Aeons Past & Present

This was written in 1998, originally intended for the final part of Towards 2012, themed ‘Apocalypse’, and my intention was to use a simplistic model to summarise my ideas about time, history and evolution. As I thinned down my conceptions of this final part, focussing it solely on specifically apocalyptic ideas, this extensive piece was left to languish on my hard drive.

Now I’m finally publishing it, of course it contains many points and ideas I’d probably not agree with now, but these things deserve to stand on their own feet, however aged… It should be mentioned that this predates by a long way my encounter with Ramsey Dukes’ excellent elaborations of the Thelemic Aeonic model, recently collected in What I Did In My Holidays (Mandrake Press, 1998). Encountering these ideas at the time of writing this essay would no doubt have influenced things here a lot, and confused me greatly.

Our experience of the world is governed by many structures: our bodies, our emotions, our mental processes, our physical environments (natural and constructed), our cultures, our social circles… The most basic structures of existence seem to be those which encompass it all: space and time.

These are very broad terms that seem to refer to concrete ‘things’, namely our physical sense of place and movement, and our mental feeling of ‘moving forwards’ from one moment to another. But if we step for a while outside the habits of perception we’ve accumulated, we may see that space and time are actually malleable, mutable and extremely fluid. Any fixed idea of them is in fact an illusory construct—a false representation, a consensus belief which has hardened into an unconscious assumption, moulding our immediate experience from ‘behind the scenes’.

Space and time are qualities of the world that manifest in different forms for different consciousnesses. The space and time of a dolphin is very different from that of a bat; both are very different from our space and time. Thus, when we say “space” and “time”, we actually mean “human space” and “human time”. Sometimes we may even mean “human English space/time” or “human London space/time”; often we mean “my space/time”. Our perception of time has more to do with how we behave and how our bodies and minds are structured than it has to do with being an abstract, ever-lasting medium. Psychedelic drugs are a good indicator of how the experience of time is dependent on other factors. A minute addition to your body chemistry can do very drastic things to the idea that time is an untouchable, ever-forward-flowing medium that we pass through.

Space and time are, of course, seen in post-Einstein scientific terms, part of one space-time continuum. Space has come to be seen not as a vacant ‘absence’ in which ‘things’ move around, but as the very fabric in which material processes are embedded. Time, it seems, remains a much more mysterious aspect of this continuum. Space is fine—we can walk over to the park and walk back again, or even pop into the pub on the way. But time appears to be an intangible one-way street, an irreversible forwards flow over which we have little or no control.

Terence McKenna has described evolution as a progressive conquering of dimensions; from aimless floating about in the sea, to increasing mobility and control of the spatial environment, to our ‘conceptual control’ of time through writing and documentation. Despite this conceptual control, we still seem to experience time as a dimension that controls us, that carries us along to our deaths. It’s this lack of control (and fear of death) that imbues time with such mystery, and stimulates our interest in figuring it all out.

There are many inspired quantum physicists who have been working for quite a while on breaking the apparent limitations of time down. But here I’m not going to be concerned with the science end of the spectrum. I want to look at the ‘history of time’, how cultures through the ages seem to have perceived time, and how these perspectives can help us model our different ‘time trances’—our key modes of perceiving time in the present—and open up possibilities for the ‘future of time’.

I’ll mostly be talking about time and not space, despite their scientific unity. I think the constructs of time through which we perceive the world conditions and limits so many aspects of our lives—actually, all of our lives—that it deserves special attention from those concerned with unwinding conditioning and dissolving limitations.

Time in the past

The central aspect of the study of time is the contrast between abstract and experienced time, between our models of time and our feeling of time. These two aspects of time will be referred to as ‘measured time’ and ‘human time’.

Abstract calendars like our own give us a conceptual habit of visualizing time as a ‘line’—linear time. Think of time-charts showing the past to the left, going forward in time to the right. Think of one for us humans, going back to the first ape flipping out up to the present moment.

Now think of the infinite complexity of the present world; the billions and billions of people out there with entirely different worldviews; the thousands of different overlapping cultures, many with radically different notions of time to yours; the unfathomable ranges of human consciousness going on out there, from ecstatic experiences of eternity to frustrated feelings of finitude and transience, from perspectives of dizzying freedom and complexity to painfully narrow experiences of senseless repetition and conformity; the different seasons (or lack of seasons) in different climates; all those people thinking “Shit!” as the alarm tells them it’s time to trudge down to the factory, and all those people wandering home in the small hours, full of crystal-clear glee after an all-night party. Think of all this seething on the planet’s surface, turning in on itself and then radiating out at impossible angles.

Now project the enormity of this bubbling vista back along that time-line; back beyond the point where people realized Earth was more than a few thousand years old; back beyond the point where people started writing and accumulating any idea of ‘history’ at all; way back, where our ideas of possible pasts multiply beyond number into a bewildering network of alternative time-lines radiating out from the present moment…

Evidently, linear time has the same bearing on reality as a CV has on personality. It’s merely a crude indication, which inevitably distorts, and is only useful for really mundane stuff.

The model of history1 I’ll be using as a tool to open up different cans of worms in the study of time is an aeonic model that has emerged from chaos magick.2 It has a linear element, and is extremely simplified, but its roots in a magickal current immediately remind us that essentially it’s a myth. It can be seen as a post-scientific mythical model of measured time, which is still relevant to human time in that it may also be made to refer to present modes of consciousness—time trances. Although it does relate to scientific models, its lack of ‘scientific status’ allows us enough space to see it as our own mythical construct of the past, of the ‘inner levels of history’.

To explain: From one point of view, Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime myths, describing ancestor-beings roaming around the landscape forming and naming this waterhole and that hill, are distorted simplifications of complex geological processes that sculpted the continent’s surface, and the activities of predecessors long lost in the past. From another viewpoint—the one we’ll take here!—they are sophisticated and elegant stories that give humans, within their limitations, some intuitive comprehension of the land’s past. These stories of the past also relate to the present. The myths form a deftly codified, usable navigational map for long walks (see Bruce Chatwin’s excellent The Songlines). Also, the journeys and deeds of the ancestor-beings, and thus the landscape, underpin Aboriginal social organization and ritual activity.

