• The Metamodernism of Hanzi Freinacht

    For those of us who believe in the power of books and ideas to engender real and long-lasting change, here's a breath of fresh air in times of darkness. This post is an attempt to translate into words my enthusiasm for two of the most original, ambitious, and thought-provoking books I've ever read: The Listening Society and Nordic Ideology, both by Hanzi Freinacht. These two books, taken together, aim to offer nothing less than the most updated blueprints to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable future on planet earth.

    The Ongoing Global Crisis

    At the time of writing, the world seems to be a hyper-complex clusterfuck of historical proportions. The first truly global, transnational civilization is cracking under the weight of its inherent unsustainability and precariousness. You know the drill: senseless and brutal warfare; climate change and ecological crisis; extreme socio-economic inequalities; the rise of new populist and nationalist regimes; outdated institutions unable to manage the rotting corpse of late stage capitalism; widespread mental illness, misery and despair. The complexity of these problems is overwhelming, currently outstripping humanity's ability to think straight and generate viable, long-term solutions. The process to expand our collective sense-making capacities requires the forging of new words, new concepts, new modes of thought, new maps, new political narratives, new economic models.

    Here comes a new keyword worth knowing, which is getting more and more traction, that will unlock grand vistas and richer perspectives. The word is Metamodernism.

    Crash Course in Metamodernism

    Metamodernism in an umbrella term referring to a broad range of developments in culture and society that aptly capture our twenty-first century Zeitgeist, thus providing useful lenses to describe contemporary issues, as well as prescribe possible remedies and guidelines to move into the future.

    The term is used by multiple camps, each focusing on different aspects, but with underlying elements of coherence and resonance. To get an overview of the players and topics discussed, here's a map of the emerging Metamodern ecosystem.

    Metamodernism can be thought of as the latest stage in an ideal historical trajectory of Western cultural production and ways of living, following and building onto the Traditional, the Modern, the Postmodern perspectives. Here's a brilliant 8-minute video about how Metamodernism came into being. Although the labels Traditional, Modern and Postmodern are arbitrary and very rough, they can still be useful to make sense of larger trends, broad patterns of change, the dominant logic and values that respond to circumstances of each period. As history unfolds, we can think of each period as a "developmental stage" of society advancing its understanding of reality, which transcends and includes the insights of previous stages. At each stage we can find some key patterns about how people think, what they value, how they relate to society, the world and life at large. This developmental model is at play fractally: at the scale of entire cultures and societies as well as for individuals as they evolve through higher levels of complexity. Metamodernism can be seen as both our historical period and the latest stage of human cognitive evolution and complexity.

    In the domain of the arts the term has been used to characterize newly created cultural artifacts—ranging from movies and TV shows to paintings, texts and architectures—showing a common "structure of feeling", a new aesthetic sensibility oscillating

    between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity.

    This "oscillation" translates into typical trademarks concepts of Metamodernism aesthetic, such as: "sincere irony", "informed naivety", "pragmatic romanticism", "magical realism." Rabbit hole: What is Metamodern?

    Metamodernism is a whole philosophical engine, offering a new worldview: a coherent and open-ended stance towards life, reality, science, spirituality, art, society, politics, and the human being. A common intent of metamodern philosophers is to reweave the very fabric of what is considered real and create a society informed by such a philosophy. Of the many contemporary authors that could be branded as metamodern, my new intellectual hero is Hanzi Freinacht.

    The Great Hanzi Freinacht

    Hanzi Freinacht is a social scientist, political philosopher, and a larger-than-life Übermensch. He has reached for higher truths while living a hermit lifestyle in the Swiss Alps and, as a contemporary Zarathustra, he has come down from the mountains to share his visions for a better future for humankind. His style is certainly quirky and unconventional: he can easily sound arrogant and obnoxious. His confrontational attitude can be off-putting to some, endlessly amusing and engaging to others. Here's what Hanzi wants, in his own words:

    Now, I want to reveal you your ignorance. I understand that this may be a harsh slap to your pretty little face—not at all a nice thing to do. But Hanzi Freinacht is not nice. He is right. And that is something else entirely.

    Hanzi is very conscious that his ideas are powerful and will boldly challenge one's worldview:

    I acknowledge that my theories deeply insult the prevailing moral intuitions that people have. I spit straight in the face of the political identities, both on the Left and Right, from anarchists to conservatives. It is the solemn duty of the philosopher to piss on all that you hold dear and sacred, to show you that your gods are false. And how could it be any different? To genuinely develop society you must put forward challenging ideas, ideas that reveal today's societyeven our most idealist progressivesas unethical, unkind, primitive, hypocritical and judgemental. I am attacking your time, your society and your way of living.

    No shit. Hanzi will open your doors of perception, sometimes shredding them to pieces with a sledgehammer, sometimes with the subtlety and finesse of a lock-picker. You'll forgive his cocky tactics and mindfuckery when you realize his arguments are solid. His penetrating insights are intoxicating. Hanzi is a pied piper, whistling shapes of significance into a chaotic world. He is aware of the potential dangers and misuse of his ideas and warns you to not trust him uncritically. The secret here is to understand he is being "sincerely ironic":

    I'm looking for resourceful and imaginative co-creators. They are the children who love to play. They don't care about the academic titles, or bourgeois "success", or whether you stick to the writing rules of their favorite literary genre. They recognize the tune I'm playing, join in the dance, and playfully re-create society and reality.

    But before we see what his books have in store, something needs to be revealed: Hanzi Freinacht is not an individual, he's a fictional character, a figment of the imagination of Daniel Görtz and Emil Ejner Friis. Though Hanzi is not "real" in the literal sense, his words are a stream of glowing, psycho-active, living intelligence.

    The Listening Society

    The Listening Society discusses individual and societal psychological development and its political implications, envisioning a kind of future welfare which addresses emotional needs and supports the psychological growth of all citizens. As the title implies, this is a society in which everyone is seen and heard (rather than manipulated and subjected to surveillance, which are the degenerate siblings of being seen and heard).

    Political metamodernism is built around one central insight. The king's road to a good future society is personal development and psychological growth. And humans develop much better if you fulfill their innermost psychological needs. So we're looking for a "deeper" society; a civilization more socially apt, emotionally intelligent and existentially mature.

    There is an intimate connection between understanding how humans grow and evolve – intellectually, cognitively and emotionally – and how good or bad society is going to be. Hence, it should – or must – become a top political priority to support the psychological development of all citizens.

    Political metamodernism is to take us from "modern" stage of societal development (liberal democracy, party politics, capitalism, welfare state) to the next "metamodern" stage of development. It is aiming to outcompete liberal democracy as a political system, outcompete all of the political parties and their ideologies, outcompete capitalism as an economic system, and outcompete and replace our current welfare state. There. Did I get your attention?

    If Hanzi has gotten your attention, the task is now to read The Listening Society in full and allow him to persuasively flesh out his arguments.

    What else must we achieve with this book? You are to be equipped with a multidimensional political-psychological-developmental map of our time. You will see some of the fundamental dynamics of how society and its citizens are evolving, in which directions, and how different kind of people fit into the map. And, yes, that includes yourself. For most readers, unavoidably, this is a disappointing read. After all, you are less likely to inhabit a super-flattering part of the map. Few people do. But that is okay. However, you are probably still better off being aware of the map, so that you can successfully navigate the world. Especially if you are someone with considerable power in society.

