“In the pragmatist, streetwise climate of advanced postmodern capitalism, with its scepticism of big pictures and grand narratives, its hard-nosed disenchantment with the metaphysical, ‘life’ is one among a whole series of discredited totalities. We are invited to think small rather than big…
…As far as belief goes, postmodernism prefers to travel light: it has beliefs, to be sure, but it does not have faith.”
We live in a secular world. It is hard to live a spiritual life in this age when every household is helmed by a pair of worn-out “dual wage-earners” who bleed themselves dry every day just to keep on living. Does art make it all worth it? Or is it just a distraction as we wait to expire?
A Nameless Ghoul explains the title of Ghost’s third album Meliora:
“I think that the super-correct translation [from Latin] is ‘for the pursuit of something better,’ or ‘all things better,’ or something like that. It is actually more thematical with the lyrical content and the backdrop that we wanted to paint … a super-urban, metropolitan, pre-apocalyptic, dystopic futuristic thing. The title is more implying, ironically, this zenith that we think that we have reached. We’re always building higher, and we’re always getting a little bit faster, and everybody keeps earning a little bit more money, and everybody gets a little bit taller and a little bit tighter and a little bit… It’s a constant improvement that we’re hysterically trying to achieve.” (Blabbermouth)(parenthetical comment in original)
But the name ‘Ghost’ is also a clear reference to the Holy Spirit, and it is here that the ascension of Ghost and Huntress dovetails perfectly.
There is a Huntress song called “Aradia” on the first album, and one day I looked up the name. Lore on the net is scarce, but I found a few scattered references to the Italian witch of yore, and at least one reverent tribute. I know no more of the latter’s author, Raven Grimassi, than a wiki will yield, but he seems to be a published authority on witchcraft. In contemplating Millennial social progress and a new Age receptive to a less monolithic Christian god, Grimassi mentions a Catholic mystic named Joachim of Fiore who existed in the Twelfth century. I would love to ground the thoughts here with a footnote to some kind of original source material, but I have neither Joachim’s texts nor Latin at my disposal. Yet, when playing in the realm of myth and archetype, perhaps it is not always necessary to ground every idea with a footnote, but to let the archetype speak for itself.
This Catholic mystic, Joachim, predicted a third Age, a new Age of Reason, when the Age of the Son would give way to the Age of the Holy Spirit. In this new era organized religion would become redundant, as God’s children would learn to see beyond the literal words of scripture. Around 1300 A.D., Joachim’s prophecy inspired a cult. In rather bold contravention of the patriarchal rules of the day, the cult held a lady, one Guglielma of Milan, to be the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. It also anointed one of its members the female Pope (more on that below). This sect, Grimassi says, laid the groundwork for the resurgence of the goddess Diana as an object of worship in Italy– and also for the rise of the witch Aradia in the Fourteenth century.
In keeping with this fine millenialist tradition, I would suggest that we do live in The Age of the Holy Spirit, or Joachim’s Age of Reason. But the emblems of Reason are not the physical fruits of the intellect, the bombs, factories, planes, trains, and automobiles that threaten to hasten our demise on a global level.
Perhaps true Reason owes a debt for the free time rendered possible by those machines of industrialization, and also for the printing press and interlinked computers and the attendant widespread accessibility of knowledge enjoyed by the common man– all which renders possible a level of self-reflection and self-mythologizing that was not readily available to our forefathers. I might complain about having to work a lot, but I still have an unprecedented power to gather intelligence through all these square portals.
In a very conditional way, The New Age man of reason also owes a debt to the hard sciences that, in their merciless assault on Western religion, have made it quite easy for many of us to decouple ourselves from traditional religious dogma.
Joachim of Flora describes the “experience of illumination given after mental striving in terms of the city seen intermittently by the approaching pilgrim, or of the spirit breaking through the hard rind of the letter” [of scripture](Britannica). Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to be badly missing the point.