My Aeonic model is not a story in the same sense as Dreamtime myths; but it is a story, and an elegant one, for those who have come out the other side of Science and seen the essentially fictional nature of culture’s version of reality. More importantly, it’s accessible. Although it becomes richer in meaning (and more obviously simplified and ‘mythical’) the more you learn about history, you don’t have to spend all your spare time studying history to grasp it.

To compare again with Aboriginal culture, it has to be remembered that Aborigines (at least until Europeans and alcohol arrived) put as much energy, if not more, into understanding their Dreamtimes as academics put into understanding ‘history’. But tribal understanding flows through art, ritual and social life, not through intellectual research. Their understanding of the past is firmly entwined with their present, the very activities that sustain their social, emotional and spiritual energies.

Intellectual study—whether as part of academic institutions or outside them—is our only consciously codified tradition of understanding the past, and unfortunately it often amounts to an alienation from the present. There is a place for models of understanding that align more easily with the chaotic nature of our culture.

My Aeonic model

This is a rough illustration of the model, showing the bindu-like ‘Zero Aeon’ in the centre, surrounded by the Five Aeons, and transcended by the Pandaemonaeon:

aeonic

While the model is designed to emphasise non-linearity, there is a flow which corresponds to our conception of linear history, moving from the First Aeon (roughly corresponding to the lunar-based Paleolithic), to the Second Aeon (the solar-based Neolithic and metal ages), to the Third Aeon (the historical monotheisms), to the Fourth Aeon (science and imperialism), to the Fifth Aeon—current chaos. The inadequacies and resonances of this linear path will be explored fully; for now it’s sufficient to grasp its basics.

While looking at the Five Aeon model, a common reaction among magickians and pagans will be to map the five Aeons onto the traditional five elements. The First might be water, due to its oceanic communal ecstasies and association with lunar/menstrual rhythms. The Second, fire: agricultural concern with the sun and the ‘heat’ of fertility. The Third, air: abstraction and the over-valuation of the intellect. The Fourth, earth: materialism, everything understood in literal terms. The Fifth, spirit: more than the sum of the rest, containing all possibilities.

This is all a little forced, though, as are most correspondences. For instance, the Second Aeon’s concern with agriculture could well associate it with earth rather than fire. But it reminds us that the model can be seen to refer to modes of experience as well as periods in the past. It is only through apprehending the Aeons as mythical models of present experience—represented in the form of our stories about the past—that we can undercut the illusion that our present culture is some sort of pinnacle of development. I’ve arranged the Aeons in the diagram in a roughly pentagonal fashion to remind us of their magickal, non-linear underpinnings. I’ve also used a so-called ‘inverse’ pentagonal arrangement, again too undercut the ‘pinnacle’ illusion.

It should be stressed that it is essentially a myth for post-industrial societies. I’ll mostly be referring to the evolution of cultures in Europe that have culminated in our post-colonial Western technocracy (though I’ll draw on other cultures to highlight our losses and to keep in mind the multiplicity and non-linearity of our species). The narratives I’ll dish out are eurocentric in terms of history—but not in terms of prejudice or value-judgement. It’s not intended to exclude other cultures, but to understand our own. It only makes sense in linear, ‘progressive’ terms when seen from the point of view of post-industrial culture.

However, no ‘progress’ is assumed—quite the opposite. Being told from the point of view of a contemporary magickal current, it is biased in seeing a ‘downward’ trend in history, away from ecstasy and magick. There is an eventual ‘return’, giving it a cyclic flavour. If one chooses to relate it, as I will, to the archaeological record, its apparently linear structure breaks down into Aeonic overlaps and fractals. The Aeons bleed into each other. Even today, there are some people in the British Isles whose lives have more in common with the Second Aeon than the Fifth. And despite the onslaught of Western imperialism, there are still people in the world today living very much in the First Aeon. When we try to view the Aeons historically, such overlaps and interweaving is evident throughout. Again, the strictly linear element is only part of the picture, and is itself a way of mythologizing the West’s descent into profane time and loss of ecstasy.

Today, many people brought up in Fifth Aeon cultures have reverted to a pseudo-Second or even pseudo-First Aeon existence. Of course, this is one of the features of the current Fifth Aeon: it is where history begins to ‘open up’ and allow elements of ‘past’ Aeons into the present, blending different Aeonic tendencies and creating ever more hybrid Aeonic styles. In chaos magick theory, this development is the seed of the Pandaemonaeon (Pan-Daemon-Aeon), the melting post-historical pot of possibilities. Here we see the mythical relevance of the model to the present world: it is both a story of the past, and a story of today’s world, where the illusion of historical progress collapses into collisions between cultural styles from across the palette of human history.

First Aeon: Oceanic

  • Key technologies: stone tools, slings for carrying babies, fire, psychedelic plants, language
  • Social organization: hunter-gatherer, the band
  • Spirituality: shamanism—animal spirits, ancestors, ecstatic trance ceremonies, communal participation
  • Time: cyclic, lunar/menstrual rhythms

It is probable that the first calendars were lunar calendars.3 The rhythm of the moon’s waxing and waning is the most basic part of nature from which we can measure time. The rising and setting of the sun is perhaps more basic, giving us the unit of the ‘day’, but the sun is a constant shining ball of fire. The position on the horizon where it rises and sets alters through the year, but this, like the movements of the stars, is much less obvious than the moon’s phases. So the ‘moon’—about 28.5 days—became the first unit of time measurement longer than the day (and is still with us as the slightly longer ‘month’, altered to fit a solar year). Bones with etched marks on them, apparently notches counting lunar cycles, have been found dating back to the Palaeolithic, over 30,000 years ago. These early temporal calculations were probably connected to hunting schedules and other communal rituals.

The other natural rhythms associated with the moon are the ebb and flow of the tides, and the menstrual period in the human female. The first is scientifically associated with the moon through gravitational forces, and may have played a part in early human conceptions of time. The second is the subject of a lot of controversy in terms of its lunar associations. The average menstrual cycle lasts about the same time as a ‘moon’, but not many modern women’s periods conform to this. Some say this is due to electric lighting, which abolishes our sensitivity to darkness and the moon’s subtle light; but perhaps it is, like the seasons, simply not a totally regular phenomenon.

