Before we begin we'd like to note that every word in our title is “beyond speech or thought or silence”. Therefore, we invite you to listen in between, behind and underneath everything we say.
I'm sure you know that any form of magick - like the future - is ultimately unknowable. We can try to explain, analyse and justify how magic works, but it will never be the same as experiencing its effects directly on your own skin. In today's materialist culture direct experiences tend to raise sceptical eyebrows, or be dismissed as archaic and all together irrelevant. However, such experience is able to take us outside of structured time and allow us to grasp our intrinsic interconnectedness with other beings and environments. It doesn't matter that we can't put it in words, we just know, that we are just this…
When we let go of expectations, predictions and judgements for a while, we can absorb and start to see things as they are and see what bubbles up. There are many traditions, techniques and situations to produce these experiences - meditation, parenting, physical exertion, sleep or sensory deprivation, prayer, walks in the park, psychedelic trips, gardening, computer programming - for each of us it is something different. What is common in all of these experiences is the intensity and abundance of experiencing the moment. Magick - as we see it - is nothing more than a way to channel this intensity of experience to transform the person and their environment. Magick allows us to temporarily step outside of the mundane, consensus reality. It broadens our perspective and shows the hidden faces of reality as a malleable, impermanent tangle of relationships that keep flicking in and out of existence. This interpretation can work for both stage magic and ceremonial magic, but also for more informal rites of divination and invocation, such as reading tarot cards or burning demons on winter solstice.
And again, may be no way for me to convince you of the meaning and joy of direct experiences and magic, so I'll stop trying to explain it.
Instead I invite you to join me in a small invocation experiment. We'd like to try to invoke Viriditas, the vegetal side of our minds. The medieval mystic Hildegard Von Bingen had a vision that behind all life there is a greening force that connects all beings and keeps us fresh and alive. You could see it as an invocation of the quiet but tenacious force of spring. I realise that it might be quite a challenge to invoke Viriditas in winter, inside a dark theatre… however Viriditas is a force that not only greens our landscapes, but also our thoughts, emotions, language and actions. Whether you believe that such a force exists or not doesn't matter - you can simply invoke a feeling of freshness.
To begin, I invite you to stand up (if standing is a problem, feel free to remain seated). Plant your feet firmly on the floor and direct your attention to the soles of your feet. Feel that you're standing, feel the sensation of contact and pressure. Breathe into the soles of your feet. You can close your eyes if that helps, or direct your gaze at the screen without really looking at it.
Remember to breathe…
Feel the connection between your feet and the ground - through your shoes, the floor, the tubes and cables that bring heat and light in this room, all the way down to the ground…. as if you were putting down roots. Breathe a few times. As you breathe in, feel the freshness entering your body, as you breathe out sink deeper and deeper under the soles of your feet. Your awareness reaching all the way to the ground, and into the ground, becoming rooted…
Now slowly, with every in-breath, move your attention upwards towards the freshness and lightness of air in your lungs. With every out-breath spill out into your roots. Breathe in, you're fresh, breathe out, you're here…
Your body becoming alive with every breath, and dissolving with every out-breath. Every skin-cell is breathing, dissolving, reaching out. Through your limbs, your spine, your trunk, neck and head. Soaking up the greenness, opening up like a brave but fragile leaf in early spring. Being aware of the touch of air, the temperature, the scent and the sounds of the space, of other people breathing, growing and dissolving.
Feel your edges melting into greenness, becoming one with the air in the theatre, the air in the streets of Reykjavik and across the Icelandic landscape. Extend your mind all the way to edges of this island, breathing a green breath over the frozen ground… If you dare, try dipping your thoughts in the ocean…
Then slowly return to your seat, your mind and your body. sit down and relax.
Keep your mind and your body open to these sensations that ebb and flow with each moment. Keep breathing while Nik reads a few quotes to tickle your vegetal mind.
Try not to think or interpret too much, just let the words and images wash over your senses…
It is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
Eyes in the ocean of sight, Ears in the ocean of sound, Tongue in the ocean of taste, Nose in the ocean of smell, Body in the ocean of touch, Mind in the ocean…
Matter is made of space and space of matter.
A world apart: nowhere, anywhere, everywhere.
It is the beauty of things unconventional.
Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness
The moment when sedentary systems begin oscillating
Thalience is an attempt to give nature a voice without that voice being ours in disguise.1)
Things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness… these delicate traces, this faint evidence, at the borders of nothingness (…) nothingness itself - instead of being empty space (…) - is alive with possibility.
Being is the Noun; Form is the adjective. Matter is the Noun; Motion is the Verb.
I suggest we look at plants–look more deeply, more closely, and with a more open mind than we have done before.
“If the light is sufficient to disclose to us the way of contemplation that lies within ourselves, we may by pursuing it to the end come to know not as a mere static dictum but as a winged intuition, carrying an infinitude of significance both for mind and heart that the One is the Manifold, and the Manifold is the One.”
