We are entering an era of magical technologies which are relevant to the inner world of imagery and imagination. Through Virtual Reality (VR) we can create an electronic representation of typical symbols of the psyche and interact with them. Even though these images have no concrete existence, they are influential in the process of transformation.
The practice of magick, a sacred technology, normally involves concentrated visualization activity coupled with immersion in the autonomous stream of consciousness. Since much of the training and practice in magick is based on a recipe, formula, or protocol, these could easily be programmed, using virtual reality, to guide an aspirant into a specific state of consciousness. Biofeedback monitoring could enhance that state.
Each virtual world would include a panoply of symbols related to a specific archetype. The aspirant would journey through this world. In the process of positive interaction with these archetypal forms (or perhaps imaginally becoming them), the psyche becomes "inoculated" with their resources. A conscious relationship is fostered. This leads to a greater sense of wholeness and communion with transpersonal energies.
Through the arrival of Virtual Reality (VR) technology, we will soon have access to a fully programmable electronic "astral plane." Magic has always been a sacred technology, and combining it with VR makes for a state-of-the-art practice. In virtual reality, we can create a world which is, in essence or effect, "as good as" normal reality. Through the use of visual, audial, kinesthetic, and olfactory feedback, the experiential (rather than analytical) part of the brain is guided to suspend its disbelief in the synthetic reality.
The realization of a system of interactive fantasy will allow us, as artists or magicians, to shape the experience from the inside. It will allow us to re-shape ourselves, also. A central premise in VR is that you can manipulate your self-representation, or self-image. VR represents a cultural revolution in the way we view reality, nature, art, ourselves, and our relationship with transpersonal powers.
Interactive media will give us the ability to author moving images. When you can put your images in cyberspace, you introduce your own unique content into the experience. Background, or natural imagery, will be texture-mapped for ambiguity. Ambiguity is one key to the engagement of the imagination (Laurel, 1992). Communal virtual reality is also possible for group rituals, but requires a tremendously powerful computer to keep track of all the details which perpetuate a believable virtual space.
The realm of imagination has traditionally been the province of shamans and magicians. More recently, psychotherapists have entered the arena of imagination as guides to the heights and the depths. There are many different styles in the practice of magic from primitive to sophisticated. Magic is the ancient technology for dealing with lost or questing souls, while archetypal psychology is a modern counterpart.
Basically, there are three ways of encountering the inner world, reflecting the state ofconsciousness of the practitioner: 1). prototaxic mode, a "possession" or trance state where the ego is absent through regression; 2). parataxic mode, which includes art, archetype, myth, dream, and ritual wherein the ego is enthralled; and 3). syntaxic mode, which includes creativity, gnosis, and higher mystical states, where the ego is enraptured and eventually transcended.
Sophisticated magick, or Theurgy, has been practiced in western occultism through the centuries largely by an elite group of eccentric intellectuals. Many of them identified with the Rosicrucians, Masons, Gnostics, or other "hidden" orders. These practitioners of the mystic arts were the forefathers of modern sciences like chemistry, botany, medicine, physics, astronomy, and philosophy. Through magick, they learned a unique way of looking at the inner and outer world. This is the major premise of any philosophy: "Look at it like this..." The magical philosophy has left a tremendous legacy. The history of these alchemists, mystics, healers, and theurgists outlines one of the most interesting areas of human endeavor: consciousness studies.
The mapping of consciousness states and their corresponding typical experiences (plus how to attain them) forms part of the doctrine of any magical philosophy. The most widely embraced map is called The Tree of Life. The very foundation of the modern western occult tradition is contained in this circuit or glyph of The Tree of Life. It describes a hierarchy of 10 states of being (Spheres), and 22 characteristic modes of transition between them (Paths). All the corresponding symbolism of the human psyche is categorized according to this comprehensive basic structure. It represents all ways of being and becoming--all possible states of consciousness.
The philosophical system which the Tree represents originated in the Jewish culture. Through synchronism it amalgamated with the Gnostic, Egyptian, Arabic, and other systems. This synthesis became known as Hermetic Qabalism. In divorcing itself from its Hebrew roots, Qabala returned to the mythic domain of its informing archetype, Hermes.
In ancient Egypt, this archetypal energy was represented by the god Thoth, Lord of Magic. He presided over skills such as writing and translating. In Greece, as Hermes, he was the messenger between the realm of the gods and men--he who could fly into the heights or depths. Our modern forms of writing and translating have moved into information processing via computers. Information processing is fundamental to any form of communication.
