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Distributed Autonomous Occultism

Spike Art Magazine Article Feb'22

Published onFeb 22, 2022
Distributed Autonomous Occultism
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Distributed Autonomous Occultism

by Catherine Leigh Schmidt, researcher-in-residence at the 0x Salon ‘21/22. Originally published by Spike Art Magazine in Feb'22, mirrored here with thanks to them. Read the original.

Historical variation in planetary glyphs from astronomy, Roger Long (1784)

Magic is a technology of imagination, and technology is magic made tangible. What lessons do the stars have in store as new innovations crystallise into reality? Astrologer Catherine Leigh Schmidt assesses the promises of collectivity and connectivity borne by Jupiter and Neptune’s conjunction in Pisces, among other developments in the cosmic landscape of 2022.

22 January: the sun is in Aquarius, and as I write this, discussions of collectivity are happening online at “Radical Friends”, a summit about decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) put on by Munich’s Haus der Kunst. My roommate and I watch on an iPad, both of us chained to our respective laptops, grinding our respective grinds. Even speculation is work. I think about the Smith-Waite illustration of the Devil tarot card, which corresponds to the sign of Capricorn, the sign before Aquarius on the zodiacal wheel. Its figures are loosely bound. Tarot reader Corinna Rosella associates the Devil card with the bondage of wage slavery. The floating face of a presenter is co-present onscreen with a sign language interpreter and a screen-shared Miro flow-chart. They are describing a DAO: This is a whitepaper. This is designer thinking. This is community as a product, albeit one with professed emancipatory aims. This is an attempt to answer a Jupiterian question: together, how can we source wisdom to build what comes next, emerging from the ruins of (in this case, art) institutions? The para-academic, semi-funded, gig-ish sector speculates on utopian technology. There is bodywork, there is LARPing, there is quadratic voting.

These are technologies of imagination, and so is magic. In April of this year, Jupiter and Neptune will conjoin in Pisces. According to the writings of astrologer Dane Rudhyar, a conjunction represents the planting of a seed. A conjunction is a boundary line between the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. What is ending, and what is beginning?

Assessing a cycle requires context. As we exit 2021, Jupiter has emerged from a year in Aquarius. Aquarius is associated with developments in technology, systems, and collectivity – hence the utopian dogwhistle, “Age of Aquarius”. Jupiter was also in Aquarius in 1440, the year the printing press was invented. The succession into Pisces, the mutable Water sign linked to Christ by Western astrologers, suggests cultural absorption – the widespread adoption of new ways of making and being – following Aquarian breakthroughs.

AS JUPITER AND NEPTUNE ENTER INTO PISCES THIS YEAR, WATCH THE INTENSIFYING INTERSECTION BETWEEN “SIGNS OF ASCENDANCE” AND PROFOUND ALIENATION.

The last time Jupiter and Neptune conjoined in Pisces was 1856. Many astrologers link this date to the spread of Spiritualism, the ancestor to contemporary Western occulture. But alongside Spiritualism, there was a raft of movements in Christianity concerned with direct connection to the Spirit of God. The American evangelist Dwight L. Moody converted to Christianity in 1855 and joined a church in 1856. When he first started preaching, Moody could barely read the Bible. His transmission of spirit was more important than his ability to study theology. Preachers like Moody set the tone for the succeeding Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements in the United States and elsewhere. Pisces demands revelation, but Piscean idealism can bear strange fruit; an obsession with accessing the divine can cloud an organization to the harm it causes, as in both the New Age and Evangelical movements. This period also coincided with the Gold Rush in North America. Familiar currents, echoes of the present? Prospecting, speculation, and spiritual revival come to the surface as new mechanics of connection and communication filter into the mainstream.

