Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Legend-Tripping OnlineSupernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong's Hat$

Michael Kinsella

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781604739831

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781604739831.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of
Subscriber: null; date: 20 June 2018

. The Technology of Magic and the Magic of Technology

. The Technology of Magic and the Magic of Technology

(p.42) 3. The Technology of Magic and the Magic of Technology
Legend-Tripping Online

Michael Kinsella

University Press of Mississippi

Abstract and Keywords

The term magic refers to a complex process of imaginatively affecting perceptions of reality using distinctive and persistent rhetorical strategies and ritual performances. Both magic and legend-tripping make use of the imagination to conjure events described by supernatural legends or occult texts for particular effects. Technology has long been used to realign the boundaries between the possible and impossible, the known and unknown, the natural and supernatural. According to Erik Davis, powerful new technologies are magical because they function as magic. This is evident in the movement known as Spiritualism and its practice of spirit photography. New technologies, such as the Internet and digital cameras, have revived interest in spirit photography, especially within the context of legend-tripping. The connection between magic and technology is also at work in occult software and the virtual space called noosphere.

Keywords:   magic, legend-tripping, supernatural legends, technology, Spiritualism, spirit photography, Internet, occult software, noosphere

Magic, Legend-Tripping, and Interpretive Drift

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many Westerners thought belief in magic was a survival of primitive thinking, a remnant of an archaic pseudo-science. Regardless of this ethnocentric bias, some important observations were made about how magical beliefs function. In The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890), the anthropologist James George Frazer classified magic as the belief that “things act on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy.”1 To this day, Frazer’s description of “sympathetic magic” remains highly regarded as accurate. Another important “discovery” about magic belief came twenty-five years later, when the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski began studying the culture of the Trobriand Islanders. While observing local fishing customs, he noticed that the Trobrianders routinely performed elaborate magic rituals before their sea voyages. This was in stark contrast to their habits while fishing the lagoons. Malinowski concluded that the Trobrianders were using magic to psychologically prepare themselves for any situation beyond their control. Fishing the lagoons was simple, the water remained calm and fish were easily caught. But fishing at sea was perilous and a gamble—predators lurked beneath the waters, storms threatened to capsize boats, and the yield was never guaranteed. By noticing the Islanders’ rituals gave them a sense of power, Malinowski helped lay the groundwork for the next century of Western scholars’ conceptualization of magic.

Behaviors demonstrating belief in sympathetic correspondences are easily found in our own society. For example, in 2000, the anthropologist George Gmelch examined the superstitious rituals of professional baseball players and noted that players often wear the same (unwashed) clothing worn during the previous wins in hopes of attracting whatever force or (p.43) luck that had affected the outcome.2 Gmelch discovered that, like the Trobriand Islanders, these athletes use magic in preparation for activities that have a high degree of uncertainty, namely, pitching and hitting. Pitchers, for instance, may smooth the dirt on the mound before each batter or adjust their caps before each pitch. And hitters may smooth out the batter’s box or tap their bat on the plate a specified nuumber of times. Besides superstitious rituals (“superstitious” usually being a title given to any other folk group’s supernatural or magical beliefs), an abundance of explicitly magical practices exists within contemporary Western culture: witchcraft, ritual magick (spelled with a “k” by its practitioners to distinguish it from stage magic), and voodoo are but a few. Many of these operate as psychological self-help programs, inspire alternative types of religious thought, supply novel spiritual experiences, and act as alternative epistemological paradigms. Much to the chagrin of those intellectuals who see it as inimical to the advancement of reason, and those religious devotees who view it as demonic, magic thrives. Many people want to experience the otherworldly and the supernatural, and when institutionalized religions cannot or will not meet these experiential, people will turn to more dynamic systems of belief within their own traditions and folklore.3