    To start sinking your teeth into this book, here are some abstracts about Metamodern View of Reality, Science, Spirituality, Existence and Aesthetic.

    Nordic Ideology

    Essentially the first book (The Listening Society) was only the introduction to this one, which contains about three times more in terms of theoretical content and innovation. It presents you with an actual to-do plan to save the world. Without the plan, we're just playing around. This is where it gets real. Welcome.

    The Nordic Ideology maps the political structures that would support the long-term creation of the listening society. These new patterns of political thought are emerging in many parts of the world, but are especially manifest and concentrated around the culturally progressive Scandinavian countries. These countries are exemplary in the sense that they have prerequisites for beginning to create the next layer of welfare, one that includes people's psychological interests. Only when we address the psychological and emotional conditions of life, not purely materialistic needs, can we hope to resolve much of the suffering that permeates people's lives in modern societies.

    There you have it.

    Find The Others

    The Listening Society and Nordic Ideology are brilliantly conceived, deeply felt, and heavily steeped in the real work of imagining and defining what a better world looks like. These books offer a mind-expanding ride whose effects will ripple long after the reading is over. Although daring, ambitious in scale and scope, what's presented here sound persuasive and, most of all, plausible. Hanzi has built an intellectual edifice both tall and grandiose, and some effort is required to climb to its top. But from the top the view is breathtaking and beautiful. And there is hope.

    Metamodernism is still in its embryonic form; its cultural code being written as we speak. Personally, I'm still trying to wrap my head around these ideas and their implications, wrestling with what to do with all of this. I believe there is transformative potential in these ideas, but to engender real change more people will need to access these ideas, process them, join the conversation, and take some sort of action. The invitation is: Find The Others.

    Will Hanzi's grand vision of creating a "Relative Utopia" be accomplished? I don't know. But his books made me dream. While oscillating from hope to despair, from optimism to pessimism, I'm reminded of the words of Italian Marxist philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci:

    Every collapse brings with it intellectual and moral disorder. We need to nurture people who are sober, patient, who will not despair in the face of the worst horrors, and who do not become exuberant with every silliness. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

    Photo courtesy of Hanzi Freinacht.

    Shout out to Jonathan Steigman for his guidance and metamodern knowledge.

  • "The Beatles: Get Back" is a scrumptious feast

    What else is left to say or write about The Beatles? Peter Jackson's newly released and highly praised documentary The Beatles: Get Back shows that, half a century after their break up, the Fab Four still have a hold on our culture and command our attention.

    Beyond indulgent retromania, The Beatles are heroic figures. Musical innovators, cultural icons, even messianic avatars, their mythology lends itself to repeated appreciation and interpretation, forever gaining in power, mystery and enchantment.

    Beatlemania is best understood as a religious phenomenon, more than a musical one. Through their unique alchemy of artistic gifts and existential tensions, cosmic sensitivity, humor, and a flair for the surreal, these four showmen-shamans cast a bewitching multimedia magic spell that saturated the global mediascape of the 60s and still reverberate today in the collective imagination. Astonishingly, given their stellar and prolific career, no one in the band was yet 30 years old when they broke up in 1970.

    The Beatles: Get Back

    Peter Jackson's The Beatles: Get Back is an epic 8-hour 3-part film that gives us a "fly on the wall" view of some of their last days in the studio during the making of what became their final release Let It Be, and culminating with their iconic live performance on the rooftop of the Apple Studios in London, on January 30th, 1969.

    Jackson's documentary is a remarkable achievement in many ways. It offers an extraordinary portal to witness The Beatles creating in real time. Starting off with some hazy riffs and half-baked lyrics they relentlessly hammer the tunes into shape, chord by chord and word by word, until songs of beauty and sophistication emerge.

    A crucial ingredient of their process was fooling around and slack time: being silly and goofy and chatty and messy, rambling and monkeying about, having a jolly good time. This seemingly "unproductive" time—perhaps accounting for two-thirds of the 8-hour running time—is actually what provides context and space for the truly sublime moments to happen.

    The Beatles: Get Back is also a poignant portrayal of interpersonal tensions and the interplay of individual personalities. It is a diary of the bittersweet last days of a band exhausted under the weight of global stardom and moving quite consciously towards a painful but inevitable separation.

    All in all, The Beatles: Get Back is a moving, exhilarating, and intense cinematic experience, a glowing new chapter added to Beatles lore. It reveals John, Paul, George, and Ringo—as well as the great keyboardist Billy Preston, who brought fresh energy to the sessions—magically working together, conjuring up a parting spell which still blazes today with creative flow and joyful play.

    Die-hard fans and The Beatles-curious can complement The Beatles: Get Back with Psychospiritual Legacy of The Beatles and a Peter Jackson interview.

  • New Tarot deck celebrates history of UFOlogy

    Here's a fun and exciting new Tarot deck: The UFOlogy Tarot, inspired by the history of UFOs.

    This artistic project is the brainchild of a group of occultured fine folks—graphic designer Miguel Romero, together with Greg Bishop, Joshua Cutchin, Susan Demeter, David Metcalfe—who are at home within liminal worlds, fringe studies, and arcane knowledge. This Tarot pack pays homage to prominent figures of the UFO conversation, of the likes of: Dr Jacques Vallee, Whitley Strieber, Ann Druffel, and J. Allen Hynek.

    UFOs remain a mysterious and fascinating phenomenon, not easily dismissed as a delusion or a collective hallucination. Such imaginal realities have the power of conjuring up what scholar of religions Jeffrey Kripal called "modern forms of gnosis or forbidden knowledge well beyond reason and completely beyond belief."

    According to another maverick thinker, William James:

    The spite of rationalism's disdain for the particular, the personal, and the unwholesome [aka the modern debunker's "anecdotal"], the drift of all the evidence we have seems to me to sweep us very strongly towards the belief in some form of superhuman life with which we may, unknown to ourselves, be co-conscious. We may be in the universe as dogs and cats are in our libraries, seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having no inkling of the meaning of it all.

    That's a lot to process, let's leave it at that for now, back to The UFOlogy Tarot.

    Whether your interest is Tarots, or UFOs, or just gorgeous artistic artifacts, this is going to be a treat!

    Images courtesy of Miguel Romero.

  • Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi dies at 87

    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—polymath, psychologist, academic—passed away at age 87. Internationally acknowledged for his pioneering contributions to the understanding of happiness, creativity, and human fulfillment, he received the highest accolades, honorary degrees, and prestigious awards. Together with Martin Seligman, he's recognized as the founding father of Positive Psychology, the field of study exploring what makes the good life, aiming at improving the quality of life, focusing on both individual and societal well-being.

    In 1990, the publication of his seminal book Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience brought Csikszentmihalyi's work far beyond the academic discipline of psychology. The notion of flow attracted the attention of leaders in business, the arts, and sports, gaining him legendary status among admirers across disciplines and professions.

    Growing up during World War II, young Mihaly experienced the horrors of war first hand, with family members and friends being killed in his homeland Hungary. While himself confined in an Italian prison camp, he discovered the game of chess as:

    a miraculous way of entering into a different world where all those things didn't matter. For hours I'd just focus within a reality that had clear rules and goals. If you knew what to do, you could survive there.

