CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

Technoshamanism: Cyber-sorcery and schizophrenia

by Dave Green, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK
Preliminary version - Do not reproduce without the consent of the author. A paper presented at The 2001 Conference in London


This paper explores connections between contemporary cultural trajectories, traditional shamanic and techno-shamanic practices. Technoshamanism can be located as being on the fringes of a wider pagan revival being a hybrid of rave and internet cultures and spiritual expression. I argue that technoshamanism is about the transgression and dissolution of boundaries particularly those between culture and nature, performance and audience. Using Foucault's concept of heterotopia as a heuristic, I explore the spatial and psychic significance of these transgressions. Furthermore the cognitive strategies which underpin technoshamanism resemble the nomadology of Deleuze and Guattari. This is confirmed when technoshamanic use of the internet is considered. In these ways technoshamans appear to be going beyond superficial retraditionalizations of premodern shamanic practice, rather they seem to re-framing such practices through the use of technology - psychedelic, musical, as well as computer hardware - as a gateway into the altered discursive and cognitive states of the premodern anthropological matrix.

I wish to begin with two quotes [1]. The first is taken from anthropologist and neo-shaman Prem Das' (cited in Drury, 1989: 49) vivid description of taking peyote during a shamanic ritual with the Huichol Indians of Mexico's Sierra Madre:

[I]t rose in my mind's eye like a great time-lapse vision. I saw a human being rise from the earth, stand for a moment, and then dissolve back into it. It was only a brief moment, and in that moment our whole lives passed. Then I saw a huge city rise out of the desert floor beneath me, exist for a second, and then vanish back into the vastness of the desert. The plants, the rocks, and the earth under me were saying, 'Yes, this is how it really is, your life, the city you live in.' It was as if in my peyotized state I was able to perceive and communicate with a resonance or vibration that surrounded me. Those inner barriers which defined 'me' as a separate identity from 'that' - my environment - had dissolved. An overwhelming realisation poured through me - that the human race and all technology formed by it are nothing other than flowers of the earth.

The second quote is taken from an interview I conducted for my doctoral research into paganism with 'Steve', a magician and self-confessed technoshaman. He describes the feelings he experienced at the first rave he attended :

I went along for a laugh with some mates and to do some E, but soon it all...the beat...got to me. Eventually I realised that I wasn't moving alone, but became part of something bigger than just me. As the drugs kicked in with the music, the dance floor, everything, sort of dissolved...everything fucking merged. I wasn't dancing anymore, I was part of...it might sound shit, but I was part of the dance of the planet. I was part of its rhythm...It was blissful, that feeling...I felt whole...with the lights, the drugs, everything...Everything was within me and I - 'I' isn't adequate - I was nothing, insignificant but I was also the whole universe...everything. Fuck. It's really hard to put into words but it wasn't just me anymore. I saw death but felt the life force so fucking strongly. That first time...I've never felt so connected with the earth. That was my first encounter with magic...real magic.

Globalization has had profound effects on contemporary pagan and magical revivals. Shamanic practices, in particular, have been appropriated from their indigenous context then integrated into the bricolage that comprises pagan discourses and practices, creating the innovative spiritual hybrids elucidated by neo-shamans such as Michael Harner (1990). One such synthesis is the hybrid of Western 'core' or neo-shamanism and alternative dance floor culture known as technoshamanism. In recent years clubs and labels such as Return to the Source have mixed 'rave' music and esotericism to create a neo-tribalism which links pagan ritual, performance and technology. Comparing the above quotes it appears that traditional shamanic and technoshamanic experiences are related, but what is the significance of this relationship? Why at this time are individuals returning to the primitive techniques of the shaman? Indeed, as Steve Mirzach (n.d.: 1-2), a self-styled cyber-anthropologist, asks:

Why at this apex point in human history, according to our various socioevolutionary theories, are we rushing once more to embrace the cast-off 'primitive'?...Why are "raves" bringing us back to Lévy-Bruhl's earliest phase of human consciousness - the participation mystique? [2]

Before attempting to answer these questions the fundamental relationship between traditional and technoshamanism needs to be considered. Is technoshamanism part of a post-modern magical and mystical revival or is it merely, in video artist Don Foresta's words, 'techno-scamanism'? (cited in Scott, n.d.: 1). That is, 'a hyper-inflated idea of the magical power of the artist. I've yet to see any of us working in the field of art and the new technologies walk on hot coals or heal the sick' (ibid.).

