces involved with return of the repressed, we must deal with the Shadow, both individually and collectively. The Shadow is otherwise known as “the dark side”, our “Mr. Hyde”, as it were. For both good and ill, the emergence of the Shadow is also involved with the return of the repressed. Facing the Shadow soberly and lucidly is the part of all this process that takes great courage. But what often appears today as mass psychosis or as “pathocracy” is the rampage of the Shadow, without those so possessed even being aware that they are in the grips of the Shadow.

Facing the Shadow is especially when the Buddhist practice of non-attachment becomes supremely important — to face the devil himself without losing your marbles. This is sometimes referred to as “the dark night of the soul” or “the valley of the shadow of death”. It is also symbolised in Hermeticism as the Sol Niger of Black Sun, which is the intended meaning of Lachman’s aforementioned “Dark Star Rising” — the advent of the Shadow, who is not only, essentially, Yeats’ “Rough Beast” of his famous poem, but also the themes of movies like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.

Power in the hands of the Shadow — especially technological power — is a terrible thing.


24 responses to “Power and Magic”

  1. davidm58 says :

    I’ve got 35 pages of notes regarding how Gebser references “power” in EPO. “Power” is most obviously dominant in the Magic structure, but we need to realize there are different, positive ways of expressing power in each of the consciousness structures. We need to learn how to embody power in these generative ways.

    Gebser starts on page 5 of EPO:
    “…Today this rational consciousness, with nuclear fission its strongest weapon, is confronted by a similar catastrophic situation of failure; it too can be vanquished by a new consciousness structure. We are convinced that there are powers arising from within ourselves that are already at work overcoming the deficiency and dubious nature of our rational ego-consciousness via the new aperspectival awareness whose manifestations are surging forth everywhere. The aperspective consciousness structure is a consciousness of the whole, an integral consciousness encompassing all time and embracing both man’s distant past and his approaching future as a living present. The new spiritual attitude can take root only through an insightful process of intensive awareness. This attitude must emerge from its present concealment and latency and become effective, and thereby prepare the transparency of the world and man in which spirituality can manifest itself. ”

    Process-relational philosopher of religion, Bernard Loomer, provided a great start for us when he identified two modes of power – linear power (power over) and relational power (power with).

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for the link, David. That’s quite a lengthy article. I haven’t worked my way through all of it yet, but I take it that “linear” or “unilateral power” would correspond to hierarchy, while relational power would correspond to panarchy (a better term, perhaps, than anarchy). Since there is much interest today in panpsychism (certainly a step towards aperspectival consciousness), panarchy would seem to be a natural correlate to panpsychism.

      I’ll see if that stands up as I work through Loomer’s lecture/essay.

    • lyleaolson says :

      Gebser’s answer to power is through “an insightful process of intensive awareness,” and Bernard Loomer certainly offers the groundwork for an intensive level of awareness between persons and within society. Such a high level of humanistic functioning is a worthy ideal and a process achievable by some.
      But as a counter to what seems to me a flavor of ‘society good, man bad,’ a bit of radical sociology could offer many a tidier start in their process of high level functioning. My last class in sociology at the U. of Minnesota was in 1962 with Edward Gross, head of the department. On the first day of class he said, “if you don’t learn anything else this quarter, this is the summary in a nutshell. Whenever two or more people come together, an institution is formed. From that point on, you may as well consider it to have a life, and it will grow until it is stopped.” Good will of the individual is a tonic superior to entanglements.

  2. davidm58 says :

    Scott is exactly right in diagnosing the destruction that comes when we combine the deficient aspects of magic power with mental power. We need to find the healthy expressions of power in all of the consciousness structures.

    Magic – “belongs to us” as expression of our power or might. Spell casting or manifesting. Appropriate technology.

    Mythic – “corresponds to, or conforms with us” as mythic power of soul or psyche; exchange with others, or “power with” – Bernard Loomer’s “Relational Power.” Polarity – the power that comes through balancing and integrating polarities; yin/yang. The power of myth and storytelling.