    While visiting Switzerland at age 16, he heard psychoanalyst Carl Jung lecture about the mass delusion that had seized the European mind and resulted in the destruction of the war. This led to a critical realization:

    That struck me because, as a child in the war, I'd seen something drastically wrong with how adults—the grown-ups I trusted—organized their thinking. I was trying to find a better system to order my life. Jung seemed to be trying to cope with some of the more positive aspects of human experience.

    These external factors might have conspired to direct Mihaly's interest towards the idea of happiness as something humans could make for themselves. Still, he must take all the credit for achieving the intellectual discipline, inner strength, and emotional harmony that allowed him to flourish as a human being and innovative thinker.

    After being flabbergasted by his books, I had the privilege of spending many hours in conversation with Professor Mihaly. Along with his sharp mind and encyclopedic knowledge, I will always remember his unassuming stance, welcoming kindness, sense of humor, and childlike playfulness—a unique exemplar of being both an intellectual hero and an utterly delightful person.

    Here's a simple yet profound reminder from Finding Flow, something that, if acted upon, can change a life:

    To live means to experience—through doing, feeling, thinking. Experience takes place in time, so time is the ultimate scarce resource we have. Over the years, the content of experience will determine the quality of life. Therefore one of the most essential decisions any of us can make is about how one's time is allocated or invested. (…) as life unfolds, it is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art.

    Goodbye, Mihaly, and thank you for teaching us, in words and deeds, to aspire to become better human beings.

  • Three talismans from Italo Calvino

    Most of my intellectual heroes are now ghosts; one way to keep them alive is to remember their birthdays. Today marks the natal day of Italian literary treasure Italo Calvino, widely admired writer and journalist who left us groundbreaking works, as the wildly imaginative Invisible Cities, the experimental postmodern novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, the combinatorial machine The Castle of Crossed Destinies, and his unfinished Harvard Norton Lectures Six Memos for the Next Millennium.

    During an interview in 1981, Calvino has been asked by the TV host to share "Three keys, three talismans, for the year 2000". His reply is still relevant, resonant, and beautiful:

    1. Learn poems by heart. Lots of poems. As kids, as adults, even when you get old. Because poems will keep you company, you can repeat them in your head. Besides, cultivating one's memory is very important.

    2. Also, learn to do calculations by hand: divisions, square roots, and other complicated things. Fight the abstraction of language with very precise things.

    3. Know that everything we have can be taken away from us, at any moment. Enjoy things, of course, I'm not saying to renounce to anything. But being aware that everything we have can just disappear, in an instant, in a cloud of smoke.

    Although the interview is in Italian, you might still enjoy watching Calvino's extraordinary mind operating in real time: his absorbed look and the long pauses make him sound hieratic and oracular.

    Happy Birthday to Italo Calvino!

    Photo: public domain

  • The mind warping art of Benjamin Sack

    Benjamin Sack is a creator of worlds: with a simple pen as his magic wand, he creates drawings of exquisite complexity and dizzying intricacy, whose ultimate effect is quite explosive.

    Starting with a basic composition of general shapes laid down in pencil, he then commences—intuitively and free handedly—the painstaking and relentless process that transmutes ink into transcendent and dazzling beauty.

    Embedded in his miniature worlds are references to historical cartography, architectural drawings, homages to works of art, various civilizations and cultures, and surely many other things waiting to be discovered, hidden in plain sight.

    Sack's exploration of form is his vehicle for expressing uncommon perspectives and vantages of tremendous detail, cultivating a geometric idealism reaching continually into the realm of the infinite.

    Here's a fascinating time lapse video of one of his works emerging and taking shape.

    More on his website and on his Instagram account (to get a closer look at the unbelievable details of his works).

    Images courtesy of Benjamin Sack.

  • Ioan Petru Culianu, argonaut of the 4th dimension

    Thirty years ago today—on May 21st, 1991—a bullet fired by an unknown murderer sadly ended the life of 41-year-old Professor Ioan Petru Culianu.

    Romanian-born, citizen of the world and of the mundus imaginalis, Ioan Culianu has been a brilliant scholar of religions, gnosticism and Renaissance magic. In a few years of hectic work he established himself as an esteemed author, renowned for the breath and originality of his works, as well as the depth of his thinking. Armed with a mighty erudition and a mercurial intellect, he deftly moved across disciplines, bridging history of religions and ethnography, literary criticism and relativity theory, historiography and cybernetics. His academic career reached its peak at the prestigious Divinity School in Chicago, where he taught from 1986 till his untimely death, in 1991.

    Still today, his works remain essential reading for any student of the Sacred and its theological, metaphysical, sociological, and cognitive implications.

    One of the recurring themes in Culianu's body of work is the importance of the imaginary dimension and its potential to reconfigure reality. With archeological accuracy, he reconstructed the historical viccisitudes that brought to a mutation of the imaginary in the shift from a magic-based society (like the Renaissance), to a modern society based on a scientific ideology. Liberating magic from the "primitive" interpretations typical of certain anthropological and ethnological traditions, Culianu restored magic to its mainly cognitive dimension: magic is a science of imagination, a technology of the mind to investigate the world and ourselves, a mode of operating to shape reality itself. Here's an often quoted fragment from his book "Eros and Magic in the Renaissance":

    Historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared with the advent of 'quantitative science'. The latter has simply substituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises rst formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate with faraway regions of space, to y through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one's disposal. Technology, it can be said, is a democratic magic that allows everyone to enjoy the extraordinary capabilities of which the magician used to boast.

    As Culianu explains, magic never actually disappeared, it just shapeshifted. And the role of the magus, thanks to his knowledgeable use of the imagination, is to access that "mental space"—a parallel and infinite "elsewhere", whose ontological value is equal to our consensual reality—and bring back what he saw and learnt. The awareness of the laws of interdependence and interference existing among parallel and co-existing worlds allow the magician to reprogram reality, causing change to occur in conformity with will.

    Counterpoint to his rigorous scientific activity, it's been his spellbinding and mind-warping narrative production. With trickster wit and serious playfulness, Culianu designed interdimensional labyrinths, making the concepts of ordinary time and space elastic and evanescent, and the boundary separating reality from fiction much less sharp and tidy than what feels reassuring to believe.

    Culianu had a lifelong affectionate relationship with Italy, the first country granting him political asylum, in 1972. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his passing, the magazine Antarès honors him with the special issue Ioan Petru Culianu. Argonauta della Quarta Dimensione. Thanks to the dedication of curators Horia Corneliu Cicortaș, Roberta Moretti, and Andrea Scarabelli, with an introduction penned by Professor Grazia Marchianò, this book collects Culianu's unpublished material, essays on his work, testimonials from friends and colleagues, letters and interviews. This publication is a tribute to a sensational scholar, whose spirit and ideas are still alive and vibrant. This is also an invitation to the next generations of explorers of knowledge to continue journeying in the mundus imaginalis, the way Culianu pioneered.

    Image courtesy of Antarès

    Image courtesy of Bietti Edizioni.

  • MagiQuest with Jeff McBride is the real deal of an online "magical experience"

    Up for a magical adventure? Follow Master Magician Jeff McBride through the looking glass of your screens.