Still, whatever regularity there is today is certainly affected by modern contraceptives, the stresses of post-industrial culture, and by the needless fuck-ups imposed by a deep history of repressing and despising bodily functions, especially women’s bodily functions. Women’s periods were probably more regular in prehistoric times, but then again they still had fires to ‘disrupt’ nature’s light and dark. Regularity may have been reinforced by synchronization, where groups of women in close social and emotional contact begin to menstruate in synchrony. There is a lot of debate about the role menstruation may have played in prehistory,4 but it seems obvious that women’s periods would have been at least associated with the earliest measurements of time—or even with the emergence of the concept of time itself. The words ‘moon’, ‘month’, and ‘menstruation’ aren’t related by chance.

So the first calendars were not ‘abstract’. They were ‘organic’, anchored to natural rhythms. If it’s accepted that lunar calendars were used to co-ordinate social rituals and hunting, we can see that human, experienced time corresponded tangibly with measured time. In other words, if it’s time for the full moon feast, you can see why—just look up there. Such an intimate association of measured and human time, and a lack of written solidification of the past, leads to present-oriented consciousness. (We should remember the language of the Hopi Indians, which contains no past or future tenses: all ‘past’ or ‘future’ events are spoken of in certain variations of the present tense.)

‘The ancestors’ probably formed a focus of shamanic activity in the First Aeon, as they do in contemporary hunter-gatherer (and many other) cultures. In Life Against Death, Norman O. Brown (a rampant Freudian with some great ideas) argues that ancestor-based religion denies death. The inability to accept the finality of death, he says, is at the root of our inability to live life to the full. Fear of death undermines our pleasure in life.

Fear of death, of course, comes from an inability to accept birth, separation from the mother, a separation experienced as a kind of dying—the death of unification and the birth of separate individual existence. This may be likened to the birth of humanity, emergent self-consciousness breaking us away from the unified matrix of animal consciousness. Archaic humans, according to Brown, ‘conquer death’ by living the life of dead ancestors; in many hunter-gatherer tribes today, each person is seen as being infused with the spirit of an ancestor. “This is the pattern of eternal return. Hence archaic society has no real history; and within archaic society there is no individuality. There is no history because there is no individuality; individuality is asserted by breaking with the ancestral archetypes and thus making history.”

Whether or not you think societies like this ‘deny death’ depends on your views on death. Brown sees it as The End. It may well be—but we don’t know. Extreme trance states like ‘near-death’ experiences and potent psychedelic trips sometimes leave people with the conviction that death is merely a transition, and only ‘death’ to the body and ego. But we won’t really know until we snuff it. Accepting death—for us, now, at least—seems to be more to do with accepting Uncertainty than accepting The End.

Still, the First Aeon remains the most ‘present-conscious’ phase of history so far. Christopher Gosden has argued that “There has never been a period in the last 3.5 million years in which natural rhythms were human rhythms, and we have no evidence that Palaeolithic groups were in tune with, or at the mercy of the environment.” For him, “Biological rhythms are to human time what sex is to gender; a biological structure that is always worked on culturally.” I tend to agree with the last point, and of course he’s ultimately in the right about there being no evidence of what was really going on in the Palaeolithic.

But I’m interested in to what extent natural rhythms were modified by culture. Hakim Bey, in ‘Immediatism‘, calls for a banishment of mediation in artistic activities, but he is no fool. He admits from the start that “All experience is mediated”—by our bodies and minds at the very least—and calls for a banishment of mediation “at least to the extent that the human condition allows.” Palaeolithic lunar-based time structures are certainly a natural rhythm “worked on culturally”. But I feel that this cultural modification was minimal, to the extent that the existence of culture allows.

The First Aeon represents low environmental impact and nomadism. Again, there is no such thing as living at one with nature (at least in the narrow worlds of thought and prose that we’re in now), but First Aeon lifestyles represent the greatest degree of harmony between human life and the natural environment, to the extent that being human allows.

This Aeon is invoked in experiences of ‘oceanic consciousness’, a trance that dissolves all inner/outer boundaries, where time is nothing and the body is all (and all is the body). One perceives one’s continuity with the flow of nature, the Tao. Contact with nature spirits and primal energies. Chaos language and glossolalia. Polymorphous sexuality and the group mind.

These statements are not intended to gloss over the harsher aspects of actual life in the First Aeon, or the infinite complexities of the early phases of human culture. They merely attempt to describe our ‘key gnosis’ of that Aeon, the First Aeon as a present reality in the possibilities of our experience. It does of course have its ‘negative’ potentials, mainly due to the interference patterns arising between our ego-dominated Aeon and this deeper level of consciousness. I’m not saying that Palaeolithic humans never had a bad time, but that for us First Aeon gnosis can be flipped by the residues of the ego into deep existential terror and fear of death.

For the purposes of this human-centred model, this Aeon overlaps a lot with pre-human atavisms—animal, plant, or even inorganic consciousness. For this reason, I’ve postulated a ‘Zero Aeon’ from which all Aeons emanate, infusing all Aeons, containing non-human, organic and inorganic modes of ecstasy: animal group-minds, tree consciousness, rock consciousness, ‘The Great Old Ones’, possibly also non-terrestrial modes, alien dimensions…

Second Aeon: Seasonal cycles

  • Key technologies: agriculture, metallurgy, architecture, transport
  • Social organization: agricultural settlements, the tribe, small cities, divine royalty
  • Spirituality: paganism—nature gods & goddesses, first ‘religions’, priesthood elites
  • Time: cyclic, solar/seasonal rhythms

With the development of agriculture, new measurements of time were needed. The cultivation of crops relied on knowledge of the right times to sow and reap, and these times are dictated by the movements of the sun.

Of course, we’re actually talking about the movements of the Earth, as it spins in its orbit around the sun. As the planet’s axis is tilted slightly, at certain points in its orbit the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun, and this hemisphere (where agriculture originated) enters winter. The solstices and equinoxes form the basic reference points of the solar year—the longest and shortest days, and the days when the hours of light and dark are equal. Megalithic monuments constructed to pinpoint these solar reference points are common, and as nexuses of social and/or ritual activity, they demonstrate the profound bonds in earlier Aeons between the environment, measured time, and human activities in the world.

