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Metaphysical Energy and the Evolution of Popular Consciousness
by Brian West
A previous article entitled Kundalini and the Modern Myth considered Jeffrey J. Kripal’s recent book Mutants and Mystics. The article explored connections between Kripal’s scholarship and aspects of Gopi Krishna’s kundalini thesis. Kripal concluded that Gopi Krishna’s mysticism was a process of mutation toward a new and mysterious state of being. In essence Gopi Krishna represented a physical manifestation of the types of hidden and occult energies that have been banished by much of our modern science to the artistic realms of myth and imagination. Kripal’s scholarship suggests that these occult energies survive and take on new life, informing many of the key themes pervading the pulp and sci-fi fictions of popular culture. This paper will briefly revisit Kripal’s scholarship in an effort to further elaborate upon the popular conception of metaphysical energy and the manner in which this concept is depicted and understood in contemporary popular culture. The previous article did not go far enough in considering the evolutionary potential of pop cultural art forms. The continuity and pervasiveness of metaphysical or subtle energies as a recurring theme in popular culture suggests perhaps that kundalini is collectively active in modern consciousness despite the dismissiveness of materialist biases. Consider the possibility that the artistic, mythic and imaginative realms of human consciousness might constitute the very realms within which the evolutionary energy is hidden, hidden in plain sight. The evolutionary potentials explored by so much fantastic pop culture fiction and imagery may be telling us something important about the hidden potentials of our species. These potentials although apparently fantastic and impossible, nonetheless represent subject matter of contemporary imaginative consciousness. Many of the metaphysical energies that abound in pop-culture fiction are obviously products of consciousness. Subtle energies are literally radiating in explicit form from the pages of our fictions and from the products of our artistic visions. Consider perhaps that this is evidence of an actively evolving imaginative consciousness; evolving in plain sight precisely because this domain of creative activity is dismissed as merely imaginary, as simply fiction. Perhaps we have culturally dismissed our own potential precisely because it may be too fantastic, and by dismissing the products of the imagination as merely imaginary we may be dismissing deeper streams of reality, never fully engaging that faculty of the human mind that has been given pre-eminence above all other cognitive faculties by the likes of William Blake and even Albert Einstein. It is the creative imagination that allows us to envision and to ask of what is Human Being capable?
This paper is highly speculative but will nonetheless suggest that the hidden life that Kripal speaks of may constitute an aspect of the secret life of kundalini hiding in plain sight. The myths of pop-culture that are pervaded by metaphysical energies express an idea that Kripal recognizes as being at least two centuries old. As many visitors of this website know, the idea of kundalini as subtle energy and as understood in the Hindu tradition suggests that this idea may be hundreds if not thousands of years older. The comic book phenomenon grew alongside the atomic age as some of the best known comic book heroes were literally irradiated; radiation being a mysterious and subtle energy which accomplished in many early storylines, evolutionary advantages and a human type of superior calibre. The concept of metaphysical energy that Kripal explores and the themes he identifies provide a means of tracing the evolutionary energy at work in modern human consciousness in both explicit and subtle ways, but whether this energy is understood literally as in the case of Gopi Krishna’s concrete historical example or understood as energy wielded by a mutant being of cosmic scope and imagery, the product of the creative eye and hand of the artist, the idea nonetheless pervades a vast array of storylines and pop-cultural products and thus exerts real influence on popular consciousness. These ideas get us thinking about fantastic evolutionary possibilities far beyond the scope of contemporary scientific wisdom. Is it outrageous to suppose that certain ideas perhaps operate as imaginal technologies of consciousness transformation, technologies with evolutionary implications for human consciousness? Imaginal does not mean imaginary, but rather of the image, for the symbolic content of an image as well as its meaning may have a psychic reality, a reality in human consciousness that is psychologically speaking, very real. Why is it that the super-hero has currently re-captivated our global imagination with scores of movie-goers flocking to theatres to witness the exploits of comic book characters such as The Avengers, Captain America, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Thor, Spider Man, The X-Men, and Green Lantern?