    Mental – “seeing and conceptualizing” – mental power (menis)- power of directed or discursive thought, “directed toward objects and duality, creating and directing this duality, and drawing its energy from the individual ego…The ring is broken, and man steps out of the two-dimensional surface into space, which he will attempt to master by his thinking.” (EPO, p. 75)

    Integral – “the renunciation of dominance and power.” “The pursuit of power is replaced by the genuine capacity for love.” “Homo faber is replaced by Homo Integer.” The power of paradox, the latent form of power in early integral.


    “Everything that “belongs” to us (gehoren), with its connotations of the auditory (horen=to hear) is an expression of our power or might; it belongs to the magic structure and is “attuned to its unity,” i.e., in accord with its nature. Everything that corresponds to, or conforms with us is an expression of our psyche or soul, and corresponds to the mythical structure (see also p. 220 below). Everything we see is an expression of our understanding; and this “seeing” and “conceptualizing” are commensurate with the mental structure.” (EPO, p. 73)
    “Only where the magic structure in the individual still works through the individual through impulse and instinct does it realize it’s eminent, life dispensing value in our day and age.

    …Today, however, it is apparent that this wisdom has been broken up into knowledge, and since such knowledge has been degraded to purposes of power (“knowledge is power”), we face the threat of blind activity from which we, at least we Europeans, hoped to have escaped… Whether we speak of “white” or “black” magic – there is no such distinction – it is always related to the striving for power. Only if we grant power to something can it have power over us. It becomes a serving and sustaining potency when we again are able to place it into the realm where it belongs, instead of submitting to it.

    We can discern in the auditory aspect of several common verbs, used in their normal way, the acoustic-magic stress indicative of the extent to which power is expressed, not in a palpable but rather an auditory manner and appeals to the incomprehensible and pre-rational in us: to belong [gehoren…] to obey…and to submit… These words and what they convey are always subordinated to power that we ascribe to things, events, or human beings, whether as possessions, authoritarian beliefs, or sexuality; and they are always connected to the loss of ego and responsibility. It is not the sun-related eye but the labyrinthine ear that is the magic organ… Only our insight into this power that constitutes us can release us from its blindness. If we do not gain this insight, the unconsciously activated magic structure will ultimately (at least for us today) lead – via the atomization of vitality, the psyche, and the ego- to destruction.”
    – p. 60

  3. Ayam Cemania says :

    Re: magical thinking and the Shadow

    “The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.” said Malcom X.

    “Wake them up to their exploitation?” the Village Voice reporter asked.

    “No, to their humanity, to their own worth.” responded Malcom.

  4. Ayam Cemania says :

    Re: the Shadow

    “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

    ~ Blaise Pascal

  5. Ayam Cemania says :

    “What is striking,” the scientis write about the findings of their study, “is simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive, it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock they earlier said they would pay to avoid.”


  6. Ayam Cemania says :

    “Why do they hate us?”
    ~ Matt Tabbi

    Answer We’ll just pretend they don’t because we’re always right. We determine reality and our reality says they’re wrong, they don’t really hate us. That couldn’t possibly be it. I’ll just stay here in my silo where I don’t have to listen to any of it…


  7. Scott Preston says :

    I’ve linked to this before, as an example of magical efficacy. It’s a short film called “The Candidate” (Megan Markle is in it briefly) that plays on the theme of placebo and nocebo effects (in this case, nocebo effect — the opposite of placebo effect). It’s a kind of “bone-pointing”.spell, a kind of voodoo ritual.

    • davidm58 says :

      Thanks Steve. To follow your Mark Vernon video link discussing Owen Barfield, see this discussion between Mark and Jeremy Johnson, discussing some overlap between Barfield and Gebser.

  8. Steve says :

    Scott, Your recommendation, “The Method of No-Method” was excellent.