Mysticism – a cousin of magic – is never far from technology. The hacker ethos would not exist without the injection of Eastern esotericism and altered states into pre-Silicon Valley San Francisco half a century ago. Mystics seek direct communion with the divine. There’s a risk of relativism, and, unlike organized religion, no need for a clergy. The idealist hackers of the seventies became the neoliberal hackers of the nineties; they created a Californian Ideology that circumvents the state, that tasks a lone, VC-funded few with fixing the social ills that hyper-individualism itself created. If this is tech culture under neoliberalism, chaos magic is its occult equivalent. Another nineties phenomenon, chaos magic uses classic Western magical techniques to bring rewards to the practitioner; primarily concerned with manifesting one’s own will, it foregoes divine knowing as an end in itself.

Marjorie Livingston, “The Aquarian Age: An Address”, delivered to the British College of Psychic Science (1932)

The technology of astrology forks into timekeeping and sense-making. The astrologer Sam Reynolds describes astrology as an everyday practice, not a conscious, overarching belief system. While astrology was short-attention-span content in magazines and newspapers long before the days of clickbait, the internet alchemized it into pop-culture as a complex system of identification beyond one’s sun sign. Online occulture was born from the golden age of Tumblr and the hard work of teen self-diagnosis. Here we spot the seeds for today’s meme-y self-help content. Astrology, too, is trafficked in memes. As Jupiter and Neptune enter into Pisces this year, watch the intensifying intersection between “signs of ascendance” and profound alienation.

Under Neptune in Pisces, online life itself takes a romantic, nostalgic quality. On the cusp of the metaverse, we remember the good old days. Is it even possible to be more online than we are now? The screen will widen to touch all parts of our lives. What made the pre-platform internet good was not necessarily that we were online less, or that our attention was less fractured – it was that the internet wasn’t made of Real Name policies and blue-checks yet; we were avatars. The old web allowed us to dissolve our sense of self, not reinforce it. “Heart of an Avatar,” an e-book by Omsk Social Club to be released under the full moon in Leo on February 16th, follows a multi-entity protagonist through the back alleys of the internet. To my surprise, while reading it I felt joy. Imagining myself as an avatar online, a mutable and simultaneous self, made the ‘net feel fun again. The vision they sketch out might, in this Watery time, be back within our reach, provided we can transmute our nostalgia for Web 1.0 into the creation of protocols and platforms that will persist.

via are.na, citation desired

In the second half of the year, Jupiter will move into Aries. Our hyper-Piscean moment is brief. But the seed planted during the conjunction will grow. We may find ourselves ready to build things, not just imagine them. We need an injection of optimism, or tools to grasp it. Being in the world, whether “away from keyboard” or online, has been taxing since the conjunction of Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn on January 12 of 2020, the date most astrologers link to the beginning of the pandemic. You can feel the world groaning. This conjunction of Jupiter and Neptune portends dissolution. We’ve seen that dissolution happen negatively, a flattening of self into narrow lanes that make us feel more alone, but there’s another side to the coin. Can we see our self-splitting as fractal, as headless, as enmeshed?

The contemporary blockchain-art scene borrows aesthetic cues from Western occultism – although, in the best of cases, it aims beyond the self-serving magic of the tech culture that spawned it. Cullen Miller and Gabriel Dunne’s project Claves Angelicæ (2018) produces a sigil – a talismanic visual representation of an intention – by asking its user to silently contemplate a word of their choice before writing it to the Ethereum blockchain. The work makes a reasonable connection between cryptography and magic, and harkens to the occult practices predating chaos magic. The sigils it creates are meant to be referred to, not destroyed as a part of manifesting a desire as in chaos magic. Black Swan DAO, an arts funding experiment, votes on proposals according to phases of the moon. And the name for a suite of DAO tools released by a company aptly called Gnosis last year is named none other than Zodiac.

BELIEVING IN THE CRYPTO MARKET IS AKIN TO MAGIC; THE ODDS ARE NOT IN YOUR FAVOUR. LIKE THE LOTTERY, DESPERATION BREEDS MAGICAL THINKING.