The winter solstice seems to have become an important point in the year for agricultural communities. It is the death of the sun, the longest night; but it is also the rebirth of the sun, the point from which days grow longer and longer. The Neolithic passage grave at Newgrange in Ireland is famously connected to the winter solstice. It is constructed so that as the solstice sun rises, a thin shaft of light penetrates the tomb through a narrow slit, illuminating the back wall of the burial chamber for about seventeen minutes. Such an elaborately constructed monument shows how important the cycles of the sun were to the agricultural Neolithic.

Time is connected to sex, and to death. The reborn sun’s shaft of light is seen by some to represent a big cock penetrating the darkness of the tomb/womb, bestowing life on the concealed dead. The connection between time and death has been most succinctly expressed by William Burroughs: “Death needs time for what it kills to grow in.” (Dead City Radio) It is also expressed mythically in the Indian black goddess Kali, “the symbol of the active cosmic power of eternal time . . . she signifies annihilation: through death or destruction creation, the seed of life, emerges.” (Mookerjee & Khanna, The Tantric Way) So we might tantrically elaborate on Burroughs by saying: “Time needs death for what it grows to die in.”

When discussing the sun ‘reanimating the dead’ in Newgrange, we may well be moving into metaphorical realms, where we may speak of death and birth in terms of decaying and emerging ideas, identities, beliefs and forms within the world of the living. No one with all their marbles intact believes in the literal, bodily resurrection of the dead; but metaphorical resurrection of the dead, whether in terms of ancestor spirits or solar-agricultural beliefs in cyclicity, is obviously a powerful focus in early Aeons for time-transcending structures of belief.

‘Metaphorical’ here does not mean ‘unreal’ or ‘abstract’. It refers to aspects of life that evade our definition of ‘literal’. We, looking back, can only describe the death and birth of the sun, or the resurrection of the dead, as metaphorical, lacking a better word. But imagine a Neolithic priestess waiting with supremely focused awe and expectation for the winter solstice sunlight inside Newgrange… drums pounding, consciousness altering, senses honed and opened… That dazzling shaft of light would have induced a psychosomatic fusion of mythical perceptions and ecstatic feelings of such potency that if you could have gone up to her afterwards and told her what had just happened was ‘unreal’ and ‘abstract’, she would have rightly smacked you in the face for being impertinent.

An important point to note here, as we’re using Newgrange as a ‘testing ground’ for ideas, is that, due to the size of the chamber, only a small group of people could have witnessed this great event at the solstice. The monument was probably built by hundreds of people. Evidently we’ve got major social division going on here, with some kind of priest-class attending to important rituals. Such social division probably emerged very early on in human culture—look at the Ice Age cave paintings in France, small recesses which were only accessible through narrow and convoluted passages.

But as far as temporal reference-points go, people of the First Aeon can see their moon wax and wane whoever and wherever they were. In the Second Aeon, larger social groups lead to greater social stratification. Monuments like Newgrange, which is not unique, demonstrate how human creativity and engineering became necessary to focus the less tangible solar reference-points. And the focal points were only accessible to a chosen few. The social divisions were not necessarily as closely linked with oppression and control as our experience of social divisions has conditioned us to expect, but they were there.

Second Aeon time is still cyclic, but it seems that broader units of measured time lead to a greater gulf between measured and human time. ‘Present-consciousness’ seems to be squashed a bit and made more diffuse by awareness of longer time spans.

The Second Aeon sees the development of the first major calendars. The Mayan calendar is a fine example of a large-scale pagan calendar, and one whose existence nicely demonstrates the non-linear, non-progressive nature of ‘global time’. Firstly, this Second Aeon culture was just emerging in Mesoamerica when European cultures were ‘progressing’ well into their Third Aeon. Secondly, studies of the calendar have shown that the Mayans (or at least the Mayan priests) were capable of envisioning spans of measured time up to 6,000 years, possibly into the tens of thousands.

Compare this with the Christian church’s record. In the seventeenth century, the Archbishop of Armargh, James Usher, famously worked out that Earth was created in 4,004 BCE—using the genealogical evidence from that venerable work of historical accuracy, the Bible. This chronology only came into question through pioneering geological work in the mid-nineteenth century.

From this we can see several things. Our culture is not some sort of pinnacle of knowledge. Also, greater spans of measured time (like the Mayan calendar) do not necessarily imply more and more abstraction from the present and from ecstasy—the Mayans were well versed in ecstatic experience. Nor do greater spans of measured time imply a greater level of technological development (or vice versa), as a linear view of the history of time might imply—the Mayans were a technologically stone age culture.

The Second Aeon represents a more settled lifestyle, and a deeper level of imposition on the environment, though this activity is still felt to be interactive. The Earth is still felt to be a living being, but it is worked upon, worked with, cultivated. Simple First Aeonic reverence for natural landscape features is embellished with physically constructed landscape features like megalithic temples and tombs. The first large towns and cities emerge, sowing the seeds of withdrawal from the natural environment. The first signs of written languages appear.

It is interesting to note here the common view that preliterate cultures—’traditional’ peoples—are not given to development and ‘progress’. This is a prejudice. Deep immersion in cyclic time does not preclude cultural and spiritual evolution and transformation. Preliteracy merely limits significant material, technological progress. As soon as writing was invented, and material technologies like metal-working and more efficient methods of transport were developed, it seems that human society entered a faster, more frenetic stream of evolution. One in which technological evolution far outruns cultural and spiritual evolution.

The Second Aeon is invoked in experiences of interactive trance, where individual identity is maintained to an extent, but relationship to the environment is harmonious and involved. Personal ecstasy that can be transmitted and received—shared. Awareness that the experience has begun and will end is sometimes present, but the anxiety this knowledge can cause can be worked through and transformed into creative energy. Contact with godforms which have emerged from long-term large-scale human belief, expressing personal and social drives and qualities. Poetry and song. Sex in terms of defined but playful and inter-changeable roles. Ego interference can cause rather intense (though potentially more creative) versions of the Third Aeon trance—see later.

Third Aeon: History

  • Key technologies: writing, large-scale transport & architecture
  • Social organization: the family, city-states, empires, divine royalty
  • Spirituality: monotheism (‘one god’)—ecstatic religion driven underground, competing religions violently suppressed, paganism appropriated & abstracted
  • Time: linear, eschatological (‘the end of the world’), natural rhythms desacralized, sacred time seen as existing far in the past or future

Between the Second and Third Aeons we have, from the magickal point of view, a cataclysmic transformation: the development of monotheism.5 Along with this dictatorial cosmology came the brutal suppression of ecstatic traditions, which were rightly seen to undermine the spiritual authority of the priesthoods—and thus their political power. First-hand spirituality became a touchy subject in an era where second-hand spirituality was one of the major political tools of suppression and control.

