[Editor’s note: this piece was written on Feb. 22nd, 2013, the day of Ragnarok]

The world ends, again, today. I find it oddly juxtaposed against the first truly warm day here in New York, with tulip bulbs splitting out from under frozen lawns and torrents of melted snow flushing loudly down sewer systems, as if hurriedly making way for spring. Let’s follow nature’s cue then, and recognize this day, February 22nd, not as some literal or symbolic gesture on behalf of an ancient culture, but the evaporating presence of history.

Evaporating Pages

Things are always ending, and always beginning. 

Eschatology is the theological, that is, religious, interest in the end of the world. In Christianity, the end-times (depending on who you talk to, ) imply an ecstatic “consummation” of the created world. Unlike the Left Behind series, I understand this kind of rapture to a state of gnosis (a kind of spiritual knowledge, a non-ordinary state of comprehension), or perhaps closer to the Islamic notion of Ta’wil [1], which suggests that one can read the Koran’s inner, or hidden meaning. See through the word and glean its secrets. “In the Beginning was the Word,” starts the Old Testament, and so the world-as-word is consummated by rapturous gnostic-literacy; the end-times as the consummation of the language of nature. Neither literal nor symbolic, this points us to a mercurial, hyper-dimensional middle-ground definition of the eschaton, in that it might be:

Literal, in the fact that modern civilization is a rapidly-plummeting-machination heading towards ecocide and other systemic meltdowns.

But it also may be:

Symbolic, in that there is a certain turning of the page of history happening right now. In fact, we may be leaping off the pages. Out of the chapters. History may be ending as our sense of temporality shifts to match what historian William Irwin Thompson describes as the “complex-dynamic” style of thinking exemplified by inter-related systems of ecology, industry, technology, and the multitude of world cultures [2].

Defying our cognitive sense of boundary, the eschatological imagination is just that, “imaginal,” in the sense religious scholar Henri Corbin suggested as an intermediary mode of reality that we, in fact, all inhabit: the Imaginal World, or Mundus Imaginalis or “alam a mithal” in Arabic [3]. Neither fact nor fiction, we inhabit a meso-cosmic world of lived meaning — even if that meaning takes the form of a listless ennui — where the ground beneath our feet is a quicksilver tongue of linguistic streams.

It’s odd how our reality is rapidly becoming more and more like that quicksilver tempest, Mercury, the “Messenger” of the gods. The lord of crossroads. In the age of electronic media, we are all criss-crossed in information webs, The Flood, too vast and too complex for any one person to map out succinctly, or usefully [4]. Some gods are making a come-back these days, and, speaking of Ragnarok, some gods are dying out.

Evaporating Gods

“There came a time when the old gods died!” [5] — Jack Kirby

Not for want of hubris, or arrogance, can we proclaim this — Odin himself is said to have foreseen armageddon, where Fenrir, a wolf, son of Loki, breaks free from imprisonment, setting up a chain of events culminating — consummating — the world in a final battle. All the gods will perish, and the Migdard snake Jormungand will rise up and snuff out the sun. Lucky for us, two humans are said to survive this cosmic annihilation, and like Adam and Eve, will go on to create the next world [6].

Today is the day these gods die. Like the babbling brook beneath the suburban streets surrounding my home, one age dissolves and another begins. As I walk over gushing puddles and stubborn ice pockets, I think of how interesting it is we’ve crossed over a number of real, or imagined, thresholds. 2012 came and went. Unlike the late Arguelles, who claimed we might be telepathically linked by the late 2000’s (his vision of the noosphere, though admirable and something I’m not against the idea of, seems to be as distant as a literal apocalypse), the air is fresh and cool and I am still breathing on this Earth. The world has not been subsumed into the holy fire of the Imagination, though I’d like to think, stretched across untold eons, it may be possible. I am drawn to this idea as many readers are, that the transformation is legitimate and mysterious, and that there are thousands of years of history present in the esoteric and occult teachings, the Yogis, whom modern-day pop culture has re-imagined into science fiction mutants [7]. The problem is it all must be cycled constantly into the gritty reality of our world and the crisis we find ourselves in. A careful reading of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, two evolutionary yogis who founded Auroville, an intentional community, demonstrates that the occult and the mystical must be firmly rooted in a practice of embodiment. This kind of practice requires a deep kind of vulnerability in the mesocosm; to the unseen and invisible realities and to the “dukkha” — the discontent and suffering — present in this world. 