The shamanic world

Being chosen by spirits, taught by them to enter trance and to fly with one's soul to other worlds in the sky or clamber through dangerous crevasses into the terror of subterranean worlds; being stripped of one's flesh, reduced to a skeleton...and then reassembled and reborn; gaining the power to combat spirits and heal their victims, to kill enemies and save one's own people from disease and starvation - these are features of the shamanic religions which occur in many parts of the world. (Vitebsky, 1995: 8)

The word "shaman" comes from the language of the Evenk, a small Tungus-speaking tribe of hunters and reindeer herders in Siberia [3]. From these specific origins the term has become a catch-all anthropological term to describe similar spiritual practices - 'similar constellations of techniques, beliefs, traditional knowledge and authority in other cultures' (Harvey, 1997: 107) - around the globe. Despite the ubiquity of the term in contemporary anthropology and religious studies perhaps it is more accurate to talk about 'shamanisms' rather than a single global shamanism: Whilst all shamanic activity involves some sort of involvement with the realms of spirits, outside of this fundamental activity, a pre-modern shaman might be 'psychopomp, priest, healer, therapist, spiritual-warrior, spirit-controller, medium and/or powerful communal leader' (Harvey, 1997: 108). The shaman enters these spirit realms through accessing altered states of consciousness (ASCs) - also termed shamanic states of consciousness (SSCs) or nonordinary reality (see Harner, 1990: xix-xxiv) - wherein the shaman's soul is said to be able to leave its body and journey to other, super-sensory, parts of the cosmos such as the upper world of the Great Primordial Shaman and the lower world of the dead [4]. In these altered states the shaman is able, among other things, to fly like an eagle in seeking ingredients for the formulation of cures for the sick, fight spirits which are causing certain maladies or ill fortune, or seek answers to problems faced by the tribe. There are numerous techniques for accessing these states, though the most common involve hallucinogenic drug use, dancing, drumming or vocal techniques such as chanting. The most sensationalist anthropological accounts of shamanism have stressed ubiquitous drug-use - probably catalyzed by the fictive shamanthropology of Castaneda, Harner's experiences with the Jivaro, or the drug-fuelled literary cut-ups of William S. Burroughs - but in fact it is mostly confined to the shamanisms of the New World. Hallucinogenic plants are actually conceptualised as spirit-teachers by these shamans and their ingestion transfers into shamans spiritual properties and attributes. These so-called teacher plants - for example, Fly Agaric, ayahuasca, peyote - reveal the altered realities which usually lie hidden or dormant within ordinary states of consciousness. Rhythm in the form of drumming, chanting and dance are other important gateways to these super-normal realities. As Vitebsky (1995: 78-9) argues, 'The experience of the spirit realm in shamanism is closely tied to music. In particular, there is a powerful connection between trance and the rhythmic regularity of percussion instruments. In virtually every region where shamanism is found, the drum is the shamanic instrument par excellence.' [5] Luisah Teish, a shaman and priestess of a Yoruban religious tradition called Lucumi, describes the way that a combination of dance and rhythm allows her to enter trance and facilitates possession by the Lucumi goddess Oshun, a Nigerian counterpart of the Graeco-Roman Venus or Aphrodite:

Suddenly I find I'm dancing off-rhythm, and an ancestor or a spirit is there. You are bombarded by music, and not really in control of your body. It seems that the drummer's hands are your feet and then at some point there is a great silence. You find you are now on the wall, on the ceiling - over there somewhere - watching your body performing... (cited in Drury, 1989: 72)

Performance - or performative acts (Tambiah, 1985; Smart, 1997) - and artistry were absolutely central to traditional shamanic activity (note Turner, 1982). Performance, however, was always connected to something other than manifest spectacle - linked with efficacy rather than entertainment (see Schechner, 1994) and enacting rather than simply acting (see Alexander, 1997: 154). Shamanic ritual performance was, as it remains today in contemporary paganism, about mutual explorations of ontology - both latent and manifest - and the psyche. Erik Davis (1999: 173), for example, conceptualises premodern shamans as 'the social and ecological psychiatrists of their societies'. He aligns shamanic magic with both 'empirical science' and 'virtual theatre', arguing that the shaman used 'language, costumes, gestures, song, and stagecraft' in order to apply 'techne to the social imagination, actively tweaking the images, desires, and stories that partly structure the collective psyche' (ibid.). He terms this psychic process - echoing the science-fiction of William Gibson (1984) - neuromancy. Neuromancy and traditional techniques of consciousness alteration have a direct correspondence with the techniques of ecstasy one finds in the context of a technoshamanic rave [6]. Technoshamanic culture has, for example, digitised tribal beats, chants and sounds from the rainforests; replaced psychotropic 'teacher plants' with synthesised highs in the form of amphetamines, LSD and Ecstasy; substituted the dances of the Whirling Dervishes with raves; and, swapped ritual bonfires with the 'magically' transformative gazes of the strobe, and internet images and computer-generated fractals which are projected onto the walls of the venue. These allow access not to the lower, middle and upper realms of traditional shamanism but to the latent realities of Gaia, also termed Cyberia. As Harvey (1997: 122) notes 'In Raves and clubs "technoshamans" are altering consciousness...to provide an experience of "at-one-ness" with all things and access to apparent omniscience.' This apparent neuromantic omniscience is intimately linked with artistic creation and performance within shamanic worldviews and, indeed, within the artistic process more generally. Noel (1997: 135-6) argues that shamanic practices combine introspective perspiration with artistic inspiration citing both the rock art at the caves at Lascaux and - following Michael Tucker (1992) and Maureen Korp (1997) - shamanic ways of seeing at work in contemporary art. However the underlying neuromancy efficacy of shamanic ritual also transcends normative Western conceptions of art and performance. This is demonstrated by this extract from Shirokogoroff's (cited in Lewis, 1989: 46-7) description of a Tungus shaman ritual:

The rhythmic music and singing, and later the dancing of the shaman gradually involve every participant more and more in a collective action...When the shaman feels that the audience is with him and follows him he becomes still more active and this effect is transmitted to his audience. After shamanizing, the audience recollects various moments of the performance, their great psychophysiological emotion and the hallucinations of sight and hearing which they have experienced. They then have a deep satisfaction - much greater than that from emotions produced by theatrical and musical performances, literature and general artistic phenomena of the European complex, because in shamanizing the audience at the same time acts and participates.

