Carlos Castanada (1925-1998) was a Peruvian born anthropologist and author who immigrated to California hoping to attain an academic career.
For his master thesis, he published the book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968).
The book was promoted as an anthropological account of Castanada’s encounter with a wise, benevolent Yaqui sorcerer in Mexico. It sold very well and Castanada continued with a series of best-sellers, all making the same claim of authenticity.
Critics of Castanada’s work point out that he took no real field notes and is elusive about his past, suggesting that his books are cleverly crafted fiction.
Whether they be fictional, embellished facts, or factual, these widely acclaimed stories outline a belief in interactive fields of reality. In the broadest sense these fields could be differentiated as ordinary and non-ordinary worlds, or as Mircea Eliade put it, mundane and supramundane realities.
But Don Juan’s teachings involve more than a simple “this or that” cosmology. Schematically, his vision is not unlike the mathematical fractal. The sorcerer is said to control interactive fields of power. Accordingly, he or she may exert influence from one power region to another to bring about an ethically good outcome.
An apparent physical illness, for instance, could be healed by inwardly perceiving spiritual disturbances or fields that are interacting with a patient’s bodily organs. Don Juan claimed that, by focusing awareness and exerting the will, the sorcerer can correct a seemingly isolated physical disturbance.
This is now called distance healing. And in Don Juan’s story, distance healing could be a single or complex, multi-layered event.
This approach might seem fanciful to some, but semiotics wedded to subatomic physics seems to point in a similar direction. Leading physicists and modern science writers say that matter and energy are two humanly constructed concepts. As such, the ideas of matter and energy apparently represent two forms of one underlying essence.
Interestingly, Castanada criticized the beatnik, drug guru Timothy Leary for suggesting that psychotropic drugs, alone, could cure. For Castanada, ingesting drugs was only an initial step in a complicated inner journey requiring a great deal of prolonged training and personal discipline.
- “Welcome to the Other World..” (exohuman.com)
- Dyaus (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Mircea Eliade (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
- The Flyers (toltecwarrior.wordpress.com)
- Healing Spirits (3quarksdaily.com)
In the 1980′s electronic mail or e-mail was a highly coveted technological novelty available only to the savviest of academics and business persons. Today e-mail is more commonly used than surface mail. Countless internet-based companies such as Microsoft’s hotmail.com, Google’s Gmail, Yahoo.com, Lycos.com and Mail.com, provide free e-mail services to anyone with internet access.
It has become public knowledge that e-mail is a potentially insecure means of communication. This means that it is possible for individuals to legally (as in the workplace) or illegally (as with hackers) intercept another person’s private e-mail.
In ancient and medieval times, power struggles often revolved around the flow of oral and written information. In years past spies attempted to intercept and forge papyrus and, later on, paper scrolls. Today the medium of legitimate and, perhaps, illegitimate competition is predominantly electronic.
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Hegemony is a political science term with ancient roots.
In the Greco–Roman world of 5th century European Classical antiquity, the city-state of Sparta was the hegemon of the Peloponnesian League (6th – 4th centuries BC); King Philip II of Macedon was the hegemon of the League of Corinth, in 337 BC, (a kingship he willed to his son, Alexander the Great).¹
In the 19th century historians used the term to describe one nation’s power over another, and by implication, the whole notion of Imperialism.
The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937) was the first to use hegemony to describe the idea of a ruling class socially and economically dominating others within a given society.
The contemporary sociological meaning of the term hegemony points to an entire system of cultural values and practices existing within interconnected and (apparently) legitimate social institutions (e.g. markets, legal system, government, education, religion and media) which the powerful allegedly use to oppress the powerless.
Along these lines, the French social thinker Bourdieu, Pierre (1930-2002) introduced the idea of “cultural capital” to try to explain the complex relations contributing to societal inequity, discrimination and domination.
For all its flaws, the recent “Occupy movement” (where protestors are sweeping the globe in protest of being “have-nots” apparently marginalized by a few wealthy “haves”)² raises the question of institutional legitimacy, which just a few decades ago, was certainly not a mainstream issue and hardly questioned by most people in the G8.
- US Hegemony and Global Power Relations: Now What? (atthefootnote.com)
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- Behold the Awesome Power of Demographic Hegemony (chariotofreaction.blogspot.com)
- Eleventh Circuit Dismisses Alien Tort Statute Claim (volokh.com)
- Gramsci and Foucault: A Reassessment. Call for chapters (2011) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
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The word ideology is fairly well known today but not too long ago its mention, except among sociologists and historians, would probably have been met with a blank stare.