    Since the pandemic hit, many forms of theatrical experiences did their best to pivot online, with mixed results, as artists from different fields are still exploring the possibilities of the new online platforms. Many magicians tried their hand at this medium, including household names like Penn & Teller, Michael Carbonaro, Justin Willman. And now, here comes Jeff McBride — and he is reinventing the rules of the game.

    Jeff 'Magnus' McBride

    In the magic community, the name Jeff McBride commands undivided respect and admiration, being widely regarded as one of the most innovative and dynamic magicians alive today. Jeff has done it all: earned the major accolades from the industry, holder of multiple Guinness World Records for his dazzling sleight-of-hand, performed on all major stages and TV networks worldwide, most recently fooling Penn & Teller. As a teacher and consultant, Jeff is the founder and driving force behind the Magic and Mystery School, arguably the most important school for serious students of magic. Jeff is the authentic incarnation of a contemporary shaman and modern hermeticist.


    Surfing the waves of our present circumstances, Jeff embraced the creative challenge of designing an online "magical experience". The result is MagiQuest: almost one year in the making, it's a fun, exciting, fully interactive online experience. This is an adventurous journey into the mind and the world of a true magician, who shares his encounters with the magical and the miraculous, shows his delightful and mindbending deceptions, opens the doors of his Library of Secrets, his Exquisite Collection, and his Cabinet of Curiosities, everything live from his Wunderkammer in Las Vegas. This is nothing less than an "initiation" into the real mysteries of magic, an experience that promises the participants high doses of wonder and astonishment.

    MagicQuest's curtain opens on May 7th at 7.00 PM (Las Vegas time) and runs for 8 performances through May 16th. More about MagiQuest visiting here.

  • Geometric projection candle holders are super cool

    If you are into candles and Sacred Geometry, you will love these candle holders.

    The candle flame will create stereographic projections onto the surface they sit upon, in the patterns of Flower of Life, Metatron's Cube, and the Fibonacci Sequence.

    These are creations of computational designer and artist Greg Blanpied, whose Kickstarter campaign successfully reached its goal.

    Looking forward to adding these beauties to my Wunderkammer.

  • David Crosby's "Laughing" turns 50

    In the latest installment of his wonder-filled Burning Shore newsletter, Boing Boing pal Erik Davis dons the music critic hat, and unearths a true gem: David Crosby's 1971 enchanting and piercing song Laughing.

    With his usual flair and subtlety, Erik provides context for the song and surgically dissects its lyrics, unleashing hidden layers of meaning and beauty to flow along with the bewitching sounds.

    Laughing is Erik's favorite "seeker song" of the countercultural era.

    We don't use the term "seeker" much these days, which is kind of a shame.

    As the religious historian Leigh Schmidt illuminates in his book Restless Souls, the modern sense of "seeker" emerges at the end of the nineteenth century, as liberal Protestantism gets so loose that it arguably ceases being Christianity, and becomes Transcendentalism, or New Thought, or Theosophy, or, increasingly, something undefined and personal, roving and uprooted from homegrown traditions, open to ideas and symbols and practices from around the world, particularly the East, and especially keen on cultivating direct experience of the sacred. The seeker sensibility would bloom significantly in the postwar world. The Beats took it up in the fifties, as did many of their beatnik followers, and so too the far more numerous hippies and travelers and self-realizers and proto-New Agers of the late '60s and '70s, many of whom would self-identify as "seekers."

    In the eyes of many social critics, the seeker was nothing more than the pupa stage for today's spiritual consumer: an atomized neoliberal self-empowerment junkie, mixing and matching a "cafeteria religion" and pampering the ego they are claiming to overcome. Perhaps we no longer speak of seekers because we are more comfortable as finders, or better yet, buyers — not just of Goop chakra tech, but of lifestyles, or Instagram paradigms, or self-help regimens that buffer us from the dark nights and stark confrontations that arguably undergird authentic spirituality.

    But let's not toss the baby out with the Emotional Detox Soak bathwater. In my (admittedly slanted) view, a mature seeker is, like the Beats of yore, a spiritual existentialist. The seeker is not a finder, or a knower, or a master. They are always on the road, or traversing, even drifting, along Krishnamurti's "pathless path." (…) Longing fuels the entire quest, and that longing is always oriented to the beyond, to the not-yet, to a liberation that almost certainly won't happen the way one imagines, and may very well not happen at all.

    Read the rest here.

  • Definitions of Art

    Trying to define Art is a challenging and hazardous occupation, given the elusive and slippery nature of such concept. Playing with definitions, however, can be a fun exercise to grapple with the enormous variety of artifacts, practices, and experiences called Art.

    In one episode of The Art Assignment video series, curator and educator Sarah Urist Green offers a very satisfying florilegium of quotes about Art. Some compelling ones:

    Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it. —Bertolt Brecht

    Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him. —Chinua Achebe

    Art is sustenance. —Sarah Sze

    Even the act of peeling a potato can be a work of art if it is a conscious act. —Joseph Beuys

    Art allows you to imbue the truth with a sort of magic, so it can infiltrate the psyches of more people, including those who don't believe the same things as you. —Wangechi Mutu

    My new favorite is the one penned by Ambrose Bierce, with his peculiarly flippant style:

    Art, n. This word has no definition.

  • The wonderworld of Oracolarium

    If you had an oracle available to you, I mean a real oracle—a person or an "entity" able to actually peek into your future, and thus provide advice and direction—what question would you ask? 

    Does divination work?

    Divination and fortunetelling are ancient and universal human practices, meant to satisfy an inborn desire to know our futures and fortunes. A quick Google search will provide dozens of techniques and traditions from all around the world. When we come to any of these methods—from Tarot to tea leaves, from abacomancy to zygomancy—it's legitimate to ask: do the combinations of obscure signs and mysterious symbols actually contain information about our lives? Answer is: probably not. However, if the question is: do fortunetelling systems really work? Answer is: probably yes. In fact, divination systems can offer a focused and structured space for reflection, potentially fertile for psychological exploration, encouraging creativity and fostering intuition. When relieved of any expectation of literally "predicting" the future, divination can be a fun sensemaking game, to play with new ideas and discover more about ourselves, thus leading to a renewed sense of agency towards the future. So framed, divination actually does work. 


    A latest incarnation of the divinatory impulse is Oracolarium, an exciting oracle deck I stumbled upon, that modulates ancient signals through a unique aesthetic and esoteric sensitivity. The offspring of multi-media artist Andrea Aste and conjuror in all things magical Neil Kelso, Oracolarium strikes a great balance between originality and tradition, irony and seriousness. As the portmanteau "Oracolarium" reflects it can be used both as an "oracle," a device to answer questions, as well as an "Imaginarium," a playground to cultivate the imagination.

    At its core, this pack is an impressive artistic achievement: it is an internally coherent art gallery, where each card is in conversation with all the others, through a hidden web of reference and resonances. Thanks to an Augmented Reality feature, when viewed through the magic mirror of a smartphone or a tablet, these cards come to life providing a mesmerizing cinematic experience. All in all, Oracolarium is a magickal talisman, endowed with an ethereal intelligence, awaiting to be awakened and interact with human forms. 

    What would you like to know?

