He laughed at his earlier idealism, his schoolboy vision of a brave new world in which justice would reign and men would be brothers. –Emile Zola, Germinal
Everything will soon come to an end, so, to pray better, keep a calm and sober mind. –Paul of Tarsus, First Epistle to Peter 4:7
. . . for whenever a society undergoes radical change, alternative spiritualities proliferate, and from among these a culture will select its new world view. –Peter Carroll, Psychonaut
“It was the year that they finally immanentized the eschaton . . .” the famous opening of The Illuminatus! Trilogy by novelist Robert Shea (1933-1994) and counterculture philosopher Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007). Once being absorbed into the underground dictionary of postmodern counterculture, the term “immanentize the eschaton” got the privilege of being uttered with a wry smile and a flippant wink. If nothing else, it sounds cool even if the word “immanentize” is jargon that kind-of –sort-of combines “imminent” (meaning about to occur) with “immanent” (meaning all-pervading) and twists adjectives into verbs. In context, “immanentize the eschaton” means “to create heaven on earth” and/or hasten the end of the world or at least the end of a consensus paradigm.
Sociopolitical commentators use it in tracts that criticize agendas that seem idealistic, romanticist—or “liberal.” That is, it is meant to be read dripping in sarcasm and ridicule of those whose agendas slouch toward social utopias.
Among Christians, the term denotes bringing on the apocalypse—the end of this world and its transfiguration into an idealized one for the Christian elite. The signs of imminence are usually immanent to certain Christians although the actual event (inferred from interpretations of Revelation) keeps receding into the future. Never mind that these Christians are anticipating something that was supposed to happen 2000 years ago. Bible scholars have pointed out that early Pauline Christianity was an end-times cult that changed its tune when the Parousia (Second Coming) didn’t occur in 70 CE when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Furthermore, the Beast and the Whore mentioned in Revelation probably refer to Nero (37-68) and ancient Rome, respectively. Still, Dispensationalist Christians, and a host of other thanatericist menaces masquerading as transcendentalists, remain undaunted.
Among counterculture occultists, the slogan “immanentize the eschaton” is associated with rhetoric about the epiphany of a New Aeon, an era of Deconstructionism and attendant ideological scrutiny and intellectual freedom. It is the end of the world as we know it . . . or as we are accustomed to it being . . . or as we are deluded and conditioned into thinking it is or is supposed to be . . . . It is not a cataclysmic conflagration as conceived by religious fundamentalists, nor is it an “ascension” to a “higher vibrational frequency” as touted by New Age gurus. It is the page turn into another era . . . the next one within the Time-Space continuum of the original long-running smash hit series As the World Turns, to be confused with the soap opera of the same name but only metaphorically.
It is gnostic in that it is viewed as a paradigmatic shift in thought but it is not associated with sociopolitical, philosophical, or spiritual utopian visions. It is hard to say whether its perspective is jaded or enlightened. It’s a little bit mongrelized Zen or Dzogchen, a little Gestalt Therapy, more than a little bit of Deconstructionism, and an interface for Hermeticism and Existentialism where the realization that nothing and everything is True may possibly confer spiritual liberation and mystical empowerment if not true civil liberties.
The term was coined by political philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) who used it in a tract that conflated certain sociopolitical ideas (such as Nazism and Communism) with his incomplete and biased understanding of Christian Gnosticism. He warned of the folly and danger of trying to create heaven on earth. One can strongly argue that creating heaven on earth as history is unfeasible, considering that one person’s heaven is another’s hell in an ecosystem where one’s pleasure is predicated on another’s pain. But this is a very ancient Oriental insight that apparently is hard to grasp in an androcentric Judeo-Christian paradigm despite perennial undercurrents of Hermeticism and New Ageism, the latter of which utterly perverts Oriental and Hermetic currents in the maw of its Western narcissisms anyway.
A passage in the counterculture classic The Principia Discordia about who should and shouldn’t be immanentizing the eschaton gives oblique insight into what New Aeon zeitgeist is:
And, behold, thusly was the Law formulated: Imposition of Order = escalation of Disorder!”
[Honest Book of Truth]; The Gospel According to Fred, 1:6]
THE FIVE ORDERS OF DISCORDIA (“THEM”)
Gen. Pandaemonium, Commanding
The seeds of the ORDERS OF DISCORDIA were planted by Greyface [an 11th century “malcontented hunchback” who taught that “play was sinful”] into his early disciples. They form the skeleton of the Aneristic Movement, which over emphasizes the Principle of Order and is antagonistic to the necessary compliment, the Principle of Disorder. The Orders are composed of persons all hung up on authority, security and control; i.e., they are blinded by the Aneristic Illusion. They do not know that they belong to Orders of Discordia. But we know.