In her book, Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, Tanya Luhrmann proposes that the practice of Western magic is a kind of play in which “belief and make-believe are intertwined” and the magician “plays at magic and understands the play as serious, and the truth of magical theory hovers in limbo between reality and fantasy.”4 This definition is quite compatible with that proposed by Margot Adler, who defines magic as “a convenient word for a whole collection of techniques, all of which involve the mind.”5 To this, she adds, “those who do magic are those who work with techniques that alter consciousness in order to facilitate psychic activity.”6 Together, Luhrmann and Adler’s comments emphasize the imagination and intent—the most important elements of Western magic. Throughout this book, I will use the term magic to signify a complex process of imaginatively affecting perceptions of reality through distinctive and persistent rhetorical strategies and ritual performances. Adler claims most magicians don’t concretely associate their practices with the supernatural, a statement I agree with, since the “supernatural” is a qualifier used largely by non-magicians (including legend-trippers) who generally remain unaware of advanced magical practices and lexicons (Adler acknowledges that most Americans consider magic to be “superstition or belief in the supernatural”).7 Legend-trippers are practicing the basics of magic—they are using techniques that artfully merge the rhetoric of supernatural legends with (p.44) ritual behavior outlined by these same legends to effectively alter consciousness, facilitating psychic activity—that is, presencing—albeit usually without any personal attachments to or direct knowledge of magic as a system or systems proper. Legend-trippers generally approach, generate, and reflect upon supernatural encounters as untrained practitioners of the magical arts.

The experiences at Waverly Hills described in chapter 2 were the direct results of rhetoric and ritualized magical action. Magic rituals often begin at specific times, which are seen as windows of opportunity to effectively stop time; the magical ritual is meant to exist in between worlds where normal time and space cease to operate upon human consciousness as they ordinarily do. By setting out on our legend-trip at midnight, the peak of the “witching hour,” we were correlating our activities with the implicit prescriptions for summoning the supernatural found in European folklore. The atmosphere of Waverly Hills was inherently uncanny—dilapidated, unlit, and fantastically eerie. The pervasive, natural darkness, punctuated by laser beams and flashes of electric gadgetry, distorted normal perceptions, and the many empty hallways and rooms dislocated the origins of any distant sounds. The overall effect was one of disorientation, which is critical in magical rituals designed to alter physical and psychological perceptions. Our familiarity with the variety of tales and belief statements about the sanitarium created certain expectations: to see the ghost of Timothy, to witness shadow forms, and to feel the presence of the dead. While the set and setting are vital to the outcome of a legend-trip, so is intent. Everyone wanted—and some fully expected—to have a supernatural encounter.

Performing either magic or a legend-trip traditionally necessitates the invocation or evocation of forces that constitute what most non-magicians refer to as the supernatural and what magicians call magic. The infamous magician Aleister Crowley clarified that “To ‘invoke’ is to ‘call in,’ just as to ‘evoke’ is to ‘call forth’… In invocation, the macrocosm floods the consciousness. In evocation, the magician, having become the macrocosm, creates a microcosm.”8 According to Crowley, invocation is a magical act that can take the form of prayer, of possession, or of self-identification with certain literal or figurative supernatural spirits; invocation is the internal or mental presencing of these spirits. Evocation is the act of externally projecting these very forces in accord with the magician’s will. To invoke power, magicians identify with or meditate upon spiritual forces or entities that are described by various legends, myths, and occult texts, concentrating upon their qualities in order to comprehend them. To evoke (p.45) power, magicians engage in a process whereby these same spiritual forces manifest to the evidence of the senses. Just as a successful evocation of powers in magical rituals first requires a successful invocation, in legend-tripping, a manifestation of the otherworldly in the form of a supernatural event requires the invocation of the supernatural legend or legend complex. This can best be thought of as preparation to interpret future events as supernatural. When the supernatural is considered to have appeared, legend-trippers can then be said to have successfully brought the legend to life.

The key similarity between the ritual performances of magicians and those of legend-trippers is that both employ the imagination to conjure events described by legends or occult texts for particular effects. By establishing a ritual or ritual-like play frame in which the supernatural or magic may operate, legend-trippers and magicians reframe their dimensions of experience. Tanya Luhrmann calls this process “interpretive drift”—the tendency for magicians to increasingly interpret events and experiences as magical the more they become involved with practicing magic. She identifies three loosely interlocking stages or conversions that fuel this shift: interpretation, experience, and rationalization.9

Newcomers to magic often face complicated concepts expressed in daunting esoteric symbolism and discourse. But, as neophytes progress in their learning, they begin to develop a hermeneutic system with which to begin translating and applying this knowledge. When magicians instigate and undergo novel phenomenological experiences which are “salient within the context of magical ideas but hard to account for outside,” such as powerful dreams, synchronicities, and ritual performances that alter consciousness, these experiences legitimate the magical framework in which they transpire.10 In effect, magicians begin to apply various sympathetic correspondences in which “ideas and beliefs drift, in a complex interdependency of concept and experience”; these frames then permit them to contextualize the world within a magical paradigm.11

