Magic, Media and Re-Enchantment
by Jeremy Johnson
Beams and Struts has recently launched a Zombie and Vampire series, exploring why supernatural stories are so popular now in modern media. From True Blood to Game of Thrones, to Grimm, to even super-hero films. What’s with the return of all this mythical and magical stuff?
TJ launched his article: What’s with all the Vampires, Wizards, and Zombies all of a Sudden? Earlier this week. Yesterday, my own article Electric Fairytales: the Return of Mythic Consciousness in Movies and Media was launched.
The following are snippets from my response to TJ’s article, riffing on why movies like Harry Potter aren’t just fun retrievals of these old world views. They’re effectively a yearning, desire, need for a world re-enchanted.
In Western culture, we no longer have rites of initiation to move us from childhood imagination into the adult mysteries. Effectively, we grow up into a de-sacralized, and mechanized world. Filmmakers like Spielberg intuit this social illness, so a lot of his movies are about the Imaginal realm snatching his protagonists out of the “adult world” and re-introducing them to the magic of reality (watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind for a good example).
So what does media, particularly electronic media, have to do with this? As I argued in Electric Fairytales, the digital age is allowing older forms of human consciousness (some may argue, integral forms) to piggyback into the dominant materialist culture.
The return of myth and magic, explicitly at least, in our culture is a good sign that these forms of world-relating are being healthily re-integrated. We aren’t abandoning science. Actually, if anything, I believe we are seeing the parallels between science and magic. Consider the scene in Thor when Thor himself suggests that science and magic are not discordant. Magic is merely science we do not understand yet – paralleling Arthur C. Clarke’s statement that “any sufficiently advanced technology appears as magic.” (paraphrasing there, not sure the exact quote).
Then there’s the idea, al a Gebser and others, that the magic structure of consciousness is parallel in many ways to the rational structure (not the mental), in the emphasis on using spells, or some form of mastery over principles of nature, to affect a change in the physical environment. Gebser uses this description negatively, saying that in the deficient, Rational era, we are mirroring the deficient stage of the Magic era: the un-balanced and un-checked use of technology for manipulation and mass-control of environment, like black magic. This is not a far fly from how Tolkien imagined Mordor and the destruction of the forests. However, the fact that we are seeing the connection *positively* today may be a sign we are hinting at a shift, once again, in consciousness.
“Let’s just jump back (quickly) to those levels of development. What comes after Postmodern? Post-postmodern. In this stage, the entire developmental sequence is recognized, understood, accepted and every level is celebrated. The other stages are not to be despised, says the person expressing Post-postmodern consciousness, they’re to be valued for what they have to offer.”
I agree that the magic stage (or structure) offers “fun.” It also animates the world, re-paints the universe with, well, meaning. Sacredness. Vividness. Animation. The forces behind life are not dead or mechanistic. They are living intelligences of their own. Magic brings us back to that. A necessarily deficient part of the Rational structure of consciousness is that it dis-enchants the world. It breaks down the world into its constituent parts and fragments, or raises its own mechanisms up. It dispels (as I mentioned in the article), which is a form of magic itself, in that it generates a world that is non-magical. This has some devastating effects on the human psyche, I believe, and may result in forms of alienation and dread towards the adult world of work and machination (we are mere cogs in the machine). Magic throws a wrench in such a machine. It’s compelling that some of the most influential films are magical. Steven Speilberg has a long history with that. His movies took the audience, as well as the protagonist, outside of the mundane world by a sudden visitation, or compulsion, into the Magical or Imaginal Realm, breaking forth into the suburban life. Whether done via Scifi (Like E.T.) or through magic (Hook, or Indiana Jones) Speilberg effectively re-enchants the mundane world.
I think this is more of why magic is “fun.” It re-sacralizes the cosmos in an animistic way. It brings meaning and imagination back into our de-sacralized cosmology.
As a side note on magic/science: it’s pretty cool that the origins of science, as some argue, have their roots in alchemy and Hermeticism, both very magical arts, based on the principles of understanding Nature’s laws and using them to effect a change in the physical society. Hermes is part of this old myth in Egypt where he was thought to have created a magical city, guarded by animated statues that allowed no evil-doers to enter, and magical spells that prevented the city-dwellers from doing any harm to each other. Magic can reverse the flow of rivers. It can bring a new order into the world. In many ways, the unconscious of scientific and rational culture is a form of magic. The parallels are striking!