Information processing is the foundation of all technology. Thus, Hermes is the informing myth of a technological approach to sacred psychology and spirituality. Hermes' domain includes gnosticism, alchemy, magick, and depth psychology. Like programming, they are all hermeneutic endeavors, involving the process of interpretation. Jung noticed that, "Every interpretation necessarily remains an "as-if." The ultimate core of meaning may be circumscribed, but not described." He refers to the "as-if" reality as the closest we can come to direct knowledge. For example, our God-image in the psyche is our closest (and only) experience of Divinity, however unique it may be. We perceive it directly, but it is a specific interpretation of the unknowable archetype.
Ultimately, it is our sense organs which help us interpret the world and our experience through our perceptions. They help us make a distinction between what is "real" and "unreal." The emotional part of the brain, (the right, spatial lobe), cannot analytically distinguish a symbol from a symbolic representation. In imagination or virtual realityit becomes a moot point. Fantasy, in fact, animates both our inner and outer worlds, and creates meaning. The on-going imaginative process of the psyche is the ground of being. Jung spoke of the psychoid aspect of psyche as the vast non-human action of the universal forces.
Through the technology of virtual reality, we can take the imagery arising from deep within our psyche and create an "as-if" reality which we can enter at will. If magick is the art and science of changing consciousness at will, in this context, imagination is reality. It manifests as images. Jung implied that our closest approach to God or any minor deity is through the God-image. This brings to mind the process of invocation, or calling in the god-form in magick. The conjuring of these archetypal images, and identification or interaction with them is a primary application of ritual in theurgy. In magick, it is taken virtually literally, as magician Dion Fortune's comment shows:
...the Ministrant proceeds boldly with the ceremony as if that which he had invoked had actually come about...He must have the courage of his convictions, and give himself up boldly to be the instrument of the forces he has invoked, relying upon them to bring about the transition from fantasy to fact, which is the meaning of transubstantiation. If he proceeds to play the part he has assigned himself as if it were a reality, he will find, provided the force he has invoked is a genuine force and the pictorial image he has made is a suitable one, that imagination has become reality and that an influence is flowing into him, and emanating from him, which is a very real thing indeed...
Since archetypal images arise from the collective unconscious, they are common to all mankind. The God-forms invoked in magick are the basis of our psychic life and our relationship to the universe. Everything we are is virtually imagined through their forces and forms. There is nothing but their primary essence to be found in either our concrete or imaginal reality, if psyche is the foundation of reality. Magic and archetypal psychology allege this is so.
Jung advocated the practice of Active Imagination for transformation. He based his technique on the alchemical meditatio, or dialogic exchange with the transpersonal. It involves entering the autonomous stream of psychic imagery with the values, ethics, and perspective of the ego, and interacting therein. Magick proposes a very similar premise, but has an entire technology for clearing out a purified psychic "space" into which an undiluted primal force may be called forth. Both techniques share the same result: a consciousness journey with real-time effects. Imagination is reality when it has the power to move us biologically, kinesthetically, viscerally, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
The prospect of "home-brewed" imaginal worlds for exploration and recreation is on the horizon before the turn of the millennium. Those pursuing the age-old Quest or Great Work will certainly want to put this possibility to purposeful use. When a person becomes caught up in a ritual, visualization, or meditation, inner vs. outer becomes a moot point. Imagination becomes a spontaneous influence which can be "seen" through the Observer Self. Magick is the directing of that experience in a specific direction, to a particular focus. Each ritual has its own telos, or goal. It is this striving, goal-oriented attitude of the ego that makes magick a heroic quest.
We may speculate that similating archetypal forms in VR gives their transpersonal energy a "body" to inhabit, just as visualizing does. Chronicity (the propensity for archetypal forms and events to cyclically recur) and synchronicity (acausal connection) provide magically-charged energy for the simulated forms. All perceptions of archetypes are simulations of their unknowable primal nature, anyway. This holds true in mystical experience, art, and imagination. According to Jung, archetypes are everywhere, so they will certainly be found in virtual reality, alive and well. In this form, they will be more accessible than ever. The novice could easily get a first-hand training experience in what inner dialogue is like.
Archetypes will be just as inclined to inhabit or inform these virtual images as any other. In fact, there is no way around it, if the programs are consistent and coherent. With an artificial intelligence program added, they will behave with a certain degree of spontaneity and novelty, congruent with their character. VR conjures them, evokes them, or calls them up into awareness for interaction. The imaginal character speaks and behaves in its characteristic manner, but reacts uniquely in each specific situation. The entire panoply of symbolic correspondences, for which the god-form is the nexus, could be displayed interactively for the aspirant.
In the magical operation known as assumption of the god-form, the participant identifies with the archetypal power. In VR, the aspirant could experience being decked out in full regalia, with all the symbolic appurtenances, in an environment and atmosphere exclusively geared to expressing that power. To role-play the characteristic utterances and acts of that god or goddess could be a further amplification of the process. Mythic journeys, programmed by master magicians, will be available like the electronic games of today. It could be used for accessing and anchoring transpersonal resources for the personality.