Luhrmann notes that present-day Western practitioners of magic express ambivalence or otherwise remain equivocal as to whether they fully believe in magic. Because they acknowledge belief is a relative term, magicians are generally inclined to profess that magic is believable. Similarly, legend-tripping has less to do with belief in the objective truth status of the legend and more to do with construction of meaning during and after a legend-trip. We cannot say that all legend-trippers believe their actions will summon the supernatural, but we can say that many legend-trippers perform belief to this effect. Belief performances are the invocations of (p.46) legends enacted through legend-telling events and participatory behaviors that demonstrate an openness to the potential factuality of legend content. During the legend-trip at Waverly Hills, all of the stories told throughout the night, as well as the dozens of screams, gasps, exclamations, and camera flashes, encouraged us to begin interpreting the evidence of our senses through a supernatural frame. These belief performances catalyzed the process of interpretive drift.

A condensation of the stages involved in applying magical interpretive frameworks, the concept of interpretive drift is useful for explaining the process through which legend-trippers initiate and undergo ostensive ordeals. Legends provoke audiences to explore the supernatural realities they describe while providing a framework that may be used to instigate and subsequently interpret ostensive supernatural experiences aligned with these realities (those events salient within the ritual space of the legend-trip). Legend-trippers accept their experiences as out of the ordinary because they have shared and learned to interpret the experience with others (both in the immediate present and in the legend’s past) within the frames provided by the ritual.

Daniel Lawrence O’Keefe stresses that “magic is real action … magic is more often than not collective social action.”12 What really separates us from preliterate societies like the Trobrianders is that they fully accept this whereas many of us do not.13 Legend-tripping offers an opportunity to communally perform magic—albeit usually unknowingly—under the guise of traditional, playful behavior. Legend-trippers who encounter the supernatural and share their accounts with others are active performers—they are actors, directors, and stagehands in an unfolding and ongoing lively magico-performance, and not merely “spectators,” as Bill Ellis insists.14 By calling all legend-trippers spectators, Ellis mistakes legend-trippers’ unawareness or disavowal that they are performing belief for inaction, for passivity. In fact, the frames supplied and reinforced during the legend-trip require participants to accept (or to believe/perform belief in) the idea that it is a supernatural force that causes their experiences. The difference between participants in magical rites and legend-trippers then is that the former are often keenly aware of the importance of performance in generating desired experiences, while the latter generally are not.

Magic and Technology

The wonders surrounding novel technologies have long worked to realign the boundaries between the possible and impossible, the known and (p.47) unknown, the natural and supernatural. Skeptics and debunkers often ask, “Why do beliefs in the supernatural persist in the current technological, rational age we live in?” What they fail to acknowledge is that many of these beliefs thrive precisely because we live in an age full of technological wonder, and as long as new technologies continue to develop and transform the ways we interact with our environment and each other, so will supernatural beliefs. Both technology and magic exhibit humanity’s desire and ability to affect or even design the future, and as essayist Erik Davis states, “Powerful new technologies are magical because they function as magic, opening up novel and protean spaces of possibility within social reality.”15 One of the most interesting illustrations of this can be found in the Modern Spiritualist Movement.

In the mid- to late 1800s, Spiritualism drew upon enthusiasm for empirical knowledge and novel technologies of communication in an effort to synthesize religious beliefs in an afterlife with contemporary scientific objectivism.16 To Spiritualists both past and present, the term “supernatural” merely indicates those critical absences in society’s understandings of the natural world. The main tenet of Spiritualism, namely, the belief that the living may commune with the spirit world, can be found in religious traditions throughout the world. Spiritualism is a movement intended to readily supply evidence of the afterlife, and as such, great importance is placed on demonstrations of paranormal activity. At the religion’s core is the medium, a person able to communicate with spirit entities who usually directs séances or psychic circles. Participation in the séances may be considered a legend-trip since it is a group performance influenced by legends portraying séances as gateways to spiritual realms. Ardent Spiritualists, curiosity seekers, and scientists interested in paranormal manifestations all participated in séances during Spiritualism’s peak of popularity during the latter half of the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, although some participants in later years (such as Harry Houdini) were hell-bent on exposing all phenomena generated at séances as outright hoaxes. Like other legends describing the actions necessary for a successful legend-trip, narratives emerging from these rituals expounded upon the way séances should be conducted and included fantastic accounts of ghostly apparitions manifesting, ectoplasm materializing out of thin air, and even objects from afar teleporting or apporting into the room. Spiritualists and séance-goers eventually documented a wealth of anecdotes, theories, and legends. The sum of these writings provide key insights into how playframes and affective arousal shape the experiences of all who participated, and often read like textbooks on how to engage in legend-tripping.

