Jennifer Gidley on Key Features of Magic Consciousness:
Gebser (Gebser, 1949/1985) draws attention to several key features of this structure of consciousness.
• Spacelessness, timelessness, unitive interconnectedness, merging with nature;
• The egolessness of magic human, embeddedness in the tribe;
• The magic response to Nature, by “standing up to Nature” and becoming a “Maker,” thereby becoming conscious of his/her own will (p. 48);
The flourishing of art—music, song and painting. (See Appendix C).As demonstrated below, Steiner and Wilber describe similar features.
Spacelessness, Timelessness, Unitive Interconnectedness, Merging With Nature
Gebser (1949/1985) regards these first four features to be intimately inter-related. The spaceless and timeless phenomena [that] arise from the vegetative intertwining of all living things [as] realities in the egoless magic sphere. . . . earth-bound and earth-imprisoned, natural and primal . . . [requiring] the almost superhuman attempt to [be] free .. . from the fusion with nature. (p. 49, 51)It is not hard to see the resemblance between Gebser’s scene and the following depictions of Steiner (1954/1981a).[Their] dwellings were put together by what was given by nature; [they] molded the stones and bound them together with the growing trees. [Their] dwellings were formed out of living nature, were really transformed natural objects. (p. 131)This appears to hint at the cultural ancestry to some of the later megalithic structures of European and Meso-American cultures. Wilber (1996c) also describes this interconnectedness with nature that characterized the magic consciousness Man’s original fusion with the world . . . with its landscape and its fauna, has its best-known anthropological expression in totemism, which regards a certain animal as an ancestor, a friend, or some kind of powerful and providential being. (p. 50)For more detail on the timelessness of the magic structure, refer to Appendix A.
The Egolessness of Magic Human, Embeddedness in the Tribe
All three narratives characterize the social groupings as being based on what Wilber (1996c)called “kinship ties” (p. 72). Steiner referred to “little tribes that were still preserved through blood relationship, whilst a powerful authority was exercised by the strongest, who was thechieftain . . . (Steiner, 1954/1981a, p. 131-133). Gebser related this to: The egolessness of the individual — who is not yet an individual — demands participation and communication on the basis of the collective and vital intentions; the inseparable bonds of the clan are the dominant principle. (Gebser, 1949/1985, p. 58)
The Magic Response to Nature
Gebser notes that the struggle to develop beyond the forces of nature led to consciousness of will forces. Steiner made a similar claim: “[They] had . . . a very powerful will. . . . Thus they exercised a powerful influence over Nature. . . . They pressed the powers of nature into their service” (Steiner, 1986a, p. 95-96). Gebser (1949/1985) also saw this striving to become independent of nature as providing the impulse for the magical power. Here lies the basis of all sorcery and magic, such as rain-making, ritual, and the countless other forms by which magic [human] tries to cope with nature. (p. 51). . . Magic [human] possessed not only powers of second sight and divination, [s/he] was also highly telepathic. (p. 55)Steiner foreshadowed Gebser’s claims about these magical relationships with nature. He noted however, that not all the humans at that time had these abilities to a high degree. At the height of [this] culture there were seers, clairvoyants and powerful magicians who worked by means of magical forces and were able to see into the spiritual world.. . . Beside [the magicians], were people who were preparing to be the founders of present humanity. . . . They possessed the elementary faculties of calculation, computation, analysis and so forth. They were the people who developed the rudiments of the intelligence of today and no longer made use of the magical forces . . . (Steiner, 1978b, pp96-97)This aligns to Wilber’s view. He proposed that in addition to the majority of the people who were operating at an early level of consciousness, the more advanced individuals had magical powers related to what we would now call shamanism (Wilber, 1996c, p. 75, 339)
The Flourishing of Art—Music, Song and Painting
Much has been written about the appearance of cave art and interpretations of its possible meaning. Gebser and Wilber both emphasize the art-as-magic interpretation. Wilber’s(1981/1996) explanation is that the “subject and object, psyche and world, were not yet fully differentiated . . . [thus] between the object and the symbol of the object “existed a magical rapport.” To manipulate the symbol was to affect the object symbolized” (p. 51). In spite of Gebser’s (1949/1985) adoption of a similar view he also claimed that the sensory emphasis of the magic consciousness was primarily auditory rather than visual. It is this auditory aspect, not the imagistic or pictographic, which we will have to attribute to the initial phenomena. . . . Sonority and music, not image or sign, are the inceptual and coincident manifestational and realizational forms of the magic structure, where they still form a unity. (p. 125)Steiner pointed towards the development during this period of tonal speech, and also suggested that this was when the musical qualities of language—that had begun with chanting and dancing—were being further developed as a way in which the sense of the self could began to arise in individuals (Steiner, 1904/1959, p. 82). Gebser (1949/1985) drew attention to the tonal quality in Chinese and other related languages that apparently still retain this more musical quality (p. 126). (Much more is demonstrated on the relationship between language and the arts in Appendix C.)"