1. The Military Order of THE KNIGHTS OF THE FIVE SIDED TEMPLE. This is for all the soldiers and bureaucrats of the world.
2. The Political Order of THE PARTY FOR WAR ON EVIL. This is reserved for lawmakers, censors, and like ilk.
3. The Academic Order of THE HEMLOCK FELLOWSHIP. They commonly inhabit schools and universities, and dominate many of them.
4. The Social Order of THE CITIZENS COMMITTEE FOR CONCERNED CITIZENS. This is mostly a grass-roots version of the more professional military, political, academic and sacred Orders.
5. The Sacred Order of THE DEFAMATION LEAGUE. Not much is known about the D.L., but they are very ancient and quite possibly were founded by Greyface himself. It is known that they now have absolute domination over all organized churches in the world. It is also believed that they have been costuming cabbages and passing them off as human beings.
A person belonging to one or more Order is just as likely to carry a flag of the counter-establishment as the flag of the establishment—just as long as it is a flag.
Don’t let THEM immanentize the Eschaton.
Of the Greyface legend and what is termed The Curse of Greyface—that is, the plight of mankind—The Principia Discordia says:
Greyface and his followers took the game of playing at life more seriously than they took life itself and were known even to destroy other living beings whose ways of life differed from their own.
The unfortunate result of this is that mankind has since been suffering from a psychological and spiritual imbalance. Imbalance causes frustration, and frustration causes fear. And fear makes for a bad trip. Man has been on a bad trip for a long time now.
The take-home message: People like Greyface have already immanentized a paradigm. Don’t extend a subscription renewal to their ilk. Those who seek to make an unwieldy world safe for themselves by self-righteously containing and controlling others, generally in the form of thought-policing . . . well, just don’t go there, Man. It’s a recipe for disaster if not business-as-usual. Vote No on Proposition Brave New World. K?
A more serious and confrontational stance on this theme is reflected in a manifesto called Liber Oz, attributed to Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). It pronounces that “There is no god but man” and that persons, therefore, are free to live, work, eat, create, love, think, speak, and die as they choose and have a right to defend these rights even unto the death (of the oppressor). The penultimate line in the manifesto, which is embellished with quotes from Liber Al vel Legis (AL; “The Book of Law”), concludes with “the slaves shall serve.” –AL. II. 58. That is, either “get it” or be mill grist. Or as Thelemic occultist/veritable rocket scientist Jack Parsons (1914-1952) said: “There is not further evasion of nature’s immemorial ultimatum: change or perish but the choice of change is ours.”
No one likes being told what to do, but civil anarchy also sucks and has proved itself untenable. Liber Oz, in context, is not talking about anarchy; it is challenging Piscean-era Judeo-Christian moral relativisms that double as straightjackets. (Jack Parsons elaborates on Liber Oz in his essay Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword, penned in the 1940s, and brings it into the realm of social politics and civil liberties.) Even the post-modern occultist slogan “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is not an anarchistic war cry; nor was it ever uttered by an 11th century ascetic Islamic fundamentalist mystic/jihadist named Hassan ibn Sabbah. (The slogan was penned by William S. Burroughs, and Sabbah only became noteworthy because the Discordian authors of The Illuminatus! Trilogy worked fanciful conspiratorial ideas about him into their novels ). It is a tip of the hat to how malleable and provisional ideas and systems are. The New Aeon is expected to be an era when this is acknowledged and done so in power-conferring freedom rather than fear. And anarchy is not to be conflated with Chaos, which is what post-modern occultists propose is at the root of the New Aeon:
Etymology: Middle English (15th century), formless primordial space, from Latin, from Greek khaos.
Chaos is defined, by standard American dictionaries as “the disordered state of unformed matter and infinite space that existed before the ordered universe [the Cosmos].”
The Concise Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (5th edition, McGraw Hill Publishers) defines Chaos (Chaos theory) as a “system behavior that depends so sensitively on the system’s precise initial conditions that it is, in effect, unpredictable and cannot be distinguished from a random process, even though it is deterministic in a mathematical sense.” The theory observes that Chaos only seems chaotic but is rather elegant design, and besides all the esoteric mathematical jargon, it is tied in with concepts about environmental adaptation and interdependent arising.