It can be surmised that Joachim, were he among us today, would see the common man’s victory over literal scriptural interpretation to be a boon of our Age. But on the other hand, Joachim would surely throw down the gauntlet before giving one inch to physicalism, determinism, and cultural relativism, those unfortunate dogmas of our age that are gobbled up as gospel by the Western masses. Rather, the true hallmarks of the Age of Reason are a collection of more liberating, self-replicating programs for self-actualization: start with the para-romanticist, para-millenialist 18th/19th century German metaphysical idealists: Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.***
*** (Why do I invoke those well-nigh impenetrable maestros? Just to be obscurantist and pretentious? No. Those guys represent a major turning point in the history of thought– the watershed being Kant’s own version of the “Copernican Revolution”, wherein the locus of reality was moved out of the “thing” and into the “observer”. People who find the Copernican metaphor oddly inverted may be taking the metaphor too literally [compare to Heliocentrism, in which any subject we are likely to care about is the one that revolves around the fixed object] — I think the point of the metaphor is to accentuate the importance of the observer’s position, or alternatively, to signify a massive shift of perspective.)
Pair the aforesaid with science of a fine vintage. In the hundred years after Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit was published in 1807, science was busy with the discovery of cathode rays, black-body radiation, and in 1877, discrete energy states. That wave culminated in Albert Einstein’s 1905 explanation of the photo-electric effect, then the theory of Relativity, and finally, the advent of quantum physics. While contemporary philosophy and mathematics are only beginning to understand the depth of their interrelationship (see the n lab), I believe that Hegel’s version of natural science and logic is much more compelling in the light of Quantenmechanik.
To this feast add a final course, its name coined by the great psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung– SYNCHRONICITY (Paul Levy’s note on synchronicity is as inspiring and as good as any). As Maynard J. Keenan said in an interview around the time Ænima came out:
You literally have a third eye in your head… It’s your pineal gland and it is an eye. It focuses light. People talk about dolphins and whales being more evolved, because they have a better breathing element. If you do meditation, you understand the idea of the Prana, breathing in light through the pineal gland. In mythology, there’s talk about how people used to breathe that way, but over time, they began to breathe more through the mouth. That’s the connection that we’ve forgotten … Your consciousness is like a radio frequency. If you turn the dial, all those radio stations are there simultaneously. You can dial in to hear what station you want to hear. Consciousness is the same way. Through meditation, you can alter that, you can come upon an alternate reality. Drugs is a shortcut to that. The trick is to really understand the medium you used to get there.
I don’t know if the pineal gland really is a “mind/body” nexus– that’s been a debate since René Descartes. (Is there anyone out there who is still a Dualist anyway?) What I do know is that synchronicity works, and it’s not selective perception. It’s about harmonizing the radio station in your mind with the radio station in your external reality. Normally, it’s not a power we can actively harness, but a passive phenomenon. A sign, a gift from the Gods, a startling coincidence. But by becoming more in tune with yourself– whatever that means– you can sharpen your receptivity to it. Those patterns enable you and me to discover sense in the comet-size chunk of competing particle-ideas that hurtle through us, and to weave from its tail a meaningful self. The Kingdom of the Holy Spirit is a sum of souls connected by a higher plane. Whether it is necessary to define souls as “bodies” and higher planes as “constructs of language” is up to you. Let’s also agree that what we need on this rather sad local region of the spacetime continuum named Earth is leaders, spiritual and otherwise, that are in tune with that higher plane.
About twenty years ago, when I was first truly opening my mind to the higher planes (the shortcut mentioned by Keenan played a prominent role), my favorite bands were Alice In Chains and Nirvana. If “synchronicity” was just a matter of selective perception and wish fulfillment, I feel like those two bands would have figured more prominently in my experiences of synchronicity. But for some reason, I consistently had experiences of synchronicity that involved TOOL and The Smashing Pumpkins. I think that might be because the leaders of the latter bands are especially open to synchronicity and magick. Today my favorite band is Huntress, and I am having music-related experiences of synchronicity again after a very long drought. Why don’t I have synchronicity involving Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, or Ghost, who I also love? I think the answer is obvious. On Easter of 1300, a band of heretics in Milan declared Maifreda Visconti da Pirovano their Pope. Let’s just say their efforts were a little premature. But our Age is ready for a female pope, and this time her followers won’t all be burned at the stake. Jill Janus of Huntress, with her open embrace of magick and nature worship, represents the antithesis of the “super-urban, pre-apocalyptic” techno-utopianism that Ghost warns of. She embodies the rare, positive alternative to metal’s mainly “negative” critique of existing societal norms and structures.
Well, there you have it– my attempt to explore some of the broader themes in two of my favorite artists today.