Myth as Metaphysics
“The imaginal presents itself to us at certain moments as a realm in its own right, separating us from our sensory experience, independent of our will, but rich with meaning. I take it (as Plato did) that such imaginal realms are a fundamental, irreducible part of human experience…both literature and certain psychoactive substances are strongly associated with such imaginal realms…and many believe that the dangers of the imaginal realms, such as they are, would be forever eradicated if certain methods of accessing them—art and psychoactive substances—were forever banned.” -Marcus Boon [[i]]
Psychedelic Filmmaker and comic creator Alejandro Jodorowsky believes that all symbols contained in art exist to remind us of our own potential in shamanic and spiritual mastery. [[ii]] Julius Evola’s idea of parahistory was that myth represents metaphysical knowledge and that there were spiritual symbols latent in ancient civilizations to remind us of what we’ve lost. In this way, all narrative also functions as a form of healing shamanic psychotherapy.
Like most of my generation, my first vivid interaction with artistic imagination mostly included slamming my digits at the tender age of 5 to the frantic chiptune glitch dance of the amanita muscaria influenced Super Mario. This endlessly fun plastic-hyperspace intersection of the game world still remains an instant reminder of how easy it is to forge the neuro-chemical pathways of the active imagination, in conjunction with our innate birthright of interdimensional astral travel. [[iii]]
As Winkelman says [[iv]], video game imagery is innately connected with the psychedelic capacity of freeing the reptile brain with the intense neurochemical-wash that rushes upon the brain when serotonin levels flood into the brain on psychedelics—effectively breaking down the biological guardians of neural pathways that limit the amount of information that may be received from the external or spirit world.
This bio-chemical freedom leads directly to experiential access of limitless direct astral imagination. Video games also relate to the causal plane; the realm in hyperspace beyond the akashic records where any single metaphysical “thought” can create an entire universe for one to live in, (or be stuck in), as the soul must inevitably move past it in it’s acquisition of pure spirit.
Pinchbeck’s infamous meta-psychedelic commentary (2002) dealt in detail with the limits of what he calls the “consumer bandwidth” and default rationalism in Western science in contrast to the psychedelic experience. But early 1900’s writers Ananda Coomaraswamy, Jean Gebser, Rene Guenon, Rudolf Steiner and Egyptologist Schwaller De Lubicz also valued and wished to integrate the mythical and symbolic thinking of magical consciousness into this rather boring consumer oriented single state consciousness that we find ourselves stuck with. As Thomas B Roberts says, the multistate structure of consciousness was the default state for all of culture before the “civilized” West, which still stubbornly only utilizes and recognizes the single state of consciousness as valid. [[v]]
What psychedelics and psychoactive plants interpreted in conjunction with Winkelman’s ASC model [[vi]] and in connection with narrative therapy have the potential to do is connect us directly to the hyper suggestible and child-like pre-verbal synesthesia. This prima-materia of symbol making consciousness itself—whereby all senses are blended into one—strips away the endless onion layers of mental covering and lays bare just how close pure consciousness and the infinite dazzling Spirit-love-world that lies just beyond the veil of endless sensory illusion is. Here the function of the symbol becomes more than an object of representation, and instead is used as a metaphysical tools to traverse the treacherous terrain of Innerspace itself [[vii]].
This psycho-spiritual apprehension of the God-head is the equivalent to mastering Gebser’s Integral stage of consciousness, as the previous stages of archaic, magic, mythical, and mental states of consciousnesses may be finally understood outside of mind and time.
Rather then the contemporary psychological view of imagination as an individual fantasy world with no spiritual or practical import, Henry Corbin’s view of the imaginal plane consisted of realizing it as an active spiritual world between the material and causal planes, with both benevolent and malevolent entities with a wholly other human agenda.
In my previous article “Beyond the Machine Elves” I gave a brief overview of a new post-ironic cultural trend called entheodelic storytelling—a term influenced by Corbin’s imaginal plane that I co-coined with two other Reality Sandwich staff writers Jeremy Johnson and Rak Razam. This is a form of narrative therapy utilized in contemporary storytelling that is explicitly influenced by meta-psychedelic themes and the evolution of consciousness, as well as shamanic-magickal consciousness altering techniques.
The symbols of this trend are most obviously present in fantasy/sci-fi literature and video game lore that imagistically reflects Gebsers view of the mythical and magical stages in the evolution of consciousness; a not-so-distant time when we were actually psychically powerful enough to throw fireballs and communicate telepathically with Gods and animals alike.
In his book Aya Awakenings, Razam (along with Jeffrey Kripal and John David Ebert) uses the geek metaphysics of solar hero alien-shamanism demonstrated by an occult interpretation of Superman as a means of explaining McKenna’s infamous archaic revival.