    Back to square one, if you had an oracle available, what would you like to know? Here's a secret hidden in plain sight: when it comes to exploring a personal issue, the mere act of designing a well-formed question is a covert invitation to clarity of thought, not a minor endeavor indeed. This may be half of the job. The rest of the game of divination is to experiment with tools and processes, to discover what fires your imagination, making you want to engage with a practice, and harvest insightful messages.

  • Watch the "In & Of Itself" movie – created by Derek DelGaudio, directed by Frank Oz

    Here is a thing of beauty: the highly praised theatrical show "In & Of Itself" has been made into a film. Performed and created by Derek DelGaudio, directed by Frank Oz, this is something truly magnificent.

    Derek DelGaudio is a world-renowned magician and sleight-of-hand artist, but this show is no typical magic show. Living up to its hype, this is pretty much something in and of itself—a unique brew of magical performance, storytelling, and other difficult to describe "things." With mastery and presence, DelGaudio invites the participants to explore the illusory and elusive notion of identity. The result is an intense, emotionally charged, and philosophically challenging piece of performance art.

    Making a movie out of a live event can be like catching lightning in a bottle. Having seen the live show twice, both in Los Angeles and New York, I can fairly say that the operation is a total success: the force is strong with this film!

    Now that it's been captured on video, "In And Of Itself" is a joy forever, but available for streaming until November 19th.

  • WTF is going on? Sensemaking in hyper weird times

    It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go WTF is going on? And of all times, WTF? is presently a totally legit response.

    What do I know, actually?

    In his brilliant and uncannily prophetic Netflix show End Times Fun, actor and comedian Marc Maron, wrestling with the confusion and turbulence of our times, asks himself: "What do I know, actually? How much do I really know?" His answer goes like this:

    If you think about what you really actually know, it's only a few things, like seven things maybe everybody knows. If you actually made a column of things you're pretty sure you know for sure, and then made another column of how you know those things, most of that column is like: "Some guy told me." You know, it's not sourced material, it's just clickbait and hearsay, that's all. Goes into the head, locks onto a feeling, you're like: "That sounds good. I'm gonna tell other people that." And that's how brand marketing works and also fascism, we're finding.

    It seems to me this is pretty much how the majority of people decide to buy stuff, choose to vote, and make other consequential choices about their lives. Can we go deeper than superficial clickbait and hearsay, in order to shape well-informed opinions about complex issues, and take actions accordingly? This is the problem of sensemaking, probably one of the most crucial challenges that will define our civilizational course.

    Who can we trust? 

    We're living in wild times, with growing chaos, unrest, and unprecedented uncertainty. Global existential threats feel more real than ever, and civilization breakdown is causing the collapse of consensus reality and familiar frames of reference—both at the individual and collective levels. 

    How can we find direction and make sense of all of this? Where can we find good sources of true and reliable information to base our sensemaking upon? Given such a vast endeavor, it's always been legitimate to offload some of the cognitive complexity and proxy our sensemaking to experts and authority figures. Sadly, the unsettling fact nowadays is that we can't easily figure out anymore who we can trust. Those who used to be trustworthy experts and institutions—from journalists to academics to politicians—have often compromised their credibility and authority. The trust has been broken. What is also broken is the whole information ecology, severely polluted with disinformation, propaganda, and all kind of fake news. It's a clusterfuck. Good sensemaking is probably as hard as it's ever been.

    Rebel Wisdom 

    Where can we start to orient ourselves? Currently, my sensemaking dojo is Rebel Wisdom. Founded by David Fuller and Alexander Breiner, this media platform was set up with the explicit intention of making sense of the world at a deeper level than the mainstream media. This is a space for conversations grounded in authenticity and earnestness, intellectual bravery, and epistemic humility. Independent thinkers share their ideas with a quality of analysis and nuance that are needed for sincere truth-seeking in the extraordinary times we are going through.

    To start poking around the content-rich Rebel Wisdom portal, and see if you resonate with these ideas, here are four entry points:

    War on Sensemaking, with Daniel Schmachtenberger

    A key realization is that the thing we call "news" is mostly propaganda. We are immersed in ongoing and ubiquitous information and narrative warfare, operating mostly below the threshold of our awareness. How can we sort out good signals and true information from noise and distortions? This is sensemaking 101.

    Our Pandemic Psychedelic Trip, with Erik Davis

    The ongoing pandemic, acting like a "non-specific amplifier," is inescapably bringing to the surface existing issues in our personal psyche, in society, and culture at large. Framing the pandemic as a collective psychedelic experience (or a "spiritual emergence") can offer insights on how to embrace not-knowing and navigate this space of high weirdness as an initiatory experience.

    Can Truth Survive Tech? with Tristan Harris

    Social media have a dark side: they hijack our nervous systems making us addicts to our newsfeeds, weaponizing our attention in a dangerous game of social and political polarization. We need to figure out ways to regain our individual sovereignty and critical agency. 

    In Shadow: Where Artists Fear to Tread, with Lubomir Arsov

    The arts have the timeless power to shape culture, allowing us to expand our notion and understanding of reality, even awake and nurture a transcendent impulse. Art can help heal our fractured cultural psyche and offer much-needed hope in times of darkness.

    From caterpillar to butterfly?

    We are living in a liminal space/time, that is both perilous and ripe with possibility. This is not a time for improvised quick fixes and everything-is-going-to-be-alright empty optimism. We're in the midst of an evolutionary shift that might propel us to our next level as a civilization and as a species. Or, equally possible, the experiment of our global civilization might come to an end. At present, nobody knows.

    What we do know is that we need to write a completely new operating manual for Spaceship Earth, and we need to do it fast. And this task—as Buckminster Fuller put it more than 50 years ago—"is predominantly metaphysical, for it is how we get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous social behaviors that will avoid extinction."

  • Infinite Potential: The Life And Ideas of David Bohm is a gem of a documentary

    Infinite Potential, The Life And Ideas of David Bohm is a gem of a documentary (and you can watch it for free. Directed and produced by Paul Howard, it pays homage to one of the unsung intellectual heroes the 20th century. David Bohm was a physicist, philosopher, and explorer of consciousness—the man Einstein called his "spiritual son.", and the Dalai Lama his "science guru." His search at the crossroads of science and spirituality led to new insights into the profound interconnectedness of the universe and our place within it.

    An intellectual dissident
    Questioning the orthodoxy of this time, Bohm tried to reconcile the two main distinct paradigms within the world of physics, namely, classical Newtonian physics (explaining "reality" as directly tied to our sensory experience of it, grounded in a three dimensional space, and time being a singular linear progression), and the new paradigm of Quantum Mechanics (describing the bizarre world of subatomic entities which, simultaneously wave-like and particle-like, form the underlying structure of the whole universe, a place where "ordinary reality" and linear time cease to be). Physicists have been wrestling for decades—without success—to reconcile these two seemingly incompatible and contradicting models, respectively accounting for the realms of the macro and the micro. Bohm's maverick intelligence sought a larger framework of interpretation to do the job. 

    The Holographic Universe
    One of Bohm's most dazzling leap of the imagination is his Holographic Theory of the Universe.