Ideology refers to a body of social, economic or political ideas and beliefs informing a person, a group or a nation. At least, this is the standard dictionary view. Social thinkers – who tend to question dictionary definitions – argue that ideology is an often deceptive set of beliefs willingly or possibly unwittingly advanced by those with the social power to do so.
According to Karl Marx, Roland Barthes and, to some extent, Michel Foucault, the unwitting masses tend to reproduce ideologies until the point where they become aware of the shallow and deceptive character of a given ideology.
At this time the so-called ordinary person, and not just the so-called intellectuals, may try to change or even revolutionize ideologies.
It’s been argued that all religions contain an ideological component. And this may be true. But to reduce the spiritual aspect of religious experience to mere ideology is probably a mistake or, at least, incomplete.
Academic treatments of the idea of ideology are often complicated and extensive. And, one could say, that although they may appear radical and progressive to naive young students, in reality the academic treatment of ideology is still, for the most part “safe,” and thus ironically reproduces the very social structures and attendant issues which are outlined in class (along with those issues that are overlooked).
That’s a cynical view, of course. And like any opinion, it’s biased and incomplete. Another view is that it’s better to talk about some things than entirely ignore or deny their existence. And social change need not be revolutionary but can, in fact, be gradual or subtle. So, university is not necessarily just “finishing school” but can help to spark young minds into positive action.
Another thing to consider about ideology – or, more properly, academic views about ideology – is that it need not be an evil or sinister process. Ideologies can be good or, at least, better than competing ones. This point is often overlooked by derisive professors who seem to be lopsidedly critical and unfairly trash the very system that gives them their bread and butter.
In the arts, Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn had this to say in the 1980′s song, “Call it Democracy.” I’m not sure what his stance would be today.
Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament –
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called “developed” nations’
Idolatry of ideology.¹
¹ Full lyrics and subsequent author comments (up to 2005) here: http://cockburnproject.net/songs&music/atcid.html
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Mana is a Melanesian term referring to a spiritual power that apparently pervades the universe but which is embodied in a person or object.
Those believing they can direct this power may try to manipulate it for their own helpful or harmful purposes. Such persons are often revered, worshipped as well as feared and avoided within a community.
Popular figures like Joseph Campbell sometimes equate the idea of mana with that of numinosity, which isn’t entirely wrong considering numinosity is said by both Rudolf Otto and C. G. Jung to display various textures and intensities.
But Otto’s concept of the numinous – which includes lower demonic and higher forms, to include the Holy – arguably embraces a wider range of personal experiences than does the term mana.
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Aristotle says power is
- The agent causing a change in something
- The ability or potential in an object enabling it to act
- The ability in an object to remain unchanged
Often overlooked by postmodern and other social thinkers is the fact that “power” as a noun is ethically ambivalent. Both good and bad things can be modified by the adjective “powerful”–for example, love and hate.
When the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes said that knowledge gained from philosophical understanding engenders power, he added that such power should be applied in ways good for the Commonwealth.
Alternately, when Michel Foucault says that power is at the root of our social relationships, he doesn’t specify an ethical dimension to power. Rather, he frames power in terms of an ongoing struggle of competing intentions. For Foucault, it almost seems as if ethics and morality are historically relative products of social power.
For Foucault and other postmoderns, it seems that ethical ideas of good and evil do not represent absolute, universal and timeless truths. They are relative to a particular social time and place. That is, they are socially constructed.
Jules Evans, however, argues that Foucault’s later works, such as The Care of the Self (1984), reveal a developing interest in an ethic of wellness. As Foucault says:
Perhaps I’ve insisted too much on the technology of domination and power. I am more and more interested…in the mode of action that an individual exercises upon himself by means of the technologies of the self.¹
Whether or not this was a purely intellectual or perhaps a burgeoning practical interest remains open to debate.
Other arguably related ways of looking at power stem from anthropology, depth psychology and religion.
The terms mana, numinous and tapas, for example, all refer to some form of magical, mystical or spiritual power originating from beyond the realm of observable, daily life. And perhaps in keeping with Max Weber‘s idea of charisma, some individuals with a high degree of social power may consciously or unconsciously possess, or have at their command, a considerable amount of spiritual, otherworldly power.
Whether or not otherworldly powers are intrinsically good or evil is another question, usually debated within the fields of depth psychology, philosophy and religion.
¹ Michel Foucault, lecture given in 1982, cited in Jules Evans, “Philosophy as a Way of Life,” Eurasian Home Analytical Resource, August 15, 2007.