(p.48) Technological Mediums

Spiritualists’ endeavors to unveil and communicate with invisible worlds corresponded with similar efforts by nineteenth-century scientists, and scientific discoveries and instrumentations were often incorporated into Spiritualist discourse as analogies for spirit contact. In 1844, the invention of telegraphy made wireless communication possible, and by 1882, it had become a source of popular metaphors for telepathy. In 1877, the phonograph began projecting disembodied voices much like spirit trumpets. The advent of radiographs after 1894 afforded people the ability to see inside the physical body, and these images were remarkably similar to the gauze-like apparitions caught by many Spiritualists with cameras.17 But no device contributed to the expressive behaviors and physical artifacts of Spiritualism more than the daguerreotype and, later, the camera.

The earliest photographers were well aware that the photographic process could create transparent images if the plates were double exposed or if the figure to be photographed moved before a full exposure was made, and many novelty ghost photographs were created by these methods. But in 1861, a photographer named William Mumler composed a self-portrait that he claimed revealed the additional, anomalous image of a spirit after the photograph had been developed. Shortly thereafter, spirit photography became immensely popular and entire studios (including one run by Mumler) were devoted to its production, often in collaboration with Spiritualists. For Spiritualists, these photographs demonstrated the reality of the spirit world and authenticated their practices since the photograph— as an instrument of science—was commonly thought to be an accurate, true representation of the world.18

“Extras”—those inexplicable photographic images believed to be messages from spirits—included faces, bodies, and sometimes even writings. Many Spiritualists thought that the representations of spirits captured on film were partially the results of the paranormal abilities of either the photographer or a nearby sitter. But it was the medium of the camera itself that informed contemporary representations of ghosts and spirits. Before photography, pictorial representations of ghosts came from artistic illustrations, usually drawings and woodcuts that could only portray ghosts’ appearances as solid. Interestingly, during this time, legends and personal experience narratives of hauntings mostly featured solid or embodied spirits. Only after the advent of the daguerreotype and other photographic processes could a disembodied, ethereal form be depicted.19 And (p.49) after such photographs were circulated legends and personal experience reports describing ghosts and spirits as insubstantial or semitransparent began to flourish.

In time, spirit photographers faced a surge of accusations of fraud as opportunistic hucksters began to take advantage of interest in the Spiritualist Movement for financial gain. Communities of spirit photographers rallied to defend and authenticate their photos and they developed a series of elaborate theories to counter their critics. They argued that spirit photos were feats of visual telepathy performed by Spiritualists; that those images containing apparent reproductions of photos taken before death were, in fact, evidence of the spirit’s thoughtfulness, since it manifested in a form recognizable to loved ones; and that the crude images often found in the spirit photographs were evidence enough that they were real, since current technology would be able to construct more aesthetically pleasing images. Despite these efforts, by the second decade of the twentieth century, the spirit photography fad had subsided, as had the popularity of the Spiritualist Movement.

No doubt the incursion and exposure of charlatans contributed significantly to the eventual fragmentation of Spiritualism, because as a ritual performance, the séance’s success depended on the communitas generated through shared experiences and interpretations. The function of the séance was dependent upon its structure as a legend-trip (or as a magic ritual) and once scientists, religious leaders, and others began publishing hoax reports and confessions, séances became occasions to discover fraudulent activities rather than performances to presence and experience the paranormal.