Chaos is the hypostasis—that is, the Divine Ground—of Cosmos, and it can be said that Cosmos is continually reasserting itself through drawing from its matrix. Chaos and Cosmos are two sides of the same coin: numinous and immanent Existence. The Boundless and the Measurable. Thus, Cosmos is a place where everything that can happen does happen whether or not it is someone’s idea of permissible. It is not a new concept by any means, it’s just not cool to glorify Chaos in a World where the overwhelming majority of people need structures, blinders, and neat answers to tranquilize them while being herded through cattle stalls and gauntlets toward a meat grinder.
Literary dystopias aside, the Age to come is often thought of as a “Golden” one. And that proverbial Golden Age is a revisiting of a time when everything was everyone’s idea of perfect. The kicker is that the Golden Age redux is an era in which everyone is perfectly conscious, willful, and complicated, instead of automatons like they were when things were perfect and simple. Underlying the concept is the kvetch that consciousness got us into this mess, and consciousness will get us out—once consciousness evolves beyond the limitations of the human-animal nervous system. How to imminentize it into immanence is the question and is in the realm of mysticism and occultism, not social politics.
The truth of the matter is that the Golden Age of a past or future doesn’t occur in Time or culture. It is the phenomenon of self-actualization. It occurs in select persons and has done so since hominids became self-conscious and thus were evicted from Golden Age National Park and cast adrift in the Sea of Samsara. Being a potential and a continuum, it is always now or never. There is no place to go to retrieve the Golden Age either in memory or expectation.
The New Aeon, thus, is not a time but an idiom that promotes the aspiration of self-actualization. In the context of occultism and mysticism, it is the glorification of Personal Gnosis, which is a recurring and subversive act in the annals of history. It is an ideal, which is the liberation of consciousness.
Writing in the mid-80s, Peter Carroll concludes Liber Null with predictions about the new millennium, portraying it as a disorienting period in which existing paradigms fall apart: the “death” of spirituality, superstition, identity, belief, and ideology, but death is the wrong word. Change and resistance to it is the name of the game—which we are perennially in the throes of, anyway. In Psychonaut, Carroll discusses change as it pertains to post-modern occultists and the New Aeon:
To oppose repressive forms of order which often impose themselves by evil means, magic aligns itself to a vision of chaotic good. Magic’s commitment to the good is reflected in its concern with individual freedom and consciousness and its interest in all other forms of life on this planet . . . .
This rhetoric is in fact being reified in both post-modern Paganism and sorcery/magianism. The former, which is a robustly growing and evolving alternative spirituality and cultural trend running along similar lines with New Age and yoga-chic culture, asserts spiritual, intellectual, and sexual freedom and ecological stewardship. The latter asserts spiritual, intellectual, and sexual liberation and also exposure of oppressive forces in the world-at-large through subversion of the consensus paradigm via counterculturalism and urban shamanism. On this point, Carroll says:
The chaotic aspect of new aeon magic is psychological anarchy. It is a species of operation mindfuck applied to ourselves as much as the world. [emboldened type mine] The aim is to produce inspiration and enlightenment through disordering our belief structures. Humor, random belief, counter-information, and disinformation are its techniques.
Personal Gnosis, Deconstructionism, Gestalt, and the Liberation of Consciousness . . .
To this, I will add a passage from Parson’s Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword:
It is not necessary to deny anything. It is only necessary to know ourselves. Then we will naturally seek that which is needful to our being. Our significance does not lie in the extent to which we resemble others or in the extent to which we differ from them. It lies within our ability to be ourselves. This may well be the entire object of life; to discover ourselves, our meaning. This does not come in a sudden burst of illumination; it is a constant process which continues so long as we are truly alive. The process cannot continue unobstructed unless we are free to undergo all experience and willing to participate in all existence. Then the significant questions are not “is it right” or “is it good” but rather “how does it feel” and “what does it mean.” Ultimately these are the only questions that can approach truth but they cannot be asked in the absence of freedom.
Peter Carroll. Liber Null & Psychonaut. San Francisco: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. 1987.
Aleister Crowley. Liber Oz. http://www.hermetic.com/crowley/libers/lib77.html. Accessed January 10, 2010.
Brian D. Hodges. Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted. http://old.disinfo.com/archive/pages/article/id1562/pg1/. Accessed January 10, 2010.
Jack W. Parsons. Freedom is a Two Edged Sword. Reno, Nevada: New Falcon Publications, 2001.
The Principia Discordia. http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~tilt/principia/body.html#greyface. Accessed January 10, 2010.
Wikipedia entry on Eric Voegelin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Voegelin. Accessed January 10, 2010.