Meta-physical energies and ideas about the evolution of humanity have been explored by several radical and/or downright underground thinkers of the past 200 years. Theories concerning strange metaphysical energies were advanced by well known authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson,and Sigmund Freud, however more radical notions about metaphysical energies were explored by individuals such as Franz Anton Mesmer, Karl von Reichenbach, and Wilhelm Reich. Many of the notions formulated by these theorists about the activity of metaphysical energies may actually constitute attempts at descriptions of a fundamental unifying concept, the very concept that Gopi Krishna identifies as the evolutionary energy in man. Suppose as perhaps Gopi Krishna would insist, that it is this same energy that sustains and gives life to the creative imagination. Perhaps then it is just the case that this energy is actively at work within our collective imagination, mutating (to borrow Kripal’s language) human consciousness in evolutionary and transformative ways in and through the very mediums of popular culture. Human consciousness through the activity of creative imagination has populated the universe of sci-fi fantastic and comic book fiction with the gods and demi-gods that are currently depicted on movie screens the world over. The fantastic energies with which they are endowed and to which they owe their terrific powers and trasnformations are found within the depths of our own imaginative consciousness.
Through the lens of Gopi Krishna’s kundalini paradigm, subtle and as yet undetectable energies can be understood as underpinning all fantastic, visionary and sci-fi literature and art. In effect Kundalini and prana were understood by Gopi Krishna as metaphysical energies too subtle for detection by the current instrumentations of establishment science. The modern scientific paradigm demands that subtle energy be detectable and measurable in order to establish its existence and validity. But are not the energies of the imagination measurable by virtue of their impact on popular culture? How much science fiction eventually becomes science fact? The instruments of measurement must first be imagined into existence; it is only then that the vision can be instantiated. Metaphysical energy is a Force in popular consciousness and as a species we demand ideas, narratives, and visions of mythical proportions that can hold, handle, and express such a Force.
There exists within the philosophic tradition of Western Civilization, a corpus of ideas that connect invisible energies to ideas about evolution. Hegel’s notion of spirit and its expression through dialectic and through history, Bergson’s élan vital and the universe as a machine for the making of gods, Teilhard De Chardin’s impulse that caused the germination of life and the growth of the brain and Nietzsche’s Will to Power, all imply evolutionary processes propelled by metaphysical energies, life energies that we do not yet fully understand. As such there remain hidden or occult dimensions to these energies that imply our lack of understanding. Kripal’s understanding of metaphysical energy includes all those human experiences of a palpable, overwhelming power, force, energy, vibration, frequency, beaming or zapping that is obviously real (in the simple sense that it is experienced as such), but nevertheless cannot be fit into any known naturalist model. Whatever these energies are, they spike from somewhere beyond the physical, that is beyond the physical dimensions that are normally accessible to the senses and its respectable science. We may come to learn that they are entirely natural, but for now they remain literally meta-physical, that is, outside or beyond our present models of the physical world.
Metaphysical energies are extremely common within the history of religions, where their constant presence, is coded in myth and symbol, and their incredible powers are domesticated through ritual, taboo, and temple. In early modern Europe, some individuals held that these metaphysical energies could be separated from their traditional cultural contexts, that they could be experienced in the natural world, and that they could be empirically tested. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s fascination with electromagnetism led to his conviction that this invisible force represented empirical proof that matter was really force or energy. The idea at the heart of such a pursuit is the ancient alchemical notion that matter is really spirit. Versions of this idea pervade early European thought and are evidenced in the writings of the Austrian healer Franz Anton Mesmer and his notion of a mysterious current of healing force that he called animal magnetism. This was a subtle fluid or current that he claimed permeated the entire universe, including and especially the human body. When the current flowed freely in the body, health, happiness, altered states of consciousness, and strange powers were the result. When it was blocked, disease and suffering followed. Here Mesmer thought, was the real secret behind all ‘miraculous healings’.
