In a sense, the rituals are always the same — they are the bits and pieces of behavior that our brains are wired for. What’s new are the tools we can use. When magicians in the Middle Ages suddenly had access to printed books, for instance, or forged tools and talismans, it allowed us to increase the intensity and practicality of the rituals. Now we have computers and the ‘net. I think exploring those tools as magical media is important in a few different ways.
hyperRitual: Phil, you wrote about online magic over 10 years ago. Some things have changed since then, for example we now have Second Life and Meta-Magick. Would you please explain how you became involved in this new project, what it is, and what possibilities you foresee for it?
Phil: Way back when, reading Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, I had the idea that cyberspace would be a 3D, second world kind of place, and that we should be able to create imaginative environments for ourselves in virtual reality. I immediately started speculating on VR as a magick medium, a place where we could create temples and symbols and so forth quite easily. The whole immersive VR thing has never really taken off as a mass phenom, with Second Life being one of the few exceptions — and even that isn’t all that well-known to the vast majority of web-surfers.
I’ve been following the work of Gina Pickersgill and others who have been taking NLP and a variety of healing modalities into the 3D environment of Second Life. Gina took me on a tour of her “Healing Pool” area of SL, in which she created a magick circle and ritual area. I was very impressed by the physical response the ritual area prompted in me and realized that we had the means for doing something really cool.
Myron Krueger, one of the pioneers of virtual reality, called VR “a whole new realm of human experience in which the laws of cause and effect are composed by the artist, which sounds pretty magical to me. Do you suppose that what you propose is just a cyber-skin for the old ceremony, or is something genuinely new happening here?
In a sense, the rituals are always the same — they are the bits and pieces of behavior that our brains are wired for. What’s new are the tools we can use. When magicians, in the Middle Ages, suddenly had access to printed books, for instance, or forged tools and talismans, it allowed us to increase the intensity and practicality of the rituals. Now we have computers and the ‘net. I think exploring those tools as magical media is important in a few different ways.
First, we can add intensity to our work. Recent studies have shown that watching your avatar potentiates learning in a variety of ways. It’s a weird and fairly pleasant feeling to watch your self-imagined avatar interacting. Probably more of us have experienced that thrill playing video games, and it’s even more intense when you have the power to customize the avatar and have a much greater flexibility of behavior. In the language of neuroscience that I’ve been working with, it’s a great way to get your mirror neurons involved — and these are the parts of the brain intricately tied in with our ability to create symbols and metaphors.
Second is the sense of connection that many people feel when using the ‘net. When the ‘net first started gaining popularity in the ’90s, quite a few theorists claimed that it would be a kind of dry and emotionless realm because it wouldn’t substitute for the sense of connection that humans feel in face-to-face encounters. In reality, humans are way more flexible than these theorists considered and we not only adapt, but find ways to intensify the connections. This is illustrated by the popularity of, for instance, social networking, cybersex, and so on.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, I think we have to place all of our new technology in contexts where it can be used for things other than simply making money. In a sense, we have to spiritualize it, to realize that our human aspirations and imagination are more important than the financial bottom line.
There exists a popular notion (which I disagree with) that video game playing lacks imagination, that it is only slightly less passive than watching television. On the other end of the spectrum, magic often involves active imagination — projected visualizations, intended hallucinations, and the like. What do you think about constructing virtual artifacts that mediate our magical experiences? What happens when instead of interacting with entities on the “astral plane,” we interact with SL items that simulate such entities with more or less fidelity? Can we simultaneously and/or complementarily use both astral and virtual entities in magic?
I think the “astral plane” can best be defined as the realm of imagination and when we create imaginatively in any media, we are simultaneously using that media and the “astral” as well. When a traditional magician uses pen and ink to write an invocation, or creates a sigil on paper, or forges tools for ritual use, he or she is already using both the imaginative and the “real.” I think that using SL will be a difference of tools, but not of kind.
Anyway, as I said, I was very impressed with Gina’s virtual temple space and thought it as powerful as many “real world” temples I’ve visited. As to how the Meta-Magick entities will turn out in SL, that’s what we’re going to experiment with in this workshop. I think it’s going to be very cool and very effective, though I suggest we all allow for a learning curve.
Similar to the previous question, but let’s talk about body consciousness for a moment (which, by the way, was important to Krueger who said that physical participation is the key distinction of virtual reality, and “rather than denying the body, virtual reality reconnects it to the life of the mind”): What do you think about physical interaction with Second Life, with most of it mediated by a computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse (but note that developments in gestural interfaces, e.g. the Wii remote, are making available a greater variety of physical interactions)? What may be lost or gained by, say, watching your SL avatar perform the LBRP when you press a key sequence, vs. getting up and doing the motions yourself?
There was a study not too long ago in which participants watched their avatars run on a treadmill or not run on a treadmill. The ones who watched themselves run felt much stronger urges to actually get on a treadmill and exercise. Very simply, watching human-like images activates our mirror neuron system and our minds make an internal model of the behavior and, in effect, try it on for size. The MNS is composed largely of motor neurons, of brain cells that otherwise are used to move muscles and perform actions. As a result there is something visceral about watching an avatar of yourself move. It’s even more powerful when you are controlling the avatar yourself.
It’s somewhat like the response we have when we read a book or watch a movie. We sympathize with the characters, feel what they do, and perhaps even emulate it in our lives. It might be an even stronger response using a personalized avatar, because the image is even more strongly self-identified.
With that said, I always like to emphasize the idea that magick is about what we do in the world. What we do in the temple, in ritual, is preparation, alignment and configuration of self so that we can better act in the real world. Do the ritual in your real, astral or virtual temple. Then get your ass out into the world and make use of what you’ve done.
Hear, hear. Where can people go to get more info about this event, participate, contact you, etc?
Event page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?sk=messages&ref=mb#!/event.php?eid=159160737432788
It’s a free workshop, but we ask that everyone register in advance, so we know who to expect. We also ask that if you are new to SL, you get in and practice moving around and using the basics before the workshop.
Check out the video, “Phil Farber in Second Life Magick and Virtual Worlds.”