These forms of transcendence are also apparent in technoshamanic ritual. Self-proclaimed psychonaut and godfather of technoshamanism, Terence McKenna claims that technoshamans, like their shamanic forefathers, journey the latent realities of Gaia to bring both artistic inspiration and sacred liberation to a disenchanted world (see McKenna and Zuvuya, 1993; The Shamen and McKenna, 1993). Just as shamans transcend performance in Lucumi and Tungus ritual, technoshamanic ritual is also about dissolving or transgressing normal conceptions of performance. Technoshamanism, like traditional shamanism, is about the dissolution of the boundaries between performers and audience, transporting both beyond manifest performance and manifest reality to somewhere sacred. Both opening quotes talked of processes of dissolution. Prem Das talked of the dissolution of 'Those inner barriers which defined 'me' as a separate identity from 'that' - my environment'. Steve, meanwhile, stated that 'As the drugs kicked in with the music, the dance floor, everything, sort of dissolved...everything fucking merged. I wasn't dancing anymore, I was part of...it might sound shit, but I was part of the dance of the planet'. McKenna equates this dissolution to changes in consciousness from ordinary states to altered, collective states - in other words, magical states. For McKenna rave participants actually 'change neurological states, and large groups of people getting together in the presence of this kind of music are creating a telepathic community, a bonding...' (cited in Harvey, 1997: 24). Cyber-critic, Douglas Rushkoff (1994: 159-60), goes further by arguing that the creation of collective consciousness means not only that there are 'no performers, no audience, no leaders, no egos', but also that all raves become part of the same mystical participation: 'For the fractal rule of self-similarity to hold, this also means that every house club must share in the co-operative spirit of all clubs.' In these respects the collective consciousness and tribal, expressive sociality [7] of technoshamanic identity acts to challenge more individualist, late modern conceptions of self-identity (for example, Giddens, 1990, 1991; Beck, 1992).

Heterotopia and trance-gression

So far the importance of the tools of shamanic trance-formation in performance, particularly psychedelics and music, has been emphasised. A vital dimension has so far remained unexplored - the spaces in which these dissolutions, trance-formations and galvanizations of tribal identity occur. Central to the technoshamanic experience is the dance floor which, for many participants, appears to represent an innovative form of ritual space. For example, this member of the pagan technoshamanic band Medicine Drum equates the dance floor with sacred sites:

Welcome to our world of Sacred Sites. Ancient places of power where our ancestors gathered to conduct scared ceremonies, celebrating their connection to the earth, the sky and each other. These sites provided the focus for community ritual where we danced all night around huge fires to celebrate the seasons and empower ourselves as one tribe united in spirit. As we danced on the earth the power of these sites was released into our bodies giving us strength and connecting us to Gaia. Then the religions of fear began to take control. They destroyed our sacred sites and our dance rituals, burning all who dared question the new order. But the power could not be suppressed forever and the great cycles of time have brought us full circle to this new moment and we are gathering once again. The ancient memory has been reawakened, the all night dance ritual has returned. All across the world people are again experiencing the power of the dance. Our new sacred site is the dance floor and even though the structure of the temple has changed the sacred earth beneath our feet is still the same...This album represents a sacred global journey. It is an attempt to reconnect with the ancient spirits of the earth, reminding us of the power we once felt as we danced the sacred path. The power we again feel today. (C. Deckker, 1997: 4-5)

In these terms the technoshamanic dance-floor can be described as magical, as transformative ritual space. It appears to be a space of otherness that is resistant to mainstream social and cultural values, particularly to the tenets of mainstream religion [8]. It also appears to be a specifically tribal space, a space of expressive sociality and communitas (Turner, 1969). In these terms the dance floor appears strange and replete with overlapping, competing and multiple meanings. Such ambiguous places are termed heterotopia by Foucault (1986; 1989: xv-xxiv). In Foucauldian terms heterotopic spaces can be considered the blind-spots in the gaze of the panopticon in which one can temporarily be freed from carceral society (see Foucault, 1977). Foucault (1986: 25) himself gives the example of a cinema auditorium as heterotopia - 'a very odd rectangular room, at the end of which, on a two-dimensional screen, one sees the projection of a three-dimensional space.' According to Hetherington, heterotopia become affective centres of social centrality for certain marginalised out-groups and activities (see Babcock, 1978: 32). It is in these spaces that groups can meet and 'be themselves', expressing and galvanising their practices, beliefs and resistant identities outside of mainstream social space (see Stallybrass and White, 1986). Thus heterotopia are places filled with both cultural 'others' and cultural otherness. It is this alterity which makes them simultaneously culturally marginal and symbolically central (for example, Hetherington, 1996; Melucci, 1996: 101; also Babcock, 1978). Just as many technoshamans venerate the sacred sites of antiquity [9], Hetherington (1996) gives the example of Stonehenge as a heterotopia par excellence [10]. He cites the pagan and New Age-inspired activity of the traveller free festivals at the sacred site as a form of cultural inversion - recalling both the liminal and ludic spaces of Victor Turner (1969, 1974, 1982) and Bakhtin's (1984) carnivalesque - wherein marginality and alterity become temporarily normalised and celebrated. Just as varieties of shamanic experience dissolve boundaries, heterotopia temporarily subverts or dissolves normal forms of ordering and hierarchy, allowing the boundaries of normality to be transgressed. In the technoshamanic context ritual space acts as a crucible for dissolving or trance-gressing the boundaries between ordinary and shamanic realities, between culture, nature and the supernature of Gaia. According to Duerr (1985) it is this ability to cross the boundary between civilization and wilderness, culture and nature that is the key to magical transformation. Thus it is this positioning of the dance floor at the symbolic borders between culture and nature which gives technoshamanic ritual its efficacy.