In an echo of the sixties counterculture, there is a sense, today, of pulling community out of our asses – unsurprising after atomized individualism has, for decades, corroded the IRL social fabric. These designer DAOs are groups of people who would not otherwise interact offline; brought together by the blockchain, they launch arduous processes of discovering shared values to determine what members hold in common. They are intentional communities, and require a deep dive into organizing and cybernetic systems. As the artist Rhea Myers observed during a talk at the Radical Friends summit, they could foster new routes of escape from the daily grind of capital. Also, though, like Kei Kreutler notes in “A Prehistory of DAOs”, these DAOs are in some cases reinventing the wheel. Maybe existing techniques of flat community organizing can, as novel technologies come into being, find new applications.

Believing in the crypto market is akin to magic; the odds are not in your favour. Like the lottery, desperation breeds magical thinking. Perhaps you too have noticed the explosion in the spiritual services sector – tarot and astrology readings, energy healing, alternative medicine, yoga and the like. Providers are often sole proprietors, subjected to an algorithmically-mediated grind culture. One millennial astrologer posted a photo of their workspace, a relatable clusterfuck of post-its, whiteboards, and timelines that surely represent many months of content and services, an illustration of the small-business owner’s labour. Is this the year that precarious hustlers figure out how to cooperate? Is this the year my laptop will revert from an entrepreneurial tool to a portal into my communities?

Sunshine LSD tab from BlotterBarn via are.na

citation desired

Again, magic is a technology of imagination. Like other technologies, it can be wielded for personal gain, as in chaos magic or the self-hypnosis of manifesting (exemplified in its most joyful form by the @afffirmations Instagram account). Both beautiful and terrible things happen when we practice magic together. When used by groups — when we collectively imagine the correspondences and symbols surrounding the material world — hope can emerge. I can’t describe the world around me as anything but magic. My capacity for magic diminishes the narrower my frame of reference, the more overactive my Default Mode Network, my system on autopilot. Magic allows the user to inhabit a space outside of the default. The first step is to make contact with a mystical layer that exposes “the way things are” as manufactured and therefore mutable. And even as they (we) step outside to get a better look at what might be reimagined, the practitioner must keep one foot in the material. Sacred and profane are modern distinctions.

Down the garden path as we strive towards post-capitalist possibility is divination. A diviner is a live wire. We all want to know the future; who can blame us, immobilized by fear? The diviner reads the stars, the cards, the birds, the entrails; as a channel, they listen to what Spirit puts on their hearts. What emerges is exactly what needs to be known in that moment, a collapsing of past and future into the present. In a magical worldview, you trust that you receive what you need, when you need it. In a moment of self-undoing, a friend sends you the right meme; the music streaming platform’s algorithm delivers the illuminating track. It’s a bit like faith, a bit like love – that gooey, unknown, immaterial glue.

Love is tricky, love is kind. Self-love alone is impotent, commodified – because love is relational. Love cannot be experienced as an individual, and even “self-love” needs distance enough to behold a “self”. We learn to love ourselves through the eyes of people who love us. Heaven forbid – or, to be more precise, modernity forbid; atomisation forbid – we foreground love in our communities, in our imaginings of the future. Love transgresses and dissolves boundaries, and “community” without it is impossible. Love could soften the hard edges of speculation. Pisces invites us into the heart of love. As the final sign of the zodiac, the end of one cycle, it offers the coda to transcending the individual. At this astrological point of inflection, we could accept an invitation from the cosmos to live more relationally – not through the inflated promises of hippie cults or post-’68 collectivity, but acting through love's eyes, every day, for each other.

astrologer cat meme via are.na

citation desired

CATHERINE LEIGH SCHMIDT is a designer, astrologer, and independent researcher. She is currently a research resident at the 0x Salon in Berlin.

Thanks to DANIEL SHINBAUM for additional feedback, guidance, and ongoing conversations.

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