Inwardness is the characteristic feature of the vegetable rather than the animal approach to existence. The animals move, migrate, and swarm, while plants hold fast. Plants live in a dimension characterized by the solid state, the fixed, and the enduring. If there is movement in the consciousness of plants then it must be the movement of spirit and attention in the domain of the vegetal imagination.
A dead branch is a flower on its was to become garbage, to become another flower.
…you have to slow way down, be patient and look very closely.
Once-hard edges take on a soft pale glow. Once-substantial materiality appears almost sponge-like.
Look at the pattern the seashell makes. The dappled whorl, curving inward to infinity. […] There's a constant pressure, pushing toward pattern. A tendency in matter to evolve into ever more complex forms. It's a kind of pattern gravity
Metaphors have a curious way of embodying themselves.
I propose that we should adopt the plant as the organizational model for life in the 21st century, just as the computer seems to be the dominant mental/social model of the late twentieth century, and the steam engine was the guiding image of the nineteenth century.
True art must be based in deep observation.
“Reestablishing channels of direct communication with the planetary Other, the mind behind nature is the best hope for dissolving the steep walls of cultural inflexibility that appear to be channeling us toward true ruin. We need a new set of lenses to see our way into the world.”2)
When mistakes occur, loosen your model of reality.
Minimise borders, maximise edges.3)
It is spoken of the sephiroth and the paths, of spirits and conjurations, of gods, spheres, and planes and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether they exist or not. By doing certain things, certain results follow.4)
The process begins by declaring legitimate what we have denied for so long. Let us declare nature to be legitimate.
A magical perspective sees non-apparent links and connections amidst an illusion of order, control, and restriction. An alternative worldview that summons the creative and prophetic power of the multitude.5)
Making the familiar strange, or rather making the things of this world divine again through the alterity of new signs. Making moist and green what threatens to become corrupted, mendacious, ill-used and dried out.
There is an “outside” now, maybe an infinite number of outsides, places to stand with a lever in one hand - and a magic mushroom in the other. The dispossessed have always believed in a millennium, a magickal resistance, a heaven on earth, a world turned upside down. This is it. Well, time’s up.
Thank you for your attention and intention during this exercise… You might have felt Viriditas streaming through you, or you might not have, or just not yet. Whatever you experienced, that's ok.
Whether conscious or unconscious, immediate or delayed, our intention has effects in the world. If nothing else intention adds intensity to our perception and can change our perspective.
We could say that magic - like beauty - is 'in the eye of the beholder'.
One of the crucial things that every respectable magician knows: he or she is not separate from the world, but intimately entangled with it. And it is exactly this interconnectedness with everything around us that forms the basis of divinations and invocations - across the spectrum of religious, spiritual and magical practices. If we change how we look at things, we will gradually change our attitudes and actions. We become a strange attractor for similar attitudes and other social changes in our immediate surroundings. From this standpoint, magic can heal not just a person, but their environment as well.
The environmentalist creed 'think globally act locally' follows a similar process to meditative and magical rituals. These rituals usually start small, making changes in the body. Some, as in the Buddhist tradition, gradually expand to include the person's family and friends, then enemies, people they don't know, other species and their habitats, until the rite may encompass the planet and even the universe. Even though the effect might not be immediately felt, something changes in the person practicing the ritual, which - ideally - effects everything and everyone they're connected to.
Let me give you a few examples from our experience at FoAM. As you might guess from our motto “grow your own worlds” we like to cultivate experiences, where we invite people to be immersed in alternate realities or possible futures. Ten years ago we held a workshop in a small village in Croatia called Groznjan. It's a village on top of a hill, that has been abandoned, invaded and colonised by different nations throughout its 3000 years of history - from Romans to Austrians, various Slavic and Illyrian tribes. It's as if its soil is drenched with myths and legends of its many and diverse inhabitants.
We came to Groznjan to design a mixed reality game that would integrate the past and present of the village with its myths, as well as the lives of the villagers and the workshop participants. We developed a back-story in which the continuum of reality began to crack, allowing the myths to ooze out of the crevices, causing a cataclysmic rupture in the weather and the relationships of the people involved. The characters were based on the workshop participants and Groznjan's inhabitants.
We spent days building physical portals to a digital realm that would connect the village to an etherial plane. Almost everyone in the village became involved and the intensity was slowly building up, until the day when we were supposed to open the gates to the players. Then unexpectedly the story started unfolding “for real”. It began with people taking on more and more of their characters' traits, tensions building up, then the power black-outs began, frying some of our equipment and making working on computers impossible. The wind picked up and destroyed several installations. It became cold and dark even though it was the end of summer. By the afternoon a freak storm began raging across the village and turning streets into rivers. The participants were getting into increasingly intricate conflicts or passionate affairs, fuelled by truffles and alcohol. Aside from the emotional turmoil, physical injuries accumulated, cracked bones and concussions.