'Mad for it' or Nomad?

As noted above it is no coincidence that shamanic activity has increased in times of hitherto unparalleled global processes. Paraphrasing Robertson (1992), the intensification of global consciousness has produced a new awareness of indigenous peoples and cultural others. Both neo- and techno-shamanisms have consciously appropriated elements from spiritual traditions around the globe, pragmatically reinserting them in innovative and transformative combinations (for example, Sargent, 1994; Magliocco, 1996). What is now required is a way of thinking about these processes which captures the essence of this technoshamanic retraditionalization and bricolage whilst retaining the sense of artistic and mystical union that underpin shamanic experience. Counter-intuitively, the avowed materialism of the French neo-Nietzschean philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari provides an interesting way of thinking about these issues.

In particular Deleuze and Guattari's (1988) concept of the nomad - bricoleurs par excellence - is useful in trying to understand the magical strategies of technoshamans. They draw their inspiration for the term from successive barbarian incursions across the boundaries of empire from Asia into Europe over many centuries. The flat, 'smooth' terrain which these nomads conquered, the Eurasian Steppes, coming to represent, in Deleuze and Guattari's scheme, space which resists the hierarchical, striated spaces of modernity. These resistant spaces, for me do not follow the rules of rationalised spaces, rather they resemble the ambivalent and magically trance-formative spaces of heterotopia, such as the technoshamanic dance floor. Deleuze and Guattari's (1988) A Thousand Plateaus, in particular, is a treatise of horizontal, rhizomatic thought over vertical, arborescent hierarchies of modern knowledge. Rhizomatic thought belongs to 'the smooth' spaces of heterotopia rather than the striated and hierarchised spaces of modernity. That is, Deleuze and Guattari have levelled out - made horizontal - modern hierarchies of signs and knowledge so that no single signifier or discourse is privileged. Their philosophic method - and that of the nomad and technoshamanic bricoleur - resembles the rhizome rather than the tree, horizontally, synchronically connecting and invading different spaces or nodes rather than discretely and diachronically arching upwards. The rhizome like the nomad is sustained by constant movement - deterritorialization - only temporarily creating new symbolic homes and practices - reterritorialization - before moving on (see Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 381-4). These analogies of nomad and rhizome works upon several levels within technoshamanic practices. Clearly nomadic, rhizomatic thinking underpins the bricolage that comprises technoshamanism. The rhizome however also links the specific elements that comprise the heterotopic space of the dance floor, bringing together retraditionalized ritual forms with contemporary technology. The endless drum loops and samples are in themselves rhizomatic. Rhythms and sacred sounds culled from archaic sources [11] fold back on themselves in endless variation but are still part of the same continuous movement of sound, reverberating from their times and places of origin into the now of the dance floor. Rather like the temporal reverberations of Bachelard (1969) they transport one backwards and forwards through rhizomes of time, space and memory (also Game, 1995). The rhizome also psychically links individuals with trance-formative shamanic hidden realities and artistic inspiration bringing them, in the terminology of McKenna, in direct contact with Gaia. Rhizomatic thinking invades the individual psyche causing it to be directed in multiple directions - multiple lines of flight (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988) - both multiplying and unifying it with the psyche's of others in a sense of mystical participation. Fittingly, Deleuze and Guattari posit multiple notions of the self [12], which can be summarised by their (largely inappropriate) use of the term schizophrenia (see Green, 2001). Just as traditional shamanic practice is bound with apparent psychosis (for example, Devereux, 1961; Silverman, 1967; Noll, 1983; Vitebsky, 1995: 138-141), their schizophrenia, unlike current dominant psychiatric discourses, is about breakthrough and freedom rather than breakdown and despair. [13]

Techgnosis and the anthropological matrix

In post-rave culture, the dramatic use of information technology provides a complementary strand of technoshamanic activity. Erich Schneider (n.d.: 1-2), a self-proclaimed technoshaman, for example argues that

[T]here is a strong spirituality within many of us we cannot hide from any more. It is as new as computers, but the force behind it is as old as humanity itself....It allows us to study the very nature, the goddess, we come from...The force is great, and especially the programmers, laser jocks, scientists, and silicon architects can feel it. The technology has a spirit of its own, as valid as the spirit of any creature of the goddess. This is the spiritual force we, those who are called technopagan, feel and must express...Our grand challenge, though is to balance our exploding technology with the forces of nature...One can easily see a mapping between computer networks and the spirit world, and between computers and the powerful entities the traditional shaman interacts with.