    • Ayam Cemania says :

      If you like the Method of No Method, then please try this one, China Root::


      Like most stories Americans tell themselves, we discover the egocentrism of the storyteller obscures the truth. The truth is American bookstore Zen is not the same as Chinese Ch’an. Rather the relationship between the two is a couple degrees of separation, just like that game with Kevin Bacon – ha ha!

      • davidm58 says :

        “…back to its Taoist roots in the first millennium BCE—and even beyond them, into the mists of its paleolithic origins. It is here, back in its true roots—which also happen to be the deepest aspects of our life—that Hinton beautifully makes clear our participation in a generative cosmos, a constantly manifesting, burgeoning Presence, even while it never ceases to be a primordial Absence.”

        • Ayam Cemania says :

          I believe what Gebser is talking about as an “Ever-present Origin” is the a participation in same sort of phenomenon or process the Taoist/ Ch’an practitioner calls “Tao.” The difference is the Chinese practioner was able to understand this in BC days as opposed to Gebser talking about it in the 20th century or Blake or Nietzsche a few centuries earlier.

          The difference is praxis. The practice of editation allows one to use apophatic means to get “beyond” language, which informs the theory. Without it. all the Western mind has is theory necessarily based in a language which ties his mind in knots with philosophical assumptions he cannot see.

  9. davidm58 says :

    And speaking of Power – It is a big topic deserving of a wider consideration. I’m looking forward to Richard Heinberg’s new book.

  10. John says :

    Ancient cultures also had the power to love.

    Jensen’s new book is another important one.

    And now some of the oceanographers and ecologists are warning that humanity may be extinct by 2050.

    The surface level of oceans is warming and disrupting the circulation mechanism of the ocean. Cold water is needed on the surface to increase water density and drop the nutrients and CO2 absorbed by surface layers to deeper layers so that the CO2 is neutralized and the nutrients are spread to all the other creatures in other densities. The phytoplankton and other organisms rely on this process and are dying out due to the distuption and the phytoplankton are responsible for the creation of somewhere between 50% and 80% of oxygen on the entire planet. So then the ocean surface is also acidifying for many reasons detailed on the video.

    And the calcium that crustaceans and plankton use to make their shells is also being depleted because of this process and so calcium is supposed to be present anywhere from the surface down to hundreds of meters below it… But since this process is being disrupted, calcium dead zones are being detected in the deeper layers of the ocean… So that means the plankton and crustaceans are dying off there and this has already been confirmed.

    The melting of Greenland and Siberian ice shelf along with other factors will make the sea level rise. So you will need to be a multi-millionaire and build a bunker into a mountainside and pump oxygen into it with a machine because of sea level rise and lack of oxygen from plankton die off Lol. Oh and the fish will be dead apparently from the warming and acidification of ocean also. So that means the coastal humans who depend on fishing will die.

    Then ask yourself how many farms are.on the coast and in low lying areas. All that may be seas from river swells taking in sea water. Nuclear plants will be underwater like the Fukushima one. And in Fukushima, they are now planning to dump over a million tons of radiated water into the ocean because they say they have no where left to store it and they need to make more space on the land around the site to store the parts of the reactor they are cleaning. And only 1 of 6 reactors have been cleaned up so far I think they said. Nuclear power is pure madness.

    And then I read about how NASA and the new declassifed space branch of the military (The U.S. Space Force) is still using plutonium nuclear reactors to power some of their space modules like the Mars rovers.
    And how there have been accidents in the past with the US and Soviet modules exploding and raining down plutonium onto the earth during takeoff… it contaminated a lake in Canada. And there were rises in lung cancer cases etc.

    Pure madness. And everyone celebrates it haha.

    Humans need to be managed and we will be managed one way or another– either by self responsible voluntary de-industrialization, or eco-fascism, or the extinction of humanity from the ongoing industrial pollution and destruction of waterways, habitat, extraction of oil which requires machines to “safely” keep it from leaking into the deep water veins on the land and ocean while humans pump it out for processing and profit. So this behavior has already caused the collapse of the planetary processes that are necessary to sustain human life. Whales used to be a shipping hazard because there were so many until they were genocided for the philosophy of economics whcih was utilized by merchant empires. Industrialization has made hundreds and thousands of species of plant and animal species extinct or endangered. including many apex predators. It has damaged ecology to the point where it is destroying all waterways and life on the planet via mining, power plants via the corporate extractivist culture of narcissism etc.