Of course, polytheistic paganism and ecstatic first-hand spirituality did not vanish. The actual conflicts and interactions of history are far more complex than that. Pagan elements are in fact the source of many major elements in the monotheistic religions. Jesus is certainly a mutation of pagan vegetation or solar gods, being born oh! so close to the midwinter solstice when the sun is reborn, and coming back to life in springtime after his literalized shamanic ‘death’. Pagan elements were subsumed into the borderlines and nether regions of monotheism, often retaining great power among rural ‘heathens’—as in the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary among people whose ancestors worshipped the nature-goddesses, and among native Mexicans, who happily carried on munching mushrooms when they learnt that their invading Catholic rulers also ate ‘god’s flesh’ in their ceremonies. Monotheistic traditions are not without their just-tolerated ecstasies, like Islam’s Sufi orders and the enraptured mystics dotted about Christianity’s heritage. Genuine pagan ecstasies, however, became ‘occult’, hidden. They went underground.

As an expression of a certain historical tendency, the Third Aeon is characterized by a narrow, arrogant, destructive and decidedly anti-nature stance towards the world: an unchecked preponderance of the ego and a fear of bodily and supra-bodily trances. The swelling of the ego is expressed in the growth in importance of the city as a focus for human life, an island of culture with invisible, atrophying links to the natural environment.

When Christians first distinguished themselves from pagans, the word ‘pagan’ meant ‘country-dweller’. For the first centres of Christianity in the Roman Empire were the great cities—Antioch, Corinth, Alexandria, and Rome itself.

Alan Watts, Nature, Man & Woman

Such concentration of populations in settlements was probably necessary to focus resource distribution, though, and short of population control (not easy when God tells you to “be fruitful and multiply”) this was the only way of avoiding severe stresses on habitated landscapes.

Third Aeon time becomes linear. The cycle of the seasons is, of course, still present; but with the withering of communal ecstasies, the succession of years becomes an endless succession, never looping back on itself or dipping into atemporal phases of ritual renewal. Time is desacralized, made profane.

Contemporary shamanic hunter-gatherers have their Edenic myths of lost archaic paradises, and their eschatological future catastrophe myths. But the paradisical/catastrophic zones of sacred time are related to ‘profane’ present time through communal rituals and the activities of shamans. First and Second Aeon cultures maintain a connection to non-ordinary time; and anyhow, their very conception of ‘profane’ time and space is usually radically different from that of Third Aeon consciousness.

In ‘Making Time’, Bob Trubshaw quotes a description of a Navaho native American craftswoman who, “instead of standing on a straight ribbon of time leading from the past to some future point, stands in the middle of a vortex of forces exerted in concentric circles upon her by her immediate family, her extended family, the clan, the tribe, and the whole living ecological system within which she lives and functions. . . . Time surrounds her, as do the dwelling place, her family, her clan, her tribe, her habitat, her dances, her rituals.” Similarly, Trubshaw discusses nomadic Mongolian tribes, for whom the ‘centre of the world’, the axis mundi, is located wherever they set up camp, represented by the central pole of the tent or the smoke rising up from the central hearth. Through this mobile axis mundi they are always connected to the deified sky, “the power above all powers and the only deity regarded as eternal.” And their temporal connections to the eternal sky eventually spiral round as they revisit camp-sites each year.

Eschatologies and sacred/profane divisions of time are not exclusive to the Third Aeon. What is significant about this phase is the flattening of time-concepts into a cumulative, progressive experience of time, with a reduction of experienced atemporality and renewal in this world. Certain lingering pagan festivities allowed a measure of sacred time into people’s lives, but essentially atemporality and renewal are postponed; not now, later. Be patient. The Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem will come—soon, sometime… (never). The carrot-on-a-stick metaphor is apt, considering the Third Aeon’s progressive alienation from the land and agricultural rhythms.

Central to linear time conceptions is fundamentalist soul/body dualism. “The divorce between soul and body takes the life out of the body, reducing the organism to a mechanism.” (Norman Brown, Love’s Body) Similarly, divorcing sacred time from human, experienced time, and locating it in some extra-terrestrial cloud-cuckoo-land far in the future, reduces this world to a profane burden. History is never renewed, it just marches on, dragging more and more of itself behind it and getting clogged up with the stale residue of the past.

The oppression of women and the repression of femininity is a key feature of the Third Aeon. The menstrual/lunar rhythms of the First Aeon and the close relationship to the fruitful body of the Earth of the Second Aeon are left behind. One God is always male, and women are viewed with suspicion and contempt as allies of the Devil. Again, oppression of women and repression of femininity are not the sole property of the Third Aeon, but it is here that they reach massively destructive levels.

This Aeon is invoked in non-participatory trances—egoistic inflation which can lose its balance and slip into aggression, arrogance and intolerance, but may be personally empowering. The world is faced in an attitude of confrontation—sometimes necessary in our disjointed and often hostile society, though this trance has a tendency to feed on itself until it breaks down, a painful experience. Linear time conceptions often imbue this trance with a sense of frustration and urgency, the feeling that something needs to happen… it’s not happening now, but it needs to happen as soon as possible. Contact with the non-ecstatic God, the ego-deity of blinkered vision and self-importance. Dictatorial language and ‘objective’, unambiguous prose. Exploitative sexuality, sometimes enjoyed but often tinged with a sense of loss or emptiness (usually after the ego’s selfish pleasures are punctured by orgasm). Of course, we’re now at the stage where ‘ego interference’ is not an issue!