The theatricality, playfulness and pantheistic pagan sentiment of technoshamanic ritual has been transferred to shamanic uses of information technology. Certainly the paradox of technoshamanic consciousness as both multiple and collective is embodied in ritual uses of IT. Erik Davis (1999) has written at length about the relationship between contemporary magic, particularly pagan magic, and the age of information. He details the ways in which early attempts at computer-based interactivity - particularly fantasy games or MUDs (multi-user dungeons) - were often the brainchildren of programmers whom were part of the burgeoning pagan scene. Indeed it is almost as if the new media age and contemporary magic have co-evolved. One archetype central to shamanic activity is that of the Trickster [14] (see Lang cited in Scott, n.d.: 1). As Vitebsky (1995: 88) notes:

Being a trickster is an essential strand in the make-up of a shaman, who must change form to fight and outwit destructive spirits. Primeval shamans used trickery to capture the sun so as to give people daylight, or stole the secrets of fire, hunting or agriculture from jealous spirits. A Nepalese shaman in this century was imprisoned by the authorities but walked out through the main gate unnoticed in the form of a sheep.

Such trickery continues in cyberspace where the web has become a prime site for postmodern identity construction. That is, in virtual chat-rooms one does not know with certainty whom one is communicating with. The eponymous Candy, a blond high-school cheerleader from New York City with whom we are e-mailing, may well in actuality be Andy, a retired accountant from Welwyn Garden City. Cyberspace, like ritual space, is an important site for spiritual transformation where one is able to perform, play with, deconstruct and reconstruct identity. Indeed it provides an artistic site for the creation of Deleuzian multiple - magical - selves. As Joseph Nechtaval (cited in Scott, n.d.: 1-2) argues 'Only ideas of multiple selves can adequately represent artists as social communicators anymore. Only transformative notions of the self can accurately reflect the massive transformational effect of webbed high-technology'. A technoshaman might not have the ability to transform into a sheep quite yet, but cyberspace does provide an arena for anarchic artistic experimentation with our selves which, in some respects, mirrors the existential trance-formations of the dance floor. Indeed the dance floor as an ephemeral heterotopic site reflects Davis' (1999: 114) use of Hakim Bey's (1991) T.A.Z., or 'temporary autonomous zone' - 'a nomadic slice of space-time where desires are liberated from commodity consumption and social forms follow the chaotic logic of the Tao' (Davis, 1999: 114) - as a heuristic for the transformative potential of cyberspace. Just as Davis discusses cyberspace in terms of nomadology, the cyber-feminist Sadie Plant (1997: 124) likens its structure to the Deleuzian rhizome:

Grasses, orchids, lilies, and bamboos have no roots, but rhizomes, creeping underground stems which spread sideways on dispersed, horizontal networks of swollen or tender filaments and produce aerial shoots along their length and surface as distribution of plants. They defy categorization as individuated entities.

These analogies have important consequences for the types of consciousness which information technology creates. That is, just as technoshamanic raves dissolve boundaries between performance and participation, art and liberation, and psyche and nature, technoshamanic uses of information technology dissolve the boundaries both between individual IT users and between users and the technology they are using. The strands of the world wide web act as rhizomatic threads linking individual psyches together as network minds - that is, a collective consciousness which defies categorization as a number of individuated entities. As Derrick DeKerckhove (cited in Scott, n.d.:2) states:

The networked imagination penetrates the mind differently: it works on the connections between minds, and not on the contents of the imagination of private minds. A certain order of synaptic connections, established both by how we use a medium like a computer or an access on-line, and by what we are invited to do with these activities, establishes itself as a norm for our behaviour and our judgement. Connectivity becomes a way of life. We develop network minds.

Importantly the concept of the network mind, a hybrid of human and virtual consciousness, resembles Haraway's (1991) notion of the cyborg - 'a hybrid creature, composed of organism and machine' (Haraway, 1991: 1). Whilst Haraway (1991: 150) uses the cyborg as a tactic in a symbolic call for the dissolution of gendered polarities, the cyborg is also potent as a symbol of the way that identity and consciousness have been hybridized and made multiple - multiplied - by the hyperreality of cyberspace (see Davis, 1999; also Baudrillard, 1981, 1983; Eco, 1987), and also simultaneously, like the Deleuzean schizo-subject, dissolved into a hybrid psychic and technological matrix.

