CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

londonThe 2008 International Conference
Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and 'the New Spirituality'

An International Conference organized by INFORM and CESNUR in association with ISORECEA at the London School of Economics, 16-20th April 2008

Digital Pantheon

by Antonio Cosenza (Palermo University, Italy)

A paper presented at the 2008 International Conference, London, UK. Preliminary version. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.


Digital pantheon is a cultural journey through human history to discover survivals under apparently different forms of the though.
This journey starts in the heart of the contemporary western society, into a present based on advanced, widespread and invasive technology. In a present that in collective immaginary has increasingly taste of a near future.
Computers and other digital equipment are considered fundamental elements of our society, therefore are loaded with value and they project in the human thought genereting figures, symbols, roles and structures that  enable us to understand the world and move within.
These forms of the collective immaginary show many similarities with the elements performing the same functions but beloging to religious and magical thinking of the past.
I am referring to the ancient Middle Eastern religions and hermetic philosophy revival of the Renaissance; traditions linked by wire conductor of the gnostic Mediterranean currents belonging to the early centuries.
The purpose is to identify and trace the life, or rather the survival of these forms and their structures, creating a link between ancient and modern, between sacred, profane and magic.
The basic question is clear: when humans try to understand the reality that surrounds them are they anchored to fixed models? Do they use the same metaphors as a single grammar to narratee the world?
Talking about the survival of the forms of thought i’m refering to Aby Warbur’s theories.
For Warburg there are forms and representation models that recur in human societies and are used to understand reality. He used the word pathosformeln to indicate the process whereby an emotional charge find expression in an iconographic form remaining constant over the time.
Later warburg called engramms the psychic energy, characterised by specific forms (pathosformeln exactly) present in human and always ready to guide his thinking re-emerging from the torpor in different historical periods.
But the innovation in Warburg’s thinking compared with mechanistic determinism of his contemporary theories (like in Richard Semon’s studying) was thinking the engrams, or rather they arise, as accompanied by a reinterpretation that makes them adaptable to new contexts. Engram derived from strong moments of pathos lived by humans in an ancestral past and are therefore full of psychic energies capable of trapping the man and make it crazy; their reinterpretation can be used to re-polarize them to become their irrational charge less harmful.
Therefore in a reserch that follows these theories, a consideration on the different polarizations has to accompany the identification of the same forms and roles, only in this way it can to understand where we are going and what type of society we are creating in order to identify the problems and suggest the solutions. I believe this is the true reserching purpose as important as extending the human knowledge boudaries.

A constant of human behaviour is the desire to overcome their physical and cognitive limitations to compensate for the feeling of insecurity, which makes human feeling as prisoner.
One aspect of Western society is the compensatory role played by digital technologies.
We give importance and charm to digital equipment and networks that they create linking together. They grant men to acquire superior capabilities for analysis, storage and data transfer; permitting, in addition, to increase the chances of perception. Their prosthesis,  allow us to see the infinitely large and small, to penetrate the impenetrable or to know the past and the future through software data processing; also considering different applications, computers support men in flying, navigation and, not least, in strengthening the medical and surgical skill.

At the dawn of history, at the time of what is officially regarded as the first civilization, humans aim to  higher beings to be able to overcome the natural limitations, these were the ANUNNAK, "Those who came down from heaven” the sumerian divinity. A reasonable choice, given that these beings created man and founded civilization, giving knowledge that made sumerians dominant over neighbouring people.
The gods lived in personal flats in the ziggurat, where a limited circle of people could access; they were richly dressed and fed with real meals four times a day, following specific dictates for each deity.
According to experts, Sumerian gods were represented by anthropomorphic idols treated as living beings, they were questioned periodically about their wills and the resolution of all sort of problems.
It can be noted many similarities with the current electronic-digital society.
Our modern idols dispensers of power, among which the computer is the main symbolic exponent, are not randomly located; they lie in their altars, that are tables or furniture made specifically for this purpose or even fortified rooms like temples consacreted to them, with highly regulated access.
 But the  PC can have their protective walls are firewalls, intangible fortifications
nevertheless risen "around" to protect computers from curious visitors or hackers, that are the new holy places raiders, and their icon show just a wall made by flaming bricks.

Like ancient idols we even dress and adorn computers, their bodies in more or less baroque solutions are articles well sold; or all the "accessories” which are themedesktop, screensavers, sounds, as well as tangible too such as the puppets and other prosthesis that surround them like candles and flowers in altars.
As for the ancient idol, computer is deaf and blind when we sit in front of it,
and for Hearing request first we must provide the modern libation for it, that is  electricity. Unlike the past we don’t conduct personally the ritual of evocation, it just starts alone and we observe as etiquette keeper that everything goes well.
The modern ritual called “start-up program”.