Fourth Aeon: Imperial Science

Although time and space may seem to us to form a neutral, objective framework, this framework was constructed with empires in mind…

Christopher Gosden, Social Being and Time

  • Key technologies: the telescope, the microscope, electricity, telecommunications, guns, bombs
  • Social organization: the nuclear family, industrial urbanism, nationalism
  • Spirituality: atheistic scientism—total loss of ecstatic traditions, empty religious formalities performed through habit, spirituality debunked, first attempts at reviving paganism
  • Time: linear, unchanging & theoretically infinite, possible cosmological end in entropic heat death of the universe, no sacred time, faith in material utopias grows & dies quickly & repeatedly

This Aeon is the empty shell of the Third—not much fun, eh? It is the first reliably ‘dateable’ Aeon; it seems to have fully emerged in Europe during the last few hundred years. It also appears to be much more complex than previous Aeons—but probably just because it is closer to us, and has left more self-documentation.

Science is the major factor. The objective study of the world split further and further off from religious traditions, and came to provide the dominant myth-structures—dangerous ones at that, since the package they came in had “THIS IS NOT A MYTH” stamped on it. The literalism of the Third Aeon reaches full bloom here.

The Bible, for example, is a potent cocktail of myth and history that came to be seen as just literal history by its editors, the Christian Church. De-mythologizing hardened this text into a tool, or a weapon, used to control the populace—”God says that’s bad!”—and to bolster self-importance to a level where you’re incapable of tolerating other views, other myths—”Ours is the One True Religion. You heathens have mere cults, your myths are fanciful, nay, demonic falsehoods.” Fourth Aeon scientism (science as religion) shifted its faith from the Word of God to the evidence of the senses—at least the five sanctioned by scientism itself, and even those only under sober and rigorous constraints. The desacralization of the world proceeded, and all magical perceptions—even that silly magic of believing in the total authority of one book—were banished through belief in the literal primacy of material reality.

Materialism is deceptive, though. It is a curious belief, in that it manages to forget its foundations in the very system that produced it, the very system it refuses to confront—the mind. Descartes’ philosophy is often seen as one of the pillars of materialism, yet he managed to divorce mind and body, “reducing the organism to a mechanism”, through intellectual analysis. The world had to be conceptualized as a machine before it could be taken apart and analysed as if it were a machine that obeyed fixed, eternal, physical laws.

A more magickal, less philosophical, interpretation of this development is that human culture lost touch with ecstatic states of consciousness, and thus with perception of the multi-levelled nature of reality and the felt mystery at the heart of existence. Fear of altered states becomes stronger and stronger the less they are experienced, resulting in the sober illusions of ‘ordinary consciousness’ and ‘objectivity’.

Alan Watts once pointed out the paradox of materialism with elegant simplicity: “It is strictly incorrect to think of progressive cultures as materialistic, if the materialist is one who loves concrete materials. No modern city looks as if it were made by people who love material.” (Nature, Man & Woman) Damn right! Modern cities were made by people who believed that only solid, literal, materials exist, and were thus seldom touched by the love for the world—this world, the very one they place their faith in—that is fuelled by the ecstasies that they banished with their philosophy. Humans really make things complicated for themselves…

Fourth Aeon time is a totally desacralized progression from Third Aeon time. It’s as linear as fuck, and totally removed from the structures that govern it—our body chemistry, our social rituals, etc. Isaac Newton saw measured time as “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, [which] flows equally without relation to anything external.”6

The Biblical creation myth is eventually replaced by the myths of the Big Bang and evolution. The Apocalypse of St John is replaced by the eventual decline of galactic systems, entropy increasing until everything just fizzles out—with nothing to follow. Without Zen, this is not a good prospect. Shorter-term utopian visions, fed by the left-overs of New Jerusalem, arose from the truly astounding technological advancements made in this aeon.

The social and political structuring of time in this Aeon is especially interesting. It is here that our present system of ‘global time’ was constructed. The expansion of capitalist empires across the world led to the need for a sychronization of measured time:

In the 1870s there were over 200 local times between the east and west coasts of the USA, which made the running of a unified national rail system very difficult. In 1883 this confusion was resolved through the imposition of a series of time zones across the nation. In the following year time and space were linked in a global system when it was agreed that Greenwich should become the zero meridian and world time should be measured from there.

Christopher Gosden, Social Being and Time

In 1912 at the International Conference on Time in Paris, it was agreed that telegraphs would be used to beam time signals around the globe to keep the capitalist machinery ticking in an orderly fashion. Time is money, don’tcha know? Also, this rigorous standardization of measured time goes hand-in-hand with the total disappearance of sacred time:

The ancient concepts of jubilee and saturnalia originate in an intuition that certain events lie outside the scope of “profane time,” the measuring-rod of the State and of History. These holidays literally occupied gaps in the calendar—intercalary intervals. By the Middle Ages, nearly a third of the year was given over to holidays. Perhaps the riots against the calendar reform had less to do with the “eleven lost days” than with a sense that imperial science was conspiring to close up these gaps in the calendar where the people’s freedoms had accumulated—a coup d’etat, a mapping of the year, a seizure of time itself, turning the organic cosmos into a clockwork universe. The death of the festival.

Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone

A probably unforeseen consequence of imperialist expansion was the feedback the Fourth Aeon began to get from the First and Second Aeon cultures it bumped into (and didn’t wipe out). Such contact had begun during the Third Aeon, but it was not until large-scale invasion of older cultures began, with economic motives, that the feedback became significant. The academic discipline of anthropology is rooted in the attempts of Western nations to gather information about ‘the natives’—all the better to control them. But this information began to work its way into the cracks of the already tottering and shaky edifice of the Fourth Aeon, confirming doubts and inspiring resistance. Marx and Engels’ ideas were greatly influenced by information coming into Europe about hunter-gatherer societies. Ethnology and anthropology began to feed into the revival of interest in paganism and magick at the turn of the century, too, along with the ‘Wisdom of the East’. Imperial feedback is complex—it can feed imperialism itself, racism in overt and subtle forms, misappropriation of alien cultures, and so on. It can also feed those living in the source of the Empire who are oppressed by it themselves, and are looking for a way out from a sick society.