The immersive imaginal nexus of video game culture indicates a latent and often unconscious desire to shamanize; to break free of the material plane and walk between the worlds of the imaginal and spiritual planes for healing and magickal purposes.
Like Culianu, Lundborg, Ott, Razam, Ratsch and Winkelman, I argue here that psychoactive plant aids are irreducibly present (though not always necessarily needed) in the flight of the shaman, witch or yogi, who is aided by ritual and ecstatic trance for otherworldly journeys [[viii]]. According to Ratsch (2003), we can no longer distinguish between the psycho-technology found in witchcraft, yoga, and shamanism except for the specifics of spiritual intent.
Psychoactive plants relate to modern fiction in reminding us of the portals of power or healing, and the “rift zones” of heaven on earth by enduring the treacherous underworld suddenly laid upon the outdated cosmology of the post-human Westerner. [[ix]] [[x]] But we need not look very far into the past to see exactly how real magick operates outside of the fantasy context.
Scandinavian Magick in History
The first seeds of the occult revival were found in elemental witchcraft forever sealed in the 1st world mind by the dualistic Jedi/Sith distinction in Star Wars. But a post-modern grey magickal system emerges in early new wave fantasy literature and also when looking at the medieval context in Iceland’s folklore. Scandinavian culture survived longer then most other pagan traditions (1200 AD), and it therefore leaves one of the most detailed pre-medieval examples of a still living magickal tradition.
Of course, Tolkien’s theory of imagination first provided a way in which admirers of Northern myth and folklore were able to use it as an access to the astral plane. As Tindall has previously demonstrated [[xi]], Tolkien took the ancient lore of the past in fantasy literature to provide a concrete map to the eternal Innerspace—not unlike the ways in which the modern psychonaut conspires to map and mythologize such seemingly daunting territory.
As Ratsch (2002) indicates, Dragons are one of the primary symbols as both guardians of the gate to the Innerspace, but also the popular form of the hybrid shamanic animal in the sense that their physiology represents astral flight with wings, while still being mortal and having grounded access to the material plane. Sigurd in the Volsung Saga must actually bathe in the blood of the dragon in order to gain his own supernatural warrior abilities.
In Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic, Clive Tolley points out that battle between giants and magicians are synonymous with initiation into mastery over invisible Shamanic powers [[xii]], in addition to allowing access to the primeval power they represent when the ritual sacred setting for shamanic initiation is present. [[xiii]]
In the Northern pagan tradition, we find two essential forms of magickal practices in the Poetic Edda and sagas known as Gandr and Seior. According to Tolley [[xiv]] Gandr is an active form of Nordic stave magick whereby the enchanted staff can allow both the conversation and manipulation of spirits.
Outstanding examples of self-interested sorcery of this kind can found in the Kalevala with Vainomen, as well as in Icelandic folklore with the sorcerer Saemundur the Wise (recalling Tolkien’s Sarumander)—a sorcerer so powerful he could control the will of the devil himself. Saemundur mastered the art of Sorcery at the Black School, a infamous magic school that allowed access to the forbidden Red and Black books of magic. [[xv]]
Seior as it was historically practiced (Blain, Gerrard, and Raudvere) was primarily a female dominated form of Witchcraft used for ritualistic divination purposes and inner trance journeys to the Otherworld. Though in the sagas we find that Freyja taught Odin such forbidden magick, speculatively through a form of ecstatic sex magick.
Raudvere brilliantly opens up the question beyond the ritualistic documentation of Seior to include a third category, Trolldomr, known as the broader aspects of Scandinavian folk magic that
“…covers a wide field of assumed abilities to change the visible reality by means invisible and unreachable to ordinary people. In most texts trolldomr is said to generate destruction and harm, and is almost always described from the perspective affected…With few exceptions performances of trolldomr for the purposes of creating destruction, sickness, or misfortunes were clandestine and solitary activities, while the positive applications of such knowledge used in acts of divination were collective events, executed more or less in public.” (Raudvere, 88)
Shamanism and Magick in Video Games
With the digital media of the 21st century we need not go very far in order to directly have participatory interface with the magickal and mythical stages of consciousness that the previous mentioned authors may have only been able to imagine as definitive stages in the evolution of consciousness.
Most video games that have a central protagonist and linear storytelling, either in sidescrollers, RPGs or shooters, hold cultural value as form of storytelling in that they represent a shamanic path to power. The gamer is tirelessly torn apart by demons or enemies, but also eternally resurrected in order to live extra lives as Bissell says, or to achieve the heroic quest of immortality, or the completion of the game of life itself.
Dungeons & Dragons (and consequently the heavily influenced D&D animation Adventure Time, along with countless other RPG’s) have been heavily influenced by left hand path occultism, but overt shamanic themes in the context of modern psychedelic culture are perhaps more difficult to tease out.
Blacklight influenced Neon-Psychedelia began in the shiny mirror world of the Japanese Nintendo in 1985, whose shamanistic themes are most commonly known in the mushroom gobbling Super Mario series, but also in the more mature and complex lore of the celtic myth influenced Legend of Zelda.
In Ocarina of Time we find a mature development of the complex shamanic cosmology found ever present in contemporary video game culture [[xvi]]. Skyrim and the entirety of RPG’s standard wizard role is influenced by alchemy as well as the pirate genre in regards to magical item hunting, and the players digital avatar becomes a hero through potions also known as the poison or green path. [[xvii]]
After Link acquires the philosophers stone, represented as the Triforce of Courage in the OOT lore. The Triforce is a sacred relic that grants the wishes of its holder. Link also uses Faerie enchanted weapons and crafts magical songs (as Orpheus and Pythagoras did) to control the will of animals and foes with vibrations, in order to be triumphant in supernatural battles against otherworldy monsters of great power and sorcery.
When Link places his magical sword within the alter he is able to use the Triforce to travel into the white void, not unlike the way modern Wiccans and elder ceremonial traditions like the Golden Dawn use their alters to do pathworking on the inner planes with similar magical objects. The Triforce is the quintessential trinity symbol, and therefore has value beyond it’s obvious Judeo-Christian reference to include two hidden shamanic themes:
(1) Link saves his soul (Zelda, holding the Triforce of Wisdom) by defeating Ganadorf (Holding the Triforce of power, and symbolizing the satanic aspects of the mind).
(2) Like any warrior-shaman archetype, Link masters his own mind with supernatural training, altering it with magical potions that give him extra life force (represented quaintly by extra health heart symbols in the game). He floods the neurophysiological guardians of the triune brain structure and uses magical weapons to cut past the illusions of the dualistic world (the two sides of his brain) and finally reach the non-dual white light of the metaphysical void.
In the Nintendo 64’s Majoras Mask title, the shamanic influence is present with masks, as in indigenous cultures shamanic masks are not simply utilitarian, but are used to:
“…represent or suggest his or her helper spirits…the altered appearance allowed the shaman to maintain a distance between himself or herself and the audience, and verified his or her special relationship with the supernatural.” (Edson, 90)
The time travel element explicit in Zelda’s complex lore and stretching across game titles in a non-linear fashion, is also indicative of the way in which shamans use inner dreamtime to access the akashic records—a place folded within the Innerspace where all of space-time is seen from a single point, and anything can be learned from either the ancient past or distant future.
Trippy dark shaman themes are also buried in latent form in the notoriously challenging Souls trilogy. The player is torn apart and resurrected again with the aid of supernatural armor and weapons, uses shamanic meditation around magical fires to time travel, and must consult Oracles in a mysterious ancient religion to defeat the hulking demons that await to assault with harrowing aggression.
The recent dark fantasy video game Skyrim also demonstrates a still very active [[xviii]]—Occult pagan landscape of Norse Seior (witchcraft) as well as being influenced by the vast landscape of the Icelandic magickal tradition. In addition, the narrative of the game is also heavily influenced by the complex metaphysical system of draconian rune magick [[xix]], or magickal power learned from occult combat with astral dragons.
Both Norse and Icelandic mythology gruesomely depict raising the dead, summoning demons, interdimensional time portals, divination at sacred temples, and elemental magick [[xx]] as a stark historical reality not very far from the supposedly fictitious fantasy genre that Bethesda markets the Elder Scrolls series portrays it as.
Hasenfratz distinguishes between 6 categories of magic primarily in use in the Norse tradition:
“incantatory magic, rune magic, death magic, divinatory magic, cursing magic, and destructive magic. Cursing magic and destructive magic are categorized as impermissible sorcery (black magic).” (Hasenfratz, 60)
This has an almost direct correspondence to the six classes of magic in the Elder Scrolls series: illusion, alteration, destruction, conjuration, restoration, and mysticism. Price also sees one of the primary socio-historical functions of Seior as a form of spiritual battle magic. (Price, 346)
It’s no secret that morally grey magickal paths have also become a new trend in post Game of Thrones fantasy fiction in line with the increasing popularity of anti-heroes in postmodern media generally. In my own genre bending graphic novel trilogy KALI-YUGA, the ancient elemental wizard Abaraiis must choose the grey path for survival purposes due to the world around him being entirely corrupt and filled with at least 15 magical foes who are equal to him in the use of the detailed void-grid path.
Dark Souls II features a distinctly grey Moorock-esque protagonist, having ties with the postmodern Elric series. [[xxi]] There is also Geralt, the supernatural monster slayer in the video game series based on the dark fantasy novel The Witcher, which directly models itself after Moorcock’s infamous dark elf antihero.
Dark fantasy tropes neatly fit into Ratsch’s demon blood, bone trumpet and magical daggers symbolic morphology found in Nepalese shamanism, a brutal reality that reflects the current ayahuasca and datura influenced shamanic warfare found in the Amazon. [[xxii]]
But from a non-dual point of view, video game cultural ironically points to the central goal of all yogic and shamanic practice to be union with the Godhead or master of the spirits beyond the realm of opposites entirely. Trained master shamans with the proper intent used the non-dual energetic grid-space historically for socio-cultural healing, not unlike what Western psychology aims to do in the global shamanic resurgence (Razam) or psychedelic renaissance (Sessa) in the re-birth of psychedelic psychotherapy.
This cursory view of video game history demonstrates the pervasive historical and real world applications of shamanism and sorcery that lie latent in many popular titles masquerading as mere fiction. What remains, ultimately, is an unconscious thirst for Gnosis in the post-internet West that may not be quenched by the mere representation of geek metaphysics in media, but must instead be hard won in the struggle to apprehend the invisible third Eye of vision at the intersection of ancient and modern consciousness altering techniques.
[[i]] Boon, 222.
[[ii]] See Jodorowsky, 2010.
[[iii]] On astral travel and the apprehension of supersensible light in shamanism see Kalweit p. 201. For shamanism and magical items see Ratsch, 2002.
[[iv]] See Winkelman’s video presentation of his paper “Psychedelics and Human Evolution.”
[[v]] This is also reminiscent of Leary’s symbolic or neurosemantic–dexterity circuit in his Eight-circuit model of consciousness theory. See Roberts
[[vi]] See Winkelman, 2007.
[[vii]] McKenna, Steiner, Lundborg, Razam, and Winkelman posit the Innerspace as a juncture beyond space-time that allows access to the akashic records—a place where the ancient past and very distant future can be read as a book.
[[viii]] Razam has pointed out (2012) that there are natural shamans who do not require psychoactive plants to catalyze OBE or NDE. On trance from a religious history point of view see Culianu and Tolley. For the influence of entheogens and shamanism on Northern European folklore and myth see Metzner, Ruck, and Siikaala. On the discussion of magico-shamanic archetypes see Winkelman, 1992.
[[ix]] For an exegesis of the imaginal plane in shamanic metaphysics see Boon, Cheetham, Kripal, Morrison, Tolkien, Tindall, and Voss.
[[x]] On sacred symbols as relate to metaphysics see Guenon, Scott and Snodgrass.
[[xi]] Tindall, p. 111.
[[xii]] Tolley, p. 421
[[xiii]] For problems with defining Northern shamanism see Hoppall pp 3-10 and Tolley p. 66. For Norse shamanism and witchcraft generally see DuBois, Mitchell, Price, Rätsch and Raudvere.
[[xiv]] p. 247
[[xv]] For examples of sorcery in Icelandic folklore see Benedikz, Davidson, Mitchell, Simpson and Sveinsson.
[[xvi]] For entheogens in Celtic religion see Wilson. See also Shamanism in the Celtic World and Hershey’s essay “How Zelda games tap into the Neo-Shamanic and link to the way, way past.” For an exhaustive interpretation of psychedelic themes in art and culture see Lundborg’s Psychedelia: An Ancient Culture A Modern Way Of Life.
[[xvii]] On the poison path or self-initiation into the active spiritual path see Evola, Cheak, and Pendell. On the “green path” see Greer and Metzner. On differences between historical druids and the Neo-Pagan interpretation see Cunliffe.
[[xviii]] For discussion of metaphysical entities in Norse religion see Gundarsson.
[[xix]] See Kelly.
[[xx]] For historical examples of Necromancy see Ogden. On metaphysical portals in fantasy literature see Campbell. For divination in the context of Seior see Blain and Gerrard. On Wiccan elemental magick see Conway and d’Este & Rankine.
[[xxi]] See Lachman for how psychedelic themes are present in the “weird” and new wave fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Michael Moorcock.
[[xxii]] On the Christian conversion of the pagan religion in Iceland see Adalsteinsson. On contemporary and ancient shamanic warfare/sorcery see Beyer, and Whitehead, 2002, 2004.
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Photo by Rob Fahey, courtesy of Creative Commons license.