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Participation Mystique is an idea forwarded by the classical anthropologist Lucien Lévi-Bruhl about the mystical relationship that so-called primitives apparently had with objects in their environment.
In Lévi-Bruhl’s own words:
In the collective representations of primitive mentality objects can be…something other than themselves…they give forth and they receive mystic powers, virtues, qualities, influences which make themselves felt outside, without ceasing to remain where they are.¹
The implication of Lévi-Bruhl and Jung’s theories is that so-called primitives were psychologically closer than moderns to otherworldly spirits, powers, demons, and so on. For Jung, these agencies are all part of the collective unconscious, often treated as real in itself when it’s arguably just a concept.
Jung also says that the development of the ego is a highpoint of modern civilization. But the shortcoming is that the ego, itself, can put a stranglehold on the powers encountered through participation mystique. This development, says Jung, gives mankind planes, trains and automobiles but robs us of the inner psychological riches that our ancestors apparently enjoyed.
This kind of thinking has been critiqued by Michel Foucault and others as a romantic reconstruction of the distant past with little or no facts to back it up. Foucault looked at various constructions of the self through history and discussed other-wordly truth claims but perhaps never really explored the numinous in the experiential sense, except when dabbling in drugs (which most advanced mystics say teaches one little at best, or are harmful at worst).
The American scholar Joseph Campbell, who builds on Jung’s work, argues that moderns can enjoy a sense of the numinous and feel more connected to the whole of creation through power-packed films like Star Wars.
In essence, Campbell is saying that “deep culture” is not something that Europeans have a monopoly on. It’s alive and well in the West–not so much through old buildings and art but through the excitement and magic of Hollywood and the wonders of technology. Campbell, however, was not so narrow-minded as to ignore the great riches of European and most other civilizations.
¹ Lucien Lévi-Bruhl, How Natives Think, trans. Lilian A. Clare, New York: Washington Square Press, 1966 , p. 61.
M. H. Abrams says that at the most fundamental level a symbol is anything that signifies something else.
Abrams also notes that a distinction is often made between the public and private symbol. The public symbol, such as the cross, is apparently understood by everyone in a given culture whereas the private symbol, such as an obscure poetic allusion, isn’t.
This distinction, however, seems open to debate: Surely not everyone in a given culture interprets the cross in the same way.
In literature a symbol is
a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in turn signifies something, or suggests a range of reference, beyond itself (A Glossary of Literary Terms, 2005, p. 320).
In depth psychology, Carl Jung says the symbol is a meaningful image that mediates healing or destructive forces from the collective unconscious to ego consciousness–for example, the symbol of the Cross or Serpent.
Jung says symbols arise from the unknowable archetypes but are recognized as archetypal images. Archetypes interpenetrate among themselves; likewise, archetypal images are discrete but exhibit similarities. For Jung the flow of psychic energy between the collective unconscious and the symbol is a two-way process.
Jungian Erich Neumann says that the symbol acts as both as an “energy transformer” and as a “moulder of consciousness.” As an energy transformer the symbol facilitates the ego’s experience of the numinous, arising from the collective unconscious. As a moulder of consciousness, the symbol operates on the level of collective consciousness by contributing to the ideology of a given culture.
Jung says the interconnected conscious and unconscious aspects of humanity cannot be severed. He’s widely quoted as saying in The Undiscovered Self (1958):
You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.
Likewise, political leaders of the mass state cannot avoid being glorified or demonized. This occurs through brute force, clever calculation and also through public fascination and projection.
Jung believes, for example, that a mass-produced placard image of Joseph Stalin expresses an archetypal force articulated on the conscious level that both sways and oppresses individuals.
A more contemporary example would be the disempowering psychological effect that massive bank towers (symbolizing ‘Big Business’) have on the poor and disenfranchised. And in ancient cultures such as Greece, Rome and Egypt, impressive architecture apparently had a similar effect on slaves, the exploited, the underprivileged and on less powerful visitors from foreign cultures.
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This is a Sanskrit term for female power, sometimes called ‘serpent power’ because it’s said to rise upwards like a serpent through the chakras of the meditating yogi or yogini.
Shakti also denotes a general principle of creative, cosmic energy. When personified it takes the form of a goddess, such as Siva‘s consort Parvati, or Krishna‘s playmate, Radha.
In New Age parlance the term arguably signifies the empowered, holistic woman, as we find with figures like Shakti Gawain.
» Kundalini, Tantra, Raja yoga
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