Contemporary Spirit Photography

With the introduction of new technologies, such as the Internet and digital cameras, spirit photography (a modern descendant of earlier Spiritualist practices) is once again immensely popular, especially within the context of legend-tripping. Entire online communities share photographic and video evidence of the paranormal, including UFOs, ghosts, and cryptids (creatures like Bigfoot and the Chupacabra). I’ve already mentioned that several television shows feature legend-trips—these have contributed thousands of hours of legend-tripping footage. Currently, most of these programs (such as the aforementioned Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted) center on contemporary ghost lore. Many ghost hunters are widely (p.50) familiar with the tradition and history of spirit photography, but few profess to be Spiritualists. Rather than believing their photos, video, and audio equipment testify to the reality of the supernatural, these people, like their earlier-day Spiritualist counterparts, are inclined to posit that terms such as “supernatural” and “paranormal” exist due to our current inabilities to fully explain a range of naturally occuring phenomena. Like earlier Spiritualists, many of today’s legend-trippers seek to verify the objective reality of ghosts and other so-called paranormal phenomena by technological means. Consciously or not, these individuals avoid the pitfalls of the earlier Spiritualist Movement’s inability to successfully incorporate pluralistic interpretations of anomalous experiences. No single interpretation of photos is privileged, no one voice holds absolute authority when authenticating a photograph, and there are no canons of religious belief to observe or debunk, since there are usually no religious doctrines associated with this activity.

Some technological devices are certainly quite capable of recording phenomena that the human senses cannot perceive. Through our technology, we have the ability to see the wings of a hummingbird suspended in time, view the entire nightly procession of stars in a few seconds, and even scrutinize individual atoms on the head of a needle. Never before has humanity been able to extend the five senses to such a degree. But some still wonder if our technology is capable of revealing other hidden worlds. Addressing ghost hunters’ claims that the camera is able to capture images of ghosts, the author and ghost hunter Troy Taylor writes, “Unfortunately no one really knows just how ghosts end up on film. Some believe that it has something to do with the camera’s ability to freeze a moment of time and space in a way that the human eye cannot do. This may also combine with the intense energy pattern of the ghost, which somehow imprints itself through emulsion onto the film itself.”20 When I attended a meeting of the Adsagsona Paranormal Society in Nashville, one ghost hunter explained, “These spirits exist in a different spectrum of light that we’re unable to see with our eyes but the camera can capture.” Joshua Warren (nephew to the famous parapsychologists Ed and Lorraine Warren) claims that “Cameras allow us to see things we cannot see— things that move too fast or occupy a section of reality outside the scope of our natural observation … they can literally serve as our eyes into the spirit world.”21 The marvels of technology remind us of our limitations even as they offer us new ways to relate to the unknown and new media with which to propagate legendry.

(p.51) The spirits that haunt the many photographs that communities of spirit photographers have taken over the years are, for some, evidence of a reality normally inaccessible to sensory operations. The photographer Mark Durant asserts, “The camera may sometimes act as a visual doorway to other worlds, but it is as if the lens were made of cheap plastic, offering only refraction, foggy figures, and ambiguity.”22 Spirit photography is a way to accumulate material that, when approached through particular interpretive frames, validates beliefs and ideas about spiritual and supernatural worlds for a number of people. While it may seem like the inward search for personal illumination is being replaced by the outward search for objective truth, the technology used in legend-tripping performances supplies ambiguous evidence that shapes and is shaped by people’s wants, desires, and beliefs. The instruments and media ghost hunters emloy serve as their eyes and ears into the spiritual realms, and in this way function as extensions of the ritual.

Occult Software and Haunted Cyberspace

Some of the more inventive associations between magic and technology are evident in the development of occult software—computer programs used alongside or instead of more traditional magical practices. One website offers a number of occult programs “to help you with Sympathetic Magick.”23 Some of these claim to grant magicians the ability to “cast thousands of spells a minute,” and even to “utilize the moon energy within the program.” The website advertises:

Is Image Magick your preferred style of Sympathetic Magick? Perfect then this is the perfect Magick Tool for you! The Source Software uses Image Magick perfectly enhanced and mingled with Biometrics. Biometrics has the ability to take the power of intent and your thought form to a whole new level of reality! Many have commented to the effect that it gives your intent a life form all of its own quickly and quite effectively. Imagine the way you craft spells, hexes, curses, etc., today and thousand fold it each and every minute you choose to run the program… This is what The Source software can do.24

Just as contemporary ghost hunters embrace the idea that digital technologies can assist them in finding ghosts, so too do some magicians (p.52) entertain the idea that their spell casting may be enhanced by computer technology.

