Chapter 11

The Great Work



The Great Work

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” – C S Lewis


Strangely enough, this is both the most bizarre chapter and the one with no conventional magickal insights whatsoever. However, it does point to where we are going and as such can be considered the political and religious ideology of the TechnoShaman, or TechnoMage. It concerns what is arguably the greatest philosophical and technological movement Humanity will ever produce – Transhumanism. It is the Great Work of this century and heralds the end of mankind, one way or another. But what is it? Well, the word itself is a neologism created from the words Transitional Humanism and has been defined by Max More, one of its most effective proponents, as:

... a class of philosophies that seek to guide us towards a Posthuman condition. Transhumanism shares many elements of Humanism, including a respect for reason and science, a commitment to progress, and a valuing of Human (or Transhuman) existence in this life. Transhumanism differs from Humanism in recognising and anticipating the radical alterations in the nature and possibilities of our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies.”

The word, or its close relative, the Italian verb “transumanare” or “transumanar” was used for the first time by Dante Alighieri (1265CE-1321CE) in the Divine Comedy. It means “go outside the human condition and perception” and in English could be “to Transhumanate” or “to Transhumanize”. But more of this author later.
In 1998CE, philosophers Nick Bostrom and David Pearce founded the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), an organization with a liberal democratic perspective. In 1999CE, the WTA drafted and adopted
The Transhumanist Declaration. The Transhumanist FAQ, prepared by the WTA, gave two formal definitions for Transhumanism:

  • The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.

  • The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies.

Within this slightly bland definition lies the core of the project, which is to use our technologies to transform ourselves into Beings that transcend the merely Human. To extend the capabilities of our minds, bodies and spirits to such a degree that we become as gods compared to our current “Human Condition”. Hence the C S Lewis quote used to introduce this chapter. Ironically Lewis was speaking of what he considered to be the immortal soul in a Christian context. However, as we shall see, as an introduction to the spiritual aspects of Transhumanism it is very apt largely due to the generally unspoken religious parallels it exhibits with respect to Christianity. Whether this is coincidence, cultural conditioning or something deeper we will now examine.
The various technological themes that crop up within Transhumanism are listed below, each of which will be analyzed separately both in terms of technology and from a religious point of view. Whether most Transhumanists realize it or not, Transhumanism is but the latest and potentially the most powerful manifestation of a number of strains of esoteric thought stretching back millennia. These themes are:

  • Life Extension

  • Genetic Engineering

  • Artificial Intelligence

  • Robotics

  • Nanotechnology

  • Cybernetic Symbiosis

However, before diving into the technology it is necessary to set the scene for spiritual analysis that accompanies each aspect.

The Magickal and Religious Dimension


For those who do not know, the term “Great Work” was defined by the famous ceremonial magician Eliphas Levi as:

...the creation of man by himself, that is to say, the full and entire conquest of his faculties and his future; it is especially the perfect emancipation of his will.”

It is a term originating in medieval European alchemy and refers to the transmutation of lead into gold, via the creation of the Philosopher's Stone. The latter was supposed to be a technology that could transform matter and endow its user with immortality by rejuvenating the body as well as bringing Enlightenment. As such, it concluded the Great Work of Alchemy. Later in the Hermetic tradition it became a metaphor for the potential inherent in the spirit to evolve from a state of imperfection symbolized by base metals, to a state of enlightenment and perfection, symbolized by gold.
While the more material aspects can be likened to the Great Work of the alchemists, what of the spiritual forebears of Transhumanism? It might be argued by the majority of Transhumanists, who at the time of writing tend to be atheists or agnostics, that it has no spiritual aspect and that any correspondences between previous esoteric movements, religions or philosophies are simply reflections of deep and innate Human desires and fears. That is, they are to be understood in terms of rational psychology. Clearly this is correct, given the assumptions and world-views of the overt atheistic and Humanist roots of contemporary organized Transhumanism. However, if one does not subscribe to such values then there is another picture that can be drawn wherein Transhumanism can be seen as a manifestation of an ancient spiritual force in itself that is instantly recognizable to students of magick, or indeed most theologians of several major religions.
Now, in the discussion that follows I am forced to use rather loaded terms that on the surface appear to be somewhat negative or pejorative. This is inevitably so because we still live in a heavily Christianized society despite it being supposedly secular in outlook. Surprisingly this is especially so in magick and even major strands of neo-paganism such as Wicca. The world-view in question is one of a polarization of light and dark, good and evil, right and left and so forth that stem from a mindset derived from a dualist monotheism. All good, right thinking people are assumed to be on one side and all the evil, insane, incomprehensible and destructive people on the other. It is these apparent absolutes that literally color our vocabulary, especially our religious and spiritual vocabulary. We unconsciously see absolutes where there are in reality relative positions that are in opposition to each other, and each side has its own rationale, beliefs and assumptions. The notion that one side is somehow “better” than the other can only be understood from the point of view of an individual's choice and their position in the spectrum. However, the true problem lies in the fact that historically one side has claimed that there is more than personal choice involved and that there is indeed a universal arbiter of good and evil – God. The fact that the Christian God (which is supposedly the same God as the Jews and Muslims, namely YHVH) has, according to its followers, taken wildly differing and contradictory positions on various topics through the ages has done little to blunt its popularity. This despite the fact that some of the major positions attributed to God have involved its followers in crimes of torture, mass murder and repression seldom exceeded in history. Indeed, the differing claims as to what God wants in terms of Human behavior is merely proof to its followers that the others have got it wrong and been seduced by its universal opposite and enemy, Lucifer and/or Satan. Having said that, there is nevertheless a commonality of belief that runs through both camps and which does effectively distinguish them throughout history and across religions, even many polytheistic ones. Despite all this, it has to be admitted that the most interesting analyses do come from a Christian mythological perspective, so it is with this tool that we will proceed, for the magickal paradigm based around the Christian pantheon is a powerful one in Western occultism as well as when analyzing many contemporary forces in our Western societies.
It is important to emphasize the word
mythological because much of the mythology certainly both pre-dates and post-dates early Christianity and biblical texts by a considerable margin and much can be traced to the Renaissance period with such works as John Milton's Paradise Lost” and The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri. Even as late as the 19th and 20th Centuries there has been a considerable expansion of the mythological base of Christianity on both sides, ranging from contemporary American Apocalyptic Christianity with its emphasis on End Times, the Biblical Revelation of St John, and The Rapture to New Age Satanism pioneered by such luminaries as Anton LaVay1
To give one very pertinent example consider Lucifer. Contemporary mythology equates him with Satan and states that he is a fallen angel cast out of Heaven for trying to usurp the role of God and as such is the embodiment of evil. Furthermore that Lucifer was a rather high ranking angel, probably an archangel but possibly a seraph or cherub who was motivated by pride to rebel against God. In the conflict that followed he was defeated and fell to Earth along with a third of the angels, who sided with him.
The problem with all of this from a biblical perspective is that there is no mention of Lucifer at all in the bible. The text normally quoted, Isaiah 14:12, actually referred to one of the popular honorific titles of a Babylonian king as light bearer, which literally translates into Latin as Lucifer, and not an angel at all. It was Milton and Dante who took this misunderstanding and wove a new mythology from it wherein Lucifer becomes the poetic appellation of Satan.
Continuing, it is important to deconstruct Christian mythology to illustrate its true origins and place the real conflicting spiritual ideologies in their correct context. In order to do so we need to take a substantial detour into heresy!

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1Howard Stanton Levey, founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible ISBN-13: 978-0380015399