Spiritualism began in America in 1848 but quickly spread to Europe. With the invention of the telegraph and the discovery of electricity, the Spiritualist world was abuzz with talk of ‘vibrations’, ‘frequencies’, the ‘spectrum of consciousness’, a ‘fourth dimension’, even a ‘spiritual telegraph’ connecting the living and the dead. In 1845 the German scientist Karl von Reichenbach began publishing essays on a blue polarized force that permeated the natural world but could only be picked up by sensitives. This blue force or “Odic” force Reichenbach believed, constituted the ultimate superpower and that were we as a species more endowed with such a force, “we should be something like angels, “half human and half divine. It was Freud’s id however that would capture Western culture, aligned closely with what Freud called the libido, that mysterious morphing energy coursing through the human body, taking on different forms at different stages of life. It is this libido that is responsible for Freud’s alchemically borrowed phrase ‘sublimation’ the “making sublime” of the libidinal energies that results in spirit-like cultural products such as philosophy, literature, art, even comic book art filled with radioactive superheroes.
It was however the Freudian heretic Wilhelm Reich that ultimately carried these energies into the metaphysical movements of the twentieth century. Kicked out of Freud’s circle for actually believing in the libido as a real energy he renamed it the orgone. For Reich the orgone was the basic energy behind the stars, the weather, the miracles of Christ, and that most intimate and healing of all human expressions – the orgasm. For Reich the orgone was the secret life of everything. Much like the earlier magnetists, Reich believed that freely flowing orgone resulted in health and happiness, whereas a blocked, repressed, or stunted orgone resulted in sickness and mental suffering. The goal of Reichian therapy was to produce a psychophysical state in which full orgasm was possible.
Although one could perhaps write a book concerning the distinctions between the descriptions of these kinds of metaphysical energies, the fact that certain aspects of these descriptions are congruent with Gopi Krishna’s kundalini thesis is itself striking. All descriptions concern a secret or as yet hidden energy responsible for high functioning and exceptional abilities, strange or paranormal phenomena, and art. A further perhaps even more salient point concerns the fact that with Reich we arrive at the connection between Eros and energy. Metaphysical energy fundamental to the cosmos and to the human template is wedded to sexuality.
The metaphysical energies pervading comic book stories from the early 1960’s and on, illuminate, inspire, awaken, and empower people. They transform individuals into super humans or demigods. They are not just energy. They are also a kind of spiritual power or mystical energy . Kripal notes that radiation is linked to the theme of mutation in pop-culture. The effect of radiation is to facilitate and produce mutation. The irradiation of a being by subtle energies produces mutation in popular fiction. Mutant powers are in turn consistently and explicitly linked to human sexuality. In the X-Men mythology itself, mutant potential first actualizes around puberty, mutant power and sexuality are thus consistently linked. Biologically speaking, mutations and the evolutionary process are carried through sex. It takes a whole lot of sex for evolution to happen. What Kripal calls the mytheme of mutation is thus thoroughly erotic. This linking of mutant power and sex forms part of the standard narrative underpinning the X-Men, the first issue of which appeared in the spring of 1963. What is perhaps even more interesting to consider is that this knowledge, this linking of sex energy and the super-human, has been hiding in plain sight pervading modern consciousness for much of the 20th century; since at least the writings of Reich in the 1940’s. It is an idea that is picked up and developed in pop cultural art forms through the early 1960’s onwards where sex energy is explicitly linked to ideas about future evolutionary possibilities. This implies that the modern western mind has had on one level or other, considerable awareness of this insight. This insight having been dismissed by the critical intellect of the modern age becomes reconstituted as a mythic idea, theme, or image emerging directly from the mediums that express the modern imagination. The materialist biases of modern thought are not enough to displace certain truths implicit in our very biology. Kundalini literally haunts our modern mythic imagination. She irradiates the gods of the silver screen and captivates that faculty most intimately connected with the envisioning of humanity and of her highest aspirations. Super-intelligent energy indeed!
1.) Kripal, Jeffrey, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics and the Paranormal. The University of Chicago Press 2011.
2.) Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Future of Man. Harpur Rowe Publishers 1964.
3.) West, Brian. Kundalini and the Modern Myth: Commentary on the Recent Work by Jeffrey J. Kripal and its Relation to Aspects of Gopi Krishna’s Kundalini Thesis.