Magic Connectionism: Art and Culture in a Glacial-Landscape
Of the period we are about to enter, and with that “subjective mood” in mind, I suggest quite simply: the first men and women to appear on the earth during these times . . . were not just simple hunters and gatherers—they were magicians. (Wilber, 1996c, p. 43)
Everything that is still slumbering in the soul is at the outset for magic [consciousness]reflected mirror-like in the outside world . . . as we experience dream events in sleep . . . Ina sense one may say that in this structure of consciousness was not yet [internalized], but still resting in the world. (Gebser, 1949/1985, p. 46)In the earliest period [humans] possessed strong magical powers. With these powers [they]. . . mastered the forces of nature and in a certain way [were] able to see into the spiritual world. Clairvoyance then gradually faded. [Humans] were destined to found the culture belonging to the earth; they were to descend to the earth in the real sense. (Steiner, 1978b, p. 96)
Context for the Flourishing of Palaeo-aesthetics
‘Art’ has always been associated with the early cultural ‘success’ of anatomically modern humans, and with the establishment of what appears to be a ‘fully human’ cultural pattern.(Lock & Peters, 1999, p. 289)This decade-old conventional archaeological statement appears to be becoming outmoded by the increasing body of evidence of aesthetic development in early Homo species, such as H. Heidelbergensis and H. Neanderthalensis and the growing interest in palaeo art outside of Europe(as discussed in some detail in Appendix C). The last glacial age (c. 70,000-10,000 BP) was a period of great development of culture and human consciousness. This is within the late Pleistocene age and up to the beginning of the current geological epoch—the Holocene that began c. 10,000 BP. In archeological terms this includes the latter part of the Middle Paleolithic period and the entire Upper Paleolithic period. As indicated earlier the transition from the Lower to the Middle Palaeolithic periods was highly significant for human evolution with several species of the Homo genus co-habiting the planet— H. Heidelbergensis identified in Africa and Eurasia (500,000-100,000 BP), followed by H. Neanderthalensis from western Eurasia (250,000-30,000 BP) and H. Sapiens (appearing c. 100,000 BP) now frequently referred to as anatomically modern human (Key, 2000; Lock & Peters, 1999; Wood & Collard, 1999).Since the discovery in 1940 of significant rock art in the Lascaux caves in France, several sub-cultures have been identified by paleoanthropologists (Conard & Bolus, 2003). These are detailed in Appendix C. There is currently much debate in archaeological and other discourse that study human origins. The new field of evolutionary psychology is a quasi-scientific field that investigates such matters (Sedikedes, Skowronski, & Dunbar, 2006). However, even within this field there is contestation regarding the evolution of what is called symbolic self : the ability to “consider the self as an object of one’s own reflection;” “to store the products of such reflections in memory;” and to regulate its relations with the “social and physical environment”(Sedikedes, Skowronski, & Dunbar, 2006, p. 56). Constantine Sedikedes and his colleagues propose that the human self emerged with the “cultural revolution . . . in Africa some time prior to 100 [thousand years ago]” (p. 66). This is considerably earlier than the widely held belief that it was simultaneous with the explosion of cultural activity in the Upper Paleolithic period in Europe around c. 40,000 years ago. A recent edited book has explored—perhaps for the first time — an archaeological theoretic perspective that considers the possible role of the individual in Lower and Middle Palaeolithic times (Gamble & Porr, 2005). The latter points beyond the dualism of cultural explosion and gradualist models to “a complex mosaic pattern of cognitive advances” (Clack, 2005, p. 281). The notion that individuals as such existed in these times and could be situated in their “landscapes rather than their evolutionary stages” (Clack, 2005, p. 282),may lend some indirect support to the heterodox notions of Steiner and Wilber that at any onetime in evolutionary human history there have been groups of individuals, in each cultural landscape, operating at higher developmental levels than the majority of humans. Another major change that is arising is arguably part of what I will speak more about in the penultimate section of this paper—the evolution of discourses through the emergence of postformal-integral-planetary consciousness. In fields such as archaeology and anthropology the shift from modernism to postmodernism is particularly evident leading to a spectrum of theories in relation to evolution, development and progress (Barnard & Spencer, 1998; M. Johnson,1999). Archaeology professor Julian Thomas refers to the need to introduce hermeneutic, phenomenological, feminist and post-structuralist philosophies into the field of archaeology(Thomas, 1998, 2004). Such a postmodern approach to archaeological research is being undertaken by rock art scientist Robert Bednarik, who has been developing a more postformal epistemological approach incorporating taphonomy, cultural hermeneutics, and notions from the field of semiotics (Bednarik, 1994, 2003b, 2003c, 2006a; 2006b). Numerous non-Anglophone scholars —particularly from Eastern Europe are pursuing a postformal, semiotic approach to their archaeological research (Antonova & Rayevsky, 2002; Gheorghiu, 2002; Klejn,2005, 2006; Stoliar, 2006; Yevglevsky, 2002, 2005, 2006).