    A hologram is a two-dimensional photograph of a three-dimensional object. When a laser is used to illuminate the hologram, the stored three-dimensional image appears. Here's a very peculiar feature of a hologram (compared to an ordinary photograph): cutting a regular photo into smaller pieces, one ends up with fragments of the original; when the pieces are put back together, the complete original picture is restored. But cutting a hologram into smaller pieces, each piece will contain a smaller but exact version of the complete original picture. In other words, every portion of the hologram contains the image of the whole. And that's a pretty uncanny feature.

    Back to Bohm. According to his Holographic Theory of the Universe, the tangible reality of our everyday life is a kind of illusion, which we can compare to a giant hologram. The everyday world of solid bodies, unambiguously located in space and linear time, corresponds to what Bohm called the explicate (or unfolded) order. But this explicate order is a manifestation of an underlying and deeper order of existence, a vast and more primary level of reality that gives birth to all the objects and appearances of our physical world, which Bohm called the implicate (or enfolded) order.

    The manifestation of all forms in the universe can be seen as the result of countless enfoldings and unfoldings between these two orders. This constant flow is what Bohm called the holomovement, holographic in nature, but in constant motion. Even consciousness is part of this continuous process of unfolding and enfolding: our thoughts are the explicate forms thrown up by the underlying movements of the implicate orders of mind.

    To continue with the holographic analogy (not meant to be a literal truth), every portion of the universe, according to Bohm, enfolds the whole. As author Michael Talbot wrote in his marvelous The Holographic Universe:

    This means that if we knew how to access it we could find the Andromeda galaxy in the thumbnail of our left hand. We could also find Cleopatra meeting Caesar for the first time, for in principle the whole past and implications for the whole future are also enfolded in each small region of space and time. Every cell in our body enfolds the entire cosmos. So does every leaf, every raindrop, and every dust mote.

    This is a vast idea, one that gives new meaning to William Blake's mystical verses:

    To see a world in a grain of sand,
    and heaven in a wild flower,
    hold infinity in the palm of
    our hand and eternity in an hour.

    The holographic model is an all-encompassing framework that has both internal consistency and the capacity to explain widely diverging phenomena of physical experience. It also happens to explain a whole variety of weird and strange phenomena—from psychic experiences to synchronicities, from Out Of Body to Near-Death Experiences. These side effects are the most uncomfortable for materialists and hardcore skeptics to digest.

    Everything is connected
    For Bohm, the wholeness of life included nature and consciousness in one single wholeness. At a deeper, quantum level, everything is interconnected and internally related to everything else, each part of the cosmos contains the whole universe, and it unfolds in our perception of reality. Beyond one's baseline state of consciousness lies a realization of Oneness, the "unbroken wholeness of the implicate order".

    You can see for yourself how deep the rabbit hole goes. Here's the trailer of Infinite Potential.

  • Flux and Contemplation: portrait of an artist in isolation

    This year, the merry-go-round of summer music festivals is not happening, all the major events have been canceled. And that's a bummer. But luckily, the pandemic didn't stop artists' creativity. Here comes a musical consolation, Flux & Contemplation — Portrait of an Artist in Isolation courtesy of Simon Posford.

    Simon Posford (a.k.a. Hallucinogen) is an internationally acclaimed figure of the psychedelic trance scene, with groundbreaking productions under his belt, among which the boundary-defying collaboration called Shpongle.

    Reflecting on his own experience of being in lockdown, Posford has crafted a refined psychedelic chillout/downtempo piece of work. Flux & Contemplation is an elegant gallery of sonic portraits, each track a signpost of an inner journey—ranging from minimal, trance-like, haunting vibes, to more uplifting melodies and groovy rhythms. The overall result is a very satisfying and intense listening experience.

    In a culture "where music has become more and more a commodity barely heard in the background, Posford's inspired and involved creative process transforms his handiwork into foreground music, his experience breaking free while in isolation providing a parallel experience for listeners".

    Looking forward to seeing Simon Postford live again on stage, surrounded by a crowd of happy revelers, Flux & Contemplation is a ray of hope while imagining brighter futures.

  • A Scheme of Heaven is a deep investigation of astrology from a scientist's perspective

    We humans are castaways on an ocean of uncertainty. Since the beginnings of history, our ancestors sought knowledge and understanding about their lives, their relationship with the cosmos, and perhaps take a peek into their future. In such effort—long before the answers of science—earthlings developed a rich variety of divination practices and systems. Many forms of divination survive to this day, and can't be easily dismissed as irrational nonsense, or mere curiosities of a bygone age. On the contrary, divination seems to be essential to culture.

    So much so, that perhaps our modern obsessions with predictive algorithms and numerical forecasts are best understood as a continuation of this ancient divinatory impulse. This is the provocative thesis of Alexander Boxer's fascinating new book, A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for Our Destiny in Data

    A Scheme of Heaven

     Astrology is indeed the most historically relevant of all divination practices, its aim having been nothing short of a systematic account linking the nature of the heavens to our own human nature. Across civilizations, human beings have proven to be superb stargazers. Entranced by heavenly patterns and periodicities—through sheer naked-eye observation—our ancestors were able to crack with uncanny precision the workings of the cosmos. Exact geometric relationships and precise mathematical elegance spoke of divine design and transcendent beauty.

    For a long time, astronomy and astrology were one and the same magical "enterprise." Alexander Boxer, a data scientist, whose eclectic erudition includes a PhD. in physics from MIT and degrees in the history of science and classics writes:

    "Astrology was the ancient world's most ambitious applied mathematics problem, a grand data-analysis enterprise sustained for centuries by some of history's most brilliant minds, from Ptolemy to al-Kindi to Kepler."

    In examining how ancient astrologers looked for correlations and extracted insights from vast quantities of raw, celestial data, A Scheme of Heaven throws a mirror at ourselves and our inescapable fascination with using numbers to predict the future. Astrology's survival through the ages is a testament to a timeless seduction for seeing patterns in data, a seduction still very much alive and kicking. According to Boxer:

    "Astrologers were the quants and data scientists of their day, and those of us who are enthusiastic about the promise of numerical data to unlock the secrets of ourselves and   our world would do well simply to acknowledge that others have come this way before."

    Boxer's deep investigation of astrology from a scientist's perspective introduces an unsettling question: Why is astrology considered unscientific, while economics—which also uses complex mathematical formulas to 'predict' the future—is regarded as a perfectly respectable field of study, despite its many failed forecasts? With the neutrality of statistical science, Boxer shows that today's sophisticated models are, embarrassingly, often no better at predicting the future than the algorithms of astrology. Just think back to the 2008 housing crisis, the 2016 election, or, indeed, the wildly divergent, if not contradictory forecasts for the spread of COVID-19.

    Mathematical models can appear to offer the solidity of a mathematical proof. We tend to believe in numbers: they offer "certainty" to our rational minds. But numbers still mislead, figures still deceive, and predictions still fail—sometimes spectacularly so. Put it differently, here's the uncomfortable truth. Many modern disciplines that advertise themselves as purely rational (and especially those that rely heavily on numerical forecasting), actually contain elements from the domain of the magical, even if they don't realize it or are unwilling to admit it.

    Our modern forms of divination—based on AI and big data, with "corporate astrologers" dressed in suits—offer little from a purely rational perspective, given that their track records are hardly any better than astrology. Yet we are drawn to these forecasts. Evidently, there are deeper forces at play. Perhaps these modern forecasts, with their own peculiar esoteric symbols and mysterious jargon, serve to satisfy an essentially magical, divinatory need. Understanding this explains, in part, why astrology continues to thrive (despite every effort to eradicate it) alongside its modern, data-driven successors.

