In a poetic metaphysics such as the one I’ve been promulgating for some time now, one finds that the distinctions between actual and imaginal, between the concrete and the dreamt, between the logical and the intuitive are in reality constructed and that the barriers separating them easily dissolve before the beholder’s mindful and attentive presence.
We’ve recently been confronted with a number of narratives that shapeshift in response to need, even if the need is to confuse and destabilize. We’ve witnessed, of course, the myriad conflicting reports and mandates regarding the Covid phenomenon so engulfing our lives as of late—conflicting reports more often than not arising from the same entities, be they human persons or corporate bodies. Simultaneously, we stand and watch in a kind of awe if not bewilderment as our basic freedoms as human agents are challenged, muffled, if not canceled in the face of a totalizing onslaught of speech codes, restrictions on mobility, and threats of repercussion if we question these phenomena at all.
One of the disturbing developments in this moment, for me at least, is the migration of so much of our lives into online environments, not least schools and shopping. The gradual disappearance of coinage, for one, appears a bellweather of a disturbing trend. We have all become avatars, projected selves that would melt in the presence of other human beings of flesh and blood, warmth and spirit--presences which are at the moment discouraged.
As a result of all of this, what I’ve been thinking about lately is Rudolf Steiner’s notion of “the Incarnation of Ahriman.” For Steiner, Ahriman is a spiritual being that wishes to enslave us to logic, efficiency, and the technological (The Evil Genius in Terry Gilliam’s 1982 film Time Bandits illustrates this in a humorous manner). In a lecture delivered a century ago, Steiner contrasts this image with that of Lucifer (Hegel haunts Steiner to a degree):
“Lucifer is the power that stirs up all fanatical, all falsely mystical forces in human beings, all that physiologically tends to bring the blood into disorder and so lift man above and outside himself. Ahriman is the power that makes people dry, prosaic, philistine—that ossifies them and brings them in the superstition of materialism….
“Ahriman has the greatest interest in concealing from mankind that in modern intellectual, rationalistic science, in superstitious empiricism, one is dealing with a great illusion, a deception—that men should not recognize this is of the greatest possible interest to Ahriman. It would be a triumphant experience for him if the scientific superstition which infiltrates all areas of life today and which human beings even try to use as a template for the social sciences should prevail into the third millennium. He would have the greatest success if he could then arrive in western civilization in human form and find the scientific superstition as prevailing dogma.”1
As I’ve written in my book Transfiguration, I’m not exactly sure how to read Steiner’s take on Ahriman—as a metaphor? or as a spiritual reality? Maybe as both. Because, let’s face it: Steiner was on the money about the twenty-first century and every physical reality has a spiritual counterpart. In addition, the morass of scientific superstition in which we now wallow is more dogmatic than any pronouncement from the Catholic Church, and secular scientific inquisitors infest every corner and pixel of the internet, the world where most of us now live.
Steiner was hardly alone is his concerns about an encroaching technological evolution that could compromise the essence of being human. The Russian philosopher and prophet Nikolai Berdyaev predicted much the same thing, as did in their way Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, and, most notably, Martin Heidegger. Berdyaev, writing in the 1930s, speaks directly to our moment:
“The speed consequent upon the increasing mechanization of life has had a deadly effect on the human Ego, and has sapped its foundations of unity and consistence. The advent of machinery and the mechanization of life have led to an extreme objectification of human existence, to its materialization in a strange, inhuman and frigid world. And though this world is the work of man, it is essentially anti-human.”2
Sophiology stands in firm opposition to this mechanization of life, this Ahrimanic moment. Sophiology offers a relationship to the Real—to other creatures, to people, to plants, animals, and the cosmos, including even microbes, not to mention the angelic and divine orders. Our current moment encourages just the opposite.
One could say that our times have forgotten the incipient philosophical question posed by the Psalmist: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (8:3-4). The Psalmist furthermore places these relationships at the center of human flourishing: “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas” (8:6-8).
Our own path to human flourishing is a simple as it is clear. Will we embrace it?
The Evil Genius plans on remaking Creation.
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.
1. Rudolf Steiner, The Incarnation of Ahriman: The Embodiment of Evil on Earth: Seven Lectures, trans. Matthew Barton (Forest Row, UK: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006), 17–18; 22. My emphasis.
2. Nicolas Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, trans. George Reavey (1938; repr., London: Geoffrey Bles / Centenary Press, 1947), 109.