Steiner, Gebser and Wilber all refer to the notion of magic—or magical thinking—as being a significant factor in this second major movement of consciousness. Another complexity is that the temporal placements of this movement of consciousness are contradictory. Gebser points to the possibility that there may have been “one or even two further structures of consciousness between the archaic and magic, such as a “post-archaic” and a “pre-magical” structure” (Gebser, 1949/1985, p. 45). Because of lack of evidence to support this theory he proposes that: The magic “epoch” as we see it, not only encompasses an extended “era” but also a variety of modes of manifestation and unfolding that are only imprecisely distinguishable from one another. [Yet] . . . we shall consider all such modes to be manifestations of magic[consciousness]. (Gebser, 1949/1985, p. 46) Gebser’s focus for the magic structure is mainly on the Upper Paleolithic cave paintings in Europe — particularly hunting scenes. Incidentally this perspective was quite conventional within early 20th century anthropology, arising from the “first round” of ethnographic interpretations of “art-as-hunting-magic” (Conkey, 1999, p. 300). He also draws on examples of magic consciousness from much later times where he claims that it overlaps with his notion of mythic consciousness that emerged approximately 3,000 BCE (Gebser, 1949/1985, p. 57). Wilber, onthe other hand, regards what he calls the “magical-typhonic period” as beginning with Homo Sapiens and extending up to the end of the Paleolithic period. Incidentally, Habermas, uses the term “magical-animistic” to refer to the representational world of Paleolithic societies(Habermas, 1979, p. 104). (See Appendix A for more discussion of issues surrounding constructions of time.)Steiner also refers to a major movement of consciousness up to the end of the glacial period for which he uses the anachronistic term Atlantean in much of his writing, which was a conventional archaeological term in his day. In the early 20th century when Steiner was writing, literary and archaeological writing referred to Plato’s references in both the Critias and Timaeus to an ancient civilization— Atlantis —that had been destroyed by climatic catastrophe approximately 9,500 BCE. Comparative literature researcher, André Spears, reviews and discusses references to Plato’s Atlantis theory in the literary/philosophical works of D. H. Lawrence, Antonin Artaud and Charles Olsen (Spears, 2001). He also notes “through the 19th and early 20th
centuries, it was not uncommon for archaeologists working in Mexico to link Mesoamerican civilization . . . with the legend of Atlantis” (Spears, 2001). This was the academic context of Steiner’s usage of the term Atlantean for the glacial age. Steiner(1904/1959) also noted that the culture and consciousness he referred to in this period also took place “in the neighboring regions of what today is Asia, Africa, Europe, and America. What took place in these regions later, developed from this earlier civilization” (p. 41). Intriguingly, some recent European archaeological and paleo-geological research has provided some tentative support for the claims in Plato’s dialogues. However, space does not allow a further digression. Perhaps the story of Atlantis may not be over yet."
Deficient Manifestations of Magic Consciousness
Gebser used the terms efficient and deficient when speaking about the structures of consciousness—both in regard to transitions between structures and in regard to the expression of various earlier features at later stages. Similarly Wilber uses the terms healthy and pathological . While Steiner does not have a specific equivalent pair of terms, he does take a similar view in regard to cultural transitions. Another pair of terms that has been used in a similar manner, in psychotherapy discourses is formative and deformative (Boadella, 1998). The language of deficiency and pathology is somewhat problematic in the light of contemporary research on psychological stage transitions (Commons & Richards, 2002). However, it is a part of all three of these narratives so will be referred to at various points in the narrative where it is relevant to the discussion. From Gebser’s (1949/1985) perspective, the deficient aspect of a structure of consciousness primarily occurs in the later period of its development. The exhaustion of a consciousness structure has always manifested itself in an emptying ofall values, with a consistent change of efficient qualitative to deficient quantitative values.