We don’t need to do much to invoke the Fourth Aeon—it still lies close. Its primary trance is that of the mundane—formal social trances, industrial work trances, empty pious church-going trances, all the trances of ingrained habit and dull duty. The world is not so much ‘faced’ as endured; it often seems pointless and absurd. A feeling that you’re not ‘at home’, wherever you are. This trance can rarely be maintained for long without ‘worrying’ glitches arising, basic life energies revolting against such an encrusted surface of restraint. These glitches can build up into destructive outbreaks of frustrated Third Aeon self-assertion and aggression, or mild breakdowns; though sometimes one can just slide in the other direction and enter a pleasant realm of acceptance more reminiscent of the Second Aeon. But this acceptance, of course, is often fuel for the continuance of the mundanity trance. There is often an odd pseudo-transcendence of the ego at work here, as anyone who’s done long shifts in a factory can testify. Fourth Aeon time goes on and on and on and on and on…. and on. Contact with nothing in particular. Language flattened into platitudes and monosyllables. Dutiful sex that can only be called sex because of what’s going on physically. Even the ego gets pissed off with this trance, and can rabbit on incessantly to keep itself busy and to make you confused.

Fifth Aeon: Chaos Rising

May you live in interesting times.

Chinese curse

  • Key technologies: LSD, television, the computer, spacecraft, nuclear fission, the amplifier & the loudspeaker
  • Social organization: multinational corporations, social control as a self-supporting illusion, social fragmentation, the extended ‘found’ family
  • Spirituality: chaotic—existential panic & alienated numbness, last-ditch attempts at monotheistic fundamentalism (with some ecstatic elements), re-emergence & fabrication of past traditions, adoption of foreign traditions, post-scientific models, new traditions & mythologies (‘UFOs’), open-ended ecstatic dance ceremonies, chemical gnosis
  • Time: chaotic, with a tight facade of linearity kept as habitual hang-over from the past, eschatologies from fear of ecological disaster, awareness of the ‘history of time’

One could trace elements of this Aeon right back through history—because it is here that Aeonic feedback intensifies at an alarming rate—but for our vague chronological purposes, it seems to have been precipitated by the Second World War and its fallout.

Fallout indeed. The bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 added to the doubts about technological progress that had resulted from the First World War. And these monumental events, along with the awareness of an approaching new millennium in the Gregorian calendar, and awareness of the nastier side-effects of industrialism on the biosphere, increased eschatological feelings to a level not seen since medieval times. This is where the weight of history accumulated by linear, ‘progressive’ time becomes unbearable, threatening to drag us screaming back down the ladder we feel we’ve climbed—unless we cast it off. Or see that we’re not climbing a ladder, we’re running around in a maze of our own making.

Aleister Crowley’s Aeonic model held that we have progressed through the Aeon of Isis (the Mother) during pagan times, and through the Aeon of Osiris (the Father) during monotheistic times. And now we’ve entered the Aeon of Horus (the Child), which he believed he had initiated in 1904 by ‘receiving’ The Book of the Law from his Guardian Angel Aiwass.7 Crowley’s magickal and philosophical achievements can be seen as being prophetic of our Fifth Aeon, in the way he consciously synthesized systems from different cultures and traditions; but he lived, like Nietzsche, ahead of his time, and paid dearly for his anachronism (as well as for his egotism). The fifties’ Beat Movement caught the flow of culture just about right, and it’s hard to work out if they initiated, or were just there at the birth of the Fifth Aeon’s vanguard, the ‘youth revolution’—the empowerment of those who had yet to fully inherit the corrupt power of the Fourth Aeon.

Now that our model has caught up with ‘present time’, things get intensely complicated—not that they aren’t in earlier Aeons, it’s just that we have less distance from our own Aeon, and generalizations become harder to casually dish out. But what are the basic characteristics of the past fifty years or so?

In terms of grand political structures, Burroughs saw it coming early:

We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures, and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decisions. . . . The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident, inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

Interzone

The empires created by the Fourth Aeon have grown out of the control of their creators. The social divisions that serve the interests of power elites and the wealthy have become self-perpetuating, fuelled and reinforced by loops of image-based control-mantras coursing through the mass media. Democracy has become a total illusion. Power seems to have shifted from governments, who become more and more like each other to appeal to everyone’s insecurities, to unaccountable multinational corporations and media conglomerates.

And while I’m well aware that multinational CEOs and media giants like Rupert Murdoch never suffer in anything like the way that their victims (indigenous peoples, the impoverished, the marginalized) do, I can’t help wondering if these people are actually in control of things. “Control is controlled by its need to control.” And ruthless capitalists are controlled by their need to make money. The paradox of power has been there since the beginning. Pagan kings were regularly killed sacrificially, because their symbolic position, representing the fertility of the land and the vigour of the kingdom, was too important for them to grow old, fat and lazy. Today’s Kings of Capital grow old and fat… but rarely lazy. Just more and more insecure, and very, very rich. To what end? Hedonistic debauchery and idle languishing in the pleasures of the world? No, they’re too concerned with fucking people over and making unmonitored deals to gain more income, more ‘control’, more ‘power’. They gain the world—which is nothing if you don’t enjoy it—and lose their souls in piles of money.

Conspiracy theories are popular now for good and bad reasons. Good: people are more and more suspicious of what is hidden from them by their governments. Bad: people desperately want to believe that large-scale ‘control’ still exists, be it the enigmatic Illuminati, Rupert Murdoch, friendly aliens, or hostile aliens. Is this all nostalgia for God? Embedded in a social structure that seems to be beyond their personal control, people seem to be hoping that someone is in control, so they can either place their faith in them or rebel against them. In many instances, the heart of control has actually been diffused, and infests the fabric of our everyday lives. Sometimes it abstracts itself to a point where it can rightly be seen as illusion, to be broken through spontaneous acts of non-participation in the illusion, refusal to give it substance.

This doesn’t stop police sticking telescopic truncheons in your face if you test the illusion a little too much, or a little too blatantly. It is here that control can be tested, to see just how much of it is illusory. Some acts, like gathering to protest against governmental policy (e.g. the Criminal Justice Act, anti-roads campaigns), are met with force and violence. This is, from a certain point of view, encouraging. As Burroughs has pointed out, a fully functioning police state doesn’t need to use physical violence—its citizens conform quietly without question. The increase in police powers in recent years is worrying, like the rise in fundamentalist Christianity. But, as with Christianity, it is really evidence of crumbling authority, a last-ditch show of force, like someone giving their all too hang on to the edge of a precipice just before they know they are going to fall.