    "And thence we came forth to see again the stars"

    Divination systems are sensemaking tools, which continue to fascinate, enchant, and nourish an archetypal need. Among these, astrology is the ur-example: a narrative art form of weaving stories out of numbers and data points.

    For anyone interested in the history, and, indeed, the future of these ideas, A Scheme of Heaven is a deeply learned guide. Filled with fun charts, diagrams, and statistical tables, Boxer clearly explains the richly complex language and "science" of astrology in a refreshingly, readable manner. With its light touch and wonder-seeking tone, the book is a beacon shone onto the mysteries of the cosmos, rekindling our timeless capacity to marvel at the universe.




  • What Steve Forte can do with a pack of cards borders on the unbelievable

    When watching a magician perform some card tricks, it's a legitimate question to ask: "Would you be able to cheat at a card game?" Most performers will smirk and wink, implying they could. Truth is: they probably can't. Sleight-of-hand with cards for conjuring and entertainment purposes is one thing; gambling techniques to cheat at cards is a whole other story. Sometimes these two domains overlap, in that liminal zone of the so called "gambling demonstrations." However, the gamblers' "real work" entails a very different skillset from that of a magician—while true gambling techniques are among the most fascinating and difficult to master.

    The gambling expert

    In the realm of gambling techniques with cards, one name immediately commands undivided admiration and respect. That name is Steve Forte. It's no hyperbole to say that what Forte can do with a pack of cards borders the unbelievable; his skillful handling is the closest thing to perfection in terms of technique. Here is a taste of his smooth and classy dexterity:

    Steve Forte's career spans over 40 years within the gambling industry. After dealing all casino games and serving in all casino executive capacities, he shifted gears to a spectacularly successful career as a professional high-stakes Black Jack and Poker player; shifting gears again, he later became a top consultant in the casino security field. To dig deeper into Forte's adventurous and shapeshifting life, the go-to place is the enduring profile penned by R. Paul Wilson for the October 2005 issue of Genii Magazine.

    Although Forte spent his whole professional career in the gambling world, in the early '90s he became widely known in the magic community after releasing his famous Gambling Protection Video Series. These tapes turned him into an almost mythical figure, someone with a uniquely vast repertoire of gambling moves, and the remarkable ability to execute these moves—all of them—flawlessly. These tapes still remain the gold standard for any serious gambling enthusiast. 

    In 2009, the Academy of Magical Arts honored Steve Forte with a Special Fellowship Award, in recognition of his outstanding creative contribution.

    Forte Years of Research

    Steve Forte just released his magnum opus, Gambling Sleight of Hand – Forte Years of Research: the most ambitious compilation of gambling sleight-of-hand and cutting-edge card techniques published to date. Forte offers his encyclopedic research from the privileged perspective of someone who has been around card games for his entire life, gambled professionally, met all kinds of cheaters and hustlers, and been a lifelong fan of magic. Separating the wheat from the chaff with his elegant prose, Forte shares the "real work." This book it's about "the pursuit of technical excellence for magicians and sleight-of-hand hobbyists, a modern starting point for cardmen and cardwomen to continue an exploratory journey where dedicated research, practice, and passion will forge ahead and advance the art."

    Gambling Sleight of Hand – Forte Years of Research is already a classic, a must have for collectors and anyone interested in gambling sleight-of-hand.

    The man behind the expert

    In any art and craft, there are experts, heroes, role models. Sometimes these people are friendly and accessible, other times they are plain abstractions or disappointing idealizations. In this weird domain of gambling techniques, Steve Forte unintentionally became a mentor to many—myself included. What strikes everyone meeting Steve is his kindness, his modesty, his unbound generosity. Besides his exceptional expertise and mastery, worldwide fame and success, he remains a laid back and unassuming guy. What're the odds that one of the brightest minds in your field of interest, someone whom you'd dream to hang out with, is also one of the nicest human beings you could hope to meet? Steve Forte is a total mensch.

  • Art in the age of artifice

    As a magician and sleight-of-hand artist, I've been wrestling with the thorny and slippery notion of Art for a long time. A recent "magical project" rekindled my attention about this ongoing quest. Here follow my latest musings on this domain.

    What is Art?
    Art can be seen as the lifeblood running through the veins of human history. From prelinguistic cave dweller to postmodern city dweller, art stands as a witness to the evolution of every culture, reflecting and participating in our views of reality, consciousness, and the cosmos. Art existed long before the word "art" itself existed; for most of history there were no museums, no galleries, no concert halls, and no special class of people to be known as "artists." As human societies developed and evolved, so did the category of art — which now includes a boundless constellation of forms, languages, media, materials, technologies, and aesthetic theories. As a result, the contemporary discourse on art is a fascinating and intricate spectacle. Many players — creators, critics, curators, merchants, collectors — interact within a matrix of sociological, cultural, political, and economic forces. The interplay of unpredictable factors generates the perceived value of artists, as well as the price of their work, and ultimately what ends up being labelled as art. The art industry produces an unstoppable stream of innovative ideas and artifacts, never-seen-before contaminations, and all sorts of category-defying "artwork." On the inevitable flip side are all kinds of aberrant deviations and plainly Barnumesque stunts. Today, everyone is welcome to decide for themselves what is what, and consume any piece of the cake of their liking.

    Going Ape
    The twentieth century decisively established that art doesn't have to be "beautiful" and beauty need not be part of the definition of art. But this liberating separation made things trickier and fuzzier. To score an easy point: there was a time when the staggering perfection of a Canova sculpture, or the epic breadth of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, actually left people in awe. There was no question that these creations of undisputed skill and technical mastery, vibrating with spirit and glowing splendor, deserved to be called art. Nowadays, many people hobnobbing in an art gallery, in front of the latest hyped "installation," are either unaffected, or reiterate some version of the snarky, naive comment: "What the heck is this! Seriously? Is this 'art'? Oh well, I could have done it myself!" This common response signals a certain kind of estrangement from art, as it's become an incomprehensible and self-referential game, where vapid provocations and tired stunts trump authentic aesthetic creations. Or perhaps the very category of art is broken and useless, having gone through an irreversible mutation, leaving it an empty shell of what it used to be. In a world gone bananas — cut loose on a sea of postmodern irony and indifference — is there a way to "reconnect" with the spirit of art, to satisfy our craving for aesthetic rapture?

    Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice
    In his incisive essay Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice ,author and critic J.F. Martel goes back to the basics:

    Art is the name we have given to humanity's most primal response to the mystery of existence. It was in the face of mystery that dance, music, poetry, and painting were born.

    From my perspective, this is a full-on invitation to return to the ancient shamanic roots of art, reconnecting with its numinous, spiritual, ineffable, and transcendent dimensions.

    True beauty is not pretty. It is a tear in the façade of the everyday, a sudden revelation of the forces seething beneath the surface of things.

    Yes, there's more to art than beauty. From the blissful and sublime to the ugly, weird, obscene, horrific and disturbing, true art taps into the whole palette of the human experience. It affects us viscerally, amplifies our feelings, expands our sense of Self and others, has the potential to transform us, punching a hole in the veil that separates us from the glowing heart of things.

