Space Pagans and Smartphone Witches: Where Tech Meets Mysticism
DORTMUND, Germany – “Let us use smartphones and tarot cards to connect with spirits,” reads the writing on the wall, illuminated in soft ultraviolet light. “Let’s build DIY devices for listening to the invisible world.”
The chants, printed as wallpaper, are part of French artist Lucille Olympe Haute’s “Cyberwitches Manifesto”, an installation in a show titled “Technoshmanism”, at the Hartwehr Medienkunstverein in Dortmund, Germany, until March 6, 2022. The group exhibition, which brings together the work of 12 artists and collectives, explores the relationship between technology and esoteric, ancestral belief systems.
In our always online lives, the supernatural is having a high-tech moment. Spirituality is all over our feeds: Self-help guru Deepak Chopra co-founds his own NFT platform, Witches are reading tarot on TikTok, and the AI-powered astrology app Co-Star has been downloaded over 20 million times.
Tolbert, assistant professor of faith and digital ethnography at Penn State Harrisburg, offers an explanation. “Due to the globalizing potential of the Internet, people have access to belief traditions that were not readily available to them before,” he said. In the United States, a growing number of people identify as “spiritual” but not “religious,” he said, adding that the Internet has allowed those people to discover, choose, and combine the spiritual traditions that interest them most. attracts more,
On a recent tour of the show, Inke Arnes, the curator of “Technoshmanism”, said that contemporary artists have also recognized the widespread presence of esoteric spirituality in the digital space. “I was asking myself, ‘There is this strange interest in different parts of the world, not only in reactivating ancestral knowledge, but in bringing it together with technology? he said.
Often, for artists, the answer comes down to concern about the environment, Arns said. “People realize that we are in a very dire situation,” she said, “by burning coal and fossil fuels. And it’s not stopping.” Ancient belief systems that were more in tune with nature, combined with new technology, were providing artists with a sense of hope in the face of the climate crisis, she said.
While technological progress is often seen as harmful to the environment, artists, indigenous activists and hackers were trying to reclaim the technology for their own, esoteric purposes, according to a Brazilian researcher and director of a network called Technoxamenismo. Member Fabian Borges said. He organizes mass meetings and festivals in which participants use tools, including DIY-hacked robots, to connect with ancestral belief systems and the natural world.
At the Dortmund show, a sense of hope shines through in several works that envision the future of humans beyond Earth. Fifty prints by British artist Susan Trester, from the series “Technoshamanic Systems: New Cosmological Models for Survival,” fill one wall of the museum, dreaming up spiritual possibilities for the survival of our species.
Among Trester’s clean, colorful creations on paper are flying saucers and stars in a Kabbalah tree-of-life diagram, and blueprints for imagined scientific systems and extraterrestrial architecture. As billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos see outer space as the next frontier for human expansion, Trester envisions a utopian alternative: space exploration as a process in which rituals and visions combine solar energy and artificial intelligence. play the role of intelligence.
Many esoteric practices connect communities to a higher power, Arns said, which is why outer space is one of so many contemporary artists’ pursuit of spirituality. “It’s creating a link between the microcosm and the macrocosm,” she said, “creating the idea of a world that includes not only the Earth.”
Of course, technologists have introduced a more digital way to enter the new world: virtual reality. Many of the founders of VR were interested in psychedelic experiences, which are a common feature of shamanic rituals. (The recent surge in ayahuasca celebrations, where participants drink a psychoactive drink, indicates that the attraction remains strong.) Researchers at the University of Sussex in England even used a magical mushroom to mimic the hallucination. Used VR for
In the show “Technoshamanism” in Dortmund, many works offer the audience a tragic sight. Morehshin Allahyari’s VR work “She Who Sees the Unknown” adds a sinister female genie; At the artist’s request, the VR headset is worn lying down in a darkened space so that malicious spirits hover dangerously over the audience. Another work experienced through augmented-reality glasses, the video leads viewers through a meditative ritual in a giant papier-mâché temple, weaving a spiral light path with holograms.
Rather than inventing their own virtual spiritual sites, other artists attempt to uncover the lost meaning of something that already exists. For example, Tabita Rezaire, whose website describes her as “an agent of healing incarnated in the Infinite”, is showing a film installation exploring megalithic stone circles in The Gambia and Senegal. In a film playing on flat-screen TVs placed on the museum floor, Razire investigates the original purpose of ancient sites through documentary interviews with their local guardians, as well as with astronomers and archaeologists. Drawing on numerology, astrology and traditional African understandings of the universe, the interviews are anchored in hypnotic CGI visualizations of outer space.
Researcher Borges said technology and spirituality can also come together to preserve ancient cultural practices that might otherwise be lost. She recalled that, at a 2016 festival organized by her network in Bahia, Brazil, teenagers with cellphones recorded a full moon ritual performed by members of an indigenous community, Petaxo. Borges said the footage, which showed the Petaxo people speaking their ancient language in a trance, was later given to researchers at the local university who are working on expanding a dictionary.
Penn State’s Tolbert said that interactions between new tools and esoteric practices can be seen in all kinds of mystical practices. “Technology has always been a part of spirituality,” he said, citing psychic mediums in his own Facebook groups and ghost hunters using electromagnetic field detectors. “I think most of them don’t see it as any kind of conflict,” he said.
Perhaps, then, as the “Cyberwitch Manifesto” suggests, there is more common ground than expected between hackers and witches, programmers and psychics. As Tolbert put it: “What is technology, if not a way for a person to uncover the answers?”
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