Clearly these new forms of consciousness are of increasing importance in late modern global society ever more reliant on the magic of technology, but what are the implications of such simultaneous psychic hybridity, multiplicity and unity upon the zeitgeist? Bruno Latour's (1993) concept of the anthropological matrix provides a useful heuristic. Briefly, Latour argues that pre-modern styles of cognition were highly hybridized weaving 'everything - animals, tools, medicine, sex, kin, plants, songs, weather - into an immense collective webwork of mind and matter' (Davis, 1999: 10). Latour terms this web the anthropological matrix. The mystical participation of technoshamanic ritual would certainly come under the aegis of this matrix. In this matrix there were no purely cultural or natural artefacts, everything had cultural, natural, even supernatural, significance. This web persisted until it became gradually eroded by the rationality and scientism of the Enlightenment, in the process which Latour terms the Great Divide. This heralded a split between a disenchanted culture and nature, its alien, bestial other. It also marks the rise of Cartesian dualism and the binarisms of, among others, male/female and mechanism/organism. Knowledge became, in Deleuzian terms, arborescent and hierarchised with the hybrids of the premodern matrix becoming disentangled. Where Latour departs from other prominent theorists of this culture-nature divide (for example, Merchant, 1980; Duerr, 1985; Eisler, 1987; Bateson and Bateson, 1988; Foucault, 1989) is that he argues that the Great Divide is only a temporary condition and that humanity is slowly returning to forms of symbolism and cognition which resemble that of pre-modernity [15]. Such a restoration to the anthropological matrix is more than merely a process of retraditionalization and marks a return both to a spiritual cosmology of hybrids and 'a shift from humanism to animism' (Sheldrake, 1994: 174). Hybridity is certainly a feature of global society (Pieterse, 1995). Davis (1999: 12) argues that a society which is 'more densely connected than ever before' can no longer sustain the illusion of the Great Divide'. He continues by stating that 'Each new hybrid that arrives on the scene - test tube babies, Prozac, the sequencing of the human genome, space stations, global warming - pushes us further into that no-man's-land between nature and culture, an ambiguous zone where science, language, and the social imagination overlap and interpenetrate. We begin to see that everything is connected, and this recognition invokes premodern ways of thinking.' In this context, for 'premodern' one could read rhizomatic. Certainly technoshamanism is another powerful example of the importance of the return to ritual, magical practice and the restoration of this matrix. For practitioners, technoshamanic trance is key in this restoration. Mr C. of pioneering group The Shamen, for example, in this extract from an interview argues that trance exemplifies a 'profound longing to get back to the palaeolithic states that we used to experience thousands of years ago' (cited in Vitebsky, 1995: 153). Importantly Mr.C later in the same interview connects this technoshamanic longing for a premodern collective consciousness with transgression of the boundary between culture and nature (ibid.). Duerr (1985) argues that in premodern societies this boundary was more central and accessible than it is in 'enlightened' societies. Paraphrasing Duerr, the Cartesian dualism of the Enlightenment associates wilderness with 'the "dark" side of human nature, of its evilness and bestiality' (Ivakhiv, 1996: 239) [16]. According to Ivakhiv (ibid.), enlightened society could not accept this 'half-human, half-animal'. However this is now changing. Animal-humanoid hybrids such as Pan are fundamental archetypes in the pagan revival. The notion of the cyborg is increasingly socially acceptable, if not welcomed by all. Technoshamanism provides an important example of the ways in which technologically mediated cultures are returning to magical ways of 'acting', thinking and feeling.


Technoshamanism draws on the same types of spiritual and artistic inspiration which underpin traditional shamanism. More profoundly, performance and its dissolution, and culture/nature and their dissolutions, weave together technoshamanism's complementary strands into a magical web which many practitioners identify with Gaia. Technoshamanism is inspired by both the artistry of nature and the techne of culture; its ritual spaces, the dance floor, lie ambiguously between nature and culture; and, its supernatural elements locate it way beyond normative empirical conceptions of art, nature and culture. Importantly the globalized connections which technoshamanism spawns goes beyond mere retraditionalization. The psyche underlying technoshamanic practice is rhizomatic and forms part of the attempt, alongside paganism, to resurrect the anthropological matrix in late modern society.



Alexander, B.C. (1997) "Ritual and current studies of ritual: overview" in S.D. Glazier (ed.) Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook. Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press.

Babcock, B. (1978) The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Bachelard, G. (1969) The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.

Bakhtin, M. (1984) Rabelais and his World. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University ?Press.

Bateson, G. and Bateson, M.C. (1988) Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the ?Sacred. New York: Bantam.

Baudrillard, J. (1981) Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society. London: Sage.

Bey, H. (1991) T.A.Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchism, Poetic Terrorism. New York: Autonomedia.

Bowie, F. (2000) The Anthropology of Religion. Oxford: Blackwells.

Davis, E. (1999) Techgnosis: Myth, magic and mysticism in the age of information. London: Serpent's Tail.

Deccker, C. (1997) "Sacred Sites, Places of Power" accompanying notes to Return To The Source Sacred Sites CD.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1988) [1980] A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and ?Schizophrenia. London: Athlone.

Devereux, G. (1961) "Shamans as Neurotics", American Anthropologist, 63(5): 1088-?93.

Drury, N. (1989) The Elements of Shamanism. Shaftesbury: Element.

Duerr, H.P. (1985) Dreamtime: Concerning the Boundary Between Wilderness and Civilization. New York; Basil Blackwell.

Eco, U. (1987) Travels in Hyperreality. London: Picador.