Magicians and psychics may also employ random number and/or text generators to test whether they can affect a random sequence of data through mind alone, to divine the future, and even as to communicate with discarnate beings. These last two applications are simply contemporary expressions of the ancient and universal belief that spiritual or otherworldly forces can deliver messages and make their presence known by manipulating human technology. Of course, there are more recent precedents as well. In the 1950s, UFO enthusiasts and amateur ham radio operators began receiving what they speculated might be communications from advanced, alien races. In 1985, a West German named Klaus Schreiber, a pioneer in electronic spirit photography, believed deceased loved ones were contacting him through his television set.25 The folklorist Elizabeth Tucker writes of a ghost in a college residence hall that allegedly communicates by typing the words “!EM PLEH” (“Help me!”) on the screen of a student’s computer.26 And several ghost hunters now use a device called the “Ovilus,” an electronic gadget that translates different electromagnetic frequencies into words, purportedly allowing spirits to “talk” by manipulating local energies.27

Occult software has also been created to utilize the Internet as a magical tool to focus magicians’ wills and manifest their intentions. Mark Pesche, co-creator of VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language, a textbased file format used to represent three-dimensional, interactive vector graphics) and a self-avowed witch, publicly launched VRML with a magical ceremony named CyberSamhain. On Friday, October 14, 1994, Pesche sent out an e-mail invitation to participate in this ritual:

On 27 October 1994, at Life On The Water in San Francisco, California, we will perform a ritual of CyberSamhain, a ritual which acknowledges and welcomes the God into his realm on the other side, within Cyberspace. He must pass through the Goddess, who is everywhere present and need be welcomed nowhere; before cyberspace took form, she was its firmament.

The great advantage of a ritual within cyberspace is very clear; everyone who wishes can join with us, *wherever they may be in the world*, and participate in the ritual. We will be using two wonderful channels into cyberspace; Mosaic, which allows you to view hypermedia documents which span the Internet, and Labyrinth, a brand-new (p.53) Internet visualization tool which creates a three-dimensional ‘view’ of a space on the Internet. Real cyberspace.

Using these tools, we will be casting a magick circle whose center will be everywhere and perimeter nowhere. The ritual will be available through Mosaic and the World Wide Web, as well as a Labyrinth-based view of the magick circle. Further, if anyone reading this feels compelled to participate, they may contribute text, graphics, or other media which will also be added to the site. Also, anyone who wants to contribute a totem (a three-dimensional representation) to be placed *within* circle during ritual will likewise be able to do that.28

Pesche implies that cyberspace is particularly conducive to magical practice because it operates as magic, overcoming the limitations of space, acting much like an astral plane. Moreso, cyberspace is magic, a manifestation of the divine. Pesche’s magick circle permits any number of magicians to collectively presence the sacred, their numbers strengthening the efficacy of this act.

Folk belief in the supernatural or magical powers of the Internet arises partially because online communication connects people, places, and events in ways that overcome conventional restrictions of time and space. But the Internet also supplies two conditions that the political science scholar Michael Barkun identifies as necessary for the construction of any alternative belief system incorporating mystical awareness of immanent and/or transcendent reality: access to a wide variety of thematic materials or motifs—a database from which one may weave together many metaphysical ideas, and an environment that significantly lessens the influence of existent authorities “so that novel combinations of ideas can be proposed and taken seriously.”29 One consequence of this is that people seek to develop direct, personal relationships with the Internet, ascribing to it a magical or supernatural character.