Ice becomes water, becomes air. The babbling brook dissipates in the white-hot heat of the world, “folding upon itself” as Teilhard de Chardin was fond of saying, and so technological advancement pushes material data into the cloud. Amber Case, ‘cyborg anthropologist’ suggests we are living in a teem of ‘evaporated’ technologies [8]. That is, our material goods are rapidly dissipating, becoming etherealized into our machines. An office full of paperwork condenses into the singularity of a flash-drive, which can slip into your jean pocket. Water evaporates into the air, and the atmosphere becomes elated with the haze of aggregated knowledge. The old gods, too, are evaporating. The old myths we wished to save us made their appearance, only to just as rapidly dissipate into the horizon of history. We are left with only ourselves and the Earth, which, if we can listen carefully enough, sings a new song and a new mythos that invokes us to become something more.

“There came a time when the old gods died!” announced Jack Kirby, comic book writer and artist, decades ago. And so today, like the appropriated mythos of the Mayan end-times, the final battle of Ragnarok, the old gods are dying. We are left with a world to be made, and a divinity to open up to. What are we to do with it? 

I was inspired on my walk today, the winter season flushed out and rinsed for another year. The old gods have become vapor wisps of their former selves. We are left with a soil, renewed, burning up all eschatological event-horizons in which to escape from the task before us. Perhaps we are, after all, entering the age of the eschatological imaginary, the realm of the Imaginary when all grounds are clouds and all substance is vapor, rapidly shifting beneath our feet. Perhaps the world is revealing itself to us, as it never has before, and the old gods will not do. They willingly commit themselves to unveiling in order to reveal something to us, and if we could take this mercurial ocean for what it is, what we are, we might stand a chance. Whatever the case may be, we are left with the task before us.

“Should we not perish,” suggests Teilhard, “we must build the Earth.” 

Perhaps this, then, is the noosphere. The splendid birthing of the Imaginal, beautiful Earth. An Earth that constantly reveals its multiplicitous nature: vapor, water, ice. An Earth that is both the Kali and the Satya Yugas; an uncoiled serpent of wisdom.

Yes, let’s build that Earth. Cast out the old gods and apocalyptic imaginaries as we work to build a new Earth, so desperately and agonizingly waiting, not for the passive, but for those ready to be born.

Epilogue

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Jack Kirby, New Gods 1971.

 

There came a time when the old gods died!

The brave died with the cunning! The noble 

perished, locked in battle with the unleashed evil!

It was the last day for them!

An ancient era was passing in fiery holocaust!

***

[1] See Tom Cheetham’s All The World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings. The kind of metaphysics involved create a world which is turned inside-out, (The World Turned Inside Out, another of Cheetham’s classics), where the imaginal and the material realm become interchangeable.

[2] See William Irwin Thompson’s Self and Society: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness.

[3] Henry Corbin’s well known essay, “”Mundus Imaginalis,” an obscure but fascinatingly written essay on the Imaginal in Islamic philosophy. Found via Hermetic.com.

[4] See James Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood.

[5] Jack Kirby, New Gods volume 1, issue 1. Circa 1971.

[6] Via Tor.com: “Happy Ragnarok! Time to Choose a Side

[7] See Dr. Jeffrey Kripal’s work, Mutants and Mystics, for a thorough analysis of occult and paranormal originations in pop-culture, science fiction, and comic books.

[8] Watch Amber Case’s lecture, “Prosthetic Culture” on YouTube.

[9] Featured image with thanks to Wikimedia Commons: Hel and the Valkyries: sketch to Ragnarok by Ludvig Abelin Schou.