It is as if life and spirit withdrew from those who are not co-participants in the particular new mutation. (p. 538)Steiner concurs that faculties tend to become deficient or decadent towards the end of a developmental period. In relation to the pre-glacial (archaic), and glacial (magic) periods, he referred to overuse of the powers or abilities that had been developed, to the point that they became decadent. He also indicated that each of the major (post-glacial) cultures and civilizations had their flourishing followed by their decadent period in a kind of cyclical rhythm. Wilber is more inclined to take a dialectical view in regard to all the earlier stages of consciousness. He has a strong interest in countering any romanticism towards the early stages of human development. He continually points to the negative or pathological aspects of the earlier cultures and civilizations. Gebser (1949/1985 referred to the deficient form of magic consciousness as “witchcraft and sorcery [which] is immoderate and unmeasured” in contrast with the efficient form as “spell-casting which retains the character of moderation” (p. 94). One of the unique contributions that Wilber (1981/1996) makes to illuminating the earlier structures of consciousness is that he does not romanticize them—if anything he emphasizes the darker side of what for him are clearly lower stages of consciousness. The self was indeed magically connected with the environment, but for that very reason it was also unprotected from invasion by unconscious elements within and extrasomatic factors without. . . . a time of danger, a time of taboo, a time of superstition. (p. 56)Steiner pointed out the difference between what he called white magic and black magic, where the increase of the latter—the use of magic for immoral, selfish ends—led to the decadence and decline of these early magic cultures. Gebser (1949/1985) noted its deficient manifestation during his times in the “mass psychology” evident during the 2nd World War in Europe (p. 60). Gebser also made an interesting point that there is a strong affinity between the deficient mental—that is, rational—and deficient magic structure, resulting in a strong propensity for regression from excessive rationality to a deficient magic consciousness .Whenever we meet up with overweening emotionalism as in mass assemblies, propaganda, slogans . . . we are dealing mainly with essentially deficient manifestations of magic. Their deficiency can be recognized by their very claim to exclusivity, as if they alone had validity or worth in contrast to the validity of other structures and forms of manifestation.(p. 154) Gebser (1949/1985) saw the deficient magic tendencies as potentially dangerous, even terrifying. Because of its unconscious nature, its “striving for power” and connection with “loss of ego and responsibility” he was concerned that “the unconsciously activated magic structure will ultimately (at least for us today) lead—via the atomization of vitality, the psyche and the ego—to destruction” (p. 60). He felt compelled to make these tendencies transparent so that even if we could not prevent them we could at least avoid becoming submissive to them.
Summary and Relevance for Today
Magic is clearly an academically contentious notion today, particularly in the scientific arena.Since the European Enlightenment, the dominance of scientific rationalism has dismissed such notions as regressive. This view persisted in the Academy until the late 19th century. In acontext of rationalistic and primitivist views of non-European cultures, a classical anthropologist Sir James Frazer, wrote a seminal anthropological text on magic and religion, The Golden Bough, re-opening the territory (Frazer, 1922/2000). Frazer described magic as a type of pseudo-science—a first stage in the evolution of human thought; followed by religion; and then what he called “true, experimental science” (Barnard & Spencer, 1996/1998, p. 341). Since then, the notion of magic and its place in culture has become of ethnographic interest to social and cultural anthropologists—including such notables as Claude Lévi-Strauss (Levi-Strauss, 1963). A spectrum of theoretical perspectives has arisen over the last century, many grounded in fieldwork and/or influenced by postmodern philosophical perspectives, such as pluralism and cultural relativism. These theories have been summarized by Barnard & Spencer (1998).
• Notions of magical phenomena as objectively real, even if inexplicable in terms of Western scientific knowledge—based on field experience with South American and African shamans, it has been called radical empiricism;
• Explanations for postmodern beliefs in magic, including notions of empirical validity outside orthodox science, different physical and spiritual laws, epistemological relativism and subjective, metaphorical value;
• A reformulation of theories based on laboratory research in parapsychology;
• Philosophical considerations of the apparent congruence between traditional magical philosophies of an organic, interconnected universe, and the New Physics theories on the unity of mind and matter (p. 342).
The renewal of interest in the marginalized Hermetic writings of Kepler, Newton and others may reintroduce many more questions about magical consciousness in the coming times. Gebser’s (1949/1985) interest was to bring our conscious awareness to the magical nature of our instincts and impulses so that they can be a “serving and sustaining potency” (p. 60). He spoke of music as one of the most powerful means to activate the magic timelessness in a way that is appropriate for our times. He also referred to prayer as a constructive engagement of the type of psychic connectionism that is inherent in magic consciousness."