Now going beyond the appearance, there is the heart of computer; its storage of knowledge is inside, the hard disk. So our supernatural idol needs a register to retain, in code, knowledge that will be recalled if necessary, computed and then possibly code again before show to the user.
Even the ancient ANUNNAK, in despite of their great wisdom, had archives where jealously retained the complex knowledge essential to maintain their supremacy. These "records" were called “ME” which some sumerologys associate to the “divine tables" in their "heavenly writ" present in coeval myths.
From myths we can learn the functions of these objects. The goddess INANNA stole some ME guarded by ENKI to raise Erech as sovereign city, providing it with culture and allowing the expletation of amministrative functions. While in the myth of ZU, he had to steal these special "tables" to the god ENLIL. When that happened, the "heavenly writ" was lacking and divinity sanctuary fell in silence.
Some excavations have brought to light if not a ME something alike.
I’m talking about the Phaistos disc found by Luigi Pernier in 1908 in the temple archieve under Minosse’s palace, or about  a disk of clay found among the ruins of the Ninive library; in both cases, which are only two examples among many, the comparison with modern hard disk is easy. The hard disk is a “hard disk”, in the literal meaning, dishes made using solid materials, usually a mixture of glass and ceramic, with a magnetic surface divided into areas used to be written. The ancient dishes are in different mixture of clay subject to baking, with the information distributed in triangular and round areas, just like in the common hard disk memory rappresentations.
Apparently languages of hard elements such as hard disks, CDs and DVDs, and soft, such as the various programs that manage the data of electronic equipment, seem different. Magnetic signs are recorded on the hard disk, while physical traces cover the surfaces of CDs and DVDs. On the other hand, ordinary users interact with digital products through communications systems based on icons and their natural languages. But in between these extremes there is the true language of the new idols: the digital language. That is made of strings of discrete signs, numbers, abstracted from being only a quantity indicators and able to convey any content; these strings are tied to others that carry operations, and then again to others that reinterpret the results, and so on
The feature of the digital language to be made up of signs- numbers channelling the power, recalls definitely some aspects of the hermetic esoterism as took shape in the Renaissance.
In those years the magical medieval tradition merged into Gnosticism, Hebrew-Christian cosmogony and the cabala; new magicians abandoned the primitive filters and spells of the past to become genuine magio: expert scholars of natural sciences, mathematics and humanities, as well as magic users.
The magi especially after Pico della Mirandola that in a certain sense instituzionalized the use of magic in not Jewish cabala, employed songs, alphabetic formulas, numeric and literal symbols often not linked to the real life objects and independent to quantitative meaning.
In this context the contents of the hard disk and CD and DVD, their sectors and tracks, must be reinterpreted and then associate with examples of ars combinatoria and sigilla for data memorization invented by Jordan Bruno.
The first known use of numbers abstract from a precise quantitative content can be found in the Mesopotamian civilization where the gods were indeed associated with numbers that became symbols of power, and knowledge were often represented by tables of numerical series; similarly Our digital archives can be picture by squared windows containing numerical series as well as circular diagrams divided into sectors.
But the hermetic tradition  is full of magical use of tables of numbers  as can be seen in the quadrato magico magic square in this Dürer work called Melanconia 1, dated 1514, these were holy numerical tables, granting power flowing directly into their user.
The digital language allows to different digital objects to dialogue with each other. A process that is multiplying their power and consequentially of the network they are creating.
Therefore they use an energy flux that conveys knowledge and processes: a real flux of power.
This flux today is purely electromagnetic in form of waves: a fluid intangible that recalls the idea of divine light: Spiritus. In both cases it is mana, a word from anthropological studies which has become a concept that can easily apply to the divine light of hermetic tradition and to electromagnetism.
According Codrington, a theorist, mana:

<<It is a power or a stream, not physical, and in some ways above natural manifestation of itself. However, in the form of physical energy, or in any kind of power and excellence that a man can possess. This mana is not amount to anything and can be conveyed in anything. But the spirits as well as disembodied souls, both as supernatural beings, possess and distribute it can…. It is a force completely distinct from physical power, acting for the good and evil in all forms, and whose possession or control is the maximum benefit>>

While Picatrix tell us that

‹Form an acorporal and shapeless One come: the Intellectus or mens , Spiritus, matter, or a material nature, the elements and elementata. The Spiritus descends from the top down, and settled at the place where you grabbed it (captus ubi est)››. Or, as they say in another chapter, ‹virtues of higher bodies are the form and the power of the lower ones; and the form of lower ones is made of a material linked to the virtues of superiors, and it is as if they were joined together››.

This sentence emphasizes a characteristic of the magic universe, based on a principle called sympathetic magic; it means that in order to channel the power, the magician has to act in such a way that all the elements used by him will insert perfectly in the flux, which coming from God e passing through the celestial spheres and astral entities will reach the talisman or directly the magician himself.

The modern problem of compatibility and cabling of the elements of a digital network is no different. It is very important the use compatible materials and forms and particular geometries to not hide or stop the flux.
The patterns of modern digital networks can find an ancestor exemple on a title-page in a famous work of Kircher (Ars magna luci set umbrae, Roma, 1646) in this one you can see that the light / energy flows from NOME and passing through the various celestial spheres, and astral entities "enlighten" the natural world and then being reflected further.
The creation of networks is an aspect that deserves a special consideration. By placing satellites and sensors in space, and the connection among themselves, with computers and antennas on the ground, a cycle has been completed.
We have created particular structures made of   electronic devices with their own hierarchies and their own roles; the new idols are institutionalised in a Pantheon: A digital pantheon, and what was their dwelling more congenial than the heavens? Already residence of the gods.
Morever an investigaion on the mespotamian holy rapresentaions can reveal amazing similarities between some objects/symbols their form and use and modern satellites and antennas. For expample some sigillas show the Disk of Anu, a disk links to the father of all ANUNNAK, while allows two gods cheating from two different planet.
They had no our technology but the same way to picture and metaphorize.
At the end of this exploratory investigation it can be said that a depolarization accompanied the survival of forms of the though that i have just shown.
Our society is continuing to follow the positivist\illuminist thinking  that in two centuries has “killed” gods and has substituted with “exact  sciences”, and now with their digital children; agglomerations of silicon polymers and metals that we are dangerously deifying, nothing else Homunculus masked as gods, but unlikely them extremely tradable, replaceable and highly lapsing; As the matter of fact in some hermetic currents Homunculus was, and is, a body assembled by magician where he canalizes a flux of intagible energy giving it a sort of life and consciousness.
I’m talking about a new triumph of feticism, a inner shutting of ourselves  that I believe can cause harmfull consequences.

Cyberproceedings Index