Eisler, R. (1987) The Chalice and the Blade. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison. Harmondsworth; ?Penguin.

? (1986) "Of Other Spaces", Diacritics, 16(1): 22-27.

? (1989) The Order of Things. London: Tavistock/Routledge.

Game, A. (1995) "Time, space, memory, with reference to Bachelard" in M. Featherstone, S. Lash and R. Robertson (eds.) Global Modernities. London: Sage.

Gibson, W. (1984) Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.

Giddens, A. (1990) The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Green, D.A. (1999) "Opposites Attract: The Transformation of Uncertainty in Pagan Identity", paper delivered to the British Sociology Association, Sociology of ?Religion Study Group Conference, University of Durham, 9th April, 1999.

Greenwood, S. (1996) "The British Occult Subculture: Beyond Good and Evil?" in ?J.R. Lewis (ed.) (1996) Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. Albany, ?NY: State University of New York Press, 277-296.

Haraway, D. (1991) Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Free Association Books.

Harner, M. (1990) The Way of the Shaman. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Harvey, G. (1997) Listening People, Speaking Earth. London: Thorsons.

Hawkins, J.D. (1996) Understanding Chaos Magic. Chieveley: Capall Bann.

Hetherington, K. (1996) "Identity Formation, Space and Social Centrality", Theory, ?Culture & Society, 13(4): 33-52.

?? (1998) Expressions of Identity: Space, Performance, Politics. London: Sage.

Hine, P. (1999) Prime Chaos. Tempe, AZ: New Falcon.

Houston, S.(1995) "Chaos Magic", Gnosis 36: 54-9.

Ivakhiv, A. (1996) "The Resurgence of Magical Religion As A Response To The Crisis of Modernity: A Postmodern Depth Psychological Perspective" in J.R. Lewis (ed.), Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 237-65.

Korp, M. (1997) Sacred Art of the Earth: Ancient and Contemporary Earthworks. New York: Continuum.

Latour, B. (1993) We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Lee, D. (1997) Chaotopia! Magick & Ecstacy in the PandaemonAeon. Leeds: Attractor.

Lévy-Bruhl, L. (1975) [1949] The Notebooks on Primitive Mentality. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lewis, I.M. (1989) [1971] Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Sprirt ?Possession. London: Routledge.

Maffesoli, M. (1996) The Time of the Tribes. London: Sage.

Magliocco, S. (1996) "Ritual is my Chosen Art Form" in J.R. Lewis (ed.) Magical ?Religion and Modern Witchcraft. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 93-120.

McKenna, T and Zuvuya (1993) Dream Matrix Telemetry. Delec CD 2012. Gerrards ?Cross: Delerium.

Melucci, A. (1996) The Playing Self: Person and Meaning in the Planetary Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Merchant, C. (1980) The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. San Francisco: Harper Collins.

Mirzach, S. (n.d.) http://www.lastplace.com/page206.htm

Noel, D.C. (1997) The Soul of Shamanism. New Yorek: Continuum.

Noll, R. (1983) "Shamanism and Schizophrenia: a State Specific Approach to the ?'Schizophrenia Metaphor' of Shamanic States, American Ethnologist, 10: 443-61.

Pieterse, J.N. (1995) "Globalization as Hybridization" in M. Featherstone, S. Lash and R. Robertson (eds.) Global Modernities. London: Sage.

Plant, S. (1997) Zeros + Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture. New York: Doubleday.

Return To The Source (1997) Sacred Sites CD. RTTSCD 4. London: Return To The Source.

Robertson, R. (1992) Globalization. London: Sage.

Rushkoff, D. (1994) Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace. London; HarperCollins.

Sargent, D. (1994) Global Ritualism: Myth & Magic Around The World. St. Paul, MN.: Llewellyn Publications.

Schechner, R. (1994) Performance Theory. London: Routledge.

Schmalenbach, H. (1961) "The Social Category of Communion" in T. Parsons, E. ?Shils, K. Naegele and J. Pitts (eds.) Theories of Society: Foundations of ?Modern Sociological Theory. New York: Free Press.

Schneider, E. (n.d.) Paper downloaded from http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/seeker1/cyberanthro/technoshaman.html but no longer available

Scott, J. (n.d.) http://www.phil.uni-sb.de/projekt...ightRope/issue.3/text/techno/html

Serres, M. (1991) Le Tiers-Instruit. Paris: Francois Bourin.

The Shamen and McKenna, T. (1993) Re: Evolution. 118TP7CD. London: One Little Indian.

Sheldrake, R. (1994) The Rebirth of Nature: New Science and the Revival of ?Animism. London: Rider.

Shirokogoroff, S.M. (1982) [1935] Psychomental Complex of the Tungus. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

Silverman, J. (1967) "Shamanism and Acute Schizophrenia", American ?Anthropologist, 69: 21-31.

Smart, N. (1997) Dimensions of the Sacred. London: Fontana Press.

Stallybrass, P. and White, A. (1986) The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. London: Methuen.

Tambiah, S.J. (1985) Culture, Thought and Social Action: An Anthropological Perspective. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Tucker, M. (1992) Dreaming With Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth-Century Art and Culture. London: Aquarian.