Cyberspace and the Noosphere

Over forty-five years ago, the media theorist Marshall McLuhan, argued that computer technologies were collapsing space and time restraints, essentially turning the world into a “global village” where everyone could actively participate in a worldwide conversation.30 This belief echoed an (p.54) idea developed twenty years earlier by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—the concept of the noosphere.31 According to Teilhard, all human activity is oriented toward achieving a single point of convergence—a hypothetical, emergent, transhuman consciousness called the noosphere, which may be understood as a virtual space containing and emanating all human thought. In his posthumously published book, The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard writes, “the noosphere tends to constitute a single closed system in which each element sees, feels, desires and suffers for itself the same things as all the others at the same time.”32 He continues: “All our difficulties and repulsions as regards the opposition between the All and the Person would be dissipated if only we understood that, by structure, the noosphere (and more generally the world) represent a whole that is not only closed but also centred. Because it contains and engenders consciousness, space-time is necessarily of a convergent nature. Accordingly its enormous layers, followed in the right direction, must somewhere ahead become involuted to a point … which fuses and consumes them integrally in itself.”33 The concept of the noosphere attempts to reconcile the metaphysical teleologies of singularity and radical plurality by codifying reality as a hermeneutic circle generating alternate worlds, which eventually, when interpreted, lead to understanding, which then recursively generates even more alternate worlds, ad infinitum—all of which eventually converge. Julian Huxley, in his introduction to the first English translation of The Phenomenon of Man, writes: “the increase of human numbers combined with the improvement of human communications has fused all the parts of the noosphere together … But when it is confined to spreading out over the surface of a sphere, idea will encounter idea, and the result will be an organized web of thought, a noetic system operating high tension, a piece of evolutionary machinery capable of generating high psychosocial energy.”34 The noosphere aligns temporal reality or history as a progressive series of stages, each growing in self-awareness and complexity toward a teleological singularity of space-time and matter. We may approach the noosphere as a kind of meta-reality incorporating a magical principle: everything is in some way connected to everything else regardless of temporal or spatial constraints. By identifying the noosphere as “a noetic system … generating high psychosocial energy,” Huxley aligns this theory of grand unification with those magical practices that facilitate the development and application of psychic energy in efforts to presence into being infinite possible worlds that may be collectively experienced.

(p.55) Many magicians, science fiction writers, and cyberculture enthusiasts have incorporated variations of the noosphere in their techno-evolution-ary philosophies; among the more notable of these is the futurist Raymond Kurzweil, who argues in his transhumanist book, The Singularity Is Near (2005), that there will eventually be a hybridization of artificial intelligence and humanity, leading to immortality and the ability to refashion the entire physical universe. Kurzweil predicts the first artificially intelligent computer will emerge sometime around 2029. But others advocate that the Internet is the noosphere and is already sentient, and that our interactions with this consciousness have already begun the artificial intelligence/human hybridization that will manifest transhuman consciousness. These folk beliefs, in effect, refame the concept of “natural” to allow experiences had through—and with—communication technologies to be interpreted as “supernatural.” The legends that emerge from these experiences and lead others to seek them out contribute to vast, collective world-making enterprises that folklorists call legend complexes.


(1) . Frazer 1993 [1890], 12. Unlike Frazer, Malinowski believed magic was psychologically effective, but was convinced its practice would diminish with the more scientific knowledge people acquired.

(2) . Gmelch 1989, 295.

(4) . Luhrmann 1989, 336.

(5) . Adler 1986, 8.

(6) . Ibid., 157.

(7) . Ibid., 6.

(8) . Crowley 1998 [1912], 147.

(10) . Ibid., 317.

(11) . Ibid., 353.

(12) . Covino 1994, 12, referring to O’Keefe 1982.

(p.190) (13) . O’Keefe 1982, xv.

(14) . Ellis 2003, 166.

(15) . Davis 2004, 216.

(17) . See John Harvey’s 2004 article on Spiritualism and visual technology.

(18) . Firenze 2004, 73.

(20) . Taylor 2004, 124

(21) . Warren 2003, 165.

(22) . Durant 2003, 14.

(23) . http://occultsoftware.com/thesourcesoftware/ (accessed December 12, 2007).

(24) . Ibid.

(25) . Keel 2006, 4.

(26) . Tucker 2007, 87–90.

(27) . Digital Dowsing, a company specializing in applied technologies for paranormal research, designed the Ovilus. http://www.digitaldowsing.com/products/ (accessed October 3, 2009).

(28) . “CyberSamhain Invitation.” http://1997.webhistory.org/www.lists/www-vrml.1994/0642.html (accessed January 7, 2008).

(29) . Barkun 2003, 19.

(31) . The actual term “noosphere” was created by geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky to name a theoretical, yet-to-occur period of human development when human cognition would reshape Earth’s biosphere.

(32) . Teilhard 1959, 251.

(33) . Ibid. 259.

(34) . Julian Huxley’s “Introduction” to Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 17–18.