    “….Experts say the controlled release of the (((RADIOACTIVE))) water into the ocean is the only realistic option, which takes decades. For years, a government panel has been discussing methods amid opposition from fishermen and residents who fear a negative image and potential health impacts…..”

    “…More than 6,300 fuel rods were in six reactor cooling pools at the time of the accident, and only the Unit 4 pool has been emptied.


    The government and TEPCO have been unable to get rid of the more than 1 million tons of radioactive water that has been treated and stored, fearing public repercussions. The utility has managed to cut the volume of water by pumping up groundwater upstream and installing a costly underground “ice wall” around the reactor buildings to keep the water from running into the area.

    TEPCO says it has space to store only up to 1.37 million tons until the summer of 2022, raising speculation that the water may be released after the Tokyo Olympics next year. TEPCO and experts say the tanks get in the way of decommissioning work and they need to free up the space to build storage for debris removed and other radioactive materials. The tanks also pose risks if they were to spill out their contents in another major earthquake, tsunami or flood.

    Experts say the controlled release of the water into the ocean is the only realistic option, which takes decades. For years, a government panel has been discussing methods amid opposition from fishermen and residents who fear a negative image and potential health impacts.


    Japan has yet to develop a plan to dispose of the highly radioactive waste that will come out of the reactors. Under the road map, the government and TEPCO will compile a plan sometime after the first decade of debris removal ending in 2031.

    Managing the waste will require new technologies to compact it and reduce its toxicity. TEPCO and the government say they plan to build a temporary storage site for the waste and debris that are removed from the reactors. But finding a site and getting public consent to store the waste would be almost impossible, raising doubts that the cleanup can be finished within 40 years….”

      • John says :

        This site looks really good thanks you. I wonder though does he speak about primitive/foundational, DIY, apocalyptic lifeskilling? The rest of my life is devoted to learning more about the type of information detailed on Rob’s site and in books like “Bright Green Lies” and then pairing that information with practical primary and primitive lifeskills. My dream is to form a village community/school that is deeply rooted in non denial and the necessary corrective to modernity via apocalyptic lifeskills/rewilding/salvage/restoration of the efficient aspects of the magic and mythic structures of consciousness.

        We are missing the ecstatic trance dance effectivity of the magical cultures like the San Bushmen, detailed in Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Bradford Keeney’s books (thanks to Drew Hempel for turning us into this and validatkng our experiences with ecstatic bliss meditation). The San Bushmen were the oldest living culture of egalitarian humans that we descend from. Now their way of life is extinct because of events like The Berlin Agreement and encroachment of westernization. Some people argue that they wanted to become farmers and adopt westernization, but this only happened after Europeans and patriarchal tribes of Bantu (etc) decimated the populations of wild game and habitat.

        Here is a pretty good interview with Thomas.

        As Derrick Jensen realized, the whales were so plentiful that they used to be a shipping hazard for boats traveling on the ocean. There were passenger pigeons and great auks so many that they made the sky BLACKEN and cast shadows on the land.

        The solutions to avoiding complete catastrophe and apocalypse are very simple in many respects.

        People need to teach their kids to build root cellars, do small scale ethical farming, hunting, gathering, fishing, trapping and crafting. Sure we need STEM, but we need the most primary, primitive, and foundational forms of STEM. Males will need to stop filling women with children and bringing more kids into an apocalyptic world. They will need to stop for a minute and instead co-lead with women as way showers for the children who are already here. These way showers will lead the way in building ethical eco-primitive dwellings warmed and insulated by geo thermal principles and rocket stoves. Humanity needs to make very simple changes in order to depopulate and de-industrialize according to healthy scalabilities and bio-regional capacities.

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