Much of this Aeon’s characteristics are merely attempts to mask the collapse of the last couple of Aeons. Most have admitted to this collapse, at least in their more private moments. Many run around whining about it publicly. Some have welcomed it, and revel in it. Some have welcomed it, and are busy getting on with the business of creating something new. Few escape the falling ruins of religious and scientific monoliths, though, and this Aeon is not so much to do with a ‘clean break’ into fresh new pastures, but with turbulent attempts to come to terms with the realities of uncertainty and personal responsibility that are revealed as our institutional guardians crumble to the ground. Those who survive will be those who find joy in these attempts, and mutate.

Measured time marches on, tightened by digital precision and further economic globalization. Human, experienced time, emerging as it does from social rituals and communal experiences of work and play, becomes more chaotic and fragmented. Shifting patterns of work, the fragmentation of communities and cultures, the increased use of psychedelics, deeper awareness of the relativity of time-experience itself… all contribute to the breakdown of consensus human time. The tension between the tightening of measured time and the fragmentation of human time manifests in concerns about the approaching millennium, which has been seized upon by state and religion alike as a focus for ‘unification’, ‘renewal’, and other euphemisms for the regeneration of their waning powers.

This Aeon is not invoked, it is present. Like the clash between measured and human time, the tension between the hyper-efficiency of the media-generated ‘conformity trance’, and the vast range of possible non-conformist trances open to us now, has lead to widespread instability and mental illness. The ego is fed to bursting point with images and word-viruses and ‘double-binds’, like adverts that recycle postmodernism and use anti-commercialism as a selling point. Identity is supported by work and consumption, and is thus as unstable and unreal as the ‘spectacular’ late capitalist economy itself. On the other hand, Aeonic feedback has reached a crescendo, and there are probably more people today with access to the liberatory power of First and Second Aeon trances than there have ever been on the planet at once. Of course, vast amounts of this feedback is diverted straight into the consumerist identity-pool.

Self-identity here is fragmented—varieties of schizophrenia and/or immense flexibility. Contact with anything and everything, from bar-coded deities of the New Age to pissed-off nature spirits, from Grey Aliens (primal daimons taking the piss out of scientism8) to merry elves celebrating the downfall of monotheism. Chaotic language: recycled media-bites, pseudo-religious corporate jargon, (p)unrestrained word-play, cut-ups and samples. Chaotic sexuality: from orgone shut-down and numbness to conscious sado-masochism (Fourth and Third Aeon sexual impulses harnessed to invoke the Second and First Aeons); from transexualism to non-bodily fetishism (e.g. cars); from faceless promiscuity to group marriages.

The Pandaemonaeon

Not necessarily the ‘next’ Aeon; it is already here. From a certain point of view, it always has been here, only now erupting with more frequency and intensity. It is not an amoral free-for-all, at least not in the sense understood from the point of view of the corrupt and repressive moralism of, say, Christianity. It is an immediate awareness of the pin-point vortex of freedom within us all, into which all habit and illusion may be allowed to fall, and from which emanates an enormous responsibility. That is, response-ability: not day-to-day acknowledgement of our involuntary duties, but moment-to-moment acknowledgement of our connection to the world.

The Pandaemonaeon is a rejection of futurism too, a refusal to redeem the present through hope in the future.

The present often seems dismal, hopeless, a prison. Two possibilities. Perhaps the prison is not your situation, but your perception of it, a perception fed by the opinions of others who have different ideals and desires. Try to banish outside influences for a while and divine your own desires.

Or perhaps it is a prison. In which case, don’t wait for parole, start digging! Life is not a waiting room…

Footnotes

  1. ‘History’ refers, of course, to written history. “What we call history is the history of the word.” (Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded) Periods before the invention of writing are referred to as ‘prehistoric’. The cut-off point between history & prehistory cannot be dated in global terms—some cultures are still ‘prehistoric’. For the West, written history begins around 5,000 years ago in Sumer. Sometimes I’ll say ‘history’ & mean ‘prehistory and history’—it should be obvious when this is the case. [back to text]
  2. Proposed by Peter J. Carroll in Liber Null, developed by Dave Lee in Chaotopia!; the model here is based on Lee’s version, and is further inspired by Antero Alli’s ‘Neuropharmacology of an Eight-Circuit Brain‘. [back to text]
  3. Interestingly, many mythologies have ‘culture heroes’, mythic originators of humanity, who are lunar figures. [back to text]
  4. The Wise Wound by Penelope Shuttle & Peter Redgrove still seems to be the best introduction to this topic. Chris Knight’s controversial book Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture (see his article ‘The Origins of Human Society‘) is the boldest & most comprehensive attempt to divine the role of menstruation in prehistory, but the author has a great big Marxist axe to grind. He admits it, which is refreshing, but I’d love to hear if anyone had come across less stridently biased research into this area. [back to text]
  5. The Second-to-Third Aeon transition is the ‘classic’ fuck-up in history from the point of view of most pagans. But most pagans are barely politicized, and don’t mind the social divisions of the Second Aeon (or this one for that matter). We should also consider the view that the inauguration of the Second Aeon, the development of agriculture, was the ‘Fall’ in human history. “Agriculture is the only radical new technology that ever appeared in the world; what it amounts to is a cutting into the earth. If you read any anthropology about Native Americans, you will find that when the white Europeans arrived and tried to force the tribes into agriculture, the tribal people always say the same thing: ‘What, you want us to rape our Mother, the Earth? This is perverse. How could you ask human beings to do this?’ Agriculture immediately appears as a bad deal to these tribes. There is no doubt that this technology leads inevitably and fairly quickly to social hierarchies, separation, class structure, property, and religion as we understand it—a priest class that tells everybody else what to do and how to think. It leads, in other words, to authoritarianism and, ultimately, to the state itself.” (Peter Lamborn Wilson, ‘Cybernetics & Entheogenics: From Cyberspace to Neurospace’) [back to text]
  6. Quoted in Gosden, p. 2. [back to text]
  7. As Monica Sjöö says in her article ‘Sinister New Age Channellings’, ‘channelled’ texts are often good excuses for passing off responsibility for views and opinions onto intangible authors. Crowley did this to an extent, excusing some of the more dubious sections of the book in this way, but for the most part he took the responsibility implied in the text unto himself with gusto. In the end, he thought he was the initiator of the New Aeon, not Aiwass. Evidently he had not totally shrugged off the egoistic Third Aeon. [back to text]
  8. See Daimonic Reality by Patrick Harpur. [back to text]

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