The surprising thing was that we could almost literally follow what would happen next by reading the stories and character descriptions we made some days earlier. We had mistakenly created a reality that would try to tear us apart, thinking we were “just” making a story and playing a game.
After this experience, we became much more careful about what kinds of stories and experiences we create. Of course not all stories are invocations - otherwise alien invasions and zombie attacks might be happening on a daily basis and we would all be “living happily ever after”! The difference lies in creating stories rooted in real places, with real people and unfolding in real time. The characters in these stories 'play' themselves as archetypes, at the blurred edges between reality and fiction.
As in our exercise today, everyone involved in our workshop was intently present, but there was an additional factor: there was no way out: the nearest hospital was almost an hour away and the public transport was close to non-existent. We spent days together working, eating and sleeping in the same place. We were engaged in a creative process of designing an alternate reality that had its foundations in the village and in ourselves. We shouldn't have been surprised that something like this would happen. We viscerally felt the meaning of the saying “be careful what you wish for”.
When we later talked to Alkan Chipperfield, FoAM's resident anthropologist about this experience, he said - ah of course this is a case of “sympathetic magic” - an ancient practice of association. In sympathetic magic a thing (object, dance, mantra) is created in the likeness of a real person or situation. The thing is then subjected to a set of ritualistic actions, in order to affect reality. You can think of voodoo dolls, or cargo-cult aeroplanes. In our case we made a story with its physical and digital elements bound with the real people and the village. That seemed to do the trick. Storytelling brought a world into existence and we subconsciously invoked it. A world born out of a mistake… It made us curious how often this happens without us being aware. More importantly, we began to wonder whether we could apply the technique more consciously to invoke a reality we'd like to bring to existence.
Since we founded FoAM we've been intrigued by plants. We are dependent on plants for oxygen, food and fuel, we use them in medicine, keep them as pets and worship them as gods. In magick traditions, plants are powerful allies, opening doors to alternate states of consciousness, or portals to other planes of existence. They're our neighbours, capable of recycling waste, producing and using renewable energy, purifying their surroundings - all of which we need to learn to do better if we are to survive as a species…
One of the realities that we are keen to invoke is one where humans communicate directly with plants; where science and technology would work side by side with magic and mysticism to bring about a luminous, resilient and imaginative world. Terrence McKenna suggested that plants could become models for human society in the 21st century.
Although we agree with his model, McKenna's primary method - involving the decriminalisation and spreading of the psychedelic experience - is perhaps not best suited to today's materialist societies during a period of widespread prohibition.
What many of us have faith in today are not psychedelic plants but technologies. Whatever unsurmountable problem we face - from climate change to economic crises, a common reflex is to treat it as something to be solved by more technology.
We were encouraged by the observation of Arthur C. Clarke that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And by corollary “Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.” For FoAM this meant that we would create a story where technology helps us to establish communication with plants, without this sounding too impossible or 'hippy-like'. You are seeing images from this story, an alternate reality narrative called Borrowed Scenery. In addition to the story, we are experimenting with developing technologies for Human Plant Interaction or HPI, borrowing from the established field of HCI.
This brings us back to direct experience. In Borrowed Scenery we designed a story embodied in a physical space, together with a set of experimental technologies and situations, that together would formed the seed of a reality where humans and plants (and perhaps other beings) could communicate. In this reality we envisioned science being able to commune with the 'planetary other' instead of just poking it with sharp instruments. The scientific curiosity to empirically substantiate facts would no longer be at odds with the mystical traditions of direct experiences and non-ontological knowledge.
In such a reality the materialist and the animist world could begin to meet and perhaps start a conversation. We would be able to hear each others' voices.
Science fiction author Karl Schroeder called this voice of the Other 'Thalience', following from 'Thalia' - the greek muse of flourishing. Thalience would emerge as successor to science and form a basis for a technology that would be advanced enough to encourage us to abandon the idea that humans are separate from nature. Instead we could begin to listen other 'thalient' beings about how they perceive and experience the world. It is at this moment that science would enter the territory of magick.
It is the discipline that chooses among multiple successful scientific models based on which ones best satisfy our human, aesthetic/moral/personal needs. In other words, given two or more equally valid models of the universe, thalience is the art of choosing the one with the most human face. It is the recovery of the natural in our understanding of the Natural.
And with that thought, we'd like to move from monologue to dialogue, perhaps not yet with plants, but with all of you, hopefully invigorated by the spirit of Viriditas and Thalience.
With warm thanks to Edda K. Sigurjonsdottir and Hrund Gunnsteinsdottir for their invitation and hosting, as well as Kristin and Goddur for a unique insight into Icelandic nature & culture and everyone else of Design March who has made our stay a most inspiring one.