Turner, V. (1969) The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. London; Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Vitebsky, P. (1995) The Shaman. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Woodman, J. (1998) "A Means to an End? The Role of Altered States of Consciousness in Chaos Magic", paper delivered to Shamanism in Contemporary Society conference at the Department of Religious Studies, University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, 24th June, 1998.


[1] I intend to use quotes from shamans and technoshamans wherever possible in order to give the reader insights into both the discursive formations and experiential dimensions of shamanic activity.

[2] See Lévy-Bruhl (1975, 1985). For a fuller account of the 'mentalities debate' within anthropology - that is debates around the use of magic and nature of the consciousness of primitive peoples - see Tambiah (1991); Bowie (2000: 240-50).

[3] See Shirokogoroff (1982) and Lewis (1989) for fuller accounts of Tungus shamanism.

[4] A shaman friend of mine, Patrick "Jasper" Lee, in conversation talked about a journey to the underworld where he recounted a specifically horrifying meeting with the spirit of cancer.

[5] The drum, in particular, is often prized as a sacred object. Drury (1989: 38), for example, cites this poem taken from the Soyot tribe which conveys both the magical properties of the drum and its ability to create trance states in which the shaman is given the power of flight:

Skin-covered drum,

Fulfil my wishes,

Like flitting clouds, carry me

Through the lands of dusk

And below the leaden sky,

Sweep along like wind

Over the mountain peaks!

[6] Whilst a number of fundamental similarities might tempt one to argue that technoshamanism is a direct translation of shamanic practices into a contemporary context it is important to note that there also exist fundamental differences between traditional and techno-shamanisms, particularly in terms of election. The shaman in traditional society is often chosen by the spirits against his - shamans are usually male - will, whilst the drug-trip and mystical participation of the rave is an elected activity - indeed an elective affinity. Certainly the process of a 'bad trip' or 'coming down' might involve temporary neurosis, but these are sanitised experiences when compared to the painful ordeals of dismemberment, psychic rebirth and psychosis experienced by shamans in pre-modern society. A common shaman initiation experience 'is expressed as bodily dismantling. He or she may see him- or herself as a skeleton, a theme widely found in Asia and the Americas. In Siberia every bone and muscle is taken apart, counted and put together again, while blood oozes from the joints of the candidate's inert body...' (Vitebsky, 1995: 59) (This is not to belittle the pain suffered by chronic drug abusers - the harmful effects of such drugs are well documented - just to note that, at least at the beginning, such use is elective.)

[7] See Hetherington (1996, 1998), particularly his ideas on Schmalenbach's (1961, 1977) concept of the Bund. Also Maffesoli (1996) on neo-tribalism and identity.

[8] Such vehement critiques of institutional religion, particularly Christianity, are common features of pagan discourse, however this is slowly changing in some quarters as pagan inter-faith work and Christian-pagan cross-overs, such as the Christo-Pagan movement in the USA, are gaining momentum.

[9] See Return To The Source (1997).

[10] I have argued elsewhere that pagan and magical ritual spaces tend to conform to this idea of heterotopia (for example, Green, 1999).

[11] Again, see Return To The Source (1997).

[12] Multiple notions of the self are increasingly important in contemporary occultism, particularly in chaos magic (see Hawkins, 1996; Lee, 1997; Woodman, 1998; Hine, 1999) - interestingly also termed postmodern shamanism (Houston, 1995).

[13] Interestingly, Deleuze and Guattari (1988: 239- 252) see both sorcery and schizophrenia as a 'freedom', that is a sense of being a passionate animal, just as the notions of magic and animality - particularly in the notion of power animals (see Harner, 1990: 76-103) - are central to shamanic worldviews. Also, although their ‘schizophrenia’ is symbolic and Guattari worked in a psychiatric facility, it must be emphasised that one cannot afford to downplay the negative effects of the shizophrenic condition, particularly when thinking of indigenous shamans and processes of dismemberment and rebirth and subsequent feelings of isolation and despair. Such a tendency to downplay the negative aspects of ‘schizophrenia’ is a flaw in the Deleuzean oeuvre.

[14] Interestingly the Trickster has a dramatic survival in the form of the harlequin. The harlequin is a central figurative symbol in the work of Michel Serres (1991) where it embodies playful ambiguity and multiplicity and a challenge to the homogeneity of modernity.

[15] These symbolic and cognitive forms are often labelled postmodern by theorists. Perhaps the prefix post is used to sustain the Enlightenment notion of progress, rather than concede a return, in some sense, to premodern milieu.

[16] This is similar to Merchant's (1980) arguments about the associations between women, witchcraft and disorder. It also echoes ubiquitous pagan practices such as visualization where the wildwoods and its denizens such as The Horned God are archetypal or represent unconscious, unexplored areas of the psyche. It is also important to note that pagans do not tend to possess a dual, Manichaean, notion of good and evil, but rather see them as poles of a continuum bound with intentionality (note Greenwood, 1996). Thus there is rarely a division by pagan practitioners between black and white magic, or a projection of culture as 'evil' in opposition to a completely wholesome nature.

The Spiritual Supermarket: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century

April 19-22, 2001

[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]

cesnur e-mail

[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]