    Here is Martel's simple test to "assess" Art. Just as we don't need to be a chef to appreciate the food we're eating, we can rely on the immediacy of our senses, using astonishment as our compass:

    Astonishment is the litmus test of art, the sign by which we know we have been magicked out of practical and utilitarian enterprises to confront the bottomless dream of life in sensible form. Art astonishes and is born of astonishment. (…). To be astonished is to be caught unawares by the revelation of realities denied or repressed in the everyday. Astonishment has an intellectual as well as an emotional component—in it, the brain and the heart come together. The astonishment evoked by great artistic works puts them square in our sights.

    From this perspective, then, anyone who intentionally creates something that alters people's mind, hacking their signal, leading them into a space of astonishment, is an artist. To my ears, all of this echoes the perfect equation between art and magic, set forth by of Alan Moore:

    I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness."

    Yes, I do believe that art is magic.

    City Magick
    During my recent week-long residency performing at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, I had the pleasure of collaborating with the Los Angeles-based street artist WRDSMTH. In the spirit of the above musings, sharing a common appreciation for the power of words, as well as for the poetic, impermanent nature of graffiti art, we co-created a "piece" that was incorporated into my live magical performance. Through the juxtaposition of our tools-of-the-trade, we shaped a statement that was cheekily intended to reveal a "secret" (or a "trick?") to its viewers. We unleashed this "thought-form" into the urban landscape, hiding it in plain sight, written in big letters on a utility box, at the busy crossing of La Brea Ave and Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood. Spelling out this hypersigil has been a playful and rewarding magickal operation. Its radiating vibration are still rippling out. It looked like this:

  • The magic theatre of High Weirdness

    In Hermann Hesse's novel Steppenwolf we visit a mysterious and strange magic theatre, where some pretty weird things happen. Meant for madmen and madwomen only, the price of admission is nothing less than one's mind. In High Weirdness, you are invited to enter another kind of magic theatre. It is a place of magic and madness, heaven and hell, beauty and terror. Luckily, the price of the ticket is not your sanity, but just the price of the book, High Weirdness, the latest literary exploration by Erik Davis.

    Erik Davis, PhD

    A long-time Boing Boing pal, Erik Davis is an intellectual of the highest caliber: a persuasive and provocative essayist, an erudite and unconventional scholar of religions, a charismatic and engaging speaker, an adventurous-minded tripster and all-around experienced explorer of the edges of our reality. Davis is one of the most admired and refined interpreters of all matters mystical, psychedelic and occult. His decades' long travels in hyper-reality—roaming seamlessly from musical festivals to Burning Man to academia—make him a uniquely qualified cyber-anthropologist, a keen observer of our contemporary and turbulent cross-cultural mazes of techno-mystical realms, fringe subcultures, neo-shamanic practices, pop mythologies, conspiracy theories, and spiritual impulses. For those who arrived late to Erik Davis' extensive body of work, let me single out three important contributions: his classic (and still  relevant) read Techgnosis; his musical hermeneutic homage to the Led Zeppelin IV album; and his podcast, a cornucopia of weekly interviews with artists, intellectuals and all sorts of weirdos, all concerned with the cultures of consciousness. 

    Consensus Reality vs. High Weirdness

    High Weirdness can be seen, in part, as a playful assault on reality, which, after all, is a complicated business. We all go through life, trying to make sense of things, navigating a so-called "consensus reality." Our very notion and understanding of what "reality" is (and, as a consequence, our own experience of it) is dependent and mediated by an existing matrix of institutions and cultural frameworks. These frameworks filter, shape and organize the world through shared and enforced patterns of perception, signification, and conceptual organization. In other words, whatever we ultimately come to believe to be possible, real, legitimate, or reasonable is a function of these structural mediations at play. We are all subject—more than we are generally able to acknowledge—to what our culture has programmed us to believe about the way things are and how the world works. However useful and necessary these structures and frameworks are, they are too limited, flawed, and incomplete to encompass of the whole spectrum of reality. To paraphrase a famous Aldous Huxley piece: every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the consensus reality into which s/he has been born. We are beneficiaries inasmuch it allows us to build a coherent and useful model of reality; we are victims in so far we believe that this reduced awareness and understanding of reality is the only thing there is. The point is: there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. And sometimes, weird shit just happens: the rug is pulled from under our feet, our known terrain and categories won't work anymore, and our familiar consensus reality threatens to crumble to pieces. We are not in Kansas anymore. We are entering the space of high weirdness, which can include intensely bizarre and extraordinary experience, paranormal phenomena, overwhelming synchronicities, extraterrestrials communication and direct encounters with nonhuman entities, mystical seizures, occult effects, and psychedelic experiences. 

    Whenever faced first-hand, such anomalous experiences are ontologically confusing, potentially disturbing, and unnerving. They deeply shake our very model of reality, our beliefs about the nature of consciousness and the physical cosmos itself. Inherently ambivalent and paradoxical, high weirdness events have a peculiar mix of sacred and profane elements, both alluring and scary, terrifying and blissful, a blessing and a curse.

    Trying to dismiss these "perturbations in the reality field" (as Philip K. Dick called them) as mere glitches, or hallucinations, or delusions, or pathological conditions is a shallow oversimplification. The stale rhetoric of rationalism and materialism falls short in providing satisfying answers or sustainable explanations concerning these enigmatic and compelling events. 

    High weirdness is a kind of incandescent magma running underneath the quiet crust of our ordinary consensus reality: be it by mere accident, or disciplined training, or intentional ingestion of psychoactive compounds, high weirdness can erupt into one's life—potentially everybody's life—with an unannounced and unpredictable degree of power.

    High Weirdness – the book

    Davis's book High Weirdness – Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience In The Seventies is the literary equivalent of the Voyager spacecraft launched into outer space in 1977: it is a literary probe propelled into fringes of the space within, the "here be dragons" zones of the inner mindscape. A hefty, lavish, philosophically stirring tome, High Weirdness analyzes and juxtaposes super wild stories of three seventies' mavericks of the mind, heroes of the imagination, and quintessential weirdos: the psychedelic bard and raconteur Terence McKenna, the cosmic jester and pop-philosopher Robert Anton Wilson, and the science fiction gnostic visionary Philip K Dick. With the '70s California milieu as their common petri dish, these writers went to the far edge of their reality, peeked into the abyss, wrestled with their own extreme bouts of high weirdness, and brought back mesmerizing and intriguing reports of their out-of-this-world encounters. 

    Davis deconstructs and recombines their stories, handling this very slippery and elusive materia prima, with the rigor of a scholar, the openness and curiosity of a true skeptic, and the playfulness and irony of a Zen master. With his mercurial language prowess, he unscrews the bolts that keep our rational world-view together, and through the cracks, we can glimpse flashes, and sometimes blazing beams, of weirdness.

    High Weirdness is a gourmet meta-literary mind-fuck, a pragmatic user manual, a cautionary tale of the sublime and blissful heights, as well as the transpersonal terrors, that are in store for those who dare to dance in Weirdland. Once the cat is out of the bag, all bets are off. Read at your own risk. Perhaps the price of admission is just the cost